Part 6 out of 8
baron, after doing honor to their guests by seeing them as far as
Villeneuve The rear was brought up by muleteers, domestics, and those who
led the beasts that bore the baggage. All of the former who intended to
cross the Alps carried the fire-arms of the period at their saddle-bows,
and each had his rapier, his _couteau de chasse_, or his weapon of more
military fashion, so disposed about his person as to denote it was
considered an arm for whose use some occasion might possibly occur.
As the departure from Blonay was unaccompanied by any of those
leave-takings which usually impress a touch of melancholy on the
traveller, most of the cavalcade, as they issued into the pure and
exhilarating air of the morning, were sufficiently disposed to enjoy the
loveliness of the landscape, and to indulge in the cheerfulness and
delight that a scene so glorious is apt to awaken, in all who are alive to
the beauties of nature.
Adelheid gladly pointed out to her companion the various objects of the
view, as a means of recalling the thoughts of Christine from her own
particular griefs, which were heightened by regret for the loss of her
mother, from whom she was now seriously separated for the first time in
her life, since their communications, though secret, had been constant
during the years she had dwelt under another roof. The latter gratefully
lent herself to the kind intentions of her new friend, and endeavored to
be pleased with all she beheld, though it was such pleasure as the sad
and mourning admit with a jealous reservation of their own secret causes
"Yonder tower, towards which we advance, is Chatelard," said the heiress
of Willading to the daughter of Balthazar, in the pursuit of her kind
intention; "a hold, nearly as ancient and honorable as this we have just
quitted, though not so constantly the dwelling of the same family; for
these of Blonay have been a thousand years dwellers on the same rock,
always favorably known for their faith and courage."
"Surely, if there is anything in life that can compensate for its
every-day evils," observed Christine, in a manner of mild regret and
perhaps with the perversity of grief, "it must be to have come from those
who have always been known and honored among the great and happy! Even
virtue and goodness, and great deeds, scarce give a respect like that we
feel for the Sire de Blonay, whose family has been seated, as thou hast
just said, a thousand years on that rock above us!"
Adelheid was mute. She appreciated the feeling which had so naturally led
her companion to a reflection like this, and she felt the difficulty of
applying balm to a wound as deep as that which had been inflicted on her
"We are not always to suppose those the most happy that the world most
honors," she at length answered; "the respect to which we are accustomed
comes in time to be necessary, without being a source of pleasure; and the
hazard of incurring its loss is more than equal to the satisfaction of its
"Thou wilt at least admit that to be despised and shunned is a curse to
which nothing can reconcile us."
"We will speak now of other things, dear. It may be long ere either of us
again sees this grand display of rock and water, of brown mountain and
shining glacier; we will not prove ourselves ungrateful for the happiness
we have, by repining for that which is impossible."
Christine quietly yielded to the kind intention of her new friend, and
they rode on in silence, picking their way along the winding path, until
the whole party, after a long but pleasant descent, reached the road,
which is nearly washed by the waters of the lake. There has already been
allusion, in the earlier pages of our work, to the extraordinary beauties
of the route near this extremity of the Leman. After climbing to the heigh
of the mild and healthful Montreux, the cavalcade again descended, under a
canopy of nut-trees, to the gate of Chillon, and, sweeping around the
margin of the sheet, it reached Villeneuve by the hour that had been named
for an early morning repast. Here all dismounted, and refreshed themselves
awhile, when Roger de Blonay and his attendants, after many exchanges of
warm and sincere good wishes, took their final leave.
The sun was scarcely yet visible in the deep glens, when those who were
destined for St. Bernard were again in the saddle. The road now
necessarily left the lake, traversing those broad alluvial bottoms which
have been deposited during thirty centuries by the washings of the Rhone,
aided, if faith is to be given to geological symptoms and to ancient
traditions, by certain violent convulsions of nature. For several hours
our travellers rode amid such a deep fertility, and such a luxuriance of
vegetation, that their path bore more analogy to an excursion on the wide
plains of Lombardy, than to one amid the usual Swiss scenery; although,
unlike the boundless expanse of the Italian garden, the view was limited
on each side by perpendicular barriers of rock, that were piled for
thousands of feet into the heavens, and which were merely separated from
each other by a league or two, a distance that dwindled to miles in its
effect on the eye, a consequence of the grandeur of the scale on which
nature has reared these vast piles.
It was high-noon when Melchior de Willading and his venerable friend led
the way across the foaming Rhone, at the celebrated bridge of St Maurice.
Here the country of the Valais, then like Geneva, an ally, and not a
confederate of the Swiss cantons, was entered, and all objects, both
animate and inanimate, began to assume that mixture of the grand, the
sterile, the luxuriant, and the revolting, for which this region is so
generally known. Adelheid gave an involuntary shudder, her imagination
having been prepared by rumor for even more than the truth would have
given reason to expect, when the gate of St. Maurice swung back upon its
hinges, literally inclosing the party in this wild, desolate, and yet
romantic region. As they proceeded along the Rhone, however, she and
those of her companions to whom the scene was new, were constantly
wondering at some unlooked-for discrepancy, that drove them from
admiration to disgust--from the exclamations of delight to the chill of
disappointment. The mountains on every side were dreary, and without the
rich relief of the pastured eminences, but most of the valley was rich and
generous. In one spot a sac d'eau, one of those reservoirs of water which
form among the glaciers on the summits of the rocks, had broken, and,
descending like a water-spout, it had swept before it every vestige of
cultivation, covering wide breadths of the meadows with a debris that
resembled chaos. A frightful barrenness, and the most smiling fertility,
were in absolute contact: patches of green, that had been accidentally
favored by some lucky formation of the ground, sometimes appearing like
oases of the desert, in the very centre of a sterility that would put the
labor and the art of man at defiance for a century. In the midst of this
terrific picture of want sat a cretin, with his semi-human attributes, the
lolling tongue, the blunted faculties, and the degraded appetites, to
complete the desolation. Issuing from this belt of annihilated vegetation,
the scene became again as pleasant as the fancy could desire, or the eye
crave. Fountains leaped from rock to rock in the sun's rays; the valley
was green and gentle; the mountains began to show varied and pleasing
forms; and happy smiling faces appeared, whose freshness and regularity
were perhaps of a cast superior to that of most of the Swiss. In short,
the Valais was then; as now, a country of opposite extremes, but in which,
perhaps, there is a predominance of the repulsive and inhospitable.
It was fairly nightfall, notwithstanding the trifling distance they had
journeyed, when the travellers reached Martigny, where dispositions had
previously been made for their reception during the hours of sleep. Here
preparations were made to seek their rest at an early hour, in order to be
in readiness for the fatiguing toil of the following day.
Martigny is situated at the point where the great valley of the Rhone
changes its direction from a north and south to an east and west course,
and it is the spot whence three of the celebrated mountain paths diverge,
to make as many passages of the upper Alps. Here are the two routes of the
great and little St. Bernard, both of which lead into Italy, and that of
the Col-de-Balme, which crosses a spur of the Alps into Savoy toward the
celebrated valley of Chamouni. It was the intention of the Baron de
Willading and his friend to journey by the former of these roads, as has
so often been mentioned in these pages, their destination being the
capital of Piedmont. The passage of the great St. Bernard, though so long
known by its ancient and hospitable convent, the most elevated habitation
in Europe, and in these later times so famous for the passage of a
conquering army is but a secondary alpine pass, considered in reference to
the grandeur of its scenery. The ascent, so inartificial even to this
hour, is loner and comparatively without danger, and in general it is
sufficiently direct, there being no very precipitous rise like those of
the Gemmi, the Grimsel, and various other passes in Switzerland and Italy,
except at the very neck, or col, of the mountain, where the rock is to be
literally climbed on the rude and broad steps that so frequently occur
among the paths of the Alps and the Apennines. The fatigue of this passage
comes, therefore, rather from its length, and the necessity of unremitted
diligence, than from any excessive labor demanded by the ascent; and the
reputation acquired by the great captain of our age, in leading an army
across its summit, has been obtained more by the military combinations of
which it formed the principal feature, the boldness of the conception, and
the secrecy and promptitude with which so extensive an operation was
effected, than by the physical difficulties that were overcome. In the
latter particular, the passage of St. Bernard, as this celebrated
coup-de-main is usually called, has frequently been outdone in our own
wilds; for armies have often traversed regions of broad streams, broken
mountains, and uninterrupted forests, for weeks at a time, in which the
mere bodily labor of any given number of days would be found to be greater
than that endured on this occasion by the followers of Napoleon. The
estimate we attach to every exploit is so dependent on the magnitude of
its results, that men rarely come to a perfectly impartial judgment on its
merits; the victory or defeat, however simple or bloodless, that shall
shake or assure the interests of civilized society, being always esteemed
by the world an event of greater importance, than the happiest
combinations of thought and valor that affect only the welfare of some
remote and unknown people. By the just consideration of this truth, we
come to understand the value of a nation's possessing confidence in
itself, extensive power, and a unity commensurate to its means; since
small and divided states waste their strength in acts too insignificant
for general interest, frittering away their mental riches, no less than
their treasure and blood, in supporting interests that fail to enlist the
sympathies of any beyond the pale of their own borders. The nation which,
by the adverse circumstances of numerical inferiority, poverty of means,
failure of enterprise, or want of opinion, cannot sustain its own citizens
in the acquisition of a just renown, is deficient in one of the first and
most indispensable elements of greatness; glory, like riches, feeding
itself, and being most apt to be found where its fruits have already
accumulated. We see, in this fact, among other conclusions, the importance
of an acquisition of such habits of manliness of thought, as will enable
us to decide on the merits and demerits of what is done among ourselves,
and of shaking off that dependence on others which it is too much the
custom of some among us to dignify with the pretending title of deference
to knowledge and taste, but which, in truth, possesses some such share of
true modesty and diffidence, as the footman is apt to exhibit when
exulting in the renown of his master.
This little digression has induced us momentarily to overlook the
incidents of the tale. Few who possess the means, venture into the stormy
regions of the upper Alps, at the late season in which the present party
reached the hamlet of Martigny, without seeking the care of one or more
suitable guides. The services of these men are useful in a variety of
ways, but in none more than in offering the advice which long familiarity
with the signs of the heavens, the temperature of the air, and the
direction of the winds, enables them to give. The Baron de Willading, and
his friend, immediately dispatched a messenger for a mountaineer, of the
name of Pierre Dumont, who enjoyed a fair name for fidelity, and who was
believed to be better acquainted with all the difficulties of the ascent
and descent, than any other who journeyed among the glens of that part of
the Alps. At the present day, when hundreds ascend to the convent from
curiosity alone, every peasant of sufficient strength and intelligence
becomes a guide, and the little community of the lower Valais finds the
transit of the idle and rich such a fruitful source of revenue, that it
has been induced to regulate the whole by very useful and just ordinances;
but at the period of the tale, this Pierre was the only individual, who,
by fortunate concurrences, had obtained a name among affluent foreigners,
and who was at all in demand with that class of travellers. He was not
long in presenting himself in the public room of the inn--a hale, florid,
muscular man of sixty, with every appearance of permanent health and
vigor, but with a slight and nearly imperceptible difficulty of breathing.
"Thou art Pierre Dumont?" observed the baron, studying the open
physiognomy and well-set frame of the Valaisan, with satisfaction. "Thou
hast been mentioned by more than one traveller in his book."
The stout mountaineer raised himself in pride, and endeavored to
acknowledge the compliment in the manner of his well-meant but rude
courtesy; for refinement did not then extend its finesse and its deceit
among the glens of Switzerland.
