THE PATROL OF THE SUN DANCE TRAIL
By Ralph Connor
I THE TRAIL-RUNNER
II HIS COUNTRY'S NEED
III A-FISHING WE WILL GO
IV THE BIG CHIEF
V THE ANCIENT SACRIFICE
VI THE ILLUSIVE COPPERHEAD
VII THE SARCEE CAMP
VIII THE GIRL ON NO. 1
IX THE RIDE UP THE BOW
X RAVEN TO THE RESCUE
XI SMITH'S WORK
XII IN THE SUN DANCE CANYON
XIII IN THE BIG WIGWAM
XIV "GOOD MAN—GOOD SQUAW"
XV THE OUTLAW
XVII TO ARMS!
XVIII AN OUTLAW, BUT A MAN
XIX THE GREAT CHIEF
XX THE LAST PATROL
XXI WHY THE DOCTOR STAYED
THE PATROL OF THE SUN DANCE TRAIL
High up on the hillside in the midst of a rugged group of jack pines the Union Jack shook out its folds gallantly in the breeze that swept down the Kicking Horse Pass. That gallant flag marked the headquarters of Superintendent Strong, of the North West Mounted Police, whose special duty it was to preserve law and order along the construction line of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, now pushed west some scores of miles.
Along the tote-road, which ran parallel to the steel, a man, dark of skin, slight but wiry, came running, his hard panting, his streaming face, his open mouth proclaiming his exhaustion. At a little trail that led to the left he paused, noted its course toward the flaunting flag, turned into it, then struggled up the rocky hillside till he came to the wooden shack, with a deep porch running round it, and surrounded by a rustic fence which enclosed a garden whose neatness illustrated a characteristic of the British soldier. The runner passed in through the gate and up the little gravel walk and began to ascend the steps.
"Halt!" A quick sharp voice arrested him. "What do you want here?" From the side of the shack an orderly appeared, neat, trim and dandified in appearance, from his polished boots to his wide cowboy hat.
"Beeg Chief," panted the runner. "Me—see—beeg Chief—queeck."
The orderly looked him over and hesitated.
"What do you want Big Chief for?"
"Me—want—say somet'ing," said the little man, fighting to recover his breath, "somet'ing beeg—sure beeg." He made a step toward the door.
"Halt there!" said the orderly sharply. "Keep out, you half-breed!"
"See—beeg Chief—queeck," panted the half-breed, for so he was, with fierce insistence.
The orderly hesitated. A year ago he would have hustled him off the porch in short order. But these days were anxious days. Rumors wild and terrifying were running through the trails of the dark forest. Everywhere were suspicion and unrest. The Indian tribes throughout the western territories and in the eastern part of British Columbia, under cover of an unwonted quiet, were in a state of excitement, and this none knew better than the North West Mounted Police. With stoical unconcern the Police patroled their beats, rode in upon the reserves, careless, cheery, but with eyes vigilant for signs and with ears alert for sounds of the coming storm. Only the Mounted Police, however, and a few old-timers who knew the Indians and their half-breed kindred gave a single moment's thought to the bare possibility of danger. The vast majority of the Canadian people knew nothing of the tempestuous gatherings of French half-breed settlers in little hamlets upon the northern plains along the Saskatchewan. The fiery resolutions reported now and then in the newspapers reciting the wrongs and proclaiming the rights of these remote, ignorant, insignificant, half-tamed pioneers of civilization roused but faint interest in the minds of the people of Canada. Formal resolutions and petitions of rights had been regularly sent during the past two years to Ottawa and there as regularly pigeon-holed above the desks of deputy ministers. The politicians had a somewhat dim notion that there was some sort of row on among the "breeds" about Prince Albert and Battleford, but this concerned them little. The members of the Opposition found in the resolutions and petitions of rights useful ammunition for attack upon the Government. In purple periods the leader arraigned the supineness and the indifference of the Premier and his Government to "the rights and wrongs of our fellow-citizens who, amid the hardships of a pioneer civilization, were laying broad and deep the foundations of Empire." But after the smoke and noise of the explosion had passed both Opposition and Government speedily forgot the half-breed and his tempestuous gatherings in the stores and schoolhouses, at church doors and in open camps, along the banks of the far away Saskatchewan.
There were a few men, however, that could not forget. An Indian agent here and there with a sense of responsibility beyond the pickings of his post, a Hudson Bay factor whose long experience in handling the affairs of half-breeds and Indians instructed him to read as from a printed page what to others were meaningless and incoherent happenings, and above all the officers of the Mounted Police, whose duty it was to preserve the "pax Britannica" over some three hundred thousand square miles of Her Majesty's dominions in this far northwest reach of Empire, these carried night and day an uneasiness in their minds which found vent from time to time in reports and telegraphic messages to members of Government and other officials at headquarters, who slept on, however, undisturbed. But the word was passed along the line of Police posts over the plains and far out into British Columbia to watch for signs and to be on guard. The Police paid little heed to the high-sounding resolutions of a few angry excitable half-breeds, who, daring though they were and thoroughly able to give a good account of themselves in any trouble that might arise, were quite insignificant in number; but there was another peril, so serious, so terrible, that the oldest officer on the force spoke of it with face growing grave and with lowered voice—the peril of an Indian uprising.
All this and more made the trim orderly hesitate. A runner with news was not to be kicked unceremoniously off the porch in these days, but to be considered.
"You want to see the Superintendent, eh?"
"Oui, for sure—queeck—run ten mile," replied the half-breed with angry impatience.
"All right," said the orderly, "what's your name?"
"Name? Me, Pinault—Pierre Pinault. Ah, sacr-r-e! Beeg Chief know me—Pinault." The little man drew himself up.
"All right! Wait!" replied the orderly, and passed into the shack. He had hardly disappeared when he was back again, obviously shaken out of his correct military form.
"Go in!" he said sharply. "Get a move on! What are you waiting for?"
The half-breed threw him a sidelong glance of contempt and passed quickly into the "Beeg Chief's" presence.
Superintendent Strong was a man prompt in decision and prompt in action, a man of courage, too, unquestioned, and with that bulldog spirit that sees things through to a finish. To these qualities it was that he owed his present command, for it was no insignificant business to keep the peace and to make the law run along the line of the Canadian Pacific Railway through the Kicking Horse Pass during construction days.
The half-breed had been but a few minutes with the Chief when the orderly was again startled out of his military decorum by the bursting open of the Superintendent's door and the sharp rattle of the Superintendent's orders.
"Send Sergeant Ferry to me at once and have my horse and his brought round immediately!" The orderly sprang to attention and saluted.
"Yes, sir!" he replied, and swiftly departed.
A few minutes' conference with Sergeant Ferry, a few brief commands to the orderly, and the Superintendent and Sergeant were on their way down the steep hillside toward the tote-road that led eastward through the pass. A half-hour's ride brought them to a trail that led off to the south, into which the Superintendent, followed by the Sergeant, turned his horse. Not a word was spoken by either man. It was not the Superintendent's custom to share his plans with his subordinate officers until it became necessary. "What you keep behind your teeth," was a favorite maxim with the Superintendent, "will harm neither yourself nor any other man." They were on the old Kootenay Trail, for a hundred years and more the ancient pathway of barter and of war for the Indian tribes that hunted the western plains and the foothill country and brought their pelts to the coast by way of the Columbia River. Along the lower levels the old trail ran, avoiding, with the sure instinct of a skilled engineer, nature's obstacles, and taking full advantage of every sloping hillside and every open stretch of woods. Now and then, however, the trail must needs burrow through a deep thicket of spruce and jack pine and scramble up a rocky ridge, where the horses, trained as they were in mountain climbing, had all they could do to keep their feet.
Ten miles and more they followed the tortuous trail, skirting mountain peaks and burrowing through underbrush, scrambling up rocky ridges and sliding down their farther sides, till they came to a park-like country where from the grassy sward the big Douglas firs, trimmed clear of lower growth and standing spaced apart, lifted on red and glistening trunks their lofty crowns of tufted evergreen far above the lesser trees.
As they approached the open country the Superintendent proceeded with greater caution, pausing now and then to listen.
"There ought to be a big powwow going on somewhere near," he said to his Sergeant, "but I can hear nothing. Can you?"
The Sergeant leaned over his horse's ears.
"No, sir, not a sound."
"And yet it can't be far away," growled the Superintendent.
The trail led through the big firs and dipped into a little grassy valley set round with thickets on every side. Into this open glade they rode. The Superintendent was plainly disturbed and irritated; irritated because surprised and puzzled. Where he had expected to find a big Indian powwow he found only a quiet sunny glade in the midst of a silent forest. Sergeant Ferry waited behind him in respectful silence, too wise to offer any observation upon the situation. Hence in the Superintendent grew a deeper irritation.
"Well, I'll be—!" He paused abruptly. The Superintendent rarely used profanity. He reserved this form of emphasis for supreme moments. He was possessed of a dramatic temperament and appreciated at its full value the effect of a climax. The climax had not yet arrived, hence his self-control.
"Exactly so," said the Sergeant, determined to be agreeable.
"They don't seem to be here, sir," replied the Sergeant, staring up into the trees.
"Where?" cried the Superintendent, following the direction of the Sergeant's eyes. "Do you suppose they're a lot of confounded monkeys?"
"Exactly—that is—no, sir, not at all, sir. But—"
"They were to have been here," said the Superintendent angrily. "My information was most positive and trustworthy."
