Under Sealed Orders by H. A. Cody
Chapter VI. Out of Bondage
During the night the storm broke, and the morning was fine and warm. After breakfast Jasper and David sat on a log outside and smoked. Betty was busy in the house, washing the dishes and tidying up the rooms. She hummed softly to herself as she moved lightly across the floor. She was anxious to get through as quickly as possible that she might take David back to Jim Goban's. She felt a little uneasy for his sake as she knew how angry his taskmaster would be with him. For herself she did not care. If Jim said too much, she could leave him at once. And yet she did not wish to go, for she felt that she must look after this old man who was so helpless and depended so much upon her for protection.
When her work was finished, she joined the men outside.
"It's time we were going, Mr. David," she began. "The river is calm now, and it will not be hard rowing back."
"I wish you could stay here all day," Jasper replied. "I shall feel very lonely when you go."
"But we shall come to see you again, sir. It has been so good of you to keep us. But Jim Goban will be angry if we do not hurry home. I know how he will rage as it is. The longer we stay the harder it will be for him," and she pointed to David.
Scarcely had she finished speaking ere a team was heard driving furiously along the road.
"Oh, it's Jim now!" the girl cried, "and I know he is mad by the way he is driving. He's stopping at the gate, too!"
Jim had seen them from the road, and having tied his horse to a tree, he made his way swiftly along the little path leading to the cabin. He was certainly in no pleasant frame of mind, and when he came near he gave vent to his feelings in coarse, brutal language.
David, rose and advanced to meet the angry man, hoping in some way to appease his rage, but in this he was mistaken.
"Ye old cuss," Jim shouted, "what do ye mean by runnin' away with that girl? Ye look as meek as a lamb but I guess ye're about as near a devil as they make 'em."
"He didn't run away with me," Betty sharply replied. "I ran away with him, that's the way it was, and you needn't get on your high horse, Jim Goban. You, yourself, would be the first one to run away with a girl if you could find one crazy enough to run with you."
"Shet up, ye fool," Jim shouted. "I didn't ask you to speak."
"I know you didn't," the girl calmly returned, "but that doesn't make any difference. This is a free country, isn't it? We didn't ask you to come here and make such a fuss, so you can go if you are not satisfied with our company. We're quite happy where we are."
"But I'm not goin' without that cuss," and Jim looked savagely at the old man. "You kin stay if ye want to with the guy who owns this cabin. There'll be a nice little story fer the gossips before long, ha, ha."
At these words Jasper started, while his face went white and his hands clenched together. He had listened in silence to Jim's tirade, and was only waiting an opportunity to explain how the old man and the girl happened to be at his place. But this pointed reference to him was more than he could endure.
"What do you mean by that statement?" he asked, taking a quick step forward. "Please explain yourself."
"There's nothin' to explain," and Jim gave a coarse laugh. "The neighbours will do all the explainin' that is necessary."
"No, that's not the thing. You made an insinuation, and it's up to you to explain before you leave. I have nothing to do with the neighbours; it's you I am dealing with now. Yon have insulted this feeble old man, and uttered words in reference to me and this girl. I want to know what you mean."
"I don't have to explain anything," Jim retorted. "You mind yer own business, and go to ----"
The oath had hardly left his lips ere Jasper with one lightning blow hit him squarely between the eyes. Jim reeled back, and then with a frightful oath leaped forward. But he was powerless before Jasper's superior training and soon he was sprawling upon the ground while his opponent stood bending over him.
"Had enough, eh?" Jasper asked. "If you want some more, get up. I haven't had half enough yet."
"Leave me alone," Jim mumbled. "You'll pay up for this. I'll fix ye."
"What's that you say?" and Jasper stooped lower, "You're going to pay me back? Well, then, I might as well fix you now, so you won't be able to do anything in the future. I might as well have my satisfaction when I can get it. So get up, or I'll knock the life out of your measley carcass."
Seeing that Jasper was in earnest, Jim scrambled to his feet and barely dodged the blow rained at his head.
"Fer God's sake, stop!" he yelled. "I won't do anything to ye. I promise on me word of honour."
"And, you'll be good to this old man?" Jasper demanded.
"Yes, yes," and Jim trembled in every limb. "I'll be good to him if ye don't hit me agin."
For a few seconds Jasper looked contemptuously upon the creature cowering before film. He felt that he was lying, and just as soon as he was out of his sight he would treat old David in a shameful manner, and he himself would be helpless to interfere. What could he do? he asked himself. A sudden idea came into his mind.
"What do you get for the keep of this old man?" he asked.
"Only a hundred," was the surly reply. "Not half enough."
"Well, look here, will you give him to me? I will take care of him for nothing."
