Chapter 20





I'll show thee the best springs; I'll pluck thee berries.

_Tempest._


The day dawned clear and cloudless on the Leman, the morning that
succeeded the Abbaye des Vignerons. Hundreds among the frugal and
time-saving Swiss had left the town before the appearance of the light,
and many strangers were crowding into the barks, as the sun came bright
and cheerfully over the rounded and smiling summits of the neighboring
côtes. At this early hour, all in and around the rock-seated castle of
Blonay were astir, and in motion. Menials were running, with hurried air,
from room to room, from court to terrace and from lawn to tower. The
peasants in the adjoining fields rested on their utensils of husbandry, in
gaping, admiring attention to the preparations of their superiors. For
though we are not writing of a strictly feudal age, the events it is our
business to record took place long before the occurrence of those great
political events, which have since so materially changed the social state
of Europe. Switzerland was then a sealed country to most of those who
dwelt even in the adjoining nations, and the present advanced condition of
roads and inns was quite unknown, not only to these mountaineers, but
throughout the rest of what was then much more properly called the
exclusively civilized portion of the globe, than it is to-day. Even horses
were not often used in the passage of the Alps, but recourse was had to
the surer-footed mule by the traveller, and, not unfrequently, by the more
practised carrier and smuggler of those rude paths. Roads existed, it is
true, as in other parts of Europe, in the countries of the plain, if any
portion of the great undulating surface of that region deserve the name;
but once within the mountains, with the exception of very inartificial
wheel-tracks in the straitened and glen-like valleys, the hoof alone was
to be trusted or indeed used.

The long train of travellers, then, that left the gates of Blonay just as
the fog began to stir on the wide alluvial meadows of the Rhone, were all
in the saddle. A courier, accompanied by a sumpter-mule, had departed
over-night to prepare the way for those who were to follow, and active
young mountaineers had succeeded, from time to time, charged with
different orders, issued in behalf of their comforts.

As the cavalcade passed beneath the arch of the great gate, the lively,
spirit-stirring horn sounded a fare well air, to which custom had attached
the signification of good wishes. It took the way towards the level of the
Leman by means of a winding and picturesque bridle-path that led, among
alpine meadows, groves, rocks, and hamlets, fairly to the water-side.
Roger de Blonay and his two principal guests rode in front, the former
seated on a war-horse that he had ridden years before as a soldier, and
the two latter well mounted on beasts prepared for, and accustomed to, the
mountains. Adelheid and Christine came next, riding by themselves, in the
modest reserve of their maiden condition. Their discourse was low,
confidential, and renewed at intervals. A few menials followed, and then
came Sigismund at the side of the Signor Grimald's friend, and one of the
family of Blonay, the latter of whom was destined to return with the
baron, after doing honor to their guests by seeing them as far as
Villeneuve The rear was brought up by muleteers, domestics, and those who
led the beasts that bore the baggage. All of the former who intended to
cross the Alps carried the fire-arms of the period at their saddle-bows,
and each had his rapier, his _couteau de chasse_, or his weapon of more
military fashion, so disposed about his person as to denote it was
considered an arm for whose use some occasion might possibly occur.

As the departure from Blonay was unaccompanied by any of those
leave-takings which usually impress a touch of melancholy on the
traveller, most of the cavalcade, as they issued into the pure and
exhilarating air of the morning, were sufficiently disposed to enjoy the
loveliness of the landscape, and to indulge in the cheerfulness and
delight that a scene so glorious is apt to awaken, in all who are alive to
the beauties of nature.

Adelheid gladly pointed out to her companion the various objects of the
view, as a means of recalling the thoughts of Christine from her own
particular griefs, which were heightened by regret for the loss of her
mother, from whom she was now seriously separated for the first time in
her life, since their communications, though secret, had been constant
during the years she had dwelt under another roof. The latter gratefully
lent herself to the kind intentions of her new friend, and endeavored to
be pleased with all she beheld, though it was such pleasure as the sad
and mourning admit with a jealous reservation of their own secret causes
of woe.

"Yonder tower, towards which we advance, is Châtelard," said the heiress
of Willading to the daughter of Balthazar, in the pursuit of her kind
intention; "a hold, nearly as ancient and honorable as this we have just
quitted, though not so constantly the dwelling of the same family; for
these of Blonay have been a thousand years dwellers on the same rock,
always favorably known for their faith and courage."