"Exactly so, sir," replied the Sergeant. "But they haven't been here at all!" The Superintendent impatiently glared at the Sergeant, as if he were somehow responsible for this inexplicable failure upon the part of the Indians.
"Exactly—that is—no, sir. No sign. Not a sign." The Sergeant was most emphatic.
"Well, then, where in—where—?" The Superintendent felt himself rapidly approaching an emotional climax and took himself back with a jerk. "Well," he continued, with obvious self-control, "let's look about a bit."
With keen and practised eyes they searched the glade, and the forest round about it, and the trails leading to it.
"Not a sign," said the Superintendent emphatically, "and for the first time in my experience Pinault is wrong—the very first time. He was dead sure."
"Pinault—generally right, sir," observed the Sergeant.
"Exactly so. But this time—"
"He's been fooled," declared the Superintendent. "A big sun dance was planned for this identical spot. They were all to be here, every tribe represented, the Stonies even had been drawn into it, some of the young bloods I suppose. And, more than that, the Sioux from across the line."
"The Sioux, eh?" said the Sergeant. "I didn't know the Sioux were in this."
"Ah, perhaps not, but I have information that the Sioux—in fact—" here the Superintendent dropped his voice and unconsciously glanced about him, "the Sioux are very much in this, and old Copperhead himself is the moving spirit of the whole business."
"Copperhead!" exclaimed the Sergeant in an equally subdued tone.
"Yes, sir, that old devil is taking a hand in the game. My information was that he was to have been here to-day, and, by the Lord Harry! if he had been we would have put him where the dogs wouldn't bite him. The thing is growing serious."
"Serious!" exclaimed the Sergeant in unwonted excitement. "You just bet—that is exactly so, sir. Why the Sioux must be good for a thousand."
"A thousand!" exclaimed the Superintendent. "I've the most positive information that the Sioux could place in the war path two thousand fighting-men inside of a month. And old Copperhead is at the bottom of it all. We want that old snake, and we want him badly." And the Superintendent swung on to his horse and set off on the return trip.
"Well, sir, we generally get what we want in that way," volunteered the Sergeant, following his chief.
"We do—in the long run. But in this same old Copperhead we have the acutest Indian brain in all the western country. Sitting Bull was a fighter, Copperhead is a schemer."
They rode in silence, the Sergeant busy with a dozen schemes whereby he might lay old Copperhead by the heels; the Superintendent planning likewise. But in the Superintendent's plans the Sergeant had no place. The capture of the great Sioux schemer must be entrusted to a cooler head than that of the impulsive, daring, loyal-hearted Sergeant.
HIS COUNTRY'S NEED
For full five miles they rode in unbroken silence, the Superintendent going before with head pressed down on his breast and eyes fixed upon the winding trail. A heavy load lay upon him. True, his immediate sphere of duty lay along the line of the Canadian Pacific Railway, but as an officer of Her Majesty's North West Mounted Police he shared with the other officers of that force the full responsibility of holding in steadfast loyalty the tribes of Western Indians. His knowledge of the presence in the country of the arch-plotter of the powerful and warlike Sioux from across the line entailed a new burden. Well he knew that his superior officer would simply expect him to deal with the situation in a satisfactory manner. But how, was the puzzle. A mere handful of men he had under his immediate command and these dispersed in ones and twos along the line of railway, and not one of them fit to cope with the cunning and daring Sioux.
With startling abruptness he gave utterance to his thoughts.
"We must get him—and quick. Things are moving too rapidly for any delay. The truth is," he continued, with a deepening impatience in his voice, "the truth is we are short-handed. We ought to be able to patrol every trail in this country. That old villain has fooled us to-day and he'll fool us again. And he has fooled Pinault, the smartest breed we've got. He's far too clever to be around loose among our Indians."
Again they rode along in silence, the Superintendent thinking deeply.
"I know where he is!" he exclaimed suddenly, pulling up his horse. "I know where he is—this blessed minute. He's on the Sun Dance Trail and in the Sun Dance Canyon, and they're having the biggest kind of a powwow."
"The Sun Dance!" echoed the Sergeant. "By Jove, if only Sergeant Cameron were on this job! He knows the Sun Dance inside and out, every foot."
The Superintendent swung his horse sharply round to face his Sergeant.
"Cameron!" he exclaimed thoughtfully. "Cameron! I believe you're right. He's the man—the very man. But," he added with sudden remembrance, "he's left the Force."
"Left the Force, sir. Yes, sir," echoed the Sergeant with a grin. "He appeared to have a fairly good reason, too."
"Reason!" snorted the Superintendent. "Reason! What in—? What did he—? Why did he pull off that fool stunt at this particular time? A kid like him has no business getting married."
"Mighty fine girl, sir," suggested the Sergeant warmly. "Mighty lucky chap. Not many fellows could resist such a sharp attack as he had."
"Fine girl! Oh, of course, of course—fine girl certainly. Fine girl. But what's that got to do with it?"
"Well, sir," ventured the Sergeant in a tone of surprise, "a good deal, sir, I should say. By Jove, sir, I could have—if I could have pulled it off myself—but of course she was an old flame of Cameron's and I'd no chance."
"But the Service, sir!" exclaimed the Superintendent with growing indignation. "The Service! Why! Cameron was right in line for promotion. He had the making of a most useful officer. And with this trouble coming on it was—it was—a highly foolish, indeed a highly reprehensible proceeding, sir." The Superintendent was rapidly mounting his pet hobby, which was the Force in which he had the honor to be an officer, the far-famed North West Mounted Police. For the Service he had sacrificed everything in life, ease, wealth, home, yes, even wife and family, to a certain extent. With him the Force was a passion. For it he lived and breathed. That anyone should desert it for any cause soever was to him an act unexplainable. He almost reckoned it treason.
But the question was one that touched the Sergeant as well, and deeply. Hence, though he well knew his Chief's dominant passion, he ventured an argument.
"A mighty fine girl, sir, something very special. She saw me through a mountain fever once, and I know—"
"Oh, the deuce take it, Sergeant! The girl is all right. I grant you all that. But is that any reason why a man should desert the Force? And now of all times? He's only a kid. So is she. She can't be twenty-five."
"Twenty-five? Good Lord, no!" exclaimed the shocked Sergeant. "She isn't a day over twenty. Why, look at her. She's—"
"Oh, tut-tut! If she's twenty it makes it all the worse. Why couldn't they wait till this fuss was over? Why, sir, when I was twenty—" The Superintendent paused abruptly.
"Yes, sir?" The Sergeant's manner was respectful and expectant.
"Never mind," said the Superintendent. "Why rush the thing, I say?"
"Well, sir, I did hear that there was a sudden change in Cameron's home affairs in Scotland, sir. His father died suddenly, I believe. The estate was sold up and his sister, the only other child, was left all alone. Cameron felt it necessary to get a home together—though I don't suppose he needed any excuse. Never saw a man so hard hit myself."
"Except yourself, Sergeant, eh?" said the Superintendent, relaxing into a grim smile.
"Oh, well, of course, sir, I'm not going to deny it. But you see," continued the Sergeant, his pride being touched, "he had known her down East—worked on her father's farm—young gentleman—fresh from college—culture, you know, manner—style and that sort of thing—rushed her clean off her feet."
"I thought you said it was Cameron who was the one hard hit?"
"So it was, sir. Hadn't seen her for a couple of years or so. Left her a country lass, uncouth, ignorant—at least so they say."
"Well, her friends—Dr. Martin and the nurse at the hospital. But I can't believe them, simply impossible. That this girl two years ago should have been an ignorant, clumsy, uncouth country lass is impossible. However, Cameron came on her here, transfigured, glorified so to speak, consequently fell over neck in love, went quite batty in fact. A secret flame apparently smoldering all these months suddenly burst into a blaze—a blaze, by Jove!—regular conflagration. And no wonder, sir, when you look at her, her face, her form, her style—"
"Oh, come, Sergeant, we'll move on. Let's keep at the business in hand. The question is what's to do. That old snake Copperhead is three hundred miles from here on the Sun Dance, plotting hell for this country, and we want him. As you say, Cameron's our man. I wonder," continued the Superintendent after a pause, "I wonder if we could get him."
"I should say certainly not!" replied the Sergeant promptly. "He's only a few months married, sir."
"He might," mused the Superintendent, "if it were properly put to him. It would be a great thing for the Service. He's the man. By the Lord Harry, he's the only man! In short," with a resounding whack upon his thigh, "he has got to come. The situation is too serious for trifling."
"Trifling?" said the Sergeant to himself in undertone.
"We'll go for him. We'll send for him." The Superintendent turned and glanced at his companion.
"Not me, sir, I hope. You can quite see, sir, I'd be a mighty poor advocate. Couldn't face those blue eyes, sir. They make me grow quite weak. Chills and fever—in short, temporary delirium."
"Oh, well, Sergeant," replied the Superintendent, "if it's as bad as that—"
"You don't know her, sir. Those eyes! They can burn in blue flame or melt in—"
"Oh, yes, yes, I've no doubt." The Superintendent's voice had a touch of pity, if not contempt. "We won't expose you, Sergeant. But all the same we'll make a try for Cameron." His voice grew stern. His lips drew to a line. "And we'll get him."
The Sergeant's horse took a sudden plunge forward.
