‘Bodkin and the Ventriloquist’ (21 October, 1865)

The following letter is part of a long series by Tammas Bodkin, the character used by editor William D. Latto to speak frankly (and amusingly) on current affairs. Latto became editor of the ‘People’s Journal’ in December 1860 and used the platform to launch Tammas, bringing himself a fair amount of fame in Victorian Scotland.

Maister Editor,—I’ve a craw to pluck wi’ ye afore I gang a fitstap farther wi’ my story. Whaurfore did ye pit “Bodkin Rediveevus” at the tap o’ my last epistle? Are ye no conversant wi’ the fact that my name is “Tammas” an’ my surname “Bodkin?” Hoo daur ye go to ca’ me “Rediveevus,” or ony ither name that does not belang to me? The very childer in the Crescent hae pickit up the name already, an’ I daurna set my neb ootower the door-stap but what they’ll be haudin’ oot their fingers at me an’ cryin’—“There’s Bodkin Rediveevus.” An’ not only so, but nae farther gane than this very mornin’ Tibbie was oot at the flesher’s for a pund o’ minch to oor dinner, an’ ye’ll no hinder them—ill-bred brats, that I sid sae—to salute her wi’ the title o’ “Tibbie Rediveevus.” Noo, while I canna help thinkin’ that their pawrents are greatly to blame for allooin’ them to rin thereoot like as mony wild colts, yet I maun needs say that ye are to a certain extant a partaker in their wickedness, for if the auld cock hadna crawed the young anes wadna hae learned. Of coorse Tibbie cam’ in very ill-pleased indeed at the disrespectfu’ salutation they had gi’en her, nor could I wonder at her for being angry, for I ken hoo I feel mysel’ when I happen to be addressed by ony ither name than that whilk was bestowed upo’ me mair than sixty years syne by the Rev. Mr Gowlanthump. I hate bye-names, an’ sae does Tibbie, an’ ye maun thole the word o’ reproof wi’ meekness when I tell ye very plainly that ye micht hae been far mair profitably, no to sae Christianly, employed than in stickin’ “Rediveevus,” or ony sic ootlandish eppytaph, to my honoured surname, I aye like to say what I think an’ feel, an’ I’ve said it in this particular instance, but I wadna hae ye to imagine that I enterteen ony permanent sentiment o’ hostility towards ye on accoont o’ that nickname—far frae that—on the contrary, I’m ready to shak’ hands wi’ ye at this present moment, an’ to say frae the very boddom o’ my heart, “Let byeganes be byeganes—yea, let us love ane anither as heretofore!” But “an ye love me, Hal,” nae mair o’ yer “Rediveevuses”—mind that!*

Havin’ dischairged this very disagreeable duty—for naething can be mair distressin’ to me than to hae words wi’ onybody, especially wi’ onybody I’m freendly wi’ an’ enterteen a sincere respeck for—I proceed noo to the business in hand, viz., to narrate the uncos I saw, an’ said, an’ did durin’ the remainder o’ my journey to Dundee.

My allusion to the battle o’ Bannockburn had proved onything but savoury to my English fallow-traveller, for although the good-humoured smirk still remained on his rubicund coontenance, yet I could easily perceive—for I wasna blind—that mixed wi’ his mirth there was something very like madness, an’ when I say madness, I dinna mean insanity, but the wickedness that is begotten o’ wounded vanity an’ humbled pride. I had nae dridder that the man wad offer violence to me or to Tibbie, but he certainly looked as if he wad hae day aboot if he could get or mak’ a chance for playin’ aff his pranks on us, an’ in this respeck he was only ower successfu’, as will be rendered pawtent to the dullest apprehension by the following “chields that winna ding.”

The train wasna weel awa’ frae Stirlin’ when he began to play his diabolical cantrips wi’ the view o’ avengin’ Bannockburn, an’ punishin’ me for my patriotism. I had direckit Tibbie’s attention to the unfinished Wallace Monument on the Abbey Hill, an’ had informed her o’ the fack that it was juist at the fit o’ that hill—at Stirlin’ Brig, to wut—that the brave knicht o’ Ellerslie had discomfitit Sir Hugh Cressingham nearly five hunder an’ seventy years syne, an’ I had juist begun to hum ower a verse or twa o’ Burns’s immortal ode, beginnin’—

“Scots wha hae wi’ Wallace bled,

Scots wham Bruce has aften led,”

When I hears a cat meullin’, as nearly as I could judge, underneath the scat whereon I was sittin’.

