Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

The mountaineer was a tall slight figure, with a stern countenance; the tempest seemed made for his grave features, and the rough obeisance with which he declined the purse, was obviously that of one unused to cities. Spinola, proud but not haughty-as is the custom of men conscious of high birth and office, but not vain of either-was pleased with the refusal of the money; but he had another trial to make. "I have offered you my protection," said he. "If you prefer remaining where you are, I can give you a farm; but if you prefer living in my household, I can give you employment. I have a mountain on which I mean to raise a forest, and you shall be the planter." The mountaineer was evidently a man of few words. But he as evidently had the faculty of making up his mind without loss of time. Throwing his cloak over his shoulder, and shaking hands with the peasants round him, he came forward, and taking off his hat, with a perfectly untutored bow to the Marquis, and a still deeper, but equally untutored one to the fair lady, he told them that he was ready.

The procession moved forward. It was a dolorous display. One of the postilions had broken his arm,-the other had lost his whip, one of his jackboots, and all his tobacco, and with it, apparently his senses, for he continued roaring out prayers to the Virgin that had saved his life, and anathemas against the King of Sardinia, who had endangered it. In other times, the latter portion of his prayer would have made more than the Virgin's assistance necessary, and plunged him down a precipice of 600 feet, from which all the Calaspos of the Alps could not have brought him up again with a sound neck. But times, luckily for the orator, were altered; and while the tri-color was kissing the breeze along the mountain tops of Piedmont, postilions and patriots of all dimensions might laugh at the dynasties of Italy, with the fullest security of caricature.

Spinola was still helpless from exhaustion; the fair Melanie was helpless from terror; the peasantry were not much more effective, from the blundering and brainlessness that belong to all life outside the walls of cities. But Calaspo, the redoubtable

Calaspo, was every thing and every where. Like a general, he was in front, van, and rear, ordering this clown, lecturing the other, pointing out the route, sending his detachment of lampbearers to points from which they might act as beacons to the party, still cruelly buffeted, and more than half blinded, by the storm, dispatching videttes to find out the paths, which the storm had prodigiously mingled,-and sending forward a solid patrol to take possession of the next hamlet, rouse the popula tion of Benefico to a sense of hospitality, and lay an embargo on all the guinea-fowl eggs and Florence coffee in their possession, for the behoof of the most magnificent the Lord Marquis of Spinola, sovereign of the lands of Montellano, Vastimiglia, and Giuliestre.

This day concluded the disasters of the journey. Calaspo's arrival ope rated like a spell. Every thing went on prosperously from that moment. The series of miracles that carried them through the rest of their journey, deserved to be painted on the walls, if not of every Italian church, of every Italian post-house. The horses never foundered, the harness never cracked, the postilions never got drunk, lazy, or insolent, and, finally, the carriage never broke down. Calaspo's eye wrought all the magic. All was system where he applied his keen glance. The Marquis, weary and enfeebled, was delighted with having engaged so useful a serf; the servants were utterly astonished; the Signora Melanie was much amused; and, by the time that their train reached the bot tom of the declivity from whose side the noble castle of Spinola looked over fifty leagues of forest, mountain, and cascade, like the Spirit of the feudal age throned in the midst of a world of its own-desolate, yet proud, bold, and kingly-the disasters of the night were thought of only as the natural produce of the wild, and to be remembered only for the wonder of the circle of marshals and ambassadors when the world came round again, and kings and court circles were what they ought to be— the rapture of mankind.

For two years, Spinola felt the wisdom of the choice which had brought him to the Col de Vars. Affairs at

Turin were as dreary as ever. The French had plunged into Savoy like a thunder-shower, taken Chamberri, unhoused the nuns, pillaged the chapels, and yoked the father confessors to their cannon, as was the custom of the people of liberty. The King had summoned the Austrians, who, always rejoicing at an opportunity of dipping their hands in Italian plunder, came at his call by tens of thousands, and, to the inconceivable astonishment and indignation of the French, beat them, republicans as they were, in every direction. This was always the history of Italian war. The Gaul first threw himself into the bosom of the land,-swept every thing before him,-robbed, shot, ate, drank, and danced, then threw off his musket and knapsack, proclaimed the war at an end, and prepared for a course of perpetual fête and festino. The German was always six months too late; but, though torpid, he was not utterly dead. About the time when his lively rival had thrown away his accoutrements, the man of the north had contrived to button on his. He marched across the Tyrol hills, found the Gaul all astonishment, fell upon him with honest Gothic vengeance, and sent him flying back across Alp and Apennine without shirt, shoe, or sequin.

