It was only at night that the attempt could be made, only in certain states of the tide, and still at the best time it was a terrible venture; the work was new for the troops; the walls were high, the enemy was vigilant. With a sigh she saw another boat shove off to its fate.
The volunteering slackened, either because so many of the men left were aware that fatigue and illness had undermined their strength, or because the night had grown lowering and the ominous roar of breakers reached them from their landing place. Finally a distinct pause came in answer to the call: “Who next?”—a pause that lasted a minute, and that, had it lasted another, would have meant discouragement, and perhaps despair.
“I,” said a firm voice, and Elizabeth saw Stephen Archdale step into the boat. A strange feeling came over her for a moment, then a wave of admiration for his heroism. If he were to die, it would be a soldier’s death. Yet, there would be so many to mourn him. If he went to his death in this way, how would Katie feel? General Pepperell started forward, as if to prevent his embarking, then restrained himself. The men responded rapidly after this example, until the boat needed only one more. Then there fell upon Elizabeth’s ears, a name more frightful to her than the boom of the surf or the roar of cannon, and Edmonson stepped in and seated himself opposite Archdale.
“Two captains in one boat!” she heard a soldier remonstrate.
“Nonsense! we’re full. Shove off instantly, you laggards. Every minute tells,” said the newcomer in a hoarse undertone.
Elizabeth sprang forward. “No, no,” she cried impetuously, forgetting everything but the terror.
But the calling of the names was going on again, and her voice was unheard, except by a few who stood near her. Before she could make her way up to the General, the boat pulled by the vigorous strokes of the men who had been taunted as laggards, had shot out of sight. “Oh! bring them back, bring back that last boat,” she implored Pepperell in such distress that he, knowing her a woman not given to idle fears, felt a sense of impending evil as he answered:
“My dear, I cannot. No boat is sure of meeting it in the dark, and to call would endanger the expedition.”
There was no use in explaining now. She would have occasion enough to do it sometime, she feared; and then it would be useless. To-night she could say nothing. All these days she had dreaded what might come, for it did not seem to her that Captain Archdale took any care at all. Still, in the camp, out of general action, and surrounded by others, there had been comparative safety.
Now the hour, the place, and the purpose had met. Through the darkness Stephen Archdale was going to his doom.
A WOUNDED MAN.
The General sent Elizabeth away very kindly. She sent the weary Nancy to bed and went back to the hospital. But anxiety mastered her so that she could not keep her hands from trembling or her voice from faltering when there was most need for steadiness.