Part 8 out of 13
O, Sir, if you could only see the vaults
Beneath these towers. The man that tenants them
Will ne'er hear cock crow more.
O God! O God!
Look at these ramparts and these buttresses,
That seem as they were built to last forever.
What hands have built, my friend, hands can destroy.
[_Pointing to the mountains_.]
_That_ home of freedom God hath built for us.
[_A drum is heard. People enter bearing a cap upon a pole,
followed by a crier. Women and children thronging
tumultuously after them_.]
What means the drum? Give heed!
Why, here's a mumming!
And look, the cap--what can they mean by that?
In the Emperor's name, give ear!
Hush! silence! hush!
Ye men of Uri, ye do see this cap!
It will be set upon a lofty pole
In Altdorf, in the market place: and this
Is the Lord Governor's good will and pleasure;
The cap shall have like honor as himself,
All do it reverence with bended knee,
And head uncovered; thus the King will know
Who are his true and loyal subjects here;
His life and goods are forfeit to the crown
That shall refuse obedience to the order.
[_The people burst out into laughter. The drum beats and the
procession passes on_.]
A strange device to fall upon indeed:
Do reverence to a cap! A pretty farce!
Heard ever mortal anything like this?
Down to a cap on bended knee, forsooth!
Rare jesting this with men of sober sense!
Nay, an it were the imperial crown! A cap!
Merely the cap of Austria! I've seen it
Hanging above the throne in Gessler's hall.
The cap of Austria? Mark that! A snare
To get us into Austria's power, by Heaven!
No freeborn man will stoop to such disgrace.
Come--to our comrades, and advise with them;
[_They retire up_.]
TELL (_to_ STAUFFACHER).
You see how matters stand! Farewell, my friend!
Whither away? Oh, leave us not so soon.
They look for me at home. So fare ye well.
My heart's so full, and has so much to tell you.
Words will not make a heart that's heavy light.
Yet words may possibly conduct to deeds.
Endure in silence! We can do no more.
But shall we bear what is not to be borne?
Impetuous rulers have the shortest reigns.
When the fierce south wind rises from his chasms,
Men cover up their fires, the ships in haste
Make for the harbor, and the mighty spirit
Sweeps o'er the earth, and leaves no trace behind.
Let every man live quietly at home;
Peace to the peaceful rarely is denied.
And is it thus you view our grievances?
The serpent stings not till it is provoked;
Let them alone; they'll weary of themselves,
When they shall see we are not to be roused.
Much might be done--did we stand fast together.
When the ship founders, he will best escape
Who seeks no other's safety but his own.
And you desert the common cause so coldly?
A man can safely count but on himself!
Nay, even the weak grow strong by union.
But the strong man is strongest when alone.
So, then, your country cannot count on you,
If in despair she rise against her foes.
Tell rescues the lost sheep from yawning gulfs:
Is he a man, then, to desert his friends?
Yet, whatsoe'er you do, spare me from council!
I was not born to ponder and select;
But when your course of action is resolved,
Then call on Tell: you shall not find him fail.
[_Exeunt severally. A sudden tumult is heard around the
MASON (_running in_).
FIRST WORKMAN (_running forward_).
The slater's fallen from the roof.
BERTHA (_rushing in_).
Heavens! Is he dashed to pieces? Save him, help!
If help be possible, save him! Here is gold.
[_Throws her trinkets among the people_.]
Hence with your gold--your universal charm,
And remedy for ill! When you have torn
Fathers from children, husbands from their wives,
And scattered woe and wail throughout the land,
You think with gold to compensate for all.
Hence! Till we saw you, we were happy men;
With you came misery and dark despair.
BERTHA (_to the_ TASKMASTER, _who has returned_).
[TASKMASTER _shakes his head_.]
Ill-omened towers, with curses built,
And doomed with curses to be tenanted!
_The house of_ WALTER FUeRST. WALTER FUeRST _and_ ARNOLD VON
MELCHTHAL _enter simultaneously at different sides_.
Good Walter Fuerst
If we should be surprised!
Stay where you are. We are beset with spies.
Have you no news for me from Unterwald?
What of my father? 'Tis not to be borne
Thus to be pent up like a felon here!
What have I done so heinous that I must
Skulk here in hiding, like a murderer?
I only laid my staff across the fists
Of the pert varlet, when before my eyes,
By order of the governor, he tried
To drive away my handsome team of oxen.
You are too rash by far. He did no more
Than what the governor had ordered him.
You had transgress'd, and therefore should have paid
The penalty, however hard, in silence.
Was I to brook the fellow's saucy gibe--
"That if the peasant must have bread to eat,
Why, let him go and draw the plough himself?"
It cut me to the very soul to see
My oxen, noble creatures, when the knave
Unyoked them from the plough. As though they felt
The wrong, they lowed and butted with their horns.
On this I could contain myself no longer,
And, overcome by passion, struck him down.
O, we old men can scarce command ourselves!
And can we wonder youth breaks out of bounds?
I'm only sorry for my father's sake!
To be away from him, that needs so much
My fostering care! The governor detests him,
Because, whene'er occasion served, he has
Stood stoutly up for right and liberty.
Therefore they'll bear him hard--the poor old man!
And there is none to shield him from their grip.
Come what come may, I must go home again.
Compose yourself, and wait in patience till
We get some tidings o'er from Unterwald.
Away I away! I hear a knock! Perhaps
A message from the Viceroy! Get thee in!
You are not safe from Landenberger's arm
In Uri, for these tyrants pull together.
They teach us Switzers what _we_ ought to do.
Away! I'll call you when the coast is clear.
Unhappy youth! I dare not tell him all
The evil that my boding heart predicts!
Who's there? The door ne'er opens, but I look
For tidings of mishap. Suspicion lurks
With darkling treachery in every nook.
Even to our inmost rooms they force their way,
These myrmidons of power; and soon we'll need
To fasten bolts and bars upon our doors.
[_He opens the door, and steps back in surprise as_ WERNER
What do I see? You, Werner? Now, by Heaven!
