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STORIES BY ENGLISH AUTHORS
The Courting of T’nowhead’s Bell J. M. Barrie “The Heather Lintie” S. R. Crockett A Doctor of the Old School Ian Maclaren Wandering Willie’s Tale Sir Walter Scott The Glenmutchkin Railway Professor Aytoun Thrawn Janet R. L. Stevenson
THE COURTING OF T’NOWHEAD’S BELL
J. M. BARRIE
For two years it had been notorious in the square that Sam’l Dickie was thinking of courting T’nowhead’s Bell, and that if Little Sanders Elshioner (which is the Thrums pronunciation of Alexander Alexander) went in for her, he might prove a formidable rival. Sam’l was a weaver in the tenements, and Sanders a coal-carter, whose trade-mark was a bell on his horse’s neck that told when coal was coming. Being something of a public man, Sanders had not, perhaps, so high a social position as Sam’l, but he had succeeded his father on the coal-cart, while the weaver had already tried several trades. It had always been against Sam’l, too, that once when the kirk was vacant he had advised the selection of the third minister who preached for it on the ground that it became expensive to pay a large number of candidates. The scandal of the thing was hushed up, out of respect for his father, who was a God-fearing man, but Sam’l was known by it in Lang Tammas’s circle. The coal-carter was called Little Sanders to distinguish him from his father, who was not much more than half his size. He had grown up with the name, and its inapplicability now came home to nobody. Sam’l’s mother had been more far-seeing than Sanders’s. Her man had been called Sammy all his life because it was the name he got as a boy, so when their eldest son was born she spoke of him as Sam’l while still in the cradle. The neighbours imitated her, and thus the young man had a better start in life than had been granted to Sammy, his father.
It was Saturday evening–the night in the week when Auld Licht young men fell in love. Sam’l Dickie, wearing a blue glengarry bonnet with a red ball on the top, came to the door of the one-story house in the tenements, and stood there wriggling, for he was in a suit of tweed for the first time that week, and did not feel at one with them. When his feeling of being a stranger to himself wore off, he looked up and down the road, which straggles between houses and gardens, and then, picking his way over the puddles, crossed to his father’s hen-house and sat down on it. He was now on his way to the square.
Eppie Fargus was sitting on an adjoining dyke knitting stockings, and Sam’l looked at her for a time.
“Is’t yersel’, Eppie?” he said at last.
“It’s a’ that,” said Eppie.
“Hoo’s a’ wi’ ye?” asked Sam’l.
“We’re juist aff an’ on,” replied Eppie, cautiously.
There was not much more to say, but as Sam’l sidled off the hen-house he murmured politely, “Ay, ay.” In another minute he would have been fairly started, but Eppie resumed the conversation.
“Sam’l,” she said, with a twinkle in her eye, “ye can tell Lisbeth Fargus I’ll likely be drappin’ in on her aboot Mununday or Teisday.”
Lisbeth was sister to Eppie, and wife of Tammas McQuhatty, better known as T’nowhead, which was the name of his farm. She was thus Bell’s mistress.
Sam’l leaned against the hen-house as if all his desire to depart had gone.
“Hoo d’ ye kin I’ll be at the T’nowhead the nicht?” he asked, grinning in anticipation.
“Ou, I’se warrant ye’ll be after Bell,” said Eppie.
“Am no sae sure o’ that,” said Sam’l, trying to leer. He was enjoying himself now.
“Am no sure o’ that,” he repeated, for Eppie seemed lost in stitches.
“Ye’ll be speerin’ her sune noo, I dinna doot?”
This took Sam’l, who had only been courting Bell for a year or two, a little aback.
“Hoo d’ ye mean, Eppie?” he asked.
“Maybe ye’ll do ‘t the nicht.”
“Na, there’s nae hurry,” said Sam’l.
“Weel, we’re a’ coontin’ on ‘t, Sam’l.”
“Gae ‘wa’ wi’ ye.”
“What for no?”
“Gae ‘wa’ wi’ ye,” said Sam’l again.
“Bell’s gei an’ fond o’ ye, Sam’l.”
“Ay,” said Sam’l.
“But am dootin’ ye’re a fell billy wi’ the lasses.”
“Ay, oh, I d’na kin; moderate, moderate,” said Sam’l, in high delight.
“I saw ye,” said Eppie, speaking with a wire in her mouth, “gaein’ on terr’ble wi’ Mysy Haggart at the pump last Saturday.”
“We was juist amoosin’ oorsel’s,” said Sam’l.
“It’ll be nae amoosement to Mysy,” said Eppie, “gin ye brak her heart.”
“Losh, Eppie,” said Sam’l, “I didna think o’ that.”
“Ye maun kin weel, Sam’l, ‘at there’s mony a lass wid jump at ye.”
“Ou, weel,” said Sam’l, implying that a man must take these things as they come.
“For ye’re a dainty chield to look at, Sam’l.”
“Do ye think so, Eppie? Ay, ay; oh, I d’na kin am onything by the ordinar.”
“Ye mayna be,” said Eppie, “but lasses doesna do to be ower- partikler.”
Sam’l resented this, and prepared to depart again.
“Ye’ll no tell Bell that?” he asked, anxiously.
“Tell her what?”
“Aboot me an’ Mysy.”
“We’ll see hoo ye behave yersel’, Sam’l.”
“No ‘at I care, Eppie; ye can tell her gin ye like. I widna think twice o’ tellin’ her mysel’.”
“The Lord forgie ye for leein’, Sam’l,” said Eppie, as he disappeared down Tammy Tosh’s close. Here he came upon Henders Webster.
“Ye’re late, Sam’l,” said Henders.
“Ou, I was thinkin’ ye wid be gaen the length o’ T’nowhead the nicht, an’ I saw Sanders Elshioner makkin’ ‘s wy there an ‘oor syne.”
“Did ye?” cried Sam’l, adding craftily, “but it’s naething to me.”
“Tod, lad,” said Henders, “gin ye dinna buckle to, Sanders’ll be carryin’ her off.”
Sam’l flung back his head and passed on.
“Sam’l!” cried Henders after him.
“Ay,” said Sam’l, wheeling round.
“Gie Bell a kiss frae me.”
The full force of this joke struck neither all at once. Sam’l began to smile at it as he turned down the school-wynd, and it came upon Henders while he was in his garden feeding his ferret. Then he slapped his legs gleefully, and explained the conceit to Will’um Byars, who went into the house and thought it over.
There were twelve or twenty little groups of men in the square, which was lit by a flare of oil suspended over a cadger’s cart. Now and again a staid young woman passed through the square with a basket on her arm, and if she had lingered long enough to give them time, some of the idlers would have addressed her. As it was, they gazed after her, and then grinned to each other.
“Ay, Sam’l,” said two or three young men, as Sam’l joined them beneath the town clock.
“Ay, Davit,” replied Sam’l.
This group was composed of some of the sharpest wits in Thrums, and it was not to be expected that they would let this opportunity pass. Perhaps when Sam’l joined them he knew what was in store for him.
“Was ye lookin’ for T’nowhead’s Bell, Sam’l?” asked one.
“Or mebbe ye was wantin’ the minister?” suggested another, the same who had walked out twice with Chirsty Duff and not married her after all.
Sam’l could not think of a good reply at the moment, so he laughed good-naturedly.
“Ondootedly she’s a snod bit crittur,” said Davit, archly.
“An’ michty clever wi’ her fingers,” added Jamie Deuchars.
“Man, I’ve thocht o’ makkin’ up to Bell mysel’,” said Pete Ogle. “Wid there be ony chance, think ye, Sam’l?”
“I’m thinkin’ she widna hae ye for her first, Pete,” replied Sam’l, in one of those happy flashes that come to some men, “but there’s nae sayin’ but what she micht tak’ ye to finish up wi’.”
The unexpectedness of this sally startled every one. Though Sam’l did not set up for a wit, however, like Davit, it was notorious that he could say a cutting thing once in a way.
“Did ye ever see Bell reddin’ up?” asked Pete, recovering from his overthrow. He was a man who bore no malice.
“It’s a sicht,” said Sam’l, solemnly.
“Hoo will that be?” asked Jamie Deuchars.
“It’s weel worth yer while,” said Pete, “to ging atower to the T’nowhead an’ see. Ye’ll mind the closed-in beds i’ the kitchen? Ay, weel, they’re a fell spoiled crew, T’nowhead’s litlins, an’ no that aisy to manage. Th’ ither lasses Lisbeth’s haen had a michty trouble wi’ them. When they war i’ the middle o’ their reddin’ up the bairns wid come tum’lin’ aboot the floor, but, sal, I assure ye, Bell didna fash lang wi’ them. Did she, Sam’l?”
“She did not,” said Sam’l, dropping into a fine mode of speech to add emphasis to his remark.
“I’ll tell ye what she did,” said Pete to the others. “She juist lifted up the litlins, twa at a time, an’ flung them into the coffin- beds. Syne she snibbit the doors on them, an’ keepit them there till the floor was dry.”
“Ay, man, did she so?” said Davit, admiringly.
“I’ve seen her do ‘t mysel’,” said Sam’l.
“There’s no a lassie mak’s better bannocks this side o’ Fetter Lums,” continued Pete.
“Her mither tocht her that,” said Sam’l; “she was a gran’ han’ at the bakin’, Kitty Ogilvy.”
“I’ve heard say,” remarked Jamie, putting it this way so as not to tie himself down to anything, ” ‘at Bell’s scones is equal to Mag Lunan’s.”
“So they are,” said Sam’l, almost fiercely.
“I kin she’s a neat han’ at singein’ a hen,” said Pete.
“An’ wi’ ‘t a’,” said Davit, “she’s a snod, canty bit stocky in her Sabbath claes.”
“If onything, thick in the waist,” suggested Jamie.
“I dinna see that,” said Sam’l.
“I d’na care for her hair, either,” continued Jamie, who was very nice in his tastes; “something mair yallowchy wid be an improvement.”
“A’body kins,” growled Sam’l, ” ‘at black hair’s the bonniest.”
The others chuckled.
“Puir Sam’l!” Pete said.
Sam’l, not being certain whether this should be received with a smile or a frown, opened his mouth wide as a kind of compromise. This was position one with him for thinking things over.
Few Auld Lichts, as I have said, went the length of choosing a helpmate for themselves. One day a young man’s friends would see him mending the washing-tub of a maiden’s mother. They kept the joke until Saturday night, and then he learned from them what he had been after. It dazed him for a time, but in a year or so he grew accustomed to the idea, and they were then married. With a little help he fell in love just like other people.
