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Life of a Scotch Naturalist, Thomas Edward
Chapter IV. Runs away from Home


At last Edward determined to run away from home, and from Charlie Begg’s cruelty, and to visit his wonderful uncle at the Kettle. The village is situated nearly in the centre of the county of Fife, about a hundred miles from Aberdeen. Edward did not know a step of the road, but he would try and do his best to reach the far-off place.

The first thing that he wanted was money. All his earnings had gone into the family purse, and were used for family expenses. One day, when his mother had gone out, leaving Edward to rock the cradle, he went to look at the money-box, and found only a solitary sixpence in it. He wanted sevenpence in all—that is, a penny to get across Montrose Bridge, and sixpence to cross the Tay at Dundee. He took the sixpence from the box, and fancied that he might be able to raise another penny by selling his knife. He took two quartern loaves of bread, put some oatmeal into a parcel, and, bundling his things together, and giving the cradle a final and heavy rock, he left the house, and got away unseen.

He ran up Deeside until he came to a high bank, near where the Allanvale cemetery now stands. He went in among the bushes, took off his working duds, and put his Sunday clothes on; then, tying the former in a bundle, he dug a hole among the sand and shingle, and thrust them in, stamping upon them to press them down. He covered up the whole with grass, leaves, and shingle. Putting his stockings and shoes together, and swinging them over his shoulder, he set out barefoot for Kettle. He thought he might be able to accomplish the journey in about two days.

Away he sped. Time was precious. The way was long, and his provender was small. He had only sixpence. He soon tried to raise the other penny. He met with two herd-boys and a girl. He said to the boys, “Will ye buy a knife? I’ll give it you cheap.” “No.” He passed through Stonehaven, about sixteen miles from Aberdeen, and up a steep brae on to Bervie.

Edward was not much influenced by the scenery through which he passed. He was anxious to push on without loss of time. But one thing he could not help seeing, and that was the ruins of Dunnottar Castle. They lay on his left hand, on a lofty, rock-bound cliff, betwixt him and the sea. They seemed to be of great extent, but be could not turn aside to visit the ruins. They reminded him, however, of the numerous stories he had heard about them at home— of the Covenanters who had been thrust into the Wliiu's’ Vault at Dunnottar, where many of them died; of others who had tried to escape, and been battered to pieces against the rocks, while attempting to descend to the sea-shore; and of the Kegalia of Scotland, which had been concealed there during the wars of the Commonwealth. Thoughts of these things helped him on his way; but the constant thought that recurred to him was, how he could sell his knife and raise the other penny.

As he was approaching Bervie, he met some lads on the road, and asked them, “Will you buy a knife?” “Where did you steal it?” said the lads. Off went Edward, followed by a volley of stones. He walked on for a long time, until he got hot and tired. By that time he had walked about twenty-five miles. Then he sat down by the side of a spring to eat his oatmeal, and swallow it down with water.

After resting himself for a time, he started up, and set off at full speed for Montrose. On his way he saw numerous things that he would have liked to take with him, and numerous woods that he would have gone into and searched with right good will; but the thought of the journey before him put all other things aside. Kettle was still a long way off; and, besides, he still wanted the additional pontage penny, in order to cross Montrose bridge. He went on and overtook a girl. He asked her if she would buy a knife. “No!”

He next overtook a man and woman with a lot of bairns. They looked rather suspicious. He tried to avoid them, and walked faster, but the man addressed him: “Stop a minute, laddie; ye’re in an awfy hurry!” “Yes,” said Edward, “I am in a hurry.” “But have ye ony baccy?” “No, I have no baccy.” “Try if he has ony clink,” said the woman. “Have ye ony brass?” “No.” “Take him, ye sheep,” said the woman to her husband, “and squeeze him.” Tom, on hearing this, immediately betook himself to his heels, and, being a good runner, soon left them far behind.

At length he reached Montrose. Seeing some boys gazing in at a shop-window, lie went up to them and asked if they would buy a knife. “No!” Edward thought he would never get rid of his knife. He must raise a penny to get over Montrose bridge, and yet he had nothing but his knife to sell. He could not break into his sixpence. Then he bethought him of offering the knife to the bridge-keeper; and if he refused to buy it, he would try and run the blockade. He went up to the bridge, looked at the entrance, and felt that he could not run across with success.

He went away from the bridge, and determined again to sell his knife. Walking up the river, he came to some men working at a large building. He asked if any of them wanted a knife. After a little bargaining, one of the men said he would give a penny for it. Edward was delighted. He rushed back to the bridge, gave the bridge-keeper the penny, and crossed in double-quick time on his way to Arbroath.

It was now getting dark. He had walked all day, and was now very tired. He was desirous of putting up somewhere for the night. But first he must have his supper. He sat down by a little rill, and, with the help of the water, eat some more of his meal and a piece of his quartern loaf. After he had refreshed himself, he thought he could walk a few more miles. He had now walked forty miles. The twilight being long in the North, and the month being July, he went on until he came to what he thought would be a good beild1 for the night. This was a field in which there were a number of hay-cocks. He crossed the wall, went up to a hay-cock, pulled a lot of hay out, then ensconced himself inside, and soon fell fast asleep.

