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or, The Abbaye des Vignerons.
By J. Fenimore Cooper.
“How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds Makes deeds ill done.”
Complete in One Volume.
Early in October 1832, a travelling-carriage stopped on the summit of that long descent where the road pitches from the elevated plain of Moudon in Switzerland to the level of the lake of Geneva, immediately above the little city of Vevey. The postilion had dismounted to chain a wheel, and the halt enabled those he conducted to catch a glimpse of the lovely scenery of that remarkable view.
The travellers were an American family, which had long been wandering about Europe, and which was now destined it knew not whither, having just traversed a thousand miles of Germany in its devious course. Four years before, the same family had halted on the same spot, nearly on the same day of the month of October, and for precisely the same object. It was then journeying to Italy, and as its members hung over the view of the Leman, with its accessories of Chillon, Chatelard, Blonay, Meillerie, the peaks of Savoy, and the wild ranges of the Alps, they had felt regret that the fairy scene was so soon to pass away. The case was now different, and yielding to the charm of a nature so noble and yet so soft, within a few hours, the carriage was in remise, a house was taken, the baggage unpacked, and the household gods of the travellers were erected, for the twentieth time, in a strange land.
Our American (for the family had its head) was familiar with the ocean, and the sight of water awoke old and pleasant recollections. He was hardly established in Vevey as a housekeeper, before he sought a boat. Chance brought him to a certain Jean Descloux (we give the spelling at hazard,) with whom he soon struck up a bargain, and they launched forth in company upon the lake.
This casual meeting was the commencement of an agreeable and friendly intercourse. Jean Descloux, besides being a very good boatman, was a respectable philosopher in his way; possessing a tolerable stock of general information. His knowledge of America, in particular, might be deemed a little remarkable. He knew it was a continent, which lay west of his own quarter of the world; that it had a place in it called New Vevey; that all the whites who had gone there were not yet black, and that there were plausible hopes it might one day be civilized. Finding Jean so enlightened on a subject under which most of the eastern savans break down, the American thought it well enough to prick him closely on other matters. The worthy boatman turned out to be a man of singularly just discrimination. He was a reasonably-good judge of the weather; had divers marvels to relate concerning the doings of the lake; thought the city very wrong for not making a port in the great square; always maintained that the wine of St. Saphorin was very savory drinking for those who could get no better; laughed at the idea of their being sufficient cordage in the world to reach the bottom of the Genfer See; was of opinion that the trout was a better fish than the fera; spoke with singular moderation of his ancient masters, the bourgeoisie of Berne, which, however, he always affirmed kept singularly bad roads In Vaud, while those around its own city were the best in Europe, and otherwise showed himself to be a discreet and observant man. In short, honest Jean Descloux was a fair sample of that homebred, upright common-sense which seems to form the instinct of the mass, and which it is greatly the fashion to deride in those circles in which mystification passes for profound thinking, bold assumption for evidence, a simper for wit, particular personal advantages for liberty, and in which it is deemed a mortal offence against good manners to hint that Adam and Eve were the common parents of mankind.
“Monsieur has chosen a good time to visit Vevey,” observed Jean Descloux, one evening, that they were drifting in front of the town, the whole scenery resembling a fairy picture rather than a portion of this much-abused earth; “it blows sometimes at this end of the lake in a way to frighten the gulls out of it. We shall see no more of the steam-boat after the last of the month.”
The American cast a glance at the mountain, drew upon his memory for sundry squalls and gales which he had seen himself, and thought the boatman’s figure of speech less extravagant than it had at first seemed.
“If your lake craft were better constructed, they would make better weather,” he quietly observed.
Monsieur Descloux had no wish to quarrel with a customer who employed him every evening, and who preferred floating with the current to being rowed with a crooked oar. He manifested his prudence, therefore, by making a reserved reply.
“No doubt, monsieur,” he said, “that the people who live on the sea make better vessels, and know how to sail them more skilfully. We had a proof of that here at Vevey,” (he pronounced the word like v-_vais_, agreeably to the sounds of the French vowels,) “last summer, which you might like to hear. An English gentleman–they say he was a captain in the marine–had a vessel built at Nice, and dragged over the mountains to our lake. He took a run across to Meillerie one fine morning, and no duck ever skimmed along lighter or swifter! He was not a man to take advice from a Swiss boatman, for he had crossed the line, and seen water spouts and whales! Well, he was on his way back in the dark, and it came on to blow here from off the mountains, and he stood on boldly towards our shore, heaving the lead as he drew near the land, as if he had been beating into Spithead in a fog,”–Jean chuckled at the idea of sounding in the Leman–“while he flew along like a bold mariner, as no doubt he was!”
“Landing, I suppose,” said the American, “among the lumber in the great square?”
“Monsieur is mistaken. He broke his boat’s nose against that wall; and the next day, a piece of her, big enough to make a thole-pin, was not to be found. He might as well have sounded the heavens!”
“The lake has a bottom, notwithstanding?”
“Your pardon, monsieur. The lake has no bottom. The sea may have a bottom, but we have no bottom here.”
There was little use in disputing the point.
Monsieur Descloux then spoke of the revolutions he had seen. He remembered the time when Vaud was a province of Berne. His observations on this subject were rational, and were well seasoned with wholesome common sense. His doctrine was simply this. “If one man rule, he will rule for his own benefit, and that of his parasites; if a minority rule, we have many masters instead of one,” (honest Jean had got hold here of a cant saying of the privileged, which he very ingeniously converted against themselves,) “all of whom must be fed and served; and if the majority rule, and ruled wrongfully, why the minimum of harm is done.” He admitted, that the people might be deceived to their own injury, but then, he did not think it was quite as likely to happen, as that they should be oppressed when they were governed without any agency of their own. On these points, the American and the Vaudois were absolutely of the same mind.
From politics the transition to poetry was natural, for a common ingredient in both would seem to be fiction. On the subject of his mountains, Monsieur Descloux was a thorough Swiss. He expatiated on their grandeur, their storms, their height, and their glaciers, with eloquence. The worthy boatman had some such opinions of the superiority of his own country, as all are apt to form who have never seen any other. He dwelt on the glories of an Abbaye des Vignerons, too, with the gusto of a Vevaisan, and seemed to think it would be a high stroke of state policy, to get up a new, _fete_ of this kind as speedily as possible. In short, the world and its interests were pretty generally discussed between these two philosophers during an intercourse that extended to a month.
Our American was not a man to let instruction of this nature easily escape him. He lay hours at a time on the seats of Jean Descloux’s boat, looking up at the mountains, or watching some lazy sail on the lake, and speculating on the wisdom of which he was so accidentally made the repository. His view on one side was limited by the glacier of Mont Velan, a near neighbor of the celebrated col of St. Bernard; and on the other, his eye could range to the smiling fields that surround Geneva. Within this setting is contained one of the most magnificent pictures that Nature ever drew, and he bethought him of the human actions, passions, and interests of which it might have been the scene. By a connexion that was natural enough to the situation, he imagined a fragment of life passed between these grand limits, and the manner in which men could listen to the never-wearied promptings of their impulses in the immediate presence of the majesty of the Creator. He bethought him of the analogies that exist between inanimate nature and our own wayward inequalities; of the fearful admixture of good and evil of which we are composed; of the manner in which the best betray their submission to the devils, and in which the worst have gleams of that eternal principle of right, by which they have been endowed by God; of those tempests which sometimes lie dormant in our systems, like the slumbering lake in the calm, but which excited, equal its fury when lashed by the winds; of the strength of prejudices; of the worthlessness and changeable character of the most cherished of our opinions, and of that strange, incomprehensible, and yet winning _melange_ of contradictions, of fallacies, of truths, and of wrongs, which make up the sum of our existence.
The following pages are the result of this dreaming. The reader is left to his own intelligence for the moral.
A respectable English writer observed:–“All pages of human life are worth reading; the wise instruct; the gay divert us; the imprudent teach us what to shun; the absurd cure the spleen.”
Day glimmered and I went, a gentle breeze Ruffling the Leman lake.
The year was in its fall, according to a poetical expression of our own, and the morning bright, as the fairest and swiftest bark that navigated the Leman lay at the quay of the ancient and historical town of Geneva, ready to depart for the country of Vaud. This vessel was called the Winkelried, in commemoration of Arnold of that name, who had so generously sacrificed life and hopes to the good of his country, and who deservedly ranks among the truest of those heroes of whom we have well-authenticated legends. She had been launched at the commencement of the summer, and still bore at the fore-top-mast-head a bunch of evergreens, profusely ornamented with knots and streamers of riband, the offerings of the patron’s female friends, and the fancied gage of success. The use of steam, and the presence of unemployed seamen of various nations, in this idle season of the warlike, are slowly leading to innovations and improvements in the navigation of the lakes of Italy and Switzerland, it is true; but time, even at this hour, has done little towards changing the habits and opinions of those who ply on these inland waters for a subsistence. The Winkelried had the two low, diverging masts; the attenuated and picturesquely-poised latine yards; the light, triangular sails; the sweeping and projecting gangways; the receding and falling stern; the high and peaked prow, with, in general, the classical and quaint air of those vessels that are seen in the older paintings and engravings. A gilded ball glittered on the summit of each mast, for no canvass was set higher than the slender and well-balanced yards, and it was above one of these that the wilted bush, with its gay appendages, trembled and fluttered in a fresh western wind. The hull was worthy of so much goodly apparel, being spacious, commodious, and, according to the wants of the navigation, of approved mould. The freight, which was sufficiently obvious, much the greatest part being piled on the ample deck, consisted of what our own watermen would term an assorted cargo. It was, however, chiefly composed of those foreign luxuries, as they were then called, though use has now rendered them nearly indispensable to domestic economy, which were consumed, in singular moderation, by the more affluent of those who dwelt deeper among the mountains, and of the two principal products of the dairy; the latter being destined to a market in the less verdant countries of the south. To these must be added the personal effects of an unusual number of passengers, which were stowed on the top of the heavier part of the cargo, with an order and care that their value would scarcely seem to require. The arrangement, however, was necessary to the convenience and even to the security of the bark, having been made by the patron with a view to posting each individual by his particular wallet, in a manner to prevent confusion in the crowd, and to leave the crew space and opportunity to discharge the necessary duties of the navigation.
With a vessel stowed, sails ready to drop, the wind fair, and the day drawing on apace, the patron of the Winkelried, who was also her owner, felt a very natural wish to depart. But an unlooked-for obstacle had just presented itself at the water-gate, where the officer charged with the duty of looking into the characters of all who went and came was posted, and around whom some fifty representatives of half as many nations were now clustered in a clamorous throng, filling the air with a confusion of tongues that had some probable affinity to the noises which deranged the workmen of Babel. It appeared, by parts of sentences and broken remonstrances, equally addressed to the patron, whose name was Baptiste, and to the guardian of the Genevese laws, a rumor was rife among these truculent travellers, that Balthazar, the headsman, or executioner, of the powerful and aristocratical canton of Berne, was about to be smuggled into their company by the cupidity of the former, contrary, not only to what was due to the feelings and rights of men of more creditable callings, but, as it was vehemently and plausibly insisted, to the very safety of those who were about to trust their fortunes to the vicissitudes of the elements.
