Edinburgh Odds And Ends
( Originally Published 1912 )
" WHERE are the boys? " asked Betty, coming into Mrs. Pitt's sunny room one Sunday after-noon to ask that lady's advice about the postage on an unusually bulky letter.
" They went off on an expedition; they're searching for something interesting, but they wouldn't tell what it is, or let me help them," Mrs. Pitt answered absently, for she was just then poring over the timetables in " Bradshaw," that altogether exasperating but indispensable traveler's companion.
It was past tea-time when Philip and John appeared at the hotel, tired and hot, but triumphant.
I say ! We found it, Mother, but it's not half as jolly as we expected," said Philip, dropping into a chair and taking the cup of tea his sister held out to him.
But before they learned any more about the mysterious discovery, they were forced to listen to a long account of the boys' tramp.
" Out on Princes Street here we ran into a lot of soldiers coming home from camp," remarked John, his mouth full of bread and butter, of which the waiter had just brought in a fresh supply. They were pulling their gun-carriages along the pavement in this sun, and perhaps they didn't look hot ! Whew ! We saw more starting off to camp, too; they didn't have on their plaids at all, just stupid yellow khaki suits and guns over their shoulders."
" A little farther down," began Philip, taking up the story, " we saw the queerest pro-cession of big trucks loaded with stuff to set up a fair somewhere; the whole thing was pulled along by a steam engine that made no end of a nasty racket ! "
" Then we dodged a crowd of boy scouts, blowing bugles and pounding on drums to, beat the band ! " It was John who was talking once again. " After that we went down into Princes Street Gardens, where there was even a bigger crowd than a week ago. We crossed the tracks by a bridge and hustled all over that side of the rock, and it's mighty steep, too. We bumped into some kind of a ruin which we thought was going to be it, but a bobby told us it's the Well-house Tower, oldest ruin in Edinburgh, sup-plied water for the castle once. Well, there are bully views from there, and shady walks and trees, but we couldn't find it."
" Then we went up to the castle again, and I asked that jolly old guide where it is. We've asked him half a dozen times already, you know, Mother, but he told us all over again, so we walked 'round and 'round this north side of the rock till we finally discovered it. It's so little that a fellow could look and look and never see it, but now it stands out just as clear ! "
" We'll show it to you tomorrow," declared John condescendingly. " It's Queen Margaret's little door, ' sally-port,' they call it. The monk carried her body out of it when Donald Bane was besieging and the fog came up."
Mrs. Pitt smiled when the secret was thus divulged. Betty rose and went to the window. Her eyes had not been roving long over the sides of the black rock before she exclaimed in high glee, " I thought so! You silly, silly boys ! I can see it from this very window, just as plain ! Come here, John ! Look ! "
If you boys had told me what you were looking for, I could have saved you the long tramp," said Mrs. Pitt, seeing the boys' confusion.
" We don't care, anyhow," they insisted. " We had a jolly walk, and we found it by ourselves ! "
The next morning they all skirted the north side of the rock, under the little " sally-port " in the outer castle walls, and followed the street, called quaintly " King's Stables Road," until it brought them into the Grassmarket. This wide, open space, still boasting a few ancient buildings, lies close under the castle rock. They looked at the mark in the pavement showing where the gallows stood, the gallows which were always set up during the night and vanished also under cover of darkness; they glanced up the winding, narrow street called the West Bow, leading to the Lawnmarket, just below the castle esplanade; then they gingerly made their way up the Vennel, a filthy, steep passage built in wide steps, which leads from the Grass-market up past Heriot's Hospital to Lauriston Place. Dingy tenements line the way, swarming with children who stare curiously at all strangers.
" What's this? " asked Betty, as they came upon a bit of old wall. " It looks, somehow, as if it has a history."
" And indeed it has," replied Mrs. Pitt, pausing to look back across the Grassmarket to the castle; " it's the Flodden Wall, Betty, part of the old city wall. Do you notice how very rough and poorly made it is? That's because it was built in great haste by unskilled workmen, by women and children, some believe, at the time of the battle of Flodden Field, when those living outside the city walls feared an attack by the English. But it was not needed, for the wall had been erected less than one hundred years when peace was declared, James went to Lon-don, and England and Scotland were united."
They entered the grounds of George Heriot's Hospital from the rear, passing by a new building to be used in connection with the original school, completed in 1659. Passing through an old gateway, they stepped into the great quadrangle.
The keeper, so surprised at their boldness, forgot to ask them for their permits, and meekly showed them about, giving them all the information at his disposal.
" Thought it was a place for sick people," whispered John to his sister. " First time I knew that a hospital meant a school."
