Anne of Geierstein, by Walter Scott

Chapter 14

I will resist such entertainment, till

My enemy has more power.

The Tempest.

“That blast was but feebly blown,” said de Hagenbach, ascending to the ramparts, from which he could see what passed on the outside of the gate; “who approaches, Kilian?”

The trusty squire was hastening to meet him with the news.

“Two men, with a mule, an it please your excellency; and merchants I presume them to be.”

“Merchants? ‘sdeath, villain! pedlers you mean. Heard ever man of English merchants tramping it on foot, with no more baggage than one mule can manage to carry? They must be beggarly Bohemians, or those whom the French people call Escossais. The knaves! they shall pay with the pining of their paunches for the poverty of their purses.”

“Do not be too hasty, an please your excellency,” quoth the squire; “small budgets hold rich goods. But, rich or poor, are our men, at least they have all the marks; the elder, well-sized and dark-visaged, may write fifty-and-five years, a beard somewhat grizzled; — the younger some two-and-twenty taller than the first, and a well-favored lad, with a smooth chin and light-brown mustaches.”

“Let them be admitted,” said the governor, turning back in order again to descend to the street, “and bring them into the folter-kammer of the toll-house.”

So saying, he betook himself to the place appointed, which was an apartment in the large tower that protected the eastern gateway, in which were deposited the rack, with various other instruments of torture, which the cruel and rapacious Governor was in the habit of applying to such prisoners from whom he was desirous of extorting either booty or information. He entered the apartment, which was dimly lighted, and had a lofty Gothic roof which could be but imperfectly seen, while nooses and cords hanging down from thence, announced a fearful connection with various implements of rusted iron that hung round the walls, or lay scattered on the floor.

A faint stream of light, through one of the numerous and narrow slits, or shot-holes, with which the walls were garnished, fell directly upon the person and visage of a tall swarthy man, seated in what, but for the partial illumination, would have been an obscure corner of this evil-boding apartment. His features were regular, and even handsome, but of a character peculiarly stern and sinister. This person’s dress was a cloak of scarlet; his head was bare, and surrounded by shaggy locks of black, which time had partly grizzled. He was busily employed in furbishing and burnishing a broad two-handed sword, of a peculiar shape, and considerably shorter than the weapons of that kind which we have described as used by the Swiss. He was so sleeply engaged in his task, that he started as the heavy door opened with a jarring noise, and the sword, escaping from his hold, rolled on the stone floor with a heavy clash.

“Ha! Scharfgerichter,” said the Knight, as he entered the folter-kammer, “thou art preparing for thy duty?”

“It would ill become your excellency’s servant,” answered the man, in a harsh deep tone, “to be found idle. But the prisoner is not far off, as I can judge by the fall of my sword, which infallibly announces the presence of him who shall reel its edge.”

“The prisoners are at hand, Francis,” replied the Governor; “but thy omen has deceived thee for once. They are fellows for whom a good rope will suffice, and thy sword drinks only noble blood.”

“The worse for Francis Steinernherz,” replyed the official in scarlet; “I trusted that your excellency, who have ever been a bountiful patron, should this day have made me noble.”

“Noble!” said the Governor; “thou art mad — thou noble! The common executioner!”

“And wherefore not, Sir Archibald de Hagenbach? I think the name of Francis Steinernherz von Blutacker will suit nobility, being fairly and legally won, as well as another. Nay, do not stare on me thus. If one of my profession shall do his grim office on nine men of noble birth, with the same weapon, and with a single blow to each patient, hath he not a right to his freedom from taxes, and his nobility by patent?”

“So says the law,” said Sir Archibald, after reflecting for a moment, — “but rather more in scorn than seriously, I should judge, since no one was ever known to claim the benefit of it.”

“The prouder boast for him,” said the functionary, “that shall be the first to demand the honors due to a sharp sword and a clean stroke. I, Francis Steinernherz, will be the first noble of my profession, where I shall have despatched one more knight of the Empire.”

“Thou hast been ever in my service, hast thou not?” demanded De Hagenbach.