"They have done me honor, Monsieur," he said: "it has been my good fortune
to cross the Col with many brave gentlemen and fair ladies--and in two
instances with princes." (Though a sturdy republican, Pierre was not
insensible to worldly rank.) "The pious monks know me well; and they who
enter the convent are not the worse received for being my companions. I
shall be glad to lead so fair a party from our cold valley into the sunny
glens of Italy, for, if the truth must be spoken, nature has placed us on
the wrong side of the mountain for our comfort, though we have our
advantage over those who live even in Turin and Milan, in matters of
"What can be the superiority of a Valaisan over the Lombard, or the
Piedmontese?" demanded the Signor Grimaldi quickly, like a man who was
curious to hear the reply. "A traveller should seek all kind of knowledge,
and I take this to be a newly-discovered fact."
"Liberty, Signore! We are our own masters; we have been so since the day
when our fathers sacked the castles of the barons, and compelled their
tyrants to become their equals. I think of this each time I reach the warm
plains of Italy, and return to my cottage a more contented man, for the
"Spoken like a Swiss, though it is uttered by an ally of the cantons!"
cried Melchior de Willading, heartily. "This is the spirit, Gaetano, which
sustains our mountaineers, and renders them more happy amid their frosts
and rocks, than thy Genoese on his warm and glowing bay."
"The word liberty, Melchior, is more used than understood, and as much
abused as used;" returned the Signor Grimaldi gravely. "A country on which
God hath laid his finger in displeasure as on this, needs have some such
consolation as the phantom with which the honest Pierre appears to be so
well satisfied.--But, Signor guide, have many travellers tried the passage
of late, and what dost thou think of our prospects in making the attempt?
We hear gloomy tales, sometimes, of thy alpine paths in that Italy thou
hold'st so cheap."
"Your pardon, noble Signore, if the frankness of a mountaineer has carried
me too far. I do not undervalue your Piedmont, because I love our Valais
more. A country may be excellent, even though another should be better. As
for the travellers, none of note have gone up the Col of late, though
there have been the usual number of vagabonds and adventurers. The savor
of the convent kitchen will reach the noses of these knaves here in the
valley, though we have a long twelve leagues to journey in getting from
one to the other."
The Signor Grimaldi waited until Adelheid and Christine, who were
preparing to retire for the night, were out of hearing, and he resumed his
"Thou hast not spoken of the weather?"
"We are in one of the most uncertain and treacherous months of the good
season, Messieurs. The winter is gathering among the upper Alps, and in a
month in which the frosts are flying about like uneasy birds that do not
know where to alight, one can hardly say whether he hath need of his cloak
"San Francesco! Dost think I am dallying with thee, friend, about a
thickness more or less of cloth! I am hinting at avalanches and falling
rocks--at whirlwinds and tempests?"
Pierre laughed and shook his head, though he answered vaguely as became
"These are Italian opinions of our hills, Signore," he said; "they savor
of the imagination. Our pass is not as often troubled with the avalanche
as some that are known, even in the melting snows. Had you looked at the
peaks from the lake, you would have seen that, the hoary glaciers
excepted, they are still all brown and naked. The snow must fall from the
heavens before it can fall in the avalanche, and we are yet, I think, a
few days from the true winter."
"Thy calculations are made with nicety, friend," returned the Genoese, not
sorry, however, to hear the guide speak with so much apparent confidence
of the weather, "and we are obliged to thee in proportion. What of the
travellers thou hast named? Are there brigands on our path?"
"Such rogues have been known to infest the place, but, in general, there
is too little to be gained for the risk. Your rich traveller is not an
every-day sight among our rocks; and you well know Signore, that there may
be too few, as well as too many, on a path, for your freebooter."
The Italian was distrustful by habit on all such subjects, and he threw a
quick suspicious glance at the guide. But the frank open countenance of
Pierre removed all doubt of his honesty, to say nothing of the effect of a
"But thou hast spoken of certain vagabonds who have preceded us?"
"In that particular, matters might be better;" answered the plain-minded
mountaineer, dropping his head in an attitude of meditation so naturally
expressed as to give additional weight to his words. "Many of bad
appearance have certainly gone up to-day; such as a Neapolitan named
Pippo, who is anything but a saint--a certain pilgrim, who will be nearer
heaven at the convent than he will be at the death--St. Pierre pray for me
if I do the man injustice!--and one or two more of the same brood. There
is another that hath gone up also, post haste, and with good reason as
they say, for he hath made himself the but of all the jokers in Vevey on
account of some foolery in the games of the Abbaye--a certain Jacques
The name was repeated by several near the speaker.
"The same, Messieurs. It would seem that the Sieur Colis would fain take a
maiden to wife in the public sports, and, when her birth came to be be
known, that his bride was no other than the child of Balthazar, the common
headsman of Berne!"
A general silence betrayed the embarrassment of most of the listeners.
"And that tale hath already reached this glen," said Sigismund, in a tone
so deep and firm as to cause Pierre to start, while the two old nobles
looked in another direction, feigning not to observe what was passing.
"Rumor hath a nimbler foot than a mule, young officer;" answered the
honest guide. "The tale, as you call it, will have travelled across the
mountains sooner than they who bore it--though I never knew how such a
miracle could pass--but so it is; report goes faster than the tongue that
spreads it, and if there be a little untruth to help it along, the wind
itself is scarcely swifter. Honest Jacques Colis has bethought him to get
the start of his story, but, my life on it, though he is active enough in
getting away from his mockers, that he finds it, with all the additions,
safely housed at the inn at Turin when he reaches that city himself."
"These, then, are all?" interrupted the Signor Grimaldi, who saw, by the
heaving bosom of Sigismund, that it was time in mercy to interpose.
"Not so, Signore--there is still another and one I like less than any. A
countryman of your own, who, impudently enough, calls himself Il
"The very same."
"Honest, courageous Maso, and his noble dog!"
"Signore, you describe the man so well in some things, that I wonder you
know so little of him in others. Maso hath not his equal on the road for
activity and courage, and the beast is second only to our mastiffs of the
convent for the same qualities; but when you speak of the master's
honesty, you speak of that for which the world gives him little credit,
and do great disparagement to the brute, which is much the best of the
two, in this respect."
"This may be true enough," rejoined the Signore Grimaldi, turning
anxiously towards his companions:--"man is a strange compound of good and
evil; his acts when left to natural impulses are so different from what
they become on calculation that one can scarcely answer for a man of
Maso's temperament. We know him to be a most efficient friend, and such a
man would be apt to make a very dangerous enemy! His qualities were not
given to him by halves. And yet we have a strong circumstance in our
favor; for he who hath once done the least service to a fellow-creature
feels a sort of paternity in him he hath saved, and would be little likely
to rob himself of the pleasure of knowing, that there are some of his kind
who owe him a grateful recollection."
This remark was answered by Melchior de Willading in the same spirit, and
the guide, perceiving he was no longer wanted, withdrew.
Soon after, the travellers retired to rest.
As yet the trembling year is unconfirmed,
And winter oft, at eve, resumes the breeze,
Chills the pale morn, and bids his driving sleets
Deform the day delightful:----
The horn of Pierre Dumont was blowing beneath the windows of the inn of
Martigny, with the peep of dawn. Then followed the appearance of drowsy
domestics, the saddling of unwilling mules, and the loading of baggage. A
few minutes later the little caravan was assembled, for the cavalcade
almost deserved this name, and the whole were in motion for the summits of
The travellers now left the valley of the Rhone to bury themselves amid
those piles of misty and confused mountains, which formed the back-ground
of the picture they had studied from the castle of Blonay and the sheet of
the Leman. They soon plunged into a glen, and, following the windings of a
brawling torrent, were led gradually, and by many turnings, into a country
of bleak upland pasturage, where the inhabitants gained a scanty
livelihood, principally by means of their dairies.
A few leagues above Martigny, the paths again separated, one inclining to
the left towards the elevated valley that has since become so celebrated
in the legends of this wild region, by the formation of a little lake in
its glacier, which, becoming too heavy for its foundation, broke through
its barrier of ice, and descended in a mountain of water to the Rhone, a
distance of many leagues, sweeping before it every vestige of civilization
that crossed its course, and even changing, in many places, the face of
nature itself. Here the glittering peak of Velan became visible, and,
though so much nearer to the eye than when viewed from Vevey, it was still
a distant shining pile, grand in its solitude and mystery, on which the
sight loved to dwell, as it studies the pure and spotless edges of some
It has already been said, that the ascent of the great St. Bernard, with
the exception of occasional hills and hollows, is nowhere very precipitous
but at the point at which the last rampart of rock is to be overcome. On
the contrary, the path, for leagues at a time, passes along tolerably even
valleys, though of necessity the general direction is upward, and for most
of the distance through a country that admits of cultivation, though the
meagreness of the soil, and the shortness of the seasons, render but an
indifferent return to the toil of the husbandman. In this respect it
differs from most of the other Alpine passes; but if it wants the variety,
wildness, and sublimity of the Splugen. the St. Gothard, the Gemmi, and
the Simplon, it is still an ascent on a magnificent scale, and he who
journeys on its path is raised, as it were, by insensible degrees, to an
elevation that gradually changes all his customary associations with the
things of the lower world.
From the moment of quitting the inn to that of the first halt, Melchior de
Willading and the Signor Grimaldi rode in company, as on the previous day.
These old friends had much to communicate in confidential discourse which
the presence of Roger de Blonay, and the importunities of the bailiff, had
hitherto prevented them from freely saying. Both had thought maturely,
too, on the situation of Adelheid, of her hopes, and of her future
fortunes, and both had reasoned much as two old nobles of that day, who
were not without strong sympathies for their kind, while they were too
practised to overlook the world and its ties, would be likely to reason on
an affair of this delicate nature.
"There came a feeling of regret, perhaps I might fairly call it by its
proper name, of envy," observed the Genoese, in the pursuance of the
subject which engrossed most of their time and thoughts, as they rode
slowly along, the bridles dangling from the necks of their mules,--"there
came a feeling of regret, when I first saw the fair creature that calls
thee father, Melchior. God has dealt mercifully by me, in respect to many
things that make men happy; but he rendered my marriage accursed, not only
in its bud, but in its fruit. Thy child is dutiful and loving, all that a
father can wish; and yet here is this unusual attachment come to
embarrass, if not to defeat, thy fair and just hopes for her welfare! This
is no common affair, that a few threats of bolts and a change of scene
will cure, but a rooted affection that is but too firmly based on
esteem.--By San Francesco, but I think, at times, thou wouldst do well to
permit the ceremony!"
"Should it be our fortune to meet with the absconding Jacques Colis at
Turin, he might give us different counsel," answered the old baron drily.
"That is a dreadful barrier to our wishes! Were the boy anything but a
headsman's child! I do not think thou couldst object, Melchior, had he
merely come of a hind, or of some common follower of thy family?"
"It were far better that he should have come of one like ourselves,
Gaetano. I reason but little on the dogmas of this or that sect in
politics; but I feel and think, in this affair, as the parent of an only
child. All those usages and opinions in which we are trained, my friend,
are so many ingredients in our happiness, let them be silly or wise, just
or oppressive; and though I would fain do that which is right to the rest
of mankind, I could wish to begin to practise innovation with any other
than my own daughter. Let them who like philosophy and justice, and
natural rights, so well, commence by setting us the example."
"Thou hast hit the stumbling-block that causes a thousand well-digested
plans for the improvement of the world to fail, honest Melchior. Could we
toil with others' limbs, sacrifice with others' groans, and pay with
others' means, there would be no end to our industry, our
disinterestedness, or our liberality--and yet it were a thousand pities
that so sweet a girl and so noble a youth should not yoke!"
"'Twould be a yoke indeed, for a daughter of the house of Willading;"
returned the graver father, with emphasis. "I have looked at this matter
in every face that becomes me, Gaetano, and though I would not rudely
repulse one that hath saved my life, by driving him from my company, at a
moment when even strangers consort for mutual aid and protection, at Turin
we must part for ever!"
