My eye must have kindled at that, for he smiled at me.
“You are like all Americans. They leave their own homes and make new governments, yess? Those men in Oregon haf made a new government for themselfs, and they tax those English traders to pay for a government which iss American!”
I studied him now closely. If he had indeed lived so long in the Oregon settlements, he knew far more about certain things than I did.
“News travels slowly over so great a distance,” said I. “Of course I know nothing of these matters except that last year and the year before the missionaries have come east to ask us for more settlers to come out to Oregon. I presume they want their churches filled.”
“But most their farms!” said the old man.
“You have been at Fort Vancouver?”
He nodded. “Also to Fort Colville, far north; also to what they call California, far south; and again to what they may yet call Fort Victoria. I haf seen many posts of the Hudson Bay Company.”
I was afraid my eyes showed my interest; but he went on.
“I haf been, in the Columbia country, and in the Willamette country, where most of your Americans are settled. I know somewhat of California. Mr. Howard, of the Hudson Bay Company, knows also of this country of California. He said to those English gentlemans at our meeting last night that England should haf someting to offset California on the west coast; because, though Mexico claims California, the Yankees really rule there, and will rule there yet more. He iss right; but they laughed at him.”
“Oh, I think little will come of all this talk,” I said carelessly. “It is very far, out to Oregon.” Yet all the time my heart was leaping. So he had been there, at that very meeting of which I could learn nothing!
“You know not what you say. A thousand men came into Oregon last year. It iss like one of the great migrations of the peoples of Asia, of Europe. I say to you, it iss a great epoch. There iss a folk-movement such as we haf not seen since the days of the Huns, the Goths, the Vandals, since the Cimri movement. It iss an epoch, my friend! It iss fate that iss in it.”
“So, then, it is a great country?” I asked.
“It iss so great, these traders do not wish it known. They wish only that it may be savage; also that their posts and their harems may be undisturbed. That iss what they wish. These Scots go wild again, in the wilderness. They trade and they travel, but it iss not homes they build. Sir George Simpson wants steel traps and not ploughs west of the Rockies. That iss all!”
“They do not speak so of Doctor McLaughlin,” I began tentatively.
“My friend, a great man, McLaughlin, believe me! But he iss not McKay; he iss not Simpson; he iss not Behrens; he iss not Colville; he iss not Douglas. And I say to you, as I learned last night—you see, they asked me also to tell what I knew of Oregon—I say to you that last night McLaughlin was deposed. He iss in charge no more—so soon as they can get word to him, he loses his place at Vancouver.”