Roosevelt was born in New York City, as his fathers had been before him for six generations. He was the son of Theodore Roosevelt, a glass manufacturer, and of a southern girl named Martha Bulloch, who came from Georgia. Both his father and mother were unusual people, and of a quality to have a son whose greatness might be of the first magnitude—but until Roosevelt had graduated from college, he showed no signs that he was different from other boys.
He did not even seem to have been given the same chance for success that is granted to other boys, for from his infancy his health was feeble, he was undersized, and nervous, and suffered so greatly from asthma and other troubles that he was not able to attend school regularly.
When he was still a small boy, however, he made a resolution to gain the bodily strength that he needed and set about conquering the weaknesses that handicapped him. He secured a set of boxing gloves from his father, and with great determination went to work to learn how to defend himself from the other boys in his neighborhood, who were prone to annoy him because he was an easy victim. He became fond of athletics of all kinds and was intensely interested in naturalism intending at one time to make science his life work; and he drilled himself in doing the things that were difficult for him to do, until, though naturally somewhat timid or shy, he did not know the meaning of the word fear, and has been looked on as a prodigy of courage, both physical and moral.
Roosevelt was popular in Harvard University, and gained a number of steadfast friends who stood by him throughout his life. He received his degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1880, and soon after married a girl named Alice Lee. After a brief trip to Europe, where he climbed the Matterhorn in Switzerland, he settled down to the study of law in Columbia University, and at the same time learned its more practical side in the downtown law offices of a relative.
But Roosevelt had not yet found himself. He had no love for the law, and cast about for some career in which his natural energy could show itself to better advantage. He no longer desired to be a naturalist, for the scientific side of that profession was too sedentary for him. He had wished to be an author, and for some time had been working on "A History of the War of 1812," which was published soon after he left Harvard. But in politics he found the career he was seeking, and soon became influential in the Republican Club of the assembly district to which he belonged, where, in spite of the fact that he was considered a "silk stocking" because he was a gentleman, he gained the liking of the political bosses and was elected to the State Assembly.
The slightly-built young man wearing glasses and with the reputation of a college dude was not taken seriously in the Assembly at first, but it was not long before he had become one of its leaders and a man of national reputation.
He won fame in his first term by rising one day and demanding that a certain judge be impeached. He was received with ridicule and laughter, and was warned not to injure the party, or to make "loose charges" that might cause trouble. He stood alone, a young and inexperienced man, against the combined weight of machine politics in the state, and it was practically certain that his own political future was dead as a result of his act. But in spite of this Roosevelt demanded once more that the judge be impeached and kept up his demand until he was supported by certain newspapers. At last his action resulted in a statewide cry for the impeachment of the judge, and the Assembly, which could not afford to ignore the letters and newspaper articles which came pouring in, was compelled to give in and do as Roosevelt had demanded.
At another time he was attacked by a bully and ex-prize fighter who was hired by some of his enemies to teach him the rewards to be won from "meddling." The result was unexpected. The bully went sprawling, knocked down by a well directed blow from the undersized, bespectacled young assemblyman—and some of the gang that attempted to bring aid to the fallen also found themselves upon the floor. Roosevelt, flashing his teeth in characteristic manner, told the little knot of his enemies who had gathered to witness the affair that he was much obliged to them,—that he hadn't enjoyed himself so much since he had been in the Assembly!
A terrible and bitter sorrow ended Roosevelt's political career for the time being. His mother, to whom he was devotedly attached, died in 1884, and only twelve hours after this his wife, who had just borne him a daughter, died also. Roosevelt's father had already passed away, and this double tragedy was too much for him. He quitted politics and bought a ranch in Dakota, where he hoped to find forgetfulness from sorrow, and in a short time he was leading the wild life of a cowboy, roping steers and riding horseback from the first break of dawn until far after dark.
For two years Roosevelt remained in his ranch on the Little Missouri River, hunting, cow punching and engaging, heart and soul, in the free and strenuous life of the West. He did some writing, but believed that his political career was ended for good and all, and he believed too that he had become a Westerner and should remain one. But he had not been forgotten in the East, and before he was thirty years old he returned to New York by invitation to run on the Republican ticket for Mayor.
He was badly beaten and for a time retired again from politics, traveling in Europe. In London he married again, this time a girl whom he had known from his early boyhood, named Edith Kermit Carow.
Roosevelt was not long out of public life. Two years after he had been beaten as Mayor he was appointed on the Civil Service Commission and worked hard and with great ability for six years. Then he was made President of the Police Board of New York City, where he found a fight to his liking. The New York police were notoriously corrupt, and Roosevelt entered with all his might into the task of reorganizing and cleaning up his department. He was thoroughly successful and not only left a more efficient and cleaner police, but added to the national reputation that he had already acquired.
Before his term as President of the Police Board had ended, he was offered the position of Assistant Secretary of the Navy by President McKinley, and accepted with alacrity. Roosevelt had always been a staunch advocate of national preparedness for war, and was delighted to have the opportunity of aiding this cause himself. He did what he could for the navy and it was due to him, more than to any other man, that Admiral Dewey was so well supplied with fuel and munitions when war broke out with Spain that he was able to attack the Spanish fleet in Manilla Bay without delay.
But Roosevelt was not content with working at a desk when his country was at war. He recruited a regiment of cavalry called the "Rough Riders" and made up largely from the cowboys and westerners he had known in Dakota, although it included men from all parts of the United States. This regiment was placed under the command of Roosevelt's friend, Colonel Leonard Wood, and Roosevelt himself received the appointment of Lieutenant Colonel. He could have had the command of the regiment but did not think that he knew enough about army administration, and it was due to Roosevelt that Leonard Wood received the Colonelcy.
The Rough Riders were sent promptly to Cuba, and when Col. Wood was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General, Roosevelt took charge of the regiment and personally led it into action at San Juan Hill, where he fought with the utmost gallantry. As his men charged up the hill, Roosevelt's horse was killed under him, and with drawn sword he led his men on foot, the most conspicuous target to be seen, far ahead of his men, yelling and cheering them on until they swarmed over the hilltop and the Spaniards were driven from the field.
When the war ended Roosevelt returned to New York in a blaze of glory. The Republicans took advantage of his popularity and nominated him for Governor of New York. He was elected by a large majority, and began at Albany once more the work of reform that he had carried on so courageously as a Member of the Assembly and on the Civil Service and Police Commissions.
It was necessary for Roosevelt to gain the good will of the party leaders, for without the support of the Republican machine he could accomplish little at Albany. His administration was fearless and at the same time tactful, and he soon had a reputation for being the leading figure in progressive American politics. But he was feared and distrusted by many of the machine politicians, who were compelled to recognize his ability and look on him in the light of a possible President of the United States, so when Roosevelt's second term as Governor ended, strong efforts were made to force on him the office of Vice President, by which his enemies hoped he would be safely put out of the way for four years at least, and that his political career might be ended for good and all.
In addition to the efforts of his enemies to gain this position for him, Roosevelt's admirers throughout the country joined the demand, thinking that the position was both an honor and a step forward. And the demand was so strong that Roosevelt could not refuse, but accepted the nomination to the huge delight of those who were afraid of him.
Roosevelt and McKinley were elected to office in 1900. Roosevelt had thrown himself into the campaign with characteristic energy, and had traveled north and south and east and west almost as many miles as would girdle the globe, while his eyeglasses and teeth were seen and his fiery speeches heard by millions of Americans. It is said that on this trip Roosevelt made nearly seven hundred speeches. The result was plain. The election was a Republican landslide, and in March, 1901, Roosevelt entered his new duties.
Fate was against the men who had wanted him shelved, for in September of the year when he entered office, the martyr, McKinley, was laid low by the bullet of a red anarchist, and Roosevelt was called upon to take up the reins of government. He was in the Adirondack Mountains at the time of the assassination, and he made his way to Buffalo as speedily as possible, taking a dangerous drive in the dark over a mountain road at a full gallop.
