He lay with his eyes closed while I strove to stanch the flow. Then he choked, and as I raised his head there came a gush of blood from his lips.
“That man of yours....” he whispered. “I got his knife before he got my sword.... I doubt it went deep....”
“O Ringan,” I cried, “it’s me that’s to blame. You got it trying to save me. You’re not going to leave me, Ringan?”
He was easier now, and the first torrent of blood had subsided. But his breath laboured, and there was pain in his eyes.
“I’ve got my call,” he said faintly. “Who would have thought that Ninian Campbell would meet his death from an Indian shabble? They’ll no believe it at Tortuga. Still and on....”
I brought him water in my hat, and for a moment he breathed freely. He motioned me to put my ear close.
“You’ll send word to the folk in Breadalbane.... Just say that I came by an honest end.... Cheer up, lad. You’ll live to see happy days yet.... But keep mind of me, Andrew.... Man, I liked you well, and would have been blithe to keep you company a bit longer....”
I was crying like a child. There was a little gold charm on a cord round his neck, now dyed with his blood. He motioned me to look at it.
“Give it to the lass,” he whispered. “I had once a lass like yon, and I aye wore it for her sake. I’ve had a roving life, with many ill deeds in it, but doubtless the Almighty will make allowances. Can you say a bit prayer, Andrew?”
As well as I could, I repeated that Psalm I had said over the graves by the Rapidan. He looked at me with eyes as clear and honest as a child’s.
“‘In death’s dark vale I will fear no ill,’” he repeated after me. “That minds me of lang syne. I never feared muckle on earth, and I’ll not begin now.”
I saw that the end was very near. The pain had gone, and there was a queer innocence in his lean face. His eyes shut and opened again, and each time the light was dimmer.
Suddenly he lifted himself. “The Horn of Diarmaid has sounded,” he cried, and dropped back in my arms.
That was the last word he spoke.
I watched by him till the dark fell, and long after. Then as the moon rose I bestirred myself, and looked for a place of burial. I would not have him lie in that narrow ravine, so I carried him into the meadow, and found a hole which some wild beast had deserted. Painfully and slowly with my knife I made it into a shallow grave, where I laid him, with some boulders above. Then I think I flung myself on the earth and wept my fill. I had lost my best of friends, and the ache of regret and loneliness was too bitter to bear. I asked for nothing better than to join him soon on the other side.
After a while I forced myself to rise. He had praised my courage that very day, and if I was to be true to him I must be true to my trust. I told myself that Ringan would never have countenanced this idle grief. I girt on his sword, and hung the gold charm round my neck. Then I took my bearings as well as I could, re-loaded my pistols, and marched into the woods, keeping to the course of the little river.