Chapter 3




JASPER RECOGNIZES THE VISITOR.

"Will the old man do anything for me after he marries you, mother?" asked Nicholas, who never failed to look out for his own interests.

"He doesn't know you are in existence, Nicholas."

"Did you never speak to him of me?"

"No; I didn't dare to tell him."

"Why not?"

"It might prevent his marrying me."

"It seems to me," grumbled Nicholas, "you only thought of yourself. You didn't care what became of me."

"That is unjust, Nicholas. You must see that it is. Once we are married I shall have more control of money, and if Mr. Kent dies I shall be entitled to a third of his property."

"I wish he'd leave you the whole, and cut off that upstart Jasper," said Nicholas, frowning.

"There is not much chance of that. He thinks everything of Jasper. However, I don't think he'll live long, and I shall induce him, if possible, to name me as Jasper's guardian."

"That would be a good job for you, mother—not so good for Jasper, I'm thinking."

"You are right, Nicholas. Did you say you disliked him?"

"Yes, I hate him."

"So do I," said his mother in a low tone, but one of intense energy.

"Why?" asked Thorne, in some curiosity.

"I'll tell you. From my entrance into his father's family he has never treated me with any cordiality. Evidently he didn't like me. I think, indeed, he mistrusted me, though I never gave occasion for any suspicions. If he should learn now that I am to marry his father, he would move heaven and earth to prevent the marriage."

"Has he been home much since you were in the house?"

"No; he was at school elsewhere, and was only at home during his vacations."

"How did he come to be sent here to this school? Did you advise it?"

"No; I was opposed to it, but Mr. Kent was recommended by a friend to send his son here. I did not venture to say much, lest I should be asked how I came to know anything of the school. I was afraid you and he would meet, and he would learn the connections between us."

"I suppose you'll own up after the wedding, won't you?"

"I think not at once, Nicholas."

"Why not?"

"Remember what I told you, that Mr. Kent is in poor health. He may not live six months. We can keep the matter secret for that time, can't we, Nicholas?"

"If you were only sure he would die in that time."

"He has heart disease, and is liable to die at any time."

"You want him to make his will first, and leave you guardian?"

"Of course."

"After that you wouldn't mourn very much for his loss?"

"No; I don't pretend to care for him."

"He thinks you do, eh, mother?"

"Of course."

"Oh, you're a deep one, you are," said Nicholas, winking in a way to indicate his shrewd insight into his mother's motives.

"I have to be, Nicholas. There's no getting on in this world without it. But I think I shall have to leave you now."

"Then you don't mean to invite me to the wedding, mother?"

"It will be a private ceremony."

"Will Jasper be invited?"

"His father was anxious to have him at home. Indeed, I have had a great deal of trouble to prevent his sending for him, but at length I have succeeded. I know too well the danger. The boy has a great influence over his father, whose mind is weakened with his body, and I should be afraid that the match would be broken off even at the last moment if the boy got wind of our plan."

"How mad Jasper will be when he hears of it!" said Thorne, laughing with malicious enjoyment. "I wish I could tell him."

"Don't breathe a word of it, Nicholas," said his mother, in evident alarm.

"Oh, I'll keep the secret. But it won't do any harm when it's all over, will it?"

"Say nothing till I authorize it."

"Well, I won't, then, if I can help it. But I say, mother, the old gentleman will come down handsomely when you're married. You ought to raise my allowance to two dollars a week."

"I will if I can afford it," said his mother. "But I must leave you now, Nicholas. I shall have about time to go to the station and meet the next train."

"Shan't I go with you?"

"I should like your company, my dear boy, but we must be prudent. We might meet Jasper Kent."

"That's so. Well, good-bye."

"Good-bye, Nicholas," and his mother pressed her lips upon the cheek of her son.

He tolerated the kiss, but did not return it. His heart was not very impressible, and he cared for no one except himself.

"I won't stop to see Dr. Benton," she said, at parting. "You may tell him that I was in haste."

"All right."

Mrs. Thorne emerged from the parlor and from the house. She was tall and erect in figure, and walked rapidly. Her face was concealed by a thick veil, but, for the information of the reader it may be described as narrow and long, with small eyes, like those of Nicholas, and thin, tightly-compressed lips. She was not a woman to yield to misfortune or give way to sentimental sorrow. She looked rather like one who knew how to face fortune and defy it. It was not a pleasant face, but it was decidedly a strong one.

The grounds of the school were extensive, and the house stood back two or three hundred yards from the street. A long avenue led from the house to the main thoroughfare.

Mrs. Thorne looked hurriedly about her as she went out on her way.

"I shouldn't like to meet Jasper Kent," she said to herself. "It might lead to unpleasant questions and suspicions on his part, and I don't want anything to happen before I am married."

It seemed likely that she would escape the encounter which she dreaded. Had there been no interruption or delay she would have done so; but it was not so to be. She met Dr. Benton in front of the house, and was compelled to stop and speak to him.

"You find Nicholas well?" he said, politely.

"Oh, yes, doctor," she answered, softly. "I have no anxiety on that subject, as long as he is under your care. I know that he cannot fail to do well."

We all like flattery, and the learned principal was not proof against it.

"Ahem! Mrs. Thorne," he said, pompously, "we try to do our duty by the young people intrusted to our charge. We do not limit our endeavors to their mental culture, but strive to promote their physical well-being also."

"And you succeed remarkably well, Dr. Benton. But you must excuse my leaving you abruptly. I wish to catch the next train."

"I hope we shall see you again soon, madam," said the doctor, politely.

"I shall endeavor to call again before many weeks, Dr. Benton. Good-morning."

"Good-morning, madam."

Mrs. Thorne adjusted her veil and swiftly resumed her course. Her heart gave a bound when, just outside the gate, she espied the well-known figure of Jasper Kent.

"I hope he won't recognize me," she thought

But she forgot her peculiar gait, and the quick, rapid step, which were likely to identify her in the eyes of anyone who had seen her often. Jasper Kent's attention was drawn to her, and he observed these peculiarities.

"By Jove!" he said to himself, "she walks just like the governess."

Still, having no reason to suspect the presence of Miss Thorne, as he called her, at the school, he would have thought the resemblance only accidental, but for a whiff of wind which blew the veil aside from her face. That face there was no mistaking.

"Miss Thorne!" he exclaimed, in surprise, advancing to meet her.

She was exceedingly vexed, but it would not do to betray it.

"Jasper!" she said, with a smile. "You didn't expect to see me here?"

"No; did you come to see me? Is my father unwell?" he asked, anxiously.

"Your father is quite well."

"Then—"

"Why have I come? I see that is what you wish to ask. I have not come on your account at all. I came to see a nephew of my own."

"At this school?"

"Yes."

"You must mean Nicholas Thorne."

"Yes; do you know him?"

"A little," said Jasper, with reserve.

"Poor fellow! He has neither father nor mother to look after him, only myself. I am his only relative living."

"I never heard you speak of him before."

"No; I have not cared to intrude my private concerns upon your father or yourself. But I must hurry, or I shall be late at the station. Have you any message to send to your father?"

"Give him my love, and tell him to take care of his health for my sake."

"I hope he will do that for all our sakes," said the lady, with affected warmth. "Good-bye."

"Good-bye."

Jasper Kent looked after her as she walked rapidly away.

"Why is it that I distrust her so much?" he thought to himself. "So she is Thorne's aunt. Well, he is not a relation to be proud of."

"How vexatious that I should meet him," thought Mrs. Thorne. "I ought not to have run the risk of coming. If he tells Nicholas that I have admitted a relationship it may do harm. Once the wedding is over I shall feel more secure."



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