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.”