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´╗┐Title: Ranching for Sylvia
Author: Bindloss, Harold, 1866-1945
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Ranching for Sylvia" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



RANCHING FOR SYLVIA

(Published in England under the Title, _The Trustee_)

by

HAROLD BINDLOSS

Author of _Vane of the Timberlands_, _Alton of Somasco_,
_Thurston of Orchard Valley_, _Masters of the Wheatlands_, etc.

A. L. Burt Company
Publishers   New York

1913



CONTENTS

CHAPTER

      I  A STRONG APPEAL
     II  HIS FRIENDS' OPINION
    III  A MATTER OF DUTY
     IV  GEORGE MAKES FRIENDS
      V  THE PRAIRIE
     VI  GEORGE GETS TO WORK
    VII  A CATTLE DRIVE
   VIII  CONSTABLE FLETT'S SUSPICIONS
     IX  GEORGE TURNS REFORMER
      X  THE LIQUOR-RUNNERS
     XI  DIPLOMACY
    XII  GEORGE FACES DISASTER
   XIII  SYLVIA SEEKS AMUSEMENT
    XIV  BLAND GETS ENTANGLED
     XV  HERBERT MAKES A CLAIM
    XVI  A FORCED RETIREMENT
   XVII  HERBERT IS PATIENT
  XVIII  BLAND MAKES A SACRIFICE
    XIX  AN OPPOSITION MOVE
     XX  A BLIZZARD
    XXI  GRANT COMES TO THE RESCUE
   XXII  THE SPREAD OF DISORDER
  XXIII  A HARMLESS CONSPIRACY
   XXIV  GEORGE FEELS GRATEFUL
    XXV  A COUNTERSTROKE
   XXVI  THE CLIMAX
  XXVII  A SIGN FROM FLETT
 XXVIII  THE LEADING WITNESS
   XXIX  FLORA'S ENLIGHTENMENT
    XXX  THE ESCAPE
   XXXI  THE REACTION
  XXXII  A REVELATION
 XXXIII  GEORGE MAKES UP HIS MIND



CHAPTER I

A STRONG APPEAL

It was evening of early summer.  George Lansing sat by a window of the
library at Brantholme.  The house belonged to his cousin; and George,
having lately reached it after traveling in haste from Norway, awaited
the coming of Mrs. Sylvia Marston in an eagerly expectant mood.  It was
characteristic of him that his expression conveyed little hint of his
feelings, for George was a quiet, self-contained man; but he had not
been so troubled by confused emotions since Sylvia married Marston
three years earlier.  Marston had taken her to Canada; but now he was
dead, and Sylvia, returning to England, had summoned George, who had
been appointed executor of her husband's will.

Outside, beyond the broad sweep of lawn, the quiet English countryside
lay bathed in the evening light: a river gleaming in the foreground,
woods clothed in freshest verdure, and rugged hills running back
through gradations of softening color into the distance.  Inside, a ray
of sunlight stretched across the polished floor, and gleams of
brightness rested on the rows of books and somber paneling.  Brantholme
was old, but modern art had added comfort and toned down its austerity;
and George, fresh from the northern snow peaks, was conscious of its
restful atmosphere.

In the meanwhile, he was listening for a footstep.  Sylvia, he had been
told, would be with him in two or three minutes; he had already been
expecting her for a quarter of an hour.  This, however, did not
surprise him: Sylvia was rarely punctual, and until she married
Marston, he had been accustomed to await her pleasure.

She came at length, clad in a thin black dress that fitted her
perfectly; and he rose and stood looking at her while his heart beat
fast.  Sylvia was slight of figure, but curiously graceful, and her
normal expression was one of innocent candor.  The somber garments
emphasized the colorless purity of her complexion; her hair was fair,
and she had large, pathetic blue eyes.  Her beauty was somehow
heightened by a hint of fragility: in her widow's dress she looked very
forlorn and helpless; and the man yearned to comfort and protect her.
It did not strike him that she had stood for some moments enduring his
compassionate scrutiny with exemplary patience.

"It's so nice to see you, George," she said.  "I knew you would come."

He thrilled at the assurance; but he was not an effusive person.  He
brought a chair for her.

"I started as soon as I got your note," he answered simply.  "I'm glad
you're back again."

He did not think it worth while to mention that he had with difficulty
crossed a snow-barred pass in order to save time, and had left a
companion, who resented his desertion, in the wilds; but Sylvia guessed
that he had spared no effort, and she answered him with a smile.

"Your welcome's worth having, because it's sincere."

Those who understood Sylvia best occasionally said that when she was
unusually gracious it was a sign that she wanted something; but George
would have denied this with indignation.

"If it wouldn't be too painful, you might tell me a little about your
stay in Canada," he said by and by.  "You never wrote, and"--he
hesitated--"I heard only once from Dick."

Dick was her dead husband's name, and she sat silent a few moments
musing, and glancing unobtrusively at George.  He had not changed much
since she last saw him, on her wedding-day, though he looked a little
older, and rather more serious.  There were faint signs of weariness
which she did not remember in his sunburned face.  On the whole,
however, it was a reposeful face, with something in it that suggested a
steadfast disposition.  His gray eyes met one calmly and directly; his
brown hair was short and stiff; the set of his lips and the contour of
his jaw were firm.  George had entered on his thirtieth year.  Though
he was strongly made, his appearance was in no way striking, and it was
seldom that his conversation was characterized by brilliancy.  But his
friends trusted him.

"It's difficult to speak of," Sylvia began.  "When, soon after our
wedding, Dick lost most of his money, and said that we must go to
Canada, I felt almost crushed; but I thought he was right."  She paused
and glanced at George.  "He told me what you wished to do, and I'm glad
that, generous as you are, he wouldn't hear of it."

George looked embarrassed.

"I felt his refusal a little," he said.  "I could have spared the
money, and I was a friend of his."

He had proved a staunch friend, though he had been hardly tried.  For
several years he had been Sylvia's devoted servant, and an admirer of
the more accomplished Marston.  When the girl chose the latter it was a
cruel blow to George, for he had never regarded his comrade as a
possible rival; but after a few weeks of passionate bitterness, he had
quietly acquiesced.  He had endeavored to blame neither; though there
were some who did not hold Sylvia guiltless.  George was, as she well
knew, her faithful servant still; and this was largely why she meant to
tell him her tragic story.

"Well," she said, "when I first went out to the prairie, I was almost
appalled.  Everything was so crude and barbarous--but you know the
country."

George merely nodded.  He had spent a few years in a wheat-growing
settlement, inhabited by well-bred young Englishmen.  The colony,
however, was not conducted on economic lines; and when it came to
grief, George, having come into some property on the death of a
relative, returned to England.

"Still," continued Sylvia, "I tried to be content, and blamed myself
when I found it difficult.  There was always so much to do--cooking,
washing, baking--one could seldom get any help.  I often felt worn out
and longed to lie down and sleep."

"I can understand that," said George, with grave sympathy.  "It's a
very hard country for a woman."

He was troubled by the thought of what she must have borne for it was
difficult to imagine Sylvia engaged in laborious domestic toil.  It had
never occurred to him that her delicate appearance was deceptive.

"Dick," she went on, "was out at work all day; there was nobody to talk
to--our nearest neighbor lived some miles off.  I think now that Dick
was hardly strong enough for his task.  He got restless and moody after
he lost his first crop by frost.  During that long, cruel winter we
were both unhappy: I never think without a shudder of the bitter nights
we spent sitting beside the stove, silent and anxious about the future.
But we persevered; the next harvest was good, and we were brighter when
winter set in.  I shall always be glad of that in view of what came
after."  She paused, and added in a lower voice:

"You heard, of course?"

"Very little; I was away.  It was a heavy blow."

"I couldn't write much," explained Sylvia.  "Even now, I can hardly
talk of it--but you were a dear friend of Dick's.  We had to burn wood;
the nearest bluff where it could be cut was several miles away; and
Dick didn't keep a hired man through the winter.  It was often very
cold, and I got frightened when he drove off if there was any wind.  It
was trying to wait in the quiet house, wondering if he could stand the
exposure.  Then one day something kept him so that he couldn't start
for the bluff until noon; and near dusk the wind got up and the snow
began to fall.  It got thicker, and I could not sit still.  I went out
now and then and called, and was driven back, almost frozen, by the
storm.  I could scarcely see the lights a few yards away; the house
shook.  The memory of that awful night will haunt me all my life!"

She broke off with a shiver, and George looked very compassionate.

"I think," he said gently, "you had better not go on." "Ah!" replied
Sylvia, "I must grapple with the horror and not yield to it; with the
future to be faced, I can't be a coward.  At last I heard the team and
opened the door.  The snow was blinding, but I could dimly see the
horses standing in it.  I called, but Dick didn't answer, and I ran out
and found him lying upon the load of logs.  He was very still, and made
no sign, but I reached up and shook him--I couldn't believe the
dreadful thing.  I think I screamed; the team started suddenly, and
Dick fell at my feet.  Then the truth was clear to me."

A half-choked sob broke from her, but she went on.

"I couldn't move him; I must have gone nearly mad, for I tried to run
to Peterson's, three miles away.  The snow blinded me, and I came back
again; and by and by another team arrived.  Peterson had got lost
driving home from the settlement.  After that, I can't remember
anything; I'm thankful it is so--I couldn't bear it!"

Then there was silence for a few moments until George rose and gently
laid his hand on her shoulder.

"My sympathy's not worth much, Sylvia, but it's yours," he said.  "Can
I help in any practical way?"

Growing calmer, she glanced up at him with tearful eyes.

"I can't tell you just yet; but it's a comfort to have your sympathy.
Don't speak to me for a little while, please."

He went back to his place and watched her with a yearning heart,
longing for the power to soothe her.  She looked so forlorn and
desolate, too frail to bear her load of sorrow.

"I must try to be brave," she smiled up at him at length.  "And you are
my trustee.  Please bring those papers I laid down.  I suppose I must
talk to you about the farm."

It did not strike George that this was a rather sudden change, or that
there was anything incongruous in Sylvia's considering her material
interests in the midst of her grief.  After examining the documents, he
asked her a few questions, to which she gave explicit answers.

"Now you should be able to decide what must be done," she said finally;
"and I'm anxious about it.  I suppose that's natural."

"You have plenty of friends," George reminded her consolingly.

Sylvia rose, and there was bitterness in her expression.

"Friends?  Oh, yes; but I've come back to them a widow, badly provided
for--that's why I spent some months in Montreal before I could nerve
myself to face them."  Then her voice softened as she fixed her eyes on
him.  "It's fortunate there are one or two I can rely on."

Sylvia left him with two clear impressions: her helplessness, and the
fact that she trusted him.  While he sat turning over the papers, his
cousin and co-trustee came in.  Herbert Lansing was a middle-aged
business man, and he was inclined to portliness.  His clean-shaven and
rather fleshy face usually wore a good-humored expression; his manners
were easy and, as a rule, genial.

"We must have a talk," he began, indicating the documents in George's
hand.  "I suppose you have grasped the position, even if Sylvia hasn't
explained it.  She shows an excellent knowledge of details."

There was a hint of dryness in his tone that escaped George's notice.

"So far as I can make out," he answered, "Dick owned a section of a
second-class wheat-land, with a mortgage on the last quarter, some way
back from a railroad.  The part under cultivation gives a poor crop."

"What would you value the property at?"

George made a rough calculation.

"I expected something of the kind," Herbert told him.  "It's all Sylvia
has to live upon, and the interest would hardly cover her dressmaker's
bills." He looked directly at his cousin.  "Of course, it's possible
that she will marry again."

"She must never be forced to contemplate it by any dread of poverty,"
George said shortly.

"How is it to be prevented?"

George merely looked thoughtful and a little stern.  Getting no answer,
Herbert went on:

"So far as I can see, we have only two courses to choose between.  The
first is to sell out as soon as we can find a buyer, with unfortunate
results if your valuation's right; but the second looks more promising.
With immigrants pouring into the country, land's bound to go up, and we
ought to get a largely increased price by holding on a while.  To do
that, I understand, the land should be worked."

"Yes.  It could, no doubt, be improved; which would materially add to
its value."

"I see one difficulty: the cost of superintendence might eat up most of
the profit.  Wages are high on the prairie, are they not?"

George assented, and Herbert continued:

"Then a good deal would depend on the man in charge.  Apart from the
question of his honesty, he would have to take a thorough interest in
the farm."

"He would have to think of nothing else, and be willing to work from
sunrise until dark," said George.  "Successful farming means determined
effort in western Canada."

"Could you put your hands upon a suitable person?"

"I'm very doubtful.  You don't often meet with a man of the kind we
need in search of an engagement at a strictly moderate salary."

"Then it looks as if we must sell out now for enough to provide Sylvia
with a pittance."

"That," George said firmly, "is not to be thought of!"

There was a short silence while he pondered, for his legacy had not
proved an unmixed blessing.  At first he had found idleness irksome,
but by degrees he had grown accustomed to it.  Though he was still
troubled now and then by an idea that he was wasting his time and
making a poor use of such abilities as he possessed, it was pleasant to
feel that, within certain limits, he could do exactly as he wished.
Life in western Canada was strenuous and somewhat primitive; he was
conscious of a strong reluctance to resume it; but he could not bear to
have Sylvia, who had luxurious tastes, left almost penniless.  There
was a way in which he could serve her, and he determined to take it.
George was steadfast in his devotion, and did not shrink from a
sacrifice.

"It strikes me there's only one suitable plan," he said.  "I know
something about western farming.  I wouldn't need a salary; and Sylvia
could trust me to look after her interests.  I'd better go out and take
charge until things are straightened up, or we come across somebody fit
for the post."

Herbert heard him with satisfaction.  He had desired to lead George up
to this decision, and he suspected that Sylvia had made similar
efforts.  It was not difficult to instil an idea into his cousin's mind.

"Well," he said thoughtfully, "the suggestion seems a good one; though
it's rather hard on you, if you really mean to go."

"That's decided," was the brief answer.

"Then, though we can discuss details later, you had better give me
legal authority to look after your affairs while you are away.  There
are those Kaffir shares, for instance; it might be well to part with
them if, they go up a point or two."

"I've wondered why you recommended me to buy them," George said bluntly.

Herbert avoided a direct answer.  He now and then advised George, who
knew little about business, in the management of his property, but his
advice was not always disinterested or intended only for his cousin's
benefit.

"Oh," he replied, "the cleverest operators now and then make mistakes,
and I don't claim exceptional powers of precision.  It's remarkably
difficult to forecast the tendency of the stock-market."

George nodded, as if satisfied.

"I'll arrange things before I sail, and I'd better get off as soon as
possible.  Now, suppose we go down and join the others."



CHAPTER II

HIS FRIENDS' OPINION

On the afternoon following his arrival, George stood thoughtfully
looking about on his cousin's lawn.  Creepers flecked the mellow brick
front of the old house with sprays of tender leaves; purple clematis
hung from a trellis; and lichens tinted the low terrace wall with
subdued coloring.  The grass was flanked by tall beeches, rising in
masses of bright verdure against a sky of clearest blue; and beyond it,
across the sparkling river, smooth meadows ran back to the foot of the
hills.  It was, in spite of the bright sunshine, all so fresh and cool:
a picture that could be enjoyed only in rural England.

George was sensible of the appeal it made to him; now, when he must
shortly change such scenes for the wide levels of western Canada, which
are covered during most of the year with harsh, gray grass, alternately
withered by frost and sun, he felt their charm.  It was one thing to
run across to Norway on a fishing or mountaineering trip and come back
when he wished, but quite another to settle down on the prairie where
he must remain until his work should be done.  Moreover, for Mrs.
Lansing had many friends, the figures scattered about the lawn--young
men and women in light summer attire--enhanced the attractiveness of
the surroundings.  They were nice people, with pleasant English ways;
and George contrasted them with the rather grim, aggressive plainsmen
among whom he would presently have to live: men who toiled in the heat,
half naked, and who would sit down to meals with him in dusty, unwashed
clothes.  He was not a sybarite, but he preferred the society of Mrs.
Lansing's guests.

After a while she beckoned him, and they leaned upon the terrace wall
side by side.  She was a good-natured, simple woman, with strongly
domestic habits and conventional views.

"I'm glad Herbert has got away from business for a few days," she
began.  "He works too hard, and it's telling on him.  How do you think
he is looking?"

George knew she was addicted to displaying a needless anxiety about her
husband's health.  It had struck him that Herbert was getting stouter;
but he now remembered having noticed a hint of care in his face.

"The rest will do him good," he said.

Mrs. Lansing's conversation was often disconnected, and she now changed
the subject.

"Herbert tells me you are going to Canada.  As you're fond of the open
air, you will enjoy it."

"I suppose so," George assented rather dubiously.

"Of course, it's very generous, and Sylvia's fortunate in having you to
look after things"--Mrs. Lansing paused before adding--"but are you
altogether wise in going, George?"

Lansing knew that his hostess loved romance, and sometimes attempted to
assist in one, but he would have preferred another topic.

"I don't see what else I could do," he said.

"That's hardly an answer.  You will forgive me for speaking plainly,
but what I meant was this--your devotion to Sylvia is not a secret."

"I wish it were!" George retorted.  "But I don't intend to deny it."

His companion looked at him reproachfully.

"Don't get restive; I've your best interests at heart.  You're a little
too confiding and too backward, George.  Sylvia slipped through your
fingers once before."

George's brown face colored deeply.  He was angry, but Mrs. Lansing was
not to be deterred.

"Take a hint and stay at home," she went on.  "It might pay you better."

"And let Sylvia's property be sacrificed?"

"Yes, if necessary."  She looked at him directly.  "You have means
enough."

He struggled with his indignation.  Sylvia hated poverty, and it had
been suggested that he should turn the fact to his advantage.  The idea
that she might be more willing to marry him if she were poor was most
unpleasant.

"Sylvia's favor is not to be bought," he said.

Mrs. Lansing's smile was half impatient.

"Oh, well, if you're bent on going, there's nothing to be said.
Sylvia, of course, will stay with us."

The arrangement was a natural one, as Sylvia was a relative of hers;
but George failed to notice that her expression grew thoughtful as she
glanced toward where Sylvia was sitting with a man upon whom the
soldier stamp was plainly set.  George followed her gaze and frowned,
but he said nothing, and his companion presently moved away.  Soon
afterward he crossed the lawn and joined a girl who waited for him.
Ethel West was tall and strongly made.  She was characterized by a keen
intelligence and bluntness of speech.  Being an old friend of George's,
she occasionally assumed the privilege of one.

"I hear you are going to Canada.  What is taking you there again?" she
asked.

"I am going to look after some farming property, for one thing."

Ethel regarded him with amusement.

"Sylvia Marston's, I suppose?"

"Yes," George answered rather shortly.

"Then what's the other purpose you have in view?"

George hesitated.

"I'm not sure I have another motive."

"So I imagined.  You're rather an exceptional man--in some respects."

"If that's true, I wasn't aware of it," George retorted.

Ethel laughed.

"It's hardly worth while to prove my statement; we'll talk of something
else.  Has Herbert told you anything about his business since you came
back?  I suppose you have noticed signs of increased prosperity?"

"I'm afraid I'm not observant, and Herbert isn't communicative."

"Perhaps he's wise.  Still, the fact that he's putting up a big new
orchard-house has some significance.  I understand from Stephen that
he's been speculating largely in rubber shares.  It's a risky game."

"I suppose it is," George agreed.  "But it's most unlikely that Herbert
will come to grief.  He has a very long head; I believe he could, for
example, buy and sell me."

"That wouldn't be very difficult.  I suspect Herbert isn't the only one
of your acquaintances who is capable of doing as much."

Her eyes followed Sylvia, who was then walking across the grass.
Sylvia's movements were always graceful, and she had now a subdued,
pensive air that rendered her appearance slightly pathetic.  Ethel's
face, however, grew quietly scornful.  She knew what Sylvia's forlorn
and helpless look was worth.

"I'm not afraid that anybody will try," George replied.

"Your confidence is admirable." laughed Ethel; "but I mustn't appear
too cynical, and I've a favor to ask.  Will you take Edgar out with
you?"

George felt a little surprised.  Edgar was her brother, a lad of
somewhat erratic habits and ideas, who had been at Oxford when George
last heard of him.

"Yes, if he wants to go, and Stephen approves," he said; for Stephen,
the lawyer, was an elder brother, and the Wests had lost their parents.

"He will be relieved to get him off his hands for a while; but Edgar
will be over to see you during the afternoon.  He's spending a week or
two with the Charltons."

"I remember that young Charlton and he were close acquaintances."

"That was the excuse for the visit; but you had better understand that
there was a certain amount of friction when Edgar came home after some
trouble with the authorities.  In his opinion, Stephen is too fond of
making mountains out of molehills; but I must own that Edgar's
molehills have a way of increasing in size, and the last one caused us
a good deal of uneasiness.  Anyway, we have decided that a year's hard
work in Canada might help to steady him, even if he doesn't follow up
farming.  The main point is that he would be safe with you."

"I'll have a talk with him," George promised; and after a word of
thanks Ethel turned away.

A little later she joined Mrs. Lansing, who was sitting alone in the
shadow of a beech.

"I'm afraid I've added to George's responsibilities--he has agreed to
take Edgar out," she said.  "He has some reason for wishing to be
delivered from his friends, though I don't suppose he does so."

"I've felt the same thing.  Of course, I'm not referring to Edgar--his
last scrape was only a trifling matter."

"So he contends," laughed Ethel.  "Stephen doesn't agree with him."

"Well," said Mrs. Lansing, "I've often thought it's a pity George
didn't marry somebody nice and sensible."

"Would you apply that description to Sylvia?"

"Sylvia stands apart," Mrs. Lansing declared.  "She can do what nobody
else would venture on, and yet you feel you must excuse her."

"Have you any particular exploit of hers in your mind?"

"I was thinking of when she accepted Dick Marston.  I believe even Dick
was astonished."

"Sylvia knows how to make herself irresistible," said Ethel, strolling
away a few moments later, somewhat troubled in mind.

She had cherished a half-tender regard for George, which, had it been
reciprocated, might have changed to a deeper feeling.  The man was
steadfast, chivalrous, honest, and she saw in him latent capabilities
which few others suspected.  Still, his devotion to Sylvia had never
been concealed, and Ethel had acquiesced in the situation, though she
retained a strong interest in him.  She believed that in going to
Canada he was doing an injudicious thing; but as his confidence was
hard to shake, he could not be warned--her conversation with him had
made that plainer.  She would not regret it if Sylvia forgot him while
he was absent; but there were other ways in which he might suffer, and
she wished he had not chosen to place the management of his affairs in
Herbert's hands.

In the meanwhile, her brother had arrived, and he and George were
sitting together on the opposite side of the lawn.  Edgar was a
handsome, dark-haired lad, with a mischievous expression, and he
sometimes owned that his capacity for seeing the humorous side of
things was a gift that threatened to be his ruin.  Nevertheless, there
was a vein of sound common sense in him, and he had a strong admiration
for George Lansing.

"Why do you want to go with me?" the latter asked, pretending to be a
bit stern, but liking the youngster all the while.

"That," Edgar laughed, "is a rather euphemistic way of putting it.  My
washes have not been consulted.  I must give my relatives the credit
for the idea.  Still, one must admit they had some provocation."

"It strikes me they have had a good deal of patience," George said
dryly.  "I suppose it's exhausted."

"No," replied Edgar, with a confidential air; "it's mine that has given
out.  I'd better explain that being stuffed with what somebody calls
formulae gets monotonous, and it's a diet they're rather fond of at
Oxford.  Down here in the country they're almost as bad; and pretending
to admire things I don't believe in positively hurts.  That's why I
sometimes protest, with, as a rule, disastrous results."

"Disastrous to the objectionable ideas or customs?"

"No," laughed the lad; "to me.  Have you ever noticed how vindictive
narrow-minded people get when you destroy their pet delusions?"

"I can't remember ever having done so."'

"Then you'll come to it.  If you're honest it's unavoidable; only some
people claim that they make the attack from duty, while I find a
positive pleasure in the thing."

"There's one consolation--you won't have much time for such proceedings
if you come with me.  You'll have to work in Canada."

"I anticipated something of the sort," the lad rejoined.  Then he grew
serious.  "Have you decided who's to look after your affairs while you
are away?  If you haven't, you might do worse than leave them to
Stephen.  He's steady and safe as a rock, and, after all, the three per
cent. you're sure of is better than a handsome dividend you may never
get."

"I can't give Herbert the go-by.  He's the obvious person to do
whatever may be needful."

"I suppose so," Edgar assented, with some reluctance.  "No doubt he'd
feel hurt if you asked anybody else; but I wish you could have got
Stephen."

He changed the subject; and when some of the others came up and joined
them, he resumed his humorous manner.

"I'm not asking for sympathy," he said, in answer to one remark.  "I'm
going out to extend the bounds of the empire, strengthen the ties with
the mother country, and that sort of thing.  It's one of the privileges
that seem to be attached to the possession of a temperament like mine."

"How will you set about the work?" somebody asked.

"With the plow and the land-packer," George broke in.  "He'll have the
satisfaction of driving them twelve hours a day.  It happens to be the
most effective way of doing the things he mentions."

Edgar's laughter followed him as he left the group.

After dinner that evening Herbert invited George into the library.

"Parker has come over about my lease, and his visit will save you a
journey," he explained.  "We may as well get things settled now while
he's here."

George went with him to the library, where the lawyer sat at a
writing-table.  He waited in silence while Herbert gave the lawyer a
few instructions.  A faint draught flowed in through an open window,
and gently stirred the litter of papers; a shaded lamp stood on the
table, and its light revealed the faces of the two men near it with
sharp distinctness, though outside the circle of brightness the big
room was almost dark.

It struck George that his cousin looked eager, as if he were impatient
to get the work finished; but he reflected that this was most likely
because Herbert wished to discuss the matter of the lease.  Then he
remembered with a little irritation what Ethel said during the
afternoon.  It was not very lucid, but he had an idea that she meant to
warn him; and Edgar had gone some length in urging that he should leave
the care of his property to another man.  This was curious, but hardly
to be taken into consideration, Herbert was capable and exact in his
dealings; and yet for a moment or two George was troubled by a faint
doubt.  It appeared irrational, and he drove it out of his mind when
Herbert spoke.

"The deed's ready; you have only to sign," he said, indicating a paper.
Then he added, with a smile: "You quite realize the importance of what
you are doing?"

The lawyer turned to George.

"This document gives Mr. Lansing full authority to dispose of your
possessions as he thinks fit.  In accordance with it, his signature
will be honored as if it were yours."

Parker's expression was severely formal, and his tone businesslike; but
he had known George for a long while, and had served his father.
Again, for a moment, George had an uneasy feeling that he was being
warned; but he had confidence in his friends, and his cousin was
eminently reliable.

"I know that," he answered.  "I've left matters in Herbert's hands on
other occasions, with fortunate results.  Will you give me a pen?"

The lawyer watched him sign with an inscrutable face, but when he laid
down the pen, Herbert drew back out of the strong light.  He was
folding the paper with a sense of satisfaction and relief.



CHAPTER III

A MATTER OF DUTY

On the evening before George's departure, Sylvia stood with him at the
entrance to the Brantholme drive.  He leaned upon the gate, a
broad-shouldered, motionless figure; his eyes fixed moodily upon the
prospect, because he was afraid to let them dwell upon his companion.
In front, across the dim white road, a cornfield ran down to the river,
and on one side of it a wood towered in a shadowy mass against a soft
green streak of light.  Near its foot the water gleamed palely among
overhanging alders, and in the distance the hills faded into the
grayness of the eastern sky.  Except for the low murmur of the stream,
it was very still; and the air was heavy with the smell of dew-damped
soil.

All this had its effect on George.  He loved the quiet English country;
and now, when he must leave it, it strongly called to him.  He had
congenial friends, and occupations in which he took pleasure--sport,
experiments in farming, and stock-raising.  It would be hard to drop
them; but that, after all, was a minor trouble.  He would be separated
from Sylvia until his work should be done.

"What a beautiful night!" she said at length.  Summoning his
resolution, he turned and looked at her.  She stood with one hand
resting on the gate, slender, graceful, and wonderfully attractive, the
black dress emphasizing the pure whiteness of her face and hands.
Sylvia was an artist where dress was concerned, and she had made the
most of her somber garb.  As he looked at her a strong temptation shook
the man.  He might still discover some excuse for remaining to watch
over Sylvia, and seize each opportunity for gaining her esteem.  Then
he remembered that this would entail the sacrifice of her property; and
a faint distrust of her, which he had hitherto refused to admit, seized
him.  Sylvia, threatened by poverty, might yield without affection to
the opportunities of a suitor who would bid high enough for her hand;
and he would not have such a course forced upon her, even if he were
the one to profit.

"You're very quiet; you must feel going away," she said.

"Yes," George admitted; "I feel it a good deal."

"Ah!  I don't know anybody else who would have gone--I feel selfish and
shabby in letting you."

"I don't think you could stop me."

"I haven't tried.  I suppose I'm a coward, but until you promised to
look after matters, I was afraid of the future.  I have friends, but
the tinge of contempt which would creep into their pity would be hard
to bear.  It's hateful to feel that you are being put up with.
Sometimes I thought I'd go back to Canada."

"I've wondered how you stood it as long as you did," George said
incautiously.

"Aren't you forgetting?  I had Dick with me then."  Sylvia paused and
shuddered.  "It would be so different now."

George felt reproved and very compassionate.

"Yes," he said, "I'm afraid I forgot; but the whole thing seems unreal.
It's almost impossible to imagine your living on a farm in western
Canada."

"I dare say it's difficult.  I'll confess I'm fond of ease and comfort
and refinement.  I like to be looked after and waited on; to have
somebody to keep unpleasant things away.  That's dreadfully weak, isn't
it?  And because I haven't more courage, I'm sending you back to the
prairie."

"I'm quite ready to go."

"Oh, I'm sure of that!  It's comforting to remember that you're so
resolute and matter-of-fact.  You wouldn't let troubles daunt
you--perhaps you would scarcely notice them when you had made up your
mind."

The man smiled, rather wistfully.  He could feel things keenly, and he
had his romance; but Sylvia resumed:

"I sometimes wonder if you ever felt really badly hurt?"

"Once," he said quietly.  "I think I have got over it."

"Ah!" she murmured.  "I was afraid you would blame me, but now it seems
that Dick knew you better than I did.  When he made you my trustee, he
said that you were too big to bear him malice."

The blood crept into George's face.

"After the first shock had passed, and I could reason calmly, I don't
think I blamed either of you.  You had promised me nothing; Dick was a
brilliant man, with a charm everybody felt.  By comparison, I was
merely a plodder."

Sylvia mused for a few moments.

"George," she said presently, "I sometimes think you're a little too
diffident.  You plodders who go straight on, stopping for nothing,
generally gain your object in the end."

His heart beat faster.  It looked as if she meant this for a hint.

"I can't thank you properly," she continued; "though I know that all
you undertake will be thoroughly carried out.  I wish I hadn't been
forced to let you go so far away; there is nobody else I can rely on."

He could not tell her that he longed for the right to shelter her
always--it was not very long since the Canadian tragedy--but silence
cost him an effort.  At length she touched his arm.

"It's getting late, and the others will wonder where we are," she
reminded him.

They went back to the house; and when Sylvia joined Mrs. Lansing,
George felt seriously annoyed with himself.  He had been deeply
stirred, but he had preserved an unmoved appearance when he might have
expressed some sympathy of tenderness which could not have been
resented.  Presently Ethel West crossed the room to where he was rather
moodily standing.

"I believe our car is waiting, and, as Edgar won't let me come to the
station to-morrow, I must say good-by now," she told him.  "Both
Stephen and I are glad he is on your hands."

"I must try to deserve your confidence," George said, smiling.  "It's
premature yet."

"Never mind that.  We're alike in some respects: pretty speeches don't
appeal to us.  But there's one thing I must tell you--don't delay out
yonder, come back as soon as you can."

She left him thoughtful.  He had a high opinion of Ethel's
intelligence, but he would entertain no doubts or misgivings.  They
were treasonable to Herbert and, what was worse, to Sylvia.

Going to bed in good time, he had only a few words with Sylvia over his
early breakfast in the morning.  Then he was driven to the station,
where Edgar joined him; and the greater part of their journey proved
uneventful.

Twelve days after leaving Liverpool they were, however, awakened early
one morning by feeling the express-train suddenly slacken speed.  The
big cars shook with a violent jarring, and George hurriedly swung
himself down from his upper berth.  He had some difficulty in getting
into his jacket and putting on his boots, but he pushed through the
startled passengers and sprang down upon the track before the train
quite stopped.  He knew that accidents were not uncommon in the wilds
of northern Ontario.

Ragged firs rose, dripping, against the rosy glow in the eastern sky,
with the narrow gap, hewed out for the line, running through their
midst.  Some had been stripped of their smaller branches by fire, and
leaned, dead and blackened, athwart each other.  Beneath them, shallow
pools gleamed in the hollows of the rocks, which rose in rounded masses
here and there, and the gravel of the graded track was seamed by water
channels.  George remembered having heard the roar of heavy rain and a
crash of thunder during the night, but it was now wonderfully still and
fresh, and the resinous fragrance of the firs filled the chilly air.

Walking forward, clear of the curious passengers who poured from the
cars, he saw a lake running back into the woods.  A tall water-tank
stood on the margin with a shanty, in which George imagined a telegraph
operator was stationed, at its foot.  Ahead, the great locomotive was
pouring out a cloud of sooty smoke.  When George reached it he waited
until the engineer had finished talking to a man on the line.

"What are we stopping for?  Has anything gone wrong?" he asked.

"Freight locomotive jumped the track at a wash-out some miles ahead,"
explained the engineer.  "Took the fireman with her; but I don't know
much about it yet.  Guess they'll want me soon."

George got the man to promise to take him, and then he went back until
he met Edgar, to whom he related what he had heard.

"I'm not astonished," remarked the lad, indicating one of the sleepers.
"Look at that--the rail's only held down by a spike or two; we fasten
them in solid chairs.  They're rough and ready in this country."

It was the characteristic hypercritical attitude of the newly-arrived
Englishman; and George, knowing that the Canadians strongly resent it,
noticed a look of interest in the eyes of a girl standing near them.
She was, he imagined, about twenty-four years of age, and was dressed
in some thin white material, the narrow skirt scarcely reaching to the
tops of her remarkably neat shoes.  Her arms were uncovered to the
elbows; her neck was bare, but this displayed a beautiful skin; and the
face beneath the turned-down brim of the big hat was attractive.
George thought she was amused at Edgar's comment.

"Well," he said, "while we put down a few miles of metals they'd drive
the track across leagues of new country and make a start with the
traffic.  They haven't time to be particular, with the great western
wheat-land waiting for development."

The girl moved away; and when word went around that there would be a
delay of several hours, George sat down beside the lake and watched the
Colonist passengers wash their children's clothes.  It was, he thought,
rather a striking scene--the great train standing in the rugged
wilderness, the wide stretch of gleaming water running back among the
firs, and the swarm of jaded immigrants splashing bare-footed along the
beach.  Their harsh voices and hoarse laughter broke discordantly on
the silence of the woods.

After a while an elderly man, in badly-fitting clothes and an old
wide-brimmed hat, sauntered up with the girl George had noticed, and
stopped to survey the passengers.

"A middling sample; not so many English as usual," he remarked.  "If
they keep on coming in as they're doing, we'll get harvest hands at a
reasonable figure."

"All he thinks about!" Edgar commented, in a lowered voice.  "That's
the uncivil old fellow who smokes the vile leaf tobacco; he drove me
out of the car once or twice.  It's hard to believe he's her father;
but in some ways they're alike."

"I can't help feeling sorry for them," the girl replied.  "Look at
those worn-out women, almost too limp to move.  It's hot and shaky
enough in our cars; the Colonist ones must be dreadful."

"Good enough for the folks who're in them; they're not fastidious,"
said the man.

They strolled on, and George felt mildly curious about them.  The girl
was pretty and graceful, with a stamp of refinement upon her; the man
was essentially rugged and rather grim.  Suddenly, however, a whistle
blast rang out, and George hurried toward the engine.  It was beginning
to move when he reached it but, grasping a hand-rail, he clambered up.
The cab was already full of passengers, but he had found a place on the
frame above the wheels when he saw the girl in the light dress running,
flushed and eager, along the line.  Leaning down as far as possible, he
held out his hand to her.

"Get hold, if you want to come," he called.  "There's a step yonder."

She seized his hand and smiled at him when he drew her up beside him.

"Thanks," she said.  "I was nearly too late."

"Perhaps we had better make for the pilot, where there'll be more
room," George suggested, as two more passengers scrambled up.

They crept forward, holding on by the guard-rail, while the great
engine began to rock as it gathered speed.  The girl, however, was
fearless, and at length they reached the front, and stood beneath the
big head-lamp with the triangular frame of the pilot running down to
the rails at their feet.  The ledge along the top of it was narrow, and
when his companion sat down George felt concerned about her safety.
Her hat had blown back, setting free tresses of glossy hair; her light
skirt fluttered against the sooty pilot.

"You'll have to allow me," he said, tucking the thin fabric beneath her
and passing an arm around her waist.

He thought she bore it well, for her manner was free from prudish alarm
or coquettish submission.  With sound sense, she had calmly acquiesced
in the situation; but George found the latter pleasant.  His companion
was pretty, the swift motion had brought a fine warmth into her cheeks,
and a sparkle into her eyes; and George was slightly vexed when Edgar,
appearing round the front of the engine, unnoticed by the girl,
surveyed him with a grin.

"Is there room for me?" he asked.  "I had to leave the place where I
was, because my fellow passengers didn't seem to mind if they pushed me
off.  A stranger doesn't get much consideration in this country."

The girl looked up at him consideringly and answered, through the roar
of the engine:

"You may sit here, if you'll stop criticizing us."

"It's quite fair," Edgar protested, as he took his place by her side.
"I've been in Canada only three days, but I've several times heard
myself alluded to as an Englishman, as if that were some excuse for me."

"Are you sure you haven't been provoking people by your superior air?"

"I didn't know I possessed one; but I don't see why I should be very
humble because I'm in Canada."

The girl laughed good-humoredly, and turned to George.

"I'm glad I came.  This is delightful," she said.

It was, George admitted, an exhilarating experience.  The big engine
was now running at top speed, rocking down the somewhat roughly laid
line.  Banks of trees and stretches of gleaming water sped past, The
rails ahead came flying back to them.  The sun was on the firs, and the
wind that lashed George's face was filled with their fragrance.  Once
or twice a tress of his companion's hair blew across his cheek, but she
did not appear to notice this.  He thought she was conscious of little
beyond the thrill of speed.

At length the engine stopped where the line crossed a lake on a high
embankment.  A long row of freight-cars stood near a break in the track
into which the rails ran down, and a faint cloud of steam rose from the
gap.

George helped the girl down, anticipating Edgar, who seemed anxious to
offer his assistance, and they walked forward until they could see into
the pit.  It was nearly forty feet in depth, for the embankment,
softened by heavy rain, had slipped into the lake.  In the bottom a
huge locomotive lay shattered and overturned, with half a dozen men
toiling about it.  The girl stopped with a little gasp, for there was
something strangely impressive in the sight of the wreck.

"It's dreadful, isn't it?" she exclaimed.

Then the men who had come with them gathered round.

"Where's the fireman?" one of them asked.  "He was too late when he
jumped.  Have they got him out?"

"Guess not," said another.  "See, they're trying to jack up the front
of her."

"Aren't you mistaken about the man?" George asked, looking at the first
speaker meaningly.

"Why, no," replied the other.  "He's certainly pinned down among the
wreck.  They'll find him before long.  Isn't that a jacket sleeve?"

He broke off with an exclamation, as Edgar drove an elbow hard into his
ribs; but it was too late.  The girl looked around at George, white in
face.

"Is there a man beneath the engine?  Don't try to put me off."

"I'm afraid it's the case."

"Then why did you bring me?" she cried with a shudder.  "Take me away
at once!"

George explained that he had forgotten the serious nature of the
accident.  He hastily helped her up and turned away with her, but when
they had gone a little distance she sat down on a boulder.

"I feel badly startled and ashamed," she exclaimed.  "I was enjoying
it, as a spectacle, and all the time there was a man crushed to death."
Then she recovered her composure.  "Go back and help.  Besides, I think
your friend is getting into trouble."

She was right.  The man Edgar tried to silence had turned upon him,
savage and rather breathless.

"Now," he said, "I'll fix you mighty quick.  Think I'm going to have a
blamed Percy sticking his elbow into me?"

Edgar glanced at the big and brawny man, with a twinge of somewhat
natural uneasiness; but he was not greatly daunted.

"Oh, well," he retorted coolly, "if that's the way you look at it!  But
if you're not in a desperate hurry, I'll take off my jacket."

"What did you prod him for, anyway?" another asked.

"I'm sorry I didn't jab him twice as hard; though I'd have wasted my
energy," Edgar explained.  "The fellow has no sense, but that's no
reason why he should be allowed to frighten a pretty girl."

His antagonist looked as if a light had suddenly dawned on him.

"Is that why you did it?"

"Of course!  Do you think I'd attack a man of nearly twice my weight
without some reason?"

The fellow laughed.

"We'll let it go at that.  You're all right, Percy.  We like you."

"Thanks," said Edgar; "but my name isn't Percy.  Couldn't you think of
something more stylish for a change?"

They greeted this with hoarse laughter; and George, arriving on the
scene, scrambled down into the pit with them to help the men below.  It
was some time later when he rejoined the girl, who was then gathering
berries in the wood.  She saw that his face and hands were grimy and
his clothes were soiled.

"I heard that you found the unfortunate man.  It was very sad," she
said.  "But what have you been doing since?"

"Shoveling a ton or two of gravel.  Then I assisted in jacking up one
side of the engine."

"Why?  Did you enjoy it?"

George laughed; he had, as it happened, experienced a curious pleasure
in the work.  He was accustomed to the more vigorous sports; but, after
all, they led to no tangible results, and in this respect his recent
task was different--one, as he thought of it, could see what one had
done.  He had been endowed with some ability of strictly practical
description, though it had so far escaped development.

"Yes," he responded.  "I enjoyed it very much."

The girl regarded him with a trace of curiosity.

"Was that because work of the kind is new to you?"

"No," George answered.  "It isn't altogether a novelty.  I once spent
three years in manual labor; and now when I look back at them, I
believe I was happy then."

She nodded as if she understood.

"Shall we walk back?" she suggested.

They went on together, and though the sun was now fiercely hot and the
distance long, George enjoyed the walk.  Once they met a ballast train,
with a steam plow mounted at one end of it, and a crowd of men riding
on the open cars; but when it had passed there was nothing to break the
deep silence of the woods.  The dark firs shut in the narrow track
except when here and there a winding lake or frothing river filled a
sunny opening.

Soon after George and his companion reached the train, the engine came
back with a row of freightcars, and during the afternoon the western
express pulled out again, and sped furiously through the shadowy bush.



CHAPTER IV

GEORGE MAKES FRIENDS

It was nearing midnight when George walked impatiently up and down the
waiting-room in Winnipeg station, for the western express was very
late, and nobody seemed to know when it would start.  George was
nevertheless interested in his surroundings, and with some reason.  The
great room was built in palatial style, with domed roof, tessellated
marble floor, and stately pillars: it was brilliantly lighted; and
massively-framed paintings of snow-capped peaks and river gorges
adorned the walls.  An excursion-train from Winnipeg Beach had just
come in, and streams of young men and women in summer attire were
passing through the room.  They all looked happy and prosperous: he
thought the girls' light dresses were gayer and smarter than those
usually seen among a crowd of English passengers; but there was another
side to the picture.

Rows of artistic seats ran here and there, and each was occupied by
jaded immigrants, worn out by their journey in the sweltering Colonist
cars.  Piles of dilapidated baggage surrounded them, and among it
exhausted children lay asleep.  Drowsy, dusty women, with careworn
faces, were huddled beside them; men bearing the stamp of ill-paid toil
sat in dejected apathy; and all about each group the floor, which was
wet with drippings from the roof, was strewn with banana skins, crumbs,
and scraps of food.  There had been heavy rains, and the atmosphere was
hot and humid.  It was, however, the silence of these newcomers that
struck George most.  There was no grumbling among them--they scarcely
seemed vigorous enough for that--but as he passed one row he heard a
woman's low sobbing and the wail of a fretful child.

After a while the girl he had met on the train appeared and intimated
by a smile that he might join her.  They found an unoccupied seat, and
a smartly-attired young man who was approaching it stopped when he saw
them.

"Well," he said coolly, "I guess I won't intrude."

George felt seriously annoyed with him, but he was reassured when his
companion laughed with candid amusement.  Though there was no doubt of
her prettiness, he had already noticed that she did not impress one
most forcibly with the fact that she was an attractive young woman.  It
seemed to sink into the background when one spoke to her.

"It was rather tedious waiting in the hotel," she explained.  "There
was nobody I could talk to; my father is busy with a grain broker."

"Then he is a farmer?"

"Yes," said the girl, "he has a farm."

"And you live out in the West with him?"

"Of course," she said, smiling.  "Still, I have been in Montreal, and
England."  Then she turned and glanced at the jaded immigrants.  "One
feels sorry for them; they have so much to bear."

George felt that she wished to change the subject, and he followed her
lead.

"I feel inclined to wonder where they all go to and how you employ
them.  Your people still seem anxious to bring them in."

"Yes," she replied thoughtfully, "It's rather a difficult question.  Of
course, we pay high wages--people who say they must dispense with help
and can't carry out useful projects would like to see them lower--but
there's the long winter when, out West at least, very few men can work.
Then what the others have earned in summer rapidly melts."

"But what do the Canadian farm-hands and mechanics think?  It wouldn't
suit them to have wages broken down."

West had come up a few moments earlier.

"It doesn't matter," he laughed; "they won't be consulted.  It's the
other people who pull the strings, and they're adopting a forward
policy--rush them all in; it's their lookout when they get here.
That's my opinion; though I'll own that I know remarkably little about
western Canada."

"You won't admit he's right," George said to the girl.

She looked grave.

"Sometimes," she answered, "I wonder."

Then she turned to West.

"You don't seem impressed with the country," she said.

"As a rule, I try to be truthful.  The country strikes me as being
pretty mixed, full of contrasts.  There's this place, for instance; one
could imagine they had meant to build a Greek temple, and now it looks
more like a swimming-bath.  After planning the rest magnificently, why
couldn't they put on a roof that wouldn't leak?"

"It has been an exceptionally heavy rain," the girl reminded him.

"Just so.  But couldn't somebody get a broom and sweep the water out?
Our unimaginative English folk could rise as far as that."

She laughed good-humoredly, and her father sauntered up to them.

"Any news of the train yet?" he asked.

"No, sir," said Edgar.  "In my opinion, any attempt to extract reliable
information from a Canadian railroad-hand is a waste of time.  No
doubt, it's so scarce that it hurts them to part with it."

The Westerner looked at him with a little hard smile.  He was tall and
gaunt and dressed in baggy clothes, but there was a hint of power in
his face, which was lined, and deeply bronzed by exposure to the
weather.

"Well," he retorted, "what do you expect, Percy, if you talk to them
like that?  But I want to thank you and your partner for taking care of
my girl when she went to see the wreck.  Fellow on the cars told
me--said you were a gritty pup!"

Edgar looked confused, but the man drew an old skin bag out of his
pocket.

"It's domestic leaf; take a smoke."

"No, thanks," said Edgar quickly.  "I've no doubt it's excellent, but I
really prefer the common Virginia stuff."

"Matter of habit," replied the other.  "I don't carry cigars; they're
expensive.  Going far West?"

"We get off at Sage Butte."

"It's called Butte.  I'm located in that district."

"Then I wonder if you knew an Englishman named Marston?" George
interposed.

"I certainly did; he died last winter.  Oughtn't to have come out
farming; he hadn't the grip."

George felt surprised.  He had always admired Marston, who had excelled
in whatever he took in hand.  It was strange and disconcerting to hear
him disparaged.

"Will you tell me what you mean by that?" he asked.

"Why, yes.  I've nothing against the man.  I liked him--guess everybody
did--but the contract he was up against was too big for him.  Had his
first crop frozen, and lost his nerve and judgment after that--the man
who gets ahead here must have the grit to stand up against a few bad
seasons.  Marston acted foolishly; wasted his money buying machines and
teams he could have done without, and then let up when he saw it
wouldn't pay him to use them right off; but that was part his wife's
fault.  She drove him pretty hard--though, in some ways, I guess he
needed it."

George frowned.  Sylvia, he admitted, was ambitious, and she might have
put a little pressure upon Marston now and then; but that she should
have urged him on toward ruin in her eagerness to get rich was
incredible.

"I think you must be mistaken about his wife," he remarked.

"Well," drawled the Canadian, "I'm not always right."

Then a bell tolled outside, an official shouted the names of towns, and
there was a sudden stir and murmur of voices in the great waiting-room.
Men seized their bags and bundles, women dragged sleepy children to
their feet, and a crowd began to press about the outlet.

"Guess that's our train.  She's going to be pretty full," said the
Canadian.

The party joined a stream of hurrying passengers, and regretted their
haste when they were violently driven through the door and into a
railed-off space on the platform, where shouting railroad-hands were
endeavoring to restrain the surging crowd.  Nobody heeded them; the
immigrants' patience was exhausted, and they had suddenly changed from
a dully apathetic multitude waiting in various stages of dejection to a
savage mob fired by one determined purpose.  Near by stood a long row
of lighted cars, and the immigrants meant to get on board them without
loss of time.  There were two gates, guarded by officials who
endeavored to discriminate between the holders of first and second
class tickets, but the crowd was in no mood to submit to the separation.

It raged behind the barrier, and when one gate was rashly pushed back a
little too far, a clamorous, jostling mass of humanity stormed the
opening.  Its guardians were flung aside, helpless, and the foremost of
the mob poured out upon the platform, while the pressure about the gap
grew insupportable.  Women screamed, children were reft away from their
mothers, panting men trampled over bags and bundles torn from their
owners' hands, and George and the elderly Canadian struggled
determinedly to prevent the girl's being badly crushed.  Edgar had
disappeared, though they once heard his voice, raised in angry protest.

They were forced close up to the outlet, when there was a check.  More
officials had been summoned; somebody had dropped a heavy box which
obstructed the passage, and a group of passengers began a savage fight
for its recovery.  George seized a man who was jostling the girl and
thrust him backward; but the next moment he was struck by somebody, and
he saw nothing of his companions when, after being violently driven to
and fro, he reached the gate.  A woman with two screaming children
clinging to her appeared beside him, and he held a man so that she
might pass.  He was breathless, and almost exhausted, but he secured
her a little room; and then the pressure suddenly slackened.  The crowd
swept out like a flood from a broken dam, and in a few more moments
George stood, gasping, on the platform amid a thinner stream of running
people.  There was no sign of the Canadian or his daughter; the cars
were besieged; and George waited until Edgar joined him, flushed and
disheveled.

"I suppose I was lucky in getting through with only my jacket badly
torn," said the lad, "I wondered why the railroad people caged up their
passengers behind iron bars, but now I know."

George laughed.

"I don't think this kind of thing is altogether usual.  Owing to the
accident, they've no doubt had two trainloads to handle instead of one.
But the platform's emptying; shall we look for a place?"

They managed to enter a car, though the stream of passengers, pouring
in by the two vestibules, met within in dire confusion, choking up the
passage with their baggage.  Order was, however, restored at last; and,
with the tolling of the bell, and a jerk that flung those unprepared
off their feet, the great express got off.

"Nobody left behind," Edgar announced, after a glance through the
window.  "I can't imagine where they put them all; though I've never
seen a train like this.  But what has become of our Canadian friends?"

George said he did not know, and Edgar resumed:

"I'm rather taken with the girl--strikes me as intelligent as well as
fetching.  The man's a grim old savage, but I'm inclined to think he's
prosperous; when a fellow says he can't afford cigars I generally
suspect him of being rich.  It's a pity that stinginess is one of the
roads to affluence."

The car, glaringly lighted by huge lamps, was crowded and very hot, and
after a while George went out on to the rear platform for a breath of
air.  The train had now left the city, and glancing back as it swung
around a curve, he wondered how one locomotive could haul the long row
of heavy cars.  Then he looked out across the wide expanse of grass
that stretched away in the moonlight to the dim blur of woods on the
horizon.  Here and there clumps of willows dotted the waste, but it lay
silent and empty, without sign of human life.  The air was pleasantly
fresh after heavy rain; and the stillness of the vast prairie was
soothing by contrast with the tumult from which they had recently
escaped.

Lighting his pipe, George leaned contentedly on the rail.  Then
remembering what the Canadian had said, he thought of his old friend
Marston, a man of charm and varied talents, whom he had long admired
and often rather humbly referred to.  It was hard to understand how
Dick had failed in Canada, and harder still to see why he had made his
plodding comrade his executor; for George, having seldom had occasion
to exert his abilities, had no great belief in them.  He had suffered
keenly when Sylvia married Dick, but the homage he had offered her had
always been characterized by diffidence, springing from a doubt that
she could be content with him; and after a sharp struggle he succeeded
in convincing himself that his wound did not matter if she were happier
with the more brilliant man.  He had entertained no hard thoughts of
her: Sylvia could do no wrong.  His love for her sprang rather from
respect than passion; in his eyes she was all that a woman ought to be.

In the meanwhile his new friends were discussing him in a car farther
back along the train.

"I'm glad I had that Englishman by me in the crowd," the man remarked.
"He's cool and kept his head, did what was needed and nothing else.  I
allow you owe him something for bringing you through."

"Yes," said the girl; "he was quick and resolute."  Then reserving the
rest of her thoughts, she added: "His friend's amusing."

"Percy?  Oh, yes," agreed her father.  "Nothing to notice about
him--he's just one of the boys.  The other's different.  What that
fellow takes in hand he'll go through with."

"You haven't much to form an opinion on."

"That doesn't count.  I can tell if a man's to be trusted when I see
him."

"You're generally right," the girl admitted.  "You were about Marston.
I was rather impressed by him when he first came out."

Her father smiled.

"Just so.  Marston had only one trouble--he was all on top.  You saw
all his good points in the first few minutes.  It was rough on him that
they weren't the ones that are needed in this country."

"It's a country that demands a great deal," the girl said thoughtfully.

"Sure," was the dry reply.  "The prairie breaks the weak and shiftless
pretty quick; we only have room for hard men who'll stand up against
whatever comes along."

"And do you think that description fits the Englishman we met?"

"Well," said her father, "I guess he wouldn't back down if things went
against him."

He went out for a smoke, and the girl considered what he had said.  It
was not a matter of much consequence, but she knew he seldom made
mistakes, and in this instance she agreed with him.  As it happened,
George's English relatives included one or two clever people, but none
of them held his talents in much esteem.  They thought him honest,
rather painstaking, and good-natured, but that was all.  It was left
for two strangers to form a juster opinion; which was, perhaps, a not
altogether unusual thing.  Besides, the standards are different in
western Canada.  There, a man is judged by what he can do.



CHAPTER V

THE PRAIRIE

After a hot and tedious journey, George and his companion alighted one
afternoon at a little station on a branch line, and Edgar looked about
with interest when the train went on again.  A telegraph office with a
baggage-room attached occupied the middle of the low platform, a tall
water-tank stood at the end, and three grain elevators towered high
above a neighboring side-track.  Facing the track, stood a row of
wooden buildings varying in size and style: they included a
double-storied hotel with a veranda in front of it, and several untidy
shacks.  Running back from them, two short streets, thinly lined with
small houses, led to a sea of grass.

"Sage Butte doesn't strike one as a very exhilarating place," George
remarked.  "We'll stroll round it, and then see about rooms, since we
have to stay the night."

They left the station, but the main street had few attractions to
offer.  Three stores, with strangely-assorted, dusty goods in their
windows fronted the rickety plankwalk; beyond these stood a livery
stable, a Chinese laundry, and a few dwelling-houses.  Several
dilapidated wagons and buggies were scattered about the uneven road.
In the side street, disorderly rows of agricultural implements
surrounded a store, and here and there little board dwellings with wire
mosquito-doors and net-guarded windows, stood among low trees.  Farther
back were four very small wooden churches.  It was unpleasantly hot,
though a fresh breeze blew clouds of dust through the place.

"I've seen enough," said Edgar.  "The Butte isn't pretty; we'll assume
it's prosperous, though I haven't noticed much sign of activity yet.
Let's go to the hotel."

When they reached it, several untidy loungers sat half asleep in the
shade of the veranda, and though they obstructed the approach to the
entrance none of them moved.  Passing behind them, George opened a door
filled in with wire-mesh, and they entered a hot room with a bare
floor, furnished with a row of plain wooden chairs.  After they had
rung a bell for several minutes, a man appeared and looked at them with
languid interest from behind a short counter.

"Can you put us up?" George inquired.

"Sure," was the answer.

The man flung down a labeled key, twisted round his register, which was
fitted in a swivel frame, and handed George a pen.

"We want two rooms," Edgar objected.

"Can't help that.  We've only got one."

"I suppose we'd better take it.  Where can one get a drink?"

"Bar," replied the other, indicating a gap in a neighboring partition.

"They're laconic in this country," Edgar remarked.

"Ever since I arrived in it, I've felt as if I were a mere piece of
baggage, to be hustled along anyway without my wishes counting."

"You'll get used to it after a while," George consoled him.

Entering the dark bar, Edgar refreshed himself with several ice-cooled
drinks, served in what he thought were unusually small glasses.  He
felt somewhat astonished when he paid for them.

"Thirst's expensive on the prairie," he commented.

"Pump outside," drawled the attendant.  "It's rather mean water."

They went upstairs to a very scantily furnished, doubled-bedded room.
George, warned by previous experience, glanced around.

"There's soap and a towel, anyway; but I don't see any water," he
remarked.  "I'll take the jar; they'll have a rain-tank somewhere
about."

