Anna Jane Vardill

LEGENDS OF LAMPIDOSA

COLLECTED BY A RECLUSE

My return to the Eunomian Society was greeted by innumerable questions respecting the institution I had been sent to discover, and the means of my success. “These,” I replied, unfolding a roll of manuscripts, “will explain all the mysteries of both. They contain legends of seven nations, preserved in the isle of Lampidosa by a female anchoret, whose rocky chamber is still visible, where she received and deposited the narratives of travellers from various countries. Their present possessor has only added one of recent date, which will be found, perhaps, not wholly unconnected with our own private histories, our opinions, and purposes. These legends shew the character of woman capable of tints as various as the “seven-fold light” to which our gallant associate compared it. Let us begin with the simple record of the remotest nation, and observe her in her first gradation from the darkness of savage nature.

In one of those short and brilliant nights peculiar to Norway, a small hamlet near its coast was disturbed by the arrival of a stranger. At a spot so wild and unfrequented, the Norwegian government had not thought fit to provide any house of accommodation for travellers, but the pastor’s residence was easily found. Thorsen, though his hut hardly afforded room for his own numerous family, gave ready admission even to an unknown guest, and placed before him the remains of a dried torsk-fish, a thrush, and a loaf composed of oatmeal mixed with fir-bark. To this coarse but hospitable banquet the traveller seated himself with a courteous air of appetite, and addressed several questions to his host respecting the produce, customs, and peculiarities of the district. Thorsen gave him intelligent answers, and dwelt especially on the cavern of Dolstein, celebrated for its extent beneath the sea. The traveller listened earnestly, commented in language which betrayed deep science, and ended by proposing to visit it with his host. The pastor loved the wonders of his country with the pride and enthusiasm of a Norwegian; and they entered the cave of Dolstein together, attended only by one of those small dogs accustomed to hunt bears. The torches they carried could not penetrate the tremendous gloom of this cavern, whose vast aisles and columns seem to form a cathedral fit for the spirits of the sea, whose eternal hymn resounds above and around it. “We must advance no farther,” said Thorsen, pausing at the edge of a broad chasm—“we have already ventured two miles beneath the tide.”—“Shall we not avail ourselves of the stairs which Nature has provided here?" replied the traveller, stretching his torch over the abyss, into which large masses of shattered basaltine pillars offered a possible, but dreadful, mode of descent. The pastor caught his cloak—“Not in my presence shall any man tempt death so impiously! Are you deaf to that terrible murmur? The tide of the northern ocean is rising upon us: I see its white foam in the depth.”—Though retained by a strong grasp, the stranger hazarded a step beneath the chasm’s edge, straining his light to penetrate its extent, which no human hand had ever fathomed. The dog leaned to a still lower resting-place, was out of sight a few moments, and returned with a piteous moan to his master’s feet.—“Even this poor animal,” said Thorsen, “is awed by the divinity of darkness, and asks us to save ourselves”—“Loose my cloak, old man!” exclaimed the traveller, with a look and tone which might have suited the divinity he named—“my life is a worthless hazard. But this creature’s instinct invites us to save life, not to lose it. I hear a human voice!”—“It is the scream of the fish-eagle!” interrupted his guide; and, exerting all his strength, Thorsen would have snatched the torch from the desperate adventurer; but he had already descended a fathom deep into the gulf. Panting with agony, the pastor saw him stand unsupported on the brink of a slippery rock, extending the iron point of his staff into what appeared a wreath of foam left on the opposite side by the sea, which now raged below him in a whirlpool more deafening than the Malestrom. Thorsen with astonishment saw this white wreath attach itself to the pike-staff; he saw his companion poise it across the chasm with a vigorous arm, and beckon for his aid with gestures which the clamour of waves prevented his voice from explaining. The sagacious dog instantly caught what now seemed the folds of a white garment; and while Thorsen, trembling, held the offered staff, the traveller ascended with his prize. Both fell on their knees, and silently blessed heaven. Thorsen first unfolded the white garment and discovered the face of a boy, beautiful though ghastly, about eleven years old. “He it not dead yet!” said the good pastor, eagerly pouring wine between his lips from the flask he had brought to cheer them. He soon breathed, and the traveller, tearing off his wet half-frozen vestments, wrapped him in his own furred coat and cloak, and spoke to him in a gentle accent. The child clung to him whose voice he had heard in the gulf of death, but could not discern his deliverers. “Poor blind boy!” said Thorsen, dropping tears on his cheek, “he has wandered alone into this hideous cavern, and fallen down the precipice.” But this natural conjecture was disproved by the boy’s replies to the few Norwegian words he seemed to understand. He spoke in a pure Swedish dialect of a journey from a very distant home with two rude men, who had professed to bring him among friends, but had left him sleeping, he believed, where he had been found. His soft voice, his blindness, his unsuspicious simplicity, increased the deep horror which both his benefactors felt as they guessed the probable design of those who had abandoned him. They carried him by turns in silence, preceded by their watchful dog; and quenching their torches at the cavern’s mouth, seated themselves in one of its most concealed recesses. The sun was rising, and its light shone through a crevice on the stranger’s face and figure, which, by enveloping the child in his furred mantle, he had divested of disguise. Thorsen saw the grace and vigour of youth in its contour, features formed to express an ardent character, and that fairness of complexion peculiar to northern nations. As if aware of his guide’s scrutiny, the traveller wrapped himself again in his cloak, and, looking on the sleeping boy whose head rested on his knee, broke the thoughtful pause. “We must not neglect the existence we have saved. I am a wanderer, and urgent reasons forbid me to have any companion. Providence, sir, has given you a right to share in the adoption of this child. Dare you accept the charge for one year, with no other recompense than your own benevolence and this small purse of dollars?”

