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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thought you were caribou. He wanted to shoot. Oh," she said, "oh, how
I have hated him! To think - to think that he would shoot when you
helped us in Boston!"

"Hortense, who sent Le Borgne and M. Picot to save me from the wolves?"

"Oh," says Hortense bravely, with a shudder between the words, "that
was - that was nothing - I mean - one would do as much for
anybody - for - for - for a poor little stoat, or - or - a caribou if the
wolves were after it!"

And we laughed with the tears in our eyes. And all the while that vow
to the dying adventurer was ringing like a faint death toll to hope. I
remember trying to speak a gratitude too deep for words.

"Can - I ever - ever repay you - Hortense?" I was asking.

"Repay!" she said with a little bitter laugh. "Oh! I hate that word
repay! I hate all give-and-take and so-much-given-for-so-much-got!"
Then turning to me with her face aflame: "I am - I am - oh - why can't you
understand?" she asked.

And then - and then - there was a wordless cry - her arms reached out in
mute appeal - there was no need of speech.

The forest shone green and gold in the sunlight. The wind rustled past
like a springtime presence, a presence that set all the pines swaying
and the aspens aquiver with music of flower legend and new birth and
the joy of life. There was a long silence; and in that silence the
pulsing of the mighty forces that lift mortals to immortality.

Then a voice which only speaks when love speaks through the voice was
saying, "Do you remember your dreams?"

"What?" stooping to cull some violets that had looked well against the
green of her hunting-suit.

"'Blind gods of chance - blind gods of chance' - you used to say that
over and over!"

"Ah, M. Radisson taught me that! God bless the blind gods of
chance - Hortense teaches me that; for" - giving her back her own
words - "you are here - you are here - you are here with me! God bless
the gods of chance!"

"Oh," she cried, "were you not asleep? Monsieur let me watch after you
had taken the sleeping drug."

"The stars fight for us in their courses," said I, handing up the
violets.

"Ramsay," she asked with a sudden look straight through my eyes, "what
did he make you promise when - when - he was dying?"

The question brought me up like a sail hauled short. And when I told
her, she uttered strange reproaches.

"Why - why did you promise that?" she asked. "It has always been his
mad dream. And when I told him I did not want to be restored, that I
wanted to be like Rebecca and Jack and you and the rest, he called me a
little fool and bade me understand that he had not poisoned me as he
was paid to do because it was to his advantage to keep me alive.
Courtiers would not assassinate a stray waif, he said; there was wealth
for the court's ward somewhere; and when I was restored, I was to
remember who had slaved for me. Indeed, indeed, I think that he would
have married me, but that he feared it would bar him from any property
as a king's ward - - "

"Is that all you know?"

"That is all. Why - why - did you promise?"

"What else was there to do, Hortense? You can't stay in this
wilderness."

"Oh, yes," says Hortense wearily, and she let the violets fall.
"What - what else was there to do?"

She led the way back to the cave.

"You have not asked me how we came here," she began with visible effort.

"Tell me no more than you wish me to know!"

"Perhaps you remember a New Amsterdam gentleman and a page boy leaving
Boston on the Prince Rupert?"

"Perhaps," said I.

"Captain Gillam of the Prince Rupert signalled to his son outside the
harbour. Monsieur had been bargaining with Ben all winter. Ben took
us to the north with Le Borgne for interpreter - - "

"Does Ben know you are here?"

"Not as Hortense! I was dressed as a page. Then Le Borgne told us of
this cave and monsieur plotted to lead the Indians against Ben, capture
the fort and ship, and sail away with all the furs for himself. Oh,
how I have hated him!" she exclaimed with a sudden impetuous stamp.

Leaving her with the slaves, I took Le Borgne with me to the
Habitation. Here, I told all to M. Radisson. And his quick mind
seized this, too, for advantage.

"Precious pearls," he exclaims, "but 'tis a gift of the gods!"

"Sir?"

"Pardieu, Chouart; listen to this," and he tells his kinsman,
Groseillers.

"Why not?" asks Groseillers. "You mean to send her to Mary Kirke?"

Mary Kirke was Pierre Radisson's wife, who would not leave the English
to go to him when he had deserted England for France.

"Sir John Kirke is director of the English Company now. He hath been
knighted by King Charles. Mary and Sir John will present this little
maid at the English court. An she be not a nine days' wonder there, my
name is not Pierre Radisson. If she's a court ward, some of the crew
must take care of her."