“Under what other master,” replied the executioner, “could I have enjoyed such constant practice? I have executed your decrees on condemned sinners since I could swing a scourge, lift a crow-bar, or wield this trusty weapon; and who can say I even failed of my first blow, or needed to deal a second? The term of the Hospital, and his famous assistants, Petit Andre, and Trois Eschelles, 8 are novices compared with me in the use of the noble and knightly sword. Marry, I should be ashamed to match myself with them in the field practice with bowstring and dagger, these are no feats worthy of a Christian man who would rise to honor and nobility.”

“Thou art a fellow of excellent address, and I do not deny it,” replied De Hagenbach. “But it cannot be — I trust it can — not be — that when noble blood is becoming scarce in the land, and proud churls are lording it over knights and barons, I myself should have caused so much to be spilled?”

“I will number the patients to your excellency by name and title,” said Francis, drawing out a scroll of parchment, and reading with a commentary as he went on, — “There was Count William of Elvershoe — he was my assay-piece, a sweet youth, and died most like a Christian.”

“I remember — he was indeed a most smart youth, and courted my mistress,” said Sir Archibald.

“He died on St. Jude’s, in the year of grace 1455,” said the executioner.

Go on — but name no dates,” said the Governor.

“Sir Miles of Stockenborg — ”

“He drove off my cattle,” observed his excellency.

“Sir Louis of Riesenfeldt” — continued the executioner.

“He made love to my wife,” commented the Governor.

“The three Yung-herren of Lammerbourg — you made their father, the Count, childless in one day.”

“And he made me landless,” said Sir Archibald, “so that account is settled. Thou needest read no farther,” he continued; “I admit thy record, though it is written in letters somewhat of the reddest. I had counted these three young gentlemen as one execution.”

You did me the greater wrong,” said Francis; “they cost three good separate blows of this good sword.”

“Be it so, and God be with their souls,” said Hagenbach. “But thy ambition must go to sleep for a while, Scharfgerichter, for the stuff that came hither to-day is for dungeon and cord, or perhaps a touch of the rack or strappado — there is no honor to win on them.”

“The worse luck mine,” said the executioner. “I had dreamed so surely that your honor had made me noble; — and then the fall of my sword?”

“Take a bowl of wine, and forget your auguries.”

“With your honor’s permission, no” said he executioner “to drink before noon were to endanger the nicety of my hand.”

“Be silent, then, and mind your duty,” said De Hagenbach.

Francis took up his sheathiess sword, wiped the dust reverently from it, and withdrew into a corner of the chamber, where he stood leaning with his hands on the pommel of the fatal weapon.

Almost immediately afterwards, Kilian entered at the head of five or six soldiers, conducting the two Philipsons, whose arms were tied down with cords.

“Approach me a chair,” said the Governor, and took his place gravely beside a table, on which stood writing materials.

“Who are these men, Kilian and wherefore are they bound?”

“So please your excellency,” said Kilian, with a deep respect of manner which entirely differed from the tone, approaching to familiarity, with which he communicated with his master in private, “we thought it well that these two strangers should not appear armed in your gracious presence; and when we required of them to surrender their weapons at the gate, as is the custom of the garrison, this young gallant must needs offer resistance. I admit he gave up his weapon at his father’s command.”

“It is false!” exclaimed young Philipson; but his father making a sign to him to be silent, he obeyed instantly.

“Noble sir,” said the elder Philipson, “we are strangers, and unacquainted with the rules of this citadel; we are Englishmen, and unaccustomed to submit to personal mishandling; we trust you will have excuse for us, when we found ourselves, without any explanation of tile cause, rudely seized on by we knew not whom. My son, who is young and unthinking, did partly draw his weapon, but desisted at my command, without having altogether unsheathed his sword, far less made a blow. For myself, I am a merchant, accustomed to submit to the laws and customs of the countries in which I traffic; I am in the territories of the Duke of Burgundy, and I know his laws and Customs must be just and equitable. He is the powerful and faithful ally of England, and I fear nothing while under his banner.”

“hem! hem!” replied De Hagenbach, a little disconcerted by the Englishman’s composure, and perhaps recollecting, that, unless his passions were awakened (as in the case of the Swiss, whom he detested), Charles of Burgundy deserved the character of a just though severe prince — Fair words are well, but hardly make amends for foul actions. You have drawn swords in riot, and opposition to the Duke’s soldiers, when obeying the mandates which regulate their watch.”

