"We must protect ourselves from the English," pleaded Ben.
"Pardieu, yes," agreed M. de Radisson, proffering his own sword with a gesture in place of the one that had gone into the sea, "and I had come to offer you twenty men to hold the fort!"
Ben glanced questioningly to his second officer.
"Bid that fellow draw off!" ordered M. Radisson.
Dazed like a man struck between the eyes, Ben did as he was commanded.
"I told you that I came in friendship," began Radisson.
"Have you lost a man, Ben?"
"No," boldly lied Gillam.
"Has one run away from the island against orders?"
"No, devil take me, if I've lost a hand but the supercargo that I killed."
"I had thought that was yours," said Radisson, with contempt for the ruffian's boast; and he handed out the paper taken from Jack.
Ben staggered back with a great oath, vowing he would have the scalp of the traitor who lost that letter. Both stood silent, each contemplating the other. Then M. Radisson spoke.
"Ben," said he, never taking his glance from the young fellow's face, "what will you give me if I guide you to your father this afternoon? I have just come from Captain Gillam. He and his crew are ill of the scurvy. Dress as a coureur and I pass you for a Frenchman."
"My father!" cried Ben with his jaws agape and his wits at sea.
"Pardieu—yes, I said your father!"
"What do you want in return?" stammered Ben.
Radisson uttered a laugh that had the sound of sword-play.
"Egad, 'tis a hot supper I'd like better than anything else just now! If you feed us well and disguise yourself as a coureur, I'll take you at sundown!"
And in spite of his second officer's signals, Ben Gillam hailed us forthwith to the fort, where M. Radisson's keen eyes took in every feature of door and gate and sally-port and gun. While the cook was preparing our supper and Ben disguising as a French wood-runner, we wandered at will, M. Radisson all the while uttering low laughs and words as of thoughts.
It was—"Caught—neat as a mouse in a trap! Don't let him spill the canoe when we're running the traverse, Ramsay! May the fiends blast La Chesnaye if he opens his foolish mouth in Gillam's hearing! Where, think you, may we best secure him? Are the timbers of your room sound?"
Or else—"Faith, a stout timber would hold those main gates open! Egad, now, an a man were standing in this doorway, he might jam a musket in the hinge so the thing would keep open! Those guns in the bastions though—think you those cannon are not pushed too far through the windows to be slued round quickly?"
And much more to the same purpose, which told why M. Radisson stooped to beg supper from rivals.
At sundown all was ready for departure. La Chesnaye and the marquis had come back with the partridges that were to make pretence for our quick return to the Prince Rupert. Ben Gillam had disguised as a bush-runner, and the canoe lay ready to launch. Fools and children unconsciously do wise things by mistake, as you know; and 'twas such an unwitting act sprung M. Radisson's plans and let the prize out of the trap.
"Sink me an you didn't promise the loan of twenty men to hold the fort!" exclaimed Ben, stepping down.
"Twenty—and more—and welcome," cried Radisson eagerly.
"Then send Ramsay and Monsieur La Chesnaye back," put in Ben quickly. "I like not the fort without one head while I'm away."
"Willingly," and M. Radisson's eyes glinted triumph.
"Hold a minute!" cried Ben before sitting down. "The river is rough. Let two of my men take their places in the canoe!"
M. Radisson's breath drew sharp through his teeth. But the trap was sprung, and he yielded gracefully enough to hide design.
"A curse on the blundering cub!" he muttered, drawing apart to give me instructions. "Pardieu—you must profit on this, Ramsay! Keep your eyes open. Spoil a door-lock or two! Plug the cannon if you can! Mix sand with their powder! Shift the sentinels! Get the devils insubordinate——"
"M. Radisson!" shouted Gillam.
"Coming!" says Radisson; and he went off with his teeth gritting sand.
 See Radisson's own account.
THE WHITE DARKNESS
How much of those instructions we carried out I leave untold. Certainly we could not have been less grateful as guests than Ben Gillam's men were inhospitable as hosts. A more sottish crew of rakes you never saw. 'Twas gin in the morning and rum in the afternoon and vile potions of mixed poisons half the night, with a cracking of the cook's head for withholding fresh kegs and a continual scuffle of fighters over cheating at cards. No marvel the second officer flogged and carved at the knaves like an African slaver. The first night the whole crew set on us with drawn swords because we refused to gamble the doublets from our backs. La Chesnaye laid about with his sword and I with my rapier, till the cook rushed to our rescue with a kettle of lye. After that we escaped to the deck of the ship and locked ourselves inside Ben Gillam's cabin. Here we heard the weather-vanes of the fort bastions creaking for three days to the shift of fickle winds. Shore-ice grew thicker and stretched farther to mid-current. Mock suns, or sun-dogs, as we called them, oft hung on each side of the sun. La Chesnaye said these boded ill weather.
Sea-birds caught the first breath of storm and wheeled landward with shrill calls, and once La Chesnaye and I made out through the ship's glass a vast herd of caribou running to sniff the gale from the crest of an inland hill.
"If Radisson comes not back soon we are storm-bound here for the winter. As you live, we are," grumbled the merchant.
But prompt as the ring of a bell to the clapper came Pierre Radisson on the third day, well pleased with what he had done and alert to keep two of us outside the fort in spite of Ben's urgings to bring the French in for refreshments.
The wind was shifting in a way that portended a nor'easter, and the weather would presently be too inclement for us to remain outside. That hastened M. Radisson's departure, though sun-dogs and the long, shrill whistling of contrary winds foretold what was brewing.
"Sink me, after such kindness, I'll see you part way home! By the Lord Harry, I will!" swore Ben.
M. Radisson screwed his eyes nigh shut and protested he could not permit young Captain Gillam to take such trouble.
"The young villain," mutters La Chesnaye, "he wants to spy which way we go."
"Come! Come!" cries Ben. "If you say another word I go all the way with you!"
"To spy on our fort," whispers La Chesnaye.
M. Radisson responds that nothing would give greater pleasure.
"I've half a mind to do it," hesitates Ben, looking doubtfully at us.
"To be sure," urges M. Radisson, "come along and have a Christmas with our merry blades!"
"Why, then, by the Lord, I will!" decides Gillam. "That is," he added, "if you'll send the marquis and his man, there, back to my fort as hostages."
M. Radisson twirled his mustaches thoughtfully, gave the marquis the same instructions in French as he had given us when we were left in the New Englander's fort, and turning with a calm face to Ben, bade him get into our canoe.
But when we launched out M. Radisson headed the craft up-stream in the wrong direction, whither we paddled till nightfall. It was cold enough in all conscience to afford Ben Gillam excuse for tipping a flask from his jacket-pouch to his teeth every minute or two; but when we were rested and ready to launch again, the young captain's brain was so befuddled that he scarce knew whether he were in Boston or on Hudson Bay.
This time we headed straight down-stream, Ben nodding and dozing from his place in the middle, M. Radisson, La Chesnaye, and I poling hard to keep the drift-ice off. We avoided the New Englander's fort by going on the other side of the island, and when we shot past Governor Brigdar's stockades with the lights of the Prince Rupert blinking through the dark, Ben was fast asleep.
And all the while the winds were piping overhead with a roar as from the wings of the great storm bird which broods over all that northland. Then the blore of the trumpeting wind was answered by a counter fugue from the sea, with a roll and pound of breakers across the sand of the traverse. Carried by the swift current, we had shot into the bay. It was morning, but the black of night had given place to the white darkness of northern storm. Ben Gillam jerked up sober and grasped an idle pole to lend a hand. Through the whirl of spray M. Radisson's figure loomed black at the bow, and above the boom of tumbling waves came the grinding as of an earthquake.
"We are lost! We are lost!" shrieked Gillam in panic, cowering back to the stern. "The storm's drifted down polar ice from the north and we're caught! We're caught!" he cried.
He sprang to his feet as if to leap into that white waste of seething ice foam. 'Twas the frenzy of terror, which oft seizes men adrift on ice. In another moment he would have swamped us under the pitching crest of a mountain sea. But M. Radisson turned. One blow of his pole and the foolish youth fell senseless to the bottom of the canoe.
"Look, sir, look!" screamed La Chesnaye, "the canoe's getting ice-logged! She's sunk to the gun'ales!"
But at the moment when M. Radisson turned to save young Gillam, the unguided canoe had darted between two rolling seas. Walls of ice rose on either side. A white whirl—a mighty rush—a tumult of roaring waters—the ice walls pitched down—the canoe was caught—tossed up—nipped—crushed like a card-box—and we four flung on the drenching ice-pans to a roll of the seas like to sweep us under, with a footing slippery as glass.
"Keep hold of Gillam! Lock hands!" came a clarion voice through the storm. "Don't fear, men! There is no danger! The gale will drive us ashore! Don't fear! Hold tight! Hold tight! There's no danger if you have no fear!"
The ice heaved and flung to the roll of the drift.
"Hold fast and your wet sleeves will freeze you to the ice! Steady!" he called, as the thing fell and rose again.
Then, with the hiss of the world serpent that pursues man to his doom, we were scudding before a mountain swell. There was the splintering report of a cannon-shot. The ice split. We clung the closer. The rush of waves swept under us, around us, above us. There came a crash. The thing gave from below. The powers of darkness seemed to close over us, the jaws of the world serpent shut upon their prey, the spirit of evil shrieked its triumph.
Our feet touched bottom. The waves fell back, and we were ashore on the sand-bar of the traverse.
"Run! Run for your lives!" shouted Radisson. Jerking up Gillam, whom the shock had brought to his senses. "Lock hands and run!"
