Слике страница

diadem of clouds that crowned the summit of Pilatre-the outward seeming sign of glory—the real index of storm and disaster-will scarcely escape the notice of the most careless and indifferent ; but it is for the initiated to admire and envy the felicitous use made by the author of this image, to prepare us for the tempest that is to burst on the travellers, and to exercise (in the incidents springing out of it) so important an influence on their future destiny. Nor can we pass without comment, the splendid description which closes the extract. (We notice, indeed, the careless repetition of the term rugged, but can scarcely pause to condemn it.) It is of eminent beauty-the gust of rising wind, heard, not felt--the groan of defiance sent forth, as it seemed, by the demon of the place, while the dark cloud rushed down the haunted mountain, as if to execute his vengeance-is a conception which appears to us to belong to the highest heaven of poetic invention. But we return to our purpose, to show the dexterous manner in which he prepares us for the unmasking of his characters, by the sentiments that unconsciously escape them in those unguarded moments, when the masks that men wear, fall from their faces, and expose them in their true features and colours to the eye of the sagacious observer. Thus significant of character, is the expression of Arthur, in the passage we have quoted—"a torrent for me!" and such another foreshewing of character is there in the speech of the elder Philipson, when startled from his proprieties as a merchant, by the insolence and brutality of Ital Schreckenwald, he replies fiercely to the inquiry of the Landamman—" How wouldst thou have treated him, Sir Englishman?” “I would have laid him on the earth, with his head shivered like an icicle." The courage and generosity of the high-toned cavalier are again shown forth in the scene of Arthur's duel with Donnerhugel, amidst the ruins of the old castle of Geierstein. Rudolf had repaired to the rendezvous where Arthur awaited him, armed with an immense two-handed Swiss sword, which was suspended from his left shoulder, while he carried another in his hand.

"Thou art punctual,' he called out to Arthur Philipson, in a voice

466 which was distinctly heard above the roar of the waterfall, which it seemed to rival in sullen force. “But I judged thou wouldst come without a two-handed sword. There is my kinsman Ernest's,' he said, throwing on the ground the weapons which he carried, with the hilt towards the young Englishman. “Look, stranger, that thou disgrace it

* my

kinsman will never forgive me if thou dost. Or thou mayst have mine if thou likest it better.'

“ The Englishman looked at the weapon, with some surprise, to the use of which he was totally unaccustomed.

not, for

[ocr errors]





"The challenger,' he said, 'in all countries where honour is known, accepts the arms of the challenged.'

“He who fights on a Swiss mountain, fights with a Swiss brand,' answered Rudolf. • Think you our hands are made to handle penknives?'

"Nor are ours made to wield scythes,' said Arthur; and muttered betwixt his teeth, as he looked at the sword, which the Swiss continued to offer him-Usum non habeo, I have not proved the weapon.'

" Do you repent the bargain you have made ?' said the Swiss; . if so, cry craven, and return in safety. Speak plainly, instead of prattling Latin like a clerk or a shaven monk.' • No, proud man,' replied the Englishman, 'I ask thee no forbear

I thought but of a combat between a shepherd and a giant, in which God gave the victory to him who had worse odds of weapons than falls to my lot to-day. I will fight as I stand ; my own good sword shall serve my need now, as it has done before.'

66. Content !-But blame not me who offered thee equality of weapons,' said the mountaineer. “And now hear me. This is a fight for life or death-yon waterfall sounds the alarum for our conflict. Yes, old bellower,' he continued, looking back, it is long since thou hast heard the noise of battle;—and look at it ere we begin, stranger, for if you fall, I will commit your body to its waters.'

“ • And if thou fall'st, proud Swiss,' answered Arthur, as well i trust thy presumption leads to destruction, I will have thee buried in the church at Einsiedlen, where the priests shall sing masses for thy soulthy two-handed sword shall be displayed above thy grave, and a scroll shall tell the passenger, Here lies a Bear's cub of Berne, slain by Arthur the Englishman.'

". The stone is not in Switzerland, rocky as it is,' said Rudolf, scornfully, 'that shall bear that inscription. Prepare thyself for battle.'