The eyes of the nation were now centered on this comparatively young man, who was called to the post of Chief Executive in so trying a manner. And Roosevelt's first public act was such as to inspire the utmost confidence in him, for he declared that he would follow out the McKinley policies and retain the McKinley Cabinet. Throughout his term he strove conscientiously to keep the letter of his promise, although it was inevitable that with his own powerful character the trend of the administration must be changed.
"His conduct of domestic as well as foreign affairs," says Herman Hagedorn, "was fearless and vigorous. He saw clearly that the question of most vital importance before the country was the control and strict regulation of the great corporations. In the famous Northern Securities merger he presented a test case to the Supreme Court which ultimately opened the way for the prosecution of the other great corporations which had violated the Sherman Anti-trust Law. His fight against the conservative forces of both parties on this question, and kindred matters of railroad regulation, was intensely bitter and extended throughout his period of office.
"His dealings with labor were equally far sighted and firm. He favored combinations of labor as he favored combinations of capital, but stood as firmly against lawlessness on the part of laboring men as he stood against it on the part of capitalists.
"'At last,' said one of the 'labor men' at a luncheon one day, 'there is a hearing for us fellows.'
"'Yes,' cried the President emphatically. 'The White House door, while I am here, shall swing open as easily for the labor man as for the capitalist and no easier.'"
One of Roosevelt's greatest pieces of diplomacy that was kept secret at the time, and is such a striking example of his complete and utter fearlessness is his dealing with the German Kaiser in 1901, when Germany broke off diplomatic relations with Venezuela, and prepared to occupy Venezuelan territory by force of arms. Roosevelt called the German Ambassador to the White House; he told him that unless the Kaiser arbitrated the matter with Venezuela, the American fleet under Admiral Dewey would be sent to Venezuelan waters to prevent any hostilities that the Germans might undertake; he stated this as a fact, he said, not as a threat, and he gave the German Government a week to accede to his request.
As the week passed without word from Germany, Roosevelt told the Ambassador that in view of the Kaiser's silence, the American fleet would sail a day earlier than had been planned, and as promptly as cables could do the work, Germany gave in and consented to arbitration. Roosevelt's prompt action in this matter and the courageous stand he took with the Berlin government undoubtedly prevented war, which might, when started, very easily have embroiled the world.
The power of America, Roosevelt believed, was the strongest influence against war. When he was conscious of a "veiled truculence" in the Japanese diplomatic communications, the American battle fleet was ordered to make a cruise around the world, ostensibly for training, but really to show the world, and particularly the Asiatics, that the United States had ample means to enforce its rights in all waters and on every sea.
"Every particle of trouble with the Japanese Government and the Japanese press," says Roosevelt in a letter, "stopped like magic as soon as they found that our fleet had actually sailed and was obviously in good trim. As I told Von Tirpitz (the German admiral), I thought it a good thing that the Japanese should know there were fleets of the white races which were totally different from the fleet of poor Rojestvensky."
But Roosevelt was not a lover of war in spite of the warlike stand he took on several occasions. And his efforts in bringing about peace between Japan and Russia resulted in the award to him of the Nobel Peace Prize of $40,000.
The constructive work he accomplished while in office is too great to be even sketched in these brief pages. It was in Roosevelt's term, however, that the famous Panama Canal was begun and pushed toward completion.
When his administration had ended and he was a private citizen once more, Roosevelt started on his famous hunting trip to the jungles of Africa, where he indulged to the full his love of excitement and his interest in natural history. He killed lion, hippopotamus and elephant, tracking his game on foot and having several narrow escapes from death by infuriated and wounded wild beasts. He then toured Europe on a trip the like of which has not fallen to the lot of any other living man, for he was feted and cheered like a monarch wherever he went, and received honors that never before in the history of the world had been accorded to a man in private life.
Roosevelt returned to America more honored and loved than any other man in its wide boundaries, and with his usual energy he plunged once more into the political fight. He had everything to lose and nothing to gain, but entered the struggle with a spirit of heroism and patriotic duty that all men must respect, whatever they think of his political ideas. When the time came again for the Presidential struggle, Roosevelt, who disliked the way things had been going since his term of office, once more became a candidate, and as he was repudiated by the Republicans he formed a party of his own which he called the Progressive Party and ran for President against Taft and Woodrow Wilson.
Wilson had the solid Democratic vote behind him, and while the total of the votes he received made him a minority president, he was able nevertheless to win on account of the friction between Roosevelt and Taft. And Roosevelt now retired to his home on Sagamore Hill, Long Island, where although he was a private citizen again, his voice was constantly heard throughout the country, with more influence on public affairs than any other force outside the Administration.
When time for the next election came, the Republicans nominated Hughes and Roosevelt retired from the race to aid the fight against Wilson, who was nevertheless reelected. In spite of his political defeat these years may well be considered as among the greatest in Roosevelt's life. More than any other man he stood for true Americanism, and showed a bewildered country the straight path toward the light of patriotism. He was among the first to condemn the German outrages, to silence the voices of supine pacifists and plead for action on the part of the American Government. He was the staunchest advocate of national preparedness, and we may say that the military training camps that gave America officers for the war were fathered by Roosevelt as well as by his friend and comrade in arms, General Wood, who was sponsor of "The Plattsburg Idea."
Before this, however, Roosevelt's restless spirit took him again into the wilderness, and with a body of chosen companions he had explored the Brazilian jungles and penetrated wilds where no white man had ever set foot before. In this journey, however, Roosevelt fell ill to a severe attack of tropical fever that even his robust frame and vigorous constitution could not shake off. He was now a sick man and growing old, but his bodily weakness did not hinder his strong voice that was so bravely uplifted in behalf of the best ideals of his country.
When the war broke out with Germany Roosevelt wished to go. He offered to raise and train a force for service on European battlefields, just as he had done in the Spanish war, nineteen years before. His offer was refused, and, bitterly disappointed, Roosevelt was compelled to stay at home and watch other men fight—a fact that is thought to have hastened his death. He had hoped that his might be the lot of dying on the field of battle. But as he could not do this, he did the next best thing—he sent his four sons to represent him.
As all four were among the first to volunteer it can hardly be said, however, that Roosevelt sent them. None the less the training they had received at his hands is doubtless partly responsible for their splendid service and the fact that all strove for and obtained positions with combat troops.
On January 6, 1919, Theodore Roosevelt died in his sleep, a prey to the fever that he had contracted in South America and to inflammatory rheumatism with other complications. His death caused mourning all over the United States and brought a personal sense of loss to the heart of every true American. Like Lincoln, Roosevelt is a man of the ages, and his name has been made immortal. And his last message, which he read only the night before he died, to the members of the American Defense Society, is symbolic and typical of Roosevelt the man.
"We have room but for one flag," he said, "the American flag—we have room but for one loyalty and that is loyalty to the American people."
So spoke Theodore Roosevelt a few hours before he died, and his words sum up the work of his great life.
As the name of Florence Nightingale became world famous at the close of the Crimean War more than sixty years ago, the name of another English nurse who suffered martyrdom in the World War will go down into history with the lustre of glory and self-sacrifice surrounding it. That name is Edith Cavell.
Edith Cavell was born at Swardeston in Norwich, England, in 1873. Her father was an English minister of the old school who was rector of a single parish in Norwich for more than half a century. Edith and her sister were brought up in strict conformance with church ideas and were taught the value of leading useful lives and the glory of self-sacrifice. As was customary at the time when she was a young girl she received her education on the continent, attending school in the city of Brussels in Belgium. She then returned to her home and remained there until, when twenty-one years old and resolved to give her life to some useful and benevolent occupation, she decided to become a trained nurse and went to London to study that calling.
