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
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 cobblestones 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
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 bum 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 Scotish 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
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, storey above storey, 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 bannister 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." 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, laddieI”
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
“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 caukL” she said at last, with some Hostility. “Gin ye wauken yer
neebors ye'll 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
“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, modem 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 fiat
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
withered 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
They had learned to play there like two well-brought-up children, in
pantomime, so as not to scandalize pious country folk. 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
“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 mak' eth 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 tarns were mostly bleak and
frozen. The broad Firth was ever ebbing and flowing with the restless sea,
and the bums 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 hame 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 back. 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
“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.
Bobby licked his master’s face and hands, and then sat quietly down beside
him. So many strange, uncanny things had happened within the last
twenty-four hours that the little dog was rapidly outgrowing his
irresponsible puppyhood. After a long time Auld Jock opened his eyes and sat
up. Bobby put his paws on his master’s knees in anxious sympathy. Before the
man had got his wits about him the time-gun boomed from the Castle.
Panic-stricken that he should have slept in his bed so late, and then lain
senseless on the floor for he knew not how long, Auld Jock got up and
struggled into his greatcoat, bonnet and plaid. In feeling for his woolen
mittens he discovered the buns that Mr. Traill had dropped into his pocket
The old man stared and stared at them in piteous dismay. Mr. Traill had
believed him to be so ill that he “wouldna be oot the morn.” It was a
The bells of St. Giles broke into “Over the Hills and Far Away." The melody
came to Auld Jock clearly, unbroken by echoes, for the garret was on a level
with the cathedral’s crown on High Street. It brought to him again a vision
of the Midlothian slopes, but it reminded Bobby that it was dinner-time. He
told Auld Jock so by running to the door and back and begging him, by every
pretty wile at his command, to go. The old man got to his feet and then fell
back, pale and shaken, his heart hammering again. Bobby ate the bun soberly
and then sat up against Auld Jock’s feet, that dangled helplessly from the
bed. The bells died away from the man’s ears before they had ceased playing.
Both the church and the University bells struck the hour of two—then
three—then four. Daylight had begun to fail when Auld Jock stirred, sat up,
and did a strange thing: taking from his pocket a leather bag-purse that was
closed by a draw-string, he counted the few crowns and shillings in it and
the many smaller silver and copper coins.
“There’s eneugh,” he said. There was enough, by careful spending, to pay for
food and lodging for a few weeks, to save himself from the charity of the
infirmary. By this act he admitted the humiliating and fearful fact that he
was very ill. The precious little hoard must be hidden from the chance
prowler. He looked for a loose brick in the fireplace, but before he found
one he forgot all about it, and absent-mindedly heaped the coins in a little
pile on the open Bible at the back of the bed.
For a long time Auld Jock sat there with his head in his hands before he
again slipped back to his pillow. Darkness stole into the quiet room. The
lodgers returned to their dens one after one, tramping or slipping or
hobbling up the stairs and along the passage. Bobby bristled and froze, on
guard, when a stealthy hand tried the latch. Then there were sounds of
fighting, of crying women, and the long, low wailing of wretched children.
The evening drum and bugle were heard from the Castle, and hour after hour
was struck from the clock of St. Giles while Bobby watched beside his
All night Auld Jock was "aff ’is heid." When he muttered in his sleep or
cried out in the delirium of fever, the little dog put his paws upon the
bed-rail. He scratched on it and begged to be lifted to where he could
comfort his master for the shelf was set too high for him to climb into the
bed. Unable to get his master's attention, he licked the hot hand that hung
over the side. Auld Jock lay still at last, not coughing any more, but
breathing rapid, shallow breaths. Just at dawn he turned his head and gazed
in bewilderment at the alert and troubled little creature that was instantly
upon the rail. After a long time he recognized the dog and patted the shaggy
little head. Feeling around the bed, he found the other bun and dropped it
on the floor. Presently he said, between strangled breaths:
"Puir — Bobby! Gang—awa’ — hame—laddie."
