Werner Stauffacher said good-bye to his wife Gertrude, and set out for the Canton of Uri. There he spent some days going from village to village, trying to find out how the peasants and common people felt. Everywhere that he went he heard bitter complaints and groans. Gessler was cruel to every one, high and low, and every one was full of hatred against him. One of the things which troubled the people most was the building of the castle near Altorf, which Gessler called the "Curb of Uri." The castle was still unfinished, but Gessler already used it as a prison.
Stauffacher was glad when he heard how every one hated Gessler, and when he had found out what the common people thought, he resolved to visit his friend Walter Fürst. So he went to Altorf where Walter lived.
As Stauffacher crossed the market-place to go to Walter's house, he heard a great noise of shouting and trampling of feet. He stopped to see what it might mean.
Down the street a party of Austrian soldiers came marching. One of them carried a long pole, and another a red cap with a peacock's feather in it. Behind them followed a crowd of women and children, laughing and shouting.
The soldiers marched into the square, which was surrounded by houses and shaded by lime-trees. In the square they stopped and looked around.
"Where shall we put it?" said one.
"Here in the middle."
"No, here at the cross-roads."
"Yes, that is better, the folk must pass that way."
The soldiers gathered round, and while some of them kept the people back, others dug a hole. Then the pole with the red cap on top of it was firmly planted in the ground.
What could this mean, Stauffacher asked himself, as he stood looking on.
As soon as the pole was set up, a gaily-clad herald stepped out from the crowd and blew his trumpet.
A gaily clad herald stepped out from the crowd
"Silence!" he cried. "All listen and attend, in the name of his most sacred Majesty the Emperor. See ye this cap here set up? It is His Majesty's will and commandment that ye do all bow the knee and bend the head as ye do pass it by. Ye shall do all reverence to it as to His Majesty the Emperor himself. Whoso disobeys shall be punished by imprisonment and death."
Then, with another flourish of trumpets, the herald and the soldiers marched off, followed by a loud laugh of scorn from the crowd which had gathered.
"What new folly of the Governor's is this?" they cried.
"Who ever heard of such nonsense?"
"Bow to a cap—an empty cap!"
"If it were even the Emperor's crown! But Gessler's cap!"
"Shame on him!"
"What freeborn man will so dishonour himself?"
This was a new insult to a free people. They had never refused homage to the Emperor, nor obedience to any of the great nobles who had been sent to rule over them. But to bare the head and bend the knee before a cap! It was not to be borne. But what could they do? Who was there to help them?
So, with many murmurs and heavy hearts, the people went slowly away, and the market-place was left empty, except for the hat upon the pole and the soldier who watched beside it.
Full of thoughts both sad and angry Stauffacher went on to the house of Walter Fürst.