Part 8 out of 8
from the view of those who did not make particular search, a process that
Nettuno, judging by the scowling looks he threw at most present, and the
manner in which he showed his teeth, would not be likely to permit to a
stranger. The belt was opened, and Maso laid a glittering necklace of
precious stones, in which rubies and emeralds vied with other gems of
price, with some of a dealer's coquetry, under the strong light of the
"There you see the fruits of a life of hazards and hardships, Signor
Chatelain," he said; "if my purse is empty, it is because the Jewish
Calvinists of Geneva have taken the last liard in payment of the jewels."
"This is an ornament of rare beauty and exceeding value, to be seen in the
possession of one of thy appearance and habits, Maso!" exclaimed the
"Signore, its cost was a hundred doppie of pure gold and full weight, and
it is contracted for with a young noble of Milano, who hopes to win his
mistress by the present, for a profit of fifty. Affairs were getting low
with me in consequence of sundry seizures and a total wreck, and I took
the adventure with the hope of sudden and great gain. As there is nothing
against the laws of Valais in the matter, I trust to stand acquitted,
chatelain, for my frankness. One who was master of this would be little
likely to shed blood for the trifle that would be found on the person of
"Thou hast more," observed the judge, signing with his hand as he spoke;
"let us see all thou hast."
"Not a brooch, or so much as a worthless garnet."
"Nay, I see the belt which contains them among the hairs of the dog."
Maso either felt or feigned a well-acted surprise. Nettuno had been placed
in a convenient attitude for his master to unloosen the belt, and, as it
was the intention of the latter to replace it, the animal still lay
quietly in the same position, a circumstance which displaced his shaggy
coat, and allowed the chatelain to detect the object to which he had just
"Signore," said the smuggler, changing color but endeavoring to speak
lightly of a discovery which all the others present evidently considered
to be grave, "it would seem that the dog, accustomed to do these little
offices in behalf of his master, has been tempted by success to undertake
a speculation on his own account. By my patron saint and the Virgin! I
know nothing of this second adventure."
"Trifle not, but undo the belt, lest I have the beast muzzled that it may
be performed by others." sternly commanded the chatelain.
The Italian complied, though with an ill grace that was much too apparent
for his own interest. Having loosened the fastenings, he reluctantly gave
the envelope to the Valaisan. The latter cut the cloth, and laid some ten
or fifteen different pieces of jewelry on the table. The spectators
crowded about the spot in curiosity, while the judge eagerly referred to
the written description of the effects of the murdered man.
"A ring of brilliants, with an emerald of price, the setting chased and
heavy," read the Valaisan.
"Thank God, it is not here!" exclaimed the Signor Grimaldi. "One could
wish to find so true a mariner innocent of this bloody deed!"
The chatelain believed he was on the scent of a secret that had begun to
perplex him, and as few are so inherently humane as to prefer the
advantage of another to their own success, he heard both the announcement
and the declaration of the noble Genoese with a frown.
"A cross of turquoise of the length of two inches, with pearls of no great
value intermixed," continued the judge.
Sigismund groaned and turned away from the table.
"Unhappily, here is that which too well answers to the description!"
slowly and with evident reluctance, escaped from the Signor Grimaldi.
"Let it be measured," demanded the prisoner.
The experiment was made, and the agreement was found to be perfect
"Bracelets of rubies, the stones set in foil, and six in number,"
continued the methodical chatelain, whose eye now lighted with the triumph
"These are wanting!" cried Melchior de Willading, who, in common with all
whom he had served, took a lively interest in the fate of Maso. "There are
no jewels of this description here!"
"Come to the next, Herr Chatelain," put in Peterchen, leaning to the side
of the law's triumph; "let us have the next, o' God's name!"
"A brooch of amethyst, the stone of our own mountains, set in foil, and
the size of one-eighth of an inch; form oval."
It was lying on the table, beyond all possibility of dispute. All the
remaining articles, which were chiefly rings of the less prized stones,
such as jasper, granite, topaz, and turquoise, were also identified,
answering perfectly to the description furnished by the jeweller, who had
sold them to Jacques Colis the night of the fete, when, with Swiss thrift,
he had laid in this small stock in trade, with a view to diminish the cost
of his intended journey.
"It is a principle of law, unfortunate man," remarked the chatelain,
removing the spectacles he had mounted in order to read the list, "that
effects wrongly taken from one robbed criminate him in whose possession
they are found, unless he can render a clear account of the transfer. What
hast thou to say on this head?"
"Not a syllable, Signore; I must refer you and all others to the dog, who
alone can furnish the history of these baubles. It is clear that I am
little known in the Valais, for Maso never deals in trifles insignificant
"The pretext will not serve thee, Maso; thou triflest in an affair of
life and death. Wilt thou confess thy crime, ere we proceed to
"That I have been long at open variance with the law, Signor Castellano,
is true, if you will have it so; but I am as innocent of this man's death
as the noble Baron de Willading here. That the Genoese authorities were
looking for me, on account of some secret understanding that the republic
has with its old enemies, the Savoyards, I frankly allow too; but it was a
matter of gain, and not of blood. I have taken life in my time, Signore,
but it has been in fair combat, whether the cause was just or not."
"Enough has been proved against thee already to justify the use of the
torture in order to have the rest."
"Nay; I do not see the necessity of this appeal," remarked the bailiff.
"There lies the dead, here is his property, and yonder stands the
criminal. It is an affair that only wants the forms, methinks, to be
committed presently to the axe."
"Of all the foul offences against God and man," resumed the Valaisan, in
the manner of one that is about to sentence, "that which hastens a living
soul, unshrived, unconfessed, unprepared, and with all its sins upon it,
into another state of being and into the dread presence of his Almighty
Judge, is the heaviest, and the last to be overlooked by the law. There is
less excuse for thee, Thomaso Santi, for thy education has been far
superior to thy fortunes, and thou hast passed a life of vice and violence
in opposition to thy reason and what was taught thee in youth. Thou hast,
therefore, little ground for hope, since the state I serve loves justice
in its purity above all other qualities."
"Nobly spoken! Herr Chatelain," cried the bailiff, "and in a manner to
send repentance like a dagger into the criminal's soul. What is thought
and said in Valais we echo in Vaud, and I would not that any I love stood
in thy shoes, Maso, for the honors of the emperor!"
"Signori, you have both spoken, and it is as men whom fortune hath favored
since childhood. It is easy for those who are in prosperity to be upright
in all that touches money, though by the light of the blessed Maria's
countenance I do think there is more coveted by those who have much than
by the hardy and industrious poor. I am no stranger, to that which men
call justice, and know how to honor and respect its decrees as they
deserve. Justice, Signori, is the weak man's scourge and the strong man's
sword: it is a breast-plate and back-plate to the one and a weapon to be
parried by the other. In short, it is a word of fair import, on the
tongue, but of most unequal application in the deed."
"We overlook thy language in consideration of the pass to which thy crimes
have reduced thee, unhappy man, though it is an aggravation of thy
offences, since it proves thou hast sinned equally against thyself and us.
This affair need go no farther; the headsman and the other travellers may
be dismissed: we commit the Italian to the irons."
Maso heard the order without alarm, though he appeared to be maintaining a
violent struggle with himself. He paced the chapel rapidly, and muttered
much between his teeth. His words were not intelligible, though they were
evidently of strong, if not violent, import. At length he stopped short,
in the manner of one who had decided.
"This-matter grows serious," he said: "it will admit of no farther
hesitation. Signor Grimaldi, command all to leave the chapel in whose
discretion you have not the most perfect confidence."
"I see none to be distrusted," answered the surprised Genoese.
"Then will I speak."
Thy voice to us is wind among still woods.
Notwithstanding the gravity of the facts which were accumulating against
him, Maso had maintained throughout the foregoing scene much of that
steady self-possession and discernment which were the fruits of adventure
in scenes of danger, long exposure, and multiplied hazards. To these
causes of coolness, might be added the iron-like nerves inherited from
nature. The latter were not easily disturbed, however critical the state
to which he was reduced. Still he had changed color, and his manner had
that thoughtful and unsettled air which denote the consciousness of being
in circumstances that require uncommon wariness and judgment. But his
final opinion appeared to be formed when he made the appeal mentioned in
the close of the last chapter, and he now only waited for the two or three
officials who were present to retire, before he pursued his purpose. When
the door was closed, leaving none but his examiners, Sigismund Balthazar,
and the group of females in the side-chapel, he turned, with singular
respect of manner, and addressed himself exclusively to the Signor
Grimaldi, as if the judgment which was to decide his fate depended solely
on his will.
"Signore," he said, "there has been much secret allusion between us, and
I suppose that it is unnecessary for me to say, that you are known to me.'
"I have already recognized thee for a country man," coldly returned the
Genoese; "it is vain however, to imagine the circumstance can avail a
murderer. If any consideration could induce me to forget the claims of
justice, the recollection of thy good service on the Leman would prove thy
best friend. As it is, I fear thou hast naught to expect from me."
Maso was silent. He looked the other steadily in the face, as if he would
study his character, though he guardedly prevented his manner from losing
its appearance of profound respect.
"Signore, the chances of life were greatly with you at the birth. You were
born the heir of a powerful house, in which gold is more plenty than woes
in a poor man's cabin, and you have not been made to learn by experience
how hard it is to keep down the longings for those pleasures which the
base metal will purchase, when we see others rolling in its luxuries."
"This plea will not avail thee, unfortunate man; else were there an end of
human institutions. The difference of which thou speakest is a simple
consequence of the rights of property; and even the barbarian admits the
sacred duty of respecting that which is another's."
"A word from one like you, illustrious Signore, would open for me the road
to Piedmont," continued Maso, unmoved: "once across the frontiers, it
shall be my care never to molest the rocks of Valais again. I ask only
what I have been the means of saving, eccellenza,--life."
The Signor Grimaldi shook his head, though it was very evident that he
declined the required intercession with much reluctance. He and old
Melchior de Willading exchanged glances; and all who noted this silent
intercourse understood it to say, that each considered duty to God a
higher obligation than gratitude for a service rendered to themselves.
