Anne of Geierstein, by Walter Scott

Chapter 6

When we two meet, we meet like rushing torrents,

Like warring winds, like flames from various points,

That mate each other’s fury — there is nought

Of elemental strife, were fiends to guide it,

Can match the wrath of man.


The elder of our two traveller, though a strong man and familiar with fatigue, slept sounder and longer than usual on the morning which was now beginning to dawn, but his son Arthur had that upon his mind which early interrupted his repose.

The encounter with the bold Switzer, a chosen man of a renowned race of warriors, was an engagement, which, in the opinion of the period in which he lived, was not to be delayed or broken. He left his father’s side, avoiding as much as possible the risk of disturbing him, though even in that case the circumstance would not have excited any attention, as he was in Lhe habit of rising early, in order to make preparations for the day’s journey, to see that the guide was on his duty, and that the mule had his provender, and to discharge similar offices which might otherwise have given trouble to his father. The old man, however, fatigued with the exertions of the preceding day, sept, as we have said, more soundly than his wont, and Arthur, arming himself with his good sword, sallied out to the lawn in front of the Landamman’s dwelling, amid the magic dawn of a beautiful harvest morning in the Swiss mountains.

The sun was just about to kiss the the top of the most gigantic of that race of Titans, though the long shadows still lay on the rough grass, which crisped under the young man’s feet, with a strong intimation of frost. But Arthur looked not round on the landscape, however lovely, which lay waiting one flash from the orb of day to start into brilliant existence. He drew the belt of his trusty sword which he was in the act of fastening when he left the house, and ere he had secured the buckle, he was many paces on his way towards the place where he was to use it.

It was still the custom of that military period, to regard a summons to combat as a sacred engagement, preferable to all others which could be formed and stifling whatever inward feelings of reluctance Nature might oppose to the dictates of fashion, the step of a gallant to the place of encounter was required to be as free and ready as if he had been going to a bridal. I do not know whether this alacrity was altogether real on the part of Arthur Philipson; but, if it were otherwise, neither his look nor pace betrayed the secret.

Having hastily traversed the fields and groves which separated the Landamman’s residence from the old castle of Geierstein, he entered the courtyard from the side where the castle overlooked the land; and nearly in the same instant his almost gigantic antagonist, who looked yet more tall and burly by the pale morning light than he had seemed the preceding evening, appeared ascending from the precarious bridge beside the torrent, having reached Geierstein by a different route from that pursued by the Englishman.

The young champion of Berne had hanging along his back one of those huge two-handed swords, the blade of which measured five feet, and which were wielded with both hands. There were almost universally used by the Swiss; for, besides the impression which such weapons were calculated to make upon the array of the German men-at-arms, whose armor was impenetrable to lighter swords, they were also well calculated to defend mountain passes, where the great bodily strength and agility of those who bore them enamed the combatants, in spite of their weight and length to use them with much address and effect. One of these gigantic swords hung round Rudolph Donnerhugel’s neck, the point rattling against his heel, and the handle extending itself over his left shoulder, considerably above his head. He carried another in his hand.

“Thou art punctual,” he called out to Arthur Philipson in a voice which was distinctly heard above the roar of the waterfall, which it seemed to rival in sullen force. “But I judge thou wouldst come without a two-handed sword. There is my kinsman Ernest’s,” he said, throwing on the ground the weapon which he carried, with the hilt towards the young Englishman. “Look, stranger, that thou disgrace it not, for my kinsman will never forgive me if thou dost. Or thou mayest have mine if thou likest it better.”

The Englishman looked at the weapon with some surprise, to the use of which he was totally unaccustomed.

“The challenger,” he said, “in all countries where honor is known, accepts the arms of the challenged.”

“He who fights on a Swiss mountain, fights with a Swiss brand,” answered Rudolph. “Think you our hands are made to handle penknives?

“Nor are ours made to wield scythes,” said Arthur; and muttered betwixt his teeth, as he looked at the sword, which the Swiss continued to offer him. — ”Usum non habeo, I have not proved the weapon.”

“Do you repent the bargain you have made?” said the Swiss; “if so, cry craven, and return in safety. Speak plainly, instead of prattling Latin like a clerk or a shaven monk.”

