“Now, Nicholas Trist,” resumed Doctor Ward presently, “there is to be at Montreal at the date named in these papers a meeting of the directors of the Hudson Bay Company of England. There will be big men there—the biggest their country can produce; leaders of the Hudson Bay Company, many, public men even of England. It is rumored that a brother of Lord Aberdeen, of the British Ministry, will attend. Do you begin to understand?”
Ah, did I not? Here, then, was further weaving of those complex plots which at that time hedged in all our history as a republic. Now I guessed the virtue of our knowing somewhat of England’s secret plans, as she surely did of ours. I began to feel behind me the impulse of John Calhoun’s swift energy.
“It is Oregon!” I exclaimed at last.
Doctor Ward nodded. “Very possibly. It has seemed to Mr. Calhoun very likely that we may hear something of great importance regarding the far Northwest. A missed cog now may cost this country a thousand miles of territory, a hundred years of history.”
Doctor Ward continued: “England, as you know,” said he, “is the enemy of this country as much to-day as ever. She claims she wishes Texas to remain free. She forgets her own record—forgets the burning cities of Rohilkhand, the imprisoned princesses of Oudh! Might is her right. She wants Texas as a focus of contention, a rallying point of sectionalism. If she divides us, she conquers us. That is all. She wants the chance for the extension of her own hold on this continent, which she will push as far, and fast as she dare. She must have cotton. She would like land as well.”
“That means also Oregon?”
He nodded. “Always with the Texas question comes the Oregon question. Mr. Calhoun is none too friendly to Mr. Polk, and yet he knows that through Jackson’s influence with the Southern democracy Polk has an excellent chance for the next nomination for the presidency. God knows what folly will come then. But sometime, one way or another, the joint occupancy of England and the United States in the Oregon country must end. It has been a waiting game thus far, as you know; but never think that England has been idle. This meeting in Montreal will prove that to you.”
In spite of myself, I began to feel the stimulus of a thought like this. It was my salvation as a man. I began to set aside myself and my own troubles.
“You are therefore,” he concluded, “to go to Montreal, and find your own way into that meeting of the directors of the Hudson Bay Company. There is a bare chance that in this intrigue Mexico will have an emissary on the ground as well. There is reason to suspect her hostility to all our plans of extension, southwest and northwest. Naturally, it is the card of Mexico to bring on war, or accept it if we urge; but only in case she has England as her ally. England will get her pay by taking Texas, and what is more, by taking California, which Mexico does not value. She owes England large sums now. That would leave England owner of the Pacific coast; for, once she gets California, she will fight us then for all of Oregon. It is your duty to learn all of these matters—who is there, what is done; and to do this without making known your own identity.”