Ribby in the meantime had received Duchess’s answer, and as soon as she was sure that the little dog could come—she popped her pie into the oven. There were two ovens, one above the other; some other knobs and handles were only ornamental and not intended to open. Ribby put the pie into the lower oven; the door was very stiff.
“The top oven bakes too quickly,” said Ribby to herself. “It is a pie of the most delicate and tender mouse minced up with bacon. And I have taken out all the bones; because Duchess did nearly choke herself with a fish-bone last time I gave a party. She eats a little fast—rather big mouthfuls. But a most genteel and elegant little dog; infinitely superior company to Cousin Tabitha Twitchit.”
[Illustration: THE PIE MADE OF MOUSE]
Ribby put on some coal and swept up the hearth. Then she went out with a can to the well, for water to fill up the kettle.
Then she began to set the room in order, for it was the sitting-room as well as the kitchen. She shook the mats out at the front-door and put them straight; the hearthrug was a rabbit-skin. She dusted the clock and the ornaments on the mantelpiece, and she polished and rubbed the tables and chairs.
Then she spread a very clean white table-cloth, and set out her best china tea-set, which she took out of a wall-cupboard near the fireplace. The tea-cups were white with a pattern of pink roses; and the dinner-plates were white and blue.
When Ribby had laid the table she took a jug and a blue and white dish, and went out down the field to the farm, to fetch milk and butter.
When she came back, she peeped into the bottom oven; the pie looked very comfortable.
Ribby put on her shawl and bonnet and went out again with a basket, to the village shop to buy a packet of tea, a pound of lump sugar, and a pot of marmalade.
And just at the same time, Duchess came out of her house, at the other end of the village.
[Illustration: THE VEAL AND HAM PIE]
Ribby met Duchess half-way down the street, also carrying a basket, covered with a cloth. They only bowed to one another; they did not speak, because they were going to have a party.
As soon as Duchess had got round the corner out of sight—she simply ran! Straight away to Ribby’s house!
Ribby went into the shop and bought what she required, and came out, after a pleasant gossip with Cousin Tabitha Twitchit.
Cousin Tabitha was disdainful afterwards in conversation—
“A little dog indeed! Just as if there were no CATS in Sawrey! And a pie for afternoon tea! The very idea!” said Cousin Tabitha Twitchit.
Ribby went on to Timothy Baker’s and bought the muffins. Then she went home.
There seemed to be a sort of scuffling noise in the back passage, as she was coming in at the front door.