A Village of Seers,
A Christmas Story
by Anna Kingsford
A day or two before Christmas, a few years since, I found myself
compelled by business to leave England for the Continent.
I am an American, junior partner in a London mercantile house
having a large Swiss connection; and a transaction—needless to
specify her—required immediate and personal supervision abroad, at a
season of the year when I would gladly have kept festival in London
with my friends. But my journey was destined to bring me an adventure
of a very remarkable character, which made me full amends for the loss
of Christmas cheer at home.
I crossed the Channel at night from Dover to Calais. The passage
was bleak and snowy, and the passengers were very few. On board the
steamboat I remarked one traveler whose appearance and manner struck
me as altogether unusual and interesting, and I deemed it by no means
a disagreeable circumstance that, on arriving at Calais, this man
entered the compartment of the railway carriage in which I had already
So far as the dim light permitted me a glimpse of the stranger's
face, I judged him to be about fifty years of age. The features were
delicate and refined in type, the eyes dark and deep-sunken, but full
of intelligence and thought, and the whole aspect of the man denoted
good birth, a nature given to study and meditation, and a life of much
Two other travelers occupied our carriage until Amiens was reached.
They then left us, and the interesting stranger and I remained alone
"A bitter night," I said to him, as I drew up the window, "and the
worst of it is yet to come! The early hours of dawn are always the
"I suppose so," he answered in a grave voice.
The voice impressed me as strongly as the face; it was subdued and
restrained, the voice of a man undergoing great mental suffering.
"You will find Paris bleak at this season of the year," I
continued, longing to make him talk. "It was colder there last winter
than in London."
"I do not stay in Paris," he replied, "save to breakfast."
"Indeed; that is my case. I am going on to Bale."
"And I also," he said, "and further yet."
Then he turned his face to the window, and would say no more. My
speculations regarding him multiplied with his taciturnity. I felt
convinced that he was a man with a romance, and a desire to know its
nature became strong in me. We breakfasted apart at Paris, but I
watched him into his compartment for Bale, and sprang in after him.
During the first part of our journey we slept; but, as we neared the
Swiss frontier, a spirit of wakefulness took hold of us, and fitful
sentences were exchanged. My companion, it appeared, intended to rest
but a single day at Bale. He was bound for far-away Alpine regions,
ordinarily visited by tourists during the summer months only, and, one
would think, impassable at this season of the year.
"And you go alone?" I asked him. "You will have no companions to
"I shall have guides," he answered, and relapsed into meditative
Presently I ventured another question: "You go on business,
perhaps—not on pleasure?"
He turned his melancholy eyes on mine. "Do I look as if I were
traveling for pleasure's sake?" he asked gently.
I felt rebuked, and hastened to apologise. "Pardon me; I ought
not to have said that. But you interest me greatly, and I wish, if
possible, to be of service to you. If you are going into Alpine
districts on business and alone, at this time of the year—"
There I hesitated and paused. How could I tell him that he
interested me so much as to make me long to know the romance which, I
felt convinced, attached to his expedition? Perhaps he perceived what
was in my mind, for he questioned me in his turn. "And you—have you
business in Bale?"
"Yes, and in other places. My accent may have told you my
nationality. I travel in the interests of the American firm, Fletcher
Bros., Roy, Co., whose London house, no doubt, you know. But I need
remain only twenty-four hours in Bale. Afterwards I go to Berne, then
to Geneva. I must, however, wait for letters from England after doing
my business at Bale, and I shall have some days free."
"From the 21st to the 26th."
He was silent for a minute, meditating. Then he took from his
traveling-bag a porte-feuille, and from the porte-feuille a
visiting-card, which he handed to me.
"That is my name," he said briefly.
I took the hint, and returned the compliment in kind. On his card
MR CHARLES DENIS ST AUBYN, Grosvenor Square, London. St Aubyn's
And mine bore the legend:
MR FRANK ROY, Merchants' Club, W. C.
"Now that we are no longer unknown to each other," said I, "may I
ask, without committing an indiscretion, if I can use the free time at
my disposal in your interests?"
"You are very good, Mr Roy. It is the characteristic of your
nation to be kind- hearted and readily interested in strangers." Was
this sarcastic? I wondered. Perhaps; but he said it quite
courteously. "I am a solitary and unfortunate man. Before I accept
your kindness, will you permit me to tell you the nature of the
journey I am making? It is a strange one."
He spoke huskily, and with evident effort. I assented eagerly.
