Ringan signalled to me, and we put our coats over the horses’ heads to prevent their whinnying. He stamped out the last few ashes of the fire, and Shalah motioned us all flat on our faces. Then I crawled to the edge of the ridge, and looked down through a tangle of vines on the little valley.
Our precautions had been none too soon, for a host was passing below, as stealthily as if it had been an army of the sheeted dead. Most were mounted, and it was marvellous to see the way in which they managed their horses, so that the beasts seemed part of the riders, and partook of their vigilance. Some were on foot, and moved with the long, loping, in-toed Indian stride. I guessed their number at three hundred, but what awed me was their array. This was no ordinary raid, but an invading army. My sight, as I think I have said, is as keen as a hawk’s, and I could see that most of them carried muskets as well as knives and tomahawks. The war-paint glistened on each breast and forehead, and in the oiled hair stood the crested feathers, dyed scarlet for battle. My spirits sank as I reflected that now we were cut off from the Tidewater.
When the last man had gone we crawled back to the clump, now gloomy with the dusk of evening. I saw that Ringan was very weary, but Shalah, after stretching his long limbs, seemed fresh as ever.
“Will you come with me, brother?” he said. “We must warn the Rappahannock.”
“Who are they?” I asked.
“Cherokees. More follow them. The assault is dearly by the line of the Rappahannock. If we hasten we may yet be in time.”
I knew what Shalah’s hastening meant. I suppose I was the one of us best fitted for a hot-foot march, and that that was the reason why the Indian chose me. All the same my heart misgave me. He ate a little food, while I stripped off the garments I did not need, carrying only the one pistol. I bade the others travel slowly towards the mountains, scouting carefully ahead, and promised that we should join them before the next sundown. Then Shalah beckoned me, and I plunged after him into the forest.
On our first visit to Ringan at the land-locked Carolina harbour I had thought Shalah’s pace killing, but that was but a saunter to what he now showed me. We seemed to be moving at right angles to the Indian march. Once out of the woods of the ridge, we crossed the meadows, mostly on our bellies, taking advantage of every howe and crinkle. I followed him as obediently as a child. When he ran so did I; when he crawled my forehead was next his heel. After the grass-lands came broken hillocks with little streams in the bottoms. Through these we twisted, moving with less care, and presently we had left the hills and were looking over a wide, shadowy plain.