She entered and he closed the door behind her. She laughed as he pushed its bolt. They were drenched to the skin, the pair.
“This is best,” said she with another soft and happy laugh.
“This is best,” he repeated after her. “Better even than in fair weather.”
A week later they broke camp and set forth to climb to the head of the pass.
Behind it—so Sir Oliver had learnt from old Strongtharm—lay an almost flat table-land, of pine-forest for the most part, through which for maybe half a dozen miles their river ran roughly parallel with another that came down from the north-west. At one point (the old fellow declared) less than a mile divided their waters.
“Seems,” he said, “as if Nature all along intended ’em to jine, and then, at the last moment, changed her mind.” He explained the cause of their severance—an outcropping ridge of rock, not above a mile in length; but it served, deflecting the one stream to the southward, the other to north of east, so that they reached the ocean a good twenty leagues apart.
He showed a map and told Sir Oliver further that at the narrowest point between the two rivers there dwelt a couple of brothers, Dave and Andy M’Lauchlin, with their households and long families, of whom all the boys were expert log-drivers, like their fathers. They were likewise expert boatmen, and for money, no doubt, if Sir Oliver desired, would navigate the upper reaches of either stream for him. Of these reaches the old man could tell little save that their currents ran moderately— “nothing out of the way.” The M’Lauchlins sent all their timber down to sea by the more northerly stream. “Our river ’d be the better by far, three-fourths of its way, but—” with a jerk of his thumb—“the Gap, yonder, makes it foolishness.”
Sir Oliver asked many questions, studying the map; and ended by borrowing it.
He had it spread on his knee when Ruth came out of the cabin for the last time, having said farewell to her household gods.
“What are you reading?” she asked.
“A map.” He folded it away hastily.
“And I am not to see it?”
“Some day. Some day, if the owner will sell, you shall have it framed, with our travels marked out upon it. But, just now, it holds a small secret.”
She questioned him no further. “Come,” she said, “reach your arm in at the window and draw the bolt, and afterwards we will pull the shutter and nail it. Are you going inside for a last look around?”
He laughed. “Why? The knapsacks are here, ready.”
“I take the soul of it with me, taking you.”
It was prettily said. Yet perversely she remembered how he had once spoken of Margaret Dance, saying, “Let the dead bury their dead.”