"It is God's will," he said, "that our victory should be due, not to our numbers, but to His all-powerful aid. Therefore has He stricken us with tempests, and scattered our ships." And he gave his voice for instant advance.
There was much dispute; even the chaplain remonstrated; but nothing could bend the iron will of Menendez. Nor was a sign of celestial approval wanting. At nine in the evening, a great meteor burst forth in mid-heaven, and, blazing like the sun, rolled westward towards the coast of Florida. The fainting spirits of the crusaders were revived. Diligent preparation was begun. Prayers and masses were said; and, that the temporal arm might not fail, the men were daily practised on deck in shooting at marks, in order, says the chronicle, that the recruits might learn not to be afraid of their guns.
The dead calm continued. "We were all very tired," says the chaplain, "and I above all, with praying to God for a fair wind. To-day, at about two in the afternoon, He took pity on us, and sent us a breeze." Before night they saw land, - the faint line of forest, traced along the watery horizon, that marked the coast of Florida. But where, in all this vast monotony, was the lurking-place of the French? Menendez anchored, and sent a captain with twenty men ashore, who presently found a band of Indians, and gained from them the needed information. He stood northward, till, on the afternoon of Tuesday, the fourth of September, he descried four ships anchored near the mouth of a river. It was the river St. John's, and the ships were four of Ribaut's squadron. The prey was in sight. The Spaniards prepared for battle, and bore down upon the Lutherans; for, with them, all Protestants alike were branded with the name of the arch-heretic. Slowly, before the faint breeze, the ships glided on their way; but while, excited and impatient, the fierce crews watched the decreasing space, and when they were still three leagues from their prize, the air ceased to stir, the sails flapped against the mast, a black cloud with thunder rose above the coast, and the warm rain of the South descended on the breathless sea. It was dark before the wind stirred again and the ships resumed their course. At half-past eleven they reached the French. The "San Pelayo" slowly moved to windward of Ribaut's flag-ship, the "Trinity," and anchored very near her. The other ships took similar stations. While these preparations were making, a work of two hours, the men labored in silence, and the French, thronging their gangways, looked on in equal silence. "Never, since I came into the world," writes the chaplain, "did I know such a stillness."
It was broken at length by a trumpet from the deck of the "San Pelayo." A French trumpet answered. Then Menendez, "with much courtesy," says his Spanish eulogist, inquired, "Gentlemen, whence does this fleet come?"
"From France," was the reply.
"What are you doing here?" pursued the Adelantado.
"Bringing soldiers and supplies for a fort which the King of France has in this country, and for many others which he soon will have."
"Are you Catholics or Lutherans?"
Many voices cried out together, "Lutherans, of the new religion." Then, in their turn, they demanded who Menendez was, and whence he came.
He answered: "I am Pedro Menendez, General of the fleet of the King of Spain, Don Philip the Second, who have come to this country to hang and behead all Lutherans whom I shall find by land or sea, according to instructions from my King, so precise that I have power to pardon none; and these commands I shall fulfil, as you will see. At daybreak I shall board your ships, and if I find there any Catholic, he shall be well treated; but every heretic shall die."
The French with one voice raised a cry of wrath and defiance.
"If you are a brave man, don't wait till day. Come on now, and see what you will get!"
And they assailed the Adelantado with a shower of scoffs and insults.
Menendez broke into a rage, and gave the order to board. The men slipped the cables, and the sullen black hulk of the "San Pelayo" drifted down upon the "Trinity." The French did not make good their defiance. Indeed, they were incapable of resistance, Ribaut with his soldiers being ashore at Fort Caroline. They cut their cables, left their anchors, made sail, and fled. The Spaniards fired, the French replied. The other Spanish ships had imitated the movement of the "San Pelayo;" "but," writes the chaplain, Mendoza, "these devils are such adroit sailors, and maneuvred so well, that we did not catch one of them." Pursuers and pursued ran out to sea, firing useless volleys at each other.
In the morning Menendez gave over the chase, turned, and, with the "San Pelayo" alone, ran back for the St. John's. But here a welcome was prepared for him. He saw bands of armed men drawn up on the beach, and the smaller vessels of Ribaut's squadron, which had crossed the bar several days before, anchored behind it to oppose his landing. He would not venture an attack, but, steering southward, sailed along the coast till he came to an inlet which he named San Augustine, the same which Laudonniere had named the River of Dolphins.
Here he found three of his ships already debarking their troops, guns, and stores. Two officers, Patiflo and Vicente, had taken possession of the dwelling of the Indian chief Seloy, a huge barn-like structure, strongly framed of entire trunks of trees, and thatched with palmetto leaves. Around it they were throwing up entrenchments of fascines and sand, and gangs of negroes were toiling at the work. Such was the birth of St. Augustine, the oldest town of the United States.