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Corporal Cameron

The horror of the day followed Cameron through the night and awoke with him next morning.  Every time his eyes found the Indian his teeth came together in a grinding rage as he repeated his vow, "Some day I shall bring you to justice.  So help me God!"

Against Raven somehow he could not maintain the same heat of rage. That he was a party to the murder of the Stonies there was little reason to doubt, but as all next day they lay in the sunny glade resting the ponies, or went loping easily along the winding trails making ever towards the Southwest, the trader's cheerful face, his endless tales, and his invincible good humour stole from Cameron's heart, in spite of his firm resolve, the fierceness of his wrath. But the resolve was none the less resolute that one day he would bring this man to justice.

As they journeyed on, the woods became more open and the trees larger.  Mid-day found them resting by a little lake, from which a stream flowed into the upper reaches of the Columbia River.

"We shall make the Crow's Nest trail by to-morrow night," said Raven, "where we shall part; not to your very great sorrow, I fancy, either."

The evening before Cameron would have said, "No, but to my great joy," and it vexed him that he could not bring himself to say so to-day with any great show of sincerity.  There was a charm about this man that he could not resist.

"And yet," continued Raven, allowing his eyes to rest dreamily upon the lake, "in other circumstances I might have found in you an excellent friend, and a most rare and valuable find that is."

"That it is!" agreed Cameron, thinking of his old football captain, "but one cannot make friends with a--"

"It is an ugly word, I know," said Raven.  "But, after all, what is a bunch of furs more or less to those Indians?"

"Furs?" exclaimed Cameron in horror.  "What are the lives of these men?"

"Oh," replied Raven carelessly, "these Indians are always getting killed one way or another.  It is all in the day's work with them. They pick each other off without query or qualm.  Besides, Little Thunder has a grudge of very old standing against the Stonies, whom he heartily despises, and he doubtless enjoys considerable satisfaction from the thought that he has partially paid it.  It will be his turn next, like as not, for they won't let this thing sleep.  Or perhaps mine!" he added after a pause.  "The man is doubtless on the trail at this present minute who will finally get me."

"Then why expose yourself to such a fate?" said Cameron.  "Surely in this country a man can live an honest life and prosper."

"Honest life?  I doubt it!  What is an honest life?  Does any Indian trader lead an honest life?  Do the Hudson Bay traders, or I. G. Baker's people, or any of them do the honest thing by the Indian they trade with?  In the long run it is a question of the police.  What escapes the police is honest.  The crime, after all, is in getting caught."

"Oh, that is too old!" said Cameron.  "You know you are talking rot."

"Quite right!  It is rot," assented Raven.  "The whole business is rot.  'Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher.'  Oh, I know the Book, you see.  I was not born a--a--an outlaw."  The grey-brown eyes had in them a wistful look.  "Bah!" he exclaimed, springing to his feet and shaking himself.  "The sight of your Edinburgh face and the sound of your Edinburgh speech and your old country ways and manners have got on my recollection works, and I believe that accounts for you being alive to-day, old man."

He whistled to his horse.  Nighthawk came trotting and whinneying to him.

"I have one friend in the world, old boy," he said, throwing his arm over the black, glossy neck and searching his pocket for a biscuit.  "And even you," he added bitterly, "I fear do not love me for naught."

Saddling his horse, he mounted and calling Little Thunder to him said:

"Take the bunch on as far as the Big Canyon and wait there for me. I am going back a bit.  It is better to be sure than sorry. Cameron, your best route lies with us.  Your twenty-four hours' parole is already up.  To-morrow, perhaps to-night, I shall put you on the Macleod trail.  You are a free man, but don't try to make any breaks when I am gone.  My friend here is extremely prompt with his weapons.  Farewell!  Get a move on, Little Thunder!  Cameron will bring up the rear."

He added some further words in the Indian tongue, his voice taking a stern tone.  Little Thunder grunted a surly and unwilling acquiescence, and, waving his hand to Cameron, the trader wheeled his horse up the trail.

In spite of himself Cameron could not forbear a feeling of pity and admiration as he watched the lithe, upright figure swaying up the trail, his every movement in unison with that of the beautiful demon he bestrode.  But with all his pity and admiration he was none the less resolved that he would do what in him lay to bring these two to justice.

"This ugly devil at least shall swing!" he said to himself as he turned his eyes upon Little Thunder getting his pack ponies out upon the trail.  This accomplished, the Indian, pointing onward, said gruffly,

"You go in front--me back."

"Not much!" cried Cameron.  "You heard the orders from your chief. You go in front.  I bring up the rear.  I do not know the trail."

