A fortnight had slipped by since the
evening Hawtrey had spent with Sally, when Winifred
and Sproatly once more arrived at the Hastings homestead.
The girl was looking jaded, and it appeared that the
manager of the elevator, who had all along treated
her with a great deal of consideration, had insisted
upon her going away for a few days when the pressure
of business which had followed the harvest had slackened.
Sproatly, as usual, had driven her in from the settlement.
When the evening meal was finished
they drew their chairs close up about the stove, and
Hastings thrust fresh birch billets into it, for there
was a bitter frost. Mrs. Hastings installed Winifred
in a canvas lounge and wrapped a shawl about her.
“You haven’t got warm
yet, and you’re looking quite worn out,”
she said. “I suppose Hamilton has still
been keeping you at work until late at night?”
“We have been very busy since
I was last here,” Winifred admitted, and then
turned to Hastings. “Until the last week
or so there has been no slackening in the rush to
sell. Everybody seems to have been throwing wheat
on to the market.”
Hastings looked thoughtful. “A
good many of the smaller men have been doing so, but
I think they’re foolish. They’re only
helping to break down prices, and I shouldn’t
wonder if one or two of the big, long-headed buyers
saw their opportunity in the temporary panic.
In fact, if I’d a pile of money lying in the
bank I’m not sure that I wouldn’t send
along a buying order and operate for a rise.”
Mrs. Hastings shook her head at him.
“No,” she said; “you certainly wouldn’t
while I had any say in the matter. You’re
rather a good farmer, but I haven’t met one
yet who made a successful speculator. Some of
our friends have tried it and you know
where it landed them. I expect those broker and
mortgage men must lick their lips when a nice fat woolly
farmer comes along. It must be quite delightful
to shear him.”
Hastings laughed. “I should
like to point out that most of the farmers in this
country are decidedly thin, and have uncommonly little
wool on them.” Then he turned to the others.
“I feel inclined to tell you how Mrs. Hastings
made the expenses of her Paris trip; it’s an
example of feminine consistency. She went around
the neighborhood and bought up all the wheat anybody
had left on hand, or, at least, she made me do it.”
Mrs. Hastings, who had means of her
own, nodded. “That was different,”
she declared; “anyway, I had the wheat, and I knew it
would go up.”
“Then why shouldn’t other
folks sell forward, for instance, when they know it
will go down? That’s not what I suggested
doing, but the point’s the same.”
“They haven’t got the wheat.”
“Of course; they wouldn’t
operate for a fall if they had. On the other
hand, if their anticipations proved correct, they could
buy it for less than they sold at before they had
“That,” asserted Mrs.
Hastings severely, “is pure gambling. It’s
sure to land one in the hands of the mortgage jobber.”
Hastings smiled at the others.
“As a matter of fact, it not infrequently does,
but I want you to note the subtle distinction.
The thing’s quite legitimate if you’ve
only got the wheat in a bag. In such a case you
must naturally operate for a rise.”
“There’s a good deal to
be said for that point of view,” observed Sproatly.
“You can keep the wheat if you’re not satisfied,
but when you try the other plan the margin that may
vanish at any moment is the danger. I suppose
Gregory has still been selling the Range wheat, Winifred?”
“I believe we have sent on every bushel.”
Sproatly exchanged a significant glance
with Hastings, whose face once more grew thoughtful.
“Then,” remarked Hastings,
“if he’s wise he’ll stop at that.”
Mrs. Hastings changed the subject,
and drew her chair closer in to the stove, which snapped
and crackled cheerfully.
“It must be a lot colder where
Harry is,” she said with a shiver.
She flashed a swift glance at Agatha,
and saw the girl’s expression change, but Sproatly
broke in again.
“It was bad enough driving in
from the railroad this afternoon,” he said.
“Winifred was almost frozen. That is why
I didn’t go round for the pattern mat I
think that’s what Creighton said it was Mrs.
Creighton borrowed from you. I met him at the
settlement a day or two ago.”
Mrs. Hastings said that he could bring
it another time, and while the rest talked of something
else Winifred turned to Agatha.
