Scottish Story Rab and
by Dr John Brown
are quite a few references to Dr John Brown of Edinburgh and his great
short story ‘Rab and his Friends’ when one uses the ES Internal Search
Engine …. But the story itself does not seem to be anywhere on ES.
[Nor is it in The Book of Scottish Story that I
am currently OCR..ing]
I have transcribed it for ES because I agree with Francis R. Packard M.D.,
when he wrote of the short story ''Rab and his Friends, in 1903,
"For simplicity, sincerity and obvious
truthfulness; for deep pathos and human sympathy; for pure humour and
insight into human nature, this little story is almost unexcelled."
attach here it, as usual in txt format Arial 10, with a jpeg of Dr Brown
to be inserted after the title on the web page …
Dr John Brown
Author of ‘Rab and his Friends’
Dr John Brown (September 22, 1810 – May 11, 1882) was a Scottish
physician and essayist. He was the son of the clergyman John Brown
(1784–1858), and was born in Biggar, Scotland. He is best known for his
dog story, ‘Rab and his Friends’, of which it was said, “For simplicity,
sincerity and obvious truthfulness; for deep pathos and human sympathy;
for pure humour and insight into human nature, this little story is
He was educated at the High School and graduated as M.D. at the
University of Edinburgh in 1833, and practised as a physician in that
city. He was revered and beloved in no common degree, and he was the
cherished friend of many of his most distinguished contemporaries,
including Thackeray; his reputation, however, is based on the two
volumes of essays, Horae Subsecivae (Leisure Hours) (1858, 1861), John
Leech and Other Papers (1882), Rab and His Friends (1859), and Marjorie
Fleming: a Sketch (1863).
The first volume of Horae Subsecivae deals chiefly with the equipment
and duties of a physician, the second with subjects outside his
profession. He was emphatic in his belief that an author should publish
nothing unless he has something to say. Acting on this principle, he
published little himself, and only after subjecting it to the severest
Brown wrote comparatively little; but all he did write is good, some of
it perfect, of its kind. In the mingling of tenderness and delicate
humour he has much in common with Lamb; in his insight into dog-nature
he is unique. He suffered during the latter years of his life from
pronounced attacks of melancholy.
Francis R. Packard M.D. wrote of the short story ''Rab and his Friends,
"For simplicity, sincerity and obvious truthfulness; for deep pathos and
human sympathy; for pure humour and insight into human nature, this
little story is almost unexcelled."
‘RAB AND HIS FRIENDS’
By Dr. John Brown (1810-1882)
Four-and-thirty years ago, Bob Ainslie and I were coming up Infirmary
Street from the High School, our heads together, and our arms
intertwisted as only lovers and boys know how or why.
When we got to the top of the street and turned north we espied a crowd
at the Tron Church. "A dog-fight!" shouted Bob, and was off; and so was
I, both of us all but praying that it might not be over before we got
up! And is not this boy-nature, and human nature, too? And don't we all
wish a house on fire not to be out before we see it? Dogs like fighting;
old Isaac says they "delight" in it, and for the best of all reasons;
and boys are not cruel because they like to see the fight. They see
three of the great cardinal virtues of dog or man-courage, endurance,
and skill in intense action. This is very different from a love of
making dogs fight, and aggravating and making gain by their pluck. A
boy, be he ever so fond himself of fighting, if he be a good boy, hates
and despises all this, but he would have run off with Bob and me fast
enough; it is a natural, and a not wicked, interest that all boys and
men have in witnessing intense energy in action.
Does any curious and finely ignorant woman wish to know how Bob's eye at
a glance announced a dog-fight to his brain? He did not - he could not-
see the dogs fighting; it was a flash of an inference, a rapid
induction. The crowd round a couple of dogs fighting is a crowd
masculine mainly, with an occasional active, compassionate woman
fluttering wildly round the outside and using her tongue and her hands
freely upon the men, as so many "brutes"; it is a crowd annular,
compact, and mobile; a crowd centripetal, having its eyes and its heads
all bent downward and inward to one common focus.
