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Life of a Scotch Naturalist, Thomas Edward
Chapter V. Resumes Work


Instead of going directly back to his work, Edward went down to the harbor to ascertain whether any of the captains would accept of his services as a sailor. He went from ship to ship for three days. Some captains were willing to take him with an indenture, which would have to be signed by his father. Others were willing to take him without his father’s consent; but in that case they required two sureties to sign the indenture. These were serious obstacles—too serious to be got over—and on the third afternoon he left the harbor with a sorrowful heart. There were several skippers of coasting vessels, and of lime and coal hulks, who would have taken him for four years; but these were not the kind of ships that he wished to sail in.

Being thus forced, though very reluctantly, to give up all thoughts of going to sea, he now considered whether it might not be possible to learn some other trade less hateful tor him than that of a shoe-maker. But his parents would not hear of any change. They told him that his former master was willing to take him back, and to give him a shilling a week more during the ensuing year, and two shillings more during his last, or fifth, year. But Edward strongly objected to return to the master who had so cruelly used him.

Not wishing, however, to withstand his parents’ advice any longer, he at last consented to go on with his trade. But, instead of serving out his time with his former master, he found a pupil-master in Shoe Lane, who was willing to employ him, and to improve him in his business. Edward agreed to give the master, for his trouble, a percentage of his earnings, besides his pupil-money, and a share of the fire and light.

Edward’s work at this place was mostly of the lighter and smaller sort. His employer was of a much kindlier nature than the last, and he got on very well with him. Edward was also, in a measure, his own master. He could still look after his bird nesting. That was his strongest attraction out-of-doors. He did not rob the birds of their eggs. His principal pleasure was to search for their nests, and to visit them from time to time. When the eggs were hatched, and the little birds were grown and ready to fly, he would take one or two, if they were singing-birds, and rear them for himself, or for other bird-fanciers.

It was about this time that Edward began what he called his Wild Botanical Garden. His parents had left the Green, and removed to another quarter of the town. Behind the house, and behind the adjoining houses, was a piece of waste ground about ten feet wide. It was covered with stones, bits of bricks, and broken tiles. Edward removed these from the ground, and put them in a corner by themselves, covering them with earth. He dug over the ground, manured it, and turned it over again. Then he divided the space into compartments for the reception of plants and flowers. These were brought from the fields, the woods, and the banks adjoining the Dee and the Don. He watered and tended them daily; but, alas! they would not flourish as they had done on their native soil. He renewed them again and again. The rasp, the wild strawberry, the fox-glove — or dead men’s bells, as it is there called — the hemlock, some of the ferns, and many of the grasses, grew pretty well; but the prettiest and most delicate field flowers died away one by one.

His mother, who delighted in flowers, advised him to turn the ground into an ordinary garden. Now, although Edward loved garden flowers, lie very much preferred those which he found in the woods or growing by the way-side, and which he had known from his infancy. Nevertheless, he took his mother’s advice; and knowing many of the places near the town where the gardeners threw out their rubbish, he went and gathered from thence a number of roots, flowers, and plants, which he brought home and planted in his garden. The greater number of them grew very well, and in course of time he had a pleasant little garden. He never planted more than one specimen of each flower, so that his garden was various in its beauty. The neighbors, who had at first sneered at him as a fool, on seeing his pretty garden, began to whisper that the “loon” was surely a genius, and that it was a pity that his father had not made him a gardener, instead of a shoe-maker. Edward himself often wished that his parents had been of the same mind as the neighbors.

Near the back of the house in which Edward lived was an old tannery, with a number of disused tanning-pits, full of water. These, he thought, would be a nice place for storing his powets and puddocks. He got a large pail, went to a place where these creatures abounded, and brought back a large cargo, heaving them into the pit. But they did not thrive. They nearly all died. He next put about thirty newts there, but he never saw them again, dead or alive. At last he gave up this undertaking.

About the same time he used to make a tour among the book-sellers of the town, to inspect the pictures which they had in their windows. These visits proved a source of great profit and pleasure to him. He learned something from the pictures, and especially from the pictures of animals. He found that there was more to be gained from a visit to the picture-shops than from a visit to the public-house. When he saw a book that he could buy, he bought it, though his means were still very small.

