Agnes C. Laut.

Heralds of Empire Being the Story of One Ramsay Stanhope, Lieutenant to Pierre Radisson in the Northern Fur Trade online

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seizing papers, burying ammunition, making fast loose stockades,
putting extra rivets in hinges, and issuing quick orders that sent Jack
Battle skipping to the word. Then Jack was set to planting double rows
of sticks inside on a level with the wall. The purpose of these I
could not guess till M. Radisson ordered hat, helmet, or cap clapped
atop of each pole.

Oh, we were a formidable army, I warrant you, seen by any one mounting
the drift to spy across our walls!

But 'twas no burlesque that night, as you may know when I tell you that
Governor Brigdar's forces played us such a trick they were under
shelter of the ship before we had discovered them.

Forêt and La Chesnaye were watching from loopholes at the gates, and I
was all alert from my place in the bastion. The northern lights waved
overhead in a restless ocean of rose-tinted fire. Against the blue,
stars were aglint with the twinkle of a million harbour lights. Below,
lay the frost mist, white as foam, diaphanous as a veil, every floating
icy particle aglimmer with star rays like spray in sunlight. Through
the night air came the far howlings of the running wolf-pack. The
little ermine, darting across the level with its black tail-tip marking
the snow in dots and dashes, would sit up quickly, listen and dive
under, to wriggle forward like a snake; or the black-eyed hare would
scurry off to cover of brushwood.

Of a sudden sounded such a yelling from the New Englanders imprisoned
in the ship, with a beating of guns on the keel, that I gave quick
alarm. Forêt and La Chesnaye sallied from the gate. Pistol-shots rang
out as they rounded the ship's prow into shadow. At the same instant,
a man flung forward out of the frost cloud beating for admittance. M.
de Radisson opened.

"The Indians! The Indians! Where are the New Englanders?" cried the
man, pitching headlong in.

And when he regained his feet, Governor Brigdar, of the Hudson's Bay
Company, stood face to face with M. de Radisson.

"A right warm welcome, Your Excellency," bowed M. de Radisson, bolting
the gate. "The New Englanders are in safe keeping, sir, and so are

The bewildered governor gasped at M. Radisson's words. Then he lost
all command of himself.

"Radisson, man," he stormed, "this is no feint - this is no time for
acting! Six o' my men shot on the way - four hiding by the ship and the
Indians not a hundred yards behind! Take my sword and pistol," he
proffered, M. de Radisson still hesitating, "but as you hope for
eternal mercy, call in my four men!"

After that, all was confusion.

Forêt and the marquis rushed pell-mell for the fort with four terrified
Englishmen disarmed. The gates were clapped to. Myriad figures darted
from the frost mist - figures with war-paint on their faces and bodies
clothed in white to disguise approach. English and French, enemies
all, crouched to the palisades against the common foe, with
sword-thrust for the hands catching at pickets to scale the wall and
volleying shots that scattered assailants back. The redskins were now
plainly visible through the frost. When they swerved away from shelter
of the ship, every bastion let go the roar of a cannon discharge.
There was the sudden silence of a drawing off, then the shrill
"Ah-o-o-o-oh! Ah-o-o-o-oh! Ah-o-o-o-oh!" of Indian war-cry!

And M. Radisson gave the signal.

Instantaneously half a hundred lights were aflare. Red tongues of fire
darted from the loop-holes. Two lads were obeying our leader's call to
run - run - run, blowing fife, beating drum like an army's band, while
streams of boiling grease poured down from bastions and lookout.
Helmets, hats, and caps sticking round on the poles were lighted up
like the heads of a battalion; and oft as any of us showed himself he
displayed fresh cap. One Indian, I mind, got a stockade off and an arm
inside the wall. That arm was never withdrawn, for M. Radisson's
broadsword came down, and the Indian reeled back with a yelping scream.
Then the smoke cleared, and I saw what will stay with me as long as
memory lasts - M. Radisson, target for arrows or shot, long hair flying
and red doublet alight in the flare of the torches, was standing on top
of the pickets with his right arm waving a sword.

"Whom do you make them out to be, Ramsay?" he called. "Is not yon Le

I looked to the Indians. Le Borgne it was, thin and straight, like a
mast-pole through mist, in conference with another man - a man with a
beard, a man who was no Indian.

"Sir!" I shouted back. "Those are the inland pirates. They are
leading the Indians against Ben Gillam, and not against us at all."

