‘Bodkin Loses the Train’ (4 November, 1865)

“if there is law to be gotten on this side o’ Lunnon, either for love or siller, I’ll put it in operation!”

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,—That tea an’ cauld roast I had in Perth did me unco little gude. No that the vittles were unwholesome by ony means, either inherently or by reason o’ indifferent cookery, for it wad be doin’ a grievous wrang to ‘”mine host” to say a thrawn word in regaird to his provender; but nevertheless an’ notwithstandin’, they did not sort wi’ my stammack, an’ the reason was that I did not partake o’ them wi’ that serenity o’ mind an’ cheeriness o’ spirit whilk are, in my case at onyrate, indispensible to sound digestion. The fack is, when my soul is troubled, my stammack gaes a’ wrang, quarrels wi’ what is put into it, an’ keeps me literally in het water. I’m nae philosopher, but I wad nevertheless advise all such as desire to get a’ the gude o’ their food they possibly can, to eat their bread an’ drink their tea, or their yill, or their water, or whatever else o’ a liquid natur’ they may employ to synd ower their piece, wi’ a merry heart, whilk reason an’ revelation assure us doeth good like a medicine. I’m aware—painfully aware—that a merry heart is sometimes a luxury a poor man canna afford at his humble board. He sees his bairns ill clad an’ ill fed—his wife doon-spirited, duddy, an’ trauchlie—his bits o’ hoosehold furniture wearin’ done, or gaun bit by bit to the pawn-shop—he looks forrit an’ he sees naething afore him but a life o’ hard wark, an’ a pauper’s grave at the end o’t—he looks backwart, an’ the only green spot he discerns on memory’s waste is the brief period o’ coortship an’ the honeymune—an’ he sighs to think that a’ his hopes o’ happiness hae been rudely dashed to the grund, an’ wi’ thae thochts an’ feelin’s seethin’ and wamblin’ in his mind, it’s no to be expeckit that he can sit doon an’ mingle his dry brose wi’ the mirth that is necessary to their digestion. I’m thankfu’ I’m no in this sad plicht. My guidwife is a perfect jewel o’ a woman—clean, trig, an’ sprichtly as a kittlin’—my pouch an’ my pantry are neither o’ them destitute o’ material mercies—an’ whether I look to past, the present, or the future I see naething to mak’ a moligrant aboot. Yet I canna say but what I forgaither wi’ fykes to fash me at times. There is that Englishman, for instance! I’m sure I’ve suffered mair vexation o’ spirit on his vile account than tongue can tell, forbye what Tibbie has had to bear—an’ when I say this I’m makin’ nae allusion to the siller he has garred me spend ae way an’ anither, in bringin’ him to justice. But I maun resume the threed o’ my narrative.

The waiter havin’ left the room Tibbie began to pour oot the tea, while I applied mysel’ wi’ vigour to the cauld roast. Tibbie was for some time unable to speak for sobbin’, an’ I was equally speechless wi’ anger, but after we had time to come to oorsels awee, we proceedit to compare oor thochts an’ feelin’s anent the ootrage in the tunnel, an’ the result was that we baith cam’ to the self-same conclusion, namely, that the venturolocust, if he could be laid hands on, sid be brocht afore his betters, an’ made answerable for his unwarrantable conduct.

“Deed ye wad be a great simpleton to pass him,” quoth Tibbie.

“Pass him!” cried I, bringing my steekit neive doon upo’ the table wi’ sic a thud that the concussion garred the mustard-pat stot aff into Tibbie’s lap, whereby the corner o’ her shawl an’ also the front o’ her silk goon were a’ belaggered wi’ the mustard, “Pass him! No. If it sid cost me a’ I am worth in this world I’ll never rest till I hae the villain hauled up for his misty-manners.”

“Ay, it’s easy flinging awa’ a fortune amang the lawyers,” quoth Tibbie, “but ye wad need to look afore ye loup. Are ye sure there is a law against kissin’?”

