Chapter 28




And when thou thus
Shalt stand impleaded at the high tribunal
Of hoodwink'd Justice, who shall tell thy audit!

Cotton.

The buffoon and the pilgrim, though of a general appearance likely to
excite distrust, presented themselves with the confidence and composure of
innocence. Their examination was short, for the account they gave of their
movements was clear and connected. Circumstances that were known to the
monks, too, greatly aided in producing a conviction that they could have
had no agency in the murder. They had left the valley below some hours
before the arrival of Jacques Colis, and they reached the convent, weary
and foot-sore, as was usual with all who ascended that long and toilsome
path, shortly after the commencement of the storm. Measures had been taken
by the local authorities, during the time lost in waiting the arrival of
the bailiff and the châtelain, to ascertain all the minute facts which it
was supposed would be useful in ferreting out the truth; and the results
of these inquiries had also been favorable to these itinerants, whose
habits of vagabondism might otherwise very justly have brought them within
the pale of suspicion.

The flippant Pippo was the principal speaker in the short investigation,
and his answers were given with a ready frankness, that, under the
circumstances, did him and his companion infinite service. The buffoon,
though accustomed to deception and frauds, had sufficient mother-wit to
comprehend the critical position in which he was now placed, and that it
was wiser to be sincere, than to attempt effecting his ends by any of the
usual means of prevarication. He answered the judge, therefore, with a
simplicity which his ordinary pursuits would not have given reason to
expect, and apparently with some touches of feeling that did credit to his
heart.

"This frankness is thy friend," added the châtelain, after he had nearly
exhausted his questions, the answers having convinced him that there was
no ground of suspicion, beyond the adventitious circumstance of their
having been travellers on the same road as the deceased; "it has done much
towards convincing me of thy innocence, and it is in general the best
shield for those who have committed no crime. I only marvel that one of
thy habits should have had the sense to discover it!"

"Suffer me to tell you, Signor Castellano, or Podestà, whichever may be
your eccellenza's proper title, that you have not given Pippo credit for
the wit he really hath. It is true I live by throwing dust into men's
eyes, and by making others think the wrong is the right: but mother Nature
has given us all an insight into our own interests, and mine is quite
clear enough to let me know when the true is better than the false."

"Happy would it be if all had the same faculty and the same disposition to
put it in use."

"I shall not presume to teach one as wise and as experienced as yourself,
eccellenza, but if an humble man might speak freely in this honorable
presence, he would say that it is not common to meet with a fact without
finding it a very near neighbor to a lie. They pass for the wisest and the
most virtuous who best know how to mix the two so artfully together, that,
like the sweets we put upon healing bitters, the palatable may make the
useful go down. Such at least is the opinion of a poor street buffoon,
who has no better claim to merit than having learned his art on the Mole
and in the Toledo of Bellissima Napoli, which, as everybody knows, is a
bit of heaven fallen upon earth!"

The fervor with which Pippo uttered the customary eulogium on the site of
the ancient Parthenope was so natural and characteristic as to excite a
smile in the judge, in spite of the solemn duty in which he was engaged,
and it was believed to be an additional proof of the speaker's innocence.
The châtelain then slowly recapitulated the history of the buffoon and the
pilgrim to his companions, the purport of which was as follows.

Pippo naively admitted the debauch at Vévey, implicating the festivities
of the day and the known frailty of the flesh as the two influencing
causes. Conrad, however, stood upon the purity of his life and the sacred
character of his calling, justifying the company he kept on the
respectable plea of necessity, and on that of the mortifications to which
a pilgrimage should, of right, subject him who undertakes it. They had
quitted Vaud together as early as the evening of the day of the abbaye's
ceremonies, and, from that time to the moment of their arrival at the
convent, had made a diligent use of their legs, in order to cross the Col
before the snows should set in and render the passage dangerous. They had
been seen at Martigny, at Liddes, and St. Pierre, alone and at proper
hours, making the best of their way towards the hospice; and, though of
necessity their progress and actions, for several hours after quitting the
latter place, were not brought within the observation of any but of that
all-seeing eye which commands a view of the recesses of the Alps equally
with those of more frequented spots, their arrival at the abode of the
monks was sufficiently seasonable to give reason to believe that no
portion of the intervening time had been wasted by the way. Thus far their
account of themselves and their movements was distinct, while, on the
other hand, there was not a single fact to implicate either, beyond the
suspicion that was more or less common to all who happened to be on the
mountain at the moment the crime was committed.

