Under Sealed Orders by H. A. Cody
Chapter XXVIII. Light Breaks
Lois stood and watched Jasper and the constables until a bend in the road hid them from view. Then taking Betty by the hand, she moved away from the crowd. She could not bear to listen to their animated discussions as to what would happen to the prisoner, for she was well aware that most of them believed him to be guilty. She walked quite fast until the path across the field was reached. This led along the edge of a grove of young maples and birches, and here was a restful seclusion from all prying eyes.
"You must come and have dinner with me, Betty," she said, speaking for the first time since leaving the crowd. "You will be lonely at the Haven now, and I would like to have you for company, as Miss Westcote has gone to the city."
"Oh, may I?" and the girl lifted her tear-dimmed eyes to her companion's face. "How nice that will be, and we can talk together about him, can't we? I must go home soon, for mother will be anxious to see me. She hasn't been well lately and wasn't able to get to the funeral. I must do what I can to help her."
"You will not have to work out any more, I suppose," Lois remarked.
"Why?" the girl asked.
"Because of the money Mr. David has left you. You remember what Mrs. Wadell said, don't you?"
"Oh, yes," and Betty fixed her eyes thoughtfully upon the ground. "I have been thinking about that. But do you think I should use that money on myself?"
"Why, certainly; what else should you do with it?"
"But Mr. Jasper will need it, will he not?"
"In what way?"
"Won't he need a lawyer to help him? I know it costs so much to get a lawyer for mother has told me so. We must do all we can to save him."
A mistiness came into Lois' eyes as Betty uttered these words. She suddenly stopped, put her arms lovingly around the girl, and tenderly kissed her.
"You precious dear," she cried. "How sweet it is of you to think of him, and I am most grateful to you. But I do not think you need worry about paying the lawyer. I am sure Mr. Westcote will look after that."
"Oh, do you think he will?" and the girl breathed a sigh of relief. Then her face clouded, and that worried expression again came into her eyes.
"What will they do with Mr. Jasper?" she enquired.
"I can't say," was the low reply.
"Will they keep him in prison a long time, or will they----?"
"Don't say that word!" Lois cried, clutching Betty firmly by the arm. "I know what you were going to say, and I can't bear to hear it."
They were walking slowly now along the narrow path, bordered by waving grass. Birds sang in the trees to their left and butterflies flitted here and there over the broad fields. It was a scene of peace and contentment. Nature was in her most attractive mood and seemed to care nothing for the cares of struggling humanity. At any other time Lois would have rejoiced in the beauty around her and would have revelled in the glory of earth and sky. But now it was otherwise. How could she be happy when her heart was so heavy? She knew the cause, and she was not ashamed to confess it to herself. In fact, it brought a slight ray of comfort to feel that she was suffering with him.
They had almost reached the house when a boy was seen approaching. He carried a note in his hand, which he gave at once to Lois.
"It's from Mr. Forbes," he explained, "and he told me to hustle, and take an answer back as quick as I can."
Lois read the note, which simply stated that she was wanted at the telephone.
"Tell Mr. Forbes that I shall be there shortly," she told the boy, at the same time handing him a coin for his trouble in carrying the message.
Hurrying into the house in order to leave word with the maid where she was going in case any one should call, Lois started with Betty for the store. There was no more loitering now as she was anxious to learn who wanted her on the phone. It was rarely that any one called her up, and she was hoping that it might be Margaret to tell her that she was coming back that evening.
On their way they came to the grove at the top of the hill not far from the Haven. Here Betty stopped, and stood as if hesitating what to do.
"I think I shall leave you, Miss Lois," she said.
"What, are you not going with me to the store?"
"No, I guess not. I will see you later. I want to go to my room now to think something over."
She was trembling as she said this, and Lois wondered what was the matter with her. Then an idea flashed into her mind. Was she afraid to go past the artist's tent? she asked herself. There could surely be nothing else which would cause her to leave her and go to the loneliness of her own room. She said nothing to Betty, however, of her thoughts, but bade her good-bye and hurried on her way.