"I know not how to approve, nor yet how to blame thee, poor Melchior!
'Twas a sad scene, that of the refusal to wed Balthazar's daughter, in the
presence of so many thousands!"
"I take it as a happy and kind warning of the precipice to which a foolish
tenderness was leading us both, my friend."
"Thou may'st have reason; and yet I wish thou wert more in error than ever
Christian was! These are rugged mountains, Melchior, and, fairly passed,
it might be so arranged that the boy should forget Switzerland for ever.
He might become a Genoese, in which event, dost thou not see the means of
overcoming some of the present difficulty?"
"Is the heiress of my house a vagrant, Signor Grimaldi, to forget her
country and birth?"
"I am childless, in effect, if not in fact; and where there are the will
and the means, the end should not be wanting. We will speak of this under
the warmer sun of Italy, which they say is apt to render hearts tender."
"The hearts of the young and amorous, good Gaetano, but, unless much
changed of late, it is as apt to harden those of the old, as any sun I
know of;" returned the baron, shaking his head, though it much exceeded
his power to smile at his own pleasantry when speaking on this painful
subject. "Thou knowest that in this matter I act only for the welfare of
Adelheid, without thought of myself; and it would little comport with the
honor of a baron of an ancient house, to be the grandfather of children
who come of a race of executioners."
The Signor Grimaldi succeeded better than his friend in raising a smile,
for, more accustomed to dive into the depths of human feeling, he was not
slow in detecting the mixture of motives that were silently exercising
their long-established influence over the heart of his really
"So long as thou speakest of the wisdom of respecting men's opinions, and
the danger of wrecking thy daughter's happiness by running counter to
their current, I agree with thee to the letter; but, to me, it seems
possible so to place the affair, that the world shall imagine all is in
rule, and, by consequence, all proper. If we can overcome ourselves,
Melchior, I apprehend no great difficulty in blinding others."
The head of the Bernois dropped upon his breast, and he rode a long
distance in that attitude, reflecting on the course it most became him to
pursue, and struggling with the conflicting sentiments which troubled his
upright but prejudiced mind. As his friend understood the nature of this
inward strife, he ceased to speak, and a long silence succeeded the
It was different with those who followed. Though long accustomed to gaze
at their native mountains from a distance, this was the first occasion on
which Adelheid and her companion had ever actually penetrated into their
glens, or journeyed on their broken and changing faces. The path of St.
Bernard, therefore, had all the charm of novelty, and their youthful and
ardent minds were soon won from meditating on their own causes of
unhappiness, to admiration of the sublime works of nature. The cultivated
taste of Adelheid, in particular, was quick in detecting those beauties of
a more subtle kind which the less instructed are apt to overlook, and she
found additional pleasure in pointing them out to the ingenuous and
wondering Christine, who received these, her first, lessons in that grand
communion with nature which is pregnant with so much unalloyed delight,
with gratitude and a readiness of comprehension, that amply repaid her
instructress. Sigismund was an attentive and pleased listener to what was
passing, though one who had so often passed the mountains, and who had
seen them familiarly on their warmer and more sunny side, had little to
learn, himself, even from so skilful and alluring a teacher.
As they ascended, the air became purer and less impregnated with the
humidity of its lower currents; changing, by a process as fine as that
wrought by a chemical application, the hues and aspect of every object in
the view. A vast hill-side lay basking in the sun, which illuminated on
its rounded swells a hundred long stripes of grain in every stage of
verdure, resembling so much delicate velvet that was thrown in a variety
of accidental faces to the light, while the shadows ran away, to speak
technically, from this _foyer de lumiere_ of the picture, in gradations of
dusky russet and brown, until the _colonne de vigueur_ was obtained in the
deep black cast from the overhanging branches of a wood of larch in the
depths of some ravine, into which the sight with difficulty penetrated.
These were the beauties on which Adelheid most loved to dwell, for they
are always the charms that soonest strike the true admirer of nature, when
he finds himself raised above the lower and less purified strata of the
atmosphere, into the regions of more radiant light and brightness. It is
thus that the physical, no less than the moral, vision becomes elevated
above the impurities that cling to this nether world, attaining a portion
of that spotless and sublime perception as we ascend, by which we are
nearly assimilated to the truths of creation; a poetical type of the
greater and purer enjoyment we feel, as morally receding from earth we
draw nearer to heaven.
The party rested for several hours, as usual, at the little mountain
hamlet of Liddes. At the present time, it is not uncommon for the
traveller, favored by a wheel-track along this portion of the route, to
ascend the mountain and to return to Martigny in the same day. The descent
in particular, after reaching the village just named, is soon made; but at
the period of our tale, such an exploit, if ever made, was of very rare
occurrence. The fatigue of being in the saddle so many hours compelled our
party to remain at the inn much longer than is now practised, and their
utmost hope was to be able to reach the convent before the last rays of
the sun had ceased to light the glittering peak of Velan.
There occurred here, too, some unexpected detention on the part of
Christine, who had retired with Sigismund soon after reaching the inn, and
who did not rejoin the party until the impatience of the guide had more
than once manifested itself in such complaints as one in his situation is
apt to hazard. Adelheid saw with pain, when her friend did at length
rejoin them, that she had been weeping bitterly; but, too delicate to
press her for an explanation on a subject in which it was evident the
brother and sister did not desire to bestow their confidence, she
communicated her readiness to depart to the domestics, without the
slightest allusion to the change in Christine's appearance, or to the
unexpected delay of which she had been the cause.
Pierre muttered an ave in thankfulness that the long halt was ended. He
then crossed himself with one hand, while with the other he flourished his
whip, among a crowd of gaping urchins and slavering cretins, to clear the
way for those he guided. His followers were, in the main of a different
mood. If the traveller too often reaches the inn hungry and disposed to
find fault, he usually quits it good-humored and happy. The restoration,
as it is well called in France, effected by means of the larder and the
resting of wearied limbs, is usually communicated to the spirits; and it
must be a crusty humor indeed, or singularly bad fare, that prevents a
return to a placid state of mind. The party, under the direction of
Pierre, formed no exception to the general rule. The two old nobles had so
far forgotten the subject of their morning dialogue, as to be facetious;
and, ere long, even their gentle companions were disposed to laugh at some
of their sallies, in spite of the load of care that weighed so constantly
and so heavily on both. In short, such is the waywardness of our feelings,
and so difficult is it to be always sorrowful as well as always happy,
that the well-satisfied landlady, who had, in truth, received the full
value of a very indifferent fare, was ready to affirm, as she curtsied her
thanks on the dirty threshold, that a merrier party had never left her
"We shall take our revenge out of the casks of the good Augustines
to-night for the sour liquor of this inn; is it not so, honest Pierre?"
demanded the Signor Grimaldi, adjusting himself in the saddle, as they got
clear of the stones, sinuosities, projecting roofs, and filth of the
village, into the more agreeable windings of the ordinary path, again.
"Our friend, the clavier, is apprized of the visit, and as we have already
gone through fair and foul in company, I look to his fellowship for some
compensation for the frugal meal of which we have just partaken."
"Father Xavier is a hospitable and a happy-minded priest, Signore; and
that the saints will long leave him keeper of the convent-keys, is the
prayer of every muleteer, guide, or pilgrim, who crosses the col. I wish
we were going up the rough steps, by which we are to climb the last rock
of the mountain, at this very moment, Messieurs, and that all the rest of
the way were as fairly done as this we have so happily passed."
"Dost thou anticipate difficulty, friend?" demanded the Italian, leaning
forward on his saddle-bow, for his quick observation had caught the
examining glance that the guide threw around at the heavens.
"Difficulty is a meaning not easily admitted by a mountaineer, Signore;
and I am one of the last to think of it, or to feel its dread. Still, we
are near the end of the season, and these hills are high and bleak, and
those that follow are delicate flowers for a stormy heath. Toil is always
sweeter in the remembrance than in the expectation.--I mean no more, if I
Pierre stopped his march as he ceased speaking. He stood on a little
eminence of the path, whence, by looking back, he commanded a view of the
opening among the mountains which indicates the site of the valley of the
Rhone. The look was long and understanding; but, when it was ended, he
turned and resumed his march with the business-like air of one more
disposed to act than to speculate on the future. But for the few words
which had just escaped him, this natural movement would have attracted no
attention; and, as it was, it was observed by none but the Signor
Grimaldi, who would himself have attached little importance to the whole,
had the guide maintained Ins usual pace.
As is common in the Alps, the conductor of the travellers went on foot,
leading the whole party at such a gait as he thought most expedient for
man and beast. Hitherto, Pierre had proceeded with sufficient leisure,
rendering it necessary for those who followed to observe the same
moderation; but he now walked sensibly faster, and frequently so fast as
to make it necessary for the mules to break into easy trots, in order to
maintain their proper stations. All this, however, was ascribed by most of
the party to the formation of the ground, for, after leaving Liddes, there
is a long reach of what, among the upper valleys of the Alps, may by
comparison be called a level road. This industry, too, was thought to be
doubly necessary, in order to repair the time lost at the inn, for the sun
was already dipping towards the western boundary of their narrow view of
the heavens, and the temperature announced, if not a sudden change in the
weather, at least the near approach of the periodical turn of the day.
"We travel by a very ancient path;" observed the Signore Grimaldi, when
his thoughts had reverted from their reflections on the movements of the
guide to the circumstance of their present situation. "A very reverend
path, it might be termed in compliment to the worthy monks who do so much
to lessen its dangers, and to its great antiquity. History speaks often of
its use by different leaders of armies, for it has long been a
thoroughfare for those who journey between the north and the south,
whether it be in strife, or in amity. In the time of Augustus it was the
route commonly used by the Roman legions in their passages to and from
Helvetia and Gaul; the followers of Caecinna went by these gorges to their
attack upon Otho; and the Lombards made the same use of it, five hundred
years later. It was often trod by armed bands, in the wars of Charles of
Burgundy, those of Milan, and in the conquests of Charlemagne. I remember
a tale, in which it is said that a horde of infidel Corsairs from the
Mediterranean penetrated by this road, and seized upon the bridge of St.
Maurice with a view to plunder. As we are not the first so it is probable
that we are not to be the last, who have trusted themselves in these
regions of the upper air, bent on our objects, whether of love or of
"Signore," observed Pierre respectfully, when the Genoese ceased speaking,
"if your eccellenza would make your discourse less learned, and more in
those familiar words which can be said under a brisk movement, it might
better suit the time and the great necessity there is to be diligent."
"Dost thou apprehend danger? Are we behind our time?--Speak; for I dislike
"Danger has a strong meaning in the mouth of a mountaineer, Signore; for
what is security on this path, might be thought alarming lower down in the
valleys; I say it not. But the sun is touching the rocks, as you see, and
we are drawing near to places where a miss-step of a mule in the dark
might cost us dear. I would that all diligently improve the daylight,
while they can."
The Genoese did not answer, but he urged his mule again to a gait that was
more in accordance with the wishes of Pierre. The movement was followed,
as a matter of course, by the rest; and the whole party was once more in a
gentle trot, which was scarcely sufficient, however, to keep even pace
with the long, impatient, and rapid strides of Pierre, who,
notwithstanding his years, appeared to get over the ground with a facility
that cost him no effort. Hitherto, the heat had not been small, and, in
that pure atmosphere, all its powers were felt during the time the sun's
rays fell into the valley; but, the instant they were intercepted by a
brown and envious peak of the mountains, their genial influence was
succeeded by a chill that sufficiently proved how necessary was the
presence of the luminary to the comfort of those who dwelt at that great
elevation. The females sought their mantles the moment the bright light
was followed by the usual shadow; nor was it long before even the more
aged of the gentlemen were seen unstrapping their cloaks, and taking the
customary precautions against the effects of the evening air.
