The South American Editor by Edward Everett Hale

Story type: Literature

If I were writing a novel, I should say that, at a late hour the next day, I listlessly drew aside the azure curtains of my couch, and languidly rang a silver bell which stood on my dressing-table, and received from a page dressed in an Oriental costume the notes and letters which had been left for me since morning, and the newspapers of the day.

I am not writing a novel.

The next morning, about ten o’clock, I arose and went down to breakfast. As I sat at the littered table which every one else had left, dreading to attack my cold coffee and toast, I caught sight of the morning papers, and received some little consolation from them. There was the Argus with its three columns and a half of “Important from South America,” while none of the other papers had a square of any intelligibility excepting what they had copied from the Argus the day before. I felt a grim smile creeping over my face as I observed this signal triumph of our paper, and ventured to take a sip of the black broth as I glanced down my own article to see if there were any glaring misprints in it. Before I took the second sip, however, a loud peal at the door-bell announced a stranger, and, immediately after, a note was brought in for me which I knew was in Julia’s hand-writing.

“DEAR GEORGE:–Don’t be angry; it was not my fault, really it was not. Grandfather came home just as I was leaving last night, and was so angry, and said I should not go to the party, and I had to sit with him all the evening. Do write to me or let me see you; do something–”

What a load that note took off my mind! And yet, what must the poor girl have suffered! Could the old man suspect? Singleton was true to me as steel, I knew. He could not have whispered,–nor Barry; out that Jane, Barry’s wife. O woman! woman! what newsmongers they are! Here were Julia and I, made miserable for life, perhaps, merely that Jane Barry might have a good story to tell. What right had Barry to a wife? Not four years out of college, and hardly settled in his parish. To think that I had been fool enough to trust even him with the particulars of my all-important secret! But here I was again interrupted, coffee-cup still full, toast still untasted, by another missive.

“Tuesday morning.

“SIR:–I wish to see you this morning. Will you call upon me, or appoint a time and place where I may meet you?

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“Send word by the bearer.”

“Tell Mr. Wentworth I will call at his house at eleven o’clock.”

The cat was certainly out; Mrs. Barry had told, or some one else had, who I did not know and hardly cared. The scene was to come now, and I was almost glad of it. Poor Julia! what a time she must have had with the old bear!

* * * * *

At eleven o’clock I was ushered into Mr. Wentworth’s sitting-room. Julia was there, but before I had even spoken to her the old gentleman came bustling across the room, with his “Mr. Hackmatack, I suppose”; and then followed a formal introduction between me and her, which both of us bore with the most praiseworthy fortitude and composure, neither evincing, even by a glance, that we had ever seen or heard of each other before. Here was another weight off my mind and Julia’s. I had wronged poor Mrs. Barry. The secret was not out–what could he want? It very soon appeared.

After a minute’s discussion of the weather, the snow, and the thermometer, the old gentleman drew up his chair to mine, with “I think, sir, you are connected with the Argus office?”

“Yes, sir; I am its South American editor.’

“Yes!” roared the old man, in a sudden rage. “Sir, I wish South America was sunk in the depths of the sea!”

“I am sure I do, sir,” replied I, glancing at Julia, who did not, however, understand me. I had not fully passed out of my last night’s distress.

My sympathizing zeal soothed the old gentleman a little, and he said more coolly, in an undertone: “Well, sir, you are well informed, no doubt; tell me, in strict secrecy, sir, between you and me, do you–do you place full credit–entire confidence in the intelligence in this morning’s paper?”

“Excuse me, sir; what paper do you allude to? Ah! the Argus, I see. Certainly, sir; I have not the least doubt that it is perfectly correct.”

“No doubt, sir! Do you mean to insult me?–Julia, I told you so; he says there is no doubt it is true. Tell me again there is some mistake, will you?” The poor girl had been trying to soothe him with the constant remark of uninformed people, that the newspapers are always in the wrong. He turned from her, and rose from his chair in a positive rage. She was half crying. I never saw her more distressed. What did all this mean? Were one, two, or all of us crazy?

