A Woman Intervenes by Robert Barr
After Edith Longworth left her, Jennie Brewster indulged in a brief spasm of hysterics. Her common-sense, however, speedily came to her rescue; and, as she became more calm, she began to wonder why she had not assaulted the girl who had dared to imprison her. She dimly remembered that she thought of a fierce onslaught at the time, and she also recollected that her fear of the boat leaving during the struggle had stayed her hand. But now that the boat had left she bitterly regretted her inaction, and grieved unavailingly over the fact that she had stopped to write the account of the disaster which befell the Caloric. Had she not done so, all might have been well, but her great ambition to be counted the best-newspaper woman in New York, and to show the editor that she was equal to any emergency that might arise, had undone her. While it would have been possible for her to send away one telegram, her desire to write the second had resulted in her sending none at all. Although she impugned her own conduct in language that one would not have expected to have heard from the lips of a millionaire's daughter, her anger against Edith Longworth became more intense, and a fierce desire for revenge took possession of the fair correspondent. She resolved that she would go up on deck and shame this woman before everybody. She would attract public attention to the affair by tearing Edith Longworth from her deck-chair, and in her present state of mind she had no doubt of her strength to do it. With the yearning for vengeance fierce and strong upon her, the newspaper woman put on her hat and departed for the deck. She passed up one side and down the other, but her intended victim was not visible. The rage of Miss Brewster increased when she did not find her prey where she expected. She had a fear that, when she calmed down, a different disposition would assert itself, and her revenge would be lost. In going to and fro along the deck she met Kenyon and Fleming walking together. Fleming had just that moment come up to Kenyon, who was quietly pacing the deck alone, and, slapping him on the shoulder, asked him to have a drink.
'It seems to me,' he said, 'that I never have had the pleasure of offering you a drink since we came on board this ship. I want to drink with everybody here, and especially now, when something has happened to make it worth while.'
'I am very much obliged to you,' said John Kenyon coldly, 'but I never drink with anybody.'
'What, never touch it at all? Not even beer?'
'Not even beer.'
'Well, I am astonished to hear that. I thought every Englishman drank beer.'
'There is at least one Englishman who does not.'
'All right, then; no harm done, and no offence given, I hope. I may say, however, that you miss a lot of fun in this world.'
'I suppose I miss a few headaches also.'
'Oh, not necessarily. I have one great recipe for not having a headache. You see, this is the philosophy of headaches.' And then, much to John's chagrin, he linked arms with him and changed his step to suit Kenyon's, talking all the time as if they were the most intimate friends in the world. 'I have a sure plan for avoiding a headache. You see, when you look into the matter, it is this way: The headache only comes when you are sober. Very well, then. It is as simple as A B C. Never get sober; that's my plan. I simply keep on, and never get sober, so I have no headaches. If people who drink would avoid the disagreeable necessity of ever getting sober, they would be all right. Don't you see what I mean?'
'And how about their brains in the meantime?'
'Oh, their brains are all right. Good liquor sharpens a man's brains wonderfully. Now, you try it some time. Let me have them mix a cocktail for you? I tell you, John, a cocktail is one of the finest drinks that ever was made, and this man at the bar--when I came on board, he thought he could make a cocktail, but he didn't know even the rudiments--I have taught him how to do it; and I tell you that secret will be worth a fortune to him, because if there is anything Americans like, it is to have their cocktails mixed correctly. There's no one man in all England can do it, and very few men on the Atlantic service. But I'm gradually educating them. Been across six times. They pretend to give you American drinks over in England, but you must know how disappointing they are.'
'I'm sure I don't see how I should know, for I never taste any of them.'
'Ah, true; I had forgotten that. Well, I took this bar-keeper here in hand, and he knows now how to make a reasonably good cocktail; and, as I say, that secret will be worth money to him from American passengers.'
John Kenyon was revolving in his mind the problem of how to get rid of this loquacious and generous individual, when he saw, bearing down upon them, the natty figure of Miss Jennie Brewster; and he wondered why such a look of bitter indignation was flashing from her eyes. He thought that she intended to address the American politician, but he was mistaken. She came directly at him, and said in an excited tone, with a ring of anger in it:
'Well, John Kenyon, what do you think of your work?'
'What work?' asked the bewildered man.
'You know very well what work I mean. A fine specimen of a man you are! Without the courage yourself to prevent my sending that telegram, you induced your dupe to come down to my state-room and brazenly keep me from sending it.'
The blank look of utter astonishment upon the face of honest John Kenyon would have convinced any woman in her senses that he knew nothing at all of what she was speaking. A dim impression of this, indeed, flashed across the young woman's heated brain. But before she could speak, Fleming said:
'Tut, tut, my dear girl! you are talking too loud altogether. Do you want to attract the attention of everybody on the deck? You mustn't make a scandal in this way on board ship.'
