By means of alternate hiding and sudden rapid riding, the Marquis finally crossed the Spanish border, and reached the little town of Passage. There, on April 20, 1777, he set sail in a boat happily named La Victoire, heading for North America.
America owes a great deal to this gallant young Frenchman who crossed the seas to aid the colonies. He was among the first of those foreigners who showed the colonists that the love of liberty was as wide as the world. He came when hope was low, and his coming meant much to the brave men who had to undergo the long, discouraging winter at Valley Forge, and the days when it seemed as though time would prove them only rebels and not patriots. He brought ships, and men, and money to aid in the great cause, but more than all these were his own magnetic personality and the buoyant spirit that refused to be cast down.
The War of Independence came to an end, and Lafayette returned home. Trouble was brewing there. The old nobility had grown too overbearing; the men and women who tilled the soil were considered hardly better than mere beasts of burden. Such a state could not last, and so the time came when the mobs of Paris broke into the beautiful gardens of Versailles, stormed the Palace of the Tuilleries, scattered some of the vain and foolish old courtiers, but imprisoned many more, and brought to trial the hapless King Louis and the charming Marie Antoinette.
Lafayette, friend of their early days, stood by them through the height of the storm, but there was little he could do against the people's fury. The Revolution rolled over King and Queen, crushing them and their resplendent court, and when it had passed a different type of men and women governed France.
Only a few of the old nobility were left, and they had learned their lesson. Lafayette and his wife were of that number. Lover of liberty as he was, these great events could scarcely have surprised him. The people had done much the same as had he when, a boy at Versailles, he rebelled against the selfish court that trod down all opposition with a heel of iron.
The Boy of the Channel Fleet: 1758-1805
It was a dark, rainy autumn afternoon, and the small boy, who was trudging along the post-road that led to the English river town of Chatham, was wet to the skin, and thoroughly tired into the bargain. He was thin and pale, with big-searching eyes, and coal black hair that hung tangled over his forehead. He had been traveling all day, and had had only a roll to eat since early morning.
Sometimes he was tempted to stop and ask people he met how far it still was to the town on the Medway, but he overcame the temptation, because he knew that he could reach his destination by six o'clock, and that thinking of the distance still to go would not help him.
Occasionally he would stop, fling his arms about his body for warmth, and stamp his feet hard to drive away the chill. But his stops were not frequent, because he was in a hurry to end his journey.
On such an autumn day night sets in early, and the road ahead was simply a gray blur by the time the boy had reached the outskirts of the town. But when he did see the first straggling houses he could not help giving a little cry of satisfaction. He met a pedlar going the other way.
"Is this Chatham?" the boy asked, half fearing that the answer would be "No."
"Yes, this here's Chatham."
"And where are the docks, the war-ship docks?" asked the boy.
"Keep straight on this road and you'll walk clean into the water, and there's the ships," said the man.
Doubtless he wondered what the boy wanted of the war-ships, but the lad gave him no chance to satisfy his curiosity. He was hurrying on as fast as he could go.
Soon the houses grew more numerous and the post-road had become a street heading through the heart of an old-fashioned town. The boy had never been to Chatham before, but he did not stop to look at any of the curious houses he passed. He saw a pasty-cook's window filled with buns and tarts, and he remembered how long it had been since breakfast, but even that thought did not make him loiter. He must reach the docks before all the men-o'-war's men had left for the night.
Soon a whiff of fresh air blew in his face. He knew what that meant; he loved that breath of the water; it nerved him to cover the last lap of his long journey at a quick step. Then to his delight, he found himself at last arrived at the water's edge, and before him a shore covered with boats, and the wide river with the dim outlines of the men-o'-war.
He stood still, peering at the great ships, until an old sailor passed near him. "Do those ships belong to the Channel Fleet?" asked the boy.
The mariner nodded his head. "That's part of his Majesty's Channel Squadron, my lad. Be you thinkin' of shippin' before the mast?"
"Perhaps. Could you tell me where to find an officer of the fleet? Are there any still ashore?"
The sailor glanced at a landing-stage near by. "Aye, there's an officer's gig, and there's the very man you're lookin' for. The one in the cocked hat with the gold trimmin' yonder."
"Thank you," said the boy, and started on the run for the landing-stage, completely forgetting how tired his legs had been.
The man in the cocked hat found himself a moment later facing a small delicate-looking boy, who was asking which vessel was the Raisonnable.
He looked the boy over and then pointed out the frigate which bore that name. "What do you want with her?" he asked, amused at the eagerness with which the boy looked through the sea of masts at the ship he sought.
"My uncle's her commander, and I'm to serve on her," came the answer. "How can I get on board?"
"I'll look after that," said the young lieutenant. "She's my ship too." Again his eyes ran over the small, slender figure before him. "What's your name?" he asked.
"Horatio Nelson, sir."
"Well, Nelson, you look starved, and more like a drowned rat than a midshipman. How long since you had a square meal?"
"And why didn't you stop in the town and have a bite on your way here?"
"I promised my father to come straight on to the docks, sir, and report for duty. I said I wouldn't stop until I got here."
"So nothing could have kept you back, eh? Well, you've reported for duty now, as I'm your superior officer. I don't have to be on board ship for half an hour, so my first order to you is that you come with me to a cook-shop and have some of the roast beef of old England before you set out to sea."
Nothing loath, now that his promise was kept, Nelson went with the lieutenant into one of the small, winding Chatham streets, and entered an inn much frequented by sailors. Here the officer ordered a hot supper, and sat by the boy while the latter ate it. Nelson was nearly famished; it was a delight to the lieutenant to watch the satisfying of such an appetite.
A little later the officer and the boy were rowed out to the frigate, and Nelson duly delivered by his new friend into the care of the ship's commander. His uncle looked at the boy askance; he seemed very pale and delicate and undersized, even for a boy of thirteen, but the uncle had promised to take him on trial as midshipman, and so, though with much misgiving, he found him his berth.
He little knew what the sight of that Channel Fleet and the smell of the salt water meant to the new midshipman.
The boy's uncle, Captain Suckling by name, who was in command of this sixty-four gun man-o'-war, had been trained in the principles of the old English navy, which were that hardship was good for a sailor, and that the more a man was battered about in time of peace the better he would fight in time of war.
Everything above decks was spick and span, and young Horatio gazed with wondering admiration at the neatness of the white decks continually scraped and holystoned until they fairly glistened in the sun, at the imposing size and length of the long lines of black cannon, the special pride of every officer, and at the symmetry and the wonderful height of spars and sails and rigging, forming a very network in the sky.
He had loved boats since the days when he had pumped water into the horse-trough before his father's house in order that he might sail paper boats in it, and now it seemed almost impossible to believe that he stood on the deck of a ship of his Majesty's service and was to have a hand in caring for all this cannon and rigging. He looked wonderingly at the sailors, a bronzed, hardy lot, in their white jackets and trousers that flared widely at the bottom, wearing their hair according to the custom of the day in long pig-tails down their backs.
But when he went below decks he found the picture very different. Everything there was dirt and gloom, foul odors and general misery. The cat-o'-nine-tails was the favorite punishment for sailors. Many a back was deeply scored with the lash, and, worse yet, many a man had been forced into the service against his will, seized at night by the press-gang, cudgeled into insensibility and carried on board to wake up later and find himself destined to serve at sea. The food was chiefly salt beef, and in most respects the men were treated little better than so many cattle. As a result they might be hardy, but they were also as surly and vicious a lot as could be found anywhere.
The poor boy had a hard time growing accustomed to such companionship. He had longed for the glory of the sailor's life without knowing anything about its wretchedness, and now he saw all these horrors spread before his eyes. His uncle, believing that the best way to bring him up was to let him entirely alone to fight his own battles, paid little or no attention to him, and the boy, brought up in the country home of a clergyman in Norfolk, was very homesick, and often longed for the people and the comforts he had left; but he had a stout heart, and before a great while had conquered this homesickness and set about to see what work he could find to do.
At first both officers and men regarded Horatio as simply a sickly boy and totally unfit for life at sea, but it was not long before he managed, in a quiet way peculiarly his own, to make a name and place for himself on board the Raisonnable.
The story got around that when he was a small boy he had one day escaped from his nurse and run off into some dense woods near his father's house. He had lost his way and finally, coming to a brook too wide for him to cross, had sat down on a stone on one bank and waited. It was some time after dark when his distracted family found him.
"I should think you'd have been frightened to death," his grandmother was reported to have said.
"What's that?" asked the boy.
"Why, fear at being alone, and the dark coming on."
"Fear," said he, "I don't know what you mean by that. I've never seen it."
His uncle told the story one day to another officer, and within a week young Nelson had been christened "Dreadnaught."
