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- GREYFRIARS BOB - 6/35 -
The last two flights ascended within the walls. The old man stumbled into the pitch-black, stifling passage and sat down on the lowest step to rest. On the landing above he must encounter the auld wifie of a landlady, rousing her, it might be, and none too good-tempered, from sleep. Unaware that he added to his master's difficulties, Bobby leaped upon him and licked the beloved face that he could not see.
"Eh, laddie, I dinna ken what to do wi' ye. We maun juist hae to sleep oot." It did not occur to Auld Jock that he could abandon the little dog. And then there drifted across his memory a bit of Mr. Traill's talk that, at the time, had seemed to no purpose: "Sir Walter happed the wee lassie in the pocket of his plaid--" He slapped his knee in silent triumph. In the dark he found the broad, open end of the plaid, and the rough, excited head of the little dog.
"A hap, an' a stap, an' a loup, an' in ye gang. Loup in, laddie."
Bobby jumped into the pocket and turned 'round and 'round. His little muzzle opened for a delighted bark at this original play, but Auld Jock checked him.
"Cuddle doon noo, an' lie canny as pussy." With a deft turn he brought the weighted end of the plaid up under his arm so there would be no betraying drag. "We'll pu' the wool ower the auld wifie's een," he chuckled.
He mounted the stairs almost blithely, and knocked on one of the three narrow doors that opened on the two-by-eight landing. It was opened a few inches, on a chain, and a sordid old face, framed in straggling gray locks and a dirty mutch cap, peered suspiciously at him through the crevice.
Auld Jock had his money in hand--a shilling and a sixpence--to pay for a week's lodging. He had slept in this place for several winters, and the old woman knew him well, but she held his coins to the candle and bit them with her teeth to test them. Without a word of greeting she shoved the key to the sleeping-closet he had always fancied, through the crack in the door, and pointed to a jug of water at the foot of the attic stairs. On the proffer of a halfpenny she gave him a tallow candle, lighted it at her own and fitted it into the neck of a beer bottle.
"Ye hae a cauld." she said at last, with some hostility. "Gin ye wauken yer neebors yell juist hae to fecht it oot wi' 'em."
"Ay, I ken a' that," Auld Jock answered. He smothered a cough in his chest with such effort that it threw him into a perspiration. In some way, with the jug of water and the lighted candle in his hands and the hidden terrier under one arm, the old man mounted the eighteen-inch wide, walled-in attic stairs and unlocked the first of a number of narrow doors on the passage at the top.
"Weel aboon the fou' smell," indeed; "weel worth the lang climb!" Around the loose frames of two wee southward-looking dormer windows, that jutted from the slope of the gable, came a gush of rain-washed air. Auld Jock tumbled Bobby, warm and happy and "nane the wiser," out into the cold cell of a room that was oh, so very, very different from the high, warm, richly colored library of Sir Walter! This garret closet in the slums of Edinburgh was all of cut stone, except for the worn, oaken floor, a flimsy, modern door, and a thin, board partition on one side through which a "neebor" could be heard snoring. Filling all of the outer wall between the peephole, leaded windows and running- up to the slope of the ceiling, was a great fireplace of native white freestone, carved into fluted columns, foliated capitals, and a flat pediment of purest classic lines. The ballroom of a noble of Queen Mary's day had been cut up into numerous small sleeping closets, many of them windowless, and were let to the chance lodger at threepence the night. Here, where generations of dancing toes had been warmed, the chimney vent was bricked up, and a boxed-in shelf fitted, to serve for a bed, a seat and a table, for such as had neither time nor heart for dancing. For the romantic history and the beauty of it, Auld Jock had no mind at all. But, ah! he had other joy often missed by the more fortunate.
"Be canny, Bobby," he cautioned again.
The sagacious little dog understood, and pattered about the place silently. Exhausting it in a moment, and very plainly puzzled and bored, he sat on his haunches, yawned wide, and looked up inquiringly to his master. Auld Jock set the jug and the candle on the floor and slipped off his boots. He had no wish to "wauken 'is neebors." With nervous haste he threw back one of the windows on its hinges, reached across the wide stone ledge and brought in-wonder of wonders, in such a place a tiny earthen pot of heather!
"Is it no' a bonny posie?" he whispered to Bobby. With this cherished bit of the country that he had left behind him the April before in his hands, he sat down in the fireplace bed and lifted Bobby beside him. He sniffed at the red tuft of purple bloom fondly, and his old face blossomed into smiles. It was the secret thought of this, and of the hillward outlook from the little windows, that had ironed the lines from his face in Mr. Traill's dining-room. Bobby sniffed at the starved plant, too, and wagged his tail with pleasure, for a dog's keenest memories are recorded by the nose.
