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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"The Scowerers! The Scowerers!" Hucksters fled into the dark of side
lanes. Shopkeepers shot their door-bolts. Householders blew out
lights. Fruit-venders made off without their baskets, and small
urchins shrieked the alarm of "Baby-eaters! Baby-eaters!"

One sturdy watch, I mind, stood his guard, laying about with a stout
pike in a way that broke our fine revellers' heads like soft pumpkins;
but him they stood upon his crown in some goodwife's rain-barrel with
his lantern tied to his heels. At the rush of the rabble for shelves
of cakes and pies, one shopman levelled his blunderbuss. That brought
shouts of "A sweat! A sweat!" In a twinkling the rascals were about
him. A sword pricked from behind. The fellow jumped. Another prick,
and yet another, till the good man was dancing such a jig the sweat
rolled from his fat jowls and he roared out promise to feast the whole
rout. A peddler of small images had lingered to see the sport, and
enough of it he had, I promise you; for they dumped him into his wicker
basket and trundled it through the gutter till the peddler and his
little white saints were black as chimney-sweeps. Nor did our merry
blades play their pranks on poor folk alone. At Will's Coffee House,
where sat Dryden and other mighty quidnuncs spinning their poetry and
politics over full cups, before mine host got his doors barred our
fellows had charged in, seized one of the great wits and set him
singing Gammer Gurton's Needle, till the gentlemen were glad to put
down pennies for the company to drink healths.

By this I had enough of your gentleman bully's brawling, and I gave the
fellows the slip to meet Pierre Radisson at the General Council of
Hudson's Bay Adventurers to be held in John Horth's offices in Broad
Street. Our gentlemen adventurers were mighty jealous of their secrets
in those days. I think they imagined their great game-preserve a kind
of Spanish gold-mine safer hidden from public ken, and they held their
meetings with an air of mystery that pirates might have worn. For my
part, I do not believe there were French spies hanging round Horth's
office for knowledge of the Fur Company's doings, though the
doorkeeper, who gave me a chair in the anteroom, reported that a
strange-looking fellow with a wife as from foreign parts had been
asking for me all that day, and refused to leave till he had learned
the address of my lodgings.

"'Ave ye taken the hoath of hallegiance, sir?" asked the porter.

"I was born in England," said I dryly.

"Your renegade of a French savage is atakin' the hoath now," confided
the porter, jerking his thumb towards the inner door. "They do say as
'ow it is for love of Mary Kirke and not the English - "

"Your renegade of a French - who?" I asked sharply, thinking it ill omen
to hear a flunkey of the English Company speaking lightly of our leader.

But at the question the fellow went glum with a tipping and bowing and
begging of pardon. Then the councillors began to come: Arlington and
Ashley of the court, one of those Carterets, who had been on the Boston
Commission long ago and first induced M. Radisson to go to England, and
at last His Royal Highness the Duke of York, deep in conversation with
my kinsman, Sir John Kirke.

"It can do no harm to employ him for one trip," Sir John was saying.

"He hath taken the oath?" asks His Royal Highness.

"He is taking it to-night; but," laughs Sir John, "we thought he was a
good Englishman once before."

"Your company used him ill. You must keep him from going over to the
French again."

"Till he undo the evil he has done - till he capture back all that he
took from us - then," says Sir John cautiously, "then we must consider
whether it be politic to keep a gamester in the company."

"Anyway," adds His Highness, "France will not take him back."

And the door closed on the councillors while I awaited Radisson in the
anteroom. A moment later Pierre Radisson came out with eyes alight and
face elate.

"I've signed to sail in three days," he announced. "Do you go with me
or no?"

Two memories came back: one of a face between a westering sun and a
golden sea, and I hesitated; the other, of a cold, pallid, disdainful
look from the royal box.

"I go."

And entering the council chamber, I signed the papers without one
glance at the terms. Gentlemen sat all about the long table, and at
the head was the governor of the company - the Duke of York, talking
freely with M. de Radisson.

My Lord Ashley would know if anything but furs grew in that wild New
World.

"Furs?" says M. Radisson. "Sir, mark my words, 'tis a world that grows
empires - also men," with an emphasis which those court dandies could
not understand.

But the wise gentlemen only smiled at M. Radisson's warmth.

"If it grew good soldiers for our wars - " begins one military gentleman.

"Aye," flashes back M. Radisson ironically, "if it grows men for your
wars and your butchery and your shambles! Mark my words: it is a land
that grows men good for more than killing," and he smiles half in
bitterness.

"'Tis a prodigious expensive land in diplomacy when men like you are
let loose in it," remarks Arlington.

