Walter

                                                               

Walter Tell was not like other boys. Their Daddies hadn’t had to go away and fight. His Daddy, William, was an enemy of the Bad Governor, hunted the length and breadth of the country. It was only possible for them to meet in secret at weekends. William kept a house on the far side of the city which they could use. He also had a secret name. Walter wouldn’t tell anyone in case the Bad Governor found out. He didn’t want his Dad to be taken in ambush. He talked about William in school, careful never to disclose his real name. The other children talked about their Dads as Dad so it was easy. They didn’t even know his name was Walter. He kept that secret also just in case.

William told him stories at the weekend but he did it in a funny kind of way. He would put on funny voices or make up funny words and they liked that. But they liked the story the way it was in the book as well, so William would tell it both ways – the book way and the funny way. He would say stupid things like ‘Chaim’s Choice’ at the end to see if they were asleep. There was one story William told that made Walter cry. It was about the Happy Prince. William read it from the book:

There was once a prince who had everything he wanted. He was never sad and never ever cried. Because of this he was called the Happy Prince. Alas one day he died.

 

William closed the book and said it was the end of the story but Walter didn’t want the story to be over. He wanted it to go on until he was asleep and so he cried. Then William took him on his knee and hugged him and asked Mammy Tell to read for Rachel while he took Walter to another room. Walter liked that best of all. William asked what story he would like but he already knew because he already had the book.

Walter liked to talk with Daddy about the adventures of William Tell so William often read him stories from that book. Then they would say things that happened in their lives that might be like what happened in the stories. Then Daddy William would put them all in a big story and tell Walter about things that they could do when he got older. William kept notebooks he was always writing in. Walter was going to be a writer too so William helped him with his reading and his stories. That was why he had an amazing vocabulary for six.

Walter had a game he liked to play during the week. He would be Walter Tell watching television and William would come in with a brand new crossbow he had just made for his son. He had slipped through enemy lines to deliver it in person. The crossbow was a perfect replica of his own, made smaller so that Walter could handle it with ease. He would take it and pretend to practise in the garden. He knew that William didn’t really use a crossbow because that was in the old days but he practised kung fu instead. William was going to teach him when he got bigger. Sometimes when the Bad Governor’s men were off giving battle, William collected him from school and brought him to the park to teach him football.

William was on a secret spying mission when he brought the crossbow. Usually he lived with other rebels in the mountains. Today he had to go into Dublin Castle to inspect its defences and see where the Good Governor had been locked away. The Bad Governor lived in Dublin Castle so the mission was a very dangerous one. He needed Walter’s help as an assistant. They would be going into the very heart of enemy territory so they had to travel in disguise. Donning hats and large overcoats they set off.

They made their way warily into Dublin Castle where the Bad Governor had enslaved many citizens who couldn’t pay their taxes. Walter walked fearlessly by his father’s side as they memorised the Castle’s defences. Then Walter noticed a heavily locked door with two soldiers on guard outside. That must be where the Good Governor was being kept! Satisfied, they were just about to leave when they passed a tall pole beneath which the Irish flag lay crumpled in a heap. A hat with gaudy feathers had been positioned on top of the pole.

‘You are commanded to bow before that hat,’ snarled two angry soldiers on duty nearby, ‘Governor’s orders.’ ‘I will not bow before that thing,’ said William proudly. ‘Seize them!’ cried the Bad Governor, suddenly appearing on the scene. ‘You will pay for this disobedience. What is your name?’ ‘William Tell,’ said Walter boldly, acting all the parts. Sometimes he used toy soldiers but if there was no-one else around, he liked doing it all by himself.

‘William Tell, the greatest archer in all Ireland!’ exclaimed the Bad Governor. ‘We shall have to see about that. Here,’ he said, taking an apple and placing it roughly on Walter’s head, ‘let us see if you can pierce this with your arrow from, let us say, thirty yards, or would you prefer for me to try?’ His lips curled in an evil sneer.

William accepted the cruel challenge with dignity. He repositioned the apple carefully on his son’s head, saying ‘Have no fear Walter, my aim shall be true but you must remember not to move.’ Then he retreated thirty paces and took careful aim. His arm was steady and his eye excelled. Walter remained calm and never flinched. He knew his father’s reputation had been justly earned.

For this part of the game Walter put a cushion on the couch and used his toy bow from the far side of the room. He had tried an apple but could never be sure of hitting the target then. He could hit the cushion easily every time. Today, once again, his aim was true. The soldiers were amazed by Walter’s courage and William’s skill. The Bad Governor had promised liberty if William succeeded but Walter always suspected he would change his mind. ‘What would you have done if you had missed?’ the Bad Governor demanded. ‘Then my next arrow would have been for you,’ replied William without fear. ‘Seize them!’ cried the Bad Governor, enraged. ‘Flee my son,’ cried William, bundling into soldiers as they rushed to obey. ‘Alert the others.’

