Anne of Geierstein, by Walter Scott

Chapter 18

Upon the Rhine, upon the Rhine they Cluster.

    The grapes of juice divine,

Which makes the soldier’s jovial courage muster;

   0 blessed be the Rhine!

Drinking Song. 13

A cottage or two on the side of the river, beside which were moored one or two fishing-boats, showed the pious Hans had successors in his profession as a boatman. The river, which at a point a little lower was restrained by a chain of islets, expanded more. widely, and moved less rapidly, than when it passed these cottages, affording to the ferryman a smoother surface, and a less heavy stream to contend with, although the current was even there too strong to be borne up against, unless the river was in a tranquil state.

On the opposite bank, but a good deal lower than the hamlet which gave name to the ferry, was seated on a small eminence, screened by trees and bushes, the little town of Kirchhoff. A skiff departing from the left bank was, even on favorable occasions, carried considerably to leeward ere it could attain the opposite side of the deep and full stream of the Rhine, so that its course was oblique towards Kirch-hoff. On the other hand, a boat departing from Kirch-hoff must have great advantage both of wind and oars, in order to land its loading or crew at the Chapel of the Ferry, unless it were under the miraculous influence which carried the image of the Virgin in that direction. The communication, therefore, from the east to the west bank, was only maintained by towing boats up the stream, to such a height on the eastern side, that the leeway which they made during the voyage across might correspond with the point at which they desired to arrive, and enable them to attain it with ease. Hence, it naturally happened, that the passage from Alsace into Swabia being the most easy, the ferry was more used by those who were desirous of entering Germany, than by travellers who came in an opposite direction.

When the elder Philipson had by a glance around him ascertained the situation of the ferry, he said firmly to his son, — “Begone, my dear Arthur, and do what I have commanded thee.”

With a heart rent with filial anxiety, the young man obeyed, and took his solitary course towards the cottages, near which the barks were moored, which were occasionally used for fishing, as well as for the purposes of the ferry.

“Your son leaves us?” said Bartholomew to the elder Philipson.

“He does for the present,” said his father, “as he has certain inquiries to make in yonder hamlet.”

“If they be,” answered the guide, “any matters connected with your honor’s road, I laud the Saints that I can better answer your inquiries than those ignorant boors, who hardly understand your language.”

“If we find that their information needs thy commentary,” said Philipson, “we will request it — meanwhile, lead on to the chapel, where my son will join us.”

They moved towards the chapel, but with slow steps, each turning his looks aside to the fishing hamlet; the guide as if striving to see whether the younger traveller was returning towards them, the father anxious to descry, on the broad bosom of the Rhine, a sail unloosed, to waft his son across to that which might be considered as the safer side. But though the looks of both guide and traveller were turned in the direction of the river, their steps carried them towards the chapel, to which the inhabitants, in memory of the founder, had given the title of Hans-Chapelle.

A few trees scattered around gave an agreeable and silvan air to the place; and the chapel, that appeared on a rising ground at some distance from the hamlet, was constructed in a style of pleasing simplicity, which corresponded with the whole scene. Its small size confirmed the tradition that it had originally been merely the hut of a peasant; and the cross of fir-tree, covered with bark, attested the purpose to which it was now dedicated. The chapel and all round it breathed peace and solemn tranquillity, and the deep sound of the mighty river seemed to impose silence on each human voice which might presume to mingle with its awful murmur.

When Philipson arrived in the vicinity, Bartholomew took the advantage afforded by his silence to thunder forth two stanzas to the praise of the Lady of the Ferry, and her faithful worshipper Hans, after which he broke forth into the rapturous exclamation, — “Come hither, ye who fear wreck, here is your safe haven! — Come hither, ye who die of thirst, here is a well of mercy open to you! — Come those who are weary and far-travelled, this is your place of refreshment!” — and more to the same purpose he might have said, but Philipson sternly imposed silence on him.

“ If thy devotion were altogether true,” he said, “it would be less clamorous; but it is well to do what is good in itself, even if it is a hypocrite who recommends it. — Let us enter this holy chapel, and pray for a fortunate issue to our precarious travels.”

The pardoner caught up the last words.

“Sure was I,” he said, “that your worship is too well advised pass this holy place without imploring the protection and influence of Our Lady of the Ferry. Tarry but a moment until I find the priest who serves the altar, that he may say a mass on your behalf.”

Here he was interrupted by the door of the chapel suddenly opening, when an ecclesiastic appeared on the threshold. Philipson instantly knew the Priest of Saint Paul’s, whom he had seen that morning at La Ferette. Bartholomew also knew him, as it would seem; for his officious hypocritical eloquence failed him in an instant, and he stood before the priest with his arms folded on his breast, like a man who waits for the sentence of condemnation.

“Villain,” said the ecclesiastic, regarding the guide with a severe countenance, “dost thou lead a stranger into the houses of the Holy Saints, that thou mayst slay him, and possess thyself of his spoils? But Heaven will no longer bear with thy perfidy. Back, thou wretch, to meet thy brother miscreants, who are hastening hitherward. Tell them thy arts were unavailing, and that the innocent stranger is under MY protection — under my protection, which those who presume to violate will meet with the reward of Archibald de Hagenbach?”

