A Woman Intervenes by Robert Barr
Jennie Brewster stood with her back to the door, a sweet smile on her face.
'This is my day for acting, Miss Longworth. I think I did the role of housemaid so well that it deceived several members of this family. I am now giving an imitation of yourself in your thrilling drama, "All at Sea." Don't you think I do it most admirably?'
'Yes,' said Edith, sitting down again. 'I wonder you did not adopt the stage as a profession.'
'I have often thought of doing so, but journalism is more exciting.'
'Perhaps. Still, it has its disappointments. When I gave my thrilling drama, as you call it, on shipboard, I had my stage accessories arranged to better advantage than you have now.'
'Do you mean the putting off of the boat?'
'No; I mean that the electric button was under my hand--it was impossible for you to ring for help. Now, while you hold the door, you cannot stop me from ringing, for the bell-rope is here beside me.'
'Yes, that is a disadvantage, I admit. Do you intend to ring, then, and have me turned out?'
'I don't think that will be necessary. I imagine you will go quietly.'
'You are a pretty clever girl, Miss Longworth. I wish I liked you, but I don't, so we won't waste valuable time deploring that fact. Have you no curiosity to hear what I was going to tell you?'
'Not the slightest; but there is one thing I should like to know.'
'Oh, is there? Well, that's human, at any rate. What do you wish to know?'
'You came here well recommended. How did you know I wanted a housemaid, and were your testimonials----'
Edith paused for a word, which Jennie promptly supplied.
'Forged? Oh dear no! There is no necessity for doing anything criminal in this country, if you have the money. I didn't forge them--I bought them. Didn't you write to any of the good ladies who stood sponsor for me?'
'Yes, and received most flattering accounts of you.'
'Certainly. That was part of the contract. Oh, you can do anything with money in London; it is a most delightful town. Then, as for knowing there was a vacancy, that also was money. I bribed the other housemaid to leave.'
'I see. And what object had you in all this?'
Jennie Brewster laughed--the same silvery laugh that had charmed William Longworth an hour or two before, a laugh that sometimes haunted Wentworth's memory in the City. She left her sentinel-like position at the door and threw herself into a chair.
'Miss Longworth,' she said, 'you are not consistent. You first pretend that you have no curiosity to hear what I have to say, then you ask me exactly what I was going to tell you. Of course, you are dying to know why I am here; you wouldn't be a woman if you weren't. Now, I've changed my mind, and I don't intend to tell you. I will say, though, that my object in coming here was, first, to find out for myself how servants are treated in this country. You see, my sympathies are all with the women who work, and not with women--well, like yourself, for instance.'
'Yes, I think you said that once before. And how do we treat our servants?'
'So far as my experience goes, very well indeed.'
'It is most gratifying to hear you say this. I was afraid we might not have met with your approval. And now, where shall I send your month's money, Miss Brewster?'
Jennie Brewster leaned back in her chair, her eyes all but closed; an angry light shooting from them reminded Edith of her glance of hatred on board the steamship. A rich warm colour overspread her fair face, and her lips closed tightly. There was a moment's silence, and then Jennie's indignation passed away as quickly as it came. She laughed, with just a touch of restraint in her tone.
'You can say an insulting thing more calmly and sweetly than anyone I ever met before; I envy you that. When I say anything low down and mean, I say it in anger, and my voice has a certain amount of acridity in it. I can't purr like a cat and scratch at the same time--I wish I could.'
'Is it an insult to offer you the money you have earned?'
'Yes, it is, and you knew it was when you spoke. You don't understand me a little bit.'
'Is it necessary that I should?'
'I don't suppose you think it is,' said Jennie meditatively, resting her elbow on her knee and her chin on her palm. 'That is where our point of view differs. I like to know everything. It interests me to learn what people think and talk about, and somehow it doesn't seem to matter to me who the people are, for I was even more interested in your butler's political opinions than I was in Lord Frederick Bingham's. They are both Conservatives, but Lord Freddie seems shaky in his views, for you can argue him down in five minutes, but the butler is as steadfast as a rock. I do admire that butler. I hope you will break the news of my departure gently to him, for he proposed to me, and he has not yet had his answer.'
'There is still time,' said Edith, smiling in spite of herself. 'Shall I ring for him?'
