James Fenimore Cooper.

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

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in the bark. The monk of St. Bernard came next.
Both the Augustine and his dog were old acquain
tances of the officer, who did not require any evi
dence of his character or errand from the former.

" We are the protectors of life and not its foes,"
observed the monk, as, leaving the more regular
watchman of the place, he drew near to those
whose claims to the office would have admitted of
dispute : "we live among the snows, that Christians
may not die without the church's comfort."

"Honor, holy Augustine, to thee and thy office !"
said the Neapolitan, who, reckless and abandoned
as he was, possessed that instinct of respect for


those who deny their natures for the good of others,
which is common to all, however tainted by cu
pidity themselves. " Thou and thy dog, old Uberto,
can freely pass, with our best good wishes for

There no longer remained any to examine, and,
after a short consultation among the more super
stitious of the travellers, they came to the very
natural opinion that, intimidated by their just remon
strances, the offensive headsman had shrunk, un-
perceived, from the crowd, and that they were at
length happily relieved from his presence. The
annunciation of the welcome . tidings drew much
self-felicitation from the different members of the
motley company, and all eagerly embarked, for
Baptiste now loudly and vehemently declared that
a single moment of further delay was entirely out
pf the question.

" Of what are you thinking, men !" he exclaim
ed with well-acted heat ; "are the Leman winds
liveried lackeys, to come and go as may suit your
fancies ; now to blow west, and now east, as shall
be most wanted, to help you on your journeys?
Take example of the noble Melchior de Willading,
who has long been in his place, and pray the saints,
if you will, in your several fashions, that this fair
western wind do not quit us in punishment of our

" Yonder come others, in haste, to be of the
party ! " interrupted the cunning Italian ; "loosen
thy fasts quickly, Master Baptiste, or, by San Gen-
naro ! we shall still be detained ! "

The Patron suddenly checked himself, and hur
ried back to the gate, in order to ascertain what
he might expect from this unlooked-for turn of for

Two travellers, in the attire of men familiar
with the road, accompanied by a menial, and fol-


lowed by a porter staggering under the burthen of
their luggage, were fast approaching the water-
gate, as if conscious the least delay might cause
their being left. This party was led by one con
siderably past the meridian of life, and who evi
dently was enabled to maintain his post more by
the deference of his companions than by his physi
cal force. A cloak was thrown across one arm,
while in the hand of the other he carried the rapier,
which all of gentle blood then considered a neces
sary appendage of their rank.

" You were near losing the last bark that sails
for the Abbaye des Vignerons, Signori, " said the
Genevese, recognizing the country of the strangers
at a glance, " if, as I judge from your direction
and haste, these festivities are in your minds."

" Such is our aim," returned the elder of the
travellers, " and, as thou sayest, we are, of a cer
tainty, tardy. A hasty departure and bad roads
have been the cause but as, happily, we are yet
in time to profit by this bark, wilt do us the favor
to look into our authority to pass ?"

The officer perused the offered document with
the customary care, turning it from side to side,
as if all were not right, though in a way to show
that he regretted the informality.

" Signore, your pass is quite in rule as touches
Savoy and the country of Nice, but it wants the
city's forms."

" By San Francesco ! more's the pity. We are
honest gentlemen of Genoa, hurrying to witness
the revels at Vevey, of which rumor gives an
enticing report, and our sole desire is to come and
go peaceably. As thou seest, we are late ; for
hearing at the post, on alighting, that a bark was
about to spread its sails for the other extremity of
the lake, we had no time to consult all the observ
ances that thy city's rules may deem necessary.


So many turn their faces the same way, to witness
these ancient games, that we had not thought our
quick passage through the town of sufficient im
portance to give thy authorities the trouble to look
into our proofs."

" Therein, Signore, you have judged amiss. It
is my sworn duty to stay all who want the repub
lic's permission to proceed."

" This is unfortunate, to say no more. Art thou
the patron of the bark, friend ?"

" And her owner, Signore," answered Baptiste.

who listened to the discourse with longings equal

to his doubts. " I should be a great deal too happy

to count such honorable travellers among my


" Thou w r ilt then delay thy departure until this
gentleman shall see the authorities of the town,
and obtain the required permission to quit it ? Thy
compliance shall not go unrewarded."

