Once upon a time, more years ago than anybody can remember, before the first hotel had been built or the first Englishman had taken a photograph of Mont Blanc and brought it home to be pasted in an album and shown after tea to his envious friends, Switzerland belonged to the Emperor of Austria, to do what he liked with.
One of the first things the Emperor did was to send his friend Hermann Gessler to govern the country. Gessler was not a nice man, and it soon became plain that he would never make himself really popular with the Swiss. The point on which they disagreed in particular was the question of taxes. The Swiss, who were a simple and thrifty people, objected to paying taxes of any sort. They said they wanted to spend their money on all kinds of other things. Gessler, on the other hand, wished to put a tax on everything, and, being Governor, he did it. He made everyone who owned a flock of sheep pay a certain sum of money to him; and if the farmer sold his sheep and bought cows, he had to pay rather more money to Gessler for the cows than he had paid for the sheep. Gessler also taxed bread, and biscuits, and jam, and buns, and lemonade, and, in fact, everything he could think of, till the people of Switzerland determined to complain. They appointed Walter Fürst, who had red hair and looked fierce; Werner Stauffacher, who had gray hair and was always wondering how he ought to pronounce his name; and Arnold of Melchthal, who had light-yellow hair and was supposed to know a great deal about the law, to make the complaint. They called on the Governor one lovely morning in April, and were shown into the Hall of Audience.
"Well," said Gessler, "and what's the matter now?"
The other two pushed Walter Fürst forward because he looked fierce, and they thought he might frighten the Governor.
Walter Fürst coughed.
"Well?" asked Gessler.
"Er—ahem!" said Walter Fürst.
"That's the way," whispered Werner; "give it him!"
"Er—ahem!" said Walter Fürst again; "the fact is, your Governorship—"
"It's a small point," interrupted Gessler, "but I'm generally called 'your Excellency.' Yes?"
"The fact is, your Excellency, it seems to the people of Switzerland—"
"—Whom I represent," whispered Arnold of Melchthal.
"—Whom I represent, that things want changing."
"What things?" inquired Gessler.
"The taxes, your excellent Governorship."
"Change the taxes? Why, don't the people of Switzerland think there are enough taxes?"
Arnold of Melchthal broke in hastily.
"They think there are many too many," he said. "What with the tax on sheep, and the tax on cows, and the tax on bread, and the tax on tea, and the tax—"
"I know, I know," Gessler interrupted; "I know all the taxes.Come to the point. What about 'em?"
"Well, your Excellency, there are too many of them."
"Yes. And we are not going to put up with it any longer!" shoutedArnold of Melchthal.
Gessler leaned forward in his throne.
"Might I ask you to repeat that remark?" he said.
"We are not going to put up with it any longer!"
Gessler sat back again with an ugly smile....