William Tell Told Again

William Tell Told
P. G. Wodehouse
With Illustrations in Color by
Philip Dadd
Described in Verse by John
W. Houghton
Electronic Classics Series
William Tell Told Again by P. G. Wodehouse with illustrations by Philip Dadd, verse description by John
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P. G. Wodehouse
William Tell Told Again
Chapter I
By P. G. Wodehouse
Once upon a time, more years ago than anybody
can remember, before the first hotel had been built
or the first Englishman had taken a photograph of
Mont Blanc and brought it home to be pasted in an
album and shown after tea to his envious friends,
Switzerland belonged to the Emperor of Austria, to
do what he liked with.
One of the first things the Emperor did was to send
his friend Hermann Gessler to govern the country.
Gessler was not a nice man, and it soon became
plain that he would never make himself really popular with the Swiss. The point on which they disagreed
in particular was the question of taxes. The Swiss,
who were a simple and thrifty people, objected to
paying taxes of any sort. They said they wanted to
With Illustrations in Colour by Philip Dadd
Described in Verse by John W. Houghton
To Biddy O'Sullivan for a Christmas Present
The Swiss, against their Austrian foes,
Had ne'er a soul to lead 'em,
Till Tell, as you've heard tell, arose
And guided them to freedom.
Tell's tale we tell again—an act
For which pray no one scold us—
This tale of Tell we tell, in fact,
As this Tell tale was told us.
William Tell Told Again
spend their money on all kinds of other things.
Gessler, on the other hand, wished to put a tax on
everything, and, being Governor, he did it. He made
everyone who owned a flock of sheep pay a certain
sum of money to him; and if the farmer sold his sheep
and bought cows, he had to pay rather more money
to Gessler for the cows than he had paid for the
sheep. Gessler also taxed bread, and biscuits, and
jam, and buns, and lemonade, and, in fact, everything he could think of, till the people of Switzerland
determined to complain. They appointed Walter Fürst,
who had red hair and looked fierce; Werner
Stauffacher, who had gray hair and was always wondering how he ought to pronounce his name; and
Arnold of Melchthal, who had light-yellow hair and
was supposed to know a great deal about the law, to
make the complaint. They called on the Governor
one lovely morning in April, and were shown into the
Hall of Audience.
"Well," said Gessler, "and what's the matter now?"
The other two pushed Walter Fürst forward because
he looked fierce, and they thought he might frighten
the Governor.
Walter Fürst coughed.
"Well?" asked Gessler.
"Er—ahem!" said Walter Fürst.
"That's the way," whispered Werner; "give it him!"
"Er—ahem!" said Walter Fürst again; "the fact is,
your Governorship—"
"It's a small point," interrupted Gessler, "but I'm generally called 'your Excellency.' Yes?"
"The fact is, your Excellency, it seems to the people
of Switzerland—"
"—Whom I represent," whispered Arnold of
"—Whom I represent, that things want changing."
"What things?" inquired Gessler.
"The taxes, your excellent Governorship."
"Change the taxes? Why, don't the people of Switzerland think there are enough taxes?"
Arnold of Melchthal broke in hastily.
"They think there are many too many," he said.
P. G. Wodehouse
"What with the tax on sheep, and the tax on cows,
and the tax on bread, and the tax on tea, and the
"I know, I know," Gessler interrupted; "I know all
the taxes. Come to the point. What about 'em?"
"Well, your Excellency, there are too many of them."
"Too many!"
"Yes. And we are not going to put up with it any
longer!" shouted Arnold of Melchthal.
Gessler leaned forward in his throne.
"Might I ask you to repeat that remark?" he said.
"We are not going to put up with it any longer!"
Gessler sat back again with an ugly smile.
"Oh," he said—"oh, indeed! You aren't, aren't you!
Desire the Lord High Executioner to step this way,"
he added to a soldier who stood beside him.
The Lord High Executioner entered the presence.
He was a kind-looking old gentleman with white hair,
and he wore a beautiful black robe, tastefully decorated with death's-heads.
"Your Excellency sent for me?" he said.
"Just so," replied Gessler. "This gentleman here"—
he pointed to Arnold of Melchthal—"says he does
not like taxes, and that he isn't going to put up with
them any longer."
"Tut-tut!" murmured the executioner.
"See what you can do for him."
"Certainly, your Excellency. Robert," he cried, "is
the oil on the boil?"
"Just this minute boiled over," replied a voice from
the other side of the door.
"Then bring it in, and mind you don't spill any."
Enter Robert, in a suit of armour and a black mask,
carrying a large caldron, from which the steam rose
in great clouds.
"Now, sir, if you please," said the executioner politely to Arnold of Melchthal.
Arnold looked at the caldron.
"Why, it's hot," he said.
"Warmish," admitted the executioner.
"It's against the law to threaten a man with hot oil."
William Tell Told Again
Beneath a tyrant foreign yoke,
How love of freedom waxes!
(Especially when foreign folk
Come round collecting taxes.)
The Swiss, held down by Gessler's fist,
Would fain have used evasion;
Yet none there seemed who could resist
His methods of persuasion.
P. G. Wodehouse
"You may bring an action against me," said the executioner. "Now, sir, if you please. We are wasting
time. The forefinger of your left hand, if I may trouble
you. Thank you. I am obliged."
He took Arnold's left hand, and dipped the tip of the
first finger into the oil.
"Ow!" cried Arnold, jumping.
"Don't let him see he's hurting you," whispered
Werner Stauffacher. "Pretend you don't notice it."
Gessler leaned forward again.
"Have your views on taxes changed at all?" he
asked. "Do you see my point of view more clearly
Arnold admitted that he thought that, after all, there
might be something to be said for it.
"That's right," said the Governor. "And the tax on
sheep? You don't object to that?"
"And the tax on cows?"
"I like it."
"And those on bread, and buns, and lemonade?"
"I enjoy them."
"Excellent. In fact, you're quite contented?"
"And you think the rest of the people are?"
"Oh, quite, quite!"
"And do you think the same?" he asked of Walter
and Werner.
"Oh yes, your Excellency!" they cried.
"Then that's all right," said Gessler. "I was sure you
would be sensible about it. Now, if you will kindly place
in the tambourine which the gentleman on my left is
presenting to you a mere trifle to compensate us for
our trouble in giving you an audience, and if you" (to
Arnold of Melchthal) "will contribute an additional trifle
for use of the Imperial boiling oil, I think we shall all
be satisfied. You've done it? That's right. Good-bye,
and mind the step as you go out."
And, as he finished this speech, the three spokesmen of the people of Switzerland were shown out of
the Hall of Audience.
William Tell Told Again
"Never mind about tea and mixed biscuits!" cried
his neighbour, Meier of Sarnen. "What I want to know
is whether we shall have to pay for keeping sheep
any more."
"What did the Governor say?" asked Jost Weiler, a
practical man, who liked to go straight to the point.
The three spokesmen looked at one another a little
"We-e-ll," said Werner Stauffacher at last, "as a matter of fact, he didn't actually say very much. It was more
what he did, if you understand me, than what he said."
"I should describe His Excellency the Governor,"
said Walter Fürst, "as a man who has got a way with
him—a man who has got all sorts of arguments at
his finger-tips."
At the mention of finger-tips, Arnold of Melchthal
uttered a sharp howl.
"In short," continued Walter, "after a few minutes'
very interesting conversation he made us see that it
really wouldn't do, and that we must go on paying
the taxes as before."
Chapter II
They were met in the street outside by a large body
of their fellow-citizens, who had accompanied them
to the Palace, and who had been spending the time
since their departure in listening by turns at the keyhole of the front-door. But as the Hall of Audience
was at the other side of the Palace, and cut off from
the front-door by two other doors, a flight of stairs,
and a long passage, they had not heard very much
of what had gone on inside, and they surrounded the
three spokesmen as they came out, and questioned
them eagerly.
"Has he taken off the tax on jam?" asked Ulric the
"What is he going to do about the tax on mixed
biscuits?" shouted Klaus von der Flue, who was a
chimney-sweep of the town and loved mixed biscuits.
P. G. Wodehouse
There was a dead silence for several minutes, while
everybody looked at everybody else in dismay.
The silence was broken by Arnold of Sewa. Arnold
of Sewa had been disappointed at not being chosen
as one of the three spokesmen, and he thought that
if he had been so chosen all this trouble would not
have occurred.
"The fact is," he said bitterly, "that you three have
failed to do what you were sent to do. I mention no
names—far from it—but I don't mind saying that there
are some people in this town who would have given
a better account of themselves. What you want in
little matters of this sort is, if I may say so, tact. Tact;
that's what you want. Of course, if you will go rushing
into the Governor's presence—"
"But we didn't rush," said Walter Fürst.
"—Shouting out that you want the taxes abolished—"
"But we didn't shout," said Walter Fürst.
