By-and-bye Archie, who had been making a great splashing in the back premises, came in looking clean and fresh, with a more obstinate look about his face than ever. Madame went to the tea-table and sat down, for she always had her meals with them, a fact of which they were very proud, and they always treated her with intense respect, though every now and then they were inclined to domineer. Archie, having seen that the food on the table was worth thanking God for, asked a blessing in a peremptory sort of manner, as if he thought Heaven required a deal of pressing to make it attentive. Then they commenced to eat in silence, for none of the party were very much given to speech, and no sound was heard save the rattling of the cups and saucers and the steady ticking of the clock. The window was open, and a faint breeze came in—cool and fragrant with the scent of the forest, and perfumed with the peach-like odour of the gorse blossoms. There was a subdued twilight through all the room, for the night was coming on, and the gleam of the flickering flames of the fire danced gaily against the roof and exaggerated all objects to an immense size. At last Archie pushed back his chair to show that he had finished, and prepared to talk.
‘I dinna see ony new bodies coming,’ he said, looking at his mistress. ’They, feckless things, that left were better than none, though they should hae been skelped for their idleness.’
‘You have written to Slivers?’ said Madame, raising her eyes.
‘That wudden-legged body,’ retorted McIntosh. ’Deed and I have, but the auld tyke hasna done onything to getting me what I want. Weel, weel,’ in a resigned sort of a manner, ’we micht be waur off than we are, an’ wha kens but what Providence will send us men by-and-bye?’
Selina looked up at this, saw her opportunity, and let slip an appropriate proverb.
‘If we go by by-and-bye lane,’ she said sharply, ’we come to the gate of never.’
This being undeniable, no one gave her the pleasure of contradicting her, for Archie knew it was impossible to argue with Selina, so handy was she with her proverbial wisdom—a kind of domestic Tupper, whose philosophy was of the most irritating and unanswerable kind. He did the wisest thing he could under the circumstances, and started a new subject.
‘I say yon the day.’
‘Yon’ in this case meant Mr Villiers, whose name was tabooed in the house, and was always spoken of in a half-hinting kind of way. As both her servants knew all about her unhappy life, Madame did not scruple to talk to them.
‘How was he looking?’ she asked, smoothing the crumbs off her dress.
‘Brawly,’ replied Archie, rising; ’he lost money on that Moscow mine, but he made a fine haul owre the Queen o’ Hearts claim.’
‘The wicked,’ observed Selina, ‘flourish like a green bay tree.’
‘Ou, ay,’ retorted McIntosh, drily; ‘we ken a’ aboot that, Selina— auld Hornie looks after his ain.’