After that it was suddenly very still in the brightening room. Bobby gazed
and gazed at his master — one long, heartbroken look, then dropped to all
fours and stood trembling. Without another look he stretched himself upon
the hearthstone below the bed.
Morning and evening footsteps went down and came up on the stairs.
Throughout the day—the babel of crowded tenement strife; the crying of
fishwives and fagot-venders in the court; the striking of the hours; the
boom of the time-gun and sweet clamor of music bells; the failing of the
light and the soaring note of the bugle— Bobby watched motionless beside his
Very late at night shuffling footsteps came up the stairs. The “auld wifie ”
kept a sharp eye on the comings and goings of her lodgers. It was “no' canny
” that this old man, with a cauld in his chest, had gone up full two days
before and had not come down again. To bitter complaints of his coughing and
of his strange talking to himself she gave scant attention, but foul play
was done often enough in these dens to make her uneasy. She had no desire to
have the Burgh police coming about and interfering with her business. She
knocked sharply on the door and called:
Bobby trotted over to the door and stood looking at it. In such a strait he
would naturally have welcomed the visitor, scratching on the panel, and
crying to any human body without to come in and see what had befallen his
master. But Auld Jock had bade him “haud 'is gab” there, as in Greyfriars
kirkyard. So he held to loyal silence, although the knocking and shaking of
the latch was insistent and the lodgers were astir. The voice of the old
woman was shrill with alarm.
“Auld Jock, can ye no' wauken?” And, after a moment, in which the unlatched
casement window within could be heard creaking on its hinges in the chill
breeze, there was a hushed and frightened question:
“Are ye deid?”
The footsteps fled down the stairs, and Bobby was left to watch through the
long hours of darkness.
Very early in the morning the flimsy door was quietly forced by authority.
The first man who entered—an officer of the Crown from the sheriff’s court
on the bridge — took off his hat to the majesty that dominated that bare
cell. The Cowgate region presented many a startling contrast, but such a one
as this must seldom have been seen. The classic fireplace, and the
motionless figure and peaceful face of the pious old shepherd within it, had
the dignity and beauty of some monumental tomb and carven effigy in old
Greyfriars kirkyard. Only less strange was the contrast between the marks of
poverty and toil on the dead man and the dainty grace of the little fluff of
a dog that mourned him.
No such men as these—officers of her Majesty the Queen, Burgh policemen, and
learned doctors from the Royal Infirmary—had ever been aware of Auld Jock,
living. Dead, and no’ needing them any more, they stood guard over him, and
inquired sternly as to the manner in which he had died. There was a
hysterical breath of relief from the crowd of lodgers and tenants when the
little pile of coins was found on the Bible. There had been no foul play.
Auld Jock had died of heart failure, from pneumonia and worn-out old age.
“There’s eneugh,” a Burgh policeman said when the money was counted. He
meant much the same thing Auld Jock himself had meant. There was enough to
save him from the last indignity a life of useful labor can thrust upon the
honest poor—pauper burial. But when inquiries were .made for the name and
the friends of this old man there appeared to be only “Auld Jock” to enter
into the record, and a little dog to follow the body to the grave. It was a
Bible-reader who chanced to come in from the Medical Mission in the Cowgate
who thought to look in the fly-leaf of Auld Jock’s Bible.
“His name is John Gray.”
He laid the worn little book on Auld Jock’s breast and crossed the
work-scarred hands upon it. “It’s something by the ordinar’ to find a gude
auld country body in such a foul place.” He Stooped and patted Bobby, and
noted the bun, untouched, upon the floor. Turning to a wild elf of a
barefooted child in the crowd he spoke to her.
"Would you share your gude brose with the bit dog, lassie?”
She darted down the stairs, and presently returned with her own scanty bowl
of breakfast porridge. Bobby refused the food, but he looked at her so
mournfully that the first tears of pity her unchildlike eyes had ever shed
welled up. She put out her hand timidly and stroked him. It was just before
the report of the time-gun that two policemen cleared the stairs, shrouded
Auld Jock in his own greatcoat and plaid, and carried him down to the court.
