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Chapter 15

And thou, O wall, O sweet, O lovely wall,
That stand'st between her father's ground and mine
Thou wall, O wall, O sweet and lovely wall,
Show me thy chink, to blink through with mine eyne.

_Midsummer Night's Dream._

"'Odds my life, but this goes off with a grace, brother Peter!" exclaimed
the Baron de Willading, as he followed the vine-dressers in their retreat,
with an amused eye--"If we have much more like it, I shall forget the
dignity of the bürgerschaft, and turn mummer with the rest, though my good
for wisdom were the forfeit of the folly."

"That is better said between ourselves than performed before the vulgar
eye, honorable Melchior It would sound ill, of a truth, were these Vaudois
to boast that a noble of thy estimation in Berne were thus to forget

"None of this!--are we not here to be merry and to laugh, and to be
pleased with any folly that offers? A truce, then, to thy official
distrusts and superabundant dignity, honest Peterchen," for such was the
good-natured name by which the worthy bailiff was most commonly addressed
by his friend; "let the tongue freely answer to the heart, as if we were
boys rioting together, as was once the case, long ere thou wert thought of
for this office, or I knew a sorrowful hour."

"The Signor Grimaldi shall judge between us: I maintain that restraint is
necessary to those in high trusts."

"I will decide when the actors have all played their parts," returned the
Genoese, smiling; "at present, here cometh one to whom all old soldiers
pay homage. We will not fail of respect in so great a presence, on account
of a little difference in taste."

Peter Hofmeister was not a small drinker, and as the approach of the god
of the cup was announced by a flourish from some twenty instruments made
to speak on a key suited to the vault of heaven, he was obliged to reserve
his opinions for another time. After the passage of the musicians, and a
train of the abbaye's servants, for especial honors were paid to the ruby
deity, there came three officials of the sacrifice, one leading a goat
with gilded horns, while the two others bore the knife and the hatchet. To
these succeeded the altar adorned with vines, the incense-bearers, and the
high-priest of Bacchus, who led the way for the appearance of the youthful
god himself. The deity was seated astride on a cask, his head encircled
with a garland of generous grapes, bearing a cup in one hand, and a vine
entwined and fruit-crowned sceptre in the other. Four Nubians carried him
on their shoulders, while others shaded his form with an appropriate
canopy; fauns wearing tiger-skins, and playing their characteristic
antics, danced in his train, while twenty laughing and light-footed
Bacchantes flourished their instruments, moving in measure in the rear.

A general shout in the multitude preceded the appearance of Silenus, who
was sustained in his place on an ass by two blackamoors. The half-empty
skin at his side, the vacant laugh, the foolish eye, the lolling tongue,
the bloated lip, and the idiotic countenance, gave reason to suspect that
there was a better motive for their support than any which belonged to the
truth of the representation. Two youths then advanced, bearing on a pole a
cluster of grapes that nearly descended to the ground, and which was
intended to represent the fruit brought from Canaan by the messengers of
Joshua--a symbol much affected by the artists and mummers of the other
hemisphere, on occasions suited to its display. A huge vehicle, ycleped
the ark of Noah, closed the procession. It held a wine-press, having its
workmen embowered among the vines, and it contained the family of the
second father of the human race. As it rolled past, traces of the rich
liquor were left in the tracks of its wheels.

Then came the sacrifice, the chant, and the dance, as in most of the
preceding exhibitions, each of which, like this of Bacchus, had contained
allusions to the peculiar habits and attributes of the different deities.
The bacchanal that closed the scene was performed in character; the
trumpets flourished, and the procession departed in the order in which it
had arrived.

Peter relented a little from his usual political reserve, as he witnessed
these games in honor of a deity to whom he so habitually did practical
homage, for it was seldom that this elaborate functionary, who might be
termed quite a doctrinaire in his way, composed his senses in sleep,
without having pretty effectually steeped them in the liquor of the
neighboring hills; a habit that was of far more general use among men of
his class in that age than in this of ours, which seems so eminently to be
the season of sobriety.

