The Sarcee had begun his tale, speaking under intense excitement which he vainly tried to control. He delivered his message. Such was the rapidity and incoherence of his speech, however, that Cameron could make nothing of it. The effect upon the crowd was immediate and astounding. On every side rose wild cries of fierce exultation, while at Cameron angry looks flashed from every eye. Old Crowfoot alone remained quiet, calm, impassive, except for the fierce gleaming of his steady eyes.
When the runner had delivered his message he held up his hand and spoke but a single word. Immediately there was silence as of the grave. Nothing was heard, not even the breathing of the Indians close about him. In sharp, terse sentences the old Chief questioned the runner, who replied at first eagerly, then, as the questions proceeded, with some hesitation. Finally, with a wave of the hand Crowfoot dismissed him and stood silently pondering for some moments. Then he turned to his people and said with quiet and impressive dignity:
"This is a matter for the Council. To-morrow we will discuss it." Then turning to Cameron he said in a low voice and with grave courtesy, "It is wise that my brother should go while the trails are open."
"The trails are always open to the Great Mother's Mounted Police," said Cameron, looking the old Chief full in the eye.
Crowfoot stood silent, evidently thinking deeply.
"It is right that my brother should know," he said at length, "what the runner tells," and in his deep guttural voice there was a ring of pride.
"Good news is always welcome," said Cameron, as he coolly pulled out his pipe and offered his pouch once more to Crowfoot, who, however, declined to see it.
"The white soldiers have attacked the Indians and have been driven back," said Crowfoot with a keen glance at Cameron's face.
"Ah!" said Cameron, smiling. "What Indians? What white soldiers?"
"The soldiers that marched to Battleford. They went against Oo-pee-too-korah-han-ap-ee-wee-yin and the Indians did not run away." No words could describe the tone and attitude of exultant and haughty pride with which the old Chief delivered this information.
"Crowfoot," said Cameron with deliberate emphasis, "it was Colonel Otter and Superintendent Herchmer of the Mounted Police that went north to Battleford. You do not know Colonel Otter, but you do know Superintendent Herchmer. Tell me, would Superintendent Herchmer and the Police run away?"
"The runner tells that the white soldiers ran away," said Crowfoot stubbornly.
"Then the runner lies!" Cameron's voice rang out loud and clear.
Swift as a lightning flash the Sarcee sprang at Cameron, knife in hand, crying in the Blackfeet tongue that terrible cry so long dreaded by settlers in the Western States of America, "Death to the white man!" Without apparently moving a muscle, still holding by the mane of his horse, Cameron met the attack with a swift and well-placed kick which caught the Indian's right wrist and flung his knife high in the air. Following up the kick, Cameron took a single step forward and met the murderous Sarcee with a straight left-hand blow on the jaw that landed the Indian across the fire and deposited him kicking amid the crowd.
Immediately there was a quick rush toward the white man, but the rush halted before two little black barrels with two hard, steady, gray eyes gleaming behind them.
"Crowfoot!" said Cameron sharply. "I hold ten dead Indians in my hands."
With a single stride Crowfoot was at Cameron's side. A single sharp stern word of command he uttered and the menacing Indians slunk back into the shadows, but growling like angry beasts.
"Is it wise to anger my young men?" said Crowfoot in a low voice.
"Is it wise," replied Cameron sternly, "to allow mad dogs to run loose? We kill such mad dogs in my country."
"Huh," grunted Crowfoot with a shrug of his shoulders. "Let him die!" Then in a lower voice he added earnestly, "It would be good to take the trail before my young men can catch their horses."
"I was just going, Crowfoot," said Cameron, stooping to light his pipe at the fire. "Good-night. Remember what I have said." And Cameron cantered away with both hands low before him and guiding his broncho with his knees, and so rode easily till safely beyond the line of the reserve. Once out of the reserve he struck his spurs hard into his horse and sent him onward at headlong pace toward the Militia camp.
Ten minutes after his arrival at the camp every soldier was in his place ready to strike, and so remained all night, with pickets thrown far out listening with ears attent for the soft pad of moccasined feet.
THE LAST PATROL
It was still early morning when Cameron rode into the barrack-yard at Fort Calgary. To the Sergeant in charge, the Superintendent of Police having departed to Macleod, he reported the events of the preceding night.
"What about that rumor, Sergeant?" he inquired after he had told his tale.
"Well, I had the details yesterday," replied the Sergeant. "Colonel Otter and a column of some three hundred men with three guns went out after Pound-maker. The Indians were apparently strongly posted and could not be dislodged, and I guess our men were glad to get out of the scrape as easily as they did."
"Great Heavens!" cried Cameron, more to himself than to the officer, "what will this mean to us here?"
The Sergeant shrugged his shoulders.
"The Lord only knows!" he said.
"Well, my business presses all the more," said Cameron. "I'm going after this Sioux. Jerry is already on his trail. I suppose you cannot let me have three or four men? There is liable to be trouble and we cannot afford to make a mess of this thing."
"Jerry came in last night asking for a man," replied the Sergeant, "but I could not spare one. However, we will do our best and send you on the very first men that come in."
"Send on half a dozen to-morrow at the very latest," replied Cameron. "I shall rely upon you. Let me give you my trail."
He left a plan of the Ghost River Trail with the Sergeant and rode to look up Dr. Martin. He found the doctor still in bed and wrathful at being disturbed.
"I say, Cameron," he growled, "what in thunder do you mean by roaming round this way at night and waking up Christian people out of their sleep?"
"Sorry, old boy," replied Cameron, "but my business is rather important."
And then while the doctor sat and shivered in his night clothes upon the side of the bed Cameron gave him in detail the history of the previous evening and outlined his plan for the capture of the Sioux.
Dr. Martin listened intently, noting the various points and sketching an outline of the trail as Cameron described it.
"I wanted you to know, Martin, in case anything happened. For, well, you know how it is with my wife just now. A shock might kill her."
The doctor growled an indistinct reply.
"That is all, old chap. Good-by," said Cameron, pressing his hand. "This I feel is my last go with old Copperhead."
"Your last go?"
"Oh, don't be alarmed," he replied lightly. "I am going to get him this time. There will be no trifling henceforth. Well, good-by, I am off. By the way, the Sergeant at the barracks has promised to send on half a dozen men to-morrow to back me up. You might just keep him in mind of that, for things are so pressing here that he might quite well imagine that he could not spare the men."
"Well, that is rather better," said Martin. "The Sergeant will send those men all right, or I will know the reason why. Hope you get your game. Good-by, old man."
A day's ride brought Cameron to Kananaskis, where the Sun Dance Trail ends on one side of the Bow River and the Ghost River Trail begins on the other. There he found signs to indicate that Jerry was before him on his way to the Manitou Rock. As Cameron was preparing to camp for the night there came over him a strong but unaccountable presentiment of approaching evil, an irresistible feeling that he ought to press forward.
"Pshaw! I will be seeing spooks next!" he said impatiently to himself. "I suppose it is the Highlander in me that is seeing visions and dreaming dreams. I must eat, however, no matter what is going to happen."
