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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piccadillies! Walk this way! Walk this way!"

"Pardieu, lad!" says M. Radisson, elbowing a saucy spark from the wall
for the tenth time in as many paces. "Pardieu, you can't hear yourself
think! Shut up to you!" he called to a bawling 'prentice dressed in
white velvet waistcoat like a showman's dummy to exhibit the fashion.
"Shut up to you!"

And I heard the fellow telling his comrades my strange companion with the
tangled hair was a pirate from the Barbary States. Another saucy vender
caught at the chance.

"Perukes! Perukes! Newest French periwigs!" he shouts, jangling his
bell and putting himself across M. Radisson's course. "You'd please to
lack a periwig, sir! Walk this way! Walk this way - "

"Out of my way!" orders Radisson with a hiss of his rapier round the
fellow's fat calves. "'Tis a milliner's doll the town makes of a man!
Out of my way!"

And the 'prentice went skipping. We were to meet the directors of the
Hudson's Bay Company that night, and we had come out to refurbish our
scant, wild attire. But bare had we turned the corner for the
linen-draper's shops of Fleet Street when M. Radisson's troubles began.
Idlers eyed us with strange looks. Hucksters read our necessitous state
and ran at heel shouting their wares. Shopmen saw needy customers in us
and sent their 'prentices running. Chairmen splashed us as they passed;
and impudent dandies powdered and patched and laced and bewigged like any
fizgig of a girl would have elbowed us from the wall to the gutter for
the sport of seeing M. Radisson's moccasins slimed.

"Egad," says M. Radisson, "an I spill not some sawdust out o' these
dolls, or cut their stay-strings, may the gutter take us for good and
all! Pardieu! An your wig's the latest fashion, the wits under 't don't
matter - "

"Have a care, sir," I warned, "here comes a fellow!"

'Twas a dandy in pink of fashion with a three-cornered hat coming over
his face like a waterspout, red-cheeked from carminative and with the
high look in his eyes of one who saw common folk from the top of church
steeple. His lips were parted enough to show his teeth; and I warrant
you my fine spark had posed an hour at the looking-glass ere he got his
neck at the angle that brought out the swell of his chest. He was
dressed in red plush with silk hose of the same colour and a square-cut,
tailed coat out of whose pockets stuck a roll of paper missives.

"Verse ready writ by some penny-a-liner for any wench with cheap smiles,"
says M. Radisson aloud.

But the fellow came on like a strutting peacock with his head in air.
Behind followed his page with cloak and rapier. In one hand our dandy
carried his white gloves, in the other a lace gewgaw heavy with musk,
which he fluttered in the face of every shopkeeper's daughter.

"Give the wall! Give the wall!" cries the page. "Give the wall to
Lieutenant Blood o' the Tower!"

"S'blood," says M. Radisson insolently, "let us send that snipe
sprawling!"

At that was a mighty awakening on the part of my fine gentleman.

"Blood is my name," says he. "Step aside!"

"An Blood is its name," retorts M. Radisson, "'tis bad blood; and I've a
mind to let some of it, unless the thing gets out of my way!"

With which M. Radisson whips out his sword, and my grand beau condescends
to look at us.

"Boy," he commands, "call an officer!"

"Boy," shouts M. Radisson, "call a chirurgeon to mend its toes!" and his
blade cut a swath across the dandy's shining pumps.

At that was a jump!

Whatever the beaux of King Charles's court may have been, they were not
cowards! Grasping his sword from the page, the fellow made at us. What
with the lashing of the coachmen riding post-haste to see the fray, the
jostling chairmen calling out "A fight! A fight!" and the 'prentices
yelling at the top of their voices for "A watch! A watch!" we had had it
hot enough then and there for M. Radisson's sport; but above the melee
sounded another shrill alarm, the "Gardez l'eau! Gardy loo!" of some
French kitchen wench throwing her breakfast slops to mid-road from the
dwelling overhead. [1]

Only on the instant had I jerked M. Radisson back; and down they
came - dish-water - and coffee leavings - and porridge scraps full on the
crown of my fine young gentleman, drenching his gay attire as it had been
soaked in soapsuds of a week old. Something burst from his lips a deal
stronger than the modish French oaths then in vogue. There was a shout
from the rabble. I dragged rather than led M. Radisson pell-mell into a
shop from front to rear, over a score of garden walls, and out again from
rear to front, so that we gave the slip to all those officers now running
for the scene of the broil.

