Every man of us uncovered his head as he rode towards the melancholy place. I noticed a little rosary, which had been carefully tended, but horses had ridden through it, and the blossoms were trailing crushed on the ground. There was a flower garden too, much trampled, and in one corner a little stream of water had been led into a pool fringed with forget-me-nots. A tiny water-wheel was turning in the fall, a children’s toy, and the wheel still turned, though its owners had gone. The sight of that simple thing fairly brought my heart to my mouth.
That inspection was a gruesome business. One of the doorposts of the house still stood, and it was splashed with blood. On the edge of the ashes were some charred human bones. No one could tell whose they were, perhaps a negro’s, perhaps the little mistress of the water-wheel. I looked at Ringan, and he was smiling, but his eyes were terrible. The Frenchman Bertrand was sobbing like a child.
We took the bones, and made a shallow grave for them in the rosary. We had no spades, but a stake did well enough to dig a resting-place for those few poor remains. I said over them the Twenty-third Psalm: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff shall comfort me.”
Then suddenly our mood changed. Nothing that we could do could help the poor souls whose bones lay among the ashes. But we could bring their murderers to book, and save others from a like fate.
We moved away from the shattered place to the ford in the river where the road ran north. There we looked back. A kind of fury seized me as I saw that cruel defacement. In a few hours we ourselves should be beyond the pale, among those human wolves who were so much more relentless than any beasts of the field. As I looked round our little company, I noted how deep the thing had bitten into our souls. Ringan’s eyes still danced with that unholy blue light. Grey was very pale, and his jaw was set grimly. Bertrand had ceased from sobbing, and his face had the far-away wildness of the fanatic, such a look as his forbears may have worn at the news of St. Bartholomew. The big man Donaldson looked puzzled and sombre. Only Shalah stood impassive and aloof, with no trace of feeling on the bronze of his countenance.
“This is the place for an oath,” I said. “We are six men against an army, but we fight for a holy cause. Let us swear to wipe out this deed of blood in the blood of its perpetrators. God has made us the executors of His judgments against horrid cruelty.”
We swore, holding our hands high, that, when our duty to the dominion was done, we should hunt down the Cherokees who had done this deed till no one of them was left breathing. At that moment of tense nerves, no other purpose would have contented us.
“How will we find them?” quoth Ringan. “To sift a score of murderers out of a murderous nation will be like searching the ocean for a wave.”