Anne of Geierstein, by Walter Scott

Chapter 22

Tell me not of it — I could ne'er abide

The mummery of all that forced civility,

“Pray, seat yourself, my lord.” with cringing barns

The speech is spoken, and, with bended knee,

Heard by the smiling courtier, —” Before you, sir?

It must be on the earth then.” Hang it all!

The pride which cloaks itself in such poor fashion

Is scarcely fit to swell a beggar’s bosom.

Old Play.

Up stairs and down stairs tripped Annette Veilchen, the soul of all that was going on in the only habitable corner of the huge castle of Arnheim. She was equal to every kind of service, and therefore popped her head into the stable to be sure that William attended properly to Arthur’s horse, looked into the kitchen to see that the old cook, Marthon, roasted the partridges in due time (an interference for which she received little thanks), rummaged out a flask or two of Rhine wine from the huge Dom Daniel of a cellar, and finally, just peeped into the parlor to see how Arthur was looking; when, having the satisfaction to see he had, in the best manner he could, sedulously arranged his person, she assured him that he should shortly see her mistress, who was rather indisposed, yet could not refrain from coming down to see so valued an acquaintance.

Arthur blushed when she spoke thus, and seemed so handsome in the waiting-maid’s eye, that she could not help saying tO herself, as she went to her young lady’s room — “Well, if true love cannot manage to bring that couple together, in spite of all the obstacles that they stand boggling at, I will never believe that there is such a thing as true love in the world, let Martin Sprenger say what he will, and swear to it on the gospels.”

When she reached the young Baroness’s apartment, she found, to her surprise, that, instead of having put on what finery she possessed, that young lady’s choice had preferred the same simple kirtle which she had worn during the first day that Arthur had dined at Geierstein. Annette looked at first puzzled and doubtful, then suddenly recognized the good taste which had dictated the attire, and exclaimed — “You are right — you are right — it is best to meet him as a free-hearted Swiss maiden.”

Anne also smiled as she replied — “But, at the same time, in the walls of Arnheim, I must appear in some respect as the daughter of my father. — Here, girl, aid me to put this gem upon the ribbon which binds my hair.”

It was an aigrette, or plume, composed of two feathers of a vulture, fastened together by an opal, which changed to the changing light with a variability which enchanted the Swiss damsel, who had never seen anything resembling it in her life.

“Now, Baroness Anne,” said she, “if that pretty thing be really worn as a sign of your rank, it is the only think belonging to your dignity that I should ever think of coveting; for it doth shimmer and change color after a most wonderful fashion, even something like one’s own cheek when one is fluttered.”

“Alas, Annette!” said the Baroness, passing her hand across her eyes, “of all the gauds which the females of my house have owned, this perhaps hath been the most fatal to its possessors.”

“And why then wear it?” said Annette. “Why wear it now of all days in the year?”

“Because it best reminds me of my duty to my father and family. And now, girl, look thou sit with us at table, and leave not the apartment; and see thou fly not to and fro to help thyself or others with anything on the board, but remain quiet and seated till William helps you to what you have occasion for.”

“Well, that is a gentle fashion, which I like well enough,” said Annette, “and William serves us so debonairly, that it is a joy to see him; yet, ever and anon, I feel as I were not Annette Veilchen herself, but only Annette Veilchen’s picture since I can neither rise, sir down, run about, nor stand still, without breaking some rule of courtly breeding. It is not so, say, with you who are always mannerly.”

“Less courtly than thou seemest to think,” said the highborn maiden; “but I feel the restraint more on the greensward, and under heaven’s free air, than when I undergo it closed within the walls of an apartment,”

“Ah, true — the dancing,” said Annette; “that was something to be sorry for indeed.”

“ But most am I sorry, Annette, that I cannot tell whether I act precisely right or wrong in seeing this young man, though it must be for the last time. Were my father to arrive? — Were Ital Schreckenwald to return — ”

“Your father is too deeply engaged on some of his dark and mystic errands,” said the flippant Swiss; “sailed to the mountains of the Brockenborg, where witches hold their sabbath, or gone on a hunting-party with the Wild Huntsman.”

“Fie, Annette, how dare you talk thus of my father?”

“Why, I know little of him personally,” said the damsel, “and you yourself do not know much more. And how should that be false which all men say is true?”

“Why, fool, what do they say?”