"This is not amiss, of a verity;" observed the contented bailiff, as the
Fauns and Bacchantes moved off the sward, capering and cutting their
classical antics with far more agility and zeal than grace. "This looks
like the inspiration of good wine, Signior Genoese, and were the truth
known, it would be found that the rogue who plays the part of the fat
person on the ass--how dost call the knave, noble Melchior?"

"Body o' me! if I am wiser than thyself, worthy bailiff; it is clearly a
rogue who can never have done his mummery so expertly, without some aid
from the flask."

"Twill be well to know the fellow's character, for there may be the
occasion to commend him to the gentlemen of the abbaye, when all is over.
Your skilful ruler has two great instruments that he need use with
discretion, Baron de Willading, and these are, fear and flattery; and
Berne hath no servant more ready to apply both, or either, as there may be
necessity, than one of her poor bailiffs that hath not received all his
dues from the general opinion, if truth were spoken. But it is well to be
prepared to speak these good people of the abbaye fairly, touching their
exploits. Harkee master halberdier; thou art of Vévey, I think, and a
warm citizen in thy every-day character, or my eyes do us both

"I am, as you have said, Monsieur le Bailli, a Vévaisan, and one that is
well known among our artisans."

"True, that was visible, spite of thy halberd. Thou art, no doubt, rarely
gifted, and taught to the letter in these games. Wilt name the character
that has just ridden past on the ass--he that hath so well enacted the
drunkard, I mean? His name hath gone out of our minds for the moment,
though his acting never can, for a better performance of one overcome by
liquor is seldom seen."

"Lord keep you! worshipful bailiff, that is Antoine Giraud, the fat
butcher of La Tour de Peil, and a better at the cup there is not in all
the country of Vaud! No wonder that he hath done his part so readily; for,
while the others have been reading in books, or drilling like so many
awkward recruits under the school-master, Antoine hath had little more to
perform than to dip into the skin at his elbow. When the officers of the
abbaye complain, lest he should disturb the ceremonies, he bids them not
to make fools of themselves, for every swallow he gives is just so much
done in honor of the representation; and he swears, by the creed of
Calvin! that there shall be more truth in his acting than in that of any
other of the whole party."

"'Odds my life! the fellow hath humor as well as good acting in him--this
Antoine Giraud! Will you look into the written order they have given as,
fair Adelheid, that we may make sure this artisan-halberdier hath not
deceived us? We in authority must not trust a Vévaisan too lightly."

"It will be vain, I fear, Herr Bailiff, since the characters, and not the
names of the actors, appear in the lists. The man in question represents
Silenus I should think, judging from his appearance and all the other

"Well, let it be as thou wilt. Silenus himself could not play his own part
better than it hath been done by this Antoine Giraud. The fellow would
gain gold like water at the court of the emperor as a mime, were he only
advised to resort thither. I warrant you, now, he would do Pluto or
Minerva, or any other god, just as well as he hath done this rogue

The honest admiration of Peter, who, sooth to say, had not much of the
learning of the age, as the phrase is, raised a smile on the lip of the
beauteous daughter of the baron, and she glanced a look to catch the eye
of Sigismund, towards whom all her secret sympathies, whether of sorrow or
of joy, so naturally and so strongly tended. But the averted head, the
fixed attention, and the nearly immovable and statue-like attitude in
which he stood, showed that a more powerful interest drew his gaze to the
next group. Though ignorant of the cause of his intense regard, Adelheid
instantly forgot the bailiff, his dogmatism, and his want of erudition, in
the wish to examine those who approached.

The more classical portion of the ceremonies was now duly observed. The
council of the abbaye intended to close with an exhibition that was more
intelligible to the mass of the spectators than anything which had
preceded it, since it was addressed to the sympathies and habits of every
people, and in all conditions of society. This was the spectacle that so
engrossingly attracted the attention of Sigismund. It was termed the
procession of the nuptials, and it was now slowly advancing to occupy the
space left vacant by the retreat of Antoine Giraud and his companions.

