The minutes passed slowly.
The scene in the camp of the Stonies
that he had just witnessed drove all sleep from Cameron. He was
firmly resolved that at the first opportunity he would make his
break for liberty; for he was now fully aware that though not
confessedly he was none the less really a prisoner.
As he lay intently thinking, forming and discarding plans of
escape, two Indians, followed by Little Thunder, walked quietly
within the circle of the firelight and with a nod and a grunt
towards Raven sat down by the fire. Raven passed his tobacco bag,
which, without a word, they accepted; and, filling their pipes,
they gravely began to smoke.
"White Cloud," grunted Little Thunder, waving his hand to the first
Indian. "Big Chief. Him," pointing to the second Indian,
"My brothers had good hunting this year," said Raven.
The Indians grunted for reply.
"Your packs are heavy?"
Another grunt made answer.
"We have much goods," continued Raven. "But the time is short.
Come and see."
Raven led them out into the dark towards the pack horse, Little
Thunder remaining by the fire. From the darkness Cameron could
hear Raven's voice in low tones and the Indians' guttural replies
mingled with unusual laughter.
When they returned the change in their appearance was plainly
visible. Their eyes were gleaming with an unnatural excitement,
their grave and dignified demeanour had given place to an eager,
almost childish excitement. Cameron did not need the whiff that
came to him from their breath to explain the cause of this sudden
change. The signs were to him only too familiar.
"My brothers will need to hurry," said Raven. "We move when the
moon is high."
"Good!" replied White Cloud. "Go, quick." He waved his hand
toward the dark. "Come." He brought it back again. "Heap
Without further word they vanished, silent as the shadows that
swallowed them up.
"Now, then, Cameron, we have big business on foot. Up and give us
a hand. Little Thunder, take the bunch down the trail a couple of
miles and come back."
Selecting one of the pack ponies, he tied it to a pine tree and the
others he hurried off with Little Thunder down the trail.
"Going to do some trading, are you?" enquired Cameron.
"Yes, if the price is right, though I'm not too keen," replied
Raven, throwing himself down beside the fire.
"What are you after? Furs?"
"Yes, furs mostly. Anything they have to offer."
"What do you give in exchange?"
Raven threw him a sharp glance, but Cameron's face was turned
toward the fire.
"Oh, various articles. Wearing apparel, tobacco, finery.
too. They are very fond of molasses."
"Molasses?" echoed Cameron, with a touch of scorn. "It was not
molasses they had to-night. Why did you give them whiskey?" he
Raven started. His eyes narrowed to two piercing points.
"Why? That's my business, my friend. I keep a flask to treat
guests occasionally. Have you any objection?"
"It is against the law, I understand, and mighty bad for the
"Against the law?" echoed Raven in childlike surprise. "You don't
"So the Mounted Police declare," said Cameron, turning his eyes
upon Raven's face.
"The Mounted Police!" exclaimed Raven, pouring forth a flood of
oaths. "That! for the Mounted Police!" he said, snapping his
"But," replied Cameron, "I understood you very especially to object
to the operations of the whiskey runners?"
"Whiskey runners? Who's speaking of whiskey runners? I'm
of the approved method of treating our friends in this country, and
if the police should interfere between me and my friends they would
be carrying things a little too far. But all the same," he
continued, hastily checking himself, "the police are all right.
They put down a lot of lawlessness in this country. But I may as
well say to you here, Mr. Cameron," he continued, "that there are
certain things it is best not to see, or, having seen, to speedily
forget." As he spoke these words his eyes narrowed again to two
grey points that seemed to bore right through to Cameron's brain.
"This man is a very devil," thought Cameron to himself. "I was a
fool not to see it before." But to the trader he said, "There are
some things I would rather not see and some things I cannot
Before another hour had passed the Stonies reappeared, this time on
ponies. The trader made no move to meet them. He sat quietly
smoking by the fire. Silently the Indians approached the fire and
threw down a pack of furs.
"Huh!" said White Cloud. "Good! Ver good!" He opened his
and spread out upon the rock with impressive deliberation its
contents. And good they were, even to Cameron's uncultured eye.
Wolf skins and bear, cinnamon and black, beaver, fox, and mink, as
well as some magnificent specimens of mountain goat and sheep.
"Good! Good! Big--fine--heap good!" White Cloud
exclaim as he displayed his collection.
