Landmarks Of Old Edinburgh
( Originally Published 1912 )
" I CALL it a cheap enough old place! " announced John, looking with a young American's critical eye at historic Holyrood Palace. " Wouldn't be hired to live there myself if I were the King ! "
They were standing in the wide graveled space near the great fountain, and before them rose the ancient palace, big, black, and for-bidding.
It's gloomy enough, to be sure," Mrs. Pitt had to own. " The old walls have looked down upon many gay, happy scenes, as well as upon terrible tragedies, but they seem to have forgotten all except their sad memories, don't you think so? "
But Betty could agree neither with Mrs. Pitt nor with her brother. To her Holyrood was an enchanted place, a palace she had read about, and always hoped to see, a palace where real things had once happened. Wasn't that left-hand tower facing them the very one in which were Mary Stuart's own apartments ; hadn't that same northwest wing been built long, long ago by King James V?
" Come along; aren't we ready to go in now? " she inquired, thrusting a small fore-finger between the pages of her Baedeker to mark the place.
On either side of the entrance are two sentry-boxes, and a soldier paces back and forth; he allowed them to pass on unchallenged into the quadrangle, however, and they turned to their left. Then a dreadful thing happened, some-thing which greatly troubled Betty's sense of the importance, the seriousness of this, her first visit to Holyrood Palace. The party was met by an official guide, probably an old pensioner, very brave in his neat uniform, gold braid, and medals; but, unfortunately, he had a toothache, which was most plain from the size of his right cheek. When he spoke it was as if he had a mouthful of hot food, and the sounds were beyond the power of man to understand.
" Excuse me, sir? " queried Mrs. Pitt politely, scowling at John, who was struggling, without any noticeable result, to stifle his mirth.
The remark was repeated ; then, with a pained expression, showing that he understood how vain were all his efforts, the poor man strode off in search of assistance.
For a moment they gave way to their merriment; but, seeing the guide coming back, John suddenly sobered, and whispered tragically,
If he's going to show you through the whole place, I won't go along; that's settled. You know perfectly well I couldn't stand it, Mrs. Pitt, and I'd disgrace Betty forever ! My, but he's got a corking accent ! "
Before Mrs. Pitt could answer, because of her own laughter, the man was again upon them. This time he said not a word; he merely beckoned majestically. Awed into silence, they followed him along a corridor and through an arched doorway, until they found themselves in the ruined abbey church. The afflicted guide had vanished, to their immense relief, and an-other, with a face of normal proportions, came towards them.
You see, Madam, it's too early for the State Apartments; they are not open for half an hour, and he wanted you to come in here first."
Accordingly they strolled about in the ruin of what was once the magnificent Abbey-Kirk of Halirude, always the church of the kings as St. Giles' was that of the people. Only a small part of it now stands, but the beautiful western doorway, with its elaborate carving, and some exquisite windows, remain to give us a slight idea of what the church must once have been. In the royal vault are buried many famous persons; but some of the names meant little to Betty; she was more interested in a tiny wooden door, studded with great nails, which she found in the corner of the abbey church nearest the palace itself.
" It might have been here forever, it's so old ! " she declared, standing fascinated before the low portal. " Where do you think it leads? Is there a stairway?
" I'll tell you what I think," Mrs. Pitt replied understandingly. " I think it led to a certain winding stair in the wall, which, as you will see when we go inside, connects the apartments of Mary with those of Darnley, her husband. That little stair and the door suggest so many things to my mind, Betty. Long before there was any royal palace here (that was not begun until the time of James III, you know), the abbey had what is called right of sanctuary ' ; indeed, the Palace Yard, and even a bit of the lower Canon-gate, had this same old privilege, which means that debtors and certain criminals who could reach these precincts were quite safe from the law. Holyrood has always had this ` right of sanctuary,' and has it still, although, of course, no one takes advantage of it nowadays. Naturally, many conspiracies were hatched in and about the palace, and I can imagine a palace servant, or even a courtier, who had been guilty of some fault, rushing madly down the stairs to reach the altar. I think, perhaps, Mary herself sometimes came down to the church by this secret way; she must have needed comfort and quiet often enough ! And who knows but the murderers of the Queen's favorite, Rizzio, may have reached Darnley's rooms by means of this little door. Betty, my imagination is almost as active as yours, isn't it'? "
The others had now joined them, and together they went into the palace.