She studied at the London Hospital—a place, we are told, where the hardest and most difficult conditions prevailed, and where the nurses were worked to the limit of their strength. She also held the position of a nurse in two other hospitals—the Shoreditch Infirmary in Hoxton, and the St. Pancras Infirmary; and she gained a reputation both for hard work and efficiency, while her patients often spoke of her gentleness and her kindness. Not content with forgetting a patient when discharged from the hospital, Edith Cavell often followed him to his home and continued there the lighter nursing that would assure his convalescence. Her regular duties were severe enough but she used a large part of her scanty leisure for such purposes as these.
In 1906 Edith Cavell left the English hospitals, where she had made a reputation for herself, and went back to Brussels, where she took a position as matron in a Medical and Surgical Home. Nursing in Brussels had been conducted hitherto by Roman Catholic Sisters of Mercy, and at first they were inclined to look upon Miss Cavell as an untrained outsider, but her tact, efficiency and skill soon won the hearts of these good women, who afforded her every courtesy and entered into cordial cooperation with her.
Her home succeeded so well that three years after its commencement, Miss Cavell started also a training school for nurses. She was popular everywhere in the Belgian capital, and although Protestant, she gained the praise of the Roman Catholic priests for the generous and unselfish work that she performed.
When the war broke out Miss Cavell was on a vacation with her mother. Every year she returned twice to England to visit her family. Her father had died by this time, but her mother was close to her heart and she saw her as often as she could.
"I may be looked on as an old maid," she is reported as saying, "but with my work and my mother I am a very happy one, and desire nothing more as long as I have these two."
When war was declared Miss Cavell lost no time in hurrying back to Brussels, believing that her duty called her there. She wrote a letter commenting on the German army when it swept through Belgium—and in it she voiced her pity for the tired, footsore German soldiers,—who were later to slay her. Brussels became a part of the German Empire and a tyrannical governor came there to establish his headquarters, issuing proclamations threatening the Belgians with death for minor offenses, and filling Brussels with spies and intrigue. Miss Cavell desired to continue her hospital work and went to the Governor, Von Bissing, to get permission to do so. He granted it, for the quiet English nurse made an impression upon him. We are told that the arrogant German formed a high opinion of her—so much so that he secretly determined to keep her under the strictest supervision!
From that time on spies dogged her tracks. She cared for the wounded German soldiers and nursed a number of German officers, as well as the Belgians who were in her care, but this made no difference to the authorities. They were determined to detect her in some crime and punish her. It was not fitting, they thought, that an enemy should be engaged in works of mercy, even though they themselves might benefit thereby. And soon spies began to come to the Governor with tales and fabrications of the crimes that she had been committing in their eyes. They bore witness that she had given an overcoat to a Frenchman who was cold and hungry—and the Frenchman later escaped over the Dutch frontier. Once she gave a glass of water to a Belgian soldier. She had given money to poor people, perhaps to soldiers. But the main reason that the Germans hated her was because she was held in great affection by the people of Brussels.
On the night of August fifth, 1915, we are told, Miss Cavell was tying up the wounds of a wounded German soldier, when a group of armed men entered the room and their leader told her roughly that she was under arrest. A blow was the only response when she tried to expostulate. She was taken to prison and placed in solitary confinement. Her arrest was shrouded with the most careful secrecy, for the Germans did not want to have the representatives of neutral governments, such as the United States, know of the affair or of what they proposed to do.
But word of her plight did reach England through a traveler, and at once the British Government requested the American Ambassador, Dr. Page, to get what information he could from Brand Whitlock, the American Minister in Belgium. He went at once to the German authorities, but they evaded his questions and waited ten days before giving him a reply. Then the Germans sent him a statement declaring that Edith Cavell herself had admitted giving money to English and Belgian soldiers and furnishing them with guides to help them to the Dutch frontier, whence they might escape into Holland and return to England.
This was the German statement. If what they said were true, there was still no cause for killing the unfortunate woman in their power, for she was not accused at any time of having been a spy. But they had planned to try her for her life, and Mr. Whitlock soon guessed this, in spite of the fact that the Germans kept their preparations from him so far as possible.
An American lawyer, Mr. de Leval, was requested by Mr. Whitlock to take Miss Cavell's case and do whatever was possible in her behalf. He was not allowed to see the prisoner—and was not even allowed to look at the documents in the case until the trial began. Another lawyer, who was a Belgian, suddenly appeared and told the Americans that there was not the least cause for them to worry as Miss Cavell was sure to receive only just treatment. He also promised to let them know when the trial was to take place, and that he would keep them informed of all the developments in the case. All these promises were broken. It is true that he sent a note a few days before the trial telling Mr. Whitlock that the case was about to come to court, but that is all that he told them. He never informed them that the death sentence had been imposed. He never came to see them afterward. And when they sought him for an explanation and for assistance, he had disappeared.
Miss Cavell was kept in solitary confinement for two months and then was tried with a number of other persons who were accused of crimes against the German Government. It was only from a private source that Mr. de Leval learned that the trial was under way, and that the death sentence had been given. Miss Cavell herself, we are told, was calm, dignified and brave at the trial and faced her accusers heroically. She was dressed in her nurse's uniform and wore the badge of the Red Cross.
When Mr. Whitlock learned that she had been tried and sentenced to death he did everything possible to secure her pardon, or at least a moderation of the punishment. He wrote to Baron Von der Lancken, pointing out in a clear and decisive manner that Miss Cavell had served the Germans by caring for their wounded, and that the death sentence had never before been inflicted for the crime of which she was accused. He also wrote a note to the Baron which is as follows:
"My dear Baron:
"I am too ill to present my request to you in person, but I appeal to your generosity of heart to support it and save this unfortunate woman from death. Have pity on her.
All through the day the American Legation sent message after message to the German authorities asking for information. They received none. At 6:20 in the evening they were told by a subordinate that the sentence had not been given—only to learn later that it had indeed been declared, and that Miss Cavell would face a firing squad at two o'clock the following morning. Mr. Whitlock then urged Baron Von der Lancken to appeal to Gen. Von Bissing to mitigate the sentence, and at eleven in the evening he was told that Von Bissing refused to do anything to save Miss Cavell's life.
At the same time that the Governor denied this appeal, Edith Cavell was allowed to see a British chaplain. She told him that she was not in the least afraid of death and willingly gave her life for her country. Her words resembled those of Florence Nightingale that have been quoted elsewhere in this book. Death, she said, was well known to her, and she had seen it so often that it was not strange or fearful to her.
Early in the morning with her eyes bandaged Miss Cavell was led out to face the rifles of the Huns. She wore an English flag over her bosom. Only Germans were witnesses of the execution, but the German chaplain who attended said that she died like a heroine.
When her death became known, the entire civilized world was shocked and horrified. In England this murder did more to stimulate recruiting than anything else up to that time. All day long lines of men waited to sign the papers of enlistment, and in Miss Cavell's home town every eligible man was sworn into the army.
A bitter denunciation of the German act was made by Sir Edward Grey. The Germans themselves had only a poor excuse for what they had done. In brief the case against the German authorities is as follows: they had not previously inflicted the death penalty for the offense of which Miss Cavell was accused; they had kept her in solitary confinement and prevented her from consulting an advocate up to the time of her trial; she was tried with great haste and with great secrecy, and after the trial the sentence was carried out far more speedily than usual. Moreover they had deceived Mr. Whitlock and the other members of the American Legation, and had done so deliberately. After the execution they refused to return the body.
But the name of Edith Cavell has become one of the world's great names and her fame grows brighter as time passes. In the hospital where she was in training for her high calling a fitting memorial to her is being prepared—it is the Edith Cavell Home to be a permanent part of the London Hospital where she served her difficult apprenticeship. But her chief memorial is in the hearts and minds of the British nation.
KING ALBERT OF BELGIUM
The greatness of kings is not always proportionate to the size of the kingdoms they rule, and their fame does not run in accord with the breadth of their dominions, or the number of subjects who serve them. This has been proved many times in history,—but never more conclusively than in the little kingdom of Belgium, whose present ruler, Albert the First, has already won glory equal to that of any hero-king of any age.