His Royal Highness rose to take his leave.

"You will present a full report to His Majesty at Oxford," he orders M.
Radisson in parting.

Then the council dispersed.

"Oxford," says M. Radisson, as we picked our way home through the dark
streets; "an I go to meet the king at Oxford, you will see a hornets'
nest of jealousy about my ears."

I did not tell him of the double work implied in Sir John's words with
the prince, for Sir John Kirke was Pierre Radisson's father-in-law. At
the door of the Star and Garter mine host calls out that a
strange-looking fellow wearing a grizzled beard and with a wife as from
foreign parts had been waiting all afternoon for me in my rooms.

"From foreign parts!" repeats M. Radisson, getting into a chair to go
to Sir John's house in Drury Lane. "If they're French spies, send them
right about, Ramsay! We've stopped gamestering!"

"We have; but perhaps the others haven't."

"Let them game," laughs M. Radisson scornfully, as the chair moved off.
Not knowing what to expect I ran up-stairs to my room. At the door I
paused. That morning I had gone from the house light-hearted. Now
interest had died from life. I had but one wish, to reach that
wilderness of swift conflict, where thought has no time for regret.
The door was ajar. A coal fire burned on the hearth. Sitting on the
floor were two figures with backs towards me, a ragged, bearded man and
a woman with a shawl over her head. What fools does hope make of us!
I had almost called out Hortense's name when the noise of the closing
door caught their hearing. I was in the north again; an Indian girl
was on her knees clinging to my feet, sobbing out incoherent gratitude;
a pair of arms were belabouring my shoulders; and a voice was saying
with broken gurgles of joy: "Ship ahoy, there! Ease your helm! Don't
heave all your ballast overboard!" - a clapping of hands on my
back - "Port your helm! Ease her up! All sheets in the wind and the
storms'l aflutter! Ha-ha!" with a wringing and a wringing like to
wrench my hands off - "Anchor out! Haul away! Home with her . . . !"

"Jack Battle!"

It was all I could say.

There he was, grizzled and bronzed and weather-worn, laughing with joy
and thrashing his arms about as if to belabour me again.

"But who is this, Jack?"

I lifted the Indian woman from her knees. It was the girl my blow had
saved that morning long ago.

"Who - what is this?"

"My wife," Says Jack, swinging his arms afresh and proud as a prince.

"Your wife? . . . Where . . . who married you?"

"There warn't no parson," says Jack, "that is, there warn't no parson
nearer nor three thousand leagues and more. And say," adds Jack, "I
s'pose there was marryin' afore there _could_ be parsons! She saved my
life. She hain't no folks. I hain't no folks. She got away that
morning o' the massacre - she see them take us captive - she gets a white
pelt to hide her agen the snow - she come, she do all them cold miles
and lets me loose when the braves ain't watching . . . she risks her
life to save my life - she don't belong to nobody. I don't belong to
nobody. There waren't no parson, but we're married tight . . .
and - and - let not man put asunder," says Jack.

For full five minutes there was not a word.

The east was trying to understand the west!

"Amen, Jack," said I. "God bless you - you are a man!"

"We mean to get a parson and have it done straight yet," explained
Jack, "but I wanted you to stand by me - - "

"Faith, Jack, you've done it pretty thorough without any help - - "

"Yes, but folks won't understand," pleaded Jack, "and - and - I'd do as
much for you - I wanted you to stand by me and tell me where to say
'yes' when the parson reads the words - - "

"All right - I shall," I promised, laughing.

If only Hortense could know all this! That is the sorrow of rifted
lives - the dark between, on each side the thoughts that yearn.

"And - and," Jack was stammering on, "I thought, perhaps, Mistress
Rebecca 'd be willing to stand by Mizza," nodding to the young squaw,
"that is, if you asked Rebecca," pleaded Jack.

"We'll see," said I.

For the New England conscience was something to reckon with!

"How did you come here?" I asked.

"Mizza snared rabbits and I stole back my musket when we ran away and
did some shooting long as powder lasted - - "

"And then?"

