To regale them when they returned, Mrs. Mel, whose mind was not intent on greatness, was occupied in spreading meat and wine. Mrs. Fiske assisted her, as well as she could, seeing that one hand was entirely engaged by her handkerchief. She had already stumbled, and dropped a glass, which had brought on her sharp condemnation from her aunt, who bade her sit down, or go upstairs to have her cry out, and then return to be serviceable.
‘Oh! I can’t help it!’ sobbed Mrs. Fiske. ’That he should be carried away, and none of his children to see him the last time! I can understand Louisa—and Harriet, too, perhaps? But why could not Caroline? And that they should be too fine ladies to let their brother come and bury his father. Oh! it does seem——’
Mrs. Fiske fell into a chair, and surrendered to grief.
‘Where is the cold tongue?’ said Mrs. Mel to Sally, the maid, in a brief under-voice.
‘Please mum, Jacko——!’
‘He must be whipped. You are a careless slut.’
‘Please, I can’t think of everybody and everything, and poor master——’
Sally plumped on a seat, and took sanctuary under her apron. Mrs. Mel glanced at the pair, continuing her labour.
‘Oh, aunt, aunt!’ cried Mrs. Fiske, ’why didn’t you put it off for another day, to give Evan a chance?’
’Master ‘d have kept another two days, he would!’ whimpered Sally.
‘Oh, aunt! to think !’ cried Mrs. Fiske.
‘And his coffin not bearin’ of his spurs!’ whimpered Sally.
Mrs. Mel interrupted them by commanding Sally to go to the drawing-room, and ask a lady there, of the name of Mrs. Wishaw, whether she would like to have some lunch sent up to her. Mrs. Fiske was requested to put towels in Evan’s bedroom.
‘Yes, aunt, if you’re not infatuated!’ said Mrs. Fiske, as she prepared to obey; while Sally, seeing that her public exhibition of sorrow and sympathy could be indulged but an instant longer, unwound herself for a violent paroxysm, blurting between stops:
’If he’d ony’ve gone to his last bed comfortable! . . . If he’d ony ’ve been that decent as not for to go to his last bed with his clothes on! . . . If he’d ony’ve had a comfortable sheet! . . . It makes a woman feel cold to think of him full dressed there, as if he was goin’ to be a soldier on the Day o’ Judgement!’
To let people speak was a maxim of Mrs. Mel’s, and a wise one for any form of society when emotions are very much on the surface. She continued her arrangements quietly, and, having counted the number of plates and glasses, and told off the guests on her fingers, she, sat down to await them.
The first one who entered the room was her son.
‘You have come,’ said Mrs. Mel, flushing slightly, but otherwise outwardly calm.
‘You didn’t suppose I should stay away from you, mother?’
Evan kissed her cheek.