When he was still a very new midshipman he went for a cruise in the polar seas. One afternoon some of the men were allowed on the arctic shore, and Nelson started on a little expedition of his own. The first any one else knew of it was when another midshipman happened to glance across the field of ice, and caught sight of the huge white body of a polar bear within a few yards of Nelson.
He called to his mates and pointed to the boy. They were too far off to help. They saw Nelson level his musket and saw the wicked head of the bear raised in front of him. They held their breath waiting for the shot. In the still air they caught the click of the hammer, but heard no report. For some reason the gun had not gone off. With a shout they scrambled over the ice to help him, knowing he was now at the wild beast's mercy.
The boy, however, had turned his musket and raised the butt end in defense when a gun on the ship boomed out the signal for all hands to go aboard. The signal woke the echoes and thundered over the field of ice, and the bear, frightened, turned tail and ran off as fast as his short legs could carry him. Nelson, his musket still raised, ran after the animal, but by this time the rescue party had come up with him.
"What do you mean by hunting polar bears all alone, Dreadnaught?" asked the other midshipman. "Didn't you see him coming?"
"Yes," said the boy, "but I wanted his skin to take back home to my father. I might have had him if that gun hadn't sent him away. Now he's lost forever."
"Well, I vow," said the other. "I don't believe there's another chap in the navy with half your pluck."
Such incidents as these showed the young sailor's courage, and he had continual chances to show how rapidly he was learning seamanship.
By the time he was fifteen he was practically possessed of all the knowledge of an able seaman, and was sent on board the ship Sea Horse to the East Indies. His position at first was little better than that of a foremast hand, but it was not long before the captain noticed the lad's smartness and keen attention to his duties, and very soon he called him to the quarterdeck and made him fore-midshipman.
The captain advised the first lieutenant to keep an eye on the boy and occasionally to let him have charge of manoeuvering the vessel. This the lieutenant did, and to his great surprise found that Nelson was quite as well able to handle the ship as he was himself.
The sea life was doing him good, too. He was no longer the thin, sickly lad who had wandered through the streets of Chatham, but a fine, well-built, sun-tanned youth, well beloved on deck and popular with all his mates.
Fine as the sea life was for him, life in the East Indies was very trying. The climate brought fever with it, and Horatio had been in the East but a short time before he fell very ill and had to be taken from his ship and sent home on board the Dolphin. The ship doctors gave up hope of saving him, but the captain was so much interested in the boy that he spent hours nursing him, and finally he grew better.
The voyage from India to England was the most trying time in Nelson's life. He felt that he was not built for the life of a sailor, although his whole mind and heart were set upon rising in that profession. He had no money, no influential friends; he had staked everything on winning his way in the navy. Now it seemed as though he must give up his career and settle down to some small place on shore.
But his talks with the captain gradually stirred new hopes. He was seized with patriotic zeal and determined at every risk to serve his country on the seas, no matter what suffering it might bring to him. He wanted to act, to do something, and this resolution became suddenly the motive power of his life. From the time of that voyage home on the Dolphin, Nelson used to say, dated his passion to win fame in the defense of England.
When he reached home he was given a position on a new ship, and a little later took his examination for the rank of lieutenant. His uncle, Captain Suckling, who had commanded the Raissonnable, was at the head of the board of examiners before whom Horatio appeared. The boy was very nervous when he entered the room, but answered the questions almost as rapidly as they were put to him, and every answer was full and correct. He passed the examinations triumphantly, and then his uncle introduced him to the other members of the Board.
One of them said, "Why didn't you tell us he was your own nephew?"
"Because," said the old sailor, "I didn't want him to be favored in any way. I was sure he would pass a fine examination, and as you see I haven't been disappointed."
Nelson was given the rank of lieutenant and assigned to the Lowestoffe. The vessel cruised to the Barbadoes, in the West Indies, and there the young lieutenant had his first chance to make his mark. The ship fell in with an American letter-of-marque, and the first lieutenant was ordered to board the American ship. A terrific gale was blowing, and the sea ran so high that in spite of the efforts of the lieutenant he was unable to reach the American boat and was forced to return to his own frigate.
The captain, very much disturbed at this failure to land the prize, called the officers to him and asked warmly whether there was not one of them who was able to take possession of the other boat. The lieutenant who had already tried and failed offered to try again, but Nelson pushed his way forward and exclaimed, "No, it's my turn now. If I come back it will be time for you then." With a few sailors he jumped into the small boat and ploughed through the seas.
It was a hard tussle to reach the American, and when they did reach her the sea was so high, and the prize lay so deep in the trough of the waves, that Nelson's boat was swept over the deck of the other vessel, and he had to come back from the other side and fight his way against the high sea before he could finally succeed in climbing on board.
He now had a high reputation for courage and daring at sea fit to equal the name he had won as a skilful mariner. It did not take the captain of the Lowestoffe long to realize that the alertness and enthusiasm of his young lieutenant bespoke a future of the greatest brilliance in his country's service.
In those days England was really at peace, although her eyes were constantly turned across the Channel and wise men were preparing her for war with France. Nelson was sent into all parts of the world, and no matter what were his orders he always carried them out with such skill that rapid promotion followed every return home. Time and again he fell ill, but he was never despondent, because he was determined to continue in his course and serve his country at any cost to himself. He also saw the war clouds gathering, and realized that it would not be long before he would have the chance to command a squadron against France.
The men who had scoffed at him when he first appeared, a puny boy, at Chatham, found themselves gradually trusting more and more to his advice, and his uncle, who had at first predicted that three months' service would send Horatio back to shore, was now the first to predict that England would have good cause to be proud of this slightly-built but marvelously active-minded youth.
A boy somewhat younger than Nelson was growing up in Corsica, in France, who was soon to win great battles for the latter country and whose overweaning ambition was finally to plunge his land into a life-and-death struggle with England. That boy was named Napoleon Bonaparte, and when he became supreme in France he realized that it was England who chiefly blocked his schemes at world-wide empire.
He planned to invade England, and to carry his troops across the Channel while the great English war-ships were engaged with his own vessels; but by the time that Napoleon led the troops of France, Horatio Nelson was in command of a British squadron. The French might be all-conquering on land, but the English had yet to be defeated on the seas.
Before the great decisive battle of Trafalgar Nelson sent his famous message to all the men under him: "England expects every man to do his duty!" When the battle was over, the little English admiral had won the greatest naval victory in his country's history. The same indomitable pluck that had carried him through so many dangers won that great day. He would not be downed, no matter what the odds against him.
The same qualities which had sent the delicate boy of thirteen hurrying through the rain to Chatham, intent only on reaching his goal, brought about the great sea victories of Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson.
The Boy of the Conestoga: 1765-1815
It was mid-afternoon on July 3d, 1778. A group of a dozen boys sat in the long grass that grew close down to the banks of the narrow, twisting Conestoga River, in eastern Pennsylvania. All of the boys were hard at work engaged in a mysterious occupation. By the side of one of them lay a great pile of narrow pasteboard tubes, each about two feet long, and in front of this same small boy stood a keg filled with what looked like black sand.
Each of the group was busy working with one of the pasteboard tubes, stopping one end tightly with paper, and then pouring in handfuls of the "sand" from the keg, and from time to time dropping small colored balls into the tubes at various layers of the sand. These balls came from a box that was guarded by the same boy who had charge of the tubes and the keg, and he dealt them out to the others with continual words of caution.
"Be careful of that one, George," he said, handing him one of the colored balls; "those red ones were very hard to make, and I haven't many of them, but they'll burn splendidly, and make a great show when they go off."
"How do you stop the candle when all the balls and powder are in, Rob?" asked another boy.
"See, this way," said the young instructor, and he slipped a short fuse into the tube and fastened the end with paper and a piece of twine.
"There's something'll let folks know to-morrow's the Fourth of July," he added proudly, as he laid the rocket beside the keg of powder.
"What made you think of them, Rob?" asked one of the boys, looking admiringly at the lad of fourteen who had just spoken.
"I knew something had to be done," said Robert, "as soon as I heard they weren't going to let us burn any candles to-morrow night 'cause candles are so scarce. I knew we had to do something to show how proud we are that they signed the Declaration of Independence two years ago, and so I thought things over last night and worked out a way of making these rockets. They'll be much grander than last year's candle parade. They wouldn't let us light the streets, so we'll light the skies."
"I wish the Britishers could see them!" said one of the group; and another added: "I wish General Washington could be in Lancaster to-morrow night!"
Just before the warm sun dropped behind the tops of the walnut-grove beyond the river the work was done, and a great pile of rockets lay on the grass. Then, as though moved by one impulse, all the boys stripped off their clothes and plunged into the cool pool of the river where it made a great circle under the maples. They had all been born and brought up near the winding Conestoga, and had fished in it and swam in it ever since they could remember.
