“What a contrast, by heaven!” exclaimed he who wore the badge of duty suspended over his chest, throwing himself playfully into a theatrical attitude, expressive at once of admiration and surprise, while his eye glanced intelligently over the fair but dissimilar forms of the cousins. “Venus and Psyche in the land of the Pottowatamies by all that is magnificent! Come, Middleton, quick, out with that eternal pencil of yours, and perform your promise.”
“And what may that promise be?” asked Clara, laughingly, and without adverting to the hyperbolical compliment of the dark-eyed officer who had just spoken.
“You shall hear,” pursued the lively captain of the guard. “While making the tour of the ramparts just now, to visit my sentries, I saw Middleton leaning most sentimentally against one of the boxes in front, his notebook in one hand and his pencil in the other. Curious to discover the subject of his abstraction, I stole cautiously behind him, and saw that he was sketching the head of a tall and rather handsome squaw, who, in the midst of a hundred others, was standing close to the gateway watching the preparations of the Indian ball-players. I at once taxed him with having lost his heart; and rallying him on his bad taste in devoting his pencil to any thing that had a red skin, never combed its hair, and turned its toes in while walking, pronounced his sketch to be an absolute fright. Well, will you believe what I have to add? The man absolutely flew into a tremendous passion with me, and swore that she was a Venus, a Juno, a Minerva, a beauty of the first water in short; and finished by promising, that when I could point out any woman who was superior to her in personal attraction, he would on the instant write no less than a dozen consecutive sonnets in her praise. I now call upon him to fulfil his promise, or maintain the superiority of his Indian beauty.”
Before the laughing Middleton could find time to reply to the light and unmeaning rattle of his friend, the quick low roll of a drum was heard from the front. The signal was understood by both officers, and they prepared to depart.
“This is the hour appointed for the council,” said Captain Baynton, looking at his watch, “and I must be with my guard, to receive the chiefs with becoming honour. How I pity you, Middleton, who will have the infliction of one of their great big talks, as Murphy would call it, dinned into your ear for the next two hours at least! Thank heaven, my tour of duty exempts me from that; and by way of killing an hour, I think I shall go and carry on a flirtation with your Indian Minerva, alias Venus, alias Juno, while you are discussing the affairs of the nation with closed doors. But hark! there is the assembly drum again. We must be off. Come, Middleton, come.—Adieu!” waving his hand to the cousins, “we shall meet at dinner.”
“What an incessant talker Baynton is!” observed Miss de Haldimar, as the young men now disappeared round an angle of the rampart; “but he has reminded me of what I had nearly forgotten, and that is to give orders for dinner. My father has invited all the officers to dine with him to day, in commemoration of the peace which is being concluded. It will be the first time we shall have all met together since the commencement of this cruel war, and we must endeavour, Clara, to do honour to the feast.”