“Surely, sir,” answered Philipson, “this is a severe construction of a most natural action. But, in a word, if you are disposed to be rigorous, the simple action of drawing, or attempting to draw a sword in a garrison town, is only punishable by a pecuniary fine, and such we must pay, if it be your will.”

“Now, here is a silly sheep,” said Kilian to the executioner beside whom he had stationed himself, somewhat apart from the group, “who voluntarily offers his own fleece to the clipper.”

“It will scarcely serve as a ransom for his throat, Sir Squire,” answered Francis Steinernherz; for, look you, I dreamed last night that our master made me noble, and I knew by the fall of my sword that this is the man by whom I am to mount to gentility. I must this very day deal on him with my good sword.”

“Why, thou ambitious fool,” said the esquire, “this is no noble, but an island pedler — a mere English citizen.”

“Thou art deceived,” said the executioner, “and hast never looked on men when they are about to die.”

“Have I not?” said the squire. “Have I not looked on live pitched fields, besides skirmishes and ambuscades innumerable?”

“That tries not the courage,” said the Scharfgerichter. “All men will fight when pitched against each other. So will the most paltry curs — so will the dunghill fowls. But he is brave and noble who can look on a scaffold and a block, a preast to give him absolution, and the headsman and good sword which is to mow him down in his strength, as he would look upon things indifferent; and such a man is that whom we now behold.”

“Yes,” answered Kilian, “but that man looks not on such an apparatus — he only sees our illustrious patron, Sir Archibald de Hagenbach.”

“And he who looks upon Sir Archibald,” said the executioner, “being, as yonder man assuredly is, a person of sense and apprehension, looks he not upon sword and headsman? Assuredly that prisoner apprehends as much, and being so composed as he is under such conviction, it shows him to be a nobleman by blood, or may I myself never win nobility!”

“Our master will come to compromise with him, I judge,” replied Kilian; “he looks smilingly on him.”

“Never trust to me then,” said the man in scarlet; “there is a glance in Sir Archibald’s eye which betokens blood, as surely as the dog-star bodes pestilence.”

While these dependants of Sir Archibald de Hagenbach were thus conversing apart, their master had engaged the prisoners in a long train of captious interrogatones concerning their business in Switzerland, their connection with the Landamman, and the cause of their travelling into Burgundy, to all which tile senior Philipson gave direct and plain answers, excepting to the last. He was going, he said, into Burgundy, forthe purpose of his traffic, — his wares were at the disposal of the Governor, who might detain all, or any part of them, as he might be disposed to make himself answerable to his master. But his business with the Duke was of a private nature, respecting some particular matters of commerce, in which others as well as he himself were interested. To the Duke alone, he declared, would he communicate the affair; and he pressed it strongly on the Governor, that if he should sustain any damage in his own person or that of his son, the Duke’s severe displeasure would be the inevitable consequence.

Dc Hagenbach was evidently much embarrassed by the steady tone of his prisoner, and more than once held counsel with the bottle, his never-failing oracle in cases of extreme difficulty. Philipson had readily surrendered to the Governor a list or invoice of his merchandise, which was of so inviting a character, that Sir Archibald absolutely gloated over it. After remaining in deep meditation for some time, he raised his head, and spoke thus:— “You must be well aware, Sir Merchant, that it is the Duke’s pleasure that no Swiss merchandise shall pass through his territories; and that, nevertheless, you have been, by your own account, some time in that country, and having also accompanied a body of men calling themselves Swiss Deputies, I am authorized to believe that these valuable articles are rather the property of those persons, than of a single individual of so poor an appearance as yourself, and that should I demand pecuniary satisfaction, three hundred pieces of gold would not be an extravagant fine for so bold a practice; and you might wander where you will with the rest of your wares, so you bring them not into Burgundy.”

“But it is to Burgundy, and to the Duke’s presence, that I am expressly bound,” said the Englishman. “If I go not thither my journey is wrecked; and the Duke’s displeasure is certain to light on those who may molest me. For I make your excellency aware, that your gracious Prince already knows of my journey, and will make strict inquiry where and by whom I have been intercepted.”

Again the Governor was silent, endeavoring to decide how he might best reconcile the gratification of his rapacity with precaution for his safety. After a few minutes’ consideration he again addressed his prisoner.

