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The Starling, A Scotch Story
Chapter XXIV - Dr Scott and his Servant


THE Corporal was obliged, on family or on Haldaneite business, we know not which, to return by the "Highilyer" next morning. As that slow but sure conveyance jolted along the road but twice a week, he could not, in the circumstances in which he was placed, remain until its next journey.

On leaving the Manse, he proceeded at once to the house of Dr. Scott, the well-known doctor of the parish, and of a district around it limited only by the physical endurance of himself and of his brown horse, "Bolus." When the Corporal called, the Doctor was absent on one of his constantly recurring professional rides. Being a bachelor, his only representative was his old servant Effie, who received the visitor. She kept the surgery as well as the house, and was as well known in the parish as her master. Indeed she was suspected by many to have skill equal to her master's, very likely owing to the powerful effects produced by her suggestive prescriptions. On learning the absence of the doctor, the Corporal inquired when he was likely to return.

"Wha!' the worl' can tell that? Whatna quastion tae speer at me!" exclaimed Effie.

"I meant nae offence," replied the Corporal; but my freend, Sergeant Mercer."

"I beg yer pardon," interrupted Effie; "I wasna awar that ye were a freen' o' the Sergeant's, honest man! Sae I may tell you that the doctor may be here in a minute, or may be no' till breakfast-time the morn; or he may come at twal', at twa, or Gude kens whan! But if it's an ordinar' thing ye want for yersel' or Adam, I can gie't to ye:—sic as a scoorin' dose o' sauts or castur-ile, or rubhard pills, or seena leaf, or even a flee blister; or a few draps o' lodarny for the grips."

The Corporal listened with all respect, and said, "I want naething for mysel' or Adam; but Dr. Scott is requested to veesit him on his return hame, or as soon after as convenient."

"Convenient!" exclaimed Effie; "that's no' a word kent in Drumsylie for the doctor! He niicht as well ax every gudewife in the parish if it was convenient for them to hae a son or a dochtcr at twal' hours i' the day or at twal' at nicht, on a simmer's day or on a snawy ane; or tae ax whan it was convenient for folk tae burn their fit, break their leg, or play the mishanter xvi' themsels efter a fair. Convenient! Keep us a'!! But depen' on't he'll mak' it convenient tae atten' Mr. Mercer, nicht or mornin' sune or early."

"I'm sorry to trouble him, for I am sure 'e is unco' bothered and fashed," said the Corporal, politely.

"Fashed!" exclaimed Effie, thankful for the opportunity of expressing sympathy with her master, and her indignation at his inconsiderate patients; "naebody kens that but him and me! Fashed! the man haesna the life o' a streyed dog or cat! There's no' a lameter teylor wi' his walk fit, nor a bairn wi' a sair wame frae eatin' ower mony cruds or grosats, nor an auld wife hostin' xvi' a grew o' cauld, nor a farmer efter makin' ower free wi' black puddins and haggis when a mairt is kill't—but a' maun flee tae the doctor, ilka ane yam, yam, yammerin', as if lie had the poower o' life and death! Puir cratur! I could maist greet if I wasna sac angry, to wauk him in his first sleep in a winter's nicht to ride aff on auld Bolus—that's his auld decent horse, ye ken—and for what? Maybe for naething! I assure you he has a taughy fleece tae scoor in this parish!" Effie stopped, not from want of illustration, but from want of breath.

"A hard life, a hard life, nae doot," remarked the Corporal ; "but it's his duty, and he's paid for 't."

"Him paid for't!" said Effie, "I wad like tae see the siller; as the watchmaker said—The Doctor, quo' he, should let them pay the debt o' natur' if they wadna pay his ain debts first. He wasna far wrang! But I was forgettin' the Sergeant— what's wrang wi' him? That's a man never fashes the doctor or onybody; and wha pays what he gets. But ither folk fash the Sergeant —I wuss I had the doctorin' o' some o' them I ken o'! Feggs, I wad doctor them! I wad gie them a blister or twa o' Spenish flees that they wadna forget in a hurry!—but what's wrang?" she asked, once more halting in her eloquence.

"That's just what we want tae ken," replied the Corporal, quietly.

"I'll tell the doctor," said Effie. "I think ye said yer name was Dick—Cornal Dick?`

"No no! not Comal yet," replied Dick, smiling, "I'm sorry tae say, my braw woman, but Corporal only."

The epithet "braw" drew down a curtsey from Effie in reply to his "Gude day; ye'll be sure to send the Doctor."

Dr. Scott, whom Effie represented, was a man of few words, who never attempted to exain the philosophy, if he knew it, of his treatment, but prescribed his doses as firmly and unfeelingly as the gunner loads his cannon. He left his patients to choose life or death, apparently as if their choice was a matter of indifference to him: yet nevertheless he possessed a most kind and feeling heart, revealed not in looks or words, but in deeds of patience and self-sacrifice, for which, from too many, he got little thanks, and less pay, as Effie had more than insinuated. Every one in the parish seemed to have a firm conviction as to the duty of the doctar to visit them, when unwell( at all hours, and at all distances, by day or night; while 1ieir duty of consideration for his health was dim, and for his pocket singularly procrastinating. "I do not grudge," he once said, "to give my professional aid gratis to the poor and needy, and even to others who could pay me if they would; nay, I do not grudge in many cases to send a bag of meal to the family, but I think I am entitled, without being considered greedy, and without my sending for it, to get my empty bag returned!"

The doctor was ever riding to and fro, his face red with winter's cold and summer's heat, nodding oftener on his saddle than at his own fire-side, watching all sorts of cases in farmhouses and lowly cottages, cantering for miles to the anxiety and discomforts of the sick-room.

All liked the doctor, and trusted him; though, alas! such men as Dr. Mair—herbalists, vendors of wonderful pills and "saws," bone-setters, and that whole race of ignorant and presuming quacks, resident or itinerant, could always impose on the credulous, and dispose of their marvellous cures for such prices as seldom entered honest Scott's pocket.

The doctor in due time visited Adam.

"What's wrong, Sergeant?" was his abrupt question; and he immediately proceeded to examine tongue and pulse, and other signs and symptoms. He then prescribed some simple medicine, rather gentler than Effie's; and said little, except that he would call back soon. The case was at last declared to be of a bad type of typhoid fever.


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