James Fenimore Cooper.

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

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and have an intimate connexion with the events of
the tale, we shall describe them with a little detail,
although the task we have allotted to ourselves is
less that of sketching pictures of local usages, and
of setting before the reader's imagination scenes-
of real or fancied antiquarian accuracy, than the
exposition of a principle, and the wholesome moral
which we have always flattered ourselves might,
in a greater or less degree, follow from our labors.

A short time previously to the commencement
of the ceremonies, a guard of honor, composed of
shepherds, gardeners, mowers, reapers, vine-dres
sers, escorted by halberdiers and headed by music,
had left the square in quest of the abbe, as the
regular and permanent presiding officer of the ab~
baye, or company, is termed. This escort, all the
individuals of which were dressed in character,,
was not long in making its appearance with the
officer in question, a warm, substantial citizen and
proprietor of the place, who, otherwise attired in
the ordinary costume of his class in that age, had
decorated his beaver with a waving plume, and,
in addition to a staff or baton, wore a flowing
scarf pendent from his shoulder. This personage,
on w r hom certain judicial functions had devolved,
took a convenient position in the front of the stage,
and soon made a sign for the officials to proceed
with their duties.

Twelve vine-dressers led by a chief, each having
his person more or less ornamented with garlands
of vine-leaves, and bearing other emblems of his
calling, marched in a body, chanting a song of the
fields. They escorted two of their number who
had been pronounced the most skilful and success
ful in cultivating the vineyards of the adjacent
cotes. When they reached the front of the estrade*



238 THE HEADSMAN.

the abbe pronounced a short discourse in honor of
the cultivators of the earth in general, after which
he digressed into especial eulogiums on the suc
cessful candidates, two pleased, abashed, and un
practised peasants, who received the simple prizes
with throbbing hearts. This little ceremony ob
served, amid the eager and delightful gaze of
friends, and the oblique and discontented regards
of the few whose feelings were too contracted to
open to the joys of others, even on this simple and
grateful festival, the trumpets sounded again, and
the cry was raised to make room.

A large group advanced from among the body
of the actors to an open space, of sufficient size
and elevation, immediately in front of the stage.
When in full view of the multitude, those who com
posed it arranged themselves in a prescribed and
seemly order. They were the officials of Bacchus.
The high-priest, robed in a sacrificial dress, with
flowing beard, and head crowned with the vine,
stood foremost, chanting in honor of the craft of
the vine-dresser. His song also contained a few
apposite allusions to the smiling blushing candidates.
The whole joined in the chorus, though the leader
of the band scarce needed the support of any other
lungs than those with which he had been very
amply furnished by nature.

The hymn ended, a general burst of instrument
al music succeeded ; and, the followers of Bacchus
regaining their allotted station, the general proces
sion began to move, sweeping around the whole
area of the square in a manner to pass in order
before the bailiff.

The first body in the march was composed of
the council of the abbaye, attended by the shep
herds and gardeners. One in an antique costume,
and bearing a halberd, acted as marshal. He was
succeeded bv the two crowned vine-dressers, after



THE HEADSMAN. 239

whom came the abbe with his counsellors, and
large groups of shepherds and shepherdesses, as
well as a number of both sexes who toiled in
gardens, all attired in costumes suited to the tra
ditions of their respective pursuits. The marshal
and the officers of the abbaye moved slowly past,
with the gravity and decorum that became their
stations, occasionally halting to give time for the
evolutions of those who followed ; but the other
actors now began in earnest to play their several
parts. A group of young shepherdesses, clad in
closely fitting vests of sky-blue with skirts of white,
each holding her crook, came forward dancing,
and singing songs that imitated the bleatings of
their flocks and all the other sounds familiar to
the elevated pasturages of that region. These were
soon joined by an equal number of young shepherds
also singing Iheir pastorals, the whole exhibiting
an active and merry group of dancers, accustomed
to exercise their art on the sward of the Alps ;
for, in this festival, although we have spoken of
the performers as actors, it is not in the literal
meaning of the term, since, with few exceptions,
none appeared to represent any other calling than
that which, in truth, formed his or her daily oc
cupation. We shall not detain the narrative to
say more of this party, than that they formed a
less striking exception to the conventional picture
of the appearance of those engaged in tending
flocks, than the truth ordinarily betrays ; and that
their buoyant gaiety, blooming faces, and unwea
ried action, formed a good introductory prepara
tion for the saltation that was to follow.

