Strange enough had been some of the circumstances in which I found myself thrust through this relation with a man so intimately connected for a generation with our public life. Adventures were always to my liking, and surely I had my share. I knew the frontier marches of Tennessee and Alabama, the intricacies of politics of Ohio and New York, mixed as those things were in Tyler’s time. I had even been as far west as the Rockies, of which young Fremont was now beginning to write so understandingly. For six months I had been in Mississippi and Texas studying matters and men, and now, just hack from Natchitoches, I felt that I had earned some little rest.
But there was the fascination of it—that big game of politics. No, I will call it by its better name of statesmanship, which sometimes it deserved in those days, as it does not to-day. That was a day of Warwicks. The nominal rulers did not hold the greatest titles. Naturally, I knew something of these things, from the nature of my work in Calhoun’s office. I have had insight into documents which never became public. I have seen treaties made. I have seen the making of maps go forward. This, indeed, I was in part to see that very night, and curiously, too.
How the Baroness von Ritz—beautiful adventuress as she was sometimes credited with being, charming woman as she was elsewhere described, fascinating and in some part dangerous to any man, as all admitted—could care to be concerned with this purely political question of our possible territories, I was not shrewd enough at that moment in advance to guess; for I had nothing more certain than the rumor she was England’s spy. I bided my time, knowing that ere long the knowledge must come to me in Calhoun’s office even in case I did not first learn more than Calhoun himself.
Vaguely in my conscience I felt that, after all, my errand was justified, even though at some cost to my own wishes and my own pride. The farther I walked in the dark along Pennsylvania Avenue, into which finally I swung after I had crossed Rock Bridge, the more I realized that perhaps this big game was worth playing in detail and without quibble as the master mind should dictate. As he was servant of a purpose, of an ideal of triumphant democracy, why should not I also serve in a cause so splendid?
I was, indeed, young—Nicholas Trist, of Maryland; six feet tall, thin, lean, always hungry, perhaps a trifle freckled, a little sandy of hair, blue I suppose of eye, although I am not sure; good rider and good marcher, I know; something of an expert with the weapons of my time and people; fond of a horse and a dog and a rifle—yes, and a glass and a girl, if truth be told. I was not yet thirty, in spite of my western travels. At that age the rustle of silk or dimity, the suspicion of adventure, tempts the worst or the best of us, I fear. Woman!—the very sound of the word made my blood leap then. I went forward rather blithely, as I now blush to confess. “If there are maps to be made to-night,” said I, “the Baroness Helena shall do her share in writing on my chief’s old mahogany desk, and not on her own dressing case.”