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       Corse de Leon; or, The Brigand: A Romance. Volume 1 (of 2), p.1

         Part #1 (of 2) of Corse de Leon; or, The Brigand: A Romance series by G. P. R. James
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Corse de Leon; or, The Brigand: A Romance. Volume 1 (of 2)


  E-text prepared by Barbara Tozier, Bill Tozier, Mary Meehan, and theOnline Distributed Proofreading Team (https://www.pgdp.net)

  CORSE DE LEON:

  Or,

  The Brigand.

  A Romance.

  by

  G. P. R. JAMES, ESQ.

  Author of "The Robber," "The Gentleman of the Old School," etc.

  In Two Volumes.

  VOL. I.

  New-York: Published by Harper & Brothers, No. 82 Cliff-Street.1841.

  CORSE DE LEON;

  OR,

  THE BRIGAND.

  CHAPTER I.

  There are a thousand small and apparently accidental circumstances,which, in our course through life, bring a temporary gloom upon us,render our expectations from the future fearful and cheerless, anddiminish our confidence in all those things whereon man either rashlyrelies or builds his reasonable trusts. Strength, youth, wealth, power,the consciousness of rectitude, the providence of God: all these willoccasionally lose their sustaining influence, even upon the most hopefulmind, from causes too slight to justify such an effect.

  These accidental circumstances, these mental clouds, resemble much thoseother clouds which sometimes, at the close of a bright day, come over alandscape previously warm and shining, cast a gray shade over its richhues, shut out the redoubled glory of the setting sun, and make gloomand shadow spread over the summer scene. Though nothing is changed butthe light in which things dwell, though the colour of the tree and theform of the rock are the same, yet the brightness of the whole isdeparted, and the lustre gone out as if for ever.

  There are times, however, when a gloom, which seems to have nocounterpart in the physical world, comes over the mind; when all hasgone fairly with us; when every object around is full of brightness andhope; when the horses of Fortune's car have never once even stumbled onthe way; and not a sorrow rough enough to rub the down from the wing ofa butterfly has fallen upon our hearts for years; and yet a deep andshadowy despondence steals over our spirits, as if the immortal withinus were telling the mortal of anxieties, and griefs, and dangersapproaching--discovered by the fine sympathies of the higher part of ourbeing with things undiscovered by the mere material creature.

  Cares, sorrows, and perils, corporeal agony, and anguish of the heart,are often but as the fire which tempers the pure iron into the finesteel, at once proving and strengthening the spirit. The last grandlesson which leads generous youth to vigorous manhood, which confirmsour powers, and gives the great man's mastery over Fate, is to endure;and I am inclined to believe that such sudden and unaccountable feelingsof despondency--I do not mean the ordinary fits of gloom that haunt amoody and a wayward spirit, but, on the contrary, the dark impression,the heavy shadow that once or twice, in the midst of a bright lifetime,comes irresistibly upon a gay or placid mind--I am inclined to think, Isay, that such despondence is only given to the highminded and thegreat: a prophetic voice, announcing, not to the ear, but to the heart,that the day of trial comes: the trumpet of Fate, calling on a champion,dauntless and strong, to rouse him to the battle, and arm his spirit forsome awful strife.

  The day had been as bright and beautiful as a summer day in the south ofEurope can be, and yet it had spared the traveller and the labourer manyof the inconveniences and discomforts which those beautiful days of thesouth sometimes bring along with them: for the year was yet young, andwith all the brightness of youth it had all the tenderness too. Therehad been a fresh breeze in the sky during the hotter part of the day;and one would have felt that it blew from the cool tops of snowymountains, even had one not seen, from time to time, some of the distantpeaks of the high Alps towering white over the greener hills below.

  There was also a world of streams, and rivulets, and cascades about,which gave additional freshness and life to the air that blew heavy withthe perfume of the flowers upon the banks; and the high swelling of themountains round still gave a pleasant shade to one side of the valley.Each sense had something to delight it; and there was over every objectwhich nature presented that aspect of peaceful enjoyment which is thegreatest soother of man's heart.

  The spot was in the extreme verge of Savoy, bordering upon France. Itwould little benefit the reader to say exactly where, for the aspect ofthe land has changed: the towns of that age and their laborious denizenswould not be recognised by their successors of the present day; thecastle, the fortress, and the palace are ruined and swept away, and eventhe roads themselves now wind through other valleys or climb over otherhills. It was somewhere between Nice and St. Jean de Maurienne: thatspace is surely limited enough to afford the reader a definite idea ofthe scene. Let him take a map and a pair of compasses, he will find itbut a span; and in reality it is less--with a universe around it.

