Elsie at Nantucket by Martha Finley
"I am rapt, and cannot Cover the monstrous bulk of this ingratitude With any size of words." --Shakespeare.
The next day they all set out soon after breakfast for a long drive, taking the direction of the camping-ground of the lads, where they called and greatly astonished Max with a sight of his father, whom he supposed to be far out on the ocean.
The boy's delight fully equalled his surprise, and he was inclined to return immediately to 'Sconset; but the captain advised him to stay a little longer where he was; and he accordingly decided to do so; though regretting the loss of even an hour of the society of the father who was to him the best man in the world and the most gallant and capable officer of the navy; in short, the impersonation of all that was good, wise, and brave.
The 'Sconset cottages had been engaged only until the first of September, but by that time our friends were so in love with life upon the island that learning of some cottages on the cliffs, a little north-west of Nantucket Town, which were just vacated and for rent, they engaged two of them and at once moved in.
From their new abodes they had a fine view of the ocean on that side of the island, and from their porches could watch the swift-sailing yachts and other vessels passing to and fro.
The bathing-ground was reached by a succession of stairways built in the face of the cliff. The surf was fine, and bathing less dangerous there than at 'Sconset. Those of them who were fond of the sport found it most enjoyable; but the captain took the children into the town almost every day for a lesson in swimming, where the still bathing made it easy for them.
And now they took almost daily sails on the harbor, occasionally venturing out into the ocean itself; pleasant drives also; visiting the old windmill, the old graveyards, the soldiers' monument, and every place of interest in the vicinity.
Besides these, there was a little trip to Martha's Vineyard, and several were taken to various points on the adjacent shores of the mainland.
Much as they had enjoyed 'Sconset life, it now seemed very pleasant to be again where they could pay frequent visits to libraries and stores, go to church, and now and then attend a concert or lecture.
And there was a good deal of quiet pleasure to be found in rambles about the streets and queer byways and lanes of the quaint old town, looking at its odd houses and gardens, and perhaps catching a glimpse of the life going on within.
They gained an entrance to some; one day it was to the home of an old sea captain who had given up his former occupation and now wove baskets of various sizes and shapes, all very neat, strong and substantial.
There was always something pleasant to do; sometimes it was to take the cars on the little three-mile railroad to Surfside and pass an hour or two there; again to visit the Athenaeum and examine its stores of curiosities and treasures, mostly of the sea; or to select a book from its library; or to spend an hour among the old china and antique furniture offered for sale to summer visitors.
They were admitted to see the cast of the dauphin and bought photographs of it, as well as of many of the scenes in and about the town, with which to refresh their memories of the delightful old place when far away, or to show to friends who had never had the pleasure of a visit to its shores.
Violet spent many an enjoyable hour in sketching, finding no lack of subjects worthy of her pencil; and those of the party who liked botany found curious and interesting specimens among the flora of the island.
They had very delightful weather most of the time, but there was an occasional rainy day when their employments and amusements must be such as could be found within doors.
But even these days, with the aid of fancy-work, and drawing materials, newspapers, magazines and books, conversation and games, were very far from dull and wearisome; often one read aloud while the others listened.
One day Elsie brought out a story in manuscript.
"I have been thinking," she said, "that this might interest you all as being a tale of actual occurrences during the time of the French Revolution; as we have been thinking and talking so much of that in connection with the story of the poor little dauphin."
"What is it? and who is the author?" asked her father.
"It is an historical story written by Betty's sister Molly," she answered. "For the benefit of the children I will make a few preparatory remarks," she added, lightly, and with a pleasant smile.
* * * * *
"While France was torn by those terrible Internal convulsions, it was also fighting the combined armies of other nations, particularly Austria and Prussia, who were moved against it from sympathy with the king, and a desire to reinstate him on his throne, and a sense of danger to themselves if the disorganizing principles of the revolutionists should spread into their territories.
"Piedmont was involved in this conflict. Perhaps you remember that it is separated from Dauphiny, in France, by the Cottian Alps, and that among the valleys on the Piedmontese side dwell the Waldenses or Vaudois-evangelical Christians, who were for twelve hundred years persecuted by the Church of Rome.