Coming at length to the spot where Bramshaw had been living, she glanced to the left as if expecting to see him. But no sign of him did she see, and great was her surprise to find that his tent was gone. She rubbed her eyes, thinking that she had not seen aright. But, no, there was no mistake. Bramshaw had gone, and had taken all his belongings with him. This was strange, and as she walked along she began to muse as to where he had gone and the purpose of his hasty departure. Had it anything to do with the murder of old David? she wondered.
Lois was thinking of these things as she reached the store, where she met Andy Forbes.
"Do you know what has become of the artist?" she enquired.
"Isn't he up the road?" Andy asked in reply.
"His tent has been removed, and so I suppose he has gone with it."
"Gone!" he exclaimed in surprise. "Why, when did he go?"
"I haven't the least idea."
"Well, I guess there must be something in it after all," Andy mused as if to himself.
"In what?" Lois questioned, wondering what the man meant.
"I'll tell you in a minute, Miss Sinclair, but you'd better read this first," and the storekeeper handed her a piece of paper. "It's the telephone message," he explained.
Lois took the paper in her hand, and read. It was from Mr. Westcote, containing a request that she should go to the city the next day if she possibly could, as he wished to see her on important business.
"Why didn't you send this with the boy?" Lois enquired, somewhat annoyed. "It would have saved my coming here."
But Andy did not notice her annoyance, for something seemed to be troubling him.
"Would you mind coming into the house?" he asked. "My wife will look after the store for a few minutes. There is an important matter I wish to speak to you about."
Opening the door to the right, he ushered her at once into a small sitting-room. It was a cosy place, and here she found Mrs. Forbes, a bright-eyed little woman, seated at the window facing the road, doing some sewing. Lois knew her very well as one of the quiet thoughtful women, of Creekdale, and who was of such great assistance to her husband.
"It is too bad to disturb you," Lois apologised, when Andy had asked her to look after the store for a short time.
"Oh, I do not mind," she pleasantly replied. "I am so glad you have come, for I have been most anxious for Andy to have a talk with you. Sit down, please," and she motioned to a chair.
Andy did not sit down but walked up and down the room, as was his custom when greatly excited. Presently he paused and looked keenly into Lois' expectant face.
"It's something very serious I've got to tell you, Miss Sinclair," he began. "In fact, it's so serious that I have been doubting for some time whether I should tell anybody about it. But when I told my wife this afternoon she advised me to tell you, and so that's the reason why I asked you to come here."
"Has it anything to do with the murder case?" Lois asked, now much interested.
"Yes, I believe it will have, and that is what makes me so worried, because I don't want to get tangled up in that nasty affair."
"Tell me what it is," Lois suggested, impatient to learn what it really was.
"Well, it has to do with that envelope."
"Oh!" Lois was more interested than ever now.
"Yes, that's what it is about. You see, Randall came to the office one day last week, and there was a letter for him from his company. I know that much about it for their name was on the top left hand corner. Randall opened the letter right in the store and dropped the envelope on the floor, and didn't pay any more heed to it. I've seen him do the same thing several times and so I didn't pay any special attention to it. Now, Randall hadn't been gone very long before that artist came for his mail. There was nothing for him and he seemed very surly and said a few cuss words about people not writing. As he was standing there talking I saw him stoop and pick up the envelope Randall had dropped. He didn't know that I saw him doing it, for I was busy with the mail though I was watching him all the time out of the corner of my eye, for I never liked the fellow. I saw him glance at me, and when he felt sure that I didn't notice what he was doing he slipped that envelope into an inside pocket of his coat."
When Andy began his story Lois was sitting with her hands clasped before her and her eyes fixed full upon his face. But before he had finished she had risen to her feet greatly agitated.
"Are you sure that is the same letter that was found by David's side?" she asked in a hoarse whisper.
