On the foot-hills' side of
The Gap, on a grassy plain bounded on
three sides by the Bow River and on the other by ragged hills and
broken timber, stood Surveyor McIvor's camp, three white tents,
seeming wondrously insignificant in the shadow of the mighty
Rockies, but cosy enough. For on this April day the sun was riding
high in the heavens in all his new spring glory, where a few days
ago and for many months past the storm king with relentless rigour
had raged, searching with pitiless fury these rock-ribbed hills and
threatening these white tents and their dwellers with dire
destruction. But threaten though he might and pin them though he
did beneath their frail canvas covers, he could not make that gang
beat retreat. McIvor was of the kind that takes no back trail.
the late fall he had set out to run the line through The Gap, and
after many wanderings through the coulees of the foothills and
after many vain attempts, he had finally made choice of his route
and had brought his men, burnt black with chinook and frost and
sun, hither to The Gap's mouth. Every chain length in those weary
marches was a battle ground, every pillar, every picket stood a
monument of victory. McIvor's advance through the foot-hill
country to The Gap had been one unbroken succession of fierce
fights with Nature's most terrifying forces, a triumphal march of
heroes who bore on their faces and on their bodies the scars and
laurels of the campaign. But to McIvor and his gang it was all in
the day's work.
To Cameron the winter had brought an experience of a life hitherto
undreamed of, but never even in its wildest blizzards did he
cherish anything but gratitude to his friend Martin, who had got
him attached to McIvor's survey party. For McIvor was a man to
"tie to," as Martin said, and to Cameron he was a continual cause
of wonder and admiration. He was a big man, with a big man's quiet
strength, patient, fearless of men and things, reverent toward
Nature's forces, which it was his life's business to know, to
measure, to control, and, if need be, to fight, careful of his men,
whether amid the perils of the march, or amid the more deadly
perils of trading post and railway construction camp. Cameron
never could forget the thrill of admiration that swept his soul one
night in Taylor's billiard and gambling "joint" down at the post
where the Elbow joins the Bow, when McIvor, without bluff or
bluster, took his chainman and his French-Canadian cook, the
latter frothing mad with "Jamaica Ginger" and "Pain-killer," out
of the hands of the gang of bad men from across the line who had
marked them as lambs for the fleecing. It was not the courage of
his big chief so much that had filled Cameron with amazed respect
and admiration as the calm indifference to every consideration but
that of getting his men out of harm's way, and the cool-headed
directness of the method he employed.
"Come along, boys," McIvor had said, gripping them by their coat
collars. "I don't pay you good money for this sort of thing."
so saying he had lifted them clear from their seats, upsetting the
table, ignoring utterly the roaring oaths of the discomfited
gamblers. What would have been the result none could say, for one
of the gamblers had whipped out his gun and with sulphurous oaths
was conducting a vigourous demonstration behind the unconscious
back of McIvor, when there strolled into the room and through the
crowd of men scattering to cover, a tall slim youngster in the red
jacket and pill-box cap of that world-famous body of military
guardians of law and order, the North West Mounted Police. Not
while he lived would Cameron forget the scene that followed. With
an air of lazy nonchalance the youngster strode quietly up to the
desperado flourishing his gun and asked in a tone that indicated
curiosity more than anything else, "What are you doing with that
"I'll show yeh!" roared the man in his face, continuing to pour
forth a torrent of oaths.
"Put it down there!" said the youngster in a smooth and silky
voice, pointing to a table near by. "You don't need that in this
The man paused in his demonstration and for a moment or two stood
in amazed silence. The audacity of the youngster appeared to
paralyse his powers of speech and action.
"Put it down there, my man. Do you hear?" The voice was still
smooth, but through the silky tones there ran a fibre of steel.
Still the desperado stood gazing at him. "Quick, do you hear?"
There was a sudden sharp ring of imperious, of overwhelming
authority, and, to the amazement of the crowd of men who stood
breathless and silent about, there followed one of those phenomena
which experts in psychology delight to explain, but which no man
can understand. Without a word the gambler slowly laid upon the
table his gun, upon whose handle were many notches, the tally of
human lives it had accounted for in the hands of this same
"What is this for?" continued the young man, gently touching the
belt of cartridges. "Take it off!"
The belt found its place beside the gun.
"Now, listen!" gravely continued the youngster. "I give you
twenty-four hours to leave this post, and if after twenty-four
hours you are found here it will be bad for you. Get out!"
