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- Rab and His Friends - 1/4 -
RAB AND HIS FRIENDS
BY JOHN BROWN, M.D.
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY HERMANN SIMON AND EDMUND H. GARRETT.
Four years ago, my uncle, the Rev. Dr. Smith of Biggar, asked me to give a lecture in my native village, the shrewd little capital of the Upper Ward. I never lectured before; I have no turn for it; but Avunculus was urgent, and I had an odd sort of desire to say something to these strong-brained, primitive people of my youth, who were boys and girls when I left them. I could think of nothing to give them. At last I said to myself, "I'll tell them Ailie's story." I had often told it to myself; indeed, it came on me at intervals almost painfully, as if demanding to be told, as if I heard Rab whining at the door to get in or out,--
"Whispering how meek and gentle he could be,"--
or as if James was entreating me on his death-bed to tell all the world what his Ailie was. But it was easier said than done. I tried it over and over, in vain. At last, after a happy dinner at Hanley--why are the dinners always happy at Hanley?--and a drive home alone through
"The gleam, the shadow, and the peace supreme"
of a midsummer night, I sat down about twelve and rose at four, having finished it. I slunk off to bed, satisfied and cold. I don't think I made almost any changes in it. I read it to the Biggar folk in the school-house, very frightened, and felt I was reading it ill, and their honest faces intimated as much in their affectionate puzzled looks. I gave it on my return home to some friends, who liked the story; and the first idea was to print it, as now, with illustrations, on the principle of Rogers's joke, "that it would be dished except for the plates."
But I got afraid of the public, and paused. Meanwhile, some good friend said Rab might be thrown in among the other idle hours, and so he was; and it is a great pleasure to me to think how many new friends he got.
I was at Biggar the other day, and some of the good folks told me, with a grave smile peculiar to that region, that when Rab came to them in print he was so good that they wouldn't believe he was the same Rab I had delivered in the school-room,--a testimony to my vocal powers of impressing the multitude somewhat conclusive.
I need not add that this little story is, in all essentials, true, though, if I were Shakespeare, it might be curious to point out where Phantasy tried her hand, sometimes where least suspected.
It has been objected to it as a work of art that there is too much pain; and many have said to me, with some bitterness, "Why did you make me suffer so?" But I think of my father's answer when I told him this: "And why shouldn't they suffer? SHE suffered; it will do them good; for pity, genuine pity, is, as old Aristotle says, 'of power to purge the mind.'" And though in all works of art there should be a plus of delectation, the ultimate overcoming of evil and sorrow by good and joy,--the end of all art being pleasure,--whatsoever things are lovely first, and things that are true and of good report afterwards in their turn,--still there is a pleasure, one of the strangest and strongest in our nature, in imaginative suffering with and for others,--
"In the soothing thoughts that spring Out of human suffering;"
for sympathy is worth nothing, is, indeed, not itself, unless it has in it somewhat of personal pain. It is the hereafter that gives to
"the touch of a vanished hand, And the sound of a voice that is still,"
its own infinite meaning. Our hearts and our understandings follow Ailie and her "ain man" into that world where there is no pain, where no one says, "I am sick." What is all the philosophy of Cicero, the wailing of Catullus, and the gloomy playfulness of Horace's variations on "Let us eat and drink," with its terrific "for," to the simple faith of the carrier and his wife in "I am the resurrection and the Life"?
I think I can hear from across the fields of sleep and other years Ailie's sweet, dim, wandering voice trying to say,--
Our bonnie bairn's there, John, She was baith gude and fair, John, And we grudged her sair, John, To the land o' the leal.
But sorrow's sel' wears past, John, The joys are comin' fast, John, The joys that aye shall last, John, In the land o' the leal.
[Illustration: a cherub]
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
Portrait, Dr. John Brown . . . . . . . Frontispiece.
