Part 7 out of 8
sister's happiness, and the wounds on his body leave little doubt that he
has been murdered."
The emotion of Christine needed no further explanation.
"Murdered!" repeated Adelheid, in a whisper.
"Of that frightful truth there can be no question. Your father and our
friends are now employed in making the examinations which may hereafter be
useful in discovering the authors of the deed."
"What wouldst thou, Adelheid?"
"Thou hast felt resentment against this unfortunate man?"
"I deny it not: could a brother feel otherwise?"
"But now--now that God hath so fearfully visited him?"
"From my soul I forgive him. Had we met in Italy, whither I knew he was
going--but this is foolish."
"Worse than that, Sigismund."
"From my inmost soul I pardon him. I never thought him worthy of her whose
simple affection, were won by the first signs of his pretended into rest;
but I could not wish him so cruel and sudden an end. May God have mercy on
him, as he is pardoned by me!"
Adelheid received the silent pressure of the hand which followed with
pious satisfaction. They then separated, he to join the group that was
collected around the body, and she to take her station again near
Christine. The former, however, was met by the Signor Grimaldi, who urged
his immediate departure with the females for the convent, promising that
the rest of the travellers should follow as soon as the present melancholy
duty was ended. As Sigismund had no wish to be a party in what was going
on, and there was reason to think his sister would be spared much pain by
quitting the spot, he gladly acquiesced in the proposal. Immediate steps
were taken for its accomplishment.
Christine mounted her mule, in obedience to her brother's desire, quietly,
and without remonstrance; but her death-like countenance and fixed eye
betrayed the violence of the shock she had received. During the whole of
the ride to the convent she spoke not, and, as those around her felt for,
and understood, her distress, the little cavalcade could not have been
more melancholy and silent had it borne with it the body of the slain. In
an hour they reached the long sought for and so anxiously desired place of
While this disposition of the feebler portion of the party was making, a
different scene had taken place near what have been already so well called
the houses of the living and the dead. As there existed no human
habitation within several leagues of the abode of the Augustines on either
side of the mountain, and as the paths were much frequented in the summer,
the monks exercised a species of civil jurisdiction in such cases as
required a prompt exercise of justice, or a necessary respect for those
forms that might be important in its ad ministration hereafter before the
more regular authorities. It was no sooner known, therefore, that there
was reason to suspect an act of violence had been committed, than the good
clavier set seriously about taking the necessary steps to authenticate all
those circumstances that could be accurately ascertained.
The identity of the body as that of Jacques Colis, a small but substantial
proprietor of the country of Vaud, was quickly established. To this fact
not only several of the travellers could testify, but he was also known to
one of the muleteers, of whom he had engaged a beast to be left at Aoste
and, it will also be remembered, he had been seen by Pierre at Martigny,
while making his arrangements to puss the mountain. Of the mule there were
no other traces than a few natural signs around the building, but which
might equally be attributed to the beasts that still awaited the leisure
of the travellers. The manner in which the unhappy man had come by his
death admitted of no dispute. There were several wounds in the body, and a
knife, of the sort then much used by travellers of an ordinary class, was
left sticking in his back in a position to render it impossible to
attribute the end of the sufferer to suicide. The clothes, too, exhibited
proofs of a struggle, for they were torn and soiled, but nothing had been
taken away. A little gold was found in the pockets, and though in no great
plenty still enough to weaken the first impression that there had also
been a robbery.
"This is wonderful!" observed the good clavier as he noted the last
circumstance; "the dross which leads so many souls to damnation has been
neglected while Christian blood has been shed! This seems an act of
vengeance rather than of cupidity. Let us now examine if any proofs are to
be found of the scene of this tragedy."
The search was unsuccessful. The whole of the surrounding region being
composed of ferruginous rocks and their _debris_, it would not, indeed,
have been an easy matter to trace the march of an army by their footsteps.
The stain of blood, however, was nowhere discoverable, except on the spot
where the body had been found. The house itself furnished no particular
evidence of the bloody scene of which it had been a witness. The bones of
those who had died long before were lying on the stones, it is true,
broken and scattered; but, as the curious were wont to stop, and sometimes
to enter among and handle these remains of mortality, there was nothing
new or peculiar in their present condition.
The interior of the dead-house was obscure, and suited, in this particular
at least, to its solemn office. While making the latter part of their
examination, the monk and the two nobles, who began to feel a lively
interest in the late event, stood before the window, gazing in at the
gloomy but instructive scene. One body was so placed as to receive a few
of the direct rays of the morning light, and it was consequently much more
conspicuous than the rest, though even this was a dark and withered mummy
that presented scarcely a vestige; of the being it had been. Like all the
others whose parts still clung together, it had been placed against the
wall, in the attitude of one that is seated, with the head fallen forward.
The latter circumstance had brought the blackened and shrivelled face into
the line of light. It had the ghastly grin of death, the features being
distorted by the process of evaporation, and was altogether a revolting
but salutary monitor of the common lot.
"'Tis the body of the poor vine-dresser;" remarked the monk, more
accustomed to the spectacle than his companions, who had shrunk from the
sight; "he unwisely slept on yonder naked rock, and it proved to him the
sleep of death. There have been many masses for his soul, but what is left
of his material remains still lie unclaimed. But--how is this! Pierre,
thou hast lately passed this place; what was the number of the bodies, at
thy last visit?"
"Three, reverend clavier; and yet the ladies spoke of four. I looked for
the fourth when in the building, but there appeared none fresh, except
this of poor Jacques Colis."
"Come hither, and say if there do not appear to be two in the far
corner--here, where the body of thy old comrade the guide was placed, from
respect for his calling; surely, there at least is a change in its
Pierre approached, and taking off his cap in reverence, he leaned forward
in the building, so as to exclude the external light from his eyes.
"Father!" he said, drawing back in surprise, "there is truly another;
though I overlooked it when we entered the place."
"This must be examined into! The crime may be greater than we had
The servants of the convent and Pierre, whose long services rendered him a
familiar of the brotherhood, now re-entered the building, while those
without impatiently awaited the result. A cry from the interior prepared
the latter for some fresh subject of horror, when Pierre and his companion
quickly reappeared, dragging a living man into the open air. When the
light permitted, those who knew him recognized the mild demeanor, the
subdued look, and the uneasy, distrustful glance of Balthazar.
The first sensation of the spectators was that of open amazement; but dark
suspicion followed. The baron, the two Genoese, and the monk, had all been
witnesses of the scene in the great square of Vevey. The person of the
headsman had become so well known to them by the passage on the lake and
the event just alluded to, that there was not a moment of doubt touching
his identity, and, coupled with the circumstances of that morning, there
remained little more that the clue was now found to the cause of the
We shall not stop to relate the particulars of the examination. It was
short, reserved, and had the character of an investigation instituted more
for the sake of form, than from any incertitude there could exist on the
subject of the facts. When the necessary-inquiries were ended, the two
nobles mounted. Father Xavier led the way, and the whole party proceeded
towards the summit of the pass, leading Balthazar a prisoner, and leaving
the body of Jacques Colis to its final rest, in that place where so many
human forms had evaporated into air before him, unless those who had felt
an interest in him in life should see fit to claim his remains.
The ascent between the Refuge and the summit of St. Bernard is much more
severe than on any other part of the road. The end of the convent,
overhanging the northern brow of the gorge, and looking like a mass of
that ferruginous and melancholy rock which gave the whole region so wild
and so unearthly an aspect, soon became visible, carved and moulded into
the shape of a rude human habitation. The last pitch was so steep as to
be formed into a sort of stair-way, up which the groaning mules toiled
with difficulty. This labor overcome, the party stood on the highest point
of the pass. Another minute brought them to the door of the convent.
------Hadst thou not been by,
A fellow by the hand of nature mark'd,
Noted, and sign'd to do a deed of shame,
This murder had not come into my mind.
The arrival of Sigismund's party at the hospice preceded that of the other
travellers more than an hour. They were received with the hospitality with
which all were then welcomed at this celebrated convent; the visits of the
curious and the vulgar not having blunted the benevolence of the monks,
who, mostly accustomed to entertain the low-born and ignorant, were always
happy to relieve the monotony of their solitude by intercourse with guests
of a superior class. The good clavier had prepared the way for their
reception; for even on the wild ridge of St. Bernard, we do not fare the
worse for carrying with us a prestige of that rank and consideration that
are enjoyed in the world below. Although a mild Christian-like good-will
were manifested to all, the heiress of Willading, a name that was
generally known and honored between the Alps and the Jura, met with those
proofs of _empressement_ and deference which betray the secret thought, in
despite of conventional forms and which told her, plainer than the words
of welcome, that the retired Augustines were not sorry to see so fair and
so noble a specimen of their species within their dreary walls.
All this, however, was lost on Sigismund. He was too much occupied with
the events of the morning to note other things; and, first committing
Adelheid and his sister to the care of their women, he went into the open
air in order to await the arrival of the rest.
As it has been mentioned, the existence of the venerable convent of St.
Bernard dates from a very remote period of Christianity. It stands on the
very brow of the precipice which forms the last steep ascent in mounting
to the Col. The building is a high, narrow, but vast, barrack-looking
edifice, built of the ferruginous stone of the region, having its gable
placed toward the Valais, and its front stretching in the direction of the
gorge in which it stands. Immediately before its principal door, the rock
rises in an ill-shapen hillock, across which runs the path to Italy. This
is literally the highest point of the pass, as the building itself is the
most elevated habitable abode in Europe. At this spot, the distance from
rock to rock, spanning the gorge, may be a hundred yards, the wild and
reddish piles rising on each side for more than a thousand feet. These are
merely dwarfs, however, among their sister piles, several of which, in
plain view of the convent, reach to the height of eternal snow. This point
in the road attained, the path began immediately to descend, and the
drippings of a snow-bank before the convent door, which had resisted the
greatest heat of the past summer, ran partly into the valley of the Rhone,
and partly into Piedmont; the waters, after a long and devious course
through the plains of France and Italy, meeting again in the common basin
of the Mediterranean. The path, on quitting the convent, runs between the
base of the rocks on its right and a little limpid lake on its left, the
latter occupying nearly the entire cavity of the valley of the gorge. It
then disappears between natural palisades of rock, at the other extremity
of the Col. This is the point where the superfluous waters of the lake
find their outlet, descending swiftly, in a brawling little brook, on the
sunny side of the Alps. The frontier of Italy is met on the margin of the
lake, a long musket-shot from the abode of the Augustines, and near the
site of a temple that the Romans had raised in honor of Jupiter, in his
attribute of director of storms.
Such was the outline of the view which presented itself to Sigismund, when
he left the building to while away the time that must necessarily elapse
before the arrival of the rest of the party. The hour was still early,
though the great altitude of the site of the convent had brought it
beneath the influence of the sun's rays an hour before. He had learned
from a servant of the Augustines, that a number of ordinary travellers, of
whom in the fine season hundreds at a time frequently passed the night in
their dormitories, were now breaking their fasts in the refectory of the
peasants, and he was willing to avoid the questions that their curiosity
might prompt when they came to hear what had occurred lower down on the
mountain. One of the brotherhood was caressing four or five enormous
mastiffs, that were leaping about and barking with deep throats in front
of the convent, while old Uberto moved among them with a gravity and
respect that better suited his years. Perceiving his guest, the Augustine
quitted the dogs, and, lifting his eastern-looking cap, he gave him the
salutation of the morning. Sigismund met the frank smile of the canon, who
like himself was young with a fit return. The occasion was such as
Sigismund desired, and a friendly discourse succeeded while they paced
along the margin of the lake, holding the path that leads across the Col.
