The sky, after six angry days—two sullen, four tempestuous—was clear again and promised another stretch of fair weather. This was important, for they counted on having to sleep a night in the open before reaching the M’Lauchlins’ camp. Old Strongtharm had told Sir Oliver of a cave at the head of the pass and directed him how to find it. Should the sky’s promise prove false, they would descend back to the hut. Snow was their one serious peril.
They carried but the barest necessaries; for although the worst of the falls lay below and behind them, the upper part of the Gap was arduous enough, and the more difficult for being unknown; also Sir Oliver had old Strongtharm’s assurance that the M’Lauchlins would furnish them with all things requisite for voyaging by water.
Sir Oliver climbed in silence. He was flinging a bridge, albeit a short one, across the unknown, and the risk of it weighed on him. For himself this would have counted nothing, but he was learning the lesson common to all male animals whose mates for the first time travel beside them. As for Ruth, it was wonderful—the course of the path once turned, the small home left out of sight—how securely she breasted the upward path. Her lover and she were as gods walking, treading the roof of the world.
Through thickets they climbed, and by stairways beside the singing falls. In a pool below one of these falls they surprised a great loon that had resorted here to live solitary through his moulting-season. He rose and winged away with a cry like an inhuman laugh; and they recognised a sound which had often been borne down the gorge—once or twice at night, to awake and puzzle them.
They came to the uppermost fall a good hour before sunset, and after a little search Sir Oliver found the cave. They could have pushed on, but decided to sleep here: and they slept soundly, being in truth more weary than their spirits, exhilarated in the high air, allowed them to guess.
They might, as it turned out, by forcing the march, have found the M’Lauchlins’ settlement before dusk. For scarcely had they travelled five miles next morning before they came on an outpost of it: a large hut, half dwelling-house, half boat-shed. It stood in a clearing on the left shore, and close by the water’s edge was a young man, patching the bottom of an upturned canoe. Two children—a boy and a girl—had dropped their play to watch him. A flat-bottomed boat lay moored to the bank, close by.
The children, catching sight of our travellers, must have uttered some exclamation; for the young man turned quickly, and after a brief look called “Good-morning.” There was a ford (he shouted) fifty yards upstream; but no need to wade. Let them wait a minute and he would fetch them.
He laid down his tools, unmoored the flat-bottomed boat, and poled across. On the way back he told them that he was Adam M’Lauchlin, son of David. The little ones were children of his father by a second wife; but he had seven brothers and sisters of his own. . . . Yes, their settlement stood by the other river; at no great distance. “If you’ll hark, maybe you can hear the long saws at work. . . .”