Buel, who seemed to realise the situation, smiled grimly.
"The way of the transgressor is hard," he whispered in a tone too low for Hodden to hear.
"Isn't it?" cordially agreed the unblushing young woman.
"What did you wish to ask me?" inquired the novelist.
"Was it the American spelling or the American piracy that made you dislike the United States?"
Mr. Hodden raised his eyebrows.
"Oh, I do not dislike the United States. I have many friends there, and see much to admire in the country. But there are some things that do not commend themselves to me, and those I ventured to touch upon lightly on one or two occasions, much to the displeasure of a section of the inhabitants—a small section, I hope."
"Don't you think," ventured Buel, "that a writer should rather touch on what pleases him than on what displeases him, in writing of a foreign country?"
"Possibly. Nations are like individuals; they prefer flattery to honest criticism."
"But a writer should remember that there is no law of libel to protect a nation."
To this remark Mr. Hodden did not reply.
"And what did you object to most, Mr. Hodden?" asked the girl.
"That is a hard question to answer. I think, however, that one of the most deplorable features of American life is the unbridled license of the Press. The reporters make existence a burden; they print the most unjustifiable things in their so-called interviews, and a man has no redress. There is no escaping them. If a man is at all well known, they attack him before he has a chance to leave the ship. If you refuse to say anything, they will write a purely imaginative interview. The last time I visited America, five of them came out to interview me—they came out in the Custom House steamer, I believe."
"Why, I should feel flattered if they took all that trouble over me, Mr. Hodden."
"All I ask of them is to leave me alone."
"I'll protect you, Mr. Hodden. When they come, you stand near me, and I'll beat them off with my sunshade. I know two newspaper men—real nice young men they are too—and they always do what I tell them."
"I can quite believe it, Miss Jessop."
"Well, then, have no fear while I'm on board."
Mr. Hodden shook his head. He knew how it would be, he said.
"Let us leave the reporters. What else do you object to? I want to learn, and so reform my country when I get back."
"The mad passion of the people after wealth, and the unscrupulousness of their methods of obtaining it, seem to me unpleasant phases of life over there."
"So they are. And what you say makes me sigh for dear old London. How honest they are, and how little they care for money there! They don't put up the price 50 per cent. merely because a girl has an American accent. Oh no. They think she likes to buy at New York prices. And they are so honourable down in the city that nobody ever gets cheated. Why, you could put a purse up on a pole in London, just as—as—was it Henry the Eighth—?"
"Alfred, I think!" suggested Buel.
"Thanks! As Alfred the Great used to do."
Mr. Hodden looked askance at the young woman.
"Remember," he said, "that you asked me for my opinion. If what I have said is offensive to one who is wealthy, as doubtless you are, Miss Jessop, I most sincerely—"
"Me? Well, I never know whether I'm wealthy or not. I expect that before long I shall have to take to typewriting. Perhaps, in that case, you will give me some of your novels to do, Mr. Hodden. You see, my father is on the Street."
"Dear me!" said Mr. Hodden, "I am sorry to hear that."
"Why? They are not all rogues on Wall Street, in spite of what the papers say. Remember your own opinion of the papers. They are not to be trusted when they speak of Wall Street men. When my father got very rich once I made him give me 100,000 dollars, so that, should things go wrong—they generally go wrong for somebody on Wall Street—we would have something to live on, but, unfortunately, he always borrows it again. Some day, I'm afraid, it will go, and then will come the typewriter. That's why I took my aunt with me and saw Europe before it was too late. I gave him a power of attorney before I left, so I've had an anxious time on the Continent. My money was all right when we left Liverpool, but goodness knows where it will be when I reach New York."
"How very interesting. I never heard of a situation just like it before."
The big vessel lay at rest in New York Bay waiting for the boat of the health officers and the steamer with the customs men on board. The passengers were in a state of excitement at the thought of being so near home. The captain, who was now in excellent humour, walked the deck and chatted affably with every one. A successful voyage had been completed. Miss Jessop feared the coming of the customs boat as much as Hodden feared the reporters. If anything, he was the more resigned of the two. What American woman ever lands on her native shore without trembling before the revenue laws of her country? Kenan Buel, his arms resting on the bulwarks, gazed absently at the green hills he was seeing for the first time, but his thoughts were not upon them. The young man was in a quandary. Should he venture, or should he not, that was the question. Admitting, for the sake of argument, that she cared for him, what had he to offer? Merely himself, and the debt still unpaid on his first book. The situation was the more embarrassing because of a remark she had made about Englishmen marrying for money. He had resented that on general principles when he heard it, but now it had a personal application that seemed to confront him whichever way he turned. Besides, wasn't it all rather sudden, from an insular point of view? Of course they did things with great rapidity in America, so perhaps she would not object to the suddenness. He had no one to consult, and he felt the lack of advice. He did not want to make a mistake, neither did he wish to be laughed at. Still, the laughing would not matter if everything turned out right. Anyhow, Miss Jessop's laugh was very kindly. He remembered that if he were in any other difficulty he would turn quite naturally to her for advice, although he had known her so short a time, and he regretted that in his present predicament he was debarred from putting the case before her. And yet, why not? He might put the supposititious case of a friend, and ask what the friend ought to do. He dismissed this a moment later. It was too much like what people did in a novel, and besides, he could not carry it through. She would see through the sham at once. At this point he realised that he was just where he began.
