Greyfriar's Bobby/Chapter III
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.