The old gentleman rose and bowed. “I thank you for the honor of your flattery, sir,” he began; but Calhoun raised a gentle hand.
“If it would please you, sir, to defer your visit to your own country for a time, I can secure for you a situation in our department in biology, where your services would be of extreme worth to us. The salary would also allow you to continue your private researches into the life of our native tribes.”
Von Rittenhofen positively glowed at this. “Ach, what an honor!” he began again.
“Meantime,” resumed Calhoun, “not to mention the value which that research would have for us, we could also find use, at proper remuneration, for your private aid in making up a set of maps of that western country which you know so well, and of which even I myself am so ignorant. I want to know the distances, the topography, the means of travel. I want to know the peculiarities of that country of Oregon. It would take me a year to send a messenger, for at best it requires six months to make the outbound passage, and in the winter the mountains are impassable. If you could, then, take service with us now, we should be proud to make you such return as your scientific attainments deserve.”
Few could resist the persuasiveness of Mr. Calhoun’s speech, certainly not Von Rittenhofen, who thus found offered him precisely what he would have desired. I was pleased to see him so happily situated and so soon. Presently we despatched him down to my hotel, where I promised later to make him more at home. In his elation over the prospect he now saw before him, the old man fairly babbled. Germany seemed farthest from his mind. After his departure, Calhoun again turned to me.
“I want you to remain, Nicholas,” said he, “because I have an appointment with a gentleman who will soon be present.”
“Rather a late hour, sir,” I ventured. “Are you keeping faith with Doctor Ward?”
“I have no time for hobbies,” he exclaimed, half petulantly. “What I must do is this work. The man we are to meet to-night is Mr. Polk. It is important.”
“You would not call Mr. Polk important?” I smiled frankly, and Calhoun replied in icy kind.
“You can not tell how large a trouble may be started by a small politician,” said he. “At least, we will hear what he has to say. ’Twas he that sought the meeting, not myself.”
Perhaps half an hour later, Mr. Calhoun’s old negro man ushered in this awaited guest, and we three found ourselves alone in one of those midnight conclaves which went on in Washington even then as they do to-day. Mr. Polk was serious as usual; his indecisive features wearing the mask of solemnity, which with so many passed as wisdom.
“I have come, Mr. Calhoun,” said he—when the latter had assured him that my presence would entail no risk to him—“to talk over this Texas situation.”
“Very well,” said my chief. “My own intentions regarding Texas are now of record.”