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Oor Ain Folk
Chapter VII


Our Village School — The Old-time Dominie — Anecdotes — Our Village Dominies — 'Peter Pundwecht' —'Creeshie Pow'— Home Discipline of the Old Regime — The Meagre Mental Equipment of our Dominie—Contrast between the Old System and the New—Our School Games and Boyish Toys: 'Bools and Peeries'; Hockey—Curling—'Go wi—The Teetotum— Jeems Dunn's Letter—Lassies' Games—Quaint old Rhymes and Customs—The Annual Blanket-washing—A Contrast— Hogmanay—The Shorter Carritches—School-book Rhymes— 'Het Rows an' Butter Baiks'—'Nifferin'—Nursery Rhymes —A Schoolboy Conspiracy and how it ended.

One of the results following on the Disruption was the great impetus given afresh to the education of the young, and the multiplication of schools throughout the length and breadth of the land. It was not to be expected that, with the bitter feelings raging between the opposing sides, any unanimity could prevail on this matter; and so when the Free Church had become, in a measure, consolidated, after that marvellous and ever-memorable response to the appeal for funds had been made, and when as a result churches, manses, and colleges, began to stud the land in all directions, it was only to be expected that the earnest zeal and princely liberality of the people would not stop short until schools too became part of the working system of the new church.

In our village a humble dwelling-house of the ordinary rural type was the only available building. Nothing less fitted for the purpose to which it was proposed to adapt it could well have been conceived. There was the ordinary latch-door in the centre, with a dingy window on either side, and another small glazed aperture in the back wall, directly facing the door. When you entered, a step downwards led you on to an uneven floor of rough boards. The ceiling was very low, and had been boarded over between the 'cupples,' making a sort of loft above, to which access was given by a trap-door opening downwards, and kept in its place by a stout wooden pin thrust into one of the joists; and in this loft the schoolmaster was wont to store sundry sorts of produce, which he had to take from time to time from his pupils in lieu of fees.

The desks and benches were of the rudest description, and, with the long wooden seats, formed part of a free-will offering from the members of the congregation who had followed my father through all the fierce controversy of 'the ten years' conflict.' The fireplace had originally held a grate in which coals could be burned, but as all the fuel was supplied by the scholars, and as it consisted of peats, whin-roots, and faggots, with an occasional load of pine-tree 'baucks,' the grate had long since been discarded, and the smouldering fire of wood or peat, backed up with two or three shovelsful of sawdust from the sawmill 'up the watter,' was kept constantly burning upon the dusty hearth. I do not remember that the ashes were taken out with any great regularity, as that was a task devolving on the worst-conducted boys and girls, to whom it was awarded as a punishment for stupidity in lessons or bad behaviour during school hours; so one can easily imagine the accumulation of 'ase' that generally filled the hearth.

At one end of the gloomy apartment was an untidy corner, fenced in from the desks and forms by a Varricade of the said contributions of fuel; and here a great barrel of shavings collected from the carpenters' shops stood sentry over a piled-up stack of logs, roots, peats, and other sorts of fuel, including dry whin bushes and broom cowes for 'kindling,' which the scholars had to supply or go without a fire. Occasionally the excess overflowed all decent limits of space, and had to be transferred to the loft above the schoolroom.

Upon the discoloured walls hung two or three wretched maps—torn and tattered, and these, with the 'maister's' spider-legged, deal-wood desk, in a corner near the fireplace, composed the furniture of this temple of learning.

Naturally, at such a time, when calls were frequently made on the slender resources of the people for Church-building, Mission extension, Sustentation Fund, and other vital claims of the new organisation, it may easily be imagined how slender the pittance must have been that was available for the schoolmaster's salary. He had therefore to supplement his official income, as I have said, by fees in kind; and it says much for the high spirit of the people, and their noble response to the call that conscience made upon them, that, in hundreds upon hundreds of parishes in Scotland, fairly good schools, in which all the rudiments of an ordinary education were given, were established and kept going. Indeed, as time went on, the scholastic system of the Free Church of Scotland became quite as noble an evidence of the independence, sincerity, and liberality of her adherents, as any of the great well-known funds, schemes, and trusts which still stand out as a monument to all time of the noble spirit which animated all ranks of the people in their glorious struggle for Freedom of Conscience and Liberty of Church Government.

I have mentioned that my father had himself been a schoolmaster before he was regularly inducted into a charge as minister. Indeed, he had every requisite for the vocation of the true teacher; and by this time the profession was assuming a much higher place in the esteem of all thoughtful men. It was becoming recognised, in fact, as not inferior in importance to the position of the 'meenister himsel'

For a long time, however, in 'the cauldrife days of Erastianism,' both dominie and 'meenister' had been held in but little esteem. It was no uncommon thing to see the village schoolmaster pursuing two callings simultaneously — that for instance of village cobbler as well as village pedagogue. In fact, the famous John Pounds was such an one.

I may illustrate this point by an anecdote told by Mr. Fenton, Latin teacher in, I think, Montrose Academy. One day an anxious parent brought his boy to the teacher, and very impressively confided him to his care, saying:

'Ye see, sir, if he get the grace o' God, we mean to mak' a meenister o' him.'

'Ay!' said Fenton; 'an' if he dinna get the grace o* God, what then?'

'Oh weel!' said the parent, with a sigh of resignation, 'in that case we'll jist hae tae mak' a dominie o' him!'

