Swiss Heroes - George Upton

The Rising at Brisach

Since the days of Tell and Gessler there had been no alliance between Austria and the Swiss Confederation. Occasionally, it is true, the Swiss had shown a friendly spirit toward the Emperor, who was a member of that royal house, and they had never really ceased to regard themselves as belonging to the German Empire. About this time, however, a peace was concluded between the two countries, called the "Everlasting Compact," which has never been broken from that day to this.

The Swiss States had advanced to the Austrian Archduke Sigismund the sum required to redeem his Alsatian possessions, and notified Charles the Bold, who held them in pledge, that it was awaiting his acceptance in Basle. But Charles continually made evasions. While at Treves, he had visited these mortgaged lands and concluded they would form a valuable addition to his own dominions. He urged the Hapsburger to defer a settlement of the affair until he should have time to receive the money at Besancon or some other designated place; under no circumstances would he come to Basle. This was brief and to the point; in reality he had no notion of granting a release at any time.

The Alsatians themselves were far from content with this state of things, for while Duke Sigismund was by no means a model sovereign, the harsh rule of Peter von Hagenbach pleased them still less. The hated Governor resided at Brisach, and on this particular evening had summoned all his officers to a council. Striding restlessly up and down the spacious apartment where a number of fierce bearded soldiers, Walloons and Picards for the most part, were already assembled, he at last burst out: "Where is that fellow Vogeli? Can he mean to play us false, as I have been warned? Pah! I know my Switzers very well. They will lend themselves to anything, provided they are but paid and managed properly."

Scarcely had he uttered the words, when Vogeli entered and, passing the Governor and his fellow-officers with a respectful greeting, took his place at the lower end of the table.

"Marry, sir!" cried Hagenbach smiling, "'tis plain you are no fool and know how to make yourself of importance. By right you should no longer be entitled to share our councils, for I have released your disorderly followers from their oath."

"Nevertheless, until they have been paid their arrears I am still their Captain and yours," quietly answered Vogeli.

Hagenbach darted an evil glance at the bold speaker, but made no reply, and turning at once to the matter in hand, addressed his leaders as follows: "You are all well aware of the mutinous spirit that exists among the inhabitants of this cursed country. If we delay they will soon be in open revolt. It is our business to maintain the allegiance due our mighty lord, the Duke, may God preserve him, and to seize by force whatever towns or castles may be necessary."

The foreign captains here expressed their lively approval, but Vogeli was silent. Hagenbach continued: "What these churls have in mind is plain from the fact that even to-day, on the holy Easter festival, they went fully armed to church. But, by my soul, it shall not be! This good city of Brisach must be held for our lord at any cost. There is no lack of provisions, and the stores would suffice for a year were there fewer mouths to devour them. This, then, is my plan: Early on the morrow a proclamation shall be made to the citizens, that their refusal to aid in the work of fortification will avail them naught; all those who are not outside the gates by midday prepared to labor in the trenches shall be dragged thither by force, be they men or women. For the execution of this order, gentlemen, you will answer to me, and if any one can suggest a better plan—let him speak." The Governor paused.

"Pardon me, my lord," said Vogeli deprecatingly, "but if the burghers are forced to do this work, will they not return to their homes exasperated by the indignity inflicted on them and yet more determined upon mischief?"

"Have no fear, my friend," replied Hagenbach with a sinister smile, "they will make no trouble for us in Brisach, for the reason that when all are without the walls the gates shall be closed and none permitted to return again at night."

"And their children and their property?" inquired Vogeli.

"God-a-mercy! What does that concern you? Their brats shall be sent after them, and their possessions serve as a reward to our brave followers. Those who stay behind shall be strung up as rebels; and should there be too many of these, faith, our good friend Joseph Broschi here he nodded to one of the officers] well understands how to dispose of a superfluous population."

The details of this cruel scheme were listened to in silence and without a sign of disfavor from those present; no objections were made, for all were accustomed to obey. Moreover, the Governor was in the right in one respect. Only the most extreme measures could break the rebellious spirit of the Alsatians; so the city of Brisach must be made a warning example. The conference therefore was soon ended, and the captains separated with many coarse jests. Hagenbach clapped Vogeli roughly on the shoulder, saying:

"What is the matter with you to-day? You are as soft-hearted as an old woman. But hark you, sir! I have no use for such officers, nor yet has our lord of Burgundy."

