James Fenimore Cooper.

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

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general opinion, if truth were spoken. But it is
well to be prepared to speak these good people of
the abbaye fairly, touching their exploits. Harkee,



THE HEADSMAN". 251

master halberdier ; thou art of Vevey, I think, and
a warm citizen in thy every-day character, or my
eyes do us both injustice."

" I am, as you have said, Monsieur le Bailli, a
Vevaisan, and one that is well known among our
artisans."

"True, that was visible, spite of thy halberd.
Thou art, no doubt, rarely gifted, and taught to the
letter in these games. Wilt name the character
that has just ridden past on the ass he that hath
so well enacted the drunkard, I mean ? His name
hath gone out of our minds for the moment, though
his acting never can, for a better performance of
one overcome by liquor is seldom seen."

" Lord keep you ! worshipful bailiff, that is
Antoine Giraud, the fat butcher of La Tour de
Peil, and a better at the cup there is not in all the
country of Vaud ! No wonder that he hath done
his part so readily ; for, while the others have been
reading in books, or drilling like so many awkward
recruits under the school-master, Antoine hath had
little more to perform than to dip into the skin at
his elbow. When the officers of the abbaye com
plain, lest he should disturb the ceremonies, he bids
them not to make fools of themselves, for every
swallow he gives is just so much done in honor of
the representation ; and he swears, by the creed of
Calvin ! that there shall be more truth in his acting
than in that of any other of the whole party."

" 'Odds my life ! the fellow hath humor as well
as good acting in him this Antoine Giraud! Will
you look into the written order they have given
us, fair Adelheid, that we may make sure this arti
san-halberdier hath not deceived us ? We in
authority must not trust a Vevaisan too lightly."

{' It will be vain, I fear, Herr Bailiff, since the
characters, and not the names of the actors, appear
in the lists. The man in question represents Sile-



THE HEADSMAN.

sius I should think, judging from his appearance
and all the other circumstances."

"Well, let it be as thou wilt. Silenus himself
could not play his own part better than it hath
been done by this Antoine Giraud. The fellow
would gain gold like water at the court of the
emperor as a mime, were he only advised to resort,
thither. I warrant you, now, he would do Pluto,
or Minerva, or any other god, just as well as he
hath done this rogue Silenus !"

The honest admiration of Peter, who, sooth to
say, had not much of the learning of the age, as
the phrase is, raised a smile on the lip of the beau
teous daughter of the baron, and she glanced a
look to catch the eye of Sigismund, towards whom
all her secret sympathies, whether of sorrow or of
joy, so naturally and so strongly tended. But the
averted head, the fixed attention, and the nearly
immovable and statue-like attitude in which he
stood, showed that a more powerful interest drew
his gaze to the next group. Though ignorant of the
cause of his intense regard, Adelheid instantly
forgot the bailiff, his dogmatism, and his want of
erudition, in the wish to examine those who ap
proached.

The more classical portion of the ceremonies
was now duly observed. The council of the
abbaye intended to close with an exhibition that
was more intelligible to the mass of the spectators
than anything which had preceded it, since it was
addressed to the sympathies and habits of every
people, and in all conditions of society. This was
the spectacle that so cngrossingly attracted the
attention of Sigismund. It was termed the pro
cession of the nuptials, and it was now slowly
advancing to occupy the space left vacant by the
retreat of Antoine Giraud and his companions.

There came in front the customary band, play-



THE HEADSMAN. 253

ing a lively air which use has long appropriated to
the festivities of Hymen. The lord of the manor,
or, as he was termed, the baron, and his lady-part
ner led the train, both apparelled in the rich and
quaint attire of the period. Six ancient couples,
the representatives of Ko.ppy married lives, follow
ed by a long succession of offspring of every age,
including equally the infant at ike breast and the
husband and wife in the flower of their days, walk
ed next to the noble pair. Then appeared the sec
tion of a dwelling, which was made to portray the
interior of domestic economy, having its kitchen,
its utensils, and most of the useful and necessary
objects that may be said to compose the material
elements of an humble menage. Within this moiety
of a house, one female plied the wheel, and an
other was occupied in baking. The notary, bear
ing the register beneath an arm, with hat in hand,
and dressed in an exaggerated costume of his pro
fession, strutted in the rear of the two industrious
housemaids. His appearance was greeted with a
general laugh, for the spectators relished the humor
of the caricature with infinite gout. But this sud
den and general burst of merriment was as quick
ly forgotten in the desire to behold the bride and
bridegroom, whose station was next to that of the
officer of the law. It was understood that these
parties were not actors, but that the abbaye had
sought out a couple, of corresponding rank and
means, who had consented to join their fortunes in
reality on the occasion of this great jubilee, there
by lending to it a greater appearance of that
genuine joy and festivity which it was the desire
of the heads of the association to represent. Such
a search had not been made without exciting deep
interest in the simple communities which surround
ed Vevey. Many requisites had been proclaimed
to be necessary in the candidates such as beauty,
VOL. I. W



