Swiss Heroes - George Upton

At The Bears

An unwonted stir pervaded the streets of Basle, as if some festival were being celebrated. No signs of traffic were visible, and the people were in holiday attire. The streets were full of strangers, who were easily distinguished by the curious glances with which they regarded the houses and public buildings; while at every corner burghers might be seen directing men-at-arms with swords at their sides through the maze of narrow lanes.

Two horsemen slowly made their way through the throng, the foremost of whom wore the uniform of an officer and displayed the badge of the Duke of Burgundy. The other, a few paces behind, was a groom. At length they reined in their steeds.

"Ho there! my friend," cried the officer in good Swiss dialect to a citizen, "can you direct me to an inn called The Bears?"

"Aye, truly, sir," was the answer; "you have only to ride up this street, then turn to the right; again to the left at the next cross street, and you cannot miss it."

"Thank you," said the officer as he rode off followed by his servant, the horses carefully picking their way over the rough pavement, through the centre of which a row of large stones had been laid. Indeed, it was scarcely safe for the riders themselves to leave the middle of the passageway, for long iron bars protruded from the houses, bearing signs denoting the trade of their occupants, such as glass work for a glazier, the horseshoe for a smith, and the key for a locksmith. At one place the signboard of an alehouse almost carried away the officer's iron helm. They turned to the right and then to the left, according to their directions, and found themselves in a street somewhat wider than the rest, where they soon discovered The Bears, a new and well-built tavern, over the door of which hung a sign emblazoned with the beasts that gave the inn its name. A serving man sprang from the huge gateway to assist the officer to dismount, and led his horse away to the stables, while the host himself, Ulrich Iseli, came forward to escort his guest up the stairs.

"This is a fine place you have here," said the latter. "Inns like this, whether Swiss or German, are seldom to be found."

"You are quite right, sir," replied the landlord. "I conduct my business after the French fashion. Having been much in Paris in my' younger days, I learned how distinguished guests should be accommodated; and I try to keep my own house accordingly. Will you go to the public room for the time being? The private parlor is unfortunately occupied by some deputies from the various Swiss States who are holding a council there, and they would doubtless be ill pleased were I to bring a stranger in upon them. A chamber shall be made ready for you at once. I have a houseful of guests, to be sure, but room shall be found for you, depend on it."

He pushed open the door of the public room. "Here, Werni!" he called to a servant, who was engaged at that moment in delivering one of the latest patriotic songs to a number of country people, who crowded about him with shouts of applause, "come and place yourself at this gentleman's service." Then, taking leave of the newcomer, he hastened away to see about a lodging for his guest.

The officer's attendant soon appeared, bringing his master's luggage, and after depositing it in the neatly appointed room assigned to him, went back to the stables, where, ranged in long rows, stood a hundred horses enjoying their fodder. When the latest arrival had also been provided for, the groom betook himself to the public room, where he found his master already partaking of a good breakfast. The officer ordered something to be brought for him at once, and he modestly seated himself at another table where two Burgundian soldiers were vainly endeavoring to enjoy the sour Swiss wine.

Meanwhile it was getting very noisy up in the private parlor, the envoys disagreeing violently in their views regarding France, Germany, and Burgundy.

"We are sent here," declared Hans Vogeli, the deputy from Freiburg, to welcome the Emperor in the name of our country. What is it to us what schemes he may be entertaining? Let him answer for those himself. We will defend our own lives if they attempt to meddle with us."

"That is what you are always saying," objected another of the envoys, who was said to be secretly in the pay of the King of France. "I claim that it is far from being a matter of indifference to us whether the Emperor and Burgundy agree or no. Think of the force they could assemble on our borders, and the Burgundian is a violent man. It would almost seem that he intended to insult us by sending the Governor, Hagenbach, hither to welcome the Emperor in his name, for he must know how we hate him. Did you hear of the insulting speech Hagenbach made against the Bernese? He declared he would strip the skins from their bears to keep himself warm therein."

"Those were indeed insolent words," declared the deputies from Berne, "and he shall yet make amends to us for them. Moreover we will make complaint of him to the Emperor."

"Much good will that do!" retorted the lame magistrate, Heinrich Hassfurter, of Lucerne. "In truth you had best be on your guard against this Hagenbach. I had somewhat to do with him at Salz, when I was sent there a short time ago to negotiate certain matters. What think you? He declared scornfully that the Confederates must lack able-bodied men, since they made envoys of cripples and hunchbacks! 'That I am a cripple,' I answered, 'is the will of God; but I shall yet prove myself able-bodied enough for you.'"

