‘Bodkin in the Bowels of the Earth’ (28 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 nae love for railway tunnels; I ay like to travel aboon boord, an’ no within the bowels o’ the earth like a mowdiewart. Catch me venturin’ my carkitch aneth the yird but only when I canna help it! It’s maybe a prejudice o’ mine, but I doot it’s ane I’ll carry to my grave wi’ me. I like to hae the sun or the moon, or the starns at least, to keep watch an’ ward ower me; an’ afore I wad be a collier, to creep on hands an’ feet far ben into dark, dreepin’ cauverns, whaur the air smells o’ fire an’ brimstane, I wad as soon be “a kitten and cry mew,” like my freend the venturolocust.

An’ this reminds me that I’ve still some ill-faured revelations to mak’ anent the conduck o’ this worthy individooal. As I stated last week, we had nae trouble wi’ my gentleman a’ the gait atween Bridge of Allan an’ the Moncrieffe Tunnel, konsequently we had leisure to mak’ observations by the way. I let Tibbie see Shirramuir, whaur the battle was focht, a hunder an’ fifty years syne, atween the Duke o’ Argyle and the Earl o’ Mar, and edified her wi’ a quotation frae the sang that was written thereanent, wherein the dubious issue o’ the combat is described in the manner followin’:—

“There’s some say that they wan,

An’ some say that we wan,

An’ some say that nane wan at a’, man;

But o’ ae thing I’m sure, that at Shirramuir,

A battle there was, which I saw, man;

An’ we ran, an’ they ran,

An’ they ran, an’ we ran,

An’ we ran, an’ they ran awa’, man.”

I direekit her attention to Ardoch to the nor’ard o’ Greenloanin’ Station, whaur the ancient Romans had an immense camp, whereof “the very ruins are tremendous.” I mentioned that it was in the neeborhood o’ Ardoch, accordin’ to some historians, that the celebrated Heelanman named Galgacus focht a great battle wi’ the Romans, an’ was defeated, but Tibbie seemed naewise gratefu’ for the information, for a’ the encooragement I got was conveyed in the followin’ languidge, “Hoots, nonsense, Tammas, dinna deave a body aboot the Roman gawkies an’ what they did, when we’ve plenty o’ gawkies i’ the present day to crack aboot; but I wad cun ye mony thanks if ye could tell me hoo I’m to get hame to Dundee withoot a cup o’ warm tea, for I’m perfectly like to drap doon wi’ faintness, an’ I wonder hoo Mary Ann an’ the bits o’ twinnies, puir lammies, are comin’ on. I’m wae to think what a handfu’ she’ll hae, an’ them her first, too! This warld’s ill dividit, Tammas, for ye’ll see some folk that ye wad think had ower mony weans—although it would be cruel and sinfu’ in their pawrents to say, or even to think sae—an’ ithers again that hae nane ava. But we maun just tak’ what is sent, Tammas, an’ say naething; for we’ve nae richt to find faut wi’ the doin’ s o’ Providence.”

“Ou ay,” quoth I, “an’ if Providence sends nane ava, as has happened in oor case, we maun be equally sparin’ in oor remarks, an’ even in oor thochts, for ye ken there is as muckle sin in thinkin’ sometimes as there is in speakin’.”

“Ay, but folk canna help thinkin’ at times,” quoth she, wi’ a deep-drawn sich, “an’ I canna deny, Tammas, that I was doin’ sae this very forenoon when I saw Mrs M’Donald sae happy-like amang her bits o’ bairns—bonnie wee lammies that they were!—an’ I thocht what a comfort it wad hae been to you an me if—”

She put her pocket-hankey up to her een, an’ I saw frae the heavin’ o’ her breest that she was sabbin’, though she strove to hide her griefs within the secret chambers o’ her bosom. I was weel aware that Tibbie had the mitherly instinct strong within her, an’ I’ve aften mourned in secret that it wasna sae ordened that she sid get that instinct gratified. I was real vexed when I saw her sae deeply affeckit, an’ I whispered into her lug, “Weisht, Tibbie, my woman, I’ve an idea i’ my head that I’m sure ye’ll think muckle o’ when I tell ye’t.”

