PREPARING TO RECEIVE COMPANY
Leeby was at the fire brandering a quarter of steak on the tongs, when the house was flung into consternation by Hendry's casual remark that he had seen Tibbie Mealmaker in the town with her man.
"The Lord preserv's!" cried Leeby.
Jess looked quickly at the clock.
"Half fower!" she said, excitedly.
"Then it canna be dune," said Leeby, falling despairingly into a chair, "for they may be here ony meenute."
"It's most michty," said Jess, turning on her husband, "'at ye should tak a pleasure in bringin' this hoose to disgrace. Hoo did ye no tell's suner?"
"I fair forgot," Hendry answered, "but what's a' yer steer?"
Jess looked at me (she often did this) in a way that meant, "What a man is this I'm tied to!"
"Steer!" she exclaimed. "Is't no time we was makkin' a steer? They'll be in for their tea ony meenute, an' the room no sae muckle as sweepit. Ay, an' me lookin' like a sweep; an' Tibbie Mealmaker 'at's sae partikler genteel seein' you sic a sicht as ye are?"
Jess shook Hendry out of his chair, while Leeby began to sweep with the one hand, and agitatedly to unbutton her wrapper with the other.
"She didna see me," said Hendry, sitting down forlornly on the table.
"Get aff that table!" cried Jess. "See haud o' the besom," she said to Leeby.
"For mercy's sake, mother," said Leeby, "gie yer face a dicht, an' put on a clean mutch."
"I'll open the door if they come afore you're ready," said Hendry, as Leeby pushed him against the dresser.
"Ye daur to speak aboot openin'the door, an' you sic a mess!" cried Jess, with pins in her mouth.
"Havers!" retorted Hendry. "A man canna be aye washin' at 'imsel."
Seeing that Hendry was as much in the way as myself, I invited him upstairs to the attic, whence we heard Jess and Leeby upbraiding each other shrilly. I was aware that the room was speckless; but for all that, Leeby was turning it upside down.
"She's aye ta'en like that," Hendry said to me, referring to his wife, "when she's expectin' company. Ay, it's a peety she canna tak things cannier."
"Tibbie Mealmaker must be some one of importance?" I asked.
"Ou, she's naething by the ord'nar'; but ye see she was mairit to a Tilliedrum man no lang syne, an' they're said to hae a michty grand establishment. Ay, they've a wardrobe spleet new; an' what think ye Tibbie wears ilka day?"
I shook my head.
"It was Chirsty Miller 'at put it through the toon," Henry continued. "Chirsty was in Tilliedrum last Teisday or Wednesday, an' Tibbie gae her a cup o' tea. Ay, weel, Tibbie telt Chirsty 'at she wears hose ilka day."
"Ay. It's some michty grand kind o' stockin'. I never heard o't in this toon. Na, there's naebody in Thrums 'at wears hose."
"And who did Tibbie get?" I asked; for in Thrums they say, "Wha did she get?" and "Wha did he tak?"
"His name's Davit Curly. Ou, a crittur fu' o' maggots, an' nae great match, for he's juist the Tilliedrum bill-sticker."
At this moment Jess shouted from her chair (she was burnishing the society teapot as she spoke), "Mind, Hendry McQumpha, 'at upon nae condition are you to mention the bill-stickin' afore Tibbie!"
"Tibbie," Hendry explained to me, "is a terrible vain tid, an' doesna think the bill-stickin' genteel. Ay, they say 'at if she meets Davit in the street wi' his paste-pot an' the brush in his hands she pretends no to ken 'im."
Every time Jess paused to think she cried up orders, such as--
"Dinna call her Tibbie, mind ye. Always address her as Mistress Curly."
"Shak' hands wi' baith o' them, an' say ye hope they're in the enjoyment o' guid health."
"Dinna put yer feet on the table."
"Mind, you're no' to mention 'at ye kent they were in the toon."
"When onybody passes ye yer tea say, 'Thank ye.'"
"Dinna stir yer tea as if ye was churnin' butter, nor let on 'at the scones is no our am bakin'."
"If Tibbie says onything aboot the china yer no' to say 'at we dinna use it ilka day."
"Dinna lean back in the big chair, for it's broken, an' Leeby's gi'en it a lick o' glue this meenute."
"When Leeby gies ye a kick aneath the table that'll be a sign to ye to say grace."
Hendry looked at me apologetically while these instructions came up.
"I winna dive my head wi' sic nonsense," he said; "it's no' for a man body to be sae crammed fu' o' manners."
"Come awa doon," Jess shouted to him, "an' put on a clean dickey."
"I'll better do't to please her," said Hendry, "though for my ain part I dinna like the feel o' a dickey on week-days. Na, they mak's think it's the Sabbath."
Ten minutes afterwards I went downstairs to see how the preparations were progressing. Fresh muslin curtains had been put up in the room. The grand footstool, worked by Leeby, was so placed that Tibbie could not help seeing it; and a fine cambric handkerchief, of which Jess was very proud, was hanging out of a drawer as if by accident. An antimacassar lying carelessly on the seat of a chair concealed a rent in the horse-hair, and the china ornaments on the mantelpiece were so placed that they looked whole. Leeby's black merino was hanging near the window in a good light, and Jess's Sabbath bonnet, which was never worn, occupied a nail beside it. The tea-things stood on a tray in the kitchen bed, whence they could be quickly brought into the room, just as if they were always ready to be used daily. Leeby, as yet in deshabille, was shaving her father at a tremendous rate, and Jess, looking as fresh as a daisy, was ready to receive the visitors. She was peering through the tiny window-blind looking for them.
"Be cautious, Leeby," Hendry was saying, when Jess shook her hand at him. "Wheesht," she whispered; "they're comin'."
Hendry was hustled into his Sabbath coat, and then came a tap at the door, a very genteel tap. Jess nodded to Leeby, who softly shoved Hendry into the room.
The tap was repeated, but Leeby pushed her father into a chair and thrust Barrow's Sermons open into his hand. Then she stole but the house, and swiftly buttoned her wrapper, speaking to Jess by nods the while. There was a third knock, whereupon Jess said, in a loud, Englishy voice--
"Was that not a chap (knock) at the door?"
Hendry was about to reply, but she shook her fist at him. Next moment Leeby opened the door. I was upstairs, but I heard Jess say--
"Dear me, if it's not Mrs. Curly--and Mr. Curly! And hoo are ye? Come in, by. Weel, this is, indeed, a pleasant surprise!"