Anne of Geierstein, by Walter Scott

Chapter 26

   I humbly thank your Highness

And am right glad to catch this good occasion

Most thoroughly to be winnow’d, where my chaff

And corn shall fly asunder.

King Henry VIII.

Colvin, the English officer to whom the Duke of Burgundy, with splendid pay and appointments, committed the charge of his artillery, was owner of the tent assigned for the Englishman’s lodging, and received the Earl of Oxford with the respect due to his rank, and to the Duke’s especial orders upon that subject. He had been himself a follower of the Lancaster faction, and of course was well disposed towards one of the very few men of distinction whom he had known personally, and who had constantly adhered to that family through the train of misfortunes by which they seemed to be totally overwhelmed. A repast, of which his son had already partaken, was offered to the Earl by Colvin, who omitted not to recommend, by precept and example, the good wine of Burgundy, from which the sovereign of the province was himself obliged to refrain.

“His Grace shows command of passion in that,” said Colvin. “For, sooth to speak, and only conversing betwixt friends, his temper grows too headlong to bear the spur which a cup of cordial beverage gives to the blood, and he, therefore, wisely restricts himself to such liquid as may cool rather than inflame his natural fire of disposition.”

“I can perceive as much,” said the Lancastrian noble. “When I first knew the noble Duke, who was then Earl of Charolois, his temper, though always sufficiently fiery, was calmness to the impetuosity which he now displays on the smallest contradiction. Such is the course of an uninterrupted flow of prosperity. He has ascended, by his own courage and the advantage of circumstances, from the doubtful place of a feudatory and tributary prince, to rank with the most powerful sovereigns in Europe, and to assume independent majesty. But I trust the noble starts of generosity, which atoned for his wilful and wayward temper, are not more few than formerly?”

“I have good right to say that they are not,” replied the soldier of fortune, who understood generosity in the restricted sense of liberality. “The Duke is a noble and open-handed master.”

“I trust his bounty is conferred on men who are as faithful and steady in their service as you, Colvin, have ever been. But I see a change in your army. I know the banners of most of the old houses in Burgundy — How is it that I observe so few of them in the Duke’s camp? I see flags, and pennons, and pennoncelles; but even to me, who have been so many years acquainted with the nobility both of France and Flanders, their bearings are unknown.”

“My noble Lord of Oxford,” answered the officer, “it ill becomes a man who lives on the Duke’s pay to censure his conduct; but his Highness hath of late trusted too much, as it seems to me, to the hired arms of foreign levies, and too little to his own native subjects and retainers. He holds it better to take into his pay large bands of German and Italian mercenary soldiers, than to repose confidence in the knights and squires, who are bound to him by allegiance and feudal faith. He uses the aid of his own subjects but as the means of producing him sums of money, which he bestows on his hired troops. The Germans are honest knaves enough while regularly paid; but Heaven preserve me from the Duke’s Italian bands, and that Campo-Basso their leader, who waits but the highest price to sell his Highness like a sheep for the shambles!”

“Think you so ill of him?” demanded the Earl.

“So very ill indeed, that I believe,” replied Colvin, “there is no sort of treachery which the heart can devise, or the arm perpetrate, that hath not ready reception in his breast, and prompt execution at his hand. It is painful, my lord, for an honest Englishman like me to serve in an army where such traitors have command. But what can I do, unless I could once more find me a soldier’s occupation in my native country? I often hope it will please merciful Heaven again to awaken those brave civil wars in my own dear England, where all was fair fighting, and treason was unheard of.”

Lord Oxford gave his host to understand that there was a possibility that his pious wish of living and dying in his own country, and in the practice of his profession, was not to be despaired of. Meantime he requested of him, that early on the next morning he would procure him a pass and an escort for his son, whom he was compelled to despatch forthwith to Nancy, the residence of King Rene.

“What!” said Colvin, “is my young Lord of Oxford to take a degree in the Court of Love? for no other business is listened to at King Rene’s capital, save love and poetry.”

“I am not ambitious of such distinction for him, my good host,” answered Oxford; “but Queen Margaret is with her father, and it is but fitting that the youth should kiss her hand.”

