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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naught to do but gnaw my conscience and gaze at the woods skirting the
crests of the inland hills.

Those rats in the attic grew noisier, and presently sounds a mighty
hallooing outside, with a blowing of hunting-horns and baying of
hounds. What ado was this in Boston, where men were only hunters of
souls and chasers of devils? The rats fell to sudden quiet, and from
the yells of the rabble crowd I could make out only "King-killers!
King-killers!" These were no Puritans shouting, but the blackguard
sailors and hirelings of the English squadron set loose to hunt down
the refugees. The shouting became a roar. Then in burst Eli Kirke's
front door. The house was suddenly filled with swearings enough to
cram his blasphemy box to the brim. There was a trampling of feet on
the stairs, followed by the crashing of overturned furniture, and the
rabble had rushed up with neither let nor hindrance and were searching
every room.

Who had turned informer on my uncle? Was I not the only royalist in
the house? Would suspicion fall on me? But questions were put to
flight by a thunderous rapping on the door. It gave as it had been
cardboard, and in tumbled a dozen ruffians with gold-lace doublets,
cockades and clanking swords.

Behind peered Eli Kirke, pale with fear, his eyes asking mine if I
knew. True as eyes can speak, mine told him that I knew as well as he.

"Body o' me! What-a-deuce? Only a little fighting sparrow of a
royalist!" cried a swaggering colt of a fellow in officer's uniform.

"No one here, lad?" demanded a second.

And I saw Eli Kirke close his eyes as in prayer.

"Sir," said I, drawing myself up on my heels, "I don't understand you.
I - am here."

They bellowed a laugh and were tumbling over one another in their haste
up the attic stairs. Then my blood went cold with fear, for the memory
of that poor old man going to the shambles of London flashed back.

A window lifted and fell in the attic gable. With a rush I had slammed
the door and was craning out full length from the window-sill. Against
the lattice timber-work of the plastered wall below the attic window
clung a figure in Geneva cloak, with portmanteau under arm. It was the
man who had supped so late with Eli Kirke.

"Sir," I whispered, fearing to startle him from perilous footing, "let
me hold your portmanteau. Jump to the slant roof below."

For a second his face went ashy, but he tossed me the bag, gained the
shed roof at a leap, snatched back the case, and with a "Lord bless
thee, child!" was down and away.

The spurred boots of the searchers clanked on the stairs. A blowing of
horns! They were all to horse and off as fast as the hounds coursed
away. The deep, far baying of the dogs, now loud, now low, as the
trail ran away or the wind blew clear, told where the chase led inland.
If the fugitive but hid till the dogs passed he was safe enough; but of
a sudden came the hoarse, furious barkings that signal hot scent.

What had happened was plain.

The poor wretch had crossed the road and given the hounds clew. The
baying came nearer. He had discovered his mistake and was trying to
regain the house.

Balaam stood saddled to carry Eli Kirke to the docks. 'Twas a wan
hope, but in a twinkling I was riding like wind for the barking behind
the hill. A white-faced man broke from the brush at crazy pace.

"God ha' mercy, sir," I cried, leaping off; "to horse and away! Ride
up the brook bed to throw the hounds off."

I saw him in saddle, struck Balaam's flank a blow that set pace for a
gallop, turned, and - for a second time that day was lifted from the
ground.

"Pardieu! Clean done!" says a low voice. "'Tis a pretty trick!"

And I felt myself set up before a rider.

"To save thee from the hounds," says the voice.

Scarce knowing whether I dreamed, I looked over my shoulder to see one
who was neither royalist nor Puritan - a thin, swarth man, tall and
straight as an Indian, bare-shaven and scarred from war, with long,
wiry hair and black eyes full of sparks.

The pack came on in a whirl to lose scent at the stream, and my rescuer
headed our horse away from the rabble, doffing his beaver familiarly to
the officers galloping past.

"Ha!" called one, reining his horse to its haunches, "did that
snivelling knave pass this way?"

"Do you mean this little gentleman?"

The officer galloped off. "Keep an eye open, Radisson," he shouted
over his shoulder.

"'Twere better shut," says M. Radisson softly; and at his name my blood
pricked to a jump.

Here was he of whom Ben Gillam told, the half-wild Frenchman, who had
married the royalist kinswoman of Eli Kirke; the hero of Spanish fights
and Turkish wars; the bold explorer of the north sea, who brought back
such wealth from an unknown land, governors and merchant princes were
spying his heels like pirates a treasure ship.

"'Tis more sport hunting than being hunted," he remarked, with an air
of quiet reminiscence.