"Here, you beast!" he cried, with a fierce oath. "Come back here! What's the matter with you?" He threw the animal back on his haunches with a savage jerk, a most unaccustomed thing with the Sergeant.
"Yes," pursued the Superintendent, "the situation demands it. Cameron's the man. It's his old stamping-ground. He knows every twist of its trails. And he's a wonder, a genius for handling just such a business as this."
The Sergeant made no reply. He was apparently having some trouble with his horse.
"Of course," continued the Superintendent, with a glance at his Sergeant's face, "it's hard on her, but—" dismissing that feature of the case lightly—"in a situation like this everything must give way. The latest news is exceedingly grave. The trouble along the Saskatchewan looks to me exceedingly serious. These half-breeds there have real grievances. I know them well, excitable, turbulent in their spirits, uncontrollable, but easily handled if decently treated. They've sent their petitions again and again to Ottawa, and here are these Members of Parliament making fool speeches, and the Government pooh-poohing the whole movement, and meantime Riel orating and organizing."
"Riel? Who's he?" inquired the Sergeant.
"Riel? You don't know Riel? That's what comes of being an island-bred Britisher. You people know nothing outside your own little two by four patch on the world's map. Haven't you heard of Riel?"
"Oh, yes, by the way, I've heard about the Johnny. Mixed up in something before in this country, wasn't he?"
"Well, rather! The rebel leader of 1870. Cost us some considerable trouble, too. There's bound to be mischief where that hair-brained four-flusher gets a crowd to listen to him. For egoist though he is, he possesses a wonderful power over the half-breeds. He knows how to work. And somehow, too, they're suspicious of all Canadians, as they call the new settlers from the East, ready to believe anything they're told, and with plenty of courage to risk a row."
"What's the row about, anyway?" inquired the Sergeant. "I could never quite get it."
"Oh, there are many causes. These half-breeds are squatters, many of them. They have introduced the same system of survey on the Saskatchewan as their ancestors had on the St. Lawrence, and later on the Red, the system of 'Strip Farms.' That is, farms with narrow fronts upon the river and extending back from a mile to four miles, a poor arrangement for farming but mighty fine for social purposes. I tell you, it takes the loneliness and isolation out of pioneer life. I've lived among them, and the strip-farm survey possesses distinct social advantages. You have two rows of houses a few rods apart, and between them the river, affording an ice roadway in the winter and a waterway in the summer. And to see a flotilla of canoes full of young people, with fiddles and concertinas going, paddle down the river on their way to a neighbor's house for a dance, is something to remember. For my part I don't wonder that these people resent the action of the Government in introducing a completely new survey without saying 'by your leave.' There are troubles, too, about their land patents."
"How many of these half-breeds are there anyway?"
"Well, only a few hundreds I should say. But it isn't the half-breeds we fear. The mischief of it is they have been sending runners all through this country to their red-skin friends and relatives, holding out all sorts of promises, the restoration of their hunting grounds to the Indians, the establishing of an empire of the North, from which the white race shall be excluded. I've heard them. Just enough truth and sense in the whole mad scheme to appeal to the Indian mind. The older men, the chiefs, are quiet so far, but the young braves are getting out of hand. You see they have no longer their ancient excitement of war and the chase. Life has grown monotonous, to the young men especially, on the reserves. They are chafing under control, and the prospect of a fight appeals to them. In every tribe sun dances are being held, braves are being made, and from across the other side weapons are being introduced. And now that this old snake Copperhead has crossed the line the thing takes an ugly look. He's undeniably brainy, a fearless fighter, an extraordinary organizer, has great influence with his own people and is greatly respected among our tribes. If an Indian war should break out with Copperhead running it—well—! That's why it's important to get this old devil. And it must be done quietly. Any movement in force on our part would set the prairie on fire. The thing has got to be done by one or two men. That's why we must have Cameron."
In spite of his indignation the Sergeant was impressed. Never had he heard his Chief discourse at such length, and never had he heard his Chief use the word "danger." It began to dawn upon his mind that possibly it might not be such a crime as he had at first considered it to lure Cameron away from his newly made home and his newly wedded wife to do this bit of service for his country in an hour of serious if not desperate need.
A-FISHING WE WILL GO
But Sergeant Cameron was done with the Service for ever. An accumulating current of events had swept him from his place in the Force, as an unheeding traveler crossing a mountain torrent is swept from his feet by a raging freshet. The sudden blazing of his smoldering love into a consuming flame for the clumsy country girl, for whom two years ago he had cherished a pitying affection, threw up upon the horizon of his life and into startling clearness a new and absorbing objective. In one brief quarter of an hour his life had gathered itself into a single purpose; a purpose, to wit, to make a home to which he might bring this girl he had come to love with such swift and fierce intensity, to make a home for her where she could be his own, and for ever. All the vehement passion of his Highland nature was concentrated upon the accomplishing of this purpose. That he should ever have come to love Mandy Haley, the overworked slattern on her father's Ontario farm, while a thing of wonder, was not the chief wonder to him. His wonder now was that he should ever have been so besottedly dull of wit and so stupidly unseeing as to allow the unlovely exterior of the girl to hide the radiant soul within. That in two brief years she had transformed herself into a woman of such perfectly balanced efficiency in her profession as nurse, and a creature of such fascinating comeliness, was only another proof of his own insensate egotism, and another proof, too, of those rare powers that slumbered in the girl's soul unknown to herself and to her world. Small wonder that with her unfolding Cameron's whole world should become new.
Hard upon this experience the unexpected news of his father's death and of the consequent winding up of the tangled affairs of the estate threw upon Cameron the responsibility of caring for his young sister, now left alone in the Homeland, except for distant kindred of whom they had but slight knowledge.
A home was immediately and imperatively necessary, and hence he must at once, as a preliminary, be married. Cameron fortunately remembered that young Fraser, whom he had known in his Fort Macleod days, was dead keen to get rid of the "Big Horn Ranch." This ranch lay nestling cozily among the foothills and in sight of the towering peaks of the Rockies, and was so well watered with little lakes and streams that when his eyes fell upon it Cameron was conscious of a sharp pang of homesickness, so suggestive was it of the beloved Glen Cuagh Oir of his own Homeland. There would be a thousand pounds or more left from his father's estate. Everybody said it was a safe, indeed a most profitable investment.
A week's leave of absence sufficed for Cameron to close the deal with Fraser, a reckless and gallant young Highlander, whose chivalrous soul, kindling at Cameron's romantic story, prompted a generous reduction in the price of the ranch and its outfit complete. Hence when Mandy's shrewd and experienced head had scanned the contract and cast up the inventory of steers and horses, with pigs and poultry thrown in, and had found nothing amiss with the deal—indeed it was rather better than she had hoped—there was no holding of Cameron any longer. Married he would be and without delay.
The only drag in the proceedings had come from the Superintendent, who, on getting wind of Cameron's purpose, had thought, by promptly promoting him from Corporal to Sergeant, to tie him more tightly to the Service and hold him, if only for a few months, "till this trouble should blow over." But Cameron knew of no trouble. The trouble was only in the Superintendent's mind, or indeed was only a shrewd scheme to hold Cameron to his duty. A rancher he would be, and a famous rancher's wife Mandy would make. And as for his sister Moira, had she not highly specialized in pigs and poultry on the old home farm at the Cuagh Oir? There was no stopping the resistless rush of his passionate purpose. Everything combined to urge him on. Even his college mate and one time football comrade of the old Edinburgh days, the wise, cool-headed Dr. Martin, now in charge of the Canadian Pacific Railway Hospital, as also the little nurse who, through those momentous months of Mandy's transforming, had been to her guide, philosopher and friend, both had agreed that there was no good reason for delay. True, Cameron had no means of getting inside the doctor's mind and therefore had no knowledge of the vision that came nightly to torment him in his dreams and the memory that came daily to haunt his waking hours; a vision and a memory of a trim little figure in a blue serge gown, of eyes brown, now sunny with laughing light, now soft with unshed tears, of hair that got itself into a most bewildering perplexity of waves and curls, of lips curving deliciously, of a voice with a wonderfully soft Highland accent; the vision and memory of Moira, Cameron's sister, as she had appeared to him in the Glen Cuagh Oir at her father's door. Had Cameron known of this tormenting vision and this haunting memory he might have questioned the perfect sincerity of his friend's counsel. But Dr. Martin kept his secret well and none shared with him his visions and his dreams.
So there had been only the Superintendent to oppose.
Hence, because no really valid objection could be offered, the marriage was made. And with much shrieking of engines—it seemed as if all the engines with their crews within a hundred miles had gathered to the celebration—with loud thunder of exploding torpedoes, with tumultuous cheering of the construction gangs hauled thither on gravel trains, with congratulations of railroad officials and of the doctor, with the tearful smiles of the little nurse, and with grudging but finally hearty good wishes of the Superintendent, they had ridden off down the Kootenay Trail for their honeymoon, on their way to the Big Horn Ranch some hundreds of miles across the mountains.
There on the Big Horn Ranch through the long summer days together they rode the ranges after the cattle, cooking their food in the open and camping under the stars where night found them, care-free and deeply happy, drinking long full draughts of that mingled wine of life into which health and youth and love and God's sweet sun and air poured their rare vintage. The world was far away and quite forgotten.
Summer deepened into autumn, the fall round-up was approaching, and there came a September day of such limpid light and such nippy sprightly air as to suggest to Mandy nothing less than a holiday.
