Under Sealed Orders by H. A. Cody
Chapter XXVII. In the Toils
It was with a heavy heart that Lois made her way slowly toward the house. She felt that many changes would take place before she would again see Jasper. Not for an instant did she consider him guilty of murdering old David. But she was well aware that others would think differently, and would be only too ready to condemn Jasper upon the slightest evidence. An idea suddenly flashed into her mind, which caused her heart to beat quicker. Some one was guilty of the murder, and that person must be found, whoever and wherever he was. Was there not something that she could do? she asked herself. Jasper must be saved, and who else would take such a real heart interest in the matter as herself? She knew that a woman was not expected to undertake work of such a nature. But Lois Sinclair had very little respect for social customs if they stood in the way of duty.
During the day she had thought much about the murder and had tried to unravel the mystery connected with it. Who was there in the place likely to commit such a cowardly deed, and what would be his motive? Old David had not an enemy, as far as she knew, and he had injured no one. It was necessary for her to probe deeper still, and as she neared the house her mind brooded over this question. She chided herself that she had not asked Jasper's opinion. Perhaps he had some suspicion, for even upon the slightest clue important results might depend.
Lois had reached the steps leading to the verandah when she happened to stop and look down toward the river. As she did so, she started, for there near the shore, with his easel before him, was Sydney Bramshaw. Had she known of the stormy scene which had taken place between him and Jasper about an hour before she would have been more surprised to see him where he was. He was seated facing the house, and thus could observe all that took place about the building. If he saw Lois he gave no sign of recognition, but seemed to be entirely occupied with his work.
The sight of this man had a remarkable effect upon Lois. She had seen him but little of late, and to behold him now when she was thinking so much about the murder was most startling. She entered the house as if nothing unusual were agitating her mind. But with the door closed behind her, she hurried upstairs, where she found Margaret sitting in her room engaged upon some fancy-work. It was a bright sunny room, and the girl sitting there by the open window presented a beautiful picture of peace and youthful charm.
"What is the matter, dear?" she asked, pausing in her work, as she noted the troubled expression upon Lois' face.
"Look," and Lois pointed toward the river, "there he is near the shore."
"Well, what of it?" Margaret enquired with a smile. "One would think that you had never seen a man before."
"But not such a man as that, Margaret," and Lois sat down by the girl's side. "Something tells me that he had much to do with the murder of poor old David."
"Whatever put such a foolish notion as that into your head?" and Margaret looked keenly into Lois' face.
"Sydney Bramshaw is merely a harmless artist, and wouldn't hurt a fly."
"So you have always said. You may be right, but my heart tells a different story, and it is hard for me not to believe it. I am going to find out, anyway, if there is any justification for my suspicion of that man."
"You!" and Margaret looked her astonishment. "Why, what can you do?"
"Perhaps nothing. Anyway, I am going to try. Something must be done at once if Mr. Randall is to be saved." Lois then told Margaret all about the finding of David, of the envelope lying near the body, and how the people were accusing Jasper of the murder.
When Mr. Sinclair and Dick came home they brought with them a copy of The Evening News, which contained a long account of the murder. Lois' hand trembled as she took the paper and saw the big startling headlines. She feared lest Jasper's name should be mentioned in connection with the affair, and she breathed a sigh of relief when she saw that it did not appear. The article merely said that a certain person was suspected and that the detectives were working on the case.
"I'm afraid Spuds is in hot water," Dick remarked, as they all sat down to dinner.
"What makes you think that?" Lois asked in a voice as calm as possible.
"Oh, from what people are saying. It's known all over the country that he was with Crazy David that night, and that they left the Haven and walked along the road together. That in itself looks suspicious, for Spuds was the last person seen with old David."
"Who saw them together?" Lois enquired, "and how did that information get abroad?"
"The Petersons, I suppose, or that girl Betty told it."
"But do you suppose some one else saw them together? Have you thought of that?"
"I don't catch the drift of your meaning," and Dick looked enquiringly at his sister.
"Suppose there was some one else near the road that night watching Mr. Randall and David as they walked along? And suppose, further, that when the old man was going back alone to the Haven some one had killed him?"
"Good heavens, Lois! you make my blood run cold. Why should you suggest such a thing?"
"But you don't believe that Mr. Randall killed David, do you?"
"No, no! I couldn't for a moment think that Spuds would do such a thing."
"Well, then, some one must have done it in a way similar to what I have said."
"Sure, I never thought of that. But who do you suppose did it?"
"That's for us to find out."
"Yes, why not? Isn't it right to stick by our friends in their time of need?"
"But what can we do?"
"That remains to be seen."
"But what about that envelope, Lois? How do you I suppose it got there? That looks queer, doesn't it?"
"That's another part of the mystery to be solved, that's all."
The next day was an exciting one, for all kinds of rumours were afloat, and at times Lois hardly knew what to believe. But there were several things about which there was no doubt. She learned that an inquest had been held over David's body, and that it had been decided that David Findlay had met his death at the hands of some unknown person or persons. There was nothing more left to be done but to give the body a decent burial.
The funeral was held that afternoon, and it seemed that the entire parish turned out. It was a fine mild summer day, but notwithstanding that the farmers left their fields and attended the funeral. Lois and Betty walked together to the church, and as they passed Jasper's cabin they looked across the field, thinking they might see some one there. But not a sign of life could they behold.