"Dear me, Mr. Buel, how serious you look. I am afraid you don't approve of America. Are you sorry the voyage is ended?"
"Yes, I am," answered Buel, earnestly. "I feel as if I had to begin life over again."
"And are you afraid?"
"I am disappointed in you. I thought you were not afraid of anything."
"You were disappointed in me the first day, you remember."
"So I was. I had forgotten."
"Will your father come on board to meet you?"
"It depends altogether on the state of the market. If things are dull, he will very likely meet me out here. If the Street is brisk, I won't see him till he arrives home to-night. If medium, he will be on the wharf when we get in."
"And when you meet him I suppose you will know whether you are rich or poor?"
"Oh, certainly. It will be the second thing I ask him."
"When you know, I want you to tell me. Will you?"
"Are you interested in knowing?"
"Very much so."
"Then I hope I shall be rich."
Mr. Buel did not answer. He stared gloomily down at the water lapping the iron side of the motionless steamer. The frown on his brow was deep. Miss Jessop looked at him for a moment out of the corners of her eyes. Then she said, impulsively—
"I know that was mean. I apologise. I told you I did not like to apologise, so you may know how sorry I am. And, now that I have begun, I also apologise for all the flippant things I have said during the voyage, and for my frightful mendacity to poor Mr. Hodden, who sits there so patiently and picturesquely waiting for the terrible reporters. Won't you forgive me?"
Buel was not a ready man, and he hesitated just the smallest fraction of a second too long.
"I won't ask you twice, you know," said Miss Jessop, drawing herself up with dignity.
"Don't—don't go!" cried the young man, with sudden energy, catching her hand. "I'm an unmannerly boor. But I'll risk everything and tell you the trouble. I don't care a—I don't care whether you are rich or poor. I——"
Miss Jessop drew away her hand.
"Oh, there's the boat, Mr. Buel, and there's my papa on the upper deck."
She waved her handkerchief in the air in answer to one that was fluttering on the little steamer. Buel saw the boat cutting a rapid semicircle in the bay as she rounded to, leaving in her wake a long, curving track of foam. She looked ridiculously small compared with the great ship she was approaching, and her deck seemed crowded.
"And there are the reporters!" she cried; "ever so many of them. I guess Mr. Hodden will be sorry he did not accept my offer of protection. I know that young man who is waving his hand. He was on the Herald when I left; but no one can say what paper he's writing for now."
As the boat came nearer a voice shouted—
"All well, Carrie?"
The girl nodded. Her eyes and her heart were too full for speech. Buel frowned at the approaching boat, and cursed its inopportune arrival. He was astonished to hear some one shout from her deck—
"Why, there's some one who knows you!" said the girl, looking at him.
Buel saw a man wave his hand, and automatically he waved in return. After a moment he realised that it was Brant the publisher. The customs officers were first on board, for it is ordained by the law that no foot is to tread the deck before theirs; but the reporters made a good second.
Miss Jessop rushed to the gangway, leaving Buel alone. "Hello, Cap!" cried one of the young men of the Press, with that lack of respect for the dignitaries of this earth which is characteristic of them. "Had a good voyage?"
"Splendid," answered the captain, with a smile.
"Where's your celebrity? Trot him out."
"I believe Mr. Hodden is aft somewhere."
"Oh,—Hodden!" cried the young man, profanely; "he's a chestnut. Where's Kenan Buel?"
The reporter did not wait for a reply, for he saw by the crowd around a very flushed young man that the victim had been found and cornered.
"Really, gentlemen," said the embarrassed Englishman, "you have made a mistake. It is Mr. Hodden you want to see. I will take you to him."
"Hodden's played," said one of the young men in an explanatory way, although Buel did not understand the meaning of the phrase. "He's petered out;" which addition did not make it any plainer. "You're the man for our money every time."
"Break away there, break away!" cried the belated Brant, forcing his way through them and taking Buel by the hand. "There's no rush, you know, boys. Just let me have a minute's talk with Mr. Buel. It will be all right. I have just set up the champagne down in the saloon. It's my treat, you know. There's tables down there, and we can do things comfortably. I'll guarantee to produce Buel inside of five minutes."
Brant linked arms with the young man, and they walked together down the deck.
"Do you know what this means, Buel?" he said, waving his hand towards the retreating newspaper men.
"I suppose it means that you have got them to interview me for business purposes. I can think of no other reason."
"I've had nothing to do with it. That shows just how little you know about the American Press. Why, all the money I've got wouldn't bring those men out here to interview anybody who wasn't worth interviewing. It means fame; it means wealth; it means that you have turned the corner; it means you have the world before you; it means everything. Those young men are not reporters to you; they are the heralds of fame, my boy. A few of them may get there themselves some day, but it means that you have got there now. Do you realise that?"