If the children had shuddered just a bit when they first saw the exterior of old Holyrood, this feeling grew upon them as they walked about the rooms filled with heavy antique furniture, and hung with tapestries and faded portraits. The long Gallery of the Kings has one hundred and ten such portraits, representing all of Scot-land's kings ; Charles II had them painted by a Flemish artist, who was to receive £120 sterling for finishing them in two years. They are all much alike and very ugly, except a lovely, unusually human likeness of Queen Mary.
It was a relief to step out of this apartment, with its many faces, and to pass through the Duchess of Hamilton's room into those of Darn-ley. Here are some fine hangings, and an occasional cabinet or chair which has belonged to royalty.
Most interesting of all, however, are the Queen's rooms, exactly above Darnley's. The famous turret-chamber is so small that it is difficult to imagine it in use. This was where the Queen might be alone with her friends,—the very place where she was sitting with Rizzio and a few others when the murderers came up the secret stairs to drag the Italian out. The walls of all these rooms are hung with old tapestry, giving an excellent idea of how they probably looked when the Queen lived in them.
" I suppose she brought the tapestries with her from France, and, perhaps, this ducky little mirror," said Barbara, when they were in the adjoining chamber, with its great bed in torn silken covering. " They didn't have any luxuries in Scotland, did they, not until the Queen and her four Maries brought them across the water? "
Just then Betty discovered Mary Stuart's work-box, under a glass case to preserve its frail embroideries as long as possible.
" I once had a peep inside it," said Mrs. Pitt. " Shall I tell you what I saw? It is lined with pink satin, fitted with spools and scissors just like mine, and there's a little mirror in the lid, not like mine ! There's also a queer little cap said to have been worn by Mary's father, James V, who was fond of going about his kingdom disguised as the ` Gudeman of Ballengeich '; there's Mary's lachrymatory, in which she caught and preserved her tears; and, best of all, there's a glove which once belonged to Darnley."
" Perhaps," suggested Betty, " just before she left the palace, Mary was mending a hole in the thumb ! "
Crossing Mary's audience-chamber, they came to what Betty considered the " most ex-citing spot of all," the entry, near the principal stairway, where the Scotch nobles finished their murder of Rizzio. Blood-stains are still pointed out upon the floor, stains which Mary herself is said to have ordered to " remane as ane memoriall to quychen and confirm her revenge."
" Wish I'd brought along that bug-light ! " muttered John. " It's so dark here I can't see a single stain ! "
Fortunately the melancholy guide was no-where to be seen as they passed out. They viewed the quaint house with its steep roof of soft red tiles, called Queen Mary's Bath, where she bathed in white wine in the hope of increasing her charms ; then they began their walk up the Canongate. Soon they reached ancient Queensberry House, once the proud residence of Scottish nobles, now a House of Refuge for the Destitute; almost opposite opens White Horse Close, which narrow passage they entered. On the further side of the little court into which the close widens, there is yet standing a building, which, with its two unusually quaint gables, its tiled roof, and steep outside stairway, is one of the most picturesque old houses in Edinburgh to-day.
" It's the old White Horse Hostelry, named for a certain palfrey belonging to Queen Mary," said Mrs. Pitt. " It was always famous as an inn. Here the officers of Prince Charlie's army had their headquarters, and here Or. Johnson lodged. Well, try a photograph if you like, John; I doubt if the children will let you take it."
At least a dozen little ragamuffins had been assailing them from all sides, crying pitifully, " Spare us a penny ! Spare us a penny ! " In their curiosity at sight of John's camera, they forgot to beg, but they would persist in standing directly in the way, so John worked under difficulties.
