Chapter 23




Let no presuming railer tax
Creative wisdom, as if aught was form'd
In vain, or not for admirable ends.

Thomson.


So long as we possess the power to struggle, hope is the last feeling to
desert the human mind. Men are endowed with every gradation of courage,
from the calm energy of reflection, which is rendered still more effective
by physical firmness, to the headlong precipitation of reckless spirit:
from the resolution that grows more imposing and more respectable as there
is greater occasion for its exercise, to the fearful and ill-directed
energies of despair. But no description with the pen can give the reader a
just idea of the chill that comes over the heart when accidental causes
rob us, suddenly and without notice, of those resources on which we have
been habitually accustomed to rely. The mariner without his course or
compass loses his audacity and coolness, though the momentary danger be
the same; the soldier will fly, if you deprive him of his arms; and the
hunter of our own forests who has lost his landmarks, is transformed from
the bold and determined foe of its tenants, into an anxious and dependent
fugitive, timidly seeking the means of retreat. In short, the customary
associations of the mind being rudely and suddenly destroyed, we are made
to feel that reason, while it elevates us so far above the brutes as to
make man their lord and governor, becomes a quality less valuable than
instinct, when the connecting link in its train of causes and effects is
severed.

It was no more than a natural consequence of his greater experience, that
Pierre Dumont understood the horrors of their present situation far better
than any with him. It is true, there yet remained enough light to enable
him to pick his way over the rocks and stones, but he had sufficient
experience to understand that there was less risk in remaining stationary
than in moving; for, while there was only one direction that led towards
the Refuge, all the rest would conduct them to a greater distance from the
shelter, which was now the only hope. On the other hand, a very few
minutes of the intense cold, and of the searching wind to which they were
exposed, would most probably freeze the currents of life in the feebler of
those intrusted to his care.

"Hast thou aught to advise?" asked Melchior de Willading, folding Adelheid
to his bosom, beneath his ample cloak, and communicating, with a father's
love, a small portion of the meagre warmth that still remained in his own
aged frame to that of his drooping daughter--"canst thou bethink thee of
nothing, that may be done, in this awful strait?"

"If the good monks have been active--" returned the wavering Pierre. "I
fear me that the dogs have not yet been exercised, on the paths, this
season!"

"Has it then come to this! Are our lives indeed dependent on the uncertain
sagacity of brutes!"

"Mein Herr, I would bless the Virgin, and her holy Son, if it were so! But
I fear this storm has been so sudden and unexpected, that we may not even
hope for their succor."

Melchior groaned. He folded his child still nearer to his heart, while the
athletic Sigismund shielded his drooping sister, as the fowl shelters its
young beneath the wing.

"Delay is death," rejoined the Signor Grimaldi. "I have heard of muleteers
that have been driven to kill their beasts, that shelter and warmth might
be found in their entrails."

"The alternative is horrible!" interrupted Sigismund. "Is return
impossible? By always descending, we must, in time reach the village
below."

"That time would be fatal," answered Pierre. "I know of only one resource
that remains. If the party will keep together, and answer my shouts I will
make another effort to find the path."

This proposal was gladly accepted, for energy and hope go hand-in-hand,
and the guide was about to quit the group, when he felt the strong grasp
of Sigismund on his arm.

"I will be thy companion," said the soldier firmly.

"Thou hast not done me justice, young man," answered Pierre, with severe
reproach in his manner. "Had I been base enough to desert my trust, these
limbs and this strength are yet sufficient to carry me safely down the
mountain; but though a guide of the Alps may freeze like another man, the
last throb of his heart will be in behalf of those he serves!"

"A thousand pardons brave old man--a thousand pardons; still, will I be
thy companion; the search that is conducted by two will be more likely to
succeed, than that on which thou goes alone."

