jueves, 8 de febrero de 2018


Today the Myths and Legends podcast did the William Tell legend. Their version was neither too good nor too bad.
I've seen better ones, in particular this Victorian version, with its Kirsch-sipping Gessler yearning back to the Court at Vienna while ensuring that the rebel scum bend the knee before the Puffy, Floppy, Velvety Hat of his rule as Lord Governor. Long story short, something like in between Tywin Lannister and Stavro Blofeld, or Scaramanga, or (insert James Bond villain leader here).
I have secularised the tale as much as I could, and also modernised the Victorian-era spelling and lexicon a little, as well as updating the place names to Germanic spelling:


The morning sun shone brightly on the little hamlet of Bürglen, where a scene of unusual bustle told that its humble inhabitants were preparing for their regular market-day, at the beautiful village of Altdorf, a few leagues distant.

All was seeming happiness before one cottage door, somewhat remote from the rest, and whose picturesque situation might have furnished a fit subject for the Romantic painter. Its heavy roof hung over a sloping valley, covered with the greenest turf, which was kept continually fresh by a tiny cascade, that, breaking from a neighboring mountain, leaped merrily down its side, and made a perfect chorus of music ere it reached the base. Patches of snow still lingered beneath the dense foliage of the walnut-trees, which formed an amphitheatre around the hamlet; but these remnants of winter only served to afford pastime to two rosy-cheeked girls, who, clad in the gay Swiss costume, a bright crimson bodice, white sleeves, and party-colored petticoats, bounded like young chamois from one slippery ledge to another, and laughed gayly, when the fragile balls powdered their clothes, as if with diamonds. A boy of about eight years of age was milking the cows in a small meadow, green as an emerald with clover; while, from the interior of the cottage, his younger brother bore jars of honey, fragrant with the perfume of a thousand Alpine flowers ; huge cheeses, formed from a mixture of ewe's and cow's milk, possessing a peculiar yet not unpleasant flavor, and flasks of walnut-oil; all which were transferred by his father to large baskets, hanging on either side of a patient mule, that cropped the wild thyme within reach, but, with a most self-denying docility, remained perfectly motionless, although large patches of the fragrant herb grew but a few paces further. The wife of William Tell, for the industrious peasant was, in fact, the future deliverer of Switzerland, sat on a rude stone bench at the casement, singing, in shrill tones, the national song of the Ranz des Vaches, to the tottering child who climbed her knee; while at the same time she contrived to ply, with busy fingers, the plaited straw which she was forming into a broad-brimmed hat, such as is universally worn by the Swiss peasants.
At length all the baskets were laden, and, tossing the infant high in air, he returned it with a kiss and farewell to his wife, and was soon lost in a dark recess of the woods, through which the well-trained mule was accustomed to travel so regularly, that he scarcely waited his master's bidding.
Tell rapidly pursued his way through the dense pine forest, along a path bordered with the glowing festoons of wildflowers, nor stopped for breath, until a sudden gap in the woods revealed the small lake of Lucerne, still and shadowy in the morning twilight, and forming a transparent mirror to the mountain barrier, that seemed to prison it, as it were, from the world without.

The Swiss are devotedly attached to their country, with its bold and stupendous scenery; and,as the peasant breathed the cool air of the lake, some sudden emotion of patriotism was stirred within him, and he half said, half muttered, "'Tis too fair a land for the abode of a tyrant!" Then, with a deep sigh, he urged on his mule, and in a few moments stood within the marketplace of Altdorf.
Before Switzerland obtained that liberty, by force of arms, which it has ever since so nobly sustained, the command of Altdorf with the surrounding hamlets, of all four cantons around the lake, was intrusted to an Austrian Governor, by the name of Gessler, who, abusing his power, gave way to the greatest tyranny. He was influenced alone by self-interest or caprice; judgements were granted the highest bidder; the innocent were wronged; the ministers of the tyrant were allowed every excess, and secret murmurings might be heard in many an abode of the simple, yet brave-hearted peasants. 
Since Tell last visited Altdorf, an event had occurred, which served to show the mean spirit of the Governor. At his command, a tall pole, surmounted by a floppy, plumed crimson velvet hat, the Governor's own favourite headcover, was placed in the middle of the marketplace, and whoever neglected bowing to this, as he passed, was sentenced to death, as having offered personal insult to Gessler.

