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- GREYFRIARS BOB - 5/35 -
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.
Although dismayed and self-accusing for having frightened Auld Jock into taking flight by his incautious talk of a doctor, not for an instant did the landlord of Greyfriars Dining-Rooms entertain the idea of following him. The old man had only to cross the street and drop down the incline between the bridge approach and the ancient Chapel of St. Magdalen to be lost in the deepest, most densely peopled, and blackest gorge in Christendom.
Well knowing that he was safe from pursuit, Auld Jock chuckled as he gained the last low level. Fever lent him a brief strength, and the cold damp was grateful to his hot skin. None were abroad in the Cowgate; and that was lucky for, in this black hole of Edinburgh, even so old and poor a man was liable to be set upon by thieves, on the chance of a few shillings or pence.
Used as he was to following flocks up treacherous braes and through drifted glens, and surefooted as a collie, Auld Jock had to pick his way carefully over the slimy, ice-glazed cobble stones of the Cowgate. He could see nothing. The scattered gas-lamps, blurred by the wet, only made a timbered gallery or stone stairs stand out here and there or lighted up a Gothic gargoyle to a fantastic grin. The street lay so deep and narrow that sleet and wind wasted little time in finding it out, but roared and rattled among the gables, dormers and chimney-stacks overhead. Happy in finding his master himself again, and sniffing fresh adventure, Bobby tumbled noisily about Auld Jock's feet until reproved. And here was strange going. Ancient and warring smells confused and insulted the little country dog's nose. After a few inquiring and protesting barks Bobby fell into a subdued trot at Auld Jock's heels.
To this shepherd in exile the romance of Old Edinburgh was a sealed book. It was, indeed, difficult for the most imaginative to believe that the Cowgate was once a lovely, wooded ravine, with a rustic burn babbling over pebbles at its bottom, and along the brook a straggling path worn smooth by cattle on their driven way to the Grassmarket. Then, when the Scottish nobility was crowded out of the piled-up mansions, on the sloping ridge of High Street that ran the mile from the Castle to Holyrood Palace, splendor camped in the Cowgate, in villas set in fair gardens, and separated by hedge-rows in which birds nested.
In time this ravine, too, became overbuilt. Houses tumbled down both slopes to the winding cattle path, and the burn was arched over to make a thoroughfare. Laterally, the buildings were crowded together, until the upper floors were pushed out on timber brackets for light and air. Galleries, stairs and jutting windows were added to outer walls, and the mansions climbed, story above story, until the Cowgate was an undercut canon, such as is worn through rock by the rivers of western America. Lairds and leddies, powdered, jeweled and satin-shod, were borne in sedan chairs down ten flights of stone stairs and through torch-lit courts and tunnel streets, to routs in Castle or Palace and to tourneys in the Grassmarket.
From its low situation the Cowgate came in the course of time to smell to heaven, and out of it was a sudden exodus of grand folk to the northern hills. The lowest level was given over at once to the poor and to small trade. The wynds and closes that climbed the southern slope were eagerly possessed by divines, lawyers and literary men because of their nearness to the University. Long before Bobby's day the well-to-do had fled from the Cowgate wynds to the hilltop streets and open squares about the colleges. A few decent working-men remained in the decaying houses, some of which were at least three centuries old. But there swarmed in upon, and submerged them, thousands of criminals, beggars, and the miserably poor and degraded of many nationalities. Businesses that fatten on misfortune--the saloon, pawn, old clothes and cheap food shops-lined the squalid Cowgate. Palaces were cut up into honeycombs of tall tenements. Every stair was a crowded highway; every passage a place of deposit for filth; almost every room sheltered a half famished family, in darkness and ancient dirt. Grand and great, pious and wise, decent, wretched and terrible folk, of every sort, had preceded Auld Jock to his lodging in a steep and narrow wynd, and nine gusty flights up under a beautiful, old Gothic gable.
A wrought-iron lantern hanging in an arched opening, lighted the entrance to the wynd. With a hand outstretched to either wall, Auld Jock felt his way up. Another lantern marked a sculptured doorway that gave to the foul court of the tenement. No sky could be seen above the open well of the court, and the carved, oaken banister of the stairs had to be felt for and clung to by one so short of breath. On the seventh landing, from the exertion of the long climb, Auld Jock was shaken into helplessness, and his heart set to pounding, by a violent fit of coughing. Overhead a shutter was slammed back, and an angry voice bade him stop "deaving folk."
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