Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


Presence Of Mind And Happy Guessing
by [?]

We must not only have wisdom, which is knowledge assimilated and made our own, but we must, as the Lancashire men say and do, have wit to use it. We may carry a nugget of gold in our pocket, or a L100 bank-note, but unless we can get it changed, it is of little use, and we must moreover have the coin of the country we are in. This want of presence of mind, and having your wits about you, is as fatal to a surgeon as to a general.

That wise little man, Dr. Henry Marshall, little in body but not little in mind, in brain, and in worth, used to give an instance of this. A young, well-educated surgeon, attached to a regiment quartered at Musselburgh, went out professionally with two officers who were in search of “satisfaction.” One fell shot in the thigh, and in half an hour after he was found dead, the surgeon kneeling pale and grim over him, with his two thumbs sunk in his thigh below the wound, the grass steeped in blood. If he had put them two inches higher, or extemporized a tourniquet with his sash and the pistol’s ramrod and a stone, he might have saved his friend’s life and his own–for he shot himself that night.

Here is another. Robbie Watson, whom I now see walking mildly about the streets–having taken to coal–was driver of the Dumfries coach by Biggar. One day he had changed horses, and was starting down a steep hill, with an acute turn at the foot, when he found his wheelers, two new horses, utterly ignorant of backing. They got furious, and we outside got alarmed. Robbie made an attempt to pull up, and then with an odd smile took his whip, gathered up his reins, and lashed the entire four into a gallop. If we had not seen his face we would have thought him a maniac; he kept them well together, and shot down like an arrow, as far as we could see to certain destruction. Right in front at the turn was a stout gate into a field, shut; he drove them straight at that, and through we went, the gate broken into shivers, and we finding ourselves safe, and the very horses enjoying the joke. I remember we emptied our pockets into Robbie’s hat, which he had taken off to wipe his head. Now, in a few seconds all this must have passed through his head–“that horse is not a wheeler, nor that one either; we’ll come to mischief; there’s the gate; yes, I’ll do it.” And he did it; but then he had to do it with his might; he had to make it impossible for his four horses to do anything but toss the gate before them.

Here is another case. Dr. Reid of Peebles, long famous in the end of last and beginning of this century, as the Doctor of Tweeddale; a man of great force of character, and a true Philip, a lover of horses, saw one Fair day a black horse, entire, thoroughbred. The groom asked a low price, and would answer no questions. At the close of the fair the doctor bought him, amid the derision of his friends. Next morning he rode him up Tweed, came home after a long round, and had never been better carried. This went on for some weeks; the fine creature was without a fault. One Sunday morning, he was posting up by Neidpath at a great pace, the country people trooping into the town to church. Opposite the fine old castle, the thorough-bred stood stock still, and it needed all the doctor’s horsemanship to counteract the law of projectiles; he did, and sat still, and not only gave no sign of urging the horse, but rather intimated that it was his particular desire that he should stop. He sat there a full hour, his friends making an excellent joke of it, and he declining, of course, all interference. At the end of the hour, the Black Duke, as he was called, turned one ear forward, then another, looked aside, shook himself, and moved on, his master intimating that this was exactly what he wished; and from that day till his death, some fifteen years after, never did these two friends allude to this little circumstance, and it was never repeated; though it turned out that he had killed his two men previously. The doctor must have, when he got him, said to himself, “if he is not stolen there is a reason for his paltry price,” and he would go over all the possibilities. So that when he stood still, he would say, “Ah, this is it;” but then he saw this at once, and lost no time, and did nothing. Had he given the horse one dig with his spurs, or one cut with his whip, or an impatient jerk with his bit, the case would have failed. When a colt it had been brutally used, and being nervous, it lost its judgment, poor thing, and lost its presence of mind.