Part I.--His Boyhood
Chapter XXII. Dr. Anderson.
 

One afternoon, as they were sitting at their tea, a footstep in the garden approached the house, and then a figure passed the window. Mr. Lammie started to his feet.

'Bless my sowl, Aggy! that's Anderson!' he cried, and hurried to the door.

His daughter followed. The boys kept their seats. A loud and hearty salutation reached their ears; but the voice of the farmer was all they heard. Presently he returned, bringing with him the tallest and slenderest man Robert had ever seen. He was considerably over six feet, with a small head, and delicate, if not fine features, a gentle look in his blue eyes, and a slow clear voice, which sounded as if it were thinking about every word it uttered. The hot sun of India seemed to have burned out everything self-assertive, leaving him quietly and rather sadly contemplative.

'Come in, come in,' repeated Mr. Lammie, overflowing with glad welcome. 'What'll ye hae? There's a frien' o' yer ain,' he continued, pointing to Robert, 'an' a fine lad.' Then lowering his voice, he added: 'A son o' poor Anerew's, ye ken, doctor.'

The boys rose, and Dr. Anderson, stretching his long arms across the table, shook hands kindly with Robert and Shargar. Then he sat down and began to help himself to the cakes (oat-cake), at which Robert wondered, seeing there was 'white breid' on the table. Miss Lammie presently came in with the teapot and some additional dainties, and the boys took the opportunity of beginning at the beginning again.

Dr. Anderson remained for a few days at Bodyfauld, sending Shargar to Rothieden for some necessaries from The Boar's Head, where he had left his servant and luggage. During this time Mr. Lammie was much occupied with his farm affairs, anxious to get his harvest in as quickly as possible, because a change of weather was to be dreaded; so the doctor was left a good deal to himself. He was fond of wandering about, but, thoughtful as he was, did not object to the companionship which Robert implicitly offered him: before many hours were over, the two were friends.

Various things attracted Robert to the doctor. First, he was a relation of his own, older than himself, the first he had known except his father, and Robert's heart was one of the most dutiful. Second, or perhaps I ought to have put this first, he was the only gentleman, except Eric Ericson, whose acquaintance he had yet made. Third, he was kind to him, and gentle to him, and, above all, respectful to him; and to be respected was a new sensation to Robert altogether. And lastly, he could tell stories of elephants and tiger hunts, and all The Arabian Nights of India. He did not volunteer much talk, but Robert soon found that he could draw him out.

But what attracted the man to the boy?

'Ah! Robert,' said the doctor one day, sadly, 'it's a sore thing to come home after being thirty years away.'

He looked up at the sky, then all around at the hills: the face of Nature alone remained the same. Then his glance fell on Robert, and he saw a pair of black eyes looking up at him, brimful of tears. And thus the man was drawn to the boy.

Robert worshipped Dr. Anderson. As long as he remained their visitor, kite and violin and all were forgotten, and he followed him like a dog. To have such a gentleman for a relation, was grand indeed. What could he do for him? He ministered to him in all manner of trifles--a little to the amusement of Dr. Anderson, but more to his pleasure, for he saw that the boy was both large-hearted and lowly-minded: Dr. Anderson had learned to read character, else he would never have been the honour to his profession that he was.

But all the time Robert could not get him to speak about his father. He steadily avoided the subject.

When he went away, the two boys walked with him to The Boar's Head, caught a glimpse of his Hindoo attendant, much to their wonderment, received from the doctor a sovereign apiece and a kind good-bye, and returned to Bodyfauld.

Dr. Anderson remained a few days longer at Rothieden, and amongst others visited Mrs. Falconer, who was his first cousin. What passed between them Robert never heard, nor did his grandmother even allude to the visit. He went by the mail-coach from Rothieden to Aberdeen, and whether he should ever see him again Robert did not know.

He flew his kite no more for a while, but betook himself to the work of the harvest-field, in which he was now able for a share. But his violin was no longer neglected.

Day after day passed in the delights of labour, broken for Robert by The Arabian Nights and the violin, and for Shargar by attendance upon Miss Lammie, till the fields lay bare of their harvest, and the night-wind of autumn moaned everywhere over the vanished glory of the country, and it was time to go back to school.