The guide stood quite motionless, while addressed by the priest in a manner equally menacing and authoritative; and no sooner did the latter cease speaking, than, without offering a word either in justification or reply, Bartholomew turned round, and retreated at a hasty pace by the same road which had conducted the traveller to the chapel.

“And do you, worthy Englishman,” continued the priest, “enter into this chapel and perform in safety those devotions, by means of which yonder hypocrite designed to detain you until his brethren in iniquity came up. But first, wherefore are you alone? I trust naught evil hath befallen your young companion?”

“My son,” said Philipson, “crosses the Rhine at yonder ferry, as we had important business to transact on the other side.”

As he spoke thus, a light boat, about which two or three peasants had been for sonic time busy, was seen to push from the shore, and shoot into the stream, to which it was partly compelled to give way, until a sail stretched along the slender yard, and supporting the bark against the current, enabled her to stand obliquely across the river.

“Now, praise be to God!” said Philipson, who was aware that the bark he looked upon must be in the act of carrying his son beyond the reach of the dangers by which he was himself surrounded.

“Amen!” answered the priest, echoing the pious ejaculation of the traveller. “Great reason have you to return thanks to Heaven.”

“Of that I am convinced,” replied Philipson; “but yet from you I hope to learn the special cause of danger from which I have escaped?”

“This is neither time nor place for such an investigation,” answered the priest of Saint Paul’s. “it is enough to say, that yonder fellow, well known for his hypocrisy and his crimes, was present when the young Switzer, Sigismund, reclaimed from the executioner the treasure of which you were robbed by Hagenbach. Thus Bartholomew’s avarice was awakened. He under-took to be your guide to Strassburg, with the criminal intent of detaining you by the way till a party came up, against whose numbers resistance would have been in vain. But his purpose has been anticipated. — And now, ere giving vent to other worldly thoughts, whether of hope or fear, — to the chapel, sir, and join in orisons to Him who hath been your aid, and to those who have interceded with Him in your behalf.”

Philipson entered the chapel with his guide, and joined in returning thanks to Heaven and the tutelary power of the spot, for the escape which had been vouchsafed to him.

When this duty had been performed, Philipson intimated his purpose of resuming his journey, to which the Black Priest replied, “That far from delaying him in a place so dangerous he would himself accompany him for some part of the journey, since he also was bound to the presence of the Duke of Burgundy.”

“You, my father! — you!” said the merchant, with some astonishment.

“And wherefore surprised?” answered the priest. “Is it so strange that one of my order should visit a prince’s court? Believe me, there are but too many of them to be found there.”

“I do not speak with reference to your order,” answered Philipson, “but in regard of the part which you have this day acted, in abetting the execution of Archibald de Hagenbach. Know you so little of the fiery Duke of Burgurdy, as to imagine you can daily with his resentment with more safety than you would pull the mane of a sleeping lion?”

“I know his mood well,” said the priest; “and it is not to excuse, but to defend the death of De Hagenbach, that I go to his presence. The Duke may execute his serfs and bondsmen at his pleasure, but there is a spell upon my life, which is proof to all his power. But let me retort the question — You, Sir Englishman, knowing the conditions of the Duke so well — you, so lately the guest and travelling companion of the most unwelcome visitors who could approach him — you, implicated, in appearance at least, in the uproar at La Ferette — what chance is there of your escaping his vengeance; and wherefore will you throw yourself wantonly within his power?”

“Worthy father,” said the merchant, “let each of us, without offence to the other, keep his own secret. I have, indeed, no spell to secure me from the Duke’s resentment — I have limbs to suffer torture and imprisonment, and property which may be seized and confiscated. But I have had in former days many dealings with the Duke; I may even say I have laid him under obligations, and hope my interest with him may in consequence be sufficient, not only to save me from the consequences of this day’s procedure, but be of some avail to my friend the Landamman.”

“But if you are in reality bound to the court of Burgundy as a merchant,” said the priest, “where are the wares in which you traffic? Have you no merchandise save that which you carry on your person? I heard of a sumpter-horse with baggage. Has yonder villain deprived you of it?”

This was a trying question to Philipson, who, anxious about the separation from his son, had given no direction whether the baggage should remain with himself, or should be transported to the other side of the Rhine. He was, therefore, taken at advantage by the priest’s inquiry, to which he answered, with some incoherence, — “I believe my baggage is in the hamlet — that is, unless my son has taken it across the Rhine with him.”

“That we will soon learn,” answered the priest.

Here a novice appeared from the vestiary of the chapel at his call, and received commands to inquire at the hamlet whether Philipson’s bales, with the horse which transported them, had been left there, or ferried over along with his son.

The novice, being absent a few minutes, presently returned with the baggage-horse, which, with its burden, Arthur, from regard to his father’s accommodation, had left on the western side of the river. The priest looked on attentively, while the elder Philipson, mounting his own horse, and taking the rein of the other in his hand, bade the Black Priest adieu in these words, — “And now, father, farewell! I must pass on with my hales, since there is little wisdom in travelling with them after nightfall, else would I gladly suit my pace, with your permission, so as to share the way with you.”