"I really cannot speak if I am to be constantly interrupted," said Arnold of Sewa severely. "What I say
is, that you ought to employ tact. Tact; that's what
you want. If I had been chosen to represent the Swiss
people in this affair—I am not saying I ought to have
been, mind you; I merely say if I had been—I should
have acted rather after the following fashion: Walking firmly, but not defiantly, into the tyrant's presence,
I should have broken the ice with some pleasant remark about the weather. The conversation once
started, the rest would have been easy. I should have
said that I hoped His Excellency had enjoyed a good
dinner. Once on the subject of food, and it would have
been the simplest of tasks to show him how unnecessary taxes on food were, and the whole affair would
have been pleasantly settled while you waited. I do
not imply that the Swiss people would have done
better to have chosen me as their representative. I
merely say that that is how I should have acted had
they done so."
And Arnold of Sewa twirled his moustache and
looked offended. His friends instantly suggested that
he should be allowed to try where the other three
had failed, and the rest of the crowd, beginning to
William Tell Told Again
hope once more, took up the cry. The result was that
the visitors' bell of the Palace was rung for the second time. Arnold of Sewa went in, and the door was
banged behind him.
Five minutes later he came out, sucking the first
finger of his left hand.
"No," he said; "it can't be done. The tyrant has convinced me."
"I knew he would," said Arnold of Melchthal.
"Then I think you might have warned me," snapped
Arnold of Sewa, dancing with the pain of his burnt
"Was it hot?"
"Then he really won't let us off the taxes?" asked
the crowd in disappointed voices.
"Then the long and short of it is," said Walter Fürst,
drawing a deep breath, "that we must rebel!"
"Rebel?" cried everybody.
"Rebel!" repeated Walter firmly.
"We will!" cried everybody.
"Down with the tyrant!" shouted Walter Fürst.
"Down with the taxes!" shrieked the crowd.
A scene of great enthusiasm followed. The last
words were spoken by Werner Stauffacher.
"We want a leader," he said.
"I don't wish to thrust myself forward," began Arnold
of Sewa, "but I must say, if it comes to leading—"
"And I know the very man for the job," said Werner
Stauffacher. "William Tell!"
"Hurrah for William Tell!" roared the crowd, and, taking the time from Werner Stauffacher, they burst into
the grand old Swiss chant which runs as follows:
"For he's a jolly good fellow!
For he's a jolly good fellow!!
For he's a jolly good fe-e-ll-ow!!!!
And so say all of us!"
And having sung this till they were all quite hoarse,
P. G. Wodehouse
they went off to their beds to get a few hours' sleep
before beginning the labours of the day.
Chapter III
In a picturesque little châlet high up in the mountains, covered with snow and edelweiss (which is a
flower that grows in the Alps, and you are not allowed
to pick it), dwelt William Tell, his wife Hedwig, and his
two sons, Walter and William. Such a remarkable man
was Tell that I think I must devote a whole chapter to
him and his exploits. There was really nothing he
could not do. He was the best shot with the crossbow in the whole of Switzerland. He had the courage
of a lion, the sure-footedness of a wild goat, the agility of a squirrel, and a beautiful beard. If you wanted
someone to hurry across desolate ice-fields, and leap
from crag to crag after a chamois, Tell was the man
for your money. If you wanted a man to say rude
things to the Governor, it was to Tell that you applied
first. Once when he was hunting in the wild ravine of
William Tell Told Again
Schächenthal, where men were hardly ever to be
seen, he met the Governor face to face. There was
no way of getting past. On one side the rocky wall
rose sheer up, while below the river roared. Directly
Gessler caught sight of Tell striding along with his
cross-bow, his cheeks grew pale and his knees tottered, and he sat down on a rock feeling very unwell
"Aha!" said Tell. "Oho! so it's you, is it? I know you.
And a nice sort of person you are, with your taxes on
bread and sheep, aren't you! You'll come to a bad
end one of these days, that's what will happen to
you. Oh, you old reprobate! Pooh!" And he had
passed on with a look of scorn, leaving Gessler to
think over what he had said. And Gessler ever since
had had a grudge against him, and was only waiting
for a chance of paying him out.
"Mark my words," said Tell's wife, Hedwig, when
her husband told her about it after supper that night-"mark my words, he will never forgive you."
"I will avoid him," said Tell. "He will not seek me."
"Well, mind you do," was Hedwig's reply.
On another occasion, when the Governor's soldiers
were chasing a friend of his, called Baumgarten, and
when Baumgarten's only chance of escape was to
cross the lake during a fierce storm, and when the
ferryman, sensibly remarking, "What! must I rush into
the jaws of death? No man that hath his senses would
do that!" refused to take out his boat even for twice
his proper fare, and when the soldiers rode down to
seize their prey with dreadful shouts, Tell jumped into
the boat, and, rowing with all his might, brought his
friend safe across after a choppy passage. Which
made Gessler the Governor still more angry with him.
But it was as a marksman that Tell was so extraordinary. There was nobody in the whole of the land
who was half so skilful. He attended every meeting
for miles around where there was a shooting competition, and every time he won first prize. Even his rivals could not help praising his skill. "Behold!" they
would say, "Tell is quite the pot-hunter," meaning by
the last word a man who always went in for every
P. G. Wodehouse
prize, and always won it. And Tell would say, "Yes,
truly am I a pot-hunter, for I hunt to fill the family pot."
And so he did. He never came home empty-handed
from the chase. Sometimes it was a chamois that he
brought back, and then the family had it roasted on
the first day, cold on the next four, and minced on the
sixth, with sippets of toast round the edge of the dish.
Sometimes it was only a bird (as on the cover of this
book), and then Hedwig would say, "Mark my words,
this fowl will not go round." But it always did, and it
never happened that there was not even a fowl to
In fact, Tell and his family lived a very happy, contented life, in spite of the Governor Gessler and his
Tell was very patriotic. He always believed that some
day the Swiss would rise and rebel against the tyranny of the Governor, and he used to drill his two
children so as to keep them always in a state of preparation. They would march about, beating tin cans and
shouting, and altogether enjoying themselves im-
mensely, though
Hedwig, who did
not like noise, and
wanted Walter and
William to help her
with the housework, made frequent complaints.
"Mark my words,"
she would say, "this
growing spirit of
militarism in the
young and foolish
will lead to no good," meaning that boys who played
at soldiers instead of helping their mother to dust the
chairs and scrub the kitchen floor would in all probability come to a bad end. But Tell would say, "Who
hopes to fight his way through life must be prepared
to wield arms. Carry on, my boys!" And they carried
on. It was to this man that the Swiss people had determined to come for help.
William Tell Told Again
And pride so filled this Gessler’s soul
(A monarch’s pride outclassing),
He stuck his hat up on a pole,
That all might bow in passing.
Then rose the patriot, William Tell—
“We’ve groaned ‘neath Austria’s sway first;
Must we be ruled by poles as well?
I've just a word to say first!”
P. G. Wodehouse
"Well, and you didn't either!" snapped Arnold of
Melchthal, whose finger still hurt him, and made him
a little bad-tempered.
"That," said Arnold of Sewa, "I put down entirely to
the fact that you and your friends, by not exercising
tact, irritated the Governor, and made him unwilling
to listen to anybody else. Nothing is more important
in these affairs than tact. That's what you want—tact.
But have it your own way. Don't mind me!"
And the citizens did not. They chose Werner
Stauffacher, Arnold of Melchthal, and Walter Fürst,
and, having drained their glasses, the three trudged
up the steep hill which led to Tell's house.
It had been agreed that everyone should wait at
the Glass and Glacier until the three spokesmen returned, in order that they might hear the result of their
mission. Everybody was very anxious. A revolution
without Tell would be quite impossible, and it was not
unlikely that Tell might refuse to be their leader. The
worst of a revolution is that, if it fails, the leader is
always executed as an example to the rest. And many
Chapter IV
Talking matters over in the inn of the town, the Glass
and Glacier, the citizens came to the conclusion that
they ought to appoint three spokesmen to go and
explain to Tell just what they wanted him to do.
"I don't wish to seem to boast at all," said Arnold of
Sewa, "but I think I had better be one of the three."
"I was thinking," said Werner Stauffacher, "that it
would be a pity always to be chopping and changing.
Why not choose the same three as were sent to
"I don't desire to be unpleasant at all," replied Arnold
of Sewa, "but I must be forgiven for reminding the
honourable gentleman who has just spoken that he
and his equally honourable friends did not meet with
the best of success when they called upon the Governor."
William Tell Told Again
people object to being executed, however much it
may set a good example to their friends. On the other
hand, Tell was a brave man and a patriot, and might
be only too eager to try to throw off the tyrant's yoke,
whatever the risk. They had waited about an hour,
when they saw the three spokesmen coming down
the hill. Tell was not with them, a fact which made the
citizens suspect that he had refused their offer. The
first thing a man does when he has accepted the
leadership of a revolution is to come and plot with his
"Well?" said everybody eagerly, as the three arrived.
