James Fenimore Cooper.

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

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" This is tying thyself too closely to an evil and
a dangerous trade. I suspect thee to be of the
contraband, but surely it is not a pursuit so free
from danger, of so much repute, or, judging by
thy attire, of so much profit even, that thou need-
est be wedded to it for life. Means can be found
to relieve thee from its odium, by giving thee a
place in those customs with which thou hast so
often trifled."

Maso laughed outright.

"So it is, Signore, in this moral world of ours:
he who would run a fair course in any particular
trust has only to make himself dangerous to be
bought up. Your thief-takers are desperate rogues
out of business ; your tide-waiter has got his art by
cheating the revenue ; and I have been in lands
where it was said, that all they who most fleeced
the people began their calling as suffering patriots.
The rule is firmly enough established without the
help of my poor name, and, by your leave, I will
remain as I am ; one that hath his pleasure in liv
ing amid risks, and who takes his revenge of the
authorities by railing at them when defeated, and
in laughing at them when in success."


" Young man, thou hast in thee the materials of
a better life !"

" Signore, this may be true," answered Maso,
whose countenance again grew dark ; " we boast
of being the lords of the creation, but the bark of
poor Baptista was not less master of its move
ments, in the late gust, than we are masters of our
fortunes. Signor Grimaldi, I have in me the
materials that make a man; but the laws, and
the opinions, and the accursed strife of men, have
left me what I am. For the first fifteen years of
my career, the church was to be my stepping-
stone to a cardinal's hat or a fat priory ; but the
briny sea-water washed out the necessary unc

" Thou art better born than thou seemest thou
hast friends who should be grieved at this V

The eye of Maso flashed, but he bent it aside, as
if bearing down, by the force of an indomitable
will, some sudden and fierce impulse.

" I was born of woman !" he said, with singular

" And thy mother is she not pained at thy
present course does she know of thy career ?"

The haggard smile to which this question gave
birth induced the Genoese to regret that he had
put it. Maso evidently struggled to subdue some
feeling which harrowed his very soul, and his suc
cess was owing to such a command of himself as
men rarely obtain.

" She is dead," he answered, huskily ; " she is a
saint with the angels. Had she lived, I should
never have been a mariner, and and " laying
his hand on his throat, as if to keep down the
sense of suffocation, he smiled, and added, laugh
ingly, " ay, and the good Winkelried would have
been a wreck."

"Maso, thou must come to me at Genoa. I


must see more of thee, and question thee further
of thy fortunes. A fair spirit has been perverted
in thy fall, and the friendly aid of one who is not
without influence may still restore its tone."

The Signor Grimaldi spoke warmly, like one
who sincerely felt regret, and his voice had all the
melancholy and earnestness of such a sentiment.
The truculent nature of Maso was touched by
this show of interest, and a multitude of fierce
passions were at once subdued. He approached
the noble Genoese, and respectfully took his hand.

" Pardon the freedom, Signore," he said more
mildly, intently regarding the wrinkled and attenu
ated fingers, with the map-like tracery of veins,
that he held in his own brown and hard palm;
" this is not the first time that our flesh has touch
ed each other, though it is the first time that our
hands have joined. Let it now be in amity. A
humor has come over me, and I would crave your
pardon, venerable noble, for the freedom. Sig
nore, you are aged, and honored, and stand high,
doubtless, in Heaven's favor, as in that of man
grant me, then, your blessing, ere I go my way."

As Maso preferred this extraordinary request,
he knelt with an air of so much reverence and sin
cerity as to leave little choice as to granting it.
The Genoese was surprised, but not disconcerted.
With perfect dignity and self-possession, and with
a degree of feeling that was not unsuited to the
occasion, the fruit of emotions so powerfully awak
ened, he pronounced the benediction. The mariner
arose, kissed the hand which he still held, made a
hurried sign of salutation to all, leaped down the
declivity on which they stood, and vanished among
the shadows of a copse.

Sigismund, who had witnessed this unusual
scene with surprise, watched him to the last, and
he saw, by the manner in which he dashed his


hand across his eyes, that his fierce nature had
been singularly shaken. On recovering his
thoughts, the Signor Grimaldi, too, felt certain
there had been no mockery in the conduct of
their inexplicable preserver, for a hot tear had fal
len on his hand ere it was liberated. He was him-'
self strongly agitated by what had passed, and,
leaning on his friend, he slowly re-entered the
gates of Blonay.

