Reminiscences of Old Scots Folk
The Shadow among the Hills
"Lo! for there, among the
flowers and grasses,
Only the mightier movement sounds and passes,
Only winds and rivers,
Life and death."
TO THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN BORN
AND bred in towns, the life-and-death anxieties of those who dwell in
remote places can never be understood. When a shepherd's house is hidden
away in some lonely glen-head, far from a driving road, cut off from kirk
and doctor by mile upon mile of heather, and with the nearest neighbour
over a hillthen sickness always brings with it a great black fear.
The herd's cottage at
Friar's Nose stands in one of the bonniest spots of the lonely Lammermoors.
Many a time have I passed a leelang summer day luring the trout in the
stream, with no sound to break the thrum of silence but the wail of the
whaups and the bleating of lambs. In the shepherd's kitchen, good cheer
and a warm welcome have never failed, though even in my day one herd has
come and another has gone, over and over again.
But there was a time, long
ago, when the Angel reaped three harvests in this sweet far spot within
the space of one fell week; and even yet, when I stoop to drink at the
clear running cottage spring, I mind me how its tainted waters once
brought death to three of the shepherd's little bairns.
The minister was tired. He
had just been for a long tramp down in the east country, and was getting
into his slippers, when the front-door bell rang. He sat perfectly still
and listened, till the housekeeper came into the room with a note. He read
it in the firelight of the winter afternoon, and then slowly rose to his
feet. It was like many another country message, written hurriedly on a
soiled, crumpled bit of paper, to say that the bairns were ill at Friar's
Nose, and would the minister tell the doctor to come over at once.
"Who brought this?"
"A young herd, sir."
"Is he still at the door?"
"Nohe was on his way to
Haddington, and just left the paper as he gaed by."
For the doctor lived three
miles beyond Fairshiels, and for the Haddington herd to deliver it himself
would have put six miles extra on to a long day's tramp. So the surest way
was to leave the message at the manse doorand the minister would do the
rest. Such are the mischancy and slender means of communication among the
hills, when the balance is swithering betwixt life and death. But as soon
as quick feet could go and willing hands could yoke a horse, the minister
and the doctor were seated in a dogcart, and driving quickly up the great
London road for the hills.
John Scott, the doctor of
the district in those days, was a plain, downright man. There was nothing
very romantic about himexcept that he had married for love, and now had a
large family of happy boys and girls at home. But what I am going to set
down about this night's work will explain better than anything else why
the whole countryside loved him.
They drove to the top of
Soutra Hill, and at the third pair of snow posts the doctor drew rein.
Here they got down and the groom took the trap home. John Scott lit a
lantern, gave it without a word to the minister, and took up his shabby
little black bag.
It was a clear, cold,
moonlight night. The turnpike road swept over the bleak hill, with a
double row of ominous-looking poles eight feet high lining its borders at
regular intervals to guide the belated traveller in the time of the winter
snows. The great frosted moors stretched for miles on every
sidetrackless, desolate, and without a single rock or crag to guide those
who did not know them. But the doctor knew them; and the minister, who was
a much younger man, was beginning to know them too.
The shepherd's house at
Friar's Nose is ten miles round by road, and even then the track up the
glen becomes invisible a mile or two before reaching the cottage. But by
cutting across three miles of heather and bent, the traveller from
Fairshiels can drop into the glen-head from the northand this is how the
doctor usually went.
It was a long, hard walk as
the two men went plunging through the heather and great tufty bent, with
the lantern swinging between them like some moorland will-o'-the-wisp.
"That slight rise on the
left is Ninecairn Edge," said the doctor, "the one on the right is
Kelphope Hill, and our way lies right between them. Another mile and
you'll be there."
Yet to the minister's eye
the two hills seemed nothing more nor less than imperceptible undulations
on an almost level wilderness of moor.
So they held straight on.
Then they began to descend. At last, low down in the shadows of a deep
glen-head, they saw a light.
"There it is!" exclaimed
"Yes," said the doctor,
"and I wish I knew what was wrong with the bairns. The town fellows have
only to step along the street and bring back from the dispensary or the
surgery whatever they need. But here! It would take a whole day to fetch a
bit of sticking-plaster. And bairns are quickterrible quick when they
A dog barked down at the
house when they were still a long way off.
"Do you hear that?" said
the doctor. "It is almost impossible to pay a surprise visit to one of
these Lammermoor shepherds. Their dogs can scent a stranger on the hill a
long way off."
At the sound of the
barking, a door opened and someone came out. In a few minutes a very tall
man, with a perfectly stolid face, met them on the hill.
"Well, Anderson, here we
are. How are the children?"
"Thank ye, sir."
And the big man said no
more until he had solemnly shaken hands.
"We've had a sair time
o't,sir. The mistress is near oot o' her mind. But sma' wunner! Mysie, the
auldest lassie, dee'd about denner-time. We've sent Mary and Kate doon to
Kelphope to be oot o' the road. But wee Willie has the trouble noo."
"What trouble, Anderson?"
said the doctor, in a quick, sharp voice.
"We dinna richtly ken what
the trouble is. The bairns never had a tout before. But they hae a' had
terrible sair throats."
"Ah!" said the doctor under
his breath. He needed to ask no more.
The dog whined when the
door was opened, and the slow-tongued, heavy-looking shepherd, who was not
a cruel man, kicked it into silence with his great heavy boot.
