"I shall not shrink even here, Reuben Bourne," interrupted Malvin.
"And your daughter,--how shall I dare to meet her eye?" exclaimed Reuben. "She will ask the fate of her father, whose life I vowed to defend with my own.
As Malvin spoke he almost raised himself from the ground, and the energy of his concluding words seemed to fill the wild and lonely forest with a vision of happiness; but, when he sank exhausted upon his bed of oak leaves, the light which had kindled in Reuben's eye was quenched.
A mournful smile strayed across the features of the dying man as he insinuated that unfounded hope,--which, however, was not without its effect on Reuben. No merely selfish motive, nor even the desolate condition of Dorcas, could have induced him to desert his companion at such a moment--but his wishes seized on the thought that Malvin's life might be preserved, and his sanguine nature heightened almost to certainty the remote possibility of procuring human aid.
"And did you return in time to save him?" asked Reuben, hanging on Malvin's words as if they were to be prophetic of his own success.
This example, powerful in affecting Reuben's decision, was aided, unconsciously to himself, by the hidden strength of many another motive.
"Turn not back with your friends when you meet them, lest your wounds and weariness overcome you; but send hitherward two or three, that may be spared, to search for me; and believe me, Reuben, my heart will be lighter with every step you take towards home." Yet there was, perhaps, a change both in his countenance and voice as he spoke thus; for, after all, it was a ghastly fate to be left expiring in the wilderness.
Reuben Bourne, but half convinced that he was acting rightly, at length raised himself from the ground and prepared himself for his departure.
Upon this subject he spoke with calm earnestness, as if he were sending Reuben to the battle or the chase while he himself remained secure at home, and not as if the human countenance that was about to leave him were the last he would ever behold.
And, Reuben," added he, as the weakness of mortality made its way at last, "return, when your wounds are healed and your weariness refreshed,--return to this wild rock, and lay my bones in the grave, and say a prayer over them."