“What is’t, Tammas?” quoth she, wi’ an air o’ as muckle eagerness as if she had been expectin’ to hear o’ some great fortune, but wi’ a voice nevertheless quiverin’ wi’ profound emotion.

I was juist openin’ my mooth to reply when the train dived into the Tunnel wi’ a skreigh an’ a roar that rendered speakin’, or at least hearin’, entirely oot o’ the question. The darkness, too, cam’ ower us as suddenly as it did in “Alloway’s auld huntit kirk” when Tam o’ Shanter cried oot “Weel dune, Cutty Sark!” No a lamp i’ the carriage! Na, na, that wad be ower costly a luxury for the like o’ us. Juist refleck what wad hae been the konsequence had the carriages gane aff the rails within that Pandemonium o’ din an’ darkness! We wad hae been a’ dung to smash—legs, an’ arms, an’ heads wad hae been fleein’ in a’ directions—an’ no a blink o’ licht to lat a body see to dee wi’! It wad hae been utterly impossible to ken yer ain head or yer ain leg or yer ain arm frae the correspondin’ members belongin’ to yer fellow travellers. As regairds Tibbie an’ me—we bein’ ae flesh an’ blude—there wad hae been little skaide although we had niffered heads or legs or arms, but the case wad hae been far different had either o’ us been saddled wi’ ony ane o’ the Englishman’s disjointed members in lieu o’ oor ain. Hoosomdever, as there was nae catastrophy there was nae occasion for an excheenge o’ heads, ecksettry, but still an’ on there was an excheenge, an’ Tibbie hasna gotten aboon the affront to this day yet, an’, troth, I’m no sure gin the rascal has obtained my forgiveness, lat alane hers. But I’m cuttin’ afore the point.

Tibbie insists that I behooved to have had at least a presentiment o’ what was gaun on within the tunnel, but truth constrains me to declare that I was as innocent o’ ony knowledge or kennans o’ what was bein’ transackit atween her an’ the Venturolocust underneath the shade o’ that tunnel as were the new-born infants at Crinoline Crescent. As I’ve tell’t her a hunder times, I dinna believe in presentiments, I can only recognise facks, an’ facks can only be apprehended by the e’e, or the lug, or the nose, or by some ane or ither o’ the senses. Noo, the fack that transpired in that tunnel could only hae been made pawtent to me either by seein’, or by feelin’, or by hearin’ (for it was void o’ smell, an’ what taste it had didna come my way), an’, the case bein’ sae, it was morally onpossible that I could be adverteesed o’ the fack alluded to, especially as I’m no furnished wi’ cat’s e’en to see i’ the dark, an’ as I felt naething impingin’ on ony pairt o’ my body durin’ oor passage through the Tunnel, an’ as the thunder o’ the train wad hae drooned the noise o’ the smacks even if they had been audible, whilk is by nae means clear. No, no, Tibbie lass, I was perfectly in the dark, literally as weel as figuratively, an’ therefore I houp ye’ll cease to mak’ asseverations to the contrary, because it is very, very far wrang to threep what is not true doon ony body’s throat, an’ especially doon the throat o’ the man that is yer husband, whilk is but anither term for yer lord an’ maister.

When we emerged frae the Tunnel I noticed that Tibbie was scarcely like hersel’. Her cheeks were ower red for ae thing—I could see that, although she keepit her thick oo’en veil drawn closely doon ower her face. A mair narrow inspection revealed the fack that the veil was runkled mair than ordinary, and Tibbie is particularly carefu’ o’ her veil, as she is o’ a her bits o’ duds, for although she likes to but gude articles an’ therefore dear anes, yet, as she says, she likes to guide them weel, an’ so the prime cost is the less to be grudged. Further observations showed that Tibbie’s curls—(there’s a threed o’ grey mixed wi’ them noo, an’ I’m wae to see’t)—had been subjected to some sort o’ pressure, an’ the preen o’ her shawl was feezed roond to her shoother-head, insomuch that it lookit like a Heelanman’s plaid. Moreover, I could discern through the texture o’ the veil that she was bitin’ her nether lip an’ lookin’ unutterable things at me, an’ by an’ bye she put her fit on my tae an’ gied it a heary nip, in token that she was dissatisfied wi’ my conduck in some respeck, though in what particular respeck I could not say, nor in presence o’ the venturolocust did I venture to inquire, for it’s a perfect scunner to hear a man an’ wife quarrellin’ afore strangers, an’s it’s a thing I wad never permit mysel’ to do if I could avoid it by ony manner o’ means in my pooer. Dirty claes sid aye be washen within doors, an’ the fewer there is to wash the better in my opinion, for when man an’ wife fa’ a tig-towin’ wi’ ane anither, even in fun, let abee in earnest, there’s nae sayin’ whaur it may land—maybe i’ the Divorce Coort, wha kens. As for the Englishman, he had his head an’ shoothers stuck oot o’ the carriage-door opposite to the ane Tibbie an’ me were sittin’ at, an’ seemed to be wrapped up in the mantle o’ silent meditation, but I observed that he keepit ane o’ his roguish een gleyin’ inwith occasionally wi’ the view o’ spyin’, as I supposed, hoo Tibbie an’ me were comportin’ oorsels. O, he was a Judas scoondrel that Englishman!

