“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!”