"The innocence of these two men would seem so clear, and their readiness
to appear and answer to our questions is so much in their favor," observed
the experienced châtelain, "that I do not deem it just to detain them
longer. The pilgrim, in particular, has a heavy trust; I understand he
performs his penance as much for others as for himself, and it is scarce
decent in us, who are believers and servants of the church, to place
obstacles in his path. I will suggest the expediency, therefore, of giving
him at least permission to depart."

"As we are near the end of the inquiries," interrupted the Signor
Grimaldi, gravely, "I would suggest, with due deference to a better
opinion and more experience, the propriety that all should remain,
ourselves included, until we have come to a better understanding of the
truth."

Both Pippo and the pilgrim met this suggestion with ready declarations of
their willingness to continue at the convent until the following morning.
This little concession, however, had no great merit, for the lateness of
the hour rendered it imprudent to depart immediately; and the; affair was
finally settled by ordering them to retire, it being understood that,
unless previously called for, they might depart with the reappearance of
the dawn. Maso was the next and the last to be examined.

Il Maledetto presented himself with perfect steadiness of nerve. He was
accompanied by Nettuno, the mastiffs of the convent having been kennelled
for the night. It had been the habit of the dog of late to stray among
the rocks by day, and to return to the convent in the evening in quest of
food, the sterile St. Bernard possessing nothing whatever for the support
of man or beast except that which came from the liberality of the monks,
every animal but the chamois and the lämmergeyer refusing to ascend so
near the region of eternal snows. In his master, however, Nettuno found a
steady friend, never failing to receive all that was necessary to his
wants from the portion of Maso himself; for the faithful beast was
admitted at his periodical visits to the temporary prison in which the
latter was confined.

The châtelain waited; a moment for the little stir occasioned by the
entrance of the prisoner to subside, when he pursued the inquiry.

"Thou art a Genoese of the name of Thomaso Santi?" he asked, consulting
his notes.

"By this name, Signore, am I generally known."

"Thou art a mariner, and it is said one of courage and skill. Why hast
thou given thyself the ungracious appellation of Il Maledetto?"

"Men call me thus. It is a misfortune, but not a crime, to be accursed."

"He that is so ready to abuse his own fortunes should not be surprised if
others are led to think he merits his fate. We have some accounts of thee
in Valais; 'tis said thou art a free-trader?"

"The fact can little concern Valais or her government, since all come and
go unquestioned in this free land."

"It is true, we do not imitate our neighbors in all their policy; neither
do we like to see so often those who set at naught the laws of friendly
states. Why art thou journeying on this road?"

"Signore, if I am what you say, the reason of my being here is
sufficiently plain. It is probably because the Lombard and Piedmontese
are more exacting of the stranger than you of the mountains."

"Your effects have been examined, and they offer nothing to support the
suspicion. By all appearances, Maso, thou hast not much of the goods of
life to boast of; but, in spite of this, thy reputation clings to thee."

"Ay, Signore, this is much after the world's humor. Let it fancy any
quality in a man, and he is sure to get more than his share of the same,
whether it be for or against his interest. The rich man's florin is
quickly coined into a sequin by vulgar tongues, while the poor man is
lucky if he can get the change of a silver mark for an ounce of the better
metal. Even poor Nettuno finds it difficult to get a living here at the
convent, because some difference in coat and instinct has given him a bad
name among the dogs of St. Bernard!"

"Thy answer agrees with thy character; thou art said to have more wit than
honesty, Maso, and thou art described as one that can form a desperate
resolution and act up to its decision at need?"

"I am as Heaven willed at the birth, Signor Castellano, and as the chances
of a pretty busy life have served to give the work its finish. That I am
not wanting in manly qualities on occasion, perhaps these noble travellers
will be willing to testify, in consideration of some activity that I may
have shown on the Leman, during their late passage of that treacherous
water."

Though this was said carelessly, the appeal to the recollection and
gratitude of those he had served was too direct to be overlooked. Melchior
de Willading, the pious clavier, and the Signor Grimaldi all testified in
behalf of the prisoner, freely admitting that, without his coolness and
skill, the Winkelried and all she held would irretrievably have been lost.
Sigismund was not content with so cold a demonstration of his feelings. He
owed not only the lives of his father and him self to the courage of Maso,
but that of one dearer than all; one whose preservation, to his youthful
imagination, seemed a service that might nearly atone for any crime, and
his gratitude was in proportion.

"I will testify more strongly to thy merit, Maso, in face of this or any
tribunal;" he said, grasping the hand of the Italian. "One who showed so
much bravery and so strong love for his fellows, would be little likely to
take life clandestinely and like a coward. Thou mayest count on my
testimony in this strait--if thou art guilty of this crime, who can hope
to be innocent?"

