A Prairie Courtship
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"But couldn't he have been compelled to produce it in court?" Thorne inquired.
"Yes; if Winthrop had been ably represented. It must, however, be borne in mind that he has no great education, and he would probably not have set out matters clearly to any one who undertook to plead for him. He admits that he never thought of the mortgage deed until somebody suggested that he should try to recover it. Besides this, I'm inclined to fancy that Nevis was influenced by the fact that what appears to be a simple police case based upon an indisputable act – in this case the selling of the cattle – is apt to be rather casually handled by the court."
"Then you believe he will get off?"
"It's by no means certain yet that he will be tried."
They heard the announcement with varying astonishment, and Parsons continued.
"I endeavored to impress the views I have laid before you on Sergeant Williamson," he explained. "The matter, of course, does not rest with him, but he has come over to make inquiries, and what he has to say will be listened to. I also pointed out to him that one would expect the police case to break down if the man who had instituted it was either absent or reluctant to press it." He stopped a moment and looked round with a confidential air. "You have heard that Brand, of Winnipeg, has failed disastrously? There are reasons for believing that Nevis is involved in his fall; in any case, his office is closed, and it is known that he left the settlement, presumably for Winnipeg, by the last Montreal express."
There was only satisfaction in the faces of those who heard him. Then Mrs. Farquhar broke the silence.
"I wonder whether you could add anything to the last piece of information?"
"Well," smiled Parsons, "prediction is generally dangerous, and in my case it would be unprofessional, but I may confess that from one or two things I gathered I shouldn't be greatly astonished if Nevis failed to come back again."
Thorne laughed outright.
"After that," he said, "we'll take the thing for granted, and I haven't the least hesitation in declaring that it's a great relief to hear it."
Then the group broke up, and Alison strolled out with Thorne across the prairie. A half-moon hung above its eastern rim, and the great sweep of grass ran back into the dim distance faintly touched with the pale silvery light. It fell upon the girl's face when at length she stopped and stood looking about her with the man's hand on her shoulder. A long rise of ground, so slight as to be almost imperceptible, had cut off the lights of the house, and they stood alone in the empty waste surrounded by a deep stillness.
"It seems such a little while since I first saw the prairie, and I shrank from it then," she said. "It looked so bare and grim and utterly forbidding."
"And now?" Thorne prompted her.
Alison laughed, a little, happy laugh.
"Now its harshness has vanished and it has grown beautiful.When it lies under the moonlight it is steeped in glamour and mystery. Even the tiny grasses make elfin music when everything is still. I came out at sunrise this morning when a faint breeze got up and listened to them."
"Ah!" exclaimed Thorne softly, "it is only a few who can hear that music at all, and those, I think, must have it in their hearts already. It is a sign that you belong to the wilderness and it has laid its claim on you."
"Now that I have learned to know it, a fondness for the wilderness has crept into my blood; but, after all, your views are narrow; you don't go quite far enough. I think one could sometimes hear the music I spoke of in the noisy cities. Only, as you say, it must be in one's heart already."
Thorne looked down at her with a glow in his eyes.
"Ours are in unison."
"No," protested Alison, smilingly, "I think we should not benefit if that were possible. The most we can look for is a complex harmony. In the strain humanity raises there must be many different notes and many different parts."
Thorne laughed rather strangely as, with a little instinctive movement, he straightened himself.
"But the same insistent throb in all that is worth listening to."
"Ah!" murmured the girl; "then you recognized the note of unrest and endeavor, though you tried to shut your ears?"
"Now I know I heard it in crowded places; in the pounding of the forges, and the rumble of the mills. I've heard it a little plainer in the wash beneath the liner's bows and the din the Pacific express made crossing the silent prairie with the Empress mails. Still, as you suggested, I wouldn't grasp its message until one night I sat in the bluff and heard the birch twigs whispering while you rested in the wagon. Then I knew I was an idler and a trifler; one who stood aside while the others took their fill of the joys and pains of life."
Alison glanced up at him.
"Then you were awake that night?"
"Yes; I sat beneath a tree, and I don't know how often I smoked my pipe out, but my mouth was parched at sunrise, and there was a new purpose growing into shape at the bottom of my mind. You see, I realized that I must fall into line and toil like the rest if I wanted you."
"But you had seen me for only two or three days!"
Thorne laughed softly.
"I think if I had seen you for only an hour it would have had the same result. Anyway, I tried farming, and – though I was very nearly beaten – you can see what I have made of it."
He stooped a little toward her.
"The house is almost ready, dear, and I want you to drive in to the railroad with me to-morrow. A man from Winnipeg will be at the hotel then, and I should like you to choose what you think is needed from his lists of furnishings."
Alison looked down, for she was conscious of a warmth in her cheeks. "If you will come over early, I'll be ready."
Thorne drew her hand within his arm and they moved on slowly in the faint moonlight that etherealized the plain.
"It is a marvelous night!" he exclaimed. "The wilderness gripped me when I came out, but I don't think I ever realized how wonderful it is as I do just now. And there are people who can see in it only an empty, wind-swept land!"
He drew her impulsively to him.
"Still, there are excuses for them. Only part of the glamour is in the prairie. The rest of it is due to the supreme good fortune that has fallen to me."
"You are very sure of that?" murmured Alison.
"Yes," declared Thorne, with resolute decisiveness, "it's a certainty that will only grow deeper as the years roll on!"
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