James Fenimore Cooper.

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

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Adelheid kissed the hand that she held in her
own, and left him with a thoughtful air. As she
descended from the terrace, it was not with the
same elastic step as she had come up half an hour
before.

Early deprived of her mother, this strong-mind
ed but delicate girl had long been accustomed to
make her father a confidant of all her hopes,
thoughts, and pictures of the future. Owing to
her peculiar circumstances, she would have had
less hesitation than is usual to her sex in avowing
to her parent any of her attachments ; but a dread
that the declaration might conduce to his unhappi-
ness, without in any manner favoring her own
cause, had hitherto kept her silent. Her acquaint
ance with Sigisrnund had been long and intimate.
Rooted esteem and deep respect lay at the bottom
of her sentiments, which were, however, so lively
as to have chased the rose from her cheek in the
endeavor to forget them, and to have led her sen
sitive father to apprehend that she was suffering
under that premature decay which had already
robbed him of his other children. There was in
truth no serious ground for this apprehension, so
natural to one in the place of the Baron de Wil-
lading ; for, until thought and reflection paled her
cheek, a more blooming maiden than Adelheid, or
one that united more perfect health with feminine
delicacy, did not dwell among her native moun-



THE HEADSMAN. 169

tains. She had quietly consented to the Italian
journey, in the expectation that it might serve to
divert her mind from brooding over what she had
long considered hopeless, and with the natural de
sire to see lands so celebrated, but not under any
mistaken opinions of her own situation. The pres
ence of Sigismund, so far as she was concerned,
was purely accidental, although she could not pre
vent the pleasing idea from obtruding an idea so
grateful to her womanly affections and maiden
pride that the young soldier, who was in the ser
vice of Austria, and who had become known to
her in one of his frequent visits to his native land,
had gladly seized this favorable occasion to return
to his colors. Circumstances, which it is not ne
cessary to recount, had enabled Adelheid to make
the youth acquainted with her father, though the
interdictions of her aunt, whose imprudence had
led to the accident which nearly proved so fatal,
and from whose consequences she had been saved
by Sigismund, prevented her from explaining all
the causes she had for showing him respect and
esteem. Perhaps the manner in which this young
and imaginative though sensible girl was compel
led to smother a portion of her feelings gave them
intensity, and hastened that transition of sentiment
from gratitude to affection, which, in another case,
might have only been produced by a more open
and prolonged association. As it was, she scarcely
knew herself how irretrievably her happiness was
bound up in that of Sigismund, though she had so
long" cherished his image in most of her day
dreams, and had unconsciously admitted his influ
ence over her mind and hopes, until she learned
that they were reciprocated.

The Signor Grimaldi appeared on one end of
the terrace, as Adelheid de Willading descended
at the other. The old nobles had separated late

VOL. I. P



170 THE HEADSMAN.

on the previous night, after a private and confiden
tial communication that had shaken the soul of the
Italian, and drawn strong and sincere manifesta
tions of sympathy from his friend. Though so
prone to sudden shades of melancholy, there was
a strong touch of the humorous in the native char
acter of the Genoese, which came so quick upon
his more painful recollection, as greatly to relieve
their weight, and to render him, in appearance at
least, a happy, while the truth would have shown
that he was a sorrowing, man. He had been
making his orisons with a grateful heart, and he
now came forth into the genial mountain air, like
one who had relieved his conscience of a heavy
debt. Like most laymen of the Catholic persua
sion, he thought himself no longer bound to main
tain a grave and mortified exterior, when worship
and penitence were duly observed, and he joined
his friend with a cheerfulness of air and voice that
an ascetic, or a puritan, might have attributed to
levity, after the scenes through which he had so
lately passed.

" The Virgin and San Francesco keep thee in
mind, old friend !" said the Signor Grimaldi, cor
dially kissing the two cheeks of the Baron de
Willading. " We both have reason to remember
their care, though, heretic as thou art, I doubt not
thou hast already found some other mediators to
thank, that we now stand on this solid terrace of
the Signor de Blonay, instead of being worthless
clay at the bottom of yonder treacherous lake."

" I thank God for this, as for all his mercies
for thy life, Gaetano, as well as for mine own."