"Ask gold, or what thou wilt else, but do not ask me to aid in defeating
justice. Gladly would I have given for the asking, twenty times the value
of those miserable baubles for whose possession, Maso, thou hast rashly
taken life; but I cannot become a sharer of thy crime, by refusing
atonement to his friends. It is too late: I cannot befriend thee now, if I
"Thou nearest the answer of this noble gentleman," interposed the
chatelain; "it is wise and seemly, and thou greatly overratest his
influence or that of any present, if thou fanciest the laws can be set
aside at pleasure. Wert thou a noble thyself, or the son of a prince,
judgment would have its way in the Valais!"
Maso smiled wildly; and yet the expression of his glittering eye was so
ironical as to cause uneasiness in his judge. The Signor Grimaldi, too,
observed the audacious confidence of his air with distrust, for his spirit
had taken secret alarm on a subject that was rarely long absent from his
"If thou meanest more than has been said," exclaimed the latter, "for the
sake of the blessed Maria be explicit!"
"Signor Melchior," continued Maso, turning to the baron, "I did you and
your daughter fair service on the lake!"
"That thou didst, Maso, we are both willing to admit, and were it in
Berne,--but the laws are made equally for all, the great and the humble
they who have friends, and they who have none,"
"I have heard of this act on the lake," put in Peterchen; "and unless fame
lieth--which. Heaven knows, fame is apt enough to do, except in giving
their just dues to those who are in high trusts,--thou didst conduct
thyself in that affair, Maso, like a loyal and well-taught mariner: but
the honorable chatelain has well remarked, that holy justice must have way
before all other things. Justice is represented as blind, in order that it
may be seen she is no respecter of persons: and wert thou an Avoyer, the
decree must come. Reflect maturely, therefore, on all the facts, and thou
wilt come, in time, to see the impossibility of thine own innocence.
First, thou left the path, being ahead of Jacques Colis, to enter it at a
moment suited to thy purposes: then thou took'st his life for gold--"
"But this is believing that to be true, Signor Bailiff, which is only yet
supposed," interrupted Il Maledetto; "I left the path to give Nettuno his
charge apart from curious eyes; and, as for the gold of which you speak,
would the owner of a necklace of that price be apt to barter his soul
against a booty like this which comes of Jacques Colis!"
Maso spoke with a contempt which did not serve his cause; for it left the
impression among the auditors, that he weighed the morality and immorality
of his acts simply by their result.
"It is time to bring this to an end," said the Signor Grimaldi, who had
been thoughtful and melancholy while the others spoke: "thou hast
something to address particularly to me, Maso; but if thy claim is no
better than that of our common country, I grieve to say, it cannot be
"Signore, the voice of a Doge of Genoa is not often raised in vain, when
he would use it in behalf of another!"
At this sudden announcement of the traveller's rank, the monks and the
chatelain started in surprise, and a low murmur of wonder was heard in
the chapel. The smile of Peterchen, and the composure of the Baron de
Willading, however, showed that they, at least, learned nothing new. The
bailiff whispered the prior significantly, and from that moment his
deportment towards the Genoese took still more of the character of formal
and official respect. On the other hand, the Signor Grimaldi remained
composed, like one accustomed to receive deference, though his manner lost
the slight degree of restraint that had been imposed by the observance of
the temporary character he had assumed.
"The voice of a Doge of Genoa should not be used in intercession, unless
in behalf of the innocent," he replied, keeping his severe eye fastened on
the countenance of the accused.
Again Il Maledetto seemed laboring with some secret that struggled on his
"Speak," continued the Prince of Genoa; for it was, in truth, that high
functionary, who had journeyed incognito, in the hope of meeting his
ancient friend at the sports of Vevey, "Speak, Maso, if thou hast aught
serious to urge in favor of thyself; time presses, and the sight of one to
whom I owe so much in this great jeopardy, without the power to aid him,
"Signor Doge, though deaf to pity, you cannot be deaf to nature."
The countenance of the Doge became livid; his lips trembled even to the
appearance of convulsions.
"Deal no longer in mystery, man of blood!" he said with energy. "What is
"I entreat your eccellenza to be calm. Necessity forces me to speak; for,
as you see, I stand between this revelation and the block--I am Bartolo
The groan that escaped the compressed lips of, the Doge, the manner in
which he sank into a seat, and the hue of death that settled over his aged
countenance, until it was more ghastly even than that of the unhappy
victim of violence, drew all present, in wonder and alarm, around his
chair. Signing for those who pressed upon him to give way, the Prince sat
gazing at Maso, with eyes that appeared ready to burst from their sockets.
"Thou Bartolomeo!" he uttered huskily, as if horror had frozen his voice.
"I am Bartolo, Signore, and no other. He who goes through many scenes hath
occasion for many names. Even your Highness travels at times under a
The Doge continued to stare on the speaker with the fixedness of regard
that one might be supposed to fasten on a creature of unearthly existence.
"Melchior," he said slowly, turning his eyes from one to the other of the
forms that filled them, for Sigismund had advanced to the side of Maso, in
kind concern for the old man's condition,--"Melchior, we are but feeble
and miserable creatures in the hand of one who looks upon the proudest and
happiest of us, as we look upon the worm that crawls the earth! What are
hope, and honor, and our fondest love, in the great train of events that
time heaves from its womb, bringing forth to our confusion? Are we proud?
fortune revenges itself for our want of humility by its scorn. Are we
happy? it is but the calm that precedes the storm. Are we great? it is but
to lead us into abuses that will justify our fall. Are we honored stains
tarnish our good names, in spite of all our care!"
"He who puts his trust in the Son of Maria need never despair!" whispered
the worthy clavier touched nearly to tears by the sudden distress of one
whom he had learned to respect. "Let the fortunes of the world pass away,
or change as they will, his chastening love outliveth time!"
The Signor Grimaldi, for, though the elected of Genoa, such was in truth
the family name of the Doge, turned his vacant gaze for an instant on the
Augustine, but it soon reverted to the forms and faces of Maso and
Sigismund, who still stood before him, filling his thoughts even more than
"Yes, there is a power--" he resumed, "a great and beneficent Being to
equalize our fortunes here, and when we pass into another state of being,
loaded with the wrongs of this, we shall have justice! Tell me, Melchior,
thou who knew my youth, who read my heart when it was open as day, what
was there in it to deserve this punishment? Here is Balthazar, come of a
race of executioners--a man condemned of opinion--that prejudice besets
with a hedge of hatred--that men point at with their fingers, and whom the
dogs are ready to bay--this Balthazar is the father of that gallant youth,
whose form is so perfect, whose spirit is so noble, and whose life so
pure; while I, the last of a line that is lost in the obscurity of time,
the wealthiest of my land, and the chosen of my peers, am accursed with an
outcast, a common brigand, a murderer, for the sole prop of my decaying
house--with this Il Maledetto--this man accursed--for a son!"
A movement of astonishment escaped the listeners, even the Baron de
Willading not suspecting the real cause of his friend's distress. Maso
alone was unmoved; for while the aged father betrayed the keenness of his
anguish, the son discovered none of that sympathy of which even a life
like his might be supposed to have left some remains in the heart of a
child. He was cold, collected, observant, and master of his smallest
"I will not believe this," exclaimed the Doge, whose very soul revolted at
this unfeeling apathy, even more than at the disgrace of being the father
of such a child; "thou art not he thou pretendest to be; this foul lie is
uttered that my natural feelings may interpose between thee and the block!
Prove thy truth, or I abandon thee to thy fate."
"Signore, I would have saved this unhappy exhibition, but you would not.
That I am Bartolo this signet, your own gift sent to be my protection in a
strait like this, will show. It is, moreover, easy for me to prove what I
say, by a hundred witnesses who are living in Genoa."
The Signor Grimaldi stretched forth a hand that trembled like an aspen to
receive the ring, a jewel of little price, but a signet that he had, in
truth, sent to be an instrument of recognition between him and his child,
in the event of any sudden calamity befalling the latter. He groaned as he
gazed at its well-remembered emblems, for its identity was only too plain.
"Maso--Bartolo--Gaetano--for such, miserable boy, is thy real
appellation--thou canst not know how bitter is the pang that an unworthy
child brings to the parent, else would thy life have been different. Oh!
Gaetano! Gaetano! what a foundation art thou for a father's hopes! What a
subject for a father's love! I saw thee last a smiling innocent cherub, in
thy nurse's arms, and I find thee with a blighted sod, the pure fountain
of thy mind corrupted, a form sealed with the stamp of vice, and with
hands dyed in blood; prematurely old in body, and with a spirit that hath
already the hellish taint of the damned!
"Signore, you find me as the chances of a wild life have willed. The world
and I have been at loggerheads this many a year, and in trifling with its
laws, I take my revenge of its abuse--" warmly returned Il Maledetto, for
his spirit began to be aroused. "Thou bear'st hard upon me,
Doge--father--or what thou wilt--and I should be little worthy of my
lineage, did I not meet thy charges as they are made. Compare thine own
career with mine, and let it be proclaimed by sound of trumpet if thou
wilt, which hath most reason to be proud, and which to exult. Thou wert
reared in the hopes and honors of our name; thou passed thy youth in the
pursuit of arms according to thy fancy, and when tired of change, and
willing to narrow thy pleasures, thou looked about thee for a maiden to
become the mother of thy successor; thou turned a wishing eye on one
young, fair, and noble, but whose affections, as her faith, were solemnly,
irretrievably plighted to another."
The Doge shuddered and veiled his eye; but he eagerly interrupted Maso.
"Her kinsman was unworthy of her love," he cried; "he was an outcast, and
little better than thyself, unhappy boy, except in the chances of
"It matters not, Signore; God had not made you the arbiter of her fate. In
tempting her family by your greater riches, you crushed two hearts, and
destroyed the hopes of your fellow-creatures. In her was sacrificed an
angel, mild and pure as this fair creature who is now listening so
breathlessly to my words; in him a fierce untamed spirit, that had only
the greater need of management, since it was as likely to go wrong as
right. Before your son was born, this unhappy rival, poor in hopes as in
wealth, had become desperate; and the mother of your child sank a victim
to her ceaseless regrets, at her own want of faith as much as for his
"Thy mother was deluded, Gaetano; she never knew the real qualities of
her cousin, or a soul like hers would have lothed the wretch."