Thorsen replied, with the blush of honest pride in his forehead, “I should require no bribe to love him—but I have many children, and their curiosity may be dangerous. There is a good old peasant, whose daughter is his only comfort and compaunion. Let us entrust this boy to her care, and if in one year—”—“In one year, if I live, I will reclaim him!” said the stranger solemnly:—“shew me this woman.” Though such peremptory commands startled Thorsen, whose age and office had accustomed him to respect, he saw and felt a native authority in his new friend’s eye, which he obeyed. With a cautious fear of spies, new to an honest Norwegian, he looked round the cavern-entrance, and led the stranger by a private path to the old fisherman’s hut. Claribell, his daughter, sat at its door, arranging the down-feathers of the beautiful Norwegian pheasant, and singing one of the wild ditties so long preserved on that coast. The fisherman himself, fresh-coloured and robust, though in his ninetieth year, was busied amongst his winter-stock of oil and deer-skins. Thorsen was received with the urbanity peculiar to a nation whose lowest classes are artisans and poets: but his companion did not wait for his introduction. “Worthy woman,” he said to Claribell, “I am a traveller with an unfortunate child, whose weakness will not permit him to accompany me farther. Your countenance confirms what this venerable man has told me of your goodness:—I leave him to appeal to it.” He disappeared as he spoke, while the blind boy clung to Claribell’s hand, as if attracted by the softness of a female voice. “Keep the dollars, pastor!” said Hans Hofland, when he had heard all that Thorsen chose to tell—“I am old, and my daughter may marry Brande, our kinsman—keep the purse to feed this poor boy, if the year should pass and no friends remember him.”

Thorsen returned well-satisfied to his home, but the stranger was gone, and no one in the hamlet knew the time or way of his departure. Though a little Lutheran theology was all that education had given the pastor, he had received from Nature an acute judgment and a bountiful heart. Whether the deep mystery in which his guest had chosen to wrap himself could be connected with that which involved his ward, was a point beyond his investigation; but he contented himself with knowing how much the blind boy deserved his pity. To be easy and useful was this good man’s constant aim, and he always found both purposes united.

The long, long winter and brief summer of Norway passed away without event. Adolphus, as the blind boy called himself, though he soon learned the Norwegian language, could give only confused and vague accounts of his early years, or his journey to Dolstein. But his docility, his sprightliness, and lovely countenance, won even the old fisherman’s heart, and increased Claribell’s pity to fondness. Under Hans Hofland’s roof there was also a woman who owed her bread to Claribell’s bounty. She was the widow of a nobleman whose mansion and numerous household had suddenly sunk into the abyss now covered with the lake of Frederic-stadt. From that hour she had never been seen to smile; and the intense severity of a climate in which she was a stranger, added to the force of an overwhelming misfortune, had reduced her mind and body to utter imbecility. But Claribell, who had been chosen to attend her during the few months which elapsed between her arrival in Norway and her disastrous widowhood, could never be persuaded to forsake her when the rapacious heir, affecting to know no proofs of her marriage, dismissed her to desolation and famine. The Lady Johanna, as her faithful servant still called her, had now resided ten years in Hans Hofland’s cabin, nursed by his daughter with the tenderest respect, and soothed in all her caprices. Adolphus sat by her side, singing fragments of Swedish songs, which she always repaid by allowing him to share her sheltered corner of the hearth: and he, ever ready to love the hand that cherished him, lamented only because he could not know the face of his second foster-mother.