" This extraordinary demand of Maso's has
brought up the sad image of my own poor son,
dear Melchior," he said ; " would to Heaven that he
could have received this blessing, and that it might
have been of use to him, in the sight of God ! Nay,
he may yet hear of it for, canst thou believe it,
I have thought that Maso may be one of his
lawless associates, and that some wild desire to
communicate this scene has prompted the strange
request I granted."

The discourse continued, but it became secret,
and of the most confidential kind. The rest of the
party soon sought their beds, though lamps were
burning in the chambers of the two old nobles to
a late hour of the night.


Where are my Switzers 1 Let them guard the door :
What is the matter I


THE American autumn, or fall, as we poetically
and affectionately term this generous and mellow
season among ourselves, is thought to be unsur-



passed, in its warm and genial lustre, its bland and
exhilarating airs, and its admirable constancy, by
the decline of the year in nearly every other por
tion of the earth. Whether attachment to our
own fair and generous land, has led us to over-es
timate its advantages or not, and bright and cheer
ful as our autumnal days certainly are, a fairer
morning never dawned upon the Alleghanies, than
that which illumined the Alps, on the reappear
ance of the sun after the gust of the night which
has been so lately described. As the day ad
vanced, the scene grew gradually more lovely, until
warm and glowing Italy itself could scarce pre
sent a landscape more winning, or one possessing
a fairer admixture of the grand and the soft, than
that which greeted the eye of Adelheid de Willa-
ding, as, leaning on the arm of her father, she is
sued from the gate of Blonay, upon its elevated
and gravelled terrace.

It has already been said that this ancient and
historical building stood against the bosom of the
mountains, at the distance of a short league be
hind the town of Vevey. All the elevations of
this region are so many spurs of the same vast
pile, and that on which Blonay has now been seat
ed from the earliest period of the middle ages be
longs to that particular line of rocky ramparts,
which separates the Valais from the centre can
tons of the confederation of Switzerland, and which
is commonly known as the range of the Oberland
Alps. This line of snow-crowned rocks terminates
in perpendicular precipices on the very margin of
the Leman, and forms, on the side of the lake,
a part of that magnificent setting which renders
the south-eastern horn of its crescent so wonder
fully beautiful. The upright natural wall that
overhangs Villeneuye and Chillon stretches along
the verge of the water, barely leaving room for a


carriage-road, with here and there a cottage
at its base, for the distance of two leagues, when
it diverges from the course of the lake, and,
withdrawing inland, it is finally lost among the
minor eminences of Fribourg. Every one has ob
served those sloping declivities, composed of the
washings of torrents, the debris of precipices, and
what may be termed the constant drippings of per
pendicular eminencies, and which lie like broad
buttresses at their feet, forming a sort of foundation
or basement for the superincumbent mass. Among
the Alps, where nature has acted on so sublime a
scale, and where all the proportions are duly ob
served, these debris of the high mountains fre
quently contain villages and towns, or form vast
fields, vineyards, and pasturages, according to
their elevation or their exposure towards the sun.
It may be questioned, in strict geology, whether
the variegated acclivity that surrounds Vevey,
rich in villages and vines, hamlets and castles, has
been thus formed, or whether the natural convul
sions which expelled the upper rocks from the
crust of the earth left their bases in the present
broken and beautiful forms; but the fact is not
important to the effect, which is that just named,
and which gives to these vast ranges of rock se
condary and fertile bases, that, in other regions,
would be termed mountains of themselves.