Edgar did not answer him.  He was looking out of the open window, and
now that there was little to obstruct his view, the prospect interested
him.  It had been a wet spring, and round the vast half-circle he
commanded the prairie ran back to the horizon, brightly green, until
its strong coloring gave place in the distance to soft neutral tones.
It was blotched with crimson flowers; in the marshy spots there were
streaks of purple; broad squares of darker wheat checkered the sweep of
grass, and dwarf woods straggled across it in broken lines.  In one
place was the gleam of a little lake.  Over it all there hung a sky of
dazzling blue, across which great rounded cloud-masses rolled.

Edgar looked around as George came in with the water.

"That's great!" he exclaimed, indicating the prairie; and then, turning
toward the wooden town, he added: "What a frightful mess man can make
of pretty things!  Still, I've no doubt the people who built the Butte
are proud of it."

"If you talk to them in that style, you'll soon discover their
opinion," George laughed; "but I don't think it would be wise."

Soon afterward a bell rang for supper, and going down to a big room,
they found seats at a table which had several other occupants.  Two of
them, who appeared to be railroad-hands, were simply dressed in
trousers and slate-colored shirts, and when they rested their elbows on
the tablecloth, they left grimy smears.  George thought the third man
of the party, who was neatly attired, must be the station-agent; the
fourth was unmistakably a newly-arrived Englishman.  As soon as they
were seated, a very smart young woman came up and rattled off the names
of various unfamiliar dishes.

"I think I'll have a steak; I know what that is," Edgar told her.

She withdrew, and presently surrounded him with an array of little
plates, at which he glanced dubiously before he attacked the thin, hard
steak with a nickeled knife which failed to make a mark on it.  When he
made a more determined effort, it slid away from him, sweeping some
greasy fried potatoes off his plate, and he grew hot under the stern
gaze of the girl, who reappeared with some coffee he had not ordered.

"Perhaps you had better take it away before I do more damage, and let
me have some fish," he said humbly.

"Another time you'll say what you want at first.  You can't prospect
right through the menu," she rebuked him.

In the meanwhile George had been describing his companions on the train
to one of the men opposite.

"He told me he was located in the district, but I didn't learn his
name, and he didn't get off here," he explained.  "Do you know him?"

"Sure," said the other.  "It's Alan Grant, of Poplar, 'bout eighteen
miles back.  Guess he went on to the next station--a little farther,
but it's easier driving, now they're dumping straw on the trail."

"Putting straw on the road?" Edgar broke in.  "Why are they doing that?"

"You'll see, if you drive out north," the man answered shortly.  Then
he turned to his better-dressed companion.  "What are you going to do
with that carload of lumber we got for Grant?"

"Send the car on to Benton."

"She's billed here."

"Can't help that--the road's mistake.  Grant ordered all his stuff to
Benton.  What he says goes."

This struck George as significant--it was only a man of importance
whose instructions would be treated with so much deference.  Then the
agent turned to Edgar.

"What do you think of this country?"

"The country's very nice.  So far as I've seen them, I can't say as
much for the towns; they might be prettier."

"Might be prettier?" exclaimed the agent.  "If they're not good enough
for you, why did you come here?"

"I'm not sure it was a very judicious move.  But, you see, I didn't
know what the place was like; and, after all, an experience of this
kind is supposed to be bracing."

The agent ignored Edgar after this.  He talked to George, and elicited
the information that the latter meant to farm.  Then he got up,
followed by two of the others, and the remaining man with the English
appearance turned to George diffidently.

"Do you happen to want a teamster?" he asked.

"I believe I'll want two," was the answer.  "But I'm afraid I'll have
to hire Canadians."

The man's face fell.  He looked anxious, and George remembered having
seen a careworn woman tearfully embracing him before their steamer
sailed.  Her shabby clothes and despairing face had roused George's
sympathy.

"Well," said the man dejectedly, "that's for you to decide; but I've
driven horses most of my life, and until I get used to things I'd be
reasonable about the pay.  I was told these little places were the best
to strike a job in; but, so far as I can find out, there's not much
chance here."

George felt sorry for him.  He suddenly made up his mind.

"What are farm teamsters getting now?" he asked a man who was leaving
an adjacent table.

"Thirty dollars a month," was the answer.

"Thanks," said George, turning again to the Englishman.  "Be ready to
start with us to-morrow.  I'll take you at thirty dollars; but if I
don't get my value out of you, we'll have to part."

"No fear of that, sir," replied the other, in a tone of keen
satisfaction.

When they got outside, Edgar looked at George with a smile.

"I'm glad you engaged the fellow," he said; "but considering that
you'll have to teach him, were you not a little rash?"

"I'll find out by and by."  George paused, and continued gravely: "It's
a big adventure these people make.  Think of it--the raising of the
passage money by some desperate economy, the woman left behind with
hardly enough to keep her a month or two, the man's fierce anxiety to
find some work!  When I saw how he was watching me, I felt I had to
hire him."

"Just so," responded Edgar.  "I suppose I ought to warn you that doing
things of the kind may get you into trouble some day; but cold-blooded
prudence never did appeal to me."  He took one of the chairs in front
of the building and filled his pipe before he continued: "We'll sit
here a while, and then we might as well stroll across the plain.  The
general-room doesn't strike me as an attractive place to spend the
evening in."

An hour later they left the tall elevators and straggling town behind,
and after brushing through a belt of crimson flowers, they followed the
torn-up black trail that led into the waste.  After a mile or two it
broke into several divergent rows of ruts, and they went on toward a
winding line of bluff across the short grass.  Reaching that, they
pushed through the thin wood of dwarf birch and poplar, skirting little
pools from which mallard rose: and then, crossing a long rise, they sat
down to smoke on its farther side.  Sage Butte had disappeared, the sun
had dipped, and the air was growing wonderfully fresh and cool.  Here
and there a house or barn rose from the sweep of grass; but for the
most part it ran back into the distance lonely and empty.  It was
steeped in strong, cold coloring, but on its western rim there burned a
vivid flush of rose and saffron.  Edgar was impressed by its vastness
and silence.

"This," he said thoughtfully, "makes up for a good deal.  Once you get
clear of the railroad, it's a captivating country."

"Have you decided yet what you're going to do in it?"

"It's too soon," Edgar rejoined.  "The family idea was that I should
stay about twelve months, and then go back and enter some profession.
Ethel seems quite convinced that a little roughing it will prove
beneficial.  I might, however, stop out and try farming, which is one
reason why you can have my services for nothing for a time.
Considering what local wages are, don't you think you're lucky?"

"That," laughed George, "remains to be seen."

"Anyhow, there's no doubt that Sylvia Marston scores in securing you on
the same favorable terms.  It has struck me that she's a woman who gets
things easily."

"She hasn't always done so.  Can you imagine, for instance, what two
years on a prairie farm must have been to a delicate, fastidious girl,
brought up in luxury?"

"I've an idea that Sylvia would manage to avoid a good many of the
hardships."

"Sylvia would never shirk a duty," George declared firmly.

Edgar refilled his pipe.

"I've been thinking about Dick Marston," he said.  "After the way he
was generally regarded at home, it was strange to hear that Canadian's
opinions; but I've a notion that this country's a pretty severe
touchstone.  I mean that the sort of qualities that make one popular in
England may not prove of much use here."

"Dick lost his crop; that accounts for a good deal," George said
shortly.

Edgar, knowing how staunch he was to his friends, changed the subject;
and when the light grew dim they went back to the hotel.  Breakfasting
soon after six the next morning, they took their places in a light,
four-wheeled vehicle, for which three persons' baggage made a rather
heavy load, and drove away with the hired man.  The grass was wet with
dew, the air invigoratingly cool, and for a time the fresh team carried
them across the waste at an excellent pace.  When he had got used to
the frantic jolting, Edgar found the drive exhilarating.  Poplar
bluffs, little ponds, a lake shining amid tall sedges, belts of
darkgreen wheat, went by; and while the horses plunged through tall
barley-grass or hauled the vehicle over clods and ruts, the same vast
prospect stretched away ahead.  It filled the lad with a curious sense
of freedom: there was no limit to the prairies--one could go on and on,
across still wider stretches beyond the horizon.

By and by, however, they ran in among low sandy hills, dotted with
dwarf pines here and there, and the pace slackened.  The grass was
thin, the wheels sank in deep, loose sand, and the sun was getting
unpleasantly hot.  For half an hour they drove on; and then the team
came to a standstill, necked with spume, at the foot of a short, steep
rise.  Edgar alighted and found the heat almost insupportable.  There
was glaring sand all about him, and the breeze which swept the prairie
was cut off by the hill in front.

"You'll have to help the team," George told him, as he went to the
horses' heads.

Edgar and the hired man each seized a wheel and endeavored to start the
vehicle, while the horses plunged in the slipping sand.  They made a
few yards, with clouds of grit flying up about them, and afterward came
to a stop again.  Next they tried pushing; and after several rests they
arrived, breathless and gasping, at the crest of the rise.  There was a
big hollow in front, and on the opposite side a ridge which looked
steeper than the last one.

"How much do you think there is of this?" Edgar inquired.

"I can't say," George answered.  "I know of one belt that runs for
forty miles."

Even walking downhill was laborious, for they sank ankle-deep, but it
was very much worse when they faced the ascent.  Short as the hill was,
it took them some time to climb; and, with the hired man's assistance,
Edgar carried a heavy trunk up the last part of it.  Then he sat down.

"I'm not sure I can smoke, but I intend to try," he said.  "If you mean
to rush the next hill right off, you will go without me."  He turned to
the hired man.  "What do you think of these roads, Grierson?"

"I've seen better, sir," the other answered cautiously.  "Perhaps the
hills don't go on very far."

Edgar ruefully glanced ahead at scattered pines, clumps of brush, and
ridges of gleaming sand.

"It's my opinion there's no end to them!  Hauling a load of wheat
through this kind of country must be a bit of an undertaking."

After a short rest, they toiled for an hour through the sand; and then
rode slowly over a road thickly strewn with straw, which bore the
wheels.  It led them across lower ground to a strong wire fence, where
it forked: one branch skirting the barrier along the edge of a muskeg,
the other running through the enclosed land.  Deciding to take the
latter, George got down at the entrance, which was barred by several
strands of wire, firmly fastened.

"Half an hour's work here," Edgar commented.  "Driving's rather an
arduous pastime in western Canada."

They crossed a long field of barley, a breadth of wheat, and passed an
empty house; then wound through a poplar wood until they reached the
grass again.  It was long and rank, hiding the ruts and hollows in the
trail; but after stopping a while for dinner in the shadow of a bluff,
they jolted on, and in the afternoon they reached a smoother track.
Crossing a low rise, they saw a wide stretch of wheat beneath them,
with a house and other buildings near its margin.

"That," said George, "is Sylvia's farm."

Half an hour later, they drove through the wheat, at which George
glanced dubiously; and then, traversing a belt of light sandy clods
partly grown with weeds, they drew up before the house.  It was
double-storied, roomy, and neatly built of wood; but it was in very bad
repair, and the barn and stables had a neglected and half-ruinous look.
Implements and wagons which had suffered from exposure to the weather,
stood about outside.  Edgar noticed that George's face was grave.

"I am afraid we have our work cut out," he said.  "We'll put up the
team, and then look round the place and see what needs doing first."



CHAPTER VI

GEORGE GETS TO WORK

It was an oppressive evening, after a day of unusual heat.  Edgar sat
smoking outside the homestead.  He had been busy since six o'clock that
morning, and he felt tired and downcast.  Massed thunder-clouds brooded
over the silent prairie, wheat and grass had faded to dingy green and
lifeless gray, and Edgar tried to persuade himself that his moodiness
was the effect of the weather.  This was partly the case, but he was
also suffering from homesickness and a shrinking from what was new and
strange.

The wooden house had a dreary, dilapidated look; the weathered,
neglected appearance of barns and stables was depressing.  It was
through a neighboring gap in the fence that Marston's team had brought
their lifeless master home; and Edgar had seen enough to realize that
the man must have grown slack and nerveless before he had succumbed.
The farm had broken down Marston's strength and courage, and now
another man, less gifted in many ways, had taken it in charge.  Edgar
wondered how he would succeed; but in spite of a few misgivings he had
confidence in George.

After a while the latter, who had been examining Marston's farming
books, came out, looking grave; he had worn a serious air since their
arrival.

"There'll have to be a change," he said.  "Dick's accounts have given
me something to think about.  I believe I'm beginning to understand now
how his money went."

"I suppose you haven't got the new program cut and dried yet?" Edgar
suggested.

George was seldom precipitate.

"No," he answered.  "I've a few ideas in my mind."

"Won't you have some trouble about finances, if the alterations are
extensive?"

"I'll have to draw on my private account, unless Herbert will assist."

"Herbert won't do anything of the kind," said Edgar decidedly.

George, making no answer, called Grierson from the stable.

"You'll drive in to the settlement after breakfast to-morrow, Tom," he
said.  "Tell the man I'll keep the team, if he'll knock off twenty
dollars, and he can have his check when he likes.  Then bring out the
flour and groceries."

"I suppose I won't be going in again for a while; we'll be too busy?"

"It's very likely," said Edgar, knowing his comrade's temperament.

"Then I wonder if I could draw a pound or two?" asked Grierson
diffidently.

"Why?" George questioned him.  "The Immigration people would see that
you had some money before they let you in."

"I've four pounds now; I want to send something home at once."

"Ah!" said George.  "I see.  How much did you leave your wife?"

"About three pounds, sir; I had to bring enough to pass me at Quebec."

"Then if you give me what you have, I'll let you have a check for twice
as much on an English bank.  Better get your letter written."

Grierson's look was very expressive as he turned away with a word of
thanks; and Edgar smiled at George.

"You have bought that fellow--for an advance of four pounds," he said.

George showed a little embarrassment.

"I was thinking of the woman," he explained.

Then he pointed to the prairie.

"There's a rig coming.  It looks like visitors."

Soon afterward, Grant, whom they had met on the train, drew up his team
and helped his daughter down.

"We were passing and thought we'd look in," he said.  "Found out
yesterday that you were located here."

George called Grierson to take the team, and leading the new arrivals
to the house, which was still in disorder, he found them seats in the
kitchen.  It was rather roughly and inadequately furnished, and Edgar
had decided that Sylvia had spent little of her time there.  After they
had talked for a while, a man, dressed in blue duck trousers, a
saffron-colored shirt, and an old slouch hat, which he did not remove,
walked in, carrying a riding quirt.  Grant returned his greeting
curtly, and then the man addressed George.

"I heard you were running this place," he said.

"That's correct."

"Then I put in the wheat on your summer fallow; Mrs. Marston told me
to.  Thought I'd come along and let you have the bill."

His manner was assertively offhand, and George did not ask him to sit
down.

"It's a very second-rate piece of work," George said.  "You might have
used the land-packer more than you did."

"It's good enough.  Anyway, I'll trouble you for the money."

Edgar was sensible of indignation mixed with amusement.  This
overbearing fellow did not know George Lansing.

"I think you had better take off your hat before we go any
farther--it's customary.  Then you may tell me what I owe you."

The man looked astonished, but he complied with the suggestion, and
afterward stated his charge, which was unusually high.  Edgar noticed
that Grant was watching George with quiet interest.

"I suppose you have a note from Mrs. Marston fixing the price?"

The other explained that the matter had been arranged verbally.

"Was anybody else present when you came to terms?" George asked.

"You can quit feeling, and pay up!" exclaimed the stranger.  "I've told
you how much it is."

"The trouble is that you're asking nearly double the usual charge per
acre."

Grant smiled approvingly, but the man advanced with a truculent air to
the table at which George was sitting.

"I've done the work; that's good enough for me."

"You have done it badly, but I'll give you a check now, based on the
regular charge, which should come to"--George made a quick calculation
on a strip of paper and handed it to the man.  "This is merely because
you seem in a hurry.  If you're not satisfied, you can wait until I get
an answer from Mrs. Marston; or I'll ask some of my neighbors to
arbitrate."

The man hesitated, with anger in his face.

"I guess I'll take the check," he said sullenly.

Crossing the floor, George took a pen and some paper from a shelf.

"Sit here," he said, when he came back, "and write me a receipt."

The other did as he was bidden, and George pointed toward the door.

"That's settled; I won't keep you."

The man looked hard at him, and then went quietly out; and Grant leaned
back in his seat with a soft laugh.

"You fixed him," he remarked.  "He has the name of being a tough."

"I suppose an Englishman newly out is considered lawful prey."

"A few of them deserve it," Grant returned dryly.  "But let that go.
What do you think of the place?"

George felt that he could trust the farmer.  He had spent a depressing
day, during which all he saw had discouraged him.  Marston had farmed
in a singularly wasteful manner; fences and outbuildings were in very
bad repair; half the implements were useless; and it would be a long
and costly task to put things straight.

"I feel that I'll have my hands full.  In fact, I'm a little worried
about it; there are so many changes that must be made."

"Sure.  Where are you going to begin?"

"By getting as much summer fallowing as possible done on the second
quarter-section.  The first has been growing wheat for some time; I'll
sew part of that with timothy.  There's one bit of stiff land I might
put in flax.  I've thought of trying corn for the silo."

"Timothy and a silo?" commented Grant.

"You're going in for stock, then?  It means laying out money, and a
slow return."

"I'm afraid so.  Still, you can't grow cereals year after year on this
light soil.  It's a wasteful practise that will have to be abandoned,
as people here seem to be discovering.  Grain won't pay at sixteen
bushels to the acre."

"A sure thing," Grant agreed.  "I'm sticking right to wheat, but that's
because I'm too old to change my system, and I'm on black soil, which
holds out longer."

"But you're taking the nature out of it."

"It will see me through if I fallow," said Grant.  "When I've done with
it and sell out, somebody else can experiment with mixed crops and
stock-raising.  That's going to become the general plan, but it's
costly at the beginning."  Then he rose.  "I'll walk round the place
with you."

They went out, and the girl fell behind with Edgar.  He had learned
that her name was Flora.

"Mr. Lansing seems to understand farming," she remarked.  "He didn't
tell us he had been on the prairie before."

"He hasn't told you now," Edgar pointed out.

"George never does tell things about himself unless there's a reason."

"He soon got rid of the fellow who sowed the crop."

Edgar laughed.

"I knew the man would meet with a surprise.  George's abilities are
not, as a rule, obvious at first sight.  People find them out by
accident, and then they're somewhat startled."

"You're evidently an admirer of his.  Do you mean to go in for farming?"

"I am, though I wouldn't have him suspect it," said Edgar.  "In answer
to the other question, I haven't made up my mind.  Farming as it's
carried on in this country seems to be a rather arduous occupation.  In
the meanwhile, I'm undergoing what English people seem to think of as
the Canadian cure; that is, I've been given a chance for readjusting my
ideas and developing my character."

"Under Mr. Lansing's guidance?"

Edgar realized that the girl was less interested in him than in George,
but he did not resent this.

"You're smart.  I believe my people entertained some idea of that
nature; George is considered safe.  Still, to prevent any
misapprehension, I'd better point out that my chief failings are a
fondness for looking at the amusing side of things and a slackness in
availing myself of my opportunities.  As an instance of the latter
defect, I'm boring you by talking about Lansing."

Flora regarded him with a quiet smile.

"It struck me that you were saying something about yourself."

"I suppose that's true," Edgar admitted.  "It clears the ground."

"For what?"

"For an extension of our acquaintance, among other things."

"Do you want it extended?"

They had stopped at the edge of a hollow filled with tall, harsh grass,
and Edgar studied her while he considered his answer.  There was
nothing that suggested coquetry in the faint amusement she displayed;
this was a girl with some depth of character, though he realized that
she was pretty.  She carried herself well; she was finely and strongly
made; her gray eyes were searching; and she had a rather commanding
manner.  Her hair was a warm brown, clustering low on a smooth
forehead; nose and lips and chin were firmly molded.

"Yes," he answered candidly; "I'm feeling the strangeness of the
country, and I've an idea that both George and I may need friends in
it.  It strikes me that you and your father would prove useful ones."

"Well," she said, "he's sometimes called hard, and he's a little
prejudiced on certain points, but he can be very staunch to those he
takes a liking to."

"I believe," Edgar rejoined, "that also applies to you; I don't mean
the first of it."

Flora changed the subject.

"I gather that you're not favorably impressed with the place."

"I'm not.  If I had to farm it, I'd feel scared; and I don't think
George is happy.  It's hard to understand how Marston let it get into
such a state."

"He was unfitted for the work, and he was further handicapped."

"How?" Edgar asked.

"You may have noticed that while economy ruled outside, the house is
remarkably well furnished.  The money Marston spent in Winnipeg stores
should have gone into the land."

Edgar nodded; he did not agree with George's opinion of Sylvia.

"You don't seem to approve of the way Mrs. Marston managed things.
It's rather curious.  I always thought her pretty capable in some
respects."

"That's very possible," said Flora with a hint of dryness.

"After all, it may not have been her fault," Edgar suggested.  "Marston
was a generous fellow; he may have insisted on thinking first of her
comfort."

"Then she ought to have stopped him," said Flora firmly.  "Do you think
a woman should let a man spoil his one chance of success in order to
surround her with luxury?"

"The answer's obvious."

A dazzling flash of lightning leaped from the mass of somber cloud
overhead, and they turned back toward the house, which George and Grant
reached soon afterward.  Grant said that he must get home before the
storm broke, and Grierson brought out his spirited team.  It had grown
nearly dark; a curious leaden haze obscured the prairie; and when the
man was getting into his light, spring-seated wagon, a jagged streak of
lightning suddenly reft the gloom and there was a deafening roll of
thunder.  The horses started.  Grant fell backward from the step,
dropping the reins; and while the others stood dazzled by the flash,
the terrified animals backed the vehicle with a crash against the
stable.  Then they plunged madly forward toward the fence, with the
reins trailing along the ground.  Flora had got in before her father,
and she was now helpless.

It was too late when Grant got up; Grierson and Edgar were too far
away, and the latter stood still, wondering with a thrill of horror
what the end would be; he did not think the horses saw the thin wire
fence, and the gap in it was narrow.  If they struck a post in going
through, the vehicle would overturn.  Then George, running furiously,
sprang at the horses' heads, and went down, still holding on.  He was
dragged along a few yards, but the pace slackened, and Edgar ran
forward with Grierson behind him.  For a few moments there was a savage
struggle, but they stopped and held the team, until Grant coolly
cleared the reins and flung them to his daughter.

"Stick tight while I get up, and then watch out," he said to the others.

He was seated in another moment, the girl quietly making room for him;
then, to Edgar's astonishment, he lashed the frantic horses with the
whip, and, plunging forward, they swept madly through the opening in
the fence, with the wagon jolting from rut to rut.  A minute or two
afterward they had vanished into the thick obscurity that veiled the
waste of grass, and there was a dazzling flash and a stunning roll of
thunder.  George, flushed and breathless, looked around with a soft
laugh.

"Grant has pretty good nerve," he said.

"That's so, sir," Grierson agreed.  "Strikes me he'll take some of the
wickedness out of his team before he gets them home.  I noticed that
Miss Grant didn't look the least bit afraid."

Then a deluge of rain drove them into the house, where Edgar sat
smoking thoughtfully; for what Flora Grant had said about Sylvia had a
disturbing effect on him.  It looked as if her selfish regard for her
comfort had hampered Marston in his struggle; and though Edgar had
never had much faith in Sylvia, this was painful to contemplate.
Moreover, George cherished a steadfast regard for her, which
complicated things; but Edgar prudently decided that the matter was a
delicate one and must be left to the people most concerned.  After all,
Miss Grant might be mistaken.



CHAPTER VII

A CATTLE DRIVE

George was summer fallowing, sitting in the iron saddle of a plow which
a heavy Clydesdale team hauled through the stubble.  The work should
have been done earlier, for the soil on the Marston farm was very
light, and, as it had already grown several crops of cereals, George
was anxious to expose it to the influence of sun and wind as soon as
possible.  It was about the middle of the afternoon and very hot.
Rounded cloud-masses overhung the plain, but dazzling sunshine fell on
grass and stubble, and a haze of dust surrounded the team, while now
and then the fine soil and sand, blown from the rest of the fallow by
the fresh breeze, swept by in streams.  George wore motor-goggles to
protect his eyes, but his face and hands felt scorched and sore.
Farther back, Edgar plodded behind a lighter team, making very poor
progress.

Presently George looked up and saw Flora Grant riding toward him.  She
sat astride, but her skirt fell in becoming lines, and he thought the
gray blouse and wide Stetson hat, with a red band round it, most
effective.  She reined up her horse near the plow, and George got down.

"I was passing--going on to Forsyth's place--and my father asked me to
call," she said.  "You were talking about buying cattle, and a man at
Dunblane has some good Herefords to sell.  Father thinks they would
suit you."

"His recommendation carries weight," said George.

"I'll go and see them.  I must thank you for bringing me word."

"I've another message.  It's this--when you're buying stock, be
cautious how you bid."

"As I'm not well up in local prices, I wish Mr. Grant had been a little
plainer."

"He went farther than I expected.  You see, as a friend of the seller,
he's awkwardly fixed."

"Just so," said George.  "But, if you're not in the same position, you
might give me a hint.  How much is the value of Canadian cattle usually
below the price likely to be asked of a new arrival?"

"In this case, I should say about fifty per cent," Flora answered, with
a laugh.

"Thank you," responded George.  "I am sure your opinion's to be relied
on."

Edgar stopped his team near by, and Flora regarded him with amusement
as he came toward them, his red face streaked with dust.

"You look a good deal more like a western farmer than you did when I
saw you last," she laughed.

Edgar removed his goggles and surveyed his working attire somewhat
disgustedly.

"I wonder whether that's a compliment; but now that I've made the first
plunge, I'd better go through with it--get a flappy hat and a black
shirt, or one of those brilliant orange ones."

"The latter are more decorative.  But, as you are going on a two days'
journey to drive some cattle, I'll tell you how to find the way."

"You had better tell George.  I can only remember the things that
interest me."

Flora gave them clear instructions, and when she rode away George
turned to Edgar.

"You'll have to come, and we'll start at once.  Grierson can go on
plowing with the Clydesdales, which is more than you could do."

"I'm afraid I must admit it," said Edgar, glancing at his ragged
furrow.  "But I'm going to have my supper and put up some provisions
before I leave the place."

They set out an hour later, and safely reached their destination, where
George purchased a dozen cattle.  They were big, red and white,
long-horned animals, accustomed to freedom, for fences are still scarce
on tracts of the prairie, and they ranged about the corral in a
restless manner.  Edgar, leaning on the rails, watched them dubiously.

"They look unusually active," he remarked.  "I'm not an expert at
cattle-driving, but I suppose two of us ought to take them home."

The rancher laughed.

"Two's quite a good allowance for that small bunch, but if you keep
north among the scrub poplar, you won't be bothered by many fences.
It's pretty dry in summer, but you'll get good water in Baxter's well,
if you head for the big bluff you'll see tomorrow afternoon.  We'll let
them out when you're ready."

As soon as the rails were flung down, the cattle rushed out
tumultuously, as if rejoicing in their restored freedom.  Then, while
George and his companion mounted, they started off across the prairie
at a steady trot.

"A mettlesome lot; seem to be in good training," Edgar commented.
"Have you any idea where they're going?"

"Guess they're heading for a creek two miles back; water's scarce,"
explained the rancher.  "As it's near the trail, you had better let
them go.  You'll round them up quite easy when they've had a drink."

George and Edgar rode after the cattle.  The sun was getting low, but
the temperature showed no signs of falling, and the men were soon
soaked in perspiration.  The herd went on at a good pace, making for a
wavy line of timber, and on reaching it, plunged down the side of a
declivity among little scattered trees.  A stream trickled through
willow bushes and tall grass in the bottom of the hollow, and the men.
had trouble in forcing the cattle to leave the water.  Before they
accomplished it, Edgar had got very wet and had scratched himself badly
in scrambling through the brush.

"Driving stock is by no means so easy as it looks," he grumbled, when
they had climbed the opposite ascent, leading their horses.  "The way
these beasts jump about among the bushes confuses you; I'd have sworn
there were forty of them in the ravine."

"I see only nine now," George said pointedly.

Edgar looked back into the hollow.

"There are three of the brutes slipping away upstream as fast as they
can go!  You're smarter at the thing than I am--hadn't you better go
after them?"

"I expect I'll be needed to keep this bunch together," George rejoined.

Edgar strode away, but it was half an hour later when he came back, hot
and angry, with the cattle crashing through the brush in front of him.
Then the reunited herd set off at a smart pace across the plain.

"They seem fond of an evening gallop," Edgar remarked.  "Anyhow,
they're going the right way, which strikes me as something to be
thankful for."

They rode on, and it was getting dark when they checked the herd near a
straggling poplar bluff.  The grass was good, the beasts began to feed
quietly, and after picketing their horses the men lay down on their
blankets.  It was growing cooler, a vivid band of green still flickered
along the prairie's rim, and the deep silence was intensified by the
soft sound the cattle made cropping the dew-damped herbage.

"I wonder if they go to sleep," mused Edgar.  "I'm beginning to think
this kind of thing must be rather fine when one gets used to it.  It's
a glorious night."

By and by he drew his blanket round him and sank into slumber; but for
a while George, who had paid a high price for a Hereford bull, lay
awake, thinking and calculating.  It would cost a good deal more than
he had anticipated to work the farm; Sylvia had no funds that could be
drawn upon, and his means were not large.  Economy and good management
would be needed, but he was determined to make a success of his
undertaking.  At last, seeing that the herd showed no signs of moving,
he went to sleep.

Awakening at sunrise George found that, except for the horses, there
was not a beast in sight.  For an hour he and West hunted them through
the bluff; and then, after making a hurried breakfast, they went on
their way again.  It rapidly got hotter, the stock traveled quietly,
and, with a halt or two where a clump of poplars offered a little
shade, they rode, scorched by dazzling sunshine, across the limitless
plain.  In the afternoon George began to look eagerly for the bluff
that the rancher mentioned.  They had found no water, and the cattle
seemed distressed.  The glare and heat were getting intolerable, but
the vast, gradual rise in front of them ran on, unbroken, to the
skyline.  Its crest, however, must be crossed before evening; and they
toiled on.

At last, the long ascent was made, and George felt relieved when he saw
a dark line of trees in the wide basin below him.

"That must be the big bluff where the well is; though I don't see a
house," he said.

They had some trouble in urging the herd down the slope, but after a
while they reached the welcome shadow of the trees, and Edgar broke
into a shout when he saw a rude wooden platform with a windlass upon it
and a trough near by.

"Ride ahead with the horses and water them," said George, dismounting.

Edgar did as he was bidden, but presently the herd, attracted by the
sight of water, came surging round the trough, savagely jostling one
another.  The lad worked hard with the windlass, but he could not keep
them supplied, and they crowded on the low platform covering the well,
with heads stretched out eagerly toward the dripping bucket.  After
being flung against the windlass by a thirsty beast, Edgar called to
his companion.

"They'll break through if you're not quick!  It's my opinion they're
bent on getting down the well!"

George came to his assistance with his riding quirt, but when they were
supplying the last two or three unsatisfied animals, a man ran out of
the bluff.

"What in thunder are you doing with our water?" he cried.

"He looks angry," Edgar commented.  "When that rancher fellow told us
about the well, he didn't mention the necessity of asking Mr. Baxter's
permission."  Then he waved his hand to the stranger.

"Come here and have a talk!"

The man came on at a quicker run.  His face was hot with indignation,
and on reaching them he broke into breathless and pointed
expostulations.

"When you're quite through, we'll assess the damages," George quietly
told him.

The farmer's anger began to dissipate.

"No," he said; "that would be taking a pretty mean pull on you; but
water's scarce, and you can't have any more."

"Well," requested George, "have you a paddock or corral you could let
me put this bunch of cattle into until the morning?  I'm willing to pay
for the accommodation."

"I can't do it," replied the other.  "I want all the fenced grass I've
got.  Take them right along, and you'll strike a creek about six miles
ahead.  Then you ought to make the river to-morrow night."

It was obvious that he desired to be rid of them; and as it was getting
cooler George resumed his journey.  He found the creek early the next
morning, and as the day promised to be unusually hot he delayed only
until he had watered the stock.  In an hour or two the sun was hidden
by banks of leaden cloud, but the temperature did not fall and there
was an oppressive heaviness in the air.  The prairie had faded to a
sweep of lifeless gray, obscured above its verge.  The men made
progress, however; and late in the afternoon a winding line of timber
that marked the river's course appeared ahead.  Shortly afterward,
Edgar looked around.

"That's a curious streak of haze in the distance," he remarked.

"It's smoke," said George.  "Grass fires are not uncommon in hot
weather.  It looks like a big one."

They urged the cattle on a little faster, but it was evening when they
reached the first of the trees.  George rode forward between them and
pulled up his horse in some concern.  The ford had been difficult when
they crossed it on the outward journey, but now the space between bank
and bank was filled by an angry flood.  It rolled by furiously, lapping
in frothy ripples upon the steep slope that led down to it.

"Nearly an extra three feet of water; there'd be a risk in crossing,"
he said, when Edgar joined him.

"We couldn't make the place where the trail runs in, and the landing
down-stream from it looks bad."

"Then what ought we to do?" Edgar inquired.

"Wait until to-morrow.  There's no doubt been a heavy thunderstorm
higher up, but the water should soon run down."  George glanced back
toward the prairie dubiously.  "I'm a little anxious about the fire;
but, after all, it may not come near us."

The cattle did not wander far after drinking, and the men ate their
supper.  It grew dark, but the heat did not lessen, and the oppressive
air was filled with a smell of burning.  Looking back between the
trees, they could see a long streak of yellow radiance leaping up, and
growing dim when the view was obstructed by clouds of smoke.

"It's an awkward situation, and, as if it were not bad enough, there's
a big thunderstorm brewing," Edgar said at length.  "I'll go along and
look at the mark you made upon the bank."

He strode away among the trees.  It was very dark.  The tethered horses
were moving restlessly; but, so far as Edgar could make out, the cattle
were bunched together.  After lighting a match he came back.

"The water's falling, but only slowly," he reported.  "Should we try to
drive the stock along the bank?"

"We couldn't herd them in the dark.  Besides, it's an extensive fire,
and I'm doubtful whether we could get down to the water farther along."

They waited for an hour, keeping the cattle together with some trouble,
and watching the blaze, which grew brighter rapidly.  At last, wisps of
pungent smoke rolled into the bluff.

"The beasts are ready to stampede!" George suddenly called to Edgar.
"We'll have to make a start!  Get into the saddle and drive them toward
the ford!"

They were very busy for a while.  Their horses were hard to manage, the
timber was thick, and the herd attempted to break away through it; but
at last they reached the steep dip to the waterside.  One beast plunged
in and vanished, more followed, and George, plying his quirt and
shouting, rode in among the diminishing drove.  He felt the water
lapping about his boots, and then the horse lost its footing.  George
dropped from the saddle and seized a stirrup.  For some minutes he
could see a few dark objects about him, but they disappeared, and he
and the horse were swept away down-stream.

He kept hold--the animal was swimming strongly--and after a time a
lurid flash of lightning showed him a black mass of trees close ahead.
They vanished, the succeeding darkness was impenetrable, and the crash
of thunder was deadened by the roar of water.  For a moment or two his
head was driven under, but when he got it clear, another dazzling flash
revealed a high bank only a few yards away, and when thick darkness
followed he felt the horse rise to its feet.  Then he touched soft
bottom, and a little later scrambled up an almost precipitous slope
with the bridle in his hand and the horse floundering behind him.  They
reached the summit, and, stopping among thin timber, it was with strong
relief that he heard Edgar's shout.  Shortly afterward the lad
appeared, leading his horse.

"There's some of the drove on this side; I don't see the rest," he
said, glancing toward the opposite bank, where dark trees stood out
against a strong red glare.

"It strikes me we only got across in time."

Then torrential rain broke upon them, and while they stood, unable to
move forward, a cry reached them faintly through the roar of the
deluge.  It came again when George answered, and was followed by a
crackling and snapping of underbrush.  Then, as a blaze of lightning
filled the bluff with radiance, two men appeared for a moment, leading
their horses among the slender trunks.  They were immediately lost to
sight again, but presently they came up, and George recognized Grant by
his voice.

"So you have got through, Lansing," he cried.  "I met Constable Flett
on the trail, and, as he told me the river was rising and there was a
big fire west, I figured you must be up against trouble."

He asked a few questions and then resumed:

"As you got the stock started, they'll have swum across; but we can't
round them up until it's light.  There's a deserted shack not far off,
and I guess we'll head for it."

The constable agreed; and, mounting when they had got out of the
timber, they rode off through the rain.



CHAPTER VIII

CONSTABLE FLETT'S SUSPICIONS

It was nearly six o'clock in the evening when George and his
companions, who had spent part of the day looking for the straying
stock, rode up to the Grant homestead through a vast stretch of grain.
This grew on the rich black soil they call "gumbo" in the West; but
here and there a belt of dark-colored summer fallow checkered the
strong green of the wheat and oats.  Though he clung to the one-crop
system, Alan Grant was careful of his land.  The fine brick house and
range of smart wooden buildings, the costly implements, which included
a gasoline tractor-plow, all indicated prosperity, and George
recognized that the rugged-faced man beside him had made a marked
success of his farming.

When the cattle had been secured, Flora Grant welcomed the new arrivals
graciously, and after a while they sat down to supper with the hired
men in a big room.  It was plainly furnished, but there was everything
that comfort demanded, for the happy mean between bareness and
superfluity had been cleverly hit, and George thought Miss Grant was
responsible for this.  He sat beside her at the foot of the long table
and noticed the hired hands' attitude toward her.  It was respectful,
but not diffident.  The girl had no need to assert herself; she was on
excellent terms with the sturdy toilers, who nevertheless cheerfully
submitted to her rule.

When the meal was over, Grant led his guests into a smaller room, and
produced a bag of domestic tobacco.

"The stock have gone far enough," he said.  "You'll stay here to-night."

Flett looked doubtful, though it was obvious that he wished to remain.
He was a young, brown-faced man, and his smart khaki uniform proclaimed
him a trooper of the Northwest Mounted Police.

"The trouble is that I'm a bit late on my round already," he protested.

"That's soon fixed," said Grant.

He opened a roll-top desk, and wrote a note which he read out:


"'Constable Flett has been detained in the neighborhood of this
homestead through having rendered, at my request, valuable assistance
in rounding up a bunch of cattle, scattered in crossing the flooded
river.'"


"Thanks," said Flett.  "That kind of thing counts when they're choosing
a corporal."

Grant turned to George with a smile.

"Keep in with the police, Lansing--I've known a good supper now and
then go a long way.  They may worry you about fireguards and fencing,
but they'll stand by you when you're in trouble, if you treat them
right.  If it's a matter of straying stock, a sick horse, or you don't
know how to roof a new barn, you have only to send for the nearest
trooper."

"Aren't these things a little outside their duties?" Edgar asked.

The constable grinned.

"Most anything that wants doing badly is right in our line."

"Sure," said Grant.  "It's not long since Flett went two hundred miles
over the snow with a dog-team to settle a little difference between an
Indian and his wife.  Then he once brought a hurt trapper a fortnight's
journey on his sledge, sleeping in the snow, in the bitterest weather.
They were quite alone, and the hurt man was crazy most of the time."

"Then you're supposed to look after the settlers, as well as to keep
order?" suggested Edgar, looking admiringly at the sturdy young
constable.

"That's so," replied Flett.  "They certainly need it.  Last winter we
struck one crowd in a lonely shack up north--man, woman, and several
children huddled on the floor, with nothing to eat, and the stove
out--at forty degrees below.  There was a bluff a few miles off, but
they hadn't a tool of any kind to cut cordwood with.  Took us quite a
while to haul them up some stores, though we made twelve-hour marches
between our camps in the snow.  We had to hustle that trip."

He paused and resumed:

"Better keep an eye on that bunch of young horses, Mr. Grant; bring
them up nearer the house when the nights get darker.  Those Clydesdales
are mighty fine beasts and prices are high."

Grant looked astonished.

"I've been here a good many years, and I've never lost a horse," he
declared.

"It doesn't follow you'll always be as lucky," the trooper said
pointedly.

"I was told that property is as safe in the West as it is in England,"
Edgar broke in.

"Just so," remarked the trooper.  "They say that kind of thing.  I
never was in the old country, but young mavericks aren't the only stock
to go missing in Alberta, which isn't a long way off.  The boys there
have their hands full now and then, and we have three or four of the
worst toughs I've struck right in Sage Butte."

Grant leaned forward on the table, looking steadily at him.

"Hadn't you better tell me what you have in your mind?"

"I can't give you much information, but we got a hint from Regina to
keep our eyes open, and from things I've heard it's my idea that now
that the boys have nearly stopped the running of Alberta cattle across
the frontier, some of the toughs they couldn't track mean to start the
same game farther east.  Some of you ranchers run stock outside the
fences, and I guess one could still find a lonely trail to the American
border."

"Well," said Grant, "I'm glad you told me."  He turned to George.  "Be
careful, Lansing; you would be an easier mark."

They strolled outside; and after a while George joined Flora, and
sauntered away across the grass with her.  It was a clear, still
evening, and the air was wonderfully fresh.

"Though he wouldn't let me thank him, I feel I'm seriously indebted to
your father, Miss Grant," he said.  "Our horses were worn out, and the
stock had all scattered when he turned up with the trooper."

"I believe he enjoyed the ride, and the night in the rain," replied
Flora.  "You see, he had once to work very hard here, and now that
things have changed, he finds it rather tame.  He likes to feel he's
still capable of a little exertion."

"I shouldn't consider him an idle man."

Flora laughed.

"That would be very wrong; but the need for continual effort and the
strain of making ends meet, with the chance of being ruined by a frozen
crop, have passed.  I believe he misses the excitement of it."

"Then I gather that he built up this great farm?"

"Yes; from a free quarter-section.  He and my mother started in a
two-roomed shack.  They were both from Ontario, but she died several
years ago."  The girl paused.  "Sometimes I think she must have had
remarkable courage, I can remember her as always ready in an emergency,
always tranquil."

George glanced at her as she stood, finely posed, looking out across
the waste of grass with gravely steady eyes, and it occurred to him
that she resembled her mother in the respects she had mentioned.
Nevertheless, he felt inclined to wonder how she had got her grace and
refinement.  Alan Grant was forceful and rather primitive.

"Have you spent much of your time here?" he asked.

"No," she answered.  "My mother was once a school-teacher, and she must
have had ambitious views for me.  When the farm began to prosper, I was
sent to Toronto.  After that I went to Montreal, and finally to
England."

"You must be fond of traveling."

"Oh," she said, with some reserve, "I had thought of taking up a
profession."

"And you have abandoned the idea?"

She looked at him quietly, wondering whether she should answer.

"I had no alternative," she said.  "I began to realize it after my
mother's death.  Then my father was badly hurt in an accident with a
team, and I came back.  He has nobody else to look after him, and he is
getting on in life."

Her words conveyed no hint of the stern struggle between duty and
inclination, but George guessed it.  This girl, he thought, was one not
to give up lightly the career she had chosen.

Then she changed the subject with a smile.

"I suspect that my father approves of you, perhaps because of what you
are doing with the land.  I think I may say that if you have any little
difficulty, or are short of any implements that would be useful, you
need only come across to us."

"Thank you," George responded quietly.

"Mr. West mentioned that you were on a farm in this country once
before.  Why did you give it up?"

"Somebody left me a little money."

"Then what brought you back?"

She was rather direct, but that is not unusual in the West, and George
was mildly flattered by the interest she displayed.

"It's a little difficult to answer.  For one thing, I was beginning to
feel that I was taking life too easily in England, It's a habit that
grows on one."

He had no desire to conceal the fact that he had come out on Sylvia's
behalf--it never occurred to him to mention it.  He was trying to
analyze the feelings which had rendered the sacrifice he made in
leaving home a little easier.

"I don't think the dread of acquiring that habit is common among your
people," Flora said mischievously.  "It doesn't sound like a very
convincing reason."

"No," replied George, with a smile.  "Still, it had some weight.  You
see, it isn't difficult to get lazy and slack, and I'd done nothing
except a little fishing and shooting for several years.  I didn't want
to sink into a mere lounger about country houses and clubs.  It's
pleasant, but too much of it is apt to unfit one for anything else."

"You believe it's safer, for example, to haul stovewood home through
the Canadian frost or drive a plow under the scorching sun?"

"Yes; I think I feel something of the kind."

Flora somewhat astonished him by her scornful laugh.

"You're wise," she said.  "We have had sportsmen here from your
country, and I've a vivid memory of one or two.  One could see by their
coarse faces that they ate and drank too much; and they seemed
determined to avoid discomfort at any cost.  I suppose they could
shoot, but they could neither strip a gun nor carry it on a long day's
march.  The last party thought it needful to take a teamload of
supplies when they went north after moose.  It would have been a
catastrophe if they had missed their dinner."

"Going without one's dinner has its inconveniences," said George.

"And thinking too much about it has its perils," she retorted.

George nodded.  He thought he knew what she meant, and he agreed with
it.  He could recall companions who, living for pleasure, had by
degrees lost all zest for the more or less wholesome amusements to
which they had confined their efforts.  Some had become mere club
loungers and tattlers; one or two had sunk into gross indulgence.  This
had had its effect on him: he did not wish to grow red-faced, slothful,
and fleshy, as they had done, nor to busy himself with trivialities
until such capacities for useful work as he possessed had atrophied.

"Well," he said, "nobody could call this a good country for the
pampered loafer."

Flora smiled, and pointed out across the prairie.  In the foreground it
was flecked with crimson flowers; farther back willow and poplar bluffs
stretched in bluish smears across the sweep of grass that ran on beyond
them toward the vivid glow of color on the skyline.  It was almost
beautiful in the soft evening light, but it conveyed most clearly a
sense of vastness and solitude.  The effect was somehow daunting.  One
thought of the Arctic winter and the savage storms that swept the wilds.

"I've heard it called hard," she said.  "It undoubtedly needs hard men;
there is nothing here that can be easily won.  That's a fact that the
people you're sending over ought to recognize."

"They soon discover it when they get out.  When they've had a crop
hailed or frozen, the thing becomes obvious."

"Did you lose one?"

"I did," George rejoined rather gloomily.  "I've a suspicion that if we
get much dry weather and the usual strong winds, I may lose another.
The wheat's getting badly cut by driving sand; that's a trouble we
don't have to put up with in the old country."

"I'm sorry," said Flora; and he knew she meant it.  "But you won't be
beaten by one bad season?"

"No," George answered with quiet determination.  "I must make a success
of this venture, whatever it costs."

She was a little puzzled by his manner, for she did not think he was
addicted to being needlessly emphatic; but she asked no questions, and
soon afterward the others joined them and they went back to the house.
Early on the following morning, George started homeward with his
cattle, and as they rode slowly through the barley-grass that fringed
the trail, Edgar looked at him with a smile.

"You spent some time in Miss Grant's company," he remarked.  "How did
she strike you?"

"I like her.  She's interesting--I think that's the right word for it.
Seems to understand things; talks to you like a man."

"Just so," Edgar rejoined, with a laugh.  "She's a lady I've a high
opinion of; in fact, I'm a little afraid of her.  Though I'm nearly as
old as she is, she makes me feel callow.  It's a sensation that's new
to me."

"And you're a man of experience, aren't you?"

"I suppose I was rather a favorite at home," Edgar owned with humorous
modesty.  "For all that, I don't feel myself quite up to Miss Grant's
standard."

"I didn't notice any assumption of superiority on her part."

"Oh, no," said Edgar.  "She doesn't require to assume it; the
superiority's obvious; that's the trouble.  One hesitates about
offering her the small change of compliments that generally went well
at home.  If you try to say something smart, she looks at you as if she
were amused, not at what you said, but at you.  There's an embarrassing
difference between the things."

"The remedy's simple.  Don't try to be smart."

"You would find that easy," Edgar retorted.  "Now, in my opinion, Miss
Grant is intellectual, which is more than anybody ever accused you of
being, but I suspect you would make more progress with her than I could
do.  Extremes have a way of meeting, and perhaps it isn't really
curious that your direct and simple views should now and then recommend
you to a more complex person."

"I notice a couple of beasts straying yonder," George said dryly.

Edgar rode off to drive the animals up to the herd.  George, he
thought, was painfully practical; only such a man could break off the
discussion of a girl like Miss Grant to interest himself in the
movements of a wandering steer.  For all that, the beasts must be
turned, and they gave Edgar a hard gallop through willow scrub and tall
grass before he could head them off and afterward overtake the drove.



CHAPTER IX

GEORGE TURNS REFORMER

George was working in the summer fallow a few days after his return
from Grant's homestead, when a man rode across the plowing and pulled
up his horse beside him.  He was on the whole a handsome fellow, well
mounted and smartly dressed, but there was a hint of hardness in his
expression.  George recognized him as the landlord of a hotel at the
settlement.

"Your crop's not looking too good," the stranger greeted him.

"No," returned George.  "It was badly put in, and we've had unusually
dry weather."

"I forgot," the other rejoined.  "You're the fellow Jake Gillet had the
trouble with.  Beat him down on the price, didn't you?  He's a bad man
to bluff."

"The point that concerned me was that he asked a good deal more than
his work was worth."

The man looked at George curiously.

"That's quite possible, but you might have let him down more gently
than you did.  As a newcomer, you don't want to kick too much or run up
against things other folks put up with."

George wondered where the hint he had been given led.

"I rode over to bring this paper for you to sign," the man went on.

Glancing through it, George saw that it was a petition against any
curtailment of the licenses at Sage Butte, and a testimonial to the
excellent manner in which the Sachem Hotel was conducted by its owner,
Oliver Beamish.  George had only once entered the place, but it had
struck him as being badly kept and frequented by rather undesirable
customers.

"Some fool temperance folks are starting a campaign--want to shut the
hotels," his visitor explained.  "You'll put your name to this."

"I'm afraid you'll have to excuse me, Mr. Beamish.  I can't form an
opinion; I haven't heard the other side yet."

"Do you want to hear them?  Do you like that kind of talk?"

George smiled, though he was not favorably impressed by the man.  His
tone was too dictatorial; George expected civility when asked a favor.

"After all," he said, "it would only be fair."

"Then you won't sign?"

"No."

Beamish sat silent a moment or two, regarding George steadily.

"One name more or less doesn't matter much, but I'll own that the
opinion of you farmers who use my hotel as a stopping-place counts with
the authorities," he told him.  "I've got quite a few signatures.  You
want to remember that it won't pay you to go against the general wish."

There was a threat in his manner, and George's face hardened.

"That consideration hasn't much weight with me," he said.

"Well," returned Beamish, "I guess you're wrong; but as there's nothing
doing here, I'll get on."

He rode away, and George thought no more of the matter for several
days.  Then as he was riding home with Edgar from a visit to a neighbor
who had a team to sell, they stopped to rest a few minutes in the shade
of a poplar bluff.  It was fiercely hot on the prairie, but the wood
was dim and cool, and George followed Edgar through it in search of
saskatoons.  The red berries were plentiful, and they had gone farther
than they intended when George stopped waist-deep in the grass of a dry
sloo, where shallow water had lain in the spring.  He nearly fell over
something large and hard.  Stooping down, he saw with some surprise
that it was a wooden case.

"I wonder what's in it?" he said.

"Bottles," reported Edgar, pulling up a board of the lid.  "One of the
cure-everything tonics, according to the labels.  It strikes me as a
curious place to leave it in."

George carefully looked about.  He could distinguish a faint track,
where the grasses had been disturbed, running straight across the sloo
past the spot he occupied; but he thought that the person who had made
the track had endeavored to leave as little mark as possible.  Then he
glanced out between the poplar trunks across the sunlit prairie.  There
was not a house on it; scarcely a clump of timber broke its even
surface.  The bluff was very lonely; and George remembered that a trail
which ran near by led to an Indian reservation some distance to the
north.  While he considered, Edgar broke in:

"As neither of us requires a pick-me-up, it might be better to leave
the thing where it is."

"That," replied George, "is my own idea."

Edgar looked thoughtful.

"The case didn't come here by accident; and one wouldn't imagine that
tonics are in great demand in this locality.  I have, however, heard
the liquor laws denounced; and as a rule it's wise to leave matters
that don't concern you severely alone."

"Just so," said George.  "We'll get on again, if you have had enough
berries."

On reaching the homestead, they found a note from Miss Grant inviting
them to come over in the evening; and both were glad to comply with it.
When they arrived, the girl led them into a room where a lady of
middle-age and a young man in clerical attire were sitting with her
father.

"Mrs. Nelson has come over from Sage Butte on a mission," she said,
when she presented them.  "Mr. Hardie, who is the Methodist minister
there, is anxious to meet you."

The lady was short and slight in figure but was marked by a most
resolute expression.

"The mission is Mr. Hardie's," she said.  "I'm merely his assistant.  I
suppose you're a temperance reformer, Mr. Lansing?"

"No," George answered meekly; "I can't say I am."

"Then you'll have to become one.  How long is it since you indulged in
drink?"

George felt a little embarrassed, but Edgar, seeing Flora's smile and
the twinkle in her father's eyes, hastily came to his rescue.

"Nearly a month, to my knowledge.  That is, if you don't object to
strong green tea, consumed in large quantities."

"One should practise moderation in everything.  _Everything_!"

"It has struck me," said Edgar thoughtfully, "that moderation is now
and then desirable in temperance reform."

Mrs. Nelson fixed her eyes on him with a severe expression.

"Are you a scoffer?"

"No," said Edgar; "as a matter of fact, I'm open to conviction,
especially if you intend to reform the Butte.  In my opinion, it needs
it."

"Well," responded the lady, "you're a signature, anyway; and we want as
many as we can get.  But we'll proceed to business.  Will you state our
views, Mr. Hardie?"

The man began quietly, and George was favorably impressed by him.  He
had a pleasant, sun-burned face, and a well-knit but rather thin
figure, which suggested that he was accustomed to physical exertion.
As he could not afford a horse, he made long rounds on foot to visit
his scattered congregation, under scorching sun and in the stinging
frost.

"There are four churches in Sage Butte, but I sometimes fear that most
of the good they do is undone in the pool room and the saloons," he
said.  "Of the latter, one cannot, perhaps, strongly object to the
Queen's."

"One should always object to a saloon," Mrs. Nelson corrected him.

Hardie smiled good-humoredly.

"After all, the other's the more pressing evil.  There's no doubt about
the unfortunate influence of the Sachem."

"That's so," Grant agreed.  "When I first came out from Ontario, there
wasn't a loafer in the town.  When the boys were through with their
day's job, they had a quiet talk and smoke and went to bed; they came
here to work.  Now the Sachem bar's full of slouchers every night, and
quite a few of them don't do anything worth speaking of in the daytime,
except make trouble for decent folks.  If the boys try to put the screw
on a farmer at harvest or when he has extra wheat to haul, you'll find
they hatched the mischief at Beamish's saloon.  But I've no use for
giving those fellows tracts with warning pictures."

"That," said Mrs. Nelson, "is by no means what we intend to do."

"I'm afraid that admonition hasn't had much effect, and I agree with
Mr. Grant that the Sachem is a gathering place for doubtful
characters," Hardie went on.  "What's worse, I've reasons for supposing
that Beamish gets some of them to help him in supplying the Indians on
the reservation with liquor."

This was a serious offense, and there was a pause, during which Edgar
glanced meaningly at George.  Then he made a pertinent remark.

"Four churches to two saloons is pretty long odds.  Why do you think it
needful to call in the farmers?"

Hardie looked troubled, but he showed that he was honest.

"The churches are thinly attended; I'm the only resident clergyman, and
I'm sorry I must confess that some of our people are indifferent:
reluctant, or perhaps half afraid, to interfere.  They want a clear
lead; if we could get a big determined meeting it might decide the
waverers."

"Then you're not sure of winning?" asked Grant.

"No," replied Hardie.  "There'll be strong and well-managed opposition;
in fact, we have nearly everything against us.  I've been urged to
wait, but the evil's increasing; those against us are growing stronger."

"If you lose, you and your friends will find the Butte pretty hot.  But
you feel you have a chance, a fighting chance, and you mean to take it?"

"Yes."

"Then I'm with you,"' Grant declared with a grim smile.  "Don't mistake
me: I take my glass of lager when I feel like it--there's some right
here in the house--but, if it's needful, I can do without.  I'm not
going into this thing to help you in preaching to whisky-tanks and
toughs--it's the law I'm standing for.  If what you suspect is going
on, we'll soon have our colts rebranded and our calves missing.  We
have got to clean out Beamish's crowd."

"Thanks," said Hardie, with keen satisfaction.

He turned to George.

"I'd be glad of your support, Mr. Lansing."

George sat silent a moment or two while Flora watched him.  Then he
said quietly:

"My position's much the same as Mr. Grant's--I can do without.  After
what you have said about the Sachem, I'll join you."

"And you?" Hardie asked Edgar.

The lad laughed.

"I follow my leader.  The loungers about the Sachem weren't civil to
me; said unpleasant things about my appearance and my English clothes.
To help to make them abstainers strikes me as a happy thought."

Flora glanced at him in amused reproof, and Hardie turned to Grant.

"What about your hired men?"

"Count them in; they go with me.  If you have brought any memorial
along, I'll see they sign it."

"I wish all our supporters had your determination," Mrs. Nelson
remarked approvingly.

Hardie ventured a protest.

"I don't want any pressure put upon them, Mr. Grant."

"Pressure?" queried the farmer.  "I'll just ask them to sign."

"I wonder if you're quite satisfied with the purity of all your allies'
motives, Mr. Hardie?" Edgar inquired.

A smile crept into the clergyman's face.

"I don't think a leader's often in that position, Mr. West; and
considering what I'm up against, I can't refuse any support that's
offered me.  It's one reason why I've taken yours."

"Now that I've joined you, I'd better mention a little discovery West
and I made this afternoon," said George.

Hardie's expression grew eager as he listened.

"It's certainly liquor--for the reservation Indians," he broke out.
"If we can fix the thing on Beamish--I haven't a doubt that he's
responsible--we can close the Sachem."

"Then we had better decide how it's to be done," Grant said curtly.