Raven turned them over carelessly, feeling the furs, examining and
weighing the pelts. Then going to the pack horse he returned and
spread out upon the rock beside the furs the goods which he
proposed to offer in exchange. And a pitiful display it was, gaudy
calicoes and flimsy flannels, the brilliance of whose colour was
only equalled by the shoddiness of the material, cheap domestic
blankets, half wool half cotton, prepared especially for the Indian
trade. These, with beads and buttons, trinkets, whole strings of
brass rings, rolls of tobacco, bags of shot and powder, pot metal
knives, and other articles, all bearing the stamp of glittering
fraud, constituted his stock for barter. The Indians made
strenuous efforts to maintain an air of dignified indifference, but
the glitter in their eyes betrayed their eagerness. White Cloud
picked up a goat skin, heavy with its deep silky fur and with its
rich splendour covered over the glittering mass of Raven's cheap
and tawdry stuff.
"Good trade," said White Cloud. "Him," pointing to the skin,
"and," turning it back, "him," laying his hand upon the goods
Raven smiled carelessly, pulled out a flask from his pocket, took a
drink and passed it to the others. Desperately struggling to
suppress his eagerness and to maintain his dignified bearing, White
Cloud seized the flask and, drinking long and deep, passed it to
"Have a drink, Cameron," said Raven, as he received his flask
"No!" said Cameron shortly. "And I would suggest to your friends
that they complete the trade before they drink much more."
"My friend here says this is no good," said Raven to the Indians,
tapping the flask with his finger. "He says no more drink."
White Cloud shot a keen enquiring glance at Cameron, but he made no
reply other than to stretch out his hand for Raven's flask again.
Before many minutes the efficacy of Raven's methods of barter began
to be apparent. The Indians lost their grave and dignified
demeanour. They became curious, eager, garrulous, and demonstrative.
With childish glee they began examining more closely Raven's supply
of goods, trying on the rings, draping themselves in the gaudy
calicoes and flannels. At length Raven rolled up his articles of
barter and set them upon one side.
"How much?" he said.
White Cloud selected the goat skin, laid upon it some half dozen
beaver and mink, and a couple of foxes, and rolling them up in a
pile laid them beside Raven's bundle.
The trader smiled and shook his head. "No good. No good."
saying he took from his pack another flask and laid it upon his
Instantly the Indian increased his pile by a bear skin, a grey
wolf, and a mountain goat. Then, without waiting for Raven's
words, he reached for the flask.
"No, not yet," said Raven quietly, laying his hand down upon the
The Indian with gleaming eyes threw on the pile some additional
"Good!" said Raven, surrendering the flask. Swiftly the Indian
caught it up and, seizing the cork in his teeth, bit it off close
to the neck of the flask. Snatching his knife from his pocket with
almost frantic energy, he proceeded to dig out the imbedded cork.
"Here," said Raven, taking the flask from him. "Let me have it."
From his pocket he took a knife containing a corkscrew and with
this he drew the cork and handed the flask back to the Indian.
With shameless, bestial haste the Indian placed the bottle to his
lips and after a long pull passed it to his waiting brother.
At this point Raven rose as if to close the negotiations and took
out his own flask for a final drink, but found it empty.
"Aha!" he exclaimed, turning the empty flask upside down. At once
the Indian passed him his flask. Raven, however, waved him aside
and, going to his pack, drew out a tin oil can which would contain
about a gallon. From this with great deliberation he filled his
"Huh!" exclaimed the Indian, pointing to the can. "How much?"
Raven shook his head. "No sell. For me," he answered, tapping
himself on the breast.
"How much?" said the Indian fiercely.
Still Raven declined to sell.
Swiftly the Indian gathered up the remaining half of his pack of
furs and, throwing them savagely at Raven's feet, seized the can.
Still Raven refused to let it go.
At this point the soft padding of a loping pony was heard coming up
the trail and in a few minutes Little Thunder silently took his
place in the circle about the fire. Cameron's heart sank within
him, for now it seemed as if his chance of escape had slipped from
Raven spoke a few rapid words to Little Thunder, who entered into
conversation with the Stonies. At length White Cloud drew from his
coat a black fox skin. In spite of himself Raven uttered a slight
exclamation. It was indeed a superb pelt. With savage hate in
every line of his face and in every movement of his body, the
Indian flung the skin upon the pile of furs and without a "By your
leave" seized the can and passed it to his brother.
At this point Raven, with a sudden display of reckless generosity,
placed his own flask upon the Indian's pile of goods.
"Ask them if they want molasses," said Raven to Little Thunder.
"No," grunted the Indian contemptuously, preparing to depart.
"Ask them, Little Thunder."
