Chapter 10




--But I have not the time to pause
Upon these gewgaws of the heart.

Werner.


Though the word castle is of common use in Europe, as applied to ancient
baronial edifices, the thing itself is very different in style, extent,
and cost, in different countries. Security, united to dignity and the
means of accommodating a train of followers suited to the means of the
noble, being the common object, the position and defences of the place
necessarily varied according to the general aspect of the region in which
it stood. Thus ditches and other broad expanses of water were much
depended on in all low countries, as in Flanders, Holland, parts of
Germany, and much of France; while hills, spurs of mountains, and more
especially the summits of conical rocks, were sought in Switzerland,
Italy, and wherever else these natural means of protection could readily
found. Other circumstances, such as climate wealth, the habits of a
people, and the nature of the feudal rights, also served greatly to modify
the appearance and extent of the building. The ancient hold in Switzerland
was originally little more than a square solid tower, perched upon a rock,
with turrets at its angles. Proof against fire from without, it had
ladders to mount from floor to floor and often contained its beds in the
deep recesses of the windows, or in alcoves wrought in the massive wall.
As greater security or greater means enabled, offices and constructions of
more importance arcse around its base, inclosing a court. These
necessarily followed the formation of the rock, until, in time, the
confused and inartificial piles, which are now seen mouldering on so many
of the minor spurs of the Alps, were created.

As is usual in all ancient holds, the Rittersaal--the Salle des
Chevaliers--or the knights' hall, of Blonay, as it is differently called
in different languages, was both the largest and the most laboriously
decorated apartment of the edifice. It was no longer in the rude gaol-like
keep that grew, as it were, from the living rock, on which it had been
reared with so much skill as to render it difficult to ascertain where
nature ceased and art commenced; but it had been transferred, a century
before the occurrences; related in our tale, to a more modern portion of
the buildings that formed the south-eastern angle of the whole
construction. The room was spacious, square, simple, for such is the
fashion of the country, and lighted by windows that looked on one side
towards Valais, and on the other over the whole of the irregular, but
lovely declivity, to the margin of the Leman, and along that beautiful
sheet, embracing hamlet, village, city, castle, and purple mountain, until
the view was limited by the hazy Jura. The window on the latter side of
the knights' hall, had an iron balcony at a giddy height from the ground,
and in this airy look-out Adelheid had taken her seat, when, after
quitting her father, she mounted to the apartment common to all the guests
of the castle.

We have already alluded generally to the personal appearance and to the
moral qualities of the Baron de Willading's daughter, but we now conceive
it necessary to make the reader more intimately acquainted with one who is
destined to act no mean part in the incidents of our tale. It has been
said that she was pleasing to the eye, but her beauty was of a kind that
depended more on expression, on a union of character with feminine grace,
than on the vulgar lines of regularity and symmetry. While she had no
feature that was defective, she had none that was absolutely faultless,
though all were combined with so much harmony and the soft expression of
the mild blue eye accorded so well with the gentle play of a sweet mouth,
that the soul of their owner seemed ready at all times to appear through
these ingenuous tell-tales of her thoughts. Still, maidenly reserve sate
in constant watch over all, and it was when the spectator thought himself
most in communion with her spirit, that he most felt its pure and
correcting influence. Perhaps a cast of high intelligence, of a natural
power to discriminate, which much surpassed the limited means accorded to
females of that age, contributed their share to hold those near her in
respect, and served in some degree as a mild and wise repellant, to
counteract the attractions of her gentleness and candor. In short, one
cast unexpectedly in her society would not have been slow to infer, and he
would have decided correctly, that Adelheid de Willading was a girl of
warm and tender affections, of a playful but regulated fancy, of a firm
and lofty sense of all her duties, whether natural or merely the result of
social obligations, of melting pity, and yet of a habit and quality to
think and act for herself, in all those cases in which it was fitting for
a maiden of her condition and years to assume such self-control.

