« EelmineJätka »
circumstances of the family during the whole of our life at Hertford, we were allowed an exceedingly scanty amount of pocket-money. Till I was ten years old or more I had only a penny a week regularly, while John may perhaps have had twopence, and it was very rarely that we got tips to the amount of the smaller silver coins. We were, therefore, obliged to save up for any little purchase required for our various occupations, as, for example, to procure the saltpetre and sulphur required for making fireworks; the charcoal we could make ourselves, and obtain the iron filings from some friendly whitesmith. The simplest fireworks to make were squibs, and in these we were quite successful, following the recipe in the “Boy's Own Book.” The cases we made before. hand with a little copy-book paper and paste. Crackers were much more difficult, and the home-made ones were apt to go off all at once instead of making the regular succession of bangs which the shop article seemed never to fail in doing. But by perseverance some fairly good ones were made, though they could never be thoroughly trusted. Roman candles we were also tolerably successful with, though only the smallest size were within our means; and we even tried to construct the beautiful revolving Catherine-wheels, but these again would often stop in the middle, and refuse either to revolve properly or to burn more than half way.
In connection with fireworks, we were fond of making miniature cannon out of keys. For this purpose we begged of our friends any discarded box or other keys with rather large barrels, and by filing a touch-hole, filing off the handle, and mounting them on block carriages, we were able to fire off salutes or startle our sister or the servant to our great satisfaction. When, later, by some exchange with a fellow schoolboy or in any other way, we got possession of one of the small brass cannons made for toys, our joy was great; and I remember our immense admiration at one of these brass cannon, about six inches long, in the possession of a friend, which would go off with a bang as loud as that of a large pistol. We also derived great pleasure by loading one of our weapons to the very muzzle, pressing it down into the ground
so that we could lay a train of powder to it about two feet long, and then escape to a safe distance, and see it jump up into the air with the force of the explosion.
On the fifth of November we always had a holiday, and in the evening there was always in the playground a large bonfire and a considerable display of fireworks by a professional, some of the wealthier of the boys' parents contributing the outlay. On these occasions almost all the day-scholars came, their pockets more or less filled with crackers and squibs, to occupy the time before the more elaborate fireworks. The masters were all present to help keep order and prevent accidents, and no boy was allowed to light squib or cracker till about seven o'clock, when Mr. Crutwell himself lighted the first squib, threw it in the air, and was immediately followed by the boys in every part of the playground, which soon presented a very animated scene. Many of the parents, relatives, and friends of the boys were also present, so that the playground was quite crowded, yet though the boys recklessly threw squibs and crackers in all directions, no accidents of any importance happened. Now and then a boy would have the squibs or crackers in his pocket exploded, but I do not remember any injury being done in that way. But shortly after I left, I think, a serious accident occurred, by which some one was permanently injured, and after that I believe the miscellaneous fireworks of the boys were no longer allowed.
Among our favourite playthings were pop-guns and miniature spring-guns and pistols. Pop-guns were made of stout pieces of elder-wood, which, when the pith is pushed out has a perfectly smooth, glossy inner surface which made a better pop than those bought at the toy-shop. Many a pleasant walk we had to get good straight pieces of elder, which, when cut to the proper length and a suitable strong stick made to force out the pellets of well-chewed brown paper or tow, would shoot them out with a report almost equal to that of a small pistol.
Far more elaborate and ingenious, however, were the spring-pistols which my brother made so well and finished
so beautifully that he often sold them for a shilling or more, and thus obtained funds for the purchase of tools or materials. For the stocks he would beg odd bits of mahogany or walnut or oak from a cabinet-maker's shop, and carve them out carefully with a pocket-knife to the exact shape of pistol or gun. The barrel was formed of a goose-quill or swan's-quill, carefully fastened into the hollow of the stock with waxed thread, and about an inch of the hinder part of this had the upper half cut away to allow the spring to act. In the straight part near the bend of the stock a hole was cut for the trigger, which was held in its place by a stout pin passing through it on which it could turn. The only other article needed was a piece of strong watch or clock-spring, of which we could get several at a watchmaker's for a penny. The piece of watch-spring being broken off the right length and the ends filed to a smooth edge, was tied on to the stock between the barrel and the trigger, curving upwards, and one end fitting into a notch at the top of the trigger, while the other end was bent round so that the end fitted into a small notch in the open part of the quill at its hinder end. It was then cocked, and a pea or shot being placed in front of the spring, a slight pressure on the trigger would release it and cause it to drive out the shot or pea with considerable velocity. My brother used to take great delight in making these little pistols, shaping the stocks very accurately, rubbing them smooth with sandpaper, and then oiling or varnishing them ; while every part was finished off with the greatest neatness. I do not think there was any boy in the school who made them better than he did, and very few equalled him.
