Accordingly I turned my steps up the channel to the left, and was rewarded, after another twenty minutes’ scramble, by emerging upon a break in the forest. On one side of the stream rose a reddish-coloured cliff, almost smooth of face and about seventy or eighty feet high, across the edge of which the last trees on the summit clutched with their naked roots, as though protesting against being thrust over the precipice by the crowd behind them. The other bank swelled up, from a little above the water’s edge, to a fair green lawn, rounded, grassy, and smooth as a glade in an English park. At its widest I dare say that, from the stream’s edge back to the steep slope where the forest started again and climbed to a tall ridge that shut in the glen on the south side, it measured something over two hundred yards.
“Here,” thought I, glancing up the glade towards the westering sun, “is the very spot for our clump of, trees;” and so it was—only no clump of trees happened to be in sight. The glade, however, stretched away and around a bend of the stream, and I was moving to the bank to explore it to its end when my eyes were arrested by something white not ten paces away. It was a piece of paper caught against one of the large boulders between which, as through a broken dam, the water poured into the ravine. I waded towards it and stooped, steadying myself against the current.
It was a paper boat.
THE WOMEN IN THE GRAVEYARD.
I turned it over in my hand. Yes; it was a boat such as children make out of paper, many times folded, and “What on earth,” thought I, “put such childishness into the head of Captain Branscome or Mr. Jack Rogers?”
Then it occurred to me that they might be caught in some peril higher up the stream, and had launched this message on the chance of its being carried down to the waters of the creek. A far-fetched explanation, to be sure! But what was I to think? If it were the explanation, doubtless the paper contained writing, and, carrying it to the bank, I seated myself and began to unfold it very carefully; for it was sodden, and threatened to fall to pieces in my hands. Then I reflected that the two men carried no writing materials, or, at the best, a lead pencil, the marks of which would be obliterated before the paper had been two minutes in the water.
Yet, as I parted the folds, I saw that the paper had indeed been scribbled on, though the words were a smear; and, moreover, that the writing was in ink!