Under Sealed Orders by H. A. Cody
Chapter XXXII. The Tables Turned
The agony of mind that Jasper suffered in leaving his cabin and meeting the people of Creekdale on their return from old David's funeral was only a part of the trial he endured on his journey to the county jail. On the wharf, while waiting for the arrival of the steamer, he was subjected to the pitiless stares and gibes of men, women and children. News of the arrest had spread from house to house, and people had flocked to the wharf to have a last look upon the suspected man. Jasper stood with his face to the river watching the steamer off in the distance, which was rapidly approaching. The actions of the crowd disgusted him. There was not one friendly voice lifted up on his behalf. Jim Goban strutted up and down keeping close watch upon his prisoner, and gloating over his task. He was having his revenge now for the blows he had received on the day of David's release.
When once on the steamer Jasper believed that he would be free from all curious eyes. In this, however, he was mistaken. There were many on board and all soon learned that the "terrible murderer" was in their midst. Jasper was kept down below near the engine room and it was remarkable how most of the people on that boat found it necessary to pass him quite often. He could hear some of their comments as they moved away.
"What a bad face he has," a woman remarked.
"Yes," her companion replied, "he surely does look like a desperate character. Wasn't it awful for him to kill that poor old man?"
Jasper's face was really hard and stern; how could it have been otherwise? Where was all their Christian charity? he asked himself. Where was the spirit of justice? Those people knew that he had not yet received a fair trial, and why were they so willing and eager to believe him guilty?
Old Simon Squabbles was on board, and though he said nothing to Jasper, he expressed his views to several men a short distance away.
"It's nothin' more than I expected," he boasted. "I knew he would soon reach the end of his tether after the experience I had with him. I had him workin' fer me, an' when I wouldn't pay him fer loafin' in the potato patch, he got as mad as blazes an' said things I wouldn't like to repeat."
Jasper endured such remarks without a word. He did not feel like making any reply. In fact, he realised how useless it would be, and the less said the better.
The limit of his bitterness was reached when a woman approached and began to speak to him about his soul, and the danger of hell fire. She dilated glibly upon the awfulness of sin, and even offered to pray for him.
"Keep your prayers for yourself," Jasper retorted, stung almost to fury by her impudence. "You'll do more good if you pray for these snivelling hypocrites," and he motioned to those standing around him.
"Isn't it awful!" and the woman held up her hands in horror. "You should be afraid to speak that way, and you in such danger. Read this, poor man," and she held forth a tract she had been holding in her hand.
Jasper glanced at it and read the heading, "Flee from Hell Fire." He took it, and then crushing it in his hand, threw it from him.
"I've had enough of this," he cried, "and I'll stand no more. Leave me alone, is all I ask. Hell can be no worse than what you people are dealing out to me now."
Jasper's look and attitude caused those near him to shrink back, and during the rest of the voyage he had peace from the clatter of tongues, at least.
It was a great relief to him when at last he was lodged in the cell of the county jail. Here he was alone and free from all curious eyes, and he had time and quietness for thought. His heart was nevertheless heavy as he sat there in his solitude. He brooded over all that had taken place, and the one and only ray of brightness which came to him in his misery was the thought of Lois and the vision of her standing where he last saw her with such deep sympathy expressed in her eyes.
The following day Mr. Westcote's lawyer came to see him, and they had a long talk together. Dr. Turnsell was greatly impressed by Jasper and the straightforward manner in which he told about his visit to David the night of the murder.
"We shall do the best we can for you," the lawyer informed him as he bade him good-bye. "We have tried to get you out on bail, but so far have been unsuccessful."
This visit somewhat encouraged Jasper. He knew that able men were working for him and that Mr. Westcote would spare no money on his behalf. As he sat there in his cell he thought over his past life and of the many struggles he had made to succeed. He brooded over the injustice he had received from so many simply because he was poor and forced to fight his own battles against almost overwhelming odds. "And is this the end?" he asked himself. "Will all my efforts amount to nothing?" He thought of several of his college companions, sons of rich men, who knew not what it was to fight in order to win their way, and who were now occupying important positions in life. He knew what they would say about him now. "Poor Spuds," would be their laconic comment. "He was always an odd one, anyway." Yes, that was the way they would talk, and then dismiss him from their minds.
The afternoon slowly passed, and after a while he rose and paced up and down his small room. He looked through the barred window and saw the clouds sweeping across the "long savannahs of the blue." How precious freedom seemed to him, and he longed to be once more in the open. He thought of Lois, and wondered if she were thinking of him. Perhaps she was out on the river in her little boat watching those same clouds. There would be no one near now to rescue her should the water get rough.
Jasper was interrupted in his reverie by the entrance of the jailor. He carried a letter in his hand, which he gave to the prisoner, and then retired and bolted the door.
Jasper glanced at the writing and his heart gave a great bound as he at once recognised Lois' handwriting. Quickly he tore open the envelope and drew forth the letter.
"Dear Mr. Randall," it began, "I am sending you this little note to remind you that all your friends have not forgotten you, and that we are doing what we can on your behalf. Keep up courage. I am very hopeful now and feel sure that everything will turn out right. I know you are innocent, and am confident that you will soon be free. Good-bye.
"Yours in haste,
Next to Lois herself nothing could have been more welcome to Jasper than that letter. He pressed it fervently to his lips, and read it over and over again. It brought a great comfort to his burdened heart. He was sure now that Lois was thinking of him and doing what she could for his release. He wondered what she had discovered, and mused much upon the words "I am very hopeful now."
