John Joy Bell.

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Through the gateway flanked by tall recruiting posters came rather
hurriedly a youth of no great stature, but of sturdy build and
comely enough countenance, including bright brown eyes and fresh
complexion. Though the dull morning was coldish, perspiration
might have been detected on his forehead. Crossing the street,
without glance to right or left, he increased his pace; also, he
squared his shoulders and threw up his head with an air that might
have been defiance at the fact of his being more than an hour late
for his day's work. His face, however, betrayed a certain
spiritual emotion not suggestive of anticipated trouble with
employer or foreman. As a matter of fact, the familiar everyday
duty had ceased to exist for him, and if his new exaltation wavered
a little as he neared the warehouse, fifteen minutes later, it was
only because he would have to explain things to the uncle who
employed him, and to other people; and he was ever shy of speaking
about himself.

So he hurried through the warehouse without replying to the
chaffing inquiries of his mates, and ran upstairs to his uncle's
office. He was not afraid of his uncle; on the other hand, he had
never received or expected special favour on account of the

Mr. Purdie was now a big man in the grocery trade. He had a cosy
private room with a handsome desk, a rather gorgeous carpet and an
easy-chair. He no longer attended at the counter or tied up
parcels - except when, alone on the premises late in the evening, he
would sometimes furtively serve imaginary customers, just for auld
lang syne, as he excused to himself his absurd proceeding.

'But what kep' ye late, Macgreegor?' he inquired, with a futile
effort to make his good-humoured, whiskered visage assume a stern
expression. 'Come, come, oot wi' it! An 'unce o' guid reasons is
worth a pun' o' fair apologies.'

'The recruitin' office,' said Macgregor, blushing, 'wasna open till

'The recruitin' office! What - what - guidsake, laddie! dinna tell
me ye've been thinkin' o' enlistin'!'

'I've enlisted.'

Mr. Purdie fell back in his chair.

'The 9th H.L.I.,' said Macgregor, and, as if to improve matters if
possible, added, 'Glesca Hielanders - Kilts.'

The successful grocer sat up, pulled down his waistcoat and made a
grimace which he imagined to be a frown. 'Neither breeks nor
kilts,' he declared heavily, 'can cover deceit. Ye're under age,
Macgreegor. Ye're but eichteen!'

'Nineteen, Uncle Purdie.'

'Eh? An' when was ye nineteen?'

'This mornin'.'

Mr. Purdie's hand went to his mouth in time to stop a guffaw.
Presently he soberly inquired what his nephew's parents had said on
the matter.

'I ha'ena tell't them yet.' 'Ah, that's bad. What - what made ye

Macgregor knew, but could not have put it in words.

'Gettin' tired o' yer job here?'

'Na, Uncle Purdie.'

'H'm!' Mr. Purdie fondled his left whisker. 'An' when - a - ha'e ye
got to - a - jine yer regiment?'

'The morn's mornin'. I believe we're gaun into camp immediately.'

'Oho! So ye'll be wantin' to be quit o' yer job here at once.
Weel, weel, if ye feel it's yer duty to gang, lad, I suppose it's
mines to let ye gang as cheery as I can. But - I maun tell yer
aunt.' Mr. Purdie rose.

Macgregor, smiled dubiously. '_She'll_ no' be pleased onyway.'

'Aw, ye never can tell what'll please yer aunt. At least, that's
been ma experience for quarter o' a century. But it'll be best to
tell her - through the 'phone, of course. A handy invention the
'phone. Bide here till I come back.'

In a few minutes he returned suppressing a smile.

'I couldna ha'e presumed frae her voice that she was delighted,' he
reported; 'but she commanded me to gi'e ye five pound for
accidental expenses, as she calls them, an' yer place here is to be
preserved for ye, an' yer wages paid, even supposin' the war gangs
on for fifty year.'

With these words Mr. Purdie placed five notes in his astonished
nephew's hand and bade him begone.

'Ye maun tell yer mither instanter. I canna understan' what way ye
didna tell her first.'