Sam’l was going the way of the others, but he found it difficult to come to the point. He only went courting once a week, and he could never take up the running at the place where he left off the Saturday before. Thus he had not, so far, made great headway. His method of making up to Bell had been to drop in at T’nowhead on Saturday nights and talk with the farmer about the rinderpest.
The farm kitchen was Bell’s testimonial. Its chairs, tables, and stools were scoured by her to the whiteness of Rob Angus’s sawmill boards, and the muslin blind on the window was starched like a child’s pinafore. Bell was brave, too, as well as energetic. Once Thrums had been overrun with thieves. It is now thought that there may have been only one, but he had the wicked cleverness of a gang. Such was his repute that there were weavers who spoke of locking their doors when they went from home. He was not very skilful, however, being generally caught, and when they said they knew he was a robber, he gave them their things back and went away. If they had given him time there is no doubt that he would have gone off with his plunder. One night he went to T’nowhead, and Bell, who slept in the kitchen, was awakened by the noise. She knew who it would be, so she rose and dressed herself, and went to look for him with a candle. The thief had not known what to do when he got in, and as it was very lonely he was glad to see Bell. She told him he ought to be ashamed of himself, and would not let him out by the door until he had taken off his boots so as not to soil the carpet.
On this Saturday evening Sam’l stood his ground in the square, until by-and-by he found himself alone. There were other groups there still, but his circle had melted away. They went separately, and no one said good-night. Each took himself off slowly, backing out of the group until he was fairly started.
Sam’l looked about him, and then, seeing that the others had gone, walked round the town-house into the darkness of the brae that leads down and then up to the farm of T’nowhead.
To get into the good graces of Lisbeth Fargus you had to know her ways and humour them. Sam’l, who was a student of women, knew this, and so, instead of pushing the door open and walking in, he went through the rather ridiculous ceremony of knocking. Sanders Elshioner was also aware of this weakness of Lisbeth’s, but though he often made up his mind to knock, the absurdity of the thing prevented his doing so when he reached the door. T’nowhead himself had never got used to his wife’s refined notions, and when any one knocked he always started to his feet, thinking there must be something wrong.
Lisbeth came to the door, her expansive figure blocking the way in.
“Sam’l,” she said.
“Lisbeth,” said Sam’l.
He shook hands with the farmer’s wife, knowing that she liked it, but only said, “Ay, Bell,” to his sweetheart, “Ay, T’nowhead,” to McQuhatty, and “It’s yersel’, Sanders,” to his rival.
They were all sitting round the fire; T’nowhead, with his feet on the ribs, wondering why he felt so warm; and Bell darned a stocking, while Lisbeth kept an eye on a goblet full of potatoes.
“Sit into the fire, Sam’l,” said the farmer, not, however, making way for him.
“Na, na,” said Sam’l; “I’m to bide nae time.” Then he sat into the fire. His face was turned away from Bell, and when she spoke he answered her without looking round. Sam’l felt a little anxious. Sanders Elshioner, who had one leg shorter than the other, but looked well when sitting, seemed suspiciously at home. He asked Bell questions out of his own head, which was beyond Sam’l, and once he said something to her in such a low voice that the others could not catch it. T’nowhead asked curiously what it was, and Sanders explained that he had only said, “Ay, Bell, the morn’s the Sabbath.” There was nothing startling in this, but Sam’l did not like it. He began to wonder if he were too late, and had he seen his opportunity would have told Bell of a nasty rumour that Sanders intended to go over to the Free Church if they would make him kirk officer.
Sam’l had the good-will of T’nowhead’s wife, who liked a polite man. Sanders did his best, but from want of practice he constantly made mistakes. To-night, for instance, he wore his hat in the house because he did not like to put up his hand and take it off. T’nowhead had not taken his off, either, but that was because he meant to go out by-and- by and lock the byre door. It was impossible to say which of her lovers Bell preferred. The proper course with an Auld Licht lassie was to prefer the man who proposed to her.
“Ye’ll bide a wee, an’ hae something to eat?” Lisbeth asked Sam’l, with her eyes on the goblet.
“No, I thank ye,” said Sam’l, with true gentility.
“I dinna think it.”
“Hoots aye, what’s to hender ye?”
“Weel, since ye’re sae pressin’, I’ll bide.”
No one asked Sanders to stay. Bell could not, for she was but the servant, and T’nowhead knew that the kick his wife had given him meant that he was not to do so, either. Sanders whistled to show that he was not uncomfortable.
“Ay, then, I’ll be stappin’ ower the brae,” he said at last.
He did not go, however. There was sufficient pride in him to get him off his chair, but only slowly, for he had to get accustomed to the notion of going. At intervals of two or three minutes he remarked that he must now be going. In the same circumstances Sam’l would have acted similarly. For a Thrums man, it is one of the hardest things in life to get away from anywhere.
At last Lisbeth saw that something must be done. The potatoes were burning, and T’nowhead had an invitation on his tongue.
“Yes, I’ll hae to be movin’,” said Sanders, hopelessly, for the fifth time.
“Guid-nicht to ye, then, Sanders,” said Lisbeth. “Gie the door a fling-to ahent ye.”
Sanders, with a mighty effort, pulled himself together. He looked boldly at Bell, and then took off his hat carefully. Sam’l saw with misgivings that there was something in it which was not a handkerchief. It was a paper bag glittering with gold braid, and contained such an assortment of sweets as lads bought for their lasses on the Muckle Friday.
“Hae, Bell,” said Sanders, handing the bag to Bell in an offhand way as if it were but a trifle. Nevertheless he was a little excited, for he went off without saying good-night.
No one spoke. Bell’s face was crimson. T’nowhead fidgeted on his chair, and Lisbeth looked at Sam’l. The weaver was strangely calm and collected, though he would have liked to know whether this was a proposal.
“Sit in by to the table, Sam’l,” said Lisbeth, trying to look as if things were as they had been before.
She put a saucerful of butter, salt, and pepper near the fire to melt, for melted butter is the shoeing-horn that helps over a meal of potatoes. Sam’l, however, saw what the hour required, and, jumping up, he seized his bonnet.
“Hing the tatties higher up the joist, Lisbeth,” he said, with dignity; “I’se be back in ten meenits.”
He hurried out of the house, leaving the others looking at each other.
“What do ye think?” asked Lisbeth.
“I d’na kin,” faltered Bell.
“Thae tatties is lang o’ comin’ to the boil,” said T’nowhead.
In some circles a lover who behaved like Sam’l would have been suspected of intent upon his rival’s life, but neither Bell nor Lisbeth did the weaver that injustice. In a case of this kind it does not much matter what T’nowhead thought.
The ten minutes had barely passed when Sam’l was back in the farm kitchen. He was too flurried to knock this time, and, indeed, Lisbeth did not expect it of him.
“Bell, hae!” he cried, handing his sweetheart a tinsel bag twice the size of Sanders’s gift.
“Losh preserve ‘s!” exclaimed Lisbeth; “I’se warrant there’s a shillin’s worth.”
“There’s a’ that, Lisbeth–an’ mair,” said Sam’l, firmly.
“I thank ye, Sam’l,” said Bell, feeling an unwonted elation as she gazed at the two paper bags in her lap.
“Ye’re ower-extravegint, Sam’l,” Lisbeth said.
“Not at all,” said Sam’l; “not at all. But I widna advise ye to eat thae ither anes, Bell–they’re second quality.”
Bell drew back a step from Sam’l.
“How do ye kin?” asked the farmer, shortly, for he liked Sanders.
“I speered i’ the shop,” said Sam’l.
The goblet was placed on a broken plate on the table, with the saucer beside it, and Sam’l, like the others, helped himself. What he did was to take potatoes from the pot with his fingers, peel off their coats, and then dip them into the butter. Lisbeth would have liked to provide knives and forks, but she knew that beyond a certain point T’nowhead was master in his own house. As for Sam’l, he felt victory in his hands, and began to think that he had gone too far.
In the meantime Sanders, little witting that Sam’l had trumped his trick, was sauntering along the kirk-wynd with his hat on the side of his head. Fortunately he did not meet the minister.
The courting of T’nowhead’s Bell reached its crisis one Sabbath about a month after the events above recorded. The minister was in great force that day, but it is no part of mine to tell how he bore himself. I was there, and am not likely to forget the scene. It was a fateful Sabbath for T’nowhead’s Bell and her swains, and destined to be remembered for the painful scandal which they perpetrated in their passion.
Bell was not in the kirk. There being an infant of six months in the house it was a question of either Lisbeth or the lassie’s staying at home with him, and though Lisbeth was unselfish in a general way, she could not resist the delight of going to church. She had nine children besides the baby, and, being but a woman, it was the pride of her life to march them into the T’nowhead pew, so well watched that they dared not misbehave, and so tightly packed that they could not fall. The congregation looked at that pew, the mothers enviously, when they sang the lines:
“Jerusalem like a city is
Compactly built together.”
The first half of the service had been gone through on this particular Sunday without anything remarkable happening. It was at the end of the psalm which preceded the sermon that Sanders Elshioner, who sat near the door, lowered his head until it was no higher than the pews, and in that attitude, looking almost like a four-footed animal, slipped out of the church. In their eagerness to be at the sermon many of the congregation did not notice him, and those who did put the matter by in their minds for future investigation. Sam’l however, could not take it so coolly. From his seat in the gallery he saw Sanders disappear, and his mind misgave him. With the true lover’s instinct he understood it all. Sanders had been struck by the fine turnout in the T’nowhead pew. Bell was alone at the farm. What an opportunity to work one’s way up to a proposal! T’nowhead was so overrun with children that such a chance seldom occurred, except on a Sabbath. Sanders, doubtless, was off to propose, and he, Sam’l, was left behind.
The suspense was terrible. Sam’l and Sanders had both known all along that Bell would take the first of the two who asked her. Even those who thought her proud admitted that she was modest. Bitterly the weaver repented having waited so long. Now it was too late. In ten minutes Sanders would be at T’nowhead; in an hour all would be over. Sam’l rose to his feet in a daze. His mother pulled him down by the coat-tail, and his father shook him, thinking he was walking in his sleep. He tottered past them, however, hurried up the aisle, which was so narrow that Dan’l Ross could only reach his seat by walking sideways, and was gone before the minister could do more than stop in the middle of a whirl and gape in horror after him.
