The First Day In Edinburgh
( Originally Published 1912 )
" Do hustle up with your hat, Betty ! We're awfully late ! I heard a bugle from the castle ages ago, and I'm sure the soldiers have started ! "
All right; I'm coming," said Betty, suddenly appearing from behind the heavy curtains. " But I could look and look forever out that window at the castle ! Yes, I know Mrs. Pitt's waiting, and I'll be ready in a minute. Oh, John, run and get your other gloves, please ! I told you last night you mustn't wear those to church ! "
Mrs. Pitt and Barbara were already in the carriage when Philip, John, and Betty came down; they drove along Princes Street, up across the Mound, and, turning into the High Street, they stopped at St. Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh's Westminster Abbey.
All the way Betty had been exclaiming, " It's even nicer than I thought ! When I looked out the window last night, I could just see the Scott Monument and the Calton Hill and St. Giles' steeple and, of course, the dear castle, and I truly decided it was perfect; but it's nicer in the daytime, after all. I'm too happy for words ! Haven't I been wanting to see Edinburgh for years and years, John? You know I have!
" Well, then, you're here; so you needn't talk so much about it," said John severely. Listen ! I think they're coming ! "
Sure enough, there in the distance was the weird droning of bagpipes; it grew louder and louder until, outside the cathedral's western door, it finally ceased. From their seats under the high central pulpit, Mrs. Pitt and the others could see the soldiers march in, two by two, the members of the military band taking their places in front of the organ, and the rest filling the middle part of the church, always reserved for them at this early morning service.
" It's rather a pity that there are so few to-day," whispered Mrs. Pitt. " Usually five or six hundred are here, but some must be away now, at camp, perhaps."
To strangers, however, the church seemed full of men in bright colors,—colors which made odd patches of brilliancy among the somber shadows. The men of the band were in High-land kilts; most of the soldiers were of the Royal Scots, in scarlet coats and trousers of Royal Stuart plaid, but some wore the green-and-white Gordon plaid, brightened by splendid, shining buckles.
Some of them are pretty old," began John, speaking softly to Philip, " but a few of the little fellows don't look any older than we are. See that one in the third row, there; he_" But just then the band began to play a hymn, and they all rose to sing.
The wind instruments are played gently, and one is really surprised that they can take the place of an organ so well. One is soon accustomed to the unusual sound, and does not feel it to be inappropriate.
Behind her hymn-book Barbara was whispering to Betty, " Mrs. Duncan's mother used to say it was dreadful to play an organ in the kirk, because it was ` praising God by machinery.' Fancy ! What would she have thought of this?
The men from the castle were most quiet and attentive throughout the whole service, much quieter than the rest of the congregation, chiefly composed of curious tourists who stared impolitely at the picturesque uniforms and made low-voiced comments one to another. The benediction pronounced, all left by the western door, lingering in Parliament Square to see the soldiers form in line and march up the hill to the castle, the band again in the lead.
" Can't we go back into the cathedral now? " asked Betty, as they turned away. There's heaps I want to see in there! "
They were met by a cold verger, however, who informed them that it was " hardly in order " to allow visitors to inspect the church between services.
" No matter; we'll come back to-morrow, Betty," said Mrs. Pitt. " I told the driver he need not wait, so we'll walk back to the hotel. We've a drive planned for this afternoon, re-member; and this is the day for writing letters. Yes, yes, that must be done, even if you are in Edinburgh, Betty!
" My! " cried John; " they've got some regular sky-scrapers here, haven't they? "
" Oh you see, New York has only copied Edinburgh, after all," laughed Mrs. Pitt, as they stood looking down the deserted High Street. " These tall houses are called ' lands,' and are now tenements where very poor people live. There have been some nine or ten stories high, I believe, and they say that in the Cowgate there was once a building of fifteen stories."
" But why did they make them so high here " inquired Betty. " They weren't like that in London."
It's all part of the story of how Edinburgh was built," Mrs. Pitt answered, as they again went down the hill towards the Mound. "The story is very, very interesting, and I shall tell you all about it. Let me see," she paused to glance at her watch; " yes, I think we can spare the time. We'll sit down in the Princes Street Gardens here, and I can at least begin my story for you."
