James Fenimore Cooper.

The Headsman The Abbaye des Vignerons online

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It has already been said that this ancient and historical building stood
against the bosom of the mountains, at the distance of a short league
behind the town of Vévey. All the elevations of this region are so many
spurs of the same vast pile, and that on which Blonay has now been seated
from the earliest period of the middle ages belongs to that particular
line of rocky ramparts, which separates the Valais from the centre cantons
of the confederation of Switzerland, and which is commonly known as the
range of the Oberland Alps. This line of snow-crowned rocks terminates in
perpendicular precipices on the very margin of the Leman, and forms, on
the side of the lake, a part of that magnificent setting which renders the
south-eastern horn of its crescent so wonderfully beautiful. The upright
natural wall that overhangs Villeneuve and Chillon stretches along the
verge of the water, barely leaving room for a carriage-road, with here
and there a cottage at its base, for the distance of two leagues, when it
diverges from the course of the lake, and, withdrawing inland, it is
finally lost among the minor eminences of Fribourg. Every one has observed
those sloping declivities, composed of the washings of torrents, the
_débris_ of precipices, and what may be termed the constant drippings of
perpendicular eminencies and which lie like broad buttresses at their
feet, forming a sort of foundation or basement for the superincumbent
mass. Among the Alps, where nature has acted on so sublime a scale, and
where all the proportions are duly observed, these _débris_ of the high
mountains frequently contain villages and towns, or form vast fields,
vineyards, and pasturages, according to their elevation or their exposure
towards the sun. It may be questioned, in strict geology, whether the
variegated acclivity that surrounds Vévey, rich in villages and vines,
hamlets and castles, has been thus formed, or whether the natural
convulsions which expelled the upper rocks from the crust of the earth
left their bases in the present broken and beautiful forms; but the fact
is not important to the effect, which is that just named, and which gives
to these vast ranges of rock secondary and fertile bases, that, in other
regions, would be termed mountains of themselves.

The castle and family of Blonay, for both still exist, are among the
oldest of Vaud. A square, rude tower, based upon a foundation of rock, one
of those ragged masses that thrust their naked heads occasionally through
the soil of the declivity, was the commencement of the hold. Other
edifices have been reared around this nucleus in different ages, until the
whole presents one of those peculiar and picturesque piles, that ornament
so many both of the savage and of the softer sites of Switzerland.

The terrace towards which Adelheid and her father advanced was an
irregular walk, shaded by venerable trees that had been raised near the
principal or the carriage gate of the castle, on a ledge of those rocks
that form the foundation of the buildings themselves. It had its parapet
walls, its seats, its artificial soil, and its gravelled _allées_, as is
usual with these antiquated ornaments; but it also had, what is better
than these, one of the most sublime and lovely views that ever greeted
human eyes. Beneath it lay the undulating and teeming declivity, rich in
vines, and carpeted with sward, here dotted by hamlets, there park-like
and rural with forest trees, while there was no quarter that did not show
the roof of a château or the tower of some rural church. There is little
of magnificence in Swiss architecture, which never much surpasses, and is,
perhaps, generally inferior to our own; but the beauty and quaintness of
the sites, the great variety of the surfaces, the hill-sides, and the
purity of the atmosphere, supply charms that are peculiar to the country.
Vévey lay at the water-side, many hundred feet lower, and seemingly on a
narrow strand, though in truth enjoying ample space; while the houses of
St. Saphorin, Corsier, Montreux, and of a dozen more villages, were
clustered together, like so many of the compact habitations of wasps stuck
against the mountains. But the principal charm was in the Leman. One who
had never witnessed the lake in its fury, could not conceive the
possibility of danger in the tranquil shining sheet that was now spread
like a liquid mirror, for leagues, beneath the eye. Some six or seven
barks were in view, their sails drooping in negligent forms, as if
disposed expressly to become models for the artist, their yards inclining
as chance had cast them, and their hulls looming large, to complete the
picture. To these near objects must be added the distant view, which
extended to the Jura in one direction, and which in the other was bounded
by the frontiers of Italy, whose aërial limits were to be traced in that
region which appears to belong neither to heaven nor to earth, the abode
of eternal frosts. The Rhone was shining, in spots, among the meadows of
the Valais, for the elevation of the castle admitted of its being seen,
and Adelheid endeavored to trace among the mazes of the mountains the
valleys which led to those sunny countries, towards which they journeyed.

