The man stood by the campfire waiting. They were late. Much later than he expected but he didn’t mind. They were special, worth waiting for.
Tom struck a match, fired his pipe, and threatened to disappear in a cloud of blue-grey smoke that spiralled upwards and merged with the smoke from the campfire.
He wondered how Mike had fared as the first drop of snow touched the ground.
Of course, Mike had just been a young nipper when they’d first met round the campfire. And so too had Billy and Jim. All just kids really. They’d had a great time though all those years ago in the Scouts.
In those days, Tom was the scoutmaster and Billy, Jim and Mike were the first kids he’d taken in and shown how to tie knots. Then he’d shown them how to erect a tent, how to catch a rabbit, to skin it, cook it over an open fire, and eat it. And he’d taken them on their very first hike over the Lakeland Fells where they’d climbed towards the sky and then turned to look down on the great blue strip of water below. Oh yeah, Tom remembered that winter all right. He’d made men out of those boys up on the mountains, taught them survival techniques and how to live off the land.
There on the mountains they’d become blood brothers for ever and ever and ever - the way kids do.
The snow was laying now: a thin cover of dust of the ground.
He puffed again on his pipe and watched the youngsters gathered round the campfire now. They were all much younger than he and they were oblivious to him standing there smoking his pipe by the campfire with the snow falling softly around them.
He wondered if these kids would make the same pact that he, Mike, Billy and Jim had made on their very first camp - to meet again here - at the end.
Tom watched as the kids huddled together for warmth around the fire and then gradually drifted away to their tents for the night.
Don’t blame them, he thought. Snow isn’t the best of friends late at night on the mountains and....
And then he saw Jim approaching through the far off gate with a rucksack over his back.
Tom nodded quietly and felt an air of pride invade his being as he realised at least one had remembered the pact they’d made.
‘Hi, skipper,’ said Jim.
‘Jim, good to see you,’ replied Tom. ‘Well, you know what I mean.’
‘Yeah, Billy is behind me,’ offered Jim.
They both turned and looked towards the gate and Billy limping across the field waving in the same way he did all those years ago. Billy’s ginger hair was still a mop of unruly elements growing from his head but he smiled as he approached and said, ‘Hi, Skip! Hi, Jim! Well, am I glad to be here. Like you’ve no idea how glad I am to be here.’
Then Mike came strolling along with a rifle slung across his shoulder.
‘What you got there, Mike?’ asked Tom.
‘Hi, Skipper, I brought you a souvenir. Hey, Billy... Jim.... When did you get here?’
They ran to each other to caress, to embrace, to cajole, to talk of old times.
Inside one of the tents, a youngster became concerned on hearing the crackling of wood from the fire. He looked out towards the campfire, the snow falling, and the smoke climbing lazily into the sky.
‘Anyone there?’ a voice asked from inside the tent.
‘No, quiet as a grave,’ said the youngster closing the tent flap.
Tom swapped glances with Bill, Mike and Jim, puffed his pipe and remarked, ‘You know those kids can’t see us.’
‘Just as well,’ replied Mike. ‘When did your time end, Tom? And you Billy, Jim?’
‘Oh, tell you what,’ suggested Tom. ‘It’s our last night before we move on. Let’s climb that mountain again, look down on the lake and talk about life and ...’
‘Good idea, skip,’ said Mike. ‘You leading the way?’
‘Will do, someone has to.’
The smoke continued to climb lazily into the night sky towards the starry heavens as an old man smoking a pipe walked across the snow-covered field with three young servicemen - one from Canada, one from America, and one from Britain.
‘You all ended up serving your country then?’ suggested Tom. ‘Yeah, I know. I can see the uniforms. Come on guys, I came back to wait for you because you’ve earned your day of rest.’
There was a whispered breeze of snow falling on the field but not a footprint to be seen when the old friends began their climb.
Extracted from 'Scribbles with Chocolate'
by Paul Anthony