It soon appeared. After pacing the length of the room once or twice, Wentworth came up to me again, and, attempting to appear cool, said between his closed lips: “Do you say you have no doubt that Rio Janeiro is strictly blockaded?”

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“Not the slightest in the world,” said I, trying to seem unconcerned.

“Not the slightest, sir? What are you so impudent and cool about it for? Do you think you are talking of the opening of a rose-bud or the death of a mosquito? Have you no sympathy with the sufferings of a fellow-creature? Why, sir!” and the old man’s teeth chattered as he spoke, “I have five cargoes of flour on their way to Rio, and their captains will–Damn it, sir, I shall lose the whole venture.”

The secret was out. The old fool had been sending flour to Rio, knowing as little of the state of affairs there as a child.

“And do you really mean, sir,” continued the old man, “that there is an embargo in force in Monte Video?”

“Certainly, sir; but I’m very sorry for it.”

“Sorry for it! of course you are;–and that all foreigners are sent out of Buenos Ayres?”

“Undoubtedly, sir. I wish–“

“Who does not wish so? Why, sir, my corresponding friends there are half across the sea by this time. I wish Rosas was in–and that the Indians have risen near Maranham?”

“Undoubtedly, sir.”

“Undoubtedly! I tell you, sir, I have two vessels waiting for cargoes of India-rubbers there, under a blunder-headed captain, who will do nothing he has not been bidden to,–obey his orders if he breaks his owners. You smile, sir? Why, I should have made thirty thousand dollars this winter, sir, by my India-rubbers, if we had not had this devilish mild, open weather, you and Miss Julia there have been praising so. But next winter must be a severe one, and with those India-rubbers I should have made–But now those Indians,–pshaw! And a revolution in Chili?”

“Yes, sir.”

“No trade there! And in Venezuela?”

“Yes, sir”

“Yes, sir; yes, sir; yes, sir; yes, sir! Sir, I am ruined. Say ‘Yes, sir,’ to that. I have thirteen vessels at this moment in the South American trade, sir; say ‘Yes, sir,’ to that. Half of them will be taken by the piratical scoundrels; say ‘Yes, sir,’ to that. Their insurance will not cover them; say ‘Yes, sir,’ to that. The other half will forfeit their cargoes, or sell them for next to nothing; say ‘Yes, sir,’ to that. I tell you I am a ruined man, and I wish the South America, and your daily Argus, and you–“

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Here the old gentleman’s old-school breeding got the better of his rage, and he sank down in his arm-chair, and, bursting into tears, said: “Excuse me, sir,–excuse me, sir,–I am too warm.”

We all sat for a few moments in silence, but then I took my share of the conversation. I wish you could have seen the old man’s face light up little by little, as I showed him that to a person who understood the politics and condition of the mercurial country with which he had ignorantly attempted to trade, his condition was not near so bad as he thought it; that though one port was blockaded, another was opened; that though one revolution thwarted him, a few weeks would show another which would favor him; that the goods which, as he saw, would be worthless at the port to which he had sent them, would be valuable elsewhere; that the vessels which would fail in securing the cargoes he had ordered could secure others; that the very revolutions and wars which troubled him would require in some instances large government purchases, perhaps large contracts for freight, possibly even for passage,–his vessels might be used for transports; that the very excitement of some districts might be made to turn to our advantage; that, in short, there were a thousand chances open to him which skilful agents could readily improve. I reminded him that a quick run in a clipper schooner could carry directions to half these skippers of his, to whom, with an infatuation which I could not and cannot conceive, he had left no discretion, and who indeed were to be pardoned if they could use none, seeing the tumult as they did with only half an eye. I talked to him for half an hour, and went into details to show that my plans were not impracticable. The old gentleman grew brighter and brighter, and Julia, as I saw, whenever I stole a glance across the room, felt happier and happier. The poor girl had had a hard time since he had first heard this news whispered the evening before.