A good story, in this connection, is that told by the genial and lovable old Professor Blackie. He was asked to procure a teacher for a Highland parish school, and had received numerous applications — amongst others, one from a student in his own class, named Macfadyen. He called the young man up, and said: 'Dugald, the teacher must be married. Are you married?' 'No' was the reply; 'but I know a goot, godly wumman in ta Hielants, who iss bose willing ant able'. That settled it.

Our first dominie was a gentle, sallow-faced, rather asthmatic, but scholarly man, of the name of Mitchell. He was an inveterate smoker, and had apparently an absolute horror of fresh air: so that in this gloomy den, with the blazing fire at one end, every aperture carefully shut, and the reek and breath from some sixty or seventy damp scholars ascending like incense into the steamy atmosphere, one can easily imagine what a depressing effect their surroundings must have had upon the poor little unfortunates, who were supposed to be here 'drinking deep of the Pierian spring'; and it is little wonder that, after a few years of this incessant hard work and dismal environment, poor Mr. Mitchell succumbed.

Our next pedagogue was a meek little Highlandman, with ' short leg and a shorter' as one of the villagers expressed it. He had been a victim to some disease of the knee joint, which had contracted one leg, causing the limb to bend outwards at the knee. To make locomotion more easy, some village blacksmith had made a wondrous arrangement of hoop iron, which was fastened to the foot and shrunken limb by straps, and which, in place of a foot, terminated in a round knob, very much like one of the weights used by the shopkeepers. From this contrivance, poor Macdonald was always known amongst the boys as 'Peter Pund-wecht.' Peter did not remain long in the place. The ' spirit was willing but the flesh was weak,' and when he once, in an evil hour for himself, attempted to inflict chastisement on a great hulking fellow—the son of a farmer up Lethnot way—his power for usefulness was thenceforth hopelessly gone. The lumbering lout of a boy quietly took him up in his arms, carried him through the observant, and, I am afraid, applauding ranks of rebel sympathisers, and deposited poor Peter head-foremost in the shavings barrel, where the only thing that could be seen of the dethroned dictator was one old boot^ and the 'pundwecht* aforesaid, making desperate kicks into the air, to an accompaniment of smothered exclamations and gyrating shavings. After this, Peter saw fit to resign.

Our next 'maister' was a man of quite a different stamp. If his accomplishments had been even halfway up to his own estimation and appraisement, he would have been the finest pedagogue that ever wielded the 'tawse' since the days of Socrates the Wise. His appreciation of his own personal appearance too was on a par with his belief in his own wisdom and infallibility. He rather affected the 'fop' and was, I think, the first man I ever saw who really used pomatum—I suppose I may call it pomatum, although I have a shrewd suspicion, looking back from the vantage-point of years and experience, that it was more likely tallow or grease, or common oil of some sort At all events this weakness earned for him the name of 'Creeshie Pow.' He had a brother in the village, a decent quiet cobbler, who was one of my father's deacons; and thus 'Creeshie Pow' was supposed to have some influence in the Kirk-session. I do not think I am unjust or unkind to his memory when I say that he must have been a somewhat vain, weak, and rather stupid person. However, he managed to keep pretty fair discipline; but he was an exemplification of the old proverb that 'a little knowledge is a dangerous thing/ and also of the apostolic deliverance that ' knowledge puffeth up.' Our dominie was an apt illustration of how very little knowledge may be required to do a mighty deal of 'puffing up.'

Normal schools for the training of teachers were just then being established, but our poor dominie had never undergone any systematic training as a professional teacher; in fact, if I mistake not, he had already tried several callings, at none of which he had been a pronounced success. He was a fairly good-looking fellow: and he found that, with a good deal of assurance, he could make his scanty stock of knowledge go a pretty long way; so he ruled over our little kingdom with a rod of iron, or, to be more literal, with tawse of hard leather; while we, thanks to the excellent parental supervision over our lessons at home, made more progress than could have been imagined possible. Of course the dominie took all the credit.

I might digress here for a moment to say how praiseworthy was the sense of duty among these rude villagers and simple rural folk in this regard. The home - preparation of lessons by the children was always looked upon by the parents in my young days as really something akin to a solemn religious duty. The good folks were fully seized with a true appreciation of the value of education; and no matter how poverty-stricken the home, how irksome the daily toil, how unattractive the prospects for the future of their children might be, parents deemed it a sacred duty to see that school tasks were faithfully prepared at home; and to this splendid parental discipline much of the success of the Scottish school system is undoubtedly due.

To return to our dominie and our school. We had of course a standing feud with the parish school; the boys attending it being dubbed i moderates/ while they in their turn named us 'nons' an abbreviation for 'non-intrusionists.' In the winter time the battles between the two factions were fierce and prolonged. Naturally we had our champions on either side, and party feeling, I am sure, ran quite as high amongst the school children as it did between the parents.