On a heap of blankets
placed on two chairs, in the middle of the floor, a child lay with the
lamp-light streaming over his white, pinched face. One woman the
motherwas on her knees bending over him; anotherthe neighbour from
Kelphopestood by her side.
The doctor, without a word,
went to work at once. A vital stillness pervaded the kitchen while he
pursued his investigations with the utmost calmness. He seemed to have
forgotten everything else but the child and himself.
Suddenly he looked up.
"Where is the other one?"
"Next door," said the woman
The mother rose then, with
a wild, hungry look of ownership in her eyes, and spoke for the first
"Is it Mysie ye want to
see, doctor? She's soond asleep in the room bed, but they'll no' let me
ben. So dinna mak' a noise, or ye micht wauken her. She was aye a licht
And the woman began to weep
quietly, as she fell on her knees again andkissed the child!
"Ah! Don't do that, please.
You must give Willie every chance, you understand, and he must be kept
The minister nodded and
went over to the chairs, as John Scott and the shepherd passed out.
In a very short time he
came back. His face was perfectly passive. Onlyhis eyes seemed to be
seeing everything at once.
"Did ye see Mysie, doctor?"
said the mother, looking up.
"What wey will they no' let
me ben to her? She's been sleepin' a lang time noo."
"Because Mysie doesn't need
you when she's asleep. It's Willie here that needs you, and you must be
brave for his sake."
"What's wrang wi' the wee
man, doctor? Can ye no' bring him roun'?"
"I think I canat least, I
am going to try. But you must do all that I tell you."
The mother began to weep
again at the mere suggestion that there was any doubt. So her husband came
over to her, and took her in to his great strengthy arms that had many a
time carried the lambs in the spring of the year.
Then the doctor signed to
the minister, and they passed out together into the star-lit night. There
was only one sound in the solemn, lonely worldthe husheen of the burn as
it ran between the great rounded hills.
"It is very acute
"I thought so."
"The woman's mind is almost
unhinged owing to her present condition. And the least mistake just now
may prove fatal."
"There's only one chance of
saving the child's life - tracheotomy. And the thing must be done at
There was silence between
them for a moment. Each instinctively looked at the stars, for both knew
what the operation involved.
"Then let me do it, doctor.
I have less to risk than you, and no one to think of."
"Tut, tut, manthat is out
of the question. Thank you all the same. I won't forget that you offered.
But it is my business andprivilege. All I brought you out for was to ask
you to keep the two women out here until I send for them. The air will do
the poor mother good, and there is no time to lose."
So they returned to the
cottage, and soon the shepherd and the doctor were left alone in the
kitchen with the child.
"Now, Andersonyour boy's
life may depend on your keeping cool, and doing exactly what I tell you."
The man of the hills nodded
and took up his position.
Then John Scott forgot
everything but his work. He was in the heart of the Lammermoors, twenty
miles from the nearest operating theatre, with nothing but his own clear
brains, his skilly hands, and what lay in his little black bag to help
him. Yet it never once occurred to him that he was working under a
handicap. Those were the days long before the blessed antitoxic serum had
robbed diphtheria of its terror. So his hands moved with an unhasting
swiftness in the little lamp-lit kitchen. He did it wellhe could not have
done it better. Thenwithout hesitatinghe put his lips to the child's
There is a routh of ways in
which a man can face death. One man dies at the head of his army, and the
world hails him as a hero. But there are men and women facing death daily
in obscure places, in commonplace circumstances, and with their eyes wide
open. Yet the world goes on, and the world never knows.
So John Scott was a
non-such for a doctor to every man, woman, and bairn in five parishes. In
this outlandish place, within the humble cottage of a shepherd, and
bielded by the everlasting hills, he risked his life for the sake of a
little child. It was his duty. And he did it. That was all.
When he was quite finished,
he opened the door, summoned the others, and walked straight down to the
Butit was many a day
before the Fairshiels folk saw the doctor again. For the price of the
sacrifice to him was a long, weary winter fight. But he was a dour man and
a strong man, and by the grace of God he won through it at last. So, when
the early summer sun shone out, the old folks saw him one day walking very
slowly about his garden, with a pale, thin face. And soon the caller air
and the heather did the rest.
But what way ends this tale
of Friar's Nose? The grass was already growing green on a wee howe in the
lown kirkyard, and a mother, with a young face and snow-white hair above
it, sat at the cottage door nursing a little bairn with this strange baloo
on her lips
"I dinna ken what's come
There's a how whaur ance was a hert!
I never luik oot afore me,
An' a cry winna gar me stert;
There's naething nae mair to come ower me,
Blaw the win' frae ony airt!
For i' yon kirkyard there's
A hert whaur ance was a how;
An' o' joy there's no' left a mealock
Deid aiss whaur ance was a low!
For i' yon kirkyard i' the hillock
Lies a seed 'at winna grow.
It's my hert 'at hauds up
the wee hillie
That's hoo there's a how i' my breist;
It's awa' doon there wi' my Willie
Gaed wi' him whan he was releast;
It's doon i' the green-grown hillie,
But I'se be efter it neist!
Come awa', nicht an' mornin',
Come ooks, years, a' Time's clan;
Ye're welcome: I'm no' a bit scornin'!
Tak' me til him as fest as ye can.
Come awa', nicht an' mornin',
Ye are wings o' a michty span.
For I ken he's luikin' an'
Luikin' aye doon as I clim';
An' I'll no' hae him see me sit greetin'
I'stead o' gaein' to him!
I'll step oot like ane sure o' a meetin',
I'll travel an' rin to him."
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