Primrose had always been considered a very good manager. Her talents for contriving, for buying, and, in short, for making a shilling do the utmost that a shilling was capable of, had been observable from her earliest days. In the last years of her mother’s life Primrose had been entrusted with the family purse, and the shopkeepers at Rosebury had known better than not to offer this bright-looking young lady the best that they had at the lowest price. Primrose, therefore, when she came to London, had felt pretty confident that the talents which she knew she possessed would stand her in good stead. She still hoped to find the cheapest shops and to get the best for her money. She laid her plans with accuracy and common sense, she divided the little sum which the three had to live on into weekly instalments—she resolved not to go beyond these. But, alas! Primrose had never reckoned on a certain grave difficulty which here confronted her. Hitherto her dealings had been with honest tradespeople; now it was her misfortune, and her sisters’, to get into a house where honesty was far from practised. In a thousand little ways Mrs. Dove could pilfer from the girls—she would not for the world have acknowledged to herself that she would really steal; oh, no—but she did not consider it stealing to use their coal instead of her own—of course, by mistake; she by no means considered it stealing when she baked a little joint for them in her oven on Sunday to boil it first, and in this way secure a very good soup for various hungry young Doves; she did not consider it stealing to so confuse the baker’s account that some of the loaves consumed by her children were paid for by Primrose; nor did she consider it stealing to add water to the milk with which she supplied the Mainwarings; above all things, and on this point she was most emphatic, she thought it the reverse of stealing to borrow. Primrose had not been a fortnight in her house before she began to ask first for the loan of an odd sixpence, then for half-a-crown, for a shilling here, and two shillings there. When she returned the half-crown it was generally done in this fashion—
“Oh, if you please, miss, I want to settle my little account. Oh, dear, dear! I was certain I had half-a-crown in my purse. Well, to be sure, I forgot that Dove took it with him when he went out to his work this morning. Please, Miss Mainwaring, will you accept one and sixpence on account, and we’ll settle the rest in an hour or two. There, miss, that’s quite comfortable.”
Yes, the arrangement was certainly quite comfortable for Mrs. Dove, who could score out the half-crown debt from her slate, and quite stare when Primrose ventured to ask her for the odd shilling still owing.