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54-40 or Fight By Emerson Hough Characters: 32503

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Woman must not belong to herself; she is bound to alien

destinies.-Friedrich von Schiller.

With an exclamation of surprise the old woman departed from the door. I heard the rustle of a footfall. I could have told in advance what face would now appear outlined in the candle glow-with eyes wide and startled, with lips half parted in query. It was the face of Helena, Baroness von Ritz!

"Eh bien! madam, why do you bar me out?" I said, as though we had parted but yesterday.

In her sheer astonishment, I presume, she let down the fastening chain, and without her invitation I stepped within. I heard her startled "Mon Dieu!" then her more deliberate exclamation of emotion. "My God!" she said. She stood, with her hands caught at her throat, staring at me. I laughed and held out a hand.

"Madam Baroness," I said, "how glad I am! Come, has not fate been kind to us again?" I pushed shut the door behind me. Still without a word, she stepped deeper into the room and stood looking at me, her hands clasped now loosely and awkwardly, as though she were a country girl surprised, and not the Baroness Helena von Ritz, toast or talk of more than one capital of the world.

Yet she was the same. She seemed slightly thinner now, yet not less beautiful. Her eyes were dark and brilliant as ever. The clear features of her face were framed in the roll of her heavy locks, as I had seen them last. Her garb, as usual, betokened luxury. She was robed as though for some fête, all in white satin, and pale blue fires of stones shone faintly at throat and wrist. Contrast enough she made to me, clad in smoke-browned tunic of buck, with the leggings and moccasins of a savage, my belt lacking but prepared for weapons.

I had not time to puzzle over the question of her errand here, why or whence she had come, or what she purposed doing. I was occupied with the sudden surprises which her surroundings offered.

"I see, Madam," said I, smiling, "that still I am only asleep and dreaming. But how exquisite a dream, here in this wild country! How unfit here am I, a savage, who introduce the one discordant note into so sweet a dream!"

I gestured to my costume, gestured about me, as I took in the details of the long room in which we stood. I swear it was the same as that in which I had seen her at a similar hour in Montreal! It was the same I had first seen in Washington!

Impossible? I am doubted? Ah, but do I not know? Did I not see? Here were the pictures on the walls, the carved Cupids, the candelabra with their prisms, the chairs, the couches! Beyond yonder satin curtains rose the high canopy of the embroidery-covered couch, its fringed drapery reaching almost to the deep pile of the carpets. True, opportunity had not yet offered for the full concealment of these rude walls; yet, as my senses convinced me even against themselves, here were the apartments of Helena von Ritz, furnished as she had told me they always were at each place she saw fit to honor with her presence!

Yet not quite the same, it seemed to me. There were some little things missing, just as there were some little things missing from her appearance. For instance, these draperies at the right, which formerly had cut off the Napoleon bed at its end of the room, now were of blankets and not of silk. The bed itself was not piled deep in down, but contained, as I fancied from my hurried glance, a thin mattress, stuffed perhaps with straw. A roll of blankets lay across its foot. As I gazed to the farther extremity of this side of the long suite, I saw other evidences of change. It was indeed as though Helena von Ritz, creature of luxury, woman of an old, luxurious world, exotic of monarchical surroundings, had begun insensibly to slip into the ways of the rude democracy of the far frontiers.

I saw all this; but ere I had finished my first hurried glance I had accepted her, as always one must, just as she was; had accepted her surroundings, preposterously impossible as they all were from any logical point of view, as fitting to herself and to her humor. It was not for me to ask how or why she did these things. She had done them; because, here they were; and here was she. We had found England's woman on the Columbia!

"Yes," said she at length, slowly, "yes, I now believe it to be fate."

She had not yet smiled. I took her hand and held it long. I felt glad to see her, and to take her hand; it seemed pledge of friendship; and as things now were shaping, I surely needed a friend.

At last, her face flushing slightly, she disengaged her hand and motioned me to a seat. But still we stood silent for a few moments. "Have you no curiosity?" said she at length.

