“Your magic hath prevailed, brother,” Shalah said. “In an hour’s time they will have crossed the Shenandoah, and at nightfall they will camp on the farther mountains.”
That sight gave me my first assurance of success. At any rate, I had fulfilled my trust, and if I died in the hills Virginia would yet bless her deliverer.
And yet my strongest feeling was a wild regret. These folk were making for the untravelled lands of the sunset. You would have said I had got my bellyful of adventure, and should now have sought only a quiet life. But in that moment of bodily weakness and mental confusion I was shaken with a longing to follow them, to find what lay beyond the farthest cloud-topped mountain, to cross the wide rivers, and haply to come to the infinite and mystic Ocean of the West.
“Would to God I were with them!” I sighed.
“Will you come, brother?” Shalah whispered, a strange light in his eyes. “If we twain joined the venture, I think we should not be the last in it. Shalah would make you a king. What is your life in the muddy Tidewater but a thing of little rivalries and petty wrangles and moping over paper? The hearth will soon grow cold, and the bright eyes of the fairest woman will dull with age, and the years will find you heavy and slow, with a coward’s shrinking from death. What say you, brother? While the blood is strong in the veins shall we ride westward on the path of a king?”
His eyes were staring like a hawk’s over the hills, and, light-headed as I was, I caught the infection of his ardour. For, remember, I was so low in spirit that all my hopes and memories were forgotten, and I was in that blank apathy which is mastered by another’s passion. For a little the life of Virginia seemed unspeakably barren, and I quickened at the wild vista which Shalah offered. I might be a king over a proud people, carving a fair kingdom out of the wilderness, and ruling it justly in the fear of God. These western Indians were the stuff of a great nation. I, Andrew Garvald, might yet find that empire of which the old adventurers dreamed.
With shame I set down my boyish folly. It did not last, long, for to my dizzy brain there came the air which Elspeth had sung, that song of Montrose’s which had been, as it were, the star of all my wanderings.
“For, if Confusion
have a part,
Which virtuous souls abhor—”
Surely it was confusion that had now overtaken me. Elspeth’s clear voice, her dark, kind eyes, her young and joyous grace, filled again my memory. Was not such a lady better than any savage kingdom? Was not the service of my own folk nobler than any principate among strangers? Could the rivers of Damascus vie with the waters of Israel?
“Nay, Shalah,” I said. “Mine is a quieter destiny. I go back to the Tidewater, but I shall not stay there. We have found the road to the hills, and in time I will plant the flag of my race on the Shenandoah.”