James Fenimore Cooper.

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

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in the festivities, they were annually observed ; but,
when heavier expenses and greater preparations
became necessary, longer intervals succeeded ; the
Abbaye, at first, causing its festival to become
triennial, and subsequently extending the period of
vacation to six years. As greater time was ob
tained for the collection of means and inclination,
the festival gained in eclat, until it came at length
to be a species of jubilee, to which the idle, the
curious, and the observant of all the adjacent ter
ritories were accustomed to resort in crowds. The
town of Vevey profited by the circumstance, the
usual motive of interest being enlisted in behalf of
the usage, and, down to the epoch of the great
European revolution, there would seem to have
been an unbroken succession of the fetes. The
occasion to which there has so often been allusion,


was one of the regular and long-expected festivals;
and, as report had spoken largely of the prepara
tions, the attendance was even more numerous
than usual.

Early on the morning of the second day after
the arrival of our travellers at the neighboring
castle of Blonay, a body of men, dressed in the
guise of halberdiers, a species of troops then known
in most of the courts of Europe, marched into the
great square of Vevey, taking possession of all its
centre, and posting its sentries in such a manner as
to interdict the usual passages of the place. This
was the preliminary step in the coming festivities ;
for this was the spot chosen for the scene of most
of the ceremonies of the day. The curious were
not long behind the guards, and by the time the
sun had fairly arisen above the hills of Fribourg,
some thousands of spectators were pressing in and
about the avenues of the square, and boats from
the opposite shores of Savoy were arriving at each
instant, crowded to the water's edge with peasants
and their families.

Near the upper end of the square, capacious
scaffoldings had been erected to contain those who
were privileged by rank, or those who were able
to buy honors with the vulgar medium ; while
humbler preparations for the less fortunate com
pleted the three sides of a space that was in the
form of a parallelogram, and which was intended
to receive the actors in the coming scene. The
side next the water was unoccupied, though a
forest of latine spars, and a platform of decks, more
than supplied the deficiency of scaffolding and
room. Music was heard, from time to time, inter
mingled or relieved by those wild Alpine cries
which characterize the songs of the mountaineers.
The authorities of the town were early afoot, and,
as is customary with the important agents of small


concerns, they were exercising their municipal
function with a bustle, which of itself contained
reasonable evidence that they were of no great
moment, and a gravity of mien with which the
chiefs of a state might have believed it possible to

The estrade, or stage, erected for the superior
class of spectators was decorated with flags, and
a portion near its centre had a fair display of
tapestry and silken hangings. The chateau-look
ing edifice near the bottom of the square, and
whose windows, according to a common Swiss
and German usage, showed the intermingled stripes
that denoted it to be public property, were also gay
in colors, for the ensign of the Republic floated
over its pointed roofs, and rich silks w r aved against
the walls. This was the official residence of Peter
Hofmeister, the functionary whom we have already
introduced to the reader.

An hour later, a shot gave the signal for the
various troupes to appear, and soon after, parties
of the different actors arrived in the square. As
the little processions approached to the sound of
the trumpet or horn, curiosity became more active,
and the populace was permitted to circulate in
those portions of the square that were not imme
diately required for other purposes. About this
time, a solitary individual appeared on the stage*
He seemed to enjoy peculiar privileges, not only
from his situation, but by the loud salutations and
noisy welcomes with which he was greeted from
the crowd below. It was the good monk of St.
Bernard, who, with a bare head and a joyous con
tented face, answered to the several calls of the
peasants, most of whom had either bestowed hos
pitality on the worthy Augustine, in his many
journeyings among the charitable of the lower
world, or had received it at his hands in their


quent passages of the mountain. These recogni
tions and greetings spoke well for humanity ; for
in every instance they wore the air of cordial
good-will, and a readiness to do honor to the benev
olent character of the religious community that
was represented in the person of its clavier or

" Good luck to thee, Father Xavier, and a rich
quete" cried a burly peasant ; " thou hast of late
unkindly forgotten Benoit Emery and his. When
did a clavier of St. Bernard ever knock at my door,
and go away with an empty hand? We look for
thee, reverend monk, with thy vessel, to-morrow ;
for the summer has been hot, the grapes are rich,
and the wine is beginning to run freely in our tubs.
Thou shalt dip without any to look at thee, and,
take it of which color thou wilt, thou shalt take it
with a welcome."

