James Fenimore Cooper.

The headsman; or, The Abbaye des Vignerons. A tale (Volume vol. 1) online

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cation to a period more remote by half a century,
than that in which the incidents of our legend took
place, was not at all in favor of any very romantic
predilection in behalf of the rest of the human
race. In short, the Herr Hofmeister was a bailiff,
much as Balthazar was a headsman, on account
of some particular merit or demerit, (it might now
be difficult to say which,) of one of his ancestors,
by the law's of the canton, and by the opinions of
men. The only material difference betw r een them
was in the fact, that the one greatly enjoyed his
station, while the other had but an indifferent relish
for his trust.

When Roger de Blonay, by the aid of a good
glass, had assured himself that the bark which lay
off St. Saphorin, in the even tide, with yards a-


cock-bill, and sails pendent in their picturesque
drapery, contained a party of gentle travellers
who occupied the stern, and saw by the plumes
and robes that a female of condition was among
them, he gave an order to prepare the beacon-fire,
and descended to the port, in order to be in readi
ness to receive his friend. Here he found the bai
liff, pacing the public promenade, which is washed
by the limpid water of the lake, with the air of a
man who had more on his mind than the daily
cares of office. Although the Baron de Blonay
was a Vaudois, and looked upon all the function
aries of his country's conquerors with a species of
hereditary dislike, he was by nature a man of mild
and courteous qualities, and the meeting w r as, as
usual, friendly in the externals, and of seeming
cordiality. Great care was had by both to speak
in the second person ; on the part of the Vaudois,
that it might be seen he valued himself as, at least,
the equal of the representative of Berne, and, on
that of the bailiff, in order to show that his office
made him as good as the head of the oldest house
in all that region.

" Thou expectest to see friends from Genf in
yonder bark?" said the Herr Hofmeister, ab

"And thou?"

"A friend, and one more than a friend;" an
swered the bailiff, evasively. " My advices tell
me that Melchior de Willading will sojourn among
us during the festival of the Abbaye, and secret
notice has been sent that there will be another
here, who wishes to see our merry-making, with
out pretension to the honors that he might fairly

" It is not rare for nobles of mark, and even
princes, to visit us on these occasions, under feign
ed names and without the eclat of their rank ; for


the great, when they descend to follies, seldom
like to bring their high condition within their in

" The wiser they. I have my own troubles with
these accursed fooleries, for it may be a weak
ness, but it is one that is official I cannot help ima
gining that a bailiff cuts but a shabby figure before
the people, in the presence of so many gods and
goddesses. To own to thee the truth, I rejoice
that he who cometh, cometh as he doth. Hast
letters of late date from Berne?"

" None ; though report says that there is like to
be a change among some of those who fill the pub
lic trusts."

"So much the worse !" growled the bailiff. " Is
it to be expected that men who never did an hour's
duty in a charge can acquit themselves like those
who have, it might be said, sucked in practice
with their mother's milk ?"

" Ay; this is well enough for thee; but others
say that even the Erlachs had a' beginning."

" Himmel ! Am I a heathen to deny this ? As
many beginnings as thou wilt, good Roger, but I
like not thy ends. No doubt an Erlach is mortal,
like all of us, and even a created being ; but a man
is not a charge. Let the clay die, if thou wilt,
but, if thou wouldst have faithful or skilful servants,
look to the true successor. But we will have
none of this to-day. Hast many guests at Bio-

" Not one. I look for the company of Melchior
de Willading and his daughter and yet I like not
the time ! There are evil signs playing about the
high peaks and in the neighborhood of the Dents,
since the sun has set !"

"Thou art ever in a storm up in thy castle,
there ! The Leman was never more peaceable,
and I should take it truly in evil part, were the re-


bellious lake to get into one of its fits of sudden
anger with so precious a freight on its bosom."

" I do not think the Genfer See will regard even
a bailiff's displeasure !" rejoined the Baron de
Blonay, laughing. " I repeat it ; the signs are
suspicious. Let us consult the watermen, for it
may be well to send a light-pulling boat to bring
the travellers to land."

