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   Chapter 30 THE CAPUCHIN'S OATH.

Andreas Hofer: An Historical Novel By L. Mühlbach Characters: 29586

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


A great festival was to be celebrated at Brixen today. It was the 2nd of August, the day of St. Cassian, and not only were the bones of this saint, which reposed in the cathedral adorned with two splendid towers to be exhibited as they were every year to the devout pilgrims, but the pious bishop had resolved that these sacred relics should be carried in solemn procession through the whole city, that all might have an opportunity to see the saint's remains and implore the assistance of God in the sore distress which bad befallen the Tyrol again. Therefore, since early this morning the peasantry had been flocking from all sides toward the gates of Brixen. Women and children, young and old men, came from all parts of the country to take part in the solemn procession and the devout prayers for the welfare of the country.

Among those who were wandering along the road to Brixen, was a monk of strikingly bold and martial appearance. His tall, broad- shouldered form was remarkable for its military bearing; his long, well-kept red whiskers and mustache did not correspond to the tonsure on his head, which was covered with thin reddish ringlets; and in striking contrast with it were likewise the broad red scar on his healthy sunburnt countenance, and the bright, defiant glance of his eyes, which indicated boldness and intrepidity rather than piety and humility. He had tucked up his brown robe, and thus exhibited his stout legs, which seemed to mock the soft sandals encasing his broad, powerful feet. In his hand he held a long brown staff, terminating at its upper end in a carved image of St. Francis; and the Capuchin did not carry this staff in order to lean upon it, but he brandished it in the air like a sword, or held it up triumphantly as though it were a victorious banner.

But however strange and unusual the Capuchin's appearance might be, no one laughed at him, but he was greeted everywhere with demonstrations of love and reverence; and when he passed some slow wanderers with his rapid step, they looked after him with joyful surprise, and said to each other, "Look at old Red-beard, look at brave Father Haspinger! He has fought often enough for the fatherland. Now he is going to pray for the Tyrol."

"Pray, and fight again, if need be," said the friar, turning to the speakers.

"You think, then, reverend father, that there will be war again?" asked many voices; and dense groups surrounded the friar, and asked him anxiously if he advised them to allow the enemy to re-enter the country; if it would not be better to drive him back forcibly, or if be thought it would be preferable for them to keep quiet and submit to stern necessity?

"I think there is a time for every thing-for keeping quiet as well as for fighting, for praying as well as for politics," said Father Haspinger, shrugging his shoulders. "If you wish to pray and confess your sins, come to me. I am ready to teach you how to pray, and exhort you with true earnestness. But if you want to fight and expel the enemy from the country, why do you not apply to your commanders, and consult, above all, the brave and pious Andreas Hofer?"

"We cannot find him anywhere," shouted several voices. "He is not at home, and even his wife does not know where he has concealed himself."

"Do you, impious wretches, think that the most pious man in the whole Tyrol, Andreas Hofer, has concealed himself because he is afraid of the Bavarians who are re-entering the country?" asked the friar, in a thundering voice.

"No, your reverence, we do not. We know well that Andreas Hofer will not act like Ashbacher, Sieberer, Teimer, Eisenstecken, and Speckbacher, and abandon us in our sore distress."

"He who does not extricate himself from his sore distress will not be saved by others," cried the friar, indignantly.

"Do you not know the eleventh commandment you white-livered cowards, who think you are lost when there is no leader to put himself at your head? Do you not know the eleventh commandment, saying that he who trusts in God and fights well will overpower his enemies? But you will never overpower your enemies; you do not trust in God, and hence you can not fight well."

"But we will fight well, your reverence," replied the men, with bold, defiant glances; "only our leaders do not stand by us. Every one cannot fight alone and at random, but there must be some one at the lead to lead the whole movement. Since Andreas Hofer cannot be found, pray put yourself at our head, your reverence, and become our leader!"

"That request is not so stupid," said the Capuchin, smiling, and stroking his red beard. "You know very well that old Red-beard does not stay at home when an effort is to be made to save the fatherland, and perhaps I may soon be able to accept your offer and call upon you to defend the Tyrol."