Vogeli looked inquiringly at the Governor. "Does that mean I am dismissed, my lord?" he asked.

"Nay, methinks we shall stick together for some time yet; for if you intend to remain in the Duke's service till your men are paid, you are like to wait till Doomsday!"

With these words Hagenbach turned abruptly to one of the Italians, with whom he conversed for some time in an undertone.

"Keep a watchful eye on him," said Hagenbach to the others, as Vogeli left. "Heretofore I have turned a deaf ear to all whispers against him; now I no longer trust him. I will consider the matter to-morrow. He is a good soldier, and the people like him; but be on your guard as befits the service of our most noble Duke."

Thoughtfully Vogeli took his way back to the dwelling of his friendly host, Hans Wild, where a cordial reception awaited him. The children came running out to meet the soldier guest who could tell such fine tales of war and adventure, and hailed him with shouts of joy; but to-night he was gloomy and silent and paid no heed to them. Tearfully the little ones hastened to their mother, who chided them gently for troubling the Captain, although she herself was concerned at his appearance, as he moodily bade her good-evening. Woman-like, she endeavored by kindly questioning to discover the cause of his trouble, and abused the Governor for denying his officers an Easter holiday, but all to no purpose; Vogel continued in a silent and gloomy mood. Indeed, when Frau Katharine pressed him too closely his brow grew so dark that saucy little Anne Marie cried out: "Oh see, mother! What an old growler he looks like! He is not so nice after all. The Duke is wicked, and the Governor is wicked, and now the Captain looks as if he wanted to eat us all up, you and me and little Peter too!"

The mother would have punished the child for her pertness, but she fled for protection to Vogeli, who stroked her smooth yellow locks as he pacified Frau Katharine. "Children know not what they say," he graciously declared. "Alas! did we elders but know always what was best to do or say—No!" he cried out suddenly, "I will not do it, come what may!" And he brought his fist down on the table with such force that the dishes rattled and Anne Marie and her mother looked at each other in surprise. At that moment Hans Wild, a respectable rope-maker, entered.

"Let your family leave the room," commanded Vogeli sternly. "I must speak with you alone."

"God help us!" wailed Frau Katharine, "our lives must be at stake. It is true that my good husband went to the minister and did not lay aside all his arms; but be merciful to him, sir! Surely he is not more to blame than the other citizens."

"If it be a sin to fulfil an honest man's duty toward the welfare of our good city, then I am guilty," said Hans calmly. "Proceed! God sends no man more than he can bear, and the God of our fathers still lives, despite Hagenbach and his Duke."

When the door was closed, Vogeli approached his host and held out his hand, saying: "You have a stout heart, I know; how is it with the other citizens?"

Hans gave him a searching glance. "Doubtless through you the Governor seeks to find me out and ruin me. But this I tell you frankly: you may do with me as you will; but when the others strike, the blow will be a cruel one."

Vogeli smiled kindly. "Rest assured, my friend, I mean you no harm. But since you are already so certain of success, perchance you will not need the aid of myself and my two hundred men—should you come to blows."

"What!" cried Master Hans, in astonishment, "do you mean that you would help us?"

"Certainly, and without delay—to-morrow, in truth, else it may be too late," replied the Captain quickly.


Impossible! We are all armed, it is true, but must wait for re-enforcements from Ensisheim and other towns."

"Very well then, wait, and perish! But first listen to what I tell you. To-morrow morning you and your wives will be driven from the city to work in the trenches. Once gone, you with all the rest will be forbidden to reenter the gates; if you stay behind you will be slain. Your property will be divided among the foreign mercenaries, and your children perchance sent after you, should the spoilers see fit to spare them. Take tender leave to-night of Anne Marie and Peter. You may never see them again, Master Hans."

In answer to his anxious questions, Vogeli explained the extent and imminence of the danger.