Until he was a young man it was never expected that Albert would ever be King, for he was the younger son of the younger brother of King Leopold the Second. Much would have to take place before he could win the throne, and Albert, in consequence, was not trained for the severe duties of a ruler. But in the end this worked good rather than harm, for Albert received so thorough a military education that by practical advice and prompt action he was able to save his country in the terrible ordeal through which it passed. And as he had expected to be no more than one of the King's subjects, he had learned the ways of the people more intimately than he could have done if he had always been hemmed in with the restrictions of royalty.
When Albert was seventeen years old, his brother Baldwin died, and it was then seen that he might indeed become King, for Leopold had no direct male heirs. But this was not yet sure, for under certain conditions the King had the right to appoint his successor, and he did not decide to make Albert the heir to the throne until the Prince married and had two sons who would ensure the permanence of the royal Belgian family.
Albert was born in 1875 on the Eighth of April. His father was Count Philippe of Flanders who was Leopold's youngest brother. As a boy the young prince received an education such as would be given to any cultivated well bred gentleman, but as it was customary for younger sons of princes to enter the army particular attention was paid, as we have said, to his military training.
The young prince attended military school, was drilled as a common soldier and gradually worked his way up through the different grades to the rank of Major. He was intensely interested in the profession of arms and gave more than the required zeal and attention to its pursuit, following his training in a regiment of Grenadiers, and instructed by the most experienced officers.
Albert was not only studious, but fond of all sorts of athletic sports and exercises. He frequently visited the Tyrol for mountain climbing, and later tried his skill on the most rugged Alps. He was fond of shooting and shot well; he was an excellent horseman and his tall figure was frequently to be seen astride his hunter, which he managed with great skill.
The possibility that he might become King had effected a change in the young man's character, who became more reserved and serious, ardently devoted to his studies and eager to find out as much as possible about the lives of the people that one day he was to rule. He often lectured on military topics. He visited the mines and viewed the working conditions of the men that toiled incessantly underground. He watched the fishermen at work and even accompanied them on their trips; he worked in machine-shops and ran locomotives himself. To learn the secrets of modern shipping he visited foreign countries and traveled in disguise as a reporter of a newspaper, paying calls on various shipyards and taking notes on what he saw there.
In the year of the war between America and Spain, 1898, Albert came to the United States and saw President McKinley, and in his travels through our great country he paid a visit to the great financier James J. Hill with whom he talked about the problems that confronted Belgium and from whom he doubtless received valuable advice. He was much impressed by his visit to America, and often talked about it afterward, and thought out means by which the modern improvements he saw in America might be applied to the people of Belgium.
All this time, however, the Prince remained unmarried, and King Leopold, who was growing old, was worried about the succession to the throne. Finally he decided that as long as Albert was without issue he must choose a different heir which was a royal privilege in such a contingency, and his choice fell upon the Duc de Vendome, who had married Albert's sister.
But Albert, who had given no signs of attraction toward any one of the various beautiful ladies he might have married, was soon to fall in love and make a marriage that would gladden the heart of old King Leopold, and please the Belgian people.
Among other things that he had studied in his young manhood was the science of medicine, and a year after he came to America he went to Germany to see the clinic of a Bavarian duke named Charles Theodore, whose skill as an occulist had made him famous throughout Europe. Albert visited this Duke and was presented to his daughters, with one of whom, the Duchess Elizabeth, he promptly fell in love. The passion was mutual, and as the match was a good one from all points of view the young couple were married in Munich on October 2, 1900, where a celebration was held in honor of the event. When the newly wedded couple returned to Belgium no one less than King Leopold was waiting at the railroad station to receive them and offer his congratulations. Leopold was now more predisposed in favor of Albert, and when a son was born he was delighted. On the birth of a second son, the King made a speech in which he publicly confirmed Albert's claim to the throne, and public attention was now focussed on the Prince who was to be King.
Albert had no intention of meddling with political affairs until he actually should become the ruler of Belgium, and he gave scant encouragement to those who sought to sound him and find out what his future policies would be. While he surveyed all public affairs with a keen eye and attentive mind, he kept the public from knowing what he thought of them, and his mind seemed now as much of a mystery as his personality had seemed obscure before it had been known that he was to come to the throne.
Albert was greatly interested in the Belgian colony in Africa and asked permission from King Leopold to visit it and make a tour of inspection. The King was unwilling to have the heir to the throne take so long and presumably so dangerous a journey, but at last he consented and Albert departed for Africa and the Congo, where he spent three arduous months in which time, it is said, he walked more than fifteen hundred miles. The colonists took a great liking to the tall, reserved young man who studied all their interests and doings with such careful attention, and the impression that Albert made upon this part of his future kingdom was more than favorable.
He had not been at home long before King Leopold died, and on the 23rd of December, 1909, Albert came into his capital as King of the Belgians. After taking the oath to guard the constitution and preserve the territory of the Belgian nation, he made a carefully prepared and well thought out speech, in which he declared that the Belgian monarch must always obey the laws of the country and preserve the law with the utmost respect and care. And the first public appearance of Albert as King added to the good impression with which he was regarded everywhere.
His liberty and privacy were now over, and he was absorbed with the affairs of his country. He had become so interested in the Congo colony that he gave a great deal of his own money to better conditions there and to further medical research. The Queen was busy also. With her medical skill she visited the various hospitals and engaged in many charitable enterprises that endeared her to the hearts of the common people. It seemed that she could not do enough to relieve the sufferings of others, and the humblest of her subjects came to look on her as a member of their family, and almost literally worshipped the ground she walked on.
The threat of war was still far off, but Albert, who was greatly concerned over the state of the Belgian army, did all he could to increase its efficiency. He was not only concerned with the military preparedness of Belgium, but observed that the Germans seemed to be taking a firmer and firmer grip on his country. German merchants and business men swarmed in Brussels, and it was not hard to see too that German military experts were studying the topography of Belgium and sending reports back to the Fatherland.
The position of Belgium was peculiar in many ways. Not only did it lie as a little and weak nation between the great armed powers of France and Germany, exposed to the advance of an invading army in case of war, since it was the most convenient way from one country to the other, but its position on the coast made it a favorable vantage ground from which Germany might launch an attack on England. This geographical situation of Belgium has caused it throughout history to be the scene of some of the greatest battles that have ever been fought, and has gained for it the name of "the cockpit of Europe."
Even for its size, Belgium was in a woeful state of military unpreparedness for war, because it was supposed to be exempt from conflict through an agreement of the great powers. All the great nations of Europe had decided that it was safer and better to make Belgium neutral ground, and one and all they had promised to protect the neutrality of this little state with force of arms if necessary. This, as we have said, had given the Belgians a feeling of security. They believed that even if war broke out, Belgium would not be forced into the conflict, but sinister signs of danger, like the distant warnings of a hurricane, gradually obtruded themselves before King Albert's clear sighted vision. He received letters, not from one but from many sources, warning him that the Germans had decided in secret council to send their invading armies across Belgium in case of war with France, and he had seen only too clearly that German spies and military experts were mapping out the country for their own secret ends. So Albert struggled to increase the army and secured the passage of a favorable bill in October, 1913.
But the iron forces of Germany were forged and ready; the uniforms and equipment of her invading hordes were packed away in her storehouses and arsenals. Only the stroke of a pen was needed to loose the blind forces and mighty armaments of a war greater than any that history has known. King Albert's efforts in behalf of the Belgian army were too late, although he did not know it at the time.
In the summer of 1914, Albert went to Switzerland on a vacation, but his fear that Germany was preparing for speedy war forced him to return to Belgium in the middle of his holiday. And events soon proved that he was justified. War leaped up over night like a devouring flame, and immediately the German Government sent to Belgium a threat which declared that it was the purpose of the German High Command to move German troops across Belgium, and that the Belgians would resist at their own peril.
