E-text prepared by Al Haines
HERALDS OF EMPIRE
Being the Story of One Ramsay Stanhope Lieutenant to Pierre Radisson in the Northern Fur Trade
A. C. LAUT
Author of Lords of the North
Toronto, Canada William Briggs 1902 Entered according to Act of the Parliament of Canada in the year 1902 By A. C. LAUT at the Department of Agriculture All rights reserved
THE NEW WORLD NOBILITY
——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 Got 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 Egypt.——
I. What are King-Killers? II. I rescue and am rescued III. Touching Witchcraft IV. Rebecca and Jack Battle Conspire V. M. Radisson Again
VI. The Roaring Forties VII. M. de Radisson Acts VIII. M. de Radisson Comes to his Own IX. Visitors X. The Cause of the Firing XI. More of M. Radisson's Rivals XII. M. Radisson begins the Game XIII. The White Darkness XIV. A Challenge XV. The Battle not to the Strong XVI. We seek the Inlanders XVII. A Bootless Sacrifice XVIII. Facing the End XIX. Afterward XX. Who the Pirates were XXI. How the Pirates came XXII. We leave the North Sea
XXIII. A Change of Partners XXIV. Under the Aegis of the Court XXV. Jack Battle again XXVI. At Oxford XXVII. Home from the Bay XXVIII. Rebecca and I fall out XXIX. The King's Pleasure
HERALDS OF EMPIRE
I see him yet—swarthy, straight as a lance, keen as steel, in his eyes the restless fire that leaps to red when sword cuts sword. I see him yet—beating about the high seas, a lone adventurer, tracking forest wastes where no man else dare go, pitting his wit against the intrigue of king and court and empire. Prince of pathfinders, prince of pioneers, prince of gamesters, he played the game for love of the game, caring never a rush for the gold which pawns other men's souls. How much of good was in his ill, how much of ill in his good, let his life declare! He played fast and loose with truth, I know, till all the world played fast and loose with him. He juggled with empires as with puppets, but he died not a groat the richer, which is better record than greater men can boast.
Of enemies, Sieur Radisson had a-plenty, for which, methinks, he had that lying tongue of his to thank. Old France and New France, Old England and New England, would have paid a price for his head; but Pierre Radisson's head held afar too much cunning for any hang-dog of an assassin to try "fall-back, fall-edge" on him. In spite of all the malice with which his enemies fouled him living and dead, Sieur Radisson was never the common buccaneer which your cheap pamphleteers have painted him; though, i' faith, buccaneers stood high enough in my day, when Prince Rupert himself turned robber and pirate of the high seas. Pierre Radisson held his title of nobility from the king; so did all those young noblemen who went with him to the north, as may be seen from M. Colbert's papers in the records de la marine. Nor was the disembarking of furs at Isle Percee an attempt to steal M. de la Chesnaye's cargo, as slanderers would have us believe, but a way of escape from those vampires sucking the life-blood of New France—the farmers of the revenue. Indeed, His Most Christian Majesty himself commanded those robber rulers of Quebec to desist from meddling with the northern adventurers. And if some gentleman who has never been farther from city cobblestones than to ride afield with the hounds or take waters at foreign baths, should protest that no maid was ever in so desolate a case as Mistress Hortense, I answer there are to-day many in the same region keeping themselves pure as pond-lilies in a brackish pool, at the forts of their fathers and husbands in the fur-trading country. 
And as memory looks back to those far days, there is another—a poor, shambling, mean-spoken, mean-clad fellow, with the scars of convict gyves on his wrists and the dumb love of a faithful spaniel in his eyes. Compare these two as I may—Pierre Radisson, the explorer with fame like a meteor that drops in the dark; Jack Battle, the wharf-rat—for the life of me I cannot tell which memory grips the more.
One played the game, the other paid the pawn. Both were misunderstood. One took no thought but of self; the other, no thought of self at all. But where the great man won glory that was a target for envy, the poor sailor lad garnered quiet happiness.
 In confirmation of which reference may be called to the daughter of Governor Norton in Prince of Wales Fort, north of Nelson. Hearne reports that the poor creature died from exposure about the time of her father's death, which was many years after Mr. Stanhope had written the last words of this record.—Author.
WHAT ARE KING-KILLERS?
My father—peace to his soul!—had been of those who thronged London streets with wine tubs to drink the restored king's health on bended knee; but he, poor gentleman, departed this life before his monarch could restore a wasted patrimony. For old Tibbie, the nurse, there was nothing left but to pawn the family plate and take me, a spoiled lad in his teens, out to Puritan kin of Boston Town.
On the night my father died he had spoken remorsefully of the past to the lord bishop at his bedside.
"Tush, man, have a heart," cries his lordship. "Thou'lt see pasch and yule yet forty year, Stanhope. Tush, man, 'tis thy liver, or a touch of the gout. Take here a smack of port. Sleep sound, man, sleep sound."
And my father slept so sound he never wakened more.
So I came to my Uncle Kirke, whose virtues were of the acid sort that curdles the milk of human kindness.
With him, goodness meant gloom. If the sweet joy of living ever sang to him in his youth, he shut his ears to the sound as to siren temptings, and sternly set himself to the fierce delight of being miserable.
