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.”