A Woman Intervenes by Robert Barr
The last bell had rung. Those who were going ashore had taken their departure. Crowds of human beings clustered on the pier-head, and at the large doorways of the warehouse which stood open on the steamer wharf. As the big ship slowly backed out there was a fluttering of handkerchiefs from the mass on the pier, and an answering flutter from those who crowded along the bulwarks of the steamer. The tug slowly pulled the prow of the vessel round, and at last the engines of the steamship began their pulsating throbs--throbs that would vibrate night and day until the steamer reached an older civilization. The crowd on the pier became more and more indistinct to those on board, and many of the passengers went below, for the air was bitterly cold, and the boat was forcing its way down the bay among huge blocks of ice.
Two, at least, of the passengers had taken little interest in the departure. They were leaving no friends behind them, and were both setting their faces toward friends at home.
'Let us go down,' said Wentworth to Kenyon, 'and see that we get seats together at table before all are taken.'
'Very good,' replied his companion, and they descended to the roomy saloon, where two long tables were already laid with an ostentatious display of silver, glassware, and cutlery, which made many, who looked on this wilderness of white linen with something like dismay, hope that the voyage would be smooth, although, as it was a winter passage, there was every chance it would not be. The purser and two of his assistants sat at one of the shorter tables with a plan before them, marking off the names of passengers who wished to be together, or who wanted some particular place at any of the tables. The smaller side-tables were still uncovered because the number of passengers at that season of the year was comparatively few. As the places were assigned, one of the helpers to the purser wrote the names of the passengers on small cards, and the other put the cards on the tables.
One young woman, in a beautifully-fitting travelling gown, which was evidently of the newest cut and design, stood a little apart from the general group which surrounded the purser and his assistants. She eagerly scanned every face, and listened attentively to the names given. Sometimes a shade of disappointment crossed her brow, as if she expected some particular person to possess some particular name which that particular person did not bear. At last her eyes sparkled.
'My name is Wentworth,' said the young man whose turn it was.
'Ah! any favourite place, Mr. Wentworth?' asked the purser blandly, as if he had known Wentworth all his life.
'No, we don't care where we sit; but my friend Mr. Kenyon and myself would like places together.'
'Very good; you had better come to my table,' replied the purser. 'Numbers 23 and 24--Mr. Kenyon and Mr. Wentworth.'
The steward took the cards that were given him, and placed them to correspond with the numbers the purser had named. Then the young woman moved gracefully along, as if she were interested in the names upon the table. She looked at Wentworth's name for a moment, and saw in the place next to his the name of Mr. Brown. She gave a quick, apprehensive glance around the saloon, and observed the two young men who had arranged for their seats at table now walking leisurely toward the companion-way. She took the card with the name of Mr. Brown upon it, and slipped upon the table another on which were written the words 'Miss Jennie Brewster.' Mr. Brown's card she placed on the spot from which she had taken her own.
'I hope Mr. Brown is not particular which place he occupies,' said Jennie to herself; 'but at any rate I shall see that I am early for dinner, and I'm sure Mr. Brown, whoever he is, will not be so ungallant as to insist on having this place if he knows his card was here.'
Subsequent events proved her surmise regarding Mr. Brown's indifference to be perfectly well founded. That young man searched for his card, found it, and sat down on the chair opposite the young woman, who already occupied her chair, and was, in fact, the first one at table. Seeing there would be no unseemly dispute about places, she began to plan in her own mind how she would first attract the attention of Mr. Wentworth. While thinking how best to approach her victim, Jennie heard his voice.
'Here you are, Kenyon; here are our places.'
'Which is mine?' said the voice of Kenyon.
'It doesn't matter,' answered Wentworth, and then a thrill of fear went through the gentle heart of Miss Jennie Brewster. She had not thought of the young man not caring which seat he occupied, and she dreaded the possibility of finding herself next to Kenyon rather than Wentworth. Her first estimate of the characters of the two men seemed to be correct. She always thought of Kenyon as Bunyan, and she felt certain that Wentworth would be the easier man of the two to influence. The next moment her fears were allayed, for Kenyon, giving a rapid glance at the handsome young woman, deliberately chose the seat farthest from her, and Wentworth, with 'I beg your pardon,' slipped in and sat down on the chair beside her.
'Now,' thought Jennie, with a sigh of relief, 'our positions are fixed for the meals of the voyage.' She had made her plans for beginning an acquaintance with the young man, but they were rendered unnecessary by the polite Mr. Wentworth handing her the bill of fare.
'Oh, thank you,' said the girl, in a low voice, which was so musical that Wentworth glanced at her a second time and saw how sweet and pretty and innocent she was.
'I'm in luck,' said the unfortunate young man to himself. Then he remarked aloud: 'We have not many ladies with us this voyage.'
'No,' replied Miss Brewster; 'I suppose nobody crosses at this time of the year unless compelled to.'
'I can answer for two passengers that such is the case.'
'Do you mean yourself as one?'
'Yes, myself and my friend.'
