"Impressive scene!" said a mocking voice in his ear.
Cameron started. A sudden feeling of repulsion seized him.
"Yes," he said gravely, "an impressive scene, in my eyes at least, and I should not wonder if in the eyes of God as well."
"Who knows?" said Raven gruffly, as they both turned back to the fire.
THE DULL RED STAIN
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, "White Cloud brother."
"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 quick." 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. Molasses 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 asked boldly.
Raven started. His eyes narrowed to two piercing points.
"Why? That's my business, my friend. I keep a flask to treat my guests occasionally. Have you any objection?"
"It is against the law, I understand, and mighty bad for the Indians."
"Against the law?" echoed Raven in childlike surprise. "You don't tell me!"
"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 fingers.
"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 talking 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 forget."
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 pack 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 continued to 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 beneath.
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 his brother.
"Have a drink, Cameron," said Raven, as he received his flask again.
"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." So saying he took from his pack another flask and laid it upon his pile.
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 flask.
The Indian with gleaming eyes threw on the pile some additional skins.
"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 flask.
"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 him.
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 Raven's feet.
"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. Take back these furs."
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 time.
"Come on!" cried Cameron again, laying his hand upon the nearest Indian. "Let's go to your camp. Take your furs. He is a thief, 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 only smiled.
"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 time."
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. We 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 pack.
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 hours. 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 their stuff sooner or later. Why not I? Come, cheer up. You are jolly 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 your 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 unhurt.
"What does that mean?" again asked Cameron, weak and sick with horror.
"Mount!" yelled Raven with a terrible oath and flourishing a revolver in his hand. "Mount quick!" His face was pale, his eyes burned with a fierce glare, while his voice rang with the blast of a bugle.
"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 white pony.
Cameron turned his eyes upon the pony and stood transfixed with horror.
"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.
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."
"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!"
A DAY IN THE MACLEOD BARRACKS
"What's this, Sergeant Crisp?" The Commissioner, a tall, slight, and soldier-like man, keen-eyed and brisk of speech, rapped out his words like a man intent on business.
"One of a whiskey gang, Sir. Dick Raven's, I suspect."
"And the charge?"
"Whiskey trading, theft, and murder."
The Commissioner's face grew grave.
"Murder? Where did you find him?"
"Kootenay trail, Sir. Got wind of him at Calgary, followed up the clue past Morleyville, then along the Kootenay trail. A blizzard came on and we feared we had lost them. We fell in with a band of Stony Indians, found that the band had been robbed and two of their number murdered."
"Two murdered?" The Commissioner's voice was stern.
"Yes, Sir. Shot down in cold blood. We have the testimony of an eye witness. We followed the trail and came upon two of them. My horse was shot. One of them escaped; this man we captured."
The Commissioner sat pondering. Then with disconcerting swiftness he turned upon the prisoner.
"I was working in McIvor's survey camp near Morleyville. I went out shooting, lost my way in a blizzard, was captured by a man who called himself Raven—"
"Wait!" said the Commissioner sharply. "Bring me that file!"
The orderly brought a file from which the Commissioner selected a letter. His keen eyes rapidly scanned the contents and then ran over the prisoner from head to foot. Thereupon, without a moment's hesitation, he said curtly:
"Release the prisoner!"
"But, Sir—" began Sergeant Crisp, with an expression of utter bewilderment and disgust upon his face.
"Release the prisoner!" repeated the Commissioner sharply. "Mr. Cameron, I deeply regret this mistake. Under the circumstances it could hardly have been avoided. You were in bad company, you see. I am greatly pleased that my men have been of service to you. We shall continue to do all we can for you. In the meantime I am very pleased to have the pleasure of meeting you." He passed the letter to Sergeant Crisp. "I have information about you from Morleyville, you see. Now tell us all about it."
It took Cameron some moments to recover his wits, so dumbfounded was he at the sudden change in his condition.
"Well, Sir," he began, "I hardly know what to say."
"Sit down, sit down, Mr. Cameron. Take your time," said the Commissioner. "We are somewhat hurried these days, but you must have had some trying experiences."
Then Cameron proceeded with his tale. The Commissioner listened with keen attention, now and then arresting him with a question or a comment. When Cameron came to tell of the murder of the Stonies his voice shook with passion.
"We will get that Indian some day," said the Commissioner, "never fear. What is his name?"
"Little Thunder, Raven called him. And I would like to take a hand in that too, Sir," said Cameron eagerly.
"You would, eh?" said the Commissioner with a sharp look at him. "Well, we'll see. Little Thunder," he repeated to himself. "Bring that Record Book!"
The orderly laid a large canvas-covered book before him.
"Little Thunder, eh?" he repeated, turning the leaves of the book. "Oh, yes, I thought so! Blood Indian—formerly Chief—supplanted by Red Crow—got into trouble with whiskey traders. Yes, I remember. He is at his old tricks. This time, however, he has gone too far. We will get him. Go on, Mr. Cameron!"
When Cameron had concluded his story the Commissioner said to the orderly sharply:
"Send me Inspector Dickson!"
In a few moments Inspector Dickson appeared, a tall, slight man, with a gentle face and kindly blue eyes.
"Inspector Dickson, how are we for men? Can you spare two or three to round up a gang of whiskey traders and to run down a murderer? We are on the track of Raven's bunch, I believe."
