"Not if one is fearless," called back the floating boy.
"How; fearless?" exclaimed the lad on the yacht, hastily. "Do you perhaps think that I am afraid?"
"I said not so," replied young Arvid, coolly sending a full charge from his squirt-gun straight up in the air.
"No; but you mean it--good faith, you mean it, then," said the lad, and flinging off wig, cocked hat, and long coat only, without an instant's hesitation he, too, leaped into the Maelar Lake.
There is nothing so cooling to courage or reckless enthusiasm as cold water-if one cannot swim. The boy plunged and floundered, and weighty with his boots and his clothing, soon sank from sight.
As he came spluttering to the surface again, "Help, help, Arvid,"
he called despairingly; "I am drowning!"
Arvid, who had swum away from his friend, thinking that he would follow after, heard the cry and caught a still louder one from the yacht: "The king, the king is sinking!"
A few strokes brought him near to the over-confident diver, and clutching him by his shirt-collar, he kept the lad's head above water until, after a long and laborious swim, he brought his kingly burden safe to land--for the fair-haired and reckless young knight of the nozzle was none other than his gracious majesty, Charles the Twelfth of Sweden.
"Truly it is one thing to be brave and another to be skilful,"
said the king, as he stood soaked and dripping on the shore. "But for you, friend Arvid, I had almost gone."
"You are very wet, sire, and may take cold," said Arvid; "let us hasten at once to yonder house for warmth and dry clothes."
"Not so, Arvid; I do not fear the water--on land," said the king.
"I am no such milksop as to need to dry off before a kitchen fire.
See, this is the better way"; and catching up a stout hazel-stick, he bade Arvid stand on his guard. Nothing loath, Arvid Horn accepted the kingly challenge, and picking up a similar hazel-stick, he rapped King Charles' weapon smartly, and the two boys went at each other "hammer and tongs" in a lively bout at "single-stick."
They were soon thoroughly warmed up by this vigorous exercise, and forgot their recent bath and the king's danger. It was a drawn battle, however, and, as they paused for breath, King Charles said: "Trust that to drive away cold and ague, Arvid. Faith,'tis a rare good sport."
"Could it be done on horseback, think you?" queried Arvid, always on the lookout for sensation.
"And why not? 'Tis well thought," said the king. "Let us straight to the palace yard and try it for ourselves."
But ere they reached the palace the idea had developed into still greater proportions.
The king's guards were summoned, and divided into two parties.
Their horses were unsaddled, and, riding "bareback" and armed with nothing but hazel-sticks, the two forces were pitted against each other in a great cavalry duel of "single-stick."
King Charles commanded one side, and young Arvid Horn the other. At it they went, now one side and now the other having the advantage, the two leaders fighting with especial vigor.
Arvid pressed the king closely, and both lads were full of the excitement of the fray when Charles, careless of his aim and with his customary recklessness, brought his hazel-stick with a terrible thwack upon poor Arvid's face. Now Arvid Horn had a boil on his cheek, and if any of my boy readers know what a tender piece of property a boil is, they will know that King Charles's hazel-stick was not a welcome poultice.
With a cry of pain Arvid fell fainting from his horse, and the cavalry battle at "single-stick" came to a sudden stop. But the heat and the pain brought on so fierce a fever that the lad was soon as near to death's door as his friend King Charles had been in the sea fight of the squirt-guns.
The king was deeply concerned during young Arvid's illness, and when the lad at last recovered he made him a present of two thousand thalers, laughingly promising to repeat the prescription whenever Arvid was again wounded at "single-stick." He was greatly pleased to have his friend with him once more, and, when Arvid was strong enough to join in his vigorous sports again, one of the first things he proposed was a great bear-hunt up among the snow-filled forests that skirted the Maelar Lake.
A day's ride from Stockholm, the hunting-lodge of the kings of Sweden lay upon the heavily drifted hill-slopes just beyond the lake shore, and through the forests and marshes two hundred years ago the big brown bear of Northern Europe, the noble elk, the now almost extinct auroch, or bison, and the great gray wolf roamed in fierce and savage strength, affording exciting and dangerous sport for daring hunters.
And among these hunters none excelled young Charles of Sweden.
Reckless in the face of danger, and brave as he was reckless, he was ever on the alert for any novelty in the manner of hunting that should make the sport even more dangerous and exciting. So young Arvid Horn was not surprised when the king said to him:
"I have a new way for hunting the bear, Arvid, and a rarely good one, too."
"Of that I'll be bound, sire," young Arvid responded; "but-how may it be?"
"You shall know anon," King Charles replied; "but this much will I say: I do hold it but a coward's part to fight the poor brute with firearms. Give the fellow a chance for his life, say I, and a fair fight in open field--and then let the best man win."
Here was a new idea. Not hunt the bear with musket, carbine, or wheel-lock? What then--did King Charles reckon to have a wrestling bout or a turn at "single-stick" with the _Jarl_ Bruin? So wondered Arvid Horn, but he said nothing, waiting the king's own pleasure, as became a shrewd young courtier.