The founder was George Heriot, goldsmith to Anne of Denmark, and afterwards to James VI, their guide informed them. Heriot had no children; so, at his death, his entire fortune went to found this school for the education and up-bringing of poor orphans and fatherless children of decayed burgesses and freemen of the burgh of Edinburgh." The Heriot fortune was so well invested that to-day the school owns "about three-thirds of Edinburgh," so the guide proudly remarked. (Obviously his fractions were just a wee bit confused.) Originally the boys boarded at the school, but now the fine old building of brownish stone is used only for lecture-rooms. To-day the pupils are from eight to twenty-two years of age, and there are eleven hundred of them. Heriot's Hospital has continued to prosper.
The building is square and four-storied, built around- a large court; it has quaint turrets, a high clock-tower in the center of one side, and two hundred and eighty windows, of which only two bear the same carved device. The whole building displays much elaborate carving, in which the initials of the founder often appear. The court has a sundial on each of its walls except that facing the north. Its pavement is flagged.
" Do ye ken what ye're standing on? " the caretaker inquired of John, pointing to some faint lines and figures on the flagstones. At one time every boy had a little square marked with a number, and here each must stand before lining up to go into chapel in the morning.
" Wasn't that a good idea! " cried the de-lighted Betty. " Too bad the lines are nearly rubbed out now. But then, there wouldn't be enough to go around, would there? "
Visitors are not permitted in the classrooms, it seems, but the guide showed them the chapel and the handsome Council Room, paneled with oak in perfect condition, and having beautifully carved doors, high-backed chairs, and a fine chimney-piece.
" It's a nice old place, all right," said John, after they had bade farewell to the old care-taker, and were walking down the wide, stately path to the front gate, " but I can't imagine a fellow really going to school in it."
" Heriot's foundation is very famous, John, though, of course, it's not as old as the Royal High School, founded eight hundred years ago by the Holyrood monks." They were going along Lauriston Place on their walk towards Greyfriars Church, as Mrs. Pitt spoke. " The monks meant only to educate those boys who sang for. them at mass, but the school became very popular, and others wished to attend. You can understand why a good school was needed when you know that in the time of James IV certain men were fined if they did not send their eldest sons to learn Latin, all laws being written in that tongue. After the Reformation, when the monasteries were broken up, the clergy and the Town Council took charge of the school. The boys studied in many different buildings, until the fine new one, at the foot of the Calton Hill, was built in 1829."
I say, didn't King Edward go to school in Edinburgh, Mother?"
" He came to live at Holyrood Palace to study with Dr. Schmetz, then headmaster of the Royal High School. That isn't just like going to school there, of course. I only wish I had time to tell you some of the odd customs of those High School boys," his mother rambled on; " they're so delightful ! Once every summer they were allowed to go out into the fields to cut the ` bent,' or dry grass, with which the school floors were strewn in winter to keep the feet warm. Every Candlemas, the second day of February, each boy brought the master his Bleis-silver,'—a present of a sum of money. At first the money was intended to be used for buying the candles which blazed in the churches at this festival. One of the boys' favorite pranks was ` barring-out ' the masters, blocking up doors and windows, and refusing to let them in until an extra holiday was promised. I could go on indefinitely," Mrs. Pitt laughed, " but here we are at Greyfriars Church! "
The churchyard surrounding the Old and New Greyfriars Churches is by far the most ancient in the city. Once the Greyfriars Monastery and gardens covered all the ground as far as the Heriot Hospital. At the Reformation this monastery, founded by James I for the increase of learning and culture, was reduced to an al-most total ruin; in 1562 the Town Council, by permission of Queen Mary, converted it into a burial-ground. In 1612, Old Greyfriars Church was erected, and a little more than one hundred years later, the congregation having increased, New Greyfriars was added. The long structure has always been and is now divided into two churches. Very black and gloomy it looks on a cloudy day, and equally depressing are the many crumbling stones and elaborate tombs.
" It's a terribly solemn place," said Betty, as they glanced down a long path lined by for-bidding monuments.
Appreciating the children's point of view, Mrs. Pitt quickly showed them a few of the celebrated graves: those of George Buchanan, Scotland's great scholar; of Allan Ramsay, the poet; of George Heriot, father of the founder of the Hospital: and told them of a few of the famous lawyers, magistrates, Lords President of the Supreme Court of Scotland, Lords of Session, and other famous folk who lie there. She pointed out the corner of the churchyard where the Covenanters were imprisoned, and where so many of them perished from exposure, the stone on which the great Covenant was signed, . and the Martyrs' Monument.
