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Salute to Adventurers by John Buchan

Part 4 out of 5

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well, for a scream would have brought all of us to instant death.

For Shalah at that moment dropped to earth and wriggled into a covert
overlooking the vale. I had the sense to catch the girl and pull her
after him. He stopped dead, and we two lay also like mice. My heart was
going pretty fast, and I could feel the heaving of her bosom.

The shallow glen was full of folk, most of them going on foot. I
recognized the Cherokee head-dress and the long hickory bows which
those carried who had no muskets. 'Twas by far the biggest party we had
seen, and, though in that moment I had no wits to count them, Shalah
told me afterwards they must have numbered little short of a thousand.
Some very old fellows were there, with lean, hollow cheeks, and scanty
locks, but the most were warriors in their prime. I could see it was a
big war they were out for, since some of the horses carried heavy loads
of corn, and it is never the Indian fashion to take much provender for
a common raid. In all Virginia's history there had been no such
invasion, for the wars of Opechancanough and Berkeley and the fight of
Bacon against the Susquehannocks were mere bickers compared with this
deliberate downpour from the hills.

As we lay there, scarce daring to breathe, I saw that we were in deadly
peril. The host was so great that some marched on the very edge of our
thicket. I could see through the leaves the brown Skins not a yard
away. The slightest noise would bring the sharp Indian eyes peering
into the gloom, and we must be betrayed.

In that moment, which was one of the gravest of my life, I had happily
no leisure to think of myself. My whole soul sickened with anxiety for
the girl. I knew enough of Indian ways to guess her fate. For Shalah
and myself there might be torture, and at the best an arrow in our
hearts, but for her there would be things unspeakable. I remembered the
little meadow on the Rapidan, and the tale told by the grey ashes.
There was only one shot in my pistol, but I determined that it should
be saved for her. In such a crisis the memory works wildly, and I
remember feeling glad that I had stood up before Grey's fire. The
thought gave me a comforting assurance of manhood.

Those were nightmare minutes. The girl was very quiet, in a stupor of
fatigue and fear. Shalah was a graven image, and I was too tensely
strung to have any of the itches and fervours which used to vex me in
hunting the deer when stillness was needful. Through the fretted
greenery, I saw the dim shadows of men passing swiftly. The thought of
the horse worried me. If the confounded beast grazed peaceably down the
other side of the hill, all might be well. So long as he was out of
sight any movement he made would be set down by the Indians to some
forest beast, for animals' noises are all alike in a wood. But if he
returned to us, there would be the devil to pay, for at a glimpse of
him our thicket would be alive with the enemy.

In the end I found it best to shut my eyes and commend our case to our
Maker. Then I counted very slowly to myself up to four hundred, and
looked again. The vale was empty.

We lay still, hardly believing in our deliverance, for the matter of a
quarter of an hour, and then Shalah, making a sign to me to remain,
turned and glided up lull. I put my hand behind me, found Elspeth's
cheek, and patted it. She stretched out a hand and clutched mine
feverishly, and thus we remained till, after what seemed an age, Shalah
returned.

He was on his feet and walking freely. He had found the horse, too, and
had it by the bridle.

"The danger is past," he said gravely. "Let us go back to the glade and
rest."

I helped Elspeth to her feet, and on my arm she clambered to the grassy
place in the woods. I searched my pockets, and gave her the remnants
of the bread and bacon I had brought from the Rappahannock post.
Better still, I remembered that I had in my breast a little flask of
eau-de-vie, and a mouthful of it revived her greatly. She put her hands
to her head, and began to tidy her dishevelled hair, which is a sure
sign in a woman that she is recovering her composure.

"What brought you here?" I asked gently.

She had forgotten that I was in her black books, and that in her letter
she forbade my journey. Indeed, she looked at me as a child in a pickle
may look at an upbraiding parent.

"I was lost," she cried. "I did not mean to go far, but the night came
down and I could not find the way back. Oh, it has been a hideous
nightmare! I have been almost mad in the dark woods."

"But how did you get here?" I asked, still hopelessly puzzled.

"I was with Uncle James on the Rappahannock. He heard something that
made him anxious, and he was going back to the Tidewater yesterday. But
a message came for him suddenly, and he left me at Morrison's farm, and
said he would be back by the evening. I did not want to go home before
I had seen the mountains where my estate is--you know, the land that
Governor Francis said he would give me for my birthday. They told me
one could see the hills from near at hand, and a boy that I asked said
I would get a rare view if I went to the rise beyond the river. So I
had Paladin saddled, and crossed the ford, meaning to be back long ere
sunset. But the trees were so thick that I could see nothing from the
first rise, and I tried to reach a green hill that looked near. Then it
began to grow dark, and I lost my head, and oh! I don't know where I
wandered. I thought every rustle in the bushes was a bear or a panther.
I feared the Indians, too, for they told me they were unsafe in this
country. All night long I tried to find a valley running east, but the
moonlight deceived me, and I must have come farther away every hour.
When day came I tied Paladin to a tree and slept a little, and then I
rode on to find a hill which would show me the lie of the land. But it
was very hot, and I was very weary. And then you came, and those
dreadful wild men. And--and----" She broke down and wept piteously.

I comforted her as best I could, telling her that her troubles were
over now, and that I should look after her. "You might have met with us
in the woods last night," I said, "so you see you were not far from
friends." But the truth was that her troubles were only beginning, and
I was wretchedly anxious. My impulse was to try to get her back to the
Rappahannock; but, on putting this to Shalah, he shook his head.

"It is too late," he said. "If you seek certain death, go towards the
Rappahannock. She must come with us to the mountains. The only safety
is in the hill-tops."

This seemed a mad saying. To be safe from Indians we were to go into
the heart of Indian country. But Shalah expounded it. The tribes, he
said, dwelt only in the lower glens of the range, and never ventured to
the summits, believing them to be holy land where a great _manitou_
dwelt. The Cherokees especially shunned the peaks. If we could find a
way clear to the top we might stay there in some security, till we
learned the issue of the war, and could get word to our friends.
"Moreover," he said, "we have yet to penetrate the secret of the hills.
That was the object of our quest, brother."

Shalah was right, and I had forgotten all about it. I could not suffer
my care for Elspeth to prevent a work whose issue might mean the
salvation of Virginia. We had still to learn the truth about the
massing of Indians in the mountains, of which the Cherokee raids were
but scouting ventures. The verse of Grey's song came into my head:--

"I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not Honour more."

Besides--and this was the best reason--there was
no other way. We had gone too far to turn back, and, as our proverb
says, "It is idle to swallow the cow and choke on the tail."

I put it all to Elspeth.

She looked very scared. "But my uncle will go mad if he does not find
me."

"It will be worse for him if he is never to find you again. Shalah says
it would be as easy to get you back over the Rappahannock as for a
child to cross a winter torrent. I don't say it's pleasant either way,
but there's a good hope of safety in the hills, and there's none
anywhere else."

She sat for a little with her eyes downcast. "I am in your hands," she
said at last, "Oh, the foolish girl I have been! I will be a drag and a
danger to you all."

Then I took her hand. "Elspeth," I said, "it's me will be the proud man
if I can save you. I would rather be the salvation of you than the King
of the Tidewater. And so says Shalah, and so will say all of us."

But I do not think she heard me. She had checked her tears, but her
wits were far away, grieving for her uncle's pain, and envisaging the
desperate future. At the first water we reached she bathed her face and
eyes, and using the pool as a mirror, adjusted her hair. Then she
smiled bravely, "I will try to be a true comrade, like a man," she
said. "I think I will be stronger when I have slept a little."

All that afternoon we stole from covert to covert. It was hot and
oppressive in the dense woods, where the breeze could not penetrate.
Shalah's eagle eyes searched every open space before we crossed, but we
saw nothing to alarm us. In time we came to the place where we had left
our party, and it was easy enough to pick up their road. They had
travelled slowly, keeping to the thickest trees, and they had taken no
pains to cover their tracks, for they had argued that if trouble came
it would come from the front, and that it was little likely that any
Indian would be returning thus soon and could take up their back trail.

Presently we came to a place where the bold spurs of the hills overhung
us, and the gap we had seen opened up into a deep valley. Shalah went
in advance, and suddenly we heard a word pass. We entered a cedar
glade, to find our four companions unsaddling the horses and making
camp.

The sight of the girl held them staring. Grey grew pale and then
flushed scarlet. He came forward and asked me abruptly what it meant.
When I told him he bit his lips.

"There is only one thing to be done," he said. "We must take Miss Blair
back to the Tidewater. I insist, sir. I will go myself. We cannot
involve her in our dangers."

He was once again the man I had wrangled with. His eyes blazed, and he
spoke in a high tone of command. But I could not be wroth with him;
indeed, I liked him for his peremptoriness. It comforted me to think
that Elspeth had so warm a defender.

I nodded to Shalah. "Tell him," I said, and Shalah spoke with him. He
took long to convince, but at, the end he said no more, and went to
speak to Elspeth. I could see that she lightened his troubled mind a
little, for, having accepted her fate, she was resolute to make the
best of it, I even heard her laugh.

That night we made her a bower of green branches, and as we ate our
supper round our modest fire she sat like a queen among us. It was odd
to see the way in which her presence affected each of us. With her Grey
was the courtly cavalier, ready with a neat phrase and a line from the
poets. Donaldson and Shalah were unmoved; no woman could make any
difference to their wilderness silence. The Frenchman Bertrand grew
almost gay. She spoke to him in his own tongue, and he told her all
about the little family he had left and his days in far-away France. But
in Ringan was the oddest change. Her presence kept him tongue-tied, and
when she spoke to him he was embarrassed into stuttering. He was eager
to serve her in everything, but he could not look her in the face or
answer readily when she spoke. This man, so debonair and masterful
among his fellows, was put all out of countenance by a wearied girl. I
do not suppose he had spoken to a gentlewoman for ten years.

CHAPTER XIX.

CLEARWATER GLEN.

Next morning we came into Clearwater Glen.

Shalah spoke to me of it before we started. He did not fear the
Cherokees, who had come from the far south of the range and had never
been settled in these parts. But he thought that there might be others
from the back of the hills who would have crossed by this gap, and
might be lying in the lower parts of the glen. It behoved us,
therefore, to go very warily. Once on the higher ridges, he thought we
might be safe for a time. An invading army has no leisure to explore
the rugged summits of a mountain.

The first sight of the place gave me a strong emotion of dislike. A
little river brawled in a deep gorge, falling in pools and linns like
one of my native burns. All its course was thickly shaded with bushes
and knotted trees. On either bank lay stretches of rough hill pasture,
lined with dark and tangled forests, which ran up the hill-side till
the steepness of the slope broke them into copses of stunted pines
among great bluffs of rock and raw red scaurs. The glen was very
narrow, and the mountains seemed to beetle above it so as to shut out
half the sunlight. The air was growing cooler, with the queer, acrid
smell in it that high hills bring. I am a great lover of uplands, and
the sourest peat-moss has a charm for me, but to that strange glen I
conceived at once a determined hate. It is the way of some places with
some men. The senses perceive a hostility for which the mind has no
proof, and in my experience the senses are right.

