“I’ve an idea that Sylvia would manage to avoid a good many of the hardships.”
“Sylvia would never shirk a duty,” George declared firmly.
Edgar refilled his pipe.
“I’ve been thinking about Dick Marston,” he said. “After the way he was generally regarded at home, it was strange to hear that Canadian’s opinions; but I’ve a notion that this country’s a pretty severe touchstone. I mean that the sort of qualities that make one popular in England may not prove of much use here.”
“Dick lost his crop; that accounts for a good deal,” George said shortly.
Edgar, knowing how staunch he was to his friends, changed the subject; and when the light grew dim they went back to the hotel. Breakfasting soon after six the next morning, they took their places in a light, four-wheeled vehicle, for which three persons’ baggage made a rather heavy load, and drove away with the hired man. The grass was wet with dew, the air invigoratingly cool, and for a time the fresh team carried them across the waste at an excellent pace. When he had got used to the frantic jolting, Edgar found the drive exhilarating. Poplar bluffs, little ponds, a lake shining amid tall sedges, belts of darkgreen wheat, went by; and while the horses plunged through tall barley-grass or hauled the vehicle over clods and ruts, the same vast prospect stretched away ahead. It filled the lad with a curious sense of freedom: there was no limit to the prairies—one could go on and on, across still wider stretches beyond the horizon.
By and by, however, they ran in among low sandy hills, dotted with dwarf pines here and there, and the pace slackened. The grass was thin, the wheels sank in deep, loose sand, and the sun was getting unpleasantly hot. For half an hour they drove on; and then the team came to a standstill, necked with spume, at the foot of a short, steep rise. Edgar alighted and found the heat almost insupportable. There was glaring sand all about him, and the breeze which swept the prairie was cut off by the hill in front.
“You’ll have to help the team,” George told him, as he went to the horses’ heads.
Edgar and the hired man each seized a wheel and endeavored to start the vehicle, while the horses plunged in the slipping sand. They made a few yards, with clouds of grit flying up about them, and afterward came to a stop again. Next they tried pushing; and after several rests they arrived, breathless and gasping, at the crest of the rise. There was a big hollow in front, and on the opposite side a ridge which looked steeper than the last one.
“How much do you think there is of this?” Edgar inquired.
“I can’t say,” George answered. “I know of one belt that runs for forty miles.”
Even walking downhill was laborious, for they sank ankle-deep, but it was very much worse when they faced the ascent. Short as the hill was, it took them some time to climb; and, with the hired man’s assistance, Edgar carried a heavy trunk up the last part of it. Then he sat down.