Immediately as Little Thunder began to speak the contemptuous
attitude of the Stonies gave place to one of keen interest and
desire. After some further talk Little Thunder went to the pack-pony, returned bearing a small keg and set it on the rock beside
Raven's pile of furs. Hastily the Stonies consulted together,
White Cloud apparently reluctant, the brother recklessly eager to
close the deal. Finally with a gesture White Cloud put an end to
the conversation, stepped out hastily into the dark and returned
leading his pony into the light. Cutting asunder the lashings
with his knife, he released a bundle of furs and threw it down at
"Same ting. Good!" he said.
But Raven would not look at the bundle and proceeded to pack up the
spoils of his barter. Earnestly the Stonies appealed to Little
Thunder, but in vain. Angrily they remonstrated, but still without
result. At length Little Thunder pointed to the pony and without
hesitation White Cloud placed the bridle rein in his hands.
Cameron could contain himself no longer. Suddenly rising from his
place he strode to the side of the Indians and cried, "Don't do it!
Don't be such fools! This no good," he said, kicking the keg.
"What would Mr. Macdougall say? Come! I go with you.
He stepped forward to seize the second pack. Swiftly Little
Thunder leaped before him, knife in hand, and crouched to spring.
The Stonies had no doubt as to his meaning. Their hearts were
filled with black rage against the unscrupulous trader, but their
insane thirst for the "fire-water" swept from their minds every
other consideration but that of determination to gratify this mad
lust. Unconsciously they ranged themselves beside Cameron, their
hands going to their belts. Quietly Raven spoke a few rapid words
to Little Thunder, who, slowly putting up his knife, made a brief
but vigourous harangue to the Stonies, the result of which was seen
in the doubtful glances which they cast upon Cameron from time to
"Come on!" cried Cameron again, laying his hand upon the nearest
Indian. "Let's go to your camp. Take your furs. He is a
robber, a bad man. All that," sweeping his hand towards Raven's
goods, "no good. This," kicking the keg, "bad. Kill you."
These words they could not entirely understand, but his gestures
were sufficiently eloquent and significant. There was an ugly
gleam in Raven's eyes and an ugly curl to his thin lips, but he
"Come," he said, waving his hand toward the furs, "take them away.
Tell them we don't want to trade, Little Thunder." He pulled out
his flask, slowly took a drink, and passed it to Little Thunder,
who greedily followed his example. "Tell them we don't want to
trade at all," insisted Raven.
Little Thunder volubly explained the trader's wishes.
"Good-bye," said Raven, offering his hand to White Cloud. "Good
friends," he added, once more passing him his flask.
"Don't!" said Cameron, laying his hand again upon the Indian's arm.
For a single instant White Cloud paused.
"Huh!" grunted Little Thunder in contempt. "Big chief scared."
Quickly the Stony shook off Cameron's hand, seized the flask and,
putting it to his lips, drained it dry.
"Come," said Cameron to the other Stony. "Come with me."
Raven uttered a warning word to Little Thunder. The Indians stood
for some moments uncertain, their heads bowed upon their breasts.
Then White Cloud, throwing back his head and looking Cameron full
in the face, said--"Good man. Good man. Me no go."
"Then I go alone," cried Cameron, springing off into the darkness.
As he turned his foot caught the pile of wood brought for the fire.
He tripped and stumbled almost to the ground. Before he could
recover himself Little Thunder, swift as a wildcat, leaped upon his
back with his ever-ready knife in his upraised hand, but before he
could strike, Cameron had turned himself and throwing the Indian
off had struggled to his feet.
"Hold there!" cried Raven with a terrible oath, flinging himself
upon the struggling pair.
A moment or two the Stonies hesitated, then they too seized Cameron
and between them all they bore him fighting to the ground.
"Keep back! Keep back!" cried Raven in a terrible voice to Little
Thunder, who, knife in hand, was dancing round, seeking an
opportunity to strike. "Will you lie still, or shall I knock your
head in?" said Raven to Cameron through his clenched teeth, with
one hand on his throat and the other poising a revolver over his
head. Cameron gave up the struggle.
"Speak and quick!" cried Raven, his face working with passion, his
voice thick and husky, his breath coming in quick gasps from the
fury that possessed him.
"All right," said Cameron. "Let me up. You have beaten me this
Raven sprang to his feet.
"Let him up!" he said. "Now, then, Cameron, give me your word you
won't try to escape."
"No, I will not! I'll see you hanged first," said Cameron.
