Anne of Geierstein, by Walter Scott

Chapter 35

 — Here's a weapon now,

Shall shake a conquering general in his tent,

A monarch on his throne, or reach a prelate,

 However holy he his offices,

 E’en while he serves the altar.

Old Play.

From this time all was activity in the Duke of Burgundy’s court and army. Money was collected, soldiers were levied, and certain news of the Confederates’ motions only were wanting to bring on the campaign. But although Charles was, to all outward appearance, as active as ever, yet those who were more immediately about his person were of opinion that he did not display the soundness of mind, or the energy of judgment, which had been admired in him before these calamities. He was still liable to fits of moody melancholy, similar to those which descended upon Saul, and was vehemently furious when aroused out of them. Indeed, the Earl of Oxford himself seemed to have lost the power which he had exercised over him at first. Nay, though in general Charles was both grateful and affectionate towards him, he evidently felt humbled by the recollection of his having witnessed his impotent and disastrous condition, and was so much afraid of Lord Oxford being supposed to lead his counsels, that he often repelled his advice, merely, as it seemed, to show his own independence of mind.

In these froward humors, the Duke was much encouraged by Campo-Basso. That wily traitor now saw his master’s affairs tottering to their fall, and he resolved to lend his lever to the work, so as to entitle him to a share of the spoil. He regarded Oxford as one of the most able friends and counsellors who adhered to the Duke; he thought he saw in his looks that he fathomed his own treacherous purpose, and therefore he hated and feared him. Besides, in order perhaps to color over, even to his own eyes the abominable perfidy he meditated, he affected to be exceedingly enraged against the Duke for the late punishment of marauders belonging to his Italian bands. He believed that chastisement to have been inflicted by the advice of Oxford; and he suspected that the measure was pressed with the hope of discovering that the Italians had not pillaged for their own emolument only, but for that of their commander. Believing that Oxford was thus hostile to him, Campo-Basso would have speedily found means to take him out of his path, had not the Earl himself found it prudent to observe some precautions; and the lords of Flanders and Burgundy, who loved him for the very reasons for which the Italian abhorred him, watched over his safety with a vigilance, of which he himself was ignorant, but which certainly was the means of preserving his life.

It was not to be supposed that Ferrand of Lorraine should have left his victory so long unimproved; but the Swiss Confederates, who were the strength of his forces, insisted that the first operations should take place in Savoy and the Pays de Vaud, where the Burgundians had many garrisons, which, though they received no relief, yet were not easily or speedily reduced. Besides, the Switzers being, like most of the national soldiers of the time, a kind of militia, most of them returned home, to get in their harvest, and to deposit their spoil in safety. Ferrand, therefore, though bent on pursuing his success with all the ardor of youthful chivalry, was prevented from making any movement in advance until the month of December, 1476. In the mean time the Duke of Burgundy’s forces, to be least burdensome to the country, were cantoned in distant places of his dominions, where every exertion was made to perfect the discipline of the new levies. The Duke, if left to himself, would have precipitated the struggle by again assembling his forces, and pushing forward into the Helvetian territories; but though he inwardly foamed at the recollection of Granson and Murten, the memory of these disasters was too recent to permit such a plan of the campaign. Meantime, weeks glided past, and the month of December was far advanced, when one morning, as the Duke was sitting in council, Campo-Basso suddenly entered, with a degree of extravagant rapture in his countenance, singularly different from the cold, regulated, and subtle smile which was usually his utmost advance towards laughter. ”Guantes,” 27 he said, ”Guante for luck’s sake, if it please your Grace.”

“And what of good fortune comes nigh us?” said the Duke, “Methought she had forgot the way to our gates.”

“She has returned to them, please your Highness, with her cornucopia full of choicest gifts, ready to pour her fruit, her flowers, her treasures, on the head of the sovereign of Europe most worthy to receive them.”

“The meaning of all this?” said Duke Charles; “riddles are for children.”

“The hare-brained young madman Ferrand, who calls himself of Lorraine, has broken down from the mountains, at the head of a desultory army of scape-graces like himself; and what think you, — ha! ha! ha! — they are overrunning Lorraine, and have taken Nancy — ha! ha! ha!”

