Page images

and open-hearted; now he seemed timorous and reserved. I told him the circumstances of my life-how devoid I was of any object of affection-how destitute of friends. I dwelt with energy and pleasure upon his kindness towards me; he was the only being upon earth who had claims upon my gratitude.

At length he yielded to my solicitation, and opened to me his heart. “ I can have little claim," said he, “ to trouble you with my own peculiar anxieties; but since you have yourself observed them, and seem interested in their cause, I will tell you. You have possibly observed, among the girls who have occasionally attended you, one who does not wear the costume of our canton.”

I suppressed the rising exclamation of interest and impatience, and replied simply that I had.

" She is,” resumed the priest,“ my sister's child. I thought you may not have noticed her, for her delicacy would never permit her to enter your chamber except when necessity obliged her; but she has been no less watchful for your recovery. Her mother's instructions have taught her to look upon as indecorous many things that are thought blameless among our simple peasantry; but I have employed her in mingling all the remedies I have used for you.”

What a blockhead I was, thought I, to think them so nasty!

The priest continued. “ Circumstances called me last spring to Lausanne, her native city, and while there, my importunities, her own romantic disposition, and perhaps the wish of her parents that she should profit by my instructions, induced them to allow her to return for a short time with me. Their parting was a bitter one, and though the circumstances of her parents continue to render it advantageous to both that she should remain with me, Louise casts many a wishful glance towards Lausanne; but I know not what I shall do when she leaves me. Her kindness and gaiety have rendered her almost necessary to me. Although her stay was at first to have been but short, I cannot even yet think of parting with her.

“ The summer passed quickly away, with her as the companion of my walks-for to her I could communicate feelings and sentiments which none other around me could share. Like her mother, alas! she refuses to be reconciled with the only true Church; but still she is a good, a very good girl; and I feel that when we part, as part we must, I shall mourn as if I were severed from an only child. But this is not all. Her father is a Frenchman, one of those whom the late revolutions have driven from their country and their patrimony. But, although of noble birth, the nobles of France were too numerous to be rich, and he was enabled to save only a wreck sufficient, with frugal economy, to support him upon the beautiful banks of the Lake of Geneva. It would be long to tell you how, during a former residence in Switzerland, he had seen and loved my younger sister, who was," said the old man, rather proudly, “then his equal in birth, and even his superior in fortune; and how she, with all the disinterested love of woman, consented to share his poverty. Love long supplied the only luxury they needed, and content the place of wealth; but lately misfortune has pursued them, even to their humble home, and embarrassments have obliged them unwillingly to consent that Louise shall remain with me while they are struggling to overcome them. But although we are now fallen, we cannot but still


remember what we have been; poor though she be, Louise is still a daughter of the family of Wütlens.

This, my friend, is the cause of all my fears. The girl has a little spark of coquetry about her, and makes the most of her slender

opportunities, by playing the belle at our holiday dances. She has enough of the pride of her father to assure me that the amusement of the moment is her only motive, but the effects are not so harmless. The boldest chamois-hunter of our canton, Carl Zwey, had this morning the assurance to make her an offer of his hand.”

“ The devil!" I muttered, between my teeth; but my friend did not seem to recognize his Satanic Majesty by his English cognomen, and proceeded.

“ Louise laughed, but Carl was serious; and the girl was at last obliged to interpose my authority to rid her of his importunities. The young man is strong and daring, but I know him to be rough and ignorant, and his companions say he is morose in temper, and violent in his resentments. I confess I dread some evil at his hands. But," said the old man, and his eye sparkled, and a flush which I had never before seen overspread his countenance, what may, peasant or chamoishunter shall never wed the grand-daughter of the Lord of Wüflens. You see I am not without reason for the anxiety you have observed : I am as anxious now to return my niece to the protection of her father as I was before desirous of detaining her, and I shall have but little peace until the opportunity occurs.”

If I was much touched by the confidence of the good priest, I was more interested by his recital; and ere we parted I made use of every topic I could suggest to banish his forebodings. The next morning I persuaded myself, and with more difficulty my host, that I was quite well enough to leave my room, and return my thanks to my invisible benefactress. Between two inmates of a Swiss cottage there is little ceremony of introduction. Reader, had you seen Louise as I first saw her, you would have confessed she was the most arch little rosy rogue that ever turned man's head or stole his heart. We soon got intimate.“ She had learned of her mother accomplishments which had never been heard of among her rude companions; and she had imbibed from her father sentiments which found no response in the breasts of the cottagers among whom she now was. Was it not natural then that she should welcome the society of one who could admire with her her favourite poets, read to her the romantic love-tale, and share her rapture at the sublimity of the surrounding scenery? Besides, she had tended me when sick, and women always feel a deep interest in what they have preserved. All the paths by which a woman could journey were yet impassable for the snow, and it would probably be many weeks ere they would be clear. The capuchin was employed in his pastoral duties, and, 'I suppose because I was neither“ peasant nor chamois-hunter," we were left almost always together.