A number of the congregation felt that day the advantage of sitting in the loft. What was a mystery to those downstairs was revealed to them. From the gallery windows they had a fine open view to the south; and as Sam’l took the common, which was a short cut through a steep ascent, to T’nowhead, he was never out of their line of vision. Sanders was not to be seen, but they guessed rightly the reason why. Thinking he had ample time, he had gone round by the main road to save his boots–perhaps a little scared by what was coming. Sam’l’s design was to forestall him by taking the shorter path over the burn and up the commonty.
It was a race for a wife, and several onlookers in the gallery braved the minister’s displeasure to see who won. Those who favoured Sam’l’s suit exultingly saw him leap the stream, while the friends of Sanders fixed their eyes on the top of the common where it ran into the road. Sanders must come into sight there, and the one who reached this point first would get Bell.
As Auld Lichts do not walk abroad on the Sabbath, Sanders would probably not be delayed. The chances were in his favour. Had it been any other day in the week Sam’l might have run. So some of the congregation in the gallery were thinking, when suddenly they saw him bend low and then take to his heels. He had caught sight of Sanders’s head bobbing over the hedge that separated the road from the common, and feared that Sanders might see him. The congregation who could crane their necks sufficiently saw a black object, which they guessed to be the carter’s hat, crawling along the hedge-top. For a moment it was motionless, and then it shot ahead. The rivals had seen each other. It was now a hot race. Sam’l dissembling no longer, clattered up the common, becoming smaller and smaller to the onlookers as he neared the top. More than one person in the gallery almost rose to their feet in their excitement. Sam’l had it. No, Sanders was in front. Then the two figures disappeared from view. They seemed to run into each other at the top of the brae, and no one could say who was first. The congregation looked at one another. Some of them perspired. But the minister held on his course.
Sam’l had just been in time to cut Sanders out. It was the weaver’s saving that Sanders saw this when his rival turned the corner; for Sam’l was sadly blown. Sanders took in the situation and gave in at once. The last hundred yards of the distance he covered at his leisure, and when he arrived at his destination he did not go in. It was a fine afternoon for the time of year, and he went round to have a look at the pig, about which T’nowhead was a little sinfully puffed up.
“Ay,” said Sanders, digging his fingers critically into the grunting animal, “quite so.”
“Grumph,” said the pig, getting reluctantly to his feet.
“Ou, ay, yes,” said Sanders thoughtfully.
Then he sat down on the edge of the sty, and looked long and silently at an empty bucket. But whether his thoughts were of T’nowhead’s Bell, whom he had lost for ever, or of the food the farmer fed his pig on, is not known.
“Lord preserve ‘s! are ye no at the kirk?” cried Bell, nearly dropping the baby as Sam’l broke into the room.
“Bell!” cried Sam’l.
Then T’nowhead’s Bell knew that her hour had come.
“Sam’l,” she faltered.
“Will ye hae ‘s, Bell?” demanded Sam’l, glaring at her sheepishly.
“Ay,” answered Bell.
Sam’l fell into a chair.
“Bring ‘s a drink o’ water, Bell,” he said. But Bell thought the occasion required milk, and there was none in the kitchen. She went out to the byre, still with the baby in her arms, and saw Sanders Elshioner sitting gloomily on the pigsty.
“Weel, Bell,” said Sanders.
“I thocht ye’d been at the kirk, Sanders,” said Bell.
Then there was a silence between them.
“Has Sam’l speered ye, Bell?” asked Sanders, stolidly.
“Ay,” said Bell again, and this time there was a tear in her eye. Sanders was little better than an “orra man,” and Sam’l was a weaver, and yet–But it was too late now. Sanders gave the pig a vicious poke with a stick, and when it had ceased to grunt, Bell was back in the kitchen. She had forgotten about the milk, however, and Sam’l only got water after all.
In after-days, when the story of Bell’s wooing was told, there were some who held that the circumstances would have almost justified the lassie in giving Sam’l the go-by. But these perhaps forgot that her other lover was in the same predicament as the accepted one–that of the two, indeed, he was the more to blame, for he set off to T’nowhead on the Sabbath of his own accord, while Sam’l only ran after him. And then there is no one to say for certain whether Bell heard of her suitors’ delinquencies until Lisbeth’s return from the kirk. Sam’l could never remember whether he told her, and Bell was not sure whether, if he did, she took it in. Sanders was greatly in demand for weeks to tell what he knew of the affair, but though he was twice asked to tea to the manse among the trees, and subjected thereafter to ministerial cross-examinations, this is all he told. He remained at the pigsty until Sam’l left the farm, when he joined him at the top of the brae, and they went home together.
“It’s yersel’, Sanders,” said Sam’l.
“It is so, Sam’l,” said Sanders.
“Very cauld,” said Sam’l.
“Blawy,” assented Sanders.
After a pause–
“Sam’l,” said Sanders.
“I’m hearing ye’re to be mairit.”
“Weel, Sam’l, she’s a snod bit lassie.”
“Thank ye,” said Sam’l.
“I had ance a kin o’ notion o’ Bell mysel’,” continued Sanders.
“Yes, Sam’l; but I thocht better o’ ‘t.”
“Hoo d’ ye mean?” asked Sam’l, a little anxiously.
“Weel, Sam’l, mairitch is a terrible responsibeelity.”
“It is so,” said Sam’l, wincing.
“An’ no the thing to tak’ up withoot conseederation.”
“But it’s a blessed and honourable state, Sanders; ye’ve heard the minister on ‘t.”
“They say,” continued the relentless Sanders, ” ‘at the minister doesna get on sair wi’ the wife himsel’.”
“So they do,” cried Sam’l, with a sinking at the heart.
“I’ve been telt,” Sanders went on, ” ‘at gin ye can get the upper han’ o’ the wife for a while at first, there’s the mair chance o’ a harmonious exeestence.”
“Bell’s no the lassie,” said Sam’l, appealingly, “to thwart her man.”
“D’ ye think she is, Sanders?”
“Weel, Sam’l, I d’na want to fluster ye, but she’s been ower-lang wi’ Lisbeth Fargus no to hae learned her ways. An’ a’body kins what a life T’nowhead has wi’ her.”
“Guid sake, Sanders, hoo did ye no speak o’ this afore?”
“I thocht ye kent o’ ‘t, Sam’l.”
They had now reached the square, and the U. P. kirk was coming out. The Auld Licht kirk would be half an hour yet.
“But, Sanders,” said Sam’l, brightening up, “ye was on yer wy to speer her yersel’.”
“I was, Sam’l,” said Sanders, “and I canna but be thankfu’ ye was ower-quick for ‘s.”
“Gin ‘t hadna been you,” said Sam’l, “I wid never hae thocht o’ ‘t.”
“I’m saying naething agin Bell,” pursued the other, “but, man, Sam’l, a body should be mair deleeberate in a thing o’ the kind.”
“It was michty hurried,” said Sam’l wofully.
“It’s a serious thing to speer a lassie,” said Sanders.
“It’s an awfu’ thing,” said Sam’l.
“But we’ll hope for the best,” added Sanders, in a hopeless voice.
They were close to the tenements now, and Sam’l looked as if he were on his way to be hanged.
“Did ye–did ye kiss her, Sam’l?”
“There’s was varra little time, Sanders.”
“Half an ‘oor,” said Sanders.
“Was there? Man Sanders, to tell ye the truth, I never thocht o’ ‘t.”
Then the soul of Sanders Elshioner was filled with contempt for Sam’l Dickie.
The scandal blew over. At first it was expected that the minister would interfere to prevent the union, but beyond intimating from the pulpit that the souls of Sabbath-breakers were beyond praying for, and then praying for Sam’l and Sanders at great length, with a word thrown in for Bell, he let things take their course. Some said it was because he was always frightened lest his young men should intermarry with other denominations, but Sanders explained it differently to Sam’l.
“I hav’na a word to say agin’ the minister,” he said; “they’re gran’ prayers; but, Sam’l, he’s a mairit man himsel’.”
“He’s a’ the better for that, Sanders, isna he?”
“Do ye no see,” asked Sanders, compassionately, ” ‘at he’s trying to mak’ the best o’ ‘t?”
“O Sanders, man!” said Sam’l.
“Cheer up, Sam’l,” said Sanders; “it’ll sune be ower.”
Their having been rival suitors had not interfered with their friendship. On the contrary, while they had hitherto been mere acquaintances, they became inseparables as the wedding-day drew near. It was noticed that they had much to say to each other, and that when they could not get a room to themselves they wandered about together in the churchyard. When Sam’l had anything to tell Bell he sent Sanders to tell it, and Sanders did as he was bid. There was nothing that he would not have done for Sam’l.
The more obliging Sanders was, however, the sadder Sam’l grew. He never laughed now on Saturdays, and sometimes his loom was silent half the day. Sam’l felt that Sanders’s was the kindness of a friend for a dying man.
It was to be a penny wedding, and Lisbeth Fargus said it was the delicacy that made Sam’l superintend the fitting up of the barn by deputy. Once he came to see it in person, but he looked so ill that Sanders had to see him home. This was on the Thursday afternoon, and the wedding was fixed for Friday.
“Sanders, Sanders,” said Sam’l, in a voice strangely unlike his own, “it’ll a’ be ower by this time the morn.”
“It will,” said Sanders.
“If I had only kent her langer,” continued Sam’l.
“It wid hae been safer,” said Sanders.
“Did ye see the yallow floor in Bell’s bonnet?” asked the accepted swain.
“Ay,” said Sanders, reluctantly.
“I’m dootin’–I’m sair dootin’ she’s but a flichty, light-hearted crittur after a’.”
“I had aye my suspeecions o’ ‘t,” said Sanders.
“Ye hae kent her langer than me,” said Sam’l.
“Yes,” said Sanders, “but there’s nae getting’ at the heart o’ women. Man Sam’l, they’re desperate cunnin’.”
“I’m dootin’ ‘t; I’m sair dootin’ ‘t.”
“It’ll be a warnin’ to ye, Sam’l, no to be in sic a hurry i’ the futur’,” said Sanders.
“Ye’ll be gaein’ up to the manse to arrange wi’ the minister the morn’s mornin’,” continued Sanders, in a subdued voice.
Sam’l looked wistfully at his friend.
“I canna do ‘t, Sanders,” he said; “I canna do ‘t.”
“Ye maun,” said Sanders.
“It’s aisy to speak,” retorted Sam’l, bitterly.
“We have a’ oor troubles, Sam’l,” said Sanders, soothingly, “an’ every man maun bear his ain burdens. Johnny Davie’s wife’s dead, an’ he’s no repinin’.”
