Read CHAPTER VI - MRS. McOSTRICH ENTERTAINS of Wee Macgreegor Enlists, free online book, by J. J. Bell, on

‘I’m fed up wi’ pairties,’ was Macgregor’s ungracious response when informed at home of the latest invitation. ’I dinna ask for leave jist for to gang to a rotten pairty.’

‘Ay, ye’ve mair to dae wi’ yer leave,’ his father was beginning, with a wink, when his mother, with something of her old asperity, said:

‘Macgreegor, that’s no the way to speak o’ pairties that folk gi’e in yer honour. An’ you, John, should think shame o’ yersel’. Ye should baith be sayin’ it’s terrible kind o’ Mistress McOstrich to ask ye what nicht wud suit yer convenience.’

Macgregor regarded his mother almost as in the days when he addressed her as ’Maw’ yet not quite. There was a twinkle in his eye. Evidently she had clean forgotten he had grown up! Possibly she detected the twinkle and perceived her relapse, for she went on quickly

’Though dear knows hoo Mistress McOstrich can afford to gi’e a pairty wi’ her man’s trade in its present condeetion.’

‘She’s been daft for gi’ein’ pah-ties since ever I can mind,’ Mr. Robinson put in, ‘an’ the Kaiser hissel’ couldna stop her, Still, Macgreegor, she’s an auld frien’, an’ it wud be a peety to offend her. Ye’ll be mair at hame there nor ye was at yer Aunt Purdie’s swell affair. Dod, Lizzie, thon was a gorgeous banquet! I never tasted as much nor ett as little; I never heard sich high-class conversation nor felt liker a nap; I never sat on safter chairs nor looked liker a martyr on tin tacks.’

Macgregor joined in his father’s guffaw, but stopped short, loyalty revolting. Aunt Purdie had meant it kindly.

‘Tits, John!’ said Lizzie, ‘ye got on fine excep’ when ye let yer wine jeelly drap on the carpet.’

’Oho, so there was wine in ’t! I fancied it was inebriated-like. But the mistak’ I made was in tryin’ to kep it when it was descendin’. A duke wud jist ha’e let it gang as if a wine jeelly was naething to him. But, d’ye ken, wife, I was unco uneasy when I discovered the bulk o’ it on ma shoe efter we had withdrew to the drawin’ room ’

’Haud yer tongue, man! Macgreegor, what nicht ‘ll suit ye?’

‘If ye say a nicht, I’ll try for it; but I canna be sure o’ gettin’ a late pass.’ He was less uncertain when making appointments with Christina.

And Mr. Robinson once more blundered and caused his son to blush by saying: ‘He wud rayther spend the evenin’ wi’ his intended eh, Macgreegor?’

‘But she’s to be invited!’ Lizzie cried triumphantly. ’So there ye are!’

‘Ah, but that’s no the same,’ John persisted, ‘as meetin’ her quiet-like. When I was courtin’ you, Lizzie, did ye no prefer ’

Lizzie ignored her man the only way. ’What aboot Friday, next week?’

‘If we’re no in Flanders afore then,’ reluctantly replied the soldier of seven weeks’ standing.

Happily for Mrs. McOstrich’s sake Macgregor was able to keep the engagement, and credit may be given him for facing the wasted evening with a fairly cheerful countenance. Perhaps Christina, with whom he arrived a little late, did something to mitigate his grudge against his hostess.

Mrs. McOstrich was painfully fluttered by having a real live kiltie in her little parlour, which was adorned as heretofore with ornaments borrowed from the abodes of her guests. Though Macgregor was acquainted with all the guests, she insisted upon solemnly introducing him, along with his betrothed to each individual with the formula: ‘This is Private Robi’son an’ his intended.’

While Macgregor grinned miserably, Christina, the stranger, smiled sweetly, if a little disconcertingly.

Then the party settled down again to its sober pleasures. Macgregor possessed a fairly clear memory of the same company in a similar situation a dozen years ago, but the only change which now impressed itself upon him was that Mr. Pumpherston had become much greyer, stouter, shorter of breath, and was no longer funny. And, as in the past, the prodigious snores of Mr. McOstrich, who still followed his trade of baker, sounded at intervals through the wall without causing the company the slightest concern, and were likewise no longer funny.

After supper, which consisted largely of lemonade and pastries, the hostess requested her guests, several being well-nigh torpid, to attend to a song by Mr. Pumpherston. No one (excepting his wife) wanted to hear it, but the Pumpherston song had become traditional with the McOstrich entertainments. One could not have the latter without the former.

‘He’s got a new sang,’ Mrs. Pumpherston intimated, with a stimulating glance round the company, ‘an’ he’s got a tunin’ fork, forbye, that saves him wrastlin’ for the richt key, as it were. Tune up, Geordie!’

Mr. Pumpherston deliberately produced the fork, struck it on his knee, winced, muttered ‘dammit,’ and gazed upwards. Not so many years ago Macgregor would have exploded; to-night he was occupied in trying to find Christina’s hand under the table.

‘Doh, me, soh, doh, soh, me, doh,’ hummed the vocalist.

Christina, who had been looking desperately serious, let out a small squeak and hurriedly blew her nose. Macgregor regarded her in astonishment, and she withdrew the little finger she had permitted him to capture.

‘It’s a patriotic sang in honour,’ Mrs. Pumpherston started to explain

Ach, woman!’ cried her spouse, ‘ye’ve made me loss ma key.’ He re-struck the fork irritably, and proceeded to inform the company ’It’s no exac’ly a new sang, but ’

‘Ye’ll be lossin’ yer key again, Geordie.’

With a sulky grunt, Mr. Pumpherston once more struck his fork, but this time discreetly on the leg of his chair, and in his own good time made a feeble attack on ‘Rule, Britannia.’

‘This is fair rotten,’ Macgregor muttered at the third verse, resentful that his love should be apparently enjoying it.

‘Remember ye’re a sojer,’ she whispered back, ‘an’ thole.’ But she let him find her hand again.

The drear performance came to an end amid applause sufficient to satisfy Mrs. Pumpherston.

‘Excep’ when ye cracked on “arose,” ye managed fine,’ she said to her perspiring mate, and to the hostess, ‘What think ye o’ that for a patriotic sang, Mistress McOstrich?’

‘Oh, splendid splendid!’ replied Mrs. McOstrich with a nervous start. For the last five minutes she had been lost in furtive contemplation of her two youthful guests, her withered countenance more melancholy even than usual.

Ten o’clock struck, and, to Macgregor’s ill-disguised delight, Christina rose and said she must be going.

Mrs. McOstrich accompanied the two to the outer door. There she took Christina’s hand, stroked it once or twice, and let it go.

‘Macgreegor has been a frien’ o’ mines since he was a gey wee laddie,’ she said, ‘an’ I’m rael prood to ha’e had his intended in ma hoose. I’ll never forget neither o’ ye. If I had had a laddie o’ ma ain, I couldna ha’e wished him to dae better nor Macgreegor has done in every way.’ Abruptly she pressed something into Christina’s hand and closed the girl’s fingers upon it. ’Dinna look at it noo,’ she went on hastily. ’It’s yours, dearie, but ye’ll gi’e it to Macgreegor when the time comes for him to to gang. Ma grandfayther was a dandy in his way, an’ it’s a’ he left me, though I had great expectations.’

Gently she pushed the pair of them forth and closed the door.

At the foot of the stair, under a feeble gas-jet, Christina opened her hand, disclosing an old-fashioned ring set with a blood-stone.

‘Ye never tell’t me she was like that,’ the girl said softly, yet a little accusingly.

‘I never thought,’ muttered he, truthfully enough.