The man, still silent, slunk out from the room. Irresistible
authority seemed to go with the word that sent him forth, and
rightly so, for behind that word lay the full weight of Great
Britain's mighty empire. It was Cameron's first experience of the
North West Mounted Police, that famous corps of frontier riders who
for more than a quarter of a century have ridden the marches of
Great Britain's territories in the far northwest land, keeping
intact the Pax Britannica amid the wild turmoil of pioneer days.
To the North West Mounted Police and to the pioneer missionary it
is due that Canada has never had within her borders what is known
as a "wild and wicked West." It was doubtless owing to the
presence of that slim youngster in his scarlet jacket and pill-box
cap that McIvor got his men safely away without a hole in his back
and that his gang were quietly finishing their morning meal this
shining April day, in their camp by the Bow River in the shadow of
the big white peaks that guard The Gap.
Breakfast over, McIvor heaved his great form to the perpendicular.
"How is the foot, Cameron?" he asked, filling his pipe preparatory
to the march.
"Just about fit," replied Cameron.
"Better take another day," replied the chief. "You can get up wood
and get supper ready. Benoit will be glad enough to go out and
take your place for another day on the line."
"Sure ting," cried Benoit, the jolly French-Canadian cook. "Good
for my healt. He's tak off my front porsch here." And the cook
patted affectionately the little round paunch that marred the
symmetry of his figure.
"You ought to get Cameron to swap jobs with you, Benny," said one
of the axemen. "You would be a dandy in about another month."
Benoit let his eye run critically over the line of his person.
"Bon! Dat's true, for sure. In tree, four mont I mak de beeg
spark on de girl, me."
"You bet, Benny!" cried the axeman. "You'll break 'em all up."
"Sure ting!" cried Benny, catching up a coal for his pipe. "By by,
Cameron. Au revoir. I go for tak some more slice from my
"Good-bye, Benny," cried Cameron. "It is your last chance, for
to-morrow I give you back your job. I don't want any 'front porsch'
"Ho! ho!" laughed Benny scornfully, as he turned to hurry after his
chief. "Dat's not moch front porsch on you. Dat's one rail
And indeed Benoit was right, for there was no "porsch" or sign of
one on Cameron's lean and muscular frame. The daily battle with
winter's fierce frosts and blizzards, the strenuous toil, the hard
food had done their work on him. Strong, firm-knit, clean and
sound, hard and fit, he had come through his first Canadian winter.
No man in the camp, not even the chief himself, could "bush" him in
a day's work. He had gained enormously in strength lately, and
though the lines of his frame still ran to angles, he had gained in
weight as well. Never in the days of his finest training was he as
fit to get the best out of himself as now. An injured foot had
held him in camp for a week, but the injury was now almost
completely repaired and the week's change of work only served to
replenish his store of snap and vim.
An hour or two sufficed to put the camp in the perfect order that
he knew Benoit would consider ideal and to get all in readiness for
the evening meal when the gang should return. He had the day
before him and what a day it was! Cameron lay upon a buffalo skin
in front of the cook-tent, content with all the world and for the
moment with himself. Six months ago he had engaged as an axeman in
the surveyors' gang at $30 per month and "found," being regarded
more in the light of a supernumerary and more or less of a burden
than anything else. Now he was drawing double the wage as rodman,
and, of all the gang, stood second to none in McIvor's regard. In
this new venture he had come nearer to making good than ever before
in his life. So in full content with himself he allowed his eyes
to roam over the brown grassy plain that sloped to the Bow in
front, and over the Bow to the successive lines of hills, rounded
except where the black rocks broke jagged through the turf, and
upward over the rounded hills to the grey sides of the mighty
masses of the mountains, and still upward to where the white peaks
lost themselves in the shining blue of the sky. Behind him a
coulee ran back between hills to a line of timber, and beyond the
timber more hills and more valleys, and ever growing higher and
deeper till they ran into the bases of the great Rockies.
As Cameron lay thus luxuriating upon his buffalo skin and lazily
watching the hills across the river through the curling wreaths
that gracefully and fragrantly rose from his briar root, there
broke from the line of timber two jumping deer, buck and doe, the
latter slow-footed because heavy with young. Behind them in hot
pursuit came a pack of yelping coyotes. The doe was evidently hard
pressed. The buck was running easily, but gallantly refusing to
abandon his mate to her cowardly foes. Straight for the icy river
they made, plunged in, and, making the crossing, were safe from
their pursuing enemy. Cameron, intent upon fresh meat, ran for
McIvor's Winchester, but ere he could buckle round him a cartridge
belt and throw on his hunting jacket the deer had disappeared over
the rounded top of the nearest hill. Up the coulee he ran to the
timber and there waited, but there was no sign of his game.
