Read CHAPTER XXI - ‘HULLO, GLESCA HIELANDERS!’ of Wee Macgreegor Enlists, free online book, by J. J. Bell, on ReadCentral.com.

Like a trodden, forgotten thing Private Macgregor Robinson lay on the Flanders mud, under the murk and rain. A very long time it seemed since that short, grim struggle amid the blackness and intermittent brightness. The night was still rent with noise and light, but the storm of battle had passed from the place where he had fallen. He could not tell whether his fellows had taken the enemy’s trench or retired to their own. He had the vaguest ideas as to where he was. But he knew that there was pain in his left shoulder and right foot, that he was athirst, also that he had killed a man a big stout man, old enough to have been his father. He tried not to think of the last, though he did not regret it: it had been a splendid moment.

He was not the only soldier lying there in the mud, but the others, friend or foe, were quite still. The sight of them in the flashes distressed him, yet always his gaze drifted back to them. His mind was a medley of thoughts, from the ugliest to the loveliest. At last, for he was greatly exhausted, his head drooped to his uninjured arm, his eyes closed. For a while he dozed. Then something disturbed him, and he raised himself and peered. In the flicker of a distant flare he saw a shape approaching him, crawling on hands and knees, very slowly, pausing for an instant at each still figure. It made Macgregor think of a big dog searching for its master only it wore a helmet. Macgregor, setting his teeth, drew his rifle between his knees and unfixed the bayonet. . . .

‘Hist! Is that you, Macgreegor?’

‘Wullie!’

‘Whisht, ye !’

‘Oh, Wullie’ in a whisper ’I’m gled to see ye!’

‘I believe ye!’ gasped Willie, and flattened out at his friend’s side, breathing heavily. At the end of a minute or so ’Ha’e ye got it bad, Macgreegor?’ he inquired.

‘So, so. Arm an’ leg. I’m feelin’ rotten, but I’m no fini shed yet. Ha’e ye ony water? Ma bottle’s shot through.’

‘Here ye are. . . . Feelin’ seeck-like?’

‘I’m seeck at gettin’ knocked oot at the vera beginnin.’

‘Never heed. Did ye kill yer man?’

‘Ay.’

‘Same here. . . . In the back. . . . Ma Goad!’

‘Ha’e we ta’en their trench?’

‘Ay; but no enough o’ us to baud it.

We’re back in the auld place. Better luck next time. No safe to strike a match here; could dae fine wi’ a fag.’

There was a silence between them, broken at last by Macgregor.

’Hoo did ye find me, Wullie? What way are ye no back in the trench?’

’Wasna gaun back wi’oot ye I seen ye drap even if ye had been a corp. . . . Been snokin’ aroun’ seekin’ ye for Guid kens hoo lang. I’m fair hingin’ wi’ glaur.’

’. . . I’m obleeged to ye, Wullie, but ye shouldna ha’e done it. Whauraboots are we?’

’I wisht I was sure. Lost ma bearin’s. I doobt we’re nearer the Germans nor oor ain lot. That’s the reason I’m weerin’ this dish-cover. But it’s your turn to weer it. Ye’ve been wounded a’ready.’

Na, na, Wullie!’

‘Dae what I tell ye, ye !’ Willie made the exchange of headgear. . . . ‘I say, Macgreegor!’

‘What?’

’This is Flanders. Ye mind oor bet? Weel, we’re quits noo. I’m no owin’ ye onything eh?’

Macgregor grinned in spite of everything. ’Ay, we’re quits noo, Wullie, sure enough.’

‘If ever we get oot o’ this, will ye len’ us dew francs?’

‘’Deed, ay. . . . Wullie, ye’re riskin’ yer life for me.’

‘Awa’ an’ chase yersel’! I wonder what that girl o’ yours is thinkin’ aboot the noo if she’s no sleepin’.’

There was a pause till Macgregor said awkwardly: ’Christina’s finished wi’ me.’

‘Eh?’

‘I couldna tell ye afore; but she had got wind o’ Maggie.’

