‘Bodkin Lost and Found’ (26 September, 1863)

Baxter Park was officially opened on the 9th of September 1863, and was a significant public event in that year. ‘The Journal’s’ owner John Leng had a singular influence on the creation of the public park as he convinced Sir David Baxter to do something for Dundee where his father (William Baxter) had not [Small, Gordon, The Lengs: Dundee’s Other Publishing Dynasty (Dundee, 2009)].

The opening of the park was to include a large procession of military men, sailors, local guilds,  and the Earl of Dalhousie and Provost of Dundee. Much excitement was also generated by the prospect of the inflation of a large balloon by Henry Coxwell, whom a year earlier had gained fame for his daring ascent into the stratosphere. Unfortunately Coxwell’s balloon had to be cancelled due to the direction of the wind.

This is the third Tammas Bodkin column on the events surrounding the opening of the park. Part 1. Part 2.

Maister Editor,—I concludit my last week’s epistle by intimatin’ that Tibbie left the Park on the evenin’ o’ the “Ninth,” under the erroneous impression that the balloon had gane aff an’ tane me alang wi’t, an’ I promised to explain in this present letter hoo she cam’ to entertain that foolish notion. Weel, ye see, the mistak’ arose in the manner followin’:—When Tibbie left the Park aboot five o’clock, she saw Mr Coxwell thrang blawin’ the gas into the balloon, she saw the crood colleckin’ aroond it, an’ she heard the folk conversin’ aboot the approachin’ ascent as if it had been an event thoroughly determined on. Hoo was she to ken? hoo was the crood to ken that the wind was ower bawld, and that it was blawin’ frae the wrang point o’ the compass? Except in the mind o’ Mr Coxwell himsel’, there was nae doot at the time when she left the Park but that the balloon was to tak its grand aerial flicht at the oor appointed—sax o’clock. When she was baudin’ in the road by Lilybank, she keppit thoosands o’ people hurryin’ helter-skelter towards the Park, ilk ane like to ding doon his neebor, for fear o’ bein’ ower late to see the show. It was sair, sair against her will that she was turnin’ her back on the wonderfu’ spectacle, but, as her solicitude for my safety far ootweighed her curiousity to see the aeronauts, she had magnanimously resolved to rin hame an’ inquire if I had casten up, at the risk o’ the balloon bein’ aff an’ awa afore she could trodge back again. Certainly this was an instance o’ self-sacrifice on her pairt for whilk she deserves, as I hereby gie her, a deal o’ credit. I dinna think but if I had been in her shoon—that is to say, if I had been as fearfu’ o’ her trynin’ hersel’ as she was aboot me tynin’ mysel’—I wad hae waited to see the balloon gang aff afore takin’ active staps to inquire into her whereabouts; but that arises frae “the selfish indifference o’ us men folk,” as Tibbie observes, “to the comfort an’ even personal safety o’ oor wives.” Hoosomdever, whether I wad hae played Tibbie’s pairt if I had been in Tibbie’s sitiwation is quite immaterial in the present inquiry—it is eneuch for me to ken that Tibbie did her duty, and did it, too, nobly, heroically, magnanimously—like a Roman matron wha wadna stick to sacrifice, not only her curiosity, but even her very life, if need had sae required, for the preservation o’ her husband. Hame she gaed to Crinoline Crescent, an’ speered at the neebors if they had seen ought o’ her Tammas, but they, of coorse, had neither beheld nor heard tell o’ that individual. Under happier circumstances Tibbie wad hae tane her tea afore returnin’ to the Park, but in presence o’ the appallin’ fact that her guidman was tint—probably trampled to death in the crood—the idea o’ meat an’ drink an’ bodily comfort never ance penetrated even into the maist accessible corner o’ her understandin’. Hungry an’ weary though she was, she again retraced her staps to the Park, an’ as she was gaen alang by Lilybank she overheard twa men, wham she forgaithered wi’, crackin’ aboot the balloon, an’ quoth the tane to the tither, “Man, I saw Bodkin inby at the balloon—what could he be doin’, think ye?”

“Ou,” quoth the tither, “I heard them sayin’ he was gaen up in’t.”

This was a fearfu’ piece o’ intelligence to Tibbie—me gaen up i’ the balloon! She wad hae stopped the twa men an’ cross-examined them on the subject, but as at that time the croods were surgin’ back an’ fore like the waves o’ the sea through the Straits o’ Magellan, they were whuppit oot o’ her sicht like the crack o’ a gun. On reachin’ the sooth-wast yett she cuist an eager glance up towards the canvas enclosure wherein she had seen the huge form o’ the balloon swayin’ to an’ fro’ i’ the wind when she let the Park; but now, alas! there was nae balloon visible. Whaur could it be?