" Can't some of you shoo 'em away, " he exclaimed impatiently. " They're worse than they were up at the castle ! "
On their walk up the Canongate and the High Street, they saw countless entrances to closes, many of the doorways bearing ancient coats of arms, dates, and curious inscriptions; if investigated, they seldom failed to disclose more quaint buildings, turrets, doorways, and spiral stairs inside round towers. Betty, who had a great horror of the dirt and wretchedness which are found in their worst phases in old Edinburgh, actually forgot to turn up her nose, be-cause it was all " so adorably interesting." Mrs. Pitt could scarcely persuade her to pass a few closes by and to continue past the old Canongate Tolbooth, or prison, until they came to John Knox's house, which, jutting out into the High Street, is a conspicuous landmark.
" Don't you remember how, when Roland Graeme in ` The Abbot ' came to Edinburgh, he rode down this same street? " Barbara was saying. " He was so very excited by the crowds and the fighting and the gorgeous noble-men with their followers, who would not move an inch out of their paths in the middle of the street (` the crown of the causeway,' you know), no matter whom they met, that Adam Woodcock could hardly drag him along to the palace."
" Oh, I wish I could have seen High Street in those days ! " sighed Betty; " tell us how it looked, please, Mrs. Pitt."
" Well, then, its houses were all like John Knox's here, high and gabled and quaint, and many of the lower stories were given over to shops, or booths, displaying goods on the side-walks. All fashionable merchants had their shops in the High Street. Many houses had balconies, which served the merchants as roofs for their shops; outside stairways often led to those balconies, and underneath were pig-styes, from which the pigs could run out to the open sewers, dug at each side of the street. There was great danger of fire, of course, and the magistrates used to make trips of inspection up and down the High Street to see that the piles of peat and straw were not stacked too near the houses. Lights were at the entrances to all closes, and merchants were required to hang lanterns in front of their booths. People were expected to be in their houses by ten o'clock at night, or, if they had business outside, to carry a 'bowet,' or small lantern. Nobody wished to go out in the evening, however; it was far too dangerous an undertaking, for, besides the thieves and tipsy men who might do one harm, any one could throw his refuse out of his windows after a certain hour. Fancy! As a signal, a man would cry out, ` Get oot o' the gate ! ' or ` Gardy loo ! ', which latter was probably from the French, gardez l'eau.
" It almost makes one wonder how people dared to venture out into such confusion and filth, even in broad daylight. But the streets were thronged with a crowd as magnificently dressed as any to be seen in Elizabethan Lon-don. There were soldiers and serving-men in their uniforms, nobles in their velvet clothes and bonnets with long feathers, and even dainty ladies lifting their silken skirts high, preceded by gentlemen ushers to clear the way for them. Why, at one time people became so extravagant in their dress that a law had to be made bidding men see to it that their wives and daughters did not overdress for their respective positions in society. It's hard to understand how mi-lady in all her sweeping finery could enter the little shops at all, they were so tiny.
" Near St. Giles' Cathedral, in Parliament Square, which was the Princes Street of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and where all the goldsmiths had their booths, was one, only seven feet square, belonging to George Heriot, or 'Jingling Geordie,' jeweler to James VI."
But it wasn't too small for the King to go in," put in Barbara. " Don't you remember that James and Heriot were great friends, and how the goldsmith invited the King to come to his shop and sit before the costliest fire he had ever seen? And it was, too, because he burned up some notes which stood for much money that the King owed him."
Then they went into the old-time book, print, and souvenir shop which Mr. Hay now keeps in the basement of John Knox's house, just where there was a pretty jeweler's shop even when the stern, disapproving preacher lived above. After exploring its dark nooks and corners, and purchasing some postcards, a book or two, a portrait of Mary, and a quaint " tirling pin," or ancient Scottish substitute for knocker, they mounted the spiral stairs at the back of the shop, with kind Mrs. Hay acting as guide.
