Greyfriar's Bobby/Chapter VII
In no part of Edinburgh did summer come up earlier, or with more lavish bloom, than in old Greyfriars kirkyard. Sheltered on the north and east, it was open to the moist breezes of the southwest, and during all the lengthening afternoons the sun lay down its slope and warmed the rear windows of the overlooking tenements. Before the end of May the caretaker had much ado to keep the growth in order. Vines threatened to engulf the circling street of sepulchers in greenery and bloom, and grass to encroach on the flower plots.
A half century ago there were no rotary lawnmowers to cut off clover heads; and, if there had been, one could not have been used on these dropping terraces, so populous with slabs and so closely set with turfed mounds and oblongs of early flowering annuals and bedding plants. Mr. Brown had to get down on his hands and knees, with gardener's shears, to clip the turfed borders and banks, and take a sickle to the hummocks. Thus he could dig out a root of dandelion with the trowel kept ever in his belt, consider the spreading crocuses and valley lilies, whether to spare them, give a country violet its blossoming time, and leave a screening burdock undisturbed until fledglings were out of their nests in the shrubbery.
Mistress Jeanie often brought out a little old milking stool on balmy mornings, and sat with knitting or mending in one of the narrow aisles, to advise her gude-mon in small matters. Bobby trotted quietly about, sniffing at everything with the liveliest interest, head on this side or that, alertly. His business, learned in his first summer in Greyfriars, was to guard the nests of foolish skylarks, song-thrushes, redbreasts and wrens, that built low in lilac, laburnum, and flowering currant bushes, in crannies of wall and vault, and on the ground. It cannot but be a pleasant thing to be a wee young dog, full of life and good intentions, and to play one's dramatic part in making an old garden of souls tuneful with bird song. A cry of alarm from parent or nestling was answered instantly by the tiny, tousled policeman, and there was a prowler the less, or a skulking cat was sent flying over tomb and wall.
His duty done, without noise or waste of energy, Bobby returned to lie in the sun on Auld Jock's grave. Over this beloved mound a coverlet of rustic turf had been spread as soon as the frost was out of the ground, and a bonny briar bush planted at the head. Then it bore nature's own tribute of flowers, for violets, buttercups, daisies and clover blossoms opened there and, later, a spike or so of wild foxglove and a knot of heather. Robin redbreasts and wrens foraged around Bobby, unafraid; swallows swooped down from their mud villages, under the dizzy dormers and gables, to flush the flies on his muzzle, and whole flocks of little blue titmice fluttered just overhead, in their rovings from holly and laurel to newly tasseled firs and yew trees.
The click of the wicket gate was another sort of alarm altogether. At that the little dog slipped under the fallen table-tomb and lay hidden there until any strange visitor had taken himself away. Except for two more forced returns and ingenious escapes from the sheepfarm on the Pentlands, Bobby had lived in the kirkyard undisturbed for six months. The caretaker had neither the heart to put him out nor the courage to face the minister and the kirk officers with a plea for him to remain. The little dog's presence there was known, apparently, only to Mr. Traill, to a few of the tenement dwellers, and to the Heriot boys. If his life was clandestine in a way, it was as regular of hour and duty and as well ordered as that of the garrison in the Castle.
When the time-gun boomed, Bobby was let out for his midday meal at Mr. Traill's and for a noisy run about the neighborhood to exercise his lungs and legs. On Wednesdays he haunted the Grassmarket, sniffing at horses, carts and mired boots. Edinburgh had so many shaggy little Skye and Scotch terriers that one more could go about unremarked. Bobby returned to the kirkyard at his own good pleasure. In the evening he was given a supper of porridge and broo, or milk, at the kitchen door of the lodge, and the nights he spent on Auld Jock's grave. The morning drum and bugle woke him to the chase, and all his other hours were spent in close attendance on the labors of the caretaker. The click of the wicket gate was the signal for instant disappearance.