"Let's strike!" she cried to her husband, as she looked out toward the rolling hills and the overtopping peaks shining clear in the early morning light. "Let's strike and go a-fishing."
Her husband let his eyes wander over the full curves of her strong and supple body and rest upon the face, brown and wholesome, lit with her deep blue eyes and crowned with the red-gold masses of her hair, and exclaimed:
"You need a holiday, Mandy. I can see it in the drooping lines of your figure, and in the paling of your cheeks. In short," moving toward her, "you need some one to care for you."
"Not just at this moment, young man," she cried, darting round the table. "But, come, what do you say to a day's fishing away up the Little Horn?"
"The Little Horn?"
"Yes, you know the little creek running into the Big Horn away up the gulch where we went one day in the spring. You said there were fish there."
"Yes, but why 'Little Horn,' pray? And who calls it so? I suppose you know that the Big Horn gets its name from the Big Horn, the mountain sheep that once roamed the rocks yonder, and in that sense there's no Little Horn."
"Well, 'Little Horn' I call it," said his wife, "and shall. And if the big stream is the Big Horn, surely the little stream should be the Little Horn. But what about the fishing? Is it a go?"
"Well, rather! Get the grub, as your Canadian speech hath it."
"My Canadian speech!" echoed his wife scornfully. "You're just as much Canadian as I am."
"And I shall get the ponies. Half an hour will do for me."
"And less for me," cried Mandy, dancing off to her work.
And she was right. For, clever housekeeper that she was, she stood with her hamper packed and the fishing tackle ready long before her husband appeared with the ponies.
The trail led steadily upward through winding valleys, but for the most part along the Big Horn, till as it neared a scraggy pine-wood it bore sharply to the left, and, clambering round an immense shoulder of rock, it emerged upon a long and comparatively level ridge of land that rolled in gentle undulations down into a wide park-like valley set out with clumps of birch and poplar, with here and there the shimmer of a lake showing between the yellow and brown of the leaves.
"Oh, what a picture!" cried Mandy, reining up her pony. "What a ranch that would make, Allan! Who owns it? Why did we never come this way before?"
"Piegan Reserve," said her husband briefly.
"How beautiful! How did they get this particular bit?"
"They gave up a lot for it," said Cameron drily.
"But think, such a lovely bit of country for a few Indians! How many are there?"
"Some hundreds. Five hundred or so. And a tricky bunch they are. They're over-fond of cattle to be really desirable neighbors."
"Well, I think it rather a pity!"
"Look yonder!" cried her husband, sweeping his arm toward the eastern horizon. From the height on which they stood a wonderful panorama of hill and valley, river, lake and plain lay spread out before them. "All that and for nine hundred miles beyond that line these Indians and their kin gave up to us under persuasion. There was something due them, eh? Let's move on."
For a mile or more the trail ran along the high plateau skirting the Piegan Reserve, where it branched sharply to the right. Cameron paused.
"You see that trail?" pointing to the branch that led to the left and downward into the valley. "That is one of the oldest and most famous of all Indian trails. It strikes down through the Crow's Nest Pass and beyond the pass joins the ancient Sun Dance Trail. That's my old beat. And weird things are a-doing along that same old Sun Dance Trail this blessed minute or I miss my guess. I venture to say that this old trail has often been marked with blood from end to end in the fierce old days."
"Let's go," said Mandy, with a shudder, and, turning her pony to the right, she took the trail that led them down from the plateau, plunged into a valley, wound among rocks and thickets of pine till it reached a tumbling mountain torrent of gray-blue water, fed from glaciers high up between the great peaks beyond.
"My Little Horn!" cried Mandy with delight.
Down by its rushing water they scrambled till they came to a sunny glade where the little fretful torrent pitched itself headlong into a deep shady pool, whence, as if rested in those quiet deeps, it issued at first with gentle murmuring till, out of earshot of the pool, it broke again into turbulent raging, brawling its way to the Big Horn below.
Mandy could hardly wait for the unloading and tethering of the ponies.
"Now," she cried, when all was ready, "for my very first fish. How shall I fling this hook and where?"
"Try a cast yonder, just beside that overhanging willow. Don't splash! Try again—drop it lightly. That's better. Don't tell me you've never cast a fly before."
"Never in my life."
"Let it float down a bit. Now back. Hold it up and let it dance there. I'll just have a pipe."
But next moment Cameron's pipe was forgotten. With a shout he sprang to his wife's side.
"By Jove, you've got him!"
"No! No! Leave me alone! Just tell me what to do. Go away! Don't touch me! Oh-h-h! He's gone!"
"Not a bit. Reel him up—reel him up a little."
"Oh, I can't reel the thing! Oh! Oh-h-h! Is he gone?"
"Hold up. Don't haul him too quickly—keep him playing. Wait till I get the net." He rushed for the landing net.
"Oh, he's gone! He's gone! Oh, I'm so mad!" She stamped savagely on the grass. "He was a monster."
"They always are," said her husband gravely. "The fellows that get off, I mean."
"Now you're just laughing at me, and I won't have it! I could just sit down and cry! My very first fish!"
"Never mind, Mandy, we'll get him or just as good a one again."
"Never! He'll never bite again. He isn't such a fool."
"Well, they do. They're just like the rest of us. They keep nibbling till they get caught; else there would be no fun in fishing or in—Now try another throw—same place—a little farther down. Ah! That was a fine cast. Once more. No, no, not that way. Flip it lightly and if you ever get a bite hold your rod so. See? Press the end against your body so that you can reel your fish in. And don't hurry these big fellows. You lose them and you lose your fun."
"I don't want the fun," cried Mandy, "but I do want that fish and I'm going to get him."
"By Jove, I believe you just will!" The young man's dark eyes flashed an admiring glance over the strong, supple, swaying figure of the girl at his side, whose every move, as she cast her fly, seemed specially designed to reveal some new combination of the graceful curves of her well-knit body.
"Keep flicking there. You'll get him. He's just sulking. If he only knew, he'd hurry up."
"Who was fishing for him."
"Oh! Oh! I've got him." The girl was dancing excitedly along the bank. "No! Oh, what a wretch! He's gone. Now if I get him you tell me what to do, but don't touch me."
"All you have to do is to hold him steady at the first. Keep your line fairly tight. If he begins to plunge, give him line. If he slacks, reel in. Keep him nice and steady, just like a horse on the bit."
"Oh, why didn't you tell me before? I know exactly what that means—just like a colt, eh? I can handle a colt."
"Exactly! Now try lower down—let your fly float down a bit—there."
Again there was a wild shriek from the girl.
"Oh, I've got him sure! Now get the net."
"Don't jump about so! Steady now—steady—that's better. Fine! Fine work! Let him go a bit—no, check—wind him up. Look out! Not too quick! Fine! Oh! Look out! Get him away from that jam! Reel him up! Quick! Now play him! Let me help you."
"Don't you dare touch this rod, Allan Cameron, or there'll be trouble!"
"Quite right—pardon me—quite right. Steady! You'll get him sure. And he's a beauty, a perfect Rainbow beauty."
"Keep quiet, now," admonished Mandy. "Don't shout so. Tell me quietly what to do."
"Do as you like. You can handle him. Just watch and wait—feel him all the time. Ah-h-h! For Heaven's sake don't let him into that jam! There he goes up stream! That's better! Good!"
"Don't get so excited! Don't yell so!" again admonished Mandy. "Tell me quietly."
"Quietly? Who's yelling, I'd like to know? Who's excited? I won't say another word. I'll get the landing-net ready for the final act."
"Don't leave me! Tell me just what to do. He's getting tired, I think."
"Watch him close. Wind him up a bit. Get all the line in you can. Steady! Let go! Let go! Let him run! Now wind him again. Wait, hold him so, just a moment—a little nearer! Hurrah! Hurrah! I've got him and he's a beauty—a perfectly typical Rainbow trout."
"Oh, you beauty!" cried Mandy, down on her knees beside the trout that lay flapping on the grass. "What a shame! Oh, what a shame! Oh, put him in again, Allan, I don't want him. Poor dear, what a shame."
"But we must weigh him, you see," remonstrated her husband. "And we need him for tea, you know. He really doesn't feel it much. There are lots more. Try another cast. I'll attend to this chap."
"I feel just like a murderer," said Mandy. "But isn't it glorious? Well, I'll just try one more. Aren't you going to get your rod out too?"
"Well, rather! What a pool, all unspoiled, all unfished!"
"Does no one fish up here?"
"Yes, the Police come at times from the Fort. And Wyckham, our neighbor. And old man Thatcher, a born angler, though he says it's not sport, but murder."
"Why not sport?"
"Why? Old Thatcher said to me one day, 'Them fish would climb a tree to get at your hook. That ain't no sport.'"
But sport, and noble sport, they found it through the long afternoon, so that, when through the scraggy pines the sun began to show red in the western sky, a score or more lusty, glittering, speckled Rainbow trout lay on the grass beside the shady pool.
Tired with their sport, they lay upon the grassy sward, luxuriating in the warm sun.
"Now, Allan," cried Mandy, "I'll make tea ready if you get some wood for the fire. You ought to be thankful I taught you how to use the ax. Do you remember?"
"Thankful? Well, I should say. Do YOU remember that day, Mandy?"
"Remember!" cried the girl, with horror in her tone. "Oh, don't speak of it. It's too awful to think of."
"Ugh!" she shuddered, "I can't bear to think of it. I wish you could forget."
