“No, you can not give us Oregon,” I answered. “We are men, not panders. We fight; we do not traffic thus. But you have given me Elisabeth!”
“My rival!” She smiled at me in spite of all. “But no, not my rival. Yes, I have already given you her and given you to her. To do that—to atone, as I said, for my attempt to part you—well, I will give Mr. Pakenham the key that Sir Richard Pakenham of England lately held. I told you a woman pays, body and soul! In what coin fate gave me, I will pay it. You think my morals mixed. No, I tell you I am clean! I have only bought my own peace with my own conscience! Now, at last, Helena von Ritz knows why she was born, to what end! I have a work to do, and, yes, I see it now—my journey to America after all was part of the plan of fate. I have learned much—through you, Monsieur.”
Hurriedly she turned and left me, passing through the heavy draperies which cut off the room where stood the great satin couch. I saw her cast herself there, her arms outflung. Slow, deep and silent sobs shook all her body.
“Madam! Madam!” I cried to her. “Do not! Do not! What you have done here is worth a hundred millions of dollars, a hundred thousand of lives, perhaps. Yes, that is true. It means most of Oregon, with honor, and without war. That is true, and it is much. But the price paid—it is more than all this continent is worth, if it cost so much as that Nor shall it!”
Black, with a million pin-points of red, the world swam around me. Millions of dead souls or souls unborn seemed to gaze at me and my unhesitating rage. I caught up the scroll which bore England’s signature, and with one clutch cast it in two pieces on the floor. As it lay, we gazed at it in silence. Slowly, I saw a great, soft radiance come upon her face. The red pin-points cleared away from my own vision.
THE STORY OF HELENA VON RITZ
There is in every true
woman’s heart a spark of heavenly fire,
which beams and blazes in the dark hours of adversity.—Washington
“But Madam; but Madam—” I tried to begin. At last, after moments which seemed to me ages long, I broke out: “But once, at least, you promised to tell me who and what you are. Will you do that now?”
“Yes! yes!” she said. “Now I shall finish the clearing of my soul. You, after all, shall be my confessor.”
We heard again a faltering footfall in the hallway. I raised an eyebrow in query.
“It is my father. Yes, but let him come. He also must hear. He is indeed the author of my story, such as it is.
“Father,” she added, “come, sit you here. I have something to say to Mr. Trist.”
She seated herself now on one of the low couches, her hands clasped across its arm, her eyes looking far away out of the little window, beyond which could be seen the hills across the wide Potomac.