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A SWISS TALE.
From about the commencement of the fourteenth century, that portion of Switzerland, anciently distinguished as the Waldstetten, had been free from foreign domination. The brilliant and decisive victory, achieved at Morgarten a few years after the revolution effected by Tell and his compatriots, had at length taught the house of Austria to respect the independence of the unconquerable freemen of Uri, Schwytz, and Underwald, and for the better part of a century the Austrian invaders had not presumed to disturb them in the enjoyment of their mountains, and valleys, and lakes. Meanwhile, the accession of several of the surrounding districts, had given increased power and consequence to the Helvetic League. Lucerne had hastened to become a confederate; Zurich had followed, and Glarus, and Zug, and lastly the powerful canton of Berne. In the lapse of eight years, the virtuous and hardy herdsman, and the honest and industrious burgher, still retained their simplicity of character, and had lost nothing of their invincible love of liberty : they were contented, unambitious, and happy; but regularly trained to the use of arms, and prepared at a moment's warning to meet the foe. Some petty fiefs of Austria still existed in several of the districts; and the archduke was ever ready to support his feudatories in their exactions and oppressions. Leopold, a prince in the prime of life, and of a bold and ambitious temper, was surrounded by a nobility warlike, ardent, and rapacious, and, as the vigilant and jealous republicans believed, waited but for a suitable occasion of making the effort to attach Switzerland as an appanage to his house.
Such was the situation of the Eight Cantons, when, on the afternoon of a fine day in July, in the year 1385, the inhabitants of the small hamlets scattered over the sides of Mont Pilate, in the district of Lucerne, were assembling at the mansion of old Eberard Oberhulde, situated on the green Alpe of Brundlen. There was a marriage to be solemnized; and among the ancient families of the mountain, affined as they had been in peace and in war, for many ages, no one could think of being absent at such a time from his neighbour's hall. It was, besides, the eve of the festival of one of their saints, an occasion on which the Catholic herdsman, in his piety, never failed to believe that an abstinence from his customary toil was a religious obligation not to be dispensed with lightly. From the pasturages, therefore, above and below the Brundlen Alpe, in every direction, were to be seen the gay and laughing
* From The Atlantic Souvenir,' 1826.
groups, in their holiday dresses, hastening by various romantic path ways to the house of the bride's father.
Old Eberard stood, in the fulness of his glee, under the shade of a venerable and wide-spreading elm, before the door, welcoming the several comers, male and female, as became an ancient herdsman, with a hearty shake of the hand, or a smack of the lips, that made the rocks around him ring again. At a little distance, protected from the sun by a cluster of walnut trees, were the happy couple ; the bride, who, in the dialect of the country, might be called a tolle jumpfer, or pretty girl, was surrounded by her half-demure, half-tittering maids; her hair flowing in two plaited tresses, decorated with ribands down to her feet; her dark stays neatly laced, forming a fine contrast to the snow-white hue of the sleeves of her under garment, which were turned up and fastened at the shoulders; while the dark skirt, formed on the scant model of the country, if it did not add to the symmetry of her person, at least, by the exhibition of a remarkably well turned ankle, left the judgment or the imagination a fair field for its conclusions as to general proportions.
The female guests wore each the glistening yellow birch hat, without crown, set smartly on one side, adorned with flowers, and tied under the chin with ribands. The fashion of their garments was that of the bride's, with this special exception, that their stays, skirts, ribands, laces, and sashes, were of various colours—blue, brown, black, red, green, and yellow; so that, when they stood up in double or triple row with their full blooming faces, they looked like a beautiful bed of tulips. Florent, the happy hoch-ryter, or bridegroom, stood at a short distance from the bride, in his martial equipment, it being indispensable in those days, that, before a youth took upon himself the charge of a family, he should manifest on the wedding day, that he was provided with arms to protect it. He stood erect, therefore, in cap and corslet; his sturdy sword buckled to his thigh, a pike in his hand, and a cross-bow, a battle-axe, and knotted club, leaning against the tree behind him. The friends of the bridegroom, generally of stately and athletic frame, were, in dress, almost as multiform as the opposite sex, their doublets and hose puffed and striped with every tint of the rainbow, and in some instances the arms, and even the legs, of the same individual, of no kindred colour.
