Read CHAPTER I - ARMS AND THE MAID of Wee Macgreegor Enlists, free online book, by J. J. Bell, on

Through the gateway flanked by tall recruiting posters came rather hurriedly a youth of no great stature, but of sturdy build and comely enough countenance, including bright brown eyes and fresh complexion. Though the dull morning was coldish, perspiration might have been detected on his forehead. Crossing the street, without glance to right or left, he increased his pace; also, he squared his shoulders and threw up his head with an air that might have been defiance at the fact of his being more than an hour late for his day’s work. His face, however, betrayed a certain spiritual emotion not suggestive of anticipated trouble with employer or foreman. As a matter of fact, the familiar everyday duty had ceased to exist for him, and if his new exaltation wavered a little as he neared the warehouse, fifteen minutes later, it was only because he would have to explain things to the uncle who employed him, and to other people; and he was ever shy of speaking about himself.

So he hurried through the warehouse without replying to the chaffing inquiries of his mates, and ran upstairs to his uncle’s office. He was not afraid of his uncle; on the other hand, he had never received or expected special favour on account of the relationship.

Mr. Purdie was now a big man in the grocery trade. He had a cosy private room with a handsome desk, a rather gorgeous carpet and an easy-chair. He no longer attended at the counter or tied up parcels except when, alone on the premises late in the evening, he would sometimes furtively serve imaginary customers, just for auld lang syne, as he excused to himself his absurd proceeding.

‘But what kep’ ye late, Macgreegor?’ he inquired, with a futile effort to make his good-humoured, whiskered visage assume a stern expression. ‘Come, come, oot wi’ it! An ‘unce o’ guid reasons is worth a pun’ o’ fair apologies.’

‘The recruitin’ office,’ said Macgregor, blushing, ’wasna open till nine.’

‘The recruitin’ office! What what guidsake, laddie! dinna tell me ye’ve been thinkin’ o’ enlistin’!’

‘I’ve enlisted.’

Mr. Purdie fell back in his chair.

‘The 9th H.L.I.,’ said Macgregor, and, as if to improve matters if possible, added, ‘Glesca Hielanders Kilts.’

The successful grocer sat up, pulled down his waistcoat and made a grimace which he imagined to be a frown. ’Neither breeks nor kilts,’ he declared heavily, ’can cover deceit. Ye’re under age, Macgreegor. Ye’re but eichteen!’

‘Nineteen, Uncle Purdie.’

‘Eh? An’ when was ye nineteen?’

‘This mornin’.’

Mr. Purdie’s hand went to his mouth in time to stop a guffaw. Presently he soberly inquired what his nephew’s parents had said on the matter.

‘I ha’ena tell’t them yet.’ ’Ah, that’s bad. What what made ye enlist?’

Macgregor knew, but could not have put it in words.

‘Gettin’ tired o’ yer job here?’

‘Na, Uncle Purdie.’

‘H’m!’ Mr. Purdie fondled his left whisker. ‘An’ when a ha’e ye got to a jine yer regiment?’

‘The morn’s mornin’. I believe we’re gaun into camp immediately.’

‘Oho! So ye’ll be wantin’ to be quit o’ yer job here at once. Weel, weel, if ye feel it’s yer duty to gang, lad, I suppose it’s mines to let ye gang as cheery as I can. But I maun tell yer aunt.’ Mr. Purdie rose.

Macgregor, smiled dubiously. ‘She’ll no’ be pleased onyway.’

’Aw, ye never can tell what’ll please yer aunt. At least, that’s been ma experience for quarter o’ a century. But it’ll be best to tell her through the ’phone, of course. A handy invention the ‘phone. Bide here till I come back.’

In a few minutes he returned suppressing a smile.

‘I couldna ha’e presumed frae her voice that she was delighted,’ he reported; ’but she commanded me to gi’e ye five pound for accidental expenses, as she calls them, an’ yer place here is to be preserved for ye, an’ yer wages paid, even supposin’ the war gangs on for fifty year.’

With these words Mr. Purdie placed five notes in his astonished nephew’s hand and bade him begone.

‘Ye maun tell yer mither instanter. I canna understan’ what way ye didna tell her first.’

‘I I was feart I wud maybe be ower wee for the Glesca Hielanders,’ Macgregor explained.

’Ye seem to me to be a heid taller since yesterday. Weel, weel. God bless ye an’ so forth. Come back an’ see me in the efternune.’

Macgregor went out with a full heart as well as a well-filled pocket. It is hardly likely that the very first ’accidental expense’ which occurred to him could have been foreseen by Aunt Purdie yet who shall discover the secrets of that august lady’s mind?

