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A Village of Seers, A Christmas Story by Anna Kingsford

 

A day or two before Christmas, a few years since, I found myself compelled by business to leave England for the Continent.

I am an American, junior partner in a London mercantile house having a large Swiss connection; and a transaction—needless to specify her—required immediate and personal supervision abroad, at a season of the year when I would gladly have kept festival in London with my friends. But my journey was destined to bring me an adventure of a very remarkable character, which made me full amends for the loss of Christmas cheer at home.

I crossed the Channel at night from Dover to Calais. The passage was bleak and snowy, and the passengers were very few. On board the steamboat I remarked one traveler whose appearance and manner struck me as altogether unusual and interesting, and I deemed it by no means a disagreeable circumstance that, on arriving at Calais, this man entered the compartment of the railway carriage in which I had already seated myself.

So far as the dim light permitted me a glimpse of the stranger's face, I judged him to be about fifty years of age. The features were delicate and refined in type, the eyes dark and deep-sunken, but full of intelligence and thought, and the whole aspect of the man denoted good birth, a nature given to study and meditation, and a life of much sorrowful experience.

Two other travelers occupied our carriage until Amiens was reached. They then left us, and the interesting stranger and I remained alone together.

"A bitter night," I said to him, as I drew up the window, "and the worst of it is yet to come! The early hours of dawn are always the coldest."

"I suppose so," he answered in a grave voice.

The voice impressed me as strongly as the face; it was subdued and restrained, the voice of a man undergoing great mental suffering.

"You will find Paris bleak at this season of the year," I continued, longing to make him talk. "It was colder there last winter than in London."

"I do not stay in Paris," he replied, "save to breakfast."

"Indeed; that is my case. I am going on to Bale."

"And I also," he said, "and further yet."

Then he turned his face to the window, and would say no more. My speculations regarding him multiplied with his taciturnity. I felt convinced that he was a man with a romance, and a desire to know its nature became strong in me. We breakfasted apart at Paris, but I watched him into his compartment for Bale, and sprang in after him. During the first part of our journey we slept; but, as we neared the Swiss frontier, a spirit of wakefulness took hold of us, and fitful sentences were exchanged. My companion, it appeared, intended to rest but a single day at Bale. He was bound for far-away Alpine regions, ordinarily visited by tourists during the summer months only, and, one would think, impassable at this season of the year.

"And you go alone?" I asked him. "You will have no companions to join you?"

"I shall have guides," he answered, and relapsed into meditative silence.

Presently I ventured another question: "You go on business, perhaps—not on pleasure?"

He turned his melancholy eyes on mine. "Do I look as if I were traveling for pleasure's sake?" he asked gently.

I felt rebuked, and hastened to apologise. "Pardon me; I ought not to have said that. But you interest me greatly, and I wish, if possible, to be of service to you. If you are going into Alpine districts on business and alone, at this time of the year—"

There I hesitated and paused. How could I tell him that he interested me so much as to make me long to know the romance which, I felt convinced, attached to his expedition? Perhaps he perceived what was in my mind, for he questioned me in his turn. "And you—have you business in Bale?"

"Yes, and in other places. My accent may have told you my nationality. I travel in the interests of the American firm, Fletcher Bros., Roy, Co., whose London house, no doubt, you know. But I need remain only twenty-four hours in Bale. Afterwards I go to Berne, then to Geneva. I must, however, wait for letters from England after doing my business at Bale, and I shall have some days free."

"How many?"

"From the 21st to the 26th."

He was silent for a minute, meditating. Then he took from his traveling-bag a porte-feuille, and from the porte-feuille a visiting-card, which he handed to me.

"That is my name," he said briefly.

I took the hint, and returned the compliment in kind. On his card I read:

MR CHARLES DENIS ST AUBYN, Grosvenor Square, London. St Aubyn's Court, Shrewsbury.

And mine bore the legend:

MR FRANK ROY, Merchants' Club, W. C.

"Now that we are no longer unknown to each other," said I, "may I ask, without committing an indiscretion, if I can use the free time at my disposal in your interests?"

"You are very good, Mr Roy. It is the characteristic of your nation to be kind- hearted and readily interested in strangers." Was this sarcastic? I wondered. Perhaps; but he said it quite courteously. "I am a solitary and unfortunate man. Before I accept your kindness, will you permit me to tell you the nature of the journey I am making? It is a strange one."

He spoke huskily, and with evident effort. I assented eagerly.

The following, recounted in broken sentences, and with many abrupt pauses, is the story to which I listened:

