Edward was between four
and five years old when be went to school. He was sent there principally
that he might be kept out of harm’s way. He did not go willingly; for he
was of a roving, wandering disposition, and did not like to be shut up
anywhere. He hated going to school. He was confined there about four
hours a day. It might seem very little to some, but it was too much for
him. He wanted to be free to roam about the Inches, up the Denburn, and
along the path to Rubislaw, bird nesting.
The first school to which he was sent was a dame’s school. It was kept
by an old woman called Bell Hill. It was for the most part a girls’
school, but Bell consented to take the boy, because she knew his mother
and wished to oblige her. The school-room was situated at the top of a
long stair. In fact, it was the garret of an ordinary dwelling-house.
We have said that Tom did not like school. He could not be reconciled to
spend his time there. Thus he often played the truant. He was sometimes
arrested on his way to school by the fish-market. It was then held in
the Ship-row, where the post-office now stands. There w7ere long rows of
benches on which the fish were spread out. The benches were covered in,
and afforded an excellent shelter on a rainy day.
Tom -was well known to the fish-wives. “Here comes the queer laddie,”
they would say as they saw him approaching. And when he came up, they
would ask him, “Weel, man, fat are ye gaun to speer1 the day?” Tom’s
inquiries were usually about fish—where they came from, what their names
were, what was the difference between the different fishes, and so on.
The fish-market was also a grand place for big blue flies, great beetles
with red and yellow backs (burying beetles), and daylight rottens. They
were the tamest rats he had ever seen, excepting two that he used to
carry about in his pockets. His rats knew him as well as a dog knows his
But Tom’s playing the truant and lingering about the fish-market soon
became known to his mother; and then she sent for her mother, Tom’s
grannie, to take him to school. She was either to see him “in at the
door,” or accompany him into the school itself. But Tom did not like the
supervision of his grannie. He rebelled against it. He played the truant
under her very eyes. When grannie put him in at the door, calling out
“Bell!” to the school-mistress up-stairs, Tom would wait until he
thought the old woman was sufficiently distant, and then steal out, and
run away, by cross streets, to the Denburn or the Inches.
But that kind of truant-playing also got to be known; and then grannie
had to drag him to school. When she seized him by the “scruff o’ the
neck,” she had him quite tight. It was of no use attempting to lie down
or sit down. Her hand was like a vise, and she kept him straight upon
his feet. He tried to wriggle, twist, turn himself round as on a pivot,
and then make a bolt. She nevertheless held on, and dragged him to
school, into the presence of Bell Hill, and said, “Here’s your truant!”
Tom’s only chance was to go along very quietly, making no attempt to
escape grannie’s clutches, and then, watching for an opportunity, he
would make a sudden dart and slip through her fingers. He ran, and she
ran; but in running, Tom far outstripped her; for though grannie’s legs
were very much longer than his, they were also very much stiffer.
The boy was sent one morning to buy three rolls for breakfast; but after
he had bought the rolls, instead of going home, he forgathered with
three loons, and accompanied them to the Denburn. He got a lot of
horse-leeches, and was in the act of getting another, when, looking in
the water, he saw the reflection of grannie approaching. "When he felt
her fingers touching his neck, he let go the stone under which the
horse-leech was, and made a sudden bound to the other side of the burn.
He heard a heavy splash in the water. His comrades called out, “Tam,
Tam, ye’re grannie’s droonin’!” But Tam neither stopped nor looked back.
He flew as fast as he could to the Inches, where he stopped to take
breath. The tide coming in, drove him away, and then he took refuge on
the logs, near the Middens; after which he slunk home in the evening.
His mother received him thus: “Ye’re here again, ye ne’er-do-well!
creepin’ in like a thief. Ye’ve been wi’ yer ragamuffins: yer weet duds
tell that. That’s wi’ yer Inches, an’ tearin’ an’ ridin’ on the logs,
an’ yer whin bushes. But ye may think muckle black shame o’ yersel, man,
for gaun and droonin’ yer peer auld grannie.” “I didna droon her,” said
Tom. “But she may hae been drooned for you; ye didna stay to tak her oot.”
“She fell in hersell.” “Haud yer tongue, or I’ll take the poker t’ye!
Think shame, man, to send her hame in sic a filthy state. But where’s
the bread I sent ye for?” “It’s a’ eaten.” “We wad hae had a late
breakfast if we had waited till now, and sine ye’ve no gottin it after
a’. But ye’ll see what yer faither ’ill say to ye when he gets hame!”