While I was yet weak, she amused me by singing—as to music, nothing more sophisticated than a Swiss.horn had ever been seen or heard in the hamlet; and I in my turn read from our rather slender store of books some oft-repeated favourite morceau. Time never hung heavily with us—we had many resources : I taught her a little English, she perfected me in French; we rehearsed the incidents of our past lives, and

often spoke wistfully of the future. Her nursing did more than the College of Physicians could have done to complete my recovery. In spite of the wintry blasts, we began to stray abroad. 'The Reuss, the impetuous torrent in which Tell was drowned, ran very near our cottage, and by its side would we ramble and review the circumstances of the patriot's life, which Louise would recount with all the animation and delight the Swiss ever feel in dwelling upon his exploits.

Now I felt myself supremely happy. The aching void was filled up -I had an object around which my heart-strings might twine themselves. Ordinary minds, whose affections are shared by many relatives, can form no conception of the intensity, the devotedness of my love. Louise was the only being who had ever loved me—the smile of affection was new to me, for I had never known a mother's love. It was in one of these rambles that I first spoke of what had long been anticipated by both ;-I pressed our immediate union; but Louise, who was usually gentle as the young gazelle, was hcre firm in her refusal: she made no objection, however, to my returning with her to Lausanne as soon as the journey was practicable, and then, if papa thought as favourably upon the matter as our worthy host did -and Louise, I shrewdly suspect, had no very serious doubts upon that point-why, then, &c. &c.

I would rather she had been immediately and indissolubly mine, for I had some strange presentiment of evil always weighing upon my mind. Often did I fear for our happiness, when I marked the angry glances which were directed at the stranger who had withdrawn the belle from the Sunday dance. Among these resentful youths there was one we never passed but Louise pressed closer to my side, and I could feel her tremble. She confessed to me afterwards that she had begun to share in her uncle's fears. Carl, since his rejection, had repeated his importunities whenever he could meet her alone; and the laughing Louise was at last frightened by the altered demeanour of the man. The last time they met, she repulsed him with a dignity which she could well assume, and he left her muttering something, of which“ rival” and“ revenge” were all she heard. I endeavoured to laugh away her fears, but I was not altogether easy myself under the scowl which this morose-looking vagabond thought fit to indulge me with : the smile of contempt with which I met it was rather assumed than real. I had heard that Zwey was the best shot in the canton, and my experience with our own club had taught me with what precision a man might be picked off among these crags; and as to his body, it might be hurled into depthis which human vision has never penetrated. But although I had such strong personal reasons for disliking his company, I dreaded infinitely more some act of violence to my Louise. Carl was that determined sort of dog, that I held him capable of any scheme; and it was whispered in the valley that some of his hunting expeditions had brought him more profit than they would have done had the chamois been his only game. But what could I do?. He never obtruded himself upon me; we never even exchanged words. I had no pretence, therefore, to quarrel with him; and, since his final repulse, he had never even sought to speak to Louise.

In a little time our suspicions appeared groundless, and were almost forgotten; the winter was gradually disappearing, and the day for our journey was fixed. In the joy and bustle of preparation we forgot there


was such a person as Carl Zwey in existence. In the afternoon preceding the day before our departure, I determined to leave Louise alone with her uncle, and sallied forth to take a last view of the surrounding scenery of Realp. The magnificent road which now passes so near the hamlet had not then been formed ; a few rugged paths offered the only means of conveyance or travelling. I wished also to satisfy myself that the path we were to take to-morrow was sufficiently clear. After exploring it to the distance of about two miles from the village, I left it and crossed the shallow bed of a torrent tributary of the Reuss, to gain a cliff which seemed to offer a commanding view of the scenery around. After I had crossed, I turned and leant upon my climbing-pole to examine the curious appearance of the road I had left.

