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The German Classics of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Volume 03 Masterpieces of German Literature Translated into English. in Twenty Volumes online

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What surety have we, that you mean us fair?

RUDENZ.

Oh, think not of the error of my youth!

STAUFFACHER (_to_ MELCHTHAL).

Be one! They were our father's latest words.
See they be not forgotten!

MELCHTHAL.

Take my hand -
peasant's hand - and with it, noble sir,
The gage and the assurance of a man!
Without us, sir, what would the nobles be?
Our order is more ancient, too, than yours!

RUDENZ.

I honor it - will shield it with my sword!

MELCH.

The arm, my lord, that tames the stubborn earth,
And makes its bosom blossom with increase,
Can also shield its owner's breast at need.

RUDENZ.

Then you shall shield my breast, and I will yours,
Thus each be strengthen'd by the other's strength.
Yet wherefore talk we, while our native land
Is still to alien tyranny a prey?
First let us sweep the foemen from the soil,
Then reconcile our difference in peace!

[_After a moment's pause_.]

How! You are silent! Not a word for me?
And have I yet no title to your trust? -
Then must I force my way, despite your will,
Into the League you secretly have form'd.
You've held a Diet on the Rootli - I
Know this - know all that was transacted there;
And though not trusted with your secret, I
Have kept it closely like a sacred pledge.
Trust me - I never was my country's foe,
Nor would I ever have against you stood!
Yet you did wrong - to put your rising off.
Time presses! We must strike, and swiftly too!
Already Tell is lost through your delay.

STAUFF.

We swore that we should wait till Christmastide.

RUDENZ.

I was not there - I did not take the oath.
If you delay, I will not!

MELCHTHAL.

What! You would -

RUDENZ.

I count me now among the country's chiefs,
And my first duty is to guard your rights.

FÜRST.

Your nearest and your holiest duty is
Within the earth to lay these dear remains.

RUDENZ.

When we have set the country free, we'll place
Our fresh victorious wreaths upon his bier.
Oh, my dear friends, 'tis not your cause alone! -
with the tyrants have a cause to fight,
That more concerns myself. My Bertha's gone,
Has disappear'd - been carried off by stealth -
Stolen from amongst us by their ruffian hands!

STAUFF.

So fell an outrage has the tyrant dared
Against a lady free and nobly born?

RUDENZ.

Alas! my friends, I promised help to you,
And I must first implore it for myself!
She that I love, is stolen - is forced away,
And who knows where she's by the tyrant hid,
Or with what outrages his ruffian crew
May force her into nuptials she detests?
Forsake me not! - Oh, help me to her rescue!
She loves you! Well, oh well, has she deserved,
That all should rush to arms in her behalf!

STAUFF.

What course do you propose?

RUDENZ.

Alas! I know not.
In the dark mystery that shrouds her fate -
In the dread agony of this suspense,
Where I can grasp at naught of certainty -
One single ray of comfort beams upon me.
From out the ruins of the tyrant's power
Alone can she be rescued from the grave.
Their strongholds must be levell'd, every one,
Ere we can penetrate her dungeon walls.

MELCH.

Come, lead us on! We follow! Why defer
Until tomorrow what today may do?
Tell's arm was free when we at Rootli swore.
This foul enormity was yet undone.
And change of circumstance brings change of vow;
Who such a coward as to waver still?

RUDENZ (_to_ WALTER FÜRST).

Meanwhile to arms, and wait in readiness
The fiery signal on the mountain tops!
For swifter than a boat can scour the lake
Shall you have tidings of our victory;
And when you see the welcome flames ascend,
Then, like the lightning, swoop upon the foe,
And lay the despots and their creatures low!


SCENE III


_The pass near Küssnacht, sloping down from behind, with
rocks on either side. The travelers are visible upon the
heights, before they appear on the stage. Rocks all around
the stage. Upon one of the foremost a projecting cliff
overgrown with brushwood._

TELL (_enters with his cross-bow_).

