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.
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.