Part of my discomfort was due to my bodily health. I had proudly
thought myself seasoned by those hot Virginian summers, in which I had
escaped all common ailments. But I had forgotten what old hunters had
told me, that the hills will bring out a fever which is dormant in the
plains. Anyhow, I now found that my head was dizzy and aching, and my
limbs had a strange trembling. The fatigue of the past day had dragged
me to the limits of my strength and made me an easy victim. My heart,
too, was full of cares. The sight of Elspeth reminded me how heavy was
my charge. 'Twas difficult enough to scout well in this tangled place,
but, forbye my duty to the dominion, I had the business of taking one
who was the light of my life into this dark land of bloody secrets.

The youth and gaiety were going out of my quest. I could only plod
along dismally, attentive to every movement of Shalah, praying
incessantly that we might get well out of it all. To make matters
worse, the travelling became desperate hard. In the Tidewater there
were bridle paths, and in the vales of the foothills the going had been
good, with hard, dry soil in the woods, and no hindrances save a
thicket of vines or a rare windfall. But in this glen, where the hill
rains beat, there was no end to obstacles. The open spaces were marshy,
where our horses sank to the hocks. The woods were one medley of fallen
trees, rotting into touchwood, hidden boulders, and matted briers.
Often we could not move till Donaldson and Bertrand with their hatchets
had hewn some sort of road. All this meant slow progress, and by midday
we had not gone half-way up the glen to the neck which meant the ridge
of the pass.

This was an occasion when Ringan showed at his best. He had lost his
awe of Elspeth, and devoted himself to making the road easy for her.
Grey, who would fain have done the same, was no match for the seafarer,
and had much ado to keep going himself. Ringan's cheery face was better
than medicine. His eyes never lost their dancing light, and he was
ready ever with some quip or whimsy to tide over the worst troubles. We
kept very still, but now and again Elspeth's laugh rang out at his
fooling, and it did my heart good to hear it.

After midday the glen seemed to grow darker, and I saw that the blue
sky, which I had thought changeless, was becoming overcast. As I looked
upwards I saw the high ridge blotted out and a white mist creeping
down. I had noticed for some time that Shalah was growing uneasy. He
would halt us often, while he went a little way on, and now he turned
with so grim a look that we stopped without bidding.

He slipped into the undergrowth, while we waited in that dark, lonesome
place. Even Ringan was sober now.

Elspeth asked in a low voice what was wrong, and I told her that the
Indian was uncertain of the best road.

"Best road!" she laughed. "Then pray show me what you call the worst."

Ringan grinned at me ruefully. "Where do you wish yourself at this
moment, Andrew?"

"On the top of this damned mountain," I grunted.

"Not for me," he said. "Give me the Dry Tortugas, on a moonlight night
when the breaming fires burn along the shore, and the lads are singing
'Spanish Ladies.' Or, better still, the little isle of St. John the
Baptist, with the fine yellow sands for careening, and Mother Daria
brewing bobadillo and the trades blowing fresh in the tops of the
palms. This land is a gloomy sort of business. Give me the bright,
changeful sea."

"And I," said Elspeth, "would be threading rowan berries for a necklace
in the heather of Medwyn Glen. It must be about four o'clock of a
midsummer afternoon and a cloudless sky, except for white streamers
over Tinto. Ah, my own kind countryside!"

Ringan's face changed.

"You are right, my lady. No Tortugas or Spanish isles for Ninian
Campbell. Give him the steeps of Glenorchy on an October morn when the
deer have begun to bell. My sorrow, but we are far enough from our
desires--all but Andrew, who is a prosaic soul. And here comes Shalah
with ugly news!"

The Indian spoke rapidly to me. "The woods are full of men. I do not
think we are discovered, but we cannot stay here. Our one hope is to
gain the cover of the mist. There is an open space beyond this thicket,
and we must ride our swiftest. Quick, brother."

"The men?" I gasped. "Cherokees?"

"Nay," he said, "not Cherokees. I think they are those you seek from
beyond the mountains."

The next half-hour is a mad recollection, wild and confused, and
distraught with anxiety. The thought of Elspeth among savages maddened
me, the more so as she had just spoken of Medwyn Glen, and had sent my
memory back to fragrant hours of youth. We scrambled out of the thicket
and put our weary beasts to a gallop. Happily it was harder ground,
albeit much studded with clumps of fern, and though we all slipped and
stumbled often, the horses kept their feet. I was growing so dizzy in
the head that I feared every moment I would fall off. The mist had now
come low down the hill, and lay before us, a line, of grey vapour drawn
from edge to edge of the vale. It seemed an infinite long way off.

Shalah on foot kept in the rear, and I gathered from him that the
danger he feared was behind. Suddenly as I stared ahead something fell
ten yards in advance of us in a long curve, and stuck, quivering in the
soil.

It was an Indian arrow.

We would have reined up if Shalah had not cried on us to keep on. I do
not think the arrow was meant to strike us. 'Twas a warning, a grim
jest of the savages in the wood.

Then another fell, at the same distance before our first rider.

Still Shalah cried us on. I fell back to the rear, for if we were to
escape I thought there might be need of fighting there. I felt in my
belt for my loaded pistols.

We were now in a coppice again, where the trees were short and sparse.
Beyond that lay another meadow, and, then, not a quarter-mile distant,
the welcome line of the mist, every second drawing down on us.

A third time an arrow fell. Its flight was shorter and dropped almost
under the nose of Elspeth's horse, which swerved violently, and would
have unseated a less skilled horsewoman.

"On, on," I cried, for we were past the need for silence, and when I
looked again, the kindly fog had swallowed up the van of the party.

I turned and gazed back, and there I saw a strange sight. A dozen men
or more had come to the edge of the trees on the hill-side. They were
quite near, not two hundred yards distant, and I saw them clearly. They
carried bows or muskets, but none offered to use them. They were tall
fellows, but lighter in the colour than any Indians I had seen. Indeed,
they were as fair as many an Englishman, and their slim, golden-brown
bodies were not painted in the maniac fashion of the Cherokees. They
stood stock still, watching us with a dreadful impassivity which was
more frightening to me than violence. Then I, too, was overtaken by the
grey screen.

"Will they follow?" I asked Shalah.

"I do not think so. They are not hill-men, and fear the high places
where the gods smoke. Further-more, there is no need."

"We have escaped, then?" I asked, with a great relief in my voice.

"Say rather we have been shepherded by them into a fold. They will find
us when they desire us."

It was a perturbing thought, but at any rate we were safe for the
moment, and I resolved to say nothing to alarm the others. We overtook
them presently, and Shalah became our guide. Not that more guiding was
needed than Ringan or I could have given, for the lift of the ground
gave us our direction, and there was the sound of a falling stream. To
an upland-bred man mist is little of a hindrance, unless on a
featureless moor.

Ever as we jogged upward the air grew colder. Rain was blowing in our
teeth, and the ferny grass and juniper clumps dripped with wet. Almost
it might have been the Pentlands or the high mosses between Douglas
Water and Clyde. To us coming fresh from the torrid plains it was
bitter weather, and I feared for Elspeth, who was thinly clad for the
hill-tops. Ringan seemed to feel the cold the worst of us, for he had
spent his days in the hot seas of the south. He put his horse-blanket
over his shoulders, and cut a comical figure with his red face peeping
from its folds.

"Lord," he would cry, "I wish I was in the Dry Tortugas or snug in the
beach-house at the Isle o' Pines. This minds me painfully of my young
days, when I ran in a ragged kilt in the cold heather of Cruachan. I
must be getting an old man, Andrew, for I never thought the hills could
freeze my blood."

Suddenly the fog lightened a little, the slope ceased, and we had that
gust of freer air which means the top of the pass. My head was less
dizzy now, and I had a momentary gladness that at any rate we had done
part of what we set out to do.

"Clearwater Gap!" I cried. "Except for old Studd, we are the first
Christians to stand on this watershed."

Below us lay a swimming hollow of white mist, hiding I knew not what
strange country.

From the vales below I had marked the lie of the land on each side of
the gap. The highest ground was to the right, so we turned up the
ridge, which was easier than the glen and better travelling. Presently
we were among pines again, and got a shelter from the driving rain. My
plan was to find some hollow far up the mountain side, and there to
make our encampment. After an hour's riding, we came to the very place
I had sought. A pocket of flat land lay between two rocky knolls, with
a ring of good-sized trees around it. The spot was dry and hidden, and
what especially took my fancy was a spring of water which welled up in
the centre, and from which a tiny stream ran down the hill. 'Twas a
fine site for a stockade, and so thought Shalah and the two Borderers.

There was much to do to get the place ready, and Donaldson and Bertrand
fell to with their axes to fell trees for the fort. Now that we had
reached the first stage in our venture, my mind was unreasonably
comforted. With the buoyancy of youth, I argued that since we had got
so far we must get farther. Also the fever seemed to be leaving my
bones and my head clearing. Elspeth was almost merry. Like a child
playing at making house, she ordered the men about on divers errands.
She was a fine sight, with the wind ruffling her hair and her cheeks
reddened from the rain.

Ringan came up to me. "There are three Hours of daylight in front of
us. What say you to make for the top of the hills and find Studd's
cairn? I need some effort to keep my blood running."

I would gladly have stayed behind, for the fever had tired me, but I
could not be dared by Ringan and not respond. So we set off at a great
pace up the ridge, which soon grew very steep, and forced us to a
crawl. There were places where we had to scramble up loose cliffs amid
a tangle of vines, and then we would dip into a little glade, and then
once again breast a precipice. By and by the trees dropped away, and
there was nothing but low bushes and boulders and rank mountain
grasses. In clear air we must have had a wonderful prospect, but the
mist hung close around us, the drizzle blurred our eyes, and the most
we saw was a yard or two of grey vapour. It was easy enough to find the
road, for the ridge ran upwards as narrow as a hog's back.

Presently it ceased, and with labouring breath we walked a step or two
in flat ground. Ringan, who was in front, stumbled over a little heap
of stones about a foot high.

"Studd had a poor notion of a cairn," he said, as he kicked them down.
There was nothing beneath but bare soil.

But the hunter had spoken the truth. A little digging in the earth
revealed the green metal of an old powder-flask with a wooden stopper.
I forced it open, and shook from its inside a twist of very dirty
paper. There were some rude scratchings on it with charcoal, which I
read with difficulty.

_Salut to Adventrs_.
_Robbin Studd on ye Sumit of Mountaine ye 3rd_
_dy of June, yr_ 1672 _hathe sene ye_
_Promissd Lande_.

Somehow in that bleak place this scrap of a human message wonderfully
uplifted our hearts. Before we had thought only of our danger and
cares, but now we had a vision of the reward. Down in the mists lay a
new world. Studd had seen it, and we should see it; and some day the
Virginian people would drive a road through Clearwater Gap and enter
into possession. It is a subtle joy that which fills the heart of the
pioneer, and mighty unselfish too. He does not think of payment, for
the finding is payment enough. He does not even seek praise, for it is
the unborn generations that will call him blessed. He is content, like
Moses, to leave his bones in the wilderness if his people may pass over
Jordan.

Ringan turned his flask in his hands. "A good man, this old Studd," he
said. "I like his words, _Salute to Adventurers_. He was thinking of
the folk that should come after him, which is the mark of a big mind,
Andrew. Your common fellow would have writ some glorification of his
own doings, but Studd was thinking of the thing he had done and not of
himself. You say he's dead these ten years. Maybe he's looking down at
us and nodding his old head well pleased. I would like fine to drink
his health."