Many a ruler would have acceded to the terms that Germany gave. If a small boy is confronted by a trained pugilist of great weight and gigantic stature, surely none can blame the boy for consenting to the pugilist's demands. None could have blamed King Albert if he had yielded to such force and accepted the tyrant's terms. But the King determined to defend his country to the last drop of Belgian blood, not sparing his own, and the Belgians sent the following reply back to the German war lords:
"The German ultimatum has caused the Belgian Government deep and painful astonishment, and Belgium refuses to believe that her independence could only be preserved at the cost of violating her neutrality."
And Albert grimly added to some of his followers, "Germany appears to believe that Belgium is a road, not a country."
The German armies entered Belgium, and soon the roar of the guns was heard almost from one end of the little nation to the other. King Albert at once put on his uniform and took to the field with the Belgian army. The Germans laid siege to the Belgian fortress of Liege, expecting to overpower it easily. They advanced against it in mass formation, only to be met with such a hail of machine gun fire that they numbered their dead by thousands. The little Kingdom of Belgium had thrust a stick between the cogs of the great German war machine, and by doing so saved the world from a German victory. By delaying the Germans at Liege they allowed the French the vital time to organize their army and mobilize on the frontier, and by the splendid and stubborn resistance that the Germans encountered in Belgium the English too were given a breathing space. On the breast of this weak nation fell the whole weight of the mailed fist, and while the result was inevitable the burden was bravely supported.
Liege fell at last, and the Germans moved onward, in spite of attacks by the Belgians that temporarily halted them. With their great 42 centimeter howitzers the Germans pulverized the forts that held out against them and soon compelled King Albert to shift the seat of Belgian Government to Antwerp. Albert himself, however, stayed in the field with his army and when it fell back he was among the brave men that covered the retreat. He seemed to be everywhere that he was needed, and often in the front line the Belgian soldiers would be cheered by the sight of their King loading and firing a rifle by their side, in the place of some wounded comrade.
The King combined shrewdness with bravery. He ordered Brussels not to resist the German horde, but he fought to the knife wherever resistance would be effective. While the British were yet far away and the French were unable to help, Belgium alone held the enemy in check, and Belgium was animated more by the spirit of their King than by any other cause. It has been said in turn that each one of the Allied Nations won the war. And this is true of them all. Without the aid of the British navy, the bravery of the French army, the fresh strength that America lent to the fight, the Germans must have conquered. But it is practically certain that they would have won if Belgium had not withstood them. With their forces once in Paris and the French and British forces separated no human power could have triumphed against the Kaiser—and it remained for little Belgium to delay him to such an extent that Joffre was able at last to beat the Germans at the Marne and save the world.
Then the Germans turned their guns against the city of Antwerp and soon the giant shells from the monster howitzers were picking up whole buildings in the force of their blast and scattering bricks and timbers broadcast in crashing explosions. Queen Elizabeth had remained with the King, serving as a nurse in the hospitals and doing what she could to relieve the suffering of her people, but when it was seen that Antwerp must fall she decided to take her children to a place of safety. King Albert's eldest son served as a private with a Belgian regiment, but his brother and little sister were too young for any service and were taken to England by the Queen. She refused to remain, however, but returned to the stricken country to take her place with the remainder of her subjects who had not yet received the yoke of German slavery.
Albert refused to allow his army to be driven from Belgian territory. "It would be better to die here," he declared, "than in a foreign land." And always he was with the army, directing its strategy or wielding a weapon himself. "My place is with my brave soldiers," he declared.
All through the sinister days of the war the King's spirit did not weaken. When the Germans were pushing on again toward Paris in the spring of 1918, he kept his head cool and his heart composed. Then the gray lines broke, and the tide turned. The Allied Armies swept onward and the Germans retreated pell mell to save themselves from utter ruin. Back from the ruined villages and the oppressed and tortured countryside the German hordes retreated, and King Albert and Queen Elizabeth triumphantly took possession once more. Their children had returned and the royal family had passed the last year of the war within sound of the guns on the Nieuport front. Their hour of triumph was now come and they entered Brussels after four years of exile.
Their entry was planned to be as glorious and beautiful as possible and it is needless to say with what rejoicing they were received. Allied troops marched past in review, and the King and Queen were accompanied by the most famous generals of the Allied armies. The soldiers of the Belgian army were crowned with flowers when reviewed by the King that so bravely led them.
Peace terms were drawn up and the Germans compelled to repay the Belgians to the last penny for the havoc and vandalism they had wrought. And it is a kind of poetic justice that Albert was reigning, while the Kaiser fled from his own country to cling to the skirts of another weak little power that he would surely have violated as remorselessly as he violated Belgium if it had chanced to stand in his way.
In 1919, twenty-one years after his first trip to this country, King Albert with Queen Elizabeth came to the United States again. They received a warm welcome from one end of the country to the other and the good wishes of all Americans have gone back with them to the wrecked and devastated land that they are striving to restore. Whether King Albert will perform as great work in reconstruction as he has already performed as a soldier and a King the future will decide, but he has already gained an immortal place in the history of the world.
Not since the time of Molly Pitcher has there been a woman soldier so famous in her own country as a Russian girl named Maria Botchkareva, who fought beside the men in the Russian army in the World War and afterward became the commander of a battalion of women soldiers, who called themselves the "Battalion of Death." It is only because the World War was so huge that the name of this girl is not known everywhere. Not only did she make as good a soldier as a man, but she was decorated for bravery. She carried to safety out of No Man's Land on her own back nearly a hundred wounded Russians, while the shells burst and the bullets flew around her, and in the course of the war she was wounded four times.
Maria Botchkareva, who is still living, was born in 1889, the daughter of a Russian fisherman, who was originally a serf. He was too poor to buy a wagon to market his fish, and was compelled to sell them at less than the market price to traveling pedlers. Her mother did manual labor for twelve hours a day to earn five cents. Starvation was constantly at the door, and the father was of a surly and cruel disposition, and frequently beat his wife and his little children.
When quite a young girl Maria became a servant in the family of a Russian army officer, and when still young she married a soldier named Afanasi Botchkarev, who gave her her present name. He beat her so often and treated her so brutally when he was drunk that she tried to drown herself, but was saved because some workmen had seen her plight. Shortly afterward she ran away from Botchkarev and worked her way to the town of Irkutsk in Siberia.
There she underwent many adventures. Her great strength enabled her to work as a man in a gang of laborers who were paving the courtyard of Irkutsk prison with asphalt, and she continued this work for a year, until she became ill and forced to go to a hospital.
War broke out between Russian and Germany. It was the beginning of the great war that was to shake the entire world, and echoes and rumors of terrible events were not long in reaching even so remote a town as Irkutsk. Soldiers commenced to go away to the front and stories of defeats and victories were in the air. And although Maria, unlike Jeanne d'Arc, never heard the voices of the Saints, still a voice within her called on her to go to war to save her country.
But how was a woman to go to war? If it had been difficult in the remote past when Jeanne d'Arc was alive, how much more was success beyond her grasp in a country controlled by modern law and the regulations of a well organized national army. But Maria dressed herself in man's clothes and made her way back to her home, beating her way with difficulty on trains that were crowded with soldiers, and taking over two months to accomplish the difficult journey from Siberia.
When she arrived at her native village she found that her worthless husband had been drafted into the army, taken to the front and was listed as "missing." Nobody knew if he were alive or dead.
Her father and mother were glad to see Maria, but exclaimed in horror and surprise when she told them that she intended to be a soldier.
"You are crazy," they shouted at her. "Women do not go to war! Stay at home with us, for we are old and need your help." But in spite of their entreaties she was obdurate, and going to a clerk in the 25th Reserve Battalion which was quartered there, she declared to him her purpose of enlisting and of fighting in the trenches.
