The railway construction had reached the
Beaver, and from Laggan westward the construction gangs were strewn
along the line in straggling camps, straggling because, though the tents
of the railway men were set in orderly precision, the crowds of
camp-followers spread themselves hither and thither in disorderly
confusion around the outskirts of the camp.
To Cameron, who for a month had been
attached to Superintendent Strong's division, the life was full of
movement and colour. The two constables and Sergeant Ferry found the
duty of keeping order among the navvies, but more especially among the
outlaw herd that lay in wait to fling themselves upon their monthly pay
like wolves upon a kill, sufficiently arduous to fill to repletion the
hours of the day and often of the night.
The hospital tent where the little nurse
reigned supreme became to Cameron and to the Sergeant as well a place of
refuge and relief. Nurse Haley was in charge further down the line.
The post had just come in and with it a
letter for Constable Cameron. It was from Inspector Dickson.
"You will be interested to know," it ran,
"that when I returned from Stand Off two days ago I found that Little
Thunder, who had been waiting here for his hanging next month, had
escaped. How, was a mystery to everybody; but when I learned that a
stranger had been at the Fort and had called upon the Superintendent
with a tale of horse-stealing, had asked to see Little Thunder and
identified him as undoubtedly the thief, and had left that same day
riding a particularly fine black broncho, I made a guess that we had
been honoured by a visit from your friend Raven. That guess was
confirmed as correct by a little note which I found waiting me from this
same gentleman explaining Little Thunder's absence as being due to
Raven's unwillingness to see a man go to the gallows who had once saved
his life, but conveying the assurance that the Indian was leaving the
country for good and would trouble us no more. The Superintendent, who
seems to have been captured by your friend's charm of manner, does not
appear to be unduly worried and holds the opinion that we are well rid
of Little Thunder. But I venture to hold a different opinion, namely,
that we shall yet hear from that Indian brave before the winter is over.
"Things are quiet on the
reservations—altogether too quiet. The Indians are so exceptionally well
behaved that there is no excuse for arresting any suspects, so White
Horse, Rainy Cloud, those Piegan chaps, and the rest of them are allowed
to wander about at will. The country is full of Indian and half-breed
runners and nightly pow-wows are the vogue everywhere. Old Crowfoot, I
am convinced, is playing a deep game and is simply waiting the fitting
moment to strike.
"How is the little nurse? Present my duty
to her and to that other nurse over whom hangs so deep a mystery."
Cameron folded up his letter and imparted
some of the news to the Sergeant.
"That old Crowfoot is a deep one, sure
enough," said Sergeant Ferry. "It takes our Chief here to bring him to
time. Superintendent Strong has the distinction of being the only man
that ever tamed old Crowfoot. Have you never heard of it? No? Well, of
course, we don't talk about these things. I was there though, and for
cold iron nerve I never saw anything like it. It was a bad half-breed,"
continued Sergeant Ferry, who, when he found a congenial and safe
companion, loved to spin a yarn—"a bad half-breed who had been arrested
away down the line, jumped off the train and got away to the Blackfeet.
The Commissioner happened to be in Calgary and asked the Superintendent
himself to see about the capture of this desperado. So with a couple of
us mounted and another driving a buckboard we made for Chief Crowfoot's
encampment. It was a black night and raining a steady drizzle. We lay on
the edge of the camp for a couple of hours in the rain and then at early
dawn we rode in. It took the Superintendent about two minutes to locate
Crowfoot's tent, and, leaving us outside, he walked straight in. There
was our man, as large as life, in the place of honour beside old
Crowfoot. The interpreter, who was scared to death, afterwards told me
all about it.
"'I want this man,' said the
Superintendent, hardly waiting to say good-day to the old Chief.
"Crowfoot was right up and ready for a
fight. The Superintendent, without ever letting go the half-breed's
shoulder, set out the case. Meantime the Indians had gathered in
hundreds about the tent outside, all armed, and wild for blood, you bet.
I could hear the Superintendent making his statement. All at once he
stopped and out he came with his man by the collar, old Crowfoot after
him in a fury, but afraid to give the signal of attack. The Indians were
keen to get at us, but the old Chief had his men in hand all right.
"'Don't think you will not get justice,'
said the Superintendent. 'You come yourself and see. Here's a pass for
you on the railroad and for any three of your men. But let me warn you
that if one hair of my men is touched, it will be a bad day for you,
Crowfoot, and for your band.'
