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Corporal Cameron

"Oh-h-h-h, Cam-er-on!"  Agony, reproach, entreaty, vibrated in the clear young voice that rang out over the Inverleith grounds.  The Scottish line was sagging!--that line invincible in two years of International conflict, the line upon which Ireland and England had broken their pride.  Sagging!  And because Cameron was weakening! Cameron, the brilliant half-back, the fierce-fighting, erratic young Highlander, disciplined, steadied by the great Dunn into an instrument of Scotland's glory!  Cameron going back!  A hush fell on the thronged seats and packed inner-circle,--a breathless, dreadful hush of foreboding.  High over the hushed silence that vibrant cry rang; and Cameron heard it.  The voice he knew.  It was young Rob Dunn's, the captain's young brother, whose soul knew but two passions, one for the captain and one for the half-back of the Scottish International.

And Cameron responded.  The enemy's next high punt found him rock-like in steadiness.  And rock-like he tossed high over his shoulders the tow-headed Welshman rushing joyously at him, and delivered his ball far down the line safe into touch.  But after his kick he was observed to limp back into his place.  The fierce pace of the Welsh forwards was drinking the life of the Scottish backline.

An hour; then a half; then another half, without a score.  And now the final quarter was searching, searching the weak spots in their line.  The final quarter it is that finds a man's history and habits; the clean of blood and of life defy its pitiless probe, but the rotten fibre yields and snaps.  That momentary weakness of Cameron's like a subtle poison runs through the Scottish line; and like fluid lightning through the Welsh.  It is the touch upon the trembling balance.  With cries exultant with triumph, the Welsh forwards fling themselves upon the steady Scots now fighting for life rather than for victory.  And under their captain's directions these fierce, victory-sniffing Welsh are delivering their attack upon the spot where he fancies he has found a yielding.  In vain Cameron rallies his powers; his nerve is failing him, his strength is done.  Only five minutes to play, but one minute is enough. Down upon him through a broken field, dribbling the ball and following hard like hounds on a hare, come the Welsh, the tow-head raging in front, bloody and fearsome.  There is but one thing for Cameron to do; grip that tumbling ball, and, committing body and soul to fate, plunge into that line.  Alas, his doom is upon him! He grips the ball, pauses a moment--only a fatal moment,--but it is enough.  His plunge is too late.  He loses the ball.  A surge of Welshmen overwhelm him in the mud and carry the ball across.  The game is won--and lost.  What though the Scots, like demons suddenly released from hell, the half-back Cameron most demon-like of all, rage over the field, driving the Welshmen hither and thither at will, the gods deny them victory; it is for Wales that day!

In the retreat of their rubbing-room the gay, gallant humour which the Scots have carried with them off the field of their defeat, vanishes into gloom.  Through the steaming silence a groan breaks now and then.  At length a voice:

"Oh, wasn't it rotten!  The rank quitter that he is!"

"Quitter?  Who is?  Who says so?"  It was the captain's voice, sharp with passion.

"I do, Dunn.  It was Cameron lost us the game.  You know it, too. I know it's rotten to say this, but I can't help it.  Cameron lost the game, and I say he's a rank 'quitter,' as Martin would say."

"Look here, Nesbitt," the captain's voice was quiet, but every man paused in his rubbing.  "I know how sore you are and I forgive you that; but I don't want to hear from you or from any man on the team that word again.  Cameron is no quitter; he made--he made an error,--he wasn't fit,--but I say to you Cameron is no quitter."

While he was speaking the door opened and into the room came a player, tall, lanky, with a pale, gaunt face, plastered over the forehead with damp wisps of straight, black hair.  His deep-set, blue-grey eyes swept the room.

"Thanks, Dunn," he said hoarsely.  "Let them curse me!  I deserve it all.  It's tough for them, but God knows I've got the worst of it.  I've played my last game."  His voice broke huskily.

"Oh, rot it, Cameron," cried Dunn.  "Don't be an ass!  Your first big game--every fellow makes his mistake--"

"Mistake!  Mistake!  You can't lie easily, Dunn.  I was a fool and worse than a fool.  I let myself down and I wasn't fit.  Anyway, I'm through with it."  His voice was wild and punctuated with unaccustomed oaths; his breath came in great sobs.

"Oh, rot it, Cameron!" again cried Dunn.  "Next year you'll be twice the man.  You're just getting into your game."

Right loyally his men rallied to their captain:

"Right you are!"

"Why, certainly; no man gets into the game first year!"

"We'll give 'em beans next year, Cameron, old man!"

They were all eager to atone for the criticism which all had held in their hearts and which one of them had spoken.  But this business was serious.  To lose a game was bad enough, but to round on a comrade was unpardonable; while to lose from the game a half-back of Cameron's calibre was unthinkable.

