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Colin of the Ninth Concession
Chapter I - Auld Peggy’s Story


NOTE. — The pronunciation here indicated phonetically is that of the person reported, and should not be taken as invariably purely Scottish. Had it been so, the orthodox Scot’s spelling would have been followed.

TEN years before this story opens, Auld Peggy had "taen tae th’ rawd." She used to explain that "‘twas no’ that she should be regardit as a beggar or a puir limmer obleeged tae luve aff th’ community, but jist that she wis a puir auld body wha’s husband hed deserted her an’ ran aff wi’ a bold-faced hussy tae a place in the States that they ca’d Wast Constant consin], at least sae she hed heerd. ‘Twas no’ but what she wis wullin’ tae work tae support hersel’ an’ her twa faitherless bairns, but th’ neighbours aye likit tull hae her ca’ an’ hae a crack wi’ them, gie them th’ news o’ th’ settlement, an’ read th’ cups f’r th’ bonnie lassies; an’ uf they slippit a hantle o’ meal, breed, tea, or meat intil her bag as she wis gaun awa’, it wisna charity, but jist guid fellowship an’ nabourliness."

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’!"

As she proceeded, the mood of her hearers changed, and with reason, from excited curiosity to awe and horror. The dreadful event she had to relate was one in which it was my lot to be involved. I learned and observed the facts for myself, for I was on the spot at the time, and had a special interest, as will be seen later on, in knowing accurately all the particulars. Therefore, instead of reporting Auld Peggy’s account, I shall assume the role of narrator myself, and I must begin with still earlier events which had occurred in England.


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