Read CHAPTER XX - THE REAL THING AT LAST of Wee Macgreegor Enlists, free online book, by J. J. Bell, on

For an appreciable number of seconds after the door had closed Christina continued to gaze in its direction, her head well up, her face stern and rather pale. Then, quite suddenly, her bosom gave a quick heave, her lips parted, trembling, her eyes blinked, her whole attitude became lax. But she was not going to cry; certainly not! She was far too angry for tears; angry with herself no less than Macgregor. He had actually departed without being dismissed; worse still, he had had the last word! An observer the thought struck her would have assumed that she, weak wretch, had humbly allowed him to go and leave her in the wrong! Her maiden pride had somehow failed her, for she ought to have sent him forth crushed. And yet, surely, she had hurt, punished, humiliated him. Oh, no doubt of that! And for a moment her illogical heart wavered. She drew out her hanky, muttering ’how I hate him!’ and blew her pretty nose. Then she clenched her hands and set her teeth. Then she went lax again. Then oh, dear! he had even insulted her by leaving her to pick up the cast-off ring! for, of course, she could not leave it there for Miss Tod or a customer to see.

Haughtily she moved round the counter and with scornful finger-tips took up the tiny wreckage of a great hope. The gold was twisted and bruised, the little pearls were loose in their places. All at once she felt a horrid pain in her throat. . . .

Miss Tod appeared, fresh from the joys of strong tea.

‘Oh, lassie, ha’e ye hurted yersel’?’

Christina choked, recovered herself and cried: ’I’ve sold a blighter a sixpenny notebook for threepence, an’ I’ll never get over it as long as I live. B but I hope that’ll no be long!’

Just then Heaven sent a customer.

And perhaps Heaven sent the telegram that Macgregor found on his return home, rather late in the afternoon. The war has changed many things and people, but mothers most of all. Mrs. Robinson made no mention of the ‘extra special’ dinner prepared so vainly in her son’s honour. ‘Yer fayther missed ye,’ was her only reference to his absence from the meal.

The telegram was an order to return to duty. The mother and sister saw his eyes change, his shoulders stiffen.

‘Maybe something’s gaun to happen at last,’ he said; and almost in the same breath, though in a different voice ’Christina’s finished wi’ me. It was ma ain fau’t. Ye needna speak aboot it. I I’m no heedin’ greatly.’ He cleared his throat. ‘I’ll awa’ up to the works an’ say guid-bye to father. Jimsie can come, if he likes. Ye needna tell him the noo what I tell’t ye.’

Jimsie, summoned from play, was proud to go with his big brother. He was ill next day owing to a surfeit of good things consumed at high pressure, but not too ill to discuss what he would purchase with the half-crown that seemed to have stuck to his hot little paw.

Back from the works, Macgregor found tea awaiting him. His mother and sister were not a little relieved by his cheerfulness, though they were to doubt its sincerity later. But the boy had never made a greater effort for the sake of those who loved him than in that little piece of dissembling.

The parting was brief. An embrace, a kiss, a word or two that meant little yet all and he was out of the home.

His laugh, slightly subdued, came up the well of the staircase ’Maybe it’s anither false alarm!’

’They looked over the rail, mute but trying to smile, and saw the last of him a hurrying sturdy, boyish figure, kilt swinging and hand aloft in final farewell.

His route took him through the street of Miss Tod’s shop. It was characteristic of Macgregor that he did not choose another and less direct course. He neither hesitated nor looked aside as he marched past the shop. The sense of injustice still upheld him. ’She never gi’ed me a chance!’ . . . And so back to Duty.

Not more than five minutes later Private William Thomson came along in hot haste and banged into the shop.

‘Macgreegor no here?’ he demanded, and looked astounded.

‘No,’ answered Christina, without laying down the book she had been trying to read.

‘Jist left ye?’


‘When did ye see him?’

‘This morning.’

’Gor! I could ha’e bet onything I wud ha’e catched him here. He had jist left the hoose when I ’

‘Why are you so excited?’ she coldly inquired.

‘Me? I’m no excited. Jist been canoodlin’ wi’ ma aunt. She sprung five bob! Come oot an’ I’ll stan’ ye a slider.’

‘I regret I cannot accept your kind invitation.’

‘Haw, haw! It’s you for the language! But I say!’ He leaned over the counter. ‘What way are ye no greetin’?’

She flushed hotly, wondering how much he knew or guessed, but replied coolly enough: ‘I have nothing to weep about. Have you?’

‘Plenty, by Jings! I expected to see yer eyes an’ nose rid, onyway, Christina.’

‘Indeed! Is that how it affects you?’

He looked hard at her. ‘My! ye’re a game yin!’ he said admiringly. ‘Weel, I maun slope,’ he went on, with a sigh that sounded absurd, coming from him. ’I suppose ye’ve nae message for Macgreegor something ye forgot to say at the last meenute? Eh?’

Christina was at a loss. Apparently he knew nothing, yet his manner was odd.

‘No message, thank you,’ said she slowly.

‘Then I’ll bid ye guid-bye an’ I could bet ye a bob ye’ll never see me again. So I’ll tell ye something.’ His words came with a rush. ’Ye’re aboot the nicest girl I ever kent, Christina. Macgreegor’s a luckier deevil nor he deserves. But I’ll look efter him for ye in Flanders. Trust me for that. Noo that we’re really boun’ for the Front, in a day or so, things is different at least I’m feelin’ different. Dinna laugh! I I dinna want to ha’e ony enemies but the Germans. I’ve jist been an’ kissed ma aunt dammit! An’ noo’ he caught her hand, pulled her to him ’I’m gaun to kiss you! There!’ He turned and bolted.

Christina’s hand went to her cheek, and fell back to her side. Her colour ebbed as swiftly as it had flowed. She began to shake. ‘Bound for the Front, in a day or so.’ . . .

Later she went to the sitting-room where her employer was once more absorbing comfort from a cup. ‘Miss Tod,’ she said quietly, ’I want to gang hame.’

In the evening she posted a small package with this note enclosed

’I am sending the ring Mrs. McOstrich said I was to give you when the time came for you to go. I hope it will bring you good luck. God bless you.


She lay awake most of the night, wondering if she might not have written more, wondering what answer he would send, wondering wondering. . . .

And as she fell asleep in the grey of morning, hours before the package would be delivered at the camp, a long train, at an outlying station, started on its way south, and six hundred eager lads shouted in the face of all things.

‘We’re awa’ this time, by Goad!’ yelled Willie in his friend’s ear.

And Macgregor laughed wildly and wrung his friend’s hand.