By Eleanor Atkinson
When the time-gun boomed from Edinburgh Castle, Bobby gave a startled yelp. He was only a little country dog—the very youngest and smallest and shaggiest of Skye terriers—bred on a heathery slope of the Pentland hills, where the loudest sound was the bark of a collie or the tinkle of a sheep-bell. That morning he had come to the weekly market with Auld Jock, a farm laborer, and the Grassmarket of the Scottish capital lay in the narrow valley at the southern base of Castle Crag. Two hundred feet above it the time-gun was mounted in the half-moon battery on an overhanging, crescent-shaped ledge of rock. In any part of the city the report of the one-o'clock gun was sufficiently alarming, but in the Grassmarket it was an earth-rending explosion directly overhead. It needed to be heard but once there to be registered on even a little dog's brain. Bobby had heard it many times, and he never failed to yelp a sharp protest at the outrage to his ears; but, as the gunshot was always followed by a certain happy event, it started in his active little mind a train of pleasant associations.
In Bobby's day of youth, and that was in 1858, when Queen Victoria was a happy wife and mother, with all her bairns about her knees in Windsor or Balmoral, the Grassmarket of Edinburgh was still a bit of the Middle Ages, as picturesquely decaying and Gothic as German Nuremberg. Beside the classic corn exchange, it had no modern buildings. North and south, along its greatest length, the sunken quadrangle was faced by tall, old, timber-fronted houses of stone, plastered like swallows' nests to the rocky slopes behind them.
Across the eastern end, where the valley suddenly narrowed to the ravine-like street of the Cowgate, the market was spanned by the lofty, crowded arches of George IV Bridge. This high-hung, viaduct thoroughfare, that carried a double line of buildings within its parapet, leaped the gorge, from the tall, old, Gothic rookeries on High Street ridge, just below the Castle esplanade. It cleared the roofs of the tallest, oldest houses that swarmed up the steep banks from the Cowgate, and ran on, by easy descent, to the main gateway of Greyfriars kirkyard at the lower top of the southern rise.
Greyfriars' two kirks formed together, under one continuous roof, a long, low, buttressed building without tower or spire. The new kirk was of Queen Anne's day, but the old kirk was built before ever the Pilgrims set sail for America. It had been but one of several sacred buildings, set in a monastery garden that sloped pleasantly to the open valley of the Grassmarket, and looked up the Castle heights unhindered. In Bobby's day this garden had shrunk to a long, narrow, high-piled burying-ground, that extended from the rear of the line of buildings that fronted on the market, up the slope, across the hilltop, and to where the land began to fall away again, down the Burghmuir. From the Grassmarket, kirk and kirkyard lay hidden behind and above the crumbling grandeur of noble halls and mansions that had fallen to the grimiest tenements of Edinburgh's slums. From the end of the bridge approach there was a glimpse of massive walls, of pointed windows, and of monumental tombs through a double-leafed gate of wrought iron, that was alcoved and wedged in between the ancient guildhall of the candlemakers and a row of prosperous little shops in Greyfriars Place.
A rock-rimmed quarry pit, in the very heart of Old Edinburgh, the Grassmarket was a place of historic echoes. The yelp of a little dog there would scarce seem worthy of record. More in harmony with its stirring history was the report of the time-gun. At one o'clock every day, there was a puff of smoke high up in the blue or gray or squally sky, then a deafening crash and a back fire fusillade of echoes. The oldest frequenter of the market never got used to it. On Wednesday, as the shot broke across the babel of shrill bargaining, every man in the place jumped, and not one was quicker of recovery than wee Bobby. Instantly ashamed, as an intelligent little dog who knew the import of the gun should be, Bobby denied his alarm in a tiny pink yawn of boredom. Then he went briskly about his urgent business of finding Auld Jock.
The market was closed. In five minutes the great open space was as empty of living men as Greyfriars kirkyard on a week-day. Drovers and hostlers disappeared at once into the cheap and noisy entertainment of the White Hart Inn that fronted the market and set its squalid back against Castle Rock. Farmers rapidly deserted it for the clean country. Dwellers in the tenements darted up wynds and blind closes, climbed twisting turnpike stairs to windy roosts under the gables, or they scuttled through noble doors into foul courts and hallways. Beggars and pickpockets swarmed under the arches of the bridge, to swell the evil smelling human river that flowed at the dark and slimy bottom of the Cowgate.
A chill November wind tore at the creaking iron cross of the Knights of St. John, on the highest gable of the Temple tenements, that turned its decaying back on the kirkyard of the Greyfriars. Low clouds were tangled and torn on the Castle battlements. A few horses stood about, munching oats from feed-boxes. Flocks of sparrows fluttered down from timbered galleries and rocky ledges to feast on scattered grain. Swallows wheeled in wide, descending spirals from mud villages under the cornices to catch flies. Rats scurried out of holes and gleaned in the deserted corn exchange. And 'round and 'round the empty market-place raced the frantic little terrier in search of Auld Jock.
Bobby knew, as well as any man, that it was the dinner hour. With the time-gun it was Auld Jock's custom to go up to a snug little restaurant; that was patronized chiefly by the decent poor small shopkeepers, clerks, tenant farmers, and medical students living in cheap lodgings—in Greyfriars Place. There, in Ye Olde Greyfriars Dining-Rooms, owned by Mr. John Traill, and four doors beyond the kirkyard gate, was a cozy little inglenook that Auld Jock and Bobby had come to look upon as their own. At its back, above a recessed oaken settle and a table, a tiny paned window looked up and over a retaining wall into the ancient place of the dead.
The view of the heaped-up and crowded mounds and thickets of old slabs and throughstones, girt all about by time-stained monuments and vaults, and shut in on the north and east by the backs of shops and lofty slum tenements, could not be said to be cheerful. It suited Auld Jock, however, for what mind he had was of a melancholy turn. From his place on the floor, between his master's hob-nailed boots, Bobby could not see the kirkyard, but it would not, in any case, have depressed his spirits. He did not know the face of death and, a merry little ruffian of a terrier, he was ready for any adventure.
On the stone gate pillar was a notice in plain English that no dogs were permitted in Greyfriars. As well as if he could read, Bobby knew that the kirkyard was forbidden ground. He had learned that by bitter experience. Once, when the little wicket gate that held the two tall leaves ajar by day, chanced to be open, he had joyously chased a cat across the graves and over the western wall onto the broad green lawn of Heriot's Hospital.
There the little dog's escapade bred other mischief, for Heriot's Hospital was not a hospital at all, in the modern English sense of being a refuge for the sick. Built and christened in a day when a Stuart king reigned in Holyrood Palace, and French was spoken in the Scottish court, Heriot's was a splendid pile of a charity school, all towers and battlements, and cheerful color, and countless beautiful windows. Endowed by a beruffed and doubleted goldsmith, "Jinglin' Geordie" Heriot, who had "nae brave laddie o' his ain," it was devoted to the care and education of "puir orphan an' faderless boys." There it had stood for more than two centuries, in a spacious park, like the country-seat of a Lowland laird, but hemmed in by sordid markets and swarming slums. The region round about furnished an unfailing supply of "puir orphan an' faderless boys" who were as light-hearted and irresponsible as Bobby.
Hundreds of the Heriot laddies were out in the noon recess, playing cricket and leap-frog, when Bobby chased that unlucky cat over the kirkyard wall. He could go no farther himself, but the laddies took up the pursuit, yelling like Highland clans of old in a foray across the border. The unholy din disturbed the sacred peace of the kirkyard. Bobby dashed back, barking furiously, in pure exuberance of spirits. He tumbled gaily over grassy hummocks, frisked saucily around terrifying old mausoleums, wriggled under the most enticing of low-set table tombs and sprawled, exhausted, but still happy and noisy, at Auld Jock's feet.
It was a scandalous thing to happen in any kirkyard! The angry caretaker was instantly out of his little stone lodge by the gate and taking Auld Jock sharply to task for Bobby's misbehavior. The pious old shepherd, shocked himself and publicly disgraced, stood, bonnet in hand, humbly apologetic. Seeing that his master was getting the worst of it, Bobby rushed into the fray, an animated little muff of pluck and fury, and nipped the caretaker's shins. There was a howl of pain, and a "maist michty" word that made the ancient tombs stand aghast. Master and dog were hustled outside the gate and into a rabble of jeering slum gamin.
What a to-do about a miserable cat! To Bobby there was no logic at all in the denouement to this swift, exciting drama. But he understood Auld Jock's shame and displeasure perfectly. Good-tempered as he was gay and clever, the little dog took his punishment meekly, and he remembered it. Thereafter, he passed the kirk yard gate decorously. If he saw a cat that needed harrying he merely licked his little red chops—the outward sign of a desperate self-control. And, a true sport, he bore no malice toward the caretaker.
During that first summer of his life Bobby learned many things. He learned that he might chase rabbits, squirrels and moor-fowl, and sea-gulls and whaups that came up to feed in plowed fields. Rats and mice around byre and dairy were legitimate prey; but he learned that he must not annoy sheep and sheep-dogs, nor cattle, horses and chickens. And he discovered that, unless he hung close to Auld Jock's heels, his freedom was in danger from a wee lassie who adored him. He was no lady's lap-dog. From the bairnie's soft cosseting he aye fled to Auld Jock and the rough hospitality of the sheep fold. Being exact opposites in temperaments, but alike in tastes, Bobby and Auld Jock were inseparable. In the quiet corner of Mr. Traill's crowded dining-room they spent the one idle hour of the week together, happily. Bobby had the leavings of a herring or haddie, for a rough little Skye will eat anything from smoked fish to moor-fowl eggs, and he had the tidbit of a farthing bone to worry at his leisure. Auld Jock smoked his cutty pipe, gazed at the fire or into the kirk-yard, and meditated on nothing in particular.
In some strange way that no dog could understand, Bobby had been separated from Auld Jock that November morning. The tenant of Cauldbrae farm had driven the cart in, himself, and that was unusual. Immediately he had driven out again, leaving Auld Jock behind, and that was quite outside Bobby's brief experience of life. Beguiled to the lofty and coveted driver's seat where, with lolling tongue, he could view this interesting world between the horse's ears, Bobby had been spirited out of the city and carried all the way down and up to the hilltop toll-bar of Fairmilehead. It could not occur to his loyal little heart that this treachery was planned nor, stanch little democrat that he was, that the farmer was really his owner, and that he could not follow a humbler master of his own choosing. He might have been carried to the distant farm, and shut safely in the byre with the cows for the night, but for an incautious remark of the farmer. With the first scent of the native heather the horse quickened his pace, and, at sight of the purple slopes of the Pentlands looming homeward, a fond thought at the back of the man's mind very naturally took shape in speech.
