“It is the truth,” I answered. “In God’s name, then, play the game fair.”
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.