'I - I was feart I wud maybe be ower wee for the Glesca Hielanders,'
Macgregor explained.

'Ye seem to me to be a heid taller since yesterday. Weel, weel.
God bless ye an' so forth. Come back an' see me in the efternune.'

Macgregor went out with a full heart as well as a well-filled
pocket. It is hardly likely that the very first 'accidental
expense' which occurred to him could have been foreseen by Aunt
Purdie - yet who shall discover the secrets of that august lady's

On his way home he paused at sundry shop windows - all jewellers'.
And he entered one shop, not a jeweller's, but the little
stationery and fancy goods shop owned by Miss M. Tod, and managed,
with perhaps more conscience than physical toil, by the girl he had
been courting for two years without having reached anything that
could be termed a definite understanding, though their relations
were of the most friendly and confidential nature.

'Mercy!' exclaimed Christina, at his entrance at so unusual an
hour; 'is the clock aff its onion, or ha'e ye received the sack?'

He was not quick at answering, and she continued: 'Ye're ower
early, Mac. Yer birthday present'll no be ready till the evenin'.
Still, here's wishin' ye many happies, an' may ye keep on

He smiled in a fashion that struck her as unfamiliar.

'What's up, Mac?' she asked, kindly. 'Surely ye ha'ena cast oot
wi' yer uncle?'

'I've enlisted,' he softly exploded.

She stared, and the colour rose in her pretty face, but her voice
was calm. 'Lucky you!' said she.

He was disappointed. Involuntarily he exclaimed: 'Ye're no a bit

'What regiment?'

He told her, and she informed him that he wouldn't look so bad in
the kilt. He announced that he was to report himself on the
morrow, and she merely commented, 'Quick work.'

'But, Christina, ye couldna ha'e guessed I was for enlistin',' he
said, after a pause.

'I was afraid - I mean for to say, I fancied ye were the sort to dae
it. If I had kent for sure, I wud ha'e been knittin' ye socks
instead o' a silly tie for yer birthday.'

'Ha'e ye been knittin' a tie for me?'

'Uh-ha - strictly platonic, of course.'

She had used the word more than once in the past, and he had not
derived much comfort from looking it up in the dictionary. But now
he was going - he told himself - to be put off no longer. Seating
himself at the counter, he briefly recounted his uncle's kindness
and his aunt's munificence. Then he attempted to secure her hand.

She evaded his touch, asking how his parents had taken his
enlistment. On his answering - -

'Dear, dear!' she cried, with more horror than she may have felt,
'an here ye are, wastin' the precious time in triflin' conversation
wi' me!'

'It's you that's daein' the triflin',' he retorted, with sudden
spirit; 'an' it's your fau't I'm here noo instead o' at hame.'

'Well, I never!' she cried. 'I believe I gave ye permission to
escort me from these premises at 8 p.m.,' she proceeded in her best
English, which he hated, 'but I have not the slightest recollection
of inviting ye to call at 10 a.m. However, the 8 p.m. appointment
is hereby cancelled.'

'Cancel yer Auntie Kate!' he rejoined, indignant. 'Hoo can ye
speak like that when dear knows when I'll see ye again?'

'Oh, ye'll no be at the Front for a week or so yet, an' we'll hope
for the best. Still, I'll forgive ye, seein' it's yer nineteenth
birthday. Only, I'm thinkin' yer parents 'll be wantin' ye to keep
the hoose the nicht.'

Macgregor's collar seemed to be getting tight, for he tugged at it
as he said: 'I'll tell them I'm gaun oot to see _you_.'

'That'll but double the trouble,' she said, lightly.

Their eyes met, and for the first time in their acquaintance,
perhaps, hers were first to give way.

'Christina,' he said, abruptly, 'I want to burst that five pound.'

'Ye extravagant monkey!'

'On a - a ring.'

'A ring! Ha'e ye enlisted as a colonel?' But her levity lacked

As for Macgregor, he had dreamed of this moment for ages. 'Ye'll
tak' it, Christina?' he whispered. 'Gi'e me yer size - a hole in a
bit pasteboard. . . .' Speech failed him.