There was one, however, among the wedding guests whoso appearance showed him to be of a superior stamp. Clad in the plainest habiliments, the character of his commanding exterior could not be for a moment mistaken. He seemed of middle age, and his countenance, usually grave, at times approached in its expression even to severity. But virtue and high resolve sat on his noble brow, and his unblenching eye, full of meaning, spoke the language of a soul exclusively engrossed by grand and lofty thoughts. He was of Underwalden, one of those leading spirits to whom, in the hour of need, the every day people of the world turn for succour and support, and, that hour passed, whom they not unfrequently cast off to “beggarly divorcement.” Devotion to his country was his master passion, and while the political storm yet hung in the distance, he employed himself in occasional visits to the several districts of the union, wherever there were gatherings of the people, for the purpose of inciting his countryman, if that should be neces. sary, to preparation against its coming fury.
The greetings had been made, and the pleasantries passed, the priest was in attendance, and the ceremony was about to proceed, when a stranger was descried approaching across the plain from the base of the rock in front. “What guest comes from the Peak?" exclaimed Martin of Hergottwald. “If I mistake not,” said Eberard, “it is one of the strangers who stopped at my door to-day on their way to the Peak; and see,” he added, “ where his young companion appears high up the rock!” “Strangers! who are they? whence come they?" inquired the guest from Underwalden. “Of that I know but little," replied Eberard; “they are courteous and curious, but not equally communicative.” “But do you not remember, father,” observed the bride, blushing at the sound of her own voice, “that the younger stranger told us they resided at the castle of Gerisau ?” “ At Gerisau!?? exclaimed the man of Underwalden, “they are Austrians then! Austrians!” he repeated in a lower voice, as he retired to the shelter of a tree, and fixed his eyes earnestly on the approaching stranger.
But scarcely had the person advanced near enough for the group to discover that he was a man of some sixty years of age, and of a frank and easy, and perhaps martial, deportment, when a new and striking object claimed their attention. “ The lammer-geyer !" exclaimed several voices at once; “ The lammer-geyer!" was echoed by almost every one present, in tones of alarm and apprehension; and that dreadful monster of the air, the lammer-geyer, or lamb-vulture, was seen high over the peak, descending in his gigantic and fearful strength.
A bouquetin, or mountain-goat, had been browsing upon the herbage of the lower region of the Peak, having left her young in a cavity above. With the instinct of a mother she perceived the danger that threatened them, and hastened to their rescue. With inconceivable speed she leaped from crag to crag; where two paralJel walls of rock arose close to each other, bounding from side to side in an upward course; or, incredible as it may seem, with suc
cessive leaps surmounting the naked perpendicular cliff. In a few moments she was with her young, her head, armed with its tremendous horns, guarding the entrance of the cave. The vulture stooped to his intended quarry, but failing to reach the young, fixed his iron talons round the horns of the dam, and after a short struggle, dragged her half out of her recess. The bouquetin, an animal of immense strength, setting her short fore-feet against the protruding rocks, for a time kept up the desperate contest, till the fragment of a rock, hurled by the young stranger from above, struck the vulture, who, enraged, quitted his hold. The new assailant was now in evident danger, but the glitter of his short couteau-de-chasse, as the vulture approached, seemed to appal him. Infuriated, he darted off, and as he clove the air in rapid circles towards the plain, with his bearded neck bent downward, he seemed gazing upon the earth, as if desperately intent upon wreaking his vengeance on any thing assailable.
In the rear of the chalet, and but a short distance off, a girl had been playing among the shrubbery, with a young child of about two years of age; but, yielding to her girlish curiosity, she had suffered herself to be attracted toward the crowd, and the child was for the instant forgotten. The scene we have described had occupied but a few moments, nor was the situation of the child remembered, till the dreadful vulture was observed to pause in his flight, immediately over the garden. A shriek from the wretched nurse of the child, was the first warning of the danger that impended; but it was too late. Poised for a few seconds on his pinions, the lammer-geyer hung in the air, almost motionless, then with a slow and contracted circular movement began his descent, and with a rush of wings like a tempest swooped upon his prey: the next instant he was seen soaring towards the Peak, bearing the infant in his talons. Cross-bows, lances, were seized in haste; but what could human effort avail ? Cries, shrieks, spoke the anguish of the parents and the sympathy of their friends. The vulture alighted on a ledge of the rock, some distance below the scene of his former conflict, and, as he bent down his terrible beak, it was thought that he was devouring the child. A mute horror pervaded the company, broken only by the deep suppressed groans and convulsive sobs of the agonized parents. On a sudden, the animal was seen to toss his head high in the air, his huge wings were expanded, as if in the effort to fly, but dropped again lifeless to his sides, his monstrous frame quivered as in the spasms of death, and the lammer-geyer rolled like a dark lavange down the precipice. At the same moment, the figure of the young stranger was discovered, standing on the cliff, the child sat on one arm, erect in the form
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