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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Alphonse Daudet (1840–1897)

William Tell

From “Tartarin in the Alps”

THE PARTY of travelers now came to the Lake of Lucerne, with its dark waters overshadowed by high and menacing mountains. To their right they saw that Ruetli meadow where Melchthal, Fuerst, and Stauffacher had sworn the oath to deliver their country.

Tartarin, deeply moved, took off his cap, and even threw it into the air three times to render homage to the shades of the departed heroes. Some of the tourists mistook this for a salutation, and bowed in return. At last they reached Tell’s Chapel. This chapel is situated at the edge of the lake, on the very rock upon which, during the storm, William Tell jumped from Gessler’s boat. And it was a delicious emotion to Tartarin, while he followed the travelers along the lake, to tread this historic ground, to recall and revive the various scenes of this great drama, which he knew as well as his own biography.

For William Tell had always been his ideal man. When at Bézuquet’s pharmacy the game of Preferences was being played, and each one wrote on his slip of paper the name of the poet, the tree, the odor, the hero, and the woman that he preferred to all others of their kind, one slip invariably bore this inscription:

“Favorite tree?—The baobab.

“Favorite odor?—Gunpowder.

“Favorite author?—Fenimore Cooper.

“Who would you like to have been?—William Tell.”

And then everybody would exclaim, “That’s Tartarin!”

Imagine, then, how happy he was, and how his heart beat when he stood before the chapel commemorative of the gratitude of a whole nation. It seemed to him as if William Tell must come in person to open the door, still dripping from the waters of the lake, and holding in his hand his bolts and crossbow.

“Don’t come in here. I’m working. This is not the day on which tourists are allowed,” sounded a strong voice from the interior, reechoing against the walls.

“M. Astier-Réhu, of the French Academy!”

“Herr Professor Doctor Schwanthaler!”

“Tartarin of Tarascon!”

The painter, who was standing on a scaffolding within, stretched out half of his body clad in his working-blouse, and holding his palette in his hand.

“My pupil will come down and open the door for you, gentlemen,” he said in a respectful tone.

“I was sure of it; of course,” said Tartarin to himself, “I have only to mention my name.”

For all that, he had the good taste to fall into line and modestly enter the chapel behind the others.

The painter, a splendid fellow, with a magnificent golden head of an artist of the Renaissance, received his visitors on the wooden staircase which led to the temporary scaffolding from which the mural paintings were being done. All the frescos, representing scenes from Tell’s life, were complete, except the one in which the scene of the apple at Altorf was to be shown. Upon that the painter was now working….

“I find it all very characteristically done,” said the great Astier-Réhu.

And Schwanthaler, folding his arms, recited two of Schiller’s verses, half of which was lost in his beard. Then the ladies delivered their opinions, and for some minutes one would have thought oneself in a confectioner’s shop. “Beautiful!” they cried. “Lovely! Exquisite! Delicious!”

Suddenly came a voice, tearing the silence like a trumpet’s blare:

“Badly shouldered, that blunderbuss, I tell you! He never held it in that way!”

Imagine the stupefaction of the painter when this tourist, stick in hand and bundle on his back, undertook to demonstrate to him as clearly as that two and two are four, that the position of Tell in the picture was incorrect.

“And I understand these matters, I would have you know!”

“And who are you?”

“Who am I?” said our Tarasconian hero, deeply astonished. And so it was not at his name that the door had opened. Drawing himself up, he answered, “Ask the panthers of Zaccar, or the lions of Atlas, and perhaps they will answer you.”

Every one drew away from Tartarin in fright and consternation.

“But then,” asked the painter, “in what respect is Tell’s position incorrect?”

“Look at me!”

Falling back with a double step that made the planks creak, Tartarin, using his cane to represent the “blunderbuss,” threw himself into position.

“Superb! He is right! Don’t move!” cried the painter. Then to his pupil:

“Quick, bring me paper and charcoal!”