In such state of mind, La Salle sailed back to France in the autumn of 1674. He was well received and the next year returned, ennobled, and more than ever determined to push his grand scheme for the acquisition of the great West. His was no plan to indulge in theatrical spectacles, but to take actual possession. Year after year we see him steadily pursuing his single plan. He thinks nothing of crossing the Atlantic, of pushing his course through the trackless woods, or of paddling his frail canoe over the wild waters of the broad lakes. Indians did not daunt him by their cruelty, nor wild beasts affright him by their numbers and ferocity.
Onward, ever onward, He pressed.
In the year 1680, we find him taking possession by actual occupation, of the region now comprising the State of Illinois. It was the first time that civilization had asserted itself there. La Salle built a fort, and, in memory of the trials of the way, called it _Crevecoeur_, which signified Broken-heart; but it did not testify to any broken courage on his part;--rather it was a monument to the obstacles that his persistence had surmounted.
Two years later, we find his canoe, which seems to our eyes now the emblem of an aggressive civilization, flitting along the Illinois River, entering the muddy Mississippi, and floating down its thousand miles to the Gulf. This is not the whole picture, however. We see the party start from the Chicago River, in the cold weather of December. The rivers are frozen. Canoes must be dragged over their snowy and icy surfaces, and baggage can be transported in no way but upon rough sledges. Can you not see the slow procession of fifty persons dragging themselves along day after day through the region inhabited but by savages and wild beasts, suffering from cold and hunger, and all held to their duty by the persevering leader who had brought them there?
There are twenty-three Frenchmen, eighteen Indian braves, belonging to those terrible Abenakis and Mohegans whose "midnight yells had,"
as Mr. Parkman says, "startled the border hamlets of New England; who had danced around Puritan scalps, and whom Puritan imaginations painted as incarnate fiends." There were besides, ten squaws and three children. A motley collection and one not calculated to inspire confidence nor hope for the success of any undertaking. It was not until they had passed the point where the river broadens into Lake Peoria that they found water in which they could float their canoes. Then they continued on, until early in February they found themselves on the banks of the Mississippi. It was filled with ice, and no canoe could navigate it.
After a delay of a few days, they found the river free, and again took up their course southwards. A day more brought them to the confluence of the muddy Missouri, which some of my readers have probably seen, where a mighty stream coming down from distant mountains, enters another not so mighty as itself, and plowing its way across its current, burrows under the soil on the opposite shore. This did not detain the voyagers, though they encamped there over night, and then pursued their course towards the unknown. A few days showed them the mouth of the Ohio, but still they pressed onward. It was near the end of February, the temperature was growing perceptibly warmer as they approached the South.
At a certain point they encamped and sent out their hunters for game. One did not return at night, and a horror seized the others, as they thought that he had been overtaken and killed by hostile Indians. Day after day the woods were scoured in the hope of finding the missing companion, but it seemed vain. A fort was erected for the protection of the party on a high bluff, and named for the lost hunter, Prudhomme. At last they met some Chickasaw Indians, and messages of amity were exchanged through them with the people of their village, not far distant. Soon afterwards Prudhomme was discovered, half-dead from exposure, for he had lost his way while hunting.
Thus the expedition progressed for many days, until at last the little canoes found themselves thrust out through the turbid channels of the delta, into the clear salt waters of the Gulf of Mexico. They had stopped on the way after leaving Fort Prudhomme, at several Indian towns, had been well treated by the natives, and they had seen the mouths of the Arkansas and the Red rivers.
The whole valley of the Fatal River had been laid bare to them, and now La Salle thought the time had come to take formal possession for his sovereign.
Near the mouth of the river, the party came together on the ninth of April, 1682, and a ceremony took place that was very similar to the one at the Sault Ste. Marie, a few days less than eleven years before, by which France had taken possession of the Northwest. It did not rival that in the magnificence with which it was conducted, though the ceremonial was, perhaps, a little more elaborated, but it seemed to have a better basis of fact, for La Salle had actually passed through the heart of the region which he now claimed. A column was erected, of course, and a tablet of lead was buried near it, such as those that had been placed in the ground at various other places by Frenchmen, bearing testimony to the fact that Louis the Great claimed to rule the land.
It was nearly the end of November of the following year, when La Salle reached Quebec, after having retraced his route by long and tedious stages up the rivers that he had followed down to the Gulf.
Then he returned to France to tell the story of his travels, and began to use his influence to induce the government to send out an expedition to take controlling possession of the Mississippi region. He argued with all his powers, saying that by fortifying the river, the French might control the continent. It was really a grand and brilliant proposition, and the king and his minister gave more than was demanded. Four vessels were prepared, instead of the two that La Salle asked for. The expedition comprised a hundred soldiers, thirty volunteers, many mechanics and laborers, several families and a few girls, who looked forward to certain marriage in the new land.
On the twenty-fourth of July, La Salle set sail from Roehelle, with four hundred men in his four vessels, leaving an affectionate and comforting letter as his last farewell to his mother at Rouen.