It was now more than a year since Adelheid had become fully sensible of
the force of her attachment for Sigismund Steinbach, and during all that
time she had struggled hard to overcome a feeling which she believed could
lead to no happy result. The declaration of the young man himself, a
declaration that was extorted involuntarily and in a moment of powerful
passion, was accompanied by an admission of its uselessness and folly, and
it first opened her eyes to the state of her own feelings. Though she had
listened, as all of her sex will listen, even when the passion is
hopeless, to such words coming from lips they love, it was with a
self-command that enabled her to retain her own secret, and with a settled
and pious resolution to do that which she believed to be her duty to
herself, to her father, and to Sigismund. From that hour she ceased to see
him, unless under circumstances when it would have drawn suspicion on her
motives to refuse, and while she never appeared to forget her heavy
obligations to the youth, she firmly denied herself the pleasure of even
mentioning his name when it could be avoided. But of all ungrateful and
reluctant tasks, that of striving to forget is the least likely to
succeed. Adelheid was sustained only by her sense of duty and the desire
not to disappoint her father's wishes, to which habit and custom had given
nearly the force of law with maidens of her condition, though her reason
and judgment no less than her affections were both strongly enlisted on
the other side. Indeed, with the single exception of the general unfitness
of a union between two of unequal stations, there was nothing to
discredit her choice, if that may be termed choice which, after all, was
more the result of spontaneous feeling and secret sympathy than of any
other cause, unless it were a certain equivocal reserve, and a manifest
uneasiness, whenever allusion was made to the early history and to the
family of the soldier. This sensitiveness on the part of Sigismund had
been observed and commented on by others as well as by herself, and it had
been openly ascribed to the mortification of one who had been thrown, by
chance, into an intimate association that was much superior to what he was
entitled to maintain by birth; a weakness but too common, and which few
have strength of mind to resist or sufficient pride to overcome. The
intuitive watchfulness of affection, however, led Adelheid to a different
conclusion; she saw that he never affected to conceal, while with equal
good taste he abstained from obtrusive allusions to the humble nature of
his origin, but she also perceived that there were points of his previous
history on which he was acutely sensitive, and which at first she feared
must be attributed to the consciousness of acts that his clear perception
of moral truth condemned, and which he could wish forgotten. For some time
Adelheid clung to this discovery as to a healthful and proper antidote to
her own truant inclinations, but native rectitude banished a suspicion
which had no sufficient ground, as equally unworthy of them both. The
effects of a ceaseless mental struggle, and of the fruitlessness of her
efforts to overcome her tenderness in behalf of Sigismund, have been
described in the fading of her bloom, in the painful solicitude of a
countenance naturally so sweet, and in the settled melancholy of her
playful and mellow eye. These were the real causes of the journey
undertaken by her father, and, in truth, of most of the other events
which we are about to describe.

The prospect of the future had undergone a sudden change. The color,
though more the effect of excitement than of returning health--for he tide
of life, when rudely checked, does not resume its currents at the first
breath of happiness--again brightened her cheek and imparted brilliancy to
her looks, and smiles stole easily to those lips which had long been
growing pallid with anxiety. She leaned forward from the balcony, and
never before had the air of her native mountains seemed so balmy and
healing. At that moment the subject of her thoughts appeared on the
verdant declivity, among the luxuriant nut-trees that shade the natural
lawn of Blonay. He saluted her respectfully, and pointed to the glorious
panorama of the Leman. The heart of Adelheid beat violently; she struggled
for an instant with her fears and her pride, and then, for the first time
in her life, she made a signal that she wished him to join her.

Notwithstanding the important service that the young soldier had rendered
to the daughter of the Baron de Willading, and the long intimacy which had
been its fruit, so great had been the reserve she had hitherto maintained,
by placing a constant restraint on her inclinations, though the simple
usages of Switzerland permitted greater familiarity of intercourse than
was elsewhere accorded to maidens of rank, that Sigismund at first stood
rooted to the ground, for he could not imagine the waving of the hand was
meant for him. Adelheid saw his embarrassment, and the signal was
repeated. The young man sprang up the acclivity with the rapidity of the
wind, and disappeared behind the walls of the castle.

The barrier of reserve, so long and so success fully observed by
Adelheid, was now passed, and she felt as if a few short minutes must
decide her fate. The necessity of making a wide circuit in order to enter
the court still afforded a little time for reflection, however, and this
she endeavored to improve by collecting her thoughts and recovering her
self-possession.

When Sigismund entered the knights' hall, he found the maiden still seated
near the open window of the balcony, pale and serious, but perfectly calm,
and with such an expression of radiant happiness in her countenance as he
had not seen reigning in those sweet lineaments for many painful, months.
The first feeling was that of pleasure at perceiving how well she bore the
alarms and dangers of the past night. This pleasure he expressed, with the
frankness admitted, by the habits of the Germans.

"Thou wilt not suffer, Adelheid, by the exposure on the lake!" he said,
studying her face until the tell-tale blood stole to her very temples.

