A Woman Intervenes by Robert Barr
George Wentworth was a very much better man than John Kenyon to undertake the commercial task they hoped to accomplish. Wentworth had mixed with men, and was not afraid of them. Although he had suffered keenly from the little episode on the steamer, and although at that trying time he appeared to but poor advantage so far as an exhibition of courage was concerned, the reason was largely because the blow had been dealt him by a woman, and not by a man. If one of Wentworth's fellow-men so far forgot himself as to make an insulting or cutting remark to him, Wentworth merely shrugged his shoulders and thought no more about it. On the other hand, notwithstanding his somewhat cold and calm exterior, John Kenyon was as sensitive as a child, and a rebuff such as he received from the Longworths was enough to depress him for a week. He had been a student all his life, and had not yet learnt the valuable lesson of knowing how to look at men's actions with an eye to proportion. Wentworth said to himself that nobody's opinion amounted to very much, but Kenyon knew too little of his fellows to have arrived at this comforting conclusion.
George Wentworth closed his door when he was alone, drew the mass of papers, which Kenyon had left, towards him on his desk, and proceeded systematically to find a flaw in them if possible. He said to himself: 'I must attack this thing without enthusiasm, and treat Kenyon as if he were a thief. I must find an error in the reasoning or something shaky about the facts.' He perused the papers earnestly, making pencil-marks on the margin here and there. At first he said to himself: 'It is quite evident that the mining of the mica will pay for the working of the mine. We can look upon the demand for mica as being in a certain sense settled. It has paid for the working of the mine so far, also a small dividend, and there is no reason to think it should not go on doing so. Now, the uncertain quantity is this other stuff, and the uncertain thing about this uncertain quantity is the demand for it in the markets of the world, also how much the carriage of it is going to cost.' Wentworth had a theory that all things were possible if you only knew a man who knew the man. There is always the man in everything--the man who is the authority on iron; the man who is the authority on mines; the man who is the authority on the currency, and the man who knows all about the printing trade. If you want any information on any particular subject, it was not necessary to know the man, but it was very essential to know a man who can put his finger on the man. Get a note of introduction from a man who knows the man, and there you are!
Wentworth touched his bell, and a boy answered his summons.
'Ask Mr. Close to step in here for a moment, will you, please?'
The boy disappeared, and shortly after an oldish man with a very deferential look, who was perpetually engaged in smoothing one hand over the other, came in, and, in a timid manner, closed the door softly behind him.
'Close,' said Wentworth, 'who is it that knows everything about the china trade?'
'About the china trade, sir?'
'Yes, about the china trade.'
'Wholesale or retail, sir?'
'I want to get at somebody who knows all about the manufacture of china.'
'Ah, the manufacture, sir,' said Close, in a tone that indicated this was another matter altogether; 'the manufacture, sir; yes, sir, I really do not know who could tell everything about the manufacture of china, sir, but I know of a man who could put you on the right track.'
'Very well; that is quite as good.'
'I would see Mr. Melville, if I were you, sir--Mr. Melville, of the great Scranton China Company.'
'And what is his address?'
'His address is----' And here the old man stooped over and wrote it on a card. 'That will find him, sir. If you can drop a note to Mr. Melville, sir, and say you want to learn who knows all about the production of china, he will be able to tell you just the man, sir. He is in the wholesale china trade himself, sir.'
'Would he be in at this hour, do you think?'
'Oh yes, sir, he is sure to be in his office now.'
'Very well, then; I think I will just run over and see him.'
'Very good, sir; anything more, sir?'
'Nothing more, Close, thank you.'
When the valuable Close had departed as softly and apologetically as he had entered, Wentworth picked up one of the specimens of spar which Kenyon had taken from the mine, and put it into his pocket. In two minutes more he was in a cab, dashing through the crowded streets towards Melville's office. By the side of the door of the china company's warehouse, inside the hall, were two parallel rows of names--one under the general heading of 'Out,' the other under the heading of 'In.' It appeared that Mr. Smith was out and Mr. Jones was in, but, what was more to the purpose, the name of Richard Melville happened to be in the column of those who were inside. After a few moments' delay, Wentworth was ushered into the office of this gentleman.
'Mr. Melville,' he said, 'I have been recommended to come to you for information regarding the china trade. The information I want, you will, perhaps, not be able to give me, but I believe you can tell me to whom I should apply for it.' Saying this, he took out of his pocket the specimen of mineral which he had brought with him. 'What I want to know is, how much of this material you use each year in the manufacture of china; what price you pay for it; and I should like to get at an estimate, if possible, of the quantity used in England every year.'
Melville picked up the specimen and turned it round and round, looking at it attentively.
'Well,' he said at last, 'I could tell you anything you wished about the wholesale china trade, but about the manufacture of it I am not so well informed. Where did you get this?'
'That,' said Wentworth, 'is from a mine in which I am interested.'
'Ah, where is the mine situated, may I ask?'
'It is in America,' said Wentworth vaguely.
'I see. Have you considered the question of carriage in proposing to put it on the English market? That, as you know, is an important question. The cost of taking a heavy article a long distance is a great factor in the question of its commercial value.'
'I recognise that,' said Wentworth; 'and it is to enable me to form some estimate of the value of this material that I ask for particulars of its price here.'
'I understand, but I am not able to answer your questions. If you have time to wait and see Mr. Brand, our manager of the works, who is also one of the owners, he could easily tell you everything about this mineral--whether used at all or not. He comes up to London once every fortnight, and to-day is his day. I am expecting him here at any time. You might wait, if you liked, and see him.'