"I am too happy to have curiosity, my dear Madam."

"You will not even ask me why I am here?" she insisted.

"I know. I have known all along. You are in the pay of England. When I missed you at Montreal, I knew you had sailed on the Modesté for Oregon We knew all this, and planned for it. I have come across by land to meet you. I have waited. I greet you now!"

She looked me now clearly in the face. "I am not sure," said she at length, slowly.

"Not sure of what, Madam? When you travel on England's warship," I smiled, "you travel as the guest of England herself. If, then, you are not for England, in God's name, whose friend are you?"

"Whose friend am I?" she answered slowly. "I say to you that I do not know. Nor do I know who is my friend. A friend-what is that? I never knew one!"

"Then be mine. Let me be your friend. You know my history. You know about me and my work. I throw my secret into your hands. You will not betray me? You warned me once, at Montreal. Will you not shield me once again?"

She nodded, smiling now in an amused way. "Monsieur always takes the most extraordinary times to visit me! Monsieur asks always the most extraordinary things! Monsieur does always the most extraordinary acts! He takes me to call upon a gentleman in a night robe! He calls upon me himself, of an evening, in dinner dress of hides and beads-"

"'Tis the best I have, Madam!" I colored, but her eye had not criticism, though her speech had mockery.

"This is the costume of your American savages," she said. "I find it among the most beautiful I have ever seen. Only a man can wear it. You wear it like a man. I like you in it-I have never liked you so well. Betray you, Monsieur? Why should I? How could I?"

"That is true. Why should you? You are Helena von Ritz. One of her breeding does not betray men or women. Neither does she make any journeys of this sort without a purpose."

"I had a purpose, when I started. I changed it in mid-ocean. Now, I was on my way to the Orient."

"And had forgotten your report to Mr. Pakenham?" I shook my head. "Madam, you are the guest of England."

"I never denied that," she said. "I was that in Washington. I was so in Montreal. But I have never given pledge which left me other than free to go as I liked. I have studied, that is true-but I have not reported."

"Have we not been fair with you, Baroness? Has my chief not proved himself fair with you?"

"Yes," she nodded. "You have played the game fairly, that is true."

"Then you will play it fair with us? Come, I say you have still that chance to win the gratitude of a people."

"I begin to understand you better, you Americans," she said irrelevantly, as was sometimes her fancy. "See my bed yonder. It is that couch of husks of which Monsieur told me! Here is the cabin of logs. There is the fireplace. Here is Helena von Ritz-even as you told me once before she sometime might be. And here on my wrists are the imprints of your fingers! What does it mean, Monsieur? Am I not an apt student? See, I made up that little bed with my own hands! I-Why, see, I can cook! What you once said to me lingered in my mind. At first, it was matter only of curiosity. Presently I began to see what was beneath your words, what fullness of life there might be even in poverty. I said to myself, 'My God! were it not, after all, enough, this, if one be loved?' So then, in spite of myself, without planning, I say, I began to understand. I have seen about me here these savages-savages who have walked thousands of miles in a pilgrimage-for what?"

"For what, Madam?" I demanded. "For what? For a cabin! For a bed of husks! Was it then for the sake of ease, for the sake of selfishness? Come, can you betray a people of whom you can say so much?"

"Ah, now you would try to tempt me from a trust which has been reposed in me!"

"Not in the least I would not have you break your word with Mr. Pakenham; but I know you are here on the same errand as myself. You are to learn facts and report them to Mr. Pakenham-as I am to Mr. Calhoun."

"What does Monsieur suggest?" she asked me, with her little smile.

"Nothing, except that you take back all the facts-and allow them to mediate. Let them determine between the Old World and this New one-your satin couch and this rude one you have learned to make. Tell the truth only. Choose, then, Madam!"

"Nations do not ask the truth. They want only excuses."