The offended Pierre, who liked the spirit of the youth as much as he
disliked his previous suspicions, met the apology frankly. He extended his
hand and forgot the feelings, that, even amid the tempests of those wild
mountains, were excited by a distrust of his honesty. After this short
concession to the ever-burning, though smothered volcano, of human
passion, they left the group together, in order to make a last search for
their course.

The snow by this time was many inches deep, and as the road was at best
but a faint bridle-path that could scarcely be distinguished by day-light
from the débris which strewed the ravines, the undertaking would have been
utterly hopeless, had not Pierre known that there was the chance of still
meeting with some signs of the many mules that daily went up and down the
mountain. The guide called to the muleteers, who answered his cries every
minute, for so long as they kept within the sound of each other's voices,
there was no danger of their becoming entirely separated. But, amid the
hollow roaring of the wind, and the incessant pelting of the storm, it was
neither safe nor practicable to venture far asunder. Several little stony
knolls were ascended and descended, and a rippling rill was found, but
without bringing with it any traces of the path. The heart of Pierre began
to chill with the decreasing; warmth of his body, and the firm old man,
overwhelmed with his responsibility while his truant thoughts would
unbidden recur to those whom he had left in his cottage at the foot of the
mountain, gave way at last to his emotions in a paroxysm of grief,
wringing his hands, weeping and calling loudly on God for succor. This
fearful evidence of their extremity worked upon the feelings of Sigismund
until they were wrought up nearly to frenzy. His great physical force
still sustained him, and in an access of energy that was fearfully allied
to madness, he rushed forward into the vortex of snow and hail, as if
determined to leave all to the Providence of God, disappearing from the
eyes of his companion. This incident recalled the guide to his senses. He
called earnestly on the thoughtless youth to return. No answer was given,
and Pierre hastened back to the motionless and shivering party, in order
to unite all their voices in a last effort to be heard. Cry upon cry was
raised, but each shout was answered merely by the hoarse rushing of the
winds.

"Sigismund! Sigismund!" called one after another, in hurried and alarmed
succession.

"The noble boy will be irretrievably lost!" exclaimed the Signor Grimaldi,
in despair, the services already rendered by the youth, together with his
manly qualities, having insensibly and closely wound themselves around his
heart. "He will die a miserable death, and without the consolation of
meeting his fate in communion with his fellow-sufferers!"

A shout from Sigismund came whirling past, as if the sound were embodied
in the gale.

"Blessed ruler of the earth, this is alone the mercy!" exclaimed Melchior
de Willading,--"he has found the path!"

"And honor to thee, Maria--thou mother of God!" murmured the Italian.

At that moment, a dog came leaping and barking through the snow. It
immediately was scenting and whining among the frozen travellers. The
exclamations of joy and surprise were scarcely uttered before Sigismund,
accompanied by another, joined the party.

"Honor and thanks to the good Augustines!" cried the delighted guide;
"this is the third good office of the kind, for which I am their debtor!"

"I would it were true, honest Pierre," answered the stranger. "But Maso
and Nettuno are poor substitutes, in a tempest like this, for the servants
and beasts of St. Bernard. I am a wanderer, and lost like yourselves, and
my presence brings little other relief than that which is known to be the
fruit of companionship in misery. The saints have brought me a second time
into your company when matters were hanging between life and death!"

Maso made this last remark when, by drawing nearer the group, he had been
able to ascertain, by the remains of the light, of whom the party was
composed.

"If it is to be as useful now as thou hast already been," answered the
Genoese, "it will be happier for us all, thyself included: bethink thee
quickly of thy expedients, and I will make thee an equal sharer of all
that a generous Providence hath bestowed."

Il Maledetto rarely listened to the voice of the Signor Grimaldi, without
a manner of interest and curiosity which, as already mentioned, had more
than once struck the latter himself, but which he quite naturally
attributed to the circumstance of his person being known to one who had
declared himself to be a native of Genoa. Even at this terrible moment,
the same manner was evident and the noble, thinking it a favorable
symptom, renewed the already neglected offer of fortune, with a view to
quicken a zeal which he reasonably enough supposed would be most likely to
be awakened by the hopes of a substantial reward.

