A Woman Intervenes by Robert Barr
Edith Longworth went to her state-room and there had what women call 'a good cry' over her failure. Jennie Brewster continued her writing, every now and then pausing as she thought, with regret, of some sharp thing she might have said, which did not occur to her at the time of the interview. Kenyon spent his time in pacing up and down the deck, hoping for the reappearance of Miss Longworth--an expectation which, for a time at least, was the hope deferred which maketh the heart sick. Fleming, the New York politician, kept the smoking-room merry, listening to the stories he told. He varied the proceedings by frequently asking everybody to drink with him, an invitation that met with no general refusal. Old Mr. Longworth dozed most of his time in his steamer chair. Wentworth, who still bitterly accused himself of having been a fool, talked with no one, not even his friend Kenyon. All the time, the great steamship kept forging along through the reasonably calm water just as if nothing had happened or was going to happen. There had been one day of rain, and one night and part of a day of storm. Saturday morning broke, and it was expected that some time in the night Queenstown would be reached. Early on Saturday morning the clouds looked lowering, as they have a right to look near Ireland.
Wentworth, the cause of all the worry, gave Kenyon very little assistance in the matter that troubled his mind. He was in the habit, when the subject was referred to, of thrusting his hands into his hair, or plunging them down into his pockets, and breaking out into language which was as deplorable as it was expressive. The more Kenyon advised him to be calm, the less Wentworth followed that advice. As a general thing, he spent most of his time alone in a very gloomy state of mind. On one occasion when the genial Fleming slapped him on the shoulder, Wentworth, to his great astonishment, turned fiercely round and cried:
'If you do that again, sir, I'll knock you down.'
Fleming said afterwards that he was 'completely flabbergasted' by this--whatever that may mean--and he added that the English in general were a queer race. It is true that he gathered himself together at the time and, having laughed a little over the remark, said to Wentworth:
'Come and have a drink; then you'll feel better.'
This invitation Wentworth did not even take the trouble to decline, but thrust his hands in his pockets once more, and turned his back on the popular New York politician.
Wentworth summed up the situation to John Kenyon when he said:
'There is no use in our talking or thinking any more about it. We can simply do nothing. I shall take the whole blame on my shoulders. I am resolved that you shall not suffer from my indiscretion. Now, don't talk to me any more about it. I want to forget the wretched business, if possible.'
So thus it came about quite naturally that John Kenyon, who was a good deal troubled about the matter, took as his confidante Edith Longworth, who also betrayed the greatest interest in the problem. Miss Longworth was left all the more alone because her cousin had taken permanently to the smoking-room. Someone had introduced him to the fascinating game of poker, and in the practice of this particular amusement Mr. William Longworth was now spending a good deal of his surplus cash, as well as his time.
Jennie Brewster was seldom seen on deck. She applied herself assiduously to the writing of those brilliant articles which appeared later in the Sunday edition of the New York Argus under the general title of 'Life at Sea,' and which have more recently been issued in book form. As everybody is already aware, her sketches of the genial New York politician, and also of the taciturn, glum Englishman, are considered the finest things in the little volume. They have been largely copied as typical examples of American humour.
When Jennie Brewster did appear on deck, she walked alone up and down the promenade, with a sort of half-defiant look in her eyes as she passed Kenyon and Edith Longworth, and she generally encountered them together.
On this particularly eventful Saturday morning, Kenyon and Edith had the deck to themselves. The conversation naturally turned to the subject which for the last few days had occupied the minds of both.
'Do you know,' said the girl, 'I have been thinking all along that she will come to me at the last for the money.'
'I am not at all sure about that,' answered Kenyon.
'I thought she would probably keep us on the tenterhooks just as long as possible, and then at the last moment come and say she would accept the offer.'
'If she does,' said Kenyon, 'I would not trust her. I would give her to understand that a cheque would be handed to her when we were certain the article had not been used.'
'Do you think that would be a safe way to act if she came and said she would take the money for not sending the cablegram? Don't you think it would be better to pay her and trust to her honour?'
'I do not think I would trust much to her honour.'
'Now, do you know, I have a different opinion of her. I feel sure that if she said she would do a thing, she would do it.'
'I have no such faith,' answered Kenyon. 'I think, on the contrary, that she is quite capable of asking you for the money and still sending her telegram.'
'Well, I doubt if she would do so. I think the girl really believes she is acting rightly, and imagines she has done a creditable action in a very smart way. If she were not what she calls "honest," she would not have shown so much temper as she did. Not but that I gave a deplorable exhibition of temper myself, for which there was really no excuse.'
'I am sure,' said Kenyon warmly, 'you did nothing of the kind. At all events, I am certain everything you did was perfectly right; and I know you were completely justified in anything you said.'
'I wish I could think so.'
'I want to ask you one question,' said Kenyon.