Toward morning he was wakened up by something scratching at his brow. On putting his hand up, he found it was a big black beetle, trying to work its way in between his skin and his bonnet. He wished he had had his box with him to preserve the beetle, but he could only throw it away. As he lay awake he heard the mice squeaking about him. It was still dark, though there was a glimmering of light in the east. Day was about to break. So he got out of his hole, shook the hay from him, crossed the wall, and resumed his journey.

Though he felt stiff at first, he soon recovered his walking powers, and reached Arbroath by daylight. Every body was in bed excepting one woman, whom he saw standing at the end of a close-mouth. He went up to her and asked which was the road to Dundee. When she began to speak, he saw that she was either drunk, or daft, or something worse. He went away, walked through several other streets, but found no one astir. The town was asleep. Then he sat down on a door-step and eat some of his loaf. He was just beginning to fall asleep, when some men who passed woke him up. They told him the road to Dundee, and he instantly set off in that direction.

As he went on his way, he came up to a man who was tramping along like himself. He belonged to Dundee, was a weaver by trade, and had been traveling through the country in search of work. The man asked Edward where he had come from, whither he was going, where he had slept, and what money he had to carry him to the end of his journey. On hearing that he had only enough to carry him across the ferry at Dundee, the weaver gave him a penny, saying that he would have given him more but that the penny was all the change he had.

Shortly after, they overtook two women, who turned out to be two sailors’ wives. They had come from Aberdeen. The ship in which their husbands sailed had been chartered to Dundee, and would not enter the port of Aberdeen for some time; hence the journey of the wives to Dundee. The weaver, on hearing where they came from, pointed to his little companion, and said, “Here’s a laddie that comes frae the same place, and as his wallet’s no very weel filled, perhaps ye might gie him a copper or two.” One of the women looked hard at Edward, and said, “I’ve surely seen ye before, laddie. Did ye ever frequent the fish-market? the Shipraw?” “Yes.” “And ye had sometimes tame rot-tens wi’ ye?” “Yes.” “Ah! I thoclit sae. I used to help my mother wi’ her fish, and was sure that I had seen ye i’ the market.”

Then they asked him where he was going? “Till the Kettle,” he said. “Till the what did ye say, laddie?” “The Kettle!” How they laughed! They had never heard of such a place before. But when their laughter had settled down, they gave the boy twopence; and as they parted, one of the women said, “Tak’ care o’ yer feet, laddie, when ye step intil the Kettle.”

On reaching Dundee, Edward crossed the Firth of Tay by the ferry-boat, and reached Newport, in the county of Fife. From thence he walked on to Cupar. He was very much bewildered by the mariner in which the people told him the direction of the roads. They told him to go south or north, or east or west. He had no idea of these geographical descriptions. One man told him to “gang east a bit, then turn south, syne haud wast.”

He went in the direction indicated, but he could proceed no farther. He sat down on a stone at the side of the road, and fell fast asleep. A gentleman passing in a gig, called out to him, “Boy! boy! get up! Don’t lie sleeping in the sun there; it’s very dangerous.” On wakening up he was much dazed, and he did not at first remember where he was. When he finally got up, he asked the gentleman the road to Cupar. On being properly directed, he set off again.

The road along which he passed lay for some time through a wood. Among the various birds which he saw and heard, he observed a group of little round birds not much bigger than a hazel-nut, with very long tails. They squeaked like mice, and hung to and went round about the slenderest twigs. He had never seen such little birds before. He did not know their names, but he afterward found that they were the long-tailed titmouse. The little things were the young brood of the parent bird, which was, no doubt, hanging or flying somewhere near them.

Edward went into the wood to see them and follow them. As he passed along he was called to from behind, and a man came up and seized him by the collar. The man, doubtless a keeper, roughly asked him where he was going. “Naewhere.” “What are you doing here, then?” “Naething.” “What’s that in your bundle?” “My stockings and shoes.” “Let me see.” His bundle was then overhauled, and nothing being found in it but his stockings and shoes, he was allowed to depart, with the injunction “never to return there again, unless he wished to be sent to jail.”

After walking a few miles, he reached Cupar, and, passing through it, went on toward Kettle. Coming to a small burn, be washed and dried his feet, and put on his stockings and shoes, rubbing the dust from off his clothes preparatory to arriving at his destination. He reached Kettle in the evening, and soon found his uncle. But the reception he met with did not at all meet his expectations: it was any thing but cordial. After some inquiries, the uncle came to the conclusion that the boy had done some mischief, and had run away from his parents to hide himself in the Kettle. He could not believe that the boy had come so far merely to see him. The old man’s relations were all dead, or had removed from the place. He was merely lodging with a friend. The house in which he lodged was full, and there was no spare bed for Edward. At length the woman of the house said that she would make up a bed for him in the place where she kept her fire-wood.