Roger de Blonay and the bailiff walked towards
the little earthen mole, that partially protects the
roadstead of Vevey, and which is for ever forming
and for ever washing away before the storms of
winter, in order to consult some of those who were
believed to be expert in detecting the symptoms
that precede any important changes of the atmo
sphere. The opinions were various. Most believed
there would be a gust ; but, as the Winkelried was
known to be a new arid well-built bark, and none
could tell how much beyond her powers she had
been loaded by the cupidity of Baptiste, and as it
was generally thought the wind would be as likely
to bring her up to her haven as to be' against her,
there appeared no sufficient reason for sending oft*
the boat ; especially as it was believed the bark
would be not only drier but safer than a smaller
craft, should they be overtaken by the wind. This
indecision, so common in cases of uncertainty, was
the means of exposing Adelheid and her father to
all those fearful risks they had just run.

When the night came on, the people of the town
began to understand that the tempest would be
grave for those who were obliged to encounter it,
even in the best bark on the Leman. The dark
ness added to the danger, for vessels had often run
against the land by miscalculating their distances ;
and the lights were shown along the strand, by or
der of the bailiff, who manifested an interest so un
usual in those on board the Winkelried, as to draw


about them more than the sympathy that would
ordinarily be felt for travellers in distress. Every
exertion that the case admitted was made in their
behalf, and, the moment the state of the lake al
lowed, boats were sent off, in every probable di
rection, to their succor. But the Winkelried was
running along the coast of Savoy, ere any ventur
ed forth, and the search proved fruitless. When
the rumor spread, however, that a sail was to be
discerned coming out from under the wide shadow
of the opposite mountains, and that it was steering
for La Tour de Peil, a village with a far safer har
bor than that of Vevey, and but an arrow's flight
from the latter town, crowds rushed to the spot.
The instant it was known that the missing party
was in her, the travellers were received with
cheers of delight and cries of hearty greeting.

The bailiff and Roger de Blonay hastened for
ward to receive the Baron de Willading and his
friends, who were carried in a tumultuous and joy
ful manner into the old castle that adjoins the port,
and from which, in truth, the latter derives its
name. The Bernois noble w r as too much affected
with the scenes through which he had so lately
passed, and with the strong and ungovernable ten
derness of Adelheid, who had wept over him as
a mother sobs over her recovered child, to ex
change greetings with him of Vaud, in the hearty,
cordial manner that ordinarily characterized their
meetings. Still their peculiar habits shone through
the restraint.

" Thou seest me just rescued from the fishes of
thy Leman, dear de Blonay," he said, squeezing
the other's hand with emotion, as, leaning on his
shoulder, they went into the chateau. "But for
yonder brave youth, and as honest a mariner as
ever floated on water, fresh or salt, all that is left
of old Melchior de Willading would, at this mo-


ment, be of less value than the meanest fera in thy
lake !"

" God be praised that thou art as we see thee !
We feared for thee, and boats are out at this mo
ment in search of thy bark : but it has been wiser
ordered. This brave young man, who, I see, is
both a Swiss and a soldier, is doubly welcome
among us, in the two characters just named, and
as one that hath done thee and us so great a ser

Sigismund received the compliments which he
so well merited with modesty. The bailiff, how
ever, not content with making the usual felicita
tions, whispered in his ear that a service like this,
rendered to one of its most esteemed nobles, would
not be forgotten by the Councils on a proper oc

" Thou art happily arrived, Herr Melchior," he
then added, aloud ; " come as thou wilt, floating
or sailing in air. We have thee among us none
the worse for the accident, and we thank God, as
Roger de Blonay has just so well observed. Our
Abbaye is like to be a gallant ceremony, for divers
gentlemen of name are in the town, and I hear of
more that are pricking forward among the moun
tains from countries beyond the Rhine. Hadst thou
no other companions in the bark but these I see
around us?"

" There is another, and I wonder that he is not
here ! 'Tis a noble Genoese, that thou hast often
heard me name, Sire de Blonay, as one that I love.
Gaetano Grimaldi is a name familiar to thee, or
the words of friendship have been uttered in an
idle ear."

" I have heard so much of the Italian that I can
almost fancy him an old and tried acquaintance.
When thou first returnedst from the Italian wars,



thy tongue was never weary of recounting his
praises : it was Gaetano said this Gaetano thought
thus Gaetano did that ! Surely he is not of thy
company ?"

