|The Book of Legends|
|by Horace Elisha Scudder|
|Legends to supplement Fifty Famous Stories Retold. Includes the stories of St. George and the Dragon, William Tell, King Cophetua, St. Christopher, The Wandering Jew, and the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, retold in fine English prose. Ages 7-10 |
 SWITZERLAND is a republic, like the United
States, and the men who live among its mountains are a
brave, free people. But long ago the Emperor of Austria
claimed the land as a part of his empire, and sent a man
named Gessler to rule the people in his stead.
Gessler was a tyrant. He wished to stand well with his
master, the emperor, and he ruled the bold Swiss with a rod
of iron. He had soldiers at his command, and he seemed
able to do whatever he wished, but there was one thing
he could not do: he could not make the proud people bow
down to him when he came among them.
He was angry enough at this, and he cast about for some new
way in which to make them feel his power. In those days, as
now, every town had a public square called a market-place.
Here the people flocked to buy and sell of each other. The
men and women came down from the mountains with game and
cheese and butter; they sold these things in the market, and
 goods which they could not make or grow in their mountain
In the market-place of Altorf, a Swiss town, Gessler set up
a tall pole, like a liberty pole. But on the top of this
pole he placed his hat, and, just as in the city a gilt
crown on some high point was the sign of the emperor's
power, so this hat was to be the sign of Gessler's power. He
bade that every Swiss man, woman, or child who passed by
the pole should bow to the hat. In this way they were to
show their respect for him.
From one of the mountain homes near Altorf there came into
the market-place one day a tall, strong man named William
Tell. He was a famous archer, for it was in the days
before the mountaineers carried guns, and he was wont to
shoot bears and wild goats and wolves with his bow and
He had with him his little son, and they walked across the
market-place. But when they passed the pole, Tell never bent
his head; he stood as straight as a mountain pine.
There were servants and spies of Gessler in the
market-place, and they at once told the tyrant how Tell had
defied him. Gessler commanded the Swiss to be brought
before him, and he came, leading by the hand his little
 "They tell me you shoot well," said the tyrant. "You
shall not be punished. Instead you shall give me a sign
of your skill. Your boy
is no doubt made of the same stuff you are. Let him
stand yonder a hundred paces off. Place an apple on his
head, and do you stand here and pierce the apple with an
arrow from your quiver."
All the people about turned pale with fear, and fathers who
had their sons with them held them fast, as if Gessler meant
to take them from them. But Tell looked Gessler full in the
face, and drew two arrows from his quiver.
"Go yonder," he said to the lad, and he saw him led away
by two servants of Gessler, who paced a hundred steps, and
then placed an apple on the boy's head. They had some pity
for Tell in their hearts, and so they had made the boy stand
with his back to his father.
"Face this way," rang out Tell's clear voice, and the boy,
quick to obey, turned and stood facing his father. He stood
erect, his arms hanging straight by his side, his head
held up, and the apple poised on it. He saw Tell string his
bow, bend it, to try if it were true, fit the notch of the
arrow into the taut cord, bring the bow slowly into place.
He could see no more. He shut his eyes.
 The next moment a great shout rose from the crowd. The
arrow had split the apple in two and had sped beyond. The
people were overjoyed, but Gessler said in a surly tone to
"You were not so very sure of your first shot. I saw you
place a second arrow in your belt."
"That was for thee,
tyrant, had I missed my first shot," said Tell.
"Seize him!" cried the enraged tyrant, and his soldiers
rushed forward, but the people also threw themselves upon
the soldiers, and Tell, now drawing his bow again, shot
the tyrant through the heart, and in the confusion that
followed, taking his boy by the hand, fled quickly to the
lake near by, and, loosing a boat, rowed to the other shore,
and so escaped to the mountain fastness.
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