Greyfriar's Bobby/Chapter VIII
It was more than eight years after Auld Jock fled from the threat of a doctor that Mr. Traill's prediction, that his tongue would get him into trouble with the magistrates, was fulfilled; and then it was because of the least-considered slip in speaking to a boyhood friend who happened to be a Burgh policeman.
Many things had tried the landlord of Ye Olde Greyfriars Dining-Rooms. After a series of soft April days, in which lilacs budded and birds sang in the kirkyard, squalls of wind and rain came up out of the sea-roaring east. The smoky old town of Edinburgh was so shaken and beaten upon and icily drenched that rattling finials and tiles were torn from ancient gables and whirled abroad. Rheumatic pains were driven into the joints of the elderly. Mr. Brown took to his bed in the lodge, and Mr. Traill was touchy in his temper.
A sensitive little dog learns to read the human barometer with a degree of accuracy rarely attained by fellowmen and, in times of low pressure, wisely effaces himself. His rough thatch streaming, Bobby trotted in blithely for his dinner, ate it under the settle, shook himself dry, and dozed half the afternoon.
To the casual observer the wee terrier was no older than when his master died. As swift of foot and as sound of wind as he had ever been, he could tear across country at the heels of a new generation of Heriot laddies and be as fresh as a daisy at nightfall. Silvery gray all over, the whitening hairs on his face and tufted feet were not visible. His hazel-brown eyes were still as bright and soft and deep as the sunniest pools of Leith Water. It was only when he opened his mouth for a tiny, pink cavern of a yawn that the points of his teeth could be seen to be wearing down; and his after-dinner nap was more prolonged than of old. At such times Mr. Traill recalled that the longest life of a dog is no more than a fifth of the length of days allotted to man.
On that snarling April day, when only himself and the flossy ball of sleeping Skye were in the place, this thought added to Mr. Traill's discontent. There had been few guests. Those who had come in, soaked and surly, ate their dinner in silence and discomfort and took themselves away, leaving the freshly scrubbed floor as mucky as a moss-hag on the moor. Late in the afternoon a sergeant, risen from the ranks and cocky about it, came in and turned himself out of a dripping greatcoat, dapper and dry in his red tunic, pipe-clayed belt, and winking buttons. He ordered tea and toast and Dundee marmalade with an air of gay well-being that was no less than a personal affront to a man in Mr. Traill's frame of mind. Trouble brewed with the tea that Ailie Lindsey, a tall lassie of fifteen, but shy and elfish as of old, brought in on a tray from the scullery.
When this spick-and-span non-commissioned officer demanded Mr. Traill's price for the little dog that took his eye, the landlord replied curtly that Bobby was not for sale. The soldier was insolently amused.
"That's vera surprisin'. I aye thoucht an Edinburgh shopkeeper wad sell ilka thing he had, an' tak' the siller to bed wi' 'im to keep 'im snug the nicht."
Mr. Traill returned, with brief sarcasm, that "his lairdship" had been misinformed.
"Why wull ye no' sell the bit dog?" the man insisted.
The badgered landlord turned upon him and answered at length, after the elaborate manner of a minister who lays his sermon off in sections
"First: he's no' my dog to sell. Second: he's a dog of rare discreemination, and is no' like to tak' you for a master. Third: you soldiers aye have with you a special brand of shulling-a-day impudence. And, fourth and last, my brither: I'm no' needing your siller, and I can manage to do fair weel without your conversation."
As this bombardment proceeded, the sergeant's jaw dropped. When it was finished he laughed heartily and slapped his knee. "Man, come an' brak bread wi' me or I'll hae to brak yer stiff neck."
A truce was declared over a cozy pot of tea, and the two became at least temporary friends. It was such a day that the landlord would have gossiped with a gaol bird; and when a soldier who has seen years of service, much of it in strange lands, once admits a shopkeeper to equality, he can be affable and entertaining "by the ordinar'." Mr. Traill sketched Bobby's story broadly, and to a sympathetic listener; and the soldier told the landlord of the animals that had lived and died in the Castle.