The following, recounted in broken sentences, and with many abrupt
pauses, is the story to which I listened:
Mr St Aubyn was a widower. His only child, a boy twelve years of
age, had been for a year past afflicted with loss of speech and
hearing, the result of a severe typhoid fever, from which he barely
escaped with life. Last summer, his father, following medical advice,
brought him to Switzerland, in the hope that Alpine air, change of
scene, exercise, and the pleasure of the trip, would restore him to
his normal condition. One day father and son, led by a guide, were
ascending a mountain pathway, not ordinarily regarded as dangerous,
when the boy, stepping aside to view the snowy ranges above and
around, slipped on a treacherous fragment of half-detached rock, and
went sliding into the ravine beneath. The height of the fall was by
no means great, and the level ground on which the boy would
necessarily alight was overgrown with soft herbage and long grass, so
that neither the father nor the guide at first conceived any serious
apprehensions for the safety of the boy's life or limbs. He might be
bruised, perhaps even a few cuts or a sprained wrist might disable him
for a few days, but they feared nothing worse than these. As quickly
as the slippery ground would permit, they descended the winding path
leading to the meadow, but when they reached it, the boy was nowhere
to be seen. Hours passed in vain and anxious quest; no track, no
sound, no clue assisted the seekers, and the shouts of the guide, if
they reached, as doubtless they did, the spot where the lost boy lay,
fell on ears as dull and deadened as those of a corpse. Nor could the
boy, if crippled by his fall, and unable to show himself, give
evidence of his whereabouts by so much as a single cry. Both tongue
and ears were sealed by infirmity, and any low sound such as that he
might have been able to utter would have been rendered inaudible by
the torrent rushing through the ravine hard by. At nightfall the
search was suspended, to be renewed before daybreak with fresh
assistance from the nearest village. Some of the new-comers spoke of
a cave on the slope of the meadow, into which the boy might have
crept. This was easily reached. It was apparently of but small
extent; a few goats reposed in it, but no trace of the child was
discoverable. After some days spent in futile endeavour, all hope was
abandoned. The father returned to England to mourn his lost boy, and
another disaster was added to the annual list of casualties in the
So far the story was sad enough, but hardly romantic. I clasped
the hand of the narrator, and assured him warmly of my sympathy,
adding, with as little appearance of curiosity as I could command:—
"And your object in coming back is only, then, to—to—be near the
scene of your great trouble?"
"No, Mr Roy; that is not the motive of my journey. I do not
believe either that my boy's corpse lies concealed among the grasses
of the plateau, or that it was swept away, as has been suggested, by
the mountain cataract. Neither hypothesis seems to me tenable. The
bed of the stream was followed and searched for miles; and though,
when he fell, he was carrying over his shoulder a flask and a thick
fur-lined cloak,—for we expected cold on the heights, and went
provided against it,—-not a fragment of anything belonging to him was
found. Had he fallen into the torrent, it is impossible his clothing
should not have become detached from the body and caught by the
innumerable rocks in the shallow parts of the stream. But that is not
all. I have another reason for the belief I cherish." He leaned
forward, and added in firmer and slower tones: "I am convinced that
my boy still lives, for—I have seen him."
"You have seen him!" I cried.
"Yes; again and again—in dreams. And always in the same way, and
with the same look. He stands before me, beckoning to me, and making
signs that I should come and help him. Not once or twice only, but
many times, night after night I have seen the same thing!"
Poor father! Poor desolate man! Not the first driven distraught
by grief; not the first deluded by the shadows of love and longing!
"You think I am deceived by hallucinations," he said, watching my
face." It is you who are misled by the scientific idiots of the day,
the wiseacres who teach us to believe, whenever soul speaks to soul,
that the highest and holiest communion attainable by man is the
product of physical disease! Forgive me the energy of my words; but
had you loved and lost your beloved—wife and child—as I have done,
you would comprehend the contempt and anger with which I regard those
modern teachers whose cold and ghastly doctrines give the lie, not
only to all human hopes and aspirations towards the higher life, but
also to the possibility of that very progress from lower to nobler
forms which is the basis of their own philosophy, and to the
conception of which the idea of the soul and of love are essential!
Evolution presupposes possible perfecting, and the conscious
adaptation of means to ends in order to attain it. And both the ideal
itself and the endeavour to reach it are incomprehensible without
desire, which is love, and whose seat is in the interior self, the
living soul—the maker of the outward form!"
He was roused from his melancholy now, and spoke connectedly and
with enthusiasm. I was about to reassure him in regard to my own
philosophical convictions, the soundness of which he seemed to
question, when his voice sank again, and he added earnestly:—
"I tell you I have seen my boy, and that I know he lives,—not in
any far-off sphere beyond the grave, but here on earth, among living
men! Twice since his loss I have returned from England to seek him, in
obedience to the vision, but in vain, and I have gone back home to
dream the same dream. But—only last week— I heard a wonderful
story. It was told me by a friend who is a great traveler, and who
has but just returned from a lengthened tour in the south. I met him
at my club, `by accident,' as unthinking persons say. He told me that
there exists, buried away out of common sight and knowledge, in the
bosom of the Swiss Alps, a little village whose inhabitants possess,
in varying degrees, a marvellous and priceless faculty. Almost all
the dwellers in this village are mutually related, either bearing the
same ancestral name, or being branches from one original stock. The
founder of this community was a blind man, who, by some unexplained
good fortune, acquired or became endowed with the psychic faculty
called 'second sight,' or clairvoyance. This faculty, it appears, is
now the hereditary property of the whole village, more developed in
the blind man's immediate heirs than in his remoter relatives; but,
strange to say, it is a faculty which, for a reason connected with the
history of its acquirement, they enjoy only once a year, and that is
on Christmas Eve. I know well," continued Mr. St. Aubyn, "all you
have it in your mind to say. Doubtless, you would hint to me that the
narrator of the tale was amusing himself with my credulity; or that
these Alpine villagers, if they exist, are not clairvoyants, but
charlatans trading on the folly of the curious, or even that the whole
story is a chimera of my own dreaming brain. I am willing that, if it
please you, you should accept any of these hypotheses. As for me, in
my sorrow and despair, I am resolved to leave no means untried to
recover my boy; and it happens that the village in question is not far
from the scene of the disaster which deprived me of him. A strange
hope—a confidence even—grows in my heart as I approach the end of my
journey. I believe I am about to verify the truth of my friend's
story, and that, through the wonderful faculty possessed by these
Alpine peasants, the promise of my visions will be realised."
