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The lazy waters of the St. John's, tinged to coffee color by the exudations of the swamps, curled before the prow of Ottigny's sail-boat as he advanced into the prolific wilderness which no European eye had ever yet beheld. By his own reckoning, he sailed thirty leagues up the river, which would have brought him to a point not far below Palatka. Here, more than two centuries later, the Bartrams, father and son, guided their skiff and kindled their nightly bivouac-fire; and here, too, roamed Audubon, with his sketch-book and his gun. It was a paradise for the hunter and the naturalist. Earth, air, and water teemed with life, in endless varieties of beauty and ugliness. A half-tropical forest shadowed the low shores, where the palmetto and the cabbage palm mingled with the oak, the maple, the cypress, the liquid-ambar, the laurel, the myrtle, and the broad glistening leaves of the evergreen magnolia. Here was the haunt of bears, wild-cats, lynxes, cougars, and the numberless deer of which they made their prey. In the sedges and the mud the alligator stretched his brutish length; turtles with outstretched necks basked on half-sunken logs; the rattlesnake sunned himself on the sandy bank, and the yet more dangerous moccason lurked under the water-lilies in inlets and sheltered coves. The air and the water were populous as the earth. The river swarmed with fish, from the fierce and restless gar, cased in his horny armor, to the lazy cat-fish in the muddy depths. There were the golden eagle and the white-headed eagle, the gray pelican and the white pelican, the blue heron and the white heron, the egret, the ibis, ducks of various sorts, the whooping crane, the black vulture, and the cormorant; and when at sunset the voyagers drew their boat upon the strand and built their camp-fire under the arches of the woods, the owls whooped around them all night long, and when morning came the sultry mists that wrapped the river were vocal with the clamor of wild turkeys.
The growing discontent was brought to a partial head by one La Roquette, who gave out that, high up the river, he had discovered by magic a mine of gold and silver, which would give each of them a share of ten thousand crowns, besides fifteen hundred thousand for the King. But for Laudonniere, he said, their fortunes would all be made. He found an ally in a gentleman named Genre, one of Laudonniere's confidants, who, while still professing fast adherence to his interests, is charged by him with plotting against his life. "This Genre," he says, "secretly enfourmed the Souldiers that were already suborned by La Roquette, that I would deprive them of this great game, in that I did set them dayly on worke, not sending them on every side to discover the Countreys; therefore that it were a good deede to dispatch mee out of the way, and to choose another Captaine in my place." The soldiers listened too well. They made a flag of an old shirt, which they carried with them to the rampart when they went to their work, at the same time wearing their arms; and, pursues Laudonniere, "these gentle Souldiers did the same for none other ende but to have killed mee and my Lieutenant also, if by chance I had given them any hard speeches." About this time, overheating himself, he fell ill, and was confined to his quarters. On this, Genre made advances to the apothecary, urging him to put arsenic into his medicine; but the apothecary shrugged his shoulders. They next devised a scheme to blow him up by hiding a keg of gunpowder under his bed; but here, too, they failed. Hints of Genre's machinations reaching the ears of Laudonniere, the culprit fled to the woods, whence he wrote repentant letters, with full confession, to his commander.
May-day came, the third anniversary of the day when Ribaut and his companions, full of delighted anticipation, had first explored the flowery borders of the St. John's. The contrast was deplorable; for within the precinct of Fort Caroline a homesick, squalid band, dejected and worn, dragged their shrunken limbs about the sun-scorched area, or lay stretched in listless wretchedness under the shade of the barracks. Some were digging roots in the forest, or gathering a kind of sorrel upon the meadows. If they had had any skill in hunting and fishing, the river and the woods would have supplied their needs; but in this point, as in others, they were lamentably unfit for the work they had taken in hand. "Our miserie," says Laudonniere, "was so great that one was found that gathered up all the fish-bones that he could finde, which he dried and beate into powder to make bread thereof. The effects of this hideous famine appeared incontinently among us, for our bones eftsoones beganne to cleave so neere unto the skinne, that the most part of the souldiers had their skinnes pierced thorow with them in many partes of their bodies." Yet, giddy with weakness, they dragged themselves in turn to the top of St. John's Bluff, straining their eyes across the sea to descry the anxiously expected sail.