And run we did, like those spirits in the twilight of the lost, with never a hope of rescue and never a respite from fear, hand gripping hand, the tide and the gale and the driving sleet yelping wolfishly at our heels! Twas the old, old story of Man leaping undaunted as a warrior to conquer his foes—turned back!—beaten!—pursued by serpent and wolf, spirit of darkness and power of destruction, with the light of life flickering low and the endless frosts creeping close to a heart beating faint!
Oh, those were giants that we set forth to conquer in that harsh northland—the giants of the warring elements! And giants were needed for the task.
Think you of that when you hear the slighting scorn of the rough pioneer, because he minceth not his speech, nor weareth ruffs at his wrists, nor bendeth so low at the knee as your Old-World hero!
The earth fell away from our feet. We all four tumbled forward. The storm whistled past overhead. And we lay at the bottom of a cliff that seemed to shelter a multitude of shadowy forms. We had fallen to a ravine where the vast caribou herds had wandered from the storm.
Says M. Radisson, with a depth of reverence which words cannot tell, "Men," says he, "thank God for this deliverance!"
* * * * * *
So unused to man's presence were the caribou, or perhaps so stupefied by the storm, they let us wander to the centre of the herd, round which the great bucks had formed a cordon with their backs to the wind to protect the does and the young. The heat from the multitude of bodies warmed us back to life, and I make no doubt the finding of that herd was God Almighty's provision for our safety.
For three days we wandered with nothing to eat but wild birds done to death by the gale.  On the third day the storm abated; but it was still snowing too heavily for us to see a man's length away. Two or three times the caribou tossed up their heads sniffing the air suspiciously, and La Chesnaye fell to cursing lest the wolf-pack should stampede the herd. At this Gillam, whose hulking body had wasted from lack of bulky rations, began to whimper—
"If the wolf-pack come we are lost!"
"Man," says Radisson sternly, "say thy prayers and thank God we are alive!"
The caribou began to rove aimlessly for a time, then they were off with a rush that bare gave us chance to escape the army of clicking hoofs. We were left unprotected in the falling snow.
The primal instincts come uppermost at such times, and like the wild creatures of the woods facing a foe, instantaneously we wheeled back to back, alert for the enemy that had frightened the caribou.
"Hist!" whispers Radisson. "Look!"
Ben Gillam leaped into the air as if he had been shot, shrieking out: "It's him! It's him! Shoot him! The thief! The traitor! It's him!"
He dashed forward, followed by the rest of us, hardly sure whether Ben were sane.
Three figures loomed through the snowy darkness, white and silent as the snow itself—vague as phantoms in mist—pointing at us like wraiths of death—spirit hunters incarnate of that vast wilderness riding the riotous storm over land and sea. One swung a weapon aloft. There was the scream as of a woman's cry—and the shrieking wind had swept the snow-clouds about us in a blind fury that blotted all sight. And when the combing billows of drift passed, the apparition had faded. We four stood alone staring in space with strange questionings.
"Egad!" gasped Radisson, "I don't mind when the wind howls like a wolf, but when it takes to the death-scream, with snow like the skirts of a shroud——"
"May the Lord have mercy on us!" muttered La Chesnaye, crossing himself. "It is sign of death! That was a woman's figure. It is sign of death!"
"Sign of death!" raged Ben, stamping his impotent fury, "'tis him—'tis him! The Judas Iscariot, and he's left us to die so that he may steal the furs!"
"Hold quiet!" ordered M. Radisson. "Look, you rantipole—who is that?"
'Twas Le Borgne, the one-eyed, emerging from the gloom of the snow like a ghost. By signs and Indian words the fellow offered to guide us back to our Habitation.
We reached the fort that night, Le Borgne flitting away like a shadow, as he had come. And the first thing we did was to hold a service of thanks to God Almighty for our deliverance.
 See Radisson's account—Prince Society (1885), Boston—Bodleian Library.—Canadian Archives, 1895-'96.
Filling the air with ghost-shadows, silencing earth, muffling the sea, day after day fell the snow. Shore-ice barred out the pounding surf. The river had frozen to adamant. Brushwood sank in the deepening drifts like a foundered ship, and all that remained visible of evergreens was an occasional spar or snow mushroom on the crest of a branch.
No east, no west, no day, no night; nothing but a white darkness, billowing snow, and a silence as of death. It was the cold, silent, mystic, white world of northern winter.
At one moment the fort door flings wide with a rush of frost like smoke clouds, and in stamps Godefroy, shaking snow off with boisterous noise and vowing by the saints that the drifts are as high as the St. Pierre's deck. M. Groseillers orders the rascal to shut the door; but bare has the latch clicked when young Jean whisks in, tossing snow from cap and gauntlets like a clipper shaking a reef to the spray, and declares that the snow is already level with the fort walls.
"Eh, nephew," exclaims Radisson sharply, "how are the cannon?"
Ben Gillam, who has lugged himself from bed to the hearth for the first time since his freezing, blurts out a taunting laugh. We had done better to build on the sheltered side of an island, he informs us.
"Now, the shivers take me!" cries Ben, "but where a deuce are all your land forces and marines and jack-tars and forty thousand officers?"
He cast a scornful look down our long, low-roofed barracks, counting the men gathered round the hearth and laughing as he counted. M. Radisson affected not to hear, telling Jean to hoist the cannon and puncture embrasures high to the bastion-roofs like Italian towers.
"Monsieur Radisson," impudently mouths Ben, who had taken more rum for his health than was good for his head, "I asked you to inform me where your land forces are?"
"Outside the fort constructing a breastwork of snow."
"Good!" sneers Ben. "And the marines?"
"On the ships, where they ought to be."
"Good!" laughs Gillam again. "And the officers?"
"Superintending the raising of the cannon. And I would have you to know, young man," adds Radisson, "that when a guest asks too many questions, a host may not answer."
But Ben goes on unheeding.
"Now I'll wager that dog of a runaway slave o' mine, that Jack Battle who's hiding hereabouts, I'll wager the hangdog slave and pawn my head you haven't a corporal's guard o' marines and land forces all told!"
M. Radisson never allowed an enemy's taunt to hasten speech or act. He looked at Ben with a measuring glance which sized that fellow very small indeed.
"Then I must decline your wager, Ben," says he. "In the first place, Jack Battle is mine already. In the second, you would lose ten times over. In the third, you have few enough men already. And in the fourth, your head isn't worth pawn for a wager; though I may take you, body and boots, all the same," adds he.
With that he goes off, leaving Ben blowing curses into the fire like a bellows. The young rake bawled out for more gin, and with head sunk on his chest began muttering to himself.
"That black-eyed, false-hearted, slippery French eel!" he mumbles, rapping out an oath. "Now the devil fly off with me, an I don't slit him like a Dutch herring for a traitor and a knave and a thief and a cheat! By Judas, if he doesn't turn up with the furs, I'll do to him as I did to the supercargo last week, and bury him deep in the bastion! Very fine, him that was to get the furs hiding inland! Him, that didn't add a cent to what Kirke and Stocking paid; they to supply the money, my father to keep the company from knowing, and me to sail the ship—him, that might 'a' hung in Boston but for my father towing him out o' port—him the first to turn knave and steal all the pelts!"
"Who?" quietly puts in M. Groseillers, who had been listening with wide eyes.
But Ben's head rolled drunkenly and he slid down in sodden sleep.
Again the fort door opened with the rush of frost clouds, and in the midst of the white vapour hesitated three men. The door softly closed, and Le Borgne stole forward.
"White-man—promise—no—hurt—good Indian?" he asked.
"The white-man is Le Borgne's friend," assured Groseillers, "but who are these?"
He pointed to two figures, more dead than alive, chittering with cold.
Le Borgne's foxy eye took on a stolid look. "White—men—lost—in the snow," said he, "white-man from the big white canoe—come walkee—walkee—one—two—three sleep—watchee good Indian—friend—fort!"
M. Groseillers sprang to his feet muttering of treachery from Governor Brigdar of the Hudson's Bay Company, and put himself in front of the intruders so that Ben could not see. But the poor fellows were so frozen that they could only mumble out something about the Prince Rupert having foundered, carrying half the crew to the river bottom. Hurrying the two Englishmen to another part of the fort, M. Groseillers bade me run for Radisson.
I wish that you could have seen the triumphant glint laughing in Pierre Radisson's eyes when I told him.
"Fate deals the cards! 'Tis we must play them! This time the jade hath trumped her partner's ace! Ha, ha, Ramsay! We could 'a' captured both father and son with a flip o' the finger! Now there's only need to hold the son! Governor Brigdar must beg passage from us to leave the bay; but who a deuce are those inlanders that Ben Gillam keeps raving against for hiding the furs?"
And he flung the mess-room door open so forcibly that Ben Gillam waked with a jump. At sight of Le Borgne the young New Englander sprang over the benches with his teeth agleam and murder on his face. But the liquor had gone to his knees. He keeled head over like a top-heavy brig, and when we dragged him up Le Borgne had bolted.
All that night Ben swore deliriously that he would do worse to Le Borgne's master than he had done to the supercargo; but he never by any chance let slip who Le Borgne's master might be, though M. Radisson, Chouart Groseillers, young Jean, and I kept watch by turns lest the drunken knave should run amuck of our Frenchmen. I mind once, when M. Radisson and I were sitting quiet by the bunk where Ben was berthed, the young rake sat up with a fog-horn of a yell and swore he would slice that pirate of a Radisson and all his cursed Frenchies into meat for the dogs.
M. Radisson looked through the candle-light and smiled. "If you want to know your character, Ramsay," says he, "get your enemy talking in his cups!"
"Shiver my soul, if I'd ever come to his fort but to find out how strong the liar is!" cries Ben.
"Hm! I thought so," says M. de Radisson, pushing the young fellow back to his pillow and fastening the fur robes close lest frost steamed through the ill-chinked logs.
