By Ian MacLaren
Read by Marilyn Wright
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grieve was brought to the gates of death by fever, caught, as was
supposed, on an adventurous visit to Glasgow, the London doctor at Lord
Kilspindie’s shooting lodge looked in on his way from the moor, and
declared it impossible for Saunders to live through the night.
"I give him six
hours, more or less; it is only a question of time," said the
oracle, buttoning his gloves and getting into the brake; "tell your
parish doctor that I was sorry not to have met him."
Bell heard this verdict
from behind the door, and gave way utterly, but Drumsheugh declined to
accept it as final, and devoted himself to consolation.
"Dinna greet like
that, Bell wumman, sac lang as Saunders is still livin’; a’ll never
give up houp, for ma pairt, till oor am man says the word.
"A’ the doctors in
the land dinna ken as muckle aboot us as Weelum MacLure, an’ he’s
ill tae beat when he’s tryin’ tae save a man’s life."
MacLure, on his coming,
would say nothing, either weal or woe, till he had examined Saunders.
Suddenly his face turned into iron before their eyes, and he looked like
one encountering a merciless foe. For there was a feud between MacLure
and a certain mighty power which had lasted for forty years in
"The London doctor
said that Saunders wud sough awa afore momin’, did he? Weel, he’s an
authority on fevers an’ sic like diseases, an’ ought tae ken.
presumptous o’ me tae differ frae him, and it wudna be verra respectfu’
o’ Saunders tae live aifter this opeenion. But Saunders wes ay thraun
an’ ill tue drive, an’ he’s as like as not tue gang his ain gait.
"A’m no meanin’
tue reflect on sac clever a man, but he didna ken the seetuation. He can
read fevers like a buik, but he never cam across sic a thing as the
Drumtochty constitution a’ his days.
"Ye see, when
onybody gets as low as puir Saunders here, it’s juist a hand to hand
wrastle atween the fever and his constitution, an’ of coorse, if he
hed been a shilpit, stuntit, feckless effeegy o’ a cratur, fed on tea
an’ made dishes and pushioned wi’ bad air, Saunders wud hae nae
chance; he wes boond tue gae oot like the snuff o’ a candle.
"But Saunders hes
been fillin’ his lungs for five and thirty year wi’ strong
Drumtochty air, an’ eatin’ naethin’ but kirny aitmeal, and drinkin’
naethin’ but fresh milk frae the coo, an’ followin’ the ploo
through the new-turned, sweet-smellin’ earth, an’ swingin’ the
scythe in haytime and harvest, till the legs an’ airms o’ him were
iron, an’ his chest wes like the cuttin’ o’ an oak tree.
"He’s a waesome
sicht the nicht, but Saunders wes a buirdly man aince, and wull never
lat his life be taken lichtly frae him. Na, na, he hesna sinned against
Nature, and Nature ‘ill stand by him noo in his oor o’ distress.
"A’ daurna say
yea, Bell, muckle as a’ wud like, for this is an evil disease, cunnin’
an’ treacherous as the deevil himsel’, but a’ winna say nay, sac
keep yir hen frae despair.
"It wull be a sair
fecht, but it ‘ill be settled one wy or anither by sax o’clock the
mom’s morn. Nae man can prophecee hoo it ‘ill end, but ae thing is
certain, a’ll no see deith tak’ a Drumtochty man afore his time if a’
can help it.
"Noo, Bell ma wumman,
yir near deid wi’ tire, an’ nae wonder. Ye’ve dune a’ ye cud for
yir man, an’ ye ‘ill lippen (trust) him the nicht tue Drumsheugh an’
me; we ‘ill no fail him or you.
"Lie doon an’
rest, an’ if it be the wull o’ the Almichty a’ll wauken ye in the
mornin’ tae see a livin’ conscious man, an’ if it be itherwise a’ll
come for ye the suner, Bell," and the big red hand went out to the
anxious wife. "A’ gie ye ma word."
Bell leant over the bed
and at the sight of Saunders’ face a superstitious dread seized her.
"See, doctor, the
shadow of deith is on him that never lifts. A’ve seen it afore, on ma
father an’ mither. A’ canna leave him, a’ canna leave him."
Bell, but it hesna fallen; please God it never wull. Gang but and get
some sleep, for it’s time we were at oor work.
"The doctors in the
toons hae nurses an’ a’ kinds o’ handy apparatus," said
MacLure to Drumsheugh when Bell had gone, "but you an’ me ‘ill
need tue be nurse the nicht, an’ use sic things as we hey.
"It ‘ill be a lang
nicht and anxious wark, but a’ wud raither hae ye, auld freend, wi’
me than ony man in the Glen. Ye’re no feared tae gie a hand?"