" He, and no other ! A lucky meeting on the
quay of Genf brought us together again after a
separation of full thirty years, and, as if Heaven
had reserved its trials for the occasion, we have
been made to go through the late danger in com
pany. I had him in my arms in that fearful mo
ment, Roger, when the sky, and the mountains,
and all of earth, even to that dear girl, were
fading, as I thought for ever, from my sight, he,
that had already been my partner in so many
risks, who had bled for me, watched for me, rid
den for me, and did all other things that love could
prompt for me, was brought by Providence to be
my companion in the awful strait through which I
have just passed !"

While the Baron was still speaking, his friend
entered with the quiet and dignified mien he al
ways maintained, when it was not his pleasure to
throw aside the reserve of high station, or when
he yielded to the torrents of feeling that sometimes
poured through his southern temperament, in a
way to unsettle the deportment of mere conven
tion. He was presented to Roger de Blonay and
the bailiff, as the person just alluded to, and as the
oldest and most tried of the friends of his intro
ducer. His reception by the former was natural
and warm, while the Herr Hofmeister was so par
ticular in his professions of pleasure and respect
as to excite not only notice but surprise.

" Thanks, thanks, good Peterchen," said the
Baron de Willading, for such was the familiar
diminutive by which the bustling bailiff was usu
ally addressed by those who could take the liberty;


" thanks, honest Peterchen ; thy kindness to Gae-
tano is so much love shown to myself."

" I honor thy friends as thyself, Herr von Wil-
lading," returned the bailiff; " for thou hast a claim
to the esteem of the biirgerschaft and all its ser
vants; but the homage paid to the Signor Gri-
maldi is due on his own account. We are but
poor Swiss, that dwell in the midst of wild moun
tains, little favored by the sun if ye will, and less
known to the world ; but we have our manners !
A man that hath been intrusted with authority as
long as I were unfit for his trust, did he not tell,
as it might be by instinct, when he has those in
his presence that are to be honored. Signore, the
loss of Melchior von Willading before our haven,
would have made the lake unpleasant to us all, for
months, not to say years ; but, had so great a ca
lamity arrived as that of your death by means of
our waters, I could have prayed that the moun
tains might fall into the basin, and bury the offend
ing Leman under their rocks !"

Melchior de Willading and old Roger de Bio-
nay laughed heartily at Peterchen's hyperbolical
compliments; though it was quite plain that the
worthy bailiff himself fancied he had said a clever

"I thank you, Signore, no less than my friend
de Willading," returned the Genoese, a gleam of
humor lighting his eye. " This courteous recep
tion quite outdoes us of Italy ; for I doubt if there
be a man south of the Alps, who would be willing
to condemn either of our seas to so overwhelming
a punishment, for a fault so venial, or at least so
natural. I beg, however, that the lake may be
pardoned ; since, at the worst, it was but a sec
ondary agent in the affair, and, I doubt not, it would
have treated us as it treats all travellers, had we
kept out of its embraces. The crime must be im-


puted to the winds, and as they are the offspring
of the hills, I fear it will be found that these very
mountains, to which you look for retribution, will
be convicted at last as the true devisers and abet
tors of the plot against our lives."
The bailiff chuckled and simpered, like a man
pleased equally with his own wit and with that he
had excited in others, and the discourse changed ;
though, throughout the night, as indeed was the
fact on all other occasions during his visit, the
Signor Grimaldi received from him so marked and
particular attentions, as to create a strong senti
ment in favor of the Italian among those who had
been chiefly accustomed to see Peterchen enact
the busy, important, dignified, local functionary.

Attention was now paid to the first wants of the
travellers, who had great need of refreshments af
ter the fatigues and exposure of the day. To ob
tain the latter, Roger de Blonay insisted that they
should ascend to his castle, in whose grate the wel
coming beacon still blazed. By means of chars-
ci-banc, the peculiar vehicle of the country, the
short distance was soon overcome, the bailiff, not
a little to the surprise of the owner of the house,
insisting on seeing the strangers safely housed with
in its walls. At the gate of Blonay, however, Pe
terchen took his leave, making a hundred apologies
for his absence, on the ground of the extensive
duties that had devolved on his shoulders in conse
quence of the approaching fete.