“Is the balloon awa’?” she inquired at an illgaishoned rascal wha had juist been seein’ Mr Coxwell toomin’ oot the gas, an’ packin’ up his gibbles.

“Awa’, ay! an’ Bodkin i’ the inside o’t!” quoth he, wi’ a sorrowfu’ shake o’ his head. “They’re east as far as the Bell Rock by this time, I’se warrant them.”

This was dreedfu’ news to Tibbie! If she hadna been a particularly strong-mindit woman she never could hae borne up under the stroke sae bravely as she did. Indeed, few wives could hae come through what she did that nicht withoot havin’ their bodily health—possibly their very rizzen itsel’—seriously, if no permanently, irretrievably ruined; yet I’m happy to say Tibbie’s no ae preen the waur o’ the fricht she got.

Wi’ the view o’ satisfyin’ hersel’ as to the reality o’ my bein’ awa, she ran up to the canvas enclosure to mak further inquiries. Sure eneugh, there was nae balloon to be seen—naething but an immense rabble o’ men an’ women, a’ thrang discussin’ the intelligence that Bodkin had been sewin’ a cloot on the balloon, an’ that Mr Coxwell had been heard eggin’ him up to mak a journey to the cluds alang wi’ ‘m.

“But is the balloon really awa?” quoth Tibbie, in order to mak’ assurance doubly sure.

“Ou ay, it’s awa!” was the answer vouchsafed by a snuffy-lookin’ mannie, wha evidently considered it to be his special mission to tell lees for the public guid. “D’ye no see’t yonder—skimmin’ awa through the cluds aboon the Strips o’ Craigie?” an’ he was guid eneugh to direct Tibbie’s attention to ane o’ the sma’ balloons wi’ the fire gleamin’ at its tail.”

“Yon the balloon!” quoth Tibbie. “What way is it sae sma’? Na, ye’re surely haverin!”

“Truth I’m tellin’ ye, though,” was the reply. “It looks sma’ at this distance, nae doot, but ye ken

‘Tis distance lends enchantment to the view.”

“But hoo is there a fire at its tail?” quoth Tibbie.

“Ou, ye see,” quoth the snuffy individual, “that’s ane o’ the, ‘red Lichties’ wha partitioned Mr Coxwain to gie him a trip the length o’ Arbroath, seein’ he was to pass that way at ony rate, but he’ll let him doon i’ the by-gaen I’se warrant.”

“Na, min,” quoth anither diel’s buckie, “ye’re haverin’ a curn nonsense, for yon’s juist Bodkin strikin’ a match to licht his pipe.”

“An’ is it really sae that Tammas Bodkin is up an’ awa?” quoth Tibbie, gaspin’ for breath.

“Up an’ awa’!” was the reply.

If Tibbie was dismayed before she was ten times waur noo, for whereas she had previously heard o’ my wa-gaun wi’ the hearin’ o’ the ear, she had noo acctually seen me as high up as the seventh heevens, lichtin’ my pipe wi’ a lucifer. Despair tane possession o’ her heart, an’ she looked upon herself as bein’ little better than a widow, for the next word she expected to hear o’ the balloon was that it had either landed in the middle o’ the German Ocean, or, like “the Horner’s guid braid bonnet,” had been

“Cleekit but the moon’s attraction,

Or nabbit by the fairy legions,

To whirl them through the airy regions.”

Sadly she turned frae the scene o’ her great misery, slowly she wandered through the noisy rabble in the direction o’ her hame, ance sae blithesome an’ cheerie, noo, alas, overshadowed wi’ the blackness o’ despair! Hoo she got hame she canna tell—canna even imagine; but hame in some way she did get, an’ there she cuist hersel’ aboon the kitchen bed, an’ proceeded to ventilate her feelin’s in a flood o’ tears—bitter tears that are never seen to flow but when the heart is wrung wi’ the agony o’ despair. She had lain in a state boderin’ on distraction for the feck o’ twa oors, when, as was mentioned last week, I stappit up the stair an’ faund her ruggin’ her hair an’ wringin’ her hands. Need I describe the scene that tane place when she opened her een an’ beheld me standin’ before the bed, an’ heard my familiar voice inquirin’ if she had stood viewin’ the firewarks till she had gotten a dose o’ the toothache! No; words wad fail me were I to attempt it, and therefore the reader maun juist exerceese his imagination, as I have to do occasionally. Suffice it to say that the scene was sae impressive an’ emotional that, in my first sleep that nicht, I dreamt I was actually awa up i’ the balloon.

“And thrice ere the mornin’ I dreamt it again.”

Lack o’ space, hooever, forbids me to describe my imaginary flichts in this present epistly, but if we’re a’ spared till neist week, ye will peradventure receive anither skreed frae

Tammas Bodkin.

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