"Though their own sovereigns often joined in these persecutions, and the laws of the land were always far more oppressive to them than to their popish fellow-citizens, the Waldenses were ever loyal to king and country and were sure to be called upon for their defence in time of war.
"In the spring of 1793--some three months after the beheading of King Louis XVI.--and while the poor queen, the dauphin and the princesses, his sister and aunt, still languished in their dreadful prisons--a French army was attempting to enter Piedmont from Dauphiny, which they could do only through the mountain-passes; and these all the able-bodied Waldenses and some Swiss troops, under the command of General Godin, a Swiss officer, were engaged in defending.
"It is among the homes of the Waldenses, thus left defenceless against any plot their popish neighbors might hatch for their destruction, that the scene of this story is laid.
"Now, papa, will you be so kind as to read it aloud?" she concluded, handing it to him.
"With pleasure," he said, and all having gathered around to listen, he began.
* * * * *
"On a lovely morning in the middle of May, 1793, a young girl and a little lad might have been seen climbing the side of a mountain overlooking the beautiful Valley of Luserna. They were Lucia and Henri Vittoria, children of a brave Waldensian soldier then serving in the army of his king, against the French, with whom their country was at war.
"Lucia had a sweet, innocent face, lighted up by a pair of large, soft, dark eyes, and was altogether very fair to look upon. Her lithe, slender figure bounded from rock to rock with movements as graceful and almost as swift as those of a young gazelle.
"'Sister,' cried the lad half pantingly, 'how nimble and fleet of foot you are to-day! I can scarce keep pace with you.'
"'Ah, Henri, it is because my heart is so light and glad!' she returned with a silvery laugh, pausing for an instant that he might overtake her.
"'Yes,' he said, as he gained her side, 'the good news from my father and Pierre, and Rudolph Goneto--that they are well and yet unharmed by French sword or bullet--has filled all our hearts with joy. Is it not to carry these glad tidings to Rudolph's mother we take this early walk?'
"'Yes; a most pleasant errand, Henri;' and the rose deepened on the maiden's cheek, already glowing with health and exercise.
"They were now far above the valley, and another moment brought them to their destination--a broad ledge of rock on which stood a cottage with its grove of chestnut-trees, and a little patch of carefully cultivated ground.
"Magdalen Goneto, the mother of Rudolph, a matron of placid countenance and sweet and gentle dignity of mien had seen their approach and come forth to meet them.
"She embraced Lucia with grave tenderness, bestowed a kind caress upon Henri, and leading the way to her neat dwelling, seated them and herself upon its porch, from which there was a magnificent view of the whole extent of the valley.
"To the left, and close at hand, lay San Giovanni, with its pretty villages, smiling vineyards, cornfields and verdant meadows sloping gently away to the waters of the Pelice. On the opposite side of the river, situate upon a slight eminence was the Roman Catholic town of Luserna. To the right, almost at their feet, embowered amid beautiful trees--chestnut, walnut, and mulberry--La Tour, the Waldensian capital and home of Lucia and Henri, nestled among its vineyards and orchards.
"Farther up the vale might be seen Bobbi Villar, and many smaller villages scattered amid the fields and vineyards, or hanging on the slopes of the hills, while hamlets and single cottages clung here and there to the rugged mountain-side, wherever a terrace, a little basin or hollow afforded a spot susceptible of cultivation. Beyond all towered the Cottian Alps, that form the barrier between Piedmont and Dauphiny, their snowy pinnacles glittering in the rays of the newly risen sun.
"It was thither the able-bodied men of the valley had gone to defend the passes against the French.
"Toward those lofty mountains Lucia's soft eyes turned with wistful, questioning gaze; for there were father, brother, lover, hourly exposed to all the dangers of war.
"Magdalen noted the look, and softly murmured, 'God, even the God of our fathers, cover their heads in the day of battle!'
"'He will, I know He will,' said Lucia, turning to her friend with a bright, sweet smile.
"'You bring me tidings, my child,' said Magdalen, taking the maiden's hand in hers, 'good tidings, for your face is full of gladness!'
