A general silence betrayed the embarrassment of most of the listeners.
“And that tale hath already reached this glen,” said Sigismund, in a tone so deep and firm as to cause Pierre to start, while the two old nobles looked in another direction, feigning not to observe what was passing.
“Rumor hath a nimbler foot than a mule, young officer;” answered the honest guide. “The tale, as you call it, will have travelled across the mountains sooner than they who bore it—though I never knew how such a miracle could pass—but so it is; report goes faster than the tongue that spreads it, and if there be a little untruth to help it along, the wind itself is scarcely swifter. Honest Jacques Colis has bethought him to get the start of his story, but, my life on it, though he is active enough in getting away from his mockers, that he finds it, with all the additions, safely housed at the inn at Turin when he reaches that city himself.”
“These, then, are all?” interrupted the Signor Grimaldi, who saw, by the heaving bosom of Sigismund, that it was time in mercy to interpose.
“Not so, Signore—there is still another and one I like less than any. A countryman of your own, who, impudently enough, calls himself Il Maledetto.”
“The very same.”
“Honest, courageous Maso, and his noble dog!”
“Signore, you describe the man so well in some things, that I wonder you know so little of him in others. Maso hath not his equal on the road for activity and courage, and the beast is second only to our mastiffs of the convent for the same qualities; but when you speak of the master’s honesty, you speak of that for which the world gives him little credit, and do great disparagement to the brute, which is much the best of the two, in this respect.”
“This may be true enough,” rejoined the Signore Grimaldi, turning anxiously towards his companions:—“man is a strange compound of good and evil; his acts when left to natural impulses are so different from what they become on calculation that one can scarcely answer for a man of Maso’s temperament. We know him to be a most efficient friend, and such a man would be apt to make a very dangerous enemy! His qualities were not given to him by halves. And yet we have a strong circumstance in our favor; for he who hath once done the least service to a fellow-creature feels a sort of paternity in him he hath saved, and would be little likely to rob himself of the pleasure of knowing, that there are some of his kind who owe him a grateful recollection.”
This remark was answered by Melchior de Willading in the same spirit, and the guide, perceiving he was no longer wanted, withdrew.
Soon after, the travellers retired to rest.
As yet the trembling year is unconfirmed,
And winter oft, at eve, resumes the breeze,
Chills the pale morn, and bids his driving sleets
Deform the day delightful:——