Imágenes de páginas
PDF

regulated, in shape and hue, by the most delicate taste: Bertha was not an object that could be approached with indifference.

And shall we follow them, step by step, over all the gradations, through all the flowery mazes of love's labyrinth? It might be pleasant, but it would lead too far. It will be suspected that they felt and acted, as others would feel and act under similar circumstances. And who is so unhappy as to have been always ignorant of the delights that attend the progress of the universal passion, till at last, every look, every word is love, when the rustle of the garment, the fall of the foot, are known afar off, when silence itself is interpreted, and the very atmosphere breathes of the beloved. They became all, each to the other. Eyloff, not unfrequently, was called upon to attend his relative, De Hasenberg in his excursions, but on the summit of the Righi, with an amphitheatre of an hundred leagues around him, crowded with magnificence and loveliness, it was the little antique mansion of Underwalden, distinguished from its gaudy neighbours only by its simplicity—it was the humble spot where Bertha dwelt, that alone attracted and enchained his observance. And when required to exercise his knightly skill in the tournament at the castle on the lake of Thun, the multitude shouted in vain, and the hands of beauty placed a joyless chaplet on his head: it was not until at the feet of Bertha he laid his laurels, and received her smile, that he felt himself a victor.

Arnold was much engaged abroad on public aflairs, and, when at home, was usually occupied by the duties of his farm, or abstracted in serious reflection. He could not, however, avoid perceiving the growing intimacy of Eyloff and Bertha, but he observed it without uneasiness; the young knight had won his entire confidence; and his daughter, he knew, was incapable of an act of imprudence. The good mother, too, partook of her husband's feelings; and as she plied her domestic cares, smiled in the innocence of her heart on the tender friendship of the amiable children.

And thus the time sped away in the sweet intercourse of two young and virtuous hearts. Sometimes, seated in the social circle, Eyloffwould entertain his auditors with descriptions of the country he had left, venturing more than once to hint to the blushing Bertha, that the brilliant court of Austria might yet receive an added grace from the wilds of Switzerland. But more frequently the lovers enjoyed the interchange of sentiment without even the maternal eye to observe them: wandering at times through the romantic walks of the neighbouring hills and groves, soothed by the soft notes of the Alpine warbler, as the green or spotted woodpecker flew by them from branch to branch, and the busy nut-cracker was heard in his employment over their heads; while the tawny owl sat in his wisdom high up the shady sycamore, or the hermet crow looked out grave and solemn from the recess of his piny cell: at other times in the light skirl', coasting the beautiful shore of the lake, and exploring each shady nook for new wonders, and scaring the falcon of the rock from his perch, and the silver inhabitant of the water from his cool and transparent retreat.

One mild and tranquil evening, Eyloffand his Bertha were straying on the quiet shore. He had declared his love: her eyes, that had been downcast at the avowal, were now turned up to his with ineffable affection, as, pressed to his bosom, she listened to his eloquent strain of tenderness. At this moment a boat shot rapidly across from Gerisau, and a messenger in the Austrian costume, leaping on the strand, approached respectfully, and handed a letter to the knight. Eyloff grew pale as he scanned its superscription, for he knew it to be Leopold's. It was, indeed, a missive from his sovereign, rebuking him for his protracted absence, and commanding his instant return to court. Old John of Hasenberg, who had so long yielded to his young friend's wish to remain, had received a like command: he was already prepared to set out, and Eyloffwas . even then expected. The resolution of the lover was taken ere he had finished the letter. Instructing the messenger to await his return, he led the trembling, almost fainting Bertha toward her father's house. Arnold had just then returned with his son from attending the celebration of the anniversary of Morgarten.