"What? How can you ask? That awful, horrid, uncouth, sloppy girl." Again Mandy shuddered. "Those hands, big, coarse, red, ugly."
"Yes," cried Allan savagely, "the badge of slavery for a whole household of folk too ignorant to know the price that was being paid for the service rendered them."
"And the hair," continued Mandy relentlessly, "uncombed, filthy, horrid. And the dress, and—"
"Stop it!" cried Allan peremptorily.
"No, let me go on. The stupid face, the ignorant mind, the uncouth speech, the vulgar manners. Oh, I loathe the picture, and I wonder you can ever bear to look at her again. And, oh, I wish you could forget."
"Forget!" The young man's lean, swarthy face seemed to light up with the deep glowing fires in his dark eyes. His voice grew vibrant. "Forget! Never while I live. Do you know what I remember?"
"Ah, spare me!" moaned his wife, putting her hands over his mouth.
"Do you know what I remember?" he repeated, pulling her hands away and holding them fast. "A girl with hands, face, hair, form, dress, manners damned to coarseness by a cruel environment? That? No! No! To-day as I look back I remember only two blue eyes, deep, deep as wells, soft, blue, and wonderfully kind. And I remember all through those days—and hard days they were to a green young fool fresh from the Old Country trying to keep pace with your farm-bred demon-worker Perkins—I remember all through those days a girl that never was too tired with her own unending toil to think of others, and especially to help out with many a kindness a home-sick, hand-sore, foot-sore stranger who hardly knew a buck-saw from a turnip hoe, and was equally strange to the uses of both, a girl that feared no shame nor harm in showing her kindness. That's what I remember. A girl that made life bearable to a young fool, too proud to recognize his own limitations, too blind to see the gifts the gods were flinging at him. Oh, what a fool I was with my silly pride of family, of superior education and breeding, and with no eye for the pure gold of as true and loyal a soul as ever offered itself in daily unmurmuring sacrifice for others, and without a thought of sacrifice. Fool and dolt! A self-sufficient prig! That's what I remember."
The girl tore her hands away from him.
"Ah, Allan, my boy," she cried with a shrill and scornful laugh that broke at the end, "how foolishly you talk! And yet I love to hear you talk so. I love to hear you. But, oh, let me tell you what else I remember of those days!"
"No, no, I will not listen. It's all nonsense."
"Nonsense! Ah, Allan! Let me tell you this once." She put her hands upon his shoulders and looked steadily into his eyes. "Let me tell you. I've never told you once during these six happy months—oh, how happy, I fear to think how happy, too much joy, too deep, too wonderful, I'm afraid sometimes—but let me tell you what I see, looking back into those old days—how far away they seem already and not yet three years past—I see a lad so strange, so unlike all I had known, a gallant lad, a very knight for grace and gentleness, strong and patient and brave, not afraid—ah, that caught me—nothing could make him afraid, not Perkins, the brutal bully, not big Mack himself. And this young lad, beating them all in the things men love to do, running, the hammer—and—and fighting too!—Oh, laddie, laddie, how often did I hold my hands over my heart for fear it would burst for pride in you! How often did I check back my tears for very joy of loving you! How often did I find myself sick with the agony of fear that you should go away from me forever! And then you went away, oh, so kindly, so kindly pitiful, your pity stabbing my heart with every throb. Why do I tell you this to-day? Let me go through it. But it was this very pity stabbing me that awoke in me the resolve that one day you would not need to pity me. And then, then I fled from the farm and all its dreadful surroundings. And the nurse and Dr. Martin, oh how good they were! And all of them helped me. They taught me. They scolded me. They were never tired telling me. And with that flame burning in my soul all that outer, horrid, awful husk seemed to disappear and I escaped, I became all new."
"You became yourself, yourself, your glorious, splendid, beautiful self!" shouted Allan, throwing his arms around her. "And then I found you again. Thank God, I found you! And found you for keeps, mine forever. Think of that!"
"Forever." Mandy shuddered again. "Oh, Allan, I'm somehow afraid. This joy is too great."
"Yes, forever," said Allan again, but more quietly, "for love will last forever."
Together they sat upon the grass, needing no words to speak the joy that filled their souls to overflowing. Suddenly Mandy sprang to her feet.
"Now, let me go, for within an hour we must be away. Oh, what a day we've had, Allan, one of the very best days in all my life! You know I've never been able to talk of the past to you, but to-day somehow I could not rest till I had gone through with it all."
"Yes, it's been a great day," said Allan, "a wonderful day, a day we shall always remember." Then after a silence, "Now for a fire and supper. You're right. In an hour we must be gone, for we are a long way from home. But, think of it, Mandy, we're going HOME. I can't quite get used to that!"
And in an hour, riding close as lovers ride, they took the trail to their home ten miles away.
THE BIG CHIEF
When on the return journey they arrived upon the plateau skirting the Piegan Reserve the sun's rays were falling in shafts of slanting light upon the rounded hilltops before them and touching with purple the great peaks behind them. The valleys were full of shadows, deep and blue. The broad plains that opened here and there between the rounded hills were still bathed in the mellow light of the westering sun.
"We will keep out a bit from the Reserve," said Cameron, taking a trail that led off to the left. "These Piegans are none too friendly. I've had to deal with them a few times about my straying steers in a way which they are inclined to resent. This half-breed business is making them all restless and a good deal too impertinent."
"There's not any real danger, is there?" inquired his wife. "The Police can handle them quite well, can't they?"
"If you were a silly hysterical girl, Mandy, I would say 'no danger' of course. But the signs are ominous. I don't fear anything immediately, but any moment a change may come and then we shall need to act quickly."
"We shall ride to the Fort, I can tell you, without waiting to take our stuff with us. I take no chances now."
"Meaning my wife, that's all. I never thought to fear an Indian, but, by Jove! since I've got you, Mandy, they make me nervous."
"But these Piegans are such—"
"The Piegans are Indians, plain Indians, deprived of the privilege of war by our North West Mounted Police regulations and of the excitement of the chase by our ever approaching civilization, and the younger bloods would undoubtedly welcome a 'bit of a divarshun,' as your friend Mike would say. At present the Indians are simply watching and waiting."
"News. To see which way the cat jumps. Then—Steady, Ginger! What the deuce! Whoa, I say! Hold hard, Mandy."
"What's the matter with them?"
"There's something in the bushes yonder. Coyote, probably. Listen!"
There came from a thick clump of poplars a low, moaning cry.
"What's that?" cried Mandy. "It sounds like a man."
"Stay where you are. I'll ride in."
In a few moments she heard his voice calling.
"Come along! Hurry up!"
A young Indian lad of about seventeen, ghastly under his copper skin and faint from loss of blood, lay with his ankle held in a powerful wolf-trap, a bloody knife at his side. With a cry Mandy was off her horse and beside him, the instincts of the trained nurse rousing her to action.
"Good Heavens! What a mess!" cried Cameron, looking helplessly upon the bloody and mangled leg.
"Get a pail of water and get a fire going, Allan," she cried. "Quick!"
"Well, first this trap ought to be taken off, I should say."
"Quite right," she cried. "Hurry!"
Taking his ax from their camp outfit, he cut down a sapling, and, using it as a lever, soon released the foot.
"How did all this mangling come?" said Mandy, gazing at the limb, the flesh and skin of which were hanging in shreds about the ankle.
"Cutting it off, weren't you?" said Allan.
The Indian nodded.
Mandy lifted the foot up.
"Broken, I should say."
The Indian uttered not a sound.
"Run," she continued. "Bring a pail of water and get a fire going."
Allan was soon back with the pail of water.
"Me—water," moaned the Indian, pointing to the pail. Allan held it to his lips and he drank long and deep. In a short time the fire was blazing and the tea pail slung over it.
"If I only had my kit here!" said Mandy. "This torn flesh and skin ought to be all cut away."
"Oh, I say, Mandy, you can't do that. We'll get the Police doctor!" said Allan in a tone of horrified disgust.
But Mandy was feeling the edge of the Indian's knife.
"Sharp enough," she said to herself. "These ragged edges are just reeking with poison. Can you stand it if I cut these bits off?" she said to the Indian.
"Huh!" he replied with a grunt of contempt. "No hurt."
"Mandy, you can't do this! It makes me sick to see you," said her husband.
The Indian glanced with scorn at him, caught the knife out of Mandy's hand, took up a flap of lacerated flesh and cut it clean away.
Mandy took the knife from him, and, after boiling it for a few minutes, proceeded to cut away the ragged, mangled flesh and skin. The Indian never winced. He lay with eyes closed, and so pallid was his face and so perfectly motionless his limbs that he might have been dead. With deft hands she cleansed the wounds.
"Now, Allan, you must help me. We must have splints for this ankle."
"How would birch-bark do?" he suggested.
"No, it's too flimsy."
"The heavy inner rind is fairly stiff." He ran to a tree and hacked off a piece.
"Yes, that will do splendidly. Get some about so long."
Half an hour's work, and the wounded limb lay cleansed, bandaged, packed in soft moss and bound in splints.
"That's great, Mandy!" exclaimed her husband. "Even to my untutored eyes that looks like an artistic bit of work. You're a wonder."
"Huh!" grunted the Indian. "Good!" His piercing black eyes were lifted suddenly to her face with such a look of gratitude as is seen in the eyes of dumb brutes or of men deprived of speech.