At that M. Radisson extends a handkerchief on the end of his sword as
flag of truce, and the bearded man waves back. Down from the wall
jumps M. Radisson, running forward fearlessly where Indians lay
wounded, and waving for the enemy to come. But the two only waved back
in friendly fashion, wheeled their forces off, and disappeared through
the frost.

"Those were Ben Gillam's cut-throats trying to do for him! When they
saw us on the walls, they knew their mistake," says M. de Radisson as
he re-entered the gate. "There's only one way to find those pirates
out, Ramsay. Nurse these wounded Indians back to life, visit the
tribe, and watch! After Chouart's re-enforcements come, I'll send you
and Jack Battle, with Godefroy for interpreter!"

To Governor Brigdar and his four refugees M. de Radisson was all

"And how comes Your Excellency to be out so late with ten men?" he
asked, as we supped that night.

"We heard that you were here. We were coming to visit you," stammered
Governor Brigdar, growing red.

"Then let us make you so welcome that you will not hasten away! Here,
Jack Battle, here, fellow, stack these gentlemen's swords and pistols
where they'll come to no harm! Ah! No? But I must relieve you,
gentlemen! Your coming was a miracle. I thank you for it. It has
saved us much trouble. A pledge to the pleasure - and the length - of
your stay, gentlemen," and they stand to the toast, M. de Radisson
smiling at the lights in his wine.

But we all knew very well what such welcome meant. 'Twas Radisson's
humour to play the host that night, but the runaway lieutenant was a
prisoner in our guard-house.



In the matter of fighting, I find small difference between white-men
and red. Let the lust of conquest but burn, the justice of the quarrel
receives small thought. Your fire-eating prophet cares little for the
right of the cause, provided the fighter come out conqueror; and many a
poet praises only that right which is might over-trampling weakness. I
have heard the withered hag of an Indian camp chant as spirited
war-song as your minstrels of butchery; but the strange thing of it is,
that the people, who have taken the sword in a wantonness of conquest,
are the races that have been swept from the face of the earth like dead
leaves before the winter blast; but the people, who have held immutably
by the power of right, which our Lord Christ set up, the meek and the
peace-makers and the children of God, these are they that inherit the

Where are the tribes with whom Godefroy and Jack Battle and I wandered
in nomadic life over the northern wastes? Buried in oblivion black as
night, but for the lurid memories flashed down to you of later
generations. Where are the Puritan folk, with their cast-iron, narrow
creeds damning all creation but themselves, with their foibles of
snivelling to attest sanctity, with such a wolfish zeal to hound down
devils that they hounded innocents for witchcraft? Spreading over the
face of the New World, making the desert to bloom and the waste places
fruitful gardens? And the reason for it all is simply this: Your
butchering Indian, like your swashing cavalier, founded his _right_
upon _might_; your Puritan, grim but faithful, to the outermost bounds
of his tragic errors, founded his _might_ upon _right_.

We learn our hardest lessons from unlikeliest masters. This one came
to me from the Indians of the blood-dyed northern snows.

* * * * * *

"Don't show your faces till you have something to report about those
pirates, who led the Indians," was M. Radisson's last command, as we
sallied from the New Englanders' fort with a firing of cannon and
beating of drums.

Godefroy, the trader, muttered under his breath that M. Radisson need
never fear eternal torment.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because, if he goes _there_," answered Godefroy, "he'll get the better
o' the Nick."

I think the fellow was smarting from recent punishment. He and
Allemand, the drunken pilot, had been draining gin kegs on the sly and
replacing what they took with snow water. That last morning at prayers
Godefroy, who was half-seas over, must yelp out a loud "Amen" in the
wrong place. Without rising from his knees, or as much as changing his
tone, M. de Radisson brought the drunken knave such a cuff it flattened
him to the floor.

Then prayers went on as before.

The Indians, whom we had nursed of their wounds, were to lead us to the
tribe, one only being held by M. Radisson as hostage for safe conduct.
In my mind, that trust to the Indians' honour was the single mistake M.
Radisson made in the winter's campaign. In the first place, the Indian
has no honour. Why should he have, when his only standard of right is
conquest? In the second place, kindness is regarded as weakness by the
Indian. Why should it not be, when his only god is victory? In the
third place, the lust of blood, to kill, to butcher, to mutilate, still
surged as hot in their veins as on the night when they had attempted to
scale our walls. And again I ask why not, when the law of their life
was to kill or to be killed? These questions I put to you because life
put them to me. At the time my father died, the gentlemen of King
Charles's court were already affecting that refinement of philosophy
which justifies despotism. From justifying despotism, 'twas but a step
to justifying the wicked acts of tyranny; and from that, but another
step to thrusting God's laws aside as too obsolete for our clever
courtiers. "Give your unbroken colt tether enough to pull itself up
with one sharp fall," M. Radisson used to say, "and it will never run
to the end of its line again."

