‘Bodkin and the Funny Fellows’ (25 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, A’ the way frae Perth unto Dundee my thochts were dividit atween Tibbie an’ the Venturolocust. I thocht what a surprise Tibbie wad get when she arrived at the Crescent an’ faund me there afore her, for at the rate the train was fleein’ at I could perceive that Tibbie’s conveyance wad never play plew till’t. We wad be in Dundee, withoot fail, an oor or twa afore the gig, let Jehu drive as furiously as he pleased, an’ I had nae idea that he wad stress himsel’ or wind his beast for the sake either o’ an auld wife or a young ane. I thocht, on the ither hand, what a fluther the Venturolocust wad be in when, neist mornin’, the “blues” wad haul him oot o’s bed by the lugs, an’ clap the shangies on his shackle-banes, an’ hoo he wad look quite as blue as his captors when they wad tell him that he was wantit for the heinous misdemeanour involved in the kissin’ o’ a married woman—viddict Mrs Bodkin—in the railway tunnel.

Contrary to my use an’ wont, I travelled second-class, though the ticket I had coft in Glasgow only entitled me to travel third-class, but the billie at the station wha had been the means o’ causin’ Tibbie an’ me to tyne the train, bein’ anxious to mollify my richteous indignation, very politely airthed me into a second-class carriage. I was pleased wi’ this sma’ attention on his pairt, because it showed that the man was truly contrite, an’ wished to mak’ amends for a faut, yet I could not gie him credit for doin’ mair in this respect than was demandit by the strict requirements o’ fairplay an’ even doon honestly, for, as I mentioned till him when he was puttin’ me into the second class coach, the difference atweesh the fares wad hardly atone for the loss o’ Tibbie’s ticket, let abe the hire o’ the gig an’ the ither extra expenses I had been put till through his dereliction o’ duty. He very readily owned that this was the truth, but houped that I wadna mak’ a sang aboot it, as the mischief arose frae an error o’ judgment on his pairt, an’ no frae malice perpense, an’ as he was apprehensive that the effeck o’ my wreatin’ to the head billie wad be that he micht get his dismissal. I saw frae the earnest way wherein he expressed himsel’ that he had a wife an’ a wheen bairus dependent on ‘im for their maintenance, an’ in a case o’ that kind a mercifu’ man sidna press things ower far against an erring brither, but rather thole the shortcomings o’ the guilty for the sake o’ the innocent—

“These movin’ things ca’d wives an’ weans

Wad move the very hearts o’ stanes.”

For travellin’ companions I had four rollickin’ chaps wha seemed to hae been indulgin’ to some extent in the liquid that had been employed in impartin’ the rubicund hue to the gnomen on Mr Nosey’s physog, although, at the same time, I will not affirm that they were incapable o’ discernin’ atween their richt hands an’ their left—the truth bein’ that their condition was similar to that wherein Coila’s bard faund himsel’ on that eventfu’ nicht when he forgaithered wi’ something that put him in “an eerie swither;” that is to say, they “werena fou, but juist had plenty.” To the extent that wine was in, of coorse wit was oot, an’ I saw that they were bent on madness an’ gilravage. There is nae use o’ thrawin’ wi’ wags o’ that description, for, let ye glower as fierce as ye like, ye winna put them oot o’ coontenance. Nay, if ye throw yer pearls afore sic swine they’ll be sure to turn again an’ rend ye, an’ therefore if ye wish to lead a quiet life in their society ye maun e’en grumph an’ squeak in unison wi’ them. This was the coorse I resolved to adopt wi’ the funny blades that fortune had gien me for fallow-travellers. I wad laugh, an’ joke, an’ sing alang wi’ them—be ane o’ themsels, in fact—though it maunna be supposed that I coontenanced them in the multitudinous breaches o’ the Fifth Commandment that tane place, for in spite o’ a’ that grave and beuk-learned divines hae lately said against it, I’ve still a lithe side to the Decalogue. I wadna be sae foolhardy as to sit in Rome an’ fecht wi’ the Pope, but I wad certainly gie his Holiness a glower when he misbehaved that wad apprise him o ‘the fack that I was not a partaker in his iniquity.

But besides the four gleesome gomerils, there was also a gentleman in the compartment wha seemed to entertain a very lofy idea o’ his ain dignity, an’ wha sat in a corner, like a Hindoo Pundit absorbed in the contemplation o’ his ain unparalleled perfections. He opened not his mooth, nor did he let his een licht on the ither occupants o’ the carriage, except ance or twice when the mirth waxed particularly fast and furious, an’ then wad he look up wi’ a scowl, which said as plainly as words could do, “Dogs! are you not afraid to bark in my august presence!” He was a very respectable man, dootless, an’ very weel-bred, but he micht hae shown himsel’ a wee thocht mair accommodatin’ than he did withoot doin’ violence either to his respectability or his breedin’. That was my first impression, but I saw reason to change my opinion baith o’ him an’ the four gomerils afore lang.

We had juist got ower the Brig at Perth, when the four funny fellows put oot their meershaums an’ tobacco dosses, and straightway set to wark loadin’ an’ primin’, with the evident intention of having a foursome blast o’ their cutties to beguile the tedisomeness o’ the journey—a thing I’ve nae objection till mysel’, providit the carriage containe nae leddies or gentlemen afflickit wi’ asthma or bronchitis.

“You have no objection to smoking?” quoth ane o’ my funny freends, addressin’ me wi’ the blandest smile imaginable, an’ at the same time strikin’ a licht by means o’ a highly odoriferous Vesoovian.