“Ay,” said Sam’l, “but a death’s no a mairitch. We hae haen deaths in our family too.”
“It may a’ be for the best,” added Sanders, “an’ there wid be a michty talk i’ the hale country-side gin ye didna ging to the minister like a man.”
“I maun hae langer to think o’ ‘t,” said Sam’l.
“Bell’s mairitch is the morn,” said Sanders, decisively.
Sam’l glanced up with a wild look in his eyes.
“Sanders!” he cried.
“Ye hae been a guid friend to me, Sanders, in this sair affliction.”
“Nothing ava,” said Sanders; “doun’t mention ‘d.”
“But, Sanders, ye canna deny but what your rinnin’ oot o’ the kirk that awfu’ day was at the bottom o’ ‘d a’.”
“It was so,” said Sanders, bravely.
“An’ ye used to be fond o’ Bell, Sanders.”
“I dinna deny ‘t.”
“Sanders, laddie,” said Sam’l, bending forward and speaking in a wheedling voice, “I aye thocht it was you she likit.”
“I had some sic idea mysel’,” said Sanders.
“Sanders, I canna think to pairt twa fowk sae weel suited to ane anither as you an’ Bell.”
“Canna ye, Sam’l?”
“She wid mak’ ye a guid wife, Sanders. I hae studied her weel, and she’s a thrifty, douce, clever lassie. Sanders, there’s no the like o’ her. Mony a time, Sanders, I hae said to mysel’, ‘There’s a lass ony man micht be prood to tak’.’ A’body says the same, Sanders. There’s nae risk ava, man–nane to speak o’. Tak’ her, laddie; tak’ her, Sanders; it’s a gran’ chance, Sanders. She’s yours for the speerin’. I’ll gie her up, Sanders.”
“Will ye, though?” said Sanders.
“What d’ ye think?” asked Sam’l.
“If ye wid rayther,” said Sanders, politely.
“There’s my han’ on ‘t,” said Sam’l. “Bless ye, Sanders; ye’ve been a true frien’ to me.”
Then they shook hands for the first time in their lives, and soon afterward Sanders struck up the brae to T’nowhead.
Next morning Sanders Elshioner, who had been very busy the night before, put on his Sabbath clothes and strolled up to the manse.
“But–but where is Sam’l?” asked the minister; “I must see himself.”
“It’s a new arrangement,” said Sanders.
“What do you mean, Sanders?”
“Bell’s to marry me,” explained Sanders.
“But–but what does Sam’l say?”
“He’s willin’,” said Sanders.
“She’s willin’ too. She prefers ‘t.”
“It is unusual,” said the minister.
“It’s a’ richt,” said Sanders.
“Well, you know best,” said the minister.
“You see the hoose was taen, at ony rate,” continued Sanders, “an’ I’ll juist ging in til ‘t instead o’ Sam’l.”
“An’ I cudna think to disappoint the lassie.”
“Your sentiments do you credit, Sanders,” said the minister; “but I hope you do not enter upon the blessed state of matrimony without full consideration of its responsibilities. It is a serious business, marriage.”
“It’s a’ that,” said Sanders, “but I’m willin’ to stan’ the risk.”
So, as soon as it could be done, Sanders Elshioner took to wife T’nowhead’s Bell, and I remember seeing Sam’l Dickie trying to dance at the penny wedding.
Years afterward it was said in Thrums that Sam’l had treated Bell badly, but he was never sure about it himself.
“It was a near thing–a michty near thing,” he admitted in the square.
“They say,” some other weaver would remark, ” ‘at it was you Bell liked best.”
“I d’na kin,” Sam’l would reply; “but there’s nae doot the lassie was fell fond o’ me; ou, a mere passin’ fancy, ‘s ye micht say.”
“THE HEATHER LINTIE”
S. R. CROCKETT
Janet Balchrystie lived in a little cottage at the back of the Long Wood of Barbrax. She had been a hard-working woman all her days, for her mother died when she was but young, and she had lived on, keeping her father’s house by the side of the single-track railway-line. Gavin Balchrystie was a foreman plate-layer on the P.P.R., and with two men under him, had charge of a section of three miles. He lived just where that distinguished but impecunious line plunges into a moss-covered granite wilderness of moor and bog, where there is not more than a shepherd’s hut to the half-dozen miles, and where the passage of a train is the occasion of commotion among scattered groups of black- faced sheep. Gavin Balchrystie’s three miles of P.P.R. metals gave him little work, but a good deal of healthy exercise. The black-faced sheep breaking down the fences and straying on the line side, and the torrents coming down the granite gullies, foaming white after a water- spout, and tearing into his embankments, undermining his chairs and plates, were the only troubles of his life. There was, however, a little public-house at The Huts, which in the old days of construction had had the license, and which had lingered alone, license and all, when its immediate purpose in life had been fulfilled, because there was nobody but the whaups and the railway officials on the passing trains to object to its continuance. Now it is cold and blowy on the west-land moors, and neither whaups nor dark-blue uniforms object to a little refreshment up there. The mischief was that Gavin Balchrystie did not, like the guards and engine-drivers, go on with the passing train. He was always on the spot, and the path through Barbrax Wood to the Railway Inn was as well trodden as that which led over the bog moss, where the whaups built, to the great white viaduct of Loch Merrick, where his three miles of parallel gleaming responsibility began.
When his wife was but newly dead, and his Janet just a smart elf- locked lassie running to and from the school, Gavin got too much in the way of “slippin’ doon by.” When Janet grew to be woman muckle, Gavin kept the habit, and Janet hardly knew that it was not the use and wont of all fathers to sidle down to a contiguous Railway Arms, and return some hours later with uncertain step, and face pricked out with bright pin-points of red–the sure mark of the confirmed drinker of whisky neat.
They were long days in the cottage at the back of Barbrax Long Wood. The little “but an’ ben” was whitewashed till it dazzled the eyes as you came over the brae to it and found it set against the solemn depths of dark-green firwood. From early morn, when she saw her father off, till the dusk of the day, when he would return for his supper, Janet Balchrystie saw no human being. She heard the muffled roar of the trains through the deep cutting at the back of the wood, but she herself was entirely out of sight of the carriagefuls of travellers whisking past within half a mile of her solitude and meditation.
Janet was what is called a “through-gaun lass,” and her work for the day was often over by eight o’clock in the morning. Janet grew to womanhood without a sweetheart. She was plain, and she looked plainer than she was in the dresses which she made for herself by the light of nature and what she could remember of the current fashions at Merrick Kirk, to which she went every alternate Sunday. Her father and she took day about. Wet or shine, she tramped to Merrick Kirk, even when the rain blattered and the wind raved and bleated alternately among the pines of the Long Wood of Barbrax. Her father had a simpler way of spending his day out. He went down to the Railway Inn and drank “ginger-beer” all day with the landlord. Ginger-beer is an unsteadying beverage when taken the day by the length. Also the man who drinks it steadily and quietly never enters on any inheritance of length of days.
So it came to pass that one night Gavin Balchrystie did not come home at all–at least, not till he was brought lying comfortably on the door of a disused third-class carriage, which was now seeing out its career anchored under the bank at Loch Merrick, where Gavin had used it as a shelter. The driver of the “six-fifty up” train had seen him walking soberly along toward The Huts (and the Railway Inn), letting his long surface-man’s hammer fall against the rail-keys occasionally as he walked. He saw him bend once, as though his keen ear detected a false ring in a loose length between two plates. This was the last that was seen of him till the driver of the “nine-thirty-seven down” express–the “boat-train,” as the employees of the P.P.R. call it, with a touch of respect in their voices–passed Gavin fallen forward on his face just when he was flying down grade under a full head of steam. It was duskily clear, with a great lake of crimson light dying into purple over the hills of midsummer heather. The driver was John Platt, the Englishman from Crewe, who had been brought from the great London and Northwestern Railway, locally known as “The Ell-nen- doubleyou.” In these remote railway circles the talk is as exclusively of matters of the four-foot way as in Crewe or Derby. There is an inspector of traffic, whose portly presence now graces Carlisle Station, who left the P.P.R. in these sad days of amalgamation, because he could not endure to see so many “Sou’west” waggons passing over the sacred metals of the P.P.R. permanent way. From his youth he had been trained in a creed of two articles: “To swear by the P.P.R. through thick and thin, and hate the apple green of the ‘Sou’west.’ ” It was as much as he could do to put up with the sight of the abominations; to have to hunt for their trucks when they got astray was more than mortal could stand, so he fled the land.
So when they stopped the express for Gavin Balchrystie, every man on the line felt that it was an honour to the dead. John Platt sent a “gurring” thrill through the train as he put his brakes hard down and whistled for the guard. He, thinking that the Merrick Viaduct was down at least, twirled his brake to such purpose that the rear car progressed along the metals by a series of convulsive bounds. Then they softly ran back, and there lay Gavin fallen forward on his knees, as though he had been trying to rise, or had knelt down to pray. Let him have “the benefit of the doubt” in this world. In the next, if all tales be true, there is no such thing.
So Janet Balchrystie dwelt alone in the white “but an’ ben” at the back of the Long Wood of Barbrax. The factor gave her notice, but the laird, who was not accounted by his neighbours to be very wise, because he did needlessly kind things, told the factor to let the lassie bide, and delivered to herself with his own handwriting to the effect that Janet Balchrystie, in consideration of her lonely condition, was to be allowed the house for her lifetime, a cow’s grass, and thirty pound sterling in the year as a charge on the estate. He drove down the cow himself, and having stalled it in the byre, he informed her of the fact over the yard dyke by word of mouth, for he never could be induced to enter her door. He was accounted to be “gey an’ queer,” save by those who had tried making a bargain with him. But his farmers liked him, knowing him to be an easy man with those who had been really unfortunate, for he knew to what the year’s crops of each had amounted, to a single chalder and head of nowt.
Deep in her heart Janet Balchrystie cherished a great ambition. When the earliest blackbird awoke and began to sing, while it was yet gray twilight, Janet would be up and at her work. She had an ambition to be a great poet. No less than this would serve her. But not even her father had known, and no other had any chance of knowing. In the black leather chest, which had been her mother’s, upstairs, there was a slowly growing pile of manuscript, and the editor of the local paper received every other week a poem, longer or shorter, for his Poet’s Corner, in an envelope with the New Dalry postmark. He was an obliging editor, and generally gave the closely written manuscript to the senior office boy, who had passed the sixth standard, to cut down, tinker the rhymes, and lope any superfluity of feet. The senior office boy “just spread himself,” as he said, and delighted to do the job in style. But there was a woman fading into a gray old-maidishness which had hardly ever been girlhood, who did not at all approve of these corrections. She endured them because over the signature of “Heather Bell” it was a joy to see in the rich, close luxury of type her own poetry, even though it might be a trifle tattered and tossed about by hands ruthless and alien–those, in fact, of the senior office boy.
