A Woman Intervenes by Robert Barr
London again! Muddy, drizzly, foggy London, London, with its well filled omnibuses tearing along the streets, more dangerous than the chariots of Rome, London, with its bustling thoroughfares, with its traffic blocked at the corners by the raised white gloved hand of the policeman, London, with the four wheeled growler piled high with luggage, and the dashing hansom whirling along, missing the wheels of other vehicles by half an inch, while its occupant sits serenely smoking, or motioning his directions to his cabman with an umbrella; London, with its constantly moving procession of every sort of wheeled carriage, from the four-horsed coach to the coster barrow. London, London, London, London! the name seemed to ring in John Kenyon's ears as he walked briskly along the crowded pavement towards the City. The roar of its busy streets was the sweetest music in the world to him, as it is to every man who has once acquired the taste for London. Drink of the fountain of Trevi, and you will return to Rome. Drink of the roar and the bustle of London, and no other metropolis in the world, can ever satisfy the city-hunger in you again. London is London, and John Kenyon loved its very disadvantages as he strode along the streets.
He called at the office of George Wentworth, took that young man with him, and together they went to the place where the adjourned meeting of the London Syndicate was to be held. There were questions to be asked of the two young men, and the directors couldn't quite see why the reports had been so suddenly precipitated upon them, before the arrival of the experts they had sent out. So they had merely read the documents at the former meeting and adjourned until such time as the two young men could appear in person. Most of the directors were there, but, though Kenyon looked anxiously among them, he did not see the face of old Mr. Longworth. Questions were asked Kenyon about the position of the mines, about their output, and such other particulars as the directors wished to know. Then Wentworth underwent a similar examination. He pointed out the discrepancies which he had found in the accounts. He showed that there was an evident desire on the part of the owners of the different mines to make it appear that the properties paid better than they actually did, and he answered in a clear and satisfactory way all the questions asked him. The chairman thanked the young men for the evident care with which they had done their work, and the meeting then went into a private session to consider what action should be taken respecting the mines. When the two friends got out of the building, Kenyon said:
'Well, thank goodness that is over and done with. Now, George, what have you to suggest with reference to the mica-mine?'
'I think,' said Wentworth, 'we had better adjourn to my office and have a talk over the matter quietly there. Let us go into private session as the directors have done. I feel rich after having got my cheque, and the vote of thanks from the chairman; so I will spend a shilling on a hansom and get there with speed and comfort. Actually, since I have got back to London, I am spending all my surplus cash on hansoms. They are certainly the best and cheapest vehicles in the world. Think of what that pirate charged us for a ride from the hotel to the steamer in New York.'
'I don't like to think of it,' said Kenyon; 'it makes me shudder!'
'Do you know, John, I should not be inconsolable if I never saw the great city of New York again. London is good enough for me.'
'Oh, I don't know! New York is all right. I confess there are one or two of her citizens that I do not care much about.'
'Ah,' said Wentworth; then, after a few moments' reflection, he remarked suddenly, apropos of nothing: 'Do you know, John, I was very nearly in love with that girl?'
'I thought you were drifting in that direction.'
'Drifting! It wasn't drifting. It was a mad plunge down the rapids, and it is only lately I have begun to think what a close shave I had of it. The horror of those days, when I thought that despatch was going to New York, completely obliterated any other feeling in regard to her. If I had found she was a hopeless flirt, or something of that kind, who was trifling with me, I should have been very much shocked, of course, but I should have thought about my own feelings. Now, the curious thing is that I never began to think about them till I got to London.'
'Very well, Wentworth; I wouldn't think about them now, if I were you.'
'No, I don't intend to, particularly. The fact that I talk over them with you shows that the impression was not very deep.'
Wentworth drew a long breath that might have been mistaken for a sigh, if he had not just before explained how completely free he was from the thraldom in which Miss Brewster at one time held him.
'Still, she was a very pretty girl, John. You can't deny that.'
'I have no wish to deny it. I simply don't want to think about her at all.'
'No, and we don't need to, thank goodness. But she was very bright and clever. Of course you didn't know her as I did. I never before met anyone who--Well, that's all past and done with. I told her all about our mica-mine, and she gave me much sage advice.'
Kenyon smiled, but held his peace.
'Oh yes, I know what you are thinking of. I spoke of other mines as well; still, that was my folly, and not her fault exactly. She imagined she was doing right, and after all, you know, I think we sometimes don't make enough allowance for another's point of view.'
Kenyon laughed outright.
'It seems to me you are actually defending her. My remembrance is that you didn't make much allowance for her point of view when your own point was that coil of rope in the front of the ship--those days when you wouldn't speak even to me.'
'I admit it, John. No, I'm not defending her. I have succeeded in putting her entirely out of my mind--with an effort. How about your own case, John?'
'My own case! What do you mean?'
'You know very well what I mean.'
'I suppose I do forgive the little bit of affectation, will you? but a man gets somewhat nervous when such a question is sprung upon him. My own case is just where we left it at Queenstown.'
'Haven't you seen her since?'
'Aren't you going to?'
'I really do not know what I am going to do.'
'John, that young woman has a decided personal interest in you.'
'I wish I were sure of that, or, rather, I wish I were sure of it and in a position to--But what is the use of talking? I haven't a penny to my name.'
'No; but if our mine goes through, you soon will have.'
'Yes, but what will it amount to? I never can forget the lofty disdain with which a certain person spoke of fifty thousand pounds. It sends a cold chill over me whenever I think of it. Fifty thousand pounds to her seemed so trivial; to me it was something that might be obtained after the struggle of a lifetime.'
'Well, I wouldn't let that discourage me too much if I were you; besides, you see--Oh! here we are. We'll talk about this some other time.'
