Anne of Geierstein, by Walter Scott

Chapter 8

They saw that city, welcoming the Rhine,

As from his mountain heritage he bursts,

As purposed proud Orgetorix of yore,

Leaving the desert region of the hills,

To lord it o’er the fertile plains of Gaul.


The eyes of the English travellers, wearied with a succession of wild mountainous scenery, now gazed with pleasure upon a country still indeed irregular and hilly in its surface, but capable of high cultivation, and adorned with cornfields and vineyards. The Rhine, a broad and large river, poured its gray stream in a huge sweep through the landscape, and divided into two portions the city of Bale, which is situated on its banks. The southern part, to which the path of the Swiss deputies conducted them, displayed the celebrated cathedral, and the lofty terrace which runs in front of it, and seemed to remind the travellers that they now approached a country in which the operations of man could make themselves distinguished even among the works of nature, instead of being lost, as the fate of the most splendid efforts of human labor must have been, among those tremendous mountains which they had so lately traversed.

They were yet a mile from the entrance of the city, when the party was met by one of the magistrates, attended by two or three citizens mounted on mules, the velvet housings of which expressed wealth and quality. They greeted the Landamman of Unterwalden and his party in a respectful manner and the latter prepared themselves to hear, and make a suitable reply to the hospitable invitation which they naturally expected to receive.

The message of the community of Bale was, however, diametrically opposite to what they had anticipated. It was delivered with a good deal of diffidence and hesitation by the functionary who met them, and who certainly, while discharging his commission, did not appear to consider it as the most respectable which he might have borne. There were many professions of the most profound and fraternal regard for the cities of the Helvetian League, with whom the orator of Bale declared his own State to be united in friendship and interests. But he ended by intimating, that, on account of certain cogent and weighty reasons, which should be satisfactorily explained at more leisure, the free city of Bale could not, this evening, receive within its walls the highly respected deputies, who were travelling at the command of the Helvetian Diet, to the court of the Duke of Burgundy.

Philipson marked with much interest the effect which this most unexpected intimation produced on the members of the embassage. Rudolph Donnerhugel, who had joined their company as they approached Bale, appeared less surprised than his associates, and, white he remained perfectly silent, seemed rather anxious to penetrate their sentiments, than disposed to express his own. It was not the first time the sagacious merchant had observed that this bold and fiery young man could, when his purposes required it, place a strong constraint upon the natural impetuosity of his temper For the others, the Banneret’s brow darkened; the face of the Burgess of Soleure became flushed like the moon when rising in the north-west; the grey-bearded deputy of Schwytz looked anxiously on Arnold Biederman and the Landamman himself seemed more moved than was usual in a person of his equanimity. At length, he replied to the functionary of Bale, in a voice somewhat altered by his feelings:—

This is a singular message to the Deputies of the Swiss Confederacy, bound as we are upon an amicable mission, on which depends the interest of the good citizens of Bale, whom we have always treated as our good friends, and who still profess to be so. The shelter of their roofs, the protection of their walls, the wonted intercourse of hospitality, is what no friendly State hath a right to refuse to the inhabitants of another.”

“Nor is it with their will that the community of Bale refuse it worthy Landamman,” replied the magistrate. “Not you alone, and your worthy associates, but your escort, and your very beasts of burden, should be entertained with all the kindness which the citizens of Bale could bestow — But we act under constraint.”

“And by whom exercised?” said the Banneret, bursting out in passion. “Has the Emperor Sigismund profited so little by the example of his predecessors — ”

“The Emperor,” replied the delegate of Bale, interrupting the Banneret, “is a well-intentioned and peaceful monarch, as he has been ever; but — there are Burgundian troops, of late, marched into the Sundgaw, and messages have been sent to our State from Count Archibald of Hagenbach.”

“Enough said,” replied the Landamman. “Draw not farther the veil from a weakness for which you blush. I comprehend you entirely. Bale lies too near the citadel of La Ferette to permit its citizens to consult their own inclinations. — Brother, we see where your difficulty lies — we pity you — and we forgive your inhospitality.”

“Nay, but hear me to an end, worthy Landamman,” answered the magistrate. “There is here in the vicinity an old hunting-seat of the Counts of Falkenstein, called Graffs-lust, 4 which, though ruinous, yet may afford better lodgings than the open air, and is capable of some defence — though Heaven forbid that any one should dare to intrude upon your repose! And hark ye hither, my worthy friends; — if you find in the old place some refreshment, as wine, beer, and the like, use them without scruple, for they are there for your accommodation.” I do not refuse to occupy a place of security,” said the Landamman; “for although the causing us to be excluded from Bale may be only done in the spirit of petty insolence and malice, yet it may also, for what we can tell, be connected with some purpose of violence. Your provisions we thank you (or but we will not, with my consent, feed at the cost of friends who are ashamed to own us unless by stealth.”