His difficulties were not over, however; for when I talked to him of the necessity of sending out one or two skilful agents immediately to take the personal superintendence of his complicated affairs, the old man sighed, and said he had no skilful agents to send.

With his customary suspicion, he had no partners, and had never intrusted his clerks with any general insight into his business. Besides, he considered them all, like his captains, blunder-headed to the last degree. I believe it was an idea of Julia’s, communicated to me in an eager, entreating glance, which induced me to propose myself as one of these confidential agents, and to be responsible for the other. I thought, as I spoke, of Singleton, to whom I knew I could explain my plans in full, and whose mercantile experience would make him a valuable coadjutor. The old gentleman accepted my offer eagerly. I told him that twenty-four hours were all I wanted to prepare myself. He immediately took measures for the charter of two little clipper schooners which lay in port then; and before two days were past, Singleton and I were on our voyage to South America. Imagine, if you can, how these two days were spent. Then, as now, I could prepare for any journey in twenty minutes, and of course I had no little time at my disposal for last words with Mr. and–Miss Wentworth. How I won on the old gentleman’s heart in those two days! How he praised me to Julia, and then, in as natural affection, how he praised her to me! And how Julia and I smiled through our tears, when, in the last good-bys, he said he was too old to write or read any but business letters, and charged me and her to keep up a close correspondence, which on one side should tell all that I saw and did, and on the other hand remind me of all at home.

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* * * * *

I have neither time nor room to give the details of that South American expedition. I have no right to. There were revolutions accomplished in those days without any object in the world’s eyes; and, even in mine, only serving to sell certain cargoes of long cloths and flour. The details of those outbreaks now told would make some patriotic presidents tremble in their seats; and I have no right to betray confidence at whatever rate I purchased it. Usually, indeed, my feats and Singleton’s were only obtaining the best information and communicating the most speedy instructions to Mr. Wentworth’s vessels, which were made to move from port to port with a rapidity and intricacy of movement which none besides us two understood in the least. It was in that expedition that I travelled almost alone across the continent. I was, I think, the first white man who ever passed through the mountain path of Xamaulipas, now so famous in all the Chilian picturesque annuals. I was carrying directions for some vessels which had gone round the Cape; and what a time Burrows and Wheatland and I had a week after, when we rode into the public square of Valparaiso shouting, “Muera la Constitucion,–Viva Libertad!” by our own unassisted lungs actually raising a rebellion, and, which was of more importance, a prohibition on foreign flour, while Bahamarra and his army were within a hundred miles of us. How those vessels came up the harbor, and how we unloaded them, knowing that at best our revolution could only last five days! But as I said, I must be careful, or I shall be telling other people’s secrets.

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The result of that expedition was that those thirteen vessels all made good outward voyages, and all but one or two eventually made profitable home voyages. When I returned home, the old gentleman received me with open arms. I had rescued, as he said, a large share of that fortune which he valued so highly. To say the truth, I felt and feel that he had planned his voyages so blindly, that, without some wiser head than his, they would never have resulted in anything. They were his last, as they were almost his first, South American ventures. He returned to his old course of more methodical trading for the few remaining years of his life. They were, thank Heaven, the only taste of mercantile business which I ever had. Living as I did, in the very sunshine of Mr. Went worth’s favor, I went through the amusing farce of paying my addresses to Julia in approved form, and in due time received the old gentleman’s cordial assent to our union, and his blessing upon it. In six months after my return, we were married; the old man as happy as a king. He would have preferred a little that the ceremony should have been performed by Mr. B—-, his friend and pastor, but readily assented to my wishes to call upon a dear and early friend of my own.

Harry Barry came from Topsham and performed the ceremony, “assisted by Rev. Mr. B.”


ARGUS COTTAGE, April 1, 1842.

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