‘Ay. He—he was awfu’ pleased.’
Macgregor took a puff at his cold cigarette, and tried again. ’He said I was to tell ye he was pleased.’
‘Oh, did he?’
‘Never pleaseder in his life.’
‘That was nice,’ commented Lizzie, twirling the thread round the stitching of a button.
He got up, went to the window, looked out, possibly for inspiration, and came back with a little box in his hand.
‘That’s what I done,’ he said, dropped it on her sewing, and strolled to the window again.
After a long time, as it seemed, he felt her gaze and heard her voice.
‘Macgreegor, are ye in earnest?’
‘Sure.’ He turned to face her, but now she was looking down at the ring.
‘It’ll be Mistress Baldwin’s niece,’ she said, at last.
‘Hoo did ye ken?’
‘A nice lass, but ower young like yersel’. An’ yet’—she lifted her eyes to his—’ye’re auld enough to be a sojer. Does she ken ye’ve enlisted?’
He nodded, looking away. There was something in his mother’s eyes. . .
‘Aweel,’ she said, as if to herself, ’this war’ll pit auld heids on some young shouthers.’ She got up, laid her seam deliberately on the table, and went to him. She put her arm round him. ‘Wi’ yer King an’ yer Country an’ yer Christina,’ she said, with a sort of laugh, ‘there winna be a great deal o’ ye left for yer mither. But she’s pleased if you’re pleased—this time, at ony rate.’ She released him. ‘I maun tell Jeannie.’ she said, leaving the kitchen.
Jeannie came, and for once that sensible little person talked nonsense. In her eyes, by his engagement, her big brother had simply out-heroed himself.
‘Aw, clay up, Jeannie,’ he cried at last, in his embarrassment. ‘Come on oot wi’ me, an’ I’ll stan’ ye a dizzen sliders.’
Macgregor, his countenance shining with lover’s anticipation and Lever’s soap, was more surprised than gratified to find Willie Thomson awaiting him at the close-mouth. For Willie, his oldest, if not his choicest friend, had recently jeered at his intention of becoming a soldier, and they had parted on indifferent terms, though Willie had succeeded in adding to a long list of borrowings a fresh item of twopence.
Willie and prosperity were still as far apart as ever, and even Willie could hardly have blamed prosperity for that. He had no deadly vices, but he could not stick to any job for more than a month. He was out of work at present. Having developed into a rather weedy, seedy-looking young man, he was not too proud to sponge on the melancholy maiden aunt who had brought him up, and whose efforts at stern discipline during his earlier years had seemingly proved fruitless. Macgregor was the only human being he could call friend.