A Woman Intervenes by Robert Barr
William Longworth had an eye for beauty. One of his eyes was generally covered by a round disc of glass, save when the disc fell out of its place and dangled in front of his waistcoat. Whether the monocle assisted his sight or not, it is certain that William knew a pretty girl when he saw her. One of the housemaids in the Longworth household left suddenly, without just cause or provocation, as the advertisements say, and in her place a girl was engaged who was so pretty that, when William Longworth caught sight of her, his monocle dropped from its usual position, and he stared at her with his two natural eyes, unassisted by science. He tried to speak to her on one or two occasions when he met her alone; but he could get no answer from the girl, who was very shy and demure, and knew her place, as people say. All this only enhanced her value in young Longworth's estimation, and he thought highly of his cousin's taste in choosing this young person to dust the furniture.
William had a room in the house which was partly sitting-room and partly study, and there he kept many of his papers. He was supposed to ponder over matters of business in this room, and it gave him a good excuse for arriving late at the office in the morning. He had been sitting up into the small hours, he would tell his uncle; although he would sometimes vary the excuse by saying that it was quieter at home than in the City, and that he had spent the early part of the morning in reading documents.
The first time William got an answer from the new housemaid was when he expressed his anxiety about the care of this room. He said that servants generally were very careless, and he hoped she would attend to things, and see that his papers were kept nicely in order. This, without glancing up at him, the girl promised to do, and William thereafter found his apartment kept with a scrupulous neatness which would have delighted the most particular of men.
One morning when he was sitting by his table, enjoying an after-breakfast cigarette, the door opened softly, and the new housemaid entered. Seeing him there, she seemed confused, and was about to retire, when William, throwing his cigarette away, sprang to his feet.
'No, don't go,' he said; 'I was just about to ring.'
The girl paused with her hand on the door.
'Yes,' he continued, 'I was just going to ring, but you have saved me the trouble; but, by the way, what is your name?'
'Susy, if you please, sir,' replied the girl modestly.
'Ah well, Susy, just shut the door for a moment.'
The girl did so, but evidently with some reluctance.
'Well, Susy,' said William jauntily, 'I suppose that I'm not the first one who has told you that you are very pretty.'
'Oh, sir!' said Susy, blushing and looking down on the carpet.
'Yes, Susy, and you take such good care of this room that I want to thank you for it,' continued William.
Here he fumbled in his pocket for a moment, and drew out half a sovereign.
'Here, my girl, is something for your trouble. Keep this for yourself.'
'Oh, I couldn't think of taking money, sir,' said the girl, drawing back. 'I couldn't indeed, sir!'
'Nonsense!' said William; 'isn't it enough?'
'Oh, it's more than enough. Miss Longworth pays me well for what I do, sir, and it's only my duty to keep things tidy.'
'Yes, Susy, that is very true; but very few of us do our duty, you know, in this world.'
'But we ought to, sir,' said the girl, in a tone of quiet reproof that made the young man smile.
'Perhaps,' said he; 'but then, you see, we are not all pretty and good, like you. I'm sorry you won't take the money. I hope you are not offended at me for offering it;' and William adjusted his eye-glass, looking his sweetest at the young person standing before him.
'Oh no, sir,' she said, 'I'm not at all offended, and I thank you very much, very much indeed, sir, and I would like to ask you a question, if you wouldn't think me too bold.'
'Bold?' cried William. 'Why, I think you are the shyest little woman I have ever seen. I'll be very pleased to answer any question you may ask me. What is it?'
'You see, sir, I've got a little money of my own.'
'Well, I declare, Susy, this is very interesting. I'd no idea you were an heiress.'
'Oh, not an heiress, sir--far from it. It's only a little matter of four or five hundred pounds, sir,' said Susy, dropping him an awkward little curtsy, which he thought most charming. 'The money is in the bank, and earns no interest, and I thought I would like to invest it where it would bring in something.'
'Certainly, Susy, and a most laudable desire on your part. Was it about that you wished to question me?'
'Yes, if you please, sir. I saw this paper on your desk, and I thought I would ask you if it would be safe for me to put my money in these mines, sir. Seeing the paper here, I supposed you had something to do with it.'
William whistled a long incredulous note, and said:
'So you have been reading my papers, have you, miss?'
'Oh no, sir,' said the girl, looking up at him with startled eyes. 'I only saw the name Canadian Mica-mine on this, and the paper said it would pay ten per cent., and I thought if you had anything to do with it that my money would be quite safe.'
'Oh, that goes without saying,' said William; 'but if I were you, my dear, I should not put my money in the mica-mine.'