There came in front the customary band, playing a lively air which use
has long appropriated to the festivities of Hymen. The lord of the manor,
or, as he was termed, the baron, and his lady-partner led the train, both
apparelled in the rich and quaint attire of the period. Six ancient
couples, the representatives of happy married lives, followed by a long
succession of offspring of every age, including equally the infant at the
breast and the husband and wife in the flower of their days, walked next
to the noble pair. Then appeared the section of a dwelling, which was made
to portray the interior of domestic economy, having its kitchen, its
utensils, and most of the useful and necessary objects that may be said to
compose the material elements of an humble _ménage_. Within this moiety of
a house, one female plied the wheel, and another was occupied in baking.
The notary, bearing the register beneath an arm, with hat in hand, and
dressed in an exaggerated costume of his profession, strutted in the rear
of the two industrious housemaids. His appearance was greeted with a
general laugh, for the spectators relished the humor of the caricature
with infinite goût. But this sudden and general burst of merriment was as
quickly forgotten in the desire to behold the bride and bridegroom, whose
station was next to that of the officer of the law. It was understood that
these parties were not actors, but that the abbaye had sought out a
couple, of corresponding rank and means, who had consented to join their
fortunes in reality on the occasion of this great jubilee, thereby lending
to it a greater appearance of that genuine joy and festivity which it was
the desire of the heads of the association to represent. Such a search had
not been made without exciting deep interest in the simple communities
which surrounded Vévey. Many requisites had been proclaimed to be
necessary in the candidates--such as beauty, modesty, merit, and the
submission of her sex, in the bride; and in her partner those qualities
which might fairly entitle him to be the repository of the happiness of a
maiden so endowed.

Many had been the speculations of the Vévaisans touching the individuals
who had been selected to perform these grave and important characters
which, for fidelity of representation, were to outdo that of Silenus
himself; but so much care had been taken by the agents of the abbaye to
conceal the names of those they had selected, that, until this moment,
when disguise was no longer possible, the public was completely in the
dark on the interesting point. It was so usual to make matches of this
kind on occasions of public rejoicing, and marriages of convenience, as
they are not unaptly termed, enter so completely into the habits of all
European communities--perhaps we might say of all old communities--that
common opinion would not have been violently outraged had it been known
that the chosen pair saw each other for the second or third time in the
procession, and that they had now presented themselves to take the nuptial
vow, as it were, at the sound of the trumpet or the beat of drum. Still,
it was more usual to consult the inclinations of the parties, since it
gave greater zest to the ceremony, and these selections of couples on
public occasions were generally supposed to have more than the common
interest of marriages, since they were believed to be the means of
uniting, through the agency of the rich and powerful, those whom poverty
or other adverse circumstances had hitherto kept asunder. Rumor spoke of
many an inexorable father who had listened to reason from the mouths of
the great, rather than balk the public humor; and thousands of pining
hearts, among the obscure and simple, are even now gladdened at the
approach of some joyous ceremony, which is expected to throw open the
gates of the prison to the debtor and the criminal, or that of Hymen to
those who are richer in constancy and affection than in any other stores.

A general murmur and a common movement betrayed the lively interest of the
spectators, as the principal and real actors in this portion of the
ceremonies drew near. Adelheid felt a warm glow on her cheek, and a
gentler flow of kindness at her heart, when her eye first caught a view of
the bride and bridegroom, whom she was fain to believe a faithful pair
that a cruel fortune had hitherto kept separate, and who were now willing
to brave such strictures as all must encounter who court public attention,
in order to receive the reward of their enduring love and self-denial.
This sympathy, which was at first rather of an abstract and vague nature,
finding its support chiefly in her own peculiar situation and the
qualities of her gentle nature, became intensely heightened, however, when
she got a better view of the bride. The modest mien, abashed eye, and
difficult breathing of the girl, whose personal charms were of an order
much superior to those which usually distinguish rustic beauty in those
countries in which females are not exempted from the labors of the field,
were so natural and winning as to awaken all her interest; and, with
instinctive quickness, the lady of Willading bent her look on the
bridegroom, in order to see if one whose appearance was so eloquent in her
favor was likely to be happy in her choice. In age, personal appearance,
and apparently in condition of life, there was no very evident unfitness,
though Adelheid fancied that the mien of the maiden announced a better
breeding than that of her companion--a difference which she was willing to
ascribe, however, to a greater aptitude in her own sex to receive the
first impress of the moral seal, than that which belongs to man.

