« AnteriorContinuar »
of life, while the other was distinctly perceived to wave a scarf in sign of victory and safety. At the sight, a shout so loud, so wild, went forth from the crowd, that in its reverberation from the mountain, it seemed to shake the solid rock, where the stranger stood on his perilous footing.
While some of the mountaineers ran to drag the feathered monster from his rocky grave, the rest of the company proceeded in frantic joy to meet the gallant victor. The situation of the stranger had indeed been one of extreme hazard. After his first rencounter with the vulture, hastening to descend the peak, he was about to turn round an angle of the rock to the narrow ledge, along which the path led, when he beheld the vulture approaching with his prey, and he couched down behind the crag, as the bird alighted at his side. Instinctively he threw himself between the beak of the ravenous monster and his intended victim, and instantly felt himself in his iron grasp. To turn, to stir on the fearful ridge, was almost sure destruction, and the slightest effort of the animal would hurl him down the rock. With the least motion possible, he directed his weapon over his head to the neck of the bird; and, guided by his left hand, just as he felt the beak close around his own neck, thrust the knife, with sure and firm hand, deep into the animal's throat; then clinging with desperate energy to the rough surface of the rocky path, sustained himself in his perilous situation, till the vulture's struggles were over, when his grasp relaxed, and his huge carcass slid over the prostrate body of the stranger into the abyss.
The young hero was conducted to the chalet in triumph, with the lammer- geyer borne in state before him; the men envying, and the women admiring him. The youth bore his honours with a modest, yet frank and well-bred air; spoke of the achievement as of a lucky accident; and insisted that his slight wounds should not delay the ceremony for a single moment.
Accordingly, the priest pronounced the blessing, and Florent and his Marianne were for the time, the very happiest couple in the world. Dancing among those primitive people was, at this period, known only on the occasion of a marriage, or the confirmation of a nun; when, therefore, the music struck, it may be imagined with what alacrity the young people stood up; at least the girls; for the Swiss peasant, even in the dance, retains a portion of his characteristic gravity, while the females are all spirit and playful vivacity. The bride was led out by the young Austrian, who, in his neat hunter dress, exhibited a form and a grace, that were long remembered and talked of by the mountain maidens.
In the repast that followed, it was plainly to be seen, that it was honest Eberard's intention things should be done handsomely. The good father had even excelled himself on this occasion; and among the dainties, the ladies were surprised and delighted with the toasts sopped in wine, and nicely powdered with sugar and cinnamon. We have not mentioned milk and cheese, as being things of course; and yet the latter, at least, deserves particular notice, not only because it was excellent in itself, but the rather that it had been made and designed for this special occasion, full twenty years before, and, agreeably to the country custom, had the names of the intended man and wife, while they were yet children, carved legibly upon its am pie surface. The appearance of the cheese was a coup-d'eclat, for, with a laudable policy, the intended bride and bridegroom had been kept in ignorance of the arrangement, and suffered to fall in love in their own way; and Florent had gone through all the gradations of courtship, as regulated by Swiss usage; had duly come a-wooing through storm and sun, over hulde and hubel, through tobel and tangel-holtz, until one eventful Saturday night, when every maiden, dressed for company, has a right to look for a visit from her suitor, Florent climbed manfully up the outside of the house, to her chamber window, and sitting gallantly there, half in and half out, drinking a little kiersiwasser, and talking a great deal of love, till the dawn of day, had, in the end, put the final question, in couplets invented for similar purposes by his ancestors, and receiving the favourable poetical response, retired, the joyful bridegroom elect.