For misery he had reason enough. Having writ a book in which he called King Charles "a man of blood and everlasting abomination"—whatever that might mean—Eli Kirke got himself star-chambered. When, in the language of those times, he was examined "before torture, in torture, between torture, and after torture"—the torture of the rack and the thumbkins and the boot—he added to his former testimony that the queen was a "Babylonish woman, a Potiphar, a Jezebel, a—"
There his mouth was gagged, head and heels roped to the rack, and a wrench given the pulleys at each end that nigh dismembered his poor, torn body. And what words, think you, came quick on top of his first sharp outcry?
"Wisdom is justified of her children! The wicked shall he pull down and the humble shall he exalt!"
And when you come to think of it, Charles Stuart lost his head on the block five years from that day.
When Eli Kirke left jail to take ship for Boston Town both ears had been cropped. On his forehead the letters S L—seditious libeler—were branded deep, though not so deep as the bitterness burned into his soul.
There comes before me a picture of my landing, showing as clearly as it were threescore years ago that soft, summer night, the harbour waters molten gold in a harvest moon, a waiting group of figures grim above the quay. No firing of muskets and drinking of flagons and ringing of bells to welcome us, for each ship brought out court minions to whip Boston into line with the Restoration—as hungry a lot of rascals as ever gathered to pick fresh bones.
Old Tibbie had pranked me out in brave finery: the close-cut, black-velvet waistcoat that young royalists then wore; a scarlet doublet, flaming enough to set the turkey yard afire; the silken hose and big shoe-buckles late introduced from France by the king; and a beaver hat with plumes a-nodding like my lady's fan. My curls, I mind, tumbled forward thicker than those foppish French perukes.
"There is thy Uncle Kirke," whispers Nurse Tibbie. "Pay thy best devoirs, Master Ramsay," and she pushes me to the fore of those crowding up the docks.
A thin, pale man with a scarred face silently permitted me to salute four limp fingers. His eyes swept me with chill disapproval. My hat clapped on a deal faster than it had come off, for you must know we unhatted in those days with a grand, slow bow.
"Thy Aunt Ruth," says Tibbie, nudging me; for had I stood from that day to this, I was bound that cold man should speak first.
To my aunt the beaver came off in its grandest flourish. The pressure of a dutiful kiss touched my forehead, and I minded the passion kisses of a dead mother.
Those errant curls blew out in the wind.
"Ramsay Stanhope," begins my uncle sourly, "what do you with uncropped hair and the foolish trappings of vanity?"
As I live, those were the first words he uttered to me.
"I perceive silken garters," says he, clearing his throat and lowering his glance down my person. "Many a good man hath exchanged silk for hemp, my fine gentleman!"
"An the hemp hold like silk, 'twere a fair exchange, sir," I returned; though I knew very well he referred to those men who had died for the cause.
"Ramsay," says he, pointing one lank fore-finger at me, "Ramsay, draw your neck out of that collar; for the vanities of the wicked are a yoke leading captive the foolish!"
Now, my collar was point-de-vice of prime quality over black velvet. My uncle's welcome was more than a vain lad could stomach; and what youth of his first teens hath not a vanity hidden about him somewhere?
"Thou shalt not put the horse and the ass under the same yoke, sir," said I, drawing myself up far as ever high heels would lift.
He looked dazed for a minute. Then he told me that he spake concerning my spiritual blindness, his compassions being moved to show me the error of my way.
At that, old nurse must needs take fire.
"Lord save a lad from the likes o' sich compassions! Sure, sir, an the good Lord makes pretty hair grow, 'twere casting pearls before swine to shave his head like a cannon-ball"—this with a look at my uncle's crown—"or to dress a proper little gentleman like a ragged flibbergibbet."
"Tibbie, hold your tongue!" I order.
"Silence were fitter for fools and children," says Eli Kirke loftily.
There comes a time when every life must choose whether to laugh or weep over trivial pains, and when a cut may be broken on the foil of that glancing mirth which the good Creator gave mankind to keep our race from going mad. It came to me on the night of my arrival on the wharves of Boston Town.
We lumbered up through the straggling village in one of those clumsy coaches that had late become the terror of foot-passengers in London crowds. My aunt pointed with a pride that was colonial to the fine light which the towns-people had erected on Beacon Hill; and told me pretty legends of Rattlesnake Hill that fired the desire to explore those inland dangers. I noticed that the rubble-faced houses showed lanterns in iron clamps above most of the doorways. My kinsman's house stood on the verge of the wilds-rough stone below, timbered plaster above, with a circle of bay windows midway, like an umbrella. High windows were safer in case of attack from savages, Aunt Ruth explained; and I mentally set to scaling rope ladders in and out of those windows.
We drew up before the front garden and entered by a turnstile with flying arms. Many a ride have little Rebecca Stocking, of the court-house, and Ben Gillam, the captain's son, and Jack Battle, the sailor lad, had, perched on that turnstile, while I ran pushing and jumping on, as the arms flew creaking round.
The home-coming was not auspicious. Yet I thought no resentment against my uncle. I realized too well how the bloody revenge of the royalists was turning the hearts of England to stone. One morning I recall, when my poor father lay a-bed of the gout and there came a roar through London streets as of a burst ocean dike. Before Tibbie could say no, I had snatched up a cap and was off.
God spare me another such sight! In all my wild wanderings have I never seen savages do worse.
Through the streets of London before the shoutings of a rabble rout was whipped an old, white-haired man. In front of him rumbled a cart; in the cart, the axeman, laving wet hands; at the axeman's feet, the head of a regicide—all to intimidate that old, white-haired man, fearlessly erect, singing a psalm. When they reached the shambles, know you what they did? Go read the old court records and learn what that sentence meant when a man's body was cast into fire before his living eyes! All the while, watching from a window were the princes and their shameless ones.