254 THE HEADSMAN.

modesty, merit, and the submission of her sex, in
the bride ; and in her partner those qualities which
might fairly entitle him to be the repository of the
happiness of a maiden so endowed.

Many had been the speculations of the Vevaisans
touching the individuals who had been selected to
perform these grave and important characters,
which, for fidelity of representation, were to outdo
that of Silenus himself; but so much care had been
taken by the agents of the abbaye to conceal the
names of those they had selected, that, until this
moment, when disguise was no longer possible, the
public was completely in the dark on the interesting
point. It was so usual to make matches of this
kind on occasions of public rejoicing, and mar
riages of convenience, as they are not unaptly
termed, enter so completely into the habits of all
European communities perhaps we might say of
all old communities that common opinion would
not have been violently outraged had it been known
that the chosen pair saw each other for the second
or third time in the procession, and that they had
now presented themselves to take the nuptial vow,
as it were, at the sound of the trumpet or the beat
of drum. Still, it was more usual to consult the
inclinations of the parties, since it gave greater
zest to the ceremony, and these selections of couples
on public occasions were generally supposed to
have more than the common interest of marriages,
since they were believed to be the means of uni
ting, through the agency of the rich and powerful,
those whom poverty or other adverse circum
stances had hitherto kept asunder. Rumor spoke
of many an inexorable father who had listened to
reason from the mouths of the great, rather than
balk the public humor; and thousands of pining
hearts, among the obscure and simple, are even
now gladdened at the approach of some joyous



THE HEADSMAN. 255

ceremony, which is expected to throw open the
gates of the prison to the debtor and the criminal,
or that of Hymen to those who are richer in con
stancy and affection than in any other stores.

A general murmur and a common movement
betrayed the lively interest of the spectators, as
the principal and real actors in this portion of the
ceremonies drew near. Adelheid felt a warm glow
on her cheek, and a gentler flow of kindness at
her heart, when her eye first caught a view of the
bride and bridegroom, whom she was fain to be
lieve a faithful pair that a cruel fortune had hitherto
kept separate, and who were now willing to brave
such strictures as all must encounter who court
public attention, in order to receive the reward of
their enduring love and self-denial. This sympathy,
which was at first rather of an abstract and vague
nature, finding its support chiefly in her own pe
culiar situation and the qualities of her gentle na
ture, became intensely heightened, however, when
she got a better view of the bride. The modest
mien, abashed eye, and difficult breathing of the
girl, whose personal charms were of an order much
superior to those which usually distinguish rustic
beauty in those countries in which females are not
exempted from the labors of the field, were so
natural and winning as to awaken all her interest ;
and, with instinctive quickness, the lady of Wil-
lading bent her look on the bridegroom, in order
to see if one whose appearance was so eloquent
in her favor was likely to be happy in her choice.
In age, personal appearance, and apparently in con
dition of life, there was no very evident unfitness,
though Adelheid fancied that the mien of the maiden
announced a better breeding than that of her com
panion a difference which she was willing to as-
cribe, however, to a greater aptitude in her own



256 THE HEADSMAN.

sex to receive the first impress of the moral seal,
than that which belongs to man,

" She is fair," whispered Adelheid, slightly bend
ing her head towards Sigismund, who stood at her
side, " and must deserve her happiness."

" She is good, and merits a better fate !" mut
tered the youth, breathing so hard as to render his
respiration audible,

The startled Adelheid raised her eyes, and strong
but suppressed agitation was quivering in every
lineament of her companion's countenance. The
attention of those near was so closely drawn to
wards the procession, as to allow an instant of un
observed communication.

