MEANWHILE, Denham and Ella been dragged in an entirely different direction by the two ruffians who conducted them forth into the woods. Jessie Kirkpatrick, whom they soon discovered to be none of the Holford family, but only the daughter of the old servant, being kept, together with her mother, and set to provide supper for the rebels, under threat of being shot if they hesitated in so doing.
"You may help yourselves, you ruffians," the sturdy old woman had said, setting herself resolutely down in a chair, as soon as they released her arms. "The things in the house is none o' mine, and I'll set no supper, save for my master and his bairns. If you shoot me honest, I'd prefer it to being spared dishonest. And oh!" she added, bursting out into a wail of sorrow, "it's thankful I'd have been to have been shot, sooner nor have seen the blessed childer dragged out of their father's house, this gate." And the old nurse threw her apron over her head, and wept bitterly, perfectly regardless of the threats and curses the men showered upon her. Jessie, however, was more timid, possibly also more self-interested, and therefore more compliant: she was attached tithe family in a calm and moderate way, but she had no inclination to risk her life or invite rough usage by such scrupulous fidelity as her mother's. And the men, finding the pretty daughter willing to attend to their wants, contented themselves with her services, and left the old woman to herself.
But to return to Denham and his younger sister. They were left not in the heart of the forest, like poor Minnie, but in the centre of a wide meadow, some hundred acres in extent, which, covered with one unvarying sheet of snow, looked like a white lake in the centre of the black, snow-crowned forest. Not that there was light to see anything distinctly at the time when Denham and Ella found themselves deserted there by their rough conductor, but they knew the spot well, and insomuch were better off than their sister and little brother.
Denham's first thought was of Minnie, as Minnie's had been of Denham. Both felt that in union of thought and aid would be strength, and both were tenderly anxious for each other. But Denham's lusty shouts of "Minnie! Minnie!" found no more response than hers had done. Then they walked on a little way towards a narrow, rapid creek, that even in this icy time hurried along so rapidly as to escape being frozen.
"Denham, I see something moving," said Ella, after a minute or two's silence, during which time they had been plodding diligently on through the deep snow. They were both of them tolerably well clothed, for while Minnie had been busy dressing little Harry, Ella, with her sister's occasional assistance, had slipped on a fair supply of warm garments, and they did not consequently suffer much in this night-walk, cold though the beaver-meadow was.
"It's a horse, and something behind it!" joyfully exclaimed Denham, after looking for a moment in the direction in which his sister had pointed. He gave another loud shout, and, to his no small joy, it was answered by a voice so peculiar, that there was no mistaking it even at that distance.
"It's Ichabod Clapshaw, Denham," said little Ella. "I think he'll be good to us, queer though he is."
In a few minutes the horse and sleigh were alongside of the two children. Ichabod gave a whistle surprise at beholding the two young Holfords in the middle of the beaver-meadow at this time of night, and for a minute or so seemed too much astonished to make any further remark. Then he said, drily enough, and with his own peculiar Yankee drawl, "Guess it's pretty considerable late, Denham, for you and Ella to be out. What's the reason you're not to hum?"
In a few words Denham gave him a hasty account of what had befallen them, while Ichabod employed himself in lifting little Ella into the sleigh, and settling an undressed deer-robe comfortably about her.
"Humph!" grunted the American, when Denham had finished; "and so they've fixed it that way, have they, the eternal villains, the ----------;" and Ichabod, in his wrathful indignation, continued to pour forth on them a string of strange epithets, not unmixed with oaths and curses as strange, which none but an American would even so much as have thought of.
"Ichabod," said Denham, with more dignity than one might have expected from one so young, "pray do not speak in that way. You should not use those violent expressions of any one, not even of enemies and bad men. And besides, they are not fit for my sister to hear."
"Hold yer impudence, young 'un," said Ichabod, roughly, but good-humouredly, 'sand come 'long. I mean to drop them 'ere words, I do, for the sake of that gal Minnie. Yes," he added, as he gathered up the reins, and prepared to drive back again from whence he came with the two children, "I'd do a sightr o' disagreeable things rather nor vex her."
"But, Ichabod," said Denham, anxiously, "there is the worst of it. Minnie is in the forest, too, somewhere, for they dragged her out of the house-door just before me; but where she is I do not know. Pray do not take us home to your place till we have found her."
"Worse nor useless, Denham, to look for her, without lights, in the forest, when it's as dark as the blind man's eyes to-night. I come across to help at the fire, which I reckon is over to John Kirkpatrick's, and I did not calculate to bring lanterns along to see a blazing house by."
