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Corporal Cameron
WILL HE COME BACK?


It was the custom in Doctor Dunn's household that, immediately after dinner, his youngest son would spend half an hour in the study with his father.  It was a time for confidences.  During this half hour father and son met as nearly as possible on equal terms, discussing, as friends might, the events of the day or the plans for the morrow, school work or athletics, the latest book or the newest joke; and sometimes the talk turned upon the reading at evening prayers.  This night the story had been one of rare beauty and of absorbing interest, the story, viz., of that idyllic scene on the shore of Tiberias where the erring disciple was fully restored to his place in the ranks of the faithful, as he had been restored, some weeks before, to his place in the confidence of his Master.

"That was a fine story, Rob?" began Doctor Dunn.

"That it was," said Rob gravely.  "It was fine for Peter to get back again."

"Just so," replied his father.  "You see, when a man once turns his back on his best Friend, he is never right till he gets back again."

"Yes, I know," said Rob gravely.  For a time he sat with a shadow of sadness and anxiety on his young face.  "It is terrible!" he exclaimed.

"Terrible?" inquired the Doctor.  "Oh, yes, you mean Peter's fall? Yes, that was a terrible thing--to be untrue to our Master and faithless to our best Friend."

"But he did not mean to, Dad," said Rob quickly, as if springing to the fallen disciple's defence.  "He forgot, just for a moment, and was awfully sorry afterwards."

"Yes, truly," said his father, "and that was the first step back."

For a few moments Rob remained silent, his face sad and troubled.

"Man!  It must be terrible!" at length he said, more to himself than to his father.  The Doctor looked closely at the little lad. The eager, sensitive face, usually so radiant, was now clouded and sad.

"What is it, Rob?  Is it something you can tell me?" asked his father in a tone of friendly kindness.

Rob moved closer to him.  The father waited in silence.  He knew better than to force an unwilling confidence.  At length the lad, with an obvious effort at self-command, said:

"It is to-morrow, Daddy, that Cameron--that Mr. Cameron is going away."

"To-morrow?  So it is.  And you will be very sorry, Rob.  But, of course, he will come back."

"Oh, Dad," cried Rob, coming quite close to his father, "it isn't that!  It isn't that!"

His father waited.  He did not understand his boy's trouble, and so he wisely refrained from uttering word that might hinder rather than help.  At length, with a sudden effort, Rob asked in a low, hurried voice:

"Do you think, Dad, he has--got--back?"

"Got back?" said his father.  "Oh, I see.  Why, my boy?  What do you know of it?  Did you know there was a letter from a man named Potts, that completely clears your friend of all crime?"

"Is there?" asked the boy quickly. "Man! That is fine! But I always knew he could not do anything really bad--I mean, anything that the police could touch him for. But it is not that, Dad. I have heard Jack say he used to be different when he came down first, and now sometimes he--" The lad's voice fell silent. He could not bring himself to accuse his hero of any evil. His father drew him close to his side.

"You mean that he has fallen into bad ways--drink, and things like that?"

The boy hung his head; he was keenly ashamed for his friend.  After a few moments' silence he said:

"And he is going away to Canada to-morrow, and I wonder, Dad, if he has--got--back?  It would be terrible--  Oh, Dad, all alone and away from--!"

The boy's voice sank to a whisper, and a rush of tears filled his eyes.

"I see what you mean, my boy.  You mean it would be terrible for him to be in that far land, and away from that Friend we know and love best."

The lad looked at his father through his tears, and nodded his head, and for some moments there was silence between them.  If the truth must be told, Doctor Dunn felt himself keenly rebuked by his little son's words.  Amid the multitude of his responsibilities, the responsibility for his sons' best friend he had hardly realised.

"I am glad that you spoke of it, Rob; I am glad that you spoke of it.  Something will be done.  It is not, after all, in our hands. Still, we must stand ready to help.  Good-night, my boy.  And remember, it is always good to hurry back to our best Friend, if ever we get away from Him."

