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HOME > Classical Novels > History of the Reformation in Europe in the Time of Calvin > CHAPTER IX.
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(11th and 12th October 1535.)
What road should this little army take? There seemed to be no other than that through the Pays de Vaud. But that country was occupied by the captains of the duke of Savoy, who separated Wildermuth's band from Geneva, and could easily oppose him with four or five thousand men. Besides, if the Swiss auxiliaries followed that road, they would have to pass near Yverdun and other strong towns capable of stopping them. 'I undertake,' Wildermuth had said, 'to lead my companions secretly and promptly to Geneva.' But how could he lead four to five hundred men secretly? With that intent he had formed a bold strange plan, by means of which he hoped to clear the distance between Neuchâtel and Geneva, without its being known what he was doing, and would present himself to the Genevese in distress, and to the Savoyards, their enemies, at a moment when neither of them expected him. The old captain intended to turn the Jura, and for that purpose to cross the Val de Travers, enter Franche Comté, make for Sainte Claude, and thence, by the pass of the Faucille, he would descend directly upon Geneva.
His troops began their march: they passed through Couvet, Môtiers, and other villages in the valley; but they had hardly crossed the last meadows, when they found the mountainous and steep roads, which separated
them from Les Verrières and Pontarlier, entirely closed by the Savoyards.[634] Wildermuth, after taking counsel with the other chiefs, resolved, instead of turning the Jura, to march by the upper valleys. Some objected the season, the precipices, the absence of beaten roads; but the leaders saw no other means of escaping the armed corps which desired to stop them. The troop was so small that, if it fought two or three battles before reaching Geneva, scarcely a handful of men would enter the beleaguered city.
Turning, therefore, to the left, in a southerly direction, and passing the village of Butte, the volunteers painfully climbed the steep path which, winding between Mont Chasseron and the Côte-aux-Fées, leads to Sainte-Croix. They passed through this village, descended towards Vallorbe, and then climbed again into the high valleys of Joux.
These heroic adventurers were two days (Friday and Saturday) on those cold and desert heights. Everything was already covered with snow, which was knee-deep, and forced them to clear the way with unheard-of labor. We must not forget that there were women among them. It was the coldest period of the year, says Froment, the winter being early and severe. Thick flakes of snow fell and covered those brave men with a white mantle, and obliged them to move slowly. But Wildermuth, notwithstanding his age; Baillod, notwithstanding his small stature; and Savoye, notwithstanding his fatigues, were fearless. One of them always marched in front; and when they had to encounter difficult passages, they sprang forward with fiery ardor upon those icy bulwarks, as if mounting to the assault.
At that time there were only twenty families in the valley, and some monks of the order of the Premonstrants,
who had been settled in the twelfth century at a place still called the Abbey. At the approach of this unexpected body of 'men in white,' the inhabitants of the heights fled in terror, with such valuables as they could carry; and those noble champions of independence and the Gospel could find nowhere either men or provisions, so that famine 'pressed them sorely.' They went into the poor gardens, but could gather nothing to appease their hunger except 'a few cabbage stalks and some turnips—and very little of these,' adds the chronicler. However, they did not lose courage: they were going to help Geneva, and every step carried them nearer. This idea stimulated them: the drifted snows, which often blocked up the road, were crossed with renewed courage.
On Saturday afternoon these warriors reached the wild lake of Les Rousses, where they turned to the left, to make for the valley of the Leman, marching slowly beneath long ranges of pine-trees. At length the troop, overwhelmed with fatigue, arrived at Saint Cergues, on the heights of the Jura overlooking Nyon, 2,800 feet above the lake. The valiant men conducted by Wildermuth expected to find provisions in this village; but there were no inhabitants, and no victuals. However, as there were houses and beds too, the chiefs determined to pass the night there, and posted sentinels all round.[635]
What were they to do next day? They might, indeed, continue their painful road over the mountain as far as La Faucille, whence they could descend by way of Gex to Geneva: this, as it appeared, was Claude Savoye's first plan; but most of his comrades, pressed by hunger, fatigued by the snow and the difficult roads of the Jura, proposed to descend at once into the beautiful valley of the Leman. It was useless to represent to them that they would infallibly
fall in with the ducal troops near Nyon; they answered that they had been two days without eating; how could an army, weakened by starvation, deliver Geneva? Nothing was decided, when the advanced sentinels brought in three young men whom they had taken near the village. Wildermuth and the other chiefs questioned them: they were the first human beings who had approached them since they had plunged into the Jura. 'We have been sent by the people of Geneva,' said one of the three, 'to serve you as guides. The ducal troops are assembled not far from the mountain, to the number of four to five thousand, horse and foot, and are preparing to surround you, take you prisoners, and hang you.[636] Follow us, and we will lead you to Geneva safe and sound.' Claude Savoye did not know these men, which was not a good augury; but Wildermuth and his followers had those upright hearts which do not easily suspect treachery in others. Too happy to find guides, they resolved to follow the young men next morning. It was night, and the troop prepared to take the necessary repose.