Parrots and monkeys and strange dogs and cats had been brought there by regiments returning from foreign countries and colonies. But most of the pets had been native dogs--collies, spaniels and terriers, and animals of mixed breeds and of no breed at all, but just good dogs. No one knew when the custom began, but there was an old and well-filled cemetery for the Castle pets. When a dog died a little stone was set up, with the name of the animal and the regiment to which it had belonged on it. Soldiers often went there among the tiny mounds and told stories of the virtues and taking ways of old favorites. And visitors read the names of Flora and Guy and Dandie, of Prince Charlie and Rob Roy, of Jeanie and Bruce and Wattie. It was a merry life for a dog in the Castle. He was petted and spoiled by homesick men, and when he died there were a thousand mourners at his funeral.
"Put it to the bit Skye noo. If he tak's the Queen's shullin' he belongs to the army." The sergeant flipped a coin before Bobby, who was wagging his tail and sniffing at the military boots with his ever lively interest in soldiers.
He looked up at the tossed coin indifferently, and when it fell to the floor he let it lie. "Siller" has no meaning to a dog. His love can be purchased with nothing less than his chosen master's heart. The soldier sighed at Bobby's indifference. He introduced himself as Sergeant Scott, of the Royal Engineers, detailed from headquarters to direct the work in the Castle crafts shops. Engineers rank high in pay and in consideration, and it was no ordinary Jack of all trades who had expert knowledge of so many skilled handicrafts. Mr. Traill's respect and liking for the man increased with the passing moments.
As the sergeant departed he warned Mr. Traill, laughingly, that he meant to kidnap Bobby the very first chance he got. The Castle pet had died, and Bobby was altogether too good a dog to be wasted on a moldy auld kirkyard and thrown on a dust-cart when he came to die.
Mr. Traill resented the imputation. "He'll no' be thrown on a dust-cart!"
The door was shut on the mocking retort "Hoo do ye ken he wullna?"
And there was food for gloomy reflection. The landlord could not know, in truth, what Bobby's ultimate fate might be. But little over nine years of age, he should live only five or six years longer at most. Of his friends, Mr. Brown was ill and aging, and might have to give place to a younger man. He himself was in his prime, but he could not be certain of living longer than this hardy little dog. For the first time he realized the truth of Dr. Lee's saying that everybody's dog was nobody's dog. The tenement children held Bobby in a sort of community affection. He was the special pet of the Heriot laddies, but a class was sent into the world every year and was scattered far. Not one of all the hundreds of bairns who had known and loved this little dog could give him any real care or protection.
For the rest, Bobby had remained almost unknown. Many of the congregations of old and new Greyfriars had never seen or heard of him. When strangers were about he seemed to prefer lying in his retreat under the fallen tomb. His Sunday-afternoon naps he usually took in the lodge kitchen. And so, it might very well happen that his old age would be friendless, that he would come to some forlorn end, and be carried away on the dustman's cart. It might, indeed, be better for him to end his days in love and honor in the Castle. But to this solution of the problem Mr. Traill himself was not reconciled.
Sensing some shifting of the winds in the man's soul, Bobby trotted over to lick his hand. Then he sat up on the hearth and lolled his tongue, reminding the good landlord that he had one cheerful friend to bear him company on the blaw-weary day. It was thus they sat, companionably, when a Burgh policeman who was well known to Mr. Traill came in to dry himself by the fire. Gloomy thoughts were dispelled at once by the instinct of hospitality.
"You're fair wet, man. Pull a chair to the hearth. And you have a bit smut on your nose, Davie."
"It's frae the railway engine. Edinburgh was a reekie toon eneugh afore the engines cam' in an' belched smuts in ilka body's faces." The policeman was disgusted and discouraged by three days of wet clothing, and he would have to go out into the rain again before he got dry. Nothing occurred to him to talk about but grievances.
"Did ye ken the Laird Provost, Maister Chambers, is intendin' to knock a lang hole aboon the tap o' the Coogate wynds? It wull mak' a braid street ye can leuk doon frae yer doorway here. The gude auld days gangin' doon in a muckle dust!"
"Ay, the sun will peep into foul places it hasn't seen sin' Queen Mary's day. And, Davie, it would be more according to the gude auld customs you're so fond of to call Mr. William Chambers 'Glenormiston' for his bit country place."
"He's no' a laird."