The next evening the boys of Lancaster sprang a surprise on that quiet but patriotic town. The authorities had forbidden the burning of candles on account of the scarcity caused by the War of Independence, and every one expected that second Fourth of July to pass off as quietly as any other day. But at dusk all the boys gathered at Rob Fulton's house, just outside town, and as soon as it was really dark proceeded to the town square, their arms full of mysterious packages.
It took only a few minutes to gather enough wood in the centre of the square for a gigantic bonfire, and when all the people of Lancaster were drawn into the square by the blaze, the boys started their display of fireworks. The astonished people heard one dull thudding report after another, saw a ball of colored fire flaming high in the air, then a burst of myriad sparks and a rain of stars. They were not used to seeing sky-rockets, most of them had never heard that there were such things, but they were delighted with them, and hurrahed and cheered at each fresh burst. This was indeed a great surprise.
"What are they? Where did they come from? How did the boys get them?" were the questions that went through the watching crowds, and it was not long before the answer traveled from mouth to mouth: "It's one of Rob Fulton's inventions. He read about making them in some book."
The father of one of Robert's friends nodded his head when he heard this news, and said to his wife: "I might have known it was young Rob; I've never known such a boy for making things. His schoolmaster told me the other day that when he was only ten he made his own lead pencils, picking up any bits of sheet lead which happened to come his way, and hammering the lead out of them and making pencils that were as good as any in the school."
The fireworks were a great success; for the better part of an hour they held the attention of Lancaster, and when the last rocket had shot out its stars every boy there felt that the Fourth of July had been splendidly kept. For a day or two Rob Fulton was an important personage, then he dropped back into the ranks with his schoolmates.
It was not long after, however, that Robert set himself to work out another problem. The Fultons lived near the Conestoga, and Robert and his younger brothers were very fond of fishing. All they had to fish from was a light raft which they had built the summer before, and this cumbersome craft they had to pole from place to place. When they wanted to fish some distance down from their farmhouse, they had to spend most of the afternoon poling, and this heavy labor robbed the sport of half its charm. So, a week or two after the Fourth of July, Robert told a couple of boy friends that he was going to make a boat of his own, and got them to help him collect the materials he needed.
He liked mystery, and told them to tell no one of his plans. As soon as school was over the three conspirators would steal away to the riverside, and there hammer and saw and plane to their hearts' content. Gradually the boat took shape under their hands, and after about ten days' work a small, light skiff, with two paddle-wheels joined by a bar and crank, was ready to be launched.
The idea was that a boy standing in the middle of the skiff could make both wheels revolve by turning the crank, and it needed only another boy holding an oar in a crotch at the stern to steer the craft wherever he wanted it to go. Yet, even when the boat was finished, the two other boys were very doubtful whether such a strange-looking object would really work, Robert himself had no doubts upon that score; he had worked the whole plan out before he had chosen the first plank.
The miniature side-paddle river-boat was christened the George Washington, and launched in a still reach of the Conestoga. It was an exciting moment when Robert laid hands on the crank and started the two wheels. They turned easily, and the boat pulled steadily out from shore, and at a twist from the steering-oar headed down-stream. It was a proud moment for the young inventor. As they went down the river and passed people on the banks, he could not help laughing as he saw the surprise on their faces.
Fishing became better sport than ever when one had a boat of this sort to take one up-or down-stream. Very little effort sent the paddles a long way, and there were always boys who were eager to take a turn at the crank.
The Lancaster schoolmaster heard of the boat, and said to a friend: "Take my word for it, the world's going to hear from Rob Fulton some of these days. He can't help turning old goods to new uses. And he doesn't know what it means to be discouraged. I met him the afternoon of the third of July and he told me that he was going to make some rockets, and I said I thought he would find such a task impossible. 'No, sir,' says Robert to me, 'I don't think so. I don't think anything's impossible if you make up your mind to do it.' That's the sort of boy he is!"
A large number of Hessian troops were quartered near the Conestoga, and the Lancaster boys thought a great deal about the War for Independence, as was natural when the fathers and brothers of most of them were fighting in it. Such thoughts soon turned Rob Fulton's mind to making firearms, and as soon as his boat had proved itself successful, he planned a new type of gun, and supplied some Lancaster gunsmiths with complete drawings for the whole,—stock, lock, and barrel,—and made estimates of range that proved correct when the gun was finished.
But Rob Fulton had remarkable talents in more lines than one. His playmates had nicknamed him "Quicksilver Bob" because he was so fond of buying that glittering metal and using it in various ways. The name suited him well, for he could turn from one occupation to another, and appeared to be equally good in each. Usually, however, when he was not inventing he was learning how to paint, and he had a number of teachers, one of whom was the famous Major Andre.
The little town of Lancaster was an important place during the Revolution. In 1777 the Continental Congress had held its sessions in the old court-house there, and during the whole time of the war the town was famous as the depot of supplies for the army. A great deal of powder was stored in the town, and rifles, blankets, and clothing were manufactured there in large quantities.
In the autumn of 1775 Major Andre, who had been captured while on his way to Quebec, was brought to Lancaster for safe keeping. He was allowed certain liberty on parole, and lived in the house of a near neighbor of the Fultons, named Caleb Cope. Major Andre was very fond of sketching, and spent much of his time in the fields painting pictures of the picturesque little village. No sooner had Rob Fulton heard of the English major's skill with colors than he hunted him up and asked for a few lessons. Andre was a very amiable young man, and took a great liking to the boy. He gave him many lessons in drawing, and also in the use of colors, and young Fulton learned rapidly under his tutoring. Andre was also in the habit of playing marbles and other games with Rob and his young friends, and the boys found him delightful company.
At about the same time one of Robert's playmates learned a new way of mixing and preparing colors, using mussel-shells to show them off. This boy carried the shells covered with his new paint to school one day and showed them to Robert. No sooner had young Fulton seen them than he begged to be taught how they were made, and immediately started to work mixing his own colors. The Revolution had made it very difficult to obtain painting materials from abroad, and almost all the paints the boys used were home-made. Fulton now began to study the making of colors, and in a very short time was able to add to his stock.
Wherever he went the young inventor and painter was popular. In the near neighborhood of his home there were several factories making arms and ammunition for the war, and guards were stationed about the doors to make sure that no trespassers entered. But "Quicksilver Bob" was allowed to come and go as he would. Whatever he saw he studied, and the first thing they knew the men in charge of the factories would find the boy submitting new plans and new suggestions to them for the improvement of guns or powder. Much to their surprise these suggestions were almost always good ones, and he became a very welcome visitor. He was paid for some of this work, but much of it he did without any reward, except the knowledge that he was in a way serving his country. To help support the little family he used his skill as a painter in making signs for village taverns and shops, very much as another boy artist named Benjamin West had done in his youth.
It happened that in 1777 some two thousand British prisoners were brought to Lancaster and quartered there. Such a large number of the enemy naturally caused some alarm among the quiet country people. The officers were lodged at the taverns and at private houses, but the soldiers themselves lived in rude barracks just outside the town, and there were so many of them that they made quite a settlement for themselves. Many of the Hessian troopers had their wives with them, and these occupied square huts built of mud and sod. The little encampment had quite a strange appearance, the small mud houses lining primitive streets and looking like some savage settlement.
Naturally the place had a great charm for the Lancaster boys, and whenever they were free from school during that time Robert and his friends were almost sure to be found in the neighborhood of the Hessian huts, watching these strange men who had come from overseas. Fulton drew countless pictures of them, some of them caricatures, but many faithful copies of what he saw. When they were finished these pictures were in great demand, and some of them were carried as far as Philadelphia, to show the people there the curious sights of the country near Lancaster.
In spite of his skill in these different lines, Robert was not a very successful scholar, and his poor schoolteacher, who was a strict Quaker of Tory principles, found him very hard to put up with at certain times. If some inventive idea occurred to the boy while he was on his way to school, he was quite as likely to stop and work it out as not. One time he came in so very late that the teacher quite lost his patience. Seizing a rod he told Robert to hold out his hand, and gave him a caning. "There!" he exclaimed, "I hope that will make you do something." But the boy folded his arms and answered very quietly, "I came to school to have something beaten into my brains and not into my knuckles." It was very hard for the teacher to do much with such a lad, particularly as the boy was so often really very helpful to him.
