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Corporal Cameron

Shivering and hungry and fighting with sleep, Cameron stamped up and down his cave, making now and then excursions into the storm to replenish his fire.  On sharpened sticks slices of venison were cooking for his supper.  Outside the storm raged with greater violence than ever and into the cave the bitter cold penetrated, effectually neutralizing the warmth of the little fire, for the wood was hard to get and a larger fire he could not afford.

He looked at his watch and was amazed to find it only five o'clock. How long could he maintain this fight?  His heart sank at the prospect of the long night before him.  He sat down upon the rock close beside his cooking venison and in a few moments was fast asleep.

He awoke with a start and found that the fire had crept along a jutting branch and had reached his fingers.  He sprang to his feet. The fire lay in smouldering embers, for the sticks were mere brushwood.  A terrible fear seized him.  His life depended upon the maintaining of this fire.  Carefully he assembled the embers and nursed them into bright flame.  At all costs he must keep awake. A further excursion into the woods for fuel thoroughly roused him from his sleep.  Soon his fire was blazing brightly again.

Consulting his watch, he found that he must have slept half an hour.  He determined that in order to keep himself awake and to provide against the growing cold he would lay in a stock of firewood, and so he began a systematic search for fallen trees that he might drag to his shelter.

As he was setting forth upon his search he became aware of a new sound mingling with the roaring of the storm about him, a soft, pounding, rhythmic sound.  With every nerve strained he listened. It was like the beating of hoofs.  He ran out into the storm and, holding his hands to his ears, bent forward to listen.  Faintly over the roaring of the blizzard, and rising and falling with it, there came the sound of singing.

"Am I mad?" he said to himself, beating his head with his hands. He rushed into the cave, threw upon the fire all the brushwood he had gathered, until it sprang up into a great glare, lighting up the cave and its surroundings.  Then he rushed forth once more to the turn of the rock.  The singing could now be plainly heard.

"Three cheers for the red, white--  Get on there, you variously coloured and multitudinously cursed brutes!--  Three cheers for the red--  Hie there, look out, Little Thunder!  They are off to the left."

"Hello!" yelled Cameron at the top of his voice.  "Hello, there!"

"Whoa!" yelled a voice sharply.  The sound of hoof beats ceased and only the roaring of the blizzard could be heard.

"Hello!" cried Cameron again.  "Who are you?"  But only the gale answered him.

Again and again he called, but no voice replied.  Once more he rushed into the cave, seized his rifle and fired a shot into the air.

"Crack-crack," two bullets spat against the rock over his head.

"Hold on there, you fool!" yelled Cameron, dodging back behind the rock.  "What are you shooting at?  Hello there!"  Still there was no reply.

Long he waited till, desperate with anxiety lest his unknown visitors should abandon him, he ran forward once more beyond the ledge of the rock, shouting, "Hello!  Hello!  Don't shoot!  I'm coming out to you."

At the turn of the rocky ledge he paused, concentrating his powers to catch some sound other than the dull boom and hiss of the blizzard.  Suddenly at his side something moved.

"Put up your hands, quick!"

A dark shape, with arm thrust straight before it, loomed through the drift of snow.

"Oh, I say--" began Cameron.

"Quick!" said the voice, with a terrible oath, "or I drop you where you stand."

"All right!" said Cameron, lifting up his hands with his rifle high above his head.  "But hurry up!  I can't stand this long.  I am nearly frozen as it is."

The man came forward, still covering him with his pistol.  He ran his free hand over Cameron's person.

"How many of you?" he asked, in a voice sharp and crisp.

"I am all alone.  But hurry up!  I am about all in."

"Lead on to your fire!" said the stranger.  "But if you want to live, no monkey work.  I've got you lined."

Cameron led the way to the fire.  The stranger threw a swift glance around the cave, then, with eyes still holding Cameron, he whistled shrilly on his fingers.  Almost immediately, it seemed to Cameron, there came into the light another man who proved to be an Indian, short, heavily built, with a face hideously ugly and rendered more repulsive by the small, red-rimmed, blood-shot eyes that seemed to Cameron to peer like gimlets into his very soul.

At a word of command the Indian possessed himself of Cameron's rifle and stood at the entrance.

"Now," said the stranger, "talk quick.  Who are you?  How did you come here?  Quick and to the point."

"I am a surveyor," said Cameron briefly.  "McIvor's gang.  I was left at camp to cook, saw a deer, wounded it, followed it up, lost my way, the storm caught me, but, thank God, I found this cave, and with my last match lit the fire.  I was trying to cook my venison when I heard you coming."

The grey-brown eyes of the stranger never left Cameron's face while he was speaking.

"You're a liar!" he said with cold insolence when Cameron had finished his tale.  "You look to me like a blank blank horse thief or whiskey trader."

Faint as he was with cold and hunger, the deliberate insolence of the man stirred Cameron to sudden rage.  The blood flooded his pale face.

"You coward!" he cried in a choking voice, gathering himself to spring at the man's throat.

But the stranger only laughed and, stepping backward, spoke a word to the Indian behind him.  Before he could move Cameron found himself covered by the rifle with the malignant eye of the Indian behind it.

