Fiction > Harvard Classics > Friedrich von Schiller > Wilhelm Tell
Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805).  Wilhelm Tell.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Scene I
Court before TELL’S house. TELL with an axe. HEDWIG engaged in her domestic duties. WALTER and WILLIAM in the background, playing with a little cross-bow.

(WALTER sings)

        With his cross-bow, and his quiver,
          The huntsman speeds his way,
        Over mountain, dale and river,
          At the dawning of the day.
        As the eagle, on wild pinion,        5
          Is the king in realms of air,
        So the hunter claims dominion
          Over crag and forest lair.
        Far as ever bow can carry,
          Thro’ the trackless airy space,        10
        All he sees he makes his quarry,
          Soaring bird and beast of chase.
  Will.  (runs forward). My string has snapped! Oh, father, mend it, do!
  Tell.  Not I; a true-born archer helps himself.  [Boys retire.
  Hedw.  The boys begin to use the bow betimes.        15
  Tell.  ’Tis early practice only makes the master.
  Hedw.  Ah! Would to heaven they never learned the art!
  Tell.  But they shall learn it, wife, in all its points.
Whoe’er would carve an independent way
Through life, must learn to ward or plant a blow.        20
  Hedw.  Alas, alas! and they will never rest
Contentedly at home.
  Tell.        No more can I!
I was not framed by nature for a shepherd.
My restless spirit ever yearns for change;        25
I only feel the flush and joy of life,
If I can start fresh quarry every day.
  Hedw.  Heedless the while of all your wife’s alarms,
As she sits watching through long hours at home.
For my soul sinks with terror at the tales        30
The servants tell about the risks you run,
Whene’er we part, my trembling heart forebodes,
That you will ne’er come back to me again.
I see you on the frozen mountain steeps,
Missing, perchance, your leap from crag to crag.        35
I see the chamois, with a wild rebound,
Drag you down with him o’er the precipice
I see the avalance close o’er your head,—
The treacherous ice give way, and you sink down
Intombed alive within its hideous gulf.        40
Ah! in a hundred varying forms does death
Pursue the Alpine huntsman on his course.
That way of life can surely ne’er be blessed,
Where life and limb are perill’d every hour.
  Tell.  The man that bears a quick and steady eye,        45
And trusts in God, and his own lusty thews,
Passes, with scarce a scar, through every danger.
The mountain cannot awe the mountain child.  [Having finished his work, he lays aside his tools.
And now, methinks, the door will hold awhile,—
Axe in the house oft saves the carpenter.  [Takes his cap.        50
  Hedw.  Whither away?
  Tell.        To Altdorf, to your father.
  Hedw.  You have some dangerous enterprise in view?
  Tell.  Why think you so?        55
  Hedw.        Some scheme’s on foot
Against the governors. There was a Diet
Held on the Rootli—that I know—and you
Are one of the confederacy, I’m sure
  Tell.  I was not there. Yet will I not hold back,        60
Whene’er my country calls me to her aid.
  Hedw.  Wherever danger is, will you be placed.
On you, as ever, will the burden fall.
  Tell.  Each man shall have the post that fits his powers.
  Hedw.  You took—ay, ’mid the thickest of the storm—        65
The man of Unterwald across the lake.
’Tis marvel you escaped. Had you no thought
Of wife and children, then?
  Tell.        Dear wife, I had;
And therefore saved the father for his children.        70
  Hedw.  To brave the lake in all its wrath! ’Twas not
To put your trust in God! ’Twas tempting Him.
  Tell.  Little will he that’s over cautious do.
  Hedw.  Yes, you’ve a kind and helping hand for all;
But be in straits, and who will lend you aid?        75
  Tell.  God grant I ne’er may stand in need of it!  [Takes up his crossbow and arrows.
  Hedw.  Why take your cross-bow with you? leave it here.
  Tell.  I want my right hand, when I want my bow.  [The boys return.
  Walt.  Where, father, are you going?
  Tell.        To grand-dad, boy—        80
To Altdorf. Will you go?
  Walt.        Ay, that I will!
  Hedw.  The Viceroy’s there just now. Go not to Altdorf!
  Tell.  He leaves to-day.
  Hedw.        Then let him first be gone,        85
Cross not his path.—You know he bears us grudge.
  Tell.  His ill-will cannot greatly injure me.
I do what’s right, and care for no man’s hate.
  Hedw.  ’Tis those who do what’s right, whom most he hates.
  Tell.  Because he cannot reach them. Me, I ween,        90
His knightship will be glad to leave in peace.
  Hedw.  Ay!—Are you sure of that?
  Tell.        Not long ago,
As I was hunting through the wild ravines
Of Shechenthal, untrod by mortal foot,—        95
There, as I took my solitary way
Along a shelving ledge of rocks, where ’twas
Impossible to step on either side;
For high above rose, like a giant wall,
The precipice’s side, and far below        100
The Shechen thunder’d o’er its rifted bed;—  [The boys press towards him, looking upon him with excited curiosity.
There, face to face, I met the Viceroy. He
Alone with me—and I myself alone—
Mere man to man, and near us the abyss;
And when his lordship had perused my face,        105
And knew the man he had severely fined
On some most trivial ground, not long before,
And saw me, with my sturdy bow in hand,
Come striding towards him, his cheek grew pale,
His knees refused their office, and I thought        110
He would have sunk against the mountain side.
Then, touch’d with pity for him, I advanced,
Respectfully, and said, “’Tis I, my lord.”
But ne’er a sound could he compel his lips
To frame in answer. Only with his hand        115
He beckoned me in silence to proceed.
So I pass’d on, and sent his train to seek him.
  Hedw.  He trembled, then, before you? Woe the while
You saw his weakness; that he’ll ne’er forgive.
  Tell.  I shun him, therefore, and he’ll not seek me.        120
  Hedw.  But stay away to-day. Go hunt instead!
  Tell.  What do you fear?
  Hedw.        I am uneasy. Stay!
  Tell.  Why thus distress yourself without a cause?
  Hedw.  Because there is no cause. Tell, Tell! stay here!        125
  Tell.  Dear wife, I gave my promise I would go.
  Hedw.  Must you,—then go. But leave the boys with me.
  Walt.  No, mother dear, I go with father, I.
  Hedw.  How, Walter! Will you leave your mother then?
  Walt.  I’ll bring you pretty things from grandpapa.  [Exit with his father.        130
  Will.  Mother, I’ll stay with you!
  Hedw.  (embracing him).      Yes, yes! thou art
My own dear child. Thou’rt all that’s left to me.  [She goes to the gate of the court and looks anxiously after TELL and her son for a considerable time.


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