"Egad's life," cried M. de Radisson, laughing and laughing, "'tis the
narrowest escape I've ever had! Pardieu - to escape the north sea and
drown in dish-water! Lord - to beat devils and be snuffed out by a wench
in petticoats! 'Tis the martyrdom of heroes! What a tale for the
court!"

And he laughed and laughed again till I must needs call a chair to get
him away from onlookers. In the shop of a draper a thought struck him.

"Egad, lad, that young blade was Blood!"

"So he told you."

"Did he? Son of the Blood who stole the crown ten years ago, and got
your own Stanhope lands in reward from the king!"

What memories were his words bringing back? - M. Picot in the hunting-room
telling me of Blood, the freebooter and swordsman. And that brings me to
the real reason for our plundering the linen-drapers' shops before
presenting ourselves at Sir John Kirke's mansion in Drury Lane, where
gentlemen with one eye cocked on the doings of the nobility in the west
and the other keen for city trade were wont to live in those days.

For six years M. Radisson had not seen Mistress Mary Kirke - as his wife
styled herself after he broke from the English - and I had not heard one
word of Hortense for nigh as many months. Say what you will of the
dandified dolls who wasted half a day before the looking-glass in the
reign of Charles Stuart, there are times when the bravest of men had best
look twice in the glass ere he set himself to the task of conquering fair
eyes. We did not drag our linen through a scent bath nor loll all
morning in the hands of a man milliner charged with the duty of turning
us into showmen's dummies - as was the way of young sparks in that age.
But that was how I came to buy yon monstrous wig costing forty guineas
and weighing ten pounds and coming half-way to a man's waist. And you
may set it down to M. Radisson's credit that he went with his wiry hair
flying wild as a lion's mane. Nothing I could say would make him
exchange his Indian moccasins for the high-heeled pumps with a buckle at
the instep.

"I suppose," he had conceded grudgingly, "we must have a brat to carry
swords and cloaks for us, or we'll be taken for some o' your cheap-jack
hucksters parading latest fashions," and he bade our host of the Star and
Garter have some lad searched out for us by the time we should be coming
home from Sir John Kirke's that night.

A mighty personage with fat chops and ruddy cheeks and rounded waistcoat
and padded calves received us at the door of Sir John Kirke's house in
Drury Lane. Sir John was not yet back from the Exchange, this grand
fellow loftily informed us at the entrance to the house. A glance told
him that we had neither page-boy nor private carriage; and he half-shut
the door in our faces.

"Now the devil take _this thing_ for a half-baked, back-stairs,
second-hand kitchen gentleman," hissed M. Radisson, pushing in. "Here,
my fine fellow," says he with a largesse of vails his purse could ill
afford, "here, you sauce-pans, go tell Madame Radisson her husband is
here!"

I have always held that the vulgar like insolence nigh as well as silver;
and Sieur Radisson's air sent the feet of the kitchen steward pattering.
"Confound him!" muttered Radisson, as we both went stumbling over
footstools into the dark of Sir John's great drawing-room, "Confound him!
An a man treats a man as a man in these stuffed match-boxes o' towns,
looking man as a man on the level square in the eye, he only gets himself
slapped in the face for it! An there's to be any slapping in the face,
be the first to do it, boy! A man's a man by the measure of his stature
in the wilderness. Here, 'tis by the measure of his clothes - - "

But a great rustling of flounced petticoats down the hallway broke in on
his speech, and a little lady had jumped at me with a cry of "Pierre,
Pierre!" when M. Radisson's long arms caught her from her feet.

"You don't even remember what your own husband looked like," said he.
"Ah, Mary, Mary - don't dear me! I'm only dear when the court takes me
up! But, egad," says he, setting her down on her feet, "you may wager
these pretty ringlets of yours, I'm mighty dear for the gilded crew this
time!"

Madame Radisson said she was glad of it; for when Pierre was rich they
could take a fine house in the West End like my Lord So-and-So; but in
the next breath she begged him not to call the Royalists a gilded crew.

"And who is this?" she asked, turning to me as the servants brought in
candles.

"Egad, and you might have asked that before you tried to kiss him! You
always did have a pretty choice, Mary! I knew it when you took me!
That," says he, pointing to me, "that is the kite's tail!"

"But for convenience' sake, perhaps the kite's tail may have a name,"
retorts Madame Radisson.

"To be sure - to be sure - Stanhope, a young Royalist kinsman of yours."