"Eh, Bobby; the wee lassie wull be at the tap o' the brae to race ye hame."
Bobby pricked his drop ears. Within a narrow limit, and concerning familiar things, the understanding of human speech by these intelligent little terriers is very truly remarkable. At mention of the wee lassie he looked behind for his rough old friend and unfailing refuge. Auld Jock's absence discovered, Bobby promptly dropped from the seat of honor and from the cart tail, sniffed the smoke of Edinboro' town and faced right about. To the farmer's peremptory call he returned the spicy repartee of a cheerful bark. It was as much as to say:
"Dinna fash yersel'! I ken what I'm aboot."
After an hour's hard run back over the dipping and rising country road and a long quarter circuit of the city, Bobby found the high-walled, winding way into the west end of the Grassmarket. To a human being afoot there was a shorter cut, but the little dog could only retrace the familiar route of the farm carts. It was a notable feat for a small creature whose tufted legs were not more than six inches in length, whose thatch of long hair almost swept the roadway and caught at every burr and bramble, and who was still so young that his nose could not be said to be educated.
In the market-place he ran here and there through the crowd, hopefully investigating narrow closes that were mere rifts in precipices of buildings; nosing outside stairs, doorways, stables, bridge arches, standing carts, and even hob-nailed boots. He yelped at the crash of the gun, but it was another matter altogether that set his little heart to palpitating with alarm. It was the dinner-hour, and where was Auld Jock?
Ah! A happy thought: his master had gone to dinner!
A human friend would have resented the idea of such base desertion and sulked. But in a little dog's heart of trust there is no room for suspicion. The thought simply lent wings to Bobby's tired feet. As the market-place emptied he chased at the heels of laggards, up the crescent-shaped rise of Candlemakers Row, and straight on to the familiar dining-rooms. Through the forest of table and chair and human legs he made his way to the back, to find a soldier from the Castle, in smart red coat and polished boots, lounging in Auld Jock's inglenook.
Bobby stood stock still for a shocked instant. Then he howled dismally and bolted for the door. Mr. John Traill, the smooth-shaven, hatchet-faced proprietor, standing midway in shirtsleeves and white apron, caught the flying terrier between his legs and gave him a friendly clap on the side.
"Did you come by your ainsel' with a farthing in your silky-purse ear to buy a bone, Bobby? Whaur's Auld Jock?"
A fear may be crowded back into the mind and stoutly denied so long as it is not named. At the good landlord's very natural question "Whaur's Auld Jock?" there was the shape of the little dog's fear that he had lost his master. With a whimpering cry he struggled free. Out of the door he went, like a shot. He tumbled down the steep curve and doubled on his tracks around the market-place.
At his onslaught, the sparrows rose like brown leaves on a gust of wind, and drifted down again. A cold mist veiled the Castle heights. From the stone crown of the ancient Cathedral of St. Giles, on High Street, floated the melody of "The Bluebells of Scotland." No day was too bleak for bell-ringer McLeod to climb the shaking ladder in the windy tower and play the music bells during the hour that Edinburgh dined. Bobby forgot to dine that day, first in his distracted search, and then in his joy of finding his master.
For, all at once, in the very strangest place, in the very strangest way, Bobby came upon Auld Jock. A rat scurrying out from a foul and narrow passage that gave to the rear of the White Hart Inn, pointed the little dog to a nook hitherto undiscovered by his curious nose. Hidden away between the noisy tavern and the grim, island crag was the old cock-fighting pit of a ruder day. There, in a broken-down carrier's cart, abandoned among the nameless abominations of publichouse refuse, Auld Jock lay huddled in his greatcoat of hodden gray and his shepherd's plaid. On a bundle of clothing tied in a tartan kerchief for a pillow, he lay very still and breathing heavily.
Bobby barked as if he would burst his lungs. He barked so long, so loud, and so furiously, running 'round and 'round the cart and under it and yelping at every turn, that a slatternly scullery maid opened a door and angrily bade him "no' to deave folk wi' 'is blatterin'." Auld Jock she did not see at all in the murky pit or, if she saw him, thought him some drunken foreign sailor from Leith harbor. When she went in, she slammed the door and lighted the gas.
Whether from some instinct of protection of his helpless master in that foul and hostile place, or because barking had proved to be of no use Bobby sat back on his haunches and considered this strange, disquieting thing. It was not like Auld Jock to sleep in the daytime, or so soundly, at any time, that barking would not awaken him. A clever and resourceful dog, Bobby crouched back against the farthest wall, took a running leap to the top of the low boots, dug his claws into the stout, home knitted stockings, and scrambled up over Auld Jock's legs into the cart. In an instant he poked his little black mop of a wet muzzle into his master's face and barked once, sharply, in his ear.
To Bobby's delight Auld Jock sat up and blinked his eyes. The old eyes were brighter, the grizzled face redder than was natural, but such matters were quite outside of the little dog's ken. It was a dazed moment before the man remembered that Bobby should not be there. He frowned down at the excited little creature, who was wagging satisfaction from his nose-tip to the end of his crested tail, in a puzzled effort to remember why.
"Eh, Bobby!" His tone was one of vague reproof. "Nae doot ye're fair satisfied wi' yer ainsel'."
Bobby's feathered tail drooped, but it still quivered, all ready to wag again at the slightest encouragement. Auld Jock stared at him stupidly, his dizzy head in his hands. A very tired, very draggled little dog, Bobby dropped beside his master, panting, subdued by the reproach, but happy. His soft eyes, veiled by the silvery fringe that fell from his high forehead, were deep brown pools of affection. Auld Jock forgot, by and by, that Bobby should not be there, and felt only the comfort of his companionship.
"Weel, Bobby," he began again, uncertainly. And then, because his Scotch peasant reticence had been quite broken down by Bobby's shameless devotion, so that he told the little dog many things that he cannily concealed from human kind, he confided the strange weakness and dizziness in the head that had overtaken him: "Auld Jock is juist fair silly the day, bonny wee laddie."
Down came a shaking, hot old hand in a rough caress, and up a gallant young tail to wave like a banner. All was right with the little dog's world again. But it was plain, even to Bobby, that something had gone wrong with Auld Jock. It was the man who wore the air of a culprit. A Scotch laborer does not lightly confess to feeling "fair silly," nor sleep away the busy hours of daylight. The old man was puzzled and humiliated by this discreditable thing. A human friend would have understood his plight, led the fevered man out of that bleak and fetid cul-de-sac, tucked him into a warm bed, comforted him with a hot drink, and then gone swiftly for skilled help. Bobby knew only that his master had unusual need of love.
Very, very early a dog learns that life is not as simple a matter to his master as it is to himself. There are times when he reads trouble, that he cannot help or understand, in the man's eye and voice. Then he can only look his love and loyalty, wistfully, as if he felt his own shortcoming in the matter of speech. And if the trouble is so great that the master forgets to eat his dinner; forgets, also, the needs of his faithful little friend, it is the dog's dear privilege to bear neglect and hunger without complaint. Therefore, when Auld Jock lay down again and sank, almost at once, into sodden sleep, Bobby snuggled in the hollow of his master's arm and nuzzled his nose in his master's neck.
While the bells played "There Grows a Bonny Briarbush in Our Kale Yard," Auld Jock and Bobby slept. They slept while the tavern emptied itself of noisy guests and clattering crockery was washed at the dingy, gas-lighted windows that overlooked the cockpit. They slept while the cold fell with the falling day and the mist was whipped into driving rain. Almost a cave, between shelving rock and house wall, a gust of wind still found its way in now and then. At a splash of rain Auld Jock stirred uneasily in his sleep. Bobby merely sniffed the freshened air with pleasure and curled himself up for another nap.
No rain could wet Bobby. Under his rough outer coat, that was parted along the back as neatly as the thatch along a cottage ridge-pole, was a dense, woolly fleece that defied wind and rain, snow and sleet to penetrate. He could not know that nature had not been as generous in protecting his master against the weather. Although of a subarctic breed, fitted to live shelterless if need be, and to earn his living by native wit, Bobby had the beauty, the grace, and the charming manners of a lady's pet. In a litter of prick-eared, wire-haired puppies Bobby was a "sport."
It is said that some of the ships of the Spanish Armada, with French poodles in the officers' cabins, were blown far north and west, and broken up on the icy coasts of The Hebrides and Skye. Some such crossing of his far-away ancestry, it would seem, had given a greater length and a crisp wave to Bobby's outer coat, dropped and silkily fringed his ears, and powdered his useful, slate-gray color with silver frost. But he had the hardiness and intelligence of the sturdier breed, and the instinct of devotion to the working master. So he had turned from a soft-hearted bit lassie of a mistress, and the cozy chimney corner of the farm-house kitchen, and linked his fortunes with this forlorn old laborer.
A grizzled, gnarled little man was Auld Jock, of tough fiber, but worn out at last by fifty winters as a shepherd on the bleak hills of Midlothian and Fife, and a dozen more in the low stables and storm-buffeted garrets of Edinburgh. He had come into the world unnoted in a shepherd's lonely cot. With little wit of mind or skill of hand he had been a common tool, used by this master and that for the roughest tasks, when needed, put aside, passed on, and dropped out of mind. Nothing ever belonged to the man but his scant earnings. Wifeless, cotless, bairnless, he had slept, since early boyhood, under strange roofs, eaten the bread of the hireling, and sat dumb at other men's firesides. If he had another name it had been forgotten. In youth he was Jock; in age, Auld Jock.
In his sixty-third summer there was a belated blooming in Auld Jock's soul. Out of some miraculous caprice Bobby lavished on him a riotous affection. Then up out of the man's subconscious memory came words learned from the lips of a long-forgotten mother. They were words not meant for little dogs at all, but for sweetheart, wife and bairn. Auld Jock used them cautiously, fearing to be overheard, for the matter was a subject of wonder and rough jest at the farm. He used them when Bobby followed him at the plow-tail or scampered over the heather with him behind the flocks. He used them on the market-day journeyings, and on summer nights, when the sea wind came sweetly from the broad Firth and the two slept, like vagabonds, on a haycock under the stars. The purest pleasure Auld Jock ever knew was the taking of a bright farthing from his pocket to pay for Bobby's delectable bone in Mr. Traill's place.
Given what was due him that morning and dismissed for the season to find such work as he could in the city, Auld Jock did not question the farmer's right to take Bobby "back hame." Besides, what could he do with the noisy little rascal in an Edinburgh lodging? But, duller of wit than usual, feeling very old and lonely, and shaky on his legs, and dizzy in his head, Auld Jock parted with Bobby and with his courage, together. With the instinct of the dumb animal that suffers, he stumbled into the foul nook and fell, almost at once, into a heavy sleep. Out of that Bobby roused him but briefly.
