A Boy Naturalist: Chapter 1

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I DO not think Thomas Edward was really a naughty boy, though his love of motion and free outdoor life must have made him an exceedingly troublesome one. "But who was he? and why is the story of his life worth telling?" are questions some of my readers are sure to ask.
The son of Scotch parents, he was born at Gosport in December, 1814, but as, soon after the battle of Waterloo, his father, who was a private in a Scotch regiment, obtained leave to return to Scotland when Thomas was only a few months old, and as the whole of his long and busy life was spent on the other side of the border, we will not dispute his claim to be considered a Scotchman.
“Such a lively, restless little fellow as her Tom," Mrs. Edward was often heard to say, "she had never nursed, or even seen!" and her neighbors agreed with her, for it seemed impossible to keep him still during a single waking moment. When only four months old he had tried to spring from his mother's arms, in an attempt to catch a large fly that was buzzing on the window-pane. Before he was well able to walk he had made friends with all the dogs and cats in the neighborhood; he would have liked to be on equally good terms with the ducks and chickens, but they did not understand his intentions, and generally ran away on his approach.
As he grew older it was no easy task to keep him indoors. He did not care much to play with boys of his own age, but loved to wander off alone to some pond or brook, where he soon became quite expert in the capture of tadpoles, frogs, sticklebacks and other small creatures. A nest of field mice, or a young rat, was a great prize.
His finds, however, were not wanted or welcomed at home, and he was often severely punished for bringing into the house what the neighbors called his "nasty, venomous beasties." His mother turned out all his pets, and he was forbidden to bring such things into the house again; but whether he forgot, or disobeyed, he could not remember; the very next day he returned home proud and happy in having in his possession a nest of young rats. His father gave him a severe flogging, but the boy was a born naturalist, and his love of all living creatures, birds, butterflies, fish and even worms and beetles, was too strong to be whipped out of him.
After long years of war, England was again at peace, many of the regiments were disbanded, and the soldiers went back to their old trades, among others the father of young Thomas, who was a handloom weaver. He left home early in the morning and did not return till late at night. His mother also was often obliged to be out during the day.
On one occasion, having made up her mind that her boy should for once remain a prisoner during her absence, she tied him firmly by a strong cord to the leg of the table. This was, he thought, very hard lines; after some time he got his sister to help him to drag the table close to the fire, and set light to the cord. As soon as he was free, he was off to his old haunts, busy and happy as ever catching newts and tadpoles. He was flogged again on his return, but it did him no good. Sometimes his clothes were hidden away, but he always contrived to find something to wear.
Going to school did not suit him at all. He did not learn much, and often played truant. Still, with all his faults, he was a brave, truthful little fellow. His school-life came to an abrupt end when he was only six years old. Lessons were going on as usual one morning, when the master started from his seat with a scream, and shook something from his arm. It was a centipede, or, as the boys called it, "Maggie monny feet," that by some means had found its way into the schoolroom. All eyes turned to young Edward, for his love for living things was well known alike to the teacher and his pupils.
The boy was called to the desk. "This is some of your work," said the master. "Have I not ordered you never to bring any of your beasts here?”
“But I did not bring it, sir; I have not brought any for a long time," the boy answered.
“That's a lie, and I'll make you confess," roared the master, and blows fell thick and fast. But the boy did not cry. The shower of blows ceased, and the master sat down, panting for breath. "Now will you confess?”
“No, sir, for I didn't bring it.”
The boys were asked, "Have any of you seen Edward with this beast, or any other, to-day?”
One and all said they had not. The master was utterly baffled. Turning to Edward, he said, "Get your slate. Go home, and tell your father to get you put on board a man-of-war. That's the only school fit for the likes of you.”
The boy got his books and slate, and went home, his mind fully made up that he would never go to that school again.
School-life had been a failure, and though Edward was not seven, he begged to be allowed to go to work. His parents were poor people; no matter how small the boy's earnings were, they would, his mother said, "be a help." So he went with his brother, two years older than himself, to work in a tobacco mill. Work hours were in those days very long, and his wages only fourteen-pence a week. But the master was a kind man, who loved birds, and allowed the boy to keep rabbits in the back yard, so that he got on much better than he had done at school.
After about two years at the mill, the boys heard that lads employed in a factory at a distance of more than two miles were getting much higher wages. Taking advantage of a fair day, they walked over, but to their disappointment were told that no additional hands were wanted. They had some time to wait, but at last were engaged, their work-hours being from six in the morning till eight at night, six days in the week. They had to get up at four in the morning, and start soon after. Much of the way lay through a wood. It was lovely in summer, but cold and dreary in winter. But still the boy found time to study natural history, though without the help of books or any friend better taught than himself, and made collections of moths, butterflies, birds' eggs and other objects of interest he found in the woods and fields.
At the age of eleven his parents thought it was time he should learn a trade, and he was bound as an apprentice, for a term of seven years, to a shoemaker. His new master was, however, a slave to strong drink, and when under its influence, treated the poor boy with the most heartless cruelty, often knocking him down and beating him about the head with a shoe-last. But the last drop in his cup of bitterness was when his employer killed, out of pure mischief, his pet sparrow, which he had taken from the nest when very young. It was so tame that it would come at his call, and perform several little tricks at his bidding. After this, Edward stoutly refused to go back to work. His apprenticeship was afterward finished with another master; and for more than fifty years he worked as a journeyman shoemaker, not only for his own support, but that of his wife and a family of five children.