I think I can still hear the pompous, measured tones of our ringleted and pomatumed pedagogue call out, 'Pro - nownseeation class step this way.' There was always a terrible emphasis on the 'nownse,' and(he rolled the word as a sweet morsel under his tongue.' To this day I have often found it hard to divest myself of the awful twists in 'pronownseeation' that this paragon of learning gave to most of the common English words; another that I remember was 'rohod-dondron' for rhododendron. One of his favourite words was Nebuchadnezzar: 'pronownsed' Knee-buck-ed-ned-zar. In fact the poor man was too ambitious. He started a class for drawing and water-colour painting, although he knew nothing about either; and his attempts at Latin excited even our ridicule, although it was little enough Latin that we knew. Geography was attempted to be taught on the scarecrow maps I have mentioned, by means of a stumpy blackened pointer, which, when not being used in the Geography class, did duty as a poker. But what indeed could have been expected from a system that handed over the care of sixty or seventy boys and girls of all ages, varying from four up to eighteen, to one man, and he having so poor a mental equipment as that of my old dominie, 'Creeshie Pow'?

Let anyone think of the splendid opportunities young people now enjoy. Teachers now are highly-trained professional experts, specialists in the highest sense of the word, whose whole system of instruction is based on the systematised lessons of experience, administered under a lavish expenditure, which, in the days I speak of, was utterly beyond the reach of even the well-to-do classes. Then think of the palatial buildings in which the young scholars of the present day are housed. Every attention paid to comfort and hygienic requirements; furniture and fittings of special adaptation to the work in hand; educational appliances of the most perfect character; the large playgrounds replete with ingenious contrivances for salutary recreation. When one contrasts all these marvellous adaptations of ingenuity, forethought, and wise expenditure with the dingy surroundings and squalid poverty of the olden times, it is surely not too much to expect that the rising generation, who are entering on life's battle under such splendid auspices, should carry on the march of human progress with a quicker step, and hasten that great consummation, to which all education is but a means, when ' the brotherhood of man' shall be no longer a mere sentimental aspiration, but shall become indeed and in verity an accomplished fact under the acknowledged sway of the one Universal Father.

When I think of the old schooldays, I cannot help falling into this train of thought, for, even in such apparently trivial things as our boyish games and childish toys, the tremendous advances of scarce half a lifetime are very curious and suggestive. Just think for a moment of the wonderful ingenuity and the wealth of inventive skill that are lavished on the scientific toys of the present day. Look for instance at the school prizes, the Christmas presents—veritable works of art—which modern children have become so accustomed to that they turn up their dainty little noses in disdain if the productions of the current year do not outvie in splendour of colouring and elegance of finish the productions of previous years. It almost makes one feel indignant when one thinks of the—by comparison—primitive and archaic toys and books which we used to prize so much in those days which now seem so distant

Verily, few flowers, and those of a very homely pattern, surrounded the paths of learning in those old-time village-schools.

The implements of our chief games were 'bools' and 'peeries'—Anglice, marbles and tops. Our 'bools' were known in schoolboy dialect as 'piggers', 'marleys,' and 'sclaiteys.' There were no lustrous glass globes with beautiful kaleidoscopic patterns running through the liquid sphere, such as we have nowadays. The 'piggers' were just crudely-formed, coarsely-burned earthenware. The 'marleys' were made of a kind of red clay hardened in the fire; and the 'sclaiteys' were, as their name signifies, of slate. The 'nicker,' sometimes also called a 'plunker' (and every boy prided himself upon having a favourite nicker), was 'a pigger' which had been partly vitrified in the fire, and generally had one side burned to a darker hue than the other. It was reserved for leading off with in the game, and was seldom risked as a stake.

Our 'peeries' were made of beech or other hard wood, each having a little peg at the top, like the 'tappie-toorie' of a Balmoral bonnet, and were shod at the apex with a good steel or iron s neb,' ground to a fine point by the proud possessor, and firmly set in the hard, tough wood. Well did the eager boyish fingers know how to wind up the 'peerie' and dash it with unerring aim into the centre of the ring, where to split his opponent's 'peerie' or scatter the impounded cluster of tops belonging to the other boys, was considered the perfection of sport and the highest achievement of skill.

Cricket was scarcely known; 'shinty' or as some called it 'hockey,' was a great winter game, and was very often played on the ice. The 'ba'' was generally made by one of the village 'souters' from cuttings of leather, surrounded by many a strand of 'rosety' twine wound round and round until the ball was as hard and firm as a modern cricket ball. The favourite school ba' was made out of the worsted of an old stocking wound round a cork, and 'an auld stockin'' was always at a premium, and hailed as treasure-trove. The hockey stick, or ba' club, was searched for with great care amongst the hazel coppices by the river or on the breezy uplands, where the broom cowe and whin ' buss' disputed possession of the hills with the crimson heather. Not unfrequently the journeymen and apprentices of the village would join with the boys in a game of ba' club on the village muir, and sometimes pursue the sport with such abandon and partisanship that a regular out-and-out faction fight would finish up the proceedings. The masters and elders confined themselves to the curling-pond, where the rattle and clang of the polished granite disc as it whirred along the ice to the tuneful accompaniment of lusty cries, hilarious shouts, and ringing peals of laughter evoked by the varying chances of the play, fully justified the use of the time-honoured title of 'roaring' to the game. Clear through the snell, sharp air you could hear the whir-r-r of the 'Ailsa Craig' ori 'Crawfordjohn' granite upon the ice, at a distance of miles. The shouts of 'Soop her up! soop her up!'—'Lat her gang!'—'Straucht on the tee!'—'She's no up!'—'Ca' cannie!'—'Chap an' lie!'—'Mair pouther, man!'—'Oh, dagone the besom!'—'Feech, man! ye're no owre the hog score!'—and such like cries, betokened the intense interest taken by the players in the game; and sometimes even the presence of the parson and the squire could not repress the ruder spirits from using expressions which certainly—as Mark Twain would say —would 'not improve the sale of a Sunday-school book' if printed therein. A few of the enthusiasts during the summer months would play ' golf' on the whinny muir, where 'bunkers' and countless pitfalls for the unwary player were plentiful, as well as smooth green stretches and long reaches of short, crisp sward, where the village cows had browsed the grass until the muir was like a billiard table.