Jasper slept well that night and awoke in the morning greatly refreshed. He wondered what the day would bring forth, and as he paced up and down his room in order to get a little exercise, he squared back his shoulders and held his head high. He felt fit and ready for battle and longed for activity of some kind. As the morning hours wore slowly away he became restless and impatient. The silence of his room was affecting his nerves, and he thought with a shudder of men who were condemned for life to solitary confinement. What more horrible punishment could be meted out to any man? He was sure that he would go mad in a few days.
Jasper could eat but little of the meagre dinner the jailor brought him. He was hoping that there would be a letter or some message for him, and when there was none he felt sadly disappointed. How long would it be before he had any word from the lawyer? he wondered.
He was brooding at the table when the door again opened and to his great joy and surprise Mr. Westcote entered. Jasper sprang to his feet and seized the hand held out to him.
"Are you quite repentant now?" Mr. Westcote smilingly asked.
"Quite," was the reply. "I think this dose will do me all my life. I am willing to do anything you ask me, even to blacking your boots."
"That's good, so obey me at once and leave this confounded hole."
"What, go with you?"
"Certainly. What else would have brought me here but to take you away?"
"To the court-room, I suppose," was the bitter rejoinder.
"Not at all. But come now, and I will explain everything on our way to the city. My car is just outside."
How good Jasper felt to be once again out of doors, and he expanded his chest and inhaled great draughts of the fresh air.
"My, that's great!" he exclaimed. "It will take me a long time to get the poison of that cell out of my lungs, and----"
"The bitterness out of your soul, eh?" Mr. Westcote quietly asked, as Jasper paused.
"Yes, that's what I was going to say. But I'm afraid it will be a much harder thing to do. I've been the sport of fools so long that the bitterness of my soul has become a chronic disease."
"Tut, tut, don't talk that way any more," Mr. Westcote chided. "Jump on board now, and let us be off. I'll tell you something that will sweeten your soul and make life worth living."
To Jasper it seemed almost like a dream as he leaned back and listened to what his companion told him about the net of evidence which had been woven about Sydney Bramshaw. He did not mention Lois in connection with the affair, but related the incidents of the letter, the threat to Betty Bean, and old David's narrow escape from the falling log. He told him also about the two sealed papers, and who David Findley and Sydney Bramshaw really were.
"This is certainly remarkable!" Jasper exclaimed, when Mr. Westcote ceased speaking and took a cigar from his pocket. "But where is Bramshaw now?" he asked. "Surely he has not been allowed to escape."
"Indeed he hasn't. He's in the city jail, that's where he is."
"Oh, I see." It was all Jasper could say.
"Yes, he was arrested last night as he was about to board the C. P. R. for New York. His grip was searched and letters of a most incriminating nature were found. Why, the fellow must be a fool to have kept them with him. Almost any man in his right mind would have destroyed them at once."
"How did he take his arrest?" Jasper enquired.
"At first he put up a big bluff and threatened all sorts of things. But after a night in the lock-up and a thorough grilling this morning, he broke down and begged for mercy. He was confounded by the net which had been woven about him, and the look of terror in his eyes was really pathetic."
"And has he confessed to murdering old David?" Jasper eagerly asked.
"Not exactly. But he has come so near to it that not the shadow of a doubt is left about his guilt. I believe that he will confess all shortly in the hope that he may escape the death penalty by doing so."
Jasper remained silent for a while apparently studying the scenery as they sped on their way. But he saw nothing of tree, flower or rich rolling meadows. His thoughts were elsewhere, and his next question revealed the working of his mind.
"To whom am I indebted for the collecting of all that valuable evidence?" he questioned. "Some one must have been very busy."
"You are indebted to several," was the reply. "But Miss Sinclair has been the most active."
"So I imagined," was all Jasper said and he once more lapsed into a silence which he did not break until the car drew up before Mr. Westcote's office. He knew now that Lois cared for him, and his heart thrilled with joy as he thought of the efforts she had made on his behalf. How he longed to see her and thank her for what she had done.
The surprise which came to Jasper upon his speedy release and vindication was nothing compared to the shock he received when Mr. Westcote told him about old David's will.
"Surely he has not left everything to me!" Jasper exclaimed.
"No, not all; merely half after a few bequests have been disposed of. Then you and Miss Sinclair are to share alike."
"I don't seem to comprehend it all yet," and Jasper placed his hand to his forehead in a bewildered manner.
"It's only natural that you shouldn't. It will take you some time to grasp the significance of the bequest which has been made to you. Your responsibility will be very heavy, but from what I know of you I believe that you will be equal to the undertaking."
"I shall do the best I can," Jasper replied. "I am too much dazed at present to think it carefully over. For a man to be freed from all suspicion of a terrible crime, and then to find himself heir to a vast fortune all in one day is enough to turn any one's brain."
A knock sounded upon the office door, and Dr. Turnsell at once entered. He shook hands with Jasper and heartily congratulated him.
"I have come to tell you," he added, "that Bramshaw has made a full confession of his crime. He is a nervous wreck, and this morning he broke down completely."
"I am very thankful that he has confessed," and Jasper gave a sigh of relief. "Wasn't it lucky that he was caught before he got over the Border?"
"You have to thank Miss Sinclair for that," Mr. Westcote replied. "But for her prompt action I am afraid we would be frantically searching for Bramshaw now."
"And I would be still in jail," Jasper mused.
"Undoubtedly. Now, it seems to me that Miss Sinclair should be informed of what has happened as soon as possible. Suppose we slip up and tell her?"
"That will be great," and Jasper sprang to his feet. "When can we start?"
"At once. The car is waiting outside. I knew that you would be anxious to go, and so ordered the chauffeur to be ready."