Another time when he came to school late, he had been at a shop pouring lead into wooden pencils that were better than those he had made before, and he handed several of them to the master. The man examined them carefully and said they were the best he had ever had. It was hard to scold the boy for spending his time in such ways. One time, when the teacher had tried to rouse his ambition to study history, Robert said to him: "My head's so full of original notions that there's no vacant room to store away the records of dusty old books." Yet in spite of these stories, the boy could not help picking up a great deal of general information at school, for his mind was always alert, and he was eager to improve on everything that had been done before.
At this time in his boyhood it was hard to say whether the young Fulton was more the inventor or the artist, but as soon as the war ended he decided that he would become a painter, and went to Philadelphia, then the chief city of the new nation, to study his art. He made enough money by the use of his pencil and by making drawings for machinists to support himself, and also saved enough money to buy a small farm for his widowed mother and younger brothers and sisters.
Benjamin West, the great painter, had lived near Lancaster, and had heard much of Robert Fulton's boyhood inventions, and he now hunted him out in Philadelphia, and helped him in his new line of work. The young artist met Benjamin Franklin and found him eager to aid him in his plans, and so, by his perseverance and the friends he was fortunate enough to make, he laid the foundations for his future.
When he became a man, the spirit of the inventor finally overcame that of the painter. He went abroad and studied in laboratories in England and France, and then he came home and built a workshop of his own. What particularly interested him was the uses to which steam might be put, and he studied its possibilities until he had worked out his plans for a practical steamboat. How successful those plans were all the world knows.
It was a great day when the crowds that lined the Hudson River saw the Clermont prove that the era of sailing vessels had closed, and that of steamships had dawned. But to the boys who had lived along the Conestoga it did not seem strange that Robert Fulton had won fame as an inventor; they had known he could make anything he chose since that second Independence Day when he had come to his country's rescue with his home-made sky-rockets.
The Boy of the Carolinas: 1767-1845
It was hard for a boy to get much of an education in the backwoods districts of the American colonies in 1777, and especially so in such a primitive country as that which lay along the Catawba River in South Carolina. The colonies were at war with England, and all the care of the people was needed to protect their farms from attacks by the enemy, and to give as much help as they could to their country's cause.
But if the boys and girls learned little from books they learned a great deal from hard experience; courage and self-reliance foremost of all. All of the children learned those lessons at a time when they might come home any day and find their home burned down by the enemy or their father and older brothers carried away prisoners. Even more than most of his playmates however, young Andrew Jackson learned these things, because his life was harder than theirs, and he saw more of the actual fighting. By nature he was a fighter, and circumstances strengthened that trait in him.
Land in the Carolinas was so valuable for cotton raising that it was not used for building purposes in those days, so the boys who lived near the Catawba were sent to what were called "old-field schools." An "old-field" was really a pine forest. When many crops of cotton, planted season after season without change, had exhausted the soil, the fences were taken away, and the land was left waste. Young pines soon sprang up, and in a short time the field would be covered with a thick wood.
In the wood, as near to the road as possible, a small space would be cleared, and the rudest kind of log house built, with a huge fireplace filling one side of the room. The chinks in the logs were filled with red clay. The trunk of a tree, cut into a plank, was fastened to four upright posts, and served the whole school as a writing-desk. A little below it was stretched a smooth log, and this was the seat for the scholars.
A wandering schoolmaster was engaged by the farmers, only for a few months at a time, and he taught the children reading, writing, and arithmetic. When the weather was bad, and the roads, made of thick red clay, were too heavy for travel, or when there was farming to be done, the school was closed.
This was the only school Mrs. Jackson could send her son Andrew to, and he went there when he was about ten, and took his place on the slab bench, a tall, slim boy, with bright blue eyes, a freckled face, very long sandy hair, wearing a rough homespun suit, and with bare feet and legs. He was not very fond of school, but he did like to be with other boys, and to lead them in any kind of an adventure, particularly if there was the chance of a fight.
There was much in this country life to interest an active boy like Andrew Jackson. Wherever there were no cotton fields there were thick pine woods full of wild turkeys and deer to be had for the shooting. The farmers of the Catawba country took their cotton to market in immense covered wagons, often needing a week to make the journey, and camping out every night. Boys were in demand to help load the cotton, and gather wood for the camp-fires, and many a time Andrew was hired to travel to market with a farmer and his wife and young children, and many a night he spent in a little opening in the woods eating supper and sleeping close to a blazing fire of pine knots that lighted up the trees for yards around.
The farmers were not apt to leave their wives and children at home, because either the British or the Indians might sweep down upon the district at any time. So quite a party would travel together, and that added to the fun. Such a life, with plenty of horses to ride, and turkeys to hunt, and journeys to make, with only occasional schooling, appealed strongly to Andrew.
In August, 1780, when young Jackson was twelve years old, the American General Gates was defeated by the British, and Cornwallis marched into the country of the Catawba. Many families left their homes and went north to be safe from the enemy, and among others Mrs. Jackson and her sons determined to seek a safer home. Andrew's mother and his brother Robert left on horseback, and a day or two later Andrew followed them.
The people all through that desolate part of the country were anxious for news of the war, especially for word of fathers or brothers in the army, and they stood by the roads and asked news eagerly of any chance horseman. At one lonely house a little girl was stationed at the gate to question travelers. About sunset one day she saw a tall, gawkish boy come riding along the road, astride of one of the rough, wild, South Carolina ponies. His bare legs were almost long enough to meet under the pony; he wore a torn wide-brimmed hat which napped about his face. His scanty shirt and trousers were covered with dust, and his face was burned brown and worn with hardship. He had ridden so far and was so tired that he could scarcely keep his seat.
"Where you from?" cried the girl, as the boy reined up.
"From down below, along Waxhaw Creek."
"Where you going?"
"Up along north."
"Who you for?"
"The Continental Congress."
"What you doing to the Redcoats down below?"
"Oh, we're poppin' 'em still."
"An' what may your name be?"
"Andy Jackson. Anythin' else you'd like to know?"
She asked him for news of her father's regiment, but the boy knew little about it, and was soon riding on his way, following the highroad to Charlotte.
In Charlotte the Jacksons boarded with some relatives, and Andrew worked hard to pay for his food and lodging. He drove cattle, tended the mill, brought in wood, picked beans, and did any odd jobs that fell to his hand. All the time he was hoping for a chance to fight the enemy, and each day he brought home some new weapon. One day it was a rude spear which he had forged while he waited for the blacksmith to finish a job, another time it was a wooden club, and another a tomahawk. Once he fastened the blade of a scythe to a pole, and when he reached home began cutting down weeds with it, crying, "Oh, if only I were a man, how I'd cut down the Redcoats with this!"
The man with whom he was living happened to be watching him, and said later to Andrew's mother: "That boy Andy is going to fight his way in this world."
The war between the colonists and the British was especially bitter in the Carolinas, where conditions were more rude and simple than in other parts of the country. The stories that came to Andrew were enough to stir any boy's blood. He had heard that at Charleston the farmers had used their cotton bales to build a fort, that the guerrilla leader Marion had split saws into sword blades for his men, that in more than one encounter the Carolina militia had gone into battle with more men than muskets, so that the unarmed men had to stand and watch the battle until some comrade fell and they could rush in and seize his gun. Popular legends made the Redcoats little less than devils, fit companions for the Indian bands they sent upon the war-path.
News of one attack after another came to the Jackson boys until they could stand inaction no longer, and joined a small band of independent riders, not members of any regiment, but free to attack and retreat as they liked.
Andrew's first real taste of battle came when he, his brother Robert, and six friends were guarding the house of a neighbor, Captain Sands. The captain had come to see his family, and it was known that the house might be attacked by Tories.
Leaving one man to watch, the rest of the defenders stretched themselves out on the floor of the living-room and went to sleep. The sentry also dozed, but toward midnight he was roused by a suspicious noise, and investigating found that two bands of the enemy were approaching the house, one in the front and one in the rear. He rushed indoors, and seized Andrew, who was sleeping next to the door, by the hair. "The Tories are upon us!" he cried in great alarm. The boy jumped up, and ran out of doors. Seeing men in the distance he placed his gun in the fork of a tree by the door, and hailed the men. They made no reply. He called to them again. There was no answer, but they came on double-quick.
By this time the other defenders were roused, and had joined the boy. Andrew fired, and the attacking party answered with a volley. The Tories who were creeping up from the rear supposed the volley was fired from the defenders, and immediately answered with fire from their guns. Andrew and his companions retreated into the house, having managed for a few moments to draw the enemy's fire in the darkness against each other. The Tories halted and learned their mistake.
By now the men indoors opened fire from the windows on both parties. Several Tories fell, and the rest were held at bay. Then very fortunately a distant bugle was heard sounding the cavalry charge, and the Tories, thinking they had been led into an ambush and were about to be attacked in the rear, dashed to their horses and, mounting, rode off at full speed.