Leaving his horse saddled, but removing the bridle, he gave him his feed of oats, then he boiled his tea and made his own supper. As he was eating the feeling grew more strongly upon him that he should not camp but go forward at once. At the same time he made the discovery that the weariness that had almost overpowered him during the last half-hour of his ride had completely vanished. Hence, with the feeling of half contemptuous anger at himself for yielding to his presentiment, he packed up his kit again, bridled his horse, and rode on.
The trail was indeed, as Jerry said, "no trail." It was rugged with broken rocks and cumbered with fallen trees, and as it proceeded became more indistinct. His horse, too, from sheer weariness, for he had already done his full day's journey, was growing less sure footed and so went stumbling noisily along. Cameron began to regret his folly in yielding to a mere unreasoning imagination and he resolved to spend the night at the first camping-ground that should offer. The light of the long spring day was beginning to fade from the sky and in the forest the deep shadows were beginning to gather. Still no suitable camping-ground presented itself and Cameron stubbornly pressed forward through the forest that grew denser and more difficult at every step. After some hours of steady plodding the trees began to be sensibly larger, the birch and poplar gave place to spruce and pine and the underbrush almost entirely disappeared. The trail, too, became better, winding between the large trees which, with clean trunks, stood wide apart and arranged themselves in stately high-arched aisles and long corridors. From the lofty branches overhead the gray moss hung in long streamers, as Jerry had said, giving to the trees an ancient and weird appearance. Along these silent, solemn, gray-festooned aisles and corridors Cameron rode with an uncanny sensation that unseen eyes were peering out upon him from those dim and festooned corridors on either side. Impatiently he strove to shake off the feeling, but in vain. At length, forced by the growing darkness, he decided to camp, when through the shadowy and silent forest there came to his ears the welcome sound of running water. It was to Cameron like the sound of a human voice. He almost called aloud to the running stream as to a friend. It was the Ghost River.
In a few minutes he had reached the water and after picketing his horse some little distance down the stream and away from the trail, he rolled himself in his blanket to sleep. The moon rising above the high tree-tops filled the forest aisles with a soft unearthly light. As his eye followed down the long dim aisles there grew once more upon him the feeling that he was being watched by unseen eyes. Vainly he cursed himself for his folly. He could not sleep. A twig broke near him. He lay still listening with every nerve taut. He fancied he could hear soft feet about him and stealing near. With his two guns in hand he sat bolt upright. Straight before him and not more than ten feet away the form of an Indian was plainly to be seen. A slight sound to his right drew his eyes in that direction. There, too, stood the silent form of an Indian, on his left also an Indian. Suddenly from behind him a deep, guttural voice spoke, "Look this way!" He turned sharply and found himself gazing into a rifle-barrel a few feet from his face. "Now look back!" said the voice. He glanced to right and left, only to find rifles leveled at him from every side.
"White man put down his guns on ground!" said the same guttural voice.
"Indian speak no more," said the voice in a deep growl.
Cameron put his guns down.
"Stand up!" said the voice.
Cameron obeyed. Out from behind the Indian with the leveled rifle glided another Indian form. It was Copperhead. Two more Indians appeared with him. All thought of resistance passed from Cameron's mind. It would mean instant death, and, what to Cameron was worse than death, the certain failure of his plans. While he lived he still had hope. Besides, there would be the Police next day.
With savage, cruel haste Copperhead bound his hands behind his back and as a further precaution threw a cord about his neck.
"Come!" he said, giving the cord a quick jerk.
"Copperhead," said Cameron through his clenched teeth, "you will one day wish you had never done this thing."
"No speak!" said Copperhead gruffly, jerking the cord so heavily as almost to throw Cameron off his feet.
Through the night Cameron stumbled on with his captors, Copperhead in front and the others following. Half dead with sleeplessness and blind with rage he walked on as if in a hideous nightmare, mechanically watching the feet of the Indian immediately in front of him and thus saving himself many a cruel fall and a more cruel jerking of the cord about his neck, for such was Copperhead's method of lifting him to his feet when he fell. It seemed to him as if the night would never pass or the journey end.
At length the throbbing of the Indian drum fell upon his ears. It was to him a welcome sound. Nothing could be much more agonizing than what he was at present enduring. As they approached the Indian camp one of his captors raised a wild, wailing cry which resounded through the forest with an unearthly sound. Never had such a cry fallen upon Cameron's ears. It was the old-time cry of the Indian warriors announcing that they were returning in triumph bringing their captives with them. The drum-beat ceased. Again the cry was raised, when from the Indian encampment came in reply a chorus of similar cries followed by a rush of braves to meet the approaching warriors and to welcome them and their captives.
With loud and discordant exultation straight into the circle of the firelight cast from many fires Copperhead and his companions marched their captive. On every side naked painted Indians to the number of several score crowded in tumultuous uproar. Not for many years had these Indians witnessed their ancient and joyous sport of baiting a prisoner.
As Cameron came into the clear light of the fire instantly low murmurs ran round the crowd, for to many of them he was well known. Then silence fell upon them. His presence there was clearly a shock to many of them. To take prisoner one of the Mounted Police and to submit him to indignity stirred strange emotions in their hearts. The keen eye of Copperhead noted the sudden change of the mood of the Indians and immediately he gave orders to those who held Cameron in charge, with the result that they hurried him off and thrust him into a little low hut constructed of brush and open in front where, after tying his feet securely, they left him with an Indian on guard in front.
For some moments Cameron lay stupid with weariness and pain till his weariness overpowered his pain and he sank into sleep. He was recalled to consciousness by the sensation of something digging into his ribs. As he sat up half asleep a low "hist!" startled him wide awake. His heart leaped as he heard out of the darkness a whispered word, "Jerry here." Cameron rolled over and came close against the little half-breed, bound as he was himself. Again came the "hist!"
"Me all lak' youse'f," said Jerry. "No spik any. Look out front."
The Indian on guard was eagerly looking and listening to what was going on before him beside the fire. At one side of the circle sat the Indians in council. Copperhead was standing and speaking to them.
"What is he saying?" said Cameron, his mouth close to Jerry's ear.
"He say dey keel us queeck. Indian no lak' keel. Dey scare Police get 'em. Copperhead he ver' mad. Say he keel us heemse'f—queeck."
Again and again and with ever increasing vehemence Copperhead urged his views upon the hesitating Indians, well aware that by involving them in such a deed of blood he would irrevocably commit them to rebellion. But he was dealing with men well-nigh as subtle as himself, and for the very same reason as he pressed them to the deed they shrank back from it. They were not yet quite prepared to burn their bridges behind them. Indeed some of them suggested the wisdom of holding the prisoners as hostages in case of necessity arising in the future.
"What Indians are here?" whispered Cameron.
"Piegan, Sarcee, Blood," breathed Jerry. "No Blackfeet come—not yet—Copperhead he look, look, look all yesterday for Blackfeet coming. Blackfeet come to-morrow mebbe—den Indian mak' beeg medicine. Copperhead he go meet Blackfeet dis day—he catch you—he go 'gain to-morrow mebbe—dunno."
Meantime the discussion in the council was drawing to a climax. With the astuteness of a true leader Copperhead ceased to urge his view, and, unable to secure the best, wisely determined to content himself with the second-best. His vehement tone gave place to one of persuasion. Finally an agreement appeared to be reached by all. With one consent the council rose and with hands uplifted they all appeared to take some solemn oath.