“By my good faith, Sir Count,” said Contay, astonished at the gay humor with which the Italian treated a matter so serious, “I have seldom heard a fool laugh more gayly at a more scurvy Jest, than you, a wise man, laugh at the loss of the principal town of the province we are fighting for.”

“I laugh,” said Campo-Basso, “among the spears, as my war-horse does — ha! ha! — among the trumpets. I laugh also over the destruction of the enemy, and the dividing of the spoil, as eagles scream their joy over the division of their prey; I laugh — ”

“You laugh,” said the Lord of Contay, waxing impatient, “when you have all the mirth to yourself, as you laughed after our losses at Granson and Murten.”

“Peace, sir!” said the Duke. “The Count of Campo-Basso has viewed the case as I do. This young knight-errant ventures from the protection of his mountains; and Heaven deal with me as I keep my oath, when I swear that the next fair field on which we meet shall see one of us dead! It is now the last week of the old year, and before Twelfth-Day we will see whether he or I shall find the bean in the cake. To arms, my lords; let our camp instantly break up, and our troops move forward towards Lorraine. Send off the Italian and Albanian light cavalry, and the Stradiots, to scour the country in the van — Oxford, thou wilt bear arms in this journey, wilt thou not?”

“Surely,” said the Earl. “I am eating your Highness’s bread; and when enemies invade, it stands with my honor to fight for your Grace as if I was your born subject. With your Grace’s permission, I will despatch a pursuivant, who shall carry letters to my late kind host, the Landamman of Unterwalden, acquainting him with my purpose.”

The Duke having given a ready assent, the pursuivant was dismissed accordingly, and returned in a few hours, so near had the armies approached to each other. He bore a letter from the Landamman, in a tone of courtesy and even kindness, regretting that any cause should have occurred for bearing arms against his late guest, for whom he expressed high personal regard. The same pursuivant also brought greetings from the family of the Biedermans to their friend Arthur, and a separate letter, addressed to the same person, of which the contents ran thus:—

“Rudolph Donnerhugel is desirous to give the young merchant, Arthur Philipson, the opportunity of finishing the bargain which remained unsettled between them in the castle-court of Geierstein. He is the more desirous of this, as he is aware that the said Arthur has done him wrong, in seducing the affections of a certain maiden of rank, to whom he, Philipson, is not, and cannot be, anything beyond an ordinary acquaintance. Rudolph Donnerhugel will send Arthur Philipson word, when fair and equal meeting can take place on neutral ground. In the mean time, he will be as often as possible in the first rank of the skirmishers.”

Young Arthur’s heart leapt high as he read the defiance, the piqued tone of which showed the state of the writer’s feelings, and argued sufficiently Rudolph’s disappointment on the subject of Anne of Geierstein, and his suspicion that she had bestowed her affections on the youthful stranger. Arthur found means of despatching a reply to the challenge of the Swiss, assuring him of the pleasure with which he would attend his commands, either in front of the line or elsewhere, as Rudolph might desire.

Meantime the armies were closely approaching to each other, and the light troops sometimes met. The Stradiots from the Venetian territory, a sort of cavalry resembling that of the Turks, performed much of that service on the part of the Burgundian army, for which, indeed, if their fidelity could have been relied on, they were admirably well qualified. The Earl of Oxford observed, that these men, who were under the command of Campo-Basso, always brought in intelligence that the enemy were in indifferent order, and in full retreat. Besides, information was communicated through their means, that sundry individuals, against whom the Duke of Burgundy entertained peculiar personal dislike, and whom he specially desired to get into his hands, had taken refuge in Nancy. This greatly increased the Duke’s ardor for retaking that place, which became perfectly ungovernable when he learned that Ferrand and his Swiss allies had drawn off to a neighboring position called Saint Nicholas, on the news of his arrival. The greater part of the Burgundian counsellors, together with the Earl of Oxford, protested against his besieging a place of some strength, while an active enemy lay in the neighborhood to relieve it. They remonstrated on the smallness of his army, on the severity of the weather, on the difficulty of obtaining provisions, and exhorted the Duke, that having made such a movement as had forced the enemy to retreat, he ought to suspend decisive operations till spring. Charles at first tried td dispute and repel these arguments; but when his counsellors reminded him that he~ was placing himself and his army in the same situation as at Granson and Murten, he became furious at the recollection, foamed at the mouth, and only answered by oaths and imprecations, that he would be master of Nancy before Twelfth-Day.

