Under Sealed Orders by H. A. Cody
Chapter III. One, at Least, Rings True
With the small boat pulled well upon the beach, Lois Sinclair stood for a few moments looking out over the water. Her eyes were fixed upon a little boat in the distance containing two people, an old man and a young girl. The wind, which was steadily increasing, tossed her wavy, luxuriant hair over her brow, while several tresses fell across her cheeks, flushed by the recent rowing. She knew that she should be home, for supper would be waiting and her father would be impatient. But she hesitated. Her thoughts were out there on the water where she loved to be. The twang of the wind as it swept through the trees along the shore, and the beat of the surf upon the gravelly beach were music sweet to her ears.
At length, with one more lingering glance out upon the river, she turned and walked along a path leading from the shore. She moved slowly, for she was not at all anxious to reach the house situated about two hundred yards beyond. And yet it was an attractive house, well-built, and cosy in appearance, designed both for summer and winter use. A spacious verandah swept the front and ends, over which clambered a luxuriant growth of wild grape vines. Large trees of ash, elm, and maple spread their expansive branches over the well-kept lawn, providing an excellent shade when the sun was hot. Altogether, it was a most delightful spot to spend the summer months away from the smoke and confusion of the city.
The place, however, did not altogether appeal to Lois Sinclair. If she had needed rest, the situation would have been ideal. But it was activity she desired, and not luxurious ease such as so many crave, especially two young men lolling on the verandah awaiting her coming. Even though one was her brother, she could not restrain a feeling of contempt as she looked upon their white faces, soft hands, and immaculate clothes. Why should men, she asked herself, be so ready and willing to give themselves completely up to effeminate habits when their blood was hot within them, and the great Open was calling them with such a strong insistent voice?
The young woman's arrival brought one of the young men to his feet, with the offer of a hammock.
"Please do not trouble yourself," she told him. "I must hurry and get ready for dinner. I know that father is very angry with me."
"He is not the only one who is angry, I can assure you," Sammie Dingle remarked. "We have been furious with you for leaving us this afternoon when we needed your company so much in the car. I cannot understand how you can enjoy yourself alone out on the river in that nasty boat."
"No, I suppose you cannot," Lois replied, and so infatuated was Sammie with the young woman that he did not notice the slightest sarcasm in her words.
"Hurry up, Lois," her brother ordered, "I'm almost starved. Dad's got it in for you."
"All right, Dick," was her reply. "I shall be down in a few minutes. Why did you wait for me? You had better go to dinner at once, if you are so hungry."
It took Lois but a short time upstairs, and when she came down she found the three men in the dining-room. Her father was in one of his surly moods, and this she could tell at the first glance. He was a short man, somewhat stout, and pompous both in appearance and manner. Fortunate it was that his only daughter had inherited none of his qualities, but was more like her mother, whose memory she cherished with undying affection. Since her death home had been more of a prison to her than anything else. Neither her father nor her only brother had understood her, and she was forced to depend more and more upon her own reliant self.
"What kept you so late, Lois?" her father asked as soon as she had taken her place at the table. "You know very well that I do not like to wait for dinner."
"I am very sorry, father," was the reply, "but I became so greatly interested in an old man and a girl out on the river that I had no idea how time was passing."
"Who were they, Lois?" her brother enquired.
"What new creatures have you picked up now? You haven't run out of homeless cats and dogs, have you?"
The colour mounted to Lois' temples at these words, for it was not the first time she had been sneered at for her tenderness of heart for all suffering creatures. With difficulty she restrained an angry reply, and went on calmly with her dinner.
"Come, Lois," Sammie urged, "never mind Dick. He must have his little joke, don't you know. He was only in fun."
"A joke with a sharp thorn in it isn't much fun," and Lois looked Sammie full in the eyes. "One might do far worse than take an interest in such people as I met this afternoon out upon the river. They appealed to me very much and I am not ashamed to confess it. The man is a perfect gentleman, while the girl is so pretty, and full of life and fun."
