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Chapter 13

Hold, hurt him not, for God's sake;--he is mad.

Comedy of Errors.

The festivals of Bacchus are supposed to have been the models of those
long-continued festivities, which are still known in Switzerland by the
name of the Abbaye des Vignerons.

This fête was originally of a simple and rustic character, being far from
possessing the labored ceremonies and classical allegories of a later day,
the severity of monkish discipline most probably prohibiting the
introduction of allusions to the Heathen mythology, as was afterwards
practised; for certain religious communities that were the proprietors of
large vineyards in that vicinity appear to have been the first known
patrons of the custom. So long as a severe simplicity reigned in the
festivities, they were annually observed; but, when heavier expenses and
greater preparations became necessary, longer intervals succeeded; the
Abbaye, at first, causing its festival to become triennial, and
subsequently extending the period of vacation to six years. As greater
time was obtained for the collection of means and inclination, the
festival gained in _éclat_, until it came at length to be a species of
jubilee, to which the idle, the curious, and the observant of all the
adjacent territories were accustomed to resort in crowds. The town of
Vévey profited by the circumstance, the usual motive of interest being
enlisted in behalf of the usage, and, down to the epoch of the great
European revolution, there would seem to have been an unbroken succession
of the fêtes. The occasion to which there has so often been allusion, was
one of the regular and long-expected festivals; and, as report had spoken
largely of the preparations, the attendance was even more numerous than

Early on the morning of the second day after the arrival of our travellers
at the neighboring castle of Blonay, a body of men, dressed in the guise
of halberdiers, a species of troops then known in most of the courts of
Europe, marched into the great square of Vévey, taking possession of all
its centre, and posting its sentries in such a manner as to interdict the
usual passages of the place. This was the preliminary step in the coming
festivities; for this was the spot chosen for the scene of most of the
ceremonies of the day. The curious were not long behind the guards, and by
the time the sun had fairly arisen above the hills of Fribourg, some
thousands of spectators were pressing in and about the avenues of the
square, and boats from the opposite shores of Savoy were arriving at each
instant, crowded to the water's edge with peasants and their families.

Near the upper end of the square, capacious scaffoldings had been erected
to contain those who were privileged by rank, or those who were able to
buy honors with the vulgar medium; while humbler preparations for the less
fortunate completed the three sides of a space that was in the form of a
parallelogram, and which was intended to receive the actors in the coming
scene. The side next the water was unoccupied, though a forest of latine
spars, and a platform of decks, more than supplied the deficiency of
scaffolding and room. Music was heard, from time to time, intermingled or
relieved by those wild Alpine cries which characterize the songs of the
mountaineers. The authorities of the town were early afoot, and, as is
customary with the important agents of small concerns, they were
exercising their municipal function with a bustle, which of itself
contained reasonable evidence that they were of no great moment, and a
gravity of mien with which the chiefs of a state might have believed it
possible to dispense.

The estrade, or stage, erected for the superior class of spectators was
decorated with flags, and a portion near its centre had a fair display of
tapestry and silken hangings. The chateau-looking edifice near the bottom
of the square, and whose windows, according to a common Swiss and German
usage, showed the intermingled stripes that denoted it to be public
property, were also gay in colors, for the ensign of the Republic floated
over its pointed roofs, and rich silks waved against the walls. This was
the official residence of Peter Hofmeister, the functionary whom we have
already introduced to the reader.

An hour later, a shot gave the signal for the various _troupes_ to appear,
and soon after, parties of the different actors arrived in the square. As
the little processions approached to the sound of the trumpet or horn,
curiosity became more active and the populace was permitted to circulate
in those portions of the square that were not immediately required for
other purposes. About this time, a solitary individual appeared on the
stage. He seemed to enjoy peculiar privileges, not only from his
situation, but by the loud salutations and noisy welcomes with which he
was greeted from the crowd below. It was the good monk of St. Bernard,
who, with a bare head and a joyous contented face, answered to the several
calls of the peasants, most of whom had either bestowed hospitality on the
worthy Augustine, in his many journeyings among the charitable of the
lower world, or had received it at his hands in their frequent passages
of the mountain. These recognitions and greetings spoke well for humanity;
for in every instance they wore the air of cordial good-will, and a
readiness to do honor to the benevolent character of the religious
community that was represented in the person of its clavier or steward.