"We are very short-handed at present, Sir. This half-breed trouble in the north is keeping our Indians all very restless. We must keep in touch with them."
"Yes, yes, I know. By the way, how are the Bloods just now?"
"They are better, Sir, but the Blackfeet are restless and uneasy. There are a lot of runners from the east among them."
"How is old Crowfoot behaving?"
"Crowfoot himself is apparently all right so far, but of course no man can tell what Crowfoot is thinking."
"That's right enough," replied the Commissioner.
"By the way, Sir, it was Crowfoot's son that got into that trouble last night with that Macleod man. The old Chief is in town, too, in fact is outside just now and quite worked up over the arrest."
"Well, we will settle this Crowfoot business in a few minutes. Now, about this Raven gang. You cannot go yourself with a couple of men? He is an exceedingly clever rascal."
The Inspector enumerated the cases immediately pressing.
"Well then, at the earliest possible moment we must get after this gang. Keep this in mind, Inspector Dickson. That Indian I consider an extremely dangerous man. He is sure to be mixed up with this half-breed trouble. He has very considerable influence with a large section of the Bloods. I shouldn't be surprised if we should find him on their reserve before very long. Now then, bring in young Crowfoot!"
The Inspector saluted and retired, followed by Sergeant Crisp, whose face had not yet regained its normal expression.
"Mr. Cameron," said the Commissioner, "if you care to remain with me for the morning I shall be glad to have you. The administration of justice by the police may prove interesting to you. Later on we shall discuss your return to your camp."
Cameron expressed his delight at being permitted to remain in the court room, not only that he might observe the police methods of administering justice, but especially that he might see something of the great Blackfeet Chief, Crowfoot, of whom he had heard much since his arrival in the West.
In a few minutes Inspector Dickson returned, followed by a constable leading a young Indian, handcuffed. With these entered Jerry, the famous half-breed interpreter, and last of all the father of the prisoner, old Crowfoot, tall, straight, stately. One swift searching glance the old Chief flung round the room, and then, acknowledging the Commissioner's salute with a slight wave of the hand and a grunt, and declining the seat offered him, he stood back against the wall and there viewed the proceedings with an air of haughty defiance.
The Commissioner lost no time in preliminaries. The charge was read and explained to the prisoner. The constable made his statement. The young Indian had got into an altercation with a citizen of Macleod, and on being hard pressed had pulled the pistol which was laid upon the desk. There was no defense. The interpreter, however, explained, after conversation with the prisoner, that drink was the cause. At this point the old Chief's face swiftly changed. Defiance gave place to disgust, grief, and rage.
The Commissioner, after carefully eliciting all the facts, gave the prisoner an opportunity to make a statement. This being declined, the Commissioner proceeded gravely to point out the serious nature of the offense, to emphasize the sacredness of human life and declare the determination of the government to protect all Her Majesty's subjects, no matter what their race or the colour of their skin. He then went on to point out the serious danger which the young man had so narrowly escaped.
"Why, man," exclaimed the Commissioner, "you might have committed murder."
Here the young fellow said something to the interpreter. There was a flicker of a smile on the half-breed's face.
"He say dat pistol he no good. He can't shoot. He not loaded."
The Commissioner's face never changed a line. He gravely turned the pistol over in his hand, and truly enough the rusty weapon appeared to be quite innocuous except to the shooter.
"This is an extremely dangerous weapon. Why, it might have killed yourself—if it had been loaded. We cannot allow this sort of thing. However, since it was not loaded we shall make the sentence light. I sentence you to one month's confinement."
The interpreter explained the sentence to the young Indian, who received the explanation without the movement of a muscle or the flicker of an eyelid. The constable touched him on the shoulder and said, "Come!"
Before he could move old Crowfoot with two strides stood before the constable, and waving him aside with a gesture of indescribable dignity, took his son in his arms and kissed him on either cheek. Then, stepping back, he addressed him in a voice grave, solemn, and vibrant with emotion. Jerry interpreted to the Court.
"I have observed the big Chief. This is good medicine. It is good that wrong should suffer. All good men are against wickedness. My son, you have done foolishly. You have darkened my eyes. You have covered my face before my people. They will ask—where is your son? My voice will be silent. My face will be covered with shame. I shall be like a dog kicked from the lodge. My son, I told you to go only to the store. I warned you against bad men and bad places. Your ears were closed, you were wiser than your father. Now we both must suffer, you here shut up from the light of the sky, I in my darkened lodge. But," he continued, turning swiftly upon the Commissioner, "I ask my father why these bad men who sell whiskey to the poor Indian are not shut up with my son. My son is young. He is like the hare in the woods. He falls easily into the trap. Why are not these bad men removed?" The old Chief's face trembled with indignant appeal.
"They shall be!" said the Commissioner, smiting the desk with his fist. "This very day!"
"It is good!" continued the old Chief with great dignity. Then, turning again to his son, he said, and his voice was full of grave tenderness:
"Now, go to your punishment. The hours will be none too long if they bring you wisdom." Again he kissed his son on both cheeks and, without a look at any other, stalked haughtily from the room.
"Inspector Dickson," sharply commanded the Commissioner, "find out the man that sold that whiskey and arrest him at once!"