"He bundled his man into the buckboard and
sent him off. The Superintendent and I waited on horseback in parley
with old Crowfoot till the buckboard was over the hill. Such a half hour
I never expect to see again. I felt like a man standing over an open keg
of gunpowder with a lighted match. Any moment a spark might fall, and
then good-bye. And it is this same nerve of his that holds down these
camps along this line. Here we are with twenty-five men from Laggan to
Beaver keeping order among twenty-five hundred railroad navvies, not a
bad lot, and twenty-five hundred others, the scum, the very devil's scum
from across the line, and not a murder all these months. Whiskey, of
course, but all under cover. I tell you, he's put the fear of death on
all that tinhorn bunch that hang around these camps."
"There doesn't seem to be much trouble
just now," remarked Cameron.
"Trouble? There may be the biggest kind of
trouble any day. Some of these contractors are slow in their pay. They
expect men to wait a month or two. That makes them mad and the tinhorn
bunch keep stirring up trouble. Might be a strike any time, and then
look out. But our Chief will be ready for them. He won't stand any
nonsense, you bet."
At this point in the Sergeant's rambling
yarn the door was flung open and a man called breathlessly, "Man
"How is that?" cried the Sergeant,
springing to buckle on his belt.
"An accident—car ran away—down the dump."
"They are altogether too flip with those
cars," growled the Sergeant. "Come on!"
They ran down the road and toward the
railroad dump where they saw a crowd of men. The Sergeant, followed by
Cameron, pushed his way through and found a number of navvies
frantically tearing at a pile of jagged blocks of rock under which could
be seen a human body. It took only a few minutes to remove the rocks and
to discover lying there a young man, a mere lad, from whose mangled and
bleeding body the life appeared to have fled.
As they stood about him, a huge giant of a
man came tearing his way through the crowd, pushing men to right and
"Let me see him," he cried, dropping on
his knees. "Oh Jack, lad, they have done for you this time."
As he spoke the boy opened his eyes,
looked upon the face of his friend, smiled and lay still. Then the
Sergeant took command.
"Is the doctor back, does anyone know?"
"No, he's up the line yet. He is coming in
on number seven."
"Well, we must get this man to the
hospital. Here, you," he said, touching a man on the arm, "run and tell
the nurse we are bringing a wounded man."
They improvised a stretcher and laid the
mangled form upon it the blood streaming from wounds in his legs and
trickling from his pallid lips.
"Here, two men are better than four.
Cameron, you take the head, and you," pointing to Jack's friend, "take
his feet. Steady now! I'll just go before. This is a ghastly sight."
At the door of the hospital tent the
little nurse met them, pale, but ready for service.
"Oh, my poor boy!" she cried, as she saw
the white face. "This way, Sergeant," she added, passing into a smaller
tent at one side of the hospital. "Oh, Mr. Cameron, is that you? I am
glad you are here."
"Has Nurse Haley come?" enquired the
"Yes, she came in last night, thank
goodness. Here, on this table, Sergeant. Oh I wish the doctor were here!
Now we must lift him on to this stretcher. Ah, here's Nurse Haley," she
added in a relieved voice, and before Cameron was aware, a girl in a
nurse's uniform stood by him and appeared quietly to take command.
"Here Sergeant," she said, "two men take
his feet." She put her arms under the boy's shoulder and gently and with
apparent ease, assisted by the others, lifted him to the table. "A
little further—there. Now you are easier, aren't you?" she said, smiling
down into the lad's face. Her voice was low and soft and full toned.
"Yes, thank you," said the boy, biting
back his groans and with a pitiful attempt at a smile.
"You're fine now, Jack. You'll soon be
fixed up now," said his friend.
"Yes Pete, I'm all right, I know."
"Oh, I wish the doctor were here!" groaned
the little nurse.
"What about a hypo?" enquired Nurse Haley
"Yes, yes, give him one."
Cameron's eyes followed the firm,
swift-moving fingers as they deftly gave the hypodermic.
"Now we must get this bleeding stopped,"
"Get them all out, Sergeant, please," said
the little nurse. "One or two will do to help us. You stay, Mr.
At the mention of his name Nurse Haley,
who had been busy preparing bandages, dropped them, turned, and for the
first time looked Cameron in the face.