"Hold on, Little Thunder, drop it!" said the stranger with a slight laugh.

Reluctantly the rifle came down.

"All right, Mr. Surveyor," said the stranger with a good-natured laugh.  "Pardon my abruptness.  I was merely testing you.  One cannot be too careful in these parts nowadays when the woods are full of horse thieves and whiskey runners.  Oh, come on," he continued, glancing at Cameron's face, "I apologise.  So you're lost, eh?  Hungry too?  Well, so am I, and though I was not going to feed just yet we may as well grub together.  Bring the cattle into shelter here," he said to Little Thunder.  "They will stand right enough.  And get busy with the grub."

The Indian grunted a remonstrance.

"Oh, that's all right," replied the stranger.  "Hand it over."  He took Cameron's rifle from the Indian and set it in the corner. "Now get a move on!  We have no time to waste."

So saying he hurried out himself into the storm.  In a few minutes Cameron could hear the blows of an axe, and soon the stranger appeared with a load of dry wood with which he built up a blazing fire.  He was followed shortly by the Indian, who from a sack drew out bacon, hardtack, and tea, and, with cooking utensils produced from another sack, speedily prepared supper.

"Pile in," said the stranger to Cameron, passing him the pan in which the bacon and venison had been fried.  "Pass the tea, Little Thunder.  No time to waste.  We've got to hustle."

Cameron was only too eager to obey these orders, and in the generous warmth of the big fire and under the stimulus of the boiling tea his strength and nerve began to come back to him.

For some minutes he was too intent on satisfying his ravenous hunger to indulge in conversation with his host, but as his hunger became appeased he began to give his attention to the man who had so mysteriously blown in upon him out of the blizzard.  There was something fascinating about the lean, clean-cut face with its firm lines about the mouth and chin and its deep set brown-grey eyes that glittered like steel or shone like limpid pools of light according to the mood of the man.  They were extraordinary eyes. Cameron remembered them like dagger points behind the pistol and then like kindly lights in a dark window when he had smiled.  Just now as he sat eating with eager haste the eyes were staring forward into the fire out of deep sockets, with a far-away, reminiscent, kindly look in them.  The lumberman's heavy skin-lined jacket and the overalls tucked into boots could not hide the athletic lines of the lithe muscular figure.  Cameron looked at his hands with their long, sinewy fingers.  "The hands of a gentleman," thought he. "What is his history?  And where does he come from?"

"London's my home," said the stranger, answering Cameron's mental queries.  "Name, Raven--Richard Colebrooke Raven--Dick for short; rancher, horse and cattle trader; East Kootenay; at present running in a stock of goods and horses; and caught like yourself in this beastly blizzard."

"My name's Cameron, and I'm from Edinburgh a year ago," replied Cameron briefly.

"Edinburgh?  Knew it ten years ago.  Quiet old town, quaint folk. Never know what they are thinking about you."

Cameron smiled.  How well he remembered the calm, detached, critical but uncurious gaze with which the dwellers of the modern Athens were wont to regard mere outsiders.

"I know," he said.  "I came from the North myself."

The stranger had apparently forgotten him and was gazing steadily into the fire.  Suddenly, with extraordinary energy, he sprang from the ground where he had been sitting.

"Now," he cried, "en avant!"

"Where to?" asked Cameron, rising to his feet.

"East Kootenay, all the way, and hustle's the word."

"Not me," said Cameron.  "I must get back to my camp.  If you will kindly leave me some grub and some matches I shall be all right and very much obliged.  McIvor will be searching for me to-morrow."

"Ha!" burst forth the stranger in vehement expletive.  "Searching for you, heh?"  He stood for a few moments in deep thought, then spoke to the Indian a few words in his own language.  That individual, with a fierce glance towards Cameron, grunted a gruff reply.

"No, no," said Raven, also glancing at Cameron.  Again the Indian spoke, this time with insistent fierceness.  "No! no! you cold- blooded devil," replied the trader.  "No!  But," he added with emphasis, "we will take him with us.  Pack!  Here, bring in coat, mitts, socks, Little Thunder.  And move quick, do you hear?"  His voice rang out in imperious command.

Little Thunder, growling though he might, no longer delayed, but dived into the storm and in a few moments returned bearing a bag from which he drew the articles of clothing desired.

"But I am not going with you," said Cameron firmly.  "I cannot desert my chief this way.  It would give him no end of trouble. Leave me some matches and, if you can spare it, a little grub, and I shall do finely."

"Get these things on," replied Raven, "and quit talking.  Don't be a fool! we simply can't leave you behind.  If you only knew the alternative, you'd--"

Cameron glanced at the Indian.  The eager fierce look on that hideous face startled him.

"We will send you back all safe in a few days," continued the trader with a smile.  "Come, don't delay!  March is the word."

"I won't go!" said Cameron resolutely.  "I'll stay where I am."

"All right, you fool!" replied Raven with a savage oath.  "Take your medicine then."

He nodded to the Indian.  With a swift gleam of joy in his red-rimmed eyes the Indian reached swiftly for Cameron's rifle.

"No, too much noise," said Raven, coolly finishing the packing.