A scramble up the wall from Heriot's Hospital grounds, or the patter of bare feet on the gravel, however, was notice to come out and greet a friend. Bobby was host to the disinherited children of the tenements. Now, at the tap-tap-tapping of Tammy Barr's crutches, he scampered up the slope, and he suited his pace to the crippled boy's in coming down again. Tammy chose a heap of cut grass on which to sit enthroned and play king, a grand new crutch for a scepter, and Bobby for a courtier. At command, the little dog rolled over and over, begged, and walked on his hind legs. He even permitted a pair of thin little arms to come near strangling him, in an excess of affection. Then he wagged his tail and lolled his tongue to show that he was friendly, and trotted away about his business. Tammy took an oat-cake from his pocket to nibble, and began a conversation with Mistress Jeanie.
"I broucht a picnic wi' me."
"Did ye, noo? An' hoo did ye ken aboot picnics, laddie?"
"Maister Traill was tellin' Ailie an' me. There's ilka thing to mak' a picnic i' the kirkyaird. They couldna mak' my legs gude i' the infairmary, but I'm gangin' to Heriot's. I'll juist hae to airn ma leevin' wi' ma heid, an' no' remember aboot ma legs, ava. Is he no' a bonny doggie?"
"Ay, he's bonny. An' ye're a braw laddie no' to fash yersel' aboot what canna be helped."
The wifie took his ragged jacket and mended it, dropped a tear in an impossible hole, and a ha'penny in the one good pocket. And by and by the pale laddie slept there among the bright graves, in the sun. After another false alarm from the gate she asked her gude-mon, as she had asked many times before:
"What'll ye do, Jamie, when the meenister kens aboot Bobby, an' ca's ye up afore kirk sessions for brakin' the rule?"
"We wullna cross the brig till we come to the burn, woman," he invariably answered, with assumed unconcern. Well he knew that the bridge might be down and the stream in flood when he came to it. But Mr. Traill was a member of Greyfriars auld kirk, too, and a companion in guilt, and Mr. Brown relied not a little on the landlord's fertile mind and daring tongue. And he relied on useful, well-behaving Bobby to plead his own cause.
"There's nae denyin' the doggie is takin' in 'is ways. He's had twa gude hames fair thrown at 'is heid, but the sperity bit keeps to 'is ain mind. An' syne he's usefu', an' hauds 'is gab by the ordinar'." He often reinforced his inclination with some such argument.
With all their caution, discovery was always imminent. The kirkyard was long and narrow and on rising levels, and it was cut almost across by the low mass of the two kirks, so that many things might be going on at one end that could not be seen from the other. On this Saturday noon, when the Heriot boys were let out for the half-holiday, Mr. Brown kept an eye on them until those who lived outside had dispersed. When Mistress Jeanie tucked her knitting-needles in her belt, and went up to the lodge to put the dinner over the fire, the caretaker went down toward Candlemakers Row to trim the grass about the martyrs' monument. Bobby dutifully trotted at his heels. Almost immediately a half-dozen laddies, led by Geordie Ross and Sandy McGregor, scaled the wall from Heriot's grounds and stepped down into the kirkyard, that lay piled within nearly to the top. They had a perfectly legitimate errand there, but no mission is to be approached directly by romantic boyhood.
"Hist!" was the warning, and the innocent invaders, feeling delightfully lawless, stole over and stormed the marble castle, where "Bluidy" McKenzie slept uneasily against judgment day. Light-hearted lads can do daring deeds on a sunny day that would freeze their blood on a dark and stormy night. So now Geordie climbed nonchalantly to a seat over the old persecutor, crossed his stout, bare legs, filled an imaginary pipe, and rattled the three farthings in his pocket.
"I'm 'Jinglin' Geordie' Heriot," he announced.
"I'll show ye hoo a prood goldsmith ance smoked wi' a'." Then, jauntily: "Sandy, gie a crack to 'Bluidy' McKenzie's door an' daur the auld hornie to come oot."
The deed was done amid breathless apprehensions, but nothing disturbed the silence of the May noon except the lark that sprang at their feet and soared singing into the blue. It was Sandy who presently whistled like a blackbird to attract the attention of Bobby.
There were no blackbirds in the kirkyard, and Bobby understood the signal. He scampered up at once and dashed around the kirk, all excitement, for he had had many adventures with the Heriot boys at skating and hockey on Duddingston Lock in the winter, and tramps over the country and out to Leith harbor in the spring. The laddies prowled along the upper wall of the kirks, opened and shut the wicket, to give the caretaker the idea that they had come in decorously by the gate, and went down to ask him, with due respect and humility, if they could take Bobby out for the afternoon. They were going to mark the places where wild flowers might be had, to decorate "Jinglin' Geordie's" portrait, statue and tomb at the school on Founder's Day. Mr. Brown considered them with a glower that made the boys nudge each other knowingly. "Saturday isna the day for 'im to be gaen aboot. He aye has a washin' an' a groomin' to mak' 'im fit for the Sabbath. An', by the leuk o' ye, ye'd be nane the waur for soap an' water yer ainsel's."