"Surely, if there is anything in life that can compensate for its
every-day evils," observed Christine, in a manner of mild regret and
perhaps with the perversity of grief, "it must be to have come from those
who have always been known and honored among the great and happy! Even
virtue and goodness, and great deeds, scarce give a respect like that we
feel for the Sire de Blonay, whose family has been seated, as thou hast
just said, a thousand years on that rock above us!"

Adelheid was mute. She appreciated the feeling which had so naturally led
her companion to a reflection like this, and she felt the difficulty of
applying balm to a wound as deep as that which had been inflicted on her
companion.

"We are not always to suppose those the most happy that the world most
honors," she at length answered; "the respect to which we are accustomed
comes in time to be necessary, without being a source of pleasure; and the
hazard of incurring its loss is more than equal to the satisfaction of its
possession."

"Thou wilt at least admit that to be despised and shunned is a curse to
which nothing can reconcile us."

"We will speak now of other things, dear. It may be long ere either of us
again sees this grand display of rock and water, of brown mountain and
shining glacier; we will not prove ourselves ungrateful for the happiness
we have, by repining for that which is impossible."

Christine quietly yielded to the kind intention of her new friend, and
they rode on in silence, picking their way along the winding path, until
the whole party, after a long but pleasant descent, reached the road,
which is nearly washed by the waters of the lake. There has already been
allusion, in the earlier pages of our work, to the extraordinary beauties
of the route near this extremity of the Leman. After climbing to the heigh
of the mild and healthful Montreux, the cavalcade again descended, under a
canopy of nut-trees, to the gate of Chillon, and, sweeping around the
margin of the sheet, it reached Villeneuve by the hour that had been named
for an early morning repast. Here all dismounted, and refreshed themselves
awhile, when Roger de Blonay and his attendants, after many exchanges of
warm and sincere good wishes, took their final leave.

The sun was scarcely yet visible in the deep glens, when those who were
destined for St. Bernard were again in the saddle. The road now
necessarily left the lake, traversing those broad alluvial bottoms which
have been deposited during thirty centuries by the washings of the Rhone,
aided, if faith is to be given to geological symptoms and to ancient
traditions, by certain violent convulsions of nature. For several hours
our travellers rode amid such a deep fertility, and such a luxuriance of
vegetation, that their path bore more analogy to an excursion on the wide
plains of Lombardy, than to one amid the usual Swiss scenery; although,
unlike the boundless expanse of the Italian garden, the view was limited
on each side by perpendicular barriers of rock, that were piled for
thousands of feet into the heavens, and which were merely separated from
each other by a league or two, a distance that dwindled to miles in its
effect on the eye, a consequence of the grandeur of the scale on which
nature has reared these vast piles.

It was high-noon when Melchior de Willading and his venerable friend led
the way across the foaming Rhone, at the celebrated bridge of St Maurice.
Here the country of the Valais, then like Geneva, an ally, and not a
confederate of the Swiss cantons, was entered, and all objects, both
animate and inanimate, began to assume that mixture of the grand, the
sterile, the luxuriant, and the revolting, for which this region is so
generally known. Adelheid gave an involuntary shudder, her imagination
having been prepared by rumor for even more than the truth would have
given reason to expect, when the gate of St. Maurice swung back upon its
hinges, literally inclosing the party in this wild, desolate, and yet
romantic region. As they proceeded along the Rhone, however, she and
those of her companions to whom the scene was new, were constantly
wondering at some unlooked-for discrepancy, that drove them from
admiration to disgust--from the exclamations of delight to the chill of
disappointment. The mountains on every side were dreary, and without the
rich relief of the pastured eminences, but most of the valley was rich and
generous. In one spot a sac d'eau, one of those reservoirs of water which
form among the glaciers on the summits of the rocks, had broken, and,
descending like a water-spout, it had swept before it every vestige of
cultivation, covering wide breadths of the meadows with a débris that
resembled chaos. A frightful barrenness, and the most smiling fertility,
were in absolute contact: patches of green, that had been accidentally
favored by some lucky formation of the ground, sometimes appearing like
oases of the desert, in the very centre of a sterility that would put the
labor and the art of man at defiance for a century. In the midst of this
terrific picture of want sat a crétin, with his semi-human attributes, the
lolling tongue, the blunted faculties, and the degraded appetites, to
complete the desolation. Issuing from this belt of annihilated vegetation,
the scene became again as pleasant as the fancy could desire, or the eye
crave. Fountains leaped from rock to rock in the sun's rays; the valley
was green and gentle; the mountains began to show varied and pleasing
forms; and happy smiling faces appeared, whose freshness and regularity
were perhaps of a cast superior to that of most of the Swiss. In short,
the Valais was then; as now, a country of opposite extremes, but in which,
perhaps, there is a predominance of the repulsive and inhospitable.