“No, proud man,” replied the Englishman, “I ask thee no forbearance. I thought but of a combat between a shepherd and a giant, in which God gave the victory to him who had worse odds of weapons than falls to my lot to-day. I will fight as I stand; my own good sword shall serve my need now, as it has done before.”

“Content! — But blame not me who offered the equality of weapons,” said the mountaineer. “And now hear me. This is a fight for life or death — yon waterfall sounds the alarum for our conflict. — Yes, old bellower,” he continued, looking back, it is long since thou hast heard the noise of battle; — and look at it ere we begin, stranger, for if you fall, I will commit your body to its waters.”

And if thou falls’t, proud Swiss,” answered Arthur, “as well I trust thy presumption leads to destruction, I will have thee buried in the church at Einsiedlen, where the priests shall sing masses for thy soul-thy two-handed sword shall be displayed above thy grave, and a scroll shall tell the passenger, Here lies a bear’s cub of Berne, slain by Arthur the Englishman.”

“The stone is not in Switzerland, rocky as it is,” said Rudolph, scornfully, “that shall bear that inscription. Prepare thyself for battle.”

The Englishman cast a calm and deliberate glance around the scene of action — a courtyard, partly open, partly encumbered with ruins, in less and larger masses.

“Methinks,” said he to himself, “a master of his weapon, with the instructions of Bottaferma of Florence in his remembrance, a light heart, a good blade, a firm hand, and a just cause, might make up a worse odds than two feet of steel.”

Thinking thus, and imprinting on his mind, as much as the time would permit, every circumstance of the locality around him which promised advantage in the combat, and taking his station in the middle of the courtyard where the ground was entirely clear, he flung his cloak from him, and drew his sword.

Rudolph had at first believed that his foreign antagonist was an effeminate youth, who would be swept from before him at the first flourish of his tremendous weapon. But the firm and watchful attitude assumed by the young man, reminded the Swiss of the deficiencies of his own unwieldy implement, and made him determined to avoid any precipitation which might give advantage to an enemy who seemed both daring and vigilant. He unsheathed his huge sword, by drawing it over the left shoulder, an operation which required some little time, and might have offered formidable advantage to his antagonist had Arthur’s sense of honor permitted him to begin the attack ere it was completed. The Englishman remained firm, however, until the Swiss, displaying his bright brand to the morning sun, made three or four flourishes as if to prove its weight, and the facility with which he wielded it — then stood firm within sword-stroke of his adversary, grasping his weapon with both hands, and advancing it a little before his body, with the blade pointed straight upwards. The Englishman, on the contrary, carried his sword in one hand, holding it across his face in a horizontal position, so as to be at once ready to strike, thrust, or parry.

“Strike, Englishman!” said the Switzer, after they had confronted each other in this manner for about a minute.

“The longest sword should strike first,” said Arthur; and the words had not left his mouth when the Swiss sword rose and descended with a rapidity which, the weight and size of the weapon considered, appeared portentous. No parry, however dexterously interposed, could have baffled the ruinous descent of that dreadful weapon, by which the champion of Berne had hoped at once to begin the battle and end it. But young Philipson had not over-estimated the justice of his own eye, or the activity of his limbs. Ere the blade descended, a sudden spring to one side carried him from beneath its heavy sway, and before the Swiss could again raise his sword aloft, be received a wound, though a slight one, upon the left arm. Irritated at the failure and at the wound, the Switzer heaved up his sword once more, and availing himself of a strength corresponding to his size, he discharged towards his adversary a succession of blows, drown-right, athwart, horizontal, and from left to right, with such surprising strength and velocity, that it required all the address of the young Englishman, by parrying, shifting, eluding, or retreating, to evade a storm, of which every individual blow seemed sufficient to cleave a solid rock. The Englishman was compelled to give ground, now backwards, now swerving to the one side or the other, now availing himself of the fragments of the ruins, but watching all the while, with the utmost composure, the moment when the strength of his enraged enemy might become somewhat exhausted, or when by some improvident or furious blow he might again lay himself open to a close attack. The latter of these advantages had nearly occurred, for in the middle of his headlong charge, the Switzer stumbled over a large stone concealed among the long grass, and ere he could recover himself, received a severe blow across the head from his antagonist. It lighted upon his bonnet, the lining of which enclosed a small steel cap, so that he escaped unwounded, and springing up, renewed the battle with unabated fury, though it seemed to the young Englishman with breath somewhat Short, and blows dealt with more caution.

