“What can I possibly urge to console one who seems so willing to nurse into conviction all the melancholy imaginings of a diseased mind,” observed Captain Blessington, in a voice that told how deeply he felt for the situation of his young friend. “Recollect, dearest Charles, the time that has been afforded to our friends. More than a week has gone by since they left the fort, and a less period was deemed sufficient for their purpose. Before this they must have gained their destination. In fact, it is my positive belief they have; for there could be nothing to detect them in their disguise. Had I the famous lamp of Aladdin,” he pursued, in a livelier tone, “over the history of which Clara and yourself used to spend so many hours in childhood, I have no doubt I could show them to you quietly seated within the fort, recounting their adventures to Clara and her cousin, and discoursing of their absent friends.”
“Would I to Heaven you had the power to do so!” replied De Haldimar, smiling faintly at the conceit, while a ray of hope beamed for a moment upon his sick soul; “for then, indeed, would all my fears for the present be at rest. But you forget, Blessington, the encounter stated to have taken place between them and that terrible stranger near the bridge. Besides, is it not highly probable the object of their expedition was divined by that singular and mysterious being, and that means have been taken to intercept their passage? If so, all hope is at an end.”
“Why persevere in viewing only the more sombre side of the picture?” returned his friend. “In your anxiety to anticipate evil, Charles, you have overlooked one important fact. Ponteac distinctly stated that his ruffian friend was still lying deprived of consciousness and speech within his tent, and yet two days had elapsed since the encounter was said to have taken place. Surely we have every reason then to infer they were beyond all reach of pursuit, even admitting, what is by no means probable the recovery of the wretch immediately after the return of the chiefs from the council.”
A gleam of satisfaction, but so transient as to be scarcely noticeable, passed over the pale features of the youthful De Haldimar. He looked his thanks to the kind officer who was thus solicitous to tender him consolation; and was about to reply, when the attention of both was diverted by the report of a musket from the rear of the fort. Presently afterwards, the word was passed along the chain of sentinels, upon the ramparts, that the Indians were issuing in force from the forest upon the common near the bomb-proof. Then was heard, as the sentinel at the gate delivered the password, the heavy roll of the drum summoning to arms.
“Ha! here already!” said Captain Blessington, as, glancing towards the forest, he beheld the skirt of the wood now alive with dusky human forms: “Ponteac’s visit is earlier than we had been taught to expect; but we are as well prepared to receive him now, as later; and, in fact, the sooner the interview is terminated, the sooner we shall know what we have to depend upon. Come, Charles, we must join the company, and let me entreat you to evince less despondency before the men. It is hard, I know, to sustain an artificial character under such disheartening circumstances; still, for example’s sake, it must be done.”