“Why, that the Count is a wizard — that your grandmother was a will-of-wisp, and old Ital Schreckenwald a born devil incarnate; and there is some truth in that, whatever comes of the rest.”

“Where is he?”

“Gone down to spend the night in the village, to see the Rhinegrave’s men quartered, and keep them in some order, if possible; for the soldiers are disappointed of pay which they had been promised; and when this happens, nothing resembles a Lanz-knecht except a chafed bear.”

“Go we down then, girl; it is perhaps the last night which we may spend, for years, with a certain degree of freedom.”

I will not pretend to describe the marked embarrassment with which Arthur Philipson and Anne of Geierstein met; neither gifted their eyes, neither spoke intelligibly, as they greeted each other, and the maiden herself did not blush more deeply than her modest visitor; while the good-humored Swiss. girl, whose ideas of love partook of the freedom of a more Arcadian country and its customs, looked on with eyebrows a little arched, much in wonder, and a little in contempt, at a couple, who, as she might think, acted with such unnatural and constrained reserve. Deep was the reverence and the blush with which Arthur offered his hand to the young lady, and her acceptance of the courtesy had the same character of extreme bashfulness, agitation, and embarrassment. In short, though little or nothing intelligible passed between this very handsome and interesting couple, the interview itself did not on that account lose any interest. Arthur handed the maiden, as was the duty of a gallant of the day, into the next room wheie their repast was prepared; and Annette, who watched with singular attention everything which occurred, felt with astonishment, that the forms and ceremonies of the higher orders of society had such an influence, even over her free-born mind, as the rites of the Druids over that of the Roman general, when he said,

“I scorn them, yet they awe me.”

“What can have changed them?” said Annette; “when at Geierstein, they looked but like another girl and bachelor, only that Anne is so very handsome; but now they move in time and manner as if they were leading a stately pavin, and behave to each other with as much formal respect as if he were Landamman of the Unterwalden, and she the first lady of Berne. ’Tis all very fine, doubtless, but it is not the way that Martin Sprenger makes love.”

Apparently, the circumstances in which each of the young people were placed, recalled to them the habits of lofty, and somewhat formal courtesy, to which they might have been accustomed in former days; and while the Baroness felt it necessary to observe the strictest decorum, in order to qualify the reception of Arthur into the interior of her retreat, he, on the other hand, endeavored to show, by the profoundness of his respect, that he was incapable of misusing the kindness with which he had been treated. They placed themselves at table, scrupulously observing the distance which might become a “virtuous gentleman and maid.” The youth William did the service of the entertainment with deftness and courtesy, as one well accustomed to such duty; and Annette, placing herself between them, and endeavoring, as closely as she could, to ad-here to the ceremonies which she saw them observe, made practice of the civilities which were expected from the attendant of a baroness. Various, however, were the errors which were committed. Her demeanor in general was that of a greyhound in the slips, ready to start up every moment; and she was only withheld by the recollection that she was to ask for that which she had far more mind to help herself to.

Other points of etiquette were transgressed in their turn, after the repast was over, and the attendant had retired. The waiting damsel often mingled too unceremoniously in the conversation, and could not help calling her mistress by her Christian name of Anne, and, in defiance of all decorum, addressed her, as well as Philipson, with the pronoun thou, which then, as well as now, was a dreadful solecism in German politeness. Her blunders were so far fortunate, that by furnishing the young lady and Arthur with a topic foreign to the peculiarities of their own situation, they enabled them to withdraw their attention from its embarrassments, and so exchange smiles at poor Annette’s expense. She was not long of perceiving this, and half nettled, half availing herself of the apology to speak her mind, said, with considerable spirit, “You have both been very merry, forsooth, at my expense, and all because I wished rather to rise and seek what I wanted, than wait till the poor fellow, who was kept trotting between the board and beauffet, found leisure to bring it to me. You laugh at me now, because I call you by your names, as they were given to you in the blessed church at your christening; and because I say to you thee and thou, addressing my Yuncker and my Yungfrou as I would do if I were on my knees praying to Heaven. But for all your new-world fancies, I can tell you, you are but a couple of children, who do not know your own minds, and are jesting away the only leisure given you to provide for your own happiness. Nay, frown not, my sweet Mistress Baroness; I have looked at Mont Pilatre too often to fear a gloomy brow.”

