Amid all the din and babble of that motley throng I heard the word, low as it was. I have never heard a voice like Elisabeth’s.
An instant later, I knew not quite how, her hand was away from my arm, in that of Aunt Betty, and they were passing toward the main door, leaving me standing with joy and doubt mingled in my mind.
MR. CALHOUN ACCEPTS
A woman’s tongue is her
sword, that she never lets rust.
I struggled among three courses. The impulses of my heart, joined to some prescience of trouble, bade me to follow Elisabeth. My duty ordered me to hasten to Mr. Calhoun. My interest demanded that I should tarry, for I was sure that the Baroness von Ritz would make no merely idle request in these circumstances. Hesitating thus, I lost sight of her in the throng. So I concluded I would obey the mandate of duty, and turned toward the great doors. Indeed, I was well toward the steps which led out into the grounds, when all at once two elements of my problem resolved themselves into one. I saw the tall figure of Mr. Calhoun himself coming up the walk toward me.
“Ah,” said he briefly, “then my message found you?”
“I was starting for you this moment, sir” I replied.
“Wait for a moment. I counted on finding you here. Matters have changed.”
I turned with him and we entered again the East Room, where Mr. Tyler still prolonged the official greeting of the curious, the obsequious, or the banal persons who passed. Mr. Calhoun stood apart for a time, watching the progress of this purely American function. It was some time ere the groups thinned. This latter fact usually would have ended the reception, since it is not etiquette to suppose that the president can lack an audience; but to-day Mr. Tyler lingered. As last through the thinning throng he caught sight of the distinctive figure of Mr. Calhoun. For the first time his own face assumed a natural expression. He stopped the line for an instant, and with a raised hand beckoned to my chief.
At this we dropped in at the tail of the line, Mr. Calhoun in passing grasping almost as many hands as Mr. Tyler. When at length we reached the president’s position, the latter greeted him and added a whispered word. An instant later he turned abruptly, ending the reception with a deep bow, and retired into the room from which he had earlier emerged.
Mr. Calhoun turned now to me with a request to follow him, and we passed through the door where the president had vanished. Directed by attendants, we were presently ushered into yet another room, which at that time served the president as his cabinet room, a place for meeting persons of distinction who called upon business.
As we entered I saw that it was already occupied. Mr. Tyler was grasping the hand of a portly personage, whom I knew to be none other than Mr. Pakenham. So much might have been expected. What was not to have been expected was the presence of another—none less than the Baroness von Ritz! For this latter there was no precedent, no conceivable explanation save some exigent emergency.