Pushing aside the flap, I looked out. The spur of a steep declivity cut athwart the cave. Now I could guess where I was. This was the hill down which I had stumbled that night the voices had come from the ground. Here the masked man had sprung from the thicket. Not far off M. Radisson had first met the Indians. To reach the French Habitation I had but to follow the river.
That hope set me pacing again for exercise; and the faster I walked the faster raced thoughts over the events of the crowded years. Again the Prince Rupert careened seaward, bearing little Hortense to England. Once more Ben Gillam swaggered on the water-front of Boston Town, boasting all that he would do when he had ship of his own. Then Jack Battle, building his castles of fortune for love of Hortense, and all unconsciously letting slip the secret of good Boston men deep involved in pirate schemes. The scene shifted to the far north, and a masked man had leaped from the forest dark only to throw down his weapon when the firelight shone on my face. Again the white darkness of the storm, the three shadowy figures and Le Borgne sent to guide us back to the fort. Again, to beat of drum and shriek of fife, M. Radisson was holding his own against the swarming savages that assailed the New Englanders' fort. Then I was living over the unspeakable horror of the Indian massacre ending in that awful wait on the crest of the hill.
The memory brought a chill as of winter cold. With my back to both doors I stood shuddering over the blue fire. Whatever logicians may say, we do not reason life's conclusions out. Clouds blacken the heavens till there comes the lightning-flash. So do our intuitions leap unwarned from the dark. 'Twas thus I seemed to fathom the mystery of those interlopers. Ben Gillam had been chosen to bring the pirate ship north because his father, of the Hudson's Bay Company, could screen him from English spies. Mr. Stocking, of Boston, was another partner to the venture, who could shield Ben from punishment in New England. But the third partner was hiding inland to defraud the others of the furs. That was the meaning of Ben's drunken threats. Who was the third partner? Had not Eli Kirke planned trading in the north with Mr. Stocking? Were the pirates some agents of my uncle? Did that explain why my life had been three times spared? One code of morals for the church and another for the trade is the way of many a man; but would the agents of a Puritan deacon murder a rival in the dark of a forest, or lead Indians to massacre the crew of partners, or take furs gotten at the price of a tribe's extermination?
Turning that question over, I heard the inner door-flap lift. There was no time to regain the couch, but a quick swerve took me out of the firelight in the shadow of a great wolfskin against the wall. You will laugh at the old idea of honour, but I had promised not to spy, and I never raised my eyes from the floor. There was no sound but the gurgling of the spring in the dark and the sharp crackle of the flame.
Thinking the wind had blown the flap, I stepped from hiding. Something vague as mist held back in shadow. The lines of a white-clad figure etched themselves against the cave wall. It floated out, paused, moved forward.
Then I remember clutching at the wolfskin like one clinching a death-grip of reality, praying God not to let go a soul's anchor-hold of reason.
For when the figure glided into the slant blue rays of the shafted flame it was Hortense—the Hortense of the dreams, sweet as the child, grave as the grown woman-Hortense with closed eyes and moving lips and hands feeling out in the dark as if playing invisible keys.
She was asleep.
Then came the flash that lighted the clouds of the past.
The interloper, the pirate, the leader of Indian marauders, the defrauder of his partners, was M. Picot, the French doctor, whom Boston had outlawed, and who was now outlawing their outlawry. We do not reason out our conclusions, as I said before. At our supremest moments we do not think. Consciousness leaps from summit to summit like the forked lightnings across the mountain-peaks; and the mysteries of life are illumined as a spread-out scroll. In that moment of joy and fear and horror, as I crouched back to the wall, I did not think. I knew—knew the meaning of all M. Picot's questionings on the fur trade; of that murderous attack in the dark when an antagonist flung down his weapon; of the spying through the frosted woods; of the figures in the white darkness; of the attempt to destroy Ben Gillam's fort; of the rescue from the crest of the hill; and of all those strange delirious dreams.
It was as if the past focused itself to one flaming point, and the flash of that point illumined life, as deity must feel to whom past and present and future are one.
And all the while, with temples pounding like surf on rock and the roar of the sea in my ears, I was not thinking, only knowing that Hortense was standing in the blue-shafted light with tremulous lips and white face and a radiance on her brow not of this life.
Her hands ran lightly over imaginary keys. The blue flame darted and quivered through the gloom. The hushed purr of the spring broke the stillness in metallic tinklings. A smile flitted across the sleeper's face. Her lips parted. The crackle of the flame seemed loud as tick of clock in death-room.
"To get the memory of it," she said.
And there stole out of the past mocking memories of that last night in the hunting-room, filling the cave with tuneless melodies like thoughts creeping into thoughts or odour of flowers in dark.
But what was she saying in her sleep?
"Blind gods of chance"—the words that had haunted my delirium, then quick-spoken snatches too low for me to hear—"no-no"—then more that was incoherent, and she was gliding back to the cave.
She had lifted the curtain door—she was whispering—she paused as if for answer-then with face alight, "The stars fight for us—" she said; and she had disappeared.
The flame set the shadows flickering. The rivulet gurgled loud in the dark. And I came from concealment as from a spirit world.
Then Hortense was no dream, and love was no phantom, and God—was what?
There I halted. The powers of darkness yet pressed too close for me to see through to the God that was love. I only knew that He who throned the universe was neither the fool that ignorant bigots painted, nor the blind power, making wanton war of storm and dark and cold. For had not the blind forces brought Hortense to me, and me to Hortense?
Consciousness was leaping from summit to summit like the forked lightnings, and the light that burned was the light that transfigures life for each soul.
The spell of a presence was there.
Then it came home to me what a desperate game the French doctor had played. That sword-thrust in the dark meant death; so did the attack on Ben Gillam's fort; and was it not Le Borgne, M. Picot's Indian ally, who had counselled the massacre of the sleeping tribe? You must not think that M. Picot was worse than other traders of those days! The north is a desolate land, and though blood cry aloud from stones, there is no man to hear.
I easily guessed that M. Picot would try to keep me with him till M. Radisson had sailed. Then I must needs lock hands with piracy.
Hortense and I were pawns in the game.
At one moment I upbraided him for bringing Hortense to this wilderness of murder and pillage. At another I considered that a banished gentleman could not choose his goings. How could I stay with M. Picot and desert M. de Radisson? How could I go to M. de Radisson and abandon Hortense?
"Straight is the narrow way," Eli Kirke oft cried out as he expounded Holy Writ.
Ah, well, if the narrow way is straight, it has a trick of becoming tangled in a most terrible snarl!
Wheeling the log-end right about, I sat down to await M. Picot. There was stirring in the next apartment. An ebon head poked past the door curtain, looked about, and withdrew without detecting me. The face I remembered at once. It was the wife of M. Picot's blackamoor. Only three men had passed from the cave. If the blackamoor were one, M. Picot and Le Borgne must be the others.
Footsteps grated on the pebbles outside. I rose with beating heart to meet M. Picot, who held my fate in his hands. Then a ringing pistol-shot set my pulse jumping.
I ran to the door. Something plunged heavily against the curtain. The robe ripped from the hangings. In the flood of moonlight a man pitched face forward to the cave floor. He reeled up with a cry of rage, caught blindly at the air, uttered a groan, fell back.
Blanched and faint, the French doctor lay with a crimsoning pool wet under his head. "I am shot! What will become of her?" he groaned. "I am shot! It was Gillam! It was Gillam!"
Hortense and the negress came running from the inner cave. Le Borgne and the blackamoor dashed from the open with staring horror.
"Lift me up! For God's sake, air!" cried M. Picot.
We laid him on the pelts in the doorway, Le Borgne standing guard outside.
Hortense stooped to stanch the wound, but the doctor motioned her off with a fierce impatience, and bade the negress lead her away. Then he lay with closed eyes, hands clutched to the pelts, and shuddering breath.
The blackamoor had rushed to the inner cave for liquor, when M. Picot opened his eyes with a strange far look fastened upon me.
"Swear it," he commanded.
And I thought his mind wandering.
He groaned heavily. "Don't you understand? It's Hortense. Swear you'll restore her—" and his breath came with a hard metallic rattle that warned the end.
"Doctor Picot," said I, "if you have anything to say, say it quickly and make your peace with God!"
"Swear you'll take her back to her people and treat her as a sister," he cried.
"I swear before God that I shall take Hortense back to her people, and that I shall treat her like a sister," I repeated, raising my right hand.
That seemed to quiet him. He closed his eyes.
"Sir," said I, "have you nothing more to say? Who are her people?"
"Is . . . is . . . any one listening?" he asked in short, hard breaths.
I motioned the others back.
"Listen"—the words came in quick, rasping breaths. "She is not mine . . . it was at night . . . they brought her . . . ward o' the court . . . lands . . . they wanted me." There was a sharp pause, a shivering whisper. "I didn't poison her"—the dying man caught convulsively at my hands—"I swear I had no thought of harming her. . . . They . . . paid. . . . I fled. . . ."
"Who paid you to poison Hortense? Who is Hortense?" I demanded; for his life was ebbing and the words portended deep wrong.
But his mind was wandering again, for he began talking so fast that I could catch only a few words. "Blood! Blood! Colonel Blood!" Then "Swear it," he cried.
That speech sapped his strength. He sank back with shut eyes and faint breathings.
We forced a potion between his lips.
"Don't let Gillam," he mumbled, "don't let Gillam . . . have the furs."
A tremor ran through his stiffening frame. A little shuddering breath—and M. Picot had staked his last pawn in life's game.
 In confirmation of Mr. Stanhope's record it may be stated that on the western side of the northland in the Mackenzie River region are gas and tar veins that are known to have been burning continuously for nearly two centuries.
