Greyfriar's Bobby/Chapter II
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.