'Me?' she murmured - and shook her head. 'Ye're ower young, Mac,'
she said, gently.

'I'm a year aulder nor you . . . Christina, let's get engaged
afore I gang - say ye will!'

She moved a little way up the counter and became engrossed in the
lurid cover of a penny novel. He moved also until he was directly

'Christina! . . . Yer third finger is aboot the same as ma wee

'Ay; but ye needna remind me o' ma clumsy han's.'

'Play fair,' he said. 'Will ye tak' the ring?'

'I dinna ken, Mac.'

But her hand was in his.

Too soon they heard Miss Tod stirring in the back room.

'If ye spend mair nor a pound on a ring,' said Christina, 'I'll
reconsider ma decision!'

'Ye've decided!' he almost shouted.

'No yet,' she said, with a gesture of dismissal as Miss Tod entered.


The quest of the right ring occupied the whole of the forenoon, and
Macgregor reached his home in bare time for the family dinner. He
desired to break his news as gently as possible, so, after making,
to his mother's annoyance, a most wretched meal, he said to his
father, who was lighting his pipe, in a voice meant to be natural:

'I got five pound frae Aunt Purdie the day.'

'Ye what!' Mr. Robinson dropped the match, and shouted to his
wife, who, assisted by their daughter, was starting to wash up.
'Lizzie! Did ever ye hear the like? Macgreegor's got five pound
frae his Aunt Purdie! Dod, but that's a braw birthday - - '

'She said it was for accidental expenses,' stammered the son.

Lizzie turned and looked at him. 'What ails ye the day, laddie?'

'Uncle Purdie's gaun to keep ma place for me,' he floundered.

'Keep yer place for ye!' cried John. 'What's a' this aboot
accidental expenses? Ha'e ye got hurt?'

Mrs. Robinson came over and laid a damp hand on her boy's shoulder.
'Macgreegor, ye needna be feart to tell us. We can thole it.' She
glanced at her husband, and said, in a voice he had not often
heard: 'John, oor wee Macgreegor has growed up to be a; sojer' - and
went back to her dishes.

Later, and just when he ought to be returning to his work, Mr.
Robinson, possibly for the mere sake of saying something, requested
a view of the five pounds.

'Ay,' seconded Lizzie, cheerfully, whilst her hand itched to grab
the money and, convey it to the bank, 'let's see them, laddie.'
And sister Jeannie and small brother Jimsie likewise gathered round
the hero.

With a feeble grin, Macgregor produced his notes.

'He's jist got three!' cried Jimsie.

'Whisht, Jimsie!' whispered Jeannie.

'Seems to ha'e been a bad accident already!' remarked John,
laughing boisterously.

'John,' said Lizzie, 'ye'll be late. Macgreegor'll maybe walk a
bit o' the road wi' ye.'

They were well on their way to the engineering works, where Mr.
Robinson was foreman, when Macgregor managed to say:

'I burst the twa pound on a ring.'

'Oho!' said John, gaily; then solemnly, 'What kin' o' a ring,

'An engagement yin,' the ruddy youth replied.

Mr. Robinson laughed, but not very heartily. 'Sae lang as it's no
a waddin' ring. . . . Weel, weel, this is the day for news.' He
touched his son's arm. 'It'll be the young lass in the stationery
shop - her that ye whiles see at yer Uncle Purdie's hoose - eh?'

'Hoo did ye ken?'

'Oh, jist guessed. It's her?'

'Maybe. . . . She hasna ta'en the ring yet.'

'But ye think she will, or ye wudna ha'e tell't me. Weel, I'm sure
I wish ye luck, Macgreegor. She's a bonny bit lass, rael clever, I
wud say, an' - an' gey stylish.'

'She's no that stylish - onyway, no stylish like Aunt Purdie.'

'Ah, but ye maunna cry doon yer Aunt Purdie - - '

'I didna mean that. But ye ken what I mean, fayther.'

