He looked her full in the eye, his own blue orbs alight with resolution. She returned his gaze, fierce as a tigress. But at last she spread out her deprecating hands.
“Senor,” she said, “I am but a woman. I am in the Senor Secretary’s hands. I am even in his hand. What can he wish?”
“In no unfair way, Senora, I beg you to understand, in no improper way are you in our hands. But now let us endeavor to discover some way in which some of these matters may be composed. In such affairs, a small incident is sometimes magnified and taken in connection with its possible consequences. You readily may see, Senora, that did I personally seek the dismissal of your husband, possibly even the recall of General Almonte, his chief, that might be effected without difficulty.”
“You seek war, Senor Secretary! My people say that your armies are in Texas now, or will be.”
“They are but very slightly in advance of the truth, Senora,” said Calhoun grimly. “For me, I do not believe in war when war can be averted. But suppose it could be averted? Suppose the Senora Yturrio herself could avert it? Suppose the Senora could remain here still, in this city which she so much admires? A lady of so distinguished beauty and charm is valuable in our society here.”
He bowed to her with stately grace. If there was mockery in his tone, she could not catch it; nor did her searching eyes read his meaning.
“See,” he resumed, “alone, I am helpless in this situation. If my government is offended, I can not stop the course of events. I am not the Senate; I am simply an officer in our administration—a very humble officer of his Excellency our president, Mr. Tyler.”
My lady broke out in a peal of low, rippling laughter, her white teeth gleaming. It was, after all, somewhat difficult to trifle with one who had been trained in intrigue all her life.
Calhoun laughed now in his own quiet way. “We shall do better if we deal entirely frankly, Senora,” said he. “Let us then waste no time. Frankly, then, it would seem that, now the Baroness von Ritz is off the scene, the Senora Yturrio would have all the better title and opportunity in the affections of—well, let us say, her own husband!”
She bent toward him now, her lips open in a slow smile, all her subtle and dangerous beauty unmasking its batteries. The impression she conveyed was that of warmth and of spotted shadows such as play upon the leopard’s back, such as mark the wing of the butterfly, the petal of some flower born in a land of heat and passion. But Calhoun regarded her calmly, his finger tips together, and spoke as deliberately as though communing with himself. “It is but one thing, one very little thing.”
“And what is that, Senor?” she asked at length.
“The signature of Senor Van Zandt, attache for Texas, on this memorandum of treaty between the United States and Texas.”