"Quite true. And because of that, all the more rests with you. If this situation goes on, war must come. It can not be averted, unless it be by some agency quite outside of these two governments. Here, then, Madam, is Helena von Ritz!"

"At least, there is time," she mused. "These ships are not here for any immediate active war. Great Britain will make no move until-"

"Until Madam the Baroness, special agent of England, most trusted agent, makes her report to Mr. Pakenham! Until he reports to his government, and until that government declares war! 'Twill take a year or more. Meantime, you have not reported?"

"No, I am not yet ready."

"Certainly not. You are not yet possessed of your facts. You have not yet seen this country. You do not yet know these men-the same savages who once accounted for another Pakenham at New Orleans-hardy as buffaloes, fierce as wolves. Wait and see them come pouring across the mountains into Oregon. Then make your report to this Pakenham. Ask him if England wishes to fight our backwoodsmen once more!"

"You credit me with very much ability!" she smiled.

"With all ability. What conquests you have made in the diplomacy of the Old World I do not know. You have known courts. I have known none. Yet you are learning life. You are learning the meaning of the only human idea of the world, that of a democracy of endeavor, where all are equal in their chances and in their hopes. That, Madam, is the only diplomacy which will live. If you have passed on that torch of principle of which you spoke-if I can do as much-then all will be well. We shall have served."

She dropped now into a chair near by a little table, where the light of the tall candles, guttering in their enameled sconces, fell full upon her face. She looked at me fixedly, her eyes dark and mournful in spite of their eagerness.

"Ah, it is easy for you to speak, easy for you who have so rich and full a life-who have all! But I-my hands are empty!" She spread out her curved fingers, looking at them, dropping her hands, pathetically drooping her shoulders.

"All, Madam? What do you mean? You see me almost in rags. Beyond the rifle at my cabin, the pistol at my tent, I have scarce more in wealth than what I wear, while you have what you like."

"All but everything!" she murmured; "all but home!"

"Nor have I a home."

"All, except that my couch is empty save for myself and my memories!"

"Not more than mine, nor with sadder memories, Madam."

"Why, what do you mean?" she asked me suddenly. "What do you mean?" She repeated it again, as though half in horror.

"Only that we are equal and alike. That we are here on the same errand. That our view of life should be the same."

"What do you mean about home? But tell me, were you not then married?"

"No, I am alone, Madam. I never shall be married."

There may have been some slight motion of a hand which beckoned me to a seat at the opposite side of the table. As I sat, I saw her search my face carefully, slowly, with eyes I could not read. At last she spoke, after her frequent fashion, half to herself.

"It succeeded, then!" said she. "Yet I am not happy! Yet I have failed!"

"I pause, Madam," said I, smiling. "I await your pleasure."

"Ah, God! Ah, God!" she sighed. "What have I done?" She staggered to her feet and stood beating her hands together, as was her way when perturbed. "What have I done!"

"Threlka!" I heard her call, half chokingly. The old servant came hurriedly.

"Wine, tea, anything, Threlka!" She dropped down again opposite me, panting, and looking at me with wide eyes.

"Tell me, do you know what you have said?" she began.

"No, Madam. I grieve if I have caused you any pain."

"Well, then, you are noble; when look, what pain I have caused you! Yet not more than myself. No, not so much. I hope not so much!"

Truly there is thought which passes from mind to mind. Suddenly the thing in her mind sped across to mine. I looked at her suddenly, in my eyes also, perhaps, the horror which I felt.

"It was you!" I exclaimed. "It was you! Ah, now I begin to understand! How could you? You parted us! You parted me from Elisabeth!"

"Yes," she said regretfully, "I did it It was my fault."

I rose and drew apart from her, unable to speak. She went on.

"But I was not then as I am now. See, I was embittered, reckless, desperate. I was only beginning to think-I only wanted time. I did not really mean to do all this. I only thought-Why, I had not yet known you a day nor her an hour. 'Twas all no more than half a jest"

"How could you do it?" I demanded. "Yet that is no more strange. How did you do it?"