His voice broke again, he ceased speaking, and turned his face away
from me. I was greatly moved, and anxious to impress him with a
belief in the sincerity of my sympathy, and in my readiness to accept
the truth of the tale he had repeated.
"Do not think," I said with some warmth, "that I am disposed to
make light of what you tell me, strange though it sounds. Out in the
West, where I come from, I heard, when a boy, many a story at least as
curious as yours. In our wild country, odd things chance at times,
and queer circumstances, they say, happen in out of the way tracks in
forest and prairie; aye, and there are strange creatures that haunt
the bush, some tell, in places where no human foot is wont to tread.
So that nothing of this sort comes upon me with an air of newness, at
least! I mayn't quite trust it, as you do, but I am no scoffer.
Look, now, Mr. St. Aubyn, I have a proposal to make. You are alone,
and purpose undertaking a bitter and, it may be, a perilous journey in
mountain ground at this season. What say you to taking me along with
you? May be, I shall prove of some use; and at any rate, your
adventure and your story interest me greatly!"
I was quite tremulous with apprehension lest he should refuse my
request, but he did not. He looked earnestly and even fixedly at me
for a minute, then silently held out his hand and grasped mine with
energy. It was a sealed compact. After that we considered ourselves
comrades, and continued our journey together.
Our day's rest at Bale being over, and the business which concerned
me there transacted, we followed the route indicated by Mr. St. Aubyn,
and on the evening of the 22nd of December arrived at a little hill
station, where we found a guide who promised to conduct us the next
morning to the village we sought. Sunrise found us on our way, and a
tramp of several weary hours, with occasional breaks for rest and
refreshment, brought us at last to the desired spot.
It was a quaint, picturesque little hamlet, embosomed in a mountain
recess, a sheltered oasis in the midst of a wind-swept, snow-covered
region. The usual Swiss trade of wood-carving appeared to be the
principal occupation of the community. The single narrow street was
thronged with goats, whose jingling many-toned bells made an incessant
and agreeable symphony. Under the projecting roofs of the log-built
chalets bundles of dried herbs swung in the frosty air; stacks of
fir-wood, handy for use, were piled about the doorways, and here and
there we noticed a huge dog of the St Bernard breed, with solemn face,
and massive paws that left tracks like a lion's in the fresh-fallen
snow. A rosy afternoon-radiance glorified the surrounding mountains
and warmed the aspect of the little village as we entered it. It was
not more than three o'clock, yet already the sun drew near the
hilltops, and in a short space he would sink behind them and leave the
valleys immersed in twilight. Inn or hostelry proper there was none
in this out of the world recess, but the peasants were right willing
to entertain us, and the owner of the largest chalet in the place
speedily made ready the necessary board and lodging. Supper—of
goat's milk cheese, coarse bread, honey, and drink purporting to be
coffee—being concluded, the villagers began to drop in by twos and
threes to have a look at us; and presently, at the invitation of our
host, we all drew our stools around the pinewood fire, and partook of
a strange beverage served hot with sugar and toast, tasting not unlike
elderberry wine. Meanwhile my English friend, more conversant than
myself with the curiously mingled French and German patois of the
district, plunged into the narration of his trouble, and ended with a
frank and pathetic appeal to those present, that if there were any
truth in the tale he had heard regarding the annual clairvoyance of
the villagers, they would consent to use their powers in his service.
Probably they had never been so appealed to before. When my friend
had finished speaking, silence, broken only by a few half-audible
whispers, fell on the group. I began to fear that, after all, he had
been either misinformed or misunderstood, and was preparing to help
him out with an explanation to the best of my ability, when a man
sitting in the chimney-corner rose and said that, if we pleased, he
would fetch the grandsons of the original seer, who would give us the
fullest information possible on the subject of our inquiry. This
announcement was encouraging, and we assented with joy. He left the
chalet, and shortly afterwards returned with two stalwart and
intelligent-looking men of about thirty and thirty-five respectively,
accompanied by a couple of St Bernards, the most magnificent dogs I
had ever seen. I was reassured instantly, for the faces of these two
peasants were certainly not those of rogues or fools. They advanced
to the centre of the assembly, now numbering some twenty persons, men
and women, and were duly introduced to us by our host as Theodor and
Augustin Raoul. A wooden bench by the hearth was accorded them, the
great dogs couched at their feet, pipes were lit here and there among
the circle; and the scene, embellished by the ruddy glow of the
flaming pine-logs, the unfamiliar costume of the peasantry, the quaint
furniture of the chalet-kitchen in which we sat, and enhanced by the
strange circumstances of our journey and the yet stranger story now
recounted by the two Raouls, became to my mind every moment more
romantic and unworld-like. But the intent and strained expression of
St. Aubyn's features as he bent eagerly forward, hanging as if for
life or death on the words which the brothers poured forth, reminded
me that, in one respect at least, the spectacle before me presented a
painful reality, and that for this desolate and lonely man every word
of the Christmas tale told that evening was pregnant with import of
the deepest and most serious kind. Here, in English guise, is the
legend of the Alpine seer, recounted with much gesticulation and
rugged dramatic force by his grandsons, the younger occasionally
interpolating details which the elder forgot, confirming the data, and
echoing with a sonorous interjection the exclamations of the
Augustin Franz Raoul, the grandfather of the men who addressed us,
originally differed in no respect, save that of blindness, from
ordinary people. One Christmas Eve, as the day drew towards twilight,
and a driving storm of frozen snow raged over the mountains, he, his
dog Hans, and his mule were fighting their way home up the pass in the
teeth of the tempest. At a turn of the road they came on a priest
carrying the Viaticum to a dying man who inhabited a solitary but in
the valley below. The priest was on foot, almost spent with fatigue,
and bewildered by the blinding snow which obscured the pathway and
grew every moment more impenetrable and harder to face. The whirling
flakes circled and danced before his sight, the winding path was
well-nigh obliterated, his brain grew dizzy and his feet unsteady, and
he felt that without assistance he should never reach his destination
in safety. Blind Raoul, though himself tired, and longing for
shelter, listened with sympathy to the priest's complaint, and
answered, "Father, you know well I am hardly a pious son of the
Church; but if the penitent dying down yonder needs spiritual
consolation from her, Heaven forbid that I should not do my utmost to
help you to him! Sightless though I am, I know my way over these crags
as no other man knows it, and the snowstorm which bewilders your eyes
so much cannot daze mine. Come, mount my mule, Hans will go with us,
and we three will take you to your journey's end safe and sound."