"She is fair," whispered Adelheid, slightly bending her head towards
Sigismund, who stood at her side, "and must deserve her happiness."

"She is good, and merits a better fate!" muttered the youth, breathing so
hard as to render his respiration audible.

The startled Adelheid raised her eyes, and strong but suppressed agitation
was quivering in every lineament of her companion's countenance. The
attention of those near was so closely drawn towards the procession, as to
allow an instant of unobserved communication.

"Sigismund, this is thy sister!"

"God so cursed her."

"Why has an occasion, public as this, been chosen to wed a maiden of her
modesty and manner?"

"Can the daughter of Balthazar be squeamish? Gold, the interest of the
abbaye, and the foolish _éclat_ of this silly scene, have enabled my
father to dispose of his child to yonder mercenary, who has bargained like
a Jew in the affair, and who, among other conditions, has required that
the true name of his bride shall never be revealed. Are we not honored by
a connexion which repudiates us even before it is formed!"

The hollow stifled laugh of the young man thrilled on the nerves of his

listener, and she ceased the stolen dialogue to return to the subject at a
more favorable moment. In the mean time the procession had reached the
station in front of the stage, where the mummers had already commenced
their rites.

A dozen groomsmen and as many female attendants accompanied the pair who
were about to take the nuptial vow. Behind these came the _trousseau_ and
the _corbeille_; the first being that portion of the dowry of the bride
which applies to her personal wants, and the last is an offering of the
husband, and is figuratively supposed to be a pledge of the strength of
his passion. In the present instance the trousseau was so ample, and
betokened so much liberality, as well as means, on the part of the friends
of a maiden who would consent to become a wife in a ceremony so public, as
to create general surprise; while, on the other hand, a solitary chain of
gold, of rustic fashion, and far more in consonance with the occasion, was
the sole tribute of the swain. This difference between the liberality of
the friends of the bride, and that of the individual, who, judging from
appearances, had much the most reason to show his satisfaction, did not
fail to give rise to many comments. They ended as most comments do, by
deductions drawn against the weaker and least defended of the parties. The
general conclusion was so uncharitable as to infer that a girl thus
bestowed must be under peculiar disadvantages, else would there have been
a greater equality between the gifts; an inference that was sufficiently
true, though cruelly unjust to its modest but unconscious subject.

While speculations of this nature were rife among the spectators, the
actors in the ceremony began their dances, which were distinguished by the
quaint formality that belonged to the politeness of the age The songs that
succeeded were in honor of Hymen and his votaries, and a few couplets that
extolled the virtues and beauty of the bride were chanted in chorus. A
sweep appeared at the chimney-top, raising his cry, in allusion to the
business of the ménage, and then all moved away, as had been done by those
who had preceded them. A guard of halberdiers closed the procession.

That part of the mummeries which was to be enacted in front of the
estrade was now ended for the moment, and the different groups proceeded
to various other stations in the town, where the ceremonies were to be
repeated for the benefit of those who, by reason of the throng, had not
been able to get a near view of what had passed in the square. Most of the
privileged profited by the pause to leave their seats, and to seek such
relaxation as the confinement rendered agreeable. Among those who entirely
quitted the square were the bailiff and his friends, who strolled towards
the promenade on the lake-shore, holding discourse, in which there was
blended much facetious merriment concerning what they had just seen.

