Hamilton Wright Mabie.

Famous stories every child should know: a selection of the best stories of ... online

. (page 21 of 22)
Online LibraryHamilton Wright MabieFamous stories every child should know: a selection of the best stories of ... → online text (page 21 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


heart by frequent scratching of his huge head, and an
occasional bone. When I did not notice him he would
plant himself straight before me, and stand wagging that
butt of a tail, and looking up, with his head a little to one
side. His master I occasionally saw; he used to call me
*'Maister John," but was lacoii»> as any Spartan.



Digitized



by Google



t76 Stories Every Child Shotdi Know

One fine October afternoon, I was leaving the hospital
when I saw the large gate open, and in walked Rab, with
that great and easy saunter of his. He looked as if taking
general possession of the place; like the Duke of Wellington
entering a subdued city, satiated with victory and peace.
After him came Jess, now white from age, with her cart;
and in it a woman, carefully wrapped up — ^the carriet
leading the horse anxiously, and looking back. When
he saw me, James (for his name was James Noble) made
a curt and grotesque ''boo," and said, ''Maister John, this
is the mistress; she's got a trouble in her breest — some
kind o' an income we're thinkin'."

By this time I saw the woman's face; she was sitting on
a sack filled with straw, her husband's plaid roimd her,
and his big-coat with its large white metal buttons over
her feet.

I never saw a more unforgettable face — ^pale, serious,
lonely^ delicate, sweet, without being at all what we call
fine. She looked sixty, and had on a mutch, white as
snow, with its black ribbon; her silvery, smooth hair setting
off her dark-gray eyes — eyes such as one sees only twice
or thrice in a lifetime, fuU of suffering, full also of the over-
coming of it: her eyebrows black and delicate, and her
mouth firm, patient, and contented, which few mouths
ever are.

As I have said, I never saw a more beautiful coimtenance,
or one more subdued to settled quiet. " Ailie," said James,
**this is Maister John, the young doctor; Rab's freend,
ye ken. We often speak aboot you, doctor.'* She smiled,
and made a movement, but said nothing; and prepared
to come down, putting her plaid aside and rising. Had
Solomon, in all his glory, been handing down the Queen
of Sheba at his palace s^te he could not have done it moie



Digitized byCjOOQlC



Rob and his Friends 277

daintily, more tenderly, more like a gentleman, than did
James the Howgate carrier, when he lifted down Ailie
his wife. The contrast of his small, swarthy, weather-
beaten, keen, worldly face to hers — ^pale, subdued, and
beautiful — ^was something wonderful. Rab looked on
concerned and puzzled, but ready for an3rthing that might
turn up — ^were it to strangle the nurse, the porter, or even
me. Ailie and he seemed great friends.

" As I was sayin' she's got a kind o' trouble in her breest,
doctor; wull ye tak' a look at it?" We walked into the
consulting-room, all four; Rab grim and comic, willing to be
happy and confidential if cause could be shown, willing
also to be the reverse, on the same terms. Ailie sat down,
undid her open gown and her lawn handkerchief round
her neck, and without a word, showed me her right breast.
I looked at and examined it carefully — she and James
watching me, and Rab eyeing all three. What could I
say? there it was, that had once been so soft, so shapely,
so white, so gracious and bountiful, so "full of all blessed
conditions," — ^hard as a stone, a centre of horrid pain,
making that pale face with its gray, lucid, reasonable eyes,
and its sweet resolved mouth, express the full measure
of suffering overcome. Why was that gentle, modest,
sweet woman, clean and lovable, condemned by God to
bear such a biurden?

I got her away to bed. "May Rab and me bide?" said
James. " You may; and Rab, if he will behave himself."
" I'se warrant he's do that, doctor;" and in slank the faith-
ful beast. I wish you could have seen him. There are
no such dogs now. He belonged to a lost tribe. As I
have said, he was brindled and gray like Rubislaw granite;
his hair short, hard, and close, like a lion's; his body thick
set, like a little bull — a sort of compressed Hercules of a



Digitized byCjOOQlC



278 Stories Every Child Should Know

dog. He must have been ninety pounds' weight, at the
least; he had a large blunt head; his muzzle black as night,
his mouth blacker than any night, a tooth or two — ^being
all he had — Reaming out of his jaws of darkness. His
head was scarred with the records of old woimds, a sort
of series of fields of battle all over it; one eye out, one ear
cropped as dose as was Archbishop Leighton's father's;
the remaining eye had the power of two; and above it, and
in constant communication with it, was a tattered rag of
an ear, which was forever imfurh'ng itself, like an old flag;
and then that bud of a tail, about one inch long, if it could
in any sense be said to be long, being as broad as long —
the mobility, the instantaneousness of that bud were \ery
funny and surprising, and its expressive twinklings and
winkings, the intercommunications between the eye, the
ear, and it, were of the oddest and swiftest.