"What are they saying?" whispered Cameron.
"He say," replied Jerry, "he go meet Blackfeet and when he bring 'em back den dey keel us sure t'ing. But," added Jerry with a cheerful giggle, "he not keel 'em yet, by Gar!"
For some minutes they waited in silence, then they saw Copperhead with his bodyguard of Sioux disappear from the circle of the firelight into the shadows of the forest.
"Now you go sleep," whispered Jerry. "Me keep watch."
Even before he had finished speaking Cameron had lain back upon the ground and in spite of the pain in his tightly bound limbs such was his utter exhaustion that he fell fast asleep.
It seemed to him but a moment when he was again awakened by the touch of a hand stealing over his face. The hand reached his lips and rested there, when he started up wide-awake. A soft hiss from the back of the hut arrested him.
"No noise," said a soft guttural voice. Again the hand was thrust through the brush wall, this time bearing a knife. "Cut string," whispered the voice, while the hand kept feeling for the thongs that bound Cameron's hands. In a few moments Cameron was free from his bonds.
"Give me the knife," he whispered. It was placed in his hands.
"Tell you squaw," said the voice, "sick boy not forget."
"I will tell her," replied Cameron. "She will never forget you." The boy laid his hand on Cameron's lips and was gone.
Soon Jerry too was free. Slowly they wormed their way through the flimsy brush wall at the back, and, crouching low, looked about them. The camp was deep in sleep. The fires were smoldering in their ashes. Not an Indian was moving. Lying across the front of their little hut the sleeping form of their guard could be seen. The forest was still black behind them, but already there was in the paling stars the faint promise of the dawn. Hardly daring to breathe, they rose and stood looking at each other.
"No stir," said Jerry with his lips at Cameron's ear. He dropped on his hands and knees and began carefully to remove every twig from his path so that his feet might rest only upon the deep leafy mold of the forest. Carefully Cameron followed his example, and, working slowly and painfully, they gained the cover of the dark forest away from the circle of the firelight.
Scarcely had they reached that shelter when an Indian rose from beside a fire, raked the embers together, and threw some sticks upon it. As Cameron stood watching him, his heart-beat thumping in his ears, a rotten twig snapped under his feet. The Indian turned his face in their direction, and, bending forward, appeared to be listening intently. Instantly Jerry, stooping down, made a scrambling noise in the leaves, ending with a thump upon the ground. Immediately the Indian relaxed his listening attitude, satisfied that a rabbit was scurrying through the forest upon his own errand bent. Rigidly silent they stood, watching him till long after he had lain down again in his place, then once more they began their painful advance, clearing treacherous twigs from every place where their feet should rest. Fortunately for their going the forest here was largely free from underbrush. Working carefully and painfully for half an hour, and avoiding the trail by the Ghost River, they made their way out of hearing of the camp and then set off at such speed as their path allowed, Jerry in the lead and Cameron following.
"Where are you going, Jerry?" inquired Cameron as the little half-breed, without halt or hesitation, went slipping through the forest.
"Kananaskis," said Jerry. "Strike trail near Bow Reever."
"Hold up for a moment, Jerry. I want to talk to you," said Cameron.
"No! Mak' speed now. Stop in brush."
"All right," said Cameron, following close upon his heels.
The morning broadened into day, but they made no pause till they had left behind them the open timber and gained the cover of the forest where the underbrush grew thick. Then Jerry, finding a dry and sheltered spot, threw himself down and stretched himself at full length waiting for Cameron's word.
"Tired, Jerry?" said Cameron.
"Non," replied the little man scornfully. "When lie down tak' 'em easy."
"Good! Now listen! Copperhead is on his way to meet the Blackfeet, but I fancy he is going to be disappointed." Then Cameron narrated to Jerry the story of his recent interview with Crowfoot. "So I don't think," he concluded, "any Blackfeet will come. Copperhead and Running Stream are going to be sold this time. Besides that the Police are on their way to Kananaskis following our trail. They will reach Kananaskis to-night and start for Ghost River to-morrow. We ought to get Copperhead between us somewhere on the Ghost River trail and we must get him to-day. Where will he be now?"
Jerry considered the matter, then, pointing straight eastward, he replied:
"On trail Kananaskis not far from Ghost Reever."
"Will he be that far?" inquired Cameron. "He would have to sleep and eat, Jerry."
"Non! No sleep—hit sam' tam' he run."
"Then it is quite possible," said Cameron, "that we may head him off."
"Mebbe—dunno how fas' he go," said Jerry.
"By the way, Jerry, when do we eat?" inquired Cameron.
"Pull belt tight," said Jerry with a grin. "Hit at cache on trail."
"Do you mean to say you had the good sense to cache some grub, Jerry, on your way down?"
"Jerry lak' squirrel," replied the half-breed. "Cache grub many place—sometam come good."
"Great head, Jerry. Now, where is the cache?"
"Halfway Kananaskis to Ghost Reever."
"Then, Jerry, we must make that Ghost River trail and make it quick if we are to intercept Copperhead."
"Bon! We mus' mak' beeg speed for sure." And "make big speed" they did, with the result that by midday they struck the trail not far from Jerry's cache. As they approached the trail they proceeded with extreme caution, for they knew that at any moment they might run upon Copperhead and his band or upon some of their Indian pursuers who would assuredly be following them hard. A careful scrutiny of the trail showed that neither Copperhead nor their pursuers had yet passed by.
"Come now ver' soon," said Jerry, as he left the trail, and, plunging into the brush, led the way with unerring precision to where he had made his cache. Quickly they secured the food and with it made their way back to a position from which they could command a view of the trail.
"Go sleep now," said Jerry, after they had done. "Me watch one hour."
Gladly Cameron availed himself of the opportunity to catch up his sleep, in which he was many hours behind. He stretched himself on the ground and in a moment's time lay as completely unconscious as if dead. But before half of his allotted time was gone he was awakened by Jerry's hand pressing steadily upon his arm.
"Indian come," whispered the half-breed. Instantly Cameron was wide-awake and fully alert.
"How many, Jerry?" he asked, lying with his ear to the ground.
"Dunno. T'ree—four mebbe."
They had not long to wait. Almost as Jerry was speaking the figure of an Indian came into view, running with that tireless trot that can wear out any wild animal that roams the woods.
"Copperhead!" whispered Cameron, tightening his belt and making as if to rise.
"Wait!" replied Jerry. "One more."
Following Copperhead, and running not close upon him but at some distance behind, came another Indian, then another, till three had passed their hiding-place.
"Four against two, Jerry," said Cameron. "That is all right. They have their knives, I see, but only one gun. We have no guns and only one knife. But Jerry, we can go in and kill them with our bare hands."
Jerry nodded carelessly. He had fought too often against much greater odds in Police battles to be unduly disturbed at the present odds.
