Anne of Geierstein, by Walter Scott

Chapter 5

   —— I was one

Who loved the greenwood bank and lowing herd,

The russet prize, the lowly peasant’s life,

Season’d with sweet content, more than the halls

Where revellers feast to fever-height. Believe me,

There ne’er was poison mix’d in maple bowl.

Anonymous.

Leaving the young persons engaged with their sports, the Landamman of Unterwalden and the elder Philipson walked on in company, conversing chiefly on the political relations of France, England, and Burgundy, until the conversation was changed as they entered the gate of the old castleyard of Geierstein, where arose the lonely and dismantled keep, surrounded by the ruins of other buildings.

“This has been a proud and a strong habitation in its time,” said Philipson.

“They were a proud and powerful race who held it,” replied the Landamman. “The Counts of Geierstein have a history which runs back to the time of the old Helvetians, and their deeds are reported to have matched their antiquity But all earthly grandeur has an end, and free men tread the ruins of their feudal castle, at the most distant sight of whose turrets surfs were formerly obliged to vail their bonnets, if they would escape the chastisement of contumacious rebels.”

“I observe,” said the merchant, “engraved on a stone under yonder turret, the crest, I conceive, of the last family, a vulture perched on a rock, descriptive, doubtless, of the word Geierstein.”

“It is the ancient cognizance of the family,” replied Arnold Biederman, “and, as you say, expresses the name of the castle, being the same with that of the knights who so long held it.”

“I also remarked in your hall,” continued the merchant, “a helmet bearing the same crest or cognizance. It is, I suppose, a trophy of the triumph of the Swiss peasants over the nobles of Geierstein, as the English bow is preserved in remembrance of the battle of Buttisholz?”

And you, fair sir, replied the Landamman, “would, I perceive, from the prejudices of your education, regard the one victory with as unpleasant feelings as the other? — Strange, that the venetation for rank should be rooted even in the minds of those who have no claim to share it! But clear up your downcast brows, my worthy guest, and be assured, that though many a proud baron’s castle, when Switzerland threw off the bonds of feudal slavery, was plundered and destroyed by the just vengeance of an incensed people, such was not the lot of the Geierstein. The blood of the old possessors of these towers still flows in the veins of him by whom these lands are occupied.”

“What am I to understand by that, Sir Landamman?’ said Philipson. “Are not you yourself the occupant of this place?”

“And you think, probably,” answered Arnold, “because I live like the other shepherds, wear homespun gray, and hold the plough with my own hands, I cannot be descended from a line of ancient nobility? This land holds many such gentle peasants, Sir Merchant; nor is there a more ancient nobility than that of which the remains are to be found in my native country. But they have voluntarily resigned the oppressive part of their feudal power, and are no longer regarded as wolves amongst the flock, but as sagacious mastiffs, who attended the sheep in time of peace, and are prompt in their defence when war threatens our community.”

“But,” repeated the merchant, who could not yet reconcile himself to the idea that his plain and peasant-seeming host was a man of distinguished birth,” you bear not the name, worthy sir, of your fathers. They were, you say, the Counts of Geierstein, and you are — ”

“Arnold Biederman, at your command,” answered the magistrate. “But know, if the knowledge can make you sup with more sense of dignity or comfort, — I need but put on yonder old helmet, or, if that were too much trouble, I have only to stick a falcon’s feather into my cap, and call myself Arnold, Count of Geierstein. No man could gainsay me — though whether it would become my Lord Count to drive his bullocks to the pasture, and whether his Excellency the High and Wellborn, could; without derogation, sow a field or reap it, are questions which should be settled beforehand. I see you are confounded, my respected guest, at my degeneracy; but the state of my family is very soon explained.