'I do not think that will be necessary. I will write, if you will allow me, just what I want to know, and in two or three minutes he could jot down the information I require. Then I will call again to-morrow, if you don't mind.'
'Not in the least. I will submit the matter to him. You can leave me this piece of mineral, I suppose?'
'Certainly,' said Wentworth, writing on a sheet of paper the questions: 'First, What quantity of this mineral is used in your works in a year? second, What price per ton do you pay for it? third, Will you give me, if possible, an estimate of how much of this is used in England?'
'There,' he said, 'if you will give him this slip of paper, and show him the specimen of mineral, I shall be very much obliged.'
'By the way,' said Melville, 'is this mine in operation?'
'Yes, it is.'
'Is there anyone else beside yourself interested in it in this country?'
'Yes,' said Wentworth, with some hesitation; 'John Kenyon, a mining expert, is interested in it, and Mr. Longworth--young Mr. Longworth of the City.'
'Any relation to John Longworth?'
'Ah, well, anything that Longworth has an interest in is reasonably sure of being successful.'
'I am perhaps going too far in saying he has an interest in the mine, but in coming from America he seemed desirous of going in with us. My partner. John Kenyon, of whom I spoke just now, is with him at the present moment, I believe.'
'Very well. I will submit this specimen to Mr. Brand as you desire, and will let you know to-morrow what he says.'
With that Wentworth took his leave, and in going out through the hall he met the manager of the china works, although he didn't know at the time who he was. He was a very shrewd-faced individual, who walked with a brisk business step which showed he believed that time was money.
'Well, Melville,' he said when he entered, 'I am a little late to-day, am I not?'
'You are a little behind the usual time, but not much.'
'By the way----' began the manager, and then his eye wandered to the specimen on the desk before Melville. 'Hello!' he cried, 'where did you get this?'
'That was left here a moment ago by a gentleman whom I wanted to wait until you came, but he seemed to be in a hurry. He is going to call again to-morrow.'
'What is his name?'
'Wentworth. Here's his card.'
'Ah, of a firm of accountants, eh? How did he come to have this?'
'He wanted to get some information about it, and I told him I would show it to you. Here is the note he left.'
The manager turned the crystal over and over in his hand, put on his eyeglasses and peered into it, then picked up the piece of paper and looked at what Kenyon had written.
'Did he say where he had got this?'
'Yes; he says there is a mine of it in America.'
'In America, eh? Did he say how much of this stuff there was?
'No; he didn't tell me that. The mine is working, however.'
'It is very curious! I never heard of it.'
'I gathered from him,' said Mr. Melville, 'that he wishes to do something with the mine over here. He did not say much, but he told me his partner--I forget his name--was talking at the present moment with young Longworth about it.'
'He's a man who goes in for mines or other investments; that is, his uncle does--a very shrewd old fellow, too. He is always on the right side of the market, no matter how it turns.'
'Then, he would be a man certain to know the value of the property if he had it, wouldn't he?'
'I don't know anybody who knows the value of what he has better than Longworth.'
'Ah, that's a pity,' mused the manager.
'Why? Is it a mineral of any worth?'
'Worth! A quarry of this would be better for us than a gold-mine!'
'Well, it struck me, in talking with Mr. Wentworth, that he had no particular idea of its utility. He seemed to know nothing about it, and that's why he came here for information.'
Again the manager looked at the paper before him.
'I'm not so sure about that,' he said. 'He wants to know the quantity used in a year, how much of it is consumed in England, and the price we pay for it per ton. I should judge, from that, he has an inkling of its value, and wants merely to corroborate it. Yes, I feel certain that is his move. I fear nothing very much can be done with Mr. Wentworth.'
'What were you thinking of doing?'
'My dear Melville, if we could get hold of such a mine, supposing it has an unlimited quantity of this mineral in it, we could control the china markets of the world.'
'You don't mean it!'
'It's a fact, because of the purity of the mineral. The stuff that we use is heavily impregnated with iron; we have to get the iron out of it, and that costs money. Not that the stuff itself is uncommon at all, it is one of the most common substances in Nature; but anything so pure as this I have never seen. I wonder if it is a fair specimen of what they can get out of the mine? If it is, I would rather own that property than any gold-mine I know of.'
'Well, I will see Mr. Wentworth, if you like. He is going to call here about this time to-morrow, and I will find out if some arrangement cannot be made with him.'
'No, I wouldn't do that,' replied the manager, who preferred never to do things in a direct way. 'I think your best plan is to see Longworth. The chances are that a City man like him does not know the value of the property; and, if you don't mind, I will write a letter to Mr. Wentworth and give him my opinion on this mineral.'
'What shall I say to Longworth?'
'Say anything you like; you understand that kind of business better than I. Here are the facts of the case. If we can get a controlling interest in this mine, always supposing that it turns out mineral up to sample--I suspect that this is a picked specimen; of course we should have to send a man to America and see--if we could get hold of this property, it would be the greatest feat in business we have ever done, provided, of course, we get it at a cheap enough price.'
'What do you call a cheap enough price?'
'You find out what Longworth will sell the mine for.'
'But supposing Wentworth owns the mine, or as much of it as Longworth does?'
'I think, somehow, that if you know Longworth you can perhaps make better terms with him. Meanwhile I will send a letter to Wentworth. You have his address there?'
Taking his pen, he dashed off the following letter:
'I regret to say that the mineral you left at our office yesterday is of no value to us. We do not use mineral of this nature, and, so far as I know, it is not used anywhere in England.