Anne of Geierstein, by Walter Scott

Chapter 4

And now the well-known bow the master bore,

Turn’d on all sides, and view’d it o’er and o’er

Whilst some deriding, “How he turns the bow!

Some other like it sure the man must know:

Or else would copy — or in bows he deals;

Perhaps he makes them, or perhaps he steals.”

Pope’s — Homer’s Odyssey.

The fair maiden approached with the half-bashful, half-important look which sits so well on a young housekeeper, when she is at once proud and ashamed of the matronly duties she is called upon to discharge, and whispered something in her uncle’s ear.

“And could not the idle — pated boys have brought their own errand — what is it they want that they cannot ask themselves, but must send thee to beg it for them? Had it been anything reasonable, I should have heard it dinned into my ears by forty voices, so modest are our Swiss youths become now-a-days.” She stooped forward, and again whispered in his ear, as he fondly stroked her curling tresses with his ample hand, and replied, “The bow of Buttisholz, my dear? why the youths surely are not grown stronger since last year, when none of them could bend it? But yonder it hangs with its three arrows. Who is the wise champion that is challenger at a game where he is sure to be foiled?”

“It is this gentleman’s son, sir,” said the maiden, “who, not being able to contend with my cousins in running, leaping, hurling the bar, or pitching the stone, has challenged them to ride, or to shoot with the English long-bow.”

“To ride,” said the venerable Swiss, were difficult, where there are no horses, and no level ground to career upon if there were. But an English bow he shall have, since we happen to possess one. Take it to the young men, my niece, with the three arrows, and say to them from me, that he who bends it will do more than William Tell, or the renowned Stauffacher, could have done.”

As the maiden went to take the weapon from the place where it hung amid the group of arms which Philipson had formerly remarked, the English merchant observed, “that were the minstrels of his land to assign her occupation, so fair a maiden should be bow-bearer to none but the little blind god Cupid.”

“I will have nothing of the blind god Cupid,” said Arnold, hastily, yet half laughing at the same time; “we have been deafened with the foolery of minstrels and strolling minnesingers, ever since the wandering knaves have found there were pence to be gathered among us. A Swiss maiden should only sing Albert Ischudi’s ballads, or the merry lay of the going out and return of the cows to and from the mountain pastures.”

While he spoke, the damsel had selected from the arms a bow of extraordinary strength, considerably above six feet in length, with three shafts of a cloth-yard long. Philipson asked to look at the weapons, and examined them closely. “It is a tough piece of yew,” he said. “I should know it, since I have dealt in such commodities in my time; but when I was of Arthur’s age I could have bent it as easily as a boy bends a willow.”

“We are too old to boast like boys,” said Arnold Biederman, with something of a reproving glance at his companion. “Carry the bow to thy kinsmen, Anne, and let him who can bend it say he beat Arnold Biederman.” As he spoke, he turned his eyes on the spare, yet muscular figure of the Englishman, then again glanced down on his own stately person.

“You must remember, good my host,” said Philipson, “that Weapons are wielded not by strength, but by art and sleight of hand. What most I wonder at, is to see in this place a bow made by Matthew of Doncaster, a bowyer who lived at least a hundred years ago, remarkable for the great toughness and strength of the weapons which he made, and which are now become somewhat unmanageable, even by an English yeoman.”

“How are you assured of the maker’s name, worthy guest?” replied the Swiss.

“By old Matthew’s mark,” answered the Englishman, “and his initials cut upon the bow. I wonder not a little to find such a weapon here, and in such good preservation.”

“It has been regularly waxed, oiled, and kept in good order,” said the Landamman, “being preserved as a trophy of a memorable day. It would but grieve you to recount its early history, since it was taken in a day fatal to your country.”

“My country,” said the Englishman composedly, “has gained so many victories, that her children may well afford to hear of a single defeat. But I knew not that the English ever warred in Switzerland.”

“Not precisely as a nation,” answered Biederman; “but it was in my grandsire’s days, that a large body of roving soldiers, composed of men from almost all countries, but especially Englishmen, Normans, and Gascons, poured down on the Argau, and the districts adjacent. They were headed by a great warrior called Ingelram de Couci, who pretended some claims upon the Duke of Austria; to satisfy which he ravaged indifferently the Austrian territory and that of our confederacy. His soldiers were hired warriors — Free Companions they called themselves — that seemed to belong to no country, and were as brave in the fight as they were cruel in their depredations. Some pause in the constant wars betwixt France and England had deprived many of those bands of their ordinary employment, and battle being their element, they came to seek it among our valleys. The air seemed on fire with the blaze of their armor, and the very sun was darkened at the flight of their arrows. They did us much evil, and we sustained the loss of more than one battle. But we met them at Buttisholz, and mingled the blood of many a rider (noble as they were called and esteemed) with that of their horses. The huge mound that covers the bones of man and steed is still called the English Barrow.”

