For I have given here my full consent
To undeck the pompous body of a king,
Make glory base, and sovereignty a slave,
Proud Majesty a subject, state a peasant.
The next day opened a grave scene. King Rene had not forgotten to arrange the pleasures of the day, when, to his horror and discomfiture, Margaret demanded an interview upon serious business. If there was a proposition in the world which Rene from his soul detested, it was any that related to the very name of business.
“What was it that his child wanted?” he said. “Was it money? He would give her whatever ready sums he had, though he owned his exchequer was somewhat bare; yet he had received his income for the season. It was ten thousand crowns. How much should he desire to be paid to her? — the half-three parts — or the whole? All was at her command.”
“Alas, my dear father,” said Margaret, “it is not rily affairs, but your own, on which I desire to speak with you.”
“If the affairs are mine,” said Rene, “I am surly master to put them off to another day — to some rainy dull day, fit for no better purpose. See, my love, the hawking party are all on their steeds and ready — the horses are neighing and pawing — the gallants and maidens mounted, and ready with hawk on fist — the spaniels struggling in the leash. It were a sin, with wind and weather to friend, to lose so lovely a morning.”
“Let them ride their way,” said Queen Margaret, “and find their sport; for the matter I have to speak concerning involves honor and rank, life and means of living.”
“Nay, but I have to hear and judge between Calezon and John of Acqua Mortis, the two most celebrated Troubadours.”
“Postpone their cause till to-morrow,” said Margaret, “and dedicate an hour or two to more important affairs.”
“If you are peremptory,” replied King Rene, “you are aware, my child, I cannot say you nay.”
And with reluctance he gave orders for the hawkers to go on and follow their sport, as he could not attend them that day.
The old King then suffered himself, like an unwilling gray-hound withheld from the chase, to be led into a separate apartment. To ensure privacy, Margaret stationed her secretary, Mordaunt, with Arthur, in an ante-chamber, giving them orders to prevent all intrusion.
“Nay, for myself, Margaret,” said the, good-natured old man, “since it must be, I consent to be put au secret; but why keep old Mordaunt from taking a walk in this beautiful morning; and why prevent young Arthur from going forth with the rest? I promise you, though they term him a philosopher, yet he showed as light a pair of heels last night with the young Countess de Boisgelin, as any gallant in Provence.”
“They are come from a country,” said Margaret, “in which men are trained from infancy to prefer their duty to their pleasure.”
The poor King, led into the council-closet, saw, with internal shuddering, the fatal cabinet of ebony, bound with silver, which had never been opened but to overwhelm him with weariness, and dolefully calculated how many yawns he must strangle ere he sustained the consideration of its contents. They proved, however, when laid before him, of a kind that excited even his interest, though painfully.
His daughter presented him with a short and clear view of the debts which were secured on his dominions, and for which they were mortgaged in various pieces and parcels. She then showed him, by another schedule, the large claims of which payment was instantly demanded, to discharge which no funds could be found or assigned. The King defended himself like others in his forlorn situation. To every claim of six, seven, or eight thousand ducats, he replied by the assertion, that he had ten thousand crowns in his chancery, and showed some reluctance to be convinced, till repeatedly urged upon him, that the same sum could not be adequate to the discharge of thirty times the amount.
“Then,” said the King, somewhat impatiently, “why not pay off those who are most pressing, and let the others wait till receipts come round?”
“It is a practice which has been too often resorted to,” replied the Queen, “and it is but a part of honesty to pay creditors who have advanced their all in your Grace’s service.”
“But are we not,” said Rene, “King of both the Sicilies, Naples, Arragon, and Jerusalem? And why is the monarch of such fair kingdoms to be pushed to the wall, like a bankrupt yeoman, for a few bags of paltry crowns?”
“You are indeed monarch of these kingdoms,” said Margaret; “but is it necessary to remind your Majesty that it is but as I am Queen of England, in which I have not an acre of land, and cannot command a penny of revenue? You have no dominions which are a source of revenue, save those which you see in this scroll, with an exact list of the income they afford. It is totally inadequate, you see, to maintain your state and to pay the large engagements incurred to former creditors.”
“It is cruel to press me to the wall thus,” said the poor King. “What can I do? If I am poor, I cannot help it. I am sure I would pay the debts you talk of, if I knew the way.”
“Royal father, I will show it you. — Resign your useless and unavailing dignity, which, with the pretensions attending it, serves but to make your miseries ridiculous. Resign your rights as a sovereign, and the income which cannot be stretched out to the empty excesses of a beggarly court, will enable you — to enjoy, in ease and opulence, all the pleasures you most delight in as a private baron.”
“Margaret, you speak folly,” answered Rene somewhat sternly. “A king and his people are bound by ties which neither can sever without guilt. My subjects are my flock, I am their shepherd. They are assigned to my governance by Heaven, and I dare not renounce the charge of protecting them.”
