A Woman Intervenes by Robert Barr
Miss Jennie Brewster was very much annoyed at being interrupted, and she took no pains to conceal her feelings. She was writing an article entitled 'How People kill Time on Shipboard,' and she did not wish to be disturbed; besides, as she often said of herself, she was not 'a woman's woman,' and she neither liked, nor was liked by, her own sex.
'I desire a few moments' conversation with you, if I have your permission,' said Edith Longworth, as she closed the door behind her.
'Certainly,' answered Jennie Brewster. 'Will you sit down?'
'Thank you,' replied the other, as she took a seat on the sofa. 'I do not know just how to begin what I wish to say. Perhaps it will be better to commence by telling you that I know why you are on board this steamer.'
'Yes; and why am I on board the steamer, may I ask?'
'You are here, I understand, to get certain information from Mr. Wentworth. You have obtained it, and it is in reference to this that I have come to see you.'
'Indeed! and are you so friendly with Mr. Wentworth that you----'
'I scarcely know Mr. Wentworth at all.'
'Then, why do you come on a mission from him?'
'It is not a mission from him. It is not a mission from anyone. I was speaking to Mr. Kenyon, or, rather, Mr. Kenyon was speaking to me, about a subject which troubled him greatly. It is a subject in which my father is interested. My father is a member of the London Syndicate, and he naturally would not desire to have your intended cable message sent to New York.'
'Really; are you quite sure that you are not speaking less for your father than for your friend Kenyon?'
Anger burned in Miss Longworth's face, and flashed from her eyes as she answered:
'You must not speak to me in that way.'
'Excuse me, I shall speak to you in just the way I please. I did not ask for this conference; you did, and as you have taken it upon yourself to come into this room uninvited, you will have to put up with what you hear. Those who interfere with other people's business, as a general thing, do not have a nice time.'
'I quite appreciated all the possible disagreeableness of coming here, when I came.'
'I am glad of that, because if you hear anything you do not like, you will not be disappointed, and will have only yourself to thank for it.'
'I would like to talk about this matter in a spirit of friendliness if I can. I think nothing is to be attained by speaking in any other way.'
'Very well, then. What excuse have you to give me for coming into my state-room to talk about business which does not concern you?'
'Miss Brewster, it does concern me--it concerns my father, and that concerns me. I am, in a measure, my father's private secretary, and am intimately acquainted with all the business he has in hand. This particular business is his affair, and therefore mine. That is the reason I am here.'
'Are you sure?'
'Am I sure of what?'
'Are you sure that what you say is true?'
'I am not in the habit of speaking anything but the truth.'
'Perhaps you flatter yourself that is the case, but it does not deceive me. You merely come here because Mr. Kenyon is in a muddle about what I am going to do. Isn't that the reason?'
Miss Longworth saw that her task was going to be even harder than she had expected.
'Suppose we let all question of motive rest? I have come here--I have asked your permission to speak on this subject, and you have given me the permission. Having done so, it seems to me you should hear me out. You say that I should not be offended----'
'I didn't say so. I do not care a rap whether you are offended or not.'
'You at least said I might hear something that would not be pleasant. What I wanted to say is this: I have taken the risk of that, and, as you remark, whether I am offended or not does not matter. Now we will come to the point----'
'Just before you come to the point, please let me know if Mr. Kenyon told you he had spoken to me on this subject already.'
'Yes, he told me so.'
'Did he tell you that his friend Wentworth had also had a conversation with me about it?'
'Yes, he told me that also.'
'Very well, then, if those two men can do nothing to shake my purpose, how do you expect to do it?'
'That is what I am about to tell you. This is a commercial world, and I am a commercial man's daughter. I recognise the fact that you are going to cable this information for the money it brings. Is that not the case?'
'It is partly the case.'
'For what other consideration do you work, then?'
'For the consideration of being known as one of the best newspaper women in the city of New York. That is the other consideration.'
'I understood you were already known as the most noted newspaper woman in New York.'
This remark was much more diplomatic than Miss Longworth herself suspected.
Jennie Brewster looked rather pleased, then she said:
'Oh, I don't know about that; but I intend it shall be so before a year is past.'
