A ND now my stories are ended. What wonderful stories they are! How strange and how true!
As I finished my last story, I closed my eyes, and it seemed to me that I saw again all those brave men who had come from the East to explore our America. I saw them all—noble and swineherd, priest and soldier, Spaniard and Frenchman, and Englishman and Dutchman. I saw the wise Columbus following the Queen from place to place, begging her to let him sail to the Indies. And again I saw him, after he had found America, when he was an old man, poor, sick and forgotten. And so, too, I saw the others—the wicked Balboa, the brave Henry Hudson, the good Father Marquette, who loved the Indians and was loved by them.
How strangely it all happened! These bold men searched for one thing and found another. Columbus looked for the Indies and found America; De Soto hunted for gold and came to the Mississippi River, and Ponce de Leon wanted a fountain of youth, so that he might drink the waters and never die, and instead of youth and life he found Florida and death. And so it was with the others. The unfortunate Henry Hudson never thought of the great city of New York, which was to grow up on his river; he only thought of a short cut to the Pacific Ocean. And the wicked Balboa, who hid in a barrel, did not think that he would be the first man to look upon the great ocean; but all he wanted was to get away from the men who had lent him money. So strangely did it all happen!
Yes, they were strange men and they led strange lives. Up and down they went, sometimes rich, sometimes poor, but always bold and daring. A man who had nothing in all the world would stumble upon a great empire and become rich and famous in the eyes of all men. Think of Cortez, who came out of prison to conquer all of Mexico, and who became so rich that he did not know what to do with his money, though at last he died poor and unhappy! And think of Pizarro, the barefooted, bareheaded swineherd, who became one of the greatest and richest and wickedest men in all the world! How strange Cortez must have seemed to the Aztecs, who had never before seen a white man, nor a horse, nor a gun, nor a house that sailed on the sea! And how strange the greedy Pizarro must have looked to the Incas, and how strange and curious the Incas and their wonderful country must have seemed to Pizarro!
Just so strange and wonderful were the things that happened to the other explorers. There was the nobleman, De Vaca, who became a slave to the wild Indians. Then there was bold Captain Smith, whose life was saved by the Little Red Princess of the Forest; and stranger still, this same little girl, who had saved his life in Virginia, saw him again in London, and this time she was a Christian and an Englishman's wife, and the friend of the King and Queen of all England. It was all very, very strange.
I wish that I could really see all these great men—the wise Columbus, who sailed new seas and found America; the patient Champlain, the good Father of New France; the bold La Salle, who sailed down the Mississippi River; the faithful Henry Hudson, the brave De Soto, and all the others. Yes, I should like to meet them, to shake their hands, to hear from their own lips their wonderful stories; but this cannot be.
All of these things happened hundreds of years ago, long before I was born, and all the men and all the women, all the Kings, and Queens, and nobles, and sailors, and soldiers, and priests, and Indian chiefs—all are dead.
And now you will ask me what came of it all. Well, that is another story, or rather, I should say, many stories. Many brave men came to America, and many brave men lived here, and strange and wonderful things happened; but the end of it all was that a new country arose in America—the United States, and you and I and all other Americans have this good land for our country.
And so we Americans, who live in the country that Columbus found, and the others explored and conquered, should always remember those brave men who risked their lives so many, many years ago; and for this reason we, who love America, should be grateful to them all, but especially to the one who first pointed out the way—to the bold sailor who crossed an unknown sea, the good, wise Christopher Columbus, the man who found America.