“Were you in condition to do so,” answered the Queen, “Margaret would bid you fight to the death. But don your harness, long disused — mount your war-steed — cry, Rene for Provence! and see if a hundred men will gather round your standard. Your fortresses are in the hands of strangers; arms you have none; your vassals may have good-will, but they lack all military skill and soldier-like discipline. You stand but thc mere skeleton of monarchy, which France or Burgundy may prostrate on the earth, whichever first puts forth his arm to throw it down.”
The tears trickled fast down the old King’s cheeks, when this unflattering prospect was set before him, and he could not forbear owning his total want of power to defend himself, and hi~ dominions, and admitting that he had often thought of the necessity of compounding for his resignation with one of his powerful neighbors.
“It was thy interest, Margaret, harsh and severe as you are, which prevented my entering, before now, into measures most painful to my feelings, but perhaps best calculated for my advantage. But I had hoped it would hold on for my day; and thou, my child, with the talents Heaven has given thee, wouldst, I thought, have found remedy for distresses, which I cannot escape, otherwise than by shunning the thoughts of them.”
“If it is in earnest you speak of my interest,” said Margaret, “know, that your resigning Provence will satisfy the nearest, and almost the only wish that my bosom can form; but, so judge me Heaven, as it is on your account, gracious sire, as well as mine, that I advise your compliance.”
“Say no more on’t, child; give me the parchment of resignation, and I will sign it: I see thou hast it ready drawn; let us sign it, and then we will overtake the hawkers. We must suffer woe, but there is little need to sit down and weep for it.”
“Do you not ask,” said Margaret, surprised at his apathy, “to whom you cede your dominions?”
“What boots it,” answered the King, “since they must be no more my own? It must be either to Charles of Burgundy, or my nephew Louis — both powerful and politic princes. God send my poor people may have no cause to wish their old man back again, whose only pleasure was to see them happy and mirthful.”
“It is to Burgundy you resign Provence,” said Margaret.
“I would have preferred him,” answered Rene; “he is fierce, but not malignant. One word more — are my subjects privileges and immunities fully secured?”
“Amply,” replied the Queen; “and your own wants of all kinds honorary provided for. I would not leave the stipulations in your favor in blank, though I might perhaps have trusted Charles of Burgundy, where money alone is concerned.”
“I ask not for myself — with my viol and my pencil, Rene the Troubadour will be as happy as ever was Rene the King.”
So saying, with practical philosophy he whistled the burden of his last composed ariette, and signed away the rest of his royal possessions without pulling off his glove, or even reading the instrument.
“What is this?” he said, looking at another and separate parchment of much briefer contents. “Must my kinsman Charles have both the Sicilies, Catalonia, Naples, and Jerusalem, as well as the poor remainder of Provence? Methinks, ill decency, some greater extent of parchment should have been allowed to so ample accession.”
“That deed,” said Margaret, “only disowns and relinquishes all countenance of Ferrand de Vaudemont’s rash attempt or Lorraine, and renounces all quarrel on that account against Charles of Burgundy.”
For once Margaret miscalculated the tractability of her father’s temper. Rene positively started, colored, and stammered with passion, as he interrupted her. — “Only disown only relinquish — only renounce the cause of my grandchild, the son of my dear Yolande — his rightful claims on his mother’s inheritance! — Margaret, I am ashamed for thee. Thy pride is an excuse for thy evil temper; but what is pride worth which can stoop to commit an act of dishonorable meanness? To desert, nay disown, my own flesh and blood, because the youth is a bold knight under shield, and disposed to battle for his right — I were worthy that harp and horn rung Out shame on me, should I listen to thee.”
Margaret was overcome in some measure by the old man’s unexpected opposition. She endeavored, however, to show that there was no occasion, in point of honor, why Rene should engage in the cause of a wild adventurer, whose right, be it good be it bad, was only upheld by some petty and underhand supplies of money from France, and the countenance of a few of the restless banditti who inhabit the borders of all nations. But ere Rene could answer, voices, raised to an unusual pitch, were heard in the antechamber, the door of which was flung open by an armed knight, covered with dust, who exhibited all the marks of a long journey.
“Here I am,” he said, “father of my mother-behold your grandson — Ferrand de Vaudemont; the son of your lost Yolande kneels at your feet, and implores a blessing on him and his enterprise.”
“Thou hast it,” replied Rene “and may it prosper with thee, gallant youth, im age of thy sainted mother — my blessings my prayers, my hopes, go with you!”
“And you, fair aunt of England,” said the young knight addressing Margaret, “you who are yourself dispossessed by traitors, will you not own the cause of a kinsman who is struggling for his inheritance?”
I wish all good to your person, fair nephew,” answered the Queen of England, “although your features are strange to me. But to advise this old man to adopt your cause, when it is desperate in the eyes of all wise men, were impious madness.”