" We shall have a mild winter, for I have never
known the Herr Hofmeister so courteous;" ob
served Roger de Blonay, while showing his guests
into the castle. " Thy Bernese authorities, Mel-
chior, are little apt to be lavish of their compli
ments to us poor nobles of Vaud."

" Signore, you forget the interest of our friend ;"
observed the laughing Genoese, " There are other


and better bailiwicks, beyond a question, in the
gifts of the Councils, and the Signor de Willading
has a loud voice in their disposal. Have I found
a solution for this zeal ?"

" Thou hast not," returned the baron, " for Pe-
terchen hath little hope beyond that of dying where
he has lived, the deputed ruler of a small district.
The worthy man should have more credit for a
good heart, his own, no doubt, being touched at
seeing those who are, as it may be, redeemed from
the grave. I owe him grace for the kindness, and
should a better thing really offer, and could my
poor voice be of account, why, I do not say it
should be silent ; it is serving the public well, to
put men of these kind feelings into places of trust."

This opinion appeared very natural to the listen
ers, all of whom, with the exception of the Signor
Grimaldi, joined in echoing the sentiment. The
latter, more experienced in the windings of the
human heart, or possessing some reasons known
only to himself, merely smiled at the remarks that
he heard, as if he thoroughly understood the differ
ence between the homage that is paid to station,
and that which a generous and noble nature is com
pelled to yield to its own impulses.

An hour later, the light repast was ended, and
Roger de Blonay informed his guests that they
would be well repaid for walking a short distance,
by a look at the loveliness of the night. In sooth,
the change was already so great, that it was not
easy for the imagination to convert the soft and
smiling scene that lay beneath and above the tow
ers of Blonay, into the dark vault and the angry
lake from which they had so lately escaped.

Every cloud had already sailed far away towards

the plains of Germany, and the moon had climbed

so high above the ragged Dent de Jam an as to

suffer its rays to stream into the basin of the Le-


150 . THE HEADSMAff.

man. A thousand pensive stars spangled the vault
images of the benign omnipotence which unceas
ingly pervades and governs the universe, what
ever may be the local derangements or accidental
struggles of the inferior agents. The foaming and
rushing waves had gone down nearly as fast as
they had arisen, and, in their stead, remained my
riads of curling ridges along which the glittering
moonbeams danced, rioting with mild impunity on
the surface of the placid sheet. Boats were out
again, pulling for Savoy or the neighboring vil
lages ; and the whole view betokened the renewed
confidence of those who trusted habitually to the
fickle and blustering elements.

" There is a strong and fearful resemblance be
tween the human passions and these hot and angry
gusts of nature ;" observed the Signor Grimaldi,
after they had stood silently regarding the scene
for several musing minutes " alike quick to be
aroused and to be appeased ; equally ungovernable
while in the ascendant, and admitting the influence
of a wholesome reaction, that brings a more sober
tranquillity, when the fit is over. Your northern
phlegm may render the analogy less apparent, but
it is to be found as well among the cooler temper
aments of the Teutonic stock, as among us of
warmer blood. Do not this placid hill-side, yon
lake, and the starry heavens, look as if they re
gretted their late unseemly violence, and wished
to cheat the beholder into forgetfulness of their
attack on our safety, as an impetuous but generous
nature would repent it of the blow given in anger,
or of the cutting speech that had escaped in a mo
ment of spleen ? What hast thou to say to my
opinion, Signor Sigismund, for none know bette'r
than thou the quality of the tempest we have en
countered ?"

" Signore," answered the young soldier, mod-


estly, "you forget this brave mariner, without
whose coolness and forethought all would have
been lost. He has come up to Blonay, at our own
request, but, until now, he has been overlooked."

Maso came forward at a signal from Sigismund,
and stood before the party to whom he had ren
dered so signal aid, with a composure that was
not easily disturbed.

" I have come up to the castle, Signore, at your
commands," he said, addressing the Genoese ;
" but, having my own affairs on hand, must now
beg to know your pleasure ?"

" We have, in sooth, been negligent of thy merit.
On landing, my first thought was of thee, as thou
knowest : but other things had caused me to forget
thee. Thou art, like myself, an Italian 1"

11 Signore, I am."

"Of what country?"

" Of your own, Signore ; a Genoese, as I have
said before."

The other remembered the circumstance, though
it did not seem to please him. He looked around,
as if to detect what others thought, and then con
tinued his questions.

