Infomotions, Inc.54-40 or Fight / Hough, Emerson, 1857-1923



Author: Hough, Emerson, 1857-1923
Title: 54-40 or Fight
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): calhoun; elisabeth; ritz; baroness; oregon; madam; john calhoun; texas; elisabeth churchill; miss elisabeth; dona lucrezia
Contributor(s): Bernstein, Herman, 1876-1935 [Translator]
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Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 90,719 words (short) Grade range: 6-9 (grade school) Readability score: 72 (easy)
Identifier: etext14355
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Title: 54-40 or Fight

Author: Emerson Hough

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54-40 OR FIGHT

by

EMERSON HOUGH

Author of _The Mississippi Bubble_, _The Way of the Man_, etc.

With Four Illustrations by Arthur I. Keller

A. L. Burt Company
Publishers New York

1909







[Illustration: "Madam," said I, "let me, at least, alone." Page 49]




     TO
     Theodore Roosevelt

     PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
     AND FIRM BELIEVER IN THE RULE OF THE PEOPLE

     THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED
     WITH THE LOYALTY AND ADMIRATION
     OF THE AUTHOR




CONTENTS


CHAPTER

     I THE MAKERS OF MAPS
    II BY SPECIAL DESPATCH
   III IN ARGUMENT
    IV THE BARONESS HELENA
     V ONE OF THE WOMEN IN THE CASE
    VI THE BOUDOIR OF THE BARONESS
   VII REGARDING ELISABETH
  VIII MR. CALHOUN ACCEPTS
    IX A KETTLE OF FISH
     X MIXED DUTIES
    XI WHO GIVETH THIS WOMAN
   XII THE MARATHON
  XIII ON SECRET SERVICE
   XIV THE OTHER WOMAN
    XV WITH MADAM THE BARONESS
   XVI DEJEUNER A LA FOURCHETTE
  XVII A HUNTER OF BUTTERFLIES
 XVIII THE MISSING SLIPPER
   XIX THE GENTLEMAN FROM TENNESSEE
    XX THE LADY FROM MEXICO
   XXI POLITICS UNDER COVER
  XXII BUT YET A WOMAN
 XXIII SUCCESS IN SILK
  XXIV THE WHOA-HAW TRAIL
   XXV OREGON
  XXVI THE DEBATED COUNTRY
 XXVII IN THE CABIN OF MADAM
XXVIII WHEN A WOMAN WOULD
  XXIX IN EXCHANGE
   XXX COUNTER CURRENTS
  XXXI THE PAYMENT
 XXXII PAKENHAM'S PRICE
XXXIII THE STORY OF HELENA VON RITZ
 XXXIV THE VICTORY
  XXXV THE PROXY OF PAKENHAM
 XXXVI THE PALO ALTO BALL
       EPILOGUE





CHAPTER I

THE MAKERS OF MAPS

     There is scarcely a single cause in which a woman is not engaged in
     some way fomenting the suit.--_Juvenal_.


"Then you offer me no hope, Doctor?" The gray mane of Doctor Samuel Ward
waved like a fighting crest as he made answer:

"Not the sort of hope you ask." A moment later he added: "John, I am
ashamed of you."

The cynical smile of the man I called my chief still remained upon his
lips, the same drawn look of suffering still remained upon his gaunt
features; but in his blue eye I saw a glint which proved that the answer
of his old friend had struck out some unused spark of vitality from the
deep, cold flint of his heart.

"I never knew you for a coward, Calhoun," went on Doctor Ward, "nor any
of your family I give you now the benefit of my personal acquaintance
with this generation of the Calhouns. I ask something more of you than
faint-heartedness."

The keen eyes turned upon him again with the old flame of flint which a
generation had known--a generation, for the most part, of enemies. On my
chief's face I saw appear again the fighting flush, proof of his
hard-fibered nature, ever ready to rejoin with challenge when challenge
came.

"Did not Saul fall upon his own sword?" asked John Calhoun. "Have not
devoted leaders from the start of the world till now sometimes rid the
scene of the responsible figures in lost fights, the men on whom blame
rested for failures?"

"Cowards!" rejoined Doctor Ward. "Cowards, every one of them! Were there
not other swords upon which they might have fallen--those of their
enemies?"

"It is not my own hand--my own sword, Sam," said Calhoun. "Not that. You
know as well as I that I am already marked and doomed, even as I sit at
my table to-night. A walk of a wet night here in Washington--a turn
along the Heights out there when the winter wind is keen--yes, Sam, I
see my grave before me, close enough; but how can I rest easy in that
grave? Man, we have not yet dreamed how great a country this may be. We
_must_ have Texas. We _must_ have also Oregon. We must have--"

"Free?" The old doctor shrugged his shoulders and smiled at the arch
pro-slavery exponent.

"Then, since you mention it, yes!" retorted Calhoun fretfully. "But I
shall not go into the old argument of those who say that black is white,
that South is North. It is only for my own race that I plan a wider
America. But then--" Calhoun raised a long, thin hand. "Why," he went on
slowly, "I have just told you that I have failed. And yet you, my old
friend, whom I ought to trust, condemn me to live on!"

Doctor Samuel Ward took snuff again, but all the answer he made was to
waggle his gray mane and stare hard at the face of the other.

"Yes," said he, at length, "I condemn you to fight on, John;" and he
smiled grimly.

"Why, look at you, man!" he broke out fiercely, after a moment. "The
type and picture of combat! Good bone, fine bone and hard; a hard head
and bony; little eye, set deep; strong, wiry muscles, not too
big--fighting muscles, not dough; clean limbs; strong fingers; good
arms, legs, neck; wide chest--"

"Then you give me hope?" Calhoun flashed a smile at him.

"No, sir! If you do your duty, there is no hope for you to live. If you
do not do your duty, there is no hope for you to die, John Calhoun, for
more than two years to come--perhaps five years--six. Keep up this
work--as you must, my friend--and you die as surely as though I shot you
through as you sit there. Now, is this any comfort to you?"

A gray pallor overspread my master's face. That truth is welcome to no
man, morbid or sane, sound or ill; but brave men meet it as this one
did.

"Time to do much!" he murmured to himself. "Time to mend many broken
vessels, in those two years. One more fight--yes, let us have it!"

But Calhoun the man was lost once more in Calhoun the visionary, the
fanatic statesman. He summed up, as though to himself, something of the
situation which then existed at Washington.

"Yes, the coast is clearer, now that Webster is out of the cabinet, but
Mr. Upshur's death last month brings in new complications. Had he
remained our secretary of state, much might have been done. It was only
last October he proposed to Texas a treaty of annexation."

"Yes, and found Texas none so eager," frowned Doctor Ward.

"No; and why not? You and I know well enough. Sir Richard Pakenham, the
English plenipotentiary here, could tell if he liked. _England_ is busy
with Texas. Texas owes large funds to _England. England_ wants Texas as
a colony. There is fire under this smoky talk of Texas dividing into two
governments, one, at least, under England's gentle and unselfish care!

"And now, look you," Calhoun continued, rising, and pacing up and down,
"look what is the evidence. Van Zandt, _charge d'affaires_ in Washington
for the Republic of Texas, wrote Secretary Upshur only a month before
Upshur's death, and told him to go carefully or he would drive Mexico to
resume the war, _and so cost Texas the friendship of England!_ Excellent
Mr. Van Zandt! I at least know what the friendship of England means. So,
he asks us if we will protect Texas with troops and ships in case she
_does_ sign that agreement of annexation. Cunning Mr. Van Zandt! He
knows what that answer must be to-day, with England ready to fight us
for Texas and Oregon both, and we wholly unready for war. Cunning Mr.
Van Zandt, covert friend of England! And lucky Mr. Upshur, who was
killed, and so never had to make that answer!"

"But, John, another will have to make it, the one way or the other,"
said his friend.

"Yes!" The long hand smote on the table.

"President Tyler has offered you Mr. Upshur's portfolio as secretary of
state?"

"Yes!" The long hand smote again.

Doctor Ward made no comment beyond a long whistle, as he recrossed his
legs. His eyes were fixed on Calhoun's frowning face. "There will be
events!" said he at length, grinning.

"I have not yet accepted," said Calhoun. "If I do, it will be to bring
Texas and Oregon into this Union, one slave, the other free, but both
vast and of a mighty future for us. That done, I resign at once."

"Will you accept?"

Calhoun's answer was first to pick up a paper from his desk. "See, here
is the despatch Mr. Pakenham brought from Lord Aberdeen of the British
ministry to Mr. Upshur just two days before his death. Judge whether
Aberdeen wants liberty--or territory! In effect he reasserts England's
right to interfere in our affairs. We fought one war to disprove that.
England has said enough on this continent. And England has meddled
enough."

Calhoun and Ward looked at each other, sober in their realization of the
grave problems which then beset American statesmanship and American
thought. The old doctor was first to break the silence. "Then do you
accept? Will you serve again, John?"

"Listen to me. If I do accept, I shall take Mr. Upshur's and Mr.
Nelson's place only on one condition--yes, if I do, here is what _I_
shall say to England regarding Texas. I shall show her what a Monroe
Doctrine is; shall show her that while Texas is small and weak, Texas
_and_ this republic are not. This is what I have drafted as a possible
reply. I shall tell Mr. Pakenham that his chief's avowal of intentions
has made it our _imperious duty_, in self-defense, to hasten the
annexation of Texas, cost what it may, mean what it may! John Calhoun
does not shilly-shally.

"_That_ will be my answer," repeated my chief at last. Again they looked
gravely, each into the other's eye, each knowing what all this might
mean.

"Yes, I shall have Texas, as I shall have Oregon, settled before I lay
down my arms, Sam Ward. No, I am _not_ yet ready to die!" Calhoun's old
fire now flamed in all his mien.

"The situation is extremely difficult," said his friend slowly. "It must
be done; but how? We are as a nation not ready for war. You as a
statesman are not adequate to the politics of all this. Where is your
political party, John? You have none. You have outrun all parties. It
will be your ruin, that you have been honest!"

Calhoun turned on him swiftly. "You know as well as I that mere politics
will not serve. It will take some extraordinary measure--you know
men--and, perhaps, _women_."

"Yes," said Doctor Ward, "and a precious silly lot: they are; the two
running after each other and forgetting each other; using and wasting
each other; ruining and despoiling each other, all the years, from Troy
to Rome! But yes! For a man, set a woman for a trap. _Vice versa_, I
suppose?"

Calhoun nodded, with a thin smile. "As it chances, I need a man. Ergo,
and very plainly, I must use a woman!"

They looked at each other for a moment. That Calhoun planned some
deep-laid stratagem was plain, but his speech for the time remained
enigmatic, even to his most intimate companion.

"There are two women in our world to-day," said Calhoun. "As to Jackson,
the old fool was a monogamist, and still is. Not so much so Jim Polk of
Tennessee. Never does he appear in public with eyes other than for the
Dona Lucrezia of the Mexican legation! Now, one against the
other--Mexico against Austria--"

Doctor Ward raised his eyebrows in perplexity.

"That is to say, England, and _not_ Austria," went on Calhoun coldly.
"The ambassadress of England to America was born in Budapest! So I say,
Austria; or perhaps Hungary, or some other country, which raised this
strange representative who has made some stir in Washington here these
last few weeks."

"Ah, _you mean the baroness!_" exclaimed Doctor Ward. "Tut! Tut!"

Calhoun nodded, with the same cold, thin smile. "Yes," he said, "I mean
Mr. Pakenham's reputed mistress, his assured secret agent and spy, the
beautiful Baroness von Ritz!"

He mentioned a name then well known in diplomatic and social life, when
intrigue in Washington, if not open, was none too well hidden.

"Gay Sir Richard!" he resumed. "You know, his ancestor was a
brother-in-law of the Duke of Wellington. He himself seems to have
absorbed some of the great duke's fondness for the fair. Before he came
to us he was with England's legation in Mexico. 'Twas there he first met
the Dona Lucrezia. 'Tis said he would have remained in Mexico had it not
been arranged that she and her husband, Senor Yturrio, should accompany
General Almonte in the Mexican ministry here. On _these_ conditions, Sir
Richard agreed to accept promotion as minister plenipotentiary to
Washington!"

"That was nine years ago," commented Doctor Ward.

"Yes; and it was only last fall that he was made envoy extraordinary. He
is at least an extraordinary envoy! Near fifty years of age, he seems to
forget public decency; he forgets even the Dona Lucrezia, leaving her to
the admiration of Mr. Polk and Mr. Van Zandt, and follows off after the
sprightly Baroness von Ritz. Meantime, Senor Yturrio _also_
forgets the Dona Lucrezia, and proceeds _also_ to follow after the
baroness--although with less hope than Sir Richard, as they say! At
least Pakenham has taste! The Baroness von Ritz has brains and beauty
both. It is _she_ who is England's real envoy. Now, I believe she knows
England's real intentions as to Texas."

Doctor Ward screwed his lips for a long whistle, as he contemplated John
Calhoun's thin, determined face.

"I do not care at present to say more," went on my chief; "but do you
not see, granted certain motives, Polk might come into power pledged to
the extension of our Southwest borders--"

"Calhoun, are you mad?" cried his friend. "Would you plunge this country
into war? Would you pit two peoples, like cocks on a floor? And would
you use women in our diplomacy?"

Calhoun now was no longer the friend, the humanitarian. He was the
relentless machine; the idea; the single purpose, which to the world at
large he had been all his life in Congress, in cabinets, on this or the
other side of the throne of American power. He spoke coldly as he went
on:

"In these matters it is not a question of means, but of results. If war
comes, let it come; although I hope it will not come. As to the use of
women--tell me, _why not women?_ Why anything _else_ but women? It is
only playing life against life; one variant against another. That is
politics, my friend. I _want_ Pakenham. So, I must learn what _Pakenham_
wants! Does he want Texas for England, or the Baroness von Ritz _for
himself?_"

Ward still sat and looked at him. "My God!" said he at last, softly; but
Calhoun went on:

"Why, who has made the maps of the world, and who has written pages in
its history? Who makes and unmakes cities and empires and republics
to-day? _Woman_, and not man! Are you so ignorant--and you a physician,
who know them both? Gad, man, you do not understand your own profession,
and yet you seek to counsel me in mine!"

"Strange words from you, John," commented his friend, shaking his head;
"not seemly for a man who stands where you stand to-day."

"Strange weapons--yes. If I could always use my old weapons of tongue
and brain, I would not need these, perhaps. Now you tell me my time is
short. I must fight now to win. I have never fought to lose. I can not
be too nice in agents and instruments."

The old doctor rose and took a turn up and down the little room, one of
Calhoun's modest menage at the nation's capital, which then was not the
city it is to-day. Calhoun followed him with even steps.

"Changes of maps, my friend? Listen to me. The geography of America for
the next fifty years rests under a little roof over in M Street
to-night--a roof which Sir Richard secretly maintains. The map of the
United States, I tell you, is covered with a down counterpane _a deux_,
to-night. You ask me to go on with my fight. I answer, first I must find
the woman. Now, I say, I have found her, as you know. Also, I have told
you _where_ I have found her. Under a counterpane! Texas, Oregon, these
United States under a counterpane!"

Doctor Ward sighed, as he shook his head. "I don't pretend to know now
all you mean."

Calhoun whirled on him fiercely, with a vigor which his wasted frame did
not indicate as possible.

"Listen, then, and I will tell you what John Calhoun means--John
Calhoun, who has loved his own state, who has hated those who hated him,
who has never prayed for those who despitefully used him, who has fought
and will fight, since all insist on that. It is true Tyler has offered
me again to-day the portfolio of secretary of state. Shall I take it? If
I do, it means that I am employed by this administration to secure the
admission of Texas. Can you believe me when I tell you that my ambition
is for it all--_all_, every foot of new land, west to the Pacific, that
we can get, slave _or_ free? Can you believe John Calhoun, pro-slavery
advocate and orator all his life, when he says that he believes he is an
humble instrument destined, with God's aid, and through the use of such
instruments as our human society affords, to build, _not_ a wider slave
country, but a wider America?"

"It would be worth the fight of a few years more, Calhoun," gravely
answered his old friend. "I admit I had not dreamed this of you."

"History will not write it of me, perhaps," went on my chief. "But you
tell me to fight, and now I shall fight, and in my own way. I tell you,
that answer shall go to Pakenham. And I tell you, Pakenham shall not
_dare_ take offense at me. War with Mexico we possibly, indeed
certainly, shall have. War on the Northwest, too, we yet may have
unless--" He paused; and Doctor Ward prompted him some moments later, as
he still remained in thought.

"Unless what, John? What do you mean--still hearing the rustle of
skirts?"

"Yes!--unless the celebrated Baroness Helena von Ritz says otherwise!"
replied he grimly.

"How dignified a diplomacy have we here! You plan war between two
embassies on the distaff side!" smiled Doctor Ward.

Calhoun continued his walk. "I do not say so," he made answer; "but, if
there must be war, we may reflect that war is at its best when woman
_is_ in the field!"




CHAPTER II

BY SPECIAL DESPATCH

     In all eras and all climes a woman of great genius or beauty has
     done what she chose.--_Ouido_.


"Nicholas," said Calhoun, turning to me suddenly, but with his
invariable kindliness of tone, "oblige me to-night. I have written a
message here. You will see the address--"

"I have unavoidably heard this lady's name," I hesitated.

"You will find the lady's name above the seal. Take her this message
from me. Yes, your errand is to bring the least known and most talked of
woman in Washington, alone, unattended save by yourself, to a
gentleman's apartments, to his house, at a time past the hour of
midnight! That gentleman is myself! You must not take any answer in the
negative."

As I sat dumbly, holding this sealed document in my hand, he turned to
Doctor Ward, with a nod toward myself.

"I choose my young aide, Mr. Trist here, for good reasons. He is just
back from six months in the wilderness, and may be shy; but once he had
a way with women, so they tell me--and you know, in approaching the
question _ad feminam_ we operate _per hominem_."

Doctor Ward took snuff with violence as he regarded me critically.

"I do not doubt the young man's sincerity and faithfulness," said he. "I
was only questioning one thing."

"Yes?"

"His age."

Calhoun rubbed his chin. "Nicholas," said he, "you heard me. I have no
wish to encumber you with useless instructions. Your errand is before
you. Very much depends upon it, as you have heard. All I can say is,
keep your head, keep your feet, and keep your heart!"

The two older men both turned now, and smiled at me in a manner not
wholly to my liking. Neither was this errand to my liking.

It was true, I was hardly arrived home after many months in the West;
but I had certain plans of my own for that very night, and although as
yet I had made no definite engagement with my fiancee, Miss Elisabeth
Churchill, of Elmhurst Farm, for meeting her at the great ball this
night, such certainly was my desire and my intention. Why, I had scarce
seen Elisabeth twice in the last year.

"How now, Nick, my son?" began my chief. "Have staff and scrip been your
portion so long that you are wholly wedded to them? Come, I think the
night might promise you something of interest. I assure you of one
thing--you will receive no willing answer from the fair baroness. She
will scoff at you, and perhaps bid you farewell. See to it, then; do
what you like, but bring her _with_ you, and bring her _here_.

"You will realize the importance of all this when I tell you that my
answer to Mr. Tyler must be in before noon to-morrow. That answer will
depend upon the answer the Baroness von Ritz makes to _me_, here,
to-night! I can not go to her, so she must come to me. You have often
served me well, my son. Serve me to-night. My time is short; I have no
moves to lose. It is you who will decide before morning whether or not
John Calhoun is the next secretary of state. And that will decide
whether or not Texas is to be a state." I had never seen Mr. Calhoun so
intent, so absorbed.

We all three now sat silent in the little room where the candles
guttered in the great glass _cylindres_ on the mantel--an apartment
scarce better lighted by the further aid of lamps fed by oil.

"He might be older," said Calhoun at length, speaking of me as though I
were not present. "And 'tis a hard game to play, if once my lady Helena
takes it into her merry head to make it so for him. But if I sent one
shorter of stature and uglier of visage and with less art in approaching
a crinoline--why, perhaps he would get no farther than her door. No; he
will serve--he _must_ serve!"

He arose now, and bowed to us both, even as I rose and turned for my
cloak to shield me from the raw drizzle which then was falling in the
streets. Doctor Ward reached down his own shaggy top hat from the rack.

"To bed with you now, John," said he sternly.

"No, I must write."

"You heard me say, to bed with you! A stiff toddy to make you sleep.
Nicholas here may wake you soon enough with his mysterious companion. I
think to-morrow will be time enough for you to work, and to-morrow very
likely will bring work for you to do."

Calhoun sighed. "God!" he exclaimed, "if I but had back my strength! If
there were more than those scant remaining years!"

"Go!" said he suddenly; and so we others passed down his step and out
into the semi-lighted streets.

So this, then, was my errand. My mind still tingled at its unwelcome
quality. Doctor Ward guessed something of my mental dissatisfaction.

"Never mind, Nicholas," said he, as we parted at the street corner,
where he climbed into the rickety carriage which his colored driver held
awaiting him. "Never mind. I don't myself quite know what Calhoun wants;
but he would not ask of you anything personally improper. Do his errand,
then. It is part of your work. In any case--" and I thought I saw him
grin in the dim light--"you may have a night which you will remember."

There proved to be truth in what he said.




CHAPTER III

IN ARGUMENT

     The egotism of women is always for two.--_Mme. De Staeel_.


The thought of missing my meeting with Elisabeth still rankled in my
soul. Had it been another man who asked me to carry this message, I must
have refused. But this man was my master, my chief, in whose service I
had engaged.

Strange enough it may seem to give John Calhoun any title showing love
or respect. To-day most men call him traitor--call him the man
responsible for the war between North and South--call him the arch
apostle of that impossible doctrine of slavery, which we all now admit
was wrong. Why, then, should I love him as I did? I can not say, except
that I always loved, honored and admired courage, uprightness,
integrity.

For myself, his agent, I had, as I say, left the old Trist homestead at
the foot of South Mountain in Maryland, to seek my fortune in our
capital city. I had had some three or four years' semi-diplomatic
training when I first met Calhoun and entered his service as assistant.
It was under him that I finished my studies in law. Meantime, I was his
messenger in very many quests, his source of information in many matters
where he had no time to go into details.

Strange enough had been some of the circumstances in which I found
myself thrust through this relation with a man so intimately connected
for a generation with our public life. Adventures were always to my
liking, and surely I had my share. I knew the frontier marches of
Tennessee and Alabama, the intricacies of politics of Ohio and New York,
mixed as those things were in Tyler's time. I had even been as far west
as the Rockies, of which young Fremont was now beginning to write so
understandingly. For six months I had been in Mississippi and Texas
studying matters and men, and now, just hack from Natchitoches, I felt
that I had earned some little rest.

But there was the fascination of it--that big game of politics. No, I
will call it by its better name of statesmanship, which sometimes it
deserved in those days, as it does not to-day. That was a day of
Warwicks. The nominal rulers did not hold the greatest titles.
Naturally, I knew something of these things, from the nature of my work
in Calhoun's office. I have had insight into documents which never
became public. I have seen treaties made. I have seen the making of
maps go forward. This, indeed, I was in part to see that very night, and
curiously, too.

How the Baroness von Ritz--beautiful adventuress as she was sometimes
credited with being, charming woman as she was elsewhere described,
fascinating and in some part dangerous to any man, as all
admitted--could care to be concerned with this purely political question
of our possible territories, I was not shrewd enough at that moment in
advance to guess; for I had nothing more certain than the rumor she was
England's spy. I bided my time, knowing that ere long the knowledge must
come to me in Calhoun's office even in case I did not first learn more
than Calhoun himself.

Vaguely in my conscience I felt that, after all, my errand was
justified, even though at some cost to my own wishes and my own pride.
The farther I walked in the dark along Pennsylvania Avenue, into which
finally I swung after I had crossed Rock Bridge, the more I realized
that perhaps this big game was worth playing in detail and without
quibble as the master mind should dictate. As he was servant of a
purpose, of an ideal of triumphant democracy, why should not I also
serve in a cause so splendid?

I was, indeed, young--Nicholas Trist, of Maryland; six feet tall, thin,
lean, always hungry, perhaps a trifle freckled, a little sandy of hair,
blue I suppose of eye, although I am not sure; good rider and good
marcher, I know; something of an expert with the weapons of my time and
people; fond of a horse and a dog and a rifle--yes, and a glass and a
girl, if truth be told. I was not yet thirty, in spite of my western
travels. At that age the rustle of silk or dimity, the suspicion of
adventure, tempts the worst or the best of us, I fear. Woman!--the very
sound of the word made my blood leap then. I went forward rather
blithely, as I now blush to confess. "If there are maps to be made
to-night," said I, "the Baroness Helena shall do her share in writing on
my chief's old mahogany desk, and not on her own dressing case."

That was an idle boast, though made but to myself. I had not yet met the
woman.




CHAPTER IV

THE BARONESS HELENA

     Woman is seldom merciful to the man who is timid.
                         --_Edward Bulwer Lytton_.

There was one of our dim street lights at a central corner on old
Pennsylvania Avenue, and under it, after a long walk, I paused for a
glance at the inscription on my sealed document. I had not looked at it
before in the confusion of my somewhat hurried mental processes. In
addition to the name and street number, in Calhoun's writing, I read
this memorandum: "Knock at the third door in the second block beyond M
Street"

I recalled the nearest cross street; but I must confess the direction
still seemed somewhat cryptic. Puzzled, I stood under the lamp,
shielding the face of the note under my cloak to keep off the rain, as I
studied it.

The sound of wheels behind me on the muddy pavement called my attention,
and I looked about. A carriage came swinging up to the curb where I
stood. It was driven rapidly, and as it approached the door swung open.
I heard a quick word, and the driver pulled up his horses. I saw the
light shine through the door on a glimpse of white satin. I looked
again. Yes, it was a beckoning hand! The negro driver looked at me
inquiringly.

Ah, well, I suppose diplomacy under the stars runs much the same in all
ages. I have said that I loved Elisabeth, but also said I was not yet
thirty. Moreover, I was a gentleman, and here might be a lady in need of
help. I need not say that in a moment I was at the side of the carriage.
Its occupant made no exclamation of surprise; in fact, she moved back
upon the other side of the seat in the darkness, as though to make room
for me!

I was absorbed in a personal puzzle. Here was I, messenger upon some
important errand, as I might guess. But white satin and a midnight
adventure--at least, a gentleman might bow and ask if he could be of
assistance!

A dark framed face, whose outlines I could only dimly see in the faint
light of the street lamp, leaned toward me. The same small hand
nervously reached out, as though in request.

I now very naturally stepped closer. A pair of wide and very dark eyes
was looking into mine. I could now see her face. There was no smile upon
her lips. I had never seen her before, that was sure--nor did I ever
think to see her like again; I could say that even then, even in the
half light. Just a trifle foreign, the face; somewhat dark, but not too
dark; the lips full, the eyes luminous, the forehead beautifully arched,
chin and cheek beautifully rounded, nose clean-cut and straight, thin
but not pinched. There was nothing niggard about her. She was
magnificent--a magnificent woman. I saw that she had splendid jewels at
her throat, in her ears--a necklace of diamonds, long hoops of diamonds
and emeralds used as ear-rings; a sparkling clasp which caught at her
white throat the wrap which she had thrown about her ball gown--for now
I saw she was in full evening dress. I guessed she had been an attendant
at the great ball, that ball which I had missed with so keen a regret
myself--the ball where I had hoped to dance with Elisabeth. Without
doubt she had lost her way and was asking the first stranger for
instructions to her driver.

My lady, whoever she was, seemed pleased with her rapid temporary
scrutiny. With a faint murmur, whether of invitation or not I scarce
could tell, she drew back again to the farther side of the seat. Before
I knew how or why, I was at her side. The driver pushed shut the door,
and whipped up his team.

Personally I am gifted with but small imagination. In a very matter of
fact way I had got into this carriage with a strange lady. Now in a
sober and matter of fact way it appeared to me my duty to find out the
reason for this singular situation.

"Madam," I remarked to my companion, "in what manner can I be of service
to you this evening?"

I made no attempt to explain who I was, or to ask who or what she
herself was, for I had no doubt that our interview soon would be
terminated.

"I am fortunate that you are a gentleman," she said, in a low and soft
voice, quite distinct, quite musical in quality, and marked with just
the faintest trace of some foreign accent, although her English was
perfect.

I looked again at her. Yes, her hair was dark; that was sure. It swept
up in a great roll above her oval brow. Her eyes, too, must be dark, I
confirmed. Yes--as a passed lamp gave me aid--there were strong dark
brows above them. Her nose, too, was patrician; her chin curving just
strongly enough, but not too full, and faintly cleft, a sign of power,
they say.

A third gracious lamp gave me a glimpse of her figure, huddled back
among her draperies, and I guessed her to be about of medium height. A
fourth lamp showed me her hands, small, firm, white; also I could catch
a glimpse of her arm, as it lay outstretched, her fingers clasping a
fan. So I knew her arms were round and taper, hence all her limbs and
figure finely molded, because nature does not do such things by halves,
and makes no bungles in her symmetry of contour when she plans a noble
specimen of humanity. Here _was_ a noble specimen of what woman may be.

On the whole, as I must confess, I sighed rather comfortably at the
fifth street lamp; for, if my chief must intrust to me adventures of a
dark night--adventures leading to closed carriages and strange
companions--I had far liefer it should be some such woman as this. I was
not in such a hurry to ask again how I might be of service. In fact,
being somewhat surprised and somewhat pleased, I remained silent now for
a time, and let matters adjust themselves; which is not a bad course for
any one similarly engaged.

She turned toward me at last, deliberately, her fan against her lips,
studying me. And I did as much, taking such advantage as I could of the
passing street lamps. Then, all at once, without warning or apology, she
smiled, showing very even and white teeth.

She smiled. There came to me from the purple-colored shadows some sort
of deep perfume, strange to me. I frown at the description of such
things and such emotions, but I swear that as I sat there, a stranger,
not four minutes in companionship with this other stranger, I felt swim
up around me some sort of amber shadow, edged with purple--the shadow,
as I figured it then, being this perfume, curious and alluring!

It was wet, there in the street. Why should I rebel at this stealing
charm of color or fragrance--let those name it better who can. At least
I sat, smiling to myself in my purple-amber shadow, now in no very
special hurry. And now again she smiled, thoughtfully, rather approving
my own silence, as I guessed; perhaps because it showed no unmanly
perturbation--my lack of imagination passing for aplomb.

At last I could not, in politeness, keep this up further.

"_How may I serve the Baroness?_" said I.

She started back on the seat as far as she could go.

"How did you know?" she asked. "And who are _you_?"

I laughed. "I did not know, and did not guess until almost as I began to
speak; but if it comes to that, I might say I am simply an humble
gentleman of Washington here. I might be privileged to peep in at
ambassadors' balls--through the windows, at least."

"But you were not there--you did not see me? I never saw you in my life
until this very moment--how, then, do you know me? Speak! At once!" Her
satins rustled. I knew she was tapping a foot on the carriage floor.

"Madam," I answered, laughing at her; "by this amber purple shadow, with
flecks of scarlet and pink; by this perfume which weaves webs for me
here in this carriage, I know you. The light is poor, but it is good
enough to show one who can be no one else but the Baroness von Ritz."

I was in the mood to spice an adventure which had gone thus far. Of
course she thought me crazed, and drew back again in the shadow; but
when I turned and smiled, she smiled in answer--herself somewhat
puzzled.

"The Baroness von Ritz can not be disguised," I said; "not even if she
wore her domino."

She looked down at the little mask which hung from the silken cord, and
flung it from her.

"Oh, then, very well!" she said. "If you know who I am, who are _you_,
and why do you talk in this absurd way with me, a stranger?"

"And why, Madam, do you take me up, a stranger, in this absurd way, at
midnight, on the streets of Washington?--I, who am engaged on business
for my chief?"

She tapped again with her foot on the carriage floor. "Tell me who you
are!" she said.

"Once a young planter from Maryland yonder; sometime would-be lawyer
here in Washington. It is my misfortune not to be so distinguished in
fame or beauty that my name is known by all; so I need not tell you my
name perhaps, only assuring you that I am at your service if I may be
useful."

"Your name!" she again demanded.

I told her the first one that came to my lips--I do not remember what.
It did not deceive her for a moment.

"Of course that is not your name," she said; "because it does not fit
you. You have me still at disadvantage."

"And me, Madam? You are taking me miles out of my way. How can I help
you? Do you perhaps wish to hunt mushrooms in the Georgetown woods when
morning comes? I wish that I might join you, but I fear--"

"You mock me," she retorted. "Very good. Let me tell you it was not your
personal charm which attracted me when I saw you on the pavement! `Twas
because you were the only man in sight."

I bowed my thanks. For a moment nothing was heard save the steady patter
of hoofs on the ragged pavement. At length she went on.

"I am alone. I have been followed. I was followed when I called to
you--by another carriage. I asked help of the first gentleman I saw,
having heard that Americans all are gentlemen."

"True," said I; "I do not blame you. Neither do I blame the occupant of
the other carriage for following you."

"I pray you, leave aside such chatter!" she exclaimed.

"Very well, then, Madam. Perhaps the best way is for us to be more
straightforward. If I can not be of service I beg you to let me descend,
for I have business which I must execute to-night."

This, of course, was but tentative. I did not care to tell her that my
business was with herself. It seemed almost unbelievable to me that
chance should take this turn.

She dismissed this with an impatient gesture, and continued.

"See, I am alone," she said. "Come with me. Show me my way--I will
pay--I will pay anything in reason." Actually I saw her fumble at her
purse, and the hot blood flew to my forehead.

"What you ask of me, Madam, is impossible," said I, with what courtesy I
could summon. "You oblige me now to tell my real name. I have told you
that I am an American gentleman--Mr. Nicholas Trist. We of this country
do not offer our services to ladies for the sake of pay. But do not be
troubled over any mistake--it is nothing. Now, you have perhaps had some
little adventure in which you do not wish to be discovered. In any case,
you ask me to shake off that carriage which follows us. If that is all,
Madam, it very easily can be arranged."

"Hasten, then," she said. "I leave it to you. I was sure you knew the
city."

I turned and gazed back through the rear window of the carriage. True,
there was another vehicle following us. We were by this time nearly at
the end of Washington's limited pavements. It would be simple after
that. I leaned out and gave our driver some brief orders. We led our
chase across the valley creeks on up the Georgetown hills, and soon as
possible abandoned the last of the pavement, and took to the turf, where
the sound of our wheels was dulled. Rapidly as we could we passed on up
the hill, until we struck a side street where there was no paving. Into
this we whipped swiftly, following the flank of the hill, our going,
which was all of earth or soft turf, now well wetted by the rain. When
at last we reached a point near the summit of the hill, I stopped to
listen. Hearing nothing, I told the driver to pull down the hill by the
side street, and to drive slowly. When we finally came into our main
street again at the foot of the Georgetown hills, not far from the
little creek which divided that settlement from the main city, I could
hear nowhere any sound of our pursuer.

"Madam," said I, turning to her; "I think we may safely say we are
alone. What, now, is your wish?"

"Home!" she said.

"And where is home?"

She looked at me keenly for a time, as though to read some thought which
perhaps she saw suggested either in the tone of my voice or in some
glimpse she might have caught of my features as light afforded. For the
moment she made no answer.

"Is it here?" suddenly I asked her, presenting to her inspection the
sealed missive which I bore.

"I can not see; it is quite dark," she said hurriedly.

"Pardon me, then--" I fumbled for my case of lucifers, and made a faint
light by which she might read. The flare of the match lit up her face
perfectly, bringing out the framing roll of thick dark hair, from which,
as a high light in a mass of shadows, the clear and yet strong features
of her face showed plainly. I saw the long lashes drooped above her dark
eyes, as she bent over studiously. At first the inscription gave her no
information. She pursed her lips and shook her head.

"I do not recognize the address," said she, smiling, as she turned
toward me.

"Is it this door on M Street, as you go beyond this other street?" I
asked her. "Come--think!"

Then I thought I saw the flush deepen on her face, even as the match
flickered and failed.

I leaned out of the door and called to the negro driver. "Home, now,
boy--and drive fast!"

She made no protest.




CHAPTER V

ONE OF THE WOMEN IN THE CASE

     There is a woman at the beginning of all great things.
                                           --_Lamartine_.

A quarter of an hour later, we slowed down on a rough brick pavement,
which led toward what then was an outlying portion of the town--one not
precisely shabby, but by no means fashionable. There was a single lamp
stationed at the mouth of the narrow little street. As we advanced, I
could see outlined upon our right, just beyond a narrow pavement of
brick, a low and not more than semi-respectable house, or rather, row of
houses; tenements for the middle class or poor, I might have said. The
neighborhood, I knew from my acquaintance with the city, was respectable
enough, yet it was remote, and occupied by none of any station.
Certainly it was not to be considered fit residence for a woman such as
this who sat beside me. I admit I was puzzled. The strange errand of my
chief now assumed yet more mystery, in spite of his forewarnings.

"This will do," said she softly, at length. The driver already had
pulled up.

So, then, I thought, she had been here before. But why? Could this
indeed be her residence? Was she incognita here? Was this indeed the
covert embassy of England?

There was no escape from the situation as it lay before me. I had no
time to ponder. Had the circumstances been otherwise, then in loyalty to
Elisabeth I would have handed my lady out, bowed her farewell at her own
gate, and gone away, pondering only the adventures into which the
beckoning of a white hand and the rustling of a silken skirt betimes
will carry a man, if he dares or cares to go. Now, I might not leave. My
duty was here. This was my message; here was she for whom it was
intended; and this was the place which I was to have sought alone. I
needed only to remember that my business was not with Helena von Ritz
the woman, beautiful, fascinating, perhaps dangerous as they said of
her, but with the Baroness von Ritz, in the belief of my chief the ally
and something more than ally of Pakenham, in charge of England's
fortunes on this continent. I did remember my errand and the gravity of
it. I did not remember then, as I did later, that I was young.

I descended at the edge of the narrow pavement, and was about to hand
her out at the step, but as I glanced down I saw that the rain had left
a puddle of mud between the carriage and the walk.

"Pardon, Madam," I said; "allow me to make a light for you--the footing
is bad."

I lighted another lucifer, just as she hesitated at the step. She made
as though to put out her right foot, and withdrew it. Again she shifted,
and extended her left foot. I faintly saw proof that nature had carried
out her scheme of symmetry, and had not allowed wrist and arm to
forswear themselves! I saw also that this foot was clad in the daintiest
of white slippers, suitable enough as part of her ball costume, as I
doubted not was this she wore. She took my hand without hesitation, and
rested her weight upon the step--an adorable ankle now more frankly
revealed. The briefness of the lucifers was merciful or merciless, as
you like.

"A wide step, Madam; be careful," I suggested. But still she hesitated.

A laugh, half of annoyance, half of amusement, broke from her lips. As
the light flickered down, she made as though to take the step; then, as
luck would have it, a bit of her loose drapery, which was made in the
wide-skirted and much-hooped fashion of the time, caught at the hinge of
the carriage door. It was a chance glance, and not intent on my part,
but I saw that her other foot was stockinged, but not shod!

"I beg Madam's pardon," I said gravely, looking aside, "but she has
perhaps not noticed that her other slipper is lost in the carriage."

"Nonsense!" she said. "Allow me your hand across to the walk, please. It
is lost, yes."

"But lost--where?" I began.

"In the other carriage!" she exclaimed, and laughed freely.

Half hopping, she was across the walk, through the narrow gate, and up
at the door before I could either offer an arm or ask for an
explanation. Some whim, however, seized her; some feeling that in
fairness she ought to tell me now part at least of the reason for her
summoning me to her aid.

"Sir," she said, even as her hand reached up to the door knocker; "I
admit you have acted as a gentleman should. I do not know what your
message may be, but I doubt not it is meant for me. Since you have this
much claim on my hospitality, even at this hour, I think I must ask you
to step within. There may be some answer needed."

"Madam," said I, "there _is_ an answer needed. I am to take back that
answer. I know that this message is to the Baroness von Ritz. I guess it
to be important; and I know you are the Baroness von Ritz."

"Well, then," said she, pulling about her half-bared shoulders the light
wrap she wore; "let me be as free with you. If I have missed one shoe, I
have not lost it wholly. I lost the slipper in a way not quite planned
on the program. It hurt my foot. I sought to adjust it behind a curtain.
My gentleman of Mexico was in wine. I fled, leaving my escort, and he
followed. I called to you. You know the rest. I am glad you are less in
wine, and are more a gentleman."

"I do not yet know my answer, Madam."

"Come!" she said; and at once knocked upon the door.

I shall not soon forget the surprise which awaited me when at last the
door swung open silently at the hand of a wrinkled and brown old
serving-woman--not one of our colored women, but of some dark foreign
race. The faintest trace of surprise showed on the old woman's face, but
she stepped back and swung the door wide, standing submissively, waiting
for orders.

We stood now facing what ought to have been a narrow and dingy little
room in a low row of dingy buildings, each of two stories and so shallow
in extent as perhaps not to offer roof space to more than a half dozen
rooms. Instead of what should have been, however, there was a wide
hall--wide as each building would have been from front to back, but
longer than a half dozen of them would have been! I did not know then,
what I learned later, that the partitions throughout this entire row had
been removed, the material serving to fill up one of the houses at the
farthest extremity of the row. There was thus offered a long and narrow
room, or series of rooms, which now I saw beyond possibility of doubt
constituted the residence of this strange woman whom chance had sent me
to address; and whom still stranger chance had thrown in contact with me
even before my errand was begun!

She stood looking at me, a smile flitting over her features, her
stockinged foot extended, toe down, serving to balance her on her
high-heeled single shoe.

"Pardon, sir," she said, hesitating, as she held the sealed epistle in
her hand. "You know me--perhaps you follow me--I do not know. Tell me,
are you a spy of that man Pakenham?"

Her words and her tone startled me. I had supposed her bound to Sir
Richard by ties of a certain sort. Her bluntness and independence
puzzled me as much as her splendid beauty enraptured me. I tried to
forget both.

"Madam, I am spy of no man, unless I am such at order of my chief, John
Calhoun, of the United States Senate--perhaps, if Madam pleases, soon of
Mr. Tyler's cabinet."

In answer, she turned, hobbled to a tiny marquetry table, and tossed the
note down upon it, unopened. I waited patiently, looking about me
meantime. I discovered that the windows were barred with narrow slats
of iron within, although covered with heavy draperies of amber silk.
There was a double sheet of iron covering the door by which we had
entered.

"Your cage, Madam?" I inquired. "I do not blame England for making it so
secret and strong! If so lovely a prisoner were mine, I should double
the bars."

The swift answer to my presumption came in the flush of her cheek and
her bitten lip. She caught up the key from the table, and half motioned
me to the door. But now I smiled in turn, and pointed to the unopened
note on the table. "You will pardon me, Madam," I went on. "Surely it is
no disgrace to represent either England or America. They are not at war.
Why should we be?" We gazed steadily at each other.

The old servant had disappeared when at length her mistress chose to
pick up my unregarded document. Deliberately she broke the seal and
read. An instant later, her anger gone, she was laughing gaily.

"See," said she, bubbling over with her mirth; "I pick up a stranger,
who should say good-by at my curb; my apartments are forced; and this is
what this stranger asks: that I shall go with him, to-night, alone, and
otherwise unattended, to see a man, perhaps high in your government, but
a stranger to me, at his own rooms-alone! Oh, la! la! Surely these
Americans hold me high!"

"Assuredly we do, Madam," I answered. "Will it please you to go in your
own carriage, or shall I return with one for you?"

She put her hands behind her back, holding in them the opened message
from my chief. "I am tired. I am bored. Your impudence amuses me; and
your errand is not your fault. Come, sit down. You have been good to me.
Before you go, I shall have some refreshment brought for you."

I felt a sudden call upon my resources as I found myself in this
singular situation. Here, indeed, more easily reached than I had dared
hope, was the woman in the case. But only half of my errand, the easier
half, was done.




CHAPTER VI

THE BOUDOIR OF THE BARONESS

     A woman's counsel brought us first to woe.--_Dryden_.


"Wait!" she said. "We shall have candles." She clapped her hands
sharply, and again there entered the silent old serving-woman, who,
obedient to a gesture, proceeded to light additional candles in the
prism stands and sconces. The apartment was now distinct in all its
details under this additional flood of light. Decently as I might I
looked about. I was forced to stifle the exclamation of surprise which
rose to my lips.

We were plain folk enough in Washington at that time. The ceremonious
days of our first presidents had passed for the democratic time of
Jefferson and Jackson; and even under Mr. Van Buren there had been
little change from the simplicity which was somewhat our boast.
Washington itself was at that time scarcely more than an overgrown
hamlet, not in the least to be compared to the cosmopolitan centers
which made the capitals of the Old World. Formality and stateliness of a
certain sort we had, but of luxury we knew little. There was at that
time, as I well knew, no state apartment in the city which in sheer
splendor could for a moment compare with this secret abode of a woman
practically unknown. Here certainly was European luxury transferred to
our shores. This in simple Washington, with its vast white unfinished
capitol, its piecemeal miles of mixed residences, boarding-houses,
hotels, restaurants, and hovels! I fancied stern Andrew Jackson or plain
John Calhoun here!

The furniture I discovered to be exquisite in detail, of rosewood and
mahogany, with many brass chasings and carvings, after the fashion of
the Empire, and here and there florid ornamentation following that of
the court of the earlier Louis. Fanciful little clocks with carved
scrolls stood about; Cupid tapestries had replaced the original tawdry
coverings of these common walls, and what had once been a dingy
fireplace was now faced with embossed tiles never made in America. There
were paintings in oil here and there, done by master hands, as one could
tell. The curtained windows spoke eloquently of secrecy. Here and there
a divan and couch showed elaborate care in comfort. Beyond a
lace-screened grille I saw an alcove--doubtless cut through the original
partition wall between two of these humble houses--and within this
stood a high tester bed, its heavy mahogany posts beautifully carved,
the couch itself piled deep with foundations of I know not what of down
and spread most daintily with a coverlid of amber satin, whose edges
fringed out almost to the floor. At the other extremity, screened off as
in a distinct apartment, there stood a smaller couch, a Napoleon bed,
with carved ends, furnished more simply but with equal richness.
Everywhere was the air not only of comfort, but of ease and luxury,
elegance and sensuousness contending. I needed no lesson to tell me that
this was not an ordinary apartment, nor occupied by an ordinary owner.

One resented the liberties England took in establishing this manner of
menage in our simple city, and arrogantly taking for granted our
ignorance regarding it; but none the less one was forced to commend the
thoroughness shown. The ceilings, of course, remained low, but there was
visible no trace of the original architecture, so cunningly had the
interior been treated. As I have said, the dividing partitions had all
been removed, so that the long interior practically was open, save as
the apartments were separated by curtains or grilles. The floors were
carpeted thick and deep. Silence reigned here. There remained no trace
of the clumsy comfort which had sufficed the early builder. Here was no
longer a series of modest homes, but a boudoir which might have been
the gilded cage of some favorite of an ancient court. The breath and
flavor of this suspicion floated in every drapery, swam in the faint
perfume which filled the place. My first impression was that of
surprise; my second, as I have said, a feeling of resentment at the
presumption which installed all this in our capital of Washington.

I presume my thought may have been reflected in some manner in my face.
I heard a gentle laugh, and turned about. She sat there in a great
carved chair, smiling, her white arms stretched out on the rails, the
fingers just gently curving. There was no apology for her situation, no
trace of alarm or shame or unreadiness. It was quite obvious she was
merely amused. I was in no way ready to ratify the rumors I had heard
regarding her.

She had thrown back over the rail of the chair the rich cloak which
covered her in the carriage, and sat now in the full light, in the
splendor of satin and lace and gems, her arms bare, her throat and
shoulders white and bare, her figure recognized graciously by every line
of a superb gowning such as we had not yet learned on this side of the
sea. Never had I seen, and never since have I seen, a more splendid
instance of what beauty of woman may be.

She did not speak at first, but sat and smiled, studying, I presume, to
find what stuff I was made of. Seeing this, I pulled myself together
and proceeded briskly to my business.

"My employer will find me late, I fear, my dear baroness," I began.

"Better late than wholly unsuccessful," she rejoined, still smiling.
"Tell me, my friend, suppose you had come hither and knocked at my
door?"

"Perhaps I might not have been so clumsy," I essayed.

"Confess it!" she smiled. "Had you come here and seen the exterior only,
you would have felt yourself part of a great mistake. You would have
gone away."

"Perhaps not," I argued. "I have much confidence in my chief's
acquaintance with his own purposes and his own facts. Yet I confess I
should not have sought madam the baroness in this neighborhood. If
England provides us so beautiful a picture, why could she not afford a
frame more suitable? Why is England so secret with us?"

She only smiled, showing two rows of exceedingly even white teeth. She
was perfect mistress of herself. In years she was not my equal, yet I
could see that at the time I did scarcely more than amuse her.

"Be seated, pray," she said at last. "Let us talk over this matter."

Obedient to her gesture, I dropped into a chair opposite to her, she
herself not varying her posture and still regarding me with the laugh
in her half-closed eyes.

"What do you think of my little place?" she asked finally.

"Two things, Madam," said I, half sternly. "If it belonged to a man, and
to a minister plenipotentiary, I should not approve it. If it belonged
to a lady of means and a desire to see the lands of this little world, I
should approve it very much."

She looked at me with eyes slightly narrowed, but no trace of
perturbation crossed her face. I saw it was no ordinary woman with whom
we had to do.

"But," I went on, "in any case and at all events, I should say that the
bird confined in such a cage, where secrecy is so imperative, would at
times find weariness--would, in fact, wish escape to other employment.
You, Madam"--I looked at her directly--"are a woman of so much intellect
that you could not be content merely to live."

"No," she said, "I would not be content merely to live."

"Precisely. Therefore, since to make life worth the living there must be
occasionally a trifle of spice, a bit of adventure, either for man or
woman, I suggest to you, as something offering amusement, this little
journey with me to-night to meet my chief. You have his message. I am
his messenger, and, believe me, quite at your service in any way you may
suggest. Let us be frank. If you are agent, so am I. See; I have come
into your camp. Dare you not come into ours? Come; it is an adventure to
see a tall, thin old man in a dressing-gown and a red woolen nightcap.
So you will find my chief; and in apartments much different from these."

She took up the missive with its broken seal. "So your chief, as you
call him, asks me to come to him, at midnight, with you, a stranger?"

"Do you not believe in charms and in luck, in evil and good fortune,
Madam?" I asked her. "Now, it is well to be lucky. In ordinary
circumstances, as you say, I could not have got past yonder door. Yet
here I am. What does it augur, Madam?"

"But it is night!"