Silently and at a safe distance behind they fell into the wake of the running Indians, Jerry with his moccasined feet leading the way. Mile after mile they followed the trail, ever on the alert for the doubling back of those whom they were pursuing. Suddenly Cameron heard a sharp hiss from Jerry in front. Swiftly he flung himself into the brush and lay still. Within a minute he saw coming back upon the trail an Indian, silent as a shadow and listening at every step. The Indian passed his hiding-place and for some minutes Cameron lay watching until he saw him return in the same stealthy manner. After some minutes had elapsed a soft hiss from Jerry brought Cameron cautiously out upon the trail once more.
"All right," whispered Jerry. "All Indians pass on before." And once more they went forward.
A second time during the afternoon Jerry's warning hiss sent Cameron into the brush to allow an Indian to scout his back trail. It was clear that the presence of Cameron and the half-breed upon the Ghost River trail had awakened the suspicion in Copperhead's mind that the plan to hold a powwow at Manitou Rock was known to the Police and that they were on his trail. It became therefore increasingly evident to Cameron that any plan that involved the possibility of taking Copperhead unawares would have to be abandoned. He called Jerry back to him.
"Jerry," he said, "if that Indian doubles back on his track again I mean to get him. If we get him the other chaps will follow. If I only had a gun! But this knife is no use to me."
"Give heem to me," said Jerry eagerly. "I find heem good."
It was toward the close of the afternoon when again Jerry's hiss warned Cameron that the Indian was returning upon his trail. Cameron stepped into the brush at the side, and, crouching low, prepared for the encounter, but as he was about to spring Jerry flashed past him, and, hurling himself upon the Indian's back, gripped him by the throat and bore him choking to earth, knocking the wind out of him and rendering him powerless. Jerry's knife descended once bright, once red, and the Indian with a horrible gasping cry lay still.
"Quick!" cried Cameron, seizing the dead man by the shoulders. "Lift him up!"
Jerry sprang to seize the legs, and, taking care not to break down the brush on either side of the trail, they lifted the body into the thick underwood and concealing themselves beside it awaited events. Hardly were they out of sight when they heard the soft pad of several feet running down the trail. Opposite them the feet stopped abruptly.
"Huh!" grunted the Indian runner, and darted back by the way he had come.
"Heem see blood," whispered Jerry. "Go back tell Copperhead."
With every nerve strung to its highest tension they waited, crouching, Jerry tingling and quivering with the intensity of his excitement, Cameron quiet, cool, as if assured of the issue.
"I am going to get that devil this time, Jerry," he breathed. "He dragged me by the neck once. I will show him something."
Jerry laid his hand upon his arm. At a little distance from them there was a sound of creeping steps. A few moments they waited and at their side the brush began to quiver. A moment later beside Cameron's face a hand carrying a rifle parted the screen of spruce boughs. Quick as a flash Cameron seized the wrist, gripping it with both hands, and, putting his weight into the swing, flung himself backwards; at the same time catching the body with his knee, he heaved it clear over their heads and landed it hard against a tree. The rifle tumbled from the Indian's hand and he lay squirming on the ground. Immediately as Jerry sprang for the rifle a second Indian thrust his face through the screen, caught sight of Jerry with the rifle, darted back and disappeared with Jerry hard upon his trail. Scarcely had they vanished into the brush when Cameron, hearing a slight sound at his back, turned swiftly to see a tall Indian charging upon him with knife raised to strike. He had barely time to thrust up his arm and divert the blow from his neck to his shoulder when the Indian was upon him like a wild cat.
"Ha! Copperhead!" cried Cameron with exultation, as he flung him off. "At last I have you! Your time has come!"
The Sioux paused in his attack, looking scornfully at his antagonist. He was dressed in a highly embroidered tight-fitting deerskin coat and leggings.
"Huh!" he grunted in a voice of quiet, concentrated fury. "The white dog will die."
"No, Copperhead," replied Cameron quietly. "You have a knife, I have none, but I shall lead you like a dog into the Police guard-house."
The Sioux said nothing in reply, but kept circling lightly on his toes waiting his chance to spring. As the two men stood facing each other there was little to choose between them in physical strength and agility as well as in intelligent fighting qualities. There was this difference, however, that the Indian's fighting had ever been to kill, the white man's simply to win. But this difference to-day had ceased to exist. There was in Cameron's mind the determination to kill if need be. One immense advantage the Indian held in that he possessed a weapon in the use of which he was a master and by means of which he had already inflicted a serious wound upon his enemy, a wound which as yet was but slightly felt. To deprive the Indian of that knife was Cameron's first aim. That once achieved, the end could not long be delayed; for the Indian, though a skillful wrestler, knows little of the art of fighting with his hands.
As Cameron stood on guard watching his enemy's movements, his mind recalled in swift review the various wrongs he had suffered at his hands, the fright and insult to his wife, the devastation of his home, the cattle-raid involving the death of Raven, and lastly he remembered with a deep rage his recent humiliation at the Indian's hands and how he had been hauled along by the neck and led like a dog into the Indian camp. At these recollections he became conscious of a burning desire to humiliate the redskin who had dared to do these things to him.
With this in mind he waited the Indian's attack. The attack came swift as a serpent's dart, a feint to strike, a swift recoil, then like a flash of light a hard drive with the knife. But quick as was the Indian's drive Cameron was quicker. Catching the knife-hand at the wrist he drew it sharply down, meeting at the same time the Indian's chin with a short, hard uppercut that jarred his head so seriously that his grip on the knife relaxed and it fell from his hand. Cameron kicked it behind him into the brush while the Indian, with a mighty wrench, released himself from Cameron's grip and sprang back free. For some time the Indian kept away out of Cameron's reach as if uncertain of himself. Cameron taunted him.
"Onawata has had enough! He cannot fight unless he has a knife! See! I will punish the great Sioux Chief like a little child."
So saying, Cameron stepped quickly toward him, made a few passes and once, twice, with his open hand slapped the Indian's face hard. In a mad fury of passion the Indian rushed upon him. Cameron met him with blows, one, two, three, the last one heavy enough to lay him on the ground insensible.
"Oh, get up!" said Cameron contemptuously, kicking him as he might a dog. "Get up and be a man!"
Slowly the Indian rose, wiping his bleeding lips, hate burning in his eyes, but in them also a new look, one of fear.
"Ha! Onawata is a great fighter!" smiled Cameron, enjoying to the full the humiliation of his enemy.
Slowly the Indian gathered himself together. He was no coward and he was by no means beaten as yet, but this kind of fighting was new to him. He apparently determined to avoid those hammering fists of the white man. With extraordinary agility he kept out of Cameron's reach, circling about him and dodging in and out among the trees. While thus pressing hard upon the Sioux Cameron suddenly became conscious of a sensation of weakness. The bloodletting of the knife wound was beginning to tell. Cameron began to dread that if ever this Indian made up his mind to run away he might yet escape. He began to regret his trifling with him and he resolved to end the fight as soon as possible with a knock-out blow.
