Grimm’s Saga No. 518: Wilhelm Tell
Now it happened that the Kaiser’s bailiff named Grissler rode out to Uri. And when he had lived there some time he erected a pole under the linden tree and everyone had to pass by it. On this pole he placed a hat and ordered a farmhand to sit there and keep watch. He ordered the following public proclamation: Whoever passes must bow to the hat as if the master himself stood there. And if a person did not see the hat and did not bow, he would be punished and have to pay a hefty fine.
Now a pious man resided in the land; his name was Wilhelm Tell. He stood before the hat but would not bow. The servant who guarded the hat now accused Tell before the bailiff. The bailiff had Tell brought before him and asked why he did not bow before the tree and hat, as was commanded. Wilhelm Tell answered: “Dear sir, it is something like this; I do not believe that Your Grace is held in high regard. If I were a funny fellow, I would not be called Tell.”
Now Tell was a good marksman, his equal could not be found in all the land. He also had handsome children whom he loved. The bailiff had the children brought before him and when they arrived he asked Tell, which child was the dearest of all. “I love them all the same,” Tell replied. Grissler replied “Wilhelm, you are a good shot. One cannot find your equal in all the land. You shall now prove it to me. You shall take your children and shoot an apple from one of their heads.”
The goodly Tell recoiled. He begged for mercy for what was asked was not natural. He would do anything else asked. But the bailiff forced him with his servants and placed the apple on the child’s head himself. Now Tell saw that he could not avert the issue. He took the arrow and placed one in his quiver. With the other hand he took another arrow, loaded it in the crossbow and asked God to protect his child. He aimed and shot and the arrow happily struck the apple on the child’s head. Geissler said it was a master shot. “But one thing you shall tell me: What does it mean that you hold another arrow behind in your quiver?”
“It is the habit of marksmen.” But the bailiff would not cease needling him and wanted to hear an explanation. Finally Tell admitted that he feared for his life if he told the truth. When the bailiff promised to preserve his life, Tell spoke: “I did it because of this: if I had missed the apple and shot my child, I wouldn’t have missed hitting you with the next arrow. When the bailiff heard this he said: “Your life has been promised you; but I want to put an end to all this so that sun and moon cease shining for you!” He had him seized and bound and placed in a boat so that he could be conveyed back to Schwyz. As they were traveling on the sea and came near Axen, they met a strong wind. The ship swayed back and forth and they all thought they would meet a miserable end. None of them knew how to steer the vehicle through the waves. One of the servants spoke to the bailiff: “Unbind Tell. He is a strong and powerful man and understands what to do in such weather. We want to escape this calamity.” The bailiff spoke and called to Tell: “If you help us and do your best so that we can escape, I will have you unbound.”
Tell replied: “Yes gracious sir. I will do it gladly. Trust me.” Tell was then unbound and stood at the helm of the ship in good faith. And so he waited for his advantage, espying his crossbow lying on the floor. They now approached a large rock which since has been called Tell’s Plate and is stilled called that today. It dawned on him that he might now escape and cried out to them all to row hard until they arrived at the base of the rock, because when they passed it they would be through the worst of the waves. So while they rowed close to the rock he forcefully turned the ship as he was a strong man. He reached for his crossbow and jumped onto the rock, pushing the boat back where it rocked back and forth on the water.
Quickly retreating into the shadows of Schwyz (through the dark mountains), he finally arrived in the empty streets of Kuessnacht. There he waited for the bailiff and his men. When the bailiff arrived with his men, Tell stood behind a brushy shrub and heard the noise of the attackers coming his way. He spanned his crossbow and shot an arrow into that man, who fell down dead. Tell ran away quickly over the mountains to Uri, found his comrades and told them all that had happened.
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