"Precisely. Could you go to the office of a United States senator and
possible cabinet minister in broad daylight and that fact not be known?
Could he come to your apartments in broad daylight and that fact not be
known? What would 'that man Pakenham' suspect in either case? Believe
me, my master is wise. I do not know his reason, but he knows it, and he
has planned best to gain his purpose, whatever it may be. Reason must
teach you, Madam, that night, this night, this hour, is the only time in
which this visit could be made. Naturally, it would be impossible for
him to come here. If you go to him, he will--ah, he will reverence you,
as I do, Madam. Great necessity sets aside conventions, sets aside
everything. Come, then!"

But still she only sat and smiled at me. I felt that purple and amber
glow, the emanation of her personality, of her senses, creeping around
me again as she leaned forward finally, her parted red-bowed lips again
disclosing her delicate white teeth. I saw the little heave of her
bosom, whether in laughter or emotion I could not tell. I was young.
Resenting the spell which I felt coming upon me, all I could do was to
reiterate my demand for haste. She was not in the least impressed by
this.

"Come!" she said. "I am pleased with these Americans. Yes, I am not
displeased with this little adventure."

I rose impatiently, and walked apart in the room. "You can not evade me,
Madam, so easily as you did the Mexican gentleman who followed you. You
have him in the net also? Is not the net full enough?"

"Never!" she said, her head swaying slowly from side to side, her face
inscrutable. "Am I not a woman? Ah, am I not?"

"Madam," said I, whirling upon her, "let me, at least, alone. I am too
small game for you. I am but a messenger. Time passes. Let us arrive at
our business."

"What would you do if I refused to go with you?" she asked, still
smiling at me. She was waiting for the spell of these surroundings, the
spirit of this place, to do their work with me, perhaps; was willing to
take her time with charm of eye and arm and hair and curved fingers,
which did not openly invite and did not covertly repel. But I saw that
her attitude toward me held no more than that of bird of prey and some
little creature well within its power. It made me angry to be so rated.

"You ask me what I should do?" I retorted savagely. "I shall tell you
first what I _will_ do if you continue your refusal. I will _take_ you
with me, and so keep my agreement with my chief. Keep away from the bell
rope! Remain silent! Do not move! You should go if I had to carry you
there in a sack--because that is my errand!"

"Oh, listen at him threaten!" she laughed still. "And he despises my
poor little castle here in the side street, where half the time I am so
lonely! What would Monsieur do if Monsieur were in my place--and if I
were in Monsieur's place? But, bah! you would not have me following
_you_ in the first hour we met, boy!"

I flushed again hotly at this last word. "Madam may discontinue the
thought of my boyhood; I am older than she. But if you ask me what I
would do with a woman if I followed her, or if she followed me, then I
shall tell you. If I owned this place and all in it, I would tear down
every picture from these walls, every silken cover from yonder couches!
I would rip out these walls and put back the ones that once were here!
You, Madam, should be taken out of luxury and daintiness--"

"Go on!" She clapped her hands, for the first time kindling, and
dropping her annoying air of patronizing me. "Go on! I like you now.
Tell me what Americans do with women that they love! I have heard they
are savages."

"A house of logs far out in the countries that I know would do for you,
Madam!" I went on hotly. "You should forget the touch of silk and lace.
No neighbor you should know until I was willing. Any man who followed
you should meet _me_. Until you loved me all you could, and said so, and
proved it, I would wring your neck with my hands, if necessary, until
you loved me!"

"Excellent! What then?"

"Then, Madam the Baroness, I would in turn build you a palace, one of
logs, and would make you a most excellent couch of the husks of corn.
You should cook at my fireplace, and for _me!_"

She smiled slowly past me, at me. "Pray, be seated," she said. "You
interest me."

"It is late," I reiterated. "Come! Must I do some of these things--force
you into obedience--carry you away in a sack? My master can not wait."

"Don Yturrio of Mexico, on the other hand," she mused, "promised me not
violence, but more jewels. Idiot!"

"Indeed!" I rejoined, in contempt. "An American savage would give you
but one gown, and that of your own weave; you could make it up as you
liked. But come, now; I have no more time to lose."

"Ah, also, idiot!" she murmured. "Do you not see that I must reclothe
myself before I could go with you--that is to say, if I choose to go
with you? Now, as I was saying, my ardent Mexican promises thus and so.
My lord of England--ah, well, they may be pardoned. Suppose I might
listen to such suits--might there not be some life for me--some life
with events? On the other hand, what of interest could America offer?"

"I have told you what life America could give you."

"I imagined men were but men, wherever found," she went on; "but what
you say interests me, I declare to you again. A woman is a woman, too, I
fancy. She always wants one thing--to be all the world to one man."

"Quite true," I answered. "Better that than part of the world to one--or
two? And the opposite of it is yet more true. When a woman is all the
world to a man, she despises him."

"But yes, I should like that experience of being a cook in a cabin, and
being bruised and broken and choked!" She smiled, lazily extending her
flawless arms and looking down at them, at all of her splendid figure,
as though in interested examination. "I am alone so much--so bored!" she
went on. "And Sir Richard Pakenham is so very, very fat. Ah, God! You
can not guess how fat he is. But you, you are not fat." She looked me
over critically, to my great uneasiness.

"All the more reason for doing as I have suggested, Madam; for Mr.
Calhoun is not even so fat as I am. This little interview with my chief,
I doubt not, will prove of interest. Indeed"--I went on seriously and
intently--"I venture to say this much without presuming on my station:
the talk which you will have with my chief to-night will show you things
you have never known, give you an interest in living which perhaps you
have not felt. If I am not mistaken, you will find much in common
between you and my master. I speak not to the agent of England, but to
the lady Helena von Ritz."

"He is old," she went on. "He is very old. His face is thin and
bloodless and fleshless. He is old."

"Madam," I said, "his mind is young, his purpose young, his ambition
young; and his country is young. Is not the youth of all these things
still your own?"

She made no answer, but sat musing, drumming lightly on the chair arm.
I was reaching for her cloak. Then at once I caught a glimpse of her
stockinged foot, the toe of which slightly protruded from beneath her
ball gown. She saw the glance and laughed.

"Poor feet," she said. "Ah, _mes pauvres pieds la_! You would like to
see them bruised by the hard going in some heathen country? See you have
no carriage, and mine is gone. I have not even a pair of shoes. Go look
under the bed beyond."

I obeyed her gladly enough. Under the fringe of the satin counterpane I
found a box of boots, slippers, all manner of footwear, daintily and
neatly arranged. Taking out a pair to my fancy, I carried them out and
knelt before her.

"Then, Madam," said I, "since you insist on this, I shall choose.
America is not Europe. Our feet here have rougher going and must be shod
for it. Allow me!"

Without the least hesitation in the world, or the least immodesty, she
half protruded the foot which still retained its slipper. As I removed
this latter, through some gay impulse, whose nature I did not pause to
analyze, I half mechanically thrust it into the side pocket of my coat.

"This shall be security," said I, "that what you speak with my master
shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

There was a curious deeper red in her cheek. I saw her bosom beat the
faster rhythm.

"Quite agreed!" she answered. But she motioned me away, taking the stout
boot in her own hand and turning aside as she fastened it. She looked
over her shoulder at me now and again while thus engaged.

"Tell me," she said gently, "what security do _I_ have? You come, by my
invitation, it is true, but none the less an intrusion, into my
apartments. You demand of me something which no man has a right to
demand. Because I am disposed to be gracious, and because I am much
disposed to be _ennuye_, and because Mr. Pakenham is fat, I am willing
to take into consideration what you ask. I have never seen a thin
gentleman in a woolen nightcap, and I am curious. But no gentleman plays
games with ladies in which the dice are loaded for himself. Come, what
security shall _I_ have?"

I did not pretend to understand her. Perhaps, after all, we all had been
misinformed regarding her? I could not tell. But her spirit of
_camaraderie_, her good fellowship, her courage, quite aside from her
personal charm, had now begun to impress me.

"Madam," said I, feeling in my pocket; "no heathen has much of this
world's goods. All my possessions would not furnish one of these rooms.
I can not offer gems, as does Senor Yturrio--but, would this be of
service--until to-morrow? That will leave him and me with a slipper
each. It is with reluctance I pledge to return mine!"

By chance I had felt in my pocket a little object which I had placed
there that very day for quite another purpose. It was only a little
trinket of Indian manufacture, which I had intended to give Elisabeth
that very evening; a sort of cloak clasp, originally made as an Indian
blanket fastening, with two round discs ground out of shells and
connected by beaded thongs. I had got it among the tribes of the far
upper plains, who doubtless obtained the shells, in their strange savage
barter, in some way from the tribes of Florida or Texas, who sometimes
trafficked in shells which found their way as far north as the
Saskatchewan. The trinket was curious, though of small value. The
baroness looked at it with interest.

"How it reminds me of this heathen country!" she said. "Is this all that
your art can do in jewelry? Yet it _is_ beautiful. Come, will you not
give it to me?"

"Until to-morrow, Madam."

"No longer?"

"I can not promise it longer. I must, unfortunately, have it back when I
send a messenger--I shall hardly come myself, Madam."

"Ah!" she scoffed. "Then it belongs to another woman?"

"Yes, it is promised to another."

"Then this is to be the last time we meet?"

"I do not doubt it."

"Are you not sorry?"

"Naturally, Madam!"

She sighed, laughing as she did so. Yet I could not evade seeing the
curious color on her cheek, the rise and fall of the laces over her
bosom. Utterly self-possessed, satisfied with life as it had come to
her, without illusion as to life, absorbed in the great game of living
and adventuring--so I should have described her. Then why should her
heart beat one stroke the faster now? I dismissed that question, and
rebuked my eyes, which I found continually turning toward her.

She motioned to a little table near by. "Put the slipper there," she
said. "Your little neck clasp, also." Again I obeyed her.

"Stand there!" she said, motioning to the opposite side of the table;
and I did so. "Now," said she, looking at me gravely, "I am going with
you to see this man whom you call your chief--this old and ugly man,
thin and weazened, with no blood in him, and a woolen nightcap which is
perhaps red. I shall not tell you whether I go of my own wish or because
you wish it. But I need soberly to tell you this: secrecy is as
necessary for me as for you. The favor may mean as much on one side as
on the other--I shall not tell you why. But we shall play fair until,
as you say, perhaps to-morrow. After that--"

"After that, on guard!"

"Very well, on guard! Suppose I do not like this other woman?"

"Madam, you could not help it. All the world loves her."

"Do you?"

"With my life."

"How devoted! Very well, _on guard_, then!"

She took up the Indian bauble, turning to examine it at the nearest
candle sconce, even as I thrust the dainty little slipper of white satin
again into the pocket of my coat. I was uncomfortable. I wished this
talk of Elisabeth had not come up. I liked very little to leave
Elisabeth's property in another's hands. Dissatisfied, I turned from the
table, not noticing for more than an instant a little crumpled roll of
paper which, as I was vaguely conscious, now appeared on its smooth
marquetry top.

"But see," she said; "you are just like a man, after all, and an
unmarried man at that! I can not go through the streets in this costume.
Excuse me for a moment."

She was off on the instant into the alcove where the great amber-covered
bed stood. She drew the curtains. I heard her humming to herself as she
passed to and fro, saw the flare of a light as it rose beyond. Once or
twice she thrust a laughing face between the curtains, held tight
together with her hands, as she asked me some question, mocking me,
still amused--yet still, as I thought, more enigmatic than before.

"Madam," I said at last, "I would I might dwell here for ever, but--you
are slow! The night passes. Come. My master will be waiting. He is ill;
I fear he can not sleep. I know how intent he is on meeting you. I beg
you to oblige an old, a dying man!"

"And you, Monsieur," she mocked at me from beyond the curtain, "are
intent only on getting rid of me. Are you not adventurer enough to
forget that other woman for one night?"

In her hands--those of a mysterious foreign woman--I had placed this
little trinket which I had got among the western tribes for Elisabeth--a
woman of my own people--the woman to whom my pledge had been given, not
for return on any morrow. I made no answer, excepting to walk up and
down the floor.

At last she came out from between the curtains, garbed more suitably for
the errand which was now before us. A long, dark cloak covered her
shoulders. On her head there rested a dainty up-flared bonnet, whose
jetted edges shone in the candle light as she moved toward me. She was
exquisite in every detail, beautiful as mind of man could wish; that
much was sure, must be admitted by any man. I dared not look at her. I
called to mind the taunt of those old men, that I was young! There was
in my soul vast relief that she was not delaying me here longer in this
place of spells--that in this almost providential way my errand had met
success.

She paused for an instant, drawing on a pair of the short gloves of the
mode then correct. "Do you know why I am to go on this heathen errand?"
she demanded. I shook my head.

"Mr. Calhoun wishes to know whether he shall go to the cabinet of your
man Tyler over there in that barn you call your White House. I suppose
Mr. Calhoun wishes to know how he can serve Mr. Tyler?"

I laughed at this. "Serve him!" I exclaimed. "Rather say _lead_ him,
_tell_ him, _command_ him!"

"Yes," she nodded. I began to see another and graver side of her nature.
"Yes, it is of course Texas."

I did not see fit to make answer to this.

"If your master, as you call him, takes the portfolio with Tyler, it is
to annex Texas," she repeated sharply. "Is not that true?"

Still I would not answer. "Come!" I said.

"And he asks me to come to him so that he may decide--"

This awoke me. "No man decides for John Calhoun, Madam," I said. "You
may advance facts, but _he_ will decide." Still she went on.

"And Texas not annexed is a menace. Without her, you heathen people
would not present a solid front, would you?"

"Madam has had much to do with affairs of state," I said.

She went on as though I had not spoken:

"And if you were divided in your southern section, England would have
all the greater chance. England, you know, says she wishes slavery
abolished. She says that--"

"England _says_ many things!" I ventured.

"The hypocrite of the nations!" flashed out this singular woman at me
suddenly. "As though diplomacy need be hypocrisy! Thus, to-night Sir
Richard of England forgets his place, his protestations. He does not
even know that Mexico has forgotten its duty also. Sir, you were not at
our little ball, so you could not see that very fat Sir Richard paying
his bored _devoirs_ to Dona Lucrezia! So I am left alone, and would be
bored, but for you. In return--a slight jest on Sir Richard to-night!--I
will teach him that no fat gentleman should pay even bored attentions to
a lady who soon will be fat, when his obvious duty should call him
otherwhere! Bah! 'tis as though I myself were fat; which is not true."

"You go too deep for me, Madam," I said. "I am but a simple messenger."
At the same time, I saw how admirably things were shaping for us all. A
woman's jealousy was with us, and so a woman's whim!

"There you have the measure of England's sincerity," she went on, with
contempt. "England is selfish, that is all. Do you not suppose I have
something to do besides feeding a canary? To read, to study--that is my
pleasure. I know your politics here in America. Suppose you invade
Texas, as the threat is, with troops of the United States, before Texas
is a member of the Union? Does that not mean you are again at war with
Mexico? And does that not mean that you are also at war with England?
Come, do you not know some of those things?"

"With my hand on my heart, Madam," I asserted solemnly, "all I know is
that you must go to see my master. Calhoun wants you. America needs you.
I beg you to do what kindness you may to the heathen."

"_Et moi?_"

"And you?" I answered. "You shall have such reward as you have never
dreamed in all your life."

"How do you mean?"

"I doubt not the reward for a soul which is as keen and able as your
heart is warm, Madam. Come, I am not such a fool as you think, perhaps.
Nor are you a fool. You are a great woman, a wonderful woman, with head
and heart both, Madam, as well as beauty such as I had never dreamed.
You are a strange woman, Madam. You are a genius, Madam, if you please.
So, I say, you are capable of a reward, and a great one. You may find it
in the gratitude of a people."

"What could this country give more than Mexico or England?" She smiled
quizzically.

"Much more, Madam! Your reward shall be in the later thought of many
homes--homes built of logs, with dingy fireplaces and couches of husks
in them--far out, all across this continent, housing many people, many
happy citizens, men who will make their own laws, and enforce them, man
and man alike! Madam, it is the spirit of democracy which calls on you
to-night! It is not any political party, nor the representative of one.
It is not Mr. Calhoun; it is not I. Mr. Calhoun only puts before you the
summons of--"

"Of what?"

"Of that spirit of democracy."

She stood, one hand ungloved, a finger at her lips, her eyes glowing. "I
am glad you came," she said. "On the whole, I am also glad I came upon
my foolish errand here to America."

"Madam," said I, my hand at the fastening of the door, "we have
exchanged pledges. Now we exchange places. It is you who are the
messenger, not myself. There is a message in your hands. I know not
whether you ever served a monarchy. Come, you shall see that our
republic has neither secrets nor hypocrisies."

On the instant she was not shrewd and tactful woman of the world, not
student, but once more coquette and woman of impulse. She looked at me
with mockery and invitation alike in her great dark eyes, even as I
threw down the chain at the door and opened it wide for her to pass.

"Is that my only reward?" she asked, smiling as she fumbled at a glove.

In reply, I bent and kissed the fingers of her ungloved hand. They were
so warm and tender that I had been different than I was had I not felt
the blood tingle in all my body in the impulse of the moment to do more
than kiss her fingers.

Had I done so--had I not thought of Elisabeth--then, as in my heart I
still believe, the flag of England to-day would rule Oregon and the
Pacific; and it would float to-day along the Rio Grande; and it would
menace a divided North and South, instead of respecting a strong and
indivisible Union which owns one flag and dreads none in the world.




CHAPTER VII

REGARDING ELISABETH

     Without woman the two extremities of this life would be destitute
     of succor and the middle would be devoid of pleasure.--_Proverb_.


In some forgotten garret of this country, as I do not doubt, yellowed
with age, stained and indistinguishable, lost among uncared-for relics
of another day, there may be records of that interview between two
strange personalities, John Calhoun and Helena von Ritz, in the
arrangement of which I played the part above described. I was not at
that time privileged to have much more than a guess at the nature of the
interview. Indeed, other things now occupied my mind. I was very much in
love with Elisabeth Churchill.

Of these matters I need to make some mention. My father's plantation was
one of the old ones in Maryland. That of the Churchills lay across a low
range of mountains and in another county from us, but our families had
long been friends. I had known Elisabeth from the time she was a tall,
slim girl, boon companion ever to her father, old Daniel Churchill; for
her mother she had lost when she was still young. The Churchills
maintained a city establishment in the environs of Washington itself,
although that was not much removed from their plantation in the old
State of Maryland. Elmhurst, this Washington estate was called, and it
was well known there, with its straight road approaching and its great
trees and its wide-doored halls--whereby the road itself seemed to run
straight through the house and appear beyond--and its tall white pillars
and hospitable galleries, now in the springtime enclosed in green. I
need not state that now, having finished the business of the day, or,
rather, of the night, Elmhurst, home of Elisabeth, was my immediate
Mecca.

I had clad myself as well as I could in the fashion of my time, and
flattered myself, as I looked in my little mirror, that I made none such
bad figure of a man. I was tall enough, and straight, thin with long
hours afoot or in the saddle, bronzed to a good color, and if health did
not show on my face, at least I felt it myself in the lightness of my
step, in the contentedness of my heart with all of life, in my general
assurance that all in the world meant well toward me and that everything
in the world would do well by me. We shall see what license there was
for this.

As to Elisabeth Churchill, it might have been in line with a
Maryland-custom had she generally been known as Betty; but Betty she
never was called, although that diminutive was applied to her aunt,
Jennings, twice as large as she, after whom she had been named. Betty
implies a snub nose; Elisabeth's was clean-cut and straight. Betty runs
for a saucy mouth and a short one; Elisabeth's was red and curved, but
firm and wide enough for strength and charity as well. Betty spells
round eyes, with brows arched above them as though in query and
curiosity; the eyes of Elisabeth were long, her brows long and straight
and delicately fine. A Betty might even have red hair; Elisabeth's was
brown in most lights, and so liquid smooth that almost I was disposed to
call it dense rather than thick. Betty would seem to indicate a nature
impulsive, gay, and free from care; on the other hand, it was to be said
of Elisabeth that she was logical beyond her kind--a trait which she got
from her mother, a daughter of old Judge Henry Gooch, of our Superior
Court. Yet, disposed as she always was to be logical in her conclusions,
the great characteristic of Elisabeth was serenity, consideration and
charity.

With all this, there appeared sometimes at the surface of Elisabeth's
nature that fire and lightness and impulsiveness which she got from her
father, Mr. Daniel Churchill. Whether she was wholly reserved and
reasonable, or wholly warm and impulsive, I, long as I had known and
loved her, never was quite sure. Something held me away, something
called me forward; so that I was always baffled, and yet always eager,
God wot. I suppose this is the way of women. At times I have been
impatient with it, knowing my own mind well enough.

At least now, in my tight-strapped trousers and my long blue coat and my
deep embroidered waistcoat and my high stock, my shining boots and my
tall beaver, I made my way on my well-groomed horse up to the gates of
old Elmhurst; and as I rode I pondered and I dreamed.

But Miss Elisabeth was not at home, it seemed. Her father, Mr. Daniel
Churchill, rather portly and now just a trifle red of face, met me
instead. It was not an encounter for which I devoutly wished, but one
which I knew it was the right of both of us to expect ere long. Seeing
the occasion propitious, I plunged at once _in medias res_. Part of the
time explanatory, again apologetic, and yet again, I trust, assertive,
although always blundering and red and awkward, I told the father of my
intended of my own wishes, my prospects and my plans.

He listened to me gravely and, it seemed to me, with none of that
enthusiasm which I would have welcomed. As to my family, he knew enough.
As to my prospects, he questioned me. My record was not unfamiliar to
him. So, gaining confidence at last under the insistence of what I knew
were worthy motives, and which certainly were irresistible of
themselves, so far as I was concerned, I asked him if we might not soon
make an end of this, and, taking chances as they were, allow my wedding
with Elisabeth to take place at no very distant date.

"Why, as to that, of course I do not know what my girl will say," went
on Mr. Daniel Churchill, pursing up his lips. He looked not wholly
lovable to me, as he sat in his big chair. I wondered that he should be
father of so fair a human being as Elisabeth.

"Oh, of course--that," I answered; "Miss Elisabeth and I--"

"The skeesicks!" he exclaimed. "I thought she told me everything."

"I think Miss Elisabeth tells no one quite everything," I ventured. "I
confess she has kept me almost as much in the dark as yourself, sir. But
I only wanted to ask if, after I have seen her to-day, and if I should
gain her consent to an early day, you would not waive any objections on
your own part and allow the matter to go forward as soon as possible?"

In answer to this he arose from his chair and stood looking out of the
window, his back turned to me. I could not call his reception of my
suggestion enthusiastic; but at last he turned.

"I presume that our two families might send you young people a sack of
meal or a side of bacon now and then, as far as that is concerned," he
said.

I could not call this speech joyous.

"There are said to be risks in any union, sir," I ventured to say. "I
admit I do not follow you in contemplating any risk whatever. If either
you or your daughter doubts my loyalty or affection, then I should say
certainly it were wise to end all this; but--" and I fancied I
straightened perceptibly--"I think that might perhaps be left to Miss
Elisabeth herself."

After all, Mr. Dan Churchill was obliged to yield, as fathers have been
obliged from the beginning of the world. At last he told me I might take
my fate in my own hands and go my way.

Trust the instinct of lovers to bring them together! I was quite
confident that at that hour I should find Elisabeth and her aunt in the
big East Room at the president's reception, the former looking on with
her uncompromising eyes at the little pageant which on reception days
regularly went forward there.

My conclusion was correct. I found a boy to hold my horse in front of
Gautier's cafe. Then I hastened off across the intervening blocks and
through the grounds of the White House, in which presently, having edged
through the throng in the ante-chambers, I found myself in that inane
procession of individuals who passed by in order, each to receive the
limp handshake, the mechanical bow and the perfunctory smite of
President Tyler--rather a tall, slender-limbed, active man, and of very
decent presence, although his thin, shrunken cheeks and his cold
blue-gray eye left little quality of magnetism in his personality.

It was not new to me, of course, this pageant, although it never lacked
of interest. There were in the throng representatives of all America as
it was then, a strange, crude blending of refinement and vulgarity, of
ease and poverty, of luxury and thrift. We had there merchants from
Philadelphia and New York, politicians from canny New England and not
less canny Pennsylvania. At times there came from the Old World men
representative of an easier and more opulent life, who did not always
trouble to suppress their smiles at us. Moving among these were ladies
from every state of our Union, picturesque enough in their wide flowered
skirts and their flaring bonnets and their silken mitts, each rivalling
the other in the elegance of her mien, and all unconsciously outdone in
charm, perhaps, by some demure Quakeress in white and dove color,
herself looking askance on all this form and ceremony, yet unwilling to
leave the nation's capital without shaking the hand of the nation's
chief. Add to these, gaunt, black-haired frontiersmen from across the
Alleghanies; politicians from the South, clean-shaven, pompous,
immaculately clad; uneasy tradesmen from this or the other corner of
their commonwealth. A motley throng, indeed!

A certain air of gloom at this time hung over official Washington, for
the minds of all were still oppressed by the memory of that fatal
accident--the explosion of the great cannon "Peacemaker" on board the
war vessel _Princeton_--which had killed Mr. Upshur, our secretary of
state, with others, and had, at one blow, come so near to depriving this
government of its head and his official family; the number of prominent
lives thus ended or endangered being appalling to contemplate. It was
this accident which had called Mr. Calhoun forward at a national
juncture of the most extreme delicacy and the utmost importance. In
spite of the general mourning, however, the informal receptions at the
White House were not wholly discontinued, and the administration,
unsettled as it was, and fronted by the gravest of diplomatic problems,
made such show of dignity and even cheerfulness as it might.

I considered it my duty to pass in the long procession and to shake the
hand of Mr. Tyler. That done, I gazed about the great room, carefully
scan-fling the different little groups which were accustomed to form
after the ceremonial part of the visit was over. I saw many whom I
knew. I forgot them; for in a far corner, where a flood of light came
through the trailing vines that shielded the outer window, my anxious
eyes discovered the object of my quest--Elisabeth.

It seemed to me I had never known her so fair as she was that morning in
the great East Room of the White House. Elisabeth was rather taller than
the average woman, and of that splendid southern figure, slender but
strong, which makes perhaps the best representative of our American
beauty. She was very bravely arrayed to-day in her best pink-flowered
lawn, made wide and full, as was the custom of the time, but not so
clumsily gathered at the waist as some, and so serving not wholly to
conceal her natural comeliness of figure. Her bonnet she had removed. I
could see the sunlight on the ripples of her brown hair, and the shadows
which lay above her eyes as she turned to face me, and the slow pink
which crept into her cheeks.

Dignified always, and reserved, was Elisabeth Churchill. But now I hope
it was not wholly conceit which led me to feel that perhaps the warmth,
the glow of the air, caught while riding under the open sky, the sight
of the many budding roses of our city, the scent of the blossoms which
even then came through the lattice--the meeting even with myself, so
lately returned--something at least of this had caused an awakening in
her girl's heart. Something, I say, I do not know what, gave her
greeting to me more warmth than was usual with her. My own heart, eager
enough to break bounds, answered in kind. We stood--blushing like
children as our hands touched--forgotten in that assemblage of
Washington's pomp and circumstance.

"How do you do?" was all I could find to say. And "How do you do?" was
all I could catch for answer, although I saw, in a fleeting way, a
glimpse of a dimple hid in Elisabeth's cheek. She never showed it save
when pleased. I have never seen a dimple like that of Elisabeth's.

Absorbed, we almost forgot Aunt Betty Jennings--stout, radiant,
snub-nosed, arch-browed and curious, Elisabeth's chaperon. On the whole,
I was glad Aunt Betty Jennings was there. When a soldier approaches a
point of danger, he does not despise the cover of natural objects. Aunt
Betty appeared to me simply as a natural object at the time. I sought
her shelter.

"Aunt Betty," said I, as I took her hand; "Aunt Betty, have we told you,
Elisabeth and I?"

I saw Elisabeth straighten in perplexity, doubt or horror, but I went
on.

"Yes, Elisabeth and I--"

"You _dear_ children!" gurgled Aunt Betty.

"Congratulate us both!" I demanded, and I put Elisabeth's hand, covered
with my own, into the short and chubby fingers of that estimable lady.
Whenever Elisabeth attempted to open her lips I opened mine before, and
I so overwhelmed dear Aunt Betty Jennings with protestations of my
regard for her, my interest in her family, her other nieces, her
chickens, her kittens, her home--I so quieted all her questions by
assertions and demands and exclamations, and declarations that Mr.
Daniel Churchill had given his consent, that I swear for the moment even
Elisabeth believed that what I had said was indeed true. At least, I can
testify she made no formal denial, although the dimple was now
frightened out of sight.

Admirable Aunt Betty Jennings! She forestalled every assertion I made,
herself bubbling and blushing in sheer delight. Nor did she lack in
charity. Tapping me with her fan lightly, she exclaimed: "You rogue! I
know that you two want to be alone; that is what you want. Now I am
going away--just down the room. You will ride home with us after a time,
I am sure?"

Adorable Aunt Betty Jennings! Elisabeth and I looked at her comfortable
back for some moments before I turned, laughing, to look Elisabeth in
the eyes.

"You had no right--" began she, her face growing pink.

"Every right!" said I, and managed to find a place for our two hands
under cover of the wide flounces of her figured lawn as we stood, both
blushing. "I have every right. I have truly just seen your father. I
have just come from him."

She looked at me intently, glowingly, happily.

"I could not wait any longer," I went on. "Within a week I am going to
have an office of my own. Let us wait no longer. I have waited long
enough. Now--"

I babbled on, and she listened. It was strange place enough for a
betrothal, but there at least I said the words which bound me; and in
the look Elisabeth gave me I saw her answer. Her eyes were wide and
straight and solemn. She did not smile.

As we stood, with small opportunity and perhaps less inclination for
much conversation, my eyes chanced to turn toward the main entrance door
of the East Room. I saw, pushing through, a certain page, a young boy of
good family, who was employed by Mr. Calhoun as messenger. He knew me
perfectly well, as he did almost every one else in Washington, and with
precocious intelligence his gaze picked me out in all that throng.

"Is that for me?" I asked, as he extended his missive.

"Yes," he nodded. "Mr. Calhoun told me to find you and to give you this
at once."

I turned to Elisabeth. "If you will pardon me?" I said. She made way for
me to pass to a curtained window, and there, turning my back and using
such secrecy as I could, I broke the seal.

The message was brief. To be equally brief I may say simply that it
asked me to be ready to start for Canada that night on business
connected with the Department of State! Of reasons or explanations it
gave none.

I turned to Elisabeth and held out the message from my chief. She looked
at it. Her eyes widened. "Nicholas!" she exclaimed.

I looked at her in silence for a moment. "Elisabeth," I said at last, "I
have been gone on this sort of business long enough. What do you say to
this? Shall I decline to go? It means my resignation at once."

I hesitated. The heart of the nation and the nation's life were about
me. Our state, such as it was, lay there in that room, and with it our
problems, our duties, our dangers. I knew, better than most, that there
were real dangers before this nation at that very hour. I was a lover,
yet none the less I was an American. At once a sudden plan came into my
mind.

"Elisabeth," said I, turning to her swiftly, "I will agree to nothing
which will send me away from you again. Listen, then--" I raised a hand
as she would have spoken. "Go home with your Aunt Betty as soon as you
can. Tell your father that to-night at six I shall be there. Be ready!"

"What do you mean?" she panted. I saw her throat flutter.

"I mean that we must be married to-night before I go. Before eight
o'clock I must be on the train."

"When will you be back?" she whispered.

"How can I tell? When I go, my wife shall wait there at Elmhurst,
instead of my sweetheart."

She turned away from me, contemplative. She, too, was young. Ardor
appealed to her. Life stood before her, beckoning, as to me. What could
the girl do or say?

I placed her hand on my arm. We started toward the door, intending to
pick up Aunt Jennings on our way. As we advanced, a group before us
broke apart. I stood aside to make way for a gentleman whom I did not
recognize. On his arm there leaned a woman, a beautiful woman, clad in a
costume of flounced and rippling velvet of a royal blue which made her
the most striking figure in the great room. Hers was a personality not
easily to be overlooked in any company, her face one not readily to be
equalled. It was the Baroness Helena von Ritz!

We met face to face. I presume it would have been too much to ask even
of her to suppress the sudden flash of recognition which she showed. At
first she did not see that I was accompanied. She bent to me, as
though to adjust her gown, and, without a change in the expression of
her face, spoke to me in an undertone no one else could hear.

[Illustration: "Wait!" she murmured "There is to be a meeting--" Page
79]

"Wait!" she murmured. "There is to be a meeting--" She had time for no
more as she swept by.

Alas, that mere moments should spell ruin as well as happiness! This new
woman whom I had wooed and found, this new Elisabeth whose hand lay on
my arm, saw what no one else would have seen--that little flash of
recognition on the face of Helena von Ritz! She heard a whisper pass.
Moreover, with a woman's uncanny facility in detail, she took in every
item of the other's costume. For myself, I could see nothing of that
costume now save one object--a barbaric brooch of double shells and
beaded fastenings, which clasped the light laces at her throat.

The baroness had perhaps slept as little as I the night before. If I
showed the ravages of loss of sleep no more than she, I was fortunate.
She was radiant, as she passed forward with her escort for place in the
line which had not yet dwindled away.

"You seem to know that lady," said Elisabeth to me gently.

"Did I so seem?" I answered. "It is professional of all to smile in the
East Room at a reception," said I.

"Then you do not know the lady?"

"Indeed, no. Why should I, my dear girl?" Ah, how hot my face was!

"I do not know," said Elisabeth. "Only, in a way she resembles a certain
lady of whom we have heard rather more than enough here in Washington."

"Put aside silly gossip, Elisabeth," I said. "And, please, do not
quarrel with me, now that I am so happy. To-night--"

"Nicholas," she said, leaning just a little forward and locking her
hands more deeply in my arm, "don't you know you were telling me one
time about the little brooch you were going to bring me--an Indian
thing--you said it should be my--my wedding present? Don't you remember
that? Now, I was thinking--"

I stood blushing red as though detected in the utmost villainy. And the
girl at my side saw that written on my face which now, within the very
moment, it had become her _right_ to question! I turned to her suddenly.

"Elisabeth," said I, "you shall have your little brooch to-night, if you
will promise me now to be ready and waiting for me at six. I will have
the license."

It seemed to me that this new self of Elisabeth's--warmer, yielding,
adorable--was slowly going away from me again, and that her old self,
none the less sweet, none the less alluring, but more logical and
questioning, had taken its old place again. She put both her hands on my
arm now and looked me fairly in the face, where the color still
proclaimed some sort of guilt on my part, although my heart was clean
and innocent as hers.

"Nicholas," she said, "come to-night. Bring me my little jewel--and
bring--"

"The minister! If I do that, Elisabeth, you will marry me then?"

"Yes!" she whispered softly.

Amid all the din and babble of that motley throng I heard the word, low
as it was. I have never heard a voice like Elisabeth's.

An instant later, I knew not quite how, her hand was away from my arm,
in that of Aunt Betty, and they were passing toward the main door,
leaving me standing with joy and doubt mingled in my mind.




CHAPTER VIII

MR. CALHOUN ACCEPTS

     A woman's tongue is her sword, that she never lets rust.
                                           --_Madam Necker_.

I struggled among three courses. The impulses of my heart, joined to
some prescience of trouble, bade me to follow Elisabeth. My duty ordered
me to hasten to Mr. Calhoun. My interest demanded that I should tarry,
for I was sure that the Baroness von Ritz would make no merely idle
request in these circumstances. Hesitating thus, I lost sight of her in
the throng. So I concluded I would obey the mandate of duty, and turned
toward the great doors. Indeed, I was well toward the steps which led
out into the grounds, when all at once two elements of my problem
resolved themselves into one. I saw the tall figure of Mr. Calhoun
himself coming up the walk toward me.

"Ah," said he briefly, "then my message found you?"

"I was starting for you this moment, sir" I replied.

"Wait for a moment. I counted on finding you here. Matters have
changed."

I turned with him and we entered again the East Room, where Mr. Tyler
still prolonged the official greeting of the curious, the obsequious, or
the banal persons who passed. Mr. Calhoun stood apart for a time,
watching the progress of this purely American function. It was some time
ere the groups thinned. This latter fact usually would have ended the
reception, since it is not etiquette to suppose that the president can
lack an audience; but to-day Mr. Tyler lingered. As last through the
thinning throng he caught sight of the distinctive figure of Mr.
Calhoun. For the first time his own face assumed a natural expression.
He stopped the line for an instant, and with a raised hand beckoned to
my chief.

At this we dropped in at the tail of the line, Mr. Calhoun in passing
grasping almost as many hands as Mr. Tyler. When at length we reached
the president's position, the latter greeted him and added a whispered
word. An instant later he turned abruptly, ending the reception with a
deep bow, and retired into the room from which he had earlier emerged.

Mr. Calhoun turned now to me with a request to follow him, and we passed
through the door where the president had vanished. Directed by
attendants, we were presently ushered into yet another room, which at
that time served the president as his cabinet room, a place for meeting
persons of distinction who called upon business.

As we entered I saw that it was already occupied. Mr. Tyler was grasping
the hand of a portly personage, whom I knew to be none other than Mr.
Pakenham. So much might have been expected. What was not to have been
expected was the presence of another--none less than the Baroness von
Ritz! For this latter there was no precedent, no conceivable explanation
save some exigent emergency.

So we were apparently to understand that my lady was here as open friend
of England! Of course, I needed no word from Mr. Calhoun to remind me
that we must seem ignorant of this lady, of her character, and of her
reputed relations with the British Foreign Office.

"I pray you be seated, Mr. Pakenham," said Mr. Tyler, and he gestured
also to us others to take chairs near his table. Mr. Pakenham, in rather
a lofty fashion, it seemed to me, obeyed the polite request, but
scarcely had seated himself ere he again rose with an important clearing
of his throat. He was one who never relished the democratic title of
"Mr." accorded him by Mr. Tyler, whose plain and simple ways, not much
different now from those of his plantation life, were in marked
contrast to the ceremoniousness of the Van Buren administration, which
Pakenham also had known.

"Your _Excellency_," said he, "her Majesty the Queen of England's wish
is somewhat anticipated by my visit here to-day. I hasten only to put in
the most prompt and friendly form her Majesty's desires, which I am sure
formally will be expressed in the first mails from England. We deplore
this most unhappy accident on your warship _Princeton_, which has come
so near working irremediable injury to this country. Unofficially, I
have ventured to make this personal visit under the flag of this
enlightened Republic, and to the center of its official home, out of a
friendship for Mr. Upshur, the late secretary of state, a friendship as
sincere as is that of my own country for this Republic."

"Sir," said Mr. Tyler, rising, with a deep bow, "the courtesy of your
personal presence is most gratifying. Allow me to express that more
intimate and warmer feeling of friendship for yourself which comes
through our long association with you. This respect and admiration are
felt by myself and my official family for you and the great power which
you represent. It goes to you with a special sincerity as to a gentleman
of learning and distinction, whose lofty motives and ideals are
recognized by all."

Each having thus delivered himself of words which meant nothing, both
now seated themselves and proceeded to look mighty grave. For myself, I
stole a glance from the tail of my eye toward the Baroness von Ritz. She
sat erect in her chair, a figure of easy grace and dignity, but on her
face was nothing one could read to tell who she was or why she was here.
So far from any external _gaucherie_, she seemed quite as much at home
here, and quite as fit here, as England's plenipotentiary.

"I seize upon this opportunity, Mr. Pakenham," said Mr. Tyler presently,
with a smile which he meant to set all at ease and to soften as much as
possible the severity of that which was to follow, "I gladly take this
opportunity to mention in an informal way my hope that this matter which
was already inaugurated by Mr. Upshur before his untimely death may come
to perfectly pleasant consummation. I refer to the question of Texas."

"I beg pardon, your Excellency," rejoined Mr. Pakenham, half rising.
"Your meaning is not perfectly clear to me."

The same icy smile sat upon Mr. Tyler's face as he went on: "I can not
believe that your government can wish to interfere in matters upon this
continent to the extent of taking the position of open ally of the
Republic of Mexico, a power so recently at war upon our own borders with
the brave Texans who have left our flag to set up, through fair
conquest, a republic of their own."

The mottled face of Mr. Pakenham assumed a yet deeper red. "As to that,
your Excellency," said he, "your remark is, as you say, quite informal,
of course--that is to say, as I may state--"

"Quite so," rejoined Mr. Tyler gravely. "The note of my Lord Aberdeen to
us, none the less, in the point of its bearing upon the question of
slavery in Texas, appears to this government as an expression which
ought to be disavowed by your own government. Do I make myself quite
clear?" (With John Calhoun present, Tyler could at times assume a
courage though he had it not.)

Mr. Pakenham's face glowed a deeper red. "I am not at liberty to discuss
my Lord Aberdeen's wishes in this matter," he said. "We met here upon a
purely informal matter, and--"

"I have only ventured to hope," rejoined Mr. Tyler, "that the personal
kindness of your own heart might move you in so grave a matter as that
which may lead to war between two powers."

"War, sir, _war_?" Mr. Pakenham went wholly purple in his surprise, and
sprang to his feet. "War!" he repeated once more. "As though there could
be any hope--"

"Quite right, sir," said Mr. Tyler grimly. "As though there could be any
hope for us save in our own conduct of our own affairs, without any
interference from any foreign power!"

I knew it was John Calhoun speaking these words, not Mr. Tyler. I saw
Mr. Calhoun's keen, cold eyes fixed closely upon the face of his
president. The consternation created by the latter's words was plainly
visible.

"Of course, this conversation is entirely irregular--I mean to say,
wholly unofficial, your Excellency?" hesitated Pakenham. "It takes no
part in our records?"

"Assuredly not," said Mr. Tyler. "I only hope the question may never
come to a matter of record at all. Once our country knows that dictation
has been attempted with us, even by England herself, the North will join
the South in resentment. Even now, in restiveness at the fancied
attitude of England toward Mexico, the West raises the demand that we
shall end the joint occupancy of Oregon with Great Britain. Do you
perchance know the watchword which is now on the popular tongue west of
the Alleghanies? It bids fair to become an American _Marseillaise_."

"I must confess my ignorance," rejoined Mr. Pakenham.

"Our backwoodsmen have invented a phrase which runs _Fifty-four Forty or
Fight_!"

"I beg pardon, I am sure, your Excellency?"

"It means that if we conclude to terminate the very unsatisfactory
muddle along the Columbia River--a stream which our mariners first
explored, as we contend--and if we conclude to dispute with England as
well regarding our delimitations on the Southwest, where she has even
less right to speak, then we shall contend for _all_ that territory, not
only up to the Columbia, but north to the Russian line, the parallel of
fifty-four degrees and forty minutes! We claim that we once bought Texas
clear to the Rio Grande, from Napoleon, although the foolish treaty with
Spain in 1819 clouded our title--in the belief of our Whig friends, who
do not desire more slave territory. Even the Whigs think that we own
Oregon by virtue of first navigation of the Columbia. Both Whigs and
Democrats now demand Oregon north to fifty-four degrees, forty minutes.
The alternative? My Lord Aberdeen surely makes no deliberate bid to hear
it!"

"Or fight!" exclaimed Pakenham. "God bless my soul! Fight _us_?"

Mr. Tyler flushed. "Such things have been," said he with dignity.

"That is to say," he resumed calmly, "our rude Westerners are egotistic
and ignorant. I admit that we are young. But believe me, when the
American people say _fight_, it has but one meaning. As their servant, I
am obliged to convey that meaning. In this democracy, the will of the
people rules. In war, we have no Whigs, no Democrats, we have only _the
people_!"

At this astounding speech the British minister sat dumfounded. This air
of courage and confidence on the part of Mr. Tyler himself was something
foreign to his record. I knew the reason for his boldness. John Calhoun
sat at his right hand.

At least, the meaning of this sudden assault was too much for England's
representative. Perhaps, indeed, the Berserker blood of our frontier
spoke in Mr. Tyler's gaze. That we would fight indeed was true enough.

"It only occurs to us, sir," continued the president, "that the great
altruism of England's heart has led her for a moment to utter sentiments
in a form which might, perhaps, not be sanctioned in her colder
judgment. This nation has not asked counsel. We are not yet agreed in
our Congress upon the admission of Texas--although I may say to you,
sir, with fairness, that such is the purpose of this administration.
There being no war, we still have Whigs and Democrats!"

"At this point, your Excellency, the dignity of her Majesty's service
would lead me to ask excuse," rejoined Mr. Pakenham formally, "were it
not for one fact, which I should like to offer here. I have, in short,
news which will appear full warrant for any communication thus far made
by her Majesty's government. I can assure you that there has come into
the possession of this lady, whose able services I venture to enlist
here in her presence, a communication from the Republic of Texas to the
government of England. That communication is done by no less a hand than
that of the attache for the Republic of Texas, Mr. Van Zandt himself."

There was, I think, no other formal invitation for the Baroness von Ritz
to speak; but now she arose, swept a curtsey first to Mr. Tyler and then
to Mr. Pakenham and Mr. Calhoun.

"It is not to be expected, your Excellency and gentlemen," said she,
"that I can add anything of value here." Her eyes were demurely
downcast.

"We do not doubt your familiarity with many of these late events,"
encouraged Mr. Tyler.

"True," she continued, "the note of my Lord Aberdeen is to-day the
property of the streets, and of this I have some knowledge. I can see,
also, difficulty in its reception among the courageous gentlemen of
America. But, as to any written communication from Mr. Van Zandt, there
must be some mistake!"

"I was of the impression that you would have had it last night,"
rejoined Pakenham, plainly confused; "in fact, that gentleman advised me
to such effect."

The Baroness Helena von Ritz looked him full in the face and only
gravely shook her head. "I regret matters should be so much at fault,"
said she.

"Then let me explain," resumed Pakenham, almost angrily. "I will
state--unofficially, of course--that the promises of Mr. Van Zandt were
that her Majesty might expect an early end of the talk of the annexation
of Texas to the United States. The greater power of England upon land or
sea would assure that weak Republic of a great and enlightened ally--in
his belief."

"An ally!" broke out Mr. Calhoun. "And a document sent to that effect by
the attache of Texas!" He smiled coldly. "Two things seem very apparent,
Mr. President. First, that this gentle lady stands high in the respect
of England's ministry. Second, that Mr. Van Zandt, if all this were
true, ought to stand very low in ours. I would say all this and much
more, even were it a state utterance, to stand upon the records of this
nation!"

"Sir," interrupted Mr. Tyler, swiftly turning to Mr. Calhoun, "_may I
not ask you that it be left as a state utterance?_"

Mr. Calhoun bowed with the old-time grace habitual to him, his hand upon
his heart, but he made no answer. The real reason might have been read
in the mottled face of Pakenham, now all the colors of the rainbow, as
he looked from one to the other.

"Mr. Calhoun," continued the president, "you know that the office of
our secretary of state is vacant. There is no one living would serve in
that office more wisely than yourself, no one more in accordance with my
own views as to these very questions which are before us. Since it has
come to that point, I offer you now that office, and do so officially. I
ask your answer."

The face of England's minister now for the first time went colorless. He
knew what this meant.

As for John Calhoun, he played with both of them as a cat would with a
mouse, sneeringly superior. His answer was couched in terms suited to
his own purposes. "This dignity, Mr. President," said he, bowing deeply
again, "so unexpected, so onerous, so responsible, is one which at least
needs time for proper consideration. I must crave opportunity for
reflection and for pondering. In my surprise at your sudden request, I
find no proper answer ready."

Here, then, seemed an opportunity for delay, which Mr. Pakenham was
swift to grasp. He arose and bowed to Mr. Tyler. "I am sure that Mr.
Calhoun will require some days at least for the framing of his answer to
an invitation so grave as this."

"I shall require at least some moments," said Mr. Calhoun, smiling.
"That _Marseillaise_ of '44, Mr. President, says _Fifty-four Forty or
Fight_. That means 'the Rio Grande or fight,' as well."

A short silence fell upon us all. Mr. Tyler half rose and half frowned
as he noticed Mr. Pakenham shuffling as though he would depart.

"It shall be, of course, as you suggest," said the president to
Pakenham. "There is no record of any of this. But the answer of Mr.
Calhoun, which I await and now demand, is one which will go upon the
records of this country soon enough, I fancy. I ask you, then, to hear
what Mr. Calhoun replies."

Ah, it was well arranged and handsomely staged, this little comedy, and
done for the benefit of England, after all! I almost might have believed
that Mr. Calhoun had rehearsed this with the president. Certainly, the
latter knew perfectly well what his answer was to be. Mr. Calhoun
himself made that deliberately plain, when presently he arose.

"I have had some certain moments for reflection, Mr. President," said
he, "and I have from the first moment of this surprising offer on your
part been humbly sensible of the honor offered so old and so unfit a
man.

"Sir, my own record, thank God, is clear. I have stood for the South. I
stand now for Texas. I believe in her and her future. She belongs to us,
as I have steadfastly insisted at all hours and in all places. She will
widen the southern vote in Congress, that is true. She will be for
slavery. That also is true. I myself have stood for slavery, but I am
yet more devoted to democracy and to America than I am to the South and
to slavery. So will Texas be. I know what Texas means. She means for us
also Oregon. She means more than that. She means also a democracy
spreading across this entire continent. My attitude in that regard has
been always clear. I have not sought to change it. Sir, if I take this
office which you offer, I do so with the avowed and expressed purpose of
bringing Texas into this Union, in full view of any and all
consequences. I shall offer her a treaty of annexation _at once!_ I
shall urge annexation at every hour, in every place, in all ways within
my means, and in full view of the consequences!" He looked now gravely
and keenly at the English plenipotentiary.

"That is well understood, Mr. Calhoun," began Mr. Tyler. "Your views are
in full accord with my own."

Pakenham looked from the one to the other, from the thin, vulpine face
to the thin, leonine one. The pity Mr. Tyler felt for the old man's
visible weakness showed on his face as he spoke.

"What, then, is the answer of John Calhoun to this latest call of his
country?"

That answer is one which is in our history.

"John Calhoun accepts!" said my master, loud and clear.




CHAPTER IX

A KETTLE OF FISH

     Few disputes exist which have not had their origin in
     women--_Juvenal_.


I saw the heavy face of Mr. Pakenham go pale, saw the face of the
Baroness von Ritz flash with a swift resolution, saw the eyes of Mr.
Calhoun and Mr. Tyler meet in firmness. An instant later, Mr. Tyler rose
and bowed our dismissal. Our little play was done. Which of us knew all
the motives that had lain behind its setting?

Mr. Pakenham drew apart and engaged in earnest speech with the lady who
had accompanied him; so that meantime I myself found opportunity for a
word with Mr. Calhoun.

"Now," said I, "the fat certainly is all in the fire!"

"What fat, my son?" asked Calhoun serenely; "and what fire?"

"At least"--and I grinned covertly, I fear--"it seems all over between
my lady and her protector there. She turned traitor just when he had
most need of her! Tell me, what argument did you use with her last
night?"

