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?
What man seeks in love
is woman; what woman seeks in man is
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.