When Werner Stauffacher knocked at his friend's door, Walter Fürst came out to greet him. "Ah, dear friend," he said, "it is good to see your face in these evil days. Many times have I longed to talk with you of late."
"I, too, have longed to talk and ask advice," said Stauffacher, as he went indoors.
Soon they were seated together, talking earnestly. Werner told how, day by day, he had been saddened by tales of cruelty and injustice, and how, at last, after Gessler's visit, his wife, Gertrude, had persuaded him that the time had come when something must be done. And so he had set out from home and had gone among the people, trying to find out how they felt, and what they would be willing to do. "Everywhere," he said, "I find hatred of the Governors, hatred of the Austrians. We should be doing right to set ourselves against the tyrants. The people are ready to follow us, they need but leaders. Let us bind ourselves secretly together, then when we are strong enough we will rise and drive the Austrians out of the land."
"Mistress Gertrude is a wise woman," said Walter, "she is quite right. We cannot sit still and be crushed to death by tyrants. If we must die, it is better, as she says, to die fighting. I will do what I can among the people of Uri, and you, Werner, go among the people of Schwytz, and find out who will fight with us."
"That will I," replied Werner, "and Henri of Melchthal, I am sure, will help us in Unterwalden. He is a great man——"
"Alas, have you not heard?" said Walter.
"He is not dead?"
"He is not dead, but he is blind and poor. Landenberg, the Governor, has taken all his money and put out his eyes."
"Walter, Walter," cried Stauffacher, "how can you sit still and calmly tell me this?"
"I sit still because I must," said Walter, "because there seems no help, because Austria is powerful and we are weak. But, oh! I do not sit calmly, Werner. My blood boils when I think of it. The good old man, the good old man!"
There was silence between them for a few minutes. Then Walter spoke again and told Werner all that had happened to Henri of Melchthal. "Arnold," he added, "is hiding here. He often goes secretly to Unterwalden to see his father and his friends, but he is now in the house."
"Then he will join us," cried Stauffacher. "He is young, but for his father's sake he will join us, and he has many friends and relatives in Unterwalden. They will join us too. Call him in, Walter."
So Arnold was called in, and when he heard what Werner and Walter had to say, he was very glad. "You want to fight the tyrants," he cried, "oh, who would help you more gladly than I? I will do all in my power. I will work night and day. If only we can drive them from the land, I shall die happy."
Then calling upon God and His Saints to help them, these three men, Walter Fürst from Uri, Werner Stauffacher from Schwytz, and Arnold of Melchthal from Unterwalden, swore a solemn oath together. They swore to protect each other; never to betray each other; to be true even to death. They swore, too, to be true to the Empire, for the fight they meant to fight was against Austria only, not against the Empire. They had no wish to rob the Emperor of his just right over them. Their one desire was to be free from Austrian tyranny.
The three agreed that each should go back to his own land, and there secretly speak to the people and persuade them to join in fighting for their old freedom.
"We must meet again," said Stauffacher, "but it will not be safe for us to meet in any house."
"That is true," said Walter Fürst, "but I know of a little meadow called the Rütli. It lies just above the lake here. It is shut in by trees on every side. There we could safely meet by night."
"I know it," said Arnold, "it is the very place."
"I shall find it," said Stauffacher.
"Cross the lake in your boat," said Arnold, "and we will meet you on the shore and show you the way."
"Then let us fix a night on which to meet again," said Stauffacher.
"This is Wednesday," said Fürst, "in three weeks' time at midnight; will that do?"
"Yes," replied Stauffacher, "that is the Wednesday before Martinmas. That will do. In three weeks we have time to find out who will help us."
"Farewell till then."
Stauffacher and Arnold went quietly out into the dark night, and Walter Fürst stood long at the door looking after them.
What would the end be? he asked himself. What if they should fail?