"Good luck to thee, Father Xavier, and a rich _quête_" cried a burly
peasant; "thou hast of late unkindly forgotten Benoit Emery and his. When
did a clavier of St. Bernard ever knock at my door, and go away with an
empty hand? We look for thee, reverend monk, with thy vessel, to-morrow;
for the summer has been hot, the grapes are rich, and the wine is
beginning to run freely in our tubs. Thou shalt dip without any to look at
thee, and, take it of which color thou wilt, thou shalt take it with a

"Thanks, thanks, generous Benoit; St. Augustine will remember the favor,
and thy fruitful vines will be none the poorer for thy generosity. We ask
only that we may give, and on none do we bestow more willingly than on the
honest Vaudois whom may the saints keep in mind for their kindness and

"Nay, I will have none of thy saints; thou knowest we are St. Calvin's men
in Vaud, if there must be any canonized. But what is it to us that thou
hearest mass, while we love the simple worship! Are we not equally men?
Does not the frost nip the members of Catholic and Protestant the same? or
does the avalanche respect one more than the other? I never knew thee, or
any of thy convent, question the frozen traveller of his faith, but all
are fed, and warmed, and, at need, administered to from the pharmacy, with
brotherly care, and as Christians merit. Whatever thou mayest think of the
state of our souls, thou on thy mountain there, no one will deny thy
tender services to our bodies. Say I well, neighbors, or is this only the
foolish gossip of old Benoit, who has crossed the Col so often, that he
has forgotten that out churches have quarrelled, and that the learned will
have us go to heaven by different roads?"

A general movement among the people, and a tossing of hands, appeared in
support of the truth and popularity of the honest peasant's sentiments,
for in that age the hospice of St. Bernard, more exclusively a refuge for
the real and poor traveller than at present, enjoyed a merited reputation
in all the country round.

"Thou shalt always be welcome on the pass, thou and thy friends, and all
others in the shape of men, without other interference in thy opinions
than secret prayers;" returned the good-humored and happy-looking clavier,
whose round contented face shone partly in habitual joy, partly in
gratification at this public testimonial in favor of the brotherhood, and
a little in satisfaction perhaps at the promise of an ample addition to
the convent's stores; for the community of St. Bernard, while so much was
going out, had a natural and justifiable desire to see some return for its
incessant and unwearied liberality. "Thou wilt not deny us the happiness
of praying for those we love, though it happen to be in a manner different
from that in which they ask blessings for themselves."

"Have it thine own way, good canon; I am none of those who are ready to
refuse a favor because it savors of Rome. But what has become of our
friend Uberto? He rarely comes into the valleys, that we are not anxious
to see his glossy coat."

The Augustine gave the customary call, and the mastiff mounted the stage
with a grave deliberate step, as if conscious of the dignity and
usefulness of the life he led, and like a dog accustomed to the friendly
notice of man. The appearance of this well-known and celebrated brute
caused another stir in the throng, many pressing upon the guards to get a
nearer view, and a few casting fragments of food from their wallets, as
tokens of gratitude and regard. In the midst of this little by-play of
good feeling, a dark shaggy animal leaped upon the scaffolding, and very
coolly commenced, with an activity that denoted the influence of the keen
mountain air on his appetite, picking up the different particles of meat
that had, as yet, escaped the eye of Uberto. The intruder was received
much in the manner that an unpopular or an offending actor is made to
undergo the hostilities of pit and galleries, to revenge some slight or
neglect for which he has forgotten or refused to atone. In other words, he
was incontinently and mercilessly pelted with such missiles as first
presented themselves. The unknown animal, which the reader, however, will
not be slow in recognizing to be the water-dog of Il Maledetto, received
these unusual visitations with some surprise, and rather awkwardly; for,
in his proper sphere, Nettuno had been quite as much accustomed to meet
with demonstrations of friendship from the race he so faithfully served,
as any of the far-famed and petted mastiffs of the convent. After dodging
sundry stones and clubs, as well as a pretty close attention to the
principal matter in hand would allow, and with a dexterity that did equal
credit to his coolness and muscle, a missile of formidable weight took the
unfortunate follower of Maso in the side, and sent him howling from the
stage. At the next instant, his master was at the throat of the offender,
throttling him till he was black in the face.

The unlucky stone had come from Conrad. Forgetful of his assumed
character, he had joined in the hue and cry against a dog whose character
and service should have been sufficiently known to him, at least, to prove
his protection, and had given; the crudest blow of all. It has been
already seen that there was little friendship between Maso and the
pilgrim, for the former appeared to have an instinctive dislike of the
latter's calling, and this little occurrence was not of a character likely
to restore the peace between them.

"Thou, too!" cried the Italian, whose blood had mounted at the first
attack on his faithful follower, and which fairly boiled when he witnessed
the cowardly and wanton conduct of this new assailant--"art not satisfied
with feigning prayers and godliness with the credulous, but thou must even
feign enmity to my dog, because it is the fashion to praise the cur of St.
Bernard at the expense of all other brutes! Reptile!--dost not dread the
arm of an honest man, when raised against thee in just anger?"

"Friends--Vévaisans--honorable citizens!" gasped the pilgrim, as the gripe
of Maso permitted breath. "I am Conrad, a poor, miserable, repentant
pilgrim--Will ye see me murdered for a brute?"