Ah, yes! God wot, I understood Eli Kirke's bitterness!
But the beginning was not auspicious, and my best intentions presaged worse. For instance, one morning my uncle was sounding my convictions—he was ever sounding other people's convictions—"touching the divine right of kings." Thinking to give strength to contempt for that doctrine, I applied to it one forcible word I had oft heard used by gentlemen of the cloth. Had I shot a gun across the table, the effect could not have been worse. The serving maid fell all of a heap against the pantry door. Old Tibbie yelped out with laughter, and then nigh choked. Aunt Ruth glanced from me to Eli Kirke with a timid look in her eye; but Eli Kirke gazed stolidly into my soul as he would read whether I scoffed or no.
Thereafter he nailed up a little box to receive fines for blasphemy.
"To be plucked as a brand from the burning," I hear him say, fetching a mighty sigh. But sweet, calm Aunt Ruth, stitching at some spotless kerchief, intercedes.
"Let us be thankful the lad hath come to us."
"Bound fast in cords of vanity," deplores Uncle Kirke.
"But all things are possible," Aunt Ruth softly interposes.
"All things are possible," concedes Eli Kirke grudgingly, "but thou knowest, Ruth, all things are not probable!"
And I, knowing my uncle loved an argument as dearly as merry gentlemen love a glass, slip away leg-bail for the docks, where sits Ben Gillam among the spars spinning sailor yarns to Jack Battle, of the great north sea, whither his father goes for the fur trade; or of M. Radisson, the half-wild Frenchman, who married an English kinswoman of Eli Kirke's and went where never man went and came back with so many pelts that the Quebec governor wanted to build a fortress of beaver fur;  or of the English squadron, rocking to the harbour tide, fresh from winning the Dutch of Manhattan, and ready to subdue malcontents of Boston Town. Then Jack Battle, the sailor lad from no one knows where, living no one knows how, digs his bare toes into the sand and asks under his breath if we have heard about king-killers.
"What are king-killers?" demands young Gillam.
I discreetly hold my tongue; for a gentleman who supped late with my uncle one night has strangely disappeared, and the rats in the attic have grown boldly loud.
"What are king-killers?" asks Gillam.
"Them as sent Charles I to his death," explains Jack. "They do say," he whispers fearfully, "one o' them is hid hereabouts now! The king's commission hath ordered to have hounds and Indians run him down."
"Pah!" says Gillam, making little of what he had not known, "hounds are only for run-aways," this with a sneering look at odd marks round Jack's wrists.
"I am no slave!" vows Jack in crestfallen tones.
"Who said 'slave'?" laughs Gillam triumphantly. "My father saith he is a runaway rat from the Barbadoes," adds Ben to me.
With the fear of a hunted animal under his shaggy brows, little Jack tries to read how much is guess.
"I am no slave, Ben Gillam," he flings back at hazard; but his voice is thin from fright.
"My father saith some planter hath lost ten pound on thee, little slavie," continues Ben.
"Pah! Ten pound for such a scrub! He's not worth six! Look at the marks on his arms, Ramsay"—catching the sailor roughly by the wrist. "He can say what he likes. He knows chains."
Little Jack jerked free and ran along the sands as hard as his bare feet could carry him. Then I turned to Ben, who had always bullied us both. Dropping the solemn "thou's" which our elders still used, I let him have plain "you's."
"You—you—mean coward! I've a mind to knock you into the sea!"
"Grow bigger first, little billycock," taunts Ben.
By the next day I was big enough.
Mistress Hortense Hillary was down on the beach with M. Picot's blackamoor, who dogged her heels wherever she went; and presently comes Rebecca Stocking to shovel sand too. Then Ben must show what a big fellow he is by kicking over the little maid's cart-load.
"Stop that!" commands Jack Battle, springing of a sudden from the beach.
For an instant, Ben was taken aback.
Then the insolence that provokes its own punishment broke forth.
"Go play with your equals, jack-pudding! Jailbirds who ape their betters are strangled up in Quebec," and he kicked down Rebecca's pile too.
Rebecca's doll-blue eyes spilled over with tears, but Mistress Hortense was the high-mettled, high-stepping little dame. She fairly stamped her wrath, and to Jack's amaze took him by the hand and marched off with the hauteur of an empress.
Then Ben must call out something about M. Picot, the French doctor, not being what he ought, and little Hortense having no mother.
"Ben," said I quietly, "come out on the pier." The pier ran to deep water. At the far end I spoke.
"Not another word against Hortense and Jack! Promise me!"
His back was to the water, mine to the shore. He would have promised readily enough, I think, if the other monkeys had not followed—Rebecca with big tear-drops on both cheeks, Hortense quivering with wrath, Jack flushed, half shy and half shamed to be championed by a girl.
"Come, Ben; 'fore I count three, promise——"
But he lugged at me. I dodged. With a splash that doused us four, Ben went headlong into the sea. The uplift of the waves caught him. He threw back his arms with a cry. Then he sank like lead.
The sailor son of the famous captain could not swim. Rebecca's eyes nigh jumped from her head with fright. Hortense grew white to the lips and shouted for that lout of a blackamoor sound asleep on the sand.