We ran down the hill, and came to the encampment at the darkening.
Ringan, who had retained the flask, presented it to Elspeth with a bow.

"There, mistress," he says, "there's the key of your new estate."

CHAPTER XX.

THE STOCKADE AMONG THE PINES.

It took us a heavy day's work to get the stockade finished. There were
only the two axes in the party, besides Shalah's tomahawk, and no one
can know the labour of felling and trimming trees tin he has tried it.
We found the horses useful for dragging trunks, and but for them should
have made a poor job of it. Grey's white hands were all cut and
blistered, and, though I boasted of my hardiness, mine were little
better. Ringan was the surprise, for you would not think that sailing a
ship was a good apprenticeship to forestry. But he was as skilful as
Bertrand and as strong as Donaldson, and he had a better idea of
fortification than us all put together.

The palisade which ran round the camp was six feet high, made of logs
lashed to upright stakes. There was a gate which could be barred
heavily, and loopholes were made every yard or so for musket fire. On
one side--that facing the uplift of the ridge--the walls rose to nine
feet. Inside we made a division. In one half the horses were picketed
at night, and the other was our dwelling.

For Elspeth we made a bower in one corner, which we thatched with pine
branches; but the rest of us slept in the open round the fire. It was a
rough place, but a strong one, for our water could not be cut off, and,
as we had plenty of ball and powder, a few men could hold it against a
host. To each was allotted his proper station, in case of attack, and
we kept watch in succession like soldiers in war. Ringan, who had
fought in many places up and down the world, was our general in these
matters, and a rigid martinet we found him. Shalah was our scout, and
we leaned on him for all woodland work; but inside the palisade
Ringan's word was law.

Our plan was to make this stockade the centre for exploring the hills
and ascertaining the strength and purposes of the Indian army. We
hoped, and so did Shalah, that our enemies would have no leisure to
follow us to the high ridges; that what risk there was would be run by
the men on their spying journeys; but that the stockade would be
reasonably safe. It was my intention, as soon as I had sufficient news,
to send word to Lawrence, and we thought that presently the
Rappahannock forces would have driven the Cherokees southward, and the
way would be open to get Elspeth back to the Tidewater.

The worst trouble, as I soon saw, was to be the matter of food. The
supplies we had carried were all but finished by what we ate after the
stockade was completed. After that there remained only a single bag of
flour, another bag of Indian meal, and a pound or two of boucanned
beef, besides three flasks of eau-de-vie, which Ringan had brought in a
leather casket. The forest berries were not yet ripe, and the only food
to be procured was the flesh of the wild game. Happily in Donaldson and
Bertrand we had two practised trappers; but they were doubtful about
success, for they had no knowledge of what beasts lived in the hills. I
have said that we had plenty of powder and ball, but I did not relish
the idea of shooting in the woods, for the noise would be a signal to
our foes. Still, food we must have, and I thought I might find a
secluded place where the echoes of a shot would be muffled.

The next morning I parcelled up the company according to their duties,
for while Ringan was captain of the stockade, I was the leader of the
venture. I sent out Bertrand and Donaldson to trap in the woods;
Ringan, with Grey and Shalah, stayed at home to strengthen still
further the stockade and protect Elspeth; while I took my musket and
some pack-thongs and went up the hill-side to look for game. We were
trysted to be back an hour before sundown, and if some one of us did
not find food we should go supperless.

That day is a memory which will never pass from me. The weather was
grey and lowering, and though the rain had ceased, the air was still
heavy with it, and every bush and branch dripped with moisture. It was
a poor day for hunting, for the eye could not see forty yards; but it
suited my purpose, since the dull air would deaden the noise of my
musket. I was hunting alone in a strange land among imminent perils,
and my aim was not to glorify my skill, but to find the means of life.
The thought strung me up to a mood where delight was more notable than
care. I was adventuring with only my hand to guard me in those ancient,
haunted woods, where no white man had ever before travelled. To
experience such moments is to live with the high fervour which God gave
to mortals before towns and laws laid their dreary spell upon them.

Early in the day I met a bear--the second I had seen in my life. I did
not want him, and he disregarded me and shuffled grumpily down the
hill-side. I had to be very careful, I remember, to mark my path, so
that I could retrace it, and I followed the Border device of making a
chip here and there in the bark of trees, and often looking backward to
remember the look of the place when seen from the contrary side. Trails
were easy to find on the soft ground, but besides the bear I saw none
but those of squirrel and rabbit, and a rare opossum. But at last, in a
marshy glen, I found the fresh slot of a great stag. For two hours and
more I followed him far north along the ridge, till I came up with him
in a patch of scrub oak. I had to wait long for a shot, but when at
last he rose I planted a bullet fairly behind his shoulder, and he
dropped within ten paces. His size amazed me, for he was as big as a
cart-horse in body, and carried a spread of branching antlers like a
forest tree. To me, accustomed to the little deer of the Tidewater,
this great creature seemed a portent, and I guessed that he was that
elk which I had heard of from the Border hunters. Anyhow he gave me
wealth of food. I hid some in a cool place, and took the rest with me,
packed in bark, in a great bundle on my shoulders.

The road back was easier than I had feared, for I had the slope of the
hill to guide me; but I was mortally weary of my load before I plumped
it down inside the stockade. Presently Bertrand and Donaldson returned.
They brought only a few rabbits, but they had set many traps, and in a
hill burn they had caught some fine golden-bellied trout. Soon venison
steaks and fish were grilling in the embers, and Elspeth set to baking
cakes on a griddle. Those left behind had worked well, and the palisade
was as perfect as could be contrived. A runlet of water had been led
through a hollow trunk into a trough--also hewn from a log--close by
Elspeth's bower, where she could make her toilet unperplexed by other
eyes. Also they had led a stream into the horses' enclosure, so that
they could be watered with ease.

The weather cleared in the evening, as it often does in a hill country.
From the stockade we had no prospect save the reddening western sky,
but I liked to think that in a little walk I could see old Studd's
Promised Land. That was a joy I reserved for myself on the morrow, I
look back on that late afternoon with delight as a curious interlude of
peace. We had forgotten that we were fugitives in a treacherous land, I
for one had forgotten the grim purpose of our quest, and we cooked
supper as if we were a band of careless folk taking our pleasure in the
wilds. Wood-smoke is always for me an intoxication like strong drink.
It seems the incense of nature's altar, calling up the shades of the
old forest gods, smacking of rest and comfort in the heart of solitude.
And what odour can vie for hungry folk with that of roasting meat in
the clear hush of twilight? The sight of that little camp is still in
my memory. Elspeth flitted about busied with her cookery, the glow of
the sunset lighting up her dark hair. Bertrand did the roasting,
crouched like a gnome by the edge of the fire. Grey fetched and carried
for the cooks, a docile and cheerful servant, with nothing in his look
to recall the proud gentleman of the Tidewater. Donaldson sat on a log,
contentedly smoking his pipe, while Ringan, whistling a strathspey,
attended to the horses. Only Shalah stood aloof, his eyes fixed
vacantly on the western sky, and his ear intent on the multitudinous
voices of the twilit woods.

Presently food was ready, and our rude meal in that darkling place was
a merry one. Elspeth sat enthroned on a couch of pine branches--I can
see her yet shielding her face from the blaze with one little hand, and
dividing her cakes with the other. Then we lit our pipes, and fell to
the long tales of the camp-fire. Ringan had a story of a black-haired
princess of Spain, and how for love of her two gentlemen did marvels on
the seas. The chief one never returned to claim her, but died in a
fight off Cartagena, and wrote a fine ballad about his mistress which
Ringan said was still sung in the taverns of the Main. He gave a verse
of it, a wild, sad thing, with tears in it and the joy of battle. After
that we all sang, all but me, who have no voice. Bertrand had a lay of
Normandy, about a lady who walked in the apple-orchards and fell in
love with a wandering minstrel; and Donaldson sang a rough ballad of
Virginia, in which a man weighs the worth of his wife against a tankard
of apple-jack. Grey sang an English song about the north-country maid
who came to London, and a bit of the chanty of the Devon men who sacked
Santa Fe and stole the Almirante's daughter. As for Elspeth, she sang
to a soft Scots tune the tale of the Lady of Cassilis who followed the
gipsy's piping. In it the gipsy tells of what he can offer the lady,
and lo! it was our own case!--

"And ye shall wear no silken gown,
No maid shall bind your hair;
The yellow broom shall be your gem,
Your braid the heather rare.

"Athwart the moor, adown the hill,
Across the world away!
The path is long for happy hearts
That sing to greet the day,
My love,
That sing to greet the day."

I remember, too, the last verse of it:--

"And at the last no solemn stole
Shall on thy breast be laid;
No mumbling priest shall speed thy soul,
No charnel vault thee shade.
But by the shadowed hazel copse,
Aneath the greenwood tree,
Where airs are soft and waters sing,
Thou'lt ever sleep by me,
My love,
Thou'lt ever sleep by me."

Then we fell to talking about the things in the West that no man had
yet discovered, and Shalah, to whom our songs were nothing, now lent an
ear.

"The first Virginians," said Grey, "thought that over the hills lay the
western ocean and the road to Cathay. I do not know, but I am confident
that but a little way west we should come to water. A great river or
else the ocean."

Ringan differed. He held that the land of America was very wide in
those parts, as wide as south of the isthmus where no man had yet
crossed it. Then he told us of a sea-captain who had travelled inland
in Mexico for five weeks and come to a land where gold was as common as
chuckiestones, and a great people dwelt who worshipped a god who lived
in a mountain. And he spoke of the holy city of Manoa, which Sir Walter
Raleigh sought, and which many had seen from far hill-tops. Likewise of
the wonderful kings who once dwelt in Peru, and the little isle in the
Pacific where all the birds were nightingales and the Tree of Life
flourished; and the mountain north of the Main which was all one
emerald. "I think," he said, "that, though no man has ever had the
fruition of these marvels, they are likely to be more true than false.
I hold that God has kept this land of America to the last to be the
loadstone of adventurers, and that there are greater wonders to be seen
than any that man has imagined. The pity is that I have spent my best
years scratching like a hen at its doorstep instead of entering. I have
a notion some day to travel straight west to the sunset. I think I
should find death, but I might see some queer things first."

Then Shalah spoke:--

"There was once a man of my own people who, when he came to man's
strength, journeyed westward with a wife. He travelled all his days,
and when his eyes were dim with age he saw a great water. His spirit
left him on its shore, but on his road he had begotten a son, and that
son journeyed back towards the rising sun, and came after many years to
his people again. I have spoken with him of what he had seen."

"And what was that?" asked Ringan, with eager eyes.

"He told of plains so great that it is a lifetime to travel over them,
and of deserts where the eagle flying from the dawn dies of drought by
midday, and of mountains so high that birds cannot cross them but are
changed by cold into stone, and of rivers to which our little waters
are as reeds to a forest cedar. But especially he spoke of the fierce
warriors that ride like the wind on horses. It seems, brother, that he
who would reach that land must reach also the Hereafter."

"That's the place for me," Ringan cried. "What say you, Andrew? When
this affair is over, shall we make a bid for these marvels? I can cull
some pretty adventurers from the Free Companions."