By Christmas Ben Gillam and Jack Battle of the New Englanders' fort and the two spies of the Hudson's Bay Company had all recovered enough from their freezing to go about. What with keeping the English and New Englanders from knowing of each other's presence, we had as twisted a piece of by-play as you could want. Ben Gillam and Jack we dressed as bushrangers; the Hudson's Bay spies as French marines. Neither suspected the others were English, nor ever crossed words while with us. And whatever enemies say of Pierre Radisson, I would have you remember that he treated his captives so well that chains would not have dragged them back to their own masters.
"How can I handle all the English of both forts unless I win some of them for friends?" he would ask, never laying unction to his soul for the kindness that he practised.
By Christmas, too, the snow had ceased falling and the frost turned the land to a silent, white, paleocrystic world. Sap-frozen timbers cracked with the loud, sharp snapping of pistol-shots—then the white silence! The river ice splintered to the tightening grip of winter with the grinding of an earthquake, and again the white silence! Or the heavy night air, lying thick with frost smoke like a pall over earth, would reverberate to the deep bayings of the wolf-pack, and over all would close the white silence!
As if to defy the powers of that deathly realm, M. de Radisson had the more logs heaped on our hearth and doubled the men's rations. On Christmas morning he had us all out to fire a salute, Ben Gillam and Jack and the two Fur Company spies disguised as usual, and the rest of us muffled to our eyes. Jackets and tompions were torn from the cannon. Unfrosted priming was distributed. Flags were run up on boats and bastions. Then the word was given to fire and cheer at the top of our voices.
Ben Gillam was sober enough that morning but in the mood of a ruffian stale from overnight brawls. Hardly had the rocking echoes of cannonading died away when the rascal strode boldly forward in front of us all, up with his musket, took quick aim at the main flagstaff and fired. The pole splintered off at the top and the French flag fluttered to the ground.
"There's for you—you Frenchies!" he shouted. "See the old rag tumble!"
'Twas the only time M. Radisson gave vent to wrath.
"Dog!" he ground out, wrenching the gun from Gillam's hands.
"Avast! Avast!" cries Ben. "He who lives in glass-houses needs not to throw stones! Mind that, ye pirate!"
"Dog!" repeats M. Radisson, "dare to show disrespect to the Most Christian of Kings!"
"Most Christian of Kings!" flouts Ben. "I'll return to my fort! Then I'll show you what I'll give the Most Christian of Kings!"
La Chesnaye rushed up with rash threat; but M. de Radisson pushed the merchant aside and stood very still, looking at Ben.
"Young man," he began, as quietly as if he were wishing Ben the season's compliments, "I brought you to this fort for the purpose of keeping you in this fort, and it is for me to say when you may leave this fort!"
Ben rumbled out a string of oaths, and M. Radisson motioned the soldiers to encircle him. Then all Ben's pot-valiant bravery ebbed.
"Am I a prisoner?" he demanded savagely.
"Prisoner or guest, according to your conduct," answered Radisson lightly. Then to the men—"Form line-march!"
At the word we filed into the guard-room, where the soldiers relieved Gillam of pistol and sword.
"Am I to be shot? Am I to be shot?" cried Gillam, white with terror at M. Radisson's order to load muskets. "Am I to be shot?" he whimpered.
"Not unless you do it yourself, and 'twould be the most graceful act of your life, Ben! And now," said M. Radisson, dismissing all the men but one sentinel for the door, "and now, Ben, a Merry Christmas to you, and may it be your last in Hudson Bay!"
With that he left Ben Gillam prisoner; but he ordered special watch to be kept on the fort bastions lest Ben's bravado portended attack. The next morning he asked Ben to breakfast with our staff.
"The compliments of the morning to you. And I trust you rested well!" M. Radisson called out.
Ben wished that he might be cursed if any man could rest well on bare boards rimed with frost like curdled milk.
"Cheer up, man! Cheer up!" encourages Radisson. "There's to be a capture to-day!"
"A capture!" reiterates Ben, glowering black across the table and doffing his cap with bad grace.
"Aye, I said a capture! Egad, lad, one fort and one ship are prize enough for one day!"
"Sink my soul," flouts Gillam, looking insolently down the table to the rows of ragged sailors sitting beyond our officers, "if every man o' your rough-scuff had the nine lives of a cat, their nine lives would be shot down before they reached our palisades!"
"Is it a wager?" demands M. Radisson.
"A wager—ship and fort and myself to boot if you win!"
"Done!" cries La Chesnaye.
"Ah, well," calculates M. Radisson, "the ship and the fort are worth something! When we've taken them, Ben can go. Nine lives for each man, did you say?"
"A hundred, if you like," boasts the New Englander, letting fly a broadside of oaths at the Frenchman's slur. "A hundred men with nine lives, if you like! We've powder for all!"
"Ben!" M. Radisson rose. "Two men are in the fort now! Pick me out seven more! That will make nine! With those nine I own your fort by nightfall or I set you free!"
"Done!" shouts Ben. "Every man here a witness!"
"Choose!" insists M. Radisson.
Sailors and soldiers were all on their feet gesticulating and laughing; for Godefroy was translating into French as fast as the leaders talked.
"Choose!" urges M. Radisson, leaning over to snuff out the great breakfast candle with bare fingers as if his hand were iron.
"Shiver my soul, then," laughs Ben, in high feather, "let the first be that little Jack Sprat of a half-frozen Battle! He's loyal to me!"
"Good!" smiles M. Radisson. "Come over here, Jack Battle."
Jack Battle jumped over the table and stood behind M. Radisson as second lieutenant, Ben's eyes gaping to see Jack's disguise of bushranger like himself.
"Go on," orders M. Radisson, "choose whom you will!"
The soldiers broke into ringing cheers.
"Devil take you, Radisson," ejaculates Ben familiarly, "such cool impudence would chill the Nick!"
"That is as it may be," retorts Radisson. "Choose! We must be off!"
Again the soldiers cheered.
"Well, there's that turncoat of a Stanhope with his fine airs. I'd rather see him shot next than any one else!"
"Thank you, Ben," said I.
"Come over here, Ramsay," orders Radisson. "That's two. Go on! Five more!"
The soldiers fell to laughing and Ben to pulling at his mustache.
"That money-bag of a La Chesnaye next," mutters Ben. "He's lady enough to faint at first shot."
"There'll be no first shot. Come, La Chesnaye! Three. Go on! Go on, Ben! Your wits work slow!"
"Allemand, the pilot! He is drunk most of the time."
"Four," counts M. Radisson. "Come over here, Allemand! You're drunk most of the time, like Ben. Go on!"
"Godefroy, the English trader—he sulks—he's English—he'll do!"
"Five," laughs M. Radisson.
And for the remaining two, Ben Gillam chose a scullion lad and a wretched little stowaway, who had kept hidden under hatches till we were too far out to send him back. At the last choice our men shouted and clapped and stamped and broke into snatches of song about conquerors.
THE BATTLE NOT TO THE STRONG
M. Radisson turned the sand-glass up to time our preparations. Before the last grain fell we seven were out, led by M. Radisson, speeding over the snow-drifted marsh through the thick frosty darkness that lies like a blanket over that northland at dawn. The air hung heavy, gray, gritty to the touch with ice-frost. The hard-packed drifts crisped to our tread with little noises which I can call by no other name than frost-shots. Frost pricked the taste to each breath. Endless reaches of frost were all that met the sight. Frost-crackling the only sound. Frost in one's throat like a drink of water, and the tingle of the frost in the blood with a leap that was fulness of life.
Up drifts with the help of our muskets! Down hills with a rush of snow-shoes that set the powdery snow flying! Skimming the levels with the silent speed of wings! Past the snow mushrooms topping underbrush and the snow cones of the evergreens and the snow billows of under rocks and the snow-wreathed antlers of the naked forest in a world of snow!
The morning stars paled to steel pin-pricks through a gray sky. Shadows took form in the frost. The slant rays of a southern sun struck through the frost clouds in spears. Then the frost smoke rose like mist, and the white glare shone as a sea. In another hour it would be high noon of the short shadow. Every coat—beaver and bear and otter and raccoon—hung open, every capote flung back, every runner hot as in midsummer, though frost-rime edged the hair like snow. When the sun lay like a fiery shield half-way across the southern horizon, M. Radisson called a halt for nooning.
"Now, remember, my brave lads," said he, after he had outlined his plans, drawing figures of fort and ship and army of seven on the snow, "now, remember, if you do what I've told you, not a shot will be fired, not a drop of blood spilled, not a grain of powder used, and to every man free tobacco for the winter—"
"If we succeed," interjects Godefroy sullenly.
"If," repeats M. Radisson; "an I hear that word again there will be a carving!"
Long before we came to the north river near the Hudson's Bay Company's fort, the sun had wheeled across the horizon and sunk in a sea of snow, but now that the Prince Rupert had foundered, the capture of these helpless Englishmen was no object to us. Unless a ship from the south end of the bay came to rescue them they were at our mercy. Hastening up the river course we met Governor Brigdar sledding the ice with a dog-team of huskies.
"The compliments of the season to Your Excellency!" shouted Radisson across the snow.
"The same to the representative of France," returned Governor Brigdar, trying to get away before questions could be asked.
"I don't see your ship," called Radisson.
"Four leagues down the river," explained the governor.
"Under the river," retorted Radisson, affecting not to hear.
"No—down the river," and the governor whisked round a bluff out of call.
The gray night shadows gathered against the woods. Stars seeded the sky overhead till the whole heavens were aglow. And the northern lights shot their arrowy jets of fire above the pole, rippled in billows of flame, scintillated with the faint rustling of a flag in a gale, or swung midway between heaven and earth like censers to the invisible God of that cold, far, northern world.