" Thanks, thanks, generous Benoit ; St. Augus
tine will remember the favor, and thy fruitful vines
will be none the poorer for thy generosity. We
ask only that we may give, and on none do we
bestow more willingly than on the honest Vaudois,
whom may the saints keep in mind for their kind
ness and good-will !"

"Nay, I will have none of thy saints; thou
knowest we are St. Calvin's men in Vaud, if there
must be any canonized. But what is it to us that
thou hearest mass, while we love the simple wor
ship! Are we not equally men? Does not the
frost nip the members of Catholic and Protestant
the same ? or does the avalanche respect one more
than the other ? I never knew thee, or any of thy
convent, question the frozen traveller of his faith,
but all are fed, and warmed, and, at need, admin
istered to from the pharmacy, with brotherly care,
and as Christians merit. Whatever thou mayest
think of the state of our souls, thou on thy moun-


tain there, no one will deny thy tender services to
our bodies. Say I well, neighbors, or is this only
the foolish gossip of old Benoit, who has crossed
the Col so often, that he has forgotten that our
churches have quarrelled, and that the learned
will have us go to heaven by different roads ?"

A general movement among the people, and a
tossing of hands, appeared in support of the truth
and popularity of the honest peasant's sentiments,
for in that age the hospice of St. Bernard, more
exclusively a refuge for the real and poor travel
ler than at present, enjoyed a merited reputation
in all the country round.

" Thou shalt always be welcome on the pass,
thou and thy friends, and all others in the shape
of men, without other interference in thy opinions
than secret prayers ;" returned the good-humored
and happy-looking clavier, whose round contented
face shone partly in habitual joy, partly in gratifi
cation at this public testimonial in favor of the
brotherhood, and a little in satisfaction perhaps at
the promise of an ample addition to the convent's
stores; for the community of St. Bernard, while
so much was going out, had a natural and justifia
ble desire to see some return for its incessant and
unwearied liberality. " Thou* wilt not deny us the
happiness of praying for those we love, though it
happen to be in a manner different from that in
which they ask blessings for themselves."

" Have it thine own way, good canon ; I am
none of those who are ready to refuse a favor
because it savors of Rome. But what has be
come of our friend Uberto? He rarely comes
into the valleys, that we are not anxious to see his
glossy coat."

The Augustine gave the customary call, and the
mastiff mounted the stage with a grave deliberate
step, as if conscious of the dignity and usefulness


of the life he led, and like a dog accustomed to
the friendly notice of man. The appearance of
this well-known and celebrated brute caused an
other stir in the throng, many pressing upon the
guards to get a nearer view, and a few casting
fragments of food from their wallets, as tokens of
gratitude and regard. In the midst of this little
by-play of good feeling, a dark shaggy animal
leaped upon the scaffolding, and very coolly com
menced, with an activity that denoted the influence
of the keen mountain air on his appetite, picking
up the different particles of meat that had, as yet,
escaped the eye of Uberto. The intruder was
received much in the manner that an unpopular or
an offending actor is made to undergo the hos
tilities of pit and galleries, to revenge some slight
or neglect for which he has forgotten or refused
to atone. In other words, he was incontinently
and mercilessly pelted with such missiles as first
presented themselves. The unknown animal, which
the reader, however, will not be slow in recogniz
ing to be the water-dog of II Malecletto, received
these unusual visitations with some surprise, and
rather awkwardly ; for, in his proper sphere, Net-
tuno had been quite as much accustomed to meet
with demonstrations "of friendship from the race
he so faithfully served, as any of the far-famed
and petted mastiffs of the convent. After dodging
sundry stones and clubs, as well as a pretty close
attention to the principal matter in hand would al
low, and with a dexterity that did equal credit to
his coolness and muscle, a missile of formidable
weight took the unfortunate follower of Maso in
the side, and sent him howling from the stage. At
the next instant, his master was at the throat of
the offender, throttling him till he was black in the

The unlucky stone had come from Conrad. For-


getful of his assumed character, he had joined in
the hue and cry against a dog whose character
and service should have been sufficiently known
to him, at least, to prove his protection, and had
given the cruelest blow of all. It has been al
ready seen that there was little friendship between
Maso and the pilgrim, for the former appeared to
have an instinctive dislike of the latter's calling,
and this little occurrence was not of a character
likely to restore the peace between them.