"Signore, it matters not," continued Il Maledetto, with a ruthless
perseverance of intention, and a coolness of manner that would seem to
merit the description which had just been given his spirit, that of
possessing a hellish taint; "she loved him with a woman's heart; and with
a woman's ingenuity and confidence, she ascribed his fall to despair for
"Oh, Melchior! Melchior! this is fearfully true!" groaned the Doge.
"It is so true, Signore, that it should be written on my mother's tomb. We
are children of a fiery climate; the passions burn in our Italy like the
hot sun that glows there. When despair drove the disappointed lover to
acts that rendered him an outlaw, the passage to revenge was short. Your
child was stolen, hid from your view, and cast upon the world under
circumstances that left little doubt of his living in bitterness, and
dying under the contempt, if not the curses, of his fellows. All this,
Signor Grimaldi, is the fruit of your own errors. Had you respected the
affections of an innocent girl, the sad consequences to yourself and me
might have been avoided."
"Is this man's history to be believed, Gaetano?" demanded the baron, who
had more than once betrayed a wish to check the rude tongue of the
"I do not--I cannot deny it; I never saw my own conduct in this criminal
light before, and yet now it all seems frightfully true!"
Il Maledetto laughed. Those around him thought his untimely merriment
resembled the mockery of a devil.
"This is the manner in which men continue to sin, while they lay claim to
the merit of innocence!" he added. "Let the great of the earth give but
half the care to prevent, that they show to punish, offences against
themselves, and what is now called justice will no longer be a
stalking-horse to enable a few to live at the cost of the rest. As for me,
I am proof of what noble blood and illustrious ancestry can do for
themselves! Stolen when a child, Nature has had fair play in my
temperament, which I own is more disposed to wild adventure and manly
risks than to the pleasures of marble halls. Noble father of mine, were
this spirit dressed up in the guise of a senator, or a doge, it might fare
badly with Genoa!"
"Unfortunate man," exclaimed the indignant prior, "is this language for a
child to use to his father? Dost thou forget that the blood of Jacques
Colis is on thy soul?"
"Holy Augustine, the candor with which my general frailties are allowed,
should gain me credit when I speak of particular accusations. By the hopes
and piety of the reverend canon of Aoste, thy patron saint and founder! I
am guiltless of this crime. Question Nettuno as you will, or turn the
affair in every way that usage warrants, and let appearances take what
shape they may, I swear to you my innocence. If ye think that fear of
punishment tempts me to utter a lie, under these holy appeals, (he crossed
himself with reverence,) ye do injustice both to my courage and to my love
of the saints. The only son of the reigning Doge of Genoa hath little to
fear from the headsman's blow!"
Again Maso laughed. It was the confidence of one who knew the world and
who was too audacious even to consult appearances unless it suited his
humor, breaking out in very wantonness. A man who had led his life, was
not to learn at this late day, that the want of eyes in Justice oftener
means blindness to the faults of the privileged, than the impartiality
that is assumed by the pretending emblem. The chatelain, the prior, the
bailiff, the clavier, and the Baron de Willading, looked at each other
like men bewildered. The mental agony of the Doge formed a contrast so
frightful with the heartless and cruel insensibility of the son, that the
sight chilled their blood. The sentiment was only the more common, from
the silent but general conviction, that the unfeeling criminal must be
permitted to escape. There was, indeed, no precedent for leading the child
of a prince to the block, unless it were for an offence which touched the
preservation of the father's interests. Much was said in maxims and
apophthegms of the purity and necessity of rigid impartiality in
administering the affairs of life, but neither had attained his years and
experience without obtaining glimpses of practical things, that taught
them to foresee the impunity of Maso. Too much violence would be done to a
factitous and tottering edifice, were it known that a prince's son was no
better than one of the vilest, and the lingering feelings of paternity
were certain at last to cast a shield before the offender.
The embarrassment and doubt attending such a state of things was happily,
but quite unexpectedly, relieved by the interference of Balthazar. The
headsman, until this moment, had been a silent and attentive listener to
all that passed; but now he pressed himself into the circle, and looking,
in his quiet manner, from one to the other, he spoke with the assurance
that the certainty of having important intelligence to impart, is apt to
give even to the meekest, in the presence of those whom they habitually
"This broken tale of Maso," he said, "is removing a cloud that has lain,
for near thirty years before my eyes. Is it true, illustrious Doge, for
such it appears is your princely state, that a son of your noble stock
was stolen and kept in from your love, through the vindictive enmity of a
"True!--alas, too true! Would it had pleased the blessed Maria, who so
cherished his mother, to call his spirit to Heaven, ere the curse befell
him and me!"
"Your pardon, great Prince, if I press you with questions at a moment so
painful. But it is in your own interest. Suffer that I ask in what year
this calamity befell your family?"
The Signor Grimaldi signed for his friend to assume the office of
answering these extraordinary interrogatories, while he buried his own
venerable face in his cloak, to conceal his anguish from curious eyes.
Melchior de Willading regarded the headsman in surprise, and for an
instant he was disposed to repel questions that seemed importunate; but
the earnest countenance and mild, decent demeanor of Balthazar, overcame
his repugnance to pursue the subject.
"The child was seized in the autumn of the year 1693," he answered, his
previous conferences with his friend having put him in possession of all
the leading facts of the history.
"And his age?"
"Was near a twelvemonth."
"Can you inform me what became of the profligate noble who committed this
"The fate of the Signore Pantaleone Serrani has never been truly known;
though there is a dark rumor that he died in a brawl in our own
Switzerland. That he is dead, there is no cause to doubt."
"And his person, noble Freiherr--a description of his person is now only
wanting to throw the light of a noon-day sun, on what has so long been
"I knew the unlucky Signore Pantaleone in early youth. At the time
mentioned his years might have been thirty, his form was seemly and of
middle height, his features bore the Italian outline, with the dark eye,
swarthy skin and glossy hair of the climate. More than this, with the
exception of a finger lost in one of our affairs in Lombardy, I cannot
"This is enough," returned the attentive Balthazar. "Dismiss your grief,
princely Doge, and prepare your heart for a new-found joy. Instead of
being the parent of this reckless freebooter, God at length pities and
returns your real son in Sigismund, a child that might gladden the heart
of any parent, though he were an emperor!"
This extraordinary declaration was made to stunned and confounded
listeners. A cry of alarm bust from the lips of Marguerite, who approached
the group in the centre of the chapel, trembling and anxious as if the
grave were about to rob her of a treasure.
"What is this I hear!" exclaimed the mother, whose sensitiveness was the
first to take alarm. "Are my half-formed suspicions then too true,
Balthazar? Am I, indeed, without a son? I know thou wouldst not trifle
with a mother, or mislead this stricken noble in a thing like this! Speak,
again, that I may know the truth--Sigismund!--"
"Is not our child," answered the headsman, with an impress of truth in his
manner that went far to bring conviction; "our own boy died in the blessed
state of infancy, and, to save thy feelings, this youth was substituted in
his place by me without thy knowledge."
Marguerite moved nearer to the young man. She gazed wistfully at his
flushed, excited features, in which pain at being so unexpectedly torn
from the bosom of a family he had always deemed his own, was fearfully
struggling with a wild and indefinite delight at finding himself suddenly
relieved from a load he had long found so grievous to be borne.
Interpreting the latter expression with jealous affection, she bent her
face to her bosom, and retreated in silence among her companions lo weep.
In the mean time a sudden and tumultuous surprise took possession of the
different listeners, which was modified and exhibited according to their
respective characters, or to the amount of interest that each had in the
truth or falsehood of what had just been announced. The Doge clung to the
hope, improbable as it seemed, with a tenacity proportioned to his recent
anguish, while Sigismund stood like one beside himself. His eye wandered
from the simple and benevolent, but degraded, man, whom he had believed to
be his father, to the venerable and imposing-looking noble who was now so
unexpectedly presented in that sacred character. The sobs of Marguerite
reached his ears, and first recalled him to recollection. They came
blended with the fresh grief of Christine, who felt as if ruthless death
had now robbed her of a brother. There was also the struggling emotion of
one whose interest in him had a still more tender and engrossing claim.
"This is so wonderful!" said the trembling Doge, who dreaded lest the next
syllable that was uttered might destroy the blessed illusion, "so wildly
improbable, that, though my soul yearns to believe it, my reason refuses
credence. It is not enough to utter this sudden intelligence, Balthazar;
it must be proved. Furnish but a moiety of the evidence that is necessary
to establish a legal fact, and I will render thee the richest of thy class
in Christendom! And thou, Sigismund, come close to my heart, noble boy,"
he added, with outstretched arms, "that I may bless thee, while there is
hope--that I may feel one beat of a father's pulses--one instant of a
Sigismund knelt at the venerable Prince's feet, and receiving his head on
his shoulder, their tears mingled. But even at that previous moment both
felt a sense of insecurity, as if the exquisite pleasure of so pure a
happiness were too intense to last. Maso looked upon this scene with cold
displeasure. His averted face denoting a stronger feeling than
disappointment, though the power of natural sympathy was so strong as to
draw evidences of its force from the eyes of all the others present.
"Bless thee, bless thee, my child, my dearly beloved son!" murmured the
Doge, lending himself to the improbable tale of Balthazar for a delicious
instant, and kissing the cheeks of Sigismund as one would embrace a
smiling infant; "may the God of heaven and earth, his only Son, and the
holy Virgin undefiled, unite to bless thee, here and hereafter, be thou
whom thou mayest! I owe thee one precious instant of happiness, such as I
have never tasted before. To find a child would not be enough to give it
birth; but to believe thee to be that son touches on the joys of
Sigismund fervently kissed the hand that had rested affectionately on his
head during this diction; then, feeling the necessity of having some
guarantee for the existence of emotions so sweet, he arose and made a warm
and strong appeal to him who had so long passed for his father to be more
explicit, and to justify his new-born hopes by some evidence better than;
his simple asseveration; for solemnly as the latter had been made, and
profound as he knew to be the reverence for truth which the despised
headsman not only entertained himself but inculcated in all in whom he had
any interest, the revelation he had just made seemed too improbable to
resist the doubts of one who knew his happiness to be the fruit or the
forfeiture of its veracity.
