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Wilson's Border Tales
The Recollections of the Village Patriarch

Chapter 6

Peggy Lilly

Peggy was allowed to be the bonniest lass in all the parish; but she was as prudent and sedate as she was bonny, and everybody wondered that she keepit company wi’ William Archbold sae lang as she did, after he had gien himsel’ up to a habit o’ dissipation. Though she, perhaps, thocht as I did, that it was mere thochtlessness in the young man, that he was jist drawn awa by his friend Thomas Elliot, and that, if he were married, he would reform. Luckie Riddle’s sign, however, was a black sicht to him, and I doot it has been a heart sore to puir Peggy. The difference that the subject gave rise to between them, was perhaps unlucky for the happiness o’ baith parties. In the vexation o’ the moment, she uttered words o’ harshness which her heart did not dictate, and, in leaving as he did, he acted rashly.

When we heard, however, of William Archbold’s having left the town, and the cause o’ his leaving, (that it arose from Peggy having spoken to him as if disgusted at his conduct),we laughed and said he would soon come back again. She thought the same thing; but weeks and months succeeded each other, and now five-and-twenty years have passed, and the lad has been no more heard of. How deeply Peggy grieved for her conduct, and mourned his absence, was visible in her countenance.

About ten years after her sister’s death, her parents, who had both become very frail, were thrown out of their bit farm after several very unfortunate seasons in it, and they were left entirely dependent upon her exertions for their support. They were reduced to very great straits, and many a time it was a wonder to me how they lived; but late and early did she toil for their maintenance; and, poor hizzy, the sorrow that fell upon her face, for the loss of William Archbold, never left it.

At that time a very decent man, who had taken a small farm in the neighbourhood, began to pay attention to her, and often called at her faither’s house. She heard his request that she would marry him, wi’ a sigh—for she hadna forgotten Blithe Willie. But her faither and mither looked at her, wi’ the tears in their een, and they besought her night and day, that they might see her settled and provided for. She at length yielded to their solicitations, and gied him her hand; but she was candid enough to confess to him, that her affection couldna accompany it, though her respect and duty should.

So far as the world could judge, they seemed to live happily together, and Peggy made an exemplary wife; but there was always like a quiet settled melancholy on her countenance. Their farm was too dear taken, and about a year after they were married, it became the property of Johnny Grippy. Ye have already heard what sort of man he was, reaping where he had not sown. He exacted his rent to the last farthing, or without ceremony paid himself doubly from the stock upon the farm.

Peggy’s husband became unable, though he struggled early and late, to make up his rent, and having fought until his strength was exhausted, and his health and heart broken, he sank down upon his bed, a dying man; and Johnny, causing the sheriff’s officer to seize all that was upon the farm, made them seize also the very bed upon which the dying man lay. He, in fact, died in their hands, and Peggy was turned out upon the world, a friendless widow, with two helpless infants at her knee; and a sore, sore fight she has had, to get the bite and the sup for them, poor things, from that day to this."

"But," replied the stranger with emotion, "there is one left who will provide for her and her children."

"Who may that be?" inquired the patriarch.

"William Archbold;" answered the other.

"Preserve us!" said the old man in surprise; "I daresay I have been blind not to have recognised ye before—ye are William!"

"I am," replied the other; "Blithe Willie, as you once termed me. Peggy’s cutting and just rebuke roused my pride and filled me with self abasement at the same instant. In a state of mind bordering on madness I left the village, where I considered my character to be blasted for ever. I went to London, and there engaged to go out to India. I was there fortunate in business, and in a few years became rich. I there some years ago, discovered Alexander Elliot (the son of my old companion), whose regiment had gone to the East and not to the West Indies as you supposed. I purchased his discharge, and employed him as a clerk. He requested permission to visit this country, and it was granted; but I knew not the deadly nature of his errand. It was during that visit that he so fatally avenged the ruin of poor Esther. He is again in India, and prospering. But you say that Peggy has been married, that she is a widow—a widow."

"Yes, a widow, sir," answered the patriarch; "and if ye be single, I think ye canna do better than make her a wife."

"No! no!" said WiUiam, drawing his hand across his eyes, "I cannot, I will not glean where another has reaped. But here is a bank order for five hundred pounds, let it be conveyed to her, but let her never know the hand from whence it came."

"Hoots! nonsense, Maister William," said the old man, "see her again for auld langsyne at ony rate, and gie her it yersel’"

What course William Archbold would have adopted, I cannot tell, but at that moment Peggy passed down the street, and spoke to the old man as she passed. William started to his feet, he stretched out his hand, he exclaimed—"Peggy!"

She was speechless—tears gushed into her eyes. Old love, it is said, soon kindles again. Be this as it may, within six weeks Peggy left the village in a coach as the wife of William Archbold, and her children accompanied her.

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