WILLIAM TELL AND HIS GREAT SHOT
 William Tell did not live in Altorf, but in another village
some way off, called Bürglen. His wife, who was called
Hedwig, was Walter Fürst's daughter. Tell and Hedwig
had two sons, William and Walter. Walter, the younger,
was about six years old.
William Tell loved his wife and his children very much,
and they all lived happily together in a pretty little
cottage at Bürglen.
"Hedwig," said Tell one morning, some days after the
meeting on the Rütli, "I am going into Altorf to see
Hedwig looked troubled. "Do be careful, William," she
said. "Must you really go?
 You know the Governor is there just now, and he hates
"Oh, I am quite safe," said Tell; "I have done nothing
for which he could punish me. But I will keep out of
his way," and he lifted his cross-bow and prepared to
"Do not take your bow," said Hedwig, still feeling
uneasy. "Leave it here."
"Why, Hedwig, how you trouble yourself for nothing,"
said Tell, smiling at her. "Why should I leave my bow
behind? I feel lost without it."
"O father, where are you going?" said Walter, running
into the room at this minute.
"I am going to Altorf to see grandfather. Would you
like to come?"
"Oh, may I? May I, mother?"
"Yes, dear, if you like," said Hedwig. "And you will be
careful, won't you?" she added, turning to Tell.
"Yes, I will," he replied, and Walter,
 throwing his arms around her neck, said, "It's all
right, mother, I will take care of father." Then they
set off merrily together.
It was a great thing to go to Altorf with father, and
Walter was so happy that he chattered all the way,
asking questions about everything.
"How far can you shoot, father?"
"Oh, a good long way."
"As high as the sun?" asked Walter, looking up at it.
"Oh dear no, not nearly so high as that."
"Well, how high? As high as the snow mountains?"
"Why is it always snow on the mountains, father?" asked
Walter, thinking of something else. And so he went on,
asking questions about one thing after another, until
his father was quite tired of answering.
Walter was chattering so much that Tell forgot all
about the hat upon the pole, and,
 instead of going round by another way to avoid it, as
he had meant to do, he went straight through the
market-place to reach Walter Fürst's house.
"Father, look," said Walter, "look, how funny! there is
a hat stuck up on a pole. What is it for?"
"Don't look, Walter," said Tell, "the hat has nothing
to do with us, don't look at it." And taking Walter by
the hand, he led him hurriedly away.
But it was too late. The soldier, who stood beside the
pole to guard it and see that people bowed in passing,
pointed his spear at Tell and bade him stop. "Stand, in
the Emperor's name," he cried.
"Let be, friend," said Tell, "let me past."
"Not until you obey the Emperor's command. Not till you
bow to the hat."
"It is no command of the Emperor," said Tell. "It is
Gessler's folly and tyranny. Let me go."
 "Nay, but you must not speak of my lord the Governor in
such terms. And past you shall not go until you bow to
the cap. And, if you bow not, to prison I will lead
you. Such is my lord's command."
"Why should I bow to a cap?" said Tell, his voice
shaking with rage. "Were the Emperor himself here, then
would I bend the knee and bow my head to him with all
reverence. But to a hat! Never!" and he tried to force
his way past Heinz the soldier. But Heinz would not let
him pass, and kept his spear pointed at Tell.
Hearing loud and angry voices, many people gathered to
see what the cause might be. Soon there was quite a
crowd around the two. Every one talked at once, and the
noise and confusion were great. Heinz tried to take
Tell prisoner, and the people tried to take him away.
"Help! Help!" shouted Heinz, hoping that some of
 his fellow-soldiers would hear him and come to his
aid,—"Help, help! treason, treason!"
Then over all the noise of the shouting there sounded
the tramp of horses' hoofs and the clang and jangle of
swords and armour.
"Room for the Governor. Room, I say," cried a herald.
The shouting ceased and the crowd silently parted, as
Gessler, richly dressed, haughty and gloomy, rode
through it, followed by a gay company of his friends
and soldiers. He checked his horse and, gazing angrily
round the crowd, "What is this rioting?" he asked.
"My lord," said Heinz, stepping forward, "this
scoundrel here will not bow to the cap, according to
your lordship's command."