Nay, be not so sure," interposed another, "that the Emperor is in league with Burgundy. It is true indeed that he would gladly marry his son Maximilian to the Duke's only daughter Maria for the sake of acquiring Burgundy as her marriage portion, but Charles the Bold asks too much in return. To be King of Burgundy is not enough; he would fain extend his kingdom to the banks of the Rhine and claim as his own Alsace and Lorraine, which he now holds in fee only."

"It is shameful," yet another declared, "the way the Alsatians are treated. A worse Governor than Hagenbach could not be found; and to add to that, the Duke employs none but foreign mercenaries there, who abuse the people cruelly."

"There are many Switzers also among them," said Hans Vogeli; "indeed my runaway brother Heinrich is said to command a body of Hagenbach's soldiers."

"It is disgraceful," cried old Hassfurter, "that so many Switzers should desert their own land to seek service in foreign armies."

"Who can blame them for it?" replied Iseli the innkeeper. "Are they to sit idle here at home and increase the number of those who find it hard enough already to gain a livelihood in this impoverished land? What would have become of your brother, Herr Vogeli, had he stayed at home? I do not know the gentleman myself, it is true, but travellers have told me that he is popular among the Alsatians, and stands high in the favor, not only of Hagenbach, but also of Duke Charles himself. It is well known to foreign princes that there are no more loyal people to be found than we Switzers."

"And we well know," burst out Vogeli, "that these foreign lords never repay our loyalty. French, Burgundian, or Austrian, they would not long keep their hands off us, had they not so great a respect for our ability to protect ourselves."

"Is it true," asked a deputy, seeking to put an end to the discussion, "that the Emperor and the Burgundians are to unite in an expedition against the Turks?"

"So it is said," replied old Hassfurter, "but who can tell whether it will come to pass? You know how vacillating the Emperor is, and it is certain Charles the Bold will not join him in this enterprise, unless he be made King; and that the princes of the Empire will not consent to, for fear that the Electorate of Treves and other portions of their domains might be included in the new kingdom."

"Once more I say," interrupted Vogeli, "that all this is nothing to us. Let the princes do as they will; we are a free and independent people, and should take no part in their affairs."

"But we already belong to the German Empire," some one objected.

"Even so," retorted Vogeli; "but that does not compel us to comply with all the Emperor's demands. Let us not burn our fingers meddling with things that do not concern the safety of the Confederation."

"He is a poor citizen," said old Hassfurter, "who will not help to extinguish the fire that is consuming his neighbor's house. If the Burgundians treat Alsace in this manner, it will not be long before they attempt to crush us also. Might we not be added to the kingdom that is to be formed for Charles the Bold?"

Thus the discussion went on, while below in the large public room the country folk who had assembled from far and near discussed the same subjects after their own fashion. Coarse as these peasants were in appearance, their great size and strength lent them an air of proud self-consciousness, and they wore their patched hose and jerkins and heavy hobnailed shoes with as much dignity as many a nobleman his silken doublet. Here, too, the conversation soon became heated, and frequent hostile glances were cast toward the Burgundian officer as well as his servant and the two soldiers at the other table; some even hummed to themselves the song Werni had been singing—which contained various contemptuous allusions to Burgundy and its Duke.

These soldiers, who from their appearance might have been Switzers also, were in uniforms of fine gray cloth. They seemed to ignore the scoffs and jeers of the peasants, and as if in defiance of them, turned the sleeves of their jerkins about to show more plainly the badge of the Duke of Burgundy, a pair of dice, displaying the two spots and the five spots. At length, however, as the peasants became more and more audacious, one of the two imitated the lowing of a heifer. This form of insult was familiar to the Switzers and roused them to instant fury. One tall fellow rose, and crossing over to the table where the men in gray were sitting, intentionally stumbled over the legs of one of them, and assailed him with a torrent of abuse. The soldier merely shrugged his shoulders indifferently, which seemed to infuriate the peasant still more; with legs outspread, he planted himself before the Burgundian.

"Truly!" he drawled, "that is a curious ornament you have there on your sleeve! Perchance there was not cloth enough and your lord put those dice on for patches!"

"You scoundrel!" burst out the man in gray, "I will teach you respect for my noble master's arms; and as for patches, look at your own jerkin, you Barenhauter!"

The bold mountaineer looked abashed, and was about to turn away without reply, when another Switzer strode to his side. "And those French words above your noble master's arms, what do they signify?"

"Je guette,"  replied the Burgundian; "that is to say, 'I watch.' One could hardly expect cow-herds to understand French."

"Now you shall not watch long for a flogging!"

shouted the Switzer furiously. "Up, all who call themselves men! We will soon put a stop to his insolence."

"Good friend," said the other, slowly drawing his sword, "take your milking stool between your horns and get you gone, else I will hack that hide of yours till it looks as patched as your jerkin."

