“This—this is all I have been able to do with him thus far,” she faltered. “It is not enough. But I did it for you!”
“Madam, this is more than all America has been able to do before! This has not been made public?”
“No, no! It is not enough. But to-night I shall make him surrender all—all north, to the very ice, for America, for the democracy! See, now, I was born to be devoted, immolated, after all, as my mother was before me. That is fate! But I shall make fate pay! Ah, Monsieur! Ah, Monsieur!”
She flung herself to her feet. “I can get it all for you, you and yours!” she reiterated, holding out her hands, the little pink fingers upturned, as was often her gesture. “You shall go to your chief and tell him that Mr. Polk was right—that you yourself, who taught Helena von Ritz what life is, taught her that after all she was a woman—are able, because she was a woman, to bring in your own hands all that country, yes, to fifty-four forty, or even farther. I do not know what all can be done. I only know that a fool will part with everything for the sake of his body.”
I stood now looking at her, silent, trying to fathom the vastness of what she said, trying to understand at all their worth the motives which impelled her. The largeness of her plan, yes, that could be seen. The largeness of her heart and brain, yes, that also. Then, slowly, I saw yet more. At last I understood. What I saw was a horror to my soul.
“Madam,” said I to her, at last, “did you indeed think me so cheap as that? Come here!” I led her to the central apartment, and motioned her to a seat.
“Now, then, Madam, much has been done here, as you say. It is all that ever can be done. You shall not see Pakenham to-night, nor ever again!”
“But think what that will cost you!” she broke out. “This is only part. It should all be yours.”
I flung the document from me. “This has already cost too much,” I said. “We do not buy states thus.”
“But it will cost you your future! Polk is your enemy, now, as he is Calhoun’s. He will not strike you now, but so soon as he dares, he will. Now, if you could do this—if you could take this to Mr. Calhoun, to America, it would mean for you personally all that America could give you in honors.”
“Honors without honor, Madam, I do not covet,” I replied. Then I would have bit my tongue through when I saw the great pallor cross her face at the cruelty of my speech.
“And myself?” she said, spreading out her hands again. “But no! I know you would not taunt me. I know, in spite of what you say, there must be a sacrifice. Well, then, I have made it. I have made my atonement. I say I can give you now, even thus, at least a part of Oregon. I can perhaps give you all of Oregon—to-morrow! The Pakenhams have always dared much to gain their ends. This one will dare even treachery to his country. To-morrow—if I do not kill him—if I do not die—I can perhaps give you all of Oregon—bought—bought and ... paid!” Her voice trailed off into a whisper which seemed loud as a bugle call to me.