“Assuredly,” he pursued, finding that no one answered, “I distinctly heard a human groan.”
“Where?—in what direction?” asked Sir Everard and De Haldimar in the same breath.
“Immediately opposite to us on the common. But see, here are the remainder of the party stationary, and listening also.”
They now stole gently forward a few paces, and were soon at the side of their companions, all of whom were straining their necks and bending their heads in the attitude of men listening attentively.
“Have you heard any thing, Erskine?” asked Captain Blessington in the same low whisper, and addressing the officer who led the opposite party.
“Not a sound ourselves, but here is Sir Everard’s black servant, Sambo, who has just riveted our attention, by declaring that he distinctly heard a groan towards the skirt of the common.”
“He is right,” hastily rejoined Blessington; “I heard it also.”
Again a death-like silence ensued, during which the eyes of the party were strained eagerly in the direction of the common. The night was clear and starry, yet the dark shadow of the broad belt of forest threw all that part of the waste which came within its immediate range into impenetrable obscurity.
“Do you see any thing?” whispered Valletort to his friend, who stood next him: “look—look!” and he pointed with his finger.
“Nothing,” returned De Haldimar, after an anxious gaze of a minute, “but that dilapidated old bomb-proof.”
“See you not something dark, and slightly moving immediately in a line with the left angle of the bomb-proof?”
De Haldimar looked again.—“I do begin to fancy I see something,” he replied; “but so confusedly and indistinctly, that I know not whether it be not merely an illusion of my imagination. Perhaps it is a stray Indian dog devouring the carcass of the wolf you shot yesterday.”
“Be it dog or devil, here is for a trial of his vulnerability.—Sambo, quick, my rifle.”
The young negro handed to his master one of those long heavy rifles, which the Indians usually make choice of for killing the buffalo, elk, and other animals whose wildness renders them difficult of approach. He then, unbidden, and as if tutored to the task, placed himself in a stiff upright position in front of his master, with every nerve and muscle braced to the most inflexible steadiness. The young officer next threw the rifle on the right shoulder of the boy for a rest, and prepared to take his aim on the object that had first attracted his attention.
“Make haste, massa,—him go directly,—Sambo see him get up.”
All was breathless attention among the group of officers; and when the sharp ticking sound produced by the cocking of the rifle of their companion fell on their ears, they bent their gaze upon the point towards which the murderous weapon was levelled with the most aching and intense interest.