Rab had the dignity and simplicity of great size; and
having fought his way along the road to absolute supremacy,
he was as mighty in his own line as Julius Caesar or the
Duke of Wellington, and had the gravity of all great
fighters.

You must have often observed the likeness of certain
men to certain animals, and of certain dogs to men. Now,
I never looked at Rab without thinking of the great Baptist
preacher, Andrew Fuller. The same large, heavy, men-
acing, combative, sombre, honest countenance, the same
deep inevitable eye, the same look — as of thunder asleep,
but ready — neither a dog nor a man to be trifled with.

Next day, my master, the surgeon, examined Ailie.
There was no doubt it must kill her, and soon. It could
be removed — ^it might never return — ^it would give her
speedy relief-^he should have it done. She curtsied,
looked at James, and said, "When?" "To-morrow,"



Digitized



by Google



Rab and his Friends 279

said the kind surgeon — a man of few words. She and
James and Rab and I retired. I noticed that he and
she spoke litde^ but seemed to anticipate everything in
each other. The following day, at noon, the students
came in, hiurying up the great stair. At the first landing-
place, on a small well-known blackboard, was a bit of
paper fastened by wafers, and many remains of old wafers
beside it On the paper were the words — "An operation
to-day. J. B. Clerk."

Up ran the youths, eager to secure good places: in they
crowded, full of interest and talk. "What's the case?"
•'Which side is it?"

Don't think them heardess; they are neither better nor
worse than you or I; they get over their professional horrors,
and into their proper work — and in them pity — as an
emotion, ending in itself or at best in tears and a long-
drawn breath, lessens, while pit}' as a motive^ is quickened,
and gains power and purpose. It is well for poor himian
nature that it is so.

The operating theatre is crowded; much talk and fun,
and all the cordiality and stir of youth. The surgeon
with his staff of assistants is there. In^ comes Ailie: one
look at her quiets and abates the eager students. That
beautiful old woman is too much for them; they sit down,
and are dumb, and gaze at her. These rough boys feel
the power of her presence. She walks in quickly, but
without haste; dressed in her mutch, her neckerchief, her
white dimity short-gown, her black bombazine petticoat,
showing her white worsted stockings and her carpet-shoes.
Behind her was James with Rab. James sat down in the
distance, and took that huge and noble head between his
knees. Rab looked perplexed and dangerous; forever
cocking his ear and dropping it as fast



Digitized



by Google



aSo Stones Every Child Should Know

AQie stepped up on a seat, and laid herself on the table,
as her friend the surgeon told her; arranged herself, gave
a rapid look at James, shut her eyes, rested herself on me,
and took my hand. The operation was at once begun;
it was necessarily slow; and chloroform — one of God's best
gifts to his suffering children — ^was then unknown. The
surgeon did his work. The pale face showed its pain, but
was still and silent. Rab's soul was working within him;
he saw that something strange was going on — ^blood
flowing from his mistress, and she suffering; his ragged
ear was up, and import\mate; he growled and gave now
and then a sharp impatient yelp; he would have liked to
have done something to that man. But James had him
firm, and gave him a glower from time to time, and an
intimation of a possible kick; — all the better for James,
it kept his eye and his mind off Ailie.

It is over: she is dressed, steps gently and decently
down from the table, looks for James; then, turning to
the surgeon and the students, she curtsies — and in a low,
clear voice, begs their pardon if she has behaved ill. The
students — all of us — ^wept like children; the surgeon happed
her up carefully — and, resting on James and me, Ailie
went to her room, Rab following. We put her to bed.
James took off his heavy shoes, crammed with tackets,
heel-capt and toe-capt, and put them carefully under the
table, saying, "Maister John, I'm for nane o'yer strynge
nurse bodies for Ailie. I'll be her nurse, and I'll gang
aboot on my stockin' soles as canny as pussy." And so he
did; and handy and clever, and swift and tender as any
woman, was that homy-handed, snell, peremptory little
man. Everything she got he gave her: he seldom slept; and
often I saw his small shrewd eyes out of the darkness,
fixed on her. As before, they spoke little.



