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The Legend Of William Tell
by [?]

“Thou shall shoot, or assuredly thou diest with thy son!”

“Become the murderer of my child! My lord, you have no son–you cannot have the feelings of a father’s heart!”

Gessler’s friends interfere in behalf of the unhappy father, and plead for mercy. But all appeal is in vain. The tyrant is determined on carrying out his sentence.

The father and son are placed at a distance of eighty paces apart. An apple is placed on the boy’s head, and the father is commanded to hit the mark. He hesitates and trembles.

“Why dost thou hesitate?” questions his persecutor. “Thou hast deserved death, and I could compel thee to undergo the punishment; but in my clemency I place thy fate in thy own skillful hands. He who is the master of his destiny cannot complain that his sentence is a severe one. Thou art proud of thy steady eye and unerring aim; now, hunter, is the moment to prove thy skill. The object is worthy of thee–the prize is worth contending for. To strike the center of a target is an ordinary achievement; but the true master of his art is he who is always certain, and whose heart, hand, and eye are firm and steady under every trial.”

At length Tell nerves himself for the ordeal, raises his bow, and takes aim at the target on his son’s head. Before firing, however, he concealed a second arrow under his vest. His movement did not escape Gessler’s notice.

The marksman fires. The apple falls from his boy’s head, cleft in twain by the arrow.

Even Gessler is loud in his admiration of Tell’s skill. “By heaven,” he cries, “he has clove the apple exactly in the center. Let us do justice; it is indeed a masterpiece of skill.”

Tell’s friends congratulate him. He is about to set out for his home with the child who has been saved to him from the very jaws of death as it were. But Gessler stays him.

“Thou hast concealed a second arrow in thy bosom,” he says, sternly addressing Tell. “What didst thou intend to do with it?” Tell replies that such is the custom of all hunters.

Gessler is not satisfied and urges him to confess his real motive. “Speak truly and frankly,” he says; “say what thou wilt, I promise thee thy life. To what purpose didst thou destine the second arrow?”

Tell can no longer restrain his indignation, and, fixing his eyes steadily on Gessler, he answers “Well then, my lord, since you assure my life, I will speak the truth without reserve. If I had struck my beloved child, with the second arrow I would have transpierced thy heart. Assuredly that time I should not have missed my mark.”

“Villain!” exclaims Gessler, “I have promised thee life upon my knightly word; I will keep my pledge. But since I know thee now, and thy rebellious heart, I will remove thee to a place where thou shalt never more behold the light of sun or moon. Thus only shall I be sheltered from thy arrows.”

He orders the guards to seize and bind Tell, saying, “I will myself at once conduct him to Kussnacht.”

The fortress of Kussnacht was situated on the summit of Mount Rigi between Lake Lucerne, or the Lake of the Four Cantons as it is sometimes called, and Lake Zug. It was reached by crossing Lake Lucerne.

The prisoner was placed bound in the bottom of a boat, and with his guards, the rowers, an inexperienced pilot, and Gessler in command, the boat was headed for Kussnacht.

When about halfway across the lake a sudden and violent storm overwhelmed the party. They were in peril of their lives. The rowers and pilot were panic-stricken, and powerless in face of the danger that threatened them.

Tell’s fame as a boatman was as widespread as that of his skill as an archer. The rowers cried aloud in their terror that he was the only man in Switzerland that could save them from death. Gessler immediately commanded him to be released from his bonds and given the helm.