It turned out afterward that a neighbor, hearing the firing at Captain Sands' house, had blown his bugle, hoping to give the enemy alarm in the darkness, and that in reality the trick had worked to perfection. So the Jackson boys had luck with them in their first skirmish.
They were not so lucky next time. The British general heard of the activity of the little band of colonists and planned to end them. He heard that about forty of the farmers were gathered at the Waxhaw meeting-house, and he sent a body of dragoons, dressed in rough country clothes, to seize them. The farmers were expecting a band of neighbors, and were fooled by the British. Eleven of the forty were taken prisoners, and the rest fled, pursued hotly by the dragoons.
Andrew found himself riding desperately by the side of his cousin, Lieutenant Thomas Crawford. For a time they kept to the road, and then turned across a swampy field, where they soon came to a wide slough of mire. They plunged their horses into the bog. Andrew struggled through, but when he reached the bank he found that his cousin's horse had fallen, and that Thomas was trying to fight off his pursuers with his sword. Andrew started back, but before he could get near his cousin the latter had been forced to surrender. The boy then turned, and succeeded in outriding the dragoons, and finally found refuge in the woods, where his brother Robert joined him that night.
The next morning hunger forced the two boys to seek a house, and they crept up to their cousin's. They left their guns and horses in the woods, and reached the house safely. Unfortunately a Tory neighbor had seen them, and, seizing their horses and arms, he sent word to the British soldiers. Before the boys had any notice of attack the house was surrounded and they were taken prisoners.
Andrew never forgot the scene that followed. There were no men in the house, only his cousin's wife and young children. Nevertheless the soldiers destroyed everything they could find, smashed furniture, crockery, glass, tore all the clothing to rags, and broke in windows and doors. Then the officer in charge ordered Andrew to clean his high riding-boots, which were crusted with mud. The boy refused to do it, saying, "I've a right to be treated as a prisoner of war."
The officer swore, and aimed a blow with his sword at Andrew's head. Jackson threw up his left arm as a shield and received two wounds, one a deep gash on the head, the other on his hand. The officer then turned to Robert Jackson, and ordered him to clean his boots. Robert also refused. Then the man struck this boy on the head, and knocked him to the floor. It was a bad business, and the whole performance, especially the brutal treatment of a defenseless woman and two boy prisoners, made a deep impression on Andrew's mind. He was only fourteen years old, but his fighting spirit was that of a grown man.
Shortly after this Andrew was ordered to mount a horse, and guide some of the soldiers to the house of a well-known man named Thompson. He was threatened with death if he failed to guide them right. There was nothing for it but to obey, but the boy hit upon a plan by which he might give Thompson a chance to escape. Instead of reaching the house by the usual road he took the men a roundabout way which brought them into full sight of the place half a mile before they reached it. As Andrew had guessed, some one was on watch, and instantly gave the alarm, so that the Redcoats had the pleasure of seeing the man they sought dash from his house, mount a waiting horse, and make off toward a creek that ran close by. The creek was swollen and very deep, but the rider plunged into it and got safely across. The dragoons, however, did not dare follow, and Thompson, shouting defiance at them, got safely into the woods and away.
The prisoners were now gathered together, and placed under one escort to be taken to the British prison at Camden, South Carolina. The journey was a very hard one. Both the Jackson boys and their cousin, Thomas Crawford, were suffering from wounds, but they were allowed no food or water as they were marched the forty miles. The soldiers even forbade the boys scooping up drinking water from one of the streams they crossed.
The prison at Camden was wretchedness itself. Two hundred and fifty men and boys were herded into one small enclosure. They were given no beds, no medicine, nor bandages to dress their wounds, only a little bad bread for food. The brothers were separated. Andrew was robbed of his coat and shoes; he was sick and hungry and worried, for he had no idea what had happened to his mother or brother. Then as a final horror smallpox broke out in the prison, and the fear of contagion was added to the other torments.
One day Andrew was lying in the sun near the prison gate when an officer was attracted by his youth and came up to talk with him. The officer seemed kind, and the boy poured out the miseries of the prison life to him. He told how the men were starved or given bad food, and how they were ill used by the guards. The officer was shocked and promised to look into the matter. When he did he found that the contractors were not giving the prisoners the food they were paid to provide, and he reported the matter to those in charge. Shortly after conditions improved.
Then news came to the prison that the American General Greene was coming to deliver them. They were tremendously excited at the report. General Greene had indeed marched on Camden with a small army of twelve hundred men, but as he had marched faster than his artillery he thought it best to wait on a hill outside the town until the guns should come up with him. Six days he stayed there, and then the British commander decided to attack him without further delay.
The prison yard would have given a good view of the battle but for a board fence which had lately been built on top of the wall. Andrew looked everywhere for a crack in the boards, but could find none. He managed, however, during the night to cut a hole with an old razor blade which had been given the prisoners to serve as a meat knife. Through this hole he saw something of the battle next day, and described what he saw to the men in the yard below him.
The Americans were not expecting the British attack. When the British general led out his nine hundred men early in the morning the Americans were scattered over the hill, washing their clothes, cleaning their guns, cooking, and playing cards. Andrew saw the enemy steal about the base of the hill. There was no way in which he could warn his countrymen. He saw the British steal up the hill, and break suddenly on the surprised soldiers. The colonials rushed for their arms, fell into line, met the charge. The American horse dashed upon the British rear, and a cheer went up from the waiting prisoners. Then the British made a second charge, and this time carried men and horses before them, down the slope and out into the plain. The Americans ceased firing, and finally broke in full retreat. The prisoners were in more wretched state than they had been before.
After the battle Andrew's spirits sank to the lowest ebb. He fell ill with the first symptoms of the dreaded smallpox. His brother was in even worse condition. The wound in his head had not healed, as it had never been properly treated. He also was ill, and it seemed as though both boys were about to fall victims to the plague.
Fortunately, at this great crisis, help suddenly appeared. Their devoted mother learned of the boys' state, and went by herself to Camden to see if she could not procure a transfer of prisoners. She saw the British general, and arranged that he should free her two sons and five of her neighbors in return for thirteen British soldiers who had been recently captured by a Waxhaw captain. The boys were set free, and joined their mother. She was shocked to find them so changed by hunger, illness, and wounds. Robert could not stand, and Andrew was little better off. They were free, however, at last, and Mrs. Jackson planned to get them home as soon as possible.
The mother could get only two horses. One she rode, and Robert was put on the other, and held in the saddle by two of the men just freed. Andrew dragged himself wearily behind, without hat, coat, or shoes. Forty miles of wilderness lay between Camden and the boys' old home at Waxhaw near the Catawba. The little party trudged along as best it could, and were only two miles from home when a cold, drenching rain started to fall. The boys, ill already, suffered terribly. Finally they reached home, and were put to bed. The cold rain had proved too severe for Robert, and two days later he died. Andrew, stricken with smallpox, as was his brother, was very ill for a long time.
While Andrew was still sick word came to Waxhaw that the condition of some of the men and boys in the Charleston prison ships was even worse than that of the men at Camden. Mrs. Jackson's nephews and many of her friends and neighbors were in the ships, and she felt that she must do something to relieve them. As soon as she could leave Andrew, she started with two other women to travel the hundred and sixty miles to Charleston.
The three women carried medicines and country delicacies and gifts for the prisoners. It was a most heroic journey. They had no protectors, and they were going into the enemy's lines. They succeeded, however, finally managing to gain admittance to the ships, and to deliver the messages from home, the food, and the medicines that were so greatly needed. No one can say how much happiness they brought to those ships in Charleston harbor.
Mrs. Jackson stayed in the neighborhood of the city some time, doing what she could to help her countrymen. Unfortunately disease was only too rife in the prisons, and it was not long before she became ill with the ship fever, and after a very short illness died. The news was brought to Andrew, now fifteen years old, as he lay at home, just recovering a little of his strength. He had always been devoted to his mother and worshipped her memory all the days of his life.
The British under Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, October 19, 1781, and the war in the south practically came to an end. Andrew Jackson came out of the Revolution without father or mother or brother, a convalescent in the house of a cousin, with bitter memories of the war. For a long time he was exceedingly weak and dispirited, and that fighting aggressive nature which had marked his early boyhood did not return to him for some time.
The boy of sixteen had no one to advise him as to what to do. He tired of life in the primitive Waxhaw country, and when the British evacuated Charleston he went there, and saw something of city life. But his money was soon spent, and he had to decide what he should turn his hand to. The law appealed to him as a good field for advancement, just as it appealed to so many ambitious youths of the new country.
