Under Sealed Orders by H. A. Cody
Chapter VII. At the Close of a Day
High up on the bank of the brook which flows down from Break Neck Falls Jasper sat leaning against the bole of a large tree. It was drawing toward evening and long slanting shadows were falling athwart the landscape. It was a hot afternoon and the shade of the old spruce was refreshing. By his side was a rough birch fishing rod, and nearby wrapped up in cool, moist leaves were several fair-sized trout. Jasper had not been fishing for pleasure, but merely for food, as his scanty supply was almost gone. The fish would serve him for supper and breakfast. Beyond that he could not see, for he had not the least idea what he was to do to earn a living, and at the same time assist old David.
Though the day was exceptionally fine, Jasper did not enjoy it as at other times. His mind was too much occupied with other matters. All things seemed to be against him in his struggle to advance. It had been the same for years, and now the climax had been reached. What was he to do? he had asked himself over and over again during the afternoon. Should he give up in despair? What was the use of trying any longer? He had seen young men succeeding in life who had not made any efforts. Money and influence had pushed them along. Dick Sinclair would soon join their ranks. He had lived, a life of indolence, and yet it would be only a short time ere he would be looked upon as a prominent citizen. The papers would speak of his ability and write glowing articles about whatever he did. Where was the justice of it all? he questioned. Did not real worth and effort amount to anything in life's struggle?
At length, tired with such thoughts, he drew forth from an inside pocket a small book. It was well marked and showed constant usage. It was a volume of Emerson's Essays, a number of which he knew almost by heart. It was only natural that the book should open at the essay on Self-reliance, for there the pages were most thumb-marked. His eyes rested upon the words: "There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance." He read on to the beginning of the next paragraph, "Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string."
The book dropped from Jasper's hand and once more he gave himself up to thought. He knew how true were those words. He realised that envy is ignorance, and it was his duty to rise above it. Why should he spend his strength in envying others? He would conquer and make them envy him. Ah, that idea brought a flush to his face. He would trust himself, as Emerson said, and some day the very ones who looked down upon him and spurned him would come to him. How he was to accomplish this Jasper had no idea. But there was comfort in thinking about it, anyway, and he felt sure that a way would be opened whereby he could succeed.
He was aroused from his musing by the sound of voices. Looking quickly down toward the brook, he saw three people walking along the bank. He recognised them at once as Lois, Dick and Sammie. At first he was tempted to withdraw farther back among the trees lest he should be seen. He abandoned this idea, however, feeling quite certain that he would not be noticed where he was. Lois and Sammie were walking together, while Dick was a short distance ahead. What they were saying he could not make out, neither did he care. He had eyes only for the young woman, and he noted how beautiful she appeared as she walked with such an upright graceful swing. Was she happy in Sammie's company? he wondered. She was laughing now, and seemed to be greatly amused at something her companion was saying. Jasper noted all this, and then called himself a fool for imagining that she could ever think of him. No doubt she had already given her heart to the young man by her side, so he might as well banish her from his mind at once. He would go away and never see her again.
Acting upon this impulse, he was about to move softly among the trees and disappear. He had placed his book in his pocket and had reached for his fish when a cry of terror fell upon his ears. In an instant he was on his feet, peering keenly down to see what was the matter. In a twinkling he grasped the whole situation. Just across the brook a wall of rough rocks shelved upwards to the height of about twenty feet. Below, the water swirled and dashed over jagged boulders, receiving its impetus from the falls farther up stream. The path led along the top, and in some unaccountable manner Lois had slipped and fallen over the edge, and had gone swiftly down toward the rushing current below. She grasped frantically at everything on which she could lay her hands, and was only able to arrest her downward descent when a few feet from the water. And there she clung with the desperation of despair, while her two companions stood above half-paralysed with fear, and unable to assist her.
When Jasper saw Lois go down to what seemed certain destruction, he sprang forward and leaped down the bank as if shot from a catapult. Into the brook he recklessly dashed and like a giant forced his way across the current and around hidden boulders. At times it seemed as if he could not keep his feet and that he must be swept away. But that picture of the clinging woman nerved him to superhuman efforts, and slowly but surely he edged his way toward her. When a few feet from the base of the rock, he saw Lois relax and slip downward. Barely had she touched the water ere Jasper with a mighty effort leaped forward and caught her in his arms. Then in an instant they were both swept away. Fortunately, Jasper was a strong swimmer, and as they shot forward he was able to keep Lois' head above water, and work steadily toward the shore.
By this time Dick and Sammie had so far recovered from their fright that they were able to hurry down stream, and stand on the edge of the stream where the bank sloped gently to the water. Here they stood for several fearful seconds watching Jasper as he struggled toward them. They took special care not to wet their feet, but merely reached out and helped to pull Lois ashore and lay her upon the dry ground. More than that they were unable to do, and naturally turned toward Jasper for help.
"We must get her home at once," the latter remarked, kneeling by the side of the prostrate woman. "I am afraid she has been injured by the fall."
Fortunately, at that instant Lois opened her eyes and fixed them upon him in a dazed manner. Then she remembered what had happened, and sat suddenly up and looked around.