My lordly fathers ruled this same domain of Geierstein, which in their time was very extensive, much after the mode of feudal barons — that is, thev were sometimes the protectors and patrons, but oftener the oppressors, of their subjects. But when my grandfather, Heinrich of Geierstein, flourished, he not only joined the Confederates to repel Ingeiram de Couci, and his roving bands, as I already told you, but, when the wars with Austria were renewed, and many of his degree joined with the host of the Emperor Leopold, my ancestor adopted the opposite side, fought in front of the Confederates, and contributed by his skill and valor to the decisive victory at Sempach, in which Leopold lost his life, and the flower of Austrian chivalry fell around him. My father, Count Williewald, followed the same course, both from inclination and policy. He united himself closely with the state of Unterwalden, became a citizen of the Confederacy, and distinguished himself so much, that he was chosen Landamman of the Republic. He had two sons, — myself, and a younger brother, Albert; and possessed, as he felt himself, of a species of double character, he was desirous, perhaps unwisely (if I may censure the purpose of a deceased parent), that one of his sons should succeed him in his Lordship of Geierstein, and the other support the less ostentatious, though not in my thought less honorable condition, of a free Citizen of Unterwalden, possessing such influence among his equals in the Canton as might be acquired by his father’s merits and his own. When Albert was twelve years old, our father took us on a short excursion to Germany, where the form, pomp, and magnificence which we witnessed, made a very different impression on the mind of my brother and on my own. What appeared to Albert the consummation of earthly splendor, seemed to me a weary display of tiresome and useless ceremonials. Our father explained his purpose, and offered to me, as his eldest son, the large estate belonging to Geierstein, reserving such a portion of the most fertile ground as might make my brother one of the wealthiest citizens, in a district where competence is esteemed wealth. The tears gushed from Albert’s eyes — ‘And must my brother,’ he said, ‘be a noble Count, honored and followed by vassals and attendants, and I a homespun peasant among the gray-bearded shepherds of Unterwalden? — No, father — I respect your will — but I will not sacrifice my own rights Geierstein is a fief held of the empire, and the laws entitle me to my equal half of the lands. If my brother be Count of Geierstein, I am not the less Count Albert of Geierstein; and I will appeal to the Emperor, rather than that the arbitrary will of one ancestor, though he be my father, shall cancel in me the rank and rights which I have derived from a hundred.’ My father was greatly incensed. ‘Go,’ he said, proud boy, give the enemy of thy country a pretext to interfere in her affairs — appeal to the will of a foreign prince from the pleasure of thy father. Go, hut never again look me in the face, and dread my eternal malediction!’ Albert was about to reply with vehemence, when I entreated him to be silent, and hear me speak. I had, I said, all my life loved the mountain better than the plain; had been more pleased to walk than to ride; more proud to contend with shepherds in their sports, than with nobles in the lists; and happier in the village dance than among the feasts of the German nobles. ‘Let me, therefore,’ I said, ‘he a citizen of the republic of Unterwalden; you will relieve me of a thousand cares; and let my brother Albert wear the Coronet and bear the honors of Geierstein.’ After some farther discussion, my father was at length contented to adopt my proposal, in order to attain the object which he had so much at heart. Albert was declared heir of his castle and his rank, by the title of Count Albert of Geierstein; and I was placed in possession of these fields and fertile meadows amidst which my house is situated, and my neighbors called me Arnold Biederman.”

“And if Biederman,” said the merchant, “means, as I understand the word, a man of worth, candor, and generosity, I know none on whom the epithet could be so justly conferred. Yet let me observe, that I praise the conduct, which, in your circumstances, I could not have bowed my spirit to practise. Proceed, I pray you, with the history of your house, if the recital be not painful to you.”

