Dr. Hammond was a physician in great practice in the West of England. He resided in a small market-town and his family consisted of one son, named Charles, and two daughters, Louisa and Sophy.
Sophy possessed many amiable qualities, and did not want for sense, but every better feeling was lost in her extreme inquisitiveness. Her faculties were all occupied in peeping and prying about, and, provided she could gratify her own curiosity, she never cared how much vexation she caused to others.
This propensity began when she was so very young that it had become a habit before her parents perceived it. She was a very little creature when she was once nearly squeezed to death between two double doors as she was peeping through the keyhole of one of them to see who was in the drawing-room; and another time she was locked up for several hours in a closet in which she had hid herself for the purpose of overhearing what her mother was saying to one of the servants.
When Sophy was eleven and her sister about sixteen years old their mother died. Louisa was placed at the head of her father’s house, and the superintendence of Sophy’s education necessarily devolved on her. The care of such a family was a great charge for a young person of Miss Hammond’s age, and more especially as her father was obliged to be so much from home that she could not always have his counsel and advice even when she most needed it. By this means she fell into an injudicious mode of treating her sister.
If Louisa received a note she carefully locked it up, and never spoke of its contents before Sophy. If a message was brought to her she always went out of the room to receive it, and never suffered the servant to speak in her sister’s hearing. When any visitors came Louisa commonly sent Sophy out of the room, or if they were intimate friends she would converse with them in whispers; in short, it was her chief study that everything which passed in the family should be a secret from Sophy. Alas! this procedure, instead of repressing Sophy’s curiosity, only made it the more keen; her eyes and ears were always on the alert, and what she could not see, hear, or thoroughly comprehend she made out by guesses.
The worst consequence of Louisa’s conduct was that as Sophy had no friend and companion in her sister, who treated her with such constant suspicion and reserve, she necessarily was induced to find a friend and companion among the servants, and she selected the housemaid Sally, a good-natured, well-intentioned girl, but silly and ignorant and inquisitive like herself, and it may be easily supposed how much mischief these two foolish creatures occasioned, not only in the family, but also among their neighbors.