Mr St Aubyn was a widower. His only child, a boy twelve years of age, had been for a year past afflicted with loss of speech and hearing, the result of a severe typhoid fever, from which he barely escaped with life. Last summer, his father, following medical advice, brought him to Switzerland, in the hope that Alpine air, change of scene, exercise, and the pleasure of the trip, would restore him to his normal condition. One day father and son, led by a guide, were ascending a mountain pathway, not ordinarily regarded as dangerous, when the boy, stepping aside to view the snowy ranges above and around, slipped on a treacherous fragment of half-detached rock, and went sliding into the ravine beneath. The height of the fall was by no means great, and the level ground on which the boy would necessarily alight was overgrown with soft herbage and long grass, so that neither the father nor the guide at first conceived any serious apprehensions for the safety of the boy's life or limbs. He might be bruised, perhaps even a few cuts or a sprained wrist might disable him for a few days, but they feared nothing worse than these. As quickly as the slippery ground would permit, they descended the winding path leading to the meadow, but when they reached it, the boy was nowhere to be seen. Hours passed in vain and anxious quest; no track, no sound, no clue assisted the seekers, and the shouts of the guide, if they reached, as doubtless they did, the spot where the lost boy lay, fell on ears as dull and deadened as those of a corpse. Nor could the boy, if crippled by his fall, and unable to show himself, give evidence of his whereabouts by so much as a single cry. Both tongue and ears were sealed by infirmity, and any low sound such as that he might have been able to utter would have been rendered inaudible by the torrent rushing through the ravine hard by. At nightfall the search was suspended, to be renewed before daybreak with fresh assistance from the nearest village. Some of the new-comers spoke of a cave on the slope of the meadow, into which the boy might have crept. This was easily reached. It was apparently of but small extent; a few goats reposed in it, but no trace of the child was discoverable. After some days spent in futile endeavour, all hope was abandoned. The father returned to England to mourn his lost boy, and another disaster was added to the annual list of casualties in the Alps.

So far the story was sad enough, but hardly romantic. I clasped the hand of the narrator, and assured him warmly of my sympathy, adding, with as little appearance of curiosity as I could command:—

"And your object in coming back is only, then, to—to—be near the scene of your great trouble?"

"No, Mr Roy; that is not the motive of my journey. I do not believe either that my boy's corpse lies concealed among the grasses of the plateau, or that it was swept away, as has been suggested, by the mountain cataract. Neither hypothesis seems to me tenable. The bed of the stream was followed and searched for miles; and though, when he fell, he was carrying over his shoulder a flask and a thick fur-lined cloak,—for we expected cold on the heights, and went provided against it,—-not a fragment of anything belonging to him was found. Had he fallen into the torrent, it is impossible his clothing should not have become detached from the body and caught by the innumerable rocks in the shallow parts of the stream. But that is not all. I have another reason for the belief I cherish." He leaned forward, and added in firmer and slower tones: "I am convinced that my boy still lives, for—I have seen him."

"You have seen him!" I cried.

"Yes; again and again—in dreams. And always in the same way, and with the same look. He stands before me, beckoning to me, and making signs that I should come and help him. Not once or twice only, but many times, night after night I have seen the same thing!"

Poor father! Poor desolate man! Not the first driven distraught by grief; not the first deluded by the shadows of love and longing!

"You think I am deceived by hallucinations," he said, watching my face." It is you who are misled by the scientific idiots of the day, the wiseacres who teach us to believe, whenever soul speaks to soul, that the highest and holiest communion attainable by man is the product of physical disease! Forgive me the energy of my words; but had you loved and lost your beloved—wife and child—as I have done, you would comprehend the contempt and anger with which I regard those modern teachers whose cold and ghastly doctrines give the lie, not only to all human hopes and aspirations towards the higher life, but also to the possibility of that very progress from lower to nobler forms which is the basis of their own philosophy, and to the conception of which the idea of the soul and of love are essential! Evolution presupposes possible perfecting, and the conscious adaptation of means to ends in order to attain it. And both the ideal itself and the endeavour to reach it are incomprehensible without desire, which is love, and whose seat is in the interior self, the living soul—the maker of the outward form!"

He was roused from his melancholy now, and spoke connectedly and with enthusiasm. I was about to reassure him in regard to my own philosophical convictions, the soundness of which he seemed to question, when his voice sank again, and he added earnestly:—

"I tell you I have seen my boy, and that I know he lives,—not in any far-off sphere beyond the grave, but here on earth, among living men! Twice since his loss I have returned from England to seek him, in obedience to the vision, but in vain, and I have gone back home to dream the same dream. But—only last week— I heard a wonderful story. It was told me by a friend who is a great traveler, and who has but just returned from a lengthened tour in the south. I met him at my club, `by accident,' as unthinking persons say. He told me that there exists, buried away out of common sight and knowledge, in the bosom of the Swiss Alps, a little village whose inhabitants possess, in varying degrees, a marvellous and priceless faculty. Almost all the dwellers in this village are mutually related, either bearing the same ancestral name, or being branches from one original stock. The founder of this community was a blind man, who, by some unexplained good fortune, acquired or became endowed with the psychic faculty called 'second sight,' or clairvoyance. This faculty, it appears, is now the hereditary property of the whole village, more developed in the blind man's immediate heirs than in his remoter relatives; but, strange to say, it is a faculty which, for a reason connected with the history of its acquirement, they enjoy only once a year, and that is on Christmas Eve. I know well," continued Mr. St. Aubyn, "all you have it in your mind to say. Doubtless, you would hint to me that the narrator of the tale was amusing himself with my credulity; or that these Alpine villagers, if they exist, are not clairvoyants, but charlatans trading on the folly of the curious, or even that the whole story is a chimera of my own dreaming brain. I am willing that, if it please you, you should accept any of these hypotheses. As for me, in my sorrow and despair, I am resolved to leave no means untried to recover my boy; and it happens that the village in question is not far from the scene of the disaster which deprived me of him. A strange hope—a confidence even—grows in my heart as I approach the end of my journey. I believe I am about to verify the truth of my friend's story, and that, through the wonderful faculty possessed by these Alpine peasants, the promise of my visions will be realised."