The castle and family of Blonay, for both stiil
exist, are among the oldest of Vaud. A square,
rude tower, based upon a foundation of rock, one
of those ragged masses that thrust their naked
heads occasionally through the soil of the declivity,
was the commencement of the hold. Other edifices
have been reared around this nucleus in different
ages, until the whole presents one of those pecu
liar and picturesque piles, that ornament so many


both of the savage and of the softer sites of Swit

The terrace towards which Adelheid and her
father advanced was an irregular walk, shaded by
venerable trees that had been raised near the prin
cipal or the carriage gate of the castle, on a ledge
of those rocks that form the foundation of the
buildings themselves. It had its parapet walls, its
seats, its artificial soil, and its gravelled allees, as
is usual with these antiquated ornaments ; but it
also had, what is better than these, one of the most
sublime and lovely views that ever greeted human
eyes. Beneath it lay the undulating and teeming
declivity, rich in vines, and carpeted with sward,
here d,otted by hamlets, there park-like and rural
with forest trees, while there was no quarter that
did not show the roof of a chateau or the tower
of some rural church. There is little of magnifi
cence in Swiss architecture, which never much
surpasses, and is, perhaps, generally inferior to our
own; but *the beauty and quaintness of the sites,
the great variety of the surfaces, the hill-sides, and
the purity of the atmosphere, supply charms that
are peculiar to the country. Vevey lay at the wa
ter-side, many hundred feet lower, and seemingly
on a narrow strand, though in truth enjoying am
ple space ; while the houses of St. Saphorin, Cor-
sier, Montreux, and of a dozen more villages, were
clustered together, like so many of the compact
habitations of wasps stuck against the mountains.
But the principal charm was in the Leman. One
who had never witnessed the lake in its fury, could
not conceive the possibility of danger in the tran
quil shining sheet that was now spread like a liquid
mirror, for leagues, beneath the eye. Some six or
seven barks were in view, their sails drooping in
negligent forms, as if disposed expressly to become
models for the artist, their yards inclining as chance


had cast them, and their hulls looming large, to
complete the picture. To these near objects must
be added the distant view, which extended to the
Jura in one direction, and which in the other was
bounded by the frontiers of Italy, whose aerial
limits were to be traced in that region which ap
pears to belong neither to heaven nor to earth, the
abode of eternal frosts. The Rhone was shining,
in spots, among the meadows of the Valais, for
the elevation of the castle admitted of its being
seen, and Adelheid endeavored to trace among the
mazes of the mountains the valleys which led to
those sunny countries, towards which they jour

The sensations of both father and daughter,
when they came beneath -the leafy canopy of the
terrace, were those of mute delight. It was evi
dent, by the expression of their countenances, that
they were in a favorable mood to receive plea
surable impressions; for the face of each was full
of that quiet happiness which succeeds sudden and
lively joy. Adelheid had been weeping ; but, judg
ing from the radiance of her eyes, the healthful
and brightening bloom of her cheeks, and the
struggling smiles that played about her ripe lips,
the tears had been sweet, rather than painful.
Though still betraying enough of physical frailty
to keep alive the concern of all who loved her,
there was a change for the better in her appear
ance, which was so sensible as to strike the. least
observant of those who lived in daily communica
tion with the invalid.

" If pure and mild air, a sunny sky, and ravish
ing scenery, be what they seek who cross the Alps,
my father," said Adelheid, after they had stood a
moment, gazing at the magnificent panorama,
" why should the Swiss quit his native land ? Is


there in Italy aught more soft, more winning, or
more healthful, than this ?"

" This spot has often been called the Italy of our
mountains. The fig ripens near yonder village of
Montreux, and, open to the morning sun while it
is sheltered by the precipices above, the whole of
that shore well deserves its happy reputation. Still
they whose spirits require diversion, and whose
constitutions need support, generally prefer to go
into countries where the mind has more occupa
tion, and where a greater variety of employments
help the climate and nature to complete the cure."

" But thou forgettest, father, it is agreed between
us that I am now to become strong, and active,
and laughing, as we used to be at Willading, when
I first grew into womanhood."

" If I could but see those days again, darling,
my own closing hours would be calm as those of
a saint though Heaven knows I have little pre
tension to that blessed character in any other par

" Dost thou not count a quiet conscience and a
sure hope as something, father 1"

" Have it as thou wilt, girl. Make a saint of
me, or a bishop, or a hermit, if thou wilt ; the only
reward I ask is, to see thee smiling and happy, as
thou never failedst to be during the first eighteen
years of thy life. Had I foreseen that thou wert
to return from my good sister so little like thyself,
I would have forbidden the visit, much as I love
her, and all that are her's. But the wisest of us
are helpless mortals, and scarce know our own
wants from hour to hour. Thou saidst, I think,
that this brave Sigismund honestly declared his
belief that my consent could never be given to one
who had so little to boast of, in the way of birth
and fortune? There was, at least, good sense, and


modesty, and right feeling, in the doubt, but he
should have thought better of my heart."