We rest--a dream has power to poison sleep;
We rise--one wandering thought pollutes the day;
We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep;
Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away.
The tale of Balthazar was simple but eloquent His union with Marguerite,
in spite of the world's obloquy and injustice, had been blest by the wise
and merciful Being who knew how to temper the wind to the shorn lamb.
"We knew we were all to each other," he continued, after briefly alluding
to the early history of their births and love; "and we felt the necessity
of living for ourselves. Ye that are born to honors, who meet with smiles
and respectful looks in all ye meet, can know little of the feeling which
binds together the unhappy. When God gave us our first-born, as he lay a
smiling babe in her lap, looking up into her eye with the innocence that
most likens man to angels, Marguerite shed bitter tears at the thought of
such a creature's being condemned by the laws to shed the blood of men.
The reflection that he was to live for ever an outcast from his kind was
bitter to a mother's heart. We had made many offers to the canton to be
released ourselves, from this charge; we had prayed them--Herr Melchior,
you should know how earnestly we have prayed the council, to be suffered
to live like others, and without this accursed doom--but they would not.
They said the usage was ancient, that change was dangerous, and that what
God willed must come to pass. We could not bear that the burthen we found
so hard to endure ourselves should go down for ever as a curse upon our
descendants, Herr Doge," he continued, raising his meek face in the pride
of honesty; "it is well for those who are the possessors of honors to be
proud of their privileges; but when the inheritance is one of wrongs and
scorn, when the evil eyes of our fellows are upon us, the heart sickens.
Such was our feeling when we looked upon our first-born. The wish to save
him from our own disgrace was uppermost, and we bethought us of the
"Ay!" sternly interrupted Marguerite, "I parted with my child, and
silenced a mother's longings, proud nobles, that he might not become the
tool of your ruthless policy; I gave up a mother's joy in nourishing and
in cherishing her young, that the little innocent might live among his
fellows, as God had created him, their equal and not their victim!"
Balthazar paused, as was usual with him when ever his energetic wife
manifested any of her strong and masculine qualities, and then, when deep
silence had followed her remark, he proceeded.
"We wanted not for wealth; all we asked was to be like others in the
world's respect. With our money it was very easy to find those in another
canton, who were willing to take the little Sigismund into their keeping.
After which, a feigned death, and a private burial, did the rest. The
deceit was easily practised, for as few cared for the griefs as for the
happiness of the headsman's family The child had drawn near the end of its
first year, when I was called upon to execute my office on a stranger. The
criminal had taken life in a drunken brawl in one of the towns of the
canton, and he was said to be a man that had trifled with the precious
gifts of birth, it being suspected that he was noble. I went with a heavy
heart, for never did I strike a blow without praying God it might be the
last; but it was heavier when I reached the place where the culprit
awaited his fate. The tidings of my poor son's death reached me as I put
foot on the threshold of the desolate prison, and I turned aside to weep
for my own woes, before I entered to see my victim. The condemned man had
great unwillingness to die; he had sent for me many hours before the fatal
moment, to make acquaintance, as he said, with the hand that was to
dispatch him to the presence of his last and eternal judge."
Balthazar paused; he appeared to meditate on a scene that had probably
left indelible impressions on his mind. Shuddering involuntarily, he
raised his eyes from the pavement of the chapel, and continued the
recital, always in the same subdued and tranquil manner.
"I have been the unwilling instrument of many a violent death--I have seen
the most reckless sinners in the agonies of sudden and compelled
repentance, but never have I witnessed so wild and fearful a struggle
between earth and heaven--the world and the grave--passion and the rebuke
of Providence--as attended the last hours of that unhappy man! There were
moments in which the mild spirit of Christ won upon his evil mood 'tis
true; but the picture was, in general, that of revenge so fierce, that the
powers of hell alone could give it birth in a human heart. He had with him
an infant of an age just, fitted to be taken from the breast. This child
appeared to awaken the fiercest conflicting feelings; he both yearned over
it and detested its sight, though hatred seemed most to prevail."
"This was horrible!" murmured the Doge.
"It was the more horrible, Herr Doge, that it should come from one who was
justly condemned to the axe. He rejected the priests; he would have naught
of any but me. My soul lothed the wretch--yet so few ever showed an
interest in us--and it would have been cruel to desert a dying man! At the
end, he placed the child in my care, furnishing more gold than was
sufficient to rear it frugally to the age of manhood, and leaving other
valuables which I have kept as proofs that might some day be useful. All I
could learn of the infant's origin was simply this. It came from Italy,
and of Italian parents; its mother died soon after its birth,"--a groan
escaped the Doge--"its father still lived, and was the object of the
criminal's implacable hatred, as its mother had been of his ardent love;
its birth was noble, and it had been baptized in the bosom of the church
by the name of Gaetano."
"It must be he!--it is--it must be my beloved son!--" exclaimed the Doge,
unable to control himself any longer. He spread wide his arms, and
Sigismund threw himself upon his bosom, though there still remained
fearful apprehensions that all he heard was a dream. "Go on--go
on--excellent Balthazar," added the Signor Grimaldi, drying his eyes, and
struggling to command himself. "I shall have no peace until all is
revealed to the last syllable of thy wonderful, thy glorious tale!"
"There remains but little more to say, Herr Doge. The fatal hour arrived,
and the criminal was transported to the place where he was to give up his
life. While seated in the chair in which he received the fatal blow, his
spirit underwent infernal torments. I have reason to think that there were
moments when he would gladly have made his peace with God. But the demons
prevailed; he died in his sins! From the hour when he committed the little
Gaetano to my keeping, I did not cease to entreat to be put in possession
of the secret of the child's birth, but the sole answer I received was an
order to appropriate the gold to my own uses, and to adopt the boy as my
own. The sword was in my hand, and the signal to strike was given, when,
for the last time, I asked the name of the infant's family and country, as
a duty I could not neglect. 'He is thine--he is thine--' was the answer;
'tell me, Balthazar, is thy office hereditary, as is wont in these
regions?' I was compelled, as ye know, to say it was. 'Then adopt the
urchin; rear him to fatten on the blood of his fellows!' It was mockery to
trifle with such a spirit. When his head fell, if still bad on its fierce
features traces of the infernal triumph with which his spirit departed!"
"The monster was a just sacrifice to the laws of the canton!" exclaimed
the single-minded bailiff. "Thou seest, Herr Melchior, that we do well in
arming the hand of the executioner, in spite of all the sentiment of the
weak-minded. Such a wretch was surely unworthy to live."
This burst of official felicitation from Peterchen, who rarely neglected
an occasion to draw a conclusion favorable to the existing order of
things, like most of those who reap their exclusive advantage, and to the
prejudice of innovation, produced little attention; all present were too
much absorbed in the facts related by Balthazar, to turn aside; to speak,
or think, of other matters.
"What became of the boy?" demanded the worthy clavier, who had taken as
deep an interest as the rest, in the progress of the narrative.
"I could not desert him, father; nor did I wish to. He came into my
guardianship at a moment when God, to reprove our repinings at a lot that
he had chosen to impose, had taken our own little Sigismund to heaven. I
filled the place of the dead infant with my living charge; I gave to him
the name of my own son, and I can say confidently, that I transferred to
him the love I had borne my own issue; though time, and use, and a
knowledge of the child's character, were perhaps necessary to complete the
last. Marguerite never knew the deception, though a mother's instinct and
tenderness took the alarm and raised suspicions. We have never spoken
freely on this together, and like you, she now heareth the truth for the
"'Twas a fearful mystery between God and my own heart!" murmured the
woman; "I forbore to trouble it--Sigismund, or Gaetano, or whatever you
will have his name, filled my affections, and I strove to be satisfied.
The boy is dear to me, and ever will be, though you seat him on a throne;
but Christine--the poor stricken Christine--is truly the child of my
Sigismund went and knelt at the feet of her whom he had ever believed his
mother, and earnestly begged her blessing and continued affection. The
tears streamed from Marguerite's eyes, as she willingly bestowed the
first, and promised never to withhold the last.
"Hast thou any of the trinkets or garments that were given thee with the
child, or canst render an account of the place where they are still to be
found?" demanded the Doge, whose whole mind was too deeply set on
appeasing his doubts to listen to aught else.
"They are all here in the convent. The gold has been fairly committed to
Sigismund, to form his equipment as a soldier. The child was kept apart,
receiving such education as a learned priest could give till of an age to
serve, and then I sent him to bear arms in Italy, which I knew to be the
country of his birth, though I never knew to what Prince his allegiance
was due. The time had now come when I thought it due to the youth to let
him know the real nature of the tie between us; but I shrank from paining
Marguerite and myself, and I even did his heart the credit to believe that
he would rather belong to us, humble and despised though we be, than find
himself a nameless outcast, without home, country, or parentage. It was
necessary, however, to speak, and it was my purpose to reveal the truth,
here at the convent, in the presence of Christine. For this reason, and to
enable Sigismund to make inquiries for his family, the effects received
from the unhappy criminal with the child were placed among his baggage
secretly. They are, at this moment, on the mountain."
The venerable old prince trembled violently; for, with the intense feeling
of one who dreaded that his dearest hopes might yet be disappointed, he
feared, while he most wished, to consult these mute but veracious
"Let them be produced!--let them be instantly produced and examined!" he
whispered eagerly to those around him. Then turning slowly to the
immovable Maso, he demanded--"And thou, man of falsehood and of blood!
what dost thou reply to this clear and probable tale?"
Il Maledetto smiled, as if superior to a weakness that had blinded the
others. The expression of his countenance was filled with that look of
calm superiority which certainty gives to the well-informed over the
doubting and deceived."
"I have to reply, Signore, and honored father," he coolly answered, "that
Balthazar hath right cleverly related a tale that hath been ingeniously
devised. That I am Bartolo, I repeat to thee, can be proved by a hundred
living tongues in Italy.--Thou best knowest who Bartolo Contini is, Doge
"He speaks the truth," returned the prince, dropping his head in
disappointment. "Oh! Melchior, I have had but too sure proofs of what he
intimates! I have long been certain that this wretched Bartolo is my son,
though never before have I been cursed with his presence. Bad as I was
taught to think him, my worst fears had not painted him as I now find the
truth would warrant."
