A Woman Intervenes by Robert Barr
'Tell me what has happened,' demanded John Kenyon.
Wentworth looked up at him.
'Everything has happened,' he answered.
'What do you mean, George? Are you ill? What is the matter with you?'
'I am worse than ill, John--a great deal worse than ill. I wish I were ill.'
'That wouldn't help things, whatever is wrong. Come, wake up. Tell me what the trouble is.'
'John, I am a fool--an ass--a gibbering idiot.'
'Admitting that, what then?'
'I trusted a woman--imbecile that I am; and now--now--I'm what you see me.'
'Has--has Miss Brewster anything to do with it?' asked Kenyon suspiciously.
'She has everything to do with it.'
'Has she--rejected you, George?'
'What! that girl? Oh, you're the idiot now. Do you think I would ask her?'
'I cannot be blamed for jumping at conclusions. You must remember "that girl," as you call her, has had most of your company during this voyage; and most of your good words when you were not with her. What is the matter? What has she to do with your trouble?'
Wentworth paced up and down the narrow limits of the state-room as if he were caged. He smote his hand against his thigh, while Kenyon looked at him in wonder.
'I don't know how I can tell you, John,' he said. 'I must, of course; but I don't know how I can.'
'Come on deck with me.'
'Come out, I say, into the fresh air. It is stuffy here, and, besides, there is more danger of being overheard in the state-room than on deck. Come along, old fellow.'
He caught his companion by the arm, and partly dragged him out of the room, closing the door behind him.
'Pull yourself together,' he said. 'A little fresh air will do you good.'
They made their way to the deck, and, linking arms, walked up and down. For a long time Wentworth said nothing, and Kenyon had the tact to hold his peace. Suddenly Wentworth noticed that they were pacing back and forth in front of Miss Brewster, so he drew his friend away to another part of the ship. After a few turns up and down, he said:
'You remember Rivers, of course.'
'He was employed on that vile sheet, the New York Argus.'
'I suppose it is a vile sheet. I don't remember ever seeing it. Yes, I know he was connected with that paper. What then? What has Miss Brewster to do with Rivers?'
'She is one of the Argus staff, too.'
'George Wentworth, you don't mean to tell me that!'
'And is she here to find out about the mine?'
'Exactly. She was put on the job after Rivers had failed.'
'George!' said Kenyon, suddenly dropping his companion's arm and facing him. 'What have you told her?'
'There is the misery of it. I have told her everything.'
'My dear fellow, how could you be----'
'Oh, I know--I know! I know everything you would say. Everything you can say I have said to myself, and ten times more and ten times worse. There is nothing you can say of me more bitter than what I think about myself.'
'Did you tell her anything about my report?'
'I told her everything--everything! Do you understand? She is going to telegraph from Queenstown the full essence of the reports--of both our reports.'
'Heavens! this is fearful. Is there no way to prevent her sending it?'
'If you think you can prevent her, I wish you would try it.'
'How did you find it out? Did she tell you?'
'Oh, it doesn't matter how I found it out. I did find it out. A man told me who she was; then I asked her, and she was perfectly frank about it. She read me the report, even.'
'Read it to you?'
'Yes, read it to me, and punctuated it in my presence--put in some words that I suggested as being better than those she had used. Oh, it was the coolest piece of work you ever saw!'
'But there must be some way of preventing her getting that account to New York in time. You see, all we have to do is to wire your people to hand in our report to the directors, and then hers is forestalled. She has to telegraph from a British office, and it seems to me that we could stop her in some way.'
'As, for instance, how?'
'Oh, I don't know just how at the moment, but we ought to be able to do it. If it were a man, we could have him arrested as a dynamiter or something; but a woman, of course, is more difficult to deal with. George, I would appeal to her better nature if I were you.'
Wentworth laughed sneeringly.
'Better nature?' he said. 'She hasn't any; and that is not the worst of it. She has "calculated," as she calls it, all the possibilities in the affair; she "calculates" that we will reach Queenstown about Saturday night. If we do, she will get her report through in time to be published on Sunday in the New York Argus. If that is the case, then see where our telegram will be. We telegraph our people to send in the report. It reaches the office Saturday night, and is not read. The office closes at two o'clock; but even if they got it, and understood the urgency of the matter, they could not place the papers before the directors until Monday morning, and by Monday morning it will be in the London financial sheets.'