The reader is not to suppose, however, that all these little incidents of
the way occurred in a time as brief as that which has been consumed in the
narration. A long line of path was travelled over before the Signor
Grimaldi and his friend were cloaked, and divers hamlets and cabins were
successively passed. The alteration from the warmth of day to the chill of
evening also was accompanied by a corresponding change in the appearance
of the objects they passed. St. Pierre, a cluster of stone-roofed
cottages, which bore all the characteristics of the inhospitable region
for which they had been constructed, was the last village; though there
was a hamlet, at the bridge of Hudri, composed of a few dreary abodes,
which, by their aspect, seemed the connecting link between the dwellings
of man and the caverns of beasts. Vegetation had long been growing more
and more meagre, and it was now fast melting away into still deeper and
irretrievable traces of sterility, like the shadows of a picture passing
through their several transitions of color to the depth of the
back-ground. The larches and cedars diminished gradually in size and
numbers, until the straggling and stinted tree became a bush, and the
latter finally disappeared in the shape of a tuft of pale green, that
adhered to some crevice in the rocks like so much moss. Even the mountain
grasses, for which Switzerland is so justly celebrated, grew thin and
wiry; and by the time the travellers reached the circular basin at the
foot of the peak of Velan, which is called La Plaine de Prou, there only
remained, in the most genial season of the year, and that in isolated
spots between the rocks, a sufficiency of nourishment for the support of a
small flock of adventurous, nibbling, and hungry goats.
The basin just alluded to is an opening among high pinnacles, and is
nearly surrounded by naked and ragged rocks. The path led through its
centre, always ascending on an inclined plane, and disappeared through a
narrow gorge around the brow of a beetling cliff. Pierre pointed out the
latter as the pass by far the most dangerous on this side the Col, in the
season of the melting snows, avalanches frequently rolling from its crags.
There was no cause for apprehending this well-known Alpine danger,
however, in the present moment; for, with the exception of Mont-Velan, all
above and around them lay in the same dreary dress of sterility. Indeed,
it would not be easy for the imagination to conceive a more eloquent
picture of desolation than that which met the eyes of the travellers, as,
following the course of the run of water that trickled through the middle
of the inhospitable valley, the certain indication of the general
direction of their course, they reached its centre.
The time was getting to be that of early twilight, but the sombre color of
the rocks, streaked and venerable by the ferruginous hue with which time
had coated their sides, and the depth of the basin, gave to their
situation a melancholy gloom passing the duskiness of the hour. On the
other hand, the light rested bright and gloriously on the snowy peak of
Velan, still many thousand feet above them, though in plain, and
apparently, in near view; while rich touches of the setting sun were
gleaming on several of the brown, natural battlements of the Alps, which,
worn with eternal exposure to the storms, still lay in sublime confusion
at a most painful elevation in their front. The azure vault that canopied
all, had that look of distant glory and of grand repose, which so often
meets the eye, and so forcibly strikes the mind, of him who travels in the
deep valleys and embedded lakes of Switzerland. The glacier of Valsorey
descended from the upper region nearly to the edge of the valley, bright
and shining, its lower margin streaked and dirty with the _debris_ of the
overhanging rocks, as if doomed to the fate of all that came upon the
earth, that of sharing its impurities.
There no longer existed any human habitation between the point which the
travellers had now attained and the convent, though more modern
speculation, in this age of curiosity and restlessness, has been induced
to rear a substitute for an inn in the spot just described, with the hope
of gleaning a scanty tribute from those who fail of arriving in season to
share the hospitality of the monks. The chilliness of the air increased
faster even than the natural change of the hour would seem to justify, and
there were moments when the dull sound of the wind descended to their
ears, though not a breath was stirring a withered and nearly solitary
blade of grass at their feet. Once or twice, large black clouds drove
across the opening above them, resembling heavy-winged vultures sailing in
the void, preparatory to a swoop upon their prey.
Through this gap
On and say nothing, lest a word, a breath,
Bring down a winter's snow, enough to whelm
The armed files that, night and day, were seen
Winding from cliff to cliff in loose array,
To conquer at Marengo.
Pierre Dumont halted in the middle of the sterile little plain, while he
signed for those he conducted to continue their ascent. As each mule
passed, it received a blow or a kick from the impatient guide, who did not
seem to think it necessary to be very ceremonious with the poor beasts,
and had taken this simple method to give a general and a brisker impulsion
to the party. The expedient was so natural, and so much in accordance with
the practice of the muleteers and others of their class, that it excited
no suspicion in most of the travellers, who pursued their way, either
meditating on and enjoying the novel and profound emotions that their
present situation so naturally awakened, or discoursing lightly, in the
manner of the thoughtless and unconcerned. The Signor Grimaldi alone,
whose watchfulness had already been quickened by previous distrust, took
heed of the movement. When all had passed, the Genoese turned in his
saddle, and cast an apparently careless look behind. But the glance in
truth was anxious and keen. Pierre stood looking steadily at the heavens,
one hand holding his hat, and the other extended with an open palm. A
glittering particle descended to the latter, when the guide instantly
resumed his place in advance. As he passed the Italian, however, meeting
an inquiring look, he permitted the other to see a snow-drop so
thoroughly congealed, as to have not yet melted with the natural heat of
his skin. The eye of Pierre appeared to impose discretion on his
confidant, and the silent communion escaped the observation of the rest of
the travellers. Just at this moment, too, the attention of the others was
luckily called to a different object, by a cry from one of the muleteers,
of whom there were three as assistants to the guide. He pointed out a
party which, like themselves, was holding the direction of the Col. There
was a solitary individual mounted on a mule, and a single pedestrian,
without any guide, or other traveller, in their company. Their movements
were swift, and they had not been more than a minute in view, before they
disappeared behind an angle of the crags which nearly closed the valley on
the side of the convent, and which was the precise spot already mentioned
as being so dangerous in the season of the melting snows.
"Dost thou know the quality and object of the travellers before us?"
demanded the Baron de Willading of Pierre.
The latter mused. It was evident he did not expect to meet with strangers
in that particular part of the passage.
"We can know little of those who come from the convent, though few would
be apt to leave so safe a roof at this late hour," he answered; "but,
until I saw yonder travellers with my own eyes, I could have sworn there
were none on this side of the Col going the same way as ourselves? It is
time that all the others were already arrived."
"They are villagers of St. Pierre, going up with supplies;" observed one
of the muleteers. "None bound to Italy have passed Liddes since the party
of Pippo, and they by this tine should be well housed at the hospice.
Didst not see a dog among them?--'twas one of the Augustines' mastiffs."
"'Twas the dog I noted, and it was on account of his appearance that I
spoke;" returned the baron. "The animal had the air of an old
acquaintance, Gaetano, for to me it seemed to resemble our tried friend
Nettuno; and he at whose heels it kept so close wore much the air of our
acquaintance of the Leman, the bold and ready Maso."
"Who has gone unrequited for his eminent services!" answered the Genoese,
thoughtfully "The extraordinary refusal of that man to receive our money
is quite as wonderful as any other part of his unusual and inexplicable
conduct. I would he had been less obstinate or less proud, for the
unrequited obligation rests like a load upon my spirits."
"Thou art wrong. I employed our young friend Sigismund secretly on this
duty, while we were receiving the greetings of Roger de Blonay and the
good bailiff, but thy countryman treated the escape lightly, as the
mariner is apt to consider past danger, and he would listen to no offer of
protection or gold. I was, therefore more displeased than surprised by
what thou hast well enough termed obstinacy."
"Tell your employers, he said," added Sigismund, "that they may thank the
saints, Our Lady, or brother Luther, as best suits their habits, but that
they had better forget that such a man as Maso lives. His acquaintance can
bring them neither honor nor advantage. Tell this especially to the Signor
Grimaldi, when you are on your journey to Italy, and we have parted for
ever, as on my suggestion. This was said to me, in the interview I held
with the I rave fellow after his liberation from prison."
"The answer was remarkable for a man of his condition, and the especial
message to myself of singular exception. I observed that his eye was
often on me, with peculiar meaning, during the passage of the lake, and
to this hour I have not been able to explain the motive!"
"Is the Signore of Genoa?"--asked the guide: "or is he, by chance, in any
way connected with her authorities?"
"Of that republic and city, and certainly of some little interest with the
authorities;" answered the Italian, a slight smile curling his lip, as he
glanced a look at his friend.
"It is not necessary to look farther for Maso's acquaintance with your
features," returned Pierre, laughing; "for of all who live in Italy, there
is not a man who has more frequent occasions to know the
authorities; but we linger, in this gossip. Urge the beasts upwards,
The muleteers answered this appeal by one of their long cries, which has a
resemblance to the rattling that is the well-known signal of the venomous
serpent of this country when he would admonish the traveller to move
quickly, and which certainly produces the same startling effect on the
nerves of the mule as the signal of the snake is very apt to excite in
man. This interruption caused the dialogue to be dropped, all riding
onward, musing in their several fashions on what had just passed. In a few
minutes the party turned the crag in question, and, quitting the valley,
or sterile basin, in which they had been journeying for the last half
hour, they entered by a narrow gorge into a scene that resembled a crude
collection of the materials of which the foundations of the world had been
originally formed. There was no longer any vegetation at all, or, if here
and there a blade of grass had put forth under the shelter of some stone,
it was so meagre, and of so rare occurrence, as to be unnoticed in that
sublime scene of chaotic confusion. Ferruginous, streaked, naked, and
cheerless rocks arose around them, and even that snowy beacon, the glowing
summit of Velan, which had so long lain bright and cheering on their path,
was now hid entirely from view. Pierre Dumont soon after pointed out a
place on the visible summit of the mountain, where a gorge between the
neigh boring peaks admitted a view of the heavens beyond. This he informed
those he guided was the Col, through whose opening the pile of the Alps
was to be finally surmounted. The light that still tranquilly reigned in
this part of the heavens was in sublime contrast to the gathering gloom of
the passes below, and all hailed this first glimpse of the end of their
day's toil as a harbinger of rest, and we might add of security; for,
although none but the Signor Grimaldi had detected the secret uneasiness
of Pierre, it was not possible to be, at that late hour, amid so wild and
dreary a display of desolation, and, as it were, cut off from communion
with their kind, without experiencing an humbling sense of the dependence
of man upon the grand and ceaseless Providence of God.
The mules were again urged to increase their pace, and images of the
refreshment and repose that were expected from the convent's hospitality,
became general and grateful among the travellers. The day was fast
disappearing from the glens and ravines through which they rode, and all
discourse ceased in the desire to get on. The exceeding purity of the
atmosphere, which, at that great elevation, resembled a medium of thought
rather than of matter, rendered objects defined, just, and near; and none
but the mountaineers and Sigismund, who were used to the deception, (for
in effect truth obtains this character with those who have been accustomed
to the false) and who understood the grandeur of the scale on which nature
has displayed her power among the Alps, knew how to calculate the
distance which still separated them from their goal. More than a league of
painful and stony ascent was to be surmounted, and yet Adelheid and
Christine had both permitted slight exclamations of pleasure to escape
them, when Pierre pointed to the speck of blue sky between the hoary
pinnacles above, and first gave them to understand that it denoted the
position of the convent. Here and there, too, small patches of the last
year's snow were discovered, lying under the shadows of overhanging rocks,
and which were likely to resist the powers of the sun till winter came
again; another certain sign that they had reached a height greatly
exceeding that of the usual habitations of men. The keenness of the air
was another proof of their situation, for all the travellers had heard
that the Augustines dwelt among eternal frosts, a report which is nearly
At no time during the day had the industry of the party been as great as
it now became. In this respect, the ordinary traveller is apt to resemble
him who journeys on the great highway of life, and who finds himself
obliged, by a tardy and ill-requited diligence in age, to repair those
omissions and negligences of youth which would have rendered the end of
his toil easy and profitable. Improved as their speed had become, it
continued to increase rather than to diminish, for Pierre Dumont kept his
eye riveted on the heavens, and each moment of time seemed to bring new
incentives to exertion. The wearied beasts manifested less zeal than the
guide, and they who rode them were beginning to murmur at the
unreasonableness of the rate at which they were compelled to proceed on
the narrow, uneven, stony path, where footing for the animals was not
always obtained with the necessary quickness, when a gloom deeper that
cast by the shadows of the rocks fell upon their track, and the air filled
with snow, as suddenly as if all its particles had been formed and
condensed by the application of some prompt chemical process.
