Read CHAPTER V - IN UNIFORM of Wee Macgreegor Enlists, free online book, by J. J. Bell, on

There happened to be a little delay in providing the later batches of recruits with the garb proper to their battalion, and it was the Monday of their third week in training when Privates Robinson otherwise Macgregor and Thomson saw themselves for the first time in the glory of the kilt. Their dismay would doubtless have been overwhelming had they been alone in that glory; even with numerous comrades in similar distress they displayed much awkwardness and self-consciousness. During drill Willie received several cautions against standing in a semi-sitting attitude, and Macgregor, in his anxiety to avoid his friend’s error, made himself ridiculous by standing on his toes, with outstretched neck and fixed, unhappy stare.

As if to intensify the situation, the leave for which they had applied a few days previously was unexpectedly granted for that evening. Before he realized what he was saying, Macgregor had inquired whether he might go without his kilt. Perhaps he was not the first recruit to put it that way. Anyway, the reply was a curt ‘I don’t think.’

‘I believe ye’re ashamed o’ the uniform,’ said Willie, disagreeable under his own disappointment at the verdict.

‘Say it again!’ snapped Macgregor.

Willie ignored the invitation, and swore by the great god Jings that he would assuredly wear breeks unless something happened. The only thing that may be said to have happened was that he did not wear breeks.

As a matter of fact, Macgregor, with his sturdy figure, carried his kilt rather well. The lanky William, however, gave the impression that he was growing out of it perceptibly, yet inevitably.

Four o’clock saw them started on their way, and with every step from the camp, which now seemed a lost refuge, their kilts felt shorter, their legs longer, their knees larger, their person smaller. Conversation soon dried up. Willie whistled tunelessly through his teeth; Macgregor kept his jaw set and occasionally and inadvertently kicked a loose stone. Down on the main road an electric car bound for Glasgow hove in sight. Simultaneously they started to run. After a few paces they pulled up, as though suddenly conscious of unseemliness, and resumed their sober pace and lost the car.

They boarded the next, having sacrificed twelve precious minutes of their leave. Of course, they would never have dreamed of travelling ’inside’ and yet . . . They ascended as gingerly as a pretty girl aware of ungainly ankles surmounts a stile. Arrived safely on the roof, they sat down and puffed each a long breath suggestive of grave peril overcome. They covered their knees as far as they could and as surreptitiously as possible.

Presently, with the help of cigarettes, which they smoked industriously, they began to revive. Their lips were unsealed, though conversation could not be said to gush. They did their best to look like veterans. An old woman smiled rather sadly, but very kindly, in their direction, and Macgregor reddened, while Willie spat in defiance of the displayed regulation.

As the journey proceeded, their talk dwindled. It was after a long pause that Willie said:

‘Ye’ll be for hame as sune as we get to Glesca eh?’

‘Ay. . . . An’ you’ll be for yer aunt’s eh?’

‘Ay,’ Willie sighed, and lowering his voice, said: ’What’ll ye dae if they laugh at ye?’

‘They’ll no laugh,’ Macgregor replied, some indignation in his assurance.

‘H’m! . . . Maybe she’ll laugh at ye.’

‘Nae fears!’ But the confident tone was overdone. Macgregor, after all, was not quite sure about Christina. She laughed at so many things. He was to meet her at seven, and of late he had lost sleep wondering how she would receive his first appearance in the kilt. He dreaded her chaff more than any horrors of war that lay before him.

‘Aw, she’ll laugh, sure enough,’ croaked Willie. ’I wud ha’e naething to dae wi’ the weemen if I was you. Ye canna trust them,’ added this misogynist of twenty summers.

Macgregor took hold of himself. ’What’ll ye dae if yer aunt laughs?’ he quietly demanded.

‘Her? Gor! I never heard her laugh yet excep’ in her sleep efter eatin’ a crab. But by Jings, if she laughs at me, I I’ll gang oot an’ ha’e a beer!’

‘But ye’ve ta’en the pledge.’

‘To ! I forgot aboot that. Weel, I I’ll wait an’ see what she’s got in for the tea first. . . . But she canna laugh. I’ll bet ye a packet o’ fags she greets.’

‘I’ll tak’ ye on!’

It may be said at once that the wager was never decided, for the simple reason that when the time came Willie refused all information including the fact that his aunt had kissed him. Which is not, alas, to say that his future references to her were to be more respectful than formerly.

At three minutes before seven Macgregor stood outside Miss Tod’s little shop, waiting for the departure of a customer. It would be absurd to say that his knees shook, but it is a fact that his spirit trembled. Suspended from a finger of his left hand was a small package of Christina’s favourite sweets, which unconsciously he kept spinning all the time. His right hand was chiefly occupied in feeling for a pocket which no longer existed, and then trying to look as if it had been doing something entirely different. He wished the customer would ‘hurry up’; yet when she emerged at last, he was not ready. He was miserably, desperately afraid of Christina’s smile, and just as miserably, desperately desirous to see it again.

Solemnly seven began to toll from a church tower. He pulled himself up. After all, why should she laugh? And if she did well. . . .

Bracing himself, he strode forward, grasped the rattling handle and pushed. The little signal bell above the door went off with a monstrous ‘ding’ that rang through his spine, and in a condition of feverish moistness he entered, and, halting a pace within, saw in blurred fashion, and seemingly at a great distance, the loveliest thing he knew.

Christina did smile, but it was upon, not at, him. And she said lightly, and by no means unkindly:

‘Hullo, Mac! . . . Ye’ve had yer hair cut.’

From sheer relief after the long strain, something was bound to give way. The string on his finger snapped and the package, reaching the floor, gaily exploded.