William Tell

From Fitting The Crime

William Tell by Friedrich von Schiller

Act I 
Scene I

A high and rocky shore of the Lake of Lucerne, opposite to Schwyz. An inlet on the shore. Hard by, a fisher’s hut A fisher-boy in a skiff. On the further side of the lake are seen the green meadows and the hamlets and homesteads of Schwyz, bathed in sunshine. On the left hand, tower the peaks of the Haken, enveloped in clouds. Ln the background to the tight are ranged the snow-clad mountains. In the near distance are heard the strains of pastoral melody, and the harmonious tinkling of the cattle bells.

Fisher-boy (in his skiff, sings).
Melody of the Ranz des Vaches.

The smile of the lake woos to lave in its deep;
On the shore lies the fisher-boy cradled in sleep;
Then hears he a strain
As of harmonies sweet,
As when angels of glory
In Paradise meet.
And as he with ecstasy wakes from his rest,
The waters are flowing high over his breast;
And a voice from the deep cries,
Thou’rt mine, darling boy,
I lure the rash sleeper,
I lure to destroy.

Herdsman (on a cliff, sings).
Variation of the Ranz des Vaches.

Ye meadows, farewell,
Ye green sunny glades,
The herdsman must leave you,
For summer now fades.
We’ll hie to the mountains, we’ll hie to the heights,
When the cuckoo shall call us, and song-birds are gay;
When with wild flowers the hills shall be mantled anew,
And the streamlets shall flow in the sweet month of May.
Ye meadows, farewell,
Ye green sunny glades,
The herdsman must leave you,
For summer now fades.

Alpine hunter (on an opposite cliff, sings).
Second Variation of the Ranz des Vaches.

On high peals the thunder, and trembles each bridge,
Yet the hunter ne’er quails on the steep dizzy ridge;
Over wide fields of ice
Undaunted he goes,
Where spring never blossoms,
Where bud never blows.
Beneath him a wide sea of mist from his ken
Conceals in its billows the dwellings of men;
Through the rifts of the clouds only
Earth can be seen,
And far ‘neath the vapours
The bright meadows’ sheen.

(The aspect of the scene changes. A dull reverberation is heard amid the mountains. Cloud shadows flit across the scene. Ruodi, the fisherman, issues from the hut. Werni, the hunter, descends from the cliff. Kuoni, the herdsman, enters with a milk-pail on his shoulder, and followed by his boy Seppi.)

RUODI.

Haste, Yenni, draw the shallop to the shore;
The grey Storm Spirit of the valley comes;
Dull groans the glacier, and the Mythenstein
Now dons his misty cowl ; while shrewd and shrill
The rising gale howls from the mountain chasm;
The storm, I wot, will burst ere we would think.

KUONI.

Boatman, ’twill be a downpour, for my sheep
Browse keenly; and the ban-dog scrapes the sod.

WERNI.

The fishes leap in air; the water-hen
Dives under — sure a tempest is at hand.

KUONI (to his boy).

See, Seppi, that the kine roam not afield.

SEPPI.

Brown Lisel’s there — I know her by her bell.

KUONI.

Then all are there — she ever widest roams.

RUODI.

Sir herd, you have a goodly peal of bells.

WERNI.

Rare beasts to boot — comrade, be they your own?

KUONI.

I’m not so rich — they are my noble lord’s,
Count Attinghausen; I am but his hind.

RUODI.

How well the riband decks yon heifer’s neck!

KUONI.

Ay, and right well she knows she leads the herd;
And, stripped of it, she would no longer feed.

RUODI.

Tush, say not so of an unreasoning beast.

WERNI.

That’s easy said; but beasts have reason too,
As we who hunt the chamois know full well;
They wisely post, when they the pasture seek,
A sentinel who pricks his ears, and warns
With shrilly pipe, whene’er the hunter nears.

RUODI (to the herdsman).

Go ye now home?

KUONI.

Ay, for the Alp’s grazed down.

WERNI.

Happy home-coming, herd.

KUONI.

The like to you;
From your bold path men turn not always home.

RUODI.

Lo ! here comes one running in frantic haste.

WERNI.

I know him — ’tis Baumgarten of Alzellen.

CONRAD BAUMGARTEN (bursting, breathless, in)

In God’s name, ferryman, your boat, your boat!

RUODI.

How now — say why such haste?

BAUMGARTEN.

Cast loose your skiff;
Save me from death! Oh, set me o’er the lake!

KUONI.

What ails you, comrade?

WERNI.

Who pursues you? — speak.

BAUMGARTEN (to the fisher).

Haste, haste, they are already at my heels!
The Prefect’s riders follow on my track,
And I’m a dead man if they catch me up.

RUODI.

But wherefore do the riders dog you thus?

BAUMGARTEN.

First rescue me, and then I’ll tell my tale.

WERNI.

You’re dabbled o’er with blood — say, what hath
chanced?

BAUMGARTEN.

The Kaiser’s Prefect, who at Rossberg ruled

KUONI.

What — Wolfenschiessen — are you chased by him?

BAUMGARTEN.

Nay, he works wrong no more — I’ve ta’en his life.

ALL (starting back).

May God have grace on you — what’s this you’ve
done!

BAUMGARTEN.

What every free man in my place had done;
I’ve but upheld my sacred household rights
‘Gainst him who wronged my honour and my wife.

KUONI.

Did he then aught that could your honour wound?

BAUMGARTEN.

That he did not fulfil his foul intent
God only hindered, and my goodly axe.

WERNI.

How — with your hatchet did you cleave his skull?

KUONI.

Oh, let us hear it all — you’ve time now
Till Ruodi loose his wherry from the shore.