"Do so, do call upon us," shouted the men enthusiastically. "We will not permit the French and Bavarians to murder our people and burn our houses as they did last May; we will fight rather until we have driven them from the country or perished to a man!"

"These are brave and pious sentiments," said Father Haspinger, his eyes flashing for joy; "and we will speak further about them. Come up to the church of Latzfons to-morrow, and hear me preach; and after the sermon we will confer as to the state of the country. But now keep quiet, for you see we are at the gate of Brixen; turn your souls, therefore, to God, and pray St. Cassian to have mercy upon you, and intercede for you with God and the Redeemer."

And Father Haspinger's face became suddenly very grave and devout; he lifted the rosary hanging at his belt, and, while entering the city by the gate, he commenced praying a Pater-noster in an undertone.

The city meanwhile was already in great commotion. The bells had begun to ring their solemn peals, and all devout worshippers, consisting on this occasion of the whole population of the city, were flocking to the cathedral. All at once the doors of the cathedral were thrown open, and under a gold-embroidered baldachin borne by four priests appeared the pious bishop, carrying in his uplifted right hand the casket containing the bones of Saint Cassian. Behind the bishop came the priests bearing wax-lights, and singing soul-stirring hymns. Next followed the long line of acolytes with smoking censers; and pious worshippers, carrying torches, and repeating the hymns intoned by the priests, closed the pro cession. This procession gained strength at every step as it advanced, and soon it had been joined by the whole population of the city and the hundreds of pious pilgrims who had flocked to Brixen to take part in the holy festival.

Haspinger, the Capuchin friar, was likewise in the procession; he walked in the midst of the brave peasants with whom he had conversed, singing with head erect and in a tone of solemn earnestness the hymns with which the holy relics were being invoked. Only it seemed to the peasants who heard his powerful voice as though he somewhat changed the passage imploring Saint Cassian to grant the Tyrolese peace, protection, and tranquillity, and prayed for the very reverse. The passage was as follows: "Have mercy upon our weakness, and grant us peace and tranquillity." But Father Haspinger, brandishing his staff with the image of Saint Francis, sang in a tone of fervent piety: "Have mercy upon our valor, and grant us war!" To those who looked at him wonderingly on account of this change of the text, he nodded with a shrewd twinkle of his eyes, and murmured: "Come tomorrow to the church of Latzfons. We will hold a council of war there!"

The procession had not yet finished one-half of its route, and had just reached the market-place when a horseman gal loped up the street leading from the gate to the market-place. It was probably a belated worshipper, who intended to take part in the procession. He alighted hurriedly from his horse, and tied it to the brass knob of a street-door, and then walked close up to the procession. However, he did not join it, but stood still and contemplated every passer-by with prying eyes. Now he seemed to have found him whom he sought, for a smile illuminated his sunburnt face, and he advanced directly toward Father Haspinger, who was singing again: "Have mercy upon our valor, and grant us war!" But on perceiving the young lad who was approaching him, he paused, and a bright gleam of joy overspread his features.

"It is Andreas Hofer's servant, Anthony Wild," murmured Father Haspinger, joyfully, holding out his hand to the lad. "Say, Tony, do you come to bring me a message from brother Andreas?"

"I do, reverend sir. The Sandwirth sends me to you, and as I did not meet you at your convent of Seeben near Klausen, I followed you to Brixen; for my master instructed me to deliver my message as quickly as possible into your hands and return with your answer."

"What message do you bring me, Tony?"

"This letter, reverend sir."

The friar took it and put it quickly into his belt. "Where is brother Andreas?" he asked.

"In the cave which is known only to him, to you, and to myself," whispered Anthony Wild, into the friar's ear. "He awaits your reply there, reverend sir."

"And you shall have it this very day, Tony. Now, however, we will not forget our divine service, but worship God with sincere piety. Take the place behind me in the procession; and when we return to the cathedral, follow me where-ever I may go."

