“Time for a new president and a new policy,” mused he.
“The grass is just beginning to sprout on the plains, Mr. Calhoun,” I began eagerly.
“Yes,” he nodded. “God! if I were only young!”
“I am young, Mr. Calhoun,” said I. “Send me!”
“Would you go?” he asked suddenly.
“I was going in any case.”
“Why, how do you mean?” he demanded.
I felt the blood come to my face. “’Tis all over between Miss Elisabeth Churchill and myself,” said I, as calmly as I might.
“Tut! tut! a child’s quarrel,” he went on, “a child’s quarrel! `Twill all mend in time.”
“Not by act of mine, then,” said I hotly.
Again abstracted, he seemed not wholly to hear me.
“First,” he mused, “the more important things”—riding over my personal affairs as of little consequence.
“I will tell you, Nicholas,” said he at last, wheeling swiftly upon me. “Start next week! An army of settlers waits now for a leader along the Missouri. Organize them; lead them out! Give them enthusiasm! Tell them what Oregon is! You may serve alike our party and our nation. You can not measure the consequences of prompt action sometimes, done by a man who is resolved upon the right. A thousand things may hinge on this. A great future may hinge upon it.”
It was only later that I was to know the extreme closeness of his prophecy.
Calhoun began to pace up and down. “Besides her land forces,” he resumed, “England is despatching a fleet to the Columbia! I doubt not that the Modeste has cleared for the Horn. There may be news waiting for you, my son, when you get across!
“While you have been busy, I have not been idle,” he continued. “I have here another little paper which I have roughly drafted.” He handed me the document as he spoke.
“A treaty—with Texas!” I exclaimed.
“The first draft, yes. We have signed the memorandum. We await only one other signature.”
“Of Van Zandt!”
“Yes. Now comes Mr. Nicholas Trist, with word of a certain woman to the effect that Mr. Van Zandt is playing also with England.”
“And that woman also is playing with England.”
Calhoun smiled enigmatically.
“But she has gone,” said I, “who knows where? She, too, may have sailed for Oregon, for all we know.”
He looked at me as though with a flash of inspiration. “That may be,” said he; “it may very well be! That would cost us our hold over Pakenham. Neither would we have any chance left with her.”
“How do you mean, Mr. Calhoun?” said I. “I do not understand you.”
“Nicholas,” said Mr. Calhoun, “that lady was much impressed with you.” He regarded me calmly, contemplatively, appraisingly.
“I do not understand you,” I reiterated.
“I am glad that you do not and did not. In that case, all would have been over at once. You would never have seen her a second time. Your constancy was our salvation, and perhaps your own!”