"Good!" echoed Allan. "You're just right, my boy. I couldn't have done it, I assure you."
"Huh!" grunted the Indian in eloquent contempt. "No good," pointing to the man. "Good," pointing to the woman. "Me—no—forget." He lifted himself upon his elbow, and, pointing to the sun like a red eye glaring in upon them through a vista of woods and hills, said, "Look—He see—me no forget."
There was something truly Hebraic in the exultant solemnity of his tone and gesture.
"By Jove! He won't either, I truly believe," said Allan. "You've made a friend for life, Mandy. Now, what's next? We can't carry this chap. It's three miles to their camp. We can't leave him here. There are wolves all around and the brutes always attack anything wounded."
The Indian solved the problem.
"Huh!" he grunted contemptuously. He took up his long hunting-knife. "Wolf—this!" He drove the knife to the hilt into the ground.
"You go—my fadder come. T'ree Indian," holding up three fingers. "All right! Good!" He sank back upon the ground exhausted.
"Come on then, Mandy, we shall have to hurry."
"No, you go. I'll wait."
"I won't have that. It will be dark soon and I can't leave you here alone with—"
"Nonsense! This poor boy is faint with hunger and pain. I'll feed him while you're gone. Get me afresh pail of water and I can do for myself."
"Well," replied her husband dubiously, "I'll get you some wood and—"
"Come, now," replied Mandy impatiently, "who taught you to cut wood? I can get my own wood. The main thing is to get away and get back. This boy needs shelter. How long have you been here?" she inquired of the Indian.
The boy opened his eyes and swung his arm twice from east to west, indicating the whole sweep of the sky.
"You must be starving. Want to eat?"
"Hurry, then, Allan, with the water. By the time this lad has been fed you will be back."
It was not long before Allan was back with the water.
"Now, then," he said to the Indian, "where's your camp?"
The Indian with his knife drew a line upon the ground. "River," he said. Another line parallel, "Trail." Then, tracing a branching line from the latter, turning sharply to the right, "Big Hill," he indicated. "Down—down." Then, running the line a little farther, "Here camp."
"I know the spot," cried Allan. "Well, I'm off. Are you quite sure, Mandy, you don't mind?"
"Run off with you and get back soon. Go—good-by! Oh! Stop, you foolish boy! Aren't you ashamed of yourself before—?"
Cameron laughed in happy derision.
"Ashamed? No, nor before his whole tribe." He swung himself on his pony and was off down the trail at a gallop.
"You' man?" inquired the Indian lad.
"Yes," she said, "my man," pride ringing in her voice.
"Huh! Him Big Chief?"
"Oh, no! Yes." She corrected herself hastily. "Big Chief. Ranch, you know—Big Horn Ranch."
"Huh!" He closed his eyes and sank back again upon the ground.
"You're faint with hunger, poor boy," said Mandy. She hastily cut a large slice of bread, buttered it, laid upon it some bacon and handed it to him.
"Here, take this in the meantime," she said. "I'll have your tea in a jiffy."
The boy took the bread, and, faint though he was with hunger, sternly repressing all sign of haste, he ate it with grave deliberation.
In a few minutes more the tea was ready and Mandy brought him a cup.
"Good!" he said, drinking it slowly.
"Another?" she smiled.
"Good!" he replied, drinking the second cup more rapidly.
"Now, we'll have some fish," cried Mandy cheerily, "and then you'll be fit for your journey home."
In twenty minutes more she brought him a frying pan in which two large beautiful trout lay, browned in butter. Mandy caught the wolf-like look in his eyes as they fell upon the food. She cut several thick slices of bread, laid them in the pan with the fish and turned her back upon him. The Indian seized the bread, and, noting that he was unobserved, tore it apart like a dog and ate ravenously, the fish likewise, ripping the flesh off the bones and devouring it like some wild beast.
"There, now," she said, when he had finished, "you've had enough to keep you going. Indeed, you have had all that's good for you. We don't want any fever, so that will do."
Her gestures, if not her words, he understood, and again as he watched her there gleamed in his eyes that dumb animal look of gratitude.
"Huh!" he grunted, slapping himself on the chest and arms. "Good! Me strong! Me sleep." He lay back upon the ground and in half a dozen breaths was dead asleep, leaving Mandy to her lonely watch in the gathering gloom of the falling night.
The silence of the woods deepened into a stillness so profound that a dead leaf, fluttering from its twig and rustling to the ground, made her start in quick apprehension.
"What a fool I am!" she muttered angrily. She rose to pile wood upon the fire. At her first movement the Indian was broad awake and half on his knees with his knife gleaming in his hand. As his eyes fell upon the girl at the fire, with a grunt, half of pain and half of contempt, he sank back again upon the ground and was fast asleep before the fire was mended, leaving Mandy once more to her lonely watch.
"I wish he would come," she muttered, peering into the darkening woods about her. A long and distant howl seemed to reply to her remark.
It was answered by a series of short, sharp yelps nearer at hand.
"Coyote," she said disdainfully, for she had learned to despise the cowardly prairie wolf.
But again that long distant howl. In spite of herself she shuddered. That was no coyote, but a gray timber wolf.
"I wish Allan would come," she said again, thinking of wakening the Indian. But her nurse's instincts forbade her breaking his heavy sleep.
"Poor boy, he needs the rest! I'll wait a while longer."
She took her ax and went bravely at some dead wood lying near, cutting it for the fire. The Indian never made a sound. He lay dead in sleep. She piled the wood on the fire till the flames leaped high, shining ruddily upon the golden and yellow leaves of the surrounding trees.
But again that long-drawn howl, and quite near, pierced the silence like the thrust of a spear. Before she was aware Mandy was on her feet, determined to waken the sleeping Indian, but she had no more than taken a single step toward him when he was awake and listening keenly. A soft padding upon the dead leaves could be heard like the gentle falling of raindrops. The Indian rolled over on his side, swept away some dead leaves and moss, and drew toward him a fine Winchester rifle.
"Huh! Wolf," he said, with quiet unconcern. "Here," he continued, pointing to a rock beside him. Mandy took the place indicated. As she seated herself he put up his hand with a sharp hiss. Again the pattering feet could be heard. Suddenly the Indian leaned forward, gazing intently into the gloom beyond the rim of the firelight, then with a swift gliding movement he threw his rifle up and fired. There was a sharp yelp, followed by a gurgling snarl. His shot was answered by a loud shout.
"Huh!" said the lad with quiet satisfaction, holding up one finger, "One wolf. Big Chief come."
At the shout Mandy had sprung to her feet, answering with a loud glad halloo. Immediately, as if in response to her call, an Indian swung his pony into the firelight, slipped off and stood looking about him. Straight, tall and sinewy, he stood, with something noble in his face and bearing.
"He looks like a gentleman," was the thought that leaped into Mandy's mind. A swift glance he swept round the circle of the light. Mandy thought she had never seen so piercing an eye.
The Indian lad uttered a low moaning sound. With a single leap the man was at his side, holding him in his arms and kissing him on both cheeks, with eager guttural speech. A few words from the lad and the Indian was on his feet again, his eyes gleaming, but his face immobile as a death mask.
"My boy," he said, pointing to the lad. "My boy—my papoose." His voice grew soft and tender.
Before Mandy could reply there was another shout and Allan, followed by four Indians, burst into the light. With a glad cry Mandy rushed into his arms and clung to him.
"Hello! What's up? Everything all right?" cried Allan. "I was a deuce of a time, I know. Took the wrong trail. You weren't frightened, eh? What? What's happened?" His voice grew anxious, then stern. "Anything wrong? Did he—? Did anyone—?"
"No, no, Allan!" cried his wife, still clinging to him. "It was only a wolf and I was a little frightened."
"A wolf!" echoed her husband aghast.
The Indian lad spoke a few words and pointed to the dark. The Indians glided into the woods and in a few minutes one of them returned, dragging by the leg a big, gray timber wolf. The lad's bullet had gone home.
"And did this brute attack you?" cried Allan in alarm.
"No, no. I heard him howling a long way off, and then—then—he came nearer, and—then—I could hear his feet pattering." Cameron drew her close to him. "And then he saw him right in the dark. Wasn't it wonderful?"
"In the dark?" said Allan, turning to the lad. "How did you do it?"
"Huh!" grunted the lad in a tone of indifference. "See him eyes."
Already the Indians were preparing a stretcher out of blankets and two saplings. Here Mandy came to their help, directing their efforts so that with the least hurt to the boy he was lifted to his stretcher.
As they were departing the father came close to Mandy, and, holding out his hand, said in fairly good English:
"You—good to my boy. You save him—to-day. All alone maybe he die. You give him food—drink. Sometime—perhaps soon—me pay you."
"Oh," cried Mandy, "I want no pay."
"No money—no!" cried the Indian, with scorn in his voice. "Me save you perhaps—sometime. Save you—save you, man. Me Big Chief." He drew himself up his full height. "Much Indian follow me." He shook hands with Mandy again, then with her husband.
"Big Piegan Chief?" inquired her husband.
"Piegan!" said the Indian with hearty contempt. "Me no Piegan—me Big Chief. Me—" He paused abruptly, turned on his heel and, flinging himself on to his pony, disappeared in the shadows.
"He's jolly well pleased with himself, isn't he?" said Cameron.
"He's splendid," cried Mandy enthusiastically. "Why, he's just like one of Cooper's Indians. He's certainly like none of the rest I've seen about here."
