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BESIDE THE BONNIE BRIER BUSH

By IAN MACLAREN




TO MY WIFE



'There grows a bonnie brier bush in our kail-yard,
And white are the blossoms on't in our kail-yard.'




CONTENTS


I. DOMSIE.

1. A LAD O' PAIRTS,

2. HOW WE CARRIED THE NEWS TO WHINNIE KNOWE

3. IN MARGET'S GARDEN

4. A SCHOLAR'S FUNERAL


II. A HIGHLAND MYSTIC.

1. WHAT EYE HATH NOT SEEN,

2. AGAINST PRINCIPALITIES AND POWERS,


III. HIS MOTHER'S SERMON,


IV. THE TRANSFORMATION OF LACHLAN CAMPBELL.

1. A GRAND INQUISITOR,

2. HIS BITTER SHAME,

3. LIKE AS A FATHER,

4. AS A LITTLE CHILD,


V. THE CUNNING SPEECH OF DRUMTOCHTY


VI. A WISE WOMAN.

1. OUR SERMON TASTER

2. THE COLLAPSE OF MRS. MACFADYEN


VII. A DOCTOR OF THE OLD SCHOOL

1. A GENERAL PRACTITIONER

2. THROUGH THE FLOOD

3. A FIGHT WITH DEATH

4. THE DOCTOR'S LAST JOURNEY

5. THE MOURNING OF THE GLEN




DOMSIE




I


A LAD O' PAIRTS

The Revolution reached our parish years ago, and Drumtochty has a
School Board, with a chairman and a clerk, besides a treasurer and
an officer. Young Hillocks, who had two years in a lawyer's office,
is clerk, and summons meetings by post, although he sees every
member at the market or the kirk. Minutes are read with much
solemnity, and motions to expend ten shillings upon a coal-cellar
door passed, on the motion of Hillocks, seconded by Drumsheugh, who
are both severely prompted for the occasion, and move uneasily
before speaking.

Drumsheugh was at first greatly exalted by his poll, and referred
freely on market days to his "plumpers," but as time went on the
irony of the situation laid hold upon him.

"Think o' you and me, Hillocks, veesitin' the schule and sittin' wi'
bukes in oor hands watchin' the Inspector. Keep's a', it's eneuch to
mak' the auld Dominie turn in his grave. Twa meenisters cam' in his
time, and Domsie put Geordie Hoo or some ither gleg laddie, that was
makin' for college, thro' his facin's, and maybe some bit lassie
brocht her copybuke. Syne they had their dinner, and Domsie tae, wi'
the Doctor. Man, a've often thocht it was the prospeck o' the Schule
Board and its weary bit rules that feenished Domsie. He wasna maybe
sae shairp at the elements as this pirjinct body we hae noo, but
a'body kent he was a terrible scholar and a credit tae the parish.
Drumtochty was a name in thae days wi' the lads he sent tae college.
It was maybe juist as weel he slippit awa' when he did, for he wud
hae taen ill with thae new fikes, and nae college lad to warm his
hert."

The present school-house stands in an open place beside the main
road to Muirtown, treeless and comfortless, built of red, staring
stone, with a playground for the boys and another for the girls, and
a trim, smug-looking teacher's house, all very neat and symmetrical,
and well regulated. The local paper had a paragraph headed
"Drumtochty," written by the Muirtown architect, describing the
whole premises in technical language that seemed to compensate the
ratepayers for the cost, mentioning the contractor's name, and
concluding that "this handsome building of the Scoto-Grecian style
was one of the finest works that had ever come from the accomplished
architect's hands." It has pitch-pine benches and map-cases, and a
thermometer to be kept at not less than 58 and not more than 62,
and ventilators which the Inspector is careful to examine. When I
stumbled in last week the teacher was drilling the children in Tonic
Sol-fa with a little harmonium, and I left on tiptoe.