"You are young in your charitable office, brother," remarked the soldier,
when familiarity was a little established. "This will be among the first
of the winters you will have passed at your benevolent post?"
"It will make the eighth, as novice and as canon. We are early trained to
this kind of life, though no practice will enable any of us to withstand
the effect which the thin air and intense cold produce on the lungs many
winters in succession. We go down to Martigny when there is occasion, and
breathe an atmosphere better suited to man. Thou hadst an angry storm
below, the past night?"
"So angry, that we thank God it is over, and that we are left to share
your hospitality. Were there many on the mountain besides ourselves, or
did any come up from Italy?"
"There were none but those who are now in the common refectory, and none
came from Aoste. The season for the traveller is over. This is a month in
which we see only those who are much pressed, and who have their reasons
for trusting the weather. In the summer we sometimes lodge a thousand
"They whom ye receive have reason to be thankful, reverend Augustine; for,
in sooth, this does not seem a region that abounds in its fruits."
Sigismund and the monk looked around at the vast piles of ragged naked
rocks, and they smiled as their eyes met.
"Nature gives literally nothing," answered the Augustine: "even the fuel
that warms us is transported leagues on the backs of mules, and thou wilt
readily conceive that of all others this is a necessary we cannot forego.
Happily, we have some of our ancient, and what were once rich, endowments;
The young canon hesitated to proceed.
"You were about to say, father, that they who have the means to show
gratitude are not always unmindful of the wants of those, who share the
same hospitality without possessing the same ability to manifest their
respect for the institution."
The Augustine bowed, and he turned the discourse by pointing out the
frontiers of Italy, and the site of the ancient temple; both of which they
had this time reached. An animal moved among the rocks, and attracted
"Can it be a chamois!" exclaimed Sigismund, whose blood began to quicken
with a hunter's eagerness: "I would I had arms!"
"It is a dog, though not of our mountain breed! The mastiffs of the
convent have failed in hospitality, and the poor beast has been driven to
take refuge in this retired spot, in waiting for his master, who probably
makes one of the party in the refectory. See, they come; their approaching
footsteps have brought the cautious animal from his cover."
Sigismund saw, in truth, that a party of three pedestrians was quitting
the convent, taking the path for Italy. A sudden and painful suspicion
flashed upon his mind. The dog was Nettuno, most probably driven by the
mastiffs, as the monk had suggested, to seek a shelter in this retreat;
and one of those who approached, by his gait and stature was no other than
"Thou knowest, father," he said, with a clammy tongue, for he was
strangely agitated between reluctance to accuse Maso of such a crime, and
horror at the fate of Jacques Colis, "that there has been a murder on the
The monk quietly assented. One who lived on that road, and in that age,
was not easily excited by an event of so frequent occurrence. Sigismund
hastily recounted to his companion all the circumstances that were then
known to himself, and related the manner in which he had first met the
Italian on the lake, and his general impressions concerning his character.
"All come and go unquestioned here;" returned the Augustine, when the
other had ended. "Our convent has been founded in charity, and we pray for
the sinner without inquiring into the amount of his crime. Still we have
authority, and it is especially our duty, to keep the road clear that our
own purposes may not be defeated. I leave thee to do what thou judgest
most prudent and proper in a matter so delicate."
Sigismund was silent; but as the pedestrians were drawing near, his
resolution was soon and sternly formed. The obligations that he owed to
Maso made him more prompt, for it excited a jealous distrust of his own
powers to discharge what he conceived to be a duty. Even those late events
in which his sister was so wronged had their share, too, on the decision
of a mind so resolute to be upright. Placing himself in the middle of the
path, he awaited the arrival of the party, while the monk stood quietly at
his side. When the travellers were within speaking distance, the young man
first discovered that the companions of Il Maledetto were Pippo and
Conrad. Their several rencontres had made him sufficiently acquainted with
the persons of the two latter, to enable him to recognize them at a
glance; and Sigismund began to think the undertaking in which he had
embarked more grave than he had at first imagined. Should there be a
disposition to resist, he was but one against three.
"Buon giorno, Signor Capitano," cried Maso, saluting with his cap, when
sufficiently near to those who occupied the path; "we meet often, and in
all weathers; by day and by night; on the land and on the water; in the
valley and on the mountain; in the city and on this naked rock, as
Providence wills. As many chances try men's characters, we shall come to
know each other in time!"
"Thou hast well observed, Maso; though I fear thou art a man oftener met
than easily understood."
"Signore, I am amphibious, like Nettuno here, being part of the earth and
part of the sea. As the learned say, I am not yet classed. We are repaid
for an evil night by a fine day; and the descent into Italy will be
pleasanter than we found the coming up. Shall I order honest Giacomo of
Aoste to prepare the supper, and to air the beds for the noble company
that is to follow? You will scarce do more than reach his holstery before
the young and the beautiful will begin to think of their pillows."
"Maso, I had thought thee among our party, when I left the Refuge this
"By San Thomaso! Signore, but I had the same opinion touching yourself!"
"Thou wert early afoot it would seem, or thou couldst not have so much
"Look you, brave Signor Sigismondo, for brave I know you to be, and in the
water a swimmer little less determined than gallant Nettuno there--I am a
traveller, and have much need of my time which is the larger portion of my
property. We sea-animals are sometimes rich and sometimes poor, as the
wind happens to blow, and of late I have been driven to struggle with foul
gales and troubled waves. To such a man, an hour of industry in the
mornings often gives a heartier meal and sweeter rest at night. I left
you all in the Refuge sleeping soundly, even to the mules,"--Maso laughed
at his own fancies, as he included the brutes in the party,--"and I
reached the convent just as the first touch of the sun tipped yonder white
peak with its purple light."
"As thou left'st us so early, thou mayest not have heard, then, that the
body of a murdered man was found in the bone-house--the building near that
in which we slept--and that it is the body of one known?"
Sigismund spoke firmly and deliberately, as if he would come by degrees to
his purpose, while, at the same time, he made the other sensible of his
being in earnest. Maso started. He made a movement so unequivocally like
one which would have manifested an intention to proceed, that the young
man raised his hand to repulse him. But violence was unnecessary, for the
mariner instantly became composed, and seemingly more disposed to listen.
"Where there has been a crime, Maso, there must have been a criminal!"
"The Bishop of Sion could not have made truth clearer to the sinner than
yourself, Signor Sigismondo! Your manner leads me to ask what I have to do
"There has been a murder, Maso, and the murderer is sought. The dead was
found near the spot where thou passed the night; I shall not conceal the
unhappy suspicions that are so natural."
"Diamine! where did you pass the night yourself, brave Capitano, if I may
be so bold as to question my superior? Where did the noble Baron de
Willading take his rest, and his fair daughter and one nobler and more
illustrious than he, and Pierre the guide, and--ay, and our friends, the
Maso laughed recklessly once more, as he made this second allusion to the
patient brutes. Sigismund disliked his levity, which he thought forced and
"This reasoning may satisfy thee, unfortunate man, but it will not satisfy
others. Thou wert alone, but we travelled in company; judging from thy
exterior, thou art but little favored by fortune, Whereas we are more
happy in this particular; and thou hast been, and art still, in haste to
depart, while the discovery of the foul deed is owing to us alone. Thou
must return to the convent, that this grave matter may, at least, be
Il Maledetto seemed troubled. Once or twice he glanced his eye at the
quiet athletic frame of the young man, and then turned them on the path in
reflection. Although Sigismund narrowly watched the workings of his
countenance, giving a little of his attention also, from time to time, to
the movements of Pippo and the pilgrim, he preserved himself a perfectly
calm exterior. Firm in his purpose, accustomed to make extraordinary
exertions in his manly exercises, and conscious of his great physical
force, he was not a man to be easily daunted. It is true that the
companions of Maso conducted themselves in a way to excite no additional
apprehensions on their account; for, on the announcement of the murder,
they moved away from his person a little, as by a natural horror of the
hand that could have done the deed. They now consulted together, and
profiting by their situation behind the back of the Italian, they made
signs to Sigismund of their readiness to assist should it be necessary. He
received the signal writh satisfaction; for, though he knew them to be
knaves, he sufficiently understood the difference between audacious crime
and mere roguery to believe they might, in this instance at least, prove
"Thou wilt return to the convent, Maso," resumed the young soldier, who
would gladly avoid a struggle with a man who had done him and those he
loved so much service, though resolved to discharge what he conceived to
be an imperious duty: "this pilgrim and his friend will be of our party,
in order that, when we quit the mountain, all may leave it blameless and
"Signor Sigismondo, the proposal is fair; it has a touch of reason, I
allow; but unluckily it does not suit my interests. I am engaged in a
delicate mission, and too much time has been already lost by the way to
waste more without good cause. I have great pity for poor Jacques Colis--"
"Ha! thou knowest the sufferer's name, then; thy unlucky tongue hath
betrayed thee, Maso"
Il Maledetto was again troubled. His features betrayed it, for he frowned
like a man who had committed a grave fault in a matter touching an
important interest. His olive complexion changed, and his interrogator
thought that his eye quailed before his own fixed look. But the emotion
was transient, and shuddering, as if to shake off a weakness, his
appearance became once more natural and composed.
"Thou makest no reply?"
"Signore, you have my answer; affairs press, and my visit to the convent
of San Bernardo has been made. I am bound to Aoste, and should be happy to
do your bidding with the worthy Giacomo. I have but a step to make to find
myself in the dominions of the house of Savoy; and, with your leave,
gallant Capitano, I will now take it."
Maso moved a little aside with the intention to pass Sigismund, when Pippo
and Conrad threw themselves on him from behind, pinning his arms to his
sides by main force. The face of the Italian grew livid, and he smiled
with the contempt and hatred of an inveterately angered man. Assembling
all his force, he suddenly exerted it with the energy and courage of a
The struggle was short but fierce. When it terminated, Pippo lay bleeding
among the rocks with a broken head, and the pilgrim was gasping near him
under the tremendous gripe of the animal. Maso himself stood firm, though
pale and frowning like one who had collected all his energies, both
physical and moral, to meet this emergency.
"Am I a brute, to be set upon by the scum of the earth?" he cried: "if
thou wouldst aught with me, Signor Sigismondo, raise thine own arm, but
strike not with the hands of these base reptiles; thou wilt find me a man,
in strength and courage, at least not unworthy of thyself."
"The attack on thy person, Maso, was not made by my order, nor by my
desire," returned Sigismund, reddening. "I believe myself sufficient to
arrest thee; and, if not, here come assistants that thou wilt scarce deem
it prudent to resist."
The Augustine had stepped on a rock the moment the struggle commenced,
whence he made a signal which brought all the mastiffs from the convent.