Werner Stauffacher shook his head.
"Ah," said Arnold of Sewa, "I see what it is. He has
refused. You didn't exercise tact, and he refused."
"We did exercise tact," said Stauffacher indignantly;
"but he would not be persuaded. It was like this: We
went to the house and knocked at the door. Tell
opened it. 'Good-morning,' I said.
"'Good-morning,' said he. 'Take a seat.'
"I took a seat.
"'My heart is full,' I said, 'and longs to speak with
you.' I thought that a neat way of putting it."
The company murmured approval.
"'A heavy heart,' said Tell, 'will not grow light with words.'"
"Not bad that!" murmured Jost Weiler. "Clever way
of putting things, Tell has got."
"'Yet words,' I said, 'might lead us on to deeds.'"
"Neat," said Jost Weiler—"very neat. Yes?"
"To which Tell's extraordinary reply was: 'The only
thing to do is to sit still.'
"'What!' I said; 'bear in silence things unbearable?'
"'Yes,' said Tell; 'to peaceable men peace is gladly
granted. When the Governor finds that his oppression does not make us revolt, he will grow tired of
"And what did you say to that?" asked Ulric the
"I said he did not know the Governor if he thought
he could ever grow tired of oppressing. 'We might do
much,' I said, 'if we held fast together. Union is
strength,' I said.
P. G. Wodehouse
"'The strong,' said Tell, 'is strongest when he stands
"'Then our country must not count on thee,' I said,
'when in despair she stands on self-defence?'
"'Oh, well,' he said, 'hardly that, perhaps. I don't
want to desert you. What I mean to say is, I'm no use
as a plotter or a counsellor and that sort of thing.
Where I come out strong is in deeds. So don't invite
me to your meetings and make me speak, and that
sort of thing; but if you want a man to do anything—
why, that's where I shall come in, you see. Just write
if you want me—a postcard will do—and you will not
find William Tell hanging back. No, sir.' And with those
words he showed us out."
"Well," said Jost Weiler, "I call that encouraging. All
we have to do now is to plot. Let us plot."
"Yes, let's!" shouted everybody.
Ulric the smith rapped for silence on the table.
"Gentlemen," he said, "our friend Mr. Klaus von der
Flue will now read a paper on 'Governors—their drawbacks, and how to get rid of them.' Silence, gentle-
men, please. Now, then, Klaus, old fellow, speak up
and get it over."
And the citizens settled down without further delay
to a little serious plotting.
William Tell Told Again
one occasion, when—"
"What I say," interrupted Hedwig, "is that a boy ought
not to want always to be shooting, and what not. He
ought to stay at home and help his mother. And I
wish you would set them a better example."
"Well, the fact is, you know," said Tell, "I don't think
Nature meant me to be a stay-at-home and that sort
of thing. I couldn't be a herdsman if you paid me. I
shouldn't know what to do. No; everyone has his special line, and mine is hunting. Now, I can hunt."
"A nasty, dangerous occupation," said Hedwig. "I
don't like to hear of your being lost on desolate icefields, and leaping from crag to crag, and what not.
Some day, mark my words, if you are not careful,
you will fall down a precipice, or be overtaken by an
avalanche, or the ice will break while you are crossing it. There are a thousand ways in which you might
get hurt."
"A man of ready wit with a quick eye," replied Tell
complacently, "never gets hurt. The mountain has no
terror for her children. I am a child of the mountain."
Chapter V
A few days after this, Hedwig gave Tell a good talking to on the subject of his love for adventure. He
was sitting at the door of his house mending an axe.
Hedwig, as usual, was washing up. Walter and William were playing with a little cross-bow not far off.
"Father," said Walter.
"Yes, my boy?"
"My bow-string has bust." ("Bust" was what all Swiss
boys said when they meant "broken.")
"You must mend it yourself, my boy," said Tell. "A
sportsman always helps himself."
"What I say," said Hedwig, bustling out of the house,
"is that a boy of his age has no business to be shooting. I don't like it."
"Nobody can shoot well if he does not begin to practise early. Why, when I was a boy—I remember on
P. G. Wodehouse
"You are certainly a child!" snapped Hedwig. "It is
no use my arguing with you."
"Not very much," agreed Tell, "for I am just off to
the town. I have an appointment with your papa and
some other gentlemen."
(I forgot to say so before, but Hedwig was the
daughter of Walter Fürst.)
"Now, what are you and papa plotting?" asked
Hedwig. "I know there is something going on. I suspected it when papa brought Werner Stauffacher and
the other man here, and you wouldn't let me listen.
What is it? Some dangerous scheme, I suppose?"
"Now, how in the world do you get those sort of
ideas into your head?" Tell laughed. "Dangerous
scheme! As if I should plot dangerous schemes with
your papa!"
"I know," said Hedwig. "You can't deceive me! There
is a plot afoot against the Governor, and you are in it."
"A man must help his country."
"They're sure to place you where there is most danger. I know them. Don't go. Send Walter down with a
note to say that you regret that an unfortunate previous engagement, which you have just recollected,
will make it impossible for you to accept their kind
invitation to plot."
"No; I must go."
"And there is another thing," continued Hedwig:
"Gessler the Governor is in the town now."
"He goes away to-day."
"Well, wait till he has gone. You must not meet him.
He bears you malice."
"To me his malice cannot do much harm. I do what's
right, and fear no enemy."
"Those who do right," said Hedwig, "are those he
hates the most. And you know he has never forgiven
you for speaking like that when you met him in the
ravine. Keep away from the town for to-day. Do anything else. Go hunting, if you will."
"No," said Tell; "I promised. I must go. Come along,
"You aren't going to take that poor dear child? Come
here, Walter, directly minute!'
William Tell Told Again
"Want to go with father," said Walter, beginning to
cry, for his father had promised to take him with him
the next time he went to the town, and he had saved
his pocket-money for the occasion.
"Oh, let the boy come," said Tell. "William will stay
with you, won't you, William?"
"All right, father," said William.
"Well, mark my words," said Hedwig, "if something
bad does not happen I shall be surprised."
"Oh no," said Tell. "What can happen?"
And without further delay he set off with Walter for
the town.
Chapter VI
In the meantime all kinds of things of which Tell had
no suspicion had been happening in the town. The
fact that there were no newspapers in Switzerland at
that time often made him a little behindhand as regarded the latest events. He had to depend, as a rule,
on visits from his friends, who would sit in his kitchen
and tell him all about everything that had been going
on for the last few days. And, of course, when there
was anything very exciting happening in the town,
nobody had time to trudge up the hill to Tell's châlet.
They all wanted to be in the town enjoying the fun.
What had happened now was this. It was the chief
amusement of the Governor, Gessler (who, you will
remember, was not a nice man), when he had a few
moments to spare from the cares of governing, to sit
down and think out some new way of annoying the
P. G. Wodehouse
Swiss people. He was one of those persons who
So that now, though he wanted dreadfully to forbid
something else, he could not think of anything.
Then he had an idea, and this was it:
He told his servants to cut a long pole. And they cut
a very long pole. Then he said to them, "Go into the
hall and bring me one of my hats. Not my best hat,
which I wear on Sundays and on State occasions;
nor yet my second-best, which I wear every day; nor
yet, again, the one I wear when I am out hunting, for
all these I need. Fetch me, rather, the oldest of my
hats." And they fetched him the very oldest of his
hats. Then he said, "Put it on top of the pole." And
they put it right on top of the pole. And, last of all, he
said, "Go and set up the pole in the middle of the
meadow just outside the gates of the town." And they
went and set up the pole in the very middle of the
meadow just outside the gates of the town.
Then he sent his heralds out to north and south
and east and west to summon the people together,
because he said he had something very important
and special to say to them. And the people came in
"only do it to annoy,
Because they know it teases."
What he liked chiefly was to forbid something. He
would find out what the people most enjoyed doing,
and then he would send a herald to say that he was
very sorry, but it must stop. He found that this annoyed the Swiss more than anything. But now he
was rather puzzled what to do, for he had forbidden
everything he could think of. He had forbidden dancing and singing, and playing on any sort of musical
instrument, on the ground that these things made
such a noise, and disturbed people who wanted to
work. He had forbidden the eating of everything except bread and the simplest sorts of meat, because
he said that anything else upset people, and made
them unfit to do anything except sit still and say how
ill they were. And he had forbidden all sorts of games,
because he said they were a waste of time.
William Tell Told Again
tens, and fifties, and hundreds, men, women, and
children; and they stood waiting in front of the Palace steps till Gessler the Governor should come out
and say something very important and special to
And punctually at eleven o'clock, Gessler, having
finished a capital breakfast, came out on to the top
step and spoke to them.
"Ladies and gentlemen,"—he began. (A voice from
the crowd: "Speak up!")
"Ladies and gentlemen," he began again, in a louder
voice, "if I could catch the man who said 'Speak up!'