"Huh!  Trail good," grunted Little Thunder, the red-rimmed eyes gleaming malevolently.  "You go front--me back."  He waved his hand impatiently toward the trail.  Following the direction of his hand, Cameron's eyes fell upon the stock of his own rifle protruding from a pack upon one of the ponies.  For a moment the protruding stock held his eyes fascinated.

"Huh!" said the Indian, noting Cameron's glance, and slipping off his pony.  In an instant both men were racing for the pack and approaching each other at a sharp angle.  Arrived at striking distance, the Indian leaped at Cameron, with his knife, as was his wont, ready to strike.

The appearance of the Indian springing at him seemed to set some of the grey matter in Cameron's brain moving along old tracks.  Like a flash he dropped to his knees in an old football tackle, caught the Indian by the legs and tossed him high over his shoulders, then, springing to his feet, he jerked the rifle free from the pack and stood waiting for Little Thunder's attack.

But the Indian lay without sound or motion.  Cameron used his opportunity to look for his cartridge belt, which, after a few minutes' anxious search, he discovered in the pack.  He buckled the belt about him, made sure his Winchester held a shell, and stood waiting.

That he should be waiting thus with the deliberate purpose of shooting down a fellow human being filled him with a sense of unreality.  But the events of the last forty-eight hours had created an entirely new environment, and with extraordinary facility his mind had adjusted itself to this environment, and though two days before he would have shrunk in horror from the possibility of taking a human life, he knew as he stood there that at the first sign of attack he should shoot the Indian down like a wild beast.

Slowly Little Thunder raised himself to a sitting posture and looked about in dazed surprise.  As his mind regained its normal condition there deepened in his eyes a look of cunning hatred. With difficulty he rose to his feet and stood facing Cameron. Cameron waited quietly, watching his every move.

"You go in front!" at length commanded Cameron.  "And no nonsense, mind you," he added, tapping his rifle, "or I shoot quick."

The Indian might not have understood all Cameron's words, but he was in no doubt as to his meaning.  It was characteristic of his race that he should know when he was beaten and stoically accept defeat for the time being.  Without further word or look he led off his pack ponies, while Cameron took his place at the rear.

But progress was slow.  Little Thunder was either incapable of rapid motion or sullenly indifferent to any necessity for it. Besides, there was no demoniacal dynamic forcing the beasts on from the rear.  They had not been more than three hours on the trail when Cameron heard behind him the thundering of hoofs.  Glancing over his shoulder, he saw coming down upon him Raven, riding as if pursued by a thousand demons.  The condition of his horse showed that the race had been long and hard; his black satin skin was dripping as if he had come through a river, his eyes were bloodshot and starting from his head, his mouth was wide open and from it in large clots the foam had fallen upon his neck and chest.

Past Cameron and down upon Little Thunder Raven rushed like a whirlwind, yelling with wild oaths the while,

"Get on! Get on!  What are you loafing about here for?"

A few vehement directions to the Indian and he came thundering back upon Cameron.

"What have you been doing?" he cried with an oath.  "Why are you not miles on?  Get on!  Move!  Move!!  Move!!!"  At every yell he hurled his frenzied broncho upon the ponies which brought up the rear, and in a few minutes had the whole cavalcade madly careering down the sloping trail.  Wilder and wilder grew the pace.  Turning a sharp corner round a jutting rock a pack pony stumbled and went crashing fifty feet to the rock below.  "On!  On!" yelled Raven, emptying his gun into the struggling animal as he passed.  More and more difficult became the road until at length it was impossible to keep up the pace.

"We cannot make it!  We cannot make it!" muttered Raven with bitter oaths.  "Oh, the cursed fools!  Another two miles would do it!"

At length they came to a spot where the trail touched a level bench.

"Halt!" yelled the trader, as he galloped to the head of the column.  A few minutes he spent in rapid and fierce consultation with Little Thunder and then came raging back.  "We are going to get this bunch down into the valley there," he shouted, pointing to the thick timber at the bottom.  "I do not expect your help, but I ask you to remain where you are for the present.  And let me assure you this is no moment for trifling."

With extraordinary skill and rapidity Little Thunder managed to lead first the pack ponies and then the others, one by one, at intervals, off the trail as they went onward, taking infinite pains to cover their tracks at the various points of departure.  While this was being done the trader stood shouting directions and giving assistance with a fury of energy that seemed to communicate itself to the very beasts.  But the work was one of great difficulty and took many minutes to accomplish.

"Half an hour more, just half an hour!  Fifteen minutes!" he kept muttering.  "Just a short fifteen minutes and all would be well."

As the last pony disappeared into the woods Raven turned to Cameron and with a smile said quietly,

"There, that's done.  Now you are free.  Here we part.  This is your trail.  It will take you to Macleod.  I am sorry, however, that owing to a change in circumstances for which I am not responsible I must ask you for that rifle."  With the swiftness of a flash of light he whipped his gun into Cameron's face.  "Don't move!" he said, still smiling.  "This gun of mine never fails. Quick, don't look round.  Yes, those hoof beats are our friends the police.  Quick!  It is your life or mine.  I'd hate to kill you, Cameron.  I give you one chance more."