A swift flash of a knife in the firelight, and the Indian hurled himself upon the unsuspecting Cameron.  But quick as was the attack Cameron was quicker.  Gripping the Indian's uplifted wrist with his left hand, he brought his right with terrific force upon the point of his assailant's chin.  The Indian spun round like a top and pitched out into the dark.

"Neatly done!" cried the trader with a great oath and a laugh. "Hold on, Little Thunder!" he continued, as the Indian reappeared, knife in hand, "He'll come now.  Quiet, you beast!  Ah-h-h!  Would you?"  He seized by the throat and wrist the Indian, who, frothing with rage and snarling like a wild animal, was struggling to reach Cameron again.  "Down, you dog!  Do you hear me?"

With a twist of his arms he brought the Indian to his knees and held him as he might a child.  Quite suddenly the Indian grew still.

"Good!" said Raven.  "Now, no more of this.  Pack up."

Without a further word or glance at Cameron, Little Thunder gathered up the stuff and vanished.

"Now," continued the trader, "you perhaps see that it would be wise for you to come along without further delay."

"All right," said Cameron, trembling with indignant rage, "but remember, you'll pay for this."

The trader smiled kindly upon him.

"Better get these things on," he said, pointing to the articles of clothing upon the cave floor.  "The blizzard is gathering force and we have still some hours to ride.  But," he continued, stepping close to Cameron and looking him in the eyes, "there must be no more nonsense.  You can see my man is somewhat short in temper; and indeed mine is rather brittle at times."

For a single instant a smile curled the firm lips and half closed the steely eyes of the speaker, and, noting the smile and the steely gleam in the grey-brown eyes, Cameron hastily decided that he would no longer resist.

Warmed and fed and protected against the blizzard, but with his heart full of indignant wrath, Cameron found himself riding on a wretched cayuse before the trader whose horse could but dimly be seen through the storm, but which from his antics appeared to be possessed of a thousand demons.

"Steady, Nighthawk, old boy!  We'll get 'em moving after a bit," said his master, soothing the kicking beast.  "Aha, that was just a shade violent," he remonstrated, as the horse with a scream rushed open mouthed at a blundering pony and sent him scuttling forward in wild terror after the bunch already disappearing down the trail, following Little Thunder upon his broncho.

The blizzard was now in their back and, though its force was thereby greatly lessened, the black night was still thick with whirling snow and the cold grew more intense every moment.  Cameron could hardly see his pony's ears, but, loping easily along the levels, scrambling wildly up the hills, and slithering recklessly down the slopes, the little brute followed without pause the cavalcade in front.  How they kept the trail Cameron could not imagine, but, with the instinct of their breed, the ponies never faltered.  Far before in the black blinding storm could be heard the voice of Little Thunder, rising and falling in a kind of singing chant, a chant which Cameron was afterwards to know right well.

     "Kai-yai, hai-yah!  Hai!  Hai!!  Hai!!!
      Kai-yai, hai-yah!  Hai!  Hai!!  Hai!!!"

Behind him came the trader, riding easily his demon-spirited broncho, and singing in full baritone the patriotic ode dear to Britishers the world over:

     "Three cheers for the red, white and blue!
      Three cheers for the red, white and blue!
         The army and navy for ever,
      Three cheers for the red, white and blue!"

As Cameron went pounding along through the howling blizzard, half asleep upon his loping, scrambling, slithering pony, with the "Kai- yai, hai-yah" of Little Thunder wailing down the storm from before him and the martial notes of the trader behind him demanding cheers for Her Majesty's naval and military forces, he seemed to himself to be in the grip of some ghastly nightmare which, try as he might, he was unable to shake off.

The ghastly unreality of the nightmare was dispelled by the sudden halt of the bunch of ponies in front.

"All off!" cried the trader, riding forward upon his broncho, which, apparently quite untired by the long night ride, danced forward through the bunch gaily biting and slashing as he went. "All off!  Get them into the 'bunk-house' there, Little Thunder. Come along, Mr. Cameron, we have reached our camp.  Take off the bridle and blanket and let your pony go."

Cameron did as he was told, and guided by the sound of the trader's voice made his way to a low log building which turned out to be the deserted "grub-house" of an old lumber camp.

"Come along," cried the trader heartily.  "Welcome to Fifty Mile Camp.  Its accommodation is somewhat limited, but we can at least offer you a bunk, grub, and fire, and these on a night like this are not to be despised."  He fumbled around in the dark for a few moments and found and lit a candle stuck in an empty bottle. "There," he cried in a tone of genial hospitality and with a kindly smile, "get a fire on here and make yourself at home.  Nighthawk demands my attention for the present.  Don't look so glum, old boy," he added, slapping Cameron gaily on the back.  "The worst is over."  So saying, he disappeared into the blizzard, singing at the top of his voice in the cheeriest possible tones:

     "The army and navy for ever,
        Three cheers for the red, white and blue!"

and leaving Cameron sorely perplexed as to what manner of man this might be; who one moment could smile with all the malevolence of a fiend and again could welcome him with all the generous and genial hospitality he might show to a loved and long-lost friend.

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