We know not when we sleep nor when we wake.
Visions distinct and perfect cross our eye,
Which to the slumberer seem realities;
And while they waked, some men have seen such sights
As set at nought the evidence of sense,
And left them well persuaded they were dreaming. —
The apparition of Anne of Geierstein crossed her lover — her admirer, at least, we must call him — within shorter time than we can tell the story. But it was distinct, perfect and undoubted. In the very instant when the young Englishman, shaking off his fond despondency, raised his head to look out upon the scene of his watch, she came from the nearer end of the bridge, crossing the path of the sentinel, upon whom she did not even cast a look, and passed with a rapid but steady pace towards the verge of the woodland.
It would have been natural, though Arthur had been directed not to challenge persons who left the castle, but only such as might approach it, that he should nevertheless, had it only been in mere civility, have held some communication, how ever slight, with the maiden as she crossed his post. But the suddenness of her appearance took from him for the instant both speech and motion. It seemed as if his own imagination bad raised up a phantom, presenting to his outward senses the form and features which engrossed his mind; and he was silent, partly at least from the idea, that what he gazed upon was immaterial, and not of this world.
It would have been no less natural that Anne of Geierstein should have in some manner acknowledged the person who had spent a considerable time under the same roof with her, had been often her partner in the dance, and her companion in the field; but she did not evince the slightest token of recognition, nor even look towards him as she passed; her eye was on the wood, to which she advanced swiftly and steadily, and she was bidden by its boughs ere Arthur had recollected himself sufficiently to determine what to do.
His first feeling was anger at himself for suffering her to pass unquestioned, when it might well chance, that upon any errand which called her forth at so extraordinary a time and place, he might have been enabled to afford her assistance, of at least advice. This sentiment was for a short time so predominant, that he ran towards the place where he had seen the skirt of her dress disappear, and whispering her name as loud as the fear of alarming the castle permitted, conjured her to return, and hear him but for a few brief moments. No answer, however, was returned; and when the branches of the trees began to darken over his head and to intercept the moonlight, he recollected that he was leaving his post, and exposing his fellow-travellers, who were trusting in his vigilance, to the danger of surprise.
He hastened, therefore, back to the castle gate, with matter for deeper and more inextricable doubt and anxiety, than had occupied him during the commencement of his watch. He asked himself in vain, with what purpose that modest young maiden, whose manners were frank, but whose conduct had always seemed so delicate and reserved, could sally forth at midnight like a damsel-errant in romance, when she was in a strange country and suspicious neighborhood; yet he rejected, as he would have shrunk from blasphemy, any interpretation which could have thrown censure upon Anne of Geierstein. No, nothing was she capable of doing for which a friend could have to blush. But connecting her previous agitation with the extraordinary fact of her leaving the castle, alone and defenceless, at such an hour, Arthur necessarily concluded it must argue some cogent reason, and, as was most likely, of an unpleasant nature. — “I will watch her return,” he internally uttered, “and, if she will give me an opportunity, I will convey to her the assurance that there is one faithful bosom in her neighborhood, which is bound in honor and gratitude to pour out every drop of its blood, if by doing so it can protect her from the slightest inconvenience. This is no silly flight of romance, for which common sense has a right to reproach me, it is only what I ought to do, what I must do, or forego every claim to be termed a man of honesty or honor.”
Yet scarce did the young man think himself anchored on a resolution which seemed unobjectionable, than his thoughts were again adrift. He reflected that Anne might have a desire to visit the neighboring town of Bale, to which she had been invited the day before, and where her uncle had friends. It was indeed an uncommon hour to select for such a purpose; but Arthur was aware that the Swiss maidens feared neither solitary walks nor late hours, and that Anne would have walked among her own hills by moonlight much farther than the distance betwixt their place of encampment and Bale, to see a sick friend, or for any similar purpose. To press himself on her confidence, then, might be impertinence, not kindness, and as she had passed him without taking the slightest notice of his presence, it was evident she did not mean voluntarily to make him her confidant; and probably she was involved in no difficulties where his aid could be useful. In that case, the duty of a gentleman was to permit her to return as she had gone forth, unnoticed and unquestioned, leaving it with herself to hold communication with him or not as she should choose.
Another idea, belonging to the age, also passed through his mind, though it made no strong impression upon it. This form, so perfectly resembling Anne of Geierstein, might be a deception of the sight, or it might be one of those fantastic apparitions, concerning which there were so many tales told in all countries, and of which Switzerland and Germany had, as Arthur well knew, their full share. The internal and undefinable feelings which restrained him from accosting the maiden, as might have been natural for him to have done, are easily explained, on the supposition that his mortal frame shrunk from an encounter with a being of a different nature. There had also been some expressions of the magistrate of Bale, which might apply to the castle’s being liable to be haunted by beings from another world. But though the general belief in such ghostly apparitions prevented the Englishman from being positively incredulous on the subject, yet the instructions of his father, a man of great intrepidity and distinguished good sense, had taught him to be extremely unwilling to refer anything to supernatural interferences, which was capable of explanation by ordinary rules; and he therefore shook off, without difficulty, any feeling of superstitious fear, which for an instant connected itself with his nocturnal adventure. He resolved finally to suppress all disquieting conjecture on the subject, and to await firmly, if not patiently, the return of the fair vision, which, if it should not fully explain the mystery, seemed at least to afford the only chance of throwing light upon it.
Fixed, therefore, in purpose, he traversed the walk which his duty permitted, with his eyes fixed on the part of the forest where he had seen the beloved form disappear, and forgetful for the moment that his watch had any other purpose than to observe her return. But from this abstraction of mind he was roused by a distant sound in the forest, which seemed the clash of armor. Recalled at once to a sense of his duty, and its importance to his father and his fellow-travellers, Arthur planted himself on the temporary bridge, where a stand could best be made, and turned both eyes and ears to watch for approaching danger. The sound of arms arid footsteps came nearer - spears and helmets advanced from the greenwood glade, and twinkled in the moonlight. But the stately form of Rudolph Donnerhugel, marching in front, was easily recognized, and announced to our sentinel the return of the patrol. Upon their approach to the bridge, the challenge, and interchange of sign and countersign, which is usual on such occasions, took place in due form; and as Rudolph’s party filed off one after another into the castle, he commanded them to wake their companions, with whom he intended to renew the patrol, and at the same time to send a relief to Arthur Philipson, whose watch on the bridge was now ended. This last fact was confirmed by the deep and distant toll of the Minster clock from the town of Bale, which, prolonging its sullen sound over field and forest, announced that midnight was past.
