‘Aw, ye mean it wudna be the thing a tea pairty?’
‘Weel, weel,’ said Willie, with sorry resignation, ’honest money’s ill to earn. It wud ha’e been a snip for me. Ha’e ye a match? ’Having lit up: ‘Tell us what else I maunna dae at the pairty.’
Macgregor scratched his head. ‘If it had been a denner pairty,’ he said slowly, thinking doubtless of Aunt Purdie’s, ’I could ha’e gi’ed ye a queer list; but ye canna gang faur wrang at a tea pairty.’
‘I dinna want to gang an inch wrang.’
‘Weel, then, for instance, some folk objec’s to a chap sookin’ his tea frae his saucer——’
‘I’ll note that. Fire awa’!’
‘An’ if a cream cookie bursts——’
‘Dae they burst whiles?’
‘Up yer sleeve, as a rule,’ said Macgregor very solemnly.
‘Guid Goad! I’ll pass the cream cookies.’
‘But they’re awfu’ tasty.’
‘Are they? . . . Weel, what dae ye dae if it bursts?’
‘Never let bug.’
‘Ay, but—but what aboot the cream?’
‘Best cairry an extra hanky an’ plug yer sleeve wi’ it.’
After a dismal pause, Willie inquired: ’Could ye no get her to leave the cream cookies oot o’ her programme, Macgreegor?’
Macgregor looked dubious. ‘She’s gey saft on them hersel’, an’ she micht be offendit if we refused them. Of course they dinna scoot up the sleeve every time.’
‘Whiles they explode doon the waistcoat—I mean tunic.’
‘That’s enough!’ wailed Willie. ’If the Clyde was handy, I wud gang an’ droon masel’!’
On the third day following, they obtained late passes. Willie’s uneasiness was considerable, yet so was his vanity. He affected an absurdly devil-may-care deportment which so stirred Macgregor’s sense of pity that he had thoughts of taking back what he had said about the cream cookies. But at the last moment his bootlace snapped. . . .
Willie’s toilet was the most careful he had ever made, and included an application of exceeding fragrant pomade pilfered from his corporal’s supply and laid on thickly enough to stop a leak. Finally, having armed himself with his new cane and put seven breath perfumers and a cigarette in his mouth, he approached the stooping Macgregor and declared himself ready for the road.
‘What’s that atrocious smell?’ demanded Macgregor, with unwonted crustiness.
For once in his life Willie had no answer at hand, and for once he blushed.
Christina was serving a customer when her two guests entered the shop. Unembarrassed she beamed on both and signed to Macgregor to go ‘right in.’ So Macgregor conducted his friend, who during the journey had betrayed increasing indications of ‘funk,’ into the absent owner’s living-room, which Christina had contrived to make brighter looking than for many a year.