“I have little more to say,” replied the Landamman. “My father died soon after the settlement of his estate in the manner I have told you. My brother had other possessions in Swabia and Westphalia, and seldom visited his paternal castle, which was chiefly occupied by a seneschal, a man so obnoxious to the vassals of the family, that but for the protection afforded by my near residence, and relationship with his lord, he would have been plucked out of the Vulture’s Nest, and treated with as little ceremony as if he had been the vulture himself. Neither, to say the truth, did my brother’s occasional visits to Geierstein afford his vassals much relief, or acquire any popularity for himself. He heard with the ears and saw with the eyes of his cruel and interested steward, Ital Schreckenwald, and would not listen even to my interference and admonition. Indeed, though he always demeaned himself with personal kindness towards me, I believe he considered me as a dull and poor-spirited clown, who had disgraced my noble blood by my mean propensities. He showed contempt on every occasion for the prejudices of his countrymen, and particularly by wearing a peacock’s feather in public, and causing his followers to display the same badge, though the cognizance of the house of Austria, and so unpopular in this country, that men have been put to death for no better reason than for carrying it in their caps. In the mean time I was married to my Bertha, now a saint in Heaven, by whom I bad six stately sons, five of whom you saw surrounding my table this day. Albert also married. His wife was a lady of rank in Westphalia, but his bridal-bed was less fruitful; he had only one daughter, Anne of Geierstein. Then came on the wars between the city of Zurich and our Forest Cantons, in which so much blood was shed, and when our brethren of Zurich were so ill advised as to embrace the alliance of Austria. Their Emperor strained every nerve to avail himself of the favorable opportunity afforded by the disunion of the Swiss; and engaged all with whom he had influence to second his efforts. With my brother he was but too successful; for Albert not only took arms in the Emperor’s cause, but admitted into the strong fortress of Geierstein a band of Austrian soldiers, with whom the wicked Ital Schreckenwald laid waste the whole country, excepting my little patrimony.”

“It came to a severe pass with you, my worthy host,” said the merchant, “since you were to decide against the cause of your country or that of your brother.”

“I did not hesitate,” continued Arnold Biederman. “My brother was in the Emperor’s army, and I was not therefore reduced to act personally against him; but I denounced war against the robbers and thieves with whom Schreckenwald had filled my father’s house. It was waged with various fortune. The seneschal, during my absence, burnt down my house, and slew my youngest son, who died, alas in defence of his father’s hearth. It is little to add that my lands were wasted and my flocks destroyed. On the other hand, I succeeded, with help of a body of the peasants of Unterwalden, in storming the Castle of Geierstein. It was offered back to me by the Confederates; but I had no desire to sully the fair cause in which I had assumed arms, by enriching myself at the expense of my brother; and besides, to have dwelt in that guarded hold would have been a penance to one, the sole protectors of whose house of late years had been a latch and a shepherd’s cur. The castle was therefore dismantled, as you see, by order of the elders of the Canton; and I even think, that considering the uses it was put to, I look with more pleasure on the rugged remains of Geierstein, than I ever did when it was entire, and apparently impregnable.”

“I can understand your feelings,” said the Englishman; “though I repeat, my virtue would not perhaps have extended so far beyond the circle of my family affections. Your brother, what said he to your patriotic exertions?”

“He was, as I learnt,” answered the Landamman, “dreadfully incensed, having no doubt been informed that I had taken his castle with a view to my own aggrandizement. He even swore he would renounce my kindred, seek me through the battle, and slay me with his own hand. We were, in fact, both at the battle of Freyenbach, but my brother was prevented from attempting the execution of his vindictive purpose by a wound from an arrow, which occasioned his being carried out of the melee. I was afterwards in the bloody and melancholy fight at Mount Herzel; and that other onslaught at the Chapel of St. Jacob, which brought our brethren of Zurich to terms, and reduced Austria once more to the necessity of making peace with us. After this war of thirteen years, the Diet passed sentence of banishment for life on my brother Albert, and would have deprived him of his possessions, but forbore in consideration of what they thought my good service. When the sentence was intimated to the Count of Geierstein, he returned an answer of defiance; yet a singular circumstance showed us not long afterwards that he retained an attachment to his country, and amidst his resentment against me, his brother, did justice to my unaltered affection for him.”

“I would pledge my credit,” said the merchant, “that what follows relates to yonder fair maiden, your niece?”

