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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before Fort Nelson.

Then, speaking more to himself than to Jean and me, his lips curled
with a hard scorn.

"The Happy Return!" says he. "Pardieu! 'tis a happy return to beat
devils and then have all your own little lies come roosting home like
imps that filch the victory! They don't trust me because I won by
trickery! Egad! is a slaughter better than a game? An a man wins, who
a devil gives a rush for the winnings? 'Tis the fight and the
game - pah! - not the thing won! Storm and cold, man and beast, powers
o' darkness and devil, knaves and fools and his own sins - aye, that's
the scratch! - The man and the beast and the dark and the devil, he can
breast 'em all with a bold front! But knaves and fools and his own
sins, pah! - death grubs! - hatching and nesting in a man's bosom till
they wake to sting him! Flesh-worms - vampires - blood-suckers - spun out
o' a man's own tissue to sap his life!"

He rapped his pistol impatiently against the deck-rail, stalked past
us, then turned.

"Lads," says he, "if you don't want gall in your wine and a grub in
your victory, a' God's name keep your own counsel and play the game
fair and square and aboveboard."

And though his speech worked a pretty enough havoc with fine-spun
rhetoric to raise the wig off a pedant's head, Jean and I thought we
read some sense in his mixed metaphors.

On all that voyage home he never once crossed words with the English
officers, but took his share of hardship with the French prisoners.

"I mayn't go back to France. They think they have me cornered and in
their power," he would say, gnawing at his finger-ends and gazing into
space.

Once, after long reverie, he sprang up from a gun-waist where he had
been sitting and uttered a scornful laugh.

"Cornered? Hah! We shall see! I snap my fingers in their faces."

Thereafter his mood brightened perceptibly, and he was the first to put
foot ashore when we came to anchor in British port. There were yet
four hours before the post-chaise left for London, and the English crew
made the most of the time by flocking to the ale-houses. M. Radisson
drew Jean and me apart.

"We'll beat our detractors yet," he said. "If news of this capture be
carried to the king and the Duke of York[1] before the shareholders
spread false reports, we are safe. If His Royal Highness favour us,
the Company must fall in line or lose their charter!"

And he bade us hire three of the fleetest saddle-horses to be found.
While the English crew were yet brawling in the taverns, we were to
horse and away. Our horse's feet rang on the cobblestones with the
echo of steel and the sparks flashed from M. Radisson's eyes. A
wharfmaster rushed into mid-road to stop us, but M. Radisson rode him
down. A uniformed constable called out to know what we were about.

"Our business!" shouts M. Radisson, and we are off.

Country franklins got their wains out of our way with mighty confusion,
and coaches drew aside for us to pass, and roadside brats scampered off
with a scream of freebooters; but M. Radisson only laughed.

"This is living," said he. "Give your nag rein, Jean! Whip and spur!
Ramsay! Whip and spur! Nothing's won but at cost of a sting! Throw
off those jack-boots, Jean! They're a handicap! Loose your holsters,
lad! An any highwaymen come at us to-day I'll send him a short way to
a place where he'll stay! Whip up! Whip up!"

"What have you under your arm?" cries Jean breathlessly.

"Rare furs for the king," calls Radisson.

Then the wind is in our hair, and thatched cots race off in a blur on
either side; plodding workmen stand to stare and are gone; open fields
give place to forest, forest to village, village to bare heath; and
still we race on.

* * * * * *

Midnight found us pounding through the dark of London streets for
Cheapside, where lived Mr. Young, a director of the Hudson's Bay
Company, who was favourable to Pierre Radisson.

"Halloo! Halloo!" shouts Radisson, beating his pistol-butt on the door.

A candle and a nightcap emerge from the upper window.

"Who's there?" demands a voice.

"It's Radisson, Mr. Young!"

"Radisson! In the name o' the fiends - where from?"

"Oh, we've just run across the way from Hudson Bay!" says Radisson.

And the good man presently appears at the door with a candle in one
hand and a bludgeon in the other.

"In the name o' the fiends, when did you arrive, man?" exclaims Mr.
Young, hailing us inside.

"Two minutes ago by the clock," laughs Radisson, looking at the
timepiece in the hall. "Two minutes and a half ago," says he,
following our host to the library.

"How many beaver-skins?" asks the Englishman, setting down his candle.

The Frenchman smiles.

"Twenty thousand beaver - skins and as many more of other sorts!"

The Englishman sits down to pencil out how much that will total at ten
shillings each; and Pierre Radisson winks at us.

"The winnings again," says he.

"Twenty thousand pounds!" cries our host, springing up.