Chance and the ingenuity of Baptiste had collected, on this occasion, as party-colored and heterogeneous an assemblage of human passions, interests, dialects, wishes, and opinions, as any admirer of diversity of character could desire. There were several small traders, some returning from adventures in Germany and France, and some bound southward, with their scanty stock of wares; a few poor scholars, bent on a literary pilgrimage to Rome; an artist or two, better provided with enthusiasm than with either knowledge or taste, journeying with poetical longings towards skies and tints of Italy; a _troupe_ of street jugglers, who had been turning their Neapolitan buffoonery to account among the duller and less sophisticated inhabitants of Swabia; divers lacqueys out of place; some six or eight capitalists who lived on their wits, and a nameless herd of that set which the French call bad “subjects;” a title that is just now, oddly enough, disputed between the dregs of society and a class that would fain become its exclusive leaders and lords.
These with some slight qualifications that it is not yet necessary to particularise, composed that essential requisite of all fair representation–the majority. Those who remained were of a different caste. Near the noisy crowd of tossing heads and brandished arms, in and around the gate, was a party containing the venerable and still fine figure of a man in the travelling dress of one of superior condition, and who did not need the testimony of the two or three liveried menials that stood near his person, to give an assurance of his belonging to the more fortunate of his fellow-creatures, as good and evil are usually estimated in calculating the chances of life. On his arm leaned a female, so young, and yet so lovely, as to cause regret in all who observed her fading color, the sweet but melancholy smile that occasionally lighted her mild and pleasing features, at some of the more marked exuberances of folly among the crowd, and a form which, notwithstanding her lessened bloom, was nearly perfect. If these symptoms of delicate health, did not prevent this fair girl from being amused at the volubility and arguments of the different orators, she oftener manifested apprehension at finding herself the companion of creatures so untrained, so violent, so exacting, and so grossly ignorant. A young man, wearing the roquelaure and other similar appendages of a Swiss in foreign military service, a character to excite neither observation nor comment in that age, stood at her elbow, answering the questions that from time to time were addressed to him by the others, in a manner to show he was an intimate acquaintance, though there were signs about his travelling equipage to prove he was not exactly of their ordinary society. Of all who were not immediately engaged in the boisterous discussion at the gate, this young soldier, who was commonly addressed by those near him as Monsieur Sigismund, was much the most interested in its progress. Though of herculean frame, and evidently of unusual physical force, he was singularly agitated. His cheek, which had not yet lost the freshness due to the mountain air, would, at times, become pale as that of the wilting flower near him; while at others, the blood rushed across his brow in a torrent that seemed to threaten a rupture of the starting vessels in which it so tumultuously flowed. Unless addressed, however, he said nothing; his distress gradually subsiding, until it was merely betrayed by the convulsive writhings of his fingers, which unconsciously grasped the hilt of his sword.
The uproar had now continued for some time: throats were getting sore, tongues clammy, voices hoarse, and words incoherent, when a sudden check was given to the useless clamor by an incident quite in unison with the disturbance itself. Two enormous dogs were in attendance hard by, apparently awaiting the movements of their respective masters, who were lost to view in the mass of heads and bodies that stopped the passage of the gate. One of these animals was covered with a short, thick coating of hair, whose prevailing color was a dingy yellow, but whose throat and legs, with most of the inferior parts of the body, were of a dull white. Nature, on the other hand, had given a dusky, brownish, shaggy dress to his rival, though his general hue was relieved by a few shades of a more decided black. As respects weight and force of body, the difference between the brutes was not very obvious, though perhaps it slightly inclined in favor of the former, who in length, if not in strength, of limb, however, had more manifestly the advantage.
It would much exceed the intelligence we have brought to this task to explain how far the instincts of the dogs sympathised in the savage passions of the human beings around them, or whether they were conscious that their masters had espoused opposite sides in the quarrel, and that it became them, as faithful esquires, to tilt together by way of supporting the honor of those they followed; but, after measuring each other for the usual period with the eye, they came violently together, body to body, in the manner of their species. The collision was fearful, and the struggle, being between two creatures of so great size and strength, of the fiercest kind. The roar resembled that of lions, effectually drowning the clamor of human voices. Every tongue was mute, and each head was turned in the direction of the combatants. The trembling girl recoiled with averted face, while the young man stepped eagerly forward to protect her, for the conflict was near the place they occupied; but powerful and active as was his frame, he hesitated about mingling in an affray so ferocious. At this critical moment, when it seemed that the furious brutes were on the point of tearing each other in pieces, the crowd was pushed violently open, and two men burst, side by side, out of the mass. One wore the black robes, the conical, Asiatic-looking, tufted cap, and the white belt of an Augustine monk, and the other had the attire of a man addicted to the seas, without, however, being so decidedly maritime as to leave his character a matter that was quite beyond dispute. The former was fair, ruddy, with an oval, happy face, of which internal peace and good-will to his fellows were the principal characteristics, while the latter had the swarthy hue, bold lineaments, and glittering eye, of an Italian.
“Uberto!” said the monk reproachfully, affecting the sort of offended manner that one would be apt to show to a more intelligent creature, willing, but at the same time afraid, to trust his person nearer to the furious conflict, “shame on thee, old Uberto! Hast forgotten thy schooling–hast no respect for thine own good name?”
On the other hand, the Italian did not stop to expostulate; but throwing himself with reckless hardihood on the dogs, by dint of kicks and blows, of which much the heaviest portion fell on the follower of the Augustine, he succeeded in separating the combatants.
“Ha, Nettuno!” he exclaimed, with the severity of one accustomed to exercise a stern and absolute authority, so soon as this daring exploit was achieved, and he had recovered a little of the breath lost in the violent exertion–“what dost mean? Canst find no better amusement than quarrelling with a dog of San Bernardo! Fie upon thee, foolish Nettuno! I am ashamed of thee, dog: thou, that hast discreetly navigated so many seas, to lose thy temper on a bit of fresh water!”
The dog, which was in truth no other than a noble animal of the well-known Newfoundland breed, hung his head, and made signs of contrition, by drawing nearer to his master with a tail that swept the ground, while his late adversary quietly seated himself with a species of monastic dignity, looking from the speaker to his foe, as if endeavoring to comprehend the rebuke which his powerful and gallant antagonist took so meekly.
“Father,” said the Italian, “our dogs are both too useful, in their several ways, and both of too good character to be enemies. I know Ubarto of old, for the paths of St. Bernard and I are no strangers, and, if report does the animal no more than justice, he hath not been an idle cur among the snows.”
“He hath been the instrument of saving seven Christians from death.” answered the monk, beginning again to regard his mastiff with friendly looks, for at first there had been keen reproach and severe displeasure in his manner–“not to speak of the bodies that have been found by his activity, after the vital spark had fled.”
“As for the latter, father, we can count little more in favor of the dog than a good intention. Valuing services on this scale, I might ere this have been the holy father himself, or at least a cardinal; but seven lives saved, for their owners to die quietly in their beds, and with opportunity to make their peace with heaven, is no bad recommendation for a dog. Nettuno, here, is every way worthy to be the friend of old Uberto, for thirteen drowning men have I myself seen him draw from the greedy jaws of sharks and other monsters of deep water. What dost thou say, father; shall we make peace between the brutes?”
The Augustine expressed his readiness, as well as his desire, to aid in an effort so laudable, and by dint of commands and persuasion, the dogs, who were predisposed to peace from having had a mutual taste of the bitterness of war, and who now felt for each other the respect which courage and force are apt to create, were soon on the usual terms of animals of their kind that have no particular grounds for contention.
The guardian of the city improved the calm produced by this little incident, to regain a portion of his lost authority. Beating back the crowd with his cane, he cleared a space around the gate into which but one of the travellers could enter at a time, while he professed himself not only ready but determined to proceed with his duty, without further procrastination. Baptiste, the patron, who beheld the precious moments wasting, and who, in the delay, foresaw a loss of wind, which, to one of his pursuits, was loss of money, now earnestly pressed the travellers to comply with the necessary forms, and to take their stations in his bark with all convenient speed.
“Of what matter is it,” continued the calculating waterman, who was rather conspicuously known for the love of thrift that is usually attributed to most of the inhabitants of that region, “whether there be one headsman or twenty in the bark, so long as the good vessel can float and steer? Our Leman winds are fickle friends, and the wise take them while in the humor. Give me the breeze at west, and I will load the Winkelried to the water’s edge with executioners, or any other pernicious creatures thou wilt, and thou mayest take the lightest bark that ever swam in the _bise_, and let us see who will first make the haven of Vevey!”
The loudest, and in a sense that is very important in all such discussions, the principal, speaker in the dispute, was the leader of the Neapolitan _troupe_, who, in virtue of good lungs, an agility that had no competitor in any present, and a certain mixture of superstition and bravado, that formed nearly equal ingredients in his character, was a man likely to gain great influence with those who, from their ignorance and habits, had an inherent love of the marvellous, and a profound respect for all who possessed, in acting, more audacity, and, in believing, more credulity than themselves. The vulgar like an excess, even if it be of folly; for, in their eyes, the abundance of any particular quality is very apt to be taken as the standard of its excellence.
“This is well for him who receives, but it may be death to him that pays,” cried the son of the south, gaining not a little among his auditors by the distinction, for the argument was sufficiently wily, as between the buyer and the seller. “Thou wilt get thy silver for the risk, and we may get watery graves for our weakness. Nought but mishaps can come of wicked company, and accursed will they be, in the evil hour, that are found in brotherly communion, with one whose trade is hurrying Christians into eternity, before the time that has been lent by nature is fairly up. Santa Madre! I would not be the fellow-traveller of such a wretch, across this wild and changeable lake, for the honor of leaping and showing my poor powers in the presence of the Holy Father, and the whole of the learned conclave!”
This solemn declaration, which was made with suitable gesticulation, and an action of the countenance that was well adapted to prove the speaker’s sincerity, produced a corresponding effect on most of the listeners, who murmured their applause in a manner sufficiently significant to convince the patron he was not about to dispose of the difficulty, simply by virtue of fair words. In this dilemma he bethought him of a plan of overcoming the scruples of all present, in which he was warmly seconded by the agent of the police, and to which, after the usual number of cavilling objections that were generated by distrust, heated blood, and the obstinacy of disputation, the other parties were finally induced to give their consent. It was agreed that the examination should no longer be delayed, but that a species of deputation from the crowd might take their stand within the gate where all who passed would necessarily be subject to their scrutiny, and, in the event of their vigilance detecting the abhorred and proscribed Balthazar, that the patron should return his money to the headsman, and preclude him from forming one of a party that was so scrupulous of its association, and, apparently, with so little reason. The Neapolitan, whose name was Pippo; one of the indigent scholars, for a century since learning was rather the auxiliary than the foe of superstition, and a certain Nicklaus Wagner, a fat Bernese, who was the owner of most of the cheeses in the bark, were the chosen of the multitude on this occasion. The first owed his election to his vehemence and volubility, qualities that the ignoble vulgar are very apt to mistake for conviction and knowledge; the second to his silence and a demureness of air which pass with another class for the stillness of deep water; and the last to his substance, as a man of known wealth, an advantage which, in spite of all that alarmists predict on one side and enthusiasts affirm on the other, will always carry greater weight with those who are less fortunate in this respect, than is either reasonable or morally healthful, provided it is not abused by arrogance or by the assumption of very extravagant and oppressive privileges. As a matter of course, these deputed guardians of the common rights were first obliged to submit their own papers to the eye of the Genevese.
