Anne of Geierstein, by Walter Scott

Chapter 9

Fraucisco. — Give you good-night.

Marceilus. — O, farewell, honest soldier.

Who hath relieved you?

Francisco, — Give you good-night; Bernardo hath my place.

Hamlet.

The first occupation of our travellers was to find the means of crossing the moat; and they were not long of discovering the tete-du-pont on which the drawbridge, when lowered, had formerly rested. The bridge itself had been long decayed, but a temporary passage of fir-trees and planks had been constructed, apparently very lately, which admitted them to the chief entrance of the castle. On entering it, they found a wicket opening under the archway, which, glimmering with light, served to guide them to a hall prepared evidently for their accommodation as well as circumstances had admitted of.

A large fire of well-seasoned wood burned blithely in the chimney, and had been maintained so long there that che air of the hall, notwithstanding its great size and somewhat ruinous aspect, felt mild and genial. There was also at the end of the apartment a stack of wood, large enough to maintain the fire bad they been to remain there a week. Two or three long tables in the hall stood covered and ready for their reception and, on looking more closely, several large hampers were found in a corner, containing cold provisions of every kind, prepared with great care, for their immediate use. The eyes of the good Burgess of Soleure twinkled when he beheld the young men in the act of transferring the supper from the hampers, and arranging it on the table.

“Well,” said he, “these poor men of Bale have saved their character; since, if they have fallen short in welcome, they have abounded in good cheer.”

“Ah, friend!” said Arnold Biederman, “the absence of the landlord is a great deduction from the entertainment. Better half an apple from the hand of your host, than a bridal feast without his company.’

“We owe them the less for their banquet,” said the Banneret. “But from the doubtful language they held, I should judge it meet to keep a strong guard to-night, and even that some of our young men should, from time to time, patrol around the old ruins. The place is strong and defensible, and so far our thanks are due to those who have acted as our quarter-masters. We will, however, with your permission, my honored brethren, examine the house within, and then arrange regular guards and patrols. - To your duty then, young men, and search these ruins carefully,- they may, perchance, contain more than ourselves; for we are now near one who, like a pilfering fox, moves more willingly by night than by day, and seeks his prey amidst ruins and wildernesses rather than in the open field.”

All agreed to this proposal. The young men took torches, of which a good provision had been left for their use, and made a strict search through the ruins.

The greater part of the castle was much more wasted and ruinous than the portion which the citizens of Bale seemed to have destined for the accommodation of the embassy. Some parts were roofless, and the whole destitute. The glare of light — the gleam of arms — the sound of the human voice, and echoes of mortal tread, startled from their dark recesses bats, owls, and other birds of ill omen, the usual inhabitants of such time-worn edifices, whose flight through the desolate chambers repeatedly occasioned alarm amongst those who heard the noise without seeing the cause, and shouts of laughter when it became known. They discovered that the deep moat surrounded their place of retreat on all sides, and of course that they were in safety against any attack which could be made from without, except it was attempted by the main entrance, which it was easy to barricade, and guard with sentinels. They also ascertained by strict search, that though it was possible an individual might be concealed amid such a waste of ruins, yet it was altogether impossible that any number which might be formidable to so large a party as their own, could have remained there without a certainty of discovery. These particulars were reported to the Banneret, who directed Donnerhugel to take charge of a body of six of the young men, such as he should himself choose, to patrol on the outside of the building till the first cock-crowing, and at that hour to return to the castle, when the same number were to take the duty till morning dawned, and then he relieved in their turn. Rudolph declared his own intention to remain on guard the whole night; and as he was equally remarkable for vigilance as for strength and courage, the external watch was considered as safely provided for, it being settled that, in case of any sudden rencounter, the deep and hoarse sound of the Swiss bugle should be the signal for sending support to the patrolling party.

Within side the castle, the precautions were taken with equal vigilance. A sentinel, to be relieved every two hours, was appointed to take post at the principal gate, and other two kept watch on the other side of the castle, although the moat appeared to insure safety in that quarter.

These precautions being taken, the remainder of the party sat down to refresh themselves, the deputies occupying the upper part of the hall, while those of their escort modestly ar ranged themselves in the lower end of the same large apartment. Quantities of hay and straw, which were left piled in the wide castle, were put to the purpose for which undoubtedly they had been destined by the citizens of Bale, and, with the aid of cloaks and mantles, were judged excellent good bedding by a hardy race, who, in war or the chase, were often well satisfied with a much worse night’s lair.

