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!”