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Jasper was now thoroughly enlisted in his father's plans. Almost any boy of his age would have shuddered at the prospect of a violent death which, through the united agency of his father and himself, impended over his young guest. But Jasper was thoroughly selfish, and what his father had communicated to him had inspired in him a feeling of alarm. He could not endure the thought of surrendering his inheritance to Gilbert, and was ready, young as he was, to go to any extremity rather than to do it.
According to the suggestion his father had made, when dinner was over, at which both Jasper and his father had exerted themselves to be particularly agreeable, the former, turning to his cousin, said:
"If you like, I will take you out in the carriage. You might like to see something of the country round here."
"I should like it very much," said Gilbert, "but I hope you won't put yourself to too much trouble."
"It will be no trouble. I shall enjoy driving with some one who is new to the country. It is dull work driving alone."
"I will go with pleasure, then, and thank you for the offer."
James Grey listened with complacent approval.
"Really," he thought, "I didn't imagine Jasper could be so polite and agreeable. He doesn't often show these qualities in his intercourse with me."
When Gilbert went up to prepare for the excursion, Jasper lingered behind.
"If I am going to do the agreeable to your company, father," he said, "I shall need some money. I am cleaned out."
Without a word of remonstrance his father drew thirty dollars from his pocket-book, and placed the money in his son's hands.
"Do it up handsomely, Jasper," he said. "Don't be unnecessarily extravagant, of course, but spend your money like a gentleman."
"Yes, father," answered Jasper, as his fingers closed with satisfaction upon the bills.
The carriage drove up to the door, and the two young men entered. During the drive that ensued, Jasper showed himself very social and communicative. He was unwearied in pointing out objects of interest, and, in fact, by his easy and genial manners almost conquered the antipathy which Gilbert secretly felt.
"I wonder," he said, at length, leaning back in the carriage and surveying Gilbert with curiosity, "I wonder you never visited us before."
"I did not know where you lived."
"Yet we are relations—distant relations, are we not?"
"I have reason to think that we are related."
"I have very few relations—none that I know. I believe there is a brother of my mother living somewhere in New Mexico, but with that exception, I know of no relations except you. Where do you live?"
"I used to live there. Why did we not meet then?"
"I have only been there for the last three years—that is, lately. I have been in Australia, and later in New York."
"In Australia!" echoed Jasper, in considerable surprise.
"Yes, I was there for a while."
"You have been quite a traveler. How nearly are you related to us?"
"That matter is not settled yet. I am not quite sure whether your father would like me to tell."
Gilbert said this, understanding the embarrassment of intimating to a son that his father had defrauded him of the property that was rightfully his. He thought it best to let his uncle reveal the secret himself.
They drove ten miles, reaching a considerable town, boasting a large hotel.
"Let us go in and have a game of billiards," suggested Jasper.
"Very well, but you won't find me much of a player."
"I must get father to put a billiard table in the house. I like the game, but I get no chance to practice."
They adjourned to the bar-room, in which there was a solitary table. This happened to be unoccupied, and they accordingly played two games, which lasted about an hour and a half. The reader will judge that neither was very expert in the game.
"Now," said Jasper, who paid for both games, despite Gilbert's remonstrances, "we will order a little lunch, and then start for home."
"I don't feel hungry."
"Nonsense! one can always eat. Besides, I want to patronize the hotel."
"Did you have a pleasant drive?" asked James Grey, meeting them on their return.
"Very pleasant," responded Gilbert.
"I hope Jasper was attentive."
"He could not have been more so. I am much obliged to him."
"I am glad enough to have company," said Jasper, with an assumption of frank cordiality. "I don't often enjoy a drive, but I did this afternoon."
"I think I shall have to invite Gilbert to stay here as our permanent guest," said Mr. Grey, pleasantly.
While he spoke Gilbert could not help wondering what had come over him to make him so different from what he was in Cincinnati. There he was rough, insulting, and abusive. Now he was the model of courtesy. It was hard to believe him the same man. Gilbert was not very credulous, but he was thoroughly deceived by his altered manner.
"I suppose he really believed me an impostor when we met in Cincinnati," said he to himself. "Now he begins to think that he was mistaken, and is trying to make it up to me."
Nevertheless, there were one or two things which interfered with this view. Why should his uncle have schemed so eagerly to get dishonest possession of the confession unless he believed it to be genuine, and therefore dangerous? That did not seem honorable. What had happened since to change him?
After reflection, this was the conclusion to which our hero came: His uncle had made up his mind that he (Gilbert) had a strong case, and meant to conciliate him in the hope of a favorable compromise. Otherwise what object could he have in treating him with so much politeness and attention?
Gilbert was a smart boy, or perhaps I should say, young man, but he was not yet acquainted with the "ways that are dark, and the tricks that are vain," to which human craft is often led to resort. Least of all did he suspect any danger to himself from the uncle and cousin, who seemed to vie with each other in ministering to his enjoyment.
"Well, Jasper," said his father, the next morning, as they were seated at breakfast, "what plans have you for the enjoyment of our guest?"
"You ride on horseback, don't you, Gilbert?" inquired his cousin.
"Yes, I can ride a little."
"Wouldn't you like a gallop after breakfast?"
Gilbert responded readily in the affirmative. He had taken riding lessons in the city, and was accustomed to ride, whenever he had a chance, in the environs of the city. He was, in truth, an excellent rider, having taken lessons of an accomplished teacher, who often referred to him as one of the most proficient of his pupils. But when Jasper questioned him he only answered that he rode a little, having a strong disinclination to boast.
"I should think that would be an agreeable plan," said Mr. Grey. "What horses shall you take?"
"I will ride on my own. I am used to her, and don't like to change."
"How will you mount Gilbert?"
"He might ride on Bucephalus."
"Isn't Bucephalus a little skittish?"
"That is what they say at the stable; but I am not so easily scared."
"Why not use Sidney?"
"Sidney is not very well; he has had a bad cold. Still, if Gilbert is afraid of mounting Bucephalus"—there was an intentional covert sneer in Jasper's tone—"he can try Sidney."
Now Gilbert was not timid, and did not like to be considered so. Had he really known the character of the horse designed for him, his cousin's words would still have decided him to take the risk.
"I am not in the least afraid," he said. "I'll ride Bucephalus."
"Don't you think you had better take the other horse?" urged James Grey, hypocritically.
"No, sir," said Gilbert, with decision. "If Sidney is sick I would much rather try Bucephalus, even if he is a trifle spirited."
"A trifle spirited," thought his uncle. "I wouldn't trust myself on the brute for ten thousand dollars."
"If you're ready, Gilbert, we'll go out to the stable," said Jasper.
They left the house and proceeded in the direction of the stable.
"Ten to one he'll come back hurt," James Grey said to himself, "if he comes back at all," he added, with an evil smile.
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