Drumtochty was accustomed
to break every law of health, except wholesome food and fresh air, and yet
had reduced the Psalmist’s farthest 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 topcoat 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, halfway to Kildrummie, that it had been "a bit
scrowie," a "scrowie" being as far short of a "shoor" as a "shoor" fell
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’ brother so
far forgot himself as to "slip awa" at sixty, that worthy man was
scandalized, 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 o’ 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 aifter thae foreign climates."
patiently to Hillocks’ apology, but was not satisfied.
"It’s clean havers about
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 cannie stravagin’ youwy frae place
tae place, but Drums never complained tae me if he hed been nippit in the
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 was 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.
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.
"Confoond ye, Hillocks,
what are ye ploiterin’ aboot here for in the weet wi’ a face like a boiled
beet? Div ye no ken that ye’ve a titch o’ the rose (erysipelas), and ocht
tae be in the hoose? Gae hame wi’ ye afore a’ leave the bit, and send a
haflin 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 half pairish."
Hillock’s wife informed the
kirkyaird that the doctor "gied the gudeman an awfu’ 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
towards 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 westwards 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 eastwards towards
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.
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 seemd to
be speaking into Jess’s ear, and rising in the saddle beyond all
necessity. But he could rise 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.
wud hae thoct that every meenut was an hour," said Jamie Soutar, who had
been at the threshing, "an’ a’ll never forget the puir lad lying as white
as deith on the floor o’ the loft, wi’ his head on a sheaf, an’ 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’ slippit 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 yelick ?" for a’ hevna tasted meat for saxteen hoors.’
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 color by constant exposure to the
weather, red hair and beard turning grey, 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 clerver 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 honorable
scars, and for such risks of life men get the Victoria Cross in other
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; topcoat
or waterproof 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 grey 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 colors 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 gettin’ a
tear ahint, when he was crossin’ oor palin’, and 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.
ma am pairt," Soutar used to declare, "a’ canna mak up my mind, but
there’s ae thing sure, the Glen wud not 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 tributary states—was unbounded, and rested partly on long
experience of the doctor’s resources, and partly on his hereditary
"His father was here afore
him," Mrs. Macfadyen used to explain; "atween them they’ve hed the
countyside 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, Doctor
MacLure," continued my friend Mrs. Macfayden, 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
wrang 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
"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 veera ceevil
gin ye bring him when there’s naethin’ wrang," and Mrs. Macfayden’s face
reflected another of Mr. Hopps’ misadventures of which Hillocks held the
laddie ate grosarts (gooseberries) till they hed to sit up a’ nicht wi’
him, an’ naethin’ wud do but they maun 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 a dae 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.
"‘Weesht, weesht,’ an’ I
tried tae quiet him, for Hopps wes comin’ 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 one 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 wes 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 sparin’ 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 gude 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 homeopathists, and I’ve my little chest here,’ and oot
Hopps comes wi’ his boxy.
"‘Let’s see’t,’ an’ MacLure
sits doon and taks oot the bit bottles, and he reads the names wi’ a lauch
"‘Belladonna; did ye ever
bear 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
"‘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 tak 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
His fees were pretty much
what the folk chose to give him, and he collected them once a year at
"Well, 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 veesits."
"Havers," MacLure would
answer, "prices are low, a’m hearing; gie’s thirty shillings."
"No, a’ll no, or the wife
‘ill tak ma ears off," 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 150 poundsa 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 vigor and
frankness that an attentive audience of Drumtochty men could hardly
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
"Thirty shillings for twal
veesits, 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 choose 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
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