There they laid him in a plain box of white deal that stood on the pavement,
closed it, and went away down the wynd on a necessary errand. The
Bible-reader sat on an empty beer keg to guard the box, and Bobby climbed on
the top and stretched himself above his master. The court was a well, more
than a hundred feet deep. What sky might have been visible above it was
hidden by tier above tier of dingy, tattered washings. The stairway filled
again, and throngs of outcasts of every sort went about their squalid
businesses, with only a curious glance or so at the pathetic group.
Presently the policemen returned from the Cowgate with a motley assortment
of pallbearers. There was a good-tempered Irish laborer from a near-by
brewery; a decayed gentleman, unsteady of gait and blear-eyed, in a greasy
frock-coat and broken hat; a flashily dressed bartender who found the task
distasteful; a stout, bent-backed fagot-carrier; a drunken fisherman from
New Haven, suddenly sobered by this uncanny duty, and a furtiveeyed, gaol-bleached
thief who feared a trap and tried to escape.
Tailed by scuffling gamins, the strange little procession moved quickly down
the wynd and turned into the roaring Cowgate. The policemen went before to
force a passage through the press. The Bible-reader followed the box, and
Bobby, head and tail down, trotted unnoticed, beneath it. The humble funeral
train passed under a bridge arch into the empty Grassmarket, and went up
Candlemakers Row to the kirkyard gate. Such as Auld Jock, now, by unnumbered
thousands, were coming to lie among the grand and great, laird and leddy,
poet and prophet, persecutor and martyr, in the piled-up, historic
burying-ground of old Greyfriars.
By a gesture the caretaker directed the bearers to the right, past the
church, and on down the crowded slope to the north, that was circled about
by the backs of the tenements in the Grassmarket and Candlemakers Row. The
box was lowered at once, and the pall-bearers hastily departed to delayed
dinners. The policemen had urgent duties elsewhere. Only the Bible-reader
remained to see the grave partly filled in, and to try to persuade Bobby to
go away with him. But the little dog resisted with such piteous struggles
that the man put him down again. The grave-digger leaned on his spade for a
bit of professional talk.
"Mony a dog gangs daft an’ greets like a human body when his maister dees.
They’re aye put oot, a time or twa, an’ they gang to folk that ken them, an’
syne they tak’ to ithers. Dinna fash yersel’ aboot ’im. He wullna greet
Since Bobby would not go, there was nothing to do but leave him there; but
it was with many a backward look and disturbing doubt that the good man
turned away. The grave-digger finished his task cheerfully, shouldered his
tools, and left the kirkyard. The early dark was coming on when the
caretaker, in making his last rounds, found the little terrier flattened out
on the new-made mound.
“Gang awa’ oot!” he ordered. Bobby looked up pleadingly and trembled, but he
made no motion to obey. James Brown was not an unfeeling man, and he was but
doing his duty. From an impulse of pity for this bonny wee bit of loyalty
and grief he picked Bobby up, carried him all the way to the gate and set
him over the wicket on the pavement.
“Gang awa* hame, noo,” he said, kindly. “A kirkya’rd isna a place for a bit
dog to be leevinV*
Bobby lay where he had been dropped until the caretaker was out of sight.
Then, finding the aperture under the gate too small for him to squeeze
through, he tried, in his ancestral way, to enlarge it by digging. He
scratched and scratched at the unyielding stone until his little claws were
broken and his toes bleeding, before he stopped and lay down with his nose
under the wicket.
Just before the closing hour a carriage stopped at the kirkyard gate. A
black-robed lady, carrying flowers, hurried through the wicket. Bobby
slipped in behind her and disappeared.
After nightfall, when the lamps were lighted on the bridge, when Mr. Traill
had come out to stand idly in his doorway, looking for some one to talk to,
and James Brown had locked the kirkyard gate for the night and gone into his
little stone lodge to supper, Bobby came out of hiding and stretched himself
prone across Auld Jock's grave.