Well, Bob and I are up, and find it is not over; a small thoroughbred,
white bull-terrier is busy throttling a large shepherd's dog,
unaccustomed to war but not to be trifled with. They are hard at it; the
scientific little fellow doing his work in great style, his pastoral
enemy fighting wildly, but with the sharpest of teeth and a great
courage. Science and breeding, however, soon had their own; the Game
Chicken, as the premature Bob called him, working his way up, took his
final grip of poor Yarrow's throat--and he lay gasping and done for. His
master, a brown, handsome, big, young shepherd from Tweedsmuir, would
have liked to have knocked down any man, would "drink up Esil, or eat a
crocodile," for that part, if he had a chance; it was no use kicking the
little dog; that would only make him hold the closer. Many were the
means shouted out in mouthfuls of the best possible ways of ending it.
"Water!" but there was none near, and many cried for it who might have
got it from the well at Blackfriar's Wynd. "Bite the tail!" and a large,
vague, benevolent, middle-aged man, more desirous than wise, with some
struggle got the bushy end of Yarrow's tail into his ample mouth and bit
it with all his might. This was more than enough for the much-enduring,
much-perspiring shepherd, who, with a gleam of joy over his broad
visage, delivered a terrific facer upon our large, vague, benevolent,
middle-aged friend, who went down like a shot.
Still the Chicken holds; death not far off. "Snuff! a pinch of snuff!"
observed a calm, highly dressed young buck with an eye-glass in his eye.
"Snuff, indeed!" growled the angry crowd, affronted and glaring. "Snuff!
a pinch of snuff!" again observes the buck, but with more urgency;
whereon were produced several open boxes, and from a mull which may have
been at Culloden he took a pinch, knelt down, and presented it to the
nose of the Chicken, The laws of physiology and of snuff take their
course; the Chicken sneezes, and Yarrow is free!
The young pastoral giant stalks off with Yarrow in his arms--comforting
But the bull-terrier's blood is up, and his soul unsatisfied; he grips
the first dog he meets, and, discovering she is not a dog, in Homeric
phrase, he makes a brief sort of ‘amende’ and is off. The boys, with Bob
and me at their head, are after him: down Niddry Street he goes, bent on
mischief; up the Cowgate like an arrow - Bob and I, and our small men,
There, under the single arch of the South Bridge, is a huge mastiff,
sauntering down the middle of the causeway, as if with his hands in his
pockets; he is old, brindled, as big as a little Highland bull, and has
the Shakespearean dewlaps shaking as he goes.
The Chicken makes straight at him, and fastens on his throat. To our
astonishment, the great creature does nothing but stand still, hold
himself up, and roar - yes, roar, a long, serious, remonstrative roar.
How is this? Bob and I are up to them. He is muzzled! The bailies had
proclaimed a general muzzling, and his master, studying strength and
economy mainly, had encompassed his huge jaws in a home-made apparatus
constructed out of the leather of some ancient ‘breechin’. His mouth was
open as far as it could; his lips curled up in rage – a sort of terrible
grin; his teeth gleaming, ready, from out the darkness; the strap across
his mouth tense as a bowstring; his whole frame stiff with indignation
and surprise; his roar asking us all round, "Did you ever see the like
of this?" He looked a statue of anger and astonishment done in Aberdeen
We soon had a crowd; the Chicken held on. "A knife!" cried Bob; and a
cobbler gave him his knife; you know the kind of knife, worn obliquely
to a point and always keen. I put its edge to the tense leather; it ran
before it; and then! - one sudden jerk of that enormous head, a sort of
dirty mist about his mouth, no noise, and the bright and fierce little
fellow is dropped, limp and dead. A solemn pause; this was more than any
of us had bargained for. I turned the little fellow over, and saw he was
quite dead: the mastiff had taken him by the small of the back like a
rat and broken it.
He looked down at his victim appeased, ashamed, and amazed; sniffed him
all over, stared at him, and, taking a sudden thought, turned round and
trotted off. Bob took the dead dog up, and said, "John, we'll bury him
after tea." "Yes," said I, and was off after the mastiff. He made up the
Cowgate at a rapid swing; he had forgotten some engagement. He turned up
the Candlemaker Row, and stopped at the Harrow Inn.
