“Ally bally ally bally bee
sitting on her Mammy's knee
greetin' fer a wee bawbee
tae buy some Coulter's candy”
[bawbee = ha'penny]
Everyone in the family was partial to
a nice piece of soft candy, so when wee Bobby Carswell from
No. 21 shouted up from the street to the MacFarlanes' first
floor flat: “Eh, Mrs MacFarlane, Mr. Coulter's up
in the High Street!” she was soon flurrying around
the house fetching her purse and filling her daughter's
head with sound advice.
That day was Annie's sixth birthday and she jumped off her
little stool and clapped her hands with delight when Ma
declared that she was a big girl now and would be off on
her own to fetch two wee bags of Mr. Coulter's fine soft
sticky aniseed flavoured candy. Mr. Coulter and his very
own candy were famous in all the Border towns – only
he had the secret of the fabrication. He carried the candy
in a big basket on his head and sold from street to street.
Ma pressed just two ha'penny pieces into Annie's hand. Money
was scarce in these hard times with Annie's Pa out of work.
”No talking to strangers. And no crossing the street,
just straight there and back. One bag fer the pair of ye
and one bag fer yer granny”. Granny looked up from
her place by the fire and smiled, all wrinkles and no teeth,
and gave Annie a wink. Annie's little sister Jessie just
banged on the floor with her spoon.
Off Annie skipped. Down the stairs, through the hallway
and out into the dusty street. If she hurried she might
catch up with Bobby Carswell. Wouldn't he be surprised to
see Annie so grown up! Eyes shining, feet skipping, so intent
was she on clutching her two ha'penny pieces and already
tasting the delicious toffee sweetness, that she forgot
all about Mrs. MacLean's dog, Alexander. Alexander, for
no less was the small dog's name, was a white Scots terrier.
“That dog's a terror, no' a terrier.” often
laughed Annie's father. Mrs. MacLean had a tiny front garden
with a trimmed hedge and a pretty wrought-iron gate. Alexander's
rituel was to hide behind the hedge and just when some unwitting
person would pass in front of the gate, his joy was to leap
out in a frenzy of yapping. He had in this way frightened
the living daylights out of any number of poor souls. On
a normal day Annie was ahead of Alexander and met him straight
on, rosy face to black nose, and with as much sternness
as she could muster into her trill voice: “that's
enough of ye, Alexander. Ye should be ashamed of yersel'
like that!” The wee dog would try a half hearted yap
and then, through the bars of the gate, agree to receive
a pat and a tickle between the ears.
Annie was known throughout the whole town for her way with
animals. Some folk said “uncanny she is, that child”,
and others “it's a God given gift that lassie has
and no doubt about it”. While yet others would mutter
darkly about sorcellery, strange powers and “it not
being right”. Annie was, thank goodness, oblivious
to all that.
Today Alexander, bristling with mischief, sensed that he
had the upper on Annie. His yapping took her completely
unawares. Annie, nearly jumping out of her skin, fell lengthwise
into the ground. Her little fat fingers shot open, the two
bright copper pieces flew right out, landed, rolled all
the way out to the middle of the street and finally settled
side by side like two faraway stars twinkling faintly in
the summer night sky. Then, as if out of nowhere, in a thunderous
beating of hooves and a mighty kicking up of dust, up the
street came charging, hell for leather, Mr. Duthy on his
big, black mare. Mr. Duthy was the richest landowner in
these parts and was known as a dour man, well respected,
if not well-liked, by the townsfolk. Faster and louder did
that horse gallop up the street and charged right over Annie's
two ha' pennies, obscuring them from view. Annie, still
flat on her tummy, looked and blinked. One second those
two bawbees were there and an instant later, they had vanished.
Up in a trice, she squinted down the street after the receding
horse and its rider and, right enough, she could just make
out, on the underside of an upturned hoof, the flash of
two glints of metal.
Annie felt as if her heart were filled with lead and her
eyes brimmed with tears. No more bawbees, no sweet candy.
She was covered with dirt, her knees and elbows were scraped,
her dress was torn. She turned around to find Mr. Fergus
the cobbler standing right behind her. He nodded to her,
pipe in mouth, and said, “Ah seen whit happened tae
ye, Annie. Come awa in. We'll soon have ye cleaned up and
bright as a new spark.” The cobbler called to his
wife and together they washed and wiped, mended and consoled
and then finally, sucking thoughtfully on his pipe, Mr.
Fergus said: “I tell ye what, wee Annie. If ye take
this pair o' shoes that I've repaired back over to Mrs.
Ross at the bakery, I'll gie ye this ha'penny piece fer
yer trouble. And if ye're quick aboot it, ye'll still catch
Mr. Coulter doon the street.”
