A Doctor of the Old School by Ian Maclaren
I. 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."
II. 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 is a kittle (hazardous) road in the snaw-time, but ye 're safe noo.
"Gude luck tae ye up at Westerton, sir; nane but a richt-hearted man wud hae riskit the Tochty in flood. Ye 're boond tae succeed aifter sic a graund beginnin'," for it had spread already that a famous surgeon had come to do his best for Annie, Tammas Mitchell's wife.
Two hours later MacLure came out from Annie's room and laid hold of Tammas, a heap of speechless misery by the kitchen fire, and carried him off to the barn, and spread some corn on the threshing-floor, and thrust a flail into his hands.
"Noo we 've tae begin, an' we 'ill no be dune for an' 'oor, and ye 've tae lay on without stoppin' till a' come for ye; an' a' 'll shut the door tae haud in the noise, an' keep yir dog beside ye, for there maunna be a cheep aboot the house for Annie's sake."
"A' 'll dae onythin' ye want me, but if--if----"
"A' 'll come for ye, Tammas, gin there be danger; but what are ye feard for wi' the Queen's ain surgeon here?"
Fifty minutes did the flair rise and fall, save twice, when Tammas crept to the door and listened, the dog lifting his head and whining.
It seemed twelve hours instead of one when the door swung back, and MacLure filled the doorway, preceded by a great burst of light, for the sun had arisen on the snow.
His face was as tidings of great joy, and Elspeth told me that there was nothing like it to be seen that afternoon for glory, save the sun itself in the heavens.
"A' never saw the marrow o' 't, Tammas, an' a' 'll never see the like again; it's a' ower, man, withoot a hitch frae beginnin' tae end, and she's fa'in' asleep as fine as ye like."
"Dis he think Annie--'ill live?"
"Of course he dis, and be aboot the hoose inside a month; that's the gude o' bein' a clean-bluided, weel-livin'--
"Preserve ye, man, what's wrang wi' ye? It's a mercy a' keppit ye, or we wud hev hed anither job for Sir George.
"Ye 're a'richt noo; sit doon on the strae. A' 'll come back in a while, an' ye 'ill see Annie, juist for a meenut, but ye maunna say a word."
Marget took him in and let him kneel by Annie's bedside.
He said nothing then or afterward for speech came only once in his lifetime to Tammas, but Annie whispered, "Ma ain dear man."
When the doctor placed the precious bag beside Sir George in our solitary first next morning, he laid a check beside it and was about to leave.
"No, no!" said the great man. "Mrs. Macfadyen and I were on the gossip last night, and I know the whole story about you and your friend.
"You have some right to call me a coward, but I 'll never let you count me a mean, miserly rascal," and the check with Drumsheugh's painful writing fell in fifty pieces on the floor.
As the train began to move, a voice from the first called so that all the station heard:
"Give 's another shake of your hand, MacLure; I'm proud to have met you; your are an honour to our profession. Mind the antiseptic dressings."
It was market-day, but only Jamie Soutar and Hillocks had ventured down.
"Did ye hear yon, Hillocks? Hoo dae ye feel? A' 'll no deny a' 'm lifted."
Half-way to the Junction Hillocks had recovered, and began to grasp the situation.
"Tell 'us what he said. A' wud like to hae it exact for Drumsheugh."
"Thae's the eedentical words, an' they're true; there's no a man in Drumtochty disna ken that, except ane."
"An' wha's that Jamie?"
"It's Weelum MacLure himsel'. Man, a' 've often girned that he sud fecht awa' for us a', and maybe dee before he kent that he had githered mair luve than ony man in the Glen.
" 'A' 'm prood tae hae met ye,' says Sir George, an' him the greatest doctor in the land. 'Yir an honour tae oor profession.'
"Hillocks, a' wudna hae missed it for twenty notes," said James Soutar, cynic in ordinary to the parish of Drumtochty.