"And then we used bow and arrow. We hid in the bush till the hostiles
quit cruisin'; but the spring storms caught us when we started for the
coast. I s'pose I'm a better sailor on water than land, for split me
for a herring if my eyes didn't go blind from snow! We hove to in the
woods again, Mizza snaring rabbit and building a lodge and keepin' fire
agoin' and carin' for me as if I deserved it. There I lay
water-logged, odd's man - blind as a mole till the spring thaws came.
Then Mizza an' me built a raft; for sez I to Miz, though she didn't
understand: 'Miz,' sez I, 'water don't flow uphill! If we rig up a
craft, that river'll carry us to the bay!' But she only gets down on
the ground the way she did with you and puts my foot on her neck.
Lordy," laughs Jack, "s'pose I don't know what a foot on a neck feels
like? I sez: 'Miz, if you ever do that again, I'll throw you
overboard!' Then the backwash came so strong from the bay, we had to
wait till the floods settled. While we swung at anchorman, what d'y'
think happened? I taught Miz English. Soon as ever she knew words
enough I told her if I was a captain I'd want a mate! She didn't catch
the wind o' that, lad, till we were navigating our raft downstream agen
the ice-jam. Ship ahoy, you know, the ice was like to nip us, and
lackin' a life-belt I put me arm round her waist! Ease your helm!
Port - a little! Haul away! But she understood - when she saw me save
her from the jam before I saved myself."

And Jack Battle stood away arm's length from his Indian wife and
laughed his pride.

"And by the time we'd got to the bay you'd gone, but Jean Groseillers
sent us to the English ship that came out expecting to find Governor
Brigdar at Nelson. We shipped with the company boat, and here we be."

"And what are you going to do?"

"Oh, I get work enough on the docks to pay for Mizza's lessons - "

"Lessons?"

"Yes - she's learning sewin' and readin' from the nuns, and as soon as
she's baptized we're going to be married regular."

"Oh!" A sigh of relief escaped me. "Then you'll not need Rebecca for
six months or so?"

"No; but you'll ask her?" pleaded Jack.

"If I'm here."

As they were going out Jack slipped back from the hallway to the
fireplace, leaving Mizza outside.

"Ramsay?"

"Yes?"

"You think - it's - it's - all right?"

"What?"

"What I done about a mate?"

"Right?" I reiterated. "Here's my hand to you - blessing on the voyage,
Captain Jack Battle!"

"Ah," smiled Jack, "you've been to the wilderness - you understand!
Other folks don't! That is the way it happens out there!"

He lingered as of old when there was more to come.

"Ramsay?"

"Sail away, captain!"

"Have you seen Hortense?" he asked, looking straight at me.

"Um - yes - no - that is - I have and I haven't."

"Why haven't you?"

"Because having become a grand lady, her ladyship didn't choose to see
me."

Jack Battle turned on his heel and swore a seaman's oath.
"That - that's a lie," said he.

"Very well - it's a lie, but this is what happened," and I told him of
the scene in the theatre. Jack pulled a puzzled face, looking askance
as he listened.

"Why didn't you go round to her box, the way M. Radisson did to the
king's?"

"You forget I am only a trader!"

"Pah," says Jack, "that is nothing!"

"You forget that Lieutenant Blood might have objected to my visit," and
I told him of Blood.

"But how was Mistress Hortense to know that?"

Wounded pride hugs its misery, and I answered nothing.

At the door he stopped. "You go along with Radisson to Oxford," he
called. "The court will be there."




CHAPTER XXVI

AT OXFORD

Rioting through London streets or playing second in M. Radisson's games
of empire, it was possible to forget her, but not in Oxford with the
court retinue all about and the hedgerows abloom and spring-time in the
air. M. Radisson had gone to present his reports to the king. With a
vague belief that chance might work some miracle, I accompanied M.
Radisson till we encountered the first belaced fellow of the King's
Guard. 'Twas outside the porter's lodge of the grand house where the
king had been pleased to breakfast that morning.

"And what might this young man want?" demanded the fellow, with lordly
belligerence, letting M. Radisson pass without question.

Your colonial hero will face the desperate chance of death; but not the
smug arrogance of a beliveried flunkey.

"Wait here," says M. Radisson to me, forgetful of Hortense now that his
own end was won.

And I struck through the copse-wood, telling myself that chance makes
grim sport. Ah, well, the toughening of the wilderness is not to be
undone by fickle fingers, however dainty, nor a strong life blown out
by a girl's caprice! Riders went clanking past. I did not turn. Let
those that honoured dishonour doff hats to that company of loose women
and dissolute men! Hortense was welcome to the womanish men and the
mannish women, to her dandified lieutenant and foreign adventuresses
and grand ambassadors, who bought English honour with the smiles of
evil women. Coming to a high stone wall, I saw two riders galloping
across the open field for the copse wood.

"A very good place to break foolish necks," thought I; for the riders
were coming straight towards me, and a deep ditch ran along the other
side of the wall.

