Then torrential rain broke upon them, and while they stood, unable to move forward, a cry reached them faintly through the roar of the deluge. It came again when George answered, and was followed by a crackling and snapping of underbrush. Then, as a blaze of lightning filled the bluff with radiance, two men appeared for a moment, leading their horses among the slender trunks. They were immediately lost to sight again, but presently they came up, and George recognized Grant by his voice.
“So you have got through, Lansing,” he cried. “I met Constable Flett on the trail, and, as he told me the river was rising and there was a big fire west, I figured you must be up against trouble.”
He asked a few questions and then resumed:
“As you got the stock started, they’ll have swum across; but we can’t round them up until it’s light. There’s a deserted shack not far off, and I guess we’ll head for it.”
The constable agreed; and, mounting when they had got out of the timber, they rode off through the rain.
CONSTABLE FLETT’S SUSPICIONS
It was nearly six o’clock in the evening when George and his companions, who had spent part of the day looking for the straying stock, rode up to the Grant homestead through a vast stretch of grain. This grew on the rich black soil they call “gumbo” in the West; but here and there a belt of dark-colored summer fallow checkered the strong green of the wheat and oats. Though he clung to the one-crop system, Alan Grant was careful of his land. The fine brick house and range of smart wooden buildings, the costly implements, which included a gasoline tractor-plow, all indicated prosperity, and George recognized that the rugged-faced man beside him had made a marked success of his farming.
When the cattle had been secured, Flora Grant welcomed the new arrivals graciously, and after a while they sat down to supper with the hired men in a big room. It was plainly furnished, but there was everything that comfort demanded, for the happy mean between bareness and superfluity had been cleverly hit, and George thought Miss Grant was responsible for this. He sat beside her at the foot of the long table and noticed the hired hands’ attitude toward her. It was respectful, but not diffident. The girl had no need to assert herself; she was on excellent terms with the sturdy toilers, who nevertheless cheerfully submitted to her rule.
When the meal was over, Grant led his guests into a smaller room, and produced a bag of domestic tobacco.
“The stock have gone far enough,” he said. “You’ll stay here to-night.”
Flett looked doubtful, though it was obvious that he wished to remain. He was a young, brown-faced man, and his smart khaki uniform proclaimed him a trooper of the Northwest Mounted Police.
“The trouble is that I’m a bit late on my round already,” he protested.