The bailiff soon drew his companions around him, in a deep discussion of
the nature of the games, during which the Signor Grimaldi betrayed a
malicious pleasure in leading on the dogmatic Peter to expose the
confusion that existed in his head touching the characters of sacred and
profane history. Even Adelheid was compelled to laugh at the commencement
of this ludicrous exhibition, but her thoughts were not long in recurring
to a subject in which she felt a nearer and a more tender interest.
Sigismund walked thoughtfully at her side, and she profited by the
attention of all around them being drawn to the laughable dialogue just
mentioned, to renew the subject that had been so lightly touched on

"I hope thy fair and modest sister will never have reason to repent her
choice," she said, lessening her speed, in a manner to widen the distance
between herself and those she did not wish to overhear the words, while it
brought her nearer to Sigismund; "It is a frightful violence to all maiden
feeling to be thus dragged before the eyes of the curious and vulgar, in
a scene; trying and solemn as that in which she plights her marriage

"Poor Christine! her fate from infancy has been pitiable. A purer or
milder spirit than hers, one that more sensitively shrinks from rude
collision, does not exist, and yet, on whichever side she turns her eyes,
she meets with appalling prejudices or opinions to drive a gentle nature
like hers to madness It may be a misfortune, Adelheid, to want
instruction, and to be fated to pass a life in the depths of ignorance,
and in the indulgence of brutal passions, but it is scarcely a blessing to
have the mind elevated above the tasks which a cruel and selfish world so
frequently imposes."

"Thou wast speaking of thy mild and excellent sister?--"

"Well hast thou described her! Christine is mild, and more than
modest--she is meek. But what can meekness itself do to palliate such a
calamity? Desirous of averting the stigma of his family from all he could
with prudence, my father caused my sister, like myself, to be early taken
from the parental home. She was given in charge to strangers, under such
circumstances of secrecy, as left her long, perhaps too long, in ignorance
of the stock from which she sprang. When maternal pride led my mother to
seek her daughter's society, the mind of Christine was in some measure
formed, and she had to endure the humiliation of learning that she was one
of a family proscribed. Her gentle spirit, however, soon became reconciled
to the truth, at least so far as human observation could penetrate, and,
from the moment of the first terrible agony, no one has heard her murmur
at the stern decree of Providence. The resignation of that mild girl has
ever been a reproach to my own rebellious temper, for, Adelheid, I cannot
conceal the truth from thee--I have cursed all that I dared include in my
wicked imprecations, in very madness at this blight on my hopes! Nay, I
have even accused my father of injustice, that he did not train me at the
side of the block, that I might take a savage pride in that which is now
the bane of my existence. Not so with Christine; she has always warmly
returned the affection of our parents, as a daughter should love the
authors of her being, while I fear I have been repining when I should have
loved. Our origin is a curse entailed by the ruthless laws of the land,
and it is not to be attributed to any, at least to none of these later
days, as a fault; and such has ever been the language of my poor sister
when she has seen a merit in their wishes to benefit us at the expense of
their own natural affection. I would I could imitate her reason and

"The view taken by thy sister is that of a female, Sigismund, whose heart
is stronger than her pride; and, what is more, it is just."

"I deny it not; 'tis just. But the ill-judged mercy has for ever
disqualified me to sympathize as I could wish with those to whom I belong.
'Tis an error to draw these broad distinctions between our habits and our
affections. Creatures stern as soldiers cannot bend their fancies like
pliant twigs, or with the facility of female--"

"Duty," said Adelheid gravely, observing that he hesitated.

"If thou wilt, duty. The word has great weight with thy sex, and I do not
question that it should have with mine."

"Thou canst not be wanting in affection for thy father, Sigismund. The
manner in which thou interposedst to save his life, when we were in that
fearful jeopardy of the tempest, disproves thy words."