“A cat i’ th’ coach!” quoth Tibbie. “Have a care o’s a’; wha wad think o’ a cat travelling by railway? Pussy! pussy! pussy bawthrans! Puir thing! I’se warrant she’ll be feared at the noise, an’ maybe hungry. Get up, Tammas, an’ see whaur she is.”

So I arose frae my seat an’ made a narrow inspection o’ the void beneath, not forgettin’ the seat whereon Tibbie sat, but feint a cat or ony ither livin’ creature could I see, although I could hae made a solemn affadauvit that there behooved to be ane o’ the feline tribe somewhaur in the carriage. It was a very curious circumstance, an’ no to be explained on ony hypothesis that I was maister o’, but as I observed to the Englishman—wha seemed to be very much terror-stricken at the stange phenomenon, he bein’ unedicated, an’ therefore superstitious, as I concludit—it was peradventure what philosphers ca’ an optical delusion, or a delusion o’ the lugs, whilk amounts to the self same thing. This explanation o’ the occurence seemed to meet wi’ eneral acceptance, an’ oor minds soon sattled doon again into their normal condition. In the coorse o’ three or four minutes, hooever, anither collieshangie arose underneath the carriage seat, but instead o’ a cat this time it was a dowg that was the cause o’ the disturbance, or rather, I sid say, that appearandly caused the disturbance, for when I proceedit to look below the seats, whilk I did instantaneously, the sorra a dowg or ony livin’ entity in the shape o’ the canine specie could I get the slichtest wink or wittens o’. This was strange—very strange, indeed! an’ I didna seek to disguise my sentiments on the subject. The Englishman lookit very grave—as grave as it was possible for his habitually smilin’ coontenance to look—an’ remarkit that the carriage was surely hauntit—some diabolical deed o’ blude had been committit in it—that seemed to be his decided opinion.

“Bless me!” quoth Tibbie, “ye dinna mean to say sae! Tammas, get them to stop the coach, for I maun be oot if that be the way o’t. Afore I wad ride in a coach that innocent lude has been shed in I wad rather gang on my ain feet, if I sid hae to creep on my hands an’ my knees.”

“But if you go on your feet, my good woman, you won’t require to creep on your hands and knees,” quoth the Englishman, tryin’ to mak’ game o’ her in the oor o’ her affliction, which was very unfeelin’, to say the very least o’t, an’ what no man wad do wha has ony pretensions to be thocht a gentleman, let abe a Christian or a philanthropist. I had a guid mind to gie him up his fit for this display o’ ill-manners an’ inhumanity, but under the circumstances I thocht it better to bear an’ forbear, an’ so I made nae observation in reply. As for Tibbie, she was ower frichtened by what she conceived to be soonds uttered by supernatural agencies to be able to resent affronts offered by ordinary humanity, an’ therefore the Englishman was suffered to escape the punishment richtly appertaining to his main impudence.

There was anither interval o’ twa or three minutes wherein we neither heard nor saw ought to disturb the tranquillity o’ oor minds, an’ if naething further had occurred we wad soon hae recovered oor mental serenity, but fate had ordered it itherwise. I had begun to narrate to Tibbie the history o’ the battle o’ Shirramuir, chiefly wi’ the view o’ divertin’ her mind frae graver thochts, an’ I had just begun to tell her the anecdote aboot the Heelanman wha lamentit that at said battle he had “tint his father an’ his mither, and a gude buff belt weel worth them baith,” when anither fearsome noise proweel worth them baith,” when anither fearsome noise proceeds frae underneath the seat o’ the carriage. It wasna a single soond this time, but a combination o’ soonds. It was a concerted piece—a duett in short—an’ the very opposite o’ harmonious. The treble was performed by a cat, an’ the bass by a dowg, an’ there was evidently a deadly scrimmage gaun on atween the pair o’ them. Judgin’ frae the soonds they were makin’, the dowg’s teeth were fixed in the cat’s throat, while the cat’s claws were thrang scrapin’ the dowg’s lugs—an’ the barkin’ an’ wirrin’, an’ yellin’, an’ spittin’ were truly dreedfu’ to listen to.