"Thou, too!" cried the Italian, whose blood had
mounted at the first attack on his faithful follower,
and which fairly boiled when he witnessed the
cowardly and wanton conduct of this new assail
ant " art not satisfied with feigning prayers and
godliness with the credulous, but thou must even
feign enmity to my dog, because it is the fashion
to praise the cur of St. Bernard at the expense of
all other brutes ! Reptile ! dost not dread the
arm of an honest man, when raised against thee in
just anger?"

" Friends Vevaisans honorable citizens !"
gasped the pilgrim, as the gripe of Maso permit
ted breath. " I am Conrad, a poor, miserable, re
pentant pilgrim Will ye see me murdered for a
brute ?"

Such a contest could not continue long in such a
place. At first the pressure of the curious, and
the great density of the crowd, rather favored the
attack of the mariner; but in the end they proved
his enemies by preventing the possibility of escap
ing from those who were especially charged with
the care of the public peace. Luckily for Conrad,
for passion had fairly blinded Maso to the conse
quences of his fury, the halberdiers soon forced
their way into the centre of the living mass, and
they succeeded in seasonably rescuing him from
the deadly gripe of his assailant. II Maledetto



trembled with the reaction of this hot sally, the
moment his gripe was forcibly released, and he
would have disappeared as soon as possible, had
it been the pleasure of those into whose hands he
had fallen to permit so politic a step. But now
commenced the war of words, and the clamor of
voices, which usually succeed, as well as precede,
all contests of a popular nature. The officer in
charge of this portion of the square questioned ;
twenty answered in a breath, not only drowning
each other's voices, but effectually contradicting
all that was said in the way of explanation. One
maintained that Conrad had not been content with
attacking Maso's dog, but that he had followed up
the blow by offering a personal indignity to the
master himself; this was the publican in whose
house the mariner had taken up his abode, and in
which he had been sufficiently liberal in his expen
diture fairly to entitle him to the hospitable sup
port of its landlord. Another professed his readi
ness to swear that the dog was the property of the
pilgrim, being accustomed to carry his wallet, and
that Maso, owing to an ancient grudge against
both master and beast, had hurled the stone which
sent the animal away howling, and had resented a
mild remonstrance of its owner in the extraordi
nary manner that all had seen. This witness was
the Neapolitan juggler, Pippo, who had much at
tached himself to the person of Conrad since the
adventure of the bark, and who was both ready
and willing to affirm anything in behalf of a friend
who had so evident need of his testimony, if it
were only on the score of boon-companionship.
A third declared that the dog belonged truly to the
Italian, that the stone had been really hurled by
one who stood near the pilgrim, who had been
wrongfully accused of the offence by Maso ; that
the latter had made his attack under a false im-


pression, and richly merited punishment for the
unceremonious manner in which he had stopped
Conrad's breath. This witness was perfectly hon
est, but of a vulgar and credulous mind. He at
tributed the original offence to one near that hap
pened to have a bad name, and who was very lia
ble to father every sin that, by possibility, could be
laid at his door, as woll as some that could not.
On the other hand, he had also been duped that
morning by the pilgrim's superabundant profes
sions of religious zeal, a circumstance that of itself
would have prevented him from detecting Conrad's
arm in the air as it cast the stone, and which
served greatly to increase his certainty that the first
offence came from the luckless wight just alluded
to; since they who discriminate under general
convictions and popular prejudices, usually heap
all the odium they pertinaciously withhold from the
lucky and the favored, on those who seem fated by
general consent to be the common target of the
world's darts.