Groseillers smiled. "An the French reward us not well for this
winter's work, that little maid may open a door back to England; eh,
kinsman?"


'Twas the same gamestering spirit carrying them through all hazard that
now led them to prepare for fresh partnership, lest France played
false. And as history tells, France played very false indeed.




CHAPTER XXII

WE LEAVE THE NORTH SEA

So Sieur Radisson must fit out a royal flotilla to carry Mistress
Hortense to the French Habitation. And gracious acts are like the gift
horse: you must not look them in the mouth. For the same flotilla that
brought Hortense brought all M. Picot's hoard of furs. Coming down the
river, lying languidly back among the peltries of the loaded canoe,
Hortense, I mind, turned to me with that honest look of hers and asked
why Sieur Radisson sent to fetch her in such royal state.

"I am but a poor beggar like your little Jack Battle," she protested.

I told her of M. Radisson's plans for entrance to the English court,
and the fire that flashed to her eyes was like his own.

"Must a woman ever be a cat's-paw to man's ambitions?" she asked, with
a gleam of the dark lights. "Oh, the wilderness is different," says
Hortense with a sigh. "In the wild land, each is for its own! Oh, I
love it!" she adds, with a sudden lighting of the depths in her eyes.

"Love - what?"

"The wilderness," says Hortense. "It is hard, but it's free and it's
pure and it's true and it's strong!"

And she sat back among the pillows.

When we shot through racing rapids - "sauter les rapides," as our French
voyageurs say - she sat up all alert and laughed as the spray splashed
athwart. Old Allemand, the pilot, who was steersman on this canoe,
forgot the ill-humour of his gin thirst, and proffered her a paddle.

"Here, pretty thing," says he, "try a stroke yourself!"

And to the old curmudgeon's surprise she took it with a joyous laugh,
and paddled half that day.

Bethink you who know what warm hearts beat inside rough buckskin
whether those voyageurs were her slaves or no! The wind was blowing;
Mistress Hortense's hair tossed in a way to make a man swear (vows, not
oaths), and Allemand said that I paddled worse than any green hand of a
first week. At the Habitation we disembarked after nightfall to
conceal our movements from the English. After her arrival, none of us
caught a glimpse of Mistress Hortense except of a Sunday at noon, but
of her presence there was proof enough. Did voices grow loud in the
mess-room? A hand was raised. Some one pointed to the far door, and
the voices fell. Did a fellow's tales slip an oath or two? There was
a hush. Some one's thumb jerked significantly shoulderwise to the
door, and the story-teller leashed his oats for a more convenient
season.

"Oh, lordy," taunts an English prisoner out on parole one day, "any
angels from kingdom come that you Frenchies keep meek as lambs?"

Allemand, not being able to explain, knocked the fellow flat.

It would scarce have been human nature had not some of the ruffians
uttered slurs on the origin of such an one as Hortense found in so
strange a case. The mind that feedeth on carrion ever goeth with the
large mouth, and for the cleansing of such natures I wot there is no
better physic than our crew gave those gossips. What the sailors did I
say not. Enough that broken heads were bound by our chirurgeon for the
rest of the week.

That same chirurgeon advised a walk outside the fort walls for Mistress
Hillary's health. By the goodness of Providence, the duty of escorting
her fell to me. Attended by the blackamoor and a soldier, with a
musket across my shoulder, I led her out of a rear sally-port and so
avoided the scenes of drunkenness among the Indians at the main gate.
We got into hiding of a thicket, but boisterous shouting came from the
Indian encampment. I glanced at Hortense. She was clad in a green
hunting-suit, and by the light of the setting sun her face shone
radiant.

"You are not afraid?"

A flush of sheer delight in life flooded her cheeks.

"Afraid?" she laughed.

"Hortense! Hortense! Do you not hear the drunken revel? Do you know
what it means? This world is full of what a maid must fear. 'Tis her
fear protects her."

"Ah?" asks Hortense.

And she opened the tight-clasped hunting-cloak. A Spanish poniard hung
against the inner folds.

"'Tis her courage must protect her. The wilderness teaches that," says
Hortense, "the wilderness and men like Picot."

Then we clasped hands and ran like children from thicket to rock and
rock to the long stretches of shingly shore. Behind came the
blackamoor and the soldier. The salt spray flew in our faces, the wind
through our hair; and in our hearts, a joy untold. Where a great
obelisk of rock thrust across the way, Hortense halted. She stood on
the lee side of the rock fanning herself with her hat.

"Now you are the old Hortense!"