I would have him bitten in the neck by wild elephants.
(Applause.) I have called you to this place to-day to
explain to you my reason for putting up a pole, on
the top of which is one of my caps, in the meadow
just outside the city gates. It is this: You all, I know,
respect and love me." Here he paused for the audience to cheer, but as they remained quite silent he
went on: "You would all, I know, like to come to my
Palace every day and do reverence to me. (A voice:
'No, no!') If I could catch the man who said 'No, no!' I
would have him stung on the soles of the feet by pink
scorpions; and if he was the same man who said
'Speak up!' a little while ago, the number of scorpions should be doubled. (Loud applause.) As I was
saying before I was interrupted, I know you would
like to come to my Palace and do reverence to me
there. But, as you are many and space is limited, I
am obliged to refuse you that pleasure. However,
being anxious not to disappoint you, I have set up
my cap in the meadow, and you may do reverence to
that. In fact, you must. Everybody is to look on that
cap as if it were me. (A voice: 'It ain't so ugly as you!')
If I could catch the man who made that remark I would
have him tied up and teased by trained bluebottles.
(Deafening applause.) In fact, to put the matter briefly,
if anybody crosses that meadow without bowing down
before that cap, my soldiers will arrest him, and I will
have him pecked on the nose by infuriated blackbirds. So there! Soldiers, move that crowd on!"
And Gessler disappeared indoors again, just as a
P. G. Wodehouse
volley of eggs and cabbages whistled through the
air. And the soldiers began to hustle the crowd down
the various streets till the open space in front of the
Palace gates was quite cleared of them. All this happened the day before Tell and Walter set out for the
Chapter VII
Having set up the pole and cap in the meadow,
Gessler sent two of his bodyguard, Friesshardt (I
should think you would be safe in pronouncing this
Freeze-hard, but you had better ask somebody who
knows) and Leuthold, to keep watch there all day,
and see that nobody passed by without kneeling down
before the pole and taking off his hat to it.
But the people, who prided themselves on being what
they called üppen zie schnuffen, or, as we should say,
"up to snuff," and equal to every occasion, had already
seen a way out of the difficulty. They knew that if they
crossed the meadow they must bow down before the
pole, which they did not want to do, so it occurred to
them that an ingenious way of preventing this would
be not to cross the meadow. So they went the long
way round, and the two soldiers spent a lonely day.
William Tell Told Again
"What I sez," said Friesshardt, "is, wot's the use of
us wasting our time here?" (Friesshardt was not a
very well-educated man, and he did not speak good
grammar.) "None of these here people ain't a-going
to bow down to that there hat. Of course they ain't.
Why, I can remember the time when this meadow
was like a fair—everybody a-shoving and a-jostling
one another for elbow-room; and look at it now! It's a
desert. That's what it is, a desert. What's the good of
us wasting of our time here, I sez. That's what I sez.
"And they're artful, too, mind yer," he continued.
"Why, only this morning, I sez to myself, 'Friesshardt,'
I sez, 'you just wait till twelve o'clock,' I sez, ''cos
that's when they leave the council-house, and then
they'll have to cross the meadow. And then we'll see
what we shall see,' I sez. Like that, I sez. Bitter-like,
yer know. 'We'll see,' I sez, 'what we shall see.' So I
waited, and at twelve o'clock out they came, dozens
of them, and began to cross the meadow. 'And now,'
sez I to myself, 'look out for larks.' But what happened? Why, when they came to the pole, the priest
stood in front of it, and the sacristan rang the bell,
and they all fell down on their knees. But they were
saying their prayers, not doing obeisance to the hat.
That's what they were doing. Artful—that's what they
And Friesshardt kicked the foot of the pole viciously
with his iron boot.
"It's my belief," said Leuthold (Leuthold is the thin
soldier you see in the picture)—"it's my firm belief
that they are laughing at us. There! Listen to that!"
A voice made itself heard from behind a rock not
far off.
"Where did you get that hat?" said the voice.
"There!" grumbled Leuthold; "they're always at it.
Last time it was, 'Who's your hatter?' Why, we're the
laughing-stock of the place. We're like two rogues in
a pillory. 'Tis rank disgrace for one who wears a sword
to stand as sentry o'er an empty hat. To make obeisance to a hat! I' faith, such a command is downright
"Well," said Friesshardt, "and why not bow before
P. G. Wodehouse
an empty hat? Thou hast oft bow'd before an empty
skull. Ha, ha! I was always one for a joke, yer know."
"Here come some people," said Leuthold. "At last!
And they're only the rabble, after all. You don't catch
any of the better sort of people coming here."
A crowd was beginning to collect on the edge of
the meadow. Its numbers swelled every minute, until
quite a hundred of the commoner sort must have been
gathered together. They stood pointing at the pole
and talking among themselves, but nobody made any
movement to cross the meadow.
At last somebody shouted "Yah!"
The soldiers took no notice.
Somebody else cried "Booh!"'
"Pass along there, pass along!" said the soldiers.
Cries of "Where did you get that hat?" began to
come from the body of the crowd. When the Swiss
invented a catch-phrase they did not drop it in a hurry.
"Where—did—you—get—that—HAT?" they
Friesshardt and Leuthold stood like two statues in
armour, paying no attention to the remarks of the
rabble. This annoyed the rabble. They began to be
more personal.
"You in the second-hand lobster-tin," shouted one—
he meant Friesshardt, whose suit of armour, though
no longer new, hardly deserved this description—
"who's your hatter?"
"Can't yer see," shouted a friend, when Friesshardt
made no reply, "the pore thing ain't alive? 'E's stuffed!"
Roars of laughter greeted this sally. Friesshardt, in
spite of the fact that he enjoyed a joke, turned pink.
"'E's blushing!" shrieked a voice.
Friesshardt turned purple.
Then things got still more exciting.
"'Ere," said a rough voice in the crowd impatiently,
"wot's the good of torkin' to 'em? Gimme that 'ere
egg, missus!"
And in another instant an egg flew across the
meadow, and burst over Leuthold's shoulder. The
crowd howled with delight. This was something like
fun, thought they, and the next moment eggs, cab25
William Tell Told Again
bages, cats, and missiles of every sort darkened the
air. The two soldiers raved and shouted, but did not
dare to leave their post. At last, just as the storm was
at its height, it ceased, as if by magic. Everyone in
the crowd turned round, and, as he turned, jumped
into the air and waved his hat.
A deafening cheer went up.
"Hurrah!" cried the mob; "here comes good old Tell!
Now there's going to be a jolly row!"
The crowd about the pole at morn
Used various “persuaders”—
They flung old cans (to prove their scorn
Of all tin-pot invaders);
And cabbage-stumps were freely dealt,
And apples (inexpensive),
And rotten eggs (to show they felt
A foreign yoke offensive).
P. G. Wodehouse
Chapter VIII
Tell came striding along, Walter by his side, and his
cross-bow over his shoulder. He knew nothing about
the hat having been placed on the pole, and he was
surprised to see such a large crowd gathered in the
meadow. He bowed to the crowd in his polite way,
and the crowd gave three cheers and one more, and
he bowed again.
"Hullo!" said Walter suddenly; "look at that hat up
there, father. On the pole."
"What is the hat to us?" said Tell; and he began to walk
across the meadow with an air of great dignity, and Walter
walked by his side, trying to look just like him.
"Here! hi!" shouted the soldiers. "Stop! You haven't
bowed down to the cap."
Tell looked scornful, but said nothing. Walter looked
still more scornful.
Said William Tell, “And has this cuss
For conquest such a passion
He needs must set his cap at us
In this exalted fashion?”
And then the people gave a cry,
‘Twixt joy and apprehension,
To see him pass the symbol by
With studied inattention!
William Tell Told Again
"Ho, there!" shouted Friesshardt, standing in front
of him. "I bid you stand in the Emperor's name."
"My good fellow," said Tell, "please do not bother
me. I am in a hurry. I really have nothing for you."
"My orders is," said Friesshardt, "to stand in this
'ere meadow and to see as how all them what passes
through it does obeisance to that there hat. Them's
Governor's orders, them is. So now."
"My good fellow," said Tell, "let me pass. I shall get
cross, I know I shall."
Shouts of encouragement from the crowd, who were
waiting patiently for the trouble to begin.
"Go it, Tell!" they cried. "Don't stand talking to him.
Hit him a kick!"
Friesshardt became angrier every minute.
"My orders is," he said again, "to arrest them as
don't bow down to the hat, and for two pins, young
feller, I'll arrest you. So which is it to be? Either you
bow down to that there hat or you come along of
Tell pushed him aside, and walked on with his chin
in the air. Walter went with him, with his chin in the
A howl of dismay went up from the crowd as they
saw Friesshardt raise his pike and bring it down with
all his force on Tell's head. The sound of the blow
went echoing through the meadow and up the hills
and down the valleys.
"Ow!" cried Tell.