The mind of Europe spun the tissue of foolish philosophy. The savage
of the wilderness went the full tether; and I leave you to judge
whether the _might_ that is _right_ or the _right_ that is _might_ be
the better creed for a people.

But I do not mean to imply that M. Radisson did not understand the
savages better than any man of us in the fort. He risked three men as
pawns in the game he was playing for mastery of the fur trade.
Gamester of the wilderness as he was, Pierre Radisson was not the man
to court a certain loss.

The Indians led us to the lodges of the hostiles safely enough; and
their return gave us entrance if not welcome to the tepee village. We
had entered a ravine and came on a cluster of wigwams to the lee side
of a bluff. Dusk hid our approach; and the absence of the dogs that
usually infest Indian camps told us that these fellows were marauders.
Smoke curled up from the poles crisscrossed at the tepee forks, but we
could descry no figures against the tent-walls as in summer, for heavy
skins of the chase overlaid the parchment. All was silence but in one
wigwam. This was an enormous structure, built on poles long as a mast,
with moose-hides scattered so thickly upon it that not a glint of
firelight came through except the red glow of smoke at the peak. There
was a low hum of suppressed voices, then one voice alone in solemn
tones, then guttural grunts of applause.

"In council," whispered Godefroy, steering straight for the bearskin
that hung flapping across the entrance.

Bidding Jack Battle stand guard outside, we followed the Indians who
had led us from the fort. Lifting the tent-flap, we found ourselves
inside. A withered creature with snaky, tangled hair, toothless gums,
eyes that burned like embers, and a haunched, shrivelled figure, stood
gesticulating and crooning over a low monotone in the centre of the

As we entered, the draught from the door sent a tongue of flame darting
to mid-air from the central fire, and scores of tawny faces with glance
intent on the speaker were etched against the dark. These were no camp
families, but braves, deep in war council. The elder men sat with
crossed feet to the fore of the circle. The young braves were behind,
kneeling, standing, and stretched full length. All were smoking their
long-stemmed pipes and listening to the medicine-man, or seer, who was
crooning his low-toned chant. The air was black with smoke.

Always audacious, Godefroy, the trader, advanced boldly and sat down in
the circle. I kept back in shadow, for directly behind the Indian
wizard was a figure lying face downward, chin resting in hand, which
somehow reminded me of Le Borgne. The fellow rolled lazily over, got
to his knees, and stood up. Pushing the wizard aside, this Indian
faced the audience. It was Le Borgne, his foxy eye yellow as flame,
teeth snapping, and a tongue running at such a pace that we could
scarce make out a word of his jargon.

"What does he say, Godefroy?"

"Sit down," whispered the trader, "you are safe."

This was what the Indian was saying as Godefroy muttered it over to me:

"Were the Indians fools and dogs to throw away two fish for the sake of
one? The French were friends of the Indians. Let the Indians find out
what the French would give them for killing the English. He, Le
Borgne, the one-eyed, was brave. He would go to the Frenchman's fort
and spy out how strong they were. If the French gave them muskets for
killing the English, after the ships left in the spring the Indians
could attack the fort and kill the French. The great medicine-man, the
white hunter, who lived under the earth, would supply them with
muskets - - "

"He says the white hunter who lives under the earth is giving them
muskets to make war," whispered Godefroy. "That must be the pirate."


"Let the braves prepare to meet the Indians of the Land of Little White
Sticks, who were coming with furs for the white men - " Le Borgne went

"Let the braves send their runners over the hills to the Little White
Sticks sleeping in the sheltered valley. Let the braves creep through
the mist of the morning like the lynx seeking the ermine. And when the
Little White Sticks were all asleep, the runners would shoot fire
arrows into the air and the braves would slay - slay - slay the men, who
might fight, the women, who might run to the whites for aid, and the
children, who might live to tell tales."

"The devils!" says Godefroy under his breath.

