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The Passing of Domsie by Ian Maclaren


It was an ancient custom that Domsie and Drumsheugh should dine with Doctor Davidson in the Manse after the distribution of prizes at the school, and his companions both agreed afterwards that the Dominie was never more cheerful than on those days. There was always a review of stories when the Doctor and Domsie brought out their favourites, with Drumsheugh for an impartial and appreciative audience, and every little addition or improvement was noted in a spirit of appreciative criticism.

During the active operations of dinner, talk was disjointed and educational, hinging on the prospects of the calf crop in the school, and the golden glories of the past, ever better than the present, when the end of each University session showered medals on Drumtochty. When the Doctor had smacked his first glass of port, having examined it against the light, and the others had prepared their toddy in a careful silence, broken only by wise suggestions from the host, it was understood that genuine conversation might begin.

"Aye, aye," Domsie would remark, by way of intimating that they, being now in an open and genial mind, were ready to welcome one of the Doctor's best stories, and Drumsheugh became insistent, "A'm no wantin' tae tribble ye, Docter, but ave never got ower that sermon on the turtle. Docter. Ye micht let's hear it again. A'm no sure gin the Dominie ever herd it" May Drumsheugh be forgiven!

Whereupon Domsie went on the back trail, and affected to search his memory for the traces of the turtle, with no satisfaction. May he also be forgiven!

"Toots, Drumsheugh, you are trying to draw my leg. I know you well, eh? As for you, Dominie, you've heard the story twenty times. Well, well, just to please you; but mind you, this is the last time.

"It was the beginning of a sermon that old MacFee, of Glenogil, used to preach on the Monday after the Sacrament from the text, 'The voice of the turtle is heard in the land,' and this was the introduction.

"There will be many wonders in the latter day; but this is the greatest of them all—the voice of the turtle shall be heard in the land. This marvel falls into two parts, which we shall consider briefly and in order.

"I. A new posture evidently implied, when an animal that has gone upon its belly for ages shall arise on its hind legs and walk majestically through the land, and

"II. A new voice distinctly promised, when a creature that has kept silence from generation to generation will at last open its mouth and sing melodiously among the people."

"It's michty," summed up Drumsheugh, after the exposition had been fully relished, "Ye'll no hear the like o' that noo-a-days in a coonty. It's weel telt also, and that's important, for the best story is no worth hearin' frae a puir hand The corn needs to be cleaned afore ye tak it tae market."

"The story is not without merit," and the Doctor's modesty was all the more striking as he was supposed to have brought the turtle into its present form out of the slenderest materials, "but the Dominie has some far neater things." Anything Domsie had was from Aberdeen, and not to be compared, he explained, with Perthshire work, being very dry and wanting the fruity flavour of the Midland County; but he could still recall the divisions of the action sermon given every year before the winter Sacrament in Bourtrie-Lister:

I. "Let us remember that there is a moral law in the universe."

II. "Let us be thankful there is a way of escape from it"

And then Domsie would chuckle with a keen sense of irony at the theology underneath. "For the summer Sacrament," he would add after a pause, "we had a discourse on sin wi' twa heads, 'Original Sin' and 'Actual Transgressions'; and after Maister Deuchar finished wi' the first, he aye snuffed, and said with great cheerfulness: 'Now let us proceed to actual transgressions.'"

Although Domsie's tales had never in them the body of the Doctor's, yet he told them with such a pawkie humour, that Drumsheugh was fain between the two to cry for mercy, being often reduced to the humiliation of open laughter, of which he was afterwards much ashamed.

On that day, however, when Domsie made his lamentable announcement, it was evident to his friends that he was cast down, and ill at ease. He only glanced at a Horace which the Doctor had been fool enough to buy in Edinburgh, and had treasured up for Domsie's delectation at the close of the school year—the kind of book he loved to handle, linger over, return to gaze at, for all the world like a Catholic with a relic.

"Printed, do you see, by Henry Stephen, of Paris; there's his trademark, a philosopher gathering twigs from the tree of knowledge—and bound by Boyet—old French morocco. There is a coat of arms—I take it of a peer of France;" and the Doctor, a born book-collector, showed all its points, as Drumsheugh would have expatiated on a three-year-old bullock.

Domsie could not quite resist the contagious enthusiasm; putting on his spectacles to test the printing; running his hand over the gold tooling as one strokes a horse's glossy skin, and tasting afresh one or two favourite verses from a Horace printed and bound by the master craftsmen of their day. But it was only a brief rally, and Domsie sank again into silence, from which neither kindly jest nor shrewd country talk could draw him, till at last the Doctor asked him a straight question, which was going far for us, who thought it the worst of manners to pry into one's secrets: "What ails you, Dominie? Are any of your laddies going back on you?" and the Doctor covered the inquiry by reminding Drumsheugh that his glass was low.

