Chapter 12




To know no more
Is woman's happiest knowledge, and her praise.

Milton.


Our heroine was a woman in the best meaning of that endearing, and, we
might add, comprehensive word. Sensitive, reserved, and at times even
timid, on points that did not call for the exercise of higher qualities,
she was firm in her principles, constant as she was fond in her
affections, and self-devoted when duty and inclination united to induce
the concession, to a degree that placed the idea of sacrifice out of the
question. On the other hand, the liability to receive lively impressions,
a distinctive feature of her sex, and the aptitude to attach importance to
the usages by which she was surrounded, and which is necessarily greatest
in those who lead secluded and inactive lives, rendered it additionally
difficult for her mind to escape from the trammels of opinion, and to
think with indifference of circumstances which all near her treated with
high respect, or to which they attached a stigma allied to disgust. Had
the case been reversed, had Sigismund been noble, and Adelheid a
headsman's child, it is probable the young man might have found the means
to indulge his passion without making too great a sacrifice of his pride.
By transporting his wife to his castle, conferring his own established
name, separating her from all that was unpleasant and degrading in the
connexion, and finding occupation for his own mind in the multiplied and
engrossing employments of his station, he would have diminished motives
for contemplating, and consequently for lamenting, the objectionable
features of the alliance he had made. These are the advantages which
nature and the laws of society give to man over the weaker but the truer
sex: and yet how few would have had sufficient generosity to make even the
sacrifice of feeling which such a course required! On the other hand,
Adelheid would be compelled to part with the ancient and distinguished
appellation of her family, to adopt one which was deemed infamous in the
canton, or, if some politic expedient were found to avert this first
disgrace, it would unavoidably be of a nature to attract, rather than to
avert, the attention of all who knew the facts, from the humiliating
character of his origin. She had no habitual relief against the constant
action of her thoughts, for the sphere of woman narrows the affections in
such a way as to render them most dependent on the little accidents of
domestic life; she could not close her doors against communication with
the kinsmen of her husband, should it be his pleasure to command or his
feeling to desire it; and it would become obligatory on her to listen to
the still but never-ceasing voice of duty, and to forget, at his request,
that she had ever been more fortunate, or that she was born for better
hopes.

We do not say that all these calculations crossed the mind of the musing
maiden, though she certainly had a general and vague view of the
consequences that were likely to be drawn upon herself by a connexion with
Sigismund. She sat motionless, buried in deep thought, long after his
disappearance. The young man had passed by the postern around the base of
the castle, and was descending the mountain-side, across the sloping
meadows, with rapid steps, and probably for the first time since their
acquaintance her eye followed his manly figure vacantly and with
indifference.

Her mind was too intently occupied for the usual observation of the
senses. The whole of that grand and lovely landscape was spread before her
without conveying impressions, as we gaze into the void of the firmament
with our looks on vacuum. Sigismund had disappeared among the walls of the
vineyards, when she arose, and drew such a sigh as is apt to escape us
after long and painful meditation. But the eyes of the high-minded girl
were bright and her cheek flushed, while the whole of her features wore an
expression of loftier beauty than ordinarily distinguished even her
loveliness. Her own resolution was formed. She had decided with the rare
and generous self-devotion of a female heart that loves, and which can
love in its freshness and purity but once. At that instant footsteps were
heard in the corridor, and the three old nobles whom we so lately left on
the castle-terrace, appeared together in the knights' hall.

Melchior de Willading approached his daughter with a joyous face, for he
too had lately gained what he conceived to be a glorious conquest over his
prejudices, and the victory put him in excellent humor with himself.

"The question is for ever decided," he said, kissing the burning forehead
of Adelheid with affection, and rubbing his hands, in the manner of one
who was glad to be free from a perplexing doubt "These good friends agree
with me, that, in a case like this, it becomes even our birth to forget
the origin of the youth. He who has saved the lives of the two last of the
Willadings at least deserves to have some share in what is left of them.
Here is my good Grimaldi, too, ready to beard me if I will not consent to
let him enrich the brave fellow--as if we were beggars, and had not the
means of supporting our kinsman in credit at borne. But we will not be
indebted even to so tried a friend for a tittle of our happiness. The work
shall be all our own, even to the letters of nobility, which I shall
command at an early day from Vienna; for it would be cruel to let the
noble fellow want so simple an advantage, which will at once raise him to
our own level, and make him as good--ay, by the beard of Luther! better
than the best man in Berne."