And soon enough he learned the boy-hunter's new manner of bear-hunting, when, on the very day of their arrival at the Maelar lodge, they tracked a big brown bear beneath the great pines and spruces of the almost boundless forest, armed only with strong wooden pitchforks.
Arvid was not at all anxious for this fighting at close quarters, but when he saw King Charles boldly advance upon the growling bear, when he saw the great brute rise on his hind legs and threaten to hug Sweden's monarch to death, he would have sprung forward to aid his king. But a huntsman near at hand held him back.
"Wait," said the man; "let the 'little father' play his part."
And even as he spoke Arvid saw the king walk deliberately up to the towering bear, and, with a quick thrust of his long-handled fork, catch the brute's neck between the pointed wooden prongs, and with a mighty shove force the bear backward in the snow.
Then, answering his cry of "Holo, all!" the huntsmen sprang to his side, flung a stout net over the struggling bear, and held it thus, a floundering prisoner, while the intrepid king coolly cut its throat with his sharp hunting-knife.
Arvid learned to do this, too, in time, but it required some extra courage even for his steady young head and hand.
One day, when each of the lads had thus transfixed and killed his bear, and as, in high spirits, they were returning to the hunting-lodge, a courserman dashed hurriedly across their path, recognized the king, and reining in his horse, dismounted hastily, saluted, and handed the king a packet.
"From the council, sire," he said.
Up to this day the young king had taken but little interest in the affairs of state, save as he directed the review or drill, leaving the matters of treaty and of state policy to his trusted councillors.
He received the courserman's despatch with evident unconcern, and read it carelessly. But his face changed as he read it a second time; first clouding darkly, and then lighting up with the gleam of a new determination and purpose.
"What says Count Piper?" he exclaimed half aloud; "Holstein laid waste by Denmark, Gottorp Castle taken, and the duke a fugitive?
And my council dares to temper and negotiate? _Ack; so!_ Arvid Horn, we must be in Stockholm ere night-fall."
"But, sire, how can you?" exclaimed Arvid. "The roads are heavy with snow, and no horse could stand the strain or hope to make the city ere morning."
"No horse!" cried King Charles; "then three shall do it. Hasten; bid Hord the equerry harness the triple team to the strongest sledge, and be you ready to ride with me in a half hour's time. For we shall be in Stockholm by nightfall."
And ere the half hour was up they were off. Careless of roadway, straight for Stockholm they headed, the triple team of plunging Ukraine horses, driven abreast by the old equerry Hord, dashing down the slopes and across the Maelar ice, narrowly escaping collision, overturn, and death. With many a plunge and many a ducking, straight on they rode, and ere the Stockholm clocks had struck the hour of six the city gates were passed, and the spent and foaming steeds dashed panting into the great yard of the Parliament House.
The council was still in session, and the grave old councillors started to their feet in amazement at this sudden apparition of the boy king, soiled and bespattered from head to foot, standing there in their midst.
"Gentlemen," he said, with earnestness and determination in his voice, "your despatch tells me of unfriendly acts on the part of the King of Denmark against our brother and ally of Holstein-Gottorp.
I am resolved never to begin an unjust war, but never to finish an unjust one save with the destruction of mine enemies. My resolution is fixed. I will march and attack the first one who shall declare war; and when I shall have conquered him, I hope to strike terror into the rest."
These were ringing and, seemingly, reckless words for a boy of seventeen, and we do not wonder that, as the record states, "the old councillors, astonished at this declaration, looked at one another without daring to answer." The speech seemed all the more reckless when they considered, as we may here, the coalition against which the boy king spoke so confidently.
At that time--in the year 1699--the three neighbors of this young Swedish monarch were three kings of powerful northern nations--Frederick the Fourth, King of Denmark; Augustus, called the Strong, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony, and Peter, afterward known as the Great, Czar of Russia. Tempted by the large possessions of young King Charles, and thinking to take advantage of his youth, his inexperience, and his presumed indifference, these three monarchs concocted a fine scheme by which Sweden was to be overrun, conquered, and divided among the three members of this new copartnership of kings--from each of whom, or from their predecessors, this boy king's ancestors had wrested many a fair domain and wealthy city.
But these three kings--as has many and many another plotter in history before and since--reckoned without their host. They did not know the mettle that was in this grandnephew of the great Gustavus.
Once aroused to action, he was ready to move before even his would-be conquerors, in those slow-going days, imagined he had thought of resistance. Money and men were raised, the alliance of England and Holland was secretly obtained, a council of defence was appointed to govern Sweden during the absence of the king, and on April 23, 1700, two months before his eighteenth birthday, King Charles bade his grandmother and his sisters good-by and left Stockholm forever.
Even as he left, the news came that another member in this firm of hostile kings, Augustus of Saxony and Poland, had invaded Sweden's tributary province of Livonia on the Gulf of Finland. Not to be drawn aside from his first object--the punishment of Denmark--Charles simply said, "We will make King Augustus go back the way he came,"
and hurried on to join his army in southern Sweden.