" Sigismund, this is thy sister !"

" God so cursed her."

" Why has an occasion, public as this, been
chosen to wed a maiden of her modesty and
manner 1"

" Can the daughter of Balthazar be squeamish 1
Gold, the interest of the abbaye, and the foolish
eclat of this silly scene, have enabled my father to
dispose of his child to yonder mercenary, who has
bargained like a Jew in the affair, and who, among
other conditions, has required that the true name
of his bride shall never be revealed. Are we not
honored by a connexion which repudiates us even
before it is formed !"

The hollow stifled laugh of the young man thrilled
on the nerves of his listener, and she ceased the
stolen dialogue to return to the subject at a more
favorable moment. In the mean time the pro
cession had reached the station in front of the stage,
where the mummers had already commenced their
rites.

A dozen groomsmen and as many female attend
ants accompanied the pair who were about to take
the nuptial vow. Behind these came the trousseau



THE HEADSMAN. 257

and the corbeitte ; the first being that portion of the
dowry of the bride which applies to her personal
wants, and the last is an offering of the husband,
and is figuratively supposed to be a pledge of the
strength of his passion. In the present instance
the trousseau was so ample, and betokened so much
liberality, as well as means, on the part of the friends
of a maiden who would consent to become a wife
in a ceremony so public, as to create general sur
prise ; while, on the other hand, a solitary chain
of gold, of rustic fashion, and far more in con
sonance with the occasion, was the sole tribute of
the swain. This difference between the liberality
of the friends of the bride, and that of the indivi
dual, who, judging from appearances, had much
the most reason to show his satisfaction, did not
fail to give rise to many comments. They ended
as most comments do, by deductions drawn against
the weaker and least defended of the parties. The
general conclusion was so uncharitable as to infer
that a girl thus bestowed must be under peculiar
disadvantages, else would there have been a greater
equality between the gifts ; an inference that was
sufficiently true, though cruelly unjust to its modest
but unconscious subject.

While speculations of this nature were rife
among the spectators, the actors in the ceremony
began their dances, which were distinguished by
the quaint formality that belonged to the politeness
of the age. The songs that succeeded were in
honor of Hymen and his votaries, and a few coup
lets that extolled the virtues and beauty of the
bride were chanted in chorus. A sweep appeared
at the chimney-top, raising his cry, in allusion to
the business of the menage, and then all moved
away, as had been done by those who had pre
ceded them. A guard of halberdiers closed the
procession.

W2



258 THE HEADSMAN".

That part of the mummeries which was to be
enacted in front of the estrade was now ended for
the moment, and the different groups proceeded
to various other stations in the town, where the
ceremonies were to be repeated for the benefit of
those who, by reason of the throng, had not been
able to get a near view of what had passed in the
square. Most of the privileged profited by the
pause to leave their seats, and to seek such relaxa
tion as the confinement rendered agreeable. Among
those who entirely quitted the square were the
bailiff and his friends, who strolled towards the
promenade on the lake-shore, holding discourse,
in which there was blended much facetious merri
ment concerning what they had just seen.

The bailiff soon drew his companions around
him, in a deep discussion of the nature of the
games, during which the Signor Grimaldi betray
ed a malicious pleasure in leading on the dogmatic
Peter to expose the confusion that existed in his
head touching the characters of sacred and pro
fane history. Even Adelheid was compelled to
laugh at the commencement of this ludicrous ex
hibition, but her thoughts were not long in recur
ring to a subject in which she felt a nearer and a
more tender interest. Sigismund walked thought
fully at her side, and she profited by the attention
of all around them being drawn to the laughable
dialogue just mentioned, to renew the subject that
had been so lightly touched on before.

" I hope thy fair and modest sister will never
have reason to repent her choice," she said, less
ening her speed, in a manner to widen the dis
tance between herself and those she did not wish
to overhear the words, while it brought her nearer
to Sigismund; "'tis a frightful violence to all
maiden feeling to be thus dragged before the eyes



THE HEADSMAN. 259

of the curious and vulgar, in a scene trying and
solemn as that in which she plights her marriage-
vows !"

