“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.”