The Search (Chapter 6, page 1 of 7)


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Chapter 6

There was no possible way to avoid meeting him. John Cameron knew that with the first glance. He also knew that Wainwright had recognized him at once and was lifting his chin already with that peculiar, disagreeable tilt of triumph that had always been so maddening to one who knew the small mean nature of the man.

Of course, there was still time to turn deliberately about and flee in the other direction, but that would be all too obvious, and an open confession of weakness. John Cameron was never at any time a coward.

His firm lips set a trifle more sternly than usual, his handsome head was held high with fine military bearing. He came forward without faltering for even so much as the fraction of a waver. There was not a flicker in his eyes set straight ahead. One would never have known from his looks that he recognized the oncoming man, or had so much as realized that an officer was approaching, yet his brain was doing some rapid calculation. He had said in his heart if not openly that he would never salute this man. He had many times in their home town openly passed him without salute because he had absolutely no respect for him, and felt that he owed it to his sense of the fitness of things not to give him deference, but that was a different matter from camp. He knew that Wainwright was in a position to do him injury, and no longer stood in fear of a good thrashing from him as at home, because here he could easily have the offender put in the guard house and disgraced forever. Nothing, of course, would delight him more than thus to humiliate his sworn enemy. Yet Cameron walked on knowing that he had resolved not to salute him.

It was not merely pride in his own superiority. It was contempt for the nature of the man, for his low contemptible plots and tricks, and cunning ways, for his entire lack of principle, and his utter selfishness and heartlessness, that made Cameron feel justified in his attitude toward Wainwright. "He is nothing but a Hun at heart," he told himself bitterly.

But the tables were turned. Wainwright was no longer in his home town where his detestable pranks had goaded many of his neighbors and fellowtownsmen into a cordial hatred of him. He was in a great military camp, vested with a certain amount of authority, with the right to report those under him; who in turn could not retaliate by telling what they knew of him because it was a court-martial offense for a private to report an officer. Well, naturally the United States was not supposed to have put men in authority who needed reporting. Cameron, of course, realized that these things had to be in order to maintain military discipline. But it was inevitable that some unworthy ones should creep in, and Wainwright was surely one of those unworthy ones. He would not bend to him, officer, or no officer. What did he care what happened to himself? Who was there to care but his mother? And she would understand if the news should happen to penetrate to the home town, which was hardly likely. Those who knew him would not doubt him, those who did not mattered little. There was really no one who would care. Stay! A letter crackled in his breast pocket and a cold chill of horror struggled up from his heart. Suppose she should hear of it! Yes, he would care for that!

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