He was away when I called at his residence on Georgetown Heights, but at last I heard the wheels of his old omnibus, and presently he entered with his usual companion, Doctor Samuel Ward. When they saw me there, then indeed I received a greeting which repaid me for many things! This over, we all three broke out in laughter at my uncouth appearance. I was clad still in such clothing as I could pick up in western towns as I hurried on from the Missouri eastward; and I had as yet found no time for barbers.
“We have had no word from you, Nicholas,” said Mr. Calhoun presently, “since that from Laramie, in the fall of eighteen forty-four. This is in the spring of eighteen forty-six! Meantime, we might all have been dead and buried and none of us the wiser. What a country! ’Tis more enormous than the mind of any of us can grasp.”
“You should travel across it to learn that,” I grinned.
“Many things have happened since you left. You know that I am back in the Senate once more?”
I nodded. “And about Texas?” I began.
“Texas is ours,” said he, smiling grimly. “You have heard how? It was a hard fight enough—a bitter, selfish, sectional fight among politicians. But there is going to be war. Our troops crossed the Sabine more than a year ago. They will cross the Rio Grande before this year is done. The Mexican minister has asked for his passports. The administration has ordered General Taylor to advance. Mr. Polk is carrying out annexation with a vengeance. Seeing a chance for more territory, now that Texas is safe from England, he plans war on helpless and deserted Mexico! We may hear of a battle now at any time. But this war with Mexico may yet mean war with England. That, of course, endangers our chance to gain all or any of that great Oregon country. Tell me, what have you learned?”
I hurried on now with my own news, briefly as I might. I told them of the ships of England’s Navy waiting in Oregon waters; of the growing suspicion of the Hudson Bay people; of the changes in the management at Fort Vancouver; of the change also from a conciliatory policy to one of half hostility. I told them of our wagon trains going west, and of the strength of our frontiersmen; but offset this, justly as I might, by giving facts also regarding the opposition these might meet.
“Precisely,” said Calhoun, walking up and down, his head bent. “England is prepared for war! How much are we prepared? It would cost us the revenues of a quarter of a century to go to war with her to-day. It would cost us fifty thousand lives. We would need an army of two hundred and fifty thousand men. Where is all that to come from? Can we transport our army there in time? But had all this bluster ceased, then we could have deferred this war with Mexico; could have bought with coin what now will cost us blood; and we could also have bought Oregon without the cost of either coin or blood. Delay was what we needed! All of Oregon should have been ours!”