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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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 17 of 17)
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far into St. James, with a fleet of royal barges at float below the
river stairs. From Scotland Yard to Bridge Street the royal ensign
blew to the wind above tower and parapet and battlement. I mind under
the archway that spanned little Whitehall Street M. Radisson dismissed
our coachman.

"How shall we bring up the matter of Hortense?" I asked.

"Trust me," said Radisson. "The gods of chance!"

"Will you petition the king direct?"

"Egad - no! Never petition a selfish man direct, or you'll get a No!
Bring him round to the generous, so that he may take all credit for it
himself! Do you hold back among the on-lookers till I've told our
story o' the north! 'Tis not a state occasion! Egad, there'll be
court wenches aplenty ready to take up with a likely looking man! Have
a word with Hortense if you can! Let me but get the king's ear - " And
Radisson laughed with a confidence, methought, nothing on earth could
shake.

Then we were passed from the sentinel doing duty at the gate to the
king's guards, and from the guards to orderlies, and from orderlies to
fellows in royal colours, who led us from an ante-room to that glorious
gallery of art where it pleased the king to take his pleasure that
night.

It was not a state occasion, as Radisson said; but for a moment I think
the glitter in which those jaded voluptuaries burned out their
moth-lives blinded even the clear vision of Pierre Radisson. The great
gallery was thronged with graceful courtiers and stately dowagers and
gaily attired page-boys and fair ladies with a beauty of youth on their
features and the satiety of age in their look. My Lord Preston, I
mind, was costumed in purple velvet with trimming of pearls such as a
girl might wear. Young Blood moved from group to group to show his
white velvets sparkling with diamonds. One of the Sidneys was there
playing at hazard with my Lady Castlemaine for a monstrous pile of gold
on the table, which some onlookers whispered made up three thousand
guineas. As I watched my lady lost; but in spite of that, she coiled
her bare arm around the gold as if to hold the winnings back.

"And indeed," I heard her say, with a pout, "I've a mind to prove your
love! I've a mind not to pay!"

At which young Sidney kisses her finger-tips and bids her pay the debt
in favours; for the way to the king was through the influence of
Castlemaine or Portsmouth or other of the dissolute crew.

Round other tables sat men and women, old and young, playing away
estate and fortune and honour at tick-tack or ombre or basset. One
noble lord was so old that he could not see to game, and must needs
have his valet by to tell him how the dice came up. On the walls hung
the works of Vandyke and Correggio and Raphael and Rubens; but the pure
faces of art's creation looked down on statesmen bending low to the
beck of adventuresses, old men pawning a noble name for the leer of a
Portsmouth, and women vying for the glance of a jaded king.

At the far end of the apartment was a page-boy dressed as Cupid,
singing love-songs. In the group of listeners lolled the languid king.
Portsmouth sat near, fanning the passion of a poor young fool, who hung
about her like a moth; but Charles was not a lover to be spurred. As
Portsmouth played her ruse the more openly a contemptuous smile flitted
over the proud, dark face of the king, and he only fondled his lap-dog
with indifferent heed for all those flatterers and foot-lickers and
curry-favours hovering round royalty.

Barillon, the French ambassador, pricked up his ears, I can tell you,
when Chaffinch, the king's man, came back with word that His Majesty
was ready to hear M. Radisson.

"Now, lad, move about and keep your eyes open and your mouth shut!"
whispers M. Radisson as he left me.

Barillon would have followed to the king's group, but His Majesty
looked up with a quiet insolence that sent the ambassador to another
circle. Then a page-boy touched my arm.

"Master Stanhope?" he questioned.

"Yes," said I.

"Come this way," and he led to a tapestried corner, where sat the queen
and her ladies.

Mistress Hortense stood behind the royal chair.

Queen Catherine extended her hand for my salute.

"Her Majesty is pleased to ask what has become of the sailor-lad and
his bride," said Hortense.

"Hath the little Puritan helped to get them married right?" asked the
queen, with the soft trill of a foreign tongue.

"Your Majesty," said I, "the little Puritan holds back."

"It is as you thought," said Queen Catherine, looking over her shoulder
to Hortense.

"Would another bridesmaid do?" asked the queen.

Laughing looks passed among the ladies.

"If the bridesmaid were Mistress Hillary, Your Majesty," I began.

"Hortense hath been to see them."

I might have guessed. It was like Hortense to seek the lonely pair.

"Here is the king. We must ask his advice," said the queen.

At the king's entrance all fell back and I managed to whisper to
Hortense what we had learned the night before.

"Here are news," smiled His Majesty. "Your maid of the north is
Osmond's daughter! The lands young Lieutenant Blood wants are hers!"

At that were more looks among the ladies.

"And faith, the lieutenant asks for her as well as the lands," said the
king.

Hortense had turned very white and moved a little forward.

"We may not disturb our loyal subject's possession. What does Osmond's
daughter say?" questioned the king.

Then Hortense took her fate in her hands.

"Your Majesty," she said, "if Osmond's daughter did not want the lands,
it would not be necessary to disturb the lieutenant."

"And who would find a husband for a portionless bride?" asked King
Charles.

"May it please Your Majesty," began Hortense; but the words trembled
unspoken on her lips.

There was a flutter among the ladies. The queen turned and rose. A
half-startled look of comprehension came to her face. And out stepped
Mistress Hortense from the group behind.

"Your Majesties," she stammered, "I do not want the lands - - "

"Nor the lieutenant," laughed the king.

"Your Majesties," she said. She could say no more.

But with the swift intuition of the lonely woman's loveless heart,
Queen Catherine read in my face what a poor trader might not speak.
She reached her hand to me, and when I would have saluted it like any
dutiful subject, she took my hand in hers and placed Hortense's hand in
mine.

Then there was a great laughing and hand-shaking and protesting, with
the courtiers thronging round.

"Ha, Radisson," Barillon was saying, "you not only steal our forts - you
must rifle the court and run off with the queen's maid!"

"And there will be two marriages at the sailor's wedding," said the
queen.


It was Hortense's caprice that both marriages be deferred till we
reached Boston Town, where she must needs seek out the old Puritan
divine whom I had helped to escape so many years ago.

Before I lay down my pen, I would that I could leave with you a picture
of M. Radisson, the indomitable, the victorious, the dauntless, living
in opulence and peace!

But my last memory of him, as our ship sheered away for Boston Town, is
of a grave man standing on the quay denouncing princes' promises and
gazing into space.

M. Radisson lived to serve the Fur Company for many a year as history
tells; but his service was as the flight of a great eagle, harried by a
multitude of meaner birds.



***


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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 17 of 17)