Into Jim Goban's eyes came a look of surprise mingled with doubt. The man must surely be making sport of him, he thought. Then his natural cupidity overcame him. Here was a chance to get clear of the pauper and at the same time receive money for his keep. But how would the overseers of the poor regard such a transaction?
"Will you let me have him?" Jasper again asked.
"Give me twenty-five dollars and he is yours," Jim replied.
"Twenty-five dollars! No, not a cent. You will make out of it as it is; far more than you deserve."
"I can't do it, then," and Jim made as though to go. "Come on," he ordered David and Betty. "Let's git away from here."
"Hold on," and Jasper stepped, up close to him; "if you do not let me have the old man, I'll lay a charge against you for ill treating him, I saw enough this morning to satisfy any one. Let me have him, and you need have no more worry. Refuse, and you will regret it."
"But what will the overseers say if I give him up?" Jim whined.
"Oh, that can be easily settled. If they make a fuss, send them to me. But I guess they won't bother their heads."
Jim still hesitated. He longed to get more out of this bargain.
"Hurry up," Jasper demanded. "What do you say?"
"Oh, take the cuss, then. I wish ye joy of him. I'm off now. Come, girl, let's git home."
During the whole of this affair Betty had been a most interested and excited witness. She was delighted at the thought of David's freedom, and when Jim at last agreed to part with him she could hardly repress a cry of joy. It took her but a second to make up her mind, and she was ready when Jim spoke to her.
"I'm not going with you," she told him.
"Not goin'! Why, what d'ye mean?" and Jim looked his astonishment.
"I'm going to stay with Mr. David. He needs me more than you do. I'm going to take him to my own home. He will be happy there and treated like a gentleman."
"Ho, ho! so that's the game, eh? Treat him like a gentleman! Well, do as ye like; it's nothin' to me, so I'm off."
They watched him as he strode across the field, unhitched his horse and drove away.
"There, we're rid of him at last," and Jasper gave a sigh of relief.
"Isn't it great!" Betty exclaimed turning to David. "To think that you are going home with me!"
But the old man was looking at Jasper and did not hear the girl's cry of delight. In his eyes was an expression of gratitude. He tried to speak but words failed him, and tears flowed down his cheeks. Jasper was visibly moved, and turned suddenly to Betty.
"You are willing to keep him for awhile?" he asked.
"Yes. Mother will be so pleased to have him, and I will work hard to help her."
"Where will you work? At Jim Goban's?"
"No, I am through there. But I will get work somewhere. I will talk it over with mother. I think we had better be going now."
Thrusting his hand into his pocket Jasper brought forth several bills.
"Take these," he said, "they are all I can give you now, but you shall have more later."
"But you need the money yourself," the girl replied.
"Not as much as you will need it. So say nothing more about it. Good-bye. I hope to see you again."
Jasper watched the two as they moved slowly across the field and then disappeared down the road. He felt lonely when they were gone, and he sat for some time in front of the cabin lost in thought. At times he called himself a fool for what he had done. Why should he be burdened with that old man when he could hardly make his own living? And besides, he had no work to do, and had given away his last dollar. But notwithstanding all this, a secret feeling of satisfaction stole into his heart that he had helped old David and had taken him out of Jim Goban's clutches.
As he sat there the bell of the nearby church rang forth, and he realised for the first time that it was Sunday morning. He did not feel in a mood for attending service. He needed a long walk to think, and shake off the spirit of depression that was stealing over him.
Entering the cabin, he prepared a small lunch, and then closing the door he struck out across the field in the direction of Break Neck Falls. He wished to go there to view the scene where David planned to erect his plant and do such wonderful things. He smiled grimly to himself as he thought of the old man's delusion. Reaching the brow of the hill just where the trail started from the main road, he paused and looked down to his left. He could see clearly Peter Sinclair's house with the tall trees surrounding it. Bitter feelings came into his heart as he stood there. Over yonder lived a man who had the power to do so much good in the world. He could help old David and give him a comfortable home for the rest of his life. Why should some men have so much of this world's goods and others so little? he asked himself. Then he thought of Dick, and a contemptuous smile curled his lips. He recalled his feelings the previous day when he had watched the car go by and listened to the salutation of "Spuds."
And standing there his feelings suddenly underwent a marvellous change, for walking slowly across the field was Lois on her way to church. She was some distance away so Jasper was sure that she could not see him. As in the past so now he was forced to worship her afar off. It was not for him, poor and unknown, to draw any closer. The trees along the path she walked could bend above her and the bright flowers could smile up into her face. But for him there could be no such favours. He was half tempted to hasten back to church. There he could be quite near and watch her. He banished this thought, however, as he glanced down at his own rough clothes and coarse boots.
Jasper watched Lois until she disappeared from view behind a clump of birch trees. Then leaving the highway he walked slowly along the trail leading to the falls.