A stifled exclamation came from the Dona Lucrezia. I have never seen more sadness nor yet more hatred on a human face than hers displayed. I have said that she was not thoroughbred. She arose now, proud as ever, it is true, but vicious. She declined Helena von Ritz’s outstretched hand, and swept us a curtsey. “Adios!” said she. “I go!”
Mr. Calhoun gravely offered her an arm; and so with a rustle of her silks there passed from our lives one unhappy lady who helped make our map for us.
The baroness herself turned. “I ought not to remain,” she hesitated.
“Madam,” said Mr. Calhoun, “we can not spare you yet.”
She flashed upon him a keen look. “It is a young country,” said she, “but it raises statesmen. You foolish, dear Americans! One could have loved you all.”
“Eh, what?” said Doctor Ward, turning to her. “My dear lady, two of us are too old for that; and as for the other—”
He did not know how hard this chance remark might smite, but as usual Helena von Ritz was brave and smiling.
“You are men,” said she, “such as we do not have in our courts of Europe. Men and women—that is what this country produces.”
“Madam,” said Calhoun, “I myself am a very poor sort of man. I am old, and I fail from month to month. I can not live long, at best. What you see in me is simply a purpose—a purpose to accomplish something for my country—a purpose which my country itself does not desire to see fulfilled. Republics do not reward us. What you say shall be our chief reward. I have asked you here also to accept the thanks of all of us who know the intricacies of the events which have gone forward. Madam, we owe you Texas! ’Twas not yonder lady, but yourself, who first advised of the danger that threatened us. Hers was, after all, a simpler task than yours, because she only matched faiths with Van Zandt, representative of Texas, who had faith in neither men, women nor nations. Had all gone well, we might perhaps have owed you yet more, for Oregon.”
“Would you like Oregon?” she asked, looking at him with the full glance of her dark eyes.
“More than my life! More than the life of myself and all my friends and family! More than all my fortune!” His voice rang clear and keen as that of youth.
“All of Oregon?” she asked.
“All? We do not own all! Perhaps we do not deserve it. Surely we could not expect it. Why, if we got one-half of what that fellow Polk is claiming, we should do well enough—that is more than we deserve or could expect. With our army already at war on the Southwest, England, as we all know, is planning to take advantage of our helplessness in Oregon.”
Without further answer, she held out to him a document whose appearance I, at least, recognized.
“I am but a woman,” she said, “but it chances that I have been able to do this country perhaps something of a favor. Your assistant, Mr. Trist, has done me in his turn a favor. This much I will ask permission to do for him.”