Then the bastions of Ben Gillam's fort loomed above the wastes like the peak of a ship at sea, and M. Radisson issued his last commands. Godefroy and I were to approach the main gate. M. Radisson and his five men would make a detour to attack from the rear.
A black flag waved above the ship to signal those inland pirates whom Ben Gillam was ever cursing, and the main gates stood wide ajar. Half a mile away Godefroy hallooed aloud. A dozen New Englanders, led by the lieutenant, ran to meet us.
"Where is Master Ben?" demanded the leader.
"Le capitaine," answered Godefroy, affecting broken English, "le capitaine, he is fatigue. He is back—voila—how you for speak it?—avec, monsieur! Le capitaine, he has need, he has want for you to go with food."
At that, with a deal of unguarded gabbling, they must hail us inside for refreshments, while half a dozen men ran in the direction Godefroy pointed with the food for their master. No sooner were their backs turned than Godefroy whispers instructions to the marquis and his man, who had been left as hostages. Foret strolled casually across to the guard-room, where the powder was stored. Here he posted himself in the doorway with his sword jammed above the hinge. His man made a precipitate rush to heap fires for our refreshment, dropping three logs across the fort gates and two more athwart the door of the house. Godefroy and I, on pretext of scanning out the returning travellers, ran one to the nigh bastion, the other to the fore-deck of the ship, where was a swivel cannon that might have done damage.
Then Godefroy whistled.
Like wolves out of the earth rose M. Radisson and his five men from the shore near the gates. They were in possession before the lieutenant and his men had returned. On the instant when the surprised New Englanders ran up, Radisson bolted the gates.
"Where is my master?" thundered the lieutenant, beating for admission.
"Come in." M. Radisson cautiously opened the gate, admitting the lieutenant alone. "It is not a question of where your master is, but of mustering your men and calling the roll," said the Frenchman to the astounded lieutenant. "You see that my people are in control of your powder-house, your cannon, and your ship. Your master is a prisoner in my fort. Now summon your men, and be glad Ben Gillam is not here to kill more of you as he killed your super-cargo!"
Half an hour from the time we had entered the fort, keys, arms, and ammunition were in M. de Radisson's hands without the firing of a shot, and the unarmed New Englanders assigned to the main building, where we could lock them if they mutinied. To sound of trumpet and drum, with Godefroy bobbing his tipstaff, M. Radisson must needs run up the French flag in place of the pirate ensign. Then, with the lieutenant and two New Englanders to witness capitulation, he marched from the gates to do the same with the ship. Allemand and Godefroy kept sentinel duty at the gates. La Chesnaye, Foret, and Jack Battle held the bastions, and the rest stood guard in front of the main building.
From my place I saw how it happened.
The lieutenant stepped back to let M. de Radisson pass up the ship's ladder first. The New Englanders followed, the lieutenant still waiting at the bottom step; and when M. Radisson's back was turned the lieutenant darted down the river bank in the direction of Governor Brigdar's fort.
The flag went up and M. Radisson looked back to witness the salute. Then he discovered the lieutenant's flight. The New Englanders' purpose was easily guessed—to lock forces with Governor Brigdar, and while our strength was divided attack us here or at the Habitation.
"One fight at a time," says Radisson, summoning to council in the powder-house all hands but our guard at the gate. "You, Allemand and Godefroy, will cross the marsh to-night, bidding Chouart be ready for attack and send back re-enforcements here! You two lads"—pointing to the stowaway and scullion—"will boil down bears' grease and porpoise fat for a half a hundred cressets! Cut up all the brooms in the fort! Use pine-boughs! Split the green wood and slip in oiled rags! Have a hundred lights ready by ten of the clock! Go—make haste, or I throw you both into the pot!
"You, Foret and La Chesnaye, transfer all the New Englanders to the hold of the ship and batten them under! If there's to be fighting, let the enemies be outside the walls. And you, Ramsay, will keep guard at the river bastion all night! And you, Jack Battle, will gather all the hats and helmets and caps in the fort, and divide them equally between the two front bastions——"
"Hats and helmets?" interrupts La Chesnaye.
"La Chesnaye," says M. Radisson, whirling, "an any one would question me this night he had best pull his tongue out with the tongs! Go, all of you!"
But Godefroy, ever a dour-headed knave, must test the steel of M. de Radisson's mood.
"D'ye mean me an' the pilot to risk crossing the marsh by night——"
But he got no farther. M. de Radisson was upon him with a cudgel like a flail on wheat.
"An you think it risk to go, I'll make it greater risk to stay! An you fear to obey, I'll make you fear more to disobey! An you shirk the pain of toeing the scratch, I'll make it a deal more painful to lag behind!"
"But at night—at night," roared Godefroy between blows.
"The night—knave," hissed out Radisson, "the night is lighter than morning with the north light. The night"—this with a last drive—"the night is same as day to man of spirit! 'Tis the sort of encouragement half the world needs to succeed," said M. Radisson, throwing down the cudgel.
And Godefroy, the skulker, was glad to run for the marsh. The rest of us waited no urgings, but were to our posts on the run.
I saw M. Radisson passing fife, piccolo, trumpet, and drum to the two tatterdemalion lads of our army.
"Now blow like fiends when I give the word," said he.
Across the courtyard, single file, marched the New Englanders from barracks to boat. La Chesnaye leading with drawn sword, the marquis following with pointed musket.
Foret and La Chesnaye then mounted guard at the gate. The sailor of our company was heaping cannon-balls ready for use. Jack Battle scoured the fort for odd headgear. M. de Radisson was everywhere, seizing papers, burying ammunition, making fast loose stockades, putting extra rivets in hinges, and issuing quick orders that sent Jack Battle skipping to the word. Then Jack was set to planting double rows of sticks inside on a level with the wall. The purpose of these I could not guess till M. Radisson ordered hat, helmet, or cap clapped atop of each pole.
Oh, we were a formidable army, I warrant you, seen by any one mounting the drift to spy across our walls!
But 'twas no burlesque that night, as you may know when I tell you that Governor Brigdar's forces played us such a trick they were under shelter of the ship before we had discovered them.
Foret and La Chesnaye were watching from loopholes at the gates, and I was all alert from my place in the bastion. The northern lights waved overhead in a restless ocean of rose-tinted fire. Against the blue, stars were aglint with the twinkle of a million harbour lights. Below, lay the frost mist, white as foam, diaphanous as a veil, every floating icy particle aglimmer with star rays like spray in sunlight. Through the night air came the far howlings of the running wolf-pack. The little ermine, darting across the level with its black tail-tip marking the snow in dots and dashes, would sit up quickly, listen and dive under, to wriggle forward like a snake; or the black-eyed hare would scurry off to cover of brushwood.
Of a sudden sounded such a yelling from the New Englanders imprisoned in the ship, with a beating of guns on the keel, that I gave quick alarm. Foret and La Chesnaye sallied from the gate. Pistol-shots rang out as they rounded the ship's prow into shadow. At the same instant, a man flung forward out of the frost cloud beating for admittance. M. de Radisson opened.
"The Indians! The Indians! Where are the New Englanders?" cried the man, pitching headlong in.
And when he regained his feet, Governor Brigdar, of the Hudson's Bay Company, stood face to face with M. de Radisson.
"A right warm welcome, Your Excellency," bowed M. de Radisson, bolting the gate. "The New Englanders are in safe keeping, sir, and so are you!"
The bewildered governor gasped at M. Radisson's words. Then he lost all command of himself.
"Radisson, man," he stormed, "this is no feint—this is no time for acting! Six o' my men shot on the way—four hiding by the ship and the Indians not a hundred yards behind! Take my sword and pistol," he proffered, M. de Radisson still hesitating, "but as you hope for eternal mercy, call in my four men!"
After that, all was confusion.
Foret and the marquis rushed pell-mell for the fort with four terrified Englishmen disarmed. The gates were clapped to. Myriad figures darted from the frost mist—figures with war-paint on their faces and bodies clothed in white to disguise approach. English and French, enemies all, crouched to the palisades against the common foe, with sword-thrust for the hands catching at pickets to scale the wall and volleying shots that scattered assailants back. The redskins were now plainly visible through the frost. When they swerved away from shelter of the ship, every bastion let go the roar of a cannon discharge. There was the sudden silence of a drawing off, then the shrill "Ah-o-o-o-oh! Ah-o-o-o-oh! Ah-o-o-o-oh!" of Indian war-cry!
And M. Radisson gave the signal.
Instantaneously half a hundred lights were aflare. Red tongues of fire darted from the loop-holes. Two lads were obeying our leader's call to run—run—run, blowing fife, beating drum like an army's band, while streams of boiling grease poured down from bastions and lookout. Helmets, hats, and caps sticking round on the poles were lighted up like the heads of a battalion; and oft as any of us showed himself he displayed fresh cap. One Indian, I mind, got a stockade off and an arm inside the wall. That arm was never withdrawn, for M. Radisson's broadsword came down, and the Indian reeled back with a yelping scream. Then the smoke cleared, and I saw what will stay with me as long as memory lasts—M. Radisson, target for arrows or shot, long hair flying and red doublet alight in the flare of the torches, was standing on top of the pickets with his right arm waving a sword.
"Whom do you make them out to be, Ramsay?" he called. "Is not yon Le Borgne?"
I looked to the Indians. Le Borgne it was, thin and straight, like a mast-pole through mist, in conference with another man—a man with a beard, a man who was no Indian.
"Sir!" I shouted back. "Those are the inland pirates. They are leading the Indians against Ben Gillam, and not against us at all."
