Macgregor took hold of himself. ’What’ll ye dae if yer aunt laughs?’ he quietly demanded.
‘Her? Gor! I never heard her laugh yet—excep’ in her sleep efter eatin’ a crab. But by Jings, if she laughs at me, I—I’ll gang oot an’ ha’e a beer!’
‘But ye’ve ta’en the pledge.’
‘To ——! I forgot aboot that. Weel, I—I’ll wait an’ see what she’s got in for the tea first. . . . But she canna laugh. I’ll bet ye a packet o’ fags she greets.’
‘I’ll tak’ ye on!’
It may be said at once that the wager was never decided, for the simple reason that when the time came Willie refused all information—including the fact that his aunt had kissed him. Which is not, alas, to say that his future references to her were to be more respectful than formerly.
* * * * *
At three minutes before seven Macgregor stood outside Miss Tod’s little shop, waiting for the departure of a customer. It would be absurd to say that his knees shook, but it is a fact that his spirit trembled. Suspended from a finger of his left hand was a small package of Christina’s favourite sweets, which unconsciously he kept spinning all the time. His right hand was chiefly occupied in feeling for a pocket which no longer existed, and then trying to look as if it had been doing something entirely different. He wished the customer would ‘hurry up’; yet when she emerged at last, he was not ready. He was miserably, desperately afraid of Christina’s smile, and just as miserably, desperately desirous to see it again.
Solemnly seven began to toll from a church tower. He pulled himself up. After all, why should she laugh? And if she did—well. . . .
Bracing himself, he strode forward, grasped the rattling handle and pushed. The little signal bell above the door went off with a monstrous ‘ding’ that rang through his spine, and in a condition of feverish moistness he entered, and, halting a pace within, saw in blurred fashion, and seemingly at a great distance, the loveliest thing he knew.
Christina did smile, but it was upon, not at, him. And she said lightly, and by no means unkindly:
‘Hullo, Mac! . . . Ye’ve had yer hair cut.’
From sheer relief after the long strain, something was bound to give way. The string on his finger snapped and the package, reaching the floor, gaily exploded.
MRS. McOSTRICH ENTERTAINS
‘I’m fed up wi’ pairties,’ was Macgregor’s ungracious response when informed at home of the latest invitation. ’I dinna ask for leave jist for to gang to a rotten pairty.’
‘Ay, ye’ve mair to dae wi’ yer leave,’ his father was beginning, with a wink, when his mother, with something of her old asperity, said:
‘Macgreegor, that’s no the way to speak o’ pairties that folk gi’e in yer honour. An’ you, John, should think shame o’ yersel’. Ye should baith be sayin’ it’s terrible kind o’ Mistress McOstrich to ask ye what nicht wud suit yer convenience.’