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A DOCTOR OF THE OLD SCHOOL
by Ian Maclaren
THE DOCTOR'S LAST JOURNEY
It is with great good will that I write this short preface to the
edition of "A Doctor of the Old School" (which has been illustrated by
Mr. Gordon after an admirable and understanding fashion) because there
are two things that I should like to say to my readers, being also my
One, is to answer a question that has been often and fairly asked. Was
there ever any doctor so self-forgetful and so utterly Christian as
William MacLure? To which I am proud to reply, on my conscience: Not one
man, but many in Scotland and in the South country. I will dare prophecy
also across the sea.
It has been one man's good fortune to know four country doctors, not one
of whom was without his faults--Weelum was not perfect--but who, each
one, might have sat for my hero. Three are now resting from their
labors, and the fourth, if he ever should see these lines, would never
Then I desire to thank my readers, and chiefly the medical profession
for the reception given to the Doctor of Drumtochty.
For many years I have desired to pay some tribute to a class whose
service to the community was known to every countryman, but after the
tale had gone forth my heart failed. For it might have been despised
for the little grace of letters in the style and because of the outward
roughness of the man. But neither his biographer nor his circumstances
have been able to obscure MacLure who has himself won all honest hearts,
and received afresh the recognition of his more distinguished brethren.
From all parts of the English-speaking world letters have come in
commendation of Weelum MacLure, and many were from doctors who had
received new courage. It is surely more honor than a new writer could
ever have deserved to receive the approbation of a profession whose
charity puts us all to shame.
May I take this first opportunity to declare how deeply my heart has
been touched by the favor shown to a simple book by the American people,
and to express my hope that one day it may be given me to see you face
IAN MACLAREN. Liverpool, Oct. 4, 1895.
THE DOCTOR'S LAST JOURNEY.
THE DOCTOR'S LAST JOURNEY
Drumtochty had a vivid recollection of the winter when Dr. MacLure was
laid up for two months with a broken leg, and the Glen was dependent on
the dubious ministrations of the Kildrummie doctor. Mrs. Macfayden
also pretended to recall a "whup" of some kind or other he had in the
fifties, but this was considered to be rather a pyrotechnic display of
Elspeth's superior memory than a serious statement of fact. MacLure
could not have ridden through the snow of forty winters without
suffering, yet no one ever heard him complain, and he never pled
illness to any messenger by night or day.
"It took me," said Jamie Soutar to Milton afterwards, "the feck o' ten
meenuts tae howk him 'an' Jess oot ae snawy nicht when Drums turned bad
sudden, and if he didna try to excuse himself for no hearing me at aince
wi' some story aboot juist comin' in frae Glen Urtach, and no bein' in
his bed for the laist twa nichts.
"He wes that carefu' o' himsel an' lazy that if it hedna been for the
siller, a've often thocht, Milton, he wud never hae dune a handstroke o'
wark in the Glen.
"What scunnered me wes the wy the bairns were ta'en in wi' him. Man,
a've seen him tak a wee laddie on his knee that his ain mither cudna
quiet, an' lilt 'Sing a song o' saxpence' till the bit mannie would be
lauchin' like a gude are, an' pooin' the doctor's beard.
"As for the weemen, he fair cuist a glamour ower them; they're daein'
naethin' noo but speak aboot this body and the ither he cured, an' hoo
he aye hed a couthy word for sick fouk. Weemen hae nae discernment,
Milton; tae hear them speak ye wud think MacLure hed been a releegious
man like yersel, although, as ye said, he wes little mair than a Gallio.
"Bell Baxter was haverin' awa in the shop tae sic an extent aboot the wy
MacLure brocht roond Saunders when he hed the fever that a' gied oot at
the door, a' wes that disgusted, an' a'm telt when Tammas Mitchell heard
the news in the smiddy he wes juist on the greeting.
"The smith said that he wes thinkin' o' Annie's tribble, but ony wy a'
ca' it rael bairnly. It's no like Drumtochty; ye're setting an example,
Milton, wi' yir composure. But a' mind ye took the doctor's meesure as
sune as ye cam intae the pairish."
It is the penalty of a cynic that he must have some relief for his
secret grief, and Milton began to weary of life in Jamie's hands
during those days.
