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- Pioneers Of France In The New World - 6/51 -
hominy, beans, and game, and loaded with gifts. One of these chiefs, named Audusta, invited them to the grand religious festival of his tribe. When they arrived, they found the village alive with preparation, and troops of women busied in sweeping the great circular area where the ceremonies were to take place. But as the noisy and impertinent guests showed a disposition to undue merriment, the chief shut them all in his wigwam, lest their Gentile eyes should profane the mysteries. Here, immured in darkness, they listened to the howls, yelpings, and lugubrious songs that resounded from without. One of them, however, by some artifice, contrived to escape, hid behind a bush, and saw the whole solemnity,--the procession of the medicinemen and the bedaubed and befeathered warriors; the drumming, dancing, and stamping; the wild lamentation of the women as they gashed the arms of the young girls with sharp mussel-shells, and flung the blood into the air with dismal outcries. A scene of ravenous feasting followed, in which the French, released from durance, were summoned to share.
After the carousal they returned to Charlesfort, where they were soon pinched with hunger. The Indians, never niggardly of food, brought them supplies as long as their own lasted; but the harvest was not yet ripe, and their means did not match their good-will. They told the French of two other kings, Ouade and Couexis, who dwelt towards the south, and were rich beyond belief in maize, beans, and squashes. The mendicant colonists embarked without delay, and, with an Indian guide, steered for the wigwams of these potentates, not by the open sea, but by a perplexing inland navigation, including, as it seems, Calibogue Sound and neighboring waters. Reaching the friendly villages, on or near the Savannah, they were feasted to repletion, and their boat was laden with vegetables and corn. They returned rejoicing; but their joy was short. Their store-house at Charlesfort, taking fire in the night, burned to the ground, and with it their newly acquired stock.
Once more they set out for the realms of King Ouade, and once more returned laden with supplies. Nay, the generous savage assured them that, so long as his cornfields yielded their harvests, his friends should not want.
How long this friendship would have lasted may well be doubted. With the perception that the dependants on their bounty were no demigods, but a crew of idle and helpless beggars, respect would soon have changed to contempt, and contempt to ill-will. But it was not to Indian war-clubs that the infant colony was to owe its ruin. It carried within itself its own destruction. The ill-assorted band of lands-men and sailors, surrounded by that influence of the wilderness which wakens the dormant savage in the breasts of men, soon fell into quarrels. Albert, a rude soldier, with a thousand leagues of ocean betwixt him and responsibility, grew harsh, domineering, and violent beyond endurance. None could question or oppose him without peril of death. He hanged with his own hands a drummer who had fallen under his displeasure, and banished a soldier, named La Chore, to a solitary island, three leagues from the fort, where he left him to starve. For a time his comrades chafed in smothered fury. The crisis came at length. A few of the fiercer spirits leagued together, assailed their tyrant, murdered him, delivered the famished soldier, and called to the command one Nicolas Barre, a man of merit. Barre took the command, and thenceforth there was peace.
Peace, such as it was, with famine, homesickness, and disgust. The rough ramparts and rude buildings of Charlesfort, hatefully familiar to their weary eyes, the sweltering forest, the glassy river, the eternal silence of the lifeless wilds around them, oppressed the senses and the spirits. They dreamed of ease, of home, of pleasures across the sea, of the evening cup on the bench before the cabaret, and dances with kind wenches of Dieppe. But how to escape? A continent was their solitary prison, and the pitiless Atlantic shut them in. Not one of them knew how to build a ship; but Ribaut had left them a forge, with tools and iron, and strong desire supplied the place of skill. Trees were hewn down and the work begun. Had they put forth to maintain themselves at Port Royal the energy and resource which they exerted to escape from it, they might have laid the cornerstone of a solid colony.
All, gentle and simple, labored with equal zeal. They calked the seams with the long moss which hung in profusion from the neighboring trees; the pines supplied them with pitch; the Indians made for them a kind of cordage; and for sails they sewed together their shirts and bedding. At length a brigantine worthy of Robinson Crusoe floated on the waters of the Chenonceau. They laid in what provision they could, gave all that remained of their goods to the Indians, embarked, descended the river, and put to sea. A fair wind filled their patchwork sails and bore them from the hated coast. Day after day they held their course, till at length the breeze died away and a breathless calm fell on the waters. Florida was far behind; France farther yet before.
Floating idly on the glassy waste, the craft lay motionless. Their supplies gave out. Twelve kernels of maize a day were each man's portion; then the maize failed, and they ate their shoes and leather jerkins. The water-barrels were drained, and they tried to slake their thirst with brine. Several died, and the rest, giddy with exhaustion and crazed with thirst, were forced to ceaseless labor, bailing out the water that gushed through every seam. Head-winds set in, increasing to a gale, and the wretched brigantine, with sails close-reefed, tossed among the savage billows at the mercy of the storm. A heavy sea rolled down upon her, and burst the bulwarks on the windward side. The surges broke over her, and, clinging with desperate grip to spars and cordage, the drenched voyagers gave up all for lost. At length she righted. The gale subsided, the wind changed, and the crazy, water-logged vessel again bore slowly towards France.