"Son," answered the priest, "God will reward you for this act of
charity. The penitent to whom I go bears an evil reputation as a
sorcerer, and we all know his name well enough in these parts. He may
have some crime on his conscience which he desires to confess before
death. But for your timely help I should not be able to fight my way
through this tempest to his door, and he would certainly perish
The fury of the storm increased as darkness came on. Dense clouds
of snow obscured the whole landscape, and rendered sky and mountain
alike indistinguishable. Terror seized the priest; but for the blind
man, to whose sight day and night were indifferent, these horrors had
no great danger. He and his dumb friends plodded quietly and slowly
on in the accustomed path, and at length, close upon midnight, the
valley was safely reached, and the priest ushered into the presence of
his penitent. What the dying sorcerer's confession was the blind man
never knew; but after it was over, and the Sacred Host had passed his
lips, Raoul was summoned to his bedside, where a strange and solemn
voice greeted him by name and thanked him for the service he had
"Friend," said the dying man, "you will never know how great a debt
I owe you. But before I pass out of the world, I would fain do
somewhat towards repayment. Sorcerer though I am by repute, I cannot
give you that which, were it possible, I would give with all my
heart,—the blessing of physical sight. But may God hear the last
earthly prayer of a dying penitent, and grant you a better gift and a
rarer one than even that of the sight of your outward eyes, by opening
those of your spirit! And may the faculty of that interior vision be
continued to you and yours so long as ye use it in deeds of mercy and
human kindness such as this!"
The speaker laid his hand a, moment on the blind man's forehead,
and his lips moved silently awhile, though Raoul saw it not. The
priest and he remained to the last with the penitent; and when the
grey Christmas morning broke over the whitened plain they left the
little but in which the corpse lay, to apprise the dwellers in the
valley hamlet of the death of the wizard, and to arrange for his
burial. And ever, since that Christmas Eve, said the two Raouls,
their grandfather found himself when the sacred time came round again,
year after year, possessed of a new and extraordinary power, that of
seeing with the inward senses of the spirit whatever he desired to
see, and this as plainly and distinctly, miles distant, as at his own
threshold. The power of interior vision came upon him in sleep or in
trance, precisely as with the prophets and sybils of old, and in this
condition, sometimes momentary only, whole scenes were flashed before
him, the faces of friends leagues away became visible, and he seemed
to touch their hands. At these times nothing was hidden from him; it
was necessary only that he should desire fervently to see any
particular person or place, and that the intent of the wish should be
innocent, and he became straightway clairvoyant. To the blind man,
deprived in early childhood of physical sight, this miraculous power
was an inestimable consolation, and Christmas Eve became to him a
festival of illumination whose annual reminiscences and anticipations
brightened the whole round of the year. And when at length he died,
the faculty remained a family heritage, of which all his descendants
partook in some degree, his two grandsons, as his nearest kin,
possessing the gift in its completest development. And— most strange
of all—the two hounds which lay couched before us by the hearth,
appeared to enjoy a share of the sorcerer's benison! These dogs,
Fritz and Bruno, directly descended from Hans, had often displayed
strong evidence of lucidity, and under its influence they had been
known to act with acumen and sagacity wholly beyond the reach of
ordinary dogs. Their immediate sire, Gluck, was the property of a
community of monks living fourteen miles distant in the Arblen valley;
and though the Raouls were not aware that he had yet distinguished
himself by any remarkable exploit of a clairvoyant character, he was
commonly credited with a goodly share of the family gift.
"And the mule?" I asked thoughtlessly.
"The mule, monsieur," replied the younger Raoul, with a smile, "
has been dead many long years. Naturally he left no posterity."
Thus ended the tale, and for a brief space all remained silent,
while many glances stole furtively towards St. Aubyn. He sat
motionless, with bowed head and folded arms, absorbed in thought.
One by one the members of the group around us rose, knocked the
ashes from their pipes, and with a few brief words quitted the chalet.
In a few minutes there remained only our host, the two Raouls, with
their dogs, my friend, and myself. Then St. Aubyn found his voice.
He too rose, and in slow tremulous tones, addressing Theodor,
"You will have everything prepared for an expedition tomorrow, in
case—you should have anything to tell us?"
"All shall be in readiness, monsieur. Pierre (the host) will wake
you by sunrise, for with the dawn of Christmas Eve our lucid faculty
returns to us, and if we should have good news to give, the start
ought to be made early. We may have far to go, and the days are
He whistled to the great hounds, wished us goodnight, and the two
brothers left the house together, followed by Fritz and Bruno.
