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   Chapter 29 IN EXCHANGE

54-40 or Fight By Emerson Hough Characters: 5658

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Great women belong to history and to self-sacrifice.

-Leigh Hunt.

For sufficient reasons of my own, which have been explained, I did not care to mingle more than was necessary with the party of the Hudson Bay folk who made their quarters with the missionary families. I kept close to my own camp when not busy with my inquiries in the neighborhood, where I now began to see what could be done in the preparation of a proper outfit for the baroness. Herself I did not see for the next two days; but one evening I met her on the narrow log gallery of one of the mission houses. Without much speech we sat and looked over the pleasant prospect of the wide flats, the fringe of willow trees, the loom of the mountains off toward the east.

"Continually you surprise me, Madam," I began, at last. "Can we not persuade you to abandon this foolish plan of your going east?"

"I see no reason for abandoning it," said she. "There are some thousands of your people, men, women and children, who have crossed that trail. Why should not I?"

"But they come in large parties; they come well prepared. Each helps his neighbor."

"The distance is the same, and the method is the same."

I ceased to argue, seeing that she would not be persuaded. "At least, Madam," said I, "I have done what little I could in securing you a party. You are to have eight mules, two carts, six horses, and two men, beside old Joe Meek, the best guide now in Oregon. He would not go to save his life. He goes to save yours."

"You are always efficient," said she. "But why is it that we always have some unpleasant argument? Come, let us have tea!"

"Many teas together, Madam, if you would listen to me. Many a pot brewed deep and black by scores of camp-fires."

"Fie! Monsieur proposes a scandal."

"No, Monsieur proposes only a journey to Washington-with you, or close after you."

"Of course I can not prevent your following," she said.

"Leave it so. But as to pledges-at least I want to keep my little slipper. Is Madam's wardrobe with her? Could she humor a peevish friend so much as that? Come, now, I will make fair exchange. I will trade you again my blanket clasp for that one little shoe!"

I felt in the pocket of my coat, and held out in my hand the remnants of the same little Indian ornament which had figured between us the first night we had met. She grasped at it eagerly, turning it over in her hand.

"But see," she said, "one of the clasps is gone."

"Yes, I parted with it. But come, do I have my little slipper?"

"Wait!" said she, and left me for a moment. Presently she returned, laughing, with the little white satin foot covering in her hand.

"I warrant it is the only thing of the sort ever was seen in these buildings," she went on. "Alas! I fear I must leave most of my possessions here! I ha

ve already disposed of the furnishings of my apartment to Mr. James Douglas at Fort Vancouver. I hear he is to replace this good Doctor McLaughlin. Well, his half-breed wife will at least have good setting up for her household. Tell me, now," she concluded, "what became of the other shell from this clasp?"

"I gave it to an old man in Montreal," I answered. I went on to show her the nature of the device, as it had been explained to me by old Doctor von Rittenhofen.

"How curious!" she mused, as it became more plain to her. "Life, love, eternity! The beginning and the end of all this turmoil about passing on the torch of life. It is old, old, is it not? Tell me, who was the wise man who described all this to you?"

"Not a stranger to this very country, I imagine," was my answer. "He spent some years here in Oregon with the missionaries, engaged, as he informed me, in classifying the butterflies of this new region. A German scientist, I think, and seemingly a man of breeding."

"If I were left to guess," she broke out suddenly, "I would say it must have been this same old man who told you about the plans of the Canadian land expedition to this country."

"Continually, Madam, we find much in common. At least we both know that the Canadian expedition started west. Tell me, when will it arrive on the Columbia?"

"It will never arrive. It will never cross the Rockies. Word has gone up the Columbia now that for these men to appear in this country would bring on immediate war. That does not suit the book of England more than it does that of America."

"Then the matter will wait until you see Mr. Pakenham?"

She nodded. "I suppose so."

"You will find facts enough. Should you persist in your mad journey and get far enough to the east, you will see two thousand, three thousand men coming out to Oregon this fall. It is but the beginning. But you and I, sitting here, three thousand miles and more away from Washington, can determine this question. Madam, perhaps yet you may win your right to some humble home, with a couch of husks or straw. Sleep, then, by our camp-fires across America, and let our skies cover you at night. Our men will watch over you faithfully. Be our guest-our friend!"

"You are a good special pleader," said she; "but you do not shake me in my purpose, and I hold to my terms. It does not rest with you and me, but with another. As I have told you-as we have both agreed-"

"Then let us not speak her name," said I.

Again her eyes looked into mine, straight, large and dark. Again the spell of her beauty rose all around me, enveloped me as I had felt it do before. "You can not have Oregon, except through me," she said at last. "You can not have-her-except through me!"

"It is the truth," I answered. "In God's name, then, play the game fair."

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