BAUMGARTEN.

Well — I had felled some timber in the wood,
When, lo, my wife runs up in mortal dread;
The Prefect, newly lighted at my house,
Had bid her to prepare a bath for him;
With that he made unseemly overtures;
So she had fled and come to seek for me.
Then up I ran, and with my axe pronounced
A bloody benediction on his bath.

WERNI.

You did right well — no man can blame you for’t.

KUONI.

The tyrant ! now at last he’s earned his meed,
Long due to him from Unterwalden’s folk.

BAUMGARTEN.

The deed got wind, and now they’re after me;
E’en while we speak, my God ! time ebbs away.

(Thunder is heard.)

KUONI.

Haste, ferryman, and set the good man o’er.

RUODI.

It may not be — a fearful storm comes on;
Ye needs must wait a space.

BAUMGARTEN.

Oh God, oh God!
I cannot wait — delay is certain death.

KUONI (to the fisher).

Turn to it, ferryman, with trust in God;
Each man must help his neighbour in his need;
The like might happen to each one of us.

(Thunder and roar of the wind.)

RUODI.

The Fohn wind’s loose — see how the surges swell;
I cannot steer in teeth of wind and wave.

BAUMGARTEN (clasping his knees).
So help you God, as you shall pity me.

WERNI.

Tis for his life — have pity, ferryman.

KUONI.

He is a father, and hath wife and babes.

(Repeated thunder-peals.)

RUODI.

What ! I too have a life to lose — I too
Have wife and child at home like him — see there,
See how the billows rage, and eddying whirl,
Upheaving all the waters of the deep;
Full gladly would I save the honest man,
But ye yourselves must see it cannot be.

BAUMGARTEN (kneeling).

Then must I fall into the foeman’s gripe,
With yon near shore of rescue full in view?
Yonder it lies — I reach it with mine eyes;
A loud halloo can span the space between;
Here rocks the bark which well might waft me o’er;
Yet here despairing, helpless must I lie!

KUONI.

See, who comes there?

WERNI.

‘Tis Tell of Biirglen comes.

(Tell enters with his cross-bow.)

TELL.

Say, who is this who supplicates for help?

KUONI.

‘Tis an Alzellen man, who hath avenged
His honour, and hath Wolfenschiessen slain,
The Kaiser’s Prefect who at Rossberg dwelt;
The tyrant’s troopers follow at his heels;
He prays the ferryman to set him o’er,
Who dreads the storm and will not dare the risk.

RUODI.

Here’s Tell, can ply the oar as well as I,
He’ll bear me out the thing may not be done.

TELL.

Where need is, ferryman, must all be dared.

(Violent thunder peals and roar of waves.)

RUODI.

What — must I plunge into the jaws of death?
Nay, no sane man would venture the attempt.

TELL.

The brave man thinks on self the last of ail;
Put trust in God and rescue the oppressed.

RUODI.

Safe on the shore ’tis easy to advise;
There are the boat and lake — e’en try’t yourself.

TELL.

The deep may pity show — the Viceroy not;
Ferryman, try it.

HERDSMAN AND HUNTER.

Oh, deliver him!

RUODI.

Were he my brother or my only child,
It cannot be — ’tis Jude and Simon’s day,
The ravening lake will have its sacrifice.

TELL.

Nought can be here achieved by idle talk;
Time ebbs away — the man must needs be helped;
Say, boatman, will you go?

RUODI.

Not I in sooth !

TELL.

Then, in God’s name, lend me your ferry-boat,
I’ll venture on it with my feeble skill.

KUONI.

Ha, gallant Tell!

WERNI.

Said like a woodman bold!

BAUMGARTEN.

You are my rescuer, my angel, Tell.

TELL.

Well may I save you from the Viceroy’s hand;
Another arm must save you from the deep;
Yet better fall into the hand of God,
Than into man’s.

(To the herdsman.)

Comrade, console my wife
If any fatal chance o’ertake me now;
I’ve done but what I could not leave undone.

(He springs into the boat.)

KUONI (to the fisher).

Could you, a master of the boatman’s craft,
Not venture upon that which Tell hath dared?

RUODI.

Nay, better men might shrink to dare like Tell;
There dwell not two like him in all our hills.

WERNI (on a cliff).

Now he puts forth — God help the boatman bold;
See how the shallop dances on the waves!

KUONI (on the shore).

Sheer o’er it breaks the surge! — ’tis drowned from view!
Yet see, it mounts again! — with vigorous arm
The gallant oarsman drives it o’er the flood.

SEPPI.

The Prefect’s horsemen at full gallop come!

KUONI.

By God, ’tis they — sure that was help at need!

(Enter a troop of Landenberg horsemen. )

FIRST HORSEMAN.

Give up the murderer ye’ve harboured here.

SECOND HORSEMAN.

Ay, he came here — to hide him is in vain.

KUONI AND RUODI.

Whom mean ye, horsemen?

FIRST HORSEMAN (descrying the boat).

What the Fiend is yon?

WERNI (on the cliff).

Is it him in yonder skiff ye seek? — Ride in;
Board him but briskly, and ye’ll clutch him yet.

second horseman.
Damnation — he’s escaped!

FIRST HORSEMAN (to the herds man and fisher).

Ye helped him forth,
And ye’ll atone for it — fall on their flocks;
Tear down their cabins — burn them — down with them!

(They hasten away.)

SEPPI (rushing after them)

Alack, my lambs!

KUONI (following).

Oh, woe is me, my herds !

WERNI.

The bloodhounds !

RUODI (wringing his hands).

Oh! great righteousness of Heaven,
When will a saviour to our country come?

(They go.)

The complete text of William Tell on Internet Archive

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