"I have never known thee niggardly before, though I have known thee often
well intrenched behind Swiss frugality;" said the Signor Grimaldi,
laughing. "Thy life, my dear Melchior, may have excellent value in thine
own eyes, but I am little disposed to set so mean a price on my own, as
thou appearest to think it should command. Thou hast decided well, I will
say nobly, in the best meaning of the word, in consenting to receive this
brave Sigismund as a son; but thou art not to think, young lady, because
this body of mine is getting the worse for use, that I hold it altogether
worthless, and that it is to be dragged from yonder lake like so much foul
linen, and no questions are to be asked touching the manner in which the
service has been done. I claim to portion thy husband, that he may at
least make an appearance that becomes the son-in-law of Melchior de
Willading. Am I of no value, that ye treat me so unceremoniously as to say
I shall not pay for my own preservation?

"Have it thine own way, good Gaetano--have it as thou wilt, so thou dost
but leave us the youth--"

"Father--"

"I will have no maidenly affectation, Adelheid I expect thee to receive
the husband we offer with as good a grace as if he wore a crown. It has
been agreed upon between us that Sigismund Steinbach is to be my son; and
from time immemorial, the daughters of our house have submitted, in these
affairs, to what has been advised by the wisdom of their seniors, as
became their sex and inexperience."

The three old men had entered the hall full of good-humor, and it would
have been sufficiently apparent, by the manner of the Baron de Willading,
that he trifled with Adelheid, had it not been well known to the others
that her feelings were chiefly consulted in the choice that had just been
made.

But, notwithstanding the high glee in which the father spoke, the pleasure
and buoyancy of his manner did not communicate itself to the child as
quickly as he could wish. There was far more than virgin embarrassment in
the mien of Adelheid. Her color went and came, and her look turned from
one to the other painfully, while she struggled to speak. The Signor
Grimaldi whispered to his companions, and Roger de Blonay discreetly
withdrew, under the pretence that his services were needed at Vévey, where
active preparations were making for the Abbaye des Vignerons. The Genoese
would then have followed his example, but the baron held his arm, while he
turned an inquiring eye towards his daughter, as if commanding her to deal
more frankly with him.

"Father," said Adelheid, in a voice that shook in spite of the effort to
control her feelings, "I have something important to communicate, before
this acceptance of Herr Steinbach is a matter irrevocably determined."

"Speak freely, my child; this is a tried friend, and one entitled to know
all that concerns us, especially in this affair. Throwing aside all
pleasantry, I trust, Adelheid, that we are to have no girlish trifling
with a youth like Sigismund; to whom we owe so much, even to our lives,
and in whose behalf we should be ready to sacrifice every feeling of
prejudice, or habit--all that we possess, ay, even to our pride."

"All, father?"

"I have said all. I will not take back a letter of the word, though it
should rob me of Willading, my rank in the canton, and an ancient name to
boot. Am I not right, Gaetano? I place the happiness of the boy above all
other considerations, that of Adelheid being understood to be so
intimately blended with his. I repeat it, therefore, all."

"It would be well to hear what the young lady has to say, before we urge
this affair any farther;" said the Signor Grimaldi, who, having achieved
no conquest over himself, was not quite so exuberant in his exultation as
his friend; observing more calmly, and noting what he saw with the
clearness of a cooler-headed and more sagacious man. "I am much in error,
or thy daughter has that which is serious, to communicate."

The paternal affection of Melchior now took the alarm, and he gave an
eager attention to his child. Adelheid returned his evident solicitude by
a smile of love, but its painful expression was so unequivocal as to
heighten the baron's fears.

"Art not well, love? It cannot be that we have been deceived--that some
peasant's daughter is thought worthy to supplant thee? Ha!--Signor
Grimaldi, this matter begins, in sooth, to seem offensive;--but, old as I
am--Well, we shall never know the truth, unless thou speakest
frankly--this is a rare business, after all, Gaetano--that a daughter of
mine should be repulsed by a hind!"

Adelheid made an imploring gesture for her father to forbear, while she
resumed her seat from farther inability to stand. The two anxious old men
followed her example, in wondering silence.

"Thou dost both the honor and modesty of Sigismund great injustice,
father;" resumed the maiden, after a pause, and speaking with a calmness
of manner that surprised even herself. "If thou and this excellent and
tried friend will give me your attention for a few minutes, nothing shall
be concealed."

Her companions listened in wonder, for they plainly saw that the matter
was more grave than either had at first imagined. Adelheid paused again,
to summon force for the ungrateful duty, and then she succinctly, but
clearly, related the substance of Sigismund's communication. Both the
listeners eagerly caught each syllable that fell from the quivering lips
of the maiden, for she trembled, notwithstanding a struggle to be calm
that was almost superhuman, and when her voice ceased they gazed at each
other like men suddenly astounded by some dire and totally unexpected
calamity. The baron, in truth, could scarcely believe that he had not been
deceived by a defective hearing, for age had begun a little to impair that
useful faculty, while his friend admitted the words as one receives
impressions of the most revolting and disheartening nature.