"Has there not been some fraud--art thou not the dupe of some conspiracy
of which money has been the object?"
The Doge shook his head, in a way to prove that he could not possibly
flatter himself with such a hope.
"Never: my offers of money have always been rejected."
"Why should I take the gold of my father?" added Il Maledetto; "my own
skill and courage more than suffice for my wants."
The nature of the answer, and the composed demeanor of Maso, produced an
"Let the two stand forth and be confronted," said the puzzled clavier at
length; "nature often reveals the truth when the uttermost powers of man
are at fault--if either is the true child of the prince, we should find
some resemblance to the father to support his claim."
The test, though of doubtful virtue, was eagerly adopted, for the truth
had now become so involved, as to excite a keen interest in all present.
The desire to explain the mystery was general, and the slightest means of
attaining such an end became of a value proportionate to the difficulty
of effecting the object. Sigismund and Maso were placed beneath the lamp,
where its light was strongest, and every eye turned eagerly to their
countenances, in order to discover, or to fancy it discovered, some of
those secret signs by which the mysterious affinities of nature are to be
traced. A more puzzling examination could not well have been essayed.
There was proof to give the victory to each of the pretenders, if such a
term may be used with propriety as it concerns the passive Sigismund, and
much to defeat the claims of the latter. In the olive-colored tint, the
dark, rich, rolling eye, and in stature, the advantage was altogether with
Maso, whose outline of countenance and penetrating expression had also a
resemblance to those of the Doge, so marked as to render it quite apparent
to any who wished to find it. The habits of the mariner had probably
diminished the likeness, but it was too obviously there to escape
detection. That hardened and rude appearance, the consequence of exposure,
which rendered it difficult to pronounce within ten years of his real age,
contributed a little to conceal what might be termed the latent character
of his countenance, but the features themselves were undeniably a rude
copy of the more polished lineaments of the Prince.
The case was less clear as respects Sigismund. The advantage of ruddy and
vigorous youth rendered him such a resemblance of the Doge--in the points
where it existed--as we find between the aged and those portraits which
have been painted in their younger and happier days. The bold outline was
not unlike that of the noble features of the venerable Prince, but neither
the eye, the hair, nor the complexion, had the hues of Italy.
"Thou seest," said Maso, tauntingly, when the disappointed clavier
admitted the differences in the latter particulars, "This is an
imposition that will not pass. I swear to you, as there is faith in man,
and hope for the dying Christian, that so far as any know their parentage,
I am the child of Gaetano Grimaldi, the present Doge of Genoa, and of no
other man! May the saints desert me!--the blessed Mother of God be deaf to
my prayers!--and all men hunt me with their curses, if I say aught in this
but holy truth!"
The fearful energy with which Maso uttered this solemn appeal, and a
certain sincerity that marked his manner, and perhaps we might even say
his character, in spite of the dissolute recklessness of his principles,
served greatly to weaken the growing opinion in favor of his competitor.
"And this noble youth?" asked the sorrowing Doge--"this generous and
elevated boy, whom I have already held next to my heart, with so much of a
father's joy--who and what is he?"
"Eccellenza, I wish to say nothing against the Signor Sigismondo. He is a
gallant swimmer, and a staunch support in time of need. Be he Swiss, or
Genoese, either country may be proud of him, but self-love teaches us all
to take care of our own interests before those of another. It Would be far
pleasanter to dwell in the Palazzo Grimaldi, on our warm and sunny gulf,
honored and esteemed as the heir of a noble name, than to be cutting heads
in Berne; and honest Balthazar does but follow his instinct, in seeking
preferment for his son!"
Each eye now turned on the headsman, who quailed not under the scrutiny,
but maintained the firm front of one conscious that he had done no wrong.
"I have not said that Sigismund is the child of any," he answered in his
meek manner, but with a steadiness that won him credit with the listeners.
"I have only said that he belongs not to me. No father need wish a
worthier son, and heaven knows that I yield my own claims with a sorrow
that it would be grievous to bear, did I not hope a better fortune for him
than any which can come from a connexion with a race accursed. The
likeness which is seen in Maso, and which Sigismund is thought to want,
proves little, noble gentlemen and reverend monks; for all who have looked
closely into these matters know that resemblances are as often found
between the distant branches of the same family, as between those who are
more nearly united. Sigismund is not of us, and none can see any trace of
either my own or of Marguerite's family in his person or features."
Balthazar paused that there might be an examination of this fact, and, in
truth, the most ingenious fancy could not have detected the least affinity
in looks, between either of those whom he had so long thought his parents
and the young soldier.
"Let the Doge of Genoa question his memory, and look farther than himself.
Can he find no sleeping smile, no color of the hair, nor any other common
point of appearance, between the youth and some of those whom he once knew
The anxious prince turned eagerly towards Sigismund, and a gleam of joy
lighted his face again, as he studied the young man's features.
"By San Francesco! Melchior, the honest Balthazar is right. My grandmother
was a Venetian, and she had the fair hair of the boy--the eye too, is
hers--and--oh!" bending his head aside and veiling his eyes with his hand,
"I see the anxious gaze that was so constant in the sainted and injured
Angiolina, after my greater wealth and power had tempted her kinsmen to
force her to yield an unwilling hand!--Wretch! thou art not Bartolo; thy
tale is a wicked deception, invented to shield thee from the punishment
due to thy crime!"
"Admitting that I am not Bartolo, eccellenza, does the Signer Sigismondo
claim to be he? Have you not assured yourself that a certain Bartolo
Contini, a man whose life is passed in open hostility to the laws, is your
child? Did you not employ your confidant and secretary to learn the facts?
Did he not hear from the dying lips of a holy priest, who knew all the
circumstances, that 'Bartolo Contini is the son of Gaetano Grimaldi'? Did
not the confederate of your implacable enemy, Cristofero Serrani, swear
the same to you? Have you not seen papers that were taken with your child
to confirm it all, and did you not send this signet as a gage that Bartolo
should not want your aid, in any strait that might occur in his wild
manner of living, when you learned that he resolutely preferred remaining
what he was, to becoming an image of sickly repentance and newly-assumed
nobility, in your gorgeous palace on the Strada Balbi?"
The Doge again bowed his head in dismay, for all this he knew to be true
beyond a shadow of hope.
"Here is some sad mistake," he said with bitter regret. "Thou hast
received the child of some other bereaved parent, Balthazar; but, though I
cannot hope to prove myself the natural father of Sigismund, he shall at
least find me one in affection and good offices. If his life be not due to
me, I owe him mine; the debt shall form a tie between us little short of
that to which nature herself could give birth."
"Herr Doge," returned the earnest headsman, "let us not be too hasty. If
there are strong facts in favor of the claims of Maso, there are many
circumstances, also, in favor of those of Sigismund. To me, the history
of the last is probably more clear than it can be to any other. The time;
the country, the age of the child, the name, and the fearful revelations
of the criminal, are all strong proofs in Sigismund's behalf, Here are the
effects that were given me with the child; it is possible that they, too,
may throw weight into his scale."
Balthazar had taken means to procure the package in question from among
the luggage of Sigismund, and he now proceeded to expose its contents,
while a breathless silence betrayed the interest with which the result was
expected. He first laid upon the pavement of the chapel a collection of
child's clothing. The articles were rich, and according to the fashions of
the times; but they contained no positive proofs that could go to
substantiate the origin of the wearer, except as they raised the
probability of his having come of an elevated rank in life. As the
different objects were placed upon the stones, Adelheid and Christine
kneeled beside them, each too intently absorbed with the progress of the
inquiry to bethink themselves of those forms which, in common, throw a
restraint upon the manners of their sex. The latter appeared to forget her
own sorrows, for a moment, in a new-born interest in her brother's
fortunes while the ears of the former drank in each syllable that fell
from the lips of the different speakers, with an avidity that her strong
sympathy with the youth could alone give.
"Here is a case containing trinkets of value," added Balthazar. "The
condemned man said they were taken through ignorance, and he was
accustomed to suffer the child to amuse himself with them in the prison."
"These were my first offerings to my wife, in return for the gift she had
made me of the precious babe," said the Doge, in such a smothered voice
as we are apt to use when examining objects that recall the presence of
the dead--"Blessed Angiolina! these jewels are so many tokens of thy pale
but happy countenance; thou felt a mother's joy at that sacred moment, and
could even smile on me!"
"And here is a talisman in sapphire, with many Eastern characters; I was
told it had been an heirloom in the family of the child, and was put about
his neck at the birth, by the hands of his own father."
"I ask no more--I ask no more! God be praised for this, the last and best
of all his mercies!" cried the Prince, clasping his hands with devotion.
"This jewel was worn by myself in infancy, and I placed it around the neck
of the babe with my own hands, as thou sayest--I ask no more."
"And Bartolo Contini!" uttered Il Maledetto.
"Maso!" exclaimed a voice, which until then had been mute in the chapel.
It was Adelheid who had spoken. Her hair had fallen in wild profusion over
her shoulders, as she still knelt over the articles on the pavement, and
her hands were clasped entreatingly, as if she deprecated the rude
interruptions which had so often dashed the cup from their lips, as they
were about to yield to the delight of believing Sigismund to be the child
of the Prince of Genoa.
"Thou art another of a fond and weak sex, to swell the list of confiding
spirits that have been betrayed by the selfishness and falsehood of men,"
answered the mocking mariner. "Go to, girl!--make thyself a nun; thy
Sigismund is an impostor."
Adelheid, by a quick but decided interposition of her hand, prevented an
impetuous movement of the young soldier, who would have struck his
audacious rival to his feet. Without changing her kneeling attitude, she
then spoke, modestly but with a firmness which generous sentiments enable
women to assume even more readily than the stronger sex, when
extraordinary occasions call for the sacrifice of that reserve in which
her feebleness is ordinarily intrenched.
