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.
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?”