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   Chapter 15 CURIOSITY.

Trials and Confessions of a Housekeeper By T. S. Arthur Characters: 7778

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

THE curiosity of our sex is proverbial. Proverbs are generally based upon experience, and this one, I am ready to admit, is not without a good foundation to rest upon.

Our sex are curious; at least I am, and we are very apt to judge others by ourselves. I believe that I have never broken the seal nor peeped into a letter bearing the name of some other lady; but, then, I will own to having, on more occasions than one, felt an exceedingly strong desire to know the contents of certain epistles in the hands of certain of my friends.

The same feeling I have over and over again observed in my domestics, and, for this reason, have always been careful how I let my letters lie temptingly about. One chamber maid in my service, seemed to have a passion for reading other people's letters. More than once had I caught her rummaging in my drawers, or with some of my old letters in her hands; and I could not help remarking that most of the letters left at the door by the penny post, had, if they passed to me through her, a crumpled appearance. I suspected the cause of this, but did not detect my lady, until she had been some months in my family.

One morning, after breakfast was over, and the children off to school, I drew on a cap, and went down to sweep out and dust the parlors. I had not been at work long, when I heard the bell ring. Presently Mary came tripping down stairs. As she opened the street door, I heard her say:

"Ah! another letter? Who is it for? Me?"

"No, it is for Mrs. Smith," was answered, in the rougher voice of the Despatch Post-man.

"Oh." There was a perceptible disappointment in Mary's tone. "What's the postage?" she asked.

"Paid," said the man.

The door closed, and I heard the feet of Mary slowly moving along the passage. Then the murmur of her voice reached my ears. Presently I heard her say:

"I wonder who it is from? Mrs. Smith gets a great many letters. No envelope, thank goodness! but a plain, good old fashioned letter. I must see who it is from."

By this time Mary had stepped within the back parlor. I stood, hid from her view, by one of the folding doors, which was closed, but within a few feet of her.

"From Mrs. Jackson! Hum-m. I wonder what she's got to say? Something about me, I'll bet a dollar."

There was a very apparent change in the thermometer of Mary's feelings at this last thought, as was evident from the tone of her voice.

"Lace collars-stockings-pocket han-. I can't make out that word, but it is handkerchiefs, of course," thus Mary read and talked to herself. "Breastpin-this is too mean! It's not true, neither. I'm a great mind to burn the letter. Mrs. Smith would never be the wiser. I won't give it to her now, at any rate. I'll put it in my pocket, and just think about it."

The next sound that came to my ears was the pattering of Mary's feet as she went hurrying up the stairs.

In a few minutes I followed. In one of my chambers I found Mary, and said to her:

"Didn't the carrier leave me a letter just now?"

The girl hesitated a moment, and then answered:

"Oh, yes, ma'am. I have it here in my pocket."

And she drew forth the letter, crumbled, as was usually the case with all that passed through her hands.

I took it, with some gravity of manner; for I felt, naturally enough, indignant. Mary flushed a little under the steady eye that I fixed upon her.

The letter, or note, was from my friend, Mrs. Jackman, and read as follows:

"MY DEAR MRS. SMITH.-Do call in and see me some time to-day. I have bought some of the cheapest laces, stockings, and cambric pocket handkerchiefs that ever were seen. There are more left; and at a great bargain. You must have some. And, by the way, bring with you that sweet breastpin I saw you wear at Mrs. May's last Thursday evening. I want to examine it closely. I must have one just like it. Do come round to-day;

I've lots of things to say to you.

Yours, &c."

"Nothing so dreadful in all that," I said to myself, as I re-folded the letter. "My curious lady's conscience must be a little active! Let's see what is to come of this."

It is hardly in the nature of woman to look very lovingly upon the servant whom she has discovered peeping into her letters. At least, it was not in my nature. I, therefore, treated Mary with becoming gravity, whenever we happened to meet. She, under the circumstances, was ill at ease; and rather shunned contact with me. The morning passed away, and the afternoon waned until towards five o'clock, when the accumulating pressure on Mary's feelings became so great that she was compelled to seek relief.

I was alone, sewing, when my chamber maid entered my room. The corners of her lips inclined considerably downward.

"Can I speak a word with you, Mrs. Smith?" said she.

"Certainly, Mary," I replied. "What do you wish to say?"

Mary cleared her throat once or twice-looked very much embarrassed, and at length stammered out.

"You received a letter from Mrs. Jackson this morning?"

"No." I shook my head as I uttered this little monosyllable.

A flush of surprise went over the girl's face.

"Wasn't the letter I gave you from Mrs. Jackson?" she asked.

"No; it was from Mrs. Jackman."

Mary caught her breath, and stammered out, in her confusion:

"Oh, my! I thought it was from Mrs. Jackson. I was sure of it."

"What right had you to think any thing about it?" I asked, with marked severity.

Mary's face was, by this time crimsoned.

I looked at her for some moments, and then, taking from my drawer Mrs. Jackman's note, handed it to her, and said:

"There's the letter you were so curious about this morning. Read it."

Mary's eyes soon took in the contents. The moment she was satisfied, she uttered a short "Oh!" strongly expressive of mental relief, and handed me back the letter.

"I thought it was from Mrs. Jackson," said the still embarrassed girl, looking confused and distressed.

"You can now retire," said I, "and when another letter is left at my door, be kind enough to consider it my property, not yours. I shall make it my business to see Mrs. Jackson, and ascertain from her why you are so much afraid that she will communicate with me. There's some thing wrong."

Poor Mary still lingered.

"Indeed, Mrs. Smith," she sobbed-"I didn't do nothing wrong at Mrs. Jackson's, but wear her clothes sometimes. Once I just borrowed a breastpin of hers out of her drawer, to wear to a party; and she saw me with it on, and said I had stolen it. But, I'd put my hand in the fire before I'd steal, Mrs. Smith! Indeed, indeed I would. I was only going to wear it to the party; and I didn't think there was any great harm in that."

"Of course there was harm in using other people's things without their consent," I replied, severely. "And I don't wonder that Mrs. Jackson accused you of stealing. But what cause had you for thinking this letter was from Mrs. Jackson?"

"The two names are so near alike, and then Mrs. Jackson speaks about-."

Here Mary caught herself, and crimsoned still deeper.

"That is," said I, "you took the liberty of peeping into my letter before you gave it to me; and this is not your first offence of the kind."

Mary was too much confounded to speak, or make any effort to excuse herself; and so thought it best to retire.

I called to see Mrs. Jackson that day. She gave Mary a good character, as far as honesty was concerned; but stated plainly her faults, especially her bad habit of wearing her clothes and trinkets, for which offence, in a moment of indignation, she had dismissed her from her service.

I saw no reason to send Mary away. But I gave her a "good talking." I think she is pretty well cured of her propensity of reading other people's letters.

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