A valued guest, indeed. No man e'er set
His foot across this threshold, more esteem'd,
Welcome! thrice welcome, Werner, to my roof!
What brings you here? What seek you here in Uri?
STAUFFACHER (_shakes_ FUeRST by _the hand_).
The olden times and olden Switzerland.
You bring them with you. See how glad I am,
My heart leaps at the very sight of you.
Sit down--sit down, and tell me how you left
Your charming wife, fair Gertrude? Iberg's child,
And clever as her father. Not a man
That wends from Germany, by Meinrad's Cell,
To Italy, but praises far and wide
Your house's hospitality. But say,
Have you come here direct from Flueelen,
And have you noticed nothing on your way,
Before you halted at my door?
STAUFFACHER (_sits down_).
A work in progress, as I came along,
I little thought to see--that likes me ill.
O friend! you've lighted on my thought at once.
Such things in Uri ne'er were known before.
Never was prison here in man's remembrance,
Nor ever any stronghold but the grave.
You name it well. It is the grave of freedom.
Friend, Walter Fuerst, I will be plain with you.
No idle curiosity it is
That brings me here, but heavy cares. I left
Thraldom at home, and thraldom meets me here.
Our wrongs, e'en now, are more than we can bear,
And who shall tell us where they are to end?
From eldest time the Switzer has been free,
Accustom'd only to the mildest rule.
Such things as now we suffer ne'er were known,
Since herdsman first drove cattle to the hills.
Yes, our oppressions are unparallel'd!
Why, even our own good lord of Attinghaus,
Who lived in olden times, himself declares
They are no longer to be tamely borne.
In Unterwalden yonder 'tis the same;
And bloody has the retribution been.
The imperial Seneschal, the Wolfshot, who
At Rossberg dwelt, long'd for forbidden fruit--
Baumgarten's wife, that lives at Alzellen,
He tried to make a victim to his lust,
On which the husband slew him with his age.
O, Heaven is just in all its judgments still!
Baumgarten, say you? A most worthy man.
Has he escaped, and is he safely hid?
Your son-in-law conveyed him o'er the lake,
And he lies hidden in my house at Steinen.
He brought the tidings with him of a thing
That has been done at Sarnen, worse than all,
A thing to make the very heart run blood!
Say on. What is it?
There dwells in Melchthal, then,
Just as you enter by the road from Kerns,
An upright man, named Henry of the Halden,
A man of weight and influence in the Diet.
Who knows him not? But what of him? Proceed!
The Landenberg, to punish some offense
Committed by the old man's son, it seems,
Had given command to take the youth's best pair
Of oxen from his plough; on which the lad
Struck down the messenger and took to flight.
But the old father--tell me, what of him?
The Landenberg sent for him, and required
He should produce his son upon the spot;
And when the old man protested, and with truth,
That he knew nothing of the fugitive,
The tyrant call'd his torturers.
FUeRST (_springs up and tries to lead him to the other side_).
Hush, no more!
STAUFFACHER (_with increasing warmth_).
"And though thy son," he cried, "has 'scaped me now,
I have thee fast, and thou shalt feel my vengeance."
With that they flung the old man to the ground,
And plunged the pointed steel into his eyes.
MELCHTHAL (_rushing out_).
Into his eyes, his eyes?
STAUFFACHER (_addresses himself in astonishment to_ WALTER
Who is this youth?
MELCHTHAL (_grasping him convulsively_).
Into his eyes? Speak, speak!
O, miserable hour!
Who is it, tell me!
[STAUFFACHER _makes a sign to him_.]
It is his son! All-righteous Heaven!
Must be from thence! What! into both his eyes?
Be calm, be calm; and bear it like a man!
And all for me--for my mad wilful folly!
Blind, did you say? Quite blind--and both his eyes?
Ev'n so. 'The fountain of his sight is quench'd,
He ne'er will see the blessed sunshine more.
Oh, spare his anguish!
Never, never more!
[_Presses his hands upon his eyes and is silent for some
moments: then turning from one to the other speaks in a
subdued tone, broken by sobs._]
O the eye's light, of all the gifts of Heaven,
The dearest, best! From light all beings live--
Each fair created thing--the very plants
Turn with a joyful transport to the light,
And he--he must drag on through all his days
In endless darkness! Never more for him
The sunny meads shall glow, the flow'rets bloom;
Nor shall he more behold the roseate tints
Of the iced mountain top! To die is nothing.
But to have life, and not have sight--oh, that
Is misery indeed! Why do you look
So piteously at me? I have two eyes,
Yet to my poor blind father can give neither!
No, not one gleam of that great sea of light,
That with its dazzling splendor floods my gaze.
Ah, I must swell the measure of your grief,
Instead of soothing it. The worst, alas!
Remains to tell. They've stripp'd him of his all;
Naught have they left him, save his staff, on which,
Blind, and in rags, he moves from door to door.
Naught but his staff to the old eyeless man!
Stripp'd of his all--even of the light of day,
The common blessing of the meanest wretch?
Tell me no more of patience, of concealment!
Oh, what a base and coward thing am I,
That on mine own security I thought
And took no care of thine! Thy precious head
Left as a pledge within the tyrant's grasp!
Hence, craven-hearted prudence, hence! And all
My thoughts be vengeance, and the despot's blood!
I'll seek him straight--no power shall stay me now--
And at his hands demand my father's eyes.
I'll beard him 'mid a thousand myrmidons!
What's life to me, if in his heart's best blood
I cool the fever of this mighty anguish.
[_He is going_.]
Stay, this is madness, Melchthal! What avails
Your single arm against his power? He sits
At Sarnen high within his lordly keep,
And, safe within its battlemented walls,
May laugh to scorn your unavailing rage.
And though he sat within the icy domes
Of yon far Schreckhorn--ay, or higher, where,
Veil'd since eternity, the Jungfrau soars,
Still to the tyrant would I make my way;
With twenty comrades minded like myself,
I'd lay his fastness level with the earth!