[Footnote 1: As we have so often alluded to this examination, it may be well to explain, that the present system of gend’armerie and passports did not then prevail in Europe; taking their rise nearly a century later than that in which the events of this tale had place. But Geneva was a small and exposed state, and the regulation to which there is reference here, was one of the provisions which were resorted to, from time to time in order to protect those liberties and that independence, of which its citizens were so unceasingly and so wisely jealous.]
The Neapolitan, than whom an archer knave, or one that had committed more petty wrongs, did not present himself that day at the water-gate, was regularly fortified by every precaution that the long experience of a vagabond could suggest, and he was permitted to pass forthwith. The poor Westphalian student presented an instrument fairly written out in scholastic Latin, and escaped further trouble by the vanity of the unlettered agent of the police, who hastily affirmed it was a pleasure to encounter documents so perfectly in form. But the Bernese was about to take his station by the side of the other two, appearing to think inquiry, in his case, unnecessary. While moving through the passage in stately silence, Nicklaus Wagner was occupied in securing the strings of a well filled purse, which he had just lightened of a small copper coin, to reward the varlet of the hostelry in which he had passed the night, and who had been obliged to follow him to the port to obtain even this scanty boon; and the Genevese was fain to believe that, in the urgency of this important concern, he had overlooked those forms which all were, just then, obliged to respect, on quitting the town.
“Thou hast a name and character?” observed the latter, with official brevity.
“God help thee, friend!–I did not think Geneva had been so particular with a Swiss;–and a Swiss who is so favorably known on the Aar, and indeed over the whole of the great canton! I am Nicklaus Wagner, a name of little account, perhaps, but which is well esteemed among men of substance, and which has a right even to the Buergerschaft–Nicklaus Wagner of Berne–thou wilt scarce need more?”
“Naught but proof of its truth. Thou wilt remember this is Geneva; the laws of a small and exposed state need be particular in affairs of this nature.”
“I never questioned thy state being Geneva; I only wonder thou shouldst doubt my being Nicklaus Wagner! I can journey the darkest night that ever threw a shadow from the mountains, any where between the Jura and the Oberland, and none, shall say my word is to be disputed. Look ‘ee, there is the patron, Baptiste, who will tell thee, that if he were to land the freight which is shipped in my name, his bark would float greatly the lighter.”
All this time Nicklaus was nothing loth to show his papers, which were quite in rule. He even held them, with a thumb and finger separating the folds, ready to be presented to his questioner. The hesitation came from a feeling of wounded vanity, which would gladly show that one of his local importance and known substance was to be exempt from the exactions required from men of smaller means. The officer, who had great practice in this species of collision with his fellow-creatures, understood the character with which he had to deal, and, seeing no good reason for refusing to gratify a feeling which was innocent, though sufficiently silly, he yielded to the Bernese pride.
“Thou canst proceed,” he said, turning the indulgence to account, with a ready knowledge of his duty; “and when thou gettest again among thy burghers, do us of Geneva the grace to say^ we treat our allies fairly.”
“I thought thy question hasty!” exclaimed the wealthy peasant, swelling like one who gets justice, though tardily. “Now let us to this knotty affair of the headsman.”
Taking his place with the Neapolitan and the Westphalian, Nicklaus assumed the grave air of a judge, and an austerity of manner which proved that he entered on his duty with a firm resolution to do justice.
“Thou ‘art well known here, pilgrim,” observed the officer, with some severity of tone, to the next that came to the gate.
“St. Francis to speed, master, it were else wonderful! I should be so, for the seasons scarce come and go more regularly.”
“There must be a sore conscience somewhere, that Rome and thou should need each other so often?”
The pilgrim, who was enveloped in a tattered coat, sprinkled with cockle-shells, who wore his beard, and was altogether a disgusting picture of human depravity, rendered still more revolting by an ill-concealed hypocrisy, laughed openly and recklessly at the remark.
“Thou art a follower of Calvin, master,” he replied, “or thou would’st not have said this. My own failings give me little trouble. I am engaged by certain parishes of Germany to take upon my poor person their physical pains, and it is not easy to name another that hath done as many messages of this kind as myself, with better proofs of fidelity. If thou hast any little offering to make, thou shalt see fair papers to prove what I say;–papers that would pass at St. Peter’s itself!”
The officer perceived that he had to do with one of those unequivocal hypocrites–if such a word can properly be applied to him who scarcely thought deception necessary–who then made a traffic of expiations of this nature; a pursuit that was common enough at the close of the seventeenth and in the commencement of the eighteenth centuries, and which has not even yet entirely disappeared from Europe. He threw the pass with unconcealed aversion towards the profligate, who, recovering his document, assumed unasked his station by the side of the three who had been selected to decide on the fitness of those who were to be allowed to embark.
“Go to!” cried the officer, as he permitted this ebullition of disgust to escape him; “thou hast well said that we are followers of Calvin. Geneva has little in common with her of the scarlet mantle, and thou wilt do well to remember this, in thy next pilgrimage, lest the beadle make acquaintance with thy back,–Hold! who art thou?”
“A heretic, hopelessly damned by anticipation, if that of yonder travelling prayer-monger be the true faith;” answered one who was pressing past, with a quiet assurance that had near carried its point without incurring the risks of the usual investigation into his name and character. It was the owner of Nettuno, whose aquatic air and perfect self-possession now caused the officer to doubt whether he had not stopped a waterman of the lake–a class privileged to come and go at will.
“Thou knowest our usages,” said the half-satisfied Genevese.
“I were a fool else! Even the ass that often travels the same path comes in time to tell its turns and windings. Art not satisfied with touching the pride of the worthy Nicklaus Wagner, by putting the well-warmed burgher to his proofs, but thou would’st e’en question me! Come hither, Nettuno; thou shalt answer for both, being a dog of discretion. We are no go-betweens of heaven and earth, thou knowest, but creatures that come part of the water and part of the land!”
The Italian spoke loud and confidently, and to the manner of one who addressed himself more to the humors of those near than to the understanding of the Genevese. He laughed, and looked about him in a manner to extract an echo from the crowd, though not one among them all could probably have given a sufficient reason why he had so readily taken part with the stranger against the authorities of the town, unless it might have been from the instinct of opposition to the law.
“Thou hast a name?” continued the half-yielding, half-doubting guardian of the port.
“Dost take me to be worse off than the bark of Baptiste, there? I have papers, too, if thou wilt that I go to the vessel in order to seek them. This dog is Nettuno, a brute from a far country, where brutes swim like fishes, and my name is Maso, though wicked-minded men call me oftener Il Maledetto than by any other title.”
All in the throng, who understood the signification of what the Italian said, laughed aloud, and apparently with great glee, for, to the grossly vulgar, extreme audacity has an irresistible charm. The officer felt that the merriment was against him, though he scarce knew why; and ignorant of the language in which the other had given his extraordinary appellation, he yielded to the contagion, and laughed with the others, like one who understood the joke to the bottom. The Italian profited by this advantage, nodded familiarly with a good-natured and knowing smile, and proceeded. Whistling the dog to his side, he walked leisurely to the bark, into which he was the first that entered, always preserving the deliberation and calm of a man who felt himself privileged, and safe from farther molestation. This cool audacity effected its purpose, though one long and closely hunted by the law evaded the authorities of the town, when this singular being took his seat by the little package which contained his scanty wardrobe.
“My nobiel liege! all my request
Ys for a nobile knyghte,
Who, tho’ mayhap he has done wronge, Hee thoughte ytt stylle was righte.”
While this impudent evasion of vigilance was successfully practised by so old an offender, the trio of sentinels, with their volunteer assistant the pilgrim, manifested the greatest anxiety to prevent the contamination of admitting the highest executioner of the law to form one of the strangely assorted company. No sooner did the Genevese permit a traveller to pass, than they commenced their private and particular examination, which was sufficiently fierce, for more than once had they threatened to turn back the trembling, ignorant applicant on mere suspicion. The cunning Baptiste lent himself to their feelings with the skill of a demagogue, affecting a zeal equal to their own, while, at the same time, he took care most to excite their suspicions where there was the smallest danger of their being rewarded with success. Through this fiery ordeal one passed after another, until most of the nameless vagabonds had been found innocent, and the throng around the gate was so far lessened as to allow a freer circulation in the thoroughfare. The opening permitted the venerable noble, who has already been presented to the reader, to advance to the gate, accompanied by the female, and closely followed by the menials. The servitor of the police saluted the stranger with deference, for his calm exterior and imposing presence were in singular contrast with the noisy declamation and rude deportment of the rabble that had preceded.
“I am Melchior de Willading, of Berne,” said the traveller, quietly offering the proofs of what he said, with the ease of one sure of his impunity; “this is my child–my only child,” the old man repeated the latter words with melancholy emphasis, “and these, that wear my livery, are old and faithful followers of my house. We go by the St. Bernard, to change the ruder side of our Alps for that which is more grateful to the weak–to see if there be a sun in Italy that hath warmth enough to revive this drooping flower, and to cause it once more to raise its head joyously, as until lately, it did ever in its native halls.”
The officer smiled and repeated his reverences, always declining to receive the offered papers; for the aged father indulged the overflowing of his feelings in a manner that would have awakened even duller sympathies.
“The lady has youth and a tender parent of her side,” he said; “these are much when health fails us.”
“She is indeed too young to sink so early!” returned the father, who had apparently forgotten his immediate business, and was gazing with a tearful eye at the faded but still eminently attractive features of the young female, who rewarded his solicitude with a look of love; “but thou hast not seen I am the man I represent myself to be.”
“It is not necessary, noble baron; the city knows of your presence, and I have it, in especial charge, to do all that may be grateful to render the passage through Geneva, of one so honored among our allies, agreeable to his recollections.”
“Thy city’s courtesy is of known repute,” said the Baron de Willading, replacing his papers in their usual envelope, and receiving the grace like one accustomed to honors of this sort:–“art thou a father?”
“Heaven has not been niggardly of gifts of this nature: my table feeds eleven, besides those who gave them being.”
“Eleven!–The will of God is a fearful mystery! And this thou seest is the sole hope of my line;–the only heir that is left to the name and lands of Willading! Art thou at ease in thy condition?”
“There are those in our town who are less so, with many thanks for the friendliness of the question.”
A slight color suffused the face of Adelheid de Willading, for so was the daughter of the Bernese called, and she advanced a step nearer to the officer.
“They who have so few at their own board, need think of those who have so many,” she said, dropping a piece of gold into the hand of the Genevese: then she added, in a voice scarce louder than a whisper–“If the young and innocent of thy household can offer a prayer in the behalf of a poor girl who has much need of aid, ’twill be remembered of God, and it may serve to lighten the grief of one who has the dread of being childless.”
