Read CHAPTER XVII - ‘FONDEST LOVE FROM MAGGIE’ of Wee Macgreegor Enlists, free online book, by J. J. Bell, on

Morning brought no letter from Christina, but at breakfast time Macgregor received the astounding intimation that he was granted three days’ leave, the same to commence with the very next hour.

‘What’s the guid o’ leave wi’ a jaw like this?’ wailed the lop-sided William who, with several other members of the billet, had been included in the dispensation.

‘I’ll tell ye what it means, onyway,’ said Lance-corporal Jake; ’it means that we’ll be gettin’ a move on afore we’re mony days aulder.’

Macgregor did not enter into any of the discussions which followed. Having hurriedly made himself as smart as possible, he took car for Glasgow, and there caught the ten o’clock train for Aberdeen. He spent the ensuing four hours in wondering not so much what he should say to Christina as what she would say to him. For himself, he was determined to make a clean breast of it; at the same time, he was not going to absolve Christina of all responsibility. He had behaved like a fool, he admitted, but he still had a just grievance. Yet it was with no very stout heart that he alighted in the big station, where everything was strange except the colour of khaki, and found his way to the quiet hotel where his friends had rooms.

And there on the steps was Uncle Purdie sunning himself and smoking a richly-banded cigar by order of his spouse.

‘Preserve us!’ exclaimed Uncle Purdie in sheer astonishment at the sight of his nephew. ‘Preserve us!’ he repeated in quite another tone that of concern. ‘But I’m rael glad to see ye, lad,’ he went on somewhat uneasily, ‘an’ yer aunt’ll be unco pleased. Come awa’ in, come awa’ in! Ye’ve gotten a bit leave, I preshume. An’ ye’ll be needin’ yer denner eh? But we’ll sune see to that. ’Mphm! Ay! Jist so! Eh I suppose ye hadna time to write or wire but what’s the odds? Ye’re welcome, Macgreegor, rael welcome.’

‘Jist got leave this mornin’ three days,’ Macgregor explained, not a little relieved to have found his uncle alone to begin with.

‘So I catched the first train I could.’

‘Jist that, exactly so,’ said Mr. Purdie with a heavy sigh that seemed irrelevant. ‘Weel, ma lad,’ he resumed hurriedly, ’if ye tak’ a sate here, I’ll awa’ up the stair an’ get yer aunt. She generally has a bit snooze aboot this time efter her meal, ye ken but ’

‘Dinna fash her aboot me, Uncle Purdie.’

’Oh, but it it’s necessary to get her doon here. She’ll maybe be able to break I meant for to say ’ Mr. Purdie stopped short and wiped perspiration from his face.

‘Jist a meenute,’ he said abruptly, and bolted upstairs.

Macgregor gazed after the retreating burly figure. Never before had he seen his uncle nervous. Was Aunt Purdie not so well? It was news to hear of her napping in the middle of the day. Then a likelier explanation dawned on Macgregor, and he smiled to himself. Uncle Purdie had been too shy to mention it, and now he had retired simply to allow of Christina’s coming down by herself. So Macgregor prepared to meet his love.

And while he meditated, his aunt and uncle appeared together.

‘Yer aunt’ll explain,’ said Mr. Purdie, looking most unhappy. ’I couldna dae it.’

‘How do you do, Macgregor?’ said Aunt Purdie, shaking hands with stiff kindliness. ’I am delighted to perceive you in Aberdeen. But what a deplorable catastrophe! what a dire calamity! what an ironical mishap! ’

‘She means ’ began Mr. Purdie, noting his nephew’s puzzled distress.

’Hush, Robert! Allow me. I must break it gently to the boy. What a cruel fiascio! what a vexatious disappintment! ’

‘Whaur’s Christina?’ Macgregor demanded.

‘Courage, boy!’ said Aunt Purdie in lofty tones. ’Remember you are a sojer soldier of the Queen or rather, King!’