Accordingly, the army of Burgundy sat down before Nancy, in a strong position, protected by the hollow of a water-course, and covered with thirty pieces of cannon, which Colvin had under his charge.

Having indulged his obstinate temper in thus arranging the Campaign, the Duke seemed to give a little more heed to the advice of his counsellors touching the safety of his person, and permitted the Earl of Oxford, with his son, and two or three officers of his household, men of approved trust, to sleep within his pavilion, in addition to the usual guard.

It wanted three days of Christmas when the Duke sat down before Nancy, and on that very evening a tumult happened which seemed to justify the alarm for his personal safety. It was midnight, and all in the ducal pavilion were at rest, when a cry of treason arose. The Earl of Oxford, drawing his sword, and snatching up a light which burned beside him, rushed into the Duke’s apartment, and found him standing on the floor totally undressed, but with his sword in his hand, and striking around him so furiously, that the Earl himself had difficulty in avoiding his blows. The rest of his officers rushed in, their weapons drawn, and their cloaks wrapped around their left arms. When the Duke was somewhat composed, and found himself surrounded by his friends, he informed them with rage and agitation, that the officers of the Secret Tribunal had, in spite of the vigilant precautions taken, found means to gain entrance into his chamber, and charged him, under the highest penalty, to appear before the Holy Vehme upon Christmas night.

The bystanders heard this story with astonishment, and some of them were uncertain whether they ought to consider it as a reality or a dream of the Duke’s irritable fancy. But the citation was found on the Duke’s toilet, written, as was the form, upon parchment signalled with three crosses, and stuck to the table with a knife. A slip of wood had been also cut from the table. Oxford read the summons with attention. It named as usual a place, where the Duke was cited to come Unarmed and unattended, and from which it was said he would be guided to the seat of judgment.

Charles, after looking at the scroll for some time, gave vent to his thoughts.

“I know from what quiver this arrow comes,” he said. “It is shot by that degenerate noble, apostate priest, and accomplice of sorcerers, Albert of Geierstein. We have heard that he is among the motley group of murderers and outlaws, whom the old fiddler of Provence’s grandson has raked together. But by Saint George of Burgundy! neither monk’s cowl, soldier’s casque, nor conjuror’s cap, shall save him after such an insult as this. I will degrade him from knighthood, hang him from the highest steeple in Nancy, and his daughter shall choose between the meanest herd-boy in my army, and the convent of filles repentees!”

“Whatever are your purposes, my lord,” said Contay, “it were surely best be silent when, from this late apparition, we may conjecture that more than we wot of may be within hearing.”

The Duke seemed struck with this hint, and was silent, or at least only muttered oaths and threats betwixt his teeth, while the strictest search was made for the intruder on his repose. But it was in vain.

Charles continued his researches, incensed at a flight of audacity higher than ever had been ventured upon by these Secret Societies, who, whatever might be the dread inspired by them, had not as yet attempted to cope with sovereigns. A trusty party of Burgundians were sent on Christmas night to watch the spot (a meeting of four cross roads) named in the summons, and make prisoners of any whom they could lay hands upon; but no suspicious persons appeared at or near the place. The Duke not the less continued to impute the affront he had received to Albert of Geierstein. There was a price set upon his head; and Campo-Basso, always willing to please his master’s mood, undertook that some of his Italians, sufficiently experienced in such feats, should bring the obnoxious baron before him, alive or dead. Colvin, Contay, and others, laughed in secret at the Italian’s promises.

“Subtle as he is,” said Colvin, “he will lure the wild vulture from the heavens before he gets Albert of Geierstein into his power.”

