‘Guid nicht!’ And stuffing some blanket into his mouth, Macgregor rolled over and quaked with imprisoned mirth.
It came, as Christina would have expressed it in her early days, like a ‘blot from the blue.’ On a certain fine morning, while battalion drill was in progress, a mounted officer dashed upon the scene and was forthwith engaged in earnest conversation with the colonel. The news was evidently urgent, and it was received with an obvious gravity. A thrill ran through the ranks; you would have fancied you heard breaths of anticipation.
A minute later the companies were making for camp at the double. Arrived there they were instructed to repair to billets and, with all speed, pack up. And presently ammunition was being served out, a hundred rounds to each man; and, later, ‘iron’ rations.
‘We’re awa’ noo!’ gasped Macgregor, recovering forcibly from Willie’s greedy clutch a pair of socks knitted by Christina.
‘Ay, we’re awa’; an’ I’ll bet ye we’re for Flanders,’ said Willie, no less excited.
‘Dardanelles!’ shouted Macgregor, above the din that filled the billet.
‘Flanders!’ yelled Willie, wildly, and started to dance—unfortunately upon a thin piece of soap.
‘Dardanelles!’ Macgregor repeated as he gave his friend a hand up.
‘Oh ——!’ groaned Willie, rubbing the back of his head. ’But what’ll ye bet?’
‘What ha’e ye got?’
’I’ll bet ye thruppence—the thruppence ye lent me the day afore yesterday.’
‘Done! If ye win, we’ll be quits; if ye loss——’
‘Na, na! If I win, ye’ll ha’e to pay me——’
‘Ach, I’ve nae time to listen to ye. I’ve twa letters to write.’
‘Letters! What aboot the bet?’
‘Awa’ an’ chase yersel’! Are ye no gaun to drap a line to yer aunt?’
’No dashed likely! She’s never sent the postal order I asked her for. If I had got it, I wud ha’e payed what I’m owin’ ye, Macgreegor. By heavens, I wud! I’ll tak’ ma oath I——’
‘Aweel, never heed aboot that,’ Macgregor said, soothingly. ’Send her a post caird an’ let me get peace for three meenutes.’
‘Ye canna get peace in this,’ said Willie, with a glance round the tumultuous billet.
‘I can—if ye haud yer silly tongue.’ Macgregor thereupon got his pad and envelopes (a gift from Miss Tod), squatted on his bed, and proceeded to gnaw his pencil. The voice of the sergeant was heard ordering the men to hurry up.
‘I’ll tell ye what I’ll dae,’ said Willie, sitting down at his friend’s elbow. ‘I’ll bet ye a’ I owe ye to a bob it’s Flanders. Ye see, I’ll maybe get shot, an’ I dinna want to dee in debt. An’ I’ll send the auld cat a caird wi’ something nice on it, to please ye . . . . Eh?’
‘Aw, onything ye like, but for ony sake clay up! Shift!’ cried the distracted Macgregor.