They had now reached that part of the ramparts whence the shot from Sir Everard’s rifle had been fired. Several men were occupied in digging a grave in the precise spot on which the unfortunate Murphy had stood when he received his death-wound; and into this, when completed, the body, enshrouded in the cloak already alluded to, was deposited by his companions.
While the adjutant was yet reading, in a low and solemn voice, the service for the dead, a fierce and distant yell, as if from a legion of devils, burst suddenly from the forest, and brought the hands of the startled officers instinctively to their swords. This appalling cry lasted, without interruption, for many minutes, and was then as abruptly checked as it had been unexpectedly delivered. A considerable pause succeeded, and then again it rose with even more startling vehemence than before. By one unaccustomed to those devilish sounds, no distinction could have been made in the two several yells that had been thus savagely pealed forth; but those to whom practice and long experience in the warlike habits and customs of the Indians had rendered their shouts familiar, at once divined, or fancied they divined, the cause. The first was, to their conception, a yell expressive at once of vengeance and disappointment in pursuit,—perhaps of some prisoner who had escaped from their toils; the second, of triumph and success,—in all probability, indicative of the recapture of that prisoner. For many minutes afterwards the officers continued to listen, with the most aching attention, for a repetition of the cry, or even fainter sounds, that might denote either a nearer approach to the fort, or the final departure of the Indians. After the second yell, however, the woods, in the heart of which it appeared to have been uttered, were buried in as profound a silence as if they had never yet echoed back the voice of man; and all at length became satisfied that the Indians, having accomplished some particular purpose, had retired once more to their distant encampments for the night. Captain Erskine was the first who broke the almost breathless silence that prevailed among themselves.
“On my life De Haldimar is a prisoner with the Indians. He has been attempting his escape,—has been detected,—followed, and again fallen into their hands. I know their infernal yells but too well. The last expressed their savage joy at the capture of a prisoner; and there is no one of us missing but De Haldimar.”
“Not a doubt of it,” said Captain Blessington; “the cry was certainly what you describe it, and Heaven only knows what will be the fate of our poor friend.”
No other officer spoke, for all were oppressed by the weight of their own feelings, and sought rather to give indulgence to speculation in secret, than to share their impressions with their companions. Charles de Haldimar stood a little in the rear, leaning his head upon his hand against the box of the sentry, (who was silently, though anxiously, pacing his walk,) and in an attitude expressive of the deepest dejection and sorrow.