“Is my cause then so desperate?” said Ferrand “forgive me if I was not aware of it. And does my aunt Margaret say this, whose strength of mind supported Lancaster so long, after the spirits of her warriors had been quelled by defeat? What — forgive me, for my cause must be pleaded — what would you have said had my mother Volande been capable to advise her father to disown your own Edward, had God permitted him to reach Provence in safety?”
“Edward,” said Margaret, weeping as she spoke, “was incapable of desiring his friends to espouse a quarrel that was irremediable. His, too, was a cause for which mighty princes and peers laid lance in rest.”
“Yet Heaven blessed it not” — said Vaudemont.
“ Thine,” continued Margaret, “is but embraced by the robber nobles of Germany, the upstart burghers of the Rhine cities, the paltry and clownish Confederates of the Cantons.”
“But Heaven has blessed it“ replied Vaudemont. “Know, proud woman, that I come to interrupt your treacherous intrigues; no petty adventurer, subsisting and maintaining warfare by sleight rather than force, but a conqueror from a bloody field of battle, in which Heaven has tamed the pride of the ty rant of Burgundy.”
“It is false!” said the Queen, starting; “I believe it not.’
“It is true,” said De Vaudemont, “as true as heaven is above us. — It is four days since I left the field of Granson heaped with Burgundy’s mercenaries — his wealth, his jewels, his plate, his magnificent decorations, the prize of the poor Swiss, who scarce can tell their value. Know you this, Queen Margaret?” continued the young soldier, showing the well-known jewel, which decorated the Duke’s order of the Golden Fleece; “think you not the lion was closely hunted when he left such trophies as these behind him?”
Margaret looked, with dazzled eyes and bewildered thoughts, upon a token which confirmed the Duke’s defeat, and the extinction of her last hopes. Her father, on the contrary, was struck with the heroism of the young warrior, a quality which, except as it existed in his daughter Margaret, had, he feared, taken leave of his family. Admiring in his heart the youth who exposed himself to danger for the meed of praise, almost as much as he did the poets by whom the warrior’s fame is rendered immortal, he hugged his grandson to his bosom, bidding him “gird on his sword in strength,” and assuring him, if money could advance his affairs, he, King Rene, could command ten thousand crowns, any part, or the whole of which, was at Ferrand’s command; thus giving proof of what had been said of him, that his head was incapable of containing two ideas at the same time.
We return to Arthur, who, with the Queen of England’s secretary, Mordaunt, had been not a little surprised by the en trance of the Count de Vaudemont, calling himself the Duke of Lorraine, into the anteroom, in which they kept a kind of guard, followed by a tall strong Swiss, with a huge halberd over his shoulder. The prince naming himself, Arthur did not think it becoming to oppose his entrance to the presence of his grand. father and aunt, especially as it was obvious that his opposition must have created an affray. In the huge staring halberdier, who had sense enough to remain in the anteroom, Arthur was not a little surprised to recognize Sigismund Biederman, who, after staring wildly at him for a moment, like a dog which suddenly recognizes a favorite, rushed up to the young Englishman with a wild cry of gladness, and in hurried accents told him how happy he was to meet with him, and that he had matters of importance to tell him. It was at no time easy for Sigismund to arrange his ideas, and now they were altogether confused by the triumphant joy which he expressed for the recent victory of his countrymen over the Duke of Burgundy; and it was with wonder that Arthur heard his confused and rude, but faithful tale.
“Look you, King Arthur, the Duke had come up with his huge army as far as Granson, which is near the outlet of the great lake of Neufehatel. There were five or six hundred Coufederates in the place, and they held it till provisions failed, and then you know they were forced to give it over, But though hunger is hard to bear, they had better have borne it a day or two longer, for the butcher Charles hung them all up by li~e neck, upon trees round the place, — and there was no swallowing for them, you know, after such usage as that. Meanwhile all was busy on our hills, and every man that had a sword or lance accoutred himself with it. We met at Neufehatel, and some Gennans joined us with the noble Duke of Lorraine. Ah, King Arthur, there is a leader! — we all think him second but to Rudolph of Donnerhugel — you saw him even now — it was he that went into that room — and you saw him before, it is he that was the Blue Knight of Bale; but we called him Laurenz then, for Rudolph said his presence amongst us must not be known to our father, and I did not know myself at that time who he really was. Well, when we came to Neufchatel we were a goodly company; we were fifteen thousand stout Confederates, and of others, Germans and Lorraine men, I will warrant you five thousand more. We heard that the Burgundian was sixty thousand in the field; but we heard at the same time that Charles had hung up our brethren like dogs, and the man was not among us — among the Confederates, I mean — who would stay to count heads, when the question was to avenge them. I would you could have heard the roar of fifteen thousand Swiss demanding to be led against the butcher of their brethren! My father himself, who, you know, is usually so eager for peace, now gave the first voice for battle; so, in the gray of the morning, we descended the lake towards Granson, with tears in our eyes and weapons in our hands, determined to have death or vengeance. We came to a sort of strait, between Vauxmoreux and the lake; there were