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A RIDE THROUGH THE WOODS.
The next morning, when the three were seated at the breakfast table, Mr. Grey said:
"Jasper, I think I shall leave you to amuse yourself this morning. I propose to invite Gilbert to accompany me on a drive."
"All right, father. Where do you intend driving?"
"I scarcely know, yet. There are many pleasant places in the neighborhood which it is worth while to visit."
"I wonder what the old man's up to?" thought Jasper. "No good to Gilbert, I'll be bound. Well, I've had my turn, and it's no more than right that he should take his. I won't ask any inconvenient questions."
"Will that arrangement be agreeable to you?" asked James Grey, turning to his young visitor.
"I shall be happy to accompany you, Mr. Grey," answered our hero, politely.
"Then it is settled. I will order the chaise round to the door at ten o'clock."
"I will be ready, sir."
Jasper looked at his father curiously, as Gilbert left the room. His look was returned by one equally significant.
"Ask no questions," it said, and Jasper sauntered out of the room, in mute obedience.
Ten o'clock found the chaise before the door. Gilbert was on hand, and so was his uncle.
"Jump in, Gilbert," said Mr. Grey.
Our hero did so, and James Grey followed.
Jasper stood near, and looked on.
"He isn't coming back," he said to himself. "I saw it in my father's eyes. He won't dare to kill him, I wonder?"
The question, which should have produced a feeling of horror, only caused a feeling of curiosity, and he walked away, in the confidence that the dangerous foe to his prospects was to be disposed of somehow.
"It is a pleasant morning for driving," said Mr. Grey, by way of opening the conversation.
"Yes, sir, very pleasant."
"Did you have any more trouble with Bucephalus yesterday?"
"No, sir. He has given up the contest."
"I am glad to hear it."
"How large is your estate, Mr. Grey?"
This was a simple question, but James Grey understood it as implying curiosity on the part of our hero to learn how large a property he could claim.
"There are about two hundred acres," he answered. "By the way, we have not yet spoken of your claim."
"I have been meaning to go to Alton to consult my lawyer. I have delayed it longer, perhaps, than I should. To-morrow I will attend to it, and report to you the result."
"Thank you, sir. I don't like to hurry you, but a decision is so important to my plans in life that I should like the matter decided as soon as possible."
"Of course, your feeling is only natural. Indeed, I have reason to feel in the same way, for if your claim is sustained it will reduce me to comparative poverty, and my poor boy also."
James Grey spoke with affected feeling, and Gilbert responded, quickly:
"Don't think so meanly of me, Mr. Grey, as to suppose that I should be willing to reduce you and Jasper to poverty. I can not give up my rights, but I will take care that you are saved from any pecuniary want."
"Will you, indeed?" said Mr. Grey to himself, with a sneer. "Thank you for nothing, young man; I intend to provide against that contingency myself."
What he said aloud was something very different.
"I feel sure that in any event I can rely on your forbearance," he said. "But the decision may be in my favor, and in that case I will not be behind you in generosity. I will do what I can to further your interests, though I do not promise to do as much for you as an own son."
"Of course not, sir. I thank you for your offer."
Mr. Grey spoke so frankly and fairly—he was one of those who could assume a virtue though he had it not—that Gilbert was partially deceived—so far, at least, as to question the correctness of his former impressions of his uncle. Nevertheless, he could not help calling to mind that this man, fairly as he now spoke, had in all probability conspired against him, dooming him to privation and penury for nearly ten years, while he and his son had been living luxuriously. On the whole, his uncle was a puzzle to him. He exhibited such a contrariety of character and disposition, that he knew not to what decision it would be right to come respecting it.
"I am going to avoid the village, Gilbert," said his uncle, "and drive you along a very charming road, or rather cart-path, threading the woods. The trees are now looking very beautiful with their changing foliage, and I think you will like it better than the ordinary road."
"You are right, sir, I should," answered Gilbert.
"It will give you an idea of our Western forests. I suppose you are only familiar with those in the East?"
"I am not familiar with any. I have always lived in the city—first in New York, and afterward in Cincinnati."
Gilbert would have mentioned his residence in Australia, but he thought that the reference to it might be construed by his uncle into a tacit reproach, and therefore forbore.
They turned from the main road into one not much frequented, and speedily entered the forest. Not a suspicion of his uncle's bad faith, or of any conspiracy against himself, entered the mind of our hero. He had not yet fathomed the depth of his uncle's wickedness.
"Jasper never cares to ride in this direction," said Mr. Grey. "He has no love for Nature."
"He has told me that he would rather live in the city."
"Yes, he would; but I am attached to the country. I suppose when he grows older that he will insist upon leaving me. That will leave me indeed solitary."
They kept on till they were in the heart of the woods. As Mr. Grey had said, the road was now but a cart-path, bordered on either side by tall, straight trees. Suddenly, from a covert of underbrush, a ruffian sprang out, and seized the horse by the bridle.
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