'Oh, fine, fine,' Mr. Robinson replied, thankful that he had not
been asked to explain precisely what _he_ had meant. 'She bides wi'
her uncle an' aunt, does she no?' he continued, thoughtfully. 'I'm
wonderin' what they'll say aboot this. I doobt they'll say ye're
faur ower young to be thinkin' o' a wife.'

It was on Macgregor's tongue to retort that he had never thought of
any such thing, when his father went on - -

'An' as for yer mither, it'll be a terrible surprise to her. I
suppose ye'll be tellin', her as sune's ye get back ?'

'Ay. . . . Are ye no pleased about it?'

'Me?' Mr. Robinson scratched his head. 'Takin' it for granted
that ye're serious aboot the thing, I was never pleaseder. Ye can
tell yer mither that, if ye like.'

Macgregor was used to the paternal helping word at awkward moments,
but he had never valued it so much as now. As a matter of fact, he
dreaded his mother's frown less than her smile. Yet he need not
have dreaded either on this occasion.

He found her in the kitchen, busy over a heap of more or less
woolly garments belonging to himself. Jimsie was at afternoon
school; Jeannie sat in the little parlour knitting as though life
depended thereby.

He sat down in his father's chair by the hearth and lit a cigarette
with fingers not quite under control.

'I'll ha'e to send a lot o' things efter ye,' Lizzie remarked.
'This semmit's had its day.'

'I'll be gettin' a bit leave afore we gang to the Front,' said
Macgregor, as though the months of training were already nearing an

'If ye dinna get leave sune, I'll be up at the barracks to ha'e a
word wi' the general.'

'It'll likely be a camp, mither.'

'Aweel, camp or barracks, see an' keep yer feet cosy, an' dinna
smoke ower mony ceegarettes.' She fell to with her needle.

At the end of a long minute, Macgregor observed to the kettle: 'I
tell't fayther what I done wi' the twa pound.'

'Did ye?'

'Ay. He - he was awfu' pleased.'

'Was he?'

Macgregor took a puff at his cold cigarette, and tried again. 'He
said I was to tell ye he was pleased.'

'Oh, did he?'

'Never pleaseder in his life.'

'That was nice,' commented Lizzie, twirling the thread round the
stitching of a button.

He got up, went to the window, looked out, possibly for
inspiration, and came back with a little box in his hand.

'That's what I done,' he said, dropped it on her sewing, and
strolled to the window again.

After a long time, as it seemed, he felt her gaze and heard her

'Macgreegor, are ye in earnest?'

'Sure.' He turned to face her, but now she was looking down at the

'It'll be Mistress Baldwin's niece,' she said, at last.

'Hoo did ye ken?'

'A nice lass, but ower young like yersel'. An' yet' - she lifted
her eyes to his - 'ye're auld enough to be a sojer. Does she ken
ye've enlisted?'

He nodded, looking away. There was something in his mother's
eyes. . .

'Aweel,' she said, as if to herself, 'this war'll pit auld heids on
some young shouthers.' She got up, laid her seam deliberately on
the table, and went to him. She put her arm round him. 'Wi' yer
King an' yer Country an' yer Christina,' she said, with a sort of
laugh, 'there winna be a great deal o' ye left for yer mither. But
she's pleased if you're pleased - this time, at ony rate.' She
released him. 'I maun tell Jeannie.' she said, leaving the kitchen.

Jeannie came, and for once that sensible little person talked
nonsense. In her eyes, by his engagement, her big brother had
simply out-heroed himself.

'Aw, clay up, Jeannie,' he cried at last, in his embarrassment.
'Come on oot wi' me, an' I'll stan' ye a dizzen sliders.'



Macgregor, his countenance shining with lover's anticipation and
Lever's soap, was more surprised than gratified to find Willie
Thomson awaiting him at the close-mouth. For Willie, his oldest,
if not his choicest friend, had recently jeered at his intention of
becoming a soldier, and they had parted on indifferent terms,
though Willie had succeeded in adding to a long list of borrowings
a fresh item of twopence.