Long before his master awoke, Bobby finished his series of refreshing little naps, sat up, yawned, stretched his short, shaggy legs, sniffed at Auld Jock experimentally, and trotted around the bed of the cart on a tour of investigation. This proving to be of small interest and no profit, he lay down again beside his master, nose on paws, and waited Auld Jock's pleasure patiently. A sweep of drenching rain brought the old man suddenly to his feet and stumbling into the market place. The alert little dog tumbled about him, barking ecstatically. The fever was gone and Auld Jock's head quite clear; but in its place was a weakness, an aching of the limbs, a weight on the chest, and a great shivering.
Although the bell of St. Giles was just striking the hour of five, it was already entirely dark. A lamp-lighter, with ladder and torch, was setting a double line of gas jets to flaring along the lofty parapets of the bridge. If the Grassmarket was a quarry pit by day, on a night of storm it was the bottom of a reservoir. The height of the walls was marked by a luminous crown from many lights above the Castle head, and by a student's dim candle, here and there, at a garret window. The huge bulk of the bridge cast a shadow, velvet black, across the eastern half of the market.
Had not Bobby gone before and barked, and run back, again and again, and jumped up on Auld Jock's legs, the man might never have won his way across the drowned place, in the inky blackness and against the slanted blast of icy rain. When he gained the foot of Candlemakers Row, a crescent of tall, old houses that curved upward around the lower end of Greyfriars kirkyard, water poured upon him from the heavy timbered gallery of the Cunzie Neuk, once the royal mint. The carting office that occupied the street floor was closed, or Auld Jock would have sought shelter there. He struggled up the rise, made slippery by rain and grime. Then, as the street turned southward in its easy curve, there was some shelter from the house walls. But Auld Jock was quite exhausted and incapable of caring for himself. In the ancient guildhall of the candlemakers, at the top of the Row, was another carting office and Harrow Inn, a resort of country carriers. The man would have gone in there where he was quite unknown or, indeed, he might even have lain down in the bleak court that gave access to the tenements above, but for Bobby's persistent and cheerful barking, begging and nipping.
"Maister, maister!" he said, as plainly as a little dog could speak, "dinna bide here. It's juist a stap or two to food an' fire in' the cozy auld ingleneuk."
And then, the level roadway won at last, there was the railing of the bridge-approach to cling to, on the one hand, and the upright bars of the kirkyard gate on the other. By the help of these and the urging of wee Bobby, Auld Jock came the short, steep way up out of the market, to the row of lighted shops in Greyfriars Place.
With the wind at the back and above the housetops, Mr. Traill stood bare-headed in a dry haven of peace in his doorway, firelight behind him, and welcome in his shrewd gray eyes. If Auld Jock had shown any intention of going by, it is not impossible that the landlord of Ye Olde Greyfriars Dining-Rooms might have dragged him in bodily. The storm had driven all his customers home. For an hour there had not been a soul in the place to speak to, and it was so entirely necessary for John Traill to hear his own voice that he had been known, in such straits, to talk to himself. Auld Jock was not an inspiring auditor, but a deal better than naething; and, if he proved hopeless, entertainment was to be found in Bobby. So Mr. Traill bustled in before his guests, poked the open fire into leaping flames, and heaped it up skillfully at the back with fresh coals. The good landlord turned from his hospitable task to find Auld Jock streaming and shaking on the hearth.
"Man, but you're wet!" he exclaimed. He hustled the old shepherd out of his dripping plaid and greatcoat and spread them to the blaze. Auld Jock found a dry, knitted Tam-o'-Shanter bonnet in his little bundle and set it on his head. It was a moment or two before he could speak without the humiliating betrayal of chattering teeth.
"Ay, it's a misty nicht," he admitted, with caution.
"Misty! Man, it's raining like all the seven deils were abroad." Having delivered himself of this violent opinion, Mr. Traill fell into his usual philosophic vein. "I have sma' patience with the Scotch way of making little of everything. If Noah had been a Lowland Scot he'd 'a' said the deluge was juist fair wet."'
He laughed at his own wit, his thin-featured face and keen gray eyes lighting up to a kindliness that his brusque speech denied in vain. He had a fluency of good English at command that he would have thought ostentatious to use in speaking with a simple country body.
Auld Jock stared at Mr. Traill and pondered the matter. By and by he asked: "Wasna the deluge fair wet?"
The landlord sighed but, brought to book like that, admitted that it was. Conversation flagged, however, while he busied himself with toasting a smoked herring, and dragging roasted potatoes from the little iron oven that was fitted into the brickwork of the fireplace beside the grate.
Bobby was attending to his own entertainment. The familiar place wore a new and enchanting aspect, and needed instant exploration. By day it was fitted with tables, picketed by chairs and all manner of boots. Noisy and crowded, a little dog that wandered about there was liable to be trodden upon. On that night of storm it was a vast, bright place, so silent one could hear the ticking of the wag-at-the-wa' clock, the crisp crackling of the flames, and the snapping of the coals. The uncovered deal tables were set back in a double line along one wall, with the chairs piled on top, leaving a wide passage of freshly scrubbed and sanded oaken floor from the door to the fireplace. Firelight danced on the dark old wainscoting and high, carved overmantel, winked on rows of drinking mugs and metal covers over cold meats on the buffet, and even picked out the gilt titles on the backs of a shelf of books in Mr. Traill's private corner behind the bar.
Bobby shook himself on the hearth to free his rain-coat of surplus water. To the landlord's dry "We're no' needing a shower in the house. Lie down, Bobby," he wagged his tail politely, as a sign that he heard. But, as Auld Jock did not repeat the order, he ignored it and scampered busily about the room, leaving little trails of wet behind him.
This grill-room of Traill's place was more like the parlor of a country inn, or a farm-house kitchen if there had been a built-in bed or two, than a restaurant in the city. There, a humble man might see his herring toasted, his bannocks baked on the oven-top, or his tea brewed to his liking. On such a night as this the landlord would pull the settle out of the inglenook to the set before the solitary guest a small table, and keep the kettle on the hob.
"Spread yoursel' on both sides o' the fire, man. There'll be nane to keep us company, I'm thinking. Ilka man that has a roof o' his ain will be wearing it for a bonnet the nicht."
As there was no answer to this, the skilled conversational angler dropped a bit of bait that the wariest man must rise to.
"That's a vera intelligent bit dog, Auld Jock. He was here with the time-gun spiering for you. When he didna find you he greeted like a bairn."
Auld Jock, huddled in the corner of the settle, so near the fire that his jacket smoked, took so long a time to find an answer that Mr. Traill looked at him keenly as he set the wooden plate and pewter mug on the table.
"Man, you're vera ill," he cried, sharply. In truth he was shocked and self-accusing because he had not observed Auld Jock's condition before.
"I'm no' so awfu' ill," came back in irritated denial, as if he had been accused of some misbehavior.
"Weel, it's no' a dry herrin' ye'll hae in my shop the nicht. It's a hot mutton broo wi' porridge in it, an' bits o' meat to tak' the cauld oot o' yer auld banes."
And there, the plate was whisked away, and the cover lifted from a bubbling pot, and the kettle was over the fire for the brewing of tea. At a peremptory order the soaked boots and stockings were off, and dry socks found in the kerchief bundle. Auld Jock was used to taking orders from his superiors, and offered no resistance to being hustled after this manner into warmth and good cheer. Besides, who could have withstood that flood of homely speech on which the good landlord came right down to the old shepherd's humble level? Such warm feeling was established that Mr. Traill quite forgot his usual caution and certain well-known prejudices of old country bodies.
"Noo," he said cheerfully, as he set the hot broth on the table, "ye maun juist hae a doctor."
A doctor is the last resort of the unlettered poor. The very threat of one to the Scotch peasant of a half-century ago was a sentence of death. Auld Jock blanched, and he shook so that he dropped his spoon. Mr. Traill hastened to undo the mischief.
"It's no' a doctor ye'll be needing, ava, but a bit dose o' physic an' a bed in the infirmary a day or twa."
"I wullna gang to the infairmary. It's juist for puir toon bodies that are aye ailin' an' deein'." Fright and resentment lent the silent old man an astonishing eloquence for the moment. "Ye wadna gang to the infairmary yer ainsel', an' tak' charity."
"Would I no'? I would go if I so much as cut my sma' finger; and I would let a student laddie bind it up for me."
"Weel, ye're a saft ane," said Auld Jock.
It was a terrible word—"saft!" John Traill flushed darkly, and relapsed into discouraged silence. Deep down in his heart he knew that a regiment of soldiers from the Castle could not take him alive, a free patient, into the infirmary.
But what was one to do but "lee," right heartily, for the good of this very sick, very poor, homeless old man on a night of pitiless storm? That he had "lee'd" to no purpose and got a "saft" name for it was a blow to his pride.
Hearing the clatter of fork and spoon, Bobby trotted from behind the bar and saved the day of discomfiture. Time for dinner, indeed! Up he came on his hind legs and politely begged his master for food. It was the prettiest thing he could do, and the landlord delighted in him.
"Gie 'im a penny plate o' the gude broo," said Auld Jock, and he took the copper coin from his pocket to pay for it. He forgot his own meal in watching the hungry little creature eat. Warmed and softened by Mr. Traill's kindness, and by the heartening food, Auld Jock betrayed a thought that had rankled in the depths of his mind all day.
"Bobby isna ma ain dog." His voice was dull and unhappy.
Ah, here was misery deeper than any physical ill! The penny was his, a senseless thing; but, poor, old, sick, hameless and kinless, the little dog that loved and followed him "wasna his ain." To hide the huskiness in his own voice Mr. Traill relapsed into broad, burry Scotch.
"Dinna fash yersel', man. The wee beastie is maist michty fond o' ye, an' ilka dog aye chooses 'is ain maister."
Auld Jock shook his head and gave a brief account of Bobby's perversity. On the very next market-day the little dog must be restored to the tenant of Cauldbrae farm and, if necessary, tied in the cart. It was unlikely, young as he was, that he would try to find his way back, all the way from near the top of the Pentlands. In a day or two he would forget Auld Jock.
"I canna say it wullna be sair partin'—" And then, seeing the sympathy in the landlord's eye and fearing a disgraceful breakdown, Auld Jock checked his self betrayal. During the talk Bobby stood listening. At the abrupt ending, he put his shagged paws up on Auld Jock's knee, wistfully inquiring about this emotional matter. Then he dropped soberly, and slunk away under his master's chair.
"Ay, he kens we're talkin' aboot 'im."
"He's a knowing bit dog. Have you attended to his sairous education, man?"