"Me feared? No’
likely. Man, Saunders cam tae me a haflin, and hes been on Drumsheugh
for twenty years, an’ though he be a dour chiel, he’s a faithfu’
servant as ever lived. It’s waesome tue see him lyin’ there moaning
like some dumb animal frae mornin’ tae nicht, an’ no’ able tae
answer his ain wife when she speaks.
"Div ye think,
Weelum, he has a chance?"
"That he hes, at ony
rate, and it ‘ill no’ be your blame or mine if he hesna mair."
While he was speaking,
MacLure took off his coat and waistcoat and hung them on the back of the
door. Then he rolled up the sleeves of his shirt and laid bare two arms
that were nothing but bone and muscle.
"It gar’d ma very
blood rin faster tue the end of ma fingers juist tue look at him,"
Drumsheugh expatiated afterwards to Hillocks, "for a’ saw noo
that there was tae be a stand-up fecht atween him an’ deith for
Saunders, and when a’ thocht o’ Bell an’ her bairns, a’ kent wha
"Aff wi’ yir coat, Drumsheugh," said
MacLure; "ye ‘ill need tae bend yir back the nicht; gither a’
the pails in the hoose and fill them at the spring, an’ a’ll come
doon tae help ye wi’ the carryin’."
It was a wonderful ascent up the steep pathway from
the spring to the cottage on its little knoll, the two men in single
file, bareheaded, silent, solemn, each with a pail of water in either
hand, MacLure limping painfully in front, Drumsheugh blowing behind; and
when they laid down their burden in the sick room, where the bits of
furniture had been put to a side and a large tub held the centre,
Drumsheugh looked curiously at the doctor.
"No, a’m no’ daft; ye needna be feared; but
ye’re tae get yir first lesson in medicine the nicht, an’ if we win
the battle ye can set up for yersel’ in the Glen.
"There’s twa dangers—that Saunders’
strength fails, an’ that the force o’ the fever grows; and we have
juist twa weapons.
"Yon milk on the drawers’ head an’ the
bottle of whisky is tae keep up the strength, and this cool caller water
is tae keep doon the fever.
"We ‘ill cast oot the fever by the virtue o’
the earth an’ the water."
"Div ye mean tae pit Saunders in the tub?"
"Ye hiv it noo, Drumsheugh, and that’s hoo a’
need yir help."
"Man, Hillocks," Drumsheugh used to
moralise, as often as he remembered that critical night, "it wes
humblin’ tae see hoo low sickness can bring a po’oerfu’ man, an’
ocht tae keep up frae pride.
"A month sync there wesna a stronger man in the
Glen than Saunders, an’ noo he was juist a bundle o’ skin and bone,
that naither saw nor heard, nor moved nor felt, that kent naethin’
that was dune tae him.
"Hillocks, a’ wudna hae wished ony man tae hey
seen Saunders—for it wull never pass frae before ma een as long as a’
live—but a’ wish a’ the Glen hed stude by MacLure kneeun’ on the
floor wi’ his sleeves up tae his oxters and waitin’ on Saunders.
"Yon big man wes as pitifu’ an’ gentle as a
wumman, and when he laid the puir fallow in his bed again, he happit him
ower as a mither dis her bairn."
Thrice it was done, Drumsheugh ever bringing up
colder water from the spring, and twice MacLure was silent; but after
the third time there was a gleam in his eye.
‘We’re haudin’ oor
ain; we’re no bein’
maistered, at ony rate; mair a’ canna say for three oors.
"We ‘ill no’ need the water again,
Drumsheugh; gae oot and take a breath o’ air; a’m on gaird masel’."
It was the hour before daybreak, and Drumsheugh
wandered through fields he had trodden since childhood. The cattle lay
sleeping in the pastures: their shadowy forms, with a patch of whiteness
here and there, having a weird suggestion of death. He heard the burn
running over the stones; fifty years ago he had made a dam that lasted
till winter. The hooting of an owl made him start; one had frightened
him as a boy so that he ran home to his mother—she died thirty years
ago. The smell of ripe corn filled the air; it would soon be cut and
garnered. He could see the dim outlines of his house, all dark and
cold; no one he loved was beneath the roof. The lighted window in
Saunders’ cottage told where a man hung between life and death, but
love was in that home. The futility of life arose before this lonely
man, and overcame his heart with an indescribable sadness. What a vanity
was all human labour, what a mystery all human life!
But while he stood, a subtle change came over the
night, and the air trembled round him as if one had whispered.
Drumsheugh lifted his head and looked eastwards. A faint grey stole over
the distant horizon, and suddenly a cloud reddened before his eyes. The
sun was not in sight, but was rising, and sending forerunners before his
face. The cattle began to stir, a blackbird burst into song, and before
Drumsheugh crossed the threshold of Saunders’ house, the first ray of
the sun had broken on a peak of the Grampians.