'Oh, then, you haven't anything to do with the mine, sir?'
'Yes, Susy, I have. You know, fools build houses, and wise men live in them.'
'So I have heard,' said Susy thoughtfully.
'Well, two fools are building the house that we will call the Canadian Mica-mine, and I am the wise man, don't you see, Susy?' said the young man, with a sweet smile.
'I'm afraid I don't quite understand, sir.'
'I don't suppose, Susy,' replied the young man, with a laugh, 'that there are many who do; but I think in a month's time I shall own this mica-mine, and then, my dear, if you still want to own a share or two, I shall be very pleased to give you a few without your spending any money at all.'
'Oh, would you, sir?' cried Susy in glad surprise; 'and who owns the mine now?'
'Oh, two fellows; you wouldn't know their names if I told them to you.'
'And are they going to sell it to you, sir?'
William laughed heartily, and said:
'Oh no! they themselves will be sold.'
'But how can that be if they don't own the mine? You see, I'm only a very stupid girl, and don't understand business. That's why I asked you about my money.'
'I don't suppose you know what an option is, do you, Susy?'
'No, sir, I don't; I never heard of it before.'
'Well, these two young men have what is called an option on the mine, which is to say that they are to pay a certain sum of money at a certain time and the mine is theirs; but if they don't pay the certain sum at the certain time, the mine isn't theirs.'
'And won't they pay the money, sir?'
'No, Susy, they will not, because, don't you know, they haven't got it. Then these two fools will be sold, for they think they are going to get the money, and they are not.'
'And you have the money to buy the mine when the option runs out, sir.'
'By Jove!' said William in surprise, 'you have a prodigious head for business, Susy; I never saw anyone pick it up so fast. You will have to take lessons from me, and go on the market and speculate yourself.'
'Oh, I should like to do that, sir--I should indeed.'
'Well,' said William kindly, 'whenever you have time, come to me, and I will give you lessons.'
The young man approached her, holding out his hand, but the girl slipped away from him and opened the door.
'I think,' he said in a whisper, 'that you might give me a kiss after all this valuable information.'
'Oh, Mr. William!' cried Susy, horrified.
He stepped forward and tried to catch her, but the girl was too nimble for him, and sprang out into the passage.
'Surely,' protested William, 'this is getting information under false pretences; I expected my fee, you know.'
'And you shall have it,' said the girl, laughing softly, 'when I get ten per cent. on my money.'
'Egad!' said William to himself as he entered his room again, 'I will see that you get it. She's as clever an outside broker.'
When young Longworth had left for his office, Susy swept and dusted out his room again, and then went downstairs.
'Where's the mistress?' she asked a fellow-servant.
'In the library,' was the answer, and to the library Susy went, entering the room without knocking, much to the amazement of Edith Longworth, who sat near the window with a book in her lap. But further surprise was in store for the lady of the house. The housemaid closed the door, and then, selecting a comfortable chair, threw herself down into it, exclaiming:
'Oh dear me! I'm so tired.'
'Susy,' said Miss Longworth, 'what is the meaning of this?'
'It means, mum,' said Susy, 'that I'm going to chuck it.'
'Going to what?' asked Miss Longworth, amazed.
'Going to chuck it. Didn't you understand? Going to give up my situation. I'm tired of it.'
'Very well,' said the young woman, rising, 'you may give notice in the proper way. You have no right to come into this room in this impudent manner. Be so good as to go to your own room.'
'My!' said Susy, 'you can do the dignified! I must practise and see if I can accomplish an attitude like that. If you were a little prettier, Miss Longworth, I should call that striking;' and the girl threw back her head and laughed.
Something in the laugh aroused Miss Longworth's recollection, and a chill of fear came over her; but, looking at the girl again, she saw she was mistaken. Susy jumped up, still laughing, and drew a pin from the little cap she wore, flinging it on the chair; then she pulled off her wig, and stood before Edith Longworth her natural self.
'Miss Brewster!' gasped the astonished Edith. 'What are you doing in my house in that disguise?'
'Oh,' said Jennie, 'I'm an amateur housemaid. How do you think I have acted the part? Now sit down, Miss Dignity, and I will tell you something about your own family. I thought you were a set of rogues, and now I can prove it.'
'Will you leave my house this instant?' cried Edith, in anger. 'I shall not listen to you.'
'Oh yes, you will,' said Jennie, 'for I shall follow your own example, and not let you out until you do hear what I have to tell you.'
Saying which the amateur housemaid skipped nimbly to the door, and placed her back against it.