On a warm, bright Sunday these gardens, between gay Princes Street and the great steep rock of Edinburgh Castle, are always crowded. Children tumble about on the grass,—a little burned by the unusually hot sun; beneath shady trees men stretch, asleep, with hats over their faces; sweethearts occupy most of the benches, particularly those in out-of-the-way nooks; and the broad paths are thronged with happy working-people, out for a day in the open air and sunshine.
Mrs. Pitt had a considerable search before she found an empty bench where she could sit with the two girls, leaving Philip and John to content themselves with the lawn. And so, surrounded by the people of modern Edinburgh, they talked of the Edinburgh of long ago.
Looking high above them at the blackened sides and buildings of the castle rock, Mrs. Pitt said : " Of course, wherever there is such a rock as this, there is bound to have been a fortress in very early times. Legend says that the ancient Picts built a castle here, where they were in the habit of keeping their princesses until fitting husbands could be found for them. When we go up to the castle, you will see the tiny chapel built by Queen Margaret Canmore ; she and her husband lived on this old rock, considering it the safest place in their kingdom for the royal dwelling."
There used to be water where these gardens are now; isn't that so, Mother? "
" Yes, indeed, Barbara; the great Nor' Loch was here, and served to make the huge castle rock even safer from attack. On the south side, where the street called the Cowgate is now, was a burn, or little stream. How different the place must have been when the entire city, in-closed by walls, was made up of the one long street running from the castle to Holyrood Palace !
" And so we have royalty living here at the castle; not long after, the monks were established at Holyrood, and this is how it came about. In 1128, King David, son of Malcolm and Margaret Canmore, was out hunting one day, when he became separated from his companions. In the valley, east of the castle, was the wild Forest of Drumsheugh, and there the king was wandering alone, when he was at-tacked by a white stag. He had given up hope of being rescued, when, suddenly, a silver cloud covered him, and there appeared a shining cross or ` rood.' The stag at once fled, and thus the king was saved. That night he had a vision in which St. Andrew bade him build a monastery on the site of his wonderful escape from death. Thus the Abbey of Holyrood was founded, the King giving the canons power to govern them-selves in a separate community of their own."
Here Mrs. Pitt paused, and Betty said thoughtfully, " Then the kings were here at the castle, and the monks at the other end of the long ridge of rock. I see. Please go on, Mrs. Pitt."
Naturally the canons had often to travel along the ridge to see their sovereigns, and the street became known as the Canongate, gaet being the Saxon word for street. Nearer the castle, it was called the King's Hie Street; and where the Canongate and the High Street met was a big city gate, the Netherbow Port. As the place grew, the nobles and courtiers lived as near the castle as possible, but all the religious men, connected with the abbey, built their pal-aces in the Canongate."
" Well," demanded John, who was growing a bit impatient, " when are you coming to the skyscrapers?
" I've come to them now," laughed Mrs. Pitt. " The strange little city, built all on the ridge of rock, had to be protected by walls, because the English and other enemies were almost constantly to be feared. No one dared to live outside these walls. As Edinburgh grew, closes, or passages, were made between the buildings, and houses were built on the steep slopes of the ridge; finally, the walls were extended to include the Cowgate, too, but then, for a long time, it was impossible for the city to spread any more. It could not grow and cover more ground, so it grew upwards, John, and people added many stories to the buildings."
" Just the same reason they have to make them so high in New York," declared John triumphantly. " I've heard Father say so! "
" John ! Why will you insist on comparing horrid New York with lovely things over here, " objected his long-suffering sister.
" Mother, tell us just one more thing before we go, please. Why do they call it the Mound, that street we took to go up to the old town'? "
" Only this one more story ! Remember! And then those letters must be written ! How you children keep me talking ! You must picture the great loch, then, on this side of the castle, and close up against the rock. It served as a protection from enemies, as a place for pleasure-boating and for the ' bonspiels ' or curling on the ice in winter, and as a convenient place for drowning witches and for dumping all sorts of nasty rubbish from the town above. After Scotland was at peace with England, and had no enemies to fear, people began to live over here on Princes Street, then known as the Lang Gait ' ; and about this time the loch was drained. People going from the old town over to the new, found much discomfort in crossing this muddy valley where the Nor' Loch had been. George Boyd, a tailor, whose business frequently took him into the new town, hit upon the plan of dropping something in his path on each trip, a board, a stick, or a stone. People followed his example, until at last their many contributions formed the Mound on which the trams now run. It was originally known as Geordie Boyd's Mud Brig.'