These powerful animals now arrived in a group, apprized by their instinct
that strife was afoot. Nettuno immediately released the pilgrim and stood
at bay; too faithful to desert his master in his need, and yet too
conscious of the force opposed to him to court a contest so unequal.
Luckily for the noble dog, the friendship of old Uberto proved his
protection. When the younger animals saw their patriarch disposed to
amity, they forbore their attack, waiting at least for another signal to
be given. In the mean while, Maso had time to look about him, and to form
his decision less under the influence of surprise and feeling than had
been previously the case.
"Signore," he answered, "since it is your pleasure, I will return among
the Augustines. But I ask, as simple justice, that, if I am to be hunted
by dogs as a beast of prey, all who were in the same circumstances as
myself may become subject to the same rule. This pilgrim and the
Neapolitan came up the mountain yesterday, as well as myself, and I demand
their arrest until they too can give an account of themselves. It will not
be the first time that we have been inhabitants of the same prison."
Conrad crossed himself in submission, neither he nor Pippo raising any
objection to the step. On the contrary, each frankly admitted it was no
more than equitable on its face.
"We are poor travellers on whom many accidents have already alighted, and
we may well be pressed to reach the end of our journey," said the pilgrim;
"but, that justice may be done, we shall submit without a murmur. I am
loaded with the sins of many besides my own, however, and St. Peter he
knows that the last are not light. This holy canon will see that masses
are said in the convent chapel in behalf of those for whom I travel; this
duty done, I am an infant in your hands."
The good Augustine professed the perfect readiness of the fraternity to
pray for all who were in necessity, with the single proviso that they
should be Christians. With this amicable understanding then, the peace was
made between them, and the parties immediately took the path that led back
to the convent. On reaching the building, Maso, with the two travellers
who had been found in his company, were; laced in safe keeping in one of
the of the solid edifice, until the return of the clavier should enable
them to vindicate their innocence.
Satisfied with himself for the part he had acted in the late affair,
Sigismund strolled into the chapel, where, at that early hour, some of the
brother hood were always occupied in saying masses in behalf of the souls
of the living or of the dead He was here when he received a note from the
Signor Grimaldi, apprizing him of the arrest of his father, and of the
dark suspicions that were so naturally connected with the transaction. It
is unnecessary to dwell on the nature of the shock he received from this
intelligence. After a few moments of bitter anguish, he perceived the
urgency of making his sister acquainted with the truth as speedily as
possible. The arrival of the party from the Refuge was expected every
moment, and by delay he increased the risk of Christine's hearing the
appalling fact from some other quarter. He sought an audience, therefore,
with Adelheid, the instant he had summoned sufficient self-command to
undertake the duty.
Mademoiselle de Willading was struck with the pale brow and agitated air
of the young soldier, at the first glance of her eye.
"Thou hast permitted this unexpected blow to affect thee unusually,
Sigismund," she said, smiling, and offering her hand; for she felt that
the circumstances were those in which cold and heartless forms should give
place to feeling and sincerity. "Thy sister is tranquil, if not happy."
"She does not know the worst--she has yet to learn the most cruel part of
the truth. Adelheid; they have found one concealed among the dead of the
bone-house, and are now leading him here as the murderer of poor Jacques
"Another!" said Adelheid, turning pale in alarm "we appear to be
surrounded by assassins!"
"No, it cannot be true! I know my poor father's mildness of disposition
too well; his habitual tenderness to all around him; his horror at the
sight of blood, even for his odious task!"
"Sigismund, thy father!"
The young man groaned. Concealing his face with his hands, he sank into a
seat. The fearful truth, with all its causes and consequences, began to
dawn upon Adelheid. Sinking upon a chair herself, she sat long looking at
the convulsed and working frame of Sigismund in silent horror. It appeared
to her, that Providence, for some great but secret purpose, was disposed
to visit them all with more than a double amount of its anger, and that a
family which had been accursed for so many generations, was about to fill
the measure of its woes. Still her own true heart did not change. On the
contrary, its long-cherished and secret purpose rather grew stronger under
this sudden appeal to its generous and noble properties, and never was the
resolution to devote herself, her life, and all her envied hopes, to the
solace of his unmerited wrongs, so strong and riveted as at that trying
In a little time Sigismund regained enough self-command to be able to
commence the narrative of what had passed. They then concerted together
the best means to make Christine acquainted with that which it was
absolutely necessary she should now know.
"Tell her the simple truth," added Sigismund, 'it cannot long be
concealed, and it were better that she knew it; but tell her, also, my
firm dependence on our father's innocence. God, for one of those
inscrutable purposes which set human intelligence at defiance, has made
him a common executioner, but the curse has not extended to his nature.
Trust me, dearest Adelheid, a more gentle dove-like nature does not exist
in man than that of the poor Balthazar--the despised and persecuted
Balthazar. I have heard my mother dwell upon the nights of anguish and
suffering that have preceded the day on which the duties of his office
were to be discharged; and often have I heard that admirable woman, whose
spirit is far more equal to support our unmerited fortunes, declare she
has often prayed that he and all that are hers might die, so that they
died innocently, rather than one of a temper so gentle and harmless should
again be brought to endure the agony she had witnessed!"
"It is unhappy that he should be here at so luckless a moment! What
unhappy motive can have led thy father to this spot, at a time so extra
"Christine will tell thee that she expected to see him at the convent. We
are a race proscribed, Mademoiselle de Willading, but we are human."
"I feel my injustice, and can only pray to be forgiven. But there are
moments of feeling so intense, that I am ready to believe and treat all of
my species as common enemies. Christine is an only daughter, and thou
thyself, beloved Adelheid, kind, dutiful, and good as I know thee to be,
art not more dear to the Baron de Willading than my poor sister is among
us. Her parents have yielded her to thy generous kindness, for they
believe it for her good; but their hearts have been wrung by the
separation. Thou didst not know it, but Christine took her last embrace of
her mother here on the mountain, at Liddes, and it was then agreed that
her father should watch her in safety over the Col, and bestow the final
blessing at Aoste. Mademoiselle de Willading, you move in pride,
surrounded by many protectors, who are honored in doing you service; but
the abased and the hunted must indulge even their best affections
stealthily, and without obtrusion! The love and tenderness of Balthazar
would pass for mockery with the vulgar! Such is man in his habits and
opinions, when wrong usurps the place of right."
Adelheid saw that the moment was not favorable for urging consolation and
she abstained from a reply. She rejoiced, however, to hear the presence of
the headsman so satisfactorily accounted for, though she could not quiet
herself from an apprehension that the universal weakness of human nature,
which so suddenly permits the perversion of the best of our passions to
the worst, and the dreadful probability that Balthazar, suffering
intensely by this compelled separation from his daughter, on accidentally
encountering the man who was its cause, might have listened to some
violent impulse of resentment and revenge. She saw also that Sigismund, in
despite of his general confidence in the principles of his father, had
fearful glimmerings of some such event, and that he fearfully anticipated
the worst, even while he most professed confidence in the innocence of the
accused. The interview was soon ended, and they separated; each
endeavoring to invent plausible reasons for what had happened.
The arrival of the party from the refuge took place soon afterwards. It
was followed by the necessary explanations, and a more detailed narrative
of all that had passed. A consultation was held between the chiefs of the
brotherhood and the two old nobles, and the course it was most expedient
to pursue was calmly and prudently discussed.
The result was not known for some hours later. It was then generally
proclaimed in the convent that a grave and legal investigation of all the
facts was to take place with the least possible delay.
The Col of St. Bernard, as has been stated already, lies within the
limits of the present canton but what then the allied state of the Valais.
The crime had consequently been committed within the jurisdiction of that
country; but as the Valais was thus leagued with Switzerland, there
existed such an intimate understanding between the two, that it was rare
any grave proceedings were had against a citizen of either in the dominion
of the other, without paying great deference to the feelings and the
rights of the country of the accused. Messengers were therefore dispatched
to Vevey, to inform the authorities of that place of a transaction which
involved the safety of an officer of the great canton, (for such was
Balthazar,) and which had cost a citizen of Vaud his life. On the other
hand, a similar communication was sent to Sion, the two places being about
equidistant from the convent, with such pressing invitations to the
authorities to be prompt, as were deemed necessary to bring on an
immediate investigation. Melchior de Willading, in a letter to his friend
the bailiff, set forth the inconvenience of his return with Adelheid at
that late season, and the importance of the functionary's testimony, with
such other statements as were likely to effect his wishes; while the
superior of the brotherhood charged himself with making representations,
with a similar intent, to the heads of his own republic. Justice in that
age was not administered as frankly and openly as in this later period,
its agents in the old world exercising even now a discretion that we are
not accustomed to see confided to them. Her proceedings were enveloped in
darkness, the blind deity being far more known in her decrees than in her
principles, and mystery was then deemed an important auxiliary of power.
With this brief explanation we shall shift the time to the third day from
that on which the travellers reached the convent, referring the reader to
the succeeding chapter for an account of what it brought forth.
Anon a figure enters, quaintly neat,
All pride and business, bustle and conceit;
With looks unalter'd by these scenes of woe,
With speed that, ent'ring, speaks his haste to go.
He bids the gazing throng around him fly,
And carries fate and physic in his eye.
There is another receptacle for those who die on the Great St. Bernard,
hard by the convent itself. At the close of the time mentioned in the
last, chapter, and near the approach of night, Sigismund was pacing the
rocks on which this little chapel stands, buried in reflections to which
his own history and the recent events had given birth. The snow that fell
during the late storm had entirely disappeared, and the frozen element was
now visible only on those airy pinnacles that form the higher peaks of the
Alps. Twilight had already settled into the lower valleys, but the whole
of the superior region was glowing with the fairy-like lustre of the last
rays of the sun. The air was chill, for at that hour and season, whatever
might be the state of the weather, the evening invariably brought with it
a positive sensation of cold in the gorge of St. Bernard, where frosts
prevailed at night, even in midsummer. Still the wind, though strong, was
balmy and soft, blowing athwart the heated plains of Lombardy, and
reaching the mountains charged with the moisture of the Adriatic and the
Mediterranean. As the young man turned in his walk, and faced this
breeze, it came over his spirit with a feeling of hope and home The
greater part of his life had been past in the sunny country whence it
blew, and there were moments when he was lulled into forgetfulness, by the
grateful recollections imparted by its fragrance. But when compelled to
turn northward again, and his eye fell on the misty hoary piles that
distinguished his native land, rude and ragged faces of rock, frozen
glaciers, and deep ravine-like valleys and glens, seemed to him to be
types of his own stormy, unprofitable, and fruitless life, and to foretell
a career which, though it might have touches of grandeur, was doomed to be
barren of all that is genial and consolatory.