[ocr errors]


By such generous and gallant bearing—by such bursts of noble and chivalrous feeling on the part of these seeming merchants, is the reader prepared to find that they are not merely what their occupation implied, but men of high station, oppressed by unmerited misfortune, or travelling incognito on some bold and perilous enterprize. The sympathy of the reader is thus enlisted in behalf of the travellers, and his curiosity powerfully excited by the author ; and this is one of those hidden springs of interest, which the master spirit of the age, affectuum potens dominator, knows admirably how to touch!

Compelled by want of space, to select from the various beauties which obtrude themselves upon our notice, we proceed to extract, as one of the most striking passages, the scene of the earth-slide among the precipices of Geierstein. Our travellers were now shrouded in the gloom of those ominous mists, which, descending from Mount Pilatre, had encompassed them in darkness, and which were chased away only for a brief space, by the hurricane blasts that rushed furiously through the glen, threatening to sweep them like withered leaves, from the brow of the precipice.

“ Hitherto the path, though steep and rugged, was plainly enough indicated, and showed traces of having been used both by riders and foot passengers. But suddenly, as Antonio with the mule had reaehed a projecting eminence, around the peak of which the path made a sharp turn, he stopt short, with his usual exclamation, addressed to his patron saint. It appeared to Arthur that the mule shared the terrors of the guide ; for it started back, put forward its fore feet separate from each other, and seemed, by the attitude which it assumed, to intimate a determination to resist every proposal to advance, at the same time expressing horror and fear at the prospect which lay before it.

Arthur pressed forward, not only from curiosity, but that he might if possible bear the brunt of any danger before his father came up to share it. In less time than we have taken to tell the story, the young man stood beside Antonio and the mule, upon a platform of rock on which the road seemed absolutely to terminate, and from the further side of wbich a precipice sunk sheer down, to what depth the mist did not permit him to discern, but certainly to more than three hundred feet.

“ The blank expression which overcast the visages of the travellers, and traces of which might be discerned in the physiognomy of their beast of burden, announced alarm and mortification at this unexpected, and, as it seemd, insurmountable obstable. Nor did the looks of the father, who presently after came up to the same spot, convey either hope or comfort. He stood with the others gazing on the misty gulf beneath them, and looking all around, but in vain, for some continuation of the path, which certainly had never been originally designed to terminate in this manner. As they stood uncertain what to do next, the son in vain attempting to discover some mode of passing onward, and the father about to propose that they should return by the road which had brought them bither, a loud howl of the wind, more wild than they had yet heard, swept down the valley. All being aware of the danger of being burled from the precarious station which they occupied, snatched at bushes and rocks by which to secure themselves, and even the poor mule seemed to steady itself, in order to withstand the approaching hurricane. The gust came with such unexpected fury that it appeared to the travellers to shake the very rock on which they stood, and would have swept them from its surface like so many dry leaves, liad it not been for the precaution which they had taken to secure themselves. But as the wind rushed down the glen, it completely removed for the space of three or four minutes the veil of mist which former gusts had only served to agitate or discompose, and showed them the nature and cause of the interruption which they had met with so unexpectedly.

“ The rapid but correct eye of Arthur was then able to ascertain that the path, after leaving the platform of rock on which they stood, had originally passed upwards in the same direction along a steep bank



of earth, which had then formed the upper covering of a stratum of precipituous rocks. But it had chanced, in some of the convulsions of nature which take place in those wild regions, where she works upon a scale so formidable, that the earth had made a slip, or almost a precipitous descent, from the rock, and been hurled downwards with the path, which was traced along the top, and with bushes, trees, or whatever grew upon it, into the channel of the stream ; for such they could now discern the water beneath them to be, and not a lake, or an arm of a lake, as they had hitherto supposed.

“The immediate cause of this phenomenon might probably have been an earthquake, not unfrequent in that country. The bank of earth, now a confused mass of ruins inverted in its fall, showed some trees growing in a horizontal position, and others, which, having pitched on their heads in their descent, were at once inverted and shattered to pieces, and lay a sport to the streams of the river which they had heretofore covered with gloomy shadow. The gaunt precipice which remained behind, like the skeleton of some huge monster divested of its flesh, formed the wall of a fearful abyss, resembling the face of a newly wrought quarry, more dismal of aspect from the rawness of its recent formation, and from its being as yet uncovered with any of the vegetation with which nature speedily mantles over the bare surface even of her sternest crags and precipices."

