Accustomed to rise with the dawn, the Aid-de-Camp was not long after its appearance, in shaking off the slumber in which he had so profoundly indulged. The first object that met his eye as he raised himself up in a sitting posture from his rude bed, was Gerald stooping over the sleeping Desborough, one hand reposing upon his chest, the other holding the knife already alluded to, while every feature of his face was kindled into loathing and abhorrence of his prostrate and sleeping enemy. Startled by the expression he read there, and with the occurrences of the past night rushing forcibly upon his memory, the Aid-de-Camp called quickly out, “Hold, Liftenant Grantham. Well, as I’m a true Tennessee man, bred and born, may I be most especially d——d, if I’d a thought you’d do so foul a deed. What! assassinate a sleeping drunken man?”
“Assassinate! Captain Jackson,” repeated Gerald, raising himself to his full height, while a crimson flush of indignation succeeded to the deadly paleness which had overspread his cheek.
“Yes, assassinate,” returned the Aid-de-Camp, fixing his eye upon that of his prisoner, yet without perceiving that it quailed under his penetrating glance. “It’s an ugly word, I reckon, for you to hear, as it is for me to speak; but your quarrel last night—your fix just now— that knife,—Liftenant Grantham,” and he pointed to the blade which still remained in the grasp of the accused. “Surely these things speak for themselves, and though the fellow has swallowed off all my Wabash, and be d——d to him, (making a fruitless attempt to extract a few drops from his canteen,) still I shouldn’t like to see him murdered in that sort of way.”
“I cannot blame you, Captain Jackson,” said Gerald calmly, his features resuming their pallid hue. “These appearances, I grant, might justify the suspicion, horrible as it is, in one who had known more of me than yourself; but was assassination even a virtue, worlds would not tempt me to assassinate that man—wretch though he be—or even to slay him in fair and open combat.”
“Then, I calculate, one night has made a pretty considerable change in your feelings, Liftenant,” retorted the Aid-de-Camp. “You were both ready enough to go at it last night, when I knocked the knife out of your fist, and broke the knuckles of his gouging hand.”
“I confess,” said Gerald, again coloring, “that excessive pain made me wild, and I should have been tempted to have had recourse to any means to thwart him in his diabolical purpose. As you have said, however, the past night has effected a change in my feelings towards the man, and death from my hand, under any circumstances, is the last thing he has now to apprehend.” Gerald sank his head upon his chest, and sighed bitterly.
“Well,” said Jackson, “all this is queer enough; but what were you doing standing over the man just now with that knife, if it was not to harm him? And as for your countenance, it scowled so savage and passionate, I was almost afraid to look at it myself.”