Arthur, to whom the words of the Duke had given subject for no small anxiety, on account of Anne of Geierstein, and of her father for her sake, breathed more lightly on hearing his menaces held so cheaply.

It was the second day after this alarm that Oxford felt a desire to reconnoitre the camp of Ferrand of Lorraine, having some doubts whether the strength and position of it were accurately reported. He obtained the Duke’s consent for this purpose, who at the same time made him and his son a present of two noble steeds of great power and speed, which he himself highly valued.

So soon as the Duke’s pleasure was communicated to the Italian Count, he expressed the utmost joy that he was to have the assistance of Oxford’s age and experience upon an exploratory party, and selected a chosen band of a hundred Stradiots, whom be said he had sent sometimes to skirmish up to the very beards of the Switzers. The Earl showed himself much satisfied with the active and inteHigent manner in which these men performed their duty, and drove before them and dispersed some parties of Ferrand’s cavalry. At the entrance of a little ascending valley, Campo-Basso communicated to the English noblemen, that if they could advance to the farther extremity they would have a full view of the enemy’s position. Two or three Stradiots then spurred on to examine this defile, and returning back, communicated with their leader in their own language, who, pronouncing the passage safe, invited the Earl of Oxford to accompany him. They proceeded through the valley without seeing an enemy, but on issuing upon a plain at the point intimated by Campo-Basso, Arthur, who was in the van of the Stradiots, and separated from his father, did indeed see the camp of Duke Ferrand within half-a-mile’s distance; but a body of cavalry had that instant issued from it, and were riding hastily towards the gorge of the valley, from which he had just emerged. He was about to wheel his horse and ride off but, conscious of the great speed of the animal, he thought he might venture to stay for a moment’s more accurate survey of the camp. The Stradiots who attended him did not wait his orders to retire, but went off, as was indeed their duty, when attacked by a superior force.

Meantime, Arthur observed that the knight who seemed leader of the advancing squadron, mounted on a powerful horse that shook the earth beneath him, bore on his shield the Bear of Berne, and had otherwise the appearance of the massive frame of Rudolph Donnerhugel. He was satisfied of this when he beheld the cavalier halt his party and advance towards him alone, putting his lance in rest, and moving slowly, as if to give him time for preparation. To accept such a challenge, in such a moment, was dangerous, but to refuse it was disgraceful; and while Arthur’s blood boiled at the idea of chastising an insolent rival, he was not a little pleased at heart that then meeting on horseback gave him an advantage over the Swiss, through his perfect acquaintance with the practice of the tourney in which Rudolph might be supposed more ignorant.

They met, as was the phrase of the time, “manful under shield.” The lance of the Swiss glanced from the helmet of the Englishman, against which it was addressed, while the spear of Arthur, directed right against the centre of his adversary’s body, was so justly aimed, and so truly seconded by the full fury of the career, as to pierce, not only the shield which hung round the ill-fated warrior’s neck, but a breast-plate, and a shirt of mail which he wore beneath it. Passing clear through the body, the steel point of the weapon was only stopped by the back-piece of the unfortunate cavalier, who fell headlong from his horse, as if struck by lightning, rolled twice or thrice over on the ground, tore the earth with his hands, and then lay prostrate a dead corpse.

There was a cry of rage and grief among those men-at-arms whose ranks Rudolph had that instant left, and many couched their lances to avenge him; but Ferrand of Lorraine, who was present in person, ordered them to make prisoner, but not to harm, the successful champion. This was accomplished, for Arthur had not time to turn his bridle for flight, and resistance would have been madness.

When brought before Ferrand, he raised his vizor, and said, “Is it well, my lord, to make captive an adventurous Knight, for doing his devoir against a personal challenger?”

“Do not complain, Sir Arthur of Oxford,” said Ferrand, “before you experience injury — You are free, Sir Knight. Your father and you were faithful to my royal aunt Margaret, and although she was my enemy, I do justice to your fidelity in her behalf; and from respect to her memory, disinherited as she was like myself, and to please my grandfather, who I think had some regard for you, I give you your freedom. But I must also care for your safety during your return to the camp of Burgundy. On this side of the hill we are loyal and true-hearted men, on the other, they are traitors and murderers. — You, Sir Count, will, I think, gladly see our captive placed in safety.”