"Nae, he's ower young."
"Young is aye the time to teach a dog or a bairn that life is no' all play. Man, you should put a sma' terrier at the vermin an' mak' him usefu'."
"It's eneugh, gin he's gude company for the wee lassie wha's fair fond o' 'im," Auld Jock answered, briefly. This was a strange sentiment from the work-broken old man who, for himself, would have held ornamental idleness sinful. He finished his supper in brooding silence. At last he broke out in a peevish irritation that only made his grief at parting with Bobby more apparent to an understanding man like Mr. Traill.
"I dinna ken what to do wi' 'im i' an Edinburgh lodgin' the nicht. The auld wifie I lodge wi' is dour by the ordinar', an' wadna bide 'is blatterin'. I couldna get 'im past 'er auld een, an' thae terriers are aye barkin' aboot naethin' ava."
Mr. Traill's eyes sparkled at recollection of an apt literary story to which Dr. John Brown had given currency. Like many Edinburgh shopkeepers, Mr. Traill was a man of superior education and an omnivorous reader. And he had many customers from the near-by University to give him a fund of stories of Scotch writers and other worthies.
"You have a double plaid, man?"
"Ay. Ilka shepherd's got a twa-fold plaidie." It seemed a foolish question to Auld Jock, but Mr. Traill went on blithely.
"There's a pocket in the plaid—ane end left open at the side to mak' a pouch? Nae doubt you've carried mony a thing in that pouch?"
"Nae, no' so mony. Juist the new-born lambs."
"Weel, Sir Walter had a shepherd's plaid, and there was a bit lassie he was vera fond of Syne, when he had been at the writing a' the day, and was aff his heid like, with too mony thoughts, he'd go across the town and fetch the bairnie to keep him company. She was a weel-born lassie, sax or seven years auld, and sma' of her age, but no' half as sma' as Bobby, I'm thinking." He stopped to let this significant comparison sink into Auld Jock's mind. "The lassie had nae liking for the unmannerly wind and snaw of Edinburgh. So Sir Walter just happed her in the pouch of his plaid, and tumbled her out, snug as a lamb and nane the wiser, in the big room wha's walls were lined with books."
Auld Jock betrayed not a glimmer of intelligence as to the personal bearing of the story, but he showed polite interest. "I ken naethin' aboot Sir Walter or ony o' the grand folk." Mr. Traill sighed, cleared the table in silence, and mended the fire. It was ill having no one to talk to but a simple old body who couldn't put two and two together and make four.
The landlord lighted his pipe meditatively, and he lighted his cruisey lamp for reading. Auld Jock was dry and warm again; oh, very, very warm, so that he presently fell into a doze. The dining-room was so compassed on all sides but the front by neighboring house and kirkyard wall and by the floors above, that only a murmur of the storm penetrated it. It was so quiet, indeed, that a tiny, scratching sound in a distant corner was heard distinctly. A streak of dark silver, as of animated mercury, Bobby flashed past. A scuffle, a squeak, and he was back again, dropping a big rat at the landlord's feet and, wagging his tail with pride.
"Weel done, Bobby! There's a bite and a bone for you here ony time o' day you call for it. Ay, a sensible bit dog will attend to his ain education and mak' himsel' usefu'."
Mr. Traill felt a sudden access of warm liking for the attractive little scrap of knowingness and pluck. He patted the tousled head, but Bobby backed away. He had no mind to be caressed by any man beside his master. After a moment the landlord took "Guy Mannering" down from the book-shelf. Knowing his "Waverley" by heart, he turned at once to the passages about Dandie Dinmont and his terriers—Mustard and Pepper and other spicy wee rascals.
"Ay, terriers are sonsie, leal dogs. Auld Jock will have ane true mourner at his funeral. I would no' mind if—"
On impulse he got up and dropped a couple of hard Scotch buns, very good dog-biscuit, indeed, into the pocket of Auld Jock's greatcoat for Bobby. The old man might not be able to be out the morn. With the thought in his mind that some one should keep a friendly eye on the man, he mended the fire with such an unnecessary clattering of the tongs that Auld Jock started from his sleep with a cry.
"Whaur is it you have your lodging, Jock?" the landlord asked, sharply, for the man looked so dazed that his understanding was not to be reached easily. He got the indefinite information that it was at the top of one of the tall, old tenements "juist aff the Coogate."
"A lang climb for an auld man," John Traill said, compassionately; then, optimistic as usual, "but it's a lang climb or a foul smell, in the poor quarters of Edinburgh."
"Ay. It's weel aboon the fou' smell." With some comforting thought that he did not confide to Mr. Traill but that ironed lines out of his old face, Auld Jock went to sleep again. Well, the landlord reflected, he could remain there by the fire until the closing hour or later, if need be, and by that time the storm might ease a bit, so that he could get to his lodging without another wetting.
For an hour the place was silent, except for the falling clinkers from the grate, the rustling of book-leaves, and the plumping of rain on the windows, when the wind shifted a point. Lost in the romance, Mr. Traill took no note of the passing time or of his quiet guests until he felt a little tug at his trouser-leg.
"Eh, laddie?" he questioned. Up the little dog rose in the begging attitude. Then, with a sharp bark, he dashed back to his master.
Something was very wrong, indeed. Auld Jock had sunk down in his seat. His arms hung helplessly over the end and back of the settle, and his legs were sprawled limply before him. The bonnet that he always wore, outdoors and in, had fallen from his scant, gray locks, and his head had dropped forward on his chest. His breathing was labored, and he muttered in his sleep.
In a moment Mr. Traill was inside his own greatcoat, storm boots and bonnet. At the door he turned back. The shop was unguarded. Although Greyfriars Place lay on the hilltop, with the sanctuary of the kirkyard behind it, and the University at no great distance in front, it was but a step up from the thief-infested gorge of the Cowgate. The landlord locked his moneydrawer, pushed his easy-chair against it, and roused Auld Jock so far as to move him over from the settle. The chief responsibility he laid on the anxious little dog, that watched his every movement.
"Lie down, Bobby, and mind Auld Jock. And you're no' a gude dog if you canna bark to waken the dead in the kirkyard, if ony strange body comes about."
"Whaur are ye gangin'?" cried Auld Jock. He was wide awake, with burning, suspicious eyes fixed on his host.
"Sit you down, man, with your back to my siller. I'm going for a doctor." The noise of the storm, as he opened the door, prevented his hearing the frightened protest:
The rain had turned to sleet, and Mr. Traill had trouble in keeping his feet. He looked first into the famous Book Hunter's Stall next door, on the chance of finding a medical student. The place was open, but it had no customers. He went on to the bridge, but there the sheriff's court, the Martyr's church, the society halls and all the smart shops were closed, their dark fronts lighted fitfully by flaring gas-lamps. The bitter night had driven all Edinburgh to private cover.
From the rear came a clear whistle. Some Heriot laddie who, being not entirely a "puir orphan," but only "faderless" and, therefore, living outside the school with his mother, had been kept after nightfall because of ill-prepared lessons or misbehavior. Mr. Traill turned, passed his own door, and went on southward into Forest Road, that skirted the long arm of the kirkyard.
From the Burghmuir, all the way to the Grassmarket and the Cowgate, was downhill. So, with arms winged, and stout legs spread wide and braced, Geordie Ross was sliding gaily homeward, his knitted tippet a gallant pennant behind. Here was a Mercury for an urgent errand.
"Laddie, do you know whaur's a doctor who can be had for a shulling or two for a poor auld country body in my shop?"
"Is he so awfu' ill?" Geordie asked with the morbid curiosity of lusty boyhood.
"He's a' that. He's aff his heid. Run, laddie, and dinna be standing there wagging your fule tongue for naething."
Geordie was off with speed across the bridge to High Street. Mr. Traill struggled back to his shop, against wind and treacherous ice, thinking what kind of a bed might be contrived for the sick man for the night. In the morning the daft auld body could be hurried, willy-nilly, to a bed in the infirmary. As for wee Bobby he wouldn't mind if—
And there he ran into his own wide-flung door. A gale blew through the hastily deserted place. Ashes were scattered about the hearth, and the cruisey lamp flared in the gusts. Auld Jock and Bobby were gone.
Although dismayed and self-accusing for having frightened Auld Jock into taking flight by his incautious talk of a doctor, not for an instant did the landlord of Greyfriars Dining-Rooms entertain the idea of following him. The old man had only to cross the street and drop down the incline between the bridge approach and the ancient Chapel of St. Magdalen to be lost in the deepest, most densely peopled, and blackest gorge in Christendom.
Well knowing that he was safe from pursuit, Auld Jock chuckled as he gained the last low level. Fever lent him a brief strength, and the cold damp was grateful to his hot skin. None were abroad in the Cowgate; and that was lucky for, in this black hole of Edinburgh, even so old and poor a man was liable to be set upon by thieves, on the chance of a few shillings or pence.
Used as he was to following flocks up treacherous braes and through drifted glens, and surefooted as a collie, Auld Jock had to pick his way carefully over the slimy, ice-glazed cobble stones of the Cowgate. He could see nothing. The scattered gas-lamps, blurred by the wet, only made a timbered gallery or stone stairs stand out here and there or lighted up a Gothic gargoyle to a fantastic grin. The street lay so deep and narrow that sleet and wind wasted little time in finding it out, but roared and rattled among the gables, dormers and chimney-stacks overhead. Happy in finding his master himself again, and sniffing fresh adventure, Bobby tumbled noisily about Auld Jock's feet until reproved. And here was strange going. Ancient and warring smells confused and insulted the little country dog's nose. After a few inquiring and protesting barks Bobby fell into a subdued trot at Auld Jock's heels.
To this shepherd in exile the romance of Old Edinburgh was a sealed book. It was, indeed, difficult for the most imaginative to believe that the Cowgate was once a lovely, wooded ravine, with a rustic burn babbling over pebbles at its bottom, and along the brook a straggling path worn smooth by cattle on their driven way to the Grassmarket. Then, when the Scottish nobility was crowded out of the piled-up mansions, on the sloping ridge of High Street that ran the mile from the Castle to Holyrood Palace, splendor camped in the Cowgate, in villas set in fair gardens, and separated by hedge-rows in which birds nested.
In time this ravine, too, became overbuilt. Houses tumbled down both slopes to the winding cattle path, and the burn was arched over to make a thoroughfare. Laterally, the buildings were crowded together, until the upper floors were pushed out on timber brackets for light and air. Galleries, stairs and jutting windows were added to outer walls, and the mansions climbed, story above story, until the Cowgate was an undercut canon, such as is worn through rock by the rivers of western America. Lairds and leddies, powdered, jeweled and satin-shod, were borne in sedan chairs down ten flights of stone stairs and through torch-lit courts and tunnel streets, to routs in Castle or Palace and to tourneys in the Grassmarket.