’Maggie! Oh, hell! But no frae me, Macgreegor, no frae me! Ye believe that?’

‘Oh, ay.’

Willie let off sundry curses. ‘But I suppose I’m to blame,’ he said bitterly.

‘Naebody to blame but masel’.’

‘But did ye no explain to Christina? A’ ye did was to canoodle wi’ the wrang girl, pro tem. a thing that happens daily. I couldna fancy a girl that naebody had ever wanted to cuddle; an’ if I was a girl I couldna fancy a chap that ’

‘Nae use talkin’ aboot it, Wullie,’ Macgregor said sadly, wearily.

‘Aw, but her an’ you ‘ll mak’ it up afore ye’re done. If ye dinna, I’ll want to kill masel’ an’ Maggie forbye. A’ the same, I wisht fat Maggie was here the noo. I could dae fine wi’ a bit squeeze.’

‘My! ye’re a fair treat!’ said Macgregor, chuckling in his misery.

‘’Sh! Keep still! Something comin’!’

The distant gun-fire had diminished. There were appreciable silences between the blasts. But during a flash Macgregor detected a helmeted crawling shape. Willie’s hand stole out and grasped the bayonet.

‘Number twa!’ he muttered, with a stealthy movement. ’I maun get him!’

But Macgregor’s ears caught a faint sound that caused him to grip the other’s wrist.

‘Wait,’ he whispered.

The helmeted shape came on, looking neither to right nor left, and as it came it sobbed. And it passed within a few yards of them, and into the deeper gloom, sobbing, sobbing.

‘Oh, Christ!’ sighed Willie, shuddering.

‘Put yer arm roun’ me, Mac. I’m feart.’

Five minutes later he affected to jeer at himself. ’Weel, I’m rested noo,’ he continued, ‘an’ it’s time we was gettin’ a move on. Mornin’s comin’, an’ if we’re spotted here, we’re done for. Can ye creep?’

Macgregor tried and let out a little yelp.

‘Na, ye canna. Ye’ll jist ha’e to get on ma back.’

‘Wullie, gang yersel’ ’

‘Obey yer corporal!’

‘Ye’re no a corp ’

‘If they dinna mak’ me a corporal for this, I’ll quit the service! Onyway, I’m no gaun wi’oot ye. Same time, I canna guarantee no to tak’ ye to the German lines. But we maun risk that. Ye’ll ha’e to leave yer rifle, but keep on the dish-cover till I gi’e ye the word. . . . Noo then! Nae hurry. I’ll ha’e to creep the first part o’ the journey. Are ye ready? Weel, here’s luck to the twa o’ us!’

There is no authentic description of that horrible journey save
Willie’s, which is unprintable.

It was performed literally by inches. More than once Willie collapsed, groaning, under his burden. Macgregor, racked as he was, shed tears for his friend’s sake. Time had no significance except as a measure of suspense and torture. But Willie held on, directed by some instinct, it seemed, over that awful shell-fragment-studded mire, round the verges of shell-formed craters, past dead and wounded waiting for succour on, on, till the very guns seemed to have grown weary, and the rain ceased, and the air grew chillier as with dread of what the dawn should disclose, and the blackness was diluted to grey.

Drap the dish-cover,’ croaked Willie, and halted for a minute’s rest.

Then on again. But at long last Willie muttered: ’I think it’s oor trench. If I’m wrang, fareweel to Argyle Street! I’ll ha’e to risk gi’ein’ them a hail in case some silly blighter lets fly in this rotten licht. Slip doon, Mac nae hurry nae use hurtin’ yersel’ for naething. I’ll maybe ha’e to hurt ye in a meenute. . . . N’ for it!’ He lifted up his voice. ’Hullo, Glesca Hielanders!’

It seemed an age until

‘Right oh!’ came a cheerful response.

‘Hurray!’ yelled Willie, and rose stiffly to his feet.

Then with a final effort, he gave Macgregor the ‘fireman’s lift,’ and staggered and stumbled, amid shots from the other side, into safety.