We have already seen how he was thrown upon the shores of the New World. There, on the sands of Matagorda Bay, with nothing to eat but oysters and a sort of porridge made of the flour that had been saved, the homesick party of downcast men and sorrowing women encamped until their leader could tell them what to do. They did not even know where they were. They were intending to conquer the Spaniards, but they knew nothing of their whereabouts. They were attacked by Indians, and finally, some three weeks after the wreck, the commander of the ships sailed away for France leaving La Salle and his forlorn company behind!
A site was soon chosen on the river now called Lavaca (a corruption of _La Vache_, the cow, a name given it because buffaloes had been seen there), and a fort was built called St. Louis. La Salle had scarcely finished this establishment, when he determined to search for the Mississippi River, for he had by that time concluded from explorations that he had not found it. On the last day of October, he started, and towards the end of March, the party returned, tattered and worn, almost ready to die; but though the strong body of the leader had given away, his stronger spirit was still unbroken, and he soon determined to set out to find the Illinois region where he left a colony formerly, and where he felt sure he could obtain relief. There was no chance for them to return directly to France since their vessels were all gone, and this seemed their only hope.
A party of twenty was formed to undertake the perilous enterprise, and on the twenty-second of April, 1686, they took their way from the fort, bearing on their persons the contributions that their fellows who were to remain had been able to bring together for their comfort.
The party experienced a variety of hardships, quarrelled among themselves, and finally, on the morning of the eighteenth of March, 1687, one of them shot and killed the brave leader. The remainder kept on, finally reached Canada and were taken to their native land. To the colonists at Fort St. Louis, no ground of hope ever appeared, though they felt that the people of France must have an interest in them, and so they kept a look-out over the water for a ship coming to their relief. It never came, alas, and no one knows to this day what became of the Lost Exiles of Texas!
THE BOY CONQUEROR--CHARLES XII OF SWEDEN
By E. S. Brooks
In an old, old palace on the rocky height of the _Slottsbacke_, or Palace Hill, in the northern quarter of the beautiful city of Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, there lived, just two hundred years ago, a bright young prince. His father was a stern and daring warrior-king--a man who had been a fighter from his earliest boyhood; who at fourteen had been present in four pitched battles with the Danes, and who, while yet scarce twelve years old, had charged the Danish line at the head of his guards and shot down the stout Danish colonel, who could not resist the spry young warrior. His mother was a sweet-faced Danish princess, a loving and gentle lady, who scarce ever heard a kind word from her stern-faced husband, and whose whole life was bound up in her precious little prince.
And this little Carolus, Karl, or Charles, dearly loved his tender mother. From her he learned lessons of truth and nobleness that even through all his stormy and wandering life never forsook him.
Often while he had swung gently to and fro in his quaint, carved, and uncomfortable-looking cradle, had she crooned above him the old saga-songs that told of valor and dauntless courage and all the stern virtues that made up the heroes of those same old saga-songs.
Many a time she had trotted the little fellow on her knee to the music of the ancient nursery rhyme that has a place in all lands and languages, from the steppes of Siberia to the homes of New York and San Francisco:
"Ride along, ride a cock-horse, His mane is dapple-gray; Ride along, ride a cock-horse, Little boy, ride away.
Where shall the little boy ride to?
To the king's court to woo"--
and so forth, and so forth, and so forth--in different phrases but with the same idea, as many and many a girl and boy can remember.
And she had told him over and over again the saga-stories and fairy tales that every Scandinavian boy and girl, from prince to peasant, knows so well--of Frithiof and Ingeborg, and the good King Rene; and about the Stone Giant and his wife Guru; and about the dwarfs, and trolls, and nixies, and beautiful mermaids and stromkarls. And she told him also many a story of brave and daring deeds, of noble and knightly lives, and how his ancestors, from the great Gustavus, and, before, from the still greater Gustavus Vasa, had been kings of Sweden, and had made the name of that Northern land a power in all the courts of Europe.
Little Prince Charles was as brave as he was gentle and jolly, and as hardy as he was brave. At five years old he killed his first fox; at seven he could manage his horse like a young centaur; and at twelve he had his first successful bear hunt. He was as obstinate as he was hardy; he steadily refused to learn Latin or French--the languages of the court--until he heard that the kings of Denmark and Poland understood them, and then he speedily mastered them.
His lady-mother's death, when he was scarce twelve years old, was a great sadness, and nearly caused his own death, but, recovering his health, he accompanied his father on hunting parties and military expeditions, and daily grew stronger and hardier than ever.
In April, 1697, when the prince was not yet fifteen, King Charles XI, his stern-faced father, suddenly died, and the boy king succeeded to the throne as absolute lord of "Sweden and Finland, of Livonia, Carelia, Ingria, Wismar, Wibourg, the islands of Rugen and Oesel, of Pomerania, and the duchies of Bremen and Verdun"--one of the finest possessions to which a young king ever succeeded, and representing what is now Sweden, Western Russia, and a large part of Northern Germany.
