ARMS AND THE MAID
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 relationship.
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 nine.’
‘The recruitin’ office! What—what—guidsake, laddie! dinna tell me ye’ve been thinkin’ o’ enlistin’!’
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?’
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 enlist?’