Anne of Geierstein, by Walter Scott

Chapter 23

  — Affairs that walk

(As they say spirits do) at midnight, have

In them a wilder nature than the business

That seeks despatch by day.

Henry VIII. Act 5.

The approach of the steward was now boldly expected by the little party. Arthur, flattered at once and elevated by the firmness which Anne had shown when this person’s arrival was announced, hastily considered the part which he was to act in the approaching scene, and prudently determined to avoid all active and personal interference, till he should observe, from the demeanor of Anne, that such was likely to be useful or agreeable to her. He resumed his place, therefore, at a distant part of the board, on which their meal had been lately spread, and remained there, determined to act in the manner Anne’s behavior should suggest as most prudent and fitting, — veiling, at the same time, the most active internal anxiety by an appearance of that deferential composure, which one of inferior rank adopts when admitted to the presence of a superior. Anne, on her part, seemed to prepare herself for an interview of interest. An air of conscious dignity succeeded the extreme agitation which she had so lately displayed, and, busying herself with some articles of female work, she also seemed to expect with tranquillity the visit, to which her attendant was disposed to attach so much alarm.

A step was heard upon the stair, hurried and unequal, as that of some one in confusion as well as haste; the door flew open, and Ital Schreckenwald entered.

This person, with whom the details given to the elder Philipson by the Landamman Biederman have made the reader in some degree acquainted, was a tall, well-made, soldierly-looking man. His dress, like that of persons of rank at the period in Germany, was more varied in color, more cut and ornamented, slashed and jagged, the habit worn in France and England. The never-failing hawk’s feather decked his cap, secured with a medal of gold, which served as a clasp. His doublet was of buff, for defence, but laid down, as it was called in the tailor’s craft, with rich lace on each seam, and displaying on the breast a golden chain, the emblem of his rank in the Baron’s household. He entered with rather a hasty step, and busy and offended look, and said somewhat rudely, — “Why, how now, young lady — wherefore this? Strangers in the castle at this period of night!”

Anne of Geierstein, though she had been long absent from her native country, was not ignorant of its habits and customs, and knew the haughty manner in which all who were noble exerted their authority over their dependants.

“Are you a vassal of Arnheim, Ital Schreckenwald, and do you speak to the Lady of Arnheim in her own castle with an elevated voice, a saucy look, and bonneted withal? Know your place; and, when you have demanded pardon for your insolence, and told your errand in such terms as befit your condition and mine, I may listen to what you have to say.”

Schreckenwald’s hand, in spite of him, stole to his bonnet, and uncovered his haughty brow.

“Noble lady,” he said, in a somewhat milder tone, “excuse me if my haste be unmannerly, but the alarm is instant. The soldiery of the Rhinegrave have mutinied, plucked down the banners of their master, and set up an independent ensign, which they call the pennon of St. Nicholas, under which they declare that they will maintain peace with God, and war with all the world. This castle cannot escape them, when they consider that the first course to maintain themselves, must be to take possession of some place of strength. You must up then, and ride with the very peep of dawn. For the present, they are busy with the wine-skins of the peasants; but when they wake in the morning, they will unquestionably march hither; and you may chance to fall into the hands of those who will think of the terrors of the castle of Arnheim as the figments of a fairy tale, and laugh at its mistress’s pretensions to honor and respect.”

“Is it impossible to make resistance? The castle is strong,” said the young lady, “and I am unwilling to leave the house of my fathers without attempting somewhat in our defence.”

“Five hundred men,” said Schreckenwald, “might garrison Arnheim, battlement and tower. With a less number it were madness to attempt to keep such an extent of walls; and bow to get twenty soldiers together, I am sure! now not — So, having now the truth of the story, let me beseech you to dismiss this guest,-too young, I think, to be the inmate of a lady’s bower, — and I will point to him the highest way out of the castle; for this is a strait in which we must all be contented with looking to our own safety.”

“And whither is it til at you propose to go?” said the Baroness, continuing to maintain, in respect to Ital Schreckenwald, the complete and calm assertion of absolute superiority, to which the seneschal gave way with such marks of impatience, as a fiery steed exhibits under the management of a complete cavalier.