At that M. Radisson extends a handkerchief on the end of his sword as flag of truce, and the bearded man waves back. Down from the wall jumps M. Radisson, running forward fearlessly where Indians lay wounded, and waving for the enemy to come. But the two only waved back in friendly fashion, wheeled their forces off, and disappeared through the frost.
"Those were Ben Gillam's cut-throats trying to do for him! When they saw us on the walls, they knew their mistake," says M. de Radisson as he re-entered the gate. "There's only one way to find those pirates out, Ramsay. Nurse these wounded Indians back to life, visit the tribe, and watch! After Chouart's re-enforcements come, I'll send you and Jack Battle, with Godefroy for interpreter!"
To Governor Brigdar and his four refugees M. de Radisson was all courtesy.
"And how comes Your Excellency to be out so late with ten men?" he asked, as we supped that night.
"We heard that you were here. We were coming to visit you," stammered Governor Brigdar, growing red.
"Then let us make you so welcome that you will not hasten away! Here, Jack Battle, here, fellow, stack these gentlemen's swords and pistols where they'll come to no harm! Ah! No? But I must relieve you, gentlemen! Your coming was a miracle. I thank you for it. It has saved us much trouble. A pledge to the pleasure—and the length—of your stay, gentlemen," and they stand to the toast, M. de Radisson smiling at the lights in his wine.
But we all knew very well what such welcome meant. 'Twas Radisson's humour to play the host that night, but the runaway lieutenant was a prisoner in our guard-house.
WE SEEK THE INLANDERS
In the matter of fighting, I find small difference between white-men and red. Let the lust of conquest but burn, the justice of the quarrel receives small thought. Your fire-eating prophet cares little for the right of the cause, provided the fighter come out conqueror; and many a poet praises only that right which is might over-trampling weakness. I have heard the withered hag of an Indian camp chant as spirited war-song as your minstrels of butchery; but the strange thing of it is, that the people, who have taken the sword in a wantonness of conquest, are the races that have been swept from the face of the earth like dead leaves before the winter blast; but the people, who have held immutably by the power of right, which our Lord Christ set up, the meek and the peace-makers and the children of God, these are they that inherit the earth.
Where are the tribes with whom Godefroy and Jack Battle and I wandered in nomadic life over the northern wastes? Buried in oblivion black as night, but for the lurid memories flashed down to you of later generations. Where are the Puritan folk, with their cast-iron, narrow creeds damning all creation but themselves, with their foibles of snivelling to attest sanctity, with such a wolfish zeal to hound down devils that they hounded innocents for witchcraft? Spreading over the face of the New World, making the desert to bloom and the waste places fruitful gardens? And the reason for it all is simply this: Your butchering Indian, like your swashing cavalier, founded his right upon might; your Puritan, grim but faithful, to the outermost bounds of his tragic errors, founded his might upon right.
We learn our hardest lessons from unlikeliest masters. This one came to me from the Indians of the blood-dyed northern snows.
* * * * * *
"Don't show your faces till you have something to report about those pirates, who led the Indians," was M. Radisson's last command, as we sallied from the New Englanders' fort with a firing of cannon and beating of drums.
Godefroy, the trader, muttered under his breath that M. Radisson need never fear eternal torment.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because, if he goes there," answered Godefroy, "he'll get the better o' the Nick."
I think the fellow was smarting from recent punishment. He and Allemand, the drunken pilot, had been draining gin kegs on the sly and replacing what they took with snow water. That last morning at prayers Godefroy, who was half-seas over, must yelp out a loud "Amen" in the wrong place. Without rising from his knees, or as much as changing his tone, M. de Radisson brought the drunken knave such a cuff it flattened him to the floor.
Then prayers went on as before.
The Indians, whom we had nursed of their wounds, were to lead us to the tribe, one only being held by M. Radisson as hostage for safe conduct. In my mind, that trust to the Indians' honour was the single mistake M. Radisson made in the winter's campaign. In the first place, the Indian has no honour. Why should he have, when his only standard of right is conquest? In the second place, kindness is regarded as weakness by the Indian. Why should it not be, when his only god is victory? In the third place, the lust of blood, to kill, to butcher, to mutilate, still surged as hot in their veins as on the night when they had attempted to scale our walls. And again I ask why not, when the law of their life was to kill or to be killed? These questions I put to you because life put them to me. At the time my father died, the gentlemen of King Charles's court were already affecting that refinement of philosophy which justifies despotism. From justifying despotism, 'twas but a step to justifying the wicked acts of tyranny; and from that, but another step to thrusting God's laws aside as too obsolete for our clever courtiers. "Give your unbroken colt tether enough to pull itself up with one sharp fall," M. Radisson used to say, "and it will never run to the end of its line again."
The mind of Europe spun the tissue of foolish philosophy. The savage of the wilderness went the full tether; and I leave you to judge whether the might that is right or the right that is might be the better creed for a people.
But I do not mean to imply that M. Radisson did not understand the savages better than any man of us in the fort. He risked three men as pawns in the game he was playing for mastery of the fur trade. Gamester of the wilderness as he was, Pierre Radisson was not the man to court a certain loss.
The Indians led us to the lodges of the hostiles safely enough; and their return gave us entrance if not welcome to the tepee village. We had entered a ravine and came on a cluster of wigwams to the lee side of a bluff. Dusk hid our approach; and the absence of the dogs that usually infest Indian camps told us that these fellows were marauders. Smoke curled up from the poles crisscrossed at the tepee forks, but we could descry no figures against the tent-walls as in summer, for heavy skins of the chase overlaid the parchment. All was silence but in one wigwam. This was an enormous structure, built on poles long as a mast, with moose-hides scattered so thickly upon it that not a glint of firelight came through except the red glow of smoke at the peak. There was a low hum of suppressed voices, then one voice alone in solemn tones, then guttural grunts of applause.
"In council," whispered Godefroy, steering straight for the bearskin that hung flapping across the entrance.
Bidding Jack Battle stand guard outside, we followed the Indians who had led us from the fort. Lifting the tent-flap, we found ourselves inside. A withered creature with snaky, tangled hair, toothless gums, eyes that burned like embers, and a haunched, shrivelled figure, stood gesticulating and crooning over a low monotone in the centre of the lodge.
As we entered, the draught from the door sent a tongue of flame darting to mid-air from the central fire, and scores of tawny faces with glance intent on the speaker were etched against the dark. These were no camp families, but braves, deep in war council. The elder men sat with crossed feet to the fore of the circle. The young braves were behind, kneeling, standing, and stretched full length. All were smoking their long-stemmed pipes and listening to the medicine-man, or seer, who was crooning his low-toned chant. The air was black with smoke.
Always audacious, Godefroy, the trader, advanced boldly and sat down in the circle. I kept back in shadow, for directly behind the Indian wizard was a figure lying face downward, chin resting in hand, which somehow reminded me of Le Borgne. The fellow rolled lazily over, got to his knees, and stood up. Pushing the wizard aside, this Indian faced the audience. It was Le Borgne, his foxy eye yellow as flame, teeth snapping, and a tongue running at such a pace that we could scarce make out a word of his jargon.
"What does he say, Godefroy?"
"Sit down," whispered the trader, "you are safe."
This was what the Indian was saying as Godefroy muttered it over to me:
"Were the Indians fools and dogs to throw away two fish for the sake of one? The French were friends of the Indians. Let the Indians find out what the French would give them for killing the English. He, Le Borgne, the one-eyed, was brave. He would go to the Frenchman's fort and spy out how strong they were. If the French gave them muskets for killing the English, after the ships left in the spring the Indians could attack the fort and kill the French. The great medicine-man, the white hunter, who lived under the earth, would supply them with muskets——"
"He says the white hunter who lives under the earth is giving them muskets to make war," whispered Godefroy. "That must be the pirate."
"Let the braves prepare to meet the Indians of the Land of Little White Sticks, who were coming with furs for the white men—" Le Borgne went on.
"Let the braves send their runners over the hills to the Little White Sticks sleeping in the sheltered valley. Let the braves creep through the mist of the morning like the lynx seeking the ermine. And when the Little White Sticks were all asleep, the runners would shoot fire arrows into the air and the braves would slay—slay—slay the men, who might fight, the women, who might run to the whites for aid, and the children, who might live to tell tales."
"The devils!" says Godefroy under his breath.
A log broke on the coals with a flare that painted Le Borgne's evil face fiery red; and the fellow gabbled on, with figure crouching stealthily forward, foxy eye alight with evil, and teeth glistening.
"Let the braves seize the furs of the Little White Sticks, trade the furs to the white-man for muskets, massacre the English, then when the great white chief's big canoes left, kill the Frenchmen of the fort."
"Ha," says Godefroy. "Jack's safe outside! We'll have a care to serve you through the loop-holes, and trade you only broken muskets!"
A guttural grunt applauded Le Borgne's advice, and the crafty scoundrel continued: "The great medicine-man, the white hunter, who lived under the earth, was their friend. Was he not here among them? Let the braves hear what he advised."
The Indians grunted their approbation. Some one stirred the fire to flame. There was a shuffling movement among the figures in the dark. Involuntarily Godefroy and I had risen to our feet. Emerging from the dusk to the firelight was a white man, gaudily clothed in tunic of scarlet with steel breastplates and gold lace enough for an ambassador. His face was hidden by Le Borgne's form. Godefroy pushed too far forward; for the next thing, a shout of rage rent the tent roof. Le Borgne was stamping out the fire. A red form with averted face raced round the lodge wall to gain the door. Then Godefroy and I were standing weapons in hand, with the band of infuriated braves brandishing tomahawks about our heads. Le Borgne broke through the circle and confronted us with his face agleam.
"Le Borgne, you rascal, is this a way to treat your friends?" I demanded.