He ruled out several suggestions, and finally said:

"I expect the case will be sent for to-night, and we want two witnesses
who'll lie by in the sloo.  One of them ought to be a farmer; but we'll
see about that.  Guess your part is to find out how the liquor left the
Butte, Mr. Hardie.  What do you think of the plan, ma'am?"

"I leave it to you," said Mrs. Nelson, half reluctantly.  "But be
warned--if the men can't close the Sachem, the women of Sage Butte will
undertake the thing."

"Then we have only to decide who is to watch the bluff," said Hardie.

"As I first mentioned the matter, I'll go, for one," George volunteered.

"You're the right man," declared Grant.  "As a newcomer who's never
been mixed up with local affairs, your word would carry more weight
with the court.  The opposition couldn't make you out a partizan.  But
you want to recognize what you're doing--after this, you'll find
yourself up against all the Sachem toughs.  It's quite likely they'll
make trouble for you."

"I wonder whether such reasons count for much with Mr. Lansing?" Flora
said suggestively.

George made no reply, but Edgar laughed.

"They don't, Miss Grant; you can set your mind at rest on that.  You
don't seem curious whether they count with me."

"You're not going," Grant told him.  "We must have two men who can be
relied on, and I can put my hand on another who's younger and a little
more wiry than I am."  He turned to George.  "What you have to do is to
lie close in the sloo grass until the fellows come for the liquor, when
you'll follow them to the reservation, without their seeing you.  Then
you'll ride up and make sure you would know them again.  They should
get there soon after daylight, as they won't strike the bluff until
it's dark, but there's thick brush in the ravine the trail follows for
the last few miles.  It won't matter if they light out, because Flett
will pick up their trail.  I'll send for him right off, but he could
hardly get through before morning."

The party broke up shortly afterward, and George rode home, wondering
why he had allowed himself to become involved in what might prove to be
a troublesome matter.  His ideas on the subject were not very clear,
but he felt that Flora Grant had expected him to take a part.  Then he
had been impressed in Hardie's favor; the man was in earnest, ready to
court popular hostility, but he was nevertheless genial and free from
dogmatic narrow-mindedness.  Behind all this, there was in George a
detestation of vicious idleness and indulgence, and a respect for right
and order.  Since he had been warned that the badly-kept hotel
sheltered a gang of loafers plotting mischief and willing to prey upon
men who toiled strenuously, he was ready for an attempt to turn them
out.  He agreed with Grant: the gang must be put down.



CHAPTER X

THE LIQUOR-RUNNERS

Dusk was closing in when George and the hired man whom Grant had sent
with him reached the bluff and tethered their horses where they would
be hidden among the trees.  This done, George stood still for a few
moments, looking about.  A dark, cloud-barred sky hung over the
prairie, which was fast fading into dimness; the wood looked desolate
and forbidding in the dying light.  He did not think any one could have
seen him and his companion enter it.  Then he and the man floundered
through the undergrowth until they reached the sloo, where they hid
themselves among the grass at some distance from the case, which had
not been removed.

There was no moon, and a fresh breeze swept through the wood, waking
eerie sounds and sharp rustlings among the trees.  Once or twice George
started, imagining that somebody was creeping through the bushes behind
him, but he was glad of the confused sounds, because they would cover
his movements when the time for action came.  His companion, a teamster
born on the prairie, lay beside him amid the tall harsh grass that
swayed to and fro with a curious dry clashing.  He broke into a soft
laugh when George suddenly raised his head.

"Only a cottontail hustling through the brush.  Whoever's coming will
strike the bluff on the other side," he said.  "Night's kind of wild;
pity it won't rain.  Crops on light soil are getting badly cut."

George glanced up at the patch of sky above the dark mass of trees.
Black and threatening clouds drove across it; but during the past few
weeks he had watched them roll up from the west a little after noon
almost every day.  For a while, they shadowed the prairie, promising
the deluge he eagerly longed for; and then, toward evening, they
cleared away, and pitiless sunshine once more scorched the plain.
Grain grown upon the stiff black loam withstood the drought, but the
light soil of the Marston farm was lifted by the wind, and the sharp
sand in it abraded the tender stalks.  It might cut them through if the
dry weather and strong breeze continued; and then the crop which was to
cover his first expenses would yield him nothing.

"Yes," he returned moodily.  "It looks as if it couldn't rain.  We
ought to go in more for stock-raising; it's safer."

"Costs quite a pile to start with, and the ranchers farther west
certainly have their troubles.  We had a good many calves missing, and
now and then prime steers driven off, when I was range-riding."

"I haven't heard of any cattle-stealing about here."

"No," said the teamster.  "Still, I guess we may come to it; there are
more toughs about the settlement than there used to be.  Indians have
been pretty good, but I've known them make lots of trouble in other
districts by killing beasts for meat and picking up stray horses.  But
that was where they had mean whites willing to trade with them."

George considered this.  It had struck him that the morality of the
country had not improved since he had last visited it; though this was
not surprising in view of the swarm of immigrants that were pouring in.
Grant had pithily said that once upon a time the boys had come there to
work; but it now looked as if a certain proportion had arrived on the
prairie because nobody could tolerate them at home.  Flett and the
Methodist preacher seemed convinced that there were a number of these
undesirables hanging about Sage Butte, ready for mischief.

"Well," he said, "I suppose the first thing to be done is to stop this
liquor-running."

They had no further conversation for another hour.  The poplars rustled
behind them and the grass rippled and clashed, but now and then the
breeze died away for a few moments, and there was a curious and almost
disconcerting stillness.  At last, in one of these intervals, the
Canadian, partly rising, lifted his hand.

"Listen!" he said.  "Guess I hear a team."

A low rhythmic drumming that suggested the beat of hoofs rose from the
waste, but it was lost as the branches rattled and the long grass
swayed noisily before a rush of breeze.  George thought the sound had
come from somewhere half a mile away.

"If they're Indians, would they bring a wagon?" he asked.

"It's quite likely.  Some of the bucks keep smart teams; they do a
little rough farming on the reservation.  It would look as if they were
going for sloo hay, if anybody saw them."

George waited in silence, wishing he could hear the thud of hoofs
again.  It was slightly daunting to lie still and wonder where the men
were.  It is never very dark in summer on the western prairie, and
George could see across the sloo, but there was no movement that the
wind would not account for among the black trees that shut it in.
Several minutes passed, and George looked around again with strained
attention.

Suddenly a dim figure emerged from the gloom.  Another followed it, but
they made no sound that could be heard through the rustle of the
leaves, and George felt his heart beat and his nerves tingle as he
watched them flit, half seen, through the grass.  Then one of the
shadowy objects stooped, lifting something, and they went back as
noiselessly as they had come.  In a few more moments they had vanished,
and the branches about them clashed in a rush of wind.  It died away,
and there was no sound or sign of human presence in all the silent
wood.  George, glad that the strain was over, was about to rise, but
his companion laid a hand on his arm.

"Give 'em time to get clear.  We don't want to come up until there's
light enough to swear to them or they make the reservation."

They waited several minutes, and then, traversing the wood, found their
horses and mounted.  The grass stretched away, blurred and shadowy, and
though they could see nothing that moved upon it, a beat of hoofs came
softly back to them.

"Wind's bringing the sound," said the teamster.  "Guess they won't hear
us."

They rode out into the gray obscurity, losing the sound now and then.
They had gone several leagues when they came to the edge of a dark
bluff.  Drawing bridle, they sat and listened, until the teamster broke
the silence.

"There's a trail runs through; we'll try it."

The trail was difficult to find and bad to follow, for long grass and
willow-scrub partly covered it, and in spite of their caution the men
made a good deal of noise.  That, however, seemed of less importance,
for they could hear nothing ahead, and George looked about carefully as
they crossed a more open space.  The trees were getting blacker and
more distinct; he could see their tops clearly against the sky, and
guessed that dawn was near.  How far it was to the reservation he did
not know, but there would be light enough in another hour to see the
men who had carried off the liquor.  Then he began to wonder where the
latter were, for there was now no sign of them.

Suddenly, when the wind dropped for a moment, a faint rattle of wheels
reached them from the depths of the wood, and the teamster raised his
hand.

"Pretty close," he said.  "Come on as cautious as you can.  The
reservation's not far away, and we don't want them to get there much
before us."

They rode a little more slowly; but when the rattle of wheels and thud
of hoofs grew sharply distinct in another lull, the man struck his
horse.

"They've heard us!" he cried.  "We've got to run them down!"

George urged his beast, and there was a crackle of brush about him as
the black trees streamed past.  The thrill of the pursuit possessed
him; after weeks of patient labor, he felt the exhilaration of the wild
night ride.  The trail, he knew, was riddled here and there with gopher
holes and partly grown with brush that might bring his horse down, but
this did not count.  He was glad, however, that the teamster was behind
him, because he could see the dim gap ahead between the mass of trees,
and he thought that it was rapidly becoming less shadowy.  The sound of
hoofs and wheels was growing louder; they were coming up with the
fugitives.

"Keep them on the run!" gasped the man behind.  "If one of us gets
thrown, the other fellow will hold right on!"

A few minutes later George's horse plunged with a crash through a break.

"We're off the trail!" his companion cried.  "Guess it switches round a
sloo!"

They floundered through crackling brushwood until they struck the
track, and afterward rode furiously to make up the lost time, with the
sound of wheels leading them on.  Then in the gap before them they saw
what seemed to be the back of a wagon which, to George's surprise,
suddenly disappeared.  The next moment a figure carrying something
crossed the trail.

"To the right!" cried the teamster.

George did not think his companion had seen the man.  He rode after him
into the brush, and saw the fellow hurrying through it with a load in
his arms.  The man looked around.  George could dimly make out his dark
face; and his figure was almost clear.  He was an Indian and unusually
tall.  Then he plunged into a screen of bushes, and George, riding
savagely, drove his horse at the obstacle.

He heard the twigs snap beneath him, a drooping branch struck him hard;
and then he gasped with horror.  In front there opened up a deep black
rift in which appeared the tops of trees.  Seeing it was too late to
pull up, he shook his feet clear of the stirrups.  He felt the horse
plunge down, there was a shock, and he was flung violently from the
saddle.  He struck a precipitous slope and rolled down it, clutching at
twigs, which broke, and grass, until he felt a violent blow on his
head.  After that he knew nothing.

It was broad daylight when consciousness returned, and he found himself
lying half-way down a steep declivity.  At the foot of it tall reeds
and sedges indicated the presence of water, and he realized that he had
fallen into a ravine.  There was a small tree near by, against which he
supposed he had struck his head; but somewhat to his astonishment he
could not see his horse.  It had apparently escaped better than he had,
for he felt dizzy and shaky and averse to making an effort to get up,
though he did not think he had broken any bones.

After a while he fumbled for his pipe and found some difficulty in
lighting it, but he persevered, and lay quiet while he smoked it out.
The sunlight was creeping down the gully, it was getting pleasantly
warm, and George felt dull and lethargic.  Some time had passed when he
heard the teamster's shout and saw the man scrambling down the side of
the ravine.

"Badly hurt?" he asked, on reaching George.

"No," said George; "I don't think it's serious; I feel half asleep and
stupid.  Suppose that's because I hit my head."

The other looked at him searchingly.  His eyes were heavy and his face
had lost its usual color.

"You want to get back to your homestead and lie quiet a while.  I
didn't miss you until I'd got out of the bluff, and then the wagon was
close ahead."

"How was it you avoided falling in after me?"

"That's easy understood in the daylight.  The trail twists sharply and
runs along the edge of the ravine.  I stuck to it; instead of turning,
you went straight on."

"Yes," said George, and mentioned having seen the Indian who left the
wagon.  Then he asked: "But what about the fellow you followed?"

His companion hesitated.

"Guess I've been badly fooled.  I came up with him outside the bluff
when it was getting light, and he stopped his team.  Said he was
quietly driving home when he heard somebody riding after him, and as
he'd once been roughly handled by mean whites, he tried to get away.
Then as I didn't know what to do, I allowed I'd keep him in sight until
Constable Flett turned up, and by and by we came to a deserted shack.
There's a well in the bluff behind it, and the buck said his team
wanted a drink; they certainly looked a bit played out, and my mare was
thirsty.  He found an old bucket and asked me to fill it."

"You didn't leave him with the horses!"

"No, sir; but what I did was most as foolish.  I let him go and he
didn't come back.  See how I was fixed?  If I'd gone into the bluff to
look for him, he might have slipped out and driven off, so I stood by
the beasts quite a while.  It strikes me that team wasn't his.  At last
Flett rode up with another trooper.  It seems Steve met them on the
trail."

George nodded.  Flett had arrived before he was expected, because
Grant's messenger had been saved a long ride to his station.

"Well?" he said.

"When we couldn't find the buck, Flett sent his partner off to pick up
his trail, and then said we'd better take the team along and look for
you.  I left where the trail forks; he was to wait a bit.  Now, do you
think you can get up?"

George did so, and managed with some assistance to climb the slope,
where his companion left him and went off for the constable.  Flett
arrived presently, and made George tell his story.

"The thing's quite plain," he said.  "The fellow you saw jumped off
with the liquor, though one wouldn't expect him to carry it far.  You
say he was tall; did he walk a little lame?"

"It was too dark to tell.  I'm inclined to think I would know him
again."

"Well," explained Flett, "this is the kind of thing Little Ax is likely
to have a hand in, and he's the tallest buck in the crowd.  I'll stick
to the team until we come across somebody who knows its owner.  The
first thing we have to do is to find that case of liquor."

Half an hour later the teamster came back carrying it, and set it down
before the constable with a grin.

"Guess it's your duty to see what's in these bottles," he remarked.
"Shall I get one out?"

"You needn't; I've a pretty good idea," answered Flett; adding
meaningly, "besides, it's the kind of stuff a white man can't drink."
Then he turned to George.  "I'd better take you home.  You look kind of
shaky."

"What about my horse?" George asked.

"Guess he's made for home," said the teamster.  "I struck his trail,
and it led right out of the woods."

George got into the wagon with some trouble, and the teamster rode
beside it when they set off.

"You haven't much to put before a court," he said to Flett.

"No," the constable replied thoughtfully.  "I'm not sure our people
will take this matter up; anyway, it looks as if we could only fix it
on the Indians.  This is what comes of you folks fooling things,
instead of leaving them to us."

"The police certainly like a conviction," rejoined the teamster,
grinning.  "They feel real bad when the court lets a fellow off; seem
to think that's their business.  Guess it's why a few of their
prisoners escape."

Flett ignored this, and the teamster turned to George.

"I'll tell you what once happened to me.  I was working for a blamed
hard boss, and it doesn't matter why I quit without getting my wages
out of him, but he wasn't feeling good when I lit out behind a
freight-car.  By bad luck, there was a trooper handy when a train-hand
found me at a lonely side-track.  Well, that policeman didn't know what
to do with me.  It was quite a way to the nearest guard-room; they
don't get medals for corraling a man who's only stolen a ride, and he
had to watch out for some cattle rustlers; so wherever he went I had to
go along with him.  We got quite friendly, and one night he said to me,
'There's a freight that stops here nearly due.  I'll go to sleep while
you get out on her.'"

The teamster paused and added with a laugh:

"That's what I did, and I'd be mighty glad to set the drinks up if I
ever meet that man off duty.  We'd both have a full-size jag on before
we quit."

"And you're one of the fellows who're running Hardie's temperance
campaign!" Flett said dryly.



CHAPTER XI

DIPLOMACY

Flett left the team at George's homestead.  Bidding him take good care
of it, and borrowing a fresh team, he drove away with the wagon.  When
he reached Sage Butte it was getting dusk.  He hitched the horses
outside of the better of the two hotels and entered in search of food,
as he had still a long ride before him.  Supper had long been finished,
and Flett was kept waiting for some time, but he now and then glanced
at the wagon.  It was dark when he drove away, after seeing that the
case lay where he had left it, and he had reached his post before he
made a startling discovery.  When he carried the case into the
lamplight, it looked smaller, and on hastily opening it he found it was
filled with soil!

He sat down and thought; though on the surface the matter was clear--he
had been cleverly outwitted by somebody who had exchanged the case
while he got his meal.  This, as he reflected, was not the kind of
thing for which a constable got promoted; but there were other points
that required attention.  The substitution had not been effected by
anybody connected with the Queen's; it was, he suspected, the work of
some of the frequenters of the Sachem; and he and his superiors had to
contend with a well-organized gang.  News of what had happened in the
bluff had obviously been transmitted to the settlement while he had
rested at Lansing's homestead.  He had, however, made a long journey,
and as he would have to ride on and report the matter to his sergeant
in the morning, he went to sleep.

The next day George was setting out on a visit to Grant when a man rode
up and asked for the team.

"Flett can't get over, but he wants the horses at the post, so as to
have them handy if he finds anybody who can recognize them," he
explained.

That sounded plausible, but George hesitated.  The animals would be of
service as a clue to their owner and a proof of his complicity in the
affair.  As they had not been identified, it would embarrass the police
if they were missing.

"I can only hand them over to a constable, unless you have brought a
note from Flett," he replied.

"Then, as I haven't one, you'll beat me out of a day's pay, and make
Flett mighty mad.  Do you think he'd get anybody who might know the
team to waste a day riding out to your place?  Guess the folks round
here are too busy, and they'd be glad of the excuse that it was so far.
They won't want to mix themselves up in this thing."

George could find no fault with this reasoning, but he thought the
fellow was a little too eager to secure the horses.

"Well," he said, "as I'm going to call on Mr. Grant, I'll see what he
has to say.  If I'm not back in time, Mr. West will give you supper."

"Then Grant's standing in with you and the temperance folks?"

It struck George that he had been incautious, but he could not
determine whether the man had blundered or not.  His question suggested
some knowledge of the situation, but an accomplice of the offenders
would, no doubt, have heard of the part Grant's hired man had played.

"I don't see how that concerns you," he replied.  "You'll have to wait
until I return if you want the team."

He rode on, but he had not gone far when he met Beamish, of the Sachem.

"I was coming over to see you," the man told him.  "You bought that
young Hereford bull of Broughton's, didn't you?"

George was surprised at the question, but he answered that he had done
so.

"Then would you sell him?"

"I hadn't thought of it."

"Guess that means I'll have to tempt you," Beamish said.  "I want the
beast."

He named a price that struck George as being in excess of the animal's
value; and then explained:

"I've seen him once or twice before he fell into Broughton's hands; the
imported Red Rover strain is marked in him, and a friend of mine, who's
going in for Herefords, told me not to stick at a few dollars if I
could pick up such a bull."

This was plausible, but not altogether satisfactory, and George,
reflecting that a buyer does not really praise what he means to
purchase, imagined that there was something behind it.

"I'm not likely to get a better bid," he admitted.  "But I must ask if
the transaction would be complete?  Would you expect anything further
from me in return?"

Beamish regarded him keenly, with a faint smile.

"Well," he said, "I certainly want the bull, but you seem to
understand.  Leave it at that; I'm offering to treat you pretty
liberally."

"So as to prevent my assisting Flett in any way or taking a part in
Hardie's campaign?"

"I wouldn't consider it the square thing for you to do," Beamish
returned quietly.

George thought of the man who was waiting at the homestead for the
team.  It was obvious that an attempt was being made to buy him, and he
strongly resented it.

"Then I can only tell you that I won't make this deal.  That's the end
of the matter."

Beamish nodded and started his horse, but he looked back as he rode off.

"Well," he called, in a meaning tone, "you may be sorry."

George rode on to Grant's homestead, and finding him at work in the
fallow, told him what had passed.

"I fail to see why they're so eager to get hold of me," he concluded.

Grant, sitting in the saddle of the big plow, thoughtfully filled his
pipe.

"Of course," he said, "it wasn't a coincidence that Beamish came over
soon after the fellow turned up for the horses.  It would have been
worth while buying the bull if you had let them go--especially as I
believe it's right about a friend of his wanting one--and nobody could
have blamed you for selling.  The fact is, your position counts.  The
bluff would make a handy place for a depot, and, while there's nobody
else near, you command the trails to it and the reservation.  Nobody
could get by from the settlement without being seen, unless they made a
big round, if you watched out."

"I'm beginning to understand.  What you say implies that they're doing
a good trade."

"That's so," Grant assented.  "I wouldn't have believed it was so big
before Hardie put me on the track and I began to look around.  But you
want to remember that what you're doing may cost you something.  I'm
your nearest neighbor, you're running stock that are often out of
sight, and you're up against a determined crowd."

"It's true," George admitted.  "Still, I can't back out."

Grant cast a keen, approving glance at him.  George sat quietly in his
saddle with a smile on his brown face; his pose was easy but virile:
there was a stamp of refinement and old country breeding upon him.  His
eyes were suggestively steady; his skin was clear; he looked forceful
in an unemphatic manner.  The farmer was to some extent prejudiced
against the type, but he could make exceptions.  He had liked Lansing
from the beginning, and he knew that he could work.

"No," he said; "I guess you're not that kind of man.  But won't you get
down and go along to the house?  Flora will be glad to talk with you,
and I'll be in for supper soon."

George thanked him, and did as he suggested.  He was beginning to find
pleasure in the conversation of Flora Grant.

It was two hours later when he took his leave and the farmer went out
with him.

"I don't know what Hardie's doing, but I've an idea that Mrs. Nelson
means to make some move at the Farmers' Club fair," he said.  "She's a
mighty determined and enterprising woman.  If you can spare the time,
you'd better ride in and see what's going on."

On reaching home, George was not surprised to find that the man who had
come for the horses had departed without waiting for his answer.  The
next day he received an intimation that the annual exhibition of the
Sage Butte Farmers' Club would shortly be held; and one morning a
fortnight later he and Edgar rode off to the settlement.

They found the little town rudely decorated with flags and arches of
poplar boughs, and a good-humored crowd assembled.  The one-sided
street that faced the track was lined with buggies, wagons, and a few
automobiles; horses and two or three yoke of oxen were tethered outside
the overfull livery stables.

A strong breeze drove blinding dust-clouds through the place, but even
in the wind the sunshine was scorching.

As he strolled toward the fair-ground, George became interested in the
crowd.  It was largely composed of small farmers, and almost without
exception they and their wives were smartly attired; they looked
contented and prosperous.  Mingling with them were teamsters, many as
neatly dressed as their masters, though some wore blue-jean and
saffron-colored shirts; and there were railroad-hands, mechanics, and
store-keepers.  All of them were cheerful; a few good years, free from
harvest frost and blight, had made a marked improvement in everybody's
lot.

Yet, there was another side to the picture.  Odd groups of loungers
indulged in scurrilous jests; hoarse laughter and an occasional angry
uproar issued from the hotels, and shabby men with hard faces slouched
about the veranda of one.  George noticed this, but he presently
reached the fair-ground, where he inspected the animals and implements;
and then, toward supper-time, he strolled back with Grant.  They were
walking up one of the side-streets when shouts broke out behind them.

George looked around but for a moment he could see very little through
the cloud of dust that swept the street.  When it blew away it revealed
a row of women advancing two by two along the plank sidewalk.  They
were of different ages and stations in life, but they all came on as if
with a fixed purpose, and they had resolute faces.  Mrs. Nelson led
them, carrying a riding quirt, and though George was not astonished to
see her, he started when he noticed Flora Grant near the end of the
procession.  She was paler than usual, and she walked quietly with a
rather strained expression.

Grant touched George's shoulder.

"This is certainly more than I figured on," he said; "but I guess
there's no use in my objecting.  Now she's started, she'll go through
with it.  They're making for the Sachem; we had better go along."

Shortly afterward, a gathering crowd blocked the street.

"Speech!" somebody cried; and there was ironical applause.

Mrs. Nelson raised her hand, and when the procession stopped, she
looked sternly at the men before her.

"No," she answered; "speeches are wasted on such folks; we're here to
act!"

She waved the quirt commandingly.

"Let us pass!"

She was obeyed.  The women moved on; and George and Grant managed to
enter the hotel behind them before the throng closed in.  The big
general-room was hot and its atmosphere almost intolerably foul; the
bar, which opened off it, was shadowy, and the crowded figures of
lounging men showed dimly through thick cigar smoke.  The hum of their
voices died away and there was a curious silence as the women came in.
Edging forward, George saw Beamish leaning on his counter, looking
quietly self-possessed and very dapper in his white shirt and well-cut
clothes.

"Well," he said, "what do you ladies want with me?"

Their leader faced him, a small and yet commanding figure, with an
imperious expression and sparkling eyes.

"You got a notice that from supper-time this bar must be shut!"

"I did, ma'am.  It was signed by you.  Now, so far as I know, the
magistrates are the only people who can close my hotel."

"That's so!" shouted somebody; and there were confused murmurs and
harsh laughter which suggested that some of the loungers were not quite
sober.

"Fire them out!" cried another man.  "Guess this is why Nelson gets
cold potatoes for his supper.  Ought to be at home mending socks or
washing their men's clothes."

The lady turned sternly on the last speaker.

"Yes," she said; "that's the kind of idea you would hold.  It's getting
played out now."

George was conscious of slight amusement.  The affair had its humorous
side, and, though he was ready to interfere if the women were roughly
handled, he did not think they ran any serious risk.  Beamish looked
capable of dealing with the situation.

"You don't require to butt in, boys," he said.  "Leave me to talk to
these ladies; I guess their intentions are good."  He bowed to Mrs.
Nelson.  "You can go on, ma'am."

"I've only this to say--you must close your bar right now!"

"Suppose I'm not willing?  It will mean a big loss to me."

"That," answered Mrs. Nelson firmly, "doesn't count; the bigger the
loss, the better.  You will stop the sale of drink until to-morrow, or
take the consequences."

Another woman, who looked careworn and haggard, and was shabbily
dressed, stood forward.

"We and the children have borne enough!" she broke out.  "We have to
save the cord-wood in the bitter cold; we have to send the kiddies out
in old, thin clothes, while the money that would make home worth living
in goes into your register.  Where are the boys--our husbands and
sons--who once held steady jobs and did good work?"  She raised an
accusing hand, with despair in her pinched face.  "Oh!  I needn't tell
you--they're rebranding farmers' calves or hiding from the police!
Don't you know of one who walked to his death through the big trestle,
dazed with liquor?  For these things the men who tempted them will have
to answer!"

"True, but not quite to the point," Mrs. Nelson interposed.  "We have
found remonstrance useless; the time for words has passed.  This fellow
has had his warning; we're waiting for him to comply with it."

There was an uproar outside from the crowd that was struggling to get
in and demanding to be told what was going on; but Beamish made a sign
of resignation.

"It looks as if I couldn't refuse you; and anyway it wouldn't be
polite."  He turned to his customers.

"Boys, it's not my fault, but you'll get no more drinks to-day.  For
all that, I must make a point of asking you to treat these ladies with
respect."

"Smart," Grant remarked to George.  "He has handled the thing right.
This means trouble for Hardie."

Then Beamish once more addressed the intruders.

"Now that I've given in, has it struck you that there isn't much use in
closing my place if you leave the Queen's open?"

"We'll shut them both!" Mrs. Nelson declared.

"Then there's just another point--I've folks who have driven a long
way, staying the night with me, and there's quite a crowd coming in for
supper.  How am I to treat them?"

"They can have all they want to eat," Mrs. Nelson told him graciously;
"but no liquor."

"I can't refuse to supply them without a reason.  What am I to say?"

"Tell them that the Women's Reform League has compelled you to close
your bar."

"And I've been given the orders by their acknowledged secretary?"

"Yes.  I'm proud of being their leader, and of the duty I've
discharged."

Beamish turned to his customers.

"You'll remember what she has told me, boys!"

Grant drew George away.

"She walked right into the trap; you couldn't have stopped her.  I'm
sorry for Hardie.  But we may as well get out now; there'll be no
trouble."

The street was blocked when the women left, but a passage was made for
them; and, followed by everybody in the settlement, they proceeded to
the other hotel, whose proprietor capitulated.  Then Mrs. Nelson made a
speech, in which she pointed out that for once the festival would not
be marked by the orgies which had on previous occasions disgraced the
town.  Her words, by no means conciliatory, and her aggressive air
provoked the crowd, which had, for the most part, watched the
proceedings with amusement.  There were cries of indignant dissent,
angry shouts, and the throng began to close in upon the speaker.  Then
there was sudden silence, and the concourse split apart.  Into the gap
rode a slim young man in khaki, with a wide hat of the same color, who
pulled up and sat looking at the people with his hand on his hip.
George recognized him as the constable who shared the extensive beat
with Flett.

"Now," he said good-humoredly, "what's all this fuss about?"

Several of them informed him and he listened gravely before he called
one of the farmer's stewards, and spoke a few words to him.

"It strikes me," he said, "that you had all better go back to the
fair-ground, while I look into things.  There's an item or two on the
program Mr. Carson wants to work off before supper."

He had taken the right tone, and when they began to disperse he rode on
to the Sachem.

"I want your account of this disturbance," he said to the proprietor.

Beamish related what had taken place and the constable looked surprised.

"Am I to understand that you're afraid to open your bar because of the
women?" he asked.

"Yes, sir," replied Beamish, coolly; "that's about the size of it.
You'd have been scared, too; they're a mighty determined crowd."

"Nobody except the authorities has any right to interfere."

"That's my opinion, but what am I to do about it?  Suppose these women
come back, will you stand at the door and keep them out?  They're
capable of mobbing you."

The constable looked dubious, and Beamish continued:

"Besides, I've given them my word I'd shut up--they made me."

"Then how do you expect us to help?"

"So far as I can see, you can only report the matter to your bosses."

The constable felt inclined to agree with this.  He asked for the names
of the ladies, and Beamish hesitated.

"I was too taken up with Mrs. Nelson to notice the rest, and the place
was rather dark.  Anyway, about half of them were foolish girls with
notions; I don't want to drag them in."

"You blame somebody for setting them on?"

"I do," said Beamish, without a trace of rancor.  "There's Mrs.
Nelson--everybody knows she's a crank--and Hardie, the Methodist
minister.  They've been trying to make trouble for the hotels for quite
a while."

The constable made a note of this and presently called on Hardie, who
had just returned to town after visiting a sick farmer.  The former
listened to what the minister had to say, but was not much impressed.
Beamish had cleverly made him his partizan.

After supper George and Grant called on Hardie and found him looking
distressed.

"I'm much afraid that the result of three or four months' earnest work
has been destroyed this afternoon," he said.  "Our allies have stirred
up popular prejudice against us.  We'll meet with opposition whichever
way we turn."

"There's something in that," Grant agreed.  "Mrs. Nelson's a lady who
would wreck any cause.  Still, she has closed the hotels."

"For one night.  As a result of this afternoon's work, they will
probably be kept open altogether.  You can imagine how the authorities
will receive any representations we can make, after our being
implicated in this disturbance."

"Have you thought of disowning the ladies?  You could do so--you had no
hand in the thing."

The young clergyman flushed hotly.

"I'd have stopped this rashness, if I'd heard of it; but, after all,
I'm the real instigator, since I started the campaign.  I'm willing to
face my share of the blame."

"You mean you'll let Beamish make you responsible?"

"Of course," said Hardie.  "I can't deny I'm leader.  The move was a
mistake, considered prudentially; but it was morally justifiable.  I'll
defend it as strongly as I'm able."

Grant nodded, and Flora and Mrs. Nelson came in.

"Are you satisfied with what you've done?" Grant said to the girl.
"You might have given me a hint of it."

Flora smiled.

"I'm afraid Beamish was too clever for us.  From an outsider's point of
view, he behaved exceptionally well, and in doing so he put us in the
wrong.  I didn't know what had been planned when I left home, but, as
one of the league, I couldn't draw back when I heard of it."

"You think he was too clever?" Mrs. Nelson broke in.  "How absurd to
say that!  We have won a brilliant victory!"

Grant made a little gesture.

"If you're convinced of that, ma'am, we'll leave you to talk it over."

He led George toward the door.

"I like that man Hardie," he resumed when they reached the street.
"Beamish has him beaten for the present, but I'm thankful there'll be
no women about when we come to grips with his crowd.  It may take a
while, but those fellows have got to be downed."



CHAPTER XII

GEORGE FACES DISASTER

A fortnight had passed since the affair at the settlement when Hardie
arrived at the Marston homestead toward supper-time.  After the meal
was over, he accompanied his host and Edgar to the little room used for
an office.

"As I've been busy since four this morning, I don't mean to do anything
more," said George, "I suppose you don't smoke?"

"No," Hardie answered.  "It's a concession I can make without much
effort to our stricter brethren.  I'm inclined to believe they consider
smoking almost as bad as drink.  You agree with them about the latter?"

"We try to be consistent," Edgar told him.  "You see, I couldn't very
well indulge in an occasional drink when I've undertaken to make those
Sage Butte fellows abstainers.  Anyhow, though you're by no means
liberal in your view, you're practical people.  As soon as I landed at
Montreal, a pleasant young man, wearing a silver monogram came up to
me, and offered me introductions to people who might find me a job.
Though I didn't want one, I was grateful; and when I told him I wasn't
one of his flock, he said it didn't matter.  That kind of thing makes a
good impression."

"How are you getting on at the settlement?"

George interposed.

Hardie sat silent for a few moments, and George saw that his eyes were
anxious and his face looked worn.

"Badly," he said.  "I feel I can talk to you freely, and that's really
why I came, though I had another call to make."

"You're having trouble?"

"Plenty of it.  I've had another visit from the police, though that's
not a very important matter; and Mrs. Nelson's action has raised a
storm of indignation.  It would be useless to move any further against
the Sachem.  Even this is not the worst.  Our people are split up by
disagreements; I've been taken to task; my staunchest supporters are
falling away."

"They'll rally," said George.  "Leave those who haven't the courage to
do so alone; you're better rid of them.  I suppose it's apt to make a
difference in your finances."

The clergyman colored.

"That's true, though it's hard to own.  It subjects one to a strong
temptation.  After all, we're expected to keep our churches full--it's
necessary."

"The road to success," Edgar remarked, "is comparatively easy.  Always
proclaim the popular view, but be a little more emphatic and go a
little farther than the rest.  Then they'll think you a genius and make
haste to follow your lead."

Hardie looked at him quietly.

"There's another way, Mr. West, and the gate of it is narrow.  I think
it seldom leads to worldly fame."  He paused and sighed.  "It needs
courage to enter, and one often shrinks."

"Well," said Edgar, "I'll confess that I find the popular idea,
whatever it may happen to be, irritating; I like to annoy the people
who hold it by pointing out their foolishness, which is partly why I'm
now farming in western Canada.  George, of course, is more altruistic;
though I don't think he ever analyzes his feelings.  As soon as he sees
anybody in trouble and getting beaten, he begins to strip.  I've a
suspicion that he enjoys a fight!"

"If you would stop talking rot, we'd get on better," George said
curtly, and then turned to his visitor.  "I gather that you're afraid
of wrecking your church.  It's an awkward situation, but I suppose you
have made up your mind?"

"Yes; I must go on, if I go alone."

The man, as the others recognized, had no intention of being dramatic,
but his quiet announcement had its effect, and there was silence for a
moment or two.  Then Edgar, who was impatient of any display of strong
feeling, made an abrupt movement.

"After all," he said cheerfully, "you'll have Mrs. Nelson beside you,
and I'm inclined to think she would enliven any solitude."

Hardie smiled, and the lad continued:

"Now we had, perhaps, better be practical and consider how to get over
the difficulties."

He grew less discursive when they fell in with his suggestion.  George
possessed sound sense and some power of leading, and for a while they
were busy elaborating a plan of campaign, in which his advice was
largely deferred to.  Then there was an interruption, for Grierson, his
hired man, came in.

"I was hauling hay from the big sloo when I saw the Hereford bull," he
said.  "He was by himself and bleeding from the shoulder.  Thought I'd
better bring him home, though he walked very lame."

"Ah!" exclaimed George sharply.  "I'll come and look at him."

The others followed and on reaching the wire-fenced corral they found
the animal lying down, with its forequarter stained with blood.  George
sent for some water, and he soon found the wound, which was very small
and round.

"It's a curious mark," Hardie commented.

"Yes," said George; "it's a bullet hole."

The surprise of the others was obvious.

"I think it's a hint," George explained.  "We'll try to get him on his
feet."

They succeeded, and when the beast had been led into a stall, George
turned to Hardie.

"As you said you wouldn't stay the night, would you mind starting for
the settlement now?  The livery stable fellow is said to be clever at
veterinary work; you might send him out, and mail a note I'll give you
to the police."

Hardie professed his willingness to be of service, and on getting into
his buggy said, with some hesitation:

"I'm afraid you're right in your suspicions, and I'm particularly
sorry.  In a way, I'm responsible for this."

George smiled, rather grimly.

"One can't go into a fight without getting hurt; and we haven't come to
the end of it yet.  This affair won't cost you my support."

The clergyman's eyes sparkled as he held out his hand.

"I never imagined it--you have my sympathy, Mr. Lansing.  It would give
me the greatest pleasure to see the cowardly brute who fired that shot
brought to justice."

He drove away, and George went moodily back to the house with Edgar.

"That's a man who has had to choose between his duty and his interest,"
George said; "but just now we have other things to think about.  It's a
pity I can't get the bullet out until help arrives."

The livery man turned up on the following day and succeeded in
extracting it; and Flett made his appearance the morning after.  He
examined the wounded animal.

"It may have been done by accident; but, if so, it's curious the beast
should have been hit close to a place where it would have killed him,"
he remarked.

"What's your private opinion?" George asked.

The constable smiled.

"As we haven't gone very far yet, I'll reserve it."  He took up the
bullet.  "Winchester or Marlin; usual caliber; nothing to be made of
that.  Now let's go and take a look at the place where the shot was
fired."

They traced back the path of the wounded beast from the spot where
Grierson had found it, by the red splashes that here and there stained
the short grass of the unfenced prairie.  At last they stopped where
the ground was broken by a few low sandy ridges sprinkled with small
birches and poplars, and Flett pointed to the mark of hoofs in a strip
of almost bare, light soil.

"This is where he was hit," he said.  "You can see how he started off,
going as hard as he could.  Next, we've got to find the spot the man
fired from."

It proved difficult.  The dry grass revealed nothing, and they vainly
searched several of the neighboring hillocks, where it grew less
thickly.  Scorching sunshine beat down on them and a strong breeze blew
the sand about.  At length Flett pointed to a few half-obliterated
footprints on the bare summit of a small rise.

"The fellow stopped here with his feet well apart.  He'd stand like
that while he put up his gun.  Sit down and smoke while I copy these
marks."

He proceeded to do so carefully, having brought some paper from the
homestead.

"Have you any reason for thinking it was a standing shot he took?"
George asked.

"I haven't; I wish I had.  Quite a lot depends upon his position."

George nodded.

"So it struck me.  We'll look round for some more conclusive signs when
you have finished."

Before this happened.  Flora Grant rode up.

"I was going back from Forster's when I noticed you moving about the
hills," she explained.  "I made this round to find out what you were
doing."

George told her, and her sympathy was obvious.

"I'm very sorry; but my father warned you," she said.  "I'm afraid
you're finding this an expensive campaign."

"I can put up with it, so long as I have my friends' support."

"I think you can count on that," she smiled.  "But what is Flett's
theory?"

"If he has one, he's clever at hiding it," Edgar broke in; "but I'm
doubtful.  In my opinion, he knows the value of the professional air of
mystery."

"When I see any use in it, I can talk," retorted Flett.  "What's your
notion, Mr. Lansing?  You don't agree that the fellow shot your beast
from here?"

"No," answered George.  "Of course, there are only two explanations of
the thing, and the first is that it was an accident.  In that case, the
fellow must have been out after antelope or cranes."

"There's an objection: it's close season; though I wouldn't count too
much on that.  You farmers aren't particular when there's nobody
around.  Now, it's possible that a man who'd been creeping up on an
antelope would work in behind this rise and take a quick shot,
standing, when he reached the top of it.  If so, I guess he'd have his
eyes only on what he was firing at.  Suppose he missed, and your beast
happened to be in line with him?"

Flora smiled.

"It's not convincing, Mr. Flett.  Seen from here, the bull would be in
the open, conspicuous against white grass and sand."

"I didn't say the thing was likely.  Won't you go on, Mr. Lansing?"

"The other explanation is that the fellow meant to kill or mark the
bull; the place where it was hit points to the former.  If that was his
intention, he'd lie down or kneel to get a steadier aim.  We had better
look for the spot."

They spent some time before Flett thought he had found it.

"Somebody lay down here, and the bull would be up against a background
of poplar scrub," he said.  "I'll measure off the distance and make a
plan."

He counted his paces, and had set to work with his notebook, when Flora
interrupted.

"Wouldn't a sketch be better?  Give me a sheet of paper; and has
anybody another pencil?"

George gave her one, and after walking up and down and standing for a
few moments on a low mound, she chose a position and began the sketch.
It was soon finished, but it depicted the scene with distinctness, with
the bull standing in the open a little to one side of the clump of
scrub.  George started as he saw that she had roughly indicated the
figure of a man lying upon the little mound with a rifle in his hand.
It struck him that she was right.

"It's a picture," said the constable; "but why did you put that fellow
yonder?"

"Come and see."

They followed her to the mound, and after an inspection of it, Flett
nodded.

"You'd make a mighty smart tracker, Miss Grant.  I was against this
mound being the firing place, because, to get to it, the fellow would
have to come out into the open."

"Would that count?  It was a bull he was after."

"It was," Flett agreed.  "This fixes the thing."

George looked at him meaningly.

"Have you made up your mind about anything else?"

"Oh, yes," said Flett.  "It was done with malicious mischief.  If a
poor white or an Indian meant to kill a beast for meat, he wouldn't
pick a bull worth a pile of money, at least while there was common beef
stock about."

"Then what do you mean to do?"

Flett smiled.

"Sooner or later, I'm going to put handcuffs on the man who did this
thing.  If you'll give me the sketch, Miss Grant, I'll take it along."

Flora handed it to him, and he and Edgar went away shortly afterward,
leaving George with the girl.  She sat still, looking down at him when
he had helped her to the saddle.

"I'm afraid you have a good many difficulties to face," she said.

"Yes," assented George.  "A dry summer is bad for wheat on my light
soil, and that is why I thought of going in for stock."  He paused with
a rueful smile.  "It doesn't promise to be a great improvement, if I'm
to have my best beasts shot."

She pointed to the west.  The grass about them was still scorched with
fierce sunshine, but leaden cloud-masses, darkly rolled together with a
curious bluish gleam in them, covered part of the sky.

"This time it will rain," she said.  "We will be fortunate if we get no
more than that.  Try to remember, Mr. Lansing, that bad seasons are not
the rule in western Canada, and one good one wipes out the results of
several lean years."

Then she rode away, and George joined Edgar.  He felt that he had been
given a warning.  On reaching home, he harnessed a team and drove off
to a sloo to haul in hay, but while he worked he cast anxious glances
at the clouds.  They rolled on above him in an endless procession,
opening out to emit a passing blaze of sunshine, and closing in again.
The horses were restless, he could hardly get them to stand; the
grasses stirred and rustled in a curious manner; and even the little
gophers that scurried away from the wagon wheels displayed an unusual
and feverish activity.  Yet there was not a drop of rain, and the man
toiled on in savage impatience, wondering whether he must once more
resign himself to see the promised deluge pass away.

It was a question of serious import.  A night's heavy rain would
consolidate the soil that blew about with every breeze, revive the
suffering wheat and strengthen its abraded stalks against any further
attack by the driving sand.  Indeed, he thought it would place the crop
in security.

He came home for supper, jaded, dusty, and morose, and found that he
could scarcely eat when he sat down to the meal.  He could not rest
when it was over, though he was aching from heavy toil; nor could he
fix his attention on any new task; and when dusk was getting near he
strolled up and down before the homestead with Edgar.  There was a
change in the looks of the buildings--all that could be done had been
effected--but there was also a change in the man.  He was leaner, his
face was getting thin, and he looked worn; but he maintained a forced
tranquillity.

The sky was barred with cloud now; the great breadth of grain had faded
to a leaden hue, the prairie to shadowy gray.  The wind had dropped,
the air was tense and still; a strange, impressive silence brooded over
everything.

Presently Edgar looked up at the clouds.

"They must break at last," he said.  "One can't help thinking of what
they hold--endless carloads of grain, wads of dollar bills for the
storekeepers, prosperity for three big provinces.  It's much the same
weather right along to the Rockies."

"I wasn't considering the three provinces," said George.

"No," retorted Edgar.  "Your attention was confined to the improvement
the rain would make in Sylvia Marston's affairs.  You're looking
forward to sending her a big check after harvest."

"So far, it has looked more like facing a big deficit."

"You mean your facing it."

George frowned.

"Sylvia has nothing except this land."

"It strikes me she's pretty fortunate, in one way.  You find the
working capital and bear the loss, if there is one.  I wonder what
arrangements you made about dividing a surplus."

"That," said George, "is a thing I've no intention of discussing with
anybody but my co-trustee."

Edgar smiled; he had hardly expected to elicit much information upon
the point, having failed to do so once or twice already.

"Well," he said, "I believe we'll see the rain before an hour has
passed."

Soon after he had spoken, a flash leaped from overhead and the prairie
was flooded with dazzling radiance.  It was followed by a roll of
thunder, and a roar as the rain came down.  For a few moments the dust
whirled up and there was a strong smell of earth; then the air was
filled with falling water.  George stood still in the deluge,
rejoicing, while the great drops lashed his upturned face, until Edgar
laughingly pushed him toward the house.

"As I'm wet through, I think I'll go to bed.  At last, you can rest
content."

George, following his example, lay down with a deep sense of
thankfulness.  His cares had gone, the flood that roared against the
board walls had banished them.  Now that relief had come, he felt
strangely weary, and in a few minutes he was sound asleep.  He did not
hear the thunder, which broke out again, nor feel the house shake in
the rush of icy wind that suddenly followed; the ominous rattle on roof
and walls, different from and sharper than the lashing of the rain,
began and died away unnoticed by him.  He was wrapped in the deep,
healing slumber that follows the slackening of severe mental and bodily
strain; he knew nothing of the banks of ragged ice-lumps that lay
melting to lee of the building.

It was very cold the next morning, though the sun was rising above the
edge of the scourged plain, when Edgar, partly dressed and wearing wet
boots and leggings, came into the room and looked down at George
compassionately.

The brown face struck him as looking worn; George had flung off part of
the coverings, and there was something that suggested limp relaxation
in his attitude; but Edgar knew that his comrade must bear his load
again.

"George," he said, touching him, "you had better get up."

The man stirred, and looking at him became at once intent as he saw his
face.

"Ah!" he exclaimed.  "Something else gone wrong?"

Edgar nodded.

"I'm sorry," he answered simply.  "Put on your things and come out.
You had better get it over with."

In three or four minutes George left the house.  Holding himself
steadily in hand, he walked through the drenched grass toward the
wheat.  On reaching it, he set his lips tight and stood very still.
The great field of grain had gone; short, severed stalks, half-buried
in a mass of rent and torn-up blades, covered the wide stretch of soil
where the wheat had been.  The crop had been utterly wiped out by the
merciless hail.  Edgar did not venture to speak; any sympathy he could
express would have looked like mockery; and for a while there was
strained silence.  Then George showed of what tough fiber he was made.

"Well," he said, "it has to be faced.  After this, we'll try another
plan; more stock, for one thing." He paused and then resumed: "Tell
Grierson to hurry breakfast.  I must drive in to the Butte; there's a
good deal to be done."

Edgar moved away, feeling relieved.  George, instead of despairing, was
considering new measures.  He was far from beaten yet.



CHAPTER XIII

SYLVIA SEEKS AMUSEMENT

It was a fine September afternoon and Sylvia reclined pensively in a
canvas hammock on Herbert Lansing's lawn with one or two opened letters
in her hand.  Bright sunshine lay upon the grass, but it was pleasantly
cool in the shadow of the big copper beech.  A neighboring border
glowed with autumn flowers: ribands of asters, spikes of crimson
gladiolus, ranks of dahlias.  Across the lawn a Virginia creeper draped
the house with vivid tints.  The scene had nothing of the grim bareness
of the western prairie of which Sylvia was languidly thinking; her
surroundings shone with strong color, and beyond them a peaceful
English landscape stretched away.  She could look out upon
heavily-massed trees, yellow fields with sheaves in them, and the
winding streak of a flashing river.

Yet Sylvia was far from satisfied.  The valley was getting dull; she
needed distraction, and her letters suggested both the means of getting
it and a difficulty.  She wore black, but it had an artistic, almost
coquettish, effect, and the big hat became her well, in spite of its
simple trimming.  Sylvia bestowed a good deal of thought upon her
appearance.

After a while Mrs. Lansing came out and joined her.

"Is there any news in your letters?" she asked.

"Yes," answered Sylvia; "there's one from George--it's a little
disappointing, but you can read it.  As usual, he's laconic."

George's curtness was accounted for by the fact that he had been afraid
of saying too much, but Sylvia carelessly handed the letter to her
companion.

"After all, he shows a nice feeling," Mrs. Lansing remarked.  "He seems
to regret very much his inability to send you a larger check."

"So do I," said Sylvia with a petulant air.

"He points out that it has been a bad season and he has lost his crop."

"Bad seasons are common in western Canada; I've met farmers who seemed
to thrive on them."

"No doubt they didn't do so all at once."

"I dare say that's true," Sylvia agreed.  "It's very likely that if I
give him plenty of time, George will get everything right--he's one of
the plodding, persistent people who generally succeed in the end--but
what use will there be in that?  I'm not growing younger--I want some
enjoyment now!"  She spread out her hands with a gesture that appealed
for sympathy.  "One gets so tired of petty economy and self-denial."

"But George and Herbert arranged that you should have a sufficient
allowance."

"Sufficient," said Sylvia, "is a purely relative term.  So much depends
upon one's temperament, doesn't it?  Perhaps I am a little extravagant,
and that's why I'm disappointed."

"After all, you have very few necessary expenses."

Sylvia laughed.

"It's having only the necessary ones that makes it so dull.  Now, I've
thought of going to stay a while with Susan Kettering; there's a letter
from her, asking when I'll come."

Mrs. Lansing was a lady of strict conventional views, and she showed
some disapproval.

"But you can hardly make visits yet!"

"I don't see why I can't visit Susan.  She's a relative, and it isn't
as if she were entertaining a number of people.  She says she's very
quiet; she has hardly asked anybody, only one or two intimate friends."

"She'll have three or four men down for the partridge shooting."

"After all," said Sylvia, "I can't make her send them away.  You have
once or twice had men from town here."

"Susan leads a very different life from mine," Mrs. Lansing persisted.
"She's a little too fond of amusement, and I don't approve of all her
friends."  She paused as an idea struck her.  "Is Captain Bland going
there for the shooting?"

"I really can't tell you.  Is there any reason why she shouldn't invite
him?"

Mrs. Lansing would have preferred that Sylvia should not see so much of
Bland as she was likely to do if she stayed in the same house with him,
though she knew of nothing in particular to his discredit.  He had
served without distinction in two campaigns, he lived extravagantly,
and was supposed to be something of a philanderer.  Indeed, not long
ago, an announcement of his engagement to a lady of station had been
confidently expected; but the affair had, for some unknown reason,
suddenly fallen through.  Mrs. Lansing was puzzled about him.  If the
man were looking for a wealthy wife, why should he be attracted, as she
thought he was, by Sylvia, who had practically nothing.

"I'd really rather have you remain with us; but of course I can't
object to your going," she said.

"I knew you would be nice about it," Sylvia exclaimed.  "I must have a
talk with Herbert; you said he would be home this evening."

Lansing's business occasionally prevented his nightly return from the
nearest large town, but he arrived some hours later, and after dinner
Sylvia found him in his smoking-room.  He looked up with a smile when
she came in, for their relations were generally pleasant.  They
understood each other, though this did not lead to mutual confidence or
respect.

"Well?" he said.

Sylvia sat down in an easy chair, adopting, as she invariably did, a
becoming pose, and handed him George's letter.

"He hasn't sent you very much," Herbert remarked.

"No," said Sylvia, "that's the difficulty."

"So I anticipated.  You're not economical."

Sylvia laughed.

"I won't remind you of your failings.  You have one virtue--you can be
liberal when it suits you; and you're my trustee."

Lansing's rather fleshy, smooth-shaven face grew thoughtful, but Sylvia
continued:

"I'm going to Susan's, and I really need a lot of new clothes."

"For a week or two's visit?"

"I may, perhaps, go on somewhere else afterward."

"I wonder whether you thought it necessary to tell Muriel so?"

Sylvia sighed.

"I'm afraid I didn't.  I can hardly expect Muriel to quite understand
or sympathize.  She has you, and the flowers she's so fond of, and
quiet friends of the kind she likes; while it's so different with me.
Besides, I was never meant for retirement."

"That," laughed Lansing, "is very true."

"Of course," Sylvia went on; "I shall be very quiet, but there are
things one really has to take part in."

"Bridge is expensive unless you're unusually lucky, or an excellent
player," Lansing suggested.  "However, it would be more to the purpose
if you mentioned what is the least you could manage with."

Sylvia told him, and he knit his brows.

"Money's tight with me just now," he objected.

"You know it's only on account.  George will do ever so much better
next year; and I dare say, if I pressed him, he would send another
remittance."

"His letter indicates that he'd find it difficult."

"George wouldn't mind that.  He rather likes doing things that are
hard, and it's comforting to think that self-denial doesn't cost him
much.  I'm thankful I have him to look after the farm."

Lansing regarded her with ironical amusement; he knew what her
gratitude was worth.

"Yes," he agreed significantly, "George seldom expects anything for
himself.  I'm afraid I'm different in that respect."

Sylvia sat silent for a few moments, because she understood.  If
Herbert granted the favor, he would look for something in return,
though she had no idea what this would be.  She was conscious of a
certain hesitation, but she did not allow it to influence her.

"I don't doubt it," she rejoined with a smile.  "Can't you let me have
a check?  That will make you my creditor, but I'm not afraid you'll be
very exacting.

"Well," was the response, "I will see what I can do."

She went out and Lansing filled his pipe with a feeling of
satisfaction.  He was not running much risk in parting with the money,
and Sylvia might prove useful by and by.

Sylvia left Brantholme shortly afterward and, somewhat to her
annoyance, found Ethel West a guest at the house she visited.  Ethel
had known Dick; she was a friend of George's, and, no doubt, in regular
communication with her brother in Canada.  It was possible that she
might allude to Sylvia's doings when she wrote; but there was some
consolation in remembering that George was neither an imaginative nor a
censorious person.

Sylvia had spent a delightful week in her new surroundings, when she
descended the broad stairway one night with a shawl upon her arm and an
elegantly bound little notebook in her hand.  A handsome, dark-haired
man whose bearing proclaimed him a soldier walked at her side.  Bland's
glance was quick and direct, but he had a genial smile and his manners
were usually characterized by a humorous boldness.  Still, it was
difficult to find fault with them, and Sylvia had acquiesced in his
rather marked preference for her society.  She was, however, studying
the little book as she went down the shallow steps and her expression
indicated dissatisfaction.

"I'm afraid it was my fault, though you had very bad luck," said the
man, noticing her look.  "I'm dreadfully sorry."

"It was your fault," Sylvia rejoined, with some petulance.  "When I
held my best hand I was deceived by your lead.  Besides, as I told the
others, I didn't mean to play; you shouldn't have come down and
persuaded me."

Bland considered.  On the whole Sylvia played a good game, but she was
obviously a little out of practise, for his lead had really been the
correct one, though she had not understood it.  This, however, was of
no consequence; it was her concluding words that occupied his
attention.  They had, he thought, been spoken with a full grasp of
their significance; his companion was not likely to be guilty of any
ill-considered admission.

"Then I'm flattered that my influence goes so far, though it's perhaps
unlucky in the present instance," he said boldly.  "I'll own that I'm
responsible for our misfortunes and I'm ready to take the consequences.
Please give me that book."

"No," Sylvia replied severely.  "I feel guilty for playing at all, but
the line must be drawn."

"Where do you feel inclined to draw it?"

They had reached the hall and Sylvia turned and looked at him directly,
but with a trace of coquetry.

"At allowing a comparative stranger to meet my losses, if I must be
blunt."

"The arrangement isn't altogether unusual.  In this case, it's a duty,
and the restriction you make doesn't bar me out.  I'm not a stranger."

"A mere acquaintance then," said Sylvia.

"That won't do either.  It doesn't apply to me."

"Then I'll have to alter the classification."  She broke into a soft
laugh.  "It's difficult to think of a term to fit; would you like to
suggest something?"

Several epithets occurred to the man, but he feared to make too rash a
venture.

"Well," he said, "would you object to--confidential friend?"

Sylvia's smile seemed to taunt him.

"Certainly; it goes too far.  One doesn't become a confidential friend
in a very limited time."

"I've known it happen in a few days."

"Friendships of that kind don't last.  In a little while you find you
have been deceived.  But we won't talk of these things.  You can't have
the book, and I'm going out."

He held up the shawl, which she draped about her shoulders, and they
strolled on to the terrace.  The night was calm and pleasantly cool;
beyond the black line of hedge across the lawn, meadows and harvest
fields, with rows of sheaves that cast dark shadows behind them,
stretched away in the moonlight.  After a while Sylvia stopped and
leaned upon the broad-topped wall.

"It's really pretty," she remarked.

"Yes," returned Bland; "it's more than pretty.  There's something in it
that rests one.  I sometimes wish I could live in such a place as this
altogether."

Sylvia was astonished, because she saw he meant it.

"After your life, you would get horribly tired of it in three months."

"After my life?  Do you know what that has been?"

"Race meetings, polo matches, hilarious mess dinners."

He laughed, rather shortly.

"I suppose so; but they're not the only army duties.  Some of the rest
are better, abroad; but they're frequently accompanied by
semi-starvation, scorching heat or stinging cold, and fatigue; and it
doesn't seem to be the rule that those who bear the heaviest strain are
remembered when promotion comes."

Sylvia studied him attentively.  Bland was well and powerfully made,
and she liked big men--there was more satisfaction in bending them to
her will.  In spite of his careless good-humor, he bore a certain stamp
of distinction; he was an excellent card-player, he could dance
exceptionally well, and she had heard him spoken of as a first-class
shot.  It was unfortunate that these abilities were of less account in
a military career than she had supposed; but, when properly applied,
they carried their possessor some distance in other fields.  What was
as much to the purpose, Bland appeared to be wealthy, and took a
leading part in social amusements and activities.