“To Strassburg I propose to go, — that is, if it so please you, — with such slight escort as I can get hastily together by day-break. I trust we may escape being observed by the mutineers; or, if we fall in with a party of stragglers, I apprehend but little difficulty in forcing my way.”

“And wherefore do you prefer Strassburg as a place of asylum?”

“Because I trust we shall there meet your excellency’s father, the noble Count Albert of Geierstein.”

“It is well,” said the young lady. — “You also, I think, Seignor Philipson, spoke of directing your course to Strassburg. If it consist with your convenience, you may avail yourself of the protection of my escort as far as that city, where you expect to meet your father.”

It will readily be believed that Arthur cheerfully bowed assent to a proposal which was to prolong their remaining in society together; and might possibly, as his romantic imagination suggested, afford him an opportunity, on a road beset with dangers, to render some service of importance.

Ital Schreckenwald attempted to remonstrate.

“Lady! — lady” — he said, with some marks of impatience.

“Take breath and leisure, Schreckenwald,” said Anne, and you will be more able to express yourself with distinctness, and with respectful propriety.”

The impatient vassal muttered an oath betwixt his teeth, and answered with forced civility, — “Permit me to state, that our case requires we should charge ourselves with the care of no one but you. We shall be few enough for your defence, and I cannot permit any stranger to travel with us.”

If,” said Arthur, “I conceived that I was to be a useless encumbrance on the retreat of this noble young lady, worlds, Sir Squire, would not induce me to accept her offer. But I am neither child nor woman — I am a full-grown man, and ready to slow such good service as manhood may, in defence of your lady.”

If we must not challenge your valor and ability, young said Schreckenwald, “who shall answer for your fidelity?”

“To question that elsewhere,’ said Arthur, “might be dangerous.”

But Anne interfered between them. “We must straight to rest, and remain prompt for alarm, perhaps even before the hour of dawn. Schreckenwald, I trust to your care for due watch and ward. — You have men enough at least for that purpose. — And hear and mark — It is my desire and command that this gentleman be accommodated with lodgings here for the night, and that he travel with us to-morrow. For this I will be responsible to my father, and your part is only to obey my commands. I have long had occasion to know both the young man’s father and himself, who were ancient guests of my uncle the Landamman. On the journey you will keep the youth beside you, and use such courtesy to him as your rugged temper will permit.”

Ital Schreckenwald intimated his acquiescence with a look of bitterness, which it were vain to attempt to describe. It expressed spite, mortincation, humbled pride, and reluctant submission. He did submit, however, and ushered young Philipson into a decent apartment with a bed, which the fatigue and agitation of the preceding day rendered very acceptable.

Notwithstanding the ardor with which Arthur expected the rise of the next dawn, his deep repose, the fruit of fatigue, held him until the reddening of the east, when the voice of Schreckenwald exclaimed, “Up, Sir Englishman, if you mean to accomplish your boast of loyal service. It is time we were in the saddle, and we shall tarry for no sluggards.”

Arthur was on the floor of the apartment, and dressed in almost an instant, not forgetting to put on his shirt of mail and assume whatever weapons seemed most fit to render him an efficient part of the convoy. He next hastened to seek out the stable, to have his horse in readiness; and descending for that purpose into the under story of the lower mass of buildings, he was wandering in search of the way which led to the offices, when the voice of Annette Veilchen softly whispered, “This way, Seignor Philipson; I would speak with you.” The Swiss maiden, at the same time, beckoned him into a small room, where he found her alone.

“Were you not surprised,” she said, “to see my lady queen it so over Ital Schreckenwald, who keeps every other person in awe with his stern looks and cross words? But the air of command seems so natural to her, that, instead of being a baroness, she might have been an empress. It must come of birth, I think, after all, for I tried last night to take state upon me, after the fashion of my mistress, and, would you think it, the brute Schreckenwald threatened to throw me out of the window? But if ever I see Martin Sprenger again, Ill know if there is strength in a Swiss arm, and virtue in a Swiss quarter-staff. — But here I stand prating, and my lady wishes to see you for a minute ere we take to horse.”

“Your lady?” said Arthur, starting, “why did you lose an instant? — why not tell me before?”

“Because I was only to keep you here till she came, and — here she is.”