"Na, na; they are fechting hard wi' body and mind, an' daein' their verra best, accordin' tae their pairts. Some o' the Drumtochty scholars lived and some dee'd in the war at the University, but there wasna ane disgraced his pairish."

"They have made it known in every University of Scotland," broke in the Doctor, "and also their master's name."

"Ye've aye made ower mickle o' my wark, but a'm grateful this nicht an' content to tak' a' ye say in yir goodness, for a've sent oot ma last scholar," and Domsie's voice broke.

"Not a bit of it Man alive, you're fit for ten years yet, and as for laddies, I know four in the school that'll do you credit, or I'm not minister of Drumtochty."

"If it's the siller for their fees," began Drums-heugh, inwardly overcome by Domsie's unexpected breakdown.

Domsie waved his hand. "The laddies are there, and the twa or three notes 'ill be gotten as afore, but it 'ill no be me that 'ill feenish them."

"What is the meaning of this, Mister Jamieson?" demanded the Doctor sternly, for the woeful dejection of Domsie was telling on him also.

"It's been on ma mind for years to retire, an maybe I should hae dune it lang syne; but it was hard on flesh an' blude. I hev taught ma last class, and ye will need to get another Dominie," and Domsie, who was determined to play the man, made a show of filling his glass, with a shaking hand.

"Ye're an Aiberdeenshire man, a ken, though maist fouk hae forgotten that ye're no ain' o' oorsels, but div ye tell me that ye're gain' tae leave us after a' thae years an' a' the bairns ye've educat?" and Drumsheugh grew indignant "Dinna be feared, Drumsheugh, or think me ungrateful. I may gang north tae see ma birthplace aince mair, an' the graves o' ma fouk, an' there's another hoose in Aberdeen I would like tae see, and then I'm comin' back to Drumtochty to live an' dee here among the friends that hev been kind to me."

"This has come suddenly, Domsie, and is a little upsetting," and Drumsheugh noticed that the Doctor was shaken. "We have worked side by side for a long time, church and school, and I was hoping that there would be no change till—till we both retired altogether; we're about the same age. Can't you think over it—eh, Dominie?"

"God kens, Doctor, a dinna lik' the thocht o't, but it's for the gude o' the schule. A'm no hearing sae weel as aince a did, an' ma hands are shakin' in the writin'. The scholars are gettin' their due, for a'm no failin' in humanity (Latin), but the ither bairns are losing their share, and ma day's dune.

"Ye'ill just say that a'm retirin' an' thank a' body for their consideration, and, Doctor, a've juist a favour tae ask. Gin a new schule an' maister's hoose be built, will ye lat me get the auld ane; it 'ill no be worth much, an'... I wud like tae end ma days there."

"Whate'er you want, Domsie, and ye 'ill come to the Manse till it be free, and we 'ill have many a night among the classics, but... this is bad news for the Glen, come who may in your place," and then, though each man did his part bravely, it was a cheerless evening.

Next day Domsie left to make his pious pilgrimage, and on the Sabbath there was only one subject in the kirkyard.

"Div ye no think, neebours," said Hillocks, after a tribute had been paid to Domsie's services, "that he oucht tae get some bit testimonial? It wudna be wiselike tae let him slip oot o' the schule withoot a word frae the Glen."

Hillocks paused, but the fathers were so much astonished at Hillocks taking the initiative in expenditure that they waited for further speech.

"Noo, Pitscothrie is no a pairish tae pit beside Drumtochty for ae meenut, but when their Dominie gied up his post, if the bodies didna gather fifty pund for him; they ca'd it a purse o' sovereigns in the Advertiser, but that was juist a genteel name for't.

"A'm no sayin*," continued Hillocks, "that it wud be safe tae trust Domsie wi' as mickle siller at a time; he wud be off tae Edinburgh an' spend it on auld bukes, or may be divide it up amang his students. He's careless, is Domsie, an' inclined to be wastefu'; but we micht gie him somethin' tae keep."

"What wud ye say," suggested Whinnie, when the kirkyard was revolving the matter, "if we got him a coo 'at wud gie him milk and be a bit troke tae occupy his time? What he didna need cud be made into butter and sent tae Muirtown; it wud be a help."

"Ye have an oreeginal mind," said Jamie, who always on those occasions pitied the woman that was married to Whinnie, "an' a'm sure yir perposal 'll be remembered. Domsie feedin' his coo on the road-side, wi' a Latin buke in his hand, wud be interestin'."

"It's most aggravatin'," broke in Hillocks, who was much annoyed at the turn things had taken, "that ye winna gie me time tae feenish, an' 'ill set Domsie stravaging the roads at the tail o' a coo for his last days."

"It was Jamie," remonstrated Whinnie.