From its low situation the Cowgate came in the course of time to smell to heaven, and out of it was a sudden exodus of grand folk to the northern hills. The lowest level was given over at once to the poor and to small trade. The wynds and closes that climbed the southern slope were eagerly possessed by divines, lawyers and literary men because of their nearness to the University. Long before Bobby's day the well-to-do had fled from the Cowgate wynds to the hilltop streets and open squares about the colleges. A few decent working-men remained in the decaying houses, some of which were at least three centuries old. But there swarmed in upon, and submerged them, thousands of criminals, beggars, and the miserably poor and degraded of many nationalities. Businesses that fatten on misfortune—the saloon, pawn, old clothes and cheap food shops-lined the squalid Cowgate. Palaces were cut up into honeycombs of tall tenements. Every stair was a crowded highway; every passage a place of deposit for filth; almost every room sheltered a half famished family, in darkness and ancient dirt. Grand and great, pious and wise, decent, wretched and terrible folk, of every sort, had preceded Auld Jock to his lodging in a steep and narrow wynd, and nine gusty flights up under a beautiful, old Gothic gable.
A wrought-iron lantern hanging in an arched opening, lighted the entrance to the wynd. With a hand outstretched to either wall, Auld Jock felt his way up. Another lantern marked a sculptured doorway that gave to the foul court of the tenement. No sky could be seen above the open well of the court, and the carved, oaken banister of the stairs had to be felt for and clung to by one so short of breath. On the seventh landing, from the exertion of the long climb, Auld Jock was shaken into helplessness, and his heart set to pounding, by a violent fit of coughing. Overhead a shutter was slammed back, and an angry voice bade him stop "deaving folk."
The last two flights ascended within the walls. The old man stumbled into the pitch-black, stifling passage and sat down on the lowest step to rest. On the landing above he must encounter the auld wifie of a landlady, rousing her, it might be, and none too good-tempered, from sleep. Unaware that he added to his master's difficulties, Bobby leaped upon him and licked the beloved face that he could not see.
"Eh, laddie, I dinna ken what to do wi' ye. We maun juist hae to sleep oot." It did not occur to Auld Jock that he could abandon the little dog. And then there drifted across his memory a bit of Mr. Traill's talk that, at the time, had seemed to no purpose: "Sir Walter happed the wee lassie in the pocket of his plaid—" He slapped his knee in silent triumph. In the dark he found the broad, open end of the plaid, and the rough, excited head of the little dog.
"A hap, an' a stap, an' a loup, an' in ye gang. Loup in, laddie."
Bobby jumped into the pocket and turned 'round and 'round. His little muzzle opened for a delighted bark at this original play, but Auld Jock checked him.
"Cuddle doon noo, an' lie canny as pussy." With a deft turn he brought the weighted end of the plaid up under his arm so there would be no betraying drag. "We'll pu' the wool ower the auld wifie's een," he chuckled.
He mounted the stairs almost blithely, and knocked on one of the three narrow doors that opened on the two-by-eight landing. It was opened a few inches, on a chain, and a sordid old face, framed in straggling gray locks and a dirty mutch cap, peered suspiciously at him through the crevice.
Auld Jock had his money in hand—a shilling and a sixpence—to pay for a week's lodging. He had slept in this place for several winters, and the old woman knew him well, but she held his coins to the candle and bit them with her teeth to test them. Without a word of greeting she shoved the key to the sleeping-closet he had always fancied, through the crack in the door, and pointed to a jug of water at the foot of the attic stairs. On the proffer of a halfpenny she gave him a tallow candle, lighted it at her own and fitted it into the neck of a beer bottle.
"Ye hae a cauld." she said at last, with some hostility. "Gin ye wauken yer neebors yell juist hae to fecht it oot wi' 'em."
"Ay, I ken a' that," Auld Jock answered. He smothered a cough in his chest with such effort that it threw him into a perspiration. In some way, with the jug of water and the lighted candle in his hands and the hidden terrier under one arm, the old man mounted the eighteen-inch wide, walled-in attic stairs and unlocked the first of a number of narrow doors on the passage at the top.
"Weel aboon the fou' smell," indeed; "weel worth the lang climb!" Around the loose frames of two wee southward-looking dormer windows, that jutted from the slope of the gable, came a gush of rain-washed air. Auld Jock tumbled Bobby, warm and happy and "nane the wiser," out into the cold cell of a room that was oh, so very, very different from the high, warm, richly colored library of Sir Walter! This garret closet in the slums of Edinburgh was all of cut stone, except for the worn, oaken floor, a flimsy, modern door, and a thin, board partition on one side through which a "neebor" could be heard snoring. Filling all of the outer wall between the peephole, leaded windows and running-up to the slope of the ceiling, was a great fireplace of native white freestone, carved into fluted columns, foliated capitals, and a flat pediment of purest classic lines. The ballroom of a noble of Queen Mary's day had been cut up into numerous small sleeping closets, many of them windowless, and were let to the chance lodger at threepence the night. Here, where generations of dancing toes had been warmed, the chimney vent was bricked up, and a boxed-in shelf fitted, to serve for a bed, a seat and a table, for such as had neither time nor heart for dancing. For the romantic history and the beauty of it, Auld Jock had no mind at all. But, ah! he had other joy often missed by the more fortunate.
"Be canny, Bobby," he cautioned again.
The sagacious little dog understood, and pattered about the place silently. Exhausting it in a moment, and very plainly puzzled and bored, he sat on his haunches, yawned wide, and looked up inquiringly to his master. Auld Jock set the jug and the candle on the floor and slipped off his boots. He had no wish to "wauken 'is neebors." With nervous haste he threw back one of the windows on its hinges, reached across the wide stone ledge and brought in-wonder of wonders, in such a place a tiny earthen pot of heather!
"Is it no' a bonny posie?" he whispered to Bobby. With this cherished bit of the country that he had left behind him the April before in his hands, he sat down in the fireplace bed and lifted Bobby beside him. He sniffed at the red tuft of purple bloom fondly, and his old face blossomed into smiles. It was the secret thought of this, and of the hillward outlook from the little windows, that had ironed the lines from his face in Mr. Traill's dining-room. Bobby sniffed at the starved plant, too, and wagged his tail with pleasure, for a dog's keenest memories are recorded by the nose.
Overhead, loose tiles and finials rattled in the wind, that was dying away in fitful gusts; but Auld Jock heard nothing. In fancy he was away on the braes, in the shy sun and wild wet of April weather. Shepherds were shouting, sheepdogs barking, ewes bleating, and a wee puppy, still unnamed, scampering at his heels in the swift, dramatic days of lambing time. And so, presently, when the forlorn hope of the little pot had been restored to the ledge, master and dog were in tune with the open country, and began a romp such as they often had indulged in behind the byre on a quiet, Sabbath afternoon.
They had learned to play there like two well-brought-up children, in pantomime, so as not to scandalize pious countryfolk. Now, in obedience to a gesture, a nod, a lifted eyebrow, Bobby went through all his pretty tricks, and showed how far his serious education had progressed.. He rolled over and over, begged, vaulted the low hurdle of his master's arm, and played "deid." He scampered madly over imaginary pastures; ran, straight as a string, along a stone wall; scrambled under a thorny hedge; chased rabbits, and dug foxes out of holes; swam a burn, flushed feeding curlews, and "froze" beside a rat-hole. When the excitement was at its height and the little dog was bursting with exuberance, Auld Jock forgot his caution. Holding his bonnet just out of reach, he cried aloud:
Bobby jumped for the bonnet, missed it, jumped again and barked-the high-pitched, penetrating yelp of the terrier.
Instantly their little house of joy tumbled about their ears. There was a pounding on the thin partition wall, an oath and a shout "Whaur's the deil o' a dog?" Bobby flew at the insulting clamor, but Auld Jock dragged him back roughly. In a voice made harsh by fear for his little pet, he commanded:
"Haud yer gab or they'll hae ye oot."
Bobby dropped like a shot, cringing at Auld Jock's feet. The most sensitive of four-footed creatures in the world, the Skye terrier is utterly abased by a rebuke from his master. The whole garret was soon in an uproar of vile accusation and shrill denial that spread from cell to cell.
Auld Jock glowered down at Bobby with frightened eyes. In the winters he had lodged there he had lived unmolested only because he had managed to escape notice. Timid old country body that he was, he could not "fecht it oot" with the thieves and beggars and drunkards of the Cowgate. By and by the brawling died down. In the double row of little dens this one alone was silent, and the offending dog was not located.
But when the danger was past, Auld Jock's heart was pounding in his chest. His legs gave way under him, when he got up to fetch the candle from near the door and set it on a projecting brick in the fireplace. By its light he began to read in a small pocket Bible the Psalm that had always fascinated him because he had never been able to understand it.
"The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want."
So far it was plain and comforting. "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters."
Nae, the pastures were brown, or purple and yellow with heather and gorse. Rocks cropped out everywhere, and the peaty tarps were mostly bleak and frozen. The broad Firth was ever ebbing and flowing with the restless sea, and the burns bickering down the glens. The minister of the little hill kirk had said once that in England the pastures were green and the lakes still and bright; but that was a fey, foreign country to which Auld Jock had no desire to go. He wondered, wistfully, if he would feel at home in God's heaven, and if there would be room in that lush silence for a noisy little dog, as there was on the rough Pentland braes. And there his thoughts came back to this cold prison cell in which he could not defend the right of his one faithful little friend to live. He stooped and lifted Bobby into the bed. Humble, and eager to be forgiven for an offense he could not understand, the loving little creature leaped to Auld Jock's arms and lavished frantic endearments upon him.
Lying so together in the dark, man and dog fell into a sleep that was broken by Auld Jock's fitful coughing and the abuse of his neighbors. It was not until the wind had long died to a muffled murmur at the casements, and every other lodger was out, that Auld Jock slept soundly. He awoke late to find Bobby waiting patiently on the floor and the bare cell flooded with white glory. That could mean but one thing. He stumbled dizzily to his feet and threw a sash aback. Over the huddle of high housetops, the University towers and the scattered suburbs beyond, he looked away to the snow-clad slopes of the Pentlands, running up to heaven and shining under the pale winter sunshine.
"The snaw! Eh, Bobby, but it's a bonny sicht to auld een!" he cried, with the simple delight of a child. He stooped to lift Bobby to the wonder of it, when the world suddenly went black and roaring around in his head. Staggering back he crumpled up in a pitiful heap on the floor.
