Greyfriar's Bobby/Chapter IV

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

Fifteen minutes after the report of the time-gun on Monday, when the bells were playing their merriest and the dining-rooms were busiest, Mr. Traill felt such a tiny tug at his trouser-leg that it was repeated before he gave it attention. In the press of hungry guests Bobby had little more than room to rise in his pretty, begging attitude. The landlord was so relieved to see him again, after five conscience stricken days, that he stooped to clap the little dog on the side and to greet him with jocose approval.

"Gude dog to fetch Auld Jock--"

With a faint and piteous cry that was heard by no one but Mr. Traill, Bobby toppled over on the floor. It was a limp little bundle that the landlord picked up from under foot and held on his arm a moment, while he looked around for the dog's master. Shocked at not seeing Auld Jock, by a kind of inspiration he carried the little dog to the inglenook and laid him down under the familiar settle. Bobby was little more than breathing, but he opened his silkily veiled brown eyes and licked the friendly hand that had done this refinement of kindness. It took Mr. Traill more than a moment to realize the nature of the trouble. A dog with so thick a fleece of wool, under so crisply waving an outer coat as Bobby's, may perish for lack of food and show no outward sign of emaciation.

"The sonsie, wee--why, he's all but starved!"

Pale with pity, Mr. Traill snatched a plate of broth from the hands of a gaping waiter laddie, set it under Bobby's nose, and watched him begin to lap the warm liquid eagerly. In the busy place the incident passed unnoticed. With his usual, brisk decision Mr. Traill turned the backs of a couple of chairs over against the nearest table, to signify that the corner was reserved, and he went about his duties with unwonted silence. As the crowd thinned he returned to the inglenook to find Bobby asleep, not curled up in a tousled ball, as such a little dog should be, but stretched on his side and breathing irregularly.

If Bobby was in such straits, how must it be with Auld Jock? This was the fifth day since the sick old man had fled into the storm. With new disquiet Mr. Traill remembered a matter that had annoyed him in the morning, and that he had been inclined to charge to mischievous Heriot boys. Low down on the outside of his freshly varnished entrance door were many scratches that Bobby could have made. He may have come for food on the Sabbath day when the place was closed.

After an hour Bobby woke long enough to eat a generous plate of that delectable and highly nourishing Scotch dish known as haggis. He fell asleep again in an easier attitude that relieved the tension on the landlord's feelings. Confident that the devoted little dog would lead him straight to his master, Mr. Traill closed the door securely, that he might not escape unnoticed, and arranged his own worldly affairs so he could leave them to hirelings on the instant. In the idle time between dinner and supper he sat down by the fire, lighted his pipe, repented his unruly tongue, and waited. As the short day darkened to its close the sunset bugle was blown in the Castle. At the first note, Bobby crept from under the settle, a little unsteady on his legs as yet, wagged his tail for thanks, and trotted to the door.

Mr. Traill had no trouble at all in keeping the little dog in sight to the kirkyard gate, for in the dusk his coat shone silvery white. Indeed, by a backward look now and then, Bobby seemed to invite the man to follow, and waited at the gate, with some impatience, for him to come up. Help was needed there. By rising and tugging at Mr. Traill's clothing and then jumping on the wicket Bobby plainly begged to have it opened. He made no noise, neither barking nor whimpering, and that was very strange for a dog of the terrier breed; but each instant of delay he became more insistent, and even frantic, to have the gate unlatched. Mr. Traill refused to believe what Bobby's behavior indicated, and reproved him in the broad Scotch to which the country dog was used.

"Nae, Bobby; be a gude dog. Gang doon to the Coogate noo, an' find Auld Jock."

Uttering no cry at all, Bobby gave the man such a woebegone look and dropped to the pavement, with his long muzzle as far under the wicket as he could thrust it, that the truth shot home to Mr. Traill's understanding. He opened the gate. Bobby slipped through and stood just inside a moment, and looking back as if he expected his human friend to follow. Then, very suddenly, as the door of the lodge opened and the caretaker came out, Bobby disappeared in the shadow of the church.