"'Yes, dear friend, your son is well,' Lucia answered with a modest, ingenuous blush; 'my father also, and Pierre; we had word from them only yesternight. But ah me!' she added with a sigh, 'what fearful scenes of blood and carnage are yet enacted in Paris, the gay French capital! for from thence also, the courier brought news. Blood, he says, flows like water, and not content with having taken the life of their king, they force the queen and the rest of the royal family to languish in prison; and the guillotine is constantly at work dispatching its wretched victims, whose only crime, in many instances, is that of wealth and noble birth.'
"'Alas, poor wretches! alas poor king and queen!' cried Magdalen; 'and, for ourselves, what danger, should such bloodthirsty ruffians force an entrance into our valleys! The passes had needs be well guarded!'
"Lucia lingered not long with her friend, for home duties claimed her attention.
"Magdalen went with them to the brow of the hill, and again embracing Lucia, said in tender, joyous accents, 'Though we must now bid adieu, dear child, when the war is over you will come to brighten Rudolph's home and mine with your constant presence.'
"'Yes; such was the pledge he won from me ere we parted,' the maiden answered with modest sincerity, a tender smile hovering about the full red lips and a vivid color suffusing for an instant the delicately rounded cheek.
"Then with an affectionate good-by, she tripped away down the rocky path, Henri following.
"A glad flush still lingered on the sweet, girlish face, a dewy light shone in the soft eyes. Her thoughts were full of Magdalen's parting words and the picture they had called up of the happy married life awaiting Rudolph and herself when he should return to the pursuits of peace.
"And he at his post in those more distant mountains, thought of her and his mother; safe, as he fondly trusted, in the homes his strong arm was helping to defend against a foreign foe. The Vaudois, judging others by themselves, were, notwithstanding their many past experiences of the treacherous cruelty of Rome, strangely unsuspicious of their popish neighbors.
"The descent was scarcely yet accomplished by our young friends, when startled by the sound of heavy footsteps and gruff voices in their rear, and casting a look behind them, they beheld, rapidly approaching by another path which wound about the base of the mountain, two men of most ruffianly aspect.
"A wild terror seized upon the maiden as for an instant she caught the gaze of mingled malice and sensuality they bent upon her; and seizing Henri's hand, she flew over the ground toward La Tour with the fleetness of a hunted doe.
"For herself what had she not to fear! and for the child that he might be slain or reserved for a fate esteemed by the Vaudois worse than death, in being carried off to Pignerol and brought up in an idolatrous faith.
"The men pursued, calling to her with oaths, curses, obscene words, and jeering laughter.
"These but quickened her flight; she gained the bridge over the Angrogna, sped across it, over the intervening ground, and through the gate into the town; the footsteps of her pursuers echoing close behind.
"'Ah ha! escaped my embraces for the present, have you, my pretty barbet?' cried one of the miscreants, following her with gloating, cruel eyes as she sped onward up the street, feeling only comparatively safe even there. 'Ah well, it but delays my pleasure a few hours. I know where to find ye and shall pay my respects to-night.'
"'And I,' added his companion with a fierce laugh; 'to ye and many another like ye. It's work quite to my taste Holy Mother Church has laid out for us to-night, Andrea.'
"'Yes, yes, Giuseppe, we'll not quarrel with the work or the wages; all the plunder we can lay hands on; to say naught of the pretty maids such as yon, or the escape from the fires of purgatory.'
"They were wending their way to the convent of the Recollets as they talked. Arrived at its gates they were immediately admitted, to find it filled with cut-throats such as themselves, and soon learned that the church also and the house of the cure were in like condition.
"'Good!' they cried, 'how many names in all?'
"'Seven hundred,' said one.
"'Eight hundred,' asserted another.
"'Well, well, be it which it may, we're strong enough for the work, all the able-bodied barbetti being on the frontier,' cried Andrea, exultingly, 'we'll make short shrift with the old men, women and children.'
"'Yes; long live the holy Roman Church! Hurrah for the holy faith! Down with the barbetti!' cried a chorus of voices. 'We'll have a second St. Bartholomew in these valleys and rid them of the hated presence of the cursed heretics.'
"'That we will,' responded Giuseppe. 'But what's the order of proceedings?'