“God bless thee, lady!” said the officer, little used to deal with such spirits, and touched by the mild resignation and piety of the speaker, whose simple but winning manner moved him nearly to tears; “all of my family, old as well as young, shall bethink them of thee and thine.”
Adelheid’s cheek resumed its paleness, and she quietly accompanied her father, as he slowly proceeded towards the bark. A scene of this nature did not fail to shake the pertinacity of those who stood at watch near the gate. Of course they had nothing to say to any of the rank of Melchior de Willading, who went into the bark without a question. The influence of beauty and station united to so much simple grace as that shown by the fair actor in the little incident we have just related, was much too strong for the ill-trained feelings of the Neapolitan and his companions. They not only let all the menials pass unquestioned also, but it was some little time before their vigilance resumed its former truculence. The two or three travellers that succeeded had the benefit of this fortunate change of disposition.
The next who came to the gate was the young soldier, whom the Baron de Willading had so often addressed as Monsieur Sigismund. His papers were regular, and no obstacle was offered to his departure. It may be doubted how far this young man would have been disposed to submit to these extra-official inquiries of the three deputies of the crowd, had there been a desire to urge them, for he went towards the quay, with an eye that expressed any other sensation than that of amity or compliance. Respect, or a more equivocal feeling, proved his protection; for none but the pilgrim, who displayed ultra-zeal in the pursuit of his object, ventured so far as to hazard even a smothered remark as he passed.
“There goes an arm and a sword that might well shorten a Christian’s days,” said the dissolute and shameless dealer in the church’s abuses, “and, yet no one asks his name or calling!”
“Thou hadst better put the question thyself,” returned the sneering Pippo, “since penitence is thy trade. For myself, I am content with whirling round at my own bidding, without taking a hint from that young giant’s arm.”
The poor scholar and the burgher of Berne appeared to acquiesce in this opinion, and no more said in the matter. In the mean while there was another at the gate. The new applicant had little in his exterior to renew the vigilance of the superstitious trio. A quiet, meek-looking man, seemingly of a middle condition in life, and of an air altogether calm and unpretending, had submitted his passport to the faithful guardian of the city. The latter read the document, cast a quick and inquiring glance at its owner, and returned the paper in a way to show haste, and a desire to be rid of him.
“It is well,” he said; “thou canst, go thy way.”
“How now!” cried the Neapolitan, to whom buffoonery was a congenial employment, as much by natural disposition as by practice; “How now!–have we Balthazar at last, in this bloody-minded and fierce-looking traveller?” As the speaker had expected, this sally was rewarded by a general laugh, and he was accordingly encouraged to proceed. “Thou knowest our office, friend,” added the unfeeling mountebank, “and must show us thy hands. None pass who bear the stain of blood!”
The traveller appeared staggered, for he was plainly a man of retired and peaceable habits, who had been thrown, by the chances of the road, in contact with one only too practised in this unfeeling species of wit. He showed his open palm, however, with a direct and confiding simplicity, that drew a shout of merriment from all the by-standers.
“This will not do; soap, and ashes, and the tears of victims, may have washed out the marks of his work from Balthazar himself. The spots we seek are on the soul, man, and we must look into that, ere thou art permitted to make one in this goodly company.”
“Thou didst not question yonder young soldier thus,” returned the stranger, whose eye kindled, as even the meek repel unprovoked outrage, though his frame trembled violently at being subject to open insults from men so rude and unprincipled; “thou didst not dare to question yonder young soldier thus!”
“By the prayers of San Gennaro! which are known to stop running and melted lava, I would rather thou should’st undertake that office than I. Yonder young soldier is an honorable decapitator, and it is a pleasure to be his companion on a journey; for, no doubt, some six or eight of the saints are speaking in his behalf daily. But he we seek is the outcast of all, good or bad, whether in heaven or on earth, or in that other hot abode to which he will surely be sent when his time shall come.”
“And yet he does no more than execute the law!”
“What is law to opinion, friend? But go thy way; none suspect thee to be the redoubtable enemy of our heads. Go thy way, for Heaven’s sake, and mutter thy prayers to be delivered from Balthazar’s axe.”
The countenance of the stranger worked, as if he would have answered; then suddenly changing his purpose, he passed on, and instantly disappeared in the bark. The monk of St. Bernard came next. Both the Augustine and his dog were old acquaintances of the officer, who did not require any evidence of his character or errand from the former.
“We are the protectors of life and not its foes,” observed the monk, as, leaving the more regular watchman of the place, he drew near to those, whose claims to the office would have admitted of dispute: “we live among the snows, that Christians may not die without the church’s comfort.”
“Honor, holy Augustine, to thee and thy office!” said the Neapolitan, who, reckless and abandoned as he was, possessed that instinct of respect for those who deny their natures for the good of others which is common to all, however tainted by cupidity themselves. “Thou and thy dog, old Uberto, can freely pass, with our best good wishes for both.”
There no longer remained any to examine, and, after a short consultation among the more superstitious of the travellers, they came to the very natural opinion that, intimidated by their just remonstrances, the offensive headsman had shrunk, unperceived, from the crowd, and that they were at length happily relieved from his presence. The annunciation of the welcome tidings drew much self-felicitation from the different members of the motley company, and all eagerly embarked, for Baptiste now loudly and vehemently declared that a single moment of further delay was entirely out of the question.
“Of what are you thinking, men!” he exclaimed with well-acted heat; “are the Leman winds liveried lackeys, to come and go as may suit your fancies; now to blow west, and now east, as shall be most wanted, to help you on your journeys? Take example of the noble Melchior de Willading, who has long been in his place, and pray the saints, if you will, in your several fashions, that this fair western wind do not quit us in punishment of our neglect.”
“Yonder come others, in haste, to be of the party!” interrupted the cunning Italian; “loosen thy fasts quickly, Master Baptiste, or, by San Gennaro! we shall still be detained!”
The Patron suddenly checked himself, and hurried back to the gate, in order to ascertain what he might expect from this unlooked-for turn of fortune.
Two travellers, in the attire of men familiar with the road, accompanied by a menial, and followed by a porter staggering under the burthen of their luggage, were fast approaching the water-gate, as if conscious the least delay might cause their being left. This party was led by one considerably past the meridian of life, and who evidently was enabled to maintain his post more by the deference of his companions than by his physical force. A cloak was thrown across one arm, while in the hand of the other he carried the rapier, which all of gentle blood then considered a necessary appendage of their rank.
“You were near losing the last bark that sails for the Abbaye des Vignerons, Signori,” said the Genevese, recognizing the country of the strangers at a glance, “if, as I judge from your direction and haste, these festivities are in your minds.”
“Such is our aim,” returned the elder of the travellers, “and, as thou sayest, we are, of a certainty, tardy. A hasty departure and bad roads have been the cause–but as, happily, we are yet in time to profit by this bark, wilt do us the favor to look into our authority to pass?”
The officer perused the offered document with the customary care, turning it from side to side, as if all were not right, though in a way to show that he regretted the informality.
“Signore, your pass is quite in rule as touches Savoy and the country of Nice, but it wants the city’s forms.”
“By San Francesco! more’s the pity. We are honest gentlemen of Genoa, hurrying to witness the revels at Vevey, of which rumor gives an enticing report, and our sole desire is to come and go peaceably. As thou seest, we are late; for hearing at the post, on alighting, that a bark was about to spread its sails for the other extremity of the lake, we had no time to consult all the observances that thy city’s rules may deem necessary. So many turn their faces the same way, to witness these ancient games, that we had not thought out quick passage through the town of sufficient importance to give thy authorities the trouble to look into our proofs.”
“Therein, Signore, you have judged amiss. It is my sworn duty to stay all who want the republic’s permission to proceed.”
“This is unfortunate, to say no more. Art thou the patron of the bark, friend?”
“And her owner, Signore,” answered Baptiste, who listened to the discourse with longings equal to his doubts. “I should be a great deal too happy to count such honorable travellers among my passengers.”
“Thou wilt then delay thy departure until this gentleman shall see the authorities of the town, and obtain the required permission to quit it? Thy compliance shall not go unrewarded.”
As the Genoese concluded, he dropped into a palm that was well practised in bribes a sequin of the celebrated republic of which he was a citizen. Baptiste had long cultivated an aptitude to suffer himself to be influenced by gold, and it was with unfeigned reluctance that he admitted the necessity of refusing, in this instance, to profit by his own good dispositions. Still retaining the money, however, for he did not well know how to overcome his reluctance to part with it, he answered in a manner sufficiently embarrassed, to show the other that he had at least gained a material advantage by his liberality.
“His Excellency knows not what he asks,” said the patron, fumbling the coin between a finger and thumb; “our Genevese citizens love to keep house till the sun is up, lest they should break their necks by walking about the uneven streets in the dark, and it will be two long hours before a single bureau will open its windows in the town. Besides, your man of the police is not like us of the lake, happy to get a morsel when the weather and occasion permit; but he is a regular feeder, that must have his grapes and his wine before he will use his wits for the benefit of his employers. The Winkelried would weary of doing nothing, with this fresh western breeze humming between her masts, while the poor gentleman was swearing before the town-house gate at the laziness of the officers. I know the rogues better than your Excellency, and would advise some other expedient.”
Baptiste looked, with a certain expression, at the guardian of the water-gate, and in a manner to make his meaning sufficiently clear to the travellers. The latter studied the countenance of the Genevese a moment, and, better practised than the patron, or a more enlightened judge of character, he fortunately refused to commit himself by offering to purchase the officer’s good-will. If there are too many who love to be tempted to forget their trusts, by a well-managed venality, there are a few who find a greater satisfaction in being thought beyond its influence. The watchman of the gate happened to be one of the latter class, and, by one of the many unaccountable workings of human feeling, the very vanity which had induced him to suffer Il Maledetto to go through unquestioned, rather than expose his own ignorance, now led him to wish he might make some return for the stranger’s good opinion of his honesty.
“Will you let me look again at the pass, Signore?” asked the Genevese, as if he thought a sufficient legal warranty for that which he now strongly desired to do might yet be found in the instrument itself.
The inquiry was useless, unless it was to show that the elder Genoese was called the Signer Grimaldi and that his companion went by the name of Marcelli. Shaking his head he returned the paper in the manner of a disappointed man.
“Thou canst not have read half of what the paper contains,” said Baptiste peevishly; “your reading and writing are not such easy matters, that a squint of the eye is all-sufficient. Look at it again, and thou mayest yet find all in rule. It is unreasonable to suppose Signori of their rank would journey like vagabonds, with papers to be suspected.”
“Nothing is wanting but our city signatures, without which my duty will let none go by, that are truly travellers.”
“This comes, Signore, of the accursed art of writing, which is much pushed and greatly abused of late. I have heard the aged watermen of the Leman praise the good old time, when boxes and bales went and came, and no ink touched paper between him that sent and him that carried; and yet it has now reached the pass that a christian may not transport himself on his own legs without calling on the scriveners for permission!”