And if none follow me, and if you all,
In terror for your homesteads and your herds,
Bow in submission to the tyrant's yoke,
Round me I'll call the herdsmen on the hills,
And there beneath heaven's free and boundless roof,
Where men still feel as men, and hearts are true,
Proclaim aloud this foul enormity!
STAUFFACHER (_to_ FUeRST).
The measure's full--and are we then to wait
Till some extremity--
Peace! What extremity
Remains for us to dread? What, when our eyes
No longer in their sockets are secure?
Heavens! Are we helpless? Wherefore did we learn
To bend the cross-bow--wield the battle-axe?
What living creature but in its despair,
Finds for itself a weapon of defence?
The baited stag will turn, and with the show
Of his dread antlers hold the hounds at bay;
The chamois drags the huntsman down th' abyss;
The very ox, the partner of man's toil,
The sharer of his roof, that meekly bends
The strength of his huge neck beneath the yoke,
Springs up, if he's provoked, whets his strong horn,
And tosses his tormentor to the clouds.
If the three Cantons thought as we three do,
Something might, then, be done, with good effect.
When Uri calls, when Unterwald replies,
Schwytz will be mindful of her ancient league.
I've many friends in Unterwald, and none
That would not gladly venture life and limb,
If fairly back'd and aided by the rest.
Oh! sage and reverend fathers of this land,
Here do I stand before your riper years,
An unskill'd youth, who in the Diet must
Into respectful silence hush his voice.
Yet do not, for that I am young, and want
Experience, slight my counsel and my words.
'Tis not the wantonness of youthful blood
That fires my spirit; but a pang so deep
That e'en the flinty rocks must pity me.
You, too, are fathers, heads of families,
And you must wish to have a virtuous son,
To reverence your gray hairs, and shield your eyes
With pious and affectionate regard.
Do not, I pray, because in limb and fortune
You still are unassail'd, and still your eyes
Revolve undimm'd and sparkling in their spheres--
Oh, do not, therefore, disregard our wrongs!
Above you, also, hangs the tyrant's sword.
You, too, have striven to alienate the land
From Austria. This was all my father's crime:
You share his guilt, and _may_ his punishment.
STAUFFACHER (_to_ FUeRST).
Do thou resolve! I am prepared to follow.
First let us learn what steps the noble lords
Von Sillinen and Attinghaus propose.
Their names would rally thousands to the cause.
Is there a name within the Forest Mountains
That carries more respect than yours--and yours?
On names like these the people build their trust
In time of need--such names are household words.
Rich was your heritage of manly worth,
And richly have you added to its stores.
What need of nobles? Let us do the work
Ourselves. Yes, though we have to stand alone,
We shall be able to maintain our rights.
The nobles' wrongs are not so great as ours.
The torrent, that lays waste the lower grounds,
Hath not ascended to the uplands yet.
But let them see the country once in arms,
They'll not refuse to lend a helping hand.
Were there an umpire 'twixt ourselves and Austria,
Justice and law might then decide our quarrel.
But our oppressor is our Emperor too,
And judge supreme. 'Tis God must help us, then,
And our own arm! Be yours the task to rouse
The men of Schwytz; I'll rally friends in Uri.
But whom are we to send to Unterwald?
Thither send me. Whom should it more concern?
No, Melchthal, no; you are my guest, and I
Must answer for your safety.
Let me go.
I know each forest track and mountain path;
Friends too, I'll find, be sure, on every hand,
To give me willing shelter from the foe.
Nay, let him go; no traitors harbor there:
For tyranny is so abhorred in Unterwald,
No tools can there be found to work her will.
In the low valleys, too, the Alzeller
Will gain confederates, and rouse the country.
But how shall we communicate, and not
Awaken the suspicion of the tyrants?
Might we not meet at Brunnen or at Treib,
Where merchant vessels with their cargoes come?
We must not go so openly to work.
Hear my opinion. On the lake's left bank,
As we sail hence to Brunnen, right against
The Mytenstein, deep-hidden in the wood
A meadow lies, by shepherds called the Rootli,
Because the wood has been uprooted there.
'Tis where our Canton bound'ries verge on yours;--
Your boat will carry you across from Schwytz.
Thither by lonely by-paths let us wend
At midnight, and deliberate o'er our plans.
Let each bring with him there ten trusty men,
All one at heart with us; and then we may
Consult together for the general weal,
And, with God's guidance, fix what next to do.
So let it be. And now your true right hand!
Yours, too, young man! and as we now three men
Among ourselves thus knit our hands together
In all sincerity and truth, e'en so
Shall we three Cantons, too, together stand
In victory and defeat, in life and death.
FUeRST _and_ MELCHTHAL.
In life and death.
[_They hold their hands clasped together for some moments in
Alas, my old blind father!
The day of freedom, that thou canst not see.
But thou shalt hear it, when from Alp to Alp
The beacon fires throw up their flaming signs,
And the proud castles of the tyrants fall,
Into thy cottage shall the Switzer burst,
Bear the glad tidings to thine ear, and o'er
Thy darken'd way shall Freedom's radiance pour.
* * * * *
_The Mansion of the_ BARON of ATTINGHAUSEN. _A Gothic Hall,
decorated with escutcheons and helmets_. The BARON, _a
gray-headed man, eighty-five years old, tall and of a
commanding mien, clad in a furred pelisse, and leaning on a
staff tipped with chamois horn_. KUONI _and six hinds
standing round him with rakes and scythes_. ULRICH of RUDENZ
_enters in the costume of a Knight_.
Uncle, I'm here! Your will?
First let me share,
After the ancient custom of our house,
The morning cup, with these my faithful servants!
[_He drinks from a cup, which is then passed round_.]
Time was, I stood myself in field and wood,
With mine own eyes directing all their toil,
Even as my banner led them in the fight;
Now I am only fit to play the steward:
And, if the genial sun come not to me,
I can no longer seek it on the hills.
Thus slowly, in an ever narrowing sphere,
I move on to the narrowest and the last,
Where all life's pulses cease. I now am but
The shadow of my former self, and that
Is fading fast--'twill soon be but a name.
KUONI (_offering_ RUDENZ _the cup_).
