Read CHAPTER VII - WILLIE STANDS UP of Wee Macgreegor Enlists, free online book, by J. J. Bell, on

It is not the most roughly nurtured of us who will rough it the most cheerfully. Willie Thomson, of harsh and meagre upbringing, was the grumbler of his billet. He found fault with the camp fare, accommodation and hours in particular, with the discipline in general. Yet, oddly enough, after a fortnight or so, he seemed to accept the physical drill at 7 a.m. with a sort of dour satisfaction, though he never had a good word to say for it.

His complaints at last exasperated Macgregor, who, on a certain wet evening, when half the men were lounging drearily within the billet, snapped the question:

‘What the blazes made ye enlist?’

The answer was unexpected. ‘You!’

‘Ye’re a leear!’

With great deliberation Willie arose from the bench on which he had been reclining. He spat on the floor and proceeded to unbutton his tunic,

‘Nae man,’ he declared, as if addressing an audience, ’calls me that twicet!’

‘Wudna be worth his while,’ said his friend, carelessly.

‘I challenge ye to repeat it.’

The tone of the words caused Macgregor to stare, but he said calmly enough: ’Either ye was a leear the nicht ye enlisted, or ye’re a leear noo. Ye can tak’ yer choice.’

‘An’ you can tak’ aff yer coat!’

‘I dinna need to undress for to gi’e ye a hammerin’, if that’s what ye’re efter. But I’m no gaun to dae it here. We’d baith get into trouble.’

‘Ye’re henny,’ said Willie.

Macgregor was more puzzled than angry. Here was Willie positively asking for a punching in public!

‘What’s wrang wi’ ye, Wullie?’ he asked in a lowered voice. ’Wait till we get oor next leave. The chaps here’ll jist laugh at ye.’

‘It’ll maybe be you they’ll laugh at. Come on, ye cooard!’

By this time the other fellows had become interested, and one of them, commonly called Jake, the oldest in the billet, came forward.

‘What’s up, Grocer?’ he inquired of Macgregor, who had early earned his nickname thanks to Uncle Purdie’s frequent consignments of dainties, which were greatly appreciated by all in the billet.

‘He’s aff his onion,’ said Macgregor, disgustedly.

‘He says I’m a leear,’ said Willie, sullenly. Jake’s humorous mouth went straight, not without apparent effort.

‘Weel,’ he said slowly, judicially, ’it’s maybe a peety to fecht aboot a trifle like that, an’ we canna permit kickin’, clawin’ an’ bitin’ in this genteel estayblishment; but seein’ it’s a dull evenin’, an’ jist for to help for to pass the time, I’ll len’ ye ma auld boxin’ gloves, an’ ye can bash awa’ till ye’re wearit. Sam!’ he called over his shoulder, ‘fetch the gloves, an’ I’ll see fair play. . . . I suppose. Grocer, ye dinna want to apologeeze.’

Macgregor’s reply was to loosen his tunic. He was annoyed with himself and irritated by Willie, but above all he resented the publicity of the affair.

With mock solemnity Jake turned to Willie. ‘In case o’ yer decease, wud ye no like to leave a lovin’ message for the aunt we’ve heard ye blessin’ noo an’ then?’

‘To pot wi’ her!’ muttered Willie.

A high falsetto voice from the gathering’ audience cried: ’Oh, ye bad boy, come here till I skelp ye!’ and there was a general laugh, in which the hapless object did not join.

Ach, dinna torment him,’ Macgregor said impulsively.

While willing hands fixed the gloves on the combatants the necessary floor space was cleared. There were numerous offers of the services of seconds, but the self-constituted master of ceremonies, Jake, vetoed all formalities.

‘Let them dae battle in their ain fashion,’ said he. ’It’ll be mair fun for us. But it’s understood that first blood ends it. Are ye ready, lads? Then get to wark. Nae hittin’ ablow the belt.’

By this time Macgregor was beginning to feel amused. The sight of Willie and himself in the big gloves tickled him.

‘Come on, Wullie,’ he called cheerfully.

‘Am I a leear?’ Willie demanded.

‘Ye are! but ye canna help it.’

‘I can if I like!’ yelled Willie, losing his head. ‘Tak’ that!’

A tremendous buffet with the right intended for Macgregor’s nose caught his forehead with a sounding whack.

Thus began an extraordinary battle in which there was little attempt at dodging, less at guarding and none at feinting. Each man confined his attentions to his opponent’s face and endeavoured to reached the bull’s eye, as it were, of the target, though that point was not often attained, and never with spectacular effect. Ere long, however, Macgregor developed a puffiness around his left eye while Willie exhibited a swelling lip. Both soon were pouring out sweat. They fought with frantic enthusiasm and notable waste of energy.

The audience laughed itself into helplessness, gasping advice and encouragement to each with a fine lack of favouritism.

’Wire in, wee yin! Try again, pipeshanks! Weel hit, Grocer! That had him, Wullie! ye’ll be a corporal afore yer auntie! Haw, Mac, that was a knock-oot, if it had struck! Cheer up, Private Thomson; gi’e him the kidney punch on his whuskers! Guid stroke. Grocer! fair on his goods’ entrance! We’ll be payin’ for to see ye in pictur’ hooses yet the Brithers Basher! Gor, this is better nor a funeral! Keep it up, lads!’ And so forth.

But it was far too fast to last. A few minutes, and both were utterly pumped. As though with mutual agreement, they paused panting. Neither had gained any visible advantage.

‘Nae blood yet,’ remarked some one in tones of regret mingled with hope.

‘Never heed,’ interposed Jake, humanely Tak’ aff their gloves. They’ve done enough. We’ll ca’ it a draw or to be conteenued in oor next dull evenin’ whichever they like. I hope you twa lads ‘ll never learn scienteefic boxin’. There’s ower little fun in the warld nooadays.’

Neither offered any resistance to the removal of the gloves.

‘Shake han’s, lads,’ said Jake.

To Macgregor’s surprise, Willie’s hand was out before his own.

‘I’m a leear if ye like,’ said Willie, still panting, ’but I can stan’ up to ye noo!’

‘So ye can,’ Macgregor admitted a little reluctantly perhaps, for he had long been used to being the winner.

‘If I wasna teetotal,’ Willie added in a burst of generosity, ’I wud stan’ ye a drink.’