His voice broke again, he ceased speaking, and turned his face away from me. I was greatly moved, and anxious to impress him with a belief in the sincerity of my sympathy, and in my readiness to accept the truth of the tale he had repeated.

"Do not think," I said with some warmth, "that I am disposed to make light of what you tell me, strange though it sounds. Out in the West, where I come from, I heard, when a boy, many a story at least as curious as yours. In our wild country, odd things chance at times, and queer circumstances, they say, happen in out of the way tracks in forest and prairie; aye, and there are strange creatures that haunt the bush, some tell, in places where no human foot is wont to tread. So that nothing of this sort comes upon me with an air of newness, at least! I mayn't quite trust it, as you do, but I am no scoffer. Look, now, Mr. St. Aubyn, I have a proposal to make. You are alone, and purpose undertaking a bitter and, it may be, a perilous journey in mountain ground at this season. What say you to taking me along with you? May be, I shall prove of some use; and at any rate, your adventure and your story interest me greatly!"

I was quite tremulous with apprehension lest he should refuse my request, but he did not. He looked earnestly and even fixedly at me for a minute, then silently held out his hand and grasped mine with energy. It was a sealed compact. After that we considered ourselves comrades, and continued our journey together.

Our day's rest at Bale being over, and the business which concerned me there transacted, we followed the route indicated by Mr. St. Aubyn, and on the evening of the 22nd of December arrived at a little hill station, where we found a guide who promised to conduct us the next morning to the village we sought. Sunrise found us on our way, and a tramp of several weary hours, with occasional breaks for rest and refreshment, brought us at last to the desired spot.

It was a quaint, picturesque little hamlet, embosomed in a mountain recess, a sheltered oasis in the midst of a wind-swept, snow-covered region. The usual Swiss trade of wood-carving appeared to be the principal occupation of the community. The single narrow street was thronged with goats, whose jingling many-toned bells made an incessant and agreeable symphony. Under the projecting roofs of the log-built chalets bundles of dried herbs swung in the frosty air; stacks of fir-wood, handy for use, were piled about the doorways, and here and there we noticed a huge dog of the St Bernard breed, with solemn face, and massive paws that left tracks like a lion's in the fresh-fallen snow. A rosy afternoon-radiance glorified the surrounding mountains and warmed the aspect of the little village as we entered it. It was not more than three o'clock, yet already the sun drew near the hilltops, and in a short space he would sink behind them and leave the valleys immersed in twilight. Inn or hostelry proper there was none in this out of the world recess, but the peasants were right willing to entertain us, and the owner of the largest chalet in the place speedily made ready the necessary board and lodging. Supper—of goat's milk cheese, coarse bread, honey, and drink purporting to be coffee—being concluded, the villagers began to drop in by twos and threes to have a look at us; and presently, at the invitation of our host, we all drew our stools around the pinewood fire, and partook of a strange beverage served hot with sugar and toast, tasting not unlike elderberry wine. Meanwhile my English friend, more conversant than myself with the curiously mingled French and German patois of the district, plunged into the narration of his trouble, and ended with a frank and pathetic appeal to those present, that if there were any truth in the tale he had heard regarding the annual clairvoyance of the villagers, they would consent to use their powers in his service.

Probably they had never been so appealed to before. When my friend had finished speaking, silence, broken only by a few half-audible whispers, fell on the group. I began to fear that, after all, he had been either misinformed or misunderstood, and was preparing to help him out with an explanation to the best of my ability, when a man sitting in the chimney-corner rose and said that, if we pleased, he would fetch the grandsons of the original seer, who would give us the fullest information possible on the subject of our inquiry. This announcement was encouraging, and we assented with joy. He left the chalet, and shortly afterwards returned with two stalwart and intelligent-looking men of about thirty and thirty-five respectively, accompanied by a couple of St Bernards, the most magnificent dogs I had ever seen. I was reassured instantly, for the faces of these two peasants were certainly not those of rogues or fools. They advanced to the centre of the assembly, now numbering some twenty persons, men and women, and were duly introduced to us by our host as Theodor and Augustin Raoul. A wooden bench by the hearth was accorded them, the great dogs couched at their feet, pipes were lit here and there among the circle; and the scene, embellished by the ruddy glow of the flaming pine-logs, the unfamiliar costume of the peasantry, the quaint furniture of the chalet-kitchen in which we sat, and enhanced by the strange circumstances of our journey and the yet stranger story now recounted by the two Raouls, became to my mind every moment more romantic and unworld-like. But the intent and strained expression of St. Aubyn's features as he bent eagerly forward, hanging as if for life or death on the words which the brothers poured forth, reminded me that, in one respect at least, the spectacle before me presented a painful reality, and that for this desolate and lonely man every word of the Christmas tale told that evening was pregnant with import of the deepest and most serious kind. Here, in English guise, is the legend of the Alpine seer, recounted with much gesticulation and rugged dramatic force by his grandsons, the younger occasionally interpolating details which the elder forgot, confirming the data, and echoing with a sonorous interjection the exclamations of the listeners.

