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THE ROBBER OF THE RHINE.
BOOK I.-CHAPTER I.
A BAD BEGINNING.
The Imperial City, as the inhabitants still love to call it, of Aix-la-Chapelle, is situated in an amphitheatre, the sides of which are formed of gentle eminences scarcely deserving the name of hills. On the north, however, the Lousberg is sufficiently lofty to diminish the violence of the wind, which breaks upon its summit, and whirls in eddies round the town; and on the south the ground rises, almost imperceptibly, till it mingles with the chain of hills which intersects the ancient forest of Ardennes, the Eifel, and the country of Montjoye.
The valley itself-or the arena of the amphitheatre -together with the sides of the eminences, is clothed with the richest vegetation ; while the hills beyond present, in some places, a rude and sterile aspect; and ; in others are covered with hoary woods. Every variety of natural scenery is comprehended within the district; nor is the city of Charlemagne, although an artificial
object, out of keeping with the other parts of the picture. Looking down upon it from one of the high places we have mentioned, more especially at early dawn, or just after sunset, it is scarcely possible to remember the lapse of a thousand years. All history is a blank from the time of the new Cæsar. That antique world is before you which his single genius subdued, and only failed to civilise because a hero lives no longer than a common man. You see in those towers before you, struggling through the mists of morning and evening twilight, a palace which was one of the wonders of the time; and your imagination shapes out of the moving shadows of the valley, a crowd of human forms, which it dignifies with the names of
“ – Roland brave, and Olivier,
And every paladin and peer,” who, with their master Charlemagne, gleaming like stars in the darkness of the age, preceded chivalry like a prediction.
Numerous little brooks are observed winding in the neighbourhood like lines of smoke; and at a short distance from the bourg of Borcete, some of these unite in a body of water, about a hundred yards in length, over which hangs perpetually a mantle of vapour, more or less apparent according to the state of the atmosphere. This is the famous Hot Pool, and those the progeny of the mineral springs which first attracted the royal Frank to the spot, and which, at the time we write of, filled Aix-la-Chapelle with the wealthy and infirm, and their ravenous attendants the strong and the needy.
Before introducing to the notice of the reader such of the residents as we are more immediately interested in, it may be well to request him to bear in mind that the transactions herein recorded took place towards the close of the last century, when as yet the anarchy of the revolution had not subsided into a regular tyranny. The convulsions of France were not confined even to the wide territory bounded by the Rhine, the Alps, the Pyrennees, and the sea; they extended throughout all Europe ; the vast Atlantic felt the impulse from shore to shore, and the New World trembled with the throes of the old, as it laboured with the giant Liberty. The whole earth was shaken by the struggle, the shrieks, the agony, with which this god-like infant was brought into the world-still-born.
But in the countries more immediately subjected to the influence of France—in Belgium-on the borders of the Prussian states—along a considerable part of the course of the Rhine—the impulse communicated was scarcely different in character from the momentum. It was not merely a political agitation, influencing more or less the moral feelings, but a moral revolution, comprehending within its circle all the social relations together. The strangest doctrines were promulgated without exciting surprise; all existing notions of right and wrong were either reversed or at least confused; and men's opinions seemed to be broken into their first jarring elements, before order had been introduced into the chaos by the necessities of political society.
This confusion was worse confounded by the physical sufferings of the people for the last few years. The whole territory had been ravaged by the republican armies with fire and sword; and, even after the occupation of Belgium by the French, in 1794, the war that could not be continued against the bayonets, was
waged against the laws of the intruders. The peasant whose fields had been laid waste-the artisan whose trade had been ruined—the bankrupt debtor—the disbanded soldier-all hastened to repair their fortunes by preying upon that society from which they persuaded themselves they had been cast off. There mingled, however, in the delinquencies, even of the most desperate of those vagabonds, at least in the commencement of their career, some faint touches of martial honour. Like the free-booters towards the close of the Seven Years' War, their first exploits were at the cost of the enemy. They seized upon their forage, stole their cattle, and sometimes shed their blood; but still, fighting only in dozens or scores, and murdering in miserable detail, they had not the credit of being reckoned soldiers ; and at length a sense of their hopeless degradation, uniting with the severity of the penal laws, reduced them for ever from the rank of guerrillas to that of robbers.
This description-which ought to be made evident by the incidents of the narrative— may seem to be here out of place; but the reader, without bearing in mind the state of society, would hardly be persuaded to yield up his imagination to our controul, when, in reference to countries so near our own, and dates that may be remembered by most of us, we proceed to detail occurrences such as have been considered peculiar to the older romance.
One evening, just before the sun had set, but when his level ray, interrupted by the eminences that skirt the valley, Aung here and there a premature twilight, the scene sketched in the opening of the chapter was beheld, apparently with a mixture of pleasure and impatience, by a young man walking in an opposite direction from the town. He was in the bloom of early manhood, and not otherwise distinguished from persons in the rank of gentlemen than by the somewhat fantastic appendage of a guitar slung upon his shoulder. Standing still ever and anon, he watched with an admiring, and yet half discontented eye, the downward progress of the sun, and the deepening shadows that crept along the valley. He appeared unwilling to go beyond a certain verge till warranted by some expected appearance of the evening ; but his feet outstripped his resolution, and as he found himself near the summit of the eastern side of the amphitheatre, he suddenly threwhimself down
grass, and, lying at full length upon his back, gazed sullenly up into the sky.
He had not long lain, however, in this astronomical position, when his brow cleared, and his fine features were lighted up with enthusiasm. A twilight landscape, with its adjuncts of sky, and water, and woods, and the dwellings of men, is always beautiful; but a twilight sky, uninterrupted by a single glimpse of earth, is a world of enchantment into which the most unquiet soul
and be at rest. The young man was even painfully sensible of this fact, when, after some time, on turning down his eyes accidentally from the rose-coloured clouds that swam like islands of the blest above his head, he saw that the valley was completely covered with the shades of evening. The now invisible sun, which still gilded the heavens, had withdrawn his light from the earth ; and our astronomer, recalled to the affairs of his terrestrial existence, sprang almost fiercely upon his feet, and in another minute stood upon the ridge of the eminence.
may flee away