" Thou art right, thou art right, good Melchior ;
'twas no affair for any but Him who holds the uni
verse in the hollow of his hand, in good faith, for
a minute later would have gathered both with our
fathers. Still thou wilt permit me, Catholic as I



HEADSMAN. 171

am, to remember the intercessors on whom I called
in the moment of extremity."

" This is a subject on which we have never
agreed, and on which we probably never shall,"
answered the Bernese, with somewhat of the reserve
of one conscious of a stronger dissidence than he
wished to express, as they turned and commenced
their walk up and down the terrace, " though I
believe it is the only matter of difference that ever
existed between us."

" Is it not extraordinary," returned the Genoese,
" that men should consort together in good and
evil, bleed for each other, love each other, do all
acts of kindness to each other, as thou and I have
done, Melchior, nay, be in the last extremity, and
feel more agony for the friend than for one's self,
and yet entertain such opinions of their respective
creeds, as to fancy the unbeliever in the devil's
claws all this time, and to entertain a latent dis
trust that the very soul which, in all other matters,
is deemed so noble and excellent, is to be everlast
ingly damned for the want of certain opinions and
formalities that we ourselves have been taught to
think essential?"

"To tell thee the truth," returned the Swiss,
rubbing his forehead like a man who wished to
brighten up his ideas, as one would brighten old
silver, by friction; "this subject, as thou well
knowest, is not my strong side. Luther and Cal
vin, with other sages, discovered that it was weak
ness to submit to dogmas, without close exami
nation, merely because they were venerable, and
they winnowed the wheat from the chaff. This
we call a reform. It is enough for me that men
so wise were satisfied with their researches and
changes, and I feel little inclination to disturb a
decision that has now received the sanction of
nearly two centuries of practice. To be plain



172 THE HEADSMAN.

with thee, I hold it discreet to reverence the
opinions of my fathers."

" Though it would seem not of thy grandfathers,"
said the Italian, drily, but in perfect good humor.
" By San Francesco ! thou wouldst have made a
worthy cardinal, had chance brought thee into the
world fifty leagues farther south, or west, or east.
But this is the way with the world, whether it be
your Turk, your Hindoo, or your Lutheran, and I
fear it is much the same with the children of St.
Peter too. Each has his arguments for faith, or
politics, or any interest that may be named, which
he uses like a hammer to knock down the bricks
of his opponent's reasons, and when he finds him
self in the other's intrenchments, why he gathers
together the scattered materials in order to build
a wall for his own protection. Then w T hat was
oppression yesterday is justifiable defence to-day ;
fanaticism becomes logic ; and credulity and pliant
submission get, in two centuries, to be deference
to the venerable opinion of our fathers ! But let it
go thou wert speaking of thanking God, and in
that, Roman though I am, I fervently and devoutly
join with or without saints' intercession."

The honest baron did not like his friend's allu
sions, though they were much too subtle for his
ready comprehension, for the intellect of the Swiss
was a little frosted by constant residence among
snows and in full view of glaciers, and it wanted
the volatile play of the Genoese's fancy, which
was apt to expand like air rarefied by the warmth
of the sun. This difference of temperament, how
ever, so far from lessening their mutual kindness,
was, most probably, the real cause of its existence,
since it is well known that friendship, like love, is
more apt to be generated by qualities that vary a
little from our own than by a perfect homogeneity
of character and disposition, which is more liable



THE HEADSMAN. 173

to give birth to rivalry and contention, than when
each party has some distinct capital of his own
on which to adventure, and with which to keep
alive the interest of him who, in that particular
feature, may be but indifferently provided. All
that is required for a perfect community of feeling
is a mutual recognition of, and a common respect
for, certain great moral rules, without which there
can exist no esteem between the upright. The al
liance of knaves depends on motives so hackneyed
and obvious, that we abstain from any illustration
of its principle as a work of supererogation. The
Signor Grimaldi and Melchior de Willading were
both very upright and justly-minded men, as men
go, in intention at least, and their opposite pecu
liarities and opinions had served, during hot youth,
to keep alive the interest of their communications,
and were not likely, now that time had mellowed
their feelings and brought so many recollections
to strengthen the tie, to overturn what they had
been originally the principal instruments in creating.

