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Scotch Stories and Lectures, Humorous and Amusing
Story — Mrs. Macnab


I never knew an individual that changed her servants so often as Mrs. Macnab. She seldom keeps one more than a month: and the reason of it is simply this,—She cannot keep them in their own place. You see, she has such an aversion to holding her tongue, that when she has no other person to gossip to, she must make a confident of her servant,—which confidence seldom lasts long; for if, after hearing all her affairs, they either by accident or intention make the slightest allusion to anything she has told them, she flies up in a moment, and calls them everything but ladies for their impertinence.

I think it is about six weeks since Mrs. Macnab told me, that after spending a fortnight in receiving applications, and trailing through every corner of the town inquiring into servants’ characters, she had engaged what she was sure was a real thorough-going girl, and one that she was sure could keep her own place. Well, the very day that the new servant came home there chanced to be a dryness between Mr. and Mrs. Macnab. I will tell you the cause of this dryness. You see, Mrs. Macnab had for a long time been tormenting her husband to get her portrait taken, and nothing would please her ladyship but it should be done by Graham Gilbert, or Macnee, or some of our very best artists. Now Mr. Macnab could not think of that. Not that he grudged the expense—far from that; he did not grudge the expense But, you see, it was so very lately that he had been unfortunate in business, and had paid his creditors with eighteenpence in the pound, and he did not want to set folk speaking about them; and more than that, Mr. Macnab, being connected with a certain denomination that have of late been very hard up for “saintly timmer,” had just been made an elder, so that was making him rather more particular. So he wanted Mrs. Macnab to wait a little; but Mrs. Macnab is a woman that has a mind of her own. She had heard a great deal said about the very fine likenesses that are done by the daguerreotype, so she was determined at least to have a daguerreotype likeness of herself. Mrs. Macnab is a woman that counts herself very good-looking, and she was quite delighted that the daguerreotype would give her a real correct likeness, and would not flatter any. So she dresses herself in her best; and I can assure you she does dress splendidly—there’s not a lady in Glasgow that dresses more handsomely than Mrs. Macnab. Of course, many a one hints that if Macnab had paid twenty shillings in the pound, her beauty would have been far more unadorned, but that has nothing to do with my story. As I said, she dresses herself in her best, and puts a guinea in her glove, and out she sets to get a daguerreotype likeness of herself, never hinting where she was going—intending, you see, to surprise Mr. Macnab with it. Well, when she sat down to undergo the operation, the daguerreotype man told her to throw a pleasant expression into her face—“For,” said he, “the plate receives the exact expression.” Well, with this she flung back her head, and threw what she thought was a real fascinating smile into her countenance. The result was, when she was presented with her guinea’s worth, there she was with a comical grin on her face, and her mouth “thrawn” to the one side! The flinging back of her head had given her nose the appearance of a real classical pug; and her bonny yellow ringlets, that she was so very conceited about, they were converted into raven tresses! She was nothing from raving mad when she saw her pennyworth, but (and it was a wonder she managed to hold her tongue—slipped the likeness into her muff, and went away home—comparatively well pleased to think that nobody knew of her excursion, and determined to let nobody see it. So, when she got home, for fear Mr. Macnab might happen to lay hands on it, she slips it on the top of the chiffonier, in behind a splendid edition of Hawes's Bible they have in six volumes, knowing well, as she thought to herself, that it would be a long time before the elder would fall in with it there. Jut it is very strange how things come about; for that very day, when Mr. Macnab came home to his dinner, he had taken a bet with a gentleman, of a mutchkin of brandy, about some passage that was in Genesis. Now, Mr. Macnab has not a very good chronological memory, and he did not just exactly mind which of the volumes of the Bible he was likely to find Genesis in; so he is tumbling down the whole set to look for Genesis, when out pops Mrs. Macnab, with her “thrawn” mouth, her pug nose, and her black hair. Mr. Macnab saw through the secret in a moment; so he put the books up where he had got them, slipped the likeness into his pocket, and went into the dining-room for his dinner. He had not sat many minutes at the dinner table until Mrs. Macnab introduced the old subject, namely, the getting of her portrait taken. Among other arguments that she used, she said, “ It would be quite an ornament to the room.” “An ornament!” said Mr. Macnab, “an ornament! your likeness an ornament! Well,” said he, “I have no skill of such ornaments;” and with this he pulls the likeness out of his pocket, and, holding it up, said, “Do you call that an ornamentV* Mrs. Macnab was perfectly “dumbfoundered.” When she had partially recovered the shock, she