Tom was in bed by that time. He remained awake until his father returned
in the evening. He was told the whole story by his wife, in its most
dreadful details. When he heard of grannie’s plash into the burn, and
coming home covered with “glaur,” he burst out into a long and hearty
laugh. Tom heard it with joy. The father then remarked that grannie
should “beware of going so near the edge of such a dirty place.” Then
Tom felt himself reprieved, and shortly after fell asleep.
The scapegrace returned to school. He did not learn a great deal. He had
been taught by his mother his ABC, and to read words of three letters.
He did not learn much more at Bell Hill’s school. Bell’s qualifications
as a teacher were not great. Nevertheless, the education that she gave
was a religious education. She prayed, or, as Edward called it,
“groaned,” with the children twice a day. And it was during one of her
devotional exercises that the circumstance occurred which compelled Bell
Hill to expel Tom Edward from her school.
Edward had been accustomed to bring many of his “beasts” with him to
school. The scholars were delighted with his butterflies, but few of
them cared to be bitten or stung by his other animals, and to have
horse-leeches crawling. about them was unendurable. Thus Edward became a
source of dread and annoyance to the whole school. He was declared to be
a “perfect mischief.” When Bell Hill was informed of the beasts he
brought with him, she used to say to the boy, “Now, do not bring any
more of these nasty and dangerous things here again.” Perhaps he
promised, but generally he forgot.
At last he brought with him an animal of a much larger sort than usual.
It was a kae, or jackdaw. He used to keep it at home, but it made such a
noise that he was sent out with it one morning, with strict injunctions
not to bring it back again. He must let it go, or give it to somebody
else. But he was fond of his kae, and his kae was fond of him. It would
follow him about like a dog. He could not part with the kae; so he took
it to school with him. But how could he hide it? Little boys’ trousers
were in those days buttoned over their vest; and as Tom’s trousers were
pretty wide, he thought he could get the kae in there. He got it safely
into his breeks before he entered the school.
So far so good. But when the school-mistress gave the word “Pray,” all
the little boys and girls knelt down, turning their backs to Bell. At
this movement the kae became fractious. He could not accommodate himself
to the altered position. But seeing a little light overhead, he made for
it. He projected his beak through the opening between the trousers and
the vest. He pushed his way upward; Tom squeezed him downward to where
he was before. But this only made the kae furious. He struggled, forced
his way upward, got his bill through the opening, and then his head.
The kae immediately began to cre-waw! cre-waw! “The Lord preserv’s a’!
Fat’s this, noo?” cried Bell, starting to her feet. “It’s Tam Edward
again,” shouted the scholars, “wi a craw stickin’ oot o’ his breeks!”
Bell went up to him, pulled him up by his collar, dragged him to the
door, thrust him out, and locked the door after him. Edward never saw
Bell Hill again.
The next school to which he was sent was at the Denburn side, near by
the venerable Bow brig, the oldest bridge in Aberdeen, but now swept
away to make room for modern improvements. This school consisted wholly
of boys. The master was well stricken in years. He was one of the old
school, who had great faith in “the taws,” as an instrument of
instruction. Edward would have learned much more at this school than at
Bell Hill’s, had he not been so near his favorite haunt, the Denburn. He
was making rapid progress with his reading, and was going on well with
his arithmetic, when his usual misfortune occurred.
One day he had gone to school earlier than usual. The door was not open,
and to while away his time he went down to the Denburn. He found plenty
of horse-leeches, and a number of the grubs of water-flies. He had put
them into the bottom of a broken bottle, when one of the scholars came
running up, crying, “Tam, Tam, the school’s in!” Knowing the penalty of
being behind time, Tom flew after the boy, without thinking of the
bottle he had in his hand. He contrived, however, to get it into the
school, and deposited it in a corner beside him, without being observed.
All passed on smoothly for about half an hour, when one of the scholars
gave a loud scream, and started from his seat. The master’s attention
was instantly attracted, and he came down from the desk, taws in hand.
