Agnes C. Laut.

Heralds of Empire Being the Story of One Ramsay Stanhope, Lieutenant to Pierre Radisson in the Northern Fur Trade online

. (page 4 of 17)
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 4 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

And he sent the blade clanking home to its scabbard. His surtout
falling open revealed a waistcoat of buckskin. I searched his face.

"M. de Radisson!"

"My hero of rescues," and he offered his hand. "And my quondam
nephew," he added, laughing; for his wife was a Kirke of the English
branch, and my aunt was married to Eli.

"Eli Kirke cannot know you are here, sir - "

"Eli Kirke _need_ not know," emphasized Radisson dryly.

And remembering bits of rumour about M. Radisson deserting the English
Fur Company, I hastened to add: "Eli Kirke _shall_ not know!"

"Your wits jump quick enough sometimes," said he. "Now tell me, whose
is she, and what value do you set on her?"

I was speechless with surprise. However wild a life M. Radisson led,
his title of nobility was from a king who awarded patents to gentlemen

"We neither call our women '_she_' nor give them market value," I

Thereupon M. de Radisson falls in such fits of laughter, I had thought
he must split his baldrick.

"Pardieu!" he laughed, wiping the tears away with a tangled lace thing
fit for a dandy, "Pardieu! 'Tis not your girl-page? 'Tis the ship o'
that hangdog of a New England captain!"

The thing came in a jiffy. Sieur Radisson, having deserted the English
Fur Company, was setting up for himself. He was spying the strength of
his rivals for the north sea.

"You praised my wit. I have but given you a sample."

Then I told him all I knew of the ship, and M. de Radisson laughed
again till he was like to weep.

"How is she called?" he asked.

"The Prince Rupert," said I.

"Ha! Then the same crew of gentlemen's scullions and courtiers' valets
stuffing the lockers full o' trash to trade on their master's account.
A pretty cheat for the Company!"

The end of it was, M. Radisson invited me to join his ships. "A
beaver-skin for a needle, Ramsay! Twenty otter for an awl! Wealth for
a merchant prince," he urged.

But no sooner had I grasped at this easy way out of difficulty than the
Frenchman interrupts: "Hold back, man! Do you know the risk?"

"No - nor care one rush!"

"Governor Frontenac demands half of the furs for a license to trade,
but M. de la Barre, who comes to take his place, is a friend of La
Chesnaye's, and La Chesnaye owns our ships - - "

"And you go without a license?"

"And the galleys for life - - "

"If you're caught," said I.

"Pardieu!" he laughed, "yes - if we're caught!"

"I'd as lief go to the galleys for fur-trading as the scaffold for
witchcraft," said I.

With that our bargain was sealed.


Now comes that part of a life which deals with what you will say no one
man could do, yet the things were done; with wonders stranger than
witchcraft, yet were true. But because you have never lived a
sword-length from city pavement, nor seen one man holding his own
against a thousand enemies, I pray you deny not these things.

Each life is a shut-in valley, says the jonglière; but Manitou, who
strides from peak to peak, knows there is more than one valley, which
had been a maxim among the jonglières long before one Danish gentleman
assured another there were more things in heaven and earth than
philosophy dreamed.



Keen as an arrow from twanging bowstring, Pierre Radisson set sail over
the roaring seas for the northern bay.

'Twas midsummer before his busy flittings between Acadia and Quebec
brought us to Isle Percée, at the mouth of the St. Lawrence. Here
Chouart Groseillers (his brother-in-law) lay with two of the craziest
craft that ever rocked anchor. I scarce had time to note the bulging
hulls, stout at stem and stern with deep sinking of the waist, before
M. Radisson had climbed the ship's ladder and scattered quick commands
that sent sailors shinning up masts, for all the world like so many
monkeys. The St. Pierre, our ship was called, in honour of Pierre
Radisson; for admiral and captain and trader, all in one, was Sieur
Radisson, himself. Indeed, he could reef a sail as handily as any old
tar. I have seen him take the wheel and hurl Allemand head-foremost
from the pilot-house when that sponge-soaked rascal had imbibed more
gin than was safe for the weathering of rocky coasts.

Call him gamester, liar, cheat - what you will! He had his faults,
which dogged him down to poverty and ruin; but deeds are proof of the
inner man. And look you that judge Pierre Radisson whether your own
deeds ring as mettle and true.

