“But why then? Why then? What do you mean?” I demanded.
“Because no other way sufficed. All this winter, here, alone, I have planned and thought about other means. Nothing would do. There was but the one way. Now you see why I did not go to Mr. Calhoun, why I kept my presence here secret.”
“But you saw Elisabeth?”
“Yes, long ago. My friend, you have won! You both have won, and I have lost. She loves you, and is worthy of you. You are worthy of each other, yes. I saw I had lost; and I told you I would pay my wager. I told you I would give you her—and Oregon! Well, then, that last was—hard.” She choked. “That was—hard to do.” She almost sobbed. “But I have—paid! Heart and soul ... and body ... I have ... paid! Now, he comes ... for ... the price!”
“But then—but then!” I expostulated. “What does this mean, that I see here? There was no need for this. Had you no friends among us? Why, though it meant war, I myself to-night would choke that beast Pakenham with my own hands!”
“No, you will not.”
“But did I not hear him say there was a key—his key—to-night?”
“Yes, England once owned that key. Now, he does. Yes, it is true. Since yesterday. Now, he comes ...”
“But, Madam—ah, how could you so disappoint my belief in you?”
“Because”—she smiled bitterly—“in all great causes there are sacrifices.”
“But no cause could warrant this.”
“I was judge of that,” was her response. “I saw her—Elisabeth—that girl. Then I saw what the future years meant for me. I tell you, I vowed with her, that night when I thought you two were wedded. I did more. I vowed myself to a new and wider world that night. Now, I have lost it. After all, seeing I could not now be a woman and be happy, I—Monsieur—I pass on to others, after this, not that torture of life, but that torturing principle of which we so often spoke. Yes, I, even as I am; because by this—this act—this sacrifice—I can win you for her. And I can win that wider America which you have coveted; which I covet for you—which I covet with you!”
I could do no more than remain silent, and allow her to explain what was not in the least apparent to me. After a time she went on.
“Now—now, I say—Pakenham the minister is sunk in Pakenham the man. He does as I demand—because he is a man. He signs what I demand because I am a woman. I say, to-night—but, see!”
She hastened now to a little desk, and caught up a folded document which lay there. This she handed to me, unfolded, and I ran it over with a hasty glance. It was a matter of tremendous importance which lay in those few closely written lines.
England’s minister offered, over the signature of England, a compromise of the whole Oregon debate, provided this country would accept the line of the forty-ninth degree! That, then, was Pakenham’s price for this key that lay here.