“Poor Charles is in a high fever, and confined to his bed,” remarked Captain Blessington, who now came up adding his congratulations in a low tone, that marked the despondency of his heart; “and Sir Everard I have just left on the rampart with the company, looking, as he well may, the very image of despair.”
“Run to them, Sumners, my dear boy,” said Erskine, hastily addressing himself to a young ensign who stood near him; “run quickly, and relieve them of their error. Say it is not De Haldimar who has been killed, therefore they need not make themselves any longer uneasy on that score.”
The officers gave a start of surprise. Sumners, however, hastened to acquit himself of the pleasing task assigned him, without waiting to hear the explanation of the singular declaration.
“Not De Haldimar!” eagerly and anxiously exclaimed Captain Blessington; “who then have you brought to us in his uniform, which I clearly distinguished from the rampart as you passed? Surely you would not tamper with us at such a moment, Erskine?”
“Who it is, I know not more than Adam,” rejoined the other; “unless, indeed, it be the devil himself. All I do know, is, it is not our friend De Haldimar; although, as you observe, he most certainly wears his uniform. But you shall see and judge for yourselves, gentlemen. Sergeant Cassidy,” he enquired of that individual, who now came to ask if the detachment was to be dismissed, “where have you placed the litter?”
“Under the piazza of the guard-room, Sir,” answered the sergeant.
These words had scarcely been uttered, when a general and hasty movement of the officers, anxious to satisfy themselves by personal observation it was not indeed De Haldimar who had fallen, took place in the direction alluded to, and in the next moment they were at the side of the litter.
A blanket had been thrown upon the corpse to conceal the loathsome disfigurement of the face, over which masses of thick coagulated blood were laid in patches and streaks, that set all recognition at defiance. The formation of the head alone, which was round and short, denoted it to be not De Haldimar’s. Not a feature was left undefiled; and even the eyes were so covered, it was impossible to say whether their lids were closed or open. More than one officer’s cheek paled with the sickness that rose to his heart as he gazed on the hideous spectacle; yet, as the curiosity of all was strongly excited to know who the murdered man really was who had been so unaccountably inducted in the uniform of their lost companion, they were resolved to satisfy themselves without further delay. A basin of warm water and a sponge were procured from the guard-room of Ensign Fortescue, who now joined them, and with these Captain Blessington proceeded to remove the disguise.