“Thou art very positive in thy tale, my good friend; but my orders are equally so to exclude merchandise coming from Switzerland. What if I put thy mule and baggage under arrest?”

“I cannot withstand your power, my lord, to do what you will. I will in that case go to the Duke’s footstool, aud do my errand there.”

“Ay, and my errand also,” answered the Governor. “That is, thou wilt carry thy complaint to the Duke against the Governor of La Ferette, for executing his orders too strictly?”

“On my life and honest word,” answered the Englishman, I will make no complaint. Leave me but my ready money, without which I can hardly travel to the Duke’s court, and I will look no more after these goods and wares, than the stag looks after the antlers which he shed last year.”

Again the Governor of La Ferette looked doubtful, and shook his head.

Men in such a case as yours,” he said, “cannot be trusted; nor, to say truth, is it reasonable to expect they should be trustworthy. — These same wares, designed for the Duke’s private hand, in what do they consist?”

“They are under seal,” replied the Englishman.

“They are of rare value, doubtless?” continued the Governor.

“I cannot tell,” answered the elder Philipson “I know the Duke sets great store by them. But your excellency knows, that great princes sometimes place a high value on trifles.”

“Bear you them about you?” said the Governor. “Take heed how you answer — Look around you on these engines, which can bring a dumb man to speak, and consider I have the power to employ them!”

“And I the courage to support their worst infliction,” answered Philipson,’ with the same impenetrable coolness which he had maintained throughout the whole conference.

“Remember, also,” said Hagenbach, “that I can have your person searched as thoroughly as your mails and budgets.”

“I do remember that I am wholly in thy power; and, that I may leave thee no excuse for employing force on a peaceful traveller, I will own to you — “said Philipson, “that I have the Duke’s packet in the bosom of my doublet.”

“Bung it forth,” answered the Governor.

“My hands are tied, both in honor and literally,” said the Englishman.

“Pluck it from his bosom, Kilian,” said Sir Archibald.;’ “let us see this gear he talks of.”

“Could resistance avail,” replied the stout merchant, “you should pluck forth my heart first. But I pray all who are present to observe, that the seals are every one whole and unbroken at this moment when it is forcibly taken from my person.”

As he spoke thus he looked around on the soldiers, whose presence De Hagenbach had perhaps forgotten.

“How, dog!” said Sir Archibald, giving way to his passion would you stir up mutiny among my men-at-arms? — Kilian, let the soldiers wait without.”

So saying, he hastily placed under cover of his own robe the small but remarkably well-secured packet, which Kilian had taken from the merchant’s person, The soldiers withdrew, lingering, however, and looking back, like children brought away from a show before its final conclusion.

“So, fellow!” again began De Hagenbach, “we are now more private. Wilt thou deal more on the level with me, and tell me what this packet is, and whence it comes?”

“Could all your garrison be crowded into this room, I can only answer as before. — The contents I do not precisely know — the person by whom it was sent I am determined not to name.”

“Perhaps your son,” said the Governor, “may be more compliant.”

“He cannot tell you that of which he is himself ignorant,” answered the merchant.

“Perchance the rack may make you both find your tongues; — and we will try it on the young fellow first, Kilian, since thou knowest we have seen men shrink from beholding the wrenched joints of their children, that would have committed their own old sinews to the stretching with much endurance.”

“You may make the trial,” said Arthur, “and Heaven will give me strength to endure.”

“And me courage to behold,” added his father.

All this while the Governor was turning and returning the little packet in his hand curiously inspecting every fold, and regretting, doubtless, in secret, that a few patches of wax, placed under an envelope of crimson satin, and ligatures of twisted silk cord, should prevent his eager eyes from ascertaining the nature of the treasure which he doubted not it concealed. At length he again called in the soldiers, and delivered up the two prisoners to their charge, commanding that they should be kept safely, and in separate holds, and that the father, in particular, should be most carefully looked after.

“I take you all here to witness,” exclaimed the elder Philipson despising the menacing signs of De Hagenbach, “that the Governor detains from me a packet, addressed to his most gracious lord and master, the Duke of Burgundy.”

De Hagenbach actually foamed at the mouth with passion.