“If it is your obliging purpose to do so, as indeed I was about to propose,” said the priest, “know I will be no stay to your journey. I have here a good horse; and Melchior, who must otherwise have gone on foot, may ride upon your sumptor-horse. I the rather propose this course, as it will be rash for you to travel by night. I can conduct you to an hostelry about five miles off, which we may reach with sufficient daylight, and where you will be lodged safely for your reckoning.”

The English merchant hesitated a moment. He had no fancy for any new companion on the road, and although the countenance of the priest was rather handsome, considering his years, yet the expression was such as by no means invited confidence. On the contrary, there was something mysterious and gloomy which clouded his brow, though it was a lofty one, and a similar expression gleamed in his cold gray eye, and intimated severity and even harshness of disposition. But notwithstanding this repulsive circumstance, the priest had lately rendered Philipson a considerable service, by detecting the treachery of his hypocritical guide, and the merchant was not a man to be startled from his course by any imaginary prepossessions against the looks or manners of any one, or apprehension of machinations against himself. He only revolved in his mind the singularity attending his destiny, which, while it was necessary for him to appear before the Duke of Burgundy in the most conciliatory manner, seemed to force upon him the adoption of companions who must needs be obnoxious to that prince; and such, he was too well aware, must he the case with the Priest of St. Paul’s. Having reflected for an instant, he courteously accepted the offer of the priest to guide him to some place of rest and entertainment, which must be absolutely necessary for his horse before he reached Strassburg, even if he himself could have dispensed with it.”

The party being thus arranged, the novice brought forth the priest’s steed, which he mounted with grace and agility, and the neophyte, being probably the same whom Arthur had represented during his escape from La Ferette, took charge, at his master’s command, of the baggage-horse of the English man; and, crossing himself, with a humble inclination of his head, as the priest passed him, he fell into the rear, and seemed to pass the time, like the false brother Bartholemew, in telling his beads, with an earnestness which had perhaps more of affected than of real piety. The Black Priest of St. Paul’s, to judge by the glance which he cast upon his novice, seemed to disdain the formality of the young man’s devotion. He rode upon a strong black horse, more like a warrior’s charger than the ambling palfrey of a priest, and the manner in which he managed him was entirely devoid of awkwardness and timidity. His pride, whatever was his character, was not certainly of a kind altogether professional, but had its origin in other swelling thoughts which arose in his mind, to mingle with and enhance the self-consequence of a powerful ecclesiastic.

As Philipson looked on his companion from time to time, his scrutinizing glance was returned by a haughty smile, which seemed to say, “You may gaze on my form and features, but you cannot penetrate my mystery.”

The looks of Philipson, which were never known to sink before mortal man, seemed to retort, with equal haughtiness, “Nor shall you, proud priest, know that you are now in company with one whose secret is far more important than thine own can be.”

At length the priest made some advance towards conversation, by allusion to the footing upon which, by a mutual understanding, they seemed to have placed their intercourse.

“We travel then,” he said, like two powerful enchanters, each conscious of his own high and secret purpose; each in his own chariot of clouds, and neither imparting to his companion the direction or purpose of his journey.”

“Excuse me, father,” answered Philipson, “I have neither asked your purpose, nor concealed my own, so far as it concerns you. I repeat, I am bound to the presence of the Duke of Burgundy, and my object, like that of any other merchant, is to dispose of my wares to advantage.”

“Doubtless it would seem so,” said the Black Priest, “from the extreme attention to your merchandise which you showed not above half an hour since, when you knew not whether your bales had crossed the river with your son, or were remaining in your own charge. Are English gentlemen usually so indifferent to the sources of their traffic?”

“When their lives are in danger,” said Philipson, “they are sometimes negligent of their fortunes.”

“It is well,” replied the priest, and again resumed his solitary musings; until another half-hour’s travelling brought them to a dorff, or village, which the Black Priest informed Philipson was that where he proposed to stop for the night.

“The novice,” he said, “will show you the inn, which is of good reputation, and where you may lodge with safety. For me, I have to visit a penitent in this village, who desires my ghostly offices; — perhaps I may see you again this evening, perhaps not till the next morning; — at any rate, adieu for the present.”

So saying, the priest stopped his horse, while the novice, coming close up to Philipson’s side, conducted him onward through the narrow street of the village, whilst the windows exhibited here and there a twinkling gleam, announcing that the hour of darkness was arrived. Finally he led the Englishman through an archway into a sort of courtyard, where there stood a car or two of a particular shape, used occasionally by women when they travel, and some other vehicles of the same kind. Here the young man threw himself from the sumptor-horse, and placing the rein in Philipson’s hand disappeared in the increasing darkness, after pointing to a large but dilapidated building, along the front of which not a spark of light was to be discovered from any of the narrow and numerous windows, which were dimly visible in the twilight.

13 This is one of the best and most popular of the German ditties Am Rhein, am Rhein, da wachsen unsere Reben Gesegnet sei der Rhein,” etc.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/anne/chapter18.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29