"Nay, I am for moving a step at a time," said I. "I am a trader, and
want one venture well done before I begin on another, I shall be
content if we safely cross these mountains on which we are now
perched."

Ringan shook his head. "That was never the way of the Highlands,
'Better a bone on the far-away hills than a fat sheep in the meadows,'
says the Gael. What say you, mistress?" and he turned to Elspeth.

"I think you are the born poet," said she, smiling, "and that Mr.
Garvald is the sober man of affairs. You will leap for the top of the
wall and get a prospect while Mr. Garvald will patiently pull it down."

"Oh, I grant that Andrew has the wisdom," said Ringan. "That's why him
and me's so well agreed. It's because we differ much, and so fit
together like opposite halves of an apple.... Is your traveller still
in the land of the living?" he asked Shalah.

But the Indian had slipped away from the fireside circle, and I saw him
without in the moonlight standing rigid on a knoll and gazing at the
skies.

* * * * *

Next day dawned cloudless, and Shalah and I spent it in a long
journey along the range. We kept to the highest parts, and at every
vantage-ground we scanned the glens for human traces. By this time I
had found my hill legs, and could keep pace even with the Indian's
swift stride. The ridge of mountains, you must know, was not a single
backbone, but broken up here and there by valleys into two and even
three ranges. This made our scouting more laborious, and prevented us
from getting the full value out of our high station. Mostly we kept in
cover, and never showed on a skyline. But we saw nothing to prove the
need of this stealth. Only the hawks wheeled, and the wild pigeons
crooned; the squirrels frisked among the branches; and now and then a
great deer would leap from its couch and hasten into the coverts.

But, though we got no news, that journey brought to me a revelation,
for I had my glimpse of Studd's Promised Land. It came to me early in
the day, as we halted in a little glade, gay with willowherb and
goldenrod, which hung on a shelf of the hills looking westwards. The
first streamers of morn had gone, the mists had dried up from the
valleys, and I found myself looking into a deep cleft and across at a
steep pine-clad mountain. Clearly the valley was split by this mountain
into two forks, and I could see only the cool depth of it and catch a
gleam of broken water a mile or two below. But looking more to the
north, I saw where the vale opened, and then I had a vision worthy of
the name by which Studd had baptized it. An immense green pasture land
ran out to the dim horizon. There were forests scattered athwart it,
and single great trees, and little ridges, too, but at the height where
we stood it seemed to the eye to be one verdant meadow as trim and
shapely as the lawn of a garden. A noble river, the child of many hill
streams, twined through it in shining links. I could see dots, which I
took to be herds of wild cattle grazing, but no sign of any human
dweller.

"What is it?" I asked unthinkingly.

"The Shenandoah," Shalah said, and I never stopped to ask how he knew
the name. He was gazing at the sight with hungry eyes, he whose gaze
was, for usual, so passionless.

That prospect gave me a happy feeling of comfort; why, I cannot tell,
except that the place looked so bright and habitable. Here was no sour
wilderness, but a land made by God for cheerful human dwellings. Some
day there would be orchards and gardens among those meadows, and miles
of golden corn, and the smoke of hearth fires. Some day I would enter
into that land of Canaan which now I saw from Pisgah. Some day--and I
scarcely dared the thought--my children would call it home.

CHAPTER XXI.

A HAWK SCREAMS IN THE EVENING

Those two days in the stockade were like a rift of sun in a stormy day,
and the next morn the clouds descended. The face of nature seemed to be
a mirror of our fortunes, for when I woke the freshness had gone out of
the air, and in the overcast sky there was a forewarning of storm. But
the little party in the camp remained cheerful enough. Donaldson and
Bertrand went off to their trapping; Elspeth was braiding her hair, the
handsomest nymph that ever trod these woodlands, and trying in vain to
discover from the discreet Ringan where he came from, and what was his
calling. The two Borderers knew well who he was; Grey, I think, had a
suspicion; but it never entered the girl's head that this debonair
gentleman bore the best known name in all the Americas. She fancied he
was some exiled Jacobite, and was ready to hear a pitiful romance. This
at another time she would have readily got; but Ringan for the nonce
was in a sober mood, and though he would talk of Breadalbane, was chary
of touching on more recent episodes. All she learned was that he was a
great traveller, and had tried most callings that merit a gentleman's
interest.

The day before, Shalah and I had explored the range to the south,
keeping on the west side where we thought the enemy were likely to
gather. This day we looked to the side facing the Tidewater, a
difficult job, for it was eaten into by the upper glens of many rivers.
The weather grew hot and oppressive, and over the lowlands of Virginia
there brooded a sullen thundercloud. It oppressed my spirits, and I
found myself less able to keep up with Shalah. The constant sight of
the lowlands filled me with anxiety for what might be happening in
those sullen blue flats. Gone was the glad forgetfulness of yesterday.
The Promised Land might smile as it pleased, but we were still on the
flanks of Pisgah with the Midianites all about us.

My recollection of that day is one of heavy fatigue and a pressing
hopelessness. Shalah behaved oddly, for he was as restive as a
frightened stag. No covert was unsuspected by him, and if I ventured to
raise my head on any exposed ground a long brown arm pulled me down. He
would make no answer to my questions except a grunt. All this gave me
the notion that the hills were full of the enemy, and I grew as restive
as the Indian. The crackle of a branch startled me, and the movement of
a scared beast brought my heart to my throat.

Then from a high place he saw something which sent us both crawling
into the thicket. We made a circuit of several miles round the head of
a long ravine, and came to a steep bank of red screes. Up this we
wormed our way, as flat as snakes, with our noses in the dusty earth. I
was dripping with sweat, and cursing to myself this new madness of
Shalah's. Then I found a cooler air blowing on the top of my prostrate
skull, and I judged that we were approaching the scarp of a ridge.
Shalah's hand held me motionless. He wriggled on a little farther, and
with immense slowness raised his head. His hand now beckoned me
forward, and in a few seconds I was beside him and was lifting my eyes
over the edge of the scarp.

Below us lay a little plain, wedged in between two mountains, and
breaking off on one side into a steep glen. It was just such a shelf as
I had seen in the Carolinas, only a hundred times greater, and it lay
some five hundred feet below us. Every part of the hollow was filled
with men. Thousands there must have been, around their fires and
teepees, and coming or going from the valley. They were silent, like
all savages, but the low hum rose from the place which told of human
life.

I tried to keep my eyes steady, though my heart was beating like a
fanner. The men were of the same light colour and slimness as those I
had seen on the edge of the mist in Clearwater Glen. Indeed, they were
not unlike Shalah, except that he was bigger than the most of them. I
was not learned in Indian ways, but a glance told me that these folk
never came out of the Tidewater, and were no Cherokees of the hills or
Tuscaroras from the Carolinas. They were a new race from the west or
the north, the new race which had so long been perplexing us. Somewhere
among them was the brain which had planned for the Tidewater a sudden
destruction.

Shalah slipped noiselessly backward, and I followed him down the scree
slope, across the ravine, and then with infinite caution through the
sparse woods till we had put a wide shoulder of hill between us and the
enemy. After that we started running, such a pace as made the rush back
to the Rappahannock seem an easy saunter. Shalah would avoid short-cuts
for no reason that I could see, and make long circuits in places where
I had to go on hands and feet. I was weary before we set out, and soon
I began to totter like a drunken man. The Indian's arm pulled me up
countless times, and his face, usually so calm, was now sharp with
care. "You cannot fail here, brother," he would say, "On our speed hang
the lives of all." That put me on my mettle, for it was Elspeth's
safety I now strove for, and the thought gave life to my leaden limbs.
Every minute the air grew heavier, and the sky darker, so that when
about five in the afternoon we passed the Gap and struggled up the last
hill to the stockade, it seemed as if night had already fallen.

Elspeth and Ringan were there, and the two trappers had just returned.
I could do nothing but pant on the ground, but Shalah cried out for
news of Grey. He heard that he had gone into the woods with his musket
two hours past. At this he flung up his hands with a motion of despair.
"We cannot wait," he said to Ringan. "Close the gate and put every man
to his post, for the danger is at hand."

Ringan gave his orders. The big log gate was barred, the fire trampled
out, and we waited in that thunderous darkness. A long draught of cold
water had revived me, and I could think clearly of Elspeth. Her bower
was in the safest part of the stockade, but she would not stay there, I
could see terror in her eyes, but she gave no sign of it. She made
ready our supper of cold meat as if she had no other thought in the
world.

Waiting on an attack is a hard trial for mortal nerves. I am not
ashamed to confess that in those minutes my courage was little to boast
of. I envied Ringan his ease, and Bertrand his light cheerfulness, and
Donaldson his unshaken gravity, and especially I envied Shalah his
godlike calm. But most of all I envied Elspeth the courage which could
know desperate fear and never show it. Most likely I did myself some
wrong. Most likely my own face was firm enough, but, if it were, 'twas
a poor clue to the brain behind it. I fell to wondering about Grey
still travelling in the woods. Was there any hope for him? Was there
hope, indeed, for any one of us penned in a wooden palisade fifty miles
from aid, a handful against an army?

Presently in the lowering silence came the scream of a hawk.

An uncommon sound, half croak, half cry, which only hill dwellers know,
but 'tis an eery noise in the wilderness. It came again, less near, and
a third time from a great distance. I thought it queer, for a hawk does
not scream twice in the same hour. I looked at Shalah, who stood by the
gate, every sinew in his body taut with expectation. He caught my eye.

"That hawk never flew on wings," he said.

Then an owl hooted, and from near at hand came the cough of a deer. The
thicket was alive with life, which mimicked the wild things of the
woods.

Then came a sound which drowned all others. From the inky sky descended
a jagged line of light, and in the same second the crash of the thunder
broke. Never have I seen such a storm. Down in the Tidewater we had
thunderstorms in plenty during the summer-time, but they growled and
passed and scarce ruffled the even blue of the sky. But here it looked
as if we had found the home of the lightnings, where all the
thunderbolts were forged. It blazed around us like a steady fire. By a
miracle the palisade was not struck, but I heard a rending and
splintering in the forest where tall trees had met their doom. The
noise deafened me, and confused my senses. Out of the loophole I could
see the glade that sloped down to the Gap, and it was as bright as if
it had been high noonday. The clumps of fern and grass stood out yellow
and staring against the inky background of the trees. I remember I
noted a rabbit run confusedly into the open, and then at a fresh flare
of lightning scamper back.

Something was crouching and shivering at my side. I found it was
Elspeth, whose courage was no match for the terrors of the heavens. She
snuggled against me for companionship, and hid her face in the sleeve
of my coat.

Suddenly came a cry from Shalah on my left. He pointed his hand to the
glade, and in it I saw a man running. A new burst of light sprang up,
for some dry tindery creepers had caught fire, and were blazing to
heaven. It lit a stumbling figure which I saw was Grey, and behind him
was a lithe Indian running on his trail.

"Open the gate," I cried, and I got my musket in the loophole.

The fugitive was all but spent. He ran, bowed almost to the ground,
with a wild back glance ever and again over his shoulder. His pursuer
gained on him with great strides, and in his hand he carried a bare
knife. I dared not shoot, for Grey was between me and his enemy.