They mounted the steps from the gardens to Princes Street, grown from a narrow path in the fields, which it was less than two hundred years ago, into one of the finest streets in Europe.
Their own rooms saw John and Betty for a good two hours, while the long home letters were written. Luncheon followed; then the drive in a taxicab around Arthur's Seat and out to Craigmillar Castle.
Straight along Princes Street they went, passing the Greek-like National Gallery and the Scott Monument with its graceful turrets. Just beyond the Post Office, Mrs. Pitt pointed out the little patch which yet remains of the " Old Cal-ton Graveyard."
" Many great and honored men have been buried there," she told them. " You've heard the name of David Hume, who was a philosopher and a historian, and those of Alexander Constable and William Blackwood, famous Edinburgh publishers. Do you see a bronze monument, Betty, of a tall man with a slave kneeling at his feet? "
" Why, it's our Abraham Lincoln ! " John and Betty exclaimed. How did he happen to be here in Edinburgh? "
" The monument was erected to the memory of one of the world's greatest men, and also to commemorate the Scotch-American soldiers who fell in your terrible Civil War."
" Why, here's another castle," cried John, pointing to a huge building close by. " I didn't know there were two."
" It's the jail, John," said Mrs. Pitt, much amused; " but really I'm not surprised that you mistook it for another castle. Here's the Royal High School, at the foot of the Calton Hill. That has an exceedingly interesting history, which I must sometime tell you more about. The big pillars on the top of Calton Hill are part of a great National Monument which was never finished. King George IV laid the foundation stone in 1822, but the funds were very soon exhausted. There's one consolation, though; the unfinished building looks much like the ruined Parthenon, which is one reason why people like to call Edinburgh ` the modern Athens.' "
They glanced at the gloomy pile of old Holy-rood Palace and its adjoining ruined chapel, as the motor car whirled them past ; then they climbed the sweeping curves of road up the mountain of which the highest point is called Arthur's Seat, after that English mythical king, who fought much in the vicinity of Edinburgh, according to some traditions. This is known as the Queen's Drive, a very favorite place for carriages, motor cars, bicycles, and walkers on a fine day, the views of Edinburgh, the surrounding country, and of the blue firth beyond the city of Leith being truly superb. On the southern side of the mountain they made the descent, passing the curious column-like rocks called " Samson's Ribs," and following the road until it brought them into picturesque Duddingston village, with its loch. Close at hand is Craigmillar Castle, among the trees on a hilltop.
I'll scare up the woman with the keys," announced the capable John, running towards a cottage.
To their vast disappointment he returned with the news that the castle is never open on Sundays ; and, the caretaker having gone away from home, they were not able to try their powers of persuasion to change his rule. Over the lower, outer walls, they could see the usual square castle keep, and with this view they had to be content.
" It's no great matter," began Mrs. Pitt consolingly; " but you might have seen Queen Mary's room, the dungeons, a beautiful old cedar-tree in the courtyard, and a truly fine winding stair."
" Yes," exclaimed Barbara, " that's the duckiest old winding stair I ever saw ! I can really imagine a queen and her court ladies using it."
" Quite so, Barbara ! Mary Stuart at her proudest could have swept down that stately stair. Although the castle is very ancient, part having been built in the thirteenth century, and having had its connection with many great events in Scottish history, it is as Queen Mary's favorite summer residence that the place is best known. From here the Queen could keep watch over her city, as you see. Here it was, also, that the fatal paper, providing for the murder of Lord Darnley, was signed."
" There's something else that I remember, Mother. In this corner of the outer court-yard," and Philip stood on tiptoe and tried in vain to peer over the high wall, " is what was once a pigeon cote. Don't you know how in those days they always kept pigeons to give to strangers who came and asked for food? "
" How nice of them ! " Betty reflected, as they stepped once more into the motor car. " I wonder if that was Queen Mary's plan."
On the way back to town they noticed many interesting places and things, but Betty longest remembered Jeanie Deans' cottage, with its garden and stone seat, which Scott has made so vivid to all readers of " The Heart of Midlothian."
" Oh, yes," said John, " we saw once where she met Queen Caroline, on the long drive in Richmond Park, near London." It was much for John to remember all that, and his sister looked gratified.
Soon they were back at their hotel, John and Betty flying at once to the window to see their adored castle, now outlined against the soft sunset sky, and to listen eagerly for the soldiers' bugles.