Among indoor games the 'teetotum' was, I think, the only approach to an instrument of gambling known in our ingenuous and unsophisticated boyish experience. We had no 'gate-money' contests in those days. The brazen-lunged vulture of the betting ring had not put his talons on any of our sports. We played for pure love of the game, and liked to see the best men win. The 'totum was, like the ' peerie,' a home-made article, turned out by the good-natured s wricht/ who invariably made them for his favourites among the boys, free of charge. This fact alone shows what an arcadian time I am speaking of. The toy consisted of a little square piece of wood, pointed at one end and having a slender stem stuck in the other, like an apple-stalk; and with this wabbling instrument, twirled between the finger and thumb, we used to surreptitiously gamble for 'preens,' cherry stanes, nuts, 'buckies' peas, 'sweeties' and what not; the general currency, however, being the ubiquitous and inexpensive 'preen.' In the manse the moral standards of the ruling powers slightly differed; my good-natured father not seeing much harm in playing the game for 'preens'; my mother, more of a Puritan perhaps, looking upon it as a dangerous departure from the strict line of principle. On the four sides of the teetotum were imprinted the letters D, A, N, T. If the letter D turned up, when the instrument was spun, the eager onlookers shouted out in their shrill trebles, 'D—Dunt doon ane!' and the unsuccessful player had to contribute from his capital one 'preen' to the general pool on the table. If A turned up, the procedure was just reversed, the cry being, 'A—Tak' ane.' Should N appear as the result of the spin, an exultant cry arose from the players of, 'N —Nicklety, naething!'—the 'nickle' as one esteemed correspondent suggests, being really a corruption of the Latin nihil. While if T turned up, the triumphant spinner swept the whole pool into his hoard to the accompaniment of, 'T—Tak' them a'!'

My esteemed friend and valued correspondent, James Macgregor Dunn, as true an Angusshire-man as ever left the latitude of his native brose in search of good meat broth, who is now a successful farmer on the Eichmond River, in New South Wales, reminds me in a most characteristically humorous letter, that 'there were twa kinds o' teetotums in my skule-days—yin, fower-sided, with the letters T, H, N, and D' (the H in this case stood for 'halvers' the player who turned it up taking half the pool, the other letters had the same significance as I have above explained). Mr. Dunn continues, 'The ither had echt sides, on which were the numbers 1, 3, 5, 7, 2, 4, 6, 8. These 'totums were known as "shoppies," and were usually bocht at the fair, being made of bone, boxwood, or even ivory. Some, however, were "haimert made," the production of some clever loonie, or perhaps that of a muckle brither, handy w' his whittle. The echt-sided teetotum was spun in the same way as the other; and while birlin', the spinner had to cry out, "Odds or evens?"—If he said "odds," and it turned up say a 5, he took five out of the pool; but if it turned up an even number, say 6, he had to place that number in the pool,' etc.

At the frequent tea-pairties, forfeits was one of the favourite devices for passing time. The lassies out of doors had games of their own, chief among which was the skipping-rope and the 'pallaly,' the latter known politely in Edinburgh language as 'playing at the pitcher'; but perhaps more universally known as 'hop Scotch.' I must, however, plead guilty to a complete ignorance of the intricate mysteries of this undoubtedly ancient game. Besides these, there were many quaint old games, to which quaint old rhymes, set to quaint old tunes, were sung or chanted. For instance, there was one in which the girls, dividing themselves into two equal groups, addressed each other in a sing-song fashion, thus:—

'Have you any bread and wine?
Bread and wine, bread and wine?
Have you any bread and wine?
Ma theerie an' ma thorie.'

The other side would then respond—

'Yes, we have some bread and wine,
Bread and wine, bread and wine;
Yes, we have some bread and wine,
Ma theerie an' ma thorie.'

The first side then again took up the chant, singing—

'We shall have one glass of it,' etc

To which came the reply—

'One glass of it you shall not get, etc.

Again the first side, evidently representing the Royalist party, sang—

'We are King George's loyal men.'

To which the rebels replied—

'What care we for King George's men?' and so on.

In another, the circle having been formed, the children swung rhythmically round and round to the following chant:—

'Here's a poor widow, she's left alone;
All her daughters are married and gone.
Come choose the east, come choose the west,
Come choose the one that you love best.'

This could be played by both boys and girls, and was the favourite method of detecting the secrets of our youthful affinities, as each boy would be sure to choose his childish sweetheart.

Then there was 'thread the needle-e'e, boys.' It began with

'How many miles to London town?
Six, or seven, or nine or one?'

Another one went thus—

'Gie's a preen to stick i' my thoom,
To carry my lady to London toon.
Oh London toon's a bonnie braw place;
Ijb's a' covered over wi* gold an' lace,' etc.