Anne of Geierstein entered, fully attired for her journey. Annette, always willing to do as she would wish to be done by, was about to leave the apartment, when her mistress, who had apparently made up her mind concerning what she had to do or say, commanded her positively to remain.

“I am sure,” she said, “Seignor Philipson will rightly understand the feelings of hospitality — I will say of friendship — which prevented my suffering him to be expelled from my castle last night, and which have determined me this morning to admit of his company on the somewhat dangerous road to Strassburg. At the gate of that town we part, I to join my father, you to place yourself under the direction of yours. From that moment intercourse between us ends, and our remembrance of each other must be as the thoughts which we pay to friends deceased.”

“Tender recollections,” said Arthur, passionately, “more dear to our bosoms than all we have surviving upon earth.”

“Not a word in that tone,” answered the maiden. “With night delusion should end, and reason awaken with dawning. One word more — Do not address me on the road you may, by doing so, expose me to vexatious and insulting suspicion, and yourself to quarrels and peril. — Farewell, our party is ready to take horse.”

She left the apartment, where Arthur remained for a moment deeply bewildered in grief and disappointment. The patience, nay, even favor, with which Anne of Geierstein had, on the previous night, listened to his passion, had not prepared him for the terms of reserve and distance which she now adopted towards him. He was ignorant that noble maids, if feeling of passion has for a moment swayed them from the strict path of principle and duty, endeavor to atone for it, by instantly returning, and severely adhering, to the line from which they have made a momentary departure. He looked mournfully on Annette, who, as she had been in the room before Anne’s arrival, took the privilege of remaining a minute after her departure; but he read no comfort in the glances of the confidant, who seemed as much disconcerted as himself.

“I cannot imagine what hath happened to her,” said Annette; “to me she is kind as ever, but to every other person about her she plays countess and baroness with a witness; and now she is begun to tyrannize over her own natural feelings and if this be greatness, Annette Veilchen trusts always to remain the penniless Swiss girl; she is mistress of her own freedom, and at liberty to speak with her bachelor when she pleases, so as religion and maiden modesty suffer nothing in the conversation. Oh, a single daisy twisted with content into one’s hair, is worth all the opals in India, if they bind us to torment ourselves and other people, or hinder us from speaking our mind, when our heart is upon our tongue. But never fear, Arthur; for if she has the cruelty to think of forgetting you, you may rely on one friend who, while she has a tongue, and Anne has ears, will make it impossible for her to do so.”

So saying, away tripped Annette, having first indicated to Philipson the passage by which he would find the lower court of the castle. There his steed stood ready among about twenty others. Twelve of these were accoutred with war saddles and frontlets of proof, being intended for the use of as many cavaliers, or troopers, retainers of the family of Arnheim, whom the seneschal’s exertions had been able to collect on the spur of the occasion. Two palfreys, somewhat distinguished by their trappings, were designed for Anne of Geierstein and her favorite female attendant. The other menials, chiefly boys and women servants, had inferior horses. At a signal made, the troopers took their lances and stood by their steeds, till the females and menials were mounted and in order they then sprang into their saddles and began to move forward, slowly and with great precaution. Schreckenwald led the van, and kept Arthur Philipson close beside him. Anne and her attendant were in the centre of the little body, followed by the unwarlike train of servants, while two or three experienced cavaliers brought up the rear, with strict orders to guard against surprise.

On their being put into motion, the first thing which surprised Arthur was, that the horses’ hoofs no longer sent forth the sharp and ringing sound arising from the collision of iron and flint, and as the morning light increased, he could perceive that the fetlock and hoof of every steed, his own included, bad been carefully wrapped around with a sufficient quantity of wool to prevent the usual noise which accompanied their motions. It was a singular thing to behold the passage of the little body of cavalry down the rocky road which led from the castle, unattended with the noise, which we are disposed to consider as inseparable from the motions of horse, the absence of which seemed to give a peculiar and almost an unearthly appearance to the cavalcade.