Drumtochty was not observant in the matter of health, but they had grown
sensitive about Dr. MacLure, and remarked in the kirkyard all summer
that he was failing.
"He wes aye spare," said Hillocks, "an' he's been sair twisted for the
laist twenty year, but a' never mind him booed till the year. An' he's
gaein' intae sma' buke (bulk), an' a' dinna like that, neeburs.
"The Glen wudna dae weel withoot Weelum MacLure, an' he's no as young as
he wes. Man, Drumsheugh, ye micht wile him aff tae the saut water atween
the neeps and the hairst. He's been workin' forty year for a holiday,
an' it's aboot due."
Drumsheugh was full of tact, and met MacLure quite by accident on the
"Saunders'll no need me till the shearing begins," he explained to the
doctor, "an' a'm gaein' tae Brochty for a turn o' the hot baths; they're
fine for the rheumatics.
"Wull ye no come wi' me for auld lang syne? it's lonesome for a solitary
man, an' it wud dae ye gude."
"Na, na, Drumsheugh," said MacLure, who understood perfectly, "a've dune
a' thae years withoot a break, an' a'm laith (unwilling) tae be takin'
holidays at the tail end.
"A'll no be mony months wi' ye a' thegither noo, an' a'm wanting tae
spend a' the time a' hev in the Glen. Ye see yersel that a'll sune be
getting ma lang rest, an' a'll no deny that a'm wearyin' for it."
As autumn passed into winter, the Glen noticed that the doctor's hair
had turned grey, and that his manner had lost all its roughness. A
feeling of secret gratitude filled their hearts, and they united in a
conspiracy of attention. Annie Mitchell knitted a huge comforter in red
and white, which the doctor wore in misery for one whole day, out of
respect for Annie, and then hung it in his sitting-room as a wall
ornament. Hillocks used to intercept him with hot drinks, and one
drifting day compelled him to shelter till the storm abated. Flora
Campbell brought a wonderful compound of honey and whiskey, much tasted
in Auchindarroch, for his cough, and the mother of young Burnbrae filled
his cupboard with black jam, as a healing measure. Jamie Soutar seemed
to have an endless series of jobs in the doctor's direction, and looked
in "juist tae rest himsel" in the kitchen.
MacLure had been slowly taking in the situation, and at last he
unburdened himself one night to Jamie.
"What ails the fouk, think ye? for they're aye lecturin' me noo tae
tak care o' the weet and tae wrap masel up, an' there's no a week but
they're sendin' bit presents tae the house, till a'm fair ashamed."
"Oo, a'll explain that in a meenut," answered Jamie, "for a' ken the
Glen weel. Ye see they're juist try in' the Scripture plan o' heapin'
coals o' fire on yer head.
[Illustration: "TOLD DRUMSHEUGH THAT THE DOCTOR WAS NOT ABLE TO RISE"]
"Here ye've been negleckin' the fouk in seeckness an' lettin' them dee
afore their freends' eyes withoot a fecht, an' refusin' tae gang tae a
puir wumman in her tribble, an' frichtenin' the bairns--no, a'm no
dune--and scourgin' us wi' fees, and livin' yersel' on the fat o' the
"Ye've been carryin' on this trade ever sin yir father dee'd, and the
Glen didna notis. But ma word, they've fund ye oot at laist, an' they're
gaein' tae mak ye suffer for a' yir ill usage. Div ye understand noo?"
said Jamie, savagely.
For a while MacLure was silent, and then he only said:
"It's little a' did for the puir bodies; but ye hev a gude hert, Jamie,
a rael good hert."
It was a bitter December Sabbath, and the fathers were settling the
affairs of the parish ankle deep in snow, when MacLure's old housekeeper
told Drumsheugh that the doctor was not able to rise, and wished to see
him in the afternoon. "Ay, ay," said Hillocks, shaking his head, and
that day Drumsheugh omitted four pews with the ladle, while Jamie was so
vicious on the way home that none could endure him.