"What you—come for?" slowly snarled Le Borgne through set teeth.
"To bring back your wounded and for furs, you fool," cried Godefroy, "and if you don't call your braves off, you can sell no more pelts to the French."
Le Borgne gabbled out something that drove the braves back.
"We have no furs yet," said he.
"But you will have them when you raid the Little White Sticks," raged Godefroy, caring nothing for the harm his words might work if he saved his own scalp.
Le Borgne drew off to confer with the braves. Then he came back and there was a treacherous smile of welcome on his bronze face.
"The Indians thought the white-men spies from the Little White Sticks," he explained in the mellow, rhythmic tones of the redman. "The Indians were in war council. The Indians are friends of the French."
"Look out for him, Godefroy," said I.
"If the French are friends to the Indians, let the white-men come to battle against the Little White Sticks," added Le Borgne.
"Tell him no! We'll wait here till they come back!"
"He says they are not coming back," answered Godefroy, "and hang me, Ramsay, an I'd not face an Indian massacre before I go back empty-handed to M. Radisson. We're in for it," says he, speaking English too quick for Le Borgne's ear. "If we show the white feather now, they'll finish us. They'll not harm us till they've done for the English and got more muskets. And that red pirate is after these same furs! Body o' me, an you hang back, scared o' battle, you'd best not come to the wilderness."
"The white-men will go with the Indians, but the white-men will not fight with the Little Sticks," announced Godefroy to Le Borgne, proffering tobacco enough to pacify the tribe.
'Twas in vain that I expostulated against the risk of going far inland with hostiles, who had attacked the New England fort and were even now planning the slaughter of white-men. Inoffensiveness is the most deadly of offences with savagery, whether the savagery be of white men or red. Le Borgne had the insolence to ask why the tribe could not as easily kill us where we were as farther inland; and we saw that remonstrances were working the evil that we wished to avoid—increasing the Indians' daring. After all, Godefroy was right. The man who fears death should neither go to the wilderness nor launch his canoe above a whirlpool unless he is prepared to run the rapids. This New World had never been won from darkness if men had hung back from fear of spilt blood.
'Twas but a moment's work for the braves to deck out in war-gear. Faces were blackened with red streaks typifying wounds; bodies clad in caribou skins or ermine-pelts white as the snow to be crossed; quivers of barbed and poisonous arrows hanging over their backs in otter and beaver skins; powder in buffalo-horns for those who had muskets; shields of toughened hide on one arm, and such a number of scalp-locks fringing every seam as told their own story of murderous foray. While the land still smoked under morning frost and the stars yet pricked through the gray darkness, the warriors were far afield coasting the snow-billows as on tireless wings. Up the swelling drifts water-waved by wind like a rolling sea, down cliffs crumbling over with snowy cornices, across the icy marshes swept glare by the gales, the braves pressed relentlessly on. Godefroy, Jack Battle, and I would have hung to the rear and slipped away if we could; but the fate of an old man was warning enough. Muttering against the braves for embroiling themselves in war without cause, he fell away from the marauders as if to leave. Le Borgne's foxy eye saw the move. Turning, he rushed at the old man with a hiss of air through his teeth like a whistling arrow. His musket swung up. It clubbed down. There was a groan; and as we rounded a bluff at a pace that brought the air cutting in our faces, I saw the old man's body lying motionless on the snow.
If this was the beginning, what was the end?
Godefroy vowed that the man was only an Indian, and his death was no sin.
"The wolves would 'a' picked his bones soon anyway. He wore a score o' scalps at his belt. Pah, an we could get furs without any Indians, I'd see all their skulls go!" snapped the trader.
"If killing's no murder, whose turn comes next?" asked Jack.
And that gave Godefroy pause.
A BOOTLESS SACRIFICE
For what I now tell I offer no excuse. I would but record what savagery meant. Then may you who are descended from the New World pioneers know that your lineage is from men as heroic as those crusaders who rescued our Saviour's grave from the pagans; for crusaders of Old World and New carried the sword of destruction in one hand, but in the other, a cross that was light in darkness. Then may you, my lady-fingered sentimentalist, who go to bed of a winter night with a warming-pan and champion the rights of the savage from your soft place among cushions, realize what a fine hero your redman was, and realize, too, what were the powers that the white-man crushed!
For what I do not tell I offer no excuse. It is not permitted to relate all that savage warfare meant. Once I marvelled that a just God could order his chosen people to exterminate any race. Now I marvel that a just God hath not exterminated many races long ago.
We reached the crest of a swelling upland as the first sun-rays came through the frost mist in shafts of fire. A quick halt was called. One white-garbed scout went crawling stealthily down the snow-slope like a mountain-cat. Then the frost thinned to the rising sun and vague outlines of tepee lodges could be descried in the clouded valley.
An arrow whistled through the air glancing into snow with a soft whirr at our feet. It was the signal. As with one thought, the warriors charged down the hill, leaping from side to side in a frenzy, dancing in a madness of slaughter, shrieking their long, shrill—"Ah—oh!—Ah—oh!"—yelping, howling, screaming their war-cry—"Ah—oh!—Ah—oh!—Ah—oh!"—like demons incarnate. The medicine-man had stripped himself naked and was tossing his arms with maniacal fury, leaping up and down, yelling the war-cry, beating the tom-tom, rattling the death-gourd. Some of the warriors went down on hands and feet, sidling forward through the mist like the stealthy beasts of prey that they were.
Godefroy, Jack Battle, and I were carried before the charge helpless as leaves in a hurricane. All slid down the hillside to the bottom of a ravine. With the long bound of a tiger-spring, Le Borgne plunged through the frost cloud.
The lodges of the victims were about us. We had evidently come upon the tribe when all were asleep.
Then that dark under-world of which men dream in wild delirium became reality. Pandemonium broke its bounds.
* * * * * *
And had I once thought that Eli Kirke's fanatic faith painted too lurid a hell? God knows if the realm of darkness be half as hideous as the deeds of this life, 'tis blacker than prophet may portray.
Day or night, after fifty years, do I close my eyes to shut the memory out! But the shafts are still hurtling through the gray gloom. Arrows rip against the skin shields. Running fugitives fall pierced. Men rush from their lodges in the daze of sleep and fight barehanded against musket and battle-axe and lance till the snows are red and scalps steaming from the belts of conquerors. Women fall to the feet of the victors, kneeling, crouching, dumbly pleading for mercy; and the mercy is a spear-thrust that pinions the living body to earth. Maimed, helpless and living victims are thrown aside to await slow death. Children are torn from their mothers' arms—but there—memory revolts and the pen fails!
It was in vain for us to flee. Turn where we would, pursued and pursuer were there.
"Don't flinch! Don't flinch!" Godefroy kept shouting. "They'll take it for fear! They'll kill you by torture!"
Almost on the words a bowstring twanged to the fore and a young girl stumbled across Jack Battle's feet with a scream that rings, and rings, and rings in memory like the tocsin of a horrible dream. She was wounded in the shoulder. Getting to her knees she threw her arms round Jack with such a terrified look of helpless pleading in her great eyes as would have moved stone.
"Don't touch her! Don't touch her! Don't touch her!" screamed Godefroy, jerking to pull Jack free. "It will do no good! Don't help her! They'll kill you both—"
"Great God!" sobbed Jack, with shivering horror, "I can't help helping her—"
But there leaped from the mist a figure with uplifted spear.
May God forgive it, but I struck that man dead!
It was a bootless sacrifice at the risk of three lives. But so was Christ's a bootless sacrifice at the time, if you measure deeds by gain. And so has every sacrifice worthy of the name been a bootless sacrifice, if you stop to weigh life in a goldsmith's scale!
Justice is blind; but praise be to God, so is mercy!
And, indeed, I have but quoted our Lord and Saviour, not as an example, but as a precedent. For the act I merited no credit. Like Jack, I could not have helped helping her. The act was out before the thought.
Then we were back to back fighting a horde of demons.
Godefroy fought cursing our souls to all eternity for embroiling him in peril. Jack Battle fought mumbling feverishly, deliriously, unconscious of how he shot or what he said—"Might as well die here as elsewhere! Might as well die here as elsewhere! Damn that Indian! Give it to him, Ramsay! You shoot while I prime! Might as well die here as elsewhere——"
And all fought resolute to die hard, when, where, or how the dying came!
To that desperate game there was but one possible end. It is only in story-books writ for sentimental maids that the good who are weak defeat the wicked who are strong. We shattered many an assailant before the last stake was dared, but in the end they shattered my sword-arm, which left me helpless as a hull at ebb-tide. Then Godefroy, the craven rascal, must throw up his arms for surrender, which gave Le Borgne opening to bring down the butt of his gun on Jack's crown.
The poor sailor went bundling over the snow like a shot rabbit.
When the frost smoke cleared, there was such a scene as I may not paint; for you must know that your Indian hero is not content to kill. Like the ghoul, he must mutilate. Of all the Indian band attacked by our forces, not one escaped except the girl, whose form I could descry nowhere on the stained snow.
Jack Battle presently regained his senses and staggered up to have his arms thonged behind his back. The thongs on my arms they tightened with a stick through the loop to extort cry of pain as the sinew cut into the shattered wrist. An the smile had cost my last breath, I would have defied their tortures with a laugh. They got no cry from me. Godefroy, the trader, cursed us in one breath and in the next threatened that the Indians would keep us for torture.
"You are the only man who can speak their language," I retorted. "Stop whimpering and warn these brutes what Radisson will do if they harm us! He will neither take their furs nor give them muskets! He will arm their enemies to destroy them! Tell them that!"
