The managing editor of the New York Argus sat at his desk with a deep frown on his face, looking out from under his shaggy eyebrows at the young man who had just thrown a huge fur overcoat on the back of one chair, while he sat down himself on another.
‘I got your telegram,’ began the editor. ‘Am I to understand from it that you have failed?’
‘Yes, sir,’ answered the young man, without the slightest hesitation.
‘Didn’t you even get a synopsis of the documents?’
‘Not a hanged synop.’
The editor’s frown grew deeper. The ends of his fingers drummed nervously on the desk.
‘You take failure rather jauntily, it strikes me,’ he said at last.
‘What’s the use of taking it any other way? I have the consciousness of knowing that I did my best.’
‘Um, yes. It’s a great consolation, no doubt, but it doesn’t count in the newspaper business. What did you do?’
‘I received your telegram at Montreal, and at once left for Burnt Pine—most outlandish spot on earth. I found that Kenyon and Wentworth were staying at the only hotel in the place. Tried to worm out of them what their reports were to be. They were very polite, but I didn’t succeed. Then I tried to bribe them, and they ordered me out of the room.’
‘Perhaps you didn’t offer them enough.’
‘I offered double what the London Syndicate was to pay them for making the report, taking their own word for the amount. I couldn’t offer more, because at that point they closed the discussion by ordering me out of the room. I tried to get the papers that night, on the quiet, out of Wentworth’s valise, but was unfortunately interrupted. The young men were suspicious, and next morning they left for Ottawa to post the reports, as I gathered afterwards, to England. I succeeded in getting hold of the reports, but I couldn’t hang on. There are too many police in Ottawa to suit me.’
‘Do you mean to tell me,’ said the editor, ‘that you actually had the reports in your hands, and that they were taken from you?’
‘Certainly I had; and as to their being taken from me, it was either that or gaol. They don’t mince matters in Canada as they do in the United States, you know.’
‘But I should think a man of your shrewdness would have been able to get at least a synopsis of the reports before letting them out of his possession.’
‘My dear sir,’ said the reporter, rather angry, ‘the whole thing covered I forget how many pages of foolscap paper, and was the most mixed-up matter I ever saw in my life. I tried—I sat in my room at the hotel, and did my best to master the details. It was full of technicalities, and I couldn’t make it out. It required a mining expert to get the hang of their phrases and figures, so I thought the best thing to do was to telegraph it all straight through to New York. I knew it would cost a lot of money, but I knew, also, you didn’t mind that; and I thought, perhaps, somebody here could make sense out of what baffled me; besides, I wanted to get the documents out of my possession just as quickly as possible.’
‘Hem!’ said the editor. ‘You took no notes whatever?’
‘No, I did not. I had no time. I knew the moment they missed the documents they would have the detectives on my track. As it was, I was arrested when I entered the telegraph-office.’
‘Well, it seems to me,’ said the managing editor, ‘if I had once had the papers in my hand, I should not have let them go until I had got the gist of what was in them.’
‘Oh, it’s all very well for you to say so,’ replied the reporter, with the free and easy manner in which an American newspaper man talks to his employer; ‘but I can tell you, with a Canadian gaol facing a man, it is hard to decide what is best to do. I couldn’t get out of the town for three hours, and before the end of that time they would have had my description in the hands of every policeman in the place. They knew well enough who took the papers, so my only hope lay in getting the thing telegraphed through; and if that had been accomplished, everything would have been all right. I would have gone to gaol with pleasure if I had got the particulars through to New York.’
‘Well, what are we to do now?’ asked the editor.
‘I’m sure I don’t know. The two men will be in New York very shortly. They sail, I understand, on the Caloric, which leaves in a week. If you think you have a reporter who can get the particulars out of these men, I should be very pleased to see you set him on. I tell you it isn’t so easy to discover what an Englishman doesn’t want you to know.’
‘Well,’ said the editor, ‘perhaps that’s true. I will think about it. Of course you did your best, and I appreciate your efforts; but I am sorry you failed.’
‘You are not half so sorry as I am,’ said Rivers, as he picked up his big Canadian fur coat and took his leave.
The editor did think about it. He thought for fully two minutes. Then he dashed off a note on a sheet of paper, pulled down the little knob that rang the District Messenger alarm, and when the uniformed boy appeared, gave him the note, saying:
‘Deliver this as quickly as you can.’
The boy disappeared, and the result of his trip was soon apparent in the arrival of a very natty young woman in the editorial rooms. She was dressed in a neatly-fitting tailor-made costume, and was a very pretty girl, who looked about nineteen, but was, in reality, somewhat older. She had large, appealing blue eyes, with a tender, trustful expression in them, which made the ordinary man say: ‘What a sweet, innocent look that girl has!’ yet, what the young woman didn’t know about New York was not worth knowing. She boasted that she could get State secrets from dignified members of the Cabinet, and an ordinary Senator or Congressman she looked upon as her lawful prey. That which had been told her in the strictest confidence had often become the sensation of the next day in the paper she represented. She wrote over a nom de guerre, and had tried her hand at nearly everything. She had answered advertisements, exposed rogues and swindlers, and had gone to a hotel as chambermaid, in order to write her experiences. She had been arrested and locked up, so that she might write a three-column account, for the Sunday edition of the Argus, of ‘How Women are Treated at Police Headquarters.’ The editor looked upon her as one of the most valuable members of his staff, and she was paid accordingly.