Augustin Franz Raoul, the grandfather of the men who addressed us, originally differed in no respect, save that of blindness, from ordinary people. One Christmas Eve, as the day drew towards twilight, and a driving storm of frozen snow raged over the mountains, he, his dog Hans, and his mule were fighting their way home up the pass in the teeth of the tempest. At a turn of the road they came on a priest carrying the Viaticum to a dying man who inhabited a solitary but in the valley below. The priest was on foot, almost spent with fatigue, and bewildered by the blinding snow which obscured the pathway and grew every moment more impenetrable and harder to face. The whirling flakes circled and danced before his sight, the winding path was well-nigh obliterated, his brain grew dizzy and his feet unsteady, and he felt that without assistance he should never reach his destination in safety. Blind Raoul, though himself tired, and longing for shelter, listened with sympathy to the priest's complaint, and answered, "Father, you know well I am hardly a pious son of the Church; but if the penitent dying down yonder needs spiritual consolation from her, Heaven forbid that I should not do my utmost to help you to him! Sightless though I am, I know my way over these crags as no other man knows it, and the snowstorm which bewilders your eyes so much cannot daze mine. Come, mount my mule, Hans will go with us, and we three will take you to your journey's end safe and sound."

"Son," answered the priest, "God will reward you for this act of charity. The penitent to whom I go bears an evil reputation as a sorcerer, and we all know his name well enough in these parts. He may have some crime on his conscience which he desires to confess before death. But for your timely help I should not be able to fight my way through this tempest to his door, and he would certainly perish unshriven."

The fury of the storm increased as darkness came on. Dense clouds of snow obscured the whole landscape, and rendered sky and mountain alike indistinguishable. Terror seized the priest; but for the blind man, to whose sight day and night were indifferent, these horrors had no great danger. He and his dumb friends plodded quietly and slowly on in the accustomed path, and at length, close upon midnight, the valley was safely reached, and the priest ushered into the presence of his penitent. What the dying sorcerer's confession was the blind man never knew; but after it was over, and the Sacred Host had passed his lips, Raoul was summoned to his bedside, where a strange and solemn voice greeted him by name and thanked him for the service he had rendered.

"Friend," said the dying man, "you will never know how great a debt I owe you. But before I pass out of the world, I would fain do somewhat towards repayment. Sorcerer though I am by repute, I cannot give you that which, were it possible, I would give with all my heart,—the blessing of physical sight. But may God hear the last earthly prayer of a dying penitent, and grant you a better gift and a rarer one than even that of the sight of your outward eyes, by opening those of your spirit! And may the faculty of that interior vision be continued to you and yours so long as ye use it in deeds of mercy and human kindness such as this!"

The speaker laid his hand a, moment on the blind man's forehead, and his lips moved silently awhile, though Raoul saw it not. The priest and he remained to the last with the penitent; and when the grey Christmas morning broke over the whitened plain they left the little but in which the corpse lay, to apprise the dwellers in the valley hamlet of the death of the wizard, and to arrange for his burial. And ever, since that Christmas Eve, said the two Raouls, their grandfather found himself when the sacred time came round again, year after year, possessed of a new and extraordinary power, that of seeing with the inward senses of the spirit whatever he desired to see, and this as plainly and distinctly, miles distant, as at his own threshold. The power of interior vision came upon him in sleep or in trance, precisely as with the prophets and sybils of old, and in this condition, sometimes momentary only, whole scenes were flashed before him, the faces of friends leagues away became visible, and he seemed to touch their hands. At these times nothing was hidden from him; it was necessary only that he should desire fervently to see any particular person or place, and that the intent of the wish should be innocent, and he became straightway clairvoyant. To the blind man, deprived in early childhood of physical sight, this miraculous power was an inestimable consolation, and Christmas Eve became to him a festival of illumination whose annual reminiscences and anticipations brightened the whole round of the year. And when at length he died, the faculty remained a family heritage, of which all his descendants partook in some degree, his two grandsons, as his nearest kin, possessing the gift in its completest development. And— most strange of all—the two hounds which lay couched before us by the hearth, appeared to enjoy a share of the sorcerer's benison! These dogs, Fritz and Bruno, directly descended from Hans, had often displayed strong evidence of lucidity, and under its influence they had been known to act with acumen and sagacity wholly beyond the reach of ordinary dogs. Their immediate sire, Gluck, was the property of a community of monks living fourteen miles distant in the Arblen valley; and though the Raouls were not aware that he had yet distinguished himself by any remarkable exploit of a clairvoyant character, he was commonly credited with a goodly share of the family gift.

"And the mule?" I asked thoughtlessly.

"The mule, monsieur," replied the younger Raoul, with a smile, " has been dead many long years. Naturally he left no posterity."

Thus ended the tale, and for a brief space all remained silent, while many glances stole furtively towards St. Aubyn. He sat motionless, with bowed head and folded arms, absorbed in thought.

One by one the members of the group around us rose, knocked the ashes from their pipes, and with a few brief words quitted the chalet. In a few minutes there remained only our host, the two Raouls, with their dogs, my friend, and myself. Then St. Aubyn found his voice. He too rose, and in slow tremulous tones, addressing Theodor, asked,—

"You will have everything prepared for an expedition tomorrow, in case—you should have anything to tell us?"

"All shall be in readiness, monsieur. Pierre (the host) will wake you by sunrise, for with the dawn of Christmas Eve our lucid faculty returns to us, and if we should have good news to give, the start ought to be made early. We may have far to go, and the days are short."

He whistled to the great hounds, wished us goodnight, and the two brothers left the house together, followed by Fritz and Bruno.

