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Historic Boys by Elbridge Streeter Brooks

One raw day in the early fall of 1699


But

though he curbed his tendency to profitless and hurtful "skylarking," he had far too much of the Berserker blood of his ancestors--those rough old vikings who "despised mail and helmet and went into battle unharnessed"--to become altogether gentle in manners or occupation. He hated his fair skin, and sought in every way to tan and roughen it, and to harden himself by exposure and neglect of personal comfort. Many a night was passed by the boy on the bare floor, and for three nights in the cold Swedish December he slept in the hay-loft of the palace stables, without undressing and with but a scanty covering.

So he grew to be a lad of seventeen, sturdy, strong, and hardy, and at the date of our story, in the year 1699, the greater part of his time was given up to military exercises and field sports, with but little attention to debates in council or to the cares of state.

Among his chief enjoyments were the sham fights on land and water. Many a hard-fought battle was waged between the boys and young men who made up his guards and crews, and who would be divided into two or more opposing parties, as the plan of battle required. This was rough and dangerous sport, and was attended often with really serious results. But the participants were stout and sturdy Northern lads, used to hardships and trained to physical endurance. They thought no more of these encounters than do the boys of to-day of the crush of football

and the hard hitting of the base-ball field, and blows were given and taken with equal good nature and unconcern.

One raw day in the early fall of 1699, sturdy young Arvid Horn, a stout, blue-eyed Stockholm boy, stripped to the waist, and with a gleam of fun in his eyes, stood upright in his little boat as it bobbed on the crest of the choppy Maelar waves. He hailed the king's yacht.

"Holo; in the boat there! Stand for your lives!" he shouted, and levelled his long squirt-gun full at the helmsman.

Swish! came the well-directed stream of water plump against the helmsman's face. Again and again it flew, until dripping and sore he dropped the tiller and dashed down the companion-way calling loudly for help.

Help came speedily, and as the crew of the king's yacht manned the rail and levelled at their single assailant the squirt-guns, which were the principal weapons of warfare used in these "make-believe" naval engagements, the fun grew fast and furious; but none had so sure an aim or so strong an arm to send an unerring and staggering stream as young Arvid Horn. One by one he drove them back, while as his boat drifted still nearer the yacht he made ready to spring to the forechains and board his prize. But even before he could steady himself for the jump, another tall and fair-haired Stockholm lad, darting out from the high cabin, rallied the defeated crew and bade them man the pumps at once.

A clumsy-looking fire-engine stood amidship, and the crew leaped to its pumps as directed, while the new-comer, catching up a line of hose, sprang to the rail and sent a powerful stream of water straight against the solitary rover.


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