"At the door, that first night. I was mad then over the wrong done to what little womanhood I could claim for my own. I hated Yturrio. I hated Pakenham. They had both insulted me. I hated every man. I had seen nothing but the bitter and desperate side of life-I was eager to take revenge even upon the innocent ones of this world, seeing that I had suffered so much. I had an old grudge against women, against women, I say-against women!"

She buried her face in her hands. I saw her eyes no more till Threlka came and lifted her head, offering her a cup of drink, and so standing patiently until again she had dismissal.

"But still it is all a puzzle to me, Madam," I began. "I do not understand."

"Well, when you stood at the door, my little shoe in your pocket, when you kissed my hand that first night, when you told me what you would do did you love a woman-when I saw something new in life I had not seen-why, then, in the devil's resolution that no woman in the world should be happy if I could help it, I slipped in the body of the slipper a little line or so that I had written when you did not see, when I was in the other room. 'Twas that took the place of Van Zandt's message, after all! Monsieur, it was fate. Van Zandt's letter, without plan, fell out on my table. Your note, sent by plan, remained in the shoe!"

"And what did it say? Tell me at once."

"Very little. Yet enough fora woman who loved and who expected. Only this: 'In spite of that other woman, come to me still. Who can teach yon love of woman as can I? Helena.' I think it was some such words as those."

I looked at her in silence.

"You did not see that note?" she demanded. "After all, at first I meant it only for you. I wanted to see you again. I did not want to lose you. Ah, God! I was so lonely, so-so-I can not say. But you did not find my message?"

I shook my head. "No," I said, "I did not look in the slipper. I do not think my friend did."

"But she-that girl, did!"

"How could she have believed?"

"Ah, grand! I reverence your faith. But she is a woman! She loved you and expected you that hour, I say. Thus comes the shock of finding you untrue, of finding you at least a common man, after all. She is a woman. 'Tis the same fight, all the centuries, after all! Well, I did that."

"You ruined the lives of two, neither of whom had ever harmed you, Madam."

"What is it to the tree which consumes another

tree-the flower which devours its neighbor? Was it not life?"

"You had never seen Elisabeth."

"Not until the next morning, no. Then I thought still on what you had said. I envied her-I say, I coveted the happiness of you both. What had the world ever given me? What had I done-what had I been-what could I ever be? Your messenger came back with the slipper. The note was in the shoe untouched. Your messenger had not found it, either. See, I did mean it for you alone. But now since sudden thought came to me. I tucked it back and sent your drunken friend away with it for her-where I knew it would be found! I did not know what would be the result. I was only desperate over what life had done to me. I wanted to get out-out into a wider and brighter world."

"Ah, Madam, and was so mean a key as this to open that world for you? Now we all three wander, outside that world."

"No, it opened no new world for me," she said. "I was not meant for that. But at least, I only acted as I have been treated all my life. I knew no better then."

"I had not thought any one capable of that," said I.

"Ah, but I repented on the instant! I repented before night came. In the twilight I got upon my knees and prayed that all my plan might go wrong-if I could call it plan. 'Now,' I said, as the hour approached, 'they are before the priest; they stand there-she in white, perhaps; he tall and grave. Their hands are clasped each in that of the other. They are saying those tremendous words which may perhaps mean so much.' Thus I ran on to myself. I say I followed you through the hour of that ceremony. I swore with her vows, I pledged with her pledge, promised with her promise. Yes, yes-yes, though I prayed that, after all, I might lose, that I might pay back; that I might some time have opportunity to atone for my own wickedness! Ah! I was only a woman. The strongest of women are weak sometimes.

"Well, then, my friend, I have paid. I thank God that I failed then to make another wretched as myself. It was only I who again was wretched. Ah! is there no little pity in your heart for me, after all?-who succeeded only to fail so miserably?"

But again I could only turn away to ponder.