The attention of the Balese had even gone so far as to provide for Anne of Geierstein separate accommodation, more suitable to her use than that assigned to the men of the party. An apartment, which had probably been the buttery of the castle, entered from the hall, and had also a doorway leading out into a passage connected with the ruins; but this last had hastily, yet carefully, been built up with large hewn stones taken from the ruins; without mortar, indeed, or any other cement, but so well secured by their own weight, that an attempt to displace them must have alarmed not only any one who might be in the apartment itself, but also those who were in the hall adjacent, or indeed in any part, of the castle. In the small room thus carefully arranged and secured, there were two pallet-beds and a large fire, which blazed on the hearth, and gave warmth and comfort to the apartment. Even the means of devotion were not forgotten, a small crucifix of bronze being hung over a table, on which lay a breviary.

Those who first discovered this little place of retreat, came back loud in praise of the delicacy of the citizens of Bale, who, while preparing for the general accommodation of the strangers, had not failed to provide separately and peculiarly for that of their female companion.

Arnold Biederman felt the kindness of this conduct. “We should pity our friends of Bale, and not nourish resentment against them,” he said. “They have stretched their kindness towards us as far as their personal apprehensions permitted; and that is saying no small matter for them, my masters, for no passion is so unutterably selfish as that of fear. — Anne, my love, thou art fatigued. Go to the retreat provided for you and Lizette shall bring you from this abundant mass of provisions what will be fittest for your evening meal.”

So saying, he led his niece into the little bedroom, and, looking round with an air of complacency, wished her good repose; but there was something on the maiden’s brow which seemed to augur that her uncle’s wishes would not be fulfilled. From the moment she had left Switzerland, her looks had become clouded; her intercourse with those who approached her had grown more brief and rare; her whole appearance was marked with secret anxiety and sorrow. This did not escape her uncle, who naturally imputed it to the pain of parting from him, which was probably soon to take place, and to her regret at leaving the tranquil spot in which so many years of her youth had been spent.

But Anne of Geierstein had no sooner entered the apartment, than her whole frame trembled violently, and the color leaving her cheeks entirely, she sunk down on one of the pallets, where, resting her elbows on her knees, and pressing her hands on her forehead, she rather resembled a person borne down by mental distress, or oppressed by some severe illness, than one who, tired with a journey, was in haste to betake herself to needful rest. Arnold was not quick-sighted as to the man) sources of female passion. He saw that his niece suffered; but imputing it only to the causes already mentioned, augmented by the hysterical effects often produced by fatigue, he gently blamed her for having departed from her character of a Swiss maiden ere she was yet out of reach of a Swiss breeze of wind.

“Thou must not let the dames of Germany or Flanders think that our daughters have degenerated from their mothers; else must we fight the battles of Sempach and Laupen over again, to convince the Emperor, and this haughty Duke of Burgundy, that our men are of the same mettle with their forefathers. And as for our parting, I do not fear it. My brother in a Count of the Empire, indeed, and therefore he must needs satisfy himself that everything over which he possesses any title shall be at his command, and sends for thee to prove his right of doing so. But I know him well: He will no sooner be satisfied that he may command thy attendance at pleasure, than he will concern himself about thee no more. Thee? Alas! poor thing, in what couldst thou aid his courtly intrigues and ambitious plans? No, no — thou art not for the noble Court’s purpose, and must be content to trudge back to rule the dairy at Geierstein, and be the darling of thine old peasant-like uncle.”

“Would to God we were there even now!” said the maiden, in a tone of wretchedness which she strove in vain to conceal or suppress.

“That may hardly be till we have executed the purpose which brought us hither,” said the literal Landamman. “But lay thee on thy pallet, Anne — take a morsel of food and three drops of wine, and thou wilt wake to-morrow, as gay as on a Swiss holiday when the pipe sounds the reveille.”

Anne was now able to plead a severe headache, and declining all refreshment, which she declared herself incapable of tasting, she bade her uncle good-night. She then desired Lizette to get some food for herself, cautioning her, as she returned, to make as little noise as possible, and not to break her repose if she should have the good fortune to fall asleep. Arnold Biederman then kissed his niece, and returned to the hall, where his colleagues in office were impatient to commence an attack on the provisions which were in readiness; to which the escort of young men, diminished by the patrols and sentinels, were no less disposed than their seniors.