"Hardly. I suppose, then, the book has been a success?"
"A success? It's been a cyclone. I've been fighting pirates ever since it came out. You see, I took the precaution to write some things in the book myself."
Buel looked alarmed.
"And then I copyrighted the whole thing, and they can't tell which is mine and which is yours until they get a hold of the English edition. That's why I did not wait for your corrections."
"We are collaborators, then?"
"You bet. I suppose some of the English copies are on this steamer? I'm going to try to have them seized by the customs if I can. I think I'll make a charge of indecency against the book."
"Good heavens!" cried Buel, aghast. "There is nothing of that in it."
"I am afraid not," said Brant, regretfully. "But it will give us a week more at least before it is decided. Anyhow, I'm ready for the pirates, even if they do come out. I've printed a cheap paper edition, 100,000 copies, and they are now in the hands of all the news companies—sealed up, of course—from New York to San Francisco. The moment a pirate shows his head, I'll telegraph the word 'rip' all over the United States, and they will rip open the packages and flood the market with authorised cheap editions before the pirates leave New York. Oh, L. F. Brant was not born the day before yesterday."
"I see he wasn't," said Buel, smiling.
"Now you come down and be introduced to the newspaper boys. You'll find them jolly nice fellows."
"In a moment. You go down and open the champagne. I'll follow you. I—I want to say a few words to a friend on board."
"No tricks now, Buel. You're not going to try to dodge them?"
"I'm a man of my word, Mr. Brant. Don't be afraid."
"And now," said the other, putting his hands on the young man's shoulders, "you'll be kind to them. Don't put on too much side, you know. You'll forgive me for mentioning this, but sometimes your countrymen do the high and mighty act a little too much. It doesn't pay."
"I'll do my best. But I haven't the slightest idea what to say. In fact, I've nothing to say."
"Oh, that's all right. Don't you worry. Just have a talk with them, that's all they want. You'll be paralysed when the interviews come out to-morrow; but you'll get over that."
"You're sure the book is a success in its own merits, and not through any newspaper puffing or that sort of thing, you know?"
"Why, certainly. Of course our firm pushed it. We're not the people to go to sleep over a thing. It might not have done quite so well with any other house; but I told you in London I thought it was bound to go. The pushing was quite legitimate."
"In that case I shall be down to see the reporters in a very few minutes." Although Buel kept up his end of the conversation with Brant, his mind was not on it. Miss Jessop and her father were walking near them; snatches of their talk came to him, and his attention wandered in spite of himself. The Wall Street man seemed to be trying to reassure his daughter, and impart to her some of the enthusiasm he himself felt. He patted her affectionately on the shoulder now and then, and she walked with springy step very close to his side.
"It's all right, Carrie," he said, "and as safe as the bank."
"Which bank, papa?"
Mr. Jessop laughed.
"The Chemical Bank, if you like; or, as you are just over from the other side, perhaps I should say the Bank of England."
"And did you take out every cent?"
"Yes; and I wished there was double the amount to take. It's a sure thing. There's no speculation about it. There isn't a bushel of wheat in the country that isn't in the combination. It would have been sinful not to have put every cent I could scrape together into it. Why, Carrie, I'll give you a quarter of a million when the deal comes off."
Carrie shook her head.
"I've been afraid of wheat corners," she said, "ever since I was a baby. Still, I've no right to say anything. It's all your money, anyway, and I've just been playing that it was mine. But I do wish you had left a hundred dollars for a typewriter."
Mr. Jessop laughed again in a very hearty and confident way.
"Don't you fret about that, Carrie. I've got four type machines down at the office. I'll let you have your choice before the crash comes. Now I'll go down and see those customs men. There won't be any trouble. I know them."
It was when Mr. Jessop departed that Buel suddenly became anxious to get rid of Brant. When he had succeeded, he walked over to where the girl leaned on the bulwark.
"Well?" he said, taking his place beside her.
"Well!" she answered, without looking up at him.
"Which is it? Rich or poor?"
"Rich, I should say, by the way the reporters flocked about you. That means, I suppose, that your book has been a great success, and that you are going to make your fortune out of it. Let me congratulate you, Mr. Buel."
"Wait a minute. I don't know yet whether I am to be congratulated or not; that will depend on you. Of course you know I was not speaking of myself when I asked the question."
"Oh, you meant me, did you? Well, I can't tell for some time to come, but I have my fears. I hear the click of the typewriter in the near future."
"Caroline, I am very serious about this. I don't believe you think, or could think, that I care much about riches. I have been on too intimate terms with poverty to be afraid of it. Of course my present apparent success has given me courage, and I intend to use that courage while it lasts. I have been rather afraid of your ridicule, but I think, whether you were rich or poor, or whether my book was a success or a failure, I would have risked it, and told you I loved you."
The girl did not look up at him, and did not answer for a moment. Then she said, in a voice that he had to bend very close to hear—
"I—I would have been sorry all my life if you hadn't—risked it."