Bobby licked his master's face and hands, and then sat quietly down beside him. So many strange, uncanny things had happened within the last twenty-four hours that the little dog was rapidly outgrowing his irresponsible puppyhood. After a long time Auld Jock opened his eyes and sat up. Bobby put his paws on his master's knees in anxious sympathy. Before the man had got his wits about him the time-gun boomed from the Castle. Panic-stricken that he should have slept in his bed so late, and then lain senseless on the floor for he knew not how long, Auld Jock got up and struggled into his greatcoat, bonnet and plaid. In feeling for his woolen mittens he discovered the buns that Mr. Trail had dropped into his pocket for Bobby.
The old man stared and stared at them in piteous dismay. Mr. Traill had believed him to be so ill that he "wouldna be oot the morn." It was a staggering thought.
The bells of St. Giles broke into "Over the Hills and Far Away." The melody came to Auld Jock clearly, unbroken by echoes, for the garret was on a level with the cathedral's crown on High Street. It brought to him again a vision of the Midlothian slopes, but it reminded Bobby that it was dinner-time. He told Auld Jock so by running to the door and back and begging him, by every pretty wile at his command, to go. The old man got to his feet and then fell back, pale and shaken, his heart hammering again. Bobby ate the bun soberly and then sat up against Auld Jock's feet, that dangled helplessly from the bed. The bells died away from the man's ears before they had ceased playing. Both the church and the University bells struck the hour of two then three then four. Daylight had begun to fail when Auld Jock stirred, sat up, and did a strange thing: taking from his pocket a leather bag-purse that was closed by a draw-string, he counted the few crowns and shillings in it and the many smaller silver and copper coins.
"There's eneugh," he said. There was enough, by careful spending, to pay for food and lodging for a few weeks, to save himself from the charity of the infirmary. By this act he admitted the humiliating and fearful fact that he was very ill. The precious little hoard must be hidden from the chance prowler. He looked for a loose brick in the fireplace, but before he found one, he forgot all about it, and absent-mindedly heaped the coins in a little pile on the open Bible at the back of the bed.
For a long time Auld Jock sat there with his head in his hands before he again slipped back to his pillow. Darkness stole into the quiet room. The lodgers returned to their dens one after one, tramping or slipping or hobbling up the stairs and along the passage. Bobby bristled and froze, on guard, when a stealthy hand tried the latch. Then there were sounds of fighting, of crying women, and the long, low wailing of-wretched children. The evening drum and bugle were heard from the Castle, and hour after hour was struck from the clock of St. Giles while Bobby watched beside his master.
All night Auld Jock was "aff 'is heid." When he muttered in his sleep or cried out in the delirium of fever, the little dog put his paws upon the bed-rail. He scratched on it and begged to be lifted to where he could comfort his master, for the shelf was set too high for him to climb into the bed. Unable to get his master's attention, he licked the hot hand that hung over the side. Auld Jock lay still at last, not coughing any more, but breathing rapid, shallow breaths. Just at dawn he turned his head and gazed in bewilderment at the alert and troubled little creature that was instantly upon the rail. After a long time he recognized the dog and patted the shaggy little head. Feeling around the bed, he found the other bun and dropped it on the floor. Presently he said, between strangled breaths:
After that it was suddenly very still in the brightening room. Bobby gazed and gazed at his master—one long, heartbroken look, then dropped to all fours and stood trembling. Without another look he stretched himself upon the hearthstone below the bed.
Morning and evening footsteps went down and came up on the stairs. Throughout the day—the babel of crowded tenement strife; the crying of fishwives and fagot-venders in the court; the striking of the hours; the boom of the time gun and sweet clamor of music bells; the failing of the light and the soaring note of the bugle—he watched motionless beside his master.
Very late at night shuffling footsteps came up the stairs. The "auld wifie" kept a sharp eye on the comings and goings of her lodgers. It was "no' canny" that this old man, with a cauld in his chest, had gone up full two days before and had not come down again. To bitter complaints of his coughing and of his strange talking to himself she gave scant attention, but foul play was done often enough in these dens to make her uneasy. She had no desire to have the Burgh police coming about and interfering with her business. She knocked sharply on the door and called:
Bobby trotted over to the door and stood looking at it. In such a strait he would naturally have welcomed the visitor, scratching on the panel, and crying to any human body without to come in and see what had befallen his master. But Auld Jock had bade him "haud 'is gab" there, as in Greyfriars kirkyard. So he held to loyal silence, although the knocking and shaking of the latch was insistent and the lodgers were astir. The voice of the old woman was shrill with alarm.
"Auld Jock, can ye no' wauken?" And, after a moment, in which the unlatched casement window within could be heard creaking on its hinges in the chill breeze, there was a hushed and frightened question:
"Are ye deid?"
The footsteps fled down the stairs, and Bobby was left to watch through the long hours of darkness.
Very early in the morning the flimsy door was quietly forced by authority. The first man who entered—an officer of the Crown from the sheriff's court on the bridge—took off his hat to the majesty that dominated that bare cell. The Cowgate region presented many a startling contrast, but such a one as this must seldom have been seen. The classic fireplace, and the motionless figure and peaceful face of the pious old shepherd within it, had the dignity and beauty of some monumental tomb and carved effigy in old Greyfriars kirkyard. Only less strange was the contrast between the marks of poverty and toil on the dead man and the dainty grace of the little fluff of a dog that mourned him.
No such men as these—officers of her Majesty the Queen, Burgh policemen, and learned doctors from the Royal Infirmary—had ever been aware of Auld Jock, living. Dead, and no' needing them any more, they stood guard over him, and inquired sternly as to the manner in which he had died. There was a hysterical breath of relief from the crowd of lodgers and tenants when the little pile of coins was found on the Bible. There had been no foul play. Auld Jock had died of heart failure, from pneumonia and worn-out old age.
"There's eneugh," a Burgh policeman said when the money was counted. He meant much the same thing Auld Jock himself had meant. There was enough to save him from the last indignity a life of useful labor can thrust upon the honest poor—pauper burial. But when inquiries were made for the name and the friends of this old man there appeared to be only "Auld Jock" to enter into the record, and a little dog to follow the body to the grave. It was a Bible reader who chanced to come in from the Medical Mission in the Cowgate who thought to look in the fly-leaf of Auld Jock's Bible.
"His name is John Gray."
He laid the worn little book on Auld Jock's breast and crossed the work-scarred hands upon it. "It's something by the ordinar' to find a gude auld country body in such a foul place." He stooped and patted Bobby, and noted the bun, untouched, upon the floor. Turning to a wild elf of a barefooted child in the crowd he spoke to her. "Would you share your gude brose with the bit dog, lassie?"
She darted down the stairs, and presently returned with her own scanty bowl of breakfast porridge. Bobby refused the food, but he looked at her so mournfully that the first tears of pity her unchildlike eyes had ever shed welled up. She put out her hand timidly and stroked him.
It was just before the report of the time-gun that two policemen cleared the stairs, shrouded Auld Jock in his own greatcoat and plaid, and carried him down to the court. There they laid him in a plain box of white deal that stood on the pavement, closed it, and went away down the wynd on a necessary errand. The Bible-reader sat on an empty beer keg to guard the box, and Bobby climbed on the top and stretched himself above his master. The court was a well, more than a hundred feet deep. What sky might have been visible above it was hidden by tier above tier of dingy, tattered washings. The stairway filled again, and throngs of outcasts of every sort went about their squalid businesses, with only a curious glance or so at the pathetic group.
Presently the policemen returned from the Cowgate with a motley assortment of pallbearers. There was a good-tempered Irish laborer from a near-by brewery; a decayed gentleman, unsteady of gait and blear-eyed, in greasy frock-coat and broken hat; a flashily dressed bartender who found the task distasteful; a stout, bent-backed fagot-carrier; a drunken fisherman from New Haven, suddenly sobered by this uncanny duty, and a furtive, gaol-bleached thief who feared a trap and tried to escape.
Tailed by scuffling gamins, the strange little procession moved quickly down the wynd and turned into the roaring Cowgate. The policemen went before to force a passage through the press. The Bible-reader followed the box, and Bobby, head and tail down, trotted unnoticed, beneath it. The humble funeral train passed under a bridge arch into the empty Grassmarket, and went up Candlemakers Row to the kirkyard gate. Such as Auld Jock, now, by unnumbered thousands, were coming to lie among the grand and great, laird and leddy, poet and prophet, persecutor and martyr, in the piled-up, historic burying-ground of old Greyfriars.
By a gesture the caretaker directed the bearers to the right, past the church, and on down the crowded slope to the north, that was circled about by the backs of the tenements in the Grassmarket and Candlemakers Row. The box was lowered at once, and the pall-bearers hastily departed to delayed dinners. The policemen had urgent duties elsewhere. Only the Bible reader remained to see the grave partly filled in, and to try to persuade Bobby to go away with him. But the little dog resisted with such piteous struggles that the man put him down again. The grave digger leaned on his spade for a bit of professional talk.
"Many a dog gangs daft an' greets like a human body when his maister dees. They're aye put oot, a time or twa, an' they gang to folic that ken them, an' syne they tak' to ithers. Dinna fash yersel' aboot 'im. He wullna greet lang."
Since Bobby would not go, there was nothing to do but leave him there; but it was with many a backward look and disturbing doubt that the good man turned away. The grave-digger finished his task cheerfully, shouldered his tools, and left the kirkyard. The early dark was coming on when the caretaker, in making his last rounds, found the little terrier flattened out on the new-made mound.
"Gang awa' oot!" he ordered. Bobby looked up pleadingly and trembled, but he made no motion to obey. James Brown was not an unfeeling man, and he was but doing his duty. From an impulse of pity for this bonny wee bit of loyalty and grief he picked Bobby up, carried him all the way to the gate and set him over the wicket on the pavement.
"Gang awa' hame, noo," he said, kindly. "A kirkya'rd isna a place for a bit dog to be leevin'."
Bobby lay where he had been dropped until the caretaker was out of sight. Then, finding the aperture under the gate too small for him to squeeze through, he tried, in his ancestral way, to enlarge it by digging. He scratched and scratched at the unyielding stone until his little claws were broken and his toes bleeding, before he stopped and lay down with his nose under the wicket.
Just before the closing hour a carriage stopped at the kirkyard gate. A black-robed lady, carrying flowers, hurried through the wicket. Bobby slipped in behind her and disappeared.
After nightfall, when the lamps were lighted on the bridge, when Mr. Traill had come out to stand idly in his doorway, looking for some one to talk to, and James Brown had locked the kirkyard yard gate for the night and gone into his little stone lodge to supper, Bobby came out of hiding and stretched himself prone across Auld Jock's grave.