Matters were in this powster when the train drew up at the place whaur they vizzie the tickets in the suburbs o’ Perth, whilk was only a few seconds after we emerged frae the Tunnel, but if we had been gaen muckle farther at full bellum, I wad hae socht a quiet opportunity o’ inquirin’ at Tibbie hoo her cheeks were sae red, hoo her raiment was sae tautit-like, an’ especially hoo she was lookin’ sae sour at me, seein’ I had dune naething to incur her displeasure. In the meantime, hooever, naething could be said withoot the Englishman hearin’ it, an’ therefore I put aff my inquiries till a mair convenient season. So when the ticket collector comes alang, I says till him, “Could ye tell me, my man, when the next train leaves Perth for Dundee?”

“Seven twenty,” was the laconic answer.

“That’ll be aboot forty minutes we’ll hae to wait,” quoth I, examinin’ the hands o’ my watch.

“There aboot,” quoth the man.

“We’ll hae time eneugh to get a cup o’ tea?” quoth Tibbie, inquirin’ly.

“Depends on hoo lang ye tak’ to drink it,” quoth the man. “If ye tak’ as mony cups, an’ sit as lang preein’ an’ blawin’ at ilk ane o’ them as Tibbie Bodkin does, ye winna hae muckle time to spare, but if ye look alive ye’ll hae time eneugh.”

So sayin’, he banged to the door, an’ proceedit on his tour o’ inspection.

“I say, Tammas,” whispered Tibbie into my lug, “didna I tell ye that? Ye gang an’ clipe an’ clash to a’ body aboot the nummer o’ cups o’ tea I drink, an’ hoo lang I tak’ to them, an’ here ye see this very railroad man has it a’ in his head as clear as the carritches. It’s very ill-doin’ o’ you, Tammas, an’ if ye’re to gang on at that rate tellin’ things oot o’ the hoose, I’ll just gang doon to the editor man, an’ tell him no to print a word o’ what ye say, for it’s naething but a curn great lees.”

“Ca’ them exaggerations, Tibbie, an’ I winna gainsay ye,” quoth I, “juist a wee thocht coloured—that’s a’. Ye ken it’s perfectly true aboot the tea, sae ye needna attempt to deny that.”

“But ye needna be tellin’ a’ body aboot it,” quoth she. “’Od, if I were as clever at the pen as you, I micht find mony a thing to wreat aboot yersel’ that ye wadna like everybody to ken, an’ my fegs, if ye tak’ na care o’ yer pen hand, I’ll maybe get somebody to wreat for me.”

“Hoots, Tibbie woman,” quoth I, “there’s nae ill o’t—it’s a’ for fun.”

“I like nae sic fun,” quoth Tibbie, curtly, “an’ there is ill in’t—an’ so ye maun gie’t up, or else I’ll rebel, for I’m to endure it nae langer.”

I forbore to reply, for if I had said onything thrawn till her—an’ I couldna remember onything pleasant at that moment—heigh words micht hae been the konsequence, an’ that wad hae been a violation o’ the rule I’ve laid doon in a precedin’ pairt o’ this epistle.