"I couldn't swear that it was," Andy slowly replied. "Anyway, it looks very much like it, and the name of the company is on the left-hand corner, just as it was on the one which Randall dropped on the floor and Bramshaw picked up."
"It must have been the same one," Lois emphatically declared. "Oh, I am so thankful that you have told me this. I am sure it will go a long way toward saving Mr. Randall."
"I can't swear though that it's the same envelope," Andy repeated.
"But you will be willing to swear to what you have just told me, will you not?" Lois asked.
"Sure. I'd swear to that any time and anywhere."
"Thank you," and Lois breathed a sigh of relief. "I feel quite certain that it will be valuable evidence."
"Now, I wonder what that chap wanted that envelope for?" Andy mused.
"To leave it by old David's body, of course, and to throw the blame on Mr. Randall."
"Yes, that no doubt was his idea. But why did he want to do that? And if he committed that deed, why did he do it? What object did he have in murdering an innocent old man who never injured anybody, as far as I know?"
"That is the puzzling thing which must be solved," Lois replied. "But I must go home now, Mr. Forbes, and I thank you very much for what you have told me this afternoon."
She left the store with a lighter heart than she had entered it, and walked briskly up the road. She somehow felt that what Andy had told her would be of great value in freeing Jasper and bringing home the crime to the right person. But something more must be done, and she knew that it would be quite necessary to find the motive which prompted Bramshaw to pick up that letter and to commit the deed.
As Lois came to the road leading to the Haven, she found Betty waiting there for her. The girl seemed brighter than she had been since the night of the murder, and Lois wondered what was the cause of it. Had she heard some good news? she asked herself.
"Oh, Miss Lois," Betty cried, "I have been waiting a long time for you and I thought you would never come. May I go home with you?"
"Certainly, I shall be delighted to have you. But you look brighter, Betty, than you did when I left you. Have you heard anything new?"
"Oh, yes, Miss Lois, I have," the girl replied. "The captain told me that he has gone away."
"Who?" Lois enquired.
"The artist! Just think of that! He has cleared out, and taken everything with him."
"Why should that make you so happy, Betty?"
"Because he can't hurt me now."
"Why, did he ever try to hurt you?"
"Oh, yes, he said he would kill me if I told on him."
"Kill you!" Lois exclaimed, stopping short. "If you told on him! I do not understand you."
"Hush," and the girl raised a warning finger and looked apprehensively around. "Don't speak too loud. I am really afraid yet. But I know he can't hurt me because he has gone."
"No, he won't hurt you, Betty. I will see that he doesn't. Tell me when he said he would kill you."
"The night I went to meet Mr. David."
"Yes, I was hurrying along the road just up there when I heard some one coming toward me. I was sure it was Mr. David, and so I rushed up to him and called out his name. Instead of Mr. David it was the artist, just think of that! My, he was surprised when he found who I was. He was so excited that he caught me by the arm so hard that I cried out with pain and fear."
"Yes; and he said he would kill me if I ever told that I had met him there on the road that night. He said that nothing could save me from him, and oh, how he did curse and swear what he would do. He made my blood run cold."
"And did you promise that you wouldn't tell?" Lois asked.
"No, indeed I didn't! I jerked myself suddenly away from him and ran home as hard as I could. He ran after me, but he didn't catch me. I was so afraid to look for Mr. David after that. I stayed in the house till near midnight before I went out again."
"So that was what was troubling you so much, was it?" Lois asked.
"Yes. I was afraid that he would kill me. I guess I'm a coward anyway. But when I saw the constables take Mr. Jasper away this afternoon I made up my mind to tell you all about it. I don't mind now if the artist does kill me if I can save Mr. Jasper. Anyway, I am glad that he has cleared out."
"Don't be afraid, Betty, he will not hurt you at all," and Lois put her arms lovingly around the girl. "I am so thankful that you have told me this. Come, now, and let us go home."