A big-boned, slow-moving man of the best country house-gardener type, serviceably dressed in corduroy, wool bonnet, and ribbed stockings, James Brown collided with the small and wiry landlord, to his own very great embarrassment.

"Eh, Maister Traill, ye gied me a turn. It's no' canny to be proolin' aboot the kirkyaird i' the gloamin'."

"Whaur did the bit dog go, man?" demanded the peremptory landlord.

"Dog? There's no' ony dog i' the kirkyaird. It isna permeetted. Gin it's a pussy ye're needin', noo--"

But Mr. Traill brushed this irrelevant pleasantry aside.

"Ay, there's a dog. I let him in my ainsel'."

The caretaker exploded with wrath: "Syne I'll hae the law on ye. Can ye no' read, man?"

"Tut, tut, Jeemes Brown. Don't stand there arguing. It's a gude and necessary regulation, but it's no' the law o' the land. I turned the dog in to settle a matter with my ain conscience, and John Knox would have done the same thing in the bonny face o' Queen Mary. What it is, is nae beesiness of yours. The dog was a sma' young terrier of the Highland breed, but with a drop to his ears and a crinkle in his frosty coat--no' just an ordinar' dog. I know him weel. He came to my place to be fed, near dead of hunger, then led me here. If his master lies in this kirkyard, I'll tak' the bit dog awa' with me."

Mr. Traill's astonishing fluency always carried all walls of resistance before it with men of slower wit and speech. Only a superior man could brush time-honored rules aside so curtly and stand on his human rights so surely. James Brown pulled his bonnet off deferentially, scratched his shock head and shifted his pipe. Finally he admitted:

"Weel, there was a bit tyke i' the kirkyaird twa days syne. I put 'im oot, an' haena seen 'im aboot ony main" He offered, however, to show the new-made mound on which he had found the dog. Leading the way past the church, he went on down the terraced slope, prolonging the walk with conversation, for the guardianship of an old churchyard offers very little such lively company as John Traill's.

"I mind, noo, it was some puir body frae the Coogate, wi' no' ony mourners but the sma' terrier aneath the coffin. I let 'im pass, no' to mak' a disturbance at a buryin'. The deal box was fetched up by the police, an' carried by sic a crew o' gaol-birds as wad mak' ye turn ower in yer ain God's hole. But he paid for his buryin' wi' his ain siller, an' noo lies as canny as the nobeelity. Nae boot here's the place, Maister Traill; an' ye can see for yer ainsel' there's no' any dog."

"Ay, that would be Auld Jock and Bobby would no' be leaving him," insisted the landlord, stubbornly. He stood looking down at the rough mound of frozen clods heaped in a little space of trampled snow.

"Jeemes Brown," Mr. Trail said, at last, "the man wha lies here was a decent, pious auld country body, and I drove him to his meeserable death in the Cowgate."

"Man, ye dinna ken what ye're sayin'!" was the shocked response.

"Do I no'? I'm canny, by the ordinar', but my fule tongue will get me into trouble with the magistrates one of these days. It aye wags at both ends, and is no' tied in the middle."

Then, stanch Calvinist that he was, and never dreaming that he was indulging in the sinful pleasure of confession, Mr. Traill poured out the story of Auld Jock's plight and of his own. shortcomings. It was a bitter, upbraiding thing that he, an uncommonly capable man, had meant so well by a humble old body, and done so ill. And he had failed again when he tried to undo the mischief. The very next morning he had gone down into the perilous Cowgate, and inquired in every place where it might be possible for such a timid old shepherd to be known. But there! As well look for a burr thistle in a bin of oats, as look for a human atom in the Cowgate and the wynds "juist aff."

"Weel, noo, ye couldna hae dune aething wi' the auld body, ava, gin he wouldna gang to the infairmary." The caretaker was trying to console the self-accusing man.

"Could I no'? Ye dinna ken me as weel as ye micht." The disgusted landlord tumbled into broad Scotch. "Gie me to do it ance mair, an' I'd chairge Auld Jock wi' thievin' ma siller, wi' a wink o' the ee at the police to mak' them ken I was leein'; an' syne they'd hae hustled 'im aff, willy-nilly, to a snug bed."