“You guess rightly,” said the Landamman. “For some time we heard, though indistinctly (for we have, as you know, but little communication with foreign countries), that my brother was high in favor at the court of the Emperor, but latterly that he had fallen under suspicion, and, in the course of some of those revolutions common at the courts of princes, had been driven into exile. It was shortly after this news, and, as I think, more than seven years ago, that I was returning from hunting on the farther side of the river, had passed the narrow bridge as usual, and was walking through the courtyard which we have lately left” (for their walk was now turned homeward), “when a voice said in the German language, ‘Uncle, have compassion upon me!’ As I looked around, I beheld a girl of ten years old approach timidly from the shelter of the ruins, and kneel down at my feet. ‘Uncle, spare my life,’ she said, holding up her little hands in the act of supplication, while mortal terror was painted upon her countenance. — ‘ Am I your uncle, little maiden?’ said I; ‘and if I am, why should you fear me? ‘ — ‘ Because you are the head of the wicked ard base clowns who delight to spill noble blood,’ replied the girl, with a courage which surprised me, — ‘ What is your name, my little maiden?’ said I; ‘and who, having planted in your mind opinions so unfavorable to your kinsman, has brought you hither, to see if he resembles the picture you have received of him? ‘ — ‘ It was Ital Schreckenwald that brought me hither,” I said the girl, only half comprehending the nature of my question. — ‘ Ital Schreckenwald?’ I repeated, shocked at the name of a wretch I have so much reason to hate. A voice from the ruins, like that of a sullen echo from the grave, answered, ‘Itat Schreckenwald!’ and the caitiff issued from his place of concealment, and stood before me with that singular indifference to danger which he unites to his atrocity of character. I had my spiked mountain-staff in my hand — What should I have done — or what would you have done, under like circumstances?”

“I would have laid him on the earth, with his skull shivered like an icicle!” said the Englishman, fiercely.

“I had well-nigh done so,” replied the Swiss, “but he was unarmed, a messenger from my brother, and therefore no object of revenge. His own undismayed and audacious conduct contributed to save him. ‘Let the vassal of the noble and high-born Count of Geierstein hear the words of his master, and let him look that they are obeyed,’ said the insolent ruffian. ‘Doff thy cap, and listen; for though the voice is mine, the words are those of the noble Count.’ — ‘ God and man know,’ replied I, ‘if I owe my brother respect or homage — it is much if, in respect for him, I defer paying to his messenger the meed I dearly owe him. Proceed with thy tale, and rid me of thy hateful presence.’ — ‘ Albert, Count of Geierstein, thy lord,’ proceeded Schreckenwald, ‘having on his hand wars, and other affairs of weight, sends his daughter the Countess Anne, to thy charge, and graces thee so far as to intrust to thee her support and nurture, until it shall suit his purposes to require her back from thee; and he desires that thou apply to her maintenance the rents and profits of the lands of Geierstein, which thou hast usurped from him.’ — ‘ Ital Schreckenwald,’ I replied, ‘I will not stop to ask if this mode of addressing me be according to my brother’s directions, or thine own insolent pleasure. If circumstances have, as thou sayest, deprived my niece of her natural protector, I will be to her as a father, nor shall she want aught which I have to give her. The lands of Geierstein are forfeited to the state, the castle is ruinous, as thou seest, and it is much of thy crimes that the house of my fathers is desolate. But where I dwell Anne of Geierstein shall dwell, as my children fare shall she fare, and she shall be to me as a daughter. And now thou hast thine errand — Go hence, if thou lovest thy life; for it is unsafe parleying with the father, when thy hands are stained with the blood of the son.’ The wretch retired as I spoke, but took his leave with his usual determined insolence of manner. — ‘ Farwell,’ he said, ‘Count of the Plough and Harrow — farewell, noble companion of paltry burghers!’ He disappeared, and released me from the strong temptation under which I labored, and which urged me to stain with his blood the place which had witnessed his cruelty and his crimes. I conveyed my niece to my house, and soon convinced her that I was her sincere friend. I inured her, as if she had been my daughter, to all our mountain exercises; and while she excels in these the damsels of the district, there burst from her such sparkles of sense and courage, mingled with delicacy, as belong not — I must needs own the truth — to the simple maidens of these wild hills, but relish of a nobler stem and higher breeding. Yet they are so happily mixed with simplicity and courtesy, that Anne of Geierstein is justly considered as the pride of the district; nor do I doubt but that, if she should make a worthy choice of a husband, the state would assign her a large dower out of her father’s possessions, since it is not our maxim to punish the child for the faults of the parent.”