MacLure left the bedside, and as the light of the
candle fell on the doctor’s face, Drumsheugh could see that it was
going well with Saunders.
"He’s nae waur; an’ it’s half six noo; it’s
ower sune tae say mair, but a’m houpin’ for the best. Sit doon and
take a sleep, for ye’re needin’ it, Drumsheugh, an’ man, ye hae
worked for it."
As he dozed off, the last thing Drumsheugh saw was
the doctor sitting erect in his chair, a clenched fist resting on the
bed, and his eyes already bright with the vision of victory.
He awoke with a start to find the room flooded with
the morning sunshine, and every trace of last night’s work removed.
The doctor was bending over the bed, and speaking to
‘It’s me, Saunders, Doctor MacLure, ye ken; dinna
try tae speak or move; juist let this drap milk slip ower—ye ‘ill be
needin’ yir breakfast, lad—and gang tae sleep again."
Five minutes, and Saunders had fallen into a deep,
healthy sleep, all tossing and moaning come to an end. Then MacLure
stepped softly across the floor, picked up his coat and waistcoat, and
went out at the door.
Drumsheugh arose and followed him without a word.
They passed through the little garden, sparkling with dew, and beside
the byre, where Hawkie rattled her chain, impatient for Bell’s coming,
and by Saunders’ little strip of corn ready for the scythe, till they
reached an open field. There they came to a halt, and Doctor MacLure for
once allowed himself to go.
His coat he flung east and his waistcoat west, as far
as he could hurl them, and it was plain he would have shouted had he
been a complete mile from Saunders’ room. Any less distance was
useless for adequate expression. He struck Drumsheugh a mighty blow that
well-nigh levelled that substantial man in the dust, and then the doctor
of Drumtochty issued his bulletin.
"Saunders wesna tae live through the nicht but
he’s livin’ this meenut, an’ like to live.
"He’s got by the warst clean and fair, and wi’
him that’s as good as cure.
"It ‘ill be a graund waukenin’ for Bell; she
‘ill no’ be a wee-dow yet, nor the bairnies fatherless.
"There’s nae use glowerin’ at me, Drumsheugh,
for a body’s daft at a time, an a’ canna contain masel’, and a’m
no’ gaein’ tae try."
Then it dawned upon Drumsheugh that the doctor was
attempting the Highland fling.
"He’s ill made tae begin wi’,"
Drumsheugh explained in the kirkyard next Sabbath, "and ye ken he’s
been terrible mishannelled by accidents, sae ye may think what like it
wes, but, as sure as deith, o’ a’ the Hielan’ flings a’ ever saw
yon wes the bonniest.
"A’ hevna shaken ma ain legs for thirty years,
but a’ confess tae a turn masel’. Ye may lauch an’ ye like,
neeburs, but the thocht o’ Bell an’ the news that wes waitin’ her
got the better o' me."
Drumtochty did not laugh. Drumtochty looked as if it
could have done quite otherwise for joy.
"A’ wud hae made a third gin a’ hed been
there," announced Hillocks, aggressively.
"Come on, Drurnsheugh," said Jamie Soutar,
"gie’s the end o’t; it wes a michty morning."
"We’re twa auld fules,’ says MacLure tae me,
and he gaithers up his claithes. ‘It wud set us better tue be telling
"She wes sleepin’ on the top o’ her bed wrapped in a plaid,
fair worn oot wi’ three weeks’ nursin’ o’ Saunders, but at the
first touch she was oot upon the floor.
"‘Is Saunders deem’, doctor?’ she cries. ‘Ye promised
tue wauken me; dinna tel me it’s a’ ower.’
"‘There’s nae deem’ aboot him, Bell; ye’re no tae lose
yir man this time, sac far as a’ can see. Come ben an’ jidge for
"Bell lookit at Saunders, and the tears of joy fell on the bed
"‘The shadow’s lifted,’ she said; ‘he’s come back frae
the mooth o’ the tomb.
"‘A’ prayed last nicht that the Lord wud leave Saunders till
the laddies cud dae for themselves, an’ thae words caine intae ma
mind, "Weeping may endure for a nicht, but joy cometh in the mornin’."
"The Lord heard ma prayer, and joy hes come in the morn-in’,"
an’ she gripped the doctor’s hand.
"Ye’ve been the instrument, Doctor MacLure. Ye wudna gie him
up, and ye did what nae ither cud for him, an’ a’ve ma man the day,
and the bairns hae their father.’
"An’ afore MacLure kent what she was daein’, Bell lifted his
hand to her lips an’ kissed it."
"Did she, though?" cried Jamie. "Wha wud hae thocht
there wes as muckle spunk in Bell ?"