"I suppose that is the case," she said sympathetically, in answer to
his last remark.  "You have never told me anything about your last
campaign.  You were injured in it, were you not?"

The man had his weaknesses, but they did not include any desire to
retail his exploits and sufferings to women's ears.  He would not speak
of his wounds, honorably received, or of perils faced as carelessly as
he had exposed his men.

"Yes," he answered.  "But that was bad enough at the time, and the rest
of it would make a rather monotonous tale."

"Surely not!" protested Sylvia.  "The thrill and bustle of a campaign
must be wonderfully exciting."

"The novelty of marching steadily in a blazing sun, drinking bad water,
and shoveling trenches half the night, soon wears off," he said with a
short laugh, and changed the subject.  "One could imagine that you're
not fond of quietness."

Sylvia shivered.  The memory of her two years in Canada could not be
banished.  She looked back on them with something like horror.

"No," she declared; "I hate it!  It's deadly to me."

"Well, I've an idea.  There's the Dene Hall charity gymkana comes off
in a few days.  It's semi-private, and I know the people; in fact
they've made me enter for some of the events.  It's a pretty ride to
the place, and I can get a good car.  Will you come?"

"I don't know whether I ought," said Sylvia, with some hesitation.

"Think over it, anyway," he begged her.

One or two people came out, and when somebody called her name Sylvia
left him, without promising.  Bland remained leaning on the wall and
thinking hard.  Sylvia strongly attracted him.  She was daintily
pretty, quick of comprehension, and, in spite of her black attire,
which at times gave her a forlorn air that made him compassionate,
altogether charming.  It was, however, unfortunate that he could not
marry a poor wife, and he knew nothing about Sylvia's means.  To do him
justice, he had shrunk from any attempt to obtain information on this
point; but he felt that it would have to be made before things went too
far.  His thoughts were interrupted by Ethel West, who strolled along
the terrace and stopped close at hand.

"I didn't expect to find you wrapped in contemplation," she remarked.

"As a matter of fact, I've been talking."

"To Mrs. Marston?  She's generally considered entertaining."

Bland looked at her with a smile.  He liked Ethel West.  She was blunt,
without being tactless, and her conversation was sometimes piquant.
Moreover, he remembered that Ethel and Sylvia were old acquaintances.

"I find her so," he said.  "Though she has obviously had trouble, she's
very bright.  It's a sign of courage."

"In Sylvia Marston's case, it's largely a reaction.  She spent what she
regards as two harrowing years in Canada."

"After all, Canada doesn't seem to be a bad place," said Bland.  "Two
of my friends, who left the Service, went out to take up land and they
evidently like it.  They got lots of shooting, and they've started a
pack of hounds."

Ethel considered.  She could have told him that Sylvia's husband had
gone out to make a living, and had not been in a position to indulge in
costly amusements, but this did not appear advisable.

"I don't think Marston got a great deal of sport," she said.  "He had
too much to do."

"A big place to look after?  I understand it's wise to buy up all the
land you can."

Ethel's idea of the man's views in respect to Sylvia was confirmed.  He
was obviously giving her a lead and she followed it, though she did not
intend to enlighten him.

"Yes," she answered; "that's the opinion of my brother, who's farming
there.  He says values are bound to go up as the new railroads are
built, and Marston had a good deal of land.  Sylvia is prudently
keeping every acre and farming as much as possible."

She saw this was satisfactory to Bland, and she had no hesitation in
letting him conclude what he liked from it.  It was not her part to
caution him, and it was possible that if no other suitor appeared,
Sylvia might fall back on George, which was a risk that must be avoided
at any cost.  Ethel did not expect to gain anything for herself; she
knew that George had never had any love for her; but she was determined
that he should not fall into Sylvia's hands.  He was too fine a man, in
many ways, to be thus sacrificed.

"But how can Mrs. Marston carry on the farm?" Bland inquired.

"I should have said her trustees are doing so," Ethel answered
carelessly.  "One of them went out to look into things not long ago."

Then she moved away and left Bland with one difficulty that had
troubled him removed.



CHAPTER XIV

BLAND GETS ENTANGLED

When Mrs. Kettering heard of Sylvia's intention to attend the gymkana,
she gave her consent, and said that, as she had an invitation, she
would make up a party to go.  This was not what Bland required.  It
was, however, a four-seated car that he had been promised the use of;
and counting Sylvia and himself and the driver, there was only one
place left.  While he was wondering to whom it would be best to offer
it, Sylvia thought of Ethel West, who had announced that she would not
attend the function.  By making a short round, they could pass through
a market town of some importance.

"You mentioned that you wished to buy some things; why not come with
us?" she said to Ethel.  "We could drop you going out and call for you
coming home.  Susan will have the big car full, so she couldn't take
you, and it's a long drive to the station and the trains run awkwardly."

Sylvia's motive was easy to discern, but Ethel agreed.  She was, on the
whole, inclined to pity Captain Bland; but he was a stranger and George
was a friend.  If Sylvia must choose between them, it would be much
better that she should take the soldier.  For all that, Ethel had an
uncomfortable feeling that she was assisting in a piece of treachery
when she set off soon after lunch on a fine autumn day; and the car had
gone several miles before she began to enjoy the ride.

For a while the straight white road, climbing steadily, crossed a waste
of moors.  The dry grass gleamed gray and silver among the russet fern;
rounded, white-edged clouds floated, scarcely moving, in a sky of
softest blue.  The upland air was gloriously fresh, and the speed
exhilarating.

By and by they ran down into a narrow dale in the depths of which a
river brawled among the stones, and climbed a long ascent, from which
they could see a moving dust-cloud indicating that Mrs. Kettering's car
was only a mile or two behind.  After that there was a league of brown
heath, and then they sped down to a wide, wooded valley, in the midst
of which rose the gray walls of an ancient town.  On reaching it, Ethel
alighted in the market-square, hard by the lofty abbey, and turned to
Bland.

"I have one or two calls to make after I've finished shopping, but if
it takes longer than I expected or you can't get here in time, I'll go
back by train," she said.  "In that case, you must bring me home from
the station."

Bland promised, and Ethel watched the car with a curious expression
until it vanished under a time-worn archway.  She was vexed with
herself for playing into Sylvia's hands, though she had only done so in
what she regarded as George's interest.  If Sylvia married Bland, the
blow would no doubt be a heavy one to George, but it would be better
for him in the end.

In the meanwhile, the car sped on up the valley until it reached an
ancient house built on to a great square tower, where Bland was
welcomed by a lady of high importance in the district.  Afterward he
was familiarly greeted by several of her guests, which Sylvia, who had
strong ambitions, duly noticed; these people occupied a different
station from the one in which she had hitherto moved.  When Bland was
called away from her, she was shown to a place at some distance from
Mrs. Kettering's party, and she sat down and looked about with
interest.  From the smooth lawn and still glowing borders before the
old gray house, a meadow ran down to the river that wandered, gleaming,
through the valley, and beyond it the brown moors cut against the clear
blue sky.  In the meadow, a large, oval space was lined with groups of
smartly-dressed people, and in its midst rose trim pavilions outside
which grooms stood holding beautiful glossy horses.  Everything was
prettily arranged; the scene, with its air of gayety, appealed to
Sylvia, and she enjoyed it keenly, though she was now and then
conscious of her somber attire.

Then the entertainment began, and she admitted that Bland,
finely-mounted, was admirable.  He took his part in several
competitions, and through them all displayed a genial good-humor and
easy physical grace.  He had for the most part younger men as
antagonists, but Sylvia thought that none of them could compare with
him in manner or bearing.

After a while Sylvia noticed with a start of surprise and annoyance
that Herbert Lansing was strolling toward her.  He took an unoccupied
chair at her side.

"What brought you here?" she asked.

"That," he said, "is easily explained.  I got a kind of circular of
invitation, and as I've had dealings with one or two of these people, I
thought it advisable to make an appearance and pay my half-guinea.
Then there's a man I want a talk with, and I find that the atmosphere
of an office has often a deterrent effect on those unused to it.  But I
didn't expect to find you here."

"Susan and some of the others have come; I've no doubt you'll meet her."

The explanation appeared adequate on the face of it, but a moment later
Herbert glanced at Bland, who was dexterously controlling his restive
horse.

"The man looks well in the saddle, doesn't he?" he said.

"Yes," assented Sylvia in an indifferent tone, though she was slightly
disturbed.  Herbert was keen-witted, and she would rather not have had
him take an interest in her affairs.

"I'm inclined to think it's fortunate I didn't bring Muriel," he
resumed with a smile.  "She's rather conventional, and has stricter
views than seem to be general nowadays."

"I can't see why I should remain in complete seclusion; it's an
irrational idea.  But I've no intention of concealing anything I think
fit to do."

"Of course not.  Are you going to mention that you attended this
entertainment when you write to Muriel?"

Sylvia pondered her reply.  In spite of its dullness, Mrs. Lansing's
house was a comfortable and secure retreat.  She would have to go back
to it presently, and it was desirable that she should avoid any cause
of disagreement with her hostess.

"No," she said candidly; "I don't see any need for that; and I may not
write for some time.  Of course, Muriel doesn't quite look at things as
I do, and on one or two points she's unusually sensitive."

Herbert looked amused.

"You're considerate; and I dare say you're right.  There doesn't seem
to be any reason why Muriel should concern herself about the thing,
particularly as you're in Susan's hands."

The implied promise that he would not mention his having seen her
afforded Sylvia some relief, but when he went away to speak to Mrs.
Kettering, she wished she had not met him.  Herbert was troubled by
none of his wife's prejudices, but on another occasion he had made her
feel that she owed him something for which he might expect some return,
and now the impression was more marked; their secret, though of no
importance, had strengthened his position.  Herbert seldom granted a
favor without an end in view; and she did not wish him to get too firm
a hold on her.  The feeling, however, wore off, and she had spent a
pleasant afternoon when Bland came for her as the shadows lengthened.

He reminded her of Ethel:

"We'll have to get off, if we're to pick up Miss West."

Sylvia said that she was ready, though she felt it would have been more
satisfactory had Ethel been allowed to go back by train.  They began
the journey, but after a few miles the car stopped on a steep rise.
The driver with some trouble started the engine, but soon after they
had crossed the crest of the hill it stopped again, and he looked grave
as he supplied Bland with some details that Sylvia found unintelligible.

"You must get her along another mile; then you can go back on a bicycle
for what you want," Bland told him, and turned to Sylvia.  "We'll be
delayed for an hour or so, but he can leave word for Miss West, and
there's an inn not far off where they'll give us tea while we're
waiting."

They reached it after turning into another road, though the car made
alarming noises during the journey.  Sylvia viewed the old building
with appreciation.  It stood, long and low and cleanly white-washed, on
the brink of a deep ghyll filled with lichened boulders and russet
ferns, with a firwood close behind it, and in front a wide vista of
moors and fells that stood out darkly blue against the evening light.
Near the stone porch, a rustic table stood beside a row of tall red
hollyhocks.

"It's a charming spot," Sylvia exclaimed.  "Can't we have tea outside?"

Bland ordered it and they sat down to a neatly-served meal.  The
evening was warm and very still and clear.  A rattle of wheels reached
them from somewhere far down the road and they could hear the faint
splash of water in the depths of the ravine.

"This is really delightful," murmured Sylvia, when the table had been
cleared.  "I like the quietness of the country when it comes as a
contrast, after, for example, such an afternoon as we have spent."

"Then you're not sorry you came?"

"Sorry?  You wouldn't suggest it, if you knew how dull my days often
are.  But I mustn't be doleful.  You may smoke, if you like."

Bland did not particularly wish to smoke, but he lighted a cigarette.
It seemed to banish formality, to place them on more familiar terms.

"What is the matter with the car?" Sylvia asked.

"I'm afraid I can't tell you.  It can't be got along without something
the man has gone back for."

"They do stop sometimes.  Is this one in the habit of doing so?"

"I can't say, as it isn't mine.  Why do you ask?"

"Oh!" said Sylvia, "I had my suspicions.  The man didn't seem in the
least astonished or annoyed, for one thing.  Then it broke down in such
a convenient place."

Bland laughed; her boldness appealed to him.

"Well," he declared, "I'm perfectly innocent; though I can't pretend
I'm sorry."

"You felt you had to say that."

"No," he declared, with a direct glance; "I meant it."

Sylvia leaned back in her chair and glanced appreciatively at the moor.

"After all," she said, "it's remarkably pretty here, and a change is
nice.  I'll confess that I find Susan's friends a little boring."

The implication was that she preferred Bland's society, and he was
gratified.

"That struck me some time ago," he rejoined.  "I wonder if you can
guess why I thought it worth while to put up with them?"

Sylvia smiled as she looked at him.  She liked the man; she thought
that he had a good deal she valued to offer her; but as yet she desired
only his captivation.  She must not allow him to go too far.

"You might have had a number of motives," she said carelessly.  "I
don't feel much curiosity about them."

Bland bore the rebuff good-humoredly.  Patience was one of his strong
points, and since his conversation with Ethel West on the terrace he
had made up his mind.  In arriving at a decision, the man was honest
and ready to make some sacrifice.  He had been strongly impressed by
Sylvia on their first meeting, but he had realized that it would be a
mistake to marry her unless she had some means.  Hitherto he had found
it difficult to meet his expenses, which were large.  He did not
believe now that Sylvia was rich, and he had seen enough of her to
suspect that she was extravagant, but this did not deter him.  She had
undoubtedly some possessions, and he was prepared to retrench and deny
himself a number of costly pleasures.  Indeed, he had once or twice
thought of leaving the army.

"Then I won't force an explanation on you," he said, and lighting
another cigarette, lazily watched her and tried to analyze her charm.

He failed to do so.  Sylvia was a born coquette, and most dangerous in
that her power of attraction was natural, and as a rule she appealed to
the better and more chivalrous feelings of her victims.  Fragile, and
delicately pretty, she looked as if she needed some one to shelter and
defend her from all troubles.  Bland decided that, although she rarely
said anything brilliant, and he had seen more beautiful women, he had
not met one who, taken all round, could compare with Sylvia.

"What are you thinking of?" she asked at length, with a gleam of
mischief in her eyes.

"Oh," he answered, slightly confused, "my mind was wandering.  I
believe I was trying to explain a thing that's wrapped in impenetrable
mystery."

"One wouldn't have imagined you were given to that kind of amusement,
and it's obviously a waste of time.  Wouldn't it be wiser to accept the
object that puzzles you for what it seems, if it's nice?"

"It is," he declared, wondering whether this was a random shot on her
part or one of the flashes of penetration with which she sometimes
surprised him.

"Your advice is good."

"I believe so," responded Sylvia.  "If a thing pleases you, don't try
to find out too much about it.  That's the way to disappointment."

She was a little astonished at his reply.

"Perhaps it's a deserved penalty.  One should respect a beautiful
mystery--unquestioning faith is a power.  It reacts upon its object as
well as upon its possessor."

"Even if it's mistaken?"

"It couldn't be altogether so," Bland objected.  "Nothing that was
unworthy could inspire real devotion."

"All this is far too serious," said Sylvia, petulantly; for her
companion's moralizing had awakened a train of unpleasant reflections.

She did not think unquestioning faith was common, but she knew of one
man who was endowed with it, and he was toiling for her sake on the
desolate western prairie.  Once or twice his belief in her had roused
angry compunction, and she had revealed the more unfavorable aspects of
her character, but he had refused to see them.

"Then what shall we talk about?" Bland inquired.

"Anything that doesn't tax one's brain severely.  Yourself, for
example."

"I'm not sure that's flattering, and it's an indifferent topic; but I
won't back out.  As I gave you your choice, I must take the
consequences."

"Are you always ready to do that?"  There was a tiny hint of
seriousness in her voice.

"Well," he said with some dryness, "I generally try."

There was something that reminded her of George in his expression.  The
man, she thought, would redeem what pledge he gave; he might be guilty
of rashness, but he would not slink away when the reckoning came.  Then
she became conscious of a half-tender regret.  It was a pity that
George was so fond of the background, and left it only when he was
needed, while Brand was a prominent figure wherever he went, and this
was, perhaps, the one of his characteristics which most impressed her.
Then he rather modestly began the brief account of his career, adding
scraps of information about his relatives, who were people of station.
He did not enlarge upon several points that were in his favor, but he
omitted to state that he had now and then been on the verge of a
financial crisis.

Sylvia listened with keen interest, and asked a few questions to help
him on; but when he finished she let the subject drop.  Soon afterward
she glanced down the road, which was growing dim.

"I wish your man would come.  It's getting late," she said.

"He can't be much longer.  I don't think you need be disturbed."

"I am disturbed," Sylvia declared.  "I really shouldn't have come
to-day; you will remember I hesitated."

"Then it was a temptation?"

Sylvia smiled rather wistfully.  "That must be confessed; I need a
little stir and brightness and I so seldom get it.  You know Muriel; I
owe her a good deal, but she's so dull and she makes you feel that
everything you like to do is wrong."

"But you haven't been very long with Mrs. Lansing.  Wasn't it different
in Canada?"  Bland had a reason for venturing on the question, though
it was rather a delicate one.

"I can hardly bear to think of it!  For four months in the year I was
shut up, half-frozen, in a desolate homestead.  There was deep snow all
round the place; nobody came.  It was a day's drive to a forlorn
settlement; nothing ever broke the dreary monotony.  In summer one got
worn out with the heat and the endless petty troubles.  There was not a
moment's rest; the house was filled with plowmen and harvesters,
uncouth barbarians who ate at our table and must be waited on."

Bland was moved to pity; but he was also consoled.  As she had not
mentioned Marston, she could not greatly have felt his loss.  Sylvia
must have married young; no doubt, before she knew her mind.

"I wish," he said quietly, "I could do something to make your life a
little brighter."

"But you can't.  I've had one happy day--and I'm grateful.  It must
last me a while."

He leaned forward, looking at her with an intent expression.

"Sylvia, give me the right to try."

She shrank from him with a start that was partly natural, for she was
not quite prepared for a bold avowal.

"No," she said in alarm.  "How can I do that?"

"Don't you understand me, Sylvia?  I want the right to take care of
you."

She checked him with a gesture.

"It is you who can't understand.  Do you think I'm heartless?"

"Nothing could make me think hardly of you," he declared.

"Then show me some respect and consideration.  It was what I looked
for; I felt I was safe with you."

Though he had not expected strong opposition, he saw that she was
determined.  He had been too precipitate, and while he had no idea of
abandoning his purpose, he bowed.

"If I've offended, you must forgive me--I thought of nothing beyond my
longing for you.  That won't change or diminish, but I've been rash and
have startled you.  I must wait."

He watched her in keen anxiety, but Sylvia gave no hint of her
feelings.  As a matter of fact, she was wondering why she had checked
and repulsed him.  She could not tell.  A sudden impulse had swayed
her, but she was not sorry she had yielded to it.  Her hold on the man
was as strong as ever; the affair was not ended.

There was silence for the next few minutes.  It was growing dark; the
hills had faded to blurs of shadows, and the moor ran back, a vast, dim
waste.  Then a twinkling light moved toward them up the ascending road.
Bland rose and pointed to it.

"I dare say the man has got the things he needed.  We'll be off again
shortly," he said in his usual manner; and Sylvia was grateful.

In another half-hour the car was ready, and when Bland helped Sylvia in
and wrapped the furs about her, there was something new in his care for
her comfort.  It was a kind of proprietary gentleness which she did not
resent.  Then they sped away across the dusky moor.



CHAPTER XV

HERBERT MAKES A CLAIM

Sylvia finished her round of visits in a state approaching insolvency.
Mrs. Kettering, with whom she stayed some time, indulged in expensive
amusements, and though she would have listened with good-humor to a
plea of poverty, Sylvia declined to make it.  She would not have Bland
suspect the state of her affairs, and while he remained in the house
she took her part in all that went on, which included card-playing for
high stakes.  As it happened, she had a steady run of misfortune.
Bland sympathized with her and occasionally ventured a remonstrance,
but she could see that the cheerful manner in which she faced her
losses had its effect on him.

On the evening of her return, Herbert was strolling along the platform
at a busy junction, in the gathering dusk, when he noticed Bland
speaking to a porter.  Soon afterward.  Bland came toward him, and
Herbert asked him if he were staying in the neighborhood.

"No," said Bland; "I'm passing through; only been here half an hour.
We're probably on the same errand."

"I came to meet Mrs. Marston," Herbert told him.  "And I broke my
journey to town with the idea of being of some assistance when she
changed."

"They don't give one much time here, and it's an awkward station,"
Herbert said, with a careless air.

It struck him that Sylvia's acquaintance with the man must have ripened
rapidly, for he was well informed of her movements; but this was no
concern of his.  He had thought for some time that a match between her
and George would be unsuitable.  For a while he and Bland talked about
indifferent matters, and then the latter turned to him with a smile.

"I was very lucky at a small steeplechase," he said.  "Backed a rank
outsider that only a few friends of mine believed in.  Do you know of
anything that's bound to go up on the Stock Exchange?  It's in your
line, I think."

"I don't.  Such stocks are remarkably scarce.  If there's any strong
reason for a rise in value, buyers anticipate it."

"Then perhaps you know of something that has a better chance than the
rest?  I expect your tip's worth having."

"You might try--rubber!"

"Rubber?  Hasn't that been a little overdone?"

Herbert considered, for this remark confirmed his private opinion.
Rubber shares had been in strong demand, but he thought they would not
continue in general favor.  The suggestion made by an outsider might be
supposed to express the view held by small speculators, which had its
effect on the market.

"I gave you my idea, but I can't guarantee success," he said.  "You
must use your judgment, and don't blame me if things go wrong."

"Of course not; the risk's mine," returned Bland; and Herbert thought
he meant to follow his advice.

A few minutes later, the train which they were waiting for came in, and
Herbert tactfully stood aside when Bland helped Sylvia to alight.
Watching her face, he concluded by the absence of any sign of surprise
that the meeting had been arranged.  Bland, however, had little
opportunity for conversation amid the bustle; and the train was on the
point of starting before Sylvia saw Herbert.  He got in as it was
moving, and she looked at him sharply.

"I didn't expect you would meet me."

"So I supposed," he told her.

"Oh, well," she said, smiling, "you might have been useful."

Herbert thought she might have thanked him for coming, considering that
he had, by his wife's orders, made an inconvenient journey; but
gratitude was not one of Sylvia's virtues.

"Did you enjoy yourself?" he asked.

"Yes, on the whole, but I've been dreadfully unlucky.  In fact, I'm
threatened by a financial crisis."

Herbert made a rueful grimace.

"I know what that means; I'm getting used to it.  But we'll talk the
matter over another time.  I suppose I'm neglecting my duties; I ought
to lecture you."

"Isn't Muriel capable of doing all that's necessary in that line?"

"She's hampered by not knowing as much as I do," Herbert retorted with
a meaning smile.

Nothing of moment passed between them during the rest of the journey,
but some time after they reached home Herbert turned to Sylvia, who was
sitting near him, in the absence of his wife.

"You're short of funds again?" he asked.

Sylvia explained her embarrassments, and Herbert looked thoughtful.

"So," he said, "you have spent what George sent, as well as what I
advanced you in anticipation of his next remittance.  This can't go on,
you know."

"I'll be very economical for the next few months," Sylvia promised
penitently.

"If you're not, you'll find very stern economy imperative during those
that follow; but I'll let you have a small check before I leave."

Sylvia thanked him and they talked about other matters for a while.
Then he said carelessly:

"There's a favor you could do me.  It won't cost you any trouble.  A
young man is coming down here next week, and I want you to be as
pleasant as you can and make him enjoy his visit.  I'm inclined to
think he'll appreciate any little attention you can show him."

"The last's a cheap compliment," Sylvia rejoined.  "Aren't you asking
me to undertake your wife's duty?"

Herbert smiled.

"Not altogether.  Muriel's an excellent hostess; she will do her part,
but I want you to assist her.  You have exceptional and rather
dangerous gifts."

"Don't go too far," Sylvia warned him.  "But I'd better understand the
situation.  How long do you expect me to be amiable to the man?"

"Only for a couple of days.  He might come down again, but that's not
certain."

Sylvia considered, for she saw what Herbert required.  She was to exert
her powers of fascination upon the visitor, in order to make him more
pliable in his host's hands.  The task was not a disagreeable one, and
she had foreseen all along that Herbert, in indulging her in various
ways, would look for some return.

"After all," she said, "there's no reason why I should be ungracious to
him, so long as he's pleasant."

Herbert carelessly nodded agreement, but Sylvia knew that he expected
her to carry out his wishes; and she did not find it difficult when the
guest arrived.

Paul Singleton was young, and perhaps unusually susceptible to the
influences brought to bear upon him during his visit.  Born with some
talents, in very humble station, he had by means of scholarships
obtained an excellent education, and had devoted himself in particular
to the study of botany.  A prosperous man who took an interest in him
sent him out to a tropical plantation, where he wrote a work on the
vegetable product of equatorial regions, which secured him notice.
Indeed, he was beginning to make his mark as an authority on the
subject.  So far, however, his life had been one of economy and
self-denial, and although Lansing's dwelling was not characterized by
any very marked signs of culture or luxury, it was different from the
surroundings to which Singleton was accustomed.  His hostess was
staidly cordial and at once set him at his ease; Sylvia was a
revelation.  Her piquant prettiness and her charm of manner dazzled
him.  She played her part well, not merely because she had agreed to do
so, but because it was one that strongly appealed to her nature.

On the second evening of Singleton's visit, he was talking to Sylvia
rather confidentially in the drawing-room, where Mrs. Lansing had left
them, while Herbert was seated at a table in his library with a cigar
in his hand and a litter of papers in front of him.  He was thinking
hard, and rubber occupied the foremost place in his mind.  He was a
director of a company, formed to exploit a strip of rubber-bearing
territory in the tropics, which had hitherto been successful; but he
felt that it was time to retire from the position and realize the
profit on his shares.  There was another company he and some associates
had arranged to launch, but he was now very doubtful whether this would
be wise.  Rubber exploitations were overdone; there were signs that
investors were losing their confidence.  Withdrawal, however, was
difficult, for it must be quietly effected without breaking prices by
any unusual sales.  It was therefore desirable that other holders
should cling to their shares, and any fresh buying by outsiders would,
of course, be so much the better.  This was one reason why he had
suggested a purchase to Bland.

Opening a book, he noted the amount of stock standing in George's name.
This had been purchased by Herbert, who had been given such authority
by his cousin at a time when the directors' position needed
strengthening, though it had been necessary to dispose of sound shares,
yielding a small return.  The prompt sale of this stock would secure
George a moderate profit, but after some consideration Herbert decided
that it should remain.  He had no wish that George should suffer, but
his own interests stood first.  Then he carefully studied several
sheets of figures, which confirmed his opinion that a drop in the value
of the stock he owned might be looked for shortly, though he thought
very few people realized this yet.  It was time for effective but
cautious action.  He must unload as soon as possible.

By and by he rang a bell, and passed across the cigar box when
Singleton came in and sat down opposite him.  He was a wiry,
dark-haired man with an intelligent face which had grown rather white
and haggard in the tropics.  Just now he felt grateful to his host, who
had made his stay very pleasant and had given him an opportunity for
meeting Sylvia.

"I suppose you have read my report on your new tropical property?" he
said.

"Yes," answered Herbert, picking up a lengthy document.  "I've given it
some thought.  On the whole, it isn't optimistic."

Singleton pondered this.  He had learned a little about company
floating, and was willing to oblige his host as far as he honestly
could.  Lansing had enabled him to undertake a search for some rare
examples of tropical flora by paying him a handsome fee for the report.

"Well," he said, "there is some good rubber in your territory, as I
have stated."

"But not readily accessible?"

"I'm afraid I can't say it is."

Herbert smiled at him.

"I'm not suggesting such a course.  In asking a man of your character
and attainments to investigate, I was prompted by the desire to get a
reliable report."

Singleton did not know what to make of this; so far as his experience
went, gentlemen who paid for an opinion on the property they meant to
dispose of did not want an unfavorable one.

"The rubber's scattered and grows in awkward places," he explained.

"Precisely."  Herbert glanced at the paper.  "You mentioned something
of the kind.  But what about planting and systematic cultivation?"

"Soil and climate are eminently suitable."

"I gather that there's a difficulty in the way of obtaining native
labor?"

Singleton broke into a grim smile.

"It's a serious one.  The natives consider strangers as their lawful
prey, and they lately managed to give a strong punitive expedition a
good deal of trouble.  In fact, as they're in a rather restless mood,
the authorities were very dubious about letting me go inland, and in
spite of the care I took, they got two of my colored carriers.  Shot
them with little poisoned arrows."

"Ah!" ejaculated Herbert.  "Poisoned arrows?  That should have a
deterrent effect."

"Singularly so.  A slight prick is enough to wipe you out within an
hour.  It's merciful the time is so short."

"That," said Herbert, "was not quite what I meant.  I was thinking of
the effect upon the gentlemen who wish to launch this company."

"The risk isn't attached to their end of the business," Singleton dryly
pointed out.

Herbert did not answer.  While he sat, with knitted brows, turning over
some of the papers in front of him.  Singleton looked about.  Hitherto
his life had been spent in comfortless and shabby English lodgings, in
the sour steam of tropic swamps, and in galvanized iron factories that
were filled all day with an intolerable heat.  As a result of this, his
host's library impressed him.  It was spacious and furnished in
excellent taste; a shaded silver lamp stood on the table, diffusing a
restricted light that made the room look larger; a clear wood fire
burned in the grate.  The effect of all he saw was tranquilizing; and
the house as a whole, inhabited, as it was, by two charming, cultured
women, struck him as a delightful place of rest.  He wondered with
longing whether he would have an opportunity for coming back to it.

Then his host looked up.

"Have you any strong objections to recasting this report?" he asked.
"Don't mistake me.  I'm not asking you to color things in any way; I
want simple facts.  After what you have told me, I can't consider the
prospects of our working the concessions very favorable."

Singleton was surprised; Lansing's attitude was puzzling, considering
that he had suggested the flotation of the projected company.

"Do you want the drawbacks insisted on?" he asked.

Herbert smiled.

"I don't want them mitigated; state them clearly.  Include what you
told me about the trouble with the natives, and the poisoned arrows."

Then a light broke in upon Singleton.  He had not placed his host in
the same category with Mrs. Lansing and Sylvia.  It looked as if he had
changed his plans and wished to prevent the company from being formed.
This caused Singleton to consider how far he would be justified in
assisting him.  He could honestly go some length in doing so, and,
having fallen a victim to Sylvia's charm, he was willing to do his
utmost.

"There's no doubt that some of the facts are discouraging," he said.

Herbert looked at him keenly.

"That is what struck me.  Suppose you think the thing over and bring me
down a fresh report a week from to-day.  Stay a day or two, if you're
not busy; I can get you some shooting, and we can talk over any points
that seem to require it at leisure."

Singleton sat silent a moment.  He wanted to come back, and he did not
believe the concession could be profitably worked by any usual methods.
For all that, he thought he could make something of the property; it
was not altogether worthless, though it would require exceptional
treatment.

"Perhaps that would be better," he replied, "I should be delighted to
make another visit."

Herbert took up the paper and looked at Singleton with a smile as he
flung it into the fire.

"Now I think we'll go down," he said.  "Mrs. Lansing will be waiting
for us."

Singleton spent the remainder of the evening with great content,
talking to Sylvia.  When she left him, Herbert met her in the hall.

"Thanks," he smiled meaningly.  "Did you find the man interesting?"

"To some extent," returned Sylvia; "he's a type that's new to me.
Still, of course, he's a little raw, and inclined to be serious.  I
think one could see too much of him."

"He's coming down again in a week."

"Oh!" said Sylvia, with signs of protest.  "And after that?"

Herbert laughed.

"I don't think he'll make a third visit."



CHAPTER XVI

A FORCED RETIREMENT

Singleton came down again to Brantholme, bringing his amended report,
which met with Herbert's approval.  He spent one wet day walking
through turnip fields and stubble in search of partridges, and two
delightful evenings with Mrs. Lansing and Sylvia, and then he was
allowed to depart.  He had served his purpose, and Herbert was glad to
get rid of him.  Lansing generally found it desirable to drop men for
whom he had no more use; but he had not done with Singleton.

A day or two later, after his guest had left, Herbert sat in his office
in a busy town with an open ledger in front of him.  He looked
thoughtful, and, as a matter of fact, he was reviewing the latter part
of his business career, which had been marked by risks, boldly faced,
but attended by keen anxiety.  Though his wife had some money, Lansing
had been hampered by lack of capital, and George's money had been
placed at his disposal at a very opportune time.  It had enabled him to
carry the rubber company over what might have proved a crisis, and thus
strengthen his position as director, by purchasing sufficient shares on
George's account to keep the price from falling and defeat the
intrigues of a clique of discontented investors.  Now, however, the
strain had slackened; Herbert's schemes had succeeded, and he had only
to take his profit by selling out as quietly as possible.  He had
already given a broker orders to do so.  He rather regretted that he
could not dispose of George's shares, but these must be kept a little
longer; to throw a large quantity upon the market would have a
depressing effect and might arouse suspicion.

Presently a man with whom he had dealings was shown in and sat down.
His appearance indicated some degree of prosperity, but he looked
disturbed and anxious.

"I met Jackson yesterday, and after what he told me of his interview
with you, I thought I'd better run up and see you at once," he
explained.

Herbert had expected the visit.

"I'm at your service," he said.

"What about the new company?  I understand you haven't come to any
decision yet about the suggestions we sent you for its flotation."

"No," replied Herbert.  "In fact, I've reasons for believing it
wouldn't be wise to go any farther in the matter."

The other looked at him in astonishment.

"Well," he said, "I heard that you were not so enthusiastic as you were
not long ago, which is why I came down; but I never expected this!
Anyway, after what we have done, you are bound to go on with the thing.
Our success with the first company will help the shares off."

"That's not certain."  Herbert handed him a paper.  "You haven't seen
Singleton's report."

The man read it hastily, his face changing.  Then he looked up with
signs of strong indignation.

"You let him give you a thing like this?  Paid him for it?"

"What could I do?  The man's honest.  He declares the country's
dangerous; he had two carriers killed.  There's no prospect of our
obtaining the needful native labor."

"Send somebody else out at once!"

"With the same result.  Besides, it's expensive.  Singleton's fee
wasn't so big, because he shared the cost of his orchid collecting or
something of the kind with us.  Then he might talk, and there would
always be the risk of somebody's challenging us with suppressing his
report.  If things went wrong, that would lead to trouble."

"Would there be any use in my seeing him?"

Herbert smiled.  Singleton would not turn against him; Sylvia had made
her influence felt.

"Not the slightest," he answered.  "You can take that for granted."

His visitor pondered for a moment or two; and then he crumpled the
report in his hand, growing red in the face.

"You seem content with this production.  It looks as if you had meant
to back out."

Herbert looked at him tranquilly.

"Well," he said, "that's my intention now; and I don't think that you
can induce me to alter it.  I can't see that we would be justified in
floating the concern."

"But it was you who suggested it and led us on!  What about the money
we have already spent?"

"It's gone.  I'm sorry, but things don't always turn out right.  When I
first mentioned the matter, the prospects looked good; investigation
places them in a less favorable light, for which you can hardly hold me
responsible.  You took a business risk."

The other man angrily flung the report on the table.

"This has been a blow to me, and I'm far from appreciating the course
you've taken.  But what about the older concern?  Though we don't seem
to have turned out much rubber yet, I suppose its position is still
satisfactory?"

Herbert saw suspicion in the man's face and he rang a bell.

"I think you had better satisfy yourself; I have the necessary
particulars here."

He indicated some books on a neighboring shelf; and then added, when a
clerk appeared:

"Will you bring me the extract of our working expenses that I asked you
to make out?"

The clerk came back with a sheet of figures, which Herbert handed to
his visitor with one of the books, and the man spent some time
carefully examining them.

"Everything looks satisfactory; I've no fault to find," he said at
length.  "But I feel very sore about your giving up the new
undertaking."

"It can't be helped," explained Herbert.  "If it's any comfort to you,
I dropped as much money over preliminary expenses as you did."

After a little further conversation, his visitor left and Herbert
resumed his work.  On the whole, the interview had been less
embarrassing than he expected, and though it was likely that the rest
of his colleagues would call and expostulate, he was ready to meet
them.  His excuse for abandoning the project was, on the face of it, a
good one; but he had no thought of giving these men, who were largely
interested in the original company, a word of warning.  It was
undesirable that they should sell their shares until he had disposed of
his.  They had, he argued, the same opportunities for forecasting the
course of the market and gaging the trend of investors' ideas as he
enjoyed, and if they did not make use of them, it was their fault.  The
stock had reached a satisfactory premium, which was all that he had
promised; he could not be expected to guarantee its remaining at the
high level.

During the next three or four weeks his broker sold out his shares in
small blocks, and when the quantity had been largely reduced, Herbert
decided that he would dispose of those he had purchased on George's
account.  Though there were signs of a diminishing interest in such
stock, values had scarcely begun to fall, and having made his position
secure, he did not wish his cousin to incur a loss.  Accordingly he
sent instructions to sell another lot of shares.

He was very busy the next day when a telegram was brought him, but he
sat still for some minutes considering it.  The market, it stated, had
suddenly fallen flat, and as prices were giving way sharply, further
orders were requested.  The change Herbert had foreseen had come a
little sooner than he had expected.  He still held some shares, which
he had thought of keeping, because it might, after all, prove judicious
to retain a degree of control in the company, and having sold the rest
at a good profit, a moderate fall in their value would be of less
consequence.  The drop, however, was marked, and he decided to further
reduce the quantity standing in his name, instead of realizing those
belonging to his cousin.  George must take his chance; and the market
might rally.  As a result of these reflections he wired his broker to
sell, and in a few hours received an answer.


"_Sale effected within limit given, market since broken badly, expect
slump_."


Herbert saw that he had acted with prudence, though it was evident that
his cousin had incurred a serious loss.  He was sorry for this, but it
could not be helped.

A few days later he was sitting beside the fire at home after his
evening meal when Sylvia entered the room in his wife's absence.  She
stood near the hearth, examining some embroidery in her hand, but she
looked up presently, and it became evident that she had been reading
the papers.

"There seems to be a sharp fall in rubber shares," she said.  "Will it
affect you?"

"No," replied Herbert, "not seriously."

"I suppose that means you must have anticipated the fall and sold
out--unloaded, I think you call it--in time?"

Herbert did not wish to discuss the matter.  He had already had one or
two trying interviews with his business colleagues, and the opinions
they had expressed about him still rankled in his mind.  He was not
particularly sensitive, but the subject was an unpleasant one.

"Something of the kind," he answered.  "One has to take precautions."

Sylvia laughed.

"One could imagine your taking them.  You're not the man to be caught
at a disadvantage, are you?"

"Well," he said dryly, "it's a thing I try to avoid."

Sylvia sat down, as if she meant to continue the conversation, which
was far from what he desired, but he could not be discourteous.

"Had George any shares in your company?" she asked.

There was no way of avoiding a reply, without arousing her suspicions;
Herbert knew that she was keen-witted and persistent.

"Yes," he said, "he had a quantity."

"Have those shares been sold?"

This was a more troublesome question, but Herbert was compelled to
answer.

"No; not yet.  It's unfortunate that the market broke before I could
get rid of them, but it may rally.  I'm rather disturbed about the
matter; but, after all, one has to take one's chance in buying shares.
Dealing in the speculative sorts is to a large extent a game of hazard."

"I suppose so, but then somebody must win."

"No," returned Herbert, "now and then everybody loses."

Sylvia glanced at him with a mocking smile.

"Even those in the inside ring?  When that happens, it must be
something like a catastrophe.  But I'm sorry for George; he doesn't
deserve this."

Herbert could not deny it; but, to his surprise, the girl leaned
forward, speaking in an authoritative tone.

"I don't know what you can do, but you must do something to get George
out of the difficulty.  It's obvious that you led him into it--he isn't
the man to go in for rash speculation; he would have chosen something
safe."

It was a relief to Herbert that his wife came in just then; but, as he
had reason for believing that she would not remain, he decided that he
would go out and post some letters.  Sylvia seemed to be in an
inquisitive mood, and he did not wish to be left alone with her.

The night was fine but dark; in places a thin, low-lying mist that hung
over the meadows obscured the hedgerows, and it grew more dense as
Herbert approached the river, which brawled noisily among the stones.
The man, however, scarcely noticed this; his mind was occupied with
other matters.  Sylvia's attitude had disturbed him.  She was useful as
an ally, but she could not be allowed to criticize his conduct or to
give him orders.  Moreover, he had reasons for believing that investors
in his company might share her views, and he looked for serious trouble
with two or three gentlemen who blamed him for their losses, and had so
far incivilly refused to be pacified by his explanations.

Herbert was of a philosophic disposition, and realized that one must
not expect too much.  Having made a handsome profit, he felt that he
ought to be content, and bear a certain amount of suspicion and
contumely with unruffled good-humor.  For all that, he found it
disagreeable to be looked upon as a trickster, and it was worse when
his disgusted associates used more offensive epithets in his presence.

He was considering how he should deal with them when he entered a
thicker belt of mist.  It shut him in so that he could see nothing
ahead, but there was a strong fence between him and the river, and he
went on, lost in thought, until the mist was suddenly illuminated and a
bright light flashed along the road.  The hoot of a motor-horn broke
out behind him, and, rudely startled, he sprang aside.  He was too
late; somebody cried out in warning, and the next moment he was
conscious of a blow that flung him bodily forward.  He came down with a
crash; something seemed to grind him into the stones; there was a
stabbing pain in his side, and he lost consciousness.

Fortunately, the big car was promptly stopped, and two men sprang down.
An indistinct object lay just behind the forward pair of wheels, and in
anxious haste they dragged it clear and into the glare of the lamps.
Herbert's hat had fallen off; he was scarcely breathing, and his face
was ghastly white; but one of the men recognized him.

"It's Lansing," he exclaimed.  "Seems badly hurt, though I'd nearly
pulled her up when she struck him."

"He was dragged some way; jacket must have caught the starting crank or
something; but that doesn't matter now."  He raised his voice.
"Dreadfully sorry, Mr. Lansing; can you hear me?"

There was no answer, and the man shook his head.

"I'm afraid this is serious."

His companion looked unnerved, but he roused himself with an effort.

"It is, and we're behaving like idiots, wasting time that may be
valuable.  Get hold and lift him in; his house is scarcely a mile away."

They had some difficulty in getting the unconscious man into the car;
and then its owner backed it twice into a bank before he succeeded in
turning round, but in three or four minutes they carried Herbert into
Brantholme, and afterward drove away at top speed in search of
assistance.  It was, however, an hour later when they returned with a
doctor, and he looked grave after he had examined his patient.

"Your husband has two ribs broken," he told Mrs. Lansing.  "In a way,
that's not very serious, but he seems to be prostrated by the shock.
There are a few things that must be done at once; and then we'll have
to keep him as quiet as possible."

It was two hours later when he left the house, promising to return
early the next day with a nurse; and Herbert lay, still and
unconscious, in a dimly lighted room.



CHAPTER XVII

HERBERT IS PATIENT

On the second morning after the accident, Herbert, lying stiffly
swathed in bandages, opened his eyes in a partly darkened room.  A
nurse was standing near a table, and when the injured man painfully
turned his head, the doctor, who had been speaking to her, came toward
him.

"I think we can let you talk a little now," he said.  "How do you feel?"

Herbert's face relaxed into a feeble smile.

"Very far from happy.  I suppose I've been badly knocked about?"

"I've treated more serious cases, and you'll get over it.  But you'll
have to reconcile yourself to lying quiet for a long while."

Herbert made no reply to this, but his expression suggested that he was
trying to think.

"Has the thing got into the papers?" he asked.

The doctor was a little surprised; it seemed a curious point for his
patient to take an interest in, but he was willing to indulge him.

"It's early yet, but one of the _Courier_ people stopped me as I was
driving out and I gave him a few particulars.  You can't hush the
matter up."

"No," said Herbert.  "You did quite right.  Hadn't you better mention
exactly what's the matter with me?"

"If I did, you wouldn't understand it," said the doctor, who generally
adopted a cheerful, half-humorous tone.  "In plain English, you have
two ribs broken, besides a number of contusions, and I'm inclined to
suspect your nervous system has received a nasty shock."

"And the cure?"

"Complete rest, patience, and perhaps a change of scene when you're
able to get about."

"That means I'll have to drop all active interest in my business for
some time?"

"I'm afraid so; by and by we'll consider when you can resume it."

It struck the doctor that Herbert was not displeased with the
information; and that seemed strange, considering that he was a busy,
energetic man.  He lay silent a while with an undisturbed expression.

"I wonder if you would write a telegram and a letter for me?" he asked
at length.

"With pleasure, if you don't think you have talked enough.  Can't you
wait until to-morrow?"

"I'll feel easier when I've got it off my mind."

The doctor thought this likely.  He made a sign of acquiescence and
took out his notebook; and Herbert give him the rubber company's London
address and then dictated:


"_Regret I am incapacitated for business for indefinite period by motor
accident.  If advisable appoint new director in my place before
shareholders' meeting, which cannot attend.  Compelled to remain in
strict quietness_."


"You might send these people a short note," he added, "stating that I'm
submitting to your advice, and giving them a few particulars about my
injuries."

"I'll be glad to do so."

"Then there's only another thing.  I'd like some notice of the accident
put into a leading London paper--it will explain my retirement to
people who would soon begin to wonder why I wasn't at my post."

"It shall be attended to; but I scarcely think Mr. Phillips and his
motoring friend will appreciate the notoriety you will confer on them."

Herbert smiled.

"There's no reason why I should consider Phillips.  If he will drive
furiously in the dark and run over people--this isn't his first
accident--he must take the consequences.  But you can tell him, with my
compliments, that I'll let him off, if he'll be more cautious in
future.  Now I feel that I'd like to rest or go to sleep again."

The doctor went out somewhat puzzled--his patient seemed singularly
resigned to inaction and glad to escape from commercial affairs,
instead of chafing at his misfortune.  After exchanging a few words
with Mrs. Lansing, he met Sylvia in the hall.

"How is he this morning?" she asked.

"Better than I expected, able to take an interest in things.  I was
glad to find him so acquiescent--it isn't usual.  He didn't seem
disturbed when he asked me to write a telegram expressing his
willingness to give up his director's post."

He had not mentioned this matter to Mrs. Lansing.  In several ways
Sylvia struck him as being the more capable woman, though this was not
the impression her appearance had upon the less practised observers.
She looked thoughtful at his news.

"I suppose such a course is necessary," she remarked.

"I believe it's advisable; that is, if there's any likelihood that his
duties will make much demand on him for some time to come."

Sylvia changed the subject.

"Have you any particular instructions?"

"None beyond those I've given the nurse.  Quietness is the great thing;
but it doesn't look as if he'll cause you much trouble."

The prediction was justified.  With the exception of a few complaints
about his physical discomfort, Herbert displayed an exemplary patience
and soon began to improve, for his recovery was assisted by the
tranquil state of his mind.  The accident had happened at a very
opportune time: it furnished an excellent excuse for withdrawing from
an embarrassing situation and it would save his credit, if, as seemed
probable, difficulties shortly threatened the rubber company.  It would
look as if any trouble that might fall upon the concern was the result
of his having been forced to relinquish control, and nobody could
rationally blame him for being run over.

He was lying in a sunny room one afternoon when two gentlemen were
shown in.  One was the caller with whom he had an interview in his
office before the accident.  They inquired about his progress with
rather forced courtesy; and then one of them said:

"We looked in on the doctor who wrote to us about your injury before we
came here, and he told us you were strong enough for a little quiet
conversation.  We haven't appointed another director yet."

"Then you had better do so," Herbert advised.

"You mean to stick to your withdrawal?  You're the only person who can
pull the company out of its difficulties."

"Has it got into any difficulties?" Herbert inquired.  "You see, I've
been compelled to give orders for all correspondence to be dealt with
at the London office, and I'm advised not to read the financial papers
or anything that might have a disturbing effect."

The man who had not yet spoken betrayed some impatience.

"We're up to the eyes in trouble, as you must have guessed.  Have you
asked yourself what the body of the shareholders are likely to think?"

"It's fairly obvious.  They'll consider it a misfortune that I was
knocked over shortly before a critical time; possibly they'll attribute
everything unsatisfactory in the company's affairs to my not being in
charge."

One of the visitors glanced meaningly at his companion.  There was
truth in what Lansing said.  The angry shareholders would not
discriminate carefully; they would blame the present directors, who
would have to face a serious loss while Lansing had made a profit.  It
was a galling situation; and what made it worse was that Lansing's
expression hinted that he found it somewhat humorous.

"The fact that you sold out so soon before the fall will have its
significance," said the first man.  "The thing has a suspicious look."

"I must risk a certain amount of misconception," Herbert replied
languidly.  "I may as well point out that I still hold the shares
required as a director's qualification, which is all it was necessary
for me to do.  Was it your intention to keep the stock you hold
permanently?"

They could not answer him, and he smiled.

"As a matter of fact, we all intended to sell off a good portion as
soon as the premium justified it; the only difference of opinion was
about the point it must reach, and that, of course, was a matter of
temperament.  Well, I was lucky enough to get rid of part of my stock
at a profit; and there was nothing to prevent your doing the same.
Instead of that, you held on until the drop came; it was an imprudence
for which you can't blame me."

"Our complaint is that you foresaw the fall and never said a word."

"Granted.  Why didn't you foresee it?  You had the right of access to
all the information in my hands; you could inspect accounts in the
London office; I suppose you read the financial papers.  It would have
been presumptuous if I'd recommended you to sell, and my forecast might
have proved incorrect.  In that case you would have blamed me for
losing your money."

This was incontestable.  Though they knew he had betrayed them,
Lansing's position was too strong to be assailed.

"You might have mentioned that you contemplated retiring from the
board," one remarked.  "Then we would have known what to expect."

"A little reflection will show the futility of your suggestion.  How
could I contemplate being run over by a motor-car?"

"Well," said the second man in a grim tone, "you can't deny the
accident was in some respects a fortunate one for you."

"I'm doubtful whether you would have appreciated it, in my place.  But
you don't seem to realize that I'm withdrawing from the board because
I'm incapacitated for the duties."

Then the nurse, to whom Herbert had given a hint, came in; and he made
a sign of resignation, quite as though overpowered by regret.

"I'm sorry I'm not allowed to talk very much yet.  Will you have a
cigar and some refreshment before you leave?"

His visitors rose, and one of them turned to him with a curious
expression.

"No, thanks," he said pointedly.  "Considering everything, I don't
think we'll give you the trouble."

With a few conventional words they withdrew, and Herbert smiled at the
nurse.

"I believe Dr. Ballin was most concerned about the injury to my
nerves," he said.  "Have you noticed anything wrong with them?"

"Not lately.  They seem to be in a normal state."

"That," said Herbert, "is my own opinion.  You wouldn't imagine that I
had just finished a rather trying interview?"

"No; you look more amused than upset."

"There was something humorous in the situation; that's often the case
when you see greedy people wasting effort and ingenuity.  Perhaps you
heard my visitors expressing their anxiety about my health, though I've
a suspicion that they felt more like wishing the car had made an end of
me."

The nurse laughed and told him that he had better rest; and Herbert lay
back upon the cushions she arranged, with calm content.

During the evening, Sylvia entered the room, dressed a little more
carefully than usual, and Herbert glanced at her with appreciation.

"You look charming, though that's your normal state," he said.  "Where
are you going?"

"With Muriel, to dine with the Wests; have you forgotten?  But I came
in because Muriel told me you had a letter from George by the last
post."

"So you're still interested in his doings," Herbert rejoined.

"Of course.  Does that surprise you?"

"I was beginning to think there was some risk of your forgetting him,
which, perhaps, wouldn't be altogether unnatural.  He's a long way off,
which has often its effect, and there's no denying the fact that in
many respects you and he are different."

"Doesn't the same thing apply to you and Muriel?  Everybody knows you
get on excellently in spite of it."

Herbert laughed.  He was aware that his friends had wondered why he had
married Muriel, and suspected that some of them believed her money had
tempted him.  Nevertheless, he made her an affectionate as well as a
considerate husband.  In business matters he practised the easy
morality of a hungry beast of prey, but he had his virtues.

"Yes," he said, "that's true.  Do you find it encouraging?"

Sylvia had felt a little angry, though she had known that it was seldom
wise to provoke her host.

Without waiting for her answer he continued, half seriously: "There's
often one person who thinks better of us than we deserve, and I dare
say I'm fortunate in that respect.  In such a case, one feels it an
obligation not to abuse that person's confidence."

A slight flush crept into Sylvia's face.  George believed in her and
she was very shabbily rewarding his trust.

"I'm surprised to hear you moralizing.  It's not a habit of yours," she
remarked.

"No," said Herbert, pointedly; "though it may now and then make one
feel a little uncomfortable, it seldom does much good.  But we were
talking about George.  He tells me that winter's beginning unusually
soon; they've had what he calls a severe cold snap and the prairie's
deep with snow.  He bought some more stock and young horses as an
offset to the bad harvest, and he's doubtful whether he has put up hay
enough.  West and he are busy hauling stove-wood home from a bluff; and
he has had a little trouble with some shady characters as a result of
his taking part in a temperance campaign.  I think that's all he has to
say."

Sylvia broke into half-incredulous merriment.

"It's hard to imagine George as a temperance reformer.  Think of him,
making speeches!"

"Speeches aren't much in George's line," Herbert admitted.  "Still, in
one way, I wasn't greatly astonished at the news.  He's just the man to
be drawn into difficulties he might avoid, provided that somebody could
convince him the thing needed doing."

"Then you think he has been convinced?"

"I can hardly imagine George's setting out on a work of the kind he
mentioned without some persuasion," said Herbert with a smile.  "The
subject's not one he ever took much interest in, and he's by no means
original."

Sylvia agreed with him, but she was silent a few moments, reclining in
an easy chair before the cheerful fire, while she glanced round the
room.  It was comfortably furnished, warm, and brightly lighted; a
strong contrast to the lonely Canadian homestead to which her thoughts
wandered.  She could recall the unpolished stove, filling the place
with its curious, unpleasant smell, and the icy draughts that eddied
about it.  She could imagine the swish of driving snow about the
quivering wooden building when the dreaded blizzards raged; the
strange, oppressive silence when the prairie lay still in the grip of
the Arctic frost; and George coming in with half-frozen limbs and
snow-dust on his furs, to spend the dreary evening in trying to keep
warm.  The picture her memory painted was vivid and it had a disturbing
effect.  It was in her service that the man was toiling in western
Canada.

"Well," she said, rising with some abruptness, "it's time we got off.
I'd better see if Muriel is ready."



CHAPTER XVIII

BLAND MAKES A SACRIFICE

Sylvia was sitting by the hearth in Ethel West's drawing-room, her
neatly shod feet on the fender, her low chair on the fleecy rug, and
she made a very dainty and attractive picture.  She felt the cold and
hated discomfort of any kind, though it was characteristic of her that
she generally succeeded in avoiding it.  Ethel sat near by, watching
her with calmly curious eyes, for Sylvia was looking pensive.  Mrs.
Lansing was talking to Stephen West on the opposite side of the large
room.

"How is Edgar getting on?" Sylvia asked.  "I suppose you hear from him
now and then."

Ethel guessed where the question led and responded with blunt
directness.

"Doesn't George write to you?"

"Not often.  Herbert has just got a letter, but there was very little
information in it; George is not a brilliant correspondent.  I thought
Edgar might have written by the same mail."

"As it happens, he did," said Ethel.  "He describes the cold as fierce,
and gives some interesting details of his sensations when the warmth
first comes back to his half-frozen hands or limbs; then he adds a
vivid account of a blizzard that George and he nearly got lost in."

"Things of that kind make an impression on a new-comer," Sylvia
languidly remarked.  "One gets used to them after a while.  Did he say
anything else?"

"There was an enthusiastic description of a girl he has met; he
declares she's a paragon.  This, of course, is nothing new, but it's a
little astonishing that he doesn't seem to contemplate making love to
her in his usual haphazard manner.  She seems to have inspired him with
genuine respect."

"I can't think of any girl who's likely to do so."

"He gives her name--Flora Grant."

Sylvia betrayed some interest.

"I knew her--I suppose she is a little less impossible than the rest.
But go on."

"One gathers that George is having an anxious time; Edgar goes into
some obscure details about crops and cattle-raising.  Then he hints at
some exciting adventures they have had as a result of supporting a body
that's trying to close the hotels."

This was what Sylvia had been leading up to.  She agreed with Herbert
that it was most unlikely George would take any part in such
proceedings without some prompting, and she was curious to learn who
had influenced him.

"There was a word or two in Herbert's letter to the same effect," she
said.  "The thing strikes one as amusing.  George, of course, does not
explain why he joined these people."

A smile of rather malicious satisfaction crept into Ethel's eyes.
"According to Edgar, it was because his neighbors, the Grants, urged
it.  The father of the girl he mentioned seems to be a leader in the
movement."

Sylvia carefully suppressed any sign of the annoyance she felt.  It
was, of course, impossible that George should be seriously attracted by
Flora, but his action implied that he and the Grants must be good
friends.  No doubt, he met the girl every now and then, and they had
much in common.  Sylvia did not mean to marry George; but it was
pleasant to feel that she could count on his devotion, and she resented
the idea of his falling under the influence of anybody else.  She had
never thought of Flora as dangerous--George was so steadfast--but she
now realized that there might, perhaps, be some slight risk.  A girl
situated as Flora was would, no doubt, make the most of her
opportunities.  Sylvia grew somewhat angry; she felt she was being
badly treated.

"After all," she said calmly, "I suppose there's no reason why George
shouldn't set up as a reformer if it pleases him.  It must, however, be
rather a novelty for your brother."

Ethel laughed.