It was fairly nightfall, notwithstanding the trifling distance they had
journeyed, when the travellers reached Martigny, where dispositions had
previously been made for their reception during the hours of sleep. Here
preparations were made to seek their rest at an early hour, in order to be
in readiness for the fatiguing toil of the following day.

Martigny is situated at the point where the great valley of the Rhone
changes its direction from a north and south to an east and west course,
and it is the spot whence three of the celebrated mountain paths diverge,
to make as many passages of the upper Alps. Here are the two routes of the
great and little St. Bernard, both of which lead into Italy, and that of
the Col-de-Balme, which crosses a spur of the Alps into Savoy toward the
celebrated valley of Chamouni. It was the intention of the Baron de
Willading and his friend to journey by the former of these roads, as has
so often been mentioned in these pages, their destination being the
capital of Piedmont. The passage of the great St. Bernard, though so long
known by its ancient and hospitable convent, the most elevated habitation
in Europe, and in these later times so famous for the passage of a
conquering army is but a secondary alpine pass, considered in reference to
the grandeur of its scenery. The ascent, so inartificial even to this
hour, is loner and comparatively without danger, and in general it is
sufficiently direct, there being no very precipitous rise like those of
the Gemmi, the Grimsel, and various other passes in Switzerland and Italy,
except at the very neck, or col, of the mountain, where the rock is to be
literally climbed on the rude and broad steps that so frequently occur
among the paths of the Alps and the Apennines. The fatigue of this passage
comes, therefore, rather from its length, and the necessity of unremitted
diligence, than from any excessive labor demanded by the ascent; and the
reputation acquired by the great captain of our age, in leading an army
across its summit, has been obtained more by the military combinations of
which it formed the principal feature, the boldness of the conception, and
the secrecy and promptitude with which so extensive an operation was
effected, than by the physical difficulties that were overcome. In the
latter particular, the passage of St. Bernard, as this celebrated
coup-de-main is usually called, has frequently been outdone in our own
wilds; for armies have often traversed regions of broad streams, broken
mountains, and uninterrupted forests, for weeks at a time, in which the
mere bodily labor of any given number of days would be found to be greater
than that endured on this occasion by the followers of Napoleon. The
estimate we attach to every exploit is so dependent on the magnitude of
its results, that men rarely come to a perfectly impartial judgment on its
merits; the victory or defeat, however simple or bloodless, that shall
shake or assure the interests of civilized society, being always esteemed
by the world an event of greater importance, than the happiest
combinations of thought and valor that affect only the welfare of some
remote and unknown people. By the just consideration of this truth, we
come to understand the value of a nation's possessing confidence in
itself, extensive power, and a unity commensurate to its means; since
small and divided states waste their strength in acts too insignificant
for general interest, frittering away their mental riches, no less than
their treasure and blood, in supporting interests that fail to enlist the
sympathies of any beyond the pale of their own borders. The nation which,
by the adverse circumstances of numerical inferiority, poverty of means,
failure of enterprise, or want of opinion, cannot sustain its own citizens
in the acquisition of a just renown, is deficient in one of the first and
most indispensable elements of greatness; glory, like riches, feeding
itself, and being most apt to be found where its fruits have already
accumulated. We see, in this fact, among other conclusions, the importance
of an acquisition of such habits of manliness of thought, as will enable
us to decide on the merits and demerits of what is done among ourselves,
and of shaking off that dependence on others which it is too much the
custom of some among us to dignify with the pretending title of deference
to knowledge and taste, but which, in truth, possesses some such share of
true modesty and diffidence, as the footman is apt to exhibit when
exulting in the renown of his master.

