A Woman Intervenes by Robert Barr
Kenyon was on his way to lunch next day, when he met Wentworth at the door.
'Going to feed?' asked the latter.
'Very well; I'll go with you. I couldn't stay last night to have a talk with you over the meeting; but what did you think of it?'
'Well, considering the article which appeared in the morning, and considering also the exhibition I made of myself in attempting to explain the merits of the mine, I think things went off rather smoothly.'
'So do I. It doesn't strike you that they went off a little too smoothly, does it?'
'What do you mean?'
'I don't know exactly what I mean. I merely wanted to get your own opinion about it. You see, I have attended a great many gatherings of this sort, and it struck me there was a certain cut-and-driedness about the meeting. I can't say whether it impressed me favourably or unfavourably, but I noticed it.'
'I still don't understand what you mean.'
'Well, as a general thing in such meetings, when a man gets up and proposes a certain action there is some opposition, or somebody has a suggestion to make, or something better to propose--or thinks he has--and so there is a good deal of talk. Now, when King got up and proposed calmly that Melville should go to America, it appeared to me rather an extraordinary thing to do, unless he had consulted Melville beforehand.'
'Perhaps he had done so.'
'Yes, perhaps. What do you think of it all?'
Kenyon mused for a moment before he replied:
'As I said before, I thought things went off very smoothly. Whom do you suspect--young Longworth?'
'I do not know whom I suspect. I am merely getting anxious about the shortness of the time. I think, myself, you ought to go to America. There is nothing to be done here. You should go, see Von Brent, and get a renewal of the option. Don't you see that when they get over there, allowing them a few days in New York, and a day or two to get out to the mine, we shall have little more than a week, after the cable despatch comes, in which to do anything, should they happen to report unfavourably.'
'Yes, I see that. Still, it is only a question of facts on which they have to report, and you know, as well as I do, that no truthful men can report unfavourably on what we have certified. We have understated the case in every instance.'
'I know that. I am perfectly well aware of that. Everything is all right if--if--Longworth is dealing honestly with us. If he is not, then everything is all wrong, and I should feel a great deal easier if we had in our possession another three months' option of the mine. We are now at the fag-end of this option, and, it seems to me, as protection to ourselves, we ought either to write to Von Brent--By the way, have you ever written to him?'
'I wrote one letter telling him how we were getting on, but have received no answer; perhaps he is not in Ottawa at present.'
'Well, I think you ought to go to the mine with Longworth and Melville. It is the conjunction of those two men that makes me suspicious. I can't tell what I distrust. I can give nothing definite; but I have a vague uneasiness when I think that the man who tried to mislead us regarding the value of the mineral is going with the man who has led us into all this expense. Longworth refused to go into the scheme in the first place, pretended he had forgotten all about it in the second place, and then suddenly developed an interest.'
John knitted his brows and said nothing.
'I don't want to worry you about it, but I am anxious to have your candid opinion. What had we better do?'
'It seems to me,' said John, after a pause, 'that we can do nothing. It is a very perplexing situation. I think, however, we should turn it over in our minds for a few days, and then I can get to America in plenty of time, if necessary.'
'Very well, suppose we give them ten days to get to the mine and reply. If no reply comes by the eleventh day then you will still have eighteen or nineteen days before the option expires. Put it at twelve days. I propose, if you hear nothing by then, you go over.'
'Right,' said John; 'we may take that as settled.'
'By the way, you got an invitation to-day, did you not?'
'Are you going?'
'I do not know. I should like to go and yet, you know, I am entirely unused to fashionable assemblages. I should not know what to say or do while I was there.'
'As I understand, it is not to be a fashionable party, but merely a little friendly gathering which Miss Longworth gives because her cousin is about to sail for Canada. I don't want to flatter you, John, at all, but I imagine Miss Longworth would be rather disappointed if you did not put in an appearance. Besides, as we are partners with Longworth in this, and as he is going away on account of the mine. I think it would be a little ungracious of us not to go.'
'Very well, I will go. Shall I call for you, or will you come for me?'
'I will call for you and we will go there together in a cab. Be ready about eight o'clock.'
The mansion of the Longworths was brilliantly lighted, and John felt rather faint-hearted as he stood on the steps before going in. The chances are he would not have had the courage to allow himself to be announced if his friend Wentworth had not been with him. George, however, had no such qualms, being more experienced in this kind of thing than his comrade. So they entered together, and were warmly greeted by the young hostess.
'It is so kind of you to come,' she said, 'on such short notice. I was afraid you might have had some prior engagement, and would have found it impossible to be with us.'
'You must not think that of me,' said Wentworth. 'I was certain to come; but I must confess my friend Kenyon here was rather difficult to manage. He seems to frown on social festivities, and actually had the coolness to propose that we should both plead more important business.'
Edith looked reproachfully at Kenyon, who flushed to the temples, as was his custom, and said:
'Now, Wentworth, that is unfair. You must not mind what he says, Miss Longworth; he likes to bring confusion on me, and he knows how to do it. I certainly said nothing about a prior engagement.'
'Well, now you are here, I hope you will enjoy yourselves. It is quite an informal little gathering, with nothing to abash even Mr. Kenyon.'
They found young Longworth there in company with Melville, who was to be his companion on the voyage. He shook hands, but without exhibiting the pleasure at meeting them which his cousin had shown.
'My cousin,' said the young man, 'seems resolved to make the going of the prodigal nephew an occasion for killing the fatted calf. I'm sure I don't know why, unless it is that she is glad to be rid of me for a month.'