A log broke on the coals with a flare that painted Le Borgne's evil
face fiery red; and the fellow gabbled on, with figure crouching
stealthily forward, foxy eye alight with evil, and teeth glistening.

"Let the braves seize the furs of the Little White Sticks, trade the
furs to the white-man for muskets, massacre the English, then when the
great white chief's big canoes left, kill the Frenchmen of the fort."

"Ha," says Godefroy. "Jack's safe outside! We'll have a care to serve
you through the loop-holes, and trade you only broken muskets!"

A guttural grunt applauded Le Borgne's advice, and the crafty scoundrel
continued: "The great medicine-man, the white hunter, who lived under
the earth, was their friend. Was he not here among them? Let the
braves hear what he advised."

The Indians grunted their approbation. Some one stirred the fire to
flame. There was a shuffling movement among the figures in the dark.
Involuntarily Godefroy and I had risen to our feet. Emerging from the
dusk to the firelight was a white man, gaudily clothed in tunic of
scarlet with steel breastplates and gold lace enough for an ambassador.
His face was hidden by Le Borgne's form. Godefroy pushed too far
forward; for the next thing, a shout of rage rent the tent roof. Le
Borgne was stamping out the fire. A red form with averted face raced
round the lodge wall to gain the door. Then Godefroy and I were
standing weapons in hand, with the band of infuriated braves
brandishing tomahawks about our heads. Le Borgne broke through the
circle and confronted us with his face agleam.

"Le Borgne, you rascal, is this a way to treat your friends?" I

"What you - come for?" slowly snarled Le Borgne through set teeth.

"To bring back your wounded and for furs, you fool," cried Godefroy,
"and if you don't call your braves off, you can sell no more pelts to
the French."

Le Borgne gabbled out something that drove the braves back.

"We have no furs yet," said he.

"But you will have them when you raid the Little White Sticks," raged
Godefroy, caring nothing for the harm his words might work if he saved
his own scalp.

Le Borgne drew off to confer with the braves. Then he came back and
there was a treacherous smile of welcome on his bronze face.

"The Indians thought the white-men spies from the Little White Sticks,"
he explained in the mellow, rhythmic tones of the redman. "The Indians
were in war council. The Indians are friends of the French."

"Look out for him, Godefroy," said I.

"If the French are friends to the Indians, let the white-men come to
battle against the Little White Sticks," added Le Borgne.

"Tell him no! We'll wait here till they come back!"

"He says they are not coming back," answered Godefroy, "and hang me,
Ramsay, an I'd not face an Indian massacre before I go back
empty-handed to M. Radisson. We're in for it," says he, speaking
English too quick for Le Borgne's ear. "If we show the white feather
now, they'll finish us. They'll not harm us till they've done for the
English and got more muskets. And that red pirate is after these same
furs! Body o' me, an you hang back, scared o' battle, you'd best not
come to the wilderness."

"The white-men will go with the Indians, but the white-men will not
fight with the Little Sticks," announced Godefroy to Le Borgne,
proffering tobacco enough to pacify the tribe.

'Twas in vain that I expostulated against the risk of going far inland
with hostiles, who had attacked the New England fort and were even now
planning the slaughter of white-men. Inoffensiveness is the most
deadly of offences with savagery, whether the savagery be of white men
or red. Le Borgne had the insolence to ask why the tribe could not as
easily kill us where we were as farther inland; and we saw that
remonstrances were working the evil that we wished to avoid - increasing
the Indians' daring. After all, Godefroy was right. The man who fears
death should neither go to the wilderness nor launch his canoe above a
whirlpool unless he is prepared to run the rapids. This New World had
never been won from darkness if men had hung back from fear of spilt

'Twas but a moment's work for the braves to deck out in war-gear.
Faces were blackened with red streaks typifying wounds; bodies clad in
caribou skins or ermine-pelts white as the snow to be crossed; quivers
of barbed and poisonous arrows hanging over their backs in otter and
beaver skins; powder in buffalo-horns for those who had muskets;
shields of toughened hide on one arm, and such a number of scalp-locks
fringing every seam as told their own story of murderous foray. While
the land still smoked under morning frost and the stars yet pricked
through the gray darkness, the warriors were far afield coasting the
snow-billows as on tireless wings. Up the swelling drifts water-waved
by wind like a rolling sea, down cliffs crumbling over with snowy
cornices, across the icy marshes swept glare by the gales, the braves
pressed relentlessly on. Godefroy, Jack Battle, and I would have hung
to the rear and slipped away if we could; but the fate of an old man
was warning enough. Muttering against the braves for embroiling
themselves in war without cause, he fell away from the marauders as if
to leave. Le Borgne's foxy eye saw the move. Turning, he rushed at
the old man with a hiss of air through his teeth like a whistling
arrow. His musket swung up. It clubbed down. There was a groan; and
as we rounded a bluff at a pace that brought the air cutting in our
faces, I saw the old man's body lying motionless on the snow.