It was in this way that he became acquainted with the Penny Magazine. He bought the first number, and liked it so well that he continued to take it. He especially liked those parts of it which related to natural history. Among the other publications which he bought was one called the Weekly Visitor. It cost only a half-penny. It had good pictures, and gave excellent stories, which were usually of a religious tendency. He read this little publication over and over again. Nor did he ever lose the opportunity of going to the Castlegate on Fridays, to see the pictures and picture-books, which were usually exposed for sale on market-days.

The gun-makers’ windows were also a source of attraction, for they often had stuffed birds exhibited in them. There was also a window devoted entirely to stuffed birds near tlie entrance to the police-office in Watch Lane, and another in Meal Market Lane, both of which attracted a large share of his attention. The sight of these things first gave Edward the idea of preserving animals. The first beast he stuffed was a mole, and he was very proud of it.

The shoe-making trade having become very flat, Edward left Shoe Lane, after having been there for about twenty months. He then went to work at a shop on the Lime Quay, near the harbor. He had steady work there for some time, at set wages. Though he had less time to attend to his natural-history pursuits, he still managed to attend to his garden and his “family,” as his mother termed his maingie3 of beasts. Trade again recovering, lie went back to work at the old place. But this did not continue long. The men had to be paid off; and then Edward did not know what to do.

At that time, emigration to America was the rage. Trade was very depressed throughout the country. There were bread riots in many of the manufacturing towns. Numbers of laborers were without work, and without the means of living. Aberdeen shared in the general depression ; and many persons emigrated to the United States, where there was a better demand 'for labor. Edward wished to emigrate too, but he had no money. He had only a few shillings to spare. But might he not contrive to emigrate as a stowaway?

This course is frequently adopted at the ports from which ships sail for America. A boy gets on board, conceals himself in the hold, and after the ship has got out of sight of land he makes his appearance on deck, usually half starved. Edward determined to try this method of escaping from Aberdeen, and more especially from his shoe-making trade. He knew one of the sailors on board the ship which he had selected; and although the sailor was strongly opposed to the project, Edward prevailed upon him to make an opening in the cargo, so as to admit him into a hole near the bow of the ship. Here, amidst some boxes and coils of rope, Edward deposited three dozen biscuits and two bottles of water.

He waited outside, hovering about the quay, until the day of sailing arrived. But the ship did not sail until five days after the advertised time. When the emigrants went on board, Edward went with them. For three days and nights he lay among the coils of rope, feeding upon his biscuits and water. On the forenoon of the fifth day he was in his berth; and just as the vessel was about to be loosed from her moorings, Edward’s friend came along the hold in breathless haste, and inquired (for he was in the dark) “if he was there.” “Surely,” replied Edward. “For the love of God,” said the sailor, “come out at once, and get on shore. You have time yet. Simon Grant [the town’s officer] and a lot of his sharks have come, and they are about to rummage the ship from stem to stern for runaways. So make haste and come out; you have no chance now.”

Edward still delayed. He did not like to leave his hole. But hearing an unusual commotion going on, amidst a great deal of angry speaking, and fearing the worst, he at last very unwillingly crept from his berth, went on deck, and leaped on shore just as the ship was leaving the quay. He afterward learned that the town’s officer was in search of another class of stowaways, who, it seems, had been carried on board in boxes or barrels. Edward found that he could not see the world after this method; and he returned home, defeated and mortified.

The Aberdeenshire militia having been called out in 1831, Edward enlisted in the regiment. He was only about eighteen years old at the time. When the men assembled, they were found to be a very bad lot—mere riffraff—the dregs of the neighborhood. They were regardless both of law and order. Seldom a night passed without the patrol bring-mg in numbers to the guard-house for being drunk and disorderly. Even during parade many of the men were put under arrest for insubordination, chiefly because of the insulting language they used toward their officers.

The militia were only embodied for four weeks. During the first fortnight, the awkward squads were drilled without arms 'of any sort. It was only during the last fortnight that they were provided with muskets and bayonets. The company to which Edward belonged was drilling one day on the links. It was a bright, sunny afternoon. The company was marching along near the lower part of the links, when a large brown butterfly flitted past. Edward saw it in an instant. He had never seen the like of that butterfly before !4 Without thinking for a moment of what he was doing, he flew after it—among the bents and sand hillocks, grasping after it with his hand.