'Very well, you have plenty of time to accomplish your object without using the information you have obtained on board this ship. Now, as I was saying, the New York Argus pays you a certain amount for doing this work. If you will promise not to send the report over to that paper, I will give you a cheque for double the sum the Argus will pay you, besides refunding all your expenses twice over.'
'In other words, you ask me to be bribed and refuse to perform my duty to the paper.'
'It isn't bribery. I merely pay you, or will pay you, double what you will receive from that paper. I presume your connection with it is purely commercial. You work for it because you receive a certain amount of money; if the editor found someone who would do the same work cheaper, he would at once employ that person, and your services would be no longer required. Is that not true?'
'Yes, it is true.'
'Very well, then, the question of duty hardly enters into such a compact. They have sent you on what would be to most people a very difficult mission. You have succeeded. You have, therefore, in your possession something to sell. The New York paper will pay you a certain sum in cash for it. I offer you, for the same article, double the price the New York Argus will pay you. Is not that a fair offer?'
Jennie Brewster had arisen. She clasped and unclasped her hands nervously. For a small space of time nothing was said, and Edith Longworth imagined she had gained her point. The woman standing looked down at the woman sitting.
'Do you know all the particulars about the attempt to get this information?' asked Miss Brewster.
'I know some of them. What particulars do you mean?'
'Do you know that a man from the Argus tried to get this information from Mr. Kenyon and Mr. Wentworth in Canada?'
'Yes; I know about that.'
'Do you know that he stole the reports, and that they were taken from him before he could use them?'
'Do you know he offered Mr. Kenyon and Mr. Wentworth double the price the London Syndicate would have paid them, on condition they gave him a synopsis of the reports?'
'Yes, I know that also.'
'Do you know that, in doing what he asked, they would not have been keeping back for a single day the real report from the people who engaged them? You know all that, do you?'
'Yes; I know all that.'
'Very well, then. Now you ask me to do very much more than Rivers asked them, because you ask me to keep my paper completely in the dark about the information I have got. Isn't that so?'
'Yes, you can keep them in the dark until after the report has been given to the directors; then, of course, you can do what you please with the information.'
'Ah, but by that time it will be of no value. By that time it will have been published in the London financial papers. At that time anybody can get it. Isn't that the case?'
'I suppose so.'
'Now, I want to ask you one other question, Miss--Miss--I don't think you told me your name.'
'My name is Edith Longworth.'
'Very well, Miss Longworth. I want to ask you one more question. What do you think of the conduct of Mr. Kenyon and Mr. Wentworth in refusing to take double what they had been promised for making the report?'
'What do I think of them?' repeated the girl.
'Yes; what do you think of them? You hesitate. You realize that you are in a corner. You think Mr. Wentworth and Mr. Kenyon did very nobly in refusing Rivers' offer?'
'Of course I do.'
'So do I. I think they acted rightly, and did as honourable men should do. Now, when you think that, Miss Longworth, how dare you come and offer me double, or three times, or four times, the amount my paper gives to me for getting this information? Do you think that I am any less honourable than Kenyon or Wentworth? Your offer is an insult to me; nobody but a woman, and a woman of your class, would have made it. Kenyon wouldn't have made it. Wentworth wouldn't have made it. You come here to bribe me. You come here to do exactly what J. K. Rivers tried to do for the Argus in Canada. You think money will purchase anything--that is the thought of all your class. Now, I want you to understand that I am a woman of the people. I was born and brought up in poverty in New York. You were born and brought up amid luxury in London. I have suffered privation and hardships that you know nothing of, and, even if you read about them, you wouldn't understand. You, with the impudence of your class, think you can come to me and bribe me to betray my employer. I am here to do a certain thing, and I am going to do that certain thing in spite of all the money that all the Longworths ever possessed, or ever will possess. Do I make myself sufficiently plain?'
'Yes, Miss Brewster. I don't think anyone could misunderstand you.'
'Well, I am glad of that, because one can never tell how thickheaded some people may be.'
'Do you think there is any parallel between your case and Mr. Wentworth's?'
'Of course I do. We were each sent to do a certain piece of work. We each did our work. We have both been offered a bribe to cheat our employers of the fruits of our labour; only in my case it is very much worse than in Wentworth's, because his employers would not have suffered, while mine will.'