“We lose the moments in words, when it were far better to be doing,” returned the Signore Grimaldi. “The pass is luckily in the language of the country, and needs but a glance to get the approval of the authorities. Thou wilt do well to say thou canst remain the time necessary to see this little done.”
“Were your excellency to offer me the Doge’s crown as a bribe, this could not be. Our Leman winds will not wait for king or noble, bishop or priest, and duty to those I have in the bark commands me to quit the port as soon as possible.”
“Thou art truly well charged with living freight already,” said the Genoese, regarding the deeply loaded bark with a half-distrustful eye ‘I hope thou hast not overdone thy vessel’s powers in receiving so many?”
“I could gladly reduce the number a little, excellent Signore, for all that you see piled among the boxes and tubs are no better than so many knaves, fit only to give trouble and raise questions touching the embarkation of those who are willing to pay better than themselves. The noble Swiss, whom you see seated near the stern, with his daughter and people, the worthy Melchior de Willading, gives a more liberal reward for his passage to Vevey than all those nameless rogues together.”
The Genoese made a hasty movement towards the patron, with an earnestness of eye and air that betrayed a sudden and singular interest in what he heard.
“Did’st thou say de Willading?” he exclaimed, eager as one of much fewer years would have been at the unexpected announcement of some pleasurable event. “Melchior, too, of that honorable name?”
“Signore, the same. None other bears the title now, for the old line, they say, is drawing to an end. I remember this same baron, when he was as ready to launch his boat into a troubled lake, as any in Switzerland–“
“Fortune hath truly favored me, good Marcelli!” interrupted the other, grasping the hand of his companion, with strong feeling. “Go thou to the bark, master patron, and advise thy passenger that–what shall we say to Melchior? Shall we tell him at once, who waits him here, or shall we practise a little on his failing memory? By San Francesco! we will do this, Enrico, that we may try his powers! ‘Twill be pleasant to see him wonder and guess–my life on it, however, that he knows me at a glance. I am truly little changed for one that hath seen so much.”
The Signor Marcelli lowered his eyes respectfully at this opinion of his friend, but he did not see fit to discourage a belief which was merely a sudden ebullition, produced by the recollection of younger days. Baptiste was instantly dispatched with a request that the baron would do a stranger of rank the favor to come to the water-gate.
“Tell him ’tis a traveller disappointed in the wish to be of his company,” repeated the Genoese. “That will suffice. I know him courteous, and he is not my Melchior, honest Marcelli, if he delay an instant:–thou seest! he is already quitting the bark, for never did I know him refuse an act of friendliness–dear, dear Melchior–thou art the same at seventy as thou wast at thirty!”
Here the agitation of the Genoese got the better of him, and he walked aside, under a sense of shame, lest he might betray unmanly weakness. In the mean time, the Baron de Willading advanced from the water-side, without suspecting that his presence was required for more than an act of simple courtesy.
“Baptiste tells me that gentlemen of Genoa are here, who are desirous of hastening to the games of Vevey,” said the latter, raising his beaver, “and that my presence may be of use in obtaining the pleasure of their company.”
“I will not unmask till we are fairly and decently embarked, Enrico,” whispered the Signor Grimaldi; “nay–by the mass! not till we are fairly disembarked! The laugh against him will never be forgotten. Signore,” addressing the Bernese with affected composure, endeavoring to assume the manner of a stranger, though his voice trembled with eagerness at each syllable, “we are indeed of Genoa, and most anxious to be of the party in your bark–but–he little suspects who speaks to him, Marcelli!–but, Signore, there has been some small oversight touching the city signatures, and we have need of friendly assistance, either to pass the gate, or to detain the bark until the forms of the place shall have been respected.’
“Signore, the city of Geneva hath need to be watchful, for it is an exposed and weak state, and I have little hope that my influence can cause this trusty watchman to dispense with his duty. Touching the bark, a small gratuity will do much with honest Baptiste, should there not be a question of the stability of the breeze, in which case he might be somewhat of a loser.”
“You say the truth, noble Melchior,” put in the patron; “were the wind ahead, or were it two hours earlier in the morning, the little delay should not cost the strangers a batz–that is to say, nothing unreasonable; but as it is, I have not twenty minutes more to lose, evep were all the city magistrates cloaking to be of the party, in their proper and worshipful persons.”
“I greatly regret, Sigriore, it should be so,” resumed the baron, turning to the applicant with the consideration of one accustomed to season his refusals by a gracious manner; “but these watermen have their secret signs, by which, it would seem, they know the latest moment they may with prudence delay.”
“By the mass! Marcelli, I will try him a little–should have known him in a carnival dress. Signor Barone, we are but poor Italian gentlemen, it is true, of Genoa. You have heard of our republic, beyond question–the poor state of Genoa?”
“Though of no great pretensions to letters, Signore,” answered Melchior, smiling, “I am not quite ignorant that such a state exists. You could not have named a city on the shores of your Mediterranean that would sooner warm my heart than this very town of which you speak. Many of my happiest hours were passed within its walls, and often, even at this late day, do I live over again my life to recall the pleasures of that merry period. Were there leisure, I could repeat a list of honorable and much esteemed names that are familiar to your ears, in proof of what I say.”
“Name them, Signor Barone;–for the love of the saints, and the blessed virgin, name them, I beseech you!”
A little amazed at the eagerness of the other. Melchior de Willading earnestly regarded his furrowed face; and, for an instant, an expression like incertitude crossed his own features.
“Nothing would be easier, Signore, than to name many. The first in my memory, as he has always been the first in my love, is Gaetano Grimaldi, of whom, I doubt not, both of you have often heard?”
“We have, we have! That is–yes, I think we may say, Marcelli, that we have often heard of him, and not unfavorably. Well, what of this Grimaldi?”
“Signore, the desire to converse of your noble townsman is natural, but were I to yield to my wishes to speak of Gaetano, I fear the honest Baptiste might have reason to complain.”
“To the devil with Baptiste and his bark! Melchior,–my good Melchior!–dearest, dearest Melchior! hast thou indeed forgotten me?”
Here the Genoese opened wide his arms, and stood ready to receive the embrace of his friend. The Baron de Willading was troubled, but he was still so far from suspecting the real fact, that he could not have easily told the reason why. He gazed wistfully at the working features of the fine old man who stood before him, and though memory seemed to flit around the truth, it was in gleams so transient as completely to baffle his wishes.
“Dost thou deny me, de Willading?–dost thou refuse to own the friend of thy youth–the companion of thy pleasures–the sharer of thy sorrows— thy comrade in the wars–nay, more–thy confidant in a dearer tie?”
“None but Gaetano Grimaldi himself can claim these titles!” burst from the lips of the trembling baron.
“Am I aught else?–am I not this Gaetano?–that Gaetano–thy Gaetano,–old and very dear friend?”
“Thou Gaetano!” exclaimed the Bernois, recoiling a step, instead of advancing to meet the eager embrace of the Genoese, whose impetuous feelings were little cooled by time–“thou, the gallant, active, daring, blooming Grimaldi! Signore, you trifle with an old man’s affections.”
“By the holy mass, I do not deceive thee! Ha, Marcelli, he is slow to believe as ever, but fast and certain as the vow of a churchman when convinced. If we are to distrust each other for a few wrinkles, thou wilt find objections rising against thine own identity as well as against mine, friend Melchior. I am none other than Gaetano–the Gaetano of thy youth–the friend thou hast not seen these many long and weary years.”
Recognition was slow in making its way in the mind of the Bernese. Lineament after lineament, however, became successively known to him, and most of all, the voice served to awaken long dormant recollections. But, as heavy natures are said to have the least self-command when fairly excited, so did the baron betray the most ungovernable emotion of the two, when conviction came at last to confirm the words of his friend. He threw himself on the neck of the Genoese, and the old man wept in a manner that caused him to withdraw aside, in order to conceal the tears which had so suddenly and profusely broken from fountains that he had long thought nearly dried.
Ha, cousin Silence, that thou hadst seen That, that this knight and I have seen!
_King Henry IV._
The calculating patron of the Winkelried had patiently watched the progress of the foregoing scene with great inward satisfaction, but now that the strangers seemed to be assured of support powerful as that of Melchior de Willading, he was disposed to turn it to account without farther delay. The old men were still standing with their hands grasping each other, after another warm and still closer embrace, and with tears rolling down the furrowed face of each, when Baptiste advanced to put in his raven-like remonstrance.
“Noble gentlemen,” he said, “if the felicitations of one humble as I can add to the pleasure of this happy meeting, I beg you to accept them; but the wind has no heart for friendships nor any thought for the gains or losses of us watermen. I feel it my duty, as patron of the bark, to recall to your honors that many poor travellers, far from their homes and pining families, are waiting our leisure, not to speak of foot-sore pilgrims and other worthy adventurers, who are impatient in their hearts, though respect for their superiors keeps them tongue-tied, while we are losing the best of the breeze.”
“By San Francesco! the varlet is right;” said the Genoese, hurriedly erasing the marks of his recent weakness from his cheeks. “We are forgetful of all these worthy people while joy at our meeting is so strong, and it is time that we thought of others. Canst thou aid me in dispensing with the city’s signatures?”
The Baron de Willading paused; for well-disposed at first to assist any gentlemen who found themselves in an unpleasant embarrassment, it will be readily imagined that the case lost none of its interest, when he found that his oldest and most tried friend was the party in want of his influence. Still it was much easier to admit the force of this new and unexpected appeal than to devise the means of success. The officer was, to use a phrase which most men seem to think supplies a substitute for reason and principle, too openly committed to render it probable he would easily yield. It was necessary, however, to make the trial, and the baron, therefore, addressed the keeper of the water-gate more urgently than he had yet done in behalf of the strangers.
“It is beyond my functions; there is not one of our Syndics whom I would more gladly oblige than yourself, noble baron,” answered the officer; “but the duty of the watchman is to adhere strictly to the commands of those who have placed him at his post.”
“Gaetano, we are not the men to complain of this! We have stood together too long in the same trench, and have too often slept soundly, in situations where failure in this doctrine might have cost us our lives, to quarrel with the honest Genevese for his watchfulness. To be frank, ’twere little use to tamper with the fidelity of a Swiss or with that of his ally.”
“With the Swiss that is well paid to be vigilant!” answered the Genoese, laughing in a way to show that he had only revived one of those standing but biting jests, that they who love each other best are perhaps most accustomed to practice.
The Baron de Willading took the facetiousness of his friend in good part, returning the mirth of the other in a manner to show that the allusion recalled days when their hours had idly passed in the indulgence of spontaneous outbreakings of animal spirits.
“Were this thy Italy, Gaetano, a sequin would not only supply the place of a dozen signatures, but, by the name of thy favorite, San Francesco! it would give the honest gate-keeper that gift of second-sight on which the Scottish seers are said to pride themselves.”
“Well, the two sides of the Alps will keep their characters, even though we quarrel about their virtues–but we shall never see again the days that we have known! Neither the games of Vevey, nor the use of old jokes, will make us the youths we have been, dear de Willading!”
“Signore, a million of pardons,” interrupted Baptiste, “but this western wind is more inconstant even than the spirits of the young.”