To clear the wall and then the ditch would be easy enough; but to clear
the ditch and then the wall required as pretty a piece of foolhardy
horsemanship as hunters could find. Out of sheer curiosity to see the
end I slackened my walk. A woman in green was leading the pace. The
man behind was shouting "Don't try it! Don't try it! Ride round the
end! Wait! Wait!" But the woman came on as if her horse had the bit.
Then all my mighty, cool stoicism began thumping like a smith's forge.
The woman was Hortense, with that daring look on her face I had seen
come to it in the north land; and her escort, young Lieutenant Blood,
with terror as plainly writ on his fan-shaped elbows and pounding gait
as if his horse were galloping to perdition.

"Don't jump! Head about, Mistress Hillary!" cried the lieutenant.

But Hortense's lips tightened, the rein tightened, there was that
lifting bound into air when horse and rider are one - the quick
paying-out of the rein - the long, stretching leap - the backward
brace - and the wall had been cleared. But Blood's horse balked the
jump, nigh sending him head over into the moat, and seizing the bit,
carried its cursing rider down the slope of the field. In vain the
lieutenant beat it about the head and dug the spurs deep. The beast
sidled off each time he headed it up, or plunged at the water's edge
till Mistress Hortense cried out: "Oh - please! I cannot see you risk
yourself on that beast! Oh - please won't you ride farther down where I
can get back!"

"Ho - away, then," calls Blood, mighty glad of that way out of his
predicament, "but don't try the wall here again, Mistress Hillary! I
protest 'tis not safe for you! Ho - away, then! I race you to the end
of the wall!"

And off he gallops, never looking back, keen to clear the wall and meet
my lady half-way up. Hortense sat erect, reining her horse and smiling
at me.

"And so you would go away without seeing me," she said, "and I must
needs ride you down at the risk of the lieutenant's neck."

"'Tis the way of the proud with the humble," I laughed back; but the
laugh had no mirth.

Her face went grave. She sat gazing at me with that straight, honest
look of the wilderness which neither lies nor seeks a lie.

"Your horse is champing to be off, Hortense!"

"Yes - and if you looked you might see that I am keeping him from going
off."

I smiled at the poor jest as a court conceit.

"Or perhaps, if you tried, you might help me to hold him," says
Hortense, never taking her search from my face.

"And defraud the lieutenant," said I.

"Ah!" says Hortense, looking away. "Are you jealous of anything so
small?"

I took hold of the bit and quieted the horse. Hortense laughed.

"Were you so mighty proud the other night that you could not come to
see a humble ward of the court?" she asked.

"I am only a poor trader now!"

"Ah," says Hortense, questioning my face again, "I had thought you were
only a poor trader before! Was that the only reason?"

"To be sure, Hortense, the lieutenant would not have welcomed me - he
might have told his fellow to turn me out and made confusion."

And I related M. Radisson's morning encounter with Lieutenant Blood,
whereat Mistress Hortense uttered such merry peals of laughter I had
thought the chapel-bells were chiming.

"Ramsay!" she cried impetuously, "I hate this life - why did you all
send me to it?"

"Hate it! Why - - ?"

"Why?" reiterated Hortense. "Why, when a king, who is too busy to sign
death-reprieves, may spend the night hunting a single moth from room to
room of the palace? Why, when ladies of the court dress in men's
clothes to run the streets with the Scowerers? Why, when a duchess
must take me every morning to a milliner's shop, where she meets her
lover, who is a rope-walker? Why, when our sailors starve unpaid and
gold enough lies on the basset-table of a Sunday night to feed the
army? Ah, yes!" says Hortense, "why do I hate this life? Why must you
and Madame Radisson and Lady Kirke all push me here?"

"Hortense," I broke in, "you were a ward of the crown! What else was
there for us to do?"

"Ah, yes!" says Hortense, "what else? You kept your promise, and a
ward of the crown must marry whom the king names - "

"Marry?"

"Or - or go to a nunnery abroad."

"A nunnery?"

"Ah, yes!" mocks Hortense, "what else is there to do?"

And at that comes Blood crashing through the brush.

"Here, fellow, hands off that bridle!"

"The horse became restless. This gentleman held him for me till you
came."

"Gad's life!" cries the lieutenant, dismounting. "Let's see?" And he
examines the girths with a great show of concern. "A nasty tumble,"
says he, as if Hortense had been rolled on. "All sound, Mistress
Hillary! Egad! You must not ride such a wild beast! I protest, such
risks are too desperate!" And he casts up the whites of his eyes at
Mistress Hortense, laying his hand on his heart. "When did you feel
him getting away from you?"