Maso returned the friendly grasp till their fingers seemed to grow into
each other. His eye, too, showed he was not without wholesome native
sympathies, though education and his habits might have warped them from
their true direction. A tear, in spite of his effort to suppress the
weakness started from its fountain, rolling down his sunburnt cheek like a
solitary rivulet trickling through a barren and rugged waste.

"This is frank, and as becomes a soldier, Signore," he said, "and I
receive it as it is given, in kindness and love. But we will not lay more
stress upon the affair of the lake than it deserves. This keen-sighted
châtelain need not be told that I could not be of use in saving your
lives, without saving my own; and, unless I much mistake the meaning of
his eye, he is about to say that we are fashioned like this wild country
in which chance has brought us together, with our spots of generous
fertility mingled with much unfruitful rock, and that he who does a good
act to-day may forget himself by doing an evil turn to-morrow."

"Thou givest reason to all who hear thee to mourn that thy career has not
been more profitable to thyself and the public," answered the judge; "one
who can reason so-well, and who hath this clear insight into his own
disposition, must err less from ignorance than wantonness!"

"There you do me injustice, Signor Castellano, and the laws more credit
than they deserve. I shall not deny that justice--or what is called
justice--and I have some acquaintance. I have been the tenant of many
prisons before this which has been furnished by the holy canons, and I
have seen every stage of the rogue's progress, from him who is still
startled by his first crime, dreaming heavy dreams, and fancying each
stone of his cell has an eye to reproach him, to him who no sooner does a
wrong than it is forgotten in the wish to find the means of committing
another; and I call Heaven as a witness, that more is done to help along
the scholar in his study of vice, by those who are styled the ministers of
justice, than by his own natural frailties, the wants of his habits, or
the strength of his passions. Let the judge feel a father's mildness, the
laws possess that pure justice which is of things that are not perverted,
and society become what it claims to be, a community of mutual support,
and, my life on it, châtelain, thy functions will be lessened of most of
their weight and of all their oppression."

"This language is bold, and without an object. Explain the manner of thy
quitting Vévey, Maso, the road thou hast travelled, the hours of thy
passages by the different villages, and the reason why thou wert
discovered near the Refuge, alone, and why thou quittedst the companions
with whom thou hadst passed the night so early and so clandestinely?"

The Italian listened attentively to these several interrogatories; when
they were all put, he gravely and calmly set about furnishing his answers.
The history of his departure from Vévey, his appearance at St. Maurice,
Martigny, Liddes, and St. Pierre, was distinctly given, and it was in
perfect accordance with the private information that had been gleaned by
the authorities. He had passed the last habitation on the mountain, on
foot and alone, about an hour before the solitary horseman, who was now
known to be Jacques Colis, was seen to proceed in the same direction; and
he admitted that he was overtaken by the latter, just as he reached the
upper extremity of the plain beneath Vélan, where they were seen in
company, though at a considerable distance, and by a doubtful light, by
the travellers who were conducted by Pierre.

Thus far the account given of himself by Maso was in perfect conformity
with what was already known to the châtelain; but, after turning the rock
already mentioned in a previous chapter, all was buried in mystery, with
the exception of the incidents that have been regularly related in the
narrative. The Italian, in his further explanations, added that he soon
parted with his companion, who, impatient of delay, and desirous of
reaching the convent before night, had urged his beast to greater speed,
while he himself had turned a little aside from the path to rest himself,
and to make a few preparations that he had deemed necessary before going
directly to the convent.

The whole of this short history was delivered with a composure as great as
that which had just been displayed by Pippo and the pilgrim; and it was
impossible for any present to detect the slightest improbability or
contradiction in the tale. The meeting with the other travellers in the
storm Maso ascribed to the fact of their having passed him while he was
stationary, and to his greater speed when in motion; two circumstances
that were quite as likely to be true as all the rest of the account. He
had left the Refuge at the first glimpse of dawn, because he was behind
his time, and it had been his intention to descend to Aoste that night, an
exertion that was necessary in order to repair the loss.

"This may be true," resumed the judge; "but how dost thou account for thy
poverty? In searching thy effects, thou art found to be in a condition
little better than that of a mendicant. Even thy purse is empty, though
known to be a successful and desperate trifler with the revenue, in all
those states where the entrance duty is enforced."

"He that plays deepest, Signore, is most likely to be stripped of his
means. What is there new or unlooked for in the fact that a dealer in the
contraband should lose his venture?"

