FICTION

THE CALL

Another Donald Mackellen Story

KIT HIGSON May 15 1940
FICTION

THE CALL

Another Donald Mackellen Story

KIT HIGSON May 15 1940

I'VE GOT the new paper, George. And the strips of wood. The boy just brought them.” Margaret laid a black roll on the table from which Cook had just finished clearing away the breakfast things.

Her husband answered easily, "I'll fix it for you in a frame when I come home tonight and then this never-ending blackout business won't be so much work for you as it has been.”

His adopted son removed his gaze from the funereal looking pile on the table, wanted to know, “Is the warr really starrting tae nicht, George?”

“It may start in earnest at any time. Why?”

Donald explained, "Weel. I’ve nut got ma drum.”

A little silence followed his speech. It was broken by Margaret. She said very patiently. "I don’t wish you to have a drum. I’ve told you at least a dozen times, you and the puppy make too much noise as it is. I stretched a good many points in allowing you to have a dog, but I draw the line at a drum."

Donald's voice, like his eyes, was full of reproach. He looked at George, ignoring Margaret. “A Mackellen o’ the Mackellens,” he said. “An’ nut tae tak' ma pairt in a wee bit scrap. Ma gran’faither wad turrn in his grave. He wad, George.”

George, not at all impressed, assured his adopted son, “If you are to be believed, your grandfather has done very little else but perform similar antics ever since you came to us.”

“George!”

He grinned back at his shocked wife. “The old chap must be having a very uncomfortable time,” he told her.

“Ye’r nut laughing at ma deid gran’faither, are ye, George?”

“No, I’m laughing at you.”

Donald, not pleased with the retort, spoke to the bull pup at his feet. “I'm awa’ tae the burnside tae droon masel!’, ” he said.

There was a hint of tears in his voice; tears or temper. Margaret couldn't make up her mind which. She pointed out, “A drum wouldn’t be much use, Donald."

“It wad, Marg’ret. It wad. Ma gran’faither has tauld me lots o’ times there’s naetheeng like the beat o' a guid drum tae pit hearrt intae a mon an’—”

George finished the sentence, “—headache into a woman,” he concluded. “All the same, Margaret”—he looked over Donald’s rumpled head—“I think we might, eh?”

His wife agreed finally, and with the injunction to the small boy at her side. “A little one, mind.”

Donald, taking the silver George was holding out, mentioned, “I’ll keep on the pavement, Marg’ret.”

“Donald!” She would have stopped him. But her husband broke in.

“He’ll be all right, my dear,” he said. “There’s a toy shop not five minutes from the bottom of the avenue, and he doesn’t need to cross the road.”

His adopted son, not waiting for the conclusion of the argument, had vanished, slamming the gate in the face of the indignant pup.

“We don’t want to mollycoddle him,” George Bannock told his wife. “He’s six now, you know.”

“He might be sixty to hear him talk.” Margaret, annoyed with Donald and her husband, went on in a little rush: “He keeps on and on and on when he wants anything till one’s mazed into giving it to him. It’s a fortnight now since he saw that wretched drum in the window and there’s been no peace since. We ought not to give in to him, George. We really ought not.”

“It’s the lesser evil, my dear. It’s the lesser evil.” Her husband rose, stifling a yawn. “He’d talk a donkey’s hind leg off,” he agreed. “And mark every other sentence with some quotation from his old grandfather. He’s the most original little scoundrel that ever dropped out of a wild Scots hamlet into a peaceful English household.”

Margaret, unrolling her paper, amended, “He’s an exceedingly self-willed and naughty boy.”

Her husband, intent on catching a tram to town, passed the toy shop a few minutes later. Through the plate-glass window he could just glimpse the scarlet and green kilt of his adopted son. Donald and the man behind the counter were eyeing a bigger drum, at least several sizes larger than the one that adorned the window. George muttered with sudden compunction, “Poor Margaret! I ought to have told him there’d be some change.”

DONALD was conversing with the astonished shopkeeper. “I’ll be awa’ tae the frront wi’ ma clan,” he said. “Ma great-grreat-grrreat-gran’faither cam’ in firrst at the sheep trials.”

The shopkeeper, not quite seeing what that had to do with it, remarked genially, “You don’t say.”

Donald, strapping his drum into position, told him, “A’ the Mackellens wull be there an' the Macullons. It'll be a grrand feicht. I'll be telling Tiger aboot it when I cam’ hame.”

“Tiger?”

“Ma pup.”