HOW THE PIRATES CAME
Inside our Habitation all was the confusion of preparation for leaving the bay. Outside, the Indians held high carnival; for Allemand, the gin-soaked pilot, was busy passing drink through the loopholes to a pandemonium of savages raving outside the stockades. 'Tis not a pretty picture, that memory of white-men besotting the Indian; but I must even set down the facts as they are, bidding you to remember that the white trader who besotted the Indian was the same white trader who befriended all tribes alike when the hunt failed and the famine came. La Chesnaye, the merchant prince, it was, who managed this low trafficking. Indeed, for the rubbing together of more doubloons in his money-bags I think that La Chesnaye's servile nature would have bargained to send souls in job lots blindfold over the gangplank. But, as La Chesnaye said when Pierre Radisson remonstrated against the knavery, the gin was nine parts rain-water.
"The more cheat, you, to lay such unction to your conscience," says M. de Radisson. "Be an honest knave, La Chesnaye!"
Foret, the marquis, stalked up and down before the gate with two guards at his heels. All day long birch canoes and log dugouts and tubby pirogues and crazy rafts of loose-lashed pine logs drifted to our water-front with bands of squalid Indians bringing their pelts. Skin tepees rose outside our palisades like an army of mushrooms. Naked brats with wisps of hair coarse as a horse's mane crawled over our mounted cannon, or scudded between our feet like pups, or felt our European clothes with impudent wonder. Young girls having hair plastered flat with bear's grease stood peeping shyly from tent flaps. Old squaws with skin withered to a parchment hung over the campfires, cooking. And at the loopholes pressed the braves and the bucks and the chief men exchanging beaver-skins for old iron, or a silver fox for a drink of gin, or ermine enough to make His Majesty's coronation robe for some flashy trinket to trick out a vain squaw. From dawn to dusk ran the patter of moccasined feet, man after man toiling up from river-front to fort gate with bundles of peltries on his back and a carrying strap across his brow.
Unarmed, among the savages, pacifying drunken hostiles at the water-front, bidding Jean and me look after the carriers, in the gateway, helping Sieur de Groseillers to sort the furs—Pierre Radisson was everywhere. In the guard-house were more English prisoners than we had crews of French; and in the mess-room sat Governor Brigdar of the Hudson's Bay Company, who took his captivity mighty ill and grew prodigious pot-valiant over his cups. Here, too, lolled Ben Gillam, the young New Englander, rumbling out a drunken vengeance against those inland pirates, who had deprived him of the season's furs.
Once, I mind, when M. Radisson came suddenly on these two worthies, their fuddled heads were close together above the table.
"Look you," Ben was saying in a big, rasping whisper, "I shot him—I shot him with a brass button. The black arts are powerless agen brass. Devil sink my soul if I didn't shoot him! The red—spattered over the brush——"
M. Radisson raised a hand to silence my coming.
Ben's nose poked across the table, closer to Governor Brigdar's ear.
"But look you, Mister What's-y-er-name," says he.
"Don't you Mister me, you young cub!" interrupts the governor with a pompous show of drunken dignity.
"A fig for Your Excellency," cries the young blackguard. "Who's who when he's drunk? As I was a-telling, look you, though the red spattered the bushes, when I run up he'd vanished into air with a flash o' powder from my musket! 'Twas by the black arts that nigh hanged him in Boston Town——"
At that, Governor Brigdar claps his hand to the table and swears that he cares nothing for black arts if only the furs can be found.
"The furs—aye," husks Ben, "if we can only find the furs! An our men hold together, we're two to one agen the Frenchies——"
"Ha," says M. Radisson. "Give you good-morning, gentlemen, and I hope you find yourselves in health."
The two heads flew apart like the halves of a burst cannon-shell. Thereafter, Radisson kept Ben and Governor Brigdar apart.
Of Godefroy and Jack Battle we could learn naught. Le Borgne would never tell what he and M. Picot had seen that night they rescued me from the hill. Whether Le Borgne and the hostiles of the massacre lied or no, they both told the same story of Jack. While the tribe was still engaged in the scalp-dance, some one had untied Jack's bands. When the braves went to torture their captive, he had escaped. But whither had he gone that he had not come back to us? Like the sea is the northland, full of nameless graves; and after sending scouts far and wide, we gave up all hope of finding the sailor lad.
But in the fort was another whose presence our rough fellows likened to a star flower on the stained ground of some hard-fought battle. After M. Radisson had quieted turbulent spirits by a reading of holy lessons, Mistress Hortense queened it over our table of a Sunday at noon. Waiting upon her at either hand were the blackamoor and the negress. A soldier in red stood guard behind; and every man, officer, and commoner down the long mess-table tuned his manners to the pure grace of her fair face.
What a hushing of voices and cleansing of wits and disusing of oaths was there after my little lady came to our rough Habitation!
I mind the first Sunday M. Radisson led her out like a queen to the mess-room table. When our voyageurs went upstream for M. Picot's hidden furs, her story had got noised about the fort. Officers, soldiers, and sailors had seated themselves at the long benches on either side the table; but M. Radisson's place was empty and a sort of throne chair had been extemporized at the head of the table. An angry question went from group to group to know if M. Radisson designed such place of honour for the two leaders of our prisoners—under lock in the guard-room. M. de Groseillers only laughed and bade the fellows contain their souls and stomachs in patience. A moment later, the door to the quarters where Hortense lived was thrown open by a red-coated soldier, and out stepped M. Radisson leading Hortense by the tips of her dainty fingers, the ebon faces of the two blackamoors grinning delight behind.
You could have heard a pin fall among our fellows. Then there was a noise of armour clanking to the floor. Every man unconsciously took to throwing his pistol under the table, flinging sword-belt down and hiding daggers below benches. Of a sudden, the surprise went to their heads.
"Gentlemen," began M. Radisson.
But the fellows would have none of his grand speeches. With a cheer that set the rafters ringing, they were on their feet; and to Mistress Hortense's face came a look that does more for the making of men than all New England's laws or my uncle's blasphemy boxes or King Charles's dragoons. You ask what that look was? Go to, with your teasings! A lover is not to be asked his whys! I ask you in return why you like the spire of a cathedral pointing up instead of down; or why the muses lift souls heavenward? Indeed, of all the fine arts granted the human race to lead men's thoughts above the sordid brutalities of living, methinks woman is the finest; for God's own hand fashioned her, and she was the last crowning piece of all His week's doings. The finest arts are the easiest spoiled, as you know very well; and if you demand how Mistress Hortense could escape harm amid all the wickedness of that wilderness, I answer it is a thing that your townsfolk cannot know.
It is of the wilderness.
The wilderness is a foster-mother that teacheth hard, strange paradoxes. The first is the sin of being weak; and the second is that death is the least of life's harms.
Wrapped in those furs for which he had staked his life like many a gamester of the wilderness, M. Picot lay buried in that sandy stretch outside the cave door. Turning to lead Hortense away before Le Borgne and the blackamoor began filling the grave, I found her stonily silent and tearless.
But it was she who led me.
Scrambling up the hillside like a chamois of the mountains, she flitted lightly through the greening to a small open where campers had built night fires. Her quick glance ran from tree to tree. Some wood-runner had blazed a trail by notching the bark. Pausing, she turned with the frank, fearless look of the wilderness woman. She was no longer the elusive Hortense of secluded life. A change had come—the change of the hothouse plant set out to the bufferings of the four winds of heaven to perish from weakness or gather strength from hardship. Your woman of older lands must hood fair eyes, perforce, lest evil masking under other eyes give wrong intent to candour; but in the wilderness each life stands stripped of pretence, honestly good or evil, bare at what it is; and purity clear as the noonday sun needs no trick of custom to make it plainer.
"Is not this the place?" she asked.
Looking closer, from shrub to open, I recognised the ground of that night attack in the woods.
"Hortense, then it was you that I saw at the fire with the others?"
She nodded assent. She had not uttered one word to explain how she came to that wild land; nor had I asked.
"It was you who pleaded for my life in the cave below my feet?"
"I did not know you had heard! I only sent Le Borgne to bring you back!"
"I hid as he passed."
"But I sent a message to the fort——"
"Not to be bitten by the same dog twice—I thought that meant to keep away?"
"What?" asked Hortense, passing her hand over her eyes. "Was that the message he gave you? Then monsieur had bribed him! I sent for you to come to us. Oh, that is the reason you never came——"
"And that is the reason you have hidden from me all the year and never sent me word?"
"I thought—I thought—" She turned away. "Ben Gillam told monsieur you had left Boston on our account——"
"And you thought I wanted to avoid you——"
"I did not blame you," she said. "Indeed, indeed, I was very weak—monsieur must have bribed Le Borgne—I sent word again and again—but you never answered!"
"How could you misunderstand—O Hortense, after that night in the hunting-room, how could you believe so poorly of me!"
She gave a low laugh. "That's what your good angel used to plead," she said.
"Good angel, indeed!" said I, memory of the vows to that miscreant adventurer fading. "That good angel was a lazy baggage! She should have compelled you to believe!"
"Oh—she did," says Hortense quickly. "The poor thing kept telling me and telling me to trust you till I—"
"Till you what, Hortense?"
She did not answer at once.
"Monsieur and the blackamoor and I had gone to the upper river watching for the expected boats——"
"Hortense, were you the white figure behind the bush that night we were spying on the Prince Rupert!"
"Yes," she said, "and you pointed your gun at me!"
I was too dumfounded for words. Then a suspicion flashed to my mind. "Who sent Le Borgne for us in the storm, Hortense?"
"Oh," says Hortense, "that was nothing! Monsieur pretended that he thought you were caribou. He wanted to shoot. Oh," she said, "oh, how I have hated him! To think—to think that he would shoot when you helped us in Boston!"
"Hortense, who sent Le Borgne and M. Picot to save me from the wolves?"
