“Perfectly,” said Thornton, and there was not the slightest ill-humor in his voice. “You—you think I am a cur?”
“If you have stolen another man’s wife—yes.”
“And the woman?”
“If she is betraying her husband, she is no better than you.”
Thornton rose and stretched his long arms above his head.
“Isn’t the moon glorious?” he cried exultantly. “She has never seen a moon like that. She has never seen a world like this. Do you know what we’re going to do? We’ll come up here and build a cabin, and—and she’ll know what a real man is at last! She deserves it. And we’ll have you up to visit us—you and your wife—two months out of each year. But then”—he turned and laughed squarely into my face—“you probably won’t want your wife to know her.”
“Probably not,” I said, not without embarrassment.
“I don’t blame you,” he exclaimed, and before I could draw back he had caught my hand and was shaking it hard in his own. “Let’s be friends a little longer, old man,” he went on. “I know you’ll change your mind about the little girl and me when we reach Prince Albert.”
I didn’t go to sleep again that night; and the half-dozen days that followed were unpleasant enough—for me, at least. In spite of my own coolness toward him, there was absolutely no change in Thornton. Not once did he make any further allusion to what he had told me.
As we drew near to our journey’s end, his enthusiasm and good spirits increased. He had the bow end of the canoe, and I had abundant opportunity of watching him. It was impossible not to like him, even after I knew his story.
We reached Prince Albert on a Sunday, after three days’ travel in a buckboard. When we drove up in front of the hotel, there was just one person on the long veranda looking out over the Saskatchewan. It was a woman, reading a book.
As he saw her, I heard a great breath heave up inside Thornton’s chest. The woman looked up, stared for a moment, and then dropped her book with a welcoming cry such as I had never heard before in my life. She sprang down the steps, and Thornton leaped from the wagon. They met there a dozen paces from me, Thornton catching her in his arms, and the woman clasping her arms about his neck.
I heard her sobbing, and I saw Thornton kissing her again and again, and then the woman pulled his blond head down close to her face. It was sickening, knowing what I did, and I began helping the driver to throw off our dunnage.
In about two minutes I heard Thornton calling me.
I didn’t turn my head. Then Thornton came to me, and as he straightened me around by the shoulders I caught a glimpse of the woman. He was right—she was very beautiful.
“I told you that her husband was a scoundrel and a rake,” he said gently. “Well, he was—and I was that scoundrel! I came up here for a chance of redeeming myself, and your big, glorious North has made a man of me. Will you come and meet my wife?”