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Black Spider

Calton Hill

Next mornin' Leezie had tae ca' and pey her taxes at Waterloo Place. It's gey weel named, I'm thinkin', for mony a stern battle the puir folks maun hae tae gether up their heavy taxes. Ma word, that's anither thing the country bates the toon for - taxes. It's abominable! We are weel off in the country; they dinna bother us for taxes. They talk aboot a free country; ye daurna ca' yer sowl yer ain. It's a wonder they dinna pit a tax on the air folks breathe. There's the water tax, the poor tax, the edication tax for ither folk's bairns, polis tax, includin' that impudent foreigner at the fit o' the Mound nae doot, an' warst o' a', the income tax. If ye behave yersel' an' get intae onything like a guid posishin ye hae tae pey for't. Ma son-in-law, puir spwel, has tae pey a shillin' a pound on a hunner an' forty pounds a year, jist because he's behaved himsel' an' struggled hard tae improve his posishin. The toon may be a' richt for a holiday, but as for livin' in't an' peyin' a' thae taxes it wadna dae for Betty.

Betty is sittin on a muckle stane on Calton Hill, her baggie on her knee, Edinburgh Castle and Scott Monument faur ahint. A wee laddie in short breeks an a tam o

But aboot that laddie. Leezie telt me she micht be detained some time in the collector's office, an' I was jist tae walk up tae Calton Hill an' sit on a sait till she cam' up, an' bein' a fine day, I was sittin' enjoyin' the sichts when I noticed a big ball creepin' up a stick on the Monument, an' it wasna lang at the tap when bang went the Castle gun an' doon drapped the ball. A wee shaver o' a laddie aboot ten year auld saw the look o' astonishment on ma face, an' says he, "That was a good shot, mum!"

"What d'ye mean?" says I.

"The man at the Castle," says he, "knocks that ball down everyday at one o'clock, and he has never been known to miss it."

"D'ye tell me that, ma man?" believin' he was tellin' me the truith; "faith, but he maun be a gran' shot, but what guid does that dae him?" says I.

"Oh," says he, "people livin' at a distance cannot hear the report of the gun, but they see the ball drop, and they know it's one o'clock."

"It's wonderfu'," says I, "but surely the folk's awfu' anxious tae ken when it's wan o'clock. What wey does he no' fire at twelve o'clock when he's sae fond o' shootin'?"

"Oh," says the little monkey, "if he was by any chance to miss a shot it would put all the people who depend upon him wrong, and besides, it would be wasting powder."

"Weel, there's something in that," says I, "puttin' my hand in my pocket an' gi'en him a wheen sweeties along wi' ma best thanks for his information, an', seein' Leezie approachin', he scampered off doon the side o' the hill at sic a rate it made me wish I was young again. Leezie, wi' a face as lang as a bass fiddle, heaved a sigh an' sat doon beside me. Peyin' away siller's a sair thing, especially when ye've naething bit a receipt tae show for't. When I telt her what the wee laddie had telt me I thocht she wad take a fit.

"I hope ye're no lauchin' at me, Leezie," says I.

"Well, mother," says she, between the giggles, "your simplicity and gullibility is indeed suprising and amusing. It seems to me you accept as Gospel truth any statement you hear, and under any circumstances."

"Michty me, Leezie, ye dinna mean tae tell me a wee laddie that age wad invent a parcel o' lees an' mak' a fule o' an auld wuman like me."

"Well, perhaps the boy was unconscious of the seriousness of the situation, but without doubt he has entirely misled you regarding the incident, which I will explain. The ball is raised by electric influence a few minutes before one o'clock each day. The gun at the Castle is charged each morning, and an electric spark from the Greenwich fires the gun and relieves the ball practically simultaneously, and in this way our time is kept in tune. One part of his information was quite correct. People living at a distance, when the wind is contrary, cannot hear the gun, but they can see the ball from many parts. People, for example, at Aberlady, fourteen miles down the coast, on a clear day, with a good glass, can see the ball."

"Weel," says I, "it bates a' tae think that a wee cricket like that wad hae the notion an' the impudence tae take a rise oot o' a wuman come tae my time o' life. What are things comin' tae, I wonder?" There's nae bairns nooadays, they're that auld faurint an' foritsome. Ma certy, when I was young it was a different story; oor feet werena allooed tae get cauld when telt tae dae a thing, an' as for sayin' no or failin' tae immediately attend tae the word o' command, it was oot o' the question a'thegither. But noo they think nae mair o' refusin' point blank than takin' their parritch, an' when sent a message some o' the wee nippers licht their cigarette an' stroll alang wi' their haun's in their pouches an' a smile on their bits o' faces, puir wee things, that shows they think they're daein' grand. It's rale waesome. If I could prevent it no' yin o' them wad be allooed tae smoke till he was sixteen years auld onyway. Shairly some o' thae folk that's been born "tae keep everybody richt but theirsels" micht turn their attention tae this maitter an' get the cigarettes hoisted up oot o' their reach till they're big enough tae lift them doon. Their faithers an' mothers wad nae doot gladly stop them if they only kenned, but the wee birkies ken when tae strike their matches.

If I could get haud o' that young villan that blew ma heid up I wad blister ma hand on him, the young rascal.