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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 hill—then 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?"

"No—he 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 door—and 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 him—except 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 side—trackless, 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 north—and 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 the minister.

"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 quick—terrible quick— when they have trouble."

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 mother—was on her knees bending over him; another—the neighbour from Kelphope—stood 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 from Kelphope.

The mother rose then, with a wild, hungry look of ownership in her eyes, and spoke for the first time.

"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 sleeper."

And the woman began to weep quietly, as she fell on her knees again and—kissed the child!

"Ah! Don't do that, please. You must give Willie every chance, you understand, and he must be kept very quiet."

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. Only—his eyes seemed to be seeing everything at once.

"Did ye see Mysie, doctor?" said the mother, looking up.

"Yes."

"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 can—at 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 world—the husheen of the burn as it ran between the great rounded hills.

"It is very acute diphtheria."

"I thought so."

"The woman's mind is almost unhinged owing to her present condition. And the least mistake just now may prove fatal."

"I understand."

"There's only one chance of saving the child's life - tracheotomy. And the thing must be done at once."

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, man—that is out of the question. Thank you all the same. I won't forget that you offered. But it is my business and—privilege. 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, Anderson—your 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 well—he could not have done it better. Then—without hesitating—he put his lips to the child's throat!

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 burn alone.

But—it 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 ower me!
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 hillock,
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' waitin',
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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