“And should I not detain it?” he exclaimed, in a voice in articulate with rage. “May there not be some foul practice against the life of our most gracious sovereign, by poison or otherwise, in this suspicious packet, brought by a most suspicious bearer? Have we never heard of poisons which do their work by the smell? And shall we, who keep the gate, as I may say, of his Grace of Burgundy’s dominions, give access to what may rob Europe of its pride of chivalry, Burgundy of its prince, and Flanders of her father? — No! Away with these miscreants, soldiers — down to the lowest dungeons with them — keep them separate, and watch them carefully. This treasonable practice has been meditated with the connivance of Berne and Soleure.”

Thus Sir Archibald de Hagenbach raved, with a raised voice and inflamed countenance, lashing himself as it were into passion, until the steps of the soldiers, and the clash of their arms, as they retired with the prisoners, were no longer audible. His complexion, when these had ceased, waxed paler than was nal ural to him — his brow was furrowed with anxious wrinkles — and his voice became lower and more hesitating than ordinary, as, turning to his esquire, he said, “Kilian, we stand upon a slippery plank, with a raging torrent beneath us — What is to be done?”

“Marry, to move forward with a resolved yet prudent step,” answered the crafty Kilian. “It is unlucky that all these fellows should have seen the packet, and heard the appeal of yonder iron-nerved trader. But this ill luck has befallen us, and the packet having been in your excellency’s hands, you will have all the credit of having broken the seals; for, though you leave them as entire as the moment they were impressed, it will only be supposed they have been ingeniously replaced. Let us see what are the contents, before we determine what is to be done with them. They must be of rare value, since the churl merchant was well contented to leave behind all his rich mule’s-load of merchandise, so that this precious packet might pass unexamined.”

“They may be papers on some political matter. Many such, and of high importance, passed secretly between Edward of England and our bold Duke.” Such was the reply of De Hagenbach.

“If they be papers of consequence to the Duke,” answered Kilian, “we can forward them to Dijon. — Or they may be such as Louis of France would purchase with their weight of gold.”

“For shame, Kilian,” said the Knight; “wouldst thou have me betray my master’s secrets to the King of France? Sooner would I lay my head on the block.”

“Indeed? And yet your excellency hesitates not to —”

Here the squire stopped, apparently for fear of giving offence by affixing a name too broad and intelligible to the practices of his patron.

“To plunder the Duke, thou wouldst say, thou impudent slave! And, saying so, thou wouldst be as dull as thou wert wont to be,” answered De Hagenbach. “I partake, indeed, in the plunder which the Duke takes from aliens; and reason good. Even so the hound and the hawk have their share of the quarry they bring down — ay, and the lion’s share, too, unless the huntsman or falconer be all the nearer to them. Such are the perquisites of my rank; and the Duke, who placed me here for the gratification of his resentment and the bettering of my fortune, does not grudge them to a faithful servant. And, indeed, I may term myself, in so far as this territory of La Ferette extends, the Duke’s full representative, or, as it may be termed, ALTER EGO— and, thereupon, I will open this packet, which, being addressed to him, is thereby equally addressed to me.”

Having thus in a manner talked himself up to an idea of his own high authority, he cut the strings of the packet which he had all this while held in his hand, and, undoing the outer coveflngs, produced a very small case made of sandal-wood.

“The contents,” he said, “had need to be valuable, as they lie in so little compass.”

So saying, he pressed the spring, and the casket, opening, displayed a necklace of diamonds, distinguished by brilliancy and size, and apparently of extraordinary value. The eyes of the avaricious Governor, and his no less rapacious attendant, were so dazzled with the unusual splendor, that for some time they could express nothing save joy and surprise.

“Ay, marry, sir,” said Kilian, “the obstinate old knave had reasons for his hardihood. My own joints should have stood a strain or two ere I surrendered such sparkiers as these. — And now, Sir Archibald, may your trusty follower ask you how this booty is to be divided between the Duke and his Governor, according to the most approved rules of garrison towns?”

“Faith, we will suppose the garrison stormed, Kilian; and, in a storm, thou knowest, the first finder takes all — with due consideration always of his trusty followers.”

“As myself, for example,” said Kilian.

“Ay, and myself, for example,” answered a voice, which sounded like the echo of the esquire’s words, from the remote corner of the ancient apartment.

“‘Sdeath! we are overheard,” exclaimed the Governor, starting, and laying his hand on his dagger.