“Oh, I see.” The man behind the counter laid a small pile of coins in front of his customer. “You’d maybe like an air gun,” he suggested.

Donald, his eyes shining, his small stomach sticking out so that the drum rested easily upon it, agreed he would like a gun. He received the weapon directly after and a small packet of pellets. “There’s nae mair change, I s’pose?” he wanted to know.

The shopkeeper shook his head. “You're Mrs. Bannock’s little boy?" he enquired.

“She’s ’dopted me.” Donald, unable to resist the temptation, struck the tight skin of his latest possession with one of the sticks, said when the rattle had ceased, “Ma great-grreat-grrreat-gran’faither an’ ma gran'faither, an’ ma mither an’ faither, they're a’ deid an’ buried. That’s why I'm here wi’ Marg’ret an’ George.” 

“I see." The shopkeeper added, as the door closed with a little slam on his small customer’s back, “Heaven help them,” and mentioned as he replaced several lesser drums in their original positions, “Why they couldn’t adopt something English, beats me.”

Donald had forgotten him. He swung up the avenue, beating a tattoo on the drum. The gun made a bulge under his kilt. Another small boy watched him inquisitively from the top of a garden gate. “Where did you get that?” he wanted to know when Donald reached him.

“Bocht it.” Donald, ceasing to make noises on the instrument, drew out his second purchase, fitted it with a pellet. “The feicht’s on,” he said. And fired.

The boy’s mother, coming behind him, clapped her hand to her cheek. She said, “You’re a naughty, rude boy.”

“I’m nut. I’m a soldier.” Donald, somewhat taken aback, pursued his way homeward. “I’ll see yon laddie when his mither’s nut aboot,” he observed, and became aware of the blackbird peering at him inquisitively from one of the trees lining the pavement. That his pellet entered the ear of the old lady just in front, instead of the wing of the bird, was not Donald’s fault. He would have told her so, but she drowned his explanation in a flood of angry speech.

“I shall go straight in to Mrs. Bannock,” she finished.

“Ye’d better be awa’ hame ’fore the enemy gets ye.” Donald, genuinely alarmed, looked up at her. “They’ll be here ony minit. I’ve ca’ed up masel’. The Mackellens wull be a’ aboot. An’ the Macullons. An’ streams o’ bluid. Ye'd better be awa’ hame an’ pit y’er black curtains up.” He struck his drum, hoping further to impress the old lady. But she merely snapped, “Such gibberish!” And proceeded toward Willow Dene.

Shortly afterward, Donald at her side, she interviewed Margaret. “I may be deaf for the rest of my life,” she informed that perturbed woman.

“Ye winna." Donald, raising himself on his toes so that she might the better hear him, insisted, “Ye winna. The bullet cam’ oot an’ rolled doon. I’m awa’ tae searrch it noo.”

“You’re not.” Margaret drew him back none too gently. She said, “You are going to apologize to this lady and tell her how sorry you are you have hurt her.”

Donald, having duly apologized, and the old lady, slightly placated, taken her departure, Margaret told her adopted son, “You had no business to buy the pistol at all. You ought to have brought the change back.”

“Hoo am I tae feicht wi’oot ma gun, Marg’ret?” His eyes, wide, questioning, met hers.

“You are not going to fight. Even if there was a war here, and there probably won’t be, little boys wouldn’t be allowed to take part.”

Margaret, having delivered this crushing rejoinder, would have gone indoors, leaving her adopted son to entertain himself. But his loud snort caused her to change her mind. She said, “You are not to do that, Donald, it’s rude.”

“Ma gran’faither wad. When Pendy, the wuman, wis abune hersel’ an’ back answered ma gran’faither.”

Margaret interrupted decisively, “It doesn’t matter what your grandfather did, or did not, I won’t have you making that ugly noise.” She added, “It’s a pity you don’t remember some of his nice traits.”

“He hadn’t any, Marg’ret; only an auld wan wi’ a broken corner that Pendy used forr brushing up the crumbs.” Donald, not quite understanding why his elder should mention “trays” at this moment, was going to ask for an explanation; instead he snorted a second time with even more emphasis. Margaret had departed inside, giving the door a quick, irritated little slam.

AN HOUR later she left the table at which she was working, went over to the window. This she closed deliberately, top and bottom. At the same moment the stout woman in the kitchen performed a similar action with both the windows in her part of the house. Margaret said, “Frightful!” Her cook ejaculated, “Outrageous!”