Through this ravine he needs must come. There is
No other way to Küssnacht. Here I'll do it!
The ground is everything I could desire.
Yon elder bush will hide me from his view,
And from that point my shaft is sure to hit.
The straitness of the gorge forbids pursuit.
Now, Gessler, balance thine account with Heaven!
Thou must away from earth - thy sand is run.
Quiet and harmless was the life I led,
My bow was bent on forest game alone;
No thoughts of murder rested on my soul.
But thou hast scared me from my dream of peace;
The milk of human kindness thou hast turn'd
To rankling poison in my breast, and made
Appalling deeds familiar to my soul.
He who could make his own child's head his mark,
Can speed his arrow to his foeman's heart.
My boys, poor innocents, my loyal wife,
Must be protected, tyrant, from thy rage!
When last I drew my bow - with trembling hand -
And thou, with fiendishly remorseless glee
Forced me to level at my own boy's head,
When I, imploring pity, writhed before thee,
Then in the anguish of my soul, I vow'd
A fearful oath, which met God's ear alone,
That when my bow next wing'd an arrow's flight,
Its aim should be thy heart. The vow I made,
Amid the hellish torments of that moment,
I hold a sacred debt, and I will pay it.
Thou art my lord, my Emperor's delegate;
Yet would the Emperor not have stretch'd his power
So far as thou halt done. He sent thee here
To deal forth law - stern law - for he is wroth,
But not to wanton with unbridled will
In every cruelty, with fiend-like joy: -
There lives a God to punish and avenge.
Come forth, thou bringer once of bitter pangs,
My precious jewel now - my chiefest treasure -
A mark I'll set thee, which the cry of grief
Could never penetrate - but thou shalt pierce it -
And thou, my trusty bow-string, that so oft
For sport has served me faithfully and well,
Desert me not in this dread hour of need -
Only be true this once, my own good cord,
That hast so often wing'd the biting shaft: -
For shouldst thou fly successless from my hand,
I have no second to send after thee.

[_Travelers pass over the stage_.]

I'll sit me down upon this bench of stone,
Hewn for the way-worn traveler's brief repose -
For here there is no home. Men hurry past
Each other, with quick step and careless look,
Nor stay to question of their grief. Here goes
The merchant, all anxiety - the pilgrim,
With scantly furnished scrip - the pious monk,
The scowling robber, and the jovial player,
The carrier with his heavy-laden horse
That comes to us from the far haunts of men;
For every road conducts to the world's end.
They all push onward - every man intent
On his own several business - mine is murder.

[_Sits down_.]

Time was, my dearest children, when with joy
You hail'd your father's safe return to home
From his long mountain toils; for, when he came,
He ever brought with him some little gift -
A lovely Alpine flower - a curious bird -
Or elf-bolt, such as on the hills are found.
But now he goes in quest of other game,
Sits in this gorge, with murder in his thoughts,
And for his enemy's life-blood lies in wait.
But still it is of you alone he thinks,
Dear children. 'Tis to guard your innocence,
To shield you from the tyrant's fell revenge,
He bends his bow to do a deed of blood!

[_Rises_.]

Well - I am watching for a noble prey!
Does not the huntsman, with unflinching heart,
Roam for whole days, when winter frosts are keen,
Leap at the risk of death from rock to rock -
And climb the jagged, slippery steeps, to which
His limbs are glued by his own streaming blood -
And all to hunt a wretched chamois down?
A far more precious prize is now my aim -
The heart of that dire foe, who seeks my life.

[_Sprightly music heard in the distance, which comes
gradually nearer_.]

From my first years of boyhood I have used
The bow - been practised in the archer's feats;
The bull's eye many a time my shafts have hit,
And many a goodly prize have I brought home
From competitions. But this day I'll make
My master-shot, and win what's best to win
In the whole circuit of our mountain range.

[_A bridal party passes over the stage, and goes up the
pass_. TELL _gazes at it, leaning on his bow. He is joined
by_ STUSSI _the Ranger_.]