If this was the beginning, what was the end?

Godefroy vowed that the man was only an Indian, and his death was no

"The wolves would 'a' picked his bones soon anyway. He wore a score o'
scalps at his belt. Pah, an we could get furs without any Indians, I'd
see all their skulls go!" snapped the trader.

"If killing's no murder, whose turn comes next?" asked Jack.

And that gave Godefroy pause.



For what I now tell I offer no excuse. I would but record what
savagery meant. Then may you who are descended from the New World
pioneers know that your lineage is from men as heroic as those
crusaders who rescued our Saviour's grave from the pagans; for
crusaders of Old World and New carried the sword of destruction in one
hand, but in the other, a cross that was light in darkness. Then may
you, my lady-fingered sentimentalist, who go to bed of a winter night
with a warming-pan and champion the rights of the savage from your soft
place among cushions, realize what a fine hero your redman was, and
realize, too, what were the powers that the white-man crushed!

For what I do not tell I offer no excuse. It is not permitted to
relate _all_ that savage warfare meant. Once I marvelled that a just
God could order his chosen people to exterminate any race. Now I
marvel that a just God hath not exterminated many races long ago.

We reached the crest of a swelling upland as the first sun-rays came
through the frost mist in shafts of fire. A quick halt was called.
One white-garbed scout went crawling stealthily down the snow-slope
like a mountain-cat. Then the frost thinned to the rising sun and
vague outlines of tepee lodges could be descried in the clouded valley.

An arrow whistled through the air glancing into snow with a soft
whirr at our feet. It was the signal. As with one thought, the
warriors charged down the hill, leaping from side to side in a
frenzy, dancing in a madness of slaughter, shrieking their long,
shrill - "Ah - oh! - Ah - oh!" - yelping, howling, screaming their
war-cry - "Ah - oh! - Ah - oh! - Ah - oh!" - like demons incarnate. The
medicine-man had stripped himself naked and was tossing his arms with
maniacal fury, leaping up and down, yelling the war-cry, beating the
tom-tom, rattling the death-gourd. Some of the warriors went down on
hands and feet, sidling forward through the mist like the stealthy
beasts of prey that they were.

Godefroy, Jack Battle, and I were carried before the charge helpless as
leaves in a hurricane. All slid down the hillside to the bottom of a
ravine. With the long bound of a tiger-spring, Le Borgne plunged
through the frost cloud.

The lodges of the victims were about us. We had evidently come upon
the tribe when all were asleep.

Then that dark under-world of which men dream in wild delirium became
reality. Pandemonium broke its bounds.

* * * * * *

And had I once thought that Eli Kirke's fanatic faith painted too lurid
a hell? God knows if the realm of darkness be half as hideous as the
deeds of this life, 'tis blacker than prophet may portray.

Day or night, after fifty years, do I close my eyes to shut the memory
out! But the shafts are still hurtling through the gray gloom. Arrows
rip against the skin shields. Running fugitives fall pierced. Men
rush from their lodges in the daze of sleep and fight barehanded
against musket and battle-axe and lance till the snows are red and
scalps steaming from the belts of conquerors. Women fall to the feet
of the victors, kneeling, crouching, dumbly pleading for mercy; and the
mercy is a spear-thrust that pinions the living body to earth. Maimed,
helpless and living victims are thrown aside to await slow death.
Children are torn from their mothers' arms - but there - memory revolts
and the pen fails!

It was in vain for us to flee. Turn where we would, pursued and
pursuer were there.

"Don't flinch! Don't flinch!" Godefroy kept shouting. "They'll take
it for fear! They'll kill you by torture!"

Almost on the words a bowstring twanged to the fore and a young girl

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Online LibraryAgnes C. LautHeralds of Empire Being the Story of One Ramsay Stanhope, Lieutenant to Pierre Radisson in the Northern Fur Trade → online text (page 10 of 17)