"Now," thought the crowd, "things must begin to get
Tell's first idea was that one of the larger mountains in the neighbourhood had fallen on top of him.
Then he thought that there must have been an earthquake. Then it gradually dawned upon him that he
had been hit by a mere common soldier with a pike.
Then he was angry.
"Look here!" he began.
"Look there!" said Friesshardt, pointing to the cap.
"You've hurt my head very much," said Tell. "Feel the
bump. If I hadn't happened to have a particularly hard
P. G. Wodehouse
head I don't know
what might not have
happened;" and he
raised his fist and hit
Friesshardt; but as
Friesshardt was
wearing a thick iron
helmet the blow did
not hurt him very
But it had the effect of bringing the crowd to Tell's
assistance. They had been waiting all this time for
him to begin the fighting, for though they were very
anxious to attack the soldiers, they did not like to do
so by themselves. They wanted a leader.
So when they saw Tell hit Friesshardt, they tucked
up their sleeves, grasped their sticks and cudgels
more tightly, and began to run across the meadow
towards him.
Neither of the soldiers noticed this. Friesshardt was
busy arguing with Tell, and Leuthold was laughing at
Friesshardt. So when the people came swarming up
with their sticks and cudgels they were taken by surprise. But every soldier in the service of Gessler was
as brave as a lion, and Friesshardt and Leuthold were
soon hitting back merrily, and making a good many
of the crowd wish that they had stayed at home. The
two soldiers were wearing armour, of course, so that
it was difficult to hurt them; but the crowd, who wore
no armour, found that they could get hurt very easily.
Conrad Hunn, for instance, was attacking Friesshardt,
At first the sentinel, aghast,
Glared like an angry dumb thing;
Then “Hi!” he shouted, “not so fast,
You're overlooking something!”
The sturdy Tell made no response;
Then through the hills resounded
A mighty thwack upon his sconce—
The people were astounded.
William Tell Told Again
when the soldier happened to drop his pike. It fell on
Conrad's toe, and Conrad limped away, feeling that
fighting was no fun unless you had thick boots on.
And so for a time the soldiers had the best of the
Could Tell an insult such as this
Ignore or pass? I doubt it!
No, no; that patriotic Swiss
Was very cross about it.
The people, interested now,
Exclaimed, “Here! Stop a minute
If there’s to be a jolly row,
By Jingo! we'll be in it!”
P. G. Wodehouse
He had said these words standing on the outskirts
of the crowd. He now grasped his cudgel and began
to steal slowly towards Friesshardt, who had just given
Werni the huntsman such a hit with his pike that the
sound of it was still echoing in the mountains, and
was now busily engaged in disposing of Jost Weiler.
Arnold of Sewa crept stealthily behind him, and was
just about to bring his cudgel down on his head, when
Leuthold, catching sight of him, saved his comrade
by driving his pike with all his force into Arnold's side.
Arnold said afterwards that it completely took his
breath away. He rolled over, and after being trodden
on by everybody for some minutes, got up and limped
back to his cottage, where he went straight to bed,
and did not get up for two days.
All this time Tell had been standing a little way off
with his arms folded, looking on. While it was a quarrel simply between himself and Friesshardt he did
not mind fighting. But when the crowd joined in he
felt that it was not fair to help so many men attack
one, however badly that one might have behaved.
Chapter IX
For many minutes the fight raged furiously round the
pole, and the earth shook beneath the iron boots of
Friesshardt and Leuthold as they rushed about, striking out right and left with their fists and the flats of
their pikes. Seppi the cowboy (an ancestor, by the
way, of Buffalo Bill) went down before a tremendous
blow by Friesshardt, and Leuthold knocked Klaus von
der Flue head over heels.
"What you want" said Arnold of Sewa, who had seen
the beginning of the fight from the window of his cottage and had hurried to join it, and, as usual, to give
advice to everybody—"what you want here is guile.
That's what you want—guile, cunning. Not brute force,
mind you. It's no good rushing at a man in armour
and hitting him. He only hits you back. You should
employ guile. Thus. Observe."
William Tell Told Again
He now saw that the time had come to put an end
to the disturbance. He drew an arrow from his quiver,
placed it in his crossbow, and pointed it at the hat.
Friesshardt, seeing what he intended to do, uttered
a shout of horror and rushed to stop him. But at that
moment somebody in the crowd hit him so hard with
a spade that his helmet was knocked over his eyes,
and before he could raise it again the deed was done.
Through the cap and through the pole and out at the
other side sped the arrow. And the first thing he saw
when he opened his eyes was Tell standing beside
him twirling his moustache, while all around the crowd
danced and shouted and threw their caps into the air
with joy.
Said Tell, “This satrap of the Duke
Is sore in need of gumption;
With my good bow I will rebuke
Such arrow-gant presumption.”
“Stand back!” the soldier says, says he;
“This roughness is unseemly!”
The people cried, “We will be FREE!”
And so they were—extremely!
P. G. Wodehouse
"Speech!" cried someone from the edge of the crowd.
"Speech! Speech! Tell, speech!" Everybody took up
the cry.
"No, no," said Tell, blushing.
"Go on, go on!" shouted the crowd.
"Oh, I couldn't," said Tell; "I don't know what to say."
"Anything will do. Speech! Speech!"
Ulric the smith and Ruodi the fisherman hoisted Tell
on to their shoulders, and, having coughed once or
twice, he said:
Cheers from the crowd.
"Gentlemen," said Tell again, "this is the proudest
moment of my life."
More cheers.
"I don't know what you want me to talk about. I have
never made a speech before. Excuse my emotion.
This is the proudest moment of my life. To-day is a
great day for Switzerland. We have struck the first
blow of the revolution. Let us strike some more."
Shouts of "Hear, hear!" from the crowd, many of
"A mere trifle," said Tell modestly.
The crowd cheered again and again.
Friesshardt and Leuthold lay on the ground beside
the pole, feeling very sore and bruised, and thought
that perhaps, on the whole, they had better stay there.
There was no knowing what the crowd might do after
this, if they began to fight again. So they lay on the
ground and made no attempt to interfere with the
popular rejoicings. What they wanted, as Arnold of
Sewa might have said if he had been there, was a
few moments' complete rest. Leuthold's helmet had
been hammered with sticks until it was over his eyes
and all out of shape, and Friesshardt's was very little
better. And they both felt just as if they had been run
over in the street by a horse and cart.
"Tell!" shouted the crowd. "Hurrah for Tell! Good
old Tell!"
"Tell's the boy!" roared Ulric the smith. "Not another
man in Switzerland could have made that shot."
"No," shrieked everybody, "not another!"
William Tell Told Again
whom, misunderstanding Tell's last remark, proceeded to hit Leuthold and Friesshardt, until stopped
by cries of "Order!" from Ulric the smith.
"Gentlemen," continued Tell, "the floodgates of revolution have been opened. From this day they will stalk
through the land burning to ashes the slough of oppression which our tyrant Governor has erected in
our midst. I have only to add that this is the proudest
moment of my life, and—"
He was interrupted by a frightened voice.
"Look out, you chaps," said the voice; "here comes
the Governor!"
Gessler, with a bodyguard of armed men, had entered the meadow, and was galloping towards them.
They dealt that soldier thump on thump
(He hadn’t any notion,
When on Tell’s head he raised that bump,
Of raising this commotion);
Tell’s arrow sped, the people crowed,
And loudly cheered his action;
While Tell’s expressive features showed
A certain satisfaction.
P. G. Wodehouse
the others, but he did not at all like the look of things.
Gessler was a stern man, quick to punish any insult,
and there were two of his soldiers lying on the ground
with their nice armour all spoiled and dented, and his
own cap on top of the pole had an arrow right through
the middle of it, and would never look the same again,
however much it might be patched. It seemed to Tell
that there was a bad time coming.
Gessler rode up, and reined in his horse.
"Now then, now then, now then!" he said, in his
quick, abrupt way. "What's this? what's this? what's
(When a man repeats what he says three times,
you can see that he is not in a good temper.)
Friesshardt and Leuthold got up, saluted, and
limped slowly towards him. They halted beside his
horse, and stood to attention. The tears trickled down
their cheeks.
"Come, come, come!" said Gessler; "tell me all
about it."
Chapter X
Gessler came riding up on his brown horse, and the
crowd melted away in all directions, for there was no
knowing what the Governor might not do if he found
them plotting. They were determined to rebel and to
throw off his tyrannous yoke, but they preferred to do
it quietly and comfortably, when he was nowhere near.
So they ran away to the edge of the meadow, and
stood there in groups, waiting to see what was going
to happen. Not even Ulric the smith and Ruodi the
fisherman waited, though they knew quite well that
Tell had not nearly finished his speech. They set the
orator down, and began to walk away, trying to look
as if they had been doing nothing in particular, and
were going to go on doing it—only somewhere else.