Laughter greeted her on every side. A grinning adjutant took her to the Colonel, who received her kindly, his astonishment only equalled by his admiration for her patriotism.
"But women do not go to war, my dear," he ejaculated when Maria told him her decision.
"Nevertheless I intend to go and I desire you to enlist me," the brave girl answered.
The Colonel could not disobey regulations and enlist a woman in the army, but a telegram was sent to the Czar himself, and in a short time an answer was received from the Czar's official headquarters, announcing that Maria Botchkareva was entitled to become a soldier in the Russian army.
So Maria put on her uniform and was nicknamed "Yashka," a name that soon was known throughout her regiment. Dressed in a man's clothes and bearing arms like a man, she went through the regular drill and fatigue and in a very short time became proficient in handling a rifle which increased the respect in which her comrades held her. They had ridiculed her at first, and made life a burden to her with insults and practical jokes, but she bore these things stolidly and at last won their respect and affection.
The regiment entrained for the front and Yashka went with it. A Russian general heard of the presence of a girl soldier in its ranks and angrily ordered that she be taken from the line and sent to the rear—but Yashka was clever enough to point out that her enlistment had been received by the Czar himself and so superseded the order of the General, who wished to send her home from whence she had come.
The regiment went into the trenches, and Maria, for the first time, heard the roar of the cannon and the whistling of the shells. Her comrades had jokingly told her that she would run when the first shot was fired, but she minded the bombardment no more than any one else. The Germans threw over large quantities of their favorite weapon, gas, and the trenches and the hollows in the ground were filled with the noxious vapors that it was death to breathe, but the Russians put on their gas masks and still went forward.
Then, after serving in the line for some time, the girl soldier had her first experience in more active warfare, for her company was ordered over the top to capture the German sector opposite them, and with fixed bayonets the men moved forward under a heavy fire from the batteries of their own artillery. It was a severe attack, bravely delivered, but doomed to failure because the barbed wire entanglements of the enemy had not been destroyed by the Russian shells. Men dropped by the score, and when the company was finally compelled to retreat there were only seventy left out of two hundred and fifty that had begun the advance. Maria was one of the survivors, her woman's heart torn with pity at the cries of the wounded who had been left dying in No Man's Land. Crawling back from the shelter of the Russian trenches, she dragged a wounded soldier to safety and returned for another. All night she toiled bringing them in until more than fifty owed their lives to her. For this she was recommended for a decoration for bravery, but never received it. Later, however, she won her badge of courage for more work of the same sort performed under heavy fire and in the face of the greatest obstacles.
Then her own turn came. She was wounded and sent to the rear as a casualty. When her wound was healed she returned to the front, only to sustain further wounds and win another decoration. On one occasion she was captured by the Germans, but an attack freed her from their hands after she had been a prisoner for a little over eight hours.
In all the fighting that she had experienced this girl personally did her share, handling a rifle with skill and on several occasions using the bayonet with as much strength as a man. Her fame by this time had penetrated beyond her own regiment. The name of Yashka was known throughout the Russian army, and numbers of curious soldiers crowded around her when she happened to go to some part of the field where she had not previously been seen.
Then began the terrible Russian revolution—a revolution more dreadful than the French Terror in 1793. The Czar was deposed, and word of this was not long in reaching the front line, where groups of rejoicing soldiers hastened to form councils and committees regardless of the discipline that alone could hold them together to an extent to present a solid front to the enemy.
The Germans ceased firing when they learned the cause of the Russians' celebrations, and at once commenced to fraternize with the men they had so recently been fighting, telling the Russians that they desired peace and that the war now would soon be over. Vodka and beer were passed from side to side, and German and Russian soldiers strolled about in No Man's Land without a shot being fired. Nor was this all. A pilgrimage of inflammatory speakers and demagogues commenced to visit the ranks of the Russians, inciting them to revolt against all authority and to drive away their officers. The heads of the soldiers were turned, and good and bad, brave men and cowards, joined in the confusion that was increasing day by day, and the ruin that was sweeping over Russia's fortunes.
The simple heart and mind of Yashka, however, proved to be more astute and better versed in the conduct of war than most of the Russians. She saw what disorder was doing to the army, and worn out in spirit as well as in body, sought leave to return from a war where there was no fighting to her own home.
But finally the idea came to her to form a battalion of women soldiers and shame the men into returning to the front, from which they had been deserting in large numbers. She thought that if the soldiers saw Russian women in the ranks, doing battle with the enemy and proving themselves braver than the men themselves, perhaps they would be shamed into renewing the combat; that if women advanced in the front rank, the men would follow and the war would be resumed. Yashka knew too well that there could be no real peace so long as the Germans remained on Russian soil; and that further war was the only way to drive them out of Russia.
Fired with her idea she went to the leading powers of the Russian Government and asked permission to form a battalion of women soldiers, who were to make every sacrifice, visit the most dangerous parts of the battle front, and unhesitatingly be killed in order that the men might follow them into battle. The Government leaders, including Kerensky, approved of the idea; and Maria commenced to make speeches, calling on the women to enlist beneath her standard in the "Battalion of Death," as her new organization was to be named.
The response was instantaneous. So many women offered to enlist that she had difficulty in accepting all of them, and she resolutely weeded out those that seemed unfit, enacting a strict and severe discipline, more rigorous, in fact, than any that had been undergone by the male soldiers. With rifles supplied by the Government, and with men acting as drill sergeants, she trained her girls until they were well versed in the elements of soldiering, and after they had become proficient in the use of the rifle she prepared to entrain for the front, this time an officer with a thousand or more soldiers under her command.
But her system of training and the severe penalties she exacted from her soldiers brought her into opposition to the Russian Government, which, fatuously believing that rule by the people could be carried into war, insisted on her forming committees in her command and allowing her soldiers a share in the administration of the battalion. This she refused to do, declaring that she would resign her commission first and disband her battalion. If men were difficult to control at the front under the committee system, how much more would this be the case with girls, unused to discipline and more prone by nature than the men to give way to the difficulties and the temptations of war!
After several stormy interviews with the army chiefs and with Kerensky himself, Yashka was allowed to have her own way, and in direct command of her own battalion she set out for the front line. Already the Battalion of Death had had a beneficial effect upon the soldiers at the front, and she believed that when once her women went into action the men would follow without question.
When the Battalion of Death was actually in the front line Yashka saw very quickly, however, that things were far worse than she had imagined, for in the time that she had been recruiting and training her new force, the army had undergone complete demoralization. There was now open friendship between the Russians and the Germans in many quarters of the front, and fighting was unheard of, the soldiers' committees refusing to give their consent to any proposal of that sort. It was in the midst of such a situation that Yashka and her women reached the line.
The Bolsheviki, as the revolutionists were called, had gained almost complete control over the soldiers, and under their influence the army had become a savage mob. Only a few loyal men remained. Soon after Yashka's arrival the officers attempted to put her plan into operation and launch an attack against the Germans, but the soldiers refused to obey and the battalion of women moved out almost unsupported against the enemy, who promptly opened a heavy fire. Their example was tardily followed by the men and a general attack was delivered on a wide portion of the line. After a severe fight, the women soldiers captured the German trenches that lay in front of them, but only to be confronted with a new and terrible difficulty,—for the supports that they had relied upon refused to march any further, declaring that they would defend what they had already gained from the enemy but that under no circumstance would they attack again. This made it necessary for the Battalion of Death to make a headlong retreat, for while they waited for support they had nearly been surrounded by the Germans.
Then the army, incited by the Bolshevist agitators, became completely unmanageable. When Yashka herself opened fire on some Germans who were walking openly through No Man's Land, the Russians on her flanks turned their machine guns against the women and prepared to mow them down. The usefulness of the Battalion was at an end and the lives of the girls were in danger from the Russian soldiers. It became necessary to take them to the rear. Even there, however, when quartered in reserve barracks, they were not safe from interference. With vile threats and taunts deserters and Bolshevists crowded about their quarters and were finally driven away by a volley fired by the girls from the windows of their barracks.