All in and about the convent was still. The mountain had an imposing air
of deep solitude amid the wildest natural magnificence. Few travellers had
passed since the storm, and, luckily for those who, under the peculiar
circumstances in which they were placed, so much desired privacy, all of
these had diligently gone their several ways. None were left, therefore,
on the Col, but those who had an interest in the serious investigations
which were about to take place. An officer of justice from Sion, wearing
the livery of the Valais, appeared at a window, a sign that the regular
authorities of the country had taken cognizance of the murder; but
disappearing, the young man, to all external appearance, was left in the
solitary possession of the pass. Even the dogs had been kennelled, and the
pious monks were healthfully occupied in the religious offices of the
Sigismund turned his eye upward to the apartment in which Adelheid and his
sister dwelt, but as the solemn moment in which so much was to be decided
drew nearer, they also had withdrawn into themselves, ceasing to hold
communion, even by means of the eyes, with aught that might divert their
holy and pure thoughts from ceaseless and intense devotional reflections.
Until now he had been occasionally favored with an answering and kind look
from one or the other of these single hearted and affectionate girls, both
of whom he so warmly loved, though with sentiments so different. It seemed
that they too had at last left him to his isolated and hopeless existence.
Sensible that this passing thought was weak and unmanly, the young man
renewed his walk, and instead of turning as before, he moved slowly on,
stopping only when he had reached the opening of the little chapel of the
Unlike the building lower down the path, the bone-house at the convent is
divided into two apartments; the exterior, and one that may be called the
interior, though both are open to the weather. The former contained piles
of disjointed human bones, bleached by the storms that beat in at the
windows, while the latter is consecrated to the covering of those that
still preserve, in their outward appearance at least, some of the more
familiar traces of humanity. The first had its usual complement of
dissevered and confounded fragments, in which the remains of young and
old, of the two sexes, the fierce and the meek, the penitent and the
sinner, lay in indiscriminate confusion--an eloquent reproach to the pride
of man; while the walls of the last supported some twenty blackened and
shrivelled effigies of the race, to show to what a pass of disgusting and
frightful deformity the human form can be reduced, when deprived of that
noble principle which likens it to its Divine Creator. On a table, in the
centre of a group of black and grinning companions in misfortune, sat all
that was left of Jacques Colis, who had been removed from the bone-house
below to this at the convent for purposes connected with the coming
investigation. The body was accidentally placed in such an attitude that
the face was brought within the line of the parting light, while it had no
other covering than the clothes worn by the murdered man in life.
Sigismund gazed long at the pallid lineaments. They were still distorted
with the agony produced by separating the soul from the body. All feeling
of resentment for his sister's wrongs was lost in pity for the fate that
had so suddenly overtaken one, in whom the passions, the interests, and
the complicated machinery of this state of being, were so actively at
work. Then came the bitter apprehension that his own father, in a moment
of ungovernable anger, excited by the accumulated wrongs that bore so hard
on him and his, might really have been the instrument of effecting the
fearful and sudden change. Sickening with the thought, the young man
turned and walked away towards the brow of the declivity. Voices,
ascending to his ear, recalled him to the actual situation of things.
A train of mules were climbing the last acclivity where the path takes the
broken precipitous appearance of a flight of steps. The light was still
sufficient to distinguish the forms and general appearance of the
travellers. Sigismund immediately recognized them to be the bailiff of
Vevey and his attendants, for whose arrival the formal proceedings of the
examination had alone been stayed.
"A fair evening, Herr Sigismund, and a happy meeting," cried Peterchen, so
soon as his weary mule, which frequently halted under its unwieldy
burthen, had brought him within hearing. "Little did I think to see thee
again so quickly, and less still to lay eyes on this holy convent; for
though the traveller might have returned in thy person nothing short of a
miracle--" Here the bailiff winked, for he was one of those Protestants
whose faith was most manifested in these side-hits at the opinions and
practices of Rome,--"Nothing but a miracle, I say, and that too a miracle
of some saint whose bones have been drying these ten thousand years, until
every morsel of our weak flesh has fairly disappeared, could bring down
old St. Bernard's abode upon the shores of the Leman. I have known many
who have left Vaud to cross the Alps come back and winter in Vevey; but
never did I know the stone that was placed upon another, in a workman-like
manner, quits its bed without help from the hand of man. They say stones
are particularly hard-hearted, and yet your saint and miracle-monger hath
a way to move them!"
Peterchen chuckled at his own pleasantry, as men in authority are apt to
enjoy that which comes exclusively of their own cleverness, and he winked
round among his followers, as if he would invite them to bear witness to
the rap he had given the Papists, even on their own exclusive ground. When
the platform of the Col was attained, he checked the mule and continued
his address, for want of wind had nipped his wit, as it might be, in the
"A bad business this, Herr Sigismund; a thoroughly bad affair. It has
drawn me far from home, at a ticklish season, and it has unexpectedly
stopped the Herr von Willading (he spoke in German) in his journey over
the mountains, and that, too, at a moment when all had need be diligent
among the Alps. How does the keen air of the Col agree with the fair
"God be thanked, Herr Bailiff, in bodily health that excellent young lady
was never better."
"God be thanked, right truly! She is a tender flower, and one that might
be suddenly cut off by the frosts of St Bernard. And the noble Genoese,
who travels with so much modest simplicity, in a way to reprove the vain
and idle--I hope he does not miss the sun among our rocks?"
"He is an Italian, and must think of us and our climate according to his
habits; though in the way of health he seems at his ease."
"Well, this is consolatory! Herr Sigismund, were the truth known,"
rejoined Peterchen, bending as far forward on his mule as a certain
protuberance of his body would permit, and then suddenly drawing himself
up again in reserve--"but a state secret is a state secret, and least of
all should it escape one who is truly and legitimately a child of the
state. My love and friendship for Melchior von Willading are great, and of
right excellent quality; but I should not have visited this pass, were it
not to do honor to our guest the Genoese. I would not that the noble
stranger went down from our hills with an unsavory opinion of our
hospitality. Hath the honorable Chatelain from Sion reached the hill?"
"He has been among us since the turn of the day, mein Herr, and is now in
conference with those you have just named, on matters connected with the
object of your common visit."
"He is an honest magistrate! and like ourselves, Master Sigismund, he
comes of the pure German root, which is a foundation to support merit,
though it might better be said by another. Had he a comfortable ride?"
"I have heard no complaint of his ascent."
"'Tis well. When the magistrate goes forth to do justice, he hath a right
to look for a fair time. All are then comfortable;--the noble Genoese, the
honorable Melchior, and the worthy Chatelain.--And Jacques Colis?"
"You know his unhappy fate, Herr Bailiff," returned Sigismund briefly;
for he was a little vexed with the other's phlegm in a matter that so
nearly touched his own feelings.
"If I did not know it, Herr Steinbach, dost think I should now be here,
instead of preparing for a warm bed near the great square of Vevey? Poor
Jacques Colis! Well, he did the ceremonies of the abbaye an ill turn in
refusing to buckle with the headsman's daughter, but I do not know that he
at all deserved the fate with which he has met."
"God forbid that any who were hurt, and that perhaps not without reason,
by his want of faith, should think his weakness merited a punishment so
"Thou speakest like a sensible youth, a very Sensible youth--ay, and like
a Christian, Herr Sigismund," answered Peterchen, "and I approve of thy
words. To refuse to wive a maiden and to be murdered are very different
offences, and should not be confounded. Dost think these Augustines keep
kirschwasser among their stores? It is strong work to climb up to their
abode, and strong toil needs strong drink. Well, should they not be so
provided, we must make the best of their other liquors. Herr Sigismund, do
me the favor to lend me thy arm."
The bailiff now alighted with stiffened limbs, and, taking the arm of the
other, he moved slowly toward the building.
"It is damnable to bear malice, and doubly damnable to bear malice against
the dead! Therefore I beg you to take notice that I have quite forgotten
the recent conduct of the deceased in the matter of our public games, as
it becomes an impartial and upright judge to do. Poor Jacques Colis! Ah,
death is awful at any time, but it is tenfold terrible to die in this
sudden manner, posthaste as it were, and that, too, on a path where we
put one foot before the other with so much bodily pain. This is the ninth
visit I have made the Augustines, and I cannot flatter the holy monks on
the subject of their roads, much as I wish them well. Is the reverend
clavier back at his post again?"
"He is, and has been active in taking the usual examinations."
"Activity is his strong property, and he needs be that, Herr Steinbach,
who passeth the life of a mountaineer. The noble Genoese, and my ancient
friend Melchior, and his fair daughter the beautiful Adelheid, and the
equitable Chatelain, thou sayest, are all fairly reposed and comfortable?"
"Herr Bailiff, they have reason to thank God that the late storm and their
mental troubles have done them no harm."
"So--I would these Augustines kept kirschwasser among their liquors!"
Peterchen entered the convent, where his presence alone was wanting to
proceed to business. The mules were housed, the guides received as usual
in the building, and then the preparations for the long-delayed
examinations were seriously commenced.
It has already been mentioned that the fraternity of St. Bernard was of
very ancient origin. It was founded in the year 962, by Bernard de
Menthon, an Augustine canon of Aoste in Piedmont, for the double purposes
of bodily succor and spiritual consolation. The idea of establishing a
religious community in the midst of savage rocks, and at the highest point
trod by the foot of a man, was worthy of Christian self-denial and a
benevolent philanthropy. The experiment appears to have succeeded in a
degree that is commensurate with its noble intention; for centuries have
gone by, civilization has undergone a thousand changes, empires have been
formed and upturned, thrones destroyed, and one-half the world has been
rescued from barbarism, while this piously-founded edifice still remains
in its simple and respectable usefulness where it was first erected, the
refuge of the traveller and a shelter for the poor.
The convent buildings are necessarily vast, but, as all its other
materials had to be transported to the place it occupies on the backs of
mules, they are constructed chiefly of the ferruginous, hoary-looking
stones that were quarried from the native rock. The cells of the monks,
the long corridors, refectories for the different classes of travellers,
and suited to the numbers of the guests, as well as those for the canons
and their servants, and lodging rooms of different degrees of magnitude
and convenience, with a chapel of some antiquity and of proper size,
composed then, as now, the internal arrangements. There is no luxury, some
comfort in behalf of those in whom indulgence has become a habit, and much
of the frugal hospitality that is addressed to the personal wants and the
decencies of life. Beyond this, the building, the entertainment, and the
brotherhood, are marked by a severe monastic self-denial, which appears to
have received a character of barren and stern simplicity from the
unvarying nakedness of all that meets the eye in that region of frost and
We shall not stop to say much of the little courtesies and the ceremonious
asseverations of mutual good-will and respect that passed between the
Bailiff of Vevey and the Prior of St. Bernard, on the occasion of their
present meeting. Peterchen was known to the brotherhood, and, though a
Protestant, and one too that did not forbear to deliver his jest or his
witticism against Rome and its flock at will, he was sufficiently well
esteemed. In all the quetes, or collections of the convent, the
well-meaning Bernois had really shown himself a man of bowels, and one
that was disposed to favor humanity, even while it helped the cause of his
arch enemy, the Pope. The clavier was always well received, not only in
his bailiwick but in his chateau, and in spite of numberless little
skirmishes on doctrine and practice, they always met with a welcome and
generally parted in peace. This feeling of amity and good-will extended to
the superior and to all the others of the holy community, for in addition
to a certain heartiness of character in the bailiff, there was mutual
interest to maintain it. At the period of which we write, the vast
possessions with which the monks of St. Bernard had formerly been endowed
were already much reduced by sequestrations in different countries, that
of Savoy in particular, and they were reduced then, as now, to seek
supplies to meet the constant demands of travellers in the liberality of
the well-disposed and charitable; and the liberality of Peterchen was
thought to be cheaply purchased by his jokes, while, on the other hand, he
had so many occasions, either in his own person or those of his friends,
to visit the convent, that he always forbore to push contention to a
"Welcome again, Herr Bailiff, and for the ninth time welcome!" continued
the Prior, as he took the hand of Peterchen, leading the way to his own
private parlor; "thou art always a welcome guest on the mountain, for we
know that we entertain at least a friend."