Fifteen minutes after the report of the time-gun on Monday, when the bells were playing their merriest and the dining-rooms were busiest, Mr. Traill felt such a tiny tug at his trouser-leg that it was repeated before he gave it attention. In the press of hungry guests Bobby had little more than room to rise in his pretty, begging attitude. The landlord was so relieved to see him again, after five conscience stricken days, that he stooped to clap the little dog on the side and to greet him with jocose approval.
"Gude dog to fetch Auld Jock—"
With a faint and piteous cry that was heard by no one but Mr. Traill, Bobby toppled over on the floor. It was a limp little bundle that the landlord picked up from under foot and held on his arm a moment, while he looked around for the dog's master. Shocked at not seeing Auld Jock, by a kind of inspiration he carried the little dog to the inglenook and laid him down under the familiar settle. Bobby was little more than breathing, but he opened his silkily veiled brown eyes and licked the friendly hand that had done this refinement of kindness. It took Mr. Traill more than a moment to realize the nature of the trouble. A dog with so thick a fleece of wool, under so crisply waving an outer coat as Bobby's, may perish for lack of food and show no outward sign of emaciation.
"The sonsie, wee—why, he's all but starved!"
Pale with pity, Mr. Traill snatched a plate of broth from the hands of a gaping waiter laddie, set it under Bobby's nose, and watched him begin to lap the warm liquid eagerly. In the busy place the incident passed unnoticed. With his usual, brisk decision Mr. Traill turned the backs of a couple of chairs over against the nearest table, to signify that the corner was reserved, and he went about his duties with unwonted silence. As the crowd thinned he returned to the inglenook to find Bobby asleep, not curled up in a tousled ball, as such a little dog should be, but stretched on his side and breathing irregularly.
If Bobby was in such straits, how must it be with Auld Jock? This was the fifth day since the sick old man had fled into the storm. With new disquiet Mr. Traill remembered a matter that had annoyed him in the morning, and that he had been inclined to charge to mischievous Heriot boys. Low down on the outside of his freshly varnished entrance door were many scratches that Bobby could have made. He may have come for food on the Sabbath day when the place was closed.
After an hour Bobby woke long enough to eat a generous plate of that delectable and highly nourishing Scotch dish known as haggis. He fell asleep again in an easier attitude that relieved the tension on the landlord's feelings. Confident that the devoted little dog would lead him straight to his master, Mr. Traill closed the door securely, that he might not escape unnoticed, and arranged his own worldly affairs so he could leave them to hirelings on the instant. In the idle time between dinner and supper he sat down by the fire, lighted his pipe, repented his unruly tongue, and waited. As the short day darkened to its close the sunset bugle was blown in the Castle. At the first note, Bobby crept from under the settle, a little unsteady on his legs as yet, wagged his tail for thanks, and trotted to the door.
Mr. Traill had no trouble at all in keeping the little dog in sight to the kirkyard gate, for in the dusk his coat shone silvery white. Indeed, by a backward look now and then, Bobby seemed to invite the man to follow, and waited at the gate, with some impatience, for him to come up. Help was needed there. By rising and tugging at Mr. Traill's clothing and then jumping on the wicket Bobby plainly begged to have it opened. He made no noise, neither barking nor whimpering, and that was very strange for a dog of the terrier breed; but each instant of delay he became more insistent, and even frantic, to have the gate unlatched. Mr. Traill refused to believe what Bobby's behavior indicated, and reproved him in the broad Scotch to which the country dog was used.
"Nae, Bobby; be a gude dog. Gang doon to the Coogate noo, an' find Auld Jock."
Uttering no cry at all, Bobby gave the man such a woebegone look and dropped to the pavement, with his long muzzle as far under the wicket as he could thrust it, that the truth shot home to Mr. Traill's understanding. He opened the gate. Bobby slipped through and stood just inside a moment, and looking back as if he expected his human friend to follow. Then, very suddenly, as the door of the lodge opened and the caretaker came out, Bobby disappeared in the shadow of the church.
A big-boned, slow-moving man of the best country house-gardener type, serviceably dressed in corduroy, wool bonnet, and ribbed stockings, James Brown collided with the small and wiry landlord, to his own very great embarrassment.
"Eh, Maister Traill, ye gied me a turn. It's no' canny to be proolin' aboot the kirkyaird i' the gloamin'."
"Whaur did the bit dog go, man?" demanded the peremptory landlord.
"Dog? There's no' ony dog i' the kirkyaird. It isna permeetted. Gin it's a pussy ye're needin', noo—"
But Mr. Traill brushed this irrelevant pleasantry aside.
"Ay, there's a dog. I let him in my ainsel'."
The caretaker exploded with wrath: "Syne I'll hae the law on ye. Can ye no' read, man?"
"Tut, tut, Jeemes Brown. Don't stand there arguing. It's a gude and necessary regulation, but it's no' the law o' the land. I turned the dog in to settle a matter with my ain conscience, and John Knox would have done the same thing in the bonny face o' Queen Mary. What it is, is nae beesiness of yours. The dog was a sma' young terrier of the Highland breed, but with a drop to his ears and a crinkle in his frosty coat—no' just an ordinar' dog. I know him weel. He came to my place to be fed, near dead of hunger, then led me here. If his master lies in this kirkyard, I'll tak' the bit dog awa' with me."
Mr. Traill's astonishing fluency always carried all walls of resistance before it with men of slower wit and speech. Only a superior man could brush time-honored rules aside so curtly and stand on his human rights so surely. James Brown pulled his bonnet off deferentially, scratched his shock head and shifted his pipe. Finally he admitted:
"Weel, there was a bit tyke i' the kirkyaird twa days syne. I put 'im oot, an' haena seen 'im aboot ony main" He offered, however, to show the new-made mound on which he had found the dog. Leading the way past the church, he went on down the terraced slope, prolonging the walk with conversation, for the guardianship of an old churchyard offers very little such lively company as John Traill's.
"I mind, noo, it was some puir body frae the Coogate, wi' no' ony mourners but the sma' terrier aneath the coffin. I let 'im pass, no' to mak' a disturbance at a buryin'. The deal box was fetched up by the police, an' carried by sic a crew o' gaol-birds as wad mak' ye turn ower in yer ain God's hole. But he paid for his buryin' wi' his ain siller, an' noo lies as canny as the nobeelity. Nae boot here's the place, Maister Traill; an' ye can see for yer ainsel' there's no' any dog."
"Ay, that would be Auld Jock and Bobby would no' be leaving him," insisted the landlord, stubbornly. He stood looking down at the rough mound of frozen clods heaped in a little space of trampled snow.
"Jeemes Brown," Mr. Trail said, at last, "the man wha lies here was a decent, pious auld country body, and I drove him to his meeserable death in the Cowgate."
"Man, ye dinna ken what ye're sayin'!" was the shocked response.
"Do I no'? I'm canny, by the ordinar', but my fule tongue will get me into trouble with the magistrates one of these days. It aye wags at both ends, and is no' tied in the middle."
Then, stanch Calvinist that he was, and never dreaming that he was indulging in the sinful pleasure of confession, Mr. Traill poured out the story of Auld Jock's plight and of his own shortcomings. It was a bitter, upbraiding thing that he, an uncommonly capable man, had meant so well by a humble old body, and done so ill. And he had failed again when he tried to undo the mischief. The very next morning he had gone down into the perilous Cowgate, and inquired in every place where it might be possible for such a timid old shepherd to be known. But there! As well look for a burr thistle in a bin of oats, as look for a human atom in the Cowgate and the wynds "juist aff."
"Weel, noo, ye couldna hae dune aething wi' the auld body, ava, gin he wouldna gang to the infairmary." The caretaker was trying to console the self-accusing man.
"Could I no'? Ye dinna ken me as weel as ye micht." The disgusted landlord tumbled into broad Scotch. "Gie me to do it ance mair, an' I'd chairge Auld Jock wi' thievin' ma siller, wi' a wink o' the ee at the police to mak' them ken I was leein'; an' syne they'd hae hustled 'im aff, willy-nilly, to a snug bed."
The energetic little man looked so entirely capable of any daring deed that he fired the caretaker into enthusiastic search for Bobby. It was not entirely dark, for the sky was studded with stars, snow lay in broad patches on the slope, and all about the lower end of the kirkyard supper candles burned at every rear window of the tall tenements.
The two men searched among the near-by slabs and table-tombs and scattered thorn bushes. They circled the monument to all the martyrs who had died heroically, in the Grassmarket and elsewhere, for their faith. They hunted in the deep shadows of the buttresses along the side of the auld kirk and among the pillars of the octagonal portico to the new. At the rear of the long, low building, that was clumsily partitioned across for two pulpits, stood the ornate tomb of "Bluidy" McKenzie. But Bobby had not committed himself to the mercy of the hanging judge, nor yet to the care of the doughty minister, who, from the pulpit of Greyfriars auld kirk, had flung the blood and tear stained Covenant in the teeth of persecution.
The search was continued past the modest Scott family burial plot and on to the west wall. There was a broad outlook over Heriot's Hospital grounds, a smooth and shining expanse of unsullied snow about the early Elizabethan pile of buildings. Returning, they skirted the lowest wall below the tenements, for in the circling line of courtyarded vaults, where the "nobeelity" of Scotland lay haughtily apart under timestained marbles, were many shadowy nooks in which so small a dog could stow himself away. Skulking cats were flushed there, and sent flying over aristocratic bones, but there was no trace of Bobby.
The second tier of windows of the tenements was level with the kirkyard wall, and several times Mr. Traill called up to a lighted casement where a family sat at a scant supper.
"Have you seen a bit dog, man?"
There was much cordial interest in his quest, windows opening and faces staring into the dusk; but not until near the top of the Row was a clue gained. Then, at the query, an unkempt, illclad lassie slipped from her stool and leaned out over the pediment of a tomb. She had seen a "wee, wee doggie jinkin' amang the stanes." It was on the Sabbath evening, when the well-dressed folk had gone home from the afternoon services. She was eating her porridge at the window, "by her lane," when he "keeked up at her so knowing, and begged so bonny," that she balanced her bit bowl on a lath, and pushed it over on the kirkyard wall. As she finished the story the big, blue eyes of the little maid, who doubtless had herself known what it was to be hungry, filled with tears.
"The wee tyke couldna loup up to it, an' a deil o' a pussy got it a'. He was so bonny, like a leddy's pet, an' syne he fell ower on the snaw an' creepit awa'. He didna cry oot, but he was a' but deid wi' hunger." At the memory of it soft-hearted Ailie Lindsey sobbed on her mother's shoulder.
The tale was retold from one excited window to another, all the way around and all the way up to the gables, so quickly could some incident of human interest make a social gathering in the populous tenements. Most of all, the children seized upon the touching story. Eager and pinched little faces peered wistfully into the melancholy kirkyard.