“It will naturally be your anxious desire, my worthy host,” replied the Englishman, “to secure to your niece, in whose praises I have deep cause to join with a grateful voice, such a suitable match as her birth and expectations, but above all her merit, demand.”

“It is, my good guest,” said the Landamman, “that which hath often occupied my thoughts. The over-near relationship prohibits what would have been my most earnest desire, the hope of seeing her wedded to one of my own sons. This young man, Rudolph Donnerhugel, is brave, and highly esteemed by his fellow-citizens; but more ambitious, and more desirous of distinction, than I would desire for my niece’s companion through life. His temper is violent, though his heart, I trust, is good. But I am like to be unpleasantly released from all care on this score, since my brother, having, as it seemed, forgotten Anne for seven years and upwards, has, by a letter, which I have lately received, demanded that she shall be restored to him. — You can read, my worthy sir, for your profession requires it. See, here is the scroll, coldly worded, but far less unkindly than his unbrotherly message by Ital Schreckenwald — Read it, I pray you, aloud.”

The merchant read accordingly.

“Brother — I thank you for the care you have taken of my daughter, for she has been in safety when she would otherwise have been in peril, and kindly used, when she would have been in hardship. I now entreat you to restore her to me, and trust that she will come with the virtues which become a woman in every station, and a disposition to lay aside the habits of a Swiss villager, for the graces of a high-born maiden. — Adieu. I thank you once more for your care, and would repay it were it in my power; but you need nothing I can give, having renounced the rank to which you were born, and made your nest on the ground where the storm passes over you.

I rest
your brother,

“Geierstein.”

“It is addressed to Count Arnold of Geierstein, called Arnold Biederman,’ A postscript requires you to send the maiden to the court of the Duke of Burgundy. — This, good sir, appears to me the language of a haughty man, divided betwixt the recollection of old offence and recent obligation. The speech of his messenger was that of a malicious vassal, desirous of venting his own spite under pretence of doing his lord’s errand.”

“I so receive both,” replied Arnold Biederman.

“And do you intend,” continued the merchant, “to resign this beautiful and interesting creature to the conduct of her father, wilful as he seems to be, without knowing what his condition is, or what his power of protecting her?”

The Landamman hastened to reply. “The tie which uniteg the parent to the child, is the earliest and the most hallowed that binds the human race. The difficulty of her travelling in safety has hitherto prevented my attempting to carry my brother’s instructions into execution. But as I am now likely to journey in person towards the court of Charles, I have determined that Anne shall accompany me; and as I will myself converse with my brother, whom I have not seen for many years, I shall learn his purpose respecting his daughter, and it may be I may prevail on Albert to suffer her to remain under my charge. And now, sir, having told you of my family affairs at some greater length than was necessary, I must crave your attention as a wise man, to what farther I have to say. You know the disposition which young men and women naturally have to talk, jest, and sport with each other, out of which practice arise often more serious attachments, which they call loving par amours. I trust, if we are to travel together, you will so school your young man as to make him aware that Anne of Geierstein cannot, with propriety on her part, be made the object of his thoughts or attentions.”

The merchant colored with resentment, or something like it. “I asked not to join your company, Sir Landamman — it was you who requested mine,” he said; “if my son and I have since become in any respect the objects of your suspicion, we will gladly pursue our way separately.”