"And a heretic," added Peterchen, laughing with all his might, though he
uttered a joke which he now repeated for the ninth time. "We have met
often, Herr Prior, and I hope we shall meet finally, after all our
clambering of mountains, as well as our clambering after worldly benefits,
is ended, and that where honest men come together, in spite of Pope or
Luther, books, sermons, aves, or devils! This thought cheers me whenever I
offer thee my hand," shaking that of the other with a hearty good-will;
"for I should not like to think, Father Michael, that, when we set out on
the last long journey, we are to travel for ever in different ways. Thou
may'st tarry awhile, if thou seest fit, in thy purgatory, which is a
lodging of thine own invention, and should therefore suit thee, but I
trust to continue on, until fairly housed in heaven, miserable and unhappy
sinner, that I am!"
Peterchen spoke in the confident voice of one accustomed to utter his
sentiments to inferiors, who either dared not, or did not deem it wise, to
dispute his oracles; and he ended with another deep-mouthed laugh, that
filled the vaulted apartment of the smiling prior to the ceiling. Father
Michael took all in good part, answering, as was his wont in mildness and
good-tempered charity; for he was a priest of much learning, deep
reflection, and rebuked opinions. The community over which he presided was
so far worldly in its object as to keep the canons in constant communion
with men, and he would not now have met for the first time one of those
self-satisfied, authoritative, boisterous, well-meaning beings, of whose
class Peterchen formed so conspicuous a member, had this been the first of
the bailiff's visits to the Col. As it was, however, the Prior not only
understood the species, but he well knew the individual specimen, and he
was well enough disposed to humor the noisy pleasantry of his companion.
Disburthened of his superfluous clothing, delivered of his introductory
jokes, and having achieved his salutations to the several canons, with
suitable words of recognition to the three or four novices who were
usually found on the mountain, Peterchen declared his readiness to enter
on the duty of what the French call restoration. This want had been
foreseen, and the Prior led the way to a private refectory, where
preparations had been made for a sufficient supper, the bailiff being very
generally known to be a huge feeder.
"Thou wilt not fare as well as in thy warm and cheerful town of Vevey,
which outdoes most of Italy in its pleasantness and fruits; but thou
shalt, at least, drink of thine own warm wines," observed the superior, as
they went along the corridor; "and a right goodly company awaits thee, to
share hot only thy repast but thy good companionship."
"Hast ever a drop of kirschwasser, brother Michael, in thy convent?"
"We have not only that, but we have the Baron de Willading, and a noble
Genoese who is in his company; they are ready to set to, the moment they
can see thy face."
"A noble Genoese!"
"An Italian gentleman, of a certainty; I think they call him a Genoese."
Peterchen stopped, laid a finger on his nose, and looked mysterious; but
he forbore to speak, for, by the open simple countenance of the monk, he
saw that the other had no suspicion of his meaning.
"I will hazard my office of bailiff against that of thy worthy clavier,
that he is just what he seemeth,--that is to say, a Genoese!"
"The risk will not be great, for so he has already announced himself. We
ask no questions here and be he who or what he may, he is welcome to come,
and welcome to depart, in peace."
"Ay, this is well enough for an Augustine on the top of the Alps,--he
"A menial and a friend; the latter, however, left the convent for Italy,
when the noble Genoese determined to remain until this inquiry was over
There was something said of heavy affairs which required that some
explanations of the delay should be sent to others."
Peterchen again looked steadily at the Prior, smiling, as in pity, of his
"Look thou, good Prior, much as I love thee and thy convent, and Melchior
von Willading and his daughter, I would have spared myself this journey,
but for that same Genoese. Let there be no questions, however, between us:
the proper time to speak will come, and God forbid that I should be
precipitate! Thou shalt then see in what manner a bailiff of the great
canton can acquit himself! At present we will trust to thy prudence. The
friend hath gone to Italy in haste, that the delay may not create
surprise! Well, each one to his humor on the highway: it is mine to
journey in honor and security, though others may have a different taste.
Let there be little said, good Michael: not so much as an imprudent look
of the eye;--and now, o' Heaven's sake, thy glass of kirschwasser!"
They were at the door of the refectory, and the conversation ceased. On
entering, Peterchen found his friend the baron, the Signor Grimaldi, and
the chatelain of Sion, a grave ponderous dignitary of justice, of German
extraction like himself and the Prior, but whose race, from a long
residence on the confines of Italy, had imbibed some peculiarities of the
southern character. Sigismund and all the rest of the travellers were
precluded from joining the repast, to which it was the intention of the
prudent canons to give a semi-official character.
The meeting between Peterchen and those who had so lately quitted Vevey
was not distinguished by any extraordinary movements of courtesy; but
that between the bailiff and the chatelain, who represented the
authorities of friendly and adjoining states, was marked by a profusion of
politic and diplomatic civilities. Various personal and public inquiries
were exchanged, each appearing to strive to outdo the other in manifesting
interest in the smallest details on those points in which it was proper
for a stranger to feel an interest. Though the distance between the two
capitals was fully fifteen leagues, every foot of the ground was travelled
over by one or the other of the parties, either in commendation of its
beauties, or in questions that touched its interests.
"We come equally of Teutonic fathers, Herr Chatelain," concluded the
bailiff, as the whole party placed themselves at table, after the
reverences and homages were thoroughly exhausted, "though Providence has
cast our fortunes in different countries. I swear to thee, that the sound
of thy German is music to my ears! Thou hast wonderfully escaped
corruptions, though compelled to consort so much with the bastards of
Romans, Celts, and Burgundians, of whom thou hast so many in this portion
of thy states. It is curious to observe,"--for Peterchen had a little of
an antiquarian flavor among the other crude elements of his
character--"that whenever a much-trodden path traverses a country, its
people catch the blood as well as the opinions of those who travel it,
after the manner that tares are scattered and sown by the passing winds.
Here has the St. Bernard been a thoroughfare since the time of the Romans,
and thou wilt find as many races among those who dwell on the way-side as
there are villages between the convent and Vevey. It is not so with you of
the Upper Valais, Herr Chatelain; there the pure race exists as it came
from the other side of the Rhine, and honored and preserved may it
continue for another thousand years!"
There are few people so debased in their own opinion as, not to be proud
of their peculiar origin and character. The habit of always viewing
ourselves, our motives, and even our conduct, on the favorable side, is
the parent of self-esteem; and this weakness, carried into communities,
commonly gets to be the cause of a somewhat fallacious gauge of merit
among the population of entire countries. The chatelain, Melchior de
Willading, and the Prior, all of whom came from the same Teutonic root,
received the remark complacently; for each felt it an honor to be
descended from, such ancestors; while the more polished and artificial
Italian succeeded in concealing the smile that, on such an occasion, would
be apt to play about the mouth of a man whose parentage ran, through a
long line of sophisticated and politic nobles, into the consuls and
patricians of Rome, and most probably, through these again into the wily
and ingenious Greek, a root distinguished for civilization when these
patriarchs of the north lay buried in the depths of barbarism.
This little display of national vanity ended, the discourse took a more
general turn. Nothing occurred during the entertainment, however, to
denote that any of the company bethought him of the business on which they
had met. But, just as twilight foiled, and the repast was ended, the Prior
invited his guests to lend their attention to the matter in hand,
recalling them from their friendly attacks, their time-worn jokes, and
their attenuated logic, in all of which Peterchen, Melchior, and the
chatelain had indulged with some freedom, to a question involving the life
or death of at least one of their fellow-creatures.
The subordinates of the convent were occupied during the supper with the
arrangements that had been previously commanded; and when Father Michael
arose and intimated to his companions that their presence was now expected
elsewhere, he led them to a place that had been completely prepared for
Was ever tale
With such a gallant modesty rehearsed?
Purposes of convenience, as well as others that were naturally connected
with the religious opinions, not to say the superstitions, of most of the
prisoners, had induced the monks to select the chapel of the convent for
the judgment-hall. This consecrated part of the edifice was of sufficient
size to contain all who were accustomed to assemble within its walls. It
was decorated in the manner that is usual to churches of the Romish
persuasion, having its master-altar, and two of smaller size that were
dedicated to esteemed saints. A large lamp illuminated the place, though
the great altar lay in doubtful light, leaving play for the imagination to
people and adorn that part of the chapel. Within the railing of the choir
there stood a table: it held some object that was concealed from view by a
sweeping pall. Immediately beneath the lamp was placed another, which
served the purposes of the clavier, who acted as a clerk on this occasion.
They who were to fill the offices of judges took their stations near. A
knot of females were clustered within the shadows of one of the
side-altars, hovering around each other in the way that their sensitive
sex is known to interpose between the exhibition of its peculiar
weaknesses and the rude observations of the world. Stifled sobs and
convulsive movements occasionally escaped this little group of acutely
feeling and warm-hearted beings, betraying the strength of the emotions
they would fain conceal. The canons and novices were ranged on one side,
the guides and muleteers formed a back-ground to the whole, while the fine
form of Sigismund stood, stern and motionless as a statue, on the steps of
the altar which was opposite to the females. He watched the minutest
proceeding of the investigation with a steadiness that was the result of
severe practice in self-command, and a jealous determination to suffer no
new wrong to be accumulated on the head of his father.
When the little confusion produced by the entrance of the party from the
refectory had subsided, the Prior made a signal to one of the officers of
justice. The man disappeared, and shortly returned with one of the
prisoners, the investigation being intended to embrace the cases of all
who had been detained by the prudence of the monks. Balthazar (for it was
he) approached the table in his usual meek manner. His limbs were unbound,
and his exterior calm, though the quick unquiet movements of his eye, and
the workings of his pale features, whenever a suppressed sob from among
the females reached his ear, betrayed the inward struggle he had to
maintain, in order to preserve appearances. When he was confronted with
his examiners, Father Michael bowed to the chatelain; for, though the
others were admitted by courtesy to participate in the investigations, the
right to proceed in an affair of this nature within the limits of the
Valais, belonged to this functionary alone.
"Thou art called Balthazar?" abruptly commenced the judge, glancing at his
The answer was a simple inclination of the body.
"And thou art the headsman of the canton of Berne?"
A similar silent reply was given.
"The office is hereditary in thy family; it has been so for ages?"
Balthazar erected his frame, breathing heavily, like one oppressed at the
heart, but who would bear down his feelings before he answered.
