“Which I take to mean that the odds are a thousand against one,” said Grey.
“Then it’s my business to stake all on the one,” I cried. “Man, don’t you see my quandary? I hold a solemn trust, which I have the means of fulfilling, and I’m bound to try. It’s torture to me to leave you, but you will lose nothing. Three men could hold this place as well as six, if the Indians are not in earnest, and, if they are, a hundred would be too few. Your danger will be starvation, and I will be a mouth less to feed. If I get to the Border I will find help, for we cannot stay here for ever, and how d’you think we are to get Miss Blair by ourselves to the Rappahannock with every mile littered with fighting clans? I must go, or I will never have another moment’s peace in life.” Grey was not convinced. “Send the Indian,” he said.
“And leave the stockade defenceless,” I cried. “It’s because he stays behind that I dare to go. Without him we are all bairns in the dark.”
“That’s true, anyway,” said Ringan, and fell to whittling a stick.
“For three days,” I continued, “you have food enough, and if by the end of it you are not attacked you may safely go hunting for more. If nothing happens in a week’s time you will know that I have failed, and you can send another messenger. Ringan would be the best.”
“That can hardly be,” he said, “because I’m coming with you now.”
I could only stare blankly.
“Two’s better than one for this kind of business, and I am no use here—only fruges consumere natus, as I learned from the Inveraray dominie. It’s my concern as much as yours, for I brought you here, and I’m trysted with Lawrence to take back word. I’m loath to leave my friends, but my place is at your side, Andrew. So say no more about it.”
I knew it was idle to protest. Ringan was as obstinate as a Spanish mule when he chose, and, besides, there was reason in what he said. Two were better than one both for speed in travel and for fighting if the need came, and though I had more woodcraft than he, he had ten times my wisdom. There was something about his matter-of-fact tone which took the enterprise out of the land of impossibilities into a more sober realm. I even began to dream of success.
But when. I looked at Elspeth her eyes were so full of grief and care that my spirits sank again.
“Tell me,” I cried, “that you think I am doing right, God knows it is hard to leave you, and I carry the sorest heart in Virginia. But you would not have me stay idle when my plain duty commands. Say that you bid me go, Elspeth.”
“I bid you go,” she said bravely, “and I will pray God to keep you safe.” But her eyes belied her voice, for they were swimming with tears. At that moment I got the conviction that I was more to her than a mere companion, that by some miracle I had won a place in that proud and loyal heart. It seemed a cruel stroke of fate that I should get this hope at the very moment when I was to leave her and go into the shadow of death.