"Am I a bull," roared the herdsman, "that I should have horns to carry a milk stool? You shall pay dearly for that, you dog!"

At this moment the officer brought the flat blade of his sword down upon the table with such a clang that all turned to look at him. He sternly bade the soldiers hold their peace and ordered them from the room. But the passions of the Switzers were now fully aroused. One of them seized a heavy oaken stool. "Here, you good for naught!" he cried, "take this milking stool between your horns!" and dashed it violently at the head of the Burgundian. At the same instant the officer flung himself between the combatants just in time to receive the full weight of the blow, which stretched him bleeding on the floor. A wild tumult at once arose that speedily brought the landlord to the spot, closely followed by a throng of curious deputies. Peace was at once restored, and the Burgundians with Iseli rushed to the relief of the victim, Hans Vogeli following.

"Good God!" cried the latter suddenly, "it is my brother Heinrich. I might have known the vagabond would come to some such end."

"For shame!" said old Hassfurter, "to speak in such a way of your own brother."

"Nay, preach not to me," retorted Vogeli; "this man who lies here before us is no longer my brother. I long ago cast him from my heart, and the city of Freiburg has banished all who did not return when they were summoned thither."

"That was no loss to you, methinks," answered Hassfurter, "since you thereby acquired sole possession of your father's house and properties, to which otherwise Heinrich would have been entitled to a share."

"Nonsense!" cried Vogeli furiously; "all the world knows that my father had already disinherited Heinrich." The old man made no reply. He knelt down by the wounded officer, and after carefully examining his injury shook his head gravely, to the innkeeper's great alarm.

"Merciful Heaven!" he cried, "the town guard will soon be here, and I shall be punished for permitting this affray in my house. Hagenbach, too, will not fail to remember what has happened here to his officer."

"Have you no friend?" asked Hassfurter; "I mean one on whom you can rely, who would take care of this fellow for you? As for the Burgundians, gold will keep them silent concerning the affair. They are not altogether guiltless themselves, and would not escape punishment if the facts were known."

"I have indeed such a friend," replied the inn-keeper in a tone of relief, "Hans Irmy, a magistrate of our town. Our places adjoin, and we can easily carry the man thither."

The peasants lent willing aid, and Irmy gladly offered the use of a secret room in his house to the wounded officer. There he lay unconscious for three days; but nature finally triumphed, and his progress toward recovery was rapid, thanks to Walter, Irmy's son, who tended him with the greatest care.

"It does not please me," said the father one day, "that you should sit the whole day at that foreign soldier's bedside; such service could be performed quite as well by the servants."

"But, father," cried Walter, "he is such a fine fellow and can tell such splendid tales of war and the battles he has fought in. It almost makes one long to go away with him."

"Has the stranger suggested that to you?" asked Irmy.

"No, not he," was the answer; "but Iseli, your friend, is always saying that I might make a great success if I were to go out into the world; he seems to think there is something unusual about me."

"Iseli is a fool," growled the old man, "to put such ideas into your head. Stay in your own country and earn an honest living, that is my advice; and if you must be a soldier, no doubt there will he opportunities enough for you to begin your career in the service of the Fatherland, instead of entering that of any foreign prince."

Crestfallen, Walter slipped away, but half an hour later he was sitting beside the officer again, listening with eager interest to his tales. Heini Sussbacher was often in the sick chamber also, and the two boys soon determined to follow their hero out into the world to seek their fortunes. Not long after this the Captain took leave of the Councillor, with kindly thanks for his hospitality, and set out for Treves to join the Governor, who had already reached Strassburg with the Emperor. He was a considerable distance away from Basle, when suddenly the lads sprang out from the roadside and besought him to take them with him to the ducal court that they too might become soldiers like himself, promising to do their best. Heinrich Vogeli reproved them sharply; but what was he to do with them, as they absolutely refused to return home even if he sent them away? There seemed no alternative except to take them along. At the next town, therefore, he hired two horses for them, that the journey to Strassburg might be more quickly accomplished, and also despatched a messenger secretly to old Irmy to reassure him as to his son's whereabouts.

But old Irmy was not to be appeased so easily; he stormed and grumbled continually about the runaways. "And Heini, too," he always ended with, "that rascal! as if his father had not already injured me enough in my business by selling his goods at a loss, that he must now lead my son astray, the only child I have in the world, and induce him to become a vagabond and a traitor like that Vogeli "

But as week after week passed and the boys did not return, the Councillor at length determined, come what might, to go in search of them; he set out also for Treves, where in a few days the Emperor Frederick, with his son Maximilian and Duke Charles the Bold, was to make his formal entry.