CONSCIENCE AND A COCOA-NUT
With one thing and another Christina, during her first evening in Aberdeen, had no opportunity of sending her betrothed more than a postcard announcing her safe arrival; but she went to bed with every intention of sending him on the morrow the longest and sweetest letter she had ever written. The receipt of Macgregor’s letter, with all its implied reproaches, however, not only hurt her feelings, but set her pride up in arms. ’He had nae business to write as if I was a selfish thing; as if I had nae right to decide for masel’!’ As a matter of fact, her sole reason for accepting Mrs. Purdie’s invitation had been a fear of offending Macgregor’s important relatives by a refusal. Heaven knew she had not wanted to put 150 miles between her lad and herself at such a time.
Still, as Macgregor might have known by now, it was always a mistake to try to hustle Christina in any way. Her reply condescended neither to explanations nor defence. Written in her superior, and rather high-flown English, which she was well aware he detested, it practically ignored his epistle and took the form of an essay on the delights of travel, the charm of residence in the Northern City, the kindliness and generosity of host and hostess. She was not without compunction, especially when Uncle Purdie expressed the hope that she was sending the lad something to ‘keep up his pecker,’ but she let the letter go, telling herself that it would be ‘good for him.’
The postcard was received by Macgregor after an uneasy night and a shameful awakening. The meagre message made him more miserable than angry. In the circumstances it was, he felt bound to admit, as much as he deserved. Mercifully, Willie had such a ’rotten head’ that he was unable to plague his unhappy friend, and the day turned out to be a particularly busy one for the battalion. Next morning brought the letter. Macgregor was furious, until Conscience asked him what he had to complain about.
Willie, his mischievous self again, got in a nasty one by inquiring how much he had paid for the cab the night before last.
‘Ye dirty spy!’ cried Macgregor. ’What for did ye hook it in the pictur’ hoose an’ leave her wi’ me? She was your affair.’
‘I never asked her to spend the evening’,’ Willie retorted, truthfully enough, ‘Twa’s comp’ny.’
Macgregor felt his face growing hot. With an effort he said coldly: ‘If ye had stopped wi’ us ye wudna ha’e been back at the beer an’ broke yer pledge.’
‘Wha tell’t ye I was at the beer?’
‘Yer breath, ye eediot!’
‘Ho! so ye was pretendin’ ye was sleepin’ when I spoke to ye! Cooard to smell a man’s breath wi’ yer eyes shut!’
Macgregor turned wearily away. ’It’s nae odds to me what ye drink,’ he said.
’Ye should think shame to say a thing like that to a chap that hasna tasted but wance for near a year—at least, for several months,’ said Willie, following. ’But I’ll forgive ye like a Christian. . . . For peety’s sake ten’ us a tanner. I ha’ena had a fag since yesterday. I’ll no split on ye.’ He winked and nudged Macgregor. ‘Maggie’s a whale for the cuddlin’—eh?’