"Nae; but he'll be a laird the next time the Queen shows her bonny face north o' the Tweed. Tak' 'a cup o' kindness' with me, man. Hot tay will tak' the cauld out of vour disposeetion." Mr. Traill pulled a bell-cord and Ailie, unused as yet to bells, put her startled little face in at the door to the scullery. At sight of the policeman she looked more than ever like a scared rabbit, and her hands shook when she set the tray down before him. A tenement child grew up in an atmosphere of hostility to uniformed authority, which seldom appeared except to interfere with what were considered personal affairs.
The tea mollified the dour man, but there was one more rumbling. "I'm no' denyin' the Provost's gude-hearted. Ance he got up a hame for gaen-aboot dogs, an' he had naethin' to mak' by that. But he canna keep 'is spoon oot o' ilka body's porridge. He's fair daft to tear doon the wa's that cut St. Giles up into fower, snod, white kirks, an' mak' it the ane muckle kirk it was in auld Papist days. There are folk that say, gin he doesna leuk oot, anither kale wifie wull be throwin' a bit stool at 'is meddlin' heid."
"Eh, nae doubt. There's aye a plentifu' supply o' fules in the warld."
Seeing his good friend so well entertained, and needing his society no longer, Bobby got up, wagged his tail in farewell, and started toward the door. Mr. Traill summoned the little maid and spoke to her kindly: "Give Bobby a bone, lassie, and then open the door for him."
In carrying out these instructions Ailie gave the policeman as wide leeway as possible and kept a wary eye upon him. The officer's duties were chiefly up on High Street. He seldom crossed the bridge, and it happened that he had never seen Bobby before. Just by way of making conversation he remarked, "I didna ken ye had a dog, John."
Ailie stopped stock still, the cups on the tray she was taking out tinkling from her agitation. It was thus policemen spoke at private doors in the dark tenements: "I didna ken ye had the smallpox." But Mr. Traill seemed in no way alarmed. He answered with easy indulgence "That's no' surprising. There's mony a thing you dinna ken, Davie."
The landlord forgot the matter at once, but Ailie did not, for she saw the officer flush darkly and, having no answer ready, go out in silence. In truth, the good-humored sarcasm rankled in the policeman's breast. An hour later he suddenly came to a standstill below the clock tower of the Tron kirk on High Street, and he chuckled.
"Eh, John Traill. Ye're unco' weel furnished i' the heid, but there's ane or twa things ye dinna ken yer ainsel'."
Entirely taken up with his brilliant idea, he lost no time in putting it to work. He dodged among the standing cabs and around the buttresses of St. Giles that projected into the thoroughfare. In the mid-century there was a police office in the middle of the front of the historic old cathedral that had then fallen to its lowest ebb of fortune. There the officer reported a matter that was strictly within the line of his duty.
Very early the next morning he was standing before the door of Mr. Traill's place, in the fitful sunshine of clearing skies, when the landlord appeared to begin the business of the day.
"Are ye Maister John Traill?"
"Havers, Davie! What ails you, man? You know my name as weel as you know your ain."
"It's juist a formality o' the law to mak' ye admit yer identity. Here's a bit paper for ye." He thrust an official-looking document into Mr. Traill's hand and took himself away across the bridge, fair satisfied with his conduct of an affair of subtlety.
It required five minutes for Mr. Traill to take in the import of the legal form. Then a wrathful explosion vented itself on the unruly key that persisted in dodging the keyhole. But once within he read the paper again, put it away thoughtfully in an inner pocket, and outwardly subsided to his ordinary aspect. He despatched the business of the day with unusual attention to details and courtesy to guests, and when, in mid afternoon, the place was empty, he followed Bobby to the kirkyard and inquired at the lodge if he could see Mr. Brown.
"He isna so ill, noo, Maister Traill, but I wadna advise ye to hae muckle to say to 'im." Mistress Jeanie wore the arch look of the wifie who is somewhat amused by a convalescent husband's ill humors. "The pains grupped 'im sair, an' noo that he's easier he'd see us a' hanged wi' pleesure. Is it onything by the ordinar'?"
"Nae. It's just a sma' matter I can attend to my ainsel'. Do you think he could be out the morn?"
"No' afore a week or twa, an' syne, gin the bonny sun comes oot to bide a wee."