"Aye," says Pierre Radisson, "twenty thousand pounds' worth o' fur
without a pound of shot or the trade of a nail-head for them. The
French had these furs in store ready for us!"

Mr. Young lifts his candle so that the light falls on Radisson's
bronzed face. He stands staring as if to make sure we are no wraiths.

"Twenty thousand pounds," says he, slowly extending his right hand to
Pierre Radisson. "Radisson, man, welcome!"

The Frenchman bows with an ironical laugh.

"Twenty thousand pounds' worth o' welcome, sir!"

But the director of the Fur Company rambles on unheeding.

"These be great news for the king and His Royal Highness," says he.

"Aye, and as I have some rare furs for them both, why not let us bear
the news to them ourselves?" asks Radisson.

"That you shall," cries Mr. Young; and he led us up-stairs, where we
might refresh ourselves for the honour of presentation to His Majesty
next day.


[1] The Duke of York became Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company after
Prince Rupert's death, and the Company's charter was a royal favour
direct from the king.




CHAPTER XXVIII

REBECCA AND I FALL OUT

M. Radisson had carried his rare furs to the king, and I was at Sir
John Kirke's door to report the return of her husband to Madame
Radisson. The same grand personage with sleek jowls and padded calves
opened the door in the gingerly fashion of his office. This time he
ushered me quick enough into the dark reception-room.

As I entered, two figures jumped from the shadow of a tapestried alcove
with gasps of fright.

"Ramsay!"

It was Rebecca, the prim monkey, blushing a deal more than her
innocence warranted, with a solemn-countenanced gentleman of the cloth
scowling from behind.

"When - when - did you come?" she asked, all in a pretty flutter that set
her dimples atrembling; and she forgot to give me welcome.

"Now - exactly on the minute!"

"Why - why - didn't you give us warning?" stammered Rebecca, putting out
one shy hand.

At that I laughed outright; but it was as much the fashion for
gentlemen of the cloth to affect a mighty solemnity in those days as it
was for the laity to let out an oath at every other word, and the young
divine only frowned sourly at my levity.

"If - if - if you'd only given us warning," interrupts Rebecca.

"Faith, Rebecca, an you talk of warning, I'll begin to think you needed
it - - "

"To give you welcome," explains Rebecca. Then recovering herself, she
begs, with a pretty bobbing courtesy, to make me known to the Reverend
Adam Kittridge.

The Reverend Kittridge shakes hands with an air as he would sound my
doctrine on the spot, and Rebecca hastens to add that I am "a
very - _old - old_ friend."

"Not so _very_ old, Rebecca, not so very long ago since you and I read
over the same lesson-books. Do you mind the copy-heads on the
writing-books?

"'_Heaven to find. The Bible mind. In Adam's fall we sinn'ed all.
Adam lived a lonely life until he got himself a wife._'"

But at that last, which was not to be found among the head-lines of
Boston's old copy-books, little Rebecca looked like to drop, and with a
frightened gesture begged us to be seated, which we all accomplished
with a perceptible stiffening of the young gentleman's joints.

"Is M. Radisson back?" she asks.

"He reached England yesterday. He bade me say that he will be here
after he meets the shareholders. He goes to present furs to the king
this morning."

"That will please Lady Kirke," says the young gentleman.

"Some one else is back in England," exclaims Rebecca, with the air of
news. "Ben Gillam is here."

"O-ho! Has he seen the Company?"

"He and Governor Brigdar have been among M. Radisson's enemies. Young
Captain Gillam says there's a sailor-lad working on the docks here can
give evidence against M. Radisson."

"Can you guess who that sailor-lad is, Rebecca?"

"It is not - no - it is not Jack?" she asks.

"Jack it is, Rebecca. That reminds me, Jack sent a message to you!"

"A message to me?"

"Yes - you know he's married - he married last year when he was in the
north."

"Married?" cries Rebecca, throwing up her hands and like to faint from
surprise. "Married in the north? Why - who - who married him, Ramsay?"

"A woman, of course!"

"But - " Rebecca was blushing furiously, "but - I mean - was there a
chaplain? Had you a preacher? And - and was not Mistress Hortense the
only woman - - ?"

"No - child - there were thousands of women - native women - - "

"Squaws!" exclaims the prim little Puritan maid, with a red spot
burning on each cheek. "Do you mean that Jack Battle has married a
squaw?" and she rose indignantly.

"No - I mean a woman! Now, Rebecca, will you sit down till I tell you
all about it?"

"Sir," interjects the young gentleman of the cloth, "I protest there
are things that a maid ought not to hear!"