"This is a damnable and fearful fact!" muttered the latter, when Adelheid
had altogether ceased to speak.

"Did she say that Sigismund is the son of Balthazar, the public headsman
of the canton!" asked the father of his friend, in the way that one
reluctantly assures himself of some half-comprehended and unwelcome
truth,--"of Balthazar--of that family accursed!"

"Such is the parentage it hath been the will of God to bestow on the
preserver of our lives," meekly answered Adelheid.

"Hath the villain dared to steal into my family-circle, concealing this
disgusting and disgraceful fact!--Hath he endeavored to engraft the
impurity of his source on the untarnished stock of a noble and ancient
family! There is something exceeding mere duplicity in this, Signor
Grimaldi. There is a dark and meaning crime."

"There is that which much exceeds our means of remedying, good Melchior.
But let us not rashly blame the boy, whose birth is rather to be imputed
to him as a misfortune than as a crime. If he were a thousand Balthazars,
he has saved all our lives!"

"Thou sayest true--thou sayest no more than the truth. Thou wert always of
a more reasonable brain than I, though thy more southern origin would seem
to contradict it. Here, then, are all our fine fancies and liberal schemes
of generosity blown to the winds!"

"That is not so evident," returned the Genoese, who had not failed the
while to study the countenance of Adelheid, as if he would fully ascertain
her secret wishes. "There has been much discourse, fair Adelheid, between
thee and the youth on this matter?"

"Signore, there has. I was about to communicate the intentions of my
father; for the circumstances in which we were placed, the weight of our
many obligations, the usual distance which rank interposes between the
noble and the simply born, perhaps justified this boldness in a maiden,"
she added, though the tell-tale blood revealed her shame. "I was making
Sigismund acquainted with my father's wishes, when he met my confidence by
the avowal which I have just related."

"He deems his birth--?"

"An insuperable barrier to the connexion. Sigismund Steinbach, though so
little favored in the accident of his origin, is not a beggar to sue for
that which his own generous feelings would condemn."

"And thou?"

Adelheid lowered her eyes, and seemed to reflect on the nature of her
answer.

"Thou wilt pardon this curiosity, which may wear too much the aspect of
unwarrantable meddling, but my age and ancient friendship, the recent
occurrences, and a growing love for all that concerns thee, must plead my
excuses. Unless we know thy wishes, daughter, neither Melchior nor I can
act as we might wish?"

Adelheid was long and thoughtfully silent. Though every sentiment of her
heart, and all that inclination which is the offspring of the warm and
poetical illusions of love, tempted her to declare a readiness to
sacrifice every other consideration to the engrossing and pure affections
of woman, opinion with its iron gripe still held her in suspense on the
propriety of braving the prejudices of the world. The timidity of that sex
which, however ready to make an offering of its most cherished privileges
on the shrine of connubial tenderness, shrinks with a keen sensitiveness
from the appearance of a forward devotion to the other, had its weight
also, nor could a child so pious altogether forget the effect her decision
might have on the future happiness of her sole surviving parent.

The Genoese understood the struggle, though he foresaw its termination,
and he resumed the discourse himself, partly with the kind wish to give
the maiden time to reflect maturely before she answered, and partly
following a very natural train of his own thoughts.

"There is naught sure in this fickle state of being;" he continued.
"Neither the throne, nor riches, nor health, nor even the sacred
affections are secure against change. Well may we pause then and weigh
every chance of happiness, ere we take the last and final step in any
great or novel measure. Thou knowest the hopes with which I entered life,
Melchior, and the chilling disappointments with which my career is likely
to close. No youth was born to fairer hopes, nor did Italy know one more
joyous than myself, the morning I received the hand of Angiolina; and yet
two short years saw all those hopes withered, this joyousness gone, and a
cloud thrown across my prospects which has never disappeared. A widowed
husband, a childless father, may not prove a bad counsellor, my friend, in
a moment when there is so much doubt besetting thee and thine."

"Thy mind naturally returns to thine own unhappy child, poor Gaetano, when
there is so much question of the fortunes of mine."

The Signor Grimaldi turned his look on his friend, but the gleam of
anguish, which was wont to pass athwart his countenance when his mind was
drawn powerfully towards that painful subject, betrayed that he was not
just then able to reply.

