“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.
THE SHADOW OF MYSTERY
When supper was over, the stranger lighted a cigar and stretched himself out upon the cot.
“This is certainly comfort,” he remarked, as he watched Jasper clear away the dishes. “It is fortunate that we have found such hospitality. You do not have many such visitors, I suppose. It must be rather lonely for you here.”
“Not as a rule, though I have been much favoured lately,” Jasper replied with a laugh, and he told how his cabin had been taken possession of the previous night.
“Well, that was cool, I should say,” and the stranger smiled. “Walked right in, did they?”
“But I didn’t mind, for they were such a queer couple; a feeble old man, and a bright, smart girl of about sixteen. It was nice for me to have them here on such a stormy night. I would have been very lonely, otherwise.”
“Where are they now?”
“They left this morning. It is a sad story. But as they are strangers to you, it would hardly interest you.”
“Indeed it would,” was the emphatic reply. “I am somewhat new to this country, and would like to find out all I can about the life of the people, especially in the country districts.”
When Jasper had finished washing the dishes, he sat down upon a chair by the side of the cot, and lighted the cigar his visitor had given him. He then related the story of old David and Betty, taking care to say as little as possible about his own part in the affair.
“And so the old man is at the girl’s home now, is he?” the stranger asked.
“Yes, for a time.”
“But what will become of him?”