Mr. Calhoun took snuff.

"You don't know women, my son, and you don't know men, either." The thin
white skin about his eyes wrinkled.

"Certainly, I don't know what arts may have been employed in Mr.
Calhoun's office at half-past two this morning." I smiled frankly now at
my chief, and he relaxed in turn.

"We had a most pleasant visit of an hour. A delightful woman, a charming
woman, and one of intellect as well. I appealed to her heart, her brain,
her purse, and she laughed, for the most part. Yet she argued, too, and
seemed to have some interest--as you see proved now. Ah, I wish I could
have had the other two great motives to add to my appeal!"

"Meaning--?"

"Love--and curiosity! With those added, I could have won her over; for
believe me, she is none too firmly anchored to England. I am sure of
that, though it leaves me still puzzled. If you think her personal hold
on yonder gentleman will be lessened, you err," he added, in a low
voice. "I consider it sure that he is bent on her as much as he is on
England. See, she has him back in hand already! I would she were _our_
friend!"

"Is she not?" I asked suddenly.

"We two may answer that one day," said Calhoun enigmatically.

Now I offered to Mr. Calhoun the note I had received from his page.

"This journey to-night," I began; "can I not be excused from making
that? There is a very special reason."

"What can it be?" asked Calhoun, frowning.

"I am to be married to-night, sir," said I, calmly as I could.

It was Calhoun's turn now to be surprised. "_Married?_ Zounds! boy, what
do you mean? There is no time to waste."

"I do not hold it quite wasted, sir," said I with dignity. "Miss
Elisabeth Churchill and I for a long time--"

"Miss Elisabeth! So the wind is there, eh? My daughter's friend. I know
her very well, of course. Very well done, indeed, for you. But there can
be no wedding to-night."

I looked at him in amazement. He was as absorbed as though he felt
empowered to settle that matter for me. A moment later, seeing Mr.
Pakenham taking his leave, he stepped to the side of the baroness. I saw
him and that mysterious lady fall into a conversation as grave as that
which had but now been ended. I guessed, rather than reasoned, that in
some mysterious way I came into their talk. But presently both
approached me.

"Mr. Trist," said Mr. Calhoun, "I beg you to hand the Baroness von Ritz
to her carriage, which will wait at the avenue." We were then standing
near the door at the head of the steps.

"I see my friend Mr. Polk approaching," he continued, "and I would like
to have a word or so with him."

We three walked in company down the steps and a short distance along the
walk, until presently we faced the gentleman whose approach had been
noted. We paused in a little group under the shade of an avenue tree,
and the gentlemen removed their hats as Mr. Calhoun made a somewhat
formal introduction.

At that time, of course, James K. Polk, of Tennessee, was not the
national figure he was soon to become at the Baltimore convention. He
was known best as Speaker of the House for some time, and as a man
experienced in western politics, a friend of Jackson, who still
controlled a large wing of the disaffected; the Democratic party then
being scarce more than a league of warring cliques. Although once
governor of Tennessee, it still was an honor for Mr. Polk to be sought
out by Senator John Calhoun, sometime vice-president, sometime cabinet
member in different capacities. He showed this as he uncovered. A rather
short man, and thin, well-built enough, and of extremely serious mien,
he scarce could have been as wise as he looked, any more than Mr.
Daniel Webster; yet he was good example of conventional politics,
platitudes and all.

"They have adjourned at the House, then?" said Calhoun.

"Yes, and adjourned a bear pit at that," answered the gentleman from
Tennessee. "Mr. Tyler has asked me to come across town to meet him. Do
you happen to know where he is now?"

"He was here a few moments ago, Governor. We were but escorting this
lady to her carriage, as she claims fatigue from late hours at the ball
last night."

"Surely so radiant a presence," said Mr. Polk gallantly, "means that she
left the ball at an early hour."

"Quite so," replied that somewhat uncertain lady demurely. "Early hours
and a good conscience are advised by my physicians."

"My dear lady, Time owns his own defeat in you," Mr. Polk assured her,
his eyes sufficiently admiring.

"Such pretty speeches as these gentlemen of America make!" was her gay
reply. "Is it not so, Mr. Secretary?" She smiled up at Calhoun's serious
face.

Polk was possessed of a political nose which rarely failed him. "_Mr.
Secretary?_" he exclaimed, turning to Calhoun.

The latter bowed. "I have just accepted the place lately filled by Mr.
Upshur," was his comment.

A slow color rose in the Tennesseean's face as he held out his hand. "I
congratulate you, Mr. Secretary," said he. "Now at last we shall see an
end of indecision and boasting pretense."

"Excellent things to end, Governor Polk!" said Calhoun gravely.

"I am but an humble adviser," rejoined the man from Tennessee; "but
assuredly I must hasten to congratulate Mr. Tyler. I have no doubt that
this means Texas. Of course, my dear Madam, we talk riddles in your
presence?"

"Quite riddles, although I remain interested," she answered. I saw her
cool eyes take in his figure, measuring him calmly for her mental
tablets, as I could believe was her wont. "But I find myself indeed
somewhat fatigued," she continued, "and since these are matters of which
I am ignorant--"

"Of course, Madam," said Mr. Calhoun. "We crave your pardon. Mr.
Trist--"

So now I took the lady's sunshade from her hand, and we two, making
adieux, passed down the shaded walk toward the avenue.

"You are a good cavalier," she said to me. "I find you not so fat as Mr.
Pakenham, nor so thin as Mr. Calhoun. My faith, could you have seen that
gentleman this morning in a wrapper--and in a red worsted nightcap!"

"But what did you determine?" I asked her suddenly. "What has my chief
said to cause you to fail poor Mr. Pakenham as you did? I pitied the
poor man, in such a grueling, and wholly without warning!"

"Monsieur is droll," she replied evasively. "As though I had changed! I
will say this much: I think Sir Richard will care more for Mexico and
less for Mexicans after this! But you do not tell me when you are coming
to see me, to bring back my little shoe. Its mate has arrived by special
messenger, but the pair remains still broken. Do you come to-night--this
afternoon?"

"I wish that I might," said I.

"Why be churlish with me?" she demanded. "Did I not call at your request
upon a gentleman in a red nightcap at two in the morning? And for your
sake--and the sake of sport--did I not almost promise him many things?
Come now, am I not to see you and explain all that; and hear you explain
all this?" She made a little _moue_ at me.

"It would be my delight, Madam, but there are two reasons--"

"One, then."

"I am going to Montreal to-night, for one."

She gave me a swift glance, which I could not understand.

"So?" she said. "Why so soon?"

"Orders," said I briefly. "But perhaps I may not obey orders for once.
There is another reason."

"And that one?"

"I am to be married at six."

I turned to enjoy her consternation. Indeed, there was an alternate
white and red passed across her face! But at once she was in hand.

"And you allowed me to become your devoted slave," she said, "even to
the extent of calling upon a man in a red nightcap; and then, even upon
a morning like this, when the birds sing so sweetly and the little
flowers show pink and white--now you cast down my most sacred feelings!"

The mockery in her tone was perfect. I scarce had paused to note it. I
was absorbed in one thought--of Elisabeth. Where one fire burns high and
clear upon the altar of the heart, there is small room for any other.

"I might have told you," said I at Last, "but I did not myself know it
until this morning."

"My faith, this country!" she exclaimed with genuine surprise. "What
extraordinary things it does! I have just seen history made between the
lightings of a cigarette, as it were. Now comes this man and announces
that since midnight he has met and won the lady who is to rule his
heart, and that he is to marry her at six!"

"Then congratulate me!" I demanded.

"Ah," she said, suddenly absorbed; "it was that tall girl! Yes, yes, I
see, I see! I understand! So then! Yes!"

"But still you have not congratulated me."

"Ah, Monsieur," she answered lightly, "one woman never congratulates a
man when he has won another! What of my own heart? Fie! Fie!" Yet she
had curious color in her face.

"I do not credit myself with such fatal charms," said I. "Rather say
what of my little clasp there. I promised that to the tall girl, as you
know."

"And might I not wear it for an hour?"

"I shall give you a dozen better some time," said I; "but to-night--"

"And my slipper? I said I must have that back, because I can not hop
along with but one shoe all my life."

"That you shall have as soon as I can get to my rooms at Brown's Hotel
yonder. A messenger shall bring it to you at once. Time will indeed be
short for me. First, the slipper for Madam. Then the license for myself.
Then the minister. Then a friend. Then a carriage. Five miles to
Elmhurst, and the train for the North starts at eight. Indeed, as you
say, the methods of this country are sometimes hurried. Madam, can not
you use your wits in a cause so worthy as mine?"

I could not at the time understand the swift change of her features.
"One woman's wits against another's!" she flashed at me. "As for
that"--She made a swift motion to her throat. "Here is the trinket. Tell
the tall lady it is my present to you. Tell her I may send her a wedding
present--when the wedding really is to happen. Of course, you do not
mean what you have said about being married in such haste?"

"Every word of it," I answered. "And at her own home. 'Tis no runaway
match; I have the consent of her father."

"But you said you had her consent only an hour ago. Ah, this is better
than a play!"

"It is true," said I, "there has not been time to inform Miss
Churchill's family of my need for haste. I shall attend to that when I
arrive. The lady has seen the note from Mr. Calhoun ordering me to
Montreal."

"To Montreal? How curious!" she mused. "But what did Mr. Calhoun say to
this marriage?"

"He forbade the banns."

"But Monsieur will take her before him in a sack--and he will forbid
you, I am sure, to condemn that lady to a life in a cabin, to a couch of
husks, to a lord who would crush her arms and command her--"

I flushed as she reminded me of my own speech, and there came no answer
but the one which I imagine is the verdict of all lovers. "She is the
dearest girl in the world," I declared.

"Has she fortune?"

"I do not know."

"Have you fortune?"

"God knows, no!"

"You have but love-and this country?"

"That is all."

"It is enough," said she, sighing. "Dear God, it is enough! But
then"-she turned to me suddenly--"I don't think you will be married so
soon, after all. Wait."

"That is what Mr. Pakenham wanted Mr. Calhoun to do," I smiled.

"But Mr. Pakenham is not a woman."

"Ah, then you also forbid our banns?"

"If you challenge me," she retorted, "I shall do my worst."

"Then do your worst!" I said. "All of you do your joint worst. You can
not shake the faith of Elisabeth Churchill in me, nor mine in her. Oh,
yes, by all means do your worst!"

"Very well," she said, with a catch of her breath. "At least we both
said--'on guard!'

"I wish I could ask you to attend at our wedding," I concluded, as her
carriage approached the curb; "but it is safe to say that not even
friends of the family will be present, and of those not all the family
will be friends."

She did not seem to see her carriage as it paused, although she prepared
to enter when I opened the door. Her look, absorbed, general, seemed
rather to take in the sweep of the wide grounds, the green of the young
springtime, the bursting of the new white blossoms, the blue of the sky,
the loom of the distant capitol dome--all the crude promise of our young
and tawdry capital, still in the making of a world city. Her eyes passed
to me and searched my face without looking into my eyes, as though I
made part of her study. What sat on her face was perplexity, wonder,
amazement, and something else, I know not what. Something of her perfect
poise and confidence, her quality as woman of the world, seemed to drop
away. A strange and childlike quality came into her face, a pathos
unlike anything I had seen there before. She took my hand mechanically.

"Of course," said she, as though she spoke to herself, "it can not be.
But, dear God! would it not be enough?"

I did not understand her speech. I stood and watched her carriage as it
whirled away. Thinking of my great need for haste, mechanically I
looked at my watch. It was one o'clock. Then I reflected that it was at
eleven of the night previous that I had first met the Baroness von Ritz.
Our acquaintance had therefore lasted some fourteen hours.




CHAPTER X

MIXED DUTIES


     Most women will forgive a liberty, rather than a slight.
                                               --_Colton_.


When I crossed the White House grounds and found my way to the spot
where I had left my horse, I discovered my darky boy lying on his back,
fast asleep under a tree, the bridle reins hooked over his upturned
foot. I wakened him, took the reins and was about to mount, when at the
moment I heard my name called.

Turning, I saw emerge from the door of Gautier's little cafe, across the
street, the tall figure of an erstwhile friend of mine, Jack Dandridge,
of Tennessee, credited with being the youngest member in the House of
Representatives at Washington--and credited with little else.

Dandridge had been taken up by friends of Jackson and Polk and carried
into Congress without much plan or objection on either side. Since his
arrival at the capital he had been present at few roll-calls, and had
voted on fewer measures. His life was given up in the main to one
specialty, to-wit: the compounding of a certain beverage, invented by
himself, the constituent parts of which were Bourbon whiskey, absinthe,
square faced gin and a dash of _eau de vie_. This concoction, over which
few shared his own personal enthusiasm, he had christened the
Barn-Burner's Dream; although Mr. Dandridge himself was opposed to the
tenets of the political party thus entitled--which, by the way, was to
get its whimsical name, possibly from Dandridge himself, at the
forthcoming Democratic convention of that year.

Jack Dandridge, it may be said, was originally possessed of a splendid
constitution. Nearly six feet tall, his full and somewhat protruding eye
was as yet only a trifle watery, his wide lip only a trifle loose, his
strong figure only a trifle portly. Socially he had been well received
in our city, and during his stay east of the mountains he had found
occasion to lay desperate suit to the hand of none other than Miss
Elisabeth Churchill. We had been rivals, although not enemies; for Jack,
finding which way the wind sat for him, withdrew like a man, and
cherished no ill will. When I saw him now, a sudden idea came to me, so
that I crossed the street at his invitation.

"Come in," said he. "Come in with me, and have a Dream. I have just
invented a new touch for it; I have, 'pon my word."

"Jack," I exclaimed, grasping him by the shoulder, "you are the man I
want. You are the friend that I need--the very one."

"Certainly, certainly," he said; "but please do not disarrange my
cravat. Sir, I move you the previous question. Will you have a Dream
with me? I construct them now with three additional squirts of the
absinthe." He locked his arm in mine.

"You may have a Dream," said I; "but for me, I need all my head to-day.
In short, I need both our heads as well."

Jack was already rapping with the head of his cane upon the table, to
call an attendant, but he turned to me. "What is the matter? Lady, this
time?"

"Two of them."

"Indeed? One apiece, eh?"

"None apiece, perhaps. In any case, you lose."

"Then the names--or at least one?"

I flushed a bit in spite of myself. "You know Miss Elisabeth Churchill?"

He nodded gravely. "And about the other lady?"

"I can not tell you much about her," said I; "I have but little
knowledge myself. I mean the Baroness von Ritz."

"Oh, ho!" Jack opened his eyes, and gave a long whistle. "State secrets,
eh?"

I nodded, and looked him square in the eye.

"Well, why should you ask me to help you, then? Calhoun is none too good
a friend of Mr. Polk, of my state. Calhoun is neither Whig nor Democrat.
He does not know where he stands. If you train with him, why come to our
camp for help?"

"Not that sort, jack," I answered. "The favor I ask is personal."

"Explain."

He sipped at the fiery drink, which by this time had been placed before
him, his face brightening.

"I must be quick. I have in my possession--on the bureau in my little
room at my quarters in Brown's Hotel--a slipper which the baroness gave
me last night--a white satin slipper--"

Jack finished the remainder of his glass at a gulp. "Good God!" he
remarked.

"Quite right," I retorted hotly. "Accuse me Anything you like! But go to
my headquarters, get that slipper, go to this address with it"--I
scrawled on a piece of paper and thrust it at him--"then get a carriage
and hasten to Elmhurst drive, where it turns in at the road. Wait for me
there, just before six."

He sat looking at me with amusement and amazement both upon his face, as
I went on:

"Listen to what I am to do in the meantime. First I go post haste to Mr.
Calhoun's office. Then I am to take his message, which will send me to
Canada, to-night. After I have my orders I hurry back to Brown's and
dress for my wedding."

The glass in his hand dropped to the floor in splinters.

"Your wedding?"

"Yes, Miss Elisabeth and I concluded this very morning not to wait. I
would ask you to help me as my best man, if I dare."

"You do dare," said he. "You're all a-fluster. Go on; I'll get a
parson--how'll Doctor Halford do?--and I'd take care of the license for
you if I could--Gad! sorry it's not my own!"

"You are the finest fellow in the world, Jack. I have only one thing
more to ask"--I pointed to the splintered glass upon the floor--"Don't
get another."

"Of course not, of course not!" he expostulated. His voice was just a
trifle thickened. We left now together for the license clerk, and I
intrusted the proper document in my friend's hands. An instant later I
was outside, mounted, and off for Calhoun's office at his residence in
Georgetown.

At last, as for the fourth time I flung down the narrow walk and looked
down the street, I saw his well-known form approaching. He walked
slowly, somewhat stooped upon his cane. He raised a hand as I would
have begun to speak. His customary reserve and dignity held me back.

"So you made it out well with the lady," he began.

"Yes," I answered, flushing. "Not so badly for the time that offered."

"A remarkable woman," he said. "Most remarkable!" Then he went on: "Now
as to your own intended, I congratulate you. But I suggest that you keep
Miss Elisabeth Churchill and the Baroness von Ritz pretty well
separated, if that be possible."

"Sir," I stammered; "that certainly is my personal intent. But now, may
I ask--"

"You start to Canada to-night," said Calhoun sharply--all softness gone
from his voice.

"I can not well do that," I began. His hand tapped with decision.

"I have no time to choose another messenger," he said. "Time will not
wait. You must not fail me. You will take the railway train at eight.
You will be joined by Doctor Samuel Ward, who will give you a sealed
paper, which will contain your instructions, and the proper moneys. He
goes as far as Baltimore."

"You would be the better agent," he added presently, "if this love
silliness were out of your head. It is not myself you are serving, and
not my party. It is this country you are serving."

"But, sir--" I began.

His long thin hand was imperative. "Go on, then, with your wedding, if
you will, and if you can; but see that you do not miss the train at
eight!"

Half in a daze, I left him; nor did I see him again that day, nor for
many after.




CHAPTER XI

WHO GIVETH THIS WOMAN

     Woman is a miracle of divine contradictions.--_Jules Michelet_.


On my return to my quarters at Brown's I looked at the top of my bureau.
It was empty. My friend Dandridge had proved faithful. The slipper of
the baroness was gone! So now, hurriedly, I began my toilet for that
occasion which to any gentleman should be the one most exacting, the
most important of his life's events.

Elisabeth deserved better than this unseemly haste. Her sweetness and
dignity, her adherence to the forms of life, her acquaintance with the
elegancies, the dignities and conventions of the best of our society,
bespoke for her ceremony more suited to her class and mine. Nothing
could excuse these hurly burly ways save only my love, our uncertainty
regarding my future presence, and the imperious quality of my duties.

I told none about my quarters anything of my plans, but arranged for my
portmanteaus to be sent to the railway station for that evening's train
north. We had not many outgoing and incoming trains in those days in
Washington. I hurried to Bond's jewelry place and secured a ring--two
rings, indeed; for, in our haste, betrothal and wedding ring needed
their first use at the same day and hour. I found a waiting carriage
which served my purpose, and into it I flung, urging the driver to carry
me at top speed into Elmhurst road. Having now time for breath, I sat
back and consulted my watch. There were a few moments left for me to
compose myself. If all went well, I should be in time.

As we swung down the road I leaned forward, studying with interest the
dust cloud of an approaching carriage. As it came near, I called to my
driver. The two vehicles paused almost wheel to wheel. It was my friend
Jack Dandridge who sprawled on the rear seat of the carriage! That is to
say, the fleshly portion of Jack Dandridge. His mind, his memory, and
all else, were gone.

I sprang into his carriage and caught him roughly by the arm. I felt in
all his pockets, looked on the carriage floor, on the seat, and pulled
up the dust rug. At last I found the license.

"Did you see the baroness?" I asked, then.

At this he beamed upon me with a wide smile.

"Did I?" said he, with gravity pulling down his long buff waistcoat.
"Did I? Mos' admi'ble woman in all the worl'! Of course, Miss 'Lis'beth
Churchill also mos' admi'ble woman in the worl'," he added politely,
"but I didn't see _her_. Many, many congrash'lations. Mos' admi'ble girl
in worl'--whichever girl she is! I want do what's right!"

The sudden sweat broke out upon my forehead. "Tell me, what have you
done with the slipper!"

He shook his head sadly. "Mishtaken, my friend! I gave mos' admi'ble
slipper in the worl', just ash you said, just as baroness said, to Mish
Elisabeth Churchill--mos' admi'ble woman in the worl'! Proud
congrash'late you both, m' friend!"

"Did you see her?" I gasped. "Did you see her father--any of her
family?"

"God blesh me, no!" rejoined this young statesman. "Feelings delicacy
prevented. Realized having had three--four--five--Barn Burners; washn't
in fit condition to approach family mansion. Alwaysh mos' delicate. Felt
m'self no condition shtan' up bes' man to mosh admi'ble man and mosh
admi'ble girl in worl'. Sent packazh in by servant, from gate--turned
round--drove off--found you. Lo, th' bridegroom cometh! Li'l late!"

My only answer was to spring from his carriage into my own and to order
my driver to go on at a run. At last I reached the driveway of Elmhurst,
my carriage wheels cutting the gravel as we galloped up to the front
door. My approach was noted. Even as I hurried up the steps the tall
form of none other than Mr. Daniel Churchill appeared to greet me. I
extended my hand. He did not notice it. I began to speak. He bade me
pause.

"To what may I attribute this visit, Mr. Trist?" he asked me, with
dignity.

"Since you ask me, and seem not to know," I replied, "I may say that I
am here to marry your daughter, Miss Elisabeth! I presume that the
minister of the gospel is already here?"

"The minister is here," he answered. "There lacks one thing--the bride."

"What do you mean?"

He put out his arm across the door.

"I regret that I must bar my door to you. But you must take my word, as
coming from my daughter, that you are not to come here to-night."

I looked at him, my eyes staring wide. I could not believe what he said.

"Why," I began; "how utterly monstrous!"

A step sounded in the hall behind him, and he turned back. We were
joined by the tall clerical figure of the Reverend Doctor Halford, who
had, it seemed, been at least one to keep his appointment as made. He
raised his hand as if to silence me, and held out to me a certain
object. It was the slipper of the Baroness Helena von Ritz--white,
delicate, dainty, beribboned. "Miss Elisabeth does not pretend to
understand why your gift should take this form; but as the slipper
evidently has been worn by some one, she suggests you may perhaps be in
error in sending it at all." He spoke in even, icy tones.

"Let me into this house!" I demanded. "I must see her!"

There were two tall figures now, who stood side by side in the wide
front door.

"But don't you see, there has been a mistake, a horrible mistake?" I
demanded.

Doctor Halford, in his grave and quiet way, assisted himself to snuff.
"Sir," he said, "knowing both families, I agreed to this haste and
unceremoniousness, much against my will. Had there been no objection
upon either side, I would have undertaken to go forward with the wedding
ceremony. But never in my life have I, and never shall I, join two in
wedlock when either is not in that state of mind and soul consonant with
that holy hour. This ceremony can not go on. I must carry to you this
young lady's wish that you depart. She can not see you."

There arose in my heart a sort of feeling of horror, as though something
was wrong, I could not tell what. All at once I felt a swift revulsion.
There came over me the reaction, an icy calm. I felt all ardor leave me.
I was cold as stone.

"Gentlemen," said I slowly, "what you tell me is absolutely impossible
and absurd. But if Miss Elisabeth really doubts me on evidence such as
this, I would be the last man in the world to ask her hand. Some time
you and she may explain to me about this. It is my right. I shall exact
it from you later. I have no time to argue now. Good-by!"

They looked at me with grave faces, but made no reply. I descended the
steps, the dainty, beribboned slipper still in my hand, got into my
carriage and started back to the city.




CHAPTER XII

THE MARATHON

     As if two gods should play some heavenly match, and on this wager
     lay two earthly women.--_Shakespeare_.


An automaton, scarcely thinking, I gained the platform of the station.
There was a sound of hissing steam, a rolling cloud of sulphurous smoke,
a shouting of railway captains, a creaking of the wheels. Without
volition of my own, I was on my northward journey. Presently I looked
around and found seated at my side the man whom I then recollected I was
to meet--Doctor Samuel Ward. I presume he took the train after I did.

"What's wrong, Nicholas?" he asked. "Trouble of any kind?"

I presume that the harsh quality of my answer surprised him. He looked
at me keenly.

"Tell me what's up, my son," said he.

"You know Miss Elisabeth Churchill--" I hesitated.

He nodded. "Yes," he rejoined; "and damn you, sir! if you give that girl
a heartache, you'll have to settle with me!"

"Some one will have to settle with me!" I returned hotly.

"Tell me, then."

So, briefly, I did tell him what little I knew of the events of the last
hour. I told him of the shame and humiliation of it all. He pondered for
a minute and asked me at length if I believed Miss Elisabeth suspected
anything of my errand of the night before.

"How could she?" I answered. "So far as I can recollect I never
mentioned the name of the Baroness von Ritz."

Then, all at once, I did recollect! I did remember that I had mentioned
the name of the baroness that very morning to Elisabeth, when the
baroness passed us in the East Room! I had not told the truth--I had
gone with a lie on my lips that very day, and asked her to take vows
with me in which no greater truth ought to be heard than the simple
truth from me to her, in any hour of the day, in any time of our two
lives!

Doctor Ward was keen enough to see the sudden confusion on my face, but
he made no comment beyond saying that he doubted not time would clear it
all up; that he had known many such affairs.

"But mind you one thing," he added; "keep those two women apart."

"Then why do you two doddering old idiots, you and John Calhoun, with
life outworn and the blood dried in your veins, send me, since you
doubt me so much, on an errand of this kind? You see what it has done
for me. I am done with John Calhoun. He may get some other fool for his
service."

"Where do you propose going, then, my friend?"

"West," I answered. "West to the Rockies--"

Doctor Ward calmly produced a tortoise shell snuffbox from his left-hand
waistcoat pocket, and deliberately took snuff. "You are going to do
nothing of the kind," said he calmly. "You are going to keep your
promise to John Calhoun and to me. Believe me, the business in hand is
vital. You go to Canada now in the most important capacity you have ever
had."

"I care nothing for that," I answered bitterly.

"But you are the agent of your country. You are called to do your
country's urgent work. Here is your trouble over one girl. Would you
make trouble for a million American girls--would you unsettle thousands
and thousands of American homes because, for a time, you have known
trouble? All life is only trouble vanquished. I ask you now to be a man;
I not only expect it, but demand it of you!"

His words carried weight in spite of myself. I began to listen. I took
from his hand the package, looked at it, examined it. Finally, as he sat
silently regarding me, I broke the seal.

"Now, Nicholas Trist," resumed Doctor Ward presently, "there is to be
at Montreal at the date named in these papers a meeting of the directors
of the Hudson Bay Company of England. There will be big men there--the
biggest their country can produce; leaders of the Hudson Bay Company,
many, public men even of England. It is rumored that a brother of Lord
Aberdeen, of the British Ministry, will attend. Do you begin to
understand?"

Ah, did I not? Here, then, was further weaving of those complex plots
which at that time hedged in all our history as a republic. Now I
guessed the virtue of our knowing somewhat of England's secret plans, as
she surely did of ours. I began to feel behind me the impulse of John
Calhoun's swift energy.

"It is Oregon!" I exclaimed at last.

Doctor Ward nodded. "Very possibly. It has seemed to Mr. Calhoun very
likely that we may hear something of great importance regarding the far
Northwest. A missed cog now may cost this country a thousand miles of
territory, a hundred years of history."

Doctor Ward continued: "England, as you know," said he, "is the enemy of
this country as much to-day as ever. She claims she wishes Texas to
remain free. She forgets her own record--forgets the burning cities of
Rohilkhand, the imprisoned princesses of Oudh! Might is her right. She
wants Texas as a focus of contention, a rallying point of sectionalism.
If she divides us, she conquers us. That is all. She wants the chance
for the extension of her own hold on this continent, which she will push
as far, and fast as she dare. She must have cotton. She would like land
as well."

"That means also Oregon?"

He nodded. "Always with the Texas question comes the Oregon question.
Mr. Calhoun is none too friendly to Mr. Polk, and yet he knows that
through Jackson's influence with the Southern democracy Polk has an
excellent chance for the next nomination for the presidency. God knows
what folly will come then. But sometime, one way or another, the joint
occupancy of England and the United States in the Oregon country must
end. It has been a waiting game thus far, as you know; but never think
that England has been idle. This meeting in Montreal will prove that to
you."

In spite of myself, I began to feel the stimulus of a thought like this.
It was my salvation as a man. I began to set aside myself and my own
troubles.

"You are therefore," he concluded, "to go to Montreal, and find your own
way into that meeting of the directors of the Hudson Bay Company. There
is a bare chance that in this intrigue Mexico will have an emissary on
the ground as well. There is reason to suspect her hostility to all our
plans of extension, southwest and northwest. Naturally, it is the card
of Mexico to bring on war, or accept it if we urge; but only in case she
has England as her ally. England will get her pay by taking Texas, and
what is more, by taking California, which Mexico does not value. She
owes England large sums now. That would leave England owner of the
Pacific coast; for, once she gets California, she will fight us then for
_all_ of Oregon. It is your duty to learn all of these matters--who is
there, what is done; and to do this without making known your own
identity."

I sat for a moment in thought. "It is an honor," said I finally; "an
honor so large that under it I feel small."

"Now," said Doctor Ward, placing a gnarled hand on my shoulder, "you
begin to talk like a Marylander. It's a race, my boy, a race across this
continent. There are two trails--one north and one mid-continent. On
these paths two nations contend in the greatest Marathon of all the
world. England or the United States--monarchy or republic--aristocracy
or humanity'? These are some of the things which hang on the issue of
this contest. Take then your duty and your honor, humbly and
faithfully."

"Good-by," he said, as we steamed into Baltimore station. I turned, and
he was gone.




CHAPTER XIII

ON SECRET SERVICE

     If the world was lost through woman, she alone can save it.--_Louis
     de Beaufort._


In the days of which I write, our civilization was, as I may say, so
embryonic, that it is difficult for us now to realize the conditions
which then obtained. We had great men in those days, and great deeds
were done; but to-day, as one reflects upon life as it then was, it
seems almost impossible that they and their deeds could have existed in
a time so crude and immature.

The means of travel in its best form was at that time at least curious.
We had several broken railway systems north and south, but there were
not then more than five thousand miles of railway built in America. All
things considered, I felt lucky when we reached New York less than
twenty-four hours out from Washington.

From New York northward to Montreal one's journey involved a choice of
routes. One might go up the Hudson River by steamer to Albany, and
thence work up the Champlain Lake system, above which one might employ
a short stretch of rails between St. John and La Prairie, on the banks
of the St. Lawrence opposite Montreal. Or, one might go from Albany west
by rail as far as Syracuse, up the Mohawk Valley, and so to Oswego,
where on Lake Ontario one might find steam or sailing craft.

Up the Hudson I took the crack steamer _Swallow_, the same which just
one year later was sunk while trying to beat her own record of nine
hours and two minutes from New York to Albany. She required eleven hours
on our trip. Under conditions then obtaining, it took me a day and a
half more to reach Lake Ontario. Here, happily, I picked up a frail
steam craft, owned by an adventurous soul who was not unwilling to risk
his life and that of others on the uncertain and ice-filled waters of
Ontario. With him I negotiated to carry me with others down the St.
Lawrence. At that time, of course, the Lachine Canal was not completed,
and the Victoria Bridge was not even conceived as a possibility. One
delay after another with broken machinery, lack of fuel, running ice and
what not, required five days more of my time ere I reached Montreal.

I could not be called either officer or spy, yet none the less I did not
care to be recognized here in the capacity of one over-curious. I made
up my costume as that of an innocent free trader from the Western fur
country of the states, and was able, from my earlier experiences, to
answer any questions as to beaver at Fort Hall or buffalo on the
Yellowstone or the Red. Thus I passed freely in and about all the public
places of the town, and inspected with a certain personal interest all
its points of interest, from the Gray Nunneries to the new cathedrals,
the Place d'Armes, the Champ de Mars, the barracks, the vaunted brewery,
the historic mountain, and the village lying between the arms of the two
rivers--a point where history for a great country had been made, and
where history for our own now was planning.

As I moved about from day to day, making such acquaintance as I could, I
found in the air a feeling of excitement and expectation. The hotels,
bad as they were, were packed. The public places were noisy, the private
houses crowded. Gradually the town became half-military and half-savage.
Persons of importance arrived by steamers up the river, on whose expanse
lay boats which might be bound for England--or for some of England's
colonies. The Government--not yet removed to Ottawa, later capital of
Ontario--was then housed in the old Chateau Ramezay, built so long
before for the French governor, Vaudreuil.

Here, I had reason to believe, was now established no less a personage
than Sir George Simpson, Governor of the Hudson Bay Company. Rumor had
it at the time that Lord Aberdeen of England himself was at Montreal.
That was not true, but I established without doubt that his brother
really was there, as well as Lieutenant William Peel of the Navy, son of
Sir Robert Peel, England's prime minister. The latter, with his
companion, Captain Parke, was one time pointed out to me proudly by my
inn-keeper--two young gentlemen, clad in the ultra fashion of their
country, with very wide and tall bell beavers, narrow trousers, and
strange long sack-coats unknown to us in the States--of little shape or
elegance, it seemed to me.

There was expectancy in the air, that was sure. It was open secret
enough in England, as well as in Montreal and in Washington, that a
small army of American settlers had set out the foregoing summer for the
valley of the Columbia, some said under leadership of the missionary
Whitman. Britain was this year awakening to the truth that these men had
gone thither for a purpose. Here now was a congress of Great Britain's
statesmen, leaders of Great Britain's greatest monopoly, the Hudson Bay
Company, to weigh this act of the audacious American Republic. I was not
a week in Montreal before I learned that my master's guess, or his
information, had been correct. The race was on for Oregon!

All these things, I say, I saw go on about me. Yet in truth as to the
inner workings of this I could gain but little actual information. I
saw England's ships, but it was not for me to know whether they were to
turn Cape Hope or the Horn. I saw Canada's _voyageurs_, but they might
be only on their annual journey, and might go no farther than their
accustomed posts in the West. In French town and English town, among
common soldiers, _voyageurs_, inn-keepers and merchants, I wandered for
more than one day and felt myself still helpless.

That is to say, such was the case until there came to my aid that
greatest of all allies, Chance.




CHAPTER XIV

THE OTHER WOMAN

     The world is the book of women.--_Rousseau_.


I needed not to be advised that presently there would be a meeting of
some of the leading men of the Hudson Bay Company at the little gray
stone, dormer-windowed building on Notre Dame Street. In this old
building--in whose vaults at one time of emergency was stored the entire
currency of the Canadian treasury--there still remained some government
records, and now under the steep-pitched roof affairs were to be
transacted somewhat larger than the dimensions of the building might
have suggested. The keeper of my inn freely made me a list of those who
would be present--a list embracing so many scores of prominent men whom
he then swore to be in the city of Montreal that, had the old Chateau
Ramezay afforded twice its room, they could not all have been
accommodated. For myself, it was out of the question to gain admittance.

In those days all Montreal was iron-shuttered after nightfall,
resembling a series of jails; and to-night it seemed doubly screened and
guarded. None the less, late in the evening, I allowed seeming accident
to lead me in a certain direction. Passing as often as I might up and
down Notre Dame Street without attracting attention, I saw more than one
figure in the semi-darkness enter the low chateau door. Occasionally a
tiny gleam showed at the edge of a shutter or at the top of some little
window not fully screened. As to what went on within I could only guess.

I passed the chateau, up and down, at different times from nine o'clock
until midnight. The streets of Montreal at that time made brave pretense
of lighting by virtue of the new gas works; at certain intervals
flickering and wholly incompetent lights serving to make the gloom more
visible. None the less, as I passed for the last time, I plainly saw a
shaft of light fall upon the half darkness from a little side door.
There emerged upon the street the figure of a woman. I do not know what
led me to cast a second glance, for certainly my business was not with
ladies, any more than I would have supposed ladies had business there;
but, victim of some impulse of curiosity, I walked a step or two in the
same direction as that taken by the cloaked figure.

Careless as I endeavored to make my movements, the veiled lady seemed to
take suspicion or fright. She quickened her steps. Accident favored me.
Even as she fled, she caught her skirt on some object which lay hidden
in the shadows and fell almost at full length. This I conceived to be
opportunity warranting my approach. I raised my hat and assured her that
her flight was needless.

She made no direct reply to me, but as she rose gave utterance to an
expression of annoyance. "_Mon Dieu!_" I heard her say.

I stood for a moment trying to recall where I had heard this same voice!
She turned her face in such a way that the light illuminated it. Then
indeed surprise smote me.

"Madam Baroness," said I, laughing, "it is wholly impossible for you to
be here, yet you are here! Never again will I say there is no such thing
as chance, no such thing as fate, no such thing as a miracle!"

She looked at me one brief moment; then her courage returned.

"Ah, then, my idiot," she said, "since it is to be our fortune always to
meet of dark nights and in impossible ways, give me your arm."

I laughed. "We may as well make treaty. If you run again, I shall only
follow you."

"Then I am again your prisoner?"

"Madam, I again am yours!"

"At least, you improve!" said she. "Then come."

"Shall I not call a _caleche?_--the night is dark."

"No, no!" hurriedly.

We began a midnight course that took us quite across the old French
quarter of Montreal. At last she turned into a small, dark street of
modest one-story residences, iron-shuttered, dark and cheerless. Here
she paused in front of a narrow iron gate.

"Madam," I said, "you represent to me one of the problems of my life.
Why does your taste run to such quarters as these? This might be that
same back street in Washington!"

She chuckled to herself, at length laughed aloud. "But wait! If you
entered my abode once," she said, "why not again? Come."

Her hand was at the heavy knocker as she spoke. In a moment the door
slowly opened, just as it had done that night before in Washington. My
companion passed before me swiftly. As she entered I saw standing at the
opening the same brown and wrinkled old dame who had served that night
before in Washington!

For an instant the light dazzled my eyes, but, determined now to see
this adventure through, I stepped within. Then, indeed, I found it
difficult to stifle the exclamation of surprise which came to my lips.
Believe it or not, as you like, we _were_ again in Washington!

I say that I was confronted by the identical arrangement, the identical
objects of furnishing, which had marked the luxurious boudoir of Helena
von Ritz in Washington! The tables were the same, the chairs, the
mirrors, the consoles. On the mantel stood the same girandoles with
glittering crystals. The pictures upon the walls, so far as I could
remember their themes, did not deviate in any particular of detail or
arrangement. The oval-backed chairs were duplicates of those I had seen
that other night at midnight. Beyond these same amber satin curtains
stood the tall bed with its canopy, as I could see; and here at the
right was the same low Napoleon bed with its rolled ends. The figures of
the carpets were the same, their deep-piled richness, soft under foot,
the same. The flowered cups of the sconces were identical with those I
had seen before. To my eye, even as it grew more studious, there
appeared no divergence, no difference, between these apartments and
those I had so singularly visited--and yet under circumstances so
strangely akin to these--in the capital of my own country!

"You are good enough to admire my modest place," said a laughing voice
at my shoulder. Then indeed I waked and looked about me, and saw that
this, stranger than any mirage of the brain, was but a fact and must
later be explained by the laborious processes of the feeble reason.

I turned to her then, pulling myself together as best I could. Yes, she
too was the same, although in this case costumed somewhat differently.
The wide ball gown of satin was gone, and in its place was a less
pretentious robing of some darker silk. I remembered distinctly that the
flowers upon the white satin gown I first had seen were pink roses. Here
were flowers of the crocus, cunningly woven into the web of the gown
itself. The slippers which I now saw peeping out as she passed were not
of white satin, but better foot covering for the street. She cast over
the back of a chair, as she had done that other evening, her light
shoulder covering, a dark mantle, not of lace now, but of some thin
cloth. Her jewels were gone, and the splendor of her dark hair was free
of decoration. No pale blue fires shone at her white throat, and her
hands were ringless. But the light, firm poise of her figure could not
be changed; the mockery of her glance remained the same, half laughing
and half wistful. The strong curve of her lips remained, and I recalled
this arch of brow, the curve of neck and chin, the droop of the dark
locks above her even forehead. Yes, it was she. It could be no one else.

She clapped her hands and laughed like a child as she turned to me.
"Bravo!" she said. "My judgment, then, was quite correct."

"In regard to what?"

"Yourself!"

"Pardon me?"

"You do not show curiosity! You do not ask me questions! Good! I think
I shall ask you to wait. I say to you frankly that I am alone here. It
pleases me to live--as pleases me! You are alone in Montreal. Why should
we not please ourselves?"

In some way which I did not pause to analyze, I felt perfectly sure that
this strange woman could, if she cared to do so, tell me some of the
things I ought to know. She might be here on some errand identical with
my own. Calhoun had sent for her once before. Whose agent was she now? I
found chairs for us both.

An instant later, summoned in what way I do not know, the old
serving-woman again reappeared. "Wine, Threlka," said the baroness;
"service for two--you may use this little table. Monsieur," she added,
turning to me, "I am most happy to make even some slight return for the
very gracious entertainment offered me that morning by Mr. Calhoun at
his residence. Such a droll man! Oh, la! la!"

"Are you his friend, Madam?" I asked bluntly.

"Why should I not be?"

I could frame neither offensive nor defensive art with her. She mocked
me.

In a few moments the weazened old woman was back with cold fowl, wine,
napery, silver.

"Will Monsieur carve?" At her nod the old woman filled my glass, after
my hostess had tasted of her own. We had seated ourselves at the table
as she spoke.

"Not so bad for a black midnight, eh?" she went on, "--in a strange
town--and on a strange errand? And again let me express my approbation
of your conduct."

"If it pleases you, 'tis more than I can say of it for myself," I began.
"But why?"

"Because you ask no questions. You take things as they come. I did not
expect you would come to Montreal."

"Then you know--but of course, I told you."

"Have you then no question?" she went on at last. Her glass stood half
full; her wrists rested gently on the table edge, as she leaned back,
looking at me with that on her face which he had needed to be wiser than
myself, who could have read.

"May I, then?"

"Yes, now you may go on."

"I thank you. First, of course, for what reason do you carry the secrets
of my government into the stronghold of another government? Are you the
friend of America, or are you a spy upon America? Are you my friend, or
are we to be enemies to-night?"

She flung back her head and laughed delightedly. "That is a good
beginning," she commented.

"You must, at a guess, have come up by way of the lakes, and by batteau
from La Prairie?" I ventured.

She nodded again. "Of course. I have been here six days."

"Indeed?--you have badly beaten me in our little race."

She flashed on me a sudden glance. "Why do you not ask me outright _why_
I am here?"

"Well, then, I do! I do ask you that. I ask you how you got access to
that meeting to-night--for I doubt not you were there?"

She gazed at me deliberately again, parting her red lips, again smiling
at me. "What would you have given to have been there yourself?"

"All the treasures those vaults ever held."

"So much? What will you give me, then, to tell you what I know?"

"More than all that treasure, Madam. A place--"

"Ah! a 'place in the heart of a people!' I prefer a locality more
restricted."

"In my own heart, then; yes, of course!"

She helped herself daintily to a portion of the white meat of the fowl.
"Yes," she went on, as though speaking to herself, "on the whole, I
rather like him. Yet what a fool! Ah, such a droll idiot!"

"How so, Madam?" I expostulated. "I thought I was doing very well."

"Yet you can not guess how to persuade me?"

"No; how could that be?"

"Always one gains by offering some equivalent, value for
value--especially with women, Monsieur."

She went on as though to herself. "Come, now, I fancy him! He is
handsome, he is discreet, he has courage, he is not usual, he is not
curious; but ah, _mon Dieu_, what a fool!"

"Admit me to be a fool, Madam, since it is true; but tell me in my folly
what equivalent I can offer one who has everything in the world--wealth,
taste, culture, education, wit, learning, beauty?"

"Go on! Excellent!"

"Who has everything as against my nothing! _What_ value, Madam?"

"Why, gentle idiot, to get an answer ask a question, always."

"I have asked it."

"But you can not guess that _I_ might ask one? So, then, one answer for
another, we might do--what you Americans call some business--eh? Will
you answer _my_ question?"

"Ask it, then."

"_Were you married_--that other night?"

So, then, she was woman after all, and curious! Her sudden speech came
like a stab; but fortunately my dull nerves had not had time to change
my face before a thought flashed into my mind. Could I not make
merchandise of my sorrow? I pulled myself into control and looked her
fair in the face.

"Madam," I said, "look at my face and read your own answer."

She looked, searching me, while every nerve of me tingled; but at last
she shook her head. "No," she sighed. "I can not yet say." She did not
see the sweat starting on my forehead.

I raised my kerchief over my head. "A truce, then, Madam! Let us leave
the one question against the other for a time."

"Excellent! I shall get my answer first, in that case, and for nothing."

"How so?"

"I shall only watch you. As we are here now, I were a fool, worse than
you, if I could not tell whether or not you are married. None the less,
I commend you, I admire you, because you do not tell me. If you are
_not_, you are disappointed. If you _are_, you are eager!"

"I am in any case delighted that I can interest Madam."

"Ah, but you do! I have not been interested, for so long! Ah, the great
heavens, how fat was Mr. Pakenham, how thin was Mr. Calhoun! But
you--come, Monsieur, the night is long. Tell me of yourself. I have
never before known a savage."

"Value for value only, Madam! Will you tell me in turn of yourself?"

"All?" She looked at me curiously.

"Only so much as Madam wishes."

I saw her dark eyes study me once more. At last she spoke again. "At
least," she said, "it would be rather vulgar if I did not explain some
of the things which become your right to know when I ask you to come
into this home, as into my other home in Washington."

"In Heaven's name, how many of these homes have you, then? Are they all
alike?"

"Five only, now," she replied, in the most matter-of-fact manner in the
world, "and, of course, all quite alike."

"Where else?"

"In Paris, in Vienna, in London," she answered. "You see this one, you
see them all. 'Tis far cooler in Montreal than in Washington in the
summer time. Do you not approve?"

"The arrangement could not be surpassed."

"Thank you. So I have thought. The mere charm of difference does not
appeal to me. Certain things my judgment approves. They serve, they
suffice. This little scheme it has pleased me to reproduce in some of
the capitals of the world. It is at least as well chosen as the taste of
the Prince of Orleans, son of Louis Philippe, could advise."

This with no change of expression. I drew a long breath.

She went on as though I had spoken. "My friend," she said, "do not
despise me too early. There is abundant time. Before you judge, let the
testimony be heard. I love men who can keep their own tongues and their
own hands to themselves."

"I am not your judge, Madam, but it will be long before I shall think a
harsh thought of you. Tell me what a woman may. Do not tell me what a
secret agent may _not_. I ask no promises and make none. You are very
beautiful. You have wealth. I call you `Madam.' You are married?"

"I was married at fifteen."

"At fifteen! And your husband died?"

"He disappeared."

"Your own country was Austria?"

"Call me anything but Austrian! I left my country because I saw there
only oppression and lack of hope. No, I am Hungarian."

"That I could have guessed. They say the most beautiful women of the
world come from that country."

"Thank you. Is that all?"

"I should guess then perhaps you went to Paris?"

"Of course," she said, "of course! of course! In time reasons existed
why I should not return to my home. I had some little fortune, some
singular experiences, some ambitions of my own. What I did, I did. At
least, I saw the best and worst of Europe."

She raised a hand as though to brush something from before her face.
"Allow me to give you wine. Well, then, Monsieur knows that when I left
Paris I felt that part of my studies were complete. I had seen a little
more of government, a little more of humanity, a little more of life, a
little more of men. It was not men but mankind that I studied most. I
had seen much of injustice and hopelessness and despair. These made the
fate of mankind--in that world."

"I have heard vaguely of some such things, Madam," I said. "I know that
in Europe they have still the fight which we sought to settle when we
left that country for this one."

She nodded. "So then, at last," she went on, "still young, having
learned something and having now those means of carrying on my studies
which I required, I came to this last of the countries, America, where,
if anywhere, hope for mankind remains. Washington has impressed me more
than any capital of the world."

"How long have you been in Washington?" I asked.

"Now you begin to question--now you show at last curiosity! Well, then,
I shall answer. For more than one year, perhaps more than two, perhaps
more than three!"

"Impossible!" I shook my head. "A woman like you could not be
concealed--not if she owned a hundred hidden places such as this."

"Oh, I was known," she said. "You have heard of me, you knew of me?"

I still shook my head. "No," said I, "I have been far in the West for
several years, and have come to Washington but rarely. Bear me out, I
had not been there my third day before I found you!"

We sat silent for some moments, fixedly regarding each other. I have
said that a more beautiful face than hers I had never seen. There sat
upon it now many things--youth, eagerness, ambition, a certain defiance;
but, above all, a pleading pathos! I could not find it in my heart,
eager as I was, to question her further. Apparently she valued this
reticence.

"You condemn me?" she asked at length. "Because I live alone, because
quiet rumor wags a tongue, you will judge me by your own creed and not
by mine?"

I hesitated before I answered, and deliberated. "Madam, I have already
told you that I would not. I say once more that I accredit you with
living up to your own creed, whatever that may have been."

She drew a long breath in turn. "Monsieur, you have done yourself no ill
turn in that."

"It was rumored in diplomatic circles, of course, that you were in touch
with the ministry of England," I ventured. "I myself saw that much."

"Naturally. Of Mexico also! At least, as you saw in our little carriage
race, Mexico was desirous enough to establish some sort of communication
with my humble self!"

"Calhoun was right!" I exclaimed. "He was entirely right, Madam, in
insisting that I should bring you to him that morning, whether or not
you wished to go."

"Whim fits with whim sometimes. `Twas his whim to see me, mine to go."

"I wonder what the Queen of Sheba would have said had Solomon met her
thus!"

She chuckled at the memory. "You see, when you left me at Mr. Calhoun's
door in care of the Grand Vizier James, I wondered somewhat at this
strange country of America. The _entresol_ was dim and the Grand Vizier
was slow with candles. I half fell into the room on the right. There was
Mr. Calhoun bolt upright in his chair, both hands spread out on the
arms. As you promised, he wore a red nightcap and long gown of wool. He
was asleep, and ah! how weary he seemed. Never have I seen a face so sad
as his, asleep. He was gray and thin, his hair was gray and thin, his
eyes were sunken, the veins were corded at his temples, his hands were
transparent. He was, as you promised me, old. Yet when I saw him I did
not smile. He heard me stir as I would have withdrawn, and when he arose
to his feet he was wide-awake. Monsieur, he is a great man; because,
even so clad he made no more apology than you do, showed no more
curiosity; and he welcomed me quite as a gentleman unashamed--as a king,
if you please."

"How did he receive you, Madam?" I asked. "I never knew."

"Why, took my hand in both his, and bowed as though I indeed were queen,
he a king."

"Then you got on well?"