“What’s this?” he cried. “It’s a horse-leech crawlin’ up my legI” “A
horse-leech?” “Yes, sir, and see,” pointing to the corner in which Tom
kept his treasure, “there’s a bottle fu’ o’ them!” “Give me the bottle!”
said the master; and, looking at the culprit, he said, “You come this
way, Master Edward!” Edward followed him, quaking. On reaching the desk,
he stopped, and, holding out the bottle, said, “That’s yours, is it
not?” “Yes.” “Take it, then; that is the way out,” pointing to the door;
“go as fast as you can, and never come back; and take that too,”
bringing the taws down heavily upon his back. Tom thought that his back
was broken, and that he would never get his breath again.
A few days after, Tom was preparing to go out, after breakfast, when his
mother asked him, “Where are ye gaun the day, laddie?” “Till my school,”
said he. “To your school, are ye? Where is’t? at the Inches, or the
Middens, or Daiddie Brown’s burnie? where is’t?” “At the fit o’ the
Green.” “At the fit o’ the Green! But hoo lang is it since ye was putten
awa frae that school?” Tom was silent. He saw that his mother had been
informed of his expulsion.
In a little while she was ready to go out. She took hold of her son by
the cuff of the neck, and took him down to the Green. When she reached
the school, for the purpose of imploring the master to take her son
back, she knocked at the door, and the master at once appeared. Before
she could open her mouth, the master abruptly began, “Don’t bring that
boy here! I’ll not take him back —not though you were to give me twenty
pounds! Neither I, nor my scholars, have had a day’s peace since he came
here.” And with that he shut the door in her face before she could utter
a single word. She turned and came away, very much vexed. She kept her
grip on the boy, but, standing still to speak to a neighbor, and her
hold getting a little slacker, he made a sudden bolt and escaped.
As usual, he crept in late in the evening. His father was at home,
reading. On entering, Tom observed that he stopped, fixing his eyes upon
him over the top of his book, and looked at him steadily for some time.
Then, laying down his book, he said, “And where have you been, sir?” The
boy said nothing. “It’s no wonder that you’re dumb. You’ve been putten
out of your school a second time. You’ll be a disgrace to all connected
wi’ you. You’ll become an idler, a ne’er-do-well. You’ll get into bad
company. You’ll become a thief! Then you’ll get into jail, and end your
days in misery and shame. Such is the case with all that neglect their
schooling, and disregard what their parents bid them.”
Tom was at last ashamed of himself. He said nothing until supper-time;
and then he asked for his supper, as he was hungry. “Perhaps you are,”
said his father; “and you shall get no supper this night, nor any other
night, until you learn to behave yourself better. Go to bed, sir, this
moment!” Tom slunk away, and got to bed as soon as possible. When the
lights were out, and all were thought to be abed, a light hand removed
the clothes from over Tom’s head, and put something into his hand. He
found it to be “a big dad o’ bread-and-butter.” It was so like the kind
motherly heart and hand to do this. So Tom had his supper, after all.
He was next sent to the Lancaster School in Harriet Street. There were
two masters in this school. The upper classes were in the highest story,
the other classes in the lowest. The master of the lower class, to which
Tom belonged, knowing his weakness, ordered him, on entering, not to
bring any of his beasts to that school. He was to pay more attention to
his lessons than he had yet done, or he would be punished severely. He
did not bring any thing but his school-books for a long time, but at
last his usual temptation befell him. It happened in this way:
On his way to and from school, along School Hill, he observed a
sparrow’s nest built in the corner part of a spout. He greatly envied
the sparrow’s nest; but he could only feast his longing eyes at a
distance. He tried to climb the spout once or twice, but it was too
high, and bulged out at the top. The clamps which held the spout to the
wall were higher at the top than at the bottom. He had almost given up
the adventure in despair, when one day, on going to school, he observed
two men standing together, and looking up in the direction of the nest.
Boy-like, and probably thinking that he was a party concerned in the
affair, he joined them, and listened to what they were talking about. He
found that the nest interfered with the flow of water along the spout,
and that it must be removed; and that the whole water-way along the
spout must also be cleaned out.
