[ILLUSTRATION: THE OATH ON THE RUeTLI As performed at the Royal Theatre, Dresden 1906.]
* * * * *
Court before TELL’S house. TELL with an axe. HEDWIG engaged in her domestic duties. WALTER and WILLIAM in the background, playing with a little cross-bow.
With his cross-bow, and his quiver,
The huntsman speeds his way,
Over mountain, dale, and river,
At the dawning of the day.
As the eagle, on wild pinion,
Is the king in realms of air,
So the hunter claims dominion
Over crag and forest lair.
Far as ever bow can carry,
Thro’ the trackless airy space,
All he sees he makes his quarry,
Soaring bird and beast of chase.
WILLIAM (runs forward).
My string has snapt! Oh, father, mend it, do!
Not I; a true-born archer helps himself.
The boys begin to use the bow betimes.
’Tis early practice only makes the master.
Ah! Would to heaven they never learnt the art!
But they shall learn it, wife, in all its points.
Whoe’er would carve an independent way
Through life, must learn to ward or plant a blow.
Alas, alas! and they will never rest
Contentedly at home.
No more can I!
I was not framed by nature for a shepherd.
My restless spirit ever yearns for change;
I only feel the flush and joy of life
If I can start fresh quarry every day.
Heedless the while of all your wife’s alarms,
As she sits watching through long hours at home.
For my soul sinks with terror at the tales
The servants tell about the risks you run;
Whene’er we part, my trembling heart forebodes
That you will ne’er come back to me again.
I see you on the frozen mountain steeps,
Missing, perchance, your leap from crag to crag.
I see the chamois, with a wild rebound,
Drag you down with him o’er the precipice.
I see the avalanche close o’er your head,
The treacherous ice give way, and you sink down
Entombed alive within its hideous gulf.
Ah! in a hundred varying forms does death
Pursue the Alpine huntsman on his course.
That way of life can surely ne’er be blessed,
Where life and limb are perill’d every hour.
The man that bears a quick and steady eye,
And trusts in God, and his own lusty thews,
Passes, with scarce a scar, through every danger.
The mountain cannot awe the mountain child.
[Having finished his work he lays aside his tools.]
And now, methinks, the door will hold awhile—
Axe in the house oft saves the carpenter.