'This is all very plausible, Miss Brewster, but now allow me to tell you that what you have done is a most dishonourable thing, and that you are a disgrace to our common womanhood. You have managed, during a very short acquaintance, to win the confidence of a man--there is a kind of woman who knows how to do that: I thank Heaven I am not of that class; I prefer to belong to the class you have just now been reviling. Some men have an inherent respect for all women; Mr. Wentworth is apparently one of those, and, while he was on his guard with a man, he was not on his guard with a woman. You took advantage of that and you managed to secure certain information which you knew he would never have given you if he had thought it was to be published. You stole that information just as disreputably as that man stole the documents from Mr. Kenyon's pocket. You talk of your honour and your truth when you did such a contemptible thing! You prate of unbribeableness, when the only method possible is adopted of making you do what is right and just and honest! Your conduct makes me ashamed of being a woman. A thoroughly bad woman I can understand, but not a woman like you, who trade on the fact that you are a woman, and that you are pretty, and that you have a pleasing manner. You use those qualities as a thief or a counterfeiter would use the peculiar talents God had given him. How dare you pretend for a moment that your case is similar to Mr. Wentworth's? Mr. Wentworth is an honourable man, engaged in an honourable business; as for you and your business, I have no words to express my contempt for both. Picking pockets is reputable compared with such work.'
Edith Longworth was now standing up, her face flushed and her hands clenched. She spoke with a vehemence which she very much regretted when she thought of the circumstance afterwards; but her chagrin and disappointment at failure, where she had a moment before been sure of success, overcame her. Her opponent stood before her, angry and pale. At first Edith Longworth thought she was going to strike her, but if any such idea passed through the brain of the journalist, she thought better of it. For a few moments neither spoke, then Jennie Brewster said, in a voice of unnatural calmness:
'You are quite welcome to your opinion of me, Miss Longworth, and I presume I am entitled to my opinion of Kenyon and Wentworth. They are two fools, and you are a third in thinking you can control the actions of a woman where two young men have failed. Do you think for a moment I would grant to you, a woman of a class I hate, what I would not grant to a man like Wentworth? They say there is no fool like an old fool, but it should be said that there is no fool like a young woman who has had everything her own way in this world. You are----'
'I shall not stay and listen to your abuse. I wish to have nothing more to do with you.'
'Oh, yes! you will stay,' cried the other, placing her back against the door. 'You came here at your own pleasure; you will leave at mine. I will tell you more truth in five minutes than you ever heard in your life before. I will tell you, in the first place, that my business is quite as honourable as Kenyon's or Wentworth's. What does Kenyon do but try to get information about mines which other people are vitally interested in keeping from him? What does Wentworth do but ferret about among accounts like a detective trying to find out what other people are endeavouring to conceal? What is the whole mining business but one vast swindle, whose worst enemy is the press? No wonder anyone connected with mining fears publicity. If your father has made a million out of mines, he has made it simply by swindling unfortunate victims. I do my business my way, and your two friends do theirs in their way. Of the two, I consider my vocation much the more upright. Now that you have heard what I have to say, you may go, and let me tell you that I never wish to see you or speak with you again.'
'Thank you for your permission to go. I am sure I cordially echo your wish that we may never meet again. I may say, however, that I am sorry I spoke to you in the way I did. It is, of course, impossible for you to look on the matter from my point of view, just as it is impossible for me to look upon it from yours. Nevertheless, I wish you would forget what I said, and think over the matter a little more, and if you see your way to accepting my offer it will be always open to you. Should you forego the sending of that cablegram, I will willingly pay you three times what the New York Argus will give you for it. I do not offer that as a bribe; I merely offer it so that you will not suffer from doing what I believe to be a just action. It seems to me a great pity that two young men should have to endure a serious check to their own business advancement because one of them was foolish enough to confide in a woman in whom he believed.'
Edith Longworth was young, and therefore scarcely likely to be a mistress of diplomacy, but she might have known the last sentence she uttered spoiled the effect of all that had gone before.
'Really, Miss Longworth, I had some little admiration for you when you blazed out at me in the way you did; but now, when you coolly repeat your offer of a bribe, adding one-third to it, all my respect for you vanishes. You may go and tell those who sent you that nothing under heaven can prevent that cablegram being sent.'
In saying this, however, Miss Brewster somewhat exceeded her knowledge. Few of us can foretell what may or may not happen under heaven.