STUSSI.

There goes the cloister bailiff's bridal train
Of Mörlischachen. A rich fellow he!
And has some half score pastures on the Alps.
He goes to fetch his bride from Imisee.
At Küssnacht there will be high feast tonight.
Come with us - ev'ry honest man is asked.

TELL.

A gloomy guest fits not a wedding feast.

STUSSI.

If you've a trouble, dash it from your heart!
Take what Heaven sends! The times are heavy now,
And we must snatch at pleasure as it flies.
Here 'tis a bridal, there a burial.

TELL.

And oft the one close on the other treads.

STUSSI.

So runs the world we live in. Everywhere
Mischance befalls and misery enough.
In Glarus there has been a landslip, and
A whole side of the Glärnisch has fallen in.

TELL.

How! Do the very hills begin to quake?
There is stability for naught on earth.

STUSSI.

Of strange things, too, we hear from other parts.
I spoke with one but now, from Baden come,
Who said a knight was on his way to court,
And, as he rode along, a swarm of wasps
Surrounded him, and settling on his horse,
So fiercely stung the beast, that it fell dead,
And he proceeded to the court on foot.

TELL.

The weak are also furnish'd with a sting.

ARMGART (_enters with several children, and places herself
at the entrance of the pass_).

STUSSI.

'Tis thought to bode disaster to the land -
Some horrid deeds against the course of nature.

TELL.

Why, every day brings forth such fearful deeds;
There needs no prodigy to herald them.

STUSSI.

Ay, happy he, who tills his field in peace,
And sits at home untroubled with his kin.

TELL.

The very meekest cannot be at peace
If his ill neighbor will not let him rest.

[TELL _looks frequently with restless expectation toward the
top of the pass_.]

STUSSI.

So fare you well! You're waiting someone here?

TELL.

I am.

STUSSI.

God speed you safely to your home!
You are from Uri, are you not? His grace
The governor's expected thence today.

TRAVELER (_entering_).

Look not to see the governor today.
The streams are flooded by the heavy rains,
And all the bridges have been swept away.

[TELL _rises_.]

ARMGART (_coming forward_).

Gessler not coming?

STUSSI.

Want you aught with him?

ARMGART.

Alas, I do!

STUSSI.

Why then, thus place yourself
Where you obstruct his passage down the pass?

ARMGART.

Here he cannot escape me. He _must_ hear me.

FRIESSHARDT (_coming hastily down the pass and calls upon
the stage_).

Make way, make way! My lord, the governor,
Is close behind me, riding down the pass.

[_Exit_ TELL.]

ARMGART (_excitedly_).

The Viceroy comes!

[_She goes toward the pass with her children_. GESSLER _and_
RUDOLPH DER HARRAS _appear on horseback at the upper end of
the pass_.]

STUSSI (_to_ FRIESSHARDT).

How got ye through the stream,
When all the bridges have been carried down?

FRIESS.

We've fought, friend, with the tempest on the lake;
An Alpine torrent's nothing after that.

STUSSI.

How! Were you out, then, in that dreadful storm?

FRIESS.

We were! I'll not forget it while I live.

STUSSI.

Stay, speak -

FRIESS.

I can't - must to the castle haste,
And tell them, that the governor's at hand.

[_Exit_.]

STUSSI.

If honest men, now, had been in the ship,
It had gone down with every soul on board: -
Some folks are proof 'gainst fire and water both.

[_Looking round_.]

Where has the huntsman gone with whom I spoke?

[_Exit_.]

_Enter_ GESSLER _and_ RUDOLPH DER HARRAS _on horseback_

GESSLER.

Say what you will; I am the Emperor's liege,
And how to please him my first thought must be.
He did not send me here to fawn and cringe,
And coax these boors into good humor. No!
Obedience he must have. The struggle's this:
Is king or peasant to be sovereign here?

ARMGART.

Now is the moment! Now for my petition!

GESSLER.

