‘Bodkin Escapes from Perth’ (18 November, 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,—Aye in Perth yet! When a body sets oot on a journey, it’s hard to say when he’ll get hame again. I haena been in the habit heretofore o’ makin’ my will afore proceedin’ to distant pairts; but, considerin’ the numerous perils I’ve encoontered, not only aboove the earth, but under its surface, yea, in the very booels thereof, durin’ this ill-starred voyage to Glasgow, I really think that it wad be prudent hencefurth to set my hoose in order previous to lockin’ the door an’ turnin’ my back upo’ my domestic concernments. Indeed, I’m no sure but prudence wad advise me to gang a stap farther, an’ effect an insurance on my life to the extent o’ a thoosan’ or twa, because, although I’ve nae family o’ my ain to care for, yet Tibbie micht survive me, an’ I wadna like to be shootin’ oot my fit wi’ the bitter thocht on my mind that she wad behoove to prosecute her pilgrimage withoot the means o’ liquidatin’ the chairges by the way. I’ve a wheen pounds i’ my kist-neuk—that I winna deny, but if ye’re aye takin’ oot o’ the meal pock an’ puttin’ naething intil’t, ye’ll soon come to the boddom. An’ besides a’ that, there’s William wearin’ into a sma’ family wi’ fearfu’ rapidity, an’ although he can claim nae kindred to me, yet he has been an eydent sarvent, a true freend, an’ a faithfu’ collaborateur, in the establishment o’ the Crescent business, an’ I wad really like to leave him nane the waur but a’ the better o’ the dispensation that may constitute him the only livin’ representative o’ the firm. I maun hae a crack wi’ Tibbie aboot the aboove subjects, for bein’ a model wife, her opinion is aye worth listenin’ till, even if ater hearin’ her advice I sid end by takin’ my ain.

“State yer case to the first policeman ye forgaither wi’,” quoth Captain So-an’-So, as he politely showed me the way to the ootside o’ the Barracks. Very good, my beloved freend! But first catch yer policeman—that’s the business! an’ it’s a business that it requires a very clever chield to accomplish sometimes. Policemen are like corncraiks—aftener heard tell o’ than seen—unless when there is a savour odour as of roast beef or fried ham proceeding frae the sunk area, an’ in that case they are like the ill penny, that is everly castin’ up when it’s presence is least wantit. There was a kind o’ claith ca’d invisible blue in my young days, an’ the policemen’s coats in the present day wad seem to be made o’ that fabrick. Speak o’ catchin’ the Venturolocust! If it was a wark o’ greater magnitude to catch him than to catch a policeman he was a soupler scoondrel than I’ve seen reason to gi’e him credit for, an’ I dinna think I’ve oonder-estimated his abilities in that respeck.

Leavin’ the Barracks, I set oot on my voyage o’ discovery. The first person I forgaithered wi’ was an elderly gentleman dressed in blacks, wi’ a white neckclaith roond his craig—a retired grocer, as I subsequently concludit, an’ a man very fou o’ that detestable thing ca’d puir pride. I stappit inbye till him, an’ touched my hat, as guid breedin’ required. The licht o’ a street lamp shone full in his face, revealin’ the fact that he had a very big an’ a very red nose—red as a parsnip—an’ that he wore a pair o’ gowd sparticles thereon, although he was not a flee better than I was for a’ that.

“Reverend sir,” quoth I, for, judgin’ from his apparel, I had imagined him to be a minister o’ the Word. “Reverend sir, wad ye be kind”—

“Go away! Go away!” quoth his reverence, withoot tarryin’ to listen to my supplication. “I—I don’t give nothing to beggars!”

“Beggars!” quoth I, as lood as I could roar. “D’ye tak’ me for a beggar?”

“Go away! Go away!” quoth he. “I’ve nothing to say to fellows of your sort.”

“But I’ve something to say to fallows o’ your sort,” quoth I, “an’ I beg to tell you that I’m as guid a man as ye are yersel’—ay, an’ a guid hantle better.”

“How do you know what?” quoth the reverend citizen, drawin’ himself up to his largest length. “You don’t know who I am.”

“And hoo do you ken that I am a beggar?” quoth I, raxin’ mysel’ oot to my greatest possible stature. “Ye dinna ken wha I am.”

“Well,” quoth he, “as we are strangers to each other, we had better not keep company any longer; therefore, go about your business, sir, or I’ll call the police.”

“I wad gie ye a penny,” quoth I, jinglin’ the cheenge i’ my pouch that I had got frae the servant lassie at the public-hoose. “I wad gie ye a penny to yersel’ if ye could show me a policeman—he’s juist the man I’m wantin’, an’ when I forgaithered wi’ you I thocht I had fund ane.”

“Don’t insult me!” roared the red-nosed citizen, like to burst wi’ rage at bein’ evened to a policeman.