While at table, the host, encouraged by the curiosity manifested by the strangers, did not fail to dwell at length on the merits of Mont Pilate, which, although he admitted it was not so high as Mont Blanc, he contended was a much finer mountain. "Can you see thirteen lakes from Mont Blanc?" said he triumphantly. "It has glaciers, it is true," he added, "and we have none to speak of; and no lauwines tumbling down upon our houses and our heads; for the snow leaves us in summer, except from under the side of old Ksel; but where will ye find such pasturages as the Brundlen on Mont Blanc? And then for curiosities, let Mont Blanc show us a shaking rock like our Knapstein; or a statue of white marble, thirty feet high, fixed in the very bowels of the rock—God knows how, or when, or by whom—like our St Dominic; or, above all, let them show us, in all Switzerland, a fine dismal lake, like that hard by in the midst of noble firs and sycamores, where, as our fathers say, Pontius Pilate drowned himself of yore." "And full of dark spectres," whispered Marianne, shuddering. "And from whose vapours we get such pelting storms," added Florent: "St Dominic preserve us from its favours to night." "Our magistrates have forbidden strangers to approach the lake," observed Martin of Hergottwald;"fbritisonly then that it breeds tempests." "We know your laws, and have avoided your mare infernale," replied the old Austrian, to whom the observation seemed to be addressed. * Potz tusig!" exclaimed honest Eberard, "that's a fable, I believe, friend Martin, as we of the Brundlen can testify, who have been soundly drenched, and not a stranger on the mountain. But tell us, neighbour of Underwalden, you have been a traveller, did you ever see a lammer-geyer killed, but on Mont Pilate? Faith, brother, since your ancestor, Sir Struth of Winkelried, destroyed the dragon, there had been no such gallant deed; and dragons, they say, are no longer to be met with." The person addressed, who, at every opportunity, had been engaged in earnest discourse with the seniors of the company, smiled faintly as he turned to the speaker. "There may be dragons yet to encounter, brother of Lucerne," he replied, "more dangerous to the land than any my ancestor ever destroyed;" and he glanced at the strangers, the younger of whom was chatting with the bride; the elder, however, noticed the remark, and was for an instant discomposed, but immediately resumed his serenity. "But come," said the jovial host, "let us to the free air, and taste the freshness of the evening. We have the finest echoes in the Eight Cantons," he added, turning to the strangers. "Come, girls—come, lads, tune your voices, and let us hear whether the bridal carol will sleep among the rocks. No ranz-des-vachesr.ow," cried the merry old man; "let the herds 'iave their holiday, and give us a stirring lay, as ye wish to be brides and grooms yourselves." "And do not forget Tell in your songs," said the guest from Underwalden. "Away, away," cried Eberard; and the young people sallied gladly out, followed by the rest. But an air of disappointment and uneasiness took place of their hilarity, as soon as they gained the open air, "Aha!" said Eberard, looking up, "Pontius is rising in his wrath—we shall have rain." And it happened as the experienced mountaineer predicted. The dense mists, arising slowly from the dismal lake, instead of passing the summits of the rocks, and dispersing in the air, lingered around the sides of the seven peaks that surrounded and overlooked the plain. The muttering of thunder began to be heard, accompanied by occasional flashes of lightning, and the guests hastened back into the house, with the exception of the two strangers and the man of Underwalden, who remained behind a few minutes, and until the storm burst upon them. Those who have never witnessed an Alpine tempest, cannot form an idea of its sublimity; and where the spectators now stood, in the very centre of its scope and sway, it was truly frightful. "You have seen what Switzerland is in its wrath," said the man of Underwalden; "let us retire." Not unwillingly they left the spot, and had not yet entered the house, when
a tremendous crash was heard immediately behind them, and the gigantic elm tree, near which they had stood, was shivered into fragments.
The storm continued till the evening was so far advanced, that, when it had subsided, the inmates of the chalet felt no inclination to resume their festivities; and, the vesper prayer made, and the benediction bestowed, the guests were soon locked in profound repose.
At an early hour the next morning, every one was stirring; for it was the intention of many of the visitors to join in the pilgrimage, duly made on that day to the shrine of Notre Dame ties Eremites, at the abbey of Einsedeln, in the adjoining Canton of Schwytz, and soon after the matin service and the necessary morning repast, the cavalcade set out, with many cautions from honest Eberard to beware of the falling rocks, which, loosened by the recent rain, rendered the narrow valleys they might pass somewhat exposed to danger.
