Read CHAPTER XVI - CONSCIENCE AND A COCOA-NUT of Wee Macgreegor Enlists, free online book, by J. J. Bell, on

With one thing and another Christina, during her first evening in Aberdeen, had no opportunity of sending her betrothed more than a postcard announcing her safe arrival; but she went to bed with every intention of sending him on the morrow the longest and sweetest letter she had ever written. The receipt of Macgregor’s letter, with all its implied reproaches, however, not only hurt her feelings, but set her pride up in arms. ’He had nae business to write as if I was a selfish thing; as if I had nae right to decide for masel’!’ As a matter of fact, her sole reason for accepting Mrs. Purdie’s invitation had been a fear of offending Macgregor’s important relatives by a refusal. Heaven knew she had not wanted to put 150 miles between her lad and herself at such a time.

Still, as Macgregor might have known by now, it was always a mistake to try to hustle Christina in any way. Her reply condescended neither to explanations nor defence. Written in her superior, and rather high-flown English, which she was well aware he detested, it practically ignored his epistle and took the form of an essay on the delights of travel, the charm of residence in the Northern City, the kindliness and generosity of host and hostess. She was not without compunction, especially when Uncle Purdie expressed the hope that she was sending the lad something to ‘keep up his pecker,’ but she let the letter go, telling herself that it would be ‘good for him.’

The postcard was received by Macgregor after an uneasy night and a shameful awakening. The meagre message made him more miserable than angry. In the circumstances it was, he felt bound to admit, as much as he deserved. Mercifully, Willie had such a ’rotten head’ that he was unable to plague his unhappy friend, and the day turned out to be a particularly busy one for the battalion. Next morning brought the letter. Macgregor was furious, until Conscience asked him what he had to complain about.

Willie, his mischievous self again, got in a nasty one by inquiring how much he had paid for the cab the night before last.

‘Ye dirty spy!’ cried Macgregor. ’What for did ye hook it in the pictur’ hoose an’ leave her wi’ me? She was your affair.’

‘I never asked her to spend the evening’,’ Willie retorted, truthfully enough, ‘Twa’s comp’ny.’

Macgregor felt his face growing hot. With an effort he said coldly: ‘If ye had stopped wi’ us ye wudna ha’e been back at the beer an’ broke yer pledge.’

‘Wha tell’t ye I was at the beer?’

‘Yer breath, ye eediot!’

‘Ho! so ye was pretendin’ ye was sleepin’ when I spoke to ye! Cooard to smell a man’s breath wi’ yer eyes shut!’

Macgregor turned wearily away. ’It’s nae odds to me what ye drink,’ he said.

’Ye should think shame to say a thing like that to a chap that hasna tasted but wance for near a year at least, for several months,’ said Willie, following. ’But I’ll forgive ye like a Christian. . . . For peety’s sake ten’ us a tanner. I ha’ena had a fag since yesterday. I’ll no split on ye.’ He winked and nudged Macgregor. ‘Maggie’s a whale for the cuddlin’ eh?’

It was too much. Macgregor turned and struck, and Willie went down. Then Macgregor, feeling sick of himself and the whole world, assisted the fallen one to his feet, shoved a shilling into his hand, and departed hastily.

He wrote a long, pleading letter to Christina and posted it in the cook’s fire. Next day he tried again, avoiding personal matters. The result was a long rambling dissertation on musketry and the effect of the wind, etcetera, on one’s shots, all of which, with his best love, he forwarded to Aberdeen. In previous letters he had scarcely ever referred to his training, and then with the utmost brevity.

The letter, quite apart from its technicalities, puzzled Christina; and to puzzle Christina was to annoy her. To her mind it seemed to have been written for the sake of covering so much paper. Of course she wanted Macgregor to be interested in his work, but not to the exclusion of herself. She allowed the thing to rankle for three days. Then, as there was no further word from him, she became a little alarmed. But it was not in her to write all she felt, and so she sought to break the tension with something in the way of a joke.

Thus it came about that on the fifth morning, Macgregor received a postcard depicting a light-house on a rocky coast and bearing a few written words, also an oddly shaped parcel. The written words were:

’Delighted to hear you are doing so well at the shooting. Sending prize by same post.