“Enough spoken,” said the veteran Lancastrian. “I trust, though winter is fast approaching, the Red Rose may bloom in spring.”

He then ushered the Earl of Oxford to the partition of the tent which he was to occupy, in which there was a couch for Arthur also — their host, as Colvin might be termed, assuring them that, with peep of day, horses and faithful attendants should be ready to speed the youth on his journey to Nancy.

“And now, Arthur.” said his father, “we must part once more. I dare give thee, in this land of danger, no written com munication to my mistress, Queen Margaret; but say to her, that I have found the Duke of Burgundy wedded to his own views of interest, but not averse to combine them with hers. Say, that I have little doubt that he will grant us the required aid, but not without the expected resignation in his favor by herself and King Rene. Say, I would never have recommended such a sacrifice for the precarious chance of overthrowing the House of York, but that I am satisfied that France and Burgundy are hanging like vultures over Provence, and that the one or other, or both princes, are ready, on her father’s demise, to pounce on such possessions as they have reluctantly spared to him during his life. An accommodation with Burgundy may therefore, on the one hand, ensure his active co-operation in the attempt on England; and on the other, if our high-spirited princess complies not with the Duke’s request, the justice of her cause will give no additional security to her hereditary claims on her father’s dominions. Bid Queen Margaret, therefore, unless she should have changed her views, obtain King Rene’s formal deed of cession, conveying his estates to the Duke of Burgundy, with her Majesty’s consent. The necessary provisions to the King and to herself may be filled up at her Grace’s pleasure, or they may be left blank. I can trust to the Duke’s generosity to their being suitably arranged. All that I fear is, that Charles my embroil himself — ”

“In some silly exploit, necessary for his own honor and the safety of his dominions,” answered a voice behind the lining of the tent; “and, by doing so, attend to his own affairs more than to ours? Ha, Sir Earl!”

At the same time the curtain was drawn aside, and a person entered, in whom, though clothed with the jerkin and bonnel of a private soldier of the Walloon guards, Oxford instantly recognized the Duke of Burgundy’s harsh features and fierce eyes, as they sparkled from under the fur and feather with which the cap was ornamented.

Arthur, who knew not the Prince’s person, started at the intrusion, and laid his hand on his dagger; but his father made a signal which stayed his hand, and he gazed with wonder on the solemn respect with which the Earl received the intrusive soldier. The first word informed him of the cause.

“If this masking be done in proof of my faith, noble Duke, permit me to say it is superfluous.”

“Nay, Oxford,” answered the Duke, “I was a courteous spy for I ceased to play the eavesdropper at the very moment when I had reason to expect you were about to say something to anger me.”

“As I am a true Knight, my Lord Duke, if you had remained behind the arras, you would only have heard the same truths which I am ready to tell in your Grace’s presence, though it may have chanced they might have been more bluntly expressed.”

“Well, speak them then, in whatever phrase thou wilt — they lie in their throats that say Charles of Burgundy was ever offended by advice from a well-meaning friend.”

“I would, then, have said,” replied the English Earl, “that all which Margaret of Anjon had to apprehend was, that the Duke of Burgundy, when buckling on his armor to win Provence for himself, and to afford to her his powerful assistance to assert her rights in England, was likely to be withdrawn from such high objects by an imprudently eager desire to avenge himself of imaginary affronts, offered to him, as he supposed, by certain confederacies of Alpine mountaineers, over whom it is impossible to gain any important advantage, or acquire reputation, while, on the contrary, there is a risk of losing both. These men dwell amongst rocks and deserts which are almost inaccessible, and subsist in a manner so rude, that the poorest of your subjects would starve if subjected to such diet. They are formed by nature to be the garrison of the mountain fortresses in which she has placed them; — for Heaven’s sake meddle not with them, but follow forth your own nobler and more important objects, without stirring a nest of hornets, which, once in motion, may sting you into madness.”

The Duke had promised patience, and endeavored to keep his word —; but the swollen muscles of his face, and his flashing eyes, showed how painful to him it was to suppress his resentment.