Rab . . . . . . . . Hermann Simon
"He is muzzled!". . . . . Hermann Simon
"He lifted down Ailie his wife" . . . Edmund H. Garrett
"One look at her quiets the students" . . Edmund H. Garrett
"Rab looked perplexed and dangerous" . . Hermann Simon
"--And passed away so gently" . . Edmund H. Garrett
"Down the hill through Auchindinny woods" Edmund H. Garrett
Rab and Jess . . . . . . Hermann Simon
RAB AND HIS FRIENDS.
Four-and-thirty years ago, Bob Ainslie and I were coming up Infirmary Street from the High School, our heads together, and our arms intertwisted, as only lovers and boys know how, or why.
When we got to the top of the street, and turned north, we espied a crowd at the Tron Church. "A dog-fight!" shouted Bob, and was off; and so was I, both of us all but praying that it might not be over before we got up! And is not this boy-nature? and human nature too? and don't we all wish a house on fire not to be out before we see it? Dogs like fighting; old Isaac says they "delight" in it, and for the best of all reasons; and boys are not cruel because they like to see the fight. They see three of the great cardinal virtues of dog or man--courage, endurance, and skill--in intense action. This is very different from a love of making dogs fight, and enjoying, and aggravating, and making gain by their pluck. A boy,--be he ever so fond himself of fighting,--if he be a good boy, hates and despises all this, but he would have run off with Bob and me fast enough: it is a natural, and a not wicked interest, that all boys and men have in witnessing intense energy in action.
Does any curious and finely-ignorant woman wish to know how Bob's eye at a glance announced a dog-fight to his brain? He did not, he could not, see the dogs fighting: it was a flash of an inference, a rapid induction. The crowd round a couple of dogs fighting is a crowd masculine mainly, with an occasional active, compassionate woman fluttering wildly round the outside and using her tongue and her hands freely upon the men, as so many "brutes;" it is a crowd annular, compact, and mobile; a crowd centripetal, having its eyes and its heads all bent downwards and inwards, to one common focus.
Well, Bob and I are up, and find it is not over: a small thoroughbred white bull terrier is busy throttling a large shepherd's dog, unaccustomed to war, but not to be trifled with. They are hard at it; the scientific little fellow doing his work in great style, his pastoral enemy fighting wildly, but with the sharpest of teeth and a great courage. Science and breeding, however, soon had their own; the Game Chicken, as the premature Bob called him, working his way up, took his final grip of poor Yarrow's throat,--and he lay gasping and done for. His master, a brown, handsome, big young shepherd from Tweedsmuir, would have liked to have knocked down any man, would "drink up Esil, or eat a crocodile," for that part, if he had a chance: it was no use kicking the little dog; that would only make him hold the closer. Many were the means shouted out in mouthfuls, of the best possible ways of ending it. "Water!" but there was none near, and many cried for it who might have got it from the well at Blackfriar's Wynd. "Bite the tail!" and a large, vague, benevolent, middle-aged man, more desirous than wise, with some struggle got the bushy end of Yarrow's tail into his ample mouth, and bit it with all his might. This was more than enough for the much- enduring, much-perspiring shepherd, who, with a gleam of joy over his broad visage, delivered a terrific facer upon our large, vague, benevolent, middle-aged friend,--who went down like a shot.
Still the Chicken holds; death not far off. "Snuff! a pinch of snuff!" observed a calm, highly-dressed young buck, with an eye-glass in his eye. "Snuff, indeed!" growled the angry crowd, affronted and glaring. "Snuff! a pinch of snuff!" again observes the buck, but with more urgency; whereon were produced several open boxes, and from a mull which may have been at Culloden he took a pinch, knelt down, and presented it to the nose of the Chicken. The laws of physiology and of snuff take their course; the Chicken sneezes, and Yarrow is free!
The young pastoral giant stalks off with Yarrow in his arms, comforting him.
But the Bull Terrier's blood is up, and his soul unsatisfied; he grips the first dog he meets, and discovering she is not a dog, in Homeric phrase, he makes a brief sort of amende, and is off. The boys, with Bob and me at their head, are after him: down Niddry Street he goes, bent on
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