Donald, unaware of these observations, continued to strut backward and forward from the front of the house to the back, performing an erratic and noisy rat-a-tat-tat on the drum that adorned the front of his small person. The bull pup, astonished at this fresh freak of his master’s, pursued his swinging kilt, emitting a continuous yap, yap, yap. They were both tired when the sound of the gong put an end to their promenade. Donald, following Annie into the dining room, heralded his approach with a last loud bang that caused her, startled, to drop the tray.

Margaret said, when she had helped the stout woman collect the remains of their lunch from the floor, “I’ve a very good mind to send you straight to bed.”

Donald, not as impressed as he ought to have been, made mention as he took his seat at the table, “If the wuman jumps like yon at a bit o’ a rat-tat, whut’ll she dae when the feicht’s on an’ the Mackellens are a’ aboot drappin’ bombs an’ stickin’ their bay’nits intae the enemy?”

He stopped short. Margaret continued to look at him. She said, when her adopted son was beginning to find the silence oppressive, “Take that thing off.”

Donald, lifting the strap over his head, placed the drum on the floor.

A short while later, Tiger, having licked the carpet clear of spilled food remnants, seated himself with a little bound in the drum’s middle. Annie, opening the door with jelly and dessert plates, remained outside.

“Put the drum and the puppy in the box room, Cook, please,” Margaret said. “And lock the door.”

Annie, with a sniff of satisfaction, obeyed.

Donald ate the remainder of his lunch in a discreet silence and asked, when he had taken a surreptitious lick at the last remnant of jelly adorning his plate, “May I hae ma pup an’ ma drum, Marg’ret, please?”

“No.” Margaret, rang for Annie to clear, left the room. 

Her adopted son followed her. His voice, plaintive, hurt, gave vent to his wrongs. “Yon Tiger wull be chewing ma drum,” he wailed. “An’ George wull be pit tae the ’spense o’ buying me anither.” He concluded in a more normal voice, “He wull, Marg’ret.”

“I’m not going to have that noise all afternoon.” Margaret stopped short, said in a different tone, “That will be Mrs. Willard.” She opened the hall door, directly after, to admit the aforesaid lady and a little girl. Some seconds later she ordered her adopted son, “Take Daphne into the garden, Donald.”

He wanted to know, "Wull I be haeing ma drum an’ ma pup firrst?”

Margaret said after a brief pause, “You can ask Cook very nicely if she will please unlock the door.”

Daphne, following her escort, was in time to hear him say, “Y’er tae loose ma pup an’ ma drum, wuman, immejet.” He added, not quite liking the glint in the stout woman’s eyes, “Marg’ret tauld me tae tell you.”

“Mitthis Bannock told you to athk nithely, Donald.” Daphne, a little shocked at his tone, also anxious to view his latest possession, suggested. “Thay pleathe.”

Donald, rather than be kept waiting, said, “Please.”

THEY retired to the farther end of the garden directly after. Daphne said conversationally, and holding up her doll, “Luthy Mabel’s been very thick.”

Donald, not heeding this information, had lifted his sticks. Daphne told him, when at last the noise ceased, “I don’t like it.”

“Ye dinna like ma drum?” Donald was incredulous. 

“It’th a nathy noise.” She curled her little nose disdainfully.

“Dinna ye ken there’s a war on, wuman?” Donald, endeavoring to drive home the point, allowed his drum one ferocious bang. “I've ca’ed masel’ up, an’ bocht ma drum an’ ma’ gun.” Fishing somewhere in the region of his kilt, he brought to view the latter weapon. “I'll be practicing shootin’ a’ afternoon,” he mentioned.

“What will you shoot, Donald?” Daphne gazed at the weapon without any particular interest.

“Whut wull I shoot?” He looked about him. “I wull shoot yon cat o’ Mortimer’s", he said, and opened his packet of pellets. Daphne’s scream followed close on the words.

"By! Ye’r wounded. It’s death an’glory.” Donald, seizing on a plump little leg, added. “There’ll be bluid nae doot.”

“There’th not.” His victim, not pleased, told him. “It pinged!”

“Weel, ye'r lucky. If it had been y’er hearrt ’stead o’ y’er leg ye'd hae been deid.” Donald added, “Ye should join the Red Cross.”

“What’th the Red Croth?” Daphne, sitting down, transferred her dolly to her knee.

“I dinna ken, but Marg’ret’s gaen tae join. By! We’re in forr a grrand feicht.” Donald struck his drum a second time; told his rather bored listener, “A’ the Mackellens wull be cam’ing tae toon. An’the Macullons. An’ Tiger wull be wearing a gas mask. Ye’ll nut knaw fra’ hoor tae hoor if the great trrump hae soonded.”