Of course there was 'hi' spy' and many other games of a kindly social character, which begot good comradeship; and at their bare mention many a dear boyish comrade's face starts vividly to life on memory's screen, though, alas ! most have long since gone to the shadow land.

Our boys had some quaint old customs too, some of which show how habitual was this tendency to drop into rhyme, and how very persistent this habit of the Scottish rural character has been in all ages. For instance, if a flight of crows appeared over the village, the boys would drop their 'bools' or 'peeries' to gaze at the cawing cohort, and shout as if in emulation of the noisy flock, cleaving their clumsy way homewards through the evening air—

'Craw! Craw! yer mither's awa'
For poother and lead to shoot ye a'.'

While, as one member of the flock after another forged ahead, we strove to urge the laggards to swifter flight by jeering shouts, and by calling out, 'Black Jock hinmost, Black Jock hinmost'; and we would vociferate this rather meaningless taunt until our shrill little voices would completely drown the noisy clamour of the cawing rooks.

Another of our boyish rhymes was—

'I see the gowk, and the gowk sees me,
Atween the berry boss an' the aiple tree;'

frequently repeated on the first appearance of the 'gowk' or cuckoo in early spring.

Another, having no special significance, but which would be shouted out in pure boyish exuberance, and as in some way satisfying the love of jingle and rhythm I have alluded to, was—

'Davie Reed—The deil's.deid
An' buried in a bowie.'

But the allusions to the demise of 'the puir deil' were very varied and frequent.

Jamie Dunn, for instance, once sent me a letter with the superscription—

'Some say the deil's deid,
An' buried amang shingles;
Some say he'll rise again,
An' fleg Jamie I—gl—s.'

This was descending to very thinly veiled personality indeed.

Yet one more went thus—

'Some say the deil's deid,
An' buried at Kirkcaldie;
Some say he's up again
An' danced The Hielan' Laddie.'

There was one ancient rhyme, said to be in part as old as the time of the Druids, which we in our boyish games were wont to use as a sort of mystic cabala, by which we cast lots to ascertain who should perform certain chosen functions in certain games. For instance, if we wished to chose the hider in 'hi' spy,' we ranged ourselves in a circle, and some one of the band, standing in the centre like an officiating priest, would repeat the formula, at every word pointing to a boy, till each in turn had had his word bestowed on him. Thus it went round and round, till, as the last word 'oot' was uttered, the recipient of that word stood aside, till at length the selected one was left standing alone and had to fulfil the task thus thrust upon him by lot.

I have given this rhyme in a former book of mine. [Sport and Work on the Nepaul Frontier, by Maori. Macmillan and Co. London: 1878.] It varies somewhat throughout the Mearns, but in our village it went thus—

'Eenerty, feenerty, fickerty, feg,
El, del, Domin, egg;
Irkie, birkie, stone, rock,
An, tan, toose, jock;
Black fish, white troot,
Gibbie Ga—ye're oot.'

The last two lines are, I doubt not, interpolations of a more recent date, but the first four are undoubtedly of very great antiquity.

Mr. Dunn has sent me another, which I have never seen in print, and which goes thus—

'Eenneri, anneri, sirterie, sannerie,
Draps o' vinegar, noo begun;
Eet, aat, moose fat,
Carrie diddle—play the fiddle.
Tike Bo! Bizz!'

'Bizz' had the same significance and played the same part as 'oot' does in the more ancient rhyme given above.

Sometimes a mild practical joke would be played by one boy upon another, in this way. He would call out the name of his victim in a concerned tone, as if wishing to convey some important message. When the unsuspicious one obeyed the summons, the wicked urchin, amid the appreciative jeers and laughter of his companions, would hop about shouting—

'I gar'd ye luik,
I gar'd ye cruik,
I gar'd ye thraw yer neck aboot!'

Another girls' game was a mixture of 'hunt the slipper' and 'kiss in the ring,7 and went thus—the company singing all together—

'I sent a letter to my love;
I droppit it; I droppit it
I sent a letter to my love,
But lost it by the way.'

And then the whole rustic little comedy is enacted, the plot being worked out in various rhymes, which I regret to say I have forgotten, if indeed I ever learned them, as after all it was 'only a lassies' game.'

My brother George sends me one that is new to me. and which I do not remember having seen in print—

'They that wash on Monanday
Hae a' the week tae dry;
They that wash on Tyseday
Are no far by;
They that wash on Wednesday
Are nae sair tae mean (i.e. are well enough off;)
They that wash on Thursday
May get their claes clean;
They that wash on Friday
Hae gey muckle need;
They that wash on Setterday
Are dirty daws indeed.'

This was very often sung, George assures me, by the buxom lassies of the village, at the annual blanket-washing, which was a great occasion for a rustic daffm' and fleechin' and flirtation generally. The modus operandi was somewhat thus—

In the early morning, the men folk, before going to their work, selected a secluded and suitable spot near the river or burn side, in the centre of which they erected a rude sort of fireplace with any blocks of stone or divots that might be handy. In this they would light a fire of logs, peats, and brushwood, and then some huge caldron or three-legged pot (very likely the only one in the community, but which would be willingly lent to all who might requisition it) was hung, gipsy fashion, over the fire.

