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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Lowering the point, he scratched a line on the sand between the mark of
the last shot and us.

"How close can your gunners hit, Ben?" asked Radisson. "Now I'll wager
you a bottle of Madeira they can't hit that line without hitting you!"

Ben's hand went up quick enough. The gunners ceased firing and M.
Radisson sheathed his sword with a laugh.

"You'll not take the odds? Take advice instead! Take a man's advice,
and never waste powder! You'll need it all if he's king who conquers!
Besides," he added, turning suddenly serious, "if my forces learn you are
here I'll not promise I've strength to restrain them!"

"How many have you?" blurted Ben.

"Plenty to spare! Now, if you are afraid of the Hudson's Bay Company
ships attacking you, I'd be glad to loan you enough young fire-eaters to
garrison the fort here!"

"Thanks," says Ben, twirling his mustaches till they were nigh jerked
out, "but how long would they stay?"

"Till you sent them away," says M. de Radisson, with the lights at play
under his brows.

"Hang me if I know how long that would be," laughed Gillam, half-puzzled,
half-pleased with the Frenchman's darting wits.

"Ben," begins M. Radisson, tapping the lace ruffle of Gillam's sleeve,
"you must not fire those guns!"

"No?" questions Gillam.

"My officers are swashing young blades! What with the marines and the
common soldiers and my own guard, 'tis all I can manage to keep the
rascals in hand! They must not know you are here!"

Gillam muttered something of a treaty of truce for the winter.

M. Radisson shook his head.

"I have scarce the support to do as I will," he protests.

Young Gillam swore such coolness was scurvy treatment for an old friend.

"Old friend," laughed Radisson afterward. "Did the cub's hangdog of a
father not offer a thousand pounds for my head on the end of a pikestaff?"

But with Ben he played the game out.

"The season is too far advanced for you to _escape_," says he with soft
emphasis.

"'Tis why I want a treaty," answers the sailor.

"Come, then," laughs the Frenchman, "now - as to terms - - "

"Name them," says Gillam.

"If you don't wish to be discovered - - "

"I don't wish to be discovered!"

"If you don't wish to be discovered don't run up a flag!"

"One," says Gillam.

"If you don't wish to be discovered, don't let your people leave the
island!"

"They haven't," says Gillam.

"What?" asks M. Radisson, glancing sharply at me; for we were both
thinking of that night attack.

"They haven't left the island," repeats Gillam.

"Ten lies are as cheap as two," says Radisson to us. Then to Gillam,
"Don't let your people leave the island, or they'll meet my forces."

"Two," says Gillam.

"If you don't wish the Fur Company to discover you, don't fire guns!"

"Three," says Gillam.

"That is to keep 'em from connecting with those inlanders," whispered
Godefroy, who knew the plays of his master's game better than I. "We can
beat 'em single; but if Ben joins the inlanders and the Fur Company
against us - - "

Godefroy completed his prophecy with an ominous shake of the head.

"My men shall not know you are here," M. Radisson was promising.

"One," counts Gillam.

"I'll join with you against the English ships!"

Young Gillam laughed derisively.

"My father commands the Hudson's Bay ship," says he.

"Egad, yes!" retorts M. Radisson nonchalantly, "but your father doesn't
command the governor of the Fur Company, who sailed out in his ship."

"The governor does not know that I am here," flouts Ben.

"But he would know if I told him," adds M. de Radisson, "and if I told
him the Company's captain owned half the ship poaching on the Company's
preserve, the Company's captain and the captain's son might go hang for
all the furs they'd get! By the Lord, youngster, I rather suspect both
the captain and the captain's son would be whipped and hanged for the
theft!"

Ben gave a start and looked hard at Radisson. 'Twas the first time, I
think, the cub realized that the pawn in so soft-spoken a game was his
own neck.

"Go on," he said, with haste and fear in his look. "I promised three
terms. You will keep your people from knowing I am here and join me
against the English - go on! What next?"

"I'll defend you against the Indians," coolly capped M. Radisson.

Godefroy whispered in my ear that he would not give a pin's purchase for
all the furs the New Englander would get; and Ben Gillam looked like a
man whose shoe pinches. He hung his head hesitating.

"But if you run up a flag, or fire a gun, or let your people leave the
island," warned M. Radisson, "I may let my men come, or tell the English,
or join the Indians against you."

Gillam put out his hand.

"It's a treaty," said he.

There and then he would have been glad to see the last of us; but M.
Radisson was not the man to miss the chance of seeing a rival's ship.