“Don’t insult me then!” roared I, in a tone o’ voice as nearly resemblin’ his as I could mak’ it.”

“I’m not to be accosted by strangers,” quoth the citizen, emphatically.

“Man,” quoth I, “a very high authority admonishes us no to be forgetfu’ to enterteen strangers, an’ as ye behoove to be a clergyman, judgin’ frae the cut o’ yer jib, ye ought to bow to that authority.”

“But I’m not a clergyman,” quoth the citizen, “I’m a gentleman.”

“I dinna dispute,” quoth I, “that yer coat micht cleed a gentleman, if sae be it were hung owre his shoothers, but—”

The “gentleman” had heard eneugh, an’ mair than eneugh, for at this point o’ the conversation her fairly boltit, leavin’ me to pursue my inquiries after a policeman the best way I could.

Juist as he tane his departure, a smart-lookin’ laddie comes whistlin’ alang the plainstanes wi’ his hands in his pouches, an’ to him I addressed mysel’, for the double purpose o’ speerin’ after a policeman an’ learnin’ the history o’ the individooal wi’ the black coat, the red nose, an’ the gowd sparticles.

“What is the name o’ that gentleman awa’ up the street there?” quoth I.

“Ou, that’s Nosey,” quoth he. “We ca’s him Auld Nosey.”

“An’ is he a gentleman?” quoth I.

“Him a gentleman!” quoth the loon, puttin’ on a look that was baith very comical an’ very significant. “Him a gentleman! Humph! He’s juist an auld grocer. He ance had a shoppie doon by there a wee bittie, an’ we used to but a bawbee’s worth o’ claik frae him. Him a gentleman!”

“Juist as I was thinkin’,” was my silent reflection. “Tak’ a beggar an’ mak’ a porter o’m, an’ whaur’ll ye get ane that is waur to the puir folk? O’ a’ the kinds o’ gentlemen we can forgaither wi’ in this warld commend me to the born gentleman. Ye’ll aye get civeelity frae them if ye get nae mair. But thae upstart, mushroom sert o’ gentry, they are sae fou o’ puir pride, impudence, an’ self-conceit, that there is nae room left in them to haud the qualities whereby man is raised to a mental an’ moral position in creation superior to peacocks, monkeys, an’ donkeys. I’m no in the way o’ using strong languidge unless I meet wi’ great provocation, an’ if Nosey hadna ca’d me beggar I never wad hae ca’d him a jackass. When smitten on the ae cheek it may answer weel eneugh in a figurative sense to turn the tither ane also to the smiter, but practically the plan disna work weel in a’ cases, for if ye allooed gentlemen o’ Nosey’s sentiments an’ breedin’ to smite richt an’ left, they wad soon ha’e their clorty cleuks into every body’s haffets.”

“But can ye tell me,” quoth I, addressin’ mysel’ ance mair to the laddie, an’ rypin’ my pouch for a penny, no wi’ the intention o’ insultin’ him, hooever, as I had done in the case o’ Mr Nosey, but wi’ the view o’ rewardin’ him wi’ a tangible expression o’ my approbation for his civeelity, “can ye tell me, my man, whaur there is sic a thing to be fund as a policeman?”

“Ou aye,” quoth he, turning briskly on his heel, “come awa wi’ me an’ I’ll tak’ ye to the Police Office—ye’ll find a polly there maybe.”

“Thank ye, my man,” quoth I. “Od ye’ve mair wut an’ mair gude-breedin’ aboot ye than some half-dizzen. Are ye at the schule na?”

“Ay am I,” quoth he.

“An’ hoo far through the carritches are ye?”

“I’m past the pains o’ hell for ever,” quoth he.

“Ay, ay,” quoth I, “an’ were they very painfu’?”

“Geyan,” quoth he.

“An’n hae ye ony brithers?” quoth I.

“Ane,” quoth he. “He’s some aulder nor me.”

“Juist that,” quoth I, “an’ hoo far is he through the carritches?”

“He’s past redemption, sir,” quoth the loon.

“O, dear! I’m wae to hear tell o’ that,” quoth I.

“Imph’m!” quoth the loon. “The maister says he’s no sic a guid scholar as I am.”

“Sae it wud appear,” quoth I, “but he’ll mend yet maybe.”

“Maybe,” quoth the bit laddie.

I was greatly divertit, no to say edified, wi’ the simple cracks o’ my young acquaintance, for, unlike some bairns I’ve seen, he was intelligent withoot bein’ impudent—modest withoot bein’ shy or boorish—had something to say an’ said it like a man an’ a gentleman.

Arrived belyve at the police offish, I tendered a sma’ silver coin to my juvenile guide, bade him put it into the savings bank, sheuk him heartily by the hand, admonished him to be guid an’ to mind his carritches, an’ assured him that if he did sae an’ was spared he wad be sure to come to something—maybe to be the Lord Provost o’ Perth.