"Truly; for he was wiser than his agent, Monsieur. He found answers by
asking questions."

"Ah, you were kinder to him than to me?"

"Naturally."

"For instance, he asked--"

"What had been my ball gown that night--who was there--how I enjoyed
myself! In a moment we were talking as though we had been friends for
years. The Grand Vizier brought in two mugs of cider, in each a toasted
apple. Monsieur, I have not seen diplomacy such as this. Naturally, I
was helpless."

"Did he perhaps ask how you were induced to come at so impossible a
time? My own vanity, naturally, leads me to ask so much as that."

"No, Mr. Calhoun confined himself to the essentials! Even had he asked
me I could not have replied, because I do not know, save that it was to
me a whim. But at least we talked, over our cider and toasted apples."

"You told him somewhat of yourself?"

"He did not allow me to do that, Monsieur."

"But he told you somewhat of this country?"

"Ah, yes, yes! So then I saw what held him up in his work, what kept him
alive. I saw something I have not often seen--a purpose, a principle, in
a public man. His love for his own land touched even me, how or why I
scarcely know. Yes, we spoke of the poor, the oppressed, of the weary
and the heavy laden."

"Did he ask you what you knew of Mexico and England?"

"Rather what I knew of the poor in Europe. I told him some things I knew
of that hopeless land, that priest-ridden, king-ridden country--my own
land. Then he went on to tell me of America and its hope of a free
democracy of the people. Believe me, I listened to Mr. Calhoun. Never
mind what we said of Mr. Van Zandt and Sir Richard Pakenham. At least,
as you know, I paid off a little score with Sir Richard that next
morning. What was strangest to me was the fact that I forgot Mr.
Calhoun's attire, forgot the strangeness of my errand thither. It was as
though only our minds talked, one with the other. I was sorry when at
last came the Grand Vizier James to take Mr. Calhoun's order for his own
carriage, that brought me home--my second and more peaceful arrival
there that night. The last I saw of Mr. Calhoun was with the Grand
Vizier James putting a cloak about him and leading him by force from his
study to his bed, as I presume. As for me, I slept no more that night.
Monsieur, I admit that I saw the purpose of a great man. Yes; and of a
great country."

"Then I did not fail as messenger, after all! You told Mr. Calhoun what
he desired to know?"

"In part at least. But come now, was I not bound in some sort of honor
to my great and good friend, Sir Richard? Was it not treachery enough to
rebuke him for his attentions to the Dona Lucrezia?"

"But you promised to tell Mr. Calhoun more at a later time?"

"On certain conditions I did," she assented.

"I do not know that I may ask those?"

"You would be surprised if I told you the truth? What I required of Mr.
Calhoun was permission and aid still further to study his extraordinary
country, its extraordinary ways, its extraordinary ignorance of itself.
I have told you that I needed to travel, to study, to observe
mankind--and those governments invented or tolerated by mankind."

"Since then, Madam," I concluded, stepping to assist her with her chair,
as she signified her completion of our repast, "since you do not feel
now inclined to be specific, I feel that I ought to make my adieux, for
the time at least. It grows late. I shall remember this little evening
all my life. I own my defeat. I do not know why you are here, or for
whom."

"At what hotel do you stop?"

"The little place of Jacques Bertillon, a square or so beyond the Place
d'Armes."

"In that case," said she, "believe me, it would be more discreet for you
to remain unseen in Montreal. No matter which flag is mine, I may say
that much for a friend and comrade in the service."

"But what else?"

She looked about her. "Be my guest to-night!" she said suddenly. "There
is danger--"

"For me?" I laughed. "At my hotel? On the streets?"

"No, for me."

"Where?"

"Here."

"And of what, Madam?"

"Of a man; for the first time I am afraid, in spite of all."

I looked at her straight. "Are you not afraid of _me?_" I asked.

She looked at me fairly, her color coming. "With the fear which draws a
woman to a man," she said.

"Whereas, mine is the fear which causes a man to flee from himself!"

"But you will remain for my protection? I should feel safer. Besides, in
that case I should know the answer."

"How do you mean?"

"I should know whether or not you were married!"




CHAPTER XV

WITH MADAM THE BARONESS

     It is not for good women that men have fought battles, given their
     lives and staked their souls.--_Mrs. W.K. Clifford_.


"But, Madam--" I began.

She answered me in her own way. "Monsieur hesitates--he is lost!" she
said. "But see, I am weary. I have been much engaged to-day. I have made
it my plan never to fatigue myself. It is my hour now for my bath, my
exercise, my bed, if you please. I fear I must bid you good night, one
way or the other. You will be welcome here none the less, if you care to
remain. I trust you did not find our little repast to-night unpleasing?
Believe me, our breakfast shall be as good. Threlka is expert in
omelets, and our coffee is such as perhaps you may not find general in
these provinces."

Was there the slightest mocking sneer in her words? Did she despise me
as a faint-heart? I could not tell, but did not like the thought.

"Believe me, Madam," I answered hotly, "you have courage, at least. Let
me match it. Nor do I deny that this asks courage on my part too. If
you please, in these circumstances, _I shall remain_."

"You are armed?" she asked simply.

I inserted a finger in each waistcoat pocket and showed her the butts of
two derringers; and at the back of my neck--to her smiling amusement at
our heathen fashion--I displayed just the tip of the haft of a short
bowie-knife, which went into a leather case under the collar of my coat.
And again I drew around the belt which I wore so that she could see the
barrel of a good pistol, which had been suspended under cover of the
bell skirt of my coat.

She laughed. I saw that she was not unused to weapons. I should have
guessed her the daughter of a soldier or acquainted with arms in some
way. "Of course," she said, "there might be need of these, although I
think not. And in any case, if trouble can be deferred until to-morrow,
why concern oneself over it? You interest me. I begin yet more to
approve of you."

"Then, as to that breakfast _a la fourchette_ with Madam; if I remain,
will you agree to tell me what is your business here?"

She laughed at me gaily. "I might," she said, "provided that meantime I
had learned whether or not you were married that night."

I do not profess that I read all that was in her face as she stepped
back toward the satin curtains and swept me the most graceful curtsey I
had ever seen in all my life. I felt like reaching out a hand to
restrain her. I felt like following her. She was assuredly bewildering,
assuredly as puzzling as she was fascinating. I only felt that she was
mocking me. Ah, she was a woman!

I felt something swiftly flame within me. There arose about me that net
of amber-hued perfume, soft, enthralling, difficult of evasion.... Then
I recalled my mission; and I remembered what Mr. Calhoun and Doctor Ward
had said. I was not a man; I was a government agent. She was not a
woman; she was my opponent. Yes, but then--

Slowly I turned to the opposite side of this long central room. There
were curtains here also. I drew them, but as I did so I glanced back.
Again, as on that earlier night, I saw her face framed in the amber
folds--a face laughing, mocking. With an exclamation of discontent, I
threw down my heavy pistol on the floor, cast my coat across the foot of
the bed to prevent the delicate covering from being soiled by my boots,
and so rested without further disrobing.

In the opposite apartment I could hear her moving about, humming to
herself some air as unconcernedly as though no such being as myself
existed in the world. I heard her presently accost her servant, who
entered through some passage not visible from the central apartments.
Then without concealment there seemed to go forward the ordinary routine
of madam's toilet for the evening.

"No, I think the pink one," I heard her say, "and please--the bath,
Threlka, just a trifle more warm." She spoke in French, her ancient
serving-woman, as I took it, not understanding the English language.
They both spoke also in a tongue I did not know. I heard the rattling of
toilet articles, certain sighs of content, faint splashings beyond. I
could not escape from all this. Then I imagined that perhaps madam was
having her heavy locks combed by the serving-woman. In spite of myself,
I pictured her thus, even more beautiful than before.

For a long time I concluded that my presence was to be dismissed as a
thing which was of no importance, or which was to be regarded as not
having happened. At length, however, after what seemed at least half an
hour of these mysterious ceremonies, I heard certain sighings, long
breaths, as though madam were taking calisthenic movements, some
gymnastic training--I knew not what. She paused for breath, apparently
very well content with herself.

Shame on me! I fancied perhaps she stood before a mirror. Shame on me
again! I fancied she sat, glowing, beautiful, at the edge of the amber
couch.

At last she called out to me: "Monsieur!"

I was at my own curtains at once, but hers remained tight folded,
although I heard her voice close behind them. "_Eh bien?_" I answered.

"It is nothing, except I would say that if Monsieur feels especially
grave and reverent, he will find a very comfortable _prie-dieu_ at the
foot of the bed."

"I thank you," I replied, gravely as I could.

"And there is a very excellent rosary and crucifix on the table just
beyond!"

"I thank you," I replied, steadily as I could.

"And there is an English Book of Common Prayer upon the stand not far
from the head of the bed, upon this side!"

"A thousand thanks, my very good friend."

I heard a smothered laugh beyond the amber curtains. Presently she spoke
again, yawning, as I fancied, rather contentedly.

"_A la bonne heure, Monsieur!_"

"_A la bonne heure, Madame!_"




CHAPTER XVI

DEJEUNER A LA FOURCHETTE

     Woman is a creature between man and the angels.
                                    --_Honore de Balzac_.


A government agent, it seems, may also in part be little more than a
man, after all. In these singular surroundings I found myself not wholly
tranquil.... At last toward morning, I must have slept. It was some time
after daybreak when I felt a hand upon my shoulder as I lay still partly
clad. Awakened suddenly, I arose and almost overthrew old Threlka, who
stood regarding me with no expression whatever upon her brown and
wrinkled countenance. She did no more than point the way to a door,
where presently I found a bath-room, and so refreshed myself and made
the best toilet possible under the circumstances.

My hostess I found awaiting me in the central room of the apartments.
She was clad now in a girdled peignoir of rich rose-color, the sleeves,
wide and full, falling hack from her round arms. Her dark hair was
coiled and piled high on her head this morning, regardless of current
mode, and confined in a heavy twist by a tall golden comb; so that her
white neck was left uncovered. She wore no jewelry, and as she stood,
simple and free from any trickery of the coquette, I thought that few
women ever were more fair. That infinite witchery not given to many
women was hers, yet dignity as well. She was, I swear, _grande dame_,
though young and beautiful as a goddess. Her brow was thoughtful now,
her air more demure. Faint blue shadows lay beneath her eyes. A certain
hauteur, it seemed to me, was visible in her mien, yet she was the soul
of graciousness, and, I must admit, as charming a hostess as ever
invited one to usual or unusual repast.

The little table in the center of the room was already spread. Madam
filled my cup from the steaming urn with not the slightest awkwardness,
as she nodded for me to be seated. We looked at each other, and, as I
may swear, we both broke into saving laughter.

So we sat, easier now, as I admit, and, with small concern for the
affairs of the world outside at the time, discussed the very excellent
omelet, which certainly did not allow the reputation of Threlka to
suffer; the delicately grilled bones, the crisp toasted rye bread, the
firm yellow butter, the pungent early cress, which made up a meal
sufficiently dainty even for her who presided over it.

Even that pitiless light of early morning, the merciless cross-light of
opposing windows, was gentle with her. Yes, she was young! Moreover, she
ate as a person of breeding, and seemed thoroughbred in all ways, if one
might use a term so hackneyed. Rank and breeding had been hers; she
needed not to claim them, for they told their own story. I wondered what
extraordinary history of hers remained untold--what history of hers and
mine and of others she might yet assist in making!

"I was saying," she remarked presently, "that I would not have you think
that I do not appreciate the suffering in which you were plunged by the
haste you found necessary in the wedding of your _jeune fille_."

But I was on my guard. "At least, I may thank you for your sympathy,
Madam!" I replied.

"Yet in time," she went on, gone reflective the next instant, "you will
see how very unimportant is all this turmoil of love and marriage."

"Indeed, there is, as you say, something of a turmoil regarding them in
our institutions as they are at present formed."

"Because the average of humanity thinks so little. Most of us judge life
from its emotions. We do not search the depths."

"If I could oblige Madam by abolishing society and home and humanity, I
should be very glad--because, of course, that is what Madam means!"

"At any cost," she mused, "that torture of life must be passed on to
coming generations for their unhappiness, their grief, their misery. I
presume it was necessary that there should be this plan of the general
blindness and intensity of passion."

"Yes, if, indeed, it be not the most important thing in the world for us
to marry, at least it is important that we should think so. Madam is
philosopher this morning," I said, smiling.

She hardly heard me. "To continue the crucifixion of the soul, to
continue the misapprehensions, the debasings of contact with human
life--yes, I suppose one must pay all that for the sake of the gaining
of a purpose. Yet there are those who would endure much for the sake of
principle, Monsieur. Some such souls are born, do you not think?"

"Yes, Sphinx souls, extraordinary, impossible for the average of us to
understand."

"That torch of _life_!" she mused. "See! It was only _that_ which you
were so eager to pass on to another generation! That was why you were so
mad to hasten to the side of that woman. Whereas," she mused still, "it
were so much grander and so much nobler to pass on the torch of a
_principle_ as well!"

"I do not understand."

"The general business of offspring goes on unceasingly in all the
nations," she resumed frankly. "There will be children, whether or not
you and I ever find some one wherewith to mate in the compromise which
folk call wedlock. But _principles_--ah! my friend, who is to give those
to others who follow us? What rare and splendid wedlock brings forth
_that_ manner of offspring?"

"Madam, in the circumstances," said I, "I should be happy to serve you
more omelet."

She shook her head as though endeavoring to dismiss something from her
mind.

"Do not philosophize with me," I said. "I am already distracted by the
puzzle you offer to me. You are so young and beautiful, so fair in your
judgment, so kind--"

"In turn, I ask you not to follow that," she remarked coldly. "Let us
talk of what you call, I think, business."

"Nothing could please me more. I have slept little, pondering on this
that I do call business. To begin with, then, you were there at the
Chateau Ramezay last night. I would have given all I had to have been
there for an hour."

"There are certain advantages a woman may have."

"But you were there? You know what went forward?"

"Certainly."

"Did they know you were present?"

"Monsieur is somewhat importunate!"

She looked me now directly in the eye, studying me mercilessly, with a
scrutiny whose like I should not care often to undergo.

"I should be glad if it were possible to answer you," she said at last
enigmatically; "but I have faith to keep with--others--with
you--with--myself."

Now my own eagerness ran away with me; I became almost rude. "Madam," I
exclaimed, "why beat about the bush? I do not care to deceive you, and
you must not deceive me. Why should we not be friends in every way, and
fair ones?"

"You do not know what you are saying," she said simply.

"Are you then an enemy of my country?" I demanded. "If I thought you
were here to prove traitress to my country, you should never leave this
room except with me. You shall not leave it now until you have told me
what you are, why you are here, what you plan to do!"

She showed no fear. She only made a pretty little gesture at the dishes
between us. "At my own table!" she pouted.

Again our eyes met directly and again hers did not lower. She looked at
me calmly. I was no match for her.

"My dear lady," I began again, "my relation to the affairs of the
American Republic is a very humble one. I am no minister of state, and I
know you deal with ministers direct. How, then, shall I gain your
friendship for my country? You are dangerous to have for an enemy. Are
you too high-priced to have for a friend--for a friend to our Union--a
friend of the principle of democracy? Come now, you enjoy large
questions. Tell me, what does this council mean regarding Oregon? Is it
true that England plans now to concentrate all her traders, all her
troops, and force them west up the Saskatchewan and into Oregon this
coming season? Come, now, Madam, is it to be war?"

Her curved lips broke into a smile that showed again her small white
teeth.

"Were you, then, married?" she said.

I only went on, impatient. "Any moment may mean everything to us. I
should not ask these questions if I did not know that you were close to
Mr. Calhoun."

She looked me square in the eye and nodded her head slowly. "I may say
this much, Monsieur, that it has pleased me to gain a little further
information."

"You will give my government that information?"

"Why should I?"

"Yet you spoke of others who might come here. What others? Who are they?
The representatives of Mexico? Some attache of the British Embassy at
Washington? Some minister from England itself, sent here direct?"

She smiled at me again. "I told you not to go back to your hotel, did I
not?"

I got no further with her, it seemed.

"You interest me sometimes," she went on slowly, at last, "yet you seem
to have so little brain! Now, in your employment, I should think that
brain would be somewhat useful at times."

"I do not deny that suggestion, Madam."

"But you are unable to analyze. Thus, in the matter of yourself. I
suppose if you were told of it, you would only say that you forgot to
look in the toe of the slipper you had."

"Thus far, Baroness," I said soberly, "I have asked no special
privilege, at least. Now, if it affords you any pleasure, I _beg_ you, I
_implore_ you, to tell me what you mean!"

"Did you credit the attache of Mexico with being nothing more than a
drunken rowdy, to follow me across town with a little shoe in his
carriage?"

"But you said he was in wine."

"True. But would that be a reason? Continually you show your lack of
brain in accepting as conclusive results which could not possibly have
occurred. _Granted_ he was in wine, _granted_ he followed me, _granted_
he had my shoe in his possession--what then? Does it follow that at the
ball at the White House he could have removed that shoe? Does Monsieur
think that I, too, was in wine?"

"I agree that I have no brain! I can not guess what you mean. I can only
beg once more that you explain."

"Now listen. In your most youthful and charming innocence I presume you
do not know much of the capabilities for concealment offered by a lady's
apparel! Now, suppose I had a message--where do you think I could hide
it; granted, of course, the conditions obtaining at a ball in the White
House?"

"Then you did have a message? It came to you there, at that time?"

She nodded. "Certainly. Mr. Van Zandt had almost no other opportunity to
meet me or get word to me."

"_Van Zandt!_ Madam, are you indeed in the camp of _all_ these different
interests? So, what Pakenham said was true! Van Zandt is the attache of
Texas. Van Zandt is pleading with Mr. Calhoun that he shall take up the
secretaryship. Van Zandt promises us the friendship of Texas if we will
stand out for the annexation of Texas. Van Zandt promises us every
effort in his power against England. Van Zandt promises us the sternest
of fronts against treacherous Mexico. Van Zandt is known to be
interested in this fair Dona Lucrezia, just as Polk is. Now, then, comes
Van Zandt with his secret message slipped into the hand of Madam at the
Ambassador's ball--Madam, _the friend of England!_ The attache of Mexico
is curious--furious--to know what Texas is saying to England! And that
message must be concealed! And Madam conceals it in--"

She smiled at me brilliantly. "You come on," she said. "Should your head
be opened and analyzed, yes, I think a trace of brain might be
discovered by good chemistry."

I resumed impatiently. "You put his message in your slipper?"

She nodded. "Yes," she said, "in the toe of it. There was barely chance
to do that. You see, our skirts are full and wide; there are curtains in
the East Room; there was wine by this time; there was music; so I
effected that much. But when you took the slipper, you took Van Zandt's
note! You had it. It was true, what I told Pakenham before the
president--I did _not_ then have that note! _You_ had it. At least, I
_thought_ you had it, till I found it crumpled on the table the next
day! It must have fallen there from the shoe when we made our little
exchange that night. Ah, you hurried me. I scarce knew whether I was
clad or shod, until the next afternoon--after I left you at the White
House grounds. So you hastily departed--to your wedding?"

"So small a shoe could not have held an extended epistle, Madam," I
said, ignoring her question.

"No, but the little roll of paper caused me anguish. After I had danced
I was on the point of fainting. I hastened to the cover of the nearest
curtain, where I might not be noticed. Senor Yturrio of Mexico was
somewhat vigilant. He wished to know what Texas planned with England. He
has long made love to me--by threats, and jewels. As I stood behind the
curtain I saw his face, I fled; but one shoe--the empty one--was not
well fastened, and it fell. I could not walk. I reached down, removed
the other shoe with its note, hid it in my handkerchief--thank
Providence for the fashion of so much lace--and so, not in wine,
Monsieur, as you may believe, and somewhat anxious, as you may also
believe, expecting to hear at once of an encounter between Van Zandt and
the Mexican minister, Senor Almonte, or his attache Yturrio, or between
one of them and some one else, I made my adieux--I will warrant the only
woman in her stocking feet who bowed for Mr. Tyler at the ball that
night!"

"Yes, so far as I know, Madam, you are the only lady who ever left the
East Room precisely so clad. And so you got into your own
carriage--alone--after a while? And so, when you were there you put on
the shoe which was left? And so Yturrio of Mexico got the other one--and
found nothing in it! And so, he wanted this one!"

"You come on," she said. "You have something more than a trace of
brain."

"And that other shoe, which _I_ got that night?"

Without a word she smoothed out a bit of paper which she removed from a
near-by desk, and handed it to me. "_This_ was in yours! As I said, in
my confusion I supposed you had it. You said I should go in a sack. I
suppose I did! I suppose I lost my head, somewhere! But certainly I
thought you had found the note and given it to Mr. Calhoun; else I
should have driven harder terms with him! I would drive harder terms
with you, now, were I not in such haste to learn the answer to my
question! Tell me, _were_ you married?"

"Is that answer worth more than Van Zandt?" I smiled.

"Yes," she answered, also smiling.

I spread the page upon the cloth before me; my eyes raced down the
lines. I did not make further reply to her.

"Madam," went on the communication, "say to your august friend Sir
Richard that we have reached the end of our endurance of these late
delays. The promises of the United States mean nothing. We can trust
neither Whig nor Democrat any longer. There is no one party in power,
nor will there be. There are two sections in America and there is no
nation, and Texas knows not where to go. We have offered to Mr. Tyler to
join the Union if the Union will allow us to join. We intend to reserve
our own lands and reserve the right to organize later into four or more
states, if our people shall so desire. But as a great state we will join
the Union if the Union will accept us. That must be seen.

"England now beseeches us not to enter the Union, but to stand apart,
either for independence or for alliance with Mexico and England. The
proposition has been made to us to divide into two governments, one free
and one slave. England has proposed to us to advance us moneys to pay
all our debts if we will agree to this. Settled by bold men from our
mother country, the republic, Texas has been averse to this. But now our
own mother repudiates us, not once but many times. We get no decision.
This then, dear Madam, is from Texas to England by your hand, and we
know you will carry it safe and secret. We shall accept this proposal of
England, and avail ourselves of the richness of her generosity.

"If within thirty days action is not taken in Washington for the
annexation of Texas, Texas will never in the history of the world be one
of the United States. Moreover, if the United States shall lose Texas,
also they lose Oregon, and all of Oregon. Carry this news--I am
persuaded that it will be welcome--to that gentleman whose ear I know
you have; and believe me always, my dear Madam, with respect and
admiration, yours, for the State of Texas, Van Zandt."

I drew a deep breath as I saw this proof of double play on the part of
this representative of the republic of the Southwest. "They are
traitors!" I exclaimed. "But there must be action--something must be
done at once. I must not wait; I must go! I must take this, at least, to
Mr. Calhoun."

She laughed now, joyously clapping her white hands together. "Good!" she
said. "You are a man, after all. You may yet grow brain."

"Have I been fair with you thus far?" she asked at length.

"More than fair. I could not have asked this of you. In an hour I have
learned the news of years. But will you not also tell me what is the
news from Chateau Ramezay? Then, indeed, I could go home feeling I had
done very much for my chief."

"Monsieur, I can not do so. You will not tell me that other news."

"Of what?"

"Of your nuptials!"

"Madam, I can not do so. But for you, much as I owe you, I would like to
wring your neck. I would like to take your arms in my hands and crush
them, until--"

"Until what?" Her face was strange. I saw a hand raised to her throat.

"Until you told me about Oregon!" said I.

I saw her arms move--just one instant--her body incline. She gazed at me
steadily, somberly. Then her hands fell.

"Ah, God! how I hate you both!" she said; "you and her. You _were_
married, after all! Yes, it can be, it can be! A woman may love one
man--even though he could give her only a bed of husks! And a man may
love a woman, too--one woman! I had not known."

I could only gaze at her, now more in perplexity than ever. Alike her
character and her moods were beyond me. What she was or had been I could
not guess; only, whatever she was, she was not ordinary, that was sure,
and was to be classified under no ordinary rule. Woman or secret agent
she was, and in one or other identity she could be my friend or my
powerful enemy, could aid my country powerfully if she had the whim; or
damage it irreparably if she had the desire. But--yes--as I studied her
that keen, tense, vital moment, she was woman!

A deep fire burned in her eyes, that was true; but on her face
was--what? It was not rage, it was not passion, it was not chagrin. No,
in truth and justice I swear that what I then saw on her face was that
same look I had noted once before, an expression of almost childish
pathos, of longing, of appeal for something missed or gone, though much
desired. No vanity could contemplate with pleasure a look like that on
the face of a woman such as Helena von Ritz.

I fancied her unstrung by excitement, by the strain of her trying labor,
by the loneliness of her life, uncertain, misunderstood, perhaps, as it
was. I wondered if she could be more unhappy than I myself, if life
could offer her less than it did to me. But I dared not prolong our
masking, lest all should be unmasked.

"It is nothing!" she said at last, and laughed gaily as ever.

"Yes, Madam, it is nothing. I admit my defeat. I shall ask no more
favors, expect no further information from you, for I have not earned
it, and I can not pay. I will make no promise that I could not keep."

"Then we part even!"

"As enemies or friends?"

"I do not yet know. I can not think--for a long time. But I, too, am
defeated."

"I do not understand how Madam can be defeated in anything."

"Ah, I am defeated only because I have won. I have your secret; you do
not have mine. But I laid also another wager, with myself. I have lost
it. Ceremony or not--and what does the ceremony value?--you _are_
married. I had not known marriage to be possible. I had not known
you--you savages. No--so much--I had not known."

"Monsieur, adieu!" she added swiftly.

I bent and kissed her hand. "Madam, _au revoir!_"

"No, _adieu!_ Go!"




CHAPTER XVII

A HUNTER OF BUTTERFLIES

     I love men, not because they are men, but because they are not
     women.--_Queen Christina_.


There was at that time in Montreal a sort of news room and public
exchange, which made a place of general meeting. It was supplied with
newspapers and the like, and kept up by subscriptions of the town
merchants--a spacious room made out of the old Methodist chapel on St.
Joseph Street. I knew this for a place of town gossip, and hoped I might
hit upon something to aid me in my errand, which was no more than begun,
it seemed. Entering the place shortly before noon, I made pretense of
reading, all the while with an eye and an ear out for anything that
might happen.

As I stared in pretense at the page before me, I fumbled idly in a
pocket, with unthinking hand, and brought out to place before me on the
table, an object of which at first I was unconscious--the little Indian
blanket clasp. As it lay before me I felt seized of a sudden hatred for
it, and let fall on it a heavy hand. As I did so, I heard a voice at my
ear.

"_Mein Gott_, man, do not! You break it, surely."

I started at this. I had not heard any one approach. I discovered now
that the speaker had taken a seat near me at the table, and could not
fail to see this object which lay before me.

"I beg pardon," he said, in a broken speech which showed his foreign
birth; "but it iss so beautiful; to break it iss wrong."

Something in his appearance and speech fixed my attention. He was a
tall, bent man, perhaps sixty years of age, of gray hair and beard, with
the glasses and the unmistakable air of the student. His stooped
shoulders, his weakened eye, his thin, blue-veined hand, the iron-gray
hair standing like a ruff above his forehead, marked him not as one
acquainted with a wild life, but better fitted for other days and
scenes.

I pushed the trinket along the table towards him.

"'Tis of little value," I said, "and is always in the way when I would
find anything in my pocket."

"But once some one hass made it; once it hass had value. Tell me where
you get it?"

"North of the Platte, in our western territories," I said. "I once
traded in that country."

"You are American?"

"Yes."

"So," he said thoughtfully. "So. A great country, a very great country.
Me, I also live in it."

"Indeed?" I said. "In what part?"

"It iss five years since I cross the Rockies."

"You have crossed the Rockies? I envy you."

"You meesunderstand me. I live west of them for five years. I am now
come east."

"All the more, then, I envy you! You have perhaps seen the Oregon
country? That has always been my dream."

My eye must have kindled at that, for he smiled at me.

"You are like all Americans. They leave their own homes and make new
governments, yess? Those men in Oregon haf made a new government for
themselfs, and they tax those English traders to pay for a government
which iss American!"

I studied him now closely. If he had indeed lived so long in the Oregon
settlements, he knew far more about certain things than I did.

"News travels slowly over so great a distance," said I. "Of course I
know nothing of these matters except that last year and the year before
the missionaries have come east to ask us for more settlers to come out
to Oregon. I presume they want their churches filled."

"But most their _farms!_" said the old man.

"You have been at Fort Vancouver?"

He nodded. "Also to Fort Colville, far north; also to what they call
California, far south; and again to what they may yet call Fort
Victoria. I haf seen many posts of the Hudson Bay Company."

I was afraid my eyes showed my interest; but he went on.

"I haf been, in the Columbia country, and in the Willamette country,
where most of your Americans are settled. I know somewhat of California.
Mr. Howard, of the Hudson Bay Company, knows also of this country of
California. He said to those English gentlemans at our meeting last
night that England should haf someting to offset California on the west
coast; because, though Mexico claims California, the Yankees really rule
there, and will rule there yet more. He iss right; but they laughed at
him."

"Oh, I think little will come of all this talk," I said carelessly. "It
is very far, out to Oregon." Yet all the time my heart was leaping. So
he had been there, at that very meeting of which I could learn nothing!

"You know not what you say. A thousand men came into Oregon last year.
It iss like one of the great migrations of the peoples of Asia, of
Europe. I say to you, it iss a great epoch. There iss a folk-movement
such as we haf not seen since the days of the Huns, the Goths, the
Vandals, since the Cimri movement. It iss an epoch, my friend! It iss
fate that iss in it."

"So, then, it is a great country?" I asked.

"It iss so great, these traders do not wish it known. They wish only
that it may be savage; also that their posts and their harems may be
undisturbed. That iss what they wish. These Scots go wild again, in the
wilderness. They trade and they travel, but it iss not homes they build.
Sir George Simpson wants steel traps and not ploughs west of the
Rockies. That iss all!"

"They do not speak so of Doctor McLaughlin," I began tentatively.

"My friend, a great man, McLaughlin, believe me! But he iss not McKay;
he iss not Simpson; he iss not Behrens; he iss not Colville; he iss not
Douglas. And I say to you, as I learned last night--you see, they asked
me also to tell what I knew of Oregon--I say to you that last night
McLaughlin was deposed. He iss in charge no more--so soon as they can
get word to him, he loses his place at Vancouver."

"After a lifetime in the service!" I commented.

"Yess, after a lifetime; and McLaughlin had brain and heart, too. If
England would listen to him, she would learn sometings. He plants, he
plows, he bass gardens and mills and houses and herds. Yess, if they let
McLaughlin alone, they would haf a civilization on the Columbia, and not
a fur-trading post. Then they could oppose your civilization there.
That iss what he preaches. Simpson preaches otherwise. Simpson loses
Oregon to England, it may be."

"You know much about affairs out in Oregon," I ventured again. "Now, I
did not happen to be present at the little meeting last night."

"I heard it all," he remarked carelessly, "until I went to sleep. I wass
bored. I care not to hear of the splendor of England!"

"Then you think there is a chance of trouble between our country and
England, out there?"

He smiled. "It iss not a chance, but a certainty," he said. "Those
settlers will not gif up. And England is planning to push them out!"

"We had not heard that!" I ventured.

"It wass only agreed last night. England will march this summer seven
hundred men up the Peace River. In the fall they will be across the
Rockies. So! They can take boats easily down the streams to Oregon. You
ask if there will be troubles. I tell you, yess."

"And which wins, my friend?" I feared he would hear my heart thumping at
this news.

"If you stop where you are, England wins. If you keep on going over the
mountains England shall lose."

"What time can England make with her brigades, west-bound, my friend?" I
asked him casually. He answered with gratifying scientific precision.

"From Edmonton to Fort Colville, west of the Rockies, it hass been done
in six weeks and five days, by Sir George himself. From Fort Colville
down it iss easy by boats. It takes the _voyageur_ three months to
cross, or four months. It would take troops twice that long, or more.
For you in the States, you can go faster. And, ah! my friend, it iss
worth the race, that Oregon. Believe me, it iss full of bugs--of new
bugs; twelve new species I haf discovered and named. It iss sometings of
honor, iss it not?"

"What you say interests me very much, sir," I said. "I am only an
American trader, knocking around to see the world a little bit. You seem
to have been engaged in some scientific pursuit in that country."

"Yess," he said. "Mein own government and mein own university, they send
me to this country to do what hass not been done. I am insectologer.
Shall I show you my bugs of Oregon? You shall see them, yess? Come with
me to my hotel. You shall see many bugs, such as science hass not yet
known."

I was willing enough to go with him; and true to his word he did show me
such quantities of carefully prepared and classified insects as I had
not dreamed our own country offered.

"Twelve new species!" he said, with pride. "Mein own country will gif
me honor for this. Five years I spend. Now I go back home.

"I shall not tell you what nickname they gif me in Oregon," he added,
smiling; "but my real name iss Wolfram von Rittenhofen. Berlin, it wass
last my home. Tell me, you go soon to Oregon?"

"That is very possible," I answered; and this time at least I spoke the
truth. "We are bound in opposite directions, but if you are sailing for
Europe this spring, you would save time and gain comfort by starting
from New York. It would give us great pleasure if we could welcome so
distinguished a scientist in Washington."

"No, I am not yet distinguished. Only shall I be distinguished when I
have shown my twelve new species to mein own university."

"But it would give me pleasure also to show you Washington. You should
see also the government of those backwoodsmen who are crowding out to
Oregon. Would you not like to travel with me in America so far as that?"

He shook his head doubtfully. "Perhaps I make mistake to come by the St.
Lawrence? It would be shorter to go by New York? Well, I haf no hurry. I
think it over, yess."

"But tell me, where did you get that leetle thing?" he asked me again
presently, taking up in his hand the Indian clasp.

"I traded for it among the Crow Indians."

"You know what it iss, eh?"

"No, except that it is Indian made."

He scanned the round disks carefully. "Wait!" he exclaimed. "I show you
sometings."

He reached for my pencil, drew toward him a piece of paper, taking from
his pocket meantime a bit of string. Using the latter for a radius, he
drew a circle on the piece of paper.

"Now look what I do!" he said, as I bent over curiously. "See, I draw a
straight line through the circle. I divide it in half, so. I divide it
in half once more, and make a point. Now I shorten my string, one-half.
On each side of my long line I make me a half circle--only half way
round on the opposite sides. So, now, what I got, eh? You understand
him?"

I shook my head. He pointed in turn to the rude ornamentation in the
shell clasp. I declare that then I could see a resemblance between the
two designs!

"It is curious," I said.

"_Mein Gott_! it iss more than curious. It iss vonderful! I haf two
_Amazonias_ collected by my own bands, and twelve species of my own
discovery, yess, in butterflies alone. That iss much? Listen. It iss
notings! _Here_ iss the _discovery!_"

He took a pace or two excitedly, and came back to thump with his
forefinger on the little desk.

"What you see before you iss the sign of the Great Monad! It iss known
in China, in Burmah, in all Asia, in all Japan. It iss sign of the great
One, of the great Two. In your hand iss the Tah Gook--the Oriental
symbol for life, for sex. Myself, I haf seen that in Sitka on Chinese
brasses; I haf seen it on Japanese signs, in one land and in another
land. But here you show it to me made by the hand of some ignorant
aborigine of _this_ continent! On _this_ continent, where it did not
originate and does not belong! It iss a discovery! Science shall hear of
it. It iss the link of Asia to America. It brings me fame!"

He put his hand into a pocket, and drew it out half filled with gold
pieces and with raw gold in the form of nuggets, as though he would
offer exchange. I waved him back. "No," said I; "you are welcome to one
of these disks, if you please. If you wish, I will take one little bit
of these. But tell me, where did you find these pieces of raw gold?"

"Those? They are notings. I recollect me I found these one day up on the
Rogue River, not far from my cabin. I am pursuing a most beautiful moth,
such as I haf not in all my collection. So, I fall on a log; I skin me
my leg. In the moss I find some bits of rock. I recollect me not where,
but believe it wass somewhere there. But what I find now, here, by a
stranger--it iss worth more than gold! My friend, I thank you, I embrace
you! I am favored by fate to meet you. Go with you to Washington? Yess,
yess, I go!"




CHAPTER XVIII

THE MISSING SLIPPER

     There will always remain something to be said of woman as long as
     there is one on earth.--_Bauflers_.


My new friend, I was glad to note, seemed not anxious to terminate our
acquaintance, although in his amiable and childlike fashion he babbled
of matters which to me seemed unimportant. He was eager to propound his
views on the connection of the American tribes with the peoples of the
Orient, whereas I was all for talking of the connection of England and
the United States with Oregon. Thus we passed the luncheon hour at the
hostelry of my friend Jacques Bertillon; after which I suggested a
stroll about the town for a time, there being that upon my mind which
left me ill disposed to remain idle. He agreed to my suggestion, a fact
for which I soon was to feel thankful for more reasons than one.

Before we started upon our stroll, I asked him to step to my own room,
where I had left my pipe. As we paused here for a moment, he noticed on
the little commode a pair of pistols of American make, and, with a word
of apology, took them up to examine them.

"You also are acquainted with these?" he asked politely.

"It is said that I am," I answered.

"Sometimes you need to be?" he said, smiling. There smote upon me, even
as he spoke, the feeling that his remark was strangely true. My eye fell
on the commode's top, casually. I saw that it now was bare. I recalled
the strange warning of the baroness the evening previous. I was watched!
My apartment had been entered in my absence. Property of mine had been
taken.

My perturbation must have been discoverable in my face. "What iss it?"
asked the old man. "You forget someting?"

"No," said I, stammering. "It is nothing."

He looked at me dubiously. "Well, then," I admitted; "I miss something
from my commode here. Some one has taken it."

"It iss of value, perhaps?" he inquired politely.

"Well, no; not of intrinsic value. 'Twas only a slipper--of white satin,
made by Braun, of Paris."

"_One_ slipper? Of what use?--"

"It belonged to a lady--I was about to return it," I said; but I fear my
face showed me none too calm. He broke out in a gentle laugh.

"So, then, we had here the stage setting," said he; "the pistols, the
cause for pistols, sometimes, eh?"

"It is nothing--I could easily explain--"

"There iss not need, my young friend. Wass I not also young once? Yess,
once wass I young." He laid down the pistols, and I placed them with my
already considerable personal armament, which seemed to give him no
concern.

"Each man studies for himself his own specialty," mused the old man.
"You haf perhaps studied the species of woman. Once, also I."

I laughed, and shook my head.

"Many species are there," he went on; "many with wings of gold and blue
and green, of unknown colors; creatures of air and sky. Haf I not seen
them? But always that one species which we pursue, we do not find. Once
in my life, in Oregon, I follow through the forest a smell of sweet
fields of flowers coming to me. At last I find it--a wide field of
flowers. It wass in summer time. Over the flowers were many, many
butterflies. Some of them I knew; some of them I had. One great new one,
such as I haf not seen, it wass there. It rested. 'I shall now make it
mine,' I said. It iss fame to gif name first to this so noble a species.
I would inclose it with mein little net. Like this, you see, I creep up
to it. As I am about to put it gently in my net--not to harm it, or
break it, or brush away the color of its wings--lo! like a puff of
down, it rises and goes above my head. I reach for it; I miss. It rises
still more; it flies; it disappears! So! I see it no more. It iss gone.
_Stella Terrae_ I name it--my Star of the Earth, that which I crave but
do not always haf, eh? Believe me, my friend, yess, the study of the
species hass interest. Once I wass young. Should I see that little shoe
I think myself of the time when I wass young, and made studies--_Ach,
Mein Gott!_--also of the species of woman! I, too, saw it fly from me,
my _Stella Terrae!_"

We walked, my friend still musing and babbling, myself still anxious and
uneasy. We turned out of narrow Notre Dame Street, and into St. Lawrence
Main Street. As we strolled I noted without much interest the motley
life about me, picturesque now with the activities of the advancing
spring. Presently, however, my idle gaze was drawn to two young
Englishmen whose bearing in some way gave me the impression that they
belonged in official or military life, although they were in civilian
garb.

Presently the two halted, and separated. The taller kept on to the east,
to the old French town. At length I saw him joined, as though by
appointment, by another gentleman, one whose appearance at once gave me
reason for a second look. The severe air of the Canadian spring seemed
not pleasing to him, and he wore his coat hunched up about his neck, as
though he were better used to milder climes. He accosted my young
Englishman, and without hesitation the two started off together. As they
did so I gave an involuntary exclamation. The taller man I had seen once
before, the shorter, very many times--in Washington!

"Yess," commented my old scientist calmly; "so strange! They go
together."

"Ah, you know them!" I almost fell upon him.

"Yess--last night. The tall one iss Mr. Peel, a young Englishman; the
other is Mexican, they said--Senor Yturrio, of Mexico. He spoke much.
Me, I wass sleepy then. But also that other tall one we saw go
back--that wass Captain Parke, also of the British Navy. His ship iss
the war boat _Modeste_--a fine one. I see her often when I walk on the
riffer front, there."

I turned to him and made some excuse, saying that presently I would join
him again at the hotel. Dreamily as ever, he smiled and took his leave.
For myself, I walked on rapidly after the two figures, then a block or
so ahead of me.

I saw them turn into a street which was familiar to myself. They passed
on, turning from time to time among the old houses of the French
quarter. Presently they entered the short side street which I myself had
seen for the first time the previous night. I pretended to busy myself
with my pipe, as they turned in at the very gate which I knew, and
knocked at the door which I had entered with my mysterious companion!

The door opened without delay; they both entered.

So, then, Helena von Ritz had other visitors! England and Mexico were
indeed conferring here in Montreal. There were matters going forward
here in which my government was concerned. That was evident. I was
almost in touch with them. That also was evident. How, then, might I
gain yet closer touch?

At the moment nothing better occurred to me than to return to my room
and wait for a time. It would serve no purpose for me to disclose
myself, either in or out of the apartments of the baroness, and it would
not aid me to be seen idling about the neighborhood in a city where
there was so much reason to suppose strangers were watched. I resolved
to wait until the next morning, and to take my friend Von Rittenhofen
with me. He need not know all that I knew, yet in case of any accident
to myself or any sudden contretemps, he would serve both as a witness
and as an excuse for disarming any suspicion which might be entertained
regarding myself.

The next day he readily enough fell in with my suggestion of a morning
stroll, and again we sallied forth, at about nine o'clock, having by
that time finished a _dejeuner a la fourchette_ with Jacques Bertillon,
which to my mind compared unfavorably with one certain other I had
shared.

A sense of uneasiness began to oppress me, I knew not why, before I had
gone half way down the little street from the corner where we turned. It
was gloomy and dismal enough at the best, and on this morning an unusual
apathy seemed to sit upon it, for few of the shutters were down,
although the hour was now mid-morning. Here and there a homely habitant
appeared, and bade us good morning; and once in a while we saw the face
of a good wife peering from the window. Thus we passed some dozen houses
or so, in a row, and paused opposite the little gate. I saw that the
shutters were closed, or at least all but one or two, which were partly
ajar. Something said to me that it would be as well for me to turn back.

I might as well have done so. We passed up the little walk, and I raised
the knocker at the door; but even as it sounded I knew what would
happen. There came to me that curious feeling which one experiences when
one knocks at the door of a house which lacks human occupancy. Even more
strongly I had that strange feeling now, because this sound was not
merely that of unoccupied rooms--it came from rooms empty and echoing!

I tried the door. It was not locked. I flung it wide, and stepped
within. At first I could not adjust my eyes to the dimness. Absolute
silence reigned. I pushed open a shutter and looked about me. The rooms
were not only unoccupied, but unfurnished! The walls and floors were
utterly bare! Not a sign of human occupancy existed. I hastened out to
the little walk, and looked up and down the street, to satisfy myself
that I had made no mistake. No, this was the number--this was the place.
Yesterday these rooms were fitted sumptuously as for a princess; now
they were naked. Not a stick of the furniture existed, nor was there any
trace either of haste or deliberation in this removal. What had been,
simply was not; that was all.

Followed by my wondering companion, I made such inquiry as I could in
the little neighborhood. I could learn nothing. No one knew anything of
the occupant of these rooms. No one had heard any carts approach, nor
had distinguished any sounds during the night.

"Sir," said I to my friend, at last; "I do not understand it. I have
pursued, but it seems the butterfly has flown." So, both silent, myself
morosely so, we turned and made our way back across the town.

Half an hour later we were on the docks at the river front, where we
could look out over the varied shipping which lay there. My scientific
friend counted one vessel after another, and at last pointed to a gap
in the line.

"Yesterday I wass here," he said, "and I counted all the ships and their
names. The steamer _Modeste_ she lay there. Now she iss gone."

I pulled up suddenly. This was the ship which carried Captain Parke and
his friend Lieutenant Peel, of the British Navy. The secret council at
Montreal was, therefore, apparently ended! There would be an English
land expedition, across Canada to Oregon. Would there be also an
expedition by sea? At least my errand in Montreal, now finished, had not
been in vain, even though it ended in a mystery and a query. But ah! had
I but been less clumsy in that war of wits with a woman, what might I
have learned! Had she not been free to mock me, what might I not have
learned! She was free to mock me, why? Because of Elisabeth. Was it then
true that faith and loyalty could purchase alike faithlessness
and--failure?




CHAPTER XIX

THE GENTLEMAN FROM TENNESSEE

     Women distrust men too much in general, and not enough in
     particular.--_Philibert Commerson._


Now all the more was it necessary for me and my friend from Oregon to
hasten on to Washington. I say nothing further of the arguments I
employed with him, and nothing of our journey to Washington, save that
we made it hastily as possible. It was now well toward the middle of
April, and, brief as had been my absence, I knew there had been time for
many things to happen in Washington as well as in Montreal.

Rumors abounded, I found as soon as I struck the first cities below the
Canadian line. It was in the air now that under Calhoun there would be
put before Congress a distinct and definite attempt at the annexation of
Texas. Stories of all sorts were on the streets; rumors of the wrath of
Mr. Clay; yet other rumors of interesting possibilities at the coming
Whig and Democratic conventions. Everywhere was that strange, ominous,
indescribable tension of the atmosphere which exists when a great
people is moved deeply. The stern figure of Calhoun, furnishing courage
for a people, even as he had for a president, loomed large in the public
prints.

Late as it was when I reached Washington, I did not hesitate to repair
at once to the residence of Mr. Calhoun; and I took with me as my best
adjutant my strange friend Von Rittenhofen, who, I fancied, might add
detailed information which Mr. Calhoun would find of value. We were
admitted to Mr. Calhoun, and after the first greetings he signified that
he would hear my report. He sat, his long, thin hands on his chair arm,
as I went on with my story, his keen eyes scanning also my old companion
as I spoke. I explained what the latter knew regarding Oregon. I saw Mr.
Calhoun's eyes kindle. As usual, he did not lack decision.

"Sir," said he to Von Rittenhofen presently, "we ourselves are young,
yet I trust not lacking in a great nation's interest in the arts and
sciences. It occurs to me now that in yourself we have opportunity to
add to our store of knowledge in respect to certain biological
features."

The old gentleman rose and bowed. "I thank you for the honor of your
flattery, sir," he began; but Calhoun raised a gentle hand.

"If it would please you, sir, to defer your visit to your own country
for a time, I can secure for you a situation in our department in
biology, where your services would be of extreme worth to us. The salary
would also allow you to continue your private researches into the life
of our native tribes."

Von Rittenhofen positively glowed at this. "Ach, what an honor!" he
began again.

"Meantime," resumed Calhoun, "not to mention the value which that
research would have for us, we could also find use, at proper
remuneration, for your private aid in making up a set of maps of that
western country which you know so well, and of which even I myself am so
ignorant. I want to know the distances, the topography, the means of
travel. I want to know the peculiarities of that country of Oregon. It
would take me a year to send a messenger, for at best it requires six
months to make the outbound passage, and in the winter the mountains are
impassable. If you could, then, take service with us now, we should be
proud to make you such return as your scientific attainments deserve."

Few could resist the persuasiveness of Mr. Calhoun's speech, certainly
not Von Rittenhofen, who thus found offered him precisely what he would
have desired. I was pleased to see him so happily situated and so soon.
Presently we despatched him down to my hotel, where I promised later to
make him more at home. In his elation over the prospect he now saw
before him, the old man fairly babbled. Germany seemed farthest from
his mind. After his departure, Calhoun again turned to me.

"I want you to remain, Nicholas," said he, "because I have an
appointment with a gentleman who will soon be present."

"Rather a late hour, sir," I ventured. "Are you keeping faith with
Doctor Ward?"

"I have no time for hobbies," he exclaimed, half petulantly. "What I
must do is this work. The man we are to meet to-night is Mr. Polk. It is
important."

"You would not call Mr. Polk important?" I smiled frankly, and Calhoun
replied in icy kind.

"You can not tell how large a trouble may be started by a small
politician," said he. "At least, we will hear what he has to say. 'Twas
he that sought the meeting, not myself."

Perhaps half an hour later, Mr. Calhoun's old negro man ushered in this
awaited guest, and we three found ourselves alone in one of those
midnight conclaves which went on in Washington even then as they do
to-day. Mr. Polk was serious as usual; his indecisive features wearing
the mask of solemnity, which with so many passed as wisdom.

"I have come, Mr. Calhoun," said he--when the latter had assured him
that my presence would entail no risk to him--"to talk over this Texas
situation."

"Very well," said my chief. "My own intentions regarding Texas are now
of record."

"Precisely," said Mr. Polk. "Now, is it wise to make a definite answer
in that matter yet? Would it not be better to defer action until
later--until after, I may say--"

"Until after you know what your own chances will be, Jim?" asked Mr.
Calhoun, smiling grimly.

"Why, that is it, John, precisely, that is it exactly! Now, I don't know
what you think of my chances in the convention, but I may say that a
very large branch of the western Democracy is favoring me for the
nomination." Mr. Polk pursed a short upper lip and looked monstrous
grave. His extreme morality and his extreme dignity made his chief stock
in trade. Different from his master, Old Hickory, he was really at heart
the most aristocratic of Democrats, and like many another so-called
leader, most of his love for the people really was love of himself.

"Yes, I know that some very strange things happen in politics,"
commented Calhoun, smiling.

"But, God bless me! you don't call it out of the way for me to seek the
nomination? _Some_ one must be president! Why not myself? Now, I ask
your support."

"My support is worth little, Jim," said my chief. "But have you earned
it? You have never consulted my welfare, nor has Jackson. I had no
majority behind me in the Senate. I doubt even the House now. Of what
use could I be to you?"

"At least, you could decline to do anything definite in this Texas
matter."

"Why should a man ever do anything _in_definite, Jim Polk?" asked
Calhoun, bending on him his frosty eyes.

"But you may set a fire going which you can not stop. The people may get
out of hand _before the convention!_"

"Why should they not? They have interests as well as we. Do they not
elect us to subserve those interests?"