"This is more plausible than convincing. Thou art signalled as being
accustomed to transport articles of the jewellers from Geneva into the
adjoining states, and thou art known to come from the head-quarters of
these artisans. Thy losses must have been unusual, to have left thee so
naked. I much fear that a bootless speculation in thy usual trade has
driven thee to repair the loss by the murder of this unhappy man, who left
his home well supplied with gold, and, as it would seem, with a valuable
store of jewelry, too. The particulars are especially mentioned in this
written account of his effects, which the honorable bailiff bringeth from
his friends."

Maso mused silently, and in deep abstraction. He then desired that the
chapel might be cleared of all but the travellers of condition, the
monks, and his judges. The request was granted, for it was expected that
he was about to make an important confession, as indeed, in a certain
degree, proved to be the fact.

"Should I clear myself of the charge of poverty, Signor Castellano," he
demanded, when all the inferiors had left the place, "shall I stand
acquitted in your eyes of the charge of murder?"

"Surely not: still thou wilt have removed one of the principal grounds of
temptation, and in that thou wilt be greatly the gainer, for we know that
Jacques Colis hath been robbed as well as slain."

Maso appeared to deliberate again, as a man is apt to pause before he
takes a step that may materially affect his interests. But suddenly
deciding, like a man of prompt opinions, he called to Nettuno, and,
seating himself on the steps of one of the side-altars, he proceeded to
make his revelation with great method and coolness. Removing some of the
long shaggy hair of the dog, Il Maledetto showed the attentive and curious
spectators that a belt of leather had been ingeniously placed about the
body of the animal, next its skin. It was so concealed as to be quite hid
from the view of those who did not make particular search, a process that
Nettuno, judging by the scowling looks he threw at most present, and the
manner in which he showed his teeth, would not be likely to permit to a
stranger. The belt was opened, and Maso laid a glittering necklace of
precious stones, in which rubies and emeralds vied with other gems of
price, with some of a dealer's coquetry, under the strong light of the
lamp.

"There you see the fruits of a life of hazards and hardships, Signor
Châtelain," he said; "if my purse is empty, it is because the Jewish
Calvinists of Geneva have taken the last liard in payment of the jewels."

"This is an ornament of rare beauty and exceeding value, to be seen in the
possession of one of thy appearance and habits, Maso!" exclaimed the
frugal Valaisan.

"Signore, its cost was a hundred doppie of pure gold and full weight, and
it is contracted for with a young noble of Milano, who hopes to win his
mistress by the present, for a profit of fifty. Affairs were getting low
with me in consequence of sundry seizures and a total wreck, and I took
the adventure with the hope of sudden and great gain. As there is nothing
against the laws of Valais in the matter, I trust to stand acquitted,
châtelain, for my frankness. One who was master of this would be little
likely to shed blood for the trifle that would be found on the person of
Jacques Colis."

"Thou hast more," observed the judge, signing with his hand as he spoke;
"let us see all thou hast."

"Not a brooch, or so much as a worthless garnet."

"Nay, I see the belt which contains them among the hairs of the dog."

Maso either felt or feigned a well-acted surprise. Nettuno had been placed
in a convenient attitude for his master to unloosen the belt, and, as it
was the intention of the latter to replace it, the animal still lay
quietly in the same position, a circumstance which displaced his shaggy
coat, and allowed the châtelain to detect the object to which he had just
alluded.

"Signore," said the smuggler, changing color but endeavoring to speak
lightly of a discovery which all the others present evidently considered
to be grave, "it would seem that the dog, accustomed to do these little
offices in behalf of his master, has been tempted by success to undertake
a speculation on his own account. By my patron saint and the Virgin! I
know nothing of this second adventure."

"Trifle not, but undo the belt, lest I have the beast muzzled that it may
be performed by others." sternly commanded the châtelain.

The Italian complied, though with an ill grace that was much too apparent
for his own interest. Having loosened the fastenings, he reluctantly gave
the envelope to the Valaisan. The latter cut the cloth, and laid some ten
or fifteen different pieces of jewelry on the table. The spectators
crowded about the spot in curiosity, while the judge eagerly referred to
the written description of the effects of the murdered man.

"A ring of brilliants, with an emerald of price, the setting chased and
heavy," read the Valaisan.

"Thank God, it is not here!" exclaimed the Signor Grimaldi. "One could
wish to find so true a mariner innocent of this bloody deed!"

The châtelain believed he was on the scent of a secret that had begun to
perplex him, and as few are so inherently humane as to prefer the
advantage of another to their own success, he heard both the announcement
and the declaration of the noble Genoese with a frown.

"A cross of turquoise of the length of two inches, with pearls of no great
value intermixed," continued the judge.

Sigismund groaned and turned away from the table.

"Unhappily, here is that which too well answers to the description!"
slowly and with evident reluctance, escaped from the Signor Grimaldi.

