They say I broke in, stole things, and ran screaming from the house. It’s a lie.
The truth is that the king’s chamberlain had long suspected Mr. Baer – a senior footman – of having sticky fingers. The chamberlain suspected Mr. Baer of pocketing one of the king’s diamond pins. Accusations of theft were an extremely delicate matter. The chamberlain confided his fears to his own servant – my father. My father volunteered me to slip into the Baers’ house to investigate.
I waited until they had gone to church. The house was locked, but Mrs. Baer had left a pie cooling on the windowsill. I hoisted myself up and slipped through the window.
The family had obviously been running late; I spotted half-empty porridge bowls on the table. I amused myself briefly by tasting one. It was no better or worse than what my own mother made.
Then I began my search.
I sat on each of the chairs, to ensure the pin had not been hidden beneath a cushion. The child’s chair was poorly built, and it collapsed beneath me.
The floor had not been swept in some time.
I went upstairs. The Baers had two bedrooms; I went into the adult Baers’ room and lay on each of the beds, feeling for a pin-prick beneath the mattress. I also looked under the bed opposite, preferring not to dirty my dress, or my golden curls, on what was probably another dusty floor.
I went to the junior Baer’s room, lay across the bed, and peeked underneath.
I tugged it open from my ridiculous angle – there, beneath the trap, wrapped in a handkerchief, was the pin!
I held it up to the light, watched it sparkle…
…and did not hear the Baers return until I heard shouting below.
There was no window in junior’s room, and no time to fly downstairs.
My best option, I reasoned, was to remain in bed, feign sleep, and pretend that I had wandered in as…a prank. I tucked the pin into my pocket.
Such a racket they made when they found me! Baby Baer pointed and screamed, Mama Baer wailed about the shock to her nerves; Papa Baer took me by the ear and hauled me to the village square, shouting all the while. A crowd formed immediately; someone ran for my father.
Father lit into me, calling me yet another female led astray by her curiosity. He offered to let Papa Baer punish me, giving no hint that bore any responsibility for my intrusion. Papa Baer took full advantage of Father’s offer.
I hobbled home.
My father offered no consolation, no apology, and no ice. Instead, he said, “Did you find it? The chamberlain has come asking!”
I looked him full in the face: “No.”
He looked crestfallen, and shuffled away.
I left in the night, went to the capital, and sold the pin to a wealthy collector. I have lived comfortably in town – and gloriously unencumbered – ever since.
Linda McMullen is a wife, mother, diplomat, and homesick Wisconsinite. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in over forty literary magazines, including, most recently, Arachne Press, Luna Station Quarterly, Ripples in Space, Write Ahead/The Future Looms Magazine, Drunk Monkeys, Storgy, and Newfound.
Image via Pixabay