'Twas as well I could not, for otherwise Grey would never have reached
us alive. We cried to him to swerve, and the sound of our voices
brought up that last flicker of hope which waits till the end in every
man. He seemed actually to gain a yard, and now he was near enough for
us to see his white face and staring eyes. Then he stumbled, and the
man with the knife was almost on him. But he found his feet again, and
swerved like a hunted hare in one desperate bound. This gave me my
chance: my musket cracked, and the Indian pitched quietly to the
ground. The knife flew out of his hand and almost touched Grey's heel.

With the sound Shalah had leaped from the gate, picked up Grey like a
child, and in a second had him inside the palisade and the bars down.
He was none too soon, for as his pursuer fell a flight of arrows broke
from the thicket, and had I shot earlier Grey had died of them. As it
was they were too late. The bowmen rushed into the glade, and five
muskets from our side took toll of them. My last vision was of leaping
yellow devils capering from among blazing trees.

Then without warning it was dark again, and from the skies fell a
deluge of rain. In a minute the burning creepers were quenched, and the
whole world was one pit of ink, with the roar as of a thousand torrents
about our ears. As the vividness of the lightning, so was the weight of
the rain. Ringan cried to us to stand to our places, for now was the
likely occasion for attack; but no human being could have fought in
such weather. Indeed, we could not hear him, and he had to stagger
round and shout his command into each several ear. The might of the
deluge almost pressed me to the earth, I carried Elspeth into her
bower, but the roof of branches was speedily beaten down, and it was no
better than a peat bog.

That overwhelming storm lasted for maybe a quarter of an hour, and then
it stopped as suddenly as it came. Inside the palisade the ground swam
like a loch, and from the hill-side came the rumour of a thousand
swollen streams. That, with the heavy drip of laden branches, made
sound enough, but after the thunder and the downpour it seemed silence
itself. Presently when I looked up I saw that the black wrack was
clearing from the sky, and through a gap there shone a watery star.

Ringan took stock of our defences, and doled out to each a portion of
sodden meat. Grey had found his breath by this time, and had got a
spare musket, for his own had been left in the woods. Elspeth had had
her wits sorely jangled by the storm, and in the revulsion was on the
brink of tears. She was very tender towards Grey's condition, and the
sight gave me no jealousy, for in that tense hour all things were
forgotten but life and death. Donaldson, at Ringan's bidding, saw to
the feeding of the horses as if he were in his own stable on the
Rappahannock. It takes all sorts of men to make a world, but I thought
at the time that for this business the steel nerves of the Borderer
were worth many quicker brains and more alert spirits.

The hours marched sombrely towards midnight, while we stayed every man
by his post. I asked Shalah if the enemy had gone, and he shook his
head. He had the sense of a wild animal to detect danger in the forest
when the eye and ear gave no proof. He stood like a stag, sniffing the
night air, and peering with his deep eyes into the gloom. Fortunately,
though the moon was all but full, the sky was so overcast that only the
faintest yellow glow broke into the darkness of the hill-tops.

It must have been an hour after midnight when we got our next warning
of the enemy. Suddenly a firebrand leaped from farther up the hill, and
flew in a wide curve into the middle of the stockade. It fell on the
partition between the horses and ourselves and hung crackling there. A
shower of arrows followed it, which missed us, for we were close to the
edges of the palisade. But the sputtering torch was a danger, for
presently it would show our position; so Bertrand very gallantly pulled
it down, stamped it out, and got back to his post unscathed.

Yet the firebrand had done its work, for it had showed the savages
where the horses stood picketed. Another followed, lighting in their
very midst, and setting them plunging at their ropes.

I heard Ringan curse deeply, for we had not thought of this stratagem.
And the next second I became aware that there was some one among the
horses. At first I thought that the palisade had been stormed, and then
I heard a soft voice which was no Indian's. Heedless of orders, I flung
myself at the rough gate, and in a trice was beside the voice.

Elspeth was busy among the startled beasts. She had a passion for
horses, and had, as we say, the "cool" hand with them, for she would
soothe a frightened stallion by rubbing his nose and whispering in his
ear. By the time I got to her she had stamped out the torch, and was
stroking Grey's mare, which was the worst scared. Her own fear had
gone, and in that place of plunging hooves and tossing manes she was as
calm as in a summer garden. "Let me be, Andrew," she said. "I am better
at this business than you."

She had the courage of a lion, but 'twas a wild courage, without
foresight. Another firebrand came circling through the darkness, and
broke on the head of Donaldson's pony. I caught the girl and swung her
off her feet into safety. And then on the heels of the torch came a
flight of arrows, fired from near at hand.

By the mercy of God she was unharmed. I had one through the sleeve of
my coat, but none reached her. One took a horse in the neck, and the
poor creature screamed pitifully. Presently there was a wild confusion
of maddened beasts, with the torch burning on the ground and lighting
the whole place for the enemy. I had Elspeth in my arms, and was
carrying her to the gate, when over the palisade I saw yellow limbs and
fierce faces.

They saw it too--Ringan and the rest--and it did not need his cry to
keep our posts to tell us the right course. The inner palisade which
shut off the horses must now be our line of defence, and the poor
beasts must be left to their fate. But Elspeth and I had still to get
inside it.

Her ankle had caught in a picket rope, which in another second would
have wrenched it cruelly, had I not slashed it free with my knife. This
sent the horse belonging to it in wild career across the corral, and I
think 'twas that interruption which saved our lives. It held back the
savages for an instant of time, and prevented them blocking our escape.
It all took place in the flutter of an eye-lid, though it takes long in
the telling. I pushed Elspeth through the door, and with all my
strength tore at the bars.

But they would not move. Perhaps the rain had swollen the logs, and
they had jammed too tightly to let the bar slide in the groove. So I
found myself in that gate, the mad horses and the savages before me,
and my friends at my back, with only my arm to hold the post.

I had my musket and my two pistols--three shots, for there would be no
time to reload. A yellow shadow slipped below a horse's belly, and
there came the cry of an animal's agony. Then another and another, and
yet more. But no one came near me in the gateway. I could not see
anything to shoot at--only lithe shades and mottled shadows, for the
torch lay on the wet ground, and was sputtering to its end. The moaning
of the horses maddened me, and I sent a bullet through the head of my
own poor beast, which was writhing horribly. Elspeth's horse got the
contents of my second pistol.

And then it seemed that the raiders had gone. There was one bit of the
far palisade which was outlined for me dimly against a gap in the
trees. I saw a figure on it, and whipped my musket to my shoulder.
Something flung up its arms and toppled back among the dying beasts.

Then a hand--Donaldson's, I think--clutched me and pulled me back. With
a great effort the bars were brought down, and I found myself beside
Elspeth. All her fortitude had gone now, and she was sobbing like a
child.

Gradually the moaning of the horses ceased, and the whole world seemed
cold and silent as a stone. We stood our watch till a wan sunrise
struggled up the hill-side.

CHAPTER XXII.

HOW A FOOL MUST GO HIS OWN ROAD.

It was a sorry party that looked at each other in the first light of
dawn.

Our eyes were hollow with suspense, and all but Shalah had the hunted
look of men caught in a trap. Not till the sun had got above the
tree-tops did we venture to leave our posts and think of food. It was
now that Elspeth's spirit showed supreme. The courage of that pale girl
put us all to the blush. She alone carried her head high and forced an
air of cheerfulness. She lit the fire with Donaldson's help, and
broiled some deer's flesh for our breakfast, and whistled gently as she
wrought, bringing into our wild business a breath of the orderly
comfort of home. I had seen her in silk and lace, a queen among the
gallants, but she never looked so fair as on that misty morning, her
hair straying over her brow, her plain kirtle soiled and sodden, but
her eyes bright with her young courage.

During the last hours of that dark vigil my mind had been torn with
cares. If we escaped the perils of the night, I asked myself, what
then? Here were the seven of us, pinned in a hill-fort, with no help
within fifty miles, and one of the seven was a woman! I judged that the
Indian force was large, and there was always the mighty army waiting
farther south in that shelf of the hills. If they sought to take us, it
must be a matter of a day or two at the most till they succeeded. If
they only played with us--which is the cruel Indian way--we might
resist a little, but starvation would beat us down. Where were we to
get food, with the forests full of our subtle enemies? To sit still
would mean to wait upon death, and the waiting would not be long.

There was the chance, to be sure, that the Indians would be drawn off
in the advance towards the east. But here came in a worse anxiety. I
had come to get news to warn the Tidewater. That news I had got. The
mighty gathering which Shalah's eyes and mine had beheld in that upland
glen was the peril we had foreseen. What good were easy victories over
raiding Cherokees when this deadly host waited on the leash? I had no
doubt that the Cherokees were now broken. Stafford county would be full
of Nicholson's militia, and Lawrence's strong hand lay on the line of
the Borders. But what availed it? While Virginia was flattering herself
that she had repelled the savages, and the Rappahannock men were
notching their muskets with the tale of the dead, a wave was gathering
to sweep down the Pamunkey or the James, and break on the walls of
James Town. I did not think that Nicholson, forewarned and prepared,
could stem the torrent; and if it caught him unawares the proud
Tidewater would break like a rotten reed.

I had been sent to scout. Was I to be false to the word I had given,
and let any risk to myself or others deter me from taking back the
news? The Indian army tarried; why, I did not know--perhaps some mad
whim of their soothsayers, perhaps the device of a wise general; but at
any rate they tarried. If a war party could spend a night in baiting us
and slaying our horses, there could be no very instant orders for the
road. If this were so, a bold man might yet reach the Border line. At
that moment it seemed to me a madman's errand. Even if I slipped past
the watchers in the woods and the glens, the land between would be
strewn with fragments of the Cherokee host, and I had not the Indian
craft. But it was very seriously borne in upon me that 'twas my duty to
try. God might prosper a bold stroke, and in any case I should be true
to my trust.

But what of Elspeth? The thought of leaving her was pure torment. In
our hideous peril 'twas scarcely to be endured that one should go. I
told myself that if I reached the Border I could get help, but my heart
warned me that I lied. My news would leave no time there for riding
hillward to rescue a rash adventure. We were beyond the pale, and must
face the consequences. That we all had known, and reckoned with, but we
had not counted that our risk would be shared by a woman. Ah I that
luckless ride of Elspeth's! But for that foolish whim she would be safe
now in the cool house at Middle Plantation, with a ship to take her to
safety if the worst befell. And now of all the King's subjects in that
hour we were the most ill-fated, islanded on a sand heap with the tide
of savage war hourly eating into our crazy shelter.

Before the daylight came, as I stood with my cheek to my musket, I had
come to a resolution. In a tangle of duties a man must seize the
solitary clear one, and there could be no doubt of what mine was, I
must try for the Tidewater, and I must try alone, Shalah had the best
chance to get through, but without Shalah the stockade was no sort of
refuge. Ringan was wiser and stronger than I, but I thought I had more
hill-craft, and, besides, the duty was mine, not his. Grey had no
knowledge of the wilds, and Donaldson and Bertrand could not handle the
news as it should be handled, in the unlikely event of their getting
through alive. No, there were no two ways of it. I must make the
effort, though in that leaden hour of weariness and cold it seemed as
if my death-knell were ringing.