The male gardeners appeared in their aprons,
carrying spades, rakes, and the other implements
of their trade ; the female supporting baskets on
their heads filled with rich flow 7 ers, vegetables, and
fruits. When in front of the bailiff, the young



240 THE HEADSMAN.

men formed a sort of fasces of their several im
plements, with a readiness that denoted much study,
while the girls arranged their baskets in a circle
at its foot. Then, joining hands, the whole whirled
around, filling the air with a song peculiar to their
pursuits.

During the whole of the preparations of the
morning, Adelheid had looked on with a vacant
eye, as if her feelings had little connexion with that
which was passing before her face. It is scarcely
necessary to say, that her mind, in spite of herself,
wandered to other scenes, and that her truant
thoughts were busy with interests very different
from those which were here presented to the senses.
But, by the time the group of gardeners had passed
dancing away, her feelings began to enlist with
those who were so evidently pleased with them
selves and all around them, arid her father, for the
first time that morning, was rewarded for the deep
attention with which he watched the play of her
features, by an affectionate and natural smile.

"This goes off right merrily, Herr Bailiff;" ex
claimed the baron, animated by that encouraging
smile, as the blood is quickened by a genial ray of
the sun's heat when it has been long chilled and
deadened by cold. " This goes off with a joyful
will, and is likely to end with credit to thy town !
I only wonder that you have not more of this, and
monthly. When joy can be had so cheap, it is
churlish to deny it to a people."

" We complain not of the levities, noble Frei-
herr, for your light thinker makes a sober and
dutiful subject; but we shall have more of this,
and of a far better quality, or our time is wasted.
What is thought at Berne, noble Melchior, of
the prospects of the Emperor's obtaining a new
concession for the levy of troops in our cantons ?"

" I cry thy mercy, good Peterchen, but by thy



THE HEADSMAN. 241

leave, we will touch on these matters more at our
leisure. Boyish though it seem to thy eyes, so long
accustomed to look at matters of state, I do confess
that these follies begin to have their entertainment,
and may well claim an hour of idleness from him
that has nothing better in hand."

Peter Hofmeister ejaculated a little expressively.
He then examined the countenance of the Signer
Grimaldi, who had given himself to the merriment
with the perfect good-will and self-abandonment
of a man of strong intellect, and who felt his
powers too sensibly to be jealous of appearances.
Shrugging his shoulders, like one that was disap
pointed, the pragmatical bailiff turned his look
towards the revellers, in order to detect, if possible,
some breach of the usages of the country, that
might require official reproof; for Peter was of
that class of governors who have an itching to see
their fingers stirring even the air that is breathed
by the people, lest they should get it of a quality
or in a quantity that might prove dangerous to a
monopoly which it is now the fashion to call the
conservative principle. In the mean time the revels
proceeded.

No sooner had the gardeners quitted the arena,
than a solemn and imposing train appeared to oc
cupy the sward. Four females marched to the
front, bearing an antique altar that was decorated
with suitable devices. They were clad in em
blematical dresses, and wore garlands of flowers
on their heads. Boys carrying censers preceded
an altar that was dedicated to Flora, and her
ministering official came after it, mitred and car
rying flowers. Like all the priestesses that fol
lowed, she was laboriously attired in the robes
that denoted her sacred duty. The goddess her
self was borne by four females on a throne cano
pied by flowers, and from whose several parts

VOL. I. V



242 THE HEADSMAN

sweeping festoons of every hue and die descended
to the earth. Haymakers of both sexes, gay and
pastoral in their air and attire, succeeded, and a
car groaning with the sweet-scented grass of the
Alps, accompanied by females bearing rakes,
brought up the rear.

The altar and the throne being deposited on the
sward, the priestess offered sacrifice, hymning the
praise of the goddess with mountain lungs. Then
followed the dance of the haymakers, as in the
preceding exhibition, and the train went off as
before.

" Excellent well, and truer than it could be done
by your real pagan!" cried the bailiff, who, in spite
of his official longings, began to watch the mum
mery with a pleased eye. " This beateth greatly
our youthful follies in the Genoese and Lombard
carnivals, in which, to say truth, there are some
times seen rare niceties in the way of representing
the old deities."