"I yield to no man in my disinterested desire for the welfare of the
American people," began Polk pompously, throwing back the hair from his
forehead.

"Of course not," said Calhoun grimly. "My own idea is that it is well to
give the people what is already theirs. They feel that Texas belongs to
them."

"True," said the Tennesseean, hesitating; "a good strong blast about our
martial spirit and the men of the Revolution--that is always good before
an election or a convention. Very true. But now in my own case--"

"Your own case is not under discussion, Jim. It is the case of the
United States! I hold a brief for them, not for you or any other man!"

"How do you stand in case war should be declared against Mexico?" asked
Mr. Polk. "That ought to be a popular measure. The Texans have captured
the popular imagination. The Alamo rankles in our nation's memory. What
would you say to a stiff demand there, with a strong show of military
force behind it?"

"I should say nothing as to a strong _showing_ in any case. I should
only say that if war came legitimately--not otherwise--I should back it
with all my might. I feel the same in regard to war with England."

"With England? What chance would we have with so powerful a nation as
that?"

"There is a God of Battles," said John Calhoun.

The chin of James K. Polk of Tennessee sank down into his stock. His
staring eyes went half shut. He was studying something in his own mind.
At last he spoke, tentatively, as was always his way until he got the
drift of things.

"Well, now, perhaps in the case of England that is good politics," he
began. "It is very possible that the people hate England as much as they
do Mexico. Do you not think so?"

"I think they fear her more."

"But I was only thinking of the popular imagination!"

[Illustration: "Fifty-four Forty or Fight!" exclaimed Polk. Page 203]

"You are always thinking of the popular imagination, Jim. You have
been thinking of that for some time in Tennessee. All that outcry about
the whole of Oregon is ill-timed to-day."

"_Fifty-four Forty or Fight_; that sounds well!" exclaimed Polk; "eh?"

"Trippingly on the tongue, yes!" said John Calhoun. "But how would it
sound to the tune of cannon fire? How would it look written in the smoke
of musketry?"

"It might not come to that," said Polk, shifting in his seat "I was
thinking of it only as a rallying cry for the campaign. Dash me--I beg
pardon--" he looked around to see if there were any Methodists
present--"but I believe I could go into the convention with that war cry
behind me and sweep the boards of all opposition!"

"And afterwards?"

"But England may back down," argued Mr. Polk. "A strong showing in the
Southwest and Northwest might do wonders for us."

"But what would be behind that strong showing, Mr. Polk?" demanded John
Calhoun. "We would win the combat with Mexico, of course, if that
iniquitous measure should take the form of war. But not Oregon--we might
as well or better fight in Africa than Oregon. It is not yet time. In
God's name, Jim Polk, be careful of what you do! Cease this cry of
taking all of Oregon. You will plunge this country not into one war,
but two. Wait! Only wait, and we will own all this continent to the
Saskatchewan--or even farther north."

"Well," said the other, "have you not said there is a God of Battles?"

"The Lord God of Hosts, yes!" half screamed old John Calhoun; "yes, the
God of Battles for _nations_, for _principles_--but _not_ for _parties_!
For the _principle_ of democracy, Jim Polk, yes, yes; but for the
Democratic _party_, or the Whig _party_, or for any demagogue who tries
to lead either, no, no!"

The florid face of Polk went livid. "Sir," said he, reaching for his
hat, "at least I have learned what I came to learn. I know how you will
appear on the floor of the convention, Sir, you will divide this party
hopelessly. You are a traitor to the Democratic party! I charge it to
your face, here and now. I came to ask of you your support, and find you
only, talking of principles! Sir, tell me, what have _principles_ to do
with _elections_?"

John Calhoun looked at him for one long instant. He looked down then at
his own thin, bloodless hands, his wasted limbs. Then he turned slowly
and rested his arms on the table, his face resting in his hands. "My
God!" I heard him groan.

To see my chief abused was a thing not in my nature to endure. I forgot
myself. I committed an act whose results pursued me for many a year.

"Mr. Polk, sir," said I, rising and facing him, "damn you, sir, you are
not fit to untie Mr. Calhoun's shoe! I will not see you offer him one
word of insult. Quarrel with me if you like! You will gain no votes here
now in any case, that is sure!"

Utterly horrified at this, Mr. Polk fumbled with his hat and cane, and,
very red in the face, bowed himself out, still mumbling, Mr. Calhoun
rising and bowing his adieux.

My chief dropped into his chair again. For a moment he looked at me
directly. "Nick," said he at length slowly, "you have divided the
Democratic party. You split that party, right then and there."

"Never!" I protested; "but if I did, 'twas ready enough for the
division. Let it split, then, or any party like it, if that is what must
hold it together! I will not stay in this work, Mr. Calhoun, and hear
you vilified. Platforms!"

"Platforms!" echoed my chief. His white hand dropped on the table as he
still sat looking at me. "But he will get you some time, Nicholas!" he
smiled. "Jim Polk will not forget."

"Let him come at me as he likes!" I fumed.

At last, seeing me so wrought up, Mr. Calhoun rose, and, smiling, shook
me heartily by the hand.

"Of course, this had to come one time or another," said he. "The split
was in the wood of their proposed platform of bluff and insincerity.
`What do the people say?' asks Jim Polk. 'What do they _think_?' asks
John Calhoun. And being now, in God's providence; chosen to do some
thinking for them, I have thought."

He turned to the table and took up a long, folded document, which I saw
was done in his cramped hand and with many interlineations. "Copy this
out fair for me to-night, Nicholas," said he. "This is our answer to the
Aberdeen note. You have already learned its tenor, the time we met Mr.
Pakenham with Mr. Tyler at the White House."

I grinned. "Shall we not take it across direct to Mr. Blair for
publication in his _Globe_?"

Mr. Calhoun smiled rather bitterly at this jest. The hostility of Blair
to the Tyler administration was a fact rather more than well known.

"'Twill all get into Mr. Polk's newspaper fast enough," commented he at
last. "He gets all the news of the Mexican ministry!"

"Ah, you think he cultivates the Dona Lucrezia, rather than adores her!"

"I know it! One-third of Jim Polk may be human, but the other two-thirds
is politician. He will flatter that lady into confidences. She is well
nigh distracted at best, these days, what with the fickleness of her
husband and the yet harder abandonment by her old admirer Pakenham; so
Polk will cajole her into disclosures, never fear. In return, when the
time comes, he will send an army of occupation into her country! And
all the while, on the one side and the other, he will appear to the
public as a moral and lofty-minded man."

"On whom neither man nor woman could depend!"

"Neither the one nor the other."

The exasperation of his tone amused me, as did this chance importance of
what seemed to me at the time merely a petticoat situation.

"Silk! Mr. Calhoun," I grinned. "Still silk and dimity, my faith! And
you!"

He seemed a trifle nettled at this. "I must take men and women and
circumstances as I find them," he rejoined; "and must use such agencies
as are left me."

"If we temporarily lack the Baroness von Ritz to add zest to our game,"
I hazarded, "we still have the Dona Lucrezia and her little jealousies."

Calhoun turned quickly upon me with a sharp glance, as though seized by
some sudden thought. "By the Lord Harry! boy, you give me an idea. Wait,
now, for a moment. Do you go on with your copying there, and excuse me
for a time."

An instant later he passed from the room, his tall figure bent, his
hands clasped behind his back, and his face wrinkled in a frown, as was
his wont when occupied with some problem.




CHAPTER XX

THE LADY FROM MEXICO

     As soon as women are ours, we are no longer theirs.
                                                --Montaigne.


After a time my chief reentered the office room and bent over me at my
table. I put before him the draft of the document which he had given me
for clerical care.

"So," he said, "'tis ready--our declaration. I wonder what may come of
that little paper!"

"Much will come of it with a strong people back of it. The trouble is
only that what Democrat does, Whig condemns. And not even all our party
is with Mr. Tyler and yourself in this, Mr. Calhoun. Look, for instance,
at Mr. Polk and his plans." To this venture on my part he made no
present answer.

"I have no party, that is true," said he at last--"none but you and Sam
Ward!" He smiled with one of his rare, illuminating smiles, different
from the cold mirth which often marked him.

"At least, Mr. Calhoun, you do not take on your work for the personal
glory of it," said I hotly; "and one day the world will know it!"

"'Twill matter very little to me then," said he bitterly. "But come,
now, I want more news about your trip to Montreal. What have you done?"

So now, till far towards dawn of the next day, we sat and talked. I put
before him full details of my doings across the border. He sat silent,
his eye betimes wandering, as though absorbed, again fixed on me, keen
and glittering.

"So! So!" he mused at length, when I had finished, "England has started
a land party for Oregon! Can they get across next fall, think you?"

"Hardly possible, sir," said I. "They could not go so swiftly as the
special fur packets. Winter would catch them this side of the Rockies.
It will be a year before they can reach Oregon."

"Time for a new president and a new policy," mused he.

"The grass is just beginning to sprout on the plains, Mr. Calhoun," I
began eagerly.

"Yes," he nodded. "God! if I were only young!"

"I am young, Mr. Calhoun," said I. "Send _me!_"

"Would you go?" he asked suddenly.

"I was going in any case."

"Why, how do you mean?" he demanded.

I felt the blood come to my face. "'Tis all over between Miss Elisabeth
Churchill and myself," said I, as calmly as I might.

"Tut! tut! a child's quarrel," he went on, "a child's quarrel! `Twill
all mend in time."

"Not by act of mine, then," said I hotly.

Again abstracted, he seemed not wholly to hear me.

"First," he mused, "the more important things"--riding over my personal
affairs as of little consequence.

"I will tell you, Nicholas," said he at last, wheeling swiftly upon me.
"Start next week! An army of settlers waits now for a leader along the
Missouri. Organize them; lead them out! Give them enthusiasm! Tell them
what Oregon is! You may serve alike our party and our nation. You can
not measure the consequences of prompt action sometimes, done by a man
who is resolved upon the right. A thousand things may hinge on this. A
great future may hinge upon it."

It was only later that I was to know the extreme closeness of his
prophecy.

Calhoun began to pace up and down. "Besides her land forces," he
resumed, "England is despatching a fleet to the Columbia! I doubt not
that the _Modeste_ has cleared for the Horn. There may be news waiting
for you, my son, when you get across!

"While you have been busy, I have not been idle," he continued. "I have
here another little paper which I have roughly drafted." He handed me
the document as he spoke.

"A treaty--with Texas!" I exclaimed.

"The first draft, yes. We have signed the memorandum. We await only one
other signature."

"Of Van Zandt!"

"Yes. Now comes Mr. Nicholas Trist, with word of a certain woman to the
effect that Mr. Van Zandt is playing also with England."

"And that woman also is playing with England."

Calhoun smiled enigmatically.

"But she has gone," said I, "who knows where? She, too, may have sailed
for Oregon, for all we know."

He looked at me as though with a flash of inspiration. "That may be,"
said he; "it may very well be! That would cost us our hold over
Pakenham. Neither would we have any chance left with her."

"How do you mean, Mr. Calhoun?" said I. "I do not understand you."

"Nicholas," said Mr. Calhoun, "that lady was much impressed with you."
He regarded me calmly, contemplatively, appraisingly.

"I do not understand you," I reiterated.

"I am glad that you do not and did not. In that case, all would have
been over at once. You would never have seen her a second time. Your
constancy was our salvation, and perhaps your own!"

He smiled in a way I liked none too well, but now I began myself to
engage in certain reflections. Was it then true that faith could
purchase faith--and win not failure, but success?

"At least she has flown," went on Calhoun. "But why? What made her go?
'Tis all over now, unless, unless--unless--" he added to himself a third
time.

"But unless what?"

"Unless that chance word may have had some weight. You say that you and
she talked of _principles?_"

"Yes, we went so far into abstractions."

"So did I with her! I told her about this country; explained to her as I
could the beauties of the idea of a popular government. 'Twas as a
revelation to her. She had never known a republican government before,
student as she is. Nicholas, your long legs and my long head may have
done some work after all! How did she seem to part with you?"

"As though she hated me; as though she hated herself and all the world.
Yet not quite that, either. As though she would have wept--that is the
truth. I do not pretend to understand her. She is a puzzle such as I
have never known."

"Nor are you apt to know another her like. Look, here she is, the paid
spy, the secret agent, of England. Additionally, she is intimately
concerned with the private life of Mr. Pakenham. For the love of
adventure, she is engaged in intrigue also with Mexico. Not content with
that, born adventuress, eager devourer of any hazardous and interesting
intellectual offering, any puzzle, any study, any intrigue--she comes at
midnight to talk with me, whom she knows to be the representative of yet
a third power!"

"And finds you in your red nightcap!" I laughed.

"Did she speak of that?" asked Mr. Calhoun in consternation, raising a
hand to his head. "It may be that I forgot--but none the less, she came!

"Yes, as I said, she came, by virtue of your long legs and your ready
way, as I must admit; and you were saved from her only, as I
believe--Why, God bless Elisabeth Churchill, my boy, that is all! But my
faith, how nicely it all begins to work out!"

"I do not share your enthusiasm, Mr. Calhoun," said I bitterly. "On the
contrary, it seems to me to work out in as bad a fashion as could
possibly be contrived."

"In due time you will see many things more plainly. Meantime, be sure
England will be careful. She will make no overt movement, I should say,
until she has heard from Oregon; which will not be before my lady
baroness shall have returned and reported to Mr. Pakenham here. All of
which means more time for us."

I began to see something of the structure of bold enterprise which this
man deliberately was planning; but no comment offered itself; so that
presently, he went on, as though in soliloquy.

"The Hudson Bay Company have deceived England splendidly enough. Doctor
McLaughlin, good man that he is, has not suited the Hudson Bay Company.
His removal means less courtesy to our settlers in Oregon. Granted a
less tactful leader than himself, there will be friction with our
high-strung frontiersmen in that country. No man can tell when the thing
will come to an issue. For my own part, I would agree with Polk that we
ought to own that country to fifty-four forty--but what we _ought_ to do
and what we can do are two separate matters. Should we force the issue
now and lose, we would lose for a hundred years. Should we advance
firmly and hold firmly what we gain, in perhaps less than one hundred
years we may win _all_ of that country, as I just said to Mr. Polk, to
the River Saskatchewan--I know not where! In my own soul, I believe no
man may set a limit to the growth of the idea of an honest government by
the people. _And this continent is meant for that honest government!_"

"We have already a Monroe Doctrine, Mr. Calhoun," said I. "What you
enunciate now is yet more startling. Shall we call it the Calhoun
Doctrine?"

He made no answer, but arose and paced up and down, stroking the thin
fringe of beard under his chin. Still he seemed to talk with himself.

"We are not rich," he went on. "Our canals and railways are young. The
trail across our country is of monstrous difficulty. Give us but a few
years more and Oregon, ripe as a plum, would drop in our lap. To hinder
that is a crime. What Polk proposes is insincerity, and all insincerity
must fail. There is but one result when pretense is pitted against
preparedness. Ah, if ever we needed wisdom and self-restraint, we need
them now! Yet look at what we face! Look at what we may lose! And that
through party--through platform--through _politics_!"

He sighed as he paused in his walk and turned to me. "But now, as I
said, we have at least time for Texas. And in regard to Texas we need
another woman."

I stared at him.

"You come now to me with proof that my lady baroness traffics with
Mexico as well as England," he resumed. "That is to say, Yturrio meets
my lady baroness. What is the inference? At least, jealousy on the part
of Yturrio's wife, whether or not she cares for him! Now, jealousy
between the sexes is a deadly weapon if well handled. Repugnant as it
is, we must handle it."

I experienced no great enthusiasm at the trend of events, and Mr.
Calhoun smiled at me cynically as he went on. "I see you don't care for
this sort of commission. At least, this is no midnight interview. You
shall call in broad daylight on the Senora Yturrio. If you and my
daughter will take my coach and four to-morrow, I think she will gladly
receive your cards. Perhaps also she will consent to take the air of
Washington with you. In that case, she might drop in here for an ice. In
such case, to conclude, I may perhaps be favored with an interview with
that lady. I must have Van Zandt's signature to this treaty which you
see here!"

"But these are Mexicans, and Van Zandt is leader of the Texans, their
most bitter enemies!"

"Precisely. All the less reason why Senora Yturrio should be suspected."

"I am not sure that I grasp all this, Mr. Calhoun."

"Perhaps not You presently will know more. What seems to me plain is
that, since we seem to lose a valuable ally in the Baroness von Ritz, we
must make some offset to that loss. If England has one woman on the
Columbia, we must have another on the Rio Grande!"




CHAPTER XXI

POLITICS UNDER COVER

     To a woman, the romances she makes are more amusing than those she
     reads.--_Theophile Gautier_.


It was curious how cleverly this austere old man, unskilled in the arts
of gallantry, now handled the problem to which he had addressed himself,
even though that meant forecasting the whim of yet another woman. It all
came easily about, precisely as he had planned.

It seemed quite correct for the daughter of our secretary of state to
call to inquire for the health of the fair Senora Yturrio, and to
present the compliments of Madam Calhoun, at that time not in the city
of Washington. Matters went so smoothly that I felt justified in
suggesting a little drive, and Senora Yturrio had no hesitation in
accepting. Quite naturally, our stately progress finally brought us
close to the residence of Miss Calhoun. That lady suggested that, since
the day was warm, it might be well to descend and see if we might not
find a sherbet; all of which also seemed quite to the wish of the lady
from Mexico. The ease and warmth of Mr. Calhoun's greeting to her were
such that she soon was well at home and chatting very amiably. She spoke
English with but little hesitancy.

Lucrezia Yturrio, at that time not ill known in Washington's foreign
colony, was beautiful, in a sensuous, ripe way. Her hair was dark,
heavily coiled, and packed in masses above an oval forehead. Her brows
were straight, dark and delicate; her teeth white and strong; her lips
red and full; her chin well curved and deep. A round arm and taper hand
controlled a most artful fan. She was garbed now, somewhat splendidly,
in a corded cherry-colored silk, wore gems enough to start a shop, and
made on the whole a pleasing picture of luxury and opulence. She spoke
in a most musical voice, with eyes sometimes cast modestly down. He had
been a poor student of her species who had not ascribed to her a wit of
her own; but as I watched her, somewhat apart, I almost smiled as I
reflected that her grave and courteous host had also a wit to match it.
Then I almost frowned as I recalled my own defeat in a somewhat similar
contest.

Mr. Calhoun expressed great surprise and gratification that mere chance
had enabled him to meet the wife of a gentleman so distinguished in the
diplomatic service as Senor Yturrio. The Senora was equally gratified.
She hoped she did not make intrusion in thus coming. Mr. Calhoun assured
her that he and his were simple in their family life, and always
delighted to meet their friends.

"We are especially glad always to hear of our friends from the
Southwest," said he, at last, with a slight addition of formality in
tone and attitude.

At these words I saw my lady's eyes flicker. "It is fate, Senor," said
she, again casting down her eyes, and spreading out her hands as in
resignation, "fate which left Texas and Mexico not always one."

"That may be," said Mr. Calhoun. "Perhaps fate, also, that those of kin
should cling together."

"How can a mere woman know?" My lady shrugged her very graceful and
beautiful shoulders--somewhat mature shoulders now, but still beautiful.

"Dear Senora," said Mr. Calhoun, "there are so many things a woman may
not know. For instance, how could she know if her husband should
perchance leave the legation to which he was attached and pay a visit to
another nation?"

Again the slight flickering of her eyes, but again her hands were
outspread in protest.

"How indeed, Senor?"

"What if my young aide here, Mr. Trist, should tell you that he has seen
your husband some hundreds of miles away and in conference with a lady
supposed to be somewhat friendly towards--"

"Ah, you mean that baroness--!"

So soon had the shaft gone home! Her woman's jealousy had offered a
point unexpectedly weak. Calhoun bowed, without a smile upon his face.

"Mr. Pakenham, the British minister, is disposed to be friendly to this
same lady. Your husband and a certain officer of the British Navy called
upon this same lady last week in Montreal--informally. It is sometimes
unfortunate that plans are divulged. To me it seemed only wise and fit
that you should not let any of these little personal matters make for us
greater complications in these perilous times. I think you understand
me, perhaps, Senora Yturrio?"

She gurgled low in her throat at this, any sort of sound, meaning to
remain ambiguous. But Calhoun was merciless.

"It is not within dignity, Senora, for me to make trouble between a lady
and her husband. But we must have friends with us under our flag, or
know that they are not our friends. You are welcome in my house. Your
husband is welcome in the house of our republic. There are certain
duties, even thus."

Only now and again she turned upon him the light of her splendid eyes,
searching him.

"If I should recall again, gently, my dear Senora, the fact that your
husband was with that particular woman--if I should say, that Mexico has
been found under the flag of England, while supposed to be under _our_
flag--if I should add that one of the representatives of the Mexican
legation had been discovered in handing over to England certain secrets
of this country and of the Republic of Texas--why, then, what answer,
think you, Senora, Mexico would make to me?"

"But Senor Calhoun does not mean--does not dare to say--"

"I do dare it; I do mean it! I can tell you all that Mexico plans, and
all that Texas plans. All the secrets are out; and since we know them,
we purpose immediate annexation of the Republic of Texas! Though it
means war, Texas shall be ours! This has been forced upon us by the
perfidy of other nations."

He looked her full in the eye, his own blue orbs alight with resolution.
She returned his gaze, fierce as a tigress. But at last she spread out
her deprecating hands.

"Senor," she said, "I am but a woman. I am in the Senor Secretary's
hands. I am even in his _hand_. What can he wish?"

"In no unfair way, Senora, I beg you to understand, in no improper way
are you in our hands. But now let us endeavor to discover some way in
which some of these matters may be composed. In such affairs, a small
incident is sometimes magnified and taken in connection with its
possible consequences. You readily may see, Senora, that did I
personally seek the dismissal of your husband, possibly even the recall
of General Almonte, his chief, that might be effected without
difficulty."

"You seek war, Senor Secretary! My people say that your armies are in
Texas now, or will be."

"They are but very slightly in advance of the truth, Senora," said
Calhoun grimly. "For me, I do not believe in war when war can be
averted. But suppose it _could_ be averted? Suppose the Senora Yturrio
herself _could_ avert it? Suppose the Senora could remain here still, in
this city which she so much admires? A lady of so distinguished beauty
and charm is valuable in our society here."

He bowed to her with stately grace. If there was mockery in his tone,
she could not catch it; nor did her searching eyes read his meaning.

"See," he resumed, "alone, I am helpless in this situation. If my
government is offended, I can not stop the course of events. I am not
the Senate; I am simply an officer in our administration--a very humble
officer of his Excellency our president, Mr. Tyler."

My lady broke out in a peal of low, rippling laughter, her white teeth
gleaming. It was, after all, somewhat difficult to trifle with one who
had been trained in intrigue all her life.

Calhoun laughed now in his own quiet way. "We shall do better if we deal
entirely frankly, Senora," said he. "Let us then waste no time.
Frankly, then, it would seem that, now the Baroness von Ritz is off the
scene, the Senora Yturrio would have all the better title and
opportunity in the affections of--well, let us say, her own husband!"

She bent toward him now, her lips open in a slow smile, all her subtle
and dangerous beauty unmasking its batteries. The impression she
conveyed was that of warmth and of spotted shadows such as play upon the
leopard's back, such as mark the wing of the butterfly, the petal of
some flower born in a land of heat and passion. But Calhoun regarded her
calmly, his finger tips together, and spoke as deliberately as though
communing with himself. "It is but one thing, one very little thing."

"And what is that, Senor?" she asked at length.

"The signature of Senor Van Zandt, attache for Texas, on this memorandum
of treaty between the United States and Texas."

Bowing, he presented to her the document to which he had earlier
directed my own attention. "We are well advised that Senor Van Zandt is
trafficking this very hour with England as against us," he explained.
"We ask the gracious assistance of Senora Yturrio. In return we promise
her--silence!"

"I can not--it is impossible!" she exclaimed, as she glanced at the
pages. "It is our ruin--!"

"No, Senora," said Calhoun sternly; "it means annexation of Texas to the
United States. But that is not your ruin. It is your salvation. Your
country well may doubt England, even England bearing gifts!"

"I have no control over Senor Van Zandt--he is the enemy of my country!"
she began.

Calhoun now fixed upon her the full cold blue blaze of his singularly
penetrating eyes. "No, Senora," he said sternly; "but you have access to
my friend Mr. Polk, and Mr. Polk is the friend of Mr. Jackson, and they
two are friends of Mr. Van Zandt; and Texas supposes that these two,
although they do not represent precisely my own beliefs in politics, are
for the annexation of Texas, not to England, but to America. There is
good chance Mr. Polk may be president. If you do not use your personal
influence with him, he may consult politics and not you, and so declare
war against Mexico. That war would cost you Texas, and much more as
well. Now, to avert that war, do you not think that perhaps you can ask
Mr. Polk to say to Mr. Van Zandt that his signature on this little
treaty would end all such questions simply, immediately, and to the best
benefit of Mexico, Texas and the United States? Treason? Why, Senora,
'twould be preventing treason!"

Her face was half hidden by her fan, and her eyes, covered by their
deep lids, gave no sign of her thoughts. The same cold voice went on:

"You might, for instance, tell Mr. Polk, which is to say Mr. Van Zandt,
that if his name goes on this little treaty for Texas, nothing will be
said to Texas regarding his proposal to give Texas over to England. It
might not be safe for that little fact generally to be known in Texas as
it is known to me. We will keep it secret. You might ask Mr. Van Zandt
if he would value a seat in the Senate of these United States, rather
than a lynching rope! So much do I value your honorable acquaintance
with Mr. Polk and with Mr. Van Zandt, my dear lady, that I do not go to
the latter and _demand_ his signature in the name of his republic--no, I
merely suggest to you that did _you_ take this little treaty for a day,
and presently return it to me with his signature attached, I should feel
so deeply gratified that I should not ask you by what means you had
attained this most desirable result! And I should hope that if you could
not win back the affections of a certain gentleman, at least you might
win your own evening of the scales with him."

Her face colored darkly. In a flash she saw the covert allusion to the
faithless Pakenham. Here was the chance to cut him to the soul. _She
could cost England Texas!_ Revenge made its swift appeal to her savage
heart. Revenge and jealousy, handled coolly, mercilessly as
weapons--those cost England Texas!

She sat, her fan tight at her white teeth. "It would be death to me if
it were known," she said. But still she pondered, her eye alight with
somber fire, her dark cheek red in a woman's anger.

"But it never will be known, my dear lady. These things, however, must
be concluded swiftly. We have not time to wait. Let us not argue over
the unhappy business. Let me think of Mexico as our sister republic and
our friend!"

"And suppose I shall not do this that you ask, Senor?"

"That, my dear lady, _I do not suppose!_"

"You threaten, Senor Secretary?"

"On the contrary, I implore! I ask you not to be treasonable to any, but
to be our ally, our friend, in what in my soul I believe a great good
for the peoples of the world. Without us, Texas will be the prey of
England. With us, she will be working out her destiny. In our graveyard
of state there are many secrets of which the public never knows. Here
shall be one, though your heart shall exult in its possession. Dear
lady, may we not conspire together--for the ultimate good of three
republics, making of them two noble ones, later to dwell in amity? Shall
we not hope to see all this continent swept free of monarchy, held
_free_, for the peoples of the world?"

For an instant, no more, she sat and pondered. Suddenly she bestowed
upon him a smile whose brilliance might have turned the head of another
man. Rising, she swept him a curtsey whose grace I have not seen
surpassed.

In return, Mr. Calhoun bowed to her with dignity and ease, and, lifting
her hand, pressed it to his lips. Then, offering her an arm, he led her
to his carriage. I could scarce believe my eyes and ears that so much,
and of so much importance, had thus so easily been accomplished, where
all had seemed so near to the impossible.

When last I saw my chief that day he was sunk in his chair, white to the
lips, his long hands trembling, fatigue written all over his face and
form; but a smile still was on his grim mouth. "Nicholas," said he, "had
I fewer politicians and more women behind me, we should have Texas to
the Rio Grande, and Oregon up to Russia, and all without a war!"




CHAPTER XXII

BUT YET A WOMAN

     Woman turns every man the wrong side out,
     And never gives to truth and virtue that
     Which simpleness and merit purchaseth.
                            --_Shakespeare_.


My chief played his game of chess coldly, methodically, and with skill;
yet a game of chess is not always of interest to the spectator who does
not know every move. Least of all does it interest one who feels himself
but a pawn piece on the board and part of a plan in whose direction he
has nothing to say. In truth, I was weary. Not even the contemplation of
the hazardous journey to Oregon served to stir me. I traveled wearily
again and again my circle of personal despair.

On the day following my last interview with Mr. Calhoun, I had agreed to
take my old friend Doctor von Rittenhofen upon a short journey among the
points of interest of our city, in order to acquaint him somewhat with
our governmental machinery and to put him in touch with some of the
sources of information to which he would need to refer in the work upon
which he was now engaged. We had spent a couple of hours together, and
were passing across to the capitol, with the intent of looking in upon
the deliberations of the houses of Congress, when all at once, as we
crossed the corridor, I felt him touch my arm.

"Did you see that young lady?" he asked of me. "She looked at you,
yess?"

I was in the act of turning, even as he spoke. Certainly had I been
alone I would have seen Elisabeth, would have known that she was there.

It was Elisabeth, alone, and hurrying away! Already she was approaching
the first stair. In a moment she would be gone. I sprang after her by
instinct, without plan, clear in my mind only that she was going, and
with her all the light of the world; that she was going, and that she
was beautiful, adorable; that she was going, and that she was Elisabeth!

As I took a few rapid steps toward her, I had full opportunity to see
that no grief had preyed upon her comeliness, nor had concealment fed
upon her damask cheek. Almost with some resentment I saw that she had
never seemed more beautiful than on this morning. The costume of those
days was trying to any but a beautiful woman; yet Elisabeth had a way of
avoiding extremes which did not appeal to her individual taste. Her
frock now was all in pink, as became the gentle spring, and the bunch of
silvery ribbons which fluttered at her belt had quite the agreeing
shade to finish in perfection the cool, sweet picture that she made. Her
sleeves were puffed widely, and for the lower arm were opened just
sufficiently. She carried a small white parasol, with pinked edges, and
her silken mitts, light and dainty, matched the clear whiteness of her
arms. Her face, turned away from me, was shaded by a wide round bonnet,
not quite so painfully plain as the scooplike affair of the time, but
with a drooping brim from which depended a slight frilling of sheer
lace. Her smooth brown hair was drawn primly down across her ears, as
was the fashion of the day, and from the masses piled under the bonnet
brim there fell down a curl, round as though made that moment, and not
yet limp from the damp heat of Washington. Fresh and dainty and restful
as a picture done on Dresden, yet strong, fresh, fully competent,
Elisabeth walked as having full right in the world and accepting as her
due such admiration as might be offered. If she had ever known a care,
she did not show it; and, I say, this made me feel resentment. It was
her proper business to appear miserable.

If she indeed resembled a rare piece of flawless Dresden on this
morning, she was as cold, her features were as unmarked by any human
pity. Ah! so different an Elisabeth, this, from the one I had last seen
at the East Room, with throat fluttering and cheeks far warmer than
this cool rose pink. But, changed or not, the full sight of her came as
the sudden influence of some powerful drug, blotting out consciousness
of other things. I could no more have refrained from approaching her
than I could have cast away my own natural self and form. Just as she
reached the top of the broad marble stairs, I spoke.

"Elisabeth!"

Seeing that there was no escape, she paused now and turned toward me. I
have never seen a glance like hers. Say not there is no language of the
eyes, no speech in the composure of the features. Yet such is the Sphinx
power given to woman, that now I saw, as though it were a thing
tangible, a veil drawn across her eyes, across her face, between her
soul and mine.

Elisabeth drew herself up straight, her chin high, her eyes level, her
lips just parted for a faint salutation in the conventions of the
morning.

"How do you do?" she remarked. Her voice was all cool white enamel. Then
that veil dropped down between us.

She was there somewhere, but I could not see her clearly now. It was not
her voice. I took her hand, yes; but it had now none of answering clasp.
The flush was on her cheek no more. Cool, pale, sweet, all white now,
armed cap-a-pie with indifference, she looked at me as formally as
though I were a remote acquaintance. Then she would have passed.

"Elisabeth," I began; "I am just back. I have not had time--I have had
no leave from you to come to see you--to ask you--to explain--"

"Explain?" she said evenly.

"But surely you can not believe that I--"

"I only believe what seems credible, Mr. Trist."

"But you promised--that very morning you agreed--Were you out of your
mind, that--"

"I was out of my mind that morning--but not that evening."

Now she was _grande demoiselle_, patrician, superior. Suddenly I became
conscious of the dullness of my own garb. I cast a quick glance over my
figure, to see whether it had not shrunken.

"But that is not it, Elisabeth--a girl may not allow a man so much as
you promised me, and then forget that promise in a day. It _was_ a
promise between us. _You_ agreed that I should come; I did come. You had
given your word. I say, was that the way to treat me, coming as I did?"

"I found it possible," said she. "But, if you please, I must go. I beg
your pardon, but my Aunt Betty is waiting with the carriage."

"Why, damn Aunt Betty!" I exclaimed. "You shall not go! See, look here!"

I pulled from my pocket the little ring which I had had with me that
night when I drove out to Elmhurst in my carriage, the one with the
single gem which I had obtained hurriedly that afternoon, having never
before that day had the right to do so. In another pocket I found the
plain gold one which should have gone with the gem ring that same
evening. My hand trembled as I held these out to her.

"I prove to you what I meant. Here! I had no time! Why, Elisabeth, I was
hurrying--I was mad!--I had a right to offer you these things. I have
still the right to ask you why you did not take them? Will you not take
them now?"

She put my hand away from her gently. "Keep them," she said, "for the
owner of that other wedding gift--the one which I received."

Now I broke out. "Good God! How can I be held to blame for the act of a
drunken friend? You know Jack Dandridge as well as I do myself. I
cautioned him--I was not responsible for his condition."

"It was not that decided me."

"You could not believe it was _I_ who sent you that accursed shoe which
belonged to another woman."

"He said it came from you. Where did _you_ get it, then?"

Now, as readily may be seen, I was obliged again to hesitate. There were
good reasons to keep my lips sealed. I flushed. The red of confusion
which came to my cheek was matched by that of indignation in her own. I
could not tell her, and she could not understand, that my work for Mr.
Calhoun with that other woman was work for America, and so as sacred and
as secret as my own love for her. Innocent, I still seemed guilty.

"So, then, you do not say? I do not ask you."

"I do not deny it."

"You do not care to tell me where you got it."

"No," said I; "I will not tell you where I got it."

"Why?"

"Because that would involve another woman."

"_Involve another woman?_ Do you think, then, that on this one day of
her life, a girl likes to think of her--her lover--as involved with any
other woman? Ah, you made me begin to think. I could not help the chill
that came on my heart. Marry you?--I could not! I never could, now."

"Yet you had decided--you had told me--it was agreed--"

"I had decided on facts as I thought they were. Other facts came before
you arrived. Sir, you do me a very great compliment."

"But you loved me once," I said banally.

"I do not consider it fair to mention that now."

"I never loved that other woman. I had never seen her more than once.
You do not know her."

"Ah, is that it? Perhaps I could tell you something of one Helena von
Ritz. Is it not so?"

"Yes, that was the property of Helena von Ritz," I told her, looking her
fairly in the eye.

"Kind of you, indeed, to involve me, as you say, with a lady of her
precedents!"

Now her color was up full, and her words came crisply. Had I had
adequate knowledge of women, I could have urged her on then, and brought
on a full-fledged quarrel. Strategically, that must have been a far
happier condition than mere indifference on her part. But I did not
know; and my accursed love of fairness blinded me.

"I hardly think any one is quite just to that lady," said I slowly.

"Except Mr. Nicholas Trist! A beautiful and accomplished lady, I doubt
not, in his mind."

"Yes, all of that, I doubt not."

"And quite kind with her little gifts."

"Elisabeth, I can not well explain all that to you. I can not, on my
honor."

"Do not!" she cried, putting out her hand as though in alarm. "Do not
invoke your honor!" She looked at me again. I have never seen a look
like hers. She had been calm, cold, and again indignant, all in a
moment's time. That expression which now showed on her face was one yet
worse for me.

Still I would not accept my dismissal, but went on stubbornly: "But may
I not see your father and have my chance again? I _can not_ let it go
this way. It is the ruin of my life."

But now she was advancing, dropping down a step at a time, and her face
was turned straight ahead. The pink of her gown was matched by the pink
of her cheeks. I saw the little working of the white throat wherein some
sobs seemed stifling. And so she went away and left me.




CHAPTER XXIII

SUCCESS IN SILK

     As things are, I think women are generally better creatures
     than men.--_S.T. Coleridge_.


It was a part of my duties, when in Washington, to assist my chief in
his personal and official correspondence, which necessarily was very
heavy. This work we customarily began about nine of the morning. On the
following day I was on hand earlier than usual. I was done with
Washington now, done with everything, eager only to be off on the far
trails once more. But I almost forgot my own griefs when I saw my chief.
When I found him, already astir in his office, his face was strangely
wan and thin, his hands bloodless. Over him hung an air of utter
weariness; yet, shame to my own despair, energy showed in all his
actions. Resolution was written on his face. He greeted me with a smile
which strangely lighted his grim face.

"We have good news of some kind this morning, sir?" I inquired.

In answer, he motioned me to a document which lay open upon his table.
It was familiar enough to me. I glanced at the bottom. There were _two_
signatures!

"Texas agrees!" I exclaimed. "_The Dona Lucrezia has won Van Zandt's
signature!_"

I looked at him. His own eyes were swimming wet! This, then, was that
man of whom it is only remembered that he was a pro-slavery champion.

"It will be a great country," said he at last. "This once done, I shall
feel that, after all, I have not lived wholly in vain."

"But the difficulties! Suppose Van Zandt proves traitorous to us?"

"He dare not. Texas may know that he bargained with England, but he dare
not traffic with Mexico and let _that_ be known. He would not live a
day."

"But perhaps the Dona Lucrezia herself might some time prove fickle."

"_She_ dare not! She never will. She will enjoy in secret her revenge on
perfidious Albion, which is to say, perfidious Pakenham. Her nature is
absolutely different from that of the Baroness von Ritz. The Dona
Lucrezia dreams of the torch of love, not the torch of principle!"

"The public might not approve, Mr. Calhoun; but at least there _were_
advantages in this sort of aids!"

"We are obliged to find such help as we can. The public is not always
able to tell which was plot and which counterplot in the accomplishment
of some intricate things. The result excuses all. It was written that
Texas should come to this country. Now for Oregon! It grows, this idea
of democracy!"

"At least, sir, you will have done your part. Only now--"

"Only what, then?"

"We are certain to encounter opposition. The Senate may not ratify this
Texas treaty."

"The Senate will _not_ ratify," said he. "I am perfectly well advised of
how the vote will be when this treaty comes before it for ratification.
We will be beaten, two to one!"

"Then, does that not end it?"

"End it? No! There are always other ways. If the people of this country
wish Texas to belong to our flag, she will so belong. It is as good as
done to-day. Never look at the obstacles; look at the goal! It was this
intrigue of Van Zandt's which stood in our way. By playing one intrigue
against another, we have won thus far. We must go on winning!"

He paced up and down the room, one hand smiting the other. "Let England
whistle now!" he exclaimed exultantly. "We shall annex Texas, in full
view, indeed, of all possible consequences. There can be no
consequences, for England has no excuse left for war over Texas. I only
wish the situation were as clear for Oregon."

"There'll be bad news for our friend Senor Yturrio when he gets back to
his own legation!" I ventured.

"Let him then face that day when Mexico shall see fit to look to us for
aid and counsel. We will build a mighty country _here_, on _this_
continent!"

"Mr. Pakenham is accredited to have certain influence in our Senate."

"Yes. We have his influence exactly weighed. Yet I rejoice in at least
one thing--one of his best allies is not here."

"You mean Senor Yturrio?"

"I mean the Baroness von Ritz. And now comes on that next nominating
convention, at Baltimore."

"What will it do?" I hesitated.

"God knows. For me, I have no party. I am alone! I have but few friends
in all the world"--he smiled now--"you, my boy, as I said, and Doctor
Ward and a few women, all of whom hate each other."

I remained silent at this shot, which came home to me; but he smiled,
still grimly, shaking his head. "Rustle of silk, my boy, rustle of
silk--it is over all our maps. But we shall make these maps! Time shall
bear me witness."

"Then I may start soon for Oregon?" I demanded.

"You shall start to-morrow," he answered.




CHAPTER XXIV

THE WHOA-HAW TRAIL

     There are no pleasures where women are not.
                                         --Marie de Romba.


How shall I tell of those stirring times in such way that readers who
live in later and different days may catch in full their flavor? How
shall I write now so that at a later time men may read of the way
America was taken, may see what America then was and now is, and what
yet, please God! it may be? How shall be set down that keen zest of a
nation's youth, full of ambition and daring, full of contempt for
obstacles, full of a vast and splendid hope? How shall be made plain
also that other and stronger thing which so many of those days have
mentioned to me, half in reticence--that feeling that, after all, this
fever of the blood, this imperious insistence upon new lands, had under
it something more than human selfishness?

I say I wish that some tongue or brush or pen might tell the story of
our people at that time. Once I saw it in part told in color and line,
in a painting done by a master hand, almost one fit to record the
spirit of that day, although it wrought in this instance with another
and yet earlier time. In this old canvas, depicting an early Teutonic
tribal wandering, appeared some scores of human figures, men and women
half savage in their look, clad in skins, with fillets of hide for head
covering; men whose beards were strong and large, whose limbs, wrapped
loose in hides, were strong and large; women, strong and large, who bore
burdens on their backs. Yet in the faces of all these there shone, not
savagery alone, but intelligence and resolution. With them were flocks
and herds and beasts of burden and carts of rude build; and beside these
traveled children. There were young and old men and women, and some were
gaunt and weary, but most were bold and strong. There were weapons for
all, and rude implements, as well, of industry. In the faces of all
there was visible the spirit of their yellow-bearded leader, who made
the center of the picture's foreground.

I saw the soul of that canvas--a splendid resolution--a look forward, a
purpose, an aim to be attained at no counting of cost. I say, as I gazed
at that canvas, I saw in it the columns of my own people moving westward
across the Land, fierce-eyed, fearless, doubting nothing, fearing
nothing. That was the genius of America when I myself was young. I
believe it still to be the spirit of a triumphant democracy, knowing
its own, taking its own, holding its own. They travel yet, the dauntless
figures of that earlier day. Let them not despair. No imaginary line
will ever hold them back, no mandate of any monarch ever can restrain
them.

In our own caravans, now pressing on for the general movement west of
the Missouri, there was material for a hundred canvases like yonder one,
and yet more vast. The world of our great western country was then still
before us. A stern and warlike people was resolved to hold it and
increase it. Of these west-bound I now was one. I felt the joy of that
thought. I was going West!

At this time, the new railroad from Baltimore extended no farther
westward than Cumberland, yet it served to carry one well toward the
Ohio River at Pittsburg; whence, down the Ohio and up the Missouri to
Leavenworth, my journey was to be made by steamboats. In this prosaic
travel, the days passed monotonously; but at length I found myself upon
that frontier which then marked the western edge of our accepted domain,
and the eastern extremity of the Oregon Trail.

If I can not bring to the mind of one living to-day the full picture of
those days when this country was not yet all ours, and can not restore
to the comprehension of those who never were concerned with that life
the picture of that great highway, greatest path of all the world,
which led across our unsettled countries, that ancient trail at least
may be a memory. It is not even yet wiped from the surface of the earth.
It still remains in part, marked now no longer by the rotting
head-boards of its graves, by the bones of the perished ones which once
traveled it; but now by its ribands cut through the turf, and lined by
nodding prairie flowers.

The old trail to Oregon was laid out by no government, arranged by no
engineer, planned by no surveyor, supported by no appropriation. It
sprang, a road already created, from the earth itself, covering two
thousand miles of our country. Why? Because there was need for that
country to be covered by such a trail at such a time. Because we needed
Oregon. Because a stalwart and clear-eyed democracy needs America and
will have it. That was the trail over which our people outran their
leaders. If our leaders trifle again, once again we shall outrun them.

There were at this date but four places of human residence in all the
two thousand miles of this trail, yet recent as had been the first hoofs
and wheels to mark it, it was even then a distinct and unmistakable
path. The earth has never had nor again can have its like. If it was a
path of destiny, if it was a road of hope and confidence, so was it a
road of misery and suffering and sacrifice; for thus has the democracy
always gained its difficult and lasting victories. I think that it was
there, somewhere, on the old road to Oregon, sometime in the silent
watches of the prairie or the mountain night, that there was fought out
the battle of the Old World and the New, the battle between oppressors
and those who declared they no longer would be oppressed.

Providentially for us, an ignorance equal to that of our leaders existed
in Great Britain. For us who waited on the banks of the Missouri, all
this ignorance was matter of indifference. Our men got their beliefs
from no leaders, political or editorial, at home or abroad. They waited
only for the grass to come.

Now at last the grass did begin to grow upon the eastern edge of the
great Plains; and so I saw begin that vast and splendid movement across
our continent which in comparison dwarfs all the great people movements
of the earth. Xenophon's March of the Ten Thousand pales beside this of
ten thousand thousands. The movements of the Goths and Huns, the
Vandals, the Cimri--in a way, they had a like significance with this,
but in results those migrations did far less in the history of the
world; did less to prove the purpose of the world.

I watched the forming of our caravan, and I saw again that canvas which
I have mentioned, that picture of the savages who traveled a thousand
years before Christ was born. Our picture was the vaster, the more
splendid, the more enduring. Here were savages born of gentle folk in
part, who never yet had known repulse. They marched with flocks and
herds and implements of husbandry. In their faces shone a light not less
fierce than that which animated the dwellers of the old Teutonic
forests, but a light clearer and more intelligent. Here was the
determined spirit of progress, here was the agreed insistence upon an
_equal opportunity!_ Ah! it was a great and splendid canvas which might
have been painted there on our Plains--the caravans west-bound with the
greening grass of spring--that hegira of Americans whose unheard command
was but the voice of democracy itself.

We carried with us all the elements of society, as has the Anglo-Saxon
ever. Did any man offend against the unwritten creed of fair play, did
he shirk duty when that meant danger to the common good, then he was
brought before a council of our leaders, men of wisdom and fairness,
chosen by the vote of all; and so he was judged and he was punished. At
that time there was not west of the Missouri River any one who could
administer an oath, who could execute a legal document, or perpetuate
any legal testimony; yet with us the law marched _pari passu_ across the
land. We had leaders chosen because they were fit to lead, and leaders
who felt full sense of responsibility to those who chose them. We had
with us great wealth in flocks and herds--five thousand head of cattle
went West with our caravan, hundreds of horses; yet each knew his own
and asked not that of his neighbor. With us there were women and little
children and the gray-haired elders bent with years. Along our road we
left graves here and there, for death went with us. In our train also
were many births, life coming to renew the cycle. At times, too, there
were rejoicings of the newly wed in our train. Our young couples found
society awheel valid as that abiding under permanent roof.

At the head of our column, we bore the flag of our Republic. On our
flanks were skirmishers, like those guarding the flanks of an army. It
_was_ an army--an army of our people. With us marched women. With us
marched home. _That_ was the difference between our cavalcade and that
slower and more selfish one, made up of men alone, which that same year
was faring westward along the upper reaches of the Canadian Plains. That
was why we won. It was because women and plows were with us.

Our great column, made up of more than one hundred wagons, was divided
into platoons of four, each platoon leading for a day, then falling
behind to take the bitter dust of those in advance. At noon we parted
our wagons in platoons, and at night we drew them invariably into a
great barricade, circular in form, the leading wagon marking out the
circle, the others dropping in behind, the tongue of each against the
tail-gate of the wagon ahead, and the last wagon closing up the gap. Our
circle completed, the animals were unyoked and the tongues were chained
fast to the wagons next ahead; so that each night we had a sturdy
barricade, incapable of being stampeded by savages, whom more than once
we fought and defeated. Each night we set out a guard, our men taking
turns, and the night watches in turn rotating, so that each man got his
share of the entire night during the progress of his journey. Each morn
we rose to the notes of a bugle, and each day we marched in order, under
command, under a certain schedule. Loosely connected, independent,
individual, none the less already we were establishing a government. We
took the American Republic with us across the Plains!

This manner of travel offered much monotony, yet it had its little
pleasures. For my own part, my early experience in Western matters
placed me in charge of our band of hunters, whose duty it was to ride at
the flanks of our caravan each day and to kill sufficient buffalo for
meat. This work of the chase gave us more to do than was left for those
who plodded along or rode bent over upon the wagon seats; yet even for
these there was some relaxation. At night we met in little social
circles around the camp-fires. Young folk made love; old folk made
plans here as they had at home. A church marched with us as well as the
law and courts; and, what was more, the schools went also; for by the
faint flicker of the firelight many parents taught their children each
day as they moved westward to their new homes. History shows these
children were well taught. There were persons of education and culture
with us.

Music we had, and of a night time, even while the coyotes were calling
and the wind whispering in the short grasses of the Plains, violin and
flute would sometimes blend their voices, and I have thus heard songs
which I would not exchange in memory for others which I have heard in
surroundings far more ambitious. Sometimes dances were held on the
greensward of our camps. Regularly the Sabbath day was observed by at
least the most part of our pilgrims. Upon all our party there seemed to
sit an air of content and certitude. Of all our wagons, I presume one
was of greatest value. It was filled with earth to the brim, and in it
were fruit trees planted, and shrubs; and its owner carried seeds of
garden plants. Without doubt, it was our mission and our intent to take
with us such civilization as we had left behind.

So we marched, mingled, and, as some might have said, motley in our
personnel--sons of some of the best families in the South, men from the
Carolinas and Virginia, Georgia and Louisiana, men from Pennsylvania and
Ohio; Roundhead and Cavalier, Easterner and Westerner, Germans, Yankees,
Scotch-Irish--all Americans. We marched, I say, under a form of
government; yet each took his original marching orders from his own
soul. We marched across an America not yet won. Below us lay the Spanish
civilization--Mexico, possibly soon to be led by Britain, as some
thought. North of us was Canada, now fully alarmed and surely led by
Britain. West of us, all around us, lay the Indian tribes. Behind, never
again to be seen by most of us who marched, lay the homes of an earlier
generation. But we marched, each obeying the orders of his own soul.
Some day the song of this may be sung; some day, perhaps, its canvas may
be painted.




CHAPTER XXV

OREGON

     The spell and the light of each path we pursue--
     If woman be there, there is happiness too.
                                               --Moore.


