“If any could have died unwept in meeting such a fate, it must have been one that, in common, awakes so little of human sympathy; and one too, who, by dealing himself in the woes of others, has less claim to the compassion that we yield to most of our species.”
“Spare me—in mercy, Adelheid, spare me—thou speakest of my father!”
Fortune had smil’d upon Guelberto’s
The heir of Valdespesa’s rich domain;
An only child, he grew in years and worth,
And well repaid a father’s anxious pain.
As Sigismund uttered this communication, so terrible to the ear of his listener, he arose and fled from the room. The possession of a kingdom would not have tempted him to remain and note troubled air and rapid strides as he passed them, but, too simple to suspect more than the ordinary impetuosity of youth, he succeeded in getting through the inferior gate of the castle and into the fields, without attracting any embarrassing attention to his movements. Here he began to breathe more freely, and the load which had nearly choked his respiration became lightened. For half an hour the young man paced the greensward scarcely conscious whither he went, until he found that his steps had again led him beneath the window of the knights’ hall. Glancing an eye upward, he saw Adelheid still seated at the balcony, and apparently yet alone. He thought she had been weeping, and he cursed the weakness which had kept him from effecting the often-renewed resolution to remove himself, and his cruel fortunes, for ever from before her mind. A second look, however, showed him that he was again beckoned to ascend! The revolutions in the purposes of lovers are sudden and easily effected; and Sigismund, through whose mind a dozen ill-digested plans of placing the sea between himself and her he loved had just been floating, was now hurriedly retracing his steps to her presence.
Adelheid had necessarily been educated under the influence of the prejudices of the age and of the country in which she lived. The existence of the office of headsman in Berne, and the nature of its hereditary duties, were well known to her: and, though superior to the inimical feeling which had so lately been exhibited against the luckless Balthazar, she had certainly never anticipated a shock so cruel as was now produced, by abruptly learning that this despised and persecuted being was the father of the youth to whom she had yielded her virgin affections. When the words which proclaimed the connexion had escaped the lips of Sigismund, she listened like one who fancied that her ears deceived her. She had prepared herself to learn that he derived his being from some peasant or ignoble artisan, and, once or twice, as he drew nearer to the fatal declaration, awkward glimmerings of a suspicion that some repulsive moral unworthiness was connected with his origin troubled her imagination;