Tom was now on the alert, and watched the spout closely. That day
passed, and nothing was done. The next day passed, and still the men had
not made their appearance. But on the third day, on his way to school,
he observed a man and a boy placing a long ladder against the house. Tom
stopped, and, guessing what was about to be done, he intended to ask the
man for the nest and its contents. The man was about to ascend the
ladder, when, after feeling his pockets and finding that something had
been forgotten, he sent the boy back to the shed for something or
other—most probably a trowel. Then, having struck a light and set fire
to his pipe, the man betook himself to the church-yard, which was near
A thought now struck Tom. Might he not take the nest himself without
waiting for it, and perhaps without getting it, after all? He looked
about. He looked into the churchyard gate, nearly opposite. He saw
nobody. The coast was clear. Tom darted across the street and went
rapidly up the ladder. Somebody shrieked to him from a window on the
other side. It staggered him at first. But he climbed upward ; got to
the nest, and, after some wriggling and twisting, he pulled it away, and
got down before either the man or the boy had returned.
It was eggs that he wanted, but, lo and behold! here was a nest of five
well-fledged birds. Instead of taking the birds home, Tom was foolish
enough to take them with him to school. He contrived to get the nest
into the school unobserved, and put it below the form on which he was
seated, never thinking that the little things would get hungry, or try
to make their escape. All went on well for about an hour. Then there was
a slight commotion. A chirrup was heard. And presently the throats of
all were opened— “Chirrup! chirnq?!” Before the master could get the
words “What’s that?” out of his mouth, the birds themselves answered him
by leaving their nest and fluttering round the school-room, the boys
running after them! “Silence! Back to your seats!” cried the master.
There was now stillness in the school, except the fluttering of the
The culprit was called to the front. “This is more of your work, Edward,
is it not?” “Yes, sir.” “And did I not tell you to bring no more of
these things here?” “Yes, sir; but I only got them on my way up, or I
wouldn’t have brought them here.” “I don’t believe it,” said the master.
“Yes, it’s true, it’s true,” shouted some of the scholars. “Silence! How
do you know?” “We saw him harryin’ the nest as we came up School Hill.”
“How?” “He was on the top of a long ladder takin’ the nest oot o’ a
spoot.” “Well, sir,” he said to Edward, “you are one of the most daring
and determined little fellows that I have ever heard of. It seems you
will follow nobody’s advice. If you do not give up your tricks, you will
some day fall and break your neck. But as you have told me the truth, I
will forgive you this once. But remember! it’s the last time. Now go,
collect your birds, and take them away.”
Edward groped about to collect the birds, but few of them were left. The
windows having been let down, they had all escaped except one. He got
that one, and descended to the street. There he recovered two other
“gorbals.” He went home with his three birds; but, his sister being ill,
his mother told him to take them away, because they made such a noise.
In the course of the day he gave them to another boy, in exchange for a
little picture-book containing “The Death and Burial of Cock-robin.”
Next morning he went back to school, and from that time forward he
continued to obey the master’s orders. He never brought any more
“beasts” there. He was at the Lancaster school about eighteen months,
though he was occasionally absent. He did not learn very much. The Bible
was used as the reading-book, and when he left school he could read it
fairly. He could also repeat the Shorter Catechism. But he knew very
little of arithmetic, and nothing of grammar. He had only got the length
of the rule of two—that is, he could add up two lines of figures. lie
could not manage the multiplication-table. He could only multiply by
means of his fingers. He knew nothing of writing.
We must mention the cause of his leaving his third and his last school.
He had entirely given up bringing “beasts” with him; but he had got a
bad name. It was well known that he had been turned out of all the
schools which he had formerly attended on account of bringing his
“beasts” with him. Better kill a dog, it is said, than give him a bad
name. In Edward’s case, his bad name was attended with very serious
One morning, when the boys were at their lessons and the master was at
his desk, a sudden commotion occurred. The master gave a loud scream,
and, jumping to his feet, he shook something from his arm, and suddenly
put his foot upon it. Then, turning in Edward’s direction, he exclaimed,
“This is some more of your work, Master Edward.” Not hearing what he
said, Edward made no reply. Another boy was called forward, and both
stooping down, they took up something and laid it on a sheet of paper.
On rising, the boy was asked what it was. “It’s a Maggy Monny Feet,” he
said. “Is its bite dangerous? Is it poisonous?” The boy could not tell.
Edward was then called to the floor. “You’ve been at your old trade,
Edward, I see; but I’ll now take it out of you. I have warned you not to
bring any of your infernal beasts here, and now I have just found one
creeping up my arm and biting me. Hold up!” Edward here ventured to say
that he had not brought the beast, that he had not brought any thing for
a long while past. “What! a lie too?” said the master: “A lie added to
the crime makes it doubly criminal. Hold up, sir!” Tom held up his hand,
and the master came down upon it very heavily with the taws. “The
other!” The other hand was then held up, and when Tom had got his two
hot hands, the master exclaimed, “That’s for the lie, and this for the
offense!” and then he proceeded to bring the taws heavily down upon his
back. The boy, however, did not cry.