Before I could get my doublet off to dive, Jack Battle was cleaving air like a leaping fish, and the waters closed over his heels.
Bethink you, who are not withered into forgetfulness of your own merry youth, whether our hearts stopped beating then!
But up comes that water-dog of a Jack gripping Ben by the scruff of the neck; and when by our united strength we had hauled them both on the pier, little Mistress Hortense was the one to roll Gillam on his stomach and bid us "Quick! Stand him on his head and pour the water out!"
From that day Hortense was Jack's slave, Jack was mine, and Ben was a pampered hero because he never told and took the punishment like a man. But there was never a word more slurring Hortense's unknown origin and Jack's strange wrist marks.
 Young Stanhope's informant had evidently mixed tradition with fact. Radisson was fined for going overland to Hudson Bay without the governor's permission, the fine to build a fort at Three Rivers. Eli Kirke's kinswoman was a daughter of Sir John Kirke, of the Hudson's Bay Fur Company.—Author.
I RESCUE AND AM RESCUED
So the happy childhood days sped on, a swift stream past flowered banks. Ben went off to sail the north sea in Captain Gillam's ship. M. Picot, the French doctor, brought a governess from Paris for Hortense, so that we saw little of our playmate, and Jack Battle continued to live like a hunted rat at the docks.
My uncle and Rebecca's father, who were beginning to dabble in the fur trade, had jointly hired a peripatetic dominie to give us youngsters lessons in Bible history and the three R's. At noon hour I initiated Rebecca into all the thrilling dangers of Indian warfare, and many a time have we had wild escapes from imaginary savages by scaling a rope ladder of my own making up to the high nursery window. By-and-bye, when school was in and the dominie dozed, I would lower that timid little whiffet of a Puritan maid out through the window to the turnstile. Then I would ride her round till our heads whirled. If Jack Battle came along, Rebecca would jump down primly and run in, for Jack was unknown in the meeting-house, and the meeting-house was Rebecca's measure of the whole world.
One day Jack lingered. He was carrying something tenderly in a red cambric handkerchief.
"Where is Mistress Hortense?" he asked sheepishly.
"That silly French woman keeps her caged like a squirrel."
Little Jack began tittering and giggling.
"Why—that's what I have here," he explained, slipping a bundle of soft fur in my hand.
"It's tame! It's for Hortense," said he.
"Why don't you take it to her, Jack?"
"Take it to her?" reiterated he in a daze. "As long as she gets it, what does it matter who takes it?"
With that, he was off across the marshy commons, leaving the squirrel in my hand.
Forgetting lessons, I ran to M. Picot's house. That governess answered the knocker.
"From Jack Battle to Mistress Hortense!"
And I proffered the squirrel.
Though she smirked a world of thanks, she would not take it. Then Hortense came dancing down the hall.
"Am I not grown tall?" she asked, mischievously shaking her curls.
"No," said I, looking down to her feet cased in those high slippers French ladies then wore, "'tis your heels!"
And we all laughed. Catching sight of the squirrel, Hortense snatched it up with caresses against her neck, and the French governess sputtered out something of which I knew only the word "beau."
"Jack is no beau, mademoiselle," said I loftily. "Pah! He's a wharf lad."
I had thought Hortense would die in fits.
"Mademoiselle means the squirrel, Ramsay," she said, choking, her handkerchief to her lips. "Tell Jack thanks, with my love," she called, floating back up the stairs.
And the governess set to laughing in the pleasant French way that shakes all over and has no spite. Emboldened, I asked why Hortense could not play with us any more. Hortense, she explained, was become too big to prank on the commons.
"Faith, mademoiselle," said I ruefully, "an she mayn't play war on the commons, what may she play?"
"Beau!" teases mademoiselle, perking her lips saucily; and she shut the door in my face.
It seemed a silly answer enough, but it put a notion in a lad's head. I would try it on Rebecca.
When I re-entered the window, the dominie still slept. Rebecca, the demure monkey, bent over her lesson book as innocently as though there were no turnstiles.
"Rebecca," I whispered, leaning across the bench, "you are big enough to have a—what? Guess."
"Go away, Ramsay Stanhope!" snapped Rebecca, grown mighty good of a sudden, with glance fast on her white stomacher.
"O-ho! Crosspatch," thought I; and from no other motive than transgressing the forbidden, I reached across to distract the attentive goodness of the prim little baggage; but—an iron grip lifted me bodily from the bench.
It was Eli Kirke, wry-faced, tight-lipped. He had seen all! This was the secret of Mistress Rebecca's new-found diligence. No syllable was uttered, but it was the awfullest silence that ever a lad heard. I was lifted rather than led upstairs and left a prisoner in locked room with 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!'"
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.
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! Pish! Pish! That frump and her fits! Bad blood, Ramsay; low-bred, low-bred! 'Tis ever the way of her kind to blab of aches and stuffed stomachs that were well if left empty. An she come prying into my chemicals, taking fits when she's caught, I'll mix her a pill o' Deliverance!" And M. Picot laughed heartily at his own joke.
The next morning I was off to the trade. Though I hardly acknowledged the reason to myself, any youth can guess why I made excuse to come back soon. As I rode up, Rebecca stood at our gate. She had no smile. Had I not been thinking of another, I had noticed the sadness of her face; but when she moved back a pace, I flung out some foolishness about a gate being no bar if one had a mind to jump. Then she brought me sharp to my senses as I sprang to the ground.