The great tubs were trundled down to the scene of operations. Piles of dingy blankets, and all the accumulated woollen clothing that now required an annual cleansing were boiled in the pot with soap and soda, or were placed in the tubs and soused in boiling water; and the scene was indeed a busy and a cheerful one. The young women could not well scrub the great heavy blankets and woollen clothes as they could linen sheets; and so baring their shapely legs to the knee, with updrawn kirtles, they stamped the blankets in the tubs, holding on to each other meanwhile, amid screams of laughter, and keeking coyly over their shoulders to see that no ill-mannered swain was spying upon them from some sheltered nook, in which case, if discovered, the whole bevy of damsels would chase the daring intruder, with bickers full of hot, soapy water, and, if they caught him, woe betide him for his rash curiosity. When the blankets had been thoroughly churned and made clean by this primitive method, some of the more favoured young fellows would gather around, to help ' wring the washinV as it was called; and then the bright clean clothes and blankets were spread out on bush and bracken and daisy-gemmed knoll, while the lads and lassies engaged in some merry game, or exchanged the rude endearments, so much affected by rustic swains of all climes, ages, and nationalities. The day was generally beautiful and the surroundings exquisite. The sun poured down floods of golden radiance, lighting up with dazzling brilliancy the vivid splashes of colour spread all around. Birds sang in every bough, bees hummed gaily, butterflies danced in the sunbeams, and the murmur and gurgle of the burn lulled every sense into an ecstacy of delight; the plump of the leaping trout as its silver-scaled body fell with a flop into the swift-running stream, after glancing for a moment in mid air like a streak of falling light,—the sighing of the amorous wind in the pine trees across the river,— the flash of radiant kingfisher, the glint of mill-wheel, —all made such a medley of sound and sights as would be sufficient in themselves to make the annual blanket-washing one of the most joyous occasions of the whole year. Who could help being in high spirits amid such an environment ? The scent of the smoke, sweet and clean, from the burning peats and pine knots, arose like incense in the summer air; and when the mid-day meal was shared by the lassies with the young lads from the village, no picnic party or gipsy encampment could have vied with the exuberant gaiety and abandon which characterised the whole gathering.

How different is the picture called up by the next rhyme which suggests itself to me! A pall of snow, icebound and hard, now covers the landscape. Huge wreaths fill every hollow; the shepherd painfully stumbles through the blinding drift in search of his fleecy, well-nigh frozen flock; the ploughman, with frost-nipped fingers, painfully hammers the ice in the great stone trough beside the stable door, to let his steaming horses get their drink.

The hard grip of winter is over all. Great fires are blazing merrily on every hearth. The ambrosial scent of the whisky-toddy steams out into the frosty air from the open door of the village inn. It is the New Year season. We do not keep Christmas in our village. There are no night-watch services, no joy-bells, no Christmas bush or mistletoe; but it is a season of hearty goodwill for all that, and kindly messages are sent round amongst all our kinsfolk, accompanied by New Year's gifts. When the short winter day draws to its early close, the young lads of the village would range themselves into line; and with twanging of fiddle, or tootling of flute, or more often to the ear-piercing screech of bagpipe, they perambulated the village and its neighbourhood, visiting the nearer farmhouses. Out in the cold winter's night, they would wake the echoes with the following appeal—

'Rise up, guidwife, and shak' yer feathers;
Dinna' think that we are beggars.
Up stocks, doon stales,
Dinna' think that we are fules;
We are bairns come to play,—
Get up an' gie's oor Hogmanay.

'The day'll come when yell be deid;
Yell no care then for meal or breid.
Rise up, guidwife, and dinna sweir;
Deal oot yer breid, as lang's ye're here.
Wi' pooches fu' o' siller,
An' bottles fu' o' beer,
We bless you, and wish you
A Happy New Year.'

The allusion to 'stocks' in the above is to the kail stock or stem of the cabbage plant which always plays an important part in the Hogmanay and Hallow E'en celebrations; but of course it is not my function, in such a rambling record as this, to enter fully into a description of things which have been so much better and more accurately described by abler writers than I pretend to be. However, the reader can easily imagine the result of such an appeal in the olden times of which I am writing. The result generally was a quaffing of such plentiful libations to Bacchus, on the part both of the itinerant musicians, and of those whose hospitality they claimed, that the true blue temperance advocates of the thoroughgoing modern school would have been perfectly horrified. Assuredly in my young days the consumption of whisky was abnormally great; but then, as I have said, there was this saving virtue, the liquor was pure and good.

To come back to our schoolboy rhymes, however, this inveterate propensity to tag on a rhyme to everything could not seemingly be suppressed. Our little book of shorter catechism, for instance, generally known as 'carritches' or 'quaistens' had usually the letters of the alphabet marshalled in a goodly row at the end, for the behoof of the smaller scholars, who, for their sins, had painfully to pore over the abstruse Calvinistic tenets concentrated in this shudderingly remembered compendium of theology, with which our poor infant intellects were dazed and drugged. I well remember with what a sense of relief we would turn from the bewildering problems of ' Effectual Calling and Original Sin/ to the dear old big block letters at the end. The long A and the corpulent B, the curly C and the humpbacked D, looked quite like old friends to us, after our brains had been muddled with the 'carritches,' and our fingers made to tingle with the tawse, which were a pretty frequent accompaniment to the catechism-class. To these letters we had set a sort of jingle going right through the alphabet; but the only part which I remember ran thus—

A for Annie Anderson,
B for Betsy Broon,
O for Christy Clatterson, 'at clatters thro' the toon.'