'George, that woman is a fiend.'
'No, she isn't, John. She is merely a clever American journalist, who thinks she has done a very good piece of work indeed, and who, through the stupidity of one man, has succeeded, that's all.'
'Have you made any appeal to her at all?'
'Oh, haven't I! Of course I have. What good did it do? She merely laughed at me. Don't you understand? That is what she is here for. Her whole voyage is for that one purpose; and it's not likely the woman is going to forego her triumph after having succeeded--more especially as somebody else in the same office has failed. That's what gives additional zest to what she has done. The fact that Rivers has failed and she has triumphed seems to be the great feather in her cap.'
'Then,' said Kenyon, 'I'm going to appeal to Miss Brewster myself.'
'Very well. I wish you joy of your job. But do what you can, John, there's a good fellow. Meanwhile, I want to be alone somewhere.'
Wentworth went down the stairway that led to the steerage department, and for a few moments sat among the steerage passengers. Then he climbed up another ladder, and got to the very front of the ship. Here he sat down on a coil of rope, and thought over the situation. Thinking, however, did him very little good. He realized that, even if he got hold of the paper Miss Brewster had, she could easily write another. She had the facts in her head, and all that she needed to do was to get to a telegraph office and there hand in her message.
Meanwhile, Kenyon took a few turns up and down the deck, thinking deeply on the same subject. He passed over to the side where Miss Brewster sat, but on coming opposite her had not the courage to take his place beside her. She was calmly reading her book. Three times he came opposite her, paused for a moment, and then continued his hopeless march. He saw that his courage was not going to be sufficient for the task, and yet he felt the task must be accomplished. He didn't know how to begin. He didn't know what inducement to offer the young woman for foregoing the fruits of her ingenuity. He felt that this was the weak point in his armour. The third time he paused in front of Miss Brewster; she looked up and motioned him to the chair beside her, saying:
'I do not know you very well, Mr. Kenyon, but I know who you are. Won't you sit down here for a moment?'
The bewildered man took the chair she indicated.
'Now, Mr. Kenyon, I know just what is troubling you. You have passed three or four times wishing to sit down beside me, and yet afraid to venture. Is that not true?'
'I knew it was. Now I know also what you have come for. Mr. Wentworth has told you what the trouble is. He has told you that he has given me all the particulars about the mines, hasn't he?'
'And he has gone off to his state-room to think over the matter, and has left the affair in your hands, and you imagine you can come here to me and, perhaps, talk me out of sending that despatch to the Argus. Isn't that your motive?'
'That is about what I hope to be able to do,' said Kenyon, mopping his brow.
'Well, I thought I might just as well put you out of your misery at once. You take things very seriously, Mr. Kenyon--I can see that. Now, don't you?'
'I am afraid I do.'
'Why, of course you do. The publication of this, as I told Mr. Wentworth, will really not matter at all. It will not be any reflection on either of you, because your friends will be sure that, if you had known to whom you were talking, you would never have said anything about the mines.'
Kenyon smiled grimly at this piece of comfort.
'Now, I have been thinking about something since Mr. Wentworth went away. I am really very sorry for him. I am more sorry than I can tell.'
'Then,' said Kenyon eagerly, 'won't you----'
'No, I won't, so we needn't recur to that phase of the subject. That is what I am here for, and, no matter what you say, the despatch is going to be sent. Now, it is better to understand that at the first, and then it will create no trouble afterwards. Don't you think that is the best?'
'Probably,' answered the wretched man.
'Well, then, let us start there. I will say in the cablegram that the information comes from neither Mr. Kenyon nor Mr. Wentworth.'
'Yes, but that wouldn't be true.'
'Why, of course it wouldn't be true; but that doesn't matter, does it?'
'Well, on our side of the water,' said Kenyon, 'we think the truth does matter.'
Miss Brewster laughed heartily.