"'All the faithful to meet at Luserna at sunset; the vesper bell of the convent gives the signal shortly after, and we immediately spread ourselves over the valley on a heretic hunt that from San Giovanni to Bobbi shall leave not a soul alive to tell the tale.'
"While Magdalen and Lucia conversed in the cottage of the former, M. Brianza, cure of Luserna, seated in the confessional, listened with horror and indignation to a tale of intended wholesale rapine, murder, and arson, which his penitent was unfolding.
"'I will have neither part nor lot in this thing,' said the priest to himself, as he left the church a moment later; 'nay more, I shall warn the intended victims of their danger.'
"Hurrying to his house, he instantly dispatched messengers in all haste to San Giovanni and La Tour.
"About the same time, in the more remote town of Cavour, the fiendish plot was revealed to Captain Odetti, an officer of the Piedmontese militia, then enrolled to act against the French, with a request that he would take part in its execution. Being a rigid Romanist it was confidently expected that he would willingly do so.
"But as noble and humane a man as Luserna's good cure, he listened with like horror and detestation, and mounting his horse, instantly set off for La Tour to warn the helpless folk of the threatened calamity, and assist in averting it, if that might yet be possible.
"He travelled post haste, for time pressed; the appointed hour for the attack already drew so near that it was doubtful if even the most prompt action could still avail.
"Pale and breathless with haste and terror, Lucia and Henri gained the shelter of their home, and in reply to the anxious questioning of mother and grandparents, told of the hot pursuit of the evil men who had chased them into the town.
"Their story was heard with much concern, not only by the family, but also by a young man who had entered nearly at the same moment with themselves.
"His right arm was in a sling; his face, thin and wan with suffering, wore an expression of anxiety and alarm which deepened momentarily as the narrative proceeded.
"'How is Bianca?' he asked, upon its conclusion, the quiet tone telling nothing of the profound solicitude that filled his breast.
"'Much the same,' returned Sara Vittoria, the mother.
"'A little better, I think,' said a weak but cheerful voice from the next room. 'Maurice, how is your poor arm? come and tell me.'
"He rose and complied with the request.
"Bianca, the elder sister of Lucia, had been for a year or more the betrothed of Maurice Laborie. He found her lying pale and languid upon a couch.
"'What is it, Maurice?' she asked, presently, noticing his troubled look.
"'I wish you were well, Bianca.'
"'Ah! I am more concerned about your wound.'
"His thoughts seemed far away. He rose hastily.
"'I must speak to your grandsire. I will be in again;' and he left the room.
"Marc Rozel, the father of Sara Vittoria, a venerable, white-haired veteran who had seen his four-score years and ten, sat at the open door of the cottage, leaning upon his staff, his eyes fixed thoughtfully upon the towering heights of Mount Vandelin.
"'"As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about His people from henceforth even forever,"' Maurice heard him murmur as he drew near.
"There was comfort in the words, and the cloud of care partially lifted from the brow of the young Vaudois. But accosting the aged saint with deep respect, and bending down to speak close to his ear, he uttered a few rapid sentences in an undertone.
"'There seems a threatening of danger, Father Rozel; evil-looking men, such as Lucia and the lad were but now describing, have been seen coming into the town for the last two or three days; till now, it is said, the Romish church, the convent of Recollets, the house of the cure, and several other Catholic houses are full of them. What errand think you draws them hither just at this time, when nearly every able-bodied Vaudois is absent on the frontier?' Rozel's face reflected somewhat of the agitation and alarm in that of Maurice; but ere he could open his lips to reply, a neighbor, a young woman with a child in her arms, came rushing across the street, and calling to them in tones tremulous with excitement and affright, told of the warning just brought by Brianza's messenger.
"Her face was white with terror, and she clasped her infant to her breast with a look of agony, as she asked, 'Can it be, oh can it be that we are all to be slain in our helplessness? Something must be done, and that quickly. But what, alas! can we do? our husbands, brothers, fathers are all at a distance, and the fatal hour draws near.'
"The tones of her voice and some of her words had reached the ears of those within the cottage, and they now gathered about her in an intensely excited, terrified group. Question and answer followed in rapid succession till each knew all that she had heard.
