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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."
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