And the friar commenced singing again; his hand, however, no longer held the rosary, but he put it firmly on the letter which was concealed in his belt, and whose contents engrossed his thoughts:

At length the procession had returned to the portals of the cathedral. Father Haspinger signed to the Sandwirth's servant, who was walking behind him, and instead of accompanying the other worshippers into the church, he walked along the procession until he reached a tall, slender young man, with whom he had already exchanged many a glance. "Martin Schenk," said the friar to him, "will you go home now?"

"I will, and I request you, reverend sir, to accompany me," said the young man, hastily. "I believe you will find a number of friends at my house. Peter Kemnater, the innkeeper of Schabs, and Peter Mayer, the innkeeper of Mahr, will be there. I invited them, and had I known that you would be here, I should have invited you too."

"You see that I come without being invited, for I think the fatherland has invited us all; and I believe we will not partake of an epicurean breakfast at your tavern to-day, but confer as to the terrible calamities of our country. We are the cooks that will prepare a very spicy and unhealthy breakfast for the French and Bavarians, and I believe I am the bearer of some salt and pepper from Andreas Hofer for this purpose. See, Martin Schenck, in my belt here, by the side of the rosary, is a letter from our dear brother Andreas Hofer."

"And what does he write to you? I hope he does not want us to keep quiet and permit the enemy to re-enter the country, as all prudent and cautious people advise us to do?"

"Hush, hush, Martin! do not insult our commander-in-chief by such a supposition. I have not read the letter yet, but I believe I know its contents, and could tell you beforehand every word that the good and faithful Andreas has written to us. Ah, here is your tavern, and let me ask a favor of you now. The lad who is following us is Andreas Hofer's faithful servant, Anthony Wild, who brought me the letter from his master, and who must wait for my answer. Give him a place where he may rest, and a good breakfast, for he must set out for home this very day."

"Come in, Anthony Wild; you are welcome," said the young innkeeper, shaking hands with Hofer's servant.

"Thank you, but I must first fetch my horse which I tied to a pole somewhere down the street. I rode very fast, and must first attend to the Horse, afterward I will request you to let me have some breakfast."

And Hofer's servant hastened down the street. The innkeeper and the friar entered the house and stepped into the large bar-room. Two men came to meet them there.

One of them, a man about forty-five years old, dressed in the simple costume of the Tyrolese, and of a tall, powerful form, was Peter Mayer, known throughout the Tyrol as one of the most ardent and faithful patriots, and a man of extraordinary intrepidity, firmness, and energy.

The other, a young man of scarcely twenty-two, slender yet well built, and far-famed for his fine appearance, boldness, and wealth, was Peter Kemnater, the most faithful and devoted friend of the fine-looking and patriotic young innkeeper, Martin Schenk.

The two men shook hands with the new-comers and bowed to them, but their faces were gloomy, and not the faintest gleam of a smile illuminated them.

"Have you come hither, Father Joachim Haspinger, only to join in the peace-prayers?" asked Peter Mayer in his laconic style, fixing his dark, piercing eyes on the friar's face.

"No, Peter Mayer," said the Capuchin, gravely; "I have come hither because I wanted to see you three, and because I have to say many things to you. But previously let me read what our pious and patriotic brother Andreas Hofer has written to me."

"You have a letter from Andreas Hofer!" exclaimed Mayer and

Kemnater, joyfully.

"Here it is," said the friar, drawing it from his belt. "Now give me a moment's time to read the letter, and then we will confer upon the matter that brought us here."

He stepped to the window and unfolded the letter. While he was reading it, the three men looked at him with rapt suspense, seeking to read in his features the impression produced by Andreas Hofer's words on the heart of the brave Capuchin. Indeed, the friar's features brightened more and more, his forehead and face colored, and a smile illuminated his hard features.

