Silently yet hurriedly the officers now quitted the bedside of the dying man, leaving only the surgeon and the invalid Johnstone behind them; and, flying to the rampart, stood in the next minute confounded with the guard, who were already grouped round the challenging sentinel, bending their gaze eagerly in the direction of the road.
“What now, man?—whom have you challenged?” asked Major Blackwater.
“It is I—De Haldimar,” hoarsely exclaimed one of four dark figures that, hitherto, unnoticed by the officers, stood immediately beyond the ditch, with a burden deposited at their feet. “Quick, Blackwater, let us in for God’s sake! Each succeeding minute may bring a scouting party on our track. Lower the drawbridge!”
“Impossible!” exclaimed the major: “after all that has passed, it is more than my commission is worth to lower the bridge without permission. Mr. Lawson, quick to the governor, and report that Captain de Haldimar is here: with whom shall he say?” again addressing the impatient and almost indignant officer.
“With Miss de Haldimar, Francois the Canadian, and one to whom we all owe our lives,” hurriedly returned the officer; “and you may add,” he continued gloomily, “the corpse of my sister. But while we stand in parley here, we are lost: Lawson, fly to my father, and tell him we wait for entrance.”
With nearly the speed enjoined the adjutant departed. Scarcely a minute elapsed when he again stood upon the rampart, and advancing closely to the major, whispered a few words in his ear.
“Good God! can it be possible? When? How came this? but we will enquire later. Open the gate; down with the bridge, Leslie,” addressing the officer of the guard.
The command was instantly obeyed. The officers flew to receive the fugitives; and as the latter crossed the drawbridge, the light of a lantern, that had been brought from the guard-room, flashed full upon the harassed countenances of Captain and Miss de Haldimar, Francois the Canadian, and the devoted Oucanasta.
Silent and melancholy was the greeting that took place between the parties: the voice spoke not; the hand alone was eloquent; but it was in the eloquence of sorrow only that it indulged. Pleasure, even in this almost despaired of re-union, could not be expressed; and even the eye shrank from mutual encounter, as if its very glance at such a moment were sacrilege. Recalled to a sense of her situation by the preparation of the men to raise the bridge, the Indian woman was the first to break the silence.
“The Saganaw is safe within his fort, and the girl of the pale faces will lay her head upon his bosom,” she remarked solemnly. “Oucanasta will go to her solitary wigwam among the red skins.”
The heart of Madeline de Haldimar was oppressed by the weight of many griefs; yet she could not see the generous preserver of her life, and the rescuer of the body of her ill-fated cousin, depart without emotion. Drawing a ring, of some value and great beauty, from her finger, which she had more than once observed the Indian to admire, she placed it on her hand; and then, throwing herself on the bosom of the faithful creature, embraced her with deep manifestations of affection, but without uttering a word.