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- GREYFRIARS BOB - 3/35 -
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.
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