Pierre lighted a lantern, and mounting a ladder in the corner of the room, invited us to accompany him. We clambered up this primitive staircase with some difficulty, and presently found ourselves in a bed-chamber not less quaint and picturesque than the kitchen below. Our beds were both prepared in this room, round the walls of which were piled goat's-milk cheeses, dried herbs, sacks of meal, and other winter provender.

Outside it was a starlit night, clear, calm, and frosty, with brilliant promise for the coming day. Long after I was in the land of dreams, I fancy St. Aubyn lay awake, following with restless eyes the stars in their courses, and wondering whether from some far-off, unknown spot his lost boy might not be watching them also.

Dawn, grey and misty, enwrapped the little village when I was startled from my sleep by a noisy chorus of voices and a busy hurrying of footsteps. A moment later some one, heavily booted, ascended the ladder leading to our bedroom, and a ponderous knock resounded on our door. St. Aubyn sprang from his bed, lifted the latch, and admitted the younger Raoul, whose beaming eyes and excited manner betrayed, before he spoke, the good tidings in store.

"We have seen him!" he cried, throwing up his hands triumphantly above his head. "Both of us have seen your son, monsieur! Not half an hour ago, just as the dawn broke, we saw him in a vision, alive and well in a mountain cave, separated from the valley by a broad torrent. An Angel of the good Lord has ministered to him: it is a miracle! Courage, he will be restored to you. Dress quickly, and come down to breakfast. Everything is ready for the expedition, and there is no time to lose!"

These broken ejaculations were interrupted by the voice of the elder brother, calling from the foot of the ladder:

"Make haste, messieurs, if you please. The valley we have seen in our dream is fully twelve miles away, and to reach it we shall have to cut our way through the snow. It is bad at this time of the year, and the passes may be blocked! Come, Augustin!"

Everything was now hurry and commotion. All the village was astir; the excitement became intense. From the window we saw men running eagerly towards our chalet with pickaxes, ropes, hatchets, and other necessary adjuncts of Alpine adventure. The two great hounds, with others of their breed, were bounding joyfully about in the snow, and showing, I thought, by their intelligent glances and impatient behavior, that they already understood the nature of the intended day's work.

At sunrise we sat down to a hearty meal, and amid the clamor of voices and rattling of platters, the elder Raoul unfolded to us his plans for reaching the valley, which both he and his brother had recognized as the higher level of the Arblen, several thousand feet above our present altitude, and in mid-winter a perilous place to visit.

"The spot is completely shut off from the valley by the cataract," said he, "and last year a landslip blocked up the only route to it from the mountains. How the child got there is a mystery!"

"We must cut our way over the Thurgau Pass," cried Augustin.

"That is just my idea. Quick now, if you have finished eating, call Georges and Albert, and take the ropes with you!"

Our little party was speedily equipped, and amid the lusty cheers of the men and the sympathetic murmurs of the women, we passed swiftly through the little snow-carpeted street and struck into the mountain path. We were six in number, St. Aubyn and myself, the two Raouls, and a couple of villagers carrying the requisite implements of mountaineering, while the two dogs, Fritz and Bruno, trotted on before us.

At the outset there was some rough ground to traverse, and considerable work to be done with ropes and tools, for the slippery edges of the highland path afforded scarce any foothold, and in some parts the difficulties appeared well-nigh insurmountable. But every fresh obstacle overcome added a new zest to our resolution, and, cheered by the reiterated cry of the two seers, "Courage, messieurs! Avanfons! The worst will soon be passed!" We pushed forward with right good will, and at length found ourselves on a broad rocky plateau.

All this time the two hounds had taken the lead, pioneering us with amazing skill round precipitous corners, and springing from crag to crag over the icy ravines with a daring and precision which curdled my blood to witness. It was a relief to see them finally descend the narrow pass in safety, and halt beside us panting and exultant. All around lay glittering reaches of untrodden snow, blinding to look at, scintillant as diamond dust. We sat down to rest on some scattered boulders, and gazed with wonder at the magnificent vistas of glowing peaks towering above us, and the luminous expanse of purple gorge and valley, with the white, roaring torrents below, over which wreaths of foam-like filmy mist hovered and floated continually.

As I sat, lost in admiration, St. Aubyn touched my arm, and silently pointed to Theodor Raoul. He had risen, and now stood at the edge of the plateau over- hanging the lowland landscape, his head raised, his eyes wide-opened, his whole appearance indicative of magnetic trance. While we looked he turned slowly towards us, moved his hands to and fro with a gesture of uncertainty, as though feeling his way in the dark; and spoke with a slow dreamy utterance

"I see the lad sitting in the entrance of the cavern, looking out across the valley, as though expecting some one. He is pallid and thin, and wears a dark-colored mantle—a large mantle—lined with sable fur."

St. Aubyn sprang from his seat. "True! " he exclaimed. "It is the mantle he was carrying on his arm when he slipped over the pass! O, thank God for that; it may have saved his life!"

"The place in which I see your boy," continued the mountaineer, "is fully three miles distant from the plateau on which we now stand. But I do not know how to reach it. I cannot discern the track. I am at fault!" He moved his hands impatiently to and fro, and cried in tones which manifested the disappointment he felt: "I can see no more! the vision passes from me. I can discover nothing but confused shapes merged in ever-increasing darkness!"