The service in the church was brief and solemn, and Betty found it very difficult to control her feelings. At the grave side she broke down completely, and Lois had to lead her away to a quiet spot.
"Poor Mr. David!" the girl moaned. "I shall never see him again. He was so good to me."
"There, there, dear," Lois soothed. "If he were alive he would not wish you to feel so badly. He is at rest, anyway."
"I know that, but I miss him so much. Oh, why was he taken?"
For some time they sat there, Betty sobbing out her grief, and Lois trying to sooth her, at the same time wondering what had become of Jasper. If he had not gone away it was strange that he was not at the funeral. The people leaving the grave passed close to the spot where they were sitting, and many were the curious glances cast in their direction. Several women stopped to speak to them, among whom was Mrs. Wadell, noted all over the parish for her fondness for gossip, as well as for meddling in the affairs of others.
"So ye feel bad, do ye?" and she fixed her piercing eyes upon Betty's tear-stained face. "I wouldn't feel bad fer such as him," and she jerked her thumb toward the grave.
"But I do," Betty protested. "He was good to me, and now he is gone."
"I guess ye'll like him better now that he's gone," Mrs. Wadell remarked. "I know I should, anyway, if he'd done as handsome by me as he's done by you."
"Why, what do you mean?" Betty asked in surprise.
"Why, about the money he's left ye. It's a snug sum, so I understand, and I suppose it'll make ye put on mighty fine airs, so's ye won't speak to common folks any more."
Lois now became much interested in the words of this garrulous old woman, and she was anxious to know more, and where she had obtained her information.
"How did you hear that?" she asked.
"Land sakes, don't ask me sich a question as that, Miss," was the evasive reply. "How could I begin to tell ye where I hear things, fer the air is full of all kinds of stories to-day. But I guess it's true all right."
"I didn't know that Mr. David had made a will. That is a surprise to me."
"And indeed it is to everybody else, Miss. We didn't think that Crazy David had anything to leave. Why he was sold as a pauper to Jim Goban in this very parish about a year ago. But that isn't the only thing that surprises me."
"What, is there something more?"
"There surely is, Miss. It's reported that he's left a hull lot to that Randall feller. I guess he knew how to work his cards all right with the old man. He didn't take an interest in him fer nuthin', oh, no. People don't generally do sich things these days fer love."
"Mr. Jasper hadn't anything to do with that will," Betty angrily protested. "He didn't know anything about it, neither did I."
"Oh, you wouldn't know," and the old woman gave a sarcastic chuckle. "He wouldn't want people to know what he was doin'. He was cute enough fer that. And then to think that he should kill Crazy David to git his money. Why the poor old man couldn't have lived much longer, anyway."
"You lie!" and Betty, trembling in every limb, sprang to her feet. "Mr. Jasper didn't do it. I tell you he didn't, and you have no right to say such things."
"Come, Betty," Lois remarked, rising to her feet and taking the girl by the arm, "let us go home."
"Ye may not believe me," the old woman called after them as they walked away, "but ye'll soon find out fer yerselves, and then maybe ye won't talk so big and mighty."
Betty was going to reply, but Lois checked her.
"I wouldn't say anything more, dear," she advised. "We must expect people to talk and imagine all sorts of things. Let us be brave and hope for the best."
"But I can't bear to hear them say such awful things about Mr. Jasper," the girl sobbed. "I'm sure he didn't get Mr. David to make his will, and then kill him to get the money."
"So am I, Betty. But I'm afraid we'll be the only ones who think so. We'll stand by him, anyway, and do all we can for him, won't we?"
Lois suddenly stopped and her face went pale. They had now come in sight of Jasper's cabin, and near it were several men. On the road were most of the people who had been at the funeral. That they were greatly excited was quite evident. In an instant Lois realised the meaning of it all, and she clutched Betty by the arm in the intensity of her emotion.
"They are going to arrest him!" Her voice was hoarse, and she spoke scarcely above a whisper.
"Who?" Betty asked in surprise, not fully comprehending the meaning of her words.
"The constables are after Mr. Randall," Lois explained. "There they are now!" she cried. "They are coming from the house, and he is walking between them."
"Are they going to put him in prison?" the girl asked.
"Yes, I'm afraid so."
With a wild cry, Betty sprang forward and rushed up the road. Lois followed, wondering what the girl was going to do. She reached the crowd just as Jasper and the constables approached, and stood there a silent watcher. What could she do? she asked herself. Would he see her, and know of her sympathy?
Jasper was walking with a free easy motion, closely guarded by the two constables, one of whom was Jim Goban. His face was pale and he looked very careworn, but he held his head erect and kept his eyes straight before him. Betty standing near, rushed suddenly forward and caught him by the hand.
"Oh, Mr. Jasper," she cried, "we know you didn't do at, and I want to tell you so."
Taken by surprise, Jasper paused and looked at the girl.
"Thank you," he replied. "I am glad you believe in me."
"And so does Miss Lois," Betty explained. "She's standing right there," and she motioned to the right.
Jasper turned, saw Lois, and their eyes met. Not a word did they say, but in that fleeting glance the expression that he saw in the eyes of the woman he loved gave him great comfort and courage.
"Git out of the way, girl," Jim Goban brutally ordered. "What d'ye mean by stoppin' us in our duty? We'll miss the boat if we don't hurry."