"Oh," says Hortense bravely, with a shudder between the words, "that was—that was nothing—I mean—one would do as much for anybody—for—for—for a poor little stoat, or—or—a caribou if the wolves were after it!"
And we laughed with the tears in our eyes. And all the while that vow to the dying adventurer was ringing like a faint death toll to hope. I remember trying to speak a gratitude too deep for words.
"Can—I ever—ever repay you—Hortense?" I was asking.
"Repay!" she said with a little bitter laugh. "Oh! I hate that word repay! I hate all give-and-take and so-much-given-for-so-much-got!" Then turning to me with her face aflame: "I am—I am—oh—why can't you understand?" she asked.
And then—and then—there was a wordless cry—her arms reached out in mute appeal—there was no need of speech.
The forest shone green and gold in the sunlight. The wind rustled past like a springtime presence, a presence that set all the pines swaying and the aspens aquiver with music of flower legend and new birth and the joy of life. There was a long silence; and in that silence the pulsing of the mighty forces that lift mortals to immortality.
Then a voice which only speaks when love speaks through the voice was saying, "Do you remember your dreams?"
"What?" stooping to cull some violets that had looked well against the green of her hunting-suit.
"'Blind gods of chance—blind gods of chance'—you used to say that over and over!"
"Ah, M. Radisson taught me that! God bless the blind gods of chance—Hortense teaches me that; for"—giving her back her own words—"you are here—you are here—you are here with me! God bless the gods of chance!"
"Oh," she cried, "were you not asleep? Monsieur let me watch after you had taken the sleeping drug."
"The stars fight for us in their courses," said I, handing up the violets.
"Ramsay," she asked with a sudden look straight through my eyes, "what did he make you promise when—when—he was dying?"
The question brought me up like a sail hauled short. And when I told her, she uttered strange reproaches.
"Why—why did you promise that?" she asked. "It has always been his mad dream. And when I told him I did not want to be restored, that I wanted to be like Rebecca and Jack and you and the rest, he called me a little fool and bade me understand that he had not poisoned me as he was paid to do because it was to his advantage to keep me alive. Courtiers would not assassinate a stray waif, he said; there was wealth for the court's ward somewhere; and when I was restored, I was to remember who had slaved for me. Indeed, indeed, I think that he would have married me, but that he feared it would bar him from any property as a king's ward——"
"Is that all you know?"
"That is all. Why—why—did you promise?"
"What else was there to do, Hortense? You can't stay in this wilderness."
"Oh, yes," says Hortense wearily, and she let the violets fall. "What—what else was there to do?"
She led the way back to the cave.
"You have not asked me how we came here," she began with visible effort.
"Tell me no more than you wish me to know!"
"Perhaps you remember a New Amsterdam gentleman and a page boy leaving Boston on the Prince Rupert?"
"Perhaps," said I.
"Captain Gillam of the Prince Rupert signalled to his son outside the harbour. Monsieur had been bargaining with Ben all winter. Ben took us to the north with Le Borgne for interpreter——"
"Does Ben know you are here?"
"Not as Hortense! I was dressed as a page. Then Le Borgne told us of this cave and monsieur plotted to lead the Indians against Ben, capture the fort and ship, and sail away with all the furs for himself. Oh, how I have hated him!" she exclaimed with a sudden impetuous stamp.
Leaving her with the slaves, I took Le Borgne with me to the Habitation. Here, I told all to M. Radisson. And his quick mind seized this, too, for advantage.
"Precious pearls," he exclaims, "but 'tis a gift of the gods!"
"Pardieu, Chouart; listen to this," and he tells his kinsman, Groseillers.
"Why not?" asks Groseillers. "You mean to send her to Mary Kirke?"
Mary Kirke was Pierre Radisson's wife, who would not leave the English to go to him when he had deserted England for France.
"Sir John Kirke is director of the English Company now. He hath been knighted by King Charles. Mary and Sir John will present this little maid at the English court. An she be not a nine days' wonder there, my name is not Pierre Radisson. If she's a court ward, some of the crew must take care of her."
Groseillers smiled. "An the French reward us not well for this winter's work, that little maid may open a door back to England; eh, kinsman?"
'Twas the same gamestering spirit carrying them through all hazard that now led them to prepare for fresh partnership, lest France played false. And as history tells, France played very false indeed.
WE LEAVE THE NORTH SEA
So Sieur Radisson must fit out a royal flotilla to carry Mistress Hortense to the French Habitation. And gracious acts are like the gift horse: you must not look them in the mouth. For the same flotilla that brought Hortense brought all M. Picot's hoard of furs. Coming down the river, lying languidly back among the peltries of the loaded canoe, Hortense, I mind, turned to me with that honest look of hers and asked why Sieur Radisson sent to fetch her in such royal state.
"I am but a poor beggar like your little Jack Battle," she protested.
I told her of M. Radisson's plans for entrance to the English court, and the fire that flashed to her eyes was like his own.
"Must a woman ever be a cat's-paw to man's ambitions?" she asked, with a gleam of the dark lights. "Oh, the wilderness is different," says Hortense with a sigh. "In the wild land, each is for its own! Oh, I love it!" she adds, with a sudden lighting of the depths in her eyes.
"The wilderness," says Hortense. "It is hard, but it's free and it's pure and it's true and it's strong!"
And she sat back among the pillows.
When we shot through racing rapids—"sauter les rapides," as our French voyageurs say—she sat up all alert and laughed as the spray splashed athwart. Old Allemand, the pilot, who was steersman on this canoe, forgot the ill-humour of his gin thirst, and proffered her a paddle.
"Here, pretty thing," says he, "try a stroke yourself!"
And to the old curmudgeon's surprise she took it with a joyous laugh, and paddled half that day.
Bethink you who know what warm hearts beat inside rough buckskin whether those voyageurs were her slaves or no! The wind was blowing; Mistress Hortense's hair tossed in a way to make a man swear (vows, not oaths), and Allemand said that I paddled worse than any green hand of a first week. At the Habitation we disembarked after nightfall to conceal our movements from the English. After her arrival, none of us caught a glimpse of Mistress Hortense except of a Sunday at noon, but of her presence there was proof enough. Did voices grow loud in the mess-room? A hand was raised. Some one pointed to the far door, and the voices fell. Did a fellow's tales slip an oath or two? There was a hush. Some one's thumb jerked significantly shoulderwise to the door, and the story-teller leashed his oats for a more convenient season.
"Oh, lordy," taunts an English prisoner out on parole one day, "any angels from kingdom come that you Frenchies keep meek as lambs?"
Allemand, not being able to explain, knocked the fellow flat.
It would scarce have been human nature had not some of the ruffians uttered slurs on the origin of such an one as Hortense found in so strange a case. The mind that feedeth on carrion ever goeth with the large mouth, and for the cleansing of such natures I wot there is no better physic than our crew gave those gossips. What the sailors did I say not. Enough that broken heads were bound by our chirurgeon for the rest of the week.
That same chirurgeon advised a walk outside the fort walls for Mistress Hillary's health. By the goodness of Providence, the duty of escorting her fell to me. Attended by the blackamoor and a soldier, with a musket across my shoulder, I led her out of a rear sally-port and so avoided the scenes of drunkenness among the Indians at the main gate. We got into hiding of a thicket, but boisterous shouting came from the Indian encampment. I glanced at Hortense. She was clad in a green hunting-suit, and by the light of the setting sun her face shone radiant.
"You are not afraid?"
A flush of sheer delight in life flooded her cheeks.
"Afraid?" she laughed.
"Hortense! Hortense! Do you not hear the drunken revel? Do you know what it means? This world is full of what a maid must fear. 'Tis her fear protects her."
"Ah?" asks Hortense.
And she opened the tight-clasped hunting-cloak. A Spanish poniard hung against the inner folds.
"'Tis her courage must protect her. The wilderness teaches that," says Hortense, "the wilderness and men like Picot."
Then we clasped hands and ran like children from thicket to rock and rock to the long stretches of shingly shore. Behind came the blackamoor and the soldier. The salt spray flew in our faces, the wind through our hair; and in our hearts, a joy untold. Where a great obelisk of rock thrust across the way, Hortense halted. She stood on the lee side of the rock fanning herself with her hat.
"Now you are the old Hortense!"
"I am older, hundreds of years older," laughed Hortense.
The westering sun and the gold light of the sea and the caress of a spring wind be perilous setting for a fair face. I looked and looked again.
"Hortense, should an oath to the dead bind the living?"
"If it was right to take the oath, yes," said Hortense.
"Hortense, I may never see you alone again. I promised to treat you as I would treat a sister——"
"But—" interrupts Hortense.
Footsteps were approaching along the sand. I thought only of the blackamoor and soldier.
"I promised to treat you as I would a sister—but what—Hortense?"
"But—but I didn't promise to treat you as I would a brother——"
Then a voice from the other side of the rock: "Devil sink my soul to the bottom of the sea if that viper Frenchman hasn't all our furs packed away in his hold!"
Then—"A pox on him for a meddlesome—" the voice fell.
Then Ben Gillam again: "Shiver my soul! Let 'im set sail, I say! Aren't you and me to be shipped on a raft for the English fort at the foot o' the bay?"
"We'll send 'em all to the bottom o' hell first."
"An you give the word, all my men will rise!"
"Capture the fort—risk the ships—butcher the French!"
Hortense raised her hand and pointed along the shore. Our two guards were lumbering up and would presently betray our presence. Stealing forward we motioned their silence. I sent both to listen behind the rock, while Hortense and I struck into cover of the thicket to regain the fort.
"Do not fear," said I. "M. Radisson has kept the prisoners in hand. He will snuff this pretty conspiracy out before Brigdar and Ben get their heads apart."