Cameron was profoundly impressed with the whole scene. He began to realise as never before the tremendous responsibilities that lay upon those charged with the administration of justice in this country. He began to understand, too, the secret of the extraordinary hold that the Police had upon the Indian tribes and how it came that so small a force could maintain the "Pax Britannica" over three hundred thousand square miles of unsettled country, the home of hundreds of wild adventurers and of thousands of savage Indians, utterly strange to any rule or law except that of their own sweet will.
"This police business is a big affair," he ventured to say to the Commissioner when the court room was cleared. "You practically run the country."
"Well," said the Commissioner modestly, "we do something to keep the country from going to the devil. We see that every man gets a fair show."
"It is great work!" exclaimed Cameron.
"Yes, I suppose it is," replied the Commissioner. "We don't talk about it, of course. Indeed, we don't think of it. But," he continued, "that blue book there could tell a story that would make the old Empire not too ashamed of the men who 'ride the line' and patrol the ranges in this far outpost." He opened the big canvas-bound book as he spoke and turned the pages over. "Look at that for a page," he said, and Cameron glanced over the entries. What a tale they told!
"Yes," said the Commissioner, "that saved a settler's wife and child—a prairie fire. The house was lost, but the constable pulled them out and got rather badly burned in the business."
Cameron's finger ran down the page.
"Sick man transported to Post."
"That," commented the Superintendent, "was a journey of over two hundred miles by dog sleighs in winter. Saved the man's life."
And so the record ran. "Cattle thieves arrested." "Whiskey smugglers captured." "Stolen horses recovered." "Insane man brought to Post."
"That was rather a tough case," said the Commissioner. "Meant a journey of some eight hundred miles with a man, a powerful man too, raving mad."
"How many of your men on that journey?" enquired Cameron.
"Oh, just one. The fellow got away twice, but was recaptured and finally landed. Got better too. But the constable was all broken up for weeks afterwards."
"Man, that was great!" exclaimed Cameron. "What a pity it should not be known."
"Oh," said the Commissioner lightly, "it's all in the day's duty."
The words thrilled Cameron to the heart. "All in the day's duty!" The sheer heroism of it, the dauntless facing of Nature's grimmest terrors, the steady patience, the uncalculated sacrifice, the thought of all that lay behind these simple words held him silent for many minutes as he kept turning over the leaves.
As he sat thus turning the leaves and allowing his eye to fall upon those simple but eloquent entries, a loud and strident voice was heard outside.
"Waal, I tell yuh, I want to see him right naow. I ain't come two hundred miles for nawthin'. I mean business, I do."
The orderly's voice was heard in reply.
"I ain't got no time to wait. I want to see yer Chief of Police right naow."
Again the orderly's voice could be distinguished.
"In court, is he? Waal, you hurry up and tell him J. B. Cadwaller of Lone Pine, Montana, an American citizen, wants to see him right smart."
The orderly came in and saluted.
"A man to see you, Sir," he said. "An American."
"Horse-stealing case, Sir."
"Show him in!"
In a moment the orderly returned, followed by, not one, but three American citizens.
"Good-day, Jedge! My name's J. B. Cadwaller, Lone Pine, Montana. I—"
"Take your hat off in the court!" said the orderly sharply.
Mr. Cadwaller slowly surveyed the orderly with an expression of interested curiosity in his eyes, removing his hat as he did so.
"Say, you're pretty swift, ain't yuh? You might give a feller a show to git in his interductions," said Mr. Cadwaller. "I was jes goin' to interdooce to you, Jedge, these gentlemen from my own State, District Attorney Hiram S. Sligh and Mr. Rufus Raimes, rancher."
The Commissioner duly acknowledged the introduction, standing to receive the strangers with due courtesy.
"Now, Jedge, I want to see yer Chief of Police. I've got a case for him."
"I have the honor to be the Commissioner. What can I do for you?"
"Waal, Jedge, we don't want to waste no time, neither yours nor ours. The fact is some of yer blank blank Indians have been rustlin' hosses from us fer some time back. We don't mind a cayuse now and then, but when it comes to a hull bunch of vallable hosses there's where we kick and we ain't goin' to stand fer it. And we want them hosses re-stored. And what's more, we want them blank blank copper snakes strung up."
"How many horses have you lost?"
"How many? Jeerupiter! Thirty or forty fer all I know, they've been rustlin' 'em for a year back."
"Why didn't you report before?"
"Why we thought we'd git 'em ourselves, and if we had we wouldn't 'a troubled yuh—and I guess they wouldn't 'a troubled us much longer. But they are so slick—so blank slick!"
"Mr. Cadwaller, we don't allow any profanity in this court room," said the Commissioner in a quiet voice.
"Eh? Who's givin' yuh profanity? I don't mean no profanity. I'm talkin' about them blank blank—"
"Stop, Mr. Cadwaller!" said the Commissioner. "We must end this interview if you cannot make your statements without profanity. This is Her Majesty's court of Justice and we cannot tolerate any unbecoming language.
"Waal, I'll be—!"
"Pardon me, Mr. Commissioner," said Mr. Hiram S. Sligh, interrupting his friend and client. "Perhaps I may make a statement. We've lost some twenty or thirty horses."
"Thirty-one" interjected Mr. Raimes quietly.
"Thirty-one!" burst in Mr. Cadwaller indignantly. "That's only one little bunch."
"And," continued Mr. Sligh, "we have traced them right up to the Blood reserve. More than that, Mr. Raimes has seen the horses in the possession of the Indians and we want your assistance in recovering our property."