This little digression has induced us momentarily to overlook the
incidents of the tale. Few who possess the means, venture into the stormy
regions of the upper Alps, at the late season in which the present party
reached the hamlet of Martigny, without seeking the care of one or more
suitable guides. The services of these men are useful in a variety of
ways, but in none more than in offering the advice which long familiarity
with the signs of the heavens, the temperature of the air, and the
direction of the winds, enables them to give. The Baron de Willading, and
his friend, immediately dispatched a messenger for a mountaineer, of the
name of Pierre Dumont, who enjoyed a fair name for fidelity, and who was
believed to be better acquainted with all the difficulties of the ascent
and descent, than any other who journeyed among the glens of that part of
the Alps. At the present day, when hundreds ascend to the convent from
curiosity alone, every peasant of sufficient strength and intelligence
becomes a guide, and the little community of the lower Valais finds the
transit of the idle and rich such a fruitful source of revenue, that it
has been induced to regulate the whole by very useful and just ordinances;
but at the period of the tale, this Pierre was the only individual, who,
by fortunate concurrences, had obtained a name among affluent foreigners,
and who was at all in demand with that class of travellers. He was not
long in presenting himself in the public room of the inn--a hale, florid,
muscular man of sixty, with every appearance of permanent health and
vigor, but with a slight and nearly imperceptible difficulty of breathing.

"Thou art Pierre Dumont?" observed the baron, studying the open
physiognomy and well-set frame of the Valaisan, with satisfaction. "Thou
hast been mentioned by more than one traveller in his book."

The stout mountaineer raised himself in pride, and endeavored to
acknowledge the compliment in the manner of his well-meant but rude
courtesy; for refinement did not then extend its finesse and its deceit
among the glens of Switzerland.

"They have done me honor, Monsieur," he said: "it has been my good fortune
to cross the Col with many brave gentlemen and fair ladies--and in two
instances with princes." (Though a sturdy republican, Pierre was not
insensible to worldly rank.) "The pious monks know me well; and they who
enter the convent are not the worse received for being my companions. I
shall be glad to lead so fair a party from our cold valley into the sunny
glens of Italy, for, if the truth must be spoken, nature has placed us on
the wrong side of the mountain for our comfort, though we have our
advantage over those who live even in Turin and Milan, in matters of
greater importance."

"What can be the superiority of a Valaisan over the Lombard, or the
Piedmontese?" demanded the Signor Grimaldi quickly, like a man who was
curious to hear the reply. "A traveller should seek all kind of knowledge,
and I take this to be a newly-discovered fact."

"Liberty, Signore! We are our own masters; we have been so since the day
when our fathers sacked the castles of the barons, and compelled their
tyrants to become their equals. I think of this each time I reach the warm
plains of Italy, and return to my cottage a more contented man, for the
reflection."

"Spoken like a Swiss, though it is uttered by an ally of the cantons!"
cried Melchior de Willading, heartily. "This is the spirit, Gaetano, which
sustains our mountaineers, and renders them more happy amid their frosts
and rocks, than thy Genoese on his warm and glowing bay."

"The word liberty, Melchior, is more used than understood, and as much
abused as used;" returned the Signor Grimaldi gravely. "A country on which
God hath laid his finger in displeasure as on this, needs have some such
consolation as the phantom with which the honest Pierre appears to be so
well satisfied.--But, Signor guide, have many travellers tried the passage
of late, and what dost thou think of our prospects in making the attempt?
We hear gloomy tales, sometimes, of thy alpine paths in that Italy thou
hold'st so cheap."

"Your pardon, noble Signore, if the frankness of a mountaineer has carried
me too far. I do not undervalue your Piedmont, because I love our Valais
more. A country may be excellent, even though another should be better. As
for the travellers, none of note have gone up the Col of late, though
there have been the usual number of vagabonds and adventurers. The savor
of the convent kitchen will reach the noses of these knaves here in the
valley, though we have a long twelve leagues to journey in getting from
one to the other."

The Signor Grimaldi waited until Adelheid and Christine, who were
preparing to retire for the night, were out of hearing, and he resumed his
questions.

"Thou hast not spoken of the weather?"

"We are in one of the most uncertain and treacherous months of the good
season, Messieurs. The winter is gathering among the upper Alps, and in a
month in which the frosts are flying about like uneasy birds that do not
know where to alight, one can hardly say whether he hath need of his cloak
or not."

"San Francesco! Dost think I am dallying with thee, friend, about a
thickness more or less of cloth! I am hinting at avalanches and falling
rocks--at whirlwinds and tempests?"

