‘I believe ye’re ashamed o’ the uniform,’ said Willie, disagreeable under his own disappointment at the verdict.
‘Say it again!’ snapped Macgregor.
Willie ignored the invitation, and swore by the great god Jings that he would assuredly wear breeks unless something happened. The only thing that may be said to have happened was that he did not wear breeks.
As a matter of fact, Macgregor, with his sturdy figure, carried his kilt rather well. The lanky William, however, gave the impression that he was growing out of it perceptibly, yet inevitably.
Four o’clock saw them started on their way, and with every step from the camp, which now seemed a lost refuge, their kilts felt shorter, their legs longer, their knees larger, their person smaller. Conversation soon dried up. Willie whistled tunelessly through his teeth; Macgregor kept his jaw set and occasionally and inadvertently kicked a loose stone. Down on the main road an electric car bound for Glasgow hove in sight. Simultaneously they started to run. After a few paces they pulled up, as though suddenly conscious of unseemliness, and resumed their sober pace—and lost the car.
They boarded the next, having sacrificed twelve precious minutes of their leave. Of course, they would never have dreamed of travelling ’inside’—and yet . . . They ascended as gingerly as a pretty girl aware of ungainly ankles surmounts a stile. Arrived safely on the roof, they sat down and puffed each a long breath suggestive of grave peril overcome. They covered their knees as far as they could and as surreptitiously as possible.
Presently, with the help of cigarettes, which they smoked industriously, they began to revive. Their lips were unsealed, though conversation could not be said to gush. They did their best to look like veterans. An old woman smiled rather sadly, but very kindly, in their direction, and Macgregor reddened, while Willie spat in defiance of the displayed regulation.
As the journey proceeded, their talk dwindled. It was after a long pause that Willie said:
‘Ye’ll be for hame as sune as we get to Glesca—eh?’
‘Ay. . . . An’ you’ll be for yer aunt’s—eh?’
‘Ay,’ Willie sighed, and lowering his voice, said: ’What’ll ye dae if they laugh at ye?’
‘They’ll no laugh,’ Macgregor replied, some indignation in his assurance.
‘H’m! . . . Maybe she’ll laugh at ye.’
‘Nae fears!’ But the confident tone was overdone. Macgregor, after all, was not quite sure about Christina. She laughed at so many things. He was to meet her at seven, and of late he had lost sleep wondering how she would receive his first appearance in the kilt. He dreaded her chaff more than any horrors of war that lay before him.
‘Aw, she’ll laugh, sure enough,’ croaked Willie. ’I wud ha’e naething to dae wi’ the weemen if I was you. Ye canna trust them,’ added this misogynist of twenty summers.