Morn showed a grey world, strewn with the havoc of the storm. The
eagles were already busy among the dead horses, and our first job was
to bury the poor beasts. Just outside the stockade we dug as best we
could a shallow trench, while the muskets of the others kept watch over
us. There we laid also the body of the man I had shot in the night. He
was a young savage, naked to the waist, and curiously tattooed on the
forehead with the device of what seemed to be a rising or setting sun.
I observed that Shalah looked closely at this, and that his face wore
an unusual excitement. He said something in his own tongue, and, when
the trench was dug, laid the dead man in it so that his head pointed
westwards.

We wrought in a dogged silence, and Elspeth's cheery whistling was the
only sound in that sullen morning. It fairly broke my heart. She was
whistling the old tune of "Leezie Lindsay," a merry lilt with the hill
wind and the heather in it. The bravery of the poor child was the
hardest thing of all to bear when I knew that in a few hours' time the
end might come. The others were only weary and dishevelled and ill at
ease, but on me seemed to have fallen the burden of the cares of the
whole earth.

Shalah had disappeared for a little, and came back with the word that
the near forests were empty. So I summoned a council, and talked as we
breakfasted. I had looked into the matter of the food, and found that
we had sufficient for three days. We had boucanned a quantity of deer's
flesh two days before, and this, with the fruit of yesterday's
trapping, made a fair stock in our larder.

Then I announced my plan. "I am going to try to reach Lawrence," I
said.

No one spoke. Shalah lifted his head, and looked at me gravely.

"Does any man object?" I asked sharply, for my temper was all of an
edge.

"Your throat will be cut in the first mile," said Donaldson gruffly.

"Maybe it will, but maybe not. At any rate, I can try. You have not
heard what Shalah and I found in the hills yesterday. Twelve miles
south there is a glen with a plateau at its head, and that plateau is
as full of Indians as a beehive. Ay, Ringan, you and Lawrence were
right. The Cherokees are the least of the trouble. There's a great army
come out of the West, men that you and I never saw the like of before,
and they are waiting till the Cherokees have drawn the fire of the
Borderers, and then they will bring hell to the Tidewater. You and I
know that there's some sort of madman in command, a man that quotes the
Bible and speaks English; but madman or not, he's a great general, and
woe betide Virginia if he gets among the manors. I was sent to the
hills to get news, and I've got it. Would it not be the part of a
coward to bide here and make no effort to warn our friends?"

"What good would a warning do?" said Ringan. "Even if you got through
to Lawrence--which is not very likely--d'you think a wheen Borderers in
a fort will stay such an army? It would only mean that you lost your
life on the South Fork instead of in the hills, and there's little
comfort in that."

"It's not like you to give such counsel," I said sadly. "A man cannot
think whether his duty will succeed as long as it's there for him to do
it. Maybe my news would make all the differ. Maybe there would be time
to get Nicholson's militia to the point of danger. God has queer ways
of working, if we trust Him with honest hearts. Besides, a word on the
Border would save the Tidewater folk, for there are ships on the James
and the York to flee to if they hear in time. Let Virginia go down and
be delivered over to painted savages, and some day soon we will win it
back; but we cannot bring life to the dead. I want to save the lowland
manors from what befell the D'Aubignys on the Rapidan, and if I can
only do that much I will be content. Will you counsel me, Ringan, to
neglect my plain duty?"

"I gave no counsel," said Ringan hurriedly. "I was only putting the
common sense of it. It's for you to choose."

Here Grey broke in. "I protest against this craziness. Your first duty
is to your comrades and to this lady. If you desert us we lose our best
musket, and you have as little chance of reaching the Tidewater as the
moon. Arc you so madly enamoured of death, Mr. Garvald?" He spoke in
the old stiff tones of the man I had quarrelled with.

I turned to Shalah. "Is there any hope of getting to the South Fork?"

He looked me very full in the face. "As much hope as a dove has who
falls broken-winged into an eyrie of falcons! As much hope as the deer
when the hunter's knife is at its throat! Yet the dove may escape, and
the deer may yet tread the forest. While a man draws breath there is
hope, brother."

"Which I take to mean that the odds are a thousand against one," said
Grey.

"Then it's my business to stake all on the one," I cried. "Man, don't
you see my quandary? I hold a solemn trust, which I have the means of
fulfilling, and I'm bound to try. It's torture to me to leave you, but
you will lose nothing. Three men could hold this place as well as six,
if the Indians are not in earnest, and, if they are, a hundred would be
too few. Your danger will be starvation, and I will be a mouth less to
feed. If I get to the Border I will find help, for we cannot stay here
for ever, and how d'you think we are to get Miss Blair by ourselves to
the Rappahannock with every mile littered with fighting clans? I must
go, or I will never have another moment's peace in life."
Grey was not convinced. "Send the Indian," he said.

"And leave the stockade defenceless," I cried. "It's because he stays
behind that I dare to go. Without him we are all bairns in the dark."

"That's true, anyway," said Ringan, and fell to whittling a stick.

"For three days," I continued, "you have food enough, and if by the end
of it you are not attacked you may safely go hunting for more. If
nothing happens in a week's time you will know that I have failed, and
you can send another messenger. Ringan would be the best."

"That can hardly be," he said, "because I'm coming with you now."

I could only stare blankly.

"Two's better than one for this kind of business, and I am no use
here--only _fruges consumere natus_, as I learned from the Inveraray
dominie. It's my concern as much as yours, for I brought you here, and
I'm trysted with Lawrence to take back word. I'm loath to leave my
friends, but my place is at your side, Andrew. So say no more about
it."

I knew it was idle to protest. Ringan was as obstinate as a Spanish
mule when he chose, and, besides, there was reason in what he said. Two
were better than one both for speed in travel and for fighting if the
need came, and though I had more woodcraft than he, he had ten times my
wisdom. There was something about his matter-of-fact tone which took
the enterprise out of the land of impossibilities into a more sober
realm. I even began to dream of success.

But when. I looked at Elspeth her eyes were so full of grief and care
that my spirits sank again.

"Tell me," I cried, "that you think I am doing right, God knows it is
hard to leave you, and I carry the sorest heart in Virginia. But you
would not have me stay idle when my plain duty commands. Say that you
bid me go, Elspeth."

"I bid you go," she said bravely, "and I will pray God to keep you
safe." But her eyes belied her voice, for they were swimming with
tears. At that moment I got the conviction that I was more to her than
a mere companion, that by some miracle I had won a place in that proud
and loyal heart. It seemed a cruel stroke of fate that I should get
this hope at the very moment when I was to leave her and go into the
shadow of death.

But that was no hour to think of love, I took every man apart and swore
him, though there was little need, to stand by the girl at all costs.

To Grey I opened my inmost thoughts.

"You and I serve one mistress," I said, "and now I confide her to your
care. All that I would have done I am assured you will do. My heart is
easier when I know that you are by her side. Once we were foes, and
since then we have been friends, and now you are the dearest friend on
earth, for I leave you with all I cherish."

He flushed deeply and gave me his hand.

"Go in peace, sir," he said. "If God wills that we perish, my last act
will be to assure an easy passage to heaven for her we worship. If we
meet again, we meet as honourable rivals, and may that day come soon."

So with pistols in belt, and a supply of cartouches and some little
food in our pockets, Ringan and I were enfolded in the silence of the
woods.

CHAPTER XXIII.

THE HORN OF DIARMAID SOUNDS.

We reached the gap, and made slantwise across the farther hill. I did
not dare to go clown Clearwater Glen, and, besides, I was aiming for a
point farther south than the Rappahannock. In my wanderings with Shalah
I had got a pretty good idea of the lie of the mountains on their
eastern side, and I had remarked a long ridge which flung itself like a
cape far into the lowlands. If we could leave the hills by this, I
thought we might strike the stream called the North Fork, which would
bring us in time to the neighbourhood of Frew's dwelling. The ridges
were our only safe path, for they were thickly overgrown with woods,
and the Indian bands were less likely to choose them for a route. The
danger was in the glens, where the trees were sparser and the broad
stretches of meadow made better going for horses.

The movement of my legs made me pluck up heart. I was embarked at any
rate in a venture, and had got rid of my desperate indecision. The two
of us held close together, and chose the duskiest thickets, crawling
belly-wise over the little clear patches and avoiding the crown of the
ridge like the plague. The weather helped us, for the skies hung grey
and low, with wisps of vapour curling among the trees. The glens were
pits of mist, and my only guide was my recollection of what I had seen,
and the easterly course of the streams.

By midday we had mounted to the crest of a long scarp which fell away
in a narrow and broken promontory towards the plains. So far we had
seen nothing to give us pause, and the only risk lay in some Indian
finding and following our trail. We lay close in a scrubby wood, and
rested for a little, while we ate some food. Everything around us
dripped with moisture, and I could have wrung pints from my coat and
breeches.

"Oh for the Dry Tortugas!" Ringan sighed. "What I would give for a hot
sun and the kindly winds o' the sea! I thought I pined for the hills,
Andrew, but I would not give a clean beach and a warm sou'-wester for
all the mountains on earth."

Then again: "Yon's a fine lass," he would say.

I did not reply, for I had no heart to speak of what I had left behind.

"Cheer up, young one," he cried. "There was more lost at Flodden. A
gentleman-adventurer must live by the hour, and it's surprising how
Fortune favours them that trust her. There was a man I mind, in
Breadalbane...." And here he would tell some tale of how light came out
of black darkness for the trusting heart.

"Man, Ringan," I said, "I see your kindly purpose. But tell me, did
ever you hear of such a tangle as ours being straightened out?

"Why, yes," he said. "I've been in worse myself, and here I am. I have
been in a cell at Cartagena, chained to a man that had died of the
plague, with the gallows preparing for me at cock-crow. But in the
night some friends o' mine came into the bay, and I had the solemn joy
of stepping out of yon cell over the corp of the Almirante. I've been
mad with fever, and jumped into the Palmas River among the alligators,
and not one of them touched me, though I was swimming about crying that
the water was burning oil. And then a lad in a boat gave me a clout on
the head that knocked the daftness out of me, and in a week I was
marching on my own deck, with my bonnet cocked like a king's captain.
I've been set by my unfriends on a rock in the Florida Keys, with a keg
of dirty water and a bunch of figs, and the sun like to melt my brains,
and two bullet holes in my thigh. But I came out of the pickle, and
lived to make the men that put me there sorry they had been born. Ay,
and I've seen my grave dug, and my dead clothes ready, and in a week I
was making napkins out of them. There's a wonderful kindness in
Providence to mettled folk."

"Ay, Ringan, but that was only the risk of your own neck. I think I
could endure that. But was there ever another you liked far better than
yourself, that you had to see in deadly peril?"

"No. I'll be honest with you, there never was. I grant you that's the
hardest thing to thole. But you'll keep a stiff lip even to that,
seeing you are the braver of the two of us."

At that I cried out in expostulation, but Ringan was firm.

"Ay, the braver by far, and I'll say it again. I'm a man of the dancing
blood, with a rare appetite for frays and forays. You are the sedate
soul that would be happier at home in the chimney corner. And yet you
are the most determined of the lot of us, though you have no pleasure
in it. Why? Just because you are the bravest. You can force yourself to
a job when flesh and spirit cry out against it. I let no man alive cry
down my courage, but I say freely that it's not to be evened with
yours."