The signal of assault was given by the Deputy from Schwytz, the eldest of the party, pronouncing in patriarchal form a benediction over the meal. The travellers then commenced their operations with a vivacity which showed that the uncertainty whether they should get any food, and the delays which had occurred in arranging themselves in their quarters, had infinitely increased their appetites. Even the Landamman, whose moderation sometimes approached to abstinence, seemed that night in a more genial humor than ordinary. His friend of Schwytz, after his example ate drank and spoke more than usual; while the rest of the deputies pushed their meal to the verge of a carousal. The elder Philipson marked the scene with an attentive and anxious eye, confining his applications to the wine-cup to such pledges as the politeness of the times called upon him to reply to. His son had left the hall just as the banquet began, in the manner which we are now to relate.

Arthur had proposed to himself to join the youths who were to perform the duty of sentinels within, or patrols on the outside of their place of repose, and had indeed made some arrangement for that purpose with Sigismund, the third of the Landamman’s sons. But while about to steal a parting glance at Anne of Geierstein, before offering his service as he proposed, there appeared on her brow such a deep and solemn expression, as diverted his thoughts from every other subject excepting the anxious doubts as to what could possibly have given rise to such a change. The placid openness of brow; the eye which expressed conscious and fearless innocence; the lips which, seconded by a look as frank as her words, seemed ever ready to speak, in kindness and in confidence, that which the heart dictated, were for the moment entirely changed in character and expression, and in a degree and manner for which no ordinary cause could satisfactorily account. Fatigue might have banished the rose from the maiden’s beautiful complexion, and sickness or pain might have dimmed her eye and clouded her brow. But the look of deep dejection with which she fixed her eyes at times on the ground, and the startled and terrified glance which she cast around her at other intervals, must have had their use in some different source. Neither could illness or wearyiness explain the manner in which her lips were contracted or compressed together, like one who makes up her mind to act or behold something that is fearful, or account for the tremor which seemed at times to steal over her insensibly, though by a strong effort she was able at intervals to throw it off. For this change of expression there must be in the heart some deeply melancholy and afflicting cause. What could that cause be?

It is dangerous for youth to behold beauty in the pomp of all her charms, with every look bent upon conquest — more dangerous to see her in the hour of unaffected and unapprehensive ease and simplicity, yielding herself to the graceful whim of the moment, and as willing to be pleased as desirous of pleasing. There are minds which may be still more affected by gazing on beauty in sorrow, and feeling that pity, that desire of comforting the lovely mourner which the poet has described as so nearly akin to love. But to a spirit of that romantic and adventurous cast which the Middle Ages frequently produced, the sight of a young and amiable person evidently in a stale of terror and suffering, which had no visible cause, was perhaps still more impressive than beauty, in her pride, her tenderness, or her sorrow. Such sentiments, it must be remembered, were not confined to the highest ranks only, but might then be found in all classes of society which were raised above the mere peasant or artisan. Young Philipson gazed on Anne of Geierstein with such intense curiosity, mingled with pity and tenderness, that the bustling scene around him seemed to Vanish from his eyes, and leave no one in the noisy hall save himself and the object of his interest.

What could it be that so evidently oppressed and almost quailed a spirit so well balanced, and a courage so well tempered, when, being guarded by the swords of the bravest men perhaps to be found in Europe, and lodged in a place of strength, even the most timid of her sex might have found confidence? Surely, if an attack were to be made upon them, the clamor of a conflict in such circumstances could scarce be more terrific than the roar of those cataracts which he had seen her despise? At least, he thought, she ought to be aware that there is ONE, who is bound by friendship and gratitude to fight to the death in her defence. Would to heaven, he continued in the same reverie, it were possible to convey to her, without sign or the assurance of my unalterable resolution to protect her in the worst of perils! — As such thoughts streamed through his mind, Anne raised her eyes in one of those fits of deep feeling which seemed to overwhelm her; and, while she cast them around the hall, with a look of apprehension, as if she expected to see amid the well-known companions of her journey some strange and unwelcome apparition, they encountered the fixed and anxious gaze of young Philipson. They were instantly bent on the ground, while a deep blush showed how much she was conscions of having attracted his attention by her previous deportment.