"'Can it be possible?' cried Sara, 'can even popish cruelty, ingratitude, and treachery go so far? are not our brave defenders theirs also? keeping the passes against a common foe?'
"A mournful shake of the head from her aged father was the only reply, save the sobs and cries of the frightened children.
"But at that instant a horseman came dashing up the street, suddenly drew rein before their dwelling, and hastily dismounting, hurried toward them.
"'Captain Odetti!' exclaimed Rozel in some surprise.
"'Yes, Rozel, I come to warn you, though, alas! I fear I am too late to prevent bloodshed,' said the officer, sending a pitying glance from one to another of the terror-stricken group.
"'There is a conspiracy against you; the assassins are even now on foot; but if I cannot save, I will perish with you. The honor of my religion is at stake, and I must justify it by sharing your danger.'
"'Can it be that such designs are really entertained against us?' asked Rozel, in trembling tones, glancing from one loved face to another with a look of keenest anguish. 'On what pretext? I know of none.'
"'The late base and cowardly surrender of Fort Mirabouc.'
"'There was but one Vaudois present, and his voice was raised against it.'
"'True, but what matters that to foes bent upon your destruction? some one was to blame, and why not make a scapegoat of the hated Vaudois? But let us not waste time in useless discussion. We must act.'
"The fearful tidings flew from house to house, and in the wildest terror the feeble folk began to make what preparations they could for self-defence; by Odetti's advice barricading the streets and houses, collecting missiles to hurl down from the upper windows upon the heads of the assassins, and at the same time dispatching messenger after messenger to General Godin, the Swiss officer in command of the troops on the frontier, telling of the danger and praying for instant aid.
"But he, alas! unable, in the nobility of his soul, to credit the existence of a plot so atrocious, turned a deaf ear to their entreaties, declaring his conviction that the alarm was groundless--a mere panic--and that his troops could not be spared to go on so useless an errand.
"As one courier after another returned with this same disheartening report, the terror and despair were such as to beggar description.
"Lucia Vittoria, recalling, with many a shudder of wild affright, the evil looks and fierce words and gestures of her pursuers of the morning, resolved to defend her own, her mother's, and sister's honor to the last gasp.
"'The terrible excitement of the hour seemed to give her unnatural strength for her task of lifting and carrying stones and fragments of rock to be used in repelling the expected assault. Assisted by Henri and every member of the family capable of the exertion, she toiled unceasingly while anything yet remained to be done.
"In the midst of their exertions Magdalen Goneto suddenly appeared among them.
"'I have heard, and I come to live or die with you, dear friends,' she said, and fell to work with the others.
"At length all was completed, and they could only await in dreadful suspense the coming of events. They had continued to importune the commandant, but with no better success than at first.
"In the closed and barricaded dwellings hearts were going up to God in agonized prayer for help, for deliverance.
"In that of the Vittorias few words were spoken save as now and again the voice of the aged Rozel or that of his venerable wife, his daughter, or Magdalen Goneto, broke the awful silence with some promise from the Book of books to those who trust in the Lord.
"Maurice, whose father and brothers were away with the army, torn with anxiety for mother, sisters, and betrothed alike, persuaded the former to follow Magdalen's example in repairing to the house of the Vittorias, that such efforts as he was able to put forth in his crippled condition might be made in their common defence.
"Freely would he shed the last drop of his blood to shield them from harm, but, alas! what match was he for even one of the horde of desperadoes that would soon be upon them? what could he do? how speedily would he be overpowered! Help must be obtained.
"He stole out through the garden to learn the latest news from the frontier.
"The fourteenth courier had just returned in sadness; the commandant was still incredulous; still firm in his refusal to render aid.
"'We are then given up to the sword of the assassin!' groaned his hearers.
"'No, no, never! it must not be!' cried Maurice with sudden stern determination, though there was a quiver of pain in his voice; and sending a glance of mingled love and anguish toward the cottage that sheltered those dearer to him than life, he set off at a brisk pace up the valley.
"Love moved him to the task, and spite of weakness and pain, never before had he trodden those steep and dangerous mountain paths with such celerity.
