At length it came, that terrible and eventful day, and, as if in mockery of those who saw no beauty in its golden beams, arrayed in all the gorgeous softness of its autumnal glory. Sad and heavy were the hearts of many within that far distant and isolated fort, as they rose, at the first glimmering of light above the horizon, to prepare for the several duties assigned them. All felt the influence of a feeling that laid prostrate the moral energies even of the boldest: but there was one young officer in particular, who exhibited a dejection, degenerating almost into stupefaction; and more than once, when he received an order from his superior, hesitated as one who either heard not, or, in attempting to perform it, mistook the purport of his instructions, and executed some entirely different duty. The countenance of this officer, whose attenuated person otherwise bore traces of languor and debility, but too plainly marked the abstractedness and terror of his mind, while the set stiff features and contracted muscles of the face contributed to give an expression of vacuity, that one who knew him not might have interpreted unfavourably. Several times, during the inspection of his company at the early parade, he was seen to raise his head, and throw forward his ear, as if expecting to catch the echo of some horrible and appalling cry, until the men themselves remarked, and commented, by interchange of looks, on the singular conduct of their officer, whose thoughts had evidently no connection with the duty he was performing, or the spot on which he stood.
When this customary inspection had been accomplished,—how imperfectly, has been seen,—and the men dismissed from their ranks, the same young officer was observed, by one who followed his every movement with interest, to ascend that part of the rampart which commanded an unbroken view of the country westward, from the point where the encampment of the Indians was supposed to lie, down to the bridge on which the terrible tragedy of Halloway’s death had been so recently enacted. Unconscious of the presence of two sentinels, who moved to and fro near their respective posts, on either side of him, the young officer folded his arms, and gazed in that direction for some minutes, with his whole soul riveted on the scene. Then, as if overcome by recollections called up by that on which he gazed, he covered his eyes hurriedly with his hands, and betrayed, by the convulsed movement of his slender form, he was weeping bitterly. This paroxysm past, he uncovered his face, sank with one knee upon the ground, and upraising his clasped hands, as if in appeal to his God, seemed to pray deeply and fervently. In this attitude he continued for some moments, when he became sensible of the approach of an intruder. He raised himself from his knee, turned, and beheld one whose countenance was stamped with a dejection scarcely inferior to his own. It was Captain Blessington.
“Charles, my dear Charles!” exclaimed the latter hurriedly, as he laid his hand upon the shoulder of the emaciated De Haldimar, “consider you are not alone. For God’s sake, check this weakness! There are men observing you on every side, and your strange manner has already been the subject of remark in the company.”