The change was so unexpected, and yet so complete, that the whole party
checked their mules, and sat looking up at the millions of flakes that
were descending on their heads, with more wonder and admiration than fear.
A shout from Pierre first aroused them from this trance, and recalled them
to a sense of the real state of things. He was standing on a knoll,
already separated from the party by some fifty yards, white with snow, and
gesticulating violently for the travellers to come on.
"For the sake of the Blessed Maria! quicken the beasts," he cried; for
Pierre, like most who dwell in Valais, was a Catholic, and one accustomed
to bethink him most of his heavenly mediator when most oppressed with
present dangers; "quicken their speed, if ye value your lives! This is no
moment to gaze at the mountains, which are well enough in their way, and
no doubt both the finest and largest known," (no Swiss ever seriously
vituperates or loses his profound veneration for his beloved nature,) "but
which had better be the humblest plain on earth for our occasions than
what they truly are. Quicken the mules then, for the love of the Blessed
"Thou betrayest unnecessary, and, for one that had needs be cool,
indiscreet alarm, at the appearance of a little snow, friend Pierre,"
observed the Signer Grimaldi, as the mules drew near the guide, and
speaking with a little of the irony of a soldier who had steeled his
nerves by familiarity with danger. "Even we Italians, though less used to
the frosts than you of the mountains, are not so much disturbed by the
change, as thou, a trained guide of St. Bernard!"
"Reproach me as you will, Signore," said Pierre turning and pursuing his
way with increased diligence, though he did not entirely succeed in
concealing his resentment at an accusation which he knew to be unmerited,
"but quicken your pace; until you are better acquainted with the country
in which you journey, your words pass for empty breath in my ears. This is
no trifle of a cloak doubled about the person, or of balls rolled into
piles by the sport of children; but an affair of life or death. You are a
half league in the air, Signor Genoese, in the region of storms, where the
winds work their will, at times, as if infernal devils wore rioting to
cool themselves, and where the stoutest limbs and the firmest hearts are
brought but too often to see and confess their feebleness!"
The old man had uncovered his blanched locks in respect to the Italian, as
he uttered this energetic remonstrance, and when he ended, he walked on
with professional pride, as if disdaining to protect a brow that had
already weathered so many tempests among the mountains.
"Cover thyself, good Pierre, I pray thee:" urged the Genoese in a tone of
repentance. "I have shown the intemperance of a boy, and intemperance of a
quality that little becomes my years. Thou art the best judge of the
circumstances in which we are placed, and thou alone shalt lead us."
Pierre accepted the apology with a manly but respectful reverence,
continuing always to ascend with unremitted industry.
Ten gloomy and anxious minutes succeeded. During this time, the falling
snows came faster and in finer flakes, while, occasionally, there were
fearful intimations that the winds were about to rise. At the elevation
in which the travellers now found themselves, phenomena, that would
ordinarily be of little account, become the arbiters of fate. The escape
of the caloric from the human system, at the height of six or seven
thousand feet above the sea, and in the latitude of forty-six, is, under
the most favorable circumstances, frequently of itself the source of
inconvenience; but here were grave additional reasons to heighten the
danger. The absence of the sun's rays alone left a sense of chilling cold,
and a few hours of night were certain to bring frost, even at midsummer.
Thus it is that storms of trifling import in themselves gain power over
the human frame, by its reduced means of resistance, and when to this fact
is added the knowledge that the elements are far fiercer in their workings
in the upper than in the nether regions of the earth, the motives of
Pierre's concern will be better understood by the reader than they
probably wese by himself, though the honest guide had a long and severe
experience to supply the place of theory.
Men are rarely loquacious in danger. The timid recoil into themselves,
yielding most of their faculties to a tormenting imagination, that
augments the causes of alarm and diminishes the means of security, while
the firm of mind rally and condense their powers to the point necessary to
exertion. Such were the effects in the present instance, on those who
followed Pierre. A general and deep silence pervaded the party, each one
seeing their situation in the colors most suited to his particular habits
and character. The men, without an exception, were grave and earnest in
their efforts to force the mules forward; Adelheid became pale, but she
preserved her calmness by the sheer force of character; Christine was
trembling and dependent, though cheered by the presence of, and her
confidence in, Sigismund; while the attendants of the heiress of Willading
covered their heads, and followed their mistress with the blind faith in
their superiors that is apt to sustain people of their class in serious
Ten minutes sufficed entirely to change the aspect of the view. The frozen
element could not adhere to the iron-like and perpendicular faces of the
mountains, but the glens, and ravines, and valleys became as white as the
peak of Velan. Still Pierre continued his silent and upward march, in a
way to keep alive a species of trembling hope among those who depended so
helplessly upon his intelligence and faith. They wished to believe that
the snow was merely one of those common occurrences that were to be
expected on the summits of the Alps at this late season of the year, and
which were no more than so many symptoms of the known rigor of the
approaching winter. The guide himself was evidently disposed to lose no
time in explanation, and as the secret excitement stole over all his
followers, he no longer had cause to complain of the tardiness of their
movements. Sigismund kept near his sister and Adelheid, having a care that
their mules did not lag; while the other males performed the same
necessary office for the beasts ridden by the female domestics. In this
manner passed the few sombre minutes which immediately preceded the
disappearance of day. The heavens were no longer visible. In that
direction the eye saw only an endless succession of falling flakes, and it
was getting to be difficult to distinguish even the ramparts of rock that
bounded the irregular ravine in which they rode. They were known to be,
however, at no great distance from the path, which indeed occasionally
brushed their sides. At other moments they crossed rude, stony, mountain
heaths, if such a word can be applied to spots without the symbol or hope
of vegetation. The traces of the beasts that had preceded them, became
less and less apparent, though the trickling stream that came down from
the glaciers, and along which they had now journeyed-for hours, was
occasionally seen, as it was crossed in pursuing their winding way.
Pierre, though still confident that he held the true direction, alone knew
that this guide was not longer to be relied on; for, as they drew nearer
to the top of the mountains, the torrent gradually lessened both in its
force and in the volume of its water, separating into twenty small rills,
which came rippling from the vast bodies of snow that lay among the
different peaks above.
As yet, there had been no wind. The guide, as minute after minute passed
without bringing any change in this respect, ventured at last to advert to
the fact, cheering his companions by giving them reasons to hope that they
should yet reach the convent without any serious calamity. As if in
mockery of this opinion, the flakes of snow began to whirl in the air,
while the words were on his lips, and a blast came through the ravine,
that set the protection of cloaks and mantles at defiance. Notwithstanding
his resolution and experience, the stout-hearted Pierre suffered an
exclamation of despair to escape him, and he instantly stopped, in the
manner of a man who could no longer conceal the dread that had been
collecting in his bosom for the last interminable and weary hour.
Sigismund, as well as most of the men of the party, had dismounted a
little previously, with a view to excite warmth by exercise. The youth had
often traversed the mountains, and the cry no sooner reached his ear, than
he was at the side of him who uttered it.
"At what distance, are we still from the convent?" he demanded eagerly.
"There is more than a league of steep and stone path to mount, Monsieur le
Capitaine;" returned the disconsolate Pierre, in a tone that perhaps said
more than his words.
"This is not a moment for indecision. Remember that thou art not the
leader of a party of carriers with their beasts of burthen, but that there
are those with us, who are unused to exposure, and are feeble of body.
What is the distance from the last hamlet we passed?"
"Double that to the convent!"
Sigismund turned, and with the eye he made a silent appeal to the two old
nobles, as if to ask for advice or orders.
"It might indeed be better to return," observed the Signore Grimaldi, in
the way one utters a half-formed resolution. "This wind is getting to be
piercingly cutting, and the night is hard upon us. What thinkest thou,
Melchior; for, with Monsieur Sigismund, I am of opinion that there is
little time to lose."
"Signore, your pardon," hastily interrupted the guide. "I would not
undertake to cross the plain of the Velan an hour later, for all the
treasures of Einsideln and Loretto! The wind will have an infernal sweep
in that basin, which will soon be boiling like a pot, while here we shall
get, from time to time, the shelter of the rocks. The slightest mishap on
the open ground might lead us astray a league or more, and it would need
an hour to regain the course. The beasts too mount faster than they
descend, and with far more surety in the dark; and even when at the
village there is nothing fit for nobles, while the brave monks have all
that a king can need."
"Those who escape from these wild rocks need not be critical about their
fare, honest Pierre, when fairly housed. Wilt thou answer for our arrival
at the convent unharmed, and in reasonable time?"
"Signore, we are in the hands of God. The pious Augustines, I make no
doubt, are praying for all who are on the mountain at this moment; but
there is not a minute to lose. I ask no more than that none lose sight of
their companions, and that each exert his force to the utmost. We are not
far from the House of Refuge, and should the storm increase to a tempest,
as, to conceal the danger no longer, well may happen in this late month,
we will seek its shelter for a few hours."
This intelligence was happily communicated, for the certainty that there
was a place of safety within an attainable distance, had some such
cheering effect on the travellers as is produced on the mariner who finds
that the hazards of the gale are lessened by the accidental position of a
secure harbor under his lee. Repeating his admonitions for the party to
keep as close together as possible, and advising all who felt the sinister
effects of the cold on their limbs to dismount, and to endeavor to restore
the circulation by exercise, Pierre resumed his route.
But even the time consumed in this short conference had sensibly altered
the condition of things for the worse. The wind, which had no fixed
direction, being a furious current of the upper air diverted from its true
course by encountering the ragged peaks and ravines of the Alps, was now
whirling around them in eddies, now aiding their ascent by seeming to push
against their backs, and then returning in their faces with a violence
that actually rendered advance impossible. The temperature fell rapidly
several degrees, and the most vigorous of the party began to perceive the
benumbing influence of the chilling currents, at their lower extremities
especially, in a manner to excite serious alarm. Every precaution was used
to protect the females that tenderness could suggest; but though Adelheid,
who alone retained sufficient self-command to give an account of her
feelings, diminished the danger of their situation with the wish not to
alarm their companions uselessly, she could not conceal from herself the
horrible truth that the vital heat was escaping from her own body, with a
rapidity that rendered it impossible for her much longer to retain the use
of her faculties. Conscious of her own mental superiority over that of all
her female companions, a superiority which in such moments is even of more
account than bodily force, after a few minutes of silent endurance, she
checked her mule, and called upon Sigismund to examine the condition of
his sister and her maids, neither of whom had now spoken for some time.
This startling request was made at a moment when the storm appeared to
gather new force, and when it had become absolutely impossible to
distinguish even the whitened earth at twenty paces from the spot where
the party stood collected in a shivering group. The young soldier threw
open the cloaks and mantles in which Christine was enveloped, and the
half-unconscious girl sank on his shoulder, like a drowsy infant that was
willing to seek its slumbers in the arms of one it loved.
"Christine!--my sister!--my poor, my much-abused, angelic sister!"
murmured Sigismund, happily for his secret in a voice that only reached
the ears of Adelheid. "Awake! Christine; for the love of our excellent and
affectionate mother, exert thyself. Awake! Christine, in the name of God,
"Awake, dearest Christine!" exclaimed Adelheid, throwing herself from the
saddle, and folding the smiling but benumbed girl to her bosom. "God
protect me from the pang of feeling that thy loss should be owing to my
wish to lead thee amid these cruel and inhospitable rocks! Christine, if
thou hast love or pity for me, awake!"