“And now, comrade,” continued Rudolph to the Englishman, “have the cold air and long watch determined thee to retire to food and rest, or dost thou still hold the intention of partaking our rounds?”
In very truth, it would have been Arthur’s choice to have remained in the place where he was, for the purpose of watching Anne of Geierstein’s return from her mysterious excursion. He could not easily have found an excuse for this, however, and he was unwilling to give the haughty Donnerhugel the least suspicion that he was inferior in hardihood, or in the power of enduring fatigue, to any of the tall mountaineers, whose companion he chanced to be for the present. He did not, therefore, indulge even a moment’s hesitation; but while he restored the borrowed partisan to the sluggish Sigismund, who came from the castle yawning and stretching himself like one whose slumbers had been broken by no welcome summons, when they were deepest and sweetest, he acquainted Rudolph that he retained his purpose of partaking in his reconnoitring duty. They were speedily joined by the rest of the patrolling party, amongst whom was Rudiger, the eldest son of the Landamman of Unterwalden; and when, led by the Bernese champion, they had reached the skirts of the forest, Rudolph commanded three of them to attend Rudiger Biederman.
“Thou wilt make thy round to the left side,” said the Bernese; “I will draw off to the night — see thou keepest a good look out, and we will meet merrily at the place appointed take one of the hounds with you. I will keep Wolf-fanger, who will open on a Burgundian as ready as on a bear.”
Rudiger moved off with his party to the left, according to the directions received; and Rudolph, having sent forward one of his number in front, and stationed another in the rear, commanded the third to follow himself and Arthur Philipson, who thus constituted the main body of the patrol. Having intimated to their immediate attendant to keep at such distance as to allow them freedom of conversation, Rudolph addressed the Englishman with the familiarity which their recent friendship had created. — “And now, King Arthur, what thinks the Majesty of England of our Helvetian youth? Could they win guerdon in the tourney, thinkest thou, noble prince? Or would they rank but amongst the coward knights of Comouailles?” 6
“For tilt and tourney I cannot answer,” said Arthur, summoning up his spirits to reply, “because I never beheld one of you mounted on a steed, or having spear in rest. But if strong limbs and stout hearts are to be considered, I would match you Swiss gallants with those of any country in the universe, where manhood is to be looked for, whether it be in heart or hand.”
“Thou speakest us fair; and, young Englishman,” said Rudolph, “know that we think as highly of thee, of which I will presently afford thee a proof. Thou talkedst but now of horses. I know but little of them; yet I judge thou wouldst not buy a steed which thou hadst only seen covered with trappings, or encumbered with saddle and bridle, but woulds, desire to look at him when stripped and in his natural state of freedom?”
“Ay, marry would I,” said Arthur. “Thou has spoken on that as if thou hadst been born in a district called Yorkshire, which men call the merriest part of merry England.”
“Then I tell thee,” said Rudolph Donnerhugel, “that thou hast seen our Swiss youth but half, since thou hast observed them as yet only in their submissive attendance upon the orders of their cantons, or, at most, in their mountain sports, Which, though they may show men’s outward strength and activity, can throw no light on the spirit and disposition by which that strength and activity are to be guided and directed in matters of high enterprise.”
The Swiss probably designed that these remarks should excite the curiosity of the stranger. But the Englishman had the image, look, and form of Anne of Geierstein, as she had passed him in the silent hours of his watch, too constantly before him, to enter willingly upon a subject of conversation totally foreign to what agitated his mind. He, therefore, only compelled himself to reply in civility, that he had no doubt his esteem for the Swiss, both aged and young, would increase in proportion with his more intimate knowledge of the nation.
He was then silent; and Donnerhugel, disappointed, perbaps, at having failed to excite his curiosity, walked also in silence by his side. Arthur, meanwhile; was considering with himself whether he should mention to his companion the circumstance which occupied his own mind, in the hope that the kinsman of Anne of Geierstein, and ancient friend of her house, might be able to throw some light on the subject.
But he felt within his mind an insurmountable objection to converse with the Swiss on a subject in which Anne was concerned. That Rudolph made pretensions to her favor could hardly be doubted; and though Arthur, had the question been put to him, must in common consistency have resigned all competition on this subject, still he could not bear to think on the possibility of his rival’s success, and would not willingly have endured to hear him pronounce her name.
Perhaps it was owing to this secret irritability that Arthur, though he made every effort to conceal and to overcome the sensation, still felt a secret dislike to Rudolph Donnerhugel, whose frank, but somewhat coarse familiarity, was mingled with a certain air of protection and patronage, which the Englishman thought was by no means called for. He met the openness of the Bernese, indeed, with equal frankness, but he was ever and anon tempted to reject or repel the tone of superiority by which it was accompanied. The circumstances of their duel had given the Swiss no ground for such triumph; nor did Arthur feel himself included in that roll of the Swiss youth, over whom Rudolph exercised domination, by general consent. So little did Philipson relish this affectation of superiority, that the poor jest, that termed him King Arthur, although quite indifferent to him when applied by any of the Biedermans, was rather offensive when Rudolph took the same liberty; so that he often found himself in the awkward condition of one who is internally irritated, without having any outward manner of testifying it with propriety. Undoubtedly, the root of all this tacit dislike to the young Bernese was a feeling of rivalry; but it was a feeling which Arthur dared not avow even to himself. It was sufficiently powerful, however, to suppress the slight inclination he had felt to speak with Rudolph on the passage of the night which had most interested him; and as the topic of conversation introduced by his companion had been suffered to drop, they walked on side by side in silence, “with the beard on the shoulder,” as the Spaniard says — looking round, that is, on all hands; and thus performing the duty of a vigilant watch.