"Arrived and admitted to Godin's presence, he poured out his petition with the vehemence of one who can take no denial, urging his suit with all the eloquence of intense anxiety and deep conviction of the terrible extremity of the feeble folk in the valley.
"Doubt began to creep into the mind of the brave officer. 'Might there not be some truth in the story after all?' Yet he answered as before. 'A mere panic. I cannot believe in a plot so atrocious. What! murder in cold blood the innocent, helpless wives and children of the brave men who are defending theirs from a common foe? No, no; human nature is not so depraved!'"
"'So it was thought on the eve of the Sicilian Vespers; on the eve of St. Bartholomew; at the time when Castracaro, when De La Trinite, when Pianeza--'
"'Ah,' interrupted the general with a frown, 'but those were deeds of days long gone by, and men are not now what they then were.'
"'Sir,' returned Maurice earnestly, 'for twelve hundred years the she-wolf of Rome has ravaged our fold, slaying sheep and lambs alike--sparing neither age nor sex; and, sir, it is her boast that she never changes.
"'Nor are men incapable of the grossest injustice and cruelty even in these days. Look at the fearful scenes of blood enacted even now in France! General, the lives of thousands of his majesty's evangelical subjects are trembling in the balance, and I do most solemnly assure you that unless saved by your speedy interposition, or a direct miracle from Heaven, they will this night fall victims to a sanguinary plot.
"'Ah, sir, what more can I say to convince, to move you? The assassins are already assembling, the time wanes fast, and will you stretch forth no hand to save their innocent, helpless victims?'
"The general was evidently moved by the appeal. 'Had I but sufficient proof,' he muttered in an undertone of doubt and perplexity.
"Maurice caught eagerly at the word. 'Proof, general! would Odetti, would Brianza have warned us, were the danger not imminent? And do not the annals of your own Switzerland furnish examples of similar plots?'
"'True, too true! yet--'
"But at this moment the sixteenth courier came panting up to pour out, in an agony of haste and fear, the same tale of contemplated wholesale massacre, and the story reaching the ears of the Vaudois troops they gathered about the general, imploring, demanding to be sent instantly to the aid of their menaced wives and children.
"General Godin's mind had been filled with conflicting emotions while Maurice spoke; his humanity, his honor as a soldier, his duty to the government, were struggling for the mastery.
"'Ought he to march without orders or even the knowledge of his superiors? and that too with no more certain proof of the illegal assembling of those who were said to be plotting against the peace and safety of the Vaudois families?'
"Yet there was no time to reconnoitre ere the dire mischief might be done. His humanity at last prevailed over more prudential considerations. He commanded the brigade of Waldenses to march instantly, and himself followed with another division.
"Bianca Vittoria had been carried to an upper room, where all the family were now gathered about her bed.
"With unutterable anguish the mother looked upon her two lovely daughters in the early bloom of womanhood, the babe sleeping upon her breast, the little ones clinging to her skirts, her aged and infirm parents, all apparently doomed to a speedy, violent death--and worse than death. Her own danger was well-nigh forgotten in theirs.
"Utter silence reigned in that room and the adjoining one, at this time occupied by Magdalen and the mother and sisters of Maurice; every ear was strained to catch the sound of the approaching footsteps of the assassins, or of the longed-for deliverers; a very short season would now decide their fate. Oh, would help never come!
"Lucia, kneeling beside her sister's couch, clasping one thin, white hand in hers, suddenly dropped it and sprang to her feet.
"'How fast it grows dark! and what was that?' as a heavy, rolling sound reverberated among the mountains; 'artillery?' and her tones grew wild with terror.
"'Thunder; the heavens are black with clouds,' said Magdalen, coming in and speaking with the calmness of despair.
"A heavy clap nearly drowned her words, then followed crash on crash; the rain came down in torrents--the wind, which had suddenly risen to almost a hurricane, dashing it with fury against walls and windows; the darkness became intense except as ever and anon the lurid glare of the lightning lit up the scene for an instant, giving to each a momentary glimpse of the pale, terror-stricken faces of the others.
"'Alas, alas, no help can reach us now!' moaned Sara, clasping her babe closer to her breast, 'no troops can march over our fearful mountain-passes in this terrific storm and thick darkness. We must die!'
