Swiss Heroes - George Upton

Faithful Unto Death

Duke rene was pacing restlessly to and fro in the guest room of the inn of The Bears at Basle. "Nancy will surely hold out," he murmured half aloud; "it must. The burghers know I am coming to their relief as soon as possible. In truth it has been no easy matter to induce the Swiss to repay the assistance I have lent them; but at last all is ready, and I must find some way of warning my good subjects of Nancy that relief is at hand. But neither Siffrein nor yet the youth from Basle shall risk his life in such an attempt."

At that moment the door opened and Siffrein de Baschi, the Duke's faithful steward, entered. He was dressed as for a journey, and his dark eyes gleamed triumphantly as he said to his master: "How does my new travelling costume please Your Highness? Truly, 'tis somewhat soiled; but a minstrel must not be too fine, and tarnished finery will attract the less suspicion."

Rene gazed in astonishment at the transformation. Had not every feature of the handsome face with its winning smile been so familiar to him he would never have recognized the knight.

"In travelling dress! What means this, Siffrein? Surely you will not persist in your mad resolve to go to Nancy? Abandon it, I charge you. Think of the grief it would cause me were any harm to befall you!

"Nay, gracious lord," entreated Siffrein, "grant me leave to go. Even should they capture me I shall not lose my head upon the spot, and they will do well if they catch me, I promise you. Young Irmy waits without. Will you not hear his plan at least?

Without waiting for an answer he flung open the door and beckoned to Walter to enter. The Duke's eyes rested approvingly on the youth's stalwart figure and honest German face. Extending his hand to him, he said kindly: Methinks, sir, we are already acquainted. I saw you fight beside Heinrich Vogeli at Murten."

"As I, too, saw Your Highness," replied Walter; "and there is not a Switzer but would gladly serve you."

"For those fair words I give you thanks," said the Duke, "but this service you now would render me I cannot accept; 'tis a foolish and a useless risk."

"Craving Your Highness's pardon, I do not think it so," answered the youth. "Old Gerard has agreed to get us safely into Nancy, and he may be depended on to keep his word. He is a smuggler by trade and has often fetched merchandise for my father through the enemy's camp. The Burgundian mercenaries know him well, and he is quite safe among them."

"If there is the slightest risk of danger I cannot consent to your going," declared the Duke, "for it is not needful."

Nay," interposed Siffrein, "surely it is most imperative that the citizens of Nancy be informed that relief is at hand; else they may surrender the town, and so through our fault be delivered over to the vengeance of Charles the Bold, who will not easily pardon them that the siege has already lasted well into the winter." Walter also continued to urge the dependence that might be placed on old Gerard, till the Duke finally yielded and reluctantly gave them leave to depart.

Siffrein had donned the garb of a troubadour with a lute slung over his shoulder, deeming that the safest guise in which to make his way through the enemy's camp; but Walter convinced him that it would be of little avail, since even a minstrel would scarcely be permitted to pass the outposts. Accordingly, when they set out on their errand an hour later, it was in ordinary travelling dress, but each was well armed. At Vandemont they met Gerard with some of his comrades, who for high pay had been engaged to smuggle powder into the besieged city, and were therefore accustomed to risking their lives. The two newcomers were also given a leather sack of powder to carry on their shoulders, and when night had fallen the little band set forth. Following silently one behind the other, they crept along sword in hand, ready to sell their lives dearly if need were, until they reached an abbey in the depths of the forest. Here Siffrein made himself known, and they were given a ready welcome by the monks, who offered refreshments to the adventurers to fortify them for the last stage of their perilous journey. Old Gerard vanished, to reappear half an hour later with the information that there were no sentries visible on that side of the camp, and there seemed a good chance of their reaching the town unobserved.

Preparations for departure were hastily completed, and the little band cautiously made their way to the camp. True enough, the sentries had all vanished, either because the bitter cold had driven them into their tents or because Gerard had won them over. The old man whistled softly three times, which may have been a prearranged signal. At all events the silent figures glided unmolested through the rows of tents. Not so much as a head was thrust forth into the cold air to spy on the nocturnal visitors, and they soon reached the outworks.

Yonder is the spot," whispered Gerard, pointing to a bulwark the dark outlines of which stood out against the walls of the city. Now the moat lay before them.

"Vive Lorraine!" shouted Siffrein, as Gerard carefully lowered himself to its icy surface.

But the thoughtless cry aroused the sentries, who came running from all sides. Walter and the smugglers were already climbing up the wall and Siffrein had sprung upon the ice to follow them, when alas! it gave way. Down he sank to his shoulders in the water, and before help from Nancy could reach him the Burgundians had dragged him forth and borne him back to the camp shaking in an ague from his icy bath.

Gerard tried to reassure Walter as to the fate of his companion. "Have no fear," he said soothingly; "he is a nobleman and Duke Rene's steward. They will not dare to harm a hair of his head. Had it been one of us, now, they would have made short work of us."

Great were the rejoicings in Nancy at the news of speedy relief, and at daybreak one of the cannoniers loaded his gun with some of the powder brought by the smugglers, muttering to himself: "It is long since I was able to feed this big fellow. Much good may it do the Burgundians," he added, and thrusting a ball into the mouth of his cannon, took long and careful aim. "I n God's name," he said, doffing his cap, while a gunner held the match to the touchhole. Crash! went the shot, and a cloud of dust and splinters rose as it struck one of the enemy's batteries. The Burgundians were slow in responding, for they too were short of powder. Charles's army had suffered greatly. The siege of Neuss, and the battles of Granson and Murten, together with the severity of the weather and the lack of proper provisions, had reduced the number of his troops to six thousand.

Toward evening a rumor spread through the city that Siffrein de Baschi had been hanged by order of Charles the Bold. It was scarcely credited, but the next morning brought melancholy proof. The Burgundians were induced with difficulty to deliver up the corpse of the faithful steward, which was drawn up the walls in a silken cloth amid the tolling of bells, and buried with solemn ceremonies. Great was the mourning of the people over his untimely end, for the favorite of their adored young Duke was universally beloved and had no enemies.