Read CHAPTER XIV - AUNT PURDIE INTERVENES of Wee Macgreegor Enlists, free online book, by J. J. Bell, on

The battalion was not an hour returned from the longest, hottest, dustiest and most exhausting route march yet experienced. Macgregor was stretched on his bed, a newspaper over his face, when an orderly shook him and shoved a visiting card into his hand.

‘She’s waitin’ ootside,’ he said and, with a laugh, departed.

Macgregor rubbed his eyes and read:

13, King’s Mansions, W 3rd Wednesday.

‘Oh, criffens!’ he groaned. ‘Ma aunt!’ And proceeded with more haste than alacrity to tidy himself, while wondering what on earth she had come for.

Willie, scenting profit in a rich relation, though not his own, proffered his company, which was rather curtly refused. Nevertheless, he followed his friend.

Macgregor joined his aunt in the blazing sunshine. Her greeting was kindly if patronizing.

‘Sorry to keep ye waitin’, Aunt Purdie,’ he said respectfully. ’If I had kent ye was comin’ ’

’I understood a good soldier was always prepared for any emergency ’

‘Excep’ when he’s aff duty, mistress.’ This from Willie, who had taken up his position a little way behind Macgregor, an ingratiating grin on his countenance.

Aunt Purdie drew up her tall, gaunt, richly-clad figure and examined Private Thomson through eye-glasses on a long tortoise-shell handle.

‘Macgregor, who is this gentleman?’

‘It’s jist Wullie Thomson,’ said Macgregor, annoyed but reluctant to hurt his friend’s feelings. ‘D’ye no mind him?’

’I have a very exclusive memory for faces. . . Dear me, he is going away!’

It was so. Either the glasses, or being called a gentleman, or both, had been too much even for Willie.

‘Is the colonel in the vicinity?’ Aunt Purdie demanded, recalling Macgregor’s wondering gaze from the retreating figure.

‘I couldna say. He’s liker to be in a cauld bath.’

‘You have, of course, informed him who your uncle is?’

‘Me an’ the colonel ha’ena done much hob-nobbin’ as yet,’ Macgregor said, smiling.

’His mother used to obtain her groceries from your uncle. If you could have presented the colonel to me well, never mind. I presume the major is on the quee vive.’

‘He’ll be ha’ein’ a wash an’ brush up, I wud say.’

’But why are you not being drilled or digging up trenches or firing guns ’

‘We’re a’ deid men this efternune. Had a big rout mairch the day.’

‘Oh, indeed! Well, when does the band play?’

‘The baun’s burstit wi’ the rout mairch. It couldna blaw the ash aff a ceegarette. I’m rael sorry ’

’I would like to inspect the apartments you live in. Pray conduct me ’

‘Some o’ the chaps is cleanin’ theirsel’s. If ye like, I’ll tell them to hurry up or get ablow the blankets.’

‘Certainly not!’ said Mrs. Purdie with decision. ’Is there no tea-room adjacent?’

‘Jist the canteen. I doobt I couldna I tak’ ye inside, but I could fetch ye oot a drink something T.T., I suppose?’

She waved the offer away.  Is there nothing to be perceived or observed in this camp? she inquired with some impatience.

Her nephew scratched his head. ‘Weel,’ he said at last, ’there’s the view frae this end, an’ there’s the view frae the ither end. I’m sorry ye’ve come when there’s naething daein’.’

’So am I. However, it is not the time to indulge in discriminations. Your uncle thought it was better for me to come than to write a letter.’

‘Is onything wrang wi’ ma uncle?’ Macgregor asked anxiously.

’Barring an invidious bunion, he is in his usual health. But we are going to Aberdeen to-morrow, for a fortnight, and we have invited your intended to come with us. She ’

‘Christina! But she canna gang awa’ to Aberdeen when ’ He stopped short, at a loss. He had an appointment with Christina for the following evening. Surely

’I arranged with Miss Tod this morning. Christina will be writing to you, I presume.’

‘She she’s gaun wi’ ye?’

‘Certainly D.V., of course.’

‘For a a fortnicht?’

’The change will be good for her. You must not be selfish. Your uncle was afraid you might be put out: that is why I came to explain. But apart from the beneficial change, Christina, as I observed to your uncle, ought to see the world while she is young.’

Macgregor answered nothing. Possibly he did not catch her latter remarks. Christina going away for a fortnight, and he might be ordered abroad at any moment!

‘Come,’ said his aunt, kindly enough, ‘don’t be huffy.’

Mercifully, just then an officer passed. In the action of saluting Macgregor regained self-control.

‘I hope ye get guid weather at Aberdeen,’ he managed to say, and his aunt admired him even more than at the hour of his enlistment.

‘Yer uncle an’ me jist wishes ye was free to jine us,’ she said with unwonted warmth and homeliness of accent. Her hand went to the fastening of her purse, and hesitated. No! Something told her this was not the moment for a gift, however splendid.

‘Well, I must be going,’ she remarked, stiffening again. ’Kindly conduct me to the exit. I thought there would have been more to inspire the mind in this place. . . . Good-bye. We will take good care of Christina.’

Never in his life had Macgregor been so deeply hurt and angered not even in the old days by Aunt Purdie, who was not now the object of his resentment.

Willie, who always tried to make the best of things, insults not excepted, approached presently with a hopeful appeal for a loan.

‘Gang to blazes!’ was the response.

Willie could scarce believe his ears. ’Macgreegor! did she no cough up onything?’

Macgregor walked on.

‘An’ she fancies hersel’ for a swell!’ exclaimed Willie viciously.

‘Anither word an’ I’ll knock the face aff ye!’

It was Willie’s turn to feel resentment.

In the evening came a note from Christina, hurriedly written. She was terribly busy getting ready for the morning train. It was most kind of Mrs. Purdie. Her own uncle must have let drop to Mr. Purdie that a summer outing this year was not possible, and Mr. Purdie must have told Mrs. Purdie. . . . Of course, she, Christina, would never have dreamed of going away otherwise. But the time would soon pass, Mac, and she intended to enjoy it thoroughly. . . .

If only she had left out that last sentence! But what true lover has not been stabbed by something very like it in his time?