As Christmas drew near the men began to talk much about going home. Jasper listened to them but took no part in the conversation. All of the men had homes to go to. Most of them were married, and were looking forward with eagerness to the holiday with their families. But to Jasper the season brought little joy. No one was expecting him, and no face would brighten at his home-coming. There was only one place where he longed to go, and one person he desired to see. If he could but feel that her eyes would sparkle and her heart beat with joy at his presence, he would not have hesitated a moment. But he was not sure, and so he decided to remain in camp and keep watch over the supplies while the rest went home. If Christmas Day should be fine, he planned to pay a visit to old David in the afternoon. He might hear something about Lois from the Petersons, so he thought, and that would be some comfort.
Jasper lived in a small snug log cabin which he had built for his own special use. He wished to be alone as much as possible each night that he might think over the work for the next day, and also have quietness for reading. He had supplied himself with a number of books, and these were placed on a small shelf fastened to the wall. So long had he been denied the privilege of good literature that he now came to the feast like a starving man. Hitherto, his mind had craved only solid works of the masters. But of late he had turned his attention more to books of romance, for in them he could find more heart satisfaction than in the others. How he revelled in the outstanding characters of Dickens, Scott, Thackeray and Kingsley. But it remained for Charles Reed to completely captivate him in “The Cloister and the Hearth.”
He was reading it this Christmas Eve as he lay stretched out upon his cot. The lamp was at his head and the camp stove was sending out its genial heat. It was a scene of peace and comfort. But Jasper thought nothing of his surroundings as he lay there, for he was lost in the tragic story of Gerard and Margaret. Nothing had ever moved him as much as the sad tale of these two unfortunate lovers. His disengaged right hand often clenched hard as he read of the contemptible ones who plotted to separate them. But how Margaret appealed to him. What strength of character was hers, and how true and unselfish was her love through long, trying years.
At length, laying aside the book, he began to meditate upon what he would do under like circumstances, if Lois’ love for him were as deep as that of Margaret for Gerard. He blamed Gerard for what he considered weakness on his part. Why did he not arouse himself and throw off the shackles which bound him? What right had any Church to separate two loving ones, and make their young lives so miserable?
While thus musing Jasper fell asleep. He was awakened by a loud rapping upon the door. With no idea what time it was he sprang to his feet, hurried across the room and threw open the door. As he did so he saw a young lad standing before him. His face was flushed and he was panting heavily as if from a long run.