“You are misinformed, my lord,” he said; “these men are not the inoffensive herdsmen and peasants you are pleased to suppose them. If they were, I might afford to despise them. But, flushed with some victories over the sluggish Austrians, they have shaken off all reverence for authority, assume airs of independence, form leagues, make inroads, storm towns, doom and execute men of noble birth at their pleasure. — Thou art dull, and look’st as if thou dost not apprehend me. To rouse thy English blood, and make thee sympathize with my feelings to these mountaineers, know that these Swiss are very Scots to my dominions in their neighborhood — poor, proud, ferocious, easily offended, because they gain by war; ill to be appeased, because they nourish deep revenge; ever ready to seize the moment of advantage, and attack a neighbor when he is engaged in other affairs. The same unquiet, perfidious, and inveterate enemies that the Scots are to England, are the Swiss to Burgundy and to my allies. What say you? Can I undertake anything of consequence till I have crushed the pride of such a people? It will be but a few days’ work. I will grasp the mountain-hedgehog, prickles and all, with my steel gauntlet.”

“Your Grace will then have shorter work with them,” replied the disguised nobleman, “than our English Kings have had with Scotland. The wars there have lasted so long, and proved so bloody, that wise men regret that we everbegan them.”

“Nay,” said the Duke, “I will not dishonor the Scots by comparing them in all respects to these mountain-churls of the Cantons. The Scots have blood and gentry among them, and we have seen many examples of both; these Swiss are a mere brood of peasants, and the few gentlemen of birth they can boast must hide their distinction in the dress and manners of clowns. They will, I think, scarce stand against a charge of Hainaulters.”

“Not if the Hainaulters find ground to ride upon. But-”

“Nay, to silence your scruples,” said the Duke, interrupting him, “know, that these people encourage, by their countenance and aid, the tormation of the most dangerous conspiracies in my dominions. Look here — I told you that my officer, Sir Archibald de Hagenbach, was murdered when the town of Breisach was treacherously taken by these harmless Switzers of yours and here is a scroll of parchment, which announces that my servant was murdered by doom of the Vehme-gericht, a band of secret assassins, whom I will not permit to meet in any part of my dominions. Oh, could I but catch them above ground as they are found lurking below, they should know what the life of of a nobleman is worth! Then, look at the insolence of their attestation.”

The scroll bore, with the day and date adjected, that judgement had been done on Archibald de Hagenbach, for tyranny, violence, and oppression, by order of the Holy Vehme, and that it was executed by their officials, who were responsible for the same to their tribunal alone. It was countersigned in red ink, with the badges of the Secret Society, a coil of ropes and a drawn dagger.

“This document I found stuck to my toilet with a knife,” said the Duke; “another trick by which they give mystery to their murderous jugglery.”

The thought of what he had undergone in John Mengs’s house, and reflections upon the extent and omnipresence of these Secret Associations, struck even the brave Englishman with an involuntary shudder.

“For the sake of every saint in Heaven,” he said, “forbear my lord, to speak of these tremendous societies, whose creatures are above, beneath, and around us. No man is secure of his life, however guarded, if it be sought by a man who is careless of his own. You are surrounded by Germans, Italians, and other strangers — How many amongst these may be bound by the secret ties which withdraw men from every other social bond, to unite them together in one inextricable, though secret compact? Beware, noble Prince, at the situation on which your throne is placed, though it still exhibits all the splendor of power, and all the solidity of foundation that belongs to so august a structure. I— the friend of thy house — were it with my dying breath-must needs tell thee, that the Swiss hang like an avalanche over thy head; and the Secret Associations work beneath thee like the first throes of the coming earth-quake. Provoke not the contest, and the snow will rest undisturbed on the mountain-side — the agitation of the subterranean vapors will be hushed to rest; but a single word of defiance, or one flash of indignant scorn, may call their terrors into instant action.”

“You speak,” said the Duke, “with more awe of a pack of naked churls, and a hand of midnight assassins, than I have seen you show for real danger. Yet I will not scorn your counsel — I will hear the Swiss envoys patiently, and I will not, if I can help it, show the contempt with which I cannot but regard their pretensions to treat as independent States. On the Secret Associations I will be silent, till time gives me the means of acting in combination with the Emperor, the Diet, and the Princes of the Empire, that they may be driven from all their burrows at once. — Ha, Sir Earl, said I well?”