horse on the level ground between the mountain and the lake; and a large body of infantry on the side of the hill. The Duke of Lorraine and his followers engaged the horse, while we climbed the hill to dispossess the infantry. It was with us the affair of a moment. Every man of us was at home among the crags, and Charles’s men were stuck among them as thou wert, Arthur, when thou didst first come to Geierstein. But there were no kind maidens to lend them their hands to help them down. No, no-There were pikes, clubs, and halberds, many a one, to dash and thrust them from places where they could hardly keep their feet had there been no one to disturb them. So the horsemen, pushed by the Lorrainers, and seeing us upon their flanks, fled as fast as their horses could carry them. Then we drew together again on a fair field, which is buon carmpagna, as the Italian says, where the hills retire from the lake. But lo you, we had scarce arrayed our ranks when we heard such a din and clash of instruments, such a trample of their great horses, such a shouting and crying of men, as if all the soldiers and all the minstrels in France and Germany were striving which should make the loudest noise. Then there was a huge cloud of dust approaching us, and we began to see we must do or die, for this was Charles and his whole army come to support his vanguard. A blast from the mountain dispersed the dust, for they had halted to prepare for battle Oh, good Arthur! you would have given ten years of life but to have seen the sight. There were thousands of horse, all in complete array, glancing against the sun, and hundreds of knights with crowns of gold and silver on their helmets, and thick masses of spears on foot, and cannon, as they call them. I did not know what things they were, which they drew on heavily with bullocks, and placed before their army, but I knew more of them before the morning was over. Well, we were ordered to draw up in a hollow square, as we are taught at exercise, and before we pushed forwards, we were commanded, as is the godly rule and guise of our warfare, to kneel down and pray to God, our Lady, and the blessed saints; and we afterwards learned that Charles, in his arrogance, thought we asked for mercy. Ha! ha! ha! a proper jest. If my father once knelt to him, it was for the sake of Christian blood and godly peace; but on the field of battle, Arnold Biederman would not have knelt to him and his whole chivalry, though he had stood alone with his sons on that field. Well, but Charles, supposing we asked grace, was determined to show us that we had asked it at a graceless face, for he cried,’ Fire my cannon on the coward slaves; it is all the mercy they have to expect from me!” — Bang — bang — bang - off went the things I told you of, like thunder and lightning, and some mischief they did, but the less that we were kneeling; and the saints doubtless gave the huge balls a hoist over the heads of those who were asking grace from them, but from no mortal creatures. So we had the signal to rise and rush on, and I promise you there were no sluggards. Every man felt ten men’s strength. My halberd is no child’s toy — if you have forgotten it, there it is — and yet it trembled in my grasp as if it had been a willow-wand to drive cows with. On we went, when suddenly the cannon was silent, and the earth shook with another and continued growl and battering, like thunder under ground. It was the men-at-arms rushing to charge us. But our leaders knew their trade, and had seen such a sight before — It was, Halt, halt — kneel down in the front-stoop in the second rank — close shoulder to shoulder like brethren, lean all spears forward, and receive them like an iron wall! On they rushed, and there was a rending of lances that would have served the Unterwalden old women with splinters of firewood for a twelvemonth. Down went armed horse-down went accoutred knight-down went banner and bannerman — down went peaked boot and crowned helmet, and of those who fell not a man escaped with life. So they drew off in confusion, and were getting in order to charge again, when the noble Duke Ferrand and his horsemen dashed at them in their own way, and we moved onward to support him. Thus on we pressed, and the foot hardly waited for us, seeing their cavalry so handled. Then if you had seen the dust and heard the blows! the noise of a hundred thousand thrashers, the flight of the chaff which they drive about, would be but a type of it. On my word, I almost thought it shame to dash about my balberd, the rout was so helplessly piteous. Hundreds were slain unresisting, and the whole army was in complete flight.”
“My father, my father!” exclaimed Arthur; “in such a rout, what can have become of him?”
“He escaped safely,” said the Swiss “fled with Charles.” It must have been a bloody field ere he fled,” replied the Englishman.
“Nay,” answered Sigismund, “he took no part in the fight, but merely remained by Charles; and prisoners said it was well for us, for that he is a man of great counsel and action in the wars. And as to flying, a man in such a matter must go back in, he cannot press forward, and there is no shame in it, especially if you be not engaged in your own person.”
As he spoke thus, their conversation was interrupted by Mordaunt, with “Hush, hush — the King and Queen come forth.”
“What am I to do?” said Sigismund, in some alarm. “I care not for the Duke of Lorraine; but what am I to do when Kings and Queens enter?”
“Do nothing but rise, unbonnet yourself, and be silent.” Sigismund did as he was directed.
King Rene came forth arm in arm with his grandson; and Margaret followed, with deep disappointment and vexation on her brow. She signed to Arthur as she passed, and said to him — “Make thyself master of the truth of this most unexpected news, and bring the particulars to me. Mordaunt will introduce thee.”