The industrious Tell arrived before any of his neighbours, and carelessly passing the pole, which he stopped to examine through curiosity, he soon reached his usual stand; and before many sellers appeared, his stock was arranged to the best advantage, and he stood, waiting patiently for customers, while he picked wool, from a small quantity stowed away in a basket, to prevent the necessity of idleness.
But the good peasant's unintentional breach of laws did not pass unobserved. A servant, in the Governor's interests, gave notice of the offence, and while Tell was settling the price of a flask of cold-drawn walnut-oil with a buyer, his arms were pinioned from behind, a guard of soldiers surrounded him, and he was rudely dragged through the principal street, to a heavy stone building, which was the Governor's residence. The culprit entered fearlessly, and slightly raising his hat, stood, as if too proud to ask the reason of his arrest.
"Rebel!" cried Gessler, regarding him fiercely, "and is it thus that you obey the laws? Do you dare to slight my power? Ah! now you are mine, and bitterly shall you repent of your audacity." Astonished at these threats, but in no way alarmed, since conscious of no crime, William Tell frankly inquired of what he was accused A smile flitted over his face when he learned the cause, but with dignity he assured the tyrant, that he now for the first time heard of the edict, adding, with rustic simplicity, "Who ever dreamed that it was necessary to bid good-morning to a hat, or suspected that such neglect would be counted an offence against royalty?"