The Knight to whom Ferrand addressed himself, a tall stately man, put himself in motion to attend on Arthur, while the former was expressing to the young Duke of Lorraine the sense he entertained of his chivalrous conduct. “Farewell, Sir Arthur de Vere,” said Ferrand. “You have slain a noble champion and to me a most useful and faithful friend. But it was done nobly and openly, with equal arms, and in the front of the line; and evil befall him who entertains feud first!” Arthur bowed to his saddlebow. Ferrand returned the salutation, and they parted.

Arthur and his new companion had ridden but a little way up the ascent when the stranger spoke thus:—

“We have been fellow-travellers before, young man, yet you remember me not.”

Arthur turned his eyes on the cavalier, and observing that the crest which adorned his helmet was fashioned like a vulture, strange suspicions began to cross his mind, which were confined, when the knight, opening his helmet, showed him the dark and severe features of the Priest of Saint Paul’s.

“Count Albert of Geierstein!” said Arthur.

“The same,” replied the Count, “though thou hast seen him in other garb and headgear. But tyranny drives all men to arms, and I have resumed, by the license and command of my superiors, those which I had laid aside. A war against cruelty and oppression is holy as that waged in Palestine, in which priests bear armor.”

“My Lord Count,” said Arthur, eagerly, “I cannot too soon entreat you to withdraw to Sir Ferrand of Lorraine’s squadron Here you are in peril, where no strength or courage can avail you. The Duke has placed a price upon your head; and the country betwixt this and Nancy swarms with Stradiots and Italian light horsemen.”

“I laugh at them.” answered the count. “I have not lived so long in a stormy world, amid intrigues of war and policy, o Fall by the mean hand of such as they — besides, thou art with me, and I have seen but now that thou canst bear thee nobly.”

“In your defence, my lord,” said Arthur, who thought of his companion as the father of Anne of Geierstein, “I should try to do my best.”

“What, youth!” replied Count Albert with a stern sneer, that was peculiar to his countenance; “wouldst thou aid the enemy of the lord under whose banner thou servest, against his waged soldiers?”

Arthur was somewhat abashed at the turn given to his ready offer of assistance, for which he had expected at least thanks but he instantly collected himself, and replied, “My Lord Count Albert, you have been pleased to put yourself in peril to protect me from partisans of your party — I am equally bound to defend you from those of our side.”

“It is happily answered,” said the Count;-” yet I think there is a little blind partisan, of whom troubadours and minstrels talk, to whose instigation I might, in case of need, owe the great zeal of my protector.”

He did not allow Arthur, who was a great deal embarrassed time to reply, but proceeded: “Hear me, young man — Thy lance has this day done an evil deed to Switzerland, to Berne, and Duke Ferrand, in slaying their bravest champion. But to me the death of Rudolph Donnerhugel is a welcome event; Know that he was, as his services grew more indispensable, become importunate in requiring Duke Ferrand’s interest with me for my daughter’s hand. And the Duke himself, the son of a princess, blushed not to ask me to bestow the last of my house — for my brother’s family are degenerate mongrels — upon a presumptuous young man, whose uncle was a domestic in the house of my wife’s father, though they boasted some relationship, I believe, through an illegitimate channel, which yonder Rudolph was wont to make the most of, as it favored his suit.”

“Surely,” said Arthur, “a match with one so unequal in birth, and far more in every other respect, was too monstrous to be mentioned?”

“While I lived,” replied Count Albert, “never should such union have been formed, if the death both of bride and bridegroom by my dagger could have saved the honor of my house from violation. But when I— I whose days, whose very hours are numbered-shall be no more, what could prevent an undaunted suitor, fortified by Duke Ferrand’s favor, by the general applause of his country, and perhaps by the unfortunate prepossession of my brother Arnold, from carrying his point against the resistance and scruples of a solitary maiden?”