But as well talk to tigers. Le Borgne alone listened, his foxy glance fastened on my face with a strange, watchful look, neither hostile nor friendly. To Godefroy's threats the Indian answered that "white-man talk—not true—of all," pointing to Jack Battle, "him no friend great white chief—him captive——"
Then Godefroy burst out with the unworthiest answer that ever passed man's lips.
"Of course he's a captive," screamed the trader, "then take him and torture him and let us go! 'Twas him stopped the Indian getting the girl!"
"Le Borgne," I cut in sharply, "Le Borgne, it was I who stopped the Indian killing the girl! You need not torture the little white-man. He is a good man. He is the friend of the great white chief."
But Le Borgne showed no interest. While the others stripped the dead and wreaked their ghoulish work, Le Borgne gathered up the furs of the Little Sticks and with two or three young men stole away over the crest of the hill.
Then the hostiles left the dead and the half-dead for the wolves.
Prodded forward by lance-thrusts, we began the weary march back to the lodges. The sun sank on the snowy wastes red as a shield of blood; and with the early dusk of the northern night purpling the shadowy fields in mist came a south wind that filled the desolate silence with restless waitings as of lament for eternal wrong, moaning and sighing and rustling past like invisible spirits that find no peace.
Some of the Indians laid hands to thin lips with a low "Hs-s-h," and the whole band quickened pace. Before twilight had deepened to the dark that precedes the silver glow of the moon and stars and northern lights, we were back where Le Borgne had killed the old man. The very snow had been picked clean, and through the purple gloom far back prowled vague forms.
Jack Battle and I looked at each other, but the Indian fellow, who was our guard, emitted a harsh, rasping laugh. As for Godefroy, he was marching abreast of the braves gabbling a mumble-jumble of pleadings and threats, which, I know very well, ignored poor Jack. Godefroy would make a scapegoat of the weak to save his own neck, and small good his cowardice did him!
The moon was high in mid-heaven flooding a white world when we reached the lodges. We three were placed under guards, while the warriors feasted their triumph and danced the scalp-dance to drive away the spirits of the dead. To beat of tom-tom and shriek of gourd-rattles, the whole terrible scene was re-enacted. Stripping himself naked, but for his moccasins, the old wizard pranced up and down like a fiend in the midst of the circling dancers. Flaming torches smoked from poles in front of the lodges, or were waved and tossed by the braves. Flaunting fresh scalps from lance-heads, with tomahawk in the other hand, each warrior went through all the fiendish moves and feints of attack—prowling on knees, uttering the yelping, wolfish yells, crouching for the leap, springing through mid-air, brandishing the battle-axe, stamping upon the imaginary prostrate foe, stooping with a glint of the scalping knife, then up, with a shout of triumph and the scalp waving from the lance, all in time to the dull thum—thum—thum of the tom-tom and the screaming chant of the wizard. Still the south wind moaned about the lodges; and the dancers shouted the louder to drown those ghost-cries of the dead. Faster and faster beat the drum. Swifter and swifter darted the braves, hacking their own flesh in a frenzy of fear till their shrieks out-screamed the wind.
Then the spirits were deemed appeased.
The mad orgy of horrors was over, but the dancers were too exhausted for the torture of prisoners. The older men came to the lodge where we were guarded and Godefroy again began his importunings.
Setting Jack Battle aside, they bade the trader and me come out.
"Better one be tortured than three," heartlessly muttered Godefroy to Jack. "Now they'll set us free for fear of M. Radisson, and we'll come back for you."
But Godefroy had miscalculated the effects of his threats. At the door stood a score of warriors who had not been to the massacre. If we hoped to escape torture the wizard bade us follow these men. They led us away with a sinister silence. When we reached the crest of the hill, half-way between the lodges and the massacre, Godefroy took alarm. This was not the direction of our fort. The trader shouted out that M. Radisson would punish them well if they did us harm. At that one of the taciturn fellows turned. They would take care to do us no harm, he said, with an evil laugh. On the ridge of the hill they paused, as if seeking a mark. Two spindly wind-stripped trees stood straight as mast-poles above the snow. The leader went forward to examine the bark for Indian signal, motioning Godefroy and me closer as he examined the trees.
With the whistle of a whip-lash through air the thongs were about us, round and round ankle, neck, and arms, binding us fast. Godefroy shouted out a blasphemous oath and struggled till the deer sinew cut his buckskin. I had only succeeded in wheeling to face our treacherous tormentors when the strands tightened. In the struggle the trader had somehow got his face to the bark. The coils circled round him. The thongs drew close. The Indians stood back. They had done what they came to do. They would not harm us, they taunted, pointing to the frost-silvered valley, where lay the dead of their morning crime.
Then with harsh gibes, the warriors ran down the hillside, leaving us bound.
FACING THE END
Below the hill on one side flickered the moving torches of the hostiles. On the other side, where the cliff fell sheer away, lay the red-dyed snows with misty shapes moving through the frosty valley.
A wind of sighs swept across the white wastes. Short, sharp barkings rose from the shadowy depth of the ravine. Then the silence of desolation . . . then the moaning night-wind . . . then the shivering cry of the wolf-pack scouring on nightly hunt.
For a moment neither Godefroy nor I spoke. Then the sinews, cutting deep, wakened consciousness.
"Are they gone?" asked Godefroy hoarsely.
"Yes," said I, glancing to the valley.
"Can't you break through the thongs and get a hand free?"
"My back is to the tree. We'll have to face it, Godefroy—don't break down, man! We must face it!"
"Face what?" he shuddered out. "Is anything there? Face what?" he half screamed.
He strained at the thongs till he had strength to strain no more. Then he broke out in a volley of maledictions at Jack Battle and me for interfering with the massacre, to which I could answer never a word; for the motives that merit greatest applause when they succeed, win bitterest curses when they fail.
The northern lights swung low. Once those lights seemed censers of flame to an invisible God. Now they shot across the steel sky like fiery serpents, and the rustling of their fire was as the hiss when a fang strikes. A shooting star blazed into light against the blue, then dropped into the eternal darkness.
"Godefroy," I asked, "how long will this last?"
"Till the wolves come," said he huskily.
"A man must die some time," I called back; but my voice belied the bravery of the words, for something gray loomed from the ravine and stood stealthily motionless in the dusk behind the trader. Involuntarily a quick "Hist!" went from my lips.
"What's that?" shouted Godefroy. "Is anything there?"
"I am cold," said I.
And on top of that lie I prayed—prayed with wide-staring eyes on the thing whose head had turned towards us—prayed as I have never prayed before or since!
"Are you sure there's nothing?" cried the trader. "Look on both sides! I'm sure I feel something!"
Another crouching form emerged from the gloom—then another and another—silent and still as spectres. With a sidling motion they prowled nearer, sniffing the air, shifting watchful look from Godefroy to me, from me to Godefroy. A green eye gleamed nearer through the mist. Then I knew.
The wolves had come.
Godefroy screamed out that he heard something, and again bade me look on both sides of the hill.
"Keep quiet till I see," said I; but I never took my gaze from the green eyes of a great brute to the fore of the gathering pack.
"But I feel them—but I hear them!" shouted Godefroy, in an agony of terror.
What gain to keep up pretence longer? Still holding the beast back with no other power than the power of the man's eye over the brute, I called out the truth to the trader.
"Don't move! Don't speak! Don't cry out! Perhaps we can stare them back till daylight comes!"
Godefroy held quiet as death. Some subtle power of the man over the brute puzzled the leader of the pack. He shook his great head with angry snarls and slunk from side to side to evade the human eye, every hair of his fur bristling. Then he threw up his jaws and uttered a long howl, answered by the far cry of the coming pack. Sniffing the ground, he began circling—closing in—closing in——
Then there was a shout—a groan, a struggle—a rip as of teeth—from Godefroy's place!
Then with naught but a blazing of comets dropping into an everlasting dark, with naught but a ship of fire billowing away to the flame of the northern lights, with naught but the rush of a sea, blinding, deafening, bearing me to the engulfment of the eternal—I lost knowledge of this life!
A long shudder, and I had awakened in stifling darkness. Was I dreaming, or were there voices, English voices, talking about me?
"It was too late! He will die!"
"Draw back the curtain! Give him plenty of air!"
In the daze of a misty dream, M. Picot was there with the foils in his hands; and Hortense had cried out as she did that night when the button touched home. A sweet, fresh gust blew across my face with a faint odour of the pungent flames that used to flicker under the crucibles of the dispensary. How came I to be lying in Boston Town? Was M. Radisson a myth? Was the northland a dream?
I tried to rise, but whelming shadows pushed me down; and through the dark shifted phantom faces.
Now it was M. Radisson quelling mutiny, tossed on plunging ice-drift, scouring before the hurricane, leaping through red flame over the fort wall, while wind and sea crooned a chorus like the hum of soldiers singing and marching to battle. "Storm and cold, man and beast, powers of darkness and devil—he must fight them all," sang the gale. "Who?" asked a voice. In the dark was a lone figure clinging to the spars of a wreck. "The victor," shrieked the wind. Then the waves washed over the cast-away, leaving naught but the screaming gale and the pounding seas and the eternal dark.
Or it was M. Picot, fencing in mid-room. Of a sudden, foils turn to swords, M. Picot to a masked man, and Boston to the northland forest. I fall, and when I awaken M. Picot is standing, candle in hand, tincturing my wounds.
Or the dark is filled with a multitude—men and beasts; and the beasts wear a crown of victory and the men are drunk with the blood of the slain.
Or stealthy, crouching, wolfish forms steal through the frost mist, closer and closer till there comes a shout—a groan—a rip as of teeth—then I am up, struggling with Le Borgne, the one-eyed, who pushes me back to a couch in the dark.