It is difficult to live up to this kind of thing, and my thoughts
drift to the auld schule-house and Domsie. Some one with the love of
God in his heart had built it long ago, and chose a site for the
bairns in the sweet pine-woods at the foot of the cart road to
Whinnie Knowe and the upland farms. It stood in a clearing with the
tall Scotch firs round three sides, and on the fourth a brake of
gorse and bramble bushes, through which there was an opening to the
road. The clearing was the playground, and in summer the bairns
annexed as much wood as they liked, playing tig among the trees, or
sitting down at dinner-time on the soft, dry spines that made an
elastic carpet everywhere. Domsie used to say there were two
pleasant sights for his old eyes every day. One was to stand in the
open at dinner-time and see the flitting forms of the healthy, rosy
sonsie bairns in the wood, and from the door in the afternoon to
watch the schule skail till each group was lost in the kindly shadow,
and the merry shouts died away in this quiet place. Then the Dominie
took a pinch of snuff and locked the door, and went to his house
beside the school. One evening I came on him listening bare-headed
to the voices, and he showed so kindly that I shall take him as he
stands. A man of middle height, but stooping below it, with sandy
hair turning to grey, and bushy eye-brow covering keen, shrewd
grey eyes. You will notice that his linen is coarse but spotless,
and that, though his clothes are worn almost threadbare, they are
well brushed and orderly. But you will be chiefly arrested by the
Dominie's coat, for the like of it was not in the parish. It was a
black dress coat, and no man knew when it had begun its history; in
its origin and its continuance it resembled Melchisedek. Many were
the myths that gathered round that coat, but on this all were agreed,
that without it we could not have realised the Dominie, and it
became to us the sign and trappings of learning. He had taken a
high place at the University, and won a good degree, and I've heard
the Doctor say that he had a career before him. But something
happened in his life, and Domsie buried himself among the woods with
the bairns of Drumtochty. No one knew the story, but after he died I
found a locket on his breast, with a proud, beautiful face within,
and I have fancied it was a tragedy. It may have been in substitution
that he gave all his love to the children, and nearly all his money
too, helping lads to college, and affording an inexhaustible store
of peppermints for the little ones.

Perhaps one ought to have been ashamed of that school-house, but yet
it had its own distinction, for scholars were born there, and now
and then to this day some famous man will come and stand in the
deserted playground for a space. The door was at one end, and stood
open in summer, so that the boys saw the rabbits come out from their
holes on the edge of the wood, and birds sometimes flew in unheeded.
The fireplace was at the other end, and was fed in winter with the
sticks and peats brought by the scholars. On one side Domsie sat
with the half-dozen lads he hoped to send to college, to whom he
grudged no labour, and on the other gathered the very little ones,
who used to warm their bare feet at the fire, while down the sides
of the room the other scholars sat at their rough old desks, working
sums and copying. Now and then a class came up and did some task,
and at times a boy got the tawse for his negligence, but never a
girl. He kept the girls in as their punishment, with a brother to
take them home, and both had tea in Domsie's house, with a bit of
his best honey, departing much torn between an honest wish to please
Domsie and a pardonable longing for another tea.

"Domsie," as we called the schoolmaster, behind his back in
Drumtochty, because we loved him, was true to the tradition of his
kind, and had an unerring scent for "pairts" in his laddies. He
could detect a scholar in the egg, and prophesied Latinity from a
boy that seemed fit only to be a cowherd. It was believed that he
had never made a mistake in judgment, and it was not his blame if
the embryo scholar did not come to birth. "Five and thirty years
have I been minister at Drumtochty," the Doctor used to say at
school examinations, "and we have never wanted a student at the
University, and while Dominie Jamieson lives we never shall."
Whereupon Domsie took snuff, and assigned his share of credit to the
Doctor, "who gave the finish in Greek to every lad of them, without
money and without price, to make no mention of the higher mathematics."
Seven ministers, four schoolmasters, four doctors, one professor,
and three civil service men had been sent out by the auld schule
in Domsie's time, besides many that "had given themselves to
mercantile pursuits."

He had a leaning to classics and the professions, but Domsie was
catholic in his recognition of "pairts," and when the son of
Hillocks' foreman made a collection of the insects of Drumtochty,
there was a council at the manse. "Bumbee Willie," as he had been
pleasantly called by his companions, was rescued from ridicule and
encouraged to fulfil his bent. Once a year a long letter came to Mr.
Patrick Jamieson, M.A., Schoolmaster, Drumtochty, N.B., and the
address within was the British Museum. When Domsie read this letter
to the school, he was always careful to explain that "Dr. Graham is
the greatest living authority on beetles," and, generally speaking,
if any clever lad did not care for Latin, he had the alternative of
beetles.

But it was Latin Domsie hunted for as for fine gold, and when he
found the smack of it in a lad he rejoiced openly. He counted it a
day in his life when he knew certainly that he had hit on another
scholar, and the whole school saw the identification of George Howe.
For a winter Domsie had been "at point," racing George through
Caesar, stalking him behind irregular verbs, baiting traps with
tit-bits of Virgil. During these exercises Domsie surveyed George
from above his spectacles with a hope that grew every day in assurance,
and came to its height over a bit of Latin prose. Domsie tasted it
visibly, and read it again in the shadow of the firs at meal-time,
slapping his leg twice.

"He'll dae! he'll dae!" cried Domsie aloud, ladling in the snuff.
"George, ma mannie, tell yir father that I am comin' up to Whinnie
Knowe the nicht on a bit o' business."

Then the "schule" knew that Geordie Hoo was marked for college, and
pelted him with fir cones in great gladness of heart.

"Whinnie" was full of curiosity over the Dominie's visit, and vexed
Marget sorely, to whom Geordie had told wondrous things in the
milk-house.



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