Salute to Adventurers
19. Clearwater Glen
Next morning we came into Clearwater Glen.
Shalah spoke to me of it before we started. He did not fear the Cherokees, who had
come from the far south of the range and had never been settled in these parts. But he
thought that there might be others from the back of the hills who would have crossed by
this gap, and might be lying in the lower parts of the glen. It behoved us, therefore, to go
very warily. Once on the higher ridges, he thought we might be safe for a time. An
invading army has no leisure to explore the rugged summits of a mountain.
The first sight of the place gave me a strong emotion of dislike. A little river brawled in a
deep gorge, falling in pools and linns like one of my native burns. All its course was
thickly shaded with bushes and knotted trees. On either bank lay stretches of rough hill
pasture, lined with dark and tangled forests, which ran up the hill-side till the steepness
of the slope broke them into copses of stunted pines among great bluffs of rock and raw
red scaurs. The glen was very narrow, and the mountains seemed to beetle above it so
as to shut out half the sunlight. The air was growing cooler, with the queer, acrid smell
in it that high hills bring. I am a great lover of uplands, and the sourest peat-moss has a
charm for me, but to that strange glen I conceived at once a determined hate. It is the
way of some places with some men. The senses perceive a hostility for which the mind
has no proof, and in my experience the senses are right.
Part of my discomfort was due to my bodily health. I had proudly thought myself
seasoned by those hot Virginian summers, in which I had escaped all common
ailments. But I had forgotten what old hunters had told me, that the hills will bring out a
fever which is dormant in the plains. Anyhow, I now found that my head was dizzy and
aching, and my limbs had a strange trembling. The fatigue of the past day had dragged
me to the limits of my strength and made me an easy victim. My heart, too, was full of
cares. The sight of Elspeth reminded me how heavy was my charge. 'Twas difficult
enough to scout well in this tangled place, but, forbye my duty to the dominion, I had the
business of taking one who was the light of my life into this dark land of bloody secrets.
The youth and gaiety were going out of my quest. I could only plod along dismally,
attentive to every movement of Shalah, praying incessantly that we might get well out of
it all. To make matters worse, the travelling became desperate hard. In the Tidewater
there were bridle paths, and in the vales of the foothills the going had been good, with
hard, dry soil in the woods, and no hindrances save a thicket of vines or a rare windfall.
But in this glen, where the hill rains beat, there was no end to obstacles. The open
spaces were marshy, where our horses sank to the hocks. The woods were one medley
of fallen trees, rotting into touchwood, hidden boulders, and matted briers. Often we
could not move till Donaldson and Bertrand with their hatchets had hewn some sort of
road. All this meant slow progress, and by midday we had not gone half-way up the glen
to the neck which meant the ridge of the pass.