"I believe it's the excitement that has tempted him, Still, if George
is taking any active part in the matter, Edgar will probably find it
more than a light diversion."  Then she changed the subject.  "Did I
tell you that we expect Captain Bland to-night?"

Sylvia started slightly.  She was aware that Ethel took what could best
be described as an unsympathetic interest in her affairs, but the
sudden reference to Bland threw her off her guard.

"No," she said.  "Though you have met him, I didn't think you knew him
well."

"I believe it's chiefly a business visit.  Stephen, you know, has some
reputation as a commercial lawyer, and Bland couldn't arrange to see
him in town.  Anyway, he should be here soon."

Bland arrived half an hour later, but was unable to do more than shake
hands with Sylvia before West took him away to another room.  It was
some time before they returned; and then West kept the party engaged in
general conversation until it broke up.

"I'll walk down the road with you," he said to Mrs. Lansing, and
afterward turned to Bland.  "How are you going to get back?"

Bland said that the man who had driven him from the station was waiting
in the neighboring village, and when they left the house he walked on
with Sylvia, leaving Mrs. Lansing and West to follow.  It was a clear
night, with a chill of frost in the air.  A bright half-moon hung above
the shadowy hills, and the higher boughs of the bare trees cut in sharp
tracery against the sky.  Dead leaves lay thick upon the road and here
and there a belt of mist trailed across a meadow.  Sylvia, however, did
not respond when her companion said something about the charm of the
walk.

"Why didn't you send me word you were coming?" she asked.

"I didn't know until this morning, when I got a note from West, and I
must be back in time for tomorrow's parade.  Besides, you told me at
the junction that I was not to be allowed to meet you again for some
time."

Sylvia smiled at him.

"Haven't you found out that you needn't take everything I say too
literally?"

Bland stopped, pressing the hand on his arm.

"Does that apply to all you said on the evening when we sat outside the
inn?"

"No," answered Sylvia firmly.  "It does not; please understand that.  I
must stick to what I told you then."  She paused, and they heard the
soft fall of approaching feet before she resumed with a laugh: "Go on,
if you don't want the others to think we are waiting for them."

Bland obeyed, a little soothed, though he saw she was not yet ready to
allow a renewal of his pleading.  Sylvia had obviously meant that she
wished to be left alone with him.

"Why did you call on Stephen West?" she asked, presently.

"I'd meant to tell you.  But, first of all, is Lansing still connected
with the rubber company?  West didn't seem very well informed upon the
point."

"Neither am I," replied Sylvia thoughtfully.  "I only know he hasn't
the large interest in it that he had."

"Then I'll have to explain, because I don't know what to do.  Lansing
gave me a tip to buy some shares, and when some friends said I'd got a
good thing, I went to him again.  I must say he was pretty guarded, but
I got a hint and acted on it, with the result that I have dropped a
good deal of money.  This," he added deprecatingly, "is not the kind of
thing I should talk to you about, but I was told that Lansing couldn't
receive any callers, and you'll see why you should know."

"I'm beginning to understand."

"Well," said Bland, "shortly after Lansing's accident, I wrote to the
secretary, asking some questions, and he doesn't seem to have been
cautious enough in his answer--I have it here.  There has been trouble
about the company, and I attended a meeting of some disgusted people
who had put their money into it.  They think they might get part of it
back by attacking the promoters, and I'm told that my letter would help
them materially."

"Do you want to help them?"

"In a way, it's natural," said Bland with signs of warmth.  "I don't
see why those fellows should be allowed to get off after tricking
people out of the money they've painfully earned."

"How much money have you ever earned?"

Bland laughed.

"You have me there; I haven't been able to buy shares out of my pay.
But I made a pot by taking long chances when I backed an outside horse.
It comes to much the same thing."

"I don't think it does," said Sylvia, with a smile.  "But it strikes me
that your explanation isn't quite complete."

"I went to West, instead of to another lawyer, because I thought he
would be acquainted with Lansing's present position; but, while he
agreed that the letter might be valuable to the objectors, he couldn't
help me.  The end of it is that I don't want to do anything that might
hurt Lansing."

Sylvia reflected.  She hardly thought his loss would seriously
embarrass Bland; she owed Herbert something and might need his aid, and
she did not wish any discredit to be cast upon a connection of hers.

"Well," she said, "I believe Herbert is still to some extent connected
with the company; he can hardly have withdrawn altogether.  Anyway, he
had a large interest in it, and I think its management was in his
hands.  He might suffer, so to speak, retrospectively."

"Yes," said Bland, "that didn't strike me.  You're right; there's only
one course open."  He took a paper from his pocket and handed it to
her.  "Give that to Lansing, and tell him he may do what he thinks fit
with it."

"You're very generous," said Sylvia, coloring as she took the letter.

"I'm afraid I've behaved badly in not keeping the thing from you; but
you see how I was situated, and you'll have to forgive me."

"That isn't difficult," Sylvia told him.

They walked on in silence for a while; and then Bland looked around at
her.

"There's a thing I must mention.  I've had a hint to ask for a certain
post abroad.  It is not a very desirable one in some respects, but the
pay's pretty good, and it would bring the man who took it under the
notice of people who arrange the better Government appointments.  I
should have to stay out at least two years."

Sylvia was startled, and annoyed.  Now that the man owned her sway, she
did not mean to accede to his wishes too readily.  Some obscure reason
made her shrink from definitely binding herself to him, but his
intimation had forced on something of the nature of a crisis.

"Do you wish to go?" she asked.

"No," he said hotly; "you know that."

"Then," said Sylvia softly, "I think you had better stay at home."

He stopped again and faced her.

"You must tell me what you mean!"

"It ought to be clear," she murmured, "Don't you think I should miss
you?"

With restrained quietness he laid his hand on her shoulder.

"You must listen for a minute, Sylvia.  Up to the present, I've been
passed over by the authorities; but now I've been given my chance.  If
I can hammer the raw native levies into shape and keep order along a
disturbed frontier, it will lead to something better.  Now, I'm neither
a military genius nor altogether a careless idler--I believe I can do
this work; but, coming rather late, it has less attraction for me.
Well, I would let the chance slip, for one reason only; but if I'm to
go on continually repressing myself and only allowed to see you at long
intervals, I might as well go away.  You must clearly understand on
what terms I remain."

She made a little appealing gesture.

"Yes," she said; "but you must wait and not press me too hard.  I am so
fenced in by conventions; so many people's susceptibilities have to be
considered.  I haven't a girl's liberty."

Bland supposed this was as far as she ventured in allusion to her
widowed state; but, stirred as he was by her implied submission, it
struck him as significant that she should so clearly recognize the
restrictions conventionality imposed on her.

"I think," he returned, "the two people who deserve most consideration
are you and myself."

"Ah!" said Sylvia, "you deserve it most.  You have been very
forbearing; you have done all I asked.  That is why I know you will
bear with a little delay, when it's needful."

He made a sign of reluctant assent; and then, to his annoyance, two
figures emerged from the shadow of the trees not far away.  There was
nothing to do except to move on, but he thrilled at the slight,
grateful pressure of Sylvia's hand upon his arm.

"My dear," he said, "I wish most devoutly that West or Mrs. Lansing had
been lame."

Sylvia broke into a ripple of laughter, which somehow seemed to draw
them closer.  At Herbert's gate they separated, and Bland walked on in
an exultant mood which was broken by fits of thoughtfulness.  Sylvia
had tacitly pledged herself to him, but he was still her unacknowledged
lover and the position was irksome.  Then he remembered her
collectedness, which had been rather marked, but he had learned that
emotion is more frequently concealed than forcibly expressed.
Moreover, he had never imagined that Sylvia was wholly free from
faults; he suspected that there was a vein of calculating coldness in
her, though it caused him no concern.  Bland was a man of experience
who had acquired a good-humored toleration with the knowledge that one
must not expect too much from human nature.

While Bland was being driven to the station, Sylvia entered the room
where Herbert lay, and handed him the letter.

"Captain Bland came in during the evening to see Stephen and sent you
this," she said.  "He told me you were to do what you thought fit with
it."

Herbert perused the letter, and then reaching out with some difficulty,
flung it into the fire.

"I've taken him at his word," he said.  "Have you read the thing?"

"No; I fear the details would have puzzled me; but I understand its
general import.  How was it your secretary was so careless?"

Herbert smiled.

"The man's smart enough, as a rule; but we all have our weak moments.
This, however, is not the kind of thing that's likely to lead to his
advancement."  He lay quiet for a moment or two; and then went on: "I'm
grateful to you.  Had you much trouble in persuading Bland to let you
have the letter?"

"No; he offered it voluntarily."

"Then the man must have been desperately anxious to please you.  It
looks as if his condition were getting serious."

"I resent coarseness," exclaimed Sylvia.

Herbert laughed.

"Oh," he said, "you and I can face the truth.  As West's a lawyer,
Bland's visit to him is, of course, significant; the man knew that
letter might have been worth something in hard cash to him, as well as
affording him the satisfaction of making things hot for the directors
of the company, among whom I was included.  He would hardly have parted
with it unless he had a strong inducement."

"His motives don't concern you," retorted Sylvia.

"You ought to appreciate his action."

"I appreciate it as sincerely as I do yours, because you must have
shown that you didn't want him to use the letter, though I'm inclined
to think your motives were rather mixed; one could scarcely expect them
all to be purely benevolent."

Sylvia smiled.  He was keen-witted and she found something amusing in
the ironical good-humor which often characterized him.

"Anyhow," he continued, "you're a staunch and capable ally, and as that
gives you a claim on me, you won't find me reluctant to do my part
whenever the time comes."

Then Mrs. Lansing came in, and on the whole Sylvia was glad of the
interruption.  Herbert's remarks were now and then unpleasantly
suggestive.  He had called her his ally, but she felt more like his
accomplice, which was much less flattering.



CHAPTER XIX

AN OPPOSITION MOVE

It was a wet and chilly night, and Singleton sat in an easy chair
beside the hearth in his city quarters with an old pipe in his hand.
The room was shabbily furnished, the hearthrug had a hole in it, the
carpet was threadbare, and Singleton's attire harmonized with his
surroundings, though the box of cigars and one or two bottles and
siphons on the table suggested that he expected visitors.  The loose
Tuxedo jacket he had bought in America was marked by discolored
patches; his carpet slippers were dilapidated.  His means, though long
restricted, would have warranted better accommodations; but his clothes
were comfortable and he did not think it worth while to put on anything
smarter.  There was a vein of rather bitter pride in the man, and he
would not, out of deference to any other person's views, alter
conditions that suited him.

A notebook lay beside him and several bulky treatises on botany were
scattered about, but he had ceased work and was thinking.  After the
shadow and silence of the tropical bush, to which he was most
accustomed, the rattle of the traffic in the wet street below was
stimulating; but his reflections were not pleasant.  He had waited
patiently for another invitation to Lansing's house, which had not
arrived, and a day or two ago he had met Sylvia Marston, upon whom his
mind had steadily dwelt, in a busy street.  She had bowed to him
courteously, but she had made it clear that she did not expect him to
stop and speak.  It had been a bitter moment to Singleton, but he had
calmly faced the truth.  He had served his purpose, and he had been
dropped.  Now, however, a letter from one of the people he was
expecting indicated that he might again be drawn into the
rubber-exploiting scheme.

The two gentlemen who had called on Herbert were shown in presently.

"It was I who wrote you," the first of them said; "this is my
colleague, Mr. Nevis."

Singleton bowed.

"Will you take that chair, Mr. Jackson?"  He turned to the other man.
"I think you had better have this one; it's comparatively sound."

He was aware that they were looking about his apartment curiously, and
no doubt inferring something from its condition; but this was of no
consequence.  He had learned his value and meant to insist on it,
without the assistance of any signs of prosperity.

"I couldn't get up to town, as you suggested," he resumed when they
were seated.  "I've been rather busy of late."

"That's generally the case with us," Jackson said pointedly.

He was a thin man, very neatly and quietly dressed, with a solemn face
and an air of importance.  Nevis was stouter and more florid, with a
brisker manner, but the stamp of the city was plainly set on both.

"Well," said Singleton, "I'm at your service, now you're here.  The
cigars are nearest you, Mr. Nevis, and I can recommend the contents of
the smaller bottle.  It's a Southern speciality and rather difficult to
get in England."

Nevis hesitated.  He thought it better that the interview should be
conducted on strictly business lines, while to accept the proffered
hospitality would tend to place him and the man he wished to deal with
on a footing of social equality.  But it was desirable not to offend
Singleton, and he lighted a cigar.

"To begin with, I must ask if you are still in any way connected with
Mr. Lansing?" he said.

"No," answered Singleton with some grimness.  "You can take it for
granted that he has done with me."

"That clears the ground.  We have been considering the report you wrote
for him.  In our opinion, it was, while not encouraging, hardly
sufficient to warrant his abandoning the project, in which, as you have
been told, we were associated with him."

"He may have had other motives," Singleton suggested.

Nevis nodded gravely, as if in appreciation of his keenness.

"That," he said, "is what occurred to us.  But what is your idea of the
scheme?"

"It's clearly stated in the report."

Jackson made a sign of impatience.

"We'll leave the report out and come to the point.  Can the rubber,
which you say is really to be found, be collected and brought down to
the coast without incurring a prohibitive expense?"

"Yes," said Singleton.  "But you must understand me.  The methods
generally adopted in such cases would be bound to fail.  You would
require an overseer with rather exceptional technical knowledge, who
must, besides this, be quite free from the usual prejudices on the
native question.  They would, no doubt, be a little difficult to avoid,
since at first he would have to put up with a few attempts upon his
life; but, if he could combine resolution and strict justice with a
conciliatory attitude, the attempt would cease, and I think he could
earn you a fair return on a moderate outlay."

Jackson laughed.

"So far as my experience goes, such men are scarce.  But I'd better say
that we had you in mind when we made this visit.  Do you think you
could do anything, if we sent you out?"

"Yes," said Singleton quietly; "I believe I could make the venture pay.
Whether I'd think it worth while is another matter."

"Then," Nevis interposed, "it's simply a question of terms?"

"Oh, no.  You may be surprised to hear that payment is not the first
consideration; though it's true.  I'm interested in certain
investigations which can be carried out only in the tropics.  However,
you'd better make your offer."

Nevis did so, and Singleton pondered for a few moments.

"The remuneration might suffice, provided that I was given a percentage
on the product and one or two special allowances; but before going any
farther I must understand your intentions.  I'm a botanist, and have no
wish to be made use of merely for the purpose of furthering some
stock-jobbing scheme.  Do you really want this venture put upon a
satisfactory working footing?"

"I'll explain," said Nevis.  "The fact is, Lansing let us in rather
badly.  We spent a good deal of money over this concession, and we're
anxious to get it back.  Since we can't float the thing on the market
at present, we have formed a small private syndicate to develop the
property, though we may sell out in a year or two if you can make the
undertaking commercially successful.  I think you could count on the
purchasers' continuing operations."

"Have you considered what Lansing's attitude may be?"

"It won't matter.  He has gone out of the business, convinced that the
thing's no good; he cleared off most of his rubber shares, for a
similar reason.  This raises another point--the original company's
possessions lie in the same region, though ruled by another state, and
things are going badly there.  If you could get across and see what
could be done, we would pay an extra fee."

Singleton lighted a cigar and leaned back in his chair with a
thoughtful expression, and for a minute or two they left him alone.
They were keen business men, but they knew that their usual methods
would not serve them with this shabbily-dressed, self-possessed
botanist.

"Well," he said at length, "your suggestion rather appeals to me, but
there's the difficulty that another matter claims my attention.  Though
it isn't strictly in my line, I've been asked to go out to Canada and
assist in the production of a variety of wheat that will ripen quickly;
in fact, I was looking up some information bearing on the matter when
you came in.  It's a remarkably interesting subject."

They were clever enough to see that this was not an attempt to enhance
the value of his services; the man was obviously a botanical
enthusiast, and Nevis showed signs of attention.  He had once or twice
thought that something might be made out of Canadian land companies.

"One could imagine that," he said.  "I understand that it's a matter of
high importance."

"The development of the whole northern portion of the prairie country
depends on the success of the experiments that are being made,"
Singleton went on.  "Their summers are hot but short; if they can get a
grain that ripens early, they can cultivate vast stretches of land that
are now, from economic reasons, uninhabitable, and it would make
farming a more prosperous business in other tracts.  Crops growing in
the favored parts are occasionally frozen.  It's a coincidence that a
day or two ago I got a letter inquiring about that kind of wheat from a
friend in Canada who is, as it happens, farming with a cousin of
Lansing's."  Then he laughed.  "All this, however, has nothing to do
with the object of your visit.  Give me a few more minutes to think it
over."

There was silence except for the rattle of wheels outside while he
smoked half a cigar; then he turned to his companions.

"I'll go out and undertake your work.  I believe you're acting wisely,
and that Lansing will be sorry after a while that he threw away his
interest in the scheme."

They discussed the details of the project and then the business men
went away, satisfied.  Shortly afterward Singleton took a letter out of
a paper rack, and when he had read it he leaned back in his chair, lost
in pleasant recollections.  Some years earlier, he had by chance fallen
in with a lad named West when fishing among the Scottish hills.  The
young man's sister and elder brother were staying with him at the
remote hotel in which Singleton had quarters, and somewhat to his
astonishment they soon made friends with him.

Poverty had made him reserved; he knew that he was a little awkward and
unpolished, but the Wests had not attempted to patronize him.  Their
cordiality set him at his ease; he liked the careless, good-humored
lad; Ethel West, grave-eyed, direct, and candid, made a strong
impression, and he had been drawn to the quiet lawyer who was much
older than either.  They spent delightful days together on the lake and
among the hills; Singleton told them something about his studies and
ambitions, and in the evenings they persuaded him to sing.  Ethel was a
musician and Singleton sang well.  On leaving they had invited him to
visit them; but, partly from diffidence, Singleton had not gone, though
he knew these were not the people who took a man up when he could be of
service and afterward dropped him.

Now he had received a letter from Edgar West, saying that he was
farming in western Canada and inquiring if Singleton could tell him
anything about the drought-resisting and quick-ripening properties of
certain varieties of wheat.  The botanist was glad to place his
knowledge at his friend's disposal, and, taking up pen and paper, he
spent an hour on a treatise on the subject, which was to save Lansing
expense and trouble, and bring Singleton further communications from
Edgar.  Then he smoked another pipe and went to bed; and a fortnight
later he sailed for the tropics.

Shortly after he had gone, Herbert heard of his departure, and the
letter containing the news arrived on a cheerless afternoon during
which his doctor had visited him.  After the doctor left, Herbert
entered the room where his wife and Sylvia were, and took his place in
an easy chair by a window.  Outside, the lawn was covered with
half-melted snow and the trees raised naked, dripping branches above
the drooping shrubs.  Farther back the hedgerows ran somberly across
the white fields, and in the distance the hills loomed, desolate and
gray, against a leaden sky.

"Ballin says I'd better take it easy for some time yet," Herbert
informed his wife.  "In fact, he recommends a trip abroad; Algiers or
Egypt, for preference."  He indicated the dreary prospect outside the
window.  "Though he didn't actually insist on my going, the idea's
attractive."

"Could you leave your business?" Mrs. Lansing inquired.

Herbert smiled.

"Yes; I think so.  I was doing pretty well when I got run over, and
things have since slackened down.  My manager can look after them while
I am away."

This was correct, so far as it went; but he had another reason for
deciding not to resume operations for a while.  He suspected that his
recent conduct had excited distrust and indignation in certain
quarters, but this would, no doubt, blow over before his return.
People forgot, and he could avoid those whose confidence in him had
proved expensive,

"If that's the case, we may as well get off as soon as it can be
arranged," said Mrs. Lansing.  She turned to Sylvia.  "Of course, you
will come with us."

Sylvia hesitated.  She believed her influence over Bland would not
weaken much in her absence; but, after all, it was wiser to run no
risk.  Moreover, she would, to some extent, feel her separation from
the man.

"I really don't know what I ought to do," she answered.  "I might be a
restraint upon you--you can't want me always at hand; and I could spend
a month or two with Dorothy.  She has several times told me to come."

"You would be better with us," Mrs. Lansing rejoined with firmness; and
Sylvia suspected her of a wish to prevent her enjoying Bland's society.

"I'll think it over," she said.

After they had discussed the projected journey, Mrs. Lansing withdrew
on some domestic errand, and Herbert turned to Sylvia.

"I needn't point out that you'll be no trouble to us, but perhaps I'd
better mention that I had a letter from George this post.  As there's
very little to be done until the spring, he thinks of coming over.  I
don't know how far that may affect your decision."

Sylvia was a little startled, but she reflected rapidly.  The house of
the relative she had thought of visiting would be open to George, as
would be one or two others in which she might stay a while.  It was
most undesirable that he should encounter Bland, which would be likely
to happen.  Then it struck her that Herbert might derive as little
satisfaction from his cousin's visit as it would afford her.

"Have you succeeded in selling George's shares yet?" she asked, and
though this was, on the face of it, an abrupt change of subject, she
thought Herbert would follow the sequence of ideas.

"No," he answered, with a smile of comprehension.  "It was too late
when I was able to attend to things; they have dropped to such a price
that I'll have to keep them.  I'm afraid it will be a blow to George,
and he's having trouble enough already with your farm; but, luckily,
some other shares I bought on his account show signs of a marked
improvement before long."

Sylvia inferred from this that he had not informed his cousin of the
state of his affairs, and did not wish to see him until the improvement
mentioned, or some other favorable development, should mitigate the
shock of discovering what use Herbert had made of his powers.  It was
clear that it rested with her to decide whether George made the visit
or not, because if she went to Egypt he would remain in Canada.  But
she was not quite ready to give her companion an answer.

"Did I tell you that I met Singleton a little while ago?" she said.  "I
think he wished to speak, but I merely bowed.  I was in a hurry, for
one thing."

"It's the first I've heard of it, but you did quite right.  Since he
was here, one or two of the other directors who tried to give me some
trouble have got hold of him.  They have sent him out to see what can
be done with the rubber property."

"Was that worth while?"

"I shouldn't think so.  It strikes me they're wasting their money."

This was Herbert's firm belief, but his judgment while generally
accurate, had, in this instance, proved defective.  He had failed
properly to estimate Singleton's capabilities.  It was, however,
obvious to Sylvia that he had had no part in the undertaking, and had
abandoned his rubber schemes, which implied that George's loss would be
serious.  There was no doubt that it would suit both Herbert and
herself better if George did not come back too soon.

"Well," she said, "that is not a matter of any consequence to me.
After all, I think I'll go south with you and Muriel."

Herbert had foreseen this decision.

"It's the most suitable arrangement," he responded.  "When I write,
I'll mention it to George."

Sylvia went out a little later with a sense of guilt; she felt that in
removing the strongest inducement for George's visit she had betrayed
him.  She was sorry for George, but she could not allow any
consideration for him to interfere with her ambitions.  Then she
resolutely drove these thoughts away.  The matter could be looked at in
a more pleasant light, and there were several good reasons for the
course she had adopted.

Entering the library, she carefully wrote a little note to Captain
Bland, and then went in search of Mrs. Lansing.

"I think I'll go over to Susan's for the week-end," she announced.  "I
promised her another visit, and now I can explain that I'm going away
with you."

Mrs. Lansing made no objection, and three or four days afterward Sylvia
met Bland at Mrs. Kettering's house.  He arrived after her, and as
there were other guests, she had to wait a little while before she
could get a word with him alone.  She was standing in the big hall,
which was unoccupied, rather late in the evening, when he came toward
her.

"I thought I should never escape from Kettering; but he's safe for a
while, talking guns in the smoking-room," he said.

Sylvia thought that they would be safe from interruption for a few
minutes, which would serve her purpose.

"So you have managed to get here," she said.

"Had you any doubt of my succeeding?" Bland asked reproachfully.
"Kettering once gave me a standing invitation, and, as it happens,
there's a famous horse dealer in this neighborhood with whom I've had
some business.  That and the few Sunday trains formed a good excuse.
I, however, don't mind in the least if Mrs. Kettering attaches any
significance to the visit."

Sylvia did not wish to arouse the suspicions of her hostess, but she
smiled.

"I expected you, and I'm glad you came," she said.

"That's very nice to hear."

"Don't take too much for granted.  Still, I thought I'd like to see
you, because I'm going to Egypt with Muriel for some time.  Indeed, I
shall not be back until the spring."

The man displayed dismayed surprise, and Sylvia waited for his answer
with some eagerness.  She did not wish to enter into a formal
engagement--it was a little too early to make an announcement yet--but
she thought it wise to bind him in some degree before she left.

"Until the spring?" he broke out.  "You expect me to let you go?"

"You must," said Sylvia firmly, and added in a softer voice, "I'm
rather sorry."

He saw that he could not shake her decision.

"Then we must have a clear understanding," he rejoined hotly.  "You
know I want you--when is this waiting to end?  Tell me now, and let me
tell all who care to hear, that you belong to me."

Sylvia made a gesture of protest and coquettishly looked down.

"You must still have patience," she murmured; "the time will soon pass."

"And then?" he asked with eagerness.

She glanced up at him shyly.

"If you will ask me again when I come back, I will give you your
answer."

She left him no reason for doubting what that answer would be; and,
stretching out his arms, he drew her strongly to him.  In a minute or
two, however, Sylvia insisted on his returning to his host, and soon
afterward Mrs. Kettering came in to look for her.



CHAPTER XX

A BLIZZARD

A bitter wind searched the poplar bluff where George and his hired man,
Grierson, were cutting fuel.  Except in the river valleys, trees of any
size are scarce on the prairie, but the slender trunks and leafless
branches were closely massed and afforded a little shelter.  Outside on
the open waste, the cold was almost too severe to face, and George once
or twice glanced anxiously across the snowy levels, looking for some
sign of Edgar, who should have joined them with the team and sledge.
It was, however, difficult to see far, because a gray dimness narrowed
in the horizon.  George stood, dressed in snow-flecked furs, in the
center of a little clearing strewn with rows of fallen trunks from
which he was hewing off the branches.  The work was hard; his whole
body strained with each stroke of the heavy ax, but it failed to keep
him warm, and the wind was growing more bitter with the approach of
night.

"I don't know what can be keeping West," he said after a while.  "We
haven't seen the mail-carrier either, and he's two hours late; but he
must have had a heavy trail all the way from the settlement.  I expect
he'll cut out our place and make straight for Grant's.  We'll have snow
before long."

There was an empty shack not far away where, by George's consent, the
mail-carrier left letters when bad weather made it desirable to shorten
his round.

Grierson nodded as he glanced about.  The stretch of desolate white
prairie had contracted since he had last noticed it, the surrounding
dimness was creeping nearer in, and the ranks of poplar trunks were
losing their sharpness of form.  Now that the men had ceased chopping,
they could hear the eerie moaning of the wind and the sharp patter of
icy snow-dust among the withered brush.

"It will take him all his time to fetch Grant's; I wish Mr. West would
come before it gets dark," Grierson said with a shiver, and fell to
work again.

Several minutes passed.  George was thinking more about the
mail-carrier's movements than about Edgar's.  The English letters
should have arrived, and he was anxiously wondering if there were any
for him.  Then, as he stopped for breath, a dim moving blur grew out of
the prairie, and he flung down his ax.

"Here's West; we'll have light enough to put up the load," he said.

A little later Edgar led two powerful horses up the narrow trail, and
for a while the men worked hard, stacking the logs upon the sledge.
Then they set off at the best pace the team could make, and the cold
struck through them when they left the bluff.

"Stinging, isn't it?" Edgar remarked.  "I couldn't get over earlier;
Flett turned up, half frozen, and he kept me.  Seems to have some
business in this neighborhood, though he didn't say what it is."

George, walking through the snow to leeward of the loaded sledge, where
it was a little warmer, betrayed no interest in the news.  Temperance
reform was languishing at Sage Butte and its leaders had received a
severe rebuff from the authorities.  The police, who had arrested an
Indian suspected of conveying liquor to the reservation, had been no
more successful, for the man had been promptly acquitted.  They had
afterward been kept busy investigating the matter of the shooting of
George's bull, which had recovered; but they had found no clue to the
offender, and nothing of importance had happened for some time.

It had grown dark and the wind was rapidly increasing.  Powdery snow
drove along before it, obscuring the men's sight and lashing their
tingling faces.  At times the icy white haze whirled about them so
thick that they could scarcely see the blurred dark shape of the
sledge, but as they had hauled a good many loads of stovewood home, the
trail was plainly marked.  It would be difficult to lose it unless deep
snow fell.  With lowered heads and fur caps pulled well down, they
plodded on, until at length George stopped where the shadowy mass of a
bluff loomed up close in front of them.

"I'll leave you here and make for the shack," he said.  "I want to see
if there are any letters."

"It's far too risky," Edgar pointed out.  "You'll get lost as soon as
you leave the beaten trail."

"I'll have the bluff for a guide, and it isn't far from the end of it
to the small ravine.  After that I shouldn't have much trouble in
striking the fallow."

"It's doubtful," Edgar persisted.  "Let the letters wait until
to-morrow."

"No," said George, resolutely.  "I've waited a week already; the mail
is late.  Besides, we'll have worse snow before morning."

Seeing that he had made up his mind, Edgar raised no more objections,
and in another few moments George disappeared into a haze of driving
snow.  When he left the trail he found walking more difficult than he
had expected, but though it was hard to see beyond a few yards, he had
the bluff to guide him and he kept along the edge of it until the trees
vanished suddenly.  Then he stopped, buffeted by the wind, to gather
breath and fix clearly in his mind the salient features of the open
space that he must cross.

If he could walk straight for half a mile, he would strike a small
hollow and by following it he would reach a tract of cultivated ground.
This, he thought, should be marked by the absence of the taller clumps
of grass and the short willow scrub which here and there broke through
the snow.  There would then be a stretch of about two hundred acres to
cross before he found the little shack, whose owner had gone away to
work on the railroad during the winter.  He expected to have some
trouble in reaching it, but he must get the letters, and he set off
again, breaking through the snow-crust in places, and trying to
estimate the time he took.

A quarter of an hour passed and, as there was no sign of the ravine, he
began to wonder whether he had deviated much from his chosen line.  In
another few minutes he was getting anxious; and then suddenly he
plunged knee-deep into yielding snow.  It got deeper at the next step
and he knew that he had reached the shallow depression, which had been
almost filled up by the drifts.  He must cross it, and the effort this
entailed left him gasping when he stopped again on the farther side.

It was still possible to retrace his steps, because he could hardly
fail to strike the bluff he had left, but there was no doubt that to go
on would be perilous.  If he missed the shack, he might wander about
the prairie until he sank down, exhausted; and after a day of fatiguing
labor he knew that he could not long face the wind and frost.  There
was, however, every sign of a wild storm brewing; it might be several
days before he could secure the letters if he turned back, and such a
delay was not to be thought of.

He went on, following the ravine where he could trace its course, which
was not always possible, until he decided that he must have reached the
neighborhood of the farm.  There was, however, nothing to indicate that
he had done so.  He could see only a few yards; the snow had all been
smooth and unbroken near the hollow, he could distinguish no difference
between any one part of it and the rest; and he recognized the risk he
took when he turned his back on his last guide and struggled forward
into the waste.

Walking became more difficult, the wind was getting stronger, and there
was no sign of the shack.  Perhaps he had gone too far to the south.
He inclined to the right, but that brought him to nothing that might
serve as a guide; there was only smooth snow and the white haze
whirling round him.  He turned more to the right, growing desperately
afraid, stopped once or twice to ascertain by the way the snow drove
past whether he was wandering from his course, and plodded on again
savagely.  At last something began to crackle beneath his feet.
Stooping down, he saw that it was stubble, and he became sensible of a
vast relief.  He could not be more than a few minutes walk from the
shack.

It was only three or four yards off when he saw it, and on entering he
had difficulty in closing the rickety door.  Then, when he had taken
off his heavy mittens, it cost him some trouble to find and strike a
match with his half-frozen hands.  Holding up the light, he glanced
eagerly at a shelf and saw the two letters he had expected; there was
no mistaking the writing and the English stamps.  He thrust them safely
into a pocket beneath his furs when the match went out and struck
another, for his next step required consideration.

The feeble radiance traveled round the little room, showing the rent,
board walls and the beams rough from the saw that supported the cedar
roofing shingles.  A little snow had sifted in and lay on the floor;
there was a rusty stove at one end, but no lamp or fuel, and the hay
and blankets had been removed from the wooden bunk.  Still, as George
was warmly clad and had space to move about, he could pass the night
there.  The roar of the wind about the frail building rendered the
prospects of the return journey strongly discouraging.  He might,
however, be detained all the next day by the snow; but what chiefly
urged him to face the risk of starting for the homestead was his
inability to read his letters.  The sight of them had sent a thrill
through him, which had banished all sense of the stinging cold.  He had
eagerly looked forward to a brief visit to the old country, and Sylvia
had, no doubt, bidden him come.  It was delightful to picture her
welcome, and the evenings they would spend in Muriel Lansing's pretty
drawing-room while he told her what he had done and unfolded his plans
for the future.  He could brook no avoidable delay in reading her
message, and, nerving himself for a struggle, he set out again.

The shack vanished the moment he left it.  The snow was thicker; and,
floundering heavily through the storm, George had almost given up the
attempt to find the ravine, when he fell violently into a clearer part
of it.  Then he gathered courage, for the bluff was large and would be
difficult to miss; but it did not appear when he expected it.  He was
breathless, nearly blinded, and on the verge of exhaustion, when he
crashed into a dwarf birch and, looking up half dazed, saw an
indistinct mass of larger trees.  He had now a guide, but it was hard
to follow, with his strength fast falling and the savage wind buffeting
him.  He had stopped a moment, gasping, when something emerged from the
driving snow.  It was moving; it looked like a team with a sledge or
wagon, and he thought that his companions had come in search of him.
He cried out, but there was no answer, and though he tried to run, the
beasts vanished as strangely as they had appeared.

They had, however, left their tracks, coming up from the south, where
the settlement lay, and this convinced him that they had not been
driven by Edgar or Grierson.  He made an attempt to overtake them and,
falling, went on again, wondering a little who the strangers could be;
though this was not a matter of much consequence.  If they had blankets
or driving-robes, they might pass the night without freezing in the
bluff, where there was fuel; but George was most clearly conscious of
the urgent need for his reaching the homestead before his strength gave
out.

At last he struck the beaten trail which had fortunately not yet been
drifted up, and after keeping to it for a while he saw a faint twinkle
of light in front of him.  A voice answered his shout and when he
stopped, keeping on his feet with difficulty and utterly worn out, a
team came up, blurred and indistinct, out of the driving snow.  After
that somebody seized him and pushed him toward an empty sledge.

"Get down out of the wind; here's the fur robe!" cried a voice he
recognized.  "We came back as soon as we had thrown off the load."

George remembered very little about the remainder of the journey, but
at last the sledge stopped where a warm glow of light shone out into
the snow.  Getting up with some trouble he reached the homestead door
and walked heavily into the room where he sank, gasping, into a chair.
He felt faint and dizzy, he could scarcely breathe; but those
sensations grew less troublesome as he recovered from the violent
change of temperature.  Throwing off his furs, he noticed that Flett
sat smoking near the stove.

"Here's some coffee," said the constable.  "It's pretty lucky Grierson
found you.  I can't remember a worse night."

George drank the coffee.  He still felt heavy and partly dazed; his
mind was lethargic, and his hands and feet tingled painfully with the
returning warmth.  He knew that there was something he ought to tell
Flett, but it was a few minutes before he could think clearly.

"I met a team near the bluff and lost it again almost immediately," he
mumbled finally.

Flett's face became intent.

"Did the men who were with it see you? Which way were they going?"

"No," said George sleepily.  "Anyway, though I called I didn't get an
answer.  I think they were going west."

"And there's no homestead for several leagues, except Langside's shack.
They'll camp there sure."

"I don't see why they shouldn't," George remarked with languid
indifference.

"Hasn't it struck you why those fellows should be heading into waste
prairie on a night like this?  Guess what they've got in the wagon's a
good enough reason.  If the snow's not too bad, they'll pull out for
the Indian reservation soon as it's light to-morrow."

"You think they have liquor with them?" asked George.

Flett nodded and walked toward the door, and George felt the sudden
fall of temperature and heard the scream of the wind.  In a minute or
two, however, the constable reappeared with Edgar.

"I'd get them sure; they're in the shack right now," Flett declared.

"You would never find it," Edgar remonstrated.  "We had hard enough
work to strike the homestead, and we were on a beaten trail, which will
have drifted up since then.  You'll have to drop the idea--it's quite
impossible."

"It's blamed hard luck," grumbled Flett.  "I may trail the fellows, but
I certainly won't get them with the liquor right in the wagon, as it
will be now, and without something of that kind it's mighty hard to
secure a conviction.  I've no use for the average jury; what we want is
power to drop on to a man without any fuss or fooling and fix him so he
won't make more trouble."

"It's fortunate you'll never get it," Edgar remarked.  "I've a notion
it would be a dangerous thing to trust even a Northwest policeman with.
You're not all quite perfect yet."

Then George, recovering from his lethargy, remembered the letters and
eagerly opened the one from Sylvia.  It consisted of a few sentences in
which she carelessly told him that if he came over he would not see
her, as she was going to Egypt with Herbert and Muriel.  The hint of
regret that her journey could not be put off looked merely
conventional, but she said he might make his visit in the early summer,
as she would have returned by then.

George's face hardened as he read it, for the disappointment was
severe.  He thought that Sylvia might have remembered that he could not
leave the farm after spring had begun.  The man felt wounded and, for
once, inclined to bitterness.  His optimistic faith, which idealized
its object, was bound to bring him suffering when dispelled by
disillusion; offering sincere homage to all that seemed most worthy, he
had not learned tolerance.  Though his appreciation was quick and
generous, he must believe in what he admired, and it was, perhaps, a
misfortune that he was unable to recognize shortcomings with cynical
good-humor.  He could distinguish white from black--the one stood for
spotless purity, the other was very dark indeed--but his somewhat
restricted vision took no account of the more common intermediate
shades.

For all that, he was incapable of seriously blaming Sylvia.  Her letter
had hurt him, but he began to make excuses for her, and several that
seemed satisfactory presented themselves; then, feeling a little
comforted, he opened the letter from Herbert with some anxiety.  When
he read it, he let it drop upon the table and set his lips tight.  His
cousin informed him that it would be most injudicious to raise any
money just then by selling shares, as he had been requested to do.
Those he had bought on George's account had depreciated in an
unexpected manner and the markets were stagnant.  George, he said, must
carry on his farming operations as economically as possible, until the
turn came.

"Bad news?" said Edgar sympathetically.

"Yes.  I'll have to cut out several plans I'd made for spring; in fact,
I don't quite see how I'm to go on working on a profitable scale.
We'll have to do without the extra bunch of stock I was calculating on;
and I'm not sure I can experiment with that quick-ripening wheat.
There are a number of other things we'll have to dispense with."

"We'll pull through by some means," Edgar rejoined encouragingly, and
George got up.

"I feel rather worn out," he said.  "I think I'll go to sleep."

He walked wearily from the room, crumpling up the letters he had risked
his life to secure.



CHAPTER XXI

GRANT COMES TO THE RESCUE

The storm had raged for twenty-four hours, but it had now passed, and
it was a calm night when a little party sat in George's living-room.
Outside, the white prairie lay still and silent under the Arctic frost,
but there was no breath of wind stirring and the room was comfortably
warm.  A big stove glowed in the middle of it, and the atmosphere was
permeated with the smell of hot iron, stale tobacco, and the exudations
from resinous boards.

Grant and his daughter had called when driving back from a distant
farm, and Trooper Flett had returned to the homestead after a futile
search for the liquor smugglers.  He was not characterized by mental
brilliancy, but his persevering patience atoned for that, and his
superior officers considered him a sound and useful man.  Sitting
lazily in an easy chair after a long day's ride in the nipping frost,
he discoursed upon the situation.

"Things aren't looking good," he said.  "We've had two cases of
cattle-killing in the last month, besides some horses missing, and a
railroad contractor knocked senseless with an empty bottle; and
nobody's locked up yet."

"I don't think you have any reason to be proud of it," Edgar broke in.

Flett spread out his hands in expostulation.

"It's not our fault.  I could put my hands on half a dozen men who're
at the bottom of the trouble; but what would be the use of that, when
the blamed jury would certainly let them off?  In a case of this kind,
our system of justice is mighty apt to break down.  It's a pet idea of
mine."

"How would you propose to alter it?" Edgar asked, to lead him on.

"If we must have a jury, I'd like to pick them, and they'd be men who'd
lost some stock.  You could depend on them."

"There's something to be said for that," Grant admitted with a dry
smile.

"This is how we're fixed," Flett went on.  "We're up against a small,
but mighty smart, hard crowd; we know them all right, but we can't get
after them.  You must make good all you say in court, and we can't get
folks to help us.  They'd rather mind the store, have a game of pool,
or chop their cordwood."

"I can think of a few exceptions," Edgar said.  "Mrs. Nelson, for
example.  One could hardly consider her apathetic."

"That woman's dangerous!  When we were working up things against
Beamish, she must make him look like a persecuted victim.  She goes too
far; the others won't go far enough.  Guess they're afraid of getting
hurt."

"You couldn't say that of Mr. Hardie," Flora objected.

"No.  But some of his people would like to fire him, and he's going to
have trouble about his pay.  Anyhow, this state of things is pretty
hard on us.  There's no use in bringing a man up when you've only got
unwilling witnesses."

"What you want is a dramatic conviction," said Edgar sympathetically.

"Sure.  It's what we're working for, and we'd get it if everybody
backed us up as your partner and Mr. Grant are doing."  He turned to
George.  "My coming back here is a little rough on you."

George smiled.

"I dare say it will be understood by the opposition, but I don't mind.
It looks as if I were a marked man already."

A few minutes later Flett went out to attend to his horse; George took
Grant into a smaller room which he used for an office; and Edgar and
Flora were left alone.  The girl sat beside the stove, with a
thoughtful air, and Edgar waited for her to speak.  Flora inspired him
with an admiration which was largely tinged with respect, though, being
critical, he sometimes speculated about the cause for this.  She was
pretty, but her style of beauty was rather severe.  She had fine eyes
and clearly-cut features, but her face was a little too reposeful and
her expression usually somewhat grave; he preferred animation and a
dash of coquetry.  Her conversation was to the point--she had a way of
getting at the truth of a matter--but there was nevertheless a certain
reserve in it and he thought it might have been more sparkling.  He had
discovered some time ago that adroit flattery and hints that his
devotion was hers to command only afforded her calm amusement.

"Mr. Lansing looks a little worried," she said at length.

"It strikes me as only natural," Edgar replied, "He has had a steer
killed since the rustlers shot the bull; we have foiled one or two more
attempts only by keeping a good lookout, and he knows that he lies open
to any new attack that may be made on him.  His position isn't what you
could call comfortable."

"I hardly think that would disturb your comrade very much."

Edgar saw that she would not be put off with an inadequate explanation,
and he was a little surprised that she did not seem to mind displaying
her interest in George.

"Then," he said, "for another thing, he's disappointed about having to
give up an English visit he had looked forward to."

He saw a gleam that suggested comprehension in her eyes.

"You mean that he is badly disappointed?"

"Yes," said Edgar; "I really think he is."

He left her to make what she liked of this, and he imagined that there
was something to be inferred from it.  He thought it might be wise to
give her a hint that George's affections were already engaged.

"Besides," he resumed, "it's no secret that the loss of his harvest hit
him pretty hard.  We'll have to curtail our spring operation in several
ways and study economy."

Flora glanced toward the door of the room her father had entered with
George.  Edgar thought she had done so unconsciously; but it was
somewhat suggestive, though he could not see what it implied.

"Well," she said, "I'm inclined to believe that he'll get over his
difficulties."

"So am I," Edgar agreed.  "George isn't easy to defeat."

In the meanwhile Grant sat in the next room, smoking thoughtfully and
asking George rather direct questions about his farming.

"I've made some inquiries about that new wheat your English botanist
friend reported on," he said at length.  "Our experimental farm people
strongly recommend it, and there's a man I wrote to who can't say
enough in its favor.  You'll sow it this spring?"

"I'm afraid I'll have to stick to the common kinds," George said
gloomily.  "I've a pretty big acreage to crop and that special seed is
remarkably dear."

"That's so," Grant agreed.  "As a matter of fact, they haven't quite
made their arrangements for putting it on the market yet, and the
surest way to get some is to bid for a round lot.  After what I'd
heard, I wired a Winnipeg agent and he has promised to send me on what
looks like more than I can use.  Now I'll be glad to let you have as
much as you want for your lightest land."

George felt grateful.  He did not think that this methodical man had
made any careless mistake over his order; but he hesitated.

"Thanks," he said.  "Still, it doesn't get over the main difficulty."

"I guess it does.  You would have had to pay money down for the seed,
and I'll be glad to let the thing stand over until you have thrashed
out.  The price doesn't count; you can give me back as many bushels as
you get."

"Then," said George with a slight flush, "you're more generous than
wise.  They haven't produced a wheat yet that will stand drought and
hail.  Suppose I have another year like last?  I'm sorry I can't let
you run this risk."

"We'll quit pretending.  I owe a little to the country that has made me
what I am, and these new hardy wheats are going to play a big part in
its development.  I want to see them tried on the poorest land."

"That's a good reason.  I believe it goes some way, but I hardly think
it accounts for everything."

His companion looked at him with fixed directness.

"Then, if you must be satisfied, you're my neighbor; you have had
blamed hard luck and I like the way you're standing up to it.  If
anybody's on meaner soil than yours I want to see it.  Anyway, here's
the seed; take what you need, pay me back when you're able.  Guess
you're not too proud to take a favor that's gladly offered."

"I'd be a most ungrateful brute if I refused," George replied with
feeling.

"That's done with," Grant said firmly; and soon afterward he and George
returned to the other room.

After a while he went out with Edgar to look at a horse, and George
turned to Flora.

"Your father has taken a big weight off my mind, and I'm afraid I
hardly thanked him," he said.

"Then it was a relief?" she asked, and it failed to strike him as
curious that she seemed to know what he was alluding to.

"Yes," he declared; "I feel ever so much more confident now that I can
get that seed.  The fact that it was offered somehow encouraged me."

"You never expected anything of the kind?  I've sometimes thought
you're apt to stand too much alone.  You don't attach enough importance
to your friends."

"Perhaps not," admitted George.  "I've been very wrong in this
instance; but I suppose one naturally prefers to hide one's
difficulties."

"I don't think the feeling's universal.  But you would, no doubt, be
more inclined to help other people out of their troubles."

George looked a little embarrassed, and she changed the subject with a
laugh.

"Come and see us when you can find the time.  On the last occasion, you
sent your partner over."

"I'd made an appointment with an implement man when I got your father's
note.  Anyway, I should have fancied that Edgar would have made a
pretty good substitute."

"Mr. West is a favorite of ours; he's amusing and excellent company, as
far as he goes."

Her tone conveyed a hint that Edgar had his limitations and he was not
an altogether satisfactory exchange for his partner; but George laughed.

"He now and then goes farther than I would care to venture."

Flora looked at him with faint amusement.

"Yes," she said.  "That's one of the differences between you; you're
not assertive.  It has struck me that you don't always realize your
value."

"Would you like one to insist on it?"

"Oh," she said, "there's a happy medium; but I'm getting rather
personal, and I hear the others coming."

She drove away a little later, and when Flett had gone to bed George
and Edgar sat talking a while beside the stove.

"Grant's a staunch friend, and I'm more impressed with Flora every time
I see her," said the lad.  "She's pleasant to talk to, she can harness
and handle a team with any one; but for all that, you recognize a trace
of what I can only call the grand manner in her.  Though I understand
that she has been to the old country, it's rather hard to see how she
got it."

George signified agreement.  Miss Grant was undoubtedly characterized
by a certain grace and now and then by an elusive hint of stateliness.
It was a thing quite apart from self-assertion; a gracious quality,
which he had hitherto noticed only in the bearing of a few elderly
English ladies of station.

"I suppose you thanked her for that seed?" Edgar resumed.

"I said I was grateful to her father."

"I've no doubt you took the trouble to mark the distinction.  It might
have been more considerate if you had divided your gratitude."

"What do you mean?"

"It's hardly likely that the idea of helping you in that particular way
originated with Alan Grant, though I shouldn't be surprised if he had
been allowed to think it did."

George looked surprised and Edgar laughed.

"You needn't mind.  It's most improbable that Miss Grant either wished
or expected you to understand.  She's a very intelligent young lady."

"It strikes me that you talk too much," George said severely.

He went out, feeling a little disturbed by what Edgar had told him, but
unable to analyze his sensations.  Putting on his furs, he proceeded to
look around the stable, as he had fallen into a habit of doing before
he went to rest.  There was a clear moon in the sky, and although the
black shadow of the buildings stretched out across the snow, George on
approaching one noticed a few footprints that led toward it.  There
were numerous other tracks about, but he thought that those he was
looking at had been made since he had last entered the house.  This,
however, did not surprise him, for Flett had recently visited the
stable.

On entering the building, George stopped to feel for a lantern which
was kept on a shelf near the door.  The place was very dark and
pleasantly warm by contrast with the bitter frost outside, and he could
smell the peppermint in the prairie hay.  Familiar sounds reached
him--the soft rattle of a shaking rope, the crackle of crushed
straw--but they were rather more numerous than usual, and while he
listened one or two of the horses began to move restlessly.

The lantern was not to be found; George wondered whether Flett had
carelessly forgotten to replace it.  He felt his way from stall to
stall, letting his hand fall on the hind quarters of the horses as he
passed.  They were all in their places, including Flett's gray, which
lashed out at him when he touched it; there was nothing to excite
suspicion, but when he reached the end of the row he determined to
strike a match and look for the lantern.  He was some time feeling for
the match-box under his furs, and while he did so he heard a soft
rustling in the stall nearest the door.  This was curious, for the
stall, being a cold one, was unoccupied, and there was something
significantly stealthy in the sound; but it ceased, and while he
listened with strained attention a horse moved and snorted.  Then,
while he fumbled impatiently at a button of his skin coat which would
not come loose, an icy draught stole into the building.

It was obvious that the door was open; he had left it shut.

Breaking off his search for the matches, he made toward the entrance
and sprang out.  There was nobody upon the moonlit snow, and the
shadows were hardly deep enough to conceal a lurking man.  He ran
toward the end of the rather long building; but, as it happened, he had
to make a round to avoid a stack of wood and a wagon on the way.  When
he turned the corner, the other side of the stable was clear in the
moonlight and, so far as he could see, the snow about it was untrodden.
It looked as if he had made for the wrong end of the building, and he
retraced his steps toward a barn that stood near its opposite
extremity.  Running around it, he saw nobody, nor any footprints that
seemed to have been recently made; and while he stood wondering what he
should do next, Grierson appeared between him and the house.

"Were you in the stables a minute or two ago?" George called to him,

"No," said the other approaching.  "I'd just come out for some wood
when I saw you run round the barn."

George gave him a brief explanation, and the man looked about.

"Perhaps we'd better search the buildings; if there was any stranger
prowling round, he might have dodged you in the shadow.  It's hardly
likely he'd make for the prairie; the first clump of brush big enough
to hide a man is a quarter of a mile off."

They set about the search, but found nobody, and George stopped outside
the last building with a puzzled frown on his face.

"It's very strange," he said.  "I left the door shut; I couldn't be
mistaken."

"Look!" cried Grierson, clutching his arm.  "There's no mistaking about
that!"

Turning sharply, George saw a dim mounted figure cross the crest of a
low rise some distance away and vanish beyond it.

"The fellow must have run straight for the poplar scrub, keeping the
house between you and him," Grierson explained.  "He'd have left his
horse among the brush."

"I suppose that was it," George said angrily.  "As there's no chance of
overtaking him, we'll have a look at the horses, with a light, and then
let Flett know."

There was nothing wrong in the stable, where they found the lantern
George had looked for flung down in the empty stall, and in a very
short space of time after they had called him Flett appeared.  He
walked round the buildings and examined some of the footprints with a
light, and then he turned to George.

"Looks like an Indian by his stride," he said.  "Guess I'll have to
saddle up and start."

"You could hardly come up with the fellow; he'll have struck into one
of the beaten trails, so as to leave no tracks," Edgar pointed out.

"That's so," said Flett.  "I don't want to come up with him.  It
wouldn't be any use when your partner and Grierson couldn't swear to
the man."

"What could have been his object?" George asked.  "He seems to have
done no harm."

"He wanted to see if my gray was still in the stable," Flett said
dryly.  "His friends have some business they'd sooner I didn't butt
into fixed up somewhere else."

"But you have no idea where?"

"I haven't; that's the trouble.  There are three or four different
trails I'd like to watch, and I quite expect to strike the wrong one.
Then, if the man knows you saw him, he might take his friends warning
to change their plans.  All the same, I'll get off."

He rode away shortly afterward, and as the others went back toward the
house Edgar laughed.

"I don't think being a police trooper has many attractions in winter,"
he remarked.  "Hiding in a bluff for several hours with the temperature
forty degrees below, on the lookout for fellows who have probably gone
another way, strikes me as a very unpleasant occupation."



CHAPTER XXII

THE SPREAD OF DISORDER

Flett spent a bitter night, keeping an unavailing watch among the
willows where a lonely trail dipped into a ravine.  Not a sound broke
the stillness of the white prairie, and realizing that the men he
wished to surprise had taken another path, he left his hiding-place
shortly before daylight.  He was almost too cold and stiff to mount;
but as his hands and feet tingled painfully, it was evident that they
had escaped frostbite, and that was something to be thankful for.

Reaching an outlying farm, he breakfasted and rested a while, after
which he rode on to the Indian reservation, where he found signs of
recent trouble.  A man to whom he was at first refused access lay with
a badly battered face in a shack which stood beside a few acres of
roughly broken land; another man suffering from what looked like an ax
wound sat huddled in dirty blankets in a teepee.  It was obvious that a
fight, which Flett suspected was the result of a drunken orgy, had been
in progress not long before; but he could find no liquor nor any man
actually under its influence, though the appearance of several
suggested that they were recovering from a debauch.  He discovered,
however, in a poplar thicket the hide of a steer, from which a recent
breeze had swept its covering of snow.  This was a serious matter, and
though the brand had been removed, Flett identified the skin as having
belonged to an animal reported to him as missing.

He had now, when dusk was approaching, two charges of assault and one
of cattle-killing to make, and it would not be prudent to remain upon
the reservation during the night with anybody he arrested.  The Indians
were in a sullen, threatening mood; it was difficult to extract any
information, and Flett was alone.  He was, however, not to be daunted
by angry looks or ominous mutterings, and by persistently questioning
the injured men he learned enough to warrant his making two arrests;
though he decided that the matter of the hide must be dropped for the
present.

It was in a state of nervous tension that he mounted and drove his
prisoners on a few paces in front of him.  If he could get them into
the open, he thought he would be safe, but the reservation was, for the
most part, a tract of brush and bluff, pierced by ravines, among which
he half expected an attempt would be made to facilitate their escape.
For all that, he was, so far as appearances went, very calm and grim
when he set out, and his prisoners, being ahead, did not notice that he
searched each taller patch of brush they entered with apprehensive
glances.  Nor did they see his hand drop to his pistol-butt when
something moved in the bushes as they went down the side of a dark
declivity.

There was, however, no interference, and he felt more confident when he
rode out into the moonlight which flooded the glittering prairie.  Here
he could deal with any unfavorable developments; but it was several
leagues to the nearest shelter, and the Indians did not seem inclined
to travel fast.  The half-frozen constable would gladly have walked,
only that he felt more master of the situation upon his horse.  Mile
after mile, they crossed the vast white waste, without a word being
spoken, except when the shivering man sternly bade his prisoners, "Get
on!"

Hand-cuffed as they were, he dare not relax his vigilance nor let them
fall back too near him; and he had spent the previous night in the
bitter frost.  At times he felt painfully drowsy, but he had learned to
overcome most bodily weaknesses, and his eyes only left the dark,
plodding figures in front of him when he swept a searching glance
across the plain.  Nothing moved on it, and only the soft crunch of
snow broke the dreary silence.  At last, a cluster of low buildings
rose out of the waste, and soon afterward Flett got down with
difficulty and demanded shelter.  The rudely awakened farmer gave him
the use of his kitchen, in which a stove was burning; and while the
Indians went to sleep on the floor, Flett, choosing an uncomfortable
upright chair, lighted his pipe and sat down to keep another vigil.
When dawn broke, his eyes were still open, though his face was a little
haggard and very weary.

He obtained a conviction for assault; but, as the charges of
cattle-killing and being in possession of liquor had to be dropped,
this was small consolation.  It left the men he considered responsible
absolutely untouched.

Afterward, he played a part in other somewhat similar affairs, for
offenses were rapidly becoming more numerous among both Indians and
mean whites; but in spite of his efforts the gang he suspected managed
to evade the grip of the law.  Flett, however, was far from despairing;
he waited his time and watched.

While he did so, spring came, unusually early.  A warm west wind swept
the snow away and for a week or two the softened prairie was almost
impassable to vehicles.  Then the wind veered to the northwest with
bright sunshine, the soil began to dry, and George set out on a visit
to Brandon where he had some business to transact.

Reaching Sage Butte in the afternoon, he found it suffering from the
effects of the thaw.  A swollen creek had converted the ground on one
side of the track into a shallow lake; the front street resembled a
muskeg, furrowed deep by sinking wheels.  The vehicles outside the
hotels were covered with sticky mire; the high, plank sidewalks were
slippery with it, and foot passengers when forced to leave them sank
far up their long boots; one or two of the stores were almost cut off
by the pools.  It rained between gleams of sunshine, and masses of dark
cloud rolled by above the dripping town and wet prairie, which had
turned a dingy gray.

As he was proceeding along one sidewalk, George met Hardie, and it
struck him that the man was looking dejected and worn.

"Will you come back with me and wait for supper?" he asked.  "I'd be
glad of a talk."

"I think not," said George.  "You're on the far side of the town and
there are two streets to cross; you see, I'm going to Brandon, and I'll
take enough gumbo into the cars with me, as it is.  Then my train
leaves in half an hour.  I suppose I mustn't ask you to come into the
Queen's?"