Willie and prosperity were still as far apart as ever, and even
Willie could hardly have blamed prosperity for that. He had no
deadly vices, but he could not stick to any job for more than a
month. He was out of work at present. Having developed into a
rather weedy, seedy-looking young man, he was not too proud to
sponge on the melancholy maiden aunt who had brought him up, and
whose efforts at stern discipline during his earlier years had
seemingly proved fruitless. Macgregor was the only human being he
could call friend.

'Ye're in a hurry,' he now observed, and put the usual question:
'Ha'e ye a fag on ye?'

Macgregor obliged, saying as kindly as he could, 'I'll maybe see ye
later, Wullie.'

'Thon girl again, I suppose.'

'So long,' said Macgregor, shortly.

'Haud on a meenute. I want to speak to ye. Ha'e ye done it?'

'Ay, this mornin'. . . . An' I'm gey busy.'

'Ye should leave the weemen alane, an' then ye wud ha'e time to

'What ha'e ye got to speak aboot?' Macgregor impatiently demanded,
though he was in good time for his appointment.

'I was thinkin' o' enlistin',' said Willie.

'Oh!' cried his friend, interested. 'Ye've changed yer mind,

'I've been conseederin' it for a while back. Ye needna think _you_
had onything to dae wi' it,' said Willie.

'Ye've been drinkin' beer,' his friend remarked, not accusingly,
but merely by way of stating a fact.

'So wud you, if ye had ma aunt.'

'Maybe I wud,' Macgregor sympathetically admitted.

'But ye couldna droon her in twa hauf pints. Ach, I'm fed up wi'
her. She startit yatterin' at me the nicht because I askit her for
saxpence; so at last I tell't her I wud suner jine Kitchener's nor
see her ugly face for anither week.'

'What did she say?'

'Said it was the first guid notion ever I had.'

'Weel,' said Macgregor eagerly, after a slight pause, 'since ye're
for enlistin', ye'd best dae it the nicht, Wullie.'

'I suppose I micht as weel jine your lot,' said Willie, carelessly.

Macgregor drew himself up. 'The 9th H.L.I, doesna accep' onything
that offers.'

'I'm as guid as you - an' I'm bigger nor you.'

'Ye're bigger, but ye're peely-wally. Still, Wullie, I wud like
fine to see ye in ma company.'

'Ye've a neck on ye! _Your_ company! . . . Aweel, come on an' see
me dae it.'

In the dusk Macgregor peered at his watch. It told him that the
thing could not be done, not if he ran both ways. 'I canna manage
it, Wullie,' he said, with honest regret.

'Then it's off,' the contrary William declared.

'What's off?'

'I've changed ma mind. I'm no for the sojerin'.'

At this Macgregor bristled, so to speak. He could stand being
'codded,' but already the Army was sacred to him.

'See here, Wullie, will ye gang an' enlist noo or tak' a hammerin'?'

'Wha'll gi'e me the hammerin'?'

'Come an' see,' was the curt reply. Macgregor turned back into the
close and led the way to a small yard comprising some sooty earth,
several blades of grass and a couple of poles for the support of
clothes lines. A little light came from windows above. Here he
removed his jacket, hung it carefully on a pole; and began to roll
up his sleeves.

'It's ower dark here,' Willie complained. 'I canna see.'

'Ye can feel. Tak' aff yer coat.' Willie knew that despite his
inches he was a poor match for the other, yet he was a stubborn
chap. 'What business is it o' yours whether I enlist or no?' he

'Will ye enlist?'

'I'll see ye damp first!'

'Come on, then!' Macgregor spat lightly on his palms. 'I've nae
time to waste.'

Willie cast his jacket on the ground. 'I'll wrastle ye,' he said,
with a gleam of hope.

'Thenk ye; but I'm no for dirtyin' ma guid claes. Come on!'

To Willie's credit, let it be recorded, he did come on, and so
promptly that Macgregor, scarcely prepared, had to take a light tap
on the chin. A brief display of thoroughly unscientific boxing
ensued, and then Macgregor got home between the eyes. Willie,
tripping over his own jacket, dropped to earth.

