“I do not quite understand why you do not go to Mr. Buchanan, our secretary of state.”
“Because I pay my debts,” she said simply. “I told you that Mr. Trist and I were comrades. I conceived it might be some credit for him in his work to have been the means of doing this much.”
“He shall have that credit, Madam, be sure of that,” said John Calhoun. He held out to her his long, thin, bloodless hand.
“Madam,” he said, “I have been mistaken in many things. My life will be written down as failure. I have been misjudged. But at least it shall not be said of me that I failed to reverence a woman such as you. All that I thought of you, that first night I met you, was more than true. And did I not tell you you would one day, one way, find your reward?”
He did not know what he said; but I knew, and I spoke with him in the silence of my own heart, knowing that his speech would be the same were his knowledge even with mine.
“To-morrow,” went on Calhoun, “to-morrow evening there is to be what we call a ball of our diplomacy at the White House. Our administration, knowing that war is soon to be announced in the country, seeks to make a little festival here at the capital. We whistle to keep up our courage. We listen to music to make us forget our consciences. To-morrow night we dance. All Washington will be there. Baroness von Ritz, a card will come to you.”
She swept him a curtsey, and gave him a smile.
“Now, as for me,” he continued, “I am an old man, and long ago danced my last dance in public. To-morrow night all of us will be at the White House—Mr. Trist will be there, and Doctor Ward, and a certain lady, a Miss Elisabeth Churchill, Madam, whom I shall be glad to have you meet. You must not fail us, dear lady, because I am going to ask of you one favor.”
He bowed with a courtesy which might have come from generations of an old aristocracy. “If you please, Madam, I ask you to honor me with your hand for my first dance in years—my last dance in all my life.”
Impulsively she held out both her hands, bowing her head as she did so to hide her face. Two old gray men, one younger man, took her hands and kissed them.
Now our flag floats on the Columbia and on the Rio Grande. I am older now, but when I think of that scene, I wish that flag might float yet freer; and though the price were war itself, that it might float over a cleaner and a nobler people, over cleaner and nobler rulers, more sensible of the splendor of that heritage of principle which should be ours.
THE PALO ALTO BALL
A beautiful woman pleases
the eye, a good woman pleases the heart;
one is a jewel, the other a treasure.—Napoleon I.