The energetic little man looked so entirely capable of any daring deed that he fired the caretaker into enthusiastic search for Bobby. It was not entirely dark, for the sky was studded with stars, snow lay in broad patches on the slope, and all about the lower end of the kirkyard supper candles burned at every rear window of the tall tenements.

The two men searched among the near-by slabs and table-tombs and scattered thorn bushes. They circled the monument to all the martyrs who had died heroically, in the Grassmarket and elsewhere, for their faith. They hunted in the deep shadows of the buttresses along the side of the auld kirk and among the pillars of the octagonal portico to the new. At the rear of the long, low building, that was clumsily partitioned across for two pulpits, stood the ornate tomb of "Bluidy" McKenzie. But Bobby had not committed himself to the mercy of the hanging judge, nor yet to the care of the doughty minister, who, from the pulpit of Greyfriars auld kirk, had flung the blood and tear stained Covenant in the teeth of persecution.

The search was continued past the modest Scott family burial plot and on to the west wall. There was a broad outlook over Heriot's Hospital grounds, a smooth and shining expanse of unsullied snow about the early Elizabethan pile of buildings. Returning, they skirted the lowest wall below the tenements, for in the circling line of courtyarded vaults, where the "nobeelity" of Scotland lay haughtily apart under timestained marbles, were many shadowy nooks in which so small a dog could stow himself away. Skulking cats were flushed there, and sent flying over aristocratic bones, but there was no trace of Bobby.

The second tier of windows of the tenements was level with the kirkyard wall, and several times Mr. Traill called up to a lighted casement where a family sat at a scant supper

"Have you seen a bit dog, man?"

There was much cordial interest in his quest, windows opening and faces staring into the dusk; but not until near the top of the Row was a clue gained. Then, at the query, an unkempt, illclad lassie slipped from her stool and leaned out over the pediment of a tomb. She had seen a "wee, wee doggie jinkin' amang the stanes." It was on the Sabbath evening, when the well-dressed folk had gone home from the afternoon services. She was eating her porridge at the window, "by her lane," when he "keeked up at her so knowing, and begged so bonny," that she balanced her bit bowl on a lath, and pushed it over on the kirkyard wall. As she finished the story the big, blue eyes of the little maid, who doubtless had herself known what it was to be hungry, filled with tears.

"The wee tyke couldna loup up to it, an' a deil o' a pussy got it a'. He was so bonny, like a leddy's pet, an' syne he fell ower on the snaw an' creepit awa'. He didna cry oot, but he was a' but deid wi' hunger." At the memory of it soft-hearted Ailie Lindsey sobbed on her mother's shoulder.

The tale was retold from one excited window to another, all the way around and all the way up to the gables, so quickly could some incident of human interest make a social gathering in the populous tenements. Most of all, the children seized upon the touching story. Eager and pinched little faces peered wistfully into the melancholy kirkyard.

"Is he yer ain dog?" crippled Tammy Barr piped out, in his thin treble. "Gin I had a bonny wee dog I'd gie 'im ma ain brose, an' cuddle 'im, an' he couldna gang awa'."

"Nae, laddie, he's no' my dog. His master lies buried here, and the leal Highlander mourns for him." With keener appreciation of its pathos, Mr. Traill recalled that this was what Auld Jock had said: "Bobby isna ma ain dog." And he was conscious of wishing that Bobby was his own, with his unpurchasable love and a loyalty to face starvation. As he mounted the turfed terraces he thought to call back:

"If you see him again, lassie, call him 'Bobby,' and fetch him up to Greyfriars Dining-Rooms. I have a bright siller shulling, with the Queen's bonny face on it, to give the bairn that finds Bobby."

There was excited comment on this. He must, indeed, be an attractive dog to be worth a shilling. The children generously shared plans for capturing Bobby. But presently the windows were closed, and supper was resumed. The caretaker was irritable.

"Noo, ye'll hae them a' oot swarmin' ower the kirkyaird. There's nae coontin' the bairns o' the neeborhood, an' nane o' them are so weel broucht up as they micht be."

