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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter LXXI. - Breakdown


ON landing in England on May, 1867, the knee trouble which was acute before we left Cape Town, and seemed to subside on the voyage, changed its character, and slowly and painfully worked up to a crisis, out of which I emerged as a cripple for the rest of my days. I never was very robust, but my constitution was tough enough to struggle with the flaw in it, and finally to, in a manner, surmount it. For eighteen months I was next thing to being laid on my back. We were most of that time with my wife's parents in Bradford. From a visit to Burton I returned in a worse plight than when I went. In August and September I took my wife with me to the Highlands, and we stayed among our hospitable friends there for a month or longer. That did me no good, and recollections of what I went through during the ensuing winter is like the ghost of a bad nightmare. In the summer of 1868 I found myself so much better, that having got house-room from my uncle, who then had the farm of Laurick, on Loch Vennacher's side the mustering place of the Clan Gregor in the "Lady of the Lake" we all, wife, self, the two boys, and Kate, went there and stayed there for a couple of months. That was a happy time for us. Throughout the whole illness, I regularly wrote my despatches for the Cape, and also leaders for my old Bradford paper. My general health remained satisfactory all through, and the pain in the limb stimulated rather than diminished mental activity. Reading and writing were a solace, and these and native air helped to make me sleep soundly at Laurick, a blessing which was made more enjoyable by contrast with the insomnia from which I had previously been often suffering, and which at one time became so severe, that Dr Goyder, whose patient I was when in Bradford, brought me a sleeping draught, which I was unwilling to take, because having seen the effect of opium on people who indulged in it, in South Africa, I hated to resort to it. I told him to put the phial on the mantelpiece, and that perchance looking at it would suffice, as I had been without a wink of sleep for two or three successive nights. The looking or wearying out did the business; and now, as an octogenarian, I am able to say that I have never taken a narcotic drug.

Ere this severe breakdown, I had, ever since I entered into my teens, earned, like Longfellow's blacksmith, my night's repose by daily work of some kind, and like him, could look the whole world in the face as I owed not anyone, except in the mutual good-will and interchange of affections, which are the hoops of society. Unambitious, somewhat dreamy, and a lover of nature and books, I was still a diligent worker, and felt contented with, and proud, too, of my position of small independence. I knew I could in half a dozen ways earn my living before the breakdown, but was so deficient in what is called push, that every change in my vocation was brought about, not by myself, but by the spontaneous action of other people. But it remained for the teaching of adversity to confirm my faith in the innate goodness of human nature. We my dear wife and I in our period of trouble and trial, were not only lapped round by the lovingkindness of kith and kin, but likewise solaced by the sympathies of many with whom we had no such ties, and not, in some instances, any previous intimacy. As already mentioned, most of the medical men of the district were either born Scotchmen, or men who had got their professional training in Edinburgh University, when its fame as a medical school had reached its highest. Many of them in my time of worst trials were as good to me as if I had been a forlorn and shipwrecked brother with an imperative claim on their attention and help. To one of them, my dear friend, the late Doctor William Dobie, Keighley, I and mine fell tinder obligations for which endless gratitude was the only repayment. During ten years Dr Dobie and his assistants did all the medical work myself and family required for nothing at all; and besides, he and his wife were our dearest and closest private friends in the Keighley district.

Dr Dobie, born at Langham, where his father was a United Presbyterian minister, represented the Borders, as I and Dr Angus Cameron from Rannoch, and Dr Jack from Ross-shire, did the Highlands. Dr Murray, soon afterwards of York, and Dr Arthur, from near Stirling, belonged to the Lowland Mid- lands, and were, as their surnames showed, of far away Celtic descent. Dr Rabaghliati's father, in the days of the Austrian domination of Lombardy, came to Scotland as a political exile, and taught modern languages in Edinburgh. He married a Rannoch wife, and so their only child was half a Highlander by birth, and more than half by sympathies. When the Austrians were expelled from Lombardy, the confiscated property of the Rabaghliaties was restored, and our friend "Rab" got his share of it. He married the daughter of Mr Duncan M'Laren, for a long time M.P. for Edinburgh, and of his second wife, Priscilla Bright, sister of Mr John Bright. We had good friends among the English medicals outside this Scotch company. When Scotchmen cross the Tweed, or go out into the colonies and all parts of the world, they forget home distinctions of High- landers and Lowlanders, remember their Caledonian brotherhood, and draw up shoulder to shoulder, not for offence or aggressiveness, but for mutual social intercourse and help, and the cultivation of Scotch memories and sympathies, worthy of preservation. In England, Scotchmen are very much at home, and mingle easily enough into the English people among whom they reside.


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