"MacLure, of course, was clean scandalised," continued
Drumsheugh, "an’ po’oed awa his hand as if it hed been burned.
"Nae man can thole that kind o’ fraikin’, and a’ never
heard o’ sic a thing in the parish, but we maim excuse Bell, neeburs;
it wes an occasion by ordinar’," and Drumsheugh made Bell’s
apology to Drumtochty for such an excess of feeling.
"A’ see naething tue excuse," insisted Jamie, who was in
great fettle that Sabbath; "the doctor hes never been burdened wi’
fees, and a’m judgin’ he coonted a wumman’s gratitude that he
saved frae weedowhood the best he ever got."
"A’ gaed up tue the Manse last nicht,"
concluded Drumsheugh, "and telt the minister hoo the doctor focht
aucht oors for Saunders’ life, an’ won, and ye never saw a man sae
carried. He walkit up and doon the room a’ the time, and every other
meenut he blew his nose like a trumpet.
"‘I’ve a cold in my head to-night,
Drumsheugh,’ says he; ‘never mind me.’"
"A’ve hed the same masel’ in sic
circumstances; they come on sudden," said Jamie.
"A’ wager there ‘ill be a new bit in the
laist prayer the day, an’ somethin’ worth hearin’."
And the fathers went into kirk in great expectation.
"We beseech Thee for such as be sick, that Thy
hand may be on them for good, and that Thou wouldst restore them again
to health and strength," was the familiar petition of every
The congregation waited in silence that might be
heard, and were not disappointed that morning, for the minister
"Especially we tender Thee hearty thanks that
Thou didst spare Thy servant who was brought down into the dust of
death, and hast given him back to his wife and children, and unto that
end didst wonderfully bless the skill of him who goes out and in amongst
us, the beloved physician of this parish and adjacent districts."
"Didna a’ tell ye, neeburs?" said Jamie,
as they stood at the kirkyard gate before dispersing; "there’s no
a man in the coonty cud hae dune it better. ‘Beloved physician,’ an’
his ‘skill,’ tae, an’ bringing in ‘adjacent districts’; that’s
Glen Urtach; it wes handsome, and the doctor earned it, ay, every word.
"It’s an awfu’ peety he didna hear yon; but
dear knows whar he is the day, maist likely up—"
Jamie stopped suddenly at the sound of a horse’s
feet, and there, coming down the avenue of beech trees that made a long
vista from the kirk gate, they saw the doctor and Jess.
One thought flashed through the minds of the fathers
of the commonwealth.
It ought to be done as he passed, and it would be
done if it were not Sabbath. Of course it was out of the question on
The doctor is now distinctly visible, riding after
his fashion. There was never such a chance, if it were only Saturday;
and each man reads his own regret in his neighbour’s face.
The doctor is nearing them rapidly; they can imagine
the shepherd’s tartan.
Sabbath or no Sabbath, the Glen cannot let him pass
without some tribute of their pride.
Jess has recognised friends, and the doctor is
drawing rein. "It hes tae be dune," said Jamie, desperately,
"say what ye like." Then they all looked towards him, and
"Hurrah," swinging his Sabbath hat in the
air, "hurrah," and once more, "hurrah," Whinnie
Knowe, Drumsheugh, and Hillocks joining lustily, but Tammas Mitchell
carrying all before him, for he had found at last an expression for his
feelings that rendered speech unnecessary.
It was a solitary experience for horse and rider, and
Jess bolted without delay. But the sound followed and surrounded them,
and as they passed the corner of the kirkyard, a figure waved his
college cap over the wall and gave a cheer on his own account.
"God bless you, doctor, and well done."
"If it isna the minister," cried Drumsheugh,
"in his goon an’ banns’; tae think o’ that; but a’ respeck
him for it."
Then Drumtochty became self-conscious, and went home
in confusion of face and unbroken silence, except Jamie Soutar, who faced his neighbours at the parting of the ways without
"A’ wud dae it a’ ower again if a’ hed the chance; he
got naethin but his due.
It was two miles before Jess composed her mind, and the doctor and
she could discuss it quietly together.
"A’ can hardly believe ma ears, Jess, an’ the Sabbath tae;
their verra judgment hes gane frae the fouk o’ Drumtochty.
"They’ve heard about Saunders, a’m thinkin’, wuinman, and
they’re pleased we brocht him roond; he’s fairly on the mend, ye
"A’ never expeckit the like o’ this, though, and it wes
juist a wee thingie muir than a’ cud hae stude.
"Ye hey yir share in’t tae, lass; we’ve hed mony a hard
nicht and day thegither, an’ yon wes oor reward. No mony men in this
warld ‘ill ever get a better, for it cam frae the hert o’ honest
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