'Scandal!' she cried. 'We will soon see whether there will be a scandal or not. Attract the attention of those on deck! That is exactly what I am going to do, until I show up the villainy of this man you are talking to. He was the concocter of it, and he knows it. She never had brains enough to think of it. He was too much of a coward to carry it through himself, and so he set her to do his dastardly piece of work.'
'Well, well,' said Fleming, 'even if he has done all that, whatever it is, it will do no good to attract attention to it here on deck. See how everybody is listening to what you are saying. My dear girl, you are too angry to talk just now; the best thing you can do is to go down to your state-room.'
'Who asked you to interfere?' she cried, turning furiously upon him. 'I'll thank you to mind your own business, and let me attend to mine. I should have thought that you would have found out before this that I am capable of attending to my own affairs.'
'Certainly, certainly, my dear child,' answered the politician soothingly; 'I'm sorry I can't get you all to come and have a drink with me, and talk this matter over quietly. That's the correct way to do things, not to stand here scolding on the deck, with everybody listening. Now, if you will quietly discuss the matter with John here, I'm sure everything will be all right.'
'You don't know what you are talking about,' replied the young lady. 'Do you know that I had an important despatch to send to the Argus, and that this man's friend, doubtless at his instigation, came into my room and practically held me prisoner there until the boat had left, so that I could not send the despatch? Think of the cheek and villainy of that, and then speak to me of talking wildly!'
An expression of amazement upon Kenyon's face convinced the newspaper woman, more than all his protestations would have done, that he knew nothing whatever of the escapade.
'And who kept you from coming out?' asked Fleming.
'It is none of your business,' she replied tartly.
'If you will believe me,' said Kenyon at last, 'I had absolutely no knowledge of all this; so, you see, there is no use speaking to me about it. I won't pretend I am sorry, because I am not.'
This added fuel to the flames, and she was about to blaze out again, when Kenyon, turning on his heel, left her and Fleming standing facing each other. Then the young woman herself turned and quickly departed, leaving the bewildered politician entirely alone, so that there was nothing for him to do but to go into the smoking-room and ask somebody else to drink with him, which he promptly did.
Miss Brewster made her way to the captain's room and rapped at the door. On being told to enter, she found that officer seated at his table with some charts before him, and a haggard look upon his face, which might have warned her that this was not the proper time to air any personal grievances.
'Well?' he said briefly as she entered.
'I came to see you, captain,' she began, 'because an outrageous thing has been done on board this ship, and I desire reparation. What is more, I will have it!
'What is the "outrageous thing"?' asked the captain.
'I had some despatches to send to New York, to the New York Argus, on whose staff I am.'
'Yes,' said the captain with interest; 'despatches relating to what has happened to the ship?'
'One of them did, the other did not.'
'Well, I hope,' said the captain, 'you have not given an exaggerated account of the condition we are in.'
'I have given no account at all, simply because I was prevented from sending the cablegrams.'
'Ah, indeed,' said the captain, a look of relief coming over his face, in spite of his efforts to conceal it; 'and pray what prevented you from sending your cablegrams? The mate would have taken any messages that were given to him.'
'I know that,' cried the young woman; 'but when I was in my room writing the last of the despatches, a person who is on board as a passenger here--Miss Longworth--came into my room and held me prisoner there until the boat had left the ship.'
The captain arched his eyebrows in surprise.
'My dear madam,' he said, 'you make a very serious charge. Miss Longworth has crossed several times with me, and I am bound to say that a better-behaved young lady I never had on board my ship.'
'Extremely well behaved she is!' cried the correspondent angrily, 'she stood against my door and prevented me from going out. I screamed for help, but my screams were drowned in the cheers of the passengers when the boat left.'
'Why did you not ring your bell?'
'I couldn't ring my bell because she prevented me. Besides, if I had reached the bell, it is not likely anybody would have answered it; everybody seemed to be bawling after the boat that was leaving.'
'You can hardly blame them for that. A great deal depends on the safety of that boat. In fact, if you come to think about it, you will see that whatever grievance you may have, it is, after all, a very trivial one compared with the burden that weighs on me just now, and I should much prefer not to have anything to do with disputes between the passengers until we are out of our present predicament.'
'The predicament has nothing whatever to do with it. I tell you a fact. I tell you that one of your passengers came and imprisoned me in my state-room. I come to you for redress. Now, there must be some law on shipboard that takes the place of ordinary law on land. I make this demand officially to you. If you decline to hear me, and refuse to redress my wrong, then I have public opinion, to which I can appeal through my paper, and perhaps there will also be a chance of obtaining justice through the law of the land to which I am going.'