They reached Dominica on Sunday, the fifth of August. The chaplain tells us how he went on shore to refresh himself; how, while his Italian servant washed his linen at a brook, he strolled along the beach and picked up shells; and how he was scared, first, by a prodigious turtle, and next by a vision of the cannibal natives, which caused his prompt retreat to the boats.
Here he found three of his ships already debarking their troops, guns, and stores. Two officers, Patiflo and Vicente, had taken possession of the dwelling of the Indian chief Seloy, a huge barn-like structure, strongly framed of entire trunks of trees, and thatched with palmetto leaves. Around it they were throwing up entrenchments of fascines and sand, and gangs of negroes were toiling at the work. Such was the birth of St. Augustine, the oldest town of the United States.
To return to the Spaniards at St. Augustine. On the morning of the eleventh, the crew of one of their smaller vessels, lying outside the bar, with Menendez himself on board, saw through the twilight of early dawn two of Ribaut's ships close upon them. Not a breath of air was stirring. There was no escape, and the Spaniards fell on their knees in supplication to Our Lady of Utrera, explaining to her that the heretics were upon them, and begging her to send them a little wind. "Forthwith," says Mendoza, "one would have said that Our Lady herself came down upon the vessel." A wind sprang up, and the Spaniards found refuge behind the bar. The returning day showed to their astonished eyes all the ships of Ribaut, their decks black with men, hovering off the entrance of the port; but Heaven had them in its charge, and again they experienced its protecting care. The breeze sent by Our Lady of Utrera rose to a gale, then to a furious tempest; and the grateful Adelantado saw through rack and mist the ships of his enemy tossed wildly among the raging waters as they struggled to gain an offing. With exultation in his heart, the skilful seaman read their danger, and saw them in his mind's eye dashed to utter wreck among the sand-bars and breakers of the lee shore.
"Santiago!" cried Menendez. "At them! God is with us! Victory!" And, shouting their hoarse war-cries, the Spaniards rushed down the slope like starved wolves.
"I answered, that they could give up their arms and place themselves under my mercy,—that I should do with them what our Lord should order; and from that I did not depart, nor would I, unless God our Lord should otherwise inspire."
His true design was locked within his own breast. He mustered his followers,—not a few of whom were of rank equal to his own, feasted them, and, on the twenty-second of August, 1567, sailed from the mouth of the Charente. Off Cape Finisterre, so violent a storm buffeted his ships that his men clamored to return; but Gourgues's spirit prevailed. He bore away for Africa, and, landing at the Rio del Oro, refreshed and cheered them as he best might. Thence he sailed to Cape Blanco, where the jealous Portuguese, who had a fort in the neighborhoods set upon him three negro chiefs. Gourgues beat them off, and remained master of the harbor; whence, however, he soon voyaged onward to Cape Verd, and, steering westward, made for the West Indies. Here, advancing from island to island, he came to Hispaniola, where, between the fury of a hurricane at sea and the jealousy of the Spaniards on shore, he was in no small jeopardy,—"the Spaniards", exclaims the indignant journalist, "who think that this New World was made for nobody but them, and that no other living man has a right to move or breathe here!" Gourgues landed, however, obtained the water of which he was in need, and steered for Cape San Antonio, at the western end of Cuba. There he gathered his followers about him, and addressed them with his fiery Gascon eloquence. For the first time, he told them his true purpose, inveighed against Spanish cruelty, and painted, with angry rhetoric, the butcheries of Fort Caroline and St. Augustine.
Delighted as he was at this outburst against the Spaniards, Gourgues did not see fit to display the full extent of his satisfaction. He thanked the Indians for their good-will, exhorted them to continue in it, and pronounced an ill-merited eulogy on the greatness and goodness of his King. As for the Spaniards, he said, their day of reckoning was at hand; and, if the Indians had been abused for their love of the French, the French would be their avengers. Here Satouriona forgot his dignity, and leaped up for joy.
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