" Is it the usage, friend Hofmeister," demanded
the baron, " to enjoy these admirable pleasantries
often here in Vaud?"

" We partake of them, from time to time, as
the abbaye desires, and much as thou seest. The
honorable Signor Grimaldi who will pardon me
that he gets no better treatment than he receives,
and who will not fail to ascribe what, to all who
know him, might otherwise pass for inexcusable
neglect, to his own desire for privacy he will tell
us, should he be pleased to honor us with his real
opinion, that the subject is none the worse for oc
casions to laugh and be gay. Now, there is Ge
neva, a town given to subtleties as ingenious and
complicated as the machinery of their own watch
es; it can never have a merrymaking without a
leaven of disputation and reason, two as damnable
ingredients in the public humor as schism in reli-



THE HEADSMAN. 243

fion, or two minds in a menage. There is not a
nave in the city who does not fancy himself a
better man than Calvin, and some there are who
believe if they are not cardinals, it is merely be
cause the reformed church does not relish legs
cased in red stockings. By the word of a bailiff!
I would not be the ruler, look ye, of such a com
munity, for the hope of becoming Avoyer of Berne
itself. Here it is different. We play our antics
in the shape of gods and goddesses like sober peo
ple, and, when all is over, we go train our vines,
or count our herds, like faithful subjects of the great
canton. Do I state the matter fairly to our friends,
Baron de Blonay ?"

Roger de Blonay bit his lip, for he and his had
been of Vaud a thousand years, and he little rel
ished the allusion to the quiet manner in which his
countrymen submitted to a compelled and foreign
dictation. He bowed a cold acquiescence to the
bailiff's statement, however, as if no farther answer
were needed.

" We have other ceremonies that invite our at
tention," said Melchior de Willading, who had suf
ficient acquaintance with his friend's opinions to
understand his silence.

The next group that approached was composed
of those who lived by the products of the dairy.
Two cowherds led their beasts, the monotonous
tones of whose heavy bells formed a deep and
rural accompaniment to the music that regularly
preceded each party, while a train of dairy-girls,
and of young mountaineers of the ciass that tend
the herds in the summer pasturages, succeeded, a
car loaded with the implements of their calling
bringing up the rear. In this little procession, no
detail of equipment was wanting. The milking-
stool was strapped to the body of the dairyman ;
one had the peculiarly constructed pail in his hand,



244 THE HEADSMAN.

while another bore at his back the deep wooden
vessel in which milk is carried up and down the
precipices to the chalet. When they reached the
sodded arena, the men commenced milking the
cows, the girls set in motion the different processes
of the dairy, and the whole united in singing the
Ranz des Vac lies of the district. It is generally
and erroneously believed that there is a particular
air which is known throughout Switzerland by
this name, whereas in truth nearly every canton
has its own song of the mountains, each varying
from the others in the notes, as well as in the
words, and we might almost add in the language.
The Ranz des Vaches of Vaud is in the patois of
the country, a dialect that is composed of word*
of Greek and Latin origin,, mingled on a founda
tion of Celtic. Like our own familiar tune, which
was first bestowed in derision, and which a glorious
history has enabled us to contin-ue in pride, the
words are far too numerous to be repeated. We
shall, however, give the reader a single verse of
a song which Swiss feeling has rendered so cele
brated, and which Is said often to induce the
mountaineer in foreign service to desert the mer
cenary standard and the tame scenes of towns, to
return to the magnificent nature that haunts his
waking imagination and embellishes his dreams.
It will at once be perceived that the power of
this song is chiefly to be found in the recollec
tions to which it gives birth, by recalling the
simple charms of rural life, and by reviving the
indelible impressions that are made by nature
wherever she has laid her hand on the face of the
earth with the same majesty as in Switzerland.

Le zermailli del Colombette
De bon matin, se san leha.

REFRAIN,
Ha, ah ! ha, ah !



THE HEADSMAN. 245

Liauba ! Liauba ! por aria.
Venide tote,
Bllantz' et naire,
Rodz et motaile,
Dzjouvan' et etro
Dezo ou tzehano,
lo vo z' ario
Dezo ou triembllo,
lo 'ie triudzo,
Liauba ! Liauba ! por aris.*

The music of the mountains is peculiar and wild,
having most probably received its inspiration from
the grandeur of the natural objects. Most of the
sounds partake of the character of echoes, being
high-keyed but false notes; such as the rocks send
back to the valleys, when the voice is raised above
its natural key in order to reach the caverns and
savage recesses of inaccessible precipices. Strains
like these readily recall the glens and the magnifi
cence amid which they were first heard, and hence,
by an irresistible impulse, the mind is led to indulge
in the strongest of all its sympathies, those which
are mixed with the unalloyed and unsophisticated
delights of buoyant childhood.