"How about that Canary taken from the foreign ship? A galleon, did you
say, tall and slim? Did you sink her or sell her? Send down your men to
my fellows! Let us go aboard for the story."




CHAPTER XI

MORE OF M. RADISSON'S RIVALS

So Ben Gillam must take M. Radisson aboard the Susan, or Garden, as she
was called when she sailed different colours, the young fellow with a
wry face, the Frenchman, all gaiety. As the two leaders mounted the
companion-ladder, hostages came towards the beach to join us. I had
scarce noticed them when one tugged at my sleeve, and I turned to look
full in the faithful shy face of little Jack Battle.

"Jack!" I shouted, but he only wrung and wrung and wrung at my hand,
emitting little gurgling laughs.

Then we linked arms and walked along the beach, where others could not
hear.

"Where did you come from?" I demanded.

"Master Ben fished me up on the Grand Banks. I was with the fleet. It
was after he met you off the straits; and here I be, Ramsay."

"After he met us off the straits." I was trying to piece some
connection between Gillam's ship and the inland assailants. "Jack,
tell me! How many days have you been here?"

"Three," says Jack. "Split me fore and aft if we've been a day more!"

It was four since that night in the bush.

"You could not build a fort in three days!"

"'Twas half-built when we came."

"Who did that? Is Captain Gillam stealing the Company's furs for Ben?"

"No-o-o," drawled Jack thoughtfully, "it aren't that. It are something
else, I can't make out. Master Ben keeps firing and firing and firing
his guns expecting some one to answer."

"The Indians with the pelts," I suggested.

"No-o-o," answered Jack. "Split me fore and aft if it's Indians he
wants! He could send up river for them. It's some one as came from
his father's ship outside Boston when Master Ben sailed for the north
and Captain Gillam was agoing home to England with Mistress Hortense in
his ship. When no answer comes to our firing, Master Ben takes to
climbing the masthead and yelling like a fog-horn and dropping curses
like hail and swearing he'll shoot him as fails to keep appointment as
he'd shoot a dog, if he has to track him inland a thousand leagues.
Split me fore and aft if he don't!"

"Who shoot what?" I demanded, trying to extract some meaning from the
jumbled narrative.

"That's what I don't know," says Jack.

I fetched a sigh of despair.

"What's the matter with your hand? Does it hurt?" he asked quickly.

Poor Jack! I looked into his faithful blue eyes. There was not a
shadow of deception there - only the affection that gives without
wishing to comprehend. Should I tell him of the adventure? But a loud
halloo from Godefroy notified me that M. de Radisson was on the beach
ready to launch.

"Almost waste work to go on fortifying," he was warning Ben.

"You forget the danger from your own crews," pleaded young Gillam.

"Pardieu! We can easily arrange that. I promise you never to approach
with more than thirty of a guard." (We were twenty-nine all told.)
"But remember, don't hoist a flag, don't fire, don't let your people
leave the island."

Then we launched out, and I heard Ben muttering under his breath that
he was cursed if he had ever known such impudence. In mid-current our
leader laid his pole crosswise and laughed long.

"'Tis a pretty prize. 'Twill fetch the price of a thousand
beaver-skins! Captain Gillam reckoned short when he furnished young
Ben to defraud the Company. He would give a thousand pounds for my
head - would he? Pardieu! He shall give five thousand pounds and leave
my head where it is! And egad, if he behaves too badly, he shall pay
hush-money, or the governor shall know! When we've taken him, lads,
who - think you - dare complain?" And he laughed again; but at a bend in
the river he turned suddenly with his eyes snapping - "Who a' deuce
could that have been playing pranks in the woods the other night? Mark
my words, Stanhope, whoever 'twas will prove the brains and the
mainspring and the driving-wheel and the rudder of this cub's venture!"

And he began to dip in quick vigorous strokes like the thoughts
ferreting through his brain. We had made bare a dozen miles when
paddles clapped athwart as if petrified.

Up the wide river, like a great white bird, came a stately ship. It
was the Prince Rupert of the Hudson's Bay Company, which claimed sole
right to trade in all that north land.

Young Gillam, with guns mounted, to the rear! A hostile ship, with
fighting men and ordnance, to the fore! An unknown enemy inland! And
for our leader a man on whose head England and New England set a price!

Do you wonder that our hearts stopped almost as suddenly as the
paddles? But it was not fear that gave pause to M. Radisson.

"If those ships get together, the game is lost," says he hurriedly.
"May the devil fly away with us, if we haven't wit to stop that ship!"