She gave that flitting look which laughs at fear and hastened on. We could not go back as we had come without exposing ourselves to the two conspirators, and our course lay nearer the Indian revel. About a mile from the fort Hortense stopped short. Through the underbrush crawled two braves with their eyes leering at us.
"Hortense," I urged, "run for the rear gate! I'll deal with these two alone. There may be more! Run, my dear!"
"Give me your musket," she said, never taking her eyes from the savages.
Wondering not a little at the request, I handed her the weapon.
"Now run," I begged, for a sand crane flapped up where the savages had prowled a pace nearer.
Quick as it rose Hortense aimed. There was a puff of smoke. The bird fell shot at the savages' feet, and the miscreants scudded off in terror.
"That was better," said Hortense, "you would have killed a man."
In vain I urged her to hasten back. She walked.
"You know it may be the last time," she laughed, mocking my grave air of the beach.
"Hortense—Hortense—how am I to keep a promise?"
But she did not answer a word till we reached the sally-port. There she turned with a brave enough look till her eyes met mine, when all was the confusion that men give their lives to win.
"Yes—yes—keep your promise. If you had not come, I had died; if I had not come, you had died. Let us keep faith with truth, for that's keeping faith with God—and—and—God bless you," she whispered brokenly, and she darted through the gate.
* * * * * *
And the next morning we embarked, young Jean Groseillers remaining with ten Frenchmen to hold the fort; Brigdar and Ben aboard our ship instead of going to the English at the foot of the bay; half the prisoners under hatches in M. Groseillers's ship; the other half sent south on the raft—a plan which effectually stopped that conspiracy of Ben's. Not one glimpse of our fair passenger had we on all that voyage south, for what with Ben's oaths and Governor Brigdar's drinking, the cabin was no place for Hortense.
At Isle Percee, entering the St. Lawrence, lay a messenger from La Chesnaye's father with a missive that bore ill news.
M. de la Barre, the new governor, had ordered our furs confiscated because we had gone north without a license, and La Chesnaye had thriftily rigged up this ship to send half our cargo across to France before the Farmers of the Revenue could get their hands upon it. It was this gave rise to the slander that M. de Radisson ran off with half La Chesnaye's furs—which the records de la marine will disprove, if you search them.
On this ship with her blackamoors sailed Mistress Hortense, bearing letters to Sir John Kirke, director of the Hudson's Bay Company and father of M. Radisson's wife.
"Now praise be Heaven, that little ward will open the way for us in England, Chouart," said M. de Radisson, as he moodily listened to news of the trouble abrewing in Quebec.
And all the way up the St. Lawrence, as the rolling tide lapped our keel, I was dreaming of a far, cold paleocrystic sea, mystic in the frost-clouds that lay over it like smoke. Then a figure emerged from the white darkness. I was snatched up, with the northern lights for chariot, two blazing comets our steeds, and the north star a charioteer.
A CHANGE OF PARTNERS
Old folks are wont to repeat themselves, but that is because they would impress those garnered lessons which age no longer has strength to drive home at one blow.
Royalist and Puritan, each had his lesson to learn, as I said before. Each marked the pendulum swing to a wrong extreme, and the pendulum was beating time for your younger generations to march by. And so I say to you who are wiser by the follies of your fathers, look not back too scornfully; for he who is ever watching to mock at the tripping of other men's feet is like to fall over a very small stumbling-block himself.
Already have I told you of holy men who would gouge a man's eye out for the extraction of one small bean, and counted burnings life's highest joy, and held the body accursed as a necessary evil for the tabernacling of the soul. Now must I tell you of those who wantoned "in the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eye and the pride of life," who burned their lives out at a shrine of folly, and who held that the soul and all things spiritual had gone out of fashion except for the making of vows and pretty conceits in verse by a lover to his lady.
For Pierre Radisson's fears of France playing false proved true. Bare had our keels bumped through that forest of sailing craft, which ever swung to the tide below Quebec fort, when a company of young cadets marches down from the Castle St. Louis to escort us up to M. de la Barre, the new governor.
"Hm," says M. Radisson, looking in his half-savage buckskins a wild enough figure among all those young jacks-in-a-box with their gold lace and steel breastplates. "Hm—let the governor come to us! An you will not go to a man, a man must come to you!"
"I am indisposed," says he to the cadets. "Let the governor come to me."
And come he did, with a company of troops fresh out from France and a roar of cannon from the ramparts that was more for the frightening than welcoming of us.
M. de Radisson bade us answer the salute by a firing of muskets in mid-air. Then we all let go a cheer for the Governor of New France.
"I must thank Your Excellency for the welcome sent down by your cadets," says M. de Radisson, meeting the governor half-way across the gang-plank.
M. de la Barre, an iron-gray man past the prime of life, gave spare smile in answer to that.
"I bade my cadets request you to report at the castle," says he, with a hard wrinkling of the lines round his lips.
"I bade your fellows report that I was indisposed!"
"Did the north not agree with Sieur Radisson?" asks the governor dryly.
"Pardieu!—yes—better than the air of Quebec," retorts M. Radisson.
By this the eyes of the listeners were agape, M. Radisson not budging a pace to go ashore, the governor scarce courting rebuff in sight of his soldiers.
"Radisson," says M. de la Barre, motioning his soldiers back and following to our captain's cabin, "a fellow was haltered and whipped for disrespect to the bishop yesterday!"
"Fortunately," says M. Radisson, touching the hilt of his rapier, "gentlemen settle differences in a simpler way!"
They had entered the cabin, where Radisson bade me stand guard at the door, and at our leader's bravado M. de la Barre saw fit to throw off all disguise.
"Radisson," he said, "those who trade without license are sent to the galleys——"
"And those who go to the galleys get no more furs to divide with the Governor of New France, and the governor who gets no furs goes home a poor man."
M. de la Barre's sallow face wrinkled again in a dry laugh.
"La Chesnaye has told you?"
"La Chesnaye's son——"
"Have the ships a good cargo? They must remain here till our officer examines them."
Which meant till the governor's minions looted both vessels for His Excellency's profit. M. Radisson, who knew that the better part of the furs were already crossing the ocean, nodded his assent.
"But about these English prisoners, of whom La Chesnaye sent word from Isle Percee?" continued the governor.
"The prisoners matter nothing—'tis their ship has value——"
"She must go back," interjects M. de la Barre.
"Back?" exclaims M. Radisson.
"Why didn't you sell her to some Spanish adventurer before you came here?"
"Spanish adventurer—Your Excellency? I am no butcher!"
"Eh—man!" says the governor, tapping the table with a document he pulled from his greatcoat pocket and shrugging his shoulders with a deprecating gesture of the hands, "if her crew feared sharks, they should have defended her against capture. Now—your prize must go back to New England and we lose the profit! Here," says he, "are orders from the king and M. Colbert that nothing be done to offend the subjects of King Charles of England——"
"Which means that Barillon, the French ambassador——?"
M. de la Barre laid his finger on his lips. "Walls have ears! If one king be willing to buy and another to sell himself and his country, loyal subjects have no comment, Radisson." 
"Loyal subjects!" sneers M. de Radisson.
"And that reminds me, M. Colbert orders Sieur Radisson to present himself in Paris and report on the state of the fur-trade to the king!"
"Ramsay," said M. Radisson to me, after Governor la Barre had gone, "this is some new gamestering!"
"Your court players are too deep for me, sir!"
"Pish!" says he impatiently, "plain as day—we must sail on the frigate for France, or they imprison us here—in Paris we shall be kept dangling by promises, hangers-on and do-nothings till the moneys are all used—then——"
"Then, active men are dangerous men, and dangerous men may lie safe and quiet in the sponging-house!"
"Do we sail in that case?"
"Egad, yes! Why not? Keep your colours flying and you may sail into hell, man, and conquer, too! Yes—we sail! Man or devil, don't swerve, lad! Go your gait! Go your gait! Chouart here will look after the ships! Paris is near London, and praise be Providence for that little maid of thine! We shall presently have letters from her—and," he added, "from Sir John Kirke of the Hudson's Bay Company!"
And it was even as he foretold. I find, on looking over the tattered pages of a handbook, these notes:
Oct. 6.—Ben Gillam and Governor Brigdar this day sent back to New England. There will be great complaints against us in the English court before we can reach London.
Nov. 11.—Sailed for France in the French frigate.
Dec. 18.—Reach Rochelle—hear of M. Colbert's death.
Jan. 30.—Paris—all our furs seized by the French Government in order to keep M. Radisson powerless—Lord Preston, the English ambassador, complaining against us on the one hand, and battering our doors down on the other, with spies offering M. Radisson safe passage from Paris to London.
I would that I had time to tell you of that hard winter in Paris, M. Radisson week by week, like a fort resisting siege, forced to take cheaper and cheaper lodgings, till we were housed between an attic roof and creaking rat-ridden floor in the Faubourg St. Antoine. But not one jot did M. Radisson lose of his kingly bearing, though he went to some fete in Versailles with beaded moccasins and frayed plushes and tattered laces and hair that one of the pretty wits declared the birds would be anesting in for hay-coils. In that Faubourg St. Antoine house, I mind, we took grand apartments on the ground floor, but up and up we went, till M. Radisson vowed we'd presently be under the stars—as the French say when they are homeless—unless my Lord Preston, the English ambassador, came to our terms.
That starving of us for surrender was only another trick of the gamestering in which we were enmeshed. Had Captain Godey, Lord Preston's messenger, succeeded in luring us back to England without terms, what a pretty pickle had ours been! France would have set a price on us. Then must we have accepted any kick-of-toe England chose to offer—and thanked our new masters for the same, else back to France they would have sent us.