We gathered round him in some dismay, and St. Aubyn urged the younger Raoul to attempt an elucidation of the difficulty. But he too failed. The scene in the cave appeared to him with perfect distinctness; but when he strove to trace the path which should conduct us to it, profound darkness obliterated the vision.

"It must be underground," he said, using the groping action we had already observed on Theodor's part. "It is impossible to distinguish anything, save a few vague outlines of rock. Now there is not a glimmer of light; all is profound gloom!"

Suddenly, as we stood discussing the situation, one advising this, another that, a sharp bark from one of the hounds startled us all, and immediately arrested our consultation. It was Fritz who had thus interrupted the debate. He was running excitedly to and fro, sniffing about the edge of the plateau, and every now and then turning himself with an abrupt jerk, as if seeking something which eluded him. Presently Bruno joined in this mysterious quest, and the next moment, to our admiration and amazement, both dogs simultaneously lifted their heads, their eyes illumined with intelligence and delight, and uttered a prolonged and joyous cry that reverberated chorus-like from the mountain wall behind us.

"They know! They see! They have the clue!" cried the peasants, as the two hounds leapt from the plateau down the steep declivity leading to the valley, scattering the snowdrifts of the crevices pell-mell in their headlong career. In frantic haste we resumed our loads, and hurried after our flying guides with what speed we could. When the dogs had reached the next level, they paused and waited, standing with uplifted heads and dripping tongues while we clambered down the gorge to join them. Again they took the lead; but this time the way was more intricate, and their progress slower. Single-file we followed them along a narrow winding track of broken ground, over which every moment a tiny torrent foamed and tumbled; and as we descended the air became less keen, the snow rarer, and a few patches of gentian and hardy plants appeared on the craggy sides of the mountain.

Suddenly a great agitation seized St. Aubyn. "Look look!" he cried, clutching me by the arm; "here, where we stand, is the very spot from which my boy fell! And below yonder is the valley!"

Even as he uttered the words, the dogs halted and came towards us, looking wistfully into St. Aubyn's face, as though they fain would speak to him. We stood still, and looked down into the green valley, green even in mid-winter, where a score of goats were browsing in the sunshine. Here my friend would have descended, but the Raouls bade him trust the leadership of the dogs.

"Follow them, monsieur," said Theodor, impressively; "they can see, and you cannot. It is the good God that conducts them. Doubtless they have brought us to this spot to show you they know it, and to inspire you with confidence in their skill and guidance. See! they are advancing! On! do not let us remain behind!"

Thus urged, we hastened after our canine guides, who, impelled by the mysterious influence of their strange faculty, were again pressing forward. This time the track ascended. Soon we lost sight of the valley, and an hour's upward scrambling over loose rocks and sharp crags brought us to a chasm, the two edges of which were separated by a precipitous gulf some twenty feet across. This chasm was probably about eight or nine hundred feet deep, and its sides were straight and sheer as those of a well. Our ladders were in requisition now, and with the aid of these and the ropes, all the members of our party, human and canine, were safely landed on the opposite brink of the abyss.

We had covered about two miles of difficult ground beyond the chasm, when once more, on the brow of a projecting eminence, the hounds halted for the last time, and drew near St. Aubyn, gazing up at him with eloquent exulting eyes, as though they would have said, "He whom you seek is here!"

It was a wild and desolate spot, strewn with tempest-torn branches, a spot hidden from the sun by dense masses of pine foliage, and backed by sharp peaks of granite. St. Aubyn looked around him, trembling with emotion.

"Shout," cried one of the peasants; "shout, the boy may hear you!"

"Alas," answered the father, " he cannot hear; you forget that my child is deaf and dumb!"

At that instant, Theodor, who for a brief while had stood apart, abstracted and silent, approached St. Aubyn and grasped his hand.

"Shout!" repeated he, with the earnestness of a command; "call your boy by his name!"

St Aubyn looked at him with astonishment; then in a clear piercing voice obeyed.

"Charlie!" he cried; "Charlie, my boy! where are you?"

We stood around him in dread silence and expectancy, a group for a picture. St. Aubyn in the midst, with white quivering face and clasped hands, the two Raouls on either side, listening intently, the dogs motionless and eager, their ears erect, their hair bristling round their stretched throats. You might have heard a pin drop on the rock at our feet, as we stood and waited after that cry. A minute passed thus, and then there was heard from below, at a great depth, a faint uncertain sound. One word only—uttered in the voice of a child,—tremulous, and intensely earnest: "Father!"

St Aubyn fell on his knees. "My God! my God!" he cried, sobbing; "it is my boy! He is alive, and can hear and speak!"

With feverish haste we descended the crag, and speedily found ourselves on a green sward, sheltered on three sides by high walls of cliff, and bounded on the fourth, southward, by a rushing stream some thirty feet from shore to shore. Beyond the stream was a wide expanse of pasture stretching down into the Arblen valley.

Again St. Aubyn shouted, and again the childlike cry replied, guiding us to a narrow gorge or fissure in the cliff almost hidden under exuberant foliage. This passage brought us to a turfy knoll, upon which opened a deep recess in the mountain rock; a picturesque cavern, carpeted with moss, and showing, from some ancient, half obliterated carvings which here and there adorned its walls, that it had once served as a crypt or chapel, possibly in some time of ecclesiastical persecution. At the mouth of this cave, with startled eyes and pallid parted lips, stood a fair-haired lad, wrapped in the mantle described by the elder Raoul. One instant only he stood there; the next he darted forward, and fell with weeping and inarticulate cries into his father's embrace.

