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.”