Read CHAPTER II - BREAKING IT GENTLY of Wee Macgreegor Enlists, free online book, by J. J. Bell, on

The quest of the right ring occupied the whole of the forenoon, and Macgregor reached his home in bare time for the family dinner. He desired to break his news as gently as possible, so, after making, to his mother’s annoyance, a most wretched meal, he said to his father, who was lighting his pipe, in a voice meant to be natural:

‘I got five pound frae Aunt Purdie the day.’

‘Ye what!’ Mr. Robinson dropped the match, and shouted to his wife, who, assisted by their daughter, was starting to wash up. ’Lizzie! Did ever ye hear the like? Macgreegor’s got five pound frae his Aunt Purdie! Dod, but that’s a braw birthday ’

‘She said it was for accidental expenses,’ stammered the son.

Lizzie turned and looked at him. ‘What ails ye the day, laddie?’

‘Uncle Purdie’s gaun to keep ma place for me,’ he floundered.

‘Keep yer place for ye!’ cried John. ‘What’s a’ this aboot accidental expenses? Ha’e ye got hurt?’

Mrs. Robinson came over and laid a damp hand on her boy’s shoulder. ‘Macgreegor, ye needna be feart to tell us. We can thole it.’ She glanced at her husband, and said, in a voice he had not often heard: ’John, oor wee Macgreegor has growed up to be a; sojer’ and went back to her dishes.

Later, and just when he ought to be returning to his work, Mr. Robinson, possibly for the mere sake of saying something, requested a view of the five pounds.

‘Ay,’ seconded Lizzie, cheerfully, whilst her hand itched to grab the money and, convey it to the bank, ‘let’s see them, laddie.’ And sister Jeannie and small brother Jimsie likewise gathered round the hero.

With a feeble grin, Macgregor produced his notes.

‘He’s jist got three!’ cried Jimsie.

‘Whisht, Jimsie!’ whispered Jeannie.

‘Seems to ha’e been a bad accident already!’ remarked John, laughing boisterously.

‘John,’ said Lizzie, ’ye’ll be late. Macgreegor’ll maybe walk a bit o’ the road wi’ ye.’

They were well on their way to the engineering works, where Mr. Robinson was foreman, when Macgregor managed to say:

‘I burst the twa pound on a ring.’

‘Oho!’ said John, gaily; then solemnly, ‘What kin’ o’ a ring, Macgreegor?’

‘An engagement yin,’ the ruddy youth replied.

Mr. Robinson laughed, but not very heartily. ’Sae lang as it’s no a waddin’ ring. . . . Weel, weel, this is the day for news.’ He touched his son’s arm. ’It’ll be the young lass in the stationery shop her that ye whiles see at yer Uncle Purdie’s hoose eh?’

‘Hoo did ye ken?’

‘Oh, jist guessed. It’s her?’

‘Maybe. . . . She hasna ta’en the ring yet.’

’But ye think she will, or ye wudna ha’e tell’t me. Weel, I’m sure I wish ye luck, Macgreegor. She’s a bonny bit lass, rael clever, I wud say, an’ an’ gey stylish.’

‘She’s no that stylish onyway, no stylish like Aunt Purdie.’

‘Ah, but ye maunna cry doon yer Aunt Purdie ’

‘I didna mean that. But ye ken what I mean, fayther.’

‘Oh, fine, fine,’ Mr. Robinson replied, thankful that he had not been asked to explain precisely what he had meant. ‘She bides wi’ her uncle an’ aunt, does she no?’ he continued, thoughtfully. ’I’m wonderin’ what they’ll say aboot this. I doobt they’ll say ye’re faur ower young to be thinkin’ o’ a wife.’

It was on Macgregor’s tongue to retort that he had never thought of any such thing, when his father went on

‘An’ as for yer mither, it’ll be a terrible surprise to her. I suppose ye’U be tellin’, her as sune’s ye get back ?’

‘Ay. . . . Are ye no pleased about it?’

‘Me?’ Mr. Robinson scratched his head. ‘Takin’ it for granted that ye’re serious aboot the thing, I was never pleaseder. Ye can tell yer mither that, if ye like.’

Macgregor was used to the paternal helping word at awkward moments, but he had never valued it so much as now. As a matter of fact, he dreaded his mother’s frown less than her smile. Yet he need not have dreaded either on this occasion.

He found her in the kitchen, busy over a heap of more or less woolly garments belonging to himself. Jimsie was at afternoon school; Jeannie sat in the little parlour knitting as though life depended thereby.

He sat down in his father’s chair by the hearth and lit a cigarette with fingers not quite under control.

‘I’ll ha’e to send a lot o’ things efter ye,’ Lizzie remarked. ‘This semmit’s had its day.’

‘I’ll be gettin’ a bit leave afore we gang to the Front,’ said Macgregor, as though the months of training were already nearing an end.

’If ye dinna get leave sune, I’ll be up at the barracks to ha’e a word wi’ the general.’

‘It’ll likely be a camp, mither.’

‘Aweel, camp or barracks, see an’ keep yer feet cosy, an’ dinna smoke ower mony ceegarettes.’ She fell to with her needle.

At the end of a long minute, Macgregor observed to the kettle: ’I tell’t fayther what I done wi’ the twa pound.’

‘Did ye?’

‘Ay. He he was awfu’ pleased.’

‘Was he?’

Macgregor took a puff at his cold cigarette, and tried again. ’He said I was to tell ye he was pleased.’

‘Oh, did he?’

‘Never pleaseder in his life.’

‘That was nice,’ commented Lizzie, twirling the thread round the stitching of a button.

He got up, went to the window, looked out, possibly for inspiration, and came back with a little box in his hand.

‘That’s what I done,’ he said, dropped it on her sewing, and strolled to the window again.

After a long time, as it seemed, he felt her gaze and heard her voice.

‘Macgreegor, are ye in earnest?’

‘Sure.’ He turned to face her, but now she was looking down at the ring.

‘It’ll be Mistress Baldwin’s niece,’ she said, at last.

‘Hoo did ye ken?’

‘A nice lass, but ower young like yersel’. An’ yet’ she lifted her eyes to his ’ye’re auld enough to be a sojer. Does she ken ye’ve enlisted?’

He nodded, looking away. There was something in his mother’s eyes. . .

‘Aweel,’ she said, as if to herself, ’this war’ll pit auld heids on some young shouthers.’ She got up, laid her seam deliberately on the table, and went to him. She put her arm round him. ‘Wi’ yer King an’ yer Country an’ yer Christina,’ she said, with a sort of laugh, ‘there winna be a great deal o’ ye left for yer mither. But she’s pleased if you’re pleased this time, at ony rate.’ She released him. ‘I maun tell Jeannie.’ she said, leaving the kitchen.

Jeannie came, and for once that sensible little person talked nonsense. In her eyes, by his engagement, her big brother had simply out-heroed himself.

‘Aw, clay up, Jeannie,’ he cried at last, in his embarrassment. ‘Come on oot wi’ me, an’ I’ll stan’ ye a dizzen sliders.’