A pledge, young master!
[RUDENZ _hesitates to take the cup_.]
Nay, Sir, drink it off.
One cup, one heart! You know our proverb, Sir?
Go, children, and at eve, when work is done,
We'll meet and talk the country's business over.
Belted and plumed, and all thy bravery on!
Thou art for Altdorf--for the castle, boy?
Yes, uncle. Longer may I not delay--
ATTINGHAUSEN (_sitting down_).
Why in such haste? Say, are thy youthful hours
Doled in such niggard measure, that thou must
Be chary of them to thy aged uncle?
I see my presence is not needed here;
I am but as a stranger in this house.
ATTINGHAUSEN (_gazes fixedly at him for a considerable
Ay, pity 'tis thou art! Alas, that home
To thee has grown so strange! Oh, Uly! Uly!
I scarce do know thee now, thus deck'd in silks,
The peacock's feather flaunting in thy cap,
And purple mantle round thy shoulders flung;
Thou look'st upon the peasant with disdain;
And tak'st his honest greeting with a blush.
All honor due to him I gladly pay,
But must deny the right he would usurp.
The sore displeasure of its monarch rests
Upon our land, and every true man's heart
Is full of sadness for the grievous wrongs
We suffer from our tyrants. Thou alone
Art all unmoved amid the general grief.
Abandoning thy friends, thou tak'st thy stand
Beside thy country's foes, and, as in scorn
Of our distress, pursuest giddy joys,
Courting the smiles of princes all the while
Thy country bleeds beneath their cruel scourge.
The land is sore oppress'd, I know it, uncle.
But why? Who plunged it into this distress?
A word, one little easy word, might buy
Instant deliverance from all our ills,
And win the good will of the Emperor.
Woe unto those who seal the people's eyes,
And make them adverse to their country's good--
The men, who, for their own vile selfish ends,
Are seeking to prevent the Forest States
From swearing fealty to Austria's House,
As all the countries round about have done.
It fits their humor well, to take their seats
Amid the nobles on the Herrenbank;
They'll have the Kaiser for their lord, forsooth--
That is to say, they'll have no lord at all.
Must I hear this, and from thy lips, rash boy!
You urged me to this answer. Hear me out.
What, uncle, is the character you've stoop'd
To fill contentedly through life? Have you
No higher pride than in these lonely wilds
To be the Landamman or Banneret,
The petty chieftain of a shepherd race?
How! Were it not a far more glorious choice,
To bend in homage to our royal lord,
And swell the princely splendors of his court,
Than sit at home, the peer of your own vassals,
And share the judgment-seat with vulgar clowns?
Ah, Uly, Uly; all too well I see,
The tempter's voice has caught thy willing ear,
And pour'd its subtle poison in thy heart.
Yes, I conceal it not. It doth offend
My inmost soul, to hear the stranger's gibes,
That taunt us with the name of "Peasant Nobles!"
Think you the heart that's stirring here can brook,
While all the young nobility around
Are reaping honor under Habsburg's banner,
That I should loiter, in inglorious ease,
Here on the heritage my fathers left,
And, in the dull routine of vulgar toil,
Lose all life's glorious spring? In other lands
Great deeds are done. A world of fair renown
Beyond these mountains stirs in martial pomp.
My helm and shield are rusting in the hall;
The martial trumpet's spirit-stirring blast,
The herald's call, inviting to the lists,
Rouse not the echoes of these vales, where naught
Save cowherd's horn and cattle bell is heard,
In one unvarying dull monotony.
Deluded boy, seduced by empty show!
Despise the land that gave thee birth! Ashamed
Of the good ancient customs of thy sires!
The day will come, when thou, with burning tears,
Wilt long for home, and for thy native hills,
And that dear melody of tuneful herds,
Which now, in proud disgust, thou dost despise!
A day when wistful pangs shall shake thy heart,
Hearing their music in a foreign land.
Oh! potent is the spell that binds to home!
No, no, the cold, false world is not for thee.
At the proud court, with thy true heart, thou wilt
Forever feel a stranger among strangers.
The world asks virtues of far other stamp
Than thou hast learned within these simple vales.
But go--go thither--barter thy free soul,
Take land in fief, be minion to a prince,
Where thou might'st be lord paramount, and prince
Of all thine own unburden'd heritage!
O, Uly, Uly, stay among thy people!
Go not to Altdorf. Oh, abandon not
The sacred cause of thy wrong'd native land!
I am the last of all my race. My name
Ends with me. Yonder hang my helm and shield;
They will be buried with me in the grave.
And must I think, when yielding up my breath,
That thou but wait'st the closing of mine eyes,
To stoop thy knee to this new feudal court,
And take in vassalage from Austria's hands
The noble lands, which I from God received,
Free and unfetter'd as the mountain air!
'Tis vain for us to strive against the king.
The world pertains to him. Shall we alone,
In mad presumptuous obstinacy, strive
To break that mighty chain of lands, which he
Hath drawn around us with his giant grasp?
His are the markets, his the courts--his, too,
The highways; nay, the very carrier's horse,
That traffics on the Gotthardt, pays him toll.
By his dominions, as within a net,
We are inclosed, and girded round about--
And will the Empire shield us? Say, can it
Protect itself 'gainst Austria's growing power?
To God, and not to emperors must we look!
What store can on their promises be placed,
When they, to meet their own necessities,
Can pawn, and even alienate the towns
That flee for shelter 'neath the Eagle's wings?
No, uncle! It is wise and wholesome prudence,
In times like these, when faction's all abroad,
To vow attachment to some mighty chief.
The imperial crown's transferred from line to line.
It has no memory for faithful service
But to secure the favor of these great
Hereditary masters, were to sow
Seed for a future harvest.
Art so wise?
Wilt thou see clearer than thy noble sires,
Who battled for fair freedom's priceless gem
With life, and fortune, and heroic arm?
Sail down the lake to Lucern, there inquire
How Austria's thraldom weighs the Cantons down.