His suit was fine-tanned, cream buckskin, garnished with gold braid
like any courtier's, with a deep collar of otter. Unmindful of
manners, I would have turned again to stare, but he bade me guide the
horse back to my home.

"Lest the hunters ask questions," he explained. "And what," he
demanded, "what doth a little cavalier in a Puritan hotbed?"

"I am even where God hath been pleased to set me, sir."

"'Twas a ticklish place he set thee when I came up."

"By your leave, sir, 'tis a higher place than I ever thought to know."

M. Radisson laughed a low, mellow laugh, and, vowing I should be a
court gallant, put me down before Eli Kirke's turnstile.

My uncle came stalking forth, his lips pale with rage. He had blazed
out ere I could explain one word.

"Have I put bread in thy mouth, Ramsay Stanhope, that thou shouldst
turn traitor? Viper and imp of Satan!" he shouted, shaking his
clinched fist in my face. "Was it not enough that thou wert utterly
bound in iniquity without persecuting the Lord's anointed?"

I took a breath.

"Where is Balaam?" he demanded, seizing me roughly.

"Sir," said I, "for leaving the room without leave, I pray you to flog
me as I deserve. As for the horse, he is safe and I hope far away
under the gentleman I helped down from the attic."

His face fell a-blank. M. Radisson dismounted laughing.

"Nay, nay, Eli Kirke, I protest 'twas to the lad's credit. 'Twas this
way, kinsman," and he told all, with many a strange-sounding, foreign
expression that must have put the Puritan's nose out of joint, for Eli
Kirke began blowing like a trumpet.

Then out comes Aunt Ruth to insist that M. Radisson share a haunch of
venison at our noonday meal.

And how I wish I could tell you of that dinner, and of all that M.
Radisson talked; of captivity among Iroquois and imprisonment in Spain
and wars in Turkey; of his voyage over land and lake to a far north
sea, and of the conspiracy among merchant princes of Quebec to ruin
him. By-and-bye Rebecca Stocking's father came in, and the three sat
talking plans for the northern trade till M. Radisson let drop that the
English commissioners were keen to join the enterprise. Then the two
Puritans would have naught to do with it.

Long ago, as you know, we dined at midday; but so swiftly had the hour
flown with M. Radisson's tales of daring that Tibbie was already
lighting candles when we rose from the dinner table.

"And now," cried M. Radisson, lifting a stirrup-cup of home-brewed
October, "health to the little gentleman who saved a life to-day!
Health to mine host! And a cup fathoms deep to his luck when Ramsay
sails yon sea!"

"He might do worse," said Eli Kirke grimly.

And the words come back like the echo of a prophecy.


I would have escaped my uncle, but he waylaid me in the dark at the
foot of the stairs.

"Ramsay," said he gently.

"Sir?" said I, wondering if flint could melt.

"'The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: the Lord make his face shine upon
thee, and be gracious unto thee: the Lord lift up his countenance upon
thee, and give thee peace!'"




CHAPTER III

TOUCHING WITCHCRAFT

That interrupted lesson with Rebecca finished my schooling. I was set
to learning the mysteries of accounts in Eli Kirke's warehouse.

"How goes the keeping of accounts, Ramsay?" he questioned soon after I
had been in tutelage.

I had always intended to try my fortune in the English court when I
came of age, and the air of the counting-house ill suited a royalist's
health.

"Why, sir," I made answer, picking my words not to trip his
displeasure, "I get as much as I can - and I give as little as I can;
and those be all the accounts that ever I intend to keep."

Aunt Ruth looked up from her spinning-wheel in a way that had become an
alarm signal. Eli Kirke glanced dubiously to the blasphemy box, as
though my words were actionable. There was no sound but the drone of
the loom till I slipped from the room. Then they both began to talk.
Soon after came transfer from the counting-house to the fur trade.
That took me through the shadowy forests from town to town, and when I
returned my old comrades seemed shot of a sudden from youth to manhood.

There was Ben Gillam, a giff-gaffing blade home from the north sea, so
topful of spray that salt water spilled over at every word.

"Split me fore and aft," exclaims Ben, "if I sail not a ship of my own
next year! I'll take the boat without commission. Stocking and my
father have made an offer," he hinted darkly. "I'll go without
commission!"

"And risk being strangled for't, if the French governor catch you."

"Body o' me!" flouts Ben, ripping out a peck of oaths that had cost
dear and meant a day in the stocks if the elders heard, "who's going to
inform when my father sails the only other ship in the bay? Devil sink
my soul to the bottom of the sea if I don't take a boat to Hudson Bay
under the French governor's nose!"