Arthur, on his part, with equal consciousness, blushed as deeply as the maiden herself, and drew himself back from her observation. But when Anne rose up, and was escorted by the uncle to her bedchamber, in the manner we have already mentioned, it seemed to Philipson as if she had carried with her from the apartment the lights with which it was illuminated, and left it in the twilight melancholy of some funeral hall. His deep musings were pursuing the object which occupied them thus anxiously, when the manly voice of Donnerhugel spoke nose in his ear —

“What, comrade, has our journey to-day fatigued you so much that you go to sleep upon your feet?”

“Now Heaven forbid, Hauptman,” said the Englishman, starting from his reverie, and addressing Rudolph by his name (signifying Captain, or literally Head-man), which the youth of the expedition had by unanimous consent bestowed on him — “Heaven forbid I should sleep, if there be aught like action in the wind.”

“Where dost thou propose to be at cock-crow?” said the Swiss.

“Where duty shall call me, or your experience, noble Hauptman, shall appoint,” replied Arthur. — “But, with your leave, I purposed to take Sigismund’s guard on the bridge till midnight or morning dawn. He still feels the sprain which he received in his spring after yonder chamois, arid I persuaded him to take some uninterrupted rest, as the best mode of restoring his strength.”

“He will do well to keep his counsel, then,” again whispered Donnerhugel; “the old Landamman is not a man to make allowances for mishaps, when they interfere with duty. Those who are under his orders should have as few brains as a bull, as strong limbs as a bear, and be as impassible as lead or iron to all the casualties of life, and all the weaknesses of humanity.”

Arthur replied in the same tone:— “I have been the Landamman’s guest for some time, and have seen no specimens of any such rigid discipline.”

“You are a stranger,” said the Swiss, “and the old man has too much hospitality to lay you under the least restraint. You are a volunteer, too, in whatever share you choose to take in our sports or our military duty; and, therefore, when I ask you to walk abroad with me at the first cock-crowing, it is only in the event that such exercise shall entirely consist with your own pleasure.”

I consider myself as under your command for the time,” said Philipson; “but, not to bandy courtesy, at cock-crow I shall be relieved from my watch on the drawbridge, and will be by that time glad to exchange the post for a more extended walk.”

“Do you not choose more of this fatiguing, and probably unnecessary duty, than may befit your strength?” said Rudolph.

“I take no more than you do,” said Arthur, “as you propose not to take rest till morning.”

“True,” answered Donnerhugel, “but I am a Swiss.”

“And I,” answered Philipson, quickly, “am an English-man.”

“I did not mean what I said in the sense you take it,” said Rudolph, laughing; “I only meant, that I am more interested in this matter than you can be, who are a stranger to the cause in which we are personally engaged.”

“I am a stranger, no doubt,” replied Arthur: “but a stranger who has enjoyed your hospitality, and who therefore claims a right, while with you, to a share in your labors and dangers.”

“Be it so,” said Rudolph Donnerhugel. “I shall have finished my first rounds at the hour when the sentinels at the castle are relieved, and shall be ready to recommence them in your good company.”

“Content,” said the Englishman, “And now I will to my post, for I suspect Sigismund is blaming me already, as oblivious of my promise.”

They hastened together to the gate, where Sigismund willingly yielded up his weapon and his guard to young Philipson, confirming the idea sometimes entertained of him, that he was the most indolent and least spirited of the family of Geierstein. Rudolph could not suppress his displeasure.

“What would the Landamman say,” he demanded, “if he saw thee thus quietly yield up post and partisan to a stranger?”

“He would say I did well,” answered the young man, nothing daunted; “for he is forever reminding us to let the stranger have his own way in everything; and English Arthur stands on this bridge by his own wish, and no asking of mine. — Therefore, kind Arthur, since thou wilt barter warm straw and a sound sleep for frosty air and a clear moonlight, I make thee welcome with all my heart. Hear your duty: You are to stop all who enter, or attempt to enter, or till they give the password. If they are strangers, you must give alarm. But you will suffer such of our friends as are known to you to pass outwards, with out challenge or alarm, because the deputation may find occasion to send messengers abroad.”

“A murrain on thee, thou lazy losel!” said Rudolph — “Thou art the only sluggard of thy kyn.”

“Then am I the only wise man of them all,” said the youth. — “Hark ye, brave Hauptman, ye have supped this evening, — have ye not?”

“It is a point of wisdom, ye owl,” answered the Bernese, “not to go into the forest fasting.”

If it is wisdom to eat when we are hungry,” answered Sigismund, “there can be no folly in sleeping when we are weary.” So saying, and after a desperate yawn or two, the relieved sentinel halted off, giving full effect to the sprain of which he complained.