"I know not, Maso, in what manner thou hast learned the tie which connects
me with Sigismund," she said; "but I have no longer any wish to conceal
it. Be he the son of Balthazar, or be he the son of a prince, he has
received my troth with the consent of my honored father, and our fortunes
will shortly be one. There might be forwardness in a maiden thus openly
avowing her preference for a youth; but here, with none to own him,
oppressed with his long-endured wrongs, and assailed in his most sacred
affections, Sigismund has a right to my voice. Let him belong to whom else
he may, I speak by my venerable father's authority, when I say he belongs
"Melchior, is this true?" cried the Doge.
"The girl's words are but an echo of what my heart feels," answered the
baron, looking about him proudly, as if he would browbeat any who should
presume to think that he had consented to corrupt the blood of Willading
by the measure.
"I have watched thine eye, Maso, as one nearly interested in the truth,"
continued Adelheid, "and I now appeal to thee, as thou lovest thine own
soul, to disburthen thyself! While thou may'st have told some truth, the
jealous affection of a woman has revealed to me that thou hast kept back
part. Speak, then, and relieve the soul of this venerable prince from
"And deliver my own body to the wheel! This may be well to the warm
imagination of a love-sick girl, but we of the contraband have too much
practice in men uselessly to throw away an advantage."
"Thou mayest have confidence in our faith. I have seen much of thee
within the last few days, Maso, and I wish not to think thee capable of
the bloody deed that hath been committed on the mountain, though I fear
thy life is only too ungoverned; still I will not believe that the hero of
the Leman can be the assassin of St. Bernard."
"When thy young dreams are over, fair one, and thou seest the world under
its true colors, thou wilt know that the hearts of men come partly of
Heaven and partly of Hell."
Maso laughed in his most reckless manner as he delivered this opinion.
"'Tis useless to deny that thou hast sympathies," continued the maiden
steadily; "thou hast in secret more pleasure in serving than in injuring
thy race. Thou canst not have been in such straits in company with the
Signor Sigismondo, without imbibing some touch of his noble generosity.
You have struggled together for our common good, you come of the same God,
have the same manly courage, are equally stout of heart, strong of hand,
and willing to do for others. Such a heart must have enough of noble and
human impulses to cause you to love justice. Speak, then, and I pledge our
sacred word, that thou shalt fare better for thy candor than by taking
refuge in thy present fraud. Bethink thee, Maso, that the happiness of
this aged man, of Sigismund himself, if thou wilt, for I blush not to say
it--of a weak and affectionate girl, is in thy keeping. Give us truth
holy; sacred truth, and we pardon the past."
Il Maledetto was moved by the beautiful earnestness of the speaker. Her
ingenuous interest in the result, with the solemnity of her appeal shook
"Thou know'st not what thou say'st, lady; thou ask'st my life," he
answered, after pondering in a way to give a new impulse to the dying
hopes of the Doge.
"Though there is no quality more sacred than justice," interposed the
chatelain, who alone could speak with authority in the Valais; "it is
fairly within the province of her servants to permit her to go unexpiated,
in order that greater good may come of the sacrifice. If thou wilt prove
aught that is of grave importance to the interests of the Prince of Genoa,
Valais owes it to the love it bears his republic to requite the service."
Maso listened, at first, with a cold ear. He felt the distrust of one who
had sufficient knowledge of the world to be acquainted with the thousand
expedients that were resorted to by men, in order to justify their daily
want of faith. He questioned the chatelain closely as to his meaning, nor
was it until a late hour, and after long and weary explanations on both
sides, that the parties came to an understanding.
On the part of those who, on this occasion, were the representatives of
that high attribute of the Deity which among men is termed justice, it was
sufficiently apparent that they understood its exercise with certain
reservations that might be made at pleasure in favor of their own views;
and, on the part of Maso, there was no attempt to conceal the suspicions
he entertained to the last, that he might be a sufferer by lessening in
any degree the strength of the defences by which he was at present
shielded, as the son, real or fancied, of a person so powerful as the
Prince of Genoa.
As usually happens when there is a mutual wish to avoid extremities, and
when conflicting interests are managed with equal address, the
negotiation terminated in a compromise. As the result will be shown in
the regular course of the narrative, the reader is referred to the closing
chapter for the explanation.
"Speak, oh, speak!
And take me from the rack."
It will be remembered that three days were passed in the convent in that
interval which occurred between the arrival of the travellers and those of
the chatelain and the bailiff. The determination of admitting the claims
of Sigismund, so frankly announced by Adelheid in the preceding chapter,
was taken during this time. Separated from the world, and amid that
magnificent solitude where the passions and the vulgar interests of life
sank into corresponding insignificance as the majesty of God became hourly
more visible, the baron had been gradually won upon to consent. Love for
his child, aided by the fine moral and personal qualities of the young man
himself, which here stood out in strong relief, like one of the stern
piles of those Alps that now appeared to his eyes so much superior, in
their eternal beds, to all the vine-clad hills and teeming valleys of the
lower world, had been the immediate and efficient agents in producing this
decision. It is not pretended that the Bernese made an easy conquest over
his prejudices, which was in truth no other than a conquest over himself,
he being, morally considered, little other than a collection of the narrow
opinions and exclusive doctrines which it was then the fashion to believe
necessary to high civilization. On the contrary, the struggle had been
severe; nor is it probable that the gentle blandishments of Adelheid, the
eloquent but silent appeals to his reason that were constantly made by
Sigismund in his deportment, or the arguments of his old comrade, the
Signor Grimaldi, who, with a philosophy that is more often made apparent
in our friendships than in our own practice, dilated copiously on the
wisdom of sacrificing a few worthless and antiquated opinions to the
happiness of an only child, would have prevailed, had the Baron been in a
situation less abstracted from the ordinary circumstances of his rank and
habits, than that in which he had been so accidentally thrown. The pious
clavier, too, who had obtained some claims to the confidence of the guests
of the convent by his services, and by the risks he had run in their
company, came to swell the number of Sigismund's friends. Of humble origin
himself, and attached to the young man not only by his general merits, but
by his conduct on the lake, he neglected no good occasion to work upon
Melchior's mind, after he himself had become acquainted with the nature of
the young man's hopes. As they paced the brown and naked rocks together,
in the vicinity of the convent, the Augustine discoursed on the perishable
nature of human hopes, and on the frailty of human opinions. He dwelt with
pious fervor on the usefulness of recalling the thoughts from the turmoil
of daily and contracted interests, to a wider view of the truths of
existence. Pointing to the wild scene around them, he likened the confused
masses of the mountains, their sterility, and their ruthless tempests, to
the world with its want of happy fruits, its disorders, and its violence.
Then directing the attention of his companion to the azure vault above
them, which, seen at that elevation and in that pure atmosphere,
resembled a benign canopy of the softest tints and colors, he made glowing
appeals to the eternal and holy tranquillity of the state of being to
which they were both fast hastening, and which had its type in the
mysterious and imposing calm of that tranquil and inimitable void. He drew
his moral in favor of a measured enjoyment of our advantages here, as well
as of rendering love and justice to all who merited our esteem, and to the
disadvantage of those iron prejudices which confine the best sentiments in
the fetters of opinions founded in the ordinances and provisions of the
violent and selfish.
It was after one of these interesting dialogues that Melchior de
Willading, his heart softened and his soul touched with the hopes of
heaven, listened with a more indulgent ear to the firm declaration of
Adelheid, that unless she became the wife of Sigismund, her self-respect,
no less than her affections, must compel her to pass her life unmarried.
We shall not say that the maiden herself philosophized on premises as
sublime as those of the good monk, for with her the warm impulses of the
heart lay at the bottom of her resolution; but even she had the
respectable support of reason to sustain her cause. The baron had that
innate desire to perpetuate his own existence in that of his descendants,
which appears to be a property of nature. Alarmed at a declaration which
threatened annihilation to his line, while at the same time he was more
than usually under the influence of his better feelings, he promised that
if the charge of murder could be removed from Balthazar, he would no
longer oppose the union. We should be giving the reader an opinion a
little too favorable of the Herr von Willading, were we, to say that he
did not repent having made this promise soon after it was uttered. He was
in a state of mind that resembled the vanes of his own towers, which
changed their direction with every fresh current of air, but he was by
far, too honorable to think seriously of violating a faith that he had
once fairly plighted. He had moments of unpleasant misgivings as to the
wisdom and propriety of his promise, but they were of that species of
regret, which is known to attend an unavoidable evil. If he had any
expectations of being released from his pledge, they were bottomed on
certain vague impressions that Balthazar would be found guilty; though the
constant and earnest asseverations of Sigismund in favor of his father had
greatly succeeded in shaking his faith on this point. Adelheid had
stronger hopes than either; the fears of the young man himself preventing
him from fully participating in her confidence, while her father shared
her expectations on that tormenting principle, which causes us to dread
the worst. When, therefore, the jewelry of Jacques Colis was found in the
possession of Maso, and Balthazar was unanimously acquitted, not only from
this circumstance, which went so conclusively to criminate another, but
from the want of any other evidence against him than the fact of his being
found in the bone-house instead of the Refuge, an accident that might well
have happened to any other traveller in the storm, the baron resolutely
prepared himself to redeem his pledge. It is scarcely necessary to add how
much this honorable sentiment was strengthened by the unexpected
declaration of the headsman concerning the birth of Sigismund.
Notwithstanding the asseveration of Maso that the whole was an invention
conceived to fervor the son of Balthazar, it was supported by proofs so
substantial and palpable, to say nothing of the natural and veracious
manner in which the tale was related, as to create a strong probability
in the minds of the witnesses, that it might be true. Although it remained
to be discovered who were the real parents of Sigismund, few now believed
that he owed his existence to the headsman.
A short summary of the facts may aid the reader in better understanding,
the circumstances on which so much denouement depends.
