Stauffacher and His Heroic Wife
Baumgarten, who was saved by Tell's bold deed, was kept in concealment in Steinen, in the canton of Schwyz, by the highly esteemed and wealthy Werner Stauffacher, who had built a large and beautiful house there, glistening with many windows and having many wise proverbs and mottoes painted on it.
The day was nearly spent, and Stauffacher, his wife Margaretha, and her nephew, who was visiting them, were sitting before the door of this beautiful house. The nephew, a handsome youth, who had arrived that day by boat from Unterwalden, told them that Landenberg, the Governor, had sent another castle governor to Rossburg, in place of the slain Wolfshot, but had not abandoned his efforts to find Baumgarten.
"Well, they evidently have no intention of searching every defile and cavern," said Stauffacher. "If they had, they would have done so already. It is more likely they have decided he will risk going home, if only for a single night. Doubtless they are laying traps for him there."
The young man also told them much about the newly appointed Governor, Landenberg, and of the growing discontent among the people of Unterwalden. At last he said that he had been longing for some time to ask his uncle to explain by what right these governors were in the country. He had heard something about it, but he knew his uncle could make it clear to him.
"Well, listen," replied Stauffacher. "I will briefly tell you what you are so anxious to know. Our three cantons have been leagued together for a long time. Now it happened that the Count of Hapsburg was chosen Emperor by the German princes and cities. As Count, we had found him a noble, judicious, and courageous man. His imperial elevation made no change in him, and when we found that as Emperor he was neither arrogant nor tyrannical, our confidence in him increased. In those days we were under the protection of the German Empire; consequently, as he wore the Emperor's crown, he was our protector. But, mark this—we had given up none of our rights. The reigning Emperor is our protector, and in return we give him assistance in any wars in which he may be engaged. So long as Rudolph lived, all went well, but when he died, and his son Albrecht succeeded him, the evil days began. His intention at the outset was to gain complete control of the country; but we would not consent. For that reason he sends these governors to humble us and force us to yield. He hopes—"
Stauffacher paused, for he saw a troop of horsemen approaching from a neighboring forest. "That is always the way," said he. "Speak of the wolf and he is sure to be close by. There comes Gessler, the Governor. I wish I were elsewhere; but I must not go inside, as that would offend him."
Gessler was scarcely thirty years of age. He was a man of powerful physique, with a heavy, bearded face, upon which shamelessness had left its unmistakable imprint—one who was marked by nature as likely to harm any one who crossed his path. He wore armor, and over it a rich coat of arms, which was bordered and lined with miniver. A large medal attached to a gold chain hung upon his breast as an emblem of his rank. He glanced fiercely about him, as if he were eager to intimidate the people and extinguish their inborn love of liberty. His efforts, however, had not met with success, and this made him so angry that he was continually racking his brains to find some way of accomplishing his purpose.
As he approached the house, Stauffacher arose and greeted him, but Gessler did not return the civility. Turning to the nearest attendant, he pointed to the handsome house and insolently said: "How much longer shall we suffer these peasants to build so finely?" Thereupon he rode away chuckling, because he fancied he had humiliated this distinguished man by wounding him in his most sensitive spot. The foolish man was mistaken, however. His vile words had only roused still higher pride in the breast of the nobleman whom he had sought to insult. Many of Stauffacher's ancestors had been renowned men,—knights and abbot princes. He had fought bravely himself, and, had he desired it, would not have been refused knighthood; but he preferred to hasten home at the close of the war. To live as a free man in a free country was more to him than the honors of knighthood or the cloister.
He sat for some time silently considering Gessler's insolence. At last his wife Margaretha broke the silence. "Were I a man," said she, "I would no longer endure such insolence."
"Should I have offended him here?" replied Stauffacher.
"Oh, no, not that, Werner," replied his wife; "but you men of the three cantons, Schwyz, Unterwalden, and Uri, should take counsel with one another and decide what is to be done to save the country from such tyranny."
"Margaretha, what feelings you have aroused in my breast!" replied Stauffacher. "But have you considered how strong the castles of these governors are, and how many armed men are at their call? Have you considered that opposition to the governors means opposition to the powerful Albrecht?"
"Werner," replied his wife, "when I was in my father's house you often came there, and sat in the evening upon the bench before the, door. You often talked with my father. Once you told of a battle which the patriots, though few in number, undertook against a powerful force. I expressed my astonishment. Then you looked at me. I can see even now how your eyes flashed as you said, 'Who ever heard of the Swiss caring for the number of their enemies?' From that hour I loved you, and I gladly gave you my hand when you asked me to be your wife, and now, Werner, you are counting your enemies."
"Listen, dear wife," said Stauffacher. "At that time only my own life was at stake. Now, I am father of a family. We men can gladly die in freedom's battles, but what will become of you? The enemy's hirelings would overrun the country, and commit shameless outrages upon those left helpless at the firesides."
"You are mistaken, Werner," said Margaretha. "Do not the ancients tell how the mothers and daughters fought with the men when it was necessary to protect freedom and the fatherland? But should all be lost on the fatal field, should our banners go down in defeat and our heroes lose their lives, and should the destroying angel spare me, oh, Werner, I would rather hurl myself into the deepest abyss than live in a dishonored fatherland trampled underfoot by a haughty conqueror."
"Noble wife," exclaimed Stauffacher, his eyes glowing with enthusiasm. "My future is now clear, and may it bring to you all that you desire." The two spoke of many things, and at last Stauffacher decided to visit Walter Furst and confer with him as to the wrongs and the welfare of the fatherland.