Read Chapter 1 From Precious and the Puggies

HAE YE EVER SAID INTAE YERSEL - no oot lood, mind, but quiet-like, jist in yer heid: Wid it no be braw tae be a detective? Weel, I hae, and a wheen o ither folk hae and aw, although maist o us will never hae the chance tae mak oor dream come true. Detectives, ye see, are just born that wey. Richt fae the stert, they jist ken that this is whit they want tae be. And richt fae the stert, even when they are awfie wee - much wee-er than yersel - they shaw that solvin mysteries is somethin they can dae gey weel.

This is the story o a lassie that became a detective. Her first name wis Precious, and her saicont name wis Ramotswe. Yon's an African name, and it's no as hard tae say it as it looks. Ye jist say RAM and syne ye say OTS (like stots wioot the st) and syne ye feenish it aff by sayin WE. And that's aw there is tae it.

Young Precious Ramotswe

Here a pictur o Precious when she wis aboot eicht. She is smilin because she wis thinkin at the time o somethin funny, although aften eneuch she wid smile even when she wisna thinkin aboot onythin muckle at aw. Couthy folk smile a lot, and Precious Ramotswe wis yin of the couthiest lassies in Botswana. Awbody said that aboot her.

Botswana wis the country she steyed in. It wis doon towards the nether end of Africa, richt in the middle. This meant that it was an awfie lang wey fae the sea. Precious hadna ever seen the sea, but she had heard folk speak aboot it.

'The soond o the waves is like the soond a strang wind maks in the brainches o the trees,' folk said. 'It's like that soond, but it never staps.'

She wid hae loved tae staund aside the sea, and tae let the waves sweel ower her taes, but it was ower faur awa sae her wish couldna be grantit. Sae she had tae content hersel wi the braid drouthy land that she steyed in - a land that had a wheen o dumfoonerin things tae see in it onywey.

There wis the Kalahari Desert, a muckle streetch o dry gress and jaggy thorn trees that gangs on and on intae the distance, hyne awa ayont the sicht o ony ee. Syne there wis the muckle river in the north, which rins the wrang wey, no intae the ocean, as maist rivers dae, but backarty-wise intae the hert of Africa. When it raxes tae the saunds o the Kalahari, it sypes awa, jist the wey watter disappears doon the jaw-hole o a bath.

But maist excitin, wioot ony doot, were the wild craiturs. There's an awfie steer o them in Botswana: lions, elephants, leopards, ostriches, puggies - the leet's as lang as yer airm. Precious hadna seen aw o thae craiturs, but she had heard aboot maist o them. Her faither, a kind man who wis cried Obed, had aften spoken aboot them, and she loved the tales he tellt.

'Tell me aboot yon time ye were gey near ett by a lion,' she wid spier. And Obed, wha'd tellt her that story mibbe a hunner times afore, wid tell her again. And it kittled her up jist as muckle ilka time he tellt it.

'I wis jist a laddie in thae days,' he stertit.

'Hoo auld were ye?' spiered Precious.

'Aboot eictheen, I doot,' he said. 'It wis just afore I gaed awa tae wark in the gowd mines. I gaed up north tae see ma uncle, wha steyed oot in the bush, awa oot in the middle o naewhaur.'

'Did onybody else bide there?' spiered Precious. She wis aye spierin questions, and that wis a sign that she micht end up as a detective. A guid few folk that are aye spierin questions end up as detectives, because that's whit detectives hae tae dae.

'It was a gey wee village,' said Obed. 'It wis really jist a puckle bothies, and a fenced-in bit whaur they buchtit the kye. They had this fence, ye see, which guairdit the kye fae the lions at night.'

As ye can imagine, this fence had tae be gey strang. Ye canna keep lions oot wi a fence that's nae mair than a puckle strips o wire. That's nae use at aw when it comes tae lions - they wid cowp over that kinna fence wi jist ae chap o their loof. A richt lion fence has tae be made oot o strang poles, fae the trunks o trees, jist like this:

Noo yon's a guid, unshooglie lion fence.

Noo yon's a guid, unshooglie lion fence.

'Sae there I wis,' Obed gaed on. 'I had gane tae spend twa-three days wi ma uncle and his faimly. They were guid tae me and I fair enjoyed bein wi ma kizzens, that I hadna seen for a lang while. There wis sax o them - fower laddies and taw lassies. Mony an adventure we had thegither.

'I slept in yin o the bothies wi three o the laddies. Oor sleeping mats were made oot o reeds, that we wid spreid oot on the flair o the bothy. They were awfie snod and comfy, and cool in the hot weather, and easy tae stowe awa in the day as well.'

Precious wis quiet noo. This wis the pairt o the story that she wis waitin for.

'And syne,' her faither cairried on, 'and syne ae nicht I woke up tae hear an unco soond ootby. It wis a kinna grunchin soond, a wee bit like the soond a muckle grumphie maks when it's snowkin aboot for scran, ainly a wee bit deeper.'

'Did ye ken whit is wis?' she spiered, haudin her braith as she waited on her faither's answer. She kent whit the answer wid be, of coorse, as she had heard the story that mony times, but it wis ayewis excitin, ayewis eneuch tae keep ye on heckle-pins, richt on the edge o yer seat.

He shook his heid. 'Naw, I didna. And that wis hoo I thocht I should gang ootby and find oo.'

Precious steekit her een ticht, just like this.

She could hardly thole tae hear whit wis comin.

'It wis a lion,' said her faither. 'And he wis richt ootside the bothy, staundin there, lookin at me in the night fae ablow his muckle, daurk mane.'

Precious with her eyes squeezed tight

Like this.

Precious opened her een cannily, yin efter the tither, jist tae mak shair there wisna a lion in the room. But there wis ainly her faither, telln his story.

'Hoo did that lion get in?' she spiered. 'Hoo did he get in by yon muckle strang fence?'

Obed shook his head. 'I fund oot efter that the yett hadna been sneckit richt,' he said. 'It wis jist somebody bein hashie.'

But eneuch o that. It wis time tae find oot whit happened nixt in the story.

  • Cover scan of Precious Ramotswe In Scots
    Precious and the Puggies
    Alexander McCall Smith - Hardback - B&W
    A previously unpublished story from Alexander McCall Smith, telling the story of the girlhood adventures of Precious Ramotswe, founder of the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency.
Precious and the Puggies by Alexander McCall Smith, translated by James Robertson

Precious and the Puggies

By Alexander McCall Smith. Translated into Scots by James Robertson. Illustrations by Iain McIntosh.
Extract by kind permission of Itchy Coo / Black & White Publishing.