Salute to Adventurers
18. Our Adventure Receives A Recruit
At earliest light, with the dew heavy on the willows and the river line a coil of mist,
Shalah woke me for the road. We breakfasted off fried bacon, some of which I saved for
the journey, for the Indian was content with one meal a day. As we left the stockade I
noted the row of Meebaw scalps hanging, grim and bloody, from the poles. The
Borderers were up and stirring, for they looked to take the Indians in the river narrows
before the morning was old.
No two Indian war parties ever take the same path, so it was Shalah's plan to work back
to the route we had just travelled, by which the Cherokees had come yesterday. This
sounds simple enough, but the danger lay in the second party. By striking to right or left
we might walk into it, and then good-bye to our hopes of the hills. But the whole thing
was easier to me than the cruel toil of yesterday. There was need of stealth and
woodcraft, but not of yon killing speed.
For the first hour we went up a northern fork of the Rappahannock, then crossed the
water at a ford, and struck into a thick pine forest. I was feeling wonderfully rested, and
found no discomfort in Shalah's long strides. My mind was very busy on the defence of
the Borders, and I kept wondering how long the Governor's militia would take to reach
the Rappahannock, and whether Lawrence could reinforce the northern posts in time to
prevent mischief in Stafford county. I cast back to my memory of the tales of Indian war,
and could not believe but that the white man, if warned and armed, would roll back the
Cherokees. 'Twas not them I feared, but that other force now screened behind the
mountains, who had for their leader some white madman with a fire in his head and
Bible words on his lips. Were we of Virginia destined to fight with such fanatics as had
distracted Scotland--fanatics naming the name of God, but leading in our case the
armies of hell?
It was about eleven in the forenoon, I think, that Shalah dropped his easy swing and
grew circumspect. The sun was very hot, and the noon silence lay dead on the
woodlands. Scarcely a leaf stirred, and the only sounds were the twittering
grasshoppers and the drone of flies. But Shalah found food for thought. Again and again
he became rigid, and then laid an ear to the ground. His nostrils dilated like a horse's,
and his eyes were restless. We were now in a shallow vale, through which a little
stream flowed among broad reed-beds. At one point he kneeled on the ground and
"See," he said, "a horse's prints not two hours old--a horse going west."
Presently I myself found a clue. I picked up from a clump of wild onions a thread of
coloured wool. This was my own trade, where I knew more than Shalah. I tested the
thing in my mouth and between my fingers.