At length, after they had walked nearly a mile through forest and field, making a circuit around the ruins of Graffs-lust, of such an extent as to leave no room for an ambush betwixt them and the place, the old hound, led by the vidette who was foremost, stopped, and uttered a low growl.
How now, Wolf-fanger?” said Rudolph, advancing. — “What, old fellow dost thou not know friends from foes? Come, what sayest thou, on better thoughts? — Thou must not lose character in thy old age — try it again.”
The dog raised his head, snuffed the air all around, as if he understood what his master had said, then shook his head and tail, as if answering to his voice.
“Why, there it is now,” said Donnerhugel, patting the animal’s shaggy back; “second thoughts are worth gold; thou seest it is a friend after all.”
The dog again shook his tail, and moved forward with the same unconcern as before —; Rudolph fell back into his place, and his companion said to him — We are about to meet Rudiger and our companions, I suppose, and the dog hears their footsteps, though we cannot.”
“It can scarcely yet be Rudiger,” said the Beniese; “his walk around the castle is of a wider circumference than ours. Some one approaches, however, for Wolf-fanger is again disatisfied — Look sharply out on all sides.”
As Rudolph gave his party the word to be on the alert, they reached an open glade, in which were scattered, at considerable distance from each other, some old pine-trees of gigantic size, which seemed yet huger and blacker than ordinary, from their broad sable tops and shattered branches being displayed against the clear and white moonlight.
“We shall here at least,” said the Swiss, “have the advantage of seeing clearly whatever approaches. But I judge,” said he, after looking around for a minute, it is but some wolf or deer that has crossed our path, and the scent disturbs the hound. —— Hold — stop — yes it must be so; he goes on.”
The dog accordingly proceeded, after having given some signs of doubt, uncertainty, and even anxiety. Apparently, however, he became reconciled to what had disturbed him, and proceeded once more in the ordinary manner.
“This is singular!” said Arthur Philipson; “and, to my thinking, I saw an object close by yonder patch of thicket, where, as well as I can guess, a few thorn and hazel blushes surround the stems of four or five large trees.”
“My eye has been on that very thicket for these five minutes past, and I saw nothing,” said Rudolph.
“Nay, but,” answered the young Englishman, “I saw the object, whatever it was, while you were engaged in attending to the dog. And, by your permission, I will forward and examine the spot —”
“Were you, strictly speaking, under my command,” said Donnerhugel, “I would command you to keep your place. If they be foes, it is essential that we should remain together. But you are a volunteer in our watch, and therefore may use your freedom.”
“I thank you,” answered Arthur, and sprang quickly forward.
He felt, indeed, at the moment, that he was not acting courteously as an individual, nor perhaps correctly as a soldier and that he ought to have rendered obedience, for the time, to the captain of the party in which he had enlisted himself. But, on the other hand, the object which he had seen, though at a distance and imperfectly, seemed to bear a resemblance to the retiring form of Anne of Geierstein, as she had vanished from his eyes, on hour or two before, under the cover of the forest; and his ungovernable curiosity to ascertain whether it might not be the maiden in person, allowed him to listen to no other consideration.
Ere Rudolph had spoken out his few words of reply, Arthur was half-way to the thicket. It was as it had seemed at a distance, of small extent, and not fitted to hide any person who did not actually couch down amongst the dwarf bushes and underwood. Anything white, also, which bore the human size and form, must, he thought, have been discovered among the dark red stems and swarthy colored bushes which were before him. These observations were mingled with other thoughts. If it was Anne of Geierstein whom he had a second time seen, she must have left the more open path, desirous probably of avoiding notice; and what right or title had he to direct upon her the observation of the patrol? He had, he thought, observed, that in general the maiden rather repelled than encouraged the attentions of Rudolph Donnerhugel; or, where it would have been discourteous to have rejected them entirely, that she endured without encouraging them. What, then, could be the propriety of his intruding upon her private walk, singular, indeed, from time and place, but which, on that account, she might be more desirous to keep secret from the observation of one who was disagreeable to her? Nay, was it not possible that Rudolph might derive advantage to his otherwise unacceptable suit, by possessing the knowledge of something which the maiden desired to be concealed?
As these thoughts pressed upon him, Arthur made a pause, with his eyes fixed on the thicket, from which he was now scarce thirty yards distant; and although scrutinizing it with all the keen accuracy with his uncertainty and anxiety dictated, he was actuated by a strong feeling that it would be wisest to turn back to his companions, and report to Rudolph that his eyes had deceived him.
But while he was yet undecided whether to advance or return, the object which he had seen became again visible on the verge of the thicket, and advanced straight towards him, bearing as on the former occasion, the exact dress and figure of Anne of Geierstein! This vision — for the time, place, and suddenness of the appearance, made it seem rather an illusion than a reality — struck Arthur with surprise which mounted to terror The figure passed within a spear’s length, unchallenged by him, and giving not the slightest sign of recognition; and, directing its course to the right hand of Rudolph, and the two or three who were with him, was again lost among the broken ground and bushes.
Once more the young man was reduced to a state of the most inextricable doubt; nor was he roused from the stupor into which he was thrown, till the voice of the Bernese sounded in his ear, —
“Why, how now, King Arthur — art thou asleep, or art thou wounded?”
“Neither,” said Philipson, collecting himself; “only much surprised.”
“Surprised? and at what, most royal — ”
“Forbear foolery,” said Arthur, somewhat sternly, “and answer as thou art a man — Did she not meet thee? — didst thou not see her?”
“See her! — see whom?” said Donnerhugel. “I saw no one. And I could have sworn you had seen no one either, for I had you in my eye the whole time of your absence, excepting two or three moments. If you saw aught, why gave you not the alarm?”
“Because it was only a woman,” answered Arthur faintly.