“The rogue is again right, and we forget yonder cargo of honest travellers, who are wishing us both in Abraham’s bosom, for keeping the impatient bark in idleness at the quay. Good Marcelli, hast thou aught to suggest in this strait?”
“Signore, you forget that we have another document that may be found sufficient”–the person questioned, who appeared to fill a middle station between that of a servant and that of a companion, rather hinted than observed:
“Thou sayest true–and yet I would gladly avoid producing it–but anything is better than the loss of thy company, Melchior.”
“Name it not! We shall not separate, though the Winkelried rot where she lies. ‘Twere easier to separate our faithful cantons than two such friends.”
“Nay, noble baron, you forget the wearied pilgrims and the many anxious travellers in the bark.”
“If twenty crowns will purchase thy consent, honest Baptiste, we will have no further discussion.”
“It is scarce in human will to withstand you, noble Sir!–Well, the pilgrims have weary feet, and rest will only fit them the better for the passage of the mountains; and as for the others, why let them quit the bark if they dislike the conditions. I am not a man to force my commerce on any.”
“Nay, nay, I will have none of this. Keep thy gold, Melchior, and let the honest Baptiste keep his passengers, to say nothing of his conscience.”
“I beseech your excellency,” interrupted Baptiste, “not to distress yourself in tenderness for me. I am ready to do far more disagreeable things to oblige so noble a gentleman.”
“I will none of it! Signor officer, wilt thou do me the favor to cast a glance at this?”
As the Genoese concluded, he placed in the hands of the watchman at the gate, a paper different from that which he had first shown. The officer perused the new instrument with deep attention, and, when half through its contents, his eyes left the page to become rivetted in respectful attention on the face of the expectant Italian. He then read the passport to the end. Raising his cap ceremoniously, the keeper of the gate left the passage free, bowing with deep deference to the strangers.
“Had I sooner known this,” he said, “there would have been no delay. I hope your excellency will consider my ignorance–?”
“Name it not, friend. Thou hast done well; in proof of which I beg thy acceptance of a small token of esteem.”
The Genoese dropped a sequin into the hand of the officer, passing him, at the same time, on his way to the waterside. As the reluctance of the other to receive gold came rather from a love of duty than from any particular aversion to the metal itself, this second offering met with a more favorable reception than the first. The Baron de Willading was not without surprise at the sudden success of his friend, though he was far too prudent and well-bred to let his wonder be seen.
Every obstacle to the departure of the Winkelried was now removed, and Baptiste and his crew were soon actively engaged in loosening the sails and in casting off the fasts. The movement of the bark was at first slow and heavy, for the wind was intercepted by the buildings of the town; but, as she receded from the shore, the canvass began to flap and belly, and ere long it filled outward with a report like that of a musket; after which the motion of the travellers began to bear some relation to their nearly exhausted patience.
Soon after the party which had been so long detained at the water-gate were embarked, Adelheid first learned the reason of the delay. She had long known, from the mouth of her father, the name and early history of the Signor Grimaldi, a Genoese of illustrious family, who had been the sworn friend and the comrade of Melchior de Willading, when the latter pursued his career in arms in the wars of Italy. These circumstances having passed long before her own birth, and even before the marriage of her parents, and she being the youngest and the only survivor of a numerous family of children, they were, as respected herself, events that already began to assume the hue of history. She received the old man frankly and even with affection, though in his yielding but still fine form, she had quite as much difficulty as her father in recognizing the young, gay, gallant, brilliant, and handsome Gaetano Grimaldi that her imagination had conceived from the verbal descriptions she had so often heard, and from her fancy was still wont to draw as he was painted in the affectionate descriptions of her father. When he suddenly and affectionately offered a kiss, the color flushed her face, for no man but he to whom she owed her being had ever before taken that liberty; but, after an instant of virgin embarrassment, she laughed, and blushingly presented her cheek to receive the salute.
“The last tidings I had of thee, Melchior,” said the Italian, “was the letter sent by the Swiss Ambassador, who took our city in his way as he traveled south, and which was written on the occasion of the birth of this very girl.”
“Not of this, dear friend, but of an elder sister, who is, long since, a cherub in heaven. Thou seest the ninth precious gift that God bestowed, and thou seest all that is now left of his bounty.”
The countenance of the Signor Grimaldi lost its joyousness, and a deep pause in the discourse succeeded. They lived in an age when communications between friends that were separated by distance, and by the frontiers of different states, were rare and uncertain. The fresh and novel affections of marriage had first broken an intercourse that was continued, under such disadvantages as marked the period, long after their duties called them different ways; and time, with its changes and the embarrassments of wars, had finally destroyed nearly every link in the chain of their correspondence. Each had, therefore, much of a near and interesting character to communicate to the other, and each dreaded to speak, lest he might cause some wound, that was not perfectly healed, to bleed anew. The volume of matter conveyed in the few words uttered by the Baron de Willading, showed both in how many ways they might inflict pain without intention, and how necessary it was to be guarded in their discourse during the first days of their renewed intercourse.
“This girl at least is a treasure of itself, of which I must envy thee the possession,” the Signor Grimaldi at length rejoined.
The Swiss made one of those quick movements which betray surprise, and it was very apparent, that, just at the moment, he was more affected by some interest of his friend, than by the apprehensions which usually beset him when any very direct allusion was made to his surviving child.
“Gaetano, thou hast a son!”
“He is lost–hopelessly–irretrievably lost–at least, to me!”
These were brief but painful glimpses into each other’s concerns, and another melancholy and embarrassed pause followed. As the Baron de Willading witnessed the sorrow that deeply shadowed the face of the Genoese, he almost felt that Providence, in summoning his own boys to early graves, might have spared him the still bitterer grief of mourning over the unworthiness of a living son.
“These are God’s decrees, Melchior,” the Italian continued of his own accord, “and we, as soldiers, as men, and more than either, as Christians, should know how to submit. The letter, of which I spoke, contained the last direct tidings that I received of thy welfare, though different travellers have mentioned thee as among the honored and trusted of thy country, without descending to the particulars of thy private life.”
“The retirement of our mountains, and the little intercourse of strangers with the Swiss, have denied me even this meagre satisfaction as respects thee and thy fortunes. Since the especial courier sent, according to our ancient agreement, to announce–“
The baron hesitated, for he felt he was again touching on forbidden ground.
“To announce the birth of my unhappy boy,” continued the Signor Grimaldi, firmly.
“To announce that much-wished-for event, I have not had news of thee, except in a way so vague, as to whet the desire to know more rather than to appease the longings of love.”
“These doubts are the penalties that friendship pays to separation. We enlist the affections in youth with the recklessness of hope, and, when called different ways by duties or interest, we first begin to perceive that the world is not the heaven we thought it, but that each enjoyment has its price, as each grief has its solace. Thou hast carried arms since we were soldiers in company?”
“As a Swiss only.”
The answer drew a gleam of habitual humor from, the keen eye of the Italian, whose countenance was apt to change as rapidly as his thoughts.
“In what service?”
“Nay, a truce to thy old pleasantries, good Grimaldi–and yet I should scarce love thee, as I do, wert thou other than thou art! I believe we come at last to prize even the foibles of those we truly esteem!”
“It must be so, young lady, or boyish follies would long since have weaned thy father from me. I have never spared him on the subjects of snows and money, and yet he beareth with me marvellously. Well, strong love endureth much. Hath the baron often spoken to thee of old Grimaldi–young Grimaldi, I should say–and of the many freaks of our thoughtless days?”
“So much, Signore,” returned Adelheid, who had wept and smiled by turns during the interrupted dialogue of her father and his friend, “that I can repeat most of your youthful histories. The castle of Willading is deep among the mountains, and it is rare indeed for the foot of stranger to enter its gates. During the long evenings of our severe winters, I have listened as a daughter would be apt to listen to the recital of most of your common adventures, and in listening, I have not only learned to know, but to esteem, one that is justly so dear to my parent.”
“I make no doubt, now, thou hast the history of the plunge into the canal, by over-stooping to see the Venetian beauty, at thy finger’s ends?”
“I do remember some such act of humid gallantry,” returned Adelheid, laughing.
“Did thy father tell thee, child, of the manner in which he bore me off in a noble rescue from a deadly charge of the Imperial cavalry?”
“I have heard some light allusion to such an event, too,” returned Adelheid, evidently trying to recall the history of the affair, to her mind “but–“
“Light does he call it, and of small account? I wish never to see another as heavy! This is the impartiality of thy narratives, good Melchior, in which a life preserved, wounds received, and a charge to make the German quail, are set down as matters to be touched with a light hand!”.
“If I did thee this service, it was more than deserved by the manner in which, before Milan—-“
“Well, let it all pass together. We are old fools, young lady, and should we get garrulous in each other’s praise, thou mightest mistake us for braggarts; a character that, in truth, neither wholly merits. Didst thou ever tell the girl, Melchior, of our mad excursion into the forests of the Apennines, in search of a Spanish lady that had fallen into the hands of banditti; and how we passed weeks on a foolish enterprise of errantry, that had become useless, by the timely application of a few sequins on the part of the husband, even before we started on the chivalrous, not to say silly excursion?”
“Say chivalrous, but not silly,” answered Adelheid, with the simplicity of a young and sincere mind. “Of this adventure I have heard; but to me it has never seemed ridiculous. A generous motive might well excuse an undertaking of less favorable auspices.”
“‘Tis fortunate,” returned the Signor Grimaldi, thoughtfully, “that, if youth and exaggerated opinions lead us to commit mad pranks under the name of spirit and generosity, there are other youthful and generous minds to reflect our sentiments and to smile upon our folly.”
“This is more like the wary grey-headed ex-pounder of wisdom than like the hot-headed Gaetano Grimaldi of old!” exclaimed the baron, though he laughed while uttering the words, as if he felt, at least a portion of the other’s indifference to those exaggerated feelings that had entered much into the characters of both in youth. “The time has been when the words, policy and calculation, would have cost a companion thy favor!”
“‘Tis said that the prodigal of twenty makes? the miser of seventy. It is certain that even our southern sun does not warm the blood of threescore as suddenly as it heats that of one. But we will not darken thy daughter’s views of the future by a picture too faithfully drawn, lest she become wise before her time. I have often questioned, Melchior, which is the most precious gift of nature, a worm fancy, or the colder powers of reason. But if I must say which I most love, the point becomes less difficult of decision. I would prefer each in its season, or rather the two united, with a gradual change in their influence. Let the youth commence with the first in the ascendant, and close with the last. He who begins life too cold a reasoner may end it a calculating egotist; and he who is ruled solely by his imagination is in danger of having his mind so ripened as to bring forth the fruits of a visionary. Had it pleased heaven to have left me the dear son I possessed for so short a period, I would rather have seen him leaning to the side of exaggeration in his estimate of men, before experience came to chill his hopes, than to see him scan his fellows with a too philosophical eye in boyhood. ‘Tis said we are but clay at the best, but the ground, before it has been well tilled, sends forth the plants that are most congenial to its soil, and though it be of no great value, give me the spontaneous and generous growth of the weed, which proves the depth of the loam, rather than a stinted imitation of that which cultivation may, no doubt, render more useful if not more grateful.”