"Agitation of the mind is a good antidote to the consequences of bodily
exposure. So far from suffering by what has passed, I feel stronger to-day
and better able to endure fatigue, than at any time since we came through
the gates of Willading. This balmy air, to me, seems Italy, and I see no
necessity to journey farther in search of what they said was necessary to
my health, agreeable objects and a generous sun."

"You will not cross the St. Bernard!" he exclaimed in a tone of
disappointment.

Adelheid smiled, and he felt encouraged, though the smile was ambiguous.
Notwithstanding the really noble sincerity of the maiden's disposition,
and her earnest desire to set his heart at ease, nature, or habit, or
education, for we scarcely know to which the weakness ought to be
ascribed, tempted her to avoid a direct explanation.

"Why need one desire aught that is more lovely than this?" she answered,
evasively. "Here is a warm air, such a scene as Italy can scarcely
surpass, and a friendly roof. The experience of the last twenty-four hours
gives little encouragement for attempting the St. Bernard, notwithstanding
the fair promises of hospitality and welcome that have been so liberally
held out by the good canon."

"Thy eye contradicts thy tongue, Adelheid; thou art happy and well enough
to use pleasantry to-day. For heaven's sake, do not neglect to profit by
this advantage, however, under a mistaken opinion that Blonay is the
well-sheltered Pisa. When the winter shall arrive, thou wilt see that
these mountains are still the icy Alps, and the winds will whistle through
this crazy castle, as they are wont to sing in the naked corridors of
Willading."

"We have time before us, and can think of this. Thou wilt proceed to
Milan, no doubt, as soon as the revels of Vévey are ended."

"The soldier has little choice but duty. My long and frequent leaves of
absence of late,--leaves that have been liberally granted to me on account
of important family-concerns,--impose an additional obligation to be
punctual, that I may not seem forgetful of favors already enjoyed.
Although we all owe a heavy debt to nature, our voluntary engagements have
ever seemed to me the most serious."

Adelheid listened with breathless attention. Never before had he uttered
the word family, in reference to himself, in her presence. The allusion
appeared to have created unpleasant recollections in the mind of the young
man himself, for when he ceased to speak his countenance fell, and he
even appeared to be fast forgetting the presence of his fair companion.
The latter turned sensitively from a subject which she saw gave him pain,
and endeavored to call his thoughts to other things. By an unforeseen
fatality, the very expedient adopted hastened the explanation she would
now have given so much to postpone.

"My father has often extolled the site of the Baron de Blonay's castle,"
said Adelheid, gazing from the window, though all the fair objects of the
view floated unheeded before her eyes: "but, until now, I have always
suspected that friendly feeling had a great influence on his
descriptions."

"You did him injustice then," answered Sigismund, advancing to the
opening: "of all the ancient holds of Switzerland, Blonay is perhaps
entitled to the palm, for possessing the fairest site. Regard yon
treacherous lake, Adelheid! Can we fancy that sleeping mirror the same
boiling cauldron on which we were so lately tossed, helpless and nearly
hopeless?"

"Hopeless, Sigismund, but for thee!"

"Thou forgett'st the daring Italian, without whose coolness and skill we
must indeed have irredeemably perished."

"And what would it be to me if the worthless bark were saved, while my
father and his friend were abandoned to the frightful fate that befell the
patron and that unhappy peasant of Berne!"

The pulses of the young man beat high, for there was a tenderness in the
tones of Adelheid to which he was unaccustomed, and which, indeed, he had
never before discovered in her voice.

"I will go seek this brave mariner," he said, trembling lest his
self-command should be again lost by the seductions of such a
communion:--"it is time he had more substantial proofs of our gratitude."

"No, Sigismund," returned the maiden; firmly, and in a way to chain him
to the spot, "thou must not quit me yet--I have much to say--much that
touches my future happiness, and, I am perhaps weak enough to believe,
thine."

Sigismund was bewildered, for the manner of his companion, though the
color went and came in sudden and bright flashes across her pure brows,
was miraculously calm and full of dignity. He took the seat to which she
silently pointed, and sat motionless as if carved in stone, his faculties
absorbed in the single sense of hearing. Adelheid saw that the crisis was
arrived, and that retreat, without an appearance of levity that her
character and pride equally forbade, was impossible. The inbred and
perhaps the inherent feelings of her sex would now have caused her again
to avoid the explanation, at least as coming from herself, but that she
was sustained by a high and holy motive.

