Under Sealed Orders by H. A. Cody
Chapter IX. United Forces
Jasper was now in a position to give up his entire time to old David's interests. No longer need he worry about working on the farm, nor how he was to obtain his daily food. He was provided for a month at least, and he was most anxious now to enter upon the odd task which had been assigned to him. Robert Westcote, the stranger, interested him greatly, and he felt sure that he should hear more about him later.
Having eaten his simple lunch, he started down the road. The village of Creekdale was about two miles away, and there he hoped to find a house suitable for David. The only man he knew in the place was the storekeeper, and from him he believed that he could secure some information, and at the same time get his cheque cashed.
It was a beautiful afternoon, and his heart was lighter than it had been for many a day. He walked along with the swing of a man who has a definite purpose in life, and from whose heart all gloomy thoughts have been banished. He did not try to account for this mood. It was sufficient for him that in some way a load had been for a time lifted from his mind. He would let the future look out for itself, and enjoy the present as far as it was possible for him to do so.
Reaching a clump of trees, he sat down by the side of the road to rest. The shade was refreshing, for he was quite warm as he had been walking fast. Birds sang in the branches above him, and fanned the air with their light wings. Butterflies zigzagged past, and honey-laden bees sped by like express trains. He watched them with much interest, and mused upon their activity. Each had a special work to do, and was performing it to the best of its ability. He was glad now that he was alive, and had something definite in view. It was far better than groping around in a haphazard way looking for work. Something seemed to tell him that he was entering upon the trail of a mystery and he was eager to follow the scent wherever it might lead. The spirit of adventure was in his blood, mingled with the nectar of romance. It had always been there, inherited from his ancestors. It was that same spirit which had caused him to leave the farm and enter college several years before. It had always been with him, and was stronger now than ever. He would follow the quest to the end, and see what the outcome would be.
Jasper was about to rise and proceed on his way when, glancing along the road, he saw Lois coming toward him. His heart beat fast when he saw her, and his first impulse was to get away out of sight. Why should he meet her? he asked himself. She had no use for him, and would not consider it worth while to talk to one of whom her brother and Sammie Dingle were always making fun.
As he hesitated, Lois drew nearer. She was walking very slowly as if in deep thought. She wore a simple white dress, and a light, broad-rimmed hat which partly shaded her face. To Jasper she seemed the very embodiment of grace and beauty as she moved toward him. In her all the charm of the glorious day, of bird and flower seemed to be combined. He was lifted out of himself, entranced, and by the time she was opposite the clump of trees he was standing by the side of the road, with hat in his hand, confused and abashed.
His sudden appearance startled Lois for an instant.
But when she saw who it was, she smiled, and held out her hand.
"I didn't notice you," she began, "as I was lost in thought. But I have wanted to see you to thank you for what you did for me yesterday. I shudder to think of what would have been the result if you had not been there. I hope you were not offended at Sammie's words."
"And you feel none the worse for your fall and wetting?" Jasper evasively replied.
"Oh, no, I am all right now. It takes more than that to knock me out. I was going over this morning to thank you, but----"
She paused, and looked thoughtfully across the fields.
"I know," Jasper hastened to explain. "You didn't like to come to my shack. It is only natural. It would have given people something to talk about."
Lois looked at him for an instant and a sudden fire of resentment shone in her eyes, while her face flushed.
"Do you consider me such a weak person as that?" she demanded. "Do you imagine that I care what people might say? I never let the frills and shams of life interfere with me when I am in the way of duty."
"Forgive me," Jasper apologised, "if I have offended you. I spoke without due thought. But one hardly knows how to take people these days, and I am sorry that I judged you wrongly. I am so glad that you are not like others."
"We will forget all about it," Lois replied, with a smile. "Yes, I was going to see you this morning to thank you, no matter what people might say, but I was sent for by Mrs. Peterson who lives just back there, and I have been with her ever since. She is in great trouble, as her husband is an invalid, and she has no way of making a living. She is thinking of taking in summer boarders, and she wanted to talk to me about it."
"And what did you advise?" Jasper questioned.
"Nothing," was the emphatic reply. "It is a difficult problem, and I do not know what can be done. In the first place, the house is too small for more than two or three boarders, and she could not expect to have them for more than a few weeks at the most in the summer time. If she could have them all the year around it would be different. And besides, it would be very hard for Mrs. Peterson to look after them. It takes most of her time caring for her husband, who is quite weak, and not always very considerate, I am afraid."
As Lois was thus talking, Jasper was doing some serious thinking. He was greatly interested in what she told him, not so much about the Petersons as others he had in mind. He believed that here was the very place for old David.
"Do you mind going back with me to see Mrs. Peterson?" he asked.
"Why, no," Lois replied, turning her eyes to his, as if trying to comprehend why he should wish to meet Mrs. Peterson. "It will be better than standing here in the heat."
As they walked slowly along the road Jasper told her about David, how he and the girl had taken refuge in his cabin, where the old man was at present, and that he was looking for a suitable place where he could live. He said as little as possible about his own share in the matter, excepting that he had rescued David from Jim Goban and was going to see that he was well cared for. He did not say anything about Robert Westcote, remembering his obligation of silence.