Daphne yawned. The pup followed suit. The warrior, displeased with his audience, placed another pellet in his gun. Daphne, waking up suddenly, informed him, "I thall tell if you shoot again, I thall.”

He gazed down at her gloomily, and, quoting his “gran’faither,” informed the bull pup, “Ye canna measure a wuman’s tongue.”

”I won’t tell if you don’t shoot, Donald.” Daphne, touched by his melancholy countenance, offered consolation. ‘‘My daddy ’an my mummy won’t let there be a war,” she promised.

"Ye’r all y’er dot.” Donald, thoroughly disgusted, lifted his gun and shot at random. He beat a swift retreat directly after.

His small visitor, following him to the front of the house, gasped. “You hit her, Donald. You hit the cook.”

That small boy, first casting a glance over his shoulder to make sure the coast was clear, asked, “Did she fa’ doon?”

“I didn’t thee her.” Daphne, quite sure that the angry woman had done no such thing, but anxious to avoid further conflict, amended, “She might have after.” 

“She’ll be a stretcher case nae doot.” Donald spoke with immense satisfaction.

“What’th a stretcher cathe?” Daphne looked at her sleeping doll.

“I dinna ken, but she’ll be it. Yon cook Annie wull be it.” He stopped short. Growing clearer every moment came the sound of martial music: the roll of a drum; the tramp of marching feet.

“They’ve cam’.”

DAPHNE was aware, directly after that exclamation, of her companion taking a short cut over flower beds; the slam of a gate; the yelp of a puppy. Not quite sure what had “cam’ ”—whether it was Donald’s kinsmen or the enemy—she stood a moment, one pink finger in her mouth. A few minutes later she burst in on her mother and Margaret. “They’ve come, Mitthis Bannock,” she gasped.

"What has come, Daphne?” The two ladies, ceasing their pleasant chat, waited.

"I don’t know, mummy. But they’ve come an’ Donald’s gone.”

"Where’s he gone?” Margaret wanted to know.

"I don’t know; but he’th gone.”

The door opened as she spoke. Mrs. Bannock’s cook, ignoring Daphne and her mother, told Margaret in sepulchral tones, “I wish to give notice, m’m.” A bright red spot glowed in the middle of one cheek. “It was bad enough before,” she said, “but with the gun and the drum and the puppy it’s bedlam.”

Margaret sympathized with her. Cook disappeared, somewhat pacified, and Margaret, turning to Mrs. Willard, said in a little rush, “It was a girl I wanted to adopt really.”

And then, excusing herself, she went out in search of her adopted son.

DONALD, his cheeks puffed out, his eyes very bright, was swinging along with a Scottish unit, drumsticks flying. A large crowd blocked the pavement of the busiest part of the town. One and another cried, “How sweet!” “What an adorable little mascot!” “Oh, the darling!” Newspapermen with cameras took shots. Donald was not only a Mackellen, he was a “scoop.” Unaware of these activities, he beat on his drum. In front of, and behind him, stretched at least half a mile of kinsmen,

Donald’s martial ardor faded suddenly, and when his short legs would no longer keep pace with the long ones about him he remained on one side of the road, blinking. The music that had acted as a stimulant, grew fainter—died away completely. The warrior, shifting his drum so that it rested on his spine instead of on his stomach, muttered, “A’weel.”

A little man had come round the bend. He grinned a pleasant greeting. “I’ve been looking for you,” he said. “You’re the regimental mascot, aren’t you?” 

Donald, reviving a little, told him. “I’m a Mackellen.”

His new friend nodded. “You don’t mind posing, do you?” he asked. “I’d love to get your picture.” He twitched the drum back into position as he spoke. “Chin up, shoulders back and lift your sticks. That’s fine!”

Donald, obeying these instructions implicitly, was photographed three times.

"And now I’d like to know a few things about you,” the young newspaperman prompted. “Your folks are all in the Army, I suppose?”

Donald, waking up to the fact that someone really wanted to hear him talk, took a deep breath. “Ma great-grreat-grrreat-gran’faither wis firrst at the sheep trials,” he said. “I’ll be haeing ma phottygraph hung beside his, awa’ in Scotland.”

“That’ll be great.” The young newspaperman, not especially interested in this particular piece of information, probed again. “You come of fighting stock?” 

Donald, gazing back at him, acknowledged, “I’ve near kilt three the morn.” 