"Thou must find great delight, Sigismund, in reflecting on thine own good
acts to others. But for thee Melchior de Willading would have long since
been childless; and but for thee his daughter would now be an orphan. The
knowledge that thou hast had the power and the will to succor thy friends
must be worth all other knowledge!"

"As connected with thee, Adelheid, it is," he answered in a low voice: "I
would not exchange the secret happiness of having been of this use to
thee, and to those thou lovest, for the throne of the powerful prince I
serve. I have had my secret wrested from me already, and it is vain
attempting to deny it, if I would. Thou knowest I love thee; and, in spite
of myself, my heart cherishes the weakness. I rather rejoice, than dread,
to say that it will cherish it until it cease to feel. This is more than
I ever intended to repeat to thy modest ears, which ought not to be wounded
by idle declarations like these, but--thou smilest--Adelheid!--can thy
gentle spirit mock at a hopeless passion!"

"Why should my smile mean mockery?"

"Adelheid!--nay--this never can be. One of my birth--my ignoble,
nameless origin, cannot even intimate his wishes, with honor, to a lady of
thy name and expectations!"

"Sigismund, it _can_ be. Thou hast not well calculated either the heart of
Adelheid de Willading, or the gratitude of her father."

The young man gazed earnestly at the face of the maiden, which, now that
she had disburdened her soul of its most secret thought, reddened to the
temples, more however with excitement than with shame, for she met his
ardent look with the mild confidence of innocence and affection. She
believed, and she had every reason so to believe, that her words would
give pleasure, and, with the jealous watchfulness of true love, she would
not willingly let a single expression of happiness escape her. But,
instead of the brightening eye, and the sudden expression of joy that she
expected, the young man appeared overwhelmed with feelings of a very
opposite, and indeed of the most painful, character. His breathing was
difficult, his look wandered, and his lips were convulsed. He passed his
hand across his brow, like a man in intense agony, and a cold perspiration
broke out, as by a dreadful inward working of the spirit, upon his
forehead and temples, in large visible drops.

"Adelheid--dearest Adelheid--thou knowest not what thou sayest!--One like
me can never become thy husband."

"Sigismund!--why this distress? Speak to me--ease thy mind by words. I
swear to thee that the consent of my father is accompanied on my part by
a willing heart. I love thee, Sigismund--wouldst thou have me--can I say
more?"

The young man gazed at her incredulously, and then, as thought became more
clear, as one regards a much-prized object that is hopelessly lost. He
shook his head mournfully, and buried his face in his hands.

"Say no more, Adelheid--for my sake--for thine own sake, say no more--in
mercy, be silent! Thou never canst be mine--No, no--honor forbids it; in
thee it would be madness, in me dishonor--we can never be united. What
fatal weakness has kept me near thee--I have long dreaded this--"

"Dreaded!"

"Nay, do not repeat my words,--for I scarce know what I say. Thou and thy
father have yielded, in a moment of vivid gratitude, to a generous, a
noble impulse--but it is not for me to profit by the accident that has
enabled me to gain this advantage. What would all of thy blood, all of the
republic say, Adelheid, were the noblest born, the best endowed, the
fairest, gentlest, best maiden of the canton, to wed a nameless,
houseless, soldier of fortune, who has but his sword and some gifts of
nature to recommend him? Thy excellent father will surely think better of
this, and we will speak of it no more!"

"Were I to listen to the common feelings of my sex, Sigismund, this
reluctance to accept what both my father and myself offer might cause me
to feign displeasure. But, between thee and me, there shall be naught but
holy truth. My father has well weighed all these objections, and he has
generously decided to forget them. As for me, placed in the scale against
thy merits, they have never weighed at all. If thou canst not become noble
in order that we may be equals, I shall find more happiness in descending
to thy level, than by living in heartless misery at the vain height where
I have been placed by accident."

"Blessed, ingenuous girl!--But what does it all avail? Our marriage is
impossible."

"If thou knowest of any obstacle that would render it improper for a weak,
but virtuous girl--"

"Hold, Adelheid!--do not finish the sentence. I am sufficiently
humbled--sufficiently debased--without this cruel suspicion."

"Then why is our union impossible--when my father not only consents, but
wishes it may take place?"

"Give me time for thought--thou shalt know all, Adelheid, sooner or later.
Yes, this is, at the least, due to thy noble frankness, Thou shouldst in
justice have known it long before."