Soon she will come to count our sheep, our cattle,
To portion out the Alps, e'en to their peaks,
And in our own free woods to hinder us
From striking down the eagle or the stag;
To set her tolls on every bridge and gate,
Impoverish us, to swell her lust of sway,
And drain our dearest blood to feed her wars.
No, if our blood must flow, let it be shed
In our own cause! We purchase liberty
More cheaply far than bondage.
What can we,
A shepherd race, against great Albert's hosts?
Learn, foolish boy, to know this shepherd race!
I know them, I have led them on in fight--
I saw them in the battle of Favenz.
What! Austria try, forsooth, to force on us
A yoke we are determined not to bear!
Oh, learn to feel from what a stock thou'rt sprung;
Cast not, for tinsel trash and idle show,
The precious jewel of thy worth away.
To be the chieftain of a free born race,
Bound to thee only by their unbought love,
Ready to stand--to fight--to die with thee,
Be that thy pride, be that thy noblest boast!
Knit to thy heart the ties of kindred--home--
Cling to the land, the dear land of thy sires,
Grapple to that with thy whole heart and soul!
Thy power is rooted deep and strongly here,
But in yon stranger world thou'lt stand alone,
A trembling reed beat down by every blast.
Oh come! 'tis long since we have seen thee, Uly!
Tarry but this one day. Only today!
Go not to Altdorf. Wilt thou? Not today!
For this one day, bestow thee on thy friends.
[_Takes his hand_.]
I gave my word. Unhand me! I am bound.
ATTING. (_drops his hand and says sternly_).
Bound, didst thou say? Oh yes, unhappy boy,
Thou art indeed. But not by word or oath.
'Tis by the silken mesh of love thou'rt bound.
[RUDENZ _turns away_.]
Ay, hide thee, as thou wilt. 'Tis she, I know,
Bertha of Bruneck, draws thee to the court;
'Tis she that chains thee to the Emperor's service.
Thou think'st to win the noble knightly maid
By thy apostacy. Be not deceived.
She is held out before thee as a lure;
But never meant for innocence like thine.
No more, I've heard enough. So fare you well.
Stay, Uly! Stay! Rash boy, he's gone! I can
Nor hold him back, nor save him from destruction.
And so the Wolfshot has deserted us;
Others will follow his example soon.
This foreign witchery, sweeping o'er our hills,
Tears with its potent spell our youth away.
O luckless hour, when men and manners strange
Into these calm and happy valleys came,
To warp our primitive and guileless ways!
The new is pressing on with might. The old,
The good, the simple, all fleet fast away.
New times come on. A race is springing up
That think not as their fathers thought before!
What do I hear? All, all are in the grave
With whom erewhile I moved, and held converse;
My age has long been laid beneath the sod
Happy the man, who may not live to see
What shall be done by those that follow me!
_A meadow surrounded by high rocks and wooded ground. On the
rocks are tracks, with rails and ladders, by which the
peasants are afterward seen descending. In the background
the lake is observed, and over it a moon rainbow in the
early part of the scene. The prospect is closed by lofty
mountains, with glaciers rising behind them. The stage is
dark, but the lake and glaciers glisten in the moonlight._
MELCHTHAL, BAUMGARTEN, WINKELRIED, MEYER VON SARNEN BURKHART
AM BUHEL, ARNOLD VON SEWA, KLAUS VON DER FLUE, _and four
other peasants, all armed._
MELCHTHAL _(behind the scenes)_.
The mountain pass is open. Follow me!
I see the rock, and little cross upon it:
This is the spot; here is the Rootli.
_[They enter with torches.]_
The coast is clear.
None of our comrades come?
We are the first, we Unterwaldeners.
How far is't i' the night?
The beacon watch
Upon the Selisberg has just called two.
_[A bell is heard at a distance.]_
The forest chapel's matin bell
Chimes clearly o'er the lake from Switzerland.
The air is clear and bears the sound so far.
Go, you and you, and light some broken boughs,
Let's bid them welcome with a cheerful blaze.
_[Two peasants exeunt_.]
The moon shines fair tonight. Beneath its beams
The lake reposes, bright as burnish'd steel.
BUHEL. They'll have an easy passage.
WINK. _(pointing to the lake_).
Ha! look there!
Do you see nothing?
Ay, indeed, I do!
A rainbow in the middle of the night.
Formed by the bright reflection of the moon!
A sign most strange and wonderful, indeed!
Many there be who ne'er have seen the like.
'Tis doubled, see, a paler one above!
A boat is gliding yonder right beneath it.
That must be Werner Stauffacher! I knew
The worthy patriot would not tarry long.
_[Goes with_ BAUMGARTEN _toward the shore_.]
The Uri men are like to be the last.
They're forced to take a winding circuit through
The mountains; for the Viceroy's spies are out.
_[In the meanwhile the two peasants have kindled a fire in
the centre of the stage.]_ MELCHTHAL _(on the shore)_.
Who's there? The word?
STAUFFACHER _(from below_).
Friends of the country.
_[All retire up the stage, toward the party landing from the
boat. Enter_ STAUFFACHER, ITEL REDING, HANS AUF DER MAUER,
JORG IM HOFE, CONRAD HUNN, ULRICH DER SCHMIDT, JOST VON
WEILER, _and three other peasants, armed.]_
_[While the rest remain behind exchanging greetings_,
MELCHTHAL _Comes forward with_ STAUFFACHER.]
Oh worthy Stauffacher, I've look'd but now
On him who could not look on me again;
I've laid my hands upon his rayless eyes,
And on their vacant orbits sworn a vow
Of vengeance, only to be cool'd in blood.
Speak not of vengeance. We are here, to meet
The threatened evil, not to avenge the past.
Now tell me what you've done, and what secured,
To aid the common cause in Unterwald.
How stand the peasantry disposed, and how
Yourself escaped the wiles of treachery?
Through the Surenen's fearful mountain chain,
Where dreary ice-fields stretch on every side,
And sound is none save the hoarse vulture's cry,
I reach'd the Alpine pasture, where the herds
From Uri and from Engelberg resort,
And turn their cattle forth to graze in common.
