‘Ay; but she’s a queer-like aunt,’ said Willie, pocketing the useful sum of tenpence.
‘FONDEST LOVE FROM MAGGIE’
Morning brought no letter from Christina, but at breakfast time Macgregor received the astounding intimation that he was granted three days’ leave, the same to commence with the very next hour.
‘What’s the guid o’ leave wi’ a jaw like this?’ wailed the lop-sided William who, with several other members of the billet, had been included in the dispensation.
‘I’ll tell ye what it means, onyway,’ said Lance-corporal Jake; ’it means that we’ll be gettin’ a move on afore we’re mony days aulder.’
Macgregor did not enter into any of the discussions which followed. Having hurriedly made himself as smart as possible, he took car for Glasgow, and there caught the ten o’clock train for Aberdeen. He spent the ensuing four hours in wondering—not so much what he should say to Christina as what she would say to him. For himself, he was determined to make a clean breast of it; at the same time, he was not going to absolve Christina of all responsibility. He had behaved like a fool, he admitted, but he still had a just grievance. Yet it was with no very stout heart that he alighted in the big station, where everything was strange except the colour of khaki, and found his way to the quiet hotel where his friends had rooms.
And there on the steps was Uncle Purdie sunning himself and smoking a richly-banded cigar—by order of his spouse.
‘Preserve us!’ exclaimed Uncle Purdie in sheer astonishment at the sight of his nephew. ‘Preserve us!’ he repeated in quite another tone—that of concern. ‘But I’m rael glad to see ye, lad,’ he went on somewhat uneasily, ‘an’ yer aunt’ll be unco pleased. Come awa’ in, come awa’ in! Ye’ve gotten a bit leave, I preshume. An’ ye’ll be needin’ yer denner—eh? But we’ll sune see to that. ’Mphm! Ay! Jist so! Eh—I suppose ye hadna time to write or wire—but what’s the odds? Ye’re welcome, Macgreegor, rael welcome.’
‘Jist got leave this mornin’—three days,’ Macgregor explained, not a little relieved to have found his uncle alone to begin with.
‘So I catched the first train I could.’
‘Jist that, exactly so,’ said Mr. Purdie with a heavy sigh that seemed irrelevant. ‘Weel, ma lad,’ he resumed hurriedly, ’if ye tak’ a sate here, I’ll awa’ up the stair an’ get yer aunt. She generally has a bit snooze aboot this time—efter her meal, ye ken—but——’
‘Dinna fash her aboot me, Uncle Purdie.’
’Oh, but it—it’s necessary to get her doon here. She’ll maybe be able to break—I meant for to say——’ Mr. Purdie stopped short and wiped perspiration from his face.
‘Jist a meenute,’ he said abruptly, and bolted upstairs.
Macgregor gazed after the retreating burly figure. Never before had he seen his uncle nervous. Was Aunt Purdie not so well? It was news to hear of her napping in the middle of the day. Then a likelier explanation dawned on Macgregor, and he smiled to himself. Uncle Purdie had been too shy to mention it, and now he had retired simply to allow of Christina’s coming down by herself. So Macgregor prepared to meet his love.