"See," she went on; "for myself, this is irremediable, but it is not so for you, nor for her. It is not too ill to be made right again. There in Montreal, I thought that I had failed in my plan, that you indeed were married. You held yourself well in hand; like a man, Monsieur. But as to that, you were married, for your love for her remained; your pledge held. And did not I, repenting, marry you to her-did not I, on my knees, marry you to her that night? Oh, do not blame me too much!"

"She should not have doubted," said I. "I shall not go back and ask her again. The weakest of men are strong sometimes!"

"Ah, now you are but a man! Being such, you can not understand how terribly much the faith of man means for a woman. It was her need for you that spoke, not her doubt of you. Forgive her. She was not to blame. Blame me! Do what you like to punish me! Now, I shall make amends. Tell me what I best may do. Shall I go to her, shall I tell her?"

"Not as my messenger. Not for me."

"No? Well, then, for myself? That is my right. I shall tell her how priestly faithful a man you were."

I walked to her, took her arms in my hands and raised her to my level, looking into her eyes.

"Madam," I said, "God knows, I am no priest. I deserve no credit. It was chance that cast Elisabeth and me together before ever I saw you. I told you one fire was lit in my heart and had left room for no other. I meet youth and life with all that there is in youth and life. I am no priest, and ask you not to confess with me. We both should confess to our own souls."

"It is as I said," she went on; "you were married!"

"Well, then, call it so-married after my fashion of marriage; the fashion of which I told you, of a cabin and a bed of husks. As to what you have said, I forget it, I have not heard it. Your sort could have no heart beat for one like me. 'Tis men like myself are slaves to women such as you. You could never have cared for me, and never did. What you loved, Madam, was only what you had lost, was only what you saw in this country-was only what this country means! Your past life, of course, I do not know."

"Sometime," she murmured, "I will tell you."

"Whatever it was, Madam, you have been a brilliant woman, a power in affairs. Yes, and an enigma, and to none more than to yourself. You show that now. You only loved what Elisabeth loved. As woman, then, you were born for the first time, touched by that throb of her heart, not your own. `Twas mere accident I was there to feel that throb, as sweet as it was innocent. You were not woman yet, you were but a child. You had not then chosen. You have yet to choose. It was Love that you loved! Perhaps, after all, it was America you loved. You began to see, as you say, a wider and a sweeter world than you had known."

She nodded now, endeavoring to smile.

"Gentilhomme!" I heard her murmur.

"So then I go on, Madam, and say we are the same. I am the agent of one idea, you of another. I ask you once more to choose. I know how you will choose."

She went on, musing to herself. "Yes, there is a gulf between male and female, after all. As though what he said could be true! Listen!" She spoke up more sharply. "If results came as you liked, what difference would the motives make?"

"How do you mean?"

"Only this, Monsieur, that I am not so lofty as you think. I might do something. If so, 'twould need to be through some motive wholly sufficient to myself."

"Search, then, your own conscience."

"I have one, after all! It might say something to me, yes."

"Once you said to me that the noblest thing in life was to pass on the torch of a great principle."

"I lied! I lied!" she cried, beating her hands together. "I am a woman! Look at me!"

She threw back her shoulders, standing straight and fearless. God wot, she was a woman. Curves and flame! Yes, she was a woman. White flesh and slumbering hair! Yes, she was a woman. Round flesh and the red-flecked purple scent arising! Yes, she was a woman. Torture of joy to hold in a man's arms! Yes, she was a woman!

"How, then, could I believe"-she laid a hand upon her bosom-"how, then, could I believe that principle was more than life? It is for you, a man, to believe that. Yet even you will not. You leave it to me, and I answer that I will not! What I did I did, and I bargain with none over that now. I pay my wagers. I make my own reasons, too. If I do anything for the sake of this country, it will not be through altruism, not through love of principle! 'Twill be because I am a woman. Yes, once I was a girl. Once I was born. Once, even, I had a mother, and was loved!"

I could make no answer; but presently she changed again, swift as the sky when some cloud is swept away in a strong gust of wind.