“Only a woman!” repeated Rudolph, in a tone of contempt. “By my honest word, King Arthur, if I had not seen pretty flashes of valor fly from thee at times, I should be apt to think that thou hadst only a woman’s courage thyself. Strange, that a shadow by night, or a precipice in the day, should quell so bold a spirit as thou hast often shown — ”
“And as I will ever show, when occasion demands it,” interrupted the Englishman, with recovered spirit. “But I swear to you, that if I be now daunted, it is by no merely earthly fears that my mind hath been for a moment subdued,”
“Let us proceed on our walk,” said Rudolph; “we must not neglect the safety of our friends. This appearance, of which thou speakest, may be but a trick to interrupt our duty.”
They moved on through the moonlight glades. A minute’s reflection restored young Philipson to his full recollection, and with that to the painful consciousness that he had played a ridiculous and unworthy part in the presence of the person, whom (of the male sex, at least) he would the very last have chosen as a witness of his weakness.
He ran hastily over the relations which stood betwixt himself, Donnerhugel, the Landamman, his niece, and the rest of that family; and, contrary to the opinion which he had entertained but a short while before, settled in his own mind that it was his duty to mention to the immediate leader under whom he had placed himself, the appearance which he had twice observed in the course of that night’s duty. There might be family circumstances, — the payment of a vow, perhaps, or some such reason, — which might render intelligible to her connections the behavior of this young lady. Besides, he was for the present a soldier on duty, and these mysteries might be fraught with evils to be anticipated or guarded against; in either case, his companions were entitled to be made aware or what he had seen. It must be supposed that this resolution was adopted when the sense of duty, and of shame for the weakness which he had exhibited, had for the moment subdued Arthur’s personal feelings towards Anne of Geierstein, — feelings, also, liable to be chilled by the mysterious uncertainty which the events of that evening had cast, like a thick mist, around the object of them.
While the Englishman’s reflections were taking this turn, his captain or companion, after a silence of several minutes, at length addressed him.
“I believe,” he said, “my dear comrade, that, as being at present your officer, I have some title to hear from you the report of what you have just now seen, since it must be something of importance which could so strongly agitate a mind so firm yours. But if, in your own opinion it consists with the general safety to delay your report of what you have seen until we return to the castle, and then to deliver it to the private ear of the Landamman, you have only to intimate your purpose; and, far from urging you to place confidence in me personally, though I hope I am not undeserving of it, I will authorize your leaving us, and returning instantly to the castle.”
This proposal touched him to whom it was made exactly in the right place. An absolute demand of his confidence might perhaps have been declined; the tone of moderate request and conciliation fell presently in with the Englishman’s own reflections.
“I am sensible,” he said, “Hauptman, that I ought to mention to you that which I have seen to-night; but on the first occasion, it did not fall within my duty to do so; and, now that I have a second time, witnessed the same appearance, I have felt for these few seconds so much surprised at what I have seen, that even yet I can scarce find words to express it.”
“As I cannot guess what you may have to say,” replied the Bernese, “I must beseech you to be explicit. We are but poor readers of riddles, we thick-headed Switzers.”
“Yet it is but a riddle which I have to place before you Rudolph Donnerhugel,” answered the Englishman, “and a riddle which is far beyond my own guessing at.” He then proceeded, though not without hesitation, “While you were performing your first patrol amongst the ruins, a female crossed the bridge from within the castle, walked by my post without saying a single word, and vanished under the shadows of the forest.”
“Ha!” exclaimed Donnerhugel, and made no farther answer.
Arthur proceeded. “Within these five minutes, the same female form passed me a second time, issuing from the little thicket and clump of firs, and disappeared without exchanging a word. Know, farther, this apparition bore the form, face, gait, and dress of your kinswoman, Anne of Geierstein.”
“Singular enough,” said Rudolph, in a tone of incredulity. “I must not, I suppose, dispute your word, for you would receive doubt on my part as a mortal injury - such is your northern chivalry. Yet, let me say, I have eyes as well as you, and I scarce think they quitted you for a minute. We were not fifty yards from the place where I found you standing in amazement. How, therefore, should not we also have seen that which you say and think you saw?”
“To that I can give no answer,” said Arthur. “Perhaps your eyes were not exactly turned upon me during the short space in which I saw this form — Perhaps it might be visible — as they say fantastic appearances sometimes are — to only one person at a time.”
“You suppose, then, that the appearance was imaginary, or fantastic?” said the Bernese.
“Can I tell you?” replied the Englishman. “The Church gives its warrant that there are such things; and surely it is more natural to believe this apparition to be an illusion, than to suppose that Anne of Geierstein, a gentle and well nurtured maiden, should be traversing the woods at this wild hour, when safety and propriety so strongly recommend her being within doors.”
“There is much in what you say,” said Rudolph; “and yet there are stories afloat, though few care to mention them, which seem to allege that Anne of Geierstein is not altogether such as other maidens; and that she has been met with, in body and spirit, where she could hardly have come by her own unassisted efforts.”
“Ha!” said Arthur; “so young, so beautiful, and already in league with the destroyer of mankind? It is impossible.”
“I said not so,” replied the Bernese; “nor have I leisure at present to explain my meaning more fully. As we return to the Castle of Graffs-lust, I may have an opportunity to tell you more. But I chiefly brought you on this patrol to introduce you to some friends, whom you will be pleased to know, and who desire your acquaintance; and it is here I expect to meet them,”
So saying, he turned round the projecting corner of a rock, and an unexpected scene was presented to the eyes of the young Englishman.
In a sort of nook or corner, screened by the rocky projection, there burned a large fire of wood, and around it sat, reclined, or lay, twelve or fifteen young men in the Swiss garb, but decorated with ornaments and embroidery, which reflected back the light of the fire. The same red gleam was returned by silver wine-cups, which circulated from hand to hand with the flasks which filled them. Arthur could also observe relics of a banquet, to which due honor seemed to have been lately rendered.
The revellers started joyfully up at the sight of Donnerhugel and his companions, and saluted him, easily distinguished as he was by his stature, by the title of Captain, warmly and exultingly uttered, while, at the same time, every tendency to noisy acclamation was cautiously suppressed. The zeal indicated that Rudolph came most welcome — the caution that he came in secret, and he was to be received with mystery.
To the general greeting he answered, — “I thank you, my brave comrades. Has Rudiger yet reached you?”