Still as I went along, I slaked my thirst
With the coarse oozings of the glacier heights
That thro' the crevices come foaming down,
And turned to rest me in the herdsmen's cots,
Where I was host and guest, until I gain'd
The cheerful homes and social haunts of men.
Already through these distant vales had spread
The rumor of this last atrocity;
And wheresoe'er I went, at every door,
Kind words saluted me and gentle looks.
I found these simple spirits all in arms
Against our rulers' tyrannous encroachments.
For as their Alps through each succeeding year
Yield the same roots--their streams flow ever on
In the same channels--nay, the clouds and winds
The selfsame course unalterably pursue,
So have old customs there, from sire to son,
Been handed down, unchanging and unchanged;
Nor will they brook to swerve or turn aside
From the fixed even tenor of their life.
With grasp of their hard hands they welcomed me--
Took from the walls their rusty falchions down--
And from their eyes the soul of valor flash'd
With joyful lustre, as I spoke those names,
Sacred to every peasant in the mountains,
Your own and Walter Fuerst's. Whate'er your voice
Should dictate as the right, they swore to do;
And you they swore to follow e'en to death.
--So sped I on from house to house, secure
In the guest's sacred privilege;--and when
I reached at last the valley of my home,
Where dwell my kinsmen, scatter'd far and near--
And when I found my father, stript and blind,
Upon the stranger's straw, fed by the alms
Yet wept I not!
No--not in weak and unavailing tears
Spent I the force of my fierce burning anguish;
Deep in my bosom, like some precious treasure,
I lock'd it fast, and thought on deeds alone.
Through every winding of the hills I crept--
No valley so remote but I explored it;
Nay, at the very glacier's ice-clad base,
I sought and found the homes of living men;
And still, where'er my wandering footsteps turn'd,
The selfsame hatred of these tyrants met me.
For even there, at vegetation's verge,
Where the numb'd earth is barren of all fruits,
Their grasping hands had been for plunder thrust.
Into the hearts of all this honest race
The story of my wrongs struck deep, and now
They, to a man, are ours; both heart and hand.
Great things, indeed, you've wrought in little time.
I did still more than this. The fortresses,
Rossberg and Sarnen, are the country's dread;
For from behind their adamantine walls
The foe, like eagle from his eyrie swoops,
And, safe himself, spreads havoc o'er the land.
With my own eyes I wish'd to weigh its strength,
So went to Sarnen, and explored the castle.
How! Venture even into the tiger's den?
Disguised in pilgrim's weeds I entered it;
I saw the Viceroy feasting at his board--
Judge if I'm master of myself or no!
I saw the tyrant, and I slew him not!
Fortune, indeed, upon your boldness smiled.
_[Meanwhile the others have arrived and join_ MELCHTHAL
Yet tell me now, I pray, who are the friends,
The worthy men, who came along with you
Make me acquainted with them, that we may
Speak frankly, man to man, and heart to heart.
In the three Cantons, who, sir, knows not you?
Meyer of Sarnen is my name; and this
Is Struth of Winkelried, my sister's son.
No unknown name. A Winkelried it was
Who slew the dragon in the fen at Weiler,
And lost his life in the encounter, too.
That, Master Stauffacher, was my grandfather.
MELCHTHAL _(pointing to two peasants)_.
These two are men who till the cloister lands
Of Engelberg, and live behind the forest.
You'll not think ill of them, because they're serfs,
And sit not free upon the soil, like us;
They love the land, and bear a good repute.
STAUFFACHER _(to them)_.
Give me your hands. He has good cause for thanks
That to no man his body's service owes.
But worth is worth, no matter where 'tis found.
That is Herr Reding, sir, our old Landamman;
I know him well. I am at law with him
About a piece of ancient heritage.
Herr Reding, we are enemies in court--
Here we are one.
_[Shakes his hand_.]
That's well and bravely said.
WINK. Listen! They come. The horn of Uri! Hark!
_[On the right and left armed men are seen descending the
rocks with torches_.]
Look, is not that the holy man of God?
A worthy priest! The terrors of the night,
And the way's pains and perils scare not him,
A faithful shepherd caring for his flock.
BAUM. The Sacrist follows him, and Walter Fuerst.
But where is Tell? I do not see him there.
[WALTER FUeRST, ROeSSELMANN _the Pastor,_ PETERMANN _the
Sacrist_, KUONI _the Shepherd_ WERNI _the Huntsman_, RUODI
_the Fisherman, and other countrymen, thirty-three in all,
advance and take their places round the fire.]_
Thus must we, on the soil our fathers left us,
Creep forth by stealth to meet like murderers,
And in the night, that should her mantle lend
Only to, crime and black conspiracy,
Assert our own good rights which yet are clear
As is the radiance of the noonday sun.
So be it. What is hatch'd in gloom of night
Shall free and boldly meet the morning light.
Confederates! Listen to the words which God
Inspires my heart withal. Here we are met,
To represent the general weal. In us
Are all the people of the land convened.
Then let us hold the Diet, as of old,
And as we're wont in peaceful times to do.
The time's necessity be our excuse,
If there be aught informal in this meeting.
Still, wheresoe'er men strike for justice, there
Is God, and now beneath His heav'n we stand.
'Tis well advised.--Let us, then, hold the Diet,
According to our ancient usages.--
Though it be night, there's sunshine in our cause.
Few though our numbers be, the hearts are here
Of the whole people; here the BEST are met.
The ancient books may not be near at hand,
Yet are they graven in our inmost hearts.
'Tis well. And now, then, let a ring be formed,
And plant the swords of power within the ground.
Let the Landamman step into his place,
And by his side his secretaries stand.
There are three Cantons here. Which hath the right
To give the head to the united Council?
Schwytz may contest that dignity with Uri;
We Unterwald'ners enter not the field.
We stand aside. We are but suppliants here,
Invoking aid from our more potent friends.
Let Uri have the sword. Her banner takes,
In battle, the precedence of our own.
Schwytz, then, must share the honor of the sword;
For she's the honored ancestor of all.
Let me arrange this generous controversy.