We paused, and waited aloof in silence, respecting the supreme joy and emotion of a greeting so sacred as this. The dogs only, bursting into the cave, leapt and gambolled about, venting their satisfaction in sonorous barks and turbulent demonstrations of delight. But for them, as they seemed well to know, this marvellous discovery would have never been achieved, and the drama which now ended with so great happiness, might have terminated in a lifelong tragedy.

Therefore we were not surprised to see St. Aubyn, after the first transport of the meeting, turn to the dogs, and clasping each huge rough head in turn, kiss it fervently and with grateful tears.

It was their only guerdon for that day's priceless service: the dumb beasts that love us do not work for gold!

And now came the history of the three long months which had elapsed since the occurrence of the disaster which separated my friend from his little son.

Seated on the soft moss of the cavern floor, St. Aubyn in the midst and the boy beside him, we listened to the sequel of the strange tale recounted the preceding evening by Theodor and Augustin Raoul. And first we learnt that until the moment when his father's shout broke upon his ear that day, Charlie St. Aubyn had remained as insensible to sound and as mute of voice as he was when his accident befell him. Even now that the powers of hearing and of speech were restored, he articulated uncertainly and with great difficulty, leaving many words unfinished, and helping out his phrases with gesticulations and signs, his father suggesting and assisting as the narrative proceeded. Was it the strong love in St. Aubyn's cry that broke through the spell of disease and thrilled his child's dulled nerves into life? Was it the shock of an emotion coming unexpected and intense after all those dreary weeks of futile watchfulness? or was the miracle an effect of the same Divine grace which, by means of a mysterious gift, had enabled us to track and to find this obscure and unknown spot?

It matters little; the spirit of man is master of all things, and the miracles of love are myriad-fold. For, where love abounds and is pure, the spirit of man is as the Spirit of God.

Little St. Aubyn had been saved from death, and sustained during the past three months by a creature dumb like himself,—a large dog exactly resembling Fritz and Bruno. This dog, he gave us to understand, came from "over the torrent," indicating with a gesture the Arblen Valley; and, from the beginning of his troubles, had been to him like a human friend. The fall from the hillside had not seriously injured, but only bruised and temporarily lamed the lad, and after lying for a minute or two a little stunned and giddy, he rose and with some difficulty made his way across the meadow slope on which he found himself, expecting to meet his father descending the path. But he miscalculated its direction, and speedily discovered he had lost his way. After waiting a long time in great suspense, and seeing no one but a few goatherds at a distance, whose attention he failed to attract, the pain of a twisted ankle, increased by continual movement, compelled him to seek a night's shelter in the cave subsequently visited by his father at the suggestion of the peasants who assisted in the search. These peasants were not aware that the cave was but the mouth of a vast and wandering labyrinth tunneled, partly by nature and partly by art, through the rocky heart of the mountain. A little before sunrise, on the morning after his accident, the boy, examining with minute curiosity the picturesque grotto in which he had passed the night, discovered in its darkest corner a moss-covered stone behind which had accumulated a great quantity of weeds, ivy, and loose rubbish. Boylike, he fell to clearing away these impedimenta and excavating the stone, until, after some industrious labour thus expended, he dismantled behind and a little above it a narrow passage, into which he crept, partly to satisfy his love of "exploring," partly in the hope that it might afford him an egress in the direction of the village. The aperture thus exposed had not, in fact, escaped the eye of St. Aubyn, when about an hour afterwards the search for the lost boy was renewed. But one of his guides, after a brief. inspection, declared the recess into which it opened empty, and the party, satisfied with his report, left the spot, little thinking that all their labor had been lost by a too hasty examination. For, in fact, this narrow and apparently limited passage gradually widened in its darkest part, and, as little St Aubyn found, became by degrees a tolerably roomy corridor, in which he could just manage to walk upright, and into which light from the outer world penetrated dimly through artificial fissures hollowed out at intervals in the rocky wall. Delighted at this discovery, but chilled by the vaultlike coldness of the place, the lad hastened back to fetch the fur mantle he had left in the cave, threw it over his shoulders, and returned to continue his exploration. The cavern gallery beguiled him with ever-new wonders at every step. Here rose a subterranean spring, there a rudely carved gargoyle grinned from the granite roof; curious and intricate windings enticed his eager steps, while all the time the deathlike and horrible silence which might have deterred an ordinary child from further advance, failed of its effect upon ears unable to distinguish between the living sounds of the outer world and the stillness of a sepulchre.