It has been revealed in the course of the narrative that the Signor
Grimaldi had wedded a lady younger than himself, whose affections were
already in the possession of one that, in moral qualities, was unworthy of
her love, but who in other respects was perhaps better suited to become
her husband, than the powerful noble to whom her family had given her
hand. The birth of their son was soon followed by the death of the mother,
and the abduction of the child. Years had passed, when the Signor Grimaldi
was first apprized of the existence of the latter. He had received this
important information at a moment when the authorities of Genoa were most
active in pursuing those who had long and desperately trifled with the
laws, and the avowed motive for the revelation was an appeal to his
natural affection in behalf of a son, who was likely to become the victim
of his practices. The recovery of a child under such circumstances was a
blow severer than his loss, and it will readily be supposed that the truth
of the pretension of Maso, who then went by the name of Bartolomeo
Contini, was admitted with the greatest caution. Reference had been made
by the friends of the smuggler to a dying monk, whose character was above
suspicion, and who corroborated, with his latest breath, the statement of
Maso, by affirming before God and the saints that he knew him, so far as
man could know a fact like this, to be the son of the Signer Grimaldi;
This grave testimony, given under circumstances of such solemnity, and
supported by the production of important papers that had been stolen with
the child, removed the suspicions of the Doge. He secretly interposed his
interest to save the criminal, though, after a fruitless attempt to effect
a reformation of his habits by means of confidential agents, he had never
consented to see him.
Such then was the nature of the conflicting statements. While hope and the
pure delight of finding himself the father of a son like Sigismund, caused
the aged prince to cling to the claims of the young soldier with fond
pertinacity, his cooler and more deliberate judgment had already been
formed in favor of another. In the long private examination which
succeeded the scene in the chapel, Maso had gradually drawn more into
himself, becoming vague and mysterious, until he succeeded in exciting a
most painful state of doubt and expectation in all who witnessed his
deportment. Profiting by this advantage, he suddenly changed his tactics.
He promised revelations of importance, on the condition that he should
first be placed in security within the frontiers of Piedmont. The prudent
chatelain soon saw that the case was getting to be one in which Justice
was expected to be blind in the more politic signification of the term.
He, therefore, drew off his loquacious coadjutor, the bailiff, in a way to
leave the settlement of the affair to the feelings and wishes of the Doge.
The latter, by the aid of Melchior and Sigismund, soon effected an
understanding, in which the conditions of the mariner were admitted; when
the party separated for the night. Il Maledetto, on whom weighed the
entire load of Jacques Colis' murder, was again committed to his temporary
prison, while Balthazar, Pippo, and Conrad, were permitted to go at large,
as having successfully passed the ordeal of examination.
Day dawned upon the Col long ere the shades of night had deserted the
valley of the Rhone. All in the convent were in motion before the
appearance of the sun, it being generally understood that the event which
had so much disturbed the order of its peaceful inmates' lives, was to be
brought finally to a close, and that their duties were about to return
into the customary channels. Orisons are constantly ascending to heaven
from the pass of St. Bernard, but, on the present occasion, the stir in
and about the chapel, the manner in which the good canons hurried to and
fro through the long corridors, and the general air of excitement,
proclaimed that the offices of the matins possessed more than the usual
interest of the regular daily devotion.
The hour was still early when all on the pass assembled in the place of
worship. The body of Jacques Colis had been removed to a side chapel,
where, covered with a pall, it awaited the mass for the dead. Two large
church candles stood lighted on the steps of the great altar, and the
spectators, including Pierre and the muleteers, the servants of the
convent, and others of every rank and age, were drawn up in double files
in its front. Among the silent spectators appeared Balthazar and his wife,
Maso, in truth a prisoner, but with the air of a liberated man, the
pilgrim, and Pippo. The good prior was present in his robes, with all of
his community. During the moments of suspense which preceded the rites, he
discoursed civilly with the chatelain and the bailiff, both of whom
returned his courtesies with interest, and in the manner in which it
becomes the dignified and honored to respect appearances in the presence
of their inferiors. Still the demeanor of most was feverish and excited,
as if the occasion were one of compelled gaiety, into which unwelcome and
extraordinary circumstances of alloy had thrust themselves unbidden.
On the opening of the door a little procession entered, headed by the
clavier. Melchior de Willading led his daughter, Sigismund came next,
followed by Marguerite and Christine, and the venerable Doge brought up
the rear. Simple as was this wedding train, it was imposing from the
dignity of the principal actors, and from the evidences of deep feeling
with which all in it advanced to the altar. Sigismund was firm and
self-possessed. Still his carriage was lofty and proud, as if he felt that
a cloud still hung over that portion of his history to which the world
attached so much importance, and he had fallen back on his character and
principles for support. Adelheid had lately been so much the subject of
strong emotions, that she presented herself before the priest with less
trepidation than was usual for a maiden; but the fixed regard, the
colorless cheek, and an air of profound reverence, announced the depth and
solemn character of the feelings with which she was prepared to take the
The marriage rites were celebrated by the good clavier, who, not content
with persuading the baron to make this sacrifice of his prejudices, had
asked permission to finish the work he had so happily commenced, by
pronouncing the nuptial benediction. Melchior de Willading listened to the
short ceremony with silent self-approval. He felt disposed at that instant
to believe he had wisely sacrificed the interests of the world to the
right, a sentiment that was a little quickened by the uncertainty which
still hung over the origin of his new son, who might yet prove to be all
that he could hope, as well as by the momentary satisfaction he found in
manifesting his independence by bestowing the hand of his daughter upon
one whose merit was so much better ascertained than his birth. In this
manner do the best deceive themselves, yielding frequently to motives that
would not support investigation when they believe themselves the strongest
in the right. The good-natured clavier had observed the wavering and
uncertain character of the baron's decision, and he had been induced to
urge his particular request to be the officiating priest by a secret
apprehension that, descended again into the scenes of the world, the
relenting father might become, like most other parents of these nether
regions, more disposed to consult the temporal advancement than the true
happiness of his child.
As one of the parties was a Protestant, no mass was said, an omission,
however, that in no degree impaired the legal character of the engagement.
Adelheid plighted her unvarying love and fidelity with maiden modesty, but
with the steadiness of a woman whose affections and principles were
superior to the little weaknesses which, on such occasions, are most apt
to unsettle those who have the least of either of these great distinctive
essentials of the sex. The vows to cherish and protect were uttered by
Sigismund in deep manly sincerity, for, at that moment, he felt as if a
life of devotion to her happiness would scarcely requite her
single-minded, feminine, and unvarying truth.
"May God bless thee, dearest," murmured old Melchior, as, bending over his
kneeling child, he struggled to keep down a heart which appeared disposed
to mount into his throat, in spite of its master's inclinations; "bless
thee--bless thee, love, now and for ever. Providence has dealt sternly
with thy brothers and sisters, but in leaving thee it has still left me
rich in offspring. Here is our good friend, Gaetano, too--his fortune has
been still harder--but we will hope--we will hope. And thou, Sigismund,
now that Balthazar hath disowned thee, thou must accept such a father as
Heaven sends. All accidents of early life are forgotten, and Willading,
like my old heart, hath gotten a new owner and a new lord!"
The young man exchanged embraces with the baron, whose character he knew
to be kind in the main, and for whom he felt the regard which was natural
to his present situation. He then turned, with a hesitating eye, to the
Signor Grimaldi. The Doge succeeded his friend in paying the compliments
of affection to the bride, and had just released Adelheid with a warm
"I pray Maria and her holy Son in thy behalf!" said the venerable Prince
with dignity. "Thou enterest on new and serious duties, child, but the
spirit and purity of an angel, a meekness that does not depress, and a
character whose force rather relieves than injures the softness of thy
sex, can temper the ills of this fickle world, and thou may'st justly hope
to see a fair portion of that felicity which thy young imagination
pictures in such golden colors. And thou," he added, turning to meet the
embrace of Sigismund, "whoever thou art by the first disposition of
Providence, thou art now rightfully dear to me. The husband of Melchior de
Willading's daughter would ever have a claim upon his most ancient and
dearest friend, but we are united by a tie that has the interest of a
singular and solemn mystery. My reason tells me that I am punished for
much early and wanton pride and wilfulness, in being the parent of a child
that few men in any condition of life could wish to claim, while my heart
would fain flatter me with being the father of a son of whom an emperor
alight be proud! Thou art, and thou art not, of my blood. Without these
proofs of Maso's, and the testimony of the dying monk, I should proclaim
thee to be the latter without hesitation; but be thou what thou may'st by
birth, thou art entirely and without alloy of my love. Be tender of this
fragile flower that Providence hath put under thy protection, Sigismund;
cherish it as thou valuest thine own soul; the generous and confiding love
of a virtuous woman is always a support, frequently a triumphant stay, to
the tottering principles of man. Oh! had it pleased God earlier to have
given me Angiolina, how different might have been our lives! This dark
uncertainty would not now hang over the most precious of human affections,
and my closing hour would be blessed. Heaven and its saints preserve ye
both, my children, and preserve ye long in your present innocence and
The venerable Doge ceased. The effort which had enabled him to speak gave
way, and he turned aside that he might weep in the decent reserve that
became his station and years.
Until now Marguerite had been silent, watching the countenances, and
drinking in with avidity the words, of the different speakers. It was now
her turn. Sigismund knelt at her feet, pressing her hands to his lips in a
manner to show that her high, though stern character, had left deep traces
in his recollection. Releasing herself from his convulsed grasp, for just
then the young man felt intensely the violence of severing those early
ties which, in his case, had perhaps something of wild romance from their
secret nature, she parted the curls on his ample brow, and stood gazing
long at his face, studying each lineament to its minutest shade.
"No," she said mournfully shaking her head, "truly thou art not of us, and
God hath dealt mercifully in taking away the innocent little creature
whose place thou hast so long innocently usurped. Thou wert dear to me,
Sigismund--very dear--for I thought thee under the curse of my race; do
not hate me, if I say my heart is now in the grave of--"
"Mother!" exclaimed the young man reproachfully.
"Well I am still thy mother," answered Marguerite, smiling, though
painfully; "thou art a noble boy, and no change of fortune can ever alter
thy soul. 'Tis a cruel parting, Balthazar and I know not, after all, that
thou didst well to deceive me; for I have had as much grief as joy in the
youth--grief, bitter grief, that one like him should be condemned to live
under the curse of our race--but it is ended now--he is not of us--no, he
is no longer of us!"
This was uttered so plaintively that Sigismund bent his face to his hands
and sobbed aloud.