Pierre lighted a lantern, and mounting a ladder in the corner of
the room, invited us to accompany him. We clambered up this primitive
staircase with some difficulty, and presently found ourselves in a
bed-chamber not less quaint and picturesque than the kitchen below.
Our beds were both prepared in this room, round the walls of which
were piled goat's-milk cheeses, dried herbs, sacks of meal, and other
Outside it was a starlit night, clear, calm, and frosty, with
brilliant promise for the coming day. Long after I was in the land of
dreams, I fancy St. Aubyn lay awake, following with restless eyes the
stars in their courses, and wondering whether from some far-off,
unknown spot his lost boy might not be watching them also.
Dawn, grey and misty, enwrapped the little village when I was
startled from my sleep by a noisy chorus of voices and a busy hurrying
of footsteps. A moment later some one, heavily booted, ascended the
ladder leading to our bedroom, and a ponderous knock resounded on our
door. St. Aubyn sprang from his bed, lifted the latch, and admitted
the younger Raoul, whose beaming eyes and excited manner betrayed,
before he spoke, the good tidings in store.
"We have seen him!" he cried, throwing up his hands triumphantly
above his head. "Both of us have seen your son, monsieur! Not half
an hour ago, just as the dawn broke, we saw him in a vision, alive and
well in a mountain cave, separated from the valley by a broad torrent.
An Angel of the good Lord has ministered to him: it is a miracle!
Courage, he will be restored to you. Dress quickly, and come down to
breakfast. Everything is ready for the expedition, and there is no
time to lose!"
These broken ejaculations were interrupted by the voice of the
elder brother, calling from the foot of the ladder:
"Make haste, messieurs, if you please. The valley we have seen in
our dream is fully twelve miles away, and to reach it we shall have to
cut our way through the snow. It is bad at this time of the year, and
the passes may be blocked! Come, Augustin!"
Everything was now hurry and commotion. All the village was astir;
the excitement became intense. From the window we saw men running
eagerly towards our chalet with pickaxes, ropes, hatchets, and other
necessary adjuncts of Alpine adventure. The two great hounds, with
others of their breed, were bounding joyfully about in the snow, and
showing, I thought, by their intelligent glances and impatient
behavior, that they already understood the nature of the intended
At sunrise we sat down to a hearty meal, and amid the clamor of
voices and rattling of platters, the elder Raoul unfolded to us his
plans for reaching the valley, which both he and his brother had
recognized as the higher level of the Arblen, several thousand feet
above our present altitude, and in mid-winter a perilous place to
"The spot is completely shut off from the valley by the cataract,"
said he, "and last year a landslip blocked up the only route to it
from the mountains. How the child got there is a mystery!"
"We must cut our way over the Thurgau Pass," cried Augustin.
"That is just my idea. Quick now, if you have finished eating,
call Georges and Albert, and take the ropes with you!"
Our little party was speedily equipped, and amid the lusty cheers
of the men and the sympathetic murmurs of the women, we passed swiftly
through the little snow-carpeted street and struck into the mountain
path. We were six in number, St. Aubyn and myself, the two Raouls,
and a couple of villagers carrying the requisite implements of
mountaineering, while the two dogs, Fritz and Bruno, trotted on before
At the outset there was some rough ground to traverse, and
considerable work to be done with ropes and tools, for the slippery
edges of the highland path afforded scarce any foothold, and in some
parts the difficulties appeared well-nigh insurmountable. But every
fresh obstacle overcome added a new zest to our resolution, and,
cheered by the reiterated cry of the two seers, "Courage, messieurs!
Avanfons! The worst will soon be passed!" We pushed forward with
right good will, and at length found ourselves on a broad rocky
All this time the two hounds had taken the lead, pioneering us with
amazing skill round precipitous corners, and springing from crag to
crag over the icy ravines with a daring and precision which curdled my
blood to witness. It was a relief to see them finally descend the
narrow pass in safety, and halt beside us panting and exultant. All
around lay glittering reaches of untrodden snow, blinding to look at,
scintillant as diamond dust. We sat down to rest on some scattered
boulders, and gazed with wonder at the magnificent vistas of glowing
peaks towering above us, and the luminous expanse of purple gorge and
valley, with the white, roaring torrents below, over which wreaths of
foam-like filmy mist hovered and floated continually.
As I sat, lost in admiration, St. Aubyn touched my arm, and
silently pointed to Theodor Raoul. He had risen, and now stood at the
edge of the plateau over- hanging the lowland landscape, his head
raised, his eyes wide-opened, his whole appearance indicative of
magnetic trance. While we looked he turned slowly towards us, moved
his hands to and fro with a gesture of uncertainty, as though feeling
his way in the dark; and spoke with a slow dreamy utterance
"I see the lad sitting in the entrance of the cavern, looking out
across the valley, as though expecting some one. He is pallid and
thin, and wears a dark-colored mantle—a large mantle—lined with
St. Aubyn sprang from his seat. "True! " he exclaimed. "It is the
mantle he was carrying on his arm when he slipped over the pass! O,
thank God for that; it may have saved his life!"
"The place in which I see your boy," continued the mountaineer, "is
fully three miles distant from the plateau on which we now stand. But
I do not know how to reach it. I cannot discern the track. I am at
fault!" He moved his hands impatiently to and fro, and cried in tones
which manifested the disappointment he felt: "I can see no more! the
vision passes from me. I can discover nothing but confused shapes
merged in ever-increasing darkness!"
