Arnold of Winkelried: The Hero of Sempach Life Stories for Young People – eBook


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The Lake of the Four Forest Cantons, lying amidst the four cantons, Uri, Unterwalden, Schwyz, and Lucerne, from which it derives its name, surpasses all other Swiss lakes in the grandeur of its natural beauty and in the wealth of its historical associations. In the year 1315, which is about the period in which the events of this story occurred, there was upon this lake a little flotilla, which seems insignificant enough when compared with the powerful fleets of the present day. At that time the cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden were frequently engaged in hostilities with their neighbor Lucerne, which still adhered to Austria. Their encounters took place on skiffs and boats and clumsy vessels along the shores of the lake. One big, sharp-pointed, oaken craft, called the Goose, was the flagship of the Lucerne fleet. The Fox was the flagship of Uri. One day the Lucerne flagship ventured too near the shore and was struck by a millstone which the Unterwaldeners hurled down upon it from a watch-tower, and which so disabled it that Lucernes naval power was virtually destroyed. At the point where the lake makes a wide bend to the south into the very heart of the Alps lies Unterwalden, among precipitous cliffs and mountain pastures. It is a majestic sight when the mists clear away on a bright summers morning and the Rigi, Pilatus, the rocky summits of Schwyz, and the range of mountain-peaks extending even to the distant dazzling Jungfrau and the Black Monk are revealed in the brilliant atmosphere. The name Unterwalden was applied to this picturesque region in modern times. It is not known what it was called in ancient times, but there can be no doubt that it was inhabited, as it contains unusually rich pasturage for animals and offers favorable opportunities for hunting and fishing. Not far away from the lake is the little city of Stans, situated in a luxuriant garden, whose fruitfulness is unimpaired, although from the middle of November until the beginning of February the sun is visible only in the morning between Briefenberg and the Staufer Horn, and in the afternoon never gilds the roofs of the little place. At the eastern extremity of the city stands, even to this day, the Winkelried house, to which we shall now introduce our readers. They must imagine themselves in the middle of the fourteenth century. Although it had ample sleeping-rooms, spacious closets, and large, gayly colored chests in which the linen and garments were kept, as well as other conveniences, a single room was the familys living apartment. A long wooden bench stood against the wall, in front of which was a large oaken table with massive feet. Some wooden chairs and a leathern arm-chair completed the furniture. Tankards, dishes, and glasses were arranged on shelves, and some silver vessels were enclosed in a beautifully carved cabinet. A holy-water ewer was fastened near the door, and a crucifix hung between the windows. Instead of a stove there was an open coal fire, into which thyme was sprinkled to diffuse a pleasant odor throughout the room. Several tiny cages were suspended from the low ceiling. The sprightly little singers which occupied them were quiet now, having gone to sleep with their heads tucked under their wings, for it was evening and the room had grown dark. A woman of middle age was seated in the easy-chair absorbed in meditation. A boy sat in her lap, and as he tenderly embraced his mother his eyes turned to the window through which he saw the moon rising over the peaks of Pilatus and the summit of the Felsenhorn, outlined like a sharp black shadow against the sky. Little mother, said the boy, breaking the silence, why is that mountain called Pilatus? That is the name of the Roman governor who delivered our Saviour to the Jews.


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