The sensations of both father and daughter, when they came beneath the
leafy canopy of the terrace, were those of mute delight. It was evident,
by the expression of their countenances, that they were in a favorable
mood to receive pleasurable impressions; for the face of each was full of
that quiet happiness which succeeds sudden and lively joy. Adelheid had
been weeping; but, judging from the radiance of her eyes, the healthful
and brightening bloom of her cheeks, and the struggling smiles that played
about her ripe lips, the tears had been sweet, rather than painful. Though
still betraying enough of physical frailty to keep alive the concern of
all who loved her, there was a change for the better in her appearance,
which was so sensible as to strike the least observant of those who lived
in daily communication with the invalid.

"If pure and mild air, a sunny sky, and ravishing scenery, be what they
seek who cross the Alps, my father," said Adelheid, after they had stood a
moment, gazing at the magnificent panorama, "why should the Swiss quit his
native land? Is there in Italy aught more soft, more winning or more
healthful, than this?"

"This spot has often been called the Italy of our mountains. The fig
ripens near yonder village of Montreux, and, open to the morning sun while
it is sheltered by the precipices above, the whole of that shore well
deserves its happy reputation. Still they whose spirits require diversion,
and whose constitutions need support, generally prefer to go into
countries where the mind has more occupation, and where a greater variety
of employments help the climate and nature to complete the cure."

"But thou forgettest, father, it is agreed between us that I am now to
become strong, and active, and laughing, as we used to be at Willading,
when I first grew into womanhood."

"If I could but see those days again, darling, my own closing hours would
be calm as those of a saint - though Heaven knows I have little pretension
to that blessed character in any other particular."

"Dost thou not count a quiet conscience and a sure hope as something,

"Have it as thou wilt, girl. Make a saint of me, or a bishop, or a hermit,
if thou wilt; the only reward I ask is, to see thee smiling and happy, as
thou never failedst to be during the first eighteen years of thy life. Had
I foreseen that thou wert to return from my good sister so little like
thyself, I would have forbidden the visit, much as I love her, and all
that are her's. But the wisest of us are helpless mortals, and scarce know
our own wants from hour to hour. Thou saidst, I think, that this brave
Sigismund honestly declared his belief that my consent could never be
given to one who had so little to boast of, in the way of birth and
fortune? There was, at least, good sense, and modesty, and right feeling,
in the doubt, but he should have thought better of my heart."

"He said this;" returned Adelheid, in a timid and slightly trembling
voice, though it was quite apparent by the confiding expression of her
eye, that she had no longer any secret from her parent. "He had too much
honor to wish to win the daughter of a noble without the knowledge and
approbation of her friends."

"That the boy should love thee, Adelheid, is natural; it is an additional
proof of his own merit - but that he should distrust my affection and
justice is an offence that I can scarce forgive. What are ancestry and
wealth to thy happiness?"

"Thou forget'st, dear sir, he is yet to learn that my happiness, in any
measure, depends on his."

Adelheid spoke quickly and with warmth.

"He knew I was a father and that thou art an only child; one of his good
sense and right way of thinking should have better understood the feelings
of a man in my situation, than to doubt his natural affection."

"As he has never been the parent of an only daughter, father," answered
the smiling Adelheid, for, in her present mood, smiles came easily, "he
may not have felt or anticipated all that thou imagin'st. He knew the
prejudices of the world on the subject of noble blood, and they are few
indeed, that, having much, are disposed to part with it to him who hath

"The lad reasoned more like an old miser than a young soldier, and I have
a great mind to let him feel my displeasure for thinking so meanly of me.
Have we not Willading, with all its fair lands, besides our rights in the
city, that we need go begging money of others, like needy mendicants! Thou
hast been in the conspiracy against my character, girl, or such a fear
could not have either uneasiness for a moment."

"I never thought, father, that thou would'st reject him on account of
poverty, for I knew our own means sufficient for all our own wants; but I
did believe that he who could not boast the privileges of nobility might
fail to gain thy favor."

"Are we not a republic? - is not the right of the bürgerschaft the one
essential right in Berne - why should I raise obstacles about that on which
the laws are silent?"

Adelheid listened, as a female of her years would be apt to listen to
words so grateful, with a charmed ear; and yet she shook her head, in a
way to express an incredulity that was not altogether free from

"For thy generous forgetfulness of old opinions in behalf of my happiness,
dearest father," she resumed, the tears starting unbidden to her
thoughtful blue eye, "I thank thee fervently. It is true that we are
inhabitants of a republic, but we are not the less noble."

"Dost thou turn against thyself, and hunt up reasons why I should not do
that which thou hast just acknowledged to be so necessary to prevent thee
from following thy brothers and sisters to their early graves?"