Tell was left standing alone in the middle of the
meadow by the pole. He scorned to run away like
William Tell Told Again
Now, when the cat’s away, the mice
Are very enterprising,
But cats return, and, in a trice—
Well, Gessler nipped that rising.
And when those soldiers lodged complaint
(Which truly didn’t lack ground),
The people practised self-restraint
And fell into the background.
P. G. Wodehouse
indeed!' and he passed on without so much as nodding. So I takes my pike, and I taps him on the head
to remind him, as you may say, that there was something he was forgetting, and he ups and hits me, he
does. And then the crowd runs up with their sticks
and hits me and Leuthold cruel, your Excellency. And
while we was a-fighting with them, this here man I'm
a-telling you about, your Excellency, he outs with an
arrow, puts it into his bow, and sends it through the
hat, and I don't see how you'll ever be able to wear it
again. It's a waste of a good hat, your Excellency—
that's what it is. And then the people, they puts me
and Leuthold on the ground, and hoists this here
man—Tell, they call him—up on their shoulders, and
he starts making a speech, when up you comes, your
Excellency. That's how it all was."
Gessler turned pale with rage, and glared fiercely
at Tell, who stood before him in the grasp of two of
the bodyguard.
"Ah," he said, "Tell, is it? Good-day to you, Tell. I
think we've met before, Tell? Eh, Tell?"
And he patted Friesshardt on the head. Friesshardt
Gessler beckoned to one of his courtiers.
"Have you a handkerchief?" he said.
"I have a handkerchief, your Excellency."
"Then dry this man's eyes."
The courtier did as he was bidden.
"Now," said Gessler, when the drying was done,
and Friesshardt's tears had ceased, "what has been
happening here? I heard a cry of 'Help!' as I came
up. Who cried 'Help!'?"
"Please, your lordship's noble Excellencyship," said
Friesshardt, "it was me, Friesshardt."
"You should say, 'It was I,'" said Gessler. "Proceed."
"Which I am a loyal servant of your Excellency's,
and in your Excellency's army, and seeing as how I
was told to stand by this 'ere pole and guard that
there hat, I stood by this 'ere pole, and guarded that
there hat—all day, I did, your Excellency. And then
up comes this man here, and I says to him—'Bow
down to the hat,' I says. 'Ho!' he says to me—'ho,
William Tell Told Again
"We have, your Excellency. It was in the ravine of
Schächenthal," said Tell firmly.
"Your memory is good, Tell. So is mine. I think you
made a few remarks to me on that occasion, Tell—a
few chatty remarks? Eh, Tell?"
"Very possibly, your Excellency."
"You were hardly polite, Tell."
"If I offended you I am sorry."
"I am glad to hear it, Tell. I think you will be even
sorrier before long. So you've been ill-treating my
soldiers, eh?"
"It was not I who touched them."
"Oh, so you didn't touch them? Ah! But you defied
my power by refusing to bow down to the hat. I set
up that hat to prove the people's loyalty. I am afraid
you are not loyal, Tell."
"I was a little thoughtless, not disloyal. I passed the
hat without thinking."
"You should always think, Tell. It is very dangerous
not to do so. And I suppose that you shot your arrow
through the hat without thinking?"
"I was a little carried away by excitement, your Excellency."
"Dear, dear! Carried away by excitement, were you?
You must really be more careful, Tell. One of these
days you will be getting yourself into trouble. But it
seems to have been a very fine shot. You are a capital marksman, I believe?"
"Father's the best shot in all Switzerland," piped a
youthful voice. "He can hit an apple on a tree a hundred yards away. I've seen him. Can't you, father?"
Walter, who had run away when the fighting began, had returned on seeing his father in the hands
of the soldiers.
Gessler turned a cold eye upon him.
"Who is this?" he asked.
P. G. Wodehouse
"Which I'm afraid as how it's a little bruised, your
Excellency," he said, "having hit me on the helmet."
"Thank you. I do not require it for eating purposes,"
said Gessler. "Now, Tell, I have here an apple—a
simple apple, not over-ripe. I should like to test that
feat of yours. So take your bow—I see you have it in
your hand—and get ready to shoot. I am going to put
this apple on your son's head. He will be placed a
hundred yards away from you, and if you do not hit
the apple with your first shot your life shall pay forfeit."
And he regarded Tell with a look of malicious triumph.
"Your Excellency, it cannot be!" cried Tell; "the thing
is too monstrous. Perhaps your Excellency is pleased
to jest. You cannot bid a father shoot an apple from
off his son's head! Consider, your Excellency!"
"You shall shoot the apple from off the head of this
boy," said Gessler sternly. "I do not jest. That is my
"Sooner would I die," said Tell.
"If you do not shoot you die with the boy. Come,
Chapter XI
"It is my son Walter, your Excellency," said Tell.
"Your son? Indeed. This is very interesting. Have
you any more children?"
"I have one other boy."
"And which of them do you love the most, eh?"
"I love them both alike, your Excellency."
"Dear me! Quite a happy family. Now, listen to me, Tell.
I know you are fond of excitement, so I am going to try to
give you a little. Your son says that you can hit an apple
on a tree a hundred yards away, and I am sure you have
every right to be very proud of such a feat. Friesshardt!"
"Your Excellency?"
"Bring me an apple."
Friesshardt picked one up. Some apples had been
thrown at him and Leuthold earlier in the day, and
there were several lying about.
William Tell Told Again
And Tell, before the tyrant hailed,
No patriot you’d have guessed him,
For even his stout bosom quailed
When Gessler thus addressed him:—
“As you’re the crack shot of these Swiss
(I’ve often heard it said so),
Suppose you take a shot at this,
`Placed on your youngster’s head—so!”
P. G. Wodehouse
come, Tell, why so cautious? They always told me
that you loved perilous enterprises, and yet when I
give you one you complain. I could understand anybody else shrinking from the feat. But you! Hitting
apples at a hundred yards is child's play to you. And
what does it matter where the apple is—whether it is
on a tree or on a boy's head? It is an apple just the
same. Proceed, Tell."
The crowd, seeing a discussion going on, had left
the edge of the meadow and clustered round to listen. A groan of dismay went up at the Governor's
"Down on your knees, boy," whispered Rudolph der
Harras to Walter—"down on your knees, and beg his
Excellency for your life."
"I won't!" said Walter stoutly.
"Come," said Gessler, "clear a path there—clear a
path! Hurry yourselves. I won't have this loitering. Look
you, Tell: attend to me for a moment. I find you in the
middle of this meadow deliberately defying my authority
and making sport of my orders. I find you in the act of
stirring up discontent among my people with speeches.
I might have you executed without ceremony. But do
I? No. Nobody shall say that Hermann Gessler the
Governor is not kind-hearted. I say to myself, 'I will
give this man one chance.' I place your fate in your
own skilful hands. How can a man complain of harsh
treatment when he is made master of his own fate?
Besides, I don't ask you to do anything difficult. I merely
hid you perform what must be to you a simple shot.
You boast of your unerring aim. Now is the time to
prove it. Clear the way there!"
Walter Fürst flung himself on his knees before the
"Your Highness," he cried, "none deny your power.
Let it be mingled with mercy. It is excellent, as an
English poet will say in a few hundred years, to have
a giant's strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a
giant. Take the half of my possessions, but spare my
But Walter Tell broke in impatiently, and bade his
grandfather rise, and not kneel to the tyrant.
William Tell Told Again
"Where must I stand?" asked he. "I'm not afraid.
Father can hit a bird upon the wing."
"You see that lime-tree yonder," said Gessler to his
soldiers; "take the boy and bind him to it."
"I will not be bound!" cried Walter. "I am not afraid.
I'll stand still. I won't breathe. If you bind me I'll kick!"
"Let us bind your eyes, at least," said Rudolph der
"Do you think I fear to see father shoot?" said Walter.
"I won't stir an eyelash. Father, show the tyrant how
you can shoot. He thinks you're going to miss. Isn't
he an old donkey!"
"Very well, young man," muttered Gessler, "we'll
see who is laughing five minutes from now." And once
more he bade the crowd stand back and leave a way
clear for Tell to shoot.
Chapter XII
The crowd fell back, leaving a lane down which Walter
walked, carrying the apple. There was dead silence
as he passed. Then the people began to whisper
excitedly to one another.
"Shall this be done before our eyes?" said Arnold
of Melchthal to Werner Stauffacher. "Of what use was
it that we swore an oath to rebel if we permit this? Let
us rise and slay the tyrant."
Werner Stauffacher, prudent man, scratched his
chin thoughtfully.
"We-e-ll," he said, "you see, the difficulty is that we
are not armed and the soldiers are. There is nothing
I should enjoy more than slaying the tyrant, only I
have an idea that the tyrant would slay us. You see
my point?"
"Why were we so slow!" groaned Arnold. "We
P. G. Wodehouse
should have risen before, and then this would never
have happened. Who was it that advised us to delay?"