Twenty miles a day, week in and week out, we edged westward up the
Platte, in heat and dust part of the time, often plagued at night by
clouds of mosquitoes. Our men endured the penalties of the journey
without comment. I do not recall that I ever heard even the weakest
woman complain. Thus at last we reached the South Pass of the Rockies,
not yet half done our journey, and entered upon that portion of the
trail west of the Rockies, which had still two mountain ranges to cross,
and which was even more apt to be infested by the hostile Indians. Even
when we reached the ragged trading post, Fort Hall, we had still more
than six hundred miles to go.

By this time our forces had wasted as though under assault of arms. Far
back on the trail, many had been forced to leave prized belongings,
relies, heirlooms, implements, machinery, all conveniences. The finest
of mahogany blistered in the sun, abandoned and unheeded. Our trail
might have been followed by discarded implements of agriculture, and by
whitened bones as well. Our footsore teams, gaunt and weakened, began to
faint and fall. Horses and oxen died in the harness or under the yoke,
and were perforce abandoned where they fell. Each pound of superfluous
weight was cast away as our motive power thus lessened. Wagons were
abandoned, goods were packed on horses, oxen and cows. We put cows into
the yoke now, and used women instead of men on the drivers' seats, and
boys who started riding finished afoot. Our herds were sadly lessened by
theft of the Indians, by death, by strayings which our guards had not
time to follow up. If a wagon lagged it was sawed shorter to lessen its
weight Sometimes the hind wheels were abandoned, and the reduced
personal belongings were packed on the cart thus made, which
nevertheless traveled on, painfully, slowly, yet always going ahead. In
the deserts beyond Fort Hall, wagons disintegrated by the heat. Wheels
would fall apart, couplings break under the straining teams. Still more
here was the trail lined with boxes, vehicles, furniture, all the
flotsam and jetsam of the long, long Oregon Trail.

The grass was burned to its roots, the streams were reduced to ribbons,
the mirages of the desert mocked us desperately. Rain came seldom now,
and the sage-brush of the desert was white with bitter dust, which in
vast clouds rose sometimes in the wind to make our journey the harder.
In autumn, as we approached the second range of mountains, we could see
the taller peaks whitened with snow. Our leaders looked anxiously ahead,
dreading the storms which must ere long overtake us. Still, gaunt now
and haggard, weakened in body but not in soul, we pressed on across.
That was the way to Oregon.

Gaunt and brown and savage, hungry and grim, ragged, hatless, shoeless,
our cavalcade closed up and came on, and so at last came through. Ere
autumn had yellowed all the foliage back east in gentler climes, we
crossed the shoulders of the Blue Mountains and came into the Valley of
the Walla Walla; and so passed thence down the Columbia to the Valley of
the Willamette, three hundred miles yet farther, where there were then
some slight centers of our civilization which had gone forward the year
before.

Here were some few Americans. At Champoeg, at the little American
missions, at Oregon City, and other scattered points, we met them, we
hailed and were hailed by them. They were Americans. Women and plows
were with them. There were churches and schools already started, and a
beginning had been made in government. Faces and hands and ways and
customs and laws of our own people greeted us. Yes. It was America.

Messengers spread abroad the news of the arrival of our wagon train.
Messengers, too, came down from the Hudson Bay posts to scan our
equipment and estimate our numbers. There was no word obtainable from
these of any Canadian column of occupation to the northward which had
crossed at the head of the Peace River or the Saskatchewan, or which lay
ready at the head waters of the Fraser or the Columbia to come down to
the lower settlements for the purpose of bringing to an issue, or making
more difficult, this question of the joint occupancy of Oregon. As a
matter of fact, ultimately we won that transcontinental race so
decidedly that there never was admitted to have been a second.

As for our people, they knew how neither to hesitate nor to dread. They
unhooked their oxen from the wagons and put them to the plows. The fruit
trees, which had crossed three ranges of mountains and two thousand
miles of unsettled country, now found new rooting. Streams which had
borne no fruit save that of the beaver traps now were made to give
tribute to little fields and gardens, or asked to transport wheat
instead of furs. The forests which had blocked our way were now made
into roofs and walls and fences. Whatever the future might bring, those
who had come so far and dared so much feared that future no more than
they had feared the troubles which in detail they had overcome in their
vast pilgrimage.

So we took Oregon by the only law of right. Our broken and weakened
cavalcade asked renewal from the soil itself. We ruffled no drum,
fluttered no flag, to take possession of the land. But the canvas covers
of our wagons gave way to permanent roofs. Where we had known a hundred
camp-fires, now we lighted the fires of many hundred homes.




CHAPTER XXVI

THE DEBATED COUNTRY

     The world was sad, the garden was a wild!
     The man, the hermit, sighed--till woman smiled!
                                           --_Campbell_.


Our army of peaceful occupation scattered along the more fertile parts
of the land, principally among the valleys. Of course, it should not be
forgotten that what was then called Oregon meant all of what now is
embraced in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, with part of Wyoming as well.
It extended south to the Mexican possessions of California. How far
north it was to run, it was my errand here to learn.

To all apparent purposes, I simply was one of the new settlers in
Oregon, animated by like motives, possessed of little more means, and
disposed to adjust myself to existing circumstances, much as did my
fellows. The physical conditions of life in a country abounding in wild
game and fish, and where even careless planting would yield abundant
crops, offered no very difficult task to young men accustomed to
shifting for themselves; so that I looked forward to the winter with no
dread.

I settled near the mouth of the Willamette River, near Oregon City, and
not far from where the city of Portland later was begun; and builded for
myself a little cabin of two rooms, with a connecting roof. This I
furnished, as did my neighbors their similar abodes, with a table made
of hewed puncheons, chairs sawed from blocks, a bed framed from poles,
on which lay a rude mattress of husks and straw. My window-panes were
made of oiled deer hide. Thinking that perhaps I might need to plow in
the coming season, I made me a plow like those around me, which might
have come from Mexico or Egypt--a forked limb bound with rawhide. Wood
and hide, were, indeed, our only materials. If a wagon wheel showed
signs of disintegration, we lashed it together with rawhide. When the
settlers of the last year sought to carry wheat to market on the
Willamette barges, they did so in sacks made of the hides of deer. Our
clothing was of skins and furs.

From the Eastern States I scarcely could now hear in less than a year,
for another wagon train could not start west from the Missouri until the
following spring. We could only guess how events were going forward in
our diplomacy. We did not know, and would not know for a year, the
result of the Democratic convention at Baltimore, of the preceding
spring! We could only wonder who might be the party nominees for the
presidency. We had a national government, but did not know what it was,
or who administered it. War might be declared, but we in Oregon would
not be aware of it. Again, war might break out in Oregon, and the
government at Washington could not know that fact.

The mild winter wore away, and I learned little. Spring came, and still
no word of any land expedition out of Canada. We and the Hudson Bay folk
still dwelt in peace. The flowers began to bloom in the wild meads, and
the horses fattened on their native pastures. Wider and wider lay the
areas of black overturned soil, as our busy farmers kept on at their
work. Wider grew the clearings in the forest lands. Our fruit trees,
which we had brought two thousand miles in the nursery wagon, began to
put out tender leafage. There were eastern flowers--marigolds,
hollyhocks, mignonette--planted in the front yards of our little cabins.
Vines were trained over trellises here and there. Each flower was a
rivet, each vine a cord, which bound Oregon to our Republic.

Summer came on. The fields began to whiten with the ripening grain. I
grew uneasy, feeling myself only an idler in a land so able to fend for
itself. I now was much disposed to discuss means of getting back over
the long trail to the eastward, to carry the news that Oregon was ours.
I had, it must be confessed, nothing new to suggest as to making it
firmly and legally ours, beyond what had already been suggested in the
minds of our settlers themselves. It was at this time that there
occurred a startling and decisive event.

I was on my way on a canoe voyage up the wide Columbia, not far above
the point where it receives its greatest lower tributary, the
Willamette, when all at once I heard the sound of a cannon shot. I
turned to see the cloud of blue smoke still hanging over the surface of
the water. Slowly there swung into view an ocean-going vessel under
steam and auxiliary canvas. She made a gallant spectacle. But whose ship
was she? I examined her colors anxiously enough. I caught the import of
her ensign. She flew the British Union Jack!

England had won the race by sea!

Something in the ship's outline seemed to me familiar. I knew the set of
her short masts, the pitch of her smokestacks, the number of her guns.
Yes, she was the _Modeste_ of the English Navy--the same ship which more
than a year before I had seen at anchor off Montreal!

News travels fast in wild countries, and it took us little time to learn
the destination of the _Modeste_. She came to anchor above Oregon City,
and well below Fort Vancouver. At once, of course, her officers made
formal calls upon Doctor McLaughlin, the factor at Fort Vancouver, and
accepted head of the British element thereabouts. Two weeks passed in
rumors and counter rumors, and a vastly dangerous tension existed in all
the American settlements, because word was spread that England had sent
a ship to oust us. Then came to myself and certain others at Oregon City
messengers from peace-loving Doctor McLaughlin, asking us to join him in
a little celebration in honor of the arrival of her Majesty's vessel.

Here at last was news; but it was news not wholly to my liking which I
soon unearthed. The _Modeste_ was but one ship of fifteen! A fleet of
fifteen vessels, four hundred guns, then lay in Puget Sound. The
watch-dogs of Great Britain were at our doors. This question of monarchy
and the Republic was not yet settled, after all!

I pass the story of the banquet at Fort Vancouver, because it is
unpleasant to recite the difficulties of a kindly host who finds himself
with jarring elements at his board. Precisely this was the situation of
white-haired Doctor McLaughlin of Fort Vancouver. It was an incongruous
assembly in the first place. The officers of the British Navy attended
in the splendor of their uniforms, glittering in braid and gold. Even
Doctor McLaughlin made brave display, as was his wont, in his regalia of
dark blue cloth and shining buttons--his noble features and long,
snow-white hair making him the most lordly figure of them all. As for
us Americans, lean and brown, with hands hardened by toil, our wardrobes
scattered over a thousand miles of trail, buckskin tunics made our
coats, and moccasins our boots. I have seen some noble gentlemen so clad
in my day.

We Americans were forced to listen to many toasts at that little
frontier banquet entirely to our disliking. We heard from Captain Parke
that "the Columbia belonged to Great Britain as much as the Thames";
that Great Britain's guns "could blow all the Americans off the map";
that her fleet at Puget Sound waited but for the signal to "hoist the
British flag over all the coast from Mexico to Russia" Yet Doctor
McLaughlin, kindly and gentle as always, better advised than any one
there on the intricacies of the situation now in hand, only smiled and
protested and explained.

For myself, I passed only as plain settler. No one knew my errand in the
country, and I took pains, though my blood boiled, as did that of our
other Americans present at that board, to keep a silent tongue in my
head. If this were joint occupancy, I for one was ready to say it was
time to make an end of it. But how might that be done? At least the
proceedings of the evening gave no answer.

It was, as may be supposed, late in the night when our somewhat
discordant banqueting party broke up. We were all housed, as was the
hospitable fashion of the country, in the scattered log buildings which
nearly always hedge in a western fur-trading post. The quarters assigned
me lay across the open space, or what might be called the parade ground
of Fort Vancouver, flanked by Doctor McLaughlin's four little cannon.

As I made my way home, stumbling among the stumps in the dark, I passed
many semi-drunken Indians and _voyageurs_, to whom special liberty had
been accorded in view of the occasion, all of them now engaged in
singing the praises of the "King George" men as against the "Bostons." I
talked now and again with some of our own brown and silent border men,
farmers from the Willamette, none of them any too happy, all of them
sullen and ready for trouble in any form. We agreed among us that
absolute quiet and freedom from any expression of irritation was our
safest plan. "Wait till next fall's wagon trains come in!" That was the
expression of our new governor, Mr. Applegate; and I fancy it found an
echo in the opinions of most of the Americans. By snowfall, as we
believed, the balance of power would be all upon our side, and our
swift-moving rifles would outweigh all their anchored cannon.

I was almost at my cabin door at the edge of the forest frontage at the
rear of the old post, when I caught glimpse, in the dim light, of a
hurrying figure, which in some way seemed to be different from the
blanket-covered squaws who stalked here and there about the post
grounds. At first I thought she might be the squaw of one of the
employees of the company, who lived scattered about, some of them now,
by the advice of Doctor McLaughlin, beginning to till little fields;
but, as I have said, there was something in the stature or carriage or
garb of this woman which caused me idly to follow her, at first with my
eyes and then with my footsteps.

She passed steadily on toward a long and low log cabin, located a short
distance beyond the quarters which had been assigned to me. I saw her
step up to the door and heard her knock; then there came a flood of
light--more light than was usual in the opening of the door of a
frontier cabin. This displayed the figure of the night walker, showing
her tall and gaunt and a little stooped; so that, after all, I took her
to be only one of our American frontier women, being quite sure that she
was not Indian or half-breed.

This emboldened me, on a mere chance--an act whose mental origin I could
not have traced--to step up to the door after it had been closed, and
myself to knock thereat. If it were a party of Americans here, I wished
to question them; if not, I intended to make excuses by asking my way
to my own quarters. It was my business to learn the news of Oregon.

I heard women's voices within, and as I knocked the door opened just a
trifle on its chain. I saw appear at the crack the face of the woman
whom I had followed.

She was, as I had believed, old and wrinkled, and her face now, seen
close, was as mysterious, dark and inscrutable as that of any Indian
squaw. Her hair fell heavy and gray across her forehead, and her eyes
were small and dark as those of a native woman. Yet, as she stood there
with the light streaming upon her, I saw something in her face which
made me puzzle, ponder and start--and put my foot within the crack of
the door.

When she found she could not close the door, she called out in some
foreign tongue. I heard a voice answer. The blood tingled in the roots
of my hair!

"Threlka," I said quietly, "tell Madam the Baroness it is I, Monsieur
Trist, of Washington."




CHAPTER XXVII

IN THE CABIN OF MADAM

     Woman must not belong to herself; she is bound to alien
     destinies.--_Friedrich von Schiller_.


With an exclamation of surprise the old woman departed from the door. I
heard the rustle of a footfall. I could have told in advance what face
would now appear outlined in the candle glow--with eyes wide and
startled, with lips half parted in query. It was the face of Helena,
Baroness von Ritz!

"_Eh bien!_ madam, why do you bar me out?" I said, as though we had
parted but yesterday.

In her sheer astonishment, I presume, she let down the fastening chain,
and without her invitation I stepped within. I heard her startled "_Mon
Dieu!_" then her more deliberate exclamation of emotion. "My God!" she
said. She stood, with her hands caught at her throat, staring at me. I
laughed and held out a hand.

"Madam Baroness," I said, "how glad I am! Come, has not fate been kind
to us again?" I pushed shut the door behind me. Still without a word,
she stepped deeper into the room and stood looking at me, her hands
clasped now loosely and awkwardly, as though she were a country girl
surprised, and not the Baroness Helena von Ritz, toast or talk of more
than one capital of the world.

Yet she was the same. She seemed slightly thinner now, yet not less
beautiful. Her eyes were dark and brilliant as ever. The clear features
of her face were framed in the roll of her heavy locks, as I had seen
them last. Her garb, as usual, betokened luxury. She was robed as though
for some fete, all in white satin, and pale blue fires of stones shone
faintly at throat and wrist. Contrast enough she made to me, clad in
smoke-browned tunic of buck, with the leggings and moccasins of a
savage, my belt lacking but prepared for weapons.

I had not time to puzzle over the question of her errand here, why or
whence she had come, or what she purposed doing. I was occupied with the
sudden surprises which her surroundings offered.

"I see, Madam," said I, smiling, "that still I am only asleep and
dreaming. But how exquisite a dream, here in this wild country! How
unfit here am I, a savage, who introduce the one discordant note into so
sweet a dream!"

I gestured to my costume, gestured about me, as I took in the details of
the long room in which we stood. I swear it was the same as that in
which I had seen her at a similar hour in Montreal! It was the same I
had first seen in Washington!

Impossible? I am doubted? Ah, but do I not know? Did I not see? Here
were the pictures on the walls, the carved Cupids, the candelabra with
their prisms, the chairs, the couches! Beyond yonder satin curtains rose
the high canopy of the embroidery-covered couch, its fringed drapery
reaching almost to the deep pile of the carpets. True, opportunity had
not yet offered for the full concealment of these rude walls; yet, as my
senses convinced me even against themselves, here were the apartments of
Helena von Ritz, furnished as she had told me they always were at each
place she saw fit to honor with her presence!

Yet not quite the same, it seemed to me. There were some little things
missing, just as there were some little things missing from her
appearance. For instance, these draperies at the right, which formerly
had cut off the Napoleon bed at its end of the room, now were of
blankets and not of silk. The bed itself was not piled deep in down, but
contained, as I fancied from my hurried glance, a thin mattress, stuffed
perhaps with straw. A roll of blankets lay across its foot. As I gazed
to the farther extremity of this side of the long suite, I saw other
evidences of change. It was indeed as though Helena von Ritz, creature
of luxury, woman of an old, luxurious world, exotic of monarchical
surroundings, had begun insensibly to slip into the ways of the rude
democracy of the far frontiers.

I saw all this; but ere I had finished my first hurried glance I had
accepted her, as always one must, just as she was; had accepted her
surroundings, preposterously impossible as they all were from any
logical point of view, as fitting to herself and to her humor. It was
not for me to ask how or why she did these things. She had done them;
because, here they were; and here was she. We had found England's woman
on the Columbia!

"Yes," said she at length, slowly, "yes, I now believe it to be fate."

She had not yet smiled. I took her hand and held it long. I felt glad to
see her, and to take her hand; it seemed pledge of friendship; and as
things now were shaping, I surely needed a friend.

At last, her face flushing slightly, she disengaged her hand and
motioned me to a seat. But still we stood silent for a few moments.
"Have you _no_ curiosity?" said she at length.

"I am too happy to have curiosity, my dear Madam."

"You will not even ask me why I am here?" she insisted.

"I know. I have known all along. You are in the pay of England. When I
missed you at Montreal, I knew you had sailed on the _Modeste_ for
Oregon We knew all this, and planned for it. I have come across by land
to meet you. I have waited. I greet you now!"

She looked me now clearly in the face. "I am not sure," said she at
length, slowly.

"Not sure of what, Madam? When you travel on England's warship," I
smiled, "you travel as the guest of England herself. If, then, you are
not for England, in God's name, _whose friend are you?"_

"Whose friend am I?" she answered slowly. "I say to you that I do not
know. Nor do I know who is my friend. A friend--what is that? I never
knew one!"

"Then be mine. Let me be your friend. You know my history. You know
about me and my work. I throw my secret into your hands. You will not
betray me? You warned me once, at Montreal. Will you not shield me once
again?"

She nodded, smiling now in an amused way. "Monsieur always takes the
most extraordinary times to visit me! Monsieur asks always the most
extraordinary things! Monsieur does always the most extraordinary acts!
He takes me to call upon a gentleman in a night robe! He calls upon me
himself, of an evening, in dinner dress of hides and beads--"

"'Tis the best I have, Madam!" I colored, but her eye had not
criticism, though her speech had mockery.

"This is the costume of your American savages," she said. "I find it
among the most beautiful I have ever seen. Only a man can wear it. You
wear it like a man. I like you in it--I have never liked you so well.
Betray you, Monsieur? Why should I? How could I?"

"That is true. Why should you? You are Helena von Ritz. One of her
breeding does not betray men or women. Neither does she make any
journeys of this sort without a purpose."

"I had a purpose, when I started. I changed it in mid-ocean. Now, I was
on my way to the Orient."

"And had forgotten your report to Mr. Pakenham?" I shook my head.
"Madam, you are the guest of England."

"I never denied that," she said. "I was that in Washington. I was so in
Montreal. But I have never given pledge which left me other than free to
go as I liked. I have studied, that is true--but I have _not_ reported."

"Have we not been fair with you, Baroness? Has my chief not proved
himself fair with you?"

"Yes," she nodded. "You have played the game fairly, that is true."

"Then you will play it fair with us? Come, I say you have still that
chance to win the gratitude of a people."

"I begin to understand you better, you Americans," she said
irrelevantly, as was sometimes her fancy. "See my bed yonder. It is that
couch of husks of which Monsieur told me! Here is the cabin of logs.
There is the fireplace. Here is Helena von Ritz--even as you told me
once before she sometime might be. And here on my wrists are the
imprints of your fingers! What does it mean, Monsieur? Am I not an apt
student? See, I made up that little bed with my own hands! I--Why, see,
I can cook! What you once said to me lingered in my mind. At first, it
was matter only of curiosity. Presently I began to see what was beneath
your words, what fullness of life there might be even in poverty. I said
to myself, 'My God! were it not, after all, enough, this, if one be
loved?' So then, in spite of myself, without planning, I say, I began to
understand. I have seen about me here these savages--savages who have
walked thousands of miles in a pilgrimage--for what?"

"For what, Madam?" I demanded. "For what? For a cabin! For a bed of
husks! Was it then for the sake of ease, for the sake of selfishness?
Come, can you betray a people of whom you can say so much?"

"Ah, now you would try to tempt me from a trust which has been reposed
in me!"

"Not in the least I would not have you break your word with Mr.
Pakenham; but I know you are here on the same errand as myself. You are
to learn facts and report them to Mr. Pakenham--as I am to Mr. Calhoun."

"What does Monsieur suggest?" she asked me, with her little smile.

"Nothing, except that you take back all the facts--and allow them to
mediate. Let them determine between the Old World and this New one--you
satin couch and this rude one you have learned to make. Tell the truth
only. Choose, then, Madam!"

"Nations do not ask the truth. They want only excuses."

"Quite true. And because of that, all the more rests with you. If this
situation goes on, war must come. It can not be averted, unless it be by
some agency quite outside of these two governments. Here, then, Madam,
is Helena von Ritz!"

"At least, there is time," she mused. "These ships are not here for any
immediate active war. Great Britain will make no move until--"

"Until Madam the Baroness, special agent of England, most trusted agent,
makes her report to Mr. Pakenham! Until he reports to his government,
and until that government declares war! 'Twill take a year or more.
Meantime, you have not reported?"

"No, I am not yet ready."

"Certainly not. You are not yet possessed of your facts. You have not
yet seen this country. You do not yet know these men--the same savages
who once accounted for another Pakenham at New Orleans--hardy as
buffaloes, fierce as wolves. Wait and see them come pouring across the
mountains into Oregon. Then make your report to this Pakenham. Ask him
if England wishes to fight our backwoodsmen once more!"

"You credit me with very much ability!" she smiled.

"With all ability. What conquests you have made in the diplomacy of the
Old World I do not know. You have known courts. I have known none. Yet
you are learning life. You are learning the meaning of the only human
idea of the world, that of a democracy of endeavor, where all are equal
in their chances and in their hopes. That, Madam, is the only diplomacy
which will live. If you have passed on that torch of principle of which
you spoke--if I can do as much--then all will be well. We shall have
served."

She dropped now into a chair near by a little table, where the light of
the tall candles, guttering in their enameled sconces, fell full upon
her face. She looked at me fixedly, her eyes dark and mournful in spite
of their eagerness.

"Ah, it is easy for you to speak, easy for you who have so rich and full
a life--who have all! But I--my hands are empty!" She spread out her
curved fingers, looking at them, dropping her hands, pathetically
drooping her shoulders.

"All, Madam? What do you mean? You see me almost in rags. Beyond the
rifle at my cabin, the pistol at my tent, I have scarce more in wealth
than what I wear, while you have what you like."

"All but everything!" she murmured; "all but home!"

"Nor have I a home."

"All, except that my couch is empty save for myself and my memories!"

"Not more than mine, nor with sadder memories, Madam."

"Why, what do you mean?" she asked me suddenly. "What do you _mean?_"
She repeated it again, as though half in horror.

"Only that we are equal and alike. That we are here on the same errand.
That our view of life should be the same."

"What do you mean about home? But tell me, _were you not then married?_"

"No, I am alone, Madam. I never shall be married."

There may have been some slight motion of a hand which beckoned me to a
seat at the opposite side of the table. As I sat, I saw her search my
face carefully, slowly, with eyes I could not read. At last she spoke,
after her frequent fashion, half to herself.

"It succeeded, then!" said she. "Yet I am not happy! Yet I have failed!"

"I pause, Madam," said I, smiling. "I await your pleasure."

"Ah, God! Ah, God!" she sighed. "What have I done?" She staggered to her
feet and stood beating her hands together, as was her way when
perturbed. "What have I _done_!"

"Threlka!" I heard her call, half chokingly. The old servant came
hurriedly.

"Wine, tea, anything, Threlka!" She dropped down again opposite me,
panting, and looking at me with wide eyes.

"Tell me, do you know what you have said?" she began.

"No, Madam. I grieve if I have caused you any pain."

"Well, then, you are noble; when look, what pain I have caused you! Yet
not more than myself. No, not so much. I hope not so much!"

Truly there is thought which passes from mind to mind. Suddenly the
thing in her mind sped across to mine. I looked at her suddenly, in my
eyes also, perhaps, the horror which I felt.

"It was you!" I exclaimed. "It was you! Ah, now I begin to understand!
How could you? You parted us! _You_ parted me from Elisabeth!"

"Yes," she said regretfully, "I did it It was my fault."

I rose and drew apart from her, unable to speak. She went on.

"But I was not then as I am now. See, I was embittered, reckless,
desperate. I was only beginning to think--I only wanted time. I did not
really mean to do all this. I only thought--Why, I had not yet known you
a day nor her an hour. 'Twas all no more than half a jest"

"How could you do it?" I demanded. "Yet that is no more strange. How
_did_ you do it?"

"At the door, that first night. I was mad then over the wrong done to
what little womanhood I could claim for my own. I hated Yturrio. I hated
Pakenham. They had both insulted me. I hated every man. I had seen
nothing but the bitter and desperate side of life--I was eager to take
revenge even upon the innocent ones of this world, seeing that I had
suffered so much. I had an old grudge against women, against women, I
say--against _women!_"

She buried her face in her hands. I saw her eyes no more till Threlka
came and lifted her head, offering her a cup of drink, and so standing
patiently until again she had dismissal.

"But still it is all a puzzle to me, Madam," I began. "I do not
understand."

"Well, when you stood at the door, my little shoe in your pocket, when
you kissed my hand that first night, when you told me what you would do
did you love a woman--when I saw something new in life I had not
seen--why, then, in the devil's resolution that no woman in the world
should be happy if I could help it, I slipped in the body of the slipper
a little line or so that I had written when you did not see, when I was
in the other room. 'Twas that took the place of Van Zandt's message,
after all! Monsieur, it was fate. Van Zandt's letter, without plan, fell
out on my table. Your note, sent by plan, remained in the shoe!"

"And what did it say? Tell me at once."

"Very little. Yet enough fora woman who loved and who expected. Only
this: '_In spite of that other woman, come to me still. Who can teach
yon love of woman as can I? Helena._' I think it was some such words as
those."

I looked at her in silence.

"You did not see that note?" she demanded. "After all, at first I meant
it only for _you_. I wanted to see you again. I did not want to lose
you. Ah, God! I was so lonely, so--so--I can not say. But you did not
find my message?"

I shook my head. "No," I said, "I did not look in the slipper. I do not
think my friend did."

"But she--that girl, did!"

"How could she have believed?"

"Ah, grand! I reverence your faith. But she is a woman! She loved you
and expected you that hour, I say. Thus comes the shock of finding you
untrue, of finding you at least a common man, after all. She is a woman.
'Tis the same fight, all the centuries, after all! Well, I did that."

"You ruined the lives of two, neither of whom had ever harmed you,
Madam."

"What is it to the tree which consumes another tree--the flower which
devours its neighbor? Was it not life?"

"You had never seen Elisabeth."

"Not until the next morning, no. Then I thought still on what you had
said. I envied her--I say, I coveted the happiness of you both. What had
the world ever given me? What had I done--what had I been--what could I
ever be? Your messenger came back with the slipper. The note was in the
shoe untouched. Your messenger had not found it, either. See, I _did_
mean it for you alone. But now seine sudden thought came to me. I tucked
it back and sent your drunken friend away with it for her--where I knew
it would be found! I did not know what would be the result. I was only
desperate over what life had done to me. I wanted to get _out_--out into
a wider and brighter world."

"Ah, Madam, and was so mean a key as this to open that world for you?
Now we all three wander, outside that world."

"No, it opened no new world for me," she said. "I was not meant for
that. But at least, I only acted as I have been treated all my life. I
knew no better then."

"I had not thought any one capable of that," said I.

"Ah, but I repented on the instant! I repented before night came. In the
twilight I got upon my knees and prayed that all my plan might go
wrong--if I could call it plan. 'Now,' I said, as the hour approached,
'they are before the priest; they stand there--she in white, perhaps; he
tall and grave. Their hands are clasped each in that of the other. They
are saying those tremendous words which may perhaps mean so much.' Thus
I ran on to myself. I say I followed you through the hour of that
ceremony. I swore with her vows, I pledged with her pledge, promised
with her promise. Yes, yes--yes, though I prayed that, after all, I
might lose, that I might pay back; that I might some time have
opportunity to atone for my own wickedness! Ah! I was only a woman. The
strongest of women are weak sometimes.

"Well, then, my friend, I have paid. I thank God that I failed then to
make another wretched as myself. It was only I who again was wretched.
Ah! is there no little pity in your heart for me, after all?--who
succeeded only to fail so miserably?"

But again I could only turn away to ponder.

"See," she went on; "for myself, this is irremediable, but it is not so
for you, nor for her. It is not too ill to be made right again. There in
Montreal, I thought that I had failed in my plan, that you indeed were
married. You held yourself well in hand; like a man, Monsieur. But as to
that, you _were_ married, for your love for her remained; your pledge
held. And did not I, repenting, marry you to her--did not I, on my
knees, marry you to her that night? Oh, do not blame me too much!"

"She should not have doubted," said I. "I shall not go back and ask her
again. The weakest of men are strong sometimes!"

"Ah, now you are but a man! Being such, you can not understand how
terribly much the faith of man means for a woman. It was her _need_ for
you that spoke, not her _doubt_ of you. Forgive her. She was not to
blame. Blame me! Do what you like to punish me! Now, I shall make
amends. Tell me what I best may do. Shall I go to her, shall I tell
her?"

"Not as my messenger. Not for me."

"No? Well, then, for myself? That is my right. I shall tell her how
priestly faithful a man you were."

I walked to her, took her arms in my hands and raised her to my level,
looking into her eyes.

"Madam," I said, "God knows, I am no priest. I deserve no credit. It was
chance that cast Elisabeth and me together before ever I saw you. I told
you one fire was lit in my heart and had left room for no other. I meet
youth and life with all that there is in youth and life. I am no priest,
and ask you not to confess with me. We both should confess to our own
souls."

"It is as I said," she went on; "you were married!"

"Well, then, call it so--married after my fashion of marriage; the
fashion of which I told you, of a cabin and a bed of husks. As to what
you have said, I forget it, I have not heard it. Your sort could have no
heart beat for one like me. 'Tis men like myself are slaves to women
such as you. You could never have cared for me, and never did. What you
loved, Madam, was only what you had _lost_, was only what you saw in
this country--was only what this country means! Your past life, of
course, I do not know."

"Sometime," she murmured, "I will tell you."

"Whatever it was, Madam, you have been a brilliant woman, a power in
affairs. Yes, and an enigma, and to none more than to yourself. You show
that now. You only loved what Elisabeth loved. As woman, then, you were
born for the first time, touched by that throb of her heart, not your
own. `Twas mere accident I was there to feel that throb, as sweet as it
was innocent. You were not woman yet, you were but a child. You had not
then chosen. You have yet to choose. It was Love that you loved!
Perhaps, after all, it was America you loved. You began to see, as you
say, a wider and a sweeter world than you had known."

She nodded now, endeavoring to smile.

"_Gentilhomme!_" I heard her murmur.

"So then I go on, Madam, and say we are the same. I am the agent of one
idea, you of another. I ask you once more to choose. I know how you will
choose."

She went on, musing to herself. "Yes, there is a gulf between male and
female, after all. As though what he said could be true! Listen!" She
spoke up more sharply. "If results came as you liked, what difference
would the motives make?"

"How do you mean?"

"Only this, Monsieur, that I am not so lofty as you think. I might do
something. If so, 'twould need to be through some motive wholly
sufficient to _myself_."

"Search, then, your own conscience."

"I have one, after all! It might say something to me, yes."

"Once you said to me that the noblest thing in life was to pass on the
torch of a great principle."

"I lied! I lied!" she cried, beating her hands together. "I am a woman!
Look at me!"

She threw back her shoulders, standing straight and fearless. God wot,
she was a woman. Curves and flame! Yes, she was a woman. White flesh and
slumbering hair! Yes, she was a woman. Round flesh and the red-flecked
purple scent arising! Yes, she was a woman. Torture of joy to hold in a
man's arms! Yes, she was a woman!

"How, then, could I believe"--she laid a hand upon her bosom--"how,
then, could I believe that principle was more than life? It is for you,
a _man_, to believe that. Yet even you will not. You leave it to me, and
I answer that I will not! What I did I did, and I bargain with none over
that now. I pay my wagers. I make my own reasons, too. If I do anything
for the sake of this country, it will not be through altruism, not
through love of principle! 'Twill be because I am a woman. Yes, once I
was a girl. Once I was born. Once, even, I had a mother, and was
loved!"

I could make no answer; but presently she changed again, swift as the
sky when some cloud is swept away in a strong gust of wind.

"Come," she said, "I will bargain with you, after all!"

"Any bargain you like, Madam."

"And I will keep my bargain. You know that I will."

"Yes, I know that."

"Very well, then. I am going back to Washington."

"How do you mean?"

"By land, across the country; the way you came."

"You do not know what you say, Madam. The journey you suggest is
incredible, impossible."

"That matters nothing. I am going. And I am going alone--No, you can not
come with me. Do you think I would risk more than I have risked? I go
alone. I am England's spy; yes, that is true. I am to report to England;
yes, that is true. Therefore, the more I see, the more I shall have to
report. Besides, I have something else to do."

"But would Mr. Pakenham listen to your report, after all?"

Now she hesitated for a moment. "I can induce him to listen," she said.
"That is part of my errand. First, before I see Mr. Pakenham I am going
to see Miss Elisabeth Churchill. I shall report also to her. Then I
shall have done my duty. Is it not so?"

"You could do no more," said I. "But what bargain--"

"Listen. If she uses me ill and will not believe either you or me--then,
being a woman, I shall hate her; and in that case I shall go to Sir
Richard for my own revenge. I shall tell him to bring on this war. In
that case, Oregon will be lost to you, or at least bought dear by blood
and treasure."

"We can attend to that, Madam," said I grimly, and I smiled at her,
although a sudden fear caught at my heart. I knew what damage she was in
position to accomplish if she liked. My heart stood still. I felt the
faint sweat again on my forehead.

"If I do not find her worthy of you, then she can not have you," went on
Helena von Ritz.

"But Madam, you forget one thing. She _is_ worthy of me, or of any other
man!"

"I shall be judge of that. If she is what you think, you shall have
her--and Oregon!"

"But as to myself, Madam? The bargain?"

"I arrive, Monsieur! If she fails you, then I ask only time. I have said
to you I am a woman!"

"Madam," I said to her once more, "who are you and what are you?"

In answer, she looked me once more straight in the face. "Some day,
back there, after I have made my journey, I shall tell you."

"Tell me now."

"I shall tell you nothing. I am not a little girl. There is a bargain
which I offer, and the only one I shall offer. It is a gamble. I have
gambled all my life. If you will not accord me so remote a chance as
this, why, then, I shall take it in any case."

"I begin to see, Madam," said I, "how large these stakes may run."

"In case I lose, be sure at least I shall pay. I shall make my
atonement," she said.

"I doubt not that, Madam, with all your heart and mind and soul."

"And _body_!" she whispered. The old horror came again upon her face.
She shuddered, I did not know why. She stood now as one in devotions for
a time, and I would no more have spoken than had she been at her
prayers, as, indeed, I think she was. At last she made some faint
movement of her hands. I do not know whether it was the sign of the
cross.

She rose now, tail, white-clad, shimmering, a vision of beauty such as
that part of the world certainly could not then offer. Her hair was
loosened now in its masses and drooped more widely over her temples,
above her brow. Her eyes were very large and dark, and I saw the faint
blue shadows coming again beneath them. Her hands were clasped, her
chin raised just a trifle, and her gaze was rapt as that of some longing
soul. I could not guess of these things, being but a man, and, I fear,
clumsy alike of body and wit.

[Illustration: "I want--" said she. "I wish--I wish--" Page 287]

"There is one thing, Madam, which we have omitted," said I at last.
"What are _my_ stakes? How may I pay?"

She swayed a little on her feet, as though she were weak. "I want," said
she, "I wish--I wish--"

The old childlike look of pathos came again. I have never seen so sad a
face. She was a lady, white and delicately clad; I, a rude frontiersman
in camp-grimed leather. But I stepped to her now and took her in my arms
and held her close, and pushed back the damp waves of her hair. And
because a man's tears were in my eyes, I have no doubt of absolution
when I say I had been a cad and a coward had I not kissed her own tears
away. I no longer made pretense of ignorance, but ah! how I wished that
I were ignorant of what it was not my right to know....

I led her to the edge of the little bed of husks and found her kerchief.
Ah, she was of breeding and courage! Presently, her voice rose steady
and clear as ever. "Threlka!" she called. "Please!"

When Threlka came, she looked closely at her lady's face, and what she
read seemed, after all, to content her.

"Threlka," said my lady in French, "I want the little one."

I turned to her with query in my eyes.

"_Tiens!_" she said. "Wait. I have a little surprise."

"You have nothing at any time save surprises, Madam."

"Two things I have," said she, sighing: "a little dog from China, Chow
by name. He sleeps now, and I must not disturb him, else I would show
you how lovely a dog is Chow. Also here I have found a little Indian
child running about the post. Doctor McLaughlin was rejoiced when I
adopted her."

"Well, then, Madam, what next!"

--"Yes, with the promise to him that I would care for that little child.
I want something for my own. See now. Come, Natoka!"

The old servant paused at the door. There slid across the floor with the
silent feet of the savage the tiny figure of a little child, perhaps
four years of age, with coal-black hair and beady eyes, clad in all the
bequilled finery that a trading-post could furnish--a little orphan
child, as I learned later, whose parents had both been lost in a canoe
accident at the Dalles. She was an infant, wild, untrained, unloved,
unable to speak a word of the language that she heard. She stood now
hesitating, but that was only by reason of her sight of me. As I stepped
aside, the little one walked steadily but with quickening steps to my
satin-clad lady on her couch of husks. She took up the child in her
arms.... Now, there must be some speech between woman and child. I do
not know, except that the Baroness von Ritz spoke and that the child put
out a hand to her cheek. Then, as I stood awkward as a clown myself and
not knowing what to do, I saw tears rain again from the eyes of Helena
von Ritz, so that I turned away, even as I saw her cheek laid to that of
the child while she clasped it tight.

"Monsieur!" I heard her say at last.

I did not answer. I was learning a bit of life myself this night. I was
years older than when I had come through that door.

"Monsieur!" I heard her call yet again.

"_Eh bien_, Madam?" I replied, lightly as I could, and so turned, giving
her all possible time. I saw her holding the Indian child out in front
of her in her strong young arms, lightly as though the weight were
nothing.

"See, then," she said; "here is my companion across the mountains."

Again I began to expostulate, but now she tapped her foot impatiently in
her old way. "You have heard me say it. Very well. Follow if you like.
Listen also if you like. In a day or so, Doctor McLaughlin plans a party
for us all far up the Columbia to the missions at Wailatpu. That is in
the valley of the Walla Walla, they tell me, just at this edge of the
Blue Mountains, where the wagon trains come down into this part of
Oregon."

"They may not see the wagon trains so soon," I ventured. "They would
scarcely arrive before October, and now it is but summer."

"At least, these British officers would see a part of this country, do
you not comprehend? We start within three days at least. I wish only to
say that perhaps--"

"Ah, I will be there surely, Madam!"

"If you come independently. I have heard, however, that one of the
missionary women wishes to go back to the States. I have thought that
perhaps it might be better did we go together. Also Natoka. Also Chow."

"Does Doctor McLaughlin know of your plans?"

"I am not under his orders, Monsieur. I only thought that, since you
were used to this western travel, you could, perhaps, be of aid in
getting me proper guides and vehicles. I should rely upon your judgment
very much, Monsieur."

"You are asking me to aid you in your own folly," said I discontentedly,
"but I will be there; and be sure also you can not prevent me from
following--if you persist in this absolute folly. A woman--to cross the
Rockies!"

I rose now, and she was gracious enough to follow me part way toward the
door. We hesitated there, awkwardly enough. But once more our hands met
in some sort of fellowship.

"Forget!" I heard her whisper. And I could think of no reply better than
that same word.

I turned as the door swung for me to pass out into the night. I saw her
outlined against the lights within, tall and white, in her arms the
Indian child, whose cheek was pressed to her own. I do not concern
myself with what others may say of conduct or of constancy. To me it
seemed that, had I not made my homage, my reverence, to one after all so
brave as she, I would not be worthy the cover of that flag which to-day
floats both on the Columbia and the Rio Grande.




CHAPTER XXVIII

WHEN A WOMAN WOULD

     The two pleasantest days of a woman are her marriage day and the
     day of her funeral.--_Hipponax_.


My garden at the Willamette might languish if it liked, and my little
cabin might stand in uncut wheat. For me, there were other matters of
more importance now. I took leave of hospitable Doctor McLaughlin at
Fort Vancouver with proper expressions of the obligation due for his
hospitality; but I said nothing to him, of course, of having met the
mysterious baroness, nor did I mention definitely that I intended to
meet them both again at no distant date. None the less, I prepared to
set out at once up the Columbia River trail.

From Fort Vancouver to the missions at Wailatpu was a distance by trail
of more than two hundred miles. This I covered horseback, rapidly, and
arrived two or three days in advance of the English. Nothing disturbed
the quiet until, before noon of one day, we heard the gun fire and the
shoutings which in that country customarily made announcement of the
arrival of a party of travelers. Being on the lookout for these, I soon
discovered them to be my late friends of the Hudson Bay Post.

One old brown woman, unhappily astride a native pony, I took to be
Threlka, my lady's servant, but she rode with her class, at the rear. I
looked again, until I found the baroness, clad in buckskins and blue
cloth, brave as any in finery of the frontier. Doctor McLaughlin saw fit
to present us formally, or rather carelessly, it not seeming to him that
two so different would meet often in the future; and of course there
being no dream even in his shrewd mind that we had ever met in the past.
This supposition fitted our plans, even though it kept us apart. I was
but a common emigrant farmer, camping like my kind. She, being of
distinction, dwelt with the Hudson Bay party in the mission buildings.

We lived on here for a week, visiting back and forth in amity, as I must
say. I grew to like well enough those blunt young fellows of the Navy.
With young Lieutenant Peel especially I struck up something of a
friendship. If he remained hopelessly British, at least I presume I
remained quite as hopelessly American; so that we came to set aside the
topic of conversation on which we could not agree.

"There is something about which you don't know," he said to me, one
evening. "I am wholly unacquainted with the interior of your country.
What would you say, for instance, regarding its safety for a lady
traveling across--a small party, you know, of her own? I presume of
course you know whom I mean?"

I nodded. "You must mean the Baroness von Ritz."

"Yes. She has been traveling abroad. Of course we took such care of her
on shipboard as we could, although a lady has no place on board a
warship. She had with her complete furnishings for a suite of
apartments, and these were delivered ashore at Fort Vancouver. Doctor
McLaughlin gave her quarters. Of course you do not know anything of
this?"

I allowed him to proceed.

"Well, she has told us calmly that she plans crossing this country from
here to the Eastern States!"

"That could not possibly be!" I declared.

"Quite so. The old trappers tell me that the mountains are impassable
even in the fall. They say that unless she met some west-bound train and
came back with it, the chance would be that she would never be heard of
again."

"You have personal interest in this?" I interrupted.

He nodded, flushing a little. "Awfully so," said he.

"I would have the right to guess you were hit pretty hard?"

"To the extent of asking her to become my wife!" said he firmly,
although his fair face flushed again.

"You do not in the least know her," he went on. "In my case, I have done
my turn at living, and have seen my share of women, but never her like
in any part of the world! So when she proposed to make this absurd
journey, I offered to go with her. It meant of course my desertion from
the Navy, and so I told her. She would not listen to it. She gives me no
footing which leaves it possible for me to accompany her or to follow
her. Frankly, I do not know what to do."

"It seems to me, Lieutenant Peel," I ventured, "that the most sensible
thing in the world for us to do is to get together an expedition to
follow her."

He caught me by the hand. "You do not tell me _you_ would do that?"

"It seems a duty."

"But could you yourself get through?"

"As to that, no one can tell. I did so coming west."

He sat silent for a time. "It will be the last I shall ever see of her
in any case," said he, at length. "We don't know how long it will be
before we leave the mouth of the Columbia, and then I could not count
on finding her. You do not think me a fool for telling you what I have?"

"No," said I. "I do not blame you for being a fool. All men who are men
are fools over women, one time or other."

"Good luck to you, then! Now, what shall we do?"

"In the first place," said I, "if she insists upon going, let us give
her every possible chance for success."

"It looks an awfully slender chance," he sighed. "You will follow as
close on their heels as you can?"

"Of that you may rest assured."

"What is the distance, do you think?"

"Two thousand miles at least, before she could be safe. She could not
hope to cover more than twenty-five miles a day, many days not so much
as that. To be sure, there might be such a thing as her meeting wagons
coming out; and, as you say, she might return."

"You do not know her!" said he. "She will not turn back."

I had full reason to agree with him.




CHAPTER XXIX

IN EXCHANGE

     Great women belong to history and to self-sacrifice.
                                         --_Leigh Hunt_.


For sufficient reasons of my own, which have been explained, I did not
care to mingle more than was necessary with the party of the Hudson Bay
folk who made their quarters with the missionary families. I kept close
to my own camp when not busy with my inquiries in the neighborhood,
where I now began to see what could be done in the preparation of a
proper outfit for the baroness. Herself I did not see for the next two
days; but one evening I met her on the narrow log gallery of one of the
mission houses. Without much speech we sat and looked over the pleasant
prospect of the wide flats, the fringe of willow trees, the loom of the
mountains off toward the east.

"Continually you surprise me, Madam," I began, at last. "Can we not
persuade you to abandon this foolish plan of your going east?"

"I see no reason for abandoning it," said she. "There are some thousands
of your people, men, women and children, who have crossed that trail.
Why should not I?"

"But they come in large parties; they come well prepared. Each helps his
neighbor."

"The distance is the same, and the method is the same."

I ceased to argue, seeing that she would not be persuaded. "At least,
Madam," said I, "I have done what little I could in securing you a
party. You are to have eight mules, two carts, six horses, and two men,
beside old Joe Meek, the best guide now in Oregon. He would not go to
save his life. He goes to save yours."

"You are always efficient," said she. "But why is it that we always have
some unpleasant argument? Come, let us have tea!"

"Many teas together, Madam, if you would listen to me. Many a pot brewed
deep and black by scores of camp-fires."

"Fie! Monsieur proposes a scandal."

"No, Monsieur proposes only a journey to Washington--with you, or close
after you."

"Of course I can not prevent your following," she said.

"Leave it so. But as to pledges--at least I want to keep my little
slipper. Is Madam's wardrobe with her? Could she humor a peevish friend
so much as that? Come, now, I will make fair exchange. I will trade you
again my blanket clasp for that one little shoe!"

I felt in the pocket of my coat, and held out in my hand the remnants of
the same little Indian ornament which had figured between us the first
night we had met. She grasped at it eagerly, turning it over in her
hand.

"But see," she said, "one of the clasps is gone."

"Yes, I parted with it. But come, do I have my little slipper?"

"Wait!" said she, and left me for a moment. Presently she returned,
laughing, with the little white satin foot covering in her hand.

"I warrant it is the only thing of the sort ever was seen in these
buildings," she went on. "Alas! I fear I must leave most of my
possessions here! I have already disposed of the furnishings of my
apartment to Mr. James Douglas at Fort Vancouver. I hear he is to
replace this good Doctor McLaughlin. Well, his half-breed wife will at
least have good setting up for her household. Tell me, now," she
concluded, "what became of the other shell from this clasp?"

"I gave it to an old man in Montreal," I answered. I went on to show her
the nature of the device, as it had been explained to me by old Doctor
von Rittenhofen.

"How curious!" she mused, as it became more plain to her. "Life, love,
eternity! The beginning and the end of all this turmoil about passing on
the torch of life. It is old, old, is it not? Tell me, who was the wise
man who described all this to you?"

"Not a stranger to this very country, I imagine," was my answer. "He
spent some years here in Oregon with the missionaries, engaged, as he
informed me, in classifying the butterflies of this new region. A German
scientist, I think, and seemingly a man of breeding."

"If I were left to guess," she broke out suddenly, "I would say it must
have been this same old man who told you about the plans of the Canadian
land expedition to this country."

"Continually, Madam, we find much in common. At least we both know that
the Canadian expedition started west. Tell me, when will it arrive on
the Columbia?"

"It will never arrive. It will never cross the Rockies. Word has gone up
the Columbia now that for these men to appear in this country would
bring on immediate war. That does not suit the book of England more than
it does that of America."

"Then the matter will wait until you see Mr. Pakenham?"

She nodded. "I suppose so."

"You will find facts enough. Should you persist in your mad journey and
get far enough to the east, you will see two thousand, three thousand
men coming out to Oregon this fall. It is but the beginning. But you and
I, sitting here, three thousand miles and more away from Washington, can
determine this question. Madam, perhaps yet you may win your right to
some humble home, with a couch of husks or straw. Sleep, then, by our
camp-fires across America, and let our skies cover you at night. Our men
will watch over you faithfully. Be our guest--our friend!"

"You are a good special pleader," said she; "but you do not shake me in
my purpose, and I hold to my terms. It does not rest with you and me,
but with another. As I have told you--as we have both agreed--"

"Then let us not speak her name," said I.

Again her eyes looked into mine, straight, large and dark. Again the
spell of her beauty rose all around me, enveloped me as I had felt it do
before. "You can not have Oregon, except through me," she said at last.
"You can not have--her--except through me!"

"It is the truth," I answered. "In God's name, then, play the game
fair."




CHAPTER XXX

COUNTER CURRENTS

     Woman is like the reed that bends to every breeze, but breaks not
     in the tempest.--_Bishop Richard Whately_.


The Oregon immigration for 1845 numbered, according to some accounts,
not less than three thousand souls. Our people still rolled westward in
a mighty wave. The history of that great west-bound movement is well
known. The story of a yet more decisive journey of that same year never
has been written--that of Helena von Ritz, from Oregon to the east. The
price of that journey was an empire; its cost--ah, let me not yet speak
of that.

Although Meek and I agreed that he should push east at the best possible
speed, it was well enough understood that I should give him no more than
a day or so start. I did not purpose to allow so risky a journey as this
to be undertaken by any woman in so small a party, and made no doubt
that I would overtake them at least at Fort Hall, perhaps five hundred
miles east of the Missions, or at farthest at Fort Bridger, some seven
hundred miles from the starting point in Oregon.