Having paid the cabman, the two young men went upstairs into Wentworth's room, where they closed the door, and John drew up a seat by the side of his friend.
'Now, then,' said Wentworth, 'what have you done about the mine?'
'I have done absolutely nothing. I have been waiting for this conference with you.'
'Well, my boy, time is the great factor in anything of this sort.'
'Yes, I suppose it is.'
'You see, our option is running along; every day we lose is so much taken off our chances of success. Have you anything to propose?'
'I'll tell you what I thought of doing. You know young Longworth spoke to me a good deal about the mine at one time. His cousin introduced me to him, and she seemed to think he might take some interest in forming the company. I was to have a talk with you, because Longworth gave it as his opinion that the amount should be put at two hundred thousand pounds rather than at fifty thousand pounds.'
Wentworth gave a long whistle.
'Yes, it seems a very large amount; but he claims that if it would pay ten per cent. on that sum--if we could show that there was a reasonable chance of its paying so much--we could put it at two hundred thousand.'
'Well, that looks reasonable. What else did he say?'
'He did not say very much more about it, because I told him I should have to consult you.'
'And why didn't you? On board ship there was one of the best opportunities we could have had of having a talk with him. In fact, the whole matter might perhaps have been arranged there.'
'Oh, well, you know, I couldn't talk to you about it, because a certain circumstance arose, and you spent your time very much in the forward part of the steamer, sitting on a coil of rope and cursing the universe generally and yourself in particular'.
'Ah, yes, I remember, of course--yes. Very well, then, you have not seen young Longworth since, have you?'
'No, I have not.'
'Wouldn't the old gentleman go in for it?'
'His daughter seemed to think he would not, because the amount was too small.'
'Why couldn't he be got to go into it entirely by himself? If we put the price up to one hundred thousand pounds or two hundred thousand pounds, that ought to be large enough for him, if he were playing a lone hand.'
'Well, you see, I don't suppose they thought of going in for it at that, except as a matter of speculation. Of course, if they intended to buy some shares, it is not likely they would propose to raise the price from fifty thousand pounds to two hundred thousand pounds. Young Longworth spoke of dividing the profit. He claimed that whatever we made on fifty thousand pounds would be too small to be divided into three. I told him, of course, that you were my partner in this, and that is why he proposed the price should be made two hundred thousand pounds.'
'I suppose he seemed indifferent on the question whether it should pay a dividend on that amount of money or not?'
'He didn't mention that particularly--at least, he did not dwell upon it. He asked if it would pay a dividend on two hundred thousand, and I told him I thought it would pay ten per cent. if rightly managed; then he said of course that was its price, and we should be great fools to float it at fifty thousand pounds when it was really worth two hundred thousand.'
Wentworth pondered for a few minutes on this, tapping his pencil on the desk and knitting his brow.
'It seems an awful jump, from fifty thousand pounds to two hundred thousand pounds, doesn't it, John?'
'Yes, it does; it has a certain look of swindling about it. But what a glorious thing it would be if it could be done, and if it would pay the right percentage when we got the scheme working!'
'Of course I wouldn't be connected, nor you either, with anything that was bogus.'
'Certainly not. I wouldn't think for a moment of inflating it if I were not positive the property would stand it. I have been making, and have here in my pocket, an elaborate array of figures which will show approximately what the mine will yield, and I am quite convinced that it will pay at least ten per cent., and possible twelve or fifteen.'
'Well, nobody wants a better percentage on their money. Have you the figures with you?'
'Yes, here they are.'
'Very well, you had better leave them with me, and I will go over them as critically as if they were the figures of somebody I was deeply suspicious of, I hope they will hold water; but if they do not, I will point out to you where the discrepancies are.'
'But, you see, George, it is more a question of facts than of figures. I believe the whole mountain is made of the mineral which is so valuable, but I take only about an eighth of it as being possible to get out, which seems to me a very moderate estimate.'
'Yes, but how much demand is there for it? That is the real question. The thing may be valuable enough, but if there is only a limited demand--that is to say, if we have ten times the material that the world needs--the other nine parts are comparatively valueless.'
'That is true.'
'Do you know how many establishments there are in the world that use this mineral?'
'There are a great many in England, and also in the United States.'
'And how about the duty on it in the United States?'
'Ah, that I do not know.'
'Well, we must find that out. Just write down here what it is used for; then I shall try to get some information about the factories that require it, and also what quantities they need in a year. We shall have to get all these facts and figures to lay before the people who are going to invest, because, as I understand it, the great point we make is not on the mica, but on the other mineral.'
'Very well, then, you leave me what you know already about it, and I will try to supplement your information. In fact, we shall have to supplement it, before we can go before anybody with it. Now, I advise you to see the Longworths--both old and young Longworth--and you may find that talking with them in the City of London is very different from talking with them on the Caloric. By the way, I wonder why Longworth was not at the directors' meeting to-day.'
'I do not know. I noticed he was absent.'
'He very likely intends to have nothing more to do with the other mines, and so there may be a possibility of his investing in ours. Do you know his address?'
'Yes, I have it with me.'
'Then, if I were you, I would jump into a hansom and go there at once. Meanwhile, I will try to get your figures into shipshape order, and supplement them as far as it is possible to do so. This is going to be no easy matter, John. There are a great many properties now being offered to the public--the papers are full of them--and each of them appears to be the most money-making scheme in existence; so if we are going to float this mine without knowing any particular capitalist, we have our work cut out for us.'
'Then, you would be willing to put the price up to two hundred thousand pounds?'
'Yes, if you say the mine will stand it. That we can tell better after we have gone over the figures together. We ought to be sure of our facts first.'
'Very well. Good-bye; I will go and see Mr. Longworth.'