"Look to the maids!" hurriedly said Pierre, who found that he was fast
touching on one of those mountain catastrophes, of which, in the course of
his life, he had been the witness of a few of fearful consequences. "Look
to all the females, for he who now sleeps, dies!"
The muleteers soon stripped the two domestics of their outer coverings,
and it was immediately proclaimed that both were in imminent danger, one
having already lost all consciousness. A timely application of the flask
of Pierre, and the efforts of the muleteers, succeeded so far in restoring
life as to remove the grounds of immediate apprehension; though it was
apparent to the least instructed of them all, that half an hour more of
exposure would probably complete the fatal work that had so actively and
vigorously commenced. To add to the horror of this conviction, each member
of the party, not excepting the muleteers, was painfully conscious of the
escape of that vital warmth whose total flight was death.
In this strait all dismounted. They felt that the occasion was one of
extreme jeopardy, that nothing could save them but resolution, and that
every minute of time was getting to be of the last importance. Each
female, Adelheid included, was placed between two of the other sex, and,
supported in this manner, Pierre called loudly and in a manful voice for
the whole to proceed. The beasts were driven after them by one of the
The progress of travellers, feeble as Adelheid and her companions, on a
stony path of very uneven surface, and of a steep ascent, the snow
covering the feet, and the tempest cutting their faces, was necessarily
slow, and to the last degree toilsome. Still, the exertion increased the
quickness of the blood, and, for a short time, there was an appearance of
recalling those who most suffered to life. Pierre, who still kept his post
with the hardihood of a mountaineer, and the fidelity of a Swiss, cheered
them on with his voice, continuing to raise the hope that the place of
refuge was at hand.
At this instant, when exertion was most needed, and when, apparently, all
were sensible of its importance and most disposed to make it, the muleteer
charged with the duty of urging on the line of beasts deserted his trust,
preferring to take his chance of regaining the village by descending the
mountain, to struggle uselessly, and at a pace so slow, to reach the
convent. The man was a stranger in the country, who had been
adventitiously employed for this expedition, and was unconnected with
Pierre by any of those ties which are the best pledges of unconquerable
faith, when the interests of self press hard upon our weaknesses. The
wearied beasts, no longer driven, and indisposed to toil, first stopped,
then turned aside to avoid the cutting air and the ascent, and were soon
wandering from the path it was so vitally necessary to keep.
As soon as Pierre was informed of the circumstance, he eagerly issued an
order to collect the stragglers without delay, and at every hazard.
Benumbed, bewildered, and unable to see beyond a few yards, this
embarrassing duty was not easily performed. One after another of the party
joined in the pursuit, for all the effects of the travellers were on the
beasts; and after some ten minutes of delay, blended with an excitement
which helped to quicken the blood and to awaken the faculties of even the
females, the mules were all happily regained. They were secured to each
other head and tail, in the manner so usual in the droves of these
animals, and Pierre turned to resume the order of the march. But on
seeking the path, it was not to be found! Search was made on every side,
and yet none could meet with the smallest of its traces. Broken, rough
fragments of rock, were all that rewarded the most anxious investigation;
and after a few precious minutes uselessly wasted, they all assembled
around the guide, as if by common consent, to seek his counsel. The truth
was no longer to be concealed--the party was lost!
Let no presuming railer tax
Creative wisdom, as if aught was form'd
In vain, or not for admirable ends.
So long as we possess the power to struggle, hope is the last feeling to
desert the human mind. Men are endowed with every gradation of courage,
from the calm energy of reflection, which is rendered still more effective
by physical firmness, to the headlong precipitation of reckless spirit:
from the resolution that grows more imposing and more respectable as there
is greater occasion for its exercise, to the fearful and ill-directed
energies of despair. But no description with the pen can give the reader a
just idea of the chill that comes over the heart when accidental causes
rob us, suddenly and without notice, of those resources on which we have
been habitually accustomed to rely. The mariner without his course or
compass loses his audacity and coolness, though the momentary danger be
the same; the soldier will fly, if you deprive him of his arms; and the
hunter of our own forests who has lost his landmarks, is transformed from
the bold and determined foe of its tenants, into an anxious and dependent
fugitive, timidly seeking the means of retreat. In short, the customary
associations of the mind being rudely and suddenly destroyed, we are made
to feel that reason, while it elevates us so far above the brutes as to
make man their lord and governor, becomes a quality less valuable than
instinct, when the connecting link in its train of causes and effects is
It was no more than a natural consequence of his greater experience, that
Pierre Dumont understood the horrors of their present situation far better
than any with him. It is true, there yet remained enough light to enable
him to pick his way over the rocks and stones, but he had sufficient
experience to understand that there was less risk in remaining stationary
than in moving; for, while there was only one direction that led towards
the Refuge, all the rest would conduct them to a greater distance from the
shelter, which was now the only hope. On the other hand, a very few
minutes of the intense cold, and of the searching wind to which they were
exposed, would most probably freeze the currents of life in the feebler of
those intrusted to his care.
"Hast thou aught to advise?" asked Melchior de Willading, folding Adelheid
to his bosom, beneath his ample cloak, and communicating, with a father's
love, a small portion of the meagre warmth that still remained in his own
aged frame to that of his drooping daughter--"canst thou bethink thee of
nothing, that may be done, in this awful strait?"
"If the good monks have been active--" returned the wavering Pierre. "I
fear me that the dogs have not yet been exercised, on the paths, this
"Has it then come to this! Are our lives indeed dependent on the uncertain
sagacity of brutes!"
"Mein Herr, I would bless the Virgin, and her holy Son, if it were so! But
I fear this storm has been so sudden and unexpected, that we may not even
hope for their succor."
Melchior groaned. He folded his child still nearer to his heart, while the
athletic Sigismund shielded his drooping sister, as the fowl shelters its
young beneath the wing.
"Delay is death," rejoined the Signor Grimaldi. "I have heard of muleteers
that have been driven to kill their beasts, that shelter and warmth might
be found in their entrails."
"The alternative is horrible!" interrupted Sigismund. "Is return
impossible? By always descending, we must, in time reach the village
"That time would be fatal," answered Pierre. "I know of only one resource
that remains. If the party will keep together, and answer my shouts I will
make another effort to find the path."
This proposal was gladly accepted, for energy and hope go hand-in-hand,
and the guide was about to quit the group, when he felt the strong grasp
of Sigismund on his arm.
"I will be thy companion," said the soldier firmly.
"Thou hast not done me justice, young man," answered Pierre, with severe
reproach in his manner. "Had I been base enough to desert my trust, these
limbs and this strength are yet sufficient to carry me safely down the
mountain; but though a guide of the Alps may freeze like another man, the
last throb of his heart will be in behalf of those he serves!"
"A thousand pardons brave old man--a thousand pardons; still, will I be
thy companion; the search that is conducted by two will be more likely to
succeed, than that on which thou goes alone."
The offended Pierre, who liked the spirit of the youth as much as he
disliked his previous suspicions, met the apology frankly. He extended his
hand and forgot the feelings, that, even amid the tempests of those wild
mountains, were excited by a distrust of his honesty. After this short
concession to the ever-burning, though smothered volcano, of human
passion, they left the group together, in order to make a last search for
The snow by this time was many inches deep, and as the road was at best
but a faint bridle-path that could scarcely be distinguished by day-light
from the debris which strewed the ravines, the undertaking would have been
utterly hopeless, had not Pierre known that there was the chance of still
meeting with some signs of the many mules that daily went up and down the
mountain. The guide called to the muleteers, who answered his cries every
minute, for so long as they kept within the sound of each other's voices,
there was no danger of their becoming entirely separated. But, amid the
hollow roaring of the wind, and the incessant pelting of the storm, it was
neither safe nor practicable to venture far asunder. Several little stony
knolls were ascended and descended, and a rippling rill was found, but
without bringing with it any traces of the path. The heart of Pierre began
to chill with the decreasing; warmth of his body, and the firm old man,
overwhelmed with his responsibility while his truant thoughts would
unbidden recur to those whom he had left in his cottage at the foot of the
mountain, gave way at last to his emotions in a paroxysm of grief,
wringing his hands, weeping and calling loudly on God for succor. This
fearful evidence of their extremity worked upon the feelings of Sigismund
until they were wrought up nearly to frenzy. His great physical force
still sustained him, and in an access of energy that was fearfully allied
to madness, he rushed forward into the vortex of snow and hail, as if
determined to leave all to the Providence of God, disappearing from the
eyes of his companion. This incident recalled the guide to his senses. He
called earnestly on the thoughtless youth to return. No answer was given,
and Pierre hastened back to the motionless and shivering party, in order
to unite all their voices in a last effort to be heard. Cry upon cry was
raised, but each shout was answered merely by the hoarse rushing of the
"Sigismund! Sigismund!" called one after another, in hurried and alarmed
"The noble boy will be irretrievably lost!" exclaimed the Signor Grimaldi,
in despair, the services already rendered by the youth, together with his
manly qualities, having insensibly and closely wound themselves around his
heart. "He will die a miserable death, and without the consolation of
meeting his fate in communion with his fellow-sufferers!"
A shout from Sigismund came whirling past, as if the sound were embodied
in the gale.
"Blessed ruler of the earth, this is alone the mercy!" exclaimed Melchior
de Willading,--"he has found the path!"
"And honor to thee, Maria--thou mother of God!" murmured the Italian.
At that moment, a dog came leaping and barking through the snow. It
immediately was scenting and whining among the frozen travellers. The
exclamations of joy and surprise were scarcely uttered before Sigismund,
accompanied by another, joined the party.
"Honor and thanks to the good Augustines!" cried the delighted guide;
"this is the third good office of the kind, for which I am their debtor!"
"I would it were true, honest Pierre," answered the stranger. "But Maso
and Nettuno are poor substitutes, in a tempest like this, for the servants
and beasts of St. Bernard. I am a wanderer, and lost like yourselves, and
my presence brings little other relief than that which is known to be the
fruit of companionship in misery. The saints have brought me a second time
into your company when matters were hanging between life and death!"
Maso made this last remark when, by drawing nearer the group, he had been
able to ascertain, by the remains of the light, of whom the party was
"If it is to be as useful now as thou hast already been," answered the
Genoese, "it will be happier for us all, thyself included: bethink thee
quickly of thy expedients, and I will make thee an equal sharer of all
that a generous Providence hath bestowed."
Il Maledetto rarely listened to the voice of the Signor Grimaldi, without
a manner of interest and curiosity which, as already mentioned, had more
than once struck the latter himself, but which he quite naturally
attributed to the circumstance of his person being known to one who had
declared himself to be a native of Genoa. Even at this terrible moment,
the same manner was evident and the noble, thinking it a favorable
symptom, renewed the already neglected offer of fortune, with a view to
quicken a zeal which he reasonably enough supposed would be most likely to
be awakened by the hopes of a substantial reward.
"Were there question here, illustrious Signore," answered Maso, "of
steering a barge, of shortenning sail, or of handling a craft of any rig
or construction, in gale, squall, hurricane, or a calm among breakers, my
skill and experience might be turned to good account; but setting aside
the difference in our strength and hardihood, even that lily which is in
so much danger of being nipped by the frosts, is not more helpless than I
am myself at this moment. I am no better than yourselves, Signori, and,
though a better mountaineer perhaps, I rely on the favor of the saints to
be succored, or my time must finish among the snows instead of in the surf
of a sea-shore, as, until now, I had always believed would be my fate."
"But the dog--thy admirable dog!"