As the Genoese concluded, he dropped into a
palm that was well practised in bribes a sequin of
the celebrated republic uf which he was a citizen.
Baptiste had long cultivated an aptitude to suffer
himself to be influenced by gold, and it was with
unfeigned reluctance that he admitted the necessity
of refusing, in this instance, to profit by his own
good dispositions. Still retaining the money, how
ever, for he did not well know how to overcome
his reluctance to part with it, he answered in a
manner sufficiently embarrassed, to show the other
that he had at least gained a material advantage
by his liberality. -

" His Excellency knows not what he asks," said
the patron, fumbling the coin between a finger and
thumb ; " our Genevese citizens love to keep house
till the sun is up, lest they should break their necks
by walking about the uneven streets in the dark, and
it will be two long hours before a single bureau will


open its windows in the town. Besides, your man
of the police is not like us of the lake, happy to get
a morsel when the weather and occasion permit ;
but he is a regular feeder, that must have his grapes
and his wine before he will use his wits for the
benefit of his employers. The Winkelried would
weary of doing nothing, with this fresh western
breeze humming between her masts, while the poor
gentleman was swearing before the town-house
gate at the laziness of the officers. I know the
rogues better than your Excellency, and would ad
vise some other expedient."

Baptiste looked, with a certain expression, at the
guardian of the water-gate, and in a manner to
make his meaning sufficiently clear to the travel
lers. The latter studied the countenance of the
Genevese a moment, and, better practised than the
patron, or a more enlightened judge of character,
he fortunately refused to commit himself by offer
ing to purchase the officer's good-will. If there
are too many who love to be tempted to forget
their trusts, by a well-managed venality, there are a
few who find a greater satisfaction in being thought
beyond its influence. The watchman of the gate
happened to be one of the latter class, and, by one
of the many unaccountable workings of human feel
ing, the very vanity which had induced him to suf
fer II Maledetto to go through unquestioned, rather
than expose his own ignorance, now led him to
wish he might make some return for the stranger's
good opinion of his honesty.

" Will you let me look again at the pass, Sig-
nore ?" asked the Genevese, as if he thought a suf
ficient legal warranty for that whiqh he now strong
ly desired to do might yet be found in the instru
ment itself.

The inquiry was useless, unless^it was to show
that the elder Genoese was called the Signor Gri-


maldi and that his companion went by the name of
Marcelli. Shaking his head he returned the paper
in the manner of a disappointed man.

" Thou canst not have read half of what the pa
per contains," said Baptiste peevishly ; "your read
ing and writing are not such easy matters, that a
squint of the eye is all-sufficient. Look at it again,
and thou mayest yet find all in rule. It is unrea
sonable to suppose Signori of their rank would
journey like vagabonds, with papers to be sus

"Nothing is wanting but our city signatures,
without which my duty will let none go by, that
are truly travellers."

" This comes, Signore, of the accursed art of
writing, which is much pushed and greatly abused
of late. I have heard the aged watermen of the
Leman praise the good old time, when boxes and
bales went and came, and no ink touched paper
between him that sent and him that carried ; and
yet it has now reached the pass that a Christian
may not transport himself on his own legs without
calling on the scriveners for permission !"

" We lose the moments in words, when it were
far better to be doing," returned the Signore Gri-
maldi. "The pass is luckily in the language of the
country, and needs but a glance to get the appro
val of the authorities. Thou wilt do well to say
thou canst remain the time necessary to see this
little done."

" Were your excellency to offer me the Doge's
crown as a bribe, this could not be. Our Leman
winds will not wait for king or noble, bishop or
priest, and duty to those I have in the bark com
mands me to quit the port as soon as possible."

" Thou art truly well charged with living freight
already," said the Genoese, regarding the deeply
loaded bark with a half-distrustful eye. " I hope


thou hast not overdone thy vessel's powers in re
ceiving so many?"

" I could gladly reduce the number a little, ex
cellent Signore, for all that you see piled among
the boxes and tubs are no better than so many
knaves, fit only to give trouble and raise questions
touching the embarkation of those who are willing
to pay better than themselves. The noble Swiss,
whom you see seated near the stern, with his daugh
ter and people, the worthy Melchior de Willading,
gives a more liberal reward for his passage to
v evey than all those nameless rogues together."