"We see in all these events," continued the Genoese, as if too full of his
subject to restrain his words, "the unsearchable designs of Providence.
Here is a youth who is all that a father could desire; worthy in every
sense to be the depository of a beloved and only daughter's weal; manly,
brave, virtuous, and noble in all but the chances of blood, and yet so
accursed by the world's opinion that we might scarce venture to name him
as the associate of an idle hour, were the fact known that he is the man
he has declared himself to be!"

"You put the matter in strong language Signor Grimaldi;" said Adelheid,
starting.

"A youth of a form so commanding that a king might exult at the prospect
of his crown descending on such a head; of a perfection of strength and
masculine excellence that will almost justify the dangerous exultation of
health and vigor; of a reason that is riper than his years; of a virtue of
proof; of all qualities that we respect, and which come of study and not
of accident, and yet a youth condemned of men to live under the reproach
of their hatred and contempt, or to conceal for ever the name of the
mother that bore him! Compare this Sigismund with others that may be
named; with the high-born and pampered heir of some illustrious house, who
riots in men's respect while he shocks men's morals; who presumes on
privilege to trifle with the sacred and the just; who lives for self, and
that in base enjoyments; who is fitter to be the lunatic's companion than
any other's, though destined to rule in the council; who is the type of
the wicked, though called to preside over the virtuous; who cannot be
esteemed, though entitled to be honored; and let us ask why this is so,
what is the wisdom which hath drawn differences so arbitrary, and which,
while proclaiming the necessity of justice, so openly, so wantonly, and so
ingeniously sets its plainest dictates at defiance?"

"Signore, it should not be thus--God never intended it should be so!"

"While every principle would seem to say that each must stand or fall by
his own good or evil deeds, that men are to be honored as they merit,
every device of human institutions is exerted to achieve the opposite.
This is exalted, because his ancestry is noble; that condemned for no
better reason than that he is born vile. Melchior! Melchior! our reason is
unhinged by subtleties, and our boasted philosophy and right are no more
than unblushing mockeries, at which the very devils laugh!"

"And yet the commandments of God tell us, Gaetano, that the sins of the
father shall be visited on the descendants from generation to generation.
You of Rome pay not this close attention, perhaps, to sacred writ, but I
have heard it said that we have not in Berne a law for which good warranty
cannot be found in the holy volume itself."

"Ay, there are sophists to prove all that they wish. The crimes and
follies of the ancestor leave their physical, or even their moral taint,
on the child, beyond a question, good Melchior;--but is not this
sufficient? Are we blasphemously, even impiously, to pretend that God has
not sufficiently provided for the punishment of the breaches of his wise
ordinances, that we must come forward to second them by arbitrary and
heartless rules of our own? What crime is imputable to the family of this
youth beyond that of poverty, which probably drove the first of his race
to the execution of their revolting office. There is little in the mien or
morals of Sigismund to denote the visitations of Heaven's wise decrees,
but there is everything in his present situation to proclaim the injustice
of man."

"And dost thou, Gaetano Grimaldi, the ally of so many ancient and
illustrious houses--thou, Gaetano Grimaldi, the honored of Genoa--dost
thou counsel me to give my only child, the heiress of my lands and name,
to the son of the public executioner, nay, to the very heritor of his
disgusting duties!"

"There thou hast me on the hip, Melchior; the question is put strongly,
and needs reflection for an answer. Oh! why is this Balthazar so rich in
offspring, and I so poor? But we will not press the matter; it is an
affair of many sides, and should be judged by us as men, as well as
nobles. Daughter, thou hast just learned, by the words of thy father, that
I am against thee, by position and heritage, for, while I condemn the
principle of this wrong, I cannot overlook its effects, and never before
did a case of as tangled difficulty, one in which right was so palpably
opposed by opinion, present itself for my judgment. Leave us, that we may
command ourselves; the required decision exacts much care, and greater
mastery of ourselves than I can exercise, with that sweet pale face of
thine appealing so eloquently to my heart in behalf of the noble boy."

Adelheid arose, and first offering her marble-like brow to the salutations
of both her parents, for the ancient friendship and strong sympathies of
the Genoese, gave him a claim to this appellation in her affections at
least, she silently withdrew.

As to the conversation which ensued between the old nobles, we momentarily
drop the curtain, to proceed to other incidents of our narrative. It may,
however, be generally observed that the day passed quietly away, without
the occurrence of any event which it is necessary to relate, all in the
château, with the exception of the travellers, being principally occupied
by the approaching festivities. The Signor Grimaldi sought an occasion to
have a long and confidential communication with Sigismund, who, on his
part, carefully avoided being seen again by her who had so great an
influence on his feelings, until both had time to recover their
self-command.



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