“Rudolph is dead,” replied Arthur, “and may Heaven assoi1zie him from guilt! But were he alive, and urging his suit on Anne of Geierstein, he would find there was a combat to be fought — ”

“Which has been already decided,” answered Count Albert. “Now, mark me, Arthur de Vere! My daughter has told me of the passages betwixt you and her. Your sentiments and conduct are worthy of the noble house you descend from, which I well know ranks with the most illustrious in Europe. You are indeed disinherited, but so is Anne of Geierstein, save such pittance as her uncle may impart to her of her paternal inheritance. If you share it together till better days (always supposing your noble father gives his consent, for my child shall enter no house against the will of its head), my daughter knows that she has my willing consent and my blessing. My brother shall also know my pleasure. He will approve my purpose; for though dead to thoughts of honor and chivalry, he is alive to social feelings, loves his niece, and has friendship for thee and for thy father. What say’st thou, young man, to take a beggarly Countess to aid thee in the journey of life? I believe — nay I prophesy (for I stand so much on the edge of the grave, that me-thinks I command a view beyond it) that a lustre will one day, after I have long ended my doubtful and stormy life, beam on the coronets of De Vere and Geierstein.”

De Vere threw himself from his horse, clasped the hand of Count Albert, and was about to exhaust himself in thanks; but the Count insisted on his silence.

“We are about to part,” he said. “The time is short — the place is dangerous. You are to me, personally speaking, less than nothing. Had any one of the many schemes of ambition which I have pursued led me to success, the son of a banished Earl had not been the son-in-law I had chosen. Rise and remount your horse — thanks are unpleasing when they are not merited.”

Arthur arose, and mounting his horse, threw his raptures into a more acceptable form endeavoring to describe how his love for Anne, and efforts for her happiness, should express his gratitude to her father, and observing that the Count listened with some pleasure to the picture he drew of their future life, he could not help exclaiming — “And you, my lord — you who have been the author of all this happiness, will you not be the witness and partaker of it? Believe me, we will strive to soften the effect of the hard blows which fortune has dealt to you, and Bhould a ray of better luck shine upon us, it will be the more welcome that you can share it.”

“Forbear such folly,” said the Count Albert of Geierstein. “I know my last scene is approaching. — Hear and tremble. The Duke of Burgundy is sentenced to die, and the secret and Invisible Judges, who doom in secret, and avenge in secret, like the Deity, have given the cord and the dagger to my hand!”

“Oh, cast from you these vile symbols!” exclaimed Arthur, with enthusiasm; “let them find butchers and common stabbers to do such an office, and not dishonor the noble Lord of Geierstein!”

“Peace, foolish boy!” answered the Count. “The oath by which I am sworn is higher than that clouded sky, more deeply fixed than those distant mountains. Nor think my act is that of an assassin, though for such I might plead the Duke’s own example. I send not hirelings, like these base Stradiots, to hunt his life, without impenling mine own. I give not his daughter — innocent of his offences — the choice betwixt a disgraceful marriage and a discreditable retreat from the world. No, Arthur de Vere, I seek Charles with the resolved mind of one, who, to take the life of an adversary, exposes himself to certain death.”

“I pray you speak no farther of it,” said Arthur, very anxiously. “Consider I serve for the present the Prince whom you threaten — ”

“And art bound,” interrupted the Count, “to unfold to him what I tell you. I desire you should do so; and though he hath already neglected a summons of the Tribunal, I am glad to have this opportunity of sending him personal defiance. Say to Charles of Burgundy, that he has wronged Albert of Geierstein. He who is injured in his honor loses all value for his life, and whoever does so has full command over that of another man. Bid him keep himself well from me, since if he see a second sun of the approaching year rise over the distant Alps, Albert of Geierstein is forsworn. — And now begone, for I see a party approach under a Burgundian banner. They will ensure your safety, but, should I remain longer, would endanger mine.

So saying, the Count of Geierstein turned his horse and rode off.

27 Guantes, used by the Spanish as the French say etrennes, or the English handsell or luckpenny — phrases used by inferiors to their patrons as the bringers of good news.

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