“That’s very interesting, if not quite correct.” The young man scratched his head, tried once more. “What regiment is your father in?” he queried.

“He’s deid, so’s ma mither an’ ma gran’faither, an’ ma great-grreat- grrreat-gran’-faither.”

“Too bad,” the young man said. “Would you mind telling me something about the members of your family that are still alive. How they’ve answered the 'call,’ I mean?”

Donald, grasping part of his meaning and being perfectly willing to oblige, broke into a little flurry of speech. “There’ll be a grrand feicht,” he said. “Ma dug Tiger wull be wearing a gas mask. Marg'ret wull be awa’ tae the Red Cross. An’ George wull be driving an amb’lance. Yon prood quean Annie wull be a stretcher case. An’ a’ the Mackellens wull be as thick as flies an’ drooned in their oon bluid.”

The young man, snapping a small notebook back into his pocket, thanked Donald very politely. “The picture should be all right,” he said.

But Donald wasn't listening. His eyes, grown wary, were on the tall figure rapidly advancing. The young newspaperman had vanished when Margaret reached him. She said, in a voice that stopped any confidences, “Come along.”

Donald, sinking into the nearest chair when they reached Willow Dene, was deprived of his gun and his drum. He listened to Margaret’s lecture in a decorous silence, mentioned when she finished, “I’m aw'fu’ dry.”

He drank long and noisily from the glass his elder produced. She said, when she had replaced it on the sideboard, “And now I am going to send for Annie, and you are going to tell her how sorry you are that you were so naughty.”

Donald, waiting for the advent of the injured cook, yawned repeatedly. The bull pup, leaping onto his knee, licked a scratched brown hand. “It’s a peety ye weren’t wi’ me, Tiger,” his master regretted. “Ye’d hae looked fine in the phottygraph.”

The door opened directly after. “Now, Donald!’’ Margaret, standing beside Cook, waited.

Her adopted son, stifling another yawn, droned, "Marg’ret says I’m awfu’ sorry for whut ma bullet did tae ye. An’ I’ll nut let it dae it agen.”

Margaret put in at that point, “You’ll forgive him just this once, Annie.”

“Very well, m’m.” The injured woman departed.

Donald began, as the door closed, “If the bullet had ta’en herr tongue—” He was led up to bed before he could say any more. For the briefest period he lay awake, considering how best to be revenged on yon cook. And then he fell peacefully asleep.

HE WOULD have told his guardians all about it later, but Margaret, determined to rub the lesson in, said crushingly, “Neither George nor I want to know where you went or what you did.”

“A’richt.” Donald gobbled his slice of cake, said when the last crumb had vanished, “I’ll be telling Tiger a’ aboot it in the garden.”

George said when he had vanished, “I wonder what the little beggar was doing.”

Margaret, who was curious herself, told her husband, “We shall learn all about it in a day or two.”

They did, but not in the fashion they expected. The postman, coming to the door on Saturday morning, dropped several newspapers with a loud plop onto the hall floor. George, opening the first, gave a startled exclamation. A large portrait of their adopted son adorned the front page. Underneath was printed “The Regimental Mascot” and above, “A Family that has answered The Call.”

Recovering a little, he read aloud to his wife who leaned over his shoulder:

“This fine little chap is the mascot of the unit. Needless to say he comes from a fighting family, all of whom have answered ‘The Call.’ Big brother George—” Margaret’s husband repeated it a little faintly, “Big brother George”—and went on when he had a little recovered—“is an ambulance driver. Big sister Margaret also does noble work for the Red Cross. Little sister Annie—known by her adoring family as Queen Annie—has made her mark aiding the stretcher-bearers.

The young newspaperman, becoming slightly mixed here, had gone on to state that Donald’s great-great-great-grandfather had won the V.C. and that his dog Tiger spent most of his days, not rat hunting, but guarding gas masks. He finished with a grand slam in the shape of the query: “This family is doing its bit. What about you?”

George, having read the effusion twice, enquired uneasily, “Am I drunk, Marg’ret?”

The wife of his bosom groaned.

They looked at the other newspapers then. One and all declared Donald to be the regimental mascot; one and all portrayed him strutting along at the side of his kinsmen, tummy and cheeks blown out with pride. There were odd close-ups of women adoring the “Little Highlander,” of men saluting.

Engrossed in the papers, neither Margaret nor George noted the entry of their adopted son. Climbing noiselessly onto a high stool, he peered between their shoulders.

“By! It’s grrand,” he told them.

And neither Margaret nor George succeeded in altering his opinion.