“No, if baith pairties gie their consent to the operation,” quoth I. “In you an’ me, for instance, it would be perfectly lawfu’’; an’ atweesh lad an’ lass there is naething wrang in’t, if they bide by that; but the case is entirely different when a woman is kissed against her wull, as you’ve been by that English vagabond. There’s no a particle o’ doot but he has laid himsel’ open to be prosecuted for an indecent assault on a respectable leddy; and gentry o’ that kind, I can tell ye, find little mercy when brocht afore the tribunal o’ justice. It is a case that appeals to the private feelin’s o’ every man wha has a wife; an’ as the majority o’ judges are in this perdiccament, they wad be doin’ violence to the instinctive promptings o’ their “inner bein’” if upo’ the backs o’ siccan heinous trangressors they failed to lay the rod o’ chasteesement wi’ exemplary pith an’ vigour.”

“A’ that may be true eneugh,” quoth Tibbie, “but ye maun mind what I was tellin’ ye.”

“An’ what was that?” quoth I.

“Juist this, Tammas, that I kissed the Englishman, an’ ye ken that may mak’ a’ the difference i’ the warld i’ the e’e o’ the law.”

“Ay, but ye can gie yer solemn aith that ye did it against yer wull, an’ that’ll mak’ a’ square.”

“No against my wull, Tammas—I’m ashamed to think that I did it quite volunteerly.”

“But what o’ that when ye did it unwittingly? A clear case o’ mistaken identity on your pairt, Tibbie; but can the venturolocust say as muckle for himsel’? Weel-a-wat no! Malice perpense, as the lawyers say—malice perpense, Tibbie—assault an’ battery—a maist heinous offence, and if there is law to be gotten on this side o’ Lunnon, either for love or siller, I’ll put it in operation! This very nicht as soon as I get to Dundee I’ll put the case into the hands o’ Maister Tammas Thornton, the wreater, an’ I’ll wager ony money he’ll bring the Venturolocust to his marrow-banes in a gey hurry.”

“An’ wid I hae to be examined as a witness, Tammas?”

“Nae doot o’ that, Tibbie—ye’ll be the mainspring o’ the trump, ‘oman. Ye’ll hae to tell a’ hoo it was done, Tibbie—let them see exactly hoo the man kissed ye—necessary for the ends o’ justice that ye sid do sae; withoot that it wad be nae evidence ava’.”

“An’ wid I hae to let them see hoo I kissed the man, Tammas?”

“To be sure ye will, Tibbie, an’ also hoo ye kittled his oxters, an’ hoo ye struck him i’ the side o’ the head. Ye maun keep naething back, for ye’ll be bound by a solemn aith to tell the truth, the whole truth, an’ naething but the truth.”

“Weel, as sure’s ought, Tammas, I couldna! No, I couldna stand up i’ the Coort afore sae mony men-folk an’ rehearse a’ the operation that tane place i’ the Funnel. I wad be sure to faint an’ fa’ doon, Maybe they’ll tak’ your word fo’t, Tammas, for, as ye’re ay tellin’ me, when it suits yersel’ to do sae, we’re ae flesh an’ blude, an’ if that be the case your testimony will surely stand for mine.”

“Soond eneugh logie, Tibbie, in a mythological sense, but it winna do in a coort o’ justice, I can tell ye, for the heads that are bedight wi’ horsehair wigs dinna oonderstand reasonin’ o’ that kind. It’s owre transcendental for their materialistic souls to comprehend.”

“I dinna oonderstand yer lang-nebbit dictionary words, Tammas. Can ye no explain yersel’ in languidge that a body kens the meanin’ o’? Wha ever heard o’ sic a word as ‘material sticks?’ But that’s ay yer way when ye want to get the better o’ me wi’ yer tongue. Ye flee awa amang Greek an’ Hebrew whaur I canna follow ye, an’ then ye craw as crouse as a cock on the grund an’ greetin’ because he canna get up also.”

“Legal questions maun be discussed in legal phraseology, Tibbie, an’ if ye dinna understand my languidge, I canna help that—I’m no bound to provide ye wi’ facculties to understand the Dictionary. But ye sid juist commit yersel’ to my guidance, Tibbie, an’ ye wad save yersel’ a warld o’ trouble—dinna fear that I’ll lead ye the wrang gait.”