On the anniversary of that brilliant night which brought the stranger to Dolstein, all Holland’s happy family assembled round his door. Hans himself, ever gay and busy, played a rude accompaniment on his ancient violin, while Adolphus timed his song to the slow motion of the Lady Johanna’s chair, as it rocked her into slumber. Claribell sat at her feet, preparing for her pillow the soft rich fur of the brown forest-cat brought by Brande, her betrothed husband, whose return had caused this jubilee. While Hans and his son-in-law were exchanging cups of mead, the pastor Thorsen was seen advancing with the stranger. “It is he!” exclaimed Claribell, springing from her kinsman’s side with a shriek of joy. Adolphus clung to his benefactor's embrace, Hans loaded him with welcomes, and even the lady looked round her with a faint smile. They seated their guest amongst them, while the blind boy sorrowfully asked if he intended to remove him. “One year more, Adolphus,” replied the traveller, “you shall give to these hospitable friends, if they will endure the burthen for your sake.”—“He is so beautiful!” said old Hans.—“Ah, father!” added Claribell. “he must be beautiful always, he is so kind!”—The traveller looked earnestly at Claribell, and saw the loveliness of a kind heart in her eyes. His voice faltered as he replied, “My boy must still be your guest, for a soldier has no home; but I have found his small purse untouched—let me add another, and make me more your debtor by accepting it.” Adolphus laid the purse in Claribell’s lap, and his benefactor, rising hastily, announced his intention to depart immediately, if a guide could be procured.—“My kinsman shall accompany you,” said the fisherman; “he knows every crag from Ardanger to Dofrefield.” Brande advanced, slinging his musquet behind his shoulder, as a token of his readiness.—“Not to-night!” said Claribell; “a snow- fall has swelled the flood, and the wicker bridge has failed.”—Thorsen and Hans urged the tedious length of the mountain-road, and the distance of any stage-house. Brande alone was silent. He had thought of Claribell’s long delay in fulfilling their marriage contract, and his eye measured the stranger’s graceful figure with suspicious envy. But he dared not meet his glance, and no one saw the smile which shrivelled his lips when his offered guidance was accepted.—“He is bold and faithful,” said the pastor, as the stranger pressed his hand, and bade him farewell with an expressive smile. Brande shrunk from the pastor’s blessing, and departed in silence.—All were sleeping in Hofland’s hut when he returned, pale and almost gasping.—“So soon from Ardanger?” said Claribell; “your journey has speeded well.”—“He is safe,” returned her lover, and sat down gloomily on the hearth. Only a few embers remained, which cast a doubtful light on his countenance—“Claribell!” he exclaimed, after a long pause, “Will you be my wife to- morrow?”—“I am the Lady Johanna’s servant while she lives,” answered Claribell—“and the poor blind boy! what will become of them if I leave my father?”—“They shall remain with us, and we will form one family—we are no longer poor—the traveller gave me this gold—and bade me keep it as your dowry.”—Claribell cast her eye on the heap of rubies, and on her lover’s face—“Brande, you have murdered him!” —With these half-articulate words, she fell prostrate on the earth, from which he dared not approach to raise her. But presently gathering the gold, her kinsman placed it at her feet—“Claribell! it is yours! it is his free gift, and I am innocent.”—“Follow me, then!” said she, putting the treasure in her bosom; and quitting her father’s dwelling, she led the way to Thorsen’s. He was awake, reading by the summer moonlight—“Sir,” said Claribcll, in a firm and calm tone, “your friend deposited this gold in my kinsman’s hands—keep it in trust for Adolphus in your own.” Brande, surprised, dismayed, yet rescued from immediate danger, acquiesced with down-cast eyes; and the pastor, struck only with respectful admiration, received the deposit.

Another year passed, but not without event. A tremendous flood bore away the chief part of the hamlet, and swept off the stock of timber on which the good pastor’s saw-mills depended. The hunting season had been unproductive, and the long polar night found Claribell’s family almost without provision. Her father’s strength yielded to fatigue and grief; and a few dried fish were soon consumed. Wasted to still more extreme debility, her miserable mistress lay beside the hearth, with only enough of life to feel the approach of death. Adolphus warmed her frozen hands in his, and secretly gave her all the reindeer’s milk, which their neighbours, though themselves half-famished, bestowed upon him. Brande, encouraged by the despairing father’s presence, ventured to remind Claribell of their marriage-contract.—“Wait,” she replied, with a bitter smile, “till the traveller returns to sanction it.”—Moody silence followed; while Hans, shaking a tear from his long silver eyelashes, looked reproachfully at his daughter.—“Have mercy on us both, said Brande, with a desperate gesture—“Shall an idiot woman and a blind boy rob even your father of your love?”—“They have trusted me,” she answered, fixing her keen eyes upon him—“and I will not forsake them in life or death—Hast thou deserved trust better?”