"Yes, by gum!" exclaimed Mr. Cadwaller. "And we want them—eh—eh—consarned redskin thieves strung up."
"You say you have seen the stolen horses on the Blood reserve, Mr. Raimes?" enquired the Commissioner.
Mr. Raimes, who was industriously chewing a quid of tobacco, ejected, with a fine sense of propriety and with great skill and accuracy, a stream of tobacco juice out of the door before he answered.
"I seen 'em."
"When did you lose your horses?"
Mr. Raimes considered the matter for some moments, chewing energetically the while, then, having delivered himself with the same delicacy and skill as before of his surplus tobacco juice, made laconic reply:
"Seventeen, no, eighteen days ago."
"Did you follow the trail immediately yourselves?"
"No, Jim Eberts."
"Foreman," said Mr. Raimes, who seemed to regard conversation in the light of an interference with the more important business in which he was industriously engaged.
"But you saw the horses yourself on the Blood reserve?"
"Followed up and seen 'em."
"How long since you saw them there, Mr. Raimes?"
"You are quite sure about the horses?"
"Call Inspector Dickson!" ordered the Commissioner.
Inspector Dickson appeared and saluted.
"We have information that a party of Blood Indians have stolen a band of horses from these gentlemen from Montana and that these horses are now on the Blood reserve. Take a couple of men and investigate, and if you find the horses bring them back."
"Couple of men!" ejaculated Mr. Cadwaller breathlessly. "A couple of hundred, you mean, General!"
"Why, to sur—raound them—there—Indians." The regulations of the court room considerably hampered Mr. Cadwaller's fluency of speech.
"It is not necessary at all, Mr. Cadwaller. Besides, we have only some eighty men all told at this post. Our whole force in the territories is less than five hundred men."
"Five hundred men! You mean for this State, General—Alberta?"
"No, Sir. For all Western Canada. All west of Manitoba."
"How much territory do you cover?" enquired the astonished Mr. Cadwaller.
"We regularly patrol some three hundred thousand square miles, besides taking an occasional expedition into the far north."
"And how many Indians?"
"About the same number as you have, I imagine, in Montana and Dakota. In Alberta, about nine thousand."
"And less than five hundred police! Say, General, I take off my hat. Ten thousand Indians! By the holy poker! And five hundred police! How in Cain do you keep down the devils?"
"We don't try to keep them down. We try to take care of them."
"Guess you've hit it," said Mr. Raimes, dexterously squirting out of the door.
"Jeerupiter! Say, General, some day they'll massacree yuh sure!" said Mr. Cadwaller, a note of anxiety in his voice.
"Oh, no, they are a very good lot on the whole."
"Good! We've got a lot of good Indians too, but they're all under graound. Five hundred men! Jeerupiter! Say, Sligh, how many soldiers does Uncle Sam have on this job?"
"Well, I can't say altogether, but in Montana and Dakota I happen to know we have about four thousand regulars."
"Say, figger that out, will yuh?" continued Mr. Cadwaller. "Allowed four times the territory, about the same number of Indians and about one-eighth the number of police. Say, General, I take off my hat again. Put it there! You Canucks have got the trick sure!"
"Easier to care for 'em than kill 'em, I guess," said Mr. Raimes casually.
"But, say, General," continued Mr. Cadwaller, "you ain't goin' to send for them hosses with no three men?"
"I'm afraid we cannot spare any more."
"Jeerupiter, General!" exclaimed Mr. Cadwaller. "I'll wait outside the reserve till this picnic's over. Say, General, let's have twenty-five men at least."
"What do you say, Inspector Dickson? Will two men be sufficient?"
"We'll try, Sir," replied the Inspector.
"How soon can you be ready?"
"In a quarter of an hour."
"Jeerupiter!" muttered Mr. Cadwaller to himself, as he followed the Inspector out of the room.
"I say, Commissioner, will you let me in on this thing?" said Cameron.
"Do you mean that you want to join the force?" enquired the Commissioner, letting his eye run approvingly up and down Cameron's figure.
"There is McIvor, Sir—" began Cameron.
"Oh, I could fix that all right," replied the Commissioner. "We want men, and we want men like you. We have no vacancy among the officers, but you could enlist as a constable and there is always opportunity to advance."
"It is a great service!" exclaimed Cameron. "I'd like awfully to join."
"Very well," said the Commissioner promptly, "we will take you. You are physically sound, wind, limb, eye-sight, and so forth?"
"As far as I know, perfectly fit," replied Cameron.
Once more Inspector Dickson was summoned.
"Inspector Dickson, Mr. Cameron wishes to join the force. We will have his application taken and filled in later, and we will waive examination for the present. Will you administer the oath?"
"Cameron, stand up!" commanded the Inspector sharply.
With a little thrill at his heart Cameron stood up, took the Bible in his hand and repeated after the Inspector the words of the oath,
"I, Allan Cameron, solemnly swear that I will faithfully, diligently, and impartially execute and perform the duties required of me as a member of the North West Mounted Police Force, and will well and truly obey and perform all lawful orders and instructions which I shall receive as such, without fear, favour, or affection of or toward any person. So help me, God."
"Now then, Cameron, I congratulate you upon your new profession. The Inspector will see about your outfit and later you will receive instructions as to your duties. Meantime, take him along with you, Inspector, and get those horses."