"Herr Chatelain," he said with energy, "by the judgment of God it has been
"Honest Balthazar, thou throwest too much emphasis into thy words,"
interposed the bailiff. "All that belongs to authority is honorable, and
is not to be treated as an evil. Hereditary claims, when venerable by time
and use, have a double estimation with the world, since it brings the
merit of the ancestor to sustain that of the descendant. We have our
rights of the buergerschaft, and thou thy rights of execution. The time has
been when thy fathers were well content with their privilege."
Balthazar bowed in submission; but he seemed to think any other reply
unnecessary. The fingers of Sigismund writhed on the hilt of his sword,
and a groan, which the young man well knew had been wrested from the bosom
of his mother, came from the women.
"The remark of the worthy and honorable bailiff is just," resumed the
Valaisan; "all that is of the state is for the good of the state, and all
that is for the comfort and security of man is honorable. Be not ashamed,
therefore, of thy office, Balthazar, which, being necessary, is not to be
idly condemned; but answer faithfully and with truth to the questions I am
about to put.--Thou hast a daughter?"
"In that much, at least, have I been blessed!"
The energy with which he spoke caused a sudden movement in the judges.
They looked at each other in surprise, for it was apparent they did not
expect these touches of human feeling in a man who lived, as it were, in
constant warfare with his fellow-creatures.
"Thou hast reason," returned the chatelain, recovering his gravity; "for
she is said to be both dutiful and comely. Thou wert about to marry this
Balthazar acknowledged the truth of this by another inclination.
"Didst thou ever know a Vevaisan of the name of Jacques Colis?"
"Mein Herr, I did. He was to have become my son."
The chatelain was again surprised; for the steadiness of the reply denoted
innocence, and he studied the countenance of the prisoner intently. He
found apparent frankness where he had expected to meet with subterfuge,
and, like all who have great acquaintance with crime, his distrust
increased. The simplicity of one who really had nothing to conceal, unlike
that appearance of firmness, which is assumed to affect innocence, set his
shrewdness at fault, though familiar with most of he expedients of the
"This Jacques Colis was to have wived thy daughter?" continued the
chatelain, growing more wary as he thought he detected greater evidence of
art in the accused.
"It was so understood between us."
"Did he love thy child?"
The muscles of Balthazar's mouth played convulsively, the twitching of
the lip seeming to threaten a loss of self-command.
"Mein Herr, I believed it."
"Yet he refused to fulfil the engagement?"
Even Marguerite was alarmed at the deep emphasis with which this answer
was given, and, for the first time in her life, she trembled lest the
accumulating load of obloquy had indeed been too strong for her husband's
"Thou felt anger at his conduct, and at the public manner in which he
disgraced thee and thine?"
"Herr Chatelain, I am human. When Jacques Colis repudiated my daughter, he
bruised a tender plant in the girl, and he caused bitterness in a father's
"Thou hast received instruction superior to thy condition, Balthazar!"
"We are a race of executioners, but we are not the unnurtured herd that
people fancy. 'Tis the will of Berne that made me what I am, and no desire
nor wants of my own."
"The charge is honorable, as are all that come of the state," repeated the
other, with the formal readiness in which set phrases are uttered; "the
charge is honorable for one of thy birth. God assigns to each his station
on earth, and he has fixed thy duties. When Jacques Colis refused thy
daughter he left his country to escape thy revenge?"
"Were Jacques Colis living, he would not utter so foul a lie!"
"I knew his honest and upright nature!" exclaimed Marguerite with energy!
"God pardon me that I ever doubted it!"
The judges turned inquisitive glances towards indistinct cluster of
females, but the examination did not the less proceed.
"Thou knowest, then, that Jacques Colis is dead?"
"How can I doubt it, mein Herr, when I saw his bleeding body?"
"Balthazar, thou seemest disposed to aid the examination, though with what
views is better known to Him who sees the inmost heart, than to me. I will
come at once, therefore, to the most essential facts. Thou art a native
and a resident of Berne; the headsman of the canton--a creditable office
in itself, though the ignorance and prejudices of man are not apt so to
consider it. Thou wouldst have married thy daughter with a substantial
peasant of Vaud. The intended bridegroom repudiated thy child, in face of
the thousands who came to Vevey to witness the festivities of the Abbaye;
he departed on a journey to avoid thee, or his own feelings, or rumor, or
what thou wilt; he met his death by murder on this mountain; his body was
discovered with the knife in the recent wound, and thou, who shouldst have
been on thy path homeward, wert found passing the night near the murdered
man. Thine own reason will show thee the connexion which we are led to
form between these several events, and thou art now required to explain
that which to us seems so suspicious, but which to thyself may be clear.
Speak freely, but speak truth, as thou reverest God, and in thine own
Balthazar hesitated and appeared to collect his thoughts. His head was
lowered in a thoughtful attitude, and then, looking his examiner steadily
in the face, he replied. His manner was calm, and the tone in which he
spoke, if not that of one innocent in fact, was that of one who well knew
how to assume the exterior of that character.
"Herr Chatelain," he said, "I have foreseen the suspicions that would be
apt to fasten on me in these unhappy circumstances, but, used to trust in
Providence, I shall speak the truth without fear. Of the intention of
Jacques Colis to depart I knew nothing. He went his way privately, and if
you will do me the justice to reflect a little, it will be seen that I was
the last man to whom he would have been likely to let his intention be
known. I came up the St. Bernard, drawn by a chain that your own heart
will own is difficult to break if you are a father. My daughter was on the
road to Italy with kind and true friends, who were not ashamed to feel for
a headsman's child, and who took her in order to heal the wound that had
been so unfeelingly inflicted."
"This is true!" exclaimed the Baron de Willading; "Balthazar surely says
naught but truth here!"
"This is known and allowed; crime is not always the result of cool
determination, but it comes of terror, of sudden thought, the angry mood,
the dire temptation, and a fair occasion. Though thou left'st Vevey
ignorant of Jacques Colis' departure, didst thou hear nothing of his
movements by the way?"
Balthazar changed color. There was evidently a struggle in his bosom, as
if he shrunk from making an acknowledgment that might militate against his
interests; but, glancing an eye at the guides, he recovered his proper
tone of mind, and answered firmly:
"I did. Pierre Dumont had heard the tale of my child's disgrace, and,
ignorant that I was the injured parent, he told me of the manner in which
the unhappy man had retreated from the mockery of his companions. I knew,
therefore, that we were on the same path."
"And yet thou perseveredst?"
"In what, Herr Chatelain? Was I to desert my daughter, because one who had
already proved false to her stood in my way?"
"Thou hast well answered, Balthazar," interrupted Marguerite. "Thou hast
answered as became thee! We are few, and we are all to each other. Thou
wert not to forget our child because it pleased others to despise her."
The Signor Grimaldi bent towards the Valaisan, and whispered near his ear.
"This hath the air of nature." he observed; "and does it not account for
the appearance of the father on the road taken by the murdered man?"
"We do not question the probability or justness of such a motive, Signore;
but revenge may have suddenly mounted to the height of ferocity in some
wrangle: one accustomed to blood yields easily to his passions and his
The truth of these suggestions was plausible, and the noble Genoese drew
back in cold disappointment. The chatelain consulted with those about him,
and then desired the wife to come forth in order to be confronted with her
husband. Marguerite obeyed. Her movement was slow, and her whole manner
that of one who yielded to a stern necessity.
"Thou art the headsman's wife?"
"And a headsman's daughter."
"Marguerite is a well-disposed and a sensible woman," put in Peterchen;
"she understands that an office under the state can never bring disgrace
in the eyes of reason, and wishes no part of her history or origin to be
The glance that flashed from the eye of Balthazar's wife was withering;
but the dogmatic bailiff was by far too well satisfied with his own
wisdom to be conscious of its effects.
"And a headsman's daughter," continued the examining judge; "why art thou
"Because I am a wife and a mother. As the latter I came upon the mountain,
and as a wife I have mounted to the convent to be present at this
examination. They will have it that there is blood upon the hands of
Balthazar, and I am here to repel the lie."
"And yet thou hast not been slow to confess thy connexion with a race of
executioners!--They who are accustomed to see their fellows die might have
less warmth in meeting a plain inquiry of justice!"
"Herr Chatelain, thy meaning is understood. We have been weighed upon
heavily by Providence, but, until now, they whom we have been made to
serve have had the policy to treat us with fair words! Thou hast spoken of
blood; that which has been shed by Balthazar, by his, and by mine, lies on
the consciences of those who commanded it to be spilt. The unwilling
instruments of thy justice are innocent before God."
"This is strange language for people of thy employment! Dost thou, too,
Balthazar, speak and think with thy consort in this matter?"
"Nature has given us men sterner feelings, mein Herr. I was born to the
office I hold, taught to believe it right, if not honorable, and I have
struggled hard to do its duties without murmuring. The case is different
with poor Marguerite. She is a mother, and lives in her children; she has
seen one that is near her heart publicly scorned, and she feels like a
"And thou, who art a father, what has been thy manner of thinking under
Balthazar was meek by nature, and, as he had just said, he had been
trained to the exercise of his functions; but he was capable of profound
affections. The question touched him in a sensitive spot, and he writhed
under his feelings; but, accustomed to command himself before the public
eye, and alive to the pride of manhood, his mighty effort to suppress the
agony that loaded his heart was rewarded with success.
"Sorrow for my unoffending child; sorrow for him who had forgotten his
faith; and sorrow for them who have been at the root of this bitter
wrong," was the answer.
"This man has been accustomed to hear forgiveness preached to the
criminal, and he turns his schooling to good account," whispered the wary
judge to those near him. "We must try his guilt by other means. He may be
readier in reply than steady in his nerves."
Signing to the assistants, the Valaisan now quietly awaited the effect of
a new experiment. The pall was removed, and the body of Jacques Colis
exposed. He was seated as in life, on the table in front of the grand
"The innocent have no dread of those whose spirits have deserted the
flesh," continued the chatelain, "but God often sorely pricks the
consciences of the guilty, when they are made to see the works of their
own cruel hands. Approach and look upon the dead, Balthazar; thou and thy
wife, that we may judge of the manner in which ye face the murdered and
A more fruitless experiment could not well have been attempted with one of
the headsman's office; for long familiarity with such sights had taken off
that edge of horror which the less accustomed would be apt to feel.
Whether it were owing to this circumstance, or to his innocence, Balthazar
walked to the side of the body unshaken, and stood long regarding the
bloodless features with unmoved tranquillity. His habits were quiet and
meek, and little given to display. The feelings which crowded his mind,
therefore, did not escape him in words, though a gleam of something like
regret crossed his face. Not so with his companion. Marguerite took the
hand of the dead man, and hot tears began to follow each other down her
cheeks, as she gazed at his shrunken and altered lineaments.