And so on. Likewise to the well-known letters finis at the end of our schoolbooks, we set rather a meaningless rhyme, which went thus—

'F for France and I for dance,
N for Nicklety boundy;
J for Jess, the printer's wife,
And S for sugar candy.'

We had too a sort of confession of faith—a relic no doubt of pre-Reformation times, and which had perhaps originally been some formula repeated by neophytes when entering some monastic establishment, or upon joining some of the brotherhoods or guilds. It went this way ; let us take any name at random—

'Tammie Wilkie is my name,
Scotland is my nation;
Aigle is my dwelling-place,
And Christ is my salvation.'

and then it went on—

'When I am deid and in my grave,
And a' my banes are rotten,
This little benk will tell my name
When I am clean forgotten.'

I regret to say that in these degenerate and irreverent times the old formula had been parodied, and more frequently ran thus—

'Tammie Wilkie is my name,
Scotland is my nation;
And for to claw the parritch pat,
It is my occupation.'

Another curious reminiscence of these old days comes back to me as I write, and is associated with this propensity to rhyme. When we encountered a snail, with his house on his back and his horns extended, we thought it incumbent on us thus to address the slimy and slow pedestrian—

'Wullie, ma buck, shoot oot yer horn!
An' ye'll get milk an' breid the morn.'

The fisher boys, when they encountered a small crab on the seashore, betrayed the same widespread propensity. Tapping the startled scampering 'wee beastie' on his horny shell, in allusion to the popular idea that if spoken to the crab will always scamper off towards the sea, they thus addressed their frightened captive, which would very often sham to be dead—

'Tip tap taesie,
The tide's comin' in;
If ye ran a mile awa',
The tide will tak' ye in.'

Then, when a shower came on the boys would jump about crying out—

'Rainy rainy rattle stance,
Dinna rain on me,
Rain on Johnnie Frostie far owre the sea.'

Another good game was known as 'het rows and butter baiks,' and was played thus:—One boy stood against the hillside or against a wall, and another boy, putting his head against the first one's stomach, made a 'badde,' which was immediately mounted by one of the boys from the crowd, who was not supposed to be known to the one that he bestrode. The captain of the game would now address the bowing lad, who was sustaining his unknown burden, in this fashion—

'Lanceman, lanceman lo!
Where shall this poor Scotchman go?
Shall he go east, or shall he go west,
Or shall he go to the huddie craw's nest?'

If he was sent to the hooded crow's nest (for that is what it meant), he ranged himself alongside number one. If otherwise, he had to go to some indicated post and there remain until all engaged in the game were placed in their various positions, then the fun began in earnest. The three chief actors, and all who had remained in 'the crow's nest' ranged themselves in line, and being armed with a Scotch schoolboy's best 'freen'—the stout Glengarry bonnet, held in readiness for the expected onslaught—the captain now yelled out: 'Het rows and butter baiks,' whereupon all those that had been banished to the outposts came rushing in, attempting to touch number one, who was surrounded by his legion of bonneters, who smacked and thrashed the invaders, till many a time the ribbands of the bonnets were torn to tatters, and the bonnets themselves divested of lining, and sometimes even torn asunder in the desperate fray. When the 'draiglers,' as the invading party were called, had touched number one, they in turn became the defending party, and the others took their places. 'It wis a graund game, but eh, sirss! it wis sair on the bonnets.'

Another great institution amongst the village schoolboys was that of barter, known as 'nifferin'.' For instance, such a conversation as follows would be quite common—

'Wull ye niffer a bit o' skyllie (slate pencil) for twa bools, Geordie?'

'Na', '1 no! But if ye gie's a bittie keelavine (lead pencil) I'll do't.'

Then an element of chance would be introduced into our 'nifferin' in this way. The article to be bartered would be held in our clenched fists, both hands being shut, and, moving one over the other, the following quatrain would be spoken—

'Neevie, neevie, nick nack,
Filk han' wall ye tak'?
The richt or the wrang?
And I'll beguile ye if I can.'

There were other rhymes suitable for almost every boyish action; one I remember our old servant, Jean, used to croon to us boys at 'parritch-time.'

'O that I had ne'er been married,
I wad never hed nae care!
Noo I've gotten wife and bairns,
An' they cry crowdie ever mair.
Aince crowdie, twice crowdie,
Three times crowdie in a day.
Gin ye crowdie ony mair,
Ye'll crowdie a' ma meal away.'

And this reminds me of a poor little fellow who had got disgusted with the perpetual 'parritch' and whose soul, like Isaac's, 'yearned for savoury food'; so one day, with a piteous appeal to his pious mother, he uttered his plaintive protest, by asking when he might expect to get some 'tea and loaf breid.'

'Oh, my dear' said the mother, 'if we're spared we'll hae tea on Sunday'.

'Humph!' said the poor boy; 'and if we're no spared I suppose we'll jist get parritch as usual.'

Some of the nursery rhymes crooned by the old servants when putting us to bed merit space. If we resisted the putting off of shoes or stockings, the following legend generally overcame our opposition—

'John Smith, a fellow fine,
Can ye shoe this horse o' mine?
Yes indeed, and that I can,
Jist as weel as ony man.
Pit a bit upo' the tae,
Tae gar the horsie climb the brae;
Pit a bit upo' the brod,
Tae gar the horsie draw the load;
Pit a bit upo' the heel,
Tae gar the horsie pad weel, pad weel, pad weel', etc.—

every word being accompanied by a kindly, persuasive pat on the bare little feet, which generally chased the sulky fit away, and made our little faces beam again with gladness.