"Let it be measured," demanded the prisoner.

The experiment was made, and the agreement was found to be perfect

"Bracelets of rubies, the stones set in foil, and six in number,"
continued the methodical châtelain, whose eye now lighted with the triumph
of victory.

"These are wanting!" cried Melchior de Willading, who, in common with all
whom he had served, took a lively interest in the fate of Maso. "There are
no jewels of this description here!"

"Come to the next, Herr Châtelain," put in Peterchen, leaning to the side
of the law's triumph; "let us have the next, o' God's name!"

"A brooch of amethyst, the stone of our own mountains, set in foil, and
the size of one-eighth of an inch; form oval."

It was lying on the table, beyond all possibility of dispute. All the
remaining articles, which were chiefly rings of the less prized stones,
such as jasper, granite, topaz, and turquoise, were also identified,
answering perfectly to the description furnished by the jeweller, who had
sold them to Jacques Colis the night of the fête, when, with Swiss thrift,
he had laid in this small stock in trade, with a view to diminish the cost
of his intended journey.

"It is a principle of law, unfortunate man," remarked the châtelain,
removing the spectacles he had mounted in order to read the list, "that
effects wrongly taken from one robbed criminate him in whose possession
they are found, unless he can render a clear account of the transfer. What
hast thou to say on this head?"

"Not a syllable, Signore; I must refer you and all others to the dog, who
alone can furnish the history of these baubles. It is clear that I am
little known in the Valais, for Maso never deals in trifles insignificant
as these."

"The pretext will not serve thee, Maso; thou triflest in an affair of
life and death. Wilt thou confess thy crime, ere we proceed to
extremities?"

"That I have been long at open variance with the law, Signor Castellano,
is true, if you will have it so; but I am as innocent of this man's death
as the noble Baron de Willading here. That the Genoese authorities were
looking for me, on account of some secret understanding that the republic
has with its old enemies, the Savoyards, I frankly allow too; but it was a
matter of gain, and not of blood. I have taken life in my time, Signore,
but it has been in fair combat, whether the cause was just or not."

"Enough has been proved against thee already to justify the use of the
torture in order to have the rest."

"Nay; I do not see the necessity of this appeal," remarked the bailiff.
"There lies the dead, here is his property, and yonder stands the
criminal. It is an affair that only wants the forms, methinks, to be
committed presently to the axe."

"Of all the foul offences against God and man," resumed the Valaisan, in
the manner of one that is about to sentence, "that which hastens a living
soul, unshrived, unconfessed, unprepared, and with all its sins upon it,
into another state of being and into the dread presence of his Almighty
Judge, is the heaviest, and the last to be overlooked by the law. There is
less excuse for thee, Thomaso Santi, for thy education has been far
superior to thy fortunes, and thou hast passed a life of vice and violence
in opposition to thy reason and what was taught thee in youth. Thou hast,
therefore, little ground for hope, since the state I serve loves justice
in its purity above all other qualities."

"Nobly spoken! Herr Châtelain," cried the bailiff, "and in a manner to
send repentance like a dagger into the criminal's soul. What is thought
and said in Valais we echo in Vaud, and I would not that any I love stood
in thy shoes, Maso, for the honors of the emperor!"

"Signori, you have both spoken, and it is as men whom fortune hath favored
since childhood. It is easy for those who are in prosperity to be upright
in all that touches money, though by the light of the blessed Maria's
countenance I do think there is more coveted by those who have much than
by the hardy and industrious poor. I am no stranger, to that which men
call justice, and know how to honor and respect its decrees as they
deserve. Justice, Signori, is the weak man's scourge and the strong man's
sword: it is a breast-plate and back-plate to the one and a weapon to be
parried by the other. In short, it is a word of fair import, on the
tongue, but of most unequal application in the deed."

"We overlook thy language in consideration of the pass to which thy crimes
have reduced thee, unhappy man, though it is an aggravation of thy
offences, since it proves thou hast sinned equally against thyself and us.
This affair need go no farther; the headsman and the other travellers may
be dismissed: we commit the Italian to the irons."

Maso heard the order without alarm, though he appeared to be maintaining a
violent struggle with himself. He paced the chapel rapidly, and muttered
much between his teeth. His words were not intelligible, though they were
evidently of strong, if not violent, import. At length he stopped short,
in the manner of one who had decided.

"This-matter grows serious," he said: "it will admit of no farther
hesitation. Signor Grimaldi, command all to leave the chapel in whose
discretion you have not the most perfect confidence."

"I see none to be distrusted," answered the surprised Genoese.

"Then will I speak."



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