Janet had lit a fire in the unused grate, and hung a plaid by the window
to break the power of the cruel north wind, but the bare room with its
half-a-dozen bits of furniture and a worn strip of carpet, and the
outlook upon the snow drifted up to the second pane of the window and
the black firs laden with their icy burden, sent a chill to Drumsheugh's
The doctor had weakened sadly, and could hardly lift his head, but his
face lit up at the sight of his visitor, and the big hand, which was now
quite refined in its whiteness, came out from the bed-clothes with the
old warm grip.
[Illustration: "WITH THE OLD WARM GRIP"]
"Come in by, man, and sit doon; it's an awfu' day tae bring ye sae far,
but a' kent ye wudna grudge the traivel.
"A' wesna sure till last nicht, an' then a' felt it wudna be lang, an'
a' took a wearyin' this mornin' tae see ye.
"We've been friends sin' we were laddies at the auld school in the firs,
an' a' wud like ye tae be wi' me at the end. Ye 'ill stay the nicht,
Paitrick, for auld lang syne."
Drumsheugh was much shaken, and the sound of the Christian name, which
he had not heard since his mother's death, gave him a "grue" (shiver),
as if one had spoken from the other world.
"It's maist awfu' tae hear ye speakin' aboot deein', Weelum; a' canna
bear it. We 'ill hae the Muirtown doctor up, an' ye 'ill be aboot again
in nae time.
"Ye hevna ony sair tribble; ye're juist trachled wi' hard wark an'
needin' a rest. Dinna say ye're gaein' tae leave us, Weelum; we canna
dae withoot ye in Drumtochty;" and Drumsheugh looked wistfully for some
word of hope.
"Na, na, Paitrick, naethin' can be dune, an' it's ower late tae send for
ony doctor. There's a knock that canna be mista'en, an' a' heard it last
night. A've focht deith for ither fouk mair than forty year, but ma ain
time hes come at laist.
"A've nae tribble worth mentionin'--a bit titch o' bronchitis--an' a've
hed a graund constitution; but a'm fair worn oot, Paitrick; that's ma
complaint, an' its past curin'."
Drumsheugh went over to the fireplace, and for a while did nothing but
break up the smouldering peats, whose smoke powerfully affected his nose
[Illustration: "DRUMSHEUGH LOOKED WISTFULLY"]
"When ye're ready, Paitrick, there's twa or three little trokes a' wud
like ye tae look aifter, an' a'll tell ye aboot them as lang's ma head's
"A' didna keep buiks, as ye ken, for a' aye hed a guid memory, so
naebody 'ill be harried for money aifter ma deith, and ye 'ill hae nae
accoonts tae collect.
"But the fouk are honest in Drumtochty, and they 'ill be offerin' ye
siller, an' a'll gie ye ma mind aboot it. Gin it be a puir body, tell
her tae keep it and get a bit plaidie wi' the money, and she 'ill maybe
think o' her auld doctor at a time. Gin it be a bien (well-to-do) man,
tak half of what he offers, for a Drumtochty man wud scorn to be mean in
sic circumstances; and if onybody needs a doctor an' canna pay for him,
see he's no left tae dee when a'm oot o' the road."
"Nae fear o' that as lang as a'm livin', Weelum; that hundred's still
tae the fore, ye ken, an' a'll tak care it's weel spent.
"Yon wes the best job we ever did thegither, an' dookin' Saunders, ye
'ill no forget that nicht, Weelum"--a gleam came into the doctor's
eyes--"tae say neathin' o' the Highlan' fling."
The remembrance of that great victory came upon Drumsheugh, and tried
"What 'ill become o's when ye're no here tae gie a hand in time o' need?
we 'ill tak ill wi' a stranger that disna ken ane o's frae anither."
"It's a' for the best, Paitrick, an' ye 'ill see that in a whilie. A've
kent fine that ma day wes ower, an' that ye sud hae a younger man.
"A' did what a' cud tae keep up wi' the new medicine, but a' hed little
time for readin', an' nane for traivellin'.
"A'm the last o' the auld schule, an' a' ken as weel as onybody thet a'
wesna sae dainty an' fine-mannered as the town doctors. Ye took me as a'
wes, an' naebody ever cuist up tae me that a' wes a plain man. Na, na;
ye've been rael kind an' conseederate a' thae years."