“Nane whatsomever,” quoth I, “an’ if this gentleman has nae objections, I dinna mind although I tak’ a puff alang wi’ ye”—the gentleman referred to bein’ the highly respectable an’ thorough-bred individooal aforesaid.

“O, he don’t object in the least,” quoth my funny freend, applyin’ his Vesoovian to the bool o’ his pipe, withoot waitin’ to hear the gentleman’s sentiments an’ feelings on the subject. “I see he can take a whiff himself—does it regularly. He won’t object.”

“But I do object,” quoth the highly respectable pairty, clenchin’ his teeth, an’ lookin’ mutterable things. “I do object most decidedly, and I have to request that you will have the goodness to put out that pipe.”

“O, dear, don’t be disagreeable now,” quoth my funny freend. “Why, I’ll favour you with a pull, sir, after I am done. I know by your face that you are a good-natured fellow, and all that sort of thing.”

“But I’m not good-natured,” quoth the respectable pairty in great wrath, “nor am I a fellow, and I’ll be—if you smoke in this carriage.”

“And I’ll be—if I don’t!” quoth my funny freend, an’ he pulled awa’ at his cutty like grim death, an’ winkit ane o’ his een quite hard while he surveyed the curlin’ reek wi’ the ither ane, lookin’ the very picture o’ contentment and mental serenity.

In the midst o’ the meantime the ither three billies had luntit their pipes also, insomuch that the place was like a Pandemonium.

“Have a light?” quoth the funny blade, offerin’ me his box o’ Vesoovians an ‘ his tobacco pouch filled wi’ the finest bird’s e’e.

“Na, thank ye,” quoth I, “I’ll get the benefit o’ your reek at second hand. I was smokin’ afore I left Perth, an’ dinna stand muckle in need o’ anither ane just yet.”

“Do take a draw,” quoth he, coaxingly, “just to spite the gent as is not good-natured nor a fellow—do now and oblige the company.”

“I’ll perhaps spite you before long,” quoth the respectable pairty. “I’ll have you tumbled out of the carriage at the very first station—trust me for that! There are such things as bye-laws against smoking in railway carriages, and blame me if I don’t see that they are enforced in your case—that I will!”

This threat failed to produced the desired effect, the only response to it bein’ what has been described as a horse-laugh, wherein the four gleesome gomerils participated.

“Well I know what I’ll do!” quoth the respectable pairty, an’ he was really like to burst wi’ perfect fury.

“And I know what I’ll do,” quoth my funny freend, winkin’ knowingly to his companions.

The skreigh o’ the whistle an’ the slowin’ o’ the train adverteesed us o’ the fack that we were drawin’ nigh to some station, an’ I saw that the respectable individooal was preparin’ to tak’ action in regard to the smokin’ as soon as the train drew up, but he was owre late to get the first word o’ flytin’, an’, in warfare, it’s a great point to be early i’ the field. My funny freend banged up to his feet afore the train stopped, an’ rammed his head an’ shoothers through the windock neist the platform, insomuch that the respectable pairty was effectually prevent it frae lodgin’ his complaint anent the infreengement o’ the anti-tobacco regulations. At first I thocht that naething waur was intendit than simply to keep him a close prisoner until the train startit again, but my funny freend had a mair daurin’ project in his head than only a half-measure o’ that kind, an’ this project he proceedit furthwith to put into execution, wi’ a coolness an’ a brazen-facedness that covered me wi’ confusion and astonishment. It maun be premised that the four ill-contriven scoundrels—I maun tak’ the liberty to ca’ them sae, for they were nae less I’m sure—had stowed awa their pipes into their oxter pouches when they faund themsels drawin’ near to the station.

“Guard!” roared my funny freend, puttin’ on a face o’ the very fiercest.

Forrit comes the guard, touchin’ his cap, (I saw this through the side-windock), and speered what was wantit.

“A gentleman has been smoking in this carriage,” quoth my funny freend, “and he says he won’t desist. I insist that he be put out, or, by—I’ll write to the Manger.”

“Show me the gentleman,” quoth the guard.

“Here he is,” quoth my funny freend, pointin’ wi’ his thoom to the respectable individooal. “You can feel what a smoke there is in the carriage—he uses abominable tobacco—and it’s been the same all the way from Perth.”

“Yes,” quoth ane o’ the ither funny chaps, “and he gives us nothing but impudence when we complain.”

“A lie!” roared the respectable pairty, “a most in—[a fearfu’ aith] lie, sir! I don’t smoke—never smoked! I say, sir, it was those four low-bred fellows who were smoking—not I! It was I—not they—who complained of the smoke.”

“Well, now, that is very queer,” quoth my facetious freend. “I appeal to the gentlemen here present if this elderly party wasn’t smoking, and if I didn’t object—decidedly object, sir—and he refused to extinguish his abominable pipe!”

“Quite true, quite true!” chimed in the three funny blades.

I was perfectly amazed at their audacity, so much so that for the time bein’ I was unable to articulate a single syllable, or even to collect my thochts into an intelligible shape. Apprehensive that I micht open my mooth by way o’ bearin’ testimony to the innocency o’ the respectable pairty, ane o’ the billies gies me a poke i’ the side wi’ his elbock, an says in an under tone, heigh eneugh to let me hear him, “Not a word, sir, or it’ll be the worse for you!”

“I tell you it is a lie!” quoth the respectable individooal, in a towerin’ passion—an’ nae wonder. “I shall insist that those ruffians be ejected from the train—they are a disgrace to humanity.”

“Whew!” quoth my funny, though mischievous freend, “There is no use trying to get off that way. We are ready to take our oaths that he was smoking, and he has no evidence at all