'Twas not in sport that I set up the cap
In Altdorf - or to try the people's hearts -
All this I knew before. I set it up
That they might learn to bend those stubborn necks
They carry far too proudly - and I placed
What well I knew their pride could never brook
Full in the road, which they perforce must pass,
That, when their eye fell on it, they might call
That lord to mind whom they too much forget.

HARRAS.

But surely, sir, the people have some rights -

GESSLER.

This is no time to settle what they are.
Great projects are at work, and hatching now.
The Imperial house seeks to extend its power.
Those vast designs of conquest which the sire
Has gloriously begun, the son will end.
This petty nation is a stumbling-block -
One way or other, it must be put down.

[_They are about to pass on_. ARMGART _throws herself down
before_ GESSLER.]

ARMGART.

Mercy, lord governor! Oh, pardon, pardon!

GESSLER.

Why do you cross me on the public road?
Stand back, I say.

ARMGART.

My husband lies in prison;
My wretched orphans cry for bread. Have pity,
Pity, my lord, upon our sore distress!

HARRAS.

Who are you? and your husband, what is he?

ARMGART.

A poor wild hay-man of the Rigiberg,
Kind sir, who on the brow of the abyss,
Mows the unowner'd grass from craggy shelves,
To which the very cattle dare not climb.

HARRAS (_to_ GESSLER).

By Heaven! a sad and pitiable life!
I pray you set the wretched fellow free.
How great soever may be his offence,
His horrid trade is punishment enough.

[_To_ ARMGART.]

You shall have justice. To the castle bring
Your suit. This is no place to deal with it.

ARMGART.

No, no, I will not stir from where I stand,
Until your grace gives me my husband back.
Six months already has he been shut up,
And waits the sentence of a judge in vain.

GESSLER.

How! would you force me, woman? Hence! Begone!

ARMGART.

Justice, my lord! Ay, justice! Thou are judge,
Vice-regent of the Emperor - of Heaven.
Then do thy duty - as thou hopest for justice
From Him who rules above, show it to us!

GESSLER.

Hence! Drive this insolent rabble from my sight!

ARMGART (_seizing his horse's reins_).

No, no, by Heaven, I've nothing more to lose. -
Thou stir'st not, Viceroy, from this spot, until
Thou dost me fullest justice. Knit thy brows,
And roll thine eyes - I fear not. Our distress
Is so extreme, so boundless, that we care
No longer for thine anger.

GESSLER.

Woman, hence!
Give way, or else my horse shall ride you down.

ARMGART.

Well, let it! - there -

[_Throws her children and herself upon the ground before him_.]

Here on the ground I lie,
I and my children. Let the wretched orphans
Be trodden by thy horse into the dust!
It will not be the worst that thou hast done.

HARRAS.

Are you mad, woman?

ARMGART (_continuing with vehemence_).

Many a day thou hast
Trampled the Emperor's lands beneath thy feet.
Oh, I am but a woman! Were I man,
I'd find some better thing to do, than here
Lie grovelling in the dust.

[_The music of the bridal party is again heard
from the top of the pass, but more softly_.]

GESSLER.

Where are my knaves?
Drag her away, lest I forget myself,
And do some deed I may repent me of.

HARRAS.

My lord, the servants cannot force their way;
The pass is block'd up by a bridal train.

GESSLER.

Too mild a ruler am I to this people,
Their tongues are all too bold - nor have they yet
Been tamed to due submission, as they shall be.
I must take order for the remedy;
I will subdue this stubborn mood of theirs,
This braggart spirit of freedom I will crush,
I will proclaim a new law through the land;
I will -

[_An arrow pierces him - he puts his hand on his heart, and
is about to sink - with a feeble voice_.]

Oh God, have mercy on my soul!

HARRAs.

My lord! my lord! Oh God! What's this? Whence came it?

ARMGART (_starts up_).

Dead, dead! He reels, he falls! 'Tis in his heart!

HARRAS (_springs from his horse_).