Meanwhile Cameron was tearing off his football togs and hustling on his clothes with fierce haste.  Dunn kept his eye on him, hurrying his own dressing and chatting quietly the while.  But long before he was ready for the street, Cameron had crushed his things into a bag and was looking for his hat.

"Hold on!  I'm with you; I'm with you in a jiffy," said Dunn.

"My hat," muttered Cameron, searching wildly among the jumble.

"Oh, hang the hat; let it go!  Wait for me, Cameron.  Where are you going?" cried Dunn.

"To the devil," cried the lad, slamming the door behind him.

"And, by Jove, he'll go, too!" said Nesbitt.  "Say, I'm awfully sorry I made that break, Dunn.  It was beastly low-down to round on a chap like that.  I'll go after him."

"Do, old chap!  He's frightfully cut up.  And get him for to-night. He may fight shy of the dinner.  But he's down for the pipes, you know, and--well, he's just got to be there.  Good-bye, you chaps; I'm off!  And--I say, men!"  When Dunn said "men" they all knew it was their captain that was speaking.  Everybody stood listening. Dunn hesitated a moment or two, as if searching for words.  "About the dinner to-night: I'd like you to remember--I mean--I don't want any man to--oh, hang it, you know what I mean!  There will be lots of fellows there who will want to fill you up.  I'd hate to see any of our team--"  The captain paused embarrassed.

"We tumble, Captain," said Martin, a medical student from Canada, who played quarter.  "I'll keep an eye on 'em, you bet!"

Everybody roared; for not only on the quarter-line but also at the dinner table the little quarter-back was a marvel of endurance.

"Hear the blooming Colonist!" said Linklater, Martin's comrade on the quarter-line, and his greatest friend.  "We know who'll want the watching, but we'll see to him, Captain."

"All right, old chap!  Sorry I'll have to cut the van.  I'm afraid my governor's got the carriage here for me."

But the men all made outcry.  There were other plans for him.

"But, Captain; hold on!"

"Aw, now, Captain!  Don't forsake us!"

"But I say, Dunn, see us through; we're shy!"

"Don't leave us, Captain, or you'll be sorry," sang out Martin. "Come on, fellows, let's keep next him!  We'll give him 'Old Grimes!'"

Already a mighty roar was heard outside.  The green, the drive, the gateways, and the street were blocked with the wildest football fanatics that Edinburgh, and all Scotland could produce.  They were waiting for the International players, and were bent on carrying their great captain down the street, shoulder high; for the enthusiasm of the Scot reaches the point of madness only in the hour of glorious defeat.  But before they were aware, Dunn had shouldered his mighty form through the opposing crowds and had got safely into the carriage beside his father and his young brother. But the crowd were bound to have him.

"We want him, Docthor," said a young giant in a tam-o'-shanter. "In fac', Docthor," he argued with a humourous smile, "we maun hae him."

"Ye'll no' get him, Jock Murchison," shouted young Rob, standing in front of his big brother.  "We want him wi' us."

The crowd laughed gleefully.

"Go for him, Jock!  You can easy lick him," said a voice encouragingly.

"Pit him oot, Docthor," said Jock, who was a great friend of the family, and who had a profound respect for the doctor.

"It's beyond me, Jock, I fear.  See yon bantam cock!  I doubt ye'll hae to be content," said the doctor, dropping into Jock's kindly Doric.

"Oh, get on there, Murchison," said Dunn impatiently.  "You're not going to make an ass of me; make up your mind to that!"

Jock hesitated, meditating a sudden charge, but checked by his respect for Doctor Dunn.

"Here, you fellows!" shouted a voice.  "Fall in; the band is going to play!  Get into line there, you Tam-o'-shanter; you're stopping the procesh!  Now then, wait for the line, everybody!"  It was Little Martin on top of the van in which were the Scottish players. "Tune, 'Old Grimes'; words as follows.  Catch on, everybody!"

     "Old Dunn, old Dunn, old Dunn, old Dunn,
        Old Dunn, old Dunn, old Dunn,
      Old Dunn, old Dunn, old Dunn, old Dunn,
        Old Dunn, old Dunn, old Dunn."

With a delighted cheer the crowd formed in line, and, led by the little quarter-back on top of the van, they set off down the street, two men at the heads of the doctor's carriage horses, holding them in place behind the van.  On went the swaying crowd and on went the swaying chant, with Martin, director of ceremonies and Dunn hurling unavailing objurgations and entreaties at Jock's head.

Through the uproar a girl's voice reached the doctor's ear:

"Aren't they lovely, Sir?"

The doctor turned to greet a young lady, tall, strong, and with the beauty of perfect health rather than of classic feature in her face.  There was withal a careless disregard of the feminine niceties of dress.