The Genoese made a hasty movement towards
the patron, with an earnestness of eye and air that
betrayed a sudden and singular interest in what he

" Did'st thou say de Willading ?" he exclaimed,
eager as one of much few T er years would have been
at the unexpected announcement of some pleasur
able event. "Melchior, too, of that honorable
name ?"

" Signore, the same. None other bears the title
now, for the old line, they say, is drawing to an
end. I remember this same baron, when he was
as ready to launch his boat into a troubled lake, as
any in Switzerland "

" Fortune hath truly favored me, good Marcelli !"
interrupted the other, grasping the hand of his com
panion, with strong feeling. " Go thou to the bark,
master patron, and advise thy passenger that
what shall we say to Melchior? Shall we tell
him at once, who waits him here, or shall we prac
tise a little on his failing memory ? By San Fran
cesco ! we will do this, Enrico, that we may try
his powers ! 'Twill be pleasant to see him won
der and guess my life on it, however, that he
knows me at a glance. I am truly little changed,
for one that hath seen so much."


The Signer Marcelli lowered his eyes respect
fully at this opinion of his friend, but he did not
see fit to discourage a belief which was merely a
sudden ebullition, produced by the recollection of
younger days. Baptiste was instantly dispatched
with a request that the baron would do a stranger
of rank the favor to come to the water-gate.

" Tell him 'tis a traveller disappointed in the
wish to be of his company," repeated the Geno
ese. That will suffice. I know him courteous,
and he is not my Melchior, honest Marcelli, if he
delay an instant : thou seest ! he is already quit
ting the bark, for never did I know him refuse an
act of friendliness dear, dear Melchior thou
art the same at seventy as thou wast at thirty !"

Here the agitation of the Genoese got the better
of him, and he walked aside, under a sense of
shame, lest he might betray unmanly weakness.
In the mean time, the Baron de Willading ad
vanced from the water-side, without suspecting
that his presence was required for more than an
act of simple courtesy.

" Baptiste tells me that gentlemen of Genoa are
here, who are desirous of hastening to the games
of Vevey," said the latter, raising his beaver,
*' and that my presence may be of use in obtain
ing the pleasure of their company."

" I will not unmask till we are fairly and de
cently embarked, Enrico," whispered the Signor
Grimaldi; "nay by the mass! not till we are
fairly disembarked ! The laugh against him will
never be forgotten. Signore," addressing the
Bernese with affected composure, endeavoring to
assume the manner of a stranger, though his voice
trembled with eagerness at each syllable, " we are
indeed of Genoa, and most anxious to be of the
party in your bark but he little suspects who
speaks to him, Marcelli ! but, Signore, there has



been some small oversight touching the city sig
natures, and we have need of friendly assistance,
either to pass the gate, or to detain the bark until
the forms of the place shall have been respected."

" Signore, the city of Geneva hath need to be
watchful, for it is an exposed and weak state, and
I have little hope that my influence can cause this
trusty watchman to dispense with his duty.
Touching the bark, a small gratuity will do much
with honest Baptiste, should there not be a ques
tion of the stability of the breeze, in which case
he might be somewhat of a loser."

" You say the truth, noble Melchior," put in the
patron; "were the wind ahead, or were it two
hours earlier in the morning, the little delay should
not cost the strangers a batz that is to say,
nothing unreasonable ; but as it is, I have not
twenty minutes more to lose, even were all the
city magistrates cloaking to be of the party, in
their proper and worshipful persons."

" I greatly regret, Signore, it should be so,"
resumed the baron, turning to the applicant with
the consideration of one accustomed to season his
refusals by a gracious manner ; " but these water
men have their secret signs, by which, it would
seem, they know the latest moment they may with
prudence delay."

" By the mass ! Marcelli, I will try him a little
I should have known him in a carnival dress.
Signor Barone, we are but poor Italian gentlemen,
it is true, of Genoa. You have heard of our re
public, beyond question the poor state of Genoa?"

" Though of no great pretensions to letters, Sig
nore," answered Melchior, smiling, " I am not
quite ignorant that such a state exists. You could
not have named a city on the shores of your Medi
terranean that would sooner warm my heart than
this very town of which you speak. Many of


my happiest hours were passed within its walls,
and often, even at this late day, do I live over
again my life to recall the pleasures of that rnerry
period. " Were there leisure, I could repeat a list
of honorable and much esteemed names that are
familiar to your ears, in proof of what I say."

