A Woman Intervenes by Robert Barr
The second day out was a pleasant surprise for all on board who had made up their minds to a disagreeable winter passage. The air was clear, the sky blue as if it were spring-time, instead of midwinter. They were in the Gulf Stream. The sun shone brightly and the temperature was mild. Nevertheless, it was an uncomfortable day for those who were poor sailors. Although there did not seem, to the casual observer, to be much of a sea running, the ship rolled atrociously. Those who had made heroic resolutions on the subject were sitting in silent misery in their deck-chairs, which had been lashed to firm stanchions. Few were walking the clean bright deck, because walking that morning was a gymnastic feat. Three or four who evidently wished to show they had crossed before, and knew all about it, managed to make their way along the deck. Those recumbent in the steamer-chairs watched with lazy interest the pedestrians who now and then stood still, leaning apparently far out of the perpendicular, as the deck inclined downward. Sometimes the pedestrian's feet slipped, and he shot swiftly down the incline. Such an incident was invariably welcomed by those who sat. Even the invalids smiled wanly.
Kenyon reclined in his deck-chair with his eyes fixed on the blue sky. His mind was at rest about the syndicate report now that it had been mailed to London. His thoughts wandered to his own affairs, and he wondered whether he would make money out of the option he had acquired at Ottawa. He was not an optimistic man, and he doubted.
After their work for the London Syndicate was finished, the young men had done a little business on their own account. They visited together a mica-mine that was barely paying expenses, and which the proprietors were anxious to sell. The mine was owned by the Austrian Mining Company, whose agent, Von Brent, was interviewed by Kenyon in Ottawa. The young men obtained an option on this mine for three months from Von Brent. Kenyon's educated eye had told him that the white mineral they were placing on the dump at the mouth of the mine was even more valuable than the mica for which they were mining.
Kenyon was scrupulously honest--a quality somewhat at a discount in the mining business--and it seemed to him hardly the fair thing that he should take advantage of the ignorance of Von Brent regarding the mineral on the dump. Wentworth had some trouble in overcoming his friend's scruples. He claimed that knowledge always had to be paid for, in law, medicine, or mineralogy, and therefore that they were perfectly justified in profiting by their superior wisdom. So it came about that the young men took to England with them a three months' option on the mine.
Wentworth had been walking about all morning like a lost spirit apparently seeking what was not. 'It can't be,' he said to himself. No; the thought was too horrible, and he dismissed it from his mind, merely conjecturing that perhaps she was not an early riser, which was indeed the case. No one who works on a morning newspaper ever takes advantage of the lark's example.
'Well, Kenyon,' said Wentworth 'you look as if you were writing a poem, or doing something that required deep mental agony.'
'The writing of poems, my dear Wentworth, I leave to you. I am doing something infinitely more practical--something that you ought to be at. I am thinking what we are to do with our mica-mine when we get it over to London.'
'Oh, "sufficient for the day is the evil thereof,"' cried Wentworth jauntily; 'besides, half an hour's thinking by a solid-brained fellow like you is worth a whole voyage of my deepest meditation.'
'She hasn't appeared yet?' said Kenyon.
'No, dear boy; no, she has not. You see, I make no pretence with you as other less ingenuous men might. No, she has not appeared, and she has not breakfasted.'
'Perhaps----' began Kenyon.
'No, no!' cried Wentworth; 'I'll have no "perhaps." I thought of that, but I instantly dismissed the idea. She's too good a sailor.'
'It requires a very good sailor to stand this sort of thing. It looks so unnecessary, too. I wonder what the ship is rolling about?'
'I can't tell, but she seems to be rolling about half over. I say, Kenyon, old fellow, I feel horrible pangs of conscience about deserting you in this way, and so early in the voyage. I didn't do it last time, did I?'
'You were a model travelling companion on the last voyage,' returned Kenyon.
'I don't wish to make impertinent suggestions, my boy, but allow me to tell you that there are some other very nice girls on board.'
'You are not so bad as I feared, then,' replied Kenyon, 'or you wouldn't admit that. I thought you had eyes for no one but Miss--Miss--I really didn't catch her name.'
'I don't mind telling you confidentially, Kenyon, that her name is Jennie.'
'Dear me!' cried Kenyon, 'has it got so far as that? Doesn't it strike you, Wentworth, that you are somewhat in a hurry? It seems decidedly more American than English. Englishmen are apt to weigh matters a little more.'
'There is no necessity for weighing, my boy. I don't see any harm in making the acquaintance of a pretty girl when you have a long voyage before you.'
'Well, I wouldn't let it grow too serious, if I were you.'
'There isn't the slightest danger of seriousness about the affair. On shore the young lady wouldn't cast a second look at me. She is the daughter of a millionaire. Her father is in Paris, and they are going on to the Riviera in a few weeks.'
'All the more reason,' said Kenyon, 'that you shouldn't let this go too far. Be on your guard, my boy. I've heard it said that American girls have the delightful little practice of leading a man on until it comes to a certain point, and then arching their pretty eyebrows, looking astonished, and forgetting all about him afterwards. You had better wait until we make our fortunes on this mica-mine, and then, perhaps, your fair millionairess may listen to you.'
'John,' cried Wentworth, 'you are the most cold-blooded man I know of. I never noticed it so particularly before, but it seems to me that years and years of acquaintance with minerals of all kinds, hard and flinty, transform a man. Be careful that you don't become like the minerals you work among.'
'Well, I don't know anything that has less tendency to soften a man than long columns of figures. I think the figures you work at are quite as demoralizing as the minerals I have spent my life with.'
'Perhaps you are right, but a girl would have to be thrown into your arms before you would admit that such a thing as a charming young lady existed.'