"Cheer up," he added, seeing Denham cover his face with his hands with a gesture of despair, " we'll be to hum spry 'nough, and my old woman 'll take care of Ella here while we go and look for t'other ten."
Ichabod's clearing lay a little way to the north side of the beaver-meadow and its belt of forest. And having awoke his wife Priscilla,--commonly called Cilly Clapshaw, a name whose libellous sound was by no means in accordance with the dame's shrewd character,--he consigned Ella to her care, and started out again with Denham, a long lad of his, called Job, and a farm 'help,' to look for the missing ones. They took with them lanterns, and a couple of guns, in consideration of the company they might possibly fall in with on their way, and for hours they searched the woods in all directions in the hope of finding her, but all with no avail.
The morning broke at last,--a black, cold day; the same keen, cutting wind still blew over the frozen snow, and dark grey clouds covered the sky. They had just turned back along one of the forest tracks which they had pursued until it came out by the side of the Otonabee, without finding any trace of steps or any marks of the lost Minnie, when they saw a cutter, drawn by a fine grey horse, trotting briskly along the road before them.
"Uncle Henry's grey mare!" exclaimed Denham.
"And I guess 'tis Holford himself driving," added Ichabod.
Poor Denham was almost overcome with the rush of conflicting feelings. It was a terrible meeting this, for he could see by his father's joyous aspect and unclouded brow that he as yet knew nothing of the calamity which had befallen his family.
"Denham, my dear boy," he exclaimed, as he leaped from the cutter and affectionately greeted his son, "why I thought to surprise you all at breakfast. I have spent the night at Uncle Henry's, not liking to knock you all up so late last night, for it was late when we arrived. But you are beforehand with me."
Denham had turned his face hastily from his father to hide his choking tears, and was making a feint at tightening a buckle in the grey mare's harness. How should he break the dreadful news? Ichabod spared him the painful task.
"I'm glad to see yer to hum, Holford," he said gravely; "and to tell yer the truth it's time you were, for matters isn't jist all right up there. We're on a grave bit of a job, Holford, and the sooner you know it the better. It's jist no more nor less than that your gal Minnie's missin', and it's been a considerable snowy night for a delicate young critter like her to be out."
He would not tell him any more of the bad news just then;--that Harry was also with Minnie, that the insurgents had broken into his house, and, as they had every reason to believe, had burnt John Kirkpatrick's farm, were additional evil tidings which he would hear but too soon. At first the poor father seemed paralyzed by the suddenness of the stroke, but in a short time his manly energy gathered itself together, and he turned back with the melancholy and disheartened searching party, to make yet another effort towards his daughter's recovery. No one spoke much after that; there were lines of stern sorrow already marked on Mr. Holford's face which kept all the rest of the anxious and mournful little band more silent even than before.
In the chilly light of dawn they now perceived track which had escaped them by the partial help of their lanterns, and following these they came at last to a spot where one of the footsteps, evidently the resolute, firm steps of a strong man, turned back again and went in the direction of Weston Farm.
"They left her here," whispered Denham to Ichabod, "as they did Ella and me in the beaver-meadow."
Ichabod nodded, and quietly but quickly they pursued the slurred, uncertain tracks left by the smaller and weaker feet which had also travelled this dreary path. They had not gone very far upon this fainter track when Ichabod, who was in the front of the party, suddenly stopped. Denham, who was immediately behind him, guessed with a sudden heavy thrill at his heart what it was that he had found; with a great effort be stepped forward to Ichabod's side, and then he also stood still. Thus, one by one they gathered round in a little circle, utterly stunned at the scene before their feet. There in the cold grey morning light she lay, her little white-garmented figure hardly discernible from the white couch on which she rested, whose snowy covering had drifted up over her feet, and lightly powdered over the warm cloak which was yet closely wrapped round the sleeping Harry. Yes, there they both lay sleeping still,--but what a different sleep! what a different aspect the two faces wore! The boy's nearly-covered cheek so fresh and glowing; hers, as it lay against the cold snow, so still, and pale, and marble-like. No one could have a moment's doubt that hers was the sleep from which she would never wake here. But oh, that smile upon her lips; that told plainly enough that her waking-place would be where "the pure in heart shall see God."
"If ever any one went to heaven out of this world, she's gone there," said Ichabod, chokingly.
Those were the only words spoken by any of them.
They roused little Harry gently up, and put him in the cutter with Job and the farm 'help;' then sadly and reverently they lifted the white-robed figure of the frozen girl, and placed it in Ichabod's sleigh; Mr. Holford and Denham walking mute beside it, while Ichabod led the horse by the rein.
Thus, solemnly and quietly, they went back to what was left of Weston Farm.