"A boat of your own," I laughed. "What for, Ben?"

"For the same as your Prince Rupert, Prince Robber, took his. Go out
light as a cork, come back loaded with Spanish gold to the water-line."
Ben paused to take a pinch of snuff and display his new embroidered
waist-coat.

"Look you at the wealth in the beaver trade," he added. "M. Radisson
went home with George Carteret not worth a curse, formed the Fur
Company, and came back from Hudson Bay with pelts packed to the
quarter-deck. Devil sink me! but they say, after the fur sale, the
gentlemen adventurers had to haul the gold through London streets with
carts! Bread o' grace, Ramsay, have half an eye for your own purse!"
he urged. "There is a life for a man o' spirit! Why don't you join
the beaver trade, Ramsay?"

Why not, indeed? 'Twas that or turn cut-purse and road-lifter for a
youth of birth without means in those days.

Of Jack Battle I saw less. He shipped with the fishing boats in the
summer and cruised with any vagrant craft for the winter. When he came
ashore he was as small and eel-like and shy and awkward as ever, with
the same dumb fidelity in his eyes.

And what a snowy maid had Rebecca become! Sitting behind her
spinning-wheel, with her dainty fingers darting in the sunlight, she
seemed the pink and whitest thing that ever grew, with a look on her
face of apple-blossoms in June; but the sly wench had grown mighty
demure with me. When I laughed over that ending to our last lesson,
she must affect an air of injury. 'Twas neither her fault nor mine, I
declare, coaxing back her good-humour; 'twas the fault of the face. I
wanted to see where the white began and the pink ended. Then Rebecca,
with cheeks a-bloom under the hiding of her bonnet, quickens steps to
the meeting-house; but as a matter of course we walk home together, for
behind march the older folk, staidly discoursing of doctrine.

"Rebecca," I say, "you did not take your eyes off the preacher for one
minute."

"How do you know, Ramsay?" retorts Rebecca, turning her face away with
a dimple trembling in her chin, albeit it was the Sabbath.

"That preacher is too handsome to be sound in his doctrine, Rebecca."

Then she grows so mighty prim she must ask which heading of the sermon
pleases me best.

"I liked the last," I declare; and with that, we are at the turnstile.

Hortense became a vision of something lost, a type of what I had known
when great ladies came to our country hall. M. Picot himself took her
on the grand tour of the Continent. How much we had been hoping to see
more of her I did not realize till she came back and we saw less.

Once I encountered M. Picot and his ward on the wharf. Her curls were
more wayward than of old and her large eyes more lustrous, full of
deep, new lights, dark like the flash of a black diamond. Her form
appeared slender against the long, flowing mantilla shot with gold like
any grand dame's. She wore a white beaver with plumes sweeping down on
her curls. Indeed, little Hortense seemed altogether such a great lady
that I held back, though she was looking straight towards me.

"Give you good-e'en, Ramsay," salutes M. Picot, a small, thin man with
pointed beard, eyebrows of a fierce curlicue, and an expression under
half-shut lids like cat's eyes in the dark. "Give you good-e'en! Can
you guess who this is?"

As if any one could forget Hortense! But I did not say so. Instead, I
begged leave to welcome her back by saluting the tips of her gloved
fingers. She asked me if I minded that drowning of Ben long ago. Then
she wanted to know of Jack.

"I hear you are fur trading, Ramsay?" remarks M. Picot with the
inflection of a question.

I told him somewhat of the trade, and he broke out in almost the same
words as Ben Gillam. 'Twas the life for a gentleman of spirit. Why
didn't I join the beaver trade of Hudson Bay? And did I know of any
secret league between Captain Zachariah Gillam and Mr. Stocking to
trade without commission?

"Ah, Hillary," he sighed, "had we been beaver trading like Radisson
instead of pounding pestles, we might have had little Hortense
restored."

"Restored!" thought I. And M. Picot must have seen my surprise, for he
drew back to his shell like a pricked snail. Observing that the wind
was chill, he bade me an icy good-night.

I had no desire to pry into M. Picot's secrets, but I could not help
knowing that he had unbended to me because he was interested in the fur
trade. From that 'twas but a step to the guess that he had come to New
England to amass wealth to restore Mistress Hortense. Restore her to
what? There I pulled up sharp. 'Twas none of my affair; and yet, in
spite of resolves, it daily became more of my affair. Do what I would,
spending part of every day with Rebecca, that image of lustrous eyes
under the white beaver, the plume nodding above the curls, the slender
figure outlined against the gold-shot mantilla, became a haunting
memory. Countless times I blotted out that mental picture with a sweep
of common sense. "She was a pert miss, with her head full of French
nonsense and a nose held too high in air." Then a memory of the eyes
under the beaver, and fancy was at it again spinning cobwebs in
moonshine.

