Chapter XIV.
 

After all, it must be admitted that George Wentworth was a man of somewhat changeable character. For the last two or three days he had been moping like one who meditated suicide; now when everyone else was anxiously wondering what was going to happen to the ship, he suddenly became the brightest individual on board. For a man to be moody and distraught while danger was impending was not at all surprising; but for a man, right in the midst of gloom, to blossom suddenly out into a general hilarity of manner, was something extraordinary. People thought it must be a case of brain trouble. They watched the young man with interest as he walked with a springy step up and down the deck. Every now and again a bright smile illuminated his face, and then he seemed to be ashamed that people should notice he was feeling so happy. When he was alone he had a habit of smiting his thigh and bursting out into a laugh that was long and low, rather than loud and boisterous. No one was more astonished at this change than Fleming, the politician. George met him on deck, and, to the great surprise of that worthy gentleman, smote him on the back and said:

'My dear sir, I am afraid the other day, when you spoke to me, I answered a little gruffly. I beg to apologize. Come and have a drink with me.'

'Oh, don't mention it,' said Fleming joyously; 'we all of us have our little down-turns now and then. Why, I have them myself, when liquor is bad or scarce! You mightn't believe it, but some days I feel away down in the mouth. It is true I have a recipe for getting up again, which I always use. And that reminds me: do you remember what the Governor of North Carolina said to the Governor of South Carolina?'

'I'm sure I don't know,' said Wentworth; 'you see, I'm not very well versed in United States politics.'

'Well, there wasn't much politics about his remark. He merely said, "It's a long time between drinks;" come in and have something with me. It seems to me you haven't tasted anything in my company since the voyage began.'

'I believe,' said Wentworth, 'that is a true statement. Let us amend it as soon as possible, only in this case let me pay for the drinks. I invited you to drink with me.'

'Not at all, not at all!' cried Fleming; 'not while I'm here. This is my treat, and it is funny to think that a man should spend a week with another man without knowing him. Really, you see, I haven't known you till now.'

And so the two worthy gentlemen disappeared into the smoking-room and rang the electric bell.

But it was in his own state-room that George Wentworth's jocularity came out at its best. He would grasp John Kenyon by the shoulder and shake that solemn man, over whose face a grim smile generally appeared when he noticed the exuberant jollity of his comrade.

'John,' Wentworth cried, 'why don't you laugh?'

'Well, it seems to me,' replied his comrade, 'that you are doing laughing enough for us both. It is necessary to have one member of the firm solid and substantial. I'm trying to keep the average about right. When you were in the dumps I had to be cheerful for two. Now that you feel so lively, I take a refuge in melancholy, to rest me after my hard efforts at cheerfulness.'

'Well, John, it seems to me too good to be true. What a plucky girl she was to do such a thing! How did she know but that the little vixen had a revolver with her, and might have shot her?'

'I suppose she didn't think about it at all.'

'Have you seen her since that dramatic incident?'

'Seen whom? Miss Brewster?'

'No, no; I mean Miss Longworth.'

'No, she hasn't appeared yet. I suppose she fears there will be a scene, and she is anxious to avoid it.'

'Very likely that is the case,' said Wentworth. 'Well, if you do see her, you can tell her there is no danger. Our genial friend, Fleming, has had a talk with that newspaper woman, so he tells me, and the way he describes it is exceedingly picturesque. He has threatened her with giving away the "snap," as he calls it, to the other New York papers, and it seems that the only thing on earth Miss Brewster is afraid of is the opposition press. So she has promised to say nothing more whatever about the incident.'

'Then, you have been talking with Fleming?'

'Certainly I have; a jovial good fellow he is, too. I have been doing something more than talking with him; I have been drinking with him.'

'And yet a day or two ago, I understand, you threatened to strike him.'

'A day or two ago, John! It was ages and ages ago. A day or two isn't in it. That was years and centuries since, as it appears to me. I was an old man then; now I have become young again, and all on account of the plucky action of that angel of a girl of yours.'

'Not of mine,' said Kenyon seriously; 'I wish she were.'

'Well, cheer up. Everything will come out right; you see, it always does. Nothing looked blacker than this matter about the telegram a few days ago, and see how beautifully it has turned out.'

Kenyon said nothing. He did not desire to discuss the matter even with his best friend. The two went up on deck together, and took a few turns along the promenade, during which promenade the eyes of Kenyon were directed to the occupants of the deckchairs, but he did not see the person whom he sought. Telling Wentworth he was going below for a moment, he left him to continue his walk alone, and on reaching the saloon Kenyon spoke to a stewardess.

