As soon as Gessler landed, he called for his horse, and silent and gloomy, his heart full of bitter hate against Tell and all the Swiss, he mounted and rode towards his castle at Küssnacht.
But Tell's heart, too, was full of hate and anger. That morning he had been a gentle, peace-loving man. Now all was changed. Gessler's cruel jest had made him hard and angry. He could not forget that he might have killed his own boy. He seemed to see always before him Walter bound to the tree with the apple on his head. Tell made up his mind that Gessler should never make any one else suffer so much. There was only one thing to do. That was to kill Gessler, and that Tell meant to do.
If Gessler escaped from the storm, Tell was sure that he would go straight to his castle at Küssnacht. There was only one road which led from the lake to the castle, and at a place called the Hollow Way it became very narrow, and the banks rose steep and rugged on either side. There Tell made up his mind to wait for Gessler. There he meant to free his country from the cruel tyrant.
Without stopping for food or rest, Tell hurried through the woods until he came to the Hollow Way. There he waited and watched. Many people passed along the road. There were herds with their flocks, and travellers of all kinds, among them a poor woman whose husband had been put in prison by Gessler, so that now she had no home, and had to wander about with her children begging. She stopped and spoke to Tell, and the story she told of Gessler's cruelty made Tell's heart burn with anger, and made him more sure than ever that the deed he meant to do was just and right.
The day went on, and still Gessler did not come, and still Tell waited. At last he heard the distant tramp of feet and the sound of voices. Surely he had come at last. But as the sounds came nearer, Tell knew that it could not be Gessler, for he heard music and laughter, and through the Hollow Way came a gaily dressed crowd. It was a wedding-party. Laughing and merry, the bride and bridegroom with their friends passed along. When they were out of sight the wind brought back the sound of their merry voices to Tell, as he waited upon the bank. They, at least, had for a time forgotten Gessler.
At last, as the sun was setting, Tell heard the tramp of horses, and a herald dashed along the road, shouting, "Room for the Governor. Room, I say."
As Gessler came slowly on behind, Tell could hear him talking in a loud and angry voice to a friend. "Obedience I will have," he was saying. "I have been far too mild a ruler over this people. They grow too proud. But I will break their pride. Let them prate of freedom, indeed. I will crush——." The sentence was never finished. An arrow whizzed through the air, and with a groan Gessler fell, dead.
Tell's second arrow had found its mark.
Tell's second arrow had found its mark
Immediately everything was in confusion. Gessler's soldiers crowded round, trying to do something for their master. But it was useless. He was dead. Tell's aim had been true.
"Who has done this foul murder?" cried one of Gessler's friends, looking round.
"The shot was mine," answered Tell, from where he stood on the high bank. "But no murder have I done. I have but freed an unoffending people from a base and cowardly tyrant. My cause is just, let God be the judge."
At the sound of his voice every one turned to look at Tell, as he stood above them calm and unafraid.
"Seize him!" cried the man who had already spoken, as soon as he recovered from his astonishment. "Seize him, it is Tell the archer."
Five or six men scrambled up the steep bank as fast as they could. But Tell slipped quietly through the bushes, and when they reached the top he was nowhere to be found.
The short winter's day was closing in fast, and Tell found it easy to escape in the darkness from Gessler's soldiers. They soon gave up the chase, and, returning to the road, took up their master's dead body and carried it to his castle at Küssnacht. There was little sorrow for him, for he had been a hard master. The Austrian soldiers did not grieve, and the Swiss, wherever they heard the news, rejoiced.
As soon as he was free of the soldiers, Tell turned and made for Stauffacher's house. All through the night he walked, until he came to the pretty house with its red roofs and many windows which had made Gessler so angry.
Now there was no light in any of the windows, and all was still and quiet. But Tell knew in which of the rooms Stauffacher slept, and he knocked softly upon the window until he had aroused his friend.
"William Tell!" said Stauffacher in astonishment. "I heard from Walter Fürst that you were a prisoner. Thank Heaven that you are free again."
"I am free," said Tell; "you, too, are free. Gessler is dead."
"Gessler dead!" exclaimed Stauffacher. "Now indeed have we cause for thankfulness. Tell me, how did it happen?" and he drew William Tell into the house.
Tell soon told all his story. Then Stauffacher, seeing how weary he was, gave him food and made him rest.
That night Tell slept well. All next day he remained hidden in Stauffacher's house. "You must not go," said his friend, "Gessler's soldiers will be searching for you." But when evening came Tell crept out into the dark again, and kind friends rowed him across the lake back to Fluelen. There, where a few days before he had been a prisoner, he landed, now free.
Tell went at once to Walter Fürst's house, and soon messengers were hurrying all through the land to gather together again the Confederates, as those who had met on the Rütli were called.
This time they gathered with less fear and less secrecy, for was not the dreaded Governor dead? Not one but was glad, yet some of the Confederates blamed Tell, for they had all promised to wait until the first of January before doing anything. "I know," said Tell, "but he drove me to it." And every man there who had left a little boy at home felt that he too might have done the same thing.
Now that Tell had struck the first blow, some of the Confederates wished to rise at once. But others said, "No, it is only a few weeks now until New Year's Day. Let us wait."
So they waited, and everything seemed quiet and peaceful in the land, for the Emperor sent no Governor to take Gessler's place, as he was far away in Austria, too busy fighting and quarrelling there to think of Switzerland in the meantime. "When I have finished this war," he said, "it will be time enough to crush these Swiss rebels."