Mr. Traill left the kirkyard and went out to George Square to call upon the minister of Greyfriars auld kirk. The errand was unfruitful, and he was back in ten minutes, to spend the evening alone, without even the consolation of Bobby's company, for the little dog was unhappy outside the kirkyard after sunset. And he took an unsettling thought to bed with him.
Here was a pretty kettle of fish, indeed, for a respected member of a kirk and middle-aged business man to fry in. Through the legal verbiage Mr. Traill made out that he was summoned to appear before whatever magistrate happened to be sitting on the morrow in the Burgh court, to answer to the charge of owning, or harboring, one dog, upon which he had not paid the license tax of seven shillings.
For all its absurdity it was no laughing matter. The municipal court of Edinburgh was of far greater dignity than the ordinary justice court of the United Kingdom and of America. The civic bench was occupied, in turn, by no less a personage than the Lord Provost as chief, and by five other magistrates elected by the Burgh council from among its own membership. Men of standing in business, legal and University circles, considered it an honor and a duty to bring their knowledge and responsibility to bear on the pettiest police cases.
It was morning before Mr. Traill had the glimmer of an idea to take with him on this unlucky business. An hour before the opening of court he crossed the bridge into High Street, which was then as picturesquely Gothic and decaying and overpopulated as the Cowgate, but high-set, wind-swept and sun-searched, all the way up the sloping mile from Holyrood Palace to the Castle. The ridge fell away steeply, through rifts of wynds and closes, to the Cowgate ravine on the one hand, and to Princes Street's parked valley on the other. Mr. Traill turned into the narrow descent of Warriston Close. Little more than a crevice in the precipice of tall, old buildings, on it fronted a business house whose firm name was known wherever the English language was read: "W. and R. Chambers, Publishers."
From top to bottom the place was gas-lit, even on a sunny spring morning, and it hummed and clattered with printing-presses. No one was in the little anteroom to the editorial offices beside a young clerk, but at sight of a red-headed, freckle-faced Heriot laddie of Bobby's puppyhood days Mr. Traill's spirits rose.
"A gude day to you, Sandy McGregor; and whaur's your auld twin conspirator, Geordie Ross?"
"He's a student in the Medical College, Mr. Traill. He went by this meenit to the Botanical Garden for herbs my grandmither has aye known without books." Sandy grinned in appreciation of this foolishness, but he added, with Scotch shrewdness, "It's gude for the book-prenting beesiness."
"It is so," the landlord agreed, heartily. "But you must no' be forgetting that the Chambers brothers war book readers and sellers before they war publishers. You are weel set up in life, laddie, and Heriot's has pulled the warst of the burrs from your tongue. I'm wanting to see Glenormiston."
"Mr. William Chambers is no' in. Mr. Robert is aye in, but he's no' liking to be fashed about sma' things."
"I'll no' trouble him. It's the Lord Provost I'm wanting, on ofeecial beesiness." He requested Sandy to ask Glenormiston, if he came in, to come over to the Burgh court and spier for Mr. Traill.
"It's no' his day to sit as magistrate, and he's no' like to go unless it's a fair sairious matter."
"Ay, it is, laddie. It's a matter of life and death, I'm thinking!" He smiled grimly, as it entered his head that he might be driven to do violence to that meddling policeman. The yellow gas-light gave his face such a sardonic aspect that Sandy turned pale.
"Wha's death, man?"
Mr. Traill kept his own counsel, but at the door he turned: "You'll no' be remembering the bittie terrier that lived in the kirkyard?"
The light of boyhood days broke in Sandy's grin. "Ay, I'll no' be forgetting the sonsie tyke. He was a deil of a dog to tak' on a holiday. Is he still faithfu' to his dead master?"
"He is that; and for his faithfu'ness he's like to be dead himsel'. The police are takin' up masterless dogs an' putting them out o' the way. I'll mak' a gude fight for Bobby in the Burgh court."
"I'll fight with you, man." The spirit of the McGregor clan, though much diluted and subdued by town living, brought Sandy down from a three-legged stool. He called another clerk to take his place, and made off to find the Lord Provost, powerful friend of hameless dogs. Mr. Traill hastened down to the Royal Exchange, below St. Giles and on the northern side of High Street.