"Royalist?" reiterates Mary Kirke with a world of meaning to the
high-keyed question, "then my welcome was no mistake! Welcome waits
Royalists here," and she gave me her hand to kiss just as an elderly
woman with monster white ringlets all about her face and bejewelled
fingers and bare shoulders and flowing draperies swept into the room,
followed by a serving-maid and a page-boy. With the aid of two men, her
daughter, a serving-maid, and the page, it took her all of five minutes
by the clock to get herself seated. But when her slippered feet were on
a Persian rug and the displaced ringlets of her monster wig adjusted by
the waiting abigail and smelling-salts put on a marquetry table nearby
and the folds of the gown righted by the page-boy, Lady Kirke extended a
hand to receive our compliments. I mind she called Radisson her "dear,
sweet savage," and bade him have a care not to squeeze the stones of her
rings into the flesh of her fingers.

"As if any man would want to squeeze such a ragbag o' tawdry finery and
milliners' tinsel," said Radisson afterward to me.

I, being younger, was "a dear, bold fellow," with a tap of her fan to the
words and a look over the top of it like to have come from some saucy
jade of sixteen.

After which the serving-maid must hand the smelling-salts and the
page-boy haste to stroke out her train.

"Egad," says Radisson when my lady had informed us that Sir John would
await Sieur Radisson's coming at the Fur Company's offices, "egad,
there'll be no getting Ramsay away till he sees some one else!"

"And who is that?" simpers Lady Kirke, languishing behind her fan.

"Who, indeed, but the little maid we sent from the north sea."

"La," cries Lady Kirke with a sudden livening, "an you always do as well
for us all, we can forgive you, Pierre! The courtiers have cried her up
and cried her up, till your pretty savage of the north sea is like to
become the first lady of the land! Sir John comes home with your letter
to me - boy, the smelling-salts! - so! - and I say to him, 'Sir John, take
the story to His Royal Highness!' Good lack, Pierre, no sooner hath the
Duke of York heard the tale than off he goes with it to King Charles!
His Majesty hath an eye for a pretty baggage. Oh, I promise you, Pierre,
you have done finely for us all!"

And the lady must simper and smirk and tap Pierre Radisson with her fan,
with a glimmer of ill-meaning through her winks and nods that might have
brought the blush to a woman's cheeks in Commonwealth days.

"Madame," cried Pierre Radisson with his eyes ablaze, "that sweet child
came to no harm or wrong among our wilderness of savages! An she come to
harm in a Christian court, by Heaven, somebody'll answer me for't!"

"Lackaday! Hoighty-toighty, Pierre! How you stamp! The black-eyed
monkey hath been named maid of honour to Queen Catherine! How much
better could we have done for her?"

"Maid of honour to the lonely queen?" says Radisson. "That is well!"

"She is ward of the court till a husband be found for her," continues
Lady Kirke.

"There will be plenty willing to be found," says Pierre Radisson, looking
me wondrous straight in the eye.

"Not so sure - not so sure, Pierre! We catch no glimpse of her nowadays;
but they say young Lieutenant Blood o' the Tower shadows the court
wherever she is - - "

"A well-dressed young man?" adds Radisson, winking at me.

"And carries himself with a grand air," amplifies my lady, puffing out
her chest, "but then, Pierre, when it comes to the point, your pretty
wench hath no dower - no property - - "

"Heaven be praised for that!" burst from my lips.

At which there was a sudden silence, followed by sudden laughter to my
confusion.

"And so Master Stanhope came seeking the bird that had flown," twitted
Radisson's mother-in-law. "Faugh - faugh - to have had the bird in his
hand and to let it go! But - ta-ta!" she laughed, tapping my arm with her
fan, "some one else is here who keeps asking and asking for Master
Stanhope. Boy," she ordered, "tell thy master's guest to come down!"

Two seconds later entered little Rebecca of Boston Town. Blushing pink
as apple-blossoms, dressed demurely as of old, with her glances playing a
shy hide-and-seek under the downcast lids, she seemed as alien to the
artificial grandeur about her as meadow violets to the tawdry splendour
of a flower-dyer's shop.

"Fie, fie, sly ladybird," called out Sir John's wife, "here are friends
of yours!"

At sight of us, she uttered a little gasp of pleasure.

"So - so - so joysome to see Boston folk," she stammered.

"Fie, fie!" laughed Lady Kirke. "Doth Boston air bring red so quick to
all faces?"

"If they be not painted too deep," said Pierre Radisson loud and
distinct. And I doubt not the coquettish old dame blushed red, though
the depth of paint hid it from our eyes; for she held her tongue long
enough for me to lead Rebecca to an alcove window.

Some men are born to jump in sudden-made gaps. Such an one was Pierre
Radisson; for he set himself between his wife and Lady Kirke, where he
kept them achattering so fast they had no time to note little Rebecca's
unmasked confusion.