“Tibbie,” said I, “this will never do! In a’ the creation o’ cats an’ dowgs, what is the rizzen o’ a’ this uproar? I’m no a believer in supernatural slichts an’ soonds, an’ therefore it is as clear to my mind as the multiplication table that there is a menagerie o’ wild beasts in this carriage somewhaur, an’ I maun see whaur, afore we gang anither fitstap farther.”

Withoot tarryin’ for a reply, I clappit doon upo’ my knees, an’ made a minute examination o’ the carriage, an’ even caused Tibbie to rise aff her seat an’ shake her tails, lest peradventure there micht hae been some livin’ creature or creatures secreted under her crinoline—the like circumstance havin’ come under my observation aftener than ance in the course o’ my newspaper readin’—but neither underneath the seats nor underneath the crinoline did I discover onything in the shape o’ beast or body to accoont for the unearthly utterances that seemed to proceed therefrom.

“This is very strange wark,” quoth I, gatherin’ mysel’ aff the floor, an’ duntin’ the stoor aff the knees o’ my slacks. “It’s waur than strange—it’s deevilish! It beats cock-fichtin’.”

The words were scarcely oot o’ my mooth when a bantam-cock began to craw—whaur d’ye think? Juist in Tibbie’s radicle basket! That was whaur the soond seemed to come frae at onyrate, but of coorse when I liftit the lid o’ the basket, an’ glowered in, the feint a feather was to be seen. Tibbie was a’ shackin’ wi’ pure terror, an’ nae wonder, especially as she had been obliged to bundle aff frae Glasgow withoot her tea. Withoot yieldin’ up an inch o’ my unbelief in the visibility o’ Sawtan an’ his agents, or in thier pooer to utter the languidge o’ beasts or birds or human bein’ s, I maun nevertheless admit that I did feel somewhat eerie, an’ really it wasna muckle to be wondered at.

“Is it no a possible thing,” quoth I, addressin’ the Englishman, “that the neist carriage may be occupied by a collection of animated Nature—Wombwell’s Menagerie maybe, or something similar?”

“Well, I’ll see,” quoth the Englishman, stretchin’ his head an’ shoothers through the carriage window, an’ castin’ his ee alang the train baith before and behind, but the result wasna confirmatory o’ my theory, for he resumed his seat an’ shook his head, observin’ at the same time that the carriages were exclusively passenger anes.

“Hae ye formed ony opinion as to the origin o’ these diabolical soonds?” quoth I.

“I have, and a very dicided opinion too,” quoth he; an’ the words were uttered in a tone o’ great solemnity, insomuch that I could perceive there was something weighin’ very heavily on his mind.

“I houp ye’ve nae objections to state your opinion,” quoth I.

“None whatever,” quoth he. “Only it may frighten your good lady to hear it.”

“I think we’ll risk it,” quoth I, “for onything waur than we’ve heard already wad be onpossible.”

“Well ,” quoth the Englishman, “the fact is, sir—and I shudder to think of it—this is the very carriage in which Muller murdered Mr Briggs! Don’t you see the blood spattered on the wood there? There carriage has been haunted ever since the perpetration of that horrid crime.”

“Bide awee,” quoth I, “ye say this is the carriage that Muller murdered the man in—but hoo can that be when the deed was done in Lonnon?”

“True, sir, it was done in London,” quoth the Englishman,” but the carriage has been sent down to Scotland, because the people in carriage perfectly. I have travelled in it hundreds of times.”

“That wad be afore the murder?” quoth I.

“Before the murder,” quoth he.

“Gin that be the case,” quoth Tibbie, “we maun be oot at the neist station. It’s very unfair—an’ so it is—to put respectable folks into a carriage whaur sae muckle ill has been done—I wad as soon be put into a swine’s cruive.”

Nae sooner were the words oot o’ her mooth, than a pig began gruntin’ an’ squeakin’ in the carriage. I kent it was needless to mak’ an investigation, as I had done sae afore, withoot comin’ ony speed, an’ therefore I keepit my e’e fixed on the Englishman’s movements. I had begun to jalouse afore this that he was ane o’ the slicht o’ hand gentry, an’ what I saw durin’ this inspection tended to confirm me in this opinion. Ilka grunt the swine gied, I observed the muscles o’ his throat movin’, an’ his huge paunch heavin’, an’ at last I ventured to remark—”It strikes me very forcibly, my worthy freend, that ye are ane o’ the Devinport Brithers.”