Gnawed with famine, they counted the leagues of barren ocean that still stretched before, and gazed on each other with haggard wolfish eyes, till a whisper passed from man to man that one, by his death, might ransom all the rest. The lot was cast, and it fell on La Chore, the same wretched man whom Albert had doomed to starvation on a lonely island. They killed him, and with ravenous avidity portioned out his flesh. The hideous repast sustained them till the land rose in sight, when, it is said, in a delirium of joy, they could no longer steer their vessel, but let her drift at the will of the tide. A small English bark bore down upon them, took them all on board, and, after landing the feeblest, carried the rest prisoners to Queen Elizabeth.[FN#12]
Thus closed another of those scenes of woe whose lurid clouds are thickly piled around the stormy dawn of American history. It was the opening act of a wild and tragic drama.
ON the twenty-fifth of June, 1564, a French squadron anchored a second time off the mouth of the River of May. There were three vessels, the smallest of sixty tons, the largest of one hundred and twenty, all crowded with men. Rene de Laudonniere held command. He was of a noble race of Poiton, attached to the house of Chatillon, of which Coligny was the head; pious, we are told, and an excellent marine officer. An engraving, purporting to be his likeness, shows us a slender figure, leaning against the mast, booted to the thigh, with slouched hat and plume, slashed doublet, and short cloak. His thin oval face, with curled moustache and close-trimmed beard. wears a somewhat pensive look, as if already shadowed by the destiny that awaited him.
The intervening year since Ribaut's voyage had been a dark year for France. From the peaceful solitude of the River of May, that voyager returned to a land reeking with slaughter. But the carnival of bigotry and hate had found a pause. The Peace of Amboise had been signed. The fierce monk choked down his venom; the soldier sheathed his sword, the assassin his dagger; rival chiefs grasped hands, and masked their rancor under hollow smiles. The king and the queen-mother, helpless amid the storm of factions which threatened their destruction, smiled now on Conde, now on Guise,--gave ear to the Cardinal of Lorraine, or listened in secret to the emissaries of Theodore Beza. Coligny was again strong at Court. He used his opportunity, and solicited with success the means of renewing his enterprise of colonization.
Men were mustered for the work. In name, at least, they were all Huguenots yet now, as before, the staple of the projected colony was unsound,--soldiers, paid out of the royal treasury, hired artisans and tradesmen, with a swarm of volunteers from the young Huguenot nobles, whose restless swords had rusted in their scabbards since the peace. The foundation-stone was forgotten. There were no tillers of the soil. Such, indeed, were rare among the Huegonots; for the dull peasants who guided the plough clung with blind tenacity to the ancient faith. Adventurous gentlemen, reckless soldiers, discontented tradesmen, all keen for novelty and heated with dreams of wealth,--these were they who would build for their country and their religion an empire beyond the sea.
On Thursday, the twenty-second of June, Laudonniere saw the low coast-line of Florida, and entered the harbor of St. Augustine, which he named the River of Dolphins, "because that at mine arrival I saw there a great number of Dolphins which were playing in the mouth thereof." Then he bore northward, following the coast till, on the twenty-fifth, he reached the mouth of the St. John's or River of May. The vessels anchored, the boats were lowered, and he landed with his principal followers on the south shore, near the present village of Mayport. It was the very spot where he had landed with Ribaut two years before. They were scarcely on shore when they saw an Indian chief, "which having espied us cryed very far off, Antipola! Antipola! and being so joyful that he could not containe himselfe, he came to meet us accompanied with two of his sonnes, as faire and mightie persons as might be found in al the world. There was in their trayne a great number of men and women which stil made very much of us, and by signes made us understand how glad they were of our arrival. This good entertainment past, the Paracoussy [chief] prayed me to goe see the pillar which we had erected in the voyage of John Ribault." The Indians, regarding it with mysterious awe, had crowned it with evergreens, and placed baskets full of maize before it as an offering.
The chief then took Laudonniere by the hand, telling him that he was named Satouriona, and pointed out the extent of his dominions, far up the river and along the adjacent coasts. One of his sons, a man "perfect in beautie, wisedome, and honest sobrietie," then gave the French commander a wedge of silver, and received some trifles in return, after which the voyagers went back to their ships. "I prayse God continually," says Laudonniere, "for the great love I have found in these savages."
In the morning the French landed again, and found their new friends on the same spot, to the number of eighty or more, seated under a shelter of boughs, in festal attire of smoke-tanned deer-skins, painted in many colors. The party then rowed up the river, the Indians following them along the shore. As they advanced, coasting the borders of a great marsh that lay upon their left, the St. John's spread before them in vast sheets of glistening water, almost level with its flat, sedgy shores, the haunt of alligators, and the resort of innumerable birds. Beyond the
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