M. Picot kept more aloof than formerly, and was as heartily hated for
it as the little minds of a little place ever hate those apart.

Occasionally, in the forest far back from the settlement, I caught a
flying glimpse of Lincoln green; and Hortense went through the woods,
hard as her Irish hunter could gallop, followed by the blackamoor,
churning up and down on a blowing nag. Once I had the good luck to
restore a dropped gauntlet before the blackamoor could come. With eyes
alight she threw me a flashing thanks and was off, a sunbeam through
the forest shades; and something was thumping under a velvet waistcoat
faster than the greyhound's pace. A moment later, back came the hound
in springy stretches, with the riders at full gallop.

Her whip fell, but this time she did not turn.

But when I carried the whip to the doctor's house that night, M. Picot
received it with scant grace!

Whispers - gall-midges among evil tongues - were raising a buzz that
boded ill for the doctor. France had paid spies among the English,
some said. Deliverance Dobbins, a frumpish, fizgig of a maid, ever
complaining of bodily ills though her chuffy cheeks were red as
pippins, reported that one day when she had gone for simples she had
seen strange, dead things in the jars of M. Picot's dispensary. At
this I laughed as Rebecca told it me, and old Tibbie winked behind the
little Puritan maid's head; for my father, like the princes, had known
that love of the new sciences which became a passion among gentlemen.
Had I not noticed the mole on the French doctor's cheek? Rebecca asked.
I had: what of it?

"The crops have been blighted," says Rebecca; though what connection
that had with M. Picot's mole, I could not see.

"Deliverance Dobbins oft hath racking pains," says Rebecca, with that
air of injury which became her demure dimples so well.

"Drat that Deliverance Dobbins for a low-bred mongrel mischief-maker!"
cries old Tibbie from the pantry door.

"Tibbie," I order, "hold your tongue and drop an angel in the blasphemy
box."

"'Twas good coin wasted," the old nurse vowed; but I must needs put
some curb on her royalist tongue, which was ever running a-riot in that
Puritan household.

It was an accident, in the end, that threw me across M. Picot's path.
I had gone to have him bind up a splintered wrist, and he invited me to
stay for a round of piquet. I, having only one hand, must beg Mistress
Hortense to sort the cards for me.

She sat so near that I could not see her. You may guess I lost every
game.

"Tut! tut! Hillary dear, 'tis a poor helper Ramsay gained when he
asked your hand. Pish! pish!" he added, seeing our faces crimson;
"come away," and he carried me off to the dispensary, as though his
preserved reptiles would be more interesting than Hortense.

With an indifference a trifle too marked, he brought me round to the
fur trade and wanted to know whether I would be willing to risk trading
without a license, on shares with a partner.

"Quick wealth that way, Ramsay, an you have courage to go to the north.
An it were not for Hortense, I'd hire that young rapscallion of a
Gillam to take me north."

I caught his drift, and had to tell him that I meant to try my fortune
in the English court.

But he paid small heed to what I said, gazing absently at the creatures
in the jars.

"'Twould be devilish dangerous for a girl," he muttered, pulling
fiercely at his mustache.

"Do you mean the court, sir?" I asked.

"Aye," returned the doctor with a dry laugh that meant the opposite of
his words. "An you incline to the court, learn the tricks o' the
foils, or rogues will slit both purse and throat."

And all the while he was smiling as though my going to the court were
an odd notion.

"If I could but find a master," I lamented.

"Come to me of an evening," says M. Picot. "I'll teach you, and you
can tell me of the fur trade."

You may be sure I went as often as ever I could. M. Picot took me
upstairs to a sort of hunting room. It had a great many ponderous oak
pieces carved after the Flemish pattern and a few little bandy-legged
chairs and gilded tables with courtly scenes painted on top, which he
said Mistress Hortense had brought back as of the latest French
fashion. The blackamoor drew close the iron shutters; for, though
those in the world must know the ways of the world, worldling practices
were a sad offence to New England. Shoving the furnishings aside, M.
Picot picked from the armory rack two slim foils resembling Spanish
rapiers and prepared to give me my lesson. Carte and tierce, low carte
and flanconnade, he taught me with many a ringing clash of steel till
beads were dripping from our brows like rain-drops.