Digitized



by Google



Rab and his Friends aSx

Rab behaved well, never moving, showing us how meek
and gende he could be, and occasionally, in his sleep, letting
us know that he was demolishing some adversary. He took
a walk with me every day, generally to the Candlemaker
Row; but he was sombre and mild; declined doing battle,
though some fit cases offered, and indeed submitted to
sundry indignities; and was always very ready to turn, and
came faster back, and trotted up the stair with much light-
ness, and went straight to that door.

Jess, the mare, had been sent, with her weather-worn
cart, to Howgate, and had doubtless her own dim and
placid meditations and confusions, on the absence of her
master and Rab, and her unnatural freedom from the road
and her cart.

For some days Ailie did well. The wound healed "by
the first intention;" for as James said, "Oor Ailie's skin's
ower clean to beil." ' The students came in quiet and
anxious, and surrounded her bed. She said she liked to
see their young, honest faces. The surgeon dressed her,
and spoke to her in his own short kind way, pitying her
through his eyes, Rab and James outside the circle — Rab
being now reconciled, and even cordial, and having made
up his mind that as yet nobody required worrying, but,
as you may suppose, semper paratus.

So far well: but, four days after the operation, my patient
had a sudden and long shivering, a "groosinV* as she called
it. I saw her soon after; her eyes were too bright, her cheek
coloured; she was restless, and ashamed of being so; the
balance was lost; mischief had begun. On looking at the
wound, a blush of red told the secret: her pulse was rapid,
her breathing anxious and quick, she wasn't herself, as she
said, and was vexed at her restlessness. We tried what wc
could; James did everything, was everywhere; never in th«



Digitized



by Google



dSa Stones Every Chttd Should Know

way, never out of it; Rab subsided under the table Into a
dariL place, and was motionless, all but his eye, which f ol«
lowed every one. Ailie got worse; beg^n to wander in her
Blind, gently; was more demonstrative in her ways to
James, rapid in her questions, and sharp at times. He
was vexed, and said, ''She was never that way afore; no,
never." For a time she knew her head was wrong, and
was always asking our pardon — the dear, gentle old
woman: then delirium set in strong, without pause. Her
brain gave way, and then came that terrible spectacle—

''The intellectual power, through words and things.
Went sounding on its dim and perilous way."

she sang bits of old songs and Psalms, stopping suddenly,
minting the Psalms of David and the diviner words of his
Son and Lord, with homely odds and ends and scraps
of ballads.

Nothing more touching, or in a sense more strangely
beautiful, did I ever witness. Her tremulous, rapid, affec-
tionate, eager, Scotch voice — the swift, aimless, bewildered
mind, the baffled utterance, the bright and perilous eye;
some wild words, some household cares, something for
James, the names of the dead, Rab called rapidly and in
a "frem)rt" voice, and he starting up surprised, and slink-
ing off as if he were to blame somehow, or had been dreaming
he heard; many eager questions and beseechings which
James and I could make nothing of, and on which she
seemed to set her all, and then sink back unimderstood.
It was very sad, but better than many things that are not
called sad. James hovered about, put out and miserable,
but active and exact as ever; read to her when there was a
lull, short bits from the Psalms, prose and metre, chanting
the latter in his own rude and serious way, showing great



Digitized byCjOOQlC



Rab and his Friends 283

knowledge of the fit words, bearing up like a man, and
doating over her as his "ain Ailie." "Ailie, ma woman!'*
''Ma ain bonnie wee dawtie!"

The end was drawing on: the golden bowl was broking;
the silver cord was fast being loosed — ^that animula blandula,
vagula, hospes, comesque, was about to flee. The body
and the soul — companions for sixty years— were being
sundered, and taking leave. She was walking alone,
through the valley of that shadow, into which one day we
must all enter — and yet she was not alone, for we know
whose rod and staff were comforting her.

One night she had fallen quiet, and as we hoped, asleep;
her eyes were shut. We put down the gas and sat watching
her. Suddenly she sat up in bed, and taking a bed-gown
which was lying on it rolled up, she held it eagerly to her
breast — ^to the right side. We could see her eyes bright
with a surprising tenderness and joy, bending over this
bundle of clothes. She held it as a woman holds her
sucking child; opening out her night-gown impatiently,
and holding it close, and brooding over it, and murmuring
foolish little words, as over one whom his mother comforteth,
and who sucks and is satisfied. It was pitiful and strange
to see her wasted dying look, keen and yet vague — ^her
immense love.