"Haud yir tongue." Hillocks felt the time was short, and he had an idea that must be ventilated. "A was considerin' that Domsie's snuff-box is gey far thro' wi't A'm judjin' it has seen thirty years, at on y rate, and it was naethin tae boast o' at the beginnin'. A've seen fresh hinges pit on it twice masel.

"Now, gin we bocht a snod bit silver boxie ain pit an inscription on't

Presented To


Late Schoolmaster Of Drumtochty,

By A Few Friends,

it wud be usefu' for ae thing, it wud be bonnie for anither, aye, an' something mair," and Hillocks grew mysterious.

"A legacy, div ye mean," inquired Jamie, "or what are ye aifter?"

"Weel, ye see," exclaimed Hillocks with much cunning, "there's a man in Kildrummie got a box frae his customers, an' it's never oot o' his hand. When he taps the lid ye can see him reading the inscription, and he's a way o' passin' it tae ye on the slant that's downricht clever. Ye canna help seein' the words."

"Gin we were thinkin' aboot a present tae a coal agent or a potato dealer," said Jamie, "I wud hae the box wi' the words, but Domsie's a queer body, an' a'm jalousin' that he wud never use yir grand silver box frae the day he got it, an' a'm dootin' it micht be sold fer some laddie to get him better keep at the college.

"Besides," continued Jamie thoughtfully, "a'm no sure that ony man can tak up wi' a new box after fifty. He's got accustomed tae the grip o' the auld box, and he kens whar tae pit in his thumb and finger. A coont that it taks aboot fifteen year tae grow into a snuff-box.

"There's juist ae thing Domsie cares aboot, an' it's naither meat nor drink, nor siller snuffboxes; it's his college laddies, gettin' them forrit and payin' their fees, an' haudin' them in life till they're dune."

By this time the kirkyard was listening as one man and with both ears, for it was plain Jamie had an idea.

"Ca' on, Jamie," encouraged Drumsheugh, who had as yet given no sign.

"He's hed his ain time, hes Domsie, gaein' roond Muirtown market collectin' the bank notes for his scholars an' seein' they hed their bukes' A'm no denyin* that Domsie was greedy in his ain way, and gin the Glen cud gither eneuch money tae foond a bit bursary for puir scholars o' Drumtochty, a wudna say but that he micht be pleased."

The matter was left in Drumsheugh's hands, with Doctor Davidson as consulting counsel, and he would tell nothing for a fortnight. Then they saw in the Dunleith train that he was charged with tidings, and a meeting was held at the junction, Peter being forbidden to mention time, and commanded to take the outcasts of Kildrummie up by themselves if they couldn't wait.

"The first man a mentioned it tae was oor Saunders, an' he said naethin' at the time, but he cam up in the forenicht, and slippit a note in ma hand. 'He didna pit mickle intae me,' says he, 'but he's daein' fine wi' the bairns. Neebur, a kent that meenut that the Glen wud dae something handsome.

"Next morning a gied a cry at the Free Manse, and telt Maister Carmichael. If he was na oot o' the room like a man possessed, and he gied me every penny he hed in the hoose, ten pund five shilling. And at the gate he waved his hat in the air, and cries, 'The Jamieson Bursary.'

"It was ae note from one man an' three frae his neebur, an' twa shilling frae the cottars. Abody has dune his pairt, one hundred an' ninety-two pounds frae the Glen.

"We sent a bit letter tae the Drumtochty fouk in the Sooth, and they've sent fifty-eight pounds, wi' mony good wishes, an' what na think ye hev the auld scholars sent? A hundred and forty pounds. An' last nicht we hed three hundred and ninety pounds."

"Ma word!" was all Hillocks found himself able to comment; "that wad get a richt snuffbox."

"Ye hev mair tae tell, Drumsheugh," said Jamie; "feenish the list"

"Ye're a wratch, Jamie," responded the treasurer of the Jamieson Bursary Fund. "Hoo did ye ken aboot the Doctor? says he tae me laist nicht, 'Here's a letter to Lord Kilspindie. Give it to him at Muirtown, and I would not say but he might make the sum up to four hundred.' So a saw his lordship in his room, and he wrote a cheque and pit in a letter, an' says he, 'Open that in the Bank, Drumsheugh,' an' a did. It was for ten pounds, wi' a hundred on tae't, making up £500. Twenty pund a year tae a Drumtochty scholar for ever. Jamie," said Drumsheugh, "ye've gotten yir bursary."

It was arranged that the meeting of celebration should be held in the parish kirk, which in those days was used for nothing except Divine worship; but the Doctor declared this to be no exception to his rule.

"Kirk and school have been one in Scotland since John Knox's day, and one they shall be while I live in Drumtochty; we 'ill honour him in the kirk, for the good the Dominie has done to the bairns, and to pure learning."

