« VorigeDoorgaan »
volent father a look of sad decision. "My bed," said he, "must be this night on the cold side of Mont-Mort." "To-night!" cried the good father; "to-night, Steinmitz! It is impossible! Do you not hear how the wind howls over these hills? The storm from the frozen peaks is dashing its wild snow-drifts over the passes. I would not suffer a dog to leave St. Bernard tonight. Even our brave Barré would shrink from such a tempest." "I must go, however," replied Keller earnestly, "and that speedily, too. My helpless and solitary family is in peril, and the very danger of the tempest is an incentive to reach those who know so little how to provide against it, and are perhaps even now in want of my assistance. These unexampled snow-drifts may, before morning, hide my poor little cottage from the sight, and what would Steinmitz be then, when the last of mortal ties to earth had been so fearfully sundered?" As he said this, he moved towards the door, and opening it, looked out upon the waste. “It is indeed a wild night, but—” a low distant crushing sound came on the blast, and interrupted his discourse. He stood rigid with attention
until it passed away. "That is what I most
feared," said he; "that awful sound is the deathnote of the avalanche.* The mighty mass of snow is becoming too heavy for the rocks to detain it longer. I must fly to my family, for to-morrow may be too late. If alive, the morning will bring us back to your hospitable abode, for longer my wife and children must not remain on that dreadful slope. The snow is beginning to break from its fastnesses. The signs are not to be mistaken. The chamois and the steinbocht have forsaken their hiding places, and the lammergeier‡ are congregating from every quarter of the heavens. They have an unerring instinct in these things. They have heard, before us, the low sounds which the over-burdened mountain utters, as its soil slips, and its projecting rocks bend before the resistless weight of the snow. The vast accessions of the week have hastened the coming woe, and I have already periled my life to get thus far, and cannot now hesitate to proceed. The Great Being, who
† Rock-goat, ibex, bouquetin or capra alpina.
holds the hills in a balance, can, if it seems good to him, guide me now, as easily as on the brightest day, and I am in the path of duty. If I perish, I have only one favour to ask:-This packet must not be opened until my death is ascertained; it will instruct you whither to send my poor family. Do that, I ask no more." Girding around him tightly his mountain dress, Keller was about to issue from the gate, when the dog which had first found him in the evening, seized him by the skirts. "Let go, Barré," said the superior. The dog obeyed, but getting in front, blocked up the wicket, and with a low growl debarred his exit. "The very dog opposes your departure, Steinmitz. advice.
He knows you must perish if you venture abroad to night. It is not long since he offered resistance to the departure of the poor fellow whom you found dead in the pass to-day." "There!" cried Keller, "let me go, in the name of God!—that awful, deep sound comes again on the wind, and warns me to fly." His tone and look put an end to resistance; and even the dog, retreating into the court-yard, stood stiff with attention to the deep voice of the mountain. As Keller
passed him he wagged his tail, and looking up into the face of the superior, invited his signal of permission to accompany the traveller. It was given, and pressing close to the side of Keller, he waited for his customary flask and cloak.* They were fixed. "You forget your staff, Steinmitz,” said the monk, putting into his hands a long slender pole, armed at one end with a sharpened iron ferrule. “You have need of all help to night; God bless you in your perilous path of duty. Barré, keep close to him." The dog signified his acquiescence by taking, at a very short distance, the lead; and in this manner the travellers left the hospitable court-yard of St. Bernard.
"I can scarcely believe Steinmitz right in his fears, said the superior. The avalanche descends only in the spring, when the snow is heavy with rain, and when its hold on the rugged soil is loosened by the water which trickles down the hills." "That is usually true," rejoined an old monk, whose life had been spent among the passes, "but the immense mass of snow which now lies
* Usually fastened to the dogs for the use of travellers.
above his residence, and the boding signals of the hill, and the flight of the chamois and bouquetin, and the gathering of the lammergeier, are things too significant of danger to have escaped the anxious and instructed notice of our neighbour. God grant we may see him and our poor Barré again; but I feel as if we had taken our last look of them."
While the benevolent fathers sat over the decaying embers, conversing of the traveller, and endeavouring to console themselves by the recollection of the many wonderful escapes of those whom winter caught in those wild regions, Keller and his four-footed companion, following the irregular course of the pass, hastened towards that home in which lay all the earthly treasure of the exiled patriot. They were to him kindred, friends, riches, honour, country. He had nothing on earth but what reposed in his air-hung cottage; and the attraction which drew him onward was the whole power and concentration of human motives and affections. The deep meditation of his heart rendered him little observant either of the direction of the road, or of its difficulties. The guide