"Listen, men," he exclaimed triumphantly, waving the paper as though it were a flag; "listen to what Andreas writes to me!" And the friar read in a clarion voice:

"Dear brother Red-beard! Beloved Father Joachim Haspinger: You know, brother, that all has been in vain; the Austrians are evacuating the country, and the emperor, or rather not the emperor, but his ministers and secretaries, stipulated in the armistice concluded with Bonaparte, that the French and Bavarians should re-enter the Tyrol and recommence the infamous old system. But I think, even though the emperor has abandoned us, God Almighty will not do so; and even though the Austrian soldiers are crossing our frontiers, our mountains and glaciers remain to us; God placed them there to protect our frontiers, and He gave us strong arms and good rifles and keen

eyes to discern the enemy and hit him. We are the inhabitants of the Tyrol, and the Austrian soldiers are not, hence it is incumbent on us to protect our frontiers, and prevent the enemy from invading our territory. If you are of my opinion, gather about you as many brave sharpshooters as you can, call out the Landsturm where it is possible, tell the other commanders to do the same, and advance, if possible, at once toward the Brenner, where I hope you will meet me or hear further news from me. Joseph Speckbacher did not leave the country either; he is enlisting sharpshooters and calling out the Landsturm in his district. It is the Lord's will that the Tyrol be henceforth protected only by the Tyrolese. Bear this in mind, and go to work.-Your faithful Andreas Hofer, at present not knowing where he is." [Footnote: Andreas Hofer signed all his letters and orders in this strange manner while he was concealed in his cave.]

"Well," asked the friar, exultingly, "do you think that Andreas Hofer is right, and that we ought not to allow the enemy to re-enter the country?"

"I think he is," said Peter Kemnater, joyously. "I think it will be glorious for us to expel the French and Bavarians once more from our frontiers."

"Or, if they have already crossed them, drive them ignominiously from the country," added Peter Mayer.

"I have passed, during the last few days, through the whole of Puster valley," said Martin Schenk. "Everywhere I found the men determined to die, rifle in hand, on the field of battle, rather than stay peaceably at home and bend their necks before the enemy. 'It is a misfortune,' said the men, 'that the Austrians are abandoning us at this critical juncture; but it would be a greater misfortune still for us to abandon ourselves and consent to surrender at discretion.'"

"And I say it is no misfortune at all that the Austrians have left us," cried the Capuchin, vehemently. "The cause of the fatherland has not suffered much by the retreat of the Austrians. Who assisted us at the battle of Mount Isel? Who helped us to drive the enemy twice from the country? Not an Austrian did! We accomplished all that was great and glorious in the short and decisive struggle. Let us not complain, then, that no one stands by us now, and that we know that no one will help us but God and we ourselves. But we must not plunge blindly and furiously into the struggle; on the contrary, we must consider whether we are able to defeat the enemy. The French and Bavarians are sending large forces on all sides to the poor Tyrol. I cannot conceal from you that the enterprise which we are going to undertake, and to which Andreas Hofer invites us, is a dangerous one. Let me tell you that that miserable assassin and ruffian Lefebre, whom they call the Duke of Dantsic, is approaching from the north with twenty-five thousand men, and is already close to Innspruck. General Deroi, too, is coming; he intends to march through the whole Vintschgau, and force his way over the Gerlos Mountains to the district of Innspruck. Rusca's wild legions are already near Lienz; General Pery is moving up from the south with his Italian troops; and the exasperated Bavarians, under Generals Wreden and Arco, are already at Salzburg. In short, more than fifty thousand men are coming up from all sides to trample the poor Tyrol under foot. They are veteran soldiers; they have got artillery and better arms than we, and are superior to us in numbers, equipments, and strength. Consider, therefore, whether you are willing to undertake the heavy task nevertheless; consider that you risk your property, your blood, and your lives, and that, if you should be so unfortunate as to fall into the enemy's hands, he would perhaps punish you as criminals and rebels. It is true, you are ready to risk your property, your blood, and your lives, for the fatherland and the liberty of the Tyrol; but then you have also duties to your families, your parents, your brides; you have a duty to yourselves- that of not endangering your lives recklessly. It is true, even though the enemy should punish you as rebels, you would die the beautiful death of martyrs for your fatherland, and the halo of your virtue and love of country will immortalize your names; but you must consider, also, whether your death will be useful to the country, and whether you will not shed your blood in vain. Ask your hearts, my friends, whether they will be courageous and strong enough to brave cheerfully whatever reverses and calamities may befall us, and whether they really will risk death, imprisonment, and the scaffold, without flinching and trembling? That is what I wished to say to you before concerting measures with you and sending an answer to Andreas Hofer. Consider it all, my friends, and then speak."