"Is it you?" she said softly, and gave him
her hand, and, as more than once before, Cameron found himself suddenly
forgetting all the world. He was looking into her eyes, blue, deep,
It was only for a single moment that his
eyes held hers, but to him it seemed as if he had been in some far away
land. Without a single word of greeting he allowed her to withdraw her
hand. Wonder, and something he could not understand, held him dumb.
For the next half hour he obeyed orders,
moving as in a dream, assisting the nurses in their work; and in a dream
he went away to his own quarters and thence out and over the dump and
along the tote road that led through the straggling shacks and across
the river into the forest beyond. But of neither river nor forest was he
aware. Before his eyes there floated an illusive vision of masses of
fluffy golden hair above a face of radiant purity, of deft fingers
moving in swift and sure precision as they wound the white rolls of
bandages round bloody and broken flesh, of two round capable arms whose
lines suggested strength and beauty, of a firm knit, pliant body that
moved with easy sinuous grace, of eyes—but ever at the eyes he paused,
forgetting all else, till, recalling himself, he began again, striving
to catch and hold that radiant, bewildering, illusive vision. That was a
sufficiently maddening process, but to relate that vision of radiant
efficient strength and grace to the one he carried of the farmer's
daughter with her dun-coloured straggling hair, her muddy complexion,
her stupid face, her clumsy, grimy hands and heavy feet, her sloppy
figure, was quite impossible. After long and strenuous attempts he gave
up the struggle.
"Mandy!" he exclaimed aloud to the forest
trees. "That Mandy! What's gone wrong with my eyes, or am I clean off my
head? I will go back," he said with sudden resolution, "and take another
Straight back he walked to the hospital,
but at the door he paused. Why was he there? He had no excuse to offer
and without excuse he felt he could not enter. He was acting like a
fool. He turned away and once more sought his quarters, disgusted with
himself that he should be disturbed by the thought of Mandy Haley or
that it should cause him a moment's embarrassment to walk into her
presence with or without excuse, determinedly he set himself to regain
his one-time attitude of mind toward the girl. With little difficulty he
recalled his sense of superiority, his kindly pity, his desire to
protect her crude simplicity from those who might do her harm. With a
vision of that Mandy before him, the drudge of the farm, the butt of
Perkins' jokes, the object of pity for the neighbourhood, he could
readily summon up all the feelings he had at one time considered it the
correct and rather fine thing to cherish for her. But for this young
nurse, so thoroughly furnished and fit, and so obviously able to care
for herself, these feelings would not come. Indeed, it made him squirm
to remember how in his farewell in the orchard he had held her hand in
gentle pity for her foolish and all too evident infatuation for his
exalted and superior self. His groan of self-disgust he hastily merged
into a cough, for the Sergeant had his eyes upon him. Indeed, the
Sergeant did not help his state of mind, for he persisted in executing a
continuous fugue of ecstatic praise of Nurse Haley in various keys and
tempos, her pluck, her cleverness, her skill, her patience, her jolly
laugh, her voice, her eyes. To her eyes the Sergeant ever kept harking
back as to the main motif of his fugue, till Cameron would have dearly
loved to chuck him and his fugue out of doors.
He was saved from deeds of desperate
violence by a voice at the door.
"Letta fo' Mis Camelon!"
"Hello, Cameron!" exclaimed the Sergeant,
handing him the note. "You're in luck." There was no mistaking the
jealousy in the Sergeant's voice.
"Oh, hang it!" said Cameron as he read the
"Who?" enquired the Sergeant eagerly.
"Me. I say, you go in my place."
The Sergeant swore at him frankly and
"All right John," said Cameron rather
"You come?" enquired the Chinaman.
"Yes, I'll come."
"All lite!" said John, turning away with
"Confound the thing!" growled Cameron.
"Oh come, you needn't put up any bluff
with me, you know," said the Sergeant.
But Cameron made no reply. He felt he was
not ready for the interview before him. He was distinctly conscious of a
feeling of nervous embarrassment, which to a man of experience is
disconcerting and annoying. He could not make up his mind as to the
attitude which it would be wise and proper for him to assume
toward—ah—Nurse Haley. Why not resume relations at the point at which
they were broken off in the orchard that September afternoon a year and
a half ago? Why not? Mandy was apparently greatly changed, greatly
improved. Well, he was delighted at the improvement, and he would
frankly let her see his pleasure and approval. There was no need for
embarrassment. Pshaw! Embarrassment? He felt none.