"Heaven forbid that I should be wanting in natural feeling of this sort,
and yet, Adelheid, it is horrible not to be able to respect, to love
profoundly, those to whom we owe our existence! Christine in this is far
happier than I, an advantage that I doubt not she owes to her simple life,
and to the closer intimacies which unite females. I am the son of a
headsman; that bitter fact is never absent from my thoughts when they turn
to home and those scenes in which I could so gladly take pleasure.
Balthazar may have meant a kindness when he caused me to be trained in
habits so different from his own, but, to complete the good work, the veil
should never have been removed."

Adelheid was silent. Though she understood the feelings which controlled
one educated so very differently from those to whom he owed his birth, her
habits of thought were opposed to the indulgence of any reflections that
could unsettle the reverence of the child for its parent.

"One of a heart like thine, Sigismund, cannot hate his mother!" she said,
after a pause.

"In this thou dost me no more than justice; my words have ill represented
my thoughts, if they have left such an impression. In cooler moments, I
have never considered my birth as more than a misfortune, and my education
I deem a reason for additional respect and gratitude to my parents, though
it may have disqualified me in some measure to enter deeply into their
feelings. Christine herself is not more true, nor of more devoted love,
than my poor mother. It is necessary, Adelheid, to see and know that
excellent woman in order to understand all the wrongs that the world
inflicts by its ruthless usages."

"We will now speak only of thy sister. Has she been here bestowed without
regard to her own wishes, Sigismund?"

"I hope not. Christine is meek;, but, while neither word nor look betrays
the weakness, still she feels the load that crushes us both. She has long
accustomed herself to look at all her own merits through the medium of
this debasement, and has set too low a value on her own excellent
qualities. Much, very much depends, in this life, on our own habits of
self-estimation, Adelheid; for he who is prepared to admit unworthiness--I
speak not of demerit towards God but towards men--will soon become
accustomed to familiarity with a standard below his just pretensions, and
will end perhaps in being the thing he dreaded. Such has been the
consequence of Christine's knowledge of her birth, for, to her meek
spirit, there is an appearance of generosity in overlooking this grand
defect, and it has too well prepared her mind to endow the youth with a
hundred more of the qualities that are absolutely necessary to her esteem,
but which I fear exist only in her own warm fancy."

"This is touching on the most difficult branch of human knowledge,"
returned Adelheid, smiling sweetly on the agitated brother; "a just
appreciation of ourselves. If there is danger of setting too low a value
on our merits, there is also some danger of setting too high; though I
perfectly comprehend the difference you would make between vulgar vanity,
and that self-respect which is certainly in some degree necessary to
success. But one, like her thou hast described, would scarce yield her
affections without good reason to think them well bestowed."

"Adelheid, thou, who hast never felt the world's contempt, cannot
understand how winning respect and esteem can be made to those who pine
beneath its weight! My sister hath so long accustomed herself to think
meanly of her hopes, that the appearance of liberality and justice in this
youth would have been sufficient of itself to soften her feelings in his
favor. I cannot say I think--for Christine will soon be his wife--but I
will say, I fear that the simple fact of his choosing one that the world
persecutes has given him a value in her eyes he might not otherwise have

"Thou dost not appear to approve of thy sister's choice?"

"I know the details of the disgusting bargain better than poor Christine,"
answered the young man, speaking between his teeth, like one who repressed
bitter emotion. "I was privy to the greedy exactions on the one side, and
to the humiliating concessions on the other. Even money could not buy this
boon for Balthazar's child, without a condition that the ineffaceable
stigma of her birth should be for ever concealed."

Adelheid saw, by the cold perspiration that stood on the brow of
Sigismund, how intensely he suffered, and she sought an immediate occasion
to lead his thoughts to a less disturbing subject. With the readiness of
her sex, and with the sensitiveness and delicacy of a woman that sincerely
loved, she found means to effect the charitable purpose, without again
alarming his pride. She succeeded so far in calming his feelings, that,
when they rejoined their companions, the manner of the young man had
entirely regained the quiet and proud composure in which he appeared to
take refuge against the consciousness of the blot that darkened his hopes,
frequently rendering life itself a burthen nearly too heavy to be borne.

James Fenimore Cooper