Thus he groped and wandered, until he became aware that the gloom of the corridor had gradually deepened, and that the tiny opening in the rock were now far less frequent than at the outset. Even to his eyes, by this time accustomed to obscurity, the darkness grew portentous, and at every step he stumbled against some unseen projection, or bruised his hands in vain efforts to discover a returning path. Too late he began to apprehend that he was nearly lost in the heart of the mountain. Either the windings of the labyrinth were hopelessly confusing, or some debris, dislodged by the unaccustomed concussion of footsteps, had fallen from the roof and choked the passage behind him. The account which the boy gave of his adventure, and of his vain and long-continued efforts to retrace his way, made the latter hypothesis appear to us the more acceptable, the noise occasioned by such a fall having of course passed unheeded by him. In the end, thoroughly baffled and exhausted, the lad determined to work on through the Cimmerian darkness in the hope of discovering a second terminus on the further side of the mountain. This at length he did. A faint starlike outlet finally presented itself to his delighted eyes; he groped painfully towards it; gradually it widened and brightened, till at length he emerged from the subterranean gulf which had so long imprisoned him into the mountain cave wherein he bad ever since remained. How long it had taken him to accomplish this passage he could not guess, but from the sun's position it seemed to be about noon when he again beheld day. He sat down, dazzled and fatigued, on the mossy floor of the grotto, and watched the mountain torrent eddying and sweeping furiously past in the gorge beneath his retreat. After a while he slept, and awoke towards evening faint with hunger and bitterly regretting the affliction which prevented him from attracting help.

Suddenly, to his great amaze, a huge tawny head appeared above the rocky edge of the plateau, and in another moment a St. Bernard hound clambered up the steep bank and ran towards the cave. He was dripping wet, and carried, strapped across his broad back, a double pannier, the contents of which proved on inspection to consist of three flasks of goat's milk, and some half dozen rye loaves packed in a tin box.

The friendly expression and intelligent demeanour of his visitor invited little St. Aubyn's confidence and reanimated his sinking heart. Delighted at such evidence of human proximity, and eager for food, he drank of the goat's milk and ate part of the bread, afterwards emptying his pockets of the few sous he possessed and enclosing them with the remaining loaves in the tin case, hoping that the sight of the coins would inform the dog's owners of the incident. The creature went as he came, plunging into the deepest and least boisterous part of the torrent, which he crossed by swimming, regained the opposite shore, and soon disappeared from view.

But next day, at about the same hour, the dog reappeared alone, again bringing milk and bread, of which again the lad partook, this time, however, having no sous to deposit in the basket. And when, as on the previous day, his new friend rose to depart, Charlie St. Aubyn left the cave with him, clambered down the bank with difficulty, and essayed to cross the torrent ford. But the depth and rapidity of the current dismayed him, and with sinking heart the child returned to his abode. Every day the same thing happened, and at length the strange life became familiar to him, the trees, the birds, and the flowers became his friends, and the great hound a mysterious protector whom he regarded with reverent affection and trusted with entire confidence. At night he dreamed of home, and constantly visited his father in visions, saying always the same words, "Father, I am alive and well."

"And now," whispered the child, nestling closer in St. Aubyn's embrace, "the wonderful thing is that today, for the first and only time since I have been in this cave, my dog has not come to me! It looks, does it not, as if in some strange and fairylike way he really knew what was happening, and had known it all along from the very beginning! O father! can he be—do you think—can he be an Angel in disguise? And, to be sure, I patted him, and thought he was only a dog!"

As the boy, an awed expression in his lifted blue eyes, gave utterance to this naive idea, I glanced at St. Aubyn's face, and saw that, though his lips smiled, his eyes were grave and full of grateful wonder.

He turned towards the peasants grouped around us, and in their own language recited to them the child's story. They listened intently, from time to time exchanging among themselves intelligent glances and muttering interjections expressive of astonishment. When the last word of the tale was spoken, the elder Raoul, who stood at the entrance of the cave, gazing out over the sunlit valley of the Arblen, removed his hat with a reverent gesture and crossed himself.

"God forgive us miserable sinners," he said humbly, "and pardon us our human pride! The Angel of the Lord whom Augustin and I beheld in our vision, ministering to the lad, is no other than the dog Gluck who lives at the monastery out yonder! And while we men are lucid only once a year, he has the seeing gift all the year round, and the good God showed him the lad in this cave, when we, forsooth, should have looked for him in vain. I know that every day Gluck is sent from the monastery laden with food and drink to a poor widow living up yonder over the ravine. She is infirm and bedridden, and her little grand-daughter takes care of her. Doubtless the poor soul took the sous in the basket to be the gift of the brothers, and, as her portion is not always the same from day to day, but depends on what they can spare from the store set apart for almsgiving, she would not notice the diminished cakes and milk, save perhaps to grumble a little at the increase of the beggars who trespassed thus on her pension."

There was silence among us for a moment, then St Aubyn's boy spoke.

"Father," he asked, tremulously, "shall I not see that good Gluck again and tell the monks how he saved me, and how Fritz and Bruno brought you here?"

"Yes, my child," answered St Aubyn, rising, and drawing the boy's hand into his own, "we will go and find Gluck, who knows, no doubt, all that has passed today, and is waiting for us at the monastery."

"We must ford the torrent," said Augustin; "the bridge was carried off by last year's avalanche, but with six of us and the dogs it will be easy work."

Twilight was falling; and already the stars of Christmas Eve climbed the frosty heavens and appeared above the snowy far-off peaks.

Filled with gratitude and wonder at all the strange events of the day we betook ourselves to the ford, and by the help of ropes and stocks our whole party landed safely on the valley side. Another half-hour brought us into the warm glow of the monk's refectory fire, where, while supper was prepared, the worthy brothers listened to a tale at least as marvellous as any legend in their ecclesiastical repertory. I fancy they must have felt a pang of regret that holy Mother Church would find it impossible to bestow upon Gluck and his two noble sons the dignity of canonisation.

 
 
 

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