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Hear then, and mark me well; for thou wilt see,
I long have known the grief that weighs thee down.
The Viceroy hates thee, fain would injure thee,
For thou past cross'd his wish to bend the Swiss
In homage to this upstart house of princes,
And kept them staunch, like their good sires of old,
In true allegiance to the Empire. Say,
Is't not so, Werner? Tell me, am I wrong?

STAUFF.

'Tis even so. For this doth Gessler hate me.

GERT.

He burns with envy, too, to see thee living
Happy and free on thine ancestral soil,
For he is landless. From the Emperor's self
Thou hold'st in fief the lands thy fathers left thee.
There's not a prince i' the Empire that can show
A better title to his heritage;
For thou hast over thee no lord but one,
And he the mightiest of all Christian kings.
Gessler, we know, is but a younger son,
His only wealth the knightly cloak he wears;
He therefore views an honest man's good fortune
With a malignant and a jealous eye.
Long has he sworn to compass thy destruction.
As yet thou art uninjured. Wilt thou wait
Till he may safely give his malice vent?
A wise man would anticipate the blow.

STAUFF.

What's to be done?

[Illustration: STAUFFACHER AND HIS WIFE GERTRUDE As
performed at the Royal Theatre, Dresden, 1906.]

GERT.

Now hear what I advise.
Thou knowest well, how here with us in Schwytz
All worthy men are groaning underneath
This Gessler's grasping, grinding tyranny.
Doubt not the men of Unterwald as well,
And Uri, too, are chafing like ourselves,
At this oppressive and heart-wearying yoke.
For there, across the lake, the Landenberg
Wields the same iron rule as Gessler here -
No fishing-boat comes over to our side,
But brings the tidings of some new encroachment,
Some fresh outrage, more grievous than the last.
Then it were well that some of you - true men -
Men sound at heart, should secretly devise,
How best to shake this hateful thraldom off.
Full sure I am that God would not desert you,
But lend His favor to the righteous cause.
Hast thou no friend in Uri, one to whom
Thou frankly may'st unbosom all thy thoughts?

STAUFF.

I know full many a gallant fellow there,
And nobles, too - great men, of high repute,
In whom I can repose unbounded trust.

[_Rising_.]

Wife! What a storm of wild and perilous thoughts
Hast thou stirr'd up within my tranquil breast!
The darkest musings of my bosom thou
Hast dragg'd to light, and placed them full before me;
And what I scarce dared harbor e'en in thought,
Thou speakest plainly out with fearless tongue.
But has thou weigh'd well what thou urgest thus?
Discord will come, and the fierce clang of arms,
To scare this valley's long unbroken peace,
If we, a feeble shepherd race, shall dare
Him to the fight that lords it o'er the world.
Ev'n now they only wait some fair pretext
For setting loose their savage warrior hordes,
To scourge and ravage this devoted land,
To lord it o'er us with the victor's rights,
And, 'neath the show of lawful chastisement,
Despoil us of our chartered liberties.

GERT.

You, too, are men; can wield a battle axe
As well as they. God ne'er deserts the brave.

STAUFF.

Oh wife! a horrid, ruthless fiend is war,
That smites at once the shepherd and his flock.

GERT.

Whate'er great Heaven inflicts, we must endure;
But wrong is what no noble heart will bear.

STAUFF.

This house - thy pride - war, unrelenting war
Will burn it down.

GERT.

And did I think this heart
Enslaved and fettered to the things of earth,
With my own hand I'd hurl the kindling torch.

STAUFF.

Thou hast faith in human kindness, wife; but war
Spares not the tender infant in its cradle.

GERT.

There is a Friend to innocence in heaven.
Send your gaze forward, Werner - not behind.

STAUFF.

We men may die like men, with sword in hand;
But oh, what fate, my Gertrude, may be thine?

GERT.

None are so weak, but one last choice is left.
A spring from yonder bridge and I am free!

STAUFF. (_embracing her_).

Well may he fight for hearth and home, that clasps
A heart so rare as thine against his own!
What are the host of Emperors to him?
Gertrude, farewell! I will to Uri straight.
There lives my worthy comrade, Walter Fürst;
His thoughts and mine upon these times are one.
There, too, resides the noble Banneret
Of Attinghaus. High though of blood he be,
He loves the people, honors their old customs.
With both of these I will take counsel how
To rid us bravely of our country's foe.
Farewell! and while I am away, bear thou
A watchful eye in management at home.
The pilgrim journeying to the house of God,
And holy friar, collecting for his cloister,
To these give liberally from purse and garner.
Stauffacher's house would not be hid. Right out
Upon the public way it stands, and offers
To all that pass a hospitable roof.