"Were there question here, illustrious Signore," answered Maso, "of
steering a barge, of shortenning sail, or of handling a craft of any rig
or construction, in gale, squall, hurricane, or a calm among breakers, my
skill and experience might be turned to good account; but setting aside
the difference in our strength and hardihood, even that lily which is in
so much danger of being nipped by the frosts, is not more helpless than I
am myself at this moment. I am no better than yourselves, Signori, and,
though a better mountaineer perhaps, I rely on the favor of the saints to
be succored, or my time must finish among the snows instead of in the surf
of a sea-shore, as, until now, I had always believed would be my fate."

"But the dog--thy admirable dog!"

"Ah, eccellenza, Nettuno is but a useless beast, here! God has given him a
thicker mantle, and a warmer dress than to us Christians, but even this
advantage will soon prove a curse to my poor friend. The long hair he
carries will quickly be covered with icicles, and, as the snow deepens, it
will retard his movements. The dogs of St. Bernard are smoother, have
longer limbs, a truer scent and possess the advantage of being trained to
the paths."

A tremendous shout of Sigismund's interrupted Maso,--the youth, on finding
that the accidental meeting with the mariner was not likely to lead to any
immediate advantages, having instantly, accompanied by Pierre and one of
his assistants, renewed the search. The cry was echoed from the guide and
the muleteer, and then all three were seen flying through the snow,
preceded by a powerful mastiff. Nettuno, who had been crouching with his
bushy tail between his legs, barked, seemed to arouse with renewed
courage, and then leaped with evident joy and good-will upon the back of
his old antagonist Uberto.

The dog of St. Bernard was alone. But his air and all his actions were
those of an animal whose consciousness was wrought up to the highest pitch
permitted by the limits nature had set to the intelligence of a brute. He
ran from one to another, rubbed his glossy and solid side against the
limbs of all, wagged his tail, and betrayed the usual signs that creatures
of his species manifest, when their instinct is most alive. Luckily he had
a good interpreter of his meaning in the guide, who, knowing the habits,
and, if it may be so expressed, the intentions of the mastiff, feeling
there was not a moment to lose if they would still preserve the feebler
members of their party, begged the others to hasten the necessary
dispositions to profit by this happy meeting. The females were supported
as before, the mules fastened together, and Pierre, placing himself in
front, called cheerfully to the dog, encouraging him to lead the way.

"Is it quite prudent to confide so implicitly to the guidance of this
brute?" asked the Signor Grimaldi a little doubtingly, when he saw the
arrangement on which, by the increasing gloom and the growing intensity of
the cold, it was but too apparent, even to one as little accustomed to the
mountains as himself, that the lives of the whole party depended.

"Fear not to trust to old Uberto, Signore," answered Pierre, moving onward
as he spoke, for to think of further delay was out of the question; "fear
nothing for the faith or the knowledge of the dog. These animals are
trained by the servants of the convent to know and keep the paths, even
when the snows lie on them fathoms deep. God has given them stout hearts,
long limbs, and short hair expressly, as it has often seemed to me, for
this end; and nobly do they use the gifts! I am acquainted with all their
ways, for we guides commonly learn the ravines of St. Bernard by first
serving the claviers of the convent, and many a day have I gone up and
down these rocks with a couple of these animals in training for this very
purpose. The father and mother of Uberto were my favorite companions, and
their son will hardly play an old friend of the family false."

The travellers followed their leader with more confidence, though blindly.
Uberto appeared to perform his duty with the sobriety and steadiness that
became his years, and which, indeed, were very necessary for the
circumstances in which they were placed. Instead of bounding ahead and
becoming lost to view, as most probably would have happened with a younger
animal, the noble and half-reasoning brute maintained a pace that was
suited to the slow march of those who supported the females, occasionally
stopping to look back, as if to make sure that none were left.