“Now, sir,” said the master, when almost out of breath, “will you say
now that you did not bring it?” “I did not; indeed, sir, I did not!”
“Well, then, take that,” giving him a number of tremendous lashes along
his back. “Well, now?” “I did not!” The master went on again: “It’s your
own fault,” he said, “for not confessing your crime.” “But I did not
bring it,” replied Edward. “I’ll flog you until you confess.” And then
he repeated his lashes, upon his hands, his shoulders, and his back.
Edward was a mere mite of a boy, so that the taws reached down to his
legs, and smote him there. “Well, now,” said the master, after he was
reduced to his last effort, “did you bring it?” “No, sir, I did not!”
The master sat down exhausted. “Well,” said he, “you are certainly a
most provoking and incorrigible devil.” The master had a reddish nose,
and a number of pimples on his face, which were of the same hue. When he
got into a rage, it was observed that the protuberances became much
brighter. On this occasion his organ became ten times redder than
before. It was like Rardolph’s lantern in the poop. Some of the boys
likened his pimples to large driblets of blood.
After resting for a while in his chair, Edward standing before him, he
called to the boy whom he had first brought to his assistance, “William,
bring forward that thing! The boy brought forward the paper, on which
lay a bruised centipede. “Now, then,” said the master, “did you not
bring that venomous beast here?” “I did not, sir!” The whole school was
now appealed to. “Did any of you see Edward .with that beast, or any
other beast, to-day or yesterday?” No answer. “Did any of you see Edward
with any thing last week or the week before?” Still no answer. Then,
after a considerable pause, turning to Edward, he said, “Get your slate.
Go home, and tell your father to get you put on board a man-of-war, as
that is the best school for all irreclaimables such as you.” So saying,
he pointed to the door. Tom got his slate and his books, and hurried
downstairs. And thus Edward was expelled from his third and last school.
On reaching home, he told his parents the circumstances connected with
his expulsion. He also added that he wouldn’t go to school any more; at
all events, he wouldn’t go back to “yon school.” He would rather go to
work. He was told that he was too young to work; for he was scarcely six
years old. His father proposed to take him to the Lancaster school on
the following day, for the purpose of inducing the master to take back
The next day arrived. His father came home from his work for the purpose
of taking the boy to school; but Tom had disappeared. He would not go
back. He went first to the fish-market, where he spent the greater part
of the day. Then he went down to the Inches. From thence he went toward
the logs, and while there with a few more boys preparing sparrow-traps,
one of them called out, “Tam, there’s yer faither!” Tom immediately got
up and ran away. His father, following him, called out “Stop, sir! stop,
sir! come back, come back, will you!” Tom’s father was a long, slender
man, and could not stand much running. He soon dropped behind, while Tom
went out Dee-side way like a lamp-lighter. He never stopped until he
reached the Claylioles. Not seeing his father following him, he loitered
about there until it was nearly dark; he then returned, keeping a close
lookout, and ready to run off again. At length, about dark, he got back
to the logs.
It must be mentioned that on the spare ground above the Inches large
piles of logs were laid, some of them of great size. The logs were
floated down the Dee, and were laid there until the timber merchants
found it convenient to take them away. Little care being exercised in
putting up the piles, there were often large openings left at the ends.
Instead of going home, the boy got into one of these openings, and crept
in as far as he could get. But though he was in a measure out of sight,
he soon found that he could obtain very little shelter for the night. He
was barefooted, and his clothes were thin and raggy. The wind blew
through the logs, and he soon became very cold. He shivered till his
teeth chattered. The squeaking and jumping of the rats, of whom there
seemed to be myriads, kept him awake. It was so different from being
snug in his warm bed, that lie once thought of getting out of his hole
and running home. But he was terrified to do that, and thus encounter
his father’s strap—his back being still so sore from the effects of his
flogging at school. The cold continued to increase, especially toward
the small hours of the morning. Indeed, he never experienced so bitterly
cold a nio-ht in the whole course of his life.
