“Yes, I shall have Texas, as I shall have Oregon, settled before I lay down my arms, Sam Ward. No, I am not yet ready to die!” Calhoun’s old fire now flamed in all his mien.
“The situation is extremely difficult,” said his friend slowly. “It must be done; but how? We are as a nation not ready for war. You as a statesman are not adequate to the politics of all this. Where is your political party, John? You have none. You have outrun all parties. It will be your ruin, that you have been honest!”
Calhoun turned on him swiftly. “You know as well as I that mere politics will not serve. It will take some extraordinary measure—you know men—and, perhaps, women.”
“Yes,” said Doctor Ward, “and a precious silly lot: they are; the two running after each other and forgetting each other; using and wasting each other; ruining and despoiling each other, all the years, from Troy to Rome! But yes! For a man, set a woman for a trap. Vice versa, I suppose?”
Calhoun nodded, with a thin smile. “As it chances, I need a man. Ergo, and very plainly, I must use a woman!”
They looked at each other for a moment. That Calhoun planned some deep-laid stratagem was plain, but his speech for the time remained enigmatic, even to his most intimate companion.
“There are two women in our world to-day,” said Calhoun. “As to Jackson, the old fool was a monogamist, and still is. Not so much so Jim Polk of Tennessee. Never does he appear in public with eyes other than for the Dona Lucrezia of the Mexican legation! Now, one against the other—Mexico against Austria—”
Doctor Ward raised his eyebrows in perplexity.
“That is to say, England, and not Austria,” went on Calhoun coldly. “The ambassadress of England to America was born in Budapest! So I say, Austria; or perhaps Hungary, or some other country, which raised this strange representative who has made some stir in Washington here these last few weeks.”
“Ah, you mean the baroness!” exclaimed Doctor Ward. “Tut! Tut!”
Calhoun nodded, with the same cold, thin smile. “Yes,” he said, “I mean Mr. Pakenham’s reputed mistress, his assured secret agent and spy, the beautiful Baroness von Ritz!”
He mentioned a name then well known in diplomatic and social life, when intrigue in Washington, if not open, was none too well hidden.
“Gay Sir Richard!” he resumed. “You know, his ancestor was a brother-in-law of the Duke of Wellington. He himself seems to have absorbed some of the great duke’s fondness for the fair. Before he came to us he was with England’s legation in Mexico. ’Twas there he first met the Dona Lucrezia. ’Tis said he would have remained in Mexico had it not been arranged that she and her husband, Senor Yturrio, should accompany General Almonte in the Mexican ministry here. On these conditions, Sir Richard agreed to accept promotion as minister plenipotentiary to Washington!”