The officer, by the time he had deliberately
heard the three principal witnesses, together with
the confounding explanations of those who pro
fessed to be only half-informed in the matter, was
utterly at a loss to decide which had been right
and which wrong. He came, therefore, to the
safe conclusion to send all the parties to the guard
house, including the witnesses, being quite sure
that he had hit on an effectual method of visiting
the true criminal with punishment, and of admon
ishing all those who gave evidence in future to
have a care of the manner in which they contra
dicted each other. Just as this equitable decision
was pronounced, the sound of a trumpet proclaim
ed the approach of a division of the principal mum
mers, if so irreverent a term can be applied to men
engaged in a festival as justly renowned as that of


the vine-dressers. This announcement greatly-
quickened the steps of Justice, for they who were
charged with the execution of her decrees felt the
necessity of being prompt, under the penalty of
losing an interesting portion of the spectacle.
Actuated by this new impulse, which, if not as
respectable, was quite as strong, as the desire to
do right, the disturbers of the peace, even to those
who had shown a quarrelsome temper by telling
stories that gave each other the lie, were hurried
away in a body, and the public was left in the en
joyment of that tranquillity which, in these peril
ous times of revolution and changes, is thought to
to be so necessary to its dignity, so especially
favorable to commerce, and so grateful to those
whose duty it is to preserve the public peace with
as little inconvenience to themselves as possible.

A blast of the trumpet was the signal for a more
general movement, for it announced the commence
ment of the ceremonies. As it will be presently
necessary to speak of the different personages who
were represented on this joyous occasion, we shall
only say here, that group after group of the actors
came into the square, each party marching to the
sound of music from its particular point of rendez
vous to the common centre. The stage now began
to fill with the privileged, among whom were many
of the high aristocracy of the ruling canton, most
of its officials, who were too dignified to be more
than complacent spectators of revels like these,
many nobles of mark from France and Italy, a
few travellers from England, for in that age Eng
land was deemed a distant country and sent forth
but a few of her elite to represent her on such
occasions, most of those from the adjoining terri
tories who could afford the time and cost, and who
by rank or character were entitled to the distinc
tion, and the wives and families of the local officers.


who happened to be engaged as actors in the re
presentation. By the time the different parts of the
principal procession were assembled in the square,
all the seats of the estrade were crowded, with
the exception of those reserved for the bailiff and
his immediate friends.


So once were ranged the sons of ancient Rome,
A noble show ! While Roscius trod the stage.


THE day was not yet far advanced, when all
the component parts of the grand procession had
arrived in the square. Shortly after, a nourish of
clarions gave notice of the approach of the authori
ties. First came the bailiff, filled with the dignity
of station, and watching, with a vigilant but covert
eye, every indication of feeling that might prove
of interest to his employers, even while he most
affected sympathy with the occasion and self-aban
donment to the follies of the hour; for Peter Hof-
meister owed his long-established favor with the
biirgerschaft more to a never-slumbering regard
to its exclusive interests and its undivided supre
macy, than to any particular skill in the art of ren
dering men comfortable and happy. Next to the
worthy bailiff, for apart from an indomitable reso
lution to maintain the authority of his masters, for
good or for evil, the Herr Hofmeister merited the
appellation of a worthy man, came Roger de Bio-
nay and his guest the Baron de Willading, march
ing, pan passuy at the side of the representative of
Berne himself. There might have been some


question how far the bailiff was satisfied with this
arrangement of the difficult point of etiquette, for
he issued from his own gate with a sort of side
long movement that kept him nearly confronted
to the Signor Grimaldi, though it left him the
means of choosing his path and of observing the
aspect of things in the crowd. At any rate, the
Genoese, though apparently occupying a seconda
ry station, had no grounds to complain of indiffer
ence to his presence. Most of the observances
and not a few of the sallies of honest Peter, who
had some local reputation as a joker and a bel
esprit, as is apt to be the case with your municipal
magistrate, more especially when he holds his
authority independently of the community with
whom he associates, and perhaps as little likely to
be the fact when he depends on popular favor for
his rank, were addressed to the Signor Grimaldi.
Most of these good things were returned in kind,
the Genoese meeting the courtesies like a man
accustomed to be the object of peculiar attentions,
and possibly like one who rather rioted in the im
punity from ceremonies and public observation,
that he now happened to enjoy. Adelheid, with a
maiden of the house of Blonay, closed the little

