THERE was once upon a time a worthy and well-to-do couple, who lived on the fat of the land, and had their house full of everything that was good and nice. But of children they had not many, for there was only one daughter in the house, and her they called Peggy, although she was christened Margaret, as you may guess.
Whatever the cause might be, whether the girl was ugly or whether there was anything else the matter with her, she grew up to be a big wench of full five and twenty years, and yet there was no suitor who would look at her.
"It's very strange," thought the father to himself; for all the lads in the parish knew, of course, that he had one of the finest farms, and many, many hundreds of dollars in money as well, and that he could give his daughter as a dowry both oxen and cows, goats and sheep, and that he would let his son-in-law take over the whole of the farm and keep the old folks till they died. He was never sparing with words on this subject. "Yes, they must be a silly, crack-brained lot when they don't avail themselves of such an opportunity, and get hold of one's only daughter," thought both the man and his wife. Peggy thought the same, although she did not say as much; but the lads seemed to keep away just as much as ever, for day after day passed, and year after year, but still no suitor came.
So one summer evening, as the man sat looking down the road and longing that a suitor might come, it happened that one of the best and smartest lads from one of the farms in the parish came strolling up the hill.
"Mother, mother!" cried the man. "I think he's coming at last! Come and have a look!"
His wife came running into the room and began staring out through the window.
"Well, what did I say?" she exclaimed. "If it isn't Peter South-farm! Sure enough it's he!"
She rushed out of the room again and began to bustle about and tidy her chamber, and called Peggy.
"Look out, wench! Now he's coming!"
"Whom do you mean, mother?"
"Why, your sweetheart, of course."
"Eh, you don't say so, mother!" cried Peggy, and became so pleased that she was quite beside herself.
And now they set to work to tidy and smarten themselves, and prepare something for the stranger who was coming up the road, for such a rare guest one could not expect every day.
In the meantime the suitor--for they had guessed quite rightly, a suitor it was--had entered the room, and greeted the man with a "good evening."
"Good evening," replied the man, and asked him to sit down. "One needs some rest, when one has walked up a steep hill like this," he said.
But the lad needed some pressing, it seemed.
He did not know if he would be welcome, he said; and so it was best that he should remain at the door till he had told his errand.
The man felt his heart leaping in his breast.
For many years he had longed for some one to come on such an errand, for he knew well what the lad was after.
"What errand might that be?" he asked.
"Well, it's rather an important matter," said the suitor.
The man called his wife, and she came in and greeted the lad.
"Excuse me--but may I ask," said the lad, "if there is a nice young girl here called Margaret?"
Yes, indeed there was--their only child, a big grown-up wench! And so clever with her hands--she could sew and stitch, spin and weave, both plain and striped and patterned--and she wasn't above taking off her gold ring and giving a hand at heavy work, if it was wanted. And then she was their only daughter, and was going to have the whole of the farm, the oxen and cows, the goats and sheep, the silver and gold, the clothes, the money and woven stuffs of all kinds as her dowry.
Both the man and his wife went on jabbering and chattering at the same time, and got so excited that it was with the greatest difficulty that the suitor was allowed to explain his errand.
She was just the girl he was looking out for, he said, and as he had no spokesman with him he would have to speak for himself, and tell them how he was off at home, and hear if they, who were her parents, would be satisfied with a son-in-law like him, he said.
"Well, that is quite possible," said the man. He himself was now so old and worn out and broken down with rheumatics that he wanted some one to take over the farm, so he could not very well refuse a good offer, he said. But one could not talk over such matters at the door; the lad must come inside, and partake of what his wife could offer.
"But this much I may say, at any rate," said the man, trying to put on a grand air, "that many have already spoken to me on the subject; but it is you, do you see, just you, that I have been waiting for," he said; "and you may reckon yourself lucky that you have not come too late. And, mother, you see, she agrees with everything I say--or, what do you think, mother?"
She had so much to attend to and look after, she said, but she was of the same mind as her husband. "And Peggy," said the man, "she is a good and obedient child. She does everything we tell her."
Peggy stood outside the door and kept it ajar, while she peeped through the opening, and would have said "yes" there and then, if it had only been proper. But she could not show herself too willing, either.