The train moved forrit belyve into the General Terminns, an’ we alighted upo’ the platform, whaur there was a great crood, into the whilk the Venturolocust disappeared in a mysterious manner, an’ withoot vouchsafin’ to say “Gude nicht,” or as he wad hae said (had he been inclined to be ceevil)—”Good morning.” He had his ain reasons for slinkin’ awa in that dirtin’ fashion—but ye’ll hear hoo the cam’ on.

Kennin’ that we had but little time to put aff, Tibbie an’ me hurried oot o’ the station an’ awa into the toon, whaur we inquired for a hoose o’ enterteenment, an’ bein’ direckit to an inn not far bye, we entered an’ ordered tea for twa, an’ cauld meat till’t, as time forbade us to indulge in steak or minched collops, whilk could not have been made ready, as the waiter assured us, in less than twenty or twenty-five minutes.

While the tea was masking, it occurred to me that I micht fill up the interval by invitin’ Tibbie to explain hoo it cam’ aboot that her cheeks were sae red, an’ hoo her veil an’ her shawl were sae greatly carfuffled an’ malagruized.

“’Deed Tammas,” quoth she—an’ she spak’ very vicious-like, not havin’ recovered her wonted serenity as I could perceive—“’Deed, Tammas, mony ane speers the gait they ken weel eneugh, an’ sae it fares wi’ you.”

“Me!” quoth I, “what hae I done to call furth yer displeasure? The woman’s mad!”

“Ou, ye’ll pretend to be ignorant, nae doot,” quoth she, “but that’s aye the way wi’ you men. Ye either ken a’thing or naething—juist as it suits yer ain purpose!”

“Gude guide’s, woman, explain my offence,” quoth I, “What did I do?”

“Juist kissed me when we were comin’ through the Funnel, Tammas—that’s what ye did,” quoth she, “an’ I wad hae thocht naething o’t aitherns if ye hadna rubbit my face sae cruelly wi’ yer hard beard, and naffled a’ my veil, an’ ruggit at my shawl till I thocht ye wad hae haen it aff my back. Could ye no hae waitit till we got hame?”

“Tibbie!” quoth I, haudin’ up baith my hands, “that story is marvellous! perfectly marvellous! I never laid a lip upo’ yer face, nor a hand upo’ yer rainment, either in the tunnel or oot o’ the tunnel, an’ if ony body has done it the Venturolocust maun hae been the loon!”

“Are ye tellin’ the truth?” quoth Tibbie.

“Tellin’ the truth, woman!” roared I, at the tapmost pitch o’ my voice, for my breast was reamin’ ower wi’ richteous indignation at the thocht o’ what that villain o’ an Englishman had daured to do to my guidwife, and that at my very lug too. “Tellin’ the truth!” quoth I, “Surely I haena kissed ye sae seldom that I require to mak’ a mystery aboot it! A man may find it convenient to kiss his sweetheart i’ the dark to save her blushes, but he can surely afford to kiss his wife in daylicht.”

“Sorra tak him!” quoth Tibbie, dichtin’ her e’en, for by this time the tears were beginnin’ to mak’ their appearance, “but gin I had a grip o’m I wad gar him be soondly soused for this, for it’s clean against the law to do sic a thing to ony honest woman against her will.”

“I’ll hae the case puttin into the hands o’ the Shirra,” quoth I, “an’ that’s as sure as I’m sittin’ on this chair!”

“O, what’ll I do!” quoth Tibbie. “It was ill eneugh for the man to kiss me, Tammas, but—but—O’ dear me!—I—I—kissed the man, Tammas, an’—an’ kittled his oxters, an’—an’ when he rubbit my cheek wi’ his beard, I gied him a blenter i’ the side o’ the head wi’ my nieve—juist as I do to yersel’, Tammas, when ye’re ower rough wi’ me. O, what’ll I do? for I think black-burnin’ shame o’ mysel’! An’ what can the man think but that I’m as great a blackguard as he is himsel’?”

“My beloved spouse,” quoth I, “dinna tak’ it sae muckle to heart, for I ken ye wadna hae done it wittin’ly, an’ I’ll forgive ye, Tibbie—but that unsanctified vaig—I’ll hae him”—

Oor conversation was interrupit at this jucture by the waiter comin’ in wi’ oor tea, an’ as I’ve still a gude hantle o’ facks an’ circumstances to state in regaird to this matter, I maun subscribe mysel’ in the meantime,

Tammas Bodkin.

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