"'Oh, God of our fathers, save us! let us not fall into the hands of those ruffians, who--more to be feared than the wild beasts of the forest--would rob us of honor and of life!' cried Lucia, falling upon her knees again, and lifting hands and eyes to heaven.
"'Amen!' responded the trembling voice of Rozel. 'Lord, Thine hand is not shortened that it cannot save, neither Thine ear heavy that it cannot hear!'
"The scenes that followed what pen may portray! the wild anguish of some expressed in incoherent words, shrieks of terror, and cries for help, as they seemed to hear amid the roar of the elements the hurried footsteps of the assassins, and to see in the lightning's flash the glitter of their steel; the mute agony of others as in the calmness of despair they crouched helplessly together awaiting the coming blow.
* * * * *
"Meanwhile the fathers, husbands, sons, brothers were hastening homeward, their brave hearts torn with anguish at thought of the impossibility of arriving before the hour set for the murderers to begin their fiendish work.
"There was no regular order of march, but each rushed onward at his utmost speed, praying aloud to God for help to increase it, and calling frantically to his fellows to 'hasten, hasten to the rescue of all they held most dear.'
"Alas for their hopes! the shades of evening were already falling, and the storm presently came on in terrific violence, the darkness, the blinding momentary glare of the lightning, the crashing thunder peals, the driving, pouring rain and fierce wind greatly increasing the difficulties and perils of their advance. God Himself seemed to be against them.
"But urged on by fear and love for their helpless ones, and by parties of distracted women and children sent forward from La Tour--some of whom, in their terror and despair, asserted that the work of blood had already begun--they pressed onward without a moment's pause, springing from rock to rock, sliding down precipices, scaling giddy heights, leaping chasms which at another time they would not have dared to attempt, and tearing through the rushing, roaring mountain torrents already greatly swollen by the rain.
"They reached the last of these, and dashing through it, were presently in sight of La Tour, when the tolling of the vesper bell of the convent of the Recollets--the preconcerted signal for the assassins to sally forth--smote upon their ears.
"'Too late! too late!' cried Rudolph Goneto hoarsely.
"'But if too late to save, we will avenge!' responded a chorus of deep voices, as with frantic haste they sped over the intervening space.
"The next moment the tramp of their feet and the clang of their arms were heard in the streets of the town. Windows and doors flew open and with cries and tears of joy and thankfulness, wives, children, and aged parents gathered about them almost smothering them with caresses.
"The storm, which had seemed to seal their doom, had proved their salvation--preventing some of the murderers from reaching the rendezvous in season, and so terrifying the others that they dared not attempt the deed alone; especially as it had already begun to be rumored that troops were on the march to the threatened valley.
"Rudolph found himself encircled by his mother's arms, her kisses and tears warm upon his cheek.
"He held her close, both hearts too full for speech. Then a single word fell from the soldier's lips, 'Lucia?'
"Darting into the house, guided by some subtle instinct, he stood the next moment in the upper room where she knelt by her sister's couch, the two mingling their tears and thanksgivings together.
"All was darkness, but at sound of the well-known step Lucia sprang up with a cry of joy. 'Saved!'
"Rudolph's emotions, as he held her to his heart, were too big for utterance.
"Some one entered with a light. It was Magdalen, and behind her came Maurice, pale, haggard, and dripping with rain.
"Bianca's heart gave a joyous bound. He too was safe.
"But a tumult of voices from below--some stern, angry, threatening, others sullen, dogged, defiant, or craven with abject terror--attracted their attention.
"Magdalen set down the light and hurried away in the direction of the sounds, Rudolph and Lucia following.
"A number of the Waldenses, sword in hand, and eyes flashing with righteous indignation, were gathered about two of the would-be assassins, caught by them almost on the threshold of the cottage.
"Their errand who could doubt? and Henri had recognized them as his and Lucia's pursuers of the morning.
"She too knew them instantly, and clung pale with affright to Rudolph's arm, while he could scarce restrain himself from rushing upon, and running them through with his sword.
"'Spare us, sirs,' entreated Andrea, quaking with fear under the wrathful glance of the father of the maidens, 'spare us; we have not harmed you or yours.'