Uri shall lead in battle--Schwytz in Council.
FUeRST _(gives_ STAUFFACHER _his hand)_.
Then take your place.
Not I. Some older man.
Ulrich, the Smith, is the most aged here.
A worthy man, but not a freeman; no!
--No bondman can be judge in Switzerland.
Is not Herr Reding here, our old Landamman!
Where can we find a worthier man than he?
Let him be Amman and the Diet's chief!
You that agree with me, hold up your hands!
_[All hold up their right hands_.]
REDING _(stepping into the centre)_.
I cannot lay my hands upon the books;
But by yon everlasting stars I swear,
Never to swerve from justice and the right.
_[The two swords are placed before him, and a circle formed;
Schwytz in the centre, Uri on his right, Unterwald on his
REDING _(resting on his battle sword)_.
Why, at the hour when spirits walk the earth,
Meet the three Cantons of the mountains here,
Upon the lake's inhospitable shore?
What may the purport be of this new league
We here contract beneath the starry heaven?
STAUFFACHER _(entering the circle_).
'Tis no new league that here we now contract;
But one our fathers framed, in ancient times,
We purpose to renew! For know, confederates,
Though mountain ridge and lake divide our bounds,
And each Canton by its own laws is ruled,
Yet are we but one race, born of one blood,
And all are children of one common home.
Is then the burden of our legends true,
That we came hither from a distant land?
Oh, tell us what you know, that our new league
May reap fresh vigor from the leagues of old.
Hear, then, what aged herdsmen tell. There dwelt
A mighty people in the land that lies
Back to the north. The scourge of famine came;
And in this strait 'twas publicly resolved
That each tenth man, on whom the lot might fall,
Should leave the country. They obey'd--and forth,
With loud lamentings, men and women went,
A mighty host; and to the south moved on,
Cutting their way through Germany by the sword,
Until they gained these pine-clad hills of ours;
Nor stopp'd they ever on their forward course,
Till at the shaggy dell they halted where
The Mueta flows through its luxuriant meads.
No trace of human creature met their eye,
Save one poor hut upon the desert shore,
Where dwelt a lonely man, and kept the ferry.
A tempest raged--the lake rose mountains high
And barr'd their further progress. Thereupon
They view'd the country--found it rich in wood,
Discover'd goodly springs, and felt as they
Were in their own dear native land once more.
Then they resolved to settle on the spot;
Erected there the ancient town of Schwytz;
And many a day of toil had they to clear
The tangled brake and forest's spreading roots.
Meanwhile their numbers grew, the soil became
Unequal to sustain them, and they cross'd
To the black mountain, far as Weissland, where,
Conceal'd behind eternal walls of ice,
Another people speak another tongue.
They built the village of Stanz, beside the Kernwald;
The village Altdorf, in the vale of Reuss;
Yet, ever mindful of their parent stem,
The men of Schwytz, from all the stranger race
That since that time have settled in the land,
Each other recognize. Their hearts still know,
And beat fraternally to kindred blood.
_[Extends his hand right and left_.]
Ay, we are all one heart, one blood, one race!
ALL _(joining hands)_.
We are one people, and will act as one.
The nations round us bear a foreign yoke;
For they have to the conqueror succumbed.
Nay, e'en within our frontiers may be found
Some, that owe villein service to a lord,
A race of bonded serfs from sire to son.
But we, the genuine race of ancient Swiss,
Have kept our freedom from the first till now.
Never to princes have we bow'd the knee;
Freely we sought protection of the Empire.
Freely we sought it--freely it was given.
'Tis so set down in Emperor Frederick's charter.
For the most free have still some feudal lord.
There must be still a chief, a judge supreme,
To whom appeal may lie, in case of strife.
And therefore was it that our sires allow'd,
For what they had recover'd from the waste,
This honor to the Emperor, the lord
Of all the German and Italian soil;
And, like the other free men of his realm,
Engaged to aid him with their swords in war;
The free man's duty this alone should be,
To guard the Empire that keeps guard for him.
He's but a slave that would acknowledge more.
They followed, when the Heribann went forth,
The imperial standard, and they fought its battles!
To Italy they march'd in arms, to place
The Caesars' crown upon the Emperor's head.
But still at home they ruled themselves in peace
By their own laws and ancient usages.
The Emperor's only right was to adjudge
The penalty of death; he therefore named
Some mighty noble as his delegate,
That had no stake or interest in the land,
Who was call'd in, when doom was to be pass'd,
And, in the face of day, pronounced decree,
Clear and distinctly, fearing no man's hate.
What traces here, that we are bondsmen? Speak,
If there be any can gainsay my words!
No! You have spoken but the simple truth;
We never stoop'd beneath a tyrant's yoke.
Even to the Emperor we did not submit,
When he gave judgment 'gainst us for the church;
For when the Abbey of Einsiedlen claimed
The Alp our fathers and ourselves had grazed,
And showed an ancient charter which bestowed
The land on them as being ownerless--
For our existence there had been concealed--
What was our answer? This: "The grant is void.
No Emperor can bestow what is our own
And if the Empire shall deny our rights,
We can, within our mountains, right ourselves!"
Thus spake our fathers! And shall we endure
The shame and infamy of this new yoke,
And from the vassal brook what never king
Dared, in his plenitude of power, attempt?
This soil we have created for ourselves,
By the hard labor of our hands; we've changed
The giant forest, that was erst the haunt
Of savage bears, into a home for man;
Extirpated the dragon's brood, that wont
To rise, distent with venom, from the swamps;
Rent the thick misty canopy that hung
Its blighting vapors on the dreary waste;
Blasted the solid rock; across the chasm
Thrown the firm bridge for the wayfaring man.
By the possession of a thousand years
The soil is ours. And shall an alien lord,
Himself a vassal, dare to venture here,
Insult us by our own hearth fires--attempt
To forge the chains of bondage for our hands,
And do us shame on our own proper soil?
Is there no help against such wrong as this?
_[Great sensation among the people_.]
Yes! there's a limit to the despot's power!