"But what would you advise us to do? We are not yet prepared to strike," said Hans.

"Trust to our help, my friend; it shall not fail you. Early in the morning, before the proclamation can be published, I will go to the Governor and once more demand of him the pay for my men. If he refuse, as he surely will, sound the great drum and be ready. We will take him prisoner."

"If that is done," cried Hans joyfully, "you will have the city's lasting gratitude. You may depend upon us to do our part. For some weeks we have had a secret understanding among ourselves, so that any news, good or bad, can be spread throughout the town like wildfire. I will see to that, but do not leave us in the lurch, sir Captain!"

Vogeli repeated his assurances, and the two men parted with a firm hand-clasp, the one to seek his fellow citizens, the other to kindle the increased anger of his men, who were already quarrelling in a tavern over their discharge.

The citizens spent an anxious night. Would the morrow bring freedom or ruin?—Scarce had the iron tongues of the bells sounded their first summons to the faithful, when Vogeli betook himself to Hagenbach's quarters. The guard at the door refused to admit him, but Vogeli with one sweep of his muscular arm hurled the man aside and walked unannounced into the bedchamber of the Governor, who, reclining half dressed in a deep armchair, was meditating upon his plans for the day. His thoughts had just turned to Vogeli and he was debating whether it would not be best to have him placed under immediate arrest, when suddenly the Captain himself stood before him.

"In God's name, Vogeli," he shouted, "what are you doing here at this hour? and why do you enter unannounced? In future wait till you are summoned." The veins on his forehead swelled and his voice shook with rage. But Vogeli did not move.

"Be not angry with me, my lord," he said. "I come not of my own will, nor on my own errand; but my men will give me no peace."

"Send them to the Evil One, whose children they are!" roared the Governor.

"It would be a hard task to get the two hundred ready," retorted Vogeli with seeming good-nature; "moreover the evil one of dice and drink, to whom I should send them, loves full pockets, as your lordship well knows."

"How should I know that, scoundrel? You are hounding me again for your fellows' beggarly pay. Know, sir, that our lord Duke has not a farthing for lukewarm or treacherous servants like yourself. But I will give you and them the kind of pay you well deserve!"

"So? What will you give us?" asked Vogeli deliberately.

"Something that will proclaim you all vile curs," shouted Hagenbach. "And now begone, if you would not have the Evil One take you likewise!"

Vogeli looked steadily at the Governor. He was inwardly raging and on the point of uttering a fatal threat, but controlled himself in time, and merely answered: "May you never repent this, my lord. I go as you command."

The Governor hurled some furious oaths after him, then flung himself back in his chair and pondered afresh. "'Twere better, methinks, had I kept the fellow here. Who knows what mischief he may breed?" Sir Peter on this occasion seemed to have lacked his wonted decision, for he hesitated and delayed putting his scheme against the people into execution, until much precious time had been irrevocably lost.

After leaving the Governor, Vogeli repaired directly to the market place, where his followers were anxiously awaiting him. "Have you brought us our pay?" shouted one boisterous fellow, as soon as he caught sight of the Captain.

"Fine pay indeed," was the reply. "Our noble lord told me to send you all to the Evil One."

A storm of angry shouts arose. "Let us go and get it ourselves!" yelled one.

"He shall give us a ton of gold and his life to boot!" cried another.

"Peace!" commanded Vogeli. Silence ensued, when lo, a singular spectacle presented itself. At the beat of a drum throngs of armed citizens began to issue from all the houses; rapidly the number increased, being swelled by women and half-grown lads also, bearing any sort of implement that would serve as a weapon.

"To the Governor! To Hagenbach's quarters!" was the general cry. "Long live the illustrious House of Austria!" and therewith the Hapsburg banner floated lightly in the breeze. Renewed shouts greeted the well-known emblem—"Long live our noble lord, Duke Sigismund! hurrah! hurrah!" On they moved toward their destination, when suddenly a troop of glittering horsemen blocked the way. They were nobles from the surrounding country on their way to complain to the Governor of injuries on the part of the Burgundian officers.

"Stay, in God's name!" shouted the foremost of the riders. "What would you do?"