Act jumping with thought, he shot the canoe under cover of the wooded
shore. In a twinkling we had such a fire roaring as the natives use
for signals. Between the fire and the river he stationed our Indian,
as hunters place a decoy.

The ruse succeeded.

Lowering sail, the Prince Rupert cast anchor opposite our fire; but
darkness had gathered, and the English sent no boat ashore till morning.

Posting us against the woods, M. Radisson went forward alone to meet
the company of soldiers rowing ashore. The man standing amidships,
Godefroy said, was Captain Gillam, Ben's father; but the gentleman with
gold-laced doublet and ruffled sleeves sitting back in the sheets was
Governor Brigdar, of the Hudson's Bay Fur Company, a courtier of Prince
Rupert's choice.

The clumsy boat grounded in the shallows, and a soldier got both feet
in the water to wade. Instantly M. Radisson roared out such a
stentorian "Halt!" you would have thought that he had an army at his
back. Indeed, that is what the party thought, for the fellow got his
feet back in the boat monstrous quick. And there was a vast bandying
of words, each asking other who they were, and bidding each other in no
very polite terms to mind their own affairs.

Of a sudden M. Radisson wheeled to us standing guard.

"Officers," he shouted, "first brigade! - forward!"

From the manner of him we might have had an army under cover behind
that bush.

All at once Governor Brigdar's lace handkerchief was aflutter at the
end of a sword, and the representative of King Charles begged leave to
land and salute the representative of His Most Christian Majesty, the
King of France.

And land they did, pompously peaceful, though their swords clanked so
oft every man must have had a hand ready at his baldrick, Pierre
Radisson receiving them with the lofty air of a gracious monarch, the
others bowing and unhatting and bending and crooking their spines
supple as courtiers with a king.

Presently came the soldiers back to us as hostages, while Radisson
stepped into the boat to go aboard the Prince Rupert with the captain
and governor. Godefroy called out against such rashness, and Pierre
Radisson shouted back that threat about the nippers pulling the end off
the fellow's tongue.

Serving under the French flag, I was not supposed to know English; but
when one soldier said he had seen "Mr. What-d'y-call-'im before,"
pointing at me, I recognised the mate from whom I had hired passage to
England for M. Picot on Captain Gillam's ship.

"Like enough," says the other, "'tis a land where no man brings his
back history."

"See here, fellow," said I, whipping out a crown, "here's for you to
tell me of the New Amsterdam gentleman who sailed from Boston last
spring!"

"No New Amsterdam gentleman sailed from Boston," answered both in one
breath.

"I am not paying for lies," and I returned the crown to my pocket.

Then Radisson came back, urging Captain Gillam against proceeding up
the river.

"The Prince Rupert might ground on the shallows," he warned.

"That will keep them apart till we trap one or both," he told us, as we
set off in our canoe. But we had not gone out of range before we were
ordered ashore. Picking our way back overland, we spied through the
bush for two days, till we saw that Governor Brigdar was taking
Radisson's advice, going no farther up-stream, but erecting a fort on
the shore where he had anchored.

"And now," said Radisson, "we must act."

While we were spying through the woods, watching the English build
their fort, I thought that I saw a figure flitting through the bush to
the rear. I dared not fire. One shot would have betrayed us to the
English. But I pointed my gun. The thing came gliding noiselessly
nearer. I clicked the gun-butt without firing. The thing paused.
Then I called M. Radisson, who said it was Le Borgne, the wall-eyed
Indian. Godefroy vowed 'twas a spy from Ben Gillam's fort. The Indian
mumbled some superstition of a manitou. To me it seemed like a
caribou; for it faded to nothing the way those fleet creatures have of
skimming into distance.




CHAPTER XII

M. RADISSON BEGINS THE GAME

M. Radisson had reckoned well. His warning to prepare for instant
siege set all the young fire-eaters of our Habitation working like
beavers to complete the French fort. The marquis took a hand at
squaring timbers shoulder to shoulder with Allemand, the pilot; and La
Chesnaye, the merchant prince, forgot to strut while digging up
earthworks for a parapet. The leaven of the New World was working.
Honour was for him only whose brawn won the place; and our young
fellows of the birth and the pride were keenest to gird for the task.
On our return from the upper river to the fort, the palisaded walls
were finished, guns were mounted on all bastions, the two ships beached
under shelter of cannon, sentinels on parade at the main gate, and a
long barracks built mid-way across the courtyard.