Horror of horrors! Heavenly powers! Sir knight,
Address yourself for mercy to your God!
You are a dying man.

GESSLER.

That shot was Tell's.

[_He slides from his horse into the arms of_ RUDOLPH DER
HARRAS, _who lays him down upon the beach_. TELL _appears
above upon the rocks_.]

TELL.

Thou know'st the marksman - I, and I alone.
Now are our homesteads free, and innocence
From thee is safe: thou'lt be our curse no more.

[TELL _disappears. People rush in_.]

STUSSI.

What is the matter? Tell me what has happen'd?

ARMGART.

The Viceroy's shot - pierced by a cross-bow bolt!

PEOPLE (_running in_).

Who has been shot?

[_While the foremost of the marriage party are coming on the
stage, the hindmost are still upon the heights. The music
continues_.]

HARRAS.

He's bleeding fast to death.
Away, for help - pursue the murderer!
Unhappy man, is this to be your end?
You would not listen to my warning words.

STUSSI.

By Heaven, his cheek is pale! Life's ebbing fast.

MANY VOICES.

Who did the deed?

HARRAS.

What! Are the people mad,
That they make music to a murder? Silence!

[_Music breaks off suddenly. People continue to flock in_.]

Speak, if you can, my lord. Have you no charge
To trust me with?

[GESSLER _makes signs with his hand, which he repeats with
vehemence, when he finds they are not understood_.]

Where shall I take you to?
To Küssnacht? What you say I can't make out.
Oh, do not grow impatient! Leave all thought
Of earthly things and make your peace with Heaven.

[_The whole marriage party gather round the dying man_.]

STUSSI.

See there! how pale he grows! Death's gathering now
About his heart - his eyes grow dim and glazed.

ARMGART (_holds up a child_).

Look, children, how a tyrant dies!

HARRAS.

Mad hag!
Have you no touch of feeling, that your eyes
Gloat on a sight so horrible as this?
Help me - take hold. What, will not one assist
To pull the torturing arrow from his breast?

WOMEN.

What! touch the man whom God's own hand has struck!

HARRAS.

All curses light on you! [_Draws his sword_.]

STUSSI (_seizes his arm_).

Gently, sir knight!
Your power is at end. 'Twere best forbear.
Our country's foe has fallen. We will brook
No further violence. We are free men.

ALL.

The country's free.

HARRAS.

And is it come to this?
Fear and obedience at an end so soon?

[_To the soldiers of the guard who are thronging in_.]

You see, my friends, the bloody piece of work
Has here been done. 'Tis now too late for help,
And to pursue the murderer were vain.
We've other things to think of. On to Küssnacht,
And let us save that fortress for the king!
For in a moment such as this, all ties
Of order, fealty and faith are rent,
And we can trust to no man's loyalty.

[_As he is going out with the soldiers, six_ FRATRES
MISERICORDIÆ _appear_.]

ARMGART.

Here comes the brotherhood of mercy. Room!

STUSSI.

The victim's slain, and now the ravens stoop.

BROTHERS OF MERCY (_form a semicircle round the body, and
sing in solemn tones)._

Death hurries on with hasty stride,
No respite man from him may gain,

He cuts him down, when life's full tide
Is throbbing strong in every vein.
Prepared or not the call to hear,
He must before his Judge appear.

[_While they are repeating the two last lines, the curtain
falls_.]


ACT V

SCENE I

_A common near Altdorf. In the background to the right the
Keep of Uri, with the scaffold still standing, as in the
Third Scene of the first Act. To the left, the view opens
upon numerous mountains, on all of which signal fires are
burning. Day is breaking, and distant bells are heard
ringing in several directions._

RUODI, KUONI, WERNI, MASTER MASON, _and many other country
people, also women and children_.

RUODI.

See there! The beacons on the mountain heights!

MASON.

Hark how the bells above the forest toll!

RUODI.

The enemy's routed.

MASON.

And the forts are storm'd.

RUODI.

And we of Uri, do we still endure
Upon our native soil the tyrant's keep?
Are we the last to strike for liberty?