There was a carrier's cart ready to start, and a keen, thin, impatient,
black-a-vised little man, his hand at his gray horse's head, looking
about angrily for something. "Rab, ye thief!" said he, aiming a kick at
my great friend, who drew cringing up, and, avoiding the heavy shoe with
more agility than dignity and watching his master's eye, slunk dismayed
under the cart--his ears down, and as much as he had of tail down, too.
What a man this must be - thought I - to whom my tremendous hero turns
tail! The carrier saw the muzzle hanging, cut and useless, from his
neck, and I eagerly told him the story, which Bob and I always thought,
and still think, Homer, or King David, or Sir Walter alone were worthy
to rehearse. The severe little man was mitigated, and condescended to
say, "Rab, ma man - puir Rabbie," whereupon the stump of a tail rose up,
the ears were cocked, the eyes filled and were comforted; the two
friends were reconciled. "Hupp!" and a stroke of the whip were given to
Jess, and off went the three.
Bob and I buried the Game Chicken that night (we had not much of a tea)
in the back-green of his house, in Melville Street, No. 17, with
considerable gravity and silence; and being at the time in the Iliad,
and, like all boys, Trojans, we of course called him Hector.
Six years have passed - a long time for a boy and a dog; Bob Ainslie is
off to the wars; I am a medical student, and clerk at Minto House
Rab I saw almost every week, on the Wednesday, and we had much pleasant
intimacy. I found the way to his heart by frequent scratching of his
huge head and an occasional bone. When I did not notice him he would
plant himself straight before me and stand wagging that bud of a tail,
and looking up, with his head a little to the one side. His master I
occasionally saw; he used to call me "Maister John," but was laconic as
One fine October afternoon I was leaving the hospital, when I saw the
large gate open, and in walked Rab, with that great and easy saunter of
his. He looked as if taking possession of the place, like the Duke of
Wellington entering a subdued city, satiated with victory and peace.
After him came Jess, now white from age, with her cart; and in it a
woman carefully wrapped up - the carrier leading the horse anxiously and
looking back. When he saw me, James (for his name was James Noble) made
a curt and grotesque "boo," and said, "Maister John, this is the
mistress; she's got a trouble in her breest - some kind o' an income,
By this time I saw the woman's face; she was sitting on a sack filled
with straw, with her husband's plaid round her, and his big-coat, with
its large, white metal buttons, over her feet.
I never saw a more unforgettable face--pale, serious, lonely, delicate,
sweet, without being at all what we call fine. She looked sixty, and had
on a mutch, white as snow, with its black ribbon; her silvery, smooth
hair setting off her dark-gray eyes - eyes such as one sees only twice
or thrice in a lifetime, full of suffering, full also of the overcoming
of it; her eyebrows black and delicate, and her mouth firm, patient, and
contented, which few mouths ever are.
As I have said, I never saw a more beautiful countenance, or one more
subdued to settled quiet. "Ailie," said James, "this is Maister John,
the young doctor; Rab's friend, ye ken. We often speak aboot you,
doctor." She smiled and made a movement, but said nothing, and prepared
to come down, putting her plaid aside and rising. Had Solomon, in all
his glory, been handing down the Queen of Sheba at his palace gate, he
could not have done it more daintily, more tenderly, more like a
gentleman than James, the Howland carrier, when he lifted down Ailie,
his wife. The contrast of his small, swarthy, weather-beaten, keen,
worldly face to hers - pale, subdued, and beautiful - was something
wonderful. Rab looked on concerned and puzzled, but ready for anything
that might turn up, were it to strangle the nurse, the porter, or even
me. Ailie and he seemed great friends.