When the oppress'd for justice looks in vain,
When his sore burden may no more be borne,
With fearless heart he makes appeal to Heaven,
And thence brings down his everlasting rights,
Which there abide, inalienably his,
And indestructible as are the stars.
Nature's primeval state returns again,
Where man stands hostile to his fellow man;
And if all other means shall fail his need,
One last resource remains--his own good sword.
Our dearest treasures call to us for aid
Against the oppressor's violence; we stand
For country, home, for wives, for children here!
ALL _(clashing their swords)_.
Here stand we for our homes, our wives, and
ROeSSELMANN _(stepping into the circle)_.
Bethink ye well, before ye draw the sword.
Some peaceful compromise may yet be made;
Speak but one word, and at your feet you'll see
The men who now oppress you. Take the terms
That have been often tendered you; renounce
The Empire, and to Austria swear allegiance!
What says the priest? To Austria allegiance?
Hearken not to him!
'Tis a traitor's counsel,
His country's foe!
Peace, peace, confederates!
Homage to Austria, after wrongs like these!
Shall Austria extort from us by force
What we denied to kindness and entreaty?
Then should we all be slaves, deservedly.
Yes! Let him forfeit all a Switzer's rights,
Who talks of yielding thus to Austria's yoke!
I stand on this, Landamman. Let this be
The foremost of our laws!
Even so! Whoe'er
Shall talk of bearing Austria's yoke, let him
Of all his rights and honors be despoiled,
No man thenceforth receive him at his hearth!
ALL _(raising their right hands)_.
Agreed! Be this the law!
REDING _(after a pause)_.
The law it is.
Now you are free--this law hath made you free.
Never shall Austria obtain by force
What she has fail'd to gain by friendly suit.
On with the order of the day! Proceed!
Confederates! Have all gentler means been tried?
Perchance the Emp'ror knows not of our wrongs;
It may not be his will we suffer thus
Were it not well to make one last attempt,
And lay our grievances before the throne,
Ere we unsheath the sword? Force is at best
A fearful thing e'en in a righteous cause;
God only helps, when man can help no more.
STAUFFACHER (_to_ KONRAD HUNN).
Here you can give us information. Speak!
I was at Rheinfeld, at the Emperor's Court,
Deputed by the Cantons to complain
Of the oppressions of these governors,
And of our liberties the charter claim
Which each new king till now has ratified.
I found the envoys there of many a town,
From Suabia and the valley of the Rhine,
Who all received their parchments as they wish'd,
And straight went home again with merry heart.
But me, your envoy, they to the council sent,
Where I with empty cheer was soon dismiss'd.
"The Emperor at present was engaged;
Some other time he would attend to us!"
I turn'd away, and passing through the hall,
With heavy heart, in a recess I saw
The Grand Duke John in tears, and by his side
The noble lords of Wart and Tegerfeld,
Who beckon'd me, and said, "Redress yourselves.
Expect not justice from the Emperor.
Does he not plunder his own brother's child,
And keep from him his just inheritance?"
The Duke claims his maternal property,
Urging he's now of age, and 'tis full time
That he should rule his people and estates
What is the answer made to him? The king
Places a chaplet on his head; "Behold
The fitting ornament," he cries, "of youth!"
You hear. Expect not from the Emperor
Or right or justice! Then redress yourselves!
No other course is left us. Now, advise
What plan most likely to insure success.
To shake a thraldom off that we abhor,
To keep our ancient rights inviolate,
As we received them from our fathers--this,
Not lawless innovation, is our aim.
Let Caesar still retain what is his due;
And he that is a vassal, let him pay
The service he is sworn to faithfully.
I hold my land of Austria in fief.
Continue, then, to pay your feudal dues.
I'm tenant of the lords of Rappersweil.
Continue, then, to pay them rent and tithe.
Of Zurich's Abbess humble vassal I.
Give to the cloister what the cloister claims.
The Empire only is my feudal lord.
What needs must be, we'll do, but nothing more.
We'll drive these tyrants and their minions hence,
And raze their towering strongholds to the ground,
Yet shed, if possible, no drop of blood.
Let the Emperor see that we were driven to cast
The sacred duties of respect away;
And when he finds we keep within our bounds,
His wrath, belike, may yield to policy;
For truly is that nation to be fear'd
That, arms in hand, is temperate in its wrath.
But prithee tell us how may this be done
The enemy is arm'd as well as we,
And, rest assured, he will not yield in peace.
He will, whene'er he sees us up in arms;
We shall surprise him, ere he is prepared.
Easily said, but not so easily done.
Two strongholds dominate the country--they
Protect the foe, and should the king invade us,
Our task would then be dangerous indeed.
Rossberg and Sarnen both must be secured,
Before a sword is drawn in either Canton.
Should we delay, the foe would soon be warned.
We are too numerous for secrecy.
There is no traitor in the Forest States.
But even zeal may heedlessly betray.
Delay it no longer, and the keep at Altdorf
Will be complete--the governor secure.
You think but of yourselves.
Unjust! said you? Dares Uri taunt us so?
Peace, on your oath!
If Schwytz be leagued with Uri,
Why, then, indeed, we must perforce be dumb.
And let me tell you, in the Diet's name,
Your hasty spirit much disturbs the peace.
Stand we not all for the same common cause?
What, if till Christmas we delay? 'Tis then
The custom for the serfs to throng the castle,
Bringing the governor their annual gifts.
Thus may some ten or twelve selected men
Assemble unobserved, within its walls,
Bearing about their persons pikes of steel
Which may be quickly mounted upon staves;
For arms are not admitted to the fort.
The rest can fill the neighb'ring wood, prepared
To sally forth upon a trumpet's blast,
Soon as their comrades have secured the gate;
And thus the castle will with ease be ours.
The Rossberg I will undertake to scale.
I have a sweetheart in the garrison,
Whom with some tender words I could persuade
To lower me at night a hempen ladder.
Once up, my friends will not be long behind.
Are all resolved in favor of delay?
_[The majority raise their hands_.]
STAUFFACHER _(counting them)._
Twenty to twelve is the majority.