"We are to ask our hearts if they will not flinch and tremble?" said Peter Mayer, almost contemptuously. "When the enemy returned to the Tyrol last May, he burned down eight houses which belonged to me, and for some time I did not know but that my wife and children had perished in the conflagration. Did you see me tremble-did you hear me complain at that time? Did I not stand up cheerfully in the battle on Mount Isel, without weeping or murmuring, and bearing in mind only that I was fighting for liberty, the fatherland, and the emperor? It was not until we had gained the victory, and obtained our freedom, that I went home to mourn and weep on the smoking ruins of my houses. But I found my wife and my children alive and well; a friend had concealed them and taken care of them; and after thanking God for our victory, I thanked Him for preserving my wife and children; and only now, when we were happy and free, did I shed tears. But since the enemy is re-entering the country, and fresh misfortunes are to befall us, my tears are dried again; my heart is full of courage and constancy; and I believe we must risk all, because otherwise every thing that we have done hitherto will be in vain. I love my wife dearly; but, if she came now to dissuade me from taking part in the struggle, and if I felt that my heart was giving way to her persuasion, I would strangle her with my own hands, lest she should prevent me from serving the great cause of the fatherland. It is true, our task is difficult, but it is not impossible; and that which is not impossible should be tried for the fatherland! I have given you my opinion; it is your turn now, my young friends. Peter Kemnater, speak! Tell Father Red-beard whether your heart is trembling and flinching, and whether you think we had better keep quiet, because the enemy is so powerful and superior to us."

"I have an affianced bride of whom I am very fond," said Peter Kemnater, with flushed cheeks and flashing eyes; "a girl whom I love better than my parents, than anything in the world, and whom I intended to marry a fortnight hence; but I swear to God and the Holy Virgin that my wedding shall not take place until the Tyrol is free again, and we have expelled the enemy once more from the country. And if my bride should be angry at this, and demand that I should think more of her than of the fatherland, and prefer living for her alone to dying perhaps for the fatherland, I should break with her, and never look at her again, never speak another word with her. I have many houses and lands; but even though I knew that my fields and meadows were to be devastated, and my houses burned down, like those of Peter Mayer, I should say, nevertheless, we will fight for the fatherland! We will defeat the enemy, even though we should all become beggars, and even though I knew that I should die before seeing my affianced bride again, and that she would curse me in my grave. That is what I have got to say. Now you may speak, Martin Schenk; tell the father whether your heart is flinching and trembling."

"Yes, it is," cried Martin Schenk, "but only when I think the men of the Tyrol could be so cowardly and mean-spirited as to keep quiet and submit to their oppressors, because the latter are powerful and superior to us in numbers. I have a young wife whom I married only a year ago, and who gave birth to a little boy a week since, and I assure you that I love her and her child with all my heart. But if I knew that their death would be useful to the fatherland, and would contribute to its salvation, I would shoot them with my own rifle, and should not weep on seeing their corpses at my feet; but I should rejoice and exclaim, 'I did it for the sake of the fatherland; I sacrificed my most precious treasures for the beloved Tyrol.' Even though the enemy is very strong and numerous, even though the emperor has abandoned us, God stands by us. The mountains stand firm yet; they are our fortresses, and we will fight in them until we are all dead, or until we have defeated the enemy, and delivered the Tyrol a third time. Now you know my opinion, Father Joachim Haspinger."

The Capuchin made no reply. He stood with hands clasped in prayer and eyes lifted to heaven, and two large tears rolled down his bronzed cheeks into his red beard.