"As I was sayin', she's got a kind o' trouble in her breest, doctor;
wull ye tak' a look at it?" We walked into the consulting-room, all
four; Rab, grim and comic, willing to be happy and confidential if cause
should be shown, willing also to be the reverse on the same terms. Ailie
sat down, undid her open gown and her lawn handkerchief round her neck,
and, without a word, showed me her right breast. I looked at it and
examined it carefully, she and James watching me, and Rab eying all
three. What could I say? There it was, that had once been so soft, so
shapely, so white, so gracious and bountiful, so "full of all blessed
condition," hard as a stone, a centre of horrid pain, making that pale
face, with its gray, lucid, reasonable eyes, and its sweet, resolved
mouth, express the full measure of suffering overcome. Why was that
gentle, modest, sweet woman, clean and lovable, condemned by God to bear
such a burden?
I got her away to bed. "May Rab and me bide?" said James. "You may; and
Rab, if he will behave himself." "I'se warrant he's do that, doctor."
And in slunk the faithful beast. There are no such dogs now. He belonged
to a lost tribe. As I have said, he was brindled, and gray like Rubislaw
granite; his hair short, hard, and close, like a lion's; his body
thick-set, like a little bull - a sort of compressed Hercules of a dog.
He must have been ninety pounds' weight, at the least; he had a large,
blunt head; his muzzle black as night; his mouth blacker than any night;
a tooth or two - being all he had - gleaming out of his jaws of
darkness. His head was scarred with the records of old wounds, a sort of
series of fields of battles all over it; one eye out, one ear cropped as
close as was Archbishop Leighton's father's; the remaining eye had the
power of two; and above it, and in constant communication with it, was a
tattered rag of an ear, which was forever unfurling itself, like an old
flag; and then that bud of a tail, about one inch long, if it could in
any sense be said to be long, being as broad as long - the mobility, the
instantaneousness of that bud were very funny and surprising, and its
expressive twinklings and winkings, the intercommunications between the
eye, the ear, and it, were of the oddest and swiftest.
Rab had the dignity and simplicity of great size; and, having fought his
way all along the road to absolute supremacy, he was as mighty in his
own line as Julius Caesar or the Duke of Wellington, and had the gravity
of all great fighters.
You must have often observed the likeness of certain men to certain
animals, and of certain dogs to men. Now, I never looked at Rab without
thinking of the great Baptist preacher, Andrew Fuller. The same large,
heavy, menacing, combative, sombre, honest countenance, the same deep,
inevitable eye; the same look, as of thunder asleep, but ready--neither
a dog nor a man to be trifled with.
Next day my master, the surgeon, examined Ailie. There could be no doubt
it must kill her, and soon. If it could be removed - it might never
return - it would give her speedy relief - she should have it done. She
curtsied, looked at James, and said, "When?" "To-morrow," said the kind
surgeon - a man of few words. She and James and Rab and I retired. I
noticed that he and she spoke little, but seemed to anticipate
everything in each other.
The following day, at noon, the students came in, hurrying up the great
stair. At the first landing-place, on a small, well-known blackboard,
was a bit of paper fastened by wafers, and many remains of old wafers
beside it. On the paper were the words:
"An operation to-day. J.B., Clerk ."
Up ran the youths, eager to secure good
places; in they crowded, full of interest and talk. "What's the case?"
"Which side is it?"
Don't think them heartless; they are neither better nor worse than you
or I; they get over their professional horrors, and into their proper
work; and in them pity, as an emotion, ending in itself or at best in
tears and a long-drawn breath, lessens, while pity, as a motive, is
quickened, and gains power and purpose. It is well for poor human nature
that it is so.
The operating-theatre is crowded; much talk and fun, and all the
cordiality and stir of youth. The surgeon with his staff of assistants
is there. In comes Ailie; one look at her quiets and abates the eager
students. That beautiful old woman is too much for them; they sit down,
and are dumb, and gaze at her. These rough boys feel the power of her
presence. She walks in quietly, but without haste; dressed in her mutch,
her neckerchief, her white dimity short-gown, her black bombazeen
petticoat, showing her white worsted stockings and her carpet shoes.
Behind her was James with Rab. James sat down in the distance, and took
that huge and noble head between his knees. Rab looked perplexed and
dangerous -forever cocking his ear and dropping it as fast.