“Peace, Annette,” said her mistress, “or quit the room.”

“Were I not more your friend than I am my own,” said the headstrong and undaunted Annette, “I would quit the room, and the castle to boot, and leave you to hold your house here with your amiable seneschal, Ital Schreckenwald.”

“If not for love, yet for shame, for charity, be silent, or leave the room.”

“Nay,” said Annette, “my bolt is shot, and I have but hinted at what all upon Geierstein Green said, the night when the Bow of Buttisholz was bended. You know what the old saw says — ”

“Peace! peace, ‘for Heaven’s sake, or I must needs fly!” said the young Baroness.

“Nay, then,” said Annette, considerably changing her tone, as if afraid that her mistress should actually retire, “if you must fly, necessity must have its course. I know no one who can follow. This mistress of mine, Seignor Arthur, would require for her attendant not a homely girl of flesh and blood like myself, but a waiting woman with substance composed gossamer, and breath supplied by the spirit of ether. Would you believe it? — It is seriously held by many, that she partakes of the race of spirits of the elements, which makes her so much more bashful than maidens of this everyday world.”

Anne of Geierstein seemed rather glad to lead away the conversation from the turn which her wayward maiden had given to it, and to turn it on more indifferent subjects, though these were still personal to herself.

“Seignor Arthur,” she said, “thinks, perhaps, he has some room to nourish some such strange suspicion as your heedless folly expresses, and some fools believe, both in Germany and Switzerland. Confess, Seignor Arthur, you thought strangely of me when I passed your guard upon the bridge of Graffs-lust, on the night last past.”

The recollection of the circumstances which had so greatly surprised him at the time, so startled Arthur, that it was with some difficulty he commanded himself, so as to attempt an answer at all; and what he did say on the occasion was broken and unconnected.

“I did hear, I own — that is Rudolph Donnerhugel reported — But that I believed that you, gentle lady, were other than a Christian maiden — ”

“Nay, if Rudolph were the reporter,” said Annette, “you would hear the worst of my lady and her lineage, that is certain. He is one of those prudent personages who depreciate and find fault with the goods he has thoughts of purchasing, in order to deter other offerers. Yes, he told you afind goblin story, I warrant you, of my lady’s grandmother; and truly, it so happened, that the circumstances of the case gave, I dare say, some color in your eyes to — ”

“Not so, Annette,” answered Arthur; “whatever might be said of your lady that sounded uncouth and strange, fell to the ground as incredible.”

“Not quite so much so, I fancy,” interrupted Annette, without heeding Sign or frown. “I strongly suspect I should have had much more trouble in dragging you hither to this castle, had you known you were approaching the haunt of the Nymph of the Fire, the Salamander, as they call her, not to mention the shock of again seeing the descendant of that Maiden of the Fiery Mantle.”

“Peace, once more, Annette,” said her mistress; “since Fate has occasioned this meeting, let us not neglect the opportunity to disabuse our English friend, of the absurd report he has listened to with doubt and wonder perhaps, but not with absolute incredulity.

“Seignor Arthur Philipson,” she proceeded, “it is true my grandfather, by the mother’s side, Baron Herman of Arnheirm, was a man of great knowledge in abstruse sciences. He was also a presiding judge of a tribunal of which you must have heard, called the Holy Vehme. One night a stranger, closely pursued by the agents of that body, which crossing herself) it is not safe even to name, arrived at the castle and craved his protection, and the rights of hospitality. My grandfather, finding the advance which the stranger had made to the rank of Adept, gave him his protection, and became bail to deliver him to answer the charge against him, for a year and a day, which delay he was, it seems, entitled to require on his behalf. They studied together during that term, and pushed their researches into the mysteries of nature, as far, in all probability, as men have the power of urging them. When the fatal day drew nigh on which the guest must part from his host, he asked permission to bring his daughter to the castle, that they might exchange a last farewell. She was introduced with much secrecy, and after some days, finding that her father’s fate was so uncertain, the Baron, with the sage’s consent, agreed to give the forlorn maiden refuge in his castle, hoping to obtain from her some additional information concerning the languages and the wisdom of the East. Dannischemend, her father, left this castle, to go to render himself up to the Vehmegericht at Fulda. The result is unknown; perhaps he was saved by Baron Arnheim’s testimony, perhaps he was given up to the steel and the cord. On such matters, who dare speak?