"I _am_ older, hundreds of years older," laughed Hortense.

The westering sun and the gold light of the sea and the caress of a
spring wind be perilous setting for a fair face. I looked and looked
again.

"Hortense, should an oath to the dead bind the living?"

"If it was right to take the oath, yes," said Hortense.

"Hortense, I may never see you alone again. I promised to treat you as
I would treat a sister - - "

"But - " interrupts Hortense.

Footsteps were approaching along the sand. I thought only of the
blackamoor and soldier.

"I promised to treat you as I would a sister - but what - Hortense?"

"But - but I didn't promise to treat you as I would a brother - - "

Then a voice from the other side of the rock: "Devil sink my soul to
the bottom of the sea if that viper Frenchman hasn't all our furs
packed away in his hold!"

Then - "A pox on him for a meddlesome - " the voice fell.

Then Ben Gillam again: "Shiver my soul! Let 'im set sail, I say!
Aren't you and me to be shipped on a raft for the English fort at the
foot o' the bay?"

"We'll send 'em all to the bottom o' hell first."

"An you give the word, all my men will rise!"

"Capture the fort - risk the ships - butcher the French!"

Hortense raised her hand and pointed along the shore. Our two guards
were lumbering up and would presently betray our presence. Stealing
forward we motioned their silence. I sent both to listen behind the
rock, while Hortense and I struck into cover of the thicket to regain
the fort.

"Do not fear," said I. "M. Radisson has kept the prisoners in hand.
He will snuff this pretty conspiracy out before Brigdar and Ben get
their heads apart."

She gave that flitting look which laughs at fear and hastened on. We
could not go back as we had come without exposing ourselves to the two
conspirators, and our course lay nearer the Indian revel. About a mile
from the fort Hortense stopped short. Through the underbrush crawled
two braves with their eyes leering at us.

"Hortense," I urged, "run for the rear gate! I'll deal with these two
alone. There may be more! Run, my dear!"

"Give me your musket," she said, never taking her eyes from the savages.

Wondering not a little at the request, I handed her the weapon.

"Now run," I begged, for a sand crane flapped up where the savages had
prowled a pace nearer.

Quick as it rose Hortense aimed. There was a puff of smoke. The bird
fell shot at the savages' feet, and the miscreants scudded off in
terror.

"That was better," said Hortense, "_you_ would have killed a man."

In vain I urged her to hasten back. She walked.

"You know it may be the last time," she laughed, mocking my grave air
of the beach.

"Hortense - Hortense - how am I to keep a promise?"

But she did not answer a word till we reached the sally-port. There
she turned with a brave enough look till her eyes met mine, when all
was the confusion that men give their lives to win.

"Yes - yes - keep your promise. If you had not come, I had died; if I
had not come, you had died. Let us keep faith with truth, for that's
keeping faith with God - and - and - God bless you," she whispered
brokenly, and she darted through the gate.

* * * * * *

And the next morning we embarked, young Jean Groseillers remaining with
ten Frenchmen to hold the fort; Brigdar and Ben aboard our ship instead
of going to the English at the foot of the bay; half the prisoners
under hatches in M. Groseillers's ship; the other half sent south on
the raft - a plan which effectually stopped that conspiracy of Ben's.
Not one glimpse of our fair passenger had we on all that voyage south,
for what with Ben's oaths and Governor Brigdar's drinking, the cabin
was no place for Hortense.

At Isle Percée, entering the St. Lawrence, lay a messenger from La
Chesnaye's father with a missive that bore ill news.

M. de la Barre, the new governor, had ordered our furs confiscated
because we had gone north without a license, and La Chesnaye had
thriftily rigged up this ship to send half our cargo across to France
before the Farmers of the Revenue could get their hands upon it. It
was this gave rise to the slander that M. de Radisson ran off with half
La Chesnaye's furs - which the records de la marine will disprove, if
you search them.

On this ship with her blackamoors sailed Mistress Hortense, bearing
letters to Sir John Kirke, director of the Hudson's Bay Company and
father of M. Radisson's wife.

"Now praise be Heaven, that little ward will open the way for us in
England, Chouart," said M. de Radisson, as he moodily listened to news
of the trouble abrewing in Quebec.

And all the way up the St. Lawrence, as the rolling tide lapped our
keel, I was dreaming of a far, cold paleocrystic sea, mystic in the
frost-clouds that lay over it like smoke. Then a figure emerged from
the white darkness. I was snatched up, with the northern lights for
chariot, two blazing comets our steeds, and the north star a charioteer.