"Ah, eccellenza, Nettuno is but a useless beast, here! God has given him a
thicker mantle, and a warmer dress than to us Christians, but even this
advantage will soon prove a curse to my poor friend. The long hair he
carries will quickly be covered with icicles, and, as the snow deepens, it
will retard his movements. The dogs of St. Bernard are smoother, have
longer limbs, a truer scent and possess the advantage of being trained to
A tremendous shout of Sigismund's interrupted Maso,--the youth, on finding
that the accidental meeting with the mariner was not likely to lead to any
immediate advantages, having instantly, accompanied by Pierre and one of
his assistants, renewed the search. The cry was echoed from the guide and
the muleteer, and then all three were seen flying through the snow,
preceded by a powerful mastiff. Nettuno, who had been crouching with his
bushy tail between his legs, barked, seemed to arouse with renewed
courage, and then leaped with evident joy and good-will upon the back of
his old antagonist Uberto.
The dog of St. Bernard was alone. But his air and all his actions were
those of an animal whose consciousness was wrought up to the highest pitch
permitted by the limits nature had set to the intelligence of a brute. He
ran from one to another, rubbed his glossy and solid side against the
limbs of all, wagged his tail, and betrayed the usual signs that creatures
of his species manifest, when their instinct is most alive. Luckily he had
a good interpreter of his meaning in the guide, who, knowing the habits,
and, if it may be so expressed, the intentions of the mastiff, feeling
there was not a moment to lose if they would still preserve the feebler
members of their party, begged the others to hasten the necessary
dispositions to profit by this happy meeting. The females were supported
as before, the mules fastened together, and Pierre, placing himself in
front, called cheerfully to the dog, encouraging him to lead the way.
"Is it quite prudent to confide so implicitly to the guidance of this
brute?" asked the Signor Grimaldi a little doubtingly, when he saw the
arrangement on which, by the increasing gloom and the growing intensity of
the cold, it was but too apparent, even to one as little accustomed to the
mountains as himself, that the lives of the whole party depended.
"Fear not to trust to old Uberto, Signore," answered Pierre, moving onward
as he spoke, for to think of further delay was out of the question; "fear
nothing for the faith or the knowledge of the dog. These animals are
trained by the servants of the convent to know and keep the paths, even
when the snows lie on them fathoms deep. God has given them stout hearts,
long limbs, and short hair expressly, as it has often seemed to me, for
this end; and nobly do they use the gifts! I am acquainted with all their
ways, for we guides commonly learn the ravines of St. Bernard by first
serving the claviers of the convent, and many a day have I gone up and
down these rocks with a couple of these animals in training for this very
purpose. The father and mother of Uberto were my favorite companions, and
their son will hardly play an old friend of the family false."
The travellers followed their leader with more confidence, though blindly.
Uberto appeared to perform his duty with the sobriety and steadiness that
became his years, and which, indeed, were very necessary for the
circumstances in which they were placed. Instead of bounding ahead and
becoming lost to view, as most probably would have happened with a younger
animal, the noble and half-reasoning brute maintained a pace that was
suited to the slow march of those who supported the females, occasionally
stopping to look back, as if to make sure that none were left.
The dogs of St. Bernard are, or it might perhaps be better to say
were,--for it is affirmed that the ancient race is lost,--chosen for their
size, their limbs, and the shortness of their coats, as has just been
stated by Pierre; the former being necessary to convey the succor with
which they were often charged, as well as to overcome the difficulties of
the mountains, and the two latter that they might the better wade through,
and resist the influence of, the snows. Their training consisted in
rendering them familiar with, and attached to, the human race; in teaching
them to know and to keep the paths on all occasions, except such as called
for a higher exercise of their instinct, and to discover the position of
those who had been overwhelmed by the avalanches; and; to assist in
disinterring their bodies. In all these duties Uberto had been so long
exercised, that he was universally know to be the most sagacious and the
most trusty animal on the mountain. Pierre followed his steps with so much
greater-reliance on his intelligence, from being perfectly acquainted with
the character of the dog. When, therefore, he saw the mastiff turn at
right angles to the course he had just been taking, the guide, on reaching
the spot, imitated his example, and, first removing the snow to make sure
of the fact, he joyfully proclaimed to those who came after him that the
lost path was found. This intelligence sounded like a reprieve from death,
though the mountaineers well knew that more than an hour of painful and
increasing toil was still necessary to reach the hospice. The chilled
blood of the tender beings who were fast dropping into the terrible sleep
which is the forerunner of death, was quickened in their veins, however,
when they heard the shout of delight that spontaneously broke from all
their male companions, on learning the glad tidings.
The movement was now faster, though embarrassed and difficult on account
of the incessant pelting of the storm and the influence of the biting
cold, which were difficult to be withstood by even the strongest of the
party. Sigismund groaned inwardly, as he thought of Adelheid and his
sister's being exposed to a tempest which shook the stoutest frame and the
most manly heart among them. He encircled the latter with an arm, rather
carrying than leading her along, for the young soldier had sufficient
knowledge of the localities of the mountain to understand that they were
still at a fearful distance from the Col, and that the strength of
Christine was absolutely unequal to the task of reaching it unsupported.
Occasionally Pierre spoke to the dogs, Nettuno keeping close to the side
of Uberto in order to prevent separation, since the path was no longer
discernible without constant examination, the darkness having so far
increased as to reduce the sight to very narrow limits. Each time the name
of the latter was pronounced, the animal would stop, wag his tail, or give
some other sign of recognition, as if to reassure his followers of his
intelligence and fidelity. After one of these short halts, old Uberto and
his companion unexpectedly refused to proceed. The guide, the two old
nobles, and at length the whole party, were around them, and no cry or
encouragement of the mountaineers could induce the dogs to quit their
"Are we again lost?" asked the Baron de Willading, pressing Adelheid
closer to his beating heart, nearly ready to submit to their common fate
in despair. "Has God at length forsaken us?--my daughter--my beloved
This touching appeal was answered by a howl from Uberto, who leaped madly
away and disappeared. Nettuno followed, barking wildly and with a deep
throat. Pierre did not hesitate about following, and Sigismund, believing
that the movement of the guide was to arrest the flight of the dogs, was
quickly on his heels. Maso moved with greater deliberation.
"Nettuno is not apt to raise that bark with nothing but hail, and snow,
and wind in his nostrils," said the calculating Italian. "We are either
near another party of travellers, for such are on the mountains as I know"
"God forbid! Art sure of this?" demanded the Signor Grimaldi, observing
that the other had suddenly checked himself.
"Sure that others _were_, Signore," returned the mariner deliberately, as
if he measured well the meaning of each word. "Ah, here comes the trusty
beast, and Pierre, and the Captain, with their tidings, be they good or be
The two just named rejoined their friends a Maso ceased speaking. They
hurriedly informed the shivering travellers that the much desired Refuge
was near, and that nothing but the darkness and the driving snow prevented
it from being seen.
"It was a blessed thought, and one that came from St. Augustine himself,
which led the holy monks to raise this shelter!" exclaimed the delighted
Pierre, no longer considering it necessary to conceal the extent of the
danger they had run. "I would not answer even for my own power to reach
the hospice in a time like this. You are of mother church, Signore, being
"I am one of her unworthy children," returned the Genoese.
"This unmerited favor must have come from the prayers of St. Augustine,
and a vow I made to send a fair offering to our Lady of Einsiedeln; for
never before have I known a dog of St. Bernard lead the traveller to the
Refuge! Their business is to find the frozen, and to guide the traveller
along the paths to the hospice. Even Uberto had his doubts, as you saw,
but the vow prevailed; or, I know not--it might, indeed, have been the
The Signor Grimaldi was too eager to get Adelheid under cover, and, in
good sooth, to be there himself, to waste the time in discussing the
knotty point of which of two means that were equally orthodox, had been
the most efficacious in bringing about their rescue. In common with the
others, he followed the pious and confiding Pierre in silence, making the
best of his way after the credit lous guide. The latter had not yet seen
the Refuge himself, for so these places are well termed on the Alpine
passes, but the information of the ground had satisfied him of its
proximity. Once reassured as to his precise position, all the surrounding
localities presented themselves to his mind with the familiarity the
seaman manifests with every cord in the intricate maze of his rigging, in
the darkest night, or, to produce a parallel of more common use, with the
readiness which all manifest in the intricacies of their own habitations.
The broken chain of association being repaired and joined, every thing
became clear, again to his apprehension, and, in diverging from the path
on this occasion, the old man held his way as directly toward the spot he
sought, as if he were journeying under a bright sun. There was a rough but
short descent, a similar rise, and the long-desired goal was reached.
We shall not stop to dwell upon the emotions with which the travellers
first touched this place of comparative security. Humility, and dependence
on the providence of God, were the pre-dominant sensations even with the
rude muleteers, while the pearly exhausted females were just able to
express in murmurs their fervent gratitude to the omnipotent power that
had permitted its agents so unexpectedly to interpose between them and
death. The Refuge was not seen until Pierre laid his hand on the roof, now
white with snow, and proclaimed its character with a loud, warm, and
"Enter and thank God!" he said. "Another hopeless half-hour would have
brought down from his pride the stoutest among us--enter, and thank God!"
As is the fact with all the edifices of that region the building was
entirely of stone, even to the roof having the form of those vaulted
cellars which in this country are use for the preservation of vegetables.
It was quite free from humidity, however, the clearness of the atmosphere
and the entire absence of soil preventing the accumulation of moisture,
and it offered no more than the naked protection of its walls to those who
sought its cover. But shelter on such a night was everything, and this it
effectually afforded. The place had only one outlet, being simply formed
of four walls and the roof; but it was sufficiently large to shelter a
party twice as numerous as that which had now reached it.
The transition from the biting cold and piercing winds of the mountain to
the shelter of this inartificial building, was so great as to produce
something like a general sensation of warmth. The advantage gained in this
change of feeling was judiciously improved by the application of friction
and of restoratives under the direction of Pierre. Uberto carried a small
supply of the latter attached to his collar, and before half an hour had
passed Adelheid and Christine were sleeping sweetly, side by side, muffled
in plenty of the spare garments, and pillowed on the saddles and housings
of the mules. The brutes were brought within the Refuge and as no party
mounted the St Bernard without carrying the provender necessary for its
beasts of burthen, that sterile region affording none of its own, the very
fuel being transported leagues on the backs of mules, the patient and
hardy animals, too, found their solace, after the fatigues and exposure of
the day. The presence of so many living bodies in lodgings so confined
aided in producing warmth, and, after all had eaten of the scanty fare
furnished by the foresight of the guide, drowsiness came over the whole
Side by side,
Within they lie, a mournful company.
The sleep of the weary is sweet. In after-life, Adelheid, when dwelling in
a palace, reposing on down, and canopied by the rich stuffs of a more
generous climate, was often heard to say that she had never taken rest
grateful as that she found in the Refuge of St. Bernard. So easy, natural,
and refreshing, had been her slumbers, unalloyed even by those dreams of
precipices and avalanches which, long afterwards, haunted her slumbers,
that she was the first to open her eyes on the following morning, awaking
like an infant that had enjoyed a quiet and healthful repose. Her
movements aroused Christine. They threw aside the cloaks and coats that
covered them, and sat gazing about the place in the confusion that the
novelty of their situation would be likely to produce. All the rest of the
travellers still slumbered; and, arising without noise, they passed the
silent and insensible sleepers, the quiet mules which had stretched
themselves near the entrance of the place, and quitted the hut.
