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There was a carrier's cart ready to start, and a keen, thin, impatient, black-a-vised little man, his hand at his gray horse's head, looking about angrily for something. “Rab, ye thief !” said he, aiming a kick at my great friend, who drew cringing up, and avoiding the heavy shoe with more agility than dignity, and watching his master's eye, slunk dismayed under the cart, - his ears down, and as much as he had of tail down too.
What a man this must be thought I — to whom my tremendous hero turns tail! The carrier saw the muzzle hanging, cut and useless, from his neck, and I eagerly told him the story, which Bob and I always thought, and still think, Homer, or King David, or Sir Walter alone were worthy to rehearse.
The severe little man was mitigated, and condescended to say, “Rab, my man, puir Rabbie,” — whereupon the stump of a tail rose up, the ears were cocked, the eyes filled, and were comforted; the two friends were reconciled.
Hupp!” and a stroke of the whip were given to Jess, and off went the three.
Bob and I buried the Game Chicken that night (we had not much of a tea) in the back-green of his house in Melville Street, No. 17, with considerable gravity and silence; and being at the time in the Iliad, and, like all boys, Trojans, we called him Hector, of course.
Six years have passed, a long time for a boy and a dog: Bob Ainslie is off to the wars; I am a medical student, and clerk at Minto House Hospital.
Rab I saw almost every week, on the Wednesday, and we had much pleasant intimacy. I found the
way to his 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 bud of a tail, and looking up, with his head a little to the one side. His master I occasionally saw; he used to call me “Maister John,” but was laconic as any Spartan.
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 carrier 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 thinking.”
By this time I saw the woman's face; she was sitting on a sack filled with straw, her husband's plaid round her, and his big-coat, with its large white metal buttons, over her feet.
I never saw a more unforgetable 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, full of suffering, full also of the overcoming of it: her eyebrows black and delicate, and her mouth
1 It is not easy giving this look by one word ; it was expressive of her being so much of her life alone. – J. B.
firm, patient, and contented, which few mouths ever are. As I have said, I never saw a
more beautiful countenance, 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 gate, he could not have done it more 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 anything 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 eying all three. What could I
y? 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 burden?
I got her away to bed. “May Rab and me bide ?" said James. “ You may; and Rab, if he will behave himself.” 66 I’se warrant he's do that, doctor; and in slank the faithful 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 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 - gleaming out of his jaws of dark
His head was scarred with the records of old wounds, a sort of series of fields of battle all over it; one eye out, one ear cropped as close 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 unfurling 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 very funny and surprising, and its expressive twinklings and winkings, the intercommunications between the
and it, were of the oddest and swiftest.
Rab had the dignity and simplicity of great size; and having fought his way all along the road to absolute supremacy, he was as mighty in his own line as
Julius Cæsar 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, menacing, 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 — she should have it done. She curtsied, looked at James, and said, “ When?” “ Tomorrow,” said the kind surgeon, a man of few words. She and James and Rab and I retired. I noticed that he and she spoke little, but seemed to anticipate everything in each other. The following day,
1 A Highland game-keeper, when asked why a certain terrier, of singular pluck, was so much more solemn than the other dogs, said, “Oh, sir, life's full o'sairiousness to him, - he just never can get enuff o' fechtin'." - J. B.
2 Fuller was in early life, when a farmer lad at Soham, famous as a boxer; not quarrelsome, but not without “the stern delight” a man of strength and courage feels in their exercise. Dr. Charles Stewart, of Dunearn, whose rare gifts and graces as a physician, a divine, a scholar, and a gentleman, live only in the memory of those few who knew and survive him, liked to tell how Mr. Fuller used to say that, when he was in the pulpit and saw a buirdly man come along the passage, he would instinctively draw himself up, measure his imaginary antagonist, and forecast how he would deal with him, his hands meanwhile condensing into fists, and tending to “ square.” He must have been a hard hitter, if he boxed as he preached, - what “The Fancy” would call " an ugly customer.” – J. B.