"At the wall," says Hortense.

The lieutenant vaulted to his saddle.

"Here, fellow!"

He had tossed me a gold-piece. They were off. I lifted the coin,
balanced it on my thumb, and flipped it ringing against the wall. When
I looked up, Hortense was laughing back over her shoulder.


On May 17th we sailed from Gravesend in the Happy Return, two ships
accompanying us for Hudson Bay, and a convoy of the Royal Marine coming
as far as the north of Scotland to stand off Dutch highwaymen and
Spanish pirates.

But I made the news of Jack Battle's marriage the occasion of a letter
to one of the queen's maids of honour.




CHAPTER XXVII

HOME FROM THE BAY

'Twas as fair sailing under English colours as you could wish till
Pierre Radisson had undone all the mischief that he had worked against
the Fur Company in Hudson Bay. Pierre Radisson sits with a pipe in his
mouth and his long legs stretched clear across the cabin-table,
spinning yarns of wild doings in savage lands, and Governor Phipps, of
the Hudson's Bay Company, listens with eyes a trifle too sleepily
watchful, methinks, for the Frenchman's good. A summer sea kept us
course all the way to the northern bay, and sometimes Pierre Radisson
would fling out of the cabin, marching up and down the deck muttering,
"Pah! Tis tame adventuring! Takes a dish o' spray to salt the
freshness out o' men! Tis the roaring forties put nerve in a man's
marrow! Soft days are your Delilah's that shave away men's strength!
Toughen your fighters, Captain Gazer! Toughen your fighters!"

And once, when M. Radisson had passed beyond hearing, the governor
turns with a sleepy laugh to the captain.

"A pox on the rantipole!" says he. "May the sharks test the nerve of
his marrow after he's captured back the forts!"

In the bay great ice-drift stopped our way, and Pierre Radisson's
impatience took fire.

"What a deuce, Captain Gazer!" he cries. "How long do you intend to
squat here anchored to an ice-pan?"

A spark shot from the governor's sleepy eyes, and Captain Gazer
swallowed words twice before he answered.

"Till the ice opens a way," says he.

"Opens a way!" repeats Radisson. "Man alive, why don't you carve a
way?"

"Carve a way yourself, Radisson," says the governor contemptuously.

That was let enough for Pierre Radisson. He had the sailors lowering
jolly-boats in a jiffy; and off seven of us went, round the ice-pans,
ploughing, cutting, portaging a way till we had crossed the obstruction
and were pulling for the French fort with the spars of three Company
boats far in the offing.

I detained the English sailors at the river-front till M. Radisson had
entered the fort and won young Jean Groseillers to the change of
masters. Before the Fur Company's ships came, the English flag was
flying above the fort and Fort Bourbon had become Fort Nelson.

"I bid you welcome to the French Habitation," bows Radisson, throwing
wide the gates to the English governor.

"Hm!" returns Phipps, "how many beaver-skins are there in store?"

M. Radisson looked at the governor. "You must ask my tradespeople
that," he answers; and he stood aside for them all to pass.

"Your English mind thinks only of the gain," he said to me.

"And your French mind?" I asked.

"The game and not the winnings," said he.


No sooner were the winnings safe - twenty thousand beaver-skins stowed
away in three ships' holds - than Pierre Radisson's foes unmasked. The
morning of our departure Governor Phipps marched all our Frenchmen
aboard like captives of war.

"Sir," expostulated M. de Radisson, "before they gave up the fort I
promised these men they should remain in the bay."

Governor Phipps's sleepy eyes of a sudden waked wide.

"Aye," he taunted, "with Frenchmen holding our fort, a pretty trick you
could play us when the fancy took you!"

M. Radisson said not a word. He pulled free a gantlet and strode
forward, but the doughty governor hastily scuttled down the ship's
ladder and put a boat's length of water between him and Pierre
Radisson's challenge.

The gig-boat pulled away. Our ship had raised anchor. Radisson leaned
over the deck-rail and laughed.

"Egad, Phipps," he shouted, "a man may not fight cowards, but he can
cudgel them! An I have to wait for you on the River Styx, I'll punish
you for making me break promise to these good fellows!"

"Promise - and when did promise o' yours hold good, Pierre Radisson?"

The Frenchman turned with a bitter laugh.

"A giant is big enough to be hit - a giant is easy to fight," says he,
"but egad, these pigmies crawl all over you and sting to death before
they are visible to the naked eye!"

And as the Happy Return wore ship for open sea he stood moodily silent
with eyes towards the shore where Governor Phipps's gig-boat had moored


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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 15 of 17)