Such a contest could not continue long in such a place. At first the
pressure of the curious, and the great density of the crowd, rather
favored the attack of the mariner; but in the end they proved his enemies
by preventing the possibility of escaping from those who were especially
charged with the care of the public peace. Luckily for Conrad, for passion
had fairly blinded Maso to the consequences of his fury, the halberdiers
soon forced their way into the centre of the living mass, and they
succeeded in seasonably rescuing him from the deadly gripe of his
assailant. Il Maledetto trembled with the reaction of this hot sally, the
moment his gripe was forcibly released, and he would have disappeared as
soon as possible, had it been the pleasure of those into whose hands he
had fallen to permit so politic a step. But now commenced the war of
words, and the clamor of voices, which usually succeed, as well as
precede, all contests of a popular nature. The officer in charge of this
portion of the square questioned; twenty answered in a breath, not only
drowning each other's voices, but effectually contradicting all that was
said in the way of explanation. One maintained that Conrad had not been
content with attacking Maso's dog, but that he had followed up the blow by
offering a personal indignity to the master himself; this was the publican
in whose house the mariner had taken up his abode, and in which he had
been sufficiently liberal in his expenditure fairly to entitle him to the
hospitable support of its landlord. Another professed his readiness to
swear that the dog was the property of the pilgrim, being accustomed to
carry his wallet, and that Maso, owing to an ancient grudge against both
master and beast, had hurled the stone which sent the animal away howling,
and had resented a mild remonstrance of its owner in the extraordinary
manner that all had seen. This witness was the Neapolitan juggler, Pippo,
who had much attached himself to the person of Conrad since the adventure
of the bark, and who was both ready and willing to affirm anything in
behalf of a friend who had so evident need of his testimony, if it were
only on the score of boon-companionship. A third declared that the dog
belonged truly to the Italian, that the stone had been really hurled by
one who stood near the pilgrim, who had been wrongfully accused of the
offence by Maso; that the latter had made his attack under a false
impression, and richly merited punishment for the unceremonious manner in
which he had stopped Conrad's breath. This witness was perfectly honest,
but of a vulgar and credulous mind. He attributed the original offence to
one near that happened to have a bad name, and who was very liable to
father every sin that, by possibility, could be laid at his door, as well
as some that could not. On the other hand, he had also been duped that
morning by the pilgrim's superabundant professions of religious zeal a
circumstance that of itself would have prevented him from detecting
Conrad's arm in the air as it cast the stone, and which served greatly to
increase his certainty that the first offence came from the luckless wight
just alluded to; since they who discriminate under general convictions and
popular prejudices, usually heap all the odium they pertinaciously
withhold from the lucky and the favored, on those who seem fated by
general consent to be the common target of the world's darts.

The officer, by the time he had deliberately heard the three principal
witnesses, together with the confounding explanations of those who
professed to be only half-informed in the matter, was utterly at a loss to
decide which had been right and which wrong. He came, therefore, to the
safe conclusion to send all the parties to the guard-house, including the
witnesses, being quite sure that he had hit on an effectual method of
visiting the true criminal with punishment, and of admonishing all those
who gave evidence in future to have a care of the manner in which they
contradicted each other. Just as this equitable decision was pronounced,
the sound of a trumpet proclaimed the approach of a division of the
principal mummers, if so irreverent a term can be applied to men engaged
in a festival as justly renowned as that of the vine-dressers. This
announcement greatly quickened the steps of Justice, for they who were
charged with the execution of her decrees felt the necessity of being
prompt, under the penalty of losing an interesting portion of the
spectacle. Actuated by this new impulse, which, if riot as respectable,
was quite as strong, as the desire to do right, the disturbers of the
peace, even to those who had shown a quarrelsome temper by telling stories
that gave each other the lie, were hurried away in a body, and the public
was left in the enjoyment of that tranquillity which, in these perilous
times of revolution and changes, is thought to to be so necessary to its
dignity, so especially favorable to commerce, and so grateful to those
whose duty it is to preserve the public peace with as little inconvenience
to themselves as possible.

A blast of the trumpet was the signal for a more general movement, for it
announced the commencement of the ceremonies. As it will be presently
necessary to speak of the different personages who were represented on
this joyous occasion, we shall only say here, that group after group of
the actors came into the square, each party marching to the sound of music
from its particular point of rendezvous to the common centre. The stage
now began to fill with the privileged, among whom were many of the high
aristocracy of the ruling canton, most of its officials, who were too
dignified to be more than complacent spectators of revels like these, many
nobles of mark from Prance and Italy, a few travellers from England, for
in that age England was deemed a distant country and sent forth but a few
of her _élite_ to represent her on such occasions, most of those from the
adjoining territories who could afford the time and cost, and who by rank
or character were entitled to the distinction, and the wives and families
of the local officers who happened to be engaged as actors in the
representation. By the time the different parts of the principal
procession were assembled in the square, all the seats of the estrade were
crowded, with the exception of those reserved for the bailiff and his
immediate friends.

James Fenimore Cooper