One of the most generally used articles of a boy's stock of playthings are balls, and as these are often lost and soon worn out we used to make them ourselves. An old bung cut nearly round formed the centre; this we surrounded with narrow strips of list, while for the outside we used coarse worsted thread tightly wound on, which formed a firm and elastic ball. We had two ways of covering the balls. One was to first quarter it tightly with fine string, and using this as a base, cover the whole with closely knitted string by means of a very simple loop-stitch. A much superior plan was to obtain from the tan-yard some partly tanned sacshaped pieces of calf-skin which were of just the size required for a small-sized cricket-ball. These were stretched over the ball, stitched up closely on the one side, the joint rubbed down smooth, and by its partial contraction when drying an excellent leather-covered ball was made, which at first was hairy outside, but this soon wore off. In this way, at a cost of about twopence or threepence, we had as good a ball as one which cost us a shilling to buy, and which served us well for our boyish games at cricket.
Other house occupations which employed much of our spare time in wet weather and in winter were the making of cherry-stone chains and bread-seals. For the former we collected some hundreds of cherry-stones in the season. These, with much labour and scraping of fingers, were ground down on each side till only a ring of suitable thickness was left. The rings were then soaked in water for some days, which both cleaned and softened them, so that with a sharp pen-knife they could be cut through, and by carefully expanding them the next ring could be slipped in, the joint closing up so as to be scarcely, if at all, visible. When nicely cleaned, and if made from stones of nearly uniform size, these chains made very pretty and useful watch-guards, or even necklaces for little girls of our acquaintance.
Bread-seals were easier to make, and were more interesting in their results. In those ante-penny-postage days envelopes were unknown, as one of the rules of the post-office was that each letter must consist of a single sheet, any separate piece of paper either enclosed or outside constituting it a double letter with double postage. Almost every letter, therefore, was sealed, and many of them had either coats-ofarms, crests, heads, or mottoes, so that besides the contents, which were, perhaps, only of importance to the recipient, the seal would often interest the whole family. In such a case we begged for the seal to be carefully cut round so that we might make a copy of it. To do this we required only a piece of the crumb of new bread, and with cleanly washed
hands we worked this up with our fingers till it formed a compact stiff mass. Before doing this, we begged a little bright water-colour, carmine or Prussian blue, from our sisters, and also, I think, a very small portion of gum. When all was thoroughly incorporated so that the whole lump was quite uniform in colour and texture, we divided it into balls about the size of a large marble, and carefully pressed them on to the seals, at the same time squeezing the bread up between our fingers into a conical shape to form the upper part of the seal serving as a handle and suspender. Each seal was then carefully put away to dry for some days, when it got sufficiently hard to be safely removed. It was then carefully trimmed round with a sharp pen-knife, and accurately shaped to resemble the usual form of the gold or silver seals which most persons carried on their watch-chains to seal their letters. The seal itself would be perfectly reproduced with the glossy surface of the original, and when still more hardened by thorough drying, would make a beautiful impression in sealing-wax. In this way we used to get quite a collection of ornamental seals, which, if carefully preserved, would last for years.
Almost all the above amusements and occupations were carried on in the stable and loft already described, during the two or three years we lived there. After that my brother John went to London, and was apprenticed to a builder to learn carpentry and joinery. When left alone at home, my younger brother being still too young for a playmate, I gave up most of these occupations, and began to develop a taste for reading. I still had one or two favourite companions with whom I used to go for long walks in the country round, amusing ourselves in gravel or chalk pits, jumping over streams, and cutting fantastic walking-sticks out of the woods; but nothing afterwards seemed to make up for the quiet hours spent with my brother in the delightful privacy of the loft which we had all to ourselves. The nearest approach to it was about a year later when, for some family reason that I quite forget, I was left to board with Miss Davies at