Janet walked every other week to the post-office at New Dalry to post her letters to the editor, but neither the great man nor yet the senior office boy had any conception that the verses of their “esteemed correspondent” were written by a woman too early old who dwelt alone at the back of Barbrax Long Wood.
One day Janet took a sudden but long-meditated journey. She went down by rail from the little station of The Huts to the large town of Drum, thirty miles to the east. Here, with the most perfect courage and dignity of bearing, she interviewed a printer and arranged for the publication of her poems in their own original form, no longer staled and clapper-clawed by the pencil of the senior office boy. When the proof-sheets came to Janet, she had no way of indicating the corrections but by again writing the whole poem out in a neat print hand on the edge of the proof, and underscoring the words which were to be altered. This, when you think of it, is a very good way, when the happiest part of your life is to be spent in such concrete pleasures of hope, as Janet’s were over the crackly sheets of the printer of Drum. Finally the book was produced, a small rather thickish octavo, on sufficiently wretched gray paper which had suffered from want of thorough washing in the original paper-mill. It was bound in a peculiarly deadly blue, of a rectified Reckitt tint, which gave you dazzles in the eye at any distance under ten paces. Janet had selected this as the most appropriate of colours. She had also many years ago decided upon the title, so that Reckitt had printed upon it, back and side, “The Heather Lintie,” while inside there was the acknowledgment of authorship, which Janet felt to be a solemn duty to the world: “Poems by Janet Balchrystie, Barbrax Cottage, by New Dalry.” First she had thought of withholding her name and style; but, on the whole, after the most prolonged consideration, she felt that she was not justified in bringing about such a controversy as divided Scotland concerning that “Great Unknown” who wrote the Waverley Novels.
Almost every second or third day Janet trod that long lochside road to New Dalry for her proof-sheets, and returned them on the morrow corrected in her own way. Sometimes she got a lift from some farmer or carter, for she had worn herself with anxiety to the shadow of what she had once been, and her dry bleached hair became gray and grayer with the fervour of her devotion to letters.
By April the book was published, and at the end of this month, laid aside by sickness of the vague kind called locally “a decline,” she took to her bed, rising only to lay a few sticks upon the fire from her store gathered in the autumn, or to brew herself a cup of tea. She waited for the tokens of her book’s conquests in the great world of thought and men. She had waited so long for her recognition, and now it was coming. She felt that it would not be long before she was recognised as one of the singers of the world. Indeed, had she but known it, her recognition was already on its way.
In a great city of the north a clever young reporter was cutting open the leaves of “The Heather Lintie” with a hand almost feverishly eager.
“This is a perfect treasure. This is a find indeed. Here is my chance ready to my hand.”
His paper was making a specialty of “exposures.” If there was anything weak and erring, anything particularly helpless and foolish which could make no stand for itself, the “Night Hawk” was on the pounce. Hitherto the junior reporter had never had a “two-column chance.” He had read–it was not much that he /had/ read–Macaulay’s too famous article on “Satan” Montgomery, and, not knowing that Macaulay lived to regret the spirit of that assault, he felt that if he could bring down the “Night Hawk” on “The Heather Lintie,” his fortune was made. So he sat down and he wrote, not knowing and not regarding a lonely woman’s heart, to whom his word would be as the word of a God, in the lonely cottage lying in the lee of the Long Wood of Barbrax.
The junior reporter turned out a triumph of the new journalism. “This is a book which may be a genuine source of pride to every native of the ancient province of Galloway,” he wrote. “Galloway has been celebrated for black cattle and for wool, as also for a certain bucolic belatedness of temperament, but Galloway has never hitherto produced a poetess. One has arisen in the person of Miss Janet Bal– something or other. We have not an interpreter at hand, and so cannot wrestle with the intricacies of the authoress’s name, which appears to be some Galwegian form of Erse or Choctaw. Miss Bal–and so forth–has a true fount of pathos and humour. In what touching language she chronicles the death of two young lambs which fell down into one of the puddles they call rivers down there, and were either drowned or choked with the dirt:
” ‘They were two bonny, bonny lambs, That played upon the daisied lea,
And loudly mourned their woolly dams Above the drumly flowing Dee.’
“How touchingly simple!” continued the junior reporter, buckling up his sleeves to enjoy himself, and feeling himself born to be a “Saturday Reviewer.”
“Mark the local colour, the wool and the dirty water of the Dee– without doubt a name applied to one of their bigger ditches down there. Mark also the over-fervency of the touching line,
” ‘And loudly mourned their woolly dams,’
“Which, but for the sex of the writer and her evident genius, might be taken for an expression of a strength hardly permissible even in the metropolis.”
The junior reporter filled his two columns and enjoyed himself in the doing of it. He concluded with the words: “The authoress will make a great success. If she will come to the capital, where genius is always appreciated, she will, without doubt, make her fortune. Nay, if Miss Bal–but again we cannot proceed for the want of an interpreter–if Miss B., we say, will only accept a position at Cleary’s Waxworks and give readings from her poetry, or exhibit herself in the act of pronouncing her own name, she will be a greater draw in this city than Punch and Judy, or even the latest American advertising evangelist, who preaches standing on his head.”
The junior reporter ceased here from very admiration at his own cleverness in so exactly hitting the tone of the masters of his craft, and handed his manuscript in to the editor.
It was the gloaming of a long June day when Rob Affleck, the woodman over at Barbrax, having been at New Dalry with a cart of wood, left his horse on the roadside and ran over through Gavin’s old short cut, now seldom used, to Janet’s cottage with a paper in a yellow wrapper.
“Leave it on the step, and thank you kindly, Rob,” said a weak voice within; and Rob, anxious about his horse and his bed, did so without another word. In a moment or two Janet crawled to the door, listened to make sure that Rob was really gone, opened the door, and protruded a hand wasted to the hard, flat bone–an arm that ought for years to have been full of flesh and noble curves.
When Janet got back to bed it was too dark to see anything except the big printing at the top of the paper.
“Two columns of it!” said Janet, with great thankfulness in her heart, lifting up her soul to God who had given her the power to sing. She strained her prematurely old and weary eyes to make out the sense. “A genuine source of pride to every native of the ancient province,” she read.
“The Lord be praised!” said Janet, in a rapture of devout thankfulness; “though I never really doubted it,” she added, as though asking pardon for a moment’s distrust. “But I tried to write these poems to the glory of God and not to my own praise, and He will accept them and keep me humble under the praise of men as well as under their neglect.”
So clutching the precious paper close to her breast, and letting tears of thankfulness fall on the article, which, had they fallen on the head of the junior reporter, would have burned like fire, she patiently awaited the coming dawn.
“I can wait till the morning now to read the rest,” she said.
So hour after hour, with her eyes wide, staring hard at the gray window-squares, she waited the dawn from the east. About half-past two there was a stirring and a moaning among the pines, and the roar of the sudden gust came with the breaking day through the dark arches. In the whirlwind there came a strange expectancy and tremor into the heart of the poetess, and she pressed the wet sheet of crumpled paper closer to her bosom, and turned to face the light. Through the spaces of the Long Wood of Barbrax there came a shining visitor, the Angel of the Presence, he who comes but once and stands a moment with a beckoning finger. Him she followed up through the wood.
They found Janet on the morning of the second day after, with a look so glad on her face, and so natural an expectation in the unclosed eye, that Rob Affleck spoke to her and expected an answer. The “Night Hawk” was clasped to her breast with a hand that they could not loosen. It went to the grave with her body. The ink had run a little here and there, where the tears had fallen thickest.
God is more merciful than man.
A DOCTOR OF THE OLD SCHOOL
A GENERAL PRACTITIONER
Drumtochty was accustomed to break every law of health, except wholesome food and fresh air, and yet had reduced the psalmist’s furthest limit to an average life-rate. Our men made no difference in their clothes for summer or winter, Drumsheugh and one or two of the larger farmers condescending to a top-coat on Sabbath, as a penalty of their position, and without regard to temperature. They wore their blacks at a funeral, refusing to cover them with anything, out of respect to the deceased, and standing longest in the kirkyard when the north wind was blowing across a hundred miles of snow. If the rain was pouring at the junction, then Drumtochty stood two minutes longer through sheer native dourness till each man had a cascade from the tail of his coat, and hazarded the suggestion, half-way to Kildrummie, that it had been “a bit scrowie,” and “scrowie” being as far short of a “shoor” as a “shoor” fell below “weet.”
This sustained defiance of the elements provoked occasional judgments in the shape of a “hoast” (cough), and the head of the house was then exhorted by his women folk to “change his feet” if he had happened to walk through a burn on his way home, and was pestered generally with sanitary precautions. It is right to add that the gudeman treated such advice with contempt, regarding it as suitable for the effeminacy of towns, but not seriously intended for Drumtochty. Sandy Stewart “napped” stones on the road in his shirt-sleeves, wet or fair, summer and winter, till he was persuaded to retire from active duty at eighty-five, and he spent ten years more in regretting his hastiness and criticising his successor. The ordinary course of life, with fine air and contented minds, was to do a full share of work till seventy, and then to look after “orra” jobs well into the eighties, and to “slip awa’ ” within sight of ninety. Persons above ninety were understood to be acquitting themselves with credit, and assumed airs of authority, brushing aside the opinions of seventy as immature, and confirming their conclusions with illustrations drawn from the end of last century.
When Hillocks’s brother so far forgot himself as to “slip awa’ ” at sixty, that worthy man was scandalised, and offered laboured explanations at the “beerial.”
“It’s an awfu’ business ony wy ye look at it, an’ a sair trial tae us a’. A’ never heard tell of sic a thing in oor family afore, an’ it ‘s no easy accoontin’ for ‘t.
“The gudewife was sayin’ he wes never the same sin’ a weet nicht he lost himsel’ on the muir and slept below a bush; but that’s neither here nor there. A’ ‘m thinkin’ he sappit his constitution thae twa years he wes grieve aboot England. That wes thirty years syne, but ye’re never the same after thae foreign climates.”
Drumtochty listened patiently to Hillocks’s apologia, but was not satisfied.
