I sometimes repeated these panegyrics to Jess. She merely smiled, and said that the men haver most terrible when they are not at their work.
Hendry tried Jess sorely over the cloaks, and a time came when, only by exasperating her, could he get her to reply to his sallies.
"Wha wants an eleven an' a bit?" she retorted now and again.
"It's you 'at wants it," said Hendry, promptly.
"Did I ever say I wanted ane? What use could I hae for't?"
"That's the queistion," said Hendry. "Ye canna gang the length o' the door, so ye would never be able to wear't."
"Ay, weel," replied Jess, "I'll never hae the chance o' no bein' able to wear't, for, hooever muckle I wanted it, I couldna get it."
Jess's infatuation had in time the effect of making Hendry uncomfortable. In the attic he delivered himself of such sentiments as these:
"There's nae understandin' a woman. There's Jess 'at hasna her equal for cleverness in Thrums, man or woman, an' yet she's fair skeered about thae cloaks. Aince a woman sets her mind on something to wear, she's mair onreasonable than the stupidest man. Ay, it micht mak them humble to see hoo foolish they are syne. No, but it doesna do't.
"If it was a thing to be useful noo, I wouldna think the same o't, but she could never wear't. She kens she could never wear't, an' yet she's juist as keen to hae't.
"I dinna like to see her so wantin' a thing, an' no able to get it. But it's an awfu' sum, eleven an' a bit."
He tried to argue with her further.
"If ye had eleven an' a bit to fling awa," he said, "ye dinna mean to tell me 'at ye would buy a cloak instead o' cloth for a gown, or flannel for petticoats, or some useful thing?"
"As sure as death," said Jess, with unwonted vehemence, "if a cloak I could get, a cloak I would buy."
Hendry came up to tell me what Jess had said.
"It's a michty infatooation," he said, "but it shows hoo her heart's set on thae cloaks."
"Aince ye had it," he argued with her, "ye would juist hae to lock it awa in the drawers. Ye would never even be seein' 't."
"Ay, would I," said Jess. "I would often tak it oot an' look at it. Ay, an' I would aye ken it was there."
"But naebody would ken ye had it but yersel," said Hendry, who had a vague notion that this was a telling objection.
"Would they no?" answered Jess. "It would be a' through the toon afore nicht."
"Weel, all I can say," said Hendry, "is 'at ye're terrible foolish to tak the want o' sic a useless thing to heart."
"Am no takkin' 't to heart," retorted Jess, as usual.
Jess needed many things in her days that poverty kept from her to the end, and the cloak was merely a luxury. She would soon have let it slip by as something unattainable had not Hendry encouraged it to rankle in her mind. I cannot say when he first determined that Jess should have a cloak, come the money as it liked, for he was too ashamed of his weakness to admit his project to me. I remember, however, his saying to Jess one day:
"I'll warrant you could mak a cloak yersel the marrows o' thae eleven and a bits, at half the price?"
"It would cost," said Jess, "sax an' saxpence, exactly. The cloth would be five shillins, an' the beads a shillin'. I have some braid 'at would do fine for the front, but the buttons would be sax-pence."
"Ye're sure o' that?"
"I ken fine, for I got Leeby to price the things in the shop."
"Ay, but it maun be ill to shape the cloaks richt. There was a queer cut aboot that ane Peter Dickie's new wife had on."
"Queer cut or no queer cut," said Jess, "I took the shape o' My Hobart's ane the day she was here at her tea, an' I could mak the identical o't for sax and sax."
"I dinna believe't," said Hendry, but when he and I were alone he told me, "There's no a doubt she could mak it. Ye heard her say she had ta'en the shape? Ay, that shows she's rale set on a cloak."
Had Jess known that Hendry had been saving up for months to buy her material for a cloak, she would not have let him do it. She could not know, however, for all the time he was scraping together his pence, he kept up a ring-ding-dang about her folly. Hendry gave Jess all the wages he weaved, except threepence weekly, most of which went in tobacco and snuff. The dulseman had perhaps a halfpenny from him in the fortnight. I noticed that for a long time Hendry neither smoked nor snuffed, and I knew that for years he had carried a shilling in his snuff-mull. The remainder of the money he must have made by extra work at his loom, by working harder, for he could scarcely have worked longer.
It was one day shortly before Jamie's return to Thrums that Jess saw Hendry pass the house and go down the brae when he ought to have come in to his brose. She sat at the window watching for him, and by and by he reappeared, carrying a parcel.
"Whaur on earth hae ye been?" she asked, "an' what's that you're carryin'?"
"Did ye think it was an eleven an' a bit?" said Hendry.
"No, I didna," answered Jess, indignantly.
Then Hendry slowly undid the knots of the string with which the parcel was tied. He took off the brown paper.
"There's yer cloth," he said, "an' here's one an' saxpence for the beads an' the buttons."
While Jess still stared he followed me ben the house.
"It's a terrible haver," he said, apologetically, "but she had set her heart on't."