"That's true enough," replied her husband. "He's no Piegan. Who is he, I wonder? I don't remember seeing him. He thinks no end of himself, at any rate."
"And looks as if he had a right to."
"Right you are! Well, let's away. You must be dog tired and used up."
"Never a bit," cried Mandy. "I'm fresh as a daisy. What a wonderful ending to a wonderful day!"
They extinguished the fire carefully and made their way out to the trail.
But the end of this wonderful day had not yet come.
THE ANCIENT SACRIFICE
The moon was riding high in the cloudless blue of the heavens, tricked out with faintly shining stars, when they rode into the "corral" that surrounded the ranch stable. A horse stood tethered at the gate.
"Hello, a visitor!" cried Cameron. "A Police horse!" his eyes falling upon the shining accouterments.
"A Policeman!" echoed Mandy, a sudden foreboding at her heart. "What can he want?"
"Me, likely," replied her husband with a laugh, "though I can't think for which of my crimes it is. It's Inspector Dickson, by his horse. You know him, Mandy, my very best friend."
"What does he want, Allan?" said Mandy, anxiety in her voice.
"Want? Any one of a thousand things. You run in and see while I put up the ponies."
"I don't like it," said Mandy, walking with him toward the stable. "Do you know, I feel there is something—I have felt all day a kind of dread that—"
"Nonsense, Mandy! You're not that style of girl. Run away into the house."
But still Mandy waited beside him.
"We've had a great day, Allan," she said again. "Many great days, and this, one of the best. Whatever comes nothing can take those happy days from us." She put her arms about his neck and drew him toward her. "I don't know why, Allan, I know it's foolish, but I'm afraid," she whispered, "I'm afraid."
"Now, Mandy," said her husband, with his arms round about her, "don't say you're going to get like other girls, hysterical and that sort of thing. You are just over-tired. We've had a big day, but an exhausting day, an exciting day. What with that Piegan and the wolf business and all, you are done right up. So am I and—by Jove! That reminds me, I am dead famished."
No better word could he have spoken.
"You poor boy," she cried. "I'll have supper ready by the time you come in. I am silly, but now it's all over. I shall go in and face the Inspector and dare him to arrest you, no matter what you have done."
"That's more like the thing! That's more like my girl. I shall be with you in a very few minutes. He can't take us both, can he? Run in and smile at him."
Mandy found the Inspector in the cozy ranch kitchen, calmly smoking his pipe, and deep in the London Graphic. As she touched the latch he sprang to his feet and saluted in his best style.
"Never heard you ride up, Mrs. Cameron, I assure you. You must think me rather cool to sit tight here and ignore your coming."
"I am very glad to see you, Inspector Dickson, and Allan will be delighted. He is putting up your horse. You will of course stay the night with us."
"Oh, that's awfully kind, but I really can't, you know. I shall tell Cameron." He took his hat from the peg.
"We should be delighted if you could stay with us. We see very few people and you have not been very neighborly, now confess."
"I have not been, and to my sorrow and loss. If any man had told me that I should have been just five weeks to a day within a few hours' ride of my friend Cameron, not to speak of his charming wife, without visiting him, well I should have—well, no matter—to my joy I am here to-night. But I can't stay this trip. We are rather hard worked just now, to tell the truth."
"Hard worked?" she asked.
"Yes. Patrol work rather heavy. But I must stop Cameron in his hospitable design," he added, as he passed out of the door.
It was a full half hour before the men returned, to find supper spread and Mandy waiting. It was a large and cheerful apartment that did both for kitchen and living room. The sides were made of logs hewn smooth, plastered and whitewashed. The oak joists and planking above were stained brown. At one end of the kitchen two doors led to as many rooms, at the other a large stone fireplace, with a great slab for mantelpiece. On this slab stood bits of china bric-a-brac, and what not, relics abandoned by the gallant and chivalrous Fraser for the bride and her house furnishing. The prints, too, upon the wall, hunting scenes of the old land, sea-scenes, moorland and wild cattle, with many useful and ornamental bits of furniture, had all been handed over with true Highland generosity by the outgoing owner.
In the fireplace, for the night had a touch of frost in it, a log fire blazed and sparked, lending to the whole scene an altogether delightful air of comfort.
"I say, this does look jolly!" cried the Inspector as he entered. "Cameron, you lucky dog, do you really imagine you know how jolly well off you are, coddled thus in the lap of comfort and surrounded with all the enervating luxuries of an effete and forgotten civilization? Come now, own up, you are beginning to take this thing as a matter of course."
But Cameron stood with his back to the light, busying himself with his fishing tackle and fish, and ignoring the Inspector's cheerful chatter. And thus he remained without a word while the Inspector talked on in a voluble flow of small talk quite unusual with him.
Throughout the supper Cameron remained silent, rallying spasmodically with gay banter to the Inspector's chatter, or answering at random, but always falling silent again, and altogether was so unlike himself that Mandy fell to wondering, then became watchful, then anxious. At length the Inspector himself fell silent, as if perceiving the uselessness of further pretense.
"What is it, Allan?" said Mandy quietly, when silence had fallen upon them all. "You might as well let me know."
"Tell her, for God's sake," said her husband to the Inspector.
"What is it?" inquired Mandy.
The Inspector handed her a letter.
"From Superintendent Strong to my Chief," he said.
She took it and as she read her face went now white with fear, now red with indignation. At length she flung the letter down.
"What a man he is to be sure!" she cried scornfully. "And what nonsense is this he writes. With all his men and officers he must come for my husband! What is HE doing? And all the others? It's just his own stupid stubbornness. He always did object to our marriage."
The Inspector was silent. Cameron was silent too. His boyish face, for he was but a lad, seemed to have grown old in those few minutes. The Inspector wore an ashamed look, as if detected in a crime.
"And because he is not clever enough to catch this man they must come for my husband to do it for them. He is not a Policeman. He has nothing to do with the Force."
And still the Inspector sat silent, as if convicted of both crime and folly.
At length Cameron spoke.
"It is quite impossible, Inspector. I can't do it. You quite see how impossible it is."
"Most certainly you can't," eagerly agreed the Inspector. "I knew from the first it was a piece of—sheer absurdity—in fact brutal inhumanity. I told the Commissioner so."
"It isn't as if I was really needed, you know. The Superintendent's idea is, as you say, quite absurd."
The Inspector gravely nodded.
"You don't think for a moment," continued Cameron, "there is any need—any real need I mean—for me to—" Cameron's voice died away.
The Inspector hesitated and cleared his throat. "Well—of course, we are desperately short-handed, you know. Every man is overworked. Every reserve has to be closely patroled. Every trail ought to be watched. Runners are coming in every day. We ought to have a thousand men instead of five hundred, this very minute. Of course one can never tell. The chances are this will all blow over."
"Certainly," said Cameron. "We've heard these rumors for the past year."
"Of course," agreed the Inspector cheerfully.
"But if it does not," asked Mandy, suddenly facing the Inspector, "what then?"
"If it does not?"
"If it does not?" she insisted.
The Inspector appeared to turn the matter over in his mind.
"Well," he said slowly and thoughtfully, "if it does not there will be a deuce of an ugly time."
"What do you mean?"
The Inspector shrugged his shoulders. But Mandy waited, her eyes fixed on his face demanding answer.
"Well, there are some hundreds of settlers and their families scattered over this country, and we can hardly protect them all. But," he added cheerfully, as if dismissing the subject, "we have a trick of worrying through."
Mandy shuddered. One phrase in the Superintendent's letter to the Commissioner which she had just read kept hammering upon her brain, "Cameron is the man and the only man for the job."
They turned the talk to other things, but the subject would not be dismissed. Like the ghost at the feast it kept ever returning. The Inspector retailed the most recent rumors, and together he and his host weighed their worth. The Inspector disclosed the Commissioner's plans as far as he knew them. These, too, were discussed with approval or condemnation. The consequences of an Indian uprising were hinted at, but quickly dropped. The probabilities of such an uprising were touched upon and pronounced somewhat slight.
But somehow to the woman listening as in a maze this pronouncement and all the reassuring talk rang hollow. She sat staring at the Inspector with eyes that saw him not. What she did see was a picture out of an old book of Indian war days which she had read when a child, a smoking cabin, with mangled forms of women and children lying in the blackened embers. By degrees, slow, painful, but relentlessly progressive, certain impressions, at first vague and passionately resisted, were wrought into convictions in her soul. First, the Inspector, in spite of his light talk, was undeniably anxious, and in this anxiety her husband shared. Then, the Force was clearly inadequate to the duty required of it. At this her indignation burned. Why should it be that a Government should ask of brave men what they must know to be impossible? Hard upon this conviction came the words of the Superintendent, "Cameron is the man and the only man for the job." Finally, the Inspector was apologizing for her husband. It roused a hot resentment in her to hear him. That thing she could not and would not bear. Never should it be said that her husband had needed a friend to apologize for him.
As these convictions grew in clearness she found herself brought suddenly and sharply to face the issue. With a swift contraction of the heart she realized that she must send her husband on this perilous duty. Ah! Could she do it? It was as if a cold hand were steadily squeezing drop by drop the life-blood from her heart. In contrast, and as if with one flash of light, the long happy days of the last six months passed before her mind. How could she give him up? Her breathing came in short gasps, her lips became dry, her eyes fixed and staring. She was fighting for what was dearer to her than life. Suddenly she flung her hands to her face and groaned aloud.