Walter first threw himself on to the couch, scattering soldiers like ninepins, then he darted out the door as Walter, pulling it shut behind him. He had just squeezed out before the portcullis came crashing down, imprisoning everyone behind him in its wake. No time to linger, he must do as William said. He scampered urgently upstairs to the mountains.

Minutes later he was back in the front room, tightly bound, as William. He had been taken to the wharf in Dun Laoghaire where Daddy sometimes brought them to sing ‘White Sails in the Sunset’. There he was to be put on a yacht and transported across Dublin Bay to Howth. Here he would be foully imprisoned in the Bailey and fed only bread and water until he confessed the whereabouts of his comrades. The Bailey was a lighthouse where the Bad Governor kept all the most dangerous rebels he managed to enslave. William knew he must evade its gloomy portals at all costs.

No sooner had they set out than the weather changed. A terrible storm blew up half-way across. Years of easy living at the expense of ordinary folk had made the soldiers most unfit and they were soon retching like dogs in the rear of the boat, which bobbed like a cork on the swelling waves. ‘Untie me, you dogs,’ said William calmly, ‘or we will surely drown.’ The frightened soldiers knew they had no choice. They untied William and skulked like rats while he sailed the light craft single-handed across the choppy waters of the bay.

He did not head for the Bailey but to a little cove he knew where he could make good his escape while the soldiers were too weak to prevent it. He ran the little boat aground expertly. The soldiers, not expecting this, were thrown violently to one side. Pausing only to gather his beloved crossbow and precious arrows, William leapt into the water and waded the last few yards ashore. Soon he was clambering up the cliff to safety. He would still have his work cut out making it back to the rebel stronghold before nightfall.

Fortunately he succeeded and contacted Walter to let him know of his escape. Walter had already sent word to the rebel leaders. He was delighted to hear that William was planning an ambush to rid everybody of the Bad Governor once and for all. The ambush would be staged in winter when there was lots of snow and the Bad Governor would be making his way through the mountains into Wicklow to collect taxes from honest folk who could ill afford to pay them. William would like Walter to be at his side when that day arrived.

Usually, at that point, Walter checked if there were biscuits in the cupboard. By the time he got back, the day had arrived. He crouched on the sofa with his bow, peering down into the snow-covered valley below. ‘We had better make this good,’ he said as William. ‘There will only be time for one shot before they are alerted.’ He agreed in various rebel guises. His men were spread out, carefully concealed behind slopes on both sides of the valley into which the Bad Governor was even now marching with his soldiers. As the best marksman, William had been given the task of shooting the Bad Governor through the heart. Walter clutched his crossbow proudly at his father’s side. William said that the Bad Governor’s men would run like dogs as soon as their leader fell. It was fear alone that bound them to him.

Soon the Bad Governor’s party came into view. William and Walter watched the horses pick their way warily through the snow, progressing slowly up the valley into the waiting jaws of death. The rebels held their breath. The soldiers drew nearer and nearer. The Bad Governor’s richly coloured cloak and gaudy hat could now be seen. The rebels had agreed that the sight of his falling body would signal the start of their attack. It all rested on William’s shoulders now.

He selected his favourite arrow and fitted it into the drawn string. He held his bow sideways so it would be like the real William Tell’s. He could almost smell the Bad Governor’s cruel features. Thunk! He released the arrow. It flew straight and swift towards its target. The curtain puckered where it struck. The Bad Governor’s heart was pierced and he died instantly, pitching forward from his horse into the snow, blood streaming from his wound.

The soldiers panicked immediately on seeing him fall. One wave of arrows from the rebels was enough to make them yield. Some fled but most surrendered their arms to fight for the rebel cause. William said that this was good because they were all of one people and that the soldiers had been pressed falsely into service against their own. Everyone cheered when he announced that their lives would be spared.

The rebels held a big party in the mountains that night to celebrate. Other rebel chiefs had been invited. They spoke warmly of the day when all Bad Governors would be defeated and their castles turned over to the people, their rightful owners. That would be a happy day for all but none more than Walter and William, who would at last be united in triumph.

Until that day, Walter knew, he would do well to carry on in school like an ordinary boy. There would soon be a replacement Bad Governor and avenging soldiers would be certain to come looking for his father, who didn’t want him to be charged with illegal involvement.

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