"We'll gie 'im 'is washin' an' combin' the nicht," they volunteered, eagerly.
"Weel, noo, he wullna hae 'is dinner till the time-gun."
Neither would they. At that, annoyed by their persistence, Mr. Brown denied authority.
"Ye ken weel he isna ma dog. Ye'll hae to gang up an' spier Maister Traill. He's fair daft aboot the gude-for-naethin' tyke."
This was understood as permission. As the boys ran up to the gate, with Bobby at their heels, Mr. Brown called after them: "Ye fetch 'im hame wi' the sunset bugle, an' gin ye teach 'im ony o' yer unmannerly ways I'll tak' a stick to yer breeks."
When they returned to Mr. Traill's place at two o'clock the landlord stood in shirt-sleeves and apron in the open doorway with Bobby, the little dog gripping a mutton shank in his mouth.
"Bobby must tak' his bone down first and hide it awa'. The Sabbath in a kirkyard is a dull day for a wee dog, so he aye gets a catechism of a bone to mumble over."
'The landlord sighed in open envy when the laddies and the little dog tumbled down the Row to the Grassmarket on their gypsying. His eyes sought out the glimpse of green country on the dome of Arthur's Seat, that loomed beyond the University towers to the east. There are times when the heart of a boy goes ill with the sordid duties of the man.
Straight down the length of the empty market the laddies ran, through the crooked, fascinating haunt of horses and jockeys in the street of King's Stables, then northward along the fronts of quaint little handicrafts shops that skirted Castle Crag. By turning westward into Queensferry Street a very few minutes would have brought them to a bit of buried country. But every expedition of Edinburgh lads of spirit of that day was properly begun with challenges to scale Castle Rock from the valley park of Princes Street Gardens on the north.
"I daur ye to gang up!" was all that was necessary to set any group of youngsters to scaling the precipice. By every tree and ledge, by every cranny and point of rock, stoutly rooted hazel and thorn bush and clump of gorse, they climbed. These laddies went up a quarter or a third of the way to the grim ramparts and came cautiously down again. Bobby scrambled higher, tumbled back more recklessly and fell, head over heels and upside down, on the daisied turf. He righted himself at once, and yelped in sharp protest. Then he sniffed and busied himself with pretenses, in the elaborate unconcern with which a little dog denies anything discreditable. There were legends of daring youth having climbed this war-like cliff and laying hands on the fortress wall, but Geordie expressed a popular feeling in declaring these tales "a' lees."
"No' ony laddie could gang a' the way up an' come doon wi' 'is heid no' broken. Bobby couldna do it, an' he's mair like a wild fox than an ordinar' dog. Noo, we're the Light Brigade at Balaklava. Chairge!"
The Crimean War was then a recent event. Heroes of Sebastopol answered the summons of drum and bugle in the Castle and fired the hearts of Edinburgh youth. Cannon all around them, and "theirs not to reason why," this little band stormed out Queensferry Street and went down, hand under hand, into the fairy underworld of Leith Water.
All its short way down from the Pentlands to the sea, the Water of Leith was then a foaming little river of mills, twisting at the bottom of a gorge. One cliff-like wall or the other lay to the sun all day, so that the way was lined with a profusion of every wild thing that turns green and blooms in the Lowlands of Scotland. And it was filled to the brim with bird song and water babble.
A crowd of laddies had only to go inland up this gorge to find wild and tame bloom enough to bury "Jinglin' Geordie" all over again every year. But adventure was to be had in greater variety by dropping seaward with the bickering brown water. These waded along the shallow margin, walked on shelving sands of gold, and, where the channel was filled, they clung to the rocks and picked their way along dripping ledges. Bobby missed no chance to swim. If he could scramble over rough ground like a squirrel or a fox, he could swim like an otter. Swept over the low dam at Dean village, where a cup-like valley was formed, he tumbled over and over in the spray and was all but drowned. As soon as he got his breath and his bearings he struck out frantically for the bank, shook the foam from his eyes and ears, and barked indignantly at the saucy fall. The white miller in the doorway of the gray-stone, red-roofed mill laughed, and anxious children ran down from a knot of storybook cottages and gay dooryards. "I'll gie ye ten shullin's for the sperity bit dog," the miller shouted, above the clatter of the' wheel and the swish of the dam.
