Salute to Adventurers
21. A Hawk Screams In The Evening
Those two days in the stockade were like a rift of sun in a stormy day, and the next
morn the clouds descended. The face of nature seemed to be a mirror of our fortunes,
for when I woke the freshness had gone out of the air, and in the overcast sky there was
a forewarning of storm. But the little party in the camp remained cheerful enough.
Donaldson and Bertrand went off to their trapping; Elspeth was braiding her hair, the
handsomest nymph that ever trod these woodlands, and trying in vain to discover from
the discreet Ringan where he came from, and what was his calling. The two Borderers
knew well who he was; Grey, I think, had a suspicion; but it never entered the girl's head
that this debonair gentleman bore the best known name in all the Americas. She fancied
he was some exiled Jacobite, and was ready to hear a pitiful romance. This at another
time she would have readily got; but Ringan for the nonce was in a sober mood, and
though he would talk of Breadalbane, was chary of touching on more recent episodes.
All she learned was that he was a great traveller, and had tried most callings that merit
a gentleman's interest.
The day before, Shalah and I had explored the range to the south, keeping on the west
side where we thought the enemy were likely to gather. This day we looked to the side
facing the Tidewater, a difficult job, for it was eaten into by the upper glens of many
rivers. The weather grew hot and oppressive, and over the lowlands of Virginia there
brooded a sullen thundercloud. It oppressed my spirits, and I found myself less able to
keep up with Shalah. The constant sight of the lowlands filled me with anxiety for what
might be happening in those sullen blue flats. Gone was the glad forgetfulness of
yesterday. The Promised Land might smile as it pleased, but we were still on the flanks
of Pisgah with the Midianites all about us.
My recollection of that day is one of heavy fatigue and a pressing hopelessness. Shalah
behaved oddly, for he was as restive as a frightened stag. No covert was unsuspected
by him, and if I ventured to raise my head on any exposed ground a long brown arm
pulled me down. He would make no answer to my questions except a grunt. All this
gave me the notion that the hills were full of the enemy, and I grew as restive as the
Indian. The crackle of a branch startled me, and the movement of a scared beast
brought my heart to my throat.
Then from a high place he saw something which sent us both crawling into the thicket.
We made a circuit of several miles round the head of a long ravine, and came to a steep
bank of red screes. Up this we wormed our way, as flat as snakes, with our noses in the
dusty earth. I was dripping with sweat, and cursing to myself this new madness of
Shalah's. Then I found a cooler air blowing on the top of my prostrate skull, and I judged
that we were approaching the scarp of a ridge. Shalah's hand held me motionless. He
wriggled on a little farther, and with immense slowness raised his head. His hand now
beckoned me forward, and in a few seconds I was beside him and was lifting my eyes
over the edge of the scarp.