" Of thy readiness to thank God, I have never
doubted," answered the baron, when his friend had
ended the remark just recorded, "but we know
that his favors are commonly shown to us here
below by means of human instruments. Ought
we not, therefore, to manifest another sort of grat
itude in favor of the individual who was so ser
viceable in last night's gust ?"

" Thou meanest my untractable countryman ? I
have bethought me much since we separated of his
singular refusal, and hope still to find the means
of conquering his obstinacy."

" I hope thou may'st succeed, and thou well

know'st that I am always to be counted on as an

auxiliary. But he was not in my thoughts at the

instant; there is still another who nobly risked

P2



174 THE HEADSMAN.

more than the mariner in our behalf, since he
risked life."

" This is beyond question, and I have already
reflected much on the means of doing him good.
He is a soldier of fortune, I learn, and if he will
take service in Genoa, I will charge myself with
the care of his preferment. Trouble not thyself,
therefore, concerning the fortunes of young Sigis-
mund ; thou knowest my means, and canst not
doubt my will."

The baron cleared his throat, for he had a se
cret reluctance to reveal his own favorable inten
tions tow r ards the young man, the last lingering
feeling of worldly pride, and the consequence of
prejudices which were then universal, and which
are even now far from being extinct. A vivid pic
ture of the horrors of the past night luckily flashed
across his mind, and the good genius of his young
preserver triumphed.

" Thou knowest the youth is a Swiss," he said,
" and, in virtue of the tie of country, I claim at
least an equal right to do him good."

" We will not quarrel for precedence in this
matter, but thou wilt do w r ell to remember that I
possess especial means to push his interests ;
means that thou canst not by possibility use."

" That is not proved ;" interrupted the Baron
de Willading. " I have not thy particular station,
it is true, Signor Gaetano, nor thy political power,
nor thy princely fortune; but, poor as I am in
these, there is a boon in my keeping that is worth
them all, and which will be more acceptable to
the boy, or I much mistake his mettle, than any
favors that thou hast named or canst name."

The Signor Grimaldi had pursued his walk, with
eyes thoughtfully fastened on the ground ; but he
now raised them, in surprise, to the countenance
of his friend, as if to ask an explanation. The



THE HEADSMAN. 173

baron was not only committed by what had es
caped him, but he was warming with opposition,
for the best may frequently do very excellent things,
under the influence of motives of but a very in
different aspect.

" Thou knowest I have a daughter," resumed
the Swiss firmly, determined to break the ice at
once, and expose a decision which he feared his
friend might deem a weakness.

" Thou hast ; and a fairer, or a modester, or a
tenderer, and yet, unless my judgment err, a firmer
at need, is not to be found among all the excellent
of her excellent sex. But thou wouldst scarce
think of bestowing Adelheid in reward for such a
service on one so little known, or without her wishes
being consulted?"

" Girls of Adelheid's birth and breeding are ever
ready to do what is meet to maintain the honor of
their families. I deem gratitude to be a debt that
must not stand long uncaricelled against the name
of Willading."

The Genoese looked grave, and it was evident
he listened to his friend with something like dis
pleasure.

" We who have so nearly passed through life,
good Melchior," he said, " should know its diffi
culties and its hazards. The way is weary, and
it has need of all the solace that affection and a
community of feeling can yield to lighten its cares.
I have never liked this heartless manner of traffick
ing in the tenderest ties, to uphold a failing line or
a failing fortune ; and better it were that Adelheid
should pass her days unwooed in thy ancient cas
tle, than give her hand, under any sudden impulse
of sentiment, not less than under a cold calcula
tion of interest. Such a girl, my friend, is not to
be bestowed without much care and reflection."

" By the mass ! to use one of thine own favorite



176 THE HEADSMAN.

oaths, I wonder to. hear thee talk thus ! thou, whom
I knew a hot-blooded Italian, jealous as a Turk,
and maintaining at thy rapier's point that women
were like the steel of thy sword, so easily tarnished
by rust, or evil breath, or neglect, that no father
or brother could be easy on the score of honor,
until the last of his name was well wedded, and
that, too, to such as the wisdom of her advisers
should choose ! I remember thee once saying thou
couldst not sleep soundly till thy sister was a wife
or a nun."

