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   Chapter 20 THE LADY FROM MEXICO

54-40 or Fight By Emerson Hough Characters: 10737

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


As soon as women are ours, we are no longer theirs.

-Montaigne.

After a time my chief re?ntered the office room and bent over me at my table. I put before him the draft of the document which he had given me for clerical care.

"So," he said, "'tis ready-our declaration. I wonder what may come of that little paper!"

"Much will come of it with a strong people back of it. The trouble is only that what Democrat does, Whig condemns. And not even all our party is with Mr. Tyler and yourself in this, Mr. Calhoun. Look, for instance, at Mr. Polk and his plans." To this venture on my part he made no present answer.

"I have no party, that is true," said he at last-"none but you and Sam Ward!" He smiled with one of his rare, illuminating smiles, different from the cold mirth which often marked him.

"At least, Mr. Calhoun, you do not take on your work for the personal glory of it," said I hotly; "and one day the world will know it!"

"'Twill matter very little to me then," said he bitterly. "But come, now, I want more news about your trip to Montreal. What have you done?"

So now, till far towards dawn of the next day, we sat and talked. I put before him full details of my doings across the border. He sat silent, his eye betimes wandering, as though absorbed, again fixed on me, keen and glittering.

"So! So!" he mused at length, when I had finished, "England has started a land party for Oregon! Can they get across next fall, think you?"

"Hardly possible, sir," said I. "They could not go so swiftly as the special fur packets. Winter would catch them this side of the Rockies. It will be a year before they can reach Oregon."

"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 Modesté 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!"

He smiled in a way I liked none too well, but now I began myself to engage in certain reflections. Was it then true that faith could purchase faith-and win not failure, but success?

"At least she has flown," went on Calhoun. "But why? What made her go? 'Tis all over now, unless, unless-unless-" he added to himself a third time.

"But unless what?"

"Unless that chance word may have had some weight. You say that you and she talked of principles?"

"Yes, we went so far into abstractions."

"So did I with her! I told her about this country; explained to her as I could the beauties of the idea of a popular government. 'Twas as a revelation to her. She had never known a republican government before, student as she is. Nicholas, your long legs and my long head may have done some work after all! How did she seem to part with you?"

"As though

she hated me; as though she hated herself and all the world. Yet not quite that, either. As though she would have wept-that is the truth. I do not pretend to understand her. She is a puzzle such as I have never known."

"Nor are you apt to know another her like. Look, here she is, the paid spy, the secret agent, of England. Additionally, she is intimately concerned with the private life of Mr. Pakenham. For the love of adventure, she is engaged in intrigue also with Mexico. Not content with that, born adventuress, eager devourer of any hazardous and interesting intellectual offering, any puzzle, any study, any intrigue-she comes at midnight to talk with me, whom she knows to be the representative of yet a third power!"

"And finds you in your red nightcap!" I laughed.

"Did she speak of that?" asked Mr. Calhoun in consternation, raising a hand to his head. "It may be that I forgot-but none the less, she came!

"Yes, as I said, she came, by virtue of your long legs and your ready way, as I must admit; and you were saved from her only, as I believe-Why, God bless Elisabeth Churchill, my boy, that is all! But my faith, how nicely it all begins to work out!"

"I do not share your enthusiasm, Mr. Calhoun," said I bitterly. "On the contrary, it seems to me to work out in as bad a fashion as could possibly be contrived."

"In due time you will see many things more plainly. Meantime, be sure England will be careful. She will make no overt movement, I should say, until she has heard from Oregon; which will not be before my lady baroness shall have returned and reported to Mr. Pakenham here. All of which means more time for us."

I began to see something of the structure of bold enterprise which this man deliberately was planning; but no comment offered itself; so that presently, he went on, as though in soliloquy.

"The Hudson Bay Company have deceived England splendidly enough. Doctor McLaughlin, good man that he is, has not suited the Hudson Bay Company. His removal means less courtesy to our settlers in Oregon. Granted a less tactful leader than himself, there will be friction with our high-strung frontiersmen in that country. No man can tell when the thing will come to an issue. For my own part, I would agree with Polk that we ought to own that country to fifty-four forty-but what we ought to do and what we can do are two separate matters. Should we force the issue now and lose, we would lose for a hundred years. Should we advance firmly and hold firmly what we gain, in perhaps less than one hundred years we may win all of that country, as I just said to Mr. Polk, to the River Saskatchewan-I know not where! In my own soul, I believe no man may set a limit to the growth of the idea of an honest government by the people. And this continent is meant for that honest government!"

"We have already a Monroe Doctrine, Mr. Calhoun," said I. "What you enunciate now is yet more startling. Shall we call it the Calhoun Doctrine?"

He made no answer, but arose and paced up and down, stroking the thin fringe of beard under his chin. Still he seemed to talk with himself.

"We are not rich," he went on. "Our canals and railways are young. The trail across our country is of monstrous difficulty. Give us but a few years more and Oregon, ripe as a plum, would drop in our lap. To hinder that is a crime. What Polk proposes is insincerity, and all insincerity must fail. There is but one result when pretense is pitted against preparedness. Ah, if ever we needed wisdom and self-restraint, we need them now! Yet look at what we face! Look at what we may lose! And that through party-through platform-through politics!"

He sighed as he paused in his walk and turned to me. "But now, as I said, we have at least time for Texas. And in regard to Texas we need another woman."

I stared at him.

"You come now to me with proof that my lady baroness traffics with Mexico as well as England," he resumed. "That is to say, Yturrio meets my lady baroness. What is the inference? At least, jealousy on the part of Yturrio's wife, whether or not she cares for him! Now, jealousy between the sexes is a deadly weapon if well handled. Repugnant as it is, we must handle it."

I experienced no great enthusiasm at the trend of events, and Mr. Calhoun smiled at me cynically as he went on. "I see you don't care for this sort of commission. At least, this is no midnight interview. You shall call in broad daylight on the Se?ora Yturrio. If you and my daughter will take my coach and four to-morrow, I think she will gladly receive your cards. Perhaps also she will consent to take the air of Washington with you. In that case, she might drop in here for an ice. In such case, to conclude, I may perhaps be favored with an interview with that lady. I must have Van Zandt's signature to this treaty which you see here!"

"But these are Mexicans, and Van Zandt is leader of the Texans, their most bitter enemies!"

"Precisely. All the less reason why Se?ora Yturrio should be suspected."

"I am not sure that I grasp all this, Mr. Calhoun."

"Perhaps not You presently will know more. What seems to me plain is that, since we seem to lose a valuable ally in the Baroness von Ritz, we must make some offset to that loss. If England has one woman on the Columbia, we must have another on the Rio Grande!"

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