"Then, sir, have a care that you say none of them under cloak of
religion! _Honi soit qui mal y pense_! The mind that thinketh no evil
taketh no evil."

Then I turned to Rebecca, standing with a startled look in her eyes.

"Rebecca, Madame Radisson has told you how Jack was left to be tortured
by the Indians?"

"Hortense has told me."

"And how he risked his life to save an Indian girl's life?"

"Yes," says Rebecca, with downcast lids.

"That Indian girl came and untied Jack's bonds the night of the
massacre. They escaped together. When he went snow-blind, Mizza
hunted and snared for him and kept him. Her people were all dead; she
could not go back to her tribe - if Jack had left her in the north, the
hostiles would have killed her. Jack brought her home with him - - "

"He ought to have put her in a house of correction," snapped Rebecca.

"Rebecca! Why would he put her in a house of correction? What had she
done that she ought not to have done? She had saved his life. He had
saved hers, and he married her."

"There was no minister," said Rebecca, with a tightening of her
childish dimpled mouth and a reddening of her cheeks and a little
indignant toss of the chin.

"Rebecca! How could they get a minister a thousand leagues away from
any church? They will get one now - - "

Rebecca rose stiffly, her little lily face all aflame.

"My father saith much evil cometh of this - it is sin - he ought not to
have married her; and - and - it is very wrong of you to be telling me
this - " she stammered angrily, with her little hands clasped tight
across the white stomacher.

"Very unfit," comes from that young gentleman of the cloth.

We were all three standing, and I make no doubt my own face went as red
as theirs, for the taunt bit home. That inference of evil where no
evil was, made an angrier man than was my wont. The two moved towards
the door. I put myself across their way.

"Rebecca, you do yourself wrong! You are measuring other people's
deeds with too short a yardstick, little woman, and the wrong is in
your own mind, not theirs."

"I - I - don't know what you mean!" cried Rebecca obstinately, with a
break in her voice that ought to have warned; but her next words
provoked afresh. "It was wicked! - it was sinful!" - with an angry
stamp - "it was shameful of Jack Battle to marry an Indian girl - - "

There I cut in.

"Was it?" I asked. "Young woman, let me tell you a bald truth! When a
white man marries an Indian, the union is as honourable as your own
would be. It is when the white man does _not_ marry the Indian that
there is shame; and the shame is to the white man, not the Indian - - !"

Sure, one might let an innocent bundle of swans' down and baby cheeks
have its foibles without laying rough hands upon them!

The next, - little Rebecca cries out that I've insulted her, is in
floods of tears, and marches off on the young gentleman's arm.

Comes a clatter of slippered heels on the hall floor and in bustles my
Lady Kirke, bejewelled and befrilled and beflounced till I had thought
no mortal might bend in such massive casings of starch.

"La," she pants, "good lack! - Wellaway! My fine savage! Welladay!
What a pretty mischief have you been working? Proposals are amaking at
the foot of the stairs. O - lud! The preacher was akissing that little
Puritan maid as I came by! Good lack, what will Sir John say?"

And my lady laughs and laughs till I look to see the tears stain the
rouge of her cheeks.

"O-lud," she laughs, "I'm like to die! He tried to kiss the baggage!
And the little saint jumps back so quick that he hit her ear by
mistake! La," she laughs, "I'm like to die!"

I'd a mind to tell her ladyship that a loosening of her stays might
prolong life, but I didn't. Instead, I delivered the message from
Pierre Radisson and took myself off a mighty mad man; for youth can be
angry, indeed. And the cause of the anger was the same as fretteth the
Old World and New to-day. Rebecca was measuring Jack by old standards.
I was measuring Rebecca by new standards. And the measuring of the old
by the new and the new by the old teareth love to tatters.

Pierre Radisson I met at the entrance to the Fur Company's offices in
Broad Street. His steps were of one on steel springs and his eyes
afire with victory.

"We've beaten them," he muttered to me. "His Majesty favours us! His
Majesty accepted the furs and would have us at Whitehall to-morrow
night to give account of our doings. An they try to trick me out of
reward I'll have them to the foot o' the throne!"

But of Pierre Radisson's intrigue against his detractors I was not
thinking at all.

"Were the courtiers about?" I asked.