"Is he yer ain dog?" crippled Tammy Barr piped out, in his thin treble. "Gin I had a bonny wee dog I'd gie 'im ma ain brose, an' cuddle 'im, an' he couldna gang awa'."
"Nae, laddie, he's no' my dog. His master lies buried here, and the leal Highlander mourns for him." With keener appreciation of its pathos, Mr. Traill recalled that this was what Auld Jock had said: "Bobby isna ma ain dog." And he was conscious of wishing that Bobby was his own, with his unpurchasable love and a loyalty to face starvation. As he mounted the turfed terraces he thought to call back:
"If you see him again, lassie, call him 'Bobby,' and fetch him up to Greyfriars Dining-Rooms. I have a bright siller shulling, with the Queen's bonny face on it, to give the bairn that finds Bobby."
There was excited comment on this. He must, indeed, be an attractive dog to be worth a shilling. The children generously shared plans for capturing Bobby. But presently the windows were closed, and supper was resumed. The caretaker was irritable.
"Noo, ye'll hae them a' oot swarmin' ower the kirkyaird. There's nae coontin' the bairns o' the neeborhood, an' nane o' them are so weel broucht up as they micht be."
Mr. Traill commented upon this philosophically: "A bairn is like a dog in mony ways. Tak' a stick to one or the other and he'll misbehave. The children here are poor and neglected, but they're no' vicious like the awfu' imps of the Cowgate, wha'd steal from their blind grandmithers. Get on the gude side of the bairns, man, and you'll live easier and die happier."
It seemed useless to search the much longer arm of the kirkyard that ran southward behind the shops of Greyfriars Place and Forest Road. If Bobby was in the enclosure at all he would not be far from Auld Jock's grave. Nearest the new-made mound were two very old and dark table-tombs. The farther one lay horizontally, on its upright "through stanes," some distance above the earth. The supports of the other had fallen, and the table lay on their thickness within six inches of the ground. Mr. Traill and the caretaker sat upon this slab, which testified to the piety and worth of one Mistress Jean Grant, who had died "lang syne."
Encroached upon, as it was, by unlovely life, Greyfriars kirkyard was yet a place of solitude and peace. The building had the dignity that only old age can give. It had lost its tower by an explosion of gunpowder stored there in war time, and its walls and many of the ancient tombs bore the marks of fire and shot. Within the last decade some of the Gothic openings had been filled with beautiful memorial windows. Despite the horrors and absurdities and mutilation of much of the funeral sculpturing, the kirkyard had a sad distinction, such as became its fame as Scotland's Westminster. And, there was one heavenward outlook and heavenly view. Over the tallest decaying tenement one could look up to the Castle of dreams on the crag, and drop the glance all the way down the pinnacled crest of High Street, to the dark and deserted Palace of Holyrood. After nightfall the turreted heights wore a luminous crown, and the steep ridge up to it twinkled with myriad lights. After a time the caretaker offered a well-considered opinion.
"The dog maun hae left the kirkyaird. Thae terriers are aye barkin'. It'd be maist michty noo, gin he'd be so lang i' the kirkyaird, an' no' mak' a blatterin'."
As a man of superior knowledge Mr. Traill found pleasure in upsetting this theory. "The Highland breed are no' like ordinar' terriers. Noisy enough to deave one, by nature, give a bit Skye a reason and he'll lie a' the day under a whin bush on the brae, as canny as a fox. You gave Bobby a reason for hiding here by turning him out. And Auld Jock was a vera releegious man. It would no' be surprising if he taught Bobby to hold his tongue in a kirkyard."
"Man, he did that vera thing." James Brown brought his fist down on his knee; for suddenly he identified Bobby as the snappy little ruffian that had chased the cat and bitten his shins, and Auld Jock as the scandalized shepherd who had rebuked the dog so bitterly. He related the incident with gusto.
"The auld man cried oot on the misbehavin' tyke to haud 'is gab. Syne, ye ne'er saw the bit dog's like for a bairn that'd haen a lickin'. He'd 'a' gaen into a pit, gin there'd been ane, an' pu'd it in ahind 'im. I turned 'em baith oot, an' told 'em no' to come back. Eh, man, it's fearsome hoo ilka body comes to a kirkyaird, toes afore 'im, in a long box."
Mr. Brown was sobered by this grim thought and then, in his turn, he confessed a slip to this tolerant man of the world. "The wee deil o' a sperity dog nipped me so I let oot an aith."
"Ay, that's Bobby. He would no' be afraid of onything with hide or hair on it. Man, the Skye terriers go into dens of foxes and wildcats, and worry bulls till they tak' to their heels. And Bobby's sagacious by the ordinar'." He thought intently for a moment, and then spoke naturally, and much as Auld Jock himself might have spoken to the dog.
"Whaur are ye, Bobby? Come awa' oot, laddie!"
Instantly the little dog stood before him like some conjured ghost. He had slipped from under the slab on which they were sitting. It lay so near the ground, and in such a mat of dead grass, that it had not occurred to them to look for him there. He came up to Mr. Traill confidently, submitted to having his head patted, and looked pleadingly at the caretaker. Then, thinking he had permission to do so, he lay down on the mound. James Brown dropped his pipe.
"It's maist michty!" he said.
Mr. Traill got to his feet briskly. "I'll just tak' the dog with me, Mr. Brown. On marketday I'll find the farmer that owns him and send him hame. As you say, a kirkyard's nae place for a dog to be living neglected. Come awa', Bobby."
Bobby looked up, but, as he made no motion to obey, Mr. Traill stooped and lifted him.
From sheer surprise at this unexpected move the little dog lay still a moment on the man's arm. Then, with a lithe twist of his muscular body and a spring, he was on the ground, trembling, reproachful for the breach of faith, but braced for resistance.
"Eh, you're no' going?" Mr. Traill put his hands in his pockets, looked down at Bobby admiringly, and sighed. "There's a dog after my ain heart, and he'll have naething to do with me. He has a mind of his ain. I'll just have to be leaving him here the two days, Mr. Brown."
"Ye wullna leave 'im! Ye'll tak' 'im wi' ye, or I'll hae to put 'im oot. Man, I couldna haud the place gin I brak the rules."
"You—will—no'—put—the—wee—dog—out!" Mr. Traill shook a playful, emphatic finger under the big man's nose.
"Why wull I no'?"
"Because, man, you have a vera soft heart, and you canna deny it." It was with a genial, confident smile that Mr. Traill made this terrible accusation.
"Ma heart's no' so saft as to permit a bit dog to scandalize the deid."
"He's been here two days, you no' knowing it, and he has scandalized neither the dead nor the living. He's as leal as ony Covenanter here, and better conducted than mony a laird. He's no the quarrelsome kind, but, man, for a principle he'd fight like auld Clootie." Here the landlord's heat gave way to pure enjoyment of the situation. "Eh, I'd like to see you put him out. It would be another Flodden Field."
The angry caretaker shrugged his broad shoulders.
"Ye can see it, gin ye stand by, in juist one meenit. Fecht as he may, it wull soon be ower."
Mr. Traill laughed easily, and ventured the opinion that Mr. Brown's bark was worse than his bite. As he went through the gateway he could not resist calling back a challenge: "I daur you to do it."
Mr. Brown locked the gate, went sulkily into the lodge, lighted his cutty pipe, and smoked it furiously. He read a Psalm with deliberation, poked up an already bright fire, and glowered at his placid gude wife. It was not to be borne—to be defied by a ten-inch-high terrier, and dared, by a man a third under his own weight, to do his duty. After an hour or so he worked himself up to the point of going out and slamming the door.
At eight o'clock Mr. Traill found Bobby on the pavement outside the locked gate. He was not sorry that the fortunes of unequal battle had thrown the faithful little dog on his hospitality. Bobby begged piteously to be put inside, but he seemed to understand at last that the gate was too high for Mr. Traill to drop him over. He followed the landlord up to the restaurant willingly. He may have thought this champion had another solution of the difficulty, for when he saw the man settle comfortably in a chair he refused to lie on the hearth. He ran to the door and back, and begged and whined to be let out. For a long time he stood dejectedly. He was not sullen, for he ate a light supper and thanked his host with much polite wagging, and he even allowed himself to be petted. Suddenly he thought of something, trotted briskly off to a corner and crouched there.
Mr. Traill watched the attractive little creature with interest and growing affection. Very likely he indulged in a day-dream that, perhaps, the tenant of Cauldbrae farm could be induced to part with Bobby for a consideration, and that he himself could win the dog to transfer his love from a cold grave to a warm hearth.
With a spring the rat was captured. A jerk of the long head and there was proof of Bobby's prowess to lay at his good friend's feet. Made much of, and in a position to ask fresh favors, the little dog was off to the door with cheerful, staccato barks. His reasoning was as plain as print: "I hae done ye a service, noo tak' me back to the kirkyaird."
Mr. Traill talked to him as he might have reasoned with a bright bairn. Bobby listened patiently, but remained of the same mind. At last he moved away, disappointed in this human person, discouraged, but undefeated in his purpose. He lay down by the door. Mr. Traill watched him, for if any chance late comer opened the door the masterless little dog would be out into the perils of the street. Bobby knew what doors were for and, very likely, expected some such release. He waited a long time patiently. Then he began to run back and forth. He put his paws upon Mr. Traill and whimpered and cried. Finally he howled.
It was a dreadful, dismal, heartbroken howl that echoed back from the walls. He howled continuously, until the landlord, quite distracted, and concerned about the peace of his neighbors, thrust Bobby into the dark scullery at the rear, and bade him stop his noise. For fully ten minutes the dog was quiet. He was probably engaged in exploring his new quarters to find an outlet. Then he began to howl again. It was truly astonishing that so small a dog could make so large a noise.
A battle was on between the endurance of the man and the persistence of the terrier. Mr. Traill was speculating on which was likely to be victor in the contest, when the front door was opened and the proprietor of the Book Hunter's Stall put in a bare, bald head and the abstracted face of the book-worm that is mildly amused.
"Have you tak'n to a dog at your time o' life, Mr. Traill?"
"Ay, man, and it would be all right if the bit dog would just tak' to me."
This pleasantry annoyed a good man who had small sense of humor, and he remarked testily "The barkin' disturbs my customers so they canna read." The place was a resort for student laddies who had to be saving of candles.
"That's no' right," the landlord admitted, sympathetically. "'Reading mak'th a full man.' Eh, what a deeference to the warld if Robbie Burns had aye preferred a book to a bottle." The bookseller refused to be beguiled from his just cause of complaint into the flowery meads of literary reminiscences and speculations.