No one has characterized freedom and the fatherland more beautifully than the German writer, Ernst Moritz Arndt. I quote his words, and devoutly hope they will make a deep impression upon every young reader's heart. He says:
"Where God's sun and the stars of heaven first shine upon thee, 0 man, where His lightnings first reveal His omnipotence and His storm-winds fill thy soul with awe, there is thy beloved fatherland. Where a human face first bends lovingly over thy cradle, where thy mother first caresses thee upon her lap and thy father first impresses upon thee the lessons of wisdom, there is thy beloved fatherland. It may be a barren mountain-side or a desert island, and toil and wretchedness may be thy only companions, yet thou must ever love that land, cherish it, and never forget it. Freedom also is no empty dream, no vain delusion. It is the inspiring element in thy courage, and thy pride, and in the consciousness that thy origin is divine. It exists only where thou canst follow the manners and customs and live according to the precepts of thy fathers; where thou art happy in the enjoyment of those things that made thy forbears happy; and where no foreign oppressor tyrannizes over thee and no foreign taskmaster drives thee like a beast. Such a fatherland and such freedom as this are the synonyms of love and loyalty, and are the noblest possessions which a good man can cherish or aspire to, outside of religion, which brings with it still higher freedom."
He who reads these words and fully appreciates their meaning will understand me when I tell him that the souls of the men of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden were saddened because their rights and privileges had been wantonly invaded by strangers. How it occurred will be explained in the progress of this narrative.
There was one person who cared nothing for the wrongs of the brave men of his country, a young man of good family in Unterwalden, Wolfshot by name. Freedom and fatherland were meaningless words to him. He attached himself to the Austrian court, and had his reward in a title and gold. Shortly thereafter he offered his services to the Governor of Unterwalden, and was appointed castle governor by him. In this position he occupied the castle of Rossburg, and ruled his people in the most tyrannical manner. He punished their slightest offences with the severest penalties, and gave such license to his base passions that he even made vile attacks upon their honor and virtue. He dragged wives and daughters to his castle by force and released them only at his own pleasure.
BAUMGARTEN FLED, AND SOUGHT TO REACH THE FERRYMAN'S HOUSE.
A brave man named Baumgarten, who had a wife as beautiful as she was virtuous, lived at a charming spot in the vicinity of the castle. One day Wolfshot attempted to force her to go with him to the castle, but she evaded him upon some pretext, flew to the rear door of the house, and called her husband. Baumgarten, beside himself with rage, rushed into the room where Wolfshot was, and killed him with his axe. The dead man's horse was standing at the door, and several horsemen were also waiting there. Baumgarten fled, and, following a footpath, sought to reach the ferryman's house on the shore of the lake. Unluckily the Fohn, that dangerous wind which at times stirs the lake to its very depths,—a spectacle as impressive as it is fearful,—began to blow furiously. Wolfshot remained in the house so long that at last the horsemen grew uneasy, and one of them entered. He was astounded when he saw him lying on the floor with his skull cleft. The horsemen, with drawn swords, searched the house and grounds, but found only a maid in the garden, whom they threatened to kill on the spot unless she told the name of the murderer and where he was concealed. Knowing nothing about the matter, the maid fell upon her knees and protested she had not heard until then that a murder had been committed. Owing to her terror, however, she acknowledged she had seen Baumgarten enter the house with his axe in his hand and come out again shortly afterwards. Fresh tracks were found in a field back of the house, which aroused their suspicion that he had fled to the ferry.
In the meantime Tell, who had gone to the ferry to be taken across the lake, was sitting with the ferryman in his house. Seeing that the storm was dangerous and the waves were rolling high, he decided to wait until it subsided. Suddenly he heard a loud cry outside.
"I am a doomed man," said the voice, "unless you take me across the lake."
"I would not do it in this storm if you should offer me all the treasures of the earth," replied the ferryman.
Tell went out and found Baumgarten, whom he knew, standing there with a pale face and piteously wringing his hands. "Save me, Tell," he implored; "make the ferryman take me across. Wolfshot's horsemen are close on my track."
"What have you done? Why are they chasing you?"
"You know Wolfshot, Tell, the bold despoiler of the honor and virtue of our women? He even invaded my house, and I slew him with my axe."
"Ha! you did well," said Tell. Then he laid hands upon the ferryman and said, "You must take Baumgarten across immediately."
The man was paralyzed with fear. "For Heaven's sake, Tell," he answered, "do me no violence. I would not venture out on the lake to save my own brother from death." The ferryman's wife cried out, "By all the saints, Tell, just see the waves." The children also came and clung to their father, crying loudly.
Tell released the ferryman, saying, "No, I will compel no man. But the man—"
"Merciful Heavens!" cried Baumgarten, "look! There come the horsemen."
"Let them come," said Tell. "They shall not catch you. With God's help I will try to save you.
"Oh, Tell, Oh, Tell!" said Baumgarten, as they rushed to the boat.
Tell unloosed it, jumped in, and pushed off. The ferryman raised his hands and shouted, "May the Heavenly Father protect you!" Tell strove powerfully against the raging waters, which pitched the little craft about as if it had been a nutshell.
The horsemen by this time had come up. One of them sprang from his horse, and angrily exclaimed to the ferryman: "Baumgarten is here. Give him up or you shall lose your life."
"I have not concealed him," said the ferryman in mortal terror. "Look! there he is, on the lake."
"Curse him," said the horseman; "the murderer has escaped us. But why did you let him have the boat?"
"You are a pack of traitors, all of you," said another horseman.
"Why did you let him have the boat?" repeated the first speaker, brandishing his sword.
"How could I stop the men from taking it?" replied the ferryman.
Curses followed the fugitives as the boat disappeared round a rocky point. The enraged horsemen decided to take the ferryman back with them to Rossburg. "You should have resisted them, even at the cost of your life, rather than let the murderer of your master escape across the lake," they said. "Now you shall expiate your offence as an accessory by imprisonment, and you shall also forfeit your right for all time to be a ferryman." They tied his hands behind him, and forced him to precede them. His wife and children appealed to Heaven for help.