'My dear madam,' said the captain calmly, 'you must not use threats to me. I am not accustomed to be addressed in the tone you have taken upon yourself to use. Now tell me what it is you wish me to do?'
'It is for you to say what you will do. I am a passenger on board this ship, and am supposed to be under the protection of its captain. I therefore tell you I have been forcibly detained in my state-room, and I demand that the person who did this shall be punished.'
'You say that Miss Longworth is the person who did this?'
'Yes, I do.'
'Now, do you know you make a serious charge against that young lady--a charge that I find it remarkably difficult to believe? May I ask you what reason she had for doing what you say she has done?'
'That is a long story. I am quite prepared to show that she tried to bribe me not to send a despatch, and, finding herself unsuccessful, she forcibly detained me in my room until too late to send the telegram.'
The captain pondered over what had been said to him.
'Have you any proof of this charge?'
'Proof! What do you mean? Do you doubt my word?'
'I mean exactly what I say. Have you anybody to prove the exceedingly serious charge you bring?'
'Certainly not. I have no proof. If there had been a witness there, the thing would not have happened. If I could have summoned help, it would not have happened. How could I have any proof of such an outrage?'
'Well, do you not see that it is impossible for me to take action on your unsupported word? Do you not see that, if you take further steps in this extraordinary affair, Miss Longworth will ask you for proof of what you state? If she denies acting as you say she did, and you fail to prove your allegation, it seems to me that you will be in rather a difficult position. You would be liable to a suit for slander. Just think the matter over calmly for the rest of the day before you take any further action upon it, and I would strongly advise you not to mention this to anyone on board. Then to-morrow, if you are still in the same frame of mind, come to me.'
Thus dismissed, the young woman left the captain's room, and met Fleming just outside, who said:
'Look here, Miss Brewster, I want to have a word with you. You were very curt with me just now.'
'Mr. Fleming, I do not wish to speak to you.'
'Oh, that's all right--that's all right; but let me tell you this: you're a pretty smart young woman, and you have done me one or two very evil turns in your life. I have found out all about this affair, and it's one of the funniest things I ever heard of.'
'Very funny, isn't it?' snapped the young woman.
'Of course it's very funny; but when it appears in full in the opposition papers to the Argus, perhaps you won't see the humour of it--though everybody else in New York will, that's one consolation.'
'What do you mean?'
'I mean to say, Jennie Brewster, that unless you are a fool, you will drop this thing. Don't, for Heaven's sake, let anybody know you were treated by an English girl in the way you were. Take my advice: say no more about it.'
'And what business is it of yours?'
'It isn't mine at all; that is why I am meddling with it. Aren't you well enough acquainted with me to know that nothing in the world pleases me so much as to interfere in other people's business? I have found out all about the girl who kept you in, and a mighty plucky action it was too. I have seen that girl on the deck, and I like the cut of her jib. I like the way she walks. Her independence suits me. She is a girl who wouldn't give a man any trouble, now, I tell you, if he were lucky enough to win her. And I am not going to see that girl put to any trouble by you, understand that!'
'And how are you going to prevent it, may I ask?'
'May you ask? Why, of course you may. I will tell you how I am going to prevent it. Simply by restraining you from doing another thing in the matter.'
'If you think you can do that, you are very much mistaken. I am going to have that girl put in prison, if there is a law in the land.'
'Well, in the first place, we are not on land; and, in the second place, you are going to do nothing of the kind, because, if you do, I shall go to the London correspondents of the other New York papers and give the whole blessed snap away. I'll tell them how the smart and cute Miss Dolly Dimple, who has bamboozled so many persons in her life, was once caught in her own trap; and I shall inform them how it took place. And they'll be glad to get it, you bet! It will make quite interesting reading in the New York opposition papers some fine Sunday morning--about a column and a half, say. Won't there be some swearing in the Argus when that appears! It won't be your losing the despatch you were going to send, but it will be your utter idiocy in making the thing public, and letting the other papers on to it. Why, the best thing in the world for you to do, and the only thing, is to keep as quiet as possible about it. I am astonished at a girl of your sense, Dolly, making a public fuss like this, when you should be the very one trying to keep it secret.'
The newspaper correspondent pondered on these words.
'And if I keep quiet about it, will you do the same?'
'Certainly; but you must remember that if ever you attempt any of your tricks of interviewing on me again, out comes this whole thing. Don't forget that.'
'I won't,' said Miss Jennie Brewster.
And next morning, when the captain was anxiously awaiting her arrival in his room, she did not appear.