‘Ay,’ Macgregor unwillingly replied, and, with inspiration, added consolingly, ‘But it was aye that, Wullie.’
‘Wha’ was chasin’ ye?’ Christina inquired, as Macgregor came breathless to the counter, which she was tidying up for the night.
‘I was feart I was gaun to be late.’ he panted.
‘I wud ha’e excused ye under the unique circumstances,’ she said graciously. ‘Sit doon an’ recover yer puff.’
He took the chair, saying: ‘It was Wullie Thomson. He’s awa’ to enlist.’
’Wullie Thomson! Weel, that’s a bad egg oot the basket. Hoo did ye manage it, Mac?’
‘It wasna me,’ Macgregor replied, not a little regretfully. ’He’s enlistin’ to please hissel’. He says he’s fed up wi’ his aunt.’
‘She’s been feedin’ him up for a lang while, puir body. But ye’re a queer lad,’ she said softly, ’the way ye stick to a fushionless character like him. I was tellin’ Miss Tod,’ she continued, ‘aboot——’
‘Oor engagement!’ he burst out, scarlet.
‘Whist, man!—ye’ve a wild imagination!—aboot ye enlistin’. She’s been in a state o’ patriotic tremulosity ever since. Dinna be surprised if she tries for to kiss ye.’
‘I wud be mair surprised,’ said Macgregor, with unexpected boldness, ‘if you tried it.’
‘Naething could exceed ma ain amazement,’ she rejoined, ‘if I did.’
‘I’ve got the ring,’ he announced, his hand in his pocket.
‘Order! Remember, I’m still at the receipt o’ custom—three bawbees since seeven o’clock.’
‘I hope ye’ll like it,’ he said, reluctantly withdrawing his hand empty. ‘Miss Tod canna hear us, can she?’
’Ye never can tell what a spinster’ll hear when she’s interested. At present she’s nourishin’ hersel’ on tea—her nineteenth cup for the day; but she’ll be comin’ shortly to embrace ye an’ shut the shop. I micht as weel get on ma hat. . . . An’ ’what did yer parents say to ye?’
‘They said ye was an awfu’ nice, clever, bonny, handsome lassie——’
‘Tit, tit! Aboot the enlistin’, I meant. But I’ll no ask ye that. They wud be prood, onyway.’
‘Ma uncle’s raised ma wages, an’ they’re to be payed a’ the time I’m awa’.’
’Shakespeare! That’s a proper uncle to ha’e! But dinna be tempted to stop awa’ till ye’re a millionaire. Oh, here’s Miss Tod. Keep calm. She’ll no bite ye.’
The little elderly woman who entered had made the acquaintance of Macgregor in his early courting days, especially during the period wherein he had squandered his substance in purchases of innumerable and unnecessary lead pencils, etcetera, doubtless with a view to acquiring merit in her eyes as well as in her assistant’s.
She now proceeded to hold .his hand, patting it tenderly, while she murmured ‘brave lad’ over and over again, to his exquisite embarrassment.