“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.”
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.