The man of Underwalden and the strangers, who seemed mutually desirous of knowing more of each other, were together when they reached the brow of the Alps; and before they began to descend, paused at the same moment, in admiration of the magnificent spectacle that met their view. In their front, the glorious sun had just begun to show himself above the higher mountains towards the east. More than five thousand feet below them, was the most picturesque lake in Switzerland, the Waldstetten See, or Water of the Sylvan States, as it was appropriately called, lying tranquil and serene in its rocky recess, and laving the beautiful shores of the four ancient and free cantons. The tops of the most distant Alps were already tinged with gold, but the mountains that clustered immediately around the lake, remained in dark and gloomy grandeur. The eye wandered delighted, over the far off scene of mountain, and valley, and forest, and stream; or, charmed and enraptured, followed the sinuous outline of the lake below, as it now expanded its broad bosom near Lucerne, or shone a liquid cross, as it branched its waters into the opposite gulfs of Kilsnacht and Alpnach; and now, in a noble sheet, diversified by bay and promontory, stretched to the east between Underwalden and Schwytz, until approaching the towering Mont Righi, it contracted its surface to a strait, and abruptly turned towards the south into the narrow inlet which waters the wild banks of Uri.
"It is, indeed, a splendid spectacle," exclaimed the youngei stranger; "nor do I deem it wonderful that such a land should bo beloved, even as ye of Switzerland are said to love it." "And shall it be a marvel," replied the Swiss, "if it be defended, even as we have sworn to defend it? Shall it be reserved for a modern ravager to violate a sanctuary which the Roman and the Hun respected; where neither Caesar in his pride, nor Attila in his wrath, ever dared to enter?" '• How, if neither Caesar nor Attila knew of the existence of yonder valley," asked the elder stranger. "Scorn us, if you will," answer the Swiss, calmly, "but touch us not: disdain the land at a distance; and leave us in our simplicity, rude, perhaps, and rugged as our rocks. Yonder you behold the cradle of Helvetic liberty: it may become its tomb, but first it will be the grave of every free Helvetian." '' The spot is most memorable in your annals," observed the youth, willing to soothe the wounded feelings of the Swiss. "The history of our freedom is indelibly graven upon those everlasting hills,''he exclaimed; "it is not for the hand of mortal to erase it. Yonder, towards the distant St Gotthard in the east, where the Reuss falls into the lake of Uri, at its southern extremity, stands Altorf, where Tell performed his first and perilous exploit. Farther down the gulf, on its eastern shore, at the foot of yonder aschenberg, is the rock on which the hero sprang when, favoured by the storm, he achieved his freedom. The fountain of the Grutli, where Furst, and Melchthal, and Staafacher, met at midnight to plan their country's emancipation, is there on the hither shore of the same narrow lake, just where it turns to the left; and on the opposite coast you may perceive the town of Brunnen, where the three first free cantons ratified their league. Returning to this extremity of the See, and casting your view up yonder opposite gulf, you behold Kusnacht, near which the tyrant Gessler fell by the hand of Tell, in sight of his own castle, whose ruined towers are still to be distinguished." "Tell was a hero," exclaimed the youth with enthusiasm, " whose fame I could almost envy." "There are thousands of his countrymen," said the Swiss, "ready to die to share it: there have been many who have already perished to partake of their country's gratitude. Look farther north, beyond yon lake of Zug, and you may perceive the hills of Morgarten, at whose base, by the marshy lake of Kgheri, some seventy years ago, our fathers met their Austrian invaders, in force one to fifteen, and sealed the liberties of Switzerland." '; Let us move on," said the elder, a little impatiently. "Our mountain air is often found too keen for strangers," observed the Swiss, as he sedately followed.
Descending the mountain through forests of oak and elm, over fertile pasturages or barren rocks, and by the side of precipices covered with pine or the mountain ash, the scene every moment assuming a new aspect and varied tints, they reached Brientz, where they resumed their horses, and through several other villages, at