Raven deliberately drew his pistol and said slowly:
"I have saved your life twice already, but the time is past for any
more trifling. Now you've got to take it."
At this Little Thunder spoke a word, pointing toward the camp of
the Stonies. Raven hesitated, then with an oath he strode toward
Cameron and thrusting his pistol in his face said in tones of cold
and concentrated rage:
"Listen to me, you fool! Your life is hanging by a hair trigger
that goes off with a feather touch. I give you one more chance.
Move hand or foot and the bullet in this gun will pass neatly
through your eye. So help me God Almighty!"
He spoke to Little Thunder, still keeping Cameron covered with his
gun. The Indian slipped quietly behind Cameron and swiftly threw a
line over his shoulders and, drawing it tight, bound his arms to
his side. Again and again he repeated this operation till Cameron
stood swathed in the coils of the rope like a mummy, inwardly
raging, not so much at his captor, but at himself and his stupid
bungling of his break for liberty. His helpless and absurd
appearance seemed to restore Raven's good humour.
"Now, then," he said, turning to the Stonies and resuming his
careless air, "we will finish our little business. Sit down, Mr.
Cameron," he continued, with a pleasant smile. "It may be less
dignified, but it is much more comfortable."
Once more he took out his flask and passed it round, forgetting to
take it back from his Indian visitors, who continued to drink from
it in turn.
"Listen," he said. "I give you all you see here for your furs and
a pony to pack them. That is my last word. Quick, yes or no?
Tell them no more trifling, Little Thunder. The moon is high.
start in ten minutes."
There was no further haggling. The Indians seemed to recognise
that the time for that was past. After a brief consultation they
grunted their acceptance and proceeded to pack up their goods, but
with no good will. More vividly than any in the company they
realised the immensity of the fraud that was being perpetrated upon
them. They were being robbed of their whole winter's kill and that
of some of their friends as well, but they were helpless in the
grip of their mad passion for the trader's fire-water. Disgusted
with themselves and filled with black rage against the man who had
so pitilessly stripped them bare of the profits of a year's toil
and privation, how gladly would they have put their knives into his
back, but they knew his sort by only too bitter experience and they
knew that at his hands they need expect no pity.
"Here," cried Raven, observing their black looks. "A present for
my brothers." He handed them each a roll of tobacco. "And a
present for their squaws," adding a scarlet blanket apiece to their
Without a word of thanks they took the gifts and, loading their
stuff upon their remaining pony, disappeared down the trail.
"Now, Little Thunder, let's get out of this, for once their old man
finds out he will be hot foot on our trail."
With furious haste they fell to their packing. Cameron stood
aghast at the amazing swiftness and dexterity with which the packs
were roped and loaded. When all was complete the trader turned to
Cameron in gay good humour.
"Now, Mr. Cameron, will you go passenger or freight?" Cameron made
no reply. "In other words, shall we pack you on your pony or will
you ride like a gentleman, giving me your word not to attempt to
escape? Time presses, so answer quick! Give me twenty-four
Give me your word for twenty-four hours, after which you can go
when you like."
"I agree," said Cameron shortly.
"Cut him loose, Little Thunder." Little Thunder hesitated.
"Quick, you fool! Cut him loose. I know a gentleman when I see
him. He is tied tighter than with ropes."
"It is a great pity," he continued, addressing Cameron in a
pleasant conversational tone as they rode down the trail together,
"that you should have made an ass of yourself for those brutes.
Bah! What odds? Old Macdougall or some one else would get
stuff sooner or later. Why not I? Come, cheer up. You
well out of it, for, God knows, you may live to look death in the
face many a time, but never while you live will you be so near
touching the old sport as you were a few minutes ago. Why I have
interfered to save you these three times blessed if I know! Many a
man's bones have been picked by the coyotes in these hills for a
fraction of the provocation you have given me, not to speak of
Little Thunder, who is properly thirsting for your blood. But take
advice from me," here he leaned over towards Cameron and touched
him on the shoulder, while his voice took a sterner tone, "don't
venture on any further liberties with him."
Suddenly Cameron's rage blazed forth.
"Now perhaps you will listen to me," he said in a voice thrilling
with passion. "First of all, keep your hands off me. As for
comrade and partner in crime, I fear him no more than I would a dog
and like a dog I shall treat him if he dares to attack me again.
As for you, you are a coward and a cad. You have me at a
disadvantage. But put down your guns and fight me on equal terms,
and I will make you beg for your life!"
There was a gleam of amused admiration in Raven's eyes.