The dogs of St. Bernard are, or it might perhaps be better to say
were,--for it is affirmed that the ancient race is lost,--chosen for their
size, their limbs, and the shortness of their coats, as has just been
stated by Pierre; the former being necessary to convey the succor with
which they were often charged, as well as to overcome the difficulties of
the mountains, and the two latter that they might the better wade through,
and resist the influence of, the snows. Their training consisted in
rendering them familiar with, and attached to, the human race; in teaching
them to know and to keep the paths on all occasions, except such as called
for a higher exercise of their instinct, and to discover the position of
those who had been overwhelmed by the avalanches; and; to assist in
disinterring their bodies. In all these duties Uberto had been so long
exercised, that he was universally know to be the most sagacious and the
most trusty animal on the mountain. Pierre followed his steps with so much
greater-reliance on his intelligence, from being perfectly acquainted with
the character of the dog. When, therefore, he saw the mastiff turn at
right angles to the course he had just been taking, the guide, on reaching
the spot, imitated his example, and, first removing the snow to make sure
of the fact, he joyfully proclaimed to those who came after him that the
lost path was found. This intelligence sounded like a reprieve from death,
though the mountaineers well knew that more than an hour of painful and
increasing toil was still necessary to reach the hospice. The chilled
blood of the tender beings who were fast dropping into the terrible sleep
which is the forerunner of death, was quickened in their veins, however,
when they heard the shout of delight that spontaneously broke from all
their male companions, on learning the glad tidings.

The movement was now faster, though embarrassed and difficult on account
of the incessant pelting of the storm and the influence of the biting
cold, which were difficult to be withstood by even the strongest of the
party. Sigismund groaned inwardly, as he thought of Adelheid and his
sister's being exposed to a tempest which shook the stoutest frame and the
most manly heart among them. He encircled the latter with an arm, rather
carrying than leading her along, for the young soldier had sufficient
knowledge of the localities of the mountain to understand that they were
still at a fearful distance from the Col, and that the strength of
Christine was absolutely unequal to the task of reaching it unsupported.

Occasionally Pierre spoke to the dogs, Nettuno keeping close to the side
of Uberto in order to prevent separation, since the path was no longer
discernible without constant examination, the darkness having so far
increased as to reduce the sight to very narrow limits. Each time the name
of the latter was pronounced, the animal would stop, wag his tail, or give
some other sign of recognition, as if to reassure his followers of his
intelligence and fidelity. After one of these short halts, old Uberto and
his companion unexpectedly refused to proceed. The guide, the two old
nobles, and at length the whole party, were around them, and no cry or
encouragement of the mountaineers could induce the dogs to quit their
tracks.

"Are we again lost?" asked the Baron de Willading, pressing Adelheid
closer to his beating heart, nearly ready to submit to their common fate
in despair. "Has God at length forsaken us?--my daughter--my beloved
child!"

This touching appeal was answered by a howl from Uberto, who leaped madly
away and disappeared. Nettuno followed, barking wildly and with a deep
throat. Pierre did not hesitate about following, and Sigismund, believing
that the movement of the guide was to arrest the flight of the dogs, was
quickly on his heels. Maso moved with greater deliberation.

"Nettuno is not apt to raise that bark with nothing but hail, and snow,
and wind in his nostrils," said the calculating Italian. "We are either
near another party of travellers, for such are on the mountains as I know"

"God forbid! Art sure of this?" demanded the Signor Grimaldi, observing
that the other had suddenly checked himself.

"Sure that others _were_, Signore," returned the mariner deliberately, as
if he measured well the meaning of each word. "Ah, here comes the trusty
beast, and Pierre, and the Captain, with their tidings, be they good or be
they evil."

The two just named rejoined their friends a Maso ceased speaking. They
hurriedly informed the shivering travellers that the much desired Refuge
was near, and that nothing but the darkness and the driving snow prevented
it from being seen.