" Poor Christine ! her fate from infancy has been
pitiable. A purer or milder spirit than hers, one
that more sensitively shrinks from rude collision,
does not exist, and yet, on whichever side she turns
her eyes, she meets with appalling prejudices or
opinions to drive a gentle nature like hers to mad
ness. It may be a misfortune, Adelheid, to want
instruction, and to be fated to pass a life in the
depths of ignorance, and in the indulgence of bru
tal passions, but it is scarcely a blessing to have
the mind elevated above the tasks which a cruel
and selfish world so frequently imposes."

" Thou wast speaking of thy mild and excellent
sister?"

"Well hast thou described her! Christine is
mild, and more than modest she is meek. But
what can meekness itself do to palliate such a ca
lamity ? Desirous of averting the stigma of his
family from all he could with prudence, my father
caused my sister, like myself, to be early taken
from the parental home. She was given in charge
to strangers, under such circumstances of secrecy,
as left her long, perhaps too long, in ignorance of
the stock from which she sprang. When maternal
pride led my mother to seek her daughter's society,
the mind of Christine was in some measure formed,
and she had to endure the humiliation of learning
that she was one of a family proscribed. Her gentle
spirit, however, soon became reconciled to the
truth, at least so far as human observation could
penetrate, and, from the moment of the first terri
ble agony, no one has heard her murmur at the
stern decree of Providence. The resignation of
that mild girl has ever been a reproach to my
own rebellious temper, for, Adelheid, I cannot con-



260 THE HEADSMAN.

ceal the truth from thee I have cursed all that I
dared include in my wicked imprecations, in very
madness at this blight on my hopes ! Nay, I have
even accused my father of injustice, that he did
not train me at the side of the block, that I might
take a savage pride in that which is now the bane
of my existence. Not so with Christine ; she has
always warmly returned the affection of our pa
rents, as a daughter should love the authors of her
being, while I fear I have been repining when I
should have loved. Our origin is a curse entailed
by the ruthless laws of the land, and it is not to
be attributed to any, at least to none of these later
days, as a fault ; and such has ever been the lan
guage of my poor sister when she has seen a
merit in their Wishes. to benefit us at the expense
of their own natural affection. I would I could
imitate her reason and resignation !"

" The view taken by thy sister is that of a fe
male, Sigismund, whose heart is stronger than her
pride ; and, what is more, it is just."

"I deny it not; 'tis just. But the ill-judged
mercy has for ever disqualified me to sympathize
as I could wish with those to whom I belong.
'Tis an error to draw these broad distinctions be
tween our habits and our affections. Creatures
stern as soldiers cannot bend their fancies like
pliant twigs, or with the facility of female "

" Duty," said Adelheid gravely, observing that
he hesitated.

" If thou wilt, duty. The word has great weight
with thy sex, and I do not question that it should
have with mine."

" Thou canst not be wanting in affection for thy
father, Sigismund. The manner in which thou
interposedst to save his life, when we were in that
fearful jeopardy of the tempest, disproves thy
words."



THE HEADSMAN". 261

" Heaven forbid that I should be wanting in nat
ural feeling of this sort, and yet, Adelheid, it is
horrible not to be able to respect, to love profound
ly, those to whom we owe our existence ! Chris
tine in this is far happier than I, an advantage that
I doubt not she owes to her simple life, and to the
closer intimacies which unite females. I am tho
son of a headsman ; that bitter fact is never absent
from my thoughts when they turn to home and
those scenes in which I could so gladly take plea
sure. Balthazar may have meant a kindness w r hen
he caused me to be trained in habits so different
from his own, but, to complete the good work, the
veil should never have been removed."

Adelheid was silent. Though she understood
the feelings which controlled one educated so very
differently from those to whom he owed his birth,
her habits of thought were opposed to the indul
gence of any reflections that could unsettle the
reverence of the child for its parent.

" One of a heart like thine, Sigismund, cannot
hate his mother!" she said, after a pause.

" In this thou dost me no more than justice; my
words have ill represented my thoughts, if they
have left such an impression. In cooler moments,
I have never considered my birth as more than a
misfortune, and my education I deem a reason for
additional respect and gratitude to my parents,
though it may have disqualified me in some mea
sure to enter deeply into their feelings. Christine
herself is not more true, nor of more devoted love,
than my poor mother. It is necessary, Adelheid,
to see and know that excellent woman in order to
understand all the wrongs that the world inflicts
by its ruthless usages."