" The Covenanters were people who didn't like our English Church service, weren't they, Mother? "
Yes, Barbara, the Covenanters wanted the right to worship in their own way, as they had done ever since the Reformation. Because they would not obey the orders sent north by Charles I, they were terribly persecuted, and peace was not restored until 1689, in the reign of William and Mary. The Covenanters were imprisoned, put to death, and treated with the utmost cruelty; they fled to the country, and held church services in the open air. Even on the hillsides they were always armed, for at any moment they were liable to be discovered. There are horrible tales of the sufferings of women and children and of the Covenanting ministers, who were not allowed to go near their homes. About eighteen hundred people are said to have suffered death, banishment, or imprisonment during the long years that these religious wars lasted. To the memory, of these people this Martyrs' Monument was erected."
But what about the Covenant that they signed on this stone 7 " asked Betty.
In February, 1638, a great multitude gathered in this churchyard," replied Mrs. Pitt, " and listened to an address in regard to the preservation of their own religion and their duty to God and country; and when the Covenant, or statement of the people's religious convictions, was displayed, all were eager to sign their names to it. Some are said to have written their names in blood. Copies of the Covenant were sent all over the country, and very soon almost every one had signed.
" Before we go, I'll give you one more story about this old churchyard," she continued, " this time a far more pleasant one. Here was the scene of Sir Walter Scott's first romance. One Sunday it began to rain during church service, and Scott offered his umbrella to Margaret, daughter of Sir John and Lady Jane Stewart of Fettercairn and Invermay. The young lady accepted the proffer of the umbrella and the escort of Walter Scott. For several years he hoped to win her, but at last he saw her married to another."
" Look at that bully fountain with the statue of a Skye terrier ! " exclaimed John, as they left the churchyard and went towards George IV Bridge.
" I know all about that," Barbara said; " it's dear little ` Greyfriars Bobby '! His master, a poor man, died and was buried in Greyfriars Churchyard; Bobby was the only one who went to the funeral. Dogs were not allowed in the churchyard, but this one managed to find a way in, and spent all his time stretched on his master's grave. The caretaker tried for a long time to drive him out, but he couldn't, so finally he let him sleep in his own house, and gave him food. Every day for years the dog was there by the grave, and everybody knew about ` Grey-friars Bobby.' When he died, the Baroness Burdett-Coutts, who lives in London, you know, built this fountain."
Before their luncheon they walked past the old University, on the site of the Kirk o' Field, where Darnley was murdered. Close by is Guthrie Street, once College Wynd, where Walter Scott was born in August, 1771. On their way to the Antiquarian Museum, in Queen Street, after luncheon and a short shop-ping expedition, they saw another residence of Scott's in Castle Street, his Edinburgh " workshop," where much of his writing was done.
As they went along, they were still laughing at an adventure of Betty's,--Betty, whose love of antiquities sometimes led her into amusing predicaments. In search of a souvenir of Edinburgh to send home for her mother's birthday, Betty had halted long before a shop window in Princes Street. Close to the window-pane she espied a quaint silver drinking-cup, with two little handles and a shallow bowl, marked with a crest and a date.
I think Mother would love that," thought Betty; " she likes old things, too," and into the shop she slipped, unobserved by Mrs. Pitt and the others.
When questioned, the pompous clerk looked startled and said hastily, " But that's an old one, you know."
" Yes," said Betty placidly; " that's why I like it."
"But it's an antique, you see; it's a quaich, or Highland drinking-cup, which the chiefs used.
Some of them had glass bottoms, so that people could detect poison and could keep their eyes on a possible enemy while the drinking-cup was tipped."
" How much is it? " Betty inquired sweetly.
Realizing that she really did not know their value, the clerk became very kind. He explained to her that these quaichs are very rare, indeed, and bring a high price. That one in the window is twenty-nine pounds," said he; and, going to the safe, he brought out a still more valuable one, which he was confident of being able to dispose of to a regular customer for forty pounds, two hundred dollars. He then showed some beautiful little copies which sell for one pound each, but even this was too much for Betty's purse. Thanking the man, she left the shop without any package.
The others wanted to know where she had been, so Betty, rather crestfallen, was obliged to explain. They were much amused, of course, and every little while John would burst out with, " Ho ! ho ! Mother sure would have liked your interesting, inexpensive little present ! Too bad you didn't buy it, Betty ! "
The Antiquarian Museum is a comparatively new building, having been erected between 1890-1895, by Mr. J. R. Findlay, late proprietor of the famous newspaper, " The Scotsman." Scotland's heroes and heroines, from prehistoric to modern times, are pictured in a frieze about the hall ; painted against a gold back-ground, these figures stand out clearly.
Having looked until their necks could bear no more craning, Mrs. Pitt led them into the museum, crowded with objects of great interest : among them, Jenny Geddes's folding-stool with the leather seat, the one which was thrown at Dean Hanna in St. Giles' Cathedral, and John Knox's pulpit.
It soon became evident, however, that there was no use in trying to see everything; somewhat wearily they boarded a tram for the hotel. It had been a very full day.