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Historic Boys by Elbridge Streeter Brooks

Driven abreast by the old equerry Hord


"But,

sire, how can you?" exclaimed Arvid. "The roads are heavy with snow, and no horse could stand the strain or hope to make the city ere morning."

"No horse!" cried King Charles; "then three shall do it. Hasten; bid Hord the equerry harness the triple team to the strongest sledge, and be you ready to ride with me in a half hour's time. For we shall be in Stockholm by nightfall."

And ere the half hour was up they were off. Careless of roadway, straight for Stockholm they headed, the triple team of plunging Ukraine horses, driven abreast by the old equerry Hord, dashing down the slopes and across the Maelar ice, narrowly escaping collision, overturn, and death. With many a plunge and many a ducking, straight on they rode, and ere the Stockholm clocks had struck the hour of six, the city gates were passed, and the spent and foaming steeds dashed panting into the great yard of the Parliament House.

The council was still in session, and the grave old councillors started to their feet in amazement at this sudden apparition of the boy king, soiled and bespattered from head to foot, standing there in their midst.

"Gentlemen," he said, with earnestness and determination in his voice, "your despatch tells me of unfriendly acts on the part of the king of Denmark against our brother and ally of Holstein-Gottorp. I am resolved never to begin an unjust war,

but never to finish an unjust one save with the destruction of mine enemies. My resolution is fixed. I will march and attack the first one who shall declare war; and when I shall have conquered him, I hope to strike terror into the rest."

These were ringing and, seemingly, reckless words for a boy of seventeen, and we do not wonder that, as the record states, "the old councillors, astonished at this declaration, looked at each other without daring to answer." The speech seemed all the more reckless when they considered, as we may here, the coalition against which the boy king spoke so confidently.

At that time--in the year 1699--the three neighbors of this young Swedish monarch were three kings of powerful northern nations--Frederick the Fourth, King of Denmark, Augustus, called the Strong, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony, and Peter, afterward known as the Great, Czar of Russia. Tempted by the large possessions of young King Charles, and thinking to take advantage of his youth, his inexperience, and his presumed indifference, these three monarchs concocted a fine scheme by which Sweden was to be overrun, conquered, and divided among the three members of this new copartnership of kings--from each of whom, or from their predecessors, this boy king's ancestors had wrested many a fair domain and wealthy city.

But these three kings--as has many and many another plotter in history before and since--reckoned without their host. They did not know the mettle that was in this grandnephew of the great Gustavus.

Once aroused to action, he was ready to move before even his would-be conquerors, in those slow-going days, imagined he had thought of resistance. Money and men were raised, the alliance of England and Holland were secretly obtained, a council of defence was appointed to govern Sweden during the absence of the king, and on the twenty-third of April, 1700, two months before his eighteenth birthday, King Charles bade his grandmother and his sisters good-bye and left Stockholm for ever.

Even as he left the news came that another member in this firm of hostile kings, Augustus of Saxony and Poland, had invaded Sweden's tributary province of Livonia on the Gulf of Finland. Not to be drawn aside from his first object--the punishment of Denmark--Charles simply said: "We will make King Augustus go back the way he came," and hurried on to join his army in Southern Sweden.


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