" He said this ;" returned Adelheid, in a timid
and slightly trembling voice, though it was quite
apparent by the confiding expression of her eye,
that she had no longer any secret from her parent.
" He had too much honor to wish to win the daugh
ter of a noble without the knowledge and appro
bation of her friends."

"That the boy should love thee, Adelheid, is
natural ; it is an additional proof of his own merit
but that he should distrust my affection and jus
tice is an offence that I can scarce forgive. What
are ancestry and wealth to thy happiness ?"

" Thou forget'st, dear sir, he is yet to learn that
my happiness, in any measure, depends on his."

Adelheid spoke quickly and with warmth.

" He knew I was a father and that thou art an
only child ; one of his good sense and right way
of thinking should have better understood the feel
ings of a man in my situation, than to doubt his
natural affection."

" As he has never been the parent of an only
daughter, father," answered the smiling Adelheid,
for, in her present mood, smiles came easily, " he
may not have felt or anticipated all that thou
imagin'st. He knew the prejudices of the world
on the subject of noble blood, and they are few in
deed, that, having much, are disposed to part with
it to him who hath little."

" The lad reasoned more like an old miser than
a young soldier, and I have a great mind to let
him feel my displeasure for thinking so meanly of
me. Have we not Willading, with all its fair lands,
besides our rights in the city, that we need go beg
ging money of others, like needy mendicants!
Thou hast been in the conspiracy against my


character, girl, or such a fear could not have given
either uneasiness for a moment."

" I never thought, father, that thou would'st
reject him on account of poverty, for I knew our
own means sufficient for all our own wants; but I
did believe that he who could not boast the privi
leges of nobility might fail to gain thy favor."

" Are we not a republic ? is not the right of the
biirgerschaft the one essential right in Berne why
should I raise obstacles about that on which the
laws are silent ?"

Adelheid listened, as a female of her years would
be apt to listen to words so grateful, with a charmed
ear ; and yet she shook her head, in a way to ex
press an incredulity that was not altogether free
from apprehension.

" For thy generous forgetfulness of old opinions
in behalf of my happiness, dearest father," she re
sumed, the tears starting unbidden to her thought
ful blue eye, " I thank thee fervently. It is true
that we are inhabitants of a republic, but we are
not the less noble."

" Dost thou turn against thyself, and hunt up
reasons why I should not do that which thou hast
just acknowledged to be so necessary to prevent
thee from following thy brothers and sisters to
their early graves ?"

The blood rushed in a torrent to the face of
Adelheid, for though, w r eeping and in the moment
of tender confidence which succeeded her thanks
givings for the baron's safety, she had thrown her
self on his bosom, and confessed that the hopeless
ness of the sentiments with which she met the de
clared love of Sigismund was the true cause of the
apparent malady that had so much alarmed her
friends, the words which had flowed spontaneously
from her heart, in so tender a scene, had never ap
peared to her to convey a meaning so strong, or


one so wounding to virgin-pride, as that which her
father, in the strength of his masculine habits, had
now given them.

" In God's mercy, father, I shall live, whether
united to Sigismund or not, to smooth thine own
decline and to bless thy old age. A pious daugh
ter will never be torn so cruelly from one to whom
she is the last and only stay. I may mourn this
disappointment, and foolishly wish, perhaps, it
might have been otherwise ; but ours is not a house
of which the maidens die for their inclinations in
favor of any youths, however deserving!"

" Noble or simple," added the baron, laughing,
for he saw that his daughter spoke in sudden pique,
rather than from her excellent heart. Adelheid,
whose good sense, and quick recollections, instant'
ly showed her the weakness of this little display of
female feeling, laughed faintly in her turn, though
she repeated his words as if to give still more
emphasis to her own.