This had happened in regular course in the first years of the French war. The light Frenchman carried every thing before him for a summer. Then came the heavy Austrian, who drove the Frenchman from his prey, as a clown's huge hand drives off a swarm of gnats from a fallen sheep,-the race of stings and wings is put to flight, but the sheep is not the less sure of losing its fleece for the operation. Italy realized the part of the sheep on this occasion, as on all, for the last three centuries; and the Austrian was now imbedded in Savoy, Piedmont, and every spot where he could sleep and smoke, in full indulgence of every appetite that could animate the most solid representative of the tortoise among men. Spinola cared for neither, suspected both, kept himself within his mountain empire, and heard of wars, and rumours of wars, as if the echo belonged to the moon.

Life has many a pleasure never dreamed of by those who look for

paradise in the capital. The glare of orders and embroidery is, after all, not much brighter than the stars when they come out in full muster on a fine night of June. The gayest dance in the gayest palazzo that lifts its gilded turrets within sight of the Superga, is not much livelier than the wild measures of the mountain boys and girls, even with no better orchestra than their own voices, and the chant of the thrushes and nightingales that keep time on every bough above them. The Marquis had fully discovered this, and regretted that he had not made the discovery twenty years before. All was happiness, plenty, and peace, round the borders of this little kingdom, while noble lords and ladies, princes and princesses, legates and arch-prelates, were trembling at every streak that marked the coming sky, as the announcement of a conflagration; startled from their beds at every sound, as the braying of an enemy's trumpet, and running from end to end of Italy, alike in terror of the French dragoon and the German hussar.

In the midst of this region of grandeur and tranquillity, this world above the clouds, the Signora Melanie, too, sported like one of those gay creatures of the element that in the colours of the rainbow live. Her beauty grew more intellectual-there was a deeper light in her fine eyes-her cheek had more of the crimson that flushes and fades with every emotion of the mind. The unequalled magnificence of the scenes around her, was gradually modelling all her perceptions. In Greece she would have been copied by some Alcamenes or Praxiteles as a Mountain Goddess, a Genius of the hills and streams. A Titian would have made her a Seraph or a Saint; and all the rustic poets who dared to cast their eyes on the "track of light," which all their sonnets declared to mark every spot consecrated by her tread, versified her into a combination of all indescribable excellencies, enough to have broken the hearts of all the dames d'honneur from. Milan to Naples.

But what tranquillity could long be looked for in this whirling world! with mustaches worthy of a royal An estafette, a formidable animal, tiger, and epaulets fitted for the as

tonishment of all the race of womankind, suddenly made his appearance at break of day in one of the grey mornings of an Alpine summer, with a letter to the Marquis from the Austrian commandant of Turin, informing him, that within twelve hours a column of three thousand would be in motion by the road to the Col de Vars, to take possession of the Fort Dauphin and the pass of the Barricades, both well-known features of the pass of the Argentiese, and both famous for being marked with many a torrent of French blood.

The officer who bore the despatch was himself entitled to Spinola's hospitality, on the plea of family connexion. He was the Count Fiorenzo, the son of a distant relative of the Marquis, who had followed the Archduke Leopold from Tuscany to Vienna, had shared in his master's rise, and was now high in the favour of the Emperor Francis. Count Carolo Fiorenzo had served in the Russian army, in Suwarrow's last campaign against the Ottomans; he had been an aide-de-camp to Prince Cobourg in Transylvania; he was a rich man, a handsome man, and a highborn man; he was also an universal lover, and before he had swallowed his first glass of champagne that day at the Marquis's table, his eyes had made a full, complete, and unequivocal declaration of his approval of the person, face, and manners of the Signora Melanie.