They passed in this manner the winding path which led from the castle of Arnheim to the adjacent village, which, as was the andent feudal custom, lay so near the fortress, that its inhabitants, when summoned by tbeir lord, could instantly repair for its defence. But it was at present occupied by very different inhabitants, the mutinous soldiers of the Rhinegrave. When the party from Arnheim approached the entrance of the village, Schreckenwald made a signal to halt, which was instantly obeyed by his followers. He then rode forward in person to reconnoitre, accompanied by Arthur Philipson, both moving with the utmost steadiness and precaution. The deepest silence prevailed in the deserted streets Here and there a soldier was seen, seemingly designed for a sentinel, but uniformly fast asleep.

The Swinish mutineers!” said Schreckenwald; “a fair night-watch they keep, and a beautiful morning’s rouse would I treat them with, were not the point to protect yonder peevish wench. — Halt thou here, stranger, while I ride back and bring them on — there is no danger.”

Schreckenwald left Arthur as he spoke, who, alone in the street of a village filled with bauditti, though they were lulled into temporary insensibility, had no reason to consider his case as very comfortable. The chorus of a wassel-song, which some reveller was trolling over in his sleep; or, in its turn, the growling of some village cur seemed the signal for a hundred ruffians to start up around him. But in the space of two or three minutes, the noiseless cavalcade, headed by Ital Schreckenwald, again joined him, and followed their leader, observing tile utmost precaution not to give an alarm. All went well till they reached the farther end of the village, where, although the Baaren-hauter 17 who kept the guard was as drunk as his companions on duty, a large shaggy dog which lay beside him was more vigilant. As the little troop approached, the animal sent forth a ferocious yell, loud enough to have broken the rest of the Seven Sleepers, and which effectually dispelled the slumbers of its master. The soldier snatched up his carabine and fired, he knew not well at what, or for what reason. The ball, however, struck Arthur’s horse under him, and the animal fell, the sentinel rushed forward to kill or make prisoner the rider.

“Haste on, haste on, men of Arnheim! care for nothing but the young lady’s safety,” exclaimed the leader of the band.

“Stay, I command you; — said the stranger on your lives!” — said Anne, in a voice which, usually gentle and meek, she now made heard by those around her, like the note of a silver clarion. “I will not stir till he is rescued.”

Schreckenwald had already spurred his horse for flight; but, perceiving Anne’s reluctance to follow him, he dashed back, and seizing a horse, which, bridled and saddled, stood picqueted near him, he threw the reins to Arthur Philipson; and pushing his own horse, at the same time, betwixt the Englishman and the soldier, he forced the latter to quit the hold he had on his person. In an instant Philipson was again mounted, when, seizing a battle-axe which hung at the saddle-bow of his new steed, he struck down the staggering sentinel, who was endeavoring again to seize upon him. The whole troop then rode off at a gallop, for the alarm began to grow general in the village; some soldiers were seen coining out of their quarters, and others were beginning to get upon horseback. Before Schreckenwald and his party had ridden a mile, they heard more than once the sound of bugles; and when they arrived upon the summit of an eminence commanding a view of the village, their leader, who, during the retreat, had placed himself on the rear of his company, now halted to reconnoitre the enemy they had left behind them. There was bustle and confusion in the street, but there did not appear to be any pursuit; so that Schreckenwald followed his route down the river, with speed and activity indeed, but with so much steadiness at the same time, as not to distress the slowest horse of his party.

When they had ridden two hours or more, the confidence of their leader was so much augmented, that he ventured to command a halt at the edge of a pleasant grove, which served to conceal their number, whilst both riders and horses took some refreshment, for which purpose forage and provisions had been borne along with them. Ital Schreckenwald, having held some communication with the Baroness, continued to offer their travelling companion a sort of surly civility. He invited him to partake of his own mess, which was indeed little different from that which was served out to the other troopers, but was seasoned with a glass of wine from a more choice flask.

To your health, brother,” he said; “if you tell this day’s story truly, you will allow that I was a true comrade to you two hours since, in riding through the village of Arnheim.”

“I will never deny it, fair sir,” said Philipson, “and I return you thanks for your timely assistance; alike, whether it sprang from your mistress’s order, or your own good-will.”

“Ho! ho! my friend,” said Schreckenwald, laughing, “you are a philosopher, and can try conclusions while your horse lies rolling above you, and a Baaren-hauter aims his sword at your throat? — Well, since your wit bath discovered so much, I care not if you know, that I should not have had much scruple to sacrifice twenty such smooth-faced gentlemen as yourself, rather than the young Baroness of Arnheim had incurred the slightest danger.”