She then cast a look on the young Swiss, and replied courteously to his awkward salutation. The royal party then Jett the room, Rene bent on carrying his grandson to the sporting party, which had been interrupted, and Margaret to seek the solitude of her private apartment, and await the confirmation of what she regarded as evil tidings.
They had no sooner passed, than Sigismund observed, — “And so that is a King and Queen! — Peste! the King looks somewhat like old Jacomo, the violer, that used to scrape on the fiddle to us when he came to Geierstein in his rounds. But the Queen is a stately creature. The chief cow of the herd, who carries the bouquets and garlands, and leads the rest to the chalet, has not a statelier pace. And how deftly you approached her and spoke to her! I could not have done it with so much grace — but it is like that you have served apprentice to the court trade?”
“Leave that for the present, good Sigismund,” answered Arthur, “and tell me more of this battle.”
“By Saint Mary, but I must have some victuals and drink first,” said Sigismund, “if your credit in this fine place reaches so far.”
“Doubt it not, Sigismund,” said Arthur; and, by the intervention of Mordaunt, he easily procured, in a more retired apartment, a collation and wine, to which the young Biederman did great honor, smacking his lips with much gusto after the delicious wines, to which, in spite of his father’s ascetic precepts, his palate was beginning to be considerably formed and habituated. When he found himself alone with a flask of cote roti and a biscuit, and his friend Arthur, he was easily led to continue his tale of conquest.
“Well — where was I? — Oh, where we broke their infantry — well — they never rallied, and fell into greater confusion at every step — and we might have slaughtered one half of them, had we not stopped to examine Charles’s camp. Mercy on us, Arthur, what a sight was there! Every pavilion was full of rich clothes, splendid armor, and great dishes and flagons, which some men said were of silver; but I knew there was not so much silver in the world, and was sure they must be of pewter, rarely burnished. Here there were hosts of laced lackeys and grooms, and pages, and as many attendants as there were soldiers in the army; and thousands, for what I knew, of pretty maidens. By the same token both menials and maidens placed themselves at the disposal of the victors; but I promise you that my father was right severe on any who would abuse the rights of war. But some of our young men did not mind him, till he taught them obedience with the staff of his halberd. Well, Arthur, there was fine plundering, for the Germans and French that were with us rifled everything, and some of out men followed the example — it is very catching — So I got into Charles’s own pavilion, where Rudolph and some of his people were trying to keep out everyone, that he might have the spoiling of it himself, I think; but neither he, nor any Bernese of them all, dared lay truncheon over my pate; so I entered, and saw them putting piles of pewter trenchers, so clean as to look like silver, into chests and trunks. I pressed through them into the inner-place, and there was Charles’s pallet-bed — I will do him justice, it was the only hard one in his camp — and there were fine sparkling stones and pebbles lying about among gauntlets, boots, vambraces, and such-like gear — So I thought of your father and you, and looked for something, when, what should I see but my old friend here” (here he drew Queen Margaret’s necklace from his bosom), “which I knew, because you remember I recovered it from the Scharfgerichter at Breisach. — ‘ Oho! you pretty sparklers,’ said I, ‘you shall be Burgundian no longer, but go back to my honest English friends,’ and therefore —”
“It is of immense value,” said Arthur, “and belongs not to my father or to me, but to the Queen you saw but now.”
“And she will become it rarely,” answered Sigismund “Were she but a score, or a score and a half years younger, she were a gallant wife for a Swiss landholder. I would warrant her to keep his household in high order.”
She will reward thee liberally for recovering her property,” said Arthur, scarce suppressing a smile at the idea of the proud Margaret becoming the heusewife of a Swiss shepherd.
“How — reward!” said the Swiss. “Bethink thee, I am Sigismund Biederman, the son of the Landamman of Unterwalden — I am not a base lanz-knecht to be paid for courtesy with piastres. Let her grant me a kind word of thanks, or the ‘flatter of a kiss, and I am well contented.”
“A kiss of her hand, perhaps,” said Arthur, again smiling at his friend’s simplicity.
“Umph, the hand! Well! it may do for a Queen of some fifty years and odd, but would be poor homage to a Queen of May.”
Arthur here brought back the youth to the subject of his battle, and learned that the slaughter of the Duke’s forces in the flight had been in no degree equal to the importance of the action.
“Many rode off on horseback,” said Sigismund; “‘and our German reiters flew on the spoil when they should have followed the chase. And besides, to speak truth, Charles’s camp delayed our very selves in the pursuit; but had we gone half-a-mile farther, and seen our friends hanging on trees, not a Confederate would have stopped from the chase while he had limbs to carry him in pursuit.”
“And what has become of the Duke?”
“Charles has retreated into Burgundy, like a boar who has felt the touch of the spear, and is more enraged than hurt; but is, they say, sad and sulky. Others report that he has collected all his scattered army, and immense forces besides, and has screwed his subjects to give him money, so that we may expect another brush. But all Switzerland will join us after such a victory.”