"Preserve me!" groaned James, giving way. And then
she rocked back and forward, as if to make it sleep, hushing
it, and wasting on it her infinite fondness. *'Wae's me,
doctor; I declare she's thinkin' it's that bairn." "What
bairn?" "The only bairn we ever had; our wee Mysie,
and she's in the Kingdom, forty years and mair." It was
plainly true: the pain in the breast, telling its urgent story
to a bewildered, ruined brain, wa,s misread and mistaken;
it suggested to her the uneasiness of a breast full of milk



Digitized



by Google



t84 Stones Every Child Should Know

and then the chfld; and so again once more they were
together and she had her ain wee Mysie in her bosom.

This was the dose. She sank rapidly: the delirium
left her; but as, she whispered, she was **dean silly;"
it was the listening before the final darkness. After
having for some time lain still — ^her eyes shut, she said
"James!" He came close to her, and lifting up her calm,
dear, beautiful eyes, she gave him a long look, turned to
me kindly but shortly, looked for Rab but could not see
him, then turned to her husband again, as if she would
never leave off locking, shut her eyes, and composed her-
self. She lay for some time breathing quick, and passed
away so gently, that when we thought she was gone, James,
in his old-fashioned way, hdd the mirror to her face. Aftef
a long pause, one small spot of dimness was breathed out;
it vanished away, and never returned, leaving the blank
dear darkness of the mirror without a stain. "What is
our life? it is even a vapour, which appeareth for a little
time, and then vanisheth away.**

Rab aU this time had been full awake and motionless;
he came forward beside us: Ailie's hand, which James
had held, was hanging down, it was soaked with his tears;
Rab licked it all over carefully, looked at her, and returned
to his place imder the table.

James and I sat, I don't know how long, but for some
time — saying nothing: he started up abruptly, and with
some noise went to the table, and putting his right fore
and middle fingers each into a shoe, pulled them out, and
put them on, breaking one of the leather latchets, and
muttering in anger, "I never did the like o' that afore!"

I bdieve he never did; nor after either. "Rab!" he
said roughly, and pointing with his thumb to the bottom
of the bed. Rab leapt up, and settled himself; his head



Digitized



by Google



Rob and his Friends 285

and eye to the dead face. "Maister John, ye'll wait for
me/' said the carrier; and disappeared in the darkness,
thundering downstairs in his hesLvy shoes. I ran to a
front window; there he was, akeady round the house,
and out at the gate, fleeing like a shadow.

I was afraid about him, and yet not afraid; so I sat
down beside Rab, and being wearied, fell asleep. I awoke
from a sudden noise outside. It was November, and
there had been a heavy fall of snow. Rab was in statu quo;
he heard the noise too, and plainly knew it, but never
moved. I looked out; and there, at the gate, in the dim
morning — for the sun was not up — ^was Jess and tlie cart —
a cloud of steam rising from the old mare. I did not see
James; he was already at the door, and came up the stairs
and met me. It was less than tliree hours since he left,
and he must have posted out — ^who knows how? — ^to How-
gate, full nine miles off; yoked Jess, and driven her aston-
ished into town. He had an armful of blankets and was
streaming with perspiration. He nodded to me, spread
out on the floor two pairs of clean old blankets having at
their comers, " A. G., 1794," in large letters in red worsted.
These were the initials of Alison Graeme, and James may
have looked in at her from without — ^himself unseen but
not unthought of — ^when he was "wat, wat, and weary,"
and after having walked many a mile over the hills, may
have seen her sitting, while "a' the lave were sleepin';"
and by the firelight working her name on the blankets,
for her ain James's bed.

He motioned Rab down, and taking his wife in his arms,
laid her in the blankets, and happed her carefully and
firmly up, leaving the face imcovered; and then lifting
her, he nodded again sharply to me, and with a resolved
bnt utterlv miserable face, strode along the Dassace, and



Digitized



by Google



286 Stories Every ChM Should Know

downstairs, followed by Rab. I followed with a light;
but he didn't need it I went out, holding stupidly the
candle in my hand in the calm frosty air; we were soon at
the gate. I could have helped him, but I saw he was not
to be meddled with, and he was strong, and did not need
it. He laid her down as tenderly, as safely, as he had
lifted her out ten days before — as tenderly as when he had
her first in his arms when she was only "A. G." — sorted
her, leaving that beautiful sealed face open to the heavens;
and then taking Jess by the head, he moved away. He
did not notice me, neither did Rab, who presided behind
the cart.