snatched the likeness from between Mr. Macnab’s fingers, and put it right between the bars of the grate, and did not speak another word to Mr. Macnab. So, when he saw the humour she was in, he did not trouble her long with his company. Mr. Macnab no sooner left the room than the new servant came in to remove the things. Mrs. Macnab must have her bile out; so she gave the new servant to understand that she, Mrs. Macnab, was far from being the happiest woman in Glasgow. There were a great many women far happier than her; but she had herself to thank for it, for it was greatly against the will of her relations that she had ever in any way connected herself with Mr. Macnab. He had never been accustomed to move in the circle of society that she had been brought up in. Although he was her husband, he was of very lowly origin; but that would be nothing if he had not brought his low taste with him,—for he was a man of a real low taste, Mr. Macnab; but what else could be expected when you thought of his low connections. She then gave the new servant a complete inventory of Mr. Macnab’s friends, hoping there were few of them would count kin with her. You see, it seems Mr. Macnab has an uncle a broker—a common broker; and a sister—a full, lawful sister—a washerwoman in Greenock; and, although he could not help it, and there were not many knew it, his mother had been a real worthless woman, and had drank herself to death. So the new servant and Mrs. Macnab got very friendly in a handclap; for she was a grand worker the new servant. You see, she had been a long time cook in one of the head inns, and she had left the inn on account of some teetotal scruples she had. But everybody has something to bother them, and so had Mrs. Macnab’s new servant. She was uncommonly tormented with the toothache; and nothing would give her the least relief unless it were a small drop of the very best spirits, and that very often brought on a dizziness in her head; for she never could take whisky,—she hated the very smell of it. But toothache or no toothache, dizziness or no dizziness, she never let her work fall behind. She always rattled through it: perhaps at times she was not just exactly so particular as Mr. Macnab would have liked her to be—for he was a very particular man, Mr. Macnab, uncommonly particular, above all things, about his linens; for he was a real smart, clean-looking, gentlemanly man, Mr. Macnab, let his connections be what they pleased. So one day Mr. Macnab gets a shirt presented to him that did not exactly suit his fancy to. put on; so he called up the new servant to give her a reprimand, and asked her how she thought any gentleman could put on such a shirt. Well, that very morning the new servant had had an extraordinary attack of the toothache, and had just happened to be taking an extraordinary dose of the medicine before she came up, which circumstance made her quite indisposed to take any of what she called Mr. Macnab’s impertinence. So when he asked her how she thought any gentleman could put on such a shirt, she just laughed in his face and said— “Gentleman! I can tell you what it is then, gentleman, no other lady could make a better job of your shirts with the kind of irons that you have—some old rusty trash that’s been bought perhaps half-a-dozen years ago from' your uncle the broker. But I’ll tell you what it is, Mr. Macnab, gentleman, if you are not pleased with my washing and dressing, I’ll tell you what you can do,—you can just pack up your shirts, and send them down by the train to Greenock, to your sister the washerwoman. It will perhaps be a kind of godsend to her, if she is scarce of work; and I am sure I will find plenty of work in your house without them.” When Mr. Macnab saw the state she was in, he made her no answer, but called Mrs. Macnab to look after her servant, for she was drunk. “Drunk!” quoth Mrs. Macnab’s confident, “drunk! you have a pretty stock of impudence to say any decent woman’s drunk. You may be the last to speak about anybody being drunk. I never happened to drink myself to death yet, anyway. Could ye keep your mother in your eye.” Mrs. Macnab entered on the moment, the picture of guilt and remorse. She saw she had pulled a stick to break her own head with. It could not be helped now. The new servant was dismissed on the spot.

In this case the innocent suffered for the guilty;—not altogether innocent either, for in the packing up of her bits of things, the new servant put several bits of trifles into her chest that did not just exactly belong to her. This was discovered, and she was landed in the police-office. In the rummaging of the chest, among other things that were found that were not exactly honestly come by, there were two bottles of that precious commodity that figures so prominently in all family discords,—the Campbelton medicine for the toothache, with Mr. Macnab’s seal on them.

Now, was not this a real foolish, disagreeable affair from beginning to end? Would not Mrs. Macnab have been far better to have taken the elder’s advice, and let the taking of her portrait stand over a little till the noise of the failure had subsided? Far better, at any rate, she had kept her tongue between her teeth about Mr. Macnab’s friends; for it requires but small reflection to discover that the husband’s humiliation can never prove the wife’s exaltation.


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