Edith laughed at this, and left the men together. Wentworth speedily contrived to make himself agreeable to the young ladies who were present; but John, it must be admitted, felt awkward and out of place. He was not enjoying himself. He caught himself now and then following Edith Longworth with his eyes, and when he realized he was doing this, would abruptly look at the floor. In her handsome evening dress she appeared supremely lovely, and this John Kenyon admitted to himself with a sigh, for her very loveliness seemed to place her further and further away from him. Somebody played something on the piano, and this was, in a way, a respite for John. He felt that nobody was looking at him. Then a young man gave a recitation, which was very well received, and Kenyon began to forget his uneasiness. A German gentleman with long hair sat down at the piano with a good deal of importance in his demeanour. There was much arranging of music, and finally, when the leaves were settled to his satisfaction, there was a tremendous crash of chords, the beginning of what was evidently going to be a troublesome time for the piano. In the midst of this hurricane of sound John Kenyon became aware that Edith Longworth had sat down beside him.
'I have got everyone comfortably settled with everyone else,' she said in a whisper to him, 'and you seem to be the only one who is, as it were, out in the cold, so, you see, I have done you the honour to come and talk to you.'
'It is indeed an honour,' said John earnestly.
'Oh, really,' said the young woman, laughing very softly, 'you must not take things so seriously. I didn't mean quite what I said, you know--that was only, as the children say, "pretended"; but you take one's light remarks as if they were most weighty sentences. Now, you must look as if you were entertaining me charmingly, whereas I have sat down beside you to have a very few minutes' talk on business; I know it's very bad form to talk business at an evening party, but, you see, I have no other chance to speak with you. I understand you have had a meeting of shareholders, and yet you never sent me an invitation. I told you that I wished to help you in forming a company; but that is the way you business men always treat a woman.'
'Really, Miss Longworth,' began Kenyon; but she speedily interrupted him.
'I am not going to let you make any explanation. I have come over here to enjoy scolding you, and I am not to be cheated out of my pleasure.'
'I think,' said John, 'if you knew how much I have suffered during this last day or two, you would be very lenient with me. Did you read that article upon me in the Financial Field?'
'No, I did not, but I read your reply to it this morning, and I think it was excellent.'
'Ah, that was hardly fair. A person should read both sides of the question before passing judgment.'
'It is a woman's idea of fairness,' said Edith, 'to read what pertains to her friend, and to form her judgment without hearing the other side. But you must not think I am going to forego scolding you because of my sympathy with you. Don't you remember you promised to let me know how your company was progressing from time to time, and here I have never had a word from you; now tell me how you have been getting on.'
'I hardly know, but I think we are doing very well indeed. You know, of course, that your cousin is going to America to report upon the mine. As I have stated nothing but what is perfectly true about the property, there can be no question as to what that report will be, so it seems to me everything is going on nicely.'
'Why do not you go to America?'
'Ah, well, I am an interested party, and those who are thinking of going in with us have my report already. It is necessary to corroborate that. When it is corroborated, I expect we shall have no trouble in forming the company.'
'And was William chosen by those men to go to Canada?'
'He was not exactly chosen; he volunteered. Mr. Melville here was the one who was chosen.'
'And why Mr. Melville more than you, for instance?'
'Well, as I said, I am out of the question because I am an interested party. Melville is a man connected with china works, and as such, in a measure, an expert.'
'Is Mr. Melville a friend of yours?'
'No, he is not. I never saw him until he came to the meeting.'
'Do you know,' she said, lowering her voice and bending towards him, 'that I do not like Mr. Melville's face?' Kenyon glanced at Melville, who was at the other side of the room, and Edith went on: 'You must not look at people when I mention them in that way, or they will know we are talking about them. I do not like his face. He is too handsome a man, and I don't like handsome men.'
'Don't you, really,' said John; 'then, you ought to----'
Edith laughed softly, a low, musical laugh that was not heard above the piano din, and was intended for John alone, and to his ears it was the sweetest music he had ever heard.
'I know what you were going to say,' she said; 'you were going to say that in that case I ought to like you. Well, I do; that is why I am taking such an interest in your mine, and in your friend Mr. Wentworth. And so my cousin volunteered to go to Canada. Now, I think you ought to go yourself.'
'Why?' said Kenyon, startled that she should have touched the point that had been discussed between Wentworth and himself.
'I can only give you a woman's reason--"because I do." It seems to me you ought to be there to know what they report at the time they do report. Perhaps they won't understand the mine without your explanation, and then you see an adverse report might come back in perfect good faith. I think you ought to go to America, Mr. Kenyon.'
'That is just what George Wentworth says.'
'Does he? I always thought he was a very sensible young man, and now I am sure of it. Well, I must not stay here gossiping with you on business. I see the professor is going to finish, and so I shall have to look after my other guests. If I don't see you again this evening, or have no opportunity of speaking with you, think over what I have said.'
And then, with the most charming hypocrisy, the young woman thanked the professor for the music to which she had not listened in the least.
'Well, how did you enjoy yourself?' said Wentworth when they had got outside again.
It was a clear, starlight night, and they had resolved to walk home together.
'I enjoyed myself very well indeed,' answered Kenyon; 'much better than I expected. It was a little awkward at first, but I got over that.'
'I noticed you did--with help.'
'Yes, "with help."'
'If you are inclined to rave, John, now that we are under the stars, remember I am a close confidant, and a sympathetic listener. I should like to hear you rave, just to learn how an exasperatingly sensible man acts under the circumstances.'
'I shall not rave about anything, George, but I will tell you something. I am going to Canada.'
'Ah, did she speak about that?'
'And of course her advice at once decides the matter, after my most cogent arguments have failed?'
'Don't be offended, George, but--it does.'