We all three now sat silent in the little room where the candles guttered in the great glass cylindres on the mantel—an apartment scarce better lighted by the further aid of lamps fed by oil.
“He might be older,” said Calhoun at length, speaking of me as though I were not present. “And ’tis a hard game to play, if once my lady Helena takes it into her merry head to make it so for him. But if I sent one shorter of stature and uglier of visage and with less art in approaching a crinoline—why, perhaps he would get no farther than her door. No; he will serve—he must serve!”
He arose now, and bowed to us both, even as I rose and turned for my cloak to shield me from the raw drizzle which then was falling in the streets. Doctor Ward reached down his own shaggy top hat from the rack.
“To bed with you now, John,” said he sternly.
“No, I must write.”
“You heard me say, to bed with you! A stiff toddy to make you sleep. Nicholas here may wake you soon enough with his mysterious companion. I think to-morrow will be time enough for you to work, and to-morrow very likely will bring work for you to do.”
Calhoun sighed. “God!” he exclaimed, “if I but had back my strength! If there were more than those scant remaining years!”
“Go!” said he suddenly; and so we others passed down his step and out into the semi-lighted streets.
So this, then, was my errand. My mind still tingled at its unwelcome quality. Doctor Ward guessed something of my mental dissatisfaction.
“Never mind, Nicholas,” said he, as we parted at the street corner, where he climbed into the rickety carriage which his colored driver held awaiting him. “Never mind. I don’t myself quite know what Calhoun wants; but he would not ask of you anything personally improper. Do his errand, then. It is part of your work. In any case—” and I thought I saw him grin in the dim light—“you may have a night which you will remember.”
There proved to be truth in what he said.
The egotism of women is always for two.—Mme. De Staeel.
The thought of missing my meeting with Elisabeth still rankled in my soul. Had it been another man who asked me to carry this message, I must have refused. But this man was my master, my chief, in whose service I had engaged.
Strange enough it may seem to give John Calhoun any title showing love or respect. To-day most men call him traitor—call him the man responsible for the war between North and South—call him the arch apostle of that impossible doctrine of slavery, which we all now admit was wrong. Why, then, should I love him as I did? I can not say, except that I always loved, honored and admired courage, uprightness, integrity.
For myself, his agent, I had, as I say, left the old Trist homestead at the foot of South Mountain in Maryland, to seek my fortune in our capital city. I had had some three or four years’ semi-diplomatic training when I first met Calhoun and entered his service as assistant. It was under him that I finished my studies in law. Meantime, I was his messenger in very many quests, his source of information in many matters where he had no time to go into details.