ESSLER WILL NOT permit us to indulge the thoughts of our hearts in secret," said Tell; "for he hath recently devised a shrewd test, whereby he is enabled to discern the freeman from the slave throughout this province."
"And what is the test which the governor of Uri employeth for that purpose?"
"Thou hast heard our good pastor read in the Scripture of the prophet Daniel, of the golden image, which the tyrant Nebuchadnezzar caused to be erected. He made a decree that all nations and people of the world should bow down and worship it, and that those who refused to do so should be cast into a burning fiery furnace. Rememberest thou this, my beloved?"
"Certainly," Annette replied. "But what hath Gessler to do with that presumptuous folly of the King of Babylon?"
"Gessler," replied Tell, "imitates the presumption, albeit it is not in his power to rival the grandeur, of Nebuchadnezzar; for he hath set up an idol in the market-place of Altdorf, to which he requireth blind homage to be paid by fools and cowards. Now, the King of Babylon's idol, the prophet tells us, was of solid gold, a metal which the world is, I grieve to say, too prone to worship; but Gessler's paltry Baal is but the empty ducal bonnet of Austria, which he hath exalted on a pole; and he commands the men of Uri to bow down before it, under penalty of death. Wouldst thou wish thy husband to degrade the name of a Swiss, by stooping to such an action?"
"No," she replied, "I should blush for thee, if thou wert capable of such baseness."
"Thou hast spoken like a free woman," he exclaimed. "Yea, and thou shalt be the mother of free children: for the first time I go to Altdorf I will resist the edict, which enjoins me and my countrymen to pay homage to the senseless bauble which the German governor hath exalted in the market-place."
"But why go to Altdorf at all, my husband?" said the wife to Tell.
"My business calls me to Altdorf, and I shall go thither like an honest man, in the performance of my duty," replied Tell. "Thinkest thou that I am either to confess myself a slave, by bending my body to an empty cap, or to permit it to be a scarecrow, that shall fright me from entering the capital city of my native province, lest I should draw upon myself the penalty of refusing to perform a contemptible action, enjoined by a wicked man? No, no, my sweet wife; I shall go to Altdorf, when occasion may require, without considering myself bound to observe Gessler's foolish edict."
The return of Lalotte put an end to this discourse; and Annette began to assist her in taking up the supper.
Lalotte was the orphan of Tell's brother. Her parents had both died when she and her brother Philip were very young, and they had been adopted into the family of her kind uncle soon after his marriage with Annette. Lalotte was affectionate, sprightly, and industrious. She assisted her aunt in the household work and the dairy; and it was her business to take charge of the children, whom she carefully instructed in such things as she knew, and laboured to render them virtuous and obedient.
Philip, her brother, who was about a year older than herself, had been unfortunately a spoiled child. He was self-willed and intractable, and, though far from a bad disposition, was always getting himself and others into scrapes and difficulties.
That night his place at the board was vacant, which his uncle observing, said,
"Lalotte, where is your brother Philip?"
"Absent, uncle, I am sorry to say," replied Lalotte.
"It is not usual for Philip to desert the supper meal," observed Tell, "even if he be absent the rest of the day. I am afraid he is after no good."
A hasty step was heard; and Lalotte exclaimed, "I should not wonder if that were my scrapegrace brother!"
"It does not sound well of you to call him so, Lalotte, though he is a sad plague to us all," said Tell.
The door was hastily opened, and Philip bounced in out of breath, and covered with mud. He flung himself on a wooden settle beside the fire, and gave way to fits of laughter.
"How now, Philip! what is the cause of all this?" asked Tell gravely.
"Hurrah!" shouted he, springing from his seat, and capering about, "I have done such a deed!"
"Some notable piece of folly, no doubt," observed his uncle; "what is it, boy?"
"A deed that will render my name famous throughout the whole province of Uri, my good uncle. Everybody is talking about it in Altdorf at this very moment," exclaimed Philip, rubbing his hands.
"You have long been celebrated there as the ringleader of mischief," observed Tell; "but I doubt whether you will have much reason to exult in the evil reputation you have acquired, Philip. Therefore go to bed, and when you say your prayers, ask for grace to reform your evil habits."
"My good uncle," replied Philip, "be content. This night I have turned patriot, raised a rabble of boys, and pelted down the fool's cap which old Gessler had stuck up in the market-place of Altdorf, for Switzers to pay homage to. Is not that a glorious deed!"
"It is of a piece with the rest of your folly. Were you called upon to pay homage to the cap?"
"By no means, uncle, else must I perforce have made my obeisance to the empty bonnet of the Emperor-Duke of Austria. But this exploit of mine was after dark, when one boy could not be distinguished from another; and there were fully fifty of us engaged in pelting at the mock majesty till down it came, feathers and all, souse into the mud. Then, oh stars! how we all ran! But it was my stone that hit it, take notice: ha! ha! ha!"
"Your head must be as devoid of brains as the empty cap you pelted, Philip, or you never would have engaged in any such adventure."
"How, uncle!" cried Philip in amaze; "would you have me pay homage to the ducal bonnet without a head in it?"
"It seems you were not required to do so, Philip; therefore you had no pretext for raising a riot to break the peace."
"But, uncle, do you intend to yield obedience to the governor's tyrannous edict?"
"Philip," replied Tell, "I am a man, and of age to form a correct judgment of the things which it may be expedient to do or proper to refuse. But it is not meet for idle boys to breed riots and commit acts of open violence, calculated to plunge a whole country into confusion."
Philip withdrew with an air of great mortification and the family soon after retired to rest.