It was a somewhat irregular mode of procedure, but men were sorely needed at the Macleod post and the Commissioner had an eye that took in not only the lines of a man's figure but the qualities of his soul.
"That chap will make good, or I am greatly mistaken," he said to the Inspector as Cameron went off with the orderly to select his uniform.
"Well set up chap," said the Inspector. "We'll try him out to-night."
"Come now, don't kill him. Remember, other men have something else in them besides whalebone and steel, if you have not."
In half an hour the Inspector, Sergeant Crisp and Cameron, with the three American citizens, were on their way to the Blood reserve.
Cameron had been given a horse from the stable.
All afternoon and late into the evening they rode, then camped and were early upon the trail the following morning. Cameron was half dead with the fatigue from his experiences of the past week, but he would have died rather than have hinted at weariness. He was not a little comforted to notice that Sergeant Crisp, too, was showing signs of distress, while District Attorney Sligh was evidently in the last stages of exhaustion. Even the steel and whalebone combination that constituted the frame of the Inspector appeared to show some slight signs of wear; but all feeling of weariness vanished when the Inspector, who was in the lead, halted at the edge of a wide sweeping valley and, pointing far ahead, said, "The Blood reserve. Their camp lies just beyond that bluff."
"Say, Inspector, hold up!" cried Mr. Cadwaller as the Inspector set off again. "Ain't yuh goin' to sneak up on 'em like?"
"Sneak up on them? No, of course not," said the Inspector curtly. "We shall ride right in."
"Say, Raimes," said Mr. Cadwaller, "a hole would be a blame nice thing to find just now."
"Do you think there will be any trouble?" enquired Mr. Hiram Sligh of Sergeant Crisp.
"Trouble? Perhaps so," replied Crisp, as if to him it were a matter of perfect indifference.
"We'll never git them hosses," said Raimes. "But we've got to stay with the chief, I guess."
And so they followed Inspector Dickson down into the valley, where in the distance could be seen a number of horses and cattle grazing. They had not ridden far along the valley bottom when Mr. Cadwaller spurred up upon the Inspector and called out excitedly,
"I say, Inspector, them's our hosses right there. Say, let's run 'em off."
"Can you pick them out?" enquired the Inspector, turning in his saddle.
"Every last one!" said Raimes.
"Very well, cut them out and get them into a bunch," said the Inspector. "I see there are some Indians herding them apparently. Pay no attention to them, but go right along with your work."
"There's one of 'em off to give tongue!" cried Mr. Cadwaller excitedly. "Bring him down, Inspector! Bring him down! Quick! Here, let me have your rifle!" Hurriedly he snatched at the Inspector's carbine.
"Stop!" cried the Inspector in sharp command. "Now, attention! We are on a somewhat delicate business. A mistake might bring disaster. I am in command of this party and I must have absolute and prompt obedience. Mr. Cadwaller, it will be at your peril that you make any such move again. Let no man draw a gun until ordered by me! Now, then, cut out those horses and bunch them together!"
"Jeerupiter! He's a hull brigade himself," said Mr. Cadwaller in an undertone, dropping back beside Mr. Sligh. "Waal, here goes for the bunch."
But though both Mr. Cadwaller and Mr. Raimes, as well as Sergeant Crisp and the Inspector, were expert cattle men, it took some little time and very considerable manoeuvering to get the stolen horses bunched together and separated from the rest of the animals grazing in the valley, and by the time this was accomplished Indian riders had appeared on every side, gradually closing in upon the party. It was clearly impossible to drive off the bunch through that gradually narrowing cordon of mounted Indians without trouble.
"Now, what's to be done?" said Mr. Cadwaller, nervously addressing the Inspector.
"Forward!" cried the Inspector in a loud voice. "Towards the corral ahead there!"
This movement nonplussed the Indians and in silence they fell in behind the party who, going before, finally succeeded in driving the bunch of horses into the corral.
"Sergeant Crisp, you and Constable Cameron remain here on guard. I shall go and find the Chief. Here," he continued, addressing a young Indian brave who had ridden up quite close to the gate of the corral, "lead me to your Chief, Red Crow!"
The absence alike of all hesitation or fear, and of all bluster in his tone and bearing, apparently impressed the young brave, for he wheeled his pony and set off immediately at a gallop, followed by the Inspector at a more moderate pace.
Quickly the Indians gathered about the corral and the group at its gate. With every passing minute their numbers increased, and as their numbers increased so did the violence of their demonstration The three Americans were placed next the corral, Sergeant Crisp and Cameron being between them and the excited Indians. Cameron had seen Indians before about the trading posts. A shy, suspicious, and subdued lot of creatures they had seemed to him. But these were men of another breed, with their lean, lithe, muscular figures, their clean, copper skins, their wild fierce eyes, their haughty bearing. Those others were poor beggars seeking permission to exist; these were men, proud, fearless, and free.
"Jove, what a team one could pick out of the bunch!" said Cameron to himself, as his eye fell upon the clean bare limbs and observed their graceful motions. But to the Americans they were a hateful and fearsome sight. Indians with them were never anything but a menace to be held in check, or a nuisance to be got rid of.