Mr. Traill commented upon this philosophically: "A bairn is like a dog in mony ways. Tak' a stick to one or the other and he'll misbehave. The children here are poor and neglected, but they're no' vicious like the awfu' imps of the Cowgate, wha'd steal from their blind grandmithers. Get on the gude side of the bairns, man, and you'll live easier and die happier."

It seemed useless to search the much longer arm of the kirkyard that ran southward behind the shops of Greyfriars Place and Forest Road. If Bobby was in the enclosure at all he would not be far from Auld Jock's grave. Nearest the new-made mound were two very old and dark table-tombs. The farther one lay horizontally, on its upright "through stanes," some distance above the earth. The supports of the other had fallen, and the table lay on their thickness within six inches of the ground. Mr. Traill and the caretaker sat upon this slab, which testified to the piety and worth of one Mistress Jean Grant, who had died "lang syne."

Encroached upon, as it was, by unlovely life, Greyfriars kirkyard was yet a place of solitude and peace. The building had the dignity that only old age can give. It had lost its tower by an explosion of gunpowder stored there in war time, and its walls and many of the ancient tombs bore the marks of fire and shot. Within the last decade some of the Gothic openings had been filled with beautiful memorial windows. Despite the horrors and absurdities and mutilation of much of the funeral sculpturing, the kirkyard had a sad distinction, such as became its fame as Scotland's Westminster. And, there was one heavenward outlook and heavenly view. Over the tallest decaying tenement one could look up to the Castle of dreams on the crag, and drop the glance all the way down the pinnacled crest of High Street, to the dark and deserted Palace of Holyrood. After nightfall the turreted heights wore a luminous crown, and the steep ridge up to it twinkled with myriad lights. After a time the caretaker offered a well-considered opinion.

"The dog maun hae left the kirkyaird. Thae terriers are aye barkin'. It'd be maist michty noo, gin he'd be so lang i' the kirkyaird, an' no' mak' a blatterin'."

As a man of superior knowledge Mr. Traill found pleasure in upsetting this theory. "The Highland breed are no' like ordinar' terriers. Noisy enough to deave one, by nature, give a bit Skye a reason and he'll lie a' the day under a whin bush on the brae, as canny as a fox. You gave Bobby a reason for hiding here by turning him out. And Auld Jock was a vera releegious man. It would no' be surprising if he taught Bobby to hold his tongue in a kirkyard."

"Man, he did that vera thing." James Brown brought his fist down on his knee; for suddenly he identified Bobby as the snappy little ruffian that had chased the cat and bitten his shins, and Auld Jock as the scandalized shepherd who had rebuked the dog so bitterly. He related the incident with gusto.

"The auld man cried oot on the misbehavin' tyke to haud 'is gab. Syne, ye ne'er saw the bit dog's like for a bairn that'd haen a lickin'. He'd 'a' gaen into a pit, gin there'd been ane, an' pu'd it in ahind 'im. I turned 'em baith oot, an' told 'em no' to come back. Eh, man, it's fearsome hoo ilka body comes to a kirkyaird, toes afore 'im, in a long box."

Mr. Brown was sobered by this grim thought and then, in his turn, he confessed a slip to this tolerant man of the world. "The wee deil o' a sperity dog nipped me so I let oot an aith."

"Ay, that's Bobby. He would no' be afraid of onything with hide or hair on it. Man, the Skye terriers go into dens of foxes and wildcats, and worry bulls till they tak' to their heels. And Bobby's sagacious by the ordinar'." He thought intently for a moment, and then spoke naturally, and much as Auld Jock himself might have spoken to the dog.

"Whaur are ye, Bobby? Come awa' oot, laddie!"

Instantly the little dog stood before him like some conjured ghost. He had slipped from under the slab on which they were sitting. It lay so near the ground, and in such a mat of dead grass, that it had not occurred to them to look for him there. He came up to Mr. Traill confidently, submitted to having his head patted, and looked pleadingly at the caretaker. Then, thinking he had permission to do so, he lay down on the mound. James Brown dropped his pipe.

"It's maist michty!" he said.