"He isna oor ain dog," Geordie called back. "But he wullna droon. He's got a gude heid to 'im, an' wullna be sic a bittie fule anither time."
Indeed he had a good head on him! Bobby never needed a second lesson. At Silver Mills and Canon Mills he came out and trotted warily around the dam. Where the gorge widened to a valley toward the sea they all climbed up to Leith Walk, that ran to the harbor, and came out to a wonder-world of water-craft anchored in the Firth. Each boy picked out his ship to go adventuring.
"I'm gangin' to Norway!"
Geordie was scornful. "Hoots, ye tame pussies. Ye're fleid o' gettin' yer feet wat. I'll be rinnin' aff to be a pirate. Come awa' doon."
They followed the leader along shore and boarded an abandoned and evil-smelling fishingboat. There they ran up a ragged jacket for a black flag. But sailing a stranded craft palled presently.
"Nae, I'm gangin' to be a Crusoe. Preserve me! If there's no' a futprint i' the sand Bobby's ma sma' man Friday."
Away they ran southward to find a castaway's shelter in a hollow on the golf links. Soon this was transformed into a wrecker's den, and then into the hiding-place of a harried Covenanter fleeing religious persecution. Daring things to do swarmed in upon their minds, for Edinburgh laddies live in a city of romantic history, of soldiers, of near-by mountains, and of sea rovings. No adventure served them five minutes, and Bobby was in every one. Ah, lucky Bobby, to have such gay playfellows on a sunny afternoon and under foot the open country!
And fortunate laddies to have such a merry rascal of a wee dog with them! To the mile they ran, Bobby went five, scampering in wide circles and barking and louping at butterflies and whaups. He made a detour to the right to yelp saucily at the red-coated sentry who paced before the Gothic gateway to the deserted Palace of Holyrood, and as far to the left to harry the hoofs of a regiment of cavalry drilling before the barracks at Piershill. He raced on ahead and swam out to scatter the fleet of swan sailing or the blue mirror of Duddingston Loch.
The tired boys lay blissfully up the sunny side of Arthur's Seat in a thicket of hazel while Geordie carried out a daring plan for which privacy was needed. Bobby was solemnly arraigned before a court on the charge of being a seditious Covenanting meenister, and was required to take the oath of loyalty to English King and Church on pain of being hanged in the Grassmarket. The oath had been duly written out on paper and greased with mutton tallow to make it more palatable. Bobby licked the fat off with relish. Then he took the paper between his sharp little teeth and merrily tore it to shreds. And, having finished it, he barked cheerful defiance at the court. The lads came near rolling down the slope with laughter, and they gave three cheers for the little hero. Sandy remarked, "Ye wadna think, noo, sic a sonsie doggie wad be leevin' i' the murky auld kirkyaird."
Bobby had learned the lay of the tipped-up and scooped-out and jumbled auld toon, and he led the way homeward along the southern outskirts of the city. He turned up Nicolson Street, that ran northward, past the University and the old infirmary. To get into Greyfriars Place from the east at that time one had to descend to the Cowgate and climb out again. Bobby darted down the first of the narrow wynds.
Suddenly he turned 'round and 'round in bewilderment, then shot through a sculptured door way, into a well-like court, and up a flight of stone stairs. The slamming of a shutter overhead shocked him to a standstill on the landing and sent him dropping slowly down again. What memories surged back to his little brain, what grief gripped his heart, as he stood trembling on a certain spot in the pavement where once a long deal box had rested!
"What ails the bittie dog?" There was something here that sobered the thoughtless boys. "Come awa', Bobby!"
