by Norah Skeffington Carroll (c1886-1954)
The neatly dressed Reporter Girl of The Cynic stepped briskly into the elevator, that was to take her to the floor wherein Hiram H. Hoyt, the prominent broker and financier, had his office.
Four of the other occupants of the elevator (they were all men) declared mentally that, she was too dangerously attractive for the knockabout life of a journalist. The fifth man, with an indifferent glance, determined that she looked cute, and was well able to take care of herself. But the girl, in her short brown suit and pert little violet hat, stepped off on the third floor, and walked quickly into the broker’s office.
The clerk shrugged his shoulders, with a negative smile, when made aware of her request, and raised his brows into an incredulous arch, when he slowly sauntered into another room to enquire whether Mr. Hoyt would favour Miss Carew with an interview.
“Sorry,” he drawled, on his return, “Mr. Hoyt is engaged.” Then, attracted by the girl’s persuasive grey eyes, he continued, with a bland smile—”But I’ll be pleased to transact any—”
She interrupted him airily, with a swift, laughing gesture.
“Now, do reporter girls generally dabble in shares? But then, of course, you could not guess my errand. No; I wish to interview Mr. Hoyt, and it is very important that I should see him this morning.”
There was a wheedling little note in her voice.
“Couldn’t you manage this interview for me? Five minutes will be ample time. Surely he would spare me that!”
“I am afraid it is impossible. Mr. Hoyt may make an appointment—perhaps.” The clerk was susceptible to grey eyes with curly lashes.
“Nothing is impossible!” Miss Carew in-formed him brightly. “And as I have quite made up my mind to interview him, I will pass through and take the citadel by storm! Mr. Hoyt is not quite an ogre, I am sure, and if he is—well, I must risk every thing!”
She passed through the rooms filled with busy self-important clerks and a couple of private secretaries with heightened colour, and swept by their prolonged glances with haughty indifference. She turned the door handle of the forbidden room very gently, and walked unceremoniously across the carpeted floor towards a secretaire, before which sat one of the kings of finance.
He was busy signing some documents, and was unconscious of the girl’s entrance. She awakened him to the realization of her presence by coughing softly. He glanced up quickly, and wrinkled his brows in amazement, gazing at the charming apparition before him with a puzzled, dubious expression.
Womanlike, Miss Carew immediately took the initiative.
“You do not know me, Mr. Hoyt,” she announced prettily, in clear tones; “so I must introduce myself. May I sit down? Thanks. Well, I am a reporter; Daisy Carew is my name. It ought really to have been Anne or Matilda—something hard and reliable. Daisy is really so ridiculous, such a frivolous name!”
The corners round the financier’s mouth softened, and a wave of interest passed over his firm-set features.
He bowed courteously at her introduction. “I hope you will forgive my intrusion”—her eyes twinkled—”and will not send for those formidable clerks I saw on my way here to eject me!”
“May I know why I am honoured by this visit?” The man’s voice was hard, but not unpleasing. He watched the girl attentively.
“Now, that is just what I wish to enlighten you. I am reporting for The Cynic, and I am running a new series of interviews—‘Why our prominent men remain bachelors!’ It will prove an immense draw to the paper, don’t you think? You are a bachelor, I believe, Mr. Hoyt, and I am hoping that you will help me, and perhaps give me your views on the subject!”
The man put back his head, and laughed almost boyishly at her naivete.
“Really, Miss—er,” he stammered.
“Think, Mr. Hoyt,” the girl interrupted quickly, in an impressive key, “the value your opinion would be on the subject. A man with your remarkable financial reputation—why, your remarks would prove household words!”
She edged her chair a little closer. “Do tell me something!”
A telephone bell tinkled on his right; but his attention was all bestowed upon the grey-eyed girl on his left.
“I am not going to enlist your sympathy towards the half-paid orphan, who has to fight for a livelihood on the staff of The Cynic. It would be too prosaic to waste your time on that theme. But if I can work up these interviews it will mean something to me!’’