“It really was horribly cold,
and I almost fancied one of my hands was frost-nipped,”
she said. “As it happens, I can’t
buy mittens like your new ones.”
“My new ones?” questioned Agatha.
“The ones Gregory bought you.”
Agatha laughed. “My dear, he never gave
Winifred looked puzzled. “Well,”
she persisted, “he certainly bought them, and
a fur cap, too. I was in the store when he did
it, though I don’t think he noticed me.
They were lovely mittens such a pretty brown
Just then Mrs. Hastings, unobserved
by either of them, looked up and caught Sproatly’s
eye. His face became suddenly expressionless,
and he looked away.
“When was that?” Agatha asked.
“A fortnight ago, anyway.”
Agatha sat silent, and was glad when
Mrs. Hastings asked Winifred a question. She
desired no gifts from Gregory, but since he had bought
the cap and mittens she wondered what he could have
done with them. It was disconcerting to feel
that, while he evidently meant to hold her to her
promise, he must have given them to somebody else.
She had never heard of his acquaintance with Sally
Creighton, but it struck her as curious that although
the six months’ delay he had granted her had
lately expired, he had neither sent her any word nor
called at the homestead.
A few minutes later Mrs. Hastings
took up a basket of sewing and moved towards the door.
Sproatly, who rose as she approached him, drew aside
his chair, and she handed the basket to him.
“You can carry it if you like,” she said.
Sproatly took the basket, and followed
her into another room, where he sat it down.
“Well?” he said, with a twinkle in his
Mrs. Hastings regarded him thoughtfully.
“I wonder if you know what Gregory did with
“I’m rather pleased that I can assure
that I don’t.”
“Do you imagine that he kept them?”
“I’m afraid I haven’t an opinion
on that point.”
“Still, if I said that I felt
certain he had given them to somebody you would have
some idea as to who it would probably be?”
“Well,” confessed Sproatly
reluctantly, “if you insist upon it, I must
admit that I could make a guess.”
Mrs. Hastings smiled in a manner which
suggested comprehension. “So could I,”
she said. “I shouldn’t wonder if we
both guessed right. Now you may as well go back
to the others.”
Sproatly, who made no answer, turned
away, and he was talking to Agatha when, half an hour
later, a wagon drew up outside the door. In another
minute or two he leaned forward in amused expectation
as Sally walked into the room.
“I’m going on to Lander’s,
and just called to bring back the mat you lent us,”
she said to Mrs. Hastings. “Sproatly was
to have come for it, but he didn’t?”
Sproatly, who said he was sorry, fixed
his eyes on her. It was clear to him that Agatha
did not understand the situation, but he fancied that
Sally was filled with an almost belligerent satisfaction.
She was wearing a smart fur cap, and in one hand she
carried a pair of new fur mittens which she had just
taken off. Sproatly, who glanced at them, noticed
that Winifred did the same. Then Mrs. Hastings
“I don’t think you have met Miss Ismay,
Sally,” she said.
Sally merely acknowledged that she
had not been introduced, and Sproatly became more
sure that the situation was an interesting one, when
Mrs. Hastings formally presented her. It was
clear to him that Agatha was somewhat puzzled by Sally’s
As a matter of fact, Agatha, who said
that she must have had a cold drive, was regarding
the new arrival with a curiosity that she had not
expected to feel when the girl first came in.
Miss Creighton, she admitted, was comely, though she
was clearly somewhat primitive and crude. The
long skin coat she wore hid her figure, but her pose
was too virile; and there was a look which mystified
Agatha in her eyes. It was almost openly hostile,
and there was a suggestion of triumph in it.
Agatha, who could find no possible reason for this,
Sally had remained standing, and,
as she said nothing further, there was an awkward
silence. She was the dominant figure in the room,
and the others became sensible of a slight constraint
and embarrassment as she gazed at Agatha with unwavering
eyes. In fact, it was rather a relief to them
when at last she turned to Mrs. Hastings.