Less than a century old, this municipal building was modern among ancient rookeries. To High Street it presented a classic front of four stories, recessed by flanking wings, around three sides of a quadrangular courtyard. Near the entrance there was a row of barber shops and coffee-rooms. Any one having business with the city offices went through a corridor between these places of small trade to the stairway court behind them. On the floor above, one had to inquire of some uniformed attendant in which of the oaken, ante-roomed halls the Burgh court was sitting. And by the time one got there all the pride of civic history of the ancient royal Burgh, as set forth in portrait and statue and a museum of antiquities, was apt to take the lime out of the backbone of a man less courageous than Mr. Traill. What a car of juggernaut to roll over one, small, masterless terrier!
But presently the landlord found himself on his feet, and not so ill at ease. A Scottish court, high or low, civil or criminal, had a flavor all its own. Law points were threshed over with gusto, but counsel, client, and witness gained many a point by ready wit, and there was no lack of dry humor from the bench. About the Burgh court, for all its stately setting, there was little formality. The magistrate of the day sat behind a tall desk, with a clerk of record at his elbow, and the officer gave his testimony briefly: Edinburgh being quite overrun by stray and unlicensed dogs, orders had recently been given the Burgh police to report such animals. In Mr. Traill's place he had seen a small terrier that appeared to be at home there; and, indeed, on the dog's going out, Mr. Traill had called a servant lassie to fetch a bone, and to open the door for him. He noticed that the animal wore no collar, and felt it his duty to report the matter.
By the time Mr. Traill was called to answer to the charge a number of curious idlers had gathered on the back benches. He admitted his name and address, but denied that he either owned or was harboring a dog. The magistrate fixed a cold eye upon him, and asked if he meant to contradict the testimony of the officer.
"Nae, your Honor; and he might have seen the same thing ony week-day of the past eight and a half years. But the bit terrier is no' my ain dog." Suddenly, the memory of the stormy night, the sick old man and the pathos of his renunciation of the only beating heart in the world that loved him--"Bobby isna ma ain dog!" swept over the remorseful landlord. He was filled with a fierce championship of the wee Highlander, whose loyalty to that dead master had brought him to this strait.
To the magistrate Mr. Traill's tossed-up head had the effect of defiance, and brought a sharp rebuke. "Don't split hairs, Mr. Traill. You are wasting the time of the court. You admit feeding the dog. Who is his master and where does he sleep?"
"His master is in his grave in auld Greyfriars kirkyard, and the dog has aye slept there on the mound."
The magistrate leaned over his desk. "Man, no dog could sleep in the open for one winter in this climate. Are you fond of romancing, Mr. Traill?"
"No' so overfond, your Honor. The dog is of the subarctic breed of Skye terriers, the kind with a thick under-jacket of fleece, and a weather thatch that turns rain like a crofter's cottage roof."
"There should be witnesses to such an extraordinary story. The dog could not have lived in this strictly guarded churchyard without the consent of those in authority." The magistrate was plainly annoyed and skeptical, and Mr. Traill felt the sting of it.
"Ay, the caretaker has been his gude friend, but Mr. Brown is ill of rheumatism, and can no' come out. Nae doubt, if necessary, his deposeetion could be tak'n. Permission for the bit dog to live in the kirkyard was given by the meenister of Greyfriars auld kirk, but Doctor Lee is in failing health and has gone to the south of France. The tenement children and the Heriot laddies have aye made a pet of Bobby, but they would no' be competent witnesses."
"You should have counsel. There are some legal difficulties here."
"I'm no' needing a lawyer. The law in sic a matter can no' be so complicated, and I have a tongue in my ain head that has aye served me, your Honor." The magistrate smiled, and the spectators moved to the nearer benches to enjoy this racy man. The room began to fill by that kind of telepathy that causes crowds to gather around the human drama. One man stood, unnoticed, in the doorway. Mr. Traill went on, quietly: "If the court permits me to do so, I shall be glad to pay for Bobby's license, but I'm thinking that carries responsibeelity for the bit dog."
"You are quite right, Mr. Traill. You would have to assume responsibility. Masterless dogs have become a serious nuisance in the city."
