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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

How the Relations Reconciled John and his Sister Peg, and What Return Peg Made to John’s Message

By John Arbuthnot (1667–1735)

From ‘The History of John Bull,’ Part I

JOHN BULL, otherwise a good-natured man, was very hard-hearted to his sister Peg, chiefly from an aversion he had conceived in his infancy. While he flourished, kept a warm house, and drove a plentiful trade, poor Peg was forced to go hawking and peddling about the streets selling knives, scissors, and shoe-buckles; now and then carried a basket of fish to the market; sewed, spun, and knit for a livelihood till her fingers’ ends were sore: and when she could not get bread for her family, she was forced to hire them out at journey-work to her neighbors. Yet in these, her poor circumstances, she still preserved the air and mien of a gentlewoman—a certain decent pride that extorted respect from the haughtiest of her neighbors. When she came in to any full assembly, she would not yield the pas to the best of them. If one asked her, “Are you not related to John Bull?” “Yes,” says she, “he has the honor to be my brother.” So Peg’s affairs went till all the relations cried out shame upon John for his barbarous usage of his own flesh and blood; that it was an easy matter for him to put her in a creditable way of living, not only without hurt, but with advantage to himself, seeing she was an industrious person, and might be serviceable to him in his way of business. “Hang her, jade,” quoth John, “I can’t endure her as long as she keeps that rascal Jack’s company.” They told him the way to reclaim her was to take her into his house; that by conversation the childish humors of their younger days might be worn out.

These arguments were enforced by a certain incident. It happened that John was at that time about making his will and entailing his estate, the very same in which Nic. Frog is named executor. Now, his sister Peg’s name being in the entail, he could not make a thorough settlement without her consent. There was indeed a malicious story went about, as if John’s last wife had fallen in love with Jack as he was eating custard on horseback; that she persuaded John to take his sister into the house the better to drive on the intrigue with Jack, concluding he would follow his mistress Peg. All I can infer from this story is that when one has got a bad character in the world, people will report and believe anything of them, true or false. But to return to my story.

When Peg received John’s message she huffed and stormed:—“My brother John,” quoth she, “is grown wondrous kind-hearted all of a sudden, but I meikle doubt whether it be not mair for their own conveniency than for my good; he draws up his writs and his deeds, forsooth, and I must set my hand to them, unsight, unseen. I like the young man he has settled upon well enough, but I think I ought to have a valuable consideration for my consent. He wants my poor little farm because it makes a nook in his park wall. You may e’en tell him he has mair than he makes good use of; he gangs up and down drinking, roaring, and quarreling, through all the country markets, making foolish bargains in his cups, which he repents when he is sober; like a thriftless wretch, spending the goods and gear that his forefathers won with the sweat of their brows; light come, light go; he cares not a farthing. But why should I stand surety for his contracts? The little I have is free, and I can call it my own—hame’s hame, let it be never so hamely. I ken well enough, he could never abide me, and when he has his ends he’ll e’en use me as he did before. I’m sure I shall be treated like a poor drudge—I shall be set to tend the bairns, darn the hose, and mend the linen. Then there’s no living with that old carline, his mother; she rails at Jack, and Jack’s an honester man than any of her kin: I shall be plagued with her spells and her Paternosters, and silly Old World ceremonies; I mun never pare my nails on a Friday, nor begin a journey on Childermas Day; and I mun stand becking and binging as I gang out and into the hall. Tell him he may e’en gang his get; I’ll have nothing to do with him; I’ll stay like the poor country mouse, in my awn habitation.”

So Peg talked; but for all that, by the interposition of good friends, and by many a bonny thing that was sent, and many more that were promised Peg, the matter was concluded, and Peg taken into the house upon certain articles [the Act of Toleration is referred to]; one of which was that she might have the freedom of Jack’s conversation, and might take him for better or for worse if she pleased; provided always he did not come into the house at unseasonable hours and disturb the rest of the old woman, John’s mother.