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- GREYFRIARS BOB - 4/35 -
"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
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