" We will now speak only of thy sister. Has
she been here bestowed without regard to her own
wishes, Sigismund?"



262 THE HEADSMAN.

" I hope not. Christine is meek, but, while nei
ther word nor look betrays the weakness, still she
feels the load that crushes us both. She has long
accustomed herself to look at all her own merits
through the medium of this debasement, and has
set too low a value on her own excellent qualities.
Much, very much depends, in this life, on our own
habits of self-estimation, Adelheid; for he who is
prepared to admit unworthiness I speak not of
demerit towards God but towards men will soon
become accustomed to familiarity with a standard
below his just pretensions, and will end perhaps in
being the thing he dreaded. Such has been the
consequence of Christine's knowledge of her birth,
for, to her meek spirit, there is an appearance of
generosity in overlooking this grand defect, and it
has too well prepared her mind to endow the youth
with a hundred more of the qualities that are ab
solutely necessary to her esteem, but which I fear
exist only in her own warm fancy."

" This is touching on the most difficult branch
of human knowledge," returned Adelheid, smiling
sweetly on the agitated brother; "a just apprecia
tion of ourselves. If there is danger of setting
too low a value on our merits, there is ?.!:>o some
danger of setting too high; though I perfectly
comprehend the difference you would make be
tween vulgar vanity, and that self-respect which
is certainly in some degree necessary to success.
But one, like her thou hast described, would scarce
yield her affections without good reason to think
them well bestowed."

" Adelheid, thou, who hast never felt the world's
contempt, cannot understand how winning respect
and esteem can be made to those who pine beneath
its weight \ My sister hath so long accustomed
herself to think meanly of her hopes, that the ap
pearance of liberality and justice in this youth



THE HEADSMAJf. 263

would have been sufficient of itself to soften her
feelings in his favor. I cannot say I think for
Christine will soon be his wife but I will say, I
fear that the simple fact of his choosing one that
the world persecutes has given him a value in her
eyes he might not otherwise have possessed."

" Thou dost not appear to approve of thy sis
ter's choice ?"

" I know the details of the disgusting bargain
better than poor Christine," answered the young
man, speaking between his teeth, like one who re
pressed bitter emotion. " I was privy to the greedy
exactions on the one side, and to the humiliating
concessions on the other. Even money could not
buy this boon for Balthazar's child, without a con
dition that the ineffaceable stigma of her birth
should be for ever concealed."

Adelheid saw, by the cold perspiration that stood
on the brow of Sigismund, how intensely he suf
fered, and she sought an immediate occasion to
lead his thoughts to a less disturbing subject.
With the readiness of her sex, and with the sensi
tiveness and delicacy of a woman that sincerely
loved, she found means to effect the charitable pur
pose, without again alarming his pride. She suc
ceeded so far in calming his feelings, that, when
they rejoined their companions, the manner of the
young man had entirely regained the quiet and
proud composure in which he appeared to take
refuge against the consciousness of the blot that
darkened his hopes, frequently rendering life itself
a burthen nearly too heavy to be borne.

END OF VOL. I.



New Works, published by Carey, tea, A Blanchard.



BRIDGEWATER TREATISES.



This scries of Treatises is published under the following circum
stances:

The Right Honorable and Rev. FRANCIS HENRY, Earl of Bridge-
water, died in the month of February, 1825 ; he directed certain trus
tees therein named, to invest in the public funds, the sum of eight
thousand pounds sterling; this sum, with the accruing dividends
thereon, to be held at the disposal of the President, for the time being,
of the Royal Society of London, to be paid to the person or persons
nominated by him. The Testator farther directed, that the person or
persons selected by the said President, should be appointed to write,
print and publish one thousand copies of a work, on the Power, Wis
dom, and Goodness of God, as manifested in the Creation ; illustra
ting such work, by all reasonable arguments, as, for instance, the va
riety and formation of God's creatures in the Animal, Vegetable, and


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Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe headsman; or, The Abbaye des Vignerons. A tale (Volume vol. 1) → online text (page 19 of 22)