'Coins Under The Rug' by Alison Wassell
Ada laughs, the first time she pulls back the hearth rug and discovers the coins. Her mother warned her about this, when she first went into service. It is a test of both her honesty and her industry. If she is not to be trusted, she will pocket the coins. If she is lazy, they will remain undiscovered. Ada stacks the coins in a neat pile on the mantelpiece. She energetically vacuums every speck of dust from beneath every rug in the house. Her mother says she has it easy, with that new-fangled electrical contraption.
When she finds the coins a second time, Ada is less amused. The novelty of earning her own living, if you can call what she is paid a living, has worn off. The work bores her more than it tires her, for she is young and strong. She has been brought up to take pride in a job well done, though. She stacks the coins again.
On the third occasion, she has come prepared. She glues the coins in place on the mantelpiece.
‘They seem to have a habit of throwing themselves onto the floor,’ Ada tells the eminent doctor’s wife. Her employer’s mouth twitches, but she makes no comment.
‘I was surprised she had it in her,’ the eminent doctor’s wife tells the ladies who come to take afternoon tea with her, as Ada hovers outside the door. After all, Ada is such an insignificant little thing, blessed with neither brains nor beauty. This is how the eminent doctor’s wife prefers them. Ada imagines the ladies nodding their agreement. Silently, she carries in a tray of sandwiches. She feels their eyes upon her.
The tests continue. Items are strategically placed to tempt Ada. A ring, a necklace, a scarf. Ada returns everything to its rightful place. She has no use for trinkets. The eminent doctor’s wife appears disappointed, and displeased with Ada for despising the things she herself values.
Ada has ambitions, and every intention of fulfilling them. She could have been a schoolteacher, had her father not scoffed at the idea. What need had a woman of books and learning, he had said, as Ada seethed and vowed revenge on the world. Under her starched maid’s uniform she is anything but insignificant. When the eminent doctor makes his way, yet again, to her attic room, she struggles to contain her laughter. He licks his lips at the sight of her previously untouched, unstretched flesh. She smiles her encouragement, although his eagerness disgusts her. She thinks of her plans for the future and the price the eminent doctor will pay, very soon, for her silence.