“Nay, be not angry, worthy guest,” said the Landamman; “we Switzers do not rashly harbor suspicions; and, that we may not harbor them, we speak respecting the circumstances out of which they might arise, more plainly than is the wont of more civilized countries. When I proposed to you to be my companion on the journey, to speak the truth, though it may displease a father’s ear, I regarded your son as a soft, fainthearted youth, who was, as yet at least, too timid and milky-blooded to attract either respect or regard from the maidens. But a few hours have presented him to us in the character of such a one as is sure to interest them. He has accomplished the emprize of the bow, long thought unattainable, and with which a popular report connects an idle prophecy. He has wit to make verses, and knows doubtless how to recommend himself by other accomplishments which bind young persons to each other, though they are lightly esteemed by men whose beards are mixed with gray, like yours, friend merchant, and mine own. Now, you must be aware, that since my brother broke terms with me, simply for preferring the freedom of a Swiss citizen to the tawdry and servile condition of a German courtier, he will not approve of any one looking towards his daughter who hath not the advantage of noble blood, or who hath, what he would call, debased himself by attention to merchandize, to the cultivation of land, — in a word, to any art that is useful. Should your son love Anne of Geierstein, he prepares for himself danger and disappointment. And, now you know the whole, — I ask you, Do we travel together or apart?”

“Even as you list, my worthy host,” said Philipson, in an indifferent tone; “for me, I can but say that such an attachment as you speak of would be as contrary to my wishes as to those of your brother, or what I suppose are your own. Arthur Philipson has duties to perform totally inconsistent with his playing the gentle bachelor to any maiden in Switzerland, take Germany to boot, whether of high or low degree. He is an obedient son, besides — hath never seriously disobeyed my commands, and I will have an eye upon his motions.”

“Enough, my friend,” said the Landamman; “we travel together, then, and I willingly keep my original purpose, being both pleased and instructed by your discourse.”

Then, changing the conversation, he began to ask whether his acquaintance thought that the league entered into by the King of England and the Duke of Burgundy would continue stable. “We hear much,” continued the Swiss, “of the immense army with which King Edward proposes the recovery of the English dominions in France.”

“ I am well aware,” said Philipson, “that nothing can be so popular in my country as the invasion of France, and the attempt to reconquer Normandy, Maine, and Gascony, the ancient appandages of our English crown. But I greatly doubt whether the voluptuous usurper, who now calls himself king, will be graced by Heaven with success in such an adventure. This Fourth Edward is brave indeed, and has gained every battle in which he drew his sword, and they have been many in number. But since he reached, through a bloody path, to the summit of his ambition, he has shown himself rather a sensual debauchee than a valiant knight; and it is my firm belief, that not even the chance of recovering all the fair dominion, which were lost during the civil wars excited by his ambitious house, will tempt him to exchange the soft beds of London, with sheets of silk and pillows of down, and the music of a dying lute to lull him to rest, for the turf of France and the reveille of an alarm trumpet.”

It is the better for us should it prove so, said the Landamman; “for if England and Burgundy were to dismember France, as in our fathers’ days was nearly accomplished? Duke Charles would then have leisure to exhaust his long-hoarded vengeance against our Confederacy.”

As they conversed thus, they attained once more the lawn in front of Arnold Biederman’s mansion, where the contention of the young men had given place to the dance performed by the young persons of both sexes. The dance was led by Anne of Geierstein and the youthful stranger; which, although it was the most natural arrangement, where the one was a guest, and the other represented the mistress of the family, occasioned the Landamman’s exchanging a glance with the elder Philipson, as if it had held some relation to the suspicions he had recently expressed.

But so soon as her uncle and his elder guest appeared, Anne of Geierstein took the earliest opportunity of a pause to break off the dance, and to enter into conversation with her kinsman, as if on the domestic affairs under her attendance. Philipson observed, that his host listened seriously to his nieces communication; and, nodding in his frank manner, seemed to intimate that her request should receive a favorable consideration.

The family were presently afterwards summoned to attend the evening meal which consisted chiefly of the excellent fish afforded by the neighboring streams and lakes. A large cup, containing what was called the schlaf-trunk, or sleeping drink, then went round, which was first quaffed by the master of the household, then modestly tasted by the maidens, next pledged by the two strangers, and finally emptied by the rest of the company. Such were then the sober manners of the Swiss, afterwards much corrupted by their intercourse with more luxurious regions. The guests were conducted to the sleeping apartments, where Philipson and young Arthur occupied the same couch, and shortly after the whole inhabitants of the household were locked in sound repose.

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