Ailie stepped up on a seat, and laid herself on the table, as her friend
the surgeon told her; arranged herself, gave a rapid look at James, shut
her eyes, rested herself on me, and took my hand. The operation was at
once begun; it was necessarily slow; and chloroform -one of God's best
gifts to his suffering children – was then unknown. The surgeon did his
work. The pale face showed its pain, but was still and silent. Rab's
soul was working within him; he saw something strange was going on,
blood flowing from his mistress, and she suffering; his ragged ear was
up and importunate; he growled and gave now and then a sharp, impatient
yelp; he would have liked to have done something to that man. But James
had him firm, and gave him a glower from time to time, and an intimation
of a possible kick; all the better for James - it kept his eye and his
mind off Ailie.
It is over; she is dressed, steps gently and decently down from the
table, looks for James; then turning to the surgeon and the students,
she curtsies, and in a low, clear voice, begs their pardon if she has
behaved ill. The students - all of us - wept like children; the surgeon
wrapped her up carefully, and, resting on James and me, Ailie went to
her room, and Rab followed. We put her to bed. James took off his heavy
shoes, crammed with tackets, heel-capped and toe-capped, and put them
carefully under the table, saying: "Maister John, I'm for nane o' yer
strynge nurse bodies for Ailie. I'll be her nurse, and I'll gang aboot
on my stockin' soles as canny as pussy." And so he did; and handy and
clever, and swift and tender as any woman was that horny-handed, snell,
peremptory little man. Everything she got he gave her; he seldom slept;
and often I saw his small, shrewd eyes out of the darkness, fixed on
her. As before, they spoke little.
Rab behaved well, never moving, showing us how meek and gentle he could
be, and occasionally, in his sleep, letting us know that he was
demolishing some adversary. He took a walk with me every day, generally
to the Candlemaker Row; but he was sombre and mild; declined doing
battle, though some fit cases offered, and indeed submitted to sundry
indignities; and was always very ready to turn, and came faster back,
and trotted up the stair with much lightness, and went straight to that
Jess, the mare, had been sent, with her weather-beaten cart, to Howgate,
and had doubtless her own dim and placid meditations and confusions on
the absence of her master and Rab and her unnatural freedom from the
road and her cart.
For some days Ailie did well. The wound healed "by the first intention";
for as James said, "Oor Ailie's skin's ower clean to beil." The students
came in quiet and anxious, and surrounded her bed. She said she liked to
see their young, honest faces. The surgeon dressed her, and spoke to her
in his own short, kind way, pitying her through his eyes, Rab and James
outside the circle - Rab being now reconciled, and even cordial, and
having made up his mind that as yet nobody required worrying, but, as
you may suppose, ‘semper paratus’.
So far well; but, four days after the operation, my patient had a sudden
and long shivering, a "groosin," as she called it. I saw her soon after;
her eyes were too bright, her cheek coloured; she was restless, and
ashamed of being so; the balance was lost; mischief had begun. On
looking at the wound, a blush of red told the secret; her pulse was
rapid, her breathing anxious and quick; she wasn't herself, as she said,
and was vexed at her restlessness. We tried what we could. James did
everything, was everywhere, never in the way, never out of it; Rab
subsided under the table into a dark place, and was motionless, all but
his eye, which followed every one. Ailie got worse; began to wander in
her mind, gently; was more demonstrative in her ways to James, rapid in
her questions, and sharp at times. He was vexed, and said, "She was
never that way afore, no, never." For a time she knew her head was
wrong, and was always asking our pardon - the dear, gentle old woman;
then delirium set in strong, without pause. Her brain gave way, and then
came that terrible spectacle,
"The intellectual power, through words and
Went sounding on, a dim and perilous way";
she sang bits of old songs and Psalms,
stopping suddenly, mingling the Psalms of David and the diviner words of
his Son and Lord with homely odds and ends of ballads.
