Then Shalah spoke.
“The trail is ten suns old, but I can follow it. The men were of the Meebaw tribe by this token.” And he held up a goshawk’s feather. “The bird that dropped that lives beyond the peaks of Shubash. The Meebaw are quick hunters and gross eaters, and travel slow. We will find them by the Tewawha.”
“All in good time,” I said. “Retribution must wait till we have finished our task. Can you find the Meebaw men again?”
“Yea,” said Shalah, “though they took wings and flew over the seas I should find them.”
Then we hastened away from that glade, none speaking to the other. We camped an hour’s ride up the river, in a place secure against surprises in a crook of the stream with a great rock at our back. We were outside the pale now, and must needs adopt the precautions of a campaign; so we split the night into watches, I did my two hours sentry duty at that dead moment of the dark just before the little breeze which is the precursor of dawn, and I reflected very soberly on the slender chances of our returning from this strange wild world and its cruel mysteries.
I RETRACE MY STEPS.
Next morning we passed through the foothills into an open meadow country. As I lifted up my eyes I saw for the first time the mountains near at hand. There they lay, not more than ten miles distant, woody almost to the summit, but with here and there a bold finger of rock pointing skywards. They looked infinitely high and rugged, far higher than any hills I had ever seen before, for my own Tinto or Cairntable would to these have been no more than a footstool. I made out a clear breach in the range, which I took to be old Studd’s Clearwater Gap. The whole sight intoxicated me. I might dream of horrors in the low coast forests among their swampy creeks, but in that clear high world of the hills I believed lay safety. I could have gazed at them for hours, but Shalah would permit of no delay. He hurried us across the open meadows, and would not relax his pace till we were on a low wooded ridge with the young waters of the Rapidan running in a shallow vale beneath.
Here we halted in a thick clump of cedars, while he and Ringan went forward to spy out the land. In that green darkness, save by folk travelling along the ridge, we could not be detected, and I knew enough of Indian ways to believe that any large party would keep the stream sides. We lit a fire without fear, for the smoke was hid in the cedar branches, and some of us roasted corn-cakes. Our food in the saddle-bags would not last long, and I foresaw a ticklish business when it came to hunting for the pot. A gunshot in these narrow glens would reverberate like a cannon.
We dozed peacefully in the green shade, and smoked our pipes, waiting for the return of our envoys. They came towards sundown, slipping among us like ghosts.