At that he came obediently enough. But he trotted down the very middle of the wynd, head and tail low, and turned unheeding into the Saturday-evening roar of the Cowgate. He refused to follow them up the rise between St. Magdalen's Chapel and the eastern parapet of the bridge, but kept to his way under the middle arch into the Grassmarket. By way of Candlemakers Row he gained the kirkyard gate, and when the wicket was opened he disappeared around the church. When Bobby failed to answer calls, Mr. Brown grumbled, but went after him. The little dog submitted to his vigorous scrubbing and grooming, but he refused his supper. Without a look or a wag of the tail he was gone again.
"Noo, what hae ye done to'im? He's no' like 'is ainsel' ava."
They had done nothing, indeed. They could only relate Bobby's strange behavior in College Wynd and the rest of the way home. Mistress Jeanie nodded her head, with the wisdom of women that is of the heart.
"Eh, Jamie, that wad be whaur 'is maister deed sax months syne." And having said it she slipped down the slope with her knitting and sat on the mound beside the mourning little dog.
When the awe-struck lads asked for the story Mr. Brown shook his head. "Ye spier Maister Traill. He kens a' aboot it; an' syne he can talk like a beuk."
Before they left the kirkyard the laddies walked down to Auld Jock's grave and patted Bobby on the head, and they went away thoughtfully to their scattered homes.
As on that first morning when his grief was new, Bobby woke to a Calvinistic Sabbath. There were no rattling carts or hawkers crying their wares. Steeped in sunshine, the Castle loomed golden into the blue. Tenement dwellers slept late, and then moved about quietly. Children with unwontedly clean faces came out to galleries and stairs to study their catechisms. Only the birds were unaware of the seventh day, and went about their melodious business; and flower buds opened to the sun.
In mid-morning there suddenly broke on the sweet stillness that clamor of discordant bells that made the wayfarer in Edinburgh stop his ears. All the way from Leith Harbor to the Burghmuir eight score of warring bells contended to be heard. Greyfriars alone was silent in that babblement, for it had lost tower and bell in an explosion of gunpowder. And when the din ceased at last there was a sound of military music. The Castle gates swung wide, and a kilted regiment marched down High Street playing "God Save the Queen." When Bobby was in good spirits the marching music got into his legs and set him to dancing scandalously. The caretaker and his wifie always came around the kirk on pleasant mornings to see the bonny sight of the gay soldiers going to church.
To wee Bobby these good, comfortable, everyday friends of his must have seemed strange in their black garments and their serious Sunday faces. And, ah! the Sabbath must, indeed, have been a dull day to the little dog. He had learned that when the earliest comer clicked the wicket he must go under the table-tomb and console himself with the extra bone that Mr. Traill never failed to remember. With an hour's respite for dinner at the lodge, between the morning and afternoon services, he lay there all day. The restaurant was closed, and there was no running about for good dogs. In the early dark of winter he could come out and trot quietly about the silent, deserted place.
As soon as the crocuses pushed their green noses through the earth in the spring the congregation began to linger among the graves, for to see an old burying ground renew its life is a peculiar promise of the resurrection. By midsummer visitors were coming from afar, some even from over-sea, to read the quaint inscriptions on the old tombs, or to lay tributes of flowers on the graves of poets and religious heroes. It was not until the late end of such a day that Bobby could come out of hiding to stretch his cramped legs. Then it was that tenement children dropped from low windows, over the tombs, and ate their suppers of oat cake there in the fading light.
When Mr. Traill left the kirkyard in the bright evening of the last Sunday in May he stopped without to wait for Dr. Lee, the minister of Greyfriars auld kirk, who had been behind him to the gate. Now he was nowhere to be seen. With Bobby ever in the background of his mind, at such times of possible discovery, Mr. Traill reentered the kirkyard. The minister was sitting on the fallen slab, tall silk hat off, with Mr. Brown standing beside him, uncovered and miserable of aspect, and Bobby looking up anxiously at this new element in his fate.
"Do you think it seemly for a dog to be living in the churchyard, Mr. Brown?" The minister's voice was merely kind and inquiring, but the caretaker was in fault, and this good English was disconcerting. However, his conscience acquitted him of moral wrong, and his sturdy Scotch independence came to the rescue.
"Gin a bit dog, wha hands 'is gab, isna seemly, thae pussies are the deil's ain bairns."
The minister lifted his hand in rebuke. "Remember the Sabbath Day. And I see no cats, Mr. Brown."