Philipson was silent for a minute or two, and then replied, “Then let them sleep in peace. If they did wrong, they paid for it with their lives; and that is all the ransom that mortal man can render for his transgressions. — Heaven pardon their souls!”

“Amen,” replied the Landamman, “and those of all brave men! — My grandsire was at the battle, and was held to have demeaned himself like a good soldier; and this bow has been ever since carefully preserved in our family. There is a prophecy about it, but I hold it not worthy of remark.”

Philipson was about to inquire farther, but was interrupted by a loud cry of surprise and astonishment from without.

“I must out,” said Biederman, “and see what these wild lads are doing. It is not now as formerly in thk land, when the young dared not judge for themselves, till the old man’s voice had been heard.”

He went forth from the lodge, followed by his guest. The company who had witnessed the games were all talking, shouting, and disputing in the same breath; while Arthur Philipson stood a little apart from the rest, leaning on the unbent bow with apparent indifference. At the sight of the Landamman all were silent.

“What means this unwonted clamor?” he said, raising a voice to which all were accustomed to listen with reverence. — “Rudiger,” addressing the eldest of his sons, “has the young stranger bent the bow?”

“He has, father,” said Rudiger “and he has hit the mark. Three such shots were never shot by William Tell.”

“It was chance — pure chance,” said the young Swiss from Berne. No human skill could have done it, much less a puny lad, baffled in all besides that he attempted among us.”

“But what has been done?” said the Landamman. — “Nay, speak not all at once! — Anne of Geierstein, thou hast more sense and breeding than these boys — tell me how the game has gone.” The maiden seemed a little confused at this appeal, but answered with a composed and downcast look — “The mark was, as usual, a pigeon to a pole. All the young men, except the stranger, had practised at it with the cross-bow and long-bow without hitting it. When I brought out the bow of Buttisholz, I offered it first to my kinsmen. None would accept of it, saying, respected uncle, that a task too great for you, must be far too difficult for them.”

“They said well,” answered Arnold Biederman; “and the stranger, did he string the bow?”

“He did, my uncle; but first he wrote something on a piece of paper, and placed it in my hands.”

“And did he shoot and hit the mark?” continued the surprised Switzer.

“He first,” said the maiden, “removed the pole a hundred yards farther than the post where it stood.”

“Singular!” said the Landamman, “that is double the usual distance.”

“He then drew the bow,” continued the maiden, “and shot off, one after another, with incredible rapidity, the three arrows which he had stuck into his belt. The first cleft the pole, the second cut the string, the third killed the poor bird as it rose into the air.”

“By Saint Mary of Einsiedlen,” said the old man, looking up in amaze, “if your eyes really saw this, they saw such archery as was never before witnessed in the Forest States!”

“I say nay to that, my revered kinsman,” replied Rudolph Donnerhugel, whose vexation was apparent; “it was mere chance, if not illusion or witchery.”

“What say’st thou of it thyself, Arthur?” said his father, half smiling; “was thy success by chance or skill?”

“My father,” said the young man, “I need not tell you that I have done but an ordinary feat for an English bowman. Nor do I speak to gratify that misproud and ignorant young man. But to our worthy host and his family I make answer. This youth charges me with having deluded men’s eyes, or hit the mark by chance. For illusion, yonder is the pierced pole, the severed string, and the slain bird, they will endure sight and handling; and, besides, if that fair maiden will open the note which I put into her hand, she will find evidence to assure you that even before I drew the bow I had fixed upon the three marks which I designed to aim at.”

“Produce the scroll, good niece,” said her uncle, “and end the controversy.”

“Nay, under your favor, my worthy host,” said Arthur, “it is but some foolish rhymes addressed to the maiden’s own eye.”

“And under your favor, sir,” said the Landamman, “whatsoever is fit for my niece’s eyes may greet my ears.”