PART III




CHAPTER XXIII

A CHANGE OF PARTNERS

Old folks are wont to repeat themselves, but that is because they would
impress those garnered lessons which age no longer has strength to
drive home at one blow.

Royalist and Puritan, each had his lesson to learn, as I said before.
Each marked the pendulum swing to a wrong extreme, and the pendulum was
beating time for your younger generations to march by. And so I say to
you who are wiser by the follies of your fathers, look not back too
scornfully; for he who is ever watching to mock at the tripping of
other men's feet is like to fall over a very small stumbling-block
himself.

Already have I told you of holy men who would gouge a man's eye out for
the extraction of one small bean, and counted burnings life's highest
joy, and held the body accursed as a necessary evil for the
tabernacling of the soul. Now must I tell you of those who wantoned
"in the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eye and the pride of
life," who burned their lives out at a shrine of folly, and who held
that the soul and all things spiritual had gone out of fashion except
for the making of vows and pretty conceits in verse by a lover to his
lady.

For Pierre Radisson's fears of France playing false proved true. Bare
had our keels bumped through that forest of sailing craft, which ever
swung to the tide below Quebec fort, when a company of young cadets
marches down from the Castle St. Louis to escort us up to M. de la
Barre, the new governor.

"Hm," says M. Radisson, looking in his half-savage buckskins a wild
enough figure among all those young jacks-in-a-box with their gold lace
and steel breastplates. "Hm - let the governor come to us! An you will
not go to a man, a man must come to you!"

"I am indisposed," says he to the cadets. "Let the governor come to
me."

And come he did, with a company of troops fresh out from France and a
roar of cannon from the ramparts that was more for the frightening than
welcoming of us.

M. de Radisson bade us answer the salute by a firing of muskets in
mid-air. Then we all let go a cheer for the Governor of New France.

"I must thank Your Excellency for the welcome sent down by your
cadets," says M. de Radisson, meeting the governor half-way across the
gang-plank.

M. de la Barre, an iron-gray man past the prime of life, gave spare
smile in answer to that.

"I bade my cadets request you to _report_ at the castle," says he, with
a hard wrinkling of the lines round his lips.

"I bade your fellows report that I was indisposed!"

"Did the north not agree with Sieur Radisson?" asks the governor dryly.

"Pardieu! - yes - better than the air of Quebec," retorts M. Radisson.

By this the eyes of the listeners were agape, M. Radisson not budging a
pace to go ashore, the governor scarce courting rebuff in sight of his
soldiers.

"Radisson," says M. de la Barre, motioning his soldiers back and
following to our captain's cabin, "a fellow was haltered and whipped
for disrespect to the bishop yesterday!"

"Fortunately," says M. Radisson, touching the hilt of his rapier,
"gentlemen settle differences in a simpler way!"

They had entered the cabin, where Radisson bade me stand guard at the
door, and at our leader's bravado M. de la Barre saw fit to throw off
all disguise.

"Radisson," he said, "those who trade without license are sent to the
galleys - - "

"And those who go to the galleys get no more furs to divide with the
Governor of New France, and the governor who gets no furs goes home a
poor man."

M. de la Barre's sallow face wrinkled again in a dry laugh.

"La Chesnaye has told you?"

"La Chesnaye's son - - "

"Have the ships a good cargo? They must remain here till our officer
examines them."

Which meant till the governor's minions looted both vessels for His
Excellency's profit. M. Radisson, who knew that the better part of the
furs were already crossing the ocean, nodded his assent.

"But about these English prisoners, of whom La Chesnaye sent word from
Isle Percée?" continued the governor.

"The prisoners matter nothing - 'tis their ship has value - - "

"She must go back," interjects M. de la Barre.

"Back?" exclaims M. Radisson.

"Why didn't you sell her to some Spanish adventurer before you came
here?"

"Spanish adventurer - Your Excellency? I am no butcher!"

"Eh - man!" says the governor, tapping the table with a document he
pulled from his greatcoat pocket and shrugging his shoulders with a
deprecating gesture of the hands, "if her crew feared sharks, they
should have defended her against capture. Now - your prize must go back
to New England and we lose the profit! Here," says he, "are orders
from the king and M. Colbert that nothing be done to offend the
subjects of King Charles of England - - "

"Which means that Barillon, the French ambassador - - ?"

M. de la Barre laid his finger on his lips. "Walls have ears! If one
king be willing to buy and another to sell himself and his country,
loyal subjects have no comment, Radisson." [1]

"Loyal subjects!" sneers M. de Radisson.