The Austrians arrived. The hills were dotted with tents, the valleys groaned to the groans of waggons and gun-carriages, the woods echoed the rattle of drums and the winding of bugles, bayonets flashed down solitudes as wild and as unused to man as the wilds of Mount Ararat, and the Castle was crowded, morning, noon, and night, with epaulets, orders, and colonels of Hulans. Spinola was delighted; his early tastes revived, and he entertained those showy personages like an old knight of the Crusades. Balls, wolf-hunts, and carousals among the hills and dales, made hill and dale ring. Love was the natural consequence. The Austrian soldiers, tardily awakened to the dark eyes of the mountain girls, began to marry them in great abundance; and, first of the first, Count Carolo, with a fine speech and

a gesture of consummate eloquence, laid his heart at the feet of the fair heiress of the House of Spinola. The Signora was first amused, then displeased, then indignant. Count Carolo professed his intention of appealing from his unfeeling mistress to her rational father. The Signora anticipated him there, by appealing in her own person; but to her infinite vexation, that father had already heard the lover's tale, and, to her equally immeasurable surprise, he had given his entire approval to the suit. In other times, a daughter thus thwarted would have flung herself down a precipice or run to a nunnery; but the days for those cures of sorrow were obsolete, and the Signora, almost without knowing why, felt the world darkened round her at once, and went out into the open air of the forest to weep and walk away her woes.

The cloud on her brow had instantly communicated itself to all; her waiting-maids began to quarrel with the quarter-masters and drummajors, who had aspired to the honour of their hands, and an universal feeling seemed to have turned the temple of Hymen into the house of Discord. Other causes, too, began to operate; the Austrian column had not been advanced without reason, for it soon became known, that the French along the frontier were beginning to stir; that forage and guns were arriving from Provence, and that a new general had made his appearance at Nice. It was equally discoverable that the French, with their usual tactique, were preparing their way by peasant emissaries, who scattered their proclamations, and their more persuasive money, among the lower orders of Italy. The mountaineers of the Iendè and the Argentiese, primitive as they were, had soon learned to compare the Austrian yoke with the French promise of universal freedom; the spirit broke out in quarrels; the Austrians used the cane and the flat of the sabre, to modify the public ideas; the peasants argued in turn with the stiletto and the carabine. Even Calaspo, the soul of good-humour, had grown sullen, and in one or two frays with the drunken Austrians, his prowess had made him the subject of a formal representation to the

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Marquis Spinola. Calaspo was now a changed man. From the time of his having incurred the displeasure of the Marquis, he had relapsed into gloom; the original activity of his nature had departed from him; he wandered listlessly through the woods, a great portion of which had been planted by his own hand, and been a source of acknowledged pride to him; he abjured guitar and mandoline, smiled no more, and shrank from association with all but his foresters. This conduct was suspicious, the times were suspicious, the position of the castle, almost on the frontier, was supicious, and Spinola, urged by his Austrian guests, was considering in what way he should best win Calaspo and his forest brotherhood from the ways of republicanism, when he saw the bold peasant standing before him. “I come,' said Calaspo, "to ask my dismissal, and to thank my Lord Marquis for his three years' protection." Spinola was struck with the determined countenance of his head forester, and asked his reason. "I am weary,' was the stern answer; "I wish to try my chance with the world." As the dialogue proceeded, the Signora Melanie accidentally passed through the apartment. She expressed her surprise at the determination, and regretting the loss of one who had ren dered herself and the Marquis such essential service, requested to know whether the late quarrels of the soldiery had any share in his resolution. The tone of her request softened his proud heart, and in a voice which shewed how deeply he felt this mark of condescension, he thanked her, but still solicited his dismissal. The energy which he threw into his expressions of gratitude, and the cofour which mounted into his brown cheek, when he protested that neither time nor distance should make him forget the generous kindness of that noble roof, showed that nature can sometimes give eloquence to the tongue, and feeling to the features, without reverencing the laws of heraldry; and even the high-spirited Signora herself acknowledged that the three years had produced a prodigious change for the better in the handsome man of the woods. She had heard with a degree of regret, which seemed totally unaccountable

to herself, that Calaspo was to leave the castle at daylight next day, and her last work before she retired to rest, was to make up some pecuniary memorial of her gratitude for the preservation of her life.

The night was calm and lovely, and she lingered for some time at her casement counting the stars, and wondering in which of them the souls of disappointed lovers took up their rest. But low murmurs, like the gathering of thunder in the distant hills, gradually came on her ear, and, chilled with the dew, she was about to close the casement, when she observed in the shadow of the trees a figure gazing upwards, and evidently wrapped in deep reverie. He spoke a few unconscious words, but she instantly knew the voice; it was Calaspo's. To this she suddenly felt that she must listen no longer, and she was again withdrawing, when the wave of plumage emerging into the moonlight caught her eye, and in the next moment high words were heard. The words were followed by the clash of steel; and in infinite terror she hastened to send some of her attendants to separate the combatants. They arrived too late; the Count Carolo was found with his sabre broken, and a wound in his side, from which the blood flowed profusely. The castle was thrown into confusion, patrols were dispatched to seize the assas sin, the Count was conveyed to bed, raging at his ill-luck, furious at " the obscure villain," who, he said, had waylaid him, and urging the Austrian officer in command to have the culprit shot without delay.