‘But ’

’Christina left for Glasgow per the 1.10 p.m. train, one short hour before you arrived.’

‘Weel, I’m ’

’She decided very suddenly this morning. She did not hand me the letter, or p.c., for my perusual, but I understood her to observe that Miss Tod was not feeling so able and desired her presence. We were real sorry to let her go ’

‘Ma impression,’ Mr. Purdie put in, ‘is that she was wearyin’ for her lad. But for ill-luck this is the maist confounded, dampest ’

‘Robert, behave yourself!’

‘Weel, it’s a fair sickener. But there’s nae use talkin’ aboot it. Come awa’, lad, an’ ha’e something to eat. Ye canna keep up yer heart on a toom kyte.’

They were very kind to him and pressed him to remain overnight, but he was bent on leaving by the 3.40 express, which is due at Glasgow about 7.30. With good luck, he told himself, he might catch Christina at Miss Tod’s. Meanwhile youth and health compelled him to enjoy his dinner, during which Aunt Purdie insisted on refunding the cost of his futile journey.

‘Ye’re ower guid to me,’ he said awkwardly.

‘Not at all, not at all, Macgregor. It is quite unmentionable,’ she returned with a majestic wave. ’Robert, give Macgregor some of your choice cigars.’

In the train he smoked one of them, but finding it a trifle heady, preserved the rest for presentation to his sergeant, whom he greatly admired.

At 5.30 Christina was in Glasgow. Mrs. Purdie had commissioned her to deliver two small parcels ’presents from Aberdeen’ to Macgregor’s sister and little brother, and she decided to fulfil the errand before going home. Perhaps the decision was not unconnected with a hope of obtaining some news of Macgregor. His postcard had worried her. She felt she had gone too far and wanted to tell him so. She would write to him the moment she got home, and let her heart speak out for once. Pride was in abeyance. She was all tenderness.

At the Robinson’s house she received a warm welcome. Mrs. Robinson had almost got over her secret fear of her future daughter-in-law. Jeannie admired her intensely, and wee Jimsie frankly loved her. Aunt Purdie’s were not the only gifts she delivered.

‘Ye’re hame suner nor ye intended,’ said Mrs. Robinson, during tea, which was partaken of without Mr. Robinson, who was ‘extra busy’ over munitions. ‘Was Miss Tod wantin’ ye?’

‘Macgreegor was wantin’ her,’ piped Jimsie. ‘So was I.’

‘Whisht, Jimsie,’ Jeannie murmured, blushing more than Christina.

‘We jist got hame frae Rothesay last nicht,’ said Mrs. Robinson, ‘so we ha’ena seen the laddie for a while.’

‘He hasna wrote this week,’ remarked Jeannie. ’But of course you’ll ha’e heard frae him, Christina’ this with respectful diffidence.

‘He’s been busy at the shooting’ Christina replied, wishing she had more news to give.

‘I wisht I had a gun,’ observed Jimsie. ’I wud shoot the whuskers aff auld Tirpy. Jings, I wud that!’

‘Dinna boast,’ said his mother.

‘What wud you shoot, Christina, if you had a gun?’

‘I think I wud practise on a cocoa-nut, Jimsie,’ she said, with a small laugh.

After tea Mrs. Robinson took Christina into the parlour while Jeannie tidied up. Presently the door bell rang, and Jimsie rushed to meet the postman.

‘It’s for Macgreegor,’ he announced, returning and handing a parcel to his mother.

‘I wonder wha’s sendin’ the laddie socks,’ she said, feeling it. ‘I best open it an’ put his name on them. Maybe they’re frae Mistress McOstrich.’ She removed the string and brown paper. ’Vera nice socks –­ a wee thing to the lairge side but vera nice socks, indeed. But wha ’

‘Here’s a letter!’ cried Jimsie, extracting a half-sheet of white paper from the crumpled brown, and giving it to his dear Christina.

In bold, untidy writing she read

‘With fondest love from Maggie.’