The quick eye of the Indian perceived that Cameron's breath was coming quicker, and, still keeping carefully out of his enemy's reach, he danced about more swiftly than ever. Cameron realized that he must bring the matter quickly to an end. Feigning a weakness greater than he felt, he induced the Indian to run in upon him, but this time the Indian avoided the smashing blow with which Cameron met him, and, locking his arms about his antagonist and gripping him by the wounded shoulder, began steadily to wear him to the ground. Sickened by the intensity of the pain in his wounded shoulder, Cameron felt his strength rapidly leaving him. Gradually the Indian shifted his hand up from the shoulder to the neck, the fingers working their way toward Cameron's face. Well did Cameron know the savage trick which the Indian had in mind. In a few minutes more those fingers would be in Cameron's eyes pressing the eyeballs from their sockets. It was now the Indian's turn to jibe.
"Huh!" he exclaimed. "White man no good. Soon he see no more."
The taunt served to stimulate every ounce of Cameron's remaining strength. With a mighty effort he wrenched the Indian's hand from his face, and, tearing himself free, swung his clenched fist with all his weight upon the Indian's neck. The blow struck just beneath the jugular vein. The Indian's grip relaxed, he staggered back a pace, half stunned. Summoning all his force, Cameron followed up with one straight blow upon the chin. He needed no other. As if stricken by an axe the Indian fell to the earth and lay as if dead. Sinking on the ground beside him Cameron exerted all his will-power to keep himself from fainting. After a few minutes' fierce struggle with himself he was sufficiently revived to be able to bind the Indian's hands behind his back with his belt. Searching among the brushwood, he found the Indian's knife, and cut from his leather trousers sufficient thongs to bind his legs, working with fierce and concentrated energy while his strength lasted. At length as the hands were drawn tight darkness fell upon his eyes and he sank down unconscious beside his foe.
"There, that's better! He has lost a lot of blood, but we have checked that flow and he will soon be right. Hello, old man! Just waking up, are you? Lie perfectly still. Come, you must lie still. What? Oh, Copperhead? Well, he is safe enough. What? No, never fear. We know the old snake and we have tied him fast. Jerry has a fine assortment of knots adorning his person. Now, no more talking for half a day. Your wound is clean enough. A mighty close shave it was, but by to-morrow you will be fairly fit. Copperhead? Oh, never mind Copperhead. I assure you he is safe enough. Hardly fit to travel yet. What happened to him? Looks as if a tree had fallen upon him." To which chatter of Dr. Martin's Cameron could only make feeble answer, "For God's sake don't let him go!"
After the capture of Copperhead the camp at Manitou Lake faded away, for when the Police Patrol under Jerry's guidance rode up the Ghost River Trail they found only the cold ashes of camp-fires and the debris that remains after a powwow.
Three days later Cameron rode back into Fort Calgary, sore but content, for at his stirrup and bound to his saddle-horn rode the Sioux Chief, proud, untamed, but a prisoner. As he rode into the little town his quick eyes flashed scorn upon all the curious gazers, but in their depths beneath the scorn there looked forth an agony that only Cameron saw and understood. He had played for a great stake and had lost.
As the patrol rode into Fort Calgary the little town was in an uproar of jubilation.
"What's the row?" inquired the doctor, for Cameron felt too weary to inquire.
"A great victory for the troops!" said a young chap dressed in cow-boy garb. "Middleton has smashed the half-breeds at Batoche. Riel is captured. The whole rebellion business is bust up."
Cameron threw a swift glance at the Sioux's face. A fierce anxiety looked out of the gleaming eyes.
"Tell him, Jerry," said Cameron to the half-breed who rode at his other side.
As Jerry told the Indian of the total collapse of the rebellion and the capture of its leader the stern face grew eloquent with contempt.
"Bah!" he said, spitting on the ground. "Riel he much fool—no good fight. Indian got no Chief—no Chief." The look on his face all too clearly revealed that his soul was experiencing the bitterness of death.
Cameron almost pitied him, but he spoke no word. There was nothing that one could say and besides he was far too weary for anything but rest. At the gate of the Barrack yard his old Superintendent from Fort Macleod met the party.
"You are wounded, Cameron?" exclaimed the Superintendent, glancing in alarm at Cameron's wan face.
"I have got him," replied Cameron, loosing the lariat from the horn of his saddle and handing the end to an orderly. "But," he added, "it seems hardly worth while now."
"Worth while! Worth while!" exclaimed the Superintendent with as much excitement as he ever allowed to appear in his tone. "Let me tell you, Cameron, that if any one thing has kept me from getting into a blue funk during these months it was the feeling that you were on patrol along the Sun Dance Trail."
"Funk?" exclaimed Cameron with a smile. "Funk?" But while he smiled he looked into the cold, gray eyes of his Chief, and, noting the unwonted glow in them, he felt that after all his work as the Patrol of the Sun Dance Trail was perhaps worth while.
WHY THE DOCTOR STAYED
The Big Horn River, fed by July suns burning upon glaciers high up between the mountain-peaks, was running full to its lips and gleaming like a broad ribbon of silver, where, after rushing hurriedly out of the rock-ribbed foothills, it settled down into a deep steady flow through the wide valley of its own name. On the tawny undulating hillsides, glorious in the splendid July sun, herds of cattle and horses were feeding, making with the tawny hillsides and the silver river a picture of luxurious ease and quiet security that fitted well with the mood of the two men sitting upon the shady side of the Big Horn Ranch House.
Inspector Dickson was enjoying to the full his after-dinner pipe, and with him Dr. Martin, who was engaged in judiciously pumping the Inspector in regard to the happenings of the recent campaign—successfully, too, except where he touched those events in which the Inspector himself had played a part.
The war was over. Batoche had practically settled the Rebellion. Riel was in his cell at Regina awaiting trial and execution. Pound-maker, Little Pine, Big Bear and some of their other Chiefs were similarly disposed of. Copperhead at Macleod was fretting his life out like an eagle in a cage. The various regiments of citizen soldiers had gone back to their homes to be received with vociferous welcome, except such of them as were received in reverent silence, to be laid away among the immortals with quiet falling tears. The Police were busily engaged in wiping up the debris of the Rebellion. The Commissioner, intent upon his duty, was riding the marches, bearing in grim silence the criticism of empty-headed and omniscient scribblers, because, forsooth, he had obeyed his Chief's orders, and, resisting the greatest provocation to do otherwise, had held steadfastly to his post, guarding with resolute courage what was committed to his trust. The Superintendents and Inspectors were back at their various posts, settling upon the reserves wandering bands of Indians, some of whom were just awakening to the fact that they had missed a great opportunity and were grudgingly surrendering to the inevitable, and, under the wise, firm, judicious handling of the Police, were slowly returning to their pre-rebellion status.
The Western ranches were rejoicing in a sense of vast relief from the terrible pall that like a death-cloud had been hanging over them for six months and all Western Canada was thrilling with the expectation of a new era of prosperity consequent upon its being discovered by the big world outside.
Upon the two men thus discussing, Mrs. Cameron, carrying in her arms her babe, bore down in magnificent and modest pride, wearing with matronly grace her new glory of a great achievement, the greatest open to womankind.
"He has just waked up from a very fine sleep," she exclaimed, "to make your acquaintance, Inspector. I hope you duly appreciate the honor done you."
The Inspector rose to his feet and saluted the new arrival with becoming respect.
"Now," said Mrs. Cameron, settling herself down with an air of determined resolve, "I want to hear all about it."
"Meaning?" said the Inspector.