" This was the language of boyhood and thought
less youth, and bitterly rebuked have I been for
having used it. I wived a beauteous and noble
virgin, de Willading ; but I much fear that, while
my fair conduct in her behalf won her respect and
esteem, I was too late to win her love. It is a fear
ful thing to enter on the solemn and grave ties of
married life, without enlisting in the cause of hap
piness the support of the judgment, the fancy, the
tastes, with the feelings that are dependent ou
them, and, more than all, those wayward inclina
tions, whose workings too often baffle human fore
sight. If the hopes of the ardent and generous
themselves are deceived in the uncertain lottery of
wedlock, the victim will struggle hard to maintain
the delusion ; but when the calculations of others
are parent to the evil, a natural inducement, that
comes of the devil I fear, prompts us to aggravate,
instead of striving to lessen, the evil."

" Thou dost not speak of wedlock as one who
found the condition happy, poor Gaetano ?"

" I have told thee what I fear was but too true,"
returned the Genoese, with a heavy sigh. " My
birth, vast means, and I trust a fair name, induced
the kinsmen of my wife to urge her to a union,
that I have since had reason to fear her feelings
did not lead her to form. I had a terrible ally too



THE HEADSMAN. 177

in the acknowledged un worthiness of him who had
captivated her young fancy, and whom, as age
brought reflection, her reason condemned. I was
accepted, therefore, as a cure to a bleeding heart
and broken peace, and my office, at the best, was
not such as a good man could desire, or a proud
man tolerate. The unhappy Angiolina died in giv
ing birth to her first child, the unhappy son of
whom I have told thee so much. She found peace
at last in the grave !"

" Thou hadst not time to give thy manly tender
ness and noble qualities an opportunity ; else, my
life on it, she would have come to love thee, Gae-
tano, as all love thee who know thee !" returned
the baron, warmly.

" Thanks, my kind friend ; but beware of ma
king marriage a mere convenience. There may
be folly in calling each truant inclination that deep
sentiment and secret sympathy which firmly knits
heart to heart, and doubtless a common fortune
may bind the w r orldly-minded together ; but this is
not the holy union which keeps noble qualities in a
family, and which fortifies against the seductions
of a world that is already too strong for honesty.
I remember to have heard from one that under
stood his fellow-creatures well, that marriages of
mere propriety tend to rob woman of her greatest
charm, that of superiority to the vulgar feeling of
worldly calculations, and that all communities in
which they prevail become, of necessity, selfish
beyond the natural limits, and eventually corrupt."

" This may be true ; but Adelheid loves the
youth."

" Ha! This changes the complexion of the affair.
How dost thou know this ?'

" From her own lips. The secret escaped her,
under the warmth and sincerity of feeling that the?
late events so naturally excited,"



178 THE HEADSMAN.

" And Sigismund ! he has thy approbation ?
for I will not suppose that one like thy daughter
yielded her affections unsolicited."

" He has that is he has. There is what the
world will be apt to call an obstacle, but it shall
count for nothing with me. The youth is not.
noble."

" The objection is serious, my honest friend. It
is not wise to tax human infirmity too much, where
there is sufficient to endure from causes that can
not be removed. Wedlock is a precarious experi
ment, and all unusual motives for disgust should
be cautiously avoided. I would he were noble."

" The difficulty shall be removed by the Empe
ror's favor. Thou hast princes in Italy, too, that
might be prevailed on to do us this grace, at need ?"

" What is the youth's origin and history, and by
what means has a daughter of thine been placed
in a situation to love one that is simply born?"

" Sigismund is a Swiss, and of a family of Ber
nese burghers, I should think, though, to confess
the truth, I know little more than that he has pass
ed several years in foreign service, and that he
saved my daughter's life from one of our moun
tain accidents, some two years since, as he has
now saved thine and mine. My sister, near whose
castle the acquaintance commenced, permitted the
intercourse, which it would now be too late to
think of prohibiting. And, to speak honestly, I be
gin to rejoice the boy is what he is, in order that
our readiness to receive him to our arms may be
the more apparent. If the young fellow were the
equal of Adelheid in other things, as he is in per
son and character, he would have too much in his
favor. No, by the faith of Calvin ! him whom
thou stylest a heretic I think I rejoice that the
boy is not noble !"