“Thou seest he has not,” said one of the party; “had it been so, we would have detained him here till your coming, brave Captain.”
“He has loitered on his patrol,” said the Bernese. “We too were delayed, yet we are here before him. I bring with me, comrades, the brave Englishman, whom I mentioned to you as a desirable associate in our daring purpose.”
“He is welcome, most welcome to us,” said a young man, whose richly embroidered dress of azure blue gave him an air of authority; “most welcome is he, if he brings with him a heart and a hand to serve our noble task.”
“For both I will be responsible,” said Rudolph. “Pass the wine-cup, then, to the success of our glorious enterprise, and the health of this our new associate!”
While they were replenishing the cups with wine of a quality far superior to any which Arthur had yet tasted in these regions, he thought it right, before engaging himself in the pledge, to learn the secret object of the association which seemed desirous of adopting him.
“Before I engage my poor services to you, fair sirs, since it pleases you to desire them, permit me,” he said, “to ask the purpose and character of the undertaking in which they are to be employed.”
“Shouldst thou have brought him hither,” said the cavalier in blue to Rudolph, “without satisfying him and thyself on that point?”
“Care not thou about it, Lawrenz,” replied the Bernese; “I know my man — Be it known, then, to you, my good friend,” he continued, addressing the Englishman, “that my comrades and I are determined at once to declare the freedom of the Swiss commerce, and to resist to the death, if it be necessary, all unlawful and extortionate demands on the part of our neighbors.”
“I understand so much,” said the young Englishman, ‘ and that the present deputation proceeds to the Duke of Burgundy with remonstrances to that effect.”
“Hear me,” replied Rudolph. “The question is like to be brought to a bloody determination long ere we see the Duke of Burgundy’s most august and most gracious countenance. That his influence should be used to exclude us from Bale, a neutral town, and pertaining to the empire, gives us cause to expect the worst reception when we enter his own dominions. We have even reason to think that we might have suffered from his hatred already, but for the vigilance of the ward which we have kept. Horsemen, from the direction of La Ferette, have this night reconnoitred our posts; and had they not found us prepared, we had, without question, been attacked in our quarters. But since we have escaped to-night, we must take care for to-morrow. For this purpose, a number of the bravest youth of the city of Bale, incensed at the pusillanimity of their magistrates, are determined to join us, in order to wipe away the disgrace which the cowardly inhospitality of their magistracy has brought on their native place.”
“That we will do ere the sun, that will rise two hours hence, shall sink into the western sky,” said the cavalier in blue; and those around joined him in the stern assent.
“Gentle sirs,” replied Arthur, when there was a pause, “let me remind you, that the embassy which you attend is a peaceful one, and that those who act as its escort ought to avoid anything which can augment the differences which it comes to reconcile. You cannot expect to receive offence in the Duke’s dominions, the privileges of envoys being respected in all civilized countries; and you will, I am sure, desire to offer none.”
“We may be subjected to insult, however,” replied the Bernese — “and that through your concerns, Arthur Philipson and those of thy father.”
“I understand you not,” replied Philipson.
“Your father,” answered Donnerhugel, “is a merchant, and bears with him wares of small bulk but high value?”
“He does so,” answered Arthur; “and what of that?”
“Marry,” answered Rudolph, “that if it be not better looked to, the Bandog of Burgundy is like to fall heir to a large proportion of your silks, satins, and jewellery work.”
“Silks, satins, and jewels!” exclaimed another of the revellers; ” such wares will not pass toll-free where Archibald of Hagenbach hath authority.”
“Fair sirs,” resumed Arthur, after a moment’s consideration, “these wares are my father’s property, not mine; and it is for him, not me, to pronounce how much of them he might be content to part with in the way of toll, rather than give occasion to a fray, in which his companions, who have received him into their society, must be exposed to injury as well as himself I can only say, that he has weighty affairs at the court of Burgundy, which must render him desirous of reaching it in peace with all men; and it is my private belief that, rather than incur the loss and danger of a broil with the garrison of La Ferette, he would be contented to sacrifice all the property which he has at present with him. Therefore, I must request of you, gentlemen, a space to consult his pleasure on this occasion; assuring you, that if it be his will to resist the payment of these duties to Burgundy, you shall find in me one who is fully determined to fight to the last drop of his blood.”
“Good King Arthur,” said Rudolph; “thou art a dutiful observer of the Fifth Commandment, and thy days shall be long in the land. Do not suppose us neglectful of the same duty, although, for the present, we conceive ourselves bound, in the first place, to attend to the weal of our country, the common parent of our fathers and ourselves. But as you know our profound respect for the Landamman, you need not fear that we shall willingly offer him offence, by rashly engaging in hostilities, or without some weighty reason; and an attempt to plunder his guest would have been met, on his part, with resistance to the death. I had hoped to find both you and your father prompt enough to resent such a gross injury. Nevertheless, if your father inclines to present his fleece to be shorn by Archibald of Hagenbach, whose scissors, he will find, clip pretty closely, it would be unnecessary and uncivil in us to interpose. Meantime, you have the advantage of knowing, that in case the Governor of La Ferette should be disposed to strip you of skin as well as fleece, there are more men close at hand than you looked for, whom you will find both able and willing to render you prompt assistance.”
“On these terms,” said the Englishman, “I make my acknowledgments to these gentlemen of Bale, or whatever other country hath sent them forth, and pledge them in a brotherly cup to our farther and more intimate acquaintance.”
“Health and prosperity to the United Cantons, and their friends!” answered the Blue Cavalier. “And death and confusion to all besides.”
The cups were replenished; and instead of a shout of applause, the young men around testified their devoted determination to the cause which was thus announced, by grasping each other’s hands, and then brandishing their weapons with a fierce yet noiseless gesture.
“Thus,” said Rudolph Donnerhugel, “our illustrious ancestors, the fathers of Swiss independence, met in the immortal field of Ruth, between Uri and Unterwalden. Thus they swore to each other, under the blue firmament of heaven, that they would restore the liberty of their oppressed country; and history can tell how well they kept their word.”