"Egad! yes; Palmer and Buckingham and Ashley leering at Her Grace of
Portsmouth, with Cleveland looking daggers at the new favourite, and
the French ambassador shaking his sides with laughter to see the women
at battle. His Royal Highness, the Duke of York, got us access to
present the furs. Egad, Ramsay, I am a rough man, but it seemed
prodigious strange to see a king giving audience in the apartments of
the French woman, and great men leering for a smile from that huzzy!
The king lolls on a Persian couch with a litter of spaniel puppies on
one side and the French woman on the other. And what do you think that
black-eyed jade asks when I present the furs and tell of our captured
Frenchmen? To have her own countrymen sold to the Barbadoes so that
she may have the money for her gaming-table! Egad, I spiked that
pretty plan by saying the Frenchmen were sending her a present of furs,
too! To-morrow night we go to Whitehall to entertain His Majesty with
our doings! We need not fear enemies in the Company now!"

"I'm not so sure of that," said I. "The Gillams have been working
against you here, and so has Brigdar."

"Hah - let them work!"

"Did you see _her_?" I asked.

"_Her_?" questions Radisson absently. "Pardieu, there are so many
_hers_ about the court now with no she-saint among them! Which do you
mean?"

The naming of Hortense after such speech was impossible. Without more
mention of the court, we entered the Company's office, where sat the
councillors in session around a long table. No one rose to welcome him
who had brought such wealth on the Happy Return; and the reason was not
far to seek. The post-chaise had arrived with Pierre Radisson's
detractors, and allied with them were the Gillams and Governor Brigdar.

Pierre Radisson advanced undaunted and sat down. Black looks greeted
his coming, and the deputy-governor, who was taking the Duke of York's
place, rose to suggest that "Mr. Brigdar, wrongfully dispossessed of
the fort on the bay by one Frenchman known as Radisson, be restored as
governor of those parts."

A grim smile went from face to face at Pierre Radisson's expense.

"Better withdraw, man, better withdraw," whispers Sir John Kirke, his
father-in-law.

But Radisson only laughs.

Then one rises to ask by what authority the Frenchman, Radisson, had
gone to report matters to the king instead of leaving that to the
shareholders.

M. de Radisson utters another loud laugh.

Comes a knocking, and there appears at the door Colonel Blood, father
of the young lieutenant, with a message from the king.

"Gentlemen," announces the freebooter, "His Majesty hath bespoke dinner
for the Fur Company at the Lion. His Royal Highness, the Duke of York,
hath ordered Madeira for the councillors' refreshment, and now awaits
your coming!"

For the third time M. Radisson laughs aloud with a triumph of insolence.

"Come, gentlemen," says he, "I've countered. Let us be going. His
Royal Highness awaits us across the way."

Blood stood twirling his mustaches and tapping his sword-handle
impatiently. He was as swarth and straight and dauntless as Pierre
Radisson, with a sinister daring in his eyes that might have put the
seal to any act.

"Egad's life!" he exclaimed, "do fur-traders keep royalty awaiting?"

And our irate gentleman must needs haste across to the Lion, where
awaited the Company Governor, the Duke of York, with all the merry
young blades of the court. King Charles's reign was a time of license,
you have been told. What that meant you would have known if you had
seen the Fur Company at dinner. Blood, Senior, I mind, had a
drinking-match against Sir George Jeffreys, the judge; and I risk not
my word on how much those two rascals put away. The judge it was who
went under mahogany first, though Colonel Blood scarce had wit enough
left to count the winnings of his wager. Young Lieutenant Blood stood
up on his chair and bawled out some monstrous bad-writ verse to "a
fair-dark lady" - whatever that meant - "who was as cold as ice and
combustible as gunpowder." Healths were drunk to His Majesty King
Charles, to His Royal Highness the Duke of York, to our councillors of
the Company, to our governors of the fur-posts, and to the captains.
Then the Duke of York himself lifted the cup to Pierre Radisson's
honour; whereat the young courtiers raised such a cheering, the grim
silence of Pierre Radisson's detractors passed unnoticed. After the
Duke of York had withdrawn, our riotous sparks threw off all restraint.
On bended knee they drank to that fair evil woman whom King Louis had
sent to ensnare King Charles. Odds were offered on how long her power
with the king would last. Then followed toasts to a list of
second-rate names, dancing girls and French milliners, who kept place
of assignation for the dissolute crew, and maids of honour, who were no
maids of honour, but adventuresses in the pay of great men to advance
their interest with the king, and riffraff women whose names history
hath done well to forget. To these toasts Colonel Blood and Pierre
Radisson and I sat with inverted glasses.

While the inn was ringing to the shouts of the revellers, the
freebooter leaned across to Pierre Radisson.

"Gad's name if they like you," he mumbled drunkenly.

"Who?" asked Radisson.

"Fur Company," explained Blood. "They hate you! So they do me! But
if the king favours you, they've got to have you," and he laughed to
himself.