“I can’t stop. It
wouldn’t do to leave the team in this frost,”
This was so evident that they let
her go, and Mrs. Hastings, who went with her to the
door, afterwards sat down beside Sproatly a little
apart from the rest.
“I’ve no doubt you noticed
those mittens,” she commented softly.
“I did,” Sproatly admitted.
“I think you can rely upon my discretion.
If you hadn’t wanted this assurance I don’t
suppose you’d have said anything upon the subject.
It, however, seems very probable that Winifred noticed
“Does that mean you’re
not sure that Winifred’s discretion is equal
to your own?”
Sproatly’s eyes twinkled.
“In this particular case the trouble is that
she’s animated by a sincere attachment to Miss
Ismay, and has, I understand, a rather poor opinion
of Gregory. Of course, I don’t know how
far your views on that point coincide with hers.”
“Do you expect me to explain them to you?”
“No,” answered Sproatly,
“I’m only anxious to keep out of the thing.
Gregory is a friend of mine, and, after all, he has
his strong points. I should, however, like to
mention that Winifred’s expression suggests
that she’s thinking of something.”
Mrs. Hastings smiled. “Then
I must endeavor to have a word or two with her.”
She left him with this, and not long
afterwards she and Winifred went out together.
When the others were retiring she detained Agatha for
a minute or two in the empty room.
“Haven’t the six months
Gregory gave you run out yet?” she asked.
Agatha said they had, but she spoke
in a careless tone and it was evident that she had
attached no particular significance to the fact that
Sally had worn a new fur cap.
“He hasn’t been over to see you since.”
The girl, who admitted it, looked
troubled. Mrs. Hastings laid a hand upon her
“My dear,” she said, “if
he does come you must put him off.”
“Why?” Agatha asked, in a low, strained
“For one thing, because we want
to keep you.” Mrs. Hastings looked at her
with a very friendly smile. “Are you very
anxious to make it up with Gregory?” A shiver
ran through the girl. “Oh,” she exclaimed,
“I can’t answer you that! I must
do what is right!”
To her astonishment, Mrs. Hastings
drew her a little nearer, stooped and kissed her.
“Most of us, I believe, have
that wish, but the thing is often horribly complex,”
she said. “Anyway, you must put Gregory
off again, if it’s only for another month or
two. I fancy you will not find it difficult.”
She turned away, thus ending the conversation,
but her manner had been so significant that Agatha,
who did not sleep well that night, decided, if it
was possible, to act on the well-meant advice.
It happened that a little dapper man
who was largely interested in the land agency and
general mortgage business spent that evening with
Hawtrey in Wyllard’s room at the Range.
He had driven around by Hawtrey’s homestead
earlier in the afternoon, and had deduced a good deal
from the state of it, though this was a point he kept
to himself. Now he lay on a lounge chair beside
the stove smoking one of Wyllard’s cigars and
unobtrusively watching his companion. There was
a roll of bills in his pocket with which Gregory had
very reluctantly parted.
“In view of the fall in wheat
it must have been rather a pull for you to pay me
that interest,” he remarked.
“It certainly was,” Hawtrey
admitted with a rueful smile. “I’m
sorry it had to be done.”
“I don’t quite see how
you made it,” persisted the other man. “What
you got for your wheat couldn’t have done much
more than cover working expenses.”
Hawtrey laughed. He was quite
aware that his visitor’s profession was not
one that was regarded with any great favor by the prairie
farmers, but he was never particularly cautious, and
he rather liked the man.
“As a matter of fact, it didn’t,
Edmonds,” he confessed. “You see,
I practically paid you out of what I get for running
this place. The red wheat Wyllard raises generally
commands a cent or two a bushel more from the big
milling people than anything put on the market round
Edmonds made a sign of agreement.
He had without directly requesting him to do so led
Hawtrey into showing him around the Range that afternoon,
and having of necessity a practical knowledge of farming
he had been impressed by all that he had noticed.
The farm, which was a big one, had evidently been
ably managed until a recent date, and he felt the
strongest desire to get his hands on it. This,
as he knew, would have been out of the question had
Wyllard been at home, but with Hawtrey, upon whom
he had a certain hold, in charge, the thing appeared
by no means impossible.