"'Nor plotted their destruction? Miserable wretch, ask not your life upon the plea that it is not forfeit. Can I doubt what would have been the fate of my wife and daughters had they fallen into your hands?'
"'But your religion teaches you to forgive.'
"'True; yet also to protect the helpless ones committed to my care.'
"'We will leave your valleys this hour; never to set foot in them again.'
"'Ah! yet how far may we trust the word of one whose creed bids him keep no faith with heretics?'
"'" Vengeance is Mine, I will repay."'
"It was the voice of the aged Rozel which broke the momentary silence.
"Vittoria sheathed his sword. Not his to usurp the prerogative of Him who had that night given so signal deliverance to His 'Israel of the Alps.'"
"Is that all?" asked Lulu, drawing a long breath, as Mr. Dinsmore refolded the manuscript and gave it back to his daughter.
"Yes," he said, "the author has told of the deliverance of the imperilled ones, and that Vittoria refrained from taking vengeance upon their cowardly foes; and so ends the story of that night of terror in the valleys."
"But were all the Waldenses equally forbearing, grandpa?" asked Zoe.
"They were; in all the valleys not a drop of blood was shed; justly exasperated though the Waldenses were, they contented themselves with sending to the government a list of the names of the baffled conspirators.
"But no notice was taken of it; the would-be murderers were never called to account till they appeared before a greater than an earthly tribunal.
"But General Godin was presently superseded in his command and shortly after dismissed the service. Two plain indications that the sympathy of the government was with the assassins and not at all with their intended victims."
"But is it true, sir?" asked Max.
"Yes; it is true that at that time, in those valleys, and under those circumstances, such a plot was hatched and its carrying out prevented in the exact way that this story relates."
"Mean, cowardly, wicked fellows they must have been to want to murder the wives and children and burn and plunder the houses of the men that were defending them and theirs from a common enemy!" exclaimed the boy, his face flushing and eyes flashing with righteous indignation.
"Very true; but such are the lessons popery teaches and always has taught; 'no faith with heretics,' no mercy to any who deny her dogmas; and that anything is right and commendable which is done to destroy those who do not acknowledge her authority and to increase her power; one of her doctrines being that the end sanctifies the means!"
"But what did they mean when they said they were going to have a second St. Bartholomew in the valleys?" asked Grace.
"Did you never hear of the massacre of St. Bartholomew, daughter?" her father asked, stroking her hair caressingly as she sat upon his knee.
"No, papa; won't you tell me about it?"
"It occurred in France a little more than three hundred years ago; it was a dreadful massacre of the Protestants to the number of from sixty to a hundred thousand; and it was begun on the night of the twenty-third of August; which the Papists call St. Bartholomew's Day.
"The Protestants were shot, stabbed, murdered in various ways, in their beds, in the street, any where that they could be found; and for no crime but being Protestants."
"And popery would do the very same now and here, had she the power," commented Mr. Dinsmore, "for it is her proudest boast that she never changes. She teaches her own infallibility; and what she has done she will do again if she can."
"What is infallibility, papa?" asked Grace. "To be infallible is to be incapable of error or of making mistakes," he answered. "So popery teaching that she has never done wrong or made a mistake justifies all the horrible cruelties she practised in former times; and, in fact, she occasionally tells us, through some of her bolder or less wary followers, that what she has done she will do again as soon as she attains the power."
"Which she never will in this free land," exclaimed Edward.
"Never, provided Columbia's sons are faithful to their trust; remembering that 'eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,'" responded his grandfather.
Grace was clinging tightly to her father, and her little face was pale and wore a look of fright.
"What is it, darling?" he asked.
"O papa, will they come here some time and kill us?" she asked, tremulously.
"Do not be frightened, my dear little one," he said, holding her close; "you are in no danger from them."
"I don't believe all Roman Catholics would have Protestants persecuted if they could," remarked Betty. "Do you, uncle?"
"No; I think there are some truly Christian people among them," he answered; "some who have not yet heard and heeded the call, 'Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.' We were talking, not of Papists, but of Popery. Sincere hatred of the system is not incompatible with sincere love to its deluded followers."