"What is it, Mandy?" cried her husband, starting from his place.
His words seemed to recall her. The agonizing agitation passed from her and a great quiet fell upon her soul. The struggle was done. She had made the ancient sacrifice demanded of women since ever the first man went forth to war. It remained only to complete with fitting ritual this ancient sacrifice. She rose from her seat and faced her husband.
"Allan," she said, and her voice was of indescribable sweetness, "you must go."
Her husband took her in his arms without a word, then brokenly he said:
"My girl! My own brave girl! I knew you must send me."
"Yes," she replied, gazing into his face with a wan smile, "I knew it too, because I knew you would expect me to."
The Inspector had risen from his chair at her first cry and was standing with bent head, as if in the presence of a scene too sacred to witness. Then he came to her, and, with old time and courtly grace of the fine gentleman he was, he took her hand and raised it to his lips.
"Dear lady," he said, "for such as you brave men would gladly give their lives."
"Give their lives!" cried Mandy. "I would much rather they would save them. But," she added, her voice taking a practical tone, "sit down and let us talk. Now what's the work and what's the plan?"
The men glanced at each other in silent admiration of this woman who, without moan or murmur, could surrender her heart's dearest treasure for her country's good. This was a spirit of their own type.
They sat down before the fire and discussed the business before them. But as they discussed ever and again Mandy would find her mind wandering back over the past happy days. Ever and again a word would recall her, but only for a brief moment and soon she was far away again.
A phrase of the Inspector, however, arrested and held her.
"He's really a fine looking Indian, in short a kind of aristocrat among the Indians," he was saying.
"An aristocrat?" she exclaimed, remembering her own word about the Indian Chief they had met that very evening. "Why, that is like our Chief, Allan."
"By Jove! You're right!" exclaimed her husband. "What's your man like, again? Describe him, Inspector."
The Inspector described him in detail.
"The very man we saw to-night!" cried Mandy, and gave her description of the "Big Chief."
When she had finished the Inspector sat looking into the fire.
"Among the Piegans, too," he mused. "That fits in. There was a big powwow the other day in the Sun Dance Canyon. The Piegans' is the nearest reserve, and a lot of them were there. The Superintendent says he is somewhere along the Sun Dance."
"Inspector," said Allan, with sudden determination, "we will drop in on the Piegans to-morrow morning by sun-up."
Mandy started. This pace was more rapid than she had expected, but, having made the sacrifice, there was with her no word of recall.
The Inspector pondered the suggestion.
"Well," he said, "it would do no harm to reconnoiter at any rate. But we can't afford to make any false move, and we can't afford to fail."
"Fail!" said Cameron quietly. "We won't fail. We'll get him." And the lines in his face reminded his wife of how he looked that night three years before when he cowed the great bully Perkins into submission at her father's door.
Long they sat and planned. As the Inspector said, there must be no failure; hence the plan must provide for every possible contingency. By far the keenest of the three in mental activity was Mandy. By a curious psychological process the Indian Chief, who an hour before had awakened in her admiration and a certain romantic interest, had in a single moment become an object of loathing, almost of hatred. That he should be in this land planning for her people, for innocent and defenseless women and children, the horrors of massacre filled her with a fierce anger. But a deeper analysis would doubtless have revealed a personal element in her anger and loathing. The Indian had become the enemy for whose capture and for whose destruction her husband was now enlisted. Deep down in her quiet, strong, self-controlled nature there burned a passion in which mingled the primitive animal instincts of the female, mate for mate, and mother for offspring. Already her mind had leaped forward to the moment when this cunning, powerful plotter would be at death-grips with her husband and she not there to help. With intensity of purpose and relentlessness of determination she focused the powers of her forceful and practical mind upon the problem engaging their thought.
With mind whetted to its keenest she listened to the men as they made and unmade their plans. In ordinary circumstances the procedure of arrest would have been extremely simple. The Inspector and Cameron would have ridden into the Piegan camp, and, demanding their man, would have quietly and without even a show of violence carried him off. It would have been like things they had each of them done single-handed within the past year.
"When once we make a start, you see, Mrs. Cameron, we never turn back. We could not afford to," said the Inspector. There was no suspicion of boasting in the Inspector's voice. He was simply enunciating the traditional code of the Police. "And if we should hesitate with this man or fail to land him every Indian in these territories would have it within a week and our prestige would receive a shock. We dare not exhibit any sign of nerves. On the other hand we dare not make any movement in force. In short, anything unusual must be avoided."
"I quite see," replied Mandy with keen appreciation of the delicacy of the situation.
"So that I fancy the simpler the plan the better. Cameron will ride into the Piegan camp inquiring about his cattle, as, fortunately for the present situation, he has cause enough to in quite an ordinary way. I drop in on my regular patrol looking up a cattle-thief in quite the ordinary way. Seeing this strange chief, I arrest him on suspicion. Cameron backs me up. The thing is done. Luckily Trotting Wolf, who is the Head Chief now of the Piegans, has a fairly thorough respect for the Police, and unless things have gone much farther in his band than I think he will not resist. He is, after all, rather harmless."
"I don't like your plan at all, Inspector," said Mandy promptly. "The moment you suggest arrest that moment the younger men will be up. They are just back from a big brave-making powwow, you say. They are all worked up, and keen for a chance to prove that they are braves in more than in name. You give them the very opportunity you wish to avoid. Now hear my plan," she continued, her voice eager, keen, hard, in the intensity of her purpose. "I ride into camp to-morrow morning to see the sick boy. I promised I would and I really want to. I find him in a fever, for a fever he certainly will have. I dress his wounded ankle and discover he must have some medicine. I get old Copperhead to ride back with me for it. You wait here and arrest him without trouble."
The two men looked at each other, then at her, with a gentle admiring pity. The plan was simplicity itself and undoubtedly eliminated the elements of danger which the Inspector's possessed. It had, however, one fatal defect.
"Fine, Mandy!" said her husband, reaching across the table and patting her hand that lay clenched upon the cloth. "But it won't do."
"And why not, pray?" she demanded.
"We do not use our women as decoys in this country, nor do we expose them to dangers we men dare not face."
"Allan," cried his wife with angry impatience, "you miss the whole point. For a woman to ride into the Piegan camp, especially on this errand of mercy, involves her in no danger. And what possible danger would there be in having the old villain ride back with me for medicine? And as to the decoy business," here she shrugged her shoulders contemptuously, "do you think I care a bit for that? Isn't he planning to kill women and children in this country? And—and—won't he do his best to kill you?" she panted. "Isn't it right for me to prevent him? Prevent him! To me he is like a snake. I would—would—gladly kill him—myself." As she spoke these words her eyes were indeed, in Sergeant Ferry's words, "like little blue flames."
But the men remained utterly unmoved. To their manhood the plan was repugnant, and in spite of Mandy's arguments and entreaties was rejected.
"It is the better plan, Mrs. Cameron," said the Inspector kindly, "but we cannot, you must see we cannot, adopt it."
"You mean you will not," cried Mandy indignantly, "just because you are stupid stubborn men!" And she proceeded to argue the matter all over again with convincing logic, but with the same result. There are propositions which do not lend themselves to the arbitrament of logic with men. When the safety of their women is at stake they refuse to discuss chances. In such a case they may be stupid, but they are quite immovable.
Blocked by this immovable stupidity, Mandy yielded her ground, but only to attempt a flank movement.
"Let me go with you on your reconnoitering expedition," she pleaded. "Rather, let US go, Allan, you and I together, to see the boy. I am really sorry for that boy. He can't help his father, can he?"
"Quite true," said the Inspector gravely.
"Let us go and find out all we can and next day make your attempt. Besides, Allan," she cried under a sudden inspiration of memory, "you can't possibly go. You forget your sister arrives at Calgary this week. You must meet her."
"By Jove! Is that so? I had forgotten," said Cameron, turning to study the calendar on the wall, a gorgeous work of art produced out of the surplus revenues of a Life Insurance Company. "Let's see," he calculated. "This week? Three days will take us in. We are still all right. We have five. That gives us two days clear for this job. I feel like making this try, Mandy," he continued earnestly. "We have this chap practically within our grasp. He will be off guard. The Piegans are not yet worked up to the point of resistance. Ten days from now our man may be we can't tell where."
Mandy remained silent. The ritual of her sacrifice was not yet complete.
"I think you are right, Allan," at length she said slowly with a twisted smile. "I'm afraid you are right. It's hard not to be in it, though. But," she added, as if moved by a sudden thought, "I may be in it yet."
"You will certainly be with us in spirit, Mandy," he replied, patting the firm brown hand that lay upon the table.
"Yes, truly, and in our hearts," added the Inspector with a bow.
But Mandy made no reply. Already she was turning over in her mind a half-formed plan which she had no intention of sharing with these men, who, after the manner of their kind, would doubtless block it.
Early morning found Cameron and the Inspector on the trail toward the Piegan Reserve, riding easily, for they knew not what lay before them nor what demand they might have to make upon their horses that day. The Inspector rode a strongly built, stocky horse of no great speed but good for an all-day run. Cameron's horse was a broncho, an unlovely brute, awkward and ginger-colored—his name was Ginger—sad-eyed and wicked-looking, but short-coupled and with flat, rangy legs that promised speed. For his sad-eyed, awkward broncho Cameron professed a deep affection and defended him stoutly against the Inspector's jibes.