Cautiously he made his way through the timber and dropped into the
next valley circling westward towards the mountains. The deer,
however, had completely vanished. Turning back upon his tracks, he
once more pierced the thin line of timber, when just across the
coulee, some three hundred yards away, on the sky line, head up and
sniffing the wind, stood the buck in clear view. Taking hurried
aim Cameron fired. The buck dropped as if dead. Marking the
Cameron hurried forward, but to his surprise found only a trail of
"He's badly hit though," he said to himself. "I must get the poor
chap now at all costs." Swiftly he took up the trail, but though
the blood stains continued clear and fresh he could get no sight
of the wounded animal. Hour after hour he kept up the chase,
forgetful of everything but his determination to bring back his
game to camp. From the freshness of the stains he knew that the
buck could not be far ahead and from the footprints it was clear
that the animal was going on three legs.
"The beggar is hearing me and so keeps out of sight," said Cameron
as he paused to listen. He resolved to proceed more slowly and
with greater caution, but though he followed this plan for another
half hour it brought him no better success. The day was fast
passing and he could not much longer continue his pursuit. He
became conscious of pain in his injured foot. He sat down to rest
and to review his situation. For the first time he observed that
the bright sky of the morning had become overcast with a film of
hazy cloud and that the temperature was rapidly falling. Prudence
suggested that he should at once make his way back to camp, but
with the instinct of the true hunter he was loath to abandon the
poor wounded beast to its unhappy fate. He resolved to make one
further attempt. Refreshed by his brief rest, but with an
increasing sense of pain in his foot, he climbed the slight rising
ground before him, cautiously pushed his way through some scrub,
and there, within easy shot, stood the buck, with drooping head and
evidently with strength nearly done. Cameron took careful aim--
there must be no mistake this time--and fired. The buck leaped
high in the air, dropped and lay still. The first shot had broken
his leg, the second had pierced his heart.
Cameron hurried forward and proceeded to skin the animal. But soon
he abandoned this operation. "We'll come and get him to-morrow,"
he muttered, "and he is better with his skin on. Meantime we'll
have a steak, however." He hung a bit of skin from a pole to keep
off the wolves and selected a choice cut for the supper. He worked
hurriedly, for the sudden drop in the temperature was ominous of a
serious disturbance in the weather, but before he had finished he
was startled to observe a large snowflake lazily flutter to the
ground beside him. He glanced towards the sky and found that the
filmy clouds were rapidly assuming definite shape and that the sun
had almost disappeared. Hurriedly he took his bearings and,
calculating as best he could the direction of the camp, set off,
well satisfied with the outcome of his expedition and filled with
the pleasing anticipation of a venison supper for himself and the
rest of the gang.
The country was for the most part open except for patches of timber
here and there, and with a clear sky the difficulty of maintaining
direction would have been but slight. With the sky overcast,
however, this difficulty was sensibly increased. He had not kept
an accurate reckoning of his course, but from the character of the
ground he knew that he must be a considerable distance westward of
the line of the camp. His training during the winter in holding a
line of march helped him now to maintain his course steadily in one
direction. The temperature was still dropping rapidly. Over
woods hung a dead stillness, except for the lonely call of an
occasional crow or for the scream of the impudent whiskey-jack.
But soon even these became silent. As he surmounted each hill top
Cameron took his bearings afresh and anxiously scanned the sky for
weather signs. In spite of himself there crept over him a sense of
foreboding, which he impatiently tried to shake off.
"I can't be so very far from camp now," he said to himself, looking
at his watch. "It is just four. There are three good hours
A little to the west of his line of march stood a high hill which
appeared to dominate the surrounding country and on its top a lofty
pine. "I'll just shin up that tree," said he. "I ought to get
sight of the Bow from the top." In a few minutes he had reached
the top of the hill, but even in those minutes the atmosphere had
thickened. "Jove, it's getting dark!" he exclaimed. "It can't
near sundown yet. Did I make a mistake in the time?" He looked
his watch again. It showed a quarter after four. "I must get a
look at this country." Hurriedly he threw off his jacket and
proceeded to climb the big pine, which, fortunately, was limbed to
the ground. From the lofty top his eye could sweep the country for
many miles around. Over the great peaks of the Rockies to the west
dark masses of black cloud shot with purple and liver-coloured bars
hung like a pall. To the north a line of clear light was still
visible, but over the foot-hills towards east and south there lay
almost invisible a shimmering haze, soft and translucent, and above
the haze a heavy curtain, while over the immediate landscape there
shone a strange weird light, through which there floated down to
earth large white snowflakes. Not a breath of air moved across
the face of the hills, but still as the dead they lay in solemn
oppressive silence. Far to the north Cameron caught the gleam of
"That must be the Bow," he said to himself. "I am miles too far
toward the mountains. I don't like the look of that haze and that
cloud bank. There is a blizzard on the move if this winter's
experience teaches me anything."