Louder and louder grew the yells and wilder the gesticulations as the savages worked themselves up into a fury. Suddenly, through the yelling, careering, gesticulating crowd of Indians a young brave came tearing at full gallop and, thrusting his pony close up to the Sergeant's, stuck his face into the officer's and uttered a terrific war whoop. Not a line of the Sergeant's face nor a muscle of his body moved except that the near spur slightly touched his horse's flank and the fingers tightened almost imperceptibly upon the bridle rein. Like a flash of light the Sergeant's horse wheeled and with a fierce squeal let fly two wicked heels hard upon the pony's ribs. In sheer terror and surprise the little beast bolted, throwing his rider over his neck and finally to the ground. Immediately a shout of jeering laughter rose from the crowd, who greatly enjoyed their comrade's discomfiture. Except that the Sergeant's face wore a look of pleased surprise, he simply maintained his attitude of calm indifference. No other Indian, however, appeared ready to repeat the performance of the young brave.
At length the Inspector appeared, followed by the Chief, Red Crow.
"Tell your people to go away!" said the Inspector as they reached the corral. "They are making too much noise."
Red Crow addressed his braves at some length.
"Open the corral," ordered the Inspector, "and get those horses out on the trail."
For a few moments there was silence. Then, as the Indians perceived the purpose of the police, on every side there rose wild yells of protest and from every side a rush was made toward the corral. But Sergeant Crisp kept his horse on the move in a series of kicks and plunges that had the effect of keeping clear a wide circle about the corral gate.
"Touch your horse with the spur and hold him up tight," he said quietly to Cameron.
Cameron did so and at once his horse became seemingly as unmanageable as the Sergeant's, plunging, biting, kicking. The Indian ponies could not be induced to approach. The uproar, however, only increased. Guns began to go off, bullets could be heard whistling overhead. Red Crow's voice apparently could make no impression upon the maddened crowd of Indians. A minor Chief, White Horse by name, having whirled in behind the Sergeant, seized hold of Mr. Cadwaller's bridle and began to threaten him with excited gesticulations. Mr. Cadwaller drew his gun.
"Let go that line, you blank blank redskin!" he roared, flourishing his revolver.
In a moment, with a single plunge, the Inspector was at his side and, flinging off the Indian, shouted:
"Put up that gun, Mr. Cadwaller! Quick!" Mr. Cadwaller hesitated. "Sergeant Crisp, arrest that man!" The Inspector's voice rang out like a trumpet. His gun covered Mr. Cadwaller.
"Give me that gun!" said the Sergeant.
Mr. Cadwaller handed over his gun.
"Let him go," said the Inspector to Sergeant Crisp. "He will probably behave."
The Indians had gathered close about the group. White Horse, in the centre, was talking fast and furious and pointing to Mr. Cadwaller.
"Get the bunch off, Sergeant!" said the Inspector quietly. "I will hold them here for a few minutes."
Quietly the Sergeant backed out of the circle, leaving the Inspector and Mr. Cadwaller with White Horse and Red Crow in the midst of the crowding, yelling Indians.
"White Horse say this man steal Bull Back's horses last fall!" shouted Red Crow in the Inspector's ear.
"Too much noise here," said the Inspector, moving toward the Indian camp and away from the corral and drawing the crowd with him. "Tell your people to be quiet, Red Crow. I thought you were the Chief."
Stung by the taunt, Red Crow raised his rifle and fired into the air. Then, standing high in his stirrups, he held up his hand and called out a number of names. Instantly ten men rode to his side. Again Red Crow spoke. The ten men rode out again among the crowd. Immediately the shouting ceased.
"Good!" said the Inspector. "I see my brother is strong. Now, where is Bull Back?"
The Chief called out a name. There was no response.
"Bull Back not here," he said.
"Then listen, my brother," said the Inspector earnestly. "This man," pointing to Mr. Cadwaller, "waits with me at the Fort two days to meet White Horse, Bull Back, and any Indians who know about this man; and what is right will be done. I have spoken. Farewell!" He gave his hand to Chief Red Crow. "My brother knows," he added, "the Police do not lie."
So saying, he wheeled his horse and, with Mr. Cadwaller before him, rode off after the others of the party, who had by this time gone some distance up the trail.
For a few moments hesitation held the crowd, then with a loud cry White Horse galloped up and again seized Mr. Cadwaller's bridle. Instantly the Inspector covered him with his gun.
"Hold up your hands quick!" he said.
The Indian dropped the bridle rein. The Inspector handed his gun to Mr. Cadwaller.
"Don't shoot till I speak or I shoot you!" he said sternly. Mr. Cadwaller took the gun and covered the Indian. In a twinkling White Horse found himself with handcuffs on his wrists and his bridle line attached to the horn of the Inspector's saddle.
"Now give me that gun, Mr. Cadwaller, and here take your own—but wait for the word. Forward!"
He had not gone a pace till he was surrounded by a score of angry and determined Indians with levelled rifles. For the first time the Inspector hesitated. Through the line of levelled rifles Chief Red Crow rode up and in a grave but determined voice said:
"My brother is wrong. White Horse, chief. My young men not let him go."
"Good!" said the Inspector, promptly making up his mind. "I let him go now. In two days I come again and get him. The Police never lie."
So saying, he released White Horse and without further word, and disregarding the angry looks and levelled rifles, rode slowly off after his party. On the edge of the crowd he met Sergeant Crisp.
"Thought I'd better come back, Sir. It looked rather ugly for a minute," said the Sergeant.