"Oh, Miss Brodie!  Will you not come up?  We can easily make room."

"I'd just love to," cried the girl, "but I'm only a humble member of the procession, following the band and the chariot wheels of the conqueror."  Her strong brown face was all aglow with ardour.

"Conqueror!" growled Dunn.  "Not much of a conqueror!"

"Why not?  Oh fudge!  The game?  What matters the game?  It's the play we care about."

"Well spoken, lassie," said the doctor.  "That's the true sport."

"Aren't they awful?" cried Dunn.  "Look at that young Canadian idiot up there."

"Well, if you ask me, I think he's a perfect dear," said Miss Brodie, deliberately.  "I'm sure I know him; anyway I'm going to encourage him with my approval."  And she waved her hand at Martin.

The master of ceremonies responded by taking off his hat and making a sweeping bow, still keeping up the beat.  The crowd, following his eyes, turned their attention to the young lady, much to Dunn's delight.

"Oh," she gasped, "they'll be chanting me next!  Good-bye!  I'm off!"  And she darted back to the company of her friends marching on the pavement.

At this point Martin held up both arms and called for silence.

"Second verse," he shouted, "second verse!  Get the words now!"

     "Old Dunn ain't done, old Dunn ain't done,
        Old Dunn, old Dunn ain't done,
      Old Dunn ain't done, old Dunn ain't done,
        Old Dunn, old Dunn ain't done."

But the crowd rejected the Colonial version, and rendered in their own good Doric:

     "Old Dunn's no' done, old Dunn's no' done,
        Old Dunn, old Dunn's no' done,
      Old Dunn's no' done, old Dunn's no' done,
        Old Dunn, old Dunn's no' done."

And so they sang and swayed, following the van till they neared Queen Street, down which lay the doctor's course.

"For heaven's sake, can't they be choked off?" groaned Dunn.

The doctor signalled Jock to him.

"Jock," he said, "we'll just slip through at Queen Street."

"We'd like awfully to do Princes Street, Sir," pleaded Jock.

"Princes Street, you born ass!" cried Dunn wrathfully.

"Oh, yes, let them!" cried young Rob, whose delight in the glory of his hero had been beyond all measure.  "Let them do Princes Street, just once!"

But the doctor would not have it.  "Jock," he said quietly, "just get us through at Queen Street."

"All right, Sir," replied Jock with great regret.  "It will be as you say."

Under Jock's orders, when Queen Street was reached, the men at the horses' heads suddenly swung the pair from the crowd, and after some struggling, got them safely into the clear space, leaving the procession to follow the van, loudly cheering their great International captain, whose prowess on the field was equalled only by his modesty and his hatred of a demonstration.

"Listen to the idiots," said Dunn in disgust, as the carriage bore them away from the cheering crowd.

"Man, they're just fine!  Aren't they, Father?" said young Rob in an ecstasy of joy.

"They're generous lads, generous lads, boy," said Doctor Dunn, his old eyes shining, for his son's triumph touched him deeply. "That's the only way to take defeat."

"That's all right, Sir," said Dunn quickly, "but it's rather embarrassing, though it's awfully decent of them."

The doctor's words suggested fresh thoughts to young Rob.  "But it was terrible; and you were just on the win, too, I know."

"I'm not so sure at all," said his brother.

"Oh, it is terrible," said Bob again.

"Tut, tut, lad!  What's so terrible?" said his father.  "One side has to lose."

"Oh, it's not that," said Rob, his lip trembling.  "I don't care a sniff for the game."

"What, then?" said his big brother in a voice sharpened by his own thoughts.

"Oh, Jack," said Rob, nervously wreathing his hands, "he--it looked as if he--" the lad could not bring himself to say the awful word. Nor was there need to ask who it was the boy had in mind.

"What do you mean, Rob?" the captain's voice was impatient, almost angry.

Then Rob lost his control.  "Oh, Jack, I can't help it; I saw it. Do you think--did he really funk it?"  His voice broke.  He clutched his brother's knee and stood with face white and quivering.  He had given utterance to the terrible suspicion that was torturing his heroic young soul.  Of his two household gods one was tottering on its pedestal.  That a football man should funk-- the suspicion was too dreadful.

The captain glanced at his father's face.  There was gloom there, too, and the same terrible suspicion.  "No, Sir," said Dunn, with impressive deliberation, answering the look on his father's face, "Cameron is no quitter.  He didn't funk.  I think," he continued, while Rob's tear-stained face lifted eagerly, "I know he was out of condition; he had let himself run down last week, since the last match, indeed, got out of hand a bit, you know, and that last quarter--you know, Sir, that last quarter was pretty stiff--his nerve gave just for a moment."