But attic dwellers stave off many a woe with empty stomachs and stout courage. When April came, boats for the fur-trade should have been stirring, and my Lord Preston changes his tune. One night, when Pierre Radisson sat spinning his yarns of captivity with Iroquois to our attic neighbours, comes a rap at the door, and in walks Captain Godey of the English Embassy. As soon as our neighbours had gone, he counts out one hundred gold pieces on the table. Then he hands us a letter signed by the Duke of York, King Charles's brother, who was Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, granting us all that we asked.
Thereupon, Pierre Radisson asks leave of the French court to seek change of air; but the country air we sought was that of England in May, not France, as the court inferred.
 The reference is evidently to the secret treaty by which King Charles of England received annual payment for compliance with King Louis's schemes for French aggression.
UNDER THE AEGIS OF THE COURT
The roar of London was about us.
Sign-boards creaked and swung to every puff of wind. Great hackney-coaches, sunk at the waist like those old gallipot boats of ours, went ploughing past through the mud of mid-road, with bepowdered footmen clinging behind and saucy coachmen perched in front. These flunkeys thought it fine sport to splash us passers-by, or beguiled the time when there was stoppage across the narrow street by lashing rival drivers with their long whips and knocking cock-hats to the gutter. 'Prentices stood ringing their bells and shouting their wares at every shop-door. "What d'ye lack? What d'ye lack? What d'ye please to lack, good sirs? Walk this way for kerseys, sayes, and perpetuanoes! Bands and ruffs and piccadillies! Walk this way! Walk this way!"
"Pardieu, lad!" says M. Radisson, elbowing a saucy spark from the wall for the tenth time in as many paces. "Pardieu, you can't hear yourself think! Shut up to you!" he called to a bawling 'prentice dressed in white velvet waistcoat like a showman's dummy to exhibit the fashion. "Shut up to you!"
And I heard the fellow telling his comrades my strange companion with the tangled hair was a pirate from the Barbary States. Another saucy vender caught at the chance.
"Perukes! Perukes! Newest French periwigs!" he shouts, jangling his bell and putting himself across M. Radisson's course. "You'd please to lack a periwig, sir! Walk this way! Walk this way—"
"Out of my way!" orders Radisson with a hiss of his rapier round the fellow's fat calves. "'Tis a milliner's doll the town makes of a man! Out of my way!"
And the 'prentice went skipping. We were to meet the directors of the Hudson's Bay Company that night, and we had come out to refurbish our scant, wild attire. But bare had we turned the corner for the linen-draper's shops of Fleet Street when M. Radisson's troubles began. Idlers eyed us with strange looks. Hucksters read our necessitous state and ran at heel shouting their wares. Shopmen saw needy customers in us and sent their 'prentices running. Chairmen splashed us as they passed; and impudent dandies powdered and patched and laced and bewigged like any fizgig of a girl would have elbowed us from the wall to the gutter for the sport of seeing M. Radisson's moccasins slimed.
"Egad," says M. Radisson, "an I spill not some sawdust out o' these dolls, or cut their stay-strings, may the gutter take us for good and all! Pardieu! An your wig's the latest fashion, the wits under 't don't matter—"
"Have a care, sir," I warned, "here comes a fellow!"
'Twas a dandy in pink of fashion with a three-cornered hat coming over his face like a waterspout, red-cheeked from carminative and with the high look in his eyes of one who saw common folk from the top of church steeple. His lips were parted enough to show his teeth; and I warrant you my fine spark had posed an hour at the looking-glass ere he got his neck at the angle that brought out the swell of his chest. He was dressed in red plush with silk hose of the same colour and a square-cut, tailed coat out of whose pockets stuck a roll of paper missives.
"Verse ready writ by some penny-a-liner for any wench with cheap smiles," says M. Radisson aloud.
But the fellow came on like a strutting peacock with his head in air. Behind followed his page with cloak and rapier. In one hand our dandy carried his white gloves, in the other a lace gewgaw heavy with musk, which he fluttered in the face of every shopkeeper's daughter.
"Give the wall! Give the wall!" cries the page. "Give the wall to Lieutenant Blood o' the Tower!"
"S'blood," says M. Radisson insolently, "let us send that snipe sprawling!"
At that was a mighty awakening on the part of my fine gentleman.
"Blood is my name," says he. "Step aside!"
"An Blood is its name," retorts M. Radisson, "'tis bad blood; and I've a mind to let some of it, unless the thing gets out of my way!"
With which M. Radisson whips out his sword, and my grand beau condescends to look at us.
"Boy," he commands, "call an officer!"
"Boy," shouts M. Radisson, "call a chirurgeon to mend its toes!" and his blade cut a swath across the dandy's shining pumps.
At that was a jump!
Whatever the beaux of King Charles's court may have been, they were not cowards! Grasping his sword from the page, the fellow made at us. What with the lashing of the coachmen riding post-haste to see the fray, the jostling chairmen calling out "A fight! A fight!" and the 'prentices yelling at the top of their voices for "A watch! A watch!" we had had it hot enough then and there for M. Radisson's sport; but above the melee sounded another shrill alarm, the "Gardez l'eau! Gardy loo!" of some French kitchen wench throwing her breakfast slops to mid-road from the dwelling overhead. 
Only on the instant had I jerked M. Radisson back; and down they came—dish-water—and coffee leavings—and porridge scraps full on the crown of my fine young gentleman, drenching his gay attire as it had been soaked in soapsuds of a week old. Something burst from his lips a deal stronger than the modish French oaths then in vogue. There was a shout from the rabble. I dragged rather than led M. Radisson pell-mell into a shop from front to rear, over a score of garden walls, and out again from rear to front, so that we gave the slip to all those officers now running for the scene of the broil.
"Egad's life," cried M. de Radisson, laughing and laughing, "'tis the narrowest escape I've ever had! Pardieu—to escape the north sea and drown in dish-water! Lord—to beat devils and be snuffed out by a wench in petticoats! 'Tis the martyrdom of heroes! What a tale for the court!"
And he laughed and laughed again till I must needs call a chair to get him away from onlookers. In the shop of a draper a thought struck him.
"Egad, lad, that young blade was Blood!"
"So he told you."
"Did he? Son of the Blood who stole the crown ten years ago, and got your own Stanhope lands in reward from the king!"
What memories were his words bringing back?—M. Picot in the hunting-room telling me of Blood, the freebooter and swordsman. And that brings me to the real reason for our plundering the linen-drapers' shops before presenting ourselves at Sir John Kirke's mansion in Drury Lane, where gentlemen with one eye cocked on the doings of the nobility in the west and the other keen for city trade were wont to live in those days.
For six years M. Radisson had not seen Mistress Mary Kirke—as his wife styled herself after he broke from the English—and I had not heard one word of Hortense for nigh as many months. Say what you will of the dandified dolls who wasted half a day before the looking-glass in the reign of Charles Stuart, there are times when the bravest of men had best look twice in the glass ere he set himself to the task of conquering fair eyes. We did not drag our linen through a scent bath nor loll all morning in the hands of a man milliner charged with the duty of turning us into showmen's dummies—as was the way of young sparks in that age. But that was how I came to buy yon monstrous wig costing forty guineas and weighing ten pounds and coming half-way to a man's waist. And you may set it down to M. Radisson's credit that he went with his wiry hair flying wild as a lion's mane. Nothing I could say would make him exchange his Indian moccasins for the high-heeled pumps with a buckle at the instep.
"I suppose," he had conceded grudgingly, "we must have a brat to carry swords and cloaks for us, or we'll be taken for some o' your cheap-jack hucksters parading latest fashions," and he bade our host of the Star and Garter have some lad searched out for us by the time we should be coming home from Sir John Kirke's that night.
A mighty personage with fat chops and ruddy cheeks and rounded waistcoat and padded calves received us at the door of Sir John Kirke's house in Drury Lane. Sir John was not yet back from the Exchange, this grand fellow loftily informed us at the entrance to the house. A glance told him that we had neither page-boy nor private carriage; and he half-shut the door in our faces.
"Now the devil take this thing for a half-baked, back-stairs, second-hand kitchen gentleman," hissed M. Radisson, pushing in. "Here, my fine fellow," says he with a largesse of vails his purse could ill afford, "here, you sauce-pans, go tell Madame Radisson her husband is here!"
I have always held that the vulgar like insolence nigh as well as silver; and Sieur Radisson's air sent the feet of the kitchen steward pattering. "Confound him!" muttered Radisson, as we both went stumbling over footstools into the dark of Sir John's great drawing-room, "Confound him! An a man treats a man as a man in these stuffed match-boxes o' towns, looking man as a man on the level square in the eye, he only gets himself slapped in the face for it! An there's to be any slapping in the face, be the first to do it, boy! A man's a man by the measure of his stature in the wilderness. Here, 'tis by the measure of his clothes——"
But a great rustling of flounced petticoats down the hallway broke in on his speech, and a little lady had jumped at me with a cry of "Pierre, Pierre!" when M. Radisson's long arms caught her from her feet.
"You don't even remember what your own husband looked like," said he. "Ah, Mary, Mary—don't dear me! I'm only dear when the court takes me up! But, egad," says he, setting her down on her feet, "you may wager these pretty ringlets of yours, I'm mighty dear for the gilded crew this time!"
Madame Radisson said she was glad of it; for when Pierre was rich they could take a fine house in the West End like my Lord So-and-So; but in the next breath she begged him not to call the Royalists a gilded crew.
"And who is this?" she asked, turning to me as the servants brought in candles.
"Egad, and you might have asked that before you tried to kiss him! You always did have a pretty choice, Mary! I knew it when you took me! That," says he, pointing to me, "that is the kite's tail!"
"But for convenience' sake, perhaps the kite's tail may have a name," retorts Madame Radisson.
"To be sure—to be sure—Stanhope, a young Royalist kinsman of yours."