"What's her name?" Dick asked. "I'm getting quite excited over her."
"She's Betty Bean, so she told me, and the old man is David Findley."
"What, Crazy David, that miserable pauper?" Mr. Sinclair asked. "And you call such a creature a gentleman?"
"Certainly, and why not? His face is so beautiful, and his whole manner shows that he has moved much in refined society."
"Ho, ho, that's a good one," and Dick leaned back in his chair and laughed aloud. "Crazy David a gentleman, with a beautiful face, and refined manners! Think of that, dad."
"Lois evidently doesn't know that Crazy David is a pauper, the Devil's Poor, and was sold to Jim Goban to board and lodge for a year. He went pretty low, so I understand."
At these words an expression of surprise came into Lois' eyes, mingled with indignation. She looked keenly into her father's face, thinking that he must be merely joking.
"I can hardly believe that what you say is true," she at length remarked. "I did not know that such things were carried on in a Christian community. Is it possible that an old man such as that was sold like a cow or a horse to the lowest bidder!"
"Well, what else could have been done with him, then?"
"Wasn't there any one in the whole parish, willing to take care of him?"
"H'm, I guess people have all they can do to look after themselves without being burdened with a half-cracked creature such as that. It was the best thing they could do. It would not be fair for one person to have the entire expense of keeping him, so by this method all have a share in his support."
"But I call it degrading," Lois insisted, "not only to the old man himself, but to the people living here. He seems such a gentleman, that I was drawn to him this afternoon."
"Going to take him under your wing, eh?" Dick bantered. "He'll be as interesting as your other protege, I assure you. By the way, I saw him this afternoon, and he looked his part all right, ho, ho," and Dick laughed as he gulped down his tea.
"Who's that, Dick?" Mr. Sinclair inquired.
"Oh, Lois knows," was the reply. "She can tell you all about 'Spuds' as well as I can, and maybe better."
"Why should I know?" his sister asked, somewhat sharply. "I only met him once, and that was years ago."
"But you always take his part, though, so he seems to be somewhat under your care."
"And why shouldn't I? He deserves great credit for what he has done, and it is very unbecoming of you to make fun of him."
"I wish you could have seen him this afternoon, though," and Dick glanced across the table at Sammie. "We were speeding along in the car when we saw him hoeing potatoes in a field by the road. His clothes were all soiled, his sleeves rolled up, and he looked like a regular bushman. I called out to him as we sped past, and you should have seen the expression on his face when he saw us. It was like a thunder cloud. I guess he felt pretty well cut up at being caught at such work, ha, ha."
"Whom are you talking about, anyway?" Mr. Sinclair demanded. "What's all this about 'Spuds,' I'd like to know?"
"Oh, it's only that country chap we met several years ago, don't you remember?" Dick explained. "His real name, I believe, is Jasper Randall, though we have always called him Spuds, because he was digging potatoes when we first met him."
"You don't mean that big overgrown boy who helped us to carry Lois home the day she sprained her ankle at Daltan Creek?"
"The very same, dad. And you remember what fun we had at the way he sat and drank his tea out of the saucer?"
"But I didn't." Lois spoke sharply, while a flush mantled her cheeks.
"Oh, no, you didn't make fun," Dick laughed. "You were mad through and through, and gave us a good solid lecture afterwards."
Lois made no reply, so while the men talked, she let her mind dwell upon that scene of years ago. She saw again the lank awkward lad who was so concerned about her accident. While helping to carry her home, he had been much at his ease, and his eyes glowed with a sympathetic light. But when once in the house, his natural shyness had come upon him, and he did not know what to do with himself in the presence of strangers. One thing stood out above everything else, and that was his look of indignant defiance when Dick laughed because he drank his tea out of the saucer. She liked the way he had straightened himself suddenly up, while his eyes flashed with a peculiar light. The next that she heard of him was several years later when he entered college in Dick's year. Then every time her brother had come home he had such stories to tell her about Spuds. And so he was now living near working on a farm. Why did he not go home? she asked herself. She wondered also what he looked like now. Was he lank and awkward as when she saw him? She longed to ask Dick several questions, but desisted, knowing that it would be to little purpose. Her brother would only make fun of him, and she would be sure to get angry.