"Meaning, to begin with, that famous march of yours from Calgary to the far North land where you did so many heroic things."
But the Inspector's talk had a trick of fading away at the end of the third sentence and it was with difficulty that they could get him started again.
"You are most provoking!" finally exclaimed Mrs. Cameron, giving up the struggle. "Isn't he, baby?"
The latter turned upon the Inspector two steady blue eyes beaming with the intelligence of a two months' experience of men and things, and announced his grave disapproval of the Inspector's conduct in a distinct "goo!"
"There!" exclaimed his mother triumphantly. "I told you so. What have you now to say for yourself?"
The Inspector regarded the blue-eyed atom with reverent wonder.
"Most remarkable young person I ever saw in my life, Mrs. Cameron," he asserted positively.
The proud mother beamed upon him.
"Well, baby, he IS provoking, but we will forgive him since he is so clever at discovering your remarkable qualities."
"Pshaw!" said Dr. Martin. "That's nothing. Any one could see them. They stick right out of that baby."
"DEAR Dr. Martin," explained the mother with affectionate emphasis, "what a way you have of putting things. But I wonder what keeps Allan?" continued Mrs. Cameron. "He promised faithfully to be home before dinner." She rose, and, going to the side of the house, looked long and anxiously up toward the foothills. Dr. Martin followed her and stood at her side gazing in the same direction.
"What a glorious view it is!" she said. "I never tire of looking over the hills and up to the great mountains."
"What the deuce is the fellow doing?" exclaimed the doctor, disgust and rage mingling in his tone. "Great Heavens! She is kissing him!"
"Who? What?" exclaimed Mandy. "Oh!" she cried, her eyes following the doctor's and lighting upon two figures that stood at the side of the poplar bluff in an attitude sufficiently compromising to justify the doctor's exclamation.
"What? It's Moira—and—and—it's Smith! What does it mean?" The doctor's language appeared unequal to his emotions. "Mean?" he cried, after an exhausting interlude of expletives. "Mean? Oh, I don't know—and I don't care. It's pretty plain what it means. It makes no difference to me. I gave her up to that other fellow who saved her life and then picturesquely got himself killed. There now, forgive me, Mrs. Cameron. I know I am a brute. I should not have said that. Don't look at me so. Raven was a fine chap and I don't mind her losing her heart to him—but really this is too much. Smith! Of all men under heaven—Smith! Why, look at his legs!"
"His legs? Dr. Martin, I am ashamed of you. I don't care what kind of legs he has. Smith is an honorable fellow and—and—so good he was to us. Why, when Allan and the rest of you were all away he was like a brother through all those terrible days. I can never forget his splendid kindness—but—"
"I beg your pardon, Mrs. Cameron, I beg your pardon. Undoubtedly he is a fine fellow. I am an ass, a jealous ass—might as well own it. But, really, I cannot quite stand seeing her throw herself at Smith—Smith! Oh, I know, I know, he is all right. But oh—well—at any rate thank God I saw him at it. It will keep me from openly and uselessly abasing myself to her and making a fool of myself generally. But Smith! Great God! Smith! Well, it will help to cure me."
Mrs. Cameron stood by in miserable silence.
"Oh, Dr. Martin," at length she groaned tearfully, "I am so disappointed. I was so hoping, and I was sure it was all right—and—and—oh, what does it mean? Dear Dr. Martin, I cannot tell you how I feel."
"Oh, hang it, Mrs. Cameron, don't pity me. I'll get over it. A little surgical operation in the region of the pericardium is all, that is required."
"What are you talking about?" exclaimed Mrs. Cameron, vaguely listening to him and busy with her own thoughts the while.
"Talking about, madam? Talking about? I am talking about that organ, the central organ of the vascular system of animals, a hollow muscular structure that propels the blood by alternate contractions and dilatations, which in the mammalian embryo first appears as two tubes lying under the head and immediately behind the first visceral arches, but gradually moves back and becomes lodged in the thorax."
"Oh, do stop! What nonsense are you talking now?" exclaimed Mrs. Cameron, waking up as from a dream. "No, don't go. You must not go."
"I am going, and I am going to leave this country," said the doctor. "I am going East. No, this is no sudden resolve. I have thought of it for some time, and now I will go."
"Well, you must wait at least till Allan returns. You must say good-by to him." She followed the doctor anxiously back to his seat beside the Inspector. "Here," she cried, "hold baby a minute. There are some things I must attend to. I would give him to the Inspector, but he would not know how to handle him."
"God forbid!" ejaculated the Inspector firmly.
"But I tell you I must get home," said the doctor in helpless wrath.
"Nonsense!" exclaimed Mrs. Cameron. "Look out! You are not holding him properly. There now, you have made him cry."
"Pinched him!" muttered the Inspector. "I call that most unfair. Mean advantage to take of the young person."
The doctor glowered at the Inspector and set himself with ready skill to remedy the wrong he had wrought in the young person's disposition while the mother, busying herself ostentatiously with her domestic duties, finally disappeared around the house, making for the bluff. As soon as she was out of earshot she raised her voice in song.
"I must give the fools warning, I suppose," she said to herself. In the pauses of her singing, "Oh, what does she mean? I could just shake her. I am so disappointed. Smith! Smith! Well, Smith is all right, but—oh, I must talk to her. And yet, I am so angry—yes, I am disgusted. I was so sure that everything was all right. Ah, there she is at last, and—well—thank goodness he is gone.
"Oh-h-h-h-O, Moira!" she cried. "Now, I must keep my temper," she added to herself. "But I am so cross about this. Oh-h-h-h-O, Moira!"
"Oh-h-h-h-O!" called Moira in reply.
"She looks positively happy. Ugh! Disgusting! And so lovely too."
"Did you want me, Mandy? I am so sorry I forgot all about the tea."
"So I should suppose," snapped Mandy crossly. "I saw you were too deeply engaged to think."
"You saw?" exclaimed the girl, a startled dismay in her face.
"Yes, and I would suggest that you select a less conspicuous stage for your next scene. Certainly I got quite a shock. If it had been Raven, Moira, I could have stood it."
"Raven! Raven! Oh, stop! Not a word, Mandy." Her voice was hushed and there was a look of pain in her eyes.
"But Smith!" went on Mandy relentlessly. "I was too disgusted."
"Well, what is wrong with Mr. Smith?" inquired Moira, her chin rising.
"Oh, there is nothing wrong with Smith," replied her sister-in-law crossly, "but—well—kissing him, you know."
"Kissing him?" echoed Moira faintly. "Kissing him? I did not—"
"It looked to me uncommonly like it at any rate," said Mandy. "You surely don't deny that you were kissing him?"
"I was not. I mean, it was Smith—perhaps—yes, I think Smith did—"
"Well, it was a silly thing to do."
"Silly! If I want to kiss Mr. Smith, why is it anybody's business?"
"That's just it," said Mandy indignantly. "Why should you want to?"
"Well, that is my affair," said Moira in an angry tone, and with a high head and lofty air she appeared in the doctor's presence.