The blood rushed in a torrent to the face of Adelheid, for though, weeping
and in the moment of tender confidence which succeeded her thanksgivings
for the baron's safety, she had thrown herself on his bosom, and confessed
that the hopelessness of the sentiments with which she met the declared
love of Sigismund was the true cause of the apparent malady that had so
much alarmed her friends, the words which had flowed spontaneously from
her heart, in so tender a scene, had never appeared to her to convey a
meaning so strong, or one so wounding to virgin-pride, as that which her
father, in the strength of his masculine habits, had now given them.

"In God's mercy, father, I shall live, whether united to Sigismund or not,
to smooth thine own decline, and to bless thy old age. A pious daughter
will never be torn so cruelly from one to whom she is the last and only
stay. I may mourn this disappointment, and foolishly wish, perhaps, it
might have been otherwise; but ours is not a house of which the maidens
die for their inclinations in favor of any youths, however deserving!"

"Noble or simple," added the baron, laughing, for he saw that his daughter
spoke in sudden pique, rather than from her excellent heart. Adelheid,
whose good sense, and quick recollections, instantly showed her the
weakness of this little display of female feeling, laughed faintly in her
turn, though she repeated his words as if to give still more emphasis to
her own.

"This will not do, my daughter. They who profess the republican doctrine,
should not be too rigid in their constructions of privileges. If Sigismund
be not noble, it will not be difficult to obtain for him that honorable
distinction, and, in failure of male line, he may bear the name and
sustain the honors of our family. In any case he will become of the
bürgerschaft, and that of itself will be all that is required in Berne."

"In Berne, father," returned Adelheid, who had so far forgotten the recent
movement of pride as to smile on her fond and indulgent parent, though,
yielding to the waywardness of the happy, she continued to trifle with her
own feelings - "it is true. The bürgerschaft will be sufficient for all
the purposes of office and political privileges, but will it suffice for
the opinions of our equals, for the prejudices of society, or for your own
perfect contentment, when the freshness of gratitude shall have passed?"

"Thou puttest these questions, girl, as if employed to defeat thine own
cause - Dost not truly love the boy, after all?"

"On this subject, I have spoken sincerely and as became thy child,"
frankly returned Adelheid. "He saved my life from imminent peril, as he
has now saved thine, and although my aunt, fearful of thy displeasure,
would not that thou should'st hear the tale, her prohibition could not
prevent gratitude from having its way. I have told thee that Sigismund has
declared his feelings, although he nobly abstained from even asking a
return, and I should not have been my mother's child, could I have
remained entirely indifferent to so much worth united to a service so
great What I have said of our prejudices is, then, rather for your
reflection, dearest sir, than for myself. I have thought much of all this,
and am ready to make any sacrifice to pride, and to bear all the remarks
of the world, in order to discharge a debt to one to whom I owe so much.
But, while it is natural, perhaps unavoidable, that I should feel thus,
thou art not necessarily to forget the other claims upon thee. It is true
that, in one sense, we are all to each other, but there is a tyrant that
will scarce let any escape from his reign; I mean opinion. Let us then not
deceive ourselves - though we of Berne affect the republic, and speak much
of liberty, it is a small state, and the influence of those that are
larger and more powerful among our neighbors rules in every thing that
touches opinion. A noble is as much a noble in Berne, in all but what the
law bestows, as he is in the Empire - and thou knowest we come of the
German root, which has struck deep into these prejudices."

The Baron de Willading had been much accustomed to defer to the superior
mind and more cultivated understanding of his daughter, who, in the
retirement of her father's castle, had read and reflected far more than
her years would have probably permitted in the busier scenes of the world.
He felt the justice of her remark, and they had walked the entire length
of the terrace in profound silence, before he could summon the ideas
necessary to make a suitable answer.

"The truth of what thou sayest, is not to be denied," he at length said,
"but it may be palliated. I have many friends in the German courts, and
favors may be had; letters of nobility will give the youth the station he
wants, after which he can claim thy hand without offence to any opinions,
whether of Berne or elsewhere."

"I doubt if Sigismund will willingly become a party to this expedient. Our
own nobility is of ancient origin; it dates from a period anterior to the
existence of Berne as a city, and is much older than our institutions. I
remember to have heard him say, that when a people refuse to bestow these
distinctions themselves, their citizens can never receive them from others
without a loss of dignity and character, and one of his moral firmness
might hesitate to do what he thinks wrong for a boon so worthless as that
we offer."