  Nevertheless, it was a very lovely scene, as I have said, with the hillstall and blue, and the snowy mountains looking down upon one through thelong defiles; with the valleys green and fresh, and the streams brightand sparkling. Here and there, too, upon some rocky height whichcommanded the entrance of the gorges of the mountain, a feudal castlewould raise its battlements, gray, and stern, and warlike; and either inthe open plain--where such a thing was found--or in the warm valleys inthe hills, were seen the villages and small towns of Savoy, with theirgrayish white walls and their graceful church towers crowning theloveliness of the whole with the aspect of human life. The period of theworld's history whereof I speak was one of gorgeous pageantry, and gaywit and deeds of arms: a period when chivalry and the feudal system,just about to be extinguished for ever, blazed with a dying flame.Montmorency still lived, though Bayard and Francis had left the busyscene but a few years before, and Henry the Second had not yet closedhis career in the last tournament which Europe was destined to witness.The songs of Marot and the wit of Rabelais still rang in the ear, andRonsard, Dorat, and Montaigne were entering gayly upon the path ofletters.

  It was in the year 1558, then, and towards the close of the day, that asmall party of horsemen wound along through the bright scenery of whichwe have spoken. It consisted only of four persons, two of whom weremerely armed servants, such as usually attended upon a cavalier of thosetimes, not exactly acting the part of soldier on ordinary occasions, butvery well fitted so to do when any particular exigency required theexertion of the strong hand. The third was a youth of no very remarkableappearance, in the garb of a page; but the fourth was evidently theleader of the whole, and, as such, the person who merits the mostaccurate description. I will attempt to paint him to the eye of thereader, as I have myself seen him represented by the hand of an unknownartist in one of the palaces on the banks of the Brenta.

  He was in person about the middle height, rather above it than below,and at this period was not more than twenty-three years of age. Hisforehead was broad and fine, with short dark hair curling round it: hisfeatures were small, except the eye and brow, the former of which waslarge and full, and the latter strongly marked. The mouth was veryhandsome, showing, when half open in speaking, the brilliant whiteteeth, and giving to the whole countenance a look of playful gayety;but, when shut, there was an expression of much thoughtfulness,approaching perhaps to sternness, about it, which the rounded andsomewhat prominent chin confirmed. The upper lip was very short; but oneither side, divided in the middle, was a short black mustache, notoverhanging the mouth, but raised above it; and the beard, which wasshort and black like the hair, was only suffered to grow in such amanner as to ornament, but not to encumber, the chin.

  In form the cavalier was muscular, and powerfully made, his breadth ofchest and shoulders giving the appearance of a more advanced period oflife than tha
t at which he had yet arrived. He was evidently a soldier,for he was fully armed, as if having lately been or being still inscenes of strife and danger; and, to say the truth, a man fully armed inthose days was certainly more loaded with weapons, offensive anddefensive, than was probably ever the case before or since.

  The picture I have spoken of represents him with not only the completearmour which was then still used to encase the person, with the long,heavy sword, the dagger, and the large pistols, but also with four shortcarbines--at least such they appear to be--one at each corner of thesaddle. His head, indeed, is seen unencumbered by the steel cap, whichusually completed the armour, but which is borne by the page at hissaddlebow, while the cavalier himself appears wearing upon his head thesomewhat cooler covering of a black velvet cap, without feather or anyother ornament.

  The horse that carried him, which was a tall, powerful charger, faredbetter in some respects than his master; for before this epoch, theheavy armour with which steed as well as man used at one time to beencumbered was lightened in favour of the quadruped, and the horse whichbore the young gentleman of whom we speak was only covered with suchpieces as might protect his head and chest in the shock of the charge.

  The day, I have said, had been bright and sweet, and all nature had beenas fresh and happy as a young heart upon a holyday. Similar, too, hadbeen the mood of Bernard de Rohan as he rode along; not so much that thescene and its charms created, as that they found, sympathetic feelingsin his bosom; for his disposition was naturally cheerful and bright,full of gay thoughts and happy enthusiasms. He was returning, too, fromanother country--from the midst of strangers, and perils, andfatigues--to enjoy an interval of tranquillity in his own bright land,and the society of those he loved.