We gathered round him in some dismay, and St. Aubyn urged the
younger Raoul to attempt an elucidation of the difficulty. But he too
failed. The scene in the cave appeared to him with perfect
distinctness; but when he strove to trace the path which should
conduct us to it, profound darkness obliterated the vision.
"It must be underground," he said, using the groping action we had
already observed on Theodor's part. "It is impossible to distinguish
anything, save a few vague outlines of rock. Now there is not a
glimmer of light; all is profound gloom!"
Suddenly, as we stood discussing the situation, one advising this,
another that, a sharp bark from one of the hounds startled us all, and
immediately arrested our consultation. It was Fritz who had thus
interrupted the debate. He was running excitedly to and fro, sniffing
about the edge of the plateau, and every now and then turning himself
with an abrupt jerk, as if seeking something which eluded him.
Presently Bruno joined in this mysterious quest, and the next moment,
to our admiration and amazement, both dogs simultaneously lifted their
heads, their eyes illumined with intelligence and delight, and uttered
a prolonged and joyous cry that reverberated chorus-like from the
mountain wall behind us.
"They know! They see! They have the clue!" cried the peasants, as
the two hounds leapt from the plateau down the steep declivity leading
to the valley, scattering the snowdrifts of the crevices pell-mell in
their headlong career. In frantic haste we resumed our loads, and
hurried after our flying guides with what speed we could. When the
dogs had reached the next level, they paused and waited, standing with
uplifted heads and dripping tongues while we clambered down the gorge
to join them. Again they took the lead; but this time the way was
more intricate, and their progress slower. Single-file we followed
them along a narrow winding track of broken ground, over which every
moment a tiny torrent foamed and tumbled; and as we descended the air
became less keen, the snow rarer, and a few patches of gentian and
hardy plants appeared on the craggy sides of the mountain.
Suddenly a great agitation seized St. Aubyn. "Look look!" he
cried, clutching me by the arm; "here, where we stand, is the very
spot from which my boy fell! And below yonder is the valley!"
Even as he uttered the words, the dogs halted and came towards us,
looking wistfully into St. Aubyn's face, as though they fain would
speak to him. We stood still, and looked down into the green valley,
green even in mid-winter, where a score of goats were browsing in the
sunshine. Here my friend would have descended, but the Raouls bade
him trust the leadership of the dogs.
"Follow them, monsieur," said Theodor, impressively; "they can
see, and you cannot. It is the good God that conducts them.
Doubtless they have brought us to this spot to show you they know it,
and to inspire you with confidence in their skill and guidance. See!
they are advancing! On! do not let us remain behind!"
Thus urged, we hastened after our canine guides, who, impelled by
the mysterious influence of their strange faculty, were again pressing
forward. This time the track ascended. Soon we lost sight of the
valley, and an hour's upward scrambling over loose rocks and sharp
crags brought us to a chasm, the two edges of which were separated by
a precipitous gulf some twenty feet across. This chasm was probably
about eight or nine hundred feet deep, and its sides were straight and
sheer as those of a well. Our ladders were in requisition now, and
with the aid of these and the ropes, all the members of our party,
human and canine, were safely landed on the opposite brink of the
We had covered about two miles of difficult ground beyond the
chasm, when once more, on the brow of a projecting eminence, the
hounds halted for the last time, and drew near St. Aubyn, gazing up at
him with eloquent exulting eyes, as though they would have said, "He
whom you seek is here!"
It was a wild and desolate spot, strewn with tempest-torn branches,
a spot hidden from the sun by dense masses of pine foliage, and backed
by sharp peaks of granite. St. Aubyn looked around him, trembling
"Shout," cried one of the peasants; "shout, the boy may hear you!"
"Alas," answered the father, " he cannot hear; you forget that my
child is deaf and dumb!"
At that instant, Theodor, who for a brief while had stood apart,
abstracted and silent, approached St. Aubyn and grasped his hand.
"Shout!" repeated he, with the earnestness of a command; "call
your boy by his name!"
St Aubyn looked at him with astonishment; then in a clear piercing
"Charlie!" he cried; "Charlie, my boy! where are you?"
We stood around him in dread silence and expectancy, a group for a
picture. St. Aubyn in the midst, with white quivering face and
clasped hands, the two Raouls on either side, listening intently, the
dogs motionless and eager, their ears erect, their hair bristling
round their stretched throats. You might have heard a pin drop on the
rock at our feet, as we stood and waited after that cry. A minute
passed thus, and then there was heard from below, at a great depth, a
faint uncertain sound. One word only—uttered in the voice of a
child,—tremulous, and intensely earnest: "Father!"
St Aubyn fell on his knees. "My God! my God!" he cried, sobbing;
"it is my boy! He is alive, and can hear and speak!"
With feverish haste we descended the crag, and speedily found
ourselves on a green sward, sheltered on three sides by high walls of
cliff, and bounded on the fourth, southward, by a rushing stream some
thirty feet from shore to shore. Beyond the stream was a wide expanse
of pasture stretching down into the Arblen valley.
Again St. Aubyn shouted, and again the childlike cry replied,
guiding us to a narrow gorge or fissure in the cliff almost hidden
under exuberant foliage. This passage brought us to a turfy knoll,
upon which opened a deep recess in the mountain rock; a picturesque
cavern, carpeted with moss, and showing, from some ancient, half
obliterated carvings which here and there adorned its walls, that it
had once served as a crypt or chapel, possibly in some time of
ecclesiastical persecution. At the mouth of this cave, with startled
eyes and pallid parted lips, stood a fair-haired lad, wrapped in the
mantle described by the elder Raoul. One instant only he stood there;
the next he darted forward, and fell with weeping and inarticulate
cries into his father's embrace.