"My, I have given you a great fright," she said. "It was stupid of me to trip over that root."
"Are you hurt, Lois?" Dick inquired.
"I am somewhat bruised, that is all. I think I must have fainted and let go of the rock. How did I get here?"
"Oh, Spuds got hold of you and brought you out," Dick explained.
Lois at once turned her eyes upon Jasper who was now standing a few feet away. She noticed his drenched clothes, and also that there was blood upon his forehead.
"You are hurt," she cried. "You have struck your head."
"It's nothing, I assure you," and Jasper gave a slight laugh. "I must have hit it against a rock when we went down, that was all. It will soon get better. Never mind me, I am all right. But you must get home at once."
"Yes, come, Lois," and Sammie, speaking for the first time since the accident, stepped forward. "We must get you home at once. Never mind this fellow; he doesn't matter."
"Indeed he does," Lois emphatically replied. "He saved my life, and I can never thank him enough."
"But I would have saved you, Lois. I was just coming to rescue you when this fellow, who was spying upon us from the bushes, got to you first."
Lois never forgot the look on Jasper's face as the jealous Sammie uttered this insinuation. He drew himself up to his full height, and his eyes glowed with a sudden light of anger. She saw his lips move as if about to utter words of protest. Instead, however, he quickly turned, left them, and walking along the bank for a short distance reached a fordable place in the brook. He plunged into the water and after a brief struggle reached the opposite bank and disappeared among the trees.
Lois stood and watched him until he was out of sight. She was faint and greatly annoyed at Sammie's words. She knew now what a cad and a coward he really was, and was not even man enough to give credit to the one who had rescued her.
"Come, Dick," and she turned to her brother, "let's go home," was the only remark she made, as she took his arm and walked slowly along the path leading from the brook. She took no notice of the crestfallen Sammie, who trudged along behind wondering what had come over the young woman that she should act in such a strange manner.
Jasper could not fully understand the strange feeling that had come over him at Sammie's unjust insinuation. His first lightning thought was to knock the fellow down. Then he wanted to explain, to say that he had not been spying. But he knew that if he spoke he might get excited. No, it was better for him to leave at once, and let Lois think whatever she liked. He had saved her and that was all he cared for. But as he moved along through the woods, the few words she had said and the expression in her eyes acted as balm to his wounded feelings. He made up his mind, however, not to be caught in such a way again. He would take good care to keep away from the Sinclairs after that.
Going back to the place where he had left his fish, he picked them up and started down along the brook. He wished to get back to his cabin as quickly as possible that he might change his wet clothes. He was hungry as well, and he longed for a couple of the trout he had caught. He thought much of Lois, and wondered how she was getting along. He hoped that she had not been seriously injured and that she would not catch cold from her plunge into the water. He could not forget the feeling that had come over him as he had sprung forward and caught her as she was falling. He should remember that sensation for the rest of his life, no matter what happened.
Having reached the end of the trail, he moved swiftly along the main highway. He was almost to his cabin when he saw an auto by the side of the road. Something had evidently gone wrong, for two men were anxiously examining it. Jasper was about to pass when one of the men accosted him.
"Excuse me," he began, "but could you tell me if there is a hotel or any place where we can get supper? We have been stalled here for some time, and my chauffeur can't find what is the matter with the car."
"There is no hotel," Jasper replied, "and I know of no people who serve meals. But I have a place right near, and you are welcome to such accommodation as I have. It is very humble, and I warn you not to expect much. I have merely bachelor's quarters, and so am my own housekeeper."
"Thank you kindly," the man returned, "I am very grateful to you, and we shall be delighted to go with you, though we do not wish to trouble you too much. The trout you have make my mouth water. You evidently went in head-first after them," and he smiled as he observed the young man's wet clothes.
Jasper liked this man, and this impression was increased as they walked toward the cabin. He was well spoken, and so gentlemanly in manner that he found it quite easy to converse with him. Everything seemed to interest and please him, especially the cabin. He called Jasper a lucky fellow for having such a place where he could live so quietly away from all bustle and stress of the great outside world.
"It is quiet enough as a rule," Jasper remarked with a laugh, as he lighted the fire in his little stove after he had changed his wet clothes for dry ones.
"Have you lived here long?" the stranger inquired, as he stretched himself out upon the cot.
"Since the middle of May," was the reply. "But I expect to leave shortly. I'm out of a job now, and so must look elsewhere."
"What have you been working at?"
"Oh, anything that turns up."
The stranger was quick to note the almost hopeless tone in Jasper's voice as he uttered these words, and he studied the young man more closely.
"Where did you live before you came here?" he asked.
"At college. I was almost through when reverses came, and so I had to get out. I have been trying to earn enough to finish my course, but everything seems to be against me. I understand farming and naturally took to the land in preference to other work."
"What were you studying at college?" the man asked.
"I see. But was there not something you could have obtained along that line? Surely there must have been some opening."
Jasper made no reply. There was a reason, but he did not feel inclined to reveal his secret to a complete stranger, upon such a brief acquaintance.