The meeting was delayed till Professor Ross had come home from Australia, with his F.R.S. and all his other honours, for he was marked out to make the presentation; and every Drumtochty scholar within reach was enjoined to attend.

They came from Kildrummie at various hours and in many conveyances, and Hillocks checked the number at the bridge with evident satisfaction.

"Atween yesterday and the day," he reported to Jamie, in the afternoon, "aucht and twenty scholars hae passed, no including the Professor, and there's fower expected by the next train; they'll just be in time," which they were, to everybody's delight.

"It's a gude thing, Hillocks," said Jamie, "that bridge was mended; there's been fifty degrees gane over it the day, Hillocks! to say naithin' o' a wecht o' knowledge."

The Doctor had them all, thirty-three University men, with Domsie and Carmichael and Weelum MacLure, as good a graduate as any man, to dinner, and for that end had his barn wonderfully prepared. Some of the guests have written famous books since then, some are great preachers now, some are chief authorities to science, some have never been heard of beyond a little sphere, some are living, and some are dead; but all have done their part, and each man that night showed, by the grip of his hand, and the look on his face, that he knew where his debt was due.

Domsie sat on the Doctor's right hand, and the Professor on his left, and a great effort was made at easy conversation, Domsie asking the Professor three times whether he had completely recovered from the fever which had frightened them all so much in the Glen, and the Professor congratulating the Doctor at intervals on the decorations of the dinner hall. Domsie pretended to eat, and declared he had never made so hearty a dinner in his life, but his hands could hardly hold the knife and fork, and he was plainly going over the story of each man at the table, while the place rang with reminiscences of the old school among the pines.

Before they left the barn, Doctor Davidson proposed Domsie's health, and the laddies—all laddies that day—drank it, some in wine, some in water, every man from the heart, and then one of them—they say it was a quiet divine—started, In face of Doctor Davidson, "For he's a jolly good fellow," and there are those who now dare to say that the Doctor joined in with much gusto, but in these days no man's reputation is safe.

Domsie was not able to say much, but he said more than could have been expected. He called them his laddies for the last time, and thanked them for the kindness they were doing their old master. There was not an honour any one of them had won, from a prize in the junior Humanity to the last degree, he could not mention.

Before sitting down he said that they all missed George Howe that day, and that Marget, his mother, had sent her greetings to the scholars.

Then they went to the kirk, where Drumtochty was waiting, and as Domsie came in with his laddies round him the people rose, and would have cheered had they been elsewhere and some one had led. The Doctor went into the precentor's desk and gave out the hundredth psalm, which is ever sung on great days and can never be sung dry. After which one of the thirty-three thanked the Almighty for all pure knowledge, all good books, all faithful teachers, and besought peace and joy for "our dear master in the evening of his days."

It was the Professor who read the address from the scholars, and this was the last paragraph:

"Finally, we assure you that none of us can ever forget the parish school of Drumtochty, or fail to hold in tender remembrance the master who first opened to us the way of knowledge, and taught us the love thereof.

"We are, so long as we live,

"Your grateful and affectionate


Then came the names with all the degrees, and the congregation held their breath to the last M.A.

"Now, Drumsheugh," said the Doctor, and that worthy man made the great speech of his life, expressing the respect of the Glen for Domsie, assigning the glory of a brilliant idea to Jamie Soutar, relating its triumphant accomplishment, describing the Jamieson Bursary, and declaring that while the parish lasted there would be a Jamieson scholar to the honour of Domsie's work. For a while Domsie's voice was very shaky when he was speaking about himself, but afterwards it grew strong and began to vibrate, as he implored the new generation to claim their birthright of learning and to remember that "the poorest parish, though it have but bare fields and humble homes, can yet turn out scholars to be a strength and credit to the commonwealth."

The Professor saw Domsie home, and noticed that he was shaking and did not wish to speak. He said good-bye at the old schoolhouse, and Ross caught him repeating to himself:

"Eheu fugaces, Postume, Postume,
Labuntur anni;"

but he seemed very content Ross rose at daybreak next morning and wandered down to the schoolhouse, recalling at every step his boyhood and early struggles, the goodness of Domsie, and his life of sacrifice, The clearing looked very peaceful, and the sun touched with beauty the old weather-beaten building which had been the nursery of so many scholars, but which would soon be deserted for ever. He pushed the door open and started to see Domsie seated at the well-known desk, and in his right hand firmly clasped the address which the scholars had presented to him. His spectacles were on his forehead, his left elbow was resting on the arm of the chair, and Ross recognised the old look upon his face. It used to come like a flash when a difficult passage had suddenly yielded up its hidden treasure, and Ross knew that Domsie had seen the Great Secret, and was at last and completely satisfied.