"Come," she said, "I will bargain with you, after all!"

"Any bargain you like, Madam."

"And I will keep my bargain. You know that I will."

"Yes, I know that."

"Very well, then. I am going back to Washington."

"How do you mean?"

"By land, across the country; the way you came."

"You do not know what you say, Madam. The journey you suggest is incredible, impossible."

"That matters nothing. I am going. And I am going alone-No, you can not come with me. Do you think I would risk more than I have risked? I go alone. I am England's spy; yes, that is true. I am to report to England; yes, that is true. Therefore, the more I see, the more I shall have to report. Besides, I have something else to do."

"But would Mr. Pakenham listen to your report, after all?"

Now she hesitated for a moment. "I can induce him to listen," she said. "That is part of my errand. First, before I see Mr. Pakenham I am going to see Miss Elisabeth Churchill. I shall report also to her. Then I shall have done my duty. Is it not so?"

"You could do no more," said I. "But what bargain-"

"Listen. If she uses me ill and will not believe either you or me-then, being a woman, I shall hate her; and in that case I shall go to Sir Richard for my own revenge. I shall tell him to bring on this war. In that case, Oregon will be lost to you, or at least bought dear by blood and treasure."

"We can attend to that, Madam," said I grimly, and I smiled at her, although a sudden fear caught at my heart. I knew what damage she was in position to accomplish if she liked. My heart stood still. I felt the faint sweat again on my forehead.

"If I do not find her worthy of you, then she can not have you," went on Helena von Ritz.

"But Madam, you forget one thing. She is worthy of me, or of any other man!"

"I shall be judge of that. If she is what you think, you shall have her-and Oregon!"

"But as to myself, Madam? The bargain?"

"I arrive, Monsieur! If she fails you, then I ask only time. I have said to you I am a woman!"

"Madam," I said to her once more, "who are you and what are you?"

In answer, she looked me once more straight in the face. "Some day, back there, after I have made my journey, I shall tell you."

"Tell me now."

"I shall tell you nothing. I am not a little girl. There is a bargain which I offer, and the only one I shall offer. It is a gamble. I have gambled all my life. If you will not accord me so remote a chance as this, why, then, I shall take it in any case."

"I begin to see, Madam," said I, "how large these stakes may run."

"In case I lose, be sure at least I shall pay. I shall make my atonement," she said.

"I doubt not that, Madam, with all your heart and mind and soul."

"And body!" she whispered. The old horror came again upon her face. She shuddered, I did not know why. She stood now as one in devotions for a time, and I would no more have spoken than had she been at her prayers, as, indeed, I think she was. At last she made some faint movement of her hands. I do not know whether it was the sign of the cross.

She rose now, tall, white-clad, shimmering, a vision of beauty such as that part of the world certainly could not then offer. Her hair was loosened now in its masses and drooped more widely over her temples, above her brow. Her eyes were very large and dark, and I saw the faint blue shadows coming again beneath them. Her hands were clasped, her chin raised just a trifle, and her gaze was rapt as that of some longing soul. I could not guess of these things, being but a man, and, I fear, clumsy alike of body and wit.

"I want-" said she. "I wish-I wish-"

"There is one thing, Madam, which we have omitted," said I at last. "What are my stakes? How may I pay?"

She swayed a little on her feet, as though she were weak. "I want," said she, "I wish-I wish-"

The old childlike look of pathos came again. I have never seen so sad a face. She was a lady, white and delicately clad; I, a rude frontiersman in camp-grimed leather. But I stepped to her now and took her in my arms and held her close, and pushed back the damp waves of her hair. And because a man's tears were in my eyes, I have no doubt of absolution when I say I had been a cad and a coward had I not kissed her own tears away. I no longer made pretense of ignorance, but ah! how I wished that I were ignorant of what it was not my right to know....

I led her to the edge of the little bed of husks and found her kerchief. Ah, she was of breeding and courage! Presently, her voice rose steady and clear as ever. "Threlka!" she called. "Please!"