"And that reminds me, M. Colbert orders Sieur Radisson to present
himself in Paris and report on the state of the fur-trade to the king!"

"Ramsay," said M. Radisson to me, after Governor la Barre had gone,
"this is some new gamestering!"

"Your court players are too deep for me, sir!"

"Pish!" says he impatiently, "plain as day - we must sail on the frigate
for France, or they imprison us here - in Paris we shall be kept
dangling by promises, hangers-on and do-nothings till the moneys are
all used - then - - "

"Then - sir?"

"Then, active men are dangerous men, and dangerous men may lie safe and
quiet in the sponging-house!"

"Do we sail in that case?"

"Egad, yes! Why not? Keep your colours flying and you may sail into
hell, man, and conquer, too! Yes - we sail! Man or devil, don't
swerve, lad! Go your gait! Go your gait! Chouart here will look
after the ships! Paris is near London, and praise be Providence for
that little maid of thine! We shall presently have letters from
her - and," he added, "from Sir John Kirke of the Hudson's Bay Company!"

And it was even as he foretold. I find, on looking over the tattered
pages of a handbook, these notes:

_Oct. 6._ - Ben Gillam and Governor Brigdar this day sent back to New
England. There will be great complaints against us in the English
court before we can reach London.

_Nov. 11._ - Sailed for France in the French frigate.

_Dec. 18._ - Reach Rochelle - hear of M. Colbert's death.

_Jan. 30._ - Paris - all our furs seized by the French Government in
order to keep M. Radisson powerless - Lord Preston, the English
ambassador, complaining against us on the one hand, and battering our
doors down on the other, with spies offering M. Radisson safe passage
from Paris to London.

I would that I had time to tell you of that hard winter in Paris, M.
Radisson week by week, like a fort resisting siege, forced to take
cheaper and cheaper lodgings, till we were housed between an attic roof
and creaking rat-ridden floor in the Faubourg St. Antoine. But not one
jot did M. Radisson lose of his kingly bearing, though he went to some
fête in Versailles with beaded moccasins and frayed plushes and
tattered laces and hair that one of the pretty wits declared the birds
would be anesting in for hay-coils. In that Faubourg St. Antoine
house, I mind, we took grand apartments on the ground floor, but up and
up we went, till M. Radisson vowed we'd presently be under the
stars - as the French say when they are homeless - unless my Lord
Preston, the English ambassador, came to our terms.

That starving of us for surrender was only another trick of the
gamestering in which we were enmeshed. Had Captain Godey, Lord
Preston's messenger, succeeded in luring us back to England without
terms, what a pretty pickle had ours been! France would have set a
price on us. Then must we have accepted any kick-of-toe England chose
to offer - and thanked our new masters for the same, else back to France
they would have sent us.

But attic dwellers stave off many a woe with empty stomachs and stout
courage. When April came, boats for the fur-trade should have been
stirring, and my Lord Preston changes his tune. One night, when Pierre
Radisson sat spinning his yarns of captivity with Iroquois to our attic
neighbours, comes a rap at the door, and in walks Captain Godey of the
English Embassy. As soon as our neighbours had gone, he counts out one
hundred gold pieces on the table. Then he hands us a letter signed by
the Duke of York, King Charles's brother, who was Governor of the
Hudson's Bay Company, granting us all that we asked.

Thereupon, Pierre Radisson asks leave of the French court to seek
change of air; but the country air we sought was that of England in
May, not France, as the court inferred.


[1] The reference is evidently to the secret treaty by which King
Charles of England received annual payment for compliance with King
Louis's schemes for French aggression.




CHAPTER XXIV

UNDER THE AEGIS OF THE COURT

The roar of London was about us.

Sign-boards creaked and swung to every puff of wind. Great
hackney-coaches, sunk at the waist like those old gallipot boats of ours,
went ploughing past through the mud of mid-road, with bepowdered footmen
clinging behind and saucy coachmen perched in front. These flunkeys
thought it fine sport to splash us passers-by, or beguiled the time when
there was stoppage across the narrow street by lashing rival drivers with
their long whips and knocking cock-hats to the gutter. 'Prentices stood
ringing their bells and shouting their wares at every shop-door. "What
d'ye lack? What d'ye lack? What d'ye please to lack, good sirs? Walk
this way for kerseys, sayes, and perpetuanoes! Bands and ruffs and


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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 13 of 17)