Anne of Geierstein (3)

(…) The English merchant hesitated a moment. He had no fancy for any new companion on the road, and although the countenance of the priest was rather handsome, considering his years, yet the expression was such as by no means invited confidence. On the contrary, there was something mysterious and gloomy which clouded his brow, though it was a lofty one, and a similar expression gleamed in his cold gray eye, and intimated severity and even harshness of disposition. But notwithstanding this repulsive circumstance, the priest had lately rendered Philipson a considerable service, by detecting the treachery of his hypocritical guide, and the merchant was not a man to be startled from his course by any imaginary prepossessions against the looks or manners of any one, or apprehension of machinations against himself. He only revolved in his mind the singularity attending his destiny, which, while it was necessary for him to appear before the Duke of Burgundy in the most conciliatory manner, seemed to force upon him the adoption of companions who must needs be obnoxious to that prince; and such, he was too well aware, must he the case with the Priest of St. Paul’s. Having reflected for an instant, he courteously accepted the offer of the priest to guide him to some place of rest and entertainment, which must be absolutely necessary for his horse before he reached Strassburg, even if he himself could have dispensed with it.”

The party being thus arranged, the novice brought forth the priest’s steed, which he mounted with grace and agility, and the neophyte, being probably the same whom Arthur had represented during his escape from La Ferette, took charge, at his master’s command, of the baggage-horse of the English man; and, crossing himself, with a humble inclination of his head, as the priest passed him, he fell into the rear, and seemed to pass the time, like the false brother Bartholemew, in telling his beads, with an earnestness which had perhaps more of affected than of real piety. The Black Priest of St. Paul’s, to judge by the glance which he cast upon his novice, seemed to disdain the formality of the young man’s devotion. He rode upon a strong black horse, more like a warrior’s charger than the ambling palfrey of a priest, and the manner in which he managed him was entirely devoid of awkwardness and timidity. His pride, whatever was his character, was not certainly of a kind altogether professional, but had its origin in other swelling thoughts which arose in his mind, to mingle with and enhance the self-consequence of a powerful ecclesiastic.

As Philipson looked on his companion from time to time, his scrutinizing glance was returned by a haughty smile, which seemed to say, “You may gaze on my form and features, but you cannot penetrate my mystery.”

The looks of Philipson, which were never known to sink before mortal man, seemed to retort, with equal haughtiness, “Nor shall you, proud priest, know that you are now in company with one whose secret is far more important than thine own can be.”

At length the priest made some advance towards conversation, by allusion to the footing upon which, by a mutual understanding, they seemed to have placed their intercourse.

“We travel then,” he said, like two powerful enchanters, each conscious of his own high and secret purpose; each in his own chariot of clouds, and neither imparting to his companion the direction or purpose of his journey.”

“Excuse me, father,” answered Philipson, “I have neither asked your purpose, nor concealed my own, so far as it concerns you. I repeat, I am bound to the presence of the Duke of Burgundy, and my object, like that of any other merchant, is to dispose of my wares to advantage.”

“Doubtless it would seem so,” said the Black Priest, “from the extreme attention to your merchandise which you showed not above half an hour since, when you knew not whether your bales had crossed the river with your son, or were remaining in your own charge. Are English gentlemen usually so indifferent to the sources of their traffic?”

“When their lives are in danger,” said Philipson, “they are sometimes negligent of their fortunes.”

“It is well,” replied the priest, and again resumed his solitary musings; until another half-hour’s travelling brought them to a dorff, or village, which the Black Priest informed Philipson was that where he proposed to stop for the night.

“The novice,” he said, “will show you the inn, which is of good reputation, and where you may lodge with safety. For me, I have to visit a penitent in this village, who desires my ghostly offices; — perhaps I may see you again this evening, perhaps not till the next morning; — at any rate, adieu for the present.”

So saying, the priest stopped his horse, while the novice, coming close up to Philipson’s side, conducted him onward through the narrow street of the village, whilst the windows exhibited here and there a twinkling gleam, announcing that the hour of darkness was arrived. Finally he led the Englishman through an archway into a sort of courtyard, where there stood a car or two of a particular shape, used occasionally by women when they travel, and some other vehicles of the same kind. Here the young man threw himself from the sumptor-horse, and placing the rein in Philipson’s hand disappeared in the increasing darkness, after pointing to a large but dilapidated building, along the front of which not a spark of light was to be discovered from any of the narrow and numerous windows, which were dimly visible in the twilight.

(aus: Walter Scott – Anne of Geierstein, or The Maiden of the Mist, Kapitel 18, Edinburgh 1829)


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