"Now that the happy and proud weep, 'tis time that the wretched dried
their tears," added the wife of Balthazar, looking about her with a sad
mixture of agony and pride struggling in her countenance: for, in spite of
her professions, it was plain that she yielded her claim on the noble
youth with deep yearnings and an intense agony of spirit. "We have one
consolation, at least, Christine--all that are not of our blood will not
despise us now! Am I right, Sigismund--thou too wilt not torn upon us with
the world, and hate those whom thou once loved?"
"Mother, mother, for the sake of the Holy Virgin, do not harrow my soul!"
"I will not distrust thee, dear; thou didst not drink at my breast, but
thou hast taken in too many lessons of the truth from my lips to despise
us--and yet thou art not of us; thou mayest possibly prove a Prince's
son, and the world so hardens the heart--and they who have been sorely
pressed upon become suspicious--"
"For the love of God, cease, mother, or thou wilt break my heart!"
"Come hither, Christine. Sigismund, this maiden goes with thy wife: we
have the greatest confidence in the truth and principles of her thou hast
wedded, for she has been tried and not found wanting. Be tender to the
child; she was once thy sister, and then thou used to love her."
"Mother--thou wilt make me curse the hour I was born!"
Marguerite, while she could not overcome the cold distrust which habit had
interwoven with all her opinions, felt that she was cruel, and she said no
more. Stooping, she kissed the cold forehead of the young man, gave a warm
embrace to her daughter, over whom she prayed fervently for a minute, and
then placed the insensible girl into the open arms of Adelheid. The awful
workings of nature were subdued by a superhuman will, and she turned
slowly towards the silent, respectful crowd, who had scarcely breathed
during this exhibition of her noble character.
"Doth any here," she sternly asked, "suspect the innocence of Balthazar?"
"None, good woman, none!" returned the bailiff, wiping his eyes; "go in
peace to thy home, o' Heaven's sake, and God be with thee!"
"He stands acquitted before God and man!" added the more dignified
Marguerite motioned for Balthazar to precede her, and she prepared to quit
the chapel. On the threshold she turned and cast a lingering look at
Sigismund and Christine. The two latter were weeping in each other's arms,
and the soul of Marguerite yearned to mingle her tears with those she
loved so well. But, stern in her resolutions, she stayed the torrent of
feeling which would have been so terrible in its violence had it broken
loose, and followed her husband, with a dry and glowing eye. They
descended the mountain with a vacuum in their hearts which taught even
this persecuted pair, that there are griefs in nature that surpass all the
artificial woes of life.
The scene just related did not fail to disturb the spectators. Maso dashed
his hand across his eyes, and seemed touched with a stronger working of
sympathy than it accorded with his present policy to show, while both
Conrad and Pippo did credit to their humanity, by fairly shedding tears.
The latter, indeed, showed manifestations of a sensibility that is not
altogether incompatible with ordinary recklessness and looseness of
principle. He even begged leave to kiss the hand of the bride, wishing her
joy with fervor, as one who had gone through great danger in her company.
The whole party then separated with an exchange of cordial good feeling
which proves that, however much men may be disposed to jostle and
discompose their fellows in the great highway of life, nature has infused
into their composition some great redeeming qualities to make us regret
the abuses by which they have been so much perverted.
On quitting the chapel, the whole of the travellers made their
dispositions to depart. The bailiff and the chatelain went down towards
the Rhone, as well satisfied with themselves as if they had discharged
their trust with fidelity by committing Maso to prison, and discoursing as
they rode along on the singular chances which had brought a son of the
Doge of Genoa before them, in a condition so questionable. The good
Augustines helped the travellers who were destined for the other descent
into their saddles, and acquitted themselves of the last act of
hospitality by following the footsteps of the mules, with wishes for their
safe arrival at Aoste.
The path across the Col has been already described. It winds along the
margin of the little lake, passing the site of the ancient temple of
Jupiter at the distance of a few hundred yards from the convent. Sweeping
past the northern extremity of the little basin, where it crosses the
frontiers of Piedmont, it cuts the ragged wall of rock, and, after winding
_en corniche_ for a short distance by the edge of a fearful ravine, it
plunges at once towards the plains of Italy.
As there was a desire to have no unnecessary witnesses of Maso's promised
revelations, Conrad and Pippo had been advised to quit the mountain before
the rest of the party, and the muleteers were requested to keep a little
in the rear. At the point where the path leaves the lake, the whole
dismounted, Pierre going ahead with the beasts, with a view to make the
first precipitous pitch from the Col on foot. Maso now took the lead. When
he reached the spot where the convent is last in view, he stopped and
turned to gaze at the venerable and storm-beaten pile.
"Thou hesitated," observed the Baron de Willading, who suspected an
intention to escape.
"Signore; the look at even a stone is a melancholy office, when it is
known to be the last. I have often climbed to the Col, but I shall never
dare do it again; for, though the honorable and worthy chatelain, and the
most worthy bailiff, are willing to pay their homage to a Doge of Genoa in
his own person, they may be less tender of his honor when he is absent.
Addio, caro San Bernardo! Like me, thou art solitary and weather-beaten,
and like me, though rude of aspect, thou hast thy uses. We are both
beacons--thou to tell the traveller where to seek safety, and I to warn
him where danger is to be avoided."
There is a dignity in manly suffering, that commands our sympathies. All
who heard this apostrophe to the abode of the Augustines were struck with
its simplicity and its moral. They followed the speaker in silence,
however, to the point where the path makes its first sudden descent. The
spot was favorable to the purpose of Il Maledetto. Though still on the
level of the lake, the convent, the Col, and all it contained, with the
exception of a short line of its stony path, were shut from their view, by
the barrier of intervening rock. The ravine lay beneath, ragged,
ferruginous, and riven into a hundred faces by the eternal action of the
seasons. All above, beneath, and around, was naked, and chaotic as the
elements of the globe before they received the order-giving touch of the
Creator. The imagination could scarce picture a scene of greater solitude
"Signore," said Maso, respectfully raising his cap, and speaking with
calmness, "this confusion of nature resembles my own character. Here
everything is torn, sterile, and wild; but patience, charity, and generous
love, have been able to change even this rocky height into an abode for
those who live for the good of others. There is none so worthless that use
may not be made of him. We are types of the earth our mother; useless, and
savage, or repaying the labor, that we receive, as we are treated like
men, or hunted like beasts. If the great, and the powerful, and the
honored, would become the friends and monitors of the weak and ignorant,
instead of remaining so many watch-dogs to snarl at and bite all that they
fear may encroach on their privileges, raising the cry of the wolf each
time that they hear the wail of the timid and bleating lamb, the fairest
works of God would not be so often defaced. I have lived, and it is
probable that I shall die an outlaw; but the severest pangs I ever know
come from the the mockery which accuses my nature of abuses that are the
fruits of your own injustice. That stone," kicking a bit of rock from the
path into the ravine beneath, "is as much master of its direction after my
foot has set its mass in motion, as the poor untaught being who is thrown
upon the world, despised, unaided, suspected, and condemned even before he
has sinned, has the command of his own course. My mother was fain and
good. She wanted only the power to withstand the arts of one, who, honored
in the opinions of all around her, undermined her virtue. He was great,
noble, and powerful; while she hath little beside her beauty and her
weakness. Signori,--the odds against her were too much. I was the
punishment of her fault. I came into a world then, in which every man
despised me before I had done any act to deserve its scorn,"
"Nay, this is pushing opinions to extremes!" interrupted the Signor
Grimaldi, who had scarce breathed, in his eagerness to catch the syllables
as they came from the other's tongue.
"We began, Signori, as we have ended; distrustful, and struggling to see
which could do the other the most harm. A reverend and holy monk, who knew
my history, would have filled a soul with heaven that the wrongs of the
world had already driven to, the verge of hell. The experiment failed.
Homily and precept," Maso smiled bitterly as he continued, "are but
indifferent weapons to fight with against hourly wrongs; instead of
becoming a cardinal and the counsellor of the head of the church, I am the
man ye see. Signor Grimaldi, the monk who gave me his care was Father
Girolamo. He told the truth to thy secretary, for I am the son of poor
Annunziata Altieri, who was once thought worthy to attract thy passing
notice. The deception of calling myself another of thy children was
practised for my own security. The means were offered by an accidental
confederacy with one of the instruments of thy formidable enemy and
cousin, who furnished the papers that had been taken with the little
Gaetano. The truth of what I say shall be delivered to you at Genoa. As
for the Signor Sigismondo, it is time we ceased to be rivals. We are
brothers, with this difference in our fortunes, that he comes of wedlock,
and I of an unexpiated, and almost an unrepented, crime!"
A common cry, in which regret, joy, and surprise were wildly mingled,
interrupted the speaker. Adelheid threw herself into her husband's arms,
and the pale and conscience-stricken Doge stood with extended arms, an
image of contrition, delight, and shame. His friends pressed around him
with consolation on their tongues, and the blandishments of affection in
their manner, for the regrets of the great rarely pass away unheeded, like
the moans of the low.
"Let me have air!" exclaimed the prince; "give me air or I suffocate!
Where is the child of Annunziata?--I will at least atone to him for the
wrong done his mother!"
It was too late. The victim of another's fault had cast himself over the
edge of the precipice with reckless hardihood, and he was already beyond
the reach of the voice, in his swift descent, by a shorter but dangerous
path, toward Aoste. Nettuno was at his heels. It was evident that he
endeavored to outstrip Pippo and Conrad, who were trudging ahead by the
more beaten road. In a few minutes he turned the brow of a beetling rock,
and was lost to view.
This was the last that was known of Il Maledetto. At Genoa, the Doge
secretly received the confirmation of all that he had heard, and Sigismund
was legally placed in possession of his birth-right. The latter made many
generous but useless efforts to discover and to reclaim his brother. With
a delicacy that could hardly be expected, the outlaw had withdrawn from a
scene which he now felt to be unsuited to his habits, and he never
permitted the veil to be withdrawn from the place of his retreat.
The only consolation that his relatives ever obtained, arose from an event
which brought Pippo under the condemnation of the law. Before his
execution, the buffoon confessed that Jacques Colis fell by the hands of
Conrad and himself, and that, ignorant of Maso's expedient on his own
account, they had made use of Nettuno to convey the plundered jewelry
undetected across the frontiers of Piedmont.