“Only by a faithful follower, as the worthy esquire observes,” said the executioner, moving slowly forward.

“Villain, how didst thou dare watch me?” said Sir Archibald de Hagenbach.

“Trouble not yourself for that, sir,” said Kilian. “Honest Steinernherz has no tongue to speak, or ear to hear, save according to your pleasure. Indeed, we must shortly have taken him into our counsels, seeing these men must be dealt upon, and that speedily.”

“Indeed!” said De Hagenbach; “I had thought they might be spared.”

“To tell the Duke of Burgundy how the Governor of La Ferette accounts to his treasurer for the duties and forfeitures at his custom-house?” demanded Kilian.

“’Tis true,” said the Knight; “dead men have neither teeth nor tongue — they bite not, and they tell no tales. Thou wilt take order with them, Scharfgerichter.”

“I will, my lord,” answered the executioner, “on condition that, if this must be in the way of dungeon execution, which I call cellar practice, my privilege to claim nobility shall be saved and reserved to me, and the execution shall be declared to be as effectual to my claim, as it might have been if the blow had been dealt in broad daylight, with my honorable blade of office.”

De Hagenbach stared at the executioner, as not understanding what he meant; on which Kilian took occasion to explain, that the Scharfgerichter was strongly impressed, from the free and dauntless conduct of the elder prisoner, that he was a man of noble blood, from whose decapitation he would himself derive all the advantages proposed to the headsman who should execute his function on nine men of illustrious extraction.

“He may be right,” said Sir Archibald, “for here is a slip of parchment, commending the bearer of this carcanet to the Duke, desiring him to accept it as a true token from one well known to him, and to give the bearer full credence in all that be should say on the part of there by whom he is sent.”

“ By whom is the note signed, if I may make bold to ask?” said Kilian.

“There is no name — the Duke must be supposed to collect that information from the gems, or perhaps the handwriting.”

“On neither of which he is likely to have a speedy opportunity of exercising his ingenuity,” said Kilian.

De Hagenbach looked at the diamonds, and smiled darkly. The Scharfge richter, encouraged by the familiarity into which he had in a manner forced himself, returned to his plea, arid insisted on the nobility of the supposed merchant. Such a trust, and such a letter of unlimited credence, could never, he contended, be intrusted to a man meanly born. 9

“Thou art deceived, thou fool,” said the Knight; “kings now use the lowest tools to do their dearest offices. Louis has set the example of putting his barber, and the valets of his chamber, to do the work formerly intrusted to dukes and peers; and other monarchs begin to think that it is better, in choosing their agents for important affairs, to judge rather by the quality of men’s brains than that of their blood. And as for the stately-look and bold bearing which distinguish yonder fellow in the eyes of cravens like thee, it belongs to his country, not his rank. Thou thinkest it is in England as in Flanders, where a city-bred burgher of Ghent, Liege, or Ypres, is as distinct an animal from a knight of Hainault, as a Flanders wagon-horse from a Spanish jennet. But thou art deceived. England has many a merchant as haughty of heart, and as prompt of hand, as any noble-born son of her rich bosom. But be not dejected, thou foolish man do thy business well on this merchant, and we shall presently have on our hands the Landamman of Unterwalden, who, though a churl by his choice, is yet a nobleman by blood, and shall, by his well-deserved death, aid thee to get rid of the peasant slough which thou art so weary of.”

“Were not your excellency better adjourn these men’s fate,” said Kilian, “till you hear something of them from the Swiss prisoners whom we shall presently have in our power?”

“Be it as you will,” said Hagenbach, waving his hand, as if putting aside some disagreeable task. “But let all be finished ere I hear of it again.”

The stern satellites bowed obedience, and the deadly conclave broke up; their chief carefully securing the valuable gems, which he was willing to purchase at the expense of treachery to the sovereign in whose employment he had enlisted himself, as well as the blood of two innocent men Yet, with a weakness of mind not uncommon to great criminals, he shrank from the thoughts of his own baseness and cruelty, and endeavored to banish the feeling of dishonor from his mind, by devolving the immediate execution of his villainy upon his subordinate agents.

8 Three well-known characters who figure in Quentin Durward.

9 Louis XI. was probably the first King of France who flung aside all affectation of choosing his ministers from among the nobility. He often placed men of mean birth in situations of the highest trust.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00