The fury of the savage Gessler was increased by the seeming fearlessness of the prisoner; and turning with flashing eyes to the guard, he bade them seize the peasant, load him with chains, and confine him in the dungeon's darkest cell. Then turning to a stone table, on which stood a goblet, filled with the far-famed Kirschwasser, a drink much esteemed by all ranks in Switzerland, he took a long draught of the intoxicating liquor, and then sat down to meditate on some new and refined mode of punishment for his victim.
In the mean while, Tell's friends collected in groups about the village, eager to devise some means for his escape; but the vigilance of the soldiers completely baffled every plan. At length, an old peasant, who had accidentally conferred some favors on the tyrant, pressed boldly into his presence, and after regretting Tell's unintentional neglect, added, that although he had transgressed the laws, it would seem almost a pity to take away the life of one, who was esteemed the best crossbow-man in the canton.
"Well spoken !" said the Governor, as if struck with a sudden thought; "we will have proof of his skill. His life is safe, if he should succeed; but if he fails, let no one further attempt to plead his cause." Then, with a dark and ominous smile, he turned to an attendant, bidding him hasten to Bürglen, and speedily bring Rudolph, Tell's eldest son, a brave and lovely boy, who promised to be the comfort of his father's life.
The unwilling messenger departed, and meeting the child, as he gathered wild strawberries from the mountain-side, he tempted him to mount before him, and, unknown to his mother, bore him rapidly to the village.
About midday, the prison-door was thrown open, and the unhappy Tell was led between two soldiers to the marketplace, where low murmurings and excited glances showed that something extraordinary had happened. Judge of the fond father's horror, when, on raising his eyes from the ground, they rested on the pale face of his Rudolph, who, bound hand and foot to the pole, had wearied himself with weeping; and now, that he caught sight of his parent, exclaimed, with sobs, "Father! dear father! save me! take me away from here!"
The cruel Gessler now advanced, and bidding Tell make ready his bow and arrow, placed an apple on the child's head, saying, " Your life is safe if you strike this off; but in the event of your missing the apple, or killing the child, your existence must pay the forfeit."
Tell shuddered at the dreadful proposal, and passionately besought him to revoke the sentence or substitute some other form of punishment. A thousand dark thoughts passed through his mind as he knelt at Gessler's feet, and pleaded for mercy. On the one hand, he saw his beautiful boy, swimming in his own blood, and looking reproachfully on him, as he struggled in the agonies of death; or else his delicate wife and young children rose before him, drooping with want and sorrow, and persecuted in every way by the wicked Governor. While lost in this most agonizing uncertainty, a soothing voice breathed this blessed thought into his mind : "You will succeed!" It was a whisper from his own heart, and it calmed the tumult of his soul, even as when the heavenly voice said, "Peace! be still!" to the dark waters of the stormy lake and the roaring winds above.
William Tell fell on his knees, and throwing his arms to heaven, exclaimed, "Lord of Mercy! Lord of Justice! guide the arrow, and save the boy!" Then kissing Rudolph fervently, he whispered something in his ear, and rising with a firm and composed step, cried, "Now, tyrant, I am ready; here is my bow and arrow." Gessler laughed with joy, as he gave the bloody signal, while groans of horror and loud imprecations broke from all assembled in the marketplace. Tell seized the bow; notched the arrow; and taking steady aim at the apple, which lay on the head of the now resolute boy, who, with his blue eyes fixed on his father's face, stood erect, yet cold and pale as a marble statue, he drew the cord; the dart whizzed through the air, just parted the child's clustering curls, and, splitting the apple, bore it to the ground.
It was but the work of a moment, but the agony of a long life was endured during that brief space of uncertainty, by the wretched parent. A joyful cry rose on the air, and men who had before stood motionless, and with eyelids closely pressed, now clasped their hands tumultuously, while some of the more excited females burst into tears.
Tell staggered as if struck with sudden blindness, or as if existence had passed away with the shot; but the exulting shout recalled his senses, and, rushing forward, he clasped the almost fainting Rudolph to his breast, and in broken accents returned thanks to Heaven for his preservation.
But new trials yet awaited the much-injured bowman. Gessler's quick eye detected another arrow, which lay half concealed in Tell's girdle; and while hidden rage distorted every feature, he assumed a courteous manner; congratulated the peasant on this fresh proof of his skill, which he had just exhibited; declared that his honor was perfectly appeased, and then coolly added, "Pray tell me, for what purpose have you concealed the shaft, which now peers from your girdle?"
Tell colored high, as he answered, that it was a custom, among the cross-bowmen of his canton, always to have an arrow in reserve.
"No, friend," replied the Governor, with a deceitful smile, "you wish to hide your motive from me. Speak frankly, and your life is spared; but dissemble and you shall die."
"Since you command, I will tell you plainly," returned William Tell. "Had I destroyed my son with yonder dart, this, which you now see, would have avenged his death by—"
"Mine ?" shouted the infuriated Gessler.
"Yes!" the prisoner calmly replied, "I intended to avenge his death by thine. Thy name is carved upon this shaft, meant for thy heart."