“And my father is with him?” said Arthur.
“Truly he is, and has in a right godly manner tried to set afoot a treaty of peace with my own father. But it will scarce succeed. Charles is as mad as ever and our people are right proud of our victory, and so they well may. Nevertheless, my father forever preaches that such victories, and such heaps of wealth, will change our ancient manners, and that the plough-man will leave his labor to turn soldier. He says much about it but why money, choice meat and wine, and fine clothing, should do so much harm, I cannot bring my poor brains to see — And many better heads than mine are as much puzzled — Here’s to you, friend Arthur — This is choice liquor!”
“And what brings you and your General, Prince Ferrand, post to Nancy?” said the young Englishman.
“Faith, you are yourself the cause of our journey.”
“I the cause?” said Arthur. —” Why, how could that be?”
“Why, it is said you and Queen Margaret are urging this old fiddling King Rene to yield up his territories to Charles, and to disown Ferrand in his claim upon Lorraine. And the Duke of Lorraine seilt a man that you know well — that is, you do not know him, but you know some of his family, and he knows more of you than you wot — to put a spoke in your wheel, and prevent your getting for Charles the county of Provence, or preventing Ferrand being troubled or traversed in his natural rights over Lorraine.”
“On my word, Sigismund, I cannot comprehend you,” said Arthur.
“Well,” replied the Swiss, “my lot is a hard one. All our house say that I can comprehend nothing, and I shall be next told that nobody can comprehend me. — Well, in plain language, I mean, my uncle, Count Albert, as he calls himself, of Geierstein — my father’s brother.”
“Anne of Geierstein’s father?” echoed Arthur.
“Ay, truly; I thought we should find some mark to make you know him by.”
“But I never saw him.”
“Ay, but you have though — An able man he is, and knows niore of every man’s business than the man does himself. Oh I it was not for nothing that he married the daughter of a Salamander!”
“Pshaw, Sigismund how can you believe that nonsense?” answered Arthur.
“Rudolph told me you were as much bewildered as I was that night at Graffs-lust,” answered the Swiss.
“If I were so, I was the greater ass for my pains,” answered Arthur.
“Well, but this uncle of mine has got some of the old conjuring books from the library at Arnheim, and they say he can pass from place to place with more than mortal speed; and that he is helped in his designs by mightier counsellors than mere men. Always, however though so ably and highly endowed, his gifts, whether coming from a lawful or unlawful quarter, bring him no abiding advantage. He is eternally plunged into strife and danger.”
“I know few particulars of his life,” said Arthur, disguising as much as he could his anxiety to hear more of him; “but I have heard that he left Switzerland to join the Emperor.”
“True,” answered the young Swiss; “and married the young Baroness of Arnheim — but afterwards he incurred. my namesake’s imperial displeasure, and not less that of the Duke of Austria. They say you cannot live in Rome and strive with the Pope; so my uncle thought it best to cross the Rhine, and betake himself to Charles’s court, who willingly received noblemen from all countries, so that they had good sounding names, with the title of Count, Marquis, Baron, or such-like, to march in front of them. So my uncle was most kindly received; but — within this year or two all this friendship has been broken up. Uncle Albert obtained a great lead in some mysterious societies of which Charles disapproved, and set so hard at my pool uncle, that he was fain to take orders and shave his hair, rather than lose his head. But though he cut off his hair, his brain remains as busy as ever; and although the Duke suffered him to be at large, yet he found him so often in his way, that all men believed he waited but an excuse for seizing upon him and putting him to death. But my uncle pursists that he fears not Charles: and that, Duke as he is, Charles has more occasion to be afraid of him. — And so you saw how boldly he played his part at La Ferette.”
“By Saint George of Windsor!” exclaimed Arthur, “the Black Priest of St. Paul’s!”
“Oh, ho! you understand me now. Well, he took it upon him that Charles would not dare to punish him for his share in De Hagenbach’s death; and no more did he, although uncle Albert sat and voted in the Estates of Burgundy, and stirred them up all he could to refuse giving Charles the money he asked of them. But when the Swiss war broke out, uncle Albert became assured his being a clergyman would be no lorger his protection, and that the Duke intended to have him accused of corresponding with his brother and countrymen; and so he appeared suddenly in Ferrand’s camp at Neufchatel, and sent a message to Charles that he renounced his allegiance, and bid him defiance.”
“A singular story of an active and versatile man,” said the young Englishman.
“Oh, you may seek the world for a man like uncle Albert. Then he knows everything; and he told Duke Ferrand what you were about here, and offered to go and bring more certain information-ay, though he left the Swiss camp but five or six days before the battle, and the distance between Arles and Neufchatel be four hundred miles complete, yet he met him on his return, when Duke Ferrand, with me to show him the way, was hastening hitherward, having set off from the very field of battle.”
“Met him!” said Arthur — “Met whom? — Met the Black Priest of St. Paul’s?”