There was, however, one man in that valiant band who was not to rest. The Genevan, as he is generally called in this narrative, believing that the destiny of his country was about to be decided, could not sleep. Just at that moment a native of the district presented himself mysteriously at the outposts and desired to see him. Savoye at once went to speak with him. The messenger told him that he had come from the Seigneur d'Allinges, one of the noblemen then collected round Monseigneur de Lullin, governor of Vaud. D'Allinges had quitted the castle of his family, situated on a steep hill near Thonon, whose beautiful ruins are still the admiration of travellers, and had joined the Savoyard gentlemen.
Being a personal friend of Savoye's, he sent to tell him that Louis de Diesbach and Rodolph Nägueli, the envoys of Berne, had arrived at the castle of Coppet, in order to act as mediators in the affair. This news troubled Savoye; did Bernese diplomacy wish to neutralize his exertions? He might have waited until the morning, but his character always carried him forward. He determined to depart alone, and instantly. D'Allinges had sent him a paper signed with his own hand, which was to serve as a safe-conduct. After conferring with Wildermuth, Savoye quitted Saint Cergues at the moment when the others were about to seek the repose of night. He descended the mountain hastily, though not without difficulty; and, crossing rocks and penetrating thickets, he reached the foot of the Jura at last. He found there a fine Spanish courser, which D'Allinges had sent for him. Savoye sprang into the saddle, and galloped off to Coppet.[637]
On the other hand, the Swiss who had slept at Saint Cergues lost no time. Stirring early on the Sunday morning, they departed under the conduct of the three young guides. Geneva was in imminent danger; it was necessary to hasten to its assistance. The band passed near the castle, whence on a sudden a world sparkling with beauty opens before the eyes of those who have been long shut up in the gorges of the Jura: the lake, its rich valley peopled with smiling villages; the magnificent Alps, in the bosom of which Mont Blanc uplifts his kingly head; Geneva, and the towers of its antique cathedral. Delighted to perceive the city to whose succor they were hastening, these generous men hailed it with joy. They descended and marched to within a league of Nyon, at Gingins, whose castle was then occupied by the Seigneur de Gingins, brother to the vicar-general of Geneva. Wildermuth's followers,
tired and hungry, hoped (according to what their guides had said) to find there in abundance the provisions of which they stood so much in need.
Behind a coppice between the village and the mountain was a ravine, worn by the waters which descend from the hills during the heavy rains; it would scarcely hold two persons abreast, a streamlet flowed along the bottom, and thick underwood bordered it on both sides. The guides of these valiant men said that they must be careful not to go near the village, for fear the enemy should hear of their arrival, and desired them to hide in the ravine and wait until their return. 'We will run to Gingins,' they said, 'and bring you back refreshments; and then we will all set out for Geneva.' 'Go,' said the troop; 'we will pay fairly for all you can bring us.' The Swiss drew up noiselessly in the hollow way, and their guides quitted them.
At Gingins there was a body of the enemy composed of Italians, Savoyards, and gentlemen and men-at-arms of the bailiwicks of Nyon, La Côte, Gex, La Sarraz, and other localities. The priests had preached a crusade in those parishes.[638] They had done more: they had armed themselves[639] and marched at the head of their villages, saying that they would not lay down their arms until heresy was extirpated from the valley of the Leman. They were all waiting for the Swiss, impatient to fall upon that little band of four to five hundred ill-armed soldiers, which they had seen descending the mountain. The duke of Savoy, according t............
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