Another which used to dispel our weariness was a rhyme upon the features of the face, beginning at the chin, thus—

Chin, cherry,
Mou', merry,
Nose, nappy,
Cheeks, happy,
E'e, winkie,
Broo, brinkie.
Owre the hill and far awa'.'

There are many more of a similar character, which I but imperfectly remember; but I am afraid of exhausting my reader's patience, and so I must pass on to describe the catastrophe which ended my village-school experiences, and caused me to be transferred to a wider and more profitable sphere, so far as my education was concerned, namely, the Normal School, in that quaint old historic building, 'Moray House' in the Canongate, Edinburgh.

I have mentioned the loft over our school, which was used by 'Creeshie Pow' as a sort of storehouse in which to stow the various nondescript offerings from the parents of his pupils, many of whom chose to commute the payment of quarterly or half-yearly fees by contributions in kind. Thus, the miller, being short of cash, might send a sack of meal. Some of the smaller cottar tenants would send a sack or two of potatoes; a great load of peats might take the place of money, and I have known even wool and yarn to be exchanged for pothooks and arithmetic.

The dominie had rather a keen eye to the main chance, and on the occasion which I wish to describe, the loft was pretty full of a miscellaneous assortment of farm produce and other oddments. The tyrant of our little republic impounded with relentless severity anything in the nature of toys, fruit, or sweetmeats, which any scholar was ill-advised enough to allow to come within reach of his vision during school hours. It was an open secret to us that these impounded treasures were bestowed upon a couple of nephews, whom we suspected of acting occasionally as informers upon the rest of us boys. The top of the master's desk had at this time become quite crowded with an array of tops and marbles, apples, oranges, sweetmeats of various degrees of stickiness and nastiness, pocket-knives, and dozens of other schoolboy treasures; and it was determined by some of the daring spirits that an effort should be made to retransfer these treasures back to the rightful owners. Our plans were accordingly laid. I was selected as 'Bell-the-Cat' for this particular venture, and, accordingly, I was smuggled into the barrel of shavings by the boys, and having been carefully covered up I waited with beating heart until 'the skule had skailed' and the master had locked up. When I heard his retreating footsteps I cautiously thrust my 'touzled' head through the dusty shavings, and being encouraged by a reassuring tap, tap, given by my confederates on the small window in the back wall of the school, I emerged from my hiding-place, undid the catch of the window, and helped to pull in my three or four coadjutors in this daring enterprise.

We soon made a clean sweep of the head of the master's desk, transferring its varied contents into a stout leather schoolbag, which we had provided for the purpose. Then, being further nerved by each other's presence, and by the immunity which had thus far attended our mischievous adventure, we waxed bolder, and determined to signalise the occasion by a deed of extra audacity which would cover our names with glory, as we thought, and hand down our fame to succeeding generations. I am afraid that to my fertile brain must be due the credit or discredit of what followed. We were consumed with an irresistible desire to see what the dominie kept in the loft, and so, putting a form on one of the desks we reached up to the thole-pin which kept the loft folding-door in position (you may remember it opened downwards), and we were soon within the mysterious apartment, dimmed with dust and cobwebs, and behold! the store of potatoes, etc., which the provident dominie had accumulated for his winter consumption, lay revealed to our excited gaze. A very wicked thought now suggested itself to me, which I communicated to my companions, and they at once proceeded to elaborate it, and act upon it. We removed the restraining board which kept the potatoes in position, and arranged the heap in such a way that the smallest disturbance would cause the whole mass to descend into the schoolroom if the trap-door was opened. Then, getting back, we pushed up the folding-door, put in the pin, which one of the boys by this time had half sawn through with a little pocket saw he had discovered in one of the knives which we had rescued from the desk; next, tying a piece of whipcord to the wooden thole-pin, we led this artfully along the wall, securing it in its place by bent pins and tackets, until the free end dangled down over the dim corner where the barrel of shavings generally stood. Next morning the school met in unwonted solemn silence; the dominie recited the usual opening prayer; and then with portentous manner, and ominous frown on his face, he demanded to know who it was that had dared to enter the schoolroom in his absence, and steal—as he called it—the accumulated spoils which had graced his inkstained desk. Of course there was no reply, until at length the silence was broken by the piping reedy treble of one of the nephews aforesaid, who tremulously whimpered out that he had seen so and so, naming myself and companions, coming out of the school by the back window on the previous evening. Naturally we were at once summoned up, and expected to get a terrific dose of the tawse; but we had prepared our counter-demonstration. To one of our trusty comrades we had entrusted the secret of the pin and trap-door; and just as I was ordered to outstretch my hand, while the hundred children gazed with dilated eyeballs and pent-up breath at the dreaded dominie, a sharp click was heard, followed by the downfall of the trap-door, and then came a perfect avalanche of potatoes, peats, flour, and meal slap into the midst of the yelling, startled scholars, which completely diverted the attention of the astonished master, and allowed the culprits to make their escape. The result, so far as I was concerned, was a pathetic appeal to my father to exercise his paternal authority, and the confession of 'Creeshie Pow' utter inability to keep me in anything like order. Thus ended my experiences of our village school.


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