“And she shall record,” said the Blue Cavalier, “how well the present Switzers can preserve the freedom which their fathers won. — Proceed in your rounds, good Rudolph, and be assured, that at the signal of the Hauptman, the soldiers will not be far absent; — all is arranged as formerly, unless you have new orders to give us.”
“Hark thee hither, Lawrenz,” said Rudolph to the Blue Cavalier, — and Arthur could hear him say, — “Beware, my friend, that the Rhine wine be not abused; — if there is too much provision of it, manage to destroy the flasks; — a mule may stumble, thou knowest, or so. Give not way to Rudiger in this. He is grown a wine-bibber since he joined us. We must bring both heart and hand to what may be done tomorrow.” — They then whispered so low that Arthur could hear nothing of their farther conference, and bid each other adieu, after clasping hands, as if they were renewing some solemn pledge of union.
Rudolph and his party then moved forward, and were scarce out of sight of their new associates, when the vidette, or foremost of their patrol, gave the signal of alarm. Arthur’s heart leaped to his lips — “It is Anne of Geierstein!” he said, internally.
The dogs are silent,” said the Bernese. “Those who approach must be the companions of our watch.”
They proved, accordingly, to be Rudiger and his party, who halting on the appearance of their comrades, made and under went a formal challenge; such advance had the Swiss already made in military discipline, which was but little and rudely studied by the infantry in other parts of Europe. Arthur could hear Rudolph take his friend Rudiger to task for not meeting him at the halting-place appointed. “It leads to new revelry on your arrival.” he said, “and to-morrow must find us cool and determined.”
“Cool as an icicle, noble Hauptman,” answered the son of the Landamman, “and determined as the rock it hangs upon.”
Rudolph again recommended temperance, and the young Biederman promised compliance. The two parties passed each other with friendly though silent greeting; and there was soon a considerable distance between them.
The country was more open on the side of the castle, a round which their duty now led them, than where it lay opposite to the principal gate. The glades were broad, the trees thinly scattered over pasture land, and there were no thickets, ravines, or similar places of ambush, so that the eye might, in the clear moonlight, well command the country.
“Here,” said Rudolph, “we may judge ourselves secure enough for some conference; and therefore may I ask thee, Arthur of England, now that thou hast seen us more closely, what thinkest thou of the Switzer youth? If thou hast learned less than I could have wished, thank thine own uncommunicative temper, which retired in some degree from our confidence.”
“ Only in so far as I could not have answered, and therefore ought not to have received it,” said Arthur. “The judgment I have been enabled to form amounts, in few words, to this: Your purposes are lofty and noble as your mountains; but the stranger from the low country is not accustomed to tread the circuitous path by which you ascend them. My foot has been always accustomed to more straight forward upon the green sward.”
“You speak in riddles,” answered the Bernese.
“Not so,” returned the Englishman. “I think you ought plainly to mention to your seniors (the nominal leaders of young men who seem well disposed to take their own road) that you expect an attack in the neighborhood of La Ferette, and hope for assistance from some of the townsmen of Bale.”
“Ay, truly,” answered Donnerhugel; “and the Landamman would stop his journey till he despatched a messenger for: a safe-conduct to the Duke of Burgundy; and should he grant it, there were an end of all hope of war.”
“True,” replied Arthur; “but the Landamman would thereby obtain his own principal object, and the sole purpose of the mission — that is, the establishment of peace.”
“Peace — peace?,” answered the Bernese, hastily. “Were my wishes alone to be opposed to those of Arnold Biederman, I know so much of his honor and faith, I respect so highly his valor and patriotism, that at his voice I would sheathe my sword, even if my most mortal enemy stood before me. But mine is not the single wish of a single man; the whole of my canton, and that of Soleure, are determined on war. It was war, noble war, that our fathers came forth from the house of their captivity — it was by war, successful and glorious war, that a race, who had been held scarce so much worth thinking on as the oxen which they goaded, emerged at once into liberty and consequence, and were honored because they were feared, as much as they had been formerly despised because they were unresisting.”
“This may be all very true,” said the young Englishman; “but, in my opinion, the object of your mission has, been determined by your Diet or House of Commons. They have resolved to send you with others as messengers of peace; but you are secretly blowing the coals of war; and while all or most of your senior colleagues are setting out to-morrow in expectation of a peaceful journey, you stand prepared for a combat, and look for the means of giving cause for it.”
“And is it not well that I do stand so prepared?” answered Rudolph. “If our reception in Burgundy’s dependencies be peaceful, as you say the rest of the deputation expect, my precautions will be needless; but at least they can do no harm. If it prove otherwise, I shall be the means of averting a great misfortune from my colleagues, my kinsman Arnold Biederman, my fair cousin Anne, your father, yourself — from all of us in short, who are joyously travelling together.”
Arthur shook his head. “There is something in all this,” be said, “which I understand not, and will not seek to understand. I only pray that you will not make my father’s concerns be subject of breaking truce; it may, as you hint, involve the Landamman in a quarrel, which he might otherwise have avoided, I am sure my father will never forgive it.”
“I have pledged my word,” said Rudolph, “already to that effect. But if he should like the usage of the Bandog of Burgundy less than you seem to apprehend he will, there is no harm in your knowing that, in time of need, he may be well and actively supported.”
“I am greatly obliged by the assurance,” replied the Englishman.
“And thou mayest thyself, my friend,” continued Rudolph. “take a warning from what thou hast heard: Men go not to a bridal in armor, nor to a brawl in silken doublet.”
“I will be clad to meet the worst,” said Arthur; “and for that purpose I will don a light bauberk of well-tempered steel, proof against spear or arrow; and I thank you for your kindly counsel.”
“Nay, thank not me,” said Rudolph; “I were ill deserving to be a leader did I not make those who are to follow me more especially so trusty a follower as thou art — aware of the time when they should buckle on their armor, and prepare for hard blows.”
Here the conversation paused for a moment or two, neither of the speakers being entirely contented with his companion, although neither pressed any further remark.