And yet as he stood at the door of the
nurses' tent he was disquieted to find himself nervously wondering what
in thunder he should talk about. As it turned out there was no cause for
nervousness on this score. The little nurse and the doctor—Nurse Haley
being on duty—kept the stream of talk rippling and sparkling in an
unbroken flow. Whenever a pause did occur they began afresh with Cameron
and his achievements, of which they strove to make him talk. But they
ever returned to their own work among the sick and wounded of the camps,
and as often as they touched this theme the pivot of their talk became
Nurse Haley, till Cameron began to suspect design and became wrathful.
They were talking at him and were taking a rise out of him. He would
show them their error. He at once became brilliant.
In the midst of his scintillation he
abruptly paused and sat listening. Through the tent walls came the sound
of singing, low-toned, rich, penetrating. He had no need to ask about
that voice. In silence they looked at him and at each other.
home, no more to roam,
No more to sin and sorrow,
No more to wear the brow of care,
We're going home to-morrow.
"We're going home; we're going home;
We're going home to-morrow."
Softer and softer grew the music. At last
the voice fell silent. Then Nurse Haley appeared, radiant, fresh, and
sweet as a clover field with the morning dew upon it, but with a light
as of another world upon her face.
With the spell of her voice, of her eyes,
of her radiant face upon him, Cameron's scintillation faded and snuffed
out. He felt like a boy at his first party and enraged at himself for so
feeling. How bright she was, how pure her face under the brown gold
hair, how dainty the bloom upon her cheek, and that voice of hers, and
the firm lithe body with curving lines of budding womanhood, grace in
every curve and movement! The Mandy of old faded from his mind. Have I
seen you before? And where? And how long ago? And what's happening to
me? With these questions he vexed his soul while he strove to keep track
of the conversation between the three.
A call from the other tent summoned Nurse
"Let me go instead," cried the little
nurse eagerly. But, light-footed as a deer, Mandy was already gone.
When the tent flap had fallen behind her
Cameron pushed back his plate, leaned forward upon the table and,
looking the little nurse full in the face, said:
"Now, it's no use carrying this on. What
have you done to her?" And the little nurse laughed her brightest and
most joyous laugh.
"What has she done to us, you mean."
"No. Come now, take pity on a fellow. I
left her—well—you know what. And now—how has this been accomplished?"
"Soul, my boy," said the doctor
emphatically, "and the hairdresser and—"
But Cameron ignored him.
"Can you tell me?" he said to the nurse.
"Well, as a nurse, is she quite
"Oh, spare me," pleaded Cameron. "I
acknowledge my sin and my folly is before me. But tell me, how was this
"What do you mean exactly? Specify."
"Oh, hang it! Well, beginning at the top,
there's her hair."
"Then, her complexion—her grace of
form—her style—her manner. Oh, confound it! Her hands—everything."
"Well," said the little nurse with
deliberation, "let's begin at the top. Her hair? A hairdresser explains
that. Her complexion? A little treatment, massage, with some help from
the doctor. Her hands? Again treatment and release from brutalising
work. Her figure? Well, you know, that depends, though we don't
acknowledge it always, to a certain extent on—well—things—and how you
put them on."
"Nurse," said the doctor gravely, "you're
all off. The transformation is from within and is explained, as I have
said, by one word—soul. The soul has been set free, has been allowed to
break through. That is all. Why, my dear fellow," continued the doctor
with rising enthusiasm, "when that girl came to us we were in despair;
and for three months she kept us there, pursuing us, hounding us with
questions. Never saw anything like it. One telling was enough though.
Her eyes were everywhere, her ears open to every hint, but it was her
soul, like a bird imprisoned and beating for the open air. The
explanation is, as I have said just now, soul—intense, flaming,
unquenchable soul—and, I must say it, the dressmaker, the hairdresser,
and the rest directed by our young friend here," pointing to the little
nurse. "Why, she had us all on the job. We all became devotees of the
"No," said the nurse, "it was herself."
"Isn't that what I have been telling you?"
said the doctor impatiently. "Soul—soul—soul! A soul somehow on fire."
And with that Cameron had to be content.
Yes, a soul it was, at one time dormant
and enwrapped within its coarse integument. Now, touched into life by
some divine fire, it had through its own subtle power transformed that
coarse integument into its own pure gold. What was that fire? What
divine touch had kindled it? And, more important still, was that fire
still aglow, or, having done its work, had it for lack of food flickered
and died out? With these questions Cameron vexed himself for many days,
nor found an answer.