“The fair Persian became the wife of her guardian and protector. Amid many excellences, she had one peculiarity allied to imprudence. She availed herself of her foreign dress and manners, as well as of a beauty which was said to have been marvellous, and an agility seldom equalled, to impose upon and terrify the ignorant German ladies, who, hearing her speak Persian and Arabic, were already disposed to consider her as over closely connected with unlawful arts. She was of a fanciful and imaginative disposition, and delighted to place herself in such colors and circumstances as might confirm their most ridiculous suspicions, which she considered only as matter of sport. There was no end to the stories to which she gave rise. Her first appearance in the castle was said to be highly picturesque, and to have inferred something of tbe marvellous. With the levity of a child, she had some childish passions, and while she encouraged the growth and circulation of the most extraordinary legends amongst some of the neighborhood, she entered into disputes with persons of her own quality, concerning rank and precedence, on which the ladies of Westphalia have at all times set great store. This cost her her life; for, on the morning of the christening of my poor mother, the Baroness of Arnheim died suddenly, even while a splendid company was assembled in the castle chapel to witness the ceremony. It was believed that she died of poison, administered by the Baroness Steinfeldt, with whom she was engaged in a bitter quarrel, entered into chiefly on behalf of her friend and companion, the Countess Waldstetten.”

“And the opal gem? — and the sprinkling with water?” said Arthur Philipson.

“Ah “replied the young Baroness, “I see you desire to hear the real truth of my family history, of which you have yet learned only tile romantic legend. — The sprinkling of water was necessarily had recourse to, on my ancestress’s first swoon. As for the opal, I have heard that it did indeed grow pale, but only because it is said to be the nature of that noble gem, on the approach of poison. Some part of the quarrel with the Baroness Steinfeldt was about the right of the Persian maiden to wear this stone, which an ancestor in my family won in battle from the Soldan of Trebizond. All these things were confused in popular tradition, and the real facts turned into a fairy tale.”

“But you have said nothing,” suggested Arthur Philipson, “on — on —”

“On what?” said his hostess.

“On your appearance last night.”

“Is it possible,” said she, “that a man of sense, and an Englishman, cannot guess at the explanation which I have to give, though not, perhaps, very distinctly? My father, you are aware, has been a busy man in a disturbed country, and has incurred the hatred of many powerful persons. He is, therefore, obliged to move in secret, and avoid unnecessary observation. He was, besides, averse to meet his brother, the Landamman. I was therefore told, on our entering Germany, that I was to expect a signal where and when to join him, — the token was to be a small crucifix of bronze, which had belonged to my poor mother. In my apartment at Graffs-lust I found the token, with a note from my father, making me acquainted with a secret passage proper to such places, which, though it had the appearance of being blocked up, was in fact very slightly barricaded. By this I was instructed to pass to the gate, make my escape into the woods, and meet my father at a place appointed there.”

“A wild and perilous adventure,” said Arthur.

“I have never been so much shocked,” continued the maiden, as at receiving this summons, compelling me to steal away from my kind and affectionate uncle, and go I knew not whither. Yet compliance was absolutely necessary. The place of meeting was plainly pointed out. A midnight walk, in the neighborhood of protection, was to me a trifle; but the precaution of posting sentinels at the gate might have interfered with my purpose, had I not mentioned it to some of my elder cousins, the Biedermans, who readily agreed to let me pass and repass unquestioned. But you know my cousins; honest and kind-hearted, they are of a rude way of thinking, and as incapable of feeling a generous delicacy as — some other persons.” (Here there a glance towards Annette Veilchen.) — “They exacted from me, that I should conceal myself and my purpose from Sigismund; and as they are always making sport with the simple youth, they insisted that I should pass him in such a manner as might induce him to believe that I was a spiritual apparition, and out of his terrors for supernatural beings they expected to have much amusement. I was obliged to secure their connivance at my escape on their own terms; and, indeed, I was too much grieved at the prospect of quitting my kind uncle, to think much of anything else. Yet my surprise was considerable, when, contrary to expectation, I found you on the bridge as sentinel, instead of my cousin Sigismund. Your own ideas I ask not for.”