In this strait, the young man volunteers to press forward over the naked precipice, to obtain relief, or discover traces of their

lost way.


"No, Arthur,' replied his father, in a determined voice ; no, my son-I have survived much, but I will not survive thee.'

“• I fear not for the issue, father, if you permit me to go alone ; but I cannot--dare not undertake a task so perilous, if you persist in attempting to share it, with no better aid than mine. While I endeavoured to make a new advance, I should be ever looking back to see how you

should attain the station which I was about to leave—and bethink you, dearest father, that if I fall, I fall an unregarded thing, of as little moment as the rock or tree which has toppled headlong down before me. But you-should your foot slip, or your hand fail, bethink you

what and how much must needs fall with you ! "Thou art right, my child,' said the father, 'I still have that which binds me to life, even though I were to lose in thee all that is dear to me.-Our Lady and our Lady's Knight bless thee and prosper thee, my child! Thy foot is young, thy hand is strong—thou hast not climbed Plynlimmon in vain. Be bold, but be wary--remember there is a man who, failing thee, has but one act of duty to bind him to the earth, and, that discharged, he will soon follow thee.'

“The young man accordingly preparıd for his journey, and, stripping himself of his cumbrous cloak, showed his well-proportioned limbs in a jerkin of grey cloth, which sat close to his person. The father's resolution gave way when his son turned round to bid bim farewell. He recalled his permission, and in a peremptory tone forbade him to proceed. But without listening to the prohibition, Arthur had commenced his perilous adventure. Descending from the platform on which he stood, by the boughs of an old ash-tree, which thrust itself out of the cleft of a rock, the youth was enabled to gain, though at great risk, a narrow ledge, the very brink of the precipice, by creeping along which he hoped to pass on till he made himself heard or seen from the habitation, of whose existence the guide had informed him. His situation, as he pursued this bold purpose, appeared so precarious, that even the hired attendant hardly dared to draw breath as he gazed on him. The ledge which supported him seemed to grow so varrow as he passed along it, as to become altogether invisible, while sometimes with his face to the precipice, sometimes looking forward, sometimes glancing his eyes upward, but never venturing to cast a look below, lest his brain should grow giddy at a sight so appalling, he wound his

way onward. To his father and the attendant, who beheld his progress, it was less that of a man advancing in the ordinary manner, and resting by aught connected with the firm earth, than that of an insect crawling along the face of a perpendicular wall, of whose progressive movement we are indeed sensible, but cannot perceive the means of its support. And bitterly, most bitterly, did the miserable parent now lament, that he had not persisted in his purpose to encounter the baffling and even perilous measure of retracing his steps to the habitation of the preceding night. He should then, at least have partaken the fate of the son of his love.

“ Meanwhile, the young man's spirits were strongly braced for the performance of his perilous lask. He laid a powerful restraint on his imagination, which in general was sufficiently active, and refused to listen, even for an instant, to any of the horrible insinuations by which fancy augments actual danger. He endeavoured manfully to reduce all around him to the scale of right reason, as the best support of true courage. This ledge of rock,' he urged to himself, “is but narrow, yet it has breadth enough to support me; these clifts and crevices in the surface are small and distant, but the one affords as secure a resting place to my feet, the other as available a grasp to my hands, as if I stood on a platform of a cubit broad, and rested my arm on a balustrade of marble. My safety, therefore depends on myself. If I move with decision, step firmly, and hold fast, what signifies how near I am to the mouth of an abyss ?'

Thus estimating the extent of his danger by the measure of sound sense and reality, and supported by some degree of practice in such exercise, the brave youth went forward on his awful journey, step by step, winning his way with a caution, and fortitude, and presence of mind, which alone could have saved him from instant destruction. At length he gained a point where a projecting rock formed the angle of the precipice, so far as it had been visible to him from the platform. This, therefore, was the critical point of his undertaking ; but it was also the most perilous part of it. The rock projected more than six feet forward over the torrent, which he heard raging at the depth of a hundred yards beneath, with a noise like subterranean thunder. He examined the spot with the utmost care, and was led by the existence

[ocr errors]
« ПретходнаНастави »