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De Soto, says one of those who accompanied him, was a "stern man, and of few words." Even in the midst of reverses, his will had been law to his followers, and he had sustained himself through the depths of disappointment with the energy of a stubborn pride. But his hour was come. He fell into deep dejection, followed by an attack of fever, and soon after died miserably. To preserve his body from the Indians, his followers sank it at midnight in the river, and the sullen waters of the Mississippi buried his ambition and his hopes.
The old palace of the Louvre, reared by the "Roi Chevalier" on the site of those dreary feudal towers which of old had guarded the banks of the Seine, held within its sculptured masonry the worthless brood of Valois. Corruption and intrigue ran riot at the court. Factious nobles, bishops, and cardinals, with no God but pleasure and ambition, contended around the throne or the sick-bed of the futile King. Catherine de Medicis, with her stately form, her mean spirit, her bad heart, and her fathomless depths of duplicity, strove by every subtle art to hold the balance of power among them. The bold, pitiless, insatiable Guise, and his brother the Cardinal of Lorraine, the incarnation of falsehood, rested their ambition on the Catholic party. Their army was a legion of priests, and the black swarms of countless monasteries, who by the distribution of alms held in pay the rabble of cities and starving peasants on the lands of impoverished nobles. Montmorency, Conde, and Navarre leaned towards the Reform,—doubtful and inconstant chiefs, whose faith weighed light against their interests. Yet, amid vacillation, selfishness, weakness, treachery, one great man was like a tower of trust, and this was Gaspar de Coligny.
America was still a land of wonder. The ancient spell still hung unbroken over the wild, vast world of mystery beyond the sea,—a land of romance, adventure, and gold.
Vasseur, with the Swiss ensign Arlac, a sergeant, and ten soldiers, went up the river early in September to carry back the two prisoners to Outina. Laudonniere declares that they sailed eighty leagues, which would have carried them far above Lake Monroe; but it is certain that his reckoning is grossly exaggerated. Their boat crawled up the hazy St. John's, no longer a broad lake like expanse, but a narrow and tortuous stream, winding between swampy forests, or through the vast savanna, a verdant sea of brushes and grass. At length they came to a village called Mayarqua, and thence, with the help of their oars, made their way to another cluster of wigwams, apparently on a branch of the main river. Here they found Outina himself, whom, prepossessed with ideas of feudality, they regarded as the suzerain of a host of subordinate lords and princes, ruling over the surrounding swamps and pine barrens. Outina gratefully received the two prisoners whom Laudonniere had sent to propitiate him, feasted the wonderful strangers, and invited them to join him on a raid against his rival, Potanou. Laudonniere had promised to join Satouriona against Outina, and Vasseur now promised to join Outina against Potanon, the hope of finding gold being in both cases the source of this impolitic compliance. Vasseur went back to Fort Caroline with five of the men, and left Arlac with the remaining five to fight the battles of Ontina.
It was the night of the nineteenth of September, the season of tempests; floods of rain drenched the sentries on the rampart, and, as day dawned on the dripping barracks and deluged parade, the storm increased in violence. What enemy could venture out on such a night? La Vigne, who had the watch, took pity on the sentries and on himself, dismissed them, and went to his quarters. He little knew what human energies, urged by ambition, avarice, bigotry, and desperation, will dare and do.
"Are you convinced now," he asked, "that what I have told you is true?"
CHARLES IX. AND PHILLIP II.
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.
The chief asked three days for preparation. Gourgues cautioned him to secrecy, lest the Spaniards should take alarm.
Then came a distribution of gifts,—knives, hatchets, mirrors, bells, and beads,—while the warrior rabble crowded to receive them, with eager faces and outstretched arms. The distribution over, Gourgues asked the chiefs if there was any other matter in which he could serve them. On this, pointing to his shirt, they expressed a peculiar admiration for that garment, and begged each to have one, to be worn at feasts and councils during life, and in their graves after death. Gourgues complied; and his grateful confederates were soon stalking about him, fluttering in the spoils of his wardrobe.
A French writer, however, advances a more ambitious claim. In the year 1488, four years before the first voyage of Columbus, America, he maintains, was found by Frenchmen. Cousin, a navigator of Dieppe, being at sea off the African coast, was forced westward, it is said, by winds and currents to within sight of an unknown shore, where he presently descried the mouth of a great river. On board his ship was one Pinzon, whose conduct became so mutinous that, on his return to Dieppe, Cousin made complaint to the magistracy, who thereupon dismissed the offender from the maritime service of the town. Pinzon went to Spain, became known to Columbus, told him the discovery, and joined him on his voyage of 1492.
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