"This is an unexpected pleasure, Rebecca!"

She glanced up as if to question me.

"Your fine gallants have so many fine speeches - - "

"Have you been here long?"

"A month. My father came to see about the furs that Ben Gillam lost in
the bay," explains Rebecca.

"Oh!" said I, vouching no more.

"The ship was sent back," continues Rebecca, all innocent of the nature
of her father's venture, "and my father hopes that King Charles may get
the French to return the value of the furs."

"Oh!"

There was a little silence. The other tongues prattled louder. Rebecca
leaned towards me.

"Have you seen her?" she asked.

"Who?"

She gave an impetuous little shake of her head. "You know," she said.

"Well?" I asked.

"She hath taken me through all the grand places, Ramsay; through
Whitehall and Hampton Court and the Tower! She hath come to see me every
week!"

I said nothing.

"To-morrow she goes to Oxford with the queen. She is not happy, Ramsay.
She says she feels like a caged bird. Ramsay, why did she love that
north land where the wicked Frenchman took her?"

"I don't know, Rebecca. She once said it was strong and pure and free."

"Did you see her oft, Ramsay?"

"No, Rebecca; only at dinner on Sundays."

"And - and - all the officers were there on the Sabbath?"

"All the officers were there!"

She sat silent, eyes downcast, thinking.

"Ramsay?"

"Well?"

"Hortense will be marrying some grand courtier."

"May he be worthy of her."

"I think many ask her."

"And what does Mistress Hortense say?"

"I think," answers Rebecca meditatively, "from the quantity of love-verse
writ, she must keep saying - No."

Then Lady Kirke turns to bid us all go to the Duke's Theatre, where the
king's suite would appear that night. Rebecca, of course, would not go.
Her father would be expecting her when he came home, she said. So Pierre
Radisson and I escorted Lady Kirke and her daughter to the play, riding
in one of those ponderous coaches, with four belaced footmen clinging
behind and postillions before. At the entrance to the playhouse was a
great concourse of crowding people, masked ladies, courtiers with pages
carrying torches for the return after dark, merchants with linkmen, work
folk with lanterns, noblemen elbowing tradesmen from the wall, tradesmen
elbowing mechanics; all pushing and jostling and cracking their jokes
with a freedom of speech that would have cost dear in Boston Town. The
beaux, I mind, had ready-writ love-verses sticking out of pockets thick
as bailiffs' yellow papers; so that a gallant could have stocked his own
munitions by picking up the missives dropped at the feet of disdainfuls.
Of the play, I recall nothing but that some favourite of the king, Mary
Davies, or the famous Nell, or some such an one, danced a monstrous bold
jig. Indeed, our grand people, taking their cue from the courtiers'
boxes, affected a mighty contempt for the play, except when a naughty
jade on the boards stepped high, or blew a kiss to some dandy among the
noted folk. For aught I could make out, they did not come to hear, but
to be heard; the ladies chattering and ogling; the gallants stalking from
box to box and pit to gallery, waving their scented handkerchiefs,
striking a pose where the greater part of the audience could see the
flash of beringed fingers, or taking a pinch of snuff with a snap of the
lid to call attention to its gold-work and naked goddesses.

"Drat these tradespeople, kinsman!" says Lady Kirke, as a fat townsman
and his wife pushed past us, "drat these tradespeople!" says she as we
were taking our place in one of the boxes, "'tis monstrous gracious of
the king to come among them at all!"

Methought her memory of Sir John's career had been suddenly clipped
short; but Pierre Radisson only smiled solemnly. Some jokes, like
dessert, are best taken cold, not hot.

Then there was a craning of necks; and the king's party came in, His
Majesty grown sallow with years but gay and nonchalant as ever, with
Barillon, the French ambassador, on one side and Her Grace of Portsmouth
on the other. Behind came the whole court; the Duchess of Cleveland,
whom our wits were beginning to call "a perennial," because she held her
power with the king and her lovers increased with age; statesmen hanging
upon her for a look or a smile that might lead the way to the king's ear;
Sir George Jeffreys, the judge, whose name was to become England's
infamy; Queen Catherine of Braganza, keeping up hollow mirth with those
whose presence was insult; the Duke of York, soberer than his royal
brother, the king, since Monmouth's menace to the succession; and a host
of hangers-on ready to swear away England's liberties for a licking of
the crumbs that fell from royal lips.

Then the hum of the playhouse seemed as the beating of the north sea; for
Lady Kirke was whispering, "There! There! There she is!" and Hortense
was entering one of the royal boxes accompanied by a foreign-looking,
elderly woman, and that young Lieutenant Blood, whom we had encountered
earlier in the day.