"Eh, what?" said Gessler, his dark face growing more
dark and angry still. "Who dares to disobey my orders?"
" 'Tis William Tell of Bürglen, my lord."
 "Tell," said Gessler, turning in his saddle and looking
at Tell as he stood among the people, holding little
Walter by the hand.
There was silence for a few minutes while Gessler gazed
at Tell in anger.
"I hear you are a great shot, Tell," said Gessler at
last, laughing scornfully, "they say you never miss."
"That is quite true," said little Walter eagerly, for
he was very proud of his father's shooting. "He can hit
an apple on a tree a hundred yards off."
"Is that your boy?" said Gessler, looking at him with
an ugly smile.
"Yes, my lord."
"Have you other children?"
"Another boy, my lord."
"You are very fond of your children, Tell?"
"Yes, my lord."
"Which of them do you love best?"
Tell hesitated. He looked down at little Walter with
his rosy cheeks and curly hair.
 Then he thought of William at home with his pretty
loving ways. "I love them both alike, my lord," he said
"Ah," said Gessler, and thought a minute. "Well, Tell,"
he said after a pause. "I have heard so much of this
boast of yours about hitting apples, that I should like
to see something of it. You shall shoot an apple off
your boy's head at a hundred yards' distance. That will
be easier than shooting off a tree."
"My lord," said Tell, turning pale, "you do not mean
that? It is horrible. I will do anything rather than
"You will shoot an apple off your boy's head," repeated
Gessler in a slow and scornful voice. "I want to see
your wonderful skill, and I command you to do it at
once. You have your cross-bow there. Do it."
"I will die first," said Tell.
"Very well," said Gessler, "but you need not think in
that way to save your boy.
 He shall die with you. Shoot, or die both of you. And,
mark you, Tell, see that you aim well, for if you miss
you will pay for it with your life."
Tell turned pale. His voice trembled as he replied, "My
lord, it was but thoughtlessness. Forgive me this once,
and I will always bow to the cap in future." Proud and
brave although he was, Tell could not bear the thought
that he might kill his own child.
"Have done with this delay," said Gessler, growing yet
more angry. "You break the laws, and when, instead of
punishing you as you deserve, I give you a chance of
escape, you grumble and think yourself hardly used.
Were peasants ever more unruly and discontented? Have
done, I say. Heinz, bring me an apple."
The soldier hurried away.
"Bind the boy to that tree," said Gessler, pointing to
a tall lime-tree near by.
 Two soldiers seized Walter and bound him fast to the
tree. He was not in the least afraid, but stood up
against the trunk straight and quiet. Then, when the
apple was brought, Gessler rode up to him and, bending
from the saddle, himself placed the apple upon his
All this time the people crowded round silent and
wondering, and Tell stood among them as if in a dream,
watching everything with a look of horror in his eyes.
"Clear a path there," shouted Gessler, and the soldiers
charged among the people, scattering them right and
When a path had been cleared, two soldiers, starting
from the tree to which Walter was bound, marched over
the ground measuring one hundred paces, and halted.
"One hundred paces, my lord," they said, turning to
Gessler rode to the spot, calling out, "Come, Tell,
from here you shall shoot."
 Tell took his place. He drew an arrow from his quiver,
examined it carefully, and then, instead of fitting it
to the bow, he stuck in his belt. Then, still
carefully, he chose another arrow and fitted it to his
A deep silence fell upon every one as Tell took one
step forward. He raised his bow. A mist was before his
eyes, his arm trembled, his bow dropped from his hand.
He could not shoot. The fear that he might kill his boy
took away all his skill and courage.
A groan broke from the people as they watched. Then
from far away under the lime-tree came Walter's voice,
"Shoot, father, I am not afraid. You cannot miss."
Once more Tell raised his bow. The silence seemed
deeper than ever. The people of Altorf knew and loved
Tell, and Fürst, and little Walter. And so they watched
and waited with heavy hearts and anxious faces.
 "Ping!" went the bowstring. The arrow seemed to sing
through the frosty air, and, a second later, the
silence was broken by cheer after cheer. The apple lay
upon the ground pierced right through the centre.