"Ramsay," she exclaimed, "M. Picot and Mistress Hortense are in jail charged with sorcery! M. Picot is like to be hanged! An they do not confess, they may be set in the bilboes and whipped. There is talk of putting Mistress Hortense to the test."
'Twas as if a great weight struck away power to think, for the test meant neither more nor less than torture till confession were wrung from agony. The night went black and Rebecca's voice came as from some far place.
"Ramsay, you are hurting—you are crushing my hands!"
Poor child, she was crying; and the words I would have said stuck fast behind sealed lips. She seemed to understand, for she went on:
"Deliverance Dobbins saw strange things in his house. She went to spy. He hath crazed her intellectuals. She hath dumb fits."
Now I understood. This trouble was the result of M. Picot's threat; but little Rebecca's voice was tinkling on like a bell in a dome.
"My father hath the key to their ward. My father saith there is like to be trouble if they do not confess—"
"Confess!" I broke out. "Confess what? If they confess the lie they will be burned for witchcraft. And if they refuse to confess, they will be hanged for not telling the lie. Pretty justice! And your holy men fined one fellow a hundred pounds for calling their justices a pack of jackasses——"
"Sentence is to be pronounced to-morrow after communion," said Rebecca.
"After communion?" I could say no more. On that of all days for tyranny's crime!
God forgive me for despairing of mankind that night. I thought freedom had been won in the Commonwealth war, but that was only freedom of body. A greater strife was to wage for freedom of soul.
REBECCA AND JACK BATTLE CONSPIRE
'Twas cockcrow when I left pacing the shore where we had so often played in childhood; and through the darkness came the howl of M. Picot's hound, scratching outside the prison gate.
As well reason with maniacs as fanatics, say I, for they hide as much folly under the mask of conscience as ever court fool wore 'neath painted face. There was Mr. Stocking, as well-meaning a man as trod earth, obdurate beyond persuasion against poor M. Picot under his charge. Might I not speak to the French doctor through the bars of his window? By no means, Mr. Stocking assured. If once the great door were unlocked, who could tell what black arts a sorcerer might use?
"Look you, Ramsay lad," says he, "I've had this brass key made against his witchcraft, and I do not trust it to the hands of the jailer."
Then, I fear, I pleaded too keenly; for, suspecting collusion with M. Picot, the warden of the court-house grew frigid and bade me ask Eli Kirke's opinion on witchcraft.
"'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,'" rasped Eli Kirke, his stern eyes ablaze from an inner fire. "'A man' also, or woman, that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death.' Think you M. Picot burns incense to the serpent in his jars for the healing of mankind?" he demanded fiercely.
"Yes," said I, "'tis for the healing of mankind by experimentation with chemicals. Knowledge of God nor chemicals springs full grown from man's head, Uncle Eli. Both must be learned. That is all the meaning of his jars and crucibles. He is only trying to learn what laws God ordained among materials. And when M. Picot makes mistakes, it is the same as when the Church makes mistakes and learns wisdom by blunders."
Eli Kirke blinked his eyes as though my monstrous pleadings dazed him.
"'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,'" he cried doggedly. "Do the Scriptures lie, Ramsay Stanhope? Tell me that?"
"No," said I. "The Scriptures condemn liars, and the man who pretends witchcraft is a liar. There's no such thing. That is why the Scriptures command burning." I paused. He made no answer, and I pleaded on.
"But M. Picot denies witchcraft, and you would burn him for not lying."
Never think to gain a stubborn antagonist by partial concession. M. Radisson used to say if you give an enemy an inch he will claim an ell. 'Twas so with Eli Kirke, for he leaped to his feet in a fine frenzy and bade me cease juggling Holy Writ.
"'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,'" he shouted. "'Tis abomination! It shall utterly be put away from you! Because of this hidden iniquity the colony hath fallen on evil days. Let it perish root and branch!"
But Tibbie breaks in upon his declamation by throwing wide the library door, and in marches a line of pale-faced ascetics, rigid of jaw, cold of eye, and exalted with that gloomy fervour which counts burning life's highest joy. Among them was the famous witch-hanger of after years, a mere youth then, but about his lips the hard lines of a spiritual zeal scarce differing from pride.
"God was awakening the churches by marvellous signs," said one, extending a lank, cold hand to salute Eli Kirke.
"Have we not wrestled mightily for signs and wonders?" demanded another with jaw of steel. And one description of the generation seeking signs was all but off the tip of my tongue.
"Some aver there be no witches—so fearfully hath error gone abroad," lamented young Mather, keen to be heard then, as he always was. "Brethren, toleration would make a kingdom of chaos, a Sodom, a Gomorrah, a Babylon!"
Faith, it needed no horoscope to forecast that young divine's dark future!
I stood it as long as I could, with palms itching to knock their solemn heads together like so many bowling balls; but when one cadaverous-faced fellow, whose sanctity had gone bilious from lack of sunshine, whined out against "the saucy miss," meaning thereby Mistress Hortense, and another prayed Heaven through his nose that his daughter might "lie in her grave ere she minced her steps with such dissoluteness of hair and unseemly broideries and bright colours, showing the lightness of her mind," and a third averred that "a cucking-stool would teach a maid to walk more shamefacedly," I whirled upon them in a fury that had disinherited me from Eli Kirke's graces ere I spake ten words.