I was not feeling very courageous. As we sped along the ridge in the
afternoon I seemed to myself like a midge lost in a monstrous net. The
dank, dripping trees and the misty hills seemed to muffle and deaden
the world. I could not believe that they ever would end; that anywhere
there was a clear sky and open country. And I had always the feeling
that in those banks of vapour lurked deadly enemies who any moment
might steal out and encompass us.

But about four o'clock the weather lightened, and from the cock's-comb
on which we moved we looked down into the lower glens. I saw that we
had left the main flanks of the range behind us, and were now fairly on
a cape which jutted out beyond the other ridges. It behoved us now to
go warily, and where the thickets grew thin we moved like hunters, in
every hollow and crack that could shelter a man. Ringan led, and led
well, for he had not stalked the red deer on the braes of Breadalbane
for nothing. But no sign of life appeared in the green hollows on
either hand, neither in the meadow spaces nor by the creeks of the
growing streams. The world was dead silent; not even a bird showed in
the whole firmament.

Lower and lower we went, till the end of the ridge was before us, a
slope which melted into the river plains. A single shaft of bright
sunshine broke from the clouds behind us, and showed the tumbled
country of low downs and shallow vales which stretched to the Tidewater
border. I had a momentary gleam of hope, as sudden and transient as
that ray of light. We were almost out of the hills, and, that
accomplished, we were most likely free of the Indian forces that
gathered there. I had come to share the Rappahannock men's opinion
about the Cherokees. If we could escape the strange tribes from the
west, I looked for no trouble at the hands of those common raiders.

The thicket ended with the ridge, and there was a quarter-mile of
broken meadow before the forest began. It was a queer place, that patch
of green grass set like an arena for an audience on the mountain side.
A fine stream ran through it, coming down the glen on our right, and
falling afterwards into a dark, woody ravine. I mistrusted the look of
it, for there was no cover, and 'twas in full view of the whole flanks
of the hills.

Ringan, too, was disturbed. "Twould be wiser like to wait for darkness
before trying that bit," he said. "We'll be terrible kenspeckle to the
gentry we ken of."

But I would not hear of delay. Now that we were all but out of the
hills I was mad to get forward. I thought foolishly that every minute
we delayed there we increased our peril, and I longed for the covering
of the lowland forest. Besides, I thought that by using some of the
crinkles in the meadow we could be sheltered from any eyes on the
slopes.

Ringan poked his head out of the covert and took a long gaze. "The
place seems empty enough, but I cannot like it. Have you your pistols
handy, Andrew? I see what looks like an Indian track, and if we were to
meet a brave or two, it would be a pity to let them betray us."

I looked at my pistols to see if the damp woods had spoiled the
priming.

"Well, here's for fortune," said Ringan, and we scrambled off the
ridge, and plunged into the lush grasses of the meadow.

Had we kept our heads and crossed as prudently as we had made the
morning's journey, all might have been well. But a madcap haste seemed
to possess us. We tore through the herbage as if we had been running a
race in the yard of a peaceful manor. The stream stayed us a little,
for it could not be forded without a wetting, and I went in up to the
waist. As we scrambled up the far bank some impulse made me turn my
head.

There, coming down the water, was a band of Indians.

They were still some distance off, but they saw us, and put their
horses to the gallop. I cried to Ringan to run for the shelter of the
woods, for in the open we were at their mercy. He cast one glance over
his shoulder, and set a pace which came near to foundering me.

We got what we wanted earlier than we had hoped. The woods in front
rose in a high bluff, and down a little ravine a burn trickled. The
sides were too steep and matted for horses to travel, and he who stood
in the ravine had his back and flanks defended.

"Now for a fight, Andrew lad," cried Ringan, his eyes dancing. "Stick
you to the pistols, and I'll show them something in the way of
sword-play."

The Indians wheeled up to the edge of the ravine, and I saw to my joy
that they did not carry bows.

One had a musket, but it looked as if he had no powder left, for it
swung idly on his back. They had tomahawks at their belts and long
shining knives with deerhorn handles. I only got a glimpse of them, but
'twas enough to show me they were of that Western nation that I
dreaded.

They were gone in an instant.

"That looks bad for us, Andrew," Ringan said. "If they had come down on
us yelling for our scalps, we would have had a merry meeting. But
they're either gone to bring their friends or they're trying to take us
in the back. I'll guard the front, and you keep your eyes on the hinder
parts, though a jackdaw could scarcely win over these craigs."

A sudden burst of sun came out, while Ringan and I waited uneasily. The
great blue roll of mountain we had left was lit below the mist with a
glory of emerald and gold. Ringan was whistling softly through his
teeth, while I scanned the half moon of rock and matted vines which
made our shelter. There was no sound in the air but the tap of a
woodpecker and the trickling of the little runlets from the wet sides.

The mind in a close watch falls under a spell, so that while the senses
are alert the thoughts are apt to wander. As I have said before, I have
the sharpest sight, and as I watched a point of rock it seemed to move
ever so slightly. I rubbed my eyes and thought it fancy, and a sudden
noise above made me turn my head. It was only a bird, and as I looked
again at the rock it seemed as if a spray of vine had blown athwart it,
which was not there before. I gazed intently, and, following the spray
into the shadow, I saw something liquid and mottled like a toad's skin.
As I stared it flickered and shimmered. 'Twas only the light on a wet
leaf, I told myself; but surely it had not been there before. A sudden
suspicion seized me, and I lifted my pistol and fired.

There was a shudder in the thicket, and an Indian, shot through the
head, rolled into the burn.

At the sound I heard Ringan cry out, and there came a great war-whoop
from the mouth of the ravine. I gave one look, and then turned to my
own business, for as the dead man fell another leaped from the matted
cliffs.

My second pistol missed fire. In crossing the stream I must have damped
the priming.

What happened next is all confusion in my mind. I dodged the fall of
the knife, and struck hard with my pistol butt at the uplifted arm. I
felt no fear, only intense anger at my folly in not having looked
better to my priming. But the shock of the man's charge upset me, and
the next I knew of it we were wrestling on the ground.

I had his right arm by the wrist, but I was no match for him in
suppleness, and in the position in which we lay I could not use the
weight of my shoulders. The most I could do was to keep him from
striking, and to effect that my strength was stretched to its
uttermost. My eyes filmed with weariness, and my breath came in gasps,
for, remember, I had been up all night, and that day had already
travelled many miles. I remember yet the sickly smell of his greasy
skin and the red hate of his eyes. As we struggled I could see Ringan
holding the mouth of the ravine with his sword. One of his foes he had
shot, and the best blade in the Five Seas was now engaged with three
Indian knives. I heard his happy whistling, and a grunt now and then
from a wounded foe. He had enough to do, and could give me no aid. And
as I realized this I felt the grip of my arms growing slacker, and knew
that in a second or two I should feel that long Indian steel.

I made a desperate effort, and swung round so that I got my left
shoulder on his knife arm. That brought my right shoulder close to his
mouth, and he bit me to the bone. The wound did me good, for it
maddened me, and I got a knee loose, and forced it into his loins. For
a moment I dreamed of victory, but I had not counted on the wiles of a
savage. He lay quite limp for a second, and, as I relaxed my effort a
little, seized the occasion to slip from beneath me and let me roll
into the burn. The next instant he was above me, and I saw the knife
against the sky.

I thought that all was over. He pushed back his hair from his eyes, and
the steel quivered. And then something thrust between me and the point,
there was a leap and a shudder, and I was gazing at emptiness.

I lay gazing, for I seemed bereft of wits. Then a voice cried, "Are you
hurt, Andrew?" and I got to my feet.

My enemy lay in the pool of the burn, with a hole through his throat
from Ringan's sword. A little farther off lay the savage I had shot. At
the mouth of the ravine lay three dead Indians. The last of the six
must have fled.

Ringan had sheathed his blade, and was looking at me with a queer smile
on his face.

"Yon was a merry bout, Andrew," he said, and his voice sounded very far
away. Then he swayed into my arms, and I saw that his vest was dark
with blood.

"What is it?" I cried in wild fear. "Are you hurt, Ringan?" I laid him
on a bed of moss, and opened his shirt. In his breast was a gaping
wound from which the bright blood was welling.

He lay with his eyes closed while I strove to stanch the flow. Then he
choked, and as I raised his head there came a gush of blood from his
lips.

"That man of yours...." he whispered. "I got his knife before he got my
sword.... I doubt it went deep...."

"O Ringan," I cried, "it's me that's to blame. You got it trying to
save me. You're not going to leave me, Ringan?"

He was easier now, and the first torrent of blood had subsided. But his
breath laboured, and there was pain in his eyes.

"I've got my call," he said faintly. "Who would have thought that
Ninian Campbell would meet his death from an Indian shabble? They'll no
believe it at Tortuga. Still and on...."

I brought him water in my hat, and for a moment he breathed freely. He
motioned me to put my ear close.

"You'll send word to the folk in Breadalbane.... Just say that I came
by an honest end.... Cheer up, lad. You'll live to see happy days
yet.... But keep mind of me, Andrew.... Man, I liked you well, and
would have been blithe to keep you company a bit longer...."

I was crying like a child. There was a little gold charm on a cord
round his neck, now dyed with his blood. He motioned me to look at it.

"Give it to the lass," he whispered. "I had once a lass like yon, and I
aye wore it for her sake. I've had a roving life, with many ill deeds
in it, but doubtless the Almighty will make allowances. Can you say a
bit prayer, Andrew?"

As well as I could, I repeated that Psalm I had said over the graves by
the Rapidan. He looked at me with eyes as clear and honest as a
child's.

"'In death's dark vale I will fear no ill,'" he repeated after me.
"That minds me of lang syne. I never feared muckle on earth, and I'll
not begin now."

I saw that the end was very near. The pain had gone, and there was a
queer innocence in his lean face. His eyes shut and opened again, and
each time the light was dimmer.

Suddenly he lifted himself. "The Horn of Diarmaid has sounded," he
cried, and dropped back in my arms.

That was the last word he spoke.

I watched by him till the dark fell, and long after. Then as the moon
rose I bestirred myself, and looked for a place of burial. I would not
have him lie in that narrow ravine, so I carried him into the meadow,
and found a hole which some wild beast had deserted. Painfully and
slowly with my knife I made it into a shallow grave, where I laid him,
with some boulders above. Then I think I flung myself on the earth and
wept my fill. I had lost my best of friends, and the ache of regret and
loneliness was too bitter to bear. I asked for nothing better than to
join him soon on the other side.

After a while I forced myself to rise. He had praised my courage that
very day, and if I was to be true to him I must be true to my trust. I
told myself that Ringan would never have countenanced this idle grief.
I girt on his sword, and hung the gold charm round my neck. Then I took
my bearings as well as I could, re-loaded my pistols, and marched into
the woods, keeping to the course of the little river.

As I went I remember that always a little ahead I seemed to hear the
merry lilt of Ringan's whistling.

CHAPTER XXIV.

I SUFFER THE HEATHEN'S RAGE

As I stumbled through the moonlit forest I heard Ringan's tunes ever
crooning among the trees. First it was the old mad march of "Bundle and
go," which the pipers play when the clans are rising. Then it changed
to the lilt of "Colin's Cattle," which is an air that the fairies made,
and sung in the ear of a shepherd who fell asleep in one of their holy
places. And then it lost all mortal form, and became a thing as faint
as the wind in the tree-tops or the humming of bees in clover. My weary
legs stepped out to this wizard music, and the spell of it lulled my
fevered thoughts into the dull patience of the desperate.