Nothing more touching, or in a sense more strangely beautiful, did I
ever witness. Her tremulous, rapid, affectionate, eager, Scots voice -
the swift, aimless, bewildered mind, the baffled utterance, the bright
and perilous eye; some wild words, some household cares, something for
James, the names of the dead, Rab called rapidly and in a "fremyt"
voice, and he starting up, surprised, and slinking off as if he were to
blame somehow, or had been dreaming he heard. Many eager questions and
beseechings which James and I could make nothing of, and on which she
seemed to set her all, and then sink back ununderstood. It was very sad,
but better than many things that are not called sad. James hovered
about, put out and miserable, but active and exact as ever; read to her,
when there was a lull, short bits from the Psalms, prose and metre,
chanting the latter in his own rude and serious way, showing great
knowledge of the fit words, bearing up like a man, and doating over her
as his "ain Ailie." "Ailie, ma woman!" "Ma ain bonnie wee dawtie!"
The end was drawing on; the golden bowl was breaking; the silver cord
was fast being loosed - that ‘animula, blandula, vagula, hospes,
comesque’, was about to flee. The body and the soul - companions for
sixty years - were being sundered and taking leave. She was walking,
alone, through the valley of that shadow into which one day we must all
enter - and yet she was not alone, for we know whose rod and staff were
One night she had fallen quiet, and, as we hoped, asleep; her eyes were
shut. We put down the gas, and sat watching her. Suddenly she sat up in
bed, and, taking a bedgown which was lying on it rolled up, she held it
eagerly to her breast - to the right side. We could see her eyes bright
with a surprising tenderness and joy, bending over this bundle of
clothes. She held it as a woman holds her sucking child; opening out her
night-gown impatiently, and holding it close and brooding over it and
murmuring foolish little words, as over one whom his mother comforteth,
and who sucks and is satisfied. It was pitiful and strange to see her
wasted, dying look, keen and yet vague- her immense love.
"Preserve me!" groaned James, giving way. And then she rocked back and
forward, as if to make it sleep, hushing it, and wasting on it her
infinite fondness. "Wae's me, doctor; I declare she's thinkin' it's that
bairn." "What bairn?" "The only bairn we ever had; our wee Mysie, and
she's in the Kingdom forty years and mair." It was plainly true; the
pain in the breast, telling its urgent story to a bewildered, ruined
brain, was misread and mistaken; it suggested to her the uneasiness of a
breast full of milk, and then the child; and so again once more they
were together, and she had her ain wee Mysie on her bosom.
This was the close. She sank rapidly; the delirium left her; but, as she
whispered, she was "clean silly"; it was the lightening before the final
darkness. After having for some time lain still, her eyes shut, she
said, "James!" He came close to her, and, lifting up her calm, clear,
beautiful eyes, she gave him a long look, turned to me kindly but
shortly, looked for Rab but could not see him, then turned to her
husband again, as if she would never leave off looking, shut her eyes,
and composed herself. She lay for some time breathing quick, and passed
away so gently that, when we thought she was gone, James, in his
old-fashioned way, held the mirror to her face. After a long pause, one
small spot of dimness was breathed out; it vanished away, and never
returned, leaving the blank, clear darkness without a stain.
"What is our life? It is
even as a vapour, which appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth
Rab all this time had been full awake and motionless; he came forward
beside us; Ailie's hand, which James had held, was hanging down; it was
soaked with his tears; Rab licked it all over carefully, looked at her,
and returned to his place under the table.
James and I sat, I don't know how long, but for some time. Saying
nothing, he started up abruptly, and with some noise went to the table,
and, putting his right fore and middle fingers each into a shoe, pulled
them out and put them on, breaking one of the leather latchets, and
muttering in anger, "I never did the like o' that afore!"