That culprit was declared to be Calaspo; and the Marquis, in high indignation at the attack on his guest, and offended by the idea that his sagacity had been so much mistaken in the instance of his protegé, ordered a general pursuit. A favourite, proverbially, has no friend. And Calaspo's sudden rise and position in his lord's confidence, had irritated enough of the self-love of the corridors to make enemies, not the less bitter for being menial. The Austrian patrol went to the right, up the pass towards Fort Dauphin. The dozen valets, with pistol at belt, and carabine in hand, went to the left, down the ravine, which leads to

Lombardy. But neither had been absent an hour, when a low rattling of musketry was heard; at intervals it spread round the whole circle of the mountains. The Austrians were on the alert in a few minutes, and drawn up in battalions on the side of the Col. They had not waited long when their patrol came rushing back, declaring that they had been attacked by a superior French force. Almost at the same moment, the = troop of valets came flying up the - ravine, breathless, terrified, and one ■half of them wounded; their intelligence was that they, too, had fallen into an ambush of French, who at tacked them, and notwithstanding a resistance worthy of a troop of #lions," or Amadis de Gaul himself, they had thought it prudent to retire to the castle.

[ocr errors]

The pursuit of Calaspo was obviously at an end for the night. The Austrian brigadier had other purposes to provide for before morning; and, on an express from Fort I Dauphin, the whole force was moved up the mountain. From this time all was terror in the castle, and the thunder of cannon upon the entrenchments of the hills. During the whole night the air was filled with the huge trails of the shells throwing fire over the enemy's columns, the keen rattle of musketry, and the roar of artillery swelling upon every gust of the Alpine wind. It was now evident that the action was more than an affair of picquets. Some of the prisoners, who were brought into the castle by the Austrian chasseurs, declared that the whole French, whose head-quarters had been at Jaorgio for the last six months, and who were reported to be perfectly disorganized, had been in march for the last three days; that a general, an Italian, had been sent from Paris to take the command, who had pledged his head for the conquest of Italy; and that a hundred thousand men were follow ing them from Nice. This intelligence was at first looked upon as French rhodomontade; but the prisoners had scarcely been consigned to the care of the rearguard, when a burst of fire circling the whole base of the hills, shewed that the enemy had burst through the entire Austrian position, and were forcing the passes in irresistible numbers.

The sight was now one of the most striking that battle can furnish. As far as the eye reached, volumes of fire were incessantly rolling out, the only indication of the spots where the chief struggle lay; from time to time the explosion of an ammunition-waggon, or the blaze of a village, threw a fearful splendour on the night; and the advancing peal of the musketry, the sure mark of the enemy's gaining ground, shewed where the Austrians were giving way. Spinola's experience told him what must be the result; and, with Melanie by his side, he remained on the ground in front of the castle from the commencement of the action, like a traveller above the clouds, looking at the lightnings and the storm beneath his feet.

But a dispatch from the Austrian general, which reached him before dawn, broke up all his military reveries. The dispatch contained but the words: The French have beaten us, will beat us again, and will beat us every day, till they beat us over the Tyrol. They are com manded by Bonaparte, a Corsican, who has more brains than the Aulic Council, and all our generals put together. Fort Dauphin will be taken by daybreak, and then nothing can save your chateau from being plundered, and your family, perhaps, from being massacred. Fly instantly."

The advice was not thrown away. Spinola knew the course of things too well, and knew that the farther he placed himself out of the line of a French campaign, the more wisely he consulted for his comfort; pressed his lip to his daughter's white forehead, felt that with her he still had a treasure worth all the chateaus that could be left behind; and gave instant orders for a general flight across the hills. A few packhorses bore all the luggage that this hurried movement allowed him to carry with him. Melanie bore her mother's jewels, the Marquis, Melanie's pic ture. The valets gathered what the confusion of the hour suffered them to bring away. The melancholy train set out in the midst of a renewed roar of battle, and moving along the sum mit of the Col, by the blaze of shells and howitzers, paused for a moment on the summit, to give a last look to the scene which had witnessed so

« AnteriorContinuar »