"Arnold of Winkelried," said Eyloff, " I depart from Switzerland this moment. I know not why my sovereign is thus imperative, but as a loyal subject, I have but to obey. It is now no time for slow and solemn ceremony. Behold this maiden. I love her, I am beloved; will you that I take her as my bride to Austria?" The sinking girl clung for support to her lover, like the graceful ivy round the stately oak. Arnold for an instant hesitated, but it was only for an instant. "Young knight," he replied, "you have gained the love of this maiden, and the esteem of her parents, yet cannot she now be your wife. Austria is about to be the enemy of Switzerland. Would you that she should abjure her country and her father, or could you be content to share her divided heart? Let Leopold of Austria be just: let the storm that hangs over this land be dispelled by him who raised it, or be broken and dispersed on the peaks of yonder Alps, before an Austrian claims as his bride a daughter of Helvetia." The decisions of Arnold of Winkelried were known to be irrevocable; yet love emboldened Eyloff. "Leopold is my friend," he said; "let me present Bertha before him as my wife, in the power of her beauty and her innocence: let the virtues of your daughter plead for her country." "The daughter of Arnold must not be a suppliant at a tyrant's feet," replied the Swiss. "Give me your promise, then," resumed the youth, "it my plea prevail with Leopold, and war is averted from your happy vales, that Bertha shall be my reward: and let her be betrothed to me here, in the sight of yonder glorious Heaven." "Return the friend of free Helvetia, and she is yours," replied Arnold; and, kneeling on the verdant carpet, as the sun poured his last beams over the magnificent temple of nature, the lovers were affianced and blessed beneath the blue and smiling sky. "If not before the snow filla your valleys," said Eyloff to Bertha, as they stood on the margin of the lake, "when the first flower of spring appears, expect me." "Our roses bloom in March, sometimes," whispered Bertha with a faint smile, as they separated.

The winter came on, and the snow lay on the hills and filled the valleys. Nature reposed in her icy fastness, and even the rumours of war were no longer heard.

But at length the snows melted from the sloping hills. The higher mountains, bellowing in their inmost cells, began to be rocked by loud and tremendous shocks, as the glaciers opened their clefts, fearful, yet beautiful, in purple and emerald hues; while, forced by the pent-up winds, showers of ice were hurled far through tin." air. The freed mountain torrents rushed into the vales, and the dreaded lavange came thundering down. Every thing in nature told that the genial season had arrived, and was fast passing onward; yet Eyloff came not: the perils of travelling were over, for the pines had shaken from their branches the last dust of snow; yet still he came not: the first flower of spring, how anxiously expected—how fondly welcomed—how dearly cherished, had budded and bloomed, and withered on its stem; and yet the maiden pined in her loneliness.

Many a time, as the shades of the evening were stealing over the lovely landscape, might Bertha be seen straying through the groves, on which the leaves had shot forth, with a rapidity peculiar to the springs of Alpine countries: nowseeking the shelving margin of the lake at the spot where her lover had rescued her from the fury of the storm, now stopping unconsciously in the secluded thicket, where they had first breathed to each other the vows of pure affection. Many a time, when the air was more than usually mild, might she be seen pensively seated at the open lattice, as the moon with lovely and majestic step, stole along the heavens, and tipped with ethereal silver the summits of the groves, and poured her soft flood of light on hill and dale around. Then would she recall the happy moments she had passed with Eyloff; and as a thousand little proofs of his devoted love rose to her recollection, all her doubts seemed to liulu away, and she could not but believe, in spite of every circumstance, in the faith of her lover.