At almost the same time there began the emigration of many Carolina families westward into what was to become the territory of Tennessee. Land was given to all who would emigrate and settle there. The idea of growing up with a new community appealed to Andrew; he knew he had the power to make his way. In 1788 he started on his journey west, traveling in the company of about a hundred settlers. They had many adventures and several times they were in danger of attack from Indians. Once it was Jackson himself, sitting by the camp-fire after the others had gone to sleep, who detected something strange in the hooting of owls about the camp, and waked his friends just in time to save them from being surrounded by a band of redskins on the war-path. At last they reached the small town which had been christened Nashville, and there Andrew decided to settle and practice law.
This was about the time that Washington was being inaugurated first President of the United States.
Andrew grew up with Tennessee. He became a big figure in the western country. He was known as a shrewd, aggressive man, and was sent to Congress from that district. Later, when the War of 1812 came, he was made a general of the American forces, and finally put an end to that war by winning the battle of New Orleans. Some of the satisfaction of that last campaign may have atoned to him for his own sufferings in the Revolution. When the war ended he had won the reputation of a great general, and was one of the most popular men in the United States. His nickname of "Old Hickory" was given him in deep affection.
Shortly afterward he was elected President, and then reelected. He was intensely democratic, absolutely fearless, a magnetic leader. There are few more remarkable stories than that of the rise of the barefooted boy of the Waxhaw to be the chief of the great republic.
The Boy of Brienne: 1769-1821
The playground of the French military school at Brienne was a great open space looking down upon the town. Here, on a January afternoon in 1783, a score of boys were hard at work building a snow fort. The winter had been very cold and a great fall of snow at the first of the year had covered the playground several feet deep. After each storm the boys in the military school fought battles back and forth over the open ground, and up and down the roads that led to the village; but this battle was to be a memorable one.
A little Corsican named Bonaparte was in charge of the defending forces. He was not very popular among his playmates. He kept very much to himself, and when he did mix with the others he had a habit of ordering them about. Most of the other boys were afraid of him. Time and again, when he had been disturbed as he stood reading a book in a distant corner of the schoolroom or walking by himself in the playground, he had turned fiercely upon his playmates and had scattered them before him with the passion of his face and words; but when they wanted a leader the boys turned to Bonaparte, and now when they had decided to build a great fort they left the direction of it entirely to his care.
The Corsican boy, who was fourteen years old, stood in the middle of the ground, his hands clasped behind his back, nodding now in one direction, now in another, as he ordered the boys where to bank the snow, how high to build the ramparts, and in what lines. He was not very tall and his face was quite colorless. Under a broad brow his piercing gray eyes darted here and there, and then were quiet in study. He wore a blue military coat with red facings and bright buttons, and a vest of blue faced with white, and blue knee-breeches, and a military cocked hat. From time to time he drew lines on the snow with a sharp-pointed stick. Once or twice, when he found a boy idling, he spoke to him sharply, but for the most part he kept strict silence.
After a time a young master, dressed like a priest, came out of the school door and walked over toward Bonaparte. He smiled as he saw the intense look on the boy's face, and the rough plan sketched before him on the snow. He came up to the boy and stood looking down at him.
"Well, my young Spartan," said he, "what are you planning now? Some new way to save the town from siege?"
The boy glanced up at his teacher, and a little smile parted his thin lips. "No, Monsieur Pichegru, I was considering how we might drive the French troops out of Corsica."
"From Corsica!" exclaimed the master. "Corsica belongs to France, and you are a French cadet."
The boy shook his head solemnly. "Corsica should be free," he answered. "We are more Italian than French. I hate your barbarous words, my tongue trips over them. If I had my way no Frenchman would be left in the island."
"Then it's well you don't have your way, Bonaparte," said Monsieur Pichegru, laughing.
Suddenly the boy's brow clouded and his eyes grew serious. "You think I shan't have my way then? You don't know me, no one knows me. Wait until I grow up—then you shall see."
The master was used to this boy's strange fancies, and now he simply shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, well, we'll wait and see, but you must learn to curb your temper if you ever expect to do great things in the world."
"Why?" said the boy. "Must a general curb his temper? It's his part to give orders, not to take them, and that, sir, is the part I mean to play."
Again the master shrugged his shoulders, and the same quizzical smile his face always wore when watching this boy lighted his eyes.
"At least we are agreed on one thing, Bonaparte; we both of us know the most glorious profession in the world is that of the soldier. Ah, that I might some day be a captain of artillery!"
"Why not?" said the boy. "Isn't all of Europe one big camp? Can't any man rise who has strength to draw a sword? Believe me, Monsieur Pichegru, if you really want to be a captain you shall be one."
The master glanced at the boy, and then looked quickly away. "You are a strange lad, my little Spartan," said he. "I don't think I ever knew a boy quite like you."
The teacher moved away and the boy continued making his drawings with the pointed stick.
By the time the afternoon had ended the square fort of snow was finished. It was by far the finest fortification the boys of Brienne had ever built. It had four bastions and a rampart three and one-half feet long. Water was poured over the top and sides so that ice might form, and it looked like a very difficult place to take. When he considered it finished Bonaparte ordered the boys to quit work, and taking up a book he had thrown on the ground before him he started to stroll up and down by the farther wall of the parade. He was fond of walking here, book in hand, studying some military treatise, and, though only a boy, he had gained the power of shutting out all thoughts except those of his study.
Some of the boys had put together a rough sort of sky-rocket, and now brought it out from the house to light it in the playground. One boy touched a match to the fuse and the others leaped back out of reach. There was a loud explosion, and the firework, failing to shoot off as was intended, simply fizzled in a shower of sparks near the feet of the boy by the wall. He glanced up, looked at the flames and then at the circle of boys beyond.
In an instant he had seized his stick and was among them, hitting the boys over their heads and calling them all the names he could think of, beside himself in a sudden storm of passion because he had been disturbed. They fled before his attack like leaves before a whirlwind. In a few moments he had cleared the playground. Then he threw down the stick and picked up his book again.
A few minutes later Monsieur Pichegru, who had been told of the explosion, came over to him.
"You must not lose your temper in that way, my boy," said he. "Some day you will learn to regret it."
"Why?" said the Corsican lad. "I was studying here, I was reading how great Hannibal crossed the Alps, and that pack of fools broke in upon me. I will not be disturbed."
"You'll teach them to hate you," said the master, trying to argue the boy out of his ill temper.
"No, I'll teach them to do as I want, or let me alone when I wish it. That's all I ask of them, to be let alone." The master, shaking his head, thought that the boy would soon have his way, for day by day he grew more solitary and his playmates' fear of him increased.
The teachers at the school and also some of the servants saw the fort on the playground that afternoon, and the news of it sped through the town. According to report it was very different from the snow forts the boys usually built, much more ingenious and complicated, and along military lines. As a result the next morning many of the townspeople came to see the fortifications and examined them with great interest while the boys were indoors at study.
When they were free in the afternoon the battle began, one party of the boys leading the attack from the streets of the town, the other under Bonaparte defending the bastions and rampart. Attack and defense were well handled. The boys had already learned many military tactics and they thoroughly enjoyed this mimic warfare, but the Corsican lad was much too clever for his adversaries. He was continually inventing new schemes to surprise his opponents, now sending out a party of skirmishers to attack them in the rear or on the flanks, again luring them into a direct assault upon the rampart, and then leading his soldiers up and over the ice walls to scatter the enemy down the street. By sunset there was no doubt as to which was the victor. The flag, which was the prize of battle, was formally awarded to the boys who had held the fort.
There was no doubt that young Napoleon Bonaparte knew how to lead others. He had shown that ability to an amazing degree ever since he had first entered the school of Brienne when he was only nine years old. The boys at Brienne were all being trained to be soldiers, and they were all brought up in strict military discipline which would have been irksome to many a boy. The young Corsican, however, liked it and seemed to thrive on it.
Some of the rules of the school were curious. Until they were twelve years old the boys had to keep their hair cut short, after that they were allowed to wear a pigtail, but could powder their hair only on Sundays and Saints' Days. Each boy had a separate room which was much like a cell, containing a hard bed with only a rug for covering. The boys had to stay in school for six years, and they were never allowed to leave on any pretense whatever. During the long vacation which lasted from September fifteenth to November second they had only one lesson a day and had plenty of time for outdoor sports. Everything possible was done to fire their ardor for military life. They were encouraged to read the lives of great men, especially Plutarch's "Lives," and those historical plays which deal with great French scenes. History and geography were the chief studies, and after those two, mathematics. In all of these branches Bonaparte took great delight.
Singularly enough the school, although designed to train boys for warriors, was entirely under the charge of an order of Friars. Neither teachers nor boys could help but admit Napoleon's great strength of character. When the Abbe in charge organized the school into companies of cadets the command of one company was given to this boy. He ruled those under him with a rod of iron, and finally the boys who were the commanders of the other companies decided to hold a court-martial.