Mr. Traill got to his feet briskly. "I'll just tak' the dog with me, Mr. Brown. On marketday I'll find the farmer that owns him and send him hame. As you say, a kirkyard's nae place for a dog to be living neglected. Come awa', Bobby."

Bobby looked up, but, as he made no motion to obey, Mr. Traill stooped and lifted him.

From sheer surprise at this unexpected move the little dog lay still a moment on the man's arm. Then, with a lithe twist of his muscular body and a spring, he was on the ground, trembling, reproachful for the breach of faith, but braced for resistance.

"Eh, you're no' going?" Mr. Traill put his hands in his pockets, looked down at Bobby admiringly, and sighed. "There's a dog after my ain heart, and he'll have naething to do with me. He has a mind of his ain. I'll just have to be leaving him here the two days, Mr. Brown."

"Ye wullna leave 'im! Ye'll tak' 'im wi' ye, or I'll hae to put 'im oot. Man, I couldna haud the place gin I brak the rules."

"You--will--no'--put--the--wee--dog--out!" Mr. Traill shook a playful, emphatic finger under the big man's nose.

"Why wull I no'?"

"Because, man, you have a vera soft heart, and you canna deny it." It was with a genial, confident smile that Mr. Traill made this terrible accusation.

"Ma heart's no' so saft as to permit a bit dog to scandalize the deid."

"He's been here two days, you no' knowing it, and he has scandalized neither the dead nor the living. He's as leal as ony Covenanter here, and better conducted than mony a laird. He's no the quarrelsome kind, but, man, for a principle he'd fight like auld Clootie." Here the landlord's heat gave way to pure enjoyment of the situation. "Eh, I'd like to see you put him out. It would be another Flodden Field."

The angry caretaker shrugged his broad shoulders.

"Ye can see it, gin ye stand by, in juist one meenit. Fecht as he may, it wull soon be ower."

Mr. Traill laughed easily, and ventured the opinion that Mr. Brown's bark was worse than his bite. As he went through the gateway he could not resist calling back a challenge: "I daur you to do it."

Mr. Brown locked the gate, went sulkily into the lodge, lighted his cutty pipe, and smoked it furiously. He read a Psalm with deliberation, poked up an already bright fire, and glowered at his placid gude wife. It was not to be borne--to be defied by a ten-inch-high terrier, and dared, by a man a third under his own weight, to do his duty. After an hour or so he worked himself up to the point of going out and slamming the door.

At eight o'clock Mr. Traill found Bobby on the pavement outside the locked gate. He was not sorry that the fortunes of unequal battle had thrown the faithful little dog on his hospitality. Bobby begged piteously to be put inside, but he seemed to understand at last that the gate was too high for Mr. Traill to drop him over. He followed the landlord up to the restaurant willingly. He may have thought this champion had another solution of the difficulty, for when he saw the man settle comfortably in a chair he refused to lie on the hearth. He ran to the door and back, and begged and whined to be let out. For a long time he stood dejectedly. He was not sullen, for he ate a light supper and thanked his host with much polite wagging, and he even allowed himself to be petted. Suddenly he thought of something, trotted briskly off to a corner and crouched there.

Mr. Traill watched the attractive little creature with interest and growing affection. Very likely he indulged in a day-dream that, perhaps, the tenant of Cauldbrae farm could be induced to part with Bobby for a consideration, and that he himself could win the dog to transfer his love from a cold grave to a warm hearth.

With a spring the rat was captured. A jerk of the long head and there was proof of Bobby's prowess to lay at his good friend's feet. Made much of, and in a position to ask fresh favors, the little dog was off to the door with cheerful, staccato barks. His reasoning was as plain as print: "I hae done ye a service, noo tak' me back to the kirkyaird."

Mr. Traill talked to him as he might have reasoned with a bright bairn. Bobby listened patiently, but remained of the same mind. At last he moved away, disappointed in this human person, discouraged, but undefeated in his purpose. He lay down by the door. Mr. Traill watched him, for if any chance late comer opened the door the masterless little dog would be out into the perils of the street. Bobby knew what doors were for and, very likely, expected. some such release. He waited a long time patiently. Then he began to run back and forth. He put his paws upon Mr. Traill and whimpered and cried. Finally he howled.