There was no help for it, and Cameron, with his heart filled with futile fury, surrendered his rifle.

"Now ride in front of me a little way.  They have just seen us, but they don't know that we are aware of their presence.  Ride!  Ride! A little faster!"  Nighthawk rushed upon Cameron's lagging pony. "There, that's better."

A shout fell upon their ears.

"Go right along!" said Raven quietly.  "Only a few minutes longer, then we part.  I have greatly enjoyed your company."

Another shout.

"Aha!" said Raven, glancing round.  "It is, I verily believe it is my old friend Sergeant Crisp.  Only two of them, by Jove!  If we had only known we need not have hurried."

Another shout, followed by a bullet that sang over their heads.

"Ah, this is interesting--too interesting by half!  Well, here goes for you, sergeant!"  He wheeled as he spoke.  Turning swiftly in his saddle, Cameron saw him raise his rifle.

"Hold up, you devil!" he shouted, throwing his pony across the black broncho's track.

The rifle rang out, the police horse staggered, swayed, and pitched to the earth, bringing his rider down with him.

"Ah, Cameron, that was awkward of you," said Raven gently. "However, it is perhaps as well.  Goodbye, old man.  Tell the sergeant not to follow.  Trails hereabout are dangerous and good police sergeants are scarce.  Again farewell."  He swung his broncho off the trail and, waving his hand, with a smile, disappeared into the thick underbrush.

"Hold up your hands!" shouted the police officer, who had struggled upright and was now swaying on his feet and covering Cameron with his carbine.

"Hurry!  Hurry!" cried Cameron, springing from his pony and waving his hands wildly in the air.  "Come on.  You'll get him yet."

"Stand where you are and hold up your hands!" cried the sergeant.

Cameron obeyed, shouting meanwhile wrathfully, "Oh, come on, you bally fool!  You are losing him.  Come on, I tell you!"

"Keep your hands up or I shoot!" cried the sergeant sternly.

"All right," said Cameron, holding his hands high, "but for God's sake hurry up!"  He ran towards the sergeant as he spoke, with his hands still above his head.

"Halt!" shouted the sergeant, as Cameron came near.  "Constable Burke, arrest that man!"

"Oh, come, get it over," cried Cameron in a fury of passion. "Arrest me, of course, but if you want to catch that chap you'll have to hurry.  He cannot be far away."

"Ah, indeed, my man," said the sergeant pleasantly.  "He is not far away?"

"No, he's a murderer and a thief and you can catch him if you hurry."

"Ah!  Very good, very good!  Constable Burke, tie this man up to your saddle and we'll take a look round.  How many might there be in your gang?" enquired the sergeant.  "Tell the truth now.  It will be the better for you."

"One," said Cameron impatiently.  "A chap calling himself Raven."

"Raven, eh?" exclaimed Sergeant Crisp with a new interest.  "Raven, by Jove!"

"Yes, and an Indian.  Little Thunder he called him."

"Little Thunder!  Jove, what a find!" exclaimed the sergeant.

"Yes," continued Cameron eagerly.  "Raven is just ahead in the woods there alone and the Indian is further back with a bunch of ponies down in the river bottom."

"Oh, indeed!  Very interesting!  And so Raven is all alone in the scrub there, waiting doubtless to give himself up," said sergeant Crisp with fine sarcasm.  "Well, we are not yet on to your game, young man, but we will not just play up to that lead yet a while."

In vain Cameron raged and pleaded and stormed and swore, telling his story in incoherent snatches, to the intense amusement of Sergeant Crisp and his companion.  At length Cameron desisted, swallowing his rage as best he could.

"Now then, we shall move on.  The pass is not more than an hour away.  We will put this young man in safe keeping and return for Mr. Raven and his interesting friend."  For a moment he stood looking down upon his horse.  "Poor old chap!" he said.  "We have gone many a mile together on Her Majesty's errands.  If I have done my duty as faithfully as you have done yours I need not fear my record.  Take his saddle and bridle off, Burke.  We've got one of the gang.  Some day we shall come up with Mr. Raven himself."

"Yes," said Cameron with passionate bitterness.  "And that might be to-day if you had only listened to me.  Why, man," he shouted with reviving rage, "we three could take him even yet!"

"Ah!" said Sergeant Crisp, "so we could."

"You had him in your hands to-day," said Cameron, "but like a fool you let him go.  But some day, so help me God, I shall bring these murderers to justice."

"Ah!" said Sergeant Crisp again.  "Good!  Very good indeed!  Now, my man, march!"

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