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.