Here we passed many a merry hour of a long winter night, the green
timbers cracking like pistol-shots to the tightening frost-grip, and
the hearth logs at each end of the long, low-raftered hall sending up a
roar that set the red shadows dancing among ceiling joists. After
ward-room mess, with fare that kings might have envied - teal and
partridge and venison and a steak of beaver's tail, and moose nose as
an _entrée_, with a tidbit of buffalo hump that melted in your mouth
like flakes - the commonalty, as La Chesnaye designated those who sat
below the salt, would draw off to the far hearth. Here the sailors
gathered close, spinning yarns, cracking jokes, popping corn, and
toasting wits, a-merrier far that your kitchen cuddies of older lands.
At the other hearth sat M. de Radisson, feet spread to the fire, a long
pipe between his lips, and an audience of young blades eager for his
tales.

"D'ye mind how we got away from the Iroquois, Chouart?" Radisson asks
Groseillers, who sits in a chair rough-hewn from a stump on the other
side of the fire.

Chouart Groseillers smiles quietly and strokes his black beard. Jean
stretches across a bear-skin on the floor and shouts out, "Tell us!
Tell us!"

"We had been captives six months. The Iroquois were beginning to let
us wander about alone. Chouart there had sewed his thumb up, where an
old squaw had hacked at it with a dull shell. The padre's nails, which
the Indians tore off in torture, had grown well enough for him to
handle a gun. One day we were allowed out to hunt. Chouart brought
down three deer, the padre two moose, and I a couple of bear. That
night the warriors came back from a raid on Orange with not a thing to
eat but one miserable, little, thin, squealing pig. Pardieu! men,
'twas our chance; and the chance is always hiding round a corner for
the man who goes ahead."

Radisson paused to whiff his pipe, all the lights in his eyes laughing
and his mouth expressionless as steel.

"'Tis an insult among Iroquois to leave food at a feast. There were we
with food enough to stuff the tribe torpid as winter toads. The padre
was sent round to the lodges with a tom-tom to beat every soul to the
feast. Chouart and a Dutch prisoner and I cooked like kings' scullions
for four mortal hours! - "

"We wanted to delay the feast till midnight," explains Groseillers.

"And at midnight in trooped every man, woman, and brat of the
encampment. The padre takes a tom-tom and stands at one end of the
lodge beating a very knave of a rub-a-dub and shouting at the top of
his voice: 'Eat, brothers, eat! Bulge the eye, swell the coat, loose
the belt! Eat, brothers, eat!' Chouart stands at the boiler ladling
out joints faster than an army could gobble. Within an hour every brat
lay stretched and the women were snoring asleep where they crouched.
From the warriors, here a grunt, there a groan! But Chouart keeps
ladling out the meat. Then the Dutchman grabs up a drum at the other
end of the lodge, and begins to beat and yell: 'Stuff, brudders, stuff!
Vat de gut zperets zend, gast not out! Eat, braves, eat!' And the
padre cuts the capers of a fiend on coals. Still the warriors eat!
Still the drums beat! Still the meat is heaped! Then, one brave bowls
over asleep with his head on his knees! Another warrior tumbles back!
Guards sit bolt upright sound asleep as a stone!"

"What did you put in the meat, Pierre?" asked Groseillers absently.

Radisson laughed.

"Do you mind, Chouart," he asked, "how the padre wanted to put poison
in the meat, and the Dutchman wouldn't let him? Then the Dutchman
wanted to murder them all in their sleep, and the padre wouldn't let
him?"

Both men laughed.

"And the end?" asked Jean.

"We tied the squealing pig at the door for sentinel, broke ice with our
muskets, launched the canoe, and never stopped paddling till we reached
Three Rivers." [1]

At that comes a loud sally of laughter from the sailors at the far end
of the hall. Godefroy, the English trader, is singing a rhyme of All
Souls' Day, and Allemand, the French pilot, protests.

"Soul! Soul! For a soul-cake!
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for - - ."

But La Chesnaye shouts out for the knaves to hold quiet. Godefroy bobs
his tipstaff, and bawls on:

"Soul! Soul! For an apple or two!
If you've got no apples, nuts will do!
Out with your raisins, down with your gin!
Give me plenty and I'll begin."

M. Radisson looks down the hall and laughs. "By the saints," says he
softly, "a man loses the Christian calendar in this land! 'Tis All
Souls' Night! Give the men a treat, La Chesnaye."

But La Chesnaye, being governor, must needs show his authority, and
vows to flog the knave for impudence. Turning over benches in his
haste, the merchant falls on Godefroy with such largesse of cuffs that
the fellow is glad to keep peace.