They were still contending with equal fortune, when a stern voice, rising over the clash of swords, as well as the roar of waters, called out in a commanding tone, “On your lives, forbear!”

The two combatants sunk the points of their swords, not very sorry perhaps for the interruption of a strife which must otherwise have had a deadly termination, They looked round, and the Landamman stood before them, with anger frowning on his broad and expressive forehead.

“How now, boys?” he said; “are you guests of Arnold Biederman, and do you dishonor his house by acts of violence more becoming the wolves of the mountains, than beings to whom the great Creator has given a form after his own likeness, and an immortal soul to be saved by penance and repentance?”

“Arthur,” said the elder Philipson, who had come up at the same time with their host, “what frenzy is this? Are your duties of so light and heedless a nature, as to give time and place for quarrels and combats with every idle boor who chances to be boastful at once and bull-headed?”

The young men, whose strife had ceased at the entrance of these unexpected spectators, stood looking at each other, and resting on their swords.

“Rudolph Donnerhugel,” said the Landamman, “give thy sword to me — to me, the owner of this ground, the master of his family, and magistrate of the canton.”

“And which is more,” answered Rudolph, submissively, “to you who are Arnold Biederman, at whose command every native of these mountains draws his sword or sheathes it.”

He gave his two-handed sword to the Landamman.

“Now, by my honest word,” said Eiederman, “it is the same with which thy father Stephen fought so gloriously at Sempach, abreast with the famous De Winkleried! Shame it is, that it should be drawn on a helpless stranger. — And you, young sir,” continued the Swiss, addressing Arthur, while his father said at the same time, “Young man, yield up your sword to the Landamman.”

“It shall not need, sir,” replied the young Englishman, “since, for my part, I hold our strife at an end. This gallant gentleman called me hither, on a trial, as I conceive, of courage; I can give my unqualified testimony in his galantry and sword manship; and as I trust he will say nothing to the shame of my manhood, I think our strife has lasted long enough for the purpose which gave rise to it.”

“Too long for me,” said Rudolph, frankly; “the green sleeve of my doublet, which I wore of that color out of my love to the Forest Cantons, is now stained into as dirty a crimson as could have been done by any dyer in Ypres or Ghent. bur I heartily forgive the brave stranger who has spoiled my jerkin, and given its master a lesson he will not soon forget. Had all Englishmen been like your guest, worthy kinsman, methinks the mound at Buttisholt, had hardly risen so high.”

“Cousin Rudolph,” said the Landamman, smoothing his brow as his kinsman spoke, “I have ever thought thee as generous as thou art hair-brained and quarrelsome and you, my young guest, may rely, that when a Swiss says the quarrel is over, there is no chance of its being renewed. We are not like the men of the valleys to the eastward, who nurse revenge as if it were a favorite child. And now, join hands, my children, and let us forget this foolish feud.”

“Here is my hand, brave stranger,” said Donnerhugel; “thou hast taught me a trick of fence, and when we have broken our fast, we will, by your leave, to the forest, where I will teach you a trick of woodcraft in return. When your foot hath hall the experience of your hand, and your eye hath gained a portion of the steadiness of your heart, you will not find many hunters to match you.”

Arthur, with all the ready confidence of youth, readily embraced a proposition so frankly made, and before they reached the house, various subjects of sport were eagerly discussed between them, with as much cordiality as if no disturbance of their concord had taken place.

“Now this,” said the Landamman, “is as it should be. I am ever ready to forgive the headlong impetuosity of our youth, if they will be but manly and open in their reconciliation, and bear their heart on their tongue, as a true Swiss should.”

“These two youths had but made wild work of it, however,” said Philipson, “had not your care, my worthy host, learned of their rendezvous, and called me to assist in breaking their purpose. May I ask how it came to your knowledge so opportunely?”