But Dr. Martin was apparently oblivious of both her lofty air and the angle of her chin. He was struggling to suppress from observation a tumult of mingled passions of jealousy, rage and humiliation. That this girl whom for four years he had loved with the full strength of his intense nature should have given herself to another was grief enough; but the fact that this other should have been a man of Smith's caliber seemed to add insult to his grief. He felt that not only had she humiliated him but herself as well.
"If she is the kind of girl that enjoys kissing Smith I don't want her," he said to himself savagely, and then cursed himself that he knew it was a lie. For no matter how she should affront him or humiliate herself he well knew he should take her gladly on his bended knees from Smith's hands. The cure somehow was not working, but he would allow no one to suspect it. His voice was even and his manner cheerful as ever. Only Mrs. Cameron, who held the key to his heart, suspected the agony through which he was passing during the tea-hour. And it was to secure respite for him that the tea was hurried and the doctor packed off to saddle Pepper and round up the cows for the milking.
Pepper was by birth and breeding a cow-horse, and once set upon a trail after a bunch of cows he could be trusted to round them up with little or no aid from his rider. Hence once astride Pepper and Pepper with his nose pointed toward the ranging cows, the doctor could allow his heart to roam at will. And like a homing pigeon, his heart, after some faint struggles in the grip of its owner's will, made swift flight toward the far-away Highland glen across the sea, the Cuagh Oir.
With deliberate purpose he set himself to live again the tender and ineffaceable memories of that eventful visit to the glen when first his eyes were filled with the vision of the girl with the sunny hair and the sunny eyes who that day seemed to fill the very glen and ever since that day his heart with glory.
With deliberate purpose, too, he set himself to recall the glen itself, its lights and shadows, its purple hilltops, its emerald loch far down at the bottom, the little clachan on the hillside and up above it the old manor-house. But ever and again his heart would pause to catch anew some flitting glance of the brown eyes, some turn of the golden head, some cadence of the soft Highland voice, some fitful illusive sweetness of the smile upon the curving lips, pause and return upon its tracks to feel anew that subtle rapture of the first poignant thrill, lingering over each separate memory as a drunkard lingers regretful over his last sweet drops of wine.
Meantime Pepper's intelligent diligence had sent every cow home to its milking, and so, making his way by a short cut that led along the Big Horn River and round the poplar bluff, the doctor, suddenly waking from his dream of the past, faced with a fresh and sharper stab the reality of the present. The suddenness and sharpness of the pain made him pull his horse up short.
"I'll cut this country and go East," he said aloud, coming to a conclusive decision upon a plan long considered, "I'll go in for specializing. I have done with all this nonsense."
He sat his horse looking eastward over the hills that rolled far away to the horizon. His eye wandered down the river gleaming now like gold in the sunset glow. He had learned to love this land of great sunlit spaces and fresh blowing winds, but this evening its very beauty appeared intolerable to him. Ever since the death of Raven upon that tragic night of the cattle-raid he had been fighting his bitter loss and disappointment; with indifferent success, it is true, but still not without the hope of attaining final peace of soul. This evening he knew that, while he lived in this land, peace would never come to him, for his heart-wound never would heal.
"I will go," he said again. "I will say good-by to-night. By Jove! I feel better already. Come along, Pepper! Wake up!"
Pepper woke up to some purpose and at a smart canter carried the doctor on his way round the bluff toward a gate that opened into a lane leading to the stables. At the gate a figure started up suddenly from the shadow of a poplar. With a snort and in the midst of his stride Pepper swung on his heels with such amazing abruptness that his rider was flung from his saddle, fortunately upon his feet.
"Confound you for a dumb-headed fool! What are you up to anyway?" he cried in a sudden rage, recognizing Smith, who stood beside the trail in an abjectly apologetic attitude.
"Yes," cried another voice from the shadow. "Is he not a fool? You would think he ought to know Mr. Smith by this time. But Pepper is really very stupid."
The doctor stood speechless, surprise, disgust and rage struggling for supremacy among his emotions. He stood gazing stupidly from one to the other, utterly at a loss for words.
"You see, Mr. Smith," began Moira somewhat lamely, "had something to say to me and so we—and so we came—along to the gate."
"So I see," replied the doctor gruffly.
"You see Mr. Smith has come to mean a great deal to me—to us—"
"So I should imagine," replied the doctor.
"His self-sacrifice and courage during those terrible days we can never forget."
"Exactly so—quite right," replied the doctor, standing stiffly beside his horse's head.
"You do not know people all at once," continued Moira.
"Ah! Not all at once," the doctor replied.
"But in times of danger and trouble one gets to know them quickly."
"Sure thing," said the doctor.
"And it takes times of danger to bring out the hero in a man."
"I should imagine so," replied the doctor with his eyes on Smith's childlike and beaming face.
"And you see Mr. Smith was really our whole stay, and—and—we came to rely upon him and we found him so steadfast." In the face of the doctor's stolid brevity Moira was finding conversation difficult.
"Steadfast!" repeated the doctor. "Exactly so," his eyes upon Smith's wobbly legs. "Mr. Smith I consider a very fortunate man. I congratulate him on—"
"Oh, have you heard? I did not know that—"
"Yes. I mean—not exactly."
"Who told you? Is it not splendid?" enthusiasm shining in her eyes.
"Splendid! Yes—that is, for him," replied the doctor without emotion. "I congratulate—"
"But how did you hear?"
"I did not exactly hear, but I had no difficulty in—ah—making the discovery."
"Yes, discovery. It was fairly plain; I might say it was the feature of the view; in fact it stuck right out of the landscape—hit you in the eye, so to speak."
"The landscape? What can you mean?"
"Mean? Simply that I am at a loss as to whether Mr. Smith is to be congratulated more upon his exquisite taste or upon his extraordinary good fortune."
"Good fortune, yes, is it not splendid?"
"Splendid is the exact word," said the doctor stiffly.
"And I am so glad."
"Yes, you certainly look happy," replied the doctor with a grim attempt at a smile, and feeling as if more enthusiasm were demanded from him. "Let me offer you my congratulations and say good-by. I am leaving."
"You will be back soon, though?"
"Hardly. I am leaving the West."
"Leaving the West? Why? What? When?"
"To-night. Now. I must say good-by."
"To-night? Now?" Her voice sank almost to a whisper. Her lips were white and quivering. "But do they know at the house? Surely this is sudden."
"Oh, no, not so sudden. I have thought of it for some time; indeed, I have made my plans."
"Oh—for some time? You have made your plans? But you never hinted such a thing to—to any of us."
"Oh, well, I don't tell my plans to all the world," said the doctor with a careless laugh.
The girl shrank from him as if he had cut her with his riding whip. But, swiftly recovering herself, she cried with gay reproach:
"Why, Mr. Smith, we are losing all our friends at once. It is cruel of you and Dr. Martin to desert us at the same time. Mr. Smith, you know," she continued, turning to the doctor with an air of exaggerated vivacity, "leaves for the East to-night too."
"Smith—leaving?" The doctor gazed stupidly at that person.
"Yes, you know he has come into a big fortune and is going to be—"
"Yes, and he is going East to be married."
"Going EAST to be married?"
"Yes, and I was—"
"Going EAST?" exclaimed the doctor. "I don't understand. I thought you—"
"Oh, yes, his young lady is awaiting him in the East. And he is going to spend his money in such a splendid way."