Bonaparte was brought before them and charged with being unworthy to command his schoolfellows because he disdained them and had no real regard for them. Arguments attacking him were made by various boys, but when it came to Napoleon's turn to defend himself he refused, on the ground that whether he were commander or not made little difference to him. The court-martial thereupon decided to degrade him from his rank and a formal sentence was read aloud to him. He seemed very little concerned, and took his place with the other privates without any show of ill feeling. For almost the first time the boys felt a sort of affection for him because he bore his humiliation so well.
Unlike most boys he really seemed to care very little whether he was popular or not; all he asked was a chance to learn the art of warfare. He was happiest when he was left alone to study history. Plutarch's "Lives" was his favorite book, and his favorite nation among the ancient peoples was that of Sparta, because he admired the Spartans' stern sense of heroism and hoped to copy them. That was the reason Monsieur Pichegru had given him the nickname of "The Spartan," and the name stuck to him for years.
The Corsican boy's first desire was to be a sailor. He hoped he might be sent to the southern coast of France where he would be near his own beloved island home. It so happened, however, that one of the French military instructors came to Brienne after Napoleon had been there about five years, and immediately took an interest in the boy. A little later he, with four others, was chosen to enter a famous military school in Paris as what were known as "gentlemen cadets." The report that was sent to Paris respecting Bonaparte stated that he was domineering, imperious, and obstinate, but in spite of these qualities he was chosen because of his great ability in mathematics and the art of warfare.
The military school of Paris was one of the sights of the French capital. Famous visitors were always taken there, and the cadets were intended to form the flower of the French army. Only a few of the boys who were at the schools in the provinces were chosen to come to Paris, and those who were chosen were put through a rigid course of study and of physical drill in preparation for service in the army. Most of the boys were sons of the nobility and were accustomed to bully their less distinguished comrades.
When Bonaparte had been in Paris a very short time he had his first fight with such a boy. He was quite able to hold his own, but all that first year he was continually set upon by the Parisians who loved to taunt him with being a little Corsican and to make ridiculous nicknames out of his two long names. He lost something of his reserve, because he liked the military side of the Paris school much better than the church atmosphere at Brienne.
Nothing made him so indignant as to hear his native land spoken of slurringly, and there were many of his comrades who took a special delight in doing this. The boys would draw caricatures of him standing with his hands behind his back in his favorite attitude, his brows frowning, and his eyes thoughtful, and underneath would write "Bonaparte planning to rescue Corsica from the hands of the French." Whenever he had a chance he spoke bitterly of the injustice of a great people oppressing such a tiny island as his.
Finally some of his words came to the ears of the general in charge of the school. He sent at once for the boy and said to him, "Sir, you are a scholar of the King, you must learn to remember this and to moderate your love of Corsica, which after all forms part of France." Bonaparte was wiser than to make any answer, he simply saluted and withdrew. But he paid no heed to the advice, and one day shortly afterward he again spoke to a priest of the unjust treatment of Corsica. The latter waited until the boy came to him at the confessional and then rebuked him on this subject. Bonaparte ran back through the church crying loud enough for all those present to hear him, "I didn't come in here to talk about Corsica, and that priest has no right to lecture me on such a subject!"
The priest as well as the others in charge soon learned that it was useless to try to change this boy's views, or indeed to keep him from expressing them when he had a chance. They were learning, just as Monsieur Pichegru and the friars at Brienne had learned, that he would have his own way in spite of all opposition.
When he was sixteen Napoleon and his best friend, a boy named Desmazis, were ordered to join the regiment of La Fere which was then quartered in the south of France. Napoleon was glad of this change which brought him nearer to his island home, and he also felt that he would now learn something of actual warfare. The two boys were taken to their regiment in charge of an officer who stayed with them from the time they left Paris until the carriage set them down at the garrison town. The regiment of La Fere was one of the best in the French army, and the boy immediately took a great liking to everything connected with it. He found the officers well educated and anxious to help him. He declared the blue uniform with red facings to be the most beautiful uniform in the world.
He had to work hard, still studying mathematics, chemistry, and the laws of fortification, mounting guard with the other subalterns, and looking after his own company of men. He seemed very young to be put in charge of grown soldiers, but his great ability had brought about this extraordinarily rapid promotion. He had a room in a boarding-house kept by an old maid, but took his meals at the Inn of the Three Pigeons. Now that he was an officer he began to be more interested in making a good appearance before people. He took dancing lessons and suddenly blossomed out into much popularity among the garrison. Older people could not help but see his great strength of character, and time and again it was predicted that he would rise high in the army.
He had not been long with his regiment when he was given leave of absence to visit his family in Corsica. His father had died, but his mother was living, with a number of children. All of them looked to Napoleon for help. When he reached his home, although he was only seventeen, he was hailed as a great man. Not only his own family, but all the neighbors and townspeople spoke of him with pride, and expected that he would do a great deal for their island.
He still had the same passion for that rocky land, and spent hours wandering through the grottoes by the seashore, or in the dense olive woods, or lying under a favorite oak tree reading history and dreaming of his future. The open life of the fields and the pleasures of the farm appealed strongly to him, but he knew that there was more active work for him to do in the world, and so, after a short stay, he went back to the main land.
It was not long before great events took place in France. The people arose against their king and the first gusts of the French Revolution blew him from his throne. The young Napoleon was a great lover of liberty; he wished it for Corsica and he wished it for the French people. It seemed at first as though the island might be able to win its independence, owing to the disorder in France, and the Bonapartes sided with the conspirators who were working toward this end. But the young lieutenant attended strictly to his own business. He watched the rapid march of events from a distance, and when he went to Paris he was careful not to ally himself too closely with any particular party. Finally the Republic was proclaimed, and Napoleon saw that there would be an immediate chance for fighting. He had complained as a boy that the trouble with the officers was that they had not had a real taste of battle. He hoped to be able to learn his profession on the actual field.
At a time like this when every one doubted his neighbor, and no one knew how long the present government would last, one quality of the young lieutenant, his steadfast sticking to duty, made him conspicuous. Whoever might rule the country he stuck to his work of drilling the men under him, and step by step he advanced until he became lieutenant-colonel. Finally his great chance came.
The city of Toulon on the Mediterranean rebelled against the Convention, which had in turn become the governing power of France, and surrendered itself to the English. French troops were sent to the city, and at the very beginning of the fighting the commander of the artillery was wounded by a ball in the shoulder. Napoleon was next in rank and took his place. The siege lasted for days, and the young commander was obliged to exercise all his ingenuity to hold his position before the English lines. It was like a repetition of the old fight of the Brienne school yard, only now Bonaparte led the attacking forces, and he found this a more difficult task than to defend his own iced ramparts.
There was also trouble with some of the officers, and one of them ordered Napoleon to place his guns in a certain line of attack. The Corsican youth refused, declaring that he would not serve under a man who was wanting in the simplest principles of warfare. The commander was indignant, but all his friends said to him, "You had better let that young man alone, he knows more about this than you. If his plan succeeds the glory will all be yours; if he fails the blame will be his." The officer took the advice and told young "Captain Cannon," as he called Napoleon, that he might have his own way, but that he should answer for the success of his plan with his head.
"Very well," said the youth, "I'm quite satisfied with that arrangement."
The siege lasted a long time, and then it was finally decided to carry the town by a grand assault. All possible forces were brought to the attack, and at last Toulon was taken. The young lieutenant-colonel distinguished himself greatly in this his first real battle. His horse was shot under him, and he was wounded with a bayonet thrust in the thigh; but he kept his men in place, and finally advancing they succeeded in covering both the town and the fleet in the sea. When the fighting was over the general in command wrote to Paris: "I have no words to describe the merit of Bonaparte; much science, as much intelligence, and too much bravery. This is but a feeble sketch of this rare officer, and it is for you, ministers, to consecrate him to the glory of the Republic."
Such was the young Napoleon at twenty-three. Almost immediately he was made general of brigade, and was looked upon as one of the coming defenders of the French Republic.
He went to Paris, was loaded with honors, and given post after post in the service of his country. For a time he proved a great defender of his people, for a time he served the Republic as no other man could; but when defense was no longer needed he could not sheathe his sword, he had to use it for attack whether the cause were just or not. As he won victory after victory and tasted power he discarded even the Republic that had made him, and placed himself upon the throne as Emperor.
That same love of power which had made him was also his undoing. He could not rest content with what he had. As he had predicted to Monsieur Pichegru that afternoon at Brienne he would have his own way, and very much as he had treated his schoolfellows there he later grew to treat the nations of Europe. As a result they, like his playfellows, combined against him, and sent him down finally among the privates.