"Bravo!" shouted M. Picot in a pause. "Are you son o' the Stanhope
that fought on the king's side?"

I said that I was.

"I knew the rascal that got the estate from the king," says M. Picot,
with a curious look from Hortense to me; and he told me of Blood, the
freebooter, who stole the king's crown but won royal favour by his
bravado and entered court service for the doing of deeds that bore not
the light of day.

Nightly I went to the French doctor's house, and I learned every wicked
trick of thrust and parry that M. Picot knew. Once when I bungled a
foul lunge, which M. Picot said was a habit of the infamous Blood, his
weapon touched my chest, and Mistress Hortense uttered a sharp cry.

"What - what - what!" exclaims M. Picot, whirling on her.

"'Twas so real," murmurs Hortense, biting her lip.

After that she sat still enough. Then the steel was exchanged for
cards; and when I lost too steadily M. Picot broke out: "Pish, boy,
your luck fails here! Hillary, child, go practise thy songs on the
spinet."

Or: "Hortense, go mull us a smack o' wine!"

Or: "Ha, ha, little witch! Up yet? Late hours make old ladies."

And Hortense must go off, so that I never saw her alone but once.
'Twas the night before I was to leave for the trade.

The blackamoor appeared to say that Deliverance Dobbins was "a-goin' in
fits" on the dispensary floor.

"Faith, doctor," said I, "she used to have dumps on our turnstile."

"Yes," laughed Hortense, "small wonder she had dumps on that turnstile!
Ramsay used to tilt her backward."

M. Picot hastened away, laughing. Hortense was in a great carved
high-back chair with clumsy, wooden cupids floundering all about the
tall head-rest. Her face was alight in soft-hued crimson flaming from
an Arabian cresset stuck in sockets against the Flemish cabinet.

"A child's trick," began Hortense, catching at the shafts of light.

"I often think of those old days on the beach."

"So do I," said Hortense.

"I wish they could come back."

"So do I," smiled Hortense. Then, as if to check more: "I suppose,
Ramsay, you would want to drown us all - Ben and Jack and Rebecca and
me."

"And I suppose you would want to stand us all on our heads," I retorted.

Then we both laughed, and Hortense demanded if I had as much skill with
the lyre as with the sword. She had heard that I was much given to
chanting vain airs and wanton songs, she said.

And this is what I sang, with a heart that knocked to the notes of the
old madrigal like the precentor's tuning-fork to a meeting-house psalm:

"Lady, when I behold the roses sprouting,
Which, clad in damask mantles, deck the arbours,
And then behold your lips where sweet love harbours,
My eyes perplex me with a double doubting,
Whether the roses be your lips, or your lips the roses."


Barely had I finished when Mistress Hortense seats herself at the
spinet, and, changing the words to suit her saucy fancy, trills off
that ballad but newly writ by one of our English courtiers:

"Shall I, wasting in despair,
Die because - _Rebecca's_ - fair?
Or make pale my cheeks with care
'Cause _Rebecca's_ rosier are?"

"Hortense!" I protested.

"Be _he_ fairer than the day
Or the _June-field coils of hay_;
If _he_ be not so to me,
What care I how _fine_ he be?"

There was such merriment in the dark-lashed eyes, I defy Eli Kirke
himself to have taken offence; and so, like many another youth, I was
all too ready to be the pipe on which a dainty lady played her stops.
As the song faded to the last tinkling notes of the spinet her fingers
took to touching low, tuneless melodies like thoughts creeping into
thoughts, or perfume of flowers in the dark. The melting airs slipped
into silence, and Hortense shut her eyes, "to get the memory of it,"
she said. I thought she meant some new-fangled tune.

"This is memory enough for me," said I.

"Oh?" asked Hortense, and she uncovered all the blaze of the dark
lights hid in those eyes.

"Faith, Hortense," I answered, like a moth gone giddy in flame, "your
naughty music wakes echoes of what souls must hear in paradise."

"Then it isn't naughty," said Hortense, beginning to play fiercely,
striking false notes and discords and things.

"Hortense," said I.

"No - Ramsay!" cried Hortense, jangling harder than ever.

"But - yes! - Hortense - - "

And in bustled M. Picot, hastier than need, methought.

"What, Hillary? Not a-bed yet, child? Ha! - crow's-feet under eyes
to-morrow! Bed, little baggage! Forget not thy prayers! Pish! Pish!
Good-night! Good-night!"

That is the way an older man takes it.

"Now, devil fly away with that prying wench of a Deliverance Dobbins!"
ejaculated M. Picot, stamping about. "Oh, I'll cure her fanciful fits!


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