It was a dreadful, dismal, heartbroken howl that echoed back from the walls. He howled continuously, until the landlord, quite distracted, and concerned about the peace of his neighbors, thrust Bobby into the dark scullery at the rear, and bade him stop his noise. For fully ten minutes the dog was quiet. He was probably engaged in exploring his new quarters to find an outlet. Then he began to howl again. It was truly astonishing that so small a dog could make so large a noise.

A battle was on between the endurance of the man and the persistence of the terrier. Mr. Traill was speculating on which was likely to be victor in the contest, when the front door was opened and the proprietor of the Book Hunter's Stall put in a bare, bald head and the abstracted face of the book-worm that is mildly amused.

"Have you tak'n to a dog at your time o' life, Mr. Traill?"

"Ay, man, and it would be all right if the bit dog would just tak' to me."

This pleasantry annoyed a good man who had small sense of humor, and he remarked testily "The barkin' disturbs my customers so they canna read." The place was a resort for student laddies who had to be saving of candles.

"That's no' right," the landlord admitted, sympathetically. "'Reading mak'th a full man.' Eh, what a deeference to the warld if Robbie Burns had aye preferred a book to a bottle." The bookseller refused to be beguiled from his just cause of complaint into the flowery meads of literary reminiscences and speculations.

"You'll stop that dog's cleaving noise, Mr. Traill, or I'll appeal to the Burgh police."

The landlord returned a bland and child-like smile. "You'd be weel within your legal rights to do it, neebor."

The door was shut with such a business-like click that the situation suddenly became serious. Bobby's vocal powers, however, gave no signs of diminishing. Mr. Traill quieted the dog for a few moments by letting him into the outer room, but the swiftness and energy with which he renewed his attacks on the door and on the man's will showed plainly that the truce was only temporary. He did not know what he meant to do except that he certainly had no intention of abandoning the little dog. To gain time he put on his hat and coat, picked Bobby up, and opened the door. The thought occurred to him to try the gate at the upper end of the kirkyard or, that failing, to get into Heriot's Hospital grounds and put Bobby over the wall. As he opened the door, however, he heard Geordie Ross's whistle around the bend in Forest Road.

"Hey, laddie!" he called. "Come awa' in a meenit." When the sturdy boy was inside and the door safely shut, he began in his most guileless and persuasive tone: "Would you like to earn a shulling, Geordie?"

"Ay, I would. Gie it to me i' pennies an' ha'pennies, Maister Traill. It seems mair, an' mak's a braw jinglin' in a pocket."

The price was paid and the tale told. The quick championship of the boy was engaged for the gallant dog, and Geordie's eyes sparkled at the prospect of dark adventure. Bobby was on the floor listening, ears and eyes, brambly muzzle and feathered tail alert. He listened with his whole, small, excited body, and hung on the answer to the momentous question.

"Is there no' a way to smuggle the bit dog into the kirkyard?"

It appeared that nothing was easier, "aince ye ken hoo." Did Mr. Traill know of the internal highway through the old Cunzie Neuk at the bottom of the Row? One went up the stairs on the front to the low, timbered gallery, then through a passage as black as "Bluidy" McKenzie's heart. At the end of that, one came to a peep-hole of a window, set out on wooden brackets, that hung right over the kirkyard wall. From that window Bobby could be dropped on a certain noble vault, from which he could jump to the ground.

"Twa meenits' wark, stout hearts, sleekit footstaps, an' the fearsome deed is done," declared twelve-year-old Geordie, whose sense of the dramatic matched his daring.

But when the deed was done, and the two stood innocently on the brightly lighted approach to the bridge, Mr. Traill had his misgivings. A well-respected business man and church-member, he felt uneasy to be at the mercy of a laddie who might be boastful.

"Geordie, if you tell onybody about this I'll have to give you a licking."

"I wullna tell," Geordie reassured him. "It's no' so respectable, an' syne ma mither'd gie me anither lickin', an' they'd gie me twa more awfu' aces, an' black marks for a month, at Heriot's."