Afore he had time to reply (‘deed he wasna willin’ to reply, for he keepit glowerin’ oot at the window, pretendin’ he didna hear me) the train drew up at Bridge of Allan, whereupon Tibbie opens the door, an’ cries “Guard! guard!” That functionary havin’ stappit forrit, Tibbie says till him—”There’s ane o’ the Deevilport Breethern i’ the coach, an’ he’s been conduckin’ himsel’ like a swine, an’ abusin’ Tammas an’ me. I wuss ye wad tak’ some cogneezance o’ ‘m.”

“Is this the gentleman?” quoth the guard, seizin’ the Englishman by the coat collar. “Is this the Divilport Brother who has been annoying you?”

“Preceesly,” quoth Tibbie. “He’s been tryin’ to frichten me oot o’ my wuts.”

“Well,” quoth the guard, “he must come out.”

“No, indeed,” quoth the Englishman. “I’ve done nothing to warrant such a violent exercise of authority.”

“But ye’re ane o’ the Deevilport Breethern,” quoth Tibbie.

“I’m nothing of the kind,” quoth the Englishman. “If I’m anything I’m one of the Plymouth Brethren.”

“It’s certain sure ye’re no a whey-moothed Brithern at onyrate,” quoth I.

“Deed he’s liker a twa-ply-mooth Breethren,” quoth Tibbie.

“It matters not what sort of a Brethren you are,” quoth the guard. “You’re not to annoy this lady and gentleman, and therefore you must get out of that.”

Matters were assumin’ a serious aspect for the Englishman, for the guard began haulin’ at him by the cuff o’ the neck, an’ I proffered my services by way o’ pushin against him wi’ my shoothers. Oot he gaed upo’ the platform at last, but withoot giein’ me guddicient warnicement o’ his movements, an’ the consequence was that I tumbled oot o’ the carriage head foremost, an’ fell upo’ the braid o’ my back. Half-a-dizzen o’ the passengers cam’ roond me, an’ liftit me up, thinkin’ I had brained mysel’, but, by special guid fortune I wasna a preen the waur, wi’ the exception o’ dingin’ the skin aff ane o’ my elbocks, an’ that was naething to mak’ a sang aboot. I wad hae thocht naething aboot my dooncome if I had faen on a’ fours, but when a chield fa’s on his back, wi’ his legs an’ arms wallopin’ i’ the air, he really occupies a very undignified, no to say a very ridiculous position. The attitude is far frae bein’ a desirable ane, especially in the presence o’ leddies, for they winna be hindered frae laughin’ in season an’ oot o’ season.

The station-maister was on the spot belyve, inquirin’ into the origin o’ the colliebuction, an’ to him the Englishman explained that he was neither a Devonport Brither nor a Plymouth Brither, but that he was an Odd Fellow, wha earned his bread by gaun aboot the country performin’ as a venturolocust, an’, to convince them that he was tellin’ the truth, he gied them a curn snatches o’ his pooers o’ speech, wherein the imitated a cat, a dowg, a bantam cock, an a swine sae perfectly that if they had been present they wad hae tane him to be ane o’ themsels.

“But what is a venturolocust?” quoth Tibbie. “Has he ony connection wi’t the locusts that plaguit Pharoah?”

“No, no,” quoth ane o’ the passengers, wha seemed to be weel versed in the subject, “a ventriloquist is one who speaks in his belly.”

“My certie,” quoth Tibbie, “he winna want room to speak there, but hoo didna he tell that sooner? garrin’ folk trow that the coach was infected an’ a’ the rest o’t.”

“A’s weel that ends weel,” quoth I. “The man may come in again if he likes, but if he tak’ my advice he winna play ony mair o’ thae pranks in the presence o’ respectable individooals, withoot at least giein’ them some forewarnicement.”

The storm havin’ blawn ower in this manner, we a’ tane oor seats, an’ there was nae farther trouble wi’ the venturolocust until we cam’ to the Monicrieffe Tunnel; but in regaird to that ye maun wait the convenience o’

Tammas Bodkin.

*We kiss the rod, and cry Peccavimus! In using the word “Redivivus” we meant nothing disrespectful to our respected correspondent, and those who have wickedly applied it to him and to his good lady as a term of reproach must have done so in ignorance of its meaning. “Bodkin Redivivus” simply means “Bodkin revived.” We hope this explanation will prove satisfactory.—Ed. P.J.

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