The allusion to his lost son caused another cloud to pass athwart the brow of the Genoese.
“Thou seest, Adelheid,” he continued, after a pause–“for Adelheid will I call thee, in virtue of a second father’s rights–that we are making our folly respectable, at least to ourselves–Master Patron, thou hast a well-charged bark!”
“Thanks to your two honors;” answered Baptiste, who stood at the helm, near the group of principal passengers. “These windfalls come rarely to the poor, and we must make much of such as offer. The games at Vevey have called every craft on the Leman to the upper end of the lake, and a little mother-wit led me to trust to the last turn of the wheel, which, as you see, Signore has not come up a blank.”
“Have many strangers passed by your city on their way to these sports?”
“Many hundreds, noble gentleman; and report speaks of thousands that are collecting at Vevey and in the neighboring villages. The country of Vaud has not had a richer harvest from her games this many a year.”
It is fortunate, Melchior, that the desire to witness these revels should have arisen in us at the same moment. The hope of at last obtaining certain tidings of thy welfare was the chief inducement that caused me to steal from Genoa, whither I am compelled to return forthwith. There is truly something providential in this meeting!”
“I so esteem it,” returned the Baron de Willading; “though the hope of soon embracing thee was strongly alive in me. Thou art mistaken in fancying that curiosity, or a wish to mingle with the multitude at Vevey, has drawn me from my castle. Italy was in my eye, as it has long been in my heart.”
“Nothing less. This fragile plant of the mountains has drooped of late in her native air, and skilful advisers have counselled the sunny side of the Alps as a shelter to revive her animation. I have promised Roger de Blonay to pass a night or two within his ancient walls, and then we are destined to seek the hospitality of the monks of St. Bernard. Like thee, I had hoped this unusual sortie from my hold might lead to intelligence touching the fortunes of one I have never ceased to love.”
The Signor Grimaldi turned a more scrutinizing took towards the face of their female companion. Her gentle and winning beauty gave him pleasure; but, with his attention quickened by what had just fallen from her father, he traced, in silent pain, the signs of that early fading which threatened to include this last hope of his friend in the common fate of the family. Disease had not, however, set its seal on the sweet face of Adelheid, in a manner to attract the notice of a common observer. The lessening of the bloom, the mournful character of a dove-like eye, and a look of thoughtfulness, on a brow that he had ever known devoid of care and open as day with youthful ingenuousness, were the symptoms that first gave the alarm to her father, whose previous losses, and whose solitariness, as respects the ties of the world, had rendered him keenly alive to impressions of such a nature. The reflections excited by this examination brought painful recollections to all, and it was long before the discourse was renewed.
In the mean time, the Winkelried was not idle. As the vessel receded from the cover of the buildings and the hills, the force of the breeze was felt, and her speed became quickened in proportion; though the watermen of her crew often studied the manner in which she dragged her way through the element with a shake of the head, that was intended to express their consciousness that too much had been required of the craft. The cupidity of Baptiste had indeed charged his good bark to the uttermost. The water was nearly on a line with the low stern, and when the bark had reached a part of the lake where the waves were rolling with some force, it was found that the vast weight was too much to be lifted by the feeble and broken efforts of these miniature seas. The consequences were, however, more vexatious than alarming. A few wet feet among the less quiet of the passengers, with an occasional slapping of a sheet of water against the gangways, and a consequent drift of spray across the pile of human heads in the centre of the bark, were all the immediate personal inconveniencies. Still unjustifiable greediness of gain, had tempted the patron to commit the unseaman-like fault of overloading his vessel. The decrease of speed was another and a graver consequence of his cupidity, since it might prevent their arrival in port before the breeze had expended itself.
The lake of Geneva lies nearly in the form of a crescent, stretching from the south-west towards the north-east. Its northern, or the Swiss shore, is chiefly what is called, in the language of the country, a _cote_, or a declivity that admits of cultivation; and, with few exceptions, it has been, since the earliest periods of history, planted with the generous vine. Here the Romans had many stations and posts, vestiges of which are still visible. The confusion and the mixture of interests that succeeded the fall of the empire, gave rise, in the middle ages, to various baronial castles, ecclesiastical towns, and towers of defence, which still stand on the margin of this beautiful sheet of water, or ornament the eminences a little inland. At the time of which we write, the whole coast of the Leman, if so imposing a word may be applied to the shores of so small a body of water, was in the possession of the three several states of Geneva, Savoy, and Berne. The first consisted of a mere fragment of territory at the western, or lower horn of the crescent; the second occupied nearly the whole of the southern side of the sheet, or the cavity of the half-moon; while the latter was mistress of the whole of the convex border, and of the eastern horn. The shores of Savoy are composed, with immaterial exceptions, of advanced spurs of the high Alps, among which towers Mont Blanc, like a sovereign seated in majesty in the midst of a brilliant court, the rocks frequently rising from the water’s edge in perpendicular masses. None of the lakes of this remarkable region possess a greater variety of scenery than that of Geneva, which changes from the smiling aspect of fertility and cultivation, at its lower extremity, to the sublimity of a savage and sublime nature at its upper. Vevey, the haven for which the Winkelried was bound, lies at the distance of three leagues from the head of the lake, or the point where it receives the Rhone; and Geneva, the port from which the reader has just seen her take her departure, is divided by that river as it glances out of the blue basin of the Leman again, to traverse the fertile fields of France, on its hurried course towards the distant Mediterranean.
It is well known that the currents of air, on all bodies of water that lie amid high and broken mountains, are uncertain both as to their direction and their force. This was the difficulty which had most disturbed Baptiste during the delay of the bark, for the experienced waterman well knew it required the first and the freest effort of the wind to “drive the breeze home,” as it is called by seamen, against the opposing currents that frequently descend from the mountains which surrounded his port. In addition to this difficulty, the shape of the lake was another reason why the winds rarely blow in the same direction over the whole of its surface at the same time. Strong and continued gales commonly force themselves down into the deep basin, and push their way, against all resistance, into every crevice of the rocks; but a power less than this, rarely succeeds in favoring the bark with the same breeze, from the entrance to the outlet of the Rhone.
As a consequence of these peculiarities, the passengers of the Winkelried had early evidence that they had trifled too long with the fickle air. The breeze carried them up abreast of Lausanne in good season, but here the influence of the mountains began to impair its force, and, by the time the sun had a little fallen towards the long, dark, even line of the Jura, the good vessel was driven to the usual expedients of jibing and hauling-in of sheets.
Baptiste had only to blame his own cupidity for this disappointment; and the consciousness that, had he complied with the engagement, made on the previous evening with the mass of his passengers, to depart with the dawn, he should now have been in a situation to profit by any turn of fortune that was likely to arise from the multitude of strangers who were in Vevey, rendered him moody. As is usual with the headstrong and selfish when they possess the power, others were made to pay for the fault that he alone had committed. His men were vexed with contradictory and useless orders; the inferior passengers were accused of constant neglect of his instructions, a fault which he did not hesitate to affirm had caused the bark to sail less swiftly than usual, and he no longer even answered the occasional question of those for whom he felt habitual deference, with his former respect and readiness.
Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine, And thrice again, to make up nine
Baffling and light airs kept the Winkelried a long time nearly stationary, and it was only by paying the greatest attention to trimming the sails and to all the little minutiae of the waterman’s art that the vessel was worked into the eastern horn of the crescent, as the sun touched the hazy line of the Jura. Here the wind tailed entirely, the surface of the lake becoming as glassy and smooth as a mirror, and further motion, for the time at least, was quite out of the question. The crew, perceiving the hopelessness of their exertions, and fatigued with the previous toil, threw themselves among the boxes and bales, and endeavored to catch a little sleep, in anticipation of the north breeze, which, at this season of the year, usually blew from the shores of Vaud within an hour or two of the disappearance of the sun.
The deck of the bark was now left to the undisputed possession of her passengers. The day had latterly been sultry, for the season, the even water having cast back the hot rays in fierce reflection, and, as evening drew on, a refreshing coolness came to relieve the densely packed and scorching travellers. The effect of such a change was like that which would have been observed among a flock of heavily fleeced sheep, which, after gasping for breath beneath trees and hedges, during the time of the sun’s power, are seen scattering over their pastures to feed, or to play their antics, as a grateful shade succeeds to cool their panting sides.
Baptiste, as is but too apt to be the case with men possessed of brief authority, during the day had mercilessly played the tyrant with all the passengers that were beneath the privileged degrees, more than once threatening to come to extremities with several, who had betrayed restlessness under the restraint and suffering of their unaccustomed situation. Perhaps there is no man who feels less for the complaints of the novice than your weather-beaten and hardened mariner; for, familiarized to the suffering and confinement of a vessel, and at liberty himself to seek relief in his duties and avocations, he can scarcely enter into the privations and embarrassments of those to whom all is so new and painful. But, in the patron of the Winkelried, there existed a natural in difference to the grievances of others, and a narrow selfishness of disposition, in aid of the opinions which had been formed by a life of hardship and exposure. He considered the vulgar passenger as so much troublesome freight, which, while it brought the advantage of a higher remuneration than the same cubic measurement of inanimate matter, had the unpleasant drawback of volition and motion. With this general tendency to bully and intimidate, the wary patron had, however, made a silent exception in favor of the Italian, who has introduced himself to the reader by the ill-omened name of Il Maledetto, or the accursed. This formidable personage had enjoyed a perfect immunity from the effects of Baptiste’s tyranny, which he had been able to establish by a very simple and quiet process. Instead of cowering at the fierce glance, or recoiling at the rude remonstrances of the churlish patron, he had chosen his time, when the latter was in one of his hottest ebullitions of anger, and when maledictions and menaces flowed out of his mouth in torrents, coolly to place himself on the very spot that the other had proscribed, where he maintained his ground with a quietness and composure which it might have been difficult to say was more to be imputed to extreme ignorance, or to immeasurable contempt. At least so reasoned the spectators; some thinking that the stranger meant to bring affairs to a speedy issue by braving the patron’s fury, and others charitably inferring that he knew no better. But thus did not Baptiste reason himself. He saw by the calm eye and resolute demeanor of his passenger that he himself, his pretended professional difficulties, his captiousness, and his threats, were alike despised; and he shrank from collision with such a spirit, precisely on the principle that the intimidated among the rest of the travellers shrunk from a contest with his own. From this moment Il Maledetto, or, as he was called by Baptiste him self, who it would appear had some knowledge of his person, Maso, became as completely the master of his own movements, as if he had been one of the more honored in the stern of the bark, or even her patron. He did not abuse his advantage, however, rarely quitting the indicated station near his own effects, where he had been mainly content to repose in listless indolence, like the others, dozing away the minutes.
But the scene was now altogether changed. The instant the wrangling, discontented, and unhappy, because disappointed, patron, confessed his inability to reach his port before the coming of the expected night-breeze, and threw himself on a bale, to conceal his dissatisfaction in sleep, head arose after head from among the pile of freight, and body after body followed the nobler member, until the whole mass was alive with human beings. The invigorating coolness, the tranquil hour, the prospect of a safe if not a speedy arrival, and the relief from excessive weariness, produced a sudden and agreeable re-action in the feelings of all. Even the Baron de Willading and his friends, who had shared in none of the especial privations just named, joined in the general exhibition of satisfaction and good-will, rather aiding by their smiles and affability than restraining by their presence the whims and jokes of the different individuals among the motley group of their nameless companions.