"Ride on," said the Inspector. "We will get our man to-morrow. Steady, Mr. Cadwaller, not too fast." The Inspector slowed his horse down to a walk, which he gradually increased to an easy lope and so brought up with Cameron and the others.
Through the long evening they pressed forward till they came to the Kootenay River, having crossed which they ventured to camp for the night.
After supper the Inspector announced his intention of riding on to the Fort for reinforcements, and gave his instructions to the Sergeant.
"Sergeant Crisp," he said, "you will make an early start and bring in the bunch to-morrow morning. Mr. Cadwaller, you remember you are to remain at the Fort two days so that the charges brought by White Horse may be investigated."
"What?" exclaimed Mr. Cadwaller. "Wait for them blank blank devils? Say, Inspector, you don't mean that?"
"You heard me promise the Indians," said the Inspector.
"Why, yes. Mighty smart, too! But say, you were jest joshing, weren't you?"
"No, Sir," replied the Inspector. "The Police never break a promise to white man or Indian."
Then Mr. Cadwaller cut loose for a few moments. He did not object to waiting any length of time to oblige a friend, but that he should delay his journey to answer the charges of an Indian, variously and picturesquely described, was to him an unthinkable proposition.
"Sergeant Crisp, you will see to this," said the Inspector quietly as he rode away.
Then Mr. Cadwaller began to laugh and continued laughing for several minutes.
"By the holy poker, Sligh!" at last he exclaimed. "It's a joke. It's a regular John Bull joke."
"Yes," said Mr. Sligh, while he cut a comfortable chew from his black plug. "Good joke, too, but not on John. I guess that's how five hundred police hold down—no, take care of—twenty thousand redskins."
And the latest recruit to Her Majesty's North West Mounted Police straightened up till he could feel the collar of his tunic catch him on the back of the neck and was conscious of a little thrill running up his spine as he remembered that he was a member of that same force.
THE MAKING OF BRAVES
It was to Cameron an extreme satisfaction to ride with some twenty of his comrades behind White Horse, who, handcuffed and with bridle reins tied to those of two troopers, and accompanied by Chief Red Crow, Bull Back, and others of their tribe, made ignominious and crestfallen entry into the Fort next day. It was hardly less of a satisfaction to see Mr. Cadwaller exercise himself considerably in making defence against the charges of Bull Back and his friends. The defence was successful, and the American citizens departed to Lone Pine, Montana, with their recovered horses and with a new and higher regard for both the executive and administrative excellence of Her Majesty's North West Mounted Police officers and men. Chief Red Crow, too, returned to his band with a chastened mind, it having been made clear to him that a chief who could not control his young braves was not the kind of a chief the Great White Mother desired to have in command of her Indian subjects. White Horse, also, after three months sojourn in the cooling solitude of the Police guard room, went back to his people a humbler and a wiser brave.
The horse-stealing, however, went merrily on and the summer of 1884 stands in the records of the Police as the most trying period of their history in the Northwest up to that date. The booming upon the eastern and southern boundaries of Western Canada of the incoming tide of humanity, hungry for land, awakened ominous echoes in the little primitive settlements of half-breed people and throughout the reservations of the wild Indian tribes as well. Everywhere, without warning and without explanation, the surveyors' flags and posts made appearance. Wild rumours ran through the land, till every fluttering flag became the symbol of dispossession and every gleaming post an emblem of tyrannous disregard of a people's rights. The ancient aboriginal inhabitants of the western plains and woods, too, had their grievances and their fears. With phenomenal rapidity the buffalo had vanished from the plains once black with their hundreds of thousands. With the buffalo vanished the Indians' chief source of support, their food, their clothing, their shelter, their chief article of barter. Bereft of these and deprived at the same time of the supreme joy of existence, the chase, bitten with cold, starved with hunger, fearful of the future, they offered fertile soil for the seeds of rebellion. A government more than usually obsessed with stupidity, as all governments become at times, remained indifferent to appeals, deaf to remonstrances, blind to danger signals, till through the remote and isolated settlements of the vast west and among the tribes of Indians, hunger-bitten and fearful for their future, a spirit of unrest, of fear, of impatience of all authority, spread like a secret plague from Prince Albert to the Crow's Nest and from the Cypress Hills to Edmonton. A violent recrudescence of whiskey-smuggling, horse-stealing, and cattle-rustling made the work of administering the law throughout this vast territory one of exceeding difficulty and one calling for promptitude, wisdom, patience, and courage, of no ordinary quality. Added to all this, the steady advance of the railroad into the new country, with its huge construction camps, in whose wake followed the lawless hordes of whiskey smugglers, tinhorn gamblers, thugs, and harlots, very materially added to the dangers and difficulties of the situation for the Police.
For the first month after enlistment Cameron was kept in close touch with the Fort and spent his hours under the polishing hands of the drill sergeant. From five in the morning till ten at night the day's routine kept him on the grind. Hard work it was, but to Cameron a continuous delight. For the first time in his life he had a job that seemed worth a man's while, and one the mere routine of which delighted his soul. He loved his horse and loved to care for him, and, most of all, loved to ride him. Among his comrades he found congenial spirits, both among the officers and the men. Though discipline was strict, there was an utter absence of anything like a spirit of petty bullying which too often is found in military service; for in the first place the men were in very many cases the equals and sometimes the superiors of the officers both in culture and in breeding, and further, and very specially, the nature of the work was such as to cultivate the spirit of true comradeship. When officer and man ride side by side through rain and shine, through burning heat and frost "Forty below," when they eat out of the same pan and sleep in the same "dug-out," when they stand back to back in the midst of a horde of howling savages, rank comes to mean little and manhood much.