The herdsmen and dairymaids no sooner uttered
the first notes of this magic song, than a deep and
breathing stillness pervaded the crowd. As the

* The cowherds of the Alps
Arise at an early hour.

CHORUS.
Ha, ah ! ha, ah !
Liauba ! Liauba ! in order to milk.

Come all of you,

Black and white,

Red and mottled,

Young and old ;

Beneath this oak

I am about to milk you,

Beneath this poplar,

I am about to press,

Liauba ! Liauba ! in order to milk.
V2



246 THE HEADSMAN,

peculiar strains of the chorus rose on the ear, mur
muring echoes issued from among the spectators^
and ere the wild intonations could be repeated
which accompanied the words " Liauba ! Liauba !"
a thousand voices were lifted simultaneously, as it
were, to greet the surrounding mountains with the
salutations of their children. From that moment
the remainder of the Ranz des Vaches was a com
mon burst of enthusiasm, the offspring of that na
tional fervor, which forms so strong a link in the
social chain, and which is capable of recalling to
the bosom that, in other respects, has been harden
ed by vice and crime, a feeling of some of the
purest sentiments of our nature.

The last strain died amid this general exhibition
of healthful feeling. p The cowherds and the dairy-
girls collected their different implements, and re
sumed their march to the melancholy music of the
bells, which formed a deep contrast to the wild
notes that had just filled the square.

To these succeeded the followers of Ceres, with
the altar, the priestess, and the enthroned goddess,
as has been already described in the approach of
Flora. Cornucopia) ornamented the chair of the
deity, and the canopy was adorned with the gifts
of autumn. The whole w r as surmounted by a sheaf
of wheat. She held the sickle as her sceptre, and
a tiara composed of the bearded grain covered her
brow. Reapers followed, bearing emblems of the
season of abundance, and gleaners closed the train.
There was the halt, the chant, the chorus, and the
song in praise of the beneficent goddess of autumn,
as had been done by the votaries of the deity of
flowers. A dance of the reapers and gleaners fol
lowed, the threshers flourished their flails, and the
whole went their way.

After these came the grand standard of the ab-
baye, and the vine-dressers, the r,eal objects of the



THE HEADSMAN'. 247

festival, succeeded. The laborers of the spring:
led the advance, the men carrying their picks and
spades, and the women vessels to contain the cut
tings of the vines. Then came a train bearing:
baskets loaded with the fruit, in its different de
grees of perfection and of every shade of color.
Youths holding staves topped with minature re
presentations of the various utensils known in the
culture of the grape, such as the laborer with the
tub on his back, the butt, and the vessel that first
receives the flowing juice, followed. A great num
ber of men, who brought forward the forge that is
used to prepare the tools, closed this part of the
exhibition. The song and the dance again suc
ceeded, when the whole disappeared at a signal
given by the approaching music of Bacchus. As
we now touch upon the most elaborate part of the
representation, we seize the interval that is neces
sary to bring it forward, in order to take breath
ourselves.



CHAPTER XV.

And them, O wall, O sweet, O lovely wall,

That stand'st between her father's ground and mine

Thou wall, O wall, O sweet and lovely wall,

Show me thy chink, to blink through with mine eyne.

Midsummer Night's Dream.

" 'ODDS my life, but this goes off with a grace,
brother Peter !" exclaimed the Baron de Willading,
as he followed the vine-dressers in their retreat,
with an amused eye " If we have much more like*
it, I shall forget the dignity of the biirgerschafu
and turn mummer with the rest, though my good
name for wisdom were the forfeit of the folly.'*



248 THE HEADSMAN.

" That is better said between ourselves than per
formed before the vulgar eye, honorable Melchior.
It would sound ill, of a truth, were these Vaudois
to boast that a noble of thy estimation in Berne
were thus to forget himself!"