The boy put his arms around his father's neck and kissed him good-night; then, kissing him again, he whispered:  "Thank you, Daddy."

And from the relief in his tone the father recognised that upon him the lad had laid all the burden of his solicitude for his friend.

Later in the evening, when his elder son came home, the father called him in, and frankly gave him the substance of the conversation of the earlier part of the evening.

Jack laughed somewhat uneasily.  "Oh, Rob is an awfully religious little beggar; painfully so, I think, sometimes--you know what I mean, Sir," he added, noticing the look on his father's face.

"I am not sure that I do, Jack," said his father, "but I want to tell you, that as far as I am concerned, I felt distinctly rebuked at the little chap's anxiety for his friend in a matter of such vital import.  His is a truly religious little soul, as you say, but I wonder if his type is not more nearly like the normal than is ours.  Certainly, if reality, simplicity, sincerity are the qualities of true religious feeling--and these, I believe, are the qualities emphasised by the Master Himself--then it may indeed be that the boy's type is nearer the ideal than ours."

At this point Mrs. Dunn entered the room.

"Anything private?" she enquired with a bright smile at her husband.

"Not at all!  Come in!" said Doctor Dunn, and he proceeded to repeat the conversation with his younger son, and his own recent comment thereupon.

"I am convinced," he added, "that there is a profundity of meaning in those words, 'Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein,' that we have not yet fathomed.  I suspect Wordsworth is not far astray when he suggests that with the passing years we grow away from the simplicity of our faith and the clearness of our vision.  There is no doubt that to Rob, Jesus is as real as I am."

"There is no doubt of that," said his wife quickly.

"Not only as real, but quite as dear; indeed, dearer.  I shall never forget the shock I received when I heard him one day, as a wee, wee boy, classifying the objects of his affection.  I remember the ascending scale was:  'I love Jack and Daddy just the same, then mother, then Jesus.'  It was always in the highest place, Jesus; and I believe that the scale is the same to-day, unless Jack," she added, with a smile at her son, "has moved to his mother's place."

"Not much fear of that, mother," said Jack, "but I should not be surprised if you are quite right about the little chap.  He is a queer little beggar!"

"There you are again, Jack," said his father, "and it is upon that point I was inclined to take issue with you when your mother entered."

"I think I shall leave you," said the mother.  "I am rather tired, and so I shall bid you good-night."

"Yes," said the father, when they had seated themselves again, "the very fact that to you, and to me for that matter, Rob's attitude of mind should seem peculiar raises the issue.  What is the normal type of Christian faith?  Is it not marked by the simplicity and completeness of the child's?"

"And yet, Sir," replied Jack, "that simplicity and completeness is the result of inexperience.  Surely the ideal faith is not that which ignores the facts and experiences of life?"

"Not exactly," replied his father, "yet I am not sure but after all, 'the perfect love which casteth out fear' is one which ignores the experiences of life, or, rather, classifies them in a larger category.  That is, it refuses to be disturbed by life's experiences, because among those experiences there is a place for the enlarged horizon, the clearer vision.  But I am not arguing about this matter; I rather wish to make a confession and enlist your aid. Frankly, the boy's words gave me an uneasy sense of failure in my duty to this young man; or, perhaps I should say, my privilege.  And really, it is no wonder!  Here is this little chap actually carrying every day a load of intense concern for our friend, as to whether, as he puts it himself, 'he has come back.'  And, after all, Jack, I wonder if this should not have been more upon our minds?  The young man, I take it, since his mother's death has little in his home life to inspire him with religious faith and feeling.  If she had been alive, one would not feel the same responsibility; she was a singularly saintly woman."

"You are quite right, Sir," said Jack quickly, "and I suspect you rather mean that I am the one that should feel condemned."

"Not at all!  Not at all, Jack!  I am thinking, as every man must, of my own responsibility, though, doubtless, you have yours as well.  Of course I know quite well you have stuck by him splendidly in his fight for a clean and self-controlled life, but one wonders whether there is not something more."

"There is, Sir!" replied his son quickly.  "There undoubtedly is! But though I have no hesitation in speaking to men down in the Settlement about these things, you know, still, somehow, to a man of your own class, and to a personal friend, one hesitates.  One shrinks from what seems like assuming an attitude of superiority."

"I appreciate that," said his father, "but yet one wonders to what extent this shrinking is due to a real sense of one's own imperfections, and to what extent it is due to an unwillingness to risk criticism, even from ourselves, in a loyal attempt to serve the Master and His cause.  And, besides that, one wonders whether from any cause one should hesitate to do the truly kind and Christian thing to one's friend.  I mean, you value your religion; or, to put it personally, as Rob would, you would esteem as your chief possession your knowledge of the Christ, as Friend and Saviour.  Do not loyalty to Him and friendship require that you share that possession with your dearest friend?"

"I know what you mean, Sir," said Jack earnestly.  "I shall think it over.  But don't you think a word from you, Sir--"

His father looked at his son with a curious smile.

"Oh, I know what you are thinking," said his son, "but I assure you it is not quite a case of funk."

"Do you know, Jack," said his father earnestly, "we make our religion far too unreal; a thing either of forms remote from life, or a thing of individualistic emotion divorced from responsibility. One thing history reveals, that the early propagandum for the faith was entirely unprofessional.  It was from friend to friend, from man to man.  It was horizontal rather than perpendicular."

"Well, I shall think it over," said Jack.

"Do you know," said his father, "that I have the feeling of having accepted from Rob responsibility for our utmost endeavour to bring it about that, as Rob puts it, 'somehow he shall get back'?"

It was full twenty minutes before train time when Rob, torn with anxiety lest they should be late, marched his brother on to the railway platform to wait for the Camerons, who were to arrive from the North.  Up and down they paraded, Dunn turning over in his mind the conversation of the night before, Rob breaking away every three minutes to consult the clock and the booking clerk at the wicket.

"Will he come to us this afternoon, Jack, do you think?" enquired the boy.

"Don't know!  He turned down a football lunch!  He has his sister and his father with him."

"His sister could come with him!" argued the boy.

"What about his father?"

Rob had been close enough to events to know that the Captain constituted something of a difficulty in the situation.

"Well, won't he have business to attend to?"

His brother laughed.  "Good idea, Rob, let us hope so!  At any rate we will do our best to get Cameron and his sister to come to us. We want them, don't we?"

"We do that!" said the boy fervently; "only I'm sure something will happen!  There," he exclaimed a moment later, in a tone of disappointment and disgust, "I just knew it!  There is Miss Brodie and some one else; they will get after him, I know!"

"So it is," said Dunn, with a not altogether successful attempt at surprise.

"Aw! you knew!" said Rob reproachfully.

"Well!  I kind of thought she might turn up!" said his brother, with an air of a convicted criminal.  "You know she is quite a friend of Cameron's.  But what is Sir Archibald here for?"

"They will just get him, I know," said Rob gloomily, as he followed his brother to meet Miss Brodie and her uncle.

"We're here!" cried that young lady, "to join in the demonstration to the hero!  And, my uncle being somewhat conscience-stricken over his tardy and unwilling acceptance of our superior judgment in the recent famous case, has come to make such reparation as he can."

"What a piece of impertinence!  Don't listen to her, Sir!" cried Sir Archibald, greeting Dunn warmly and with the respect due an International captain.  "The truth is I have a letter here for him to a business friend in Montreal, which may be of service.  Of course, I may say to you that I am more than delighted that this letter of Potts has quite cleared the young man, and that he goes to the new country with reputation unstained.  I am greatly delighted! greatly delighted! and I wish the opportunity to say so."

"Indeed, we are all delighted," replied Dunn cordially, "though, of course, I never could bring myself to believe him guilty of crime."

"Well, on the strength of the judgment of yourself and, I must confess, of this young person here, I made my decision."

"Well," cried Miss Brodie, "I gave you my opinion because it was my opinion, but I confess at times I had my own doubts--"

Here she paused abruptly, arrested by the look on young Rob's face; it was a look of surprise, grief, and horror.

"That is to say," continued Miss Brodie hastily, answering the look, and recognising that her high place in Rob's regard was in peril, "the whole thing was a mystery--was impossible to solve--I mean," she continued, stumbling along, "his own attitude was so very uncertain and so unsatisfactory--if he had only been able to say clearly 'I am not guilty' it would have been different--I mean-- of course, I don't believe him guilty.  Don't look at me like that, Rob!  I won't have it!  But was it not clever of that dear Mr. Rae to extract that letter from the wretched Potts?"

"There's the train!" cried Dunn.  "Here, Rob, you stay here with me!  Where has the young rascal gone!"

"Look!  Oh, look!" cried Miss Brodie, clutching at Dunn's arm, her eyes wide with terror.  There before their horrified eyes was young Rob, hanging on to the window, out of which his friend Cameron was leaning, and racing madly with the swiftly moving train, in momentary danger of being dragged under its wheels.  With a cry, Dunn rushed forward.

"Merciful heavens!" cried Miss Brodie.  "Oh! he is gone!"

A porter, standing with his back towards the racing boy, had knocked his feet from under him.  But as he fell, a strong hand grabbed him, and dragged him to safety through the window.

Pale and shaking, the three friends waited for the car door to be opened, and as Rob issued in triumphant possession of his friend, Miss Brodie rushed at him and, seizing him in her strong grasp, cried:

"You heartless young rascal!  You nearly killed me--not to speak of yourself!  Here," she continued, throwing her arms about him, and giving him a loud smack, "take that for your punishment!  Do you hear, you nearly killed me!  I had a vision of your mangled form ground up between the wheels and the platform.  Hold on, you can't get away from me!  I have a mind to give you another!"

"Oh, Miss Brodie, please," pleaded Cameron, coming forward to Rob's rescue, "I assure you I was partly to blame; it is only fair I should share his punishment."

"Indeed," cried Miss Brodie, the blood coming back into her cheeks that had been white enough a moment before, "if it were not for your size, and your--looks, I should treat you exactly the same, though not with the same intent, as our friend Mr. Rae would say. You did that splendidly!"

"Alas! for my size," groaned Cameron--he was in great spirits--"and alas! for my ugly phiz!"

"Who said 'ugly'?" replied Miss Brodie.  "But I won't rise to your bait.  May I introduce you to my uncle, Sir Archibald Brodie, who has a little business with you?"

"Ah! Mr. Cameron," said that gentleman, "that was extremely well done.  Indeed, I can hardly get back my nerve--might have been an ugly accident.  By the way, Sir," taking Cameron aside, "just a moment.  You are on your way to Canada?  I have a letter which I thought might be of service to you.  It is to a business friend of mine, a banker, in Montreal, Mr. James Ritchie.  You will find him a good man to know, and I fancy glad to serve any--ah--friend of mine."

On hearing Sir Archibald's name, Cameron's manner became distinctly haughty, and he was on the point of declining the letter, when Sir Archibald, who was quick to observe his manner, took him by the arm and led him somewhat further away.

"Now, Sir, there is a little matter I wish to speak of, if you will permit.  Indeed, I came specially to say how delighted I am that the--ah--recent little unpleasantness has been removed.  Of course you understand my responsibility to the Bank rendered a certain course of action imperative, however repugnant.  But, believe me, I am truly delighted to find that my decision to withdraw the--ah-- action has been entirely justified by events.  Delighted, Sir! Delighted!  And much more since I have seen you."

Before the overflowing kindliness of Sir Archibald's voice and manner, Cameron's hauteur vanished like morning mist before the rising sun.

"I thank you, Sir Archibald," he said, with dignity, "not only for this letter, but especially for your good opinion."

"Very good!  Very good!  The letter will, I hope, be useful," replied Sir Archibald, "and as for my opinion, I am glad to find not only that it is well founded, but that it appears to be shared by most of this company here.  Now we must get back to your party. But let me say again, I am truly glad to have come to know you."


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