“Maybe,” quoth the loon, an’ awa he flew, whistling like a mavis, pairtly, nae doot, because he had a licht heart, pairtly because he had a saxpence i’ his pouch, an’ pairtly, maybe, because he lookit forrit to bein’ the Lord Provost.

Stappin’ into the police offish, I inquired for the head man, to whom I proceedit to state the purport o’ my visitation. He tane doon a minute description o’ the Venturolocust, together wi ‘the particulars o’ the assault, the same in substance, of course, as has been laid before the reader in previous epistles. There wasna a policeman to spare that nicht for the purpose o’ institutin’ inquiries after the whereaboots o’ the vagabond, because the entire force was engaged in waylayin’ a curn poachers in the ootskirts o’ the city, but I had a solemn assurance that every available man wad be sent forth neist mornin’ to expiscate the kissin’ business.

This job bein’ finished, I tane a daunder through the streets for lack o’ something better to do, an’ findin’ mysel’ in the neeborhood o’ the railway station, I thocht I wad stap in, wi’ the view o’ giein’ them an upreddin’ for garrin’ Tibbie and me lose the train to Dundee. After lookin’ aboot me for a wee, I spied the billie wha had gien Tibbie an’ me sae muckle impudence, an’ although he tried sair to jouk me, yet, by perseverance, I succeedit belyve in bringin’ him to action.

“’Od, my man, you’ve played me a bonnie pliskie!” quoth I, “Garred me tyne the train, an’ I’ve had to send Tibbie hame to Dundee in a gig—I’ll hae ye hauled up for damages!”

“Ye can damage ony way ye like,” quoth he, “but if ye lost the train it was yer ain blame. She left at the time stated in the tables, an’ it was your duty to read them, an’ no bother me wi’ yer speerin’.”

“Yer unco short to be sae lang,” quoth I, “but I’m no to be shoved aff in that way, an’ sae ye maun either gie me compensation for the loss o’ time an’ siller I’ve sustained, or else ye maun yoke a special—”

“You must get oot o’ this,” quoth the fallow, puttin’ on a threatenin’ appearance, “an’ no mak’ sae muckle noise, or else I’ll get a policeman t’ ye.”

“’Od you Perth bodies are unco liberal wi’ yer policemen,” quoth I, “for this is the second time the nicht I’ve been threatened wi’ them; an’ the best o’t a’ is, there’s no a policeman to be had i’ the toon, neither for love nor siller, or else I wad hae had ane at you afore this time, but he’ll be here the morn’s mornin’ in guid time—sae that’s giein’ ye due warnicement.”

The mention o’ the policeman had a wonderfu’ soothin’ effeck on my lad’s irritability. He cheenged his tune entirely, an’ observed in a conciliatory tone o’ voice, “Ye needna mak’ sic a wark aboot it, min—ye’ll get hame wi’ the mail train if ye like.”

“An’ whan does it leave?” quoth I,

“At 11.30 P.M.,” quoth he. “That is, it leaves the General Station at 11.30, an’ the Princes Street Station ten minutes later.”

“Ye dinna mean to say sae?” quoth I, haudin’ up my hands in astonishment.

“A fack,” quoth he. “Look at the time table here.”

“Then hoo did ye no tell me that afore?” quoth I. “Haudin’ me sendin’ Tibbie hame in a gig at an enormous ransom, when she could hae got hame wi’ the mail train! What for did ye no tell me that afore?”

“Ye never speered,” quoth he.

“Ye’re richt,” quoth I. “My ignorance o’ timetable literature has been the cause o’ the haill misunderstandin’. It was your blame that Tibbie tint the 7.20 train, it is my blame that she didna tarry for the 11.30 ane—sae we’ll juist say we are quits—bury the hatchet, as the sayin’ is, an’ smoke the calumet o’ peace.”

“We’ll hae to gang ootside then,” quoth he, “for there’s nae smokin’ allooed inside.”

“A mere figure o’ speech,” quoth I.

“Then I winna partake wi’ ye,” quoth he, “for I like to smoke something stronger than figures o’ speech.”

“Guid-nicht,” quoth I, leavin’ the Station, for I saw there was naething to be gained by farther argle-barglin’ wi’ this obstinate individooal. “I’ll be back in time for the 11.30 P.M. train.”

At the inn whaur Tibbie an’ me had oor four-oors, I had a snack o’ supper, an’ there also I sat smokin’ my pipe, an’ readin’ the newspaper, until it was time to gang back to the station. Determined to err on the safe side this time, I was on the grund half an oor afore the train startit, whilk it did at 11.30 P.M. exactly, bearin’ along wi’t, as pairt o’ its fraught,

Tammas Bodkin.

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