The aspect and position of the bark, as well as the prospects of those on board as they were connected with their arrival, now deserve to be more particularly mentioned. The manner in which the vessel was loaded to the water’s edge has already been more than once alluded to. The whole of the centre of the broad deck, a portion of the Winkelried which, owing to the over-hanging gangways, possessed, in common with all the similar craft of the Leman, a greater width than is usual in vessels of the same tonnage elsewhere, was so cumbered with freight as barely to leave a passage to the crew, forward and aft, by stepping among the boxes and bales that were piled much higher than their own heads. A little vacant space was left near the stern, in which it was possible for the party who occupied that part of the deck to move, though in sufficiently straitened limits, while the huge tiller played in its semicircle behind. At the other extremity, as is absolutely necessary in all navigation, the forecastle was reasonably clear, though even this important part of the deck was bristling with the flukes of no less than nine anchors that lay in a row across its breadth, the wild roadsteads of this end of the lake rendering such a provision of ground-tackle absolutely indispensable to the safety of every craft that ventured into its eastern horn. The effect of the whole, seen as it was in a state of absolute rest, was to give to the Winkelried the appearance of a small mound in the midst of the water, that was crowded with human beings, and seemingly so incorporated with the element oh which it floated as to grow out of its bosom; an image that the fancy was not slow to form, aided as it was by the reflection of the mass that the unruffled lake threw back from its mirror-like face, as perfectly formed, as unwieldy, and nearly as distinct, as the original. To this picture of a motionless rock, or island, the spars, sails, and high, pointed beak, however, formed especial exceptions. The yards hung, as seamen term it, a cockbill, or in such negligent and picturesque positions as an artist would most love to draw, while the drapery of the canvass was suspended in graceful and spotless festoons, as it had fallen by chance, or been cast carelessly from the hands of the boatmen. The beak, or prow, rose in its sharp gallant stem, resembling the stately neck of a swan, slightly swerving from its direction, or inclining in a nearly imperceptible sweep, as the hull yielded to the secret influence of the varying currents.
When the teeming pile of freight, therefore, began so freely to bring forth, and traveller after traveller left his wallet, there was no great space found in which they could stretch their wearied limbs, or seek the change they needed. But suffering is a good preparative for pleasure, and there is no sweetner of liberty like previous confinement. Baptiste was no sooner heard to snore, than the whole hummock of cargo was garnished with upright bodies and stretching arms and legs, as mice are known to steal from their holes during the slumbers of their mortal enemy, the cat.
The reader has been made sufficiently acquainted with the moral composition of the Winkelried’s living freight, in the opening chapter. As it had undergone no other alteration than that produced by lassitude, he is already prepared, therefore, to renew his communications with its different members, all of whom were well disposed to show off in their respective characters, the moment they were favored with an opportunity. The mercurial Pippo, as he had been the most difficult to restrain during the day, was the first to steal from his lair, now that the Argus-like eyes of Baptiste permitted the freedom, and the exhilarating, coolness of the sunset invited action. His success emboldened others, and, ere long, the buffoon had an admiring audience around him, that was well-disposed to laugh at his witticisms, and to applaud all his practical jokes. Gaining courage as he proceeded, the buffoon gradually went from liberty to liberty, until he was at length triumphantly established on what might be termed an advanced spur of the mountain formed by the tubs of Nicklaus Wagner, in the regular exercise of his art; while a crowd of amused and gaping spectators clustered about him, peopling every eminence of the height, and even invading the more privileged deck in their eagerness to see and to admire.
Though frequently reduced by adverse fortune to the lowest shifts of his calling, such as the horse-play of Policinello, and the imitation of uncouth sounds, that resembled nothing either in heaven or earth, Pippo was a clever knave in his way, and was quite equal to a display of the higher branches of his art, whenever chance gave him an audience capable of estimating his qualities. On the present occasion he was obliged to address himself both to the polished and to the unpolished; for the proximity of their position, as well as a good-natured readiness to lend themselves to fooleries that were so agreeable to most around them, had brought the more gentle portion of the passengers within the influence of his wit.
“And now, illustrissimi signori,” continued the wily juggler, after having drawn a burst of applause by one of his happiest hits in a sleight-of-hand exhibition, “I come to the most imposing and the most mysterious part of my knowledge–that of looking into the future, and of foretelling events. If there are any among you who would wish to know how long they are to eat the bread of toil, let them come to me; if there is a youth that wishes to learn whether the heart of his mistress is made of flesh or of stone–a maiden that would see into a youth’s faith and constancy, while her long eyelashes cover her sight like a modest silken veil–or a noble, that would fain have an insight into the movements of his rivals at court or council, let them all put their questions to Pippo, who has an answer ready for each, and an answer so real, that the most expert among the listeners will be ready to swear that a lie from his mouth is worth more than truth from that of another man.”
“He that would gain credit for knowledge of the future,” gravely observed the Signor Grimaldi, who had listened to his countryman’s voluble eulogium on his own merits with a good-natured laugh, “had best commence by showing his familiarity with the past. Who and what is he that speaks to thee, as a specimen of thy skill in sooth-saying?”
“His eccellenza is more than he seems, less than he deserves to be, and as much as any present. He hath an old and a prized friend at his elbow; hath come because it was his pleasure, to witness the games at Vevey–will depart for the same reason, when they are over, and will seek his home at his leisure–not like a fox stealing into his hole, but as the stately ship sails, gallantly, and by the light of the sun, into her haven.”
“This will never do, Pippo,” returned the good-humoured old noble; “at need I might equal this myself. Thou shouldst relate that which is less probable, while it is more true.”
“Signore, we prophets like to sleep in whole skins. If it be your eccellenza’s pleasure and that of your noble company to listen to the truly wonderful, I will tell some of these honest people matters touching their own interests that they do not know themselves, and yet it shall be as clear to every body else as the sun in the heavens at noon-day.”
“Thou wilt, probably, tell them their faults?”
“Your eccellenza has a right to my place, for no prophet could have better divined my intention;” answered the laughing knave. “Come nearer, friend,” he added, beckoning to the Bernois; “thou art Nicklaus Wagner, a fat peasant of the great canton, and a warm husbandman, that fancies he has a title to the respect of all he meets because some one among his fathers bought a right in the buergerschaft. Thou hast a large stake in the Winkelried, and art at this moment thinking what punishment is good enough for an impudent soothsayer who dares dive so unceremoniously into the secrets of so warm a citizen, while all around thee wish thy cheeses had never left the dairy, to the discomfort of our limbs and to the great detriment of the bark’s speed.”
This sally at the expense of Nicklaus drew a burst of merriment from the listeners; for the selfish spirit he had manifested throughout the day had won little favor with a majority of his fellow travellers, who had all the generous propensities that are usually so abundant among those who have little or nothing to bestow, and who were by this time so well disposed to be merry that much less would have served to stimulate their mirth.
“Wert thou the owner of this good freight friend, thou might find its presence less uncomfortable than thou now appearest to think,” returned the literal peasant, who had no humour for raillery, and to whom a jest on the subject of property had that sort of irreverend character that popular opinion and holy sayings have attached to waste. “The cheeses are well enough where they find themselves; if thou dislikest their company thou hast the alternative of the water.”
“A truce between us, worshipful burgher! and let our skirmish end in something that may be useful to both. Thou hast that which would be acceptable to me, and I have that which no owner of cheeses would refuse, did he know the means by which it might be come at honestly.”
Nicklaus growled a few words of distrust and indifference, but it was plain that the ambiguous language of the juggler, as usual, had succeeded in awakening interest. With the affectation of a mind secretly conscious of its own infirmity, he pretended to be indifferent to what the other professed a readiness to reveal, while with the rapacity of a grasping spirit he betrayed a longing to know more.
“First I will tell thee,” said Pippo, with a parade of good-nature, “that thou deservest to remain in ignorance, as a punishment of thy pride and want of faith; but it is the failing of your prophet to let that be known which he ought to conceal. Thou flatterest thyself this is the fattest cargo of cheeses that will cross the Swiss waters this season, on their way to an Italian market? Shake not thy head.–‘Tis useless to deny it to a man of my learning!”
“Nay, I know there are others as heavy, and, it may be, as good; but this has the advantage of being the first, a circumstance that is certain to command a price.”
“Such is the blindness of one that nature sent on earth to deal in cheeses!”–The Herr Von Willading and his friends smiled among themselves at the cool impudence of the mountebank–“Thou fanciest it is so; and at this moment, a heavily laden bark is driving before a favorable gale, near the upper end of the lake of the four cantons, while a long line of mules is waiting at Flueellen, to bear its freight by the paths of the St. Gothard, to Milano and other rich markets of the south. In virtue of my secret power, I see that, in despite of all thy cravings, it will arrive before thine.”
Nicklaus fidgeted, for the graphic particularity of Pippo almost led him to believe the augury might be true.
“Had this bark sailed according to our covenant,” he said, with a simplicity that betrayed his uneasiness, “the beasts bespoken by me would now be loading at Villeneuve; and, if there be justice in Vaud, I shall hold Baptiste responsible for any disadvantage that may come of the neglect.”
“Luckily, the generous Baptiste is asleep,” returned Pippo, “or we might hear objections to this scheme. But, Signiori, I see you are satisfied with this insight into the character of the warm peasant of Berne, who, to say truth, has not much to conceal from us, and I will turn my searching looks into the soul of this pious pilgrim, the reverend Conrado, whose unction may well go near to be a leaven sufficient to lighten all in the bark of their burthens of backslidings. Thou earnest the penitence and prayers of many sinners, besides some merchandise of this nature of thine own.”
“I am bound to Loretto, with the mental offerings of certain Christians, who are too much occupied with their daily concerns to make the journey in person,” answered the pilgrim, who never absolutely threw aside his professional character, though he cared in general so little about his hypocrisy being known. “I am poor, and humble of appearance, but I have seen miracles in my day!”
“If any trust valuable offerings to thy keeping, thou art a living miracle in thine own person! I can foresee that thou wilt bear nought else beside aves.”
“Nay, I pretend to deal in little more. The rich and great, they that send vessels of gold and rich dresses to Our Lady, employ their own favorite messengers; I am but the bearer of prayer and the substitute for the penitent. The sufferings that I undergo in the flesh are passed to the credit of my employers, who get the benefit of my aches and pains. I pretend to be no more than their go-between, as yonder manner has so lately called me.”
Pippo turned suddenly, following the direction of the other’s eye, and cast a glance at the self-styled Il Maledetto. This individual, of all the common herd, had alone forborne to join the gaping and amused crowd near the juggler. His forbearance, or want of curiosity, had left him in the quiet possession of the little platform that was made by the stowage of the boxes, and he now stood on the summit of the pile, conspicuous by his situation and mein, the latter being remarkable for its unmoved calmness, heightened by the understanding manner that is so peculiar to a seaman when afloat.”