The ironwood capstan bars clanked to that seaman's music of running
sailors. A clattering of the pawls - the anchor came away. The St.
Pierre shook out her bellying sails and the white sheets drew to a full
beam wind. Long foam lines crisped away from the prow. Green shores
slipped to haze of distance. With her larboard lipping low and that
long break of swishing waters against her ports which is as a croon to
the seaman's ear, the St. Pierre dipped and rose and sank again to the
swell of the billowing sea. Behind, crowding every stitch of canvas
and staggering not a little as she got under weigh, ploughed the Ste.
Anne. And all about, heaving and falling like the deep breathings of a
slumbering monster, were the wide wastes of the sea.

And how I wish that I could take you back with me and show you the two
miserable old gallipots which M. de Radisson rode into the roaring
forties! 'Twas as if those gods of chance that had held riotous sway
over all that watery desolation now first discovered one greater than
themselves - a rebel 'mid their warring elements whose will they might
harry but could not crush - Man, the king undaunted, coming to his own!
Children oft get closer to the essences of truth than older folk grown
foolish with too much learning. As a child I used to think what a
wonderful moment that was when Man, the master, first appeared on face
of earth. How did the beasts and the seas and the winds feel about it,
I asked. Did they laugh at this fellow, the most helpless of all
things, setting out to conquer all things? Did the beasts pursue him
till he made bow and arrow and the seas defy him till he rafted their
waters and the winds blow his house down till he dovetailed his
timbers? That was the child's way of asking a very old question - Was
Man the sport of the elements, the plaything of all the cruel, blind
gods of chance?

Now, the position was reversed.

Now, I learned how the Man must have felt when he set about conquering
the elements, subduing land and sea and savagery. And in that lies the
Homeric greatness of this vast, fresh, New World of ours. Your Old
World victor takes up the unfinished work left by generations of men.
Your New World hero begins at the pristine task. I pray you, who are
born to the nobility of the New World, forget not the glory of your
heritage; for the place which God hath given you in the history of the
race is one which men must hold in envy when Roman patrician and Norman
conqueror and robber baron are as forgotten as the kingly lines of old

Fifty ton was our craft, with a crazy pitch to her prow like to take a
man's stomach out and the groaning of infernal fiends in her timbers.
Twelve men, our crew all told, half of them young gentlemen of fortune
from Quebec, with titles as long as a tilting lance and the fighting
blood of a Spanish don and the airs of a king's grand chamberlain.
Their seamanship you may guess. All of them spent the better part of
the first weeks at sea full length below deck. Of a calm day they
lolled disconsolate over the taffrail, with one eye alert for flight
down the companionway when the ship began to heave.

"What are you doing back there, La Chesnaye?" asks M. de Radisson, with
a quiet wink, not speaking loud enough for fo'castle hands to hear.

"Cursing myself for ever coming," growls that young gentleman, scarce
turning his head.

"In that case," smiles Sieur Radisson, "you might be better occupied
learning to take a hand at the helm."

"Sir," pleads La Chesnaye meekly, "'tis all I can do to ballast the
ship below stairs."

"'Tis laziness, La Chesnaye," vows Radisson. "Men are thrown overboard
for less!"

"A quick death were kindness, sir," groans La Chesnaye, scalloping in
blind zigzags for the stair. "May I be shot from that cannon, sir, if
I ever set foot on ship again!"

M. de Radisson laughs, and the place of the merchant prince is taken by
the marquis with a face the gray shade of old Tibbie's linen
a-bleaching on the green.

The Ste. Anne, under Groseillers - whom we called Mr. Gooseberry when he
wore his airs too mightily - was better manned, having able-bodied
seamen, who distinguished themselves by a mutiny.

Of which you shall hear anon.

But the spirits of our young gentlemen took a prodigious leap upward as
their bodies became used to the crazy pace of our ship, whose gait I
can compare only to the bouncings of loose timber in a heavy sea.
North of Newfoundland we were blanketed in a dirty fog. That gave our
fine gentlemen a chance to right end up.

"Every man of them a good seaman in calm weather," Sieur Radisson
observed; and he put them through marine drill all that week. La
Chesnaye so far recovered that he sometimes kept me company at the
bowsprit, where we watched the clumsy gambols of the porpoise, racing
and leaping and turning somersets in mid-air about the ship. Once, I
mind the St. Pierre gave a tremor as if her keel had grated a reef; and
a monster silver-stripe heaved up on our lee. 'Twas a finback whale,
M. Radisson explained; and he protested against the impudence of
scratching its back on our keel. As we sailed farther north many a
school of rolling finbacks glistened silver in the sun or rose higher
than our masthead, when one took the death-leap to escape its leagued
foes - swordfish and thrasher and shark. And to give you an idea of the
fearful tide breaking through the narrow fiords of that rock-bound
coast, I may tell you that La Chesnaye and I have often seen those
leviathans of the deep swept tail foremost by the driving tide into
some land-locked lagoon and there beached high on naked rock. That was
the sea M. Radisson was navigating with cockle-shell boats unstable of
pace as a vagrant with rickets.

