“How now? Why so anxious, my son?”
“Because it is right!”
Calhoun turned to Helena von Ritz. “Has this been presented to Mr. Buchanan, our secretary of state?” he asked.
“Certainly not. It has been shown to no one. I have been here in Washington working—well, working in secret to secure this document for you. I do this—well, I will be frank with you—I do it for Mr. Trist. He is my friend. I wish to say to you that he has been—a faithful—”
I saw her face whiten and her lips shut tight. She swayed a little as she stood. Doctor Ward was at her side and assisted her to a couch. For the first time the splendid courage of Helena von Ritz seemed to fail her. She sank back, white, unconscious.
“It’s these damned stays, John!” began Doctor Ward fiercely. “She has fainted. Here, put her down, so. We’ll bring her around in a minute. Great Jove! I want her to hear us thank her. It’s splendid work she has done for us. But why?”
When, presently, under the ministrations of the old physician, Helena von Ritz recovered her consciousness, she arose, fighting desperately to pull herself together and get back her splendid courage.
“Would you retire now, Madam?” asked Mr. Calhoun. “I have sent for my daughter.”
“No, no. It is nothing!” she said. “Forgive me, it is only an old habit of mine. See, I am quite well!”
Indeed, in a few moments she had regained something of that magnificent energy which was her heritage. As though nothing had happened, she arose and walked swiftly across the room. Her eyes were fixed upon the great map which hung upon the walls—a strange map it would seem to us to-day. Across this she swept a white hand.
“I saw your men cross this,” she said, pointing along the course of the great Oregon Trail—whose detailed path was then unknown to our geographers. “I saw them go west along that road of destiny. I told myself that by virtue of their courage they had won this war. Sometime there will come the great war between your people and those who rule them. The people still will win.”
She spread out her two hands top and bottom of the map. “All, all, ought to be yours,—from the Isthmus to the ice, for the sake of the people of the world. The people—but in time they will have their own!”
We listened to her silently, crediting her enthusiasm to her sex, her race; but what she said has remained in one mind at least from that day to this. Well might part of her speech remain in the minds to-day of people and rulers alike. Are we worth the price paid for the country that we gained? And when we shall be worth that price, what numerals shall mark our territorial lines?
“May I carry this document to Mr. Pakenham?” asked John Calhoun, at last, touching the paper on the table.
“Please, no. Do not. Only be sure that this proposition of compromise will meet with his acceptance.”