"Long live Austria! Long live Archduke Sigismund!" was the only response.

"The Archduke himself would be the first to condemn such action on your part. Bethink you how long he has been allied to Burgundy. He is Duke Charles's friend and would never countenance any act of hostility toward him."

"He will not readily pardon the use of his name for your unlawful purposes," added another of the nobles. "Desist, I charge you, nor presume to lay violent hands on the Duke's most distinguished officer, else you will—"

Here his words were drowned by a roar of indignation from the populace; and Hans Wild, raised aloft by two of his fellow tradesmen, shouted in ringing tones: "Give way, my lords! You have lent us no aid in the past, nor will we brook interference from you now. Our crime, if such you deem it, be on our own heads. Long live Austria, say I, and down with the Governor!"

Thundering applause greeted these words. The horsemen fell back dismayed, and on swept the throng. Soldiers stood in the doorways looking on in amazement, at first unable to comprehend the meaning of it. They had received no orders. Access to Hagenbach's quarters was already cut off; and finally, seeing what was afoot and that they stood no chance against the infuriated citizens supported by Vogeli's followers, they deemed it best to abandon the scene of their offences, and took to their heels, singly or in small companies, without even stopping to gather up their belongings or their booty. The insurgents paid no heed to them, intent only on capturing the person of the detested Governor. He should be made to atone for all his crimes and cruelties, and woe to him if he should be found in his quarters!

Greatly to their rage and chagrin, however, the nest was empty. Hagenbach had been warned in time to make his escape by a side door. Could he be already beyond their reach? The discovery of the open wicket left no doubt as to the direction of his flight; and some of the more active burghers, quickly mounting, hastened in pursuit, the others, with the soldiers, following and carefully searching every house along the roadside.

Suddenly a triumphant shout arose: "We have him, we have him!" and at the same moment the Governor, accompanied by one faithful attendant, was seen dashing out from a farmyard. Forcing his way through the crowd, he crossed the road and set off at full speed across the fields, thinking to escape that way. A lively chase followed; but Hagenbach, who had flung himself on an ordinary cart horse, had small chance against the better mounted burghers, and was soon overtaken. A few powerful but well-parried sword strokes, and he was a prisoner. But even then his insolence did not desert him.

"Make haste and fling me to the bloodthirsty dogs that they may gorge themselves! Marry, 'tis far too noble game for such folk," he cried. Then turning on Vogeli, who with a dozen of his followers had hastened to the spot, he sneeringly exclaimed: "So this is Swiss loyalty and valor, sir Captain! A hundred against one! And for a few paltry florins you forsake the colors to which you swore allegiance. I wish you joy of the reward this peasant rabble will doubtless pay you for your treachery."

Vogeli was silent, but one of the soldiers shouted angrily: "Why do we stand gaping here? Is there no one to silence the scoundrel's vile calumnies? If not, I will teach you to insult my master!" Raising his arm he was about to deal the Governor a mighty blow, when one of the burghers restrained him, saying: Nay, my good friend, to make such short work of it were to lose half the pleasure. This is matter for the executioner."

At these words Hagenbach turned pale and said no more. But he was not to go immediately to the scaffold. With frenzied shouts of joy, they took their way back to Brisach, which had been entirely deserted by its inhabitants, women and children, who now accompanied the procession with jeers and taunts at the prisoner.

"Hagenbach, you Judas! you bloodhound! at last we have you safe where you can no longer torment us." The executioner, usually an object of aversion, was now hailed in the most friendly manner by all. "Master Peter," they shouted to him, this is work for you!" and Peter, grinning, tucked up his sleeves and struck at the air with his sword, before the eyes of Hagenbach.

"It seems I am to do that man one more favor," he declared with a sneering laugh.

When they reached the gates of the city, the excited populace would have conducted the prisoner at once to the place of execution, but some of the more cool-headed citizens succeeded in dissuading them. "We are Austrians," they said, "and our lord Duke Sigismund must pronounce sentence upon the Governor. It is not for us to judge him." Accordingly, four soldiers, four burghers, and four of the nobles were chosen to guard the prisoner, while Vogeli with some of the citizens hastened to Basle to acquaint Duke Sigismund with what had occurred.