“It’s clean havers aboot the muir. Losh keep’s, we’ve a’ sleepit oot and never been a hair the waur.
“A’ admit that England micht hae dune the job; it’s no canny stravagin’ yon wy frae place tae place, but Drums never complained tae me as if he hed been nippit in the Sooth.”
The parish had, in fact, lost confidence in Drums after his wayward experiment with a potato-digging machine, which turned out a lamentable failure, and his premature departure confirmed our vague impression of his character.
“He’s awa’ noo,” Drumsheugh summed up, after opinion had time to form; “an’ there were waur fouk than Drums, but there’s nae doot he wes a wee flichty.”
When illness had the audacity to attack a Drumtochty man, it was described as a “whup,” and was treated by the men with a fine negligence. Hillocks was sitting in the post-office one afternoon when I looked in for my letters, and the right side of his face was blazing red. His subject of discourse was the prospects of the turnip “breer,” but he casually explained that he was waiting for medical advice.
“The gudewife is keepin’ up a ding-dong frae mornin’ till nicht aboot ma face, and a’ ‘m fair deaved (deafened), so a’ ‘m watchin’ for MacLure tae get a bottle as he comes wast; yon’s him noo.”
The doctor made his diagnosis from horseback on sight, and stated the result with that admirable clearness which endeared him to Drumtochty:
“Confound ye, Hillocks, what are ye ploiterin’ aboot here for in the weet wi’ a face like a boiled beer? Div ye no ken that ye’ve a tetch o’ the rose (erysipelas), and ocht tae be in the hoose? Gae hame wi’ ye afore a’ leave the bit, and send a halflin’ for some medicine. Ye donnerd idiot, are ye ettlin tae follow Drums afore yir time?” And the medical attendant of Drumtochty continued his invective till Hillocks started, and still pursued his retreating figure with medical directions of a simple and practical character:
“A’ ‘m watchin’, an’ peety ye if ye pit aff time. Keep yir bed the mornin’, and dinna show yir face in the fields till a’ see ye. A’ll gie ye a cry on Monday,–sic an auld fule,–but there’s no ane o’ them tae mind anither in the hale pairish.”
Hillocks’s wife informed the kirkyard that the doctor “gied the gudeman an awful’ clearin’,” and that Hillocks “wes keepin’ the hoose,” which meant that the patient had tea breakfast, and at that time was wandering about the farm buildings in an easy undress, with his head in a plaid.
It was impossible for a doctor to earn even the most modest competence from a people of such scandalous health, and so MacLure had annexed neighbouring parishes. His house–little more than a cottage–stood on the roadside among the pines toward the head of our Glen, and from this base of operations he dominated the wild glen that broke the wall of the Grampians above Drumtochty–where the snow-drifts were twelve feet deep in winter, and the only way of passage at times was the channel of the river–and the moorland district westward till he came to the Dunleith sphere of influence, where there were four doctors and a hydropathic. Drumtochty in its length, which was eight miles, and its breadth, which was four, lay in his hand; besides a glen behind, unknown to the world, which in the night-time he visited at the risk of life, for the way thereto was across the big moor with its peat- holes and treacherous bogs. And he held the land eastward toward Muirtown so far as Geordie. The Drumtochty post travelled every day, and could carry word that the doctor was wanted. He did his best for the need of every man, woman, and child in this wild, straggling district, year in, year out, in the snow and in the heat, in the dark and in the light, without rest, and without holiday for forty years.
One horse could not do the work of this man, but we liked best to see him on his old white mare, who died the week after her master, and the passing of the two did our hearts good. It was not that he rode beautifully, for he broke every canon of art, flying with his arms, stooping till he seemed to be speaking into Jess’s ears, and rising in the saddle beyond all necessity. But he could ride faster, stay longer in the saddle, and had a firmer grip with his knees than any one I ever met, and it was all for mercy’s sake. When the reapers in harvest-time saw a figure whirling past in a cloud of dust, or the family at the foot of Glen Urtach, gathered round the fire on a winter’s night, heard the rattle of a horse’s hoofs on the road, or the shepherds, out after the sheep, traced a black speck moving across the snow to the upper glen, they knew it was the doctor, and, without being conscious of it, wished him God-speed.
Before and behind his saddle were strapped the instruments and medicines the doctor might want, for he never knew what was before him. There were no specialists in Drumtochty, so this man had to do everything as best he could, and as quickly. He was chest doctor, and doctor for every other organ as well; he was accoucheur and surgeon; he was oculist and aurist; he was dentist and chloroformist, besides being chemist and druggist. It was often told how he was far up Glen Urtach when the feeders of the threshing-mill caught young Burnbrae, and how he only stopped to change horses at his house, and galloped all the way to Burnbrae, and flung himself off his horse, and amputated the arm, and saved the lad’s life.
“You wud hae thocht that every meenut was an hour,” said Jamie Soutar, who had been at the threshing, “an’ a’ ‘ll never forget the puir lad lyin’ as white as deith on the floor o’ the loft, wi’ his head on a sheaf, and Burnbrae haudin’ the bandage ticht an’ prayin’ a’ the while, and the mither greetin’ in the corner.
” ‘Will he never come?’ she cries, an’ a’ heard the soond o’ the horse’s feet on the road a mile awa’ in the frosty air.
” ‘The Lord be praised!’ said Burnbrae, and a’ slipped doon the ladder as the doctor came skelpin’ intae the close, the foam fleein’ frae his horse’s mooth.
” ‘Whar is he?’ wes a’ that passed his lips, an’ in five meenuts he hed him on the feedin’ board, and wes at his wark–sic wark, neeburs! but he did it weel. An’ ae thing a’ thocht rael thochtfu’ o’ him: he first sent aff the laddie’s mither tae get a bed ready.
” ‘Noo that’s feenished, and his constitution ‘ill dae the rest,’ and he carried the lad doon the ladder in his airms like a bairn, and laid him in his bed, and waits aside him till he wes sleepin’, and then says he, ‘Burnbrae, yir a gey lad never tae say, “Collie, will ye lick?” for a’ hevna tasted meat for saxteen hoors.’
“It was michty tae see him come intae the yaird that day, neeburs; the verra look o’ him wes victory.”
Jamie’s cynicism slipped off in the enthusiasm of this reminiscence, and he expressed the feeling of Drumtochty. No one sent for MacLure save in great straits, and the sight of him put courage in sinking hearts. But this was not by the grace of his appearance, or the advantage of a good bedside manner. A tall, gaunt, loosely made man, without an ounce of superfluous flesh on his body, his face burned a dark brick colour by constant exposure to the weather, red hair and beard turning gray, honest blue eyes that look you ever in the face, huge hands with wrist-bones like the shank of a ham, and a voice that hurled his salutations across two fields, he suggested the moor rather than the drawing-room. But what a clever hand it was in an operation– as delicate as a woman’s! and what a kindly voice it was in the humble room where the shepherd’s wife was weeping by her man’s bedside! He was “ill pitten thegither” to begin with, but many of his physical defects were the penalties of his work, and endeared him to the Glen. That ugly scar, that cut into his right eyebrow and gave him such a sinister expression, was got one night Jess slipped on the ice and laid him insensible eight miles from home. His limp marked the big snowstorm in the fifties, when his horse missed the road in Glen Urtach, and they rolled together in a drift. MacLure escaped with a broken leg and the fracture of three ribs, but he never walked like other men again. He could not swing himself into the saddle without making two attempts and holding Jess’s mane. Neither can you “warstle” through the peat-bogs and snow-drifts for forty winters without a touch of rheumatism. But they were honourable scars, and for such risks of life men get the Victoria Cross in other fields. MacLure got nothing but the secret affection of the Glen, which knew that none had ever done one tenth as much for it as this ungainly, twisted, battered figure, and I have seen a Drumtochty face soften at the sight of MacLure limping to his horse.
Mr. Hopps earned the ill-will of the Glen for ever by criticising the doctor’s dress, but indeed it would have filled any townsman with amazement. Black he wore once a year, on sacrament Sunday, and, if possible, at a funeral; top-coat or water-proof never. His jacket and waistcoat were rough homespun of Glen Urtach wool, which threw off the wet like a duck’s back, and below he was clad in shepherd’s tartan trousers, which disappeared into unpolished riding-boots. His shirt was gray flannel, and he was uncertain about a collar, but certain as to a tie,–which he never had, his beard doing instead,–and his hat was soft felt of four colours and seven different shapes. His point of distinction in dress was the trousers, and they were the subject of unending speculation.
“Some threep that he’s worn thae eedentical pair the last twenty year, an’ a mind masel’ him getting’ a tear ahint, when he was crossin’ oor palin’, an the mend’s still veesible.
“Ithers declare ‘at he’s got a wab o’ claith, and hes a new pair made in Muirtown aince in the twa year maybe, and keeps them in the garden till the new look wears aff.
“For ma ain pairt,” Soutar used to declare, “a’ canna mak’ up my mind, but there’s ae thing sure: the Glen wudna like tae see him withoot them; it wud be a shock tae confidence. There’s no muckle o’ the check left, but ye can aye tell it, and when ye see thae breeks comin’ in ye ken that if human pooer can save yir bairn’s life it ‘ill be dune.”
The confidence of the Glen–and the tributary states–was unbounded, and rested partly on long experience of the doctor’s resources, and partly on his hereditary connection.
“His father was here afore him,” Mrs. Macfadyen used to explain; “atween them they’ve hed the country-side for weel on tae a century; if MacLure disna understand oor constitution, wha dis, a’ wud like tae ask?”
For Drumtochty had its own constitution and a special throat disease, as became a parish which was quite self-contained between the woods and the hills, and not dependent on the lowlands either for its diseases or its doctors.
“He’s a skilly man, Dr. MacLure,” continued my friend Mrs. Macfadyen, whose judgment on sermons or anything else was seldom at fault; “an’ a kind-hearted, though o’ coorse he hes his faults like us a’, an’ he disna tribble the kirk often.
“He aye can tell what’s wrong wi’ a body, an’ maistly he can put ye richt, and there’s nae new-fangled wys wi’ him; a blister for the ootside an’ Epsom salts for the inside dis his wark, an’ they say there’s no an herb on the hills he disna ken.
“If we’re tae dee, we’re tae dee; an’ if we’re tae live, we’re tae live,” concluded Elspeth, with sound Calvinistic logic; “but a’ ‘ll say this for the doctor, that, whether yir tae live or dee, he can aye keep up a sharp meisture on the skin.
