So Auld Peggy reasoned, and she had
so reasoned for ten years, until she had come to regard herself as a
legitimate charge upon the settlement. As the years passed, she even came
to consider herself as a benefactress to the public, for "did she no’ gie
each ane a cry as she passit"; and "did she no’ sit doon an’ hae a crack
wi’ the women an’ lassies, an’ tell them a’ that wis gaun on; an’ uf she
did hae a cup o’ tea wi’ ane an’ anither (Peggy’s capacity for tea was
infinite) or a wee bit drappie when it wis offered, whuch wis no’ verra
frequent, she’d like tae knaw wha’s beesness it wis, f’r wis she no’ a
puir lane wuddow?"
It must be admitted that Auld Peggy
was rather prone to exaggerate, and not a few foundationless yarns had the
old woman been known to relate, but this was always excused on the ground
that she felt news was expected from her, and that if there was none she
had to invent it in order to furnish some
quid pro quo
for the anticipated present or cup of tea.
The constant companion of Auld Peggy
on her rounds was a short, thick-set, chunky, coarse-haired, yellow dog,
which she called Dugal. The unfortunate animal had only one eye remaining,
and his tail had been docked so short as to render it problematical
whether or not he ever possessed one. When questioned one day about
Dugal’s pedigree, Auld Peggy, after reflecting a moment or two, declared
that he "wis a croas betwixt a Skye tarrier an’ a Dandy Dinmont." Then she
explained, "They Dandy Dinmonts is great doags, tarrible fierce like."
But Jock, the drover, declared that
Dugal would flee from a tame white mouse, if the latter were running in
the dog’s direction. Jock’s opinion being asked as to Dugal’s breeding,
that worthy, upon reflection, and after
drawing a few deep whiffs from his pipe,
declared that he "jedged that ar animal to be half mongrel and half dawg,"
although he "allowed thet it wuz mostly dawg. Yes, so fer as he could see,
it wuz jest a dawg." Jock added that Dugal’s tail had been cut so short
that the man who performed the operation must have been uncertain as to
which end of the animal he should return to Auld Peggy.
When Auld Peggy entered the home of
the Widow McNabb on the morning with which this chronicle begins, it was
evident that something very unusual had happened, for never before had the
poor old body appeared in such a state of agitation. Well did Mrs. McNabb
know that there was no use trying to hurry Peggy in the telling of her
news, for true in this respect to a universal characteristic of Scottish
gossips, the more eager you seemed to be, the more secretive she became.
Indeed, it was recorded of her that she never would unbosom herself at the
toll-gate, "becase Mustress McPhairson had aince tell’t her she wadna gie
her a drap o’ tea tull she gied th’ fu’ parteeculars o’ Jessie McLachlin’s
elopement wi’ th’ esh (ash) getherer frae th’ Snaw Rawd."
With that allowance for human nature
which Mrs. McNabb displayed in an unusual degree, she rightly divined that
the best plan was to allow Auld Peggy her own time; and while she and her
bright-eyed, eager children, who had crowded about the old woman to learn
the news, were naturally on the qui
vive, it was deemed best to apply the
necessary touchstone and take no risk of being disappointed.
Hastily Mrs. McNabb poked the smoky
embers on the hearth, threw some fresh sticks on the fire, swung the
kettle over the blaze, and in a few moments a cup of strong, steaming tea
was set before the visitor, accompanied by a generous allowance of bread,
butter, and scones.
During the preparation, the old body
sat in her chair, swaying herself from side to side, and giving subdued
utterances to her emotions. "Wae is me, wae is me, but ‘tis a tarrible day
f’r th’ Scotch Settlement. O! but th’ sicht wis awfu’!"