"Going EAST?" echoed the doctor, as if he could not fix the idea with sufficient firmness in his brain to grasp it fully.
"Yes, I have just told you so," replied the girl.
"Married?" shouted the doctor, suddenly rushing at Smith and gripping him by both arms. "Smith, you shy dog—you lucky dog! Let me wish you joy, old man. By Jove! You deserve your luck, every bit of it. Say, that's fine. Ha! ha! Jeerupiter! Smith, you are a good one and a sly one. Shake again, old man. Say, by Jove! What a sell—I mean what a joke! Look here, Smith, old chap, would you mind taking Pepper home? I am rather tired—riding, I mean—beastly wild cows—no end of a run after them. See you down at the house later. No, no, don't wait, don't mind me. I am all right, fit as a fiddle—no, not a bit tired—I mean I am tired riding. Yes, rather stiff—about the knees, you know. Oh, it's all right. Up you get, old man—there you are! So, Smith, you are going to be married, eh? Lucky dog! Tell 'em I am—tell 'em we are coming. My horse? Oh, well, never mind my horse till I come myself. So long, old chap! Ha! ha! old man, good-by. Great Caesar! What a sell! Say, let's sit down, Moira," he said, suddenly growing quiet and turning to the girl, "till I get my wind. Fine chap that Smith. Legs a bit wobbly, but don't care if he had a hundred of 'em and all wobbly. He's all right. Oh, my soul! What an ass! What an adjectival, hyphenated jackass! Don't look at me that way or I shall climb a tree and yell. I'm not mad, I assure you. I was on the verge of it a few moments ago, but it is gone. I am sane, sane as an old maid. Oh, my God!" He covered his face with his hands and sat utterly still for some moments.
"Dr. Martin, what is the matter?" exclaimed the girl. "You terrify me."
"No wonder. I terrify myself. How could I have stood it."
"What is the matter? What is it?"
"Why, Moira, I thought you were going to marry that idiot."
"Idiot?" exclaimed the girl, drawing herself up. "Idiot? Mr. Smith? I am not going to marry him, Dr. Martin, but he is an honorable fellow and a friend of mine, a dear friend of mine."
"So he is, so he is, a splendid fellow, the finest ever, but thank God you are not going to marry him!"
"Why, what is wrong with—"
"Why? Why? God help me! Why? Only because, Moira, I love you." He threw himself upon his knees beside her. "Don't, don't for God's sake get away! Give me a chance to speak!" He caught her hand in both of his. "I have just been through hell. Don't send me there again. Let me tell you. Ever since that minute when I saw you in the glen I have loved you. In my thoughts by day and in my dreams by night you have been, and this day when I thought I had lost you I knew that I loved you ten thousand times more than ever." He was kissing her hand passionately, while she sat with head turned away. "Tell me, Moira, if I may love you? And is it any use? And do you think you could love me even a little bit? I am not worthy to touch you. Tell me." Still she sat silent. He waited a few moments, his face growing gray. "Tell me," he said at length in a broken, husky voice. "I will try to bear it."
She turned her face toward him. The sunny eyes were full of tears.
"And you were going away from me?" she breathed, leaning toward him.
"Sweetheart!" he cried, putting his arms around her and drawing her to him, "tell me to stay."
"Stay," she whispered, "or take me too."
The sun had long since disappeared behind the big purple mountains and even the warm afterglow in the eastern sky had faded into a pearly opalescent gray when the two reached the edge of the bluff nearest the house.
"Oh! The milking!" cried Moira aghast, as she came in sight of the house.
"Great Caesar! I was going to help," exclaimed the doctor.
"Too bad," said the girl penitently. "But, of course, there's Smith."
"Why, certainly there's Smith. What a God-send that chap is. He is always on the spot. But Cameron is home. I see his horse. Let us go in and face the music."
They found an excited group standing in the kitchen, Mandy with a letter in her hand.
"Oh, here you are at last!" she cried. "Where have you—" She glanced at Moira's face and then at the doctor's and stopped abruptly.
"Hello, what's up?" cried the doctor.
"We have got a letter—such a letter!" cried Mandy. "Read it. Read it aloud, Doctor." She thrust the letter into his hand. The doctor cleared his throat, struck an attitude, and read aloud:
"My dear Cameron:
"It gives me great pleasure to say for the officers of the Police Force in the South West district and for myself that we greatly appreciate the distinguished services you rendered during the past six months in your patrol of the Sun Dance Trail. It was a work of difficulty and danger and one of the highest importance to the country. I feel sure it will gratify you to know that the attention of the Government has been specially called to the creditable manner in which you have performed your duty, and I have no doubt that the Government will suitably express its appreciation of your services in due time. But, as you are aware, in the Force to which we have the honor to belong, we do not look for recognition, preferring to find a sufficient reward in duty done.
"Permit me also to say that we recognize and appreciate the spirit of devotion showed by Mrs. Cameron during these trying months in so cheerfully and loyally giving you up to this service.
"May I add that in this rebellion to my mind the most critical factor was the attitude of the great Blackfeet Confederacy. Every possible effort was made by the half-breeds and Northern Indians to seduce Crowfoot and his people from their loyalty, and their most able and unscrupulous agent in this attempt was the Sioux Indian known among us as The Copperhead. That he failed utterly in his schemes and that Crowfoot remained loyal I believe is due to the splendid work of the officers and members of our Force in the South West district, but especially to your splendid services as the Patrol of the Sun Dance Trail."
"And signed by the big Chief himself, the Commissioner," cried Dr. Martin. "What do you think of that, Baby?" he continued, catching the baby from its mother's arms. "What do you think of your daddy?" The doctor pirouetted round the room with the baby in his arms, that young person regarding the whole performance apparently with grave and profound satisfaction.
"Your horse is ready," said Smith, coming in at the door.
"Your horse?" cried Cameron.
"Oh—I forgot," said the doctor. "Ah—I don't think I want him to-night, Smith."
"You are not going to-night, then?" inquired Mandy in delighted surprise.
"No—I—in fact, I believe I have changed my mind about that. I have, been—ah—persuaded to remain."
"Oh, I see," cried Mandy in supreme delight. Then turning swiftly upon her sister-in-law who stood beside the doctor, her face in a radiant glow, she added, "Then what did you mean by—by—what we saw this afternoon?"
A deeper red dyed the girl's cheeks.
"What are you talking about?" cried Dr. Martin. "Oh, that kissing Smith business."
"I couldn't just help it!" burst out Moira. "He was so happy."
"Going to be married, you know," interjected the doctor.
"Just so," cried the doctor. "Oh, pshaw! that's all right! I'd kiss Smith myself. I feel like doing it this blessed minute. Where is he? Smith! Where are you?" But Smith had escaped. "Smith's all right, I say, and so are we, eh, Moira?" He slipped his arm round the blushing girl.
"Oh, I am so glad," cried Mandy, beaming upon them. "And you are not going East after all?"
"East? Not I! The West for me. I am going to stay right in it—with the Inspector here—and with you, Mrs. Cameron—and with my sweetheart—and yes, certainly with the Patrol of the Sun Dance Trail."