A Woman Intervenes by Robert Barr
There was one man on board the Caloric to whom Wentworth had taken an extreme dislike. His name was Fleming, and he claimed to be a New York politician. As none of his friends or enemies asserted anything worse about him, it may be assumed that Fleming had designated his occupation correctly. If Wentworth were asked what he most disliked about the man, he would probably have said his offensive familiarity. Fleming seemed to think himself a genial good fellow, and he was immensely popular with a certain class in the smoking-room. He was lavishly free with his invitations to drink, and always had a case of good cigars in his pocket, which he bestowed with great liberality. He had the habit of slapping a man boisterously on the back, and saying, 'Well, old fellow, how are you? How's things?' He usually confided to his listeners that he was a self-made man: had landed at New York without a cent in his pocket, and look at him now!
Wentworth was icy towards this man; but frigidity had no effect whatever on the exuberant spirits of the New York politician.
'Well, old man!' cried Fleming to Wentworth, as he came up to the latter and linked arms affectionately. 'What lovely weather we are having for winter time!'
'It is good,' said Wentworth.
'Good? It's glorious! Who would have thought, when leaving New York in a snowstorm as we did, that we would run right into the heart of spring? I hope you are enjoying your voyage?'
'You ought to. By the way, why are you so awful stand-offish? Is it natural, or merely put on "for this occasion only"?'
'I do not know what you mean by "stand-offish."'
'You know very well what I mean. Why do you pretend to be so stiff and formal with a fellow?'
'I am never stiff and formal with anyone unless I do not desire his acquaintance.'
Fleming laughed loudly.
'I suppose that's a personal hint. Well, it seems to me, if this exclusiveness is genuine, that you would be more afraid of newspaper notoriety than of anything else.'
'Why do you say that?'
'Because I can't, for the life of me, see why you spend so much time with Dolly Dimple. I am sure I don't know why she is here; but I do know this: that you will be served up to the extent of two or three columns in the Sunday Argus as sure as you live.'
'I don't understand you.'
'You don't? Why, it's plain enough. You spend all your time with her.'
'I do not even know of whom you are speaking.'
'Oh, come now, that's too rich! Is it possible you don't know that Miss Jennie Brewster is the one who writes those Sunday articles over the signature of "Dolly Dimple"?'
A strange fear fell upon Wentworth as his companion mentioned the Argus. He remembered it as J.K. Rivers' paper; but when Fleming said Miss Brewster was a correspondent of the Argus, he was aghast.
'I--I--I don't think I quite catch your meaning,' he stammered.
'Well, my meaning's easy enough to see. Hasn't she ever told you? Then it shows she wants to do you up on toast. You're not an English politician, are you? You haven't any political secrets that Dolly wants to get at, have you? Why, she is the greatest girl there is in the whole United States for finding out just what a man doesn't want to have known. You know the Secretary of State'--and here Fleming went on to relate a wonderfully brilliant feat of Dolly's; but the person to whom he was talking had neither eyes nor ears. He heard nothing and he saw nothing.
'Dear me!' said Fleming, drawing himself up and slapping the other on the back, 'you look perfectly dumfounded. I suppose I oughtn't to have given Dolly away like this; but she has pretended all along that she didn't know me, and so I've got even with her. You take my advice, and anything you don't want to see in print, don't tell Miss Brewster, that's all. Have a cigar?'
'No, thank you,' replied the other mechanically.
'Better come in and have a drink.'
'No, thank you.'
'Well, so long. I'll see you later.'
'It can't be true--it can't be true!' Wentworth repeated to himself in deep consternation, but still an inward misgiving warned him that, after all, it might be true. With his hands clasped behind him he walked up and down, trying to collect himself--trying to remember what he had told and what he had not. As he walked along, heeding nobody, a sweet voice from one of the chairs thrilled him, and he paused.
'Why, Mr. Wentworth, what is the matter with you this morning? You look as if you had seen a ghost.'
Wentworth glanced at the young woman seated in the chair, who was gazing up brightly at him.
'Well,' he said at last, 'I am not sure but I have seen a ghost. May I sit down beside you?'
'May you? Why, of course you may. I shall be delighted to have you. Is there anything wrong?'
'I don't know. Yes, I think there is.'
'Well, tell it to me; perhaps I can help you. A woman's wit, you know. What is the trouble?'
'May I ask you a few questions, Miss Brewster?'