The door blows open, and with a gust of wind a silent figure blows in.
'Tis Le Borgne, the one-eyed, who has taken to joining our men of a
merry night, which M. de Radisson encourages; for he would have all the
Indians come freely.

"Ha!" says Radisson, "I thought 'twas the men I sent to spy if the
marsh were safe crossing. Give Le Borgne tobacco, La Chesnaye. If
once the fellow gets drunk," he adds to me in an undertone, "that
silent tongue of his may wag on the interlopers. We must be stirring,
stirring, Ramsay! Ten days past! Egad, a man might as well be a
fish-worm burrowing underground as such a snail! We must stir - stir!
See here" - drawing me to the table apart from the others - "here we are
on the lower river," and he marked the letter X on a line indicating
the flow of our river to the bay. "Here is the upper river," and he
drew another river meeting ours at a sharp angle. "Here is Governor
Brigdar of the Hudson's Bay Company," marking another X on the upper
river. "Here is Ben Gillam! We are half-way between them on the
south. I sent two men to see if the marsh between the rivers is fit
crossing."

[Illustration: Radisson's map.]

"Fit crossing?"

"When 'tis safe, we might plan a surprise. The only doubt is how many
of those pirates are there who attacked you in the woods?"

And he sat back whiffing his pipe and gazing in space. By this, La
Chesnaye had distributed so generous a treat that half the sailors were
roaring out hilarious mirth. Godefroy astride a bench played big drum
on the wrong-end-up of the cook's dish-pan. Allemand attempted to
fiddle a poker across the tongs. Voyageurs tried to shoot the big
canoe over a waterfall; for when Jean tilted one end of the long bench,
they landed as cleanly on the floor as if their craft had plunged. But
the copper-faced Le Borgne remained taciturn and tongue-tied.

"Be curse to that wall-eyed knave," muttered Radisson. "He's too deep
a man to let go! We must capture him or win him!"

"Perhaps when he becomes more friendly we may track him back to the
inlanders," I suggested.

M. de Radisson closed one eye and looked at me attentively.

"La Chesnaye," he called, "treat that fellow like a king!"

And the rafters rang so loud with the merriment that we none of us
noticed the door flung open, nor saw two figures stamping off the snow
till they had thrown a third man bound at M. de Radisson's feet. The
messengers sent to spy out the marsh had returned with a half-frozen
prisoner.

"We found him where the ice is soft. He was half dead," explained one
scout.

Silence fell. Through the half-dark the Indian glided towards the
door. The unconscious prisoner lay face down.

"Turn him over," ordered Radisson.

As our men rolled him roughly over, the captive uttered a heavy groan.
His arms fell away from his face revealing little Jack Battle, the
castaway, in a haven as strange as of old.

"Search him before he wakes," commanded Radisson roughly.

"Let me," I asked.

In the pouches of the caribou coat was only pemmican; but my hand
crushed against a softness in the inner waistcoat. I pulled it out - a
little, old glove, the colour Hortense had dangled the day that Ben
Gillam fell into the sea.

"Pish!" says Radisson. "Anything else?"

There crumpled out a yellow paper. M. Radisson snatched it up.

"Pish!" says he, "nothing - put it back!"

It was a page of my copy-book, when I used to take lessons with
Rebecca. Replacing paper and glove, I closed up the sailor lad's coat.

"Search his cap and moccasins!"

I was mighty thankful, as you may guess, that other hands than mine
found the tell-tale missive - a badly writ letter addressed to "Captain
Zechariah Gillium."

Tearing it open, M. Radisson read with stormy lights agleam in his eyes.

"Sir, this sailor lad is an old comrade," I pleaded.

"Then'a God's name take care of him," he flashed out.

But long before I had Jack Battle thawed back to consciousness in my
own quarters, Jean came running with orders for me to report to M.
Radisson.

"I'll take care of the sailor for you," proffered Jean.

And I hastened to the main hall.

"Get ready," ordered Radisson. "We must stir! That young
hop-o'-my-thumb suspects his father has arrived. He has sent this
fellow with word of me. Things will be doing. We must stir - we must
stir. Read those for news," and he handed me the letter.

The letter was addressed to Ben's father, of the Hudson's Bay ship,
Prince Rupert. In writing which was scarcely legible, it ran:


I take Up my Pen to lett You knowe that cutt-throte
french viper Who deserted You at ye fort of ye bay 10 Years
ago hath come here for France Threatening us.

he Must Be Stopped. Will i Do It?

have Bin Here Come Six weekes All Souls' day and Not
Heard a Word of Him that went inland to Catch ye Furs
from ye Savages before they Mett Governor B - - . If He


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