"Sirs," said I, "your slatternly wenches may be dead ere they match Mistress Hortense! As for wearing light colours, the devil himself is painted black. Let them who are doing shameful acts to the innocent walk shamefacedly! For shame, sirs, to cloak malice and jealousy of M. Picot under religion! New England will remember this blot against you and curse you for it! An you listen to Deliverance Dobbins's lies, what hinders any lying wench sending good men to the scaffold?"
At first they listened agape, but now the hot blood rushed to their faces.
"Hold thy tongue, lad!" roared Eli Kirke. Then, as if to atone for that violence: "The Lord rebuke thee," he added solemnly.
And I flung from the house dumb with impotent rage.
My thoughts were as the snatched sleep of a sick man's dreams. Again the hideous nightmare of the old martyr at the shambles; but now the shambles were in the New World and the martyr was M. Picot. Something cold touched my hand through the dark, and there crouched M. Picot's hound, whining for its master. Automatically I followed across the commons to the court-house square. It stopped at the prison gate, sniffing and whining and begging in. Poor dog! What could I do? I tried to coax it away, but it lay at the wall like a stone.
Of the long service in the new-built meeting-house I remember very little. Beat of drums, not bells, called to church in those days, and the beat was to me as a funeral march. The pale face of the preacher in the high pulpit overtowering us all was alight with stern zeal. The elders, sitting in a row below the pulpit facing us, listened to the fierce diatribe against the dark arts with looks of approbation that boded ill for M. Picot; and at every fresh fusillade of texts to bolster his argument, the line of deacons below the elders glanced back at the preacher approvingly. Rebecca sat on that side of the congregation assigned to the women with a dumb look of sympathy on the sweet hooded face. The prisoners were not present. At the end of the service the preacher paused; and there fell a great hush in which men scarce breathed, for sentence was to be pronounced. But the preacher only announced that before handing the case to the civil court of oyer and terminer for judgment, the elders wished to hold it in meditation for another day.
The singing of the dismissal psalm began and a smothered cry seemed to break from Rebecca's pew. Then the preacher had raised his hands above bowed heads. The service was over. The people crowded solemnly out, and I was left alone in the gathering darkness—alone with the ghosts of youth's illusions mocking from the gloom. Religion, then, did not always mean right! There were tyrants of souls as well as tyrants of sword. Prayers were uttered that were fitter for hearing in hell than in Heaven. Good men could deceive themselves into crime cloaking spiritual malice, sect jealousy, race hatred with an unctuous text. Here, in New England, where men had come for freedom, was tyranny masking in the guise of religion. Preachers as jealous of the power slipping from their hands as ever was primate of England! A poor gentleman hounded to his death because he practised the sciences! Millions of victims all the world over burned for witchcraft, sacrificed to a Moloch of superstition in the name of a Christ who came to let in the light of knowledge on all superstition!
Could I have found a wilderness where was no human face, I think I had fled to it that night. And, indeed, when you come to think of my breaking with Eli Kirke, 'twas the witch trial that drove me to the wilderness.
There was yet a respite. But the Church still dominated the civil courts, and a transfer of the case meant that the Church would throw the onus of executing sentence on those lay figures who were the puppets of a Pharisaical oligarchy.
There was no time to appeal to England. There was no chance of sudden rescue. New England had not the stuff of which mobs are made.
I thought of appealing to the mercy of the judges; but what mercy had Eli Kirke received at the hands of royalists that he should be merciful to them?
I thought of firing the prison; but the walls were stone, and the night wet, and the outcome doubtful.
I thought of the cell window; but if there had been any hope that way, M. Picot had worked an escape.
Bowing my head to think—to pray—to imprecate, I lost all sense of time and place. Some one had slipped quietly into the dark of the church. I felt rather than saw a nearing presence. But I paid no heed, for despair blotted out all thought. Whoever it was came feeling a way down the dark aisle.
Then hot tears fell upon my hands. In the gloom there paused a childlike figure.
She panted out a wordless cry. Then she came closer and laid a hand on my arm. She was struggling to subdue sobs. The question came in a shivering breath.
"Is Hortense—so dear?"
"So dear, Rebecca."
"She must be wondrous happy, Ramsay." A tumult of effort. "If I could only take her place——"
"Take her place, Rebecca?"
"My father hath the key—if—if—if I took her place, she might go free."
"Take her place, child! What folly is this—dear, kind Rebecca? Would 't be any better to send you to the rope than Hortense? No—no—dear child!"
At that her agitation abated, and she puzzled as if to say more.
"Dear Rebecca," said I, comforting her as I would a sister, "dear child, run home. Forget not little Hortense in thy prayers."
May the angel of forgiveness spread a broader mantle across our blunders than our sins, but could I have said worse?
"I have cooked dainties with my own hands. I have sent her cakes every day," sobbed Rebecca.
"Go home now, Rebecca," I begged.
But she stood silent.
"Rebecca—what is it?"
"You have not been to see me for a year, Ramsay."
I could scarce believe my ears.
"My father is away to-night. Will you not come?"
"I have never asked a thing of you before."
"Will you come for Hortense's sake?" she interrupted, with a little sharp, hard, falsetto note in her baby voice.
"Rebecca," I demanded, "what do you mean?"
But she snapped back like the peevish child that she was: "An you come not when I ask you, you may stay!" And she had gone.
What was she trying to say with her dark hints and overnice scruples of a Puritan conscience? And was not that Jack Battle greeting her outside in the dark?
I tore after Rebecca at such speed that I had cannoned into open arms before I saw a hulking form across the way.
