Under Sealed Orders by H. A. Cody
Chapter IV. A Little Cabin
Betty and old David had a great afternoon out upon the water in the small row-boat. They were delighted with Lois, and after she had left them they watched her until she disappeared within the house.
"Isn't she wonderful!" Betty exclaimed, as she at length picked up the oars which had been lying unused in the bottom of the boat.
"Who is she, anyway?" her companion asked, for it was evident that he was as much lost in admiration as was the girl.
"Oh, she's Miss Sinclair, Lois, they call her, and her father is very rich. He is president, or something like that, of the street railway and the electric light company in the city. Ma knows all about him, and she has told me a whole lot. He was very poor once, so she says. He's awful mean and stuck up and won't have anything to do with the people he knew when he was young. But his daughter isn't a bit like him. She takes after her mother, so I understand, who was a very fine woman."
"Does Mr. Sinclair live here all the time?" David inquired. "I never heard of him before."
"Oh, no. He has a big house in the city. He only bought this place last summer. Lois has never been here before. She came two weeks ago and I think she is going to stay till fall. I hope she does, anyway. Won't it be great to have her here, so we can meet her and talk to her every Saturday afternoon?"
"She seems to be a very fine young woman," David assented.
"Indeed she is, and she's a nurse, too. She's been away training in some hospital for several years, and has just got through."
"Why should she want to be a nurse?" David asked. "If her father has plenty of money why should his daughter want to earn her own living?"
"It's because she's so independent, that's why. She believes every one should earn her own living, and I guess she's right."
A pained expression suddenly overspread the old man's face at these words. But so engrossed was Betty with her own thoughts that she noticed nothing amiss.
"I am going to be a nurse some day," the girl continued. "Just as soon as I am old enough I am going to enter a hospital. Then when I get through I can earn so much money and be such a help at home. And I'm going to help you, too," she added as an afterthought.
"No, child, that will not be necessary then," David replied. "I shall have plenty of money of my own by the time you are a nurse. I shall be manager of the biggest company the country has ever known, for it cannot be long now before people realise how wonderful is the scheme I have worked out. They have been very slow to see, but I am sure that a great change is soon to take place."
"But you might be sick, though," the girl insisted, "and will need me to nurse you. I won't charge you anything, for I shall gladly do it for nothing because it will be you."
"Oh, I wouldn't let you do it for nothing," was the reply. "I shall pay you well and make up for all your kindness to me now when I am so poor."
In this manner the two sat and talked. Happy were they for the time, thinking and planning of the future which looked so bright in their eyes. Neither did they notice for a while where they had drifted, for a stiff wind had risen and was drawing down the creek. It was Betty who first realised their situation.
"Oh, look where we are!" she cried, seizing the oars, and placing them in the row-locks. "We can never get back against this wind, and the water is getting rougher all the time. I believe it is going to rain."
"Let me row," David suggested. "I should be stronger than you."
"Did you ever row?" the girl asked.
"Only once. But I think I could do it, though."
"Well, I don't think you could. You're not nearly as strong as I am."
With that she settled herself to the task of pulling back into the creek against the wind which was dead ahead. For some time there was silence as she toiled steadily at the oars. Gradually, however, her strokes became weaker, and she was forced to rest.
"I can't do it," she gasped. "The wind is too strong."
"What are we to do, then?" David asked.
"Land on that shore over there. I guess we can reach it all right."
Again seizing the oars, she swung the boat partly around and pointed for the shore. It was much easier now, and she made considerable progress. The wind increased in strength, and at times the water dashed over the side of the boat. To add to their discomfort the rain began to fall, and by the time the shore was reached their clothes were wet, and David felt cold.
"Help me pull up the boat," Betty ordered. "We'll tie it to that tree, and then we'll look around for some shelter. There's a raftsman's cabin not far away, and maybe we can stay there."
With the boat securely fastened, they made their way along the shore until they came to a path leading up from the water. Following this through the bushes, they soon reached an open space, and there before them appeared a small building covered with tarred paper.
"That's the place," Betty exclaimed, "and I know there is a stove there for I was in it once. The raftsmen used it this last spring. We can build a fire and dry our clothes before we go home."
Betty was the first to reach the cabin, and as she pushed open the door she gave a cry of surprise.
"What's the matter?" David inquired, thinking that she had been frightened.
But Betty did not at once reply. She stood in the middle of the room, looking around in a bewildered manner.
