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Reminiscences of Old Scots Folk
The Old Doctor


THE OLD ORDER IS CHANGING WITH doctors as with all other things in the quiet country places, and already the motor-car is taking the place of the high two-seated gig. We appreciate the new, quick, wonderful ways of bringing life into the world, of keeping life well and fit when we have it, and of reviving the spark of life in the weak and old when it is like to flicker out; but we can never forget the patience, the self-sacrifice, and the leal-hearted dourness of the old country doctor, who had to get the better of difficulties which the new generation cannot even imagine to win at a patient who lived in some remote, pathless place.

So to those of us who climbed the brae in the spring sunshine that day these many years ago to follow the Old Doctor to his lown resting-place in the old kirk-yard, it was a heartsome, moving sight to see the great gathering that filled the steep, red-tiled village street from end to end. It was as though the whole countryside had come together to listen to the last of an old song.

We called him the Old Doctor—not that he was a done man, but because he was the father of the young doctor. The bent, grey-headed folks who were standing so solemnly at their doors in the sun, leaning on their sticks, would tell you how he came to them a winsome, fair-complexioned lad of parts forty years ago. And it was old Kirsty Laidlaw, the herd's wife at Costerton, who glowered in wonder at the young doctor the first time he stood by her bedside and said—

"And who may ye be, my laddie?"

"I'm the doctor's son."

"Eh, sirs the day! Do ye tell me that? I wadna hae kent ye for the doctor's son. For your faither was a rale bonny lad when he was your age."

But Kirsty is long since dead, and now the Old Doctor has followed her to the same kirkyard and the same Land of the Leal, where the oldest and best of friends are blythe to meet once more.

For all these forty years he served the countryfolk about him hand and foot, day and night, year in year out, without a grudge, and as a very perfect Christian gentleman. Snow-bound in winter and deathly cold on the heights; sweet and smiling in spring-time, when the winter blasts are over and the eye can sweep the far horizons of hill and sea and rolling land most splendidly; and a very garden of the Lord in the height of summer, when the grassy hills are flecked with sheep innumerable and the great fields are yel-low with grain—it is a high, snell, wind-swept countryside at best, lying far remote from towns, ten miles this way and ten miles that way from the doctor's house. Every corner of its five or six parishes was filled with the doctor's healingmercy,and in every castle and cothouse, in every farmplace and manse, he was welcomed with a sigh of relief in any time of trouble.

On a bleak winter night, when the roads were blocked with snow and the hills were lying asleep and still under their dead white shrouds, I have seen him muffled to the ears riding slowly along the highway in the moonlight on his old white mare. Many a time he has slept with weariness on the mare's back or sitting in the high gig on his way home. But the friendly pair of them understood each other so well that they always reached home together and in perfect safety.

He was a man of many coats. For it is a bitter world in the Lammermoors. So, summer or winter, the old doctor was "aye weel-happit," as we say.

"Doctor," one said to him once," is it true what they say - that you never wear more than five coats?"

"There or thereabouts," he answered, with a laugh.

And his laugh was unforgettable. Long and hearty and splendid—the boisterous mirth of this big, buirdly, clean-souled man, who dearly loved a joke, came rolling out like the sound of many waters. For he had that essential quality of all good physicians—an infection of good cheer about him, which revived a weary patient like the best medicine whenever the doctor entered the sick-room.

The long, bitter, midnight drives, in sleet or snow or blinding sheets of rain, never seemed to chill the warmth of his big-hearted nature. Trustworthy to a fault, never in a hurry, and always particular to show an old-world courtesy to women and bairns, he brought home our sweetest gifts of life for two generations, and never was heard to grumble at the steep hills or the wildest storms.

Wisely reticent about every patient, he was a terror to the gossip, and could be acid enough in his speech to any long-nosed body who was a trifle over-curious.

"What's wrang wi' Tam Todd's wife, doctor?" said a clippy-tongued, about-the-doors mistress once.

"What's wrang wi' yersel', that ye are speiring?" said he, as he gathered up the reins and was off.

Or when some silver-tongued dame quizzed him mong his own bairns. He had brought so many of them home, and he had said good-bye to so many of them when they were sweart to go, and now he has won Home himself to the place where he wished with all his heart to be.

The snowdrops bestar the mossy turf of this rose-scented God's acre like messengers of eternal hope. The birds sing their spring songs in the great trees which the good monks planted long ago. The sun, like the love of God, which is the same yesterday, today, and for ever, shines down on the douce countryfolk out of the clear blue sky. And there, with the clean sweet winds of springtide wafting the sound of a prayer over the green howes, we leave the Old Doctor with God, to sleep his hinmost slumber, which, after forty years of Christ-like sacrifice, he won without reproach.


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