“Yet there is strength in those loitering limbs, and valor in that indolent and sluggish spirit,” said Rudolph to the Englishman. “But it is time that I, who censure others, should betake me to my own task. — Hither, comrades of the watch, hither.”

The Bernese accompanied these words with a whistle, which brought from within six young men, whom he had previously chosen for the duty, and who, after a hurried supper, now waited his summons. One or two of them had large blood-hounds all lyme-dogs, which, though usually employed in the pursuit of animals of chase, were also excellent for discovering ambuscades, in which duty their services were now to be employed. One ot these animals was held in a leash, by the person who, forming the advance of the party, went about twenty yards in front of them; a second was the property of Donnerhugel himself, who had the creature singularly under command. Three of his companions attended him closely, and the two others followed, one of whom bore a horn of the Bernese wild bull, by way of bugle. This little party crossed the moat by the temporary bridge, and moved on to the verge of the forest, which lay adjacent to the castle, and the skirts of which were most likely to conceal any ambuscade that could be apprehended. The moon was now up, and near the full, so that Arthur, from the elevation on which the castle stood, could trace their slow, cautious march, amid the broad silver light, until they were lost in the depths of the forest.

When this object had ceased to occupy his eyes, the thoughts of his lonely watch again returned to Anne of Geierstein, and to the singular expression of distress and apprehension which had that evening clouded her beautiful features. Then the flush which had chased, for the moment, paleness and terror from her countenance, at the instant his eyes encountered hers was it anger — was it modesty — was it some softer feeling, more gentle than the one, more tender than the other? Young Philipson, who, like Chaucer’s Squire, was “as modest as a maid,” almost trembled to give to that look the favorable interpretation, which a more self-satisfied gallant would have applied to it without scruple. No hue of rising or setting day was ever so lovely in the eyes of the young man, as that blush was in his recollection; nor did ever enthusiastic visionary, or poetical dreamer, find out so many fanciful forms in the clouds, as Arthur divined various interpretations from the indications of interest which had passed over the beautiful countenance of the Swiss maiden.

In the mean time, the thought suddenly burst on his reverie, that it could little concern him what was the cause of the perturbation she had exhibited. They had met at no distant period for the first time, — they must soon part forever. She could be nothing more to him than the remembrance of a beautiful vision, and he could have no other part in her memory save as a stranger from a foreign land, who had been a sojourner for a season in her uncle’s house, but whom she could never expect to see again. When this idea intruded on the train of romantic visions which agitated him, it was like the sharp stroke of the harpoon, which awakens the whale from slumbering torpidity into violent action. The gateway in which the young soldier kept his watch seemed suddenly too narrow for him. He rushed across the temporary bridge, and hastily traversed a short space of ground in front of the tete-du-pont or defensive work, on which its outer extremity rested.

Here for a time he paced the narrow extent to which he was confined by his duty as a sentinel, with long and rapid strides, as if he had been engaged by vow to take the greatest possible quantity of exercise upon that limited space of ground. His exertions, however, produced the effect of in some degree composing his mind, recalling him to himself, and reminding him of the numerous reasons which prohibited his fixing his attention, much more his affections, upon this young person, however fascinating she was.

I have surely, he thought, as he slackened his pace, and shouldered his heavy partisan, sense enough left to recollect my condition and my duties — to think of my father, to whom I am all in all — and to think also on the dishonor which must accrue to me, were I capable of winning the affections of a frank-hearted and confiding girl, to whom I could never do justice by dedicating my life to return them. “No,” he said to himself; “she will soon forget me, and I will study to remember her no otherwise than I would a pleasing dream, which hath for a moment crossed a night of perils and dangers, such as my life seems doomed to be.”

As he spoke, he stopped short in his walk, and as he rested on his weapon, a tear rose unbidden to his eye, and stole down his cheek without being wiped away. But he combated this gentler mood of passion as he had formerly battled with that which was of a wilder and more desperate character. Shaking off the dejection and sinking of spirit which he felt creeping upon him, he resumed, at the same time, the air and attitude of an attentive sentinel, and recalled his mind to the duties of his watch, which in the tumult of his feelings, he had almost forgotten. But what was his astonishment, when, as he looked out on the clear landscape, there passed from the bridge towards the forest, crossing him in the broad moonlight, the living and moving likeness of Anne of Geierstein!

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