"No," said the clergyman.  "Our old guard won't tolerate the smallest
compromise with the enemy, and there's a good deal to be said for their
point of view.  After all, half-measures have seldom much result; a man
must be one thing or another.  But we might try the new waiting-room at
the station."

The little room proved to be dry and comparatively clean, besides being
furnished with nicely made and comfortable seats.  Leaning back in one
near the stove, George turned to his companion.

"How are things going round here?" he asked.

"Very much as I expected; we tried and failed to apply a check in time,
and of late we have had a regular outbreak of lawlessness.  At first
sight, it's curious, considering that three-fourths of the inhabitants
of the district are steady, industrious folk, and a proportion of the
rest are capable of being useful citizens."

"Then how do you account for the disorder?"

Hardie looked thoughtful.

"I suppose we all have a tendency to follow a lead, which is often
useful in an organized state of society; though it depends on the lead.
By way of counter-balance, we have a certain impatience of restraint.
Granting this, you can see that when the general tone of a place is one
of sobriety and order, people who have not much love for either find it
more or less easy to conform.  But, if you set them a different
example, one that slackens restrictions instead of imposing them,
they'll follow it, and it somehow seems to be the rule that the
turbulent element exerts the stronger influence.  Anyway, it becomes
the more prominent.  You hear of the fellow who steals a horse in a
daring manner; the man who quietly goes on with his plowing excites no
notice."

"One must agree with that," George replied.  "Popular feeling's fickle;
a constant standard is needed to adjust it by."

Hardie smiled.

"It was given us long ago.  But I can't believe that there's much
general sympathy with these troublesome fellows.  What I complain of is
popular apathy; nobody feels it his business to interfere; though this
state of things can't continue.  The patience of respectable people
will wear out; and then one can look for drastic developments."

"In the meanwhile, the other crowd are having their fling."

Hardie nodded.

"That's unfortunately true, though the lawbreakers have now and then
come off second-best.  A few days ago, Wilkie, the station-agent, was
sitting in his office when a man who had some grievance against the
railroad walked up to the window.  Wilkie told him he must send his
claim to Winnipeg, and the fellow retorted that he would have
satisfaction right away out of the agent's hide.  With that, he climbed
in through the window; and I must confess to a feeling of satisfaction
when I heard that he left the station in need of medical assistance.  A
week earlier, Taunton, of the store, was walking home along the track
in the dark after collecting some of his accounts, when a man jumped
out from behind a stock of ties with a pistol and demanded his wallet.
Taunton, taken by surprise, produced a wad of bills, but the thief was
a little too eager or careless in seizing them, for Taunton grabbed the
pistol and got his money back.  After that, he marched the man three
miles along the track and into his store.  I don't know what happened
then, but I heard that there were traces of a pretty lively scuffle."

George laughed, but his companion continued more gravely:

"Then we have had a number of small disturbances when the men from the
new link line came into town--they've graded the track to within a few
miles now--and I hold Beamish responsible; they haven't encouraged
these fellows at the Queen's.  In fact, I mean to walk over and try to
get a few words with them as soon as I leave you."

"One would hardly think Saturday evening a very good time," George
commented.

His train came in shortly afterward, and when it had gone Hardie went
home for a rubber coat, and then took the trail leading out of the
settlement.  He was forced to trudge through the tangled grass beside
it because the soft gumbo soil stuck to his boots in great black lumps,
and the patches of dwarf brush through which he must smash made
progress laborious.  After a while, however, he saw a long trail of
black smoke ahead, and sounds of distant activity grew steadily louder.

There was an angry red glare on the western horizon, though the light
was beginning to fade, when he reached the end of the new line and
found a crowd of men distributing piles of gravel and spiking down the
rails which ran back, gleaming in the sunset, lurid, straight and
level, across the expanse of grass, until they were lost in the shadowy
mass of a bluff.  Near the men stood a few jaded teams and miry wagons;
farther on a row of freight-cars occupied a side-track, a little smoke
rising from the stacks on the roofs of one or two.  Their doors were
open, and on passing, Hardie noticed the dirty blue blankets and the
litter of wet clothing in the rude bunks.  As he approached the last
car, which served as store and office, a man sprang down upon the line.
He wore wet long boots and an old rubber coat stained with soil, but
there was a stamp of authority upon his bronzed face.

"How are you getting on, Mr. Farren?" Hardie inquired.

"Slowly," said the other; "can't catch up on schedule contract time.
We've had rain and heavy soil ever since we began.  The boys have been
giving me some trouble, too."

"You won't mind my having a few words with them?"

"Why, no," said Farren.  "Guess they need it; but I'm most afraid
you'll be wasting time.  The Scandinavians, who're quiet enough and
might agree with you, can't understand, and it's quite likely that the
crowd you want to get at won't listen.  Anyway, you can try it after
they've dubbed the load off the gravel train; she's coming now."

He pointed toward a smear of smoke that trailed away across the
prairie.  It grew rapidly blacker and nearer, and presently a grimy
locomotive with a long string of clattering cars behind it came down
the uneven track.  It had hardly stopped when the sides of the low cars
dropped, and a plow moved forward from one to another, hurling off
masses of gravel that fell with a roar.  Then the train, backing out,
came to a standstill again, and a swarm of men became busy about the
line.  Dusk was falling, but the blaze of the great electric light on
the locomotive streamed along the track.  While Hardie stood watching,
half a dozen men dropped their tools and walked up to his companion.

"We're through with our lot," announced one.  "We're going to the Butte
and we'll trouble you for a sub of two dollars a man."

"You won't get it," said Farren shortly.  "I want the ties laid on the
next load."

"Then you can send somebody else to fix them.  We're doing more than we
booked for."

"You're getting paid for it."

"Shucks!" said the other contemptuously.  "What we want is an evening
at the Butte; and we're going to have it!  Hand over the two dollars."

"No, sir," said Farren.  "I've given in once or twice and I've got no
work out of you for most two days afterward.  You can quit tie-laying,
if you insist; but you'll get no money until pay-day."

One of the men pulled out his watch.

"Boys," he said, "if we stop here talking, there won't be much time
left for a jag when we make the Butte.  Are you going to let him bluff
you?"

The growl from the others was ominous.  They had been working long
hours at high pressure in the rain, and had suffered in temper.  One of
them strode forward and grasped Farren's shoulder.

"Now," he demanded, "hand out!  It's our money."

There was only one course open to Farren.  His position was not an easy
one, and if he yielded, his authority would be gone.

His left arm shot out and the man went down with a crash.  Then the
others closed with him and a savage struggle began.

Hardie laid hold of a man who had picked up an iron bar, and managed to
wrest it from him, but another struck him violently on the head, and he
had a very indistinct idea of what went on during the next minute or
two.  There was a struggling knot of men pressed against the side of
the car, but it broke up when more figures came running up and one man
cried out sharply as he was struck by a heavy lump of gravel.  Then
Hardie found himself kneeling beside Farren, who lay senseless near the
wheels with the blood running down his set white face.  Behind him
stood the panting locomotive engineer, trying to hold back the growing
crowd.

"Looks pretty bad," he said.  "What's to be done with him?"

"We had better get him into his bunk," directed Hardie.  "Then I'll
make for the Butte as fast as I can and bring the doctor out."

"It would take two hours," objected the engineer, as he gently removed
Farren's hat.  "Strikes me as a mighty ugly gash; the thing must be
looked to right away.  If I let her go, throttle wide, we ought to make
Carson in half an hour, and they've a smart doctor there."  He said
something to his fireman and added: "Get hold; we'll take him along."

It looked as if the outbreak had not met with general approval, for a
number of the bystanders offered their help and the injured man was
carefully carried to the locomotive.

"I'll run the cars along as far as the gravel pit; then I can book the
journey," the engineer said to Hardie.  "But as I can't get off at the
other end, you'll have to come along."

Hardie wondered how he would get back, but that was not a matter of
great consequence, though he had to preach at Sage Butte in the
morning, and he climbed up when Farren had been lifted into the cab.
Then he sat down on the floor plates and rested the unconscious man's
head and shoulders against his knees as the engine began to rock
furiously.  Nothing was said for a while; the uproar made by the
banging cars would have rendered speech inaudible, but when they had
been left behind, the engineer looked at Hardie.

"In a general way, it's not the thing to interfere in a row with a
boss," he said.  "Still, four to two, with two more watching out for a
chance to butt in, is pretty steep odds, and Farren's a straight man.
I felt quite good when I hit one of those fellows with a big lump of
gravel."

Hardie could understand his sensations and did not rebuke him.  So far
as his experience went, the western locomotive crews were of an
excellent type, and he was willing to admit that there were occasions
when the indignation of an honest man might be expressed in vigorous
action.

"It was really four to one, which makes the odds heavier," he said.

"I guess not," rejoined the engineer with a smile.  "You were laying
into one of them pretty lively as I ran up."

Hardie felt a little disconcerted.  Having been partly dazed by the
blow he had received, he had no clear recollection of the part he had
taken in the scrimmage, though he had been conscious of burning anger
when Farren was struck down.  It was, however, difficult to believe
that the engineer had been mistaken, because the locomotive lamp had
lighted the track brilliantly.

"Anyway, one of them put his mark on you," resumed his companion.  "Did
you notice it, Pete?"

"Sure," said the grinning fireman; "big lump on his right cheek."  He
fumbled in a box and handed a tool to Hardie.  "Better hold that
spanner to it, if you're going to preach to-morrow.  But how's Farren?"

"No sign of consciousness.  The sooner we can get him into a doctor's
hands, the better."

"Stir her up," ordered the engineer, and nodded when his comrade swung
back the fire-door and hurled in coal.  Then he turned to Hardie.
"We're losing no time.  She's running to beat the Imperial Limited
clip, and the track's not worked down yet into its bed."

Hardie, looking about for a few moments, thought the speed could not
safely be increased.  There was a scream of wind about the cab, though
when he had stood upon the track the air had been almost still; a
bluff, which he knew was a large one, leaped up, hung over the line,
and rushed away behind; the great engine was rocking and jolting so
that he could hardly maintain his position, and the fireman shuffled
about with the erratic motion.  Then Hardie busied himself trying to
protect Farren from the shaking, until the scream of the whistle broke
through the confused sounds and the pace diminished.  The bell began to
toll, and, rising to his feet, Hardie saw a cluster of lights flitting
back toward him.  Shortly afterward they stopped beside a half-built
row of elevators.

"Guess you'll have to be back to-morrow," the engineer said.

Hardie nodded.

"I've been rather worried about it.  It would take me all night to
walk."

"That's so," agreed the other.  "All you have to do is to see Farren
safe in the doctor's hands and leave the rest to me.  I've got to have
some water, for one thing."  He turned to his fireman.  "We'll put in
that new journal babbit; she's not running sweet."

The clergyman was inclined to believe that the repair was not strictly
needed, though it would account for a delay; but one or two of the
station hands had reached the engine and, following instructions, they
lifted Farren down, and wheeled him on a baggage truck to the doctor's
house.  The doctor seemed to have no doubt of the man's recovery but
said that he must not be moved again for a day or two; and Hardie went
back to the station, reassured and less troubled than he had been for
some time.  The attitude of the engineer, fireman, and construction
gang, was encouraging.  It confirmed his belief that the lawless
element was tolerated rather than regarded with sympathy, and the
patience of the remainder of the community would become exhausted
before long.  Though he admitted the influence of a bad example, he had
firm faith in the rank and file.



CHAPTER XXIII

A HARMLESS CONSPIRACY

On the evening that George left for Brandon, Edgar drove over to the
Grant homestead.

"It's Saturday night, my partner's gone, and I felt I deserved a little
relaxation," he explained.

"It's something to be able to feel that; the men who opened up this
wheat-belt never got nor wanted anything of the kind," Grant rejoined.
"But as supper's nearly ready, you have come at the right time."

Edgar turned to Flora.

"Your father always makes me feel that I belong to a decadent age.  One
can put up with it from him, because he's willing to live up to his
ideas, which is not a universal rule, so far as my experience of
moralizers goes.  Anyhow, I'll confess that I'm glad to arrive in time
for a meal.  The cooking at our place might be improved; George, I
regret to say, never seems to notice what he eats."

"That's a pretty good sign," said Grant.

"It strikes me as a failing for which I have to bear part of the
consequences."

Flora laughed.

"If you felt that you had to make an excuse for coming, couldn't you
have made a more flattering one?"

"Ah!" said Edgar, "you have caught me out.  But I could give you a
number of better reasons.  It isn't my fault you resent compliments."

Flora rose and they entered the room where the hired men were gathering
for the meal.  When it was over, they returned to the smaller room and
found seats near an open window, Grant smoking, Flora embroidering,
while Edgar mused as he watched her.  Dressed in some simple,
light-colored material, which was nevertheless tastefully cut, she made
an attractive picture in the plainly furnished room, the walls of which
made an appropriate frame of uncovered native pine, for he always
associated her and her father with the land to which they belonged.
There was nothing voluptuous in any line of the girl's face or figure;
the effect was chastely severe, and he knew that it conveyed a reliable
hint of her character.  This was not marked by coldness, but rather by
an absence of superficial warmth.  The calmness of her eyes spoke of
depth and balance.  She was steadfast and consistent; a daughter of the
stern, snow-scourged North.

Then he glanced at the prairie, which ran west, streaked with ochre
stubble in the foreground, then white and silvery gray, with neutral
smears of poplar bluffs, to the blaze of crimson where it cut the sky.
It was vast and lonely; at first sight a hard, forbidding land that
broke down the slack of purpose and drove out the sybarite.  He had
sometimes shrunk from it, but it was slowly fastening its hold on him,
and he now understood how it molded the nature of its inhabitants.  For
the most part, they were far from effusive; some of their ways were
primitive and perhaps slightly barbarous, but there was vigor and
staunchness in them.  They stuck to the friends they had tried and were
admirable in action; it was when, as they said, they were up against it
that one learned most about the strong hearts of these men and women.

"Lansing will be away some days," Grant said presently.  "What are you
going to do next week?"

"Put up the new fence, most likely.  The land's a little soft for
plowing yet."

"That's so.  As you'll have no use for the teams, it would be a good
time to haul in some of the seed wheat.  I've a carload coming out."

"A carload!" exclaimed Edgar in surprise, remembering the large
carrying capacity of the Canadian freight-cars.  "At the price they've
been asking, it must have cost you a pile."

"It did," said Grant.  "I generally try to get down to bed-rock figure,
but I don't mind paying it.  The fellow who worked up that wheat
deserves his money."

"You mean the seed's worth its price if the crop escapes the frost?"

"That wasn't quite all I meant.  I'm willing to pay the man for the
work he has put into it.  Try to figure the cross fertilizations he
must have made, the varieties he's tried and cut out, and remember it
takes time to get a permanent strain, and wheat makes only one crop a
year.  If the stuff's as good as it seems, the fellow's done something
he'll never be paid for.  Anyway, he's welcome to my share."

"There's no doubt about your admiration for hard work," declared Edgar.
"As it happens, you have found putting it into practise profitable,
which may have had some effect."

Grant's eyes twinkled.

"Now you have got hold of the wrong idea.  You have raised a different
point."

"Then, for instance, would you expect a hired man who had no interest
in the crop to work as hard as you would?"

"Yes," Grant answered rather grimly; "I'd see he did.  Though I don't
often pay more than I can help, I wouldn't blame him for screwing up
his wages to the last cent he could get; but if it was only half the
proper rate, he'd have to do his share.  A man's responsible to the
country he's living in, not to his employer; the latter's only an
agent, and if he gets too big a commission, it doesn't affect the case."

"It affects the workman seriously."

"He and his master must settle that point between them," Grant paused
and spread out his hands forcibly.  "You have heard what the country
west of old Fort Garby--it's Winnipeg now--was like thirty years ago.
Do you suppose all the men who made it what it is got paid for what
they did?  Canada couldn't raise the money, and quite a few of them got
frozen to death."

It struck Edgar as a rather stern doctrine, but he admitted the truth
of it; what was more, he felt that George and this farmer had many
views in common.  Grant, however, changed the subject.

"You had better take your two heavy teams in to the Butte on Monday;
I've ordered my freight there until the sandy trails get loose again.
Bring a couple of spare horses along.  We'll load you up and you can
come in again."

"Two Clover-leaf wagons will haul a large lot of seed in a double
journey."

"It's quite likely you'll have to make a third.  Don't you think you
ought to get this hauling done before Lansing comes home?"

A light broke in on Edgar.  Grant was, with some reason, occasionally
called hard; but he was always just, and it was evident that he could
be generous.  He meant to make his gift complete before George could
protest.

"Yes," acquiesced Edgar; "it would be better, because George might want
the teams, and for other reasons."

The farmer nodded.

"That's fixed.  The agent has instructions to deliver."

Edgar left the homestead an hour later and spent the Sunday resting,
because he knew that he would need all of his energy during the next
few days.  At dawn on the following morning he and Grierson started for
Sage Butte, and on their arrival loaded the wagons and put up their
horses for the night.  They set out again before sunrise and were glad
of the spare team when they came to places where all the horses could
scarcely haul one wagon through the soft black soil.  There were other
spots where the graded road sloped steeply to the hollow out of which
it had been dug, and with the lower wheels sinking they had to hold up
the side of the vehicle.  Great clods clung to the wheels; the men,
plodding at the horses' heads, could scarcely pull their feet out of
the mire, and they were thankful when they left the fences behind and
could seek a slightly sounder surface on the grass.

Even here, progress was difficult.  The stalks were tough and tangled
and mixed with stiff, dwarf scrub, which grew in some spots almost to
one's waist.  There were little rises, and hollows into which the
wagons jolted violently, and here and there they must skirt a bluff or
strike back into the cut-up trail which traversed it.  Toward noon they
reached a larger wood, where the trees crowded thick upon the track.
When Edgar floundered into it, there appeared to be no bottom.  Getting
back to the grass, he surveyed the scene with strong disgust; he had
not quite got over his English fastidiousness.

Leafless branches met above the trail, and little bays strewn with
trampled brush which showed where somebody had tried to force a drier
route, indented the ranks of slender trunks.  Except for these, the
strip of sloppy black gumbo led straight through the wood, interspersed
with gleaming pools.  Having seen enough, Edgar beckoned Grierson and
climbed a low hillock.  The bluff was narrow where the road pierced it,
but it was long and the ground was rough and covered with a smaller
growth for some distance on its flanks.

"There's no way of getting round," he said.  "I suppose six horses
ought to haul one wagon through that sloo."

"It looks a bit doubtful," Grierson objected.  "We mightn't be able to
pull her out if she got in very deep.  We could dump half the load and
come back for it."

"And make four journeys?  It's not to be thought of; two's a good deal
too many."

They yoked the three teams to the first wagon, which promptly sank a
long way up its high wheels, and while the men waded nearly knee-deep
at their heads, the straining horses made thirty or forty yards.  Then
Edgar sank over the top of his long boots and the hub of one wheel got
ominously low.

"They've done more than one could have expected; I hate to use the
whip, but we must get out of this before she goes in altogether," he
said.

Grierson nodded.  He was fond of his horses, which were obviously
distressed, and flecked with spume and lather where the traces chafed
their wet flanks; but to be merciful would only increase their task.

The whip-cracks rang out like pistol-shots; and, splashing, snorting,
struggling, amid showers of mire, they drew the wagon out of its sticky
bed.  They made another dozen yards; and then Grierson turned the
horses into one of the embayments where there was brush that would
support the wheels.  Edgar sat down, breathless, upon a fallen trunk.

"People at home have two quite unfounded ideas about this country," he
said disgustedly.  "The first is that money is easily picked up
here--which doesn't seem to need any remark; the second is that they
have only to send over the slackers and slouchers to reform them.  In
my opinion, a few doses of this kind of thing would be enough to fill
them with a horror of work."  He replaced the pipe he had taken out.
"It's a pity, Grierson, but we can't sit here and smoke."

They went on and nearly capsized the wagon in a pool, the bottom of
which was too soft to give them foothold while they held up the
vehicle, but they got through it and one or two others, and presently
came out, dripping from the waist down, on to the drier prairie.  Then
Edgar turned and viewed their track.

"It won't bear much looking at; we had better unyoke," he said.  "If
anybody had told me in England that I'd ever flounder through a place
like that, I'd--"

He paused, seeking for words to express himself fittingly.

"You'd have called him a liar," Grierson suggested.

"That hardly strikes me as strong enough," Edgar laughed.

They had spent two hours in the bluff when they brought the last load
through, and sitting down in a patch of scrub they took out their
lunch.  After a while Edgar flung off his badly splashed hat and jacket
and lay down in the sunshine.

"The thing's done; the pity is it must be done again to-morrow," he
remarked, "In the meanwhile, we'll forget it; I'll draw a veil over my
feelings."

They had finished lunch and lighted their pipes when a buggy appeared
from behind a projecting dump of trees and soon afterward Flora Grant
pulled up her horse near by.  Edgar rose and stood beside the vehicle
bareheaded, looking slender and handsome in his loose yellow shirt,
duck overalls, and long boots, though the marks of the journey were
freely scattered about him.  Flora glanced at the jaded teams and the
miry wagons and smiled at the lad.  She had a good idea of the
difficulties he had overcome.

"The trail must have been pretty bad," she said.  "I struck off to the
east by the creek, but I don't think you could get through with a load."

"It was quite bad enough," Edgar assured her.  Flora looked thoughtful.

"You have only two wagons; we must try to send you another, though our
teams are busy.  Didn't you say Mr. Lansing would be back in a day or
two?"

"I did, but I got a note this morning saying he thought he had better
go on to Winnipeg, if I could get along all right.  I told him to go
and stop as long as he likes.  Considering the state of the trails, I
thought that was wise."

Flora smiled.  She knew what he meant, since they had agreed that all
the seed must be hauled in before his comrade's return.

"I'm not going to thank you; it would be difficult, and George can ride
over and do so when he comes home," Edgar resumed.  "I know he'll be
astonished when he sees the granary."

"If he comes only to express his gratitude, I'm inclined to believe my
father would rather he stayed at home."

"I can believe it; but I've an idea that Mr. Grant is not the only
person to whom thanks are due."

Flora looked at him sharply, but she made no direct answer.

"Your partner," she said, "compels one's sympathy."

"And one's liking.  I don't know how he does so, and it isn't from any
conscious desire.  I suppose it's a gift of his."

Seeing she was interested, he went on with a thoughtful air:

"You see, George isn't witty, and you wouldn't consider him handsome.
In fact, sometimes he's inclined to be dull, but you feel that he's the
kind of man you can rely on.  There's not a trace of meanness in him,
and he never breaks his word.  In my opinion, he has a number of the
useful English virtues."

"What are they, and are they peculiarly English?"

"I'll call them Teutonic; I believe that's their origin.  You people
and your neighbors across the frontier have your share of them."

"Thanks," smiled Flora.  "But you haven't begun the catalogue."

"Things are often easier to recognize than to describe.  At the top of
the list, and really comprising the rest of it, I'd place, in the
language of the country, the practical ability to 'get there.'  We're
not in the highest degree intellectual; we're not as a rule worshipers
of beauty--that's made obvious by the prairie towns--and to be thought
poetical makes us shy.  In fact, our artistic taste is strongly
defective."

"If these are virtues, they're strictly negative ones," Flora pointed
out.

"I'm clearing the ground," said Edgar.  "Where we shine is in making
the most of material things, turning, for example, these wilds into
wheatfields, holding on through your Arctic cold and blazing summer
heat.  We begin with a tent and an ox-team, and end, in spite of
countless obstacles, with a big brick homestead and a railroad or an
automobile.  Men of the Lansing type follow the same course
consistently, even when their interests are not concerned.  Once get an
idea into their minds, convince them that it's right, and they'll
transform it into determined action.  If they haven't tools, they'll
make them or find something that will serve; effort counts for nothing;
the purpose will be carried out."

Flora noticed the enthusiastic appreciation of his comrade which his
somewhat humorous speech revealed, and she thought it justified.

"One would imagine Mr. Lansing to be resolute," she said.  "I dare say
it's fortunate; he had a heavy loss to face last year."

"Yes," returned Edgar.  "As you see, he's going on; though he never
expected anything for himself."

"He never expected anything?" Flora repeated incredulously.  "What are
you saying?"

Edgar realized that he had been injudicious.  Flora did not know that
Sylvia Marston was still the owner of the farm and he hesitated to
enlighten her.

"Well," he said, "George isn't greedy; it isn't in his nature."

"Do you mean that he's a rich man and is merely farming for amusement?"

"Oh, no," said Edgar; "far from it!"  He indicated the miry wagons and
the torn-up trails.  "You wouldn't expect a man to do this kind of
thing, if it wasn't needful.  The fact is, I don't always express
myself very happily; and George has told me that I talk too much."

Flora smiled and drove away shortly afterward, considering what he had
said.  She had noticed a trace of confusion in his manner and it struck
her as significant.

When the buggy had grown small in the distance, Edgar called to
Grierson and they went on again.



CHAPTER XXIV

GEORGE FEELS GRATEFUL

When George returned from Winnipeg, Edgar took him to the granary.

"You may as well look at the seed Grant sent you, and then you'll be
able to thank him for it," he said.  "It's in here; I turned out the
common northern stuff you bought to make room."

"Why didn't you put it into the empty place in the barn?" George asked.

"I wasn't sure it would go in; there's rather a lot of it," Edgar
explained, with a smile.

George entered the granary and stopped, astonished, when he saw the
great pile of bags.

"Is all of that the new seed?" he asked incredulously.

"Every bag," said Edgar, watching him.

George's face reddened.  He was stirred by mixed emotions: relief,
gratitude, and a feeling of confusion he could not analyze.

"Grant must have sent the whole carload!" he broke out.

"As a matter of fact, he sent most of it.  Grierson and I hauled it in;
and a tough job we had of it."

"And you took it all, without protesting or sending me word?"

"Yes," said Edgar coolly; "that's precisely what I did.  You need the
stuff; Grant meant you to have it, and I didn't want to offend him."

"I suppose you have some idea what that seed is worth?"

"I dare say I could guess.  Our people at home once experimented with
some American seed potatoes at three shillings each.  But aren't you
putting the matter on a rather low plane?"

George sat down and felt for his pipe.

"I feel that you have played a trick on me.  If you had only let me
know, I could have objected."

"Just so; that's why I kept quiet," Edgar laughed.  "The seed's here
and you ought to be thankful.  Anyway, Grant won't take it back."

"What have I done that I should get this favor?" George said half aloud.

"That's so characteristic!" Edgar exclaimed.  "Why must you always be
doing things?  Do you imagine that whatever one receives is the result
of so much exertion?"

"I don't feel the least interest in such quibbles."

"I can't believe it," Edgar rejoined.  "You're more at home when you
have a fence to put up, or a strip of new land to break."  Then he
dropped his bantering tone.  "There's nothing to be distressed about.
Grant has been pretty generous, and I think he and Flora need thanking."

"That's true; they've made me feel half ashamed.  I never expected
this."

"In my opinion, the sensation's quite unnecessary.  You have given a
few people a lift in your time, and I've an optimistic notion that
actions of the kind recoil on one, even though it's a different person
who makes you some return."

"I wish you would stop talking!" George exclaimed impatiently.

Edgar mentally compared Flora Grant with Sylvia, in whom he
disbelieved, and found it hard to restrain himself.  It was, he felt, a
great misfortune that George could not be made to see.

"Oh, well!" he acquiesced.  "I could say a good deal more, if I thought
it would do any good, but as that doesn't seem likely I'll dry up."

"That's a comfort," George said shortly.

He left the granary in a thoughtful mood, and on the following evening
drove over to the Grant homestead.  Its owner was busy somewhere
outside when he reached it, but Flora received him and he sat down with
satisfaction to talk to her.  It had become a pleasure to visit the
Grants; he felt at home in their house.  The absence of all ceremony,
the simple Canadian life, had a growing attraction for him.  One could
get to know these people, which was a different thing from merely
meeting them, and George thought this was to some extent the effect of
their surroundings.  He had always been conscious of a closer and more
intimate contact with his friends upon the mountain-side or the banks
of some salmon river than he had ever experienced in a club or
drawing-room.  For all that, Flora sometimes slightly puzzled him.  She
was free from the affectations and restraints of artificial
conventionality, but there was a reserve about her which he failed to
penetrate.  He wondered what lay behind it and had a curious feeling
that Edgar either guessed or knew.

"Did you enjoy your visit to Winnipeg?" she asked.

"It was a pleasant change and I got through my business satisfactorily.
Of course, I didn't go for amusement."

Flora laughed.

"So I supposed; you're growing more Canadian every day.  But you meant
to make a visit to England, which couldn't have had any connection with
business, last winter, didn't you?"

George's face grew serious.  He had, she thought, not got over his
disappointment.

"Yes," he said.  "But there was nothing to be done here then."

"So the things that should be done invariably come first with you?"

"In this case--I mean as far as they concern the farm--it's necessary."

Flora considered his answer, studying him quietly, though she had some
sewing in her hands.  Supposing, as she had once thought, there was
some English girl he had longed to see, he could have made the journey
later, when his crop had been sown, even though this entailed some
neglect of minor operations that required his care.  He received, as
she had learned with interest, few English letters, so there was nobody
to whom he wrote regularly; and yet his disappointment when forced to
abandon his visit had obviously been keen.  There was, Flora thought, a
mystery here.

"After all," she said, "the feeling you have indicated is pretty common
in the Canadian wheat-belt."

"Then why should you expect me to be an exception?  As a matter of
fact, I'm at least as anxious as my neighbors to be successful.  That's
partly why I've come over to-night."  His voice grew deeper and softer
as he continued.  "I want to thank you and your father for your
surprising generosity."

"Surprising?" responded Flora lightly, though she was stirred by the
signs of feeling he displayed.  "Do you know you're not altogether
complimentary?"

He smiled.

"You'll forgive the slip; when one feels strongly, it's difficult to
choose one's words.  Anyway, to get that seed, and so much of it, is an
immense relief.  I'm deeply grateful; the more so because your action
was so spontaneous.  I haven't a shadow of a claim on you."

Flora put down her sewing and looked at him directly.

"I don't think you ought to say that--do you wish to be considered a
stranger?"

"No," George declared impulsively.  "It's the last thing I want.
Still, you see--"

She was pleased with his eagerness, but she checked him.

"Then, as you have a gift of making friends, you must take the
consequences."

"I didn't know I had the gift.  My real friends aren't plentiful."

"If you begin to count, you may find them more numerous than you think."

"Those I have made in Canada head the list."

The girl felt a thrill of satisfaction.  This was not a compliment; he
had spoken from his heart.

"After all, I don't see why you should insist on thanking me as well as
my father, who really sent you the seed."  She paused.  "You didn't do
so on the last occasion; I mean at the time when it was promised to
you."

This was correct, and George was conscious of some embarrassment.

"Well," he said firmly, "I think I'm justified."

Flora could not contradict him, and she was glad he felt as he did.
She liked his way of sticking to the point; indeed, she was sensible of
a strong liking for the man.

During the next minute or two her father came in.  He cut short
George's thanks, and then took out his pipe.

"I was in at the Butte yesterday," he said.  "The police have got the
men who knocked Farren out, and Flett says they mean to press for a
smart penalty.  It's about time they made an example of somebody.  When
I was in, I fixed it up to turn Langside off his holding."

Flora looked up with interest.

"But how had you the power?" George asked.

"The man owes me four hundred dollars for a horse and some second-hand
implements I let him have nearly three years ago."

"But he has broken a big strip of his land; it's worth a good deal more
than you lent him."

"Just so.  He owes everybody money round the Butte.  I saw Taunton of
the store and the implement man and told them Langside had to quit."

"You seem to have found them willing to agree."

Grant broke into a grim smile.

"What I say to those men goes.  Then I've got security; they know I
could pull Langside down."

George looked at Flora and was slightly surprised at her acquiescent
manner.

"It sounds a little harsh; a good harvest might have set him straight,"
he said.  "However, I suppose you have a reason for what you're doing."

"That's so.  Langside's the kind of man I've no use for; he takes no
interest in his place.  After he has put in half a crop, he goes off
and spends his time doing a little railroad work and slouching round
the saloons along the line."

"It doesn't seem sufficient to justify your ruining him."

"I've got a little more against the man.  Has it struck you that
somebody round here, who knows the trails and the farmers' movements,
is standing in with the liquor boys."

A light broke in upon George.  Now that the matter had been put before
him, he could recollect a number of points that seemed to prove the
fanner right.  When cattle had been killed, their owners had been
absent; horses had disappeared at a time which prevented the discovery
of their loss from being promptly made.  It looked as if the offenses
could only have been committed with the connivance of somebody in the
neighborhood who had supplied their perpetrators with information.

"I believe you've got at the truth," he replied.  "Still, it must be
largely a matter of suspicion."

Grant leaned forward on the table and his face grew stern.

"You'll remember what Flett said about our system of justice sometimes
breaking down.  In this matter, I'm the jury, and I've thought the
thing over for the last six months, weighing up all that could be said
for Langside, though it isn't much.  What's more, I've talked to the
man and watched him; giving him every chance.  He has had his trial and
he has to go; there's no appeal."

George could imagine the thoroughness with which his host had
undertaken his task.  Grant would be just, deciding nothing without the
closest test.  George felt that the man he meant to punish must be
guilty.  For all that, he looked at Flora.

"Have you been consulted?" he asked.

"I understood," said Flora.  "And I agreed."

Her face was as hard as her father's and George was puzzled.

"I should have thought you would have been inclined to mercy."

Flora colored a little, but she looked at him steadily.

"Langside deserves the punishment he has so far escaped.  He's guilty
of what my father thinks, but there's another offense that I'm afraid
will never be brought home to him."

George admired her courage as he remembered a very unpleasant story he
had heard about a pretty waitress at the settlement.  As a matter of
fact, he had doubted it.

"Flora went to see the girl at Regina.  They found her there pretty
near dying," Grant explained quietly.

Recollecting a scene outside the Sachem, when Flora had accompanied
Mrs. Nelson, George realized that he had rather overlooked one side of
her character.  She could face unpleasant things and strive to put them
right, and she could be sternly just without shrinking when occasion
demanded it.  This, however, was not an aspect of hers that struck one
forcibly; he had generally seen her compassionate, cheerful, and
considerate.  Then he told himself that there was no reason why he
should take any interest in Flora Grant's qualities.

"I suppose Langside will be sold up," he said.

"Open auction, though I guess there won't be much bidding.  Folks round
here don't know the man as I do, but they've good reason to believe the
money will go to his creditors, and there'll be nothing left for him."

"The foreclosure won't meet with general favor," George said pointedly.

"That doesn't count.  It strikes one as curious that people should be
ready to sympathize with the slouch who lets his place go to ruin out
of laziness, and never think of the storekeepers' just claim on the
money he's wasted.  Anyway, there's nothing to stop people from
bidding; but, in case they hold off, we have fixed up how we'll divide
the property."

It was obvious to George that the position of Grant's associates was
unassailable.  If any friends of Langside's attempted to run prices up,
they would only put the money into his creditor's pockets; if, as
seemed more probable, they discouraged the bidding, the creditors would
secure his possessions at a low figure and recoup themselves by selling
later at the proper value.  George realized that Grant had carefully
thought out his plans.

"I don't think you have left him any way of escape," he said.

"No," replied Grant; "we have got him tight.  You had better come along
to the auction--you'll get notice of it--and see how the thing goes."

George said that he would do so, and shortly afterward drove away.  On
reaching home he told Edgar what he had heard, and the lad listened
with a thoughtful expression.

"One can't doubt that Grant knows what he's doing, but I'm not sure
he's wise," he said.  "Though Langside's a regular slacker, he has a
good many friends, and as a rule nobody has much sympathy with exacting
creditors.  Then it's bound to come out that it was Grant who set the
other fellows after Langside; and if he buys up much of the property at
a low figure, the thing will look suspicious."

"I tried to point that out."

"And found you had wasted words?  Grant would see it before you did,
and it wouldn't have the least effect on him.  You wouldn't expect that
man to yield to popular opinion.  Still, the thing will make trouble,
though I shall not be sorry if it forces on a crisis."

George nodded.

"I'm getting tired of these continual petty worries, and keeping a
ceaseless lookout.  I want to hit back."

"You'll no doubt get your chance.  What about Miss Grant's attitude?"

"She agreed with her father completely; I was a little surprised."

"That was quite uncalled for," said Edgar with a smile.  "It looks as
if you didn't know the girl yet.  These Westerners are a pretty grim
people."

George frowned at this, though he felt that there was some truth in
what his companion said.  On the whole, he was of the same mind as
Grant; there were situations in which one must fearlessly take a
drastic course.

"The sooner the trouble begins, the sooner it will be over," he said.
"One has now and then to run the risk of getting hurt."



CHAPTER XXV

A COUNTERSTROKE

Langside's farm was duly put up at auction, together with a valuable
team which he hired out to his neighbors when he left the place, a few
implements and a little rude furniture.  The sale was held outside, and
when George arrived upon the scene during the afternoon a row of light
wagons and buggies stood behind the rickety shack, near which was an
unsightly pile of broken crockery, discarded clothes and rusty
provision cans.  It was characteristic of Langside that he had not
taken the trouble to carry them as far as the neighboring bluff.  In
front of the bluff, horses were picketed; along the side ran a strip of
black soil, sprinkled with the fresh blades of wheat; and all round the
rest of the wide circle the prairie stretched away under cloudless
sunshine, flecked with brightest green.

A thin crowd surrounded the auctioneer's table, but the men stood in
loose clusters, and George, walking through them, noticed that the
undesirable element was largely represented.  There were a number of
small farmers, attracted by curiosity, or perhaps a wish to buy; but
these kept to themselves, and men from the settlement of no fixed
profession who worked spasmodically at different tasks, and spent the
rest of their time in the Sachem, were more plentiful.  Besides these,
there were some strangers, and George thought the appearance of several
was far from prepossessing.

It was a glorious day.  There was vigor in the warm breeze that swept
the grassy waste; the sunshine that bathed the black loam where the
green blades were springing up seemed filled with promise; but as the
sale proceeded George became sensible of a vague compunction.  The
sight of the new wheat troubled him--Langside had laboriously sown that
crop, which somebody else would reap.  Watching the battered domestic
utensils and furniture being carried out for sale had the same
disturbing effect.  Poor and comfortless as the shack was, it had,
until rude hands had desecrated it, been a home.  George felt that he
was consenting to the ruin of a defenseless man, assisting to drive him
forth, a wanderer and an outcast.  He wondered how far the terrors of
loneliness had urged Langside into his reckless courses--homesteaders
scattered about the wide, empty spaces occasionally became insane--but
with an effort he overcame the sense of pity.

Langside had slackly given way, and, choosing an evil part, had become
a menace to the community; as Grant had said, he must go.  This was
unavoidable, and though the duty of getting rid of him was painful, it
must be carried out.  George was usually unsuspicious and of easy-going
nature up to a certain point, but there was a vein of hardness in him.

Once or twice the auctioneer was interrupted by jeering cries, but he
kept his temper and the sale went on, though George noticed that only a
few strangers made any purchases.  At length, when the small sundries
had been cleared off, there was a curious silence as the land was put
up.  It was evident that the majority of those present had been warned
not to bid.

The auctioneer made a little speech in praise of the property, and
paused when it fell flat; then, while George wondered what
understanding the creditors had arrived at with Grant, a brown-faced
stranger strode forward.

"I've been advised to let this place alone," he said.  "I suppose you
have a right to sell?"

"Yes, sir," replied the auctioneer.  "Come along, and look at my
authority, if you want.  It's mortgaged property that has been
foreclosed after the creditors had waited a long while for a
settlement, and I may say that the interest demanded is under the
present market rate.  Everything's quite regular; no injustice has been
done.  If you're a purchaser, I'll take your bid."

"Then I'll raise you a hundred dollars," said the man.

There was a growl of dissatisfaction, and the stranger turned to the
part of the crowd from which it proceeded.

"This is an open auction, boys.  I was born in the next province, and
I've seen a good many farms seized in the years when we have had
harvest frost, but this is the first time I ever saw anybody try to
interfere with a legal sale.  Guess you may as well quit yapping,
unless you mean to bid against me."

There was derisive laughter, and a loafer from Sage Butte threw a clod.
Then another growl, more angry than the first, broke out as Grant,
moving forward into a prominent place, nodded to the auctioneer.  His
rugged face was impassive, and he ignored the crowd.  A number of the
farmers strolled toward him and stood near by with a resolute air which
had its effect on the others, though George saw by Grant's look of
surprise that he had not expected this.  Another man made a bid, and
the competition proceeded languidly, but except for a little mocking
laughter and an occasional jeer, nobody interfered.  In the end, the
stranger bought the land; and soon afterward Grant walked up to George.

"I want the team, if I can get it at a reasonable figure; they're real
good beasts with the imported Percheron strain strong in them," he
said.  "It will be a while before they're put up, and I'd be glad if
you could ride round and let Flora know what's keeping me.  I'd an idea
she expected there might be some trouble to-day."

"I'll get off; but there's a mower yonder I would like.  Will you buy
it for me, if it goes at a fair price?"

"Certainly," promised Grant.  "Tell Flora to give you supper; and if
you ride back afterward by the trail, you'll meet me and I'll let you
know about the mower."

George rode away shortly afterward, and Grant waited some time before
he secured the team, after rather determined opposition.  Finding
nobody willing to lead the horses home, he hitched them to the back of
his light wagon and set off at a leisurely pace.  When he had gone a
little distance, he overtook a man plodding along the trail.  The
fellow stopped when Grant came up.

"Will you give me a lift?" he asked.

The request is seldom refused on the prairie, and Grant pulled up his
team.

"Get in," he said.  "Where are you going?"

"North," answered the other, as he clambered up.  "Looking for a job;
left the railroad yesterday and spent the night in a patch of scrub.
Heard there was stock in the bluff country; that's my line."

Grant glanced at the fellow sharply as he got into the wagon and
noticed nothing in his disfavor.  His laconic account of himself was
borne out by his appearance.

"It's quite a way to the first homestead, if you're making for the big
bluffs," he said.  "You had better come along with me and go on in the
morning."

"I'll be glad," responded the other.  "These nights are pretty cold,
and my blanket's thin."

They drove on, and after a while the stranger glanced at the team
hitched behind the vehicle.

"Pretty good beasts," he remarked.  "That mare's a daisy.  Ought to be
worth a pile."

"She cost it," Grant told him.  "I've just bought her at a sale."

"I heard the boys talking about it when I was getting dinner at the
settlement," said the stranger carelessly.  "Called the fellow whose
place was sold up Langside, I think.  There's nothing much wrong with
the team you're driving."

Grant nodded; they were valuable animals, for he was fond of good
horses.  He was well satisfied with his new purchases and knew that
Langside had bought the mare after a profitable haulage contract during
the building of a new railroad.  His companion's flattering opinion
made him feel rather amiable toward him.

It was getting near dusk when they entered a strip of broken country,
where the ground was sandy and lolled in low ridges and steep hillocks.
Here and there small pines on the higher summits stood out black
against the glaring crimson light; birches and poplars straggled up
some of the slopes; and the trail, which wound through the hollows, was
loose and heavy.  The moist sand clogged the wheels and the team
plodded through it laboriously, until they came to a spot where the
melted snow running into a depression had formed a shallow lake.  This
had dried up, but the soil was very soft and marshy.  Grant pulled up
and glanced dubiously at the deep ruts cut in the road.

"There's a way round through the sand and scrub, but it's mighty rough
and I'm not sure we could get through it in the dark," he said.

"S'pose you double-yoke and drive straight ahead," suggested the other.
"I see you have some harness in the wagon."

Grant considered.  The harness, which had been thrown in with his
purchase, was old and short of one or two pieces; it would take time
and some contriving to hitch on the second team, and the light was
failing rapidly.  When he had crossed the soft place, there would still
be some rough ground to traverse before he reached the smoother trail
by which George would be riding.

"It might be as quick to go round," he replied.

"No, sir," said his companion, firmly.  "There's a blamed steep bit up
the big sandhill."

Suspicion flashed on Grant; the man had led him to believe he was a
stranger to the locality, and it was significant that he should insist
upon their stopping and harnessing the second team.

"That's so," he returned.  "Guess you had better get down and see if
it's very soft ahead."

The fellow rose with a promptness which partly disarmed Grant's
suspicions, and put his foot on the edge of the vehicle, ready to jump
down.  Then he turned swiftly and flung himself upon the farmer,
crushing his soft felt hat down to his chin.  Grant could see nothing,
and while he strove to get a grip on his antagonist he was thrown
violently backward off the driving seat.  The wagon was of the usual
high pattern, and he came down on the ground with a crash that nearly
knocked him unconscious.  Before he got up, he was seized firmly and
held with his shoulders pressed against the soil.  He struggled,
however, until somebody grasped his legs and his arms were drawn
forcibly apart.  It was impossible to see, because the thick hat was
still over his face and somebody held it fast, but he had an idea that
three or four men had fallen upon him.  They had, no doubt, been hidden
among the brush; the affair had been carefully arranged with his
treacherous companion.

"Open his jacket; try the inside pocket," cried one; and he felt hands
fumbling about him.  Then there was a disappointed exclamation.
"Check-book; that's no good!"

The farmer made a last determined effort.  After having long ruled his
household and hired men as a benevolent but decidedly firm-handed
autocrat, it was singularly galling to be treated in this unceremonious
fashion, and if he could only shake off the hat and get a glimpse of
his assailants he would know them again.  Moreover, he had brought a
roll of bills with him, in case he should make some small purchases.
He was, however, held firmly, and the hands he had felt dived into
another pocket.

"Got it now!" cried a hoarse voice.  "Here's his wallet; seems to have
a good wad in it!"

Grant, though he was generally sternly collected, boiled with fury.  He
felt no fear, but an uncontrollable longing to grapple with the men who
had so humiliated him.

"Guess, I'll fix you up!" came an angry voice when Grant managed to
fling off one pair of hands.

Then he received a heavy blow on the head.  Somebody had struck him
with the butt of a whip or riding quirt.  The pain was distressing; he
felt dazed and stupid, disinclined to move, but he retained
consciousness.  There were sounds to which he could attach a meaning: a
rattle of harness which indicated that his driving team was being
loosened, a thud of hoofs as the heavier Percherons were led away.  In
the meanwhile he could still feel a strong grasp on his shoulder,
holding him down, and once or twice a man near him gave the others
sharp instructions.  Grant made a languid effort to fix the voice in
his memory, but this was difficult because his mind worked heavily.

At length the driving team was unyoked--he could hear it being led
away--but the ache in his head grew almost intolerable and his
lassitude more intense.  For a while he had no idea what was going on;
and then a hoarse cry, which seemed one of alarm, rang out sharply.
There was a patter of running feet, a thud of hoofs on the soft soil,
and, breaking through these sounds, a rhythmic staccato drumming.
Somebody was riding hard across the uneven ground.

Gathering his languid senses, Grant suddenly moved his head, flinging
the hat from his face, and raised himself a little, leaning on one
elbow.  There was no longer anybody near him, but he could see a man
riding past a shadowy clump of trees a little distance off, leading a
second horse.  Closer at hand, another man was running hard beside one
of the Percherons, and while Grant watched him he made an effort to
scramble up on the back of the unsaddled animal, but slipped off.  Both
these men were indistinct in the dim hollow, but on a sandy ridge
above, which still caught the fading light, there was a
sharply-outlined mounted figure sweeping across the broken ground at a
reckless gallop.  It must be Lansing, who had come to the rescue.
Grant sent up a faint, hoarse cry of exultation.  He forgot his pain
and dizziness, he even forgot he had been assaulted; he was conscious
only of a burning wish to see Lansing ride down the fellow who was
running beside the Percheron.

There was a patch of thick scrub not far ahead which it would be
difficult for the horseman on the rise to break through, and if the
fugitive could succeed in mounting, he might escape while his pursuer
rode round; but Lansing seemed to recognize this.  He swept down from
the ridge furiously and rode to cut off the thief.  Grant saw him come
up with the fellow, with his quirt swung high, but the figures of men
and horses were now indistinct against the shrub.  There was a blow
struck; one of the animals reared, plunged and fell; the other went on
and vanished into the gloom of the dwarf trees.

Then Grant, without remembering how he got up, found himself upon his
feet and lurching unsteadily toward the clump of brush.  When he
reached it, Lansing was standing beside his trembling horse, which had
a long red gash down its shoulder.  His hands were stained and a big
discolored knife lay near his feet.  There was nobody else about, but a
beat of hoofs came back, growing fainter, out of the gathering dusk.

George looked around when the farmer joined him, and then pointed to
the wound on the horse.

"I think it was meant for my leg," he said.  "I hit the fellow once
with the thick end of the quirt, but he jumped straight at me.  The
horse reared when he felt the knife and I came off before he fell.
When I got up again, the fellow had gone."

Grant felt scarcely capable of standing.  He sat down heavily and
fumbled for his pipe, while George turned his attention to the horse
again.

"Though it's only in the muscle, the cut looks deep," he said at
length.  "I'd better lead him back to your place; it's nearer than
mine."

"I'd rather you came along; I'm a bit shaky."

"Of course," said George.  "I was forgetting.  Those fellows had you
down.  Are you hurt?"

"They knocked me out with something heavy--my whip, I guess--but I'm
getting over it.  Cleaned out my pockets; went off with both teams."

George nodded.

"It's pretty bad; quite impossible to get after them.  They'll head for
Montana as fast as they can ride."

"Did you see any of them clearly?"

"One fellow looked like Langside, though I couldn't swear to him; but
I'd know the man who knifed my horse.  Remembered that would be
desirable, in case he escaped me; and I got a good look at him.  Now,
if you feel able shall we make a start?  I'm afraid the horse is too
lame to carry you."

He picked up the knife.  Grant rose, and they set off, leading the
horse, which moved slowly and painfully.  It had grown dark and the
trail was rough, but the farmer plodded homeward, stopping a few
moments now and then.  The path, however, grew smoother when they had
left the sandy ridges behind, and by and by the lights of the homestead
commenced to twinkle on the vast shadowy plain.  Soon after they
reached it, George rode away, mounted on a fresh horse, in search of
Constable Flett.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE CLIMAX

George was tired and sleepy when he reached the settlement early in the
morning, and found Flett at Hardie's house.  It transpired from their
conversation that there had been a disturbance at the Sachem on the
return of a party which had driven out to the sale, and one man, who
accused a companion of depriving him of a bargain, had attacked and
badly injured him with a decanter.  Flett, being sent for, had arrested
the fellow, and afterward called upon the clergyman for information
about his antecedents and character.  He listened with close attention
while George told his tale; and then examined the knife he produced.

"This is about the limit!" he exclaimed.  "You wouldn't have persuaded
me that the thing was possible when I was first sent into the district.
It isn't what one expects in the wheat-belt, and it certainly has to be
stopped."

"Of course," said George, with some impatience.  "But wouldn't it be
wiser to consider the ways and means?  At present the fellows are no
doubt pushing on for the frontier with two valuable teams and a wad of
stolen bills."

Flett smiled at him indulgently.

"This isn't a job that can be put through in a hurry.  If they're
heading for the boundary--and I guess they are--they'll be in Dakota or
Montana long before any of the boys I'll wire to could come up with
them.  Our authority doesn't hold on American soil."

"Is that to be the end of it?"

"Why, no," Flett answered dryly.  "As I guess you have heard, they have
had trouble of this kind in Alberta for a while; and most every time
the boys were able to send back any American mavericks and beef-cattle
that were run into Canada.  As the result of it, our chiefs at Regina
are pretty good friends with the sheriffs and deputies on the other
side.  They're generally willing to help us where they can."

"Then you shouldn't have much difficulty in trailing your men.  Suppose
a fellow turned up with four exceptionally good horses and offered them
to an American farmer or dealer, wouldn't it arouse suspicion?"

"It might," said Flett, with a meaning smile.  "But the thing's not so
simple as it looks.  We all know that Canadian steers and horses have
been run off and disposed of across the frontier; and now and then a
few from that side have disappeared in Canada.  This points to there
being a way of getting rid of them; some mean white on a lonely holding
will take them at half-value, and pass them along.  What we have to do
is to send a man over quietly to investigate, and get the sheriffs and
deputies to keep their eyes open.  I'm going to beg the Regina people
to let me be that man."

"You may as well understand that it isn't the return of the horses
Grant wants so much as the conviction of the men who waylaid him."

"Then," said Flett, pointedly, "he must be mighty mad."

Hardie joined in George's laugh; but the constable went on:

"I believe we're going to get them; but it will take time--all summer,
perhaps.  I've known our boys lay hands on a man they wanted, eighteen
months afterward."

"In one way, I don't think that's much to their credit," the clergyman
remarked.

Taking up the knife George had handed him, Flett pointed to some
initials scratched on the bone haft.

"Kind of foolish thing for the fellow to put his name on his tools; but
I don't know anybody those letters might stand for.  Now you describe
him as clearly as you can, while I put it down."

George did as he was bidden, and added: "There were two more--one of
them looked like Langside--and I believe a fourth man, though I may be
mistaken in this.  They were moving about pretty rapidly and the light
was bad."

Flett got up.

"I'll have word sent along to Regina, and then try to locate their
trail until instructions come.  I want to get about it right away, but
there's this blamed fellow who knocked out his partner at the Sachem,
and it will take me most of a day's ride before I can hand him on to
Davies.  It's a charge that nobody's going to worry about, and it's a
pity he couldn't have escaped.  Still, that's the kind of thing that
can't happen too often."

He went out and George turned to Hardie.

"How does the matter strike you?"

"I've an idea that Flett was right in saying it was the limit.  There
was a certain romance about these disturbances when they began; they
were a novelty in this part of Canada.  People took them lightly, glad
of something amusing or exciting to talk about.  It was through popular
indifference that the gang first gained a footing, but by degrees it
became evident that they couldn't be dislodged without a vigorous
effort.  People shrank from making it; and, with Beamish backing them,
the fellows got steadily bolder and better organized.  All the time,
however, they were really at the mercy of the general body of orderly
citizens.  Now they have gone too far; this last affair can't be
tolerated.  Instead of apathy, there'll be an outbreak of indignation;
and I expect the people who might have stopped the thing at the
beginning will denounce the police."

George nodded.

"That's my idea.  What's our part?"

"I think it's to assist in the reaction.  Your story's a striking one.
We had better get it into a newspaper as soon as possible.  I suppose
it would be correct to say that Grant was cruelly beaten?"

"His face is blue from jaw to temple.  They knocked him nearly
senseless with the butt of a whip, while he was lying, helpless, on the
ground."

"And your horse was badly wounded?"

"I wish it weren't true; there's a gash about eight inches long.  If it
will assist the cause, you can say the stab was meant for me."

"Well," said Hardie, "I think it will make a moving tale.  I'm afraid,
however, I'll have to lay some stress upon the single-handed rescue."

George looked dubious.

"I'd rather you left that out."

"We must impress the matter on people's thoughts, make it command
attention; a little diplomacy is allowable now and then," said Hardie,
smiling.  "Since you don't mind getting yourself into trouble, I don't
see why you should object to being held up to admiration, and it's in
an excellent cause.  Now, however, I'll order breakfast for you, and
then you had better get some sleep."

During the afternoon, George set off for home, and he was plowing for
the summer fallow a week later when Flora Grant rode up to him.

"I suppose you have got your mail and have seen what the _Sentinel_
says about you?" she asked mischievously.

George looked uncomfortable, but he laughed.

"Yes," he confessed.  "It seemed to afford Edgar some amusement."

"Who's responsible for that flattering column?  It doesn't read like
the work of the regular staff."

"I'm afraid that I am, to some extent, though Hardie's the actual
culprit.  The fact is, he thought the course was necessary."

"Well, I suspected something of the kind; so did my father.  It was a
wise move, and I think it will have its effect."

George made no comment and she sat silent a moment or two while he
watched her with appreciation.  She was well-mounted on a beautiful,
carefully-groomed horse; the simple skirt and bodice of pale gray
emphasized the pure tinting of her face and hands and the warm glow of
her hair, in which the fierce sunshine forced up strong coppery gleams.
Her lips formed a patch of crimson, there was a red band on her wide
Stetson hat, and her eyes shone a deep blue as she looked down at
George, who stood in the sandy furrow leaning against the heavy plow.
He was dressed in old overalls that had faded with dust and sun to the
indefinite color of the soil, but they displayed the fine lines of a
firmly knit and muscular figure.  His face was deeply bronzed, but a
glow of sanguine red shone through its duskier coloring.  Behind them
both ran a broad sweep of stubble, steeped in strong ochre, relieved by
brighter lemon hues where the light blazed on it.

"Though I couldn't resist the temptation to tease you, I quite agree
with the _Sentinel_," she resumed.  "It really was a very gallant
rescue, and I suppose you know I recognize my debt to you.  I was a
little too startled to speak about it when you brought my father home,
and you went away so fast."

"The fellows were afraid of being identified; they bolted as soon as
they saw me."

"One didn't," Flora pointed out.  "A knife-thrust, like the one you
avoided, or a pistol-shot would have obviated any risk they ran.  But
of course you hate to be thanked."

"No," George replied impulsively; "not by you."

"I wonder," she said with an amused air, "why you should make an
exception of me?"

"I suppose it lessens my sense of obligation.  I feel I've done some
little thing to pay you back."

"I'm not sure that was very happily expressed.  Is it painful to feel
that you owe anything to your neighbors?"

George flushed.

"That wasn't what I meant.  Do you think it's quite fair to lay traps
for me, when you can count on my falling into them?"  He turned and
pointed to the great stretch of grain that clothed the soil with vivid
green.  "Look at your work.  Last fall, all that plowing was strewn
with a wrecked and mangled crop; now it's sown with wheat that will
stand the drought.  I was feeling nearly desperate, wondering how I was
to master the sandy waste, when you came to the rescue and my troubles
melted like the dust in summer rain.  They couldn't stand before you;
you banished them."

She looked at him rather curiously, and, George thought, with some
cause, for he was a little astonished at his outbreak.  This was not
the kind of language that was most natural to him.