But what that question was will never be known. It was never asked; and when Edith Longworth inquired about it some time later, the question had entirely gone from Kenyon's mind. The steamship, which was ploughing along through the waters, suddenly gave a shiver, as if it were shaken by an earthquake; there were three tremendous bumps, such as a sledge might make by going suddenly over logs concealed in the snow. Both Kenyon and Miss Longworth sprang to their feet. There was a low roar of steam, and they saw a cloud rise amidships, apparently pouring out of every aperture through which it could escape. Then there was silence. The engines had stopped, and the vessel heeled distinctly over to the port side. When Edith Longworth began to realize the situation, she found herself very close to Kenyon, clasping his arm with both hands.
'What--what is it?' she cried in alarm.
'Something is wrong,' said Kenyon. 'Nothing serious, I hope. Will you wait here a moment while I go and see?'
'It is stupid of me,' she answered, releasing his arm; 'but I feel dreadfully frightened.'
'Perhaps you would rather not be left alone.'
'Oh no, it is all over now; but when the first of those terrible shocks came it seemed to me we had struck a rock.'
'There are no rocks here,' said Kenyon. 'The day is perfectly clear, and we are evidently not out of our course. Something has gone wrong with the machinery, I imagine. Just wait a moment, and I will find out.'
As Kenyon rushed towards the companion-way, he met a sailor hurrying in the other direction.
'What is the matter?' cried Kenyon.
The sailor gave no answer.
On entering the companion-way door, Kenyon found the place full of steam, and he ran against an officer.
'What is wrong? Is anything the matter?'
'How should I know?' was the answer, very curtly given. 'Please do not ask any questions. Everything will be attended to.'
This was scant encouragement. People began crowding up the companion-way, coughing and wheezing in the steam; and soon the deck, that but a moment before had been almost without an occupant, was crowded with excited human beings in all states of dress and undress.
'What is wrong?' was the question on every lip, to which, as yet, there was no answer. The officers who hurried to and fro were mute, or gave short and unsatisfactory replies to the inquiries which poured in upon them. People did not pause to reflect that even an officer could hardly be expected to know off-hand what the cause of the sudden stoppage of the engine might be. By-and-by the captain appeared, smiling and bland. He told them there was no danger. Something had gone amiss with the machinery, exactly what he could not, at the moment, tell; but there was no necessity for being panic-stricken, everything would be all right in a short time if they merely remained calm. These, and a lot of other nautical lies, which are always told on such occasions, served to calm the fears of the crowd; and by-and-by one after another went down to their state-rooms on finding the vessel was not going to sink immediately. They all appeared some time afterward in more suitable apparel. The steam which had filled the saloon soon disappeared, leaving the furniture dripping with warm moisture. Finally, the loud clang of the breakfast-gong sounded as if nothing had happened, and that did more, perhaps, than anything else to allay the fears of the passengers. If breakfast was about to be served, then, of course, things were not serious. Nevertheless, a great many people that morning had a very poor appetite for the breakfast served to them. The one blessing, as everybody said, was that the weather kept so fine and the sea so calm. To those few who knew anything about disasters at sea, the list of the ship to the port side was a most serious sign. The majority of the passengers, however, did not notice it. After breakfast people came up on deck. There was a wonderful avoidance of hurry, alike by officers and sailors. Orders were given calmly and quietly, and as calmly and quietly obeyed. Officers were still up on the bridge, although there were no commands to give to the man at the wheel and no screw turning. The helmsman stood at the wheel as if he expected at any time the order to turn it port or starboard. All this absence of rush had a very soothing effect on the passengers, many of whom wanted only a slight excuse to become hysterical. As the day wore on, however, a general feeling of security seemed to have come upon all on board. They one and all congratulated themselves on the fact that they had behaved in a most exemplary manner considering the somewhat alarming circumstances. Nevertheless, those who watched the captain saw that he swept the long line of the horizon through his glass every now and then with a good deal of anxiety, and they noticed on looking at the long level line where sea and sky met that not a sail was visible around the complete circle. Up from the engine-room came the clank of hammers, and the opinion was general that, whatever was amiss with the engine, it was capable of being repaired. One thing had become certain, there was nothing wrong with the shafts. The damage, whatever it was, had been to the engine alone. All of the passengers found themselves more or less affected by the peculiar sensation of the steamer being at rest--the awe-inspiring and helpless consciousness of complete silence--after the steady throb they had become so accustomed to all the way across. That night at dinner the captain took his place at the head of the table, urbane and courteous, as if nothing unusual had happened; and the people, who, notwithstanding their outward calmness, were in a state of anxious tension, noticed this with gratified feelings.
'What is the matter?' asked a passenger of the captain; 'and what is the extent of the accident?'
The captain looked down the long table.
'I am afraid,' said he, 'that if I went into technical details you would not understand them. There was a flaw in one of the rods connected with the engine. That rod broke, and in breaking it damaged other parts of the machinery. Doubtless you heard the three thuds which it gave before the engine was stopped. At present it is impossible to tell how long it will take to repair the damage. However, even if the accident were serious, we are right in the track of vessels, and there is no danger.'
This was reassuring; but those who lay awake that night heard the ominous sound of the pumps, and the swishing of water splashing down into the ocean.