Lois was much interested in what he told her, and her mind was very busy as she walked along by his side wondering where he was to get the money to carry out his plan.
"It will cost considerable," she remarked when he was through. "Do you think you can manage it?"
"I am quite certain that there will be no trouble," he replied. "Just why I am doing this I cannot explain now, but I assure you there will be no difficulty. David is to be well provided for, as far as money is concerned, and he is to have some one to look after him all the time."
"What, at Mrs. Peterson's, if she will take him?" Lois asked in surprise.
"Yes, that is my idea. If that girl Betty will come, she will be just the person."
They had paused now and were standing at the entrance of the lane leading up to the Peterson's house. It was a most beautiful spot, with tall trees lining both sides of the drive-way. They were on a gentle elevation with the village of Creekdale on their left but a few rods away. It was an interesting collection of snug country-homes of farmers, river boatmen, and several retired sea captains. All the people in Creekdale knew one another's business, and the women could see what their neighbours were doing, and some could easily talk from door to door about the events of the day.
It was only natural that Mrs. Raymond should leave her washing-tub long enough to watch Lois and Jasper as they stood for a few moments by the side of the road. She wondered what they were doing there, and her curiosity was so much aroused when they at length walked up the drive-way to the Peterson's house that she slipped over next door to discuss it with Mrs. Markham.
The people of Creekdale often talked about the Petersons, calling them stuck-up because they mingled but little in the social life of the place. "I have lived next door to them for nigh on to ten years," Mrs. Raymond once confided to a neighbour, "and only once have they been in my house. I guess Captain Peterson must have some money laid by, for he does nothing but work in his garden and look after his hens, cow and pig."
When, however, the Captain was stricken with partial paralysis and was unable to work, the belief became general that he certainly did have considerable money laid away.
The Petersons' house was as neat and cosy as hands could make it. A spacious verandah swept the front and south end of the building. Over this clambered a luxuriant growth of grape vines. Here Captain Peterson was lying in a large invalid's chair, puffing away at a short-stemmed corn-cob pipe. He was surprised to see Lois back so soon, and he looked with curiosity upon Jasper, wondering where he had come from.
"Couldn't leave us, eh?" he questioned, as he gazed with admiration upon the bright, animated face before him.
"No, I had to come back," Lois laughingly replied. "Your company is so attractive that I could not resist the temptation of bringing another to enjoy it. This is Mr. Jasper Randall, Captain Peterson. He has come to see you on special business."
"Glad to see you, sir," and the captain reached out his hand. "Have a chair; there's one right there. Do ye smoke?"
"Oh, yes," and Jasper thrust his hand at once into his pocket. "Do you mind?" he asked, turning toward Lois.
"Not at all," was the reply. "But you two smoke to your hearts' content while I have a chat with Mrs. Peterson. I suppose she's in the house, Captain?"
"Yes, in the kitchen. At least, I heard her there a short time ago."
Lois was absent for about twenty minutes and when she returned the two men were talking in the most friendly manner.
"This is the first good chat I've had with a man for a long time," the captain told her. "He has made me feel better already."
"I hope he hasn't forgotten the object of his visit in listening to your sea yarns," Lois laughingly replied.
"Tut, tut, girl," and the captain blew a great cloud of smoke into the air. "D'ye think that is all I talk about? We had something just as interesting to discuss to-day, and so I forgot all about the yarns."
"And so you are willing to take old David and Betty into your house, are you?"
"Sure. I'm satisfied if Julia is. She's in charge of the ship now since I've lost my sea-legs."
"Mrs. Peterson is delighted at the thought of having them," Lois replied. "Here she comes now, and can speak for herself."
Mrs. Peterson was a pleasant-faced little woman who appealed to Jasper at once. He felt quite sure that she was just the person to look after David. She appeared so motherly and sympathetic that it was easy for him to talk to her as she showed him the rooms David and Betty could have.
"Why, you will give them half of the house," Jasper exclaimed.
"Only three rooms." was the reply. "The old man can sleep downstairs, and he can have this big room adjoining. The girl can have a comfortable room right at the head of the stairs."
Jasper and Lois were both greatly pleased, and as they walked away from the house they discussed it like two animated children.
"How delighted David will be with the place," Lois remarked. "He will be so comfortable there, I feel sure, and Mrs. Peterson will take such good care of him."
"And he will be able to hear the falls so plainly," Jasper replied. "He can sit on the verandah or at the window of his room and listen to the waters as long as he likes. It is just the place for him."
"How much does Mrs. Peterson want a week for their board?" Lois enquired.
"I never asked her," was the quiet reply. "I shall find that out later, for it is a matter of minor importance."
Lois glanced up quickly into her companion's face. She longed to know where the money was to come from. Surely this man who was working digging potatoes did not intend to pay the entire amount. But Jasper volunteered not the slightest information. He continued to talk about David, and his surprise when he learned of what was being done for him.
"I am so grateful for your assistance this afternoon," Jasper told Lois as they at last paused at the gate leading to the Sinclair house. "I started forth uncertain what to do, and behold, everything has turned out as if by magic."
"I am thankful that I have been of some assistance," was the quiet reply. "My mind is greatly relieved, too, for I was much worried about the Petersons. Two heads are better than one after all, are they not?"