Brande turned away his face, and wept. At that terrible instant, the door burst open, and three strangers seized him. Already unmanned, he made no resistance; and a caravan sent by judicial authority, conveyed the whole family to the hall of the viceroy’s deputy. There, heedless of their toilsome journey and exhausted state, the minister of justice began his investigation. A charge of murder had been lodged against Brande, and the clothes worn by the unfortunate traveller, found at the foot of a precipice, red with blood and heaped together, were displayed before him. Still he professed innocence, but with a faltering voice and unsteady eye. Thorsen, strong in benevolence and truth, had followed the prisoner’s car on foot, and now presented himself at the tribunal. He produced the gold deposited in his hands, and advanced a thousand proofs of Claribell’s innocence, but she maintained herself an obstinate silence. A few silver ducats found in old Hofland’s possession implicated him in the guilt of his kinsman; and the judge, comparing the actual evidence of Brande’s conduct on the fatal night of the assassination with his present vague and incoherent statements, sentenced the whole family to imprisonment in the mine of Coningsburgh.

Brande heard his decree in mute despair; and Claribel, clinging to her heart-broken father, fixed her eyes, dim with intense agony, on the blind boy, whose face during this ignominious trial had been hidden on her shoulder. But when the conclusive sentence was pronounced, he raised his head, and addressed the audience in a strong and clear tone—“Norwegians!—I have no home—I am an orphan and a stranger among you. Claribell has shared her bread with me, and where she goes I will go.”—“Be it so,” said the judge, after a short pause—“darkness and light are alike to the blind and he will learn to avoid guilt if he is allowed to witness its punishment.”—The servants of justice advanced, expecting their superior’s signal to remove the victims, but his eye was suddenly arrested. The Lady Johanna, whose chair had been brought before the tribunal, now rose from it, and stood erect, exclaiming, “I accuse him!” —At this awful cry, from lips which had never been heard to utter more than the low moan of insanity, the judge shuddered, and his assistants shrunk back as if the dead had spoken. The glare of her pale grey eyes, her spectre-like face shadowed by long and loose hair, were such as a Norwegian sorceress exhibits. Raising her skeleton hands high above her head, she struck them together with a force which the hall echoed;—“There was but one witness, and I go to him!”—With these words, and a shrill laugh, she fell at the judge’s feet, and expired.

Six years glided away; and the rigorous sentence passed on these unfortunate Norwegians had been long executed and forgotten, when the Swedish viceroy visited the silver mines of Cronenburgh. Lighted by a thousand lamps attached to columns of the sparkling ore, he proceeded with his retinue through the principal street of the subterranean city, while the miners exhibited the various processes of their labours. But his eye seemed fixed on a bier followed by an aged man, whose shoulder bore the badge of infamy, leaning on a meagre woman and a boy, whose voice mingled with the rude chant peculiar to Norwegian mourners like the warbling of an Eolian lute among the moans of a stormy wind. At this touching and unexpected sound, the viceroy stopped and looked earnestly at his guide.—“It is the funeral of a convicted murderer,” replied the superintendant of the miners; “and that white-haired man was his kinsman, and supposed accomplice.”—“The woman is his widow, then?” said the viceroy, shuddering.—“No, my lord:— her imprisonment was limited to one year, but she chose to remain with her unhappy father, to prepare his food and assist in his labours: that lovely boy never leaves her side, except to sing hymns to the sick miners, who think him an angel come among us.”— While the humane intendant spoke, the bier approached, and the torches carried by its bearers shone on the corpse of Brande, whose uncovered countenance retained all the sullen fierceness of his character. The viceroy followed to the grave; and advancing as the body was lowered into it, said, “Peace be with the dead, and with the living. All are forgiven.”

The intendant of the mines, instructed by one of the viceroy’s retinue, removed the fetters from Hans Hofland’s ankles, and placed him, with his daughter and the blind boy, in the vehicle used to reach the outlet of the mine. A carriage waited to receive them, and they found themselves conveyed from the most hideous subterranean dungeon to the splendid palace of the viceroy. They were led into his cabinet, where he stood alone, not in his rich official robes, but in those he had worn at Dolstein.—“It is the traveller!” exclaimed Claribell; and Adolphus sprang into his arms.—“My son!” was all the viceroy could utter as he held him close to his heart.—“Claribell!” he added, after a few moments of agonizing joy. “I am the father of Adolphus, and the Lady Johanna was my wife. Powerful enemies compelled me to conceal even my existence; but a blessed chance enabled me to save my only son, whom I believed safe in the care of the treacherous kinsman who coveted my inheritance, and hoped to destroy us both. Brande was the agent of his guilt; but fearing that his secrecy might fail, the chief traitor availed himself of his power as a judge, to bury his accomplice and his innocent victim for ever. Providence saved my life from his machinations, and my sovereign has given me power sufficient to punish and reward. Your base judge is now in the prison to which he condemned your father and yourself:—you, Claribell, if you can accept the master of this mansion, are now in your future home. Continue to be the second mother of Adolphus, and ennoble his father by an union with your virtues.”

V.

(To be continued)

The European Magazine, Vol. 71, March 1817, pp. 191-194