"I wonder," she said, "why you should take so much for granted--I mean
in holding me accountable?"

"It's obvious," George declared.  "I understand your father; he's a
very generous friend, but the idea of sending me the seed didn't occur
to him in the first place; though I haven't the least doubt that he was
glad to act on it."

"Ah!" said Flora, "it looks as if you had been acquiring some
penetration; you were not so explicit the last time you insisted on
thanking me.  Who can have been teaching you?  It seems, however, that
I'm still incomprehensible."

George considered.  It would be undesirable to explain that his
enlightenment had come from Edgar, and he wanted to express what he
felt.

"No," he said, in answer to her last remark; "not altogether; but I've
sometimes felt that there's a barrier of reserve in you, beyond which
it's hard to get."

"Do you think it would be worth while to make the attempt?  Suppose you
succeeded and found there was nothing on the other side?"

He made a sign of negation, and she watched him with some interest; the
man was trying to thrash out his ideas.

"That couldn't happen," he declared gravely.  "Somehow you make one
feel there is much in you that wants discovery, but that one will learn
it by and by.  After all, it's only the shallow people you never really
get to know."

"It would seem an easy task, on the face of it."

"As a matter of fact, it isn't.  They have a way of enveloping
themselves in an air of importance and mystery, and when they don't do
so, they're casual and inconsequent.  One likes people with, so to
speak, some continuity of character.  By degrees one gets to know how
they'll act and it gives one a sense of reliance."  He paused and
added, diffidently: "Anything you did would be wise and generous."

"By degrees?" smiled Flora.  "So it's slowly, by patient sapping, the
barriers go down!  One could imagine that such things might be
violently stormed.  But you're not rash, are you, or often in a hurry?
However, it's time I was getting home."

She waved her hand and rode away, and George, getting into the saddle,
started his team, and thought about her while he listened to the
crackling of the stubble going down beneath the hoofs, and the soft
thud of thrown-back soil as the lengthening rows of clods broke away
from the gleaming shares.  What she might have meant by her last remark
he could not tell, though so far as it concerned him, he was ready to
admit that he was addicted to steady plodding.  Then his thoughts took
a wider range, and he began to make comparisons.  Flora was not
characterized by Sylvia's fastidious refinement; she was more virile
and yet more reposeful.  Sylvia's activities spread bustle around her;
she required much assistance and everybody in her neighborhood was
usually impressed into her service, though their combined efforts often
led to nothing.  Flora's work was done silently; the results were most
apparent.

Still, the charm Sylvia exerted was always obvious; a thing to rejoice
in and be thankful for.  Flora had not the same effect on one, though
he suspected there was a depth of tenderness in her, behind the
barrier.  It struck him as a pity that she showed no signs of interest
in West, who of late seemed to have been attracted by the pretty
daughter of a storekeeper at the settlement; but, after all, the lad
was hardly old or serious enough for Flora.  There was, however, nobody
else in the district who was nearly good enough for her; and George
felt glad that she was reserved and critical.  It would be disagreeable
to contemplate her yielding to any suitor unless he were a man of
exceptional merit.

Then he laughed and called to his horses.  He was thinking about
matters that did not concern him; his work was to drive the long furrow
for Sylvia's benefit, and he found pleasure in it.  Bright sunshine
smote the burnished clods; scattered, white-edged clouds drove across
the sky of dazzling blue, flinging down cool gray shadows that sped
athwart the stubble; young wheat, wavy lines of bluff, and wide-spread
prairie were steeped in glowing color.  The man rejoiced in the rush of
the breeze; the play of straining muscles swelling and sinking on the
bodies of the team before him was pleasant to watch; he felt at home in
the sun and wind, which, tempered as they often were by gentle rain,
were staunchly assisting him.  By and by, all the foreground of the
picture he gazed upon would be covered with the coppery ears of wheat.
He had once shrunk from returning to Canada; but now, through all the
stress of cold and heat, he was growing fond of the new land.  What was
more, he felt the power to work at such a task as he was now engaged in
to be a privilege.



CHAPTER XXVII

A SIGN FROM FLETT

Summer drew on with swift strides.  Crimson flowers flecked the prairie
grass, the wild barley waved its bristling ears along the trails,
saskatoons glowed red in the shadows of each bluff.  Day by day
swift-moving clouds cast flitting shadows across the sun-scorched
plain, but though they shed no moisture the wheat stood nearly
waist-high upon the Marston farm.  The sand that whirled about it did
the strong stalks no harm.

Earlier in the season there had been drenching thunder showers, and
beyond the grain the flax spread in sheets of delicate blue that broke
off on the verge of the brown-headed timothy.  Still farther back lay
the green of alsike and alfalfa, for the band of red and white cattle
that roamed about the bluffs; but while the fodder crop was bountiful
George had decided to supplement it with the natural prairie hay.
There was no pause in his exertions; task followed task in swift
succession.  Rising in the sharp cold of the dawn, he toiled
assiduously until the sunset splendors died out in paling green and
crimson on the far rim of the plain.

The early summer was marked by signs of approaching change in Sage
Butte affairs.  There were still a few disturbances and Hardie had
troubles to face, but he and his supporters noticed that the
indifference with which they had been regarded was giving place to
sympathy.  When Grant first visited the settlement after his
misadventure, he was received with expressions of indignant
commiseration, and he afterward told Flora dryly that he was astonished
at the number of his friends.  Mrs. Nelson and a few of the stalwarts
pressed Hardie to make new and more vigorous efforts toward the
expulsion of the offenders, but the clergyman refrained.  Things were
going as he wished; it was scarcely wise to expose such a tender thing
as half-formed opinion to a severe test, and the failure that might
follow a premature attempt could hardly be recovered from.  It seemed
better to wait until Grant's assailants should be arrested, and the
story of their doings elicited in court, to rouse general indignation,
and he thought this would happen.  Flett had disappeared some weeks ago
and nothing had been heard of him, but Hardie believed his chiefs had
sent him out on the robbers' trail.  The constable combined sound sense
with dogged pertinacity, and these were serviceable qualities.

It was a hot afternoon when George brought home his last load of wild
sloo hay, walking beside his team, while Flora curbed her reckless
horse a few yards off.  She had ridden over with her father, and
finding that George had not returned, had gone on to prevent a hired
man from being sent for him.  They had met each other frequently of
late, and George was sensible of an increasing pleasure in the girl's
society; though what Flora felt did not appear.  Behind them the
jolting wagon strained beneath its high-piled load that diffused an
odor of peppermint; in front the shadow of a bluff lay cool upon the
sun-scorched prairie.

"I suppose you heard that Baxter lost a steer last week," she said.
"Most likely, it was killed; but, though the police searched the
reservation, there was no trace of the hide.  We have had a little
quietness, but I'm not convinced that our troubles won't break out
again.  Nobody seems to have heard anything of Flett."

"He's no doubt busy somewhere."

"I'm inclined to believe so, and, in a way, his silence is reassuring.
Flett can work without making a disturbance, and that is in his favor.
But what has become of Mr. West?  We haven't seen much of him of late."

"He has fallen into a habit of riding over to the settlement in his
spare time, which isn't plentiful."

"Ah!" exclaimed Flora; "that agrees with some suspicions of mine.
Don't you feel a certain amount of responsibility?"

"I do," George admitted.  "Still, he's rather head-strong, and he
hasn't told me why he goes to the Butte; though the girl's father gave
me a hint.  I like Taunton--he's perfectly straightforward--and I'd
almost made up my mind to ask your opinion about the matter, but I was
diffident."

"I'll give it to you without reserve--there's no ground for uneasiness
on West's account; he might fall into much worse hands.  If Helen
Taunton has any influence over him, it will be wisely used.  Besides,
she has been well educated; she spent a few years in Montreal."

"She has a nice face; in fact, she's decidedly pretty."

"And that would cover a multitude of shortcomings?"

"Well," said George, thoughtfully, "mere physical beauty is something
to be thankful for; though I'm not sure that beauty can be, so to
speak, altogether physical.  When I said the girl had a nice face, I
meant that its expression suggested a wholesome character."

"You seem to have been cultivating your powers of observation," Flora
told him.  "But I'm more disposed to consider the matter from Helen's
point of view.  As it happens, she's a friend of mine and I've reasons
for believing that your partner's readily susceptible and inclined to
be fickle.  Of course, I'm not jealous."

George laughed.

"He's too venturesome now and then, but he has been a little spoiled.
I've an idea that this affair is likely to be permanent.  He has shown
a keen interest in the price of land and the finances of farming, which
struck me as having its meaning."

They had now nearly reached the bluff and a horseman in khaki uniform
rode out of it to meet them.

"I've been over to your place," he said to George, when he had
dismounted.  "I was sent to show you a photograph and ask if you can
recognize anybody in it?"

He untied a packet and George studied the picture handed him.  It
showed the rutted main street of a little western town, with the
sunlight on a row of wooden buildings.  In the distance a band of
cattle were being driven forward by two mounted men; nearer at hand a
few wagons stood outside a livery stable; and in the foreground three
or four figures occupied the veranda of a frame hotel.  The ease of
their attitudes suggested that they did not know they were being
photographed, and their faces were distinct.  George looked
triumphantly excited and unhesitatingly laid a finger on one face.

"This is the man that drove off Mr. Grant's Percheron and stabbed my
horse."

The trooper produced a thin piece of card and a small reading-glass.

"Take another look through this; it came along with the photograph.
Now, would you be willing to swear to him?"

"I'll be glad to do so, if I have the chance.  Shall I put a mark
against the fellow?"

"Not on that!"  The trooper handed George the card, which proved to be
a carefully drawn key-plan of the photograph, with the figures
outlined.  "You can mark this one."

George did as he was told, and then handed the photograph to Flora.

"How did your people get it?" he asked the trooper.

"I can't say; they don't go into explanations."

"But what do you think?  Did Flett take the photograph?"

"No, sir; I heard him tell the sergeant he knew nothing about a camera.
He may have got somebody to take it or may have bought the thing."

"Do you know where he is?"

"I only know he got special orders after Mr. Grant was robbed.  It's my
idea he was somewhere around when the photograph was taken."

"I wonder where it was taken?  In Alberta, perhaps, though I'm inclined
to think it was on the other side of the frontier."

"That is my opinion," said Flora.  "There's not a great difference
between us and our neighbors, but the dress of the mounted men and the
style of the stores are somehow American.  I'd say Montana, or perhaps
Dakota."

"Montana," said the trooper.  "The big bunch of cattle seems to fix it."

"Then you think Flett is over there?" asked George.  "I'm interested,
so is Miss Grant, and you needn't be afraid of either of us spreading
what you say."

"It's my notion that Flett has spotted his men, but I guess he's now
watching out near the boundary in Canada.  These rustler fellows can't
do all their business on one side; they'll have to cross now and then.
Flett's in touch with some of the American sheriffs, who'll give him
the tip, and the first time the fellows slip over the frontier he'll
get them.  That would suit everybody better and save a blamed lot of
formalities."

Flora nodded.

"It strikes me as very likely; and Flett's perhaps the best man you
could have sent.  But have you shown the photograph to my father?"

"I did that before I left the homestead.  There's nobody in the picture
like the fellow who drove with Mr. Grant, and he tells me he saw nobody
else.  Now I must be getting on."

He rode away, and Flora reverted to the topic she and George had been
discussing.

"So you believe Mr. West is thinking of living here altogether!  I
suppose he would be able to take a farm of moderate size?"

"It wouldn't be very large; he can't have much money, but his people
would help him to make a start if they were satisfied.  That means they
would consult me."

Flora smiled.

"And you feel you would be in a difficult position, if you were asked
whether it would be wise to let him marry a prairie girl?  Have you
formed any decision about the matter?"

She spoke in an indifferent tone, but George imagined that she was
interested.

"I can't see why he shouldn't do so."

"Think a little.  West has been what you call well brought up, he's
fastidious, and I haven't found English people free from social
prejudices.  Could you, as his friend, contemplate his marrying the
daughter of a storekeeper in a rather primitive western town?  Taunton,
of course, is not a polished man."

"I don't think that counts; he's a very good type in spite of it.  The
girl's pretty, she has excellent manners, and she strikes me as having
sense--and in some respects Edgar has very little.  I'll admit that at
one time I might not have approved of the idea, but I believe I've got
rid of one or two foolish opinions that I brought out with me.  If Miss
Taunton is what she appears to be, he's lucky in getting her.  Don't
you think so?"

He had spoken with a little warmth, though, as Flora knew, he was
seldom emphatic; and a rather curious expression crept into her face.
He did not quite understand it, but he thought she was pleased for some
reason or other!

"Oh," she said lightly, "I have told you my opinion."

Nothing further was said about the subject, but George walked beside
his team in a state of calm content.  His companion was unusually
gracious; she made a picture that was pleasant to watch as she sat,
finely poised, on the big horse, with the strong sunlight on her face.
Her voice was attractive, too; it reached him, clear and musical,
through the thud of hoofs and the creak of slowly-turning wheels, for
he made no attempt to hurry his team.

When they reached the homestead, the conversation centered on the
constable's visit; and when the Grants left, Edgar stood outside with
George, watching the slender mounted figure grow smaller beside the
jolting buggy.

"George," he said, "I've met very few girls who could compare with
Flora Grant, taking her all round."

"That's correct," George told him.  "As a matter of fact, I'm doubtful
whether you have met any who would bear the comparison.  It was the
sillier ones who made a fuss over you."

"I know of one," Edgar resumed.  "As it happens, she's in Canada."

"I'd a suspicion of something of the kind," George said dryly.

Edgar made no answer, but presently he changed the subject.

"What's the least one could take up a farm here with, and have a fair
chance of success?"

"One understands it has been done with practically nothing on preempted
land, though I'm rather dubious.  In your case, I'd fix five thousand
dollars as the minimum; more would be decidedly better."

"Yes," said Edgar thoughtfully; "that's about my idea; and I suppose it
could be raised, though my share of what was left us has nearly all
been spent in cramming me with knowledge I've no great use for.
Stephen, however, has done pretty well, and I think he always realized
that it would be his privilege to give me a lift; I've no doubt he'll
write to you as soon as I mention the matter, and your answer will have
its effect."  He looked at George with anxious eyes.  "I venture to
think you'll strain a point to say what you can in my favor?"

"In the first place, I'll ride over to the Butte and have supper with
Taunton, as soon as I can find the time."

"Thanks," responded Edgar gratefully; "you won't have any doubts after
that."  Then he broke into laughter.  "You'll excuse me, but it's
really funny, George."

"I don't see the joke," George said shortly.

Edgar tried to look serious, and failed.

"I can imagine your trying to weigh up Helen; starting a subtle
conversation to elucidate her character, and showing what you were
after and your profound ignorance with every word; though you mustn't
suppose I'd be afraid of submitting her to the severest test.  Why, you
wouldn't even know when a girl was in love with you, unless she told
you so.  Perhaps it's some excuse that your mind's fixed on one woman
to the exclusion of all the rest, though one could imagine that, as you
think of her, she's as unreal and as far removed from anything made of
flesh and blood as a saint in a picture.  After all, I dare say it's a
very proper feeling."

George left him, half amused and half disturbed.  He did not resent
Edgar's freedom of speech, but the latter had a way of mixing hints
that were not altogether foolish with his badinage, and his comrade was
inclined to wonder what he had meant by one suggestive remark.  It
troubled him as he strolled along the edge of the tall green wheat, but
he comforted himself with the thought that, after all, Edgar's
conversation was often unworthy of serious consideration.

A week later George rode over to the store at the settlement, feeling a
little diffident, because he had undertaken the visit only from a sense
of duty.  He was cordially received, and was presently taken in to
supper, which was served in a pretty room and presided over by a very
attractive girl.  She had a pleasant voice and a quiet face; though he
thought she must have guessed his errand, she treated him with a
composure that set him at his ease.  Indeed, she was by no means the
kind of girl he had expected Edgar to choose; but this was in her
favor.  George could find no fault in her.

Shortly after the meal was finished his host was called away, and the
girl looked up at George with a flush of color creeping, most
becomingly, into her face.

"Edgar told me I needn't be afraid of you," she said.

George smiled.

"I can understand his confidence, though it had a better foundation
than my good-nature.  I wonder whether I might venture to say that he
has shown remarkably good sense?"

"I'm glad you don't think he has been very foolish," replied the girl,
and it was obvious to George that she understood the situation.

He made her a little grave bow.

"What I've said, I'm ready to stick to.  I'm a friend of Edgar's, and
that carried an obligation."

"Yes," she assented, "but it was because you are a friend of his and,
in a way, represent his people in England, that I was a little uneasy."

Her speech implied a good deal and George admired her candor.

"Well," he said, "so far as I am concerned, you must never feel
anything of the kind again.  But I think you should have known it was
quite unnecessary."

She gave him a grateful glance and soon afterward her father came in.

"Guess we'll take a smoke in the back office," he said to George.

George followed him, and thought he understood why he was led into the
little untidy room strewn with packets of goods, though his host had a
fine commodious house.  Taunton would not attempt to dissociate himself
from his profession; he meant to be taken for what he was, but he knew
his value.  He was a gaunt, elderly man: as far as his general
appearance went, a typical inhabitant of a remote and half-developed
western town, though there was a hint of authority in his face.  Giving
George an excellent cigar, he pointed to a chair.

"Now," he began, "we must have a talk.  When your partner first came
hanging round my store, buying things he didn't want, I was kind of
short with him.  Helen helps me now and then with the books, and he
seemed to know when she came in."

"I noticed he came home in a rather bad temper once or twice," George
said with a laugh.  "I used to wonder, when he produced sardine cans at
supper, but after a while I began to understand."

"Well," continued Taunton, "I didn't intend to have any blamed Percy
trying to turn my girl's head, until I knew what he meant.  I'd nobody
to talk it over with--I lost her mother long ago--so I kind of froze
him out, until one day he came dawdling in and asked if he might take
Helen to Jim Haxton's dance.

"'Does she know you have come to me about it?' I said.

"'Can't say,' he told me coolly, with a cigarette hanging out of his
mouth.  'I haven't mentioned the matter yet; I thought I'd ask you
first.'

"'S'pose I object?' I said.

"'Then,' he allowed quite tranquil, 'the thing will have to be
considered.  There's not the slightest reason why you should object.'

"I'd a notion I could agree with him--I liked the way he talked--and I
told him Helen could go, but the next time he called he was to walk
right into the office instead of hanging round the counter.  I asked
him what he'd done with all the canned truck he'd bought, and he said
he was inclined to think his partner had eaten most of it.  Since then
he's been over pretty often, and I figured it was time I gave you a
hint."

"Thanks," responded George.  "He was, in a way, placed in my hands, but
I've no real control over him."

"That's so; he's of age.  What I felt was this--I've nothing against
West, but my girl's good enough for anybody, and I can't have his
people in England looking down on her and making trouble.  If they're
not satisfied, they had better call him back right now.  There's to be
no high-toned condescension in this matter."

"I don't think you need be afraid of that," said George.  "It would be
altogether uncalled for.  It's very likely that I shall be consulted,
and I'll have pleasure in telling his people that I consider him a
lucky man."

"There's another point--has West any means?"

"I believe about five thousand dollars could be raised to put him on a
farm."

Taunton nodded.

"It's not very much, but I don't know that I'm sorry.  I'll see they're
fixed right; whatever West gets I'll beat.  My girl shan't be indebted
to her husband's folks.  But there's not a word to be said about this
yet.  West must wait another year before we decide on anything."

George thought the storekeeper's attitude could not be found fault
with, and when he drove home through the soft dusk of the summer night,
he was glad to feel that there was no need for anxiety about the choice
Edgar had made.



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE LEADING WITNESS

Three or four weeks passed quietly without any news from Flett until
one evening when Edgar sat talking to Miss Taunton in the office of her
father's store at Sage Butte.  The little, dusty room was unpleasantly
hot and filled with the smell of resinous pine boards; there was a
drawl of voices and an occasional patter of footsteps outside the door;
and a big book, which seemed to have no claim on her attention, lay
open on the table in front of the girl.

She was listening to Edgar with a smile in her eyes, and looking, so he
thought, remarkably attractive in her light summer dress which left her
pretty, round arms uncovered to the elbow and displayed the polished
whiteness of her neck.  He was expressing his approval of the current
fashions, which he said were rational and particularly becoming to
people with skins like ivory.  Indeed, he was so engrossed in his
subject that he did not hear footsteps approaching until his companion
flashed a warning glance at him; and he swung round with some annoyance
as the door opened.

"I guessed I would find you here," said the station-agent, looking in
with an indulgent smile.

"You're a thoughtful man," retorted Edgar.  "You may as well tell me
what you want."

"I've a wire from Flett, sent at Hatfield, down the line."

"What can he be doing there?" Edgar exclaimed; and Miss Taunton showed
her interest.

"He was coming through on the train.  Wanted Mr. Lansing to meet him at
the station, if he was in town.  Hadn't you better go along?"

"I suppose so," said Edgar resignedly, glancing at his watch.  "It
looks as if your men had taken their time.  Flett should be here in
about a quarter of an hour now."

"Operator had train orders to get through; we have two freights
side-tracked," the agent explained.  "Don't be late; she's coming along
on time."

He hurried out, and a few minutes later Edgar crossed the street and
strolled along the low wooden platform, upon which a smart constable
was waiting.  A long trail of smoke, drawing rapidly nearer, streaked
the gray and ochre of the level plain, and presently the big engine and
dusty cars rolled into the station amid the hoarse tolling of the bell.
As they ran slowly past him, Edgar saw a police trooper leaning out
from a vestibule, and when the train stopped the constable on the
platform hurried toward the car.  A hum of excited voices broke out and
Edgar had some difficulty in pushing through the growing crowd to reach
the steps.  A constable, who had hard work to keep the others back, let
him pass, and he found Flett standing on the platform above, looking
rather jaded, with a pistol loose in his holster.

"Isn't Mr. Lansing here?" Flett asked eagerly, and then turned to the
trooper.  "Keep those fellows off!"

"No," answered Edgar; "he hasn't come into town.  But what's the cause
of this commotion?  Have you got your men?"

"Three of them," said Flett, with a look of pride.  "I expect we'll get
the fourth.  But come in a minute, out of the noise."

The car was besieged.  Curious men were clambering up the side of it,
trying to peer in through the windows; others disputed angrily with the
trooper who drove them off the steps.  Eager questions were shouted and
scraps of random information given, and groups of people were excitedly
running across the street to the station.  It was, however, a little
quieter in the vestibule when Flett had banged the door.  He next
opened the inner door that led to the smoking compartment of the
Colonist car.  In spite of its roominess, it was almost insufferably
hot and very dirty; the sunlight struck in through the windows; sand
and fine cinders lay thick upon the floor.  A pile of old blue blankets
lay, neatly folded, on one of the wooden seats, and on those adjoining
sat three men.  Two wore brown duck overalls, gray shirts, and big soft
hats; one was dressed in threadbare cloth; but there was nothing that
particularly suggested the criminal in any of their sunburned faces.
They looked hot and weary with the journey, and though their expression
was perhaps a little hard, they looked like harvest hands traveling in
search of work.  One, who was quietly smoking, took his pipe from his
mouth and spoke to Flett.

"Can't you get us some ice?" he asked.  "The water in the tank isn't
fit to drink."

"They haven't any here.  You'll have to wait until we get to the
junction," Flett told him, and drew Edgar back into the vestibule.

"We're taking them right along to Regina," he explained.  "I'm sorry I
couldn't see Mr. Lansing, but I'll ride over as soon as I'm sent back.
If he's likely to be away, he'd better send word to the station."

"I don't expect he'll leave the farm during the next few weeks," said
Edgar.

Then one of the constables looked in.

"Conductor says he can't hold up the train."

"I'll be off," said Edgar, with a smile at Flett.  "This should mean
promotion; it's a fine piece of work."

He jumped down as the train pulled out and hurried back to the store
where Miss Taunton was eagerly awaiting news.  Soon afterward he left;
and as he rode up to the homestead day was breaking, but he found
George already at work in the stable.

"It's lucky we don't need your horse.  If you're going to keep up this
kind of thing, you had better buy an automobile," he remarked.

Edgar laughed.

"I don't feel remarkably fresh, but I'll hold out until to-night.
There's the fallowing to be got on with; I suppose nothing must
interfere with that.  But aren't you up a little earlier than usual?"

"I want to haul in the posts for the new fence.  Grierson has his hands
full, and now that there are four of us, Jake spends so much time in
cooking."

"A reckless waste of precious minutes!" Edgar exclaimed ironically.
"If one could only get over these troublesome bodily needs, you could
add hours of work to every week and make Sylvia Marston rich.  By the
way, Jake's cooking is getting awful."

He put up his horse and busied himself with several tasks before he
went in to breakfast.  When it was finished, and the others went out,
he detained George.

"What did you think of that meal?" he asked.

"Well," said George, "it might have been better."

Edgar laughed scornfully.

"It would take some time to tell you my opinion, but I may as well
point out that you're paying a big bill for stores to Taunton, though
we never get anything fit to eat.  Helen and I were talking over your
account, and she wondered what we did with the things, besides giving
me an idea.  It's this--why don't you tell Grierson to bring out his
wife?"

"I never thought of it.  She might not come; and she may not cook much
better than Jake."

"She certainly couldn't cook worse!  I expect she would save her wages,
and she would set a hired man free.  Jake can drive a team."

"It's a good idea," George agreed.  "Send Grierson in."

The man came a few minutes later.

"We get on pretty well; I suppose you are willing to stay with me?"
George said to him.

Grierson hesitated and looked disturbed.

"The fact is, I'd be very sorry to leave; but I'm afraid I'll have to
by and by.  You see, I've got to find a place I can take my wife to."

"Can she cook?"

"Yes," said Grierson, indicating the remnants on the table with
contempt.  "She would do better than this with her eyes shut!  Then,"
he continued eagerly, "she can wash and mend clothes.  I've noticed
that you and Mr. West throw half your things away long before you need
to."

"That's true," Edgar admitted.  "It's the custom of the country; time's
too valuable to spend in mending anything, though I've noticed that one
or two of the people who tell you about the value of time get through a
good deal of it lounging round the Sachem.  Anyway, amateur
laundering's an abomination, and I'm most successful in washing the
buttons and wrist-bands off."  He turned to his companion.  "George,
you'll have to send for Mrs. Grierson."

The matter was promptly arranged, and when Grierson went out with a
look of keen satisfaction, Edgar laughed.

"I feel like pointing out how far an idea can go.  Helen only thought
of making me a little more comfortable, and you see the result of
it--Grierson and his wife united, things put into shape here, four
people content!  Of course, one could cite a more striking example; I
mean when Sylvia Marston thought you had better go out and look after
her farm.  There's no need to mention the far-reaching consequences
that opinion had."

"I volunteered to go out," George corrected him.

"Well," said Edgar, "I quite believe you did so.  But you're no doubt
pining to get at the fence."

They went off to work, but Edgar, driving the gang-plow through the
stubble under a scorching sun, thought that Sylvia's idea might bear
more fruit than she had calculated on, and that it would be bitter to
her.  His mind, however, was chiefly occupied with a more attractive
person, and once when he turned the heavy horses at the end of the
furrows he said softly, "May I deserve her!" and looked up with a tense
expression in his hot face, as if making some firm resolve, which was a
procedure that would have astonished even those who knew him well.

A week passed, each day growing brighter and hotter, until the glare
flung back by sandy soil and whitening grass became painful, and George
and his assistants discarded most of their clothing when they went
about their tasks.  The oats began to show a silvery gleam as they
swayed in the strong light; the wheat was changing color, and there
were warm coppery gleams among the heavy ears; horses and cattle sought
the poplars' shade.  Then one evening when the Grants had driven over,
Flett arrived at the homestead, and, sitting on the stoop as the air
grew cooler, related his adventures.

"I guess my chiefs wouldn't be pleased to hear me; we're not encouraged
to talk, but there's a reason for it, as you'll see when I'm through,"
he said, and plunged abruptly into his narrative.

It proved to be a moving tale of weary rides in scorching heat and in
the dusk of night, of rebuffs and daunting failures.  Flett, as he
admitted, had several times been cleverly misled and had done some
unwise things, but he had never lost his patience nor relaxed his
efforts.  Slowly and doggedly, picking up scraps of information where
he could, he had trailed his men to the frontier, where his real
troubles had begun.  Once that he crossed it, he had no authority, and
the American sheriffs and deputies were not invariably sympathetic.
Some, he concluded, were unduly influenced by local opinion, which was
not in favor of interfering with people who confined their depredations
to Canadian horses.  Others, who acknowledged past favors from Regina,
foresaw troublesome complications before he could be allowed to deport
the offenders; but some, with a strong sense of duty, offered willing
help, and that was how he had been able to make the arrests on Canadian
soil.

"Now," he concluded, "we tracked these men from point to point and I've
evidence to prove most of their moves, but they never had the four
horses in a bunch until they made Montana, which is a point against us.
We can show they were working as a gang, that they were altogether with
the horses on American soil, but as we haven't corralled the only man
Mr. Grant could swear to, there's only one way of proving how they got
them.  You see where all this leads?"

"It looks as if you depended on my evidence for a conviction," said
George.

Flett nodded.

"You saw Mr. Grant attacked and the horses run off.  You can identify
one man, and we'll connect him with the rest."

He took out a paper and handed it to George.

"It's my duty to serve you with this; and now that it's done, I'll warn
you to watch out until after the trial.  If we can convict these
fellows, we smash the crowd, but we'd be helpless without you."

George opened the document and found it a formal summons to attend the
court at Regina on a date specified.  Then he produced another paper
and gave it to Flett with a smile.

"The opposition seem to recognize my importance, and they move more
quickly than the police."

The trooper took the letter, which was typed and bore no date or name
of place.

"'Keep off this trial and you'll have no more trouble,'" he read aloud.
"'Back up the police and you'll be sorry.  If you mean to drop them,
drive over to the Butte, Thursday, and get supper at the Queen's.'"

"Yesterday was Thursday, and I didn't go," George said after a moment's
silence.

The quiet intimation was not a surprise to any of them, and Flett
nodded as he examined the letter.

"Not much of a clue," he remarked.  "Toronto paper that's sold at every
store; mailed two stations down the line.  Nobody would have met you at
the Queen's, but most anybody in town would know if you had been there.
Anyway, I'll take this along." He rose.  "I can't stop, but I want to
say we're not afraid of your backing down."

He rode off in a few more minutes and after a while the Grants took
their leave, but Flora walked down the trail with George while the team
was being harnessed.

"You'll be careful, won't you?" she said.  "These men are dangerous;
they know yours is the most important evidence.  I shall be anxious
until the trial."

There was something in her eyes and voice that sent a curious thrill
through George.

"I don't think that's needful; I certainly won't be reckless," he said.

Then Flora got into the vehicle; and during the next week or two George
took precautions.  Indeed, he now and then felt a little uncomfortable
when he had occasion to pass a shadowy bluff.  He carried a pistol when
he went around the outbuildings at night, and fell into a habit of
stopping to listen, ready to strike or shoot, each time he opened the
door of one in the dark.

For all that, nothing occurred to excite suspicion, and after a while
he felt inclined to smile at his nervousness.  At length, one day when
the trial was close at hand, and Edgar had gone to the Butte, the
mail-carrier brought him a note from Grant.

It consisted of a couple of lines asking him to come over during the
evening, and as supper had been finished two hours before, George
realized that there was not much time to spare.  Laying down the note,
he walked to the door and called his Canadian hired man.

"Put the saddle on the brown horse, Jake; I'm going to Grant's."

The man did as he was bidden, and when George was about to mount handed
him a repeating rifle.

"Better take this along; cylinder's full," he said.  "It will be dark
before you get there."

George hesitated.  The rifle was heavy, but it was a more reliable
weapon than a pistol, and he rode off with it.  The sun had dipped when
he started, the air was rapidly cooling, and after spending the day
sinking holes for fence posts in the scorching sun, he found the swift
motion and the little breeze that fanned his face pleasant.  To the
northwest, a flush of vivid crimson glowed along the horizon, but the
sweep of grass was growing dim and a bluff he reached at length stood
out, a sharp-cut, dusky mass, against the fading light.  He pulled up
his horse on its outskirts.  A narrow trail led through the wood, its
entrance marked by a dark gap among the shadowy trees, and it somehow
looked forbidding.  The bluff, however, stretched across his path; it
was getting late, and George was a little impatient of the caution he
had been forced to exercise.  Laying his rifle ready across the saddle,
he sent his horse forward.

It was quite dark in the bluff, though here and there he could see a
glimmer of faint red and orange between the trees, and the stillness
had a slightly disturbing effect on him.  Not a leaf moved, the beat of
his horse's hoofs rang sharply down the narrow trail above which the
thin birch branches met.  He wanted to get out into the open, where he
could see about, as soon as possible.  There was, however, no
ostensible cause for uneasiness and he rode on quietly, until he heard
a soft rustling among the slender trunks.  Pulling up the horse, he
called out, and, as he half expected, got no answer.  Then he cast a
swift glance ahead.  There was a gleam of dim light not far away where
the trail led out of the bluff.  Throwing the rifle to his shoulder,
George fired into the shadows.

The horse plunged violently and broke into a frightened gallop.  George
heard a whistle and a sharper rustling, and rode toward the light at a
furious pace.  Then his horse suddenly stumbled and came down.  The
rifle flew out of George's hand, and he was hurled against a tree.  The
next moment he felt himself rudely seized, and what he thought was a
jacket was wrapped about his head.  Shaken by his fall, he could make
no effective resistance, and he was dragged a few yards through the
bush and flung into a wagon.  He tried to pull the jacket from his
face, and failed; somebody brutally beat him down against the side of
the vehicle when he struggled to get up.  He heard a whip crack, the
wagon swayed and jolted, and he knew the team was starting at a gallop.



CHAPTER XXIX

FLORA'S ENLIGHTENMENT

It was nearly midnight when Edgar returned from the settlement and saw,
to his surprise, lights still burning in the homestead.  Entering the
living-room, he found Grierson sitting there with Jake, and it struck
him that they looked uneasy.

"What's keeping you up?" he asked.

"I thought I'd wait for the boss," said the Canadian.  "He went over to
Grant's after supper, and he's not come back."

"That's curious.  He said nothing about going."

"A note came by the mail.  It's lying yonder."

Edgar picked it up and brought it near the lamp.  The paper was good
and printed with Grant's postal address, which was lengthy.

"I figured I'd go and meet him," Jake resumed, "Took the shot-gun and
rode through the bluff.  Didn't see anything of him, and it struck me
Grant might have kept him all night, as it was getting late.  He's
stayed there before."

Edgar examined the note, for he was far from satisfied.  George had
only twice spent a night at Grant's, once when he was driving cattle,
and again when it would have been risky to face the weather.  The paper
was undoubtedly Grant's, but Edgar could not identify the farmer's
hand; the notes that had come over had been written by Flora.  Then he
remembered that George had bought some implements from Grant, and had
filed the rancher's receipt.  Edgar hurriedly found it and compared it
with the letter.  Then his face grew troubled, for the writing was not
the same.

"I'm afraid Mr. Lansing never got to Grant's," he said.  "I'll ride
over at once."

"Then I'm coming," Jake said shortly.  "I'll bring the gun along."

Grierson lifted a clenched brown hand.

"So am I!  If Mr. Lansing's hurt, somebody's got to pay!"

Edgar was stirred by something in their looks and voices; George had
gained a hold on these men's loyalty which the regular payment of wages
could never have given him.  He merely signified assent, and, running
out, sprang into the saddle.  The others had evidently had their horses
ready, for he heard them riding after him in a minute or two, though he
was galloping recklessly through the bluff when they came up.  The
homestead was dark when they reached it, and they shouted once or twice
before Grant came down.

"Is George here?" Edgar asked.

"No," said Grant, "we didn't expect him."

"Then get on your clothes quick!  There's work on hand!"

Grant brought him in and struck a light, then hurriedly left the room;
and Flora came with him, fully dressed, when he reappeared.  Edgar
supposed she had heard his sharp inquiry at the door, and he noticed
that her expression was strained.  He threw the note on the table.

"After what you said, I needn't ask if you wrote that."

"I didn't," Grant told him.  "It's not like my hand.  I suppose Lansing
started when he got it and has not come back?"

"You have guessed right.  Where are they likely to have waylaid him,
and where will they probably take him?"

"The bluff, sure.  They might head north for empty country, or south
for the frontier."

"The frontier," Flora broke in.

"It's what I think," said Edgar.  "Shall I send a man for Flett, or
will you?"

"That's fixed, anyway," said a voice outside the open door.  "We're not
going."

It was obvious that the hired men had followed them as far as the
passage, for Grierson, entering the room, explained:

"He means we've made up our minds to look for Mr. Lansing."

Grant nodded in assent.

"Then my man goes.  Turn out the boys, Jake; you know the place.  I
want three horses saddled, quick."

"Four," said Flora, firmly.  "I'm coming."

Grant did not try to dissuade her.

"Write to Flett," he said.

He went out hastily in search of blankets and provisions, and when he
returned, his hired men had gathered about the door and the note was
finished.  He threw it to one of them.

"Ride with that as hard as you can," he said, and called another,
"You'll come with us."

"We're a strong party already," Edgar broke in.  "You're leaving the
place poorly guarded, and the rustlers may have counted on something of
the kind.  Suppose they finish their work by driving off every beast
that's left as soon as we have gone."

"I've got to take my chances; we'll want the boys to make a thorough
search."

Grant swung round toward the remaining men.

"You two will watch out behind the woodstack or in the granary.  No
stranger's to come near house or stable."

"The woodpile," said Flora, with a hard white face and an ominous
sparkle in her eyes.  "You would command the outbuildings there.  If
anybody tries to creep up at night, call once, and then shoot to kill."

Edgar saw that she meant her instructions to be carried out; but he
forced a smile.

"And this is the Canadian wheat-belt, which I was told was so peaceful
and orderly!"

"It looks as if you had been misinformed," Flora rejoined with a cold
collectedness which he thought of as dangerous.  "One, however, now and
then hears of violent crime in London."

They were mounted in a few minutes, and after a hard ride the party
broke up at dawn, dispersing so that each member of it could make
independent search and inquiries at the scattered homesteads.  Meeting
places and means of communication were arranged; but Flora and her
father rode together, pushing on steadily southward over the vast gray
plain.  Little was said except when they called at some outlying farm,
but Grant now and then glanced at the girl's set face with keenly
scrutinizing eyes.  In the middle of the scorching afternoon he
suggested that she should await his return at a homestead in the
distance, but was not surprised when she uncompromisingly refused.
They spent the night at a small ranch, borrowed fresh horses in the
morning, and set out again; but they found no trace of the fugitives
during the day, and it was evening when Edgar and Grierson joined them,
as arranged, at a lonely farm.  The two men rode in wearily on jaded
horses, and Flora, who was the first to notice their approach, went out
to meet them.

"Nothing?" she said, when she saw their dejected faces.

"Nothing," Edgar listlessly answered.  "If the people we have seen
aren't in league with the rustlers--and I don't think that's
probable--the fellows must have gone a different way."

"They've gone south!" Flora insisted.  "We may be a little too far to
the east of their track."

"Then, we must try a different line of country tomorrow."

The farmer's wife had promised to find Flora quarters, the men were
offered accommodation in a barn, and when the air cooled sharply in the
evening, Edgar walked out on to the prairie with the girl.  She had
kept near him since his arrival, but he was inclined to believe this
was rather on account of his association with George than because she
found any charm in his society.  By and by, they sat down on a low rise
from which they could see the sweep of grass run on, changing to shades
of blue and purple, toward the smoky red glare of sunset on its western
rim.  To the south, it was all dim and steeped in dull neutral tones,
conveying an idea of vast distance.

Flora shivered, drawing her thin linen jacket together while she
buttoned it, and Edgar noticed something beneath it that broke the
outline of her waist.

"What's that at your belt?" he asked.

"A magazine pistol," she answered with a rather harsh laugh, producing
the beautifully made weapon,

"It's a pretty thing.  I wonder whether you can use it?"

"Will you stand up at about twenty paces and hold out your hat?"

"Certainly not!" said Edgar firmly.  "I wouldn't mind putting it on a
stick, only that the shot would bring the others out.  But I've no
doubt you can handle a pistol; you're a curious people."

He thought the last remark was justified.  Here was a girl, as refined
and highly trained in many ways as any he had met, and yet who owned a
dangerous weapon and could use it effectively.  Then there was her
father, an industrious, peaceable farmer, whose attention was, as a
rule, strictly confined to the amassing of money, but who was
nevertheless capable of riding or shooting down the outlaws who
molested him or his friends.  What made the thing more striking was
that neither of them had been used to alarms; they had dwelt in calm
security until the past twelve months.  Edgar, however, remembered that
they sprang from a stock that had struggled sternly for existence with
forest and flood and frost; no doubt, in time of stress, the strong
primitive strain came uppermost.  Their nature had not been altogether
softened by civilization.  The thought flung a useful light upon
Flora's character.

"If the trial's a lengthy one and these fellows hold him up until it's
over, it will be a serious thing for George," he resumed, by way of
implying that this was the worst that could befall his comrade.  "The
grain's ripening fast, and he hasn't made his arrangements for harvest
yet.  Men seem pretty scarce around here, just now."

"It's a good crop; I'm glad of that," said Flora, willing to avoid the
graver side of the topic.  "Mr. Lansing was anxious about it, but this
harvest should set him on his feet.  I suppose he hasn't paid off the
full price of the farm."

"As a matter of fact, he hasn't paid anything at all."

"Then has he only rented the place?"

There was surprise and strong interest in the girl's expression and
Edgar saw that he had made a telling admission.  However, he did not
regret it.

"No," he said; "that's not the case, either.  The farm is still Mrs.
Marston's."

"Ah!  There's something I don't understand."

Edgar was sorry for her, and he felt that she was entitled to an
explanation.  Indeed, since George was strangely unobservant, he
thought it should have been made earlier; but the matter had appeared
too delicate for him to meddle with.  Now, however, when the girl's
nature was strongly stirred, there was a risk that, supposing his
comrade was discovered wounded or was rescued in some dramatic way, she
might be driven to a betrayal of her feelings that would seriously
embarrass George and afterward cause her distress.

"George," he explained, "is merely carrying on the farm as Mrs.
Marston's trustee."

"But that hardly accounts for his keen eagerness to make his farming
profitable.  It strikes one as springing from something stronger than
his duty as trustee."

Edgar nodded.

"Well, you see, he is in love with her!"

Flora sat quite still for a moment or two, and then laughed--a little
bitter laugh; she was overstrained and could not repress it.  A flood
of hot color surged into her face, but in another moment she had
recovered some degree of composure.

"So that is why he came out?" she said.

"Yes; he was in love with her before she married Marston.  At least,
that's his impression."

"His impression?" echoed Flora, keenly anxious to cover any signs of
the shock she had received and to learn all that could be told.  "Do
you mean that Mr. Lansing doesn't know whether he is in love with her
or not?"

"No, not exactly!"  Edgar felt that he was on dangerous ground.  "I'm
afraid I can't quite explain what I really do mean.  George, of course,
is convinced about the thing; but I've a suspicion that he may be
mistaken; though he'd be very indignant if he heard me say so."

He paused, doubtful whether he was handling the matter prudently, but
he felt that something must be done to relieve the strain, and
continued:

"George has the faculty of respectful admiration highly developed, but
he doesn't use it with much judgment; in fact, he's a rather reckless
idealist.  There are excuses for him; he was never much thrown into
women's society."

"You think that explains it?" Flora forced a smile.  "But go on."

"My idea is that George has been led by admiration and pity, and not by
love at all.  I don't think he knows the difference; he's not much of a
psychologist.  Then, you see, he's thorough, and having got an idea
into his mind, it possesses him and drives him to action.  He doesn't
stop to analyze his feelings."

"So he came out to look after Mrs. Marston's property because he felt
sorry for her, and believed her worthy of respect?  What is your
opinion of her?"

"I'll confess that I wish she hadn't captivated George."

Flora's face grew very scornful.

"I haven't your chivalrous scruples; and I know Mrs. Marston.  She's
utterly worthless!  What is likely to happen when your comrade finds it
out?"

Then she rose abruptly.

"After all, that's a matter which chiefly concerns Mr. Lansing, and I
dare say the woman he believes in will be capable of dealing with the
situation.  Let's talk of something else."

They turned back toward the farm, but Edgar found it difficult to start
a fresh topic.  All the workings of his mind centered upon George, and
he suspected that his companion's thoughts had a similar tendency.  It
was getting dark when they rejoined the rest of the party, and the next
morning Flett and another constable rode in.  They had discovered
nothing, but as they were ready to take up the trail, Grant left the
task to them and turned back with his men.

Flora long remembered the dreary two day's ride, for although she had
borne it with courage, Edgar's news had caused her a painful shock.
She had, from the beginning, been strongly drawn to George, and when he
had been carried off the knowledge that she loved him had been brought
home to her.  Now, looking back with rudely opened eyes, there was
little comfort in recognizing that he had made no demands on her
affection.  Bitter as she was, she could not blame him; she had been
madly foolish and must suffer for it.  She called her pride to the
rescue, but it failed her.  The torturing anxiety about the man's fate
remained, and with it a humiliating regret, which was not altogether
selfish, that it was Sylvia Marston he had chosen.  Sylvia, who was
clever, had, of course, tricked him; but this was no consolation.  It
was, however, needful to hide her feelings from her father and assume
an interest in his remarks, though, when he spoke, it was always of
Lansing and what had probably befallen him.

The prairie was dazzlingly bright, the trail they followed was thick
with fine black dust, and most of the day the heat was trying; the girl
felt utterly jaded and very heavy of heart, but when it appeared
desirable she forced herself to talk.  Her father must never suspect
her folly, though she wondered uneasily how far she might have betrayed
it to West.  Reaching the homestead at length, she resumed her duties,
and anxiously waited for news of George.  Once that she heard he was
safe, it would, she thought, be easier to drive him out of her mind
forever.

As it happened, George had received only a few bruises in the bluff,
and, after realizing that there was no chance of escape for the
present, he lay still in the bottom of the wagon.  He blamed himself
for riding so readily into the trap, since it was obvious that his
assailants had known he was going to visit Grant, and had stretched a
strand of fence wire or something of the kind across the trail.  They
would have removed it afterward and there would be nothing left to show
what had befallen him.  This, however was a matter of minor consequence
and he endeavored to determine which way his captors were driving.
Judging the nature of the trail by the jolting, he decided that they
meant to leave the wood where he entered it, which suggested that they
were going south, and this was what he had anticipated.  Though he was
sore from the effect of his fall and the rough handling which had
followed it, he did not think he would suffer any further violence, so
long as he made no attempt to get away.  The men, no doubt, only
intended to prevent his giving evidence, by keeping him a prisoner
until after the trial.

When morning came, the wagon was still moving at a good pace, though
the roughness of the motion indicated that it was not following a
trail.  This was all George could discover, because one of the men tied
his arms and legs before removing the jacket which had muffled his head.

"I guess you can't get up, but it wouldn't be wise to try," the fellow
pointed out significantly.

George took the hint.  He meant to escape and attend the court, but he
had no wish to ruin any chance of his doing so by making a premature
attempt.  His captors meant to prevent his seeing which way they were
going, but he could make out that the sky was brightest on the left
side of the wagon, which indicated that they were heading south.  They
stopped at noon in a thick bluff, from which, when he was released and
allowed to get down, he could see nothing of the prairie.  Only one man
remained to watch him; but as he was armed, and George could hear the
others not far away, he decided that his escape must be postponed.

During the afternoon, they went on again, George occupying his former
position in the bottom of the wagon, where it was unpleasantly hot; but
the strongest glare was now on his right side, which showed him that
they were still holding south.  Their destination was evidently the
American frontier.  In the evening they camped near a thicket of low
scrub, and after supper George was permitted to wander about and
stretch his aching limbs.  It was rolling country, broken by low rises,
and he could not see more than a mile or two.  There was nothing that
served as a, landmark, and as soon as he began to stroll away from the
camp he was sharply recalled.  In the end, he sat down to smoke, and
did not move until he was told to get into the wagon, where a blanket
was thrown him.  So far, he had been permitted to see only one of his
captors near at hand.

The next morning they set out again.  George thought that fresh horses
had been obtained in the night, because they drove at a rapid pace most
of the day; and he was tired and sore with the jolting when they camped
in another bluff at sunset.  Two more days were spent in much the same
way; and then late at night they stopped at a little building standing
in the midst of an unbroken plain, and George was released and told to
get out.  One of the men lighted a lantern and led him into an empty
stable, built of thick sods.  It looked as if it had not been occupied
for a long time, but part of it had been roughly boarded off, as if for
a harness room or store.

"You have got your blanket," said his companion.  "Put it down where
you like.  There's only one door to this place, and you can't get at it
without passing me.  I got a sleep in the wagon and don't want any more
to-night."

George heard the vehicle jolt away, and sat down to smoke while the
beat of hoofs gradually sank into the silence of the plain.  Then he
wrapped his blanket about him and went to sleep on the earthen floor.



CHAPTER XXX

THE ESCAPE

George got up the next morning feeling cramped and sore after his
journey, and carefully looked about.  The building had solid walls of
sod; such rude stalls as it had been fitted with had been removed,
perhaps for the sake of the lumber.  He could not reach the door
without alarming his jailer, who had taken up his quarters behind the
board partition; and there was only one small window, placed high up
and intended mainly for ventilation.  The window was very dusty, but it
opened and George could see out by standing up, though the aperture was
not large enough to squeeze through.

Outside stood some timbers which had once formed part of a shack, and a
few strands of fence wire, trailing from tottering posts, ran into the
grass.  The place appeared to have been a farm, whose owner had, no
doubt, abandoned it after finding the soil too light, or after losing a
crop by frost; but George was more curious to discover if there were
any other homesteads in the vicinity.  His view was restricted, but
there was no sign of life on the quarter-circle it commanded.  A flat,
grassy waste, broken only by a few clumps of brush, ran back to the
horizon, and by the cold blue of the sky and the drift of a few light
clouds floating before the prevalent westerly wind, he knew he was
looking north.  This was the way he must take if he could escape, but
there was no house in which he could seek refuge, and scarcely any
cover.  It was clear that he must obtain a good start before he was
missed.  He had an idea that he would escape, though he admitted that
it was more optimistic than rational.

Then he turned with a start, to see his jailer standing beside him,
grinning.  The man had a hard, determined face.

"Guess you can't get out that way; and it wouldn't be much use,
anyhow," he drawled.  "The country's pretty open; it would take you a
mighty long while to get out of sight."

"That's how it struck me," George confessed with an air of good-humored
resignation.  "Do you mean to keep me here any time?"

"Until the trial," the other answered, standing a little away from him
with his hand thrust suggestively into a pocket.  "We'll be glad to get
rid of you when it's finished, but you certainly can't get away before
we let you go."

George cast a glance of keen but unobtrusive scrutiny at the man.  They
were, he thought, about equal in physical strength; the other's
superiority consisted in his being armed, and George had no doubt that
he was proficient with his weapons.  He had seen a rifle carried into
the building, the man's hand was now resting on a pistol, and there was
a light ax outside.  It looked as if an attempt to escape would be
attended with a serious risk, and George realized that he must wait
until chance or some slackening of vigilance on his custodians' part
equalized matters.

He was given breakfast, and afterward told that he could go out and
split some wood, which he was glad to do.  There was a pile of branches
and a few rotten boards that had once formed part of the shack, and he
set to work to break them up, while the rustler sat and smoked in the
doorway.  The man ran no risk in doing so; there was not a bush within
a quarter of a mile, and George knew that a bullet would speedily cut
short his flight.  He could see nothing that promised a secure hiding
place all the way to the skyline, and he thought that the plain ran on
beyond it, as little broken.  When he had cut some wood, he turned back
toward the door, and the man regarded him with a meaning smile.

"Come in, if you want; but leave the ax right there," he said.

He moved back a few paces, out of reach of a sudden spring, as George
entered, and the latter realized that he did not mean to be taken by
surprise.  During the afternoon, another man arrived on horseback with
some provisions and remained until George went to sleep.  The following
morning, the stranger had disappeared, but he came again once or twice,
and this was all that broke the monotony of the next few days.  George,
however, was beginning to feel the strain; his nerves were getting raw,
the constant watchfulness was wearing him.  The trial would now be
beginning, and it was time the binders were driven into his grain; the
oats would be ripe, and his neighbors would pick up all the Ontario
hands who reached the settlement.  Another day passed, and he was
feeling desperate when the relief watcher arrived in the afternoon.
Listening with strained attention, he heard the men talking outside.
Only a few words reached him, but one was "adjourned," and it filled
him with fresh determination.  If he could escape, it might not be too
late.

It was an oppressive afternoon; the fresh northwest breeze had dropped,
the sky was clouded, the air hot and heavy.  Both men remained about
the building, but George sat quietly on the earth floor, smoking and
waiting for night.  A few large drops of rain fell, splashing upon roof
and grass while he ate his supper, but it stopped, and the evening was
marked by a deep stillness.  He felt listless and disinclined to move;
his guards, to judge by their voices, for they were playing cards
outside, were languidly irritable.

Dusk came and a thick obscurity, unlike the usual clearness of the
summer nights, shut in the lonely building.  It was intensely dark in
the stable; George could not see the relief man's horse, though he
could now and then hear it move.  Voices rose at intervals from beyond
the partition, but they ceased at last and only an occasional crackle
of the dry grass that served for seats and bedding told that one at
least of the rustlers was keeping watch.  George felt his limbs quiver
while he waited, and he was conscious of an unpleasant tension on his
nerves.  There was thunder brewing, and he thought the storm might
offer him an opportunity for getting out.

At length it struck him that the silence was unusually deep.  Rising to
his feet he moved about.  There was no challenge; and by way of further
experiment, he kicked his tin plate so that it rattled.  Still nobody
called to him, though the horse made a little noise in moving.  George
sat down and took off his boots while his heart throbbed painfully.  It
looked as if his guards had gone to sleep.  He moved a few yards,
stopped to listen, and went on for several paces more.  There was no
sound yet beyond the partition, and he crept softly past the horse; he
longed to lead it out, but decided that the risk would be too great.

Then he stood in the gap between the wall and the partition, straining
eyes and ears, and wondering where the rifle lay.  He could see
nothing, however; and, creeping on cautiously, with tingling nerves and
an intolerable feeling of suspense, he drew level with the doorway.  It
was hard to refrain from leaping out, but this might make some noise.
Crossing the threshold with careful movements, he made for the spot
where he had cut the wood.  He struck something that rattled, but he
found the ax and the feel of it sent a thrill through him.  It was
light enough to be carried easily; and he did not mean to be recaptured.

For some minutes he moved straight on, hurting his feet on the stronger
grass stalks; and then, sitting down, he hastily put on his boots.
After that he broke into a steady run, which he meant to keep up as
long as possible.  He was now anxious that the threatened storm should
not break, because if the rustlers had gone to sleep, the longer they
remained so the better.  He failed to understand how he had escaped;
perhaps his guards had been lulled into false security by his tranquil
demeanor; perhaps they had trusted to each other; or one, rendered
listless by the tension in the air, had relaxed his watchfulness for a
few moments.  This, however, did not matter.  George was free; and he
only wished that he had some idea as to where he was heading.  He
wanted to place a long distance between him and the stable by morning.

Dripping with perspiration, breathing hard, he kept up a steady pace
for, so he thought, an hour, after which he walked a mile or two, and
then broke into a run again.  The grass was short; he struck no brush,
and the ax did not encumber him.  He imagined that dawn must be getting
near when a dazzling flash swept the prairie and there was a long
reverberatory rumbling overhead.  He was almost blinded and bewildered,
doubly uncertain where he was going; and then a great stream of white
fire fell from the zenith.  The thunder that followed was deafening,
and for the next few minutes blaze succeeded blaze, and there was a
constant crashing and rumbling overhead.  After that came a rush of
chilly wind and the air was filled with falling water.

A hot, steamy smell rose about him; but George, who had been walking
again, began to run.  He must use every exertion, for if he were right
in concluding that he had been detained on American soil, his pursuers
would follow him north, and when daylight came a mounted man's view
would command a wide sweep of level prairie.  The storm passed away,
muttering, into the distance; the rain ceased, and the air was fresh
and cool until the sun sprang up.  It was on his right hand, he thought
he had kept his line; but he stopped to consider on the edge of a
ravine.  The sides of the hollow were clothed with tall, wet grass and
brush; it would offer good cover, but he could hardly avoid leaving a
track if he followed it, and his pursuers would search such spots.  It
seemed wiser to push on across the plain.

Descending through the thinnest brush he could find, he stopped for a
drink from the creek at the bottom, and then went on as fast as
possible.  He was becoming conscious of a pain in his left side; one
foot felt sore; and as the sun got hotter a longing to lie down a while
grew steadily stronger.  Still, he could see nothing but short, gray
grass ahead; he must hold on; there might be bluffs or broken country
beyond the skyline.

At length a small square block cut against the dazzling brightness and
slowly grew into a lonely homestead.  After some consideration, George
headed for it, and toward noon reached a little, birch-log dwelling,
with a sod stable beside it.  Both had an uncared-for appearance, which
suggested their owner's poverty.  As George approached the door, a
gaunt, hard-faced man in dilapidated overalls came out and gazed at him
in surprise.  George's clothing, which had been torn when he was seized
in the bluff, had further suffered during the deluge.  He looked a
weary, ragged outcast.

"Can you give me something to eat and hire me a horse?" he asked.

The farmer seemed suspicious.

"Guess I want my horses for the binder; I'm harvesting oats."

"I'll pay you well for the time you lose," George broke out.

"How much?"

Thrusting his hand into his pocket, George found with dismay that his
wallet, which contained some bills, was missing.

"Anything you ask in reason, but you'll have to take a check on a
Brandon bank.  Have you got a pen and paper in the house?"

"How am I to know your check's good?"  The farmer laughed ironically.

George was doubtful of the man, but he must take a risk.