“A very hunter did he rush
Upon the prey: with leaps and springs
He followed on from brake to bush.”

The butterfly eluded him; it flew away before him. Again he rushed after it, losing his bonnet in the hunt. He was nearing the spot where it had alighted. He would catch it now, when suddenly he was gripped by the neck! He looked round, and saw it was the corporal of his company, with four militia-men behind him.

Looking Edward sternly in the face, the corporal said, “What’s up, Edward?” “Nothing.” “'Flic deuce!” “ No, it wasn’t that—it was a splendid butterfly.” “A butter-devil!” “No! it was a butter-fly!” “Stuff!” said the corporal; “are you mad?” “No; I don’t think I am.” “You look like a madman; and I’ll tell you what it is, you’ll have to pay for this.” “For what?” “For breaking away from the ranks during drill. I am sent to arrest you and take you to the guard - house: so come along!”

And away they marched—two militia-men before, two behind, and Edward and the corporal in the centre. By this time a number of persons had collected, the younger people calling out to their companions to come and see the mad militia-man.

On crossing the links, the prisoner and his escort encountered one of the officers of the regiment, accompanied by a group of ladies. “Where are you going with that boy?” said the officer, addressing the corporal. “ To the guardhouse!” “ What! more insubordination?” “Yes.” “This is most dreadful; what has he done?” “ He broke the ranks during drill, and although Sergeant Forbes called him back, he ran away after what he calls a butterfly.” There was a short silence, after which the ladies were observed tittering and laughing. “What did you say, corporal?” “He ran out of the ranks after a butterfly.” “What! ran away from his exercise for the sake of an insect! Most extraordinary. Is he mad, corporal?” “Well, the sergeant thinks so; and that’s the reason why I have got four men to help me to take him; but I don’t think that he’s mad." "He must be drunk, then?” “No, I don’t think he’s drunk either.” “He must be either mad or drunk: did he ever behave so before?” “No,' not to my knowledge.”

The officer and the ladies retired, and talked together. After about five minutes had elapsed, the officer returned, and said to the corporal, “Are you quite sure that the prisoner behaved himself properly before his ridiculous chase after the butterfly?” “I know of nothing whatever against him, sir.” “Call him forward.” Edward advanced toward the officer. “Well, sir, what have you to say about breaking the ranks during drill, and running after the butterfly? Are you subject to fits of insanity?” Edward did not reply. “Can’t you speak, sir?” cried the officer, angrily. “Yes, sir,” replied Edward; “but you have asked questions that I can not answer.” “What induced you to leave the ranks, and run after a harmless insect?” “I really do not know, unless it was from a desire to possess the butterfly.”

Looks were exchanged between the officer and corporal, when the former, calling Edward aside, said to him, “I dare say, young man, you are not aware that the crime which you have committed against military discipline is a very severe one. This constant disobedience to orders must be put a stop to. But as this is your first offense, and as these ladies have interceded for you, I shall endeavor to obtain your acquittal, in the hope that you will closely attend to your duty in future.” Addressing the corporal, he added, “Take him back to the ranks, and tell Sergeant Forbes that I will speak to him about this affair.” This was Edward’s first and last military offense, and he served out the rest of his time with attention and diligence.

Edward disliked returning to his trade. His aversion to it was greater even than before. He disliked the wages, which were low; but he still more disliked the manner in which the masters treated their men. They sometimes kept them idle for days, and toward the end of the week they would force them to work night and day in order to finish their jobs. Edward liked his militia life much better ; and, in order to get rid of the shoe-making, and continue his soldier’s life, he enlisted in the 60th Rifles. When his mother heard of the decision he had come to, she expressed herself as strongly opposed to it; and, working-up on the young man’s feelings, which were none of the hardest, he at last promised not to go, and arrangements were made to get him off. Thus ended Edward’s military career.

Before he left Aberdeen, he assisted his father as beadle (or pew-opener) in the North Church, King Street. He continued in this office for about two years. He liked the occupation very well, and was sorry to leave it, when he finally left Aberdeen to settle at Banff.


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