“Oh, yes,” he replied.
“I suppose he was reasonably liberal over your
“I don’t get one.
I take a share of the margin after everything is paid.”
Edmonds carefully noted this.
He was not sure that such an arrangement would warrant
one in regarding Hawtrey as Wyllard’s partner,
but he meant to gather a little more information upon
“If wheat keeps on dropping
there won’t be any margin at all next year,
and that’s what I’m inclined to figure
on,” he declared. “There are, however,
ways a man with nerve could turn it to account.”
“You mean by selling wheat down.”
“Yes,” said Edmonds, “that’s
just what I mean. Of course, there is a certain
hazard in the thing. You can never be quite sure
how the market will go, but the signs everywhere point
to still cheaper wheat next year.”
“That’s your view?”
Edmonds smiled, and took out of his
pocket a little bundle of market reports.
“Other folks seem to share it
in Winnipeg, Chicago, New York, and Liverpool.
You can’t get behind these stock statistics,
though, of course, dead low prices are apt to cut
Hawtrey read the reports with evident
interest. All were in the same pessimistic strain,
and he could not know that the money-lender had carefully
selected them with a view to the effect he hoped to
produce. Edmonds, who saw the interest in Hawtrey’s
eyes, leaned towards him confidentially when he spoke
“I don’t mind admitting
that I’m taking a hand in a big bear operation,”
he said. “It’s rather outside my usual
business, but the thing looks almost certain.”
Hawtrey glanced at him with a gleam
in his eyes. There was no doubt that the prospect
of acquiring money by an easier method than toiling
in the rain and wind appealed to him.
“If it’s good enough for
you it should be safe,” he remarked. “The
trouble is that I’ve nothing to put in.”
“Then you’re not empowered
to lay out Wyllard’s money. If that was
the case it shouldn’t be difficult to pile up
a bigger margin than you’re likely to do by
Hawtrey started, for the idea had
already crept into his mind.
“In a way, I am, but I’m
not sure that I’m warranted in operating on the
market with it.”
“Have you the arrangement you made with him
Hawtrey opened a drawer, and Edmonds
betrayed no sign of the satisfaction he felt when
he was handed an informally worded document.
He perused it carefully, and it seemed to him that
it constituted Hawtrey a partner in the Range, which
was satisfactory. He looked up thoughtfully.
“Now,” he said, “while
I naturally can’t tell what Wyllard contemplated,
this paper certainly gives you power to do anything
you think advisable with his money. In any case,
I understand that he can’t be back until well
on in next year.”
“I shouldn’t expect him
until late in the summer, anyway.”
There was silence for a moment or
two, and during it Hawtrey’s face grew set.
It was unpleasant to look forward to the time when
he would be required to relinquish the charge of the
Range, and of late he had been wondering how he could
make the most of the situation. Then Edmonds
“It’s almost certain that
the operation I suggested can result only one way,
and it appears most unlikely that Wyllard would raise
any trouble if you handed him several thousand dollars
over and above what you had made by farming.
I can’t imagine a man objecting to that kind
Hawtrey sat still with indecision
in his eyes for half a minute, and Edmonds, who was
too wise to say anything, leaned back in his chair.
Then Hawtrey turned to the drawer again with an air
of sudden resolution.
“I’ll give you a check
for a couple of thousand dollars, which is as far
as I care to go just now,” he announced with
He took a pen, and Edmonds watched
him with quiet amusement as he wrote. As a matter
of fact, Hawtrey was in one respect, at least, perfectly
safe in entrusting the money to him. Edmonds had
deprived a good many prairie farmers of their possessions
in his time, but he never stooped to any crude trickery.
He left that to the smaller fry. Just then he
was playing a deep and cleverly thought-out game.
He pocketed the check that Hawtrey
gave him, and then discussed other subjects for half
an hour or so before he rose to go.
“You might ask them to get my
team out. I’ve some business at Lander’s
and have ordered a room there,” he said.
“I’ll send you a line when there’s
any change in the market.”