" None of this ! are we not here to be merry,
and to laugh, and to be pleased with any folly that
offers ? A truce, then, to thy official distrusts and
superabundant dignity, honest Peterchen," for such
was the good-natured name by which the worthy
bailiff was most commonly addressed by his friend;
" let the tongue freely answer to the heart, as if
we were boys rioting together, as was once the
case, long ere thou wert thought of for this office,
or I knew a sorrowful hour."

" The Signor Grimaldi shall judge between us :
I maintain that restraint is necessary to those in
high trusts."

" I will decide when the actors have all played
their parts," returned the Genoese, smiling ; " at
present, here cometh one to whom all old soldiers
pay homage. We will not fail of respect in so
great a presence, on account of a little difference
in taste."

Peter Hofmeister was not a. small drinker, and
as the approach of the god of the cup was announc
ed by a flourish from some twenty instruments
made to speak on a key suited to the vault of
heaven, he was obliged to reserve his opinions for
another time. After the passage of the musicians,
and a train of the abbaye's servants, for especial
honors were paid to the ruby deity, there came
three officials of the sacrifice, one leading a. goat
with gilded horns, while the two others bore the
knife and the hatchet. To these succeeded the
altar adorned with vines, the incense-bearers, and
the high-priest of Bacchus, who led the way for
the appearance of the youthful god himself. The



THE HEADSMAX,

deity was seated astride on a cask, his head encir
cled with a garland of generous grapes, bearing a
cup in one hand, and a vine entwined and fruit-
crowned sceptre in the other. Four Nubians car
ried him on their shoulders, while others shaded
his form witli an appropriate canopy ; fauns wear
ing tiger-skins, and playing their characteristic
antics, danced in his train, while twenty laughing
and light-footed Bacchantes flourished their instru
ments, moving in measure in the rear.

A general shout in the multitude preceded the
appearance of Silenus, who was sustained in his
place on an ass by two blackamoors. The half-
empty skin at his side, the vacant laugh, the foolish
eye, the lolling tongue, the bloated lip, and the
idiotic countenance, gave reason to suspect, that
there was a better motive for their support than
any which belonged to the truth of the represent
ation. Two youths then advanced, bearing on a
pole a cluster of grapes that nearly descended to
the ground, and which was intended to represent
the fruit brought from Canaan by the messengers
of Joshua a symbol much affected by the artists
and mummers of the other hemisphere, on occasions
suited to its display. A huge vehicle, ycleped the
ark of Noah, closed the procession. It held a wine
press, having its workmen embowered among the
vines, and it contained the family of the second
father of the human race. As it rolled past, traces
of the rich liquor were left in the tracks of it*
wheels.

Then came the sacrifice, the chant, and the-
dance, as in most of the preceding exhibitions, each
of which, like this of Bacchus, had contained allu
sions to the peculiar habits and attributes of the
different deities. The bacchanal that closed the
scene was performed in character : the trumpets



250 THE HEADSMAN.

flourished, and the procession departed in the order
in which it had arrived.

Peter relented a little from his usual political re
serve, as he witnessed these games in honor of a
deity to whom he so habitually did practical homage,
for it was seldom that this elaborate functionary,
who might be termed quite a doctrinaire in his
way, composed his senses in sleep, without having
pretty effectually steeped them in the liquor of the
neighboring hills; a habit that was of far more
general use among men of his class in that age
than in this of ours, which seems so eminently to
be the season of sobriety.

" This is not amiss, of a verity ;" observed the
contented bailiff, as the Fauns and Bacchantes
moved off the sward, capering and cutting their
classical antics with far more agility and zeal than
grace. " This looks like the inspiration of good
wine, Signior Genoese, and were the truth known,
it would be found that the rogue who plays the
part of the fat person on the ass how dost call
the knave, noble Melchior?"

"Body o'me! if I am wiser than thyself, worthy
bailiff; it is clearly a rogue who can never have
done his mummery so expertly, without some aid
from the flask."

" Twill be well to know the fellow's character,
for there may be the occasion to commend him to
the gentlemen of the abbaye, when all is over.
Your skilful ruler has two great instruments that
he need use with discretion, Baron de Willading,
and these are, fear and flattery ; and Berne hath
no servant more ready to apply both, or either, as
there may be necessity, than one of her poor
bailiffs that hath not received all his dues from the


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Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe headsman; or, The Abbaye des Vignerons. A tale (Volume vol. 1) → online text (page 18 of 22)