'Do you know if Miss Longworth is in her stateroom?'

'Yes, sir, I think she is,' was the answer.

'Will you take this note to her?'

John sat down to wait for an answer. The answer did not come by the hand of the stewardess. Edith herself timorously glanced into the saloon, and, seeing Kenyon alone, ventured in. He sprang up to meet her.

'I was afraid,' he said, 'that you had been ill.'

'No, not quite, but almost,' she answered. 'Oh, Mr. Kenyon, I have done the most terrible thing! You could not imagine that I was so bold and wicked;' and tears gathered in the eyes of the girl.

Kenyon stretched out his hand to her, and she took it.

'I am afraid to stay here with you,' she said, 'for fear----'

'Oh, I know all about it,' said Kenyon.

'You cannot know about it; you surely do not know what I have done?'

'Yes, I know exactly what you've done; and we all very much admire your pluck.'

'It hasn't, surely, been the talk of the ship?'

'No, it has not; but Miss Brewster charged me with being an accomplice.'

'And you told her you were not, of course?'

'I couldn't tell her anything, for the simple reason that I hadn't the faintest idea what she was talking about; but that's how I came to know what had happened, and I am here to thank you, Miss Longworth, for your action. I really believe you have saved the sanity of my friend Wentworth. He is a different man since the incident we are speaking of occurred.'

'And have you seen Miss Brewster since?'

'Oh yes; as I was telling you, she met me on the deck. Dear me! how thoughtless of me! I had forgotten you were standing. Won't you sit down?'

'No, no; I have been in my room so long that I am glad to stand anywhere.'

'Then, won't you come up on deck with me?'

'Oh, I'm afraid,' she said. 'I am afraid of a public scene; and I am sure, by the last look I caught in that girl's eyes, she will stop at no scandal to have her revenge. I am sorry to say that I am too much of a coward to meet her. Of course, from her point of view I have done her eternal wrong. Perhaps it was wrong from anybody's point of view.'

'Miss Longworth,' said John Kenyon cordially, 'you need have no fear whatever of meeting her. She will say nothing.'

'How do you know that?'

'Oh, it is a long story. She went to the captain with her complaint, and received very little comfort there. I will tell you all about it on deck. Get a wrap and come with me.'

As Kenyon gave this peremptory order, he realized that he was taking a liberty he had no right to take, and his face flushed as he wondered if Edith would resent the familiarity of his tones; but she merely looked up at him with a bright smile, and said:

'I will do, sir, as you command.'

'No, no,' said Kenyon; 'it was not a command, although it sounded like one. It was a very humble request; at least, I intended it to be such.'

'Well, I will get my wrap.'

As she left for her state-room, a rousing cheer was heard from on deck. She stopped, and looked at Kenyon.

'What does that mean?' she asked.

'I do not know,' was the answer. 'Please get your things on and we will go up and see.'

When they reached the deck they saw everybody at the forward part of the ship. Just becoming visible in the eastern horizon were three trails of black smoke, apparently coming towards them.

The word was whispered from one to the other: 'It is the tug-boats. It is relief.'

Few people on board the steamer knew that their very existence depended entirely on the good weather. The incessant pumping showed everybody, who gave a thought to the matter, that the leak had been serious; but as the subsidence of the vessel was imperceptible to all save experts, no one but the officers really knew the grave danger they were in. Glad as the passengers were to see those three boats approach, the one who most rejoiced was the one who knew everything respecting the disaster and its effects--the captain.

Edith Longworth and John Kenyon paced the deck together, and did not form two of the crowd who could not tear themselves away from the front of the ship, watching the gradually approaching tug boats. Purposely, John Kenyon brought the girl who was with him past Miss Jennie Brewster, and although that person glared with a good deal of anger at Edith, who blushed to her temples with fear and confusion, yet nothing was said; and Kenyon knew that afterwards his companion would feel easier in her mind about meeting the woman with whom she had had such a stormy five minutes. The tug boats speedily took the big steamer in tow, and slowly the four of them made progress towards Queenstown, it having been resolved to land all the passengers there, and to tow the disabled vessel to Liverpool, if an examination of the hull showed such a course to be a safe one. The passengers bade each other good-bye after they left the tender, and many that were on board that ship never saw each other again. One at least, had few regrets and no good-byes to make, but a surprise was in store for her. Jennie Brewster found a cablegram from New York waiting for her. It said 'Cable nothing respecting mines. Letter follows.'