"Ping!" went the bowstring
One man sprang forward and cut the rope with which
Walter was bound to the tree; another picked up the
apple and ran with it to Gessler. But Tell stood still,
his bow clutched in his hand, his body bent forward,
his eyes wild and staring, as if he were trying to
follow the flight of the arrow. Yet he saw nothing,
"He has really done it!" exclaimed Gessler in
astonishment, as he turned the apple round and round in
his hand. "Who would have thought it? Right in the
Little Walter, quite delighted, came running to his
father. "Father," he cried, "I knew you could do it. I
knew you could, and I was not a bit afraid. Was it not
 splendid?" and he laughed and pressed his curly head
against his father.
Then suddenly Tell seemed to wake out of his dream, and
taking Walter in his arms he held him close, kissing
him again and again. "You are safe, my boy. You are
safe," was all he said. But strong man though he was
his eyes were full of tears, and he was saying to
himself, "I might have killed him. I might have killed
my own boy."
Meanwhile Gessler sat upon his horse watching them with
a cruel smile upon his wicked face. "Tell," he said at
last, "that was a fine shot, but for what was the other
Tell put Walter down and, holding his hand, turned to
Gessler, "It is always an archer's custom, my lord, to
have a second arrow ready," he said.
"Nay, nay," said Gessler, "that answer will not do,
Tell. Speak the truth."
 Tell was silent.
"Speak, man," said Gessler, "and if you speak the
truth, whatever it may be, I promise you your life."
"Then," said Tell, throwing his shoulders back and
looking straight at Gessler, "since you promise me my
life, hear the truth. If that first arrow had struck my
child, the second one was meant for you, and be sure I
had not missed my mark a second time."
Gessler's face grew dark with rage. For a moment or two
he could not speak. When at last he did speak, his
voice was low and terrible, "You dare," he said, "you
dare to tell me this. I promised you your life indeed.
Your life you shall have, but you shall pass it in a
dark and lonely prison, where neither sun nor moon
shall send the least glimmer of light. There you shall
lie, so that I may be safe from you. Ah, my fine
archer, your bows and arrows will be
 of little use to you henceforth. Seize him, men, and
bind him, lest he do murder even now."
In a moment the soldiers sprang forward, and Tell was
seized and bound.
As Gessler sat watching them, he looked round at all
the angry faces of the crowd. "Tell has too many
friends here," he said to himself. "If I imprison him
in the Curb of Uri, they may find some way to help him
to escape. I will take him with me in my boat to
Küssnacht. There he can have no friends. There he will
be quite safe." Then aloud he said, "Follow me, my men.
Bring him to the boat."
As he said these words, there was a loud murmur from
the crowd. "That is against the law," cried many
"Law, law?" growled Gessler. "Who makes the law, you or
Walter Fürst had been standing among the crowd silent
and anxious. Now he
 stepped forward and spoke boldly. "My lord," he said,
"it has ever been a law among the Swiss that no one
shall be imprisoned out of his own canton. If my
son-in-law, William Tell, has done wrong, let him be
tried and imprisoned here, in Uri, in Altorf. If you do
otherwise you wrong our ancient freedom and rights."
"Your freedom! your rights!" said Gessler roughly. "I
tell you, you are here to obey the laws, not to teach
me how I shall rule." Then turning his horse and
calling out, "On, men, to the boat with him," he rode
towards the lake, where, at a little place called
Fluelen, his boat was waiting for him.
But Walter clung to his father, crying bitterly. Tell
could not take him in his arms to comfort him, for his
hands were tied. But he bent over him to kiss him,
saying, "Little Walter, little Walter, be brave. Go
with thy grandfather and comfort thy mother."
 So Tell was led to Gessler's boat, followed by the
sorrowing people. Their hearts were full of hot anger
against the tyrant. Yet what could they do? He was too
strong for them.
Tell was roughly pushed into the boat, where he sat
closely guarded on either side by soldiers. His bow and
arrows which had been taken from him were thrown upon a
bench beside the steersman.
Gessler took his seat. The boat started, and was soon
out on the blue water of the lake. As the people of
Altorf watched Tell go, their hearts sank. They had not
known, until they saw him bound and a prisoner, how
much they had trusted and loved him.
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