" Have it as thou wilt," returned the Genoese,



THE HEADSMAN. 179

whose countenance continued to express distrust
and thought, for his own experience had made him
wary on the subject of doubtful or ill-assorted alli
ances ; " let his origin be what it may, he shall not
need gold. I charge myself with seeing that the
lands of Willading shall be fairly balanced : and
here comes our hospitable host to be witness of
the pledge."

Roger de Blonay advanced upon the terrace to
greet his guests, as the Signor Grimaldi concluded.
The three old men continued their walk for an hour
longer, discussing the fortunes of the young pair,
for Melchior de Willading was as little disposed
to make a secret of his intentions with one of his
friends as with the other.



CHAPTER X.
-But I have not the time to pause



Upon these gewgaws of the heart.

WERNER.

THOUGH the word castle is of common use in
Europe, as applied to ancient baronial edifices, the
thing itself is very different in style, extent, and
cost, in different countries. Security, united to
dignity and the means of accommodating a train
of followers suited to the means of the noble, being
the common object, the position and defences of
the place necessarily varied according to the gen
eral aspect of the region in which it stood. Thus
ditches and other broad expanses of water were
much depended on in all low countries, as in Flan
ders, Holland, parts of Germany, and much of
France ; w^hile hills, spurs of mountains, and more
especially the summits of conical rocks, were
sought in Switzerland, Italy, and wherever else



180 THE HEADSMAN.

these natural means of protection could readily be
found. Other circumstances, such as climate,
wealth, the habits of a people, and the nature of
the feudal rights, also served greatly to modify the
appearance and extent of the building. The ancient
hold. in Switzerland was originally little more than
a square solid tower, perched upon a rock, with
turrets at its angles. Proof against fire from with
out, it had ladders to mount from floor to floor,
and often contained its beds in the deep recesses of
the windows, or in alcoves wrought in the massive
wall. As greater security or greater means enabled,
offices and constructions of more importance arose
around its base, inclosing a court. These neces
sarily followed the formation of the rock, until, in
time, the confused and inartificial piles, which are
now seen mouldering on so many of the minor
spurs of the Alps, were created.

As is usual in all ancient holds, the Rittersaal
the Salle des Chevaliers or the knights' hall, of
Blonay, as it is differently called in different lan
guages, was both the largest and the most labo
riously decorated apartment of the edifice. It was
no longer in the rude gaol-like keep that grew, as
it were, from the living rock, on which it had been
reared with so much skill as to render it difficult to
ascertain where nature ceased and art commenced ;
but it had been transferred, a century before the
occurrences related in our tale, to a more modern
portion of the buildings that formed the south-east
ern angle of the whole construction. The room
was spacious, square, simple, for such is the fashion
of the country, and lighted by windows that looked
on one side towards Valais, and on the other over
the whole of the irregular, but lovely declivity, to
the margin of the Leman, and along that beautiful
sheet, embracing hamlet, village, city, castle, and
purple mountain, until the view was limited by the



THE HEADSMAN. 181

hazy Jura. The window on the latter side of the
knights' hall, had an iron balcony at a giddy height
from the ground, and in this airy look-out Adel-
heid had taken her seat, when, after quitting her
father, she mounted to the apartment common to
all the guests of the castle.

We have already alluded generally to the per
sonal appearance and to the moral qualities of the
Baron de Willading's daughter, but we now con
ceive it necessary to make the reader more inti
mately acquainted with one who is destined to act
no mean part in the incidents of our tale. It has
been said that she was pleasing to the eye, but her
beauty was of a kind that depended more on ex
pression, on a union of character with feminine
grace, than on the vulgar lines of regularity and
symmetry. While she had no feature that was de
fective, she had none that was absolutely faultless,
though all were combined with so much harmony,
and the soft expression of the mild blue eye accord
ed so well with the gentle play of a sweet mouth,
that the soul of their owner seemed ready at all
times to appear through these ingenuous tell-tales
of her thoughts. Still, maidenly reserve sate in
constant watch over all, and it was when the spec
tator thought himself most in communion with her
spirit, that he most felt its pure and correcting in
fluence. Perhaps a cast of high intelligence, of a
natural power to discriminate, which much sur
passed the limited means accorded to females of
that age, contributed their share to hold those near


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Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe headsman; or, The Abbaye des Vignerons. A tale (Volume vol. 1) → online text (page 13 of 22)