"The countess from Portugal - Her Majesty's friend," murmurs Lady Kirke.
"Ah, Pierre, you have done finely for us all!"

And there oozed over my Lady Kirke's countenance as fine a satisfaction
as ever radiated from the face of a sweating cook.

"How?" asks Pierre Radisson, pursing his lips.

"Sir John hath dined twice with His Royal Highness - - "

"The Duke is Governor of the Company, and Sir John is a director."

"Ta-ta, now there you go, Pierre!" smirks my lady. "An your pretty
baggage had not such a saucy way with the men - why - who can tell - - "

"Madame," interrupted Pierre Radisson, "God forbid! There be many lords
amaking in strange ways, but we of the wilderness only count honour worth
when it's won honourably."

But Lady Kirke bare heard the rebuke. She was all eyes for the royal
box. "La, now, Pierre," she cries, "see! The king hath recognised you!"
She lurched forward into fuller view of onlookers as she spoke.
"Wella-day! Good lack! Pierre Radisson, I do believe! - Yes! - See! - His
Majesty is sending for you!"

And a page in royal colours appeared to say that the king commanded
Pierre Radisson to present himself in the royal box. With his wiry hair
wild as it had ever been on the north sea, off he went, all unconscious
of the contemptuous looks from courtier and dandy at his strange,
half-savage dress. And presently Pierre Radisson is seated in the king's
presence, chatting unabashed, the cynosure of all eyes. At the stir,
Hortense had turned towards us. For a moment the listless hauteur gave
place to a scarce hidden start. Then the pallid face had looked
indifferently away.

"The huzzy!" mutters Lady Kirke. "She might 'a' bowed in sight of the
whole house! Hoighty-toighty! We shall see, an the little moth so
easily blinded by court glare is not singed for its vanity! Ungrateful
baggage! See how she sits, not deigning to listen one word of all the
young lieutenant is saying! Mary?"

"Yes - - "

"You mind I told her - I warned the saucy miss to give more heed to the
men - to remember what it might mean to us - - "

"Yes," adds Madame Radisson, "and she said she hated the court - - "

"Faugh!" laughs Lady Kirke, fussing and fuming and shifting her place
like a peacock with ruffled plumage, "pride before the fall - I'll
warrant, you men spoiled her in the north! Very fine, forsooth, when a
pauper wench from no one knows where may slight the first ladies of the
land!"

"Madame," said I, "you are missing the play!"

"Master Stanhope," said she, "the play must be marvellous moving! Where
is your colour of a moment ago?"

I had no response to her railing. It was as if that look of Hortense had
come from across the chasm that separated the old order from the new. In
the wilderness she was in distress, I her helper. Here she was of the
court and I - a common trader. Such fools does pride make of us, and so
prone are we to doubt another's faith!

"One slight was enough," Lady Kirke was vowing with a toss of her head;
and we none of us gave another look to the royal boxes that night, though
all about the wits were cracking their jokes against M. Radisson's
"Medusa locks," or "the king's idol, with feet of clay and face of
brass," thereby meaning M. Radisson's moccasins and swarth skin. At the
door we were awaiting M. Radisson's return when the royal company came
out. I turned suddenly and met Hortense's eyes blazing with a hauteur
that forbade recognition. Beside her in lover-like pose lolled that
milliners' dummy whom we had seen humbled in the morning.

Then, promising to rejoin Pierre Radisson at the Fur Company's offices, I
made my adieux to the Kirkes and flung out among those wild revellers who
scoured London streets of a dark night.


[1] The old expression which the law compelled before throwing slops in
mid-street.




CHAPTER XXV

JACK BATTLE AGAIN

The higher one's hopes mount the farther they have to fall; and I, who
had mounted to stars with Hortense, was pushed to the gutter by the
king's dragoons making way for the royal equipage. There was a
crackling of whips among the king's postillions. A yeoman thrust the
crowd back with his pike. The carriages rolled past. The flash of a
linkman's torch revealed Hortense sitting languid and scornful between
the foreign countess and that milliner's dummy of a lieutenant. Then
the royal carriages were lost in the darkness, and the streets thronged
by a rabble of singing, shouting, hilarious revellers.

Different generations have different ways of taking their pleasure, and
the youth of King Charles's day were alternately bullies on the street
and dandies at the feet of my lady disdainful. At the approach of the
shouting, night-watchmen threw down their lanterns and took to their
heels. Street-sweeps tossed their brooms in mid-road with cries of


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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 14 of 17)