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   Chapter 28 WHEN A WOMAN WOULD

54-40 or Fight By Emerson Hough Characters: 5554

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

The two pleasantest days of a woman are her marriage day and the day of her funeral.-Hipponax.

My garden at the Willamette might languish if it liked, and my little cabin might stand in uncut wheat. For me, there were other matters of more importance now. I took leave of hospitable Doctor McLaughlin at Fort Vancouver with proper expressions of the obligation due for his hospitality; but I said nothing to him, of course, of having met the mysterious baroness, nor did I mention definitely that I intended to meet them both again at no distant date. None the less, I prepared to set out at once up the Columbia River trail.

From Fort Vancouver to the missions at Wailatpu was a distance by trail of more than two hundred miles. This I covered horseback, rapidly, and arrived two or three days in advance of the English. Nothing disturbed the quiet until, before noon of one day, we heard the gun fire and the shoutings which in that country customarily made announcement of the arrival of a party of travelers. Being on the lookout for these, I soon discovered them to be my late friends of the Hudson Bay Post.

One old brown woman, unhappily astride a native pony, I took to be Threlka, my lady's servant, but she rode with her class, at the rear. I looked again, until I found the baroness, clad in buckskins and blue cloth, brave as any in finery of the frontier. Doctor McLaughlin saw fit to present us formally, or rather carelessly, it not seeming to him that two so different would meet often in the future; and of course there being no dream even in his shrewd mind that we had ever met in the past. This supposition fitted our plans, even though it kept us apart. I was but a common emigrant farmer, camping like my kind. She, being of distinction, dwelt with the Hudson Bay party in the mission buildings.

We lived on here for a week, visiting back and forth in amity, as I must say. I grew to like well enough those blunt young fellows of the Navy. With young Lieutenant Peel especially I struck up something of a friendship. If he remained hopelessly British, at least I presume I remained quite as hopelessly American; so that we came to set aside the topic of conversation on which we could not agree.

"There is something about which you don't know," he said to me, one evening. "I am wholly unacquainted with the interior of your country. What would you say, for instance, regarding its safety for a lady traveling across-a small party, you know, of her own? I presume of course you know whom I mean?"

I nodded. "You must mean the Baroness von Ritz."

"Yes. She has been traveling abroad. Of course we took such care of her on shipboard as we could, although a lady has no place on board a warship. She had with her complete furnishings for

a suite of apartments, and these were delivered ashore at Fort Vancouver. Doctor McLaughlin gave her quarters. Of course you do not know anything of this?"

I allowed him to proceed.

"Well, she has told us calmly that she plans crossing this country from here to the Eastern States!"

"That could not possibly be!" I declared.

"Quite so. The old trappers tell me that the mountains are impassable even in the fall. They say that unless she met some west-bound train and came back with it, the chance would be that she would never be heard of again."

"You have personal interest in this?" I interrupted.

He nodded, flushing a little. "Awfully so," said he.

"I would have the right to guess you were hit pretty hard?"

"To the extent of asking her to become my wife!" said he firmly, although his fair face flushed again.

"You do not in the least know her," he went on. "In my case, I have done my turn at living, and have seen my share of women, but never her like in any part of the world! So when she proposed to make this absurd journey, I offered to go with her. It meant of course my desertion from the Navy, and so I told her. She would not listen to it. She gives me no footing which leaves it possible for me to accompany her or to follow her. Frankly, I do not know what to do."

"It seems to me, Lieutenant Peel," I ventured, "that the most sensible thing in the world for us to do is to get together an expedition to follow her."

He caught me by the hand. "You do not tell me you would do that?"

"It seems a duty."

"But could you yourself get through?"

"As to that, no one can tell. I did so coming west."

He sat silent for a time. "It will be the last I shall ever see of her in any case," said he, at length. "We don't know how long it will be before we leave the mouth of the Columbia, and then I could not count on finding her. You do not think me a fool for telling you what I have?"

"No," said I. "I do not blame you for being a fool. All men who are men are fools over women, one time or other."

"Good luck to you, then! Now, what shall we do?"

"In the first place," said I, "if she insists upon going, let us give her every possible chance for success."

"It looks an awfully slender chance," he sighed. "You will follow as close on their heels as you can?"

"Of that you may rest assured."

"What is the distance, do you think?"

"Two thousand miles at least, before she could be safe. She could not hope to cover more than twenty-five miles a day, many days not so much as that. To be sure, there might be such a thing as her meeting wagons coming out; and, as you say, she might return."

"You do not know her!" said he. "She will not turn back."

I had full reason to agree with him.

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