'Dear me!' she said, 'what little tact you have! How does it concern you whether it is true or not? If there is any falsehood, it is not you who tell it, so you are free from all blame. Indeed, you are free from all blame anyhow, in this affair; it is all your friend Wentworth's fault; but still, if it hadn't been Wentworth, it would have been you.'
Kenyon looked up at her incredulously.
'Oh yes, it would,' she said, nodding confidently at him. 'You must not flatter yourself, because Mr. Wentworth told me everything about it, that you wouldn't have done just the same, if I had had to find it out from you. All men are pretty much alike where women are concerned.'
'Can I say nothing to you, Miss Brewster, which will keep you from sending the message to America?'
'You cannot, Mr. Kenyon. I thought we had settled that at the beginning. I see there is no use talking to you. I will return to my book, which is very interesting. Good-morning, Mr. Kenyon.'
Kenyon felt the hopelessness of his project quite as much as Wentworth had done, and, thrusting his hands deep into his pockets, he wandered disconsolately up and down the deck.
As he went to the other side of the deck, he met Miss Longworth walking alone. She smiled a cordial welcome to him, so he turned and changed his step to suit hers.
'May I walk with you a few minutes?' he said.
'Of course you may,' was the reply, 'What is the matter? You are looking very unhappy.'
'My comrade and myself are in great trouble, and I thought I should like to talk with you about it.'
'I am sure if there is anything I can do to help you, I shall be most glad to do it.'
'Perhaps you may suggest something. You see, two men dealing with one woman are perfectly helpless.'
'Ah, who is the one woman--not I, is it?'
'No, not you, Miss Longworth. I wish it were, then we would have no trouble.'
'Oh, thank you!'
'You see, it is like this: When we were in Quebec--I think I told you about that--the New York Argus sent a man to find out what we had reported, or were going to report, to the London Syndicate.'
'Yes, you told me that.'
'Rivers was his name. Well, this same paper, finding that Rivers had failed after having stolen the documents, has tried a much more subtle scheme, which promises to be successful. They have put on board this ship a young woman who has gained a reputation for learning secrets not intended for the public. This young woman is Miss Brewster, who sits next Wentworth at the table. Fate seems to have played right into her hand and placed her beside him. They became acquainted, and, unfortunately, my friend has told her a great deal about the mines, which she professed an interest in. Or, rather, she pretended to have an interest in him, and so he spoke, being, of course, off his guard. There is no more careful fellow in the world than George Wentworth, but a man does not expect that a private conversation with a lady will ever appear in a newspaper.'
'Very well, that is the state of things. In some manner Wentworth came to know that this young woman was the special correspondent of the New York Argus. He spoke to her about it, and she is perfectly frank in saying she is here solely for the purpose of finding out what the reports will be, and that the moment she gets to Queenstown she will cable what she has discovered to New York.'
'Dear me! that is very perplexing. What have you done?'
'We have done nothing so far, or rather, I should say, we have tried everything we could think of, and have accomplished nothing. Wentworth has appealed to her, and I made a clumsy attempt at an appeal also, but it was of no use. I feel my own helplessness in this matter, and Wentworth is completely broken down over it.'
'Poor fellow! I am sure of that. Let me think a moment.'
They walked up and down the deck in silence for a few minutes. Then Miss Longworth looked up at Kenyon, and said;
'Will you place this matter in my hands?'
'Certainly, if you will be so kind as to take any interest in it.'
'I take a great deal of interest. Of course, you know my father is deeply concerned in it also, so I am acting in a measure for him.'
'Have you any plan?'
'Yes; my plan is simply this: The young woman is working for money; now, if we can offer her more than her paper gives, she will very quickly accept, or I am much mistaken in the kind of woman she is.'
'Ah, yes,' said Kenyon; 'but we haven't the money, you see.'
'Never mind; the money will be quickly forthcoming. Don't trouble any more about it. I am sure that can be arranged.'
Kenyon thanked her, looking his gratitude rather than speaking it, for he was an unready man, and she bade him good-bye until she could think over her plan.
That evening there was a tap at the state-room door of Miss Jennie Brewster.
'Come in,' cried the occupant.
Miss Longworth entered, and the occupant of the room looked up, with a frown, from her writing.
'May I have a few moments' conversation with you?' asked the visitor gravely.