"We-e-ll," said Stauffacher (who had himself advised
delay), "I can't quite remember at the moment, but I
dare say you could find out by looking up the minutes of our last meeting. I know the motion was carried by a majority of two votes. See! Gessler grows
Gessler, who had been fidgeting on his horse for
some time, now spoke again, urging Tell to hurry.
"Begin!" he cried—"begin!"
"Immediately," replied Tell, fitting the arrow to the
Gessler began to mock him once more.
"You see now," he said, "the danger of carrying
arms. I don't know if you have ever noticed it, but
arrows very often recoil on the man who carries them.
The only man who has any business to possess a
weapon is the ruler of a country—myself, for instance.
A low, common fellow—if you will excuse the descrip-
tion—like yourself only grows proud through being
armed, and so offends those above him. But, of
course, it's no business of mine. I am only telling you
what I think about it. Personally, I like to encourage
my subjects to shoot; that is why I am giving you
such a splendid mark to shoot at. You see, Tell?"
Tell did not reply. He raised his bow and pointed it.
There was a stir of excitement in the crowd, more
particularly in that part of the crowd which stood on
his right, for, his hand trembling for the first time in
his life, Tell had pointed his arrow, not at his son, but
straight into the heart of the crowd.
"Here! Hi! That's the wrong way! More to the left!"
shouted the people in a panic, while Gessler roared
with laughter, and bade Tell shoot and chance it.
"If you can't hit the apple or your son," he chuckled,
"you can bring down one of your dear fellow-countrymen."
Tell lowered his bow, and a sigh of relief went
through the crowd.
"My eyes are swimming," he said; "I cannot see."
William Tell Told Again
“The bearing,” as they say, “of that
Lay in the apple-cation,”
And nobody will wonder at
A parent’s agitation;
That anguish filled Tell’s bosom proud
Needs scarcely to be stated,
And, it will be observed, the crowd
Was also agitated.
P. G. Wodehouse
Then he turned to the Governor.
"I cannot shoot," he said; "bid your soldiers kill me."
"No," said Gessler—"no, Tell. That is not at all what
I want. If I had wished my soldiers to kill you, I should
not have waited for a formal invitation from you. I
have no desire to see you slain. Not at present. I
wish to see you shoot. Come, Tell, they say you can
do everything, and are afraid of nothing. Only the
other day, I hear, you carried a man, one
Baumgartner—that was his name, I think—across a
rough sea in an open boat. You may remember it? I
particularly wished to catch Baumgartner, Tell. Now,
this is a feat which calls for much less courage. Simply to shoot an apple off a boy's head. A child could
do it."
While he was speaking, Tell had been standing in
silence, his hands trembling and his eyes fixed, sometimes on the Governor, sometimes on the sky. He
now seized his quiver, and taking from it a second
arrow, placed it in his belt. Gessler watched him, but
said nothing.
"Shoot, father!" cried Walter from the other end of
the lane; "I'm not afraid."
Tell, calm again now, raised his bow and took a
steady aim. Everybody craned forward, the front
ranks in vain telling those behind that there was nothing to be gained by pushing. Gessler bent over his
horse's neck and peered eagerly towards Walter. A
great hush fell on all as Tell released the string.
"Phut!" went the string, and the arrow rushed
through the air.
A moment's suspense, and then a terrific cheer rose
from the spectators.
The apple had leaped from Walter's head, pierced
through the centre.
William Tell Told Again
Said Gessler, “This is all my eye!
Come, hurry up and buck up!
Remember, if you miss, you die—
That ought to keep your pluck up.
The flying arrow may, no doubt,
Your offspring’s bosom enter—”
But here there rose a mighty shout:
“By George! He’s scored a centre!”
P. G. Wodehouse
"it will ring through the ages. While the mountains
stand will the tale of Tell the bowman be told."
Rudolph der Harras took the apple from Walter and
showed it to Gessler, who had been sitting transfixed
on his horse.
"See," he said, "the arrow has passed through the
very centre. It was a master shot."
"It was very nearly a 'Master Walter shot,'" said
Rösselmann the priest severely, fixing the Governor
with a stern eye.
Gessler made no answer. He sat looking moodily
at Tell, who had dropped his cross-bow and was
standing motionless, still gazing in the direction in
which the arrow had sped. Nobody liked to be the
first to speak to him.
"Well," said Rudolph der Harras, breaking an awkward silence, "I suppose it's all over now? May as
well be moving, eh?"
He bit a large piece out of the apple, which he still held.
Walter uttered a piercing scream as he saw the mouthful
disappear. Up till now he had shown no signs of dismay,
Chapter XIII
Intense excitement instantly reigned. Their suspense
over, the crowd cheered again and again, shook
hands with one another, and flung their caps into the
air. Everyone was delighted, for everyone was fond
of Tell and Walter. It also pleased them to see the
Governor disappointed. He had had things his own
way for so long that it was a pleasant change to see
him baffled in this manner. Not since Switzerland
became a nation had the meadow outside the city
gates been the scene of such rejoicings.
Walter had picked up the apple with the arrow piercing it, and was showing it proudly to all his friends.
"I told you so," he kept saying; "I knew father
wouldn't hurt me. Father's the best shot in all Switzerland."
"That was indeed a shot!" exclaimed Ulric the smith;
William Tell Told Again
in spite of the peril which he had had to face; but when
he watched Rudolph eating the apple, which he naturally looked upon as his own property, he could not keep
quiet any longer. Rudolph handed him the apple with an
apology, and he began to munch it contentedly.
"Come with me to your mother, my boy," said
Walter took no notice, but went on eating the apple.
Tell came to himself with a start, looked round for
Walter, and began to lead him away in the direction
of his home, deaf to all the cheering that was going
on around him.
Gessler leaned forward in his saddle.
"Tell," he said, "a word with you."
Tell came back.
"Your Excellency?"
"Before you go I wish you to explain one thing."
"A thousand, your Excellency."
"No, only one. When you were getting ready to shoot
at the apple you placed an arrow in the string and a
second arrow in your belt."
"A second arrow!" Tell pretended to be very much
astonished, but the pretence did not deceive the
"Yes, a second arrow. Why was that? What did you
intend to do with that arrow, Tell?"
Tell looked down uneasily, and twisted his bow about
in his hands.
"My lord," he said at last, "it is a bowman's custom.
All archers place a second arrow in their belt."
"No, Tell," said Gessler, "I cannot take that answer
as the truth. I know there was some other meaning
in what you did. Tell me the reason without concealment. Why was it? Your life is safe, whatever it was,
so speak out. Why did you take out that second arrow?"
Tell stopped fidgeting with his bow, and met the
Governor's eye with a steady gaze.
"Since you promise me my life, your Excellency,"
he replied, drawing himself up, "I will tell you."
He drew the arrow from his belt and held it up.
The crowd pressed forward, hanging on his words.
P. G. Wodehouse
"Had my first arrow," said Tell slowly, "pierced my
child and not the apple, this would have pierced you,
my lord. Had I missed with my first shot, be sure, my
lord, that my second would have found its mark."
A murmur of approval broke from the crowd as Tell
thrust the arrow back into the quiver and faced the
Governor with folded arms and burning eyes. Gessler
turned white with fury.
"Seize that man!" he shouted.
"My lord, bethink you," whispered Rudolph der
Harras; "you promised him his life. Tell, fly!" he cried.
Tell did not move.
"Seize that man and bind him," roared Gessler once
more. "If he resists, cut him down."
"I shall not resist," said Tell scornfully. "I should have
known the folly of trusting to a tyrant to keep his word.
My death will at least show my countrymen the worth
of their Governor's promises."
"Not so," replied Gessler; "no man shall say I ever
broke my knightly word. I promised you your life, and
I will give you your life. But you are a dangerous man,
But, as the arrow cleft the core,
Cried G. with indignation,
“What was the second arrow for?
Come, no e-quiver-cation!
You had a second in your fist.”
Said Tell, the missile grippin’,
“This shaft (had I that apple missed)
Was meant for you, my pippin!”
William Tell Told Again
Tell, and against such must I guard myself. You have
told me your murderous purpose. I must look to it
that that purpose is not fulfilled. Life I promised you,
and life I will give you. But of freedom I said nothing.
In my castle at Küssnacht there are dungeons where
no ray of sun or moon ever falls. Chained hand and
foot in one of these, you will hardly aim your arrows
at me. It is rash, Tell, to threaten those who have
power over you. Soldiers, bind him and lead him to
my ship. I will follow, and will myself conduct him to
The soldiers tied Tell's hands. He offered no resistance. And amidst the groans of the people he was
led away to the shore of the lake, where Gessler's
ship lay at anchor.
"Our last chance is gone," said the people to one
another. "Where shall we look now for a leader?"
With rage the tyrant said, said he,
“It’s time to stop this prating;
I find your style of repartee
Extremely irritating.
You’ll hang for this, be pleased to note.”