"Weelum, gin ye cairry on sic nonsense ony langer," interrupted
Drumsheugh, huskily, "a'll leave the hoose; a' canna stand it."
"It's the truth, Paitrick, but we 'ill gae on wi' our wark, far a'm
"Gie Janet ony sticks of furniture she needs tae furnish a hoose,
and sell a' thing else tae pay the wricht (undertaker) an' bedrel
(grave-digger). If the new doctor be a young laddie and no verra rich,
ye micht let him hae the buiks an' instruments; it 'ill aye be a help.
"But a' wudna like ye tae sell Jess, for she's been a faithfu' servant,
an' a freend tae. There's a note or twa in that drawer a' savit, an'
if ye kent ony man that wud gie her a bite o' grass and a sta' in his
stable till she followed her maister--'
"Confoond ye, Weelum," broke out Drumsheugh; "its doonricht cruel o' ye
to speak like this tae me. Whar wud Jess gang but tae Drumsheugh? she
'ill hae her run o' heck an' manger sae lang as she lives; the Glen
wudna like tae see anither man on Jess, and nae man 'ill ever touch the
"Dinna mind me, Paitrick, for a" expeckit this; but ye ken we're no
verra gleg wi' oor tongues in Drumtochty, an' dinna tell a' that's in
"Weel, that's a' that a' mind, an' the rest a' leave tae yersel'. A've
neither kith nor kin tae bury me, sae you an' the neeburs 'ill need tae
lat me doon; but gin Tammas Mitchell or Saunders be stannin' near and
lookin' as if they wud like a cord, gie't tae them, Paitrick. They're
baith dour chiels, and haena muckle tae say, but Tammas hes a graund
hert, and there's waur fouk in the Glen than Saunders.
"A'm gettin' drowsy, an' a'll no be able tae follow ye sune, a' doot;
wud ye read a bit tae me afore a' fa' ower?
"Ye 'ill find ma mither's Bible on the drawers' heid, but ye 'ill need
tae come close tae the bed, for a'm no hearin' or seein' sae weel as a'
wes when ye cam."
Drumsheugh put on his spectacles and searched for a comfortable
Scripture, while the light of the lamp fell on his shaking hands and the
doctor's face where the shadow was now settling.
"Ma mither aye wantit this read tae her when she wes sober" (weak), and
Drumsheugh began, "In My Father's house are many mansions," but MacLure
"It's a bonnie word, an' yir mither wes a sanct; but it's no for the
like o' me. It's ower gude; a' daurna tak it.
"Shut the buik an' let it open itsel, an' ye 'ill get a bit a've been
readin' every nicht the laist month."
Then Drumsheugh found the Parable wherein the Master tells us what God
thinks of a Pharisee and of a penitent sinner, till he came to the
words: "And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so
much as his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be
merciful to me a sinner."
"That micht hae been written for me, Paitrick, or ony ither auld sinner
that hes feenished his life, an' hes naethin' tae say for himsel'.
"It wesna easy for me tae get tae kirk, but a' cud hae managed wi' a
stretch, an' a' used langidge a' sudna, an' a' micht hae been gentler,
and not been so short in the temper. A' see't a' noo.
"It's ower late tae mend, but ye 'ill maybe juist say to the fouk that I
wes sorry, an' a'm houpin' that the Almichty 'ill hae mercy on me.
"Cud ye ... pit up a bit prayer, Paitrick?"
"A' haena the words," said Drumsheugh in great distress; "wud ye like's
tae send for the minister?"
"It's no the time for that noo, an' a' wud rather hae yersel'--juist
what's in yir heart, Paitrick: the Almichty 'ill ken the lave (rest)
So Drumsheugh knelt and prayed with many pauses.
"Almichty God ... dinna be hard on Weelum MacLure, for he's no been hard
wi' onybody in Drumtochty.... Be kind tae him as he's been tae us a' for
forty year.... We're a' sinners afore Thee.... Forgive him what he's
dune wrang, an' dinna cuist it up tae him.... Mind the fouk he's helpit
.... the wee-men an' bairnies.... an' gie him a welcome hame, for he's
sair needin't after a' his wark.... Amen."