I stood till they passed through the long shadow of the
College, and turned up Nicholson Street. I heard the
solitary cart sound through the streets, and die away and
come again; and I returned, thinking of that company
going up Libberton Brae, then along Roslin Muir, the
morning light touching the Pentlands and making them
like on-looking ghosts; then down the hill through Auchin-
dinny woods, past "haunted Woodhouselee"; and as day-
break came sweeping up the bleak Lammermuirs, and fell
on his own door, the company would stop, and James
would take the key, and lift Ailie up ag^^in, laying her on
her own bed, and, having put Jess up, would return with
Rab and shut the door.

James buried his wife, with his neighbours mourning,
Rab inspecting the solemnity from a distance. It was
snow, and that black ragged hole would look strange
in the midst of t^ swelling spotless cushion of white.
James looked after everything ; then rather suddenly
fell ill, and took to bed; was insensible when the doctor
came, and soon died. A sort of low fever was prevailing
in the village, and his want of sleep, his exhaustion, and



Digitized



by Google



Rob and his Friends aS?

his misery, made him apt to take it. Tie grave was not
difficult to reopen. A fresh fall of snow had again made
all things white and smooth; Rab once more looked on,
and slunk home to the stable.

And what of Rab? I asked for him next week of the
new carrier who got the goodwill of James's business, and
was now master of Jess and her cart. "How's Rab?"
He put me off, and said rather rudely, "What's your busi-
ness wi' the dowg ? " I was not to be so put off. " Where's
Rab?" He, getting confused and red, and intermeddling
with his hair, said, " 'Deed, su:, Rab's deid." "Dead!
what did he die of?" " Weel, sir," said he, getting redder,
"he didna exactly dee; he was killed. I had to brain him
wi' a rack-pin; there was nae doin' wi' him. He lay in
the treviss wi* the mear, and wadna come oot. I tempit
him wi' kail and meat, but he wad tak naething, and keepit
me frae feedin' the beast, and he was aye gur gurrin', and
grup gruppin' me by the legs. I was laith to make awa
wi' the auld dowg, his like wasna atween this and ThomhiU
— but, 'deed, sir, I could do naething else." I believed
him. Fit end for Rab, quick and complete. His teeth
and his friends gone, why should he keep the peace, and
be civil^



Digitized



by Google



XI

PETER RUGG, THE MISSING MAN*

SIR — ^Agreeably to my promise, I now relate to you all
the particulars of the lost man and child which I have
been able to collect. It is entirely owing to the hxunane
interest you seemed to take in the report, that I have pur^
sued the inquiry to the following result.

You may remember that business called me to Boston
in the sununer of 1820. I sailed in the packet to Providence,
and when I arrived there I learned that every seat in the
stage was engaged. I was thus obliged either to wait a
few hoiu^ or accept a seat with the driver, who civilly offered
me that accommodation. Accordingly I took my seat by
his side, and soon found him intelligent and conmiimicative.

When we had travelled about ten miles, the horses sud-
denly threw their ears on their necks, as flat as a hare's.
Said the driver, "Have you a surtout with you?" "No,'*
said I; "why do you ask?" "You will want one soon,'*
said he ; ' do you observe the ears of all the horses ? " " Yes,
und was just about to ask the reason." "They see the
ftorm-breeder, and we shall see him soon." At this moment
there was not a cloud visible in the firmament. Soon aftear
a small speck appeared in the road. "There," said my
companion, "comes the storm-breeder; he always leaver
a Scotch mist behind him. By many a wet jacket do I
remember him. I suppose the poor fellow suffers mucb^
himself, much more than is known to the world." Presently

• From Jonathan Dunwell of New York, to Mr. Herman Kranffi



Digitized



by Google



Peter Rugg, the Missing Man 289

a man with a chfld beside him, with a large black horse, and
a weather-beaten chair, once built for a chaise body, passed
in great haste, apparently at the rate of twelve miles an hour.
He seemed to grasp the reins of his horse with firmness,
and appeared to anticipate his speed. He seemed dejected,
and looked anxiously at the passengers, particularly at the
stage-driver and myself. In a moment after he passed us,
the horses' ears were up and bent themselves forward so
that they nearly met. **Who is that man?" said I; "he
seems in great trouble." "Nobody knows who is he, but
his person and the child are familiar to me. I have met
them more than a hundred times, and have been so often
asked the way to Boston by that man, even when he was
travelling directly from that town, that of late I have refused
any communication with him, and that is the reason he
gave me such a fixed look." "But does he never stop
anjnvhere?" "I have never known him to stop anywhere


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 21

Online LibraryHamilton Wright MabieFamous stories every child should know: a selection of the best stories of ... → online text (page 21 of 22)