In the meantime, the political agitations of the Waldstettenwere revived, and every thing seemed tending to a sanguinary crisis. The people of the district of Ethlibuch, oppressed past sufferance by the tyrant Thornberg, the vassal of Austria, had, in the month of March, thrown themselves on the protection of Lucerne; and the haughty baron had dared to seize and inflict an ignominious death upon the negotiators of the treaty on the part of Ethlibuch. Leopold was already stationed at Kybourg, in the canton of Zurich, ready to support with his troops the tyranny of his bailiffs and his vassals; and it was at length made evident, that the hereditary patron and protector of the Waldstetten, contemplated no less than its entire subjugation. Undismayed, the stern republicans prepared for the conflict. In the several cantons of the confederation, the general assembly, or landsgemeind, was summoned, where, in the April following, the knights and burghers appeared in their arms, and declared open war against Thornberg and his adherents. It was but a short time before this period that more than fifty imperial towns in Swabia and Franconia had solicitated admission into the Helvetic League; yet now, so terrible was held the enmity of Leopold and his ferocious followers, that the petty towns and states around became eager to be the foremost in manifesting their hostility to devoted Switzerland. The roads from Wirtemberg and Scbaffhausen were crowded with their messengers; declarations and defiances poured in upon the landsgemeind faster than they could be read; and within a few days the Eight Cantons numbered among the auxiliaries of their foe more than two hundred states, princes, and bishops. The four ancient cantons of the lake took the field without delay, under the avoyer, or mayor of Lucerne, the supreme military authority in Switzerland being always exercised by the chief officer of the state; and while the inferior nobles of the lion league kept in check the powerful barons along the course of the Rhine, assailed, and carried, and destroyed the feudal strongholds of their most immediate and dangerous enemies.

It was at this eventful point of time, when Leopold might hourly be expected on his march from Kybourg, and the matrons and maidens of the land sat solitary in their deserted dwellings. The night was far spent, yet Bertha and her mother still remained gazing anxiously out upon the darkness, when suddenly a small dark object moved swiftly towards them, across the silent lake. It was a boat! Can it be Arnold returned from Zurich? That is impossible; for the army is there; and there also must be Arnold. The bosom of Bertha swelled almost to bursting: she spoke not; she scarcely breathed. This was the anniversary of her first meeting with Eyloff, and a thousand undefined hopes and wishes rushed to her heart. And now the figure of a man throws itself from the boat, almost before it touches the shore—he flies up the pathway, and, in an instant, Eyloff is at the feet of Bertha. For a time they were mute and motionless: at length Bertha spoke as she disengaged herself from his arms, and sank pale and exhausted into her chair. "Eyloff," she said, " come you not till you bring war and desolation with you? Alas! Eyloff, the flowers of spring are all withered, even like the hopes of our love." "Beloved Bertha," Eyloffanswered, "it is true my efforts to avert the calamity have had no other effect than to draw upon myself my sovereign's displeasure. But even his commands alone could not have kept me from you; and until he summoned his knights to the field, I was deprived of my personal liberty: he is now in march through Zurich; and, behold, I am here." "O, Eyloff!" exclaimed Bertha, at once awakening to the perils that evironed both the person of her lover, and his reputation as a knight, "why, why are you here? Know you not the dangers that encompass you?" "I know them, Bertha; but to be restored to the confidence of my affianced bride, what would I not encounter." "Alas!" said the maiden, "call me not by that title, Eyloff, since the condition of our union can never be fulfilled." "Never shall woman, but you, Bertha, hear that title from the lips of Eyloff: and may we not yet cherish hope, dear Bertha? Should your worst fears be confirmed, and Leopold's arms prove successful, may not your Eyloff still have the glory of shielding the house of Winkelried?" "And think you that Arnold of Winkelried will survive his country's death? And think you that his daughter— the daughter of a martyred patriot—could ever—O God, O God!" she cried, and paused in convulsive agony at the picture her imagination drew. "My wife, my beloved Bertha," cried the youth, on his knees before her, clasping her cold hands in his, "hear me, and believe me: on the honour of a knight I swear, that if Eyloff goes into the fight, it shall be but to protect, to save your father." "I have a son, too, in arms," observed the matron, who had not before spoken, as her fixed and noble countenance became slightly convulsed. "Is the brave boy, too, there?" asked Eyloff. "Madam," he added, ardently seizing her hand, "mother of my Bertha, thy son shall be my brother."

At this moment, a light appeared upon the most distant mountain towards the north; rapidly it increased in size, and soon blazed a bright and portentous beacon. "They have fired the beacon at the hohe wacht," said the wife of Arnold; "the foe approaches," she added, with the firmness of a Roman matron

« AnteriorContinuar »