When supper was over, the men sauntered out upon the verandah for a smoke. Lois went, too, but sat somewhat apart with a piece of needlework in her hands. She preferred to be alone that she might think. She thought first of old David, and his pitiable condition. What could she do to help him? she asked herself. It was not right that he should be kept as a pauper while there were several people in the parish who could provide for him without the least trouble. Her father was one of them, and she was determined to speak to him just as soon as she could.
From old David it was only natural that her mind should turn to Jasper Randall. She recalled his animated face the day her ankle had been sprained. He was but a big overgrown boy then, and she had just graduated from school. She had never forgotten him, and had followed his career while at college as well as she could from what her brother told her. And so he was now working on a farm nearby. A longing came upon her to see him, and to learn if he had changed much since that day years ago. As she glanced toward her brother and Sammie, so effeminate in their manner, and dressed with such scrupulous care, a feeling of contempt smote her. They disdained honest toil, and would scorn to soil their soft white hands with manual labor. But over there was a young man toil-worn, and no doubt sunburnt, clad in rough clothes earning his living by the sweat of his brow. Such a person appealed to her. He would form an interesting study, if nothing else. There must be some connection between that potato patch and the college, she told herself, and she was determined to find out what it was.
As she thus sat and worked, her thoughts keeping time to her fingers, Sammie came and took a seat by her side. She glanced quickly up, with a shade of annoyance on her face. They were alone on the verandah, for her father and Dick were nowhere to be seen.
"You are very quiet this evening, Lois," the young man began. "I have been watching you for the last half hour, and you never looked our way once, nor took any interest in what we were saying. You are not offended, are you?"
"Offended! At what?" Lois asked as she let her needlework fall upon her lap.
"At me. Have I done anything to annoy you?"
"I wasn't thinking about you at all, Sammie," and Lois looked him full in the eyes. "My mind was upon more important things."
"And you don't consider me important?" the young man demanded, visibly embarrassed.
"Why should I? What have you done that you should be considered important?"
"But my father is rich, and we belong to a good old family. I am a gentleman, and that should count for much."
"So you seem to think," was the somewhat sarcastic reply. "I do not for a moment deny that such things are valuable, but they count for very little in my estimation of a true man. He must prove his worth in the battle of life, and show to the world that he is something apart from how much money his father may have or his family history. Now what have you done that I should consider you important?"
"Nothing at present, Lois, for I am not through college yet. But I am going to do great things some day, and then you will change your opinion of me."
"I hope so," and Lois gave a sigh as she picked up her work.
"You don't believe what I say?" and Sammie reddened.
"Not until I see you settle down to something definite. You do not know how to work, and how, then, can you expect to succeed?"
"But you would not want to see me working like Spuds, for instance, would you?"
"And why not? He is not afraid to soil his hands at honest labor. Why he is doing so I do not know, but there must be some good reason."
"Oh, I know. He wants money to help him to finish his college course. He left very suddenly, so I understand. Of course, he was not in our set, and so I know very little about him. He studied hard, and kept much to himself, so he has always been somewhat of a mystery. But say, Lois, never mind talking about him. I want to ask you something, for I am going away to-morrow."
"What is it, Sammie?" and again Lois laid down her work. She had an idea what he wanted to say, though it did not affect her in the least.
"I--I want to s-say," the young man stammered, "that you are the o-only----"
Sammie was suddenly arrested in his protestation of love by Dick's voice at the door.
"Say, come inside," he called. "It's beginning to rain, and it's spoiled my ride this evening. It's going to be confounded dull to-night, so give us some music, Lois, to liven things up a bit."
With an amused smile, his sister willingly obeyed. Sammie followed her into the house, mentally cursing Dick for his untimely interruption.