“One thing more, my worthy sir,” said the official of Bale -” You have a maiden in company, who, I presume to think, is your daughter. There is but rough accommodation where you are going, even for men; — for women there is little better, though what we could we have done to arrange matters as well as may be. But rather let your daughter go with us back to Bible, where my dame will be a mother to her till next morning, when I will bring her to your camp in safety. We promised to shut our gates against the men of the Confederacy, but the women were not mentioned.”

“You are subtle casuists, you men of Bale,” answered the Landamman; “but know, that from the time in which the Helvetians sallied forth to encounter Caesar down to the present hour, the women of Switzerland, in the press of danger, have had their abode in the camp of their fathers, brothers, and husbands, and sought no farther safety than they might find in the courage of their relations. We have enough of men to protect our women, and my niece shall remain with us, and take the fate which Heaven may send us.”

“Adieu, then, worthy friend,” said the magistrate of Bale; “it grieves me to part with you thus, but evil fate will have it so. Yonder grassy avenue will conduct you to the old hunting-seat, where Heaven send that you may pass a quiet night; for apart from other risks, men say that these ruins have no good name. Will you yet permit your niece, since such the young person is, to pass to Bale for the night in my company?”

“If we are disturbed by beings like ourselves,” said Arnold Biederman, “we have strong arms, and heavy partisans; if we should be visited, as your words would imply, by those of a different description, we have, or should have, good consciences, and confidence in Heaven. — Good friends, my brethren on this embassy, have I spoken your sentiments as well as mine own?”

The other deputies intimated their assent to what their companion had said, and the citizens of Bale took a courteous fare-well of their guests, endeavoring, by the excess of civility, to atone for their deficiency in effective hospitality. After their departure, Rudolph was the first to express his sense of their pusillanimous behavior, on which he had been silent during their presence. “Coward dogs!” he said; “may the Butcher of Burgundy flay the very skins from them with his exactions, to teach them to disown old friendships, rather than abide the lightest blast of a tyrant’s anger!”

“And not even their own tyrant either,” said another of the group, — for several of the young men had gathered round their seniors, to hear the welcome which they expected from the magistrates of Bale.

“No,” replied Ernest, one of Arnold Biederman’s sons, “they do not pretend that their own prince the Emperor hath interfered with them; but a word of the Duke of Burgundy, which should be no more to them than a breath of wind from the west, is sufficient to stir them to such brutal inhospitality. It were well to march to the city, and compel them at the sword’s point to give us shelter.”

A murmur of applause arose amongst the youth around, which awakened the displeasure of Arnold Biederman.

“Did I hear,” he said, “the tongue of a son of mine, or was it that of a brutish Lanz-knecht, 5 who has no pleasure but in battle or violence? Where is the modesty of the youth of Switzerland, who were wont to wait the signal for action till it pleased the elders of the canton to give it, and were as gentle as maidens till the voice of their patriarchs bade them be bold as lions?”

“I meant no harm, father,” said Ernest, abashed with this rebuke, “far less any slight towards you; but I must needs say — ”

“Say not a word, my son,” replied Arnold, “but leave our camp to-morrow by break of day; and, as thou takest thy way back to Geierstein, to which I command thine instant return, remember, that he is not fit to visit strange countries, who cannot rule his tongue before his own countrymen, and to his own father.”

The Banneret of Berne, the Burgess of Soleure, even the long-bearded Deputy from Schwytz, endeavored to intercede for the offender, and obtain a remission of his banishment; but it was in vain.

“No, my good friends and brethren, no,” replied Arnold. “These young men require an example; and though I am grieved in one sense that the offence has chanced within my own family, yet I am pleased in another light, that the delinquent should be one over whom I can exercise full authority, without suspicion of partiality. Ernest, my son, thou hast heard my commands: Return to Geierstein with the morning’s light, and let me find thee an altered man when I return thither.”

The young Swiss, who was evidently much hurt and shocked at this public affront, placed one knee on the ground, and kissed his father’s right hand, while Arnold, without the slightest sign of anger, bestowed his blessing upon him; and Ernest without a word of remonstrance, fell into the rear of the party. The deputation then proceeded down the avenue which had been pointed out to them, and at the bottom of which arose the massy ruins of Graffs-lust; but there was not enough of daylight remaining to discern their exact form They could observe as they drew nearer, and as the night became darker; that three or four windows were lighted up, while the rest of the front remained obscured in gloom. When they arrived at the place, they perceived it was surrounded by a large and deep moat, the sullen suface of which reflected, though faintly, the glimmer of the lights within.

4 Graffs-lust — i.e. Count's-delight.

5 A private soldier of the German infantry.

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