Adelheid regarded him in speechless apprehension, for the evident and
violent physical struggles of the young man too fearfully announced the
mental agony he endured. The color had fled from her own face, in which
the beauty of expression now reigned undisputed distress; but it was the
expression of the mingled sentiments of wonder, dread, tenderness, and
alarm. He saw that his own sufferings were fast communicating themselves
to his companion, and, by a powerful effort, he so far mastered his
emotions as to regain a portion of his self-command.

"This explanation has been too heedlessly delayed," he continued: "cost
what it may, it shall be no longer postponed. Thou wilt not accuse me of
cruelty, or of dishonest silence, but remember the failing of human
nature, and pity rather than blame a weakness which may be the cause of as
much future sorrow to thyself, beloved Adelheid, as it is now of bitter
regret to me. I have never concealed from thee that my birth is derived
from that class which throughout Europe, is believed to be of inferior
rights to thine own; on this head, I am proud rather than humble, for the
invidious distinctions of usage have too often provoked comparisons, and I
have been in situations to know that the mere accidents of descent bestow
neither personal excellence, superior courage, nor higher intellect.
Though human inventions may serve to depress the less fortunate, God has
given fixed limits to the means of men. He that would be greater than his
kind, and illustrious by unnatural expedients, must debase others to
attain his end. By different means than these there is no nobility, and he
who is unwilling to admit an inferiority which exists only in idea can
never be humbled by an artifice so shallow. On the subject of mere birth,
as it is ordinarily estimated, whether it come from pride, or philosophy,
or the habit of commanding as a soldier those who might be deemed my
superiors as men, I have never been very sensitive. Perhaps the heavier
disgrace which crushes me may have caused this want to appear lighter than
it otherwise might."

"Disgrace!" repeated Adelheid, in a voice that was nearly choked. "The
word is fearful, coming from one of thy regulated mind, and as applied to
himself."

"I cannot choose another. Disgrace it is by the common consent of men--by
long and enduing opinion--it would almost seem by the just judgment of
God. Dost thou not believe, Adelheid, that there are certain races which
are deemed accursed, to answer some great and unseen end--races on whom
the holy blessings of Heaven never descend, as they visit the meek and
well-deserving that come of other lines!"

"How can I believe this gross injustice, on the part of a Power that is
wise without bounds, and forgiving to parental love?"

"Thy answer would be well, were this earth the universe, or this state of
being the last. But he whose sight extends beyond the grave, who fashions
justice, and mercy, and goodness, on a scale commensurate with his own
attributes, and not according to our limited means, is not to be estimated
by the narrow rules that we apply to men. No, we must not measure the
ordinances of God by laws that are plausible in our own eyes. Justice is a
relative and not an abstract quality; and, until we understand the
relations of the Deity to ourselves as well as we understand our own
relations to the Deity, we reason in the dark."

"I do not like to hear thee speak thus, Sigismund, and, least of all, with
a brow so clouded, and in a voice so hollow!"

"I will tell my tale more cheerfully, dearest. I have no right to make
thee the partner of my misery; and yet this is the manner I have reasoned,
and thought, and pondered--ay, until my brain has grown heated, and the
power to reason itself has nearly tottered. Ever since that accursed hour,
in which the truth became known to me, and I was made the master of the
fatal secret, have I endeavored to feel and reason thus."

"What truth?--what secret?--If thou lovest me, Sigismund, speak calmly and
without reserve."

The young man gazed at her anxious face in a way to show how deeply he
felt the weight of the blow he was about to give. Then, after a pause he
continued.

"We have lately passed through a terrible scene together, dearest
Adelheid. It was one that may well lessen the distances set between us by
human laws and the tyranny of opinions. Had it been the will of God that
the bark should perish, what a confused crowd of ill-assorted spirits
would have passed together into eternity! We had them, there, of all
degrees of vice, as of nearly all degrees of cultivation, from the subtle
iniquity of the wily Neapolitan juggler to thine own pure soul. There
would have died in the Winkelried the noble of high degree, the reverend
priest, the soldier in the pride of his strength, and the mendicant! Death
is an uncompromising leveller, and the depths of the lake, at least, might
have washed out all our infamy, whether it came of real demerits or merely
from received usage; even the luckless Balthazar, the persecuted and hated
headsman, might have found those who would have mourned his loss."

"If any could have died unwept in meeting such a fate, it must have been
one that, in common, awakes so little of human sympathy; and one too, who,
by dealing himself in the woes of others, has less claim to the compassion
that we yield to most of our species."

"Spare me--in mercy, Adelheid, spare me--thou speakest of my father!"



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