  France was within his sight; the tongues that he heard around him spokenearly the same language as that which he had used from infancy; and,though the nominal frontier of Savoy lay some fifteen miles before him,yet, in all but the name, he was in his own country. There was little ofthat cold restraint about him which is either acquired by harsh dealingswith evil men, or is natural from some inward pravity of the heart, andthe cheerful mood of his mind found its way forth in many an outwardsign. From time to time he had turned round to speak to the page or toone of the servants with some light jest or gay inquiry. Now he wouldpoint out a distant spot in the landscape as they stood upon somebeetling point half way up the mountain, and ask if they recognised thisor that town in Dauphine; now he would pat the proud crest of his stouthorse, and talk to the noble animal as if he expected an answer; and nowwould even break forth into a snatch of song. His heart, in short, wasas a fountain, so filled with happiness that it welled over, and thewaters sparkled as they overflowed the brim.

  The servants smiled to see their lord so gay, especially an elder one,who, commenting with the other, remarked that he might well look happy,bearing back home such glory as he had won.

  Thus passed the earlier part of the day's journey; but towards theevening the mood of Bernard de Rohan changed. His open brow did not growcloudy, it is true, but there came a look of gloom upon it: the lips nolonger opened with a bland smile, and the teeth were shut together withthat stern expression we have already noticed. His eyes gazed on uponthe scene, but with somewhat of a vacant aspect, and everything toldthat the spirit was busy in its tabernacle dealing with high thoughts.Nor could any one who looked upon him suppose those thoughts were otherthan sad ones. Intense they certainly were, and certainly they were notgay.

  Yet Bernard de Rohan had no remembered grief. Fate had indeed oncestruck him severely, but ever after had spared him altogether; hadplucked not a flower from his bosom, nor cast a shadow on his path.

  In early years he had lost both his parents, but that was the onlymisfortune which had befallen him, and it was long ago. He scarcelyremembered them; and all that remained was a soft memory, affectionatebut not painful. Since then his course had been from one bright thing toanother. Wise and tender friends, the amusements, the sports, thestudies of youth, virtue and honour, wealth and station, praise,success, and glory had been his. He had no thirst for power: so whatcould he want more? Had any one asked him that question, he would havereplied, Nothing: nothing but what he might well hope to attain; andyet, about an hour before the sun reached the edge of the sky, a fit ofgloom fell upon him, dark, vague, unaccountable, like one of those miststhat in mountain lands suddenly surround the wayfarer, shutting out thebeauty and the brightness, and leaving all around dull, chilly, vague,uncertain, and confused.

  For nearly half an hour he gave way to the sensations that oppressedhim. They seemed at first too mighty to be struggled with. It was what,in the language of Northern poetry, is called "having the cloud uponhim," and he could not cast it off; till at length it seemed to risegradually, and the power returned, first, of arguing with himself uponthe unreasonableness of such feelings, and then of smiling--though witha mingled smile--at his own weakness in giving way to them.

  The effect wore off; but he was still communing with himself on thesensations he had just experienced, when the page called his attentionto the clouds that were gathering round the mountains. With that quicktransition so common to hill countries, especially in the south, the skywas becoming rapidly obscured. The lurid masses of stormy vapour writhedthemselves round the peaks; and, although beneath their dark canopy agleam of intense red light was seen marking the far western sky on theside of France, the whole heaven above was soon covered with a thickexpanse of deep gray cloud. At a considerable distance, in the more openpart of the country, which lay beyond the mouth of the defile,stretching in long lines of dark purple towards the sunset, appeared alarge square tower, with some other neighbouring buildings, cutting withtheir straight lines the rounded forms of the trees.

  "That must be Voiron," said the cavalier, as if in answer to his page'sobservation regarding the coming storm. "We must quicken our pace andreach shelter, or we shall have to pass half the night in cleaning ourarms, if yonder frowning cloud fulfil one half its menaces."

  "Voiron must be ten leagues off, sir," replied one of the attendants;"we shall not reach it this night."

  "Then we must find some other covering," replied the master, gayly;"but, at all events, put to your spurs, for the battle has alreadybegun."

  Even as he spoke the large drops fell slowly and heavily, denting thedusty covering of the road. Bernard de Rohan and his followers rode onat full speed, though the descent was steep, the way bad, and the graytwilight creeping over the scene. Five minutes more brought them to aturn where they could obtain a wider view; but, alas! no place of refugewas to be seen, except where the same tall dark tower rose heavilyacross the streaks of red light in the west, marking the place of somedistant town or village. The attendants, who had pictured to themselvesduring the morning's ride all the comforts of the cheerful inn, the goodrich wine of Dauphine, the stretching forth at ease of the strong,laborious limb, the easy gossip with the village girls, thelight-hearted song in the porch, and all the relaxing joys of an hour'sidleness, now begun to think of the long and tedious task of cleaningarms and clothing, and spending many an hour in rubbing the cold steel;and, to say sooth, their lord also would have been better pleased withfairer weather.