The propriety of the sentiment,” said Philipson, “is so undoubtedly correct, that I subscribe to it, even though it is something discourteously expressed towards myself.”

In making this reply, the young man, provoked at the insolence of Schrenwald’s manner, raised his voice a little. The circumstance did not escape observation, for, on the instant, Annette Veilchen stood before them, with her mistress’s commands on them both to speak in whispers, or rather to be altogether silent.

“Say to your mistress that I am mute,” said Philipson.

“Our mistress, the Baroness, says,” continued Annette, with an emphasis on the title, to which she began to ascribe some talismanic influence — ” The Baroness, I tell you, says, that silence much concerns our safety, for it were most hazardous to draw upon this little fugitive party the notice of any passengers who may pass along the road during the necessary halt — and so, sirs, it is the Baroness’s request that you will continue the exercise of your teeth as fast as you can, and forbear that of your tongues till you are in a safer condition.”

“My lady is wise,” answered Ital Schreckenwald, “and her maiden is witty. I drink, Mistress Annette, in a cup of Rudesheimer, to the continuance of her sagacity, and of your amiable liveliness of disposition. Will it please you, fair mistress, to pledge me in this generous liquor?”

“Out, thou German wine-flask! — Out, thou eternal swill-flagon! — Heard you ever of a modest maiden who drank wine before she had dined?”

“Remain without the generous inspiration, then,” said the German, “and nourish thy satirical vein on sour cider or acid whey.”

A short space having been allowed to refresh themselves, the little party again mounted their horses, and travelled with such speed, that long before noon they arrived at the strongly-fortified town of Kehl, opposite to Strassburg, on the eastern bank of the Rhine. It is for local antiquaries to discover whether the travellers crossed from Kehl to Strassburg by the celebrated bridge of boats which at present maintains the communication across the river, or whether they were wafted over by some other mode of transportation. It is enough that they passed in safety, and had landed on the other side, where — whether she dreaded that he might forget the charge she had given him, that here they were to separate, or whether she thought that something more might be said in the moment of parting — the young Baroness, before remounting her horse, once more approached Arthur Philipson, who too truly guessed the tenor of what she had to say.

“Gentle stranger,” she said, “I must now bid you fare-well. But first let me ask if you know whereabouts you are to seek your father?”

“In an inn called the Flying Stag,” said Arthur, dejectedly; “but where that is situated in this large town I know not.”

“Do you know the place, Ital Schreckenwald?”

“I, young lady? — Not I— I know nothing of Strassburg and its inns. I believe most of our party are as ignorant as I am.”

“You and they speak German, I suppose,” said the Baroness, dryly, “and can make inquiry more easily than a foreigner? Go, sir, and forget not that humanity to the stranger is a religious duty.”

With that shrug of the shoulders which testifies a displeased messenger, Ital went to make some inquiry, and, in his absence, brief as it was, Anne took an opportunity to say apart — “Farewell! — Farewell I accept this token of friendship, and wear it for my sake. May you be happy?”

Her slender fingers dropped into his hand a very small parcel. He turned to thank her, but she was already at some distance; and Schreckenwald, who had taken his place by his side, said in his harsh voice, “Come, Sir Squire, I have found out your place of rendezvous, and I have but little time to play the gentleman-usher.”

He then rode on; and Philipson, mounted on his military charger, followed him in silence to the point where a large street joined — or rather crossed, that which led from the quay on which they had landed.

“Yonder swings the Flying Stag,” said Ital, pointing to an immense sign, which, mounted a huge wooden frame, crossed almost the whole breadth of the street. “Your intelligence can, I think, hardly abandon you, with such a guide-post in your eye.”

So saying, he turned his horse without further farewell, and rode back to join his mistress and her attendants.

Philipson’s eyes rested on the same group for a moment, when he was recalled to a sense of his situation by the thoughts of his father; and, spurring his jaded horse down the cross street, he reached the hostelry of the Flying Stag.

17 Baaren-hauter — he of the Bear's hide — a nickname for a German private soldier.

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