"By Jove! It would be a pretty fight, I do believe, and one I
should greatly enjoy. At present, however, time is pressing and
therefore that pleasure we must postpone. Meantime I promise you
that when it comes it will be on equal terms."
"I ask no more," said Cameron.
There was no further conversation, for Raven appeared intent on
putting as large a space as possible between himself and the camp
of the Stonies. The discovery of the fraud he knew would be
inevitable and he knew, too, that George Macdougall was not the man
to allow his flock to be fleeced with impunity.
So before the grey light of morning began to steal over the
mountaintops Raven, with his bunch of ponies and his loot, was many
miles forward on his journey. But the endurance even of bronchos
and cayuses has its limit, and their desperate condition from
hunger and fatigue rendered food and rest imperative.
The sun was fully up when Raven ordered a halt, and in a sunny
valley, deep with grass, unsaddling the wearied animals, he turned
them loose to feed and rest. Apparently careless of danger and
highly contented with their night's achievement, he and his Indian
partner abandoned themselves to sleep. Cameron, too, though his
indignation and chagrin prevented sleep for a time, was finally
forced to yield to the genial influences of the warm sun and the
languid airs of the spring day, and, firmly resolving to keep
awake, he fell into dreamless slumber.
The sun was riding high noon when he was awakened by a hand upon
his arm. It was Raven.
"Hush!" he said. "Not a word. Mount and quick!"
Looking about Cameron observed that the pack horses were ready
loaded and Raven standing by his broncho ready to mount. Little
Thunder was nowhere to be seen.
"What's up?" said Cameron.
For answer Raven pointed up the long sloping trail down which they
had come. There three horsemen could be seen riding hard, but
still distant more than half a mile.
"Saw them three miles away, luckily enough," said Raven.
"Where's Little Thunder?" enquired Cameron.
"Oh, rounding up the bunch," answered Raven carelessly, waving his
hand toward the valley. "Those men are coming some," he added,
swinging into his saddle.
As he spoke a rifle shot shattered the stillness of the valley.
The first of the riders threw up his hands, clutched wildly at the
vacant air and pitched headlong out of the saddle. "Good God!
What's that?" gasped Cameron. The other two wheeled in their
course. Before they could turn a second shot rang out and another
of the riders fell upon his horse's neck, clung there for a moment,
then gently slid to the ground. The third, throwing himself over
the side of his pony, rode back for dear life.
A third and a fourth shot were heard, but the fleeing rider escaped
"What does that mean?" again asked Cameron, weak and sick with
"Mount!" yelled Raven with a terrible oath and flourishing a
revolver in his hand. "Mount quick!" His face was pale, his
burned with a fierce glare, while his voice rang with the blast of
"Lead those pack horses down that trail!" he yelled, thrusting the
line into Cameron's hand. "Quick, I tell you!"
"Crack-crack!" Twice a bullet sang savagely past Cameron's ears.
"Quicker!" shouted Raven, circling round the bunch of ponies with
wild cries and oaths like a man gone mad. Again and again the
revolver spat wickedly and here and there a pony plunged recklessly
forward, nicked in the ear by one of those venomous singing
pellets. Helpless to defend himself and expecting every moment to
feel the sting of a bullet somewhere in his body, Cameron hurried
his pony with all his might down the trail, dragging the pack
animals after him. In huddled confusion the terrified brutes
followed after him in a mad rush, for hard upon their rear, like a
beast devil-possessed, Nighthawk pressed, biting, kicking,
squealing, to the accompaniment of his rider's oaths and yells and
pistol shots. Down the long sloping trail to the very end of the
valley the mad rush continued. There the ascent checked the fury
of the speed and forced a quieter pace. But through the afternoon
there was no weakening of the pressure from the rear till the
evening shadows and the frequent falling of the worn-out beasts
forced a slackening of the pace and finally a halt.
Sick with horror and loathing, Cameron dismounted and unsaddled his
broncho. He had hardly finished this operation when Little Thunder
rode up upon a strange pony, leading a beautiful white broncho
behind. Cameron could not repress an exclamation of disgust as the
Indian drew near him.
"Beautiful beast that," said Raven carelessly, pointing to the
Cameron turned his eyes upon the pony and stood transfixed with
"My God!" he exclaimed. "Look at that!" Across the beautiful
white shoulders and reaching down clear to the fetlock there ran a
broad stain, dull red and horrible. Then through his teeth, hard
clenched together, these words came forth: "Some day, by God's
help, I shall wipe out that stain."
The trader shrugged his shoulders carelessly, but made no reply.