"Thank ye, Paitrick, and gude nicht tae ye. Ma ain true freend, gie's
yir hand, for a'll maybe no ken ye again.
"Noo a'll say ma mither's prayer and hae a sleep, but ye 'ill no leave
me till a' is ower."
Then he repeated as he had done every night of his life:
"This night I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
And if I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take."
He was sleeping quietly when the wind drove the snow against the window
with a sudden "swish;" and he instantly awoke, so to say, in his sleep.
Some one needed him.
"Are ye frae Glen Urtach?" and an unheard voice seemed to have answered
"Worse is she, an' suffering awfu'; that's no lichtsome; ye did richt
"The front door's drifted up; gang roond tae the back, an' ye 'ill get
intae the kitchen; a'll be ready in a meenut.
"Gie's a hand wi' the lantern when a'm saidling Jess, an' ye needna come
on till daylicht; a' ken the road."
Then he was away in his sleep on some errand of mercy, and struggling
through the storm. "It's a coorse nicht, Jess, an' heavy traivellin';
can ye see afore ye, lass? for a'm clean confused wi' the snaw; bide a
wee till a' find the diveesion o' the roads; it's aboot here back or
"Steady, lass, steady, dinna plunge; i'ts a drift we're in, but ye're no
sinkin'; ... up noo; ... there ye are on the road again.
"Eh, it's deep the nicht, an' hard on us baith, but there's a puir
wumman micht dee if we didna warstle through; ... that's it; ye ken fine
what a'm sayin.'
"We 'ill hae tae leave the road here, an' tak tae the muir. Sandie 'ill
no can leave the wife alane tae meet us; ... feel for yersel" lass, and
keep oot o' the holes.
"Yon's the hoose black in the snaw. Sandie! man, ye frichtened us; a'
didna see ye ahint the dyke; hoos the wife?"
After a while he began again:
"Ye're fair dune, Jess, and so a' am masel'; we're baith gettin' auld,
an' dinna tak sae weel wi' the nicht wark.
"We 'ill sune be hame noo; this is the black wood, and it's no lang
aifter that; we're ready for oor beds, Jess.... ay, ye like a clap at a
time; mony a mile we've gaed hegither.
"Yon's the licht in the kitchen window; nae wonder ye're nickering
(neighing).... it's been a stiff journey; a'm tired, lass.... a'm tired
tae deith," and the voice died into silence.
Drumsheugh held his friend's hand, which now and again tightened in his,
and as he watched, a change came over the face on the pillow beside him.
The lines of weariness disappeared, as if God's hand had passed over it;
and peace began to gather round the closed eyes.
The doctor has forgotten the toil of later years, and has gone back to
[Illustration: "SHE'S CARRYIN' A LIGHT IN HER HAND"]
"The Lord's my Shepherd, I'll not want," he repeated, till he came to
the last verse, and then he hesitated.
"Goodness and mercy all my life
Shall surely follow me.
"Follow me ... and ... and ... what's next? Mither said I wes tae haed
ready when she cam.
"'A'll come afore ye gang tae sleep, Wullie, but ye 'ill no get yir kiss
unless ye can feenish the psalm.'
"And ... in God's house ... for evermore my ... hoo dis it rin? a canna
mind the next word ... my, my--
"It's ower dark noo tae read it, an' mither 'ill sune be comin."
Drumsheugh, in an agony, whispered into his ear, "'My dwelling-place,'
"That's it, that's it a' noo; wha said it?
"And in God's house for evermore
My dwelling-place shall be.
"A'm ready noo, an' a'll get ma kiss when mither comes; a' wish she wud
come, for a'm tired an' wantin' tae sleep.
"Yon's her step ... an' she's carryin' a licht in her hand; a' see it
through the door.
"Mither! a' kent ye wudna forget yir laddie for ye promised tae come,
and a've feenished ma psalm.
"And in God's house for evermore
My dwelling-place shall be.
"Gie me the kiss, mither, for a've been waitin' for ye, an' a'll sune be
The grey morning light fell on Drumsheugh, still holding his friend's
cold hand, and staring at a hearth where the fire had died down into
white ashes; but the peace on the doctor's face was of one who rested
from his labours.