At length morning began to dawn. The first streaks of light were tinging
the eastern sky, when Tom prepared to get out of his hole and have a run
in the open ground to warm himself. He was creeping out of the logs for
the purpose, when in the dim morning light he thought he saw the figure
of a man. Yes! it was his father. He saw him moving about among the
saw-pits, the logs, and the piles of wood. Tom crept farther into his
hole among the logs; and, on looking out again, he found his father had
disappeared. Half an hour later he appeared again; and after going over
the former ground, he proceeded in the direction of the Inches. In a few
minutes he descended to the channel, doubtless with the intention of
crossing, as the tide was out at the time.
Now, thought Tom, is my opportunity. He crept out of his hole, went
round the farther end of the logs, up Lower Dee Street, past the
carpet-weaver’s, up Carmelite Street, and then home. Just as he reached
the top of the stair, Mrs. Kelmar, the kindly “neibour,” who had been
kept up all night by the troubles of the Edward family, took him by the
collar, and said, “Eh, laddie, ye hae gien yer folk a sair niclit o’t!
But bide a wee, I’ll gang in wi’ ye!” As she entered the door, she
exclaimed, “Here he’s again, Maggie, a’ safe!” “Oh, ye vagaboon!” said
the mother, “where hae ye been a’ nicht? Yer faither’s oot seekin’ ye. I
wonder how I can keep my hands atf ye.” “No, no, Maggie,” said Mrs.
Kelmar, “ye winna do that. But I’ll tell ye what ye’ll do. Gie him some
meat, and let him get to his bed as fast as he can.” “His bed?” said his
mother; “he shanna bed here till his faither comes in.” “Just gie him
something, Maggie, and get him oot o’ the road.” After some parleying,
Tom got something to eat, and was in bed, with the blankets over him,
before his father returned.
“Weel, John,” said Mrs. Kelmar, “ye hinna gotten him?” “No.” “Ye hinna
gaun to the right place!” “The right place!” said John, “who on earth
could tell the right place for such a wandering Jew as he is?” “Well,
I’ve got him.”
“Where?” “At the head o’ the stair!” “And where is he now?” “Where he
should be.” “That’s in Bridewell!” “No, no, John, dinna say that.”
“Where, then?” “In his bed.” “What! here? And before I have paid him for
his night’s work?” “Now, John, just sit doun and have a cup o’ tea wi’
Maggie and me before you go to your wark; and if ye hae ony thing to say
to the laddie, ye can say it when he gets up.” “You always take his
part, Mrs. Kelmar, always!”
Tom lay quaking in bed. He heard all that was said. He peeped out of the
blankets; but when he saw his father sit down he knew that all was safe.
And when he had had his friendly cup o’ tea, and had gone to his work,
Tom fell fast asleep. He did not awake until midday, when his father
returned to dinner. Being observed to move in his bed, his father
ordered him to get up. This set him a-crying, and he exclaimed that “he
wudna gang back to yon school.” His mother now asked the reason why he
was so bitter against going to “yon school.” He then told them how he
had been treated by the master, and how his back was sore yet.
His back was then looked at, and it was found that his shirt was hard
with clotted blood, and still sticking to his skin. The wales extended
right down to his legs. Means were adopted to soften the shirt and
remove it from the skin. But while that was being done, the boy fell
back and fainted away. On coming to himself, he found his mother bathing
his brow with cold water, and Mrs. Kelmar holding a smelling-bottle to
his nose, which made his eyes run with water. A large piece of linen,
covered with ointment, was then put upon his back. His father went away,
ordering him to keep the house, and not to go out that day.
Whatever may have passed between his parents he did not know. He was in
bed and asleep when his father returned at night. But he was never asked
to return to the Lancaster school.
He had now plenty of time for excursions into the country. He wandered
up the Dee and along the banks of the Don on both sides. He took long
walks along shore— across the Aulten Links to the Auld Brig, and even up
to the mountains, which at Aberdeen approach pretty near to the coast.
During one of his excursions on the hills of Torrie, near the
commencement of the Grampians, while looking for blackberries and
cranberries, Edward saw something like the flash of an eel gliding
through among the heather. He rushed after it, and pounced down upon it
with both hands, but the animal had escaped. He began to tear up the
heather, in order to get at it. His face streamed with perspiration. He
rested for a time, and then began again.