Even Forêt, the marquis, forgot his dainty-fingered dignity and took a
hand at the fishing of a shark one day. The cook had put out a bait at
the end of a chain fastened to the capstan, when comes a mighty tug;
and the cook shouts out that he has caught a shark. All hands are
hailed to the capstan, and every one of my fine gentlemen grasps an
ironwood bar to hoist the monster home. I wish you had seen their
faces when the shark's great head with six rows of teeth in its gaping
upper jaw came abreast the deck! Half the fellows were for throwing
down the bars and running, but the other half would not show white
feather before the common sailors; and two or three clanking rounds
brought the great shark lashing to deck in a way that sent us scuttling
up the ratlines. But Forêt would not be beaten. He thrust an ironwood
bar across the gaping jaws. The shark tore the wood to splinters.
There was a rip that snapped the cable with the report of a pistol, and
the great fish was over deck and away in the sea.

By this, you may know, we had all left our landsmen's fears far south
of Belle Isle and were filled with the spirit of that wild, tempestuous
world where the storm never sleeps and the cordage pipes on calmest day
and the beam seas break in the long, low, growling wash that warns the
coming hurricane.

But if you think we were a Noah's ark of solemn faces 'mid all that
warring desolation, you are much mistaken. I doubt if lamentations
ever did as much to lift mankind to victory as the naughty glee of the
shrieking fife. And of glee, we had a-plenty on all that voyage north.

La Chesnaye, son of the merchant prince who owned our ships, played
cock-o'-the-walk, took rank next to M. Radisson, and called himself
deputy-governor. Forêt, whose father had a stretch of barren shingle
on The Labrador, and who had himself received letters patent from His
Most Christian Majesty for a marquisate, swore he would be cursed if he
gave the _pas_ to La Chesnaye, or any other commoner. And M. de
Radisson was as great a stickler for fine points as any of the
new-fledged colonials. When he called a conference, he must needs
muster to the quarter-deck by beat of drum, with a tipstaff, having a
silver bauble of a stick, leading the way. This office fell to
Godefroy, the trader, a fellow with the figure of a slat and a scalp
tonsured bare as a billiard-ball by Indian hunting-knife. Spite of
many a thwack from the flat of M. de Radisson's sword, Godefroy would
carry the silver mace to the chant of a "diddle-dee-dee," which he was
always humming in a sand-papered voice wherever he went. At beat of
drum for conference we all came scrambling down the ratlines like
tumbling acrobats of a country fair, Godefroy grasps his silver stick.

"Fall in line, there, deputy-governor, diddle-dee-dee!"

La Chesnaye cuffs the fellow's ears.

"Diddle-dee-dee! Come on, marquis. Does Your High Mightiness give
place to a merchant's son? Heaven help you, gentlemen! Come on! Come
on! Diddle-dee-dee!"

And we all march to M. de Radisson's cabin and sit down gravely at a
long table.

"Pot o' beer, tipstaff," orders Radisson; and Godefroy goes off
slapping his buckskins with glee.

M. Radisson no more takes off his hat than a king's ambassador, but he
waits for La Chesnaye and Forêt to uncover. The merchant strums on the
table and glares at the marquis, and the marquis looks at the skylight,
waiting for the merchant; and the end of it is M. Radisson must give
Godefroy the wink, who knocks both their hats off at once, explaining
that a landsman can ill keep his legs on the sea, and the sea is no
respecter of persons. Once, at the end of his byplay between the two
young fire-eaters, the sea lurched in earnest, a mighty pitch that
threw tipstaff sprawling across the table. And the beer went full in
the face of the marquis.

"There's a health to you, Forêt!" roared the merchant in whirlwinds of

But the marquis had gone heels over head. He gained his feet as the
ship righted, whipped out his rapier, vowed he would dust somebody's
jacket, and caught up Godefroy on the tip of his sword by the rascal's

"Forêt, I protest," cried M. Radisson, scarce speaking for laughter, "I
protest there's nothing spilt but the beer and the dignity! The beer
can be mopped. There's plenty o' dignity in the same barrel. Save
Godefroy! We can ill spare a man!"