Pierre laughed and shook his head, though he answered vaguely as became
his business.

"These are Italian opinions of our hills, Signore," he said; "they savor
of the imagination. Our pass is not as often troubled with the avalanche
as some that are known, even in the melting snows. Had you looked at the
peaks from the lake, you would have seen that, the hoary glaciers
excepted, they are still all brown and naked. The snow must fall from the
heavens before it can fall in the avalanche, and we are yet, I think, a
few days from the true winter."

"Thy calculations are made with nicety, friend," returned the Genoese, not
sorry, however, to hear the guide speak with so much apparent confidence
of the weather, "and we are obliged to thee in proportion. What of the
travellers thou hast named? Are there brigands on our path?"

"Such rogues have been known to infest the place, but, in general, there
is too little to be gained for the risk. Your rich traveller is not an
every-day sight among our rocks; and you well know Signore, that there may
be too few, as well as too many, on a path, for your freebooter."

The Italian was distrustful by habit on all such subjects, and he threw a
quick suspicious glance at the guide. But the frank open countenance of
Pierre removed all doubt of his honesty, to say nothing of the effect of a
well-established reputation.

"But thou hast spoken of certain vagabonds who have preceded us?"

"In that particular, matters might be better;" answered the plain-minded
mountaineer, dropping his head in an attitude of meditation so naturally
expressed as to give additional weight to his words. "Many of bad
appearance have certainly gone up to-day; such as a Neapolitan named
Pippo, who is anything but a saint--a certain pilgrim, who will be nearer
heaven at the convent than he will be at the death--St. Pierre pray for me
if I do the man injustice!--and one or two more of the same brood. There
is another that hath gone up also, post haste, and with good reason as
they say, for he hath made himself the but of all the jokers in Vévey on
account of some foolery in the games of the Abbaye--a certain Jacques
Colis."

The name was repeated by several near the speaker.

"The same, Messieurs. It would seem that the Sieur Colis would fain take a
maiden to wife in the public sports, and, when her birth came to be be
known, that his bride was no other than the child of Balthazar, the common
headsman of Berne!"

A general silence betrayed the embarrassment of most of the listeners.

"And that tale hath already reached this glen," said Sigismund, in a tone
so deep and firm as to cause Pierre to start, while the two old nobles
looked in another direction, feigning not to observe what was passing.

"Rumor hath a nimbler foot than a mule, young officer;" answered the
honest guide. "The tale, as you call it, will have travelled across the
mountains sooner than they who bore it--though I never knew how such a
miracle could pass--but so it is; report goes faster than the tongue that
spreads it, and if there be a little untruth to help it along, the wind
itself is scarcely swifter. Honest Jacques Colis has bethought him to get
the start of his story, but, my life on it, though he is active enough in
getting away from his mockers, that he finds it, with all the additions,
safely housed at the inn at Turin when he reaches that city himself."

"These, then, are all?" interrupted the Signor Grimaldi, who saw, by the
heaving bosom of Sigismund, that it was time in mercy to interpose.

"Not so, Signore--there is still another and one I like less than any. A
countryman of your own, who, impudently enough, calls himself Il
Maledetto."

"Maso!"

"The very same."

"Honest, courageous Maso, and his noble dog!"

"Signore, you describe the man so well in some things, that I wonder you
know so little of him in others. Maso hath not his equal on the road for
activity and courage, and the beast is second only to our mastiffs of the
convent for the same qualities; but when you speak of the master's
honesty, you speak of that for which the world gives him little credit,
and do great disparagement to the brute, which is much the best of the
two, in this respect."

"This may be true enough," rejoined the Signore Grimaldi, turning
anxiously towards his companions:--"man is a strange compound of good and
evil; his acts when left to natural impulses are so different from what
they become on calculation that one can scarcely answer for a man of
Maso's temperament. We know him to be a most efficient friend, and such a
man would be apt to make a very dangerous enemy! His qualities were not
given to him by halves. And yet we have a strong circumstance in our
favor; for he who hath once done the least service to a fellow-creature
feels a sort of paternity in him he hath saved, and would be little likely
to rob himself of the pleasure of knowing, that there are some of his kind
who owe him a grateful recollection."

This remark was answered by Melchior de Willading in the same spirit, and
the guide, perceiving he was no longer wanted, withdrew.

Soon after, the travellers retired to rest.



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