'Please do not. I want to avoid a painful scene, because he is so sure of himself, and never dreams of a refusal. It is such a pity, too, for the butler is my ideal of what a member of the aristocracy should be. His dignity is positively awe-inspiring; while Lord Freddie is such a simple, good-natured, everyday young fellow, that if I imported him to the States I am sure no one would believe he was a real lord. With the butler it would be so different,' added Jennie, with a deep sigh.
'It is too bad that you cannot exchange the declaration of the butler for one from Lord Frederick.'
'Too bad!' cried Jennie, looking with wide-open eyes at the girl before her; 'why, bless you! I had a proposal from Lord Freddie two weeks before I ever saw the butler. I see you don't believe a word I say. Well, you ask Lord Freddie. I'll introduce you, and tell him you don't believe he asked me to be Lady Freddie, if that's the title. He'll look sheepish, but he won't deny it. You see, when I found I was going to stay in England for a time, I wrote to the editor of the Argus to get me a bunch of letters of introduction and send them over, as I wanted particularly to study the aristocracy. So he sent them, and, I assure you, I found it much more difficult to get into your servants' hall than I did into the halls of the nobility--besides, it costs less to mix with the Upper Ten.'
Edith sat in silence, looking with amazed interest at the girl, who talked so rapidly that there was sometimes difficulty in following what she said.
'No, Lord Freddie is not half so condescending as the butler, neither is his language so well chosen; but then, I suppose, the butler's had more practice, for Freddie is very young. I am exceedingly disappointed with the aristocracy. They are not nearly so haughty as I had imagined them to be. But what astonishes me in this country is the way you women spoil the men. You are much too good to them. You pet them and fawn on them, and naturally they get conceited. It is such a pity, too; for they are nice fellows, most of them. It is the same everywhere I've been--servants' hall included. Why, when you meet a young couple, of what you are pleased to call the "lower classes," walking in the Park, the man hangs down his head as he slouches along, but the girl looks defiantly at you, as much as to say, "I've got him. Bless him! What have you to say about it?" while the man seems to be ashamed of himself, and evidently feels that he's been had. Now, a man should be made to understand that you're doing him a great favour when you give him a civil word. That's the proper state of mind to keep a man in, and then you can do what you like with him. I generally make him propose, so as to get it over before any real harm's done, and to give an artistic finish to the episode. After that we can be excellent friends, and have a jolly time. That's the way I did with Lord Freddie. Now, here am I, chattering away as if I were paid for talking instead of writing. Why do you look at me so? Don't you believe what I tell you?'
'Yes, I believe all you say. What I can't understand is, why a bright girl like you should enter a house and,--well, do what you have done here, for instance.'
'Why shouldn't I? I am after accurate information. I get it in my own way. Your writers here tell how the poor live, and that sort of thing. They enter the houses of the poor quite unblushingly, and print their impressions of the poverty-stricken homes. Now, why should the rich man be exempt from a similar investigation?'
'In either case it is the work of a spy.'
'Yes; but a spy is not a dishonourable person--at least, he need not be. I saw a monument in Westminster Abbey to a man who was hanged as a spy. A spy must be brave; he must have nerve, caution, and resource. He sometimes does more for his country than a whole regiment. Oh, there are worse persons than spies in this world.'
'I suppose there are, still----'
'Yes, I know. It is easy for persons with plenty of money to moralize on the shortcomings of others. I'll tell you a secret. I'm writing a book, and if it's a success, then good-bye to journalism. I don't like the spy business myself any too well; I'm afraid England is contaminating me, and if I stayed here a few years I might degenerate so far as to think your newspapers interesting. By the way, have you seen Mr. Wentworth lately?'
Edith hesitated a moment, and at last answered:
'Yes, I saw him a day or two ago.'
'Was he looking well? I think I ought to write him a note of apology for all the anxiety I caused him on board ship. You may not believe it, but I have actually had some twinges of conscience over that episode. I suppose that's why I partially forgave you for stopping the cablegram.'
Edith Longworth was astonished at herself for giving the young woman information about Wentworth, but she gave it, and the amateur housemaid departed in peace, saying, by way of farewell:
'I'm not going to write up your household, after all.'