Read CHAPTER III - FIRST BLOOD of Wee Macgreegor Enlists, free online book, by J. J. Bell, on

Macgregor, his countenance shining with lover’s anticipation and Lever’s soap, was more surprised than gratified to find Willie Thomson awaiting him at the close-mouth. For Willie, his oldest, if not his choicest friend, had recently jeered at his intention of becoming a soldier, and they had parted on indifferent terms, though Willie had succeeded in adding to a long list of borrowings a fresh item of twopence.

Willie and prosperity were still as far apart as ever, and even Willie could hardly have blamed prosperity for that. He had no deadly vices, but he could not stick to any job for more than a month. He was out of work at present. Having developed into a rather weedy, seedy-looking young man, he was not too proud to sponge on the melancholy maiden aunt who had brought him up, and whose efforts at stern discipline during his earlier years had seemingly proved fruitless. Macgregor was the only human being he could call friend.

‘Ye’re in a hurry,’ he now observed, and put the usual question: ‘Ha’e ye a fag on ye?’

Macgregor obliged, saying as kindly as he could, ’I’ll maybe see ye later, Wullie.’

‘Thon girl again, I suppose.’

‘So long,’ said Macgregor, shortly.

‘Haud on a meenute. I want to speak to ye. Ha’e ye done it?’

‘Ay, this mornin’. . . . An’ I’m gey busy.’

‘Ye should leave the weemen alane, an’ then ye wud ha’e time to spare.’

‘What ha’e ye got to speak aboot?’ Macgregor impatiently demanded, though he was in good time for his appointment.

‘I was thinkin’ o’ enlistin’,’ said Willie.

‘Oh!’ cried his friend, interested. ’Ye’ve changed yer mind, Wullie?’

‘I’ve been conseederin’ it for a while back. Ye needna think you had onything to dae wi’ it,’ said Willie.

‘Ye’ve been drinkin’ beer,’ his friend remarked, not accusingly, but merely by way of stating a fact.

‘So wud you, if ye had ma aunt.’

‘Maybe I wud,’ Macgregor sympathetically admitted.

‘But ye couldna droon her in twa hauf pints. Ach, I’m fed up wi’ her. She startit yatterin’ at me the nicht because I askit her for saxpence; so at last I tell’t her I wud suner jine Kitchener’s nor see her ugly face for anither week.’

‘What did she say?’

‘Said it was the first guid notion ever I had.’

‘Weel,’ said Macgregor eagerly, after a slight pause, ’since ye’re for enlistin’, ye’d best dae it the nicht, Wullie.’

‘I suppose I micht as weel jine your lot,’ said Willie, carelessly.

Macgregor drew himself up. ‘The 9th H.L.I, doesna accep’ onything that offers.’

‘I’m as guid as you an’ I’m bigger nor you.’

’Ye’re bigger, but ye’re peely-wally. Still, Wullie, I wud like fine to see ye in ma company.’

‘Ye’ve a neck on ye! Your company! . . . Aweel, come on an’ see me dae it.’

In the dusk Macgregor peered at his watch. It told him that the thing could not be done, not if he ran both ways. ’I canna manage it, Wullie,’ he said, with honest regret.

‘Then it’s off,’ the contrary William declared.

‘What’s off?’

‘I’ve changed ma mind. I’m no for the sojerin’.’

At this Macgregor bristled, so to speak. He could stand being ‘codded,’ but already the Army was sacred to him.

‘See here, Wullie, will ye gang an’ enlist noo or tak’ a hammerin’?’

‘Wha’ll gi’e me the hammerin’?’

‘Come an’ see,’ was the curt reply. Macgregor turned back into the close and led the way to a small yard comprising some sooty earth, several blades of grass and a couple of poles for the support of clothes lines. A little light came from windows above. Here he removed his jacket, hung it carefully on a pole; and began to roll up his sleeves.

‘It’s ower dark here,’ Willie complained. ‘I canna see.’

‘Ye can feel. Tak’ aff yer coat.’ Willie knew that despite his inches he was a poor match for the other, yet he was a stubborn chap. ‘What business is it o’ yours whether I enlist or no?’ he scowled.

‘Will ye enlist?’

‘I’ll see ye damp first!’

‘Come on, then!’ Macgregor spat lightly On his palms. ’I’ve nae time to waste.’

Willie cast his jacket on the ground. ‘I’ll wrastle ye,’ he said, with a gleam of hope.

‘Thenk ye; but I’m no for dirtyin’ ma guid claes. Come on!’

To Willie’s credit, let it be recorded, he did come on, and so promptly that Macgregor, scarcely prepared, had to take a light tap on the chin. A brief display of thoroughly unscientific boxing ensued, and then Macgregor got home between the eyes. Willie, tripping over his own jacket, dropped to earth.

‘I wasna ready that time,’ he grumbled, sitting up.

Macgregor seized his hand and dragged him to his feet, with the encouraging remark, ‘Ye’ll be readier next time.’

In the course of the second round Willie achieved a smart clip on his opponent’s ear, but next moment he received, as it seemed, an express train on the point of his nose, and straightway sat down in agony.

‘Is’t bled, Wullie?’ Macgregor presently inquired with compunction as well as satisfaction.

‘It’s near broke, ye !’ groaned the sufferer, adding, ’I kent fine ye wud bate me.’

‘What for did ye fecht then?’

‘Nane o’ your business.’

‘Weel, get up. Yer breeks’ll get soakit sittin’ there.’ The victor donned his jacket.

‘Ma breeks is nane o’ your business, neither.’

Ach, Wullie, dinna be a wean. Get up an’ shake han’s. I’ve got to gang.’

‘Gang then! Awa’ an’ boast to yer girl that ye hut a man on his nose behind his back ’

‘Havers, man! What’s wrang wi’ ye?’

‘I’ll tell ye what’s wrang wi’ you, Macgreegor Robi’son!’ Willie cleared his throat noisily. ’Listen! Ye’re ower weel aff. Ye’ve got a dacent fayther an’ mither an’ brither an’ sister; ye’ve got a dacent uncle; ye’ve got a dacent girl. . . . An’ what the hell ha’e I got? A rotten aunt!’ Maybe she canna help bein’ rotten, but she is damp rotten! She wud be gled, though she wud greet, if I got a bullet the morn. There ye are! That’s me!’

‘Wullie!’ Macgregor exclaimed, holding out his hand, which the other ignored.

‘I’m rotten, tae,’ he went on, bitterly. ’Fine I ken it. But I never had an equal chance wi’ you. I’m no blamin’ ye. Ye’ve aye shared me what ye had. I treated ye ill aboot the enlistin’. But I wasna gaun to enlist to please you, nor ma aunt, neither.’ He rose slowly and picked up his shabby jacket. ’But, by , I’ll enlist to please masel’!’ He held out his hand. ’There it is, if ye want it, Macgreegor. . . . Ha’e ye a match? Weel, show a licht. Is ma nose queer-like?’

‘Ay,’ Macgregor unwillingly replied, and, with inspiration, added consolingly, ‘But it was aye that, Wullie.’