In a hollow among the woods we came to a place which sent him on his knees, peering and sniffing like a wild-cat.
“What make you of that?” he asked.
I saw nothing but a bare patch in the grass, some broken twigs, and a few ashes.
“It’s an old camp,” I said.
“Ay,” said he. “Nothing more? Use your wits, man.”
I used them, but they gave me no help.
“This is the way I read it, then,” he said. “Three men camped here before midday. They were Cherokees, of the Matabaw tribe, and one was a maker of arrows. They were not hunting, and they were in a mighty hurry. Just now they’re maybe ten miles off, or maybe they’re watching us. This is no healthy country for you and me.”
He took me homeward at a speed which well-nigh foundered
me, and, when
I questioned him, he told me where he got his knowledge.
They were three men, for there were three different footmarks in the ashes’ edge, and they were Cherokees because they made their fire in the Cherokee way, so that the smoke ran in a tunnel into the scrub. They were Matabaws from the pattern of their moccasins. They were in a hurry, for they did not wait to scatter the ashes and clear up the place; and they were not hunting, for they cooked no flesh. One was an arrow-maker, for he had been hardening arrow-points in the fire, and left behind him the arrow-maker’s thong.
“But how could you know how long back this had happened?” I asked.
“The sap was still wet in the twigs, so it could not have been much above an hour since they left. Besides, the smoke had blown south, for the grass smelt of it that side. Now the wind was more to the east when we left, and, if you remember, it changed to the north about midday.”
I said it was a marvel, and he grunted. “The marvel is what they’ve been doing in the Tidewater, for from the Tidewater I’ll swear they came.”
Next day he led me eastward, away back in the direction of the manors. This was an easier day, for he went slow, as if seeking for something. He picked up some kind of a trail, which we followed through the long afternoon. Then he found something, which he pocketed with a cry of satisfaction. We were then on the edge of a ridge, whence we looked south to the orchards of Henricus.
“That is my arrow-maker,” he cried, showing me a round stone whorl. “He’s a careless lad, and he’ll lose half his belongings ere he wins to the hills.”
I was prepared for the wild Cherokees on our journey of yesterday, but it amazed me that the savages should come scouting into the Tidewater itself. He smiled grimly when I said this, and took from his pocket a crumpled feather.
“That’s a Cherokee badge,” he said. “I found that a fortnight back on the river-side an hour’s ride out of James Town. And it wasna there when I had passed the same place the day before. The Tidewater thinks it has put the fear of God on the hill tribes, and here’s a red Cherokee snowking about its back doors.”