"Villain !" howled the tyrant, " I promised you your life, and my word shall not fail; but henceforth, I will take care to closet you so closely, that youriow, like yourself, shall ever prove harmless, and where your eyes shall never more be blessed with the light of day.'' And turning to the soldiers, he cried, "Load him anew with chains, and bear him to my boat, which lies idle on the lake, for ere yonder sun sets, the recreant shall be safely lodged in the dampest vault of my castle of Küssnacht." Then, amid the muttered curses of his subjects, who feared to oppose his men-at-arms, the savage Gessler left the marketplace, and, followed by his captive, walked rapidly to the little port of Hülen, which lies on the Lake of Lucerne.
The small vessel was soon made ready, and in the course of a half-hour, Gessler stepped on board, carrying with him the prisoner's crossbow and quiver, probably with the intention of hanging them up, according to religious custom, in some chapel, as a gage of his personal safety.
Tell took his seat in moody silence at a distance, and the oars, brought into full play, bore them rapidly towards the middle of the lake. The day was very beautiful, and the waters glowed like topaz in the sunlight. Not a cloud was visible save one dark mass, that hung its black mantle over some far-off mountain pinnacles, which rose in fantastic shapes, or like spectral forms, high in mid-air, while a transparent veil of vapor hung lightly over the surrounding pine forest.
Suddenly the wind increased; the folded clouds opened their wings, and spread rapidly over the entire blue sky; loud thunder reverberated through the hollow caverns; frequent flashes of lightning succeeded each other, with quick and dazzling brilliancy; the waves dashed wildly against the fragile bark, and the sailors were compelled to strain every nerve, in combat against the force of the united elements. At length, one huge surge came sweeping on so wildly, that the terrified steersman sprang from the helm, and throwing himself at Gessler's feet, declared that they were all lost, unless the prisoner Tell was set at liberty, and allowed to render his powerful assistance.
The passion for life burns strongest in the hearts of the cruel and wicked. A dread of the unknown future haunts them like a dark and angry presence; they have no confidence in safety, and in moments of danger, every unjust deed and every unrepented sin rises up as if in judgement against them.
It was even so with the mean-spirited Governor. He felt that his life was in jeopardy; and, in this time of danger, he was glad to order that the peasant's chains should be thrown aside, and even besought him, in the most servile language, to lend his aid in rescuing him from his present peril.
As his limbs recovered their freedom, Tell leaped boldly to the helm, and guiding the boat, with almost unearthly strength, through the boiling surges, soon reached a narrow pass, where mountains, rising perpendicularly on either side, scarcely offered a platform on which a human foot might stand. But the brave peasant felt that this was his only chance of escape; and, while every eye was directed to the precipice ahead, he seized on the crossbow and quiver, which lay unnoticed at the Governor's feet, and springing on a projecting cliff, he laid hold of the wild shrubs which grew from every crevice, and, with their precarious aid, soon stood at liberty, on the summit of the mountain.
In the mean while, there was sorrow and anxiety in William Tell's cottage. The dinner hour arrived, and Gertrude, his wife, summoned the little group to the frugal board; but when all had assembled, the young Rudolph was not to be found. The meal was finished, and still he did not appear; till, giving the youngest infant in charge to the eldest girl, the anxious mother left the cottage, and hastened in search of the truant boy.
In vain she wandered through the pine forests, alling aloud his name. There was no answer, save the moaning of the distant lake, and the breeze sighing through the thick foliage of the lindens. With fearless footsteps, she crossed the rude high bridge, a huge pine-tree, over the falling torrent; but no Rudolph was to be seen. There was one wild spot among the mountains, where the beautiful Alpine rose flourished abundantly, and whence he often culled a bouquet for his mother. Gertrude hastened thither, looking carefully into every crevice of the surrounding rocks, if, haply, he might have fallen asleep from fatigue ; but no footstep was visible .on the untrodden snow.
"I will seek Father Anselm, and ask his advice," sighed the now wretched mother, as she brushed a big tear from her cheek, and retraced her steps to that part of the hamlet, where the good pastor resided.
Father Anselm's heart was as open as day to melting charity. His ear was ever ready to hear each tale of distress and sorrow, and his voice never failed to speak consolation, and offer assistance.
"Let us walk to Altdorf," the vicar said, when he had heard her story; "who knows but that fearless child may have followed his father's footsteps?"
"Heaven bless you for the thought!" exclaimed Gertrude. "Yet see! the sun is fast declining, and you are too infirm to accompany me. I can well enough go alone." So saying, the grateful mother, with her heart beating high with hope, bade him farewell, and was soon treading the wellknown path which led to the village.
She did not beguile the way with songs and national chants, as she was accustomed to do; but once, when she caught the distant hymn which is sung every evening by the shepherds, among the hills, till it rings from Alp to Alp, as if Nature delighted to echo back, she too joined in the chorus contained in the following spirited and touching lines, which, sung among those grand and stupendous mountains, must indeed awaken a gush of pious joy and gratitude, in the soul of every listener:

"Brothers! the day declines ; above the glacier brightens, 
And red through Hundwyl pines the vesper halo lightens;
 From hamlet, rock, and châlet, your grateful song be pour'd, 
Till mountains, lake, and valley re-echo—Praise the Lord!

"The sun sleeps in the west, the stars gleam bright and cold, 
And bring the hour of rest to the shepherd and his fold; 
Now swell the mountain chorus to the One our sires adored, 
Whose glorious works before us still whisper—Praise the Lord!

"And hark! below, aloft, from cliffs that pierce the cloud, 
From blue lake, calm and soft, lull'd in its twilight shroud, 
Fresh strength our anthem gathers; from Alp to Alp, 'tis pour'd— 
The song that soothed our fathers—Ye shepherds, praise the Lord!

"Now, from forest, flood, and fell, let the voice of old and young, 
All the strength of Appenzell, true of heart and sweet of tongue,

The grateful hymn prolong, and tune the spirit's chord, 
Till yon stars take up our song—Hallelujah to the Lord!"

The village of Altdorf was soon reached, and the first person, whom Gertrude met on entering the street leading to the marketplace, was an old neighbour; and at her side walked the sweet child, who had been the cause of her anxiety. The mother, clasped the boy to her bosom, and tried to mingle severity with her tones of love, as she asked the reason for his thoughtless behavior; but her blood curdled with horror, and her limbs shook even to falling, as the peasant unfolded Rudolph's narrow escape, till, when the old crone stopped for a moment and leaned on her staff, Frau Tell raised her head, looked up into her lad's face, and perceived immediately that the worst was yet to be told.
"Speak! Rudolph, speak!" she shrieked aloud, as she grasped the weeping boy by the arm. "Tell me, where is your father? Why have you left him?"
The child sobbed convulsively, as he told how they had seized his father, and loaded him with heavy chains; but when he saw the deadly paleness of his mother's face, and felt her hand grow cold as marble in his clasp, he clung lovingly around her, exclaiming, " Mother! dear mother! only look up, and I will go myself, and beg the Governor for my poor father's life."
His words fell on a senseless ear, for the shock had been too much for Gertrude's feeble frame, and if it had not been for the support of young Rudolph, she would have fallen to the ground.
At length, she slowly recovered, and rising from his arm, murmured, " Come! my boy; let us go together. He cannot refuse our supplications."
The peasant, knowing that Gessler had accompanied his captive over the lake, sought to dissuade her from her purpose, and soothingly said, "No! friend, lean on me, and let us return to the hamlet. Tomorrow, we will come together; and, I trust, our united efforts may move the hard-hearted Governor."
With these words, the afflicted Gertrude was drawn from the marketplace, and, followed by Rudolph, they retraced their homeward steps.
But now let us go back to Lake Lucerne.
After being blown about for some time, at the mercy of the winds, the boat was at last driven to shore, and the infuriated Governor landed safely, but with every hot feeling of revenge burning fiercer than ever in his bosom. In his anxiety for their fate, Tell hid himself behind a projecting cliff, and watched in silence the progress of the mariners. He was relieved on seeing them land, at a spot about one hundred yards below his hiding-place, and at first purposed to return quietly to the hamlet. But, observing Gessler's furious gestures as he moved onward with his servants, he felt curious to know how he bore the disappointment resulting from the failure of his plan of vengeance, and therefore remained concealed behind a thick mass of the clustering rhododendron.
As they advanced, he was startled to hear his own name, coupled with expressions of the most bitter hatred; and caught the following conversation.
 "Yet surely, my lord, you will not condemn them unheard," said the steersman. "His innocent wife—"
"Ay ! and his young nest of eaglets too," growled the angry Gessler.
"Let me beseech you to spare the poor children," urged the boatman, in reply.
"Not one of them," shouted the Governor. "Tomorrow's sun shall set on a scaffold, heavy with the worthless carcasses of Tell, his pale-faced wife, and every one of his precious children. And thus I will break the neck of every Swiss lout who dares contradict my commands." And as he spoke, a deadly whiteness spread round his mouth, and his keen gray eyes lighted up with a fierce and eager joy, like those of some savage beast, before it pounces on its prey.
"Forgive me, if I err," murmured the excited Tell, as, seizing his bow, he placed an arrow, drew the string, and, in the next moment, struck the savage speaker immediately through the heart. Gessler, clutching the shaft embedded in the left side of his chest, uttered one loud cry of despair, gasping for his last breath, and fell heavily by the road-side, as the Governor's soldiers tried in vain to save him; while the peasant, alarmed by his own act, stopped not to know its results, but sprang from his covert, and, flying rapidly down the road, took the direction leading to the hamlet. He knew, from having partaken in enough hunts, when an animal was mortally wounded. And the Austrian beast, the scourge of the Four Cantons, would never rise again.
Groans and lamentations fell on his ear, as he reached his cottage door; for Gertrude was now giving free vent to her sorrow. As their father entered, the children broke out in exclamations of delighted surprise; and before another moment had elapsed, Tell clasped his weeping but happy wife to his bosom.