“Weel it maun juist be sae then, I suppose, but I wad rather that the Venturolocust sid escape a’thegether than that I sid be compelled to show aff the transactions atween him an’ me afore sae mony men-folk. O it’s been a very misfortunate journey this, Tammas, for there was you very naur brained in Glasgow amang the Eirishmen, an’ here is me abused by an Englishman on the road hame, an’ if I maun appear as an evidence against him, I’ll be sure to fa’ into some ither mistak’. The excitement is mair than I can thole, Tammas, an’ if I drap doon deed i’ the witness-box, mind you’ll hae the sin upo’ yer ain head!”

At this point o’ the conversation I finished my last cup o’ tea, an’ ou pu’in’ oot my watch, I observed that it wanted only seven minutes o’ the time for the train startin’.”

“Clear the decks,” quoth I, “an’ let us be movin’, or we’ll lost the train.”

“I houp not,” quoth Tibbie, “for I maun be in Dundee this nicht, if I sid hae to gang on my ain feet.”

So I rang the bell an’ asked the amount o’ the lawin’, an’ while the waiter chield was gettin’ this paperie made oot Tibbie sookit up twa cups o’ tea withoot takin’ time to eat ony bread to them, though she slippit a scone into her radicle, for, as she observed, “we wad hae it a’ to pay for,” an’ “there was naething like takin’ vally for yer money.” I admitted her doctrine was perfectly soond, an’ that it wad hae been a great pity had she no got her usual nummer o’ cups, especially as she stood sae muckle in need o’ something to comfort her in the midst o’ her manifold afflictions.

Awa’ we trodged towards the General Station, an’ inquired the way to the Dundee train.

“The Dundee train!” quoth the official whom oor inquiries were addressed. “Ye’re owre late by sax minutes an’ a quarter. The Dundee train is at the Princes Street station yonder, an’ it’ll depart frae there in three minutes an’ three quarters; but if ye rin wi’ a’ yer micht ye’ll maybe catch her yet.”

“Sorra tak’ ye wi’ yer three minutes an’ a quarter!” quoth Tibbie. “A bonny story indeed! Didn’t yer ticket collector man tell me that the train left Perth for Dundee at seven twenty; an’ what time is it i’ the noo, Tammas?”

“Seven eighteen, or rather mair,” quoth I, applyin’ ance mair to my timepiece.

“Seven auchteen!” quoth Tibbie. “I tell ye that! Noo, hoo durst yer man say it left at seven twenty, an’ it awa’ ten minutes afore that?”

“The man was quite correck,” quoth the fallow, wi’ the greatest composure imaginable; ‘od, I could hae gien him a crack i’ the lug! “The Princes Street Station is in Perth, ye ken, an’ seven-twenty is the oor it starts frae there. But if ye want to gang wi’ that train I wad advise ye no to stand muckle langer bletherin’ there or ye’ll be owre late.”

Havin’ got this aff his stammack, my lad gaed his wa’s whistlin’ till himsel’ wi’ as little concernment as it naething had happened oot o’ the common ordinar’. Some folk can tak’ things very coolly—for my pairt I couldna treat onybody after this shamefu’ fashion.

Hoosomdever, there was nae time to stand bletherin’, as the man said, an’ so Tibbie an’ me held away doon Marshall place what we could scoor, to try if peradventure we micht be fortunate eneugh to reach Princes Street Station afore the departure o’ the train. Tibbie hadna run fifty yards when she tak’s a painfu’ stitch in her side, pairtly occasioned, as I told her, by the inordinate blash o’ tea she had drucken withoot balancing her stammack wi’ a proportionate quantity o’ bread; but hooever that may hae been, I was under the needcessity of layin’ holds o’ her arm and helpin’ her forrit, otherwise, as she declared, she wad hae been obliged to stand stane still like a statute.

Whether it was owin’ to the time lost by the stitch in Tibbie’s side, or by the blethern wi’ the official at the Central Station, or whether we had ower little time under the maist favourable auspicies to traverse the distance atweesh the twa stations—an’ the latter hypothesis I’m inclined to think is the richt ane—I sanna venture to say, but this affirmation I’m free to mak’ withoot violatin’ the requirements o’ truth an’ verity—we tint the train! Tint the train by a hairsbreath too, I may say, for the engine was juist snortin’ awa’ ower the brig, when we arrived at the fit o’ the lang timmer stair that leads up to the platform.