At an open space where I could see the sky I tried to take further
bearings. I must move south-east by east, and in time I must come to
Lawrence. I do not think I had any hope of getting there, for I knew
that long ere this the man who escaped must have returned with others,
and that now they would be hot on my trail. What could one lad do in a
wide woodland against the cunningest trackers on earth? But Ringan had
praised my courage, and I could not fail him. I should go on till I
died, and I did not think that would be very long. My pistols,
re-loaded, pressed against my side, and Ringan's sword swung by my
thigh. I was determined to make a good ending, since that was all now
left to me. In that hour I had forgotten about everything--about the
peril of Virginia, even about Elspeth and the others in the fort on the
hill-top. There comes a time to every one when the world narrows for him
to a strait alley, with Death at the end of it, and all his thoughts are
fixed on that waiting enemy of mankind.

My senses were blunted, and I took no note of the noises of the forest.
As I passed down a ravine a stone dropped behind me, but I did not
pause to wonder why. A twig crackled on my left, but it did not
disquiet me, and there was a rustling in the thicket which was not the
breeze. I marked nothing, as I plodded on with vacant mind and eye. So
when I tripped on a vine and fell, I was scarcely surprised when I
found I could not rise. Men had sprung up silently around me, and I was
pinned by many hands.

They trussed me with ropes, binding my hands cruelly behind my back,
and swathing my legs till not a muscle could move. My pistols hung
idle, and the ropes drove the hafts into my flesh. This is the end,
thought I, and I did not even grieve at my impotence. My courage now
was of the passive kind, not to act but to endure. Always I kept
telling myself that I must be brave, for Ringan had praised my courage,
and I had a conviction that nothing that man could do would shake me.
Thanks be to God, my quick fancy was dulled, and I did not try to look
into the future. I lived for the moment, and I was resolved that the
moment should find me unmoved.

They carried me to where their horses were tied up in a glade, and
presently we were galloping towards the hills, myself an inert bundle
strapped across an Indian saddle. The pain of the motion was great, but
I had a kind of grim comfort in bearing it. After a time I think my
senses left me, and I slipped into a stupor, from which I woke with a
fiery ache at every joint and eyes distended with a blinding heat. Some
one tossed me on the ground, where I lay with my cheek in a cool, wet
patch of earth. Then I felt my bonds being unloosed, and a strong arm
pulled me to my feet. When it let go I dropped again, and not till many
hands had raised me and set me on a log could I look round at my
whereabouts.

I was in a crook of a hill glen, lit with a great radiance of
moonlight. Fires dotted the flat, and Indian tents, and there seemed to
me hundreds of savages crowding in on me. I do not suppose that I
showed any fear, for my bodily weakness had made me as impassive as any
Indian.

Presently a voice spoke to me, but I could not understand the words. I
shook my head feebly, and another spoke. This time I knew that the
tongue was Cherokee, a speech I could recognize but could not follow.
Again I shook my head, and a third took up the parable. This one spoke
the Powhatan language, which I knew, and I replied in the same tongue.

There was a tall man wearing in his hair a single great feather, whom I
took to be the chief. He spoke to me through the interpreter, and asked
me whence I came.

I told him I was a hunter who had strayed in the hills. He asked where
the other was.

"He is dead," I said, "dead of your knives. But five of your braves
atoned for him."

"You speak truth," he said gravely. "But the Children of the West Wind
do not suffer the death of, their sons to go unrewarded. For each one
of the five, three Palefaces shall eat the dust in the day of our
triumph."

"Be it so," said I stoutly, though I felt a dreadful nausea coming over
me. I was determined to keep my head high, if only my frail body would
not fail me.

"The Sons of the West Wind," he spoke again, "have need of warriors.
You can atone for the slaughter you have caused, and the blood feud
will be forgotten. In the space of five suns we shall sweep the
Palefaces into the sea, and rule all the land to the Eastern waters. My
brother is a man of his hands, and valour is dear to the heart of
Onotawah. If he casts in his lot with the Children of the West Wind a
wigwam shall be his, and a daughter of our race to wife, and six of our
young men shall follow his commands. Will my brother march with us
against those whom God has delivered to us for our prey?"

"Does the eagle make terms with the kite?" I asked, "and fly with them
to raid his own eyrie? Yes, I will join with you, and march with you
till I have delivered you to, perhaps, a score of the warriors of my
own people. Then I will aid them in making carrion of you."

Heaven knows what wrought on me to speak like this, I, a poor, broken
fellow, face to face with a hundred men-at-arms. I think my mind had
forsaken me altogether, and I spoke like a drunken man with a tongue
not my own. I had only the one idea in my foolish head--to be true to
Ringan, and to meet the death of which I was assured with an
unflinching face. Yet perhaps my very madness was the course of
discretion. You cannot move an Indian by pity, and he will show mercy
only to one who, like a gamecock, asks nothing less.

The chief heard me gravely, and spoke to the others. One cried out
something in a savage voice, and for a moment a fierce argument was
raised, which the chief settled with uplifted hand.

"My brother speaks bold words," he said. "The spirits of his fathers
cry out for the companionship of such a hero. When the wrongs of our
race have been avenged, I wish him good hunting in the Kingdom of the
Sunset."

They took me and stripped me mother naked. Has any man who reads this
tale ever faced an enemy in his bare feet? If so, he will know that the
heart of man is more in his boots than philosophers wot of. Without
them he feels lost and unprepared, and the edge gone from his spirit.
But without his clothes he is in a far worse case. The winds of heaven
play round his nakedness; every thorn and twig is his assailant, and
the whole of him seems a mark for the arrows of his foes. That
stripping was the thing that brought me to my senses. I recognized that
I was to be the subject of those hellish tortures which the Indians
use, the tales of which are on every Borderer's lips.

And yet I did not recognize it fully, or my courage must have left me
then and there. My imagination was still limping, and I foresaw only a
death of pain, not the horrid incidents of its preparation. Death I
could face, and I summoned up every shred of my courage. Ringan's voice
was still in my ear, his airy songs still sang themselves in my brain.
I would not shame him, but oh! how I envied him lying, all troubles
past, in his quiet grave!

The night was mild, and the yellow radiance of the moon seemed almost
warmth-giving. I sat on that log in a sort of stupor, watching my
enemies preparing my entertainment. One thing I noted, that there were
no women in the camp. I remembered that I had heard that the most
devilish tortures were those which the squaws devised, and that the
Indian men were apt to be quicker and more merciful in their
murderings.

Then I was lifted up and carried to a flat space beside the stream,
where the trunk of a young pine had been set upright in the ground. A
man, waving a knife, and singing a wild song, danced towards me. He
seized me by the hair, and I actually rejoiced, for I knew that the
pain of scalping would make me oblivious of all else. But he only drew
the sharp point of the knife in a circle round my head, scarce breaking
the skin.

I had grace given me to keep a stout face, mainly because I was
relieved that this was to be my fate. He put the knife back in his
girdle, and others laid hold on me.

They smeared my lower limbs with some kind of grease which smelt of
resin. One savage who had picked up a brand from one of the little
fires dropped some of the stuff on it, and it crackled merrily. He
grinned at me--a slow, diabolical grin.

They lashed me to the stake with ropes of green vine. Then they piled
dry hay a foot deep around me, and laid above it wood and green
branches. To make the fuel still greener, they poured water on it. At
the moment I did not see the object of these preparations, but now I
can understand it. The dry hay would serve to burn my legs, which had
already been anointed with the inflammable grease. So I should suffer a
gradual torture, for it would be long ere the flames reached a vital
part. I think they erred, for they assumed that I had the body of an
Indian, which does not perish till a blow is struck at its heart;
whereas I am confident that any white man would be dead of the anguish
long ere the fire had passed beyond his knees.

I think that was the most awful moment of my life. Indeed I could not
have endured it had not my mind been drugged and my body stupid with
fatigue. Men have often asked me what were my thoughts in that hour,
while the faggots were laid about my feet. I cannot tell, for I have no
very clear memory. The Power which does not break the bruised reed
tempered the storm to my frailty. I could not envisage the future, and
so was mercifully enabled to look only to the moment. I knew that pain
was coming; but I was already in pain, and the sick man does not
trouble himself about degrees of suffering. Death, too, was coming; but
for that I had been long ready. The hardest thing that man can do is to
endure, but this was to me no passive endurance; it was an active
struggle to show a fortitude worthy of the gallant dead.

So I must suppose that I hung there in my bonds with a motionless face
and a mouth which gave out no cry. They brought the faggots, and poured
on water, and I did not look their way. Some score of braves began a
war dance, circling round me, waving their tomahawks, and singing their
wild chants. For me they did not break the moonlit silence, I was
hearing other sounds and seeing far other sights. An old sad song of
Ringan's was in my ears, something about an exile who cried out in
France for the red heather and the salt winds of the Isles.

"_Nevermore the deep fern_," it ran, "_or the bell of the dun deer, far
my castle is wind-blown sands, and my homelands are a stranger's."_

And the air brought back in a flash my own little house on the grey
hill-sides of Douglasdale, the cluck of hens about the doors on a hot
summer morn, the crying of plovers in the windy Aprils, the smell of
peatsmoke when the snow drifted over Cairntable. Home-sickness has
never been my failing, but all at once I had a vision of my own land,
the cradle of my race, well-beloved and unforgotten over the leagues of
sea. Somehow the thought strengthened me. I had now something besides
the thought of Ringan to keep my heart firm. If all hell laid hold on
me, I must stand fast for the honour of my own folk.

The edge of the pile was lit, and the flames crackled through the hay
below the faggots. The smoke rose in clouds, and made me sneeze.
Suddenly there came a desperate tickling in my scalp where the knife
had pricked. Little things began to tease me, notably the ache of my
swollen wrists, and the intolerable cramp in my legs.

Then came a sharp burst of pain as a tongue of flame licked on my
anointed ankles. Anguish like hell-fire ran through my frame. I think I
would have cried out if my tongue had had the power. Suddenly I
envisaged the dreadful death which was coming. All was wiped from my
mind, all thought of Ringan, and home, and honour; everything but this
awful fear. Happily the smoke hid my face, which must have been
distraught with panic. The seconds seemed endless. I prayed that
unconsciousness would come. I prayed for death, I prayed for respite. I
was mad with the furious madness of a tortured animal, and the immortal
soul had fled from me and left only a husk of pitiful and shrinking
flesh.

Suddenly there came a lull. A dozen buckets of water were flung on the
pile, and the flames fell to smouldering ashes. The smoke thinned, and
I saw the circle of my tormentors.

The chief spoke, and asked me if my purpose still held.

With the cool shock of the water one moment of bodily comfort returned
to me, and with it a faint revival of my spirit. But it was of no set
intention that I answered as I did. My bones were molten with fright,
and I had not one ounce of bravery in me. Something not myself took
hold on me, and spoke for me. Ringan's tunes, a brisk one this time,
lilted in my ear.

I could not believe my own voice. But I rejoice to say that my reply
was to consign every Indian in America to the devil.

I shook with fear when I had spoken. I looked to see them bring dry
fuel and light the pile again. But I had played a wiser part than I
knew. The chief gave an order, the faggots were cleared, my bonds were
cut, and I was led away from the stake.

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