The news of the tyrant's death spread like lightning through the hamlet; and as the peasant stood with his family around their frugal board, on which was placed their usual supper of chestnut-cakes and milk, a warm prayer of thanksgiving burst from his lips, and he blessed being made the humble instrument of giving freedom to his unhappy country, and safely restored to his wife and precious children.
"And were they quite happy afterwards ?"
"Yes! beacon-fires were soon lit on the mountains, and one canton after another shook off the yoke of the Austrian oppressors, until, at last, the brave men of Switzerland were as free and independent as the wild chamois, that leap and sport among their snow-crowned hills."

And they all produced the following ballad:

"Unloose me, father! set me free,"

The weeping Rudolph cried,
As, witli vain strength, he sought to break

The cords so closely tied;
"What means all this? dear father, sayl"

He almost shriek'd aloud,
When first he caught his parent's face,
Amid that stranger-crowd.

The tall frame of the strong man shook

Like sapling in the storm,
As, with a fond, despairing gaze,

He clasp'd the boy's young form;
And bending o'er him, in low tones

Breathed words into his ear,
That brought hope's crimson to his cheek,

And calm'd his spirit's fear.

Then proudly did young Rudolph stand,

With his soft pleading eyes
Fix'd steadfastly upon his sire,

While on his bright head lies
The fatal mark, whose circle small

Must bear the dart secure,
Else Gessler's heart will ne'er relent,

And his rash words abjure.

It was a touching sight to see

That parent and his child,
The one with his white lips compreis'd

In heavy anguish wild;

The other, fair and beautiful,
With slight and graceful form,

Waiting the arrow, that perchance
Might drink his life-blood warm.

"God aid me now !" Tell cried aloud,

As, seizing his strong bow,
He drew the cord, while with the barb

His senses seem'd to go;
Till a wild shout of triumph rose

From crowds, that round him press'd; 
One moment more, and Rudolph fell

Half fainting on his breast.

Yes! he was safe ! the trial past!

But Oh ! what tongue can tell
The fearful weight of agony,

That on his spirit fell,
In that small, atom space of time,

When, whizzing through the air,
That slender dart, for life or death,

Parted his boy's soft hair.

Whene'er he drank, in after time,

That drop from memory's stream, 
Methinks to him it must have come

But as a frightful dream:  
Or if the stern reality

Could e'er an entrance find, 
Did it not stir up mystic springs

Within his grateful mind?

Ah! even until life's last hour,

There surely was one shrine, 
Where fond remembrance ne'er forgot

To offer gifts divine;
 And when, o'er mountain, vale, or field,

His Rudolph by him trod, 
Could he repress this gushing prayer?"

The incident is still proudly narrated in many an humble cottage among the Alps; and they were yet more gratified on learning that, thirty-one years after the patriot's death, (which happened by the falling of an avalanche,) and while eleven persons who had been intimately acquainted with him still lived, a chapel was erected on the very spot, where he leaped from the Governor's boat; and at each succeeding anniversary, the inhabitants of the different cantons still meet together, and commemorate the day, by a solemn feast.

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