"Royalist?" reiterates Mary Kirke with a world of meaning to the high-keyed question, "then my welcome was no mistake! Welcome waits Royalists here," and she gave me her hand to kiss just as an elderly woman with monster white ringlets all about her face and bejewelled fingers and bare shoulders and flowing draperies swept into the room, followed by a serving-maid and a page-boy. With the aid of two men, her daughter, a serving-maid, and the page, it took her all of five minutes by the clock to get herself seated. But when her slippered feet were on a Persian rug and the displaced ringlets of her monster wig adjusted by the waiting abigail and smelling-salts put on a marquetry table nearby and the folds of the gown righted by the page-boy, Lady Kirke extended a hand to receive our compliments. I mind she called Radisson her "dear, sweet savage," and bade him have a care not to squeeze the stones of her rings into the flesh of her fingers.
"As if any man would want to squeeze such a ragbag o' tawdry finery and milliners' tinsel," said Radisson afterward to me.
I, being younger, was "a dear, bold fellow," with a tap of her fan to the words and a look over the top of it like to have come from some saucy jade of sixteen.
After which the serving-maid must hand the smelling-salts and the page-boy haste to stroke out her train.
"Egad," says Radisson when my lady had informed us that Sir John would await Sieur Radisson's coming at the Fur Company's offices, "egad, there'll be no getting Ramsay away till he sees some one else!"
"And who is that?" simpers Lady Kirke, languishing behind her fan.
"Who, indeed, but the little maid we sent from the north sea."
"La," cries Lady Kirke with a sudden livening, "an you always do as well for us all, we can forgive you, Pierre! The courtiers have cried her up and cried her up, till your pretty savage of the north sea is like to become the first lady of the land! Sir John comes home with your letter to me—boy, the smelling-salts!—so!—and I say to him, 'Sir John, take the story to His Royal Highness!' Good lack, Pierre, no sooner hath the Duke of York heard the tale than off he goes with it to King Charles! His Majesty hath an eye for a pretty baggage. Oh, I promise you, Pierre, you have done finely for us all!"
And the lady must simper and smirk and tap Pierre Radisson with her fan, with a glimmer of ill-meaning through her winks and nods that might have brought the blush to a woman's cheeks in Commonwealth days.
"Madame," cried Pierre Radisson with his eyes ablaze, "that sweet child came to no harm or wrong among our wilderness of savages! An she come to harm in a Christian court, by Heaven, somebody'll answer me for't!"
"Lackaday! Hoighty-toighty, Pierre! How you stamp! The black-eyed monkey hath been named maid of honour to Queen Catherine! How much better could we have done for her?"
"Maid of honour to the lonely queen?" says Radisson. "That is well!"
"She is ward of the court till a husband be found for her," continues Lady Kirke.
"There will be plenty willing to be found," says Pierre Radisson, looking me wondrous straight in the eye.
"Not so sure—not so sure, Pierre! We catch no glimpse of her nowadays; but they say young Lieutenant Blood o' the Tower shadows the court wherever she is——"
"A well-dressed young man?" adds Radisson, winking at me.
"And carries himself with a grand air," amplifies my lady, puffing out her chest, "but then, Pierre, when it comes to the point, your pretty wench hath no dower—no property——"
"Heaven be praised for that!" burst from my lips.
At which there was a sudden silence, followed by sudden laughter to my confusion.
"And so Master Stanhope came seeking the bird that had flown," twitted Radisson's mother-in-law. "Faugh—faugh—to have had the bird in his hand and to let it go! But—ta-ta!" she laughed, tapping my arm with her fan, "some one else is here who keeps asking and asking for Master Stanhope. Boy," she ordered, "tell thy master's guest to come down!"
Two seconds later entered little Rebecca of Boston Town. Blushing pink as apple-blossoms, dressed demurely as of old, with her glances playing a shy hide-and-seek under the downcast lids, she seemed as alien to the artificial grandeur about her as meadow violets to the tawdry splendour of a flower-dyer's shop.
"Fie, fie, sly ladybird," called out Sir John's wife, "here are friends of yours!"
At sight of us, she uttered a little gasp of pleasure.
"So—so—so joysome to see Boston folk," she stammered.
"Fie, fie!" laughed Lady Kirke. "Doth Boston air bring red so quick to all faces?"
"If they be not painted too deep," said Pierre Radisson loud and distinct. And I doubt not the coquettish old dame blushed red, though the depth of paint hid it from our eyes; for she held her tongue long enough for me to lead Rebecca to an alcove window.
Some men are born to jump in sudden-made gaps. Such an one was Pierre Radisson; for he set himself between his wife and Lady Kirke, where he kept them achattering so fast they had no time to note little Rebecca's unmasked confusion.
"This is an unexpected pleasure, Rebecca!"
She glanced up as if to question me.
"Your fine gallants have so many fine speeches——"
"Have you been here long?"
"A month. My father came to see about the furs that Ben Gillam lost in the bay," explains Rebecca.
"Oh!" said I, vouching no more.
"The ship was sent back," continues Rebecca, all innocent of the nature of her father's venture, "and my father hopes that King Charles may get the French to return the value of the furs."
There was a little silence. The other tongues prattled louder. Rebecca leaned towards me.
"Have you seen her?" she asked.
She gave an impetuous little shake of her head. "You know," she said.
"Well?" I asked.
"She hath taken me through all the grand places, Ramsay; through Whitehall and Hampton Court and the Tower! She hath come to see me every week!"
I said nothing.
"To-morrow she goes to Oxford with the queen. She is not happy, Ramsay. She says she feels like a caged bird. Ramsay, why did she love that north land where the wicked Frenchman took her?"
"I don't know, Rebecca. She once said it was strong and pure and free."
"Did you see her oft, Ramsay?"
"No, Rebecca; only at dinner on Sundays."
"And—and—all the officers were there on the Sabbath?"
"All the officers were there!"
She sat silent, eyes downcast, thinking.
"Hortense will be marrying some grand courtier."
"May he be worthy of her."
"I think many ask her."
"And what does Mistress Hortense say?"
"I think," answers Rebecca meditatively, "from the quantity of love-verse writ, she must keep saying—No."
Then Lady Kirke turns to bid us all go to the Duke's Theatre, where the king's suite would appear that night. Rebecca, of course, would not go. Her father would be expecting her when he came home, she said. So Pierre Radisson and I escorted Lady Kirke and her daughter to the play, riding in one of those ponderous coaches, with four belaced footmen clinging behind and postillions before. At the entrance to the playhouse was a great concourse of crowding people, masked ladies, courtiers with pages carrying torches for the return after dark, merchants with linkmen, work folk with lanterns, noblemen elbowing tradesmen from the wall, tradesmen elbowing mechanics; all pushing and jostling and cracking their jokes with a freedom of speech that would have cost dear in Boston Town. The beaux, I mind, had ready-writ love-verses sticking out of pockets thick as bailiffs' yellow papers; so that a gallant could have stocked his own munitions by picking up the missives dropped at the feet of disdainfuls. Of the play, I recall nothing but that some favourite of the king, Mary Davies, or the famous Nell, or some such an one, danced a monstrous bold jig. Indeed, our grand people, taking their cue from the courtiers' boxes, affected a mighty contempt for the play, except when a naughty jade on the boards stepped high, or blew a kiss to some dandy among the noted folk. For aught I could make out, they did not come to hear, but to be heard; the ladies chattering and ogling; the gallants stalking from box to box and pit to gallery, waving their scented handkerchiefs, striking a pose where the greater part of the audience could see the flash of beringed fingers, or taking a pinch of snuff with a snap of the lid to call attention to its gold-work and naked goddesses.
"Drat these tradespeople, kinsman!" says Lady Kirke, as a fat townsman and his wife pushed past us, "drat these tradespeople!" says she as we were taking our place in one of the boxes, "'tis monstrous gracious of the king to come among them at all!"
Methought her memory of Sir John's career had been suddenly clipped short; but Pierre Radisson only smiled solemnly. Some jokes, like dessert, are best taken cold, not hot.
Then there was a craning of necks; and the king's party came in, His Majesty grown sallow with years but gay and nonchalant as ever, with Barillon, the French ambassador, on one side and Her Grace of Portsmouth on the other. Behind came the whole court; the Duchess of Cleveland, whom our wits were beginning to call "a perennial," because she held her power with the king and her lovers increased with age; statesmen hanging upon her for a look or a smile that might lead the way to the king's ear; Sir George Jeffreys, the judge, whose name was to become England's infamy; Queen Catherine of Braganza, keeping up hollow mirth with those whose presence was insult; the Duke of York, soberer than his royal brother, the king, since Monmouth's menace to the succession; and a host of hangers-on ready to swear away England's liberties for a licking of the crumbs that fell from royal lips.
Then the hum of the playhouse seemed as the beating of the north sea; for Lady Kirke was whispering, "There! There! There she is!" and Hortense was entering one of the royal boxes accompanied by a foreign-looking, elderly woman, and that young Lieutenant Blood, whom we had encountered earlier in the day.
"The countess from Portugal—Her Majesty's friend," murmurs Lady Kirke. "Ah, Pierre, you have done finely for us all!"
And there oozed over my Lady Kirke's countenance as fine a satisfaction as ever radiated from the face of a sweating cook.
"How?" asks Pierre Radisson, pursing his lips.
"Sir John hath dined twice with His Royal Highness——"
"The Duke is Governor of the Company, and Sir John is a director."
"Ta-ta, now there you go, Pierre!" smirks my lady. "An your pretty baggage had not such a saucy way with the men—why—who can tell——"
"Madame," interrupted Pierre Radisson, "God forbid! There be many lords amaking in strange ways, but we of the wilderness only count honour worth when it's won honourably."
But Lady Kirke bare heard the rebuke. She was all eyes for the royal box. "La, now, Pierre," she cries, "see! The king hath recognised you!" She lurched forward into fuller view of onlookers as she spoke. "Wella-day! Good lack! Pierre Radisson, I do believe!—Yes!—See!—His Majesty is sending for you!"