The young wife of one of the missionaries was glad enough to take
passage thus for the East; and there was the silent Threlka. Those two
could offer company, even did not the little Indian maid, adopted by the
baroness, serve to interest her. Their equipment and supplies were as
good as any purchasable. What could be done, we now had done.

Yet after all Helena von Ritz had her own way. I did not see her again
after we parted that evening at the Mission. I was absent for a couple
of days with a hunting party, and on my return discovered that she was
gone, with no more than brief farewell to those left behind! Meek was
anxious as herself to be off; but he left word for me to follow on at
once.

Gloom now fell upon us all. Doctor Whitman, the only white man ever to
make the east-bound journey from Oregon, encouraged us as best he could;
but young Lieutenant Peel was the picture of despair, nor did he indeed
fail in the prophecy he made to me; for never again did he set eyes on
the face of Helena von Ritz, and never again did I meet him. I heard,
years later, that he died of fever on the China coast.

It may be supposed that I myself now hurried in my plans. I was able to
make up a small party of four men, about half the number Meek took with
him; and I threw together such equipment as I could find remaining, not
wholly to my liking, but good enough, I fancied, to overtake a party
headed by a woman. But one thing after another cost us time, and we did
not average twenty miles a day. I felt half desperate, as I reflected on
what this might mean. As early fall was approaching, I could expect, in
view of my own lost time, to encounter the annual wagon train two or
three hundred miles farther westward than the object of my pursuit
naturally would have done. As a matter of fact, my party met the wagons
at a point well to the west of Fort Hall.

It was early in the morning we met them coming west,--that long, weary,
dust-covered, creeping caravan, a mile long, slow serpent, crawling
westward across the desert. In time I came up to the head of the
tremendous wagon train of 1845, and its leader and myself threw up our
hands in the salutation of the wilderness.

The leader's command to halt was passed back from one wagon to another,
over more than a mile of trail. As we dismounted, there came hurrying up
about us men and women, sunburned, lean, ragged, abandoning their wagons
and crowding to hear the news from Oregon. I recall the picture well
enough to-day--the sun-blistered sands all about, the short and
scraggly sage-brush, the long line of white-topped wagons dwindling in
the distance, the thin-faced figures which crowded about.

The captain stood at the head of the front team, his hand resting on the
yoke as he leaned against the bowed neck of one of the oxen. The men and
women were thin almost as the beasts which dragged the wagons. These
latter stood with lolling tongues even thus early in the day, for water
hereabout was scarce and bitter to the taste. So, at first almost in
silence, we made the salutations of the desert. So, presently, we
exchanged the news of East and West. So, I saw again my canvas of the
fierce west-bound.

There is to-day no news of the quality which we then communicated. These
knew nothing of Oregon. I knew nothing of the East. A national election
had been held, regarding which I knew not even the names of the
candidates of either party, not to mention the results. All I could do
was to guess and to point to the inscription on the white top of the
foremost wagon: "_Fifty-four Forty or Fight!_"

"Is Polk elected?" I asked the captain of the train.

He nodded. "He shore is," said he. "We're comin' out to take Oregon.
What's the news?"

My own grim news was that Oregon was ours and must be ours. I shook
hands with a hundred men on that, our hands clasped in stern and silent
grip. Then, after a time, I urged other questions foremost in my own
mind. Had they seen a small party east-bound?

Yes, I had answer. They had passed this light outfit east of Bridger's
post. There was one chance in a hundred they might get over the South
Pass that fall, for they were traveling light and fast, with good
animals, and old Joe Meek was sure he would make it through. The women?
Well, one was a preacher's wife, another an old Gipsy, and another the
most beautiful woman ever seen on the trail or anywhere else. Why was
she going east instead of west, away from Oregon instead of to Oregon?
Did I know any of them? I was following them? Then I must hurry, for
soon the snow would come in the Rockies. They had seen no Indians. Well,
if I was following them, there would be a race, and they wished me well!
But why go East, instead of West?

Then they began to question me regarding Oregon. How was the land? Would
it raise wheat and corn and hogs? How was the weather? Was there much
game? Would it take much labor to clear a farm? Was there any likelihood
of trouble with the Indians or with the Britishers? Could a man really
get a mile square of good farm land without trouble? And so on, and so
on, as we sat in the blinding sun in the sage-brush desert until midday.

Of course it came to politics. Yes, Texas had been annexed, somehow,
not by regular vote of the Senate. There was some hitch about that. My
leader reckoned there was no regular treaty. It had just been done by
joint resolution of the House--done by Tyler and Calhoun, just in time
to take the feather out of old Polk's cap! The treaty of
annexation--why, yes, it was ratified by Congress, and everything signed
up March third, just one day before Polk's inaugural! Polk was on the
warpath, according to my gaunt leader. There was going to be war as sure
as shooting, unless we got all of Oregon. We had offered Great Britain a
fair show, and in return she had claimed everything south to the
Columbia, so now we had withdrawn all soft talk. It looked like war with
Mexico and England both. Never mind, in that case we would whip them
both!

"Do you see that writin' on my wagon top?" asked the captain.
"_Fifty-four Forty or Fight._ That's us!"

And so they went on to tell us how this cry was spreading, South and
West, and over the North as well; although the Whigs did not dare cry it
quite so loudly.

"They want the _land_, just the same," said the captain. "We _all_ want
it, an', by God! we're goin' to git it!"

And so at last we parted, each the better for the information gained,
each to resume what would to-day seem practically an endless journey.
Our farewells were as careless, as confident, as had been our greetings.
Thousands of miles of unsettled country lay east and west of us, and all
around us, our empire, not then won.

History tells how that wagon train went through, and how its settlers
scattered all along the Willamette and the Columbia and the Walla Walla,
and helped us to hold Oregon. For myself, the chapter of accidents
continued. I was detained at Fort Hall, and again east of there. I met
straggling immigrants coming on across the South Pass to winter at
Bridger's post; but finally I lost all word of Meek's party, and could
only suppose that they had got over the mountains.

I made the journey across the South Pass, the snow being now beaten down
on the trails more than usual by the west-bound animals and vehicles. Of
all these now coming on, none would get farther west than Fort Hall that
year. Our own party, although over the Rockies, had yet the Plains to
cross. I was glad enough when we staggered into old Fort Laramie in the
midst of a blinding snow-storm. Winter had caught us fair and full. I
had lost the race!

Here, then, I must winter. Yet I learned that Joe Meek had outfitted at
Laramie almost a month earlier, with new animals; had bought a little
grain, and, under escort of a cavalry troop which had come west with the
wagon train, had started east in time, perhaps, to make it through to
the Missouri. In a race of one thousand miles, the baroness had already
beaten me almost by a month! Further word was, of course, now
unobtainable, for no trains or wagons would come west so late, and there
were then no stages carrying mail across the great Plains. There was
nothing for me to do except to wait and eat out my heart at old Fort
Laramie, in the society of Indians and trappers, half-breeds and
traders. The winter seemed years in length, so gladly I make its story
brief.

It was now the spring of 1846, and I was in my second year away from
Washington. Glad enough I was when in the first sunshine of spring I
started east, taking my chances of getting over the Plains. At last, to
make the long journey also brief, I did reach Fort Leavenworth, by this
time a five months' loser in the transcontinental race. It was a new
annual wagon train which I now met rolling westward. Such were times and
travel not so long ago.

Little enough had come of my two years' journey out to Oregon. Like to
the army of the French king, I had marched up the hill and then marched
down again. As much might have been said of the United States; and the
same was yet more true of Great Britain, whose army of occupation had
not even marched wholly up the hill. So much as this latter fact I now
could tell my own government; and I could say that while Great Britain's
fleet held the sea entry, the vast and splendid interior of an unknown
realm was open on the east to our marching armies of settlers. Now I
could describe that realm, even though the plot of events advanced but
slowly regarding it. It was a plot of the stars, whose work is done in
no haste.

Oregon still was held in that oft renewed and wholly absurd joint
occupancy, so odious and so dangerous to both nations. Two years were
taken from my life in learning that--and in learning that this question
of Oregon's final ownership was to be decided not on the Pacific, not on
the shoulders of the Blues or the Cascades, but in the east, there at
Washington, after all. The actual issue was in the hands of the God of
Battles, who sometimes uses strange instruments for His ends. It was not
I, it was not Mr. Calhoun, not any of the officers of our government,
who could get Oregon for us. It was the God of Battles, whose instrument
was a woman, Helena von Ritz. After all, this was the chief fruit of my
long journey.

As to the baroness, she had long since left Fort Leavenworth for the
East. I followed still with what speed I could employ. I could not reach
Washington now until long after the first buds would be out and the
creepers growing green on the gallery of Mr. Calhoun's residence. Yes,
green also on all the lattices of Elmhurst Mansion. What had happened
there for me?




CHAPTER XXXI

THE PAYMENT

     What man seeks in love is woman; what woman seeks in man is
     love.--_Houssaye_.


When I reached Washington it was indeed spring, warm, sweet spring. In
the wide avenues the straggling trees were doing their best to dignify
the city, and flowers were blooming everywhere. Wonderful enough did all
this seem to me after thousands of miles of rude scenery of bare valleys
and rocky hills, wild landscapes, seen often through cold and blinding
storms amid peaks and gorges, or on the drear, forbidding Plains.

Used more, of late, to these wilder scenes, I felt awkward and still
half savage. I did not at once seek out my own friends. My first wish
was to get in touch with Mr. Calhoun, for I knew that so I would most
quickly arrive at the heart of events.

He was away when I called at his residence on Georgetown Heights, but at
last I heard the wheels of his old omnibus, and presently he entered
with his usual companion, Doctor Samuel Ward. When they saw me there,
then indeed I received a greeting which repaid me for many things! This
over, we all three broke out in laughter at my uncouth appearance. I was
clad still in such clothing as I could pick up in western towns as I
hurried on from the Missouri eastward; and I had as yet found no time
for barbers.

"We have had no word from you, Nicholas," said Mr. Calhoun presently,
"since that from Laramie, in the fall of eighteen forty-four. This is in
the spring of eighteen forty-six! Meantime, we might all have been dead
and buried and none of us the wiser. What a country! 'Tis more enormous
than the mind of any of us can grasp."

"You should travel across it to learn that," I grinned.

"Many things have happened since you left. You know that I am back in
the Senate once more?"

I nodded. "And about Texas?" I began.

"Texas is ours," said he, smiling grimly. "You have heard how? It was a
hard fight enough--a bitter, selfish, sectional fight among politicians.
But there is going to be war. Our troops crossed the Sabine more than a
year ago. They will cross the Rio Grande before this year is done. The
Mexican minister has asked for his passports. The administration has
ordered General Taylor to advance. Mr. Polk is carrying out annexation
with a vengeance. Seeing a chance for more territory, now that Texas is
safe from England, he plans war on helpless and deserted Mexico! We may
hear of a battle now at any time. But this war with Mexico may yet mean
war with England. That, of course, endangers our chance to gain all or
any of that great Oregon country. Tell me, what have you learned?"

I hurried on now with my own news, briefly as I might. I told them of
the ships of England's Navy waiting in Oregon waters; of the growing
suspicion of the Hudson Bay people; of the changes in the management at
Fort Vancouver; of the change also from a conciliatory policy to one of
half hostility. I told them of our wagon trains going west, and of the
strength of our frontiersmen; but offset this, justly as I might, by
giving facts also regarding the opposition these might meet.

"Precisely," said Calhoun, walking up and down, his head bent. "England
is prepared for war! How much are we prepared? It would cost us the
revenues of a quarter of a century to go to war with her to-day. It
would cost us fifty thousand lives. We would need an army of two hundred
and fifty thousand men. Where is all that to come from? Can we transport
our army there in time? But had all this bluster ceased, then we could
have deferred this war with Mexico; could have bought with coin what now
will cost us blood; and we could also have bought Oregon without the
cost of either coin or blood. _Delay_ was what we needed! _All_ of
Oregon should have been ours!"

"But, surely, this is not all news to you?" I began. "Have you not seen
the Baroness von Ritz? Has she not made her report?"

"The baroness?" queried Calhoun. "That stormy petrel--that advance agent
of events! Did she indeed sail with the British ships from Montreal?
_Did_ you find her there--in Oregon?"

"Yes, and lost her there! She started east last summer, and beat me
fairly in the race. Has she not made known her presence here? She told
me she was going to Washington."

He shook his head in surprise. "Trouble now, I fear! Pakenham has back
his best ally, our worst antagonist."

"That certainly is strange," said I. "She had five months the start of
me, and in that time there is no telling what she has done or undone.
Surely, she is somewhere here, in Washington! She held Texas in her
shoes. I tell you she holds Oregon in her gloves to-day!"

I started up, my story half untold.

"Where are you going?" asked Mr. Calhoun of me. Doctor Ward looked at
me, smiling. "He does not inquire of a certain young lady--"

"I am going to find the Baroness von Ritz!" said I. I flushed red under
my tan, I doubt not; but I would not ask a word regarding Elisabeth.

Doctor Ward came and laid a hand on my shoulder. "Republics forget,"
said he, "but men from South Carolina do not. Neither do girls from
Maryland. Do you think so?"

"That is what I am going to find out."

"How then? Are you going to Elmhurst as you look now?"

"No. I shall find out many things by first finding the Baroness von
Ritz." And before they could make further protests, I was out and away.

I hurried now to a certain side street, of which I have made mention,
and knocked confidently at a door I knew. The neighborhood was asleep in
the warm sun. I knocked a second time, and began to doubt, but at last
heard slow footsteps.

There appeared at the crack of the door the wrinkled visage of the old
serving-woman, Threlka. I knew that she would be there in precisely this
way, because there was every reason in the world why it should not have
been. She paused, scanning me closely, then quickly opened the door and
allowed me to step inside, vanishing as was her wont. I heard another
step in a half-hidden hallway beyond, but this was not the step which I
awaited; it was that of a man, slow, feeble, hesitating. I started
forward as a face appeared at the parted curtains. A glad cry welcomed
me in turn. A tall, bent form approached me, and an arm was thrown about
my shoulder. It was my whilom friend, our ancient scientist, Von
Rittenhofen! I did not pause to ask how he happened to be there. It was
quite natural, since it was wholly impossible. I made no wonder at the
Chinese dog Chow, or the little Indian maid, who both came, stared, and
silently vanished. Seeing these, I knew that their strange protector
must also have won through safe.

"_Ach, Gott! Gesegneter Gott!_ I see you again, my friend!" Thus the old
Doctor.

"But tell me," I interrupted, "where is the mistress of this house, the
Baroness von Ritz?"

He looked at me in his mild way. "You mean my daughter Helena?"

Now at last I smiled. His daughter! This at least was too incredible! He
turned and reached behind him to a little table. He held up before my
eyes my little blanket clasp of shell. Then I knew that this last and
most impossible thing also was true, and that in some way these two had
found each other! But _why_? What could he now mean?

"Listen now," he began, "and I shall tell you. I wass in the street one
day. When I walk alone, I do not much notice. But now, as I walk, before
my eyes on the street, I see what? This--this, the Tah Gook! At first, I
see nothing but it. Then I look up. Before me iss a woman, young and
beautiful. Ach! what should I do but take her in my arms!"

"It was she; it was--"

"My daughter! Yess, my daughter. It iss _Helena_! I haf not seen her for
many years, long, cruel years. I suppose her dead. But now there we
were, standing, looking in each other's eyes! We see there--Ach, Gott!
what do we not see? Yet in spite of all, it wass Helena But she shall
tell you." He tottered from the room.

I heard his footsteps pass down the hall. Then softly, almost silently,
Helena von Ritz again stood before me. The light from a side window fell
upon her face. Yes, it was she! Her face was thinner now, browner even
than was its wont. Her hair was still faintly sunburned at its
extremities by the western winds. Yet hers was still imperishable youth
and beauty.

I held out my hands to her. "Ah," I cried, "you played me false! You ran
away! By what miracle did you come through? I confess my defeat. You
beat me by almost half a year."

"But now you have come," said she simply.

"Yes, to remind you that you have friends. You have been here in secret
all the winter. Mr. Calhoun did not know you had come. Why did you not
go to him?"

"I was waiting for you to come. Do you not remember our bargain? Each
day I expected you. In some way, I scarce knew how, the weeks wore on."

"And now I find you both here--you and your father--where I would expect
to find neither. Continually you violate all law of likelihood. But now,
you have seen Elisabeth?"

"Yes, I have seen her," she said, still simply.

I could think of no word suited to that moment. I stood only looking at
her. She would have spoken, but on the instant raised a hand as though
to demand my silence. I heard a loud knock at the door, peremptory,
commanding, as though the owner came.

"You must go into another room," said Helena von Ritz to me hurriedly.

"Who is it? Who is it at the door?" I asked.

She looked at me calmly. "It is Sir Richard Pakenham," said she. "This
is his usual hour. I will send him away. Go now--quick!"

I rapidly passed behind the screening curtains into the hall, even as I
heard a heavy foot stumbling at the threshold and a somewhat husky voice
offer some sort of salutation.




CHAPTER XXXII

PAKENHAM'S PRICE

     The happiest women, like nations, have no history.
                                    --_George Eliot_.


The apartment into which I hurriedly stepped I found to be a long and
narrow hall, heavily draped. A door or so made off on the right-hand
side, and a closed door also appeared at the farther end; but none
invited me to enter, and I did not care to intrude. This situation did
not please me, because I must perforce hear all that went on in the
rooms which I had just left. I heard the thick voice of a man,
apparently none the better for wine.

"My dear," it began, "I--" Some gesture must have warned him.

"God bless my soul!" he began again. "Who is here, then? What is wrong?"

"My father is here to-day," I heard her clear voice answer, "and, as you
suggest, it might perhaps be better--"

"God bless my soul!" he repeated. "But, my dear, then I must go!
_To-night_, then! Where is that other key? It would never do, you
know--"

"No, Sir Richard, it would never do. Go, then!" spoke a low and icy
voice, hers, yet not hers. "Hasten!" I heard her half whisper. "I think
perhaps my father--"

But it was my own footsteps they heard. This was something to which I
could not be party. Yet, rapidly as I walked, her visitor was before me.
I caught sight only of his portly back, as the street door closed behind
him. She stood, her back against the door, her hand spread out against
the wall, as though to keep me from passing.

I paused and looked at her, held by the horror in her eyes. She made no
concealment, offered no apologies, and showed no shame. I repeat that it
was only horror and sadness mingled which I saw upon her face.

"Madam," I began. And again, "Madam!" and then I turned away.

"You see," she said, sighing.

"Yes, I fear I see; but I wish I did not. Can I not--may I not be
mistaken?"

"No, it is true. There is no mistake."

"What have you done? Why? _Why_?"

"Did you not always credit me with being the good friend of Mr. Pakenham
years ago--did not all the city? Well, then I was _not_; but I _am_,
now! I was England's agent only--_until last night_. Monsieur, you have
come too soon, too late, too late. Ah, my God! my God! Last night I gave
at last that consent. He comes now to claim, to exact, to
take--possession--of me ... Ah, my God!"

"I can not, of course, understand you, Madam. _What_ is it? Tell me!"

"For three years England's minister besought me to be his, not
England's, property. It was not true, what the town thought. It was not
true in the case either of Yturrio. Intrigue--yes--I loved it. I
intrigued with England and Mexico both, because it was in my nature; but
no more than that. No matter what I once was in Europe, I was not
here--not, as I said, until last night. Ah, Monsieur! Ah, Monsieur!" Now
her hands were beating together.

"But _why_ then? Why _then_? What do you mean?" I demanded.

"Because no other way sufficed. All this winter, here, alone, I have
planned and thought about other means. Nothing would do. There was but
the one way. Now you see why I did not go to Mr. Calhoun, why I kept my
presence here secret."

"But you saw Elisabeth?"

"Yes, long ago. My friend, you have won! You both have won, and I have
lost. She loves you, and is worthy of you. You are worthy of each other,
yes. I saw I had lost; and I told you I would pay my wager. I told you
I would give you her--and Oregon! Well, then, that last was--hard." She
choked. "That was--hard to do." She almost sobbed. "But I have--paid!
Heart and soul ... and _body_ ... I have ... _paid_! Now, he comes ...
for ... the _price_!"

"But then--but then!" I expostulated. "What does this mean, that I see
here? There was no need for this. Had you no friends among us? Why,
though it meant war, I myself to-night would choke that beast Pakenham
with my own hands!"

"No, you will not."

"But did I not hear him say there was a key--_his_ key--to-night?"

"Yes, England once owned that key. Now, _he_ does. Yes, it is true.
Since yesterday. Now, he comes ..."

"But, Madam--ah, how could you so disappoint my belief in you?"

"Because"--she smiled bitterly--"in all great causes there are
sacrifices."

"But no cause could warrant this."

"I was judge of that," was her response. "I saw her--Elisabeth--that
girl. Then I saw what the future years meant for me. I tell you, I vowed
with her, that night when I thought you two were wedded. I did more. I
vowed myself to a new and wider world that night. Now, I have lost it.
After all, seeing I could not now be a woman and be happy,
I--Monsieur--I pass on to others, after this, not that torture of life,
but that torturing _principle_ of which we so often spoke. Yes, I, even
as I am; because by this--this act--this sacrifice--I can win you for
her. And I can win that wider America which you have coveted; which I
covet for you--which I covet _with_ you!"

I could do no more than remain silent, and allow her to explain what was
not in the least apparent to me. After a time she went on.

"Now--now, I say--Pakenham the minister is sunk in Pakenham the man. He
does as I demand--because he is a man. He signs what I demand because I
am a woman. I say, to-night--but, see!"

She hastened now to a little desk, and caught up a folded document which
lay there. This she handed to me, unfolded, and I ran it over with a
hasty glance. It was a matter of tremendous importance which lay in
those few closely written lines.

England's minister offered, over the signature of England, a compromise
of the whole Oregon debate, provided this country would accept the line
of the forty-ninth degree! That, then, was Pakenham's price for this key
that lay here.

"This--this is all I have been able to do with him thus far," she
faltered. "It is not enough. But I did it for you!"

"Madam, this is more than all America has been able to do before! This
has not been made public?"

"No, no! It is not enough. But to-night I shall make him surrender
all--all north, to the very ice, for America, for the democracy! See,
now, I was born to be devoted, immolated, after all, as my mother was
before me. That is fate! But I shall make fate pay! Ah, Monsieur! Ah,
Monsieur!"

She flung herself to her feet. "I can get it all for you, you and
yours!" she reiterated, holding out her hands, the little pink fingers
upturned, as was often her gesture. "You shall go to your chief and tell
him that Mr. Polk was right--that you yourself, who taught Helena von
Ritz what life is, taught her that after all she was a woman--are able,
because she was a woman, to bring in your own hands all that country,
yes, to fifty-four forty, or even farther. I do not know what all can be
done. I only know that a fool will part with everything for the sake of
his body."

I stood now looking at her, silent, trying to fathom the vastness of
what she said, trying to understand at all their worth the motives which
impelled her. The largeness of her plan, yes, that could be seen. The
largeness of her heart and brain, yes, that also. Then, slowly, I saw
yet more. At last I understood. What I saw was a horror to my soul.

"Madam," said I to her, at last, "did you indeed think me so cheap as
that? Come here!" I led her to the central apartment, and motioned her
to a seat.

"Now, then, Madam, much has been done here, as you say. It is all that
ever can be done. You shall not see Pakenham to-night, nor ever again!"

"But think what that will cost you!" she broke out. "This is only part.
It should _all_ be yours."

I flung the document from me. "This has already cost too much," I said.
"We do not buy states thus."

"But it will cost you your future! Polk is your enemy, now, as he is
Calhoun's. He will not strike you now, but so soon as he dares, he will.
Now, if you could do this--if you could take this to Mr. Calhoun, to
America, it would mean for you personally all that America could give
you in honors."

"Honors without honor, Madam, I do not covet," I replied. Then I would
have bit my tongue through when I saw the great pallor cross her face at
the cruelty of my speech.

"And _myself_?" she said, spreading out her hands again. "But no! I know
you would not taunt me. I know, in spite of what you say, there must be
a sacrifice. Well, then, I have made it. I have made my atonement. I say
I can give you now, even thus, at least a part of Oregon. I can perhaps
give you _all_ of Oregon--to-morrow! The Pakenhams have always dared
much to gain their ends. This one will dare even treachery to his
country. To-morrow--if I do not kill him--if I do not die--I can
perhaps give you all of Oregon--bought--bought and ... paid!" Her voice
trailed off into a whisper which seemed loud as a bugle call to me.

"No, you can not give us Oregon," I answered. "We are men, not panders.
We fight; we do not traffic thus. But you have given me Elisabeth!"

"My rival!" She smiled at me in spite of all. "But no, not my rival.
Yes, I have already given you her and given you to her. To do that--to
atone, as I said, for my attempt to part you--well, I will give Mr.
Pakenham the key that Sir Richard Pakenham of England lately held. I
told you a woman pays, _body_ and soul! In what coin fate gave me, I
will pay it. You think my morals mixed. No, I tell you I am clean! I
have only bought my own peace with my own conscience! Now, at last,
Helena von Ritz knows why she was born, to what end! I have a work to
do, and, yes, I see it now--my journey to America after all was part of
the plan of fate. I have learned much--through you, Monsieur."

Hurriedly she turned and left me, passing through the heavy draperies
which cut off the room where stood the great satin couch. I saw her cast
herself there, her arms outflung. Slow, deep and silent sobs shook all
her body.

"Madam! Madam!" I cried to her. "Do not! Do not! What you have done here
is worth a hundred millions of dollars, a hundred thousand of lives,
perhaps. Yes, that is true. It means most of Oregon, with honor, and
without war. That is true, and it is much. But the price paid--it is
more than all this continent is worth, if it cost so much as that Nor
shall it!"

Black, with a million pin-points of red, the world swam around me.
Millions of dead souls or souls unborn seemed to gaze at me and my
unhesitating rage. I caught up the scroll which bore England's
signature, and with one clutch cast it in two pieces on the floor. As it
lay, we gazed at it in silence. Slowly, I saw a great, soft radiance
come upon her face. The red pin-points cleared away from my own vision.




CHAPTER XXXIII

THE STORY OF HELENA VON RITZ

     There is in every true woman's heart a spark of heavenly fire,
     which beams and blazes in the dark hours of adversity.--_Washington
     Irving_.


"But Madam; but Madam--" I tried to begin. At last, after moments which
seemed to me ages long, I broke out: "But once, at least, you promised
to tell me who and what you are. Will you do that now?"

"Yes! yes!" she said. "Now I shall finish the clearing of my soul. You,
after all, shall be my confessor."

We heard again a faltering footfall in the hallway. I raised an eyebrow
in query.

"It is my father. Yes, but let him come. He also must hear. He is indeed
the author of my story, such as it is.

"Father," she added, "come, sit you here. I have something to say to Mr.
Trist."

She seated herself now on one of the low couches, her hands clasped
across its arm, her eyes looking far away out of the little window,
beyond which could be seen the hills across the wide Potomac.

"We are foreigners," she went on, "as you can tell. I speak your
language better than my father does, because I was younger when I
learned. It is quite true he is my father. He is an Austrian nobleman,
of one of the old families. He was educated in Germany, and of late has
lived there."

"I could have told most of that of you both," I said.

She bowed and resumed:

"My father was always a student. As a young man in the university, he
was devoted to certain theories of his own. _N'est-ce pas vrai, mon
drole?_" she asked, turning to put her arm on her father's shoulder as
he dropped weakly on the couch beside her.

He nodded. "Yes, I wass student," he said. "I wass not content with the
ways of my people."

"So, my father, you will see," said she, smiling at him, "being much
determined on anything which he attempted, decided, with five others, to
make a certain experiment. It was the strangest experiment, I presume,
ever made in the interest of what is called science. It was wholly the
most curious and the most cruel thing ever done."

She hesitated now. All I could do was to look from one to the other,
wonderingly.

"This dear old dreamer, my father, then, and five others--"

"I name them!" he interrupted. "There were Karl von Goertz, Albrecht
Hardman, Adolph zu Sternbern, Karl von Starnack, and Rudolph von
Wardberg. We were all friends--"

"Yes," she said softly, "all friends, and all fools. Sometimes I think
of my mother."

"My dear, your mother!"

"But I must tell this as it was! Then, sir, these six, all Heidelberg
men, all well born, men of fortune, all men devoted to science, and
interested in the study of the hopelessness of the average human being
in Central Europe--these fools, or heroes, I say not which--they decided
to do something in the interest of science. They were of the belief that
human beings were becoming poor in type. So they determined to marry--"

"Naturally," said I, seeking to relieve a delicate situation--"they
scorned the marriage of convenience--they came to our American way of
thinking, that they would marry for love."

"You do them too much credit!" said she slowly. "That would have meant
no sacrifice on either side. They married in the interest of _science!_
They married with the deliberate intention of improving individuals of
the human species! Father, is it not so?"

Some speech stumbled on his tongue; but she raised her hand. "Listen to
me. I will be fair to you, fairer than you were either to yourself or
to my mother.

"Yes, these six concluded to improve the grade of human animals! They
resolved to marry _among the peasantry_--because thus they could select
finer specimens of womankind, younger, stronger, more fit to bring
children into the world. Is not that the truth, my father?"

"It wass the way we thought," he whispered. "It wass the way we thought
wass wise."

"And perhaps it was wise. It was selection. So now they selected. Two of
them married German working girls, and those two are dead, but there is
no child of them alive. Two married in Austria, and of these one died,
and the other is in a mad house. One married a young Galician girl, and
so fond of her did he become that she took him down from his station to
hers, and he was lost. The other--"

"Yes; it was my father," she said, at length. "There he sits, my father.
Yes, I love him. I would forfeit my life for him now--I would lay it
down gladly for him. Better had I done so. But in my time I have hated
him.

"He, the last one, searched long for this fitting animal to lead to the
altar. He was tall and young and handsome and rich, do you see? He could
have chosen among his own people any woman he liked. Instead, he
searched among the Galicians, the lower Austrians, the Prussians. He
examined Bavaria and Saxony. Many he found, but still none to suit his
scientific ideas. He bethought him then of searching among the
Hungarians, where, it is said, the most beautiful women of the world are
found. So at last he found her, that peasant, _my mother!_"

The silence in the room was broken at last by her low, even, hopeless
voice as she went on.

"Now the Hungarians are slaves to Austria. They do as they are bid,
those who live on the great estates. They have no hope. If they rebel,
they are cut down. They are not a people. They belong to no one, not
even to themselves."

"My God!" said I, a sigh breaking from me in spite of myself. I raised
my hand as though to beseech her not to go on. But she persisted.

"Yes, we, too, called upon _our_ gods! So, now, my father came among
that people and found there a young girl, one much younger than himself.
She was the most beautiful, so they say, of all those people, many of
whom are very beautiful."

"Yes--proof of that!" said I. She knew I meant no idle flattery.

"Yes, she was beautiful. But at first she did not fancy to marry this
Austrian student nobleman. She said no to him, even when she found who
he was and what was his station--even when she found that he meant her
no dishonor. But our ruler heard of it, and, being displeased at this
mockery of the traditions of the court, and wishing in his sardonic mind
to teach these fanatical young nobles to rue well their bargain, he sent
word to the girl that she _must_ marry this man--my father. It was made
an imperial order!

"And so now, at last, since he was half crazed by her beauty, as men are
sometimes by the beauty of women, and since at last this had its effect
with her, as sometimes it does with women, and since it was perhaps
death or some severe punishment if she did not obey, she married him--my
father."

"And loved me all her life!" the old man broke out. "Nefer had man love
like hers, I will haf it said. I will haf it said that she loved me,
always and always; and I loved _her_ always, with all my heart!"

"Yes," said Helena von Ritz, "they two loved each other, even as they
were. So here am I, born of that love."

Now we all sat silent for a time. "That birth was at my father's
estates," resumed the same even, merciless voice. "After some short time
of travels, they returned to the estates; and, yes, there I was born,
half noble, half peasant; and then there began the most cruel thing the
world has ever known.

"The nobles of the court and of the country all around began to make
existence hideous for my mother. The aristocracy, insulted by the
republicanism of these young noblemen, made life a hell for the most
gentle woman of Hungary. Ah, they found new ways to make her suffer.
They allowed her to share in my father's estate, allowed her to appear
with him when he could prevail upon her to do so. Then they twitted and
taunted her and mocked her in all the devilish ways of their class. She
was more beautiful than any court beauty of them all, and they hated her
for that. She had a good mind, and they hated her for that. She had a
faithful, loyal heart, and they hated her for that. And in ways more
cruel than any man will ever know, women and men made her feel that
hate, plainly and publicly, made her admit that she was chosen as
breeding stock and nothing better. Ah, it was the jest of Europe, for a
time. They insulted my mother, and that became the jest of the court, of
all Vienna. She dared not go alone from the castle. She dared not travel
alone."

"But your father resented this?"

She nodded. "Duel after duel he fought, man after man he killed, thanks
to his love for her and his manhood. He would not release what he loved.
He would not allow his class to separate him from his choice. But the
_women!_ Ah, he could not fight them! So I have hated women, and made
war on them all my life. My father could not placate his Emperor. So,
in short, that scientific experiment ended in misery--and me!"

The room had grown dimmer. The sun was sinking as she talked. There was
silence, I know, for a long time before she spoke again.

"In time, then, my father left his estates and went out to a small place
in the country; but my mother--her heart was broken. Malice pursued her.
Those who were called her superiors would not let her alone. See, he
weeps, my father, as he thinks of these things.

"There was cause, then, to weep. For two years, they tell me, my mother
wept Then she died. She gave me, a baby, to her friend, a woman of her
village--Threlka Mazoff. You have seen her. She has been my mother ever
since. She has been the sole guardian I have known all my life. She has
not been able to do with me as she would have liked."

"You did not live at your own home with your father?" I asked.

"For a time. I grew up. But my father, I think, was permanently shocked
by the loss of the woman he had loved and whom he had brought into all
this cruelty. She had been so lovable, so beautiful--she was so
beautiful, my mother! So they sent me away to France, to the schools. I
grew up, I presume, proof in part of the excellence of my father's
theory. They told me that I was a beautiful animal!"

The contempt, the scorn, the pathos--the whole tragedy of her voice and
bearing--were such as I can not set down on paper, and such as I scarce
could endure to hear. Never in my life before have I felt such pity for
a human being, never so much desire to do what I might in sheer
compassion.

But now, how clear it all became to me! I could understand many strange
things about the character of this singular woman, her whims, her
unaccountable moods, her seeming carelessness, yet, withal, her dignity
and sweetness and air of breeding--above all her mysteriousness. Let
others judge her for themselves. There was only longing in my heart that
I might find some word of comfort. What could comfort her? Was not life,
indeed, for her to remain a perpetual tragedy?

"But, Madam," said I, at length, "you must not wrong your father and
your mother and yourself. These two loved each other devotedly. Well,
what more? You are the result of a happy marriage. You are beautiful,
you are splendid, by that reason."

"Perhaps. Even when I was sixteen, I was beautiful," she mused. "I have
heard rumors of that. But I say to you that then I was only a beautiful
animal. Also, I was a vicious animal I had in my heart all the malice
which my mother never spoke. I felt in my soul the wish to injure women,
to punish men, to torment them, to make them pay! To set even those
balances of torture!--ah, that was my ambition! I had not forgotten
that, when I first met you, when I first heard of--her, the woman whom
you love, whom already in your savage strong way you have wedded--the
woman whose vows I spoke with her--I--I, Helena von Ritz, with history
such as mine!

"Father, father,"--she turned to him swiftly; "rise--go! I can not now
speak before you. Leave us alone until I call!"

Obedient as though he had been the child and she the parent, the old man
rose and tottered feebly from the room.

"There are things a woman can not say in the presence of a parent," she
said, turning to me. Her face twitched. "It takes all my bravery to talk
to you."

"Why should you? There is not need. Do not!"

"Ah, I must, because it is fair," said she. "I have lost, lost! I told
you I would pay my wager."

After a time she turned her face straight toward mine and went on with
her old splendid bravery.

"So, now, you see, when I was young and beautiful I had rank and money.
I had brains. I had hatred of men. I had contempt for the aristocracy.
My heart was peasant after all. My principles were those of the
republican. Revolution was in my soul, I say. Thwarted, distorted,
wretched, unscrupulous, I did what I could to make hell for those who
had made hell for us. I have set dozens of men by the ears. I have been
promised in marriage to I know not how many. A dozen men have fought to
the death in duels over me. For each such death I had not even a
thought. The more troubles I made, the happier I was. Oh, yes, in time I
became known--I had a reputation; there is no doubt of that.

"But still the organized aristocracy had its revenge--it had its will of
me, after all. There came to me, as there had to my mother, an imperial
order. In punishment for my fancies and vagaries, I was condemned to
marry a certain nobleman. That was the whim of the new emperor,
Ferdinand, the degenerate. He took the throne when I was but sixteen
years of age. He chose for me a degenerate mate from his own sort." She
choked, now.

"You did marry him?"

She nodded. "Yes. Debauche, rake, monster, degenerate, product of that
aristocracy which had oppressed us, I was obliged to marry him, a man
three times my age! I pleaded. I begged. I was taken away by night. I
was--I was--They say I was married to him. For myself, I did not know
where I was or what happened. But after that they said that I was the
wife of this man, a sot, a monster, the memory only of manhood. Now,
indeed, the revenge of the aristocracy was complete!"

She went on at last in a voice icy cold. "I fled one night, back to
Hungary. For a month they could not find me. I was still young. I saw my
people then as I had not before. I saw also the monarchies of Europe.
Ah, now I knew what oppression meant! Now I knew what class distinction
and special privileges meant! I saw what ruin it was spelling for our
country--what it will spell for your country, if they ever come to rule
here. Ah, then that dream came to me which had come to my father, that
beautiful dream which justified me in everything I did. My friend, can
it--can it in part justify me--now?

"For the first time, then, I resolved to live! I have loved my father
ever since that time. I pledged myself to continue that work which he
had undertaken! I pledged myself to better the condition of humanity if
I might.

"There was no hope for me. I was condemned and ruined as it was. My life
was gone. Such as I had left, that I resolved to give to--what shall we
call it?-the _idee democratique_.

"Now, may God rest my mother's soul, and mine also, so that some time I
may see her in another world--I pray I may be good enough for that some
time. I have not been sweet and sinless as was my mother. Fate laid a
heavier burden upon me. But what remained with me throughout was the
idea which my father had bequeathed me--"

"Ah, but also that beauty and sweetness and loyalty which came to you
from your mother," I insisted.

She shook her head. "Wait!" she said. "Now they pursued me as though I
had been a criminal, and they took me back--horsemen about me who did as
they liked. I was, I say, a sacrifice. News of this came to that man who
was my husband. They shamed him into fighting. He had not the courage of
the nobles left. But he heard of one nobleman against whom he had a
special grudge; and him one night, foully and unfairly, he murdered.

"News of that came to the Emperor. My husband was tried, and, the case
being well known to the public, it was necessary to convict him for the
sake of example. Then, on the day set for his beheading, the Emperor
reprieved him. The hour for the execution passed, and, being now free
for the time, he fled the country. He went to Africa, and there he so
disgraced the state that bore him that of late times I hear he has been
sent for to come back to Austria. Even yet the Emperor may suspend the
reprieve and send him to the block for his ancient crime. If he had a
thousand heads, he could not atone for the worse crimes he has done!

"But of him, and of his end, I know nothing. So, now, you see, I was and
am wed, and yet am not wed, and never was. I do not know what I am, nor
who I am. After all, I can not tell you who I am, or what I am, because
I myself do not know.

"It was now no longer safe for me in my own country. They would not let
me go to my father any more. As for him, he went on with his studies,
some part of his mind being bright and clear. They did not wish him
about the court now. All these matters were to be hushed up. The court
of England began to take cognizance of these things. Our government was
scandalized. They sent my father, on pretext of scientific errands, into
one country and another--to Sweden, to England, to Africa, at last to
America. Thus it happened that you met him. You must both have been very
near to meeting me in Montreal. It was fate, as we of Hungary would say.

"As for me, I was no mere hare-brained radical. I did not go to Russia,
did not join the revolutionary circles of Paris, did not yet seek out
Prussia. That is folly. My father was right. It must be the years, it
must be the good heritage, it must be the good environment, it must be
even opportunity for all, which alone can produce good human beings! In
short, believe me, a victim, _the hope of the world is in a real
democracy_. Slowly, gradually, I was coming to believe that."

She paused a moment. "Then, one time, Monsieur,--I met you, here in this
very room! God pity me! You were the first man I had ever seen. God
pity me!--I believe I--loved you--that night, that very first night! We
are friends. We are brave. You are man and gentleman, so I may say that,
now. I am no longer woman. I am but sacrifice.

"Opportunity must exist, open and free for all the world," she went on,
not looking at me more than I could now at her. "I have set my life to
prove this thing. When I came here to this America--out of pique, out of
a love of adventure, out of sheer daring and exultation in
imposture--_then_ I saw why I was born, for what purpose! It was to do
such work as I might to prove the theory of my father, and to justify
the life of my mother. For that thing I was born. For that thing I have
been damned on this earth; I may be damned in the life to come, unless I
can make some great atonement. For these I suffer and shall always
suffer. But what of that? There must always be a sacrifice."

The unspeakable tragedy of her voice cut to my soul. "But listen!" I
broke out. "You are young. You are free. All the world is before you.
You can have anything you like--"

"Ah, do not talk to me of that," she exclaimed imperiously. "Do not
tempt me to attempt the deceit of myself! I made myself as I am, long
ago. I did not love. I did not know it. As to marriage, I did not need
it. I had abundant means without. I was in the upper ranks of society. I
was there; I was classified; I lived with them. But always I had my
purposes, my plans. For them I paid, paid, paid, as a woman must,
with--what a woman has.

"But now, I am far ahead of my story. Let me bring it on. I went to
Paris. I have sown some seeds of venom, some seeds of revolution, in one
place or another in Europe in my time. Ah, it works; it will go! Here
and there I have cost a human life. Here and there work was to be done
which I disliked; but I did it. Misguided, uncared for, mishandled as I
had been--well, as I said, I went to Paris.

"Ah, sir, will you not, too, leave the room, and let me tell on this
story to myself, to my own soul? It is fitter for my confessor than for
you."

"Let me, then, _be_ your confessor!" said I. "Forget! Forget! You have
not been this which you say. Do I not know?"

"No, you do not know. Well, let be. Let me go on! I say I went to Paris.
I was close to the throne of France. That little Duke of Orleans, son of
Louis Philippe, was a puppet in my hands. Oh, I do not doubt I did
mischief in that court, or at least if I failed it was through no lack
of effort! I was called there 'America Vespucci.' They thought me
Italian! At last they came to know who I was. They dared not make open
rupture in the face of the courts of Europe. Certain of their high
officials came to me and my young Duke of Orleans. They asked me to
leave Paris. They did not command it--the Duke of Orleans cared for that
part of it. But they requested me outside--not in his presence. They
offered me a price, a bribe--such an offering as would, I fancied, leave
me free to pursue my own ideas in my own fashion and in any corner of
the world. You have perhaps seen some of my little fancies. I imagined
that love and happiness were never for me--only ambition and unrest.
With these goes luxury, sometimes. At least this sort of personal
liberty was offered me--the price of leaving Paris, and leaving the son
of Louis Philippe to his own devices. I did so."

"And so, then you came to Washington? That must have been some years
ago."

"Yes; some five years ago. I still was young. I told you that you must
have known me, and so, no doubt, you did. Did _you_ ever hear of
'America Vespucci'?"

A smile came to my face at the suggestion of that celebrated adventuress
and mysterious impostress who had figured in the annals of Washington--a
fair Italian, so the rumor ran, who had come to this country to set up a
claim, upon our credulity at least, as to being the descendant of none
less than Amerigo Vespucci himself! This supposititious Italian had
indeed gone so far as to secure the introduction of a bill in Congress
granting to her certain Lands. The fate of that bill even then hung in
the balance. I had no reason to put anything beyond the audacity of this
woman with whom I spoke! My smile was simply that which marked the
eventual voting down of this once celebrated measure, as merry and as
bold a jest as ever was offered the credulity of a nation--one
conceivable only in the mad and bitter wit of Helena von Ritz!

"Yes, Madam," I said, "I have heard of 'America Vespucci.' I presume
that you are now about to repeat that you are she!"

She nodded, the mischievous enjoyment of her colossal jest showing in
her eyes, in spite of all. "Yes," said she, "among other things, I have
been 'America Vespucci'! There seemed little to do here in intrigue, and
that was my first endeavor to amuse myself. Then I found other
employment. England needed a skilful secret agent. Why should I be
faithful to England? At least, why should I not also enjoy intrigue with
yonder government of Mexico at the same time? There came also Mr. Van
Zandt of this Republic of Texas. Yes, it is true, I have seen some sport
here in Washington! But all the time as I played in my own little
game--with no one to enjoy it save myself--I saw myself begin to lose.
This country--this great splendid country of savages--began to take me
by the hands, began to look me in the eyes, and to ask me, '_Helena von
Ritz, what are you? What might you have been?_'

"So now," she concluded, "you asked me, asked me what I was, and I have
told you. I ask you myself, what am I, what am I to be; and I say, I am
unclean. But, being as I am, I have done what I have done. It was for a
principle--or it was--for you! I do not know."

"There are those who can be nothing else but clean," I broke out. "I
shall not endure to hear you speak thus of yourself. You--you, what have
you not done for us? Was not your mother clean in her heart? Sins such
as you mention were never those of scarlet. If you have sinned, your
sins are white as snow. I at least am confessor enough to tell you
that."

"Ah, my confessor!" She reached out her hands to me, her eyes swimming
wet. Then she pushed me back suddenly, beating with her little hands
upon my breast as though I were an enemy. "Do not!" she said. "Go!"

My eye caught sight of the great key, _Pakenham's key_, lying there on
the table. Maddened, I caught it up, and, with a quick wrench of my
naked hands, broke it in two, and threw the halves on the floor to join
the torn scroll of England's pledge.

I divided Oregon at the forty-ninth parallel, and not at fifty-four
forty, when I broke Pakenham's key. But you shall see why I have never
regretted that.

"Ask Sir Richard Pakenham if he wants his key _now!_" I said.




CHAPTER XXXIV

THE VICTORY

     She will not stay the siege of loving terms,
     Nor bide the encounter of assailing eyes,
     Nor ope her lap to soul-seducing gold ...
     For she is wise, if I can judge of her;
     And fair she is, if that mine eyes be true;
     And true she is, as she hath proved herself.
                                          --_Shakespeare_.


"What have you done?" she exclaimed. "Are you mad? He may be here at any
moment now. Go, at once!"

"I shall not go!"

"My house is my own! I am my own!"

"You know it is not true, Madam!"

I saw the slow shudder that crossed her form, the the fringe of wet
which sprang to her eyelashes. Again the pleading gesture of her
half-open fingers.

"Ah, what matter?" she said. "It is only one woman more, against so
much. What is past, is past, Monsieur. Once down, a woman does not
rise."

"You forget history,--you forget the thief upon the cross!"

"The thief on the cross was not a woman. No, I am guilty beyond hope!"

"Rather, you are only mad beyond reason, Madam. I shall not go so long
as you feel thus,--although God knows I am no confessor."

"I confessed to you,--told you my story, so there could be no bridge
across the gulf between us. My happiness ended then."

"It is of no consequence that we be happy, Madam. I give you back your
own words about yon torch of principles."

For a time she sat and looked at me steadily. There was, I say, some
sort of radiance on her face, though I, dull of wit, could neither
understand nor describe it. I only knew that she seemed to ponder for a
long time, seemed to resolve at last. Slowly she rose and left me,
parting the satin draperies which screened her boudoir from the outer
room. There was silence for some time. Perhaps she prayed,--I do not
know.

Now other events took this situation in hand. I heard a footfall on the
walk, a cautious knocking on the great front door. So, my lord Pakenham
was prompt. Now I could not escape even if I liked.

Pale and calm, she reappeared at the parted draperies. I lifted the
butts of my two derringers into view at my side pockets, and at a glance
from her, hurriedly stepped into the opposite room. After a time I
heard her open the door in response to a second knock.

I could not see her from my station, but the very silence gave me a
picture of her standing, pale, forbidding, rebuking the first rude
exclamation of his ardor.

"Come now, is he gone? Is the place safe at last?" he demanded.

"Enter, my lord," she said simply.

"This is the hour you said," he began; and she answered:

"My lord, it is the hour."

"But come, what's the matter, then? You act solemn, as though this were
a funeral, and not--just a kiss," I heard him add.

He must have advanced toward her. Continually I was upon the point of
stepping out from my concealment, but as continually she left that not
quite possible by some word or look or gesture of her own with him.

"Oh, hang it!" I heard him grumble, at length; "how can one tell what a
woman'll do? Damn it, Helen!"

"'Madam,' you mean!"

"Well, then, Madam, why all this hoighty-toighty? Haven't I stood flouts
and indignities enough from you? Didn't you make a show of me before
that ass, Tyler, when I was at the very point of my greatest coup? You
denied knowledge that I knew you had. But did I discard you for that? I
have found you since then playing with Mexico, Texas, United States all
at once? Have I punished you for _that?_ No, I have only shown you the
more regard."

"My lord, you punish me most when you most show me your regard."

"Well, God bless my soul, listen at that! Listen at that--here, now,
when I've--Madam, you shock me, you grieve me. I--could I have a glass
of wine?"

I heard her ring for Threlka, heard her fasten the door behind her as
she left, heard him gulp over his glass. For myself, although I did not
yet disclose myself, I felt no doubt that I should kill Pakenham in
these rooms. I even pondered whether I should shoot him through the
temple and cut off his consciousness, or through the chest and so let
him know why he died.

After a time he seemed to look about the room, his eye falling upon the
littered floor.

"My key!" he exclaimed; "broken! Who did that? I can't use it now!"

"You will not need to use it, my lord."

"But I bought it, yesterday! Had I given you all of the Oregon country
it would not have been worth twenty thousand pounds. What I'll have
to-night--what I'll take--will be worth twice that. But I bought that
key, and what I buy I keep."

I heard a struggle, but she repulsed him once more in some way. Still my
time had not come. He seemed now to stoop, grunting, to pick up
something from the floor.

"How now? My memorandum of treaty, and torn in two! Oh, I see--I see,"
he mused. "You wish to give it back to me--to be wholly free! It means
only that you wish to love me for myself, for what I am! You minx!"

"You mistake, my lord," said her calm, cold voice.

