Tell was roughly pushed into the boat, where he sat closely guarded on either side by soldiers. His bow and arrows, which had been taken from him, were thrown upon a bench beside the steersman.
Gessler took his seat. The boat started, and was soon out on the blue water of the lake. As the people of Altorf watched Tell go, their hearts sank. They had not known, until they saw him bound and a prisoner, how much they had trusted and loved him.
THE ESCAPE OF WILLIAM TELL
On the lakes of Switzerland storms of wind arise very quickly. The Swiss used to dread these storms so much that they gave names to the winds as if they were people. The south wind, which is the fiercest, they called the Foehn. There used to be a law that when the Foehn arose, all fires were to be put out. For the wind whistled and blew down the wide chimneys like great bellows, till the fires flared up so fiercely that the houses, which were built of wood, were in danger of being burned to the ground. Now one of these fierce storms arose.
No one noticed when Gessler’s boat pushed off from the shore how dark the sky had grown nor how keenly the wind was blowing. But before the boat had gone very far the waves began to rise, and the wind to blow fiercer and fiercer.
Soon the little boat was tossing wildly on great white-crested waves. The rowers bent to the oars and rowed with all their might. But in spite of all they could do, the waves broke over the boat, filling it with water. They were tossed here and there, until it seemed every minute that they would sink.
Pale with fear, the captain stood at the helm. He was an Austrian who knew nothing of the Swiss lakes, and he had never before been in such a storm. He was helpless, and he knew that very soon the boat would be a wreck.
Wrapped in his mantle, Gessler sat silent and still, watching the storm. He, too, knew the danger.
As the waves dashed over him, one of Gessler’s servants staggered to his master’s feet. “My lord,” he said, “you see our need and danger, yet methinks there is one man on board who could save us.”
“Who is that?” asked Gessler.
“William Tell, your prisoner,” replied the man. “He is known to be one of the best sailors on this lake. He knows every inch of it. If any one can save the boat, he can.”
“Bring him here,” said Gessler.
“It seems you are a sailor as well as an archer, Tell,” said Gessler, when his prisoner had been brought before him. “Can you save the boat and bring us to land?”
“Yes,” said Tell.
“Unbind him, then,” said Gessler to the soldier, “but mark you, Tell, you go not free. Even although you save us, you are still my prisoner. Do not think to have any reward.”
The rope which bound Tell’s hands was cut, and he took his place at the helm.