With a quick rip of his own rapier, Radisson had cut Godefroy's belt
and the wretch scuttled up-stairs out of reach. Sailors wiped up the
beer, and all hands braced chairs 'twixt table and wall to await M.
Radisson's pleasure.

He had dressed with unusual care. Gold braid edged his black doublet,
and fine old Mechlin came back over his sleeves in deep ruffs. And in
his eyes the glancing light of steel striking fire.

Bidding the sailors take themselves off, M. Radisson drew his blade
from the scabbard and called attention by a sharp rap.

Quick silence fell, and he laid the naked sword across the table. His
right hand played with the jewelled hilt. Across his breast were
medals and stars of honour given him by many monarchs. I think as we
looked at our leader every man of us would have esteemed it honour to
sail the seas in a tub if Pierre Radisson captained the craft.

But his left hand was twitching uneasily at his chin, and in his eyes
were the restless lights.

"Gentlemen," says he, as unconcerned as if he were forecasting weather,
"gentlemen, I seem to have heard that the crew of my kinsman's ship
have mutinied."

We were nigh a thousand leagues from rescue or help that day!

"Mutinied!" shrieks La Chesnaye, with his voice all athrill.
"Mutinied? What will my father have to say?"

And he clapped his tilted chair to floor with a thwack that might have
echoed to the fo'castle.

"Shall I lend you a trumpet, La Chesnaye, or - or a fife?" asks M.
Radisson, very quiet.

And I assure you there was no more loud talk in the cabin that day;
only the long, low wash and pound and break of the seas abeam, with the
surly wail that portends storm. I do not believe any of us ever
realized what a frail chip was between life and eternity till we heard
the wrenching and groaning of the timbers in the silence that followed
M. Radisson's words.

"Gentlemen," continues M. Radisson, softer-spoken than before, "if any
one here is for turning back, I desire him to stand up and say so."

The St. Pierre shipped a sea with a strain like to tear her asunder,
and waters went sizzling through lee scuppers above with the hiss of a
cataract. M. Radisson inverts a sand-glass and watches the sand
trickle through till the last grain drops. Then he turns to us.

Two or three faces had gone white as the driving spray, but never a man
opened his lips to counsel return.

"Gentlemen," says M. Radisson, with the fires agleam in his deep-set
eyes, "am I to understand that every one here is for going forward at
any risk?"

"Aye - aye, sir!" burst like a clarion from our circle.

Pierre Radisson smiled quietly.

"'Tis as well," says he, "for I bade the coward stand up so that I
could run him through to the hilt," and he clanked the sword back to
its scabbard.

"As I said before," he went on, "the crew on my kinsman's ship have
mutinied. There's another trifle to keep under your caps,
gentlemen - the mutineers have been running up pirate signals to the
crew of this ship - - "

"Pirate signals!" interrupts La Chesnaye, whose temper was ever
crackling off like grains of gunpowder. "May I ask, sir, how you know
the pirate signals?"

M. de Radisson's face was a study in masks.

"You may ask, La Chesnaye," says he, rubbing his chin with a wrinkling
smile, "you may ask, but I'm hanged if I answer!"

And from lips that had whitened with fear but a moment before came
laughter that set the timbers ringing.

Then Forêt found his tongue.

"Hang a baker's dozen of the mutineers from the yard-arm!"

"A baker's dozen is thirteen, Forêt," retorted Radisson, "and the Ste.
Anne's crew numbers fifteen."

"Hang 'em in effigy as they do in Quebec," persists Forêt.

Pierre Radisson only pointed over his shoulder to the port astern.
Crowding to the glazed window we saw a dozen scarecrows tossing from
the crosstrees of Groseillers's ship.

"What does Captain Radisson advise?" asks La Chesnaye.

"La Chesnaye," says Radisson, "I never advise. I act!"



Quick as tongue could trip off the orders, eyes everywhere, thought and
act jumping together, Pierre Radisson had given each one his part, and
pledged our obedience, though he bade us walk the plank blindfold to
the sea. Two men were set to transferring powder and arms from the
forehold to our captain's cabin. One went hand over fist up the
mainmast and signalled the Ste. Anne to close up. Jackets were torn
from the deck-guns and the guns slued round to sweep from stem to
stern. With a jarring of cranes and shaking of timbers, the two ships
bumped together; and a more surprised looking lot of men than the crew
of the Ste. Anne you never saw. Pierre Radisson had played the rogues
their own game in the matter of signals. They had thought the St.
Pierre in league, else would they not have come into his trap so
readily. Before they had time to protest, the ships were together, the
two captains conferring face to face across the rails, and our sailors
standing at arms ready to shoot down the first rebel.