The Bernese, judging from the feelings which be had seen predominate among the traders of his own country, had entertained little doubt that the Englishman, finding himself powerfully supported in point of force, would have caught at the opportunity to resist paying the exorbitant imposts with which he was threatened at the next town, which would probably, without any effort on Rudolph’s part, have led to breaking of the truce on the part of Arnold Biederman himself, and to an instant declaration of hostilities. On the other hand, young Philipson could not understand or approve of Donnerhugel’s conduct, who, himself a member of a peaceful deputation, seemed to be animated with the purpose of seizing an opportunity to kindle the flames of war.
Occupied by these various reflections, they walked side by side for some time without speaking together, until Rudolph broke silence.
Your curiosity is then ended, Sir Englishman,” said he, “respecting the apparition of Anne of Geierstein.”
“Far from it,” replied Philipson; “but I would unwillingly intrude any questions on you while you are busy with the duties of your patrol.”
“That may he considered as over,” said the Bernese, “for there is not a bush near us to cover a Burgundian knave, and a glance around us from time to time is all that is now needful to prevent surprise. And so, listen while I tell a tale, never sung or harped in hall or bower, and which, I begin to think, deserves as much credit, at least, as is due to the Tales of the Round Table, which ancient troubadours and minne-singers dole out to us as the authentic chronicles of your renowned namesake.
“Of Anne’s ancestors on the male side of the house,” continued Rudolph, “I dare say you have heard enough; and are well aware how they dwelt in the old walls at Geierstein beside the cascade, grinding their vassals, devouring the substance of their less powerful neighbors, and plundering the goods of the travellers whom ill luck sent within ken of the vulture’s eyry, the one year; and in the next, wearying the shrines for mercy for their trespasses, overwhelming the priests with the wealth which they showered upon them, and finally, vowing vows, and making pilgrimages, sometimes as palmers, sometimes as crusaders, as far as Jerusalem itself, to atone for the iniquities which they had committed without hesitation or struggle of conscience.”
“Such, I have understood,” replied the young Englishman, “was the history of the house of Geierstein, till Arnold, or his immediate ancestors, exchanged the lance for the sheep-hook.”
“But it is said,” replied the Bernese, “that the powerful and wealthy Barons of Arnheim, of Swabia, whose only female descendant became the wife to Count Albert of Geierstein, and the mother of this young person, whom Swiss call simply Anne, and Germans Countess Anne of Geierstein, were nobles of a different caste. They did not restrict their lives within the limits of sinning and repenting, — of plundering harmless peasants, and pampering fat monks; but were distinguished for something more than building castles with dungeons and folterkammers, or torture-chambers, and founding monasteries with Galilees and Refectories.
“These same Barons of Arnheim were men who strove to enlarge the boundaries of human knowledge, and converted their castle into a species of college, where there were more ancient volumes than the monks have piled together in the library of St. Gall. Nor were their studies in books alone. Deep buried in their private laboratories, they attained secrets which were afterwards transmitted through the race from father to son, and were supposed to have approached nearly to the deepest recesses of alchemy. The report of their wisdom and their wealth was often brought to the Imperial footstool; and in the frequent disputes which the Emperors maintained with the Popes of old, it is said they were encouraged, if not instigated, by the counsels of the Barons of Arnheim, and supported by their treasures. It was, perhaps, such a course of politics, joined to the unusual and mysterious studies which the family of Arnheim so long pursued, which excited against them the generally received opinion, that they were assisted in their superhuman researches by supernatural influences. The priests were active in forwarding this cry against men, who, perhaps, bad no other fault than that of being wiser than themselves.
“‘Look what guests,’ they said, ‘are received in the halls ‘of Arnheim! Let a Christian knight, crippled in war with the Saracens, present himself on the drawbridge, he is guerdoned with a crust and a cup of wine, and required to pass on his way. If a palmer, redolent of the sanctity acquired by his recent visits to the most holy shrines, and by the sacred relics which attest, and reward his toil, approach the unhallowed walls, the warder bends his crossbow, and the porter shuts the gate, as if the wandering saint brought the plague with him from Palestine. But comes there a gray-bearded, glib-tongued Greek, with his parchment scrolls, the very letters of which are painful to Christian eyes — comes there a Jewish Rabbin, with his Talmud and Cabala — comes there a swarthy sun-burnt Moor, who can boast of having read the language of the Stars in Chaldea, the cradle of astrological science — Lo, the wandering impostor or sorcerer occupies the highest seat at the Baron of Arnheim’s board, shares with him the labors of the alembic and the furnace, learns from him mystic knowledge; like that of which our first parents participated to the overthrow of their race, and requites it with lessons more dreadful than he receives, till the profane host has added to his hoard of unholy wisdom all that the pagan visitor can communicate. And these things are done in Almain, which is called the Holy Roman Empire, of which so many priests are princes! — they are done, and neither ban nor monition is issued against a race of sorcerers, who, from age to age, go on triumphing in their necromancy!’
Such arguments, which were echoed from mitred Abbots to the cell of Anchorites, seem, nevertheless, to have made little impression on the Imperial council. But they served to excite the zeal of many a Baron and Free Count of the Empire, who were taught by them to esteem a war or feud with the Barons of Arnheim as partaking of the nature, and entitled to the immunities, of a crusade against the enemies of the Faith, and to Legard an attack upon these obnoxious potentates, as a mode of clearing off their deep scores with the Christian Church.
Put the Lords of Arnheim, though not seeking for quarrel, were by no means unwarlike, or averse to maintaining their own defence. Some, on the contrary, belonging to this obnoxious race, were not the less distinguished as gallant knights and good men-at-arms. They were, besides, wealthy, secured and strengthened by great alliances, and in an eminent degree wise and provident. This the parties who assailed them learned to their cost.