On this they bound and gagged him
(For Gessler’s castle booked by boat),
And through the village dragged him.
P. G. Wodehouse
and the ship made her way across the lake, aided by
a favouring breeze.
A large number of the Swiss people had followed
Tell and his captors to the harbour, and stood gazing
sorrowfully after the ship as it diminished in the distance. There had been whispers of an attempted rescue, but nobody had dared to begin it, and the whispers had led to nothing. Few of the people carried
weapons, and the soldiers were clad in armour, and
each bore a long pike or a sharp sword. As Arnold of
Sewa would have said if he had been present, what
the people wanted was prudence. It was useless to
attack men so thoroughly able to defend themselves.
Therefore the people looked on and groaned, but
did nothing.
For some time the ship sped easily on her way and
through a calm sea. Tell lay below, listening to the
trampling of the sailors overhead, as they ran about
the deck, and gave up all hope of ever seeing his
home and his friends again.
But soon he began to notice that the ship was roll-
Chapter XIV
The castle of Küssnacht lay on the opposite side of
the lake, a mighty mass of stone reared on a mightier
crag rising sheer out of the waves, which boiled and
foamed about its foot. Steep rocks of fantastic shape
hemmed it in, and many were the vessels which perished on these, driven thither by the frequent storms
that swept over the lake.
Gessler and his men, Tell in their midst, bound and
unarmed, embarked early in the afternoon at Flüelen,
which was the name of the harbour where the
Governor's ship had been moored. Flüelen was about
two miles from Küssnacht.
When they had arrived at the vessel they went on
board, and Tell was placed at the bottom of the hold.
It was pitch dark, and rats scampered over his body
as he lay. The ropes were cast off, the sails filled,
William Tell Told Again
ing and pitching more than it had been doing at first,
and it was not long before he realized that a very
violent storm had begun. Storms sprung up very suddenly on the lake, and made it unsafe for boats that
attempted to cross it. Often the sea was quite unruffled at the beginning of the crossing, and was rough
enough at the end to wreck the largest ship.
Tell welcomed the storm. He had no wish to live if
life meant years of imprisonment in a dark dungeon
of Castle Küssnacht. Drowning would be a pleasant
fate compared with that. He lay at the bottom of the
ship, hoping that the next wave would dash them on
to a rock and send them to the bottom of the lake.
The tossing became worse and worse.
Upon the deck Gessler was standing beside the
helmsman, and gazing anxiously across the waters
at the rocks that fringed the narrow entrance to the
bay a few hundred yards to the east of Castle
Küssnacht. This bay was the only spot for miles along
the shore at which it was possible to land safely. For
miles on either side the coast was studded with great
rocks, which would have dashed a ship to pieces in
a moment. It was to this bay that Gessler wished to
direct the ship. But the helmsman told him that he
could not make sure of finding the entrance, so great
was the cloud of spray which covered it. A mistake
would mean shipwreck.
"My lord," said the helmsman, "I have neither
strength nor skill to guide the helm. I do not know
which way to turn."
"What are we to do?" asked Rudolph der Harras,
who was standing near.
The helmsman hesitated. Then he spoke, eyeing
the Governor uneasily.
"Tell could steer us through," he said, "if your lordship would but give him the helm."
Gessler started.
"Tell!" he muttered. "Tell!"
The ship drew nearer to the rocks.
"Bring him here," said Gessler.
Two soldiers went down to the hold and released
Tell. They bade him get up and come with them. Tell
P. G. Wodehouse
followed them on deck, and stood before the Governor.
"Tell," said Gessler.
Tell looked at him without speaking.
"Take the helm, Tell," said Gessler, "and steer the
ship through those rocks into the bay beyond, or instant death shall be your lot."
Without a word Tell took the helmsman's place,
peering keenly into the cloud of foam before him. To
right and to left he turned the vessel's head, and to
right again, into the very heart of the spray. They were
right among the rocks now, but the ship did not strike
on them. Quivering and pitching, she was hurried
along, until of a sudden the spray-cloud was behind
her, and in front the calm waters of the bay.
Gessler beckoned to the helmsman.
"Take the helm again," he said.
He pointed to Tell.
"Bind him," he said to the soldiers.
The soldiers advanced slowly, for they were loath
to bind the man who had just saved them from de-
struction. But the Governor's orders must he obeyed,
so they came towards Tell, carrying ropes with which
to bind him.
Tell moved a step back. The ship was gliding past
a lofty rock. It was such a rock as Tell had often
climbed when hunting the chamois. He acted with
the quickness of the hunter. Snatching up the bow
and quiver which lay on the deck, he sprang on to
the bulwark of the vessel, and, with a mighty leap,
gained the rock. Another instant, and he was out of
Gessler roared to his bowmen.
"Shoot! shoot!" he cried.
The bowmen hastily fitted arrow to string. They were
too late. Tell was ready before them. There was a
hiss as the shaft rushed through the air, and the next
moment Gessler the Governor fell dead on the deck,
pierced through the heart.
Tell's second arrow had found its mark, as his first
had done.
William Tell Told Again
But slips between the cup and lip,
When least expected, peer through—
A storm arose upon the trip
Which Tell alone could steer through.
Thus, of all hands he quickly got
(As you may see) the upper,
At Gessler took a parting shot,
And hurried home to supper.
P. G. Wodehouse
had only been begun a short time back, and the
people who had been forced to help to build it spent
a very pleasant hour pulling down the stones which
had cost them such labour to put in their place. Even
the children helped. It was a great treat to them to
break what they pleased without being told not to.
"See," said Tell, as he watched them, "in years to
come, when these same children are gray-haired,
they will remember this night as freshly as they will
remember it to-morrow."
A number of people rushed up, bearing the pole
which Gessler's soldiers had set up in the meadow.
The hat was still on top of it, nailed to the wood by
Tell's arrow.
"Here's the hat!" shouted Ruodi—"the hat to which
we were to bow!"
"What shall we do with it?" cried several voices.
"Destroy it! Burn it!" said others. "To the flames with
this emblem of tyranny!"
But Tell stopped them.
"Let us preserve it," he said. "Gessler set it up to be
Chapter XV
There is not much more of the story of William Tell.
The death of Gessler was a signal to the Swiss to
rise in revolt, and soon the whole country was up in
arms against the Austrians. It had been chiefly the
fear of the Governor that had prevented a rising before. It had been brewing for a long time. The people
had been bound by a solemn oath to drive the enemy out of the country. All through Switzerland preparations for a revolution were going on, and nobles
and peasants had united.
Directly the news arrived that the Governor was
slain, meetings of the people were held in every town
in Switzerland, and it was resolved to begin the revolution without delay. All the fortresses that Gessler
had built during his years of rule were carried by assault on the same night. The last to fall was one which
William Tell Told Again
a means of enslaving the country; we will set it up as
a memorial of our newly-gained liberty. Nobly is fulfilled the oath we swore to drive the tyrants from our
land. Let the pole mark the spot where the revolution
"But is it finished?" said Arnold of Melchthal. "It is a
nice point. When the Emperor of Austria hears that
we have killed his friend Gessler, and burnt down all
his fine new fortresses, will he not come here to seek
"He will," said Tell. "And let him come. And let him
bring all his mighty armies. We have driven out the enemy that was in our land. We will meet and drive away
the enemy that comes from another country. Switzerland is not easy to attack. There are but a few mountain
passes by which the foe can approach. We will stop
these with our bodies. And one great strength we have:
we are united. And united we need fear no foe."
"Hurrah!" shouted everybody.
"But who is this that approaches?" said Tell. "He
seems excited. Perhaps he brings news."
It was Rösselmann the pastor, and he brought stirring news.
"These are strange times in which we live," said
Rösselmann, coming up.
"Why, what has happened?" cried everybody.
"Listen, and be amazed."
"Why, what's the matter?"
"The Emperor—"
"The Emperor is dead."
"What! dead?"
"Impossible! How came you by the news?"
"John Müller of Schaffhausen brought it. And he is
a truthful man."
"But how did it happen?"
"As the Emperor rode from Stein to Baden the lords
of Eschenbach and Tegerfelden, jealous, it is said, of
his power, fell upon him with their spears. His bodyguard were on the other side of a stream—the Emperor had just crossed it—and could not come to his
P. G. Wodehouse
assistance. He died instantly."
By the death of the Emperor the revolution in Switzerland was enabled to proceed without check. The
successor of the Emperor had too much to do in defending himself against the slayers of his father to
think of attacking the Swiss, and by the time he was
at leisure they were too strong to be attacked. So the
Swiss became free.
As for William Tell, he retired to his home, and lived
there very happily ever afterwards with his wife and
his two sons, who in a few years became very nearly
as skilful in the use of the cross-bow as their father.
Some say the tale related here
Is amplified and twisted;
Some say it isn't very clear
That William Tell existed;
Some say he freed his country so,
The Governor demolished.
Perhaps he did. I only know
That taxes aren't abolished!