The man and the suitor now began to help themselves to the refreshments, and to talk about their farms and about the harvest, and about the number of cattle each of them could feed during the winter on their farms, and such things, while the wife was busy smartening up Peggy, whose head was so full of courtship and marriage that she was quite unfit to do anything for herself. But when she was dressed she looked very smart and shone like the sun, and then, as you may guess, she was to go in and see her suitor.
But she could not go in empty handed, and so her mother hit upon the idea--for women are always so artful--that Peggy should go down to the cellar for beer, and then come in to her suitor with the large silver cup in her hand.
While she was on her way down to the cellar she began thinking that when she was married it might easily happen that she, like others, would have a child; and then she went on thinking and pondering what she should call her first baby, for a name it must have, of course; but what should it be? Yes, what ought she to call it?
But she could not make up her mind about it, although she thought and pondered all she could, till at last she quite forgot both the cellar and the beer, the suitor and the rest of the world. It was really not an easy matter either, for she could not know whether it would be a boy or a girl; but whatever it might be, the baby must have a name, and a really fine name, too, you must know.
But what should it be?
Yes, what should baby's name be?
While she stood there meditating her father and the suitor sat in the room partaking of the refreshments before them--smoked ham and cheese and other good things which the wife had in her cupboard.
One oatmeal cake after the other disappeared while they were waiting for the beer and the girl, and they began to think that the wolves must have got hold of her, since she did not come back.
"She is so shy and childish, that girl of mine," said the wife, "and I shouldn't wonder if she is afraid to come in. I shall have to fetch her, I suppose!"
And she hurried out to look for Peggy, whom she found standing outside the cellar-door, pondering and thinking.
"You are like Noah's raven, you are! How can a big wench like you stand there like that? I do believe you have lost your senses! Why don't you go in to your suitor?" said her mother. "What is it you are thinking about?"
"Oh, my dear mother," said Peggy, "I am just thinking what my first baby should be called. Can you tell me, mother?"
"Bless me, girl, if I can," said the woman; "but a name it must have, the little angel--and a fine name it must be. But what shall it be? Let me see."
And she too began thinking and remained standing there.
As neither his daughter nor his wife came back the man became uneasy.
"This is really too bad," he said, "that Peggy should make herself so precious. She is not generally so contrary, and I am sure that she'll say 'yes' just as willingly as we do," he said. "I suppose I must go myself and fetch her."
And so he limped out of the room as quickly as he could.
When he saw his wife and daughter standing outside the cellar-door he burst into a furious rage and shouted:
"I think you must have gone out of your minds, standing there like a pair of sundials, while you have got a suitor in the house! Just come in, will you?"
"Yes, yes," said the wife; "but I must tell you, we have been trying to settle a very ticklish business."
"Well, then, what might that be?" said the man.
"Why,--what shall Peggy's first baby be called?"
"Oh, is that it?" said the man, looking as tender and pleased as if he had the youngster on his arm. "So, that's it, is it?--Well, the baby must have a really fine name,--the little angel! But what shall we call it?--Yes, what shall we call it?"
He began to scratch his head and to think and ponder. He did not know either whether it would be a boy or a girl,--but no matter which it was, the baby must have a name, and what should it be called?--yes, what should they call it?
He couldn't make up his mind either, and so he remained standing there as well.
In the meantime the suitor had been sitting all by himself in the parlour, and was getting tired of waiting. So, as neither the maiden nor the old folks came back, he thought they must be doing it purposely, and had made up their minds to make a fool of him; whereupon he became furious, and took his hat and went.
When he came out into the farmyard he saw them all three standing outside the cellar-door.
The man caught sight of him first. "I must tell you, my lad," he said, "we have been standing here thinking over a very important matter,--and that is, what shall Peggy's first baby be called?"
"Good gracious!" said the suitor, "that'll surely bear thinking over, and you may have to think it over for a long time," he said, "for the baby will not be called after me! That's as certain as the sun rose this morning." And with that he lifted his hat and went down the hill.
The old man began to shout after him, but it was of no use. He went down the road and never came back again.
What happened afterwards I have not heard a word about; but if a suitor ever did call again, they would, no doubt, take care not to lose their heads over such useless speculations,--for we all know that there is a time for everything, and that we should strike while the iron is hot.