By Ian MacLaren
Read by Marilyn Wright
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Doctor MacLure did not lead a solemn procession from
the sick bed to the dining-room, and give his opinion from the hearthrug
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
"A’ wud gie onything tae say Annie hes a
chance, but a’ daurna; a’ doot yir gaein’ tae 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."
"An’ 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 roughlooking
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.
prepared for this, for a’ ay thocht she wud live the langest. .
.. She’s younger than me by ten
years, and never wes ill. . .. We’ve
been mairit twal year laist 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 cot hoo she ever lookit at me, ‘at hesna lied ae word
tae say aboot her till it’s ower late. .
. . She didna cuist up tae me that a’
wesna worthy o’ her, no’ her, but ay she said, ‘Yir ma am
gudeman, and nane cud be kinder tae
me.’ ... An’
a’ wes minded tae be kind, but a’ see noo mony little trokes a’
snicht hae dune for her, and noo the time is bye... .
Naebody kens hoo patient she wes wi’
me, and ay made the best o’ me, an never pit me tae shame afore the
fouk. . . . An’
we never lied 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 withoot 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 wes in
Edinboro’ and I wes in Drumtochty."
"Thank ye kindly, Marget; thae are gude words
and true, an’ ye hey the richt tae say them; but a’ canna dae
without seem’ Annie comin’ tae meet me in the gloamin’, an’
gaein’ in an oct 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 tae her man and bairnies?"
and Tammas searched the doctor’s face in the cold, weird light.
"There’s nae po’oer in heaven or airth like
luve," Marget said to me afterwards; "it maks 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 hoc 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 bed the keys o’ life an’ deith in his
hands. But he wes honest, and wudna hold cot a false houp tae deceive a
sore bert 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 wand, and a’ saw her through the fever
when she wes a bit lassikie; a’ closed her mither’s een, and it wes
me bed 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 fewer 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
"Tammas, ma puir fallow, if it
could avail, a’ tell ye a’ wud lay doon this auld worn-oct
ruckle o’ a body o’ mine juist tae see ye baith sittin’ at the
fireside, an’ the bairns roond ye, couthy an’ canty again; but it’s
no tae be, Tammas, it’s no 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 judging there’s nae
transfiguration like luve."
"It’s God’s wull an’ maun be borne, but it’s
a sair wull for 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 ta’en ma chance o’ anither
row in a Glen Urtach drift than tell Tammas Mitchell his wife wes dee in’.
"A’ said she cudna be cured, and it wes 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 wull buy life
after a’, an’ if Annie wes a duchess her man wudna lose her; but
bein’ only a puir cottar’s wife, she maun dee afore the week’s oot.
"Gin we bed him the mom 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 toon’s craturs, no’ strappin’ women
like Annie. "It’s oot o’ the question Jess, sae hurry up, lass,
for we’ve bed a heavy day. But it wud be the grandest thing that was
ever dune in the Glen in oor time if it could be managed by hook or
"We ‘ill gang and see Drumsheugh, Jess; he’s
anither man sin’ Geordie Hoo’s deith, and he wes 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; boo’s the gudewife? a’
doot she’s sober (weak)."
"Annie’s deem’, 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 wark. 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, an’ 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 am blude
tae care for me liv-in’, or tae lift me intae ma coffin when a’m
"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 withoot 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 f airing, or feeling 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 heart 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
whar 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
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 brichtness in oar am hames, is tae keep the licht frae gaein’
cot 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
"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 many pleesures, an’
a’ wud like tae hae ma am share in savin’ Annie’s life."
Next morning a figure received Sir George on the
Kildrummie platform, who 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 topcoat 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 dogcart—a
vehicle that lent itself to history—with two full-sized plaids added
to his equipment— Drumsheugh and Hilloeks 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 snaw, 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
"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 oor 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 hey tae ford, and
the snaw’s been melting up Urtach way. There’s nae doot the water’s
gey big, an’ 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, 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 dogcart 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."
Jess trailed her feet along the ground with cunning
art, and held her shoulder against the stream; MacLure leant 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, an’ ye ‘ill be oct c’ the swirl. Weel dune, Jess,
weel dune, auld mare! Mak straicht for me, doctor, an’ a’ll gie ye
the road cot. Ma word, ye’ve dune yir best, baith o’ ye this mornin’,"
cried Hillocks, splashing up to the dogcart, now in the shallows.
"Sail, 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 richthearted 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
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.
"Nec we’ve tae begin, an’ we ‘ill no’ be
dune for an’ oor, and ye’ve tae lay on withoot 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 for Annie’s sake."
"A’ll dae onything ye want me, but if—if "
"A’ll come for ye, Tammas, gin there be
danger; but what are ye feared for wi’ the Queen’s am
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
"A’ never saw the marrow o’t, Tammas, an’
a’ll never see the like again; it’s a’ ower, man, without a hitch
frae beginnm’ tae end, and she’s fa’in’ asleep as fine as ye
"Dis he think Annie ...
"Of coorse 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 hey hed anither job for Sir George.
"Ye’re a’ richt floe; sit doon on the strae.
A’Il 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
He said nothing then or afterwards, for speech came
only once in his lifetime to Tammas, but Annie whispered, "Ma am
When the doctor placed the precious bag beside Sir
George in our solitary first next morning, he laid a cheque 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 cheque 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 in the
"Give ‘s another shake of your hand, MacLure;
I’m proud to have met you; you are an honour to our profession"
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