We paused, and waited aloof in silence, respecting the supreme joy
and emotion of a greeting so sacred as this. The dogs only, bursting
into the cave, leapt and gambolled about, venting their satisfaction
in sonorous barks and turbulent demonstrations of delight. But for
them, as they seemed well to know, this marvellous discovery would
have never been achieved, and the drama which now ended with so great
happiness, might have terminated in a lifelong tragedy.
Therefore we were not surprised to see St. Aubyn, after the first
transport of the meeting, turn to the dogs, and clasping each huge
rough head in turn, kiss it fervently and with grateful tears.
It was their only guerdon for that day's priceless service: the
dumb beasts that love us do not work for gold!
And now came the history of the three long months which had elapsed
since the occurrence of the disaster which separated my friend from
his little son.
Seated on the soft moss of the cavern floor, St. Aubyn in the midst
and the boy beside him, we listened to the sequel of the strange tale
recounted the preceding evening by Theodor and Augustin Raoul. And
first we learnt that until the moment when his father's shout broke
upon his ear that day, Charlie St. Aubyn had remained as insensible to
sound and as mute of voice as he was when his accident befell him.
Even now that the powers of hearing and of speech were restored, he
articulated uncertainly and with great difficulty, leaving many words
unfinished, and helping out his phrases with gesticulations and signs,
his father suggesting and assisting as the narrative proceeded. Was
it the strong love in St. Aubyn's cry that broke through the spell of
disease and thrilled his child's dulled nerves into life? Was it the
shock of an emotion coming unexpected and intense after all those
dreary weeks of futile watchfulness? or was the miracle an effect of
the same Divine grace which, by means of a mysterious gift, had
enabled us to track and to find this obscure and unknown spot?
It matters little; the spirit of man is master of all things, and
the miracles of love are myriad-fold. For, where love abounds and is
pure, the spirit of man is as the Spirit of God.
Little St. Aubyn had been saved from death, and sustained during
the past three months by a creature dumb like himself,—a large dog
exactly resembling Fritz and Bruno. This dog, he gave us to
understand, came from "over the torrent," indicating with a gesture
the Arblen Valley; and, from the beginning of his troubles, had been
to him like a human friend. The fall from the hillside had not
seriously injured, but only bruised and temporarily lamed the lad, and
after lying for a minute or two a little stunned and giddy, he rose
and with some difficulty made his way across the meadow slope on which
he found himself, expecting to meet his father descending the path.
But he miscalculated its direction, and speedily discovered he had
lost his way. After waiting a long time in great suspense, and seeing
no one but a few goatherds at a distance, whose attention he failed to
attract, the pain of a twisted ankle, increased by continual movement,
compelled him to seek a night's shelter in the cave subsequently
visited by his father at the suggestion of the peasants who assisted
in the search. These peasants were not aware that the cave was but
the mouth of a vast and wandering labyrinth tunneled, partly by nature
and partly by art, through the rocky heart of the mountain. A little
before sunrise, on the morning after his accident, the boy, examining
with minute curiosity the picturesque grotto in which he had passed
the night, discovered in its darkest corner a moss-covered stone
behind which had accumulated a great quantity of weeds, ivy, and loose
rubbish. Boylike, he fell to clearing away these impedimenta and
excavating the stone, until, after some industrious labour thus
expended, he dismantled behind and a little above it a narrow passage,
into which he crept, partly to satisfy his love of "exploring," partly
in the hope that it might afford him an egress in the direction of the
village. The aperture thus exposed had not, in fact, escaped the eye
of St. Aubyn, when about an hour afterwards the search for the lost
boy was renewed. But one of his guides, after a brief. inspection,
declared the recess into which it opened empty, and the party,
satisfied with his report, left the spot, little thinking that all
their labor had been lost by a too hasty examination. For, in fact,
this narrow and apparently limited passage gradually widened in its
darkest part, and, as little St Aubyn found, became by degrees a
tolerably roomy corridor, in which he could just manage to walk
upright, and into which light from the outer world penetrated dimly
through artificial fissures hollowed out at intervals in the rocky
wall. Delighted at this discovery, but chilled by the vaultlike
coldness of the place, the lad hastened back to fetch the fur mantle
he had left in the cave, threw it over his shoulders, and returned to
continue his exploration. The cavern gallery beguiled him with
ever-new wonders at every step. Here rose a subterranean spring,
there a rudely carved gargoyle grinned from the granite roof; curious
and intricate windings enticed his eager steps, while all the time the
deathlike and horrible silence which might have deterred an ordinary
child from further advance, failed of its effect upon ears unable to
distinguish between the living sounds of the outer world and the
stillness of a sepulchre.
