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
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
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
Verily, few flowers, and
those of a very homely pattern, surrounded the paths of learning in those
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
'Yes, we have some bread and
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
To which came the reply—
'One glass of it you shall not
Again the first side,
evidently representing the Royalist party, sang—
'We are King George's loyal
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
'Here's a poor widow, she's
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
Then there was 'thread the
needle-e'e, boys.' It began with
'How many miles to London
Six, or seven, or nine or one?'
Another one went thus—
'Gie's a preen to stick i' my
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
Another of our boyish rhymes
'I see the gowk, and the gowk
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,
'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,
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,
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'
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.