“It was e’en through means of my domestic fairy,” answered Arnold Biederman, “who seems born for the good luck of my family, — I mean my niece Anne, who had observed a glove exchanged betwixt the two young braggadocios, and heard them mention Geierstein and break of day. 0 sir, it is much to see a woman’s sharpness of wit! it would have been long enough ere any of my thick-headed sons had shown themselves so apprehensive.”

“I think I see our propitious protectress peeping at us from yonder high ground,” said Philipson; “but it seems as if she would willingly observe us without being seen in return.”

“Ay,” said the Landamman, “she has been looking out to see that there has been no hurt done; and now, I warrant me, the foolish girl is ashamed of having shown such a laudible degree of interest in a matter of the kind.”

“Methinks,” said the Englishman; “I would willingly return my thanks, in your presence, to the fair maiden to whom I have been so highly indebted ”

“There can be no better time than the present,” said the Landamman; and he sent through the groves the maiden’s name, in one of those shrilly accented tones which we have already noticed.

Anne of Geierstein, as Philipson had before observed, was stationed upon a knoll at some distance, and concealed, as she thought, from notice, by a screen of brushwood. She started at her uncle’s summons, therefore, but presently obeyed it; and avoiding the young men, who passed on foremost, she joined the Landamman and Philipson by a circuitous path through the woods.

“My worthy friend and guest would speak with you, Anne,” said the Landamman, as soon as the morning greeting had been exchanged. The Swiss maiden colored over brow as well as cheek, then Philipson, with a grace which seemed beyond his calling, addressed her in these words.

“It happens sometimes to us merchants, my fair young friend, that we are unlucky enough not to possess means for the instant defraying of our debts; but he is justly had amongst us as the meanest of mankind who does not acknowledge them. Accept, therefore, the thanks of a father, whose son your courage, only yesterday, saved from destruction, and whom your prudence has, this very morning, rescued from a great danger. And grieve me not, by refusing to wear these ear-rings,” he added, producing a small jewel-case, which he opened as he spoke; “they are, it is true, only of pearls, but they have not been thought unworthy the ears of a countess — ”

“And must, therefore,” said the old Landamman, “show misplaced on the person of a Swiss maiden of Unterwalden; for such and no more is my niece Anne while she resides in my solitude. Methinks, good Master Philipson, you display less than your usual judgment in matching the quality of your gifts with the rank of her on whom they are bestowed — as a merchant, too, you should remember that large guerdons will lighten your gains.”

“Let me crave your pardon, my good host,” answered the Englishman, “while I reply, that at least I have consulted my own sense of the obligation under which I labor, and have chosen, out of what I have at my free disposal, that which I thought might best express it. I trust the host whom I have found hitherto so kind, will not prevent this young maiden from accepting what is at least not unbecoming the rank she is born to; and you will judge me unjustly if you think me capable of doing either myself or you the wrong, of offering any token of a value beyond what I can well spare.” The Landamman took the jewel-case into his own hand.

“I have ever set my countenance,” he said, “against gaudy gems, which are leading us daily farther astray from the sim plicity of our fathers and mothers. — And yet, he added with a good-humored smile, and holding one of the ear-rings close to his relation’s face, “the ornaments do set off the wench rarely, and they say girls have more pleasure in wearing such toys than gray-haired men can comprehend. Wherefore, dear Anne, as thou hast deserved a dearer trust in a greater matter, I refer thee entirely to thine own wisdom, to accept of our good friend’s costly present, and wear it or not as thou thinkest fit.”

Since such is your pleasure, my best friend and kinsman,” said the young maiden, blushing as she spoke, “I will not give pain to our valued guest, by refusing what he desired so earnestly that I should accept; but, by his leave, good uncle, and yours, I will bestow these splendid ear-rings on the shrine of Our Lady of Einsiedlen, to express our general gratitude to her protecting favor, which has been around us in the terrors of yesterday’s storm, and the alarms of this morning’s discord.”

“By Our Lady, the wench speaks sensibly!” said the Landamman; “and her wisdom has applied the bounty well, my good guest, to bespeak prayers for thy family and mine, and for the general peace of Unterwalden. — Go to, Anne, thou shalt have a necklace of jet at next shearing-feast, if our fleeces bear any price in the market.”

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