Like the faces that hover above battle in soldiers' dreams was a white face framed in curls with lustrous eyes full of lights. Always when the darkness thickened and I began slipping—slipping into the folds of bottomless deeps—always the face came from the gloom, like a star of hope; and the hope drew me back.
"There is nothing—nothing—nothing at all to fear," says the face.
And I laugh at the absurdity of the dream.
"To think of dreaming that Hortense would be here—would be in the northland—Hortense, the little queen, who never would let me tell her——"
"Tell her what?" asks the face.
"Hah! What a question! There is only one thing in all this world to tell her!"
And I laughed again till I thought there must be some elf scrambling among the rafters of that smothery ceiling. It seemed so absurd to be thrilled with love of Hortense with the breath of the wolves yet hot in one's face!
"The wolves got Godefroy," I would reason, "how didn't they get me? How did I get away? What was that smell of fur—"
Then some one was throwing fur robes from the couch. The phantom Hortense kneeled at the pillow.
"There are no wolves—it was only the robe," she says.
"And I suppose you will be telling me there are no Indians up there among the rafters?"
"Give me the candle. Go away, Le Borgne! Leave me alone with him," says the face in the gloom. "Look," says the shadow, "I am Hortense!"
A torch was in her hand and the light fell on her face. I was as certain that she knelt beside me as I was that I lay helpless to rise. But the trouble was, I was equally certain there were wolves skulking through the dark and Indians skipping among the rafters.
"Ghosts haven't hands," says Hortense, touching mine lightly; and the touch brought the memory of those old mocking airs from the spinet.
Was it flood of memory or a sick man's dream? The presence seemed so real that mustering all strength, I turned—turned to see Le Borgne, the one-eyed, sitting on a log-end with a stolid, watchful, unreadable look on his crafty face.
Bluish shafts of light struck athwart the dark. A fire burned against the far wall. The smoke had the pungent bark smell of the flame that used to burn in M. Picot's dispensary. This, then, had brought the dreams of Hortense, now so far away. Skins hung everywhere; but in places the earth showed through. Like a gleam of sunlight through dark came the thought—this was a cave, the cave of the pirates whose voices I had heard from the ground that night in the forest, one pleading to save me, the other sending Le Borgne to trap me.
Leaning on my elbow, I looked from the Indian to a bearskin partition hiding another apartment. Le Borgne had carried the stolen pelts of the massacred tribe to the inland pirates. The pirates had sent him back for me.
And Hortense was a dream. Ah, well, men in their senses might have done worse than dream of a Hortense!
But the voice and the hand were real.
"Le Borgne," I ask, "was any one here?"
Le Borgne's cheeks corrugate in wrinkles of bronze that leer an evil laugh, and he pretends not to understand.
"Le Borgne, was any one here with you?"
Le Borgne shifts his spread feet, mutters a guttural grunt, and puffs out his torch; but the shafted flame reveals his shadow. I can still hear him beside me in the dark.
"Le Borgne is the great white chief's friend," I say; "and the white-man is the great white chief's friend. Where are we, Le Borgne?"
Le Borgne grunts out a low huff-huff of a laugh.
"Here; white-man is here," says Le Borgne; and he shuffles away to the bearskin partition hiding another apartment.
Ah well as I said, one might do worse than dream of Hortense. But in spite of all your philosophers say about there being no world but the world we spin in our brains, I could not woo my lady back to it. Like the wind that bloweth where it listeth was my love. Try as I might to call up that pretty deceit of a Hortense about me in spirit, my perverse lady came not to the call.
Then, thoughts would race back to the mutiny on the stormy sea, to the roar of the breakers crashing over decks, to M. Radisson leaping up from dripping wreckage, muttering between his teeth—"Blind god o' chance, they may crush, but they shall not conquer; they may kill, but I snap my fingers in their faces to the death!"
Then, uncalled, through the darkness comes her face.
"God is love," says she.
If I lie there like a log, never moving, she seems to stay; but if I feel out through the darkness for the grip of a living hand, for the substance of a reality on which souls anchor, like the shadow of a dream she is gone.
I mind once in the misty region between delirium and consciousness, when the face slipped from me like a fading light, I called out eagerly that love was a phantom; for her God of love had left me to the blind gods that crush, to the storm and the dark and the ravening wolves.
Like a light flaming from dark, the face shone through the gloom.
"Love, a phantom," laughs the mocking voice of the imperious Hortense I knew long ago; and the thrill of her laugh proves love the realest phantom life can know.
Then the child Hortense becomes of a sudden the grown woman, grave and sweet, with eyes in the dark like stars, and strange, broken thoughts I had not dared to hope shining unspoken on her face.
"Life, a phantom-substance, the shadow—love, the all," the dream-face seems to be saying. "Events are God's thoughts—storms and darkness and prey are his puppets, the blind gods, his slaves-God is love; for you are here! . . . You are here! . . . You are here with me!"
When I feel through the dark this time is the grip of a living hand.
Then we lock arms and sweep through space, the northern lights curtaining overhead, the stars for torches, and the blazing comets heralding a way.
"The very stars in their courses fight for us," says Hortense.
And I, with an earthy intellect groping behind the winged love of the woman, think that she refers to some of M. Picot's mystic astrologies.
"No—no," says the dream-face, with the love that divines without speech, "do you not understand? The stars fight for us—because—because——"
"Because God is love," catching the gleam of the thought; and the stars that fight in their courses for mortals sweep to a noonday splendour.
And all the while I was but a crazy dreamer lying captive, wounded and weak in a pirate cave. Oh, yes, I know very well what my fine gentlemen dabblers in the new sciences will say—the fellow was daft and delirious—he had lost grip on reality and his fevered wits mixed a mumble-jumble of ancient symbolism with his own adventures. But before you reduce all this great universe to the dimensions of a chemist's crucible, I pray you to think twice whether the mind that fashioned the crucible be not greater than the crucible; whether the Master-mind that shaped the laws of the universe be not greater than the universe; whether when man's mind loses grip—as you call it—of the little, nagging, insistent realities it may not leap free like the jagged lightnings from peak to peak of a consciousness that overtowers life's commoner levels! Spite of our boastings, each knows neither more nor less than life hath taught him. For me, I know what the dream-voice spoke proved true: life, the shadow of a great reality; love, the all; the blind gods of storm and dark and prey, the puppets of the God of gods, working his will; and the God of gods a God of love, realest when love is near.
Once, I mind, the dark seemed alive with wolfish shades, sniffing, prowling, circling, creeping nearer like that monster wolf of fable set on by the powers of evil to hunt Man to his doom. A nightmare of fear bound me down. The death-frosts settled and tightened and closed—but suddenly, Hortense took cold hands in her palms, calling and calling and calling me back to life and hope and her. Then I waked.
Though I peopled the mist with many shadows, Le Borgne alone stood there.
WHO THE PIRATES WERE
How long I lay in the pirates' cave I could not tell; for day and night were alike with the pale-blue flame quivering against the earth-wall, gusts of cold air sweeping through the door, low-whispered talks from the inner cave.
At last I surprised Le Borgne mightily by sitting bolt upright and bidding him bring me a meal of buffalo-tongue or teal. With the stolid repartee of the Indian he grunted back that I had tongue enough; but he brought the stuff with no ill grace. After that he had much ado to keep me off my feet. Finally, I promised by the soul of his grandfather neither to spy nor listen about the doors of the inner cave, and he let me up for an hour at a time to practise walking with the aid of a lance-pole. As he found that I kept my word, he trusted me alone in the cave, sitting crouched on the log-end with a buckskin sling round my shattered sword-arm, which the wolves had not helped that night at the stake.
In the food Le Borgne brought was always a flavour of simples or drugs. One night—at least I supposed it was night from the chill of the air blowing past the bearskin—just as Le Borgne stooped to serve me, his torch flickered out. Before he could relight, I had poured the broth out and handed back an empty bowl.
Then I lay with eyes tight shut and senses wide awake. The Indian sat on the log-end watching. I did not stir. Neither did I fall asleep as usual. The Indian cautiously passed a candle across my face. I lay motionless as I had been drugged. At that he stalked off. Voices began in the other apartment. Two or three forms went tip-toeing about the cave. Shadows passed athwart the flame. A gust of cold; and with half-closed eyes I saw three men vanish through the outer doorway over fields no longer snow-clad.
Had spring come? How long had I lain in the cave? Before I gained strength to escape, would M. Radisson have left for Quebec? Then came a black wave of memory—thought of Jack Battle, the sailor lad, awaiting our return to rescue him. From the first Jack and I had held together as aliens in Boston Town. Should I lie like a stranded hull while he perished? Risking spies on the watch, I struggled up and staggered across the cave to that blue flame quivering so mysteriously. As I neared, the mystery vanished, for it was nothing more than one of those northern beds of combustibles—gas, tar, or coal—set burning by the ingenious pirates. 
The spirit was willing enough to help Jack, but the flesh was weak. Presently I sank on the heaped pelts all atremble. I had promised not to spy nor eavesdrop, but that did not prohibit escape. But how could one forage for food with a right arm in bands and a left unsteady as aim of a girl? Le Borgne had befriended me twice—once in the storm, again on the hill. Perhaps he might know of Jack. I would wait the Indian's return. Meanwhile I could practise my strength by walking up and down the cave.
The walls were hung with pelts. Where the dry clay crumbled, the roof had been timbered. A rivulet of spring water bubbled in one dark corner. At the same end an archway led to inner recesses. Behind the skin doorway sounded heavy breathing, as of sleepers. I had promised not to spy. Turning, I retraced the way to the outer door. Here another pelt swayed heavily in the wind. Dank, earthy smells of spring, odours of leaves water-soaked by melting snows, the faint perfume of flowers pushing up through mats of verdure, blew in on the night breeze.