He took the scroll from the maiden, who blushed deeply when she resigned it. The character in which it was written was so fine, that the Landamman in surprise exclaimed, “No clerk of Saint Gall could have written more fairly. Strange,” he again repeated, “that a band which could draw so true a bow, should have the cunning to form characters so fair.” He then exclaimed anew, “Ha! verses, by Our Lady! What, have we minstrels disguised as traders?” He then opened the scroll, and read the following lines:—

If I hit mast, and line, and bird,

An English archer keeps his word.

Ah maiden, didst thou aim at me,

A single glance were worth the three.

“Here is rare rhyming, my worthy guest,” said the Landamman shaking his head; “fine words to make foolish maidens fain. But do not excuse it; it is your country fashion, and we know how to treat it as such.” And without farther allusion to the concluding couplet, the reading of which threw the poet, as well as the object of the verses, into some discomposure, he added gravely, “You must now allow Rudolph Donnerhugel, that the stranger has fairly attained the three marks which he proposed to himself.”

“That he has attained them is plain,” answered the party to whom the appeal was made; “but that he has done this fairly may be doubted, if there are such things as witchery and magic in this world. ”

Shame, shame, Rudolph!” said the Landamman, “can spleen and envy have weight with so brave a man as you, from whom my sons ought to learn temperance, forbearance, and candor, as well as manly courage and dexterity?”

The Bernese colored hige under this rebuke to which he ventured not to attempt a reply.

“ To your sports till sunset, my children,” continued Arnold; “while I and my worthy friend occupy our time with a walk for which the evening is now favorable.”

Methinks,” said the English merchant, “I should like to visit the ruins of yonder castle, situated by the waterfall. There is something of melancholy dignity in such a scene which reconciles us to the misfortunes of our own time, by showing that our ancestors, who were perhaps more intelligent or more powerful, have nevertheless, in their days, encountered cares and distresses similar to those which we now groan under.”

“Have with you, my worthy sir,” replied his host; “there will be time also upon the road to talk of things that you should know.”

The slow step of the two elderly men carried them by degrees from the limits of the lawn, where shout, and laugh, aud halloo, were again revived. Young Philipson, whose success as an archer had obliterated all recollection of former failure, made other attempts to mingle in the manly pastimes of the country, and gained a considerable portion of applause. The young men who had but lately been so ready to join in ridiculing him, now began to consider him as a person to be looked up and appealed to; while Rudolph Donnerhugel saw with resentment that he was no longer without a rival in the opinion of his male cousins, perhaps of his kinswoman also. The proud young Swiss reflected with bitterness that he had fallen under the Landamman’s displeasure, declined in reputation with his companions, of whom he had been hitherto the leader, and even hazarded a more mortifying disappointment, all, as his swelling heart expressed it, through the means of a stranger stripling, of neither blood nor fame, who could not step from one rock to another without the encouragement of a girl.

In this irritated mood, he drew near the young Englishman, and while he seemed to address him on the chances of the sports which were still proceeding, he conveyed, in a whisper, matter of a far different tendency. Striking Arthur’s shoulder with the frank bluntness of a mountaineer, he said aloud:

“Yonder bolt of Ernest whistled through the air like a falcon when she stoops down the wind!” And then proceeded in a deep low voice, “You merchants sell gloves — do you ever deal in single gauntlets, or only in pairs?”

“I sell no single glove,” said Arthur, instantly apprehending him, and sufficiently disposed to resent the scornful looks of the Bernese champion during the time of their meal, and his having but lately imputed his successful shooting to chance or sorcery, — “I sell no single glove, sir, but never refuse to exchange one.”

“You are apt, I see,” said Rudolph; “look at the players while I speak, or our purpose will be suspected — You are quicker, I say, of apprehension than I expected. If we exchange our gloves, how shall each redeem his own?”

With our good swords,” said Arthur Philipson.

“In armor, or as we stand?”

“Even as we stand,” said Arthur. “I have no better garment of proof than this doublet — no other weapon than my sword; and these, Sir Switzer, I hold enough for the purpose. — “Name time and place.”

“The old castle-court at Geierstein,” replied Rudolph; “the time sunrise; — but we are watched. I have lost my wager, stranger,” he added, speaking aloud, and in an indifferent tone of voice, “since Ulrick has made a cast beyond Ernest. — There is my glove, in token I shall not forget the flask of wine.”

“And there is mine,” said Arthur, “in token I will drink it with you merrily.”

Thus, amid the peaceful though rough sports of their companions, did these two hot-headed youths contrive to indulge their hostile inclinations towards each other, by settling a meeting of deadly purpose.

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