And a page in royal colours appeared to say that the king commanded Pierre Radisson to present himself in the royal box. With his wiry hair wild as it had ever been on the north sea, off he went, all unconscious of the contemptuous looks from courtier and dandy at his strange, half-savage dress. And presently Pierre Radisson is seated in the king's presence, chatting unabashed, the cynosure of all eyes. At the stir, Hortense had turned towards us. For a moment the listless hauteur gave place to a scarce hidden start. Then the pallid face had looked indifferently away.
"The huzzy!" mutters Lady Kirke. "She might 'a' bowed in sight of the whole house! Hoighty-toighty! We shall see, an the little moth so easily blinded by court glare is not singed for its vanity! Ungrateful baggage! See how she sits, not deigning to listen one word of all the young lieutenant is saying! Mary?"
"You mind I told her—I warned the saucy miss to give more heed to the men—to remember what it might mean to us——"
"Yes," adds Madame Radisson, "and she said she hated the court——"
"Faugh!" laughs Lady Kirke, fussing and fuming and shifting her place like a peacock with ruffled plumage, "pride before the fall—I'll warrant, you men spoiled her in the north! Very fine, forsooth, when a pauper wench from no one knows where may slight the first ladies of the land!"
"Madame," said I, "you are missing the play!"
"Master Stanhope," said she, "the play must be marvellous moving! Where is your colour of a moment ago?"
I had no response to her railing. It was as if that look of Hortense had come from across the chasm that separated the old order from the new. In the wilderness she was in distress, I her helper. Here she was of the court and I—a common trader. Such fools does pride make of us, and so prone are we to doubt another's faith!
"One slight was enough," Lady Kirke was vowing with a toss of her head; and we none of us gave another look to the royal boxes that night, though all about the wits were cracking their jokes against M. Radisson's "Medusa locks," or "the king's idol, with feet of clay and face of brass," thereby meaning M. Radisson's moccasins and swarth skin. At the door we were awaiting M. Radisson's return when the royal company came out. I turned suddenly and met Hortense's eyes blazing with a hauteur that forbade recognition. Beside her in lover-like pose lolled that milliners' dummy whom we had seen humbled in the morning.
Then, promising to rejoin Pierre Radisson at the Fur Company's offices, I made my adieux to the Kirkes and flung out among those wild revellers who scoured London streets of a dark night.
 The old expression which the law compelled before throwing slops in mid-street.
JACK BATTLE AGAIN
The higher one's hopes mount the farther they have to fall; and I, who had mounted to stars with Hortense, was pushed to the gutter by the king's dragoons making way for the royal equipage. There was a crackling of whips among the king's postillions. A yeoman thrust the crowd back with his pike. The carriages rolled past. The flash of a linkman's torch revealed Hortense sitting languid and scornful between the foreign countess and that milliner's dummy of a lieutenant. Then the royal carriages were lost in the darkness, and the streets thronged by a rabble of singing, shouting, hilarious revellers.
Different generations have different ways of taking their pleasure, and the youth of King Charles's day were alternately bullies on the street and dandies at the feet of my lady disdainful. At the approach of the shouting, night-watchmen threw down their lanterns and took to their heels. Street-sweeps tossed their brooms in mid-road with cries of "The Scowerers! The Scowerers!" Hucksters fled into the dark of side lanes. Shopkeepers shot their door-bolts. Householders blew out lights. Fruit-venders made off without their baskets, and small urchins shrieked the alarm of "Baby-eaters! Baby-eaters!"
One sturdy watch, I mind, stood his guard, laying about with a stout pike in a way that broke our fine revellers' heads like soft pumpkins; but him they stood upon his crown in some goodwife's rain-barrel with his lantern tied to his heels. At the rush of the rabble for shelves of cakes and pies, one shopman levelled his blunderbuss. That brought shouts of "A sweat! A sweat!" In a twinkling the rascals were about him. A sword pricked from behind. The fellow jumped. Another prick, and yet another, till the good man was dancing such a jig the sweat rolled from his fat jowls and he roared out promise to feast the whole rout. A peddler of small images had lingered to see the sport, and enough of it he had, I promise you; for they dumped him into his wicker basket and trundled it through the gutter till the peddler and his little white saints were black as chimney-sweeps. Nor did our merry blades play their pranks on poor folk alone. At Will's Coffee House, where sat Dryden and other mighty quidnuncs spinning their poetry and politics over full cups, before mine host got his doors barred our fellows had charged in, seized one of the great wits and set him singing Gammer Gurton's Needle, till the gentlemen were glad to put down pennies for the company to drink healths.
By this I had enough of your gentleman bully's brawling, and I gave the fellows the slip to meet Pierre Radisson at the General Council of Hudson's Bay Adventurers to be held in John Horth's offices in Broad Street. Our gentlemen adventurers were mighty jealous of their secrets in those days. I think they imagined their great game-preserve a kind of Spanish gold-mine safer hidden from public ken, and they held their meetings with an air of mystery that pirates might have worn. For my part, I do not believe there were French spies hanging round Horth's office for knowledge of the Fur Company's doings, though the doorkeeper, who gave me a chair in the anteroom, reported that a strange-looking fellow with a wife as from foreign parts had been asking for me all that day, and refused to leave till he had learned the address of my lodgings.
"'Ave ye taken the hoath of hallegiance, sir?" asked the porter.
"I was born in England," said I dryly.
"Your renegade of a French savage is atakin' the hoath now," confided the porter, jerking his thumb towards the inner door. "They do say as 'ow it is for love of Mary Kirke and not the English—"
"Your renegade of a French—who?" I asked sharply, thinking it ill omen to hear a flunkey of the English Company speaking lightly of our leader.
But at the question the fellow went glum with a tipping and bowing and begging of pardon. Then the councillors began to come: Arlington and Ashley of the court, one of those Carterets, who had been on the Boston Commission long ago and first induced M. Radisson to go to England, and at last His Royal Highness the Duke of York, deep in conversation with my kinsman, Sir John Kirke.
"It can do no harm to employ him for one trip," Sir John was saying.
"He hath taken the oath?" asks His Royal Highness.
"He is taking it to-night; but," laughs Sir John, "we thought he was a good Englishman once before."
"Your company used him ill. You must keep him from going over to the French again."
"Till he undo the evil he has done—till he capture back all that he took from us—then," says Sir John cautiously, "then we must consider whether it be politic to keep a gamester in the company."
"Anyway," adds His Highness, "France will not take him back."
And the door closed on the councillors while I awaited Radisson in the anteroom. A moment later Pierre Radisson came out with eyes alight and face elate.
"I've signed to sail in three days," he announced. "Do you go with me or no?"
Two memories came back: one of a face between a westering sun and a golden sea, and I hesitated; the other, of a cold, pallid, disdainful look from the royal box.
And entering the council chamber, I signed the papers without one glance at the terms. Gentlemen sat all about the long table, and at the head was the governor of the company—the Duke of York, talking freely with M. de Radisson.
My Lord Ashley would know if anything but furs grew in that wild New World.
"Furs?" says M. Radisson. "Sir, mark my words, 'tis a world that grows empires—also men," with an emphasis which those court dandies could not understand.
But the wise gentlemen only smiled at M. Radisson's warmth.
"If it grew good soldiers for our wars—" begins one military gentleman.
"Aye," flashes back M. Radisson ironically, "if it grows men for your wars and your butchery and your shambles! Mark my words: it is a land that grows men good for more than killing," and he smiles half in bitterness.
"'Tis a prodigious expensive land in diplomacy when men like you are let loose in it," remarks Arlington.
His Royal Highness rose to take his leave.
"You will present a full report to His Majesty at Oxford," he orders M. Radisson in parting.
Then the council dispersed.
"Oxford," says M. Radisson, as we picked our way home through the dark streets; "an I go to meet the king at Oxford, you will see a hornets' nest of jealousy about my ears."
I did not tell him of the double work implied in Sir John's words with the prince, for Sir John Kirke was Pierre Radisson's father-in-law. At the door of the Star and Garter mine host calls out that a strange-looking fellow wearing a grizzled beard and with a wife as from foreign parts had been waiting all afternoon for me in my rooms.
"From foreign parts!" repeats M. Radisson, getting into a chair to go to Sir John's house in Drury Lane. "If they're French spies, send them right about, Ramsay! We've stopped gamestering!"
"We have; but perhaps the others haven't."
"Let them game," laughs M. Radisson scornfully, as the chair moved off. Not knowing what to expect I ran up-stairs to my room. At the door I paused. That morning I had gone from the house light-hearted. Now interest had died from life. I had but one wish, to reach that wilderness of swift conflict, where thought has no time for regret. The door was ajar. A coal fire burned on the hearth. Sitting on the floor were two figures with backs towards me, a ragged, bearded man and a woman with a shawl over her head. What fools does hope make of us! I had almost called out Hortense's name when the noise of the closing door caught their hearing. I was in the north again; an Indian girl was on her knees clinging to my feet, sobbing out incoherent gratitude; a pair of arms were belabouring my shoulders; and a voice was saying with broken gurgles of joy: "Ship ahoy, there! Ease your helm! Don't heave all your ballast overboard!"—a clapping of hands on my back—"Port your helm! Ease her up! All sheets in the wind and the storms'l aflutter! Ha-ha!" with a wringing and a wringing like to wrench my hands off—"Anchor out! Haul away! Home with her . . . !"
It was all I could say.
There he was, grizzled and bronzed and weather-worn, laughing with joy and thrashing his arms about as if to belabour me again.
"But who is this, Jack?"
I lifted the Indian woman from her knees. It was the girl my blow had saved that morning long ago.
"Who—what is this?"