" Why, people could almost live here now ! " exclaimed Betty, " even if it is so old and hasn't changed much since John Knox was here! "
Mrs. Hay laughed. " People do live here," she said; " we do. I often sit in here with my sewing of a morning when it's not busy in the shop below. This was Knox's little study; here's his old chair, and from this bit of a window, overhanging the street, he would some-times address the people. Just step in here, Mrs. Pitt ; you've a fine view up the High Street towards the Lawnmarket."
Of course, Mr. and Mrs. Hay live in the very top of the old house, and are wise enough not to disturb John Knox's bedroom, and his dining-room, with its blackened, carved old paneling exactly as it was when the reformer dined here in much state. (He was very fond of French wines, although he so strongly disapproved of his Queen's fondness for French religion and customs.) In fact, this house helps delightfully to picture the daily life of this stern old church-man, who, sure of his convictions, made the life of Catholic Queen Mary a burden by his insistent attempts to convert her.
Next they entered Parliament Square, where Heriot's jewelry shop had once stood, and there noticed the site of the " Heart of Midlothian," or Tolbooth, erected by James II about 1450, and serving many uses, the last and most famous being that of prison for the City of Edinburgh. One whole side of the square is taken up by the old Parliament House, now occupied by government offices and the Courts of Session, the haunt of gowned and wigged advocates, or lawyers.
" What's this? " inquired John, kicking a little brass plate in the center of the pavement. The plate bears the initials " I.K." and the date 1572.
" Stop kicking it, John," remarked his sister suddenly. " I think it's John Knox's grave. Why was he buried here in the square, Mrs. Pitt'? "
As they walked around the back of the cathedral, towards the celebrated Mercat Cross, Mrs. Pitt explained that a churchyard formerly covered all the ground now occupied by the Parliament House and Square, and that all the tombs have quite vanished. There is now only this tiny mark in the pavement to indicate the supposed resting-place of one of Scotland's most famous men.
They were all curious about the Mercat Cross. Did Mercat mean market? What was the cross fort? Why does part of it look old and part new? Mrs. Pitt had much to explain.
It is partly new and partly old," said she. " This eight-sided tower was built by Mr. Glad-stone in imitation of the ancient tower, which was long ago removed because it blocked the traffic; that slender pillar rising from it is part of the original market cross which was once in St. Giles' churchyard, just as was John Knox's grave. Business was carried on in this church-yard, you know, and at the foot of this cross were sold 'pietricks, pluvars, capones, chekins, and all other wyld foulis, and tame.' Executions were held at the cross, and royal feasts, the king and nobles seated up on the tower, with the common people at its foot; here a border never would be ` put to the horn,' or declared an outlaw, because of his daring and bloody deeds, and from here all proclamations were made. Even now kings are proclaimed from the old Mercat Cross, and the Royal Scots from the castle have a part in the picturesque ceremony. Does anybody remember a poem in which the cross is introduced, I wonder? "
" Yes, yes, I know ! " cried Betty. " It's in Scott's ` Marmion '!
An old legend declared that a few nights be-fore James IV and his army set out for their English invasion, in which there occurred the terrible defeat at Flodden Field, a mysterious herald mounted the cross and read a long list of names of those in the army whom he summoned to meet him in an unknown world within forty days. One man, hearing his own name called, had presence of mind to say promptly, " I appeal from that summons and sentence, and take me to the mercy of God." Of all the doomed men, he alone was alive after the battle.
Mrs. Pitt quoted for them part of an old ballad by Professor Aytoun, which here de-scribes the ending of the battle :
"No one failed him—he is keeping
"Had ye seen them, 0 my Masters,
"'But a rampart rose before them
Quietly they entered St. Giles' Cathedral, stirred by the atmosphere of terror in the ballad, all but the irrepressible John, who would persist in asking whether " that fellow, the herald, had any head."