He had once been caught in a blizzard, but on that occasion he was
with McIvor. He was conscious now of a little clutch at his heart
as he remembered that desperate struggle for breath, for life it
seemed to him, behind McIvor's broad back. The country was full of
stories of men being overwhelmed by the choking, drifting whirl of
snow. He knew how swift at times the on-fall of the blizzard could
be, how long the storm could last, how appalling the cold could
become. What should he do? He must think and act swiftly.
gleaming water near which his camp lay was, at the very best going,
two hours distant. The blizzard might strike at any moment and
once it struck all hope of advance would be cut off. He resolved
to seek the best cover available and wait till the storm should
pass. He had his deer meat with him and matches. Could he but
make shelter he doubted not but he could weather the storm.
Swiftly he swept the landscape for a spot to camp. Half a mile
away he spied a little coulee where several valleys appeared to
lose themselves in thick underbrush. He resolved to make for that
spot. Hurriedly he slipped down the tree, donned belt and jacket
and, picking up gun and venison, set off at a run for the spot he
had selected. A puff of wind touched his cheek. He glanced up
about him. The flakes of snow were no longer floating gently down,
but were slanting in long straight lines across the landscape. His
heart took a quicker beat.
"It is coming, sure enough," he said to himself between his teeth,
"and a bad one too at that." He quickened his pace to racing
speed. Down the hill, across the valley and up the next slope he
ran without pause, but as he reached the top of the slope a sound
arrested him, a deep, muffled, hissing roar, and mingled with it
the beating of a thousand wings. Beyond the top of the next hill
there hung from sky to earth the curtain, thick, black, portentous,
and swiftly making approach, devouring the landscape as it came and
filling his ears with its muffled, hissing roar.
In the coulee beyond that hill was the spot he had marked for his
shelter. It was still some three hundred yards away. Could he
beat that roaring, hissing, portentous cloud mass? It was
extremely doubtful. Down the hill he ran, slipping, skating,
pitching, till he struck the bottom, then up the opposite slope he
struggled, straining every nerve and muscle. He glanced upward
towards the top of the hill. Merciful heaven! There it was,
portentous cloud mass, roaring down upon him. Could he ever make
that top? He ran a few steps further, then, dropping his gun, he
clutched a small poplar and hung fast. A driving, blinding,
choking, whirling mass of whiteness hurled itself at him, buffeting
him heavily, filling eyes, ears, nose, and mouth, clutching at his
arms and legs and body with a thousand impalpable insistent claws.
For a moment or two he lost all sense of direction, all thought of
advance. One instinct only he obeyed--to hold on for dear life to
the swaying quivering poplar. The icy cold struck him to the
heart, his bare fingers were fast freezing. A few moments he hung,
hoping for a lull in the fury of the blizzard, but lull there was
none, only that choking, blinding, terrifying Thing that clutched
and tore at him. His heart sank within him. This, then, was to
the end of him. A vision of his own body, stark and stiff, lying
under a mound of drifting snow, swiftly passed before his mind. He
threw it off wrathfully. "Not yet! Not just yet!" he shouted
defiance into the face of the howling storm.
Through the tumult and confusion of his thoughts one idea dominated--
he must make the hill-top. Sliding his hands down the trunk of the
little poplar he once more found his rifle and, laying it in the
hollow of his arm, he hugged it close to his side, shoved his
freezing hands into his pockets and, leaning hard against the
driving blizzard, set off towards the hill-top. A few paces he
made, then turning around leaned back upon the solid massive force
of the wind till he could get breath. Again a few steps upward and
again a rest against the wind. His courage began to come back.
"Aha!" he shouted at the storm. "Not yet! Not yet!"
and with growing courage, he fought his way to the top. At length
he stood upon the storm-swept summit. "I say," he cried,
heartening himself with his speech, "this is so much to the good
anyway. Now for the coulee." But exactly where did it lie?
Absolutely nothing could he see before him but this blinding,
choking mass of whirling snow. He tried to recall the direction in
relation to the hill as he had taken it from the top of the tree.
How long ago that seemed! Was it minutes or hours? Downward
towards the left lay the coulee. He could hardly fail to strike
it. Plunging headlong into the blizzard, he fought his way once
more, step by step.