"My wife," Says Jack, swinging his arms afresh and proud as a prince.
"Your wife? . . . Where . . . who married you?"
"There warn't no parson," says Jack, "that is, there warn't no parson nearer nor three thousand leagues and more. And say," adds Jack, "I s'pose there was marryin' afore there could be parsons! She saved my life. She hain't no folks. I hain't no folks. She got away that morning o' the massacre—she see them take us captive—she gets a white pelt to hide her agen the snow—she come, she do all them cold miles and lets me loose when the braves ain't watching . . . she risks her life to save my life—she don't belong to nobody. I don't belong to nobody. There waren't no parson, but we're married tight . . . and—and—let not man put asunder," says Jack.
For full five minutes there was not a word.
The east was trying to understand the west!
"Amen, Jack," said I. "God bless you—you are a man!"
"We mean to get a parson and have it done straight yet," explained Jack, "but I wanted you to stand by me——"
"Faith, Jack, you've done it pretty thorough without any help——"
"Yes, but folks won't understand," pleaded Jack, "and—and—I'd do as much for you—I wanted you to stand by me and tell me where to say 'yes' when the parson reads the words——"
"All right—I shall," I promised, laughing.
If only Hortense could know all this! That is the sorrow of rifted lives—the dark between, on each side the thoughts that yearn.
"And—and," Jack was stammering on, "I thought, perhaps, Mistress Rebecca 'd be willing to stand by Mizza," nodding to the young squaw, "that is, if you asked Rebecca," pleaded Jack.
"We'll see," said I.
For the New England conscience was something to reckon with!
"How did you come here?" I asked.
"Mizza snared rabbits and I stole back my musket when we ran away and did some shooting long as powder lasted——"
"And then we used bow and arrow. We hid in the bush till the hostiles quit cruisin'; but the spring storms caught us when we started for the coast. I s'pose I'm a better sailor on water than land, for split me for a herring if my eyes didn't go blind from snow! We hove to in the woods again, Mizza snaring rabbit and building a lodge and keepin' fire agoin' and carin' for me as if I deserved it. There I lay water-logged, odd's man—blind as a mole till the spring thaws came. Then Mizza an' me built a raft; for sez I to Miz, though she didn't understand: 'Miz,' sez I, 'water don't flow uphill! If we rig up a craft, that river'll carry us to the bay!' But she only gets down on the ground the way she did with you and puts my foot on her neck. Lordy," laughs Jack, "s'pose I don't know what a foot on a neck feels like? I sez: 'Miz, if you ever do that again, I'll throw you overboard!' Then the backwash came so strong from the bay, we had to wait till the floods settled. While we swung at anchorman, what d'y' think happened? I taught Miz English. Soon as ever she knew words enough I told her if I was a captain I'd want a mate! She didn't catch the wind o' that, lad, till we were navigating our raft downstream agen the ice-jam. Ship ahoy, you know, the ice was like to nip us, and lackin' a life-belt I put me arm round her waist! Ease your helm! Port—a little! Haul away! But she understood—when she saw me save her from the jam before I saved myself."
And Jack Battle stood away arm's length from his Indian wife and laughed his pride.
"And by the time we'd got to the bay you'd gone, but Jean Groseillers sent us to the English ship that came out expecting to find Governor Brigdar at Nelson. We shipped with the company boat, and here we be."
"And what are you going to do?"
"Oh, I get work enough on the docks to pay for Mizza's lessons—"
"Yes—she's learning sewin' and readin' from the nuns, and as soon as she's baptized we're going to be married regular."
"Oh!" A sigh of relief escaped me. "Then you'll not need Rebecca for six months or so?"
"No; but you'll ask her?" pleaded Jack.
"If I'm here."
As they were going out Jack slipped back from the hallway to the fireplace, leaving Mizza outside.
"You think—it's—it's—all right?"
"What I done about a mate?"
"Right?" I reiterated. "Here's my hand to you—blessing on the voyage, Captain Jack Battle!"
"Ah," smiled Jack, "you've been to the wilderness—you understand! Other folks don't! That is the way it happens out there!"
He lingered as of old when there was more to come.
"Sail away, captain!"
"Have you seen Hortense?" he asked, looking straight at me.
"Um—yes—no—that is—I have and I haven't."
"Why haven't you?"
"Because having become a grand lady, her ladyship didn't choose to see me."
Jack Battle turned on his heel and swore a seaman's oath. "That—that's a lie," said he.
"Very well—it's a lie, but this is what happened," and I told him of the scene in the theatre. Jack pulled a puzzled face, looking askance as he listened.
"Why didn't you go round to her box, the way M. Radisson did to the king's?"
"You forget I am only a trader!"
"Pah," says Jack, "that is nothing!"
"You forget that Lieutenant Blood might have objected to my visit," and I told him of Blood.
"But how was Mistress Hortense to know that?"
Wounded pride hugs its misery, and I answered nothing.
At the door he stopped. "You go along with Radisson to Oxford," he called. "The court will be there."
Rioting through London streets or playing second in M. Radisson's games of empire, it was possible to forget her, but not in Oxford with the court retinue all about and the hedgerows abloom and spring-time in the air. M. Radisson had gone to present his reports to the king. With a vague belief that chance might work some miracle, I accompanied M. Radisson till we encountered the first belaced fellow of the King's Guard. 'Twas outside the porter's lodge of the grand house where the king had been pleased to breakfast that morning.
"And what might this young man want?" demanded the fellow, with lordly belligerence, letting M. Radisson pass without question.
Your colonial hero will face the desperate chance of death; but not the smug arrogance of a beliveried flunkey.
"Wait here," says M. Radisson to me, forgetful of Hortense now that his own end was won.
And I struck through the copse-wood, telling myself that chance makes grim sport. Ah, well, the toughening of the wilderness is not to be undone by fickle fingers, however dainty, nor a strong life blown out by a girl's caprice! Riders went clanking past. I did not turn. Let those that honoured dishonour doff hats to that company of loose women and dissolute men! Hortense was welcome to the womanish men and the mannish women, to her dandified lieutenant and foreign adventuresses and grand ambassadors, who bought English honour with the smiles of evil women. Coming to a high stone wall, I saw two riders galloping across the open field for the copse wood.
"A very good place to break foolish necks," thought I; for the riders were coming straight towards me, and a deep ditch ran along the other side of the wall.
To clear the wall and then the ditch would be easy enough; but to clear the ditch and then the wall required as pretty a piece of foolhardy horsemanship as hunters could find. Out of sheer curiosity to see the end I slackened my walk. A woman in green was leading the pace. The man behind was shouting "Don't try it! Don't try it! Ride round the end! Wait! Wait!" But the woman came on as if her horse had the bit. Then all my mighty, cool stoicism began thumping like a smith's forge. The woman was Hortense, with that daring look on her face I had seen come to it in the north land; and her escort, young Lieutenant Blood, with terror as plainly writ on his fan-shaped elbows and pounding gait as if his horse were galloping to perdition.
"Don't jump! Head about, Mistress Hillary!" cried the lieutenant.
But Hortense's lips tightened, the rein tightened, there was that lifting bound into air when horse and rider are one—the quick paying-out of the rein—the long, stretching leap—the backward brace—and the wall had been cleared. But Blood's horse balked the jump, nigh sending him head over into the moat, and seizing the bit, carried its cursing rider down the slope of the field. In vain the lieutenant beat it about the head and dug the spurs deep. The beast sidled off each time he headed it up, or plunged at the water's edge till Mistress Hortense cried out: "Oh—please! I cannot see you risk yourself on that beast! Oh—please won't you ride farther down where I can get back!"
"Ho—away, then," calls Blood, mighty glad of that way out of his predicament, "but don't try the wall here again, Mistress Hillary! I protest 'tis not safe for you! Ho—away, then! I race you to the end of the wall!"
And off he gallops, never looking back, keen to clear the wall and meet my lady half-way up. Hortense sat erect, reining her horse and smiling at me.
"And so you would go away without seeing me," she said, "and I must needs ride you down at the risk of the lieutenant's neck."
"'Tis the way of the proud with the humble," I laughed back; but the laugh had no mirth.
Her face went grave. She sat gazing at me with that straight, honest look of the wilderness which neither lies nor seeks a lie.
"Your horse is champing to be off, Hortense!"
"Yes—and if you looked you might see that I am keeping him from going off."
I smiled at the poor jest as a court conceit.
"Or perhaps, if you tried, you might help me to hold him," says Hortense, never taking her search from my face.
"And defraud the lieutenant," said I.
"Ah!" says Hortense, looking away. "Are you jealous of anything so small?"
I took hold of the bit and quieted the horse. Hortense laughed.
"Were you so mighty proud the other night that you could not come to see a humble ward of the court?" she asked.
"I am only a poor trader now!"
"Ah," says Hortense, questioning my face again, "I had thought you were only a poor trader before! Was that the only reason?"
"To be sure, Hortense, the lieutenant would not have welcomed me—he might have told his fellow to turn me out and made confusion."
And I related M. Radisson's morning encounter with Lieutenant Blood, whereat Mistress Hortense uttered such merry peals of laughter I had thought the chapel-bells were chiming.
"Ramsay!" she cried impetuously, "I hate this life—why did you all send me to it?"
"Hate it! Why——?"
"Why?" reiterated Hortense. "Why, when a king, who is too busy to sign death-reprieves, may spend the night hunting a single moth from room to room of the palace? Why, when ladies of the court dress in men's clothes to run the streets with the Scowerers? Why, when a duchess must take me every morning to a milliner's shop, where she meets her lover, who is a rope-walker? Why, when our sailors starve unpaid and gold enough lies on the basset-table of a Sunday night to feed the army? Ah, yes!" says Hortense, "why do I hate this life? Why must you and Madame Radisson and Lady Kirke all push me here?"