There was a wistful twist about her mouth, the man noticed, and the cold, hard glitter was softened in his eyes as he glanced at the slim, almost fragile, figure of the girl before him, whom circumstance had forced to battle for existence. Her eyes were brave and fearless, but the lines that told of worry and long hours round them arrested his pity.
“If that is the case I must endeavour to help you!” He spoke slowly, with underlined kindness in his tones.
Her face at once was transformed into the brightest animation.
“I am a bachelor from choice.” He cleared his throat and laughed shortly. “I cannot te1l you how or why—”
“Yes, do go on!” The girl rested her elbow on the arm of the chair, and her tones grew eager and expectant.
“I have got into this groove (the man smiled again), and here I expect to remain until the end of the chapter!”
“I suppose I had better ask you a few questions?” She spoke in a matter of fact voice. “You are not a woman hater or a Christian Scientist, or vegetarian, I hope?” she asked briskly.
The man shook his head.
“And you do not regard women as a vain heartless, ambitious, money-spending, over dressed, frivolous sex?” she questioned again.
The man replied in the negative.
“Then do the thoughts of home ties and domesticity distract you from matrimony?” There was a demure droop about her eye lids as she spoke.
“No, now that you mention it, I do not think they do,” he answered slowly.
“Are you a believer of—love and affinities?” She met his eyes frankly.
“Oh, yes! That is, in the abstract,” he replied absently.
“Then I can call you a man who believes in all things, and not an automaton whose being breathes finance.”
“But I never knew, until you probed the surface of my feelings, that I believed in anything but the hard commercial value of things!” He watched her with interest.
She rose with a quick movement, and then extended her hand with pretty friendliness.
“It is about time I brought our colloquy to an end, I suppose! Thank you very much for this informal chat, and in allowing me to monopolize your valuable moments. May I use the information you have given me?’’ she enquired naively.
“I am so absolutely indifferent to the opinion of the public that I do not mind if you do—that is only if it will benefit you in any way.”
He stood beside her.
“By the way, are you interviewing any other bachelors on the subject?”
“I am not sure,” she began slowly. He moved a step nearer, and gazed down at her, with uncertain calm.
“After all, Miss Carew, I have told you very little. I might help you still further.”
“Will you?” The girl opened the tiny notebook on her chatelaine in a brisk, businesslike way.
“Not now; I will see you again.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
“Lunch with me to-morrow. Will you?”
He spoke impulsively. The quick wording of his wishes and his frank natural re-quest made the girl’s eyes widen with surprise.
“You are very kind, but—” Her voice trailed off softly.
“I am always in a far more communicative mood at meal times, so 1 o’clock, The Langham, we had better appoint for our meeting.” He finished brusquely, as he pressed a bell at the same moment.
A clerk immediately answered his summons.
“Bently, make a note that I have an important engagement, 1 o’clock, at The Langham to-morrow.”
Miss Carew was smiling an adieu. He walked with her towards the outer door, and held her hand at parting. Her cheeks were pink, and her eyes shone with triumph, as she passed out of the office.
* * *
Daisy Carew propped her elbows on the editorial table of The Cynic, and re-read the proof sheets spread out before her carefully. She had achieved a triumph in the interview she had “written up.” The editor had been agreeably surprised and the other reporters flattered her by showing the cloven foot, and envying her originality. She read softly to herself—
“WHY OUR PROMINENT MEN
The heading ran off in large type.
“Remarks and views of a financial king.”
“Interview with Mr. Hiram H. Hoyt.”
“A Five-minutes’ Chat!”
“Mr. Hiram H. Hoyt, the celebrated financier, when interviewed on the wholly absorbing subject, declared no antipathy nor prejudice towards women. During conversation Mr. Hoyt remarked that he believed in everything in a casual way, including love in the abstract. He is a celibate from habit, and owing to a disinclination to change his present life for the domesticity home ties would involve. He believes that some people were created celibates by Providence, and therefore belong to the third sex, to whom sex attraction has no meaning. Women have never dazzled Mr. Hoyt’s horizon, consequently he has centred all his thoughts upon his profession. He has no elaborate fads, neither is he a fanatic.”