When Threlka came, she looked closely at her lady's face, and what she read seemed, after all, to content her.

"Threlka," said my lady in French, "I want the little one."

I turned to her with query in my eyes.

"Tiens!" she said. "Wait. I have a little surprise."

"You have nothing at any time save surprises, Madam."

"Two things I have," said she, sighing: "a little dog from China, Chow by name. He sleeps now, and I must not disturb him, else I would show you how lovely a dog is Chow. Also here I have found a little Indian child running about the post. Doctor McLaughlin was rejoiced when I adopted her."

"Well, then, Madam, what next!"

-"Yes, with the promise to him that I would care for that little child. I want something for my own. See now. Come, Natoka!"

The old servant paused at the door. There slid across the floor with the silent feet of the savage the tiny figure of a little child, perhaps four years of age, with coal-black hair and beady eyes, clad in all the bequilled finery that a trading-post could furnish-a little orphan child, as I learned later, whose parents had both been lost in a canoe accident at the Dalles. She was an infant, wild, untrained, unloved, unable to speak a word of the language that she heard. She stood now hesitating, but that was only by reason of her sight of me. As I stepped aside, the little one walked steadily but with quickening steps to my satin-clad lady on her couch of husks. She took up the child in her arms.... Now, there must be some speech between woman and child. I do not know, except that the Baroness von Ritz spoke and that the child put out a hand to her cheek. Then, as I stood awkward as a clown myself and not knowing what to do, I saw tears rain again from the eyes of Helena von Ritz, so that I turned away, even as I saw her cheek laid to that of the child while she clasped it tight.

"Monsieur!" I heard her say at last.

I did not answer. I was learning a bit of life myself this night. I was years older than when I had come through that door.

"Monsieur!" I heard her call yet again.

"Eh bien, Madam?" I replied, lightly as I could, and so turned, giving her all possible time. I saw her holding the Indian child out in front of her in her strong young arms, lightly as though the weight were nothing.

"See, then," she said; "here is my companion across the mountains."

Again I began to expostulate, but now she tapped her foot impatiently in her old way. "You have heard me say it. Very well. Follow if you like. Listen also if you like. In a day or so, Doctor McLaughlin plans a party for us all far up the Columbia to the missions at Wailatpu. That is in the valley of the Walla Walla, they tell me, just at this edge of the Blue Mountains, where the wagon trains come down into this part of Oregon."

"They may not see the wagon trains so soon," I ventured. "They would scarcely arrive before October, and now it is but summer."

"At least, these British officers would see a part of this country, do you not comprehend? We start within three days at least. I wish only to say that perhaps-"

"Ah, I will be there surely, Madam!"

"If you come independently. I have heard, however, that one of the missionary women wishes to go back to the States. I have thought that perhaps it might be better did we go together. Also Natoka. Also Chow."

"Does Doctor McLaughlin know of your plans?"

"I am not under his orders, Monsieur. I only thought that, since you were used to this western travel, you could, perhaps, be of aid in getting me proper guides and vehicles. I should rely upon your judgment very much, Monsieur."

"You are asking me to aid you in your own folly," said I discontentedly, "but I will be there; and be sure also you can not prevent me from following-if you persist in this absolute folly. A woman-to cross the Rockies!"

I rose now, and she was gracious enough to follow me part way toward the door. We hesitated there, awkwardly enough. But once more our hands met in some sort of fellowship.

"Forget!" I heard her whisper. And I could think of no reply better than that same word.

I turned as the door swung for me to pass out into the night. I saw her outlined against the lights within, tall and white, in her arms the Indian child, whose cheek was pressed to her own. I do not concern myself with what others may say of conduct or of constancy. To me it seemed that, had I not made my homage, my reverence, to one after all so brave as she, I would not be worthy the cover of that flag which to-day floats both on the Columbia and the Rio Grande.

* * *

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