Without, the scene was wintry: but, as is usual in the Alps let what may
be the season, its features of grand and imposing sublimity were prominent
The day was among the peaks above them, while the shades of night still
lay upon the valleys, forming a landscape like that exquisite and poetical
picture of the lower world, which Guido has given in the celebrated
al-fresco painting of Aurora. The ravines and glens were covered with
snow, but the sides of the rugged rocks were bare in their eternal hue of
ferruginous brown. The little knoll on which the Refuge stood was also
nearly naked, the wind having driven the light particles of the snow into
the ravine of the path. The air of the morning is keen at that great
height even in midsummer, and the shivering girls drew their mantles about
them, though they breathed the clear, elastic, inspiring element with
pleasure. The storm was entirely past, and the pure sapphire-colored sky
was in lovely contrast with the shadows beneath, raising their thoughts
naturally to that heaven which shone in a peace and glory so much in
harmony with the ordinary images we shadow forth of the abode of the
blessed. Adelheid pressed the hand of Christine, and they knelt together,
bowing their heads to a rock. As fervent, pure, and sincere orisons
ascended to God, from these pious and innocent spirits, as it belongs to
poor mortality to offer.
This general, and in their peculiar situation especial, duty performed,
the gentle girls felt more assured. Relieved of a heavy and imperative
obligation, they ventured to look about them with greater confidence.
Another building, similar in form and material to that in which their
companions were still sleeping, stood on the same swell of rock, and their
first inquiries naturally took that direction. The entrance, or outlet to
this hut, was an orifice that resembled a window rather than a door. They
moved cautiously to the spot, looking into the gloomy, cavern-like room,
as timidly as the hare throws his regards about him before he ventures
from his cover. Four human forms were reposing deep in the vault, with
their backs sustained against the walls. They slept profoundly too, for
the curious but startled girls gazed at them long, and retired without
causing them to awake.
"We have not been alone on the mountain in this terrible night," whispered
Adelheid, gently urging the trembling Christine away from the spot; "thou
seest that other travellers have been taking their rest near us; most
probably after perils and fatigues like our own."
Christine drew closer to the side of her more experienced friend, like the
young of the dove hovering near the mother-bird when first venturing from
the nest, and they returned to the refuge they had quitted, for the cold
was still so intense as to render its protection grateful. At the door
they were met by Pierre, the vigilant old man having awakened as soon as
the light crossed his eyes.
"We are not alone here;" said Adelheid, pointing to the other
stone-covered roof--"there are travellers sleeping in yonder building,
"Their sleep will be long, lady;" answered the guide, shaking his head
solemnly. "With two of them it has already lasted a twelvemonth and the
third has slept where you saw him since the fall of the avalanche in the
last days of April."
Adelheid recoiled a step, for his meaning was too plain to be
misunderstood. After looking at her gentle companion, she demanded if
those they had seen were in truth the bodies of travellers who had
perished on the mountain.
"Of no other, lady," returned Pierre, "This hut is for the living--that
for the dead. So near are the two to each other, when men journey on these
wild rocks in winter. I have known him who passed a short and troubled
night here, begin a sleep in the other before the turn of the day that is
not only deep enough, but which will last for ever. One of the three that
thou hast just seen was a guide like myself: he was buried in the falling
snow at the spot where the path leaves the plain of Velan below us.
Another is a pilgrim that perished in as clear a night as ever shone on
St. Bernard, and merely for having taking a cup too much to cheer his way.
The third is a poor vine-dresser that was coming from Piedmont into our
Swiss valleys to follow his calling, when death overtook him in an
ill-advised slumber, in which he was so unwise as to indulge at nightfall.
I found his body myself on that naked rock, the day after we had drunk
together in friendship at Aoste, and with my own hands was he placed among
"And such is the burial a Christian gets in this inhospitable country!"
"What would you, lady!--'tis the chance of the poor and the unknown. Those
that have friends are sought and found; but those that die without leaving
traces of their origin fare as you see. The spade is useless among these
rocks; and then it is better that the body should remain where it may be
seen and claimed, than it should be put out of sight. The good fathers,
and all of note, are taken down into the valleys, where there is earth and
are decently buried; while the poor and the stranger are housed in this
vault, which is a better cover than many of them knew while living. Ay,
there are three Christians there, who were all lately walking the earth in
the flesh, gay and active as any."
"The bodies are four in number!"
Pierre looked surprised; he mused a little, and continued his employment.
"Then another has perished. The time may come when my own blood shall
freeze. This is a fate the guide must ever keep in mind, for he is
exposed to it at an hour and a season that he knows not!"
Adelheid pursued the subject no farther. She remembered to have heard that
the pure atmosphere of the mountain prevented that offensive decay which
is usually associated with the idea of death, and the usage lost some of
its horror in the recollection.
In the mean time the remainder of the party awoke, and were collecting
before the refuge. The mules were led forth and saddled, the baggage was
loaded, and Pierre was calling upon the travellers to mount, when Uberto
and Nettuno came leaping down the path in company, running side by side in
excellent fellowship. The movements of the dogs were of a nature to
attract the attention of Pierre and the muleteers, who predicted that they
should soon see some of the servants of the hospice. The result showed the
familiarity of the guide with his duty, for he had scarce ventured this
opinion, when a party from the gorge on the summit of the mountain was
seen wading through the snow, along the path that led towards the Refuge,
with Father Xavier at its head.
The explanations were brief and natural. After conducting the travellers
to the shelter, and passing most of the night in their company, at the
approach of dawn Uberto had returned to the convent, always attended by
his friend Nettuno. Here he communicated to the monks, by signs which they
who were accustomed to the habits of the animal were not slow in
interpreting, that travellers were on the mountain. The good clavier knew
that the party of the Baron de Willading was about to cross the Col, for
he had hurried home to be in readiness to receive them; and foreseeing the
probability that they hod been overtaken by the storm of the previous
night, he was foremost in joining the servants who went forth to their
succor. The little flask of cordial, too, had been removed from the collar
of Uberto, leaving no doubt of its contents having been used; and, as
nothing was more probable than that the travellers should seek a cover,
their steps were directed to wards the Refuge as a matter of course.
The worthy clavier made this explanation with eyes that glistened with
moisture, occasionally interrupting himself to murmur a prayer of
thanksgiving. He passed from one of the party to the other, not even
neglecting the muleteers, examining their limbs, and more especially their
ears, to see that they had quite escaped the influence of the frost, and
was only happy when assured by his own observation that the terrible
danger they had run was not likely to be attended by any injurious
"We are accustomed to see many accidents of this nature," he said,
smilingly, when the examination was satisfactorily ended, "and practice
has made us quick of sight in these matters. The blessed Maria be praised,
and adoration to her holy Son, that you have all got through the night so
well! There is a warm breakfast in readiness in the convent kitchen, and,
one solemn duty performed, we will go up the rocks to enjoy it. The little
building near us is the last earthly abode of those who perish on this
side the mountain, and whose remains are unclaimed. None of our canons
pass the spot without offering a prayer in behalf of their souls. Kneel
with me, then, you that have so much reason to be grateful to God, and
join in the petition."
Father Xavier knelt on the rocks, and all the Catholics of the party
united with him in the prayer for the dead. The Baron de Willading, his
daughter and their attendants stood uncovered the while for though their
Protestant opinions rejected such a mediation as useless, they deeply felt
the solemnity and holy character of the sacrifice. The clavier arose with
a countenance that was beaming and bright as the morning sun which, just
at that moment, appeared above the summits of the Alps, casting its genial
and bland warmth on the group, the brown huts, and the mountain side.
"Thou art a heretic," he said affectionately to Adelheid, in whom he felt
the interest, to which her youth and beauty, and the great danger they had
so lately run in company, very naturally gave birth. "Thou art an
impenitent heretic, but we will hot cast thee off; notwithstanding thy
obstinacy and crimes, thou seest that the saints can interest themselves
in the behalf of obstinate sinners, or thou and all with thee would have
surely been lost."
This was said in a way to draw a smile from Adelheid, who received his
accusations as so many friendly and playful reproaches. As a token of
peace between them, she offered her hand to the monk, with a request that
he would aid her in getting into the saddle.
"Dost thou remark the brutes!" said the Signor Grimaldi, pointing to the
animals, who were gravely seated before the window of the bone-house, with
relaxed jaws, keeping their eyes riveted on its entrance, or window. "Thy
St. Bernard dogs, father, seem trained to serve a Christian in all ways,
whether living or dead."
"Their quiet attitude and decent attention might indeed justify such a
remark! Didst thou ever note such conduct in Uberto before?" returned the
Augustine, addressing the servants of the convent, for the actions of the
animals were a study and a subject of great interest to all of St.
"They tell me that another fresh body has been put into the house, since I
last came down the mountain" remarked Pierre, who was quietly disposing
of a mule in a manner more favorable for Adelheid to mount: "the mastiff
scents the dead. It was this that brought him to the Refuge last night,
Heaven be praised for the mercy!"
This was said with the indifference that habit is apt to create, for the
usage of leaving bodies uninterred had no influence on the feelings of the
guide, but it did not the less strike those who had descended from the
"Thou art the last that came down thyself," said one of the servants; "nor
have any come up, but those who are now safe in the convent, taking their
rest after last night's tempest."
"How canst utter this idle nonsense, Henri, when a fresh body is in the
house! This lady counted them but now, and there are four; three was the
number that I showed the Piedmontese noble whom I led from Aoste, the day
"Look to this;" said the clavier, turning abruptly away from Adelheid,
whom he was on the point of helping into the saddle.
The men entered the gloomy vault, whence they soon returned bearing a
body, which they placed with its back against the wall of the building, in
the open air. A cloak was over the head and face, as if the garment had
been thus arranged to exclude the cold.
"He hath perished the past night, mistaking the bone-house for the
Refuge!" exclaimed the clavier: "Maria and her Son intercede for his
"Is the unfortunate man truly dead?" asked the Genoese with more of
worldly care, and with greater practice in the investigation of facts.
"The frozen sleep long before the currents of life cease entirely to run."
The Augustine commanded his followers to remove the cloak, though with
little hope that the suggestion of the other would prove true. When the
cloth was raised, the collapsed and pallid features of one in whom life
was unequivocally extinct were exposed to view. Unlike most of those that
perish of cold, who usually sink into the long sleep of eternity by a
gradual numbness and a slowly increasing unconsciousness, there was an
expression of pain in the countenance of the stranger which seemed to
announce that his parting struggles had been severe, and that he had
resigned his hold of that mysterious principle which connects the soul to
the body, with anguish. A shriek from Christine interrupted the awful gaze
of the travellers, and drew their looks in another direction. She was
clinging to the neck of Adelheid, her arms appearing to writhe with the
effort to incorporate heir two bodies into one.
"It is he! It is he!" muttered the frightened and half frantic girl,
burying her pale face in the bosom of her friend. "Oh! God!--it is he!"
"Of whom art thou speaking, dear?" demanded the wondering, but not the
less awe-struck, Adelheid, believing that the weakened nerves of the poor
girl were unstrung by the horror of the spectacle--"it is a traveller like
ourselves, that has unhappily perished in the very storm from which, by
the kindness of Providence, we have been permitted to escape. Thou
shouldst not tremble thus; for, fearful as it is, he is in a condition to
which we all must come."
"So soon! so soon! so suddenly--oh! it is he!" Adelheid, alarmed at the
violence of Christine's feelings, was quite at a loss to account for them,
when the relapsed grasp and the dying voice showed that her friend had
fainted. Sigismund was one of the first to come to the assistance of his
sister, who was soon restored to consciousness by the ordinary
applications. In order to effect the cure she was borne to a rock at some
little distance from the rest of the party, where none of the other sex
presumed to come, with the exception of her brother. The latter staid but
a moment, for a stir in the little party at the bone-house induced him to
go thither. His return was slow, thoughtful, and sad.
"The feelings of our poor Christine have been unhinged, and she is too
easily excited to undergo the vicissitudes of a journey" observed
Adelheid, after having announced the restoration of the sufferer to her
senses; "have you seen her thus before?"
"No angel could be more tranquil and happy than my cruelly treated sister
was until this last disgrace;--you appear ignorant yourself of the
Adelheid looked her surprise.
"The dead man is he who was so lately intended to be the master of my