House-Call Extraordinary

(Taken from Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush by Ian Maclaren. Tammas Mitchell loves wife Annie beyond description. The lonely man never thought to have such a treasure, and now death threatens with symptoms well beyond the sphere of noble village Doctor MacLure. The only solution is to make the request of resourceful farmer Drumsheugh for the fee for the select medical services of Sir George from the City. The extraordinary winter house-call by cart follows...)

"A' seleckit the road this mornin', an' a' ken the depth tae an
inch; we 'ill get through this steadin' here tae the main road, but
oor worst job 'ill be crossin' the Tochty.

"Ye see the bridge hes been shakin' wi' this winter's flood, and we
daurna venture on it, sae we hev tae ford, and the snaw's been
melting up Urtach way. There's nae doot the water's gey big, and
it's threatenin' tae rise, but we 'ill win through wi' a warstle.

"It micht be safer tae lift the instruments oot o' reach o' the
water; wud ye mind haddin' them on yir knee till we're ower, an'
keep firm in yir seat in case we come on a stane in the bed o' the

By this time they had come to the edge, and it was not a cheering
sight. The Tochty had spread out over the meadows, and while they
waited they could see it cover another two inches on the trunk of a
tree. There are summer floods, when the water is brown and flecked
with foam, but this was a winter flood, which is black and sullen,
and runs in the centre with a strong, fierce, silent current. Upon
the op posite side Hillocks stood to give directions by word and
hand, as the ford was on his land, and none knew the Tochty better
in all its ways.

They passed through the shallow water without mishap, save when the
wheel struck a hidden stone or fell suddenly into a rut; but when
they neared the body of the river MacLure halted, to give Jess a
minute's breathing.

"It 'ill tak ye a' yir time, lass, an' a' wud raither be on yir
back; but ye never failed me yet, and a wumman's life is hangin' on
the crossin'."

With the first plunge into the bed of the stream the water rose to
the axles, and then it crept up to the shafts, so that the surgeon
could feel it lapping in about his feet, while the dogcart began to
quiver, and it seemed as if it were to be carried away. Sir George
was as brave as most men, but he had never forded a Highland river
in flood, and the mass of black water racing past beneath, before,
behind him, affected his imagination and shook his nerves. He rose
from his seat and ordered MacLure to turn back, declaring that he
would be condemned utterly and eternally if he allowed himself to be
drowned for any person.

"Sit doon," thundered MacLure; "condemned ye will be suner or later
gin ye shirk yir duty, but through the water ye gang the day."

Both men spoke much more strongly and shortly, but this is what they
intended to say, and it was MacLure that prevailed.

Jess trailed her feet along the ground with cunning art, and held
her shoulder against the stream; MacLure leant forward in his seat,
a rein in each hand, and his eyes fixed on Hillocks, who was now
standing up to the waist in the water, shouting directions and
cheering on horse and driver.

"Haud tae the richt, doctor; there's a hole yonder. Keep oot o't for
ony sake. That's it; yir daein' fine. Steady, man, steady. Yir at
the deepest; sit heavy in yir seats. Up the channel noo, and ye 'll
be oot o' the swirl. Weel dune, Jess, weel dune, auld mare! Mak
straicht for me, doctor, an' a'll gie ye the road oot. Ma word,
ye've dune yir best, baith o' ye this mornin'," cried Hillocks,
splashing up to the dogcart, now in the shallows.

"Sall, it wes titch an' go for a meenut in the middle; a Hielan'
ford is a kittle (hazardous) road in the snaw time, but ye're safe

"Gude luck tae ye up at Westerton, sir; nane but a richt-hearted man
wud hae riskit the Tochty in flood. Ye're boond tae succeed aifter
sic a graund beginning" for it had spread already that a famous
surgeon had come to do his best for Annie, Tammas Mitchell's wife.

Two hours later MacLure came out from Annie's room and laid hold of
Tammas, a heap of speechless misery by the kitchen fire, and carried
him off to the barn, and spread some corn on the threshing floor and
thrust a flail into his hands.

"Noo we've tae begin, an' we 'ill no be dune for an' oor, and ye've
tae lay on withoot stoppin' till a' come for ye, an' a'll shut the
door tae haud in the noise, an' keep yir dog beside ye, for there
maunna be a cheep aboot the hoose for Annie's sake."

"A'll dae onythingye want me, but if--if--"

"A'll come for ye, Tammas, gin there be danger; but what are ye
feared for wi' the Queen's ain surgeon here?"

Fifty minutes did the flail rise and fall, save twice, when Tammas
crept to the door and listened, the dog lifting his head and

It seemed twelve hours instead of one when the door swung back, and
MacLure filled the doorway, preceded by a great burst of light, for
the sun had arisen on the snow.

His face was as tidings of great joy, and Elspeth told me that there
was nothing like it to be seen that afternoon for glory, save the
sun itself in the heavens.

"A' never saw the marrow o't, Tammas, an' a'll never see the like
again; it's a' ower, man, withoot a hitch frae beginnin' tae end,
and she's fa'in' asleep as fine as ye like."

"Dis he think Annie ... 'ill live?"

"Of coorse he dis, and be aboot the hoose inside a month; that's the
gude o' bein' a clean-bluided, weel-livin'--"


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