"Great God in heaven," he murmured in a voice tremulous with emotion, "I thank Thee for letting me see this hour, and hear the soul-stirring words of these patriotic men. What can I say now, what have I to sacrifice to the fatherland? I have no wife, no children, no property; I am but a poor Capuchin! I have nothing but my blood and my life. But I will give it to the country, even though the bishop and the abbot should excommunicate me for it and condemn my soul to burn in everlasting fire. It is better that a poor Capuchin's soul should burn in hell than that the fatherland should groan with pain and wear the brand of disgrace and slavery on its forehead. It is better to be a faithless son of the bishop and abbot, than a faithless son of the fatherland. It is better to be a bad Christian than a bad patriot. Therefore, whatever may happen, I shall share every thing with you, danger or victory, triumph or death. Henceforth I am no longer a Capuchin, but old Red-beard Joachim Haspinger, the defender of his country; and I swear that I will no more lay down my head and repose before we have delivered the country from the enemy and concluded an honorable peace. If that is your sentiment also, swear here before God that you will fight henceforth for the country, devote your whole strength to it, and perish rather than give up the struggle, make peace with the enemy, and submit to the Bavarian yoke."

And the three men lifted their hands and eyes to heaven, and exclaimed with one accord, in a loud and solemn tone: "We swear by God Almighty, and by all that is sacred and dear to us on earth, that we will fight henceforth for the country, devote our whole strength to it, and perish rather than give up the struggle, make peace with the enemy, and submit to the Bavarian yoke!"

"Benedictus! benedictus!" cried Father Haspinger, laying his hands

on those which the three men had joined on taking the oath. "The

Lord has heard and accepted your oath; the Lord will bless you, the

Holy Virgin will protect you! Amen!"

"And now let us concert measures for the struggle, and consider what we ought to do," said the friar, after a pause. "In the first place, we will inform Andreas Hofer that his wishes shall be complied with, and that we will call out the Landsturm and all our forces. Let me write to him, therefore, and then we will hold a council of war."

The council of war lasted until midnight; and while all Europe was truckling to the "invincible Emperor Napoleon," while all Germany was lying humbly prostrate at his feet, and while all the princes were basking in the sunshine of his favor, four poor men, neither learned nor even well educated, three peasants and a monk, were concerting measures to bid defiance to "Bonaparte, the robber of crowns," and expel his powerful armies from their mountains! All Germany was subjugated, and had given up all further resistance to the all-powerful conqueror; only the small Tyrol would not suffer herself to be subjugated; only the brave sons of the German mountains were still intent on braving the tyrant, and upholding their liberty and independence, despite the formidable efforts he was making to crush them.

Already on the following morning the tocsin sounded in all the valleys and on all the heights, and called upon the men to fight for the fatherland. After midnight the three brave men had left Brixen; each had set out in a different direction to incite the men to insurrection, inform them of Andreas Hofer's order, and implore them in the name of the fatherland to take up their rifles again and risk once more their lives for the deliverance of the Tyrol.

Father Haspinger had walked all night to Latzfons, and on the following morning he preached to the people at the church of that place an enthusiastic sermon, in which he called upon them to make one more effort in behalf of their beloved country, and promised entire absolution for one year to every one who should kill a dozen French soldiers, and absolution for five years to any who should kill twice as many. [Footnote: Mayer's "Speckbacher," p. 151.]

Carried away by the soul-stirring words and promises of the Capuchin, full of ardor to serve the fatherland, and desirous of obtaining absolution, the men took up arms, and even a company of women was formed for the holy service of the fatherland.

At night on the same day three hundred sharpshooters had rallied around the martial friar, and with them he marched toward Unterau, constantly receiving re-enforcements on the road; for the inhabitants everywhere rose again as one man, and with their redoubted rifles on their shoulders descended every lateral glen and ravine, and joined his command to conquer or die under him.

And joyful news arrived from all sides, announcing that the inhabitants were rising throughout the Tyrol. Already Peter Mayer and Peter Kemnater had gathered around them all the sharpshooters of the neighboring towns and villages, and their four companies now united with the friar's troops. News also came from Andreas Hofer: he had emerged again from the cave, and at his call all the sharpshooters of the Passeyr valley had rallied around him, and companies had flocked to him from all parts of the country to fight again under their beloved commander-in-chief. Andreas Hofer had marched with them across the crest of the precipitous Janfen, and his army gathering strength like a mountain-torrent from every tributary stream which crossed its course, soon embraced all the able-bodied men of Passeyr, Meran, and Algund.

The Tyrolese bad risen a third time to defend the independence of their country.

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