Wide-eyed and grateful, Annie took the ha'penny and the
brown paper and string package, said her thankyous and set
off to cross the road. Well, at least there would be one
bag of candy for Granny. And being as this was quite an
exceptional turn of events, she considered that just this
once she would not heed her mother and anyway had she not
crossed the street many times holding on to her mother's
hand. It would suffice to take great care.
The main thoroughfare of the town was more often than not
full of people, animals and vehicles, pell mell in every
direction. There was even on occasion one of these new contraptions
that were becoming quite the fashion for those who had the
means. It had a wheel at the front with handlebars and another
behind, and a man, or even a woman, would sit astride a
small saddle and by means of peddling could advance rapidly
along any surface that was not too rough. Luckily, that
day was a quiet day and Annie crossed safely to the other
side and handed over the package to Mrs. Ross at the bakery.
Mrs. Ross was all bustle and plumpness and she gave Annie
a raisin scone “fer yer tea and fer yer trouble”,
she said, “noo off wi' ye, and mind how ye cross that
road”. Once again, Annie stepped cautiously into the
thoroughfare. She was halfway across when, to her and all
the passers-by's surprise, again came the great pounding
and thundering and looking down the street she saw, this
time riderless, stirrups and reins flapping freely and heading
straight for her, Bessie, Mr. Duthy's black mare. Annie
just stood, shock still, right in the middle of the road.
What happened next was curious indeed and those that saw
it are still talking about it to this day. Black Bessie
gallopped right up to Annie and reared, front legs high
in the air. Then, with a change of humour as fast as the
wind blows a cloud away from in front of the sun in a Border
sky, she put down those powerful legs and giant hooves and
came nuzzling softly up to Annie's outstretched hand. “There,
there,” murmured Annie to Bessie, “what on earth
gave ye' such a fright, poor beast?” Then lo and behold
if it wasn't Mr. Duthy himself who arrived on the scene,
all dirty and messed up just as Annie had herself been.
He was swearing and grumbling, “a damnation to those
bicycles” and other such things. Struck dumb he was
to find his Bessie as docile as a little lamb with this
tiny lassie no higher than three apples with blond curls
and serious blue summer eyes. “Mr. Duthy” said
she, for Annie was quite beside herself and forgot that
she was addressing the region's most powerful man and a
stranger to boot. “You should take more care of this
animal”, followed by “Your horse has my two
ha'penny pieces stuck under her shoes. I'd be obliged to
have them back!” Mr. Duthy stared for a second in
disbelief. Then scowl changed to smile and so it was on
this day of June 1893 that both mount and master fell under
the charm of wee Annie MacFarlane.
The rest of this tale is not long in the telling. Of Mr.Duthy
enquiring and Annie telling about the birthday, her granny,
the candy and not least about the part Mr. Duthy himself
had unwittingly played in Annie's tribulations. Mr. Duthy
soon had Annie's ha'pennies picked from out of the mud stuck
under Bessie's back shoe and he even wiped them clean with
his very own handkerchief. Of the thrill of being hoisted
high up onto Bessie's broad back with Mr. Duthy behind her
and from this high and exciting vantage point setting off
in search of Mr. Coulter. He was soon found further down
the street in the market square by the fountain. With her
three ha'pennies (the two returned and the one she had earned)
she purchased three whole bags bursting with delicious candy.
The very last bag in Mr. Coulter's basket was Mr. Duthy's
gift to wee Annie. That made four whole bags!
Of how, minutes later Annie was helped carefully down to
the ground in front of her house where Bobby Carswell stood
gaping. With a muffled ”happy birthday, Annie”
the boy shyly thrust yet another bag of Coulter's candy
on top of Annie's growing pile and quick as lightning planted
the tiniest of kisses on Annie's rosy cheek before dashing
helter skelter back to No. 21.
Of Annie's home coming, of her placing on the table five
bags of Coulters candy and one raisin scone. Of her family's
beaming, expectant faces. Of that evening's supper being
a merry affair and when the dishes had been wiped and dried,
the candy tasted and the rest put away, Annie's adventure
told and retold (Ma naturally scolded Annie for her disobedience
but Pa smiled and said “that”s all right Elizabeth,
let the child be”) she was finally able to kneel down
and say her prayers. That night a special mention was given
to all Annie's new and old friends and even Alexander the
Terror was not forgotten. Then she slipped snugly into bed
beside Jessie who was already fast asleep sucking on a sticky
thumb, and she dreamt of riding on a fine horse with the
wind in her hair and the soft dry brush on her cheek of
the lips of a small boy with hazelnut eyes.