Overhead, loose tiles and finials rattled in the wind, that was dying away in fitful gusts; but Auld Jock heard nothing. In fancy he was away on the braes, in the shy sun and wild wet of April weather. Shepherds were shouting, sheepdogs barking, ewes bleating, and a wee puppy, still unnamed, scampering at his heels in the swift, dramatic days of lambing time. And so, presently, when the forlorn hope of the little pot had been restored to the ledge, master and dog were in tune with the open country, and began a romp such as they often had indulged in behind the byre on a quiet, Sabbath afternoon.
They had learned to play there like two well-brought-up children, in pantomime, so as not to scandalize pious countryfolk. Now, in obedience to a gesture, a nod, a lifted eyebrow, Bobby went through all his pretty tricks, and showed how far his serious education had progressed.. He rolled over and over, begged, vaulted the low hurdle of his master's arm, and played "deid." He scampered madly over imaginary pastures; ran, straight as a string, along a stone wall; scrambled under a thorny hedge; chased rabbits, and dug foxes out of holes; swam a burn, flushed feeding curlews, and "froze" beside a rat-hole. When the excitement was at its height and the little dog was bursting with exuberance, Auld Jock forgot his caution. Holding his bonnet just out of reach, he cried aloud:
Bobby jumped for the bonnet, missed it, jumped again and barked-the high-pitched, penetrating yelp of the terrier.
Instantly their little house of joy tumbled about their ears. There was a pounding on the thin partition wall, an oath and a shout "Whaur's the deil o' a dog?" Bobby flew at the insulting clamor, but Auld Jock dragged him back roughly. In a voice made harsh by fear for his little pet, he commanded:
"Haud yer gab or they'll hae ye oot."
Bobby dropped like a shot, cringing at Auld Jock's feet. The most sensitive of four-footed creatures in the world, the Skye terrier is utterly abased by a rebuke from his master. The whole garret was soon in an uproar of vile accusation and shrill denial that spread from cell to cell.
Auld Jock glowered down at Bobby with frightened eyes. In the winters he had lodged there he had lived unmolested only because he had managed to escape notice. Timid old country body that he was, he could not "fecht it oot" with the thieves and beggars and drunkards of the Cowgate. By and by the brawling died down. In the double row of little dens this one alone was silent, and the offending dog was not located.
But when the danger was past, Auld Jock's heart was pounding in his chest. His legs gave way under him, when he got up to fetch the candle from near the door and set it on a projecting brick in the fireplace. By its light he began to read in a small pocket Bible the Psalm that had always fascinated him because he had never been able to understand it.
"The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want."
So far it was plain and comforting. "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters."
Nae, the pastures were brown, or purple and yellow with heather and gorse. Rocks cropped out everywhere, and the peaty tarps were mostly bleak and frozen. The broad Firth was ever ebbing and flowing with the restless sea, and the burns bickering down the glens. The minister of the little hill kirk had said once that in England the pastures were green and the lakes still and bright; but that was a fey, foreign country to which Auld Jock had no desire to go. He wondered, wistfully, if he would feel at home in God's heaven, and if there would be room in that lush silence for a noisy little dog, as there was on the rough Pentland braes. And there his thoughts came back to this cold prison cell in which he could not defend the right of his one faithful little friend to live. He stooped and lifted Bobby into the bed. Humble, and eager to be forgiven for an offense he could not understand, the loving little creature leaped to Auld Jock's arms and lavished frantic endearments upon him.
Lying so together in the dark, man and dog fell into a sleep that was broken by Auld Jock's fitful coughing and the abuse of his neighbors. It was not until the wind had long died to a muffled murmur at the casements, and every other lodger was out, that Auld Jock slept soundly. He awoke late to find Bobby waiting patiently on the floor and the bare cell flooded with white glory. That could mean but one thing. He stumbled dizzily to his feet and threw a sash aback. Over the huddle of high housetops, the University towers and the scattered suburbs beyond, he looked away to the snow-clad slopes of the Pentlands, running up to heaven and shining under the pale winter sunshine.
"The snaw! Eh, Bobby, but it's a bonny sicht to auld een!" he cried, with the simple delight of a child. He stooped to lift Bobby to the wonder of it, when the world suddenly went black and roaring around in his head. Staggering back he crumpled up in a pitiful heap on the floor.
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