'If I make all the money I hope to make out of the mica-mine, I expect the young ladies will not be thrown into my arms, but at my head. Money goes a long way toward reconciling a girl to marriage.'
'It certainly goes a long way toward reconciling her mother to the marriage. I don't believe,' said Wentworth slowly, 'that my--that Miss Brewster ever thinks about money.'
'She probably doesn't need to, but no doubt there is someone who does the thinking for her. If her father is a millionaire, and has, like many Americans, made his own money, you may depend upon it he will do the thinking for her; and if Miss Brewster should prove to be thoughtless in the matter, the old gentleman will very speedily bring you both to your senses. It would be different if you had a title.'
'I haven't any,' replied Wentworth, 'except the title George Wentworth, accountant, with an address in the City and rooms in the suburbs.'
'Precisely; if you were Lord George Wentworth, or even Sir George, or Baron Wentworth of something or other, you might have a chance; as it is, the title of accountant would not go far with an American millionaire, or his daughter either.'
'You are a cold, calculating wretch.'
'Nothing of the sort. I merely have my senses about me, and you haven't at this particular moment. You wouldn't think of trusting a book-keeper's figures without seeing his vouchers. Well, my boy, you haven't the vouchers--at least, not yet, so that is why I ask you to give your attention to what we are going to do with our mine; and if you take my advice you will not think seriously about American millionaires or their daughters.'
George Wentworth jumped to his feet, the ship gave a lurch at that particular moment, and he no sooner found his feet than he nearly lost them again; however, he was an expert at balancing himself as well as his accounts, and though for the moment his attention was occupied in keeping his equilibrium, he looked down on his companion, still placidly reclining in his chair, with a smile on his face.
'Kenyon,' he said, 'I am going to look for another girl.'
'Is one not enough for you?'
'No, I want two--one for myself, and one for you. No man can sympathize with another unless he is in the same position himself. John, I want sympathy, and I'm not getting it.'
'What you need more urgently,' said Kenyon calmly, 'is common-sense, and that I am trying to supply.'
'You are doing your duty in that direction; but a man doesn't live by common-sense alone. There comes a time when common-sense is a drug in the market. I don't say it has come to me yet, but I'm resolved to get you into a more sympathetic mood, so I am going to find a suitable young lady for you.'
'More probably you are going to look for your own,' answered Kenyon, as his friend walked off, and, disappearing round the corner, crossed to the other side of the ship.
Kenyon did not turn again to his figures when his companion left him. He mused over the curiously rapid turn of circumstances. He hoped Wentworth would not take it too seriously, for he felt that, somehow or other, Miss Brewster was just the sort of girl to throw him over after she had whiled away a tedious voyage. Of course he could not say this to his friend, who evidently admired Miss Brewster, but he had said as much as he could to put Wentworth on his guard.
'Now,' said Kenyon to himself, 'if she had been a girl like that, I wouldn't have minded.' The girl 'like that' was a young woman who for half an hour had been walking the deck alone with marvellous skill. She was not so handsome as the American girl, but she had a better complexion, and there was a colour in her cheek which seemed to suggest England. Her dress was not quite so smart nor so well-fitting as that of the American girl; but, nevertheless, she was warmly and sensibly clad, and a brown Tam o' Shanter covered her fair head. The tips of her hands were in the pockets of her short blue-cloth jacket; and she walked the deck with a firm, reliant tread that aroused the admiration of John Kenyon. 'If she were only a girl like that,' he repeated to himself, 'I wouldn't mind. There's something fresh and genuine about her. She makes me think of the breezy English downs.'
As she walked back and forward, one or two young men seemingly made an attempt to become acquainted with her, but it was evident to Kenyon that the young woman had made it plain to them, politely enough, that she preferred walking alone, and they raised their sea-caps and left her.
'She doesn't pick up the first man who comes,' he mused.
The ship was beginning to roll more and more, and yet the day was beautiful and the sea seemingly calm. Most of the promenaders had left the deck. Two or three of them had maintained their equilibrium with a gratifying success which engendered the pride that goeth before a fall, but the moment came at last when their feet slipped and they had found themselves thrown against the bulwark of the steamer. Then they had laughed a little in a crestfallen manner, picked themselves up, and promenaded the deck no more. Many of those who were lying in the steamer-chairs gave up the struggle and went down to their cabins. There was a momentary excitement as one chair broke from its fastenings and slid down with a crash against the bulwarks. The occupant was picked up in a hysterical condition and taken below. The deck steward tied the chair more firmly, so that the accident would not happen again. The young English girl was opposite John Kenyon when this disaster took place, and her attention being diverted by fear for the safety of the occupant of the sliding chair, her care for herself was withdrawn at the very moment when it was most needed. The succeeding lurch which the ship gave to the other side was the most tremendous of the day. The deck rose until the girl leaning outward could almost touch it with her hand, then, in spite of herself, she slipped with the rapidity of lightning against the chair John Kenyon occupied, and that tripping her up, flung her upon him with an unexpectedness that would have taken his breath away if the sudden landing of a plump young woman upon him had not accomplished the same thing. The fragile deck-chair gave way with a crash, and it would be hard to say which was the more discomfited by the sudden catastrophe, John Kenyon or the girl.
'I hope you are not hurt,' he managed to stammer.
'Don't think about me!' she cried. 'I have broken your chair, and--and----'
'The chair doesn't matter,' cried Kenyon. 'It was a flimsy structure at best. I am not hurt, if that is what you mean--and you mustn't mind it.'
Then there came to his recollection the sentence of George Wentworth: 'A girl will have to be thrown into your arms before you will admit that such a thing as a charming young woman exists.'