An advanced hour of the night brought most of the American officers together in their rude mess-room, where the occurrences of the day were discussed with an enthusiasm of satisfaction natural to the occasion. Each congratulated each on the unexpected success, but commendation was more than usually loud in favor of their leader, to whose coolness and judgment, in reserving his fire until the approach of the enemy within pistol shot, was to be attributed the severe loss and consequent check they had sustained.
Next became the topic of eulogium the gallantry of those who had been worsted in all but their honor, and all spoke with admiration of the devotedness of the two unfortunate officers who had perished in the trenches— a subject which, in turn, led to a recollection of the brave soldier who had survived the sweeping discharge from the bastion, and who had been so opportunely saved from destruction by the Commandant himself.
“Captain Jackson,” said that officer, addressing one of the few who wore the regular uniform of the United States’ army, “I should like much to converse with this man, in whom I confess, as in some degree the preserver of his life, I feel an interest. Moreover, as the only uninjured among our prisoners, he is the one most calculated to give us information in regard to the actual force of those whom we have this day had the good fortune to defeat, as well as of the ultimate destination of the British General. Notes of both these important particulars, if I can possibly obtain them, I wish to make in a despatch of which I intend you to be the bearer.”
The Aid-de-Camp, for in that capacity was he attached to the person of Colonel Forrester, immediately quitted the room, and presently afterwards returned ushering in the prisoner.
Although Gerald was dressed, as we have said, in the uniform of the private grenadier, there was that about him which, in defiance of a person covered from head to foot with the slimy mud of the trenches, and a mouth black as ink with powder from the cartridges he had bitten, at once betrayed him for something more than he appeared.
There was a pause for some moments after he entered. At length Colonel Forrester inquired, in a voice strongly marked by surprise:—
“May I ask, sir, what rank you hold in the British army?”
“But that I have unfortunately suffered more from your mud than your fire,” replied Gerald coolly, and with undisguised bitterness of manner, “the question would at once be answered by a reference my uniform.”
“I understand you, sir; you would have me to infer you are what your dress, and your dress alone, denotes—a private soldier?”
Gerald made no answer.
“Your name, soldier?”
“Yes; your name. One possessed of the gallantry we witnessed this day cannot be altogether without a name.”
The pale cheek of Gerald was slightly tinged. With all his grief, he still was man. The indirect praise lingered a moment at his heart, then passed off with the slight blush that as momentarily dyed his cheek.