"By the soul of William Tell! should the unknown peasant dare - But he is a
brave boy, and twice has he done the last service to my race! I love him,
Adelheid, little less than thyself; and we will win him ever to our
purpose gently, and by degrees. A maiden of thy beauty and years to say
nothing of thy other qualities, thy name the lands of Willading, and the
rights of Berne are matters, after all, not to me lightly refused by a
nameless soldier who hath naught - "

"But his courage, his virtues, his modesty, and his excellent sense,

"Thou wilt not let me have the naked satisfaction of vaunting my own
wares! I see Gaetano Grimaldi making signs at his window, as if he were
about to come forth: go thou to thy chamber, that I may discourse of this
troublesome matter with that excellent friend; in good season thou shalt
know the result."

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

Early deprived of her mother, this strong-minded but delicate girl had
long been accustomed to make her father a confidant of all her hopes,
thoughts, and pictures of the future. Owing to her peculiar circumstances,
she would have had less hesitation than is usual to her sex in avowing to
her parent any of her attachments; but a dread that the declaration might
conduce to his unhappiness, without in any manner favoring her own cause,
had hitherto kept her silent. Her acquaintance with Sigismund had been
long and intimate. Rooted esteem and deep respect lay at the bottom of her
sentiments, which were, however, so lively as to have chased the rose from
her cheek in the endeavor to forget them, and to have led her sensitive
father to apprehend that she was suffering under that premature decay
which had already robbed him of his other children. There was in truth no
serious ground for this apprehension, so natural to one in the place of
the Baron de Willading; for, until thought, and reflection paled her
cheek, a more blooming maiden than Adelheid, or one that united more
perfect health with feminine delicacy, did not dwell among her native
mountains. She had quietly consented to the Italian journey, in the
expectation that it might serve to divert her mind from brooding over what
she had long considered hopeless, and with the natural desire to see lands
so celebrated, but not under any mistaken opinions of her own situation.
The presence of Sigismund, so far as she was concerned, was purely
accidental, although she could not prevent the pleasing idea from
obtruding - an idea so grateful to her womanly affections and maiden
pride - that the young soldier, who was in the service of Austria, and who
had become known to her in one of his frequent visits to his native land,
had gladly seized this favorable occasion to return to his colors.
Circumstances, which it is not necessary to recount, had enabled Adelheid
to make the youth acquainted with her father, though the interdictions of
her aunt, whose imprudence had led to the accident which nearly proved so
fatal, and from whose consequences she had been saved by Sigismund,
prevented her from explaining all the causes she had for showing him
respect and esteem. Perhaps the manner in which this young and imaginative
though sensible girl was compelled to smother a portion of her feelings
gave them intensity, and hastened that transition of sentiment from
gratitude to affection, which, in another case, might have only been
produced by a more open and prolonged association. As it was, she scarcely
knew herself how irretrievably her happiness was bound up in that of
Sigismund, though she had so long cherished his image in most of her
day-dreams, and had unconsciously admitted his influence over her mind and
hopes, until she learned that they were reciprocated.

The Signor Grimaldi appeared on one end of the terrace, as Adelheid de
Willading descended at the other. The old nobles had separated late on
the previous night, after a private and confidential communication that
had shaken the soul of the Italian, and drawn strong and sincere
manifestations of sympathy from his friend. Though so prone to sudden
shades of melancholy, there was a strong touch of the humorous in the
native character of the Genoese, which came so quick upon his more painful
recollection, as greatly to relieve their weight, and to render him, in
appearance at least, a happy, while the truth would have shown that he was
a sorrowing man. He had been making his orisons with a grateful heart, and
he now came forth into the genial mountain air, like one who had relieved
his conscience of a heavy debt. Like most laymen of the Catholic
persuasion, he thought himself no longer bound to maintain a grave and
mortified exterior, when worship and penitence were duly observed, and he
joined his friend with a cheerfulness of air and voice that an ascetic, or
a puritan, might have attributed to levity, after the scenes through which
he had so lately passed.

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

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

"Thou art right, thou art right, good Melchior: 'twas no affair for any
but Him who holds the universe in the hollow of his hand, in good faith,
for a minute later would have gathered both with our lathers. Still thou
wilt permit me, Catholic as I am, to remember the intercessors on whom I
called in the moment of extremity."

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

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

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

"Though it would seem not of thy grandfathers," said the Italian, drily,
but in perfect good humor. "By San Francesco! thou wouldst have made a
worthy cardinal, had chance brought thee into the world fifty leagues
farther south, or west, or east. But this is the way with the world,
whether it be your Turk, your Hindoo, or your Lutheran, and I fear it is
much the same with the children of St. Peter too. Each has his arguments
for faith, or politics, or any interest that may be named, which he uses
like a hammer to knock down the bricks of his opponent's reasons, and when

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Headsman The Abbaye des Vignerons → online text (page 12 of 37)