"Ye wullna see ony as lang as the wee doggie is leevin' i' the kirkyaird. An' the vermin hae sneekit awa' the first time sin' Queen Mary's day. An' syne there's mair singin' birdies than for mony a year."
Mr. Traill had listened, unseen. Now he came forward with a gay challenge in broad Scotch to put the all but routed caretaker at his ease.
"Doctor, I hae a queistion to spier ye. Which is mair unseemly: a weel-behavin' bittie tyke i' the kirkyaird or a scandalous organ i' the kirk?"
"Ah, Mr. Traill, I'm afraid you're a sad, irreverent young dog yourself, sir." The minister broke into a genial laugh. "Man, you've spoiled a bit of fun I was having with Mr. Brown, who takes his duties 'sairiously."' He sat looking down at the little dog until Bobby came up to him and stood confidingly under his caressing hand. Then he added: "I have suspected for some months that he was living in the churchyard. It is truly remarkable that an active, noisy little Skye could keep so still about it."
At that Mr. Brown retreated to the martyrs' monument to meditate on the unministerial behavior of this minister and professor of Biblical criticism in the University. Mr. Traill, however, sat himself down on the slab for a pleasant probing into the soul of this courageous dominie, who had long been under fire for his innovations in the kirk services.
"I heard of Bobby first early in the winter, from a Bible-reader at the Medical Mission in the Cowgate, who saw the little dog's master buried. He sees many strange, sad things in his work, but nothing ever shocked him so as the lonely death of that pious old shepherd in such a picturesque den of vice and misery."
"Ay, he went from my place, fair ill, into the storm. I never knew whaur the auld man died."
The minister looked at Mr. Traill, struck by the note of remorse in his tone.
"The missionary returned to the churchyard to look for the dog that had refused to leave the grave. He concluded that Bobby had gone away to a new home and master, as most dogs do go sooner or later. Some weeks afterward the minister of a small church in the hills inquired for him and insisted that he was still here. This last week, at the General Assembly, I heard of the wee Highlander from several sources. The tales of his escapes from the sheep-farm have grown into a sort of Odyssey of the Pentlands. I think, perhaps, if you had not continued to feed him, Mr. Traill, he might have remained at his old home."
"Nae, I'm no' thinking so, and I was no' willing to risk the starvation of the bonny, leal Highlander."
Until the stars came out Mr. Traill sat there telling the story. At mention of his master's name Bobby returned to the mound and stretched himself across it. "I will go before the kirk officers, Doctor Lee, and tak' full responseebility. Mr. Brown is no' to blame. It would have tak'n a man with a heart of trap-rock to have turned the woeful bit dog out."
"He is well cared for and is of a hardy breed, so he is not likely to suffer; but a dog, no more than a man, cannot live on bread alone. His heart hungers for love."
"Losh!" cried Mr. Brown. "Are ye thinkin' he isna gettin' it? Oor bairns are a' oot o' the hame nest, an' ma woman, Jeanie, is fair daft aboot Bobby, aye thinkin' he'll tak' the measles. An' syne, there's a' the tenement bairns cryin' oot on 'im ilka meenit, an' ane crippled laddie he een lets fondle 'im."
"Still, it would be better if he belonged to some one master. Everybody's dog is nobody's dog," the minister insisted. "I wish you could attach him to you, Mr. Traill."
"Ay, it's a disappointment to me that he'll no' bide with me. Perhaps, in time--"
"It's nae use, ava," Mr. Brown interrupted, and he related the incident of the evening before. "He's cheerfu' eneugh maist o' the time, an' likes to be wi' the laddies as weel as ony dog, but he isna forgettin' Auld Jock. The wee doggie cam' again to 'is maister's buryin'. Man, ye ne'er saw the like o' it. The wifie found 'im flattened oot to a furry door-mat, an' greetin' to brak 'is heart."
"It's a remarkable story; and he's a beautiful little dog, and a leal one." The minister stooped and patted Bobby, and he was thoughtful all the way to the gate.
"The matter need not be brought up in any formal way. I will speak to the elders and deacons about it privately, and refer those wanting details to you, Mr. Traill. Mr. Brown," he called to the caretaker who stood in the lodge door, "it cannot be pleasing to God to see the little creature restrained. Give Bobby his liberty on the Sabbath."