[_While they are retiring_, TELL _enters with_ BAUMGARTEN.]

TELL.

Now, then, you have no further need of me.
Enter yon house. 'Tis Werner Stauffacher's,
A man that is a father to distress.
See, there he is, himself! Come, follow me.

[_They retire up. Scene changes_.]


SCENE III


_A common near Altdorf. On an eminence in the background a
Castle in progress of erection, and so far advanced that the
outline of the whole may be distinguished. The back part is
finished: men are working at the front. Scaffolding, on
which the workmen are going up and down. A slater is seen
upon the highest part of the roof. All is bustle and
activity._

TASKMASTER, MASON, WORKMAN _and_ LABORERS

TASK. (_with a stick, urging on the workmen_).

Up, up! You've rested long enough. To work!
The stones here! Now the mortar, and the lime!
And let his lordship see the work advanced,
When next he comes. These fellows crawl like snails!

[_To two laborers, with loads_.]

What! call ye that a load? Go, double it.
Is this the way ye earn your wages, laggards?

1ST. W.

'Tis very hard that we must bear the stones,
To make a keep and dungeon for ourselves!

TASK.

What's that you mutter? 'Tis a worthless race,
For nothing fit but just to milk their cows,
And saunter idly up and down the hills.

OLD MAN (_sinks down exhausted_).

I can no more.

TASK. (_shaking him_).

Up, up, old man, to work!

1ST. W.

Have you no bowels of compassion, thus
To press so hard upon a poor old man
That scarce can drag his feeble limbs along?

MASTER MASON _and_ WORKMEN.

Shame, shame upon you - shame! It cries to heaven.

TASK.

Mind your own business. I but do my duty.

1ST W.

Pray, Master, what's to be the name of this
Same castle, when 'tis built?

TASK.

The Keep of Uri;
For by it we shall keep you in subjection.

WORK.

The Keep of Uri?

TASK.

Well, why laugh at that?

2D W.

Keep Uri, will you, with this paltry place!

1ST W.

How many molehills such as that must first
Be piled up each on each, ere you make
A mountain equal to the least in Uri?

[TASKMASTER _retires up the stage_.]

MAS. M.

I'll drown the mallet in the deepest lake,
That served my hand on this accursed pile.

[_Enter_ TELL _and_ STAUFFACHER.]

STAUFF.

O, that I had not lived to see this sight!

TELL.

Here 'tis not good to be. Let us proceed.

STAUFF.

Am I in Uri - Uri, freedom's home?

MAS. M.

O, Sir, if you could only see the vaults
Beneath these towers. The man that tenants them
Will ne'er hear cock crow more.

STAUFF.

O God! O God!

MASON.

Look at these ramparts and these buttresses,
That seem as they were built to last forever.

TELL.

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_.]

1ST W.

What means the drum? Give heed!

MASON.

Why, here's a mumming!
And look, the cap - what can they mean by that?

CRIER.

In the Emperor's name, give ear!

WORK.

Hush! silence! hush!

CRIER.

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_.]

1ST W.

A strange device to fall upon indeed:
Do reverence to a cap! A pretty farce!
Heard ever mortal anything like this?

MAS. M.

Down to a cap on bended knee, forsooth!
Rare jesting this with men of sober sense!

1ST W.

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.

MASON.

The cap of Austria? Mark that! A snare
To get us into Austria's power, by Heaven!

WORK.

No freeborn man will stoop to such disgrace.

MAS. M.

Come - to our comrades, and advise with them;

[_They retire up_.]

TELL (_to_ STAUFFACHER).

You see how matters stand! Farewell, my friend!

STAUFF.

Whither away? Oh, leave us not so soon.

TELL.

They look for me at home. So fare ye well.

STAUFF.

My heart's so full, and has so much to tell you.

TELL.

Words will not make a heart that's heavy light.

STAUFF.

Yet words may possibly conduct to deeds.

TELL.

Endure in silence! We can do no more.

STAUFF.

But shall we bear what is not to be borne?

TELL.

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.

STAUFF.

And is it thus you view our grievances?