“That’s her awa’!” quoth I, gaspin’ for breath, for I had run an’ trailed at Tibbie till I was at the very doon-drappin’.

“Rin—up—an’—tell—them—tocryherback!” quoth Tibbie, scarcely able to articulate the words.

“Impossible!” quoth I; “impossible! Ye may as weel think to flee i’ the air as to get them to hurl the coaches back again.”

“Weel,” quoth Tibbie, “I—maun be—in Dundee—this very nicht—onyway—if I sid—flee throughtheair! Mary Ann—an’ the twinnies—puir things—they’llbeexpeckin’ me—an’ I maun gang, Tammas! O dear me—for I’m—sair dung—forwanto’breath!”

Mair she micht hae said, but tears an’ sabs an’ sighs chocked her utterance. I can resist ony amount o’ entreaty or ill-jaw frae a woman, but whenever the tears come owre her cheeks I maun ring in an’ mak’ an honourable capitulation. The eloquence o’ Tibbie’s tears convinced me that it was necessary for her comfort—possibly for her very existence—that she sid be wi’ Mrs Clippins that nicht, but hoo was she to get to Dundee? for though she had spoken o’ fleein’ through the air that was a mere figure o’ speech, an’ twa an’ twenty miles is rather far to ride on a figure o’ speech.

Had I kent then what I ken noo, an’ if I had haen a’ my wits about me, I never wad hae interteened the stupid an’ expensive idea o’ sendin’ her hame in a gig, but that, I grieve to say, was the plan I fell upon. When she had colleckit her breath for a short space, we baith sat doon on the stair an’ held a cooncil o’ war.

“Tibbie,” quoth I “we’re in a sort o’ a fix, but I think I see my way oot o’ the dilemmy. Ye’re no a witch, an’ therefore it wad be vain to speak o’ mountin’ ye on a broomstick; konsequently ye maun either tak’ shanksnaig or we maun hire a real naig wi’ a gig to trail at the tail o’t. A vehickle that will haud you an’ the driver winna cost a deadly soom. Ye’ll be in Dundee by twal’ o’clock or thereby, an’ ye can tell ony body wha speers, an’ has a richt to ken, that I’ll gang back to the Inn an’ get a bed—it’ll costume auchteenpence. I’ll be hame to my breakfast, so ye maun hae the kettle boilin’ at the usual oor. Gie Mary Ann an the twinnies my compliments, an’ tell them that I houp they’ll be gude bairns, an’ I’ll buy a gutty perchy ring, an’ a stalk o’ rock to the piece o’ them.”

“Pay auchteen pence for yer bed, Tammas! Ye’ll do nae sic thing. Ye’ll juist haud awa’ to the Vennel, an’ spend the nicht wi’ Murphy’s folk—I’m sure they’ll mak’ ye real welcome.”

“No ae fitstap,” quoth I. “They’re under nae obligations to me, an’ I sanna place mysel’ under ony obligations to them. But I’ll tell ye what I’ll do—I’ll try an’ get that Englishman by the cuff o’ the neck, an’ wha kens but the apprehension o’ ‘m may cost a haill nicht’s wark, in whilk case, of coorse, I’ll no need a bed.”

“O, Tammas!” quoth Tibbie, “tak’ tent an’ no get yersel’ brained, for that wad be a greater misfortune than ony that has yet befallen us! Mind, yer life is precious—very precious!”

What farther passed atween us the warld has nae richt to ken, but the short an’ the lang o’ the thing was that I hired at the nearest hostelry a gig an’ a driver to tak’ Tibbie to Dundee. I saw her safely mountit an’ awa’, an as lang as my e’e could discern her diminishin’ figure I stood an’ gazed after her, an’ the last glimpse I got o’ her she was lookin’ owre her shoother an’ wi’ her pocket handkercher wavin’ a fond adieu to

Tammas Bodkin.

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