It had been rudely cut along the side of the mountains which rose above the stream, except in one place where a narrow gorge appeared like a fissure in the rock, running back to a chasm which seemed to extend downwards into the very bowels of the mountain. The whole appeared as though the mountain had been rent asunder by some terrible convulsion of nature. Over the brink of the gorge, which ran even into the bed of the torrent, but not far enough to draw into it the then shrunk stream, a rude and frail-looking arch had been thrown, to continue the road; and its tottering insecurity struck me as happily in character with the wild objects around. I mused a moment upon the scene, and then turned to pursue my walk; but I saw little of the mountains or the dells. I was indulging in day-dreams of happiness and Louise. I was retracing the progress of our love, and recalling to mind (as easily as I could) every ingenuous confession she had made since I had drawn from her an acceptance of my suit. These meditations were however most unpleasantly interrupted by a sudden fall of hail and rain. I looked up, and my eye, rendered skilful by a winter's experience, detected all the symptoms of an approaching tempest.

My reverie had carried me Beyond my bounds. I was far from any habitation, and had little hope of obtaining shelter before its fury burst. Nor were my fears vain. I had hardly returned a mile, before the hurricane broke over me with frightful violence; the winds rushed like demons through the valleys; the rain fell in continued streams to the earth, and the reverberated roar of the conflicting elements seemed to shake the rooted mountains to their base. The scene had been wild before: now it was frightful. The little stealing rills were in a moment swollen to mighty rushing cataracts, which roared onwards in a mantling cloud of spray, and hurled down in their headlong course uprooted pines and detached masses of rock. It was by slow degrees, and by desperate effort, that I won my way along : now throwing myself flat upon my face, and now striking the spike of my climbing-pole deep into the fissures of the rocks, and sustaining myself upon it against the whirlwind. At length I gained the spot where, two hours before, I had paused to notice the wild ravine, and the romantic bridge which strode across it.

Now my heart sickened as I gazed upon its heightened horrors. The torrent had risen beyond its bed, and was swollen to a level with the top of the arch of the bridge; it was rushing down the ravine, and tumbling headlong into that awful chasm, whose depths mortal eye had never beheld. And through that torrent lay my only

path homewards. As I held on by the rock for support against the driving storm, and looked around, I thought nothing could heighten my despair. But I was wrong. Suddenly I heard a low, hoarse laugh behind me. I turned : it was Carl, the rejected lover of Louise.

He Eeemed to me the presiding spirit of the storm. A demon might envy the smile of triumphant malice which lit up his features. He said not a word, but pointed with his rifle to the torrent, and beckoned me on ward.

Though fully alive to the perils of my situation, I was in no humour to endure the insolent triumph of this hateful peasant. I turned haughtily from him, and leant, as listlessly as the storm would let me, upon my staff.

I had stood in this position some minutes, watching in vain for some sign of the tempest abating, when that horrid laugh again grated upon my car. This time it was loud and exulting. It was followed by a piercing scream.

Gracious heaven! it was Louise upon the road across the torrent; she was bound upon the back of a mule, which two men were urging forward in the teeth of the storm.

We were hardly fifty yards apart: she saw me,-called to me by my name. Zwey hallooed in German to the men upon the road, and, when they answered him, he advanced towards me, I know not for what purpose; but

rage and madness had nerved my arm, and I struck him with my fist to the earth. It was the impulse of the moment; but Louise had all my thoughts. I paused not to take advantage of my blow: ere he could rise I had rushed forwards, struck my pole into the ground, and sprang desperately at the torrent. But it was not in human power to clear it. The whelming waters below received me. I rose, but only to become alive to the horrors of my situation. I was hurrying headlong towards the arch,- towards that horrible abyss ;-I still held with desperate grasp my pole, but stone after stone gave way as I caught by it. In spite of all my efforts 'I was being drawn under the centre of the arch; -a moment more, and I should have been engulphed for ever. But that moment was not destined. A sudden eddy of the whirling stream dashed me violently against the bridge, and I clung to the projecting buttress. 'Twas well it was the buttress, for at that moment the centre part of the arch gave way, and rolled with the now unopposed waters down the precipice. Still I held on: the waters had gained a copious vent, and would, I dared to hope, subside a little; but all my remaining strength was still requisite, to keep me from being whirled along with them. Once I dared to look up towards the bank above me; but there was no hope of escape until the flood should subside. Once, too, the waters threw me upon my back, and, as I turned in the struggle, I saw Zwey standing, with folded arms and a grin of gratified malice, upon the bank I had leaped from. But I recovered my position ;-my immediate peril was passed. I had fixed my spiked pole firmly into the still enduring buttress, and clasped it with my feet and disengaged arm, I now looked upwards again towards the bank upon which I supposed Louise still was, but my position allowed me no view of the road, and I turned again to try to gather intelligence from the movements of Zwey. No sooner did he catch my eye, than he raised his rifle to his shoulder: I saw it pointed full at me, and grew dizzy with despair again. But the storm, which had so nearly destroyed, preserved me. The cock clicked,

« PreviousContinue »