Still there was no animal, nor a shadow of one. At this time another boy
came up, and asked, “What are ye doing there?” “Naething.” “D’ye call
that nae-tliing?” pointing to about a cart-load of heather torn up.
“Have ye lost ony thing?” “No.” “What are ye looking for, then?” “For
something like an eel.” “An eel!” quoth the lad; “do ye think ye’ll find
an eel amang heather? It’s been an adder, and it’s well ye have na’
gotten it. The beast might have bitten ye to death.” “No fear o’ that,”
said Edward. “How long is it sin’ ye saw it?” “Some minutes.” “If that’s
the case, it may be some miles up the hills by this time. Which way was
it gaun?” “That way.” “Well,” said the lad, “you see that heap o’ stones
up there? try them, and if you do not find it there, you may gang hame
and come back again, and then ye’ll just be as near finding it as ye are
now.” “Will ye help me?” asked Edward. “Na, faith, I dinna want to be
bitten to death.” And so saying, he went away.
Edward then proceeded to the pile of stones which had been pointed out,
to make a search for the animal. He took stone after stone off the heap,
and still there was no eel. There were plenty of worms and insects, but
these he did not want. A little beyond the stones lay a large piece of
turf. He turned it over, and there the creature was!
He was down upon it in an instant, and had it in his hand! He looked at
the beast. It was not an eel. It was very like an ask, but it was six or
seven times longer.
Having tightened his grip of the beast, for it was trying to wriggle out
of his hand, he set out for home. He struck the Dee a little below where
the Chain Bridge now stands, reaching the ford opposite Dee village, and
prepared to cross it. But the water being rather deep at the time, he
had to strip and wade across, carrying his clothes in one hand and the
“eel ” in the other. He had only one available hand, so that getting off
and on his clothes, and wading the river breast-high, occupied some
On reaching the top of Carmelite Street, he observed his mother, Mrs.
Kelmar, and some other women, standing together at the street door. He
rushed in among them with great glee, and, holding up his hand,
exclaimed, “See, mother, sic a bonnie beastie I’ve gotten!” On looking
at the object he held in his hand, the conclave of women speedily
scattered. They flew in all directions. Edward’s mother screamed, “The
Lord preserv’s! what the sorrow’s that ye hae noo?” “Oh, Meggy, Meggy,”
said Mrs. Kelmar, “it’s a snake! Dinna let him in! For ony sake dinna
let him in, or we’ll a’ be bitten!” . The entry door was then shut and
bolted, and Tom was left out with the beast in his hand.
Mrs. Kelmar’s husband then made his appearance. “What’s this, Tam, that
has caused such a flutter among the wives?” “Only this bit beastie.”
Kelmar started back. “What, has it not bitten you?” “No!” “Well,” he
added, “the best thing you can do with it is to take it to Dr. Ferguson
as fast as you can, for you can’t be allowed to bring it in here.”
Dr. Ferguson kept a druggist’s shop at the corner of Correction Wynd,
near the head of the Green. He had a number of creatures suspended in
glass jars in his window. Boys looked in at these wonderful things. They
were the admiration of the neighbors. Some said that these extraordinary
things had come from people’s “insides.” Tom had often been there before
with big grubs, piebald snails, dragon-flies, and yellow puddocks. So he
went to Dr. Ferguson with his last new prize.
He was by this time surrounded by a number of boys like himself. They
kept, however, at a respectable distance. When he moved in their
direction they made a general stampede. At length he arrived at the
doctor’s door. When the doctor saw the wriggling thing that he was
holding in his hand, he ordered him out of the shop, and told him to
wait in the middle of the street until he had got a bottle ready for the
reception of the animal. Tom waited until the bottle was ready, when he
was told that when he had got the snake in he must cork the bottle as
firmly as possible. The adder was safely got in and handed to the
doctor, who gave Tom fourpence for the treasure. Next day it appeared in
the window, to the general admiration of the inhabitants.
Tom hastened home with his fourpence. On entering the house, he
encountered his father, who seized him by the neck, and asked, “Where’s
that venomous beast that you had?” “I left it with Dr. Ferguson.” “But
have you no more?” “No.” “That’s very strange! You seldom come home
.with so few things about you. But we shall see.” The boy was then taken
into the back yard, where he was ordered to strip. Every bit of clothing
was shaken, examined, and searched; the father standing by with a stick.
Nothing was found, and Tom was allowed to put on his clothes and go
up-stairs to bed.