“Miss Elisabeth! So the wind is there, eh? My daughter’s friend. I know her very well, of course. Very well done, indeed, for you. But there can be no wedding to-night.”
I looked at him in amazement. He was as absorbed as though he felt empowered to settle that matter for me. A moment later, seeing Mr. Pakenham taking his leave, he stepped to the side of the baroness. I saw him and that mysterious lady fall into a conversation as grave as that which had but now been ended. I guessed, rather than reasoned, that in some mysterious way I came into their talk. But presently both approached me.
“Mr. Trist,” said Mr. Calhoun, “I beg you to hand the Baroness von Ritz to her carriage, which will wait at the avenue.” We were then standing near the door at the head of the steps.
“I see my friend Mr. Polk approaching,” he continued, “and I would like to have a word or so with him.”
We three walked in company down the steps and a short distance along the walk, until presently we faced the gentleman whose approach had been noted. We paused in a little group under the shade of an avenue tree, and the gentlemen removed their hats as Mr. Calhoun made a somewhat formal introduction.
At that time, of course, James K. Polk, of Tennessee, was not the national figure he was soon to become at the Baltimore convention. He was known best as Speaker of the House for some time, and as a man experienced in western politics, a friend of Jackson, who still controlled a large wing of the disaffected; the Democratic party then being scarce more than a league of warring cliques. Although once governor of Tennessee, it still was an honor for Mr. Polk to be sought out by Senator John Calhoun, sometime vice-president, sometime cabinet member in different capacities. He showed this as he uncovered. A rather short man, and thin, well-built enough, and of extremely serious mien, he scarce could have been as wise as he looked, any more than Mr. Daniel Webster; yet he was good example of conventional politics, platitudes and all.
“They have adjourned at the House, then?” said Calhoun.
“Yes, and adjourned a bear pit at that,” answered the gentleman from Tennessee. “Mr. Tyler has asked me to come across town to meet him. Do you happen to know where he is now?”
“He was here a few moments ago, Governor. We were but escorting this lady to her carriage, as she claims fatigue from late hours at the ball last night.”
“Surely so radiant a presence,” said Mr. Polk gallantly, “means that she left the ball at an early hour.”
“Quite so,” replied that somewhat uncertain lady demurely. “Early hours and a good conscience are advised by my physicians.”
“My dear lady, Time owns his own defeat in you,” Mr. Polk assured her, his eyes sufficiently admiring.
“Such pretty speeches as these gentlemen of America make!” was her gay reply. “Is it not so, Mr. Secretary?” She smiled up at Calhoun’s serious face.