"My name's Lansing, from the Marston homestead, beyond Sage Butte.
It's a pretty big place; any check I give you will be honored."

The farmer looked at him with growing interest.

"Well," he said, "you can't have my horse."

It was evident from his manner that reasoning would be useless.

"How does Sage Butte lie from here?" George asked him.

"Can't tell you; I've never been in the place."

George realized that he had blundered, both in calling at the homestead
and in mentioning his name, which had figured in the newspaper account
of the attack on Grant.  The farmer, it seemed, had a good idea of the
situation, and if not in league with the rustlers, was afraid of them.
George was wasting time and giving information that might put his
pursuers on his trail.  In the meanwhile he noticed a face at the
window and a voice called to the man, who stepped back into the house
and appeared again with a big slab of cold pie.

"Take this and light out," he said.

Having eaten nothing since his supper, George was glad of the food; but
he walked on smartly for an hour before he sat down in a clump of brush
and made a meal.  Then he lighted his pipe and spent a couple of hours
in much needed rest.  Haste was highly desirable; he had no doubt that
he was being followed, but he could go no farther for a while.

It was very hot when he got up; he was sore all over, and his foot was
paining, but he set off at a run and kept it up until he had crossed a
rise two miles away.  The country was getting more broken, which was in
his favor, because the clumps of bush and the small elevations would
tend to hide him.  He went on until dusk, without finding any water;
and then lay down among some tall grass in the open.  There was a
little bluff not far off, but if the rustlers came that way, he thought
they would search it.  It grew cold as darkness crept down; indeed he
imagined that the temperature had fallen to near freezing-point, as it
sometimes does on the plains after a scorching day.

Part of the night he lay awake, shivering; but during the rest he
slept; and he rose at dawn, very cold and wet with dew.  His foot was
very sore, and he had a sharp pain in his side.  For the first hour,
walking cost him an effort; but as he grew warmer it became less
difficult, and his foot felt easier.  Then, as he crossed a slight
elevation, he saw a faint gray smear on the far horizon and it sent a
thrill through him.  Canadian locomotives burning native coal pour out
clouds of thick black smoke which can be seen a long way in the clear
air of the prairie.  George was thirty or forty feet, he thought, above
the general level of the plain, the light was strong, and he imagined
that it would take him most of the day to reach the spot over which the
smoke had floated.  He was, however, heading for the track, and he
gathered his courage.

He saw no more smoke for a long time--the increasing brightness seemed
to diminish the clarity of the air.  Before noon the pain in his side
had become almost insupportable, and his head was swimming; he felt
worn out, scarcely able to keep on his feet, but again a gray streak on
the horizon put heart into him.  It did not appear to move for a while,
and he thought it must have been made by a freight-engine working about
a station.  Then, as he came down the gradual slope of a wide
depression, a long bluff on its opposite verge cut the skyline, a hazy
smear of neutral color.  He determined to reach the wood and lie down
for a time in its shadow.

It scarcely seemed to grow any nearer, and an hour had passed before it
assumed any regularity of outline.  When it had grown into shape,
George stopped and looked about.  It was fiercely hot, the grass was
dazzlingly bright, there was no house or sign of cultivation as far as
his sight ranged; but on glancing back he started as he saw three small
mounted figures on the plain.  They had not been there when he last
turned around, and they were moving, spread out about a mile apart.  It
was obvious that the rustlers were on his trail.  For another moment he
looked at the bluff, breathing hard, with his lips tight set.  If he
could reach the wood before he was overtaken, it would offer him cover
from a bullet, and if he could not evade his enemies, he might make a
stand with the ax among the thicker trees.  It was an irrational idea,
as he half recognized; but he had grown savage with fatigue, and he had
already suffered as much as he was capable of bearing at the hands of
the cattle thieves.  Now he meant to turn on them; but he would be at
their mercy in the open.

His weariness seemed to fall away from him to give place to grim fury
as he broke into a run, and he did not look back for a while.  When he
did so, the figures had grown larger; one could see that they were
moving swiftly; and the bluff was still far away.  George believed that
he had been noticed and he strove to quicken his pace.  The beat of
hoofs was in his ears when he next looked around; the three horsemen
were converging, growing more distinct; and the bluff was still a mile
ahead.  He was stumbling and reeling, his hat fell off, and he dared
not stop to pick it up.

A mile was covered; he would not look back again, though the thud of
hoofs had swelled into a sharp staccato drumming.  With face fiercely
set and the perspiration dripping from him, he held on, scorched and
partly dazzled by the glare.  The wood was getting closer; he thought
it was scarcely a quarter of a mile off.  His heart throbbed madly, the
pain in his side had grown excruciating; but somehow he must keep
going.  His eyes smarted with the moisture that ran into them, his lips
and mouth were salty; he was suffering torment; but he kept on his feet.

At length, when the trees were close ahead, a faint smudge of smoke
appeared on the edge of them; there was a report like a whipcrack, and
he stopped in despair.  His last refuge was held against him.  Then, as
he turned in savage desperation to meet the rustlers' onslaught with
the ax, he saw there were only two horsemen, who pulled up suddenly,
about sixty yards away.  The third was not visible, but his horse,
which had fallen, was struggling in the grass.  As the meaning of this
dawned on George he broke in a wild, breathless yell of exultation;
there was another crack behind him, and the two horsemen wheeled.  They
were not too soon, for a mounted man in khaki with something that
flashed across his saddle was riding hard from behind the bluff to cut
them off.  Another appeared, going at a furious gallop, and George
stood watching while the four figures grew smaller upon the prairie.

Turning at a shout he saw Flett and Edgar walking toward him, and he
went with them to the fallen horse.  A man lay, gray in face, among the
grass, held down by the body of the animal which partly rested upon him.

"Get me out," he begged hoarsely.  "Leg's broke."

George felt incapable of helping.  He sat down while the other two
extricated the man; then Flett placed his carbine against the horse's
head, and after the report it ceased its struggling.

"She came down on me sudden; couldn't get my foot clear in time," the
rustler explained.

"You had to be stopped.  I sighted at a hundred; a quick shot," Flett
remarked.  "Is there anything else the matter except your leg?"

"I guess it's enough," said the helpless man.

Flett turned to George.

"Walk into the bluff and you'll strike our camp.  West must stay with
me until we put on some fixing that will hold this fellow's leg
together."

George did as he was bidden, and sat down again limply when he reached
an opening in the wood where a pile of branches, with a kettle
suspended over them, had been laid ready for lighting.  Presently the
others rejoined him.

"The fellow can't be moved until we get a wagon," said Flett.  "We've
been looking for you all over the country, but it was quite a while
before we got a hint that sent us down this way.  We had stopped in the
bluff when we saw a fellow running with three mounted men after him,
and we lay close, expecting to get the bunch.  It's unfortunate they
got too near you and I had to shoot, but I guess the boys will bring
them back."

Edgar looked at his comrade reproachfully.

"If you could only have sprinted a little and kept ahead, we would
either have outflanked them or have had the finest imaginable ride with
every chance of running the fellows down.  As things turned out, I
couldn't go off with the troopers until I found that you had got
through unhurt."

"I'm sorry," George told him, with a little dry laugh.  "But I don't
think I spared any effort during the last quarter of a mile."

Then he related his adventures, and answered a number of questions.

"You'll take my horse," said Flett, "and start for the railroad as soon
as you feel able.  Get on to Regina by the first train; judging by the
last wire I got, you'll still be in time.  West had better go with you
to the station, and he can send a wagon for the man who's hurt.  Now I
guess we'll get you something to eat."

"I shouldn't mind," said George.  "It's twenty-four hours since my last
meal, and that one was remarkably small."

He drank a canful of cold tea, and then went suddenly to sleep while
the others lighted the fire.



CHAPTER XXXI

THE REACTION

The trial at Regina proved sensational.  Crimes attended with violence
were not unknown in the vicinity, and cattle were now and then stolen
in the neighboring province of Alberta; but that such things as the
prosecutor's tale revealed should happen aroused wide-spread
astonishment and virtuous indignation.  Nevertheless, they were proved,
for Flett had procured a number of witnesses and, what was more, had
secured their attendance.

In addition to this, other offenses were hinted at; the doings of an
organized gang of desperadoes and their accomplices were detailed, and
facts were brought to light which made the withdrawal of the Sachem
license inevitable.  The defense took strong exception to this mode of
procedure, pointing out that the court was only concerned with a
specified offense, and that it was not permissible to drag in
extraneous and largely supposititious matter.  During the sweltering
days the trial lasted, there were brisk encounters between the lawyers,
and several points the prosecution sought to prove were ruled
irrelevant.  As a climax, came George's story, which caused a
sensation, though the close-packed assembly felt that he scarcely did
justice to his theme.

In concluding, the Crown prosecutor pointed out how rapidly the
outbreaks of turbulent lawlessness had spread.  They were all, he
contended, connected with and leading up to the last outrage, of which
the men before him were accused.  It was obvious that this unruliness
must be sternly stamped out before it spread farther, and if the court
agreed with him that the charge was fully proved, he must press for a
drastic and deterrent penalty.

The odds were heavily against the defense from the beginning.  The
credibility of Flett's witnesses could not be assailed, and
cross-examination only threw a more favorable light upon their
character.  Inside the court, and out of it as the newspapers
circulated, Grant stood revealed as a fearless citizen, with a stern
sense of his duty to the community; George, somewhat to his annoyance,
as a more romantic personage of the same description, and Hardie, who
had been brought in to prove certain points against which the defense
protested, as one who had fought and suffered in a righteous cause.

In the end, the three prisoners were convicted, and when the court
broke up the police applied for several fresh warrants, which were
issued.

As George was walking toward his hotel, he met Flett, to whom he had
not spoken since they separated in the bluff.

"I was waiting for you," said the constable.  "I'm sorry we'll have to
call you up again as soon as the rustler's leg is better.  He's in the
guard-room, and the boys got one of the other fellows; but we can talk
about it on the train.  I'm going back to my post."

George arranged to meet him, and they were sitting in a roomy smoking
compartment as the big express sped across wide gray levels and past
vast stretches of ripening grain, when the next allusion was made to
the matter.

"I suppose you'll be sergeant shortly," George remarked.

"Corporal comes first," said Flett.  "They stick to the regular
rotation."

"That's true, but they seem to use some discretion in exceptional
cases.  I hardly think you'll remain a corporal."

Flett's eyes twinkled.

"I did get something that sounded like a hint.  I'll confess that I
felt like whooping after it."

"You have deserved all you'll get," George declared.

They spent the night at a junction, where Flett had some business, and
it was the next evening when the local train ran into Sage Butte.  The
platform was crowded and as George and Flett alighted, there was a
cheer and, somewhat to their astonishment, the reeve of the town
advanced to meet them.

"I'm here to welcome you in the name of the citizens of the Butte," he
said.  "We have to request the favor of your company at supper at the
Queen's."

"It's an honor," George responded.  "I'm sensible of it; but, you see,
I'm in a hurry to get back to work and I wired for a team.  My harvest
should have been started a week ago."

"Don't you worry 'bout that," said the reeve.  "It wasn't our wish that
you should suffer through discharging your duty, and we made a few
arrangements.  Four binders have been working steady in your oats, and
if you don't like the way we have fixed things, you can alter them
to-morrow."

Then West touched George's arm.

"You'll have to come.  They've got two other victims--Hardie and
Grant--and the supper's ready."

The reeve looked at him in stern rebuke.

"That isn't the way to speak of this function, Percy.  If you feel like
a victim, you can drop right out."

George was touched by the man's intimation.  He expressed his
satisfaction, and the whole assembly escorted him to the hotel.  There
he and Grant and Hardie were seated at the top of a long table near the
reeve, who made a short opening speech.

"Business first, and then the supper, boys," he said.  "Corporal Flett
can't come; his bosses wouldn't approve of it; but I'll see it put in
the Sentinel that he was asked, and we won't mind if that has some
effect on them.  There's another thing--out of deference to Mr. Hardie
and the change in opinion he has ably led--you'll only get tea and
coffee at this entertainment.  Those who haven't signed his book, must
hold out until it's over."

An excellent meal had been finished when he got up again, with three
illuminated strips of parchment in his hand.

"I'll be brief, but there's something to be said.  Our guests have set
us an example which won't be lost.  They saw the danger of letting
things drift; one of them warned us plainly, although to do so needed
grit, and some of us rounded on him, and if the others didn't talk, it
was because that wasn't their end of the job.  They knew their duty to
the country and they did it, though it cost them something.  We owe it
to them that the police have smashed the rustler gang, and that from
now on no small homesteader can be bluffed or tempted into doing what's
sure to bring him into trouble, and no man with a big farm need fear to
let his cattle run.  What's more, instead of a haunt of toughs and
hobos, we're going to have a quiet and prosperous town.  I'm now proud
that it's my duty to hand our guests the assurance of our grateful
appreciation.  Corporal Flett's will be sent on to him."

He handed them the parchments, and George felt inclined to blush as he
glanced at the decorated words of eulogy; while a half-ironical twinkle
crept into Grant's eyes.  Then Hardie rose to reply, and faltered once
or twice with a sob of emotion in his voice, for the testimonial had a
deeper significance to him than it had to the others.  His audience,
however, encouraged him, and there was a roar of applause when he sat
down.  Soon after that the gathering broke up.

George went to the parlor, which served as writing-room, and found
Flora there.  She smiled as she noticed the end of the parchment
sticking out of his pocket.

"I dare say you're relieved that the ceremony's over," she said.

"It was a little trying," George confessed.  "I was badly afraid I'd
have to make a speech, but luckily we had Hardie, who was equal to the
task."

"After all, you needn't be ashamed of the testimonial.  I really think
you deserved it, and I suppose I must congratulate you on the fortunate
end of your dramatic adventures."

George stood looking at her.  He was somewhat puzzled, for there was a
hint of light mockery in her voice.

"I'll excuse you if you feel that it requires an effort," he said.

"Oh, you have had so much applause that mine can hardly count."

"You ought to know that it's my friends' good opinion I really value."

Flora changed the subject.

"You will be driving out in the morning?"

"I'm starting as soon as Edgar has the team ready.  There's a good moon
and I must get to work the first thing to-morrow."

The girl's face hardened.

"You seem desperately anxious about your crop."

"I think that's natural.  There's a good deal to be done and I've lost
some time.  I came in to write a note before I see what Edgar's doing."

"Then I mustn't disturb you, and it's time I went over to Mrs.
Nelson's--she expects me to stay the night.  I was merely waiting for a
word with my father."  She stopped George, who had meant to accompany
her.  "No, you needn't come--it's only a few blocks away.  Get your
note written."

Seeing that she did not desire his escort, George let her go; but he
frowned as he sat down and took out some paper.  Soon afterward Edgar
came in, and they drove off in a few more minutes.

"Did you see Miss Grant?" Edgar asked when they were jolting down the
rutted trail.

"I did," George said shortly.

"You seem disturbed about it."

"I was a little perplexed," George owned.  "There was something that
struck me as different in her manner.  It may have been imagination,
but I felt she wasn't exactly pleased with me.  I can't understand how
I have offended her."

"No," said Edgar.  "It would have been remarkable if you had done so.
I suppose you told her you couldn't rest until you got to work at the
harvest?"

"I believe I said something of the kind.  What has that to do with it?"

"It isn't very obvious.  Perhaps she felt tired or moody; it has been a
blazing hot day.  There's every sign of its being the same to-morrow.
I suppose you'll make a start after breakfast?"

"I'll make a start as soon as it's daylight," George told him.

He kept his word, and for the next few weeks toiled with determined
energy among the tall white oats and the coppery ears of wheat.  It was
fiercely hot, but from sunrise until the light failed, the plodding
teams and clinking binders moved round the lessening squares of grain,
and ranks of splendid sheaves lengthened fast behind them.  The nights
were getting sharp, the dawns were cold and clear, and George rose each
morning, aching in every limb, but with a keen sense of satisfaction.
Each day's work added to the store of money he would shortly hand to
Sylvia.  He saw little of Flora, but when they met by chance, as
happened once or twice, he was still conscious of something subtly
unfamiliar in her manner.  He felt they were no longer on the old
confidential footing; a stronger barrier of reserve had risen between
them.

Before the last sheaves were stacked, the days were growing cool.  The
fresh western breezes had died away, and a faint ethereal haze and a
deep stillness had fallen upon the prairie.  It was rudely broken when
the thrashers arrived and from early morning the clatter of the engine
filled the air with sound.  Loaded wagons crashed through the stubble,
the voices of dusty men mingled with the rustle of the sheaves, and a
long trail of sooty smoke stained the soft blue of the sky.

This work was finished in turn, and day by day the wagons, loaded high
with bags of grain, rolled slowly across the broad white levels toward
the elevators.  Many a tense effort was needed to get them to their
destination, for the trails were dry and loose; but markets were
strong, and George had decided to haul in all the big crop.  Sometimes,
though the nights were frosty, he slept beside his jaded team in the
shelter of a bluff; sometimes he spent a day he grudged laying straw on
a road; rest for more than three or four hours was unknown to him, and
meals were snatched at irregular intervals when matters of more
importance were less pressing.  For all that, he was uniformly
cheerful; the work brought him the greatest pleasure he had known, and
he had grown fond of the wide, open land, in which he had once looked
forward to dwelling with misgivings.  The freedom of its vast spaces,
its clear air and its bright sunshine, appealed to him, and he began to
realize that he would be sorry to leave it, which he must shortly do.
Sylvia, it was a pity, could not live in western Canada.

At length, on a frosty evening, he saw the last load vanish into the
dusty elevator, and a curious feeling of regret crept over him.  It was
very doubtful if he would haul in another harvest, and he wondered
whether the time would now and then hang heavily on his hands in
England.  There was a roar of machinery above him in the tail building
that cut sharply against the sky; below, long rows of wagons stood
waiting their turn, and the voices of the teamsters, bantering one
another, struck cheerfully on his ears.  Side-track and little station
were bathed in dazzling electric glare, two locomotives were pushing in
wheat cars, and lights had begun to glimmer in the wooden houses of the
Butte, though all round there was the vast sweep of prairie.

There was a touch of rawness in the picture, a hint of incompleteness,
with a promise of much to come.  Sage Butte was, perhaps, a trifle
barbarous; but its crude frame buildings would some day give place to
more imposing piles of concrete and steel.  Its inhabitants were
passing through a transition stage, showing signs at times of the
primitive strain, but, as a rule, reaching out eagerly toward what was
new and better.  They would make swift progress, and even now he liked
the strenuous, optimistic, and somewhat rugged life they led; he
reflected that he would find things different in sheltered England.

After giving Grierson a few instructions, George turned away.  His work
was done; instead of driving home through the sharp cold of the night,
he was to spend it comfortably at the hotel.

A week later, he and West drove over to the Grant homestead and found
only its owner in the general-room.  Grant listened with a rather
curious expression when George told him that he was starting for
England the following day; and then they quietly talked over the
arrangements that had been made for carrying on the farm until Edgar's
return, for George's future movements were uncertain.  Edgar, however,
was sensible of a constraint in the farmer's manner, which was
presently felt by George, and the conversation was languishing when
Flora came in.  Shortly afterward George said that they must go and
Flora strolled toward the fence with him while the team was being
harnessed.

"So you are leaving us to-morrow and may not come back?" she said, in
an indifferent tone.

"I can't tell what I shall do until I get to England."

Flora glanced at him with a composure that cost her an effort.  She
supposed his decision would turn upon Mrs. Marston's attitude, but she
knew Sylvia well, and had a suspicion that there was a disappointment
in store for Lansing.  Edgar had explained that he was not rich, and he
was not the kind of man Sylvia was likely to regard with favor.

"Well," she said lightly, "when I came in, you really didn't look as
cheerful as one might have expected.  Are you sorry you are going away?"

"It's a good deal harder than I thought.  The prairie seems to have got
hold of me; I have good friends here."

"Haven't you plenty in England?"

"Acquaintances; only a few friends.  I can't help regretting those I
must leave behind.  In fact"--he spoke impulsively, expressing a
thought that had haunted him--"it would be a relief if I knew I should
come back again."

"After all, this is a hard country and we're a rather primitive people."

"You're reliable!  Staunch friends, determined enemies; and even among
the latter I found a kind of sporting feeling which made it a little
easier for one to forget one's injuries."  He glanced at the prairie
which stretched away, white and silent, in the clear evening light.
"It's irrational in a way, but I'd be glad to feel I was going to work
as usual to-morrow."

"I suppose you could do so, if you really wanted to," Flora suggested.

George turned and looked fixedly at her, while a mad idea crept into
his mind.  She was very alluring; he thought he knew her nature, which
was altogether wholesome, and it flashed upon him that many of the
excellent qualities she possessed were lacking in Sylvia.  Then he
loyally drove out the temptation, wondering that it had assailed him,
though he was still clearly conscious of his companion's attractiveness.

"No," he said in a somewhat strained voice; "I hardly think that's
possible.  I must go back."

Flora smiled, though it was difficult.  She half believed she could
shake the man's devotion to her rival, but she was too proud to try.
If he came to her, he must come willingly, and not because she had
exerted her utmost power to draw him.

"Well," she responded, "one could consider the reluctant way you spoke
the last few words as flattering.  I suppose it's a compliment to
Canada?"

He failed to understand the light touch of mocking amusement in her
tone; it had not dawned on him that this was her defense.

"It's a compliment to the Canadians, though my appreciation can't be
worth very much.  But I don't feel in a mood to joke.  In fact, there's
a feeling of depression abroad to-night; even your father seems
affected.  I'd expected a pleasant talk with him, but we were very
dull."

"What made you think he was less cheerful than usual?"  Flora cast a
quick and rather startled glance at him.

"I don't know, but something seemed wrong.  Edgar's the only one who
looks undisturbed, and if he talks much going home, he'll get on my
nerves."

"It's hardly fair to blame him for a depression that's your fault,"
said Flora.  "You deserve to feel it, since you will go away."

Then Edgar came up with the wagon and George took Flora's hands.

"I shall think of you often," he told her.  "It will always be with
pleasure.  Now and then you might, perhaps, spare a thought for me."

"I think I can promise that," Flora replied quietly.

Then he shook hands with Grant and got into the wagon.  Edgar cracked
the whip and the team plunged forward.  With a violent jolting and a
rattle of wheels they left the farm behind and drove out on to the
prairie.  Flora stood watching them for a while; and then walked back
to the house in the gathering dusk with her face set hard and a pain at
her heart.

Grant was sitting on the stoop, filling his pipe, but when she joined
him he paused in his occupation and pointed toward the plain.  The
wagon was scarcely discernible, but a rhythmic beat of hoofs still came
back through the stillness.

"I like that man, but he's a blamed fool," he remarked.

Strong bitterness was mingled with the regret in his voice, and Flora
started.  She was glad that the light was too dim for him to see her
clearly.

"I wonder what makes you say that?"

"For one thing, he might have done well here." Flora suspected that her
father was not expressing all he had meant.  "He's the kind of man we
want; and now he's going back to fool his life away, slouching round
playing games and talking to idle people, in the old country.  Guess
some girl over there has got a hold on him."  Then his indignation
flamed out unchecked.  "I never could stand those Percy women, anyway;
saw a bunch of them, all dress and airs, when I was last in Winnipeg.
One was standing outside a ticket-office at Portage, studying the
people through an eyeglass on an ivory stick, as if they were some
strange savages, and making remarks about them to her friends, though I
guess there isn't a young woman in the city with nerve enough to wear
the clothes she had on.  It makes a sensible man mighty tired to hear
those creatures talk."

Flora laughed, rather drearily, though she guessed with some uneasiness
the cause of her father's outbreak.  It appeared injudicious to offer
him any encouragement.

"After all, one must be fair," she said.  "I met some very nice people
in the old country."

He turned to her abruptly.

"Do you know who has taken Lansing back?" he asked.

"I believe, from something West said, it is Mrs. Marston."

"That trash!"  Grant's sharp cry expressed incredulity.  "The man can't
have any sense!  He's going to be sorry all the time if he gets her."

Then he knocked out his pipe, as if he were too indignant to smoke, and
went into the house.



CHAPTER XXXII

A REVELATION

It was a winter evening and Sylvia was standing near the hearth in Mrs.
Kettering's hall, where the lamps were burning, though a little pale
daylight still filtered through the drizzle outside.  Sylvia was fond
of warmth and brightness, but she was alone except for Ethel West, who
sat writing at a table in a recess, although her hostess had other
guests, including a few men who were out shooting.  After a while Ethel
looked up.

"Have you or Herbert heard anything from George during the last few
weeks?" she asked.

Sylvia turned languidly.  Her thoughts had been fixed on Captain Bland,
whom she was expecting every moment.  Indeed, she was anxious to get
rid of Ethel before he came in.

"No," she said with indifference.  "I think his last letter came a
month ago.  It was optimistic."

"They seem to have had a good harvest from what Edgar wrote; he hinted
that he might make a trip across."

"It's rather an expensive journey."

"That wouldn't trouble Edgar, and there's a reason for the visit.  He
has made up his mind to start farming and wants to talk over his plans.
In fact, he thinks of getting married."

Sylvia showed some interest.

"To whom?  Why didn't you tell me earlier?"

"I only arrived this morning, and I wrote some time ago, asking if you
could meet Stephen and me.  You were with the Graysons then, but you
didn't answer."

"I forgot; I don't always answer letters.  But who is the girl?  Not
Miss Grant?"

"Helen Taunton.  Do you know her?"

Sylvia laughed.

"The storekeeper's daughter!  She's passably good-looking and her
father's not badly off, but that's about all one could say for her."

"Do you know anything against the girl?"

"Oh, no!" said Sylvia languidly.  "She's quite respectable--in fact,
they're rather a straight-laced people; and she doesn't talk badly.
For all that, I think you'll get a shock if Edgar brings her home."

"That is not George's opinion.  We wrote to him."

Sylvia laughed.

"He would believe in anybody who looked innocent and pretty."

Ethel's expression hardened; Sylvia had not been considerate.

"I don't think that's true.  He's generous, and though he has made
mistakes, it was only because his confidence was misled with a highly
finished skill.  One wouldn't look for the same ability in a girl
brought up in a primitive western town."

"After all," said Sylvia tranquilly, "she is a girl, and no doubt Edgar
is worth powder and shot from her point of view."

"It doesn't seem to be a commercial one," Ethel retorted.  "Stephen had
a very straightforward letter from this storekeeper.  But I'm inclined
to think I had better go on with my writing."

Sylvia moved away.  She had no reason for being gracious to Ethel, and
she took some pleasure in irritating her.

In a few minutes Bland came in.  The hall was large, and Ethel was
hidden from him in the recess.  He strode toward Sylvia eagerly, but
she checked him with a gesture.

"You have come back early," she said.  "Wasn't the sport good?  What
has become of Kettering and the others?"

The man looked a little surprised.  This was hardly the greeting he had
expected, after having been promised a quiet half-hour with Sylvia;
but, looking round, he saw the skirt of Ethel's dress and understood.
Had it been George she wished to warn, she would have used different
means; but Bland, she was thankful, was not hypercritical.

"The sport was poor," he told her.  "The pheasants aren't very strong
yet, and it was hard to drive them out of the covers.  As I'd only a
light water-proof, I got rather wet outside the last wood and I left
the others.  Kettering wanted to see the keeper about to-morrow's beat,
but I didn't wait."

"Since you have been in the rain all day, you had better have some
tea," said Sylvia.  "They'll bring it here, if you ring."

He followed her to a small table across the hall, and after a tray had
been set before them they sat talking in low voices.  Presently Bland
laid his hand on Sylvia's arm.

"You know why I came down," he said.  "I must go back to-morrow and I
want the announcement made before I leave."

Sylvia blushed and lowered her eyes.

"Oh, well," she conceded, "you have really been very patient, and
perhaps it would be hardly fair to make you wait any longer."

Bland took her hand and held it fast.

"You are worth waiting for!  But there were times when it was very hard
not to rebel.  I'd have done so, only I was afraid."

"You did rebel."

"Not to much purpose.  Though no one would suspect it from your looks,
you're a very determined person, Sylvia.  Now I don't know how to
express my feelings; I want to do something dramatic, even if it's
absurd, and I can't even speak aloud.  Couldn't you have got rid of
Miss West by some means?"

"How could I tell what you wished to say?" Sylvia asked with a shy
smile.  "Besides, Ethel wouldn't go.  She stuck there in the most
determined fashion!"

"Then we'll have to disregard her.  It must be early next year, Sylvia.
I'll see Lansing to-morrow."

He continued in a quietly exultant strain, and Sylvia felt relieved
that her fate was decided.  She had some time ago led him to believe
she would marry him; but she had, with vague misgivings and prompted by
half-understood reasons, put off a definite engagement.  Now she had
given her pledge, and though she thought of George with faint regret,
she was on the whole conscious of satisfaction.  Bland, she believed,
had a good deal to offer her which she could not have enjoyed with his
rival.

Presently a servant brought Ethel something on a salver, and a few
moments later she approached the other two with a telegram in her hand.

"I thought I had better tell you, Sylvia," she explained.  "Stephen has
just got a letter from Edgar, written a day or two before he sailed.
He should arrive on Saturday, and George is with him."

Sylvia had not expected this and she was off her guard.  She started,
and sat looking at Ethel incredulously, with something like
consternation.

"It's quite true," said Ethel bluntly.  "He'll be here in three more
days."

Then Sylvia recovered her composure.

"In that case, I'll have to let Muriel know at once; he'll go straight
there, and she's staying with Lucy.  Perhaps I had better telegraph."

She rose and left them; and Bland sought Mrs. Kettering and acquainted
her of his engagement, and begged her to make it known, which she
promised to do.  He failed to find Sylvia until she was coming down to
dinner, when she beckoned him.

"Have you told Susan yet?" she asked.

"Yes," Bland beamed; "I told her at once.  I should have liked to go
about proclaiming the delightful news!"

Sylvia looked disturbed; Bland could almost have fancied she was angry.
As a matter of fact, troubled thoughts were flying through her mind.
It was obvious that she would shortly be called upon to face a crisis.

"After all," she said, with an air of resignation which struck him as
out of place, "I suppose you had to do so; but you lost no time."

"Not a moment!" he assured her.  "I felt I couldn't neglect anything
that brought you nearer to me."

Then they went on, and meeting the other guests in the hall, Sylvia
acknowledged the shower of congratulations with a smiling face.  She
escaped after dinner, however, without a sign to Bland, and did not
reappear.  During the evening, he found Ethel West sitting alone in a
quiet nook.

"Mrs. Marston seemed a little disturbed at the news you gave her," he
remarked.

"So I thought," said Ethel.

"I suppose the George you mentioned is her trustee, who went to Canada
and took your brother?  You once told me something about him."

"Yes," said Ethel.  "You seem to have the gift of arriving at correct
conclusions."

"He's an elderly man--a business man of his cousin's stamp--I presume?"

Ethel laughed.

"Oh, no; they're of very different type.  I should imagine that he's
younger than you are.  He was at Herbert's one afternoon when you
called."

"Ah!" said Bland.  "I shall, no doubt, get to know him when next I come
down."

Then he talked about other matters until he left her, and after a while
he found Kettering alone.

"Did you ever meet George Lansing?" he asked.

"Oh, yes," said his host.  "I know his cousin better."

"He has been out in Canada, hasn't he?"

"Yes; went out to look after Mrs. Marston's property.  I understand he
has been more or less successful."

"When did he leave England?"

Kettering told him, and Bland considered.

"So Lansing has been out, and no doubt going to a good deal of trouble,
for two years," he said.  "That's something beyond an ordinary
executor's duty.  What made him undertake it?"

Kettering smiled.

"It's an open secret--you're bound to hear it--that he had an
admiration for Sylvia.  Still, there's no ground for jealousy.  Lansing
hadn't a chance from the beginning."

Bland concealed his feelings.

"How is that?  He must be an unusually good fellow if he stayed out
there to look after things so long."

"For one reason, he's not Sylvia's kind.  It was quite out of the
question that she should ever have married him."

Feeling that he had, perhaps, said too much, Kettering began to talk of
the next day's sport; and soon afterward Bland left him and went out on
the terrace to smoke and ponder.  Putting what he had learned together,
he thought he understood the situation, and it was not a pleasant one,
though he was not very indignant with Sylvia.  It looked as if she made
an unfair use of Lansing's regard for her, unless, in spite of
Kettering's opinion, she had until lately been undecided how to choose
between them.  Nevertheless, Bland could not feel that he had now been
rudely undeceived, for he had always recognized some of Sylvia's
failings.  He did not expect perfection; and he could be generous, when
he had won.

He asked Sylvia no injudicious questions when they met the next
morning, and during the day he called on Herbert Lansing, who was back
in his office.  The latter heard him explain his errand with somewhat
mixed feelings, for there were certain rather troublesome facts that
must be mentioned.

"Well," he said, "I have, of course, no objections to make; but, as one
of her trustees, it's my duty to look after Sylvia's interests.  As you
know, she is not rich."

"I suppose these points must he talked over," Bland said, with
indifference.

"It's usual, and in the present case, necessary.  What provision are
you able to make?"

Bland looked a little uncomfortable.  "As a matter of fact, I'd find it
difficult to make any provision.  I get along fairly well, as it is,
but I've only about four hundred a year besides my pay."

"How far does your pay go?" Herbert asked dryly.

"It covers my mess bills and a few expenses of that nature."

Herbert leaned back in his chair with a smile.

"Hasn't it struck you that you should have chosen a wife with money?"

"Now," said Bland rather sternly, "I don't want to lie open to any
misconception, but I understood that Mrs. Marston had some means.  I'm
quite prepared to hear they're small."

"That's fortunate, because it may save you a shock.  Sylvia owns a farm
in Canada, which did not repay the cost of working it last year.
During the present one there has been an improvement, and we expect a
small surplus on the two years' operations.  The place has been valued
at--but perhaps I had better give you a few figures, showing you how
matters stand."

Opening a drawer, he handed a paper to Bland, who studied it with a
sense of dismay.

"I'll confess that this is an unpleasant surprise," he said at length;
and then, while Herbert waited, he pulled himself together with a
laugh.  "After that admission, I must add that the mistake is the
result of my having a sanguine imagination; Sylvia scarcely mentioned
her Canadian property.  Now, however, there's only one thing to be
done--to face the situation as cheerfully as possible."

"It can't be an altogether attractive one." Herbert admired his courage
and the attitude he had adopted.

"I shall certainly have to economize," Bland admitted; "and that is a
thing I'm not accustomed to; but I may get some appointment, and by and
by a small share in some family property will revert to me.  Though I
must go straight back to my garrison duties now, I'll come down for an
hour or two and explain things to Sylvia, as soon as I can."  He paused
and broke into a faint smile.  "I dare say the surprise will be mutual;
she may have believed my means to be larger than they are."

"I should consider it very possible," replied Herbert dryly.  "As I
must see Sylvia, I'll give her an idea how matters stand and clear the
ground for you."

Bland said that he would be glad of this; and after some further
conversation he took his leave and walked to the station, disturbed in
mind, but conscious of a little ironical amusement.  There was no doubt
that Sylvia had cleverly deluded him, but he admitted that he had done
much the same thing to her.  Had he realized the true state of her
affairs at the beginning he would have withdrawn; but he had no thought
of doing so now.  It was obvious that Sylvia's principles were not very
high, and he regretted it, although he could not claim much superiority
in this respect.  He was tolerant and, after all, she had a charm that
atoned for many failings.

It was three or four days later when he arrived at Mrs. Kettering's
house one evening and found Sylvia awaiting him in a room reserved for
her hostess's use.  She was very becomingly dressed and looked, he
thought, even more attractive than usual.  She submitted to his caress
with an air of resignation, but he augured a good deal from the fact
that she did not repulse him.  As it happened, Sylvia had carefully
thought over the situation.

"Sit down," she said; "I want to talk with you."

"I think I'll stand.  It's more difficult to feel penitent in a
comfortable position.  It looks as if you had seen Herbert Lansing."

"I have." Sylvia's tone was harsh.  "What have you to say for yourself?"

"Not a great deal, which is fortunate, because I haven't much time to
say it in," Bland told her with a smile.  "To begin with, I'll state
the unflattering truth--it strikes me that, in one way, we're each as
bad as the other.  I suppose it's one of my privileges to mention such
facts to you, though I'd never think of admitting them to anybody else."

"It's a husband's privilege," Sylvia rejoined pointedly.  "Don't be
premature."

"Well," said Bland, "I can only make one defense, but I think you ought
to realize how strong it is.  We were thrown into each other's society,
and it isn't in the least surprising that I lost my head and was
carried away.  My power of reasoning went when I fell in love with you."

"That sounds pretty, but it's unfortunate you didn't think of me a
little more," pouted Sylvia.

"Think of you?" Bland broke out.  "I thought of nothing else!"

"Then it wasn't to much purpose.  Don't you see what you want to bring
me to?  Can't you realize what I should have to give up?  How could we
ever manage on the little we have?"

The man frowned.  He was sorry for her and somewhat ashamed, but she
jarred on him in her present mood.

"I believe people who were sufficiently fond of each other have often
got along pretty satisfactorily on less, even in the Service.  It's a
matter of keen regret to me that you will have to make a sacrifice, but
things are not quite so bad as they look, and there's reason for
believing they may get better.  You will have as pleasant society as
you enjoy now; my friends will stand by my wife."  A look of pride
crept into his face.  "I dare say they have their failings, but they'll
only expect charm from you, and you can give it to them.  They won't
value you by the display you make or your possessions.  We're free from
that taint."

"But have you considered what you must give up?"

Bland had hardly expected this, but he smiled.

"Oh, yes.  I spent an evening over it and I was a little surprised to
find how many things there were I could readily do without.  In fact,
it was a most instructive evening.  The next day I wrote a bundle of
letters, resigning from clubs I rarely went to, and canceling orders
for odds and ends I hadn't the least real use for.  But I'll confess
that I've derived a good deal more pleasure from thinking of how much I
shall get."

Sylvia was touched, but she did not mean to yield too readily.

"It would be dreadfully imprudent."

"Just so; one has often to take a risk.  It's rather exciting to fling
prudence overboard.  I want to fix my whole attention on the fact that
we love each other!"  Bland glanced at his watch.  "Now it strikes me
that we have been sufficiently practical, and as I must start back
to-night, I haven't much time left.  Don't you think it would be a pity
to waste it?"

He drew her down beside him on a lounge and Sylvia surrendered.  After
all, the man had made a good defense and, as far as her nature
permitted, she had grown fond of him.



CHAPTER XXXIII

GEORGE MAKES UP HIS MIND

Dusk was closing in when George and Edgar alighted at a little English
station.  Casting an eager glance about, George was disappointed to see
nobody from his cousin's house waiting to meet him.  In another moment,
however, he was warmly greeted by Ethel West.

"A very hearty welcome, George," she said.  "You're looking very fit,
but thinner than you were when you left us.  Stephen's waiting outside.
He told Muriel we would drive you over; Herbert's away somewhere."

"How's everybody?" George inquired.

"Sylvia looked as charming as ever when I last saw her a few days ago,"
Ethel answered with a smile, which George was too eager to notice was
somewhat forced.  "The rest of us, are much as usual.  But come along;
we'll send over afterward for your heavy things."

They turned toward the outlet, and found Stephen having some trouble
with a horse that was startled by the roar of steam.  Edgar got up in
front of the high trap, George helped Ethel to the seat behind, and
they set off the next moment, flying down the wet road amid a cheerful
hammer of hoofs and a rattle of wheels.  For the first few minutes
George said little as he looked about.  On one side great oaks and
ashes raised their naked boughs in sharp tracery against the pale
saffron glow in the western sky.  Ahead, across a deep valley, which
was streaked with trains of mist, wide moors and hills rolled away,
gray and darkly blue.  Down the long slope to the hollow ran small
fields with great trees breaking the lines of hedgerows; and the
brawling of a river swollen by recent rain came sharply up to him.

It was all good to look upon, a beautiful, well-cared-for land, and he
felt a thrill of pride and satisfaction.  This was home, and he had
come back to it with his work done.  A roseate future stretched away
before him, its peaceful duties brightened by love, and the contrast
between it and the stress and struggle of the past two years added to
its charm.  Still, to his astonishment, he thought of the sterner and
more strenuous life he had led on the western plains with a faint,
half-tender regret.

By and by Edgar's laugh rang out.

"The change in my brother is remarkable," Ethel declared.  "It was a
very happy thought that made us let him go with you."

"I'm not responsible," George rejoined.  "You have the country to
thank.  In some way, it's a hard land; but it's a good one."

"Perhaps something is due to Miss Taunton's influence."

Edgar leaned over the back of the seat.

"That," he said, "is a subject of which I've a monopoly; and I've
volumes to say upon it as soon as there's a chance of doing it justice.
George, I hear that Singleton, who told us about the wheat, is home on
a visit.  Stephen has asked him over; you must meet him."

George said he would be glad to do so, and turned to Ethel when Edgar
resumed his conversation with his brother.

"I wired Herbert to have everything ready at my place, though I shall
spend the night at Brantholme."

"The Lodge is let.  Didn't you know?"

"I understood that the man's tenancy ran out a few weeks ago."

"He renewed it.  Herbert didn't know you were coming over; the terms
were good."

"Then I'm homeless for a time."

"Oh, no!" said Ethel.  "Stephen wanted me to insist on your coming with
us now, but I know you will want to see Muriel and have a talk with
her.  However, we'll expect you to come and take up your quarters with
us to-morrow."

George looked at her in some surprise.

"I'd be delighted, but Herbert will expect me to stay with him, and, of
course--"

"Sylvia hadn't arrived this afternoon; she was at Mrs. Kettering's,"
Ethel told him.  "But remember that you must stay with us until you
make your arrangements.  We should find it hard to forgive you if you
went to anybody else."

"I wouldn't think of it, only that Herbert's the obvious person to
entertain me," George replied, though he was a little puzzled by the
insistence, and Ethel abruptly began to talk of something else.

Darkness came, but there were gleams of cheerful light from roadside
cottages, and George found the fresh moist air and the shadowy woods
they skirted pleasantly familiar.  This was the quiet English
countryside he loved, and a sense of deep and tranquil content
possessed him.  He failed to notice that Ethel cleverly avoided
answering some of his questions and talked rather more than usual about
matters of small importance.  At length they reached the Brantholme
gates, and Stephen looked down as George alighted.

"We'll expect you over shortly; I'll send for your baggage," he said as
he drove off.

George, to his keen disappointment, found only Mrs. Lansing waiting for
him in the hall, though she received him very cordially,

"Herbert had to go up to London; he didn't get your wire in time to put
off the journey," she explained.  "I'm sorry he can't be back for a few
days."

"It doesn't matter; he has to attend to his business," George rejoined.
"But where's Sylvia?"

"She hasn't come back from Susan's," said Mrs. Lansing, quickly
changing the subject and explaining why Herbert had re-let the Lodge.
After that, she asked George questions until she sent him off to
prepare for dinner.

George was perplexed as well as disappointed.  Neither Ethel nor Muriel
seemed inclined to speak about Sylvia--it looked as if they had some
reason for avoiding any reference to her; but he assured himself that
this was imagination, and during dinner he confined his inquiries to
other friends.  When it was over and Muriel led him into the
drawing-room, his uneasiness grew more keen.

"Herbert thought you would like to know as soon as possible how things
were going," Muriel said, as she took a big envelope from a drawer and
gave it to him.

"He told me this was a rough statement of your business affairs."

"Thanks," said George, thrusting it carelessly into his pocket.  "I
must study it sometime.  But I've been looking forward all day to
meeting Sylvia.  Wouldn't Susan let her come?"

Mrs. Lansing hesitated, and then, leaning forward, laid her hand on his
arm.

"I've kept it back a little, George; but you must be told.  I'm afraid
it will be a shock---Sylvia is to marry Captain Bland in the next few
weeks."

George rose and turned rather gray in the face, as he leaned on the
back of a chair.

"I suppose," he said hoarsely, "there's no doubt of this?"

"It's all arranged." Mrs. Lansing made a compassionate gesture.  "I
can't tell you how sorry I am, or how hateful it was to have to give
you such news."

"I can understand why Sylvia preferred to leave it to you," he said
slowly.  "How long has this matter been going on?"

Mrs. Lansing's eyes sparkled with anger.

"I believe it began soon after you left.  I don't know whether Sylvia
expects me to make excuses for her, but I won't do anything of the
kind; there are none that could be made.  She has behaved shamefully!"

"One must be just," George said with an effort.  "After all, she
promised me nothing."

"Perhaps not in so many words.  But she knew what you expected, and I
have no doubt she led you to believe--"

George raised his hand.

"I think there's nothing to be said--the thing must be faced somehow.
I feel rather badly hit; you won't mind if I go out and walk about a
little?"

Mrs. Lansing was glad to let him go; the sight of his hard-set face
hurt her.  In another minute he was walking up and down the terrace,
but he stopped presently and leaned on the low wall.  Hitherto he had
believed in Sylvia with an unshaken faith, but now a flood of suspicion
poured in on him; above all, there was the telling fact that as soon as
he had gone, she had begun to lead on his rival.  The shock he had
suffered had brought George illumination.  Sylvia could never have had
an atom of affection for him; she had merely made his loyalty serve her
turn.  She had done so even before she married Dick Marston; though he
had somehow retained his confidence in her then.  He had been a fool
from the beginning!

The intense bitterness of which he was conscious was wholly new to him,
but it was comprehensible.  Just in all his dealings, he expected
honesty from others, and, though generous in many ways, he had not
Bland's tolerant nature; he looked for more than the latter and had
less charity.  There was a vein of hardness in the man who had loved
Sylvia largely because he believed in her.  Trickery and falseness were
abhorrent to him, and now the woman he had worshiped stood revealed in
her deterrent reality.

After a while he pulled himself together, and, going back to the house,
entered Herbert's library where, less because of his interest in the
matter than as a relief from painful thoughts, he opened the envelope
given him and took out the statement.  For a few moments the figures
puzzled him, and then he broke into a bitter laugh.  The money that he
had entrusted to his cousin's care had melted away.

During the next two or three minutes he leaned back, motionless, in his
chair; then he took up a pencil and lighted a cigar.  Since he was
ruined, he might as well ascertain how it had happened, and two facts
became obvious from his study of the document: Herbert had sold sound
securities, and had mortgaged land; and then placed the proceeds in
rubber shares.  This was perhaps permissible, but it did not explain
what had induced an astute business man to hold the shares until they
had fallen to their remarkably low value.  There was a mystery here,
and George in his present mood was keenly suspicious.  He had no doubt
that Herbert had left the statement because it would save him the
unpleasantness of giving a personal explanation; moreover, George
believed that he had left home with that purpose.  Then he made a few
rough calculations, which seemed to prove that enough remained to buy
and stock a farm in western Canada.  This was something, though it did
not strike him as a matter of much consequence, and he listlessly
smoked out his cigar.  Then he rose and rejoined Mrs. Lansing.

"If you don't mind, I'll go over to Wests' to-morrow," he said.  "They
pressed me to spend some time with them, and there are arrangements to
be made on which they want my opinion.  Edgar is taking up land in
Canada."

Mrs. Lansing looked troubled.

"Was there anything disturbing in the paper Herbert gave me for you?
He doesn't tell me much about his business, but I gathered that he was
vexed about some shares he bought on your account.  I should be sorry
if they have gone down."

"You would hardly understand; the thing's a little complicated," George
said with reassuring gentleness.  "I'm afraid I have lost some money;
but, after all, it isn't my worst misfortune.  I'll have a talk with
Herbert as soon as he comes home."

He left Brantholme the next morning and was received by Ethel when he
arrived at Wests'.

"We have been expecting you," she said cordially.

"Then you know?"

"Yes.  I'm very sorry; but I suppose it will hardly bear talking about.
Stephen is waiting for you; he's taking a day off and Edgar's friend,
Singleton, arrives to-night."

Singleton duly made his appearance, but he was not present when George
and Stephen West sat down for a talk after dinner in the latter's
smoking-room.  Presently George took out the statement and handed it to
his host.

"I want advice badly and I can't go to an outsider for it," he said.
"I feel quite safe in confiding in you."

West studied the document for a while before he looked up.

"The main point to be decided is--whether you should sell these shares
at once for what they will bring, or wait a little?  With your
permission, we'll ask Singleton; he knows more about the matter than
anybody else."

Singleton came in and lighted a cigar, and then listened carefully,
with a curious little smile, while West supplied a few explanations.

"Hold on to these shares, even if you have to make a sacrifice to do
so," he advised.

"But they seem to be almost worthless," George objected.

"Perhaps I had better go into the matter fully," said Singleton.  "I'll
do so on the understanding that what I'm about to tell you reaches
nobody else."

George looked at West, who nodded.

"Well," explained Singleton, "I've come over on a flying visit about
this rubber business.  The original company--the one in which you hold
shares--was got up mainly with the idea of profiting by the rather
reckless general buying of such stock.  Its tropical possessions were
badly managed, though a little good rubber was shipped, and when prices
reached their highest point Mr. Lansing sold out."

"If he had sold my shares at the same time, there should have been a
satisfactory margin?"

"Undoubtedly.  Extensive selling, however, shakes the confidence of
speculators, and a man desirous of unloading would accordingly prefer
everybody else to hold on."

"I think I am beginning to understand now," George said grimly.

"Then," Singleton went on, "a new company was projected by the
promoters of the first one, and I was sent out to report on its
prospects.  At the last moment Mr. Lansing withdrew, but his associates
sent me south again.  The slump he had foreseen came; nobody wanted
rubber shares in any but firmly established and prosperous companies.
Lansing had cleared out in time and left his colleagues to face a
crushing loss."

"I don't see how all this bears upon the subject," George interrupted.

"Wait.  You may be thankful Lansing didn't sell your shares.  I found
that the company could be placed upon a paying basis, and, what is
more, that the older one possessed resources its promoters had never
suspected.  In fact, I discovered how its output could be greatly
increased at an insignificant cost.  I came home at once with a scheme
which has been adopted, and I've every reason to believe that there
will be marked rise in the shares before long.  Anyway, there's no
doubt that the company will be able to place high-class rubber on the
market at a cost which will leave a very satisfactory margin."

George was conscious of strong relief.  It looked as if his loss would
be small, and there was a chance of his stock becoming valuable; but
another thought struck him.

"When was it that Herbert sold his shares?"

"At the beginning of last winter."

"Shortly before we mentioned that you might come home," West interposed
pointedly.

This confirmed George's suspicions; he could readily understand
Herbert's preferring that he should stay away, but he remembered that
it was Sylvia's letter which had decided him to remain in Canada.  In
the statement left him, he had been charged with half of certain loans
Herbert had made to her, and he wondered whether this pointed to some
collusion between them.  He thought it by no means improbable.

"I understand that Herbert knows nothing about these new developments,
and has no idea that the future of the two undertakings is promising?"
he said.

Singleton laughed.

"Not the slightest notion.  If he suspected it, there would be nothing
to prevent his buying shares; nothing will transpire until the
shareholders' meeting, which will not be held for some time.  Lansing
retired and sold out, because he was convinced that both companies were
worthless."  He paused and added dryly: "I can't see why we should
enlighten him."

"Nor can I," responded George; and West nodded.

"Then," said Singleton, "when Lansing learns the truth, it will be too
late for him to profit by the knowledge.  I believe he has thrown away
the best chance he ever had."

Shortly afterward Edgar came in and they talked of something else; but
two days later Herbert returned and George went over to Brantholme.  He
was shown into the library where Herbert was sitting, and the latter
was on his guard when he saw his cousin's face.  He greeted him
affably, however, and made a few inquiries about his farming.

George stood looking at him with a fixed expression.

"I think," he said shortly, "we had better talk business."

"Oh, well," replied Herbert.  "I suppose you have studied my statement.
I needn't say that I regret the way matters have turned out; but one
can't foresee every turn of the market, or avoid a miscalculation now
and then.  It would hurt me if I thought this thing had anything to do
with your going to Stephen's."

"We won't discuss that.  I gave you authority to look after my affairs;
I want it back."

Herbert took a document from a drawer and laid it on the table.

"Here it is.  But won't you let me try to straighten matters out?"

"Can they be straightened out?"

"Well," said Herbert with some embarrassment, "I'm afraid there's a
serious loss, but it would be wiser to face it and sell off the shares."

"I can do what seems most desirable without any further assistance."

George leaned forward and, as he picked up the document, a flush crept
into his cousin's face.

"I hardly expected you would take this line.  Do you think it's right
to blame me because I couldn't anticipate the fall in value?"

"It strikes me that the situation is one that had better not be
discussed between us," George rejoined, with marked coldness.
"Besides, my opinion won't count for much in face of the very
satisfactory financial results you have secured.  I'm sorry for what
has happened, on Muriel's account."

He turned and went out; and met Ethel on reaching West's house.

"I must try to arrange for an interview with Sylvia and Captain Bland,"
he told her.  "There are matters that should be explained to them."

"Won't it be painful?"

"That can't be allowed to count."

"After all," said Ethel thoughtfully, "it's no doubt the proper course."

A week later he visited Mrs. Kettering's, and was shown into a room
where Sylvia awaited him alone.  After the first glance at him, she
turned her eyes away.

"George," she said, "I'm afraid I've behaved badly.  Can you forgive
me?"

"I think so," he answered with a forced smile.  "Anyway, I'll try, and
I'd like you to be happy.  But it wouldn't be flattering if I pretended
that I wasn't hurt."

"Ah," she exclaimed, "you were always so generous!"

He stood silent a moment or two looking at her.

She had cunningly tricked him and killed his love; but she was very
attractive with her pretty, helpless air.  He knew this was false, but
there was no profit in bitterness; he would not cause her pain.

"It's more to the purpose that I'm hard, which is fortunate in several
ways.  But I came to talk about the farm; that is why I suggested that
Captain Bland should be present."

"The farm?"  Sylvia regarded him with a trace of mockery.  "That you
should think of it is so characteristic of you!"

George smiled.

"I can't help my matter-of-fact nature, and I've found it serviceable.
Anyway, the farm must be thought of."  He laid a hand gently on her
shoulder.  "Sylvia, I'm told that Bland isn't rich.  If he loves you,
take him fully into your confidence."

She blushed, which he had scarcely expected.

"I have done so--at least, I allowed Herbert to explain--there is
nothing hidden."  Then her tone changed to one of light raillery.  "You
were always an extremist, George; you can't hit the happy medium.  Once
you believed I was everything that was most admirable, and now--"

"I think you have done right and wisely in letting Bland know how
things stand.  It was only my interest in your future that warranted
what I said."

"Well," she replied, "we will go up and talk to him; he's waiting.  You
can give your account to him."

George followed her, but for a while he was conscious of a certain
restraint, which he fancied was shared by Bland.  It was difficult to
talk about indifferent subjects, and he took out some papers.

"I came to explain the state of Sylvia's Canadian affairs; she wished
you to know," he said.  "If you will give me a few minutes, I'll try to
make things clear."

Bland listened gravely, and then made a sign of satisfaction.

"It's obvious that Sylvia placed her property in most capable hands.
We can only give you our sincere thanks."

"There's a point to be considered," George resumed.  "Have you decided
what to do with the property?"

"Sylvia and I have talked it over; we thought of selling.  I don't see
how we could carry on the farm."

"If you will let the matter stand over for a few weeks, I might be a
purchaser.  The land's poor, but there's a good deal of it, and I
believe that, with proper treatment, it could be made to pay."

Sylvia looked astonished, Bland slightly embarrassed.

"We never contemplated your buying the place," he said.

"I've grown fond of it; I believe I understand how it should be worked.
There's no reason why either of you should object to my becoming a
purchaser."

"I suppose that's true," Bland agreed.  "Anyway, I can promise that
we'll do nothing about the matter until we hear from you; I don't think
there's any likelihood of our disputing about the price.  You can fix
that at what it's worth to you."

George changed the subject; and when he went out, Sylvia smiled at
Bland.

"You needn't have been so sensitive about his buying the farm," she
said.  "It will have to be sold."

"I suppose so, but I wish we could have given it to him."

Sylvia touched his cheek caressingly.

"Don't be foolish; it's out of the question.  You will have to be
economical enough as it is, but you shan't make any sacrifice that
isn't strictly necessary."

During the next few weeks George made some visits among his friends,
but he returned to the Wests shortly before Edgar sailed for Canada.
On the night preceding his departure they were sitting together when
Edgar looked at him thoughtfully.

"George," he remarked, "I wonder if it has ever struck you that you're
a very short-sighted person?  I mean that you don't realize where your
interest lies."

"It's possible," said George.  "What particular oversight are you
referring to?"

"It isn't easy to answer bluntly, and if I threw out any delicate
suggestions, they'd probably be wasted.  You saw a good deal of Flora
Grant, and if you had any sense you would have recognized what kind of
girl she is."

"Miss Grant doesn't need your praise."

"I'm glad you admit it; appreciation's sometimes mutual.  Now I can't
undertake to say what Flora implied from your visits, but I've no doubt
about what her father expected."

The blood crept into George's face as he remembered Grant's manner
during their last interview.

"I did nothing that could have led him to believe--"

"Oh, no!" said Edgar.  "You behaved with the greatest prudence; perhaps
frigid insensibility would describe it better.  Of course this is a
deplorable intrusion, but I feel I must point out that it may not be
too late yet."

"I've felt greatly tempted to buy Sylvia's farm," George said
thoughtfully.

"That's good news.  If you're wise, you'll consider what I've said."

George did so after Edgar's departure, though the idea was not new to
him.  He had long been sensible of Flora's charm, and had now and then
felt in Canada that it would not be difficult to love her.  Since he
had learned the truth about Sylvia, Flora had occupied a prominent
place in his mind.  By degrees a desire for her had grown stronger; he
had seen how admirable in many ways she was, how staunch and fearless
and upright.  Still, he feared to go back; she was proud and might
scorn his tardy affection.  He grew disturbed and occasionally moody,
and then one day a cablegram was delivered to him.

"Believe you had better come back," it read, and was signed by Helen
Taunton.

George understood what it was intended to convey, and before night he
had arranged to purchase Sylvia's farm.

Three days later he was crossing the Atlantic with an eager and
thankful heart.





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