'Certainly. A thousand of them, if you like, and I will answer them all if I can.'
'Thank you. Will you tell me, Miss Brewster, if you are connected with any newspaper?'
Miss Brewster laughed her merry, silvery little laugh.
'Who told you? Ah! I see how it is. It was that creature Fleming. I'll get even with him for this some day. I know what office he is after, and the next time he wants a good notice from the Argus he'll get it; see if he don't. I know some things about him that he would just as soon not see in print. Why, what a fool the man is! I suppose he told you out of revenge because I wouldn't speak to him the other evening. Never mind; I can afford to wait.'
'Then--then, Miss Brewster, it is true?'
'Certainly it is true; is there anything wrong about it? I hope you don't think it is disreputable to belong to a good newspaper?'
'To a good newspaper, no; to a bad newspaper, yes.'
'Oh, I don't think the Argus is a bad newspaper. It pays me well.'
'Then it is to the Argus that you belong?'
'May I ask, Miss Brewster, if there is anything I have spoken about to you that you intend to use in your paper?'
Again Miss Brewster laughed.
'I will be perfectly frank with you. I never tell a lie--it doesn't pay. Yes. The reason I am here is because you are here. I am here to find out what your report on those mines will be, also what the report of your friend will be. I have found out.'
'And do you intend to use the information you have thus obtained--if I may say it--under false pretences?'
'My dear sir, you are forgetting yourself. You must remember that you are talking to a lady.'
'A lady!' cried Wentworth in his anguish.
'Yes, sir, a lady; and you must be careful how you talk to this lady. There was no false pretence about it, if you remember. What you told me was in conversation; I didn't ask you for it. I didn't even make the first advances towards your acquaintance.'
'But you must admit, Miss Brewster, that it is very unfair to get a man to engage in what he thinks is a private conversation, and then to publish what he has said.'
'My dear sir, if that were the case, how would we get anything for publication that people didn't want to be known? Why, I remember once, when the Secretary of State----'
'Yes,' interrupted Wentworth wearily; 'Fleming told me that story.'
'Oh, did he? Well, I'm sure I'm much obliged to him. Then I need not repeat it.'
'Do you mean to say that you intend to send to the Argus for publication what I have told you in confidence?'
'Certainly. As I said before, that is what I am here for. Besides, there was no "in confidence" about it.'
'And yet you pretend to be a truthful, honest, honourable woman?'
'I don't pretend it; I am.'
'How much truth, then, is there in your story that you are a millionaire's daughter about to visit your father in Paris, and accompany him from there to the Riviera?'
Miss Brewster laughed brightly.
'Oh, I don't call fibs, which a person has to tell in the way of business, untruths.'
'Then probably you do not think your estimable colleague, Mr. J.K. Rivers, behaved dishonourably in Ottawa?'
'Well, hardly. I think Rivers was not justified in what he did because he was unsuccessful, that is all. I'll bet a dollar if I had got hold of these papers they would have gone through to New York; but, then, J.K. Rivers is only a stupid man, and most men are stupid'--with a sly glance at Wentworth.
'I am willing to admit that, Miss Brewster, if you mean me. There never was a more stupid man than I have been.'
'My dear Mr. Wentworth, it will do you ever so much good if you come to a realization of that fact. The truth is, you take yourself much too seriously. Now, it won't hurt you a bit to have what I am going to send published in the Argus, and it will help me a great deal. Just you wait here for a few moments.'
With that she flung her book upon his lap, sprang up, and vanished down the companion-way. In a very short time she reappeared with some sheets of paper in her hand.
'Now you see how fair and honest I am going to be. I am going to read you what I have written. If there is anything in it that is not true, I will very gladly cut it out; and if there is anything more to be added, I shall be very glad to add it. Isn't that fair?'
Wentworth was so confounded with the woman's impudence that he could make no reply.
She began to read: '"By an unexampled stroke of enterprise the New York Argus is enabled this morning to lay before its readers a full and exclusive account of the report made by the two English specialists, Mr. George Wentworth and Mr. John Kenyon, who were sent over by the London Syndicate to examine into the accounts, and inquire into the true value of the mines of the Ottawa River."'
She looked up from the paper, and said, with an air of friendly confidence:
'I shouldn't send that if I thought the people at the New York end would know enough to write it themselves; but as the paper is edited by dull men, and not by a sharp woman, I have to make them pay twenty-five cents a word for puffing their own enterprise. Well, to go on: "When it is remembered that the action of the London Syndicate will depend entirely on the report of these two gentlemen--"'
'I wouldn't put it that way,' interrupted Wentworth in his despair. 'I would use the word "largely" for "entirely."'