"I could no' tak' responsibeelity. The dog is no' with me more than a couple of hours out of the twenty-four. I understand that most of his time is spent in the kirkyard, in weel-behaving, usefu' ways, but I could no' be sure."
"But why have you fed him for so many years? Was his master a friend?"
"Nae, just a customer, your Honor; a simple auld shepherd who ate his market-day dinner in my place. He aye had the bit dog with him, and I was the last man to see the auld body before he went awa' to his meeserable death in a Cowgate wynd. Bobby came to me, near starved, to be fed, two days after his master's burial. I was tak'n by the wee Highlander's leal spirit."
And that was all the landlord would say. He had no mind to wear his heart upon his sleeve for this idle crowd to gape at.
After a moment the magistrate spoke warmly: "It appears, then, that the payment of the license could not be accepted from you. Your humanity is commendable, Mr. Traill, but technically you are in fault. The minimum fine should be imposed and remitted."
At this utterly unlooked-for conclusion Mr. Traill seemed to gather his lean shoulders together for a spring, and his gray eyes narrowed to blades.
"With due respect to your Honor, I must tak' an appeal against sic a deceesion, to the Lord Provost and a' the magistrates, and then to the Court of Sessions."
"You would get scant attention, Mr. Traill. The higher judiciary have more important business than reviewing dog cases. You would be laughed out of court."
The dry tone stung him to instant retort. "And in gude company I'd be. Fifty years syne Lord Erskine was laughed down in Parliament for proposing to give legal protection to dumb animals. But we're getting a bit more ceevilized."
"Tut, tut, Mr. Traill, you are making far too much of a small matter."
"It's no' a sma' matter to be entered in the records of the Burgh court as a petty law-breaker. And if I continued to feed the dog I would be in contempt of court."
The magistrate was beginning to feel badgered. "The fine carries the interdiction with it, Mr. Traill, if you are asking for information."
"It was no' for information, but just to mak' plain my ain line of conduct. I'm no' intending to abandon the dog. I am commended here for my humanity, but the bit dog I must let starve for a technicality." Instantly, as the magistrate half rose from the bench, the landlord saw that he had gone too far, and put the court on the defensive. In an easy, conversational tone, as if unaware of the point he had scored, he asked if he might address his accuser on a personal matter. "We knew each other weel as laddies. Davie, when you're in my neeborhood again on a wet day, come in and dry yoursel' by my fire and tak' another cup o' kindness for auld lang syne. You'll be all the better man for a lesson in morals the bit dog can give you: no' to bite the hand that feeds you."
The policeman turned purple. A ripple of merriment ran through the room. The magistrate put his hand up to his mouth, and the clerk began to drop pens. Before silence was restored a messenger laddie ran up with a note for the bench. The magistrate read it with a look of relief, and nodded to the man who had been listening from the doorway, but who disappeared at once.
"The case is ordered continued. The defendant will be given time to secure witnesses, and notified when to appear. The next case is called."
Somewhat dazed by this sudden turn, and annoyed by the delayed settlement of the affair, Mr. Traill hastened from the court-room. As he gained the street he was overtaken by the messenger with a second note. And there was a still more surprising turn that sent the landlord off up swarming High Street, across the bridge, and on to his snug little place of business, with the face and the heart of a school-boy. When Bobby, draggled by three days of wet weather, came in for his dinner, Mr. Traill scanned him critically and in some perplexity. At the end of the day's work, as Ailie was dropping her quaint curtsy and giving her adored employer a shy "gude nicht," he had a sudden thought that made him call her back.
"Did you ever give a bit dog a washing, lassie?"
"Ye mean Bobby, Maister Traill? Nae, I didna." Her eyes sparkled. "But Tammy's hauded 'im for Maister Brown, an' he says it's sonsie to gie the bonny wee a washin'."
"Weel, Mr. Brown is fair ill, and there has been foul weather. Bobby's getting to look like a poor 'gaen aboot' dog. Have him at the kirkyard gate at a quarter to eight o'clock the morn looking like a leddy's pet and I'll dance a Highland fling at your wedding."
"Are ye gangin' to tak' Bobby on a picnic, Maister Traill?"
He answered with a mock solemnity and a twinkle in his eyes that mystified the little maid. "Nae, lassie; I'm going to tak' him to a meeting in a braw kirk."