At a word, the St. Pierre's crew were scrambling to the Ste. Anne's
decks. A shout through the trumpet of the Ste. Anne's bo'swain and the
mutinous crew of the Ste. Anne were marched aboard the St. Pierre.

Then M. Radisson's plan became plain. The other ship was the better.
M. de Radisson was determined that at least one crew should reach the
bay. Besides, as he had half-laughingly insinuated, perhaps he knew
better than Chouart Groseillers of the Ste. Anne how to manage mutinous
pirates. Of the St. Pierre's crew, three only remained with Radisson:
Allemand, in the pilot-house; young Jean Groseillers, Chouart's son, on
guard aft; and myself, armed with a musket, to sweep the fo'castle.

And all the time there was such a rolling sea the two ships were like
to pound their bulwarks to kindling wood. Then the Ste. Anne eased
off, sheered away, and wore ship for open sea.

Pierre Radisson turned. There faced him that grim, mutinous crew.

No need to try orders then. 'Twas the cat those men wanted. Before
Pierre Radisson had said one word the mutineers had discovered the deck
cannon pointing amidships. A shout of baffled rage broke from the
ragged group. Quick words passed from man to man. A noisy, shuffling,
indeterminate movement! The crowd swayed forward. There was a sudden
rush from the fo'castle to the waist. They had charged to gain
possession of the powder cabin - Pierre Radisson raised his pistol. For
an instant they held back. Then a barefoot fellow struck at him with a

'Twere better for that man if he had called down the lightnings.

Quicker than I can tell it, Pierre Radisson had sprung upon him. The
Frenchman's left arm had coiled the fellow round the waist. Our
leader's pistol flashed a circle that drove the rabble back, and the
ringleader went hurling head foremost through the main hatch with force
like to flatten his skull to a gun-wad. There was a mighty scattering
back to the fo'castle then, I promise you.

Pierre Radisson uttered never a syllable. He pointed to the fore
scuttle. Then he pointed to the men. Down they went under
hatches - rats in a trap!

"Tramp - bundle - pack!" says he, as the last man bobbed below.

But with a ping that raised the hair from my head, came a pistol-shot
from the mainmasts. There, perched astride of the crosstrees, was a
rascal mutineer popping at M. Radisson bold as you please.

Our captain took off his beaver, felt the bullet-hole in the brim,
looked up coolly, and pointed his musket.

"Drop that pistol!" said he.

The fellow yelped out fear. Down clattered his weapon to the deck.

"Now sit there," ordered Radisson, replacing his beaver. "Sit there
till I give you leave to come down!"

Allemand, the pilot, had lost his head and was steering a course
crooked as a worm fence. Young Jean Groseillers went white as the
sails, and scarce had strength to slue the guns back or jacket their
muzzles. And, instead of curling forward with the crest of the roll,
the spray began to chop off backward in little short waves like a
horse's mane - a bad, bad sign, as any seaman will testify. And I, with
my musket at guard above the fo'scuttle, had a heart thumping harder
than the pounding seas.

And what do you think M. Radisson said as he wiped the sweat from his

"A pretty pickle,[1] indeed, to ground a man's plans on such dashed
impudence! Hazard o' life! As if a man would turn from his course for
them! Spiders o' hell! I'll strike my topmast to Death himself
first - so the devil go with them! The blind gods may crush - they shall
not conquer! They may kill - but I snap my fingers in their faces to
the death! A pretty pickle, indeed! Batten down the hatches, Ramsay.
Lend Jean a hand to get the guns under cover. There's a storm!"

And "a pretty pickle" it was, with the "porps" floundering bodily from
wave-crest to wave-crest, the winds shrieking through the cordage, and
the storm-fiends brewing a hurricane like to engulf master and crew!

In the forehold were rebels who would sink us all to the bottom of the
sea if they could. Aft, powder enough to blow us all to eternity! On
deck, one brave man, two chittering lads, and a gin-soaked pilot
steering a crazy course among the fanged reefs of Labrador.

The wind backed and veered and came again so that a weather-vane could
not have shown which way it blew. At one moment the ship was jumping
from wave to wave before the wind with a single tiny storms'l out. At
another I had thought we must scud under bare poles for open sea.

The coast sheered vertical like a rampart wall, and up - up - up that
dripping rock clutched the tossing billows like watery arms of sirens.
It needed no seaman to prophecy the fate of a boat caught between that
rock and a nor'easter.

Then the gale would veer, and out raced a tidal billow of waters like

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

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 4 of 17)