When the boy had got his supper, he was asked if he could read. “A little.” The Bible was got, and he was asked to read two chapters. He was next asked if he could sing. “No.” He was then told that he might go to bed. The bed was soft and sweet to the tired boy. As he went to sleep he heard the people of the house reading the Bible and singing a psalm.

He slept very sound, and would have slept much longer but for his being wakened up next morning for breakfast. The rain fell very heavily that day. The boy began to feel very weary and lonesome, and wished again to be at home. He had taken no thought, until now, of the results of his leaving so suddenly. He thought of what his father and mother might think of his disappearance. He wondered whether he might now get away to sea.

But how was he to get home? He had now only a poor half-penny left. However, he had still a gully; perhaps he might be able to sell that. After considering the matter, he resolved to set out for Aberdeen, rather than be a burden to the people at the Kettle. He told his uncle that he would leave next day. The uncle said nothing. The boy was up early next morning, got his breakfast, and also a big piece of bread, which be put into his bundle. His uncle accompanied him a little way along the road, and at parting gave him eighteen-pence. Edward was overjoyed. He would now be able to get home with money in his pocket.

As he approached Newport, he came up to three men standing on the road. Two of them were gentlemen, and the third seemed to be a gamekeeper. He was showing them something which he had shot in the adjoining wood. Edward went forward, and saw that it was a bird with blue wings and a large variegated head. “What do you want?” said the gamekeeper to Edward. “To have a sight of the bird, if you please.” “There, then!” said the gamekeeper, and he swung the bird in his face, nearly blinding him. When the water was out of his eyes, and he could see, he found that they had gone along the road. He followed them, still expecting to see the bird, and to have it in his hand; but the gamekeeper was relentless.

At length he reached the pier, just as the ferry-boat was reaching the landing-place. He had another pleasant voyage across the ferry to Dundee. His object now was to push on to the field where he had slept among the hay. He arrived at the place, but there were no hay-cocks. The field was cleared. He found some whins in the neighborhood, and went in among them, and slept there until the sun was well up the sky. He started up, and went rejoicing on his way. He passed through Arbroath, and was speeding on briskly to Montrose, when he came up to a man standing in the middle of the road, holding a bull by a rope. He asked the boy if he would hold the bull for a few minutes until he went to a house, which he pointed to, near at hand. “ I will give you something if you do,” said the man. “Yes, I will,” said Edward, “if you’ll not be long.” “No,” said the man, “I’ll not be long.”

On getting hold of the rope, Edward found that he was likely to have a difficult job. Scarcely had the man disappeared ore the bull began to snort, and kick, and jump. The brute threw up its head, and bounded backward with such force that the boy was nearly upset. Instead of holding the rope short, as he had been told, he let it go, though he still held by it at the far end. Away went the bull along the road, dragging the boy after him. So long as the full stretch of rope lay between them, Edward did not care so much; but when the animal rushed into a field of corn, he let go altogether, and resumed his journey.

He had not gone far before he found, on looking back, that he was hotly pursued by the animal. Observing his danger, Edward rushed into a clump of trees standing by the roadside, and, throwing down his bundle, he proceeded to climb one of them. He had only ascended a few yards when the brute came up. The bull snorted and smelled at his bundle, threw it into the ditch with his horns, bellowed at the boy up the tree, gave a tremendous roar, then dashed out of the wood, and set off at full speed down the nearest by-way. Edward was flurried and out of breath : he rested in the tree for a short time, then descended, and ran along the road for some miles, until he thought that he was out of reach of further danger.

This was the only adventure that he met .with on his homeward journey. He passed through Bervie without molestation. But instead of reaching Aberdeen that night, as he had intended, he rested near Stonehaven. He went through the town, and got into a corner of the toll-bar dike, where he sat or lay until day-break. He then got up, and commenced the last stage of his journey.

On reaching the neighborhood of Aberdeen, he went to the hole in the bank by Deeside where he had left his weekday clothes, and found them all right. But before going home he went down Deeside and turned up Scrapyards to look at a laverock’s nest, which was still there. Then he went past Ferryhill House, through Dee village, and struck the water-side by the path now known as Affleck Street, and got home at breakfast-time, after an absence of a week.

His mother was in. “Where hae ye been now, ye vagaboon?” “At my uncle’s.” “Where?” “At the Kettle.” “And hae ye been a’ the way to Fife, you vagrant?” Tom then told his story; his mother following it up with a long and serious lecture. She reproached him for the dishonesty which he had committed, in taking the sixpence out of the box when he went away. “ Weel, mother,” said he, “ here’s the sixpence for the one I took.” He had saved the sixpence out of the eighteen-pence his uncle had given him when he left Kettle. “No,” she replied, “the crime is the same, after all, and you are sure to be punished for it yet.”

Then she urged him to go back to his trade, for he was far better at work than stravaiging about the country like an evil-doer. Edward asked if his father would not consent now to his going to sea. She did not think he would; she thought that to go back to his work was the best thing of all. She herself would not hear a word more about his going to sea.


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