Between Inspector Dickson and Cameron a genuine friendship sprang up; and after his first month was in, Cameron often found himself the comrade of the Inspector in expeditions of special difficulty where there was a call for intelligence and nerve. The reports of these expeditions that stand upon the police record have as little semblance of the deeds achieved as have stark and grinning skeletons in the medical student's private cupboard to the living moving bodies they once were. The records of these deeds are the bare bones. The flesh and blood, the life and colour are to be found only in the memories of those who were concerned in their achievement.
But even in these bony records there are to be seen frequent entries in which the names of Inspector Dickson and Constable Cameron stand side by side. For the Inspector was a man upon whom the Commissioner and the Superintendent delighted to load their more dangerous and delicate cases, and it was upon Cameron when it was possible that the Inspector's choice for a comrade fell.
It was such a case as this that held the Commissioner and Superintendent Crawford in anxious consultation far into a late September night. When the consultation was over, Inspector Dickson was called in and the result of this consultation laid before him.
"We have every reason to believe, as you well know, Inspector Dickson," said the Commissioner, "that there is a secret and wide-spread propagandum being carried on among our Indians, especially among the Piegans, Bloods, and Blackfeet, with the purpose of organizing rebellion in connection with the half-breed discontent in the territories to the east of us. Riel, you know, has been back for some time and we believe his agents are busy on every reservation at present. This outbreak of horse-stealing and whiskey-smuggling in so many parts of the country at the same time is a mere blind to a more serious business, the hatching of a very wide conspiracy. We know that the Crees and the Assiniboines are negotiating with the half-breeds. Big Bear, Beardy, and Little Pine are keen for a fight. There is some very powerful and secret influence at work among our Indians here. We suspect that the ex-Chief of the Bloods, Little Thunder, is the head of this organization. A very dangerous and very clever Indian he is, as you know. We have a charge of murder against him already, and if we can arrest him and one or two others it would do much to break up the gang, or at least to hold in check their organization work. We want you to get quietly after this business, visit all the reservations, obtain all information possible, and when you are ready, strike. You will be quite unhampered in your movements and the whole force will co-operate with you if necessary. We consider this an extremely critical time and we must be prepared. Take a man with you. Make your own choice."
"I expect we know the man the Inspector will choose," said superintendent Crawford with a smile.
"Who is that?" asked the Commissioner.
"Constable Cameron, of course."
"Ah, yes, Cameron. You remember I predicted he would make good. He has certainly fulfilled my expectation."
"He is a good man," said the Inspector quietly.
"Oh come, Inspector, you know you consider him the best all-round man at this post," said the Superintendent.
"Well, you see, Sir, he is enthusiastic for the service, he works hard and likes his work."
"Right you are!" exclaimed the Superintendent. "In the first place, he is the strongest man on the force, then he is a dead shot, a good man with a horse, and has developed an extraordinary gift in tracking, and besides he is perfectly straight."
"Is that right, Inspector?"
"Yes," said the Inspector very quietly, though his eyes were gleaming at the praise of his friend. "He is a good man, very keen, very reliable, and of course afraid of nothing."
The Superintendent laughed quietly.
"You want him then, I suppose?"
"Yes," said the Inspector, "if it could be managed."
"I don't know," said the Commissioner. "That reminds me." He took a letter from the file. "Read that," he said, "second page there. It is a private letter from Superintendent Strong at Calgary."
The Inspector took the letter and read at the place indicated—
"Another thing. The handling of these railroad construction gangs is no easy matter. We are pestered with whiskey-smugglers, gamblers, and prostitutes till we don't know which way to turn. As the work extends into the mountains and as the camps grow in numbers the difficulty of control is very greatly increased. I ought to have my force strengthened. Could you not immediately spare me at least eight or ten good men? I would like that chap Cameron, the man, you know, who caught the half-breed Louis in the Sarcee camp and carried him out on his horse's neck—a very fine bit of work. Inspector Dickson will tell you about him. I had it from him. Could you spare Cameron? I would recommend him at once as a sergeant."
The Inspector handed back the letter without comment.
"Well?" said the Commissioner.
"Cameron would do very well for the work," said the Inspector, "and he deserves promotion."
"What was that Sarcee business, Inspector?" enquired the Commissioner. "That must have been when I was down east."
"Oh," said the Inspector, "it was a very fine thing indeed of Cameron. Louis 'the Breed' had been working the Bloods. We got on his track and headed him up in the Sarcee camp. He is rather a dangerous character and is related to the Sarcees. We expected trouble in his arrest. We rode in and found the Indians, to the number of a hundred and fifty or more, very considerably excited. They objected strenuously to the arrest of the half-breed. Constable Cameron and I were alone. We had left a party of men further back over the hill. The half-breed brought it upon himself. He was rash enough to make a sudden attack upon Cameron. That is where he made his mistake. Before he knew where he was Cameron slipped from his horse, caught him under the chin with a very nice left-hander that laid him neatly out, swung him on to his horse, and was out of the camp before the Indians knew what had happened."