MASON.

Shall the yoke stand, that was to curb our necks?
Up! Tear it to the ground!

ALL.

Down, down with it!

RUODI.

Where is the Stier of Uri?

URI.

Here. What would ye?

RUODI.

Up to your tower, and wind us such a blast
As shall resound afar, from peak to peak;
Rousing the echoes of each glen and hill,
To rally swiftly all the mountain men!

[_Exit_ STIER OF URI - _Enter_ WALTER FÜRST.]

FÜRST.

Stay, stay, my friends! As yet we have not learn'd
What has been done in Unterwald and Schwytz.
Let's wait till we receive intelligence!

RUODI.

Wait, wait for what? The accursed tyrant's dead.
And on us freedom's glorious day has dawn'd!

MASON.

How! Are these flaming signals not enough,
That blaze on every mountain top around?

RUODI.

Come all, fall to - come, men and women, all!
Destroy the scaffold! Burst the arches! Down,
Down with the walls, let not a stone remain!

MASON.

Come, comrades, come! We built it, and we know
How best to hurl it down.

ALL.

Come! Down with it!

[_They fall upon the building on every side_.]

FÜRST.

The floodgate's burst. They're not to be restrained.

[_Enter_ MELCHTHAL _and_ BAUMGARTEN.]

MELCH.

What! Stands the fortress still, when Sarnen lies
In ashes, and the Rossberg's in our hands?

FÜRST.

You, Melchthal, here? D'ye bring us liberty?
Are all the Cantons from our tyrants freed?

MELCH.

We've swept them from the soil. Rejoice, my friend,
Now, at this very moment, while we speak,
There's not one tyrant left in Switzerland!

FÜRST.

How did you get the forts into your power?

MELCH.

Rudenz it was who by a bold assault
With manly valor mastered Sarnen's keep.
The Rossberg I had storm'd the night before.
But hear what chanced! Scarce had we driven the foe
Forth from the keep, and given it to the flames,
That now rose crackling upwards to the skies,
When from the blaze rush'd Diethelm, Gessler's page,
Exclaiming, "Lady Bertha will be burnt!"

FÜRST.

Good heavens!

[_The beams of the scaffold are heard falling_.]

MELCH.

'Twas she herself. Here had she been
By Gessler's orders secretly immured.
Up sprang Rudenz in frenzy. For even now
The beams and massive posts were crashing down,
And through the stifling smoke the piteous shrieks
Of the unhappy lady.

FÜRST.

Is she saved?

MELCH.

'Twas not a time to hesitate or pause!
Had he been but our baron, and no more,
We should have been most chary of our lives;
But he was our confederate, and Bertha
Honor'd the people. So, without a thought,
We risk'd the worst, and rush'd into the flames.

FÜRST.

But is she saved?

MELCH.


She is. Rudenz and I
Bore her between us from the blazing pile,
With crashing timbers toppling all around.
And when she had revived, the danger past,
And raised her eyes to look upon the sun,
The baron fell upon my breast; and then
A silent vow between us two was sworn,
A vow that, welded in yon furnace heat,
Will last through ev'ry shock of time and fate.

FÜRST.

Where is the Landenberg?

MELCHTHAL.

Across the Brünig.
'Twas not my fault he bore his sight away,
He who had robb'd my father of his eyes!
He fled - I followed - overtook him soon,
And dragg'd him to my father's feet. The sword
Already quiver'd o'er the caitiff's head,
When from the pity of the blind old man,
He wrung the life which, craven-like, he begged.
He swore URPHEDE,[59] never to return
He'll keep his oath, for he has felt our arm.

FÜRST.

Oh, well for you, you have not stain'd with blood
Our spotless victory!

CHILDREN (_running across the stage with fragments of_
_wood_).

We're free! we're free!

FÜRST.

Oh! what a joyous scene! These children will
Remember it when all their heads are gray.

[_Girls bring in the cap upon a pole. The whole stage is



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