"At least, 'twas no mistake that I offered you this damned country at
risk of my own head. Are you then with England and Sir Richard Pakenham?
Will you give my family a chance for revenge on these accursed
heathen--these Americans? Come, do that, and I leave this place with
you, and quit diplomacy for good. We'll travel the continent, we'll go
the world over, you and I. I'll quit my estates, my family for you.
Come, now, why do you delay?"

"Still you misunderstand, my lord."

"Tell me then what you do mean."

"Our old bargain over this is broken, my lord. We must make another."

His anger rose. "What? You want more? You're trying to lead me on with
your damned courtezan tricks!"

I heard her voice rise high and shrill, even as I started forward.

"Monsieur," she cried, "back with you!"

Pakenham, angered as he was, seemed half to hear my footsteps, seemed
half to know the swinging of the draperies, even as I stepped back in
obedience to her gesture. Her wit was quick as ever.

"My lord," she said, "pray close yonder window. The draft is bad, and,
moreover, we should have secrecy." He obeyed her, and she led him still
further from the thought of investigating his surroundings.

"Now, my lord," she said, "_take back_ what you have just said!"

"Under penalty?" he sneered.

"Of your life, yes."

"So!" he grunted admiringly; "well, now, I like fire in a woman, even a
deceiving light-o'-love like you!"

"Monsieur!" her voice cried again; and once more it restrained me in my
hiding.

"You devil!" he resumed, sneering now in all his ugliness of wine and
rage and disappointment. "What were _you?_ Mistress of the prince of
France! Toy of a score of nobles! Slave of that infamous rake, your
husband! Much you've got in your life to make you uppish now with me!"

"My lord," she said evenly, "retract that. If you do not, you shall not
leave this place alive."

In some way she mastered him, even in his ugly mood.

"Well, well," he growled, "I admit we don't get on very well in our
little love affair; but I swear you drive me out of my mind. I'll never
find another woman in the world like you. It's Sir Richard Pakenham asks
you to begin a new future with himself."

"We begin no future, my lord."

"What do you mean? Have you lied to me? Do you mean to break your
word--your promise?"

"It is within the hour that I have learned what the truth is."

"God damn my soul!" I heard him curse, growling.

"Yes, my lord," she answered, "God will damn your soul in so far as it
is that of a brute and not that of a gentleman or a statesman."

I heard him drop into a chair. "This from one of your sort!" he half
whimpered.

"Stop, now!" she cried. "Not one word more of that! I say within the
hour I have learned what is the truth. I am Helena von Ritz, thief on
the cross, and at last clean!"

"God A'might, Madam! How pious!" he sneered. "Something's behind all
this. I know your record. What woman of the court of Austria or France
comes out with _morals?_ We used you here because you had none. And now,
when it comes to the settlement between you and me, you talk like a nun.
As though a trifle from virtue such as yours would be missed!"

"Ah, my God!" I heard her murmur. Then again she called to me, as he
thought to himself; so that all was as it had been, for the time.

A silence fell before she went on.

"Sir Richard," she said at length, "we do not meet again. I await now
your full apology for these things you have said. Such secrets as I have
learned of England's, you know will remain safe with me. Also your own
secret will be safe. Retract, then, what you have said, of my personal
life!"

"Oh, well, then," he grumbled, "I admit I've had a bit of wine to-day. I
don't mean much of anything by it. But here now, I have come, and by
your own invitation--your own agreement. Being here, I find this treaty
regarding Oregon torn in two and you gone nun all a-sudden."

"Yes, my lord, it is torn in two. The consideration moving to it was not
valid. But now I wish you to amend that treaty once more, and for a
consideration valid in every way. My lord, I promised that which was
not mine to give--myself! Did you lay hand on me now, I should die. If
you kissed me, I should kill you and myself! As you say, I took yonder
price, the devil's shilling. Did I go on, I would be enlisting for the
damnation of my soul; but I will not go on. I recant!"

"But, good God! woman, what are you asking _now?_ Do you want me to let
you have this paper anyhow, to show old John Calhoun? I'm no such ass as
that. I apologize for what I've said about you. I'll be your friend,
because I can't let you go. But as to this paper here, I'll put it in my
pocket."

"My lord, you will do nothing of the kind. Before you leave this room
there shall be two miracles done. You shall admit that one has gone on
in me; I shall see that you yourself have done another."

"What guessing game do you propose, Madam?" he sneered. He seemed to
toss the torn paper on the table, none the less. "The condition is
forfeited," he began.

"No, it is not forfeited except by your own word, my lord," rejoined the
same even, icy voice. "You shall see now the first miracle!"

"Under duress?" he sneered again.

"_Yes_, then! Under duress of what has not often come to surface in you,
Sir Richard. I ask you to do truth, and not treason, my lord! She who
was Helena von Ritz is dead--has passed away. There can be no question
of forfeit between you and her. Look, my lord!"

I heard a half sob from him. I heard a faint rustling of silks and
laces. Still her even, icy voice went on.

"Rise, now, Sir Richard," she said. "Unfasten my girdle, if you like!
Undo my clasps, if you can. You say you know my past. Tell me, do you
see me now? Ungird me, Sir Richard! Look at me! Covet me! Take me!"

Apparently he half rose, shuffled towards her, and stopped with a
stifled sound, half a sob, half a growl.

I dared not picture to myself what he must have seen as she stood
fronting him, her hands, as I imagined, at her bosom, tearing back her
robes.

Again I heard her voice go on, challenging him. "Strip me now, Sir
Richard, if you can! Take now what you bought, if you find it here. You
can not? You do not? Ah, then tell me that miracle has been done! She
who was Helena von Ritz, as you knew her, or as you thought you knew
her, _is not here!_"

Now fell long silence. I could hear the breathing of them both, where I
stood in the farther corner of my room. I had dropped both the
derringers back in my pockets now, because I knew there would be no
need for them. Her voice was softer as she went on.

"Tell me, Sir Richard, has not that miracle been done?" she demanded.
"Might not in great stress that thief upon the cross have been a woman?
Tell me, Sir Richard, am I not clean?"

He flung his body into a seat, his arm across the table. I heard his
groan.

"God! Woman! What are you?" he exclaimed. "Clean? By God, yes, as a
lily! I wish I were half as white myself."

"Sir Richard, did you ever love a woman?"

"One other, beside yourself, long ago."

"May not we two ask that other miracle of yourself?"

"How do you mean? You have beaten me already."

"Why, then, this! If I could keep my promise, I would. If I could give
you myself, I would. Failing that, I may give you gratitude. Sir
Richard, I would give you gratitude, did you restore this treaty as it
was, for that new consideration. Come, now, these savages here are the
same savages who once took that little island for you yonder. Twice they
have defeated you. Do you wish a third war? You say England wishes
slavery abolished. As you know, Texas is wholly lost to England. The
armies of America have swept Texas from your reach for ever, even at
this hour. But if you give a new state in the north to these same
savages, you go so far against oppression, against slavery--you do
_that_ much for the doctrine of England, and her altruism in the world.
Sir Richard, never did I believe in hard bargains, and never did any
great soul believe in such. I own to you that when I asked you here this
afternoon I intended to wheedle from you all of Oregon north to
fifty-four degrees, forty minutes. I find in you done some such miracle
as in myself. Neither of us is so bad as the world has thought, as we
ourselves have thought. Do then, that other miracle for me. Let us
compose our quarrel, and so part friends."

"How do you mean, Madam?"

"Let us divide our dispute, and stand on this treaty as you wrote it
yesterday. Sir Richard, you are minister with extraordinary powers. Your
government ratifies your acts without question. Your signature is
binding--and there it is, writ already on this scroll. See, there are
wafers there on the table before you. Take them. Patch together this
treaty for me. That will be _your_ miracle, Sir Richard, and 'twill be
the mending of our quarrel. Sir, I offered you my body and you would not
take it. I offer you my hand. Will you have _that_, my lord? I ask this
of a gentleman of England."

It was not my right to hear the sounds of a man's shame and
humiliation; or of his rising resolve, of his reformed manhood; but I
did hear it all. I think that he took her hand and kissed it. Presently
I heard some sort of shufflings and crinkling of paper on the table. I
heard him sigh, as though he stood and looked at his work. His heavy
footfalls crossed the room as though he sought hat and stick. Her
lighter feet, as I heard, followed him, as though she held out both her
hands to him. There was a pause, and yet another; and so, with a
growling half sob, at last he passed out the door; and she closed it
softly after him.

When I entered, she was standing, her arms spread out across the door,
her face pale, her eyes large and dark, her attire still disarrayed. On
the table, as I saw, lay a parchment, mended with wafers.

Slowly she came, and put her two arms across my shoulders. "Monsieur!"
she said, "Monsieur!"




CHAPTER XXXV

THE PROXY OF PAKENHAM

     A man can not possess anything that is better than a good woman,
     nor anything that is worse than a bad one.--_Simonides_.


When I reached the central part of the city, I did not hasten thence to
Elmhurst Mansion. Instead, I returned to my hotel. I did not now care to
see any of my friends or even to take up matters of business with my
chief. It is not for me to tell what feelings came to me when I left
Helena von Ritz.

Sleep such as I could gain, reflections such as were inevitable,
occupied me for all that night. It was mid-morning of the following day
when finally I once more sought out Mr. Calhoun.

He had not expected me, but received me gladly. It seemed that he had
gone on about his own plans and with his own methods. "The Senora
Yturrio is doing me the honor of an early morning call," he began. "She
is with my daughter in another part of the house. As there is matter of
some importance to come up, I shall ask you to attend."

He despatched a servant, and presently the lady mentioned joined us. She
was a pleasing picture enough in her robe of black laces and
sulphur-colored silks, but her face was none too happy, and her eyes, it
seemed to me, bore traces either of unrest or tears. Mr. Calhoun handed
her to a chair, where she began to use her languid but effective fan.

"Now, it gives us the greatest regret, my dear Senora," began Mr.
Calhoun, "to have General Almonte and your husband return to their own
country. We have valued, their presence here very much, and I regret the
disruption of the friendly relations between our countries."

She made any sort of gesture with her fan, and he went on: "It is the
regret also of all, my dear lady, that your husband seems so shamelessly
to have abandoned you. I am quite aware, if you will allow me to be so
frank, that you need some financial assistance."

"My country is ruined," said she. "Also, Senor, I am ruined. As you say,
I have no means of life. I have not even money to secure my passage
home. That Senor Van Zandt--"

"Yes, Van Zandt did much for us, through your agency, Senora. We have
benefited by that, and I therefore regret he proved faithless to you
personally. I am sorry to tell you that he has signified his wish to
join our army against your country. I hear also that your late friend,
Mr. Polk, has forgotten most of his promises to you."

"Him I hate also!" she broke out. "He broke his promise to Senor Van
Zandt, to my husband, to me!"

Calhoun smiled in his grim fashion. "I am not surprised to hear all
that, my dear lady, for you but point out a known characteristic of that
gentleman. He has made me many promises which he has forgotten, and
offered me even of late distinguished honors which he never meant me to
accept. But, since I have been personally responsible for many of these
things which have gone forward, I wish to make what personal amends I
can; and ever I shall thank you for the good which you have done to this
country. Believe me, Madam, you served your own country also in no ill
manner. This situation could not have been prevented, and it is not your
fault. I beg you to believe that. Had you and I been left alone there
would have been no war."

"But I am poor, I have nothing!" she rejoined.

There was indeed much in her situation to excite sympathy. It had been
through her own act that negotiations between England and Texas were
broken off. All chance of Mexico to regain property in Texas was lost
through her influence with Van Zandt. Now, when all was done, here she
was, deserted even by those who had been her allies in this work.

"My dear Senora," said John Calhoun, becoming less formal and more
kindly, "you shall have funds sufficient to make you comfortable at
least for a time after your return to Mexico. I am not authorized to
draw upon our exchequer, and you, of course, must prefer all secrecy in
these matters. I regret that my personal fortune is not so large as it
might be, but, in such measure as I may, I shall assist you, because I
know you need assistance. In return, you must leave this country. The
flag is down which once floated over the house of Mexico here."

She hid her face behind her fan, and Calhoun turned aside.

"Senora, have you ever seen this slipper?" he asked, suddenly placing
upon the table the little shoe which for a purpose I had brought with me
and meantime thrown upon the table.

She flashed a dark look, and did not speak.

"One night, some time ago, your husband pursued a lady across this town
to get possession of that very slipper and its contents! There was in
the toe of that little shoe a message. As you know, we got from it
certain information, and therefore devised certain plans, which you have
helped us to carry out. Now, as perhaps you have had some personal
animus against the other lady in these same complicated affairs, I have
taken the liberty of sending a special messenger to ask her presence
here this morning. I should like you two to meet, and, if that be
possible, to part with such friendship as may exist in the premises."

I looked suddenly at Mr. Calhoun. It seemed he was planning without my
aid.

"Yes," he said to me, smiling, "I have neglected to mention to you that
the Baroness von Ritz also is here, in another apartment of this place.
If you please, I shall now send for her also."

He signaled to his old negro attendant. Presently the latter opened the
door, and with a deep bow announced the Baroness von Ritz, who entered,
followed closely by Mr. Calhoun's inseparable friend, old Doctor Ward.

The difference in breeding between these two women was to be seen at a
glance. The Dona Lucrezia was beautiful in a way, but lacked the
thoroughbred quality which comes in the highest types of womanhood.
Afflicted by nothing but a somewhat mercenary or personal grief, she
showed her lack of gameness in adversity. On the other hand, Helena von
Ritz, who had lived tragedy all her life, and now was in the climax of
such tragedy, was smiling and debonaire as though she had never been
anything but wholly content with life! She was robed now in some light
filmy green material, caught up here and there on the shoulders and
secured with silken knots. Her white neck showed, her arms were partly
bare with the short sleeves of the time. She stood, composed and easy,
a figure fit for any company or any court, and somewhat shaming our
little assembly, which never was a court at all, only a private meeting
in the office of a discredited and disowned leader in a republican
government. Her costume and her bearing were Helena von Ritz's answer to
a woman's fate! A deep color flamed in her cheeks. She stood with head
erect and lips smiling brilliantly. Her curtsey was grace itself. Our
dingy little office was glorified.

"I interrupt you, gentlemen," she began.

"On the contrary, I am sure, my dear lady," said Doctor Ward, "Senator
Calhoun told me he wished you to meet Senora Yturrio."

"Yes," resumed Calhoun, "I was just speaking with this lady over some
matters concerned with this Little slipper." He smiled as he held it up
gingerly between thumb and finger. "Do you recognize it, Madam
Baroness?"

"Ah, my little shoe!" she exclaimed. "But see, it has not been well
cared for."

"It traveled in my war bag from Oregon to Washington," said I. "Perhaps
bullet molds and powder flasks may have damaged it."

"It still would serve as a little post-office, perhaps," laughed the
baroness. "But I think its days are done on such errands."

"I will explain something of these errands to the Senora Yturrio," said
Calhoun. "I wish you personally to say to that lady, if you will, that
Senor Yturrio regarded this little receptacle rather as official than
personal post."

For one moment these two women looked at each other, with that on their
faces which would be hard to describe. At last the baroness spoke:

"It is not wholly my fault, Senora Yturrio, if your husband gave you
cause to think there was more than diplomacy between us. At least, I can
say to you that it was the sport of it alone, the intrigue, if you
please, which interested me. I trust you will not accuse me beyond
this."

A stifled exclamation came from the Dona Lucrezia. I have never seen
more sadness nor yet more hatred on a human face than hers displayed. I
have said that she was not thoroughbred. She arose now, proud as ever,
it is true, but vicious. She declined Helena von Ritz's outstretched
hand, and swept us a curtsey. "_Adios!_" said she. "I go!"

Mr. Calhoun gravely offered her an arm; and so with a rustle of her
silks there passed from our lives one unhappy lady who helped make our
map for us.

The baroness herself turned. "I ought not to remain," she hesitated.

"Madam," said Mr. Calhoun, "we can not spare you yet."

She flashed upon him a keen look. "It is a young country," said she,
"but it raises statesmen. You foolish, dear Americans! One could have
loved you all."

"Eh, what?" said Doctor Ward, turning to her. "My dear lady, two of us
are too old for that; and as for the other--"

He did not know how hard this chance remark might smite, but as usual
Helena von Ritz was brave and smiling.

"You are men," said she, "such as we do not have in our courts of
Europe. Men and women--that is what this country produces."

"Madam," said Calhoun, "I myself am a very poor sort of man. I am old,
and I fail from month to month. I can not live long, at best. What you
see in me is simply a purpose--a purpose to accomplish something for my
country--a purpose which my country itself does not desire to see
fulfilled. Republics do not reward us. What _you_ say shall be our chief
reward. I have asked you here also to accept the thanks of all of us who
know the intricacies of the events which have gone forward. Madam, we
owe you Texas! 'Twas not yonder lady, but yourself, who first advised of
the danger that threatened us. Hers was, after all, a simpler task than
yours, because she only matched faiths with Van Zandt, representative of
Texas, who had faith in neither men, women nor nations. Had all gone
well, we might perhaps have owed you yet more, for Oregon."

"Would you like Oregon?" she asked, looking at him with the full glance
of her dark eyes.

"More than my life! More than the life of myself and all my friends and
family! More than all my fortune!" His voice rang clear and keen as that
of youth.

"All of Oregon?" she asked.

"All? We do not own all! Perhaps we do not deserve it. Surely we could
not expect it. Why, if we got one-half of what that fellow Polk is
claiming, we should do well enough--that is more than we deserve or
could expect. With our army already at war on the Southwest, England, as
we all know, is planning to take advantage of our helplessness in
Oregon."

Without further answer, she held out to him a document whose appearance
I, at least, recognized.

"I am but a woman," she said, "but it chances that I have been able to
do this country perhaps something of a favor. Your assistant, Mr. Trist,
has done me in his turn a favor. This much I will ask permission to do
for him."

Calhoun's long and trembling fingers were nervously opening the
document. He turned to her with eyes blazing with eagerness. "_It is
Oregon!_" He dropped back into his chair.

"Yes," said Helena von Ritz slowly. "It is Oregon. It is bought and paid
for. It is yours!"

So now they all went over that document, signed by none less than
Pakenham himself, minister plenipotentiary for Great Britain. That
document exists to-day somewhere in our archives, but I do not feel
empowered to make known its full text. I would I had never need to set
down, as I have, the cost of it. These others never knew that cost; and
now they never can know, for long years since both Calhoun and Doctor
Ward have been dead and gone. I turned aside as they examined the
document which within the next few weeks was to become public property.
The red wafers which mended it--and which she smilingly explained at
Calhoun's demand--were, as I knew, not less than red drops of blood.

In brief I may say that this paper stated that, in case the United
States felt disposed to reopen discussions which Mr. Polk peremptorily
had closed, Great Britain might be able to listen to a compromise on the
line of the forty-ninth parallel. This compromise had three times been
offered her by diplomacy of United States under earlier administrations.
Great Britain stated that in view of her deep and abiding love of peace
and her deep and abiding admiration for America, she would resign her
claim of all of Oregon down to the Columbia; and more, she would accept
the forty-ninth parallel; provided she might have free navigation
rights upon the Columbia. In fact, this was precisely the memorandum of
agreement which eventually established the lines of the treaty as to
Oregon between Great Britain and the United States.

Mr. Calhoun is commonly credited with having brought about this treaty,
and with having been author of its terms. So he was, but only in the
singular way which in these foregoing pages I have related. States have
their price. Texas was bought by blood. Oregon--ah, we who own it ought
to prize it. None of our territory is half so full of romance, none of
it is half so clean, as our great and bodeful far Northwest, still young
in its days of destiny.

"We should in time have had _all_ of Oregon, perhaps," said Mr. Calhoun;
"at least, that is the talk of these fierce politicians."

"But for this fresh outbreak on the Southwest there would have been a
better chance," said Helena von Ritz; "but I think, as matters are
to-day, you would be wise to accept this compromise. I have seen your
men marching, thousands of them, the grandest sight of this century or
any other. They give full base for this compromise. Given another year,
and your rifles and your plows would make your claims still better. But
this is to-day--"

"Believe me, Mr. Calhoun," I broke in, "your signature must go on
this."

"How now? Why so anxious, my son?"

"Because it is right!"

Calhoun turned to Helena von Ritz. "Has this been presented to Mr.
Buchanan, our secretary of state?" he asked.

"Certainly not. It has been shown to no one. I have been here in
Washington working--well, working in secret to secure this document for
you. I do this--well, I will be frank with you--I do it for Mr. Trist.
He is my friend. I wish to say to you that he has been--a faithful--"

I saw her face whiten and her lips shut tight. She swayed a little as
she stood. Doctor Ward was at her side and assisted her to a couch. For
the first time the splendid courage of Helena von Ritz seemed to fail
her. She sank back, white, unconscious.

"It's these damned stays, John!" began Doctor Ward fiercely. "She has
fainted. Here, put her down, so. We'll bring her around in a minute.
Great Jove! I want her to _hear_ us thank her. It's splendid work she
has done for us. But _why_?"

When, presently, under the ministrations of the old physician, Helena
von Ritz recovered her consciousness, she arose, fighting desperately to
pull herself together and get back her splendid courage.

"Would you retire now, Madam?" asked Mr. Calhoun. "I have sent for my
daughter."

"No, no. It is nothing!" she said. "Forgive me, it is only an old habit
of mine. See, I am quite well!"

Indeed, in a few moments she had regained something of that magnificent
energy which was her heritage. As though nothing had happened, she arose
and walked swiftly across the room. Her eyes were fixed upon the great
map which hung upon the walls--a strange map it would seem to us to-day.
Across this she swept a white hand.

"I saw your men cross this," she said, pointing along the course of the
great Oregon Trail--whose detailed path was then unknown to our
geographers. "I saw them go west along that road of destiny. I told
myself that by virtue of their courage they had won this war. Sometime
there will come the great war between your people and those who rule
them. The people still will win."

She spread out her two hands top and bottom of the map. "All, all, ought
to be yours,--from the Isthmus to the ice, for the sake of the people of
the world. The people--but in time they will have their own!"

We listened to her silently, crediting her enthusiasm to her sex, her
race; but what she said has remained in one mind at least from that day
to this. Well might part of her speech remain in the minds to-day of
people and rulers alike. Are we worth the price paid for the country
that we gained? And when we shall be worth that price, what numerals
shall mark our territorial lines?

"May I carry this document to Mr. Pakenham?" asked John Calhoun, at
last, touching the paper on the table.

"Please, no. Do not. Only be sure that this proposition of compromise
will meet with his acceptance."

"I do not quite understand why you do not go to Mr. Buchanan, our
secretary of state."

"Because I pay my debts," she said simply. "I told you that Mr. Trist
and I were comrades. I conceived it might be some credit for him in his
work to have been the means of doing this much."

"He shall have that credit, Madam, be sure of that," said John Calhoun.
He held out to her his long, thin, bloodless hand.

"Madam," he said, "I have been mistaken in many things. My life will be
written down as failure. I have been misjudged. But at least it shall
not be said of me that I failed to reverence a woman such as you. All
that I thought of you, that first night I met you, was more than true.
And did I not tell you you would one day, one way, find your reward?"

He did not know what he said; but I knew, and I spoke with him in the
silence of my own heart, knowing that his speech would be the same were
his knowledge even with mine.

"To-morrow," went on Calhoun, "to-morrow evening there is to be what we
call a ball of our diplomacy at the White House. Our administration,
knowing that war is soon to be announced in the country, seeks to make a
little festival here at the capital. We whistle to keep up our courage.
We listen to music to make us forget our consciences. To-morrow night we
dance. All Washington will be there. Baroness von Ritz, a card will come
to you."

She swept him a curtsey, and gave him a smile.

"Now, as for me," he continued, "I am an old man, and long ago danced my
last dance in public. To-morrow night all of us will be at the White
House--Mr. Trist will be there, and Doctor Ward, and a certain lady, a
Miss Elisabeth Churchill, Madam, whom I shall be glad to have you meet.
You must not fail us, dear lady, because I am going to ask of you one
favor."

He bowed with a courtesy which might have come from generations of an
old aristocracy. "If you please, Madam, I ask you to honor me with your
hand for my first dance in years--my last dance in all my life."

Impulsively she held out both her hands, bowing her head as she did so
to hide her face. Two old gray men, one younger man, took her hands and
kissed them.

Now our flag floats on the Columbia and on the Rio Grande. I am older
now, but when I think of that scene, I wish that flag might float yet
freer; and though the price were war itself, that it might float over a
cleaner and a nobler people, over cleaner and nobler rulers, more
sensible of the splendor of that heritage of principle which should be
ours.




CHAPTER XXXVI

THE PALO ALTO BALL

     A beautiful woman pleases the eye, a good woman pleases the heart;
     one is a jewel, the other a treasure.--_Napoleon I_.


On the evening of that following day in May, the sun hung red and round
over a distant unknown land along the Rio Grande. In that country, no
iron trails as yet had come. The magic of the wire, so recently applied
to the service of man, was as yet there unknown. Word traveled slowly by
horses and mules and carts. There came small news from that far-off
country, half tropic, covered with palms and crooked dwarfed growth of
mesquite and chaparral. The long-horned cattle lived in these dense
thickets, the spotted jaguar, the wolf, the ocelot, the javelina, many
smaller creatures not known in our northern lands. In the loam along the
stream the deer left their tracks, mingled with those of the wild
turkeys and of countless water fowl. It was a far-off, unknown, unvalued
land. Our flag, long past the Sabine, had halted at the Nueces. Now it
was to advance across this wild region to the Rio Grande. Thus did smug
James Polk keep his promises!

Among these tangled mesquite thickets ran sometimes long bayous, made
from the overflow of the greater rivers--_resacas_, as the natives call
them. Tall palms sometimes grew along the bayous, for the country is
half tropic. Again, on the drier ridges, there might be taller detached
trees, heavier forests--_palo alto_, the natives call them. In some such
place as this, where the trees were tall, there was fired the first gun
of our war in the Southwest. There were strange noises heard here in the
wilderness, followed by lesser noises, and by human groans. Some faces
that night were upturned to the moon--the same moon which swam so
gloriously over Washington. Taylor camped closer to the Rio Grande. The
fight was next to begin by the lagoon called the Resaca de la Palma. But
that night at the capital that same moon told us nothing of all this. We
did not hear the guns. It was far from Palo Alto to our ports of
Galveston or New Orleans. Our cockaded army made its own history in its
own unreported way.

We at the White House ball that night also made history in our own
unrecorded way. As our army was adding to our confines on the Southwest,
so there were other, though secret, forces which added to our territory
in the far Northwest. As to this and as to the means by which it came
about, I have already been somewhat plain.

It was a goodly company that assembled for the grand ball, the first
one in the second season of Mr. Polk's somewhat confused and discordant
administration. Social matters had started off dour enough. Mrs. Polk
was herself of strict religious practice, and I imagine it had taken
somewhat of finesse to get her consent to these festivities. It was
called sometimes the diplomats' ball. At least there was diplomacy back
of it. It was mere accident which set this celebration upon the very
evening of the battle of Palo Alto, May eighth, 1846.

By ten o'clock there were many in the great room which had been made
ready for the dancing, and rather a brave company it might have been
called. We had at least the splendor of the foreign diplomats' uniforms
for our background, and to this we added the bravest of our attire, each
one in his own individual fashion, I fear. Thus my friend Jack Dandridge
was wholly resplendent in a new waistcoat of his own devising, and an
evening coat which almost swept the floor as he executed the evolutions
of his western style of dancing. Other gentlemen were, perhaps, more
grave and staid. We had with us at least one man, old in government
service, who dared the silk stockings and knee breeches of an earlier
generation. Yet another wore the white powdered queue, which might have
been more suited for his grandfather. The younger men of the day wore
their hair long, in fashion quite different, yet this did not detract
from the distinction of some of the faces which one might have seen
among them--some of them to sleep all too soon upturned to the moon in
another and yet more bitter war, aftermath of this with Mexico. The tall
stock was still in evidence at that time, and the ruffled shirts gave
something of a formal and old-fashioned touch to the assembly. Such as
they were, in their somewhat varied but not uninteresting attire, the
best of Washington were present. Invitation was wholly by card. Some
said that Mrs. Polk wrote these invitations in her own hand, though this
we may be permitted to doubt.

Whatever might have been said as to the democratic appearance of our
gentlemen in Washington, our women were always our great reliance, and
these at least never failed to meet the approval of the most sneering of
our foreign visitors. Thus we had present that night, as I remember, two
young girls both later to become famous in Washington society; tall and
slender young Terese Chalfant, later to become Mrs. Pugh of Ohio, and to
receive at the hands of Denmark's minister, who knelt before her at a
later public ball, that jeweled clasp which his wife had bade him
present to the most beautiful woman he found in America. Here also was
Miss Harriet Williams of Georgetown, later to become the second wife of
that Baron Bodisco of Russia who had represented his government with us
since the year 1838--a tall, robust, blonde lady she later grew to be.
Brown's Hotel, home of many of our statesmen and their ladies, turned
out a full complement. Mr. Clay was there, smiling, though I fear none
too happy. Mr. Edward Everett, as it chanced, was with us at that time.
We had Sam Houston of Texas, who would not, until he appeared upon the
floor, relinquish the striped blanket which distinguished him--though a
splendid figure of a man he appeared when he paced forth in evening
dress, a part of which was a waistcoat embroidered in such fancy as
might have delighted the eye of his erstwhile Indian wife had she been
there to see it. Here and there, scattered about the floor, there might
have been seen many of the public figures of America at that time, men
from North and South and East and West, and from many other nations
beside our own.

Under Mrs. Polk's social administration, we did not waltz, but our ball
began with a stately march, really a grand procession, in its way
distinctly interesting, in scarlet and gold and blue and silks, and all
the flowered circumstance of brocades and laces of our ladies. And after
our march we had our own polite Virginia reel, merry as any dance, yet
stately too.

I was late in arriving that night, for it must be remembered that this
was but my second day in town, and I had had small chance to take my
chief's advice, and to make myself presentable for an occasion such as
this. I was fresh from my tailor, and very new-made when I entered the
room. I came just in time to see what I was glad to see; that is to say,
the keeping of John Calhoun's promise to Helena von Ritz.

It was not to be denied that there had been talk regarding this lady,
and that Calhoun knew it, though not from me. Much of it was idle talk,
based largely upon her mysterious life. Beyond that, a woman beautiful
as she has many enemies among her sex. There were dark glances for her
that night, I do not deny, before Mr. Calhoun changed them. For, however
John Calhoun was rated by his enemies, the worst of these knew well his
austerely spotless private life, and his scrupulous concern for decorum.

Beautiful she surely was. Her ball gown was of light golden stuff, and
there was a coral wreath upon her hair, and her dancing slippers were of
coral hue. There was no more striking figure upon the floor than she.
Jewels blazed at her throat and caught here and there the filmy folds of
her gown. She was radiant, beautiful, apparently happy. She came
mysteriously enough; but I knew that Mr. Calhoun's carriage had been
sent for her. I learned also that he had waited for her arrival.

As I first saw Helena von Ritz, there stood by her side Doctor Samuel
Ward, his square and stocky figure not undignified in his dancing dress,
the stiff gray mane of his hair waggling after its custom as he spoke
emphatically over something with her. A gruff man, Doctor Ward, but
under his gray mane there was a clear brain, and in his broad breast
there beat a large and kindly heart.

Even as I began to edge my way towards these two, I saw Mr. Calhoun
himself approach, tall, gray and thin.

He was very pale that night; and I knew well enough what effort it cost
him to attend any of these functions. Yet he bowed with the grace of a
younger man and offered the baroness an arm. Then, methinks, all
Washington gasped a bit. Not all Washington knew what had gone forward
between these two. Not all Washington knew what that couple meant as
they marched in the grand procession that night--what they meant for
America. Of all those who saw, I alone understood.

So they danced; he with the dignity of his years, she with the grace
which was the perfection of dancing, the perfection of courtesy and of
dignity also, as though she knew and valued to the full what was offered
to her now by John Calhoun. Grave, sweet and sad Helena von Ritz seemed
to me that night. She was wholly unconscious of those who looked and
whispered. Her face was pale and rapt as that of some devotee.

Mr. Polk himself stood apart, and plainly enough saw this little matter
go forward. When Mr. Calhoun approached with the Baroness von Ritz upon
his arm, Mr. Polk was too much politician to hesitate or to inquire. He
knew that it was safe to follow where John Calhoun led! These two
conversed for a few moments. Thus, I fancy, Helena von Ritz had her
first and last acquaintance with one of our politicians to whom fate
gave far more than his deserts. It was the fortune of Mr. Polk to gain
for this country Texas, California and Oregon--not one of them by desert
of his own! My heart has often been bitter when I have recalled that
little scene. Politics so unscrupulous can not always have a John
Calhoun, a Helena von Ritz, to correct, guard and guide.

After this the card of Helena von Ritz might well enough indeed been
full had she cared further to dance. She excused herself gracefully,
saying that after the honor which had been done her she could not ask
more. Still, Washington buzzed; somewhat of Europe as well. That might
have been called the triumph of Helena von Ritz. She felt it not. But I
could see that she gloried in some other thing.

I approached her as soon as possible. "I am about to go," she said. "Say
good-by to me, now, here! We shall not meet again. Say good-by to me,
now, quickly! My father and I are going to leave. The treaty for Oregon
is prepared. Now I am done. Yes. Tell me good-by."

"I will not say it," said I. "I can not."

She smiled at me. Others might see her lips, her smile. I saw what was
in her eyes. "We must not be selfish," said she. "Come, I must go."

"Do not go," I insisted. "Wait."

She caught my meaning. "Surely," she said, "I will stay a little longer
for that one thing. Yes, I wish to see her again, Miss Elisabeth
Churchill. I hated her. I wish that I might love her now, do you know?
Would--would she let me--if she knew?"

"They say that love is not possible between women," said I. "For my own
part, I wish with you."

She interrupted with a light tap of her fan upon my arm. "Look, is not
that she?"

I turned. A little circle of people were bowing before Mr. Polk, who
held a sort of levee at one side of the hall. I saw the tall young girl
who at the moment swept a graceful curtsey to the president. My heart
sprang to my mouth. Yes, it was Elisabeth! Ah, yes, there flamed up on
the altar of my heart the one fire, lit long ago for her. So we came now
to meet, silently, with small show, in such way as to thrill none but
our two selves. She, too, had served, and that largely. And my constant
altar fire had done its part also, strangely, in all this long coil of
large events. Love--ah, true love wins and rules. It makes our maps. It
makes our world.

Among all these distinguished men, these beautiful women, she had her
own tribute of admiration. I felt rather than saw that she was in some
pale, filmy green, some crepe of China, with skirts and sleeves looped
up with pearls. In her hair were green leaves, simple and sweet and
cool. To me she seemed graver, sweeter, than when I last had seen her. I
say, my heart came up into my throat. All I could think was that I
wanted to take her into my arms. All I did was to stand and stare.

My companion was more expert in social maneuvers. She waited until the
crowd had somewhat thinned about the young lady and her escort. I saw
now with certain qualms that this latter was none other than my whilom
friend Jack Dandridge. For a wonder, he was most unduly sober, and he
made, as I have said, no bad figure in his finery. He was very merry and
just a trifle loud of speech, but, being very intimate in Mr. Polk's
household, he was warmly welcomed by that gentleman and by all around
him.

"She is beautiful!" I heard the lady at my arm whisper.

"Is she beautiful to you?" I asked.

"Very beautiful!" I heard her catch her breath. "She is good. I wish I
could love her. I wish, I wish--"

I saw her hands beat together as they did when she was agitated. I
turned then to look at her, and what I saw left me silent. "Come," said
I at last, "let us go to her." We edged across the floor.

When Elisabeth saw me she straightened, a pallor came across her face.
It was not her way to betray much of her emotions. If her head was a
trifle more erect, if indeed she paled, she too lacked not in quiet
self-possession. She waited, with wide straight eyes fixed upon me. I
found myself unable to make much intelligent speech. I turned to see
Helena von Ritz gazing with wistful eyes at Elisabeth, and I saw the
eyes of Elisabeth make some answer. So they spoke some language which I
suppose men never will understand--the language of one woman to another.

I have known few happier moments in my life than that. Perhaps, after
all, I caught something of the speech between their eyes. Perhaps not
all cheap and cynical maxims are true, at least when applied to noble
women.

Elisabeth regained her wonted color and more.

"I was very wrong in many ways," I heard her whisper. For almost the
first time I saw her perturbed. Helena von Ritz stepped close to her.
Amid the crash of the reeds and brasses, amid all the broken
conversation which swept around us, I knew what she said. Low down in
the flounces of the wide embroidered silks, I saw their two hands meet,
silently, and cling. This made me happy.

Of course it was Jack Dandridge who broke in between us. "Ah!" said he,
"you jealous beggar, could you not leave me to be happy for one minute?
Here you come back, a mere heathen, and proceed to monopolize all our
ladies. I have been making the most of my time, you see. I have proposed
half a dozen times more to Miss Elisabeth, have I not?"

"Has she given you any answer?" I asked him, smiling.

"The same answer!"

"Jack," said I, "I ought to call you out."

"Don't," said he. "I don't want to be called out. I am getting found
out. That's worse. Well--Miss Elisabeth, may I be the first to
congratulate?"

"I am glad," said I, with just a slight trace of severity, "that you
have managed again to get into the good graces of Elmhurst. When I last
saw you, I was not sure that either of us would ever be invited there
again."

"Been there every Sunday regularly since you went away," said Jack. "I
am not one of the family in one way, and in another way I am. Honestly,
I have tried my best to cut you out. Not that you have not played your
game well enough, but there never was a game played so well that some
other fellow could not win by coppering it. So I coppered everything
you did--played it for just the reverse. No go--lost even that way. And
I thought _you_ were the most perennial fool of your age and
generation."

I checked as gently as I could a joviality which I thought unsuited to
the time. "Mr. Dandridge," said I to him, "you know the Baroness von
Ritz?"

"Certainly! The _particeps criminis_ of our bungled wedding--of course I
know her!"

"I only want to say," I remarked, "that the Baroness von Ritz has that
little shell clasp now all for her own, and that I have her slipper
again, all for my own. So now, we three--no, four--at last understand
one another, do we not? Jack, will you do two things for me?"

"All of them but two."

"When the Baroness von Ritz insists on her intention of leaving us--just
at the height of all our happiness--I want you to hand her to her
carriage. In the second place, I may need you again--"

"Well, what would any one think of that!" said Jack Dandridge.

I never knew when these two left us in the crowd. I never said good-by
to Helena von Ritz. I did not catch that last look of her eye. I
remember her as she stood there that night, grave, sweet and sad.

I turned to Elisabeth. There in the crash of the reeds and brasses, the
rise and fall of the sweet and bitter conversation all around us, was
the comedy and the tragedy of life.

"Elisabeth," I said to her, "are you not ashamed?"

She looked me full in the eye. "No!" she said, and smiled.

I have never seen a smile like Elisabeth's.


THE END




EPILOGUE

     "'Tis the Star Spangled Banner; O, long may it wave,
     O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave!"
                                 --_Francis Scott Key_.


On the night that Miss Elisabeth Churchill gave me her hand and her
heart for ever--for which I have not yet ceased to thank God--there
began the guns of Palo Alto. Later, there came the fields of Monterey,
Buena Vista, Cerro Gordo, Contreras, Cherubusco, Molino del Rey--at last
the guns sounded at the gate of the old City of Mexico itself. Some of
that fighting I myself saw; but much of the time I was employed in that
manner of special work which had engaged me for the last few years. It
was through Mr. Calhoun's agency that I reached a certain importance in
these matters; and so I was chosen as the commissioner to negotiate a
peace with Mexico.

This honor later proved to be a dangerous and questionable one. General
Scott wanted no interference of this kind, especially since he knew Mr.
Calhoun's influence in my choice. He thwarted all my attempts to reach
the headquarters of the enemy, and did everything he could to secure a
peace of his own, at the mouth of the cannon. I could offer no terms
better than Mr. Buchanan, then our secretary of state, had prepared for
me, and these were rejected by the Mexican government at last. I was
ordered by Mr. Polk to state that we had no better terms to offer; and
as for myself, I was told to return to Washington. At that time I could
not make my way out through the lines, nor, in truth, did I much care to
do so.

A certain event not written in history influenced me to remain for a
time at the little village of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Here, in short, I
received word from a lady whom I had formerly known, none less than
Senora Yturrio, once a member of the Mexican legation at Washington.
True to her record, she had again reached influential position in her
country, using methods of her own. She told me now to pay no attention
to what had been reported by Mexico. In fact, I was approached again by
the Mexican commissioners, introduced by her! What was done then is
history. We signed then and there the peace of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in
accordance with the terms originally given me by our secretary of state.
So, after all, Calhoun's kindness to a woman in distress was not lost;
and so, after all, he unwittingly helped in the ending of the war he
never wished begun.

Meantime, I had been recalled to Washington, but did not know the
nature of that recall. When at last I arrived there I found myself
disgraced and discredited. My actions were repudiated by the
administration. I myself was dismissed from the service without pay--sad
enough blow for a young man who had been married less than a year.

Mr. Polk's jealousy of John Calhoun was not the only cause of this.
Calhoun's prophecy was right. Polk did not forget his revenge on me.
Yet, none the less, after his usual fashion, he was not averse to
receiving such credit as he could. He put the responsibility of the
treaty upon the Senate! It was debated hotly there for some weeks, and
at last, much to his surprise and my gratification, it was ratified!

The North, which had opposed this Mexican War--that same war which later
led inevitably to the War of the Rebellion--now found itself unable to
say much against the great additions to our domain which the treaty had
secured. We paid fifteen millions, in addition to our territorial
indemnity claim, and we got a realm whose wealth could not be computed.
So much, it must be owned, did fortune do for that singular favorite,
Mr. Polk. And, curiously enough, the smoke had hardly cleared from Palo
Alto field before Abraham Lincoln, a young member in the House of
Congress, was introducing a resolution which asked the marking of "the
spot where that outrage was committed." Perhaps it was an outrage. Many
still hold it so. But let us reflect what would have been Lincoln's life
had matters not gone just as they did.

With the cessions from Mexico came the great domain of California. Now,
look how strangely history sometimes works out itself. Had there been
any suspicion of the discovery of gold in California, neither Mexico nor
our republic ever would have owned it! England surely would have taken
it. The very year that my treaty eventually was ratified was that in
which gold was discovered in California! But it was too late then for
England to interfere; too late then, also, for Mexico to claim it. We
got untold millions of treasure there. Most of those millions went to
the Northern States, into manufactures, into commerce. The North owned
that gold; and it was that gold which gave the North the power to crush
that rebellion which was born of the Mexican War--that same rebellion by
which England, too late, would gladly have seen this Union disrupted, so
that she might have yet another chance at these lands she now had lost
for ever.

Fate seemed still to be with us, after all, as I have so often had
occasion to believe may be a possible thing. That war of conquest which
Mr. Calhoun opposed, that same war which grew out of the slavery tenets
which he himself held--the great error of his otherwise splendid public
life--found its own correction in the Civil War. It was the gold of
California which put down slavery. Thenceforth slavery has existed
legally only _north_ of the Mason and Dixon line!

We have our problems yet. Perhaps some other war may come to settle
them. Fortunate for us if there could be another California, another
Texas, another Oregon, to help us pay for them!

I, who was intimately connected with many of these less known matters,
claim for my master a reputation wholly different from that given to him
in any garbled "history" of his life. I lay claim in his name for
foresight beyond that of any man of his time. He made mistakes, but he
made them bravely, grandly, and consistently. Where his convictions were
enlisted, he had no reservations, and he used every means, every
available weapon, as I have shown. But he was never self-seeking, never
cheap, never insincere. A detester of all machine politicians, he was a
statesman worthy to be called the William Pitt of the United States. The
consistency of his career was a marvelous thing; because, though he
changed in his beliefs, he was first to recognize the changing
conditions of our country. He failed, and he is execrated. He won, and
he is forgot.

My chief, Mr. Calhoun, did not die until some six years after that
first evening when Doctor Ward and I had our talk with him. He was said
to have died of a disease of the lungs, yet here again history is
curiously mistaken. Mr. Calhoun slept himself away. I sometimes think
with a shudder that perhaps this was the revenge which Nemesis took of
him for his mistakes. His last days were dreamlike in their passing. His
last speech in the Senate was read by one of his friends, as Doctor Ward
had advised him. Some said afterwards that his illness was that accursed
"sleeping sickness" imported from Africa with these same slaves: It were
a strange thing had John Calhoun indeed died of his error! At least he
slept away. At least, too, he made his atonement. The South, following
his doctrines, itself was long accursed of this same sleeping sickness;
but in the providence of God it was not lost to us, and is ours for a
long and splendid history.

It was through John Calhoun, a grave and somber figure of our history,
that we got the vast land of Texas. It was through him also--and not
through Clay nor Jackson, nor any of the northern statesmen, who never
could see a future for the West--that we got all of our vast Northwest
realm. Within a few days after the Palo Alto ball, a memorandum of
agreement was signed between Minister Pakenham and Mr. Buchanan, our
secretary of state. This was done at the instance and by the aid of
John Calhoun. It was he--he and Helena von Ritz--who brought about that
treaty which, on June fifteenth, of the same year, was signed, and
gladly signed, by the minister from Great Britain. The latter had been
fully enough impressed (such was the story) by the reports of the
columns of our west-bound farmers, with rifles leaning at their wagon
seats and plows lashed to the tail-gates. Calhoun himself never ceased
to regret that we could not delay a year or two years longer. In this he
was thwarted by the impetuous war with the republic on the south,
although, had that never been fought, we had lost California--lost also
the South, and lost the Union!

Under one form or other, one name of government or another, the flag of
democracy eventually must float over all this continent. Not a part, but
all of this country must be ours, must be the people's. It may cost more
blood and treasure now. Some time we shall see the wisdom of John
Calhoun; but some time, too, I think, we shall see come true that
prophecy of a strange and brilliant mentality, which in Calhoun's
presence and in mine said that all of these northern lands and all
Mexico as well must one day be ours--which is to say, the people's--for
the sake of human opportunity, of human hope and happiness. Our battles
are but partly fought. But at least they are not, then, lost.

For myself, the close of the Mexican War found me somewhat worn by
travel and illy equipped in financial matters. I had been discredited, I
say, by my own government. My pay was withheld. Elisabeth, by that time
my wife, was a girl reared in all the luxury that our country then could
offer. Shall I say whether or not I prized her more when gladly she gave
up all this and joined me for one more long and final journey out across
that great trail which I had seen--the trail of democracy, of America,
of the world?

At last we reached Oregon. It holds the grave of one of ours; it is the
home of others. We were happy; we asked favor of no man; fear of no one
did we feel. Elisabeth has in her time slept on a bed of husks. She has
cooked at a sooty fireplace of her own; and at her cabin door I myself
have been the guard. We made our way by ourselves and for ourselves, as
did those who conquered America for our flag. "The citizen standing in
the doorway of his home, shall save the Republic." So wrote a later pen.

It was not until long after the discovery of gold in California had set
us all to thinking that I was reminded of the strange story of the old
German, Von Rittenhofen, of finding some pieces of gold while on one of
his hunts for butterflies. I followed out his vague directions as best I
might. We found gold enough to make us rich without our land. That
claim is staked legally. Half of it awaits an owner who perhaps will
never come.

There are those who will accept always the solemn asseverations of
politicians, who by word of mouth or pen assert that this or that
_party_ made our country, wrote its history. Such as they might smile if
told that not even men, much less politicians, have written all our
story as a nation; yet any who smile at woman's influence in American
history do so in ignorance of the truth. Mr. Webster and Lord Ashburton
have credit for determining our boundary on the northeast--England
called it Ashburton's capitulation to the Yankee. Did you never hear the
other gossip? England laid all that to Ashburton's American wife! Look
at that poor, hot-tempered devil, Yrujo, minister from Spain with us,
who saw his king's holdings on this continent juggled from hand to hand
between us all. His wife was daughter of Governor McKean in Pennsylvania
yonder. If she had no influence with her husband, so much the worse for
her. In important times a generation ago M. Genet, of France, as all
know, was the husband of the daughter of Governor Clinton of New York.
Did that hurt our chances with France? My Lord Oswald, of Great Britain,
who negotiated our treaty of peace in 1782--was not his worldly fortune
made by virtue of his American wife? All of us should remember that
Marbois, Napoleon's minister, who signed the great treaty for him with
us, married his wife while he was a mere _charge_ here in Washington;
and she, too, was an American. Erskine, of England, when times were
strained in 1808, and later--and our friend for the most part--was not
he also husband of an American? It was as John Calhoun said--our
history, like that of England and France, like that of Rome and Troy,
was made in large part by women.

Of that strange woman, Helena, Baroness von Ritz, I have never
definitely heard since then. But all of us have heard of that great
uplift of Central Europe, that ferment of revolution, most noticeable in
Germany, in 1848. Out of that revolutionary spirit there came to us
thousands and thousands of our best population, the sturdiest and the
most liberty-loving citizens this country ever had. They gave us scores
of generals in our late war, and gave us at least one cabinet officer.
But whence came that spirit of revolution in Europe? _Why_ does it live,
grow, increase, even now? _Why_ does it sound now, close to the oldest
thrones? _Where_ originated that germ of liberty which did its work so
well? I am at least one who believes that I could guess something of its
source.

The revolution in Hungary failed for the time. Kossuth came to see us
with pleas that we might aid Hungary. But republics forget. We gave no
aid to Hungary. I was far away and did not meet Kossuth. I should have
been glad to question him. I did not forget Helena von Ritz, nor doubt
that she worked out in full that strange destiny for which, indeed, she
was born and prepared, to which she devoted herself, made clean by
sacrifice. She was not one to leave her work undone. She, I know, passed
on her torch of principle.

Elisabeth and I speak often of Helena von Ritz. I remember her
still-brilliant, beautiful, fascinating, compelling, pathetic, tragic.
If it was asked of her, I know that she still paid it gladly--all that
sacrifice through which alone there can be worked out the progress of
humanity, under that idea which blindly we attempted to express in our
Declaration; that idea which at times we may forget, but which
eventually must triumph for the good of all the world. She helped us
make our map. Shall not that for which she stood help us hold it?

At least, let me say, I have thought this little story might be set
down; and, though some to-day may smile at flags and principles, I
should like, if I may be allowed, to close with the words of yet another
man of those earlier times: "The old flag of the Union was my protector
in infancy and the pride and glory of my riper years; and, by the grace
of God, under its shadow I shall die!" N.T.



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This file was acquired from Project Gutenberg, and it is in the public domain. It is re-distributed here as a part of the Alex Catalogue of Electronic Texts (http://infomotions.com/alex/) by Eric Lease Morgan (Infomotions, Inc.) for the purpose of freely sharing, distributing, and making available works of great literature. Its Infomotions unique identifier is etext14355, and it should be available from the following URL:

http://infomotions.com/etexts/id/etext14355



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