"Poor Jacques Colis!" she said in a manner to be heard by all present;
"thou hadst thy faults, like all born of woman; but thou didst not merit
this! Little did the mother that bore thee, and who lived in thy infant
smile--she who fondled thee on her knee, and cherished thee in her bosom,
foresee thy fearful and sudden end! It was happy for her that she never
knew the fruit of all her love, and pains, and care, else bitterly would
she have mourned over what was then her joy, and in sorrow would she have
witnessed thy pleasantest smile. We live in a fearful world, Balthazar; a
world in which the wicked triumph! Thy hand, that would not willingly harm
the meanest creature which has been fashioned by the will of God, is made
to take life, and thy heart--thy excellent heart--is slowly hardening in
the execution of this accursed office! The judgment seat hath fallen to
the lot of the corrupt and designing; mercy hath become the laughing-stock
of the ruthless, and death is inflicted by the hand of him who would live
in peace with his kind. This cometh of thwarting God's intentions with the
selfishness and designs of men! We would be wiser than he who made the
universe, and we betray the weakness of fools! Go to--go to, ye proud and
great of the earth--if we have taken life, it hath been at your bidding;
but we have naught of this on our consciences. The deed hath been the
work of the rapacious and violent--it is no deed of revenge."
"In what manner are we to know that what thou sayest is true?" asked the
chatelain, who had advanced near the altar, in order to watch the effects
of the trial to which he had put Balthazar and his wife.
"I am not surprised at thy question, Herr Chatelain, for nothing comes
quicker to the minds of the honored and happy than the thought of
resenting an evil turn. It is not so with the despised. Revenge would be
an idle remedy for us. Would it raise us in men's esteem? should we forget
our own degraded condition? should we be a whit nearer respect after the
deed was done than we were before?"
"This may be true, but the angered do not reason. Thou art not suspected,
Marguerite, except as having heard the truth from thy husband since the
deed has been committed, but thine own discernment will show that naught
is more probable than that a hot contention about the past may have led
Balthazar, who is accustomed to see blood, into the commission of this
"Here is thy boasted justice! Thine own laws are brought in support of
thine own oppression. Didst thou know how much pains his father had in
teaching Balthazar to strike, how many long and anxious visits were paid
between his parent and mine in order to bring up the youth in the way of
his dreadful calling, thou wouldst not think him so apt! God unfitted him
for his office, as he has unfitted many of higher and different
pretensions for duties that have been cast upon them in virtue of their
birthrights. Had it been I, chatelain, thy suspicions would have a better
show of reason. I am formed with strong and quick feelings, and reason has
often proved too weak for passion, though the rebuke that has been daily
received throughout a life hath long since tamed all of pride that ever
dwelt in me."
"Thou hast a daughter present?"
Marguerite pointed to the group which held her child.
"The trial is severe," said the judge, who began to feel compunctions that
were rare to one of his habits, "but it is as necessary to your own future
peace, as it is to justice itself, that the truth should be known. I am
compelled to order thy daughter to advance to the body."
Marguerite received this unexpected command with cold womanly reserve. Too
much wounded to complain, but trembling for the conduct of her child, she
went to the cluster of females, pressed Christine to her heart, and led
her silently forward. She presented her to the chatelain, with a dignity
so calm and quiet, that the latter found it oppressive!
"This is Balthazar's child," she said. Then folding her arms, she retired
herself a step, an attentive observer of what passed.
The judge regarded the sweet pallid face of the trembling girl with an
interest he had seldom felt for any who had come before him in the
discharge of his unbending duties. He spoke to her kindly, and even
encouragingly, placing himself intentionally between her and the dead,
momentarily hiding the appalling spectacle from her view, that she might
have time to summon her courage. Marguerite blessed him in her heart for
this small grace, and was better satisfied.
"Thou wert betrothed to Jacques Colis?" demanded the chatelain, using a
gentleness of voice that was singularly in contrast with his former stern
The utmost that Christine could reply was to bow her head.
"Thy nuptials were to take place at the late meeting of the Abbaye des
Vignerons--it is our unpleasant duty to wound where we could wish to
heal--but thy betrothed refused to redeem his pledge?"
"The heart is weak, and sometimes shrinks from its own good purposes,"
murmured Christine. "He was but human, and he could not withstand the
sneers of all about him."
The chatelain was so entranced by her gentle and sweet manner that he
leaned forward to listen, lest a syllable of what she whispered might
escape his ears.
"Thou acquittest, then, Jacques Colis of any false intention?"
"He was less strong than he believed himself, mein Herr; he was not equal
to sharing our disgrace, which was put rudely and too strongly before
"Thou hadst consented freely to the marriage thyself, and wert well
disposed to become his wife?"
The imploring look and heaving respiration of Christine were lost on the
blunted sensibilities of a criminal judge.
"Was the youth dear to thee?" he repeated, without perceiving the wound he
was inflicting on female reserve.
Christine shuddered. She was not accustomed to have affections which she
considered the most sacred of her short and innocent existence so rudely
probed; but, believing that the safety of her father depended on her
frankness and sincerity, by an effort that was nearly superhuman, she was
enabled to reply. The bright glow that suffused her face, however,
proclaimed the power of that sentiment which becomes instinctive to her
sex, arraying her features in the lustre of maiden shame.
"I was little used to hear words of praise, Herr Chatelain,--and they are
so soothing to the ears of the despised! I felt as a girl acknowledges the
preference of a youth who is not disagreeable to her. I thought he loved
me--and--what would you more, mein Herr?"
"None could hate thee, innocent and abused child!" murmured the Signor
"You forget that I am Balthazar's daughter, mein Herr; none of our race
are viewed with favor."
"Thou, at least, must be an exception!"
"Leaving this aside," continued the chatelain, "I would know if thy
parents showed resentment at the misconduct of thy betrothed; whether
aught was said in thy presence, that can throw light on this unhappy
The officer of the Valais turned his head aside; for he met the surprised
and displeased glance of the Genoese, whose eye expressed a gentleman's
opinion at hearing a child thus questioned in a matter that so nearly
touched her father's life. But the look and the improper character of the
examination escaped the notice of Christine. She relied with filial
confidence on the innocence of the author of her being, and, so far from
being shocked, she rejoiced with the simplicity and confidence of the
undesigning at being permitted to say anything that might vindicate him in
the eyes of his judges.
"Herr Chatelain," she answered eagerly, the blood that had mounted to her
cheeks from female weakness, deepening to, and warming, her very temples
with a holier sentiment: "Herr Chatelain, we wept together when alone; we
prayed for our enemies as for ourselves, but naught was said to the
prejudice of poor Jacques--no, not a whisper."
"Wept and prayed!" repeated the judge, looking from the child to the
father, in the manner of a man that fancied he did not hear aright.
"I said both, mein Herr; if the former was a weakness, the latter was a
"This is strange language in the mouth of a Leadsman's child!"
Christine appeared at a loss, for a moment, to comprehend his meaning;
but, passing a hand across her fair brow she continued:
"I think I understand what you would say, mein Herr," she said; "the world
believes us to be without feeling and without hope. We are what we seem in
the eyes of others because the law makes it so, but we are in our hearts
like all around us, Herr Chatelain--with this difference, that, feeling
our abasement among men, we lean more closely and more affectionately on
God. You may condemn us to do your offices and to bear your dislike, but
you cannot rob us of our trust in the justice of heaven. In that, at
least, we are the equals of the proudest baron in the cantons!"
"The examination had better rest here," said the prior, advancing with
glistening eyes to interpose between the maiden and her interrogator.
"Thou knowest, Herr Bourrit, that we have, other prisoners."
The chatelain, who felt his own practised obduracy of feeling strangely
giving way before the innocent and guileless faith of Christine, was not
unwilling himself to change the direction of the inquiries. The family of
Balthazar was directed to retire, and the attendants were commanded to
bring forward Pippo and Conrad.
And when thou thus
Shalt stand impleaded at the high tribunal
Of hoodwink'd Justice, who shall tell thy audit!
The buffoon and the pilgrim, though of a general appearance likely to
excite distrust, presented themselves with the confidence and composure of
innocence. Their examination was short, for the account they gave of their
movements was clear and connected. Circumstances that were known to the
monks, too, greatly aided in producing a conviction that they could have
had no agency in the murder. They had left the valley below some hours
before the arrival of Jacques Colis, and they reached the convent, weary
and foot-sore, as was usual with all who ascended that long and toilsome
path, shortly after the commencement of the storm. Measures had been taken
by the local authorities, during the time lost in waiting the arrival of
the bailiff and the chatelain, to ascertain all the minute facts which it
was supposed would be useful in ferreting out the truth; and the results
of these inquiries had also been favorable to these itinerants, whose
habits of vagabondism might otherwise very justly have brought them within
the pale of suspicion.
The flippant Pippo was the principal speaker in the short investigation,
and his answers were given with a ready frankness, that, under the
circumstances, did him and his companion infinite service. The buffoon,
though accustomed to deception and frauds, had sufficient mother-wit to
comprehend the critical position in which he was now placed, and that it
was wiser to be sincere, than to attempt effecting his ends by any of the
usual means of prevarication. He answered the judge, therefore, with a
simplicity which his ordinary pursuits would not have given reason to
expect, and apparently with some touches of feeling that did credit to his
"This frankness is thy friend," added the chatelain, after he had nearly
exhausted his questions, the answers having convinced him that there was
no ground of suspicion, beyond the adventitious circumstance of their
having been travellers on the same road as the deceased; "it has done much
towards convincing me of thy innocence, and it is in general the best
shield for those who have committed no crime. I only marvel that one of
thy habits should have had the sense to discover it!"
"Suffer me to tell you, Signor Castellano, or Podesta, whichever may be
your eccellenza's proper title, that you have not given Pippo credit for
the wit he really hath. It is true I live by throwing dust into men's
eyes, and by making others think the wrong is the right: but mother Nature
has given us all an insight into our own interests, and mine is quite
clear enough to let me know when the true is better than the false."
"Happy would it be if all had the same faculty and the same disposition to
put it in use."
"I shall not presume to teach one as wise and as experienced as yourself,
eccellenza, but if an humble man might speak freely in this honorable
presence, he would say that it is not common to meet with a fact without
finding it a very near neighbor to a lie. They pass for the wisest and the
most virtuous who best know how to mix the two so artfully together, that,
like the sweets we put upon healing bitters, the palatable may make the
useful go down. Such at least is the opinion of a poor street buffoon,
who has no better claim to merit than having learned his art on the Mole
and in the Toledo of Bellissima Napoli, which, as everybody knows, is a
bit of heaven fallen upon earth!"
The fervor with which Pippo uttered the customary eulogium on the site of
the ancient Parthenope was so natural and characteristic as to excite a
smile in the judge, in spite of the solemn duty in which he was engaged,
and it was believed to be an additional proof of the speaker's innocence.
The chatelain then slowly recapitulated the history of the buffoon and the
pilgrim to his companions, the purport of which was as follows.
Pippo naively admitted the debauch at Vevey, implicating the festivities
of the day and the known frailty of the flesh as the two influencing
causes. Conrad, however, stood upon the purity of his life and the sacred
character of his calling, justifying the company he kept on the
respectable plea of necessity, and on that of the mortifications to which
a pilgrimage should, of right, subject him who undertakes it. They had
quitted Vaud together as early as the evening of the day of the abbaye's
ceremonies, and, from that time to the moment of their arrival at the
convent, had made a diligent use of their legs, in order to cross the Col
before the snows should set in and render the passage dangerous. They had
been seen at Martigny, at Liddes, and St. Pierre, alone and at proper
hours, making the best of their way towards the hospice; and, though of
necessity their progress and actions, for several hours after quitting the
latter place, were not brought within the observation of any but of that
all-seeing eye which commands a view of the recesses of the Alps equally
with those of more frequented spots, their arrival at the abode of the
monks was sufficiently seasonable to give reason to believe that no
portion of the intervening time had been wasted by the way. Thus far their
account of themselves and their movements was distinct, while, on the
other hand, there was not a single fact to implicate either, beyond the
suspicion that was more or less common to all who happened to be on the
mountain at the moment the crime was committed.