“It is well thought, my lord, but it may be unhappily spoken. You are in a position, where one word, overheard by a traitor, might produce death and ruin.”

“I keep no traitors about me,” said Charles. “If I thought there was such in my camp, I would rather die by them at once, than live in perpetual terror and suspicion.”

“Your Highness’s ancient followers and servants,” said the Earl, “speak unfavorably of the Count of Campo-Basso, who holds so high a rank in your confidence.”

“Ay,” replied the Duke, with composure, “it is easy to decry the most faithful servant in a court by the unanimous hatred of all the others. I warrant me your bull-headed countryman, Colvin, has been railing against the Count like the rest of them, for Campo-Basso sees nothing amiss in any department, but he reports it to me without fear or favor. And then his opinions are cast so much in the same mould with my own, that I can hardly get him to enlarge upon what he best understands, if it seems in any respect different from my sentiments. Add to this, a noble person, grace, gayety, skill in the exercises of war, and in the courtly arts of peace — such is Campo-Basso; and being such, is he not a gem for a prince’s cabinet?”

“The very materials out of which a favorite is formed, answered the Earl of Oxford, “but something less adapted for making a faithful counsellor.”

“Why, thou mistrustful fool,” said the Duke, “must I tell thee the very inmost secret respecting this man, Campo-Basso, and will nothing short of it stay these imaginary suspicions which thy new trade of an itinerant merchant hath led thee to entertain so rashly?”

“If your Highness honors me with your confidence,” said the Earl of Oxford, “I can only say that my fidelity shall de serve it.”

“Know, then, thou misbelieving mortal, that my good friend and brother, Louis of France, sent me private information, through no less a person than his famous barber, Oliver le Diable, that Campo-Basso had for a certain sum offered to put my person into his hands, alive or dead. — You start!”

“I do indeed — recollecting your Highness’s practice of riding out lightly armed, and with a very small attendance, to reconnoitre the ground, and visit the outposts, and therefore how easily such a treacherous device might be carried into execution.”

“Pshaw!” answered the Duke. — “Thou seest the danger as if it were real, whereas nothing can be more certain than that, if my cousin of France had ever received such an offer, he would have been the last person to have put me on my guard against the attempt. No — he knows the value I set on Campo-Basso’s services, and forged the accusation to deprive me of them.”

“And yet, my lord,” replied the English Earl, “your Highness, by my counsel, will not unnecessarily or impatiently fling aside your armor of proof, or ride without the escort of some score of your trusty Walloons.”

“Tush, man, thou wouldst make a carbonado of a fever-stirred wretch like myself, betwixt the bright iron and burning sun. But I will be cautious though I jest thus — and you, young man, may assure my cousin, Margaret of Anjou, that I will consider her affairs as my own. And remember, youth, that the secrets of princes are fatal gifts, if he to whom they are imparted blaze them abroad; but if duly treasured up, they enrich the bearer. And thou shalt have cause to say so, if thou canst bring back with thee from Aix the deed of resignation of which thy father hath spoken. — Good-night — good-night!”

He left the apartment.

“You have just seen,” said the Earl of Oxford to his son, “a sketch of this extraordinary prince, by his own pencil. It is easy to excite his ambition or thirst of power, but well-nigh impossible to limit him to the just measures by which it is most likely to be gratified. He is ever like the young archer, startled from his mark by some swallow crossing his eye, even careless as he draws the string. Now irregularly and offensively suspicious — now unreservedly lavish of his confidence — not long since the enemy of the line of Lancaster, and the ally of her deadly foe — now its last and only stay and hope. God mend all — it is a weary thing to look on the game and see how it might be won, while we are debarred by the caprice of others trom the power of playing it according to our own skill. How much must depend on the decision of Duke Charles upon the morrow, and how little do I possess the power of influencing him, either for his own safety or our advantage! Good-night, my son, and let us trust events to Him who alone can control them.”

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