The first edifice on the site of St. Giles' was erected in 854, but it. was pulled down by a son of Queen Margaret Canmore, who built another in its place.
" Since then the church has undergone in-numerable changes," said Mrs. Pitt, as they sat down for a moment to put themselves in tune with the stately, grim, history-laden old place.
It was burned in the time of Richard II, but was rebuilt and grew gradually larger and more beautiful. When a man wished to show his gratitude for any blessing, he would build an aisle or a chapel or a lovely window. At the time of the Reformation, the windows were smashed and the carvings broken away, but the building itself remained. At one time, when more parish churches were required, St. Giles' was actually divided into several parts, each one being used as a separate church; it's no wonder, then, that its present shape and arrangement are unusual."
As they strolled about, they saw the Chepman Aisle, near the Royal Pew, built by Walter Chepman, who introduced printing into Scot-land; and the Albany Aisle, built as atonement for his evil deeds by the wicked Duke of Albany, who in 1402 killed his nephew, David, Duke of Rothesay.
" I always wonder whether their consciences felt any easier afterwards," reflected Mrs. Pitt.
In the Moray Aisle lies the " Good Regent Moray," he who ruled in place of the baby James VI, after his mother, Mary Stuart, had been dethroned. He was much beloved by the people, but he, as all men of power, had enemies, and one of them murdered him at Linlithgow. John Knox preached the sermon at his funeral in St. Giles' Cathedral. Close by are the tombs of the Great Marquis of Montrose " and the " Great Marquis of Argyll," men who took opposite sides, Montrose being an Episcopalian and a stanch Royalist, and Argyll a Presbyterian and a loyal follower of Cromwell. To see them lying quietly so near together puts one in mind of the similar tombs of Mary Stuart and of Queen Elizabeth, just opposite one another in Westminster Abbey.
In a talk with one of the vergers, John learned that the old bell of St. Giles', which came from Flanders several hundred years ago, still chimes the hours and rings for the daily service at three-thirty o'clock. In obedience to an old, old law, the bell was sounded in case of any danger, and every able-bodied man was bound to meet his townsmen at the Mercat Cross.
" Oh, here's something about Jenny Geddes ! " exclaimed Betty, stopping before a brass plate on one of the ancient pillars. " I'd al-most forgotten about her; there's so much else ! "
Jenny Geddes was only a cabbage-woman, who had her stall near the cathedral, but hers is a famous name in history."
" Why? " interrupted John. " Were her cabbages extra good? "
The people were accustomed to using a prayer-book which John Knox had written," continued Mrs. Pitt, but in the reign of Charles I, Dean Hanna received orders to read the Church of England service. This caused great excitement and indignation, you must know, and the good Dean had not gone far with his service before the cabbage-woman started a riot by picking up her stool, which, like other worshippers, she had brought with her, and throwing it at the Dean. With much difficulty he escaped to his own house, but no one ever again dared attempt the reading of the English service at St. Giles'."
They stood long before the exquisite bronze tablet to the memory of Robert Louis Stevenson, who is shown half-reclining in his chair, pencil and pad in hand. Underneath are the lines of one of his own beautiful prayers.
" We must step into the Thistle Chapel be-fore we go," said Mrs. Pitt, leading the way towards a little addition which had recently been opened.
Very rich it is in the fine grain of its oak paneling, its exquisite carvings, and its bright-colored, enameled insignia and crests, which, with their accompanying swords, mark the stall of each knight of the ancient Order of the Thistle. The Royal stall, with one on the left for the Duke of Connaught, and one on the right for the Prince of Wales, when he comes of age, were pointed out, as well as a stall opposite, where the King sits to invest new members.
" It's very wonderful," said Betty, as they again left the Thistle Chapel for the cathedral proper, " but I like it better in here where it's all shadowy and old, and where things have happened!"
Betty's cry was always for a place where things had happened." Her brother began to fear they should never again persuade her to live in a house which could not boast a history begun at least five hundred years ago.