The short northern day was nearing an end when once more they saw the broad Saskatchewan twisting through a plain below them, and on its southern shore the few log buildings of Le Pas hemmed in on three sides by the black forests of balsam and spruce. Lights were burning in the cabins and in the Hudson Bay Post’s store when the car was brought to a halt half a hundred paces from a squat, log-built structure, which was more brilliantly illuminated than any of the others.
“That’s the hotel,” said one of the men. “Gregson’s there.”
A tall, fur-clad figure hurried forth to meet Howland as he walked briskly across the open. It was Gregson. As the two men gripped hands the young engineer stared at the other in astonishment. This was not the Gregson he had known in the Chicago office, round-faced, full of life, as active as a cricket.
“Never so glad to see any one in my life, Howland!” he cried, shaking the other’s hand again and again. “Another month and I’d be dead. Isn’t this a hell of a country?”
“I’m falling more in love with it at every breath, Gregson. What’s the matter? Have you been sick?”
Gregson laughed as they turned toward the lighted building. It was a short, nervous laugh, and with it he gave a curious sidewise glance at his companion’s face.
“Sick?—yes, sick of the job! If the old man hadn’t sent us relief Thorne and I would have thrown up the whole thing in another four weeks. I’ll warrant you’ll get your everlasting fill of log shanties and half-breeds and moose meat and this infernal snow and ice before spring comes. But I don’t want to discourage you.”
“Can’t discourage me!” laughed Howland cheerfully. “You know I never cared much for theaters and girls,” he added slyly, giving Gregson a good-natured nudge. “How about ’em up here?”
“Nothing—not a cursed thing.” Suddenly his eyes lighted up. “By George, Howland, but I did see the prettiest girl I ever laid my eyes on to-day! I’d give a box of pure Havanas—and we haven’t had one for a month!—if I could know who she is!”
They had entered through the low door of the log boarding-house and Gregson was throwing off his heavy coat.
“A tall girl, with a fur hat and muff?” queried Howland eagerly.
“Nothing of the sort. She was a typical Northerner if there ever was one—straight as a birch, dressed in fur cap and coat, short caribou skin skirt and moccasins, and with a braid hanging down her back as long as my arm. Lord, but she was pretty!”
“Isn’t there a girl somewhere up around our camp named Meleese?” asked Howland casually.
“Never heard of her,” said Gregson.
“Or a man named Croisset?”
“Never heard of him.”
“The deuce, but you’re interesting,” laughed the young engineer, sniffing at the odors of cooking supper. “I’m as hungry as a bear!”
From outside there came the sharp cracking of a sledge-driver’s whip and Gregson went to one of the small windows looking out upon the clearing. In another instant he sprang toward the door, crying out to Howland,