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- Pioneers Of France In The New World - 3/51 -


his active energies could not endure repose, and his avarice and ambition goaded him to fresh enterprises. He asked and obtained permission to conquer Florida. While this design was in agitation, Cabeca de Vaca, one of those who had survived the expedition of Narvaez, appeared in Spain, and for purposes of his own spread abroad the mischievous falsehood, that Florida was the richest country yet discovered. De Soto's plans were embraced with enthusiasm. Nobles and gentlemen contended for the privilege of joining his standard; and, setting sail with an ample armament, he landed at the bay of Espiritu Santo, now Tampa Bay, in Florida, with six hundred and twenty chosen men, a band as gallant and well appointed, as eager in purpose and audacious in hope, as ever trod the shores of the New World. The clangor of trumpets, the neighing of horses, the fluttering of pennons, the glittering of helmet and lance, startled the ancient forest with unwonted greeting. Amid this pomp of chivalry, religion was not forgotten. The sacred vessels and vestments with bread and wine for the Eucharist were carefully provided; and De Soto himself declared that the enterprise was undertaken for God alone, and seemed to be the object of His especial care. These devout marauders could not neglect the spiritual welfare of the Indians whom they had come to plunder; and besides fetters to bind, and bloodhounds to hunt them, they brought priests and monks for the saving of their souls.

The adventurers began their march. Their story has been often told. For month after month and year after year, the procession of priests and cavaliers, crossbowmen, arquebusiers, and Indian captives laden with the baggage, still wandered on through wild and boundless wastes, lured hither and thither by the ignis fatuus of their hopes. They traversed great portions of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, everywhere inflicting and enduring misery, but never approaching their phantom El Dorado. At length, in the third year of their journeying, they reached the banks of the Mississippi, a hundred and thirty-two years before its second discovery by Marquette. One of their number describes the great river as almost half a league wide, deep, rapid, and constantly rolling down trees and drift-wood on its turbid current.

The Spaniards crossed over at a point above the mouth of the Arkansas. They advanced westward, but found no treasures,--nothing indeed but hardships, and an Indian enemy, furious, writes one of their officers, "as mad dogs." They heard of a country towards the north where maize could not be cultivated because the vast herds of wild cattle devoured it. They penetrated so far that they entered the range of the roving prairie tribes; for, one day, as they pushed their way with difficulty across great plains covered with tall, rank grass, they met a band of savages who dwelt in lodges of skins sewed together, subsisting on game alone, and wandering perpetually from place to place. Finding neither gold nor the South Sea, for both of which they had hoped, they returned to the banks of the Mississippi.

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 adventurers were now, with few exceptions, disgusted with the enterprise, and longed only to escape from the scene of their miseries. After a vain attempt to reach Mexico by land, they again turned back to the Mississippi, and labored, with all the resources which their desperate necessity could suggest, to construct vessels in which they might make their way to some Christian settlement. Their condition was most forlorn. Few of their horses remained alive; their baggage had been destroyed at the burning of the Indian town of Mavila, and many of the soldiers were without armor and without weapons. In place of the gallant array which, more than three years before, had left the harbor of Espiritu Santo, a company of sickly and starving men were laboring among the swampy forests of the Mississippi, some clad in skins, and some in mats woven from a kind of wild vine.

Seven brigantines were finished and launched; and, trusting their lives on board these frail vessels, they descended the Mississippi, running the gantlet between hostile tribes, who fiercely attacked them. Reaching the Gulf, though not without the loss of eleven of their number, they made sail for the Spanish settlement on the river Panuco, where they arrived safely, and where the inhabitants met them with a cordial welcome. Three hundred and eleven men thus escaped with life, leaving behind them the bones of their comrades strewn broadcast through the wilderness. [FN#7]

De Soto's fate proved an insufficient warning, for those were still found who begged a fresh commission for the conquest of Florida; but the Emperor would not hear them. A more pacific enterprise was undertaken by Cancello, a Dominican monk, who with several brother ecclesiastics undertook to convert the natives to the true faith, but was murdered in the attempt. Nine years later, a plan was formed for the colonization of Florida, and Guido de las Bazares sailed to explore the coasts, and find a spot suitable for the establishment.[FN#8] After his return, a squadron, commanded by Angel de Villafane, and freighted with supplies and men, put to sea from San Juan d'Ulloa; but the elements were adverse, and the result was a total failure. Not a Spaniard had yet gained foothold in Florida.