"It was a blessed thought, and one that came from St. Augustine himself,
which led the holy monks to raise this shelter!" exclaimed the delighted
Pierre, no longer considering it necessary to conceal the extent of the
danger they had run. "I would not answer even for my own power to reach
the hospice in a time like this. You are of mother church, Signore, being
of Italy?"

"I am one of her unworthy children," returned the Genoese.

"This unmerited favor must have come from the prayers of St. Augustine,
and a vow I made to send a fair offering to our Lady of Einsiedeln; for
never before have I known a dog of St. Bernard lead the traveller to the
Refuge! Their business is to find the frozen, and to guide the traveller
along the paths to the hospice. Even Uberto had his doubts, as you saw,
but the vow prevailed; or, I know not--it might, indeed, have been the
prayer."

The Signor Grimaldi was too eager to get Adelheid under cover, and, in
good sooth, to be there himself, to waste the time in discussing the
knotty point of which of two means that were equally orthodox, had been
the most efficacious in bringing about their rescue. In common with the
others, he followed the pious and confiding Pierre in silence, making the
best of his way after the credit lous guide. The latter had not yet seen
the Refuge himself, for so these places are well termed on the Alpine
passes, but the information of the ground had satisfied him of its
proximity. Once reassured as to his precise position, all the surrounding
localities presented themselves to his mind with the familiarity the
seaman manifests with every cord in the intricate maze of his rigging, in
the darkest night, or, to produce a parallel of more common use, with the
readiness which all manifest in the intricacies of their own habitations.
The broken chain of association being repaired and joined, every thing
became clear, again to his apprehension, and, in diverging from the path
on this occasion, the old man held his way as directly toward the spot he
sought, as if he were journeying under a bright sun. There was a rough but
short descent, a similar rise, and the long-desired goal was reached.

We shall not stop to dwell upon the emotions with which the travellers
first touched this place of comparative security. Humility, and dependence
on the providence of God, were the pre-dominant sensations even with the
rude muleteers, while the pearly exhausted females were just able to
express in murmurs their fervent gratitude to the omnipotent power that
had permitted its agents so unexpectedly to interpose between them and
death. The Refuge was not seen until Pierre laid his hand on the roof, now
white with snow, and proclaimed its character with a loud, warm, and
devout thanksgiving.

"Enter and thank God!" he said. "Another hopeless half-hour would have
brought down from his pride the stoutest among us--enter, and thank God!"

As is the fact with all the edifices of that region the building was
entirely of stone, even to the roof having the form of those vaulted
cellars which in this country are use for the preservation of vegetables.
It was quite free from humidity, however, the clearness of the atmosphere
and the entire absence of soil preventing the accumulation of moisture,
and it offered no more than the naked protection of its walls to those who
sought its cover. But shelter on such a night was everything, and this it
effectually afforded. The place had only one outlet, being simply formed
of four walls and the roof; but it was sufficiently large to shelter a
party twice as numerous as that which had now reached it.

The transition from the biting cold and piercing winds of the mountain to
the shelter of this inartificial building, was so great as to produce
something like a general sensation of warmth. The advantage gained in this
change of feeling was judiciously improved by the application of friction
and of restoratives under the direction of Pierre. Uberto carried a small
supply of the latter attached to his collar, and before half an hour had
passed Adelheid and Christine were sleeping sweetly, side by side, muffled
in plenty of the spare garments, and pillowed on the saddles and housings
of the mules. The brutes were brought within the Refuge and as no party
mounted the St Bernard without carrying the provender necessary for its
beasts of burthen, that sterile region affording none of its own, the very
fuel being transported leagues on the backs of mules, the patient and
hardy animals, too, found their solace, after the fatigues and exposure of
the day. The presence of so many living bodies in lodgings so confined
aided in producing warmth, and, after all had eaten of the scanty fare
furnished by the foresight of the guide, drowsiness came over the whole
party.



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