" Name them, Signor Barone ; for the love of
the saints, and the blessed virgin, name them, I
beseech you !"

A little amazed at the eagerness of the other,
Melchior de Willading earnestly regarded his fur
rowed face; and, for an instant, an expression
like incertitude crossed his own features.

"Nothing would be easier, Signore, than to
name many. The first in my memory, as he has
always been the first in my love, is Gaetano Gri-
maldi, of whom, I doubt not, both of you have
often heard ?"

" We have, we have ! That is yes, I think we
may say, Marcelli, that we have often heard of
him, and not unfavorably. Well, what of this
Grimaldi ?"

" Signore, the desire to converse of your noble
townsman is natural, but were I to yield to my
wishes to speak of Gaetano, I fear the honest
Baptiste might have reason to complain."

" To the devil with Baptiste and his bark ! Mel
chior, my good Melchior ! dearest, dearest Mel
chior ! hast thou indeed forgotten me ?'

Here the Genoese opened wide his arms, and
stood ready to receive the embrace of his friend.
The Baron de Willading was troubled, but he was
still so far from suspecting the real fact, that he
could not have easily told the reason why. He gazed
wistfully at the working features of the fine old
man who stood before him, and though memory
seemed to flit around the truth, it was in gleams
so transient as completely to baffle his wishes.


" Dost thou deny me, de Willading ? dost thou
refuse to own the friend of thy youth the com
panion of thy pleasures the sharer of thy sor
rows thy comrade in the wars nay, more thy
confidant in a dearer tie ?"

" None but Gaetano Grimaldi himself can claim
these titles !" burst from the lips of the trembling

" Am I aught else ? am I not this Gaetano ?
that Gaetano thy Gaetano, old and very dear

" Thou Gaetano !" exclaimed the Bernois, re
coiling a step, instead of advancing to meet the
eager embrace of the Genoese, whose impetuous
feelings were little cooled by time " thou, the
gallant, active, daring, blooming Grimaldi ! Sig-
nore, you trifle with an old man's affections."

" By the holy mass, I -do not deceive thee ! Ha,
Marcelli, he is slow to believe as ever, but fast arid
certain as the vow of a churchman when con
vinced. If we are to distrust each other for a few
wrinkles, thou wilt find objections rising against
thine own identity as well as against mine, friend
Melchior. I am none other than Gaetano the
Gaetano of thy youth the friend thou hast not
seen these many long and weary years."

Recognition was slow in making its way in the
mind of the Bernese. Lineament after lineament,
however, became successively known to him, and
most of all, the voice served to awaken long dor
mant recollections. But, as heavy natures are
said to have the least self-command when fairly
excited, so did the baron betray the most ungov
ernable emotion of the two, when conviction came
at last to confirm the words of his friend. He
threw himself on the neck of the Genoese, and the
old man wept in a manner that caused him to


withdraw aside, in order to conceal the tears
which had so suddenly and profusely broken from
fountains that he had long thought nearly dried.


Ha, cousin Silence, that thou hadst seen
That, that this knight and I have seen !

King Henry IV.

THE calculating patron of the Winkelried had
patiently watched the progress of the foregoing
scene with great inward satisfaction, but now that
the strangers seemed to be assured of support
powerful as that of Melchior de Willading, he was
disposed to turn it to account without farther de
lay. The old men were still standing with their
hands grasping each other, after another warm
and still closer embrace, and with tears rolling
down the furrowed face of each, when Baptiste
advanced to put in his raven-like remonstrance.

" Noble gentlemen," he said, " if the felicitations
of one humble as 1 can add to the pleasure of
this happy meeting, I beg you to accept them ; but
the wind has no heart for friendships nor any
thought for the gains or losses of us watermen. I
feel it my duty, as patron of the bark, to recall to
your honors that many poor travellers, far from
their homes and pining families, are waiting our
leisure, not to speak of foot-sore pilgrims and other
worthy adventurers, who are impatient in their
hearts, though respect for their superiors keeps
them tongue-tied, while we are losing the best of
the breeze."