As all commendable diligence was used by the
officers of the peace to make way for the bailiff,
Herr Hofmeister and his companions were soon
in their allotted stations, which, it is scarcely ne
cessary to repeat, were the upper places on the
estrade. Peter had seated himself, after returning
numerous salutations, for none in a situation to
catch his eye neglected so fair an opportunity to
show their intimacy with the bailiff, when his wan
dering glance fell upon the happy visage of Father
Xavier. Rising hastily, the bailiff went through
a multitude of the formal ceremonies that distin-


guished the courtesy of the place and period, such
as frequent wavings and liftings of the beaver,
profound reverences, smiles that seemed to flow
from the heart, and a variety of other tokens of
extraordinary love and respect. When all were
ended, he resumed his place by the side of Mel-
chior de Willading, with whom he commenced a
confidential dialogue.

" We know not, noble Freiherr," (he spoke in
the vernacular of their common canton,) "whether
we have most reason to esteem or to disrelish these
Augustines. While they do so many Christian acts
to the travellers on their mountain yonder, they
are devils incarnate in the way of upholding popery
and its abominations among the people. Look you,
the commonalty God bless them as they deserve !
have no great skill at doctrinal discussions, and
are much disposed to be led away by appearances.
Numberless are the miserable dolts who fancy the
godliness which is content to pass its time on the
top of a frozen hill, doing good, feeding the hun
gry, dressing the wounds of the fallen, and but
thou knowest the manner in which these sayings
run the ignorant, as I was about to add, are but
too ready to believe that the religion which leads
men to do this, must have some savor of Heaven
in it, after all !"

" Are they so very wrong, friend Peter, that we
were wise to disturb the monks in the enjoyment
of a favor that is so fairly earned ?"

The bailiff looked askance at his brother burgher,
for such was the humble appellation that aristocracy
assumed in Berne, appearing desirous to probe the
depth of the other's political morals before he spoke
more freely.

" Though of a house so honored and trusted, I
believe thou art not much accustomed of late to
mingle with the council ?" he evasively observed.


" Since the heavy losses in my family, of which
thou may'st have heard, the cafe of this sole sur
viving child has been my principal solace and oc
cupation. I know not whether the frequent and
near sight of death among those so tenderly loved
may have softened my heart towards the Augus-
tines, but to me theirs seems a self-denying and a
right worthy life."

" 'Tis doubtless as you say, noble Melchior, and
we shall do well to let our love for the holy canons
be seen. Ho ! Mr. Officer do us the favor to
request the reverend monk of St. Bernard to draw
nearer, that the people may learn the esteem in
which their patient charities and never-wearying
benevolence are held by the lookers-on. As you
will have occasion to pass a night beneath the con
vent's roof, Herr von Willading, in your journey
to Italy, a little honor shown to the honest and
pains-taking clavier will not be lost on the bro
therhood, if these churchmen have even a decent
respect for the usages of their fellow-creatures."

Father Xavier took the proffered place, which
was nearer to the person of the bailiff than the
one he had just quitted, and insomuch the more
honorable, with the usual thanks, but with a sim
plicity which proved that he understood the com
pliment to be due to the fraternity of which he
was a member, and not to himself. This little dis
position made, as well as all other preliminary
matters properly observed, the bailiff seemed sat
isfied with himself and his arrangements, for the

The reader must imagine the stir in the throng,
the importance of the minor agents appointed to
marshal the procession, and the mixture of weari
ness and curiosity that possessed the spectators,
while the several parts of so complicated and nu
merous a train were getting arranged, each in its


prescribed order and station. But, as the ceremo
nies which followed were of a peculiar character^

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Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe headsman; or, The Abbaye des Vignerons. A tale (Volume vol. 1) → online text (page 17 of 22)