TELL.

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.

STAUFF.

Much might be done - did we stand fast together.

TELL.

When the ship founders, he will best escape
Who seeks no other's safety but his own.

STAUFF.

And you desert the common cause so coldly?

TELL.

A man can safely count but on himself!

STAUFF.

Nay, even the weak grow strong by union.

TELL.

But the strong man is strongest when alone.

STAUFF.

So, then, your country cannot count on you,
If in despair she rise against her foes.

TELL.

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
scaffolding_.]

MASON (_running in_).

What's wrong?

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_.]

MASON.

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_).

Lives he?

[TASKMASTER _shakes his head_.]

Ill-omened towers, with curses built,
And doomed with curses to be tenanted!

[_Exit_.]


SCENE IV

_The house of_ WALTER FÜRST. WALTER FÜRST _and_ ARNOLD VON
MELCHTHAL _enter simultaneously at different sides_.

MELCH.

Good Walter Fürst

FÜRST.

If we should be surprised!
Stay where you are. We are beset with spies.

MELCH.

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.

FÜRST.

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.

MELCH.

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.

FÜRST.

O, we old men can scarce command ourselves!
And can we wonder youth breaks out of bounds?

MELCH.

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.

FÜRST.

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[42] arm
In Uri, for these tyrants pull together.

MELCH.

They teach us Switzers what _we_ ought to do.

FÜRST.

Away! I'll call you when the coast is clear.

[MELCHTHAL _retires_.]

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
STAUFFACHER _enters_.]

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_ FÜRST by _the hand_).

The olden times and olden Switzerland.

FÜRST.

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,[43]
To Italy, but praises far and wide
Your house's hospitality. But say,
Have you come here direct from Flüelen,
And have you noticed nothing on your way,
Before you halted at my door?

STAUFFACHER (_sits down_).

I saw
A work in progress, as I came along,
I little thought to see - that likes me ill.

FÜRST.

O friend! you've lighted on my thought at once.

STAUFF.

Such things in Uri ne'er were known before.
Never was prison here in man's remembrance,
Nor ever any stronghold but the grave.

FÜRST.

You name it well. It is the grave of freedom.

STAUFF.

Friend, Walter Fürst, 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.

FÜRST.

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.

STAUFF.

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.

FÜRST.

O, Heaven is just in all its judgments still!
Baumgarten, say you? A most worthy man.
Has he escaped, and is he safely hid?

STAUFF.

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!

FÜRST (_attentively_).

Say on. What is it?

STAUFF.

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.

FÜRST.

Who knows him not? But what of him? Proceed!

STAUFF.

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.

FÜRST.

But the old father - tell me, what of him?

STAUFF.

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.

FÜRST (_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.

FÜRST.

Merciful Heaven!

MELCHTHAL (_rushing out_).
Into his eyes, his eyes?

STAUFFACHER (_addresses himself in astonishment to_ WALTER
FÜRST).

Who is this youth?

MELCHTHAL (_grasping him convulsively_).
Into his eyes? Speak, speak!

FÜRST.

O, miserable hour!

STAUFF.

Who is it, tell me!

[STAUFFACHER _makes a sign to him_.]

It is his son! All-righteous Heaven!

MELCH.

And I
Must be from thence! What! into both his eyes?

FÜRST.

Be calm, be calm; and bear it like a man!

MELCH.

And all for me - for my mad wilful folly!
Blind, did you say? Quite blind - and both his eyes?

STAUFF.

Ev'n so. 'The fountain of his sight is quench'd,
He ne'er will see the blessed sunshine more.

FÜRST.

Oh, spare his anguish!

MELCH.

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.

STAUFF.

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.

MELCH.

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_.]

FÜRST.

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.

MELCH.

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_ FÜRST).


The measure's full - and are we then to wait
Till some extremity -

MELCH.

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.

FÜRST.

If the three Cantons thought as we three do,
Something might, then, be done, with good effect.

STAUFF.

When Uri calls, when Unterwald replies,
Schwytz will be mindful of her ancient league.[44]

MELCH.

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_ FÜRST).

Do thou resolve! I am prepared to follow.

FÜRST.

First let us learn what steps the noble lords
Von Sillinen and Attinghaus propose.
Their names would rally thousands to the cause.

MELCH.

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.

STAUFF.

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.

FÜRST.

Were there an umpire 'twixt ourselves and Austria,



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