" By San Francesco ! the varlet is right ;" said
the Genoese, hurriedly erasing the marks of his
D 2


recent weakness from his cheeks. " We are for
getful of all these worthy people while joy at our
meeting is so strong, and it is time that we thought,
of others. Canst thou aid me in dispensing with
the city's signatures ?"

The Baron de Willading paused ; for well-dis
posed at first to assist any gentlemen who found
themselves in an unpleasant embarrassment, it will
be readily imagined that the case lost none of its
interest, when he found that his oldest and most
tried friend was the party in want of his influence.
Still it was much easier to admit the force of this
new and unexpected appeal than to devise the
means of success. The officer was, to use a phrase
which most men seem to think supplies a substitute
for reason and principle, too openly committed to
render it probable he would easily yield. It was
necessary, however, to make the trial, and the
baron, therefore, addressed the keeper of the
water-gate more urgently than he had yet done in
behalf of the strangers.

" It is beyond my functions ; there is not one of
our Syndics whom I would more gladly oblige
than yourself, noble baron," answered the officer;
" but the duty of the watchman is to adhere strict
ly to the commands of those who have placed him
at his post."

" Gaetano, we are not the men to complain of
this ! We have stood together too long in the same
trench, and have too often slept soundly, in situa
tions w r here failure in this doctrine might have cost
us our lives, to quarrel with the honest Genevese
for his watchfulness. To be frank, 'twere little
use to tamper with the fidelity of a Swiss or with
that of his ally."

" With the Swiss that is well paid to be vigi
lant !" answered the Genoese, laughing in a way
to show that he had only revived one of those


standing but biting jests, that they who love each
other best are perhaps most accustomed to prac

The Baron de Willading took the facetiousness
of his friend in good part, returning the mirth of
the other in a manner to show that the allusion
recalled days when their hours had idly passed in
the indulgence of spontaneous outbreakings of
animal spirits.

" Were this thy Italy, Gaetano, a sequin would
not only supply the place of a dozen signatures,
but, by the name of thy favorite, San Francesco !
it would give the honest gate-keeper that gift of
second-sight on which the Scottish seers are said
to pride themselves."

" Well, the two sides of the Alps will keep their
characters, even though we quarrel about their
virtues but we shall never see again the days
that we have known ! Neither the games of Ve-
vey, nor the use of old jokes, will make us the
youths we have been, dear de Willading !"

" Signore, a million of pardons," interrupted
Baptiste, " but this western wind is more incon
stant even than the spirits of the young."

" The rogue is again right, and we forget yon
der cargo of honest travellers, who are wishing
us both in Abraham's bosom, for keeping the im
patient bark in idleness at the quay. Good Mar-
celli, hast thou aught to suggest in this strait ?"

* Signore, you forget that we have another
document that, may be found sufficient" the per
son questioned, who appeared to fill a middle sta
tion between that of a servant and that of a com
panion, rather hinted than observed :

" Thou sayest true and yet I would gladly
avoid producing it but anything is better than
the loss of thy company, Melchior."

it not ! We shall not separate, though


the Winkelried rot where she lies. 'Twere easier
to separate our faithful cantons than two such

" Nay, noble baron, you forget the wearied pil
grims and the many anxious travellers in the

" If twenty crowns will purchase thy consent,
honest Baptiste, we will have no further discus

" It is scarce in human will to withstand you,
noble Sir ! Well, the pilgrims have weary feet,
and rest will only fit them the better for the pas
sage of the mountains ; and as for the others, why
let them quit the bark if they dislike the conditions.
I am not a man to force my commerce on any."

" Nay, nay, I will have none of this. Keep thy
gold, Melchior, and let the honest Baptiste keep
his passengers, to say nothing of his conscience."

" I beseech your excellency," interrupted Bap
tiste, " not to distress yourself in tenderness for
me. I am ready to do far more disagreeable
things to oblige so noble a gentleman."

" I will none of it ! Signor officer, wilt thou do
me the favor to oast a glance at this ?"

As the Genoese concluded, he placed in the
hands of the watchman at the gate, a paper differ
ent from that which he had first shown. The of

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Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe headsman; or, The Abbaye des Vignerons. A tale (Volume vol. 1) → online text (page 3 of 22)