Thus he groped and wandered, until he became aware that the gloom
of the corridor had gradually deepened, and that the tiny opening in
the rock were now far less frequent than at the outset. Even to his
eyes, by this time accustomed to obscurity, the darkness grew
portentous, and at every step he stumbled against some unseen
projection, or bruised his hands in vain efforts to discover a
returning path. Too late he began to apprehend that he was nearly
lost in the heart of the mountain. Either the windings of the
labyrinth were hopelessly confusing, or some debris, dislodged by the
unaccustomed concussion of footsteps, had fallen from the roof and
choked the passage behind him. The account which the boy gave of his
adventure, and of his vain and long-continued efforts to retrace his
way, made the latter hypothesis appear to us the more acceptable, the
noise occasioned by such a fall having of course passed unheeded by
him. In the end, thoroughly baffled and exhausted, the lad determined
to work on through the Cimmerian darkness in the hope of discovering a
second terminus on the further side of the mountain. This at length
he did. A faint starlike outlet finally presented itself to his
delighted eyes; he groped painfully towards it; gradually it widened
and brightened, till at length he emerged from the subterranean gulf
which had so long imprisoned him into the mountain cave wherein he bad
ever since remained. How long it had taken him to accomplish this
passage he could not guess, but from the sun's position it seemed to
be about noon when he again beheld day. He sat down, dazzled and
fatigued, on the mossy floor of the grotto, and watched the mountain
torrent eddying and sweeping furiously past in the gorge beneath his
retreat. After a while he slept, and awoke towards evening faint with
hunger and bitterly regretting the affliction which prevented him from
Suddenly, to his great amaze, a huge tawny head appeared above the
rocky edge of the plateau, and in another moment a St. Bernard hound
clambered up the steep bank and ran towards the cave. He was dripping
wet, and carried, strapped across his broad back, a double pannier,
the contents of which proved on inspection to consist of three flasks
of goat's milk, and some half dozen rye loaves packed in a tin box.
The friendly expression and intelligent demeanour of his visitor
invited little St. Aubyn's confidence and reanimated his sinking
heart. Delighted at such evidence of human proximity, and eager for
food, he drank of the goat's milk and ate part of the bread,
afterwards emptying his pockets of the few sous he possessed and
enclosing them with the remaining loaves in the tin case, hoping that
the sight of the coins would inform the dog's owners of the incident.
The creature went as he came, plunging into the deepest and least
boisterous part of the torrent, which he crossed by swimming, regained
the opposite shore, and soon disappeared from view.
But next day, at about the same hour, the dog reappeared alone,
again bringing milk and bread, of which again the lad partook, this
time, however, having no sous to deposit in the basket. And when, as
on the previous day, his new friend rose to depart, Charlie St. Aubyn
left the cave with him, clambered down the bank with difficulty, and
essayed to cross the torrent ford. But the depth and rapidity of the
current dismayed him, and with sinking heart the child returned to his
abode. Every day the same thing happened, and at length the strange
life became familiar to him, the trees, the birds, and the flowers
became his friends, and the great hound a mysterious protector whom he
regarded with reverent affection and trusted with entire confidence.
At night he dreamed of home, and constantly visited his father in
visions, saying always the same words, "Father, I am alive and well."
"And now," whispered the child, nestling closer in St. Aubyn's
embrace, "the wonderful thing is that today, for the first and only
time since I have been in this cave, my dog has not come to me! It
looks, does it not, as if in some strange and fairylike way he really
knew what was happening, and had known it all along from the very
beginning! O father! can he be—do you think—can he be an Angel in
disguise? And, to be sure, I patted him, and thought he was only a
As the boy, an awed expression in his lifted blue eyes, gave
utterance to this naive idea, I glanced at St. Aubyn's face, and saw
that, though his lips smiled, his eyes were grave and full of grateful
He turned towards the peasants grouped around us, and in their own
language recited to them the child's story. They listened intently,
from time to time exchanging among themselves intelligent glances and
muttering interjections expressive of astonishment. When the last
word of the tale was spoken, the elder Raoul, who stood at the
entrance of the cave, gazing out over the sunlit valley of the Arblen,
removed his hat with a reverent gesture and crossed himself.
"God forgive us miserable sinners," he said humbly, "and pardon us
our human pride! The Angel of the Lord whom Augustin and I beheld in
our vision, ministering to the lad, is no other than the dog Gluck who
lives at the monastery out yonder! And while we men are lucid only
once a year, he has the seeing gift all the year round, and the good
God showed him the lad in this cave, when we, forsooth, should have
looked for him in vain. I know that every day Gluck is sent from the
monastery laden with food and drink to a poor widow living up yonder
over the ravine. She is infirm and bedridden, and her little
grand-daughter takes care of her. Doubtless the poor soul took the
sous in the basket to be the gift of the brothers, and, as her portion
is not always the same from day to day, but depends on what they can
spare from the store set apart for almsgiving, she would not notice
the diminished cakes and milk, save perhaps to grumble a little at the
increase of the beggars who trespassed thus on her pension."
There was silence among us for a moment, then St Aubyn's boy spoke.
"Father," he asked, tremulously, "shall I not see that good Gluck
again and tell the monks how he saved me, and how Fritz and Bruno
brought you here?"
"Yes, my child," answered St Aubyn, rising, and drawing the boy's
hand into his own, "we will go and find Gluck, who knows, no doubt,
all that has passed today, and is waiting for us at the monastery."
"We must ford the torrent," said Augustin; "the bridge was carried
off by last year's avalanche, but with six of us and the dogs it will
be easy work."
Twilight was falling; and already the stars of Christmas Eve
climbed the frosty heavens and appeared above the snowy far-off peaks.
Filled with gratitude and wonder at all the strange events of the
day we betook ourselves to the ford, and by the help of ropes and
stocks our whole party landed safely on the valley side. Another
half-hour brought us into the warm glow of the monk's refectory fire,
where, while supper was prepared, the worthy brothers listened to a
tale at least as marvellous as any legend in their ecclesiastical
repertory. I fancy they must have felt a pang of regret that holy
Mother Church would find it impossible to bestow upon Gluck and his
two noble sons the dignity of canonisation.