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.
Robbin Studd on ye Sumit of Mountaine ye 3rd
dy of June, yr 1672 hathe sene ye
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.