Knowing that this action would result in an attack by the Russians, Yashka hastily assembled her Battalion and marched them away with all their equipment, taking concealment in a nearby wood from which the girls were hurried to the rear and discharged in a score of stations, making their way to their homes as best they might. Revolution now had the upper hand, the army was completely destroyed by the revolutionary doctrine and there was no longer any use in continuing the Battalion, which had become a center for the attacks of friends and foes alike.
Yashka herself returned to Petrograd where she was arrested by the Bolsheviki, but, after a searching examination, she was allowed to proceed to her home. She determined, however, to use all her remaining energy in helping the few loyal Russians who were grouped under a general named Kornilov and were now at open war with the Bolsheviki, so, after procuring a disguise, she made her way through the Bolshevik lines to the loyal forces. Kornilov desired her to return with word from him for the loyalists who were hiding in many places in Russia, but in trying to cross the lines again Yashka found herself entrapped by her enemies. Throwing off her disguise she boldly disclosed herself to them, saying she was on her way to undergo treatment at a hospital for a severe wound she had received while in the Russian army.
And then this courageous girl underwent dangers far more deadly than any she had suffered at the front. She was tried by the Bolsheviki and sentenced to be shot, although she had destroyed all the evidence of her relations with Kornilov, and her foes knew nothing more about her than that she had been commander of the woman's battalion. This alone, however, was crime enough in their eyes to warrant her instant execution, and with part of her clothing taken from her she stood in line with twenty Russian officers to receive her death blow. It happened, however, that on the Bolshevik committee that was present to witness the execution was one of the men who had served beside her in the trenches, and he recognized his old comrade.
"Are you Yashka?" he asked. When she replied in the affirmative he pulled her from the line and took her place in the squad of the condemned, saying that they would have to shoot him before they could shoot Yashka whom he knew and loved. After a stormy argument a reprieve was shown to the executioners and Yashka was allowed to be taken from the field of death and returned to prison.
Through the intercession of friends she was sent to Moscow, and there, after further imprisonment, was set at liberty. She had witnessed enough of the Bolshevist horrors to be even a more bitter enemy of their regime than she had been before. She determined to fly from Russia and gain aid from the Allies to carry on a war against them and the Germans alike, and with this end in view was secretly carried aboard the American steamer Sheridan and brought to the United States. Here, for the time being, her career ends. It will remain for the future to show if she takes further part in the affairs of her country for which she so bravely fought, bled and suffered,—but whether circumstances allow her to do so or not, she has carved her name in lasting letters on the tablets of modern history.
HEROES OF FICTION
Many hundreds of years ago, at the end of the Thirteenth Century to be exact, in the country that is now Switzerland, there lived a Swiss hunter and herdsman named William Tell. He lived in the little town of Burglen among the mountains, and with him lived his wife and his two sons, who, when this story opens, were about ten and twelve years old. William Tell was so strong that his name was known far and wide; he was so skilful a hunter that nothing seemed ever to escape his keen arrow when once it was on the wing; he was so venturesome a mountain climber that the steepest precipice was not too dangerous for him; and with all these great abilities he had a kindly disposition and was liked as well as admired by his neighbors.
William Tell had won more than one prize at the fairs and competitions that were sometimes held near his town; on one occasion he had shot a small bird on the wing with his sure arrow, for the bullseye of the target had seemed too large for him. And so it came to pass that when his neighbors revolted from the foreign yoke that Austria had thrown over Switzerland Tell was one of the first to be called on by the patriots who desired to free their country.
Switzerland was not a single country in those days, but was divided into the three cantons or districts of Schwyz (from which it takes its present name) Uri and Unterwalden. The Austrians had nominally governed the country for a long time without any dissent on the part of the Swiss people, for the Austrian ruler, named Adolph, had treated them extremely well and allowed them to keep their ancestral rights and customs.
Then, however, the Hapsburg Emperor, Albrecht, came to the throne; and discontent and misery were soon apparent in the Swiss cantons. For the new monarch did not follow the policy of the former king, but sent cruel governors to rule over the honest Swiss, with secret orders to oppress them in many ways until their love of liberty, for which they had always been famous, might be destroyed.
All the time that these changes were taking place, William Tell went quietly about his affairs. He looked after his herds and hunted in the mountains, while his wife, Hedwig, saw to his house and brought up his two boys, William and Walter. He had everything to make him happy—a clean and well ordered home on the side of the mountain, a devoted wife, two manly boys, and a herd of cattle that included the most beautiful cow for miles around. This cow was named Hifeli, and wore a sweet toned bell about her neck.
Driving a cow over the mountain paths was a difficult and dangerous undertaking, and one that Tell had never entrusted to either of his children, but as his son William seemed to be able and venturesome he was allowed one day as a great pleasure to drive Hifeli and her calf up to the mountain pasture. The way led along the side of a cliff, and in one place it was so narrow that only a few inches separated those on the path from a terrific gulf so deep that the clouds sometimes hid the trees below it.
While the boy was driving Hifeli over this place, with a sudden rush a fierce eagle swooped down to attack the calf, beating the air with its wings to drive the calf to the edge of the precipice,—and although the lad struck at the bird of prey with his mountain staff until the air was filled with feathers it was to no avail. The calf plunged over the ledge and was dashed to death on the rocks beneath, where the eagle descended and promptly reappeared flying heavily away, bearing the dead body of the calf in its claws. But this was not all the trouble that young Tell was to undergo, for the cow lurched toward the edge of the precipice and sought some way to descend to the spot where she believed the body of her calf had fallen, and try as he would young Tell could not get her away from the spot or drive her back to her stall.
So he tied Hifeli to a tree and went in search of his father to whom he told the misfortune that had befallen him. Whereupon father and son went in search of the eagle and the elder Tell slew it with an arrow from his crossbow. And on this trip he taught his son to show no fear of the high precipices they had to skirt or of the gulfs that had to be crossed by fallen trees. And from that time on he instructed his son to avoid the least sign of fear which later saved both their lives in a curious manner.
There was nothing that Tell hated more than the Austrian rule under the tyrannical governors who were sent to oppress the Swiss, and he engaged in opposing them first of all.
One of the Swiss named Wolfshot had treacherously deserted his countrymen and joined the Austrian cause, for which he was rewarded by the Emperor and given a position under the Austrian Governor. In this position he did all that he could to annoy his neighbors and frequently insulted the Swiss women.
On one occasion Wolfshot tried to make love to the wife of a Swiss peasant named Baumgarten who was an honest as well as a brave man. She ran to her husband for protection and Baumgarten in great anger went to the room where Wolfshot was staying and slew him with an ax. Then, taking horse, he fled for his life pursued by the Austrian guards.
Baumgarten came to the shores of Lake Zurich and would have crossed the lake to safety, but a terrible wind called the Fohn was blowing and the waves of the lake rolled so high that escape by water seemed impossible. The horsemen were close at Baumgarten's heels, and he begged the ferryman to take him across the water in spite of the danger, but to no avail. The ferryman replied that he would not venture out on the lake in that storm to save the life of any one, for it was impossible for any boat to live in the sea that was raging there. But William Tell was present, and seeing that Baumgarten would soon be captured by the Austrians he ran with him to the ferryboat and pushed off just as the Austrians rode up to the shore. The boat was tossed about like a cork, but still it lived under the powerful strokes of Tell, who was skilful above all others with the oar; and the Austrians were forced to go back to their castle without their prisoner, bitterly angry at Tell for having helped the fugitive to escape them.
This was soon brought to the ears of the new Governor named Gessler who determined that he would entrap Tell into committing some other act by which he could be imprisoned and put to death. To accomplish this purpose Gessler conceived the design of placing a cap with the royal arms of Austria upon it in the midst of the public square of the town of Altdorf, where Tell frequently came, and of ordering all people to bow before it as if this cap were the Emperor of Austria himself.