'I wasna ready that time,' he grumbled, sitting up.

Macgregor seized his hand and dragged him to his feet, with the
encouraging remark, 'Ye'll be readier next time.'

In the course of the second round Willie achieved a smart clip on
his opponent's ear, but next moment he received, as it seemed, an
express train on the point of his nose, and straightway sat down in

'Is't bled, Wullie?' Macgregor presently inquired with compunction
as well as satisfaction.

'It's near broke, ye - - !' groaned the sufferer, adding, 'I kent
fine ye wud bate me.'

'What for did ye fecht then?'

'Nane o' your business.'

'Weel, get up. Yer breeks'll get soakit sittin' there.' The
victor donned his jacket.

'Ma breeks is nane o' your business, neither.'

'Ach, Wullie, dinna be a wean. Get up an' shake han's. I've got
to gang.'

'Gang then! Awa' an' boast to yer girl that ye hut a man on his
nose behind his back - - '

'Havers, man! What's wrang wi' ye?'

'I'll tell ye what's wrang wi' you, Macgreegor Robi'son!' Willie
cleared his throat noisily. 'Listen! Ye're ower weel aff. Ye've
got a dacent fayther an' mither an' brither an' sister; ye've got a
dacent uncle; ye've got a dacent girl. . . . An' what the hell
ha'e I got? A rotten aunt!' Maybe she canna help bein' rotten, but
she is - damp rotten! She wud be gled, though she wud greet, if I
got a bullet the morn. There ye are! That's me!'

'Wullie!' Macgregor exclaimed, holding out his hand, which the
other ignored.

'I'm rotten, tae,' he went on, bitterly. 'Fine I ken it. But I
never had an equal chance wi' you. I'm no blamin' ye. Ye've aye
shared me what ye had. I treated ye ill aboot the enlistin'. But
I wasna gaun to enlist to please you, nor ma aunt, neither.' He
rose slowly and picked up his shabby jacket. 'But, by - - , I'll
enlist to please masel'!' He held out his hand. 'There it is, if
ye want it, Macgreegor. . . . Ha'e ye a match? Weel, show a
licht. Is ma nose queer-like?'

'Ay,' Macgregor unwillingly replied, and, with inspiration, added
consolingly, 'But it was aye that, Wullie.'



'Wha' was chasin' ye?' Christina inquired, as Macgregor came
breathless to the counter, which she was tidying up for the night.

'I was feart I was gaun to be late.' he panted.

'I wud ha'e excused ye under the unique circumstances,' she said
graciously. 'Sit doon an' recover yer puff.'

He took the chair, saying: 'It was Wullie Thomson. He's awa' to

'Wullie Thomson! Weel, that's a bad egg oot the basket. Hoo did
ye manage it, Mac?'

'It wasna me,' Macgregor replied, not a little regretfully. 'He's
enlistin' to please hissel'. He says he's fed up wi' his aunt.'

'She's been feedin' him up for a lang while, puir body. But ye're
a queer lad,' she said softly, 'the way ye stick to a fushionless
character like him. I was tellin' Miss Tod,' she continued,
'aboot - - '

'Oor engagement!' he burst out, scarlet.

'Whist, man! - ye've a wild imagination! - aboot ye enlistin'. She's
been in a state o' patriotic tremulosity ever since. Dinna be
surprised if she tries for to kiss ye.'

'I wud be mair surprised,' said Macgregor, with unexpected
boldness, 'if you tried it.'

'Naething could exceed ma ain amazement,' she rejoined, 'if I did.'

'I've got the ring,' he announced, his hand in his pocket.

'Order! Remember, I'm still at the receipt o' custom - three
bawbees since seeven o'clock.'

'I hope ye'll like it,' he said, reluctantly withdrawing his hand
empty. 'Miss Tod canna hear us, can she?'

'Ye never can tell what a spinster'll hear when she's interested.
At present she's nourishin' hersel' on tea - her nineteenth cup for

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Online LibraryJohn Joy BellWee Macgreegor Enlists → online text (page 1 of 7)