" This will not do, my daughter. They who
profess the republican doctrine,^ should not be too-
rigid in their constructions of privileges. If Sigis
mund be not noble, it will not be difficult to obtain
for him that honorable distinction, and, in failure
of male line, he may bear the name and sustain the
honors of our family. In any case he will become
of the biirgerschaft, and that of itself will be all that
is required in Berne."

" In Berne, father," returned Adelheid, who had
so far forgotten the recent movement of pride as to
smile on her fond and indulgent parent, though,
yielding to the waywardness of the happy, she
continued to trifle with her own feelings " it is
true. The biirgerschaft will be sufficient for all
the purposes of office and political privileges, but
will it suffice for the opinions of our equals, for the
prejudices of society, or for your own perfect con-


tentment, when the freshness of gratitude shall
have passed ?"

" Thou puttest these questions, girl, as if employ
ed to defeat thine own cause Dost not truly love
the boy, after all V 9

" On this subject, I have spoken sincerely and as
became thy child," frankly returned Adelheid.
" He saved my life from imminent peril, as he has
now saved thine, and although my aunt, fearful of
thy displeasure, would not that thou should'st hear
the tale, her prohibition could not prevent grati
tude from having its way. I have told thee that
Sigismund has declared his feelings, although he
nobly abstained from even asking a return, and I
should not have been my mother's child, could I
have remained entirely indifferent to so much worth
united to a service so great. . What I have said of
our prejudices is, then, rather for your reflection,
dearest sir, than for myself. I have thought much
of all this, and am ready to make any sacrifice to
pride, and to bear all the remarks of the world, in
order to discharge a debt to one to whom I owe
so much. But, while it is natural, perhaps una
voidable, that I should feel thus, thou art not ne
cessarily to forget the other claims upon thee. It
is true that, in one sense, we are all to each other,
but there is a tyrant that will scarce let any escape
from his reign ; I mean opinion. Let us then not
deceive ourselves though we of Berne affect the
republic, and speak much of liberty, it is a small
state, and the influence of those that are larger and
more powerful among our neighbors rules in every
thing that touches opinion. A noble is as much a
noble in Berne, in all but what the law bestows, as
he is in the Empire arid thou knowest we come
of the German root, which has struck deep into
these prejudices."

The Baron de Willadinsr had been much accus-


tomed to defer to the superior mind and more cul
tivated understanding of his daughter, who, in the
retirement of her father's castle, had read and re
flected far more than her years would have proba
bly permitted in the busier scenes of the world.
He felt the justice of her remark, and they had
walked the entire length of the terrace in profound
silence, before he could summon the ideas neces
sary to make a suitable answer.

" The truth of what thou sayest, is not to be de
nied," he at length said, " but it may be palliated.
I have many friends in the German courts, and
favors may be had : letters of nobility will give
the youth the station he wants, after which he can
claim thy hand without offence to any opinions,
whether of Berne or elsew r here."

" I doubt if Sigismund will willingly become a
party to this expedient. Our own nobility is of
ancient origin ; it dates from a period anterior to
the existence of Berne as a city, and is much older
than our institutions. I remember to have heard
him say, that when a people refuse to bestow these
distinctions themselves, their citizens can never
receive them from others without a loss of digni
ty and character, and one of his moral firmness
might hesitate to do what he thinks wrong for a
boon so worthless as that we offer."

" By the soul of William Tell ! should the un
known peasant dare But he is a brave boy,

and twice has he done the last service to my race !
I love him, Adelheid, little less than thyself; and
we will win him over to our purpose gently, and
by degrees. A maiden of thy beauty and years,
to say nothing of thy other qualities, thy name,
the lands of Willading, and the rights of Berne,
are matters, after all, not to be lightly refused by
a nameless soldier, who hath naught "


** But his courage, his virtues, his modesty, and
his excellent sense, father!"

"Thou wilt not let me have the naked satisfac
tion of vaunting my own wares ! I see Gaetano
Grimaldi making signs at his window, as if he
were about to come forth : go thou to thy cham
ber, that I may discourse of this troublesome mat
ter with that excellent friend ; in good season thou
shalt know the result."

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Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe headsman; or, The Abbaye des Vignerons. A tale (Volume vol. 1) → online text (page 12 of 22)