Great was the anger felt by the Swiss when they heard of this infamous design on Gessler's part—but how much more when the cap was actually taken to the public square by a force of heavily armed soldiers and a proclamation was read ordering all who saw it to salute it on pain of whatever penalty the Governor saw fit to impose!
Now Tell happened to be in Altdorf at this very time with his little son William; and in order to avoid saluting this hated emblem, he left town earlier than he had planned and by a street where he thought he would not see the cap or encounter any of the Austrians who had come to Altdorf to see that the Governor's order was enforced. As luck would have it, however, Tell walked right into the square where the cap had been placed and came right upon it before he noticed it. And several Austrian men at arms stood near it.
Without a word, leading his little son by the hand, Tell strode past the cap without bowing his head—and was at once stopped by the soldiers who told him he was under arrest for defying the Governor's order and made ready to take him before Gessler for trial. But Gessler himself had seen all this and was so eager to punish Tell that he did not wait for the soldiers to come to him, but with his servants and retainers hastened out into the square.
Gessler knew Tell by sight and spoke to him by name.
"What does this mean, Tell?" he demanded. "Have you not heard that this cap represents the Emperor and is to be saluted by all that pass it?"
"Aye, your Lordship," answered Tell.
"And so you propose to add defiance of my person to your other crime?" said the Governor. "I have you in my power now and you shall pay a dear penalty. All the more dearly shall you pay because you go about the streets armed with your crossbow at your side."
"My bow is used for hunting, your Lordship," said Tell proudly, "a right that all free men possess and have possessed from the very earliest times."
"I'll curb your right and your talk of freedom," said Gessler fiercely. "Yonder is your son. Now harken to your punishment. Take your bow and shoot an apple from the child's head."
Now the Governor never thought that Tell could hit so difficult a mark, and Tell himself, good shot as he was, quailed at shooting at so small a target, when the slightest slip would cause him to kill his beloved son. And he begged the Governor to take his property if he would or to do what he chose to his person, but to spare an innocent boy who had done no harm or wrong of any kind.
Gessler, however, was inexorable, and he mocked Tell with the utmost cruelty, telling him that such a mark should be easy for one whose fame as a bowman had traveled through all Switzerland, as Tell's had done.
"And mark well my words," said Gessler. "See that you hit the apple, for if you miss it, even by a hair's breadth, then you shall die and the boy with you."
A groan went through the crowd that had assembled as Gessler spoke these words. But young William himself was not afraid and went bravely to the tree where he was to stand and with his own hand put the apple on his head.
"Shoot, father, why do you hesitate?" he cried. "Well do I know that you will hit the apple."
With a shudder Tell took his crossbow and drew two arrows from his quiver. Then holding his breath he aimed at the living mark.
The bowstring twanged. The arrow, like a flash of lightning, split the apple in two halves and imbedded itself in the tree trunk. Tell had triumphed and the deed was accomplished. Turning to Gessler and taking his boy by the hand Tell asked leave to go his way, now that his order had been obeyed.
But Gessler was determined to slay Tell and was only seeking some pretext for getting him into his power.
"Not so fast," said the crafty governor, while he eyed the bow with which Tell had so bravely performed the cruel operation. "Tell me, my shrewd archer, who does not hesitate to aim at his own flesh and blood, why did you draw two arrows from your quiver instead of one?"
Tell drew himself to his full height and, captive as he was, the Governor quailed beneath his glance.
"The second arrow was for you in case I had struck my son!" said Tell fiercely. "If so much as a drop of his blood had been drawn, my second bolt would have been lodged in your false heart."
"Bind him!" shouted Gessler, overjoyed that Tell had delivered himself into his hands. "In my own castle it shall be decided what sort of death and torture he shall suffer." And with Tell led between two horsemen the Governor's retinue went to the shore of the lake to cross to the castle where he made his home.
When the boat was well out in the lake, however, the same terrible wind that so often blew upon its waters arose with the swiftness of a thunderclap and threatened to overwhelm them all. Tell lay bound in the boat, calmly watching what he could see of the storm, when one of the Governor's servants told him that Tell himself was the most skilful boatman in that part of the country and the only one who could save them from the waves that threatened each minute to swamp them.
At this Tell's bonds were cut and he was ordered by the Governor to take his place at the helm and guide the boat to shore, and Gessler added that if he brought it safely in it would serve to lessen the punishment that he planned to inflict upon him.
Tell did as he was ordered and took the tiller. And by his skilful guidance the craft gradually drew near to shore.
But Tell had planned shrewdly as he guided the boat and he gradually drew it toward a ledge of rock that was greatly feared by all the boatmen of the lake. When the boat was directly beneath the rock Tell waited until a wave flung the boat on high and seizing his crossbow and arrows he sprang from the gunwale, landed on the rock and disappeared into the forest.
Gessler was enraged at Tell's escape, but he and his party had all they could do to save their lives from the fury of the lake. At last, more by luck than skill, they drew the craft into smoother waters and he and his retinue were saved.
Tell, however, had formed a stern purpose while fleeing through the forest. He knew that his own life and that of his son and perhaps of his entire family would be lost if Gessler lived, for the Governor would certainly send soldiers to take and slay him. So Tell resolved to slay the governor with the same crossbow with which he had shot the apple from his son's head.
He waited in the woods on the edge of a ravine through which Gessler must pass on the way to his castle at Kussnacht, for no other way led there; and when the Governor's escort finally appeared, Tell aimed his bow, the arrow hissed from the string and imbedded itself squarely in Gessler's heart. The deed was accomplished surely and with skill, and the Swiss would suffer no more from the heavy hand of the tyrant Gessler.
This act rang through Switzerland, and everywhere people were soon in revolt against the power of Austria. And the ultimate result of the action of William Tell was in the end the freedom of the Swiss people from the oppression of Austria. And throughout Switzerland the name of William Tell is revered to this day and there are statues in his honor, while many a legend has been born in his name and many a great writer has celebrated his deeds.
In the year 1605 a Spanish author named Cervantes wrote the story of a lean and elderly gentleman named Don Quixote who had the strangest attack of madness in the world. For this Don Quixote, who lived in La Mancha in Spain, lost his mind through reading books of chivalry, and he so stuffed his poor weak brain with preposterous tales of knights and giants that at last he thought he must take horse and armor and ride through Spain righting wrongs and doing battle with all that opposed him.
Now this fancy of Don Quixote's was just as ridiculous as it would be to-day to go in search of Indians upon the streets of New York or other American cities,—for at the time when he lived there were no knights, nor had there been any for a great many years. The people were honest peasants and burghers who made their living much in the fashion that we do to-day, and had forgotten all about the idle tales of dragons and of knights that rode armed through the forests. But none the less Don Quixote had so addled his mind with stories of bygone times that he must needs become a knight without any delay.
In the attic of his house he found an old suit of rusty armor that had belonged to his grandfather, and he scoured this until it shone like silver. He found a helmet too, and as only part of it remained he repaired it with strips of pasteboard. Then he took an old and worn out horse whose ribs stuck out from his hide and who was more used to hauling vegetables than to warlike adventures, and he called the horse by the high sounding name of "Rocinante," and really believed that the senile old animal was a greater charger than Bucephalus, the famous horse that bore the conqueror, Alexander.
With his armor, a sword, a lance and a horse, all that remained for Don Quixote was to have a fair lady to do bold deeds for, whose colors he could wear on his lance when going into battle. A peasant girl lived near his house whose name was Aldonca Lorenso, a fat girl of squat figure and broad shoulders who smelled of onions, strong enough to carry a sack of potatoes on her head. And Don Quixote decided that she must be his lady fair, and he called her by the high sounding name of Dulcinea del Toboso, ready to uphold the marvelous beauty that he alone believed that she possessed, by doing battle with any man in Spain who should deny it.