"Oh," said the doctor in a voice of relief, "that explains it. But," he added quickly in a severe tone, "it was very reprehensible for a man on the International to let himself get out of shape, very reprehensible indeed.  An International, mind you!"

"It was my fault, Sir, I'm afraid," said Dunn, regretfully.  "I ought to have--"

"Nonsense!  A man must be responsible for himself.  Control, to be of any value, must be ultroneous, as our old professor used to say."

"That's true, Sir, but I had kept pretty close to him up to the last week, you see, and--"

"Bad training, bad training.  A trainer's business is to school his men to do without him."

"That is quite right, Sir.  I believe I've been making a mistake," said Dunn thoughtfully.  "Poor chap, he's awfully cut up!"

"So he should be," said the doctor sternly.  "He had no business to get out of condition.  The International, mind you!"

"Oh, Father, perhaps he couldn't help it," cried Rob, whose loyal, tender heart was beating hard against his little ribs, "and he looks awful.  I saw him come out and when I called to him he never looked at me once."

There is no finer loyalty in this world than that of a boy below his teens.  It is so without calculation, without qualification, and without reserve.  Dr. Dunn let his eyes rest kindly upon his little flushed face.

"Perhaps so, perhaps so, my boy," he said, "and I have no doubt he regrets it now more than any of us.  Where has he gone?"

"Nesbitt's after him, Sir.  He'll get him for to-night."

But as Dunn, fresh from his bath, but still sore and stiff, was indulging in a long-banished pipe, Nesbitt came in to say that Cameron could not be found.

"And have you not had your tub yet?" said his captain.

"Oh, that's all right!  You know I feel awfully about that beastly remark of mine."

"Oh, let it go," said Dunn.  "That'll be all right.  You get right away home for your tub and get freshened up for to-night.  I'll look after Cameron.  You know he is down for the pipes.  He's simply got to be there and I'll get him if I have to bring him in a crate, pipes, kilt and all."

And Nesbitt, knowing that Dunn never promised what he could notfulfil, went off to his tub in fair content.  He knew his captain.

As Dunn was putting on his coat Rob came in, distress written on his face.

"Are you going to get Cameron, Jack?" he asked timidly.  "I asked Nesbitt, and he said--"

"Now look here, youngster," said his big brother, then paused.  The distress in the lad's face checked his words.  "Now, Rob," he said kindly, "you needn't fret about this.  Cameron is all right."

The kind tone broke down the lad's control.  He caught his brother's arm.  "Say, Jack, are you sure--he didn't--funk?"  His voice dropped to a whisper.

Then his big brother sat down and drew the lad to his side, "Now listen, Rob; I'm going to tell you the exact truth.  CAMERON DID NOT FUNK.  The truth is, he wasn't fit,--he ought to have been, but he wasn't,--and because he wasn't fit he came mighty near quitting-- for a moment, I'm sure, he felt like it, because his nerve was gone,--but he didn't.  Remember, he felt like quitting and didn't, And that's the finest thing a chap can do,--never to quit, even when he feels like it.  Do you see?"

The lad's head went up.  "I see," he said, his eyes glowing.  "It was fine!  I'm awfully glad he didn't quit, 'specially when he felt like it.  You tell him for me."  His idol was firm again on his pedestal.

"All right, old chap," said his big brother.  "You'll never quit, I bet!"

"Not if I'm fit, will I?"

"Right you are!  Keep fit--that's the word!"

And with that the big brother passed out to find the man who was writhing in an agony of self-contempt; for in the face of all Scotland and in the hour of her need he had failed because he wasn't fit.

After an hour Dunn found his man, fixed in the resolve to there and then abandon the game with all the appurtenances thereof, and among these the dinner.  Mightily his captain laboured with him, plying him with varying motives,--the honour of the team was at stake; the honour of the country was at stake; his own honour, for was he not down on the programme for the pipes?  It was all in vain.  In dogged gloom the half-back listened unmoved.

At length Dunn, knowing well the Highlander's tender heart, cunningly touched another string and told of Rob's distress and subsequent relief, and then gave his half-back the boy's message. "I promised to tell you, and I almost forgot.  The little beggar was terribly worked up, and as I remember it, this is what he said: 'I'm awfully glad he didn't quit, 'specially when he felt like it.' Those were his very words."

Then Cameron buried his face in his hands and groaned aloud, while Dunn, knowing that he had reached his utmost, stood silent, waiting.  Suddenly Cameron flung up his head:

"Did he say I didn't quit?  Good little soul!  I'll go; I'd go through hell for that!"

And so it came that not in a crate, but in the gallant garb of a Highland gentleman, pipes and all, Cameron was that night in his place, fighting out through the long hilarious night the fiercest fight of his life, chiefly because of the words that lay like a balm to his lacerated heart:

"He didn't quit, 'specially when he felt like it."

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