"Well I never!" she at length declared. "Why the place is all fixed up, and somebody must surely be living here. Who can it be, for I never heard a word about it, and I thought that I knew everything that was going on in this parish. Just look at that table now, with the dishes all washed so clean. And there are books, too," she added, "and pictures on the wall. I never knew a man could keep a room so neat."
"How do you know that it is a man?" David asked. "Perhaps it is a woman."
"Why, that's easy enough," and Betty looked around the room. "Don't you see a man's boots there, his clothes hanging up by the stove, and a package of tobacco on the window-sill? I guess it's a man all right."
"Perhaps you are right," David assented. "You know more about such things than I do. Anyway, it's nice to be here out of the storm. But do you think the man will mind when he comes back and finds us here? He might be very angry with us."
"Let him get angry, then," and Betty gave her head a slight toss. "I don't care for angry men. If I can match Jim Goban, I guess I can handle any man who comes here. Leave that to me, and don't you worry. I'm going to do a little exploring, anyway. I want to see what's in that other room. Ah, just what I thought," she continued, when she had opened the door and entered. "It's the bed-room, and the bed is not made. That shows all right that a man lives here. A woman would never think of going away and leaving the bed like that. I'm going to open the window and air the room. Men always keep the windows shut tight, and the house gets so stuffy. There, that's better," she panted, as after some difficulty she forced the window up. "I'm going to make up that bed just as soon as I get the fire going."
There was a box full of dry wood behind the stove, and soon she had a fire burning brightly. She next partly filled a small kettle with water and set it upon the stove.
"You had better take off your wet coat," she suggested to David. "You'll get your death of cold if you keep it on much longer."
"Can't I help you?" the old man inquired, as he stood watching with admiration the girl's light step and the skilful way she did everything. There was a longing in his eyes as well, for he wanted to be of some use but did not know how.
"Yes, you can help me," and Betty smiled upon him, "by taking that coat off and sitting down upon that nice cosy place near the stove. It was certainly made for comfort, and the man who owns this building must spend his evenings there. What a lot of books he has. He must read a great deal."
David was only too glad to obey, so after he had taken off his coat and hung it up back of the stove to dry, he stretched himself at full length upon the settle.
"This does feel good," and he gave a sigh of relief.
"You're tired, that's what's the trouble with you," Betty replied. "You shouldn't have a bit of work to do. You're too old, and you should have some one to look after you all the time."
"How nice it would be if we could live in a place like this, and not go back to Jim Goban's. Would you be willing to take care of me?" David asked.
"Sure, I would like nothing better. But, then, there are some things in the way."
"What are they?"
"Well, you see, there's the question of money. We haven't any ourselves, and I don't think any one is likely to drop it at our feet in a hurry. And besides, Jim's got you for a year and he wouldn't want to give you up; he's going to get a lot of work out of you, so he plans."
"I know that only too well, Betty. But when I get rich, I mean. If I had a little place like this you would look after me, would you not? I would pay you well, and we could be so happy."
"Indeed we could. But you haven't the money yet and we must try to be as happy as we can in the meantime. That's what ma says, and she really does practise it. So I've got to look after you now when you can't pay me. I'm going to see if I can't find something to eat. The man who lives here surely doesn't live on air. He must have some food in the house."
It did not take Betty long to find the cupboard. This was nothing more than a box nailed to the wall, on which a rude door had been fastened. There were three shelves and on these were a loaf of bread, some cold meat, potatoes, eggs and cheese.
"Isn't this great!" she exclaimed, as she brought forth what she needed. "I can warm up these potatoes, and we shall have a grand supper."
"I am worrying about the man who owns those things," David remarked. "He might not mind our using his house, but when it comes to making free with his provisions, it might be a different matter. Do you think it is right for us to touch them?"
"We won't take all," and Betty stood before the table eying the meat and potatoes. "We can leave enough for him. If he is a kind man he will not mind our taking some of his supper. How dark it is getting," she added. "I shall light that lamp. Now, isn't that better," she continued when this had been accomplished. "We shall have supper in a short time."
While Betty busied herself about the stove, David remained stretched out upon the settle. Outside, the storm increased in fury, and the rain heat against the window. Within, all was snug and warm. The girl even hummed softly to herself as she went on with her work.
When supper was ready, Betty spoke to David. As he made no reply, she went to his side and, to her surprise, found that he was asleep. An expression of tender compassion came into the girl's eyes as she watched him. She knew how tired he was and she would not wake him. It was better, so she thought, that he should sleep. Drawing up a chair, she sat down by his side. A feeling came to her that it was her duty to care for this old man who was so helpless. She could not do much, but when Betty Bean had once made up her mind it was seldom that she could be turned from her purpose.