“I can bear much,” was the reply, accompanied by a forced smile, that was contradicted by the quivering of the compressed lip; “and if I could not, I find I must begin to learn. Yet what can you have to tell me, my dear Mr. Elmsley, more than I already divine—my poor father—” and the tears started from her eyes.
“Ha! there at least, I have comfort for you—although there has been sad work at the farm—the fishing-party have come in with the bodies of poor Le Noir and the boy Wilton, but they all say that Mr. Heywood was carried off a prisoner by the Indians.”
“Carried off a prisoner,” repeated Miss Heywood, a sudden glow animating her pale features—“oh! Elmsley, thank you for that. There is still a hope then?”
“There is indeed a hope; but, dearest Miss Heywood, why must I heal with one hand and wound with the other. If I give comparative good news of your father, there is another who ought to be here, and whose absence at this moment is to me at once a pain and a mystery.”
“You mean Harry Ronayne?” she said, hesitatingly, but without manifesting surprise.
“Where the foolish fellow has gone,” he continued, “I do not know, but he has disappeared from the Fort, nor has he left the slightest clue by which he may be traced.”
“Does Captain Headley know this?” she inquired, recollecting, that part of the conversation that had passed between them the preceding day, in reference to the succor that might have been afforded at the farm.
“He does. I made the report of Ronayne’s absence to him personally, and the doctor was summoned to state if he had seen any thing of him. He, however, was as ignorant as a man, who had been drunk during the night, and was not yet quite sober in the morning, could well be. The captain was as much surprised as displeased, but further inquiry was delayed on the sergeant of the guard coming up and announcing the near approach of the boat containing the fishing-party.”
“Tell me, dear Mr. Elmsley,” said Miss Heywood, after a few moments of seeming reflection; “what is your own opinion of the matter? How do you account—or have you at all endeavored to account for Ronayne’s absence?”
“I can easily understand the cause,” he replied, “but confound me if I can attempt to divine the means he took to accomplish his object.”
He then proceeded to relate the circumstances of his proposal to Captain Headley—the abrupt refusal he had met with—his subsequent application to himself to pass him out of the gate, and the final abandonment of his request when he found that his acquiescence would seriously compromise him, as officer of the guard.
“Noble Harry!” thought Miss Heywood—“your confusion, your vexation of yesterday, arose from not being able to follow your own generous impulses: but now I fully understand the resolve you secretly made—and all for my sake. Do not think me very romantic,” she said aloud to Mr. Elmsley, “but really, Margaret, I cannot despair that all will yet, and speedily, be well. The only fear I entertain is that the strict Captain Headley may rebuke him in terms that will call up all the fire of his nature, and induce a retort that may prove a source of serious misunderstanding—unless, indeed, the greatness of the service rendered, plead his justification.”