The Boy of the Canongate: 1771-1832
The business office of a Scotch solicitor is not an especially cheerful place at any time, and the interior of such a room looked particularly cheerless on a late winter afternoon in Edinburgh in 1786. A boy of fifteen sat on a high stool at an old oak desk, and watched the snow falling in the street. Occasionally he could see people passing the windows: men and women wrapped to their ears in plaid shawls, for the wind whistled down the street so loudly that the boy could hear it, and the cold was bitter.
The boy looked through the window until he almost felt the chill himself, and then, to keep warm, held his head in his hands and fastened his eyes on the big, heavy-leaved book in front of him, which bore the unappealing title, Erskine's "Institutes." The type was fine, and the young student had to read each line a dozen times before he could understand it. Sometimes his eyes would involuntarily close and he would doze a few moments, only to wake with a start to look quickly at another desk near the fire where his father sat steadily writing, and then to a table in the corner where a very old man was always sorting papers.
The winter light grew dim, so dim that the boy could no longer see to read. He closed the book with a bang.
"Yes, Walter, lad?" The lawyer looked up from his writing, and smiled at the figure on the high stool.
"I'd best be going home; there's no more light here to see by."
"A good reason, Walter. Wrap yourself up warm, for the night is cold."
Young Walter slid down from his seat, and stretched his arms and legs to cure the stiffness in them. He was a sturdy, well-built lad, with tousled yellow hair, frank eyes with a twinkle in them, and a mouth that was large and betokened humor. When he walked he limped, but he held himself so straight that when he was still no one would have noticed the deformity.
Five minutes later the boy was plowing his way through the narrow streets of the Canongate, the old part of Edinburgh that had as ancient a history of street brawls as the Paris kennels. Nobody who could help it was abroad, and Walter was glad when he reached the door of his father's house in George's Square and could find shelter from the cutting wind. The Scotch evening meal was simple, soon over, and then came the time to sit before the blazing logs on the great open hearth and tell stories.
The older people were busy at cards in another room, and Walter, with a group of boys of his own age who lived in the neighborhood and liked to be with the lame lad, had the fireside to themselves.
In front of the fire young Walter was no longer the sleepy student of Erskine's "Institutes"; his eyes shone as he told story after story of the Scotch border, half of them founded on old ballads or legends he knew by heart and half the product of his own eager imagination. Whole poems, filled with battles and hunts and knightly adventures, he could recite from memory, and his eye for the color and trappings of history was so keen that the boys could see the very scenes before them. They sat in a circle about him, listening eagerly to story after story, forgetting everything but the boy's words, and showing their fondness and admiration for the romancer in each glance.
Walter was minstrel and prophet and historian to the boys of the Canongate by the winter fire, as he was to be later to the whole nation of Englishmen.
By the next day the snow had ceased falling, and the open squares of the city presented the finest mimic battle-fields that could be imagined. The boys of Edinburgh were divided into clans according to the part of the city in which they lived, and carried on constant warfare as long as winter lasted. Walter Scott and his brothers belonged to a clan that made George's Square their headquarters, and their nearest and dearest enemies were the boys of the Crosscauseway, a poorer section of the city that lay not very far distant.
On the day the storm ceased Walter left his high stool and ponderous book early and joined his friends in solid array in their square. While they waited for the enemy to come up from the side street, the boys built snow fortifications across the Square and stocked them with ammunition sufficient to stand a siege. Still no enemy appeared, and, eager for a chance to try their aim, the boys of the Square boldly left their own haunts and proceeded down the Crosscauseway in search of the foe.
The enemy's country lay through narrow winding streets, and there was great need of care to avoid an ambuscade. Slipping from door to door, from one point of vantage to the next, the boys made the whole distance of the enemy's land without sight of an enemy. They came to the further boundary and raised a cheer of defiance, when suddenly a hail-storm of snowballs struck them, and from a side street the boys of the Crosscauseway shot out. The invaders fired one round, then turned and fled before a fierce charge.
Back the way they came the boys retreated, and after them came the enemy pelting them without mercy and with good aim. In the van of the pursuit ran a tall, fair-haired boy, who wore the bright green breeches of a tailor's clerk, who was famous for his prowess in these schoolboy battles, and who, because of his clothes, had been given the picturesque nickname of "Green Breeks."
Young Scott and his friends ran back into their square, but the enemy were close upon their heels. Green Breeks was now far in the lead of his forces, so far in the lead that he might have been cut off had not the pursued been panic-stricken. Over their own fortifications the boys fled and dropped behind them for safety. Their banner, a flag given them by a lady of the Square, waved defiantly in Green Breeks' face. The tall boy leaped upon the rampart and seized the standard, when a blow from a stick brought him to the ground. He fell stunned, and the blood poured from a cut in his head.
The watchman in George's Square was used to the boys' battles, but not to such an ending to them. He hurried over to the fallen Green Breeks, and the boys of both armies melted silently away. Shortly after Green Breeks was in the hospital, his head bandaged, but otherwise little the worse for his mishap.
A confectioner in the Crosscauseway acted as messenger between the boys of the Causeway and the Square, and to him Walter Scott and his brother went early the next morning and asked if he would take Green Breeks some money to pay for his wound and loss of time in the tailor's shop. Green Breeks in the hospital had been asked to tell the name of the one who had struck him, but had refused pointblank, and none of either party could be found to tell. When the wounded leader heard of Walter's offer he refused to accept the money on the ground that such accidents were apt to happen to any one in battle, and that he did not need the money. Walter sent another message, inquiring if Green Breeks' family were in need of anything he could supply, and received the answer that he lived with his aged grandmother who was very fond of taking snuff. Thereupon Walter presented the old woman with a pound of snuff, and as soon as Green Breeks was out of the hospital made him one of his friends.
With the opening of spring Walter spent all his spare hours in his favorite pursuit, riding through the country on a search for old legends or curious tales of the neighborhood. Scottish history was his never-ending delight; he knew every battle-field in the vicinity of Edinburgh, and could tell how the armies had come to meet and what was the result. Stories of sprites and goblins, of witches and magicians, were eagerly sought by him. Many an old woman was led to tell the lame boy with the eager eyes the tales she had heard as a schoolgirl, and was well repaid by the boy's rapt attention. Hardly a stick or a stone, a stream or a hill in the Lowlands that had a history but Walter Scott learned it, and at the same time he learned to know the plain people, all their habits and customs, and all the little eccentricities that made up their characters.
Every Saturday in fair weather, and more frequently during the vacations, his father allowed him a holiday from the office. Walter and a boy friend named John Irving used to take two or three books from the public library of Edinburgh, and go out into the neighboring country, to Salisbury Crags, Arthur's Seat, or to a height called Blackford Hill, from which there was a splendid view of the Lowland country. There they read the books together, Walter always a little ahead of his friend, and obliged to wait at the end of every two pages for him to catch up. The books were almost always stories of knights-errant; the romances of Spenser, the "Castle of Otranto," and translations from such Italian writers as Ariosto, were very popular.
Often the boys would climb high up over the rocks to find places where they would be sheltered from the wind, and the harder the nooks were to reach the better they liked them. Walter, in spite of his lameness, was a good climber, and time and again, when it seemed as though they had contrived to get into a place from which there was no way out, and must call to passers-by for help, he would manage to discover some jutting stone or crevice in the rock that allowed them finally to make a perilous escape.
That sort of adventure appealed to the boy tremendously; he liked to try to use his wits in grappling with some natural difficulty, as the heroes of his stories so often had to do.
The boys devoured a great many books in these expeditions, which lasted over two years, and Walter so mastered the pages that he read that he could recite long passages from them to his friend weeks after they had finished the stories. Finally they fell into the habit of making up stories of knights for themselves, first Walter telling the adventures of a knight to John, and leaving the hero in some very difficult situation for John to rescue him from, and then John carrying on the story with another adventure, and leaving the next rescue to his friend. The stories went on from day to day, and week to week, because the boys grew so fond of their heroes that neither had the heart to kill the brave knight, and they could find no other way to bring his adventures to an end.
Although Walter spent considerable time in his father's office, he was still studying under a tutor with other boys, preparing for college. He was a brilliant scholar when he wanted to be, but all subjects did not interest him.
At one time there was a certain boy who always stood at the top of Walter's class whom young Scott could not supplant, try as he would. Finally Walter noticed that whenever the master asked that boy a question the latter always fumbled with his fingers at a certain button on the lower part of his waistcoat. Walter Scott thereupon determined to cut off that particular button, and see what would happen. He found a chance soon after and cut off the button with a knife, while the owner of the coat was not looking. Then Walter waited with the greatest interest to see what would happen.