"Fall-back—fall-edge!" roared Jack, closing his arms about me. "'Tis Ramsay himself, with a sword like a butcher's cleaver and a wit like a broadaxe!"
"Have you not heard, Jack?"
"Heard! Ship ahoy!" cried Jack. "Split me to the chin like a cod! Stood I not abaft of you all day long, packed like a herring in a pickle! 'Twas a pretty kettle of fish in your Noah's ark to-day! 'Tis all along o' goodness gone stale from too much salt," says Jack.
I told him of little Rebecca, and asked what he made of it. He said he made of it that fools didn't love in the right place—which was not to the point, whatever Jack thought of Rebecca. Linking his arm through mine, he headed me about.
"Captain Gillam, Ben's father, sails for England at sunrise," vouched Jack.
"What has that to do with Mistress Hortense?" I returned testily.
"'Tis a swift ship to sail in."
"To sail in, Jack Battle?"—I caught at the hope. "Out with your plan, man!"
"And be hanged for it," snaps Jack, falling silent.
We were opposite the prison. He pointed to a light behind the bars.
"They are the only prisoners," he said. "They must be in there."
"One could pass a note through those bars with a long pole," I observed, gazing over the yard wall.
"Or a key," answered Jack.
He paused before Rebecca's house to the left of the prison.
"Ramsay," inquired Jack quizzically, "do you happen to have heard who has the keys?"
"Rebecca's father is warden."
"And Rebecca's father is from home to-night," says he, facing me squarely to the lantern above the door.
How did he know that? Then I remembered the voices outside the church.
"Jack—what did Rebecca mean——"
"Not to be hanged," interrupts Jack. "'Tis all along o' having too much conscience, Ramsay. They must either lie like a Dutchman and be damned, or tell the truth and be hanged. Now, ship ahoy," says he, "to the quarterdeck!" and he flung me forcibly up the steps.
Rebecca, herself, red-eyed and reserved, threw wide the door. She motioned me to a bench seat opposite the fireplace and fastened her gaze above the mantel till mine followed there too. A bunch of keys hung from an iron rack.
"What are those, Rebecca?"
"The largest is for the gate," says she with the panic of conscience running from fire. "The brass one unlocks the great door, and—and—the—M. Picot's cell unbolts," she stammered.
"May I examine them, Rebecca?"
"I will even draw you a pint of cider," says Rebecca evasively, with great trepidation, "but come back soon," she called, tripping off to the wine-cellar door.
Snatching the keys, I was down the steps at a leap.
"The large one for the gate, Jack! The brass one for the big door, and the cell unbolts!"
"Ease your helm, sonny!" says Jack, catching the bunch from my clasp. "Fall-back—fall-edge!" he laughed in that awful mockery of the axeman's block. "Fall-back—fall-edge! If there's any hacking of necks, mine is thicker than yours! I'll run the risks. Do you wait here in shadow."
And he darted away. The gate creaked as it gave.
Then I waited for what seemed eternity.
A night-watchman shuffled along with swinging lantern, calling out: "What ho? What ho?" Townsfolks rode through the streets with a clatter of the chairmen's feet; but no words were bandied by the fellows, for a Sabbath hush lay over the night. A great hackney-coach nigh mired in mud as it lumbered through mid-road. And M. Picot's hound came sniffing hungrily to me.
A glare of light shot aslant the dark. Softly the door of Rebecca's house opened. A frail figure was silhouetted against the light. The wick above snuffed out. The figure drew in without a single look, leaving the door ajar. But an hour ago, the iron righteousness of bigots had filled my soul with revolt. Now the sight of that little Puritan maid brought prayers to my lips and a Te Deum to my soul.
The prison gate swung open again with rusty protest. Two hooded figures slipped through the dark. Jack Battle had locked the gate and the keys were in my hand.
"Take them back," he gurgled out with school-lad glee. "'Twill be a pretty to-do of witchcraft to-morrow when they find a cell empty. Go hire passage to England in Captain Gillam's boat!"
"Captain Gillam's boat?"
"Yes, or Master Ben's pirate-ship of the north, if she's there," and he had dashed off in the dark.
When Rebecca appeared above the cellar-way with a flagon that reamed to a beaded top, the keys were back on the wall.
"I was overlong," panted Rebecca, with eyes averted as of old to the folds of her white stomacher. "'Twas a stubborn bung and hard to draw."
"Dear little cheat! God bless you!—and bless you!—and bless you, Rebecca!" I cried.
At which the poor child took fright.
"It—it—it was not all a lie, Ramsay," she stammered. "The bung was hard—and—and—and I didn't hasten——"
"Dear comrade—good-bye, forever!" I called from the dark-of the step.
"Forever?" asked the faint voice of a forlorn figure black in the doorway.
Dear, snowy, self-sacrificing spirit—'tis my clearest memory of her with the thin, grieved voice coming through the dark.
I ran to the wharf hard as ever heels nerved by fear and joy and triumph and love could carry me. The passage I easily engaged from the ship's mate, who dinned into my unlistening ears full account of the north sea, whither Captain Gillam was to go for the Fur Company, and whither, too, Master Ben was keen to sail, "a pirateer, along o' his own risk and gain," explained the mate with a wink, "pirateer or privateer, call 'em what you will, Mister; the Susan with white sails in Boston Town, and Le Bon Garcon with sails black as the devil himself up in Quebec, ha—ha—and I'll give ye odds on it, Mister, the devil himself don't catch Master Ben! Why, bless you, gentlemen, who's to jail 'im here for droppin' Spanish gold in his own hold and poachin' furs on the king's preserve o' the north sea, when Stocking, the warden, 'imself owns 'alf the Susan and Cap'en Gillam, 'is father, is master o' the king's ship?"