She came into the room with the self-possessed air of the owner of the building, took a seat, after nodding to the editor, and said, ‘Well?’
‘Look here, Jennie,’ began that austere individual, ‘do you wish to take a trip to Europe?’
‘That depends,’ said Jennie; ‘this is not just the time of year that people go to Europe for pleasure, you know.’
‘Well, this is not exactly a pleasure trip. The truth of the matter is, Rivers has been on a job and has bungled it fearfully, besides nearly getting himself arrested.’
The young woman’s eyes twinkled. She liked anything with a spice of danger in it, and did not object to hear that she was expected to succeed where a mere masculine reporter had failed.
The editor continued:
‘Two young men are going across to England on the Caloric. It sails in a week. I want you to take a ticket for Liverpool by that boat, and obtain from either of those two men the particulars—the full particulars—of reports they have made on some mining properties in Canada. Then you must land at Queenstown and cable a complete account to the Argus.’
‘Mining isn’t much in my line,’ said Miss Jennie, with a frown on her pretty brow. ‘What sort of mines were they dealing with—gold, silver, copper, or what?’
‘They are certain mines on the Ottawa River.’
‘That’s rather indefinite.’
‘I know it is. I can’t give you much information about the matter. I don’t know myself, to tell the truth, but I know it is vitally important that we should get a synopsis of what the reports of these young men are to be. A company, called the London Syndicate, has been formed in England. This syndicate is to acquire a large number of mines in Canada, if the accounts given by the present owners are anything like correct. Two men, Kenyon and Wentworth—the first a mining engineer, and the second an experienced accountant—have been sent from London to Canada, one to examine the mines, the other to examine the books of the various corporations. Whether the mines are bought or not will depend a good deal on the reports these two men have in their possession. The reports, when published, will make a big difference, one way or the other, on the Stock Exchange. I want to have the gist of them before the London Syndicate sees them. It will be a big thing for the Argus if it is the first in the field, and I am willing to spend a pile of hard cash to succeed. So, don’t economize on your cable expenses.’
‘Very well; have you a book on Canadian mines?’
‘I don’t know that we have; but there is a book here, “The Mining Resources of Canada;” will that be of any use?’
‘I shall need something of that sort. I want to be a little familiar with the subject, you know.’
‘Quite so,’ said the editor; ‘I will see what can be got in that line. You can read it before you start, and on the way over.’
‘All right,’ said Miss Jennie; ‘and am I to take my pick of the two young men?’
‘Certainly,’ answered the editor. ‘You will see them both, and can easily make up your mind which will the sooner fall a victim.’
‘The Caloric sails in a week, does it?’
‘Then I shall need at least five hundred dollars to get new dresses with.’
‘Good gracious!’ cried the editor.
‘There is no “good gracious” about it. I’m going to travel as a millionaire’s daughter, and it isn’t likely that one or two dresses will do me all the way over.’
‘But you can’t get new dresses made in a week,’ said the editor.
‘Can’t I? Well, you just get me the five hundred dollars, and I’ll see about the making.’
The editor jotted the amount down.
‘You don’t think four hundred dollars would do?’ he said.
‘No, I don’t. And, say, am I to get a trip to Paris after this is over, or must I come directly back?’
‘Oh, I guess we can throw in the trip to Paris,’ said the editor.
‘What did you say the names of the young men are?—or are they not young? Probably they are old fogies, if they are in the mining business.’
‘No; they are young, they are shrewd, and they are English. So you see your work is cut out for you. Their names are George Wentworth and John Kenyon.’
‘Oh, Wentworth is my man,’ said the young woman breezily. ‘John Kenyon! I know just what sort of a person he is—sombre and taciturn. Sounds too much like John Bunyan, or John Milton, or names of that sort.’
‘Well, I wouldn’t be too sure about it until you see them. Better not make up your mind about the matter.’
‘When shall I call for the five hundred dollars?’
‘Oh, that you needn’t trouble about. The better way is to get your dresses made, and tell the people to send the bills to our office.’
‘Very well,’ said the young woman. ‘I shall be ready. Don’t be frightened at the bills when they come in. If they come up to a thousand dollars, remember I told you I would let you off for five hundred dollars.’
The editor looked at her for a moment, and seemed to reflect that perhaps it was better not to give a young lady unlimited credit in New York. So he said:
‘Wait a bit; I’ll write you out the order, and you can take it downstairs.’
Miss Jennie took the paper when it was offered to her, and disappeared. When she presented the order in the business office, the cashier raised his eyebrows as he noticed the amount, and, with a low whistle, said to himself:
‘Five hundred dollars! I wonder what game Jennie Brewster’s up to now.’
Categories: English Literature