  The road, as such roads ever must do, wound its way round many a turnand angle of the rock, so that it was very possible for several personsto be within a short distance of each other, without the one whofollowed ever seeing him who was but a few hundred yards before him. Atthe spot which we have mentioned, Bernard de Rohan paused for a momentto look round for some place of shelter, and the road before him seemedperfectly clear and free. He could see completely into the valley on hisright, and across the plains beyond, while the path which he wasfollowing could be traced along the side of the hill, round two or threesharp angles of the rock, about two hundred yards apart from each other.All at first was clear, as I have said, when suddenly there emerged, atthe salient point which cut that part of the sky where the light stilllingered, the figu
re of a human being, which was lost again round theturn almost as soon as it was seen.

  "There is a peasant on a mule," exclaimed the cavalier, gladly. "Wecannot be far from some village."

  "It looks more like a priest on an ass, my lord," replied the attendantwho had spoken before.

  "Well, well," said his master, "we shall find the better lodgings."

  "And the better wine," rejoined his follower; "but, perhaps, not thebetter welcome."

  "Oh, they are good men, these priests of Savoy," replied Bernard deRohan, spurring on; "but we must not lose him again."

  In a few minutes they again caught sight of the object of their pursuit.He was now much nearer, but still it was somewhat difficult todistinguish whether he were priest or peasant, till, coming up with himby dint of hard riding--for his long-eared charger was bearing him on ata rapid pace--they found that he was, as the attendant had supposed, ajovial priest; not, indeed, extravagantly fat, as but too many were inthat day, but in good case of body, and bearing a countenance rosy withhealth, and apparently sparkling with a cheerful disposition. He seemed,indeed, to be of a character somewhat eccentric; for, contrary to allclerical rule, he had covered his head with one of the large straw hatsof the peasantry, which accorded but ill with the rest of hishabiliments. His features, which the young cavalier thought he had seensomewhere before, were good, with an expression of much sharpness; and,though undoubtedly he heard the tramp of horses' feet behind him, in aland and in times not famous for safe travelling, either his conscienceor his courage were so good, that he turned not his head to see whofollowed him thus closely, but kept his ass at the same brisk canter,while the young cavalier rode up to his side, and gave him the ordinarysalutation of the day.

  "A good-evening to you, father!" said Bernard de Rohan, riding betweenhim and the edge of the precipice.

  "Pray let us have it quickly, my son," replied the priest; "for the onewe have got seems likely to be as bad a one as ever I saw, at present."

  "Indeed it is," answered the young gentleman, smiling at his somewhatcynical reply; "I am heartily glad to have met with you, my good father,for I trust you can show us some place of shelter."

  "Good faith," replied the priest, turning for a moment to look at thecavalier's followers, "I cannot say I am so glad of the encounter; forwhere I am going we cannot be sure of finding too many of the goodthings of this life, and the lion's portion is always sure to go to thefighting men."

  "Nay, nay! we will share alike!" rejoined Bernard.

  "Ay! but I am a king in those matters," answered the priest; "I do notlike to share at all. But come on, come on; I am only jesting. We shallfind plenty, I doubt not; for, when last I passed that little inn, therewas good meat and wine enough to have fed a refectory for a week, or anarmy for a year. Come on quick, I say, for yon foul-mouthed railer atthe top of the hill is beginning to roar at us as well as spit at us. Wehave still far to go, and a storm in these mountains is like a dulljest, I can tell you, young gentleman; for one never knows what may comenext."

  "Why, what can come next," demanded the cavalier, "but fine weatherafter the storm?"

  "A rock upon your head," replied the priest, "or an avalanche at yourheels, which would smother you in your steel case like a lobster in hisshell. Come on! come on! Sancta Maria! why, my small ass will out-runyour tall charger now!" and, bestowing a buffet with his straw hat uponthe flank of his bearer, the beast quickened his pace still more, and,with a malicious whisk of the tail and fling with his hind feet, set offinto a gallop. But we must pause to change the scene, and precede thetravellers on their way.

 
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