“Ay, I mean so,” replied Sigismund; “but he was habited as a Carmelite monk.”
“A Carmelite!” said Arthur, a sudden light flashing on him; “and I was so blind as to recommend his services to the Queen! I remember well that he kept his face much concealed in his cowl — and I, foolish beast, to fall so grossly into the snare! — And yet perhaps it is as well the transaction was interrupted, since I fear, if carried successfully through, all must have been disconcerted by the astounding defeat.”
Their conversation had thus far proceeded, when Mordaunt appearing, summoned Arthur to his royal mistress’s apartment. In that gay palace, a gloomy room, whose windows looked upon some part of the ruins of the Roman edifice, but excluded, every other object, save broken walls and tottering columns, was the retreat which Margaret had chosen for her own. She received Arthur with a kindness, more touching that it was the inmate of so proud and fiery a disposition, — of a heart assailed with many woes, and feeling them severely.
“Alas, poor Arthur!” she said, “thy life begins where thy father’s threatens to end, in useless labor to save a sinking vessel. The rushing leak pours in its waters faster than human force can lighten or discharge. All — all goes wrong, when our unhappy cause becomes connected with it — Strength becomes weakness, wisdom folly, and valor cowardice. The Duke of Burgundy, hitherto victorious in all his bold undertakings, had but to entertain the momentary thought of yielding succor to Lancaster, and behold his sword is broken by a peasant’s flail; and his disciplined army, held to be the finest in the world, flies like chaff before the wind; while their spoils are divided by renegade German hirelings, and barbarous Alpine shepherds! — What more hast thou learned of this strange tale?”
“Little, madam, but what you have heard. The worst additions are, that the battle was shamefully cowardlike, and completely lost, with every advantage to have won it — the best, that the Burgundian army has been rather dispersed than destroyed, and that the Duke himself has escaped, and is rallying his forces in Upper Burgundy.”
“To sustain a new defeat, or engage in a protracted and doubtful contest, fatal to his reputation as defeat itself. Where is thy father?”
“With the Duke, madam, as I have been informed,” replied Arthur.
“Hie to him, and say I charge him to look after his own safety, and care no farther for my interests. This last blow has sunk me — I am without an ally, without a friend, without treasure — ”
“Not so, madam,” replied Arthur. “One piece of good fortune has brought back to your Grace this inestimable relic of your fortunes.” — And, producing the precious necklace, he gave the history of its recovery.
“I rejoice at the chance which has restored these diamonds,” said the Queen, “that in point of gratitude, at least, I may not be utterly bankrupt. Carry them to your father — tell him my schemes are over — and my heart, which so long clung to hope, is broken at last. — Tell him the trinkets are his own, and to his own use let him apply them. They will but poorly repay the noble earldom of Oxford, lost in the cause of her who sends them.”
“Royal madam,” said the youth, “be assured my father would sooner live by service as a schwarzreiter, than become a burden on your misfortunes.”
“He never yet disobeyed command of mine,” said Margaret; “and this is the last I will lay upon him. If he is too rich or too proud to benefit by his Queen’s behest, he will find enough of poor Lancastrians who have fewer means or fewer scruples.”
“There is yet a circumstance I have to communicate,” said Arthur, and recounted the history of Albert of Geierstein, and the disguise of a Carmelite monk.
“Are you such a fool,” answered the Queen, “as to suppose this man has any supernatural powers to aid him in his ambitious projects and his hasty journeys?”
“No, madam — but it is whispered that the Count Albert of Geierstein, or this Black Priest of St. Paul’s; is a chief amongst the Secret Societies of Germany, which even princes dread whilst they hate them; for the man that can command a hundred daggers must be feared even by those who rule thousands of swords.”
Can this person,” said the Queen, “being now a church-man, retain authority amongst those who deal in life and death? It is contrary to the canons.”
“It would seem so, royal madam; but everything in these dark institutions differs from what is practised in the light of day. Prelates are often heads of a Vehmique bench, and the Archbishop of Cologne exercises the dreadful office of their chief as Duke of Westphalia, the principal region in which these societies flourish.24 Such privileges attach to the secret influence of the chiefs of this dark association, as may well seem supernatural to those who are unapprised of circumstances, of which men shun to speak in plain terms.”
“Let him be wizard or assassin,” said the Queen, “I thank him for having contributed to interrupt my plan of the old man’s cession of Provence, which, as events stand, would have stripped Rene of his dominions without furthering our plan of invading England. — Once more be stirring with the dawn, and bend thy way back to thy father, and charge him to care for himself, and think no more of me. Bretagne, where the heir of Lancaster resides, will be the safest place of refuge for its bravest followers. Along the Rhine, the Invisible Tribunal, it would seem, haunts both shores, and to be innocent of ill is no security; even here the proposed treaty with Burgundy may take aim; and the Provencaux carry daggers as well as crooks and pipes. But I hear the horses fast returning from the hawking party, aud the silly old man, forgetting all the eventful proceedings of the day, whistling as he ascends the steps. Well we will soon part, and my removal will be, I think, a relief to him. Prepare for banquet and ball, for noise and nonsense — above all, to bid adieu to Aix with morning dawn.”