She broke off suddenly, and turned over a couple of sheets, until she came to the ending clause.
“Mr. Hoyt has given permission for an-other interview on the five-minute-chat principle on the same subject.”
Miss Carew glanced at her watch and rose hurriedly.
She placed the sheets in a drawer and stood still for a couple of minutes in meditation.
She had promised to lunch with Mr. Hoyt again, four days in one week! She tacitly abandoned all conventional scruples. If he preferred being interviewed, over the dainty menu at The Langham, instead of in an uninteresting office, what could she do? The girl shrugged her shoulders and arranged her smart little hat before the small cracked mirror behind the door, and hastened towards the restaurant.
Her spirits rose from sheer light-heartedness. She dropped a coin in the box be-longing to a gaunt, thin-featured blind man who stood wailing the latest hackneyed ballad near the kerb. Hurrying along she passed the A.B.C., where she usually par-took of coffee and scones, and met Hiram Hoyt in the vestibule of The Langham.
They seated themselves at a table at the further end of the long room. The man’s presence had already awakened a charm for her, she began to wish “such interviews” could prove everlasting.
Trifles, as the way he brushed his hair and the colour of his tie, even appealed to her. She felt the man’s eye holding hers, so with an evasive glance, she made a remark.
They discussed the weather and other topics with equal equanimity.
“Do you think I have wasted the finer side of my nature all these years?” he queried when halfway through luncheon.
“I do.” The girl crumbled some bread thoughtfully. “It has been inevitable. You have no background, nothing to your thoughts from the strenuous money-making orbit on which you travel year in and year out. Such unwonted expenditure of energy is harmful. You have become mechanical, and you will in time forget yourself, flesh and blood!”
Her eyes shone, she spoke earnestly.
“Then you advise me to marry?” His stern lined face, old for his s 39 years, grew dark red.
“Yes.” Her eyes looked past his and followed the soft-footed waiter.
“If—if you can find some one who—”
He leaned across the table, forgetful of every one but the girl before him.
“I have met you. Now, do not interrupt for I intend keeping you here until I have told you everything that is on my mind.’’ His eyes burned into hers. “Listen, little girl, my life,” he continued slowly. “During the past 10 years or so (I will not go back further than that) I have been as you have surmised, buried in my profession. Stocks and shares and women have not run in harness. The latter have not in any way associated themselves in my life. Then you came-you, young, alluring, and lovable. You came unasked and unsought, a gift from Fate! At first you interested me. Although I have never cared for women, I have known and respected very many; but you are different from them all. When I found myself thinking of you at odd intervals of the day I knew I wanted you—now and always!”
He paused suddenly. There was the same impulsive deliberation that characterized the man who was sure of his object.
He laid his big firm hand over hers. She felt her own tremble at his touch, and she raised her eyes in a half-frightened, half-shy way.
“Dear little girl . . . come to me!” His voice had a subtle undertone.
“Come to me! I am a rough diamond; but you will find I am the real thing, child! Marry me soon, and let me take care of you!”
The girl’s pulses throbbed at the gentle protecting cover of his words, and she tried to disguise her heart beats by be-stowing her attention on a pink rose in one of the vases before her.
She felt compelled to meet the man’s questioning eyes, and with a fluttering little sigh she leaned across the table towards him with her woman soul illuminating her face.
For the moment she had forgotten the fact of their respective positions and the knowledge that he was Hiram Hoyt, the wealthy broker and financier, and she was only a mere working girl, battling for her daily bread with the rest of the multitude. She knew now that, in whatever guise he may have come to her, she would have loved him.
A little while later, when she had con-fessed that fact to him and was putting on her gloves, she blushed prettily and said—“But how can I conclude your interviews on being a celibate?’’
He caught her two hands in his, oblivious of any glances in their direction.
“Oh! we can easily write ‘Finis’ to that chapter of my life,” he replied, with a buoyant air of finality. “By saying, darling, I find I have been converted, and that marriage is, after all, the only gate to happiness!”
Norah Skeffington Carroll, “The conversion of a celibate“, Observer (Adelaide), 6 Oct 1906: 10.