“They were those of a fool,” said Arthur, “of a thrice-sodden fool. Had I been aught else, I would have offered my escort. My sword — ”

“I could not have accepted your protection,” said Anne, calmly. “My mission was in every respect a secret one. I met my father — some intercourse had taken place betwixt him and Rudolph Donnerhugel, which induced him to alter his purpose of carrying me away with him last night. I joined him, however, early this morning, while Annette acted for a time my part amongst the Swiss pilgrims. My father desired that it should not be known when or with whom I left my uncle and his escort. I need scarce remind you that I saw you in the dungeon.”

“You were the preserver of my life,” said the youth — “The restorer of my liberty.”

“Ask me not the reason of my silence. I was then acting under the agency of others, not under mine own. Your escape was effected, in order to establish a communication betwixt the Swiss without the fortress and the soldiers within. After the alarm at La Ferette, I learned from Sigismund Biederinan that a party of Banditti were pursuing your father and you, with a view to pillage and robbery. My father had furnished me with the means of changing Anne of Geierstein into a German maiden of quality. I set out instantly, and glad I am to have given you a hint which might free you from danger.”

“But my father?” said Arthur.

“I have every reason to hope he is well and safe,” answered the young lady. More than I were eager to protect both you and him — poor Sigismund amongst the first. — And now, my friend, these mysteries explained, it is time we part, and forever.”

“Part! — and forever!” repeated the youth in a voice like a dying echo.

“It is our fate,” said the maiden. “I appeal to you if it is not your duty — I tell you it is mine. You will depart with early dawn to Strassburg — and — and — we never meet again.”

With an ardor of passion which he could not repress, Arthur Philipson threw himself at the feet of the maiden, whose faltering tone had clearly expressed that she felt deeply in uttering the words. She looked round for Annette, but Annette had disappeared at this most critical moment; and her mistress for a second or two was not perhaps sorry for her absence.

“Rise,” she said, “Arthur — rise. You must not give way to feelings that might be fatal to yourself and me.”

“Hear me, lady, before I bid you adieu, and forever — the word of a criminal is heard, though he plead the worst cause — I am a belted knight, and the son and heir of an Earl, whose name has been spread throughout England and France, and wherever valor has had fame.”

“Alas!” said she, faintly, “I have but too long suspected what you now tell me — Rise, I pray you, rise.”

“Never till you hear me,” said the youth, seizing one of her hands, which trembled, but hardly could be said to struggle in his grasp. — ” Hear me,” he said, with the enthusiasm of first love, when the obstacles of bashfulness and diffidence are surmounted — “My father and I are — I acknowledge it — bound on a most hazardous and doubtful expedition. You will very soon learn its issue for good or bad. If it succeed, you shall hear of me in my own character —— If I fall, I must — I will — I do claim a tear from Anne of Geierstein. If I escape, I have yet a horse, a lance, and a sword; and you shall hear nobly of him whom you have thrice protected from imminent danger.’

“Arise-arise,” repeated the maiden, whose tears began to flow fast, as, struggling to raise her lover, they fell thick upon his head and face. “I have heard enough — to listen to more were indeed madness, both for you and myself.”

“Yet one single word,” added the youth; “while Arthur has a heart, it beats for you — while Arthur can wield an arm it strikes for you, and in your cause.”

Annette now rushed into the room.

“Away, away!” she cried — “Schreckenwald has returned from the village with some horrible tidings, and I fear me he comes this way.”

Arthur had started to his feet at the first signal of alarm.

“If there is danger near your lady, Annette, there is at least one faithful friend by her side.”

Annette looked anxiously at her mistress.

“But Schreckenwald,” she said — “Schreckenwald, your father’s steward — his confidant. — Oh, think better of it — I can hide Arthur somewhere.”

The noble-minded girl had already resumed her composure, and replied with dignity — “I have done nothing,” she said, “to offend my father. If Schreckenwald be my father’s steward, he is my vassal. I hide no guest to conciliate him. Sit down,” (addressing Arthur), “and let us receive this man — Introduce him instantly, Annette, and let us hear his tidings — and bid him remember, that when he speaks to me he addresses his mistress.”

Arthur resumed his seat, still more proud of his choice from the noble and fearless spirit displayed by one who had so lately shown herself sensible to the gentlest feelings of the female sex, Annette, assuming courage from her mistress’s dauntless demeanor, clapped her hands together as she left the room, saying, but in a low voice, “I see that after all it is something to be a Baroness, if one can assert her dignity conformingly. How could I be so frightened for this rude man!”

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