I believe he never did; nor after either. "Rab!" he said, roughly, and,
pointing with his thumb to the bottom of the bed. Rab leaped up and
settled himself, his head and eye to the dead face. "Maister John, ye'll
wait for me," said the carrier; and disappeared in the darkness,
thundering down-stairs in his heavy shoes. I ran to a front window;
there he was, already round the house and out at the gate, fleeing like
I was afraid about him, and yet not afraid; so I sat down beside Rab,
and, being wearied, fell asleep. I awoke from a sudden noise outside. It
was November, and there had been a heavy fall of snow. Rab was ‘in statu
quo’; he heard the noise, too, and plainly knew it, but never moved. I
looked out; and there, at the gate, in the dim morning – for the sun was
not up--was Jess and the cart, a cloud of steam rising from the old
mare. I did not see James; he was already at the door, and came up the
stairs and met me. It was less than three hours since he left, and he
must have posted out--who knows how? - to Howgate, full nine miles off,
yoked Jess, and driven her astonished into town. He had an armful of
blankets, and was streaming with perspiration. He nodded to me, and
spread out on the floor two pairs of clean old blankets having at their
corners, "A.G., 1794," in large letters in red worsted. These were the
initials of Alison Graeme, and James may have looked in at her from
without--himself unseen but not unthought of - when he was "wat, wat,
and weary," and, after having walked many a mile over the hills, may
have seen her sitting, while "a' the lave were sleeping," and by the
firelight working her name on the blankets for her ain James's bed.
He motioned Rab down, and, taking his wife in his arms, laid her in the
blankets, and happed her carefully and firmly up, leaving the face
uncovered; and then, lifting her, he nodded again sharply to me, and
with a resolved but utterly miserable face strode along the passage and
down-stairs, followed by Rab. I followed with a light; but he didn't
need it. I went out, holding stupidly the candle in my hand in the calm,
frosty air; we were soon at the gate. I could have helped him, but I saw
he was not to be meddled with, and he was strong, and did not need it.
He laid her down as tenderly, as safely, as he had lifted her out ten
days before--as tenderly as when he had her first in his arms when she
was only "A.G."--sorted her, leaving that beautiful sealed face open to
the heavens; and then, taking Jess by the head, he moved away. He did
not notice me, neither did Rab, who presided behind the cart.
I stood till they passed through the long shadow of the College and
turned up Nicolson Street. I heard the solitary cart sound through the
streets, and die away and come again; and I returned, thinking of that
company going up Libberton Brae, then along Roslin Muir, the morning
light touching the Pentlands, and making them like onlooking ghosts;
then down the hill through Auchindinny woods, past "haunted Woodhouselee";
and as daybreak came sweeping up the bleak Lammermuirs, and fell on his
own door, the company would stop, and James would take the key, and lift
Ailie up again, laying her on her own bed, and, having put Jess up,
would return with Rab and shut the door.
James buried his wife, with his neighbours mourning, Rab watching the
proceedings from a distance. It was snow, and that black, ragged hole
would look strange in the midst of the swelling, spotless cushion of
white. James looked after everything; then rather suddenly fell ill, and
took to bed; was insensible when the doctor came, and soon died. A sort
of low fever was prevailing in the village, and his want of sleep, his
exhaustion, and his misery made him apt to take it. The grave was not
difficult to reopen. A fresh fall of snow had again made all things
white and smooth; Rab once more looked on, and slunk home to the stable.
And what of Rab? I asked for him next week at the new carrier who got
the good-will of James's business and was now master of Jess and her
cart. "How's Rab?" He put me off, and said, rather rudely, "What's
‘your’ business wi' the dowg?" I was not to be so put off. "Where's Rab?"
He, getting confused and red, and intermeddling with his hair, said,
"'Deed, sir, Rab's deid." "Dead! What did he die of?" "Weel, sir," said
he, getting redder, "he didna' exactly dee; he was killed. I had to
brain him wi' a rack-pin; there was nae doin' wi' him. He lay in the
treviss wi' the mear, and wadna come oot. I tempit him wi' kail and
meat, but he wad tak naething, and keepit me frae feeding the beast, and
he was aye gurrin', and grup, gruppin' me by the legs. I was laith to
mak' awa' wi' the auld dowg, his like wasna atween this and Thornhill--but,
'deed, sir, I could do naething else." I believed him. Fit end for Rab,
quick and complete. His teeth and his friends gone, why should he keep
the peace and be civil?
He was buried in the braeface, near the burn, the children of the
village, his companions, who used to make very free with him and sit on
his ample stomach as he lay half asleep at the door in the sun, watching
This comment system requires
you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an
account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or
Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these
companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All
comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator
has approved your comment.