'How pleasant it must be,' said Miss Brewster, 'to travel with a friend! Then one is not lonely. I, unfortunately, am travelling alone.'
'I fancy,' said the gallant Wentworth, 'that if you are lonely while on board ship, it will be entirely your own fault.'
Miss Brewster laughed a silvery little laugh.
'I don't know about that,' she said. 'I am going to that Mecca of all Americans--Paris. My father is to meet me there, and we are then going on to the Riviera together.'
'Ah, that will be very pleasant,' said Wentworth. 'The Riviera at this season is certainly a place to be desired.'
'So I have heard,' she replied.
'Have you not been across before?'
'No, this is my first trip. I suppose you have crossed many times?'
'Oh no,' answered the Englishman; 'this is only my second voyage, my first having been the one that took me to America.'
'Ah, then you are not an American,' returned Miss Brewster, with apparent surprise.
She imagined that a man is generally flattered when a mistake of this kind is made. No matter how proud he may be of his country, he is pleased to learn that there is no provincialism about him which, as the Americans say, 'gives him away.'
'I think,' said Wentworth, 'as a general thing, I am not taken for anything but what I am--an Englishman.'
'I have met so few Englishmen,' said the guileless young woman, 'that really I should not be expected to know.'
'I understand it is a common delusion among Americans that every Englishman drops his "h's," and is to be detected in that way.'
Jennie laughed again, and George Wentworth thought it one of the prettiest laughs he had ever heard.
Poor Kenyon was rather neglected by his friend during the dinner. He felt a little gloomy while the courses went on, and wished he had an evening paper. Meanwhile, Wentworth and the handsome girl beside him got on very well together. At the end of the dinner she seemed to have some difficulty in getting up from her chair, and Wentworth showed her how to turn it round, leaving her free to rise. She thanked him prettily.
'I am going on deck,' she said, turning to go; 'I am so anxious to get my first glimpse of the ocean at night from the deck of a steamer.'
'I hope you will let me accompany you,' returned young Wentworth. 'The decks are rather slippery, and even when the boat is not rolling it isn't quite safe for a lady unused to the motion of a ship to walk alone in the dark.'
'Oh, thank you very much,' replied Miss Brewster, with effusion. 'It is kind of you, I am sure; and if you promise not to let me rob you of the pleasure of your after-dinner cigar, I shall be most happy to have you accompany me. I will meet you at the top of the stairway in five minutes.'
'You are getting on,' said Kenyon, as the young woman disappeared.
'What's the use of being on board ship,' said Wentworth, 'If you don't take advantage of the opportunity for making shipboard acquaintances? There is an unconventionality about life on a steamer that is not without its charm, as perhaps you will find out before the voyage is over, John.'
'You are merely trying to ease your conscience because of your heartless desertion of me.'
George Wentworth had waited at the top of the companion-way a little more than five minutes when Miss Brewster appeared, wrapped in a cloak edged with fur, which lent an additional charm to her complexion, set off as it was by a jaunty steamer cap. They stepped out on the deck, and found it not at all so dark as they had expected. Little globes of electric light were placed at regular intervals on the walls of the deck building. Overhead was stretched a sort of canvas roof, against which the sleety rain pattered. One of the sailors, with a rubber mop, was pushing into the gutter by the side of the ship the moisture from the deck. All around the boat the night was as black as ink, except here and there where the white curl of a wave showed luminous for a moment in the darkness.
Miss Brewster insisted that Wentworth should light his cigar, which, after some persuasion, he did. Then he tucked her hand snugly under his arm, and she adjusted her step to suit his. They had the promenade all to themselves. The rainy winter night was not so inviting to most of the passengers as the comfortable rooms below. Kenyon, however, and one or two others came up, and sat on the steamer chairs that were tied to the brass rod which ran along the deckhouse wall. He saw the glow of Wentworth's cigar as the couple turned at the farther end of the walk, and when they passed him he heard a low murmur of conversation, and caught now and then a snatch of silvery laughter. It was not because Wentworth had deserted him that Kenyon felt so uncomfortable and depressed. He could not tell just what it was, but there had settled on his mind a strange, uneasy foreboding. After a time he went down into the saloon and tried to read, but could not, and so wandered along the seemingly endless narrow passage to his room (which was Wentworth's as well), and, in nautical phrase, 'turned in.' It was late when his companion came.
'Asleep, Kenyon?' asked the latter.
'No,' was the answer.
'By George! John, she is one of the most charming girls I ever met. Wonderfully clever, too; makes a man feel like a fool beside her. She has read nearly everything. Has opinions on all our authors, a great many of whom I've never heard of. I wish, for your sake, John, she had a sister on board.'
'Thanks, old man; awfully good of you, I'm sure,' said Kenyon. 'Don't you think it's about time to stop raving, get into your bunk, and turn out that confounded light?'
'All right, growler, I will.'
Meanwhile, in her own state-room, Miss Jennie Brewster was looking at her reflection in the glass. As she shook out her long hair until it rippled down her back, she smiled sweetly, and said to herself:
'Poor Mr. Wentworth! Only the first night out, and he told me his name was George.'