On his way home he paused at sundry shop windows all jewellers’. And he entered one shop, not a jeweller’s, but the little stationery and fancy goods shop owned by Miss M. Tod, and managed, with perhaps more conscience than physical toil, by the girl he had been courting for two years without having reached anything that could be termed a definite understanding, though their relations were of the most friendly and confidential nature.

‘Mercy!’ exclaimed Christina, at his entrance at so unusual an hour; ‘is the clock aff its onion, or ha’e ye received the sack?’

He was not quick at answering, and she continued: ’Ye’re ower early, Mac. Yer birthday present’ll no be ready till the evenin’. Still, here’s wishin’ ye many happies, an’ may ye keep on improvin’.’

He smiled in a fashion that struck her as unfamiliar.

‘What’s up, Mac?’ she asked, kindly. ’Surely ye ha’ena cast oot wi’ yer uncle?’

‘I’ve enlisted,’ he softly exploded.

She stared, and the colour rose in her pretty face, but her voice was calm. ‘Lucky you!’ said she.

He was disappointed. Involuntarily he exclaimed: ’Ye’re no a bit surprised!’

‘What regiment?’

He told her, and she informed him that he wouldn’t look so bad in the kilt. He announced that he was to report himself on the morrow, and she merely commented, ‘Quick work.’

‘But, Christina, ye couldna ha’e guessed I was for enlistin’,’ he said, after a pause.

’I was afraid I mean for to say, I fancied ye were the sort to dae it. If I had kent for sure, I wud ha’e been knittin’ ye socks instead o’ a silly tie for yer birthday.’

‘Ha’e ye been knittin’ a tie for me?’

‘Uh-ha strictly platonic, of course.’

She had used the word more than once in the past, and he had not derived much comfort from looking it up in the dictionary. But now he was going he told himself to be put off no longer. Seating himself at the counter, he briefly recounted his uncle’s kindness and his aunt’s munificence. Then he attempted to secure her hand.

She evaded his touch, asking how his parents had taken his enlistment. On his answering

‘Dear, dear!’ she cried, with more horror than she may have felt, ‘an here ye are, wastin’ the precious time in triflin’ conversation wi’ me!’

‘It’s you that’s daein’ the triflin’,’ he retorted, with sudden spirit; ‘an’ it’s your fau’t I’m here noo instead o’ at hame.’

‘Well, I never!’ she cried. ’I believe I gave ye permission to escort me from these premises at 8 p.m.,’ she proceeded in her best English, which he hated, ’but I have not the slightest recollection of inviting ye to call at 10 a.m. However, the 8 p.m. appointment is hereby cancelled.’

‘Cancel yer Auntie Kate!’ he rejoined, indignant. ’Hoo can ye speak like that when dear knows when I’ll see ye again?’

‘Oh, ye’ll no be at the Front for a week or so yet, an’ we’ll hope for the best. Still, I’ll forgive ye, seein’ it’s yer nineteenth birthday. Only, I’m thinkin’ yer parents ‘ll be wantin’ ye to keep the hoose the nicht.’

Macgregor’s collar seemed to be getting tight, for he tugged at it as he said: ‘I’ll tell them I’m gaun oot to see you.’

‘That’ll but double the trouble,’ she said, lightly.

Their eyes met, and for the first time in their acquaintance, perhaps, hers were first to give way.

‘Christina,’ he said, abruptly, ‘I want to burst that five pound.’

‘Ye extravagant monkey!’

‘On a a ring.’

‘A ring! Ha’e ye enlisted as a colonel?’ But her levity lacked sparkle.

As for Macgregor, he had dreamed of this moment for ages. ’Ye’ll tak’ it, Christina?’ he whispered. ’Gi’e me yer size a hole in a bit pasteboard. . . .’ Speech failed him.

‘Me?’ she murmured and shook her head. ‘Ye’re ower young, Mac,’ she said, gently.

’I’m a year aulder nor you . . . Christina, let’s get engaged afore I gang say ye will!’

She moved a little way up the counter and became engrossed in the lurid cover of a penny novel. He moved also until he was directly opposite.

’Christina! . . . Yer third finger is aboot the same as ma wee yin.’

‘Ay; but ye needna remind me o’ ma clumsy han’s.’

‘Play fair,’ he said. ‘Will ye tak’ the ring?’

‘I dinna ken, Mac.’

But her hand was in his.

Too soon they heard Miss Tod stirring in the back room.

‘If ye spend mair nor a pound on a ring,’ said Christina, ’I’ll reconsider ma decision!’

‘Ye’ve decided!’ he almost shouted.

‘No yet,’ she said, with a gesture of dismissal as Miss Tod entered.