"That's the way with me," he whispered in drunken confidence to M.
Radisson. "What a deuce?" he asked, turning drowsily to the table.
"What's my boy doing?"

Young Lieutenant Blood was to his feet holding a reaming glass high as
his head.

"Gentlemen, I give you the sweet savage!" he cried, "the Diana of the
snows - a thistle like a rose - ice that burns - a pauper that spurns - "

"Curse me if he doesn't mean that saucy wench late come from your north
fort," interrupted the father.

My hands were itching to throw a glass in the face of father or son,
but Pierre Radisson restrained me.

"More to be done sometimes by doing nothing," he whispered.

The young fellows were on their knees draining bumpers; but Colonel
Blood was rambling again.

"He gives 'em that saucy brat, does he? Gad's me, I'd give her to
perdition for twopenny-worth o' rat poison! Look you, Radisson, 'tis
what I did once; but she's come back! Curse me, I could 'a' done it
neater and cheaper myself - twopenny-worth o' poison would do it, Picot
said; but gad's me, I paid him a hundred guineas, and here she's come
back again!"

"Blood . . . Colonel Blood," M. Picot had repeated at his death.

I had sprung up. Again M. Radisson held me back.

"How long ago was that, Colonel Blood?" he asked softly.

"Come twenty year this day s'ennight," mutters the freebooter. "'Twas
before I entered court service. Her father had four o' my fellows
gibbeted at Charing Cross, Gad's me, I swore he'd sweat for it! She
was Osmond's only child - squalling brat coming with nurse over Hounslow
Heath. 'Sdeath - I see it yet! Postillions yelled like stuck pigs,
nurses kicked over in coach dead away. When they waked up, curse me,
but the French poisoner had the brat! Curse me, I'd done better to
finish her myself. Picot ran away and wrote letters - letters - letters,
till I had to threaten to slit his throat, 'pon my soul, I had! And
now she must marry the boy - - "

"Why?" put in Radisson, with cold indifference and half-listening air.

"Gad's life, can't you see?" asked the knave. "Osmond's dead, the
boy's lands are hers - the French doctor may 'a' told somebody," and
Colonel Blood of His Majesty's service slid under the table with the
judge.

M. Radisson rose and led the way out.

"You'd like to cudgel him," he said. "Come with me to Whitehall
instead!"




CHAPTER XXIX

THE KING'S PLEASURE

My Lady Kirke was all agog.

Pierre Radisson was her "dear sweet savage," and "naughty spark," and
"bold, bad beau," and "devilish fellow," and "lovely wretch!"

"La, Pierre," she cries, with a tap of her fan, "anybody can go to the
king's _levee_! But, dear heart!" she trills, with a sidelong ogle.
"Ta! - ta! naughty devil! - to think of our sweet savage going to
Whitehall of an evening! Lud, Mary, I'll wager you, Her Grace of
Portsmouth hath laid eyes on him - - "

"The Lord forbid!" ejaculates Pierre Radisson.

"Hoighty-toighty! Now! there you go, my saucy spark! Good lack! An
the king's women laid eyes on any other man, 'twould turn his head and
be his fortune! Naughty fellow!" she warns, with a flirt of her fan.
"We shall watch you! Ta-ta, don't tell me no! Oh, we know this _gâité
de coeur_! You'll presently be _intime_ o' Portsmouth and Cleveland
and all o' them!"

"Madame," groans Pierre Radisson, "swear, if you will! But as you love
me, don't abuse the French tongue!"

At which she gave him a slap with her fan.

"An I were not so young," she simpers, "I'd cuff your ears, you saucy
Pierre!"

"So young!" mutters Pierre Radisson, with grim looks at her powdered
locks. "Egad's life, so is the bud on a century plant young," and he
turns to his wife.

But my Lady Kirke was blush-proof.

"Don't forget to pay special compliments to the favourites," she calls,
as we set out for Whitehall; and she must run to the door in a flutter
and ask if Pierre Radisson has any love-verse ready writ, in case of an
_amour_ with one of the court ladies.

"No," says Radisson, "but here are unpaid tailor bills! 'Tis as good
as your _billets-doux_! I'll kiss 'em just as hard!"

"So!" cries Lady Kirke, bobbing a courtesy and blowing a kiss from her
finger-tips as we rolled away in Sir John's coach.

"The old flirt-o'-tail," blurted Radisson, "you could pack her brains
in a hazel-nut; but 'twould turn the stomach of a grub!"

* * * * * *

'Twas not the Whitehall you know to-day, which is but a remnant of the
grand old pile that stretched all the way from the river front to the
inner park. Before the fires, Whitehall was a city of palaces reaching


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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 16 of 17)