“The confederacies formed against the Lords of Arnheirn were broken up; the attacks which their enemies meditated were anticipated and disconcerted; and those who employed actual violence were repelled with signal loss to the assailants: until at length an impression was produced in their neighborhood, that by their accurate information concerning meditated violence, and their extraordinary powers of resisting and defeating it, the obnoxious Barons must have brought to their defence means which merely human force was incapable of overthrowing; so that, becoming as much feared as hated, they were suffered for the last generation to remain unmolested. And this was the rather the case, that the numerous vassals of this great house were perfectly satisfied with their feudal superiors, abundantly ready to rise in their defence, and disposed to believe, that, whether their lords were sorcerers or no, their own condition would not be mended by exchanging their government, either for the rule of the crusaders in this holy warfare, or that of the churchmen by whom it was instigated. The race of these barons ended in Herman von Arnheim, the maternal grandfather of Anne of Geierstein. He was buried with his helmet, sword, and shield, as is the German custom with the last male of a noble family.
“But he left an only daughter, Sybilla of Arnheim, to inherit a considerable portion of his estate; and I never heard that the strong imputation of sorcery which attached to her house, prevented numerous applications, from persons of the highest distinction in the Empire, to her legal guardian the Emperor, for the rich heiress’s hand in marriage. Albert of Geierstein, however, though an exile, obtained the preference. He was gallant and handsome, which recommended him to Sybilla; and the Emperor, bent at the time on the vain idea of recovering his authority in the Swiss mountains, was desirous to show himself generous to Albert, whom he considered as a fugitive from his country for espousing the Imperial cause. You may thus see, most noble King Arthur, that Anne of Geierstein, the only child of their marriage, descends from no ordinary stock; and that circumstances in which she may be concerned are not to be explained or judged of so easily, or upon the same grounds of reasoning, as in the case of ordinary persons.”
“By my honest word, Sir Rudolph of Donnerhugel,” said Arthur, studiously laboring to keep a command upon his feelings, “I can see nothing in your narrative, and understand nothing from it, unless it be, that because in Germany, as in other countries, there have been fools who have annexed the idea of witchcraft and sorcery to the possession of knowledge and wisdom, you are therefore disposed to stigmatize a young maiden, who has always been respected and beloved by those around her, as a disciple of arts which, I trust, are as uncommon as unlawful.”
Rudolph paused ere he replied.
“I could have wished,” he said, “that you had been satisfled with the general character of Anne of Geierstein’s maternal family, as offering some circumstances which may account for what you have, according to your own report, this night witnessed, and I am really unwilling to go into more particular details. To no one can Anne of Geierstein’s fame be so dear as to me. I am, after her uncle’s family, her nearest relative, and had she remained in Switzerland, or should she, as is most probable, return thither after the present visit to her father, perhaps our connection might be drawn yet closer. This has indeed, only been prevented by certain prejudices of her uncle’s respecting her father’s authority, and the nearness of our relationship, which however, comes within reach of a license very frequently obtained. But I only mention these things, to show you how much more tender I must necessarily hold Anne of Geierstein’s reputation, than it is possible for you to do, being a stranger, known to her but a short while since, and soon to part with her, as I understand your purpose, forever.”
The turn taken in this kind of apology irritated Arthur so highly, that it required all the reasons which recommended coolness, to enable him to answer with assumed composure.
“I have no ground, Sir Hauptman,” he said, “to challenge any opinion which you may entertain of a young person with whom you are so closely connected, as you appear to be with Anne of Geierstein. I only wonder that, with such regard for her as your relationship implies, you should be disposed to receive, on popular and trivial traditions, a belief which must injuriously affect your kinswoman, more especially one with whom you intimate a wish to form a still more close connection. Bethink you, sir, that in all Christian lands, the imputation of sorcery is the most foul which can be thrown on Christian man or woman.”
“And l am so far from intimating such an imputation,,’ said Rudolph, somewhat fiercely, “that, by the good sword I wear, he that dared give breath to such a thought against Anne of Geierstein, must undergo my challenge, and take my life, or lose his own. But the question is not whether the maiden herself practises sorcery, which he who avers had better get ready his tomb, and provide for his soul’s safety the doubt lies here, whether, as the descendant of a family, whose relations with the unseen world are reported to have been of the closest degree, elfish and fantastical beings may not have power to imitate her form, and to present her appearance where she is not personaly present — in fine, whether they have permission to play at her expense fantastical tricks, which they cannot exercise over other mortals, whose forefathers have ever regulated their lives by the rules of the Church, and died in regular communion with it. And as I sincerely desire to retain your esteem, I have no objection to communicate to you mere particular circumstances respecting her genealogy, confirming the idea I have now expressed. But you will understand they are of the most private nature, and that I expect secrecy under the strictest personal penalty.”
“I shall be silent, sir,” replied the young Englishman, still struggling with suppressed passion, “on everything respecting the character of a maiden whom I am bound to respect so highly. But the fear of no man’s displeasure can add a feather’s weight to the guarantee of my own honor.”
“Be it so,” said Rudolph; “it is not my wish to awake angry feelings; but I am desirous, both for the sake of your good opinion, which I value, and also for the plainer explanation of what I have darkly intimated, to communicate to you what otherwise I would much rather have left untold.”
“You must be guided by your own sense of what is necessary and proper in the case,” answered Philipson; “but remember I press not on your confidence for the communication of anything that ought to remain secret, far less where that young lady is the subject.”
“Rudolph answered, after a minute’s pause, — “Thou hast seen and heard too much, Arthur, not to learn the whole, or at least all that I know or apprehend on the mysterious subject. It is impossible but the circumstances must at times recur to your recollection, and I am desirous that you should possess all the information necessary to understand them as clearly as the nature of the facts will permit. We have yet, keeping leftward to view the bog, upwards of a mile to make ere the circuit of the castle is accomplished. It will afford leisure enough for the tale I have to tell.”
“Speak on — I listen!” answered the Englishman, divided between his desire to know all that it was possible to learn concerning Anne of Geierstein, and his dislike to hear her name pronounced with such pretensions as those of Donnerhugel, together with the revival of his original prejudices against the gigantic Swiss, whose manners, always blunt, nearly to coarseness, seemed now marked by assumed superiority and presumption. Arthur listened, however, to his wild tale, and the interest which he took in it soon overpowered all other sensations.
6 The chivalry of cornwall are generally undervalued in the Norman French romances — cause is difficult to discover.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00