Thus dismissed from the Queen’s presence, Arthur’s first care was to summon Thiebault to have all things in readiness for his departure; his next to prepare himself for the pleasures of the evening, not, perhaps, so heavily affected by the failure of his negotiation as to be incapable of consolation in such a scene; for the truth was, that his mind secretly revolted at the thoughts of the simple old King being despoiled of his dominions to further an invasion of England, in which, whatever interest he might have in his daughter’s rights, there was little chance of success.
If such feelings were censurable, they had their punishment. Although few knew how completely the arrival of the Duke of Lorraine, and the intelligence he brought with him, had disconcerted the plans of Queen Margaret, it was well known there had been little love betwixt the Queen and his mother Yolande; and the young Prince found himself at the head of a numerous party in the court of his grandfather, who disliked his aunt’s haughty manners, and were wearied by the unceasing melancholy of her looks and conversation, and her undisguised contempt of the frivolities which passed around her. Ferrand, besides, was young, handsome, a victor just arrived from a field of battle, fought gloriously, and gained against all chances to the contrary. That he was a general favorite, and excluded Arthur Philipson, as an adherent of the unpopular Queen, from the notice her influence had on a former evening procured him, was only a natural consequence of their relative condition. But what somewhat hurt Arthur’s feelings was to see his friend Sigismund the Simple, as his brethren called him, shining with the reflected glory of the Duke Ferrand of Lorraine, who introduced to all the ladies present the gallant young Swiss as Count Sigismund of Geierstein. His care had procured for his follower a dress rather more suitable for such a scene than the country attire of the Count, other wise Sigismund Biederman.
For a certain time, whatever of novelty is introduced into society is pleasing, though it has nothing else to recommend it. The Swiss were little known personally out of their own country, but they were much talked of; it was a recommendation to be of that country. Sigismund’s manners were blunt; a mixture of awkwardness and rudeness, which was termed frankness during the moment of his favor. He spoke bad French and worse Italian — it gave naivetÃ© to all he said. His limbs were too bulky to be elegant; his dancing, for Count Sigismund failed not to dance, was the bounding and gamboling of a young elephant; yet they were preferred to the handsome proportions and courtly movements of the youthful Englishman, even by the black-eyed Countess, in whose good graces Arthur had made some progress on the preceding evening. Arthur, thus thrown into the shade, felt as Mr. Pepys afterwards did when he tore his camlet cloak — the damage was not great, but it troubled him.
Nevertheless, the passing evening brought him some revenge. There are some works of art, the defects of which are not seen till they are injudiciously placed in too strong a light, and such was the case with Sigismund the Simple. The quickwitted, though fantastic Provencaux, soon found out the heaviness of his intellect, and the extent of his good-nature, and amused themselves at his expense, by ironical compliments and well-veiled raillery. It is probable they would have been less delicate on the subject, had not the Swiss brought into the dancing-room along with him his eternal halberd, the size, and weight, and thickness of which boded little good to any one whom the owner might detect in the act of making merry at his expense. But Sigismund did no further mischief that night, except that, in achieving a superb entrechat, he alighted with his whole weight on the miniature foot of his pretty partner, which he well-nigh crushed to pieces.
Arthur had hitherto avoided looking towards Queen Margaret during the course of the evening, lest he should disturb her thoughts from the channel in which they were rolling, by seeming to lay a claim on her protection. But there was something so whimsical in the awkward physiognomy of the maladroit Swiss, that he could not help glancing an eye to the alcove where the Queen’s chair of state was placed, to see if she observed him. The very first view was such as to rivet his attention. Margaret’s head was reclined on the chair, her eyes scarcely open, her features drawn up and pinched, her hands closed with effort. The English lady of honor who stood behind her — old, deaf, and dim-sighted — had not discovered anything in her mistress’s position more than the abstracted and indifferent attitude with which the Queen was wont to be present in body and absent in mind during the festivities of the Provencal court. But when Arthur, greatly alarmed, came behind the seat to press her attention to her mistress, she exclaimed, after a minute’s investigation, “Mother of Heaven, the Queen is dead!” And it was so. It seemed that the last fibre of life in that fiery and ambitious mind had, as she herself prophesied, given way at the same time with the last thread of political hope.
24 The Archbishop of cologne was recognized as head of all the Free Tribunals (i.e. the Vehmique benches) in Westphalia, by a writ of privilege granted in 1333 by the Emperor Charles IV. Winceslaus confirmed this act by a privilege dated 1382, in which the Archbishop is termed Grand Macte of the Vehme, or Grand Inquisitor. And this prelate and other priests were encouraged to exercise such office by Pope Boniface III., whose ecclesiastical discipline permitted them in such cases to assume the right of judging in matters of life and death.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00