A certain amount of restraint is best for us all. As the just restraints of the law are best for men and women, so the proper restraints of home are best for boys and girls. A lad from whom all restraining influences are suddenly withdrawn--who can have his own way unmolested--stands in the greatest danger of wrecking his life. The temptations of power have been the cause of very much of the world's sadness and misery. And this temptation came to this boy King of Sweden called in his fifteenth year to supreme sway over a large realm of loyal subjects. Freed from the severity of his stern father's discipline, he found himself responsible to no one--absolutely his own master. And he did what too many of us, I fear, would have done in his position--he determined to have a jolly good time, come what might; and he had it--in his way.
He and his brother-in-law, the wild young Duke of Holstein, turned the town upside down. They snapped cherry-pits at the king's gray-bearded councillors, and smashed in the windows of the staid and scandalized burghers of Stockholm. They played ball with the table dishes, and broke all the benches in the palace chapel. They coursed hares through the council-chambers of the Parliament House, and ran furious races until they had ruined several fine horses.
They beheaded sheep in the palace till the floors ran with blood, and then pelted the passers-by with sheep's heads. They spent the money in the royal treasury like water, and played so many heedless and ruthless boy-tricks that the period of these months of folly was known, long after, as the "Gottorp Fury," because the harum-scarum young brother-in-law, who was the ringleader in all these scrapes, was Duke of Holstein-Gottorp.
But at last, even the people--serfs of this boy autocrat though they were--began to murmur, and when one Sunday morning three clergymen preached from the text "Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child," the young sovereign remembered the counsels of his good mother and recalled the glories of his ancestors, saw how foolish and dangerous was all this reckless sport, turned over a new leaf, became thoughtful and care-taking, and began his career of conquest with the best victory of all--the conquest of himself!
But though he curbed his tendency to profitless and hurtful "skylarking," he had far too much of the Berserker blood of his ancestors--those rough old vikings who "despised mail and helmet and went into battle unharnessed"--to become altogether gentle in manners or occupation. He hated his fair skin, and sought in every way to tan and roughen it, and to harden himself by exposure and neglect of personal comfort. Many a night was passed by the boy on the bare floor, and for three nights in the cold Swedish December he slept in the hay-loft of the palace stables, without undressing and with but scanty covering.
So he grew to be a lad of seventeen, sturdy, strong, and hardy, and at the date of our story, in the year of 1699, the greater part of his time was given up to military exercises and field sports, with but little attention to debates in council or to the cares of state.
Among his chief enjoyments were the sham fights on land and water.
Many a hard-fought battle was waged between the boys and young men who made up his guards and crews, and who would be divided into two or more opposing parties, as the plan of battle required. This was rough and dangerous sport, and was attended often with really serious results. But the participants were stout and sturdy Northern lads, used to hardships and trained to physical endurance. They thought no more of these encounters than do the boys of to-day of the crush of football and the hard hitting of the baseball field, and blows were given and taken with equal good nature and unconcern.
One raw day in the early fall of 1699, sturdy young Arvid Horn, a stout, blue-eyed Stockholm boy, stripped to the waist, and with a gleam of fun in his eyes, stood upright in his little boat as it bobbed on the crest of the choppy Maelar waves. He hailed the king's yacht.
"Holo; in the boat there! Stand for your lives!" he shouted, and levelled his long squirt-gun full at the helmsman.
Swish! came the well-directed stream of water plump against the helmsman's face. Again and again it flew, until dripping and sore he dropped the tiller and dashed down the companion-way calling loudly for help.
Help came speedily, and as the crew of the king's yacht manned the rail and levelled at their single assailant the squirt-guns, which were the principal weapons of warfare used in these "make-believe"
naval engagements, the fun grew fast and furious; but none had so sure an aim or so strong an arm to send an unerring and staggering stream as young Arvid Horn. One by one he drove them back while as his boat drifted still nearer the yacht he made ready to spring to the force-chains and board his prize. But even before he could steady himself for the jump, another tall and fair-haired Stockholm lad, darting out from the high cabin, rallied the defeated crew and bade them man the pumps at once.
A clumsy-looking fire-engine stood amidship, and the crew leaped to its pumps as directed, while the newcomer, catching up a line of hose, sprang to the rail and sent a powerful stream of water straight against the solitary rover.
"Repel boarders!" he cried, laughingly, and the sudden stream from the fire-engine's nozzle sent young Arvid Horn staggering back into his boat.
But he rallied quickly, and with well-charged squirt-gun attacked the new defender of the yacht. The big nozzle, however, was more than a match for the lesser squirt-gun, and the small boat speedily began to fill under the constant deluge of water from the engine.
"Yield thee, yield thee, Arvid Horn; yield thee to our unconquerable nozzle," came the summons from the yacht; "yield thee, or I will drown you out like a rat in a cheese-press!"
"Arvid Horn yields to no one," the plucky boy in the boat made answer, and with a parting shot and a laughing "_Farval!_" he leaped from the sinking boat into the dancing Maelar water. Striking boldly out, he swam twice round the boat in sheer bravado, defying the enemy; now ducking to escape the pursuing stream, or now, while floating on his back, sending a return shot with telling force against the men at the pump--for he still clung to his trusty squirt-gun.
The fair-faced lad in the yacht looked at the swimmer in evident admiration,
"Is it, then, hard to swim, Arvid Horn?" he inquired.