Two days later, toward evening, the Captain rode slowly through the streets of that city on his way to the inn of The Bears. How things had changed since he had come this way for the first time! Then he was an honored and honorable officer, favored by the Duke, and a loyal servant to Hagenbach. To-day he was a rebel. The Duke would never pardon his disloyalty, and Hagenbach, who had formerly valued him for his ability, was now his mortal enemy, and through his agency a prisoner. And all this for a few paltry florins, as the Governor had said. Yet though he well knew not one of his former comrades would credit him with any other reason for his defection, he could not altogether reproach himself. Were it all to be done again he knew he should act no differently.

This time Iseli himself came out to meet his guest and assist him to dismount. "I am glad," said he, as they ascended the stairway together, "to find that you bear me no ill will for what befell you in my house, though truly it was through no fault of mine."

"Why should I be angry with you for that?" asked Vogeli. "But what news of your neighbor, the good Councillor Irmy?"

Thereupon the innkeeper proceeded to give a detailed report concerning the welfare of his friend and Walter. "And you, Captain," he continued inquisitively, "what brings you to us again? Perchance you have been sent by your Duke to collect the sum advanced by the Swiss States for the redemption of Alsace?"

"Hardly that," said Vogeli; "but tell me, is it true that Duke Sigismund comes hither to-morrow?"

"So it is said," replied Iseli. Doubtless you have matters of importance to lay before the Archduke?"

Vogeli would fain have concealed his errand, but the innkeeper plied his questions so adroitly that he soon succeeded in extracting the whole story; and when the Captain, wearied with his long ride, retired to his chamber to rest, the news quickly spread through the town that Hagenbach, the oppressor of the Alsatians, the enemy of Switzerland as of every right-minded man, had been taken prisoner and the Archduke was to pronounce judgment on him.

When Sigismund drew near the town the following morning, he found the magistrates already at the gates to welcome him.

Vogeli had been riding at the Duke's side for half an hour, having gone out earlier to meet him with the news of Hagenbach's capture, and when Sigismund dismissed him kindly, he turned his horse's head toward The Bears once more. But the acclamations that had followed the Duke were now centred on the Captain, and his horse could make but slow progress through the densely packed throngs that filled the streets. When he at last dismounted he was raised aloft on the shoulders of the sturdy burghers and borne into the inn, where a number of the patricians and citizens of Basle had assembled to meet him. Among these were old Irmy and Walter, with whom Vogeli soon retired to his own chamber to escape the praise and adulation so distasteful to his modest nature.

"Iseli shall bring us some wine," said the Councillor, "and then I have something to propose that I hope will please you."

The host soon appeared with brimming tankards and Irmy began: "First of all, Captain, I beg you will do me the honor to make my house your home as often and as long as you may chance to be in Basle. I have learned to esteem you highly, and greatly desire that our friendship and our relations in life should become closer. Walter is now seventeen years old, and ever since I brought him back from Treves he has been faithful and industrious, and has learned something of business. But he lacks a knowledge of much that cannot be acquired by the fireside; the lad must travel, first to Italy,—Genoa and Venice,—and when he has mastered the Italian language and method of book-keeping I shall send him to Nuremberg and Augsburg, to Anton Fugger. This will mean an absence of some years; but I am still active and can perform the duties of my position without difficulty. Walter is so young, however, that I am unwilling to send him out into the world alone, and I should be very glad if you would go with him and keep a curb on the reckless fellow so that he shall not fall into bad company or play any foolish pranks. As to money, you shall have all that is needful, and when you return there will be room for you both in the business. Your experience in Freiburg will serve you in good part there. I know Walter is attached to you and will obey you as willingly as he does me. If you are agreed, let us shake hands on it!"

Vogeli gladly grasped the merchant's extended palm, and the next morning he took up his abode in the house, under whose hospitable roof he had once been carried wounded and bleeding. The landlord of The Bears flatly refused to accept any pay for board and lodging, declaring he was already far too much in the Captain's debt.