'Oh, thank you,' said Miss Brewster cordially. She placed the manuscript on her knee, and, with her pencil, marked out the word 'entirely,' substituting 'largely.' The reading went on: '"When it is remembered that the action of the London Syndicate will depend largely on the report of these two gentlemen, the enterprise of the Argus in getting this exclusive information, which will be immediately cabled to London, may be imagined." That is the preliminary, you see; and, as I said, it wouldn't be necessary to cable it if women were at the head of affairs over there, which they are not. "Mr. John Kenyon, the mining expert, has visited all the mineral ranges along the Ottawa River, and his report is that the mines are very much what is claimed for them; but he thinks they are not worked properly, although, with judicious management and more careful mining, the properties can be made to pay good dividends. Mr. George Wentworth, who is one of the leading accountants of London--"'
'I wouldn't say that, either,' groaned George. 'Just strike out the words "one of the leading accountants of London."'
'Yes?' said Miss Brewster; 'and what shall I put in the place of them?'
'Put in place of them "the stupidest ass in London"!'
Miss Brewster laughed at that.
'No; I shall put in what I first wrote: "Mr. George Wentworth, one of the leading accountants of London, has gone through the books of the different mines. He has made some startling discoveries. The accounts have been kept in such a way as to completely delude investors, and this fact will have a powerful effect on the minds of the London Syndicate. The books of the different mines show a profit of about two hundred thousand dollars, whereas the actual facts of the case are that there has been an annual loss of something like one hundred thousand dollars--"'
'What's that? what's that?' cried Wentworth sharply.
'Dollars, you know. You said twenty thousand pounds. We put it in dollars, don't you see?'
'Oh,' said Wentworth, relapsing again.
'"One hundred thousand dollars"--where was I? Oh yes. "It is claimed that an American expert went over these books before Mr. Wentworth, and that he asserted they were all right. An explanation from this gentleman will now be in order."'
'There!' cried the young lady, 'that is the substance of the thing. Of course, I may amplify a little more before we get to Queenstown, so as to make them pay more money. People don't value a thing that doesn't cost them dearly. How do you like it? Is it correct?'
'Perfectly correct,' answered the miserable young man.
'Oh, I am so glad you like it! I do love to have things right.'
'I didn't say I liked it.'
'No, of course, you couldn't be expected to say that; but I am glad you think it is accurate. I will add a note to the effect that you think it is a good resume of your report.'
'For Heaven's sake, don't drag me into the matter!' cried Wentworth.
'Well, I won't, if you don't want me to.'
There was silence for a few moments, during which the young woman seemed to be adding commas and full-stops to the MS. on her knee. Wentworth cleared his throat two or three times, but his lips were so dry that he could hardly speak. At last he said:
'Miss Brewster, how can I induce you not to send that from Queenstown to your paper?'
The young woman looked up at him with a pleasant bright smile.
'Induce me? Why, you couldn't do it--it couldn't be done. This will be one of the greatest triumphs I have ever achieved. Think of Rivers failing in it, and me accomplishing it!'
'Yes; I have thought of that,' replied the young man despondently. 'Now, perhaps you don't know that the full report was mailed from Ottawa to our house in London, and the moment we get to Queenstown I will telegraph my partners to put the report in the hands of the directors?'
'Oh, I know all about that,' replied Miss Brewster; 'Rivers told me. He read the letter that was enclosed with the documents he took from your friend. Now, have you made any calculations about this voyage?'
'Calculations? I don't know what you mean.'
'Well, I mean just this: We shall probably reach Queenstown on Saturday afternoon. This report, making allowance for the difference in the time, will appear in the Argus on Sunday morning. Your telegram will reach your house or your firm on Saturday night, when nothing can be done with it. Sunday nothing can be done. Monday morning, before your report will reach the directors, the substance of what has appeared in the Argus will be in the financial papers, cabled over to London on Sunday night. The first thing your directors will see of it will be in the London financial papers on Monday morning. That's what I mean, Mr. Wentworth, by calculating the voyage.'
Wentworth said no more. He staggered to his feet and made his way as best he could to the state-room, groping like a blind man. There he sat down with his head in his hands, and there his friend Kenyon found him.