“But he’s no verra ceevil gin ye bring him when there’s naethin’ wrang,” and Mrs. Macfadyen’s face reflected another of Mr. Hopps’s misadventures of which Hillocks held the copyright.
“Hopps’s laddie ate grosarts (gooseberries) till they hed to sit up a’ nicht wi’ him, an’ naethin’ wud do but they maum hae the doctor, an’ he writes ‘immediately’ on a slip o’ paper.
“Weel, MacLure had been awa’ a’ nicht wi’ a shepherd’s wife Dunleith wy, and he comes here withoot drawin’ bridle, mud up tae the een.
” ‘What’s adae here, Hillocks?’ he cries; ‘it’s no an accident, is ‘t?’ and when he got aff his horse he cud hardly stand wi’ stiffness and tire.
” ‘It’s nane o’ us, doctor; it’s Hopps’s laddie; he’s been eatin’ ower-mony berries.’
“If he didna turn on me like a tiger!
” ‘Div ye mean tae say–‘
” ‘Weesht, weesht,’ an’ I tried tae quiet him, for Hopps wes coomin’ oot.
” ‘Well, doctor,’ begins he, as brisk as a magpie, ‘you’re here at last; there’s no hurry with you Scotchmen. My boy has been sick all night, and I’ve never had a wink of sleep. You might have come a little quicker, that’s all I’ve got to say.’
” ‘We’ve mair tae dae in Drumtochty than attend tae every bairn that hes a sair stomach,’ and a’ saw MacLure was roosed.
” ‘I’m astonished to hear you speak. Our doctor at home always says to Mrs. ‘Opps, “Look on me as a family friend, Mrs. ‘Opps, and send for me though it be only a headache.” ‘
” ‘He’d be mair spairin’ o’ his offers if he hed four and twenty mile tae look aifter. There’s naethin’ wrang wi’ yir laddie but greed. Gie him a gud dose o’ castor-oil and stop his meat for a day, an’ he ‘ill be a’richt the morn.’
” ‘He ‘ill not take castor-oil, doctor. We have given up those barbarous medicines.’
” ‘Whatna kind o’ medicines hae ye noo in the Sooth?’
” ‘Well, you see Dr. MacLure, we’re homoeopathists, and I’ve my little chest here,’ and oot Hopps comes wi’ his boxy.
” ‘Let’s see ‘t,’ an’ MacLure sits doon and tak’s oot the bit bottles, and he reads the names wi’ a lauch every time.
” ‘Belladonna; did ye ever hear the like? Aconite; it cowes a’. Nux vomica. What next? Weel, ma mannie,’ he says tae Hopps, ‘it’s a fine ploy, and ye ‘ill better gang on wi’ the nux till it’s dune, and gie him ony ither o’ the sweeties he fancies.
” ‘Noo, Hillocks, a’ maun be aff tae see Drumsheugh’s grieve, for he’s doon wi’ the fever, and it’s tae be a teuch fecht. A’ hinna time tae wait for dinner; gie me some cheese an’ cake in ma haund, and Jess ‘ill take a pail o’ meal an’ water.
” ‘Fee? A’ ‘m no wantin’ yir fees, man; wi’ that boxy ye dinna need a doctor; na, na, gie yir siller tae some puir body, Maister Hopps,’ an’ he was doon the road as hard as he cud lick.”
His fees were pretty much what the folk chose to give him, and he collected them once a year at Kildrummie fair.
“Weel, doctor, what am a’ awin’ ye for the wife and bairn? Ye ‘ill need three notes for that nicht ye stayed in the hoose an’ a’ the vessits.”
“Havers,” MacLure would answer, “prices are low, a’ ‘m hearin’; gie ‘s thirty shillin’s.”
“No, a’ ‘ll no, or the wife ‘ill tak’ ma ears aff,” and it was settled for two pounds.
Lord Kilspindie gave him a free house and fields, and one way or other, Drumsheugh told me the doctor might get in about one hundred and fifty pounds a year, out of which he had to pay his old housekeeper’s wages and a boy’s, and keep two horses, besides the cost of instruments and books, which he bought through a friend in Edinburgh with much judgment.
There was only one man who ever complained of the doctor’s charges, and that was the new farmer of Milton, who was so good that he was above both churches, and held a meeting in his barn. (It was Milton the Glen supposed at first to be a Mormon, but I can’t go into that now.) He offered MacLure a pound less than he asked, and two tracts, whereupon MacLure expressed his opinion of Milton, both from a theological and social standpoint, with such vigour and frankness that an attentive audience of Drumtochty men could hardly contain themselves.
Jamie Soutar was selling his pig at the time, and missed the meeting, but he hastened to condole with Milton, who was complaining everywhere of the doctor’s language.
“Ye did richt tae resist him; it ‘ill maybe roose the Glen tae mak’ a stand; he fair hands them in bondage.
“Thirty shillin’s for twal’ vessits, and him no mair than seeven mile awa’, an’ a’ ‘m telt there werena mair than four at nicht.
“Ye ‘ill hae the sympathy o’ the Glen, for a’body kens yir as free wi’ yir siller as yir tracts.
“Wes ‘t ‘Beware o’ Gude Warks’ ye offered him? Man, ye chose it weel, for he’s been colleckin’ sae mony thae forty years, a’ ‘m feared for him.
“A’ ‘ve often thocht oor doctor’s little better than the Gude Samaritan, an’ the Pharisees didna think muckle o’ his chance aither in this warld or that which is tae come.”
THROUGH THE FLOOD
Dr. MacLure did not lead a solemn procession from the sick-bed to the dining-room, and give his opinion from the hearth-rug with an air of wisdom bordering on the supernatural, because neither the Drumtochty houses nor his manners were on that large scale. He was accustomed to deliver himself in the yard, and to conclude his directions with one foot in the stirrup; but when he left the room where the life of Annie Mitchell was ebbing slowly away, our doctor said not one word, and at the sight of his face her husband’s heart was troubled.
He was a dull man, Tammas, who could not read the meaning of a sign, and laboured under a perpetual disability of speech; but love was eyes to him that day, and a mouth.
“Is ‘t as bad as yir lookin’, doctor? Tell ‘s the truth. Wull Annie no come through?” and Tammas looked MacLure straight in the face, who never flinched his duty or said smooth things.
“A’ wud gie onythin’ tae say Annie has a chance, but a’ daurna; a’ doot yir gaein’ to lose her, Tammas.”
MacLure was in the saddle, and, as he gave his judgment, he laid his hand on Tammas’s shoulder with one of the rare caresses that pass between men.
“It’s a sair business, but ye ‘ill play the man and no vex Annie; she ‘ill dae her best, a’ ‘ll warrant.”
“And a’ ‘ll dae mine,” and Tammas gave MacLure’s hand a grip that would have crushed the bones of a weakling. Drumtochty felt in such moments the brotherliness of this rough-looking man, and loved him.
Tammas hid his face in Jess’s mane, who looked round with sorrow in her beautiful eyes, for she had seen many tragedies; and in this silent sympathy the stricken man drank his cup, drop by drop.
“A’ wesna prepared for this, for a’ aye thocht she wud live the langest. . . . She’s younger than me by ten year, and never was ill. . . . We’ve been mairit twal’ year last Martinmas, but it’s juist like a year the day. . . . A’ wes never worthy o’ her, the bonniest, snoddest (neatest), kindliest lass in the Glen. . . . A’ never cud mak’ oot hoo she ever lookit at me, ‘at hesna hed ae word tae say about her till it’s ower-late. . . . She didna cuist up to me that a’ wesna worthy o’ her–no her; but aye she said, ‘Yir ma ain gudeman, and nane cud be kinder tae me.’ . . . An’ a’ wes minded tae be kind, but a’ see noo mony little trokes a’ micht hae dune for her, and noo the time is by. . . . Naebody kens hoo patient she wes wi’ me, and aye made the best o’ me, an’ never pit me tae shame afore the fouk. . . . An’ we never hed ae cross word, no ane in twal’ year. . . . We were mair nor man and wife–we were sweethearts a’ the time. . . . Oh, ma bonnie lass, what ‘ill the bairnies an’ me dae without ye, Annie?”
The winter night was falling fast, the snow lay deep upon the ground, and the merciless north wind moaned through the close as Tammas wrestled with his sorrow dry-eyed, for tears were denied Drumtochty men. Neither the doctor nor Jess moved hand or foot, but their hearts were with their fellow-creature, and at length the doctor made a sign to Marget Howe, who had come out in search of Tammas, and now stood by his side.
“Dinna mourn tae the brakin’ o’ yir hert, Tammas,” she said, “as if Annie an’ you hed never luved. Neither death nor time can pairt them that luve; there’s naethin’ in a’ the warld sae strong as luve. If Annie gaes frae the sicht o’ yir een she ‘ill come the nearer tae yir hert. She wants tae see ye, and tae hear ye say that ye ‘ill never forget her nicht nor day till ye meet in the land where there’s nae pairtin’. Oh, a’ ken what a’ ‘m sayin’, for it’s five year noo sin’ George gied awa’, an’ he’s mair wi me noo than when he was in Edinboro’ and I wes in Drumtochty.”
“Thank ye kindly, Marget; thae are gude words an’ true, an’ ye hev the richt tae say them; but a’ canna dae without seein’ Annie comin’ tae meet me in the gloamin’, an’ gaein’ in an’ oot the hoose, an’ hearin’ her ca’ me by ma name; an’ a’ ‘ll no can tell her that a’ luve her when there’s nae Annie in the hoose.
“Can naethin’ be dune, doctor? Ye savit Flora Cammil, and young Burnbrae, an’ yon shepherd’s wife Dunleith wy; an’ we were a’ sae prood o’ ye, an’ pleased tae think that ye hed keepit deith frae anither hame. Can ye no think o’ somethin’ tae help Annie, and gie her back her man and bairnies?” and Tammas searched the doctor’s face in the cold, weird light.
“There’s nae pooer in heaven or airth like luve,” Marget said to me afterward; “it mak’s the weak strong and the dumb tae speak. Oor herts were as water afore Tammas’s words, an’ a’ saw the doctor shake in his saddle. A’ never kent till that meenut hoo he hed a share in a’body’s grief, an’ carried the heaviest wecht o’ a’ the Glen. A’ peetied him wi’ Tammas lookin’ at him sae wistfully, as if he hed the keys o’ life an’ deith in his hands. But he wes honest, and wudna hold oot a false houp tae deceive a sore hert or win escape for himsel’.”