"The innocence of these two men would seem so clear, and their readiness
to appear and answer to our questions is so much in their favor," observed
the experienced chatelain, "that I do not deem it just to detain them
longer. The pilgrim, in particular, has a heavy trust; I understand he
performs his penance as much for others as for himself, and it is scarce
decent in us, who are believers and servants of the church, to place
obstacles in his path. I will suggest the expediency, therefore, of giving
him at least permission to depart."
"As we are near the end of the inquiries," interrupted the Signor
Grimaldi, gravely, "I would suggest, with due deference to a better
opinion and more experience, the propriety that all should remain,
ourselves included, until we have come to a better understanding of the
Both Pippo and the pilgrim met this suggestion with ready declarations of
their willingness to continue at the convent until the following morning.
This little concession, however, had no great merit, for the lateness of
the hour rendered it imprudent to depart immediately; and the; affair was
finally settled by ordering them to retire, it being understood that,
unless previously called for, they might depart with the reappearance of
the dawn. Maso was the next and the last to be examined.
Il Maledetto presented himself with perfect steadiness of nerve. He was
accompanied by Nettuno, the mastiffs of the convent having been kennelled
for the night. It had been the habit of the dog of late to stray among
the rocks by day, and to return to the convent in the evening in quest of
food, the sterile St. Bernard possessing nothing whatever for the support
of man or beast except that which came from the liberality of the monks,
every animal but the chamois and the laemmergeyer refusing to ascend so
near the region of eternal snows. In his master, however, Nettuno found a
steady friend, never failing to receive all that was necessary to his
wants from the portion of Maso himself; for the faithful beast was
admitted at his periodical visits to the temporary prison in which the
latter was confined.
The chatelain waited; a moment for the little stir occasioned by the
entrance of the prisoner to subside, when he pursued the inquiry.
"Thou art a Genoese of the name of Thomaso Santi?" he asked, consulting
"By this name, Signore, am I generally known."
"Thou art a mariner, and it is said one of courage and skill. Why hast
thou given thyself the ungracious appellation of Il Maledetto?"
"Men call me thus. It is a misfortune, but not a crime, to be accursed."
"He that is so ready to abuse his own fortunes should not be surprised if
others are led to think he merits his fate. We have some accounts of thee
in Valais; 'tis said thou art a free-trader?"
"The fact can little concern Valais or her government, since all come and
go unquestioned in this free land."
"It is true, we do not imitate our neighbors in all their policy; neither
do we like to see so often those who set at naught the laws of friendly
states. Why art thou journeying on this road?"
"Signore, if I am what you say, the reason of my being here is
sufficiently plain. It is probably because the Lombard and Piedmontese
are more exacting of the stranger than you of the mountains."
"Your effects have been examined, and they offer nothing to support the
suspicion. By all appearances, Maso, thou hast not much of the goods of
life to boast of; but, in spite of this, thy reputation clings to thee."
"Ay, Signore, this is much after the world's humor. Let it fancy any
quality in a man, and he is sure to get more than his share of the same,
whether it be for or against his interest. The rich man's florin is
quickly coined into a sequin by vulgar tongues, while the poor man is
lucky if he can get the change of a silver mark for an ounce of the better
metal. Even poor Nettuno finds it difficult to get a living here at the
convent, because some difference in coat and instinct has given him a bad
name among the dogs of St. Bernard!"
"Thy answer agrees with thy character; thou art said to have more wit than
honesty, Maso, and thou art described as one that can form a desperate
resolution and act up to its decision at need?"
"I am as Heaven willed at the birth, Signor Castellano, and as the chances
of a pretty busy life have served to give the work its finish. That I am
not wanting in manly qualities on occasion, perhaps these noble travellers
will be willing to testify, in consideration of some activity that I may
have shown on the Leman, during their late passage of that treacherous
Though this was said carelessly, the appeal to the recollection and
gratitude of those he had served was too direct to be overlooked. Melchior
de Willading, the pious clavier, and the Signor Grimaldi all testified in
behalf of the prisoner, freely admitting that, without his coolness and
skill, the Winkelried and all she held would irretrievably have been lost.
Sigismund was not content with so cold a demonstration of his feelings. He
owed not only the lives of his father and him self to the courage of Maso,
but that of one dearer than all; one whose preservation, to his youthful
imagination, seemed a service that might nearly atone for any crime, and
his gratitude was in proportion.
"I will testify more strongly to thy merit, Maso, in face of this or any
tribunal;" he said, grasping the hand of the Italian. "One who showed so
much bravery and so strong love for his fellows, would be little likely to
take life clandestinely and like a coward. Thou mayest count on my
testimony in this strait--if thou art guilty of this crime, who can hope
to be innocent?"
Maso returned the friendly grasp till their fingers seemed to grow into
each other. His eye, too, showed he was not without wholesome native
sympathies, though education and his habits might have warped them from
their true direction. A tear, in spite of his effort to suppress the
weakness started from its fountain, rolling down his sunburnt cheek like a
solitary rivulet trickling through a barren and rugged waste.
"This is frank, and as becomes a soldier, Signore," he said, "and I
receive it as it is given, in kindness and love. But we will not lay more
stress upon the affair of the lake than it deserves. This keen-sighted
chatelain need not be told that I could not be of use in saving your
lives, without saving my own; and, unless I much mistake the meaning of
his eye, he is about to say that we are fashioned like this wild country
in which chance has brought us together, with our spots of generous
fertility mingled with much unfruitful rock, and that he who does a good
act to-day may forget himself by doing an evil turn to-morrow."
"Thou givest reason to all who hear thee to mourn that thy career has not
been more profitable to thyself and the public," answered the judge; "one
who can reason so-well, and who hath this clear insight into his own
disposition, must err less from ignorance than wantonness!"
"There you do me injustice, Signor Castellano, and the laws more credit
than they deserve. I shall not deny that justice--or what is called
justice--and I have some acquaintance. I have been the tenant of many
prisons before this which has been furnished by the holy canons, and I
have seen every stage of the rogue's progress, from him who is still
startled by his first crime, dreaming heavy dreams, and fancying each
stone of his cell has an eye to reproach him, to him who no sooner does a
wrong than it is forgotten in the wish to find the means of committing
another; and I call Heaven as a witness, that more is done to help along
the scholar in his study of vice, by those who are styled the ministers of
justice, than by his own natural frailties, the wants of his habits, or
the strength of his passions. Let the judge feel a father's mildness, the
laws possess that pure justice which is of things that are not perverted,
and society become what it claims to be, a community of mutual support,
and, my life on it, chatelain, thy functions will be lessened of most of
their weight and of all their oppression."
"This language is bold, and without an object. Explain the manner of thy
quitting Vevey, Maso, the road thou hast travelled, the hours of thy
passages by the different villages, and the reason why thou wert
discovered near the Refuge, alone, and why thou quittedst the companions
with whom thou hadst passed the night so early and so clandestinely?"
The Italian listened attentively to these several interrogatories; when
they were all put, he gravely and calmly set about furnishing his answers.
The history of his departure from Vevey, his appearance at St. Maurice,
Martigny, Liddes, and St. Pierre, was distinctly given, and it was in
perfect accordance with the private information that had been gleaned by
the authorities. He had passed the last habitation on the mountain, on
foot and alone, about an hour before the solitary horseman, who was now
known to be Jacques Colis, was seen to proceed in the same direction; and
he admitted that he was overtaken by the latter, just as he reached the
upper extremity of the plain beneath Velan, where they were seen in
company, though at a considerable distance, and by a doubtful light, by
the travellers who were conducted by Pierre.
Thus far the account given of himself by Maso was in perfect conformity
with what was already known to the chatelain; but, after turning the rock
already mentioned in a previous chapter, all was buried in mystery, with
the exception of the incidents that have been regularly related in the
narrative. The Italian, in his further explanations, added that he soon
parted with his companion, who, impatient of delay, and desirous of
reaching the convent before night, had urged his beast to greater speed,
while he himself had turned a little aside from the path to rest himself,
and to make a few preparations that he had deemed necessary before going
directly to the convent.
The whole of this short history was delivered with a composure as great as
that which had just been displayed by Pippo and the pilgrim; and it was
impossible for any present to detect the slightest improbability or
contradiction in the tale. The meeting with the other travellers in the
storm Maso ascribed to the fact of their having passed him while he was
stationary, and to his greater speed when in motion; two circumstances
that were quite as likely to be true as all the rest of the account. He
had left the Refuge at the first glimpse of dawn, because he was behind
his time, and it had been his intention to descend to Aoste that night, an
exertion that was necessary in order to repair the loss.
"This may be true," resumed the judge; "but how dost thou account for thy
poverty? In searching thy effects, thou art found to be in a condition
little better than that of a mendicant. Even thy purse is empty, though
known to be a successful and desperate trifler with the revenue, in all
those states where the entrance duty is enforced."
"He that plays deepest, Signore, is most likely to be stripped of his
means. What is there new or unlooked for in the fact that a dealer in the
contraband should lose his venture?"
"This is more plausible than convincing. Thou art signalled as being
accustomed to transport articles of the jewellers from Geneva into the
adjoining states, and thou art known to come from the head-quarters of
these artisans. Thy losses must have been unusual, to have left thee so
naked. I much fear that a bootless speculation in thy usual trade has
driven thee to repair the loss by the murder of this unhappy man, who left
his home well supplied with gold, and, as it would seem, with a valuable
store of jewelry, too. The particulars are especially mentioned in this
written account of his effects, which the honorable bailiff bringeth from
Maso mused silently, and in deep abstraction. He then desired that the
chapel might be cleared of all but the travellers of condition, the
monks, and his judges. The request was granted, for it was expected that
he was about to make an important confession, as indeed, in a certain
degree, proved to be the fact.
"Should I clear myself of the charge of poverty, Signor Castellano," he
demanded, when all the inferiors had left the place, "shall I stand
acquitted in your eyes of the charge of murder?"
"Surely not: still thou wilt have removed one of the principal grounds of
temptation, and in that thou wilt be greatly the gainer, for we know that
Jacques Colis hath been robbed as well as slain."
Maso appeared to deliberate again, as a man is apt to pause before he
takes a step that may materially affect his interests. But suddenly
deciding, like a man of prompt opinions, he called to Nettuno, and,
seating himself on the steps of one of the side-altars, he proceeded to
make his revelation with great method and coolness. Removing some of the
long shaggy hair of the dog, Il Maledetto showed the attentive and curious
spectators that a belt of leather had been ingeniously placed about the
body of the animal, next its skin. It was so concealed as to be quite hid