That name, as the Spaniards of that day understood it, comprehended the whole country extending from the Atlantic on the east to the longitude of New Mexico on the west, and from the Gulf of Mexico and the River of Palms indefinitely northward towards the polar sea. This vast territory was claimed by Spain in right of the discoveries of Columbus, the grant of the Pope, and the various expeditions mentioned above. England claimed it in right of the discoveries of Cabot; while France could advance no better title than might be derived from the voyage of Verazzano and vague traditions of earlier visits of Breton adventurers.

With restless jealousy Spain watched the domain which she could not occupy, and on France especially she kept an eye of deep distrust. When, in 1541, Cartier and Roberval essayed to plant a colony in the part of ancient Spanish Florida now called Canada, she sent spies and fitted out caravels to watch that abortive enterprise. Her fears proved just. Canada, indeed, was long to remain a solitude; but, despite the Papal bounty gifting Spain with exclusive ownership of a hemisphere, France and Heresy at length took root in the sultry forests of modern Florida.

CHAPTER II

1550-1558.

VILLEGAGNON.

In the middle of the sixteenth century, Spain was the incubus of Europe. Gloomy and portentous, she chilled the world with her baneful shadow. Her old feudal liberties were gone, absorbed in the despotism of Madrid. A tyranny of monks and inquisitors, with their swarms of spies and informers, their racks, their dungeons, and their fagots, crushed all freedom of thought or speech; and, while the Dominican held his reign of terror and force, the deeper Jesuit guided the mind from infancy into those narrow depths of bigotry from which it was never to escape. Commercial despotism was joined to political and religious despotism. The hands of the government were on every branch of industry. Perverse regulations, uncertain and ruinous taxes, monopolies, encouragements, prohibitions, restrictions, cramped the national energy. Mistress of the Indies, Spain swarmed with beggars. Yet, verging to decay, she had an ominous and appalling strength. Her condition was that of an athletic man penetrated with disease, which had not yet unstrung the thews and sinews formed in his days of vigor. Philip the Second could command the service of warriors and statesmen developed in the years that were past. The gathered energies of ruined feudalism were wielded by a single hand. The mysterious King, in his den in the Escorial, dreary and silent, and bent like a scribe over his papers, was the type and the champion of arbitrary power. More than the Pope himself, he was the head of Catholicity. In doctrine and in deed, the inexorable bigotry of Madrid was ever in advance of Rome.

Not so with France. She was full of life,--a discordant and struggling vitality. Her monks and priests, unlike those of Spain, were rarely either fanatics or bigots; yet not the less did they ply the rack and the fagot, and howl for heretic blood. Their all was at stake: their vast power, their bloated wealth, were wrapped up in the ancient faith. Men were burned, and women buried alive. All was in vain. To the utmost bounds of France, the leaven of the Reform was working. The Huguenots, fugitives from torture and death, found an asylum at Geneva, their city of refuge, gathering around Calvin, their great high-priest. Thence intrepid colporteurs, their lives in their hands, bore the Bible and the psalm-book to city, hamlet, and castle, to feed the rising flame. The scattered churches, pressed by a common danger, began to organize. An ecclesiastical republic spread its ramifications through France, and grew underground to a vigorous life,--pacific at the outset, for the great body of its members were the quiet bourgeoisie, by habit, as by faith, averse to violence. Yet a potent fraction of the warlike noblesse were also of the new faith; and above them all, preeminent in character as in station, stood Gaspar de Coligny, Admiral of France.

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.

Firm in his convictions, steeled by perils and endurance, calm, sagacious, resolute, grave even to severity, a valiant and redoubted soldier, Coligny looked abroad on the gathering storm and read its danger in advance. He saw a strange depravity of manners; bribery and violence overriding justice; discontented nobles, and peasants ground down with taxes. In the midst of this rottenness, the Calvinistic churches, patient and stern, were fast gathering to themselves the better life of the nation. Among and around them tossed the surges of clerical hate. Luxurious priests and libertine monks saw their disorders rebuked by the grave virtues of the Protestant zealots. Their broad lands, their rich endowments, their vessels of silver and of gold, their dominion over souls,--in itself a revenue,--were all imperiled by the growing heresy. Nor was the Reform less exacting, less intolerant, or, when its hour came, less aggressive than the ancient faith. The


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