“Ye needna plead wi’ me, Tammas, to dae the best a’ can for yir wife. Man, a’ kent her lang afore ye ever luved her; a’ brocht her intae the warld, and a’ saw her through the fever when she wes a bit lassikie; a’ closed her mither’s een, and it wes me hed tae tell her she wes an orphan; an’ nae man wes better pleased when she got a gude husband, and a’ helpit her wi’ her fower bairns. A’ ‘ve naither wife nor bairns o’ ma own, an’ a’ coont a’ the fouk o’ the Glen ma family. Div ye think a’ wudna save Annie if I cud? If there wes a man in Muirtown ‘at cud dae mair for her, a’ ‘d have him this verra nicht; but a’ the doctors in Perthshire are helpless for this tribble.
“Tammas, ma puir fallow, if it could avail, a’ tell ye a’ wud lay doon this auld worn-oot ruckle o’ a body o’ mine juist tae see ye baith sittin’ at the fireside, an’ the bairns round ye, couthy an’ canty again; but it’s nae tae be, Tammas, it’s nae tae be.”
“When a’ lookit at the doctor’s face,” Marget said, “a’ thocht him the winsomest man a’ ever saw. He wes transfigured that nicht, for a’ ‘m judgin’ there’s nae transfiguration like luve.”
“It’s God’s wull an’ maun be borne, but it’s a sair wull fur me, an’ a’ ‘m no ungratefu’ tae you, doctor, for a’ ye’ve dune and what ye said the nicht,” and Tammas went back to sit with Annie for the last time.
Jess picked her way through the deep snow to the main road, with a skill that came of long experience, and the doctor held converse with her according to his wont.
“Eh, Jess, wumman, yon wes the hardest wark a’ hae tae face, and a’ wud raither hae taen ma chance o’ anither row in a Glen Urtach drift than tell Tammas Mitchell his wife wes deein’.
“A’ said she cudna be cured, and it was true, for there’s juist ae man in the land fit for ‘t, and they micht as weel try tae get the mune oot o’ heaven. Sae a’ said naethin’ tae vex Tammas’s hert, for it’s heavy eneuch withoot regrets.
“But it’s hard, Jess, that money will buy life after a’, an’ if Annie wes a duchess her man wudna lose her; but bein’ only a puir cotter’s wife, she maun dee afore the week ‘s oot.
“Gin we hed him the morn there’s little doot she wud be saved, for he hesna lost mair than five per cent. o’ his cases, and they ‘ill be puir toons-craturs, no strappin’ women like Annie.
“It’s oot o’ the question, Jess, sae hurry up, lass, for we’ve hed a heavy day. But it wud be the grandest thing that wes ever done in the Glen in oor time if it could be managed by hook or crook.
“We’ll gang and see Drumsheugh, Jess; he’s anither man sin’ Geordie Hoo’s deith, and he was aye kinder than fouk kent.” And the doctor passed at a gallop through the village, whose lights shone across the white frost-bound road.
“Come in by, doctor; a’ heard ye on the road; ye ‘ill hae been at Tammas Mitchell’s; hoo’s the gudewife? A’ doot she’s sober.”
“Annie’s deein’, Drumsheugh, an’ Tammas is like tae brak his hert.”
“That’s no lichtsome, doctor, no lichtsome, ava, for a’ dinna ken ony man in Drumtochty sae bund up in his wife as Tammas, and there’s no a bonnier wumman o’ her age crosses oor kirk door than Annie, nor a cleverer at her work. Man ye ‘ill need tae pit yir brains in steep. Is she clean beyond ye?”
“Beyond me and every ither in the land but ane, and it wud cost a hundred guineas tae bring him tae Drumtochty.”
“Certes, he’s no blate; it’s a fell chairge for a short day’s work; but hundred or no hundred we ‘ill hae him, and no let Annie gang, and her no half her years.”
“Are ye meanin’ it, Drumsheugh?” and MacLure turned white below the tan.
“William MacLure,” said Drumsheugh, in one of the few confidences that ever broke the Drumtochty reserve, “a’ ‘m a lonely man, wi’ naebody o’ ma ain blude tae care for me livin’, or tae lift me intae ma coffin when a’ ‘m deid.
“A’ fecht awa’ at Muirtown market for an extra pund on a beast, or a shillin’ on the quarter o’ barley, an’ what’s the gude o’ ‘t? Burnbrae gaes aff tae get a goon for his wife or a buke for his college laddie, an’ Lachlan Campbell ‘ill no leave the place noo without a ribbon for Flora.
“Ilka man in the Kildrummie train has some bit fairin’ in his pooch for the fouk at hame that he’s bocht wi’ the siller he won.
“But there’s naebody tae be lookin’ oot for me, an’ comin’ doon the road tae meet me, and daffin’ (joking) wi’ me aboot their fairin’, or feelin’ ma pockets. Ou, ay! A’ ‘ve seen it a’ at ither hooses, though they tried tae hide it frae me for fear a’ wud lauch at them. Me lauch, wi’ ma cauld, empty hame!
“Yir the only man kens, Weelum, that I aince luved the noblest wumman in the Glen or onywhere, an’ a’ luve her still, but wi’ anither luve noo.
“She hed given her hert tae anither, or a’ ‘ve thocht a’ micht hae won her, though nae man be worthy o’ sic a gift. Ma hert turned tae bitterness, but that passed awa’ beside the brier-bush what George Hoo lay yon sad simmer-time. Some day a’ ‘ll tell ye ma story, Weelum, for you an’ me are auld freends, and will be till we dee.”
MacLure felt beneath the table for Drumsheugh’s hand, but neither man looked at the other.
“Weel, a’ we can dae noo, Weelum, gin we haena mickle brightness in oor ain hames, is tae keep the licht frae gaein’ oot in anither hoose. Write the telegram, man, and Sandy ‘ill send it aff frae Kildrummie this verra nicht, and ye ‘ill hae yir man the morn.”
“Yir the man a’ coonted ye, Drumsheugh, but ye ‘ill grant me a favour. Ye ‘ill lat me pay the half, bit by bit. A’ ken yir wullin’ tae dae ‘t a’; but a’ haena mony pleasures, an’ a’ wud like tae hae ma ain share in savin’ Annie’s life.”
Next morning a figure received Sir George on the Kildrummie platform, whom that famous surgeon took for a gillie, but who introduced himself as “MacLure of Drumtochty.” It seemed as if the East had come to meet the West when these two stood together, the one in travelling furs, handsome and distinguished, with his strong, cultured face and carriage of authority, a characteristic type of his profession; and the other more marvellously dressed than ever, for Drumsheugh’s top- coat had been forced upon him for the occasion, his face and neck one redness with the bitter cold, rough and ungainly, yet not without some signs of power in his eye and voice, the most heroic type of his noble profession. MacLure compassed the precious arrival with observances till he was securely seated in Drumsheugh’s dog-cart,–a vehicle that lent itself to history,–with two full-sized plaids added to his equipment–Drumsheugh and Hillocks had both been requisitioned; and MacLure wrapped another plaid round a leather case, which was placed below the seat with such reverence as might be given to the Queen’s regalia. Peter attended their departure full of interest, and as soon as they were in the fir woods MacLure explained that it would be an eventful journey.
“It’s a’richt in here, for the wind disna get at the snow; but the drifts are deep in the Glen, and th’ ‘ill be some engineerin’ afore we get tae oor destination.”
Four times they left the road and took their way over fields; twice they forced a passage through a slap in a dyke; thrice they used gaps in the paling which MacLure had made on his downward journey.
“A’ seleckit the road this mornin’, an’ a’ ken the depth tae an inch; we ‘ill get through this steadin’ here tae the main road, but our worst job ‘ill be crossin’ the Tochty.
“Ye see, the bridge hes been shakin’ wi’ this winter’s flood, and we daurna venture on it, sae we hev tae ford, and the snaw’s been meltin’ up Urtach way. There’s nae doot the water’s gey big, and it’s threatenin’ tae rise, but we ‘ill win through wi’ a warstle.
“It micht be safer tae lift the instruments oot o’ reach o’ the water; wud ye mind haddin’ them on yir knee till we’re ower, an’ keep firm in yir seat in case we come on a stane in the bed o’ the river.”
By this time they had come to the edge, and it was not a cheering sight. The Tochty had spread out over the meadows, and while they waited they could see it cover another two inches on the trunk of a tree. There are summer floods, when the water is brown and flecked with foam, but this was a winter flood, which is black and sullen, and runs in the centre with a strong, fierce, silent current. Upon the opposite side Hillocks stood to give directions by word and hand, as the ford was on his land, and none knew the Tochty better in all its ways.
They passed through the shallow water without mishap, save when the wheel struck a hidden stone or fell suddenly into a rut; but when they neared the body of the river MacLure halted, to give Jess a minute’s breathing.
“It ‘ill tak’ ye a’ yir time, lass, an’ a’ wud raither be on yir back; but ye never failed me yet, and a wumman’s life is hangin’ on the crossin’.”
With the first plunge into the bed of the stream the water rose to the axles, and then it crept up to the shafts, so that the surgeon could feel it lapping in about his feet, while the dog-cart began to quiver, and it seemed as if it were to be carried away. Sir George was as brave as most men, but he had never forded a Highland river in flood, and the mass of black water racing past beneath, before, behind him, affected his imagination and shook his nerves. He rose from his seat and ordered MacLure to turn back, declaring that he would be condemned utterly and eternally if he allowed himself to be drowned for any person.
“Sit doon!” thundered MacLure. “Condemned ye will be, suner or later, gin ye shirk yir duty, but through the water ye gang the day.”
Both men spoke much more strongly and shortly, but this is what they intended to say, and it was MacLure that prevailed.
Jess trailed her feet along the ground with cunning art, and held her shoulder against the stream; MacLure leaned forward in his seat, a rein in each hand, and his eyes fixed on Hillocks, who was now standing up to the waist in the water, shouting directions and cheering on horse and driver:
“Haud tae the richt, doctor; there’s a hole yonder. Keep oot o’ ‘t for ony sake. That’s it; yir daein’ fine. Steady, man, steady. Yir at the deepest; sit heavy in yir seats. Up the channel noo, and ye ‘ill be oot o’ the swirl. Weel dune, Jess! Weel dune, auld mare! Mak’ straicht for me, doctor, an’ a’ ‘ll gie ye the road oot. Ma word, ye’ve dune yir best, baith o’ ye, this mornin’,” cried Hillocks, splashing up to the dog-cart, now in the shallows.
“Sall, it wes titch an’ go for a meenut in the middle; a Hielan’ ford