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Salute to Adventurers

22. How A Fool Must Go His Own Road
It was a sorry party that looked at each other in the first light of dawn.
Our eyes were hollow with suspense, and all but Shalah had the hunted look of men
caught in a trap. Not till the sun had got above the tree-tops did we venture to leave our
posts and think of food. It was now that Elspeth's spirit showed supreme. The courage
of that pale girl put us all to the blush. She alone carried her head high and forced an air
of cheerfulness. She lit the fire with Donaldson's help, and broiled some deer's flesh for
our breakfast, and whistled gently as she wrought, bringing into our wild business a
breath of the orderly comfort of home. I had seen her in silk and lace, a queen among
the gallants, but she never looked so fair as on that misty morning, her hair straying
over her brow, her plain kirtle soiled and sodden, but her eyes bright with her young
During the last hours of that dark vigil my mind had been torn with cares. If we escaped
the perils of the night, I asked myself, what then? Here were the seven of us, pinned in
a hill-fort, with no help within fifty miles, and one of the seven was a woman! I judged
that the Indian force was large, and there was always the mighty army waiting farther
south in that shelf of the hills. If they sought to take us, it must be a matter of a day or
two at the most till they succeeded. If they only played with us--which is the cruel Indian
way--we might resist a little, but starvation would beat us down. Where were we to get
food, with the forests full of our subtle enemies? To sit still would mean to wait upon
death, and the waiting would not be long.
There was the chance, to be sure, that the Indians would be drawn off in the advance
towards the east. But here came in a worse anxiety. I had come to get news to warn the
Tidewater. That news I had got. The mighty gathering which Shalah's eyes and mine
had beheld in that upland glen was the peril we had foreseen. What good were easy
victories over raiding Cherokees when this deadly host waited on the leash? I had no
doubt that the Cherokees were now broken. Stafford county would be full of Nicholson's
militia, and Lawrence's strong hand lay on the line of the Borders. But what availed it?
While Virginia was flattering herself that she had repelled the savages, and the
Rappahannock men were notching their muskets with the tale of the dead, a wave was
gathering to sweep down the Pamunkey or the James, and break on the walls of James
Town. I did not think that Nicholson, forewarned and prepared, could stem the torrent;
and if it caught him unawares the proud Tidewater would break like a rotten reed.
I had been sent to scout. Was I to be false to the word I had given, and let any risk to
myself or others deter me from taking back the news? The Indian army tarried; why, I
did not know--perhaps some mad whim of their soothsayers, perhaps the device of a
wise general; but at any rate they tarried. If a war party could spend a night in baiting us
and slaying our horses, there could be no very instant orders for the road. If this were
so, a bold man might yet reach the Border line. At that moment it seemed to me a