"A Genoese!" he repeated, slowly: "if this be
so, we should know something of each other.
Hast ever heard of me, in thy frequent visits to
the port ?"

Maso smiled ; at first, he appeared disposed to
be facetious; but a dark cloud passed over his
swarthy lineaments, and he lost his pleasantry, in
an air of thoughtfulness that struck his interroga
tor as singular.

" Signore," he said, after a pause, " most that
follow my manner of life know something of your
eccellenza ; if it is only to be questioned of this
that I am here, I pray leave to be permitted to go
my way."


" No, by San Francesco ! thou quittest us not so
unceremoniously. I am wrong to assume the man
ner of a superior with one to whom I owe my
life, and am well answered. But there is a heavy
account to be settled between us, and I will do
something towards wiping out the balance, which
is so greatly against me, now ; leaving thee to apply
for a further statement, when we shall both be
again in our own Genoa."

The Signor Grimaldi had reached forth an arm,
while speaking, and received a well-filled purse
from his countryman and companion, Marcelli.
This was soon emptied of its contents, a fair show
of sequins, all of which were offered to the mari
ner, without reservation. Maso looked coldly at
the glittering pile, and, by his hesitation, left a
doubt whether he did not think the reward insuf

" I tell thee it is but the present gage of further
payment. At Genoa our account shall be fairly
settled ; but this is all that a traveller can prudent
ly spare. Thou wilt come to me in our own town,
and we will look to all thy interests."

" Signore, you offer that for which men do all
acts, whether of good or of evil. They jeopard
their souls for this very metal; mock at God's
laws ; overlook the right ; trifle with justice, and
become devils incarnate to possess it ; and yet,
though nearly penniless, I am so placed as to be
compelled to refuse what you offer."

" I tell thee, Maso, that it shall be increased here
after or we are not so poor as to go a-begging !
Good Marcelli, empty thy hoards, and I will have
recourse to Melchior de Willading's purse for our
wants, until we can get nearer to our own sup

" And is Melchior de Willading to pass for no
thing, in all this !" exclaimed the Baron ; " put up


thy gold, Gaetano, and leave me to satisfy the
honest mariner for the present. At a later day,
he can come to thee, in Italy : but here, on my
own ground, I claim the right to be his banker/'

" Signore," returned Maso, earnestly and with
more of gentle feeling than he was accustomed to
betray, " you are both liberal beyond my desires,
and but too well disposed for my poor w T ants. I
have come up to the castle at your order, and to
do you pleasure, but not in the hope to get money.
I am poor ; that it would be useless to deny, for
appearances are against me " here he laughed,
his auditors thought in a manner that was forced
" but poverty and meanness are not always in
separable. You have more than suspected to-day
that my life is free, and I admit it ; but it is a mis
take to believe that, because men quit the high-road
which some call honesty, in any particular prac
tice, they are without human feeling. I have been
useful in saving your lives, Signori, and there is
more pleasure in the reflection, than I should
find in having the means to earn twice the gold
ye offer. Here is the Signor Capitano," he added,
taking Sigismund by the arm, and dragging him
forward, " lavish your favors on him, for no
practice of mine could have been of use without
his bravery. If ye give him all in your treasuries,
even to its richest pearl, ye will do no more than

As Maso ceased, he cast a glance towards the
attentive, breathless Adelheid, that continued to
utter his meaning even after the tongue was silent.
The bright suffusion that covered the maiden's
face was visible even bv the pale moonlight, and
Sigismund shrunk back from his rude grasp in the
manner in which the guilty retire from notice.

" These opinions are creditable to thee, Maso/'
returned the Genoese, affecting not to understand


his more particular meaning, " and they excite a
stronger wish to be thy friend. I will say no more
on the subject at present, for I see thy humor.
Thou wilt let me see thee at Genoa ? "

The expression of Maso's countenance was in
explicable, but he retained his usual indifference
of manner.

" Signor Gaetano," he said, using a mariner's
freedom in the address, " there are nobles in
Genoa that might better knock at the door of your
palace than I ; and there are those, too, in the city
that would gossip, were it known that you received
such guests."

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Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe headsman; or, The Abbaye des Vignerons. A tale (Volume vol. 1) → online text (page 11 of 22)