"They do say," he babbled on, "now that Radisson, the French jack-a-boots, hath given the slip to the King's Company, he sails from Quebec in ship o' his own. If him and Ben and the Capiten meet—oh, there'll be times! There'll be times!"
And "times" there were sure enough; but of that I had then small care and shook the loquacious rascal off so that he left me in peace.
First came the servants, trundling cart-loads of cases, which passed unnoticed; for the town bell had tolled the close of Sabbath, and Monday shipping had begun.
The cusp of a watery moon faded in the gray dawn streaks of a muffled sky, and at last came the chairmen, with Jack running alert.
From the chairs stepped the blackamoor, painted as white as paste. Then a New Amsterdam gentleman slipped out from the curtains, followed by his page-boy and servants.
"Jack," I asked, "where is Hortense?"
The page glanced from under curls.
"Dear Jack," she whispered, standing high on her heels nigh as tall as the sailor lad. And poor Jack Battle, not knowing how to play down, stood blushing, cap in hand, till she laughed a queer little laugh and, bidding him good-bye, told him to remember that she had the squirrel stuffed.
To me she said no word. Her hand touched mine quick farewell. The long lashes lifted.
There was a look on her face.
I ask no greater joy in Paradise than memory of that look.
* * * * * *
One lone, gray star hung over the masthead. The ship careened across the billows till star and mast-top met.
Jack fetched a deep sigh.
"There be work for sailors in England," he said.
In a flash I thought that I knew what he had meant by fools not loving in the right place.
"That were folly, Jack! She hath her station!"
Jack Battle pointed to the fading steel point above the vanishing masthead.
"Doth looking hurt yon star?" asks Jack.
"Nay; but looking may strain the eyes; and the arrows of longing come back void."
He answered nothing, and we lingered heavy hearted till the sun came up over the pillowed waves turning the tumbling waters to molten gold.
Between us and the fan-like rays behind the glossy billows—was no ship.
Hortense was safe!
There was an end-all to undared hopes.
M. RADISSON AGAIN
"Good-bye to you, Ramsay," said Jack abruptly.
"Where to, Jack?" I asked, bestirring myself. I could no more go back to Eli Kirke.
But little Jack Battle was squirming his wooden clogs into the sand as he used to dig his toes, and he answered not a word.
"'Tis early yet for the Grand Banks, Jack. Ben Gillam's ship keeled mast over hull from being ice-logged last spring. The spars were solid with frozen sleet from the crosstrees to the crow's nest. Your dories would be ice-logged for a month yet."
"It—it—it aren't the Grand Banks no more," stammered Jack.
His manner arrested me. The honest blue eyes were shifting and his toes at work in the sand.
"There be gold on the high seas for the taking," vouched Jack. "An your fine gentlemen grow rich that way, why mayn't I?"
"Jack," I warned, thinking of Ben Gillam's craft rigged with sails of as many colours as Joseph's coat, "Jack—is it a pirate-ship?"
"No," laughed the sailor lad sheepishly, "'tis a pirateer," meaning thereby a privateer, which was the same thing in those days.
"Have a care of your pirateers—privateers, Jack," said I, speaking plain. "A gentleman would be run through the gullet with a clean rapier, but you—you—would be strangled by sentence of court or sold to the Barbadoes."
"Not if the warden o' the court owns half the ship," protested Jack, smiling queerly under his shaggy brows.
"Oh—ho!" said I, thinking of Rebecca's father, and beginning to understand who supplied money for Ben Gillam's ventures.
"I'm tired o' being a kick-a-toe and fisticuff to everybody. Now, if I'd been rich and had a ship, I might 'a' sailed for M. Picot."
"Or Mistress Hortense," I added, which brought red spots to the sailor lad's cheeks.
Off he went unanswering, leaving me at gaze across an unbroken sea with a heart heavy as lead.
"Poor fellow! He will get over it," said I.
"Another hath need o' the same medicine," came a voice.
I wheeled, expecting arrest.
A tall, wiry man, with coal-black hair and deep-set eyes and a scar across his swarth skin, smiled pleasantly down at me.
"Now that you have them safely off," said he, still smiling, "better begone yourself."
"I'll thank you for your advice when I ask it, sir," said I, suspicious of the press-gang infesting that port. Involuntarily I caught at my empty sword-belt.
"Permit me," proffered the gentleman, with a broader smile, handing out his own rapier.
"Sir," said I, "your pardon, but the press-gang have been busy of late."
"And the sheriffs may be busy to-day," he laughed. "Black arts don't open stone walls, Ramsay."
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 only.
"We neither call our women 'she' nor give them market value," I retorted.
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 jongliere; but Manitou, who strides from peak to peak, knows there is more than one valley, which had been a maxim among the jonglieres long before one Danish gentleman assured another there were more things in heaven and earth than philosophy dreamed.
THE ROARING FORTIES
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 Percee, 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 Egypt.
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 Foret, 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 Foret 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. Foret, 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 Foret 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, Foret!" roared the merchant in whirlwinds of laughter.
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 belt.
"Foret, 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.