This was better! more like Christina herself. All was not lost! Eagerly he tore off the numerous wrappings and disclosed a cocoa-nut! In his present state of mind he would have preferred an infernal machine. A cocoa-nut! She was just laughing at him! He was about to conceal the nut when Willie appeared.

’My! ye’re the lucky deevil, Macgreegor! Frae yer uncle, I suppose. I’ll help ye to crack it. I’ll toss ye for the milk if there’s ony.’

‘I’m no gaun to crack it the noo, Wullie,’ Macgregor said, restraining himself.

‘At nicht eh?’

‘I’ll see.’

By evening, however, Willie was not thinking of cocoa-nuts or, indeed, of anything in the nature of eatables. His first experience in firing a rifle had taken place that afternoon and had left him with an aching jaw and a highly swollen face. On the morrow he was not much better.

‘I’ll no be able to use ma late pass the nicht,’ he said bitterly.

‘I’m no carin’ whether I use mines or no,’ Macgregor remarked from the depths of his dejection.

Willie gave him a grostesque wink, and observed: ’I believe ye’re feart to gang into Glesca noo. Oh, they weemen!’

‘If ye hadna a face for pies already, I wud gi’e ye yin!’

’Ah, but ye daurna strike a man that’s been wounded in his country’s service. Aw, gor, I wisht I had never enlisted! What country’s worth a mug like this? . . . Which girl are ye maist feart for, Macgreegor?’

Macgregor fled from the tormentor. He had not intended to use his late pass, but Willie’s taunt had altered everything. Afraid? He would soon show Willie! Also he would show Maggie! Likewise he would show Well, Christina had no business to behave as if she were the only girl in the world, as if he were a fool. He had a right to enjoy himself, too. He had suffered enough, and the cocoa-nut was the limit! . . .

‘Are ye for Glesca?’ Willie persisted when Macgregor was giving himself a ‘tosh up’ in the billet.

‘Ay, am I!’ he snapped at last.

’Hurray for the hero! Weel, gi’e Maggie yin on the squeaker frae me, an’ tell her no to greet for me, because I’m no worthy o’ her pure unselfish love, etceetera. I doobt the weather’s gaun to be ower fine for cabs the nicht, but dinna despair; it’s gettin’ dark fairly early noo. Enjoy yersel’ while ye’re young.’

‘That’s enough,’ said Macgregor. ’Ye needna think ye’re the only chap that kens a thing or twa!’ And he left William gaping as widely as his painful jaw would permit.

On the way to town he decided to leave the whole affair to chance; that is to say, he would not arrive at the warehouse where the fat girl was employed until after the usual closing hour of six. If she had gone, no matter; if she was still there, well, he couldn’t help it.

He arrived at 6.3, and she was there in her fine feathers, too. She could not have expected him, he knew, but evidently she had hoped. He felt flattered and soothed, being unaware that she had had another swain in reserve in case he should fail her.

‘Fancy meetin’ you!’ she exclaimed, with a start of surprise. ‘Where’s the bad character?’

‘Gumbile,’ answered Macgregor, who would not for worlds have betrayed his friend’s lack of skill with the rifle.

‘Lang may it bile!’ she remarked unfeeling. ‘Wha are ye chasm’ the nicht, Macgreegor?’

‘You!’ he replied more boldly than brightly.

‘My! ye’re gettin’ quite forward-like,’ she said, with that pleasant giggle of hers.

‘High time!’ said he, recklessly.

After tea they went west and sat in the park. It was a lovely, hazy evening.

‘Wud ye rayther be in a pictur’ hoose, Maggie?’

‘What’s a pictur’ hoose to be compared wi’ this? If Heaven’s like this, I’m prepared to dee.’ With three rose-flavoured jujubes in her mouth, she sighed and nestled against him.

In silence his arm went round her waist.

While waiting for the car back to camp he wrote on a picture postcard ’Cocoanut received with thanks. I wish I was dead,’ and dropped it into a pillar box.

About the same hour, in the billet, Willie was disposing of the cocoa-nut by raffle, tickets one penny each.

‘A queer-like present to get frae yer aunt,’ said some one.

‘Ay; but she’s a queer-like aunt,’ said Willie, pocketing the useful sum of tenpence.