Those two days in the stockade were like a rift of sun in a stormy day, and the next morn the clouds descended. The face of nature seemed to be a mirror of our fortunes, for when I woke the freshness had gone out of the air, and in the overcast sky there was a forewarning of storm. But the little party in the camp remained cheerful enough. Donaldson and Bertrand went off to their trapping; Elspeth was braiding her hair, the handsomest nymph that ever trod these woodlands, and trying in vain to discover from the discreet Ringan where he came from, and what was his calling. The two Borderers knew well who he was; Grey, I think, had a suspicion; but it never entered the girl’s head that this debonair gentleman bore the best known name in all the Americas. She fancied he was some exiled Jacobite, and was ready to hear a pitiful romance. This at another time she would have readily got; but Ringan for the nonce was in a sober mood, and though he would talk of Breadalbane, was chary of touching on more recent episodes. All she learned was that he was a great traveller, and had tried most callings that merit a gentleman’s interest.
The day before, Shalah and I had explored the range to the south, keeping on the west side where we thought the enemy were likely to gather. This day we looked to the side facing the Tidewater, a difficult job, for it was eaten into by the upper glens of many rivers. The weather grew hot and oppressive, and over the lowlands of Virginia there brooded a sullen thundercloud. It oppressed my spirits, and I found myself less able to keep up with Shalah. The constant sight of the lowlands filled me with anxiety for what might be happening in those sullen blue flats. Gone was the glad forgetfulness of yesterday. The Promised Land might smile as it pleased, but we were still on the flanks of Pisgah with the Midianites all about us.
My recollection of that day is one of heavy fatigue and a pressing hopelessness. Shalah behaved oddly, for he was as restive as a frightened stag. No covert was unsuspected by him, and if I ventured to raise my head on any exposed ground a long brown arm pulled me down. He would make no answer to my questions except a grunt. All this gave me the notion that the hills were full of the enemy, and I grew as restive as the Indian. The crackle of a branch startled me, and the movement of a scared beast brought my heart to my throat.
Then from a high place he saw something which sent us both crawling into the thicket. We made a circuit of several miles round the head of a long ravine, and came to a steep bank of red screes. Up this we wormed our way, as flat as snakes, with our noses in the dusty earth. I was dripping with sweat, and cursing to myself this new madness of Shalah’s. Then I found a cooler air blowing on the top of my prostrate skull, and I judged that we were approaching the scarp of a ridge. Shalah’s hand held me motionless. He wriggled on a little farther, and with immense slowness raised his head. His hand now beckoned me forward, and in a few seconds I was beside him and was lifting my eyes over the edge of the scarp.