"It was jolly well like a scrimmage," he said grimly to the storm
which began in his imagination to assume a kind of monstrous and
savage personality. It heartened him much to remember his
sensations in many a desperate struggle against the straining
steaming mass of muscle and bone in the old fierce football fights.
He recalled, too, a word of his old captain, "Never say die! The
next minute may be better."
"Never say die!" he cried aloud in the face of his enemy. "But I
wish to heaven I could get up some of that heat just now. This
cold is going to be the death of me."
As he spoke he bumped into a small bushy spruce tree. "Hello!
Here you are, eh!" he cried, determined to be cheerful. "Glad to
meet you. Hope there are lots more of you." His hope was
realised! A few more steps and he found himself in the heart of a
"Thank God!" he exclaimed. Then again--"Yes, thank God it is!"
It steadied his heart not a little to remember the picture in his
mother's Bible that had so often stirred his youthful imagination
of One standing in the fishing boat and bidding the storm be still.
In the spruce thicket he stood some moments to regain his breath
"Now what next?" he asked himself. Although the thicket broke the
force of the wind, something must be done, and quickly. Night was
coming on and that meant an even intenser cold. His hands were
numb. His hunting jacket was but slight protection against the
driving wind and the bitter cold. If he could only light a fire!
A difficult business in this tumultuous whirlwind and snow. He had
learned something of this art, however, from his winter's experience.
He began breaking from the spruce trees the dead dry twigs. Oh for
some birch bark! Like a forgotten dream it came to him that from
the tree top he had seen above the spruce thicket the tops of some
white birch trees purpling under the touch of spring.
"Let's see! Those birches must be further to my left," he said,
recalling their position. Painfully he forced his way through the
scrubby underbrush. His foot struck hard against an obstruction
that nearly threw him to the ground. It was a jutting rock.
Peering through the white mass before his eyes, he could make out a
great black, looming mass. Eagerly he pushed forward. It was a
towering slab of rock. Following it round on the lee side, he
suddenly halted with a shout of grateful triumph. A great section
had fallen out of the rock, forming a little cave, storm-proof and
"Thank God once more!" he said, and this time with even deeper
reverence. "Now for a fire. If I could only get some birch
He placed his rifle in a corner of the cave and went out on his
hunt. "By Jove, I must hurry, or my hands will be gone sure."
Looking upwards in the shelter of the rock through the driving snow
he saw the bare tops of trees. "Birch, too, as I am alive!" he
cried, and plunging through the bushes came upon a clump of white
With fingers that could hardly hold the curling bark he gathered a
few bunches and hurried back to the cave. Again he went forth and
gathered from the standing trees an armful of dead dry limbs.
"Good!" he cried aloud in triumph. "We're not beaten yet. Now
the fire and supper." He drew forth his steel matchbox with numb
and shaking fingers, opened it and stood stricken dumb. There were
only three matches in the box. Unreasoning terror seized him.
Three chances for life! He chose a match, struck it, but in his
numb and nerveless fingers the match snapped near the head. With a
new terror seizing him he took a second match and struck it. The
match flared, sputtering. Eagerly he thrust the birch bark at it;
too eagerly, alas, for the bark rubbed out the tiny flame. He had
one match left! One hope of life! He closed his matchbox.
hands were trembling with the cold and more with nervous fear that
shook him in every limb. He could not bring himself to make the
last attempt. Up and down the cave and out and in he stamped,
beating his hands to bring back the blood and fighting hard to get
back his nerve.
"This is all rotten funk!" he cried aloud, raging at himself. "I
shall not be beaten."
Summoning all his powers, he once more pulled out his matchbox,
rubbed his birch bark fine and, kneeling down, placed it between
his knees under the shelter of his hunting jacket. Kneeling there
with the matchbox in his hand, there fell upon his spirit a great
calm. "Oh, God!" he said quietly and with the conviction in his
soul that there was One listening, "help me now." He opened the
matchbox, took out the match, struck it carefully and laid it among
the birch bark. For one heart-racking moment it flickered
unsteadily, then, catching a resinous fibre of the bark, it flared
up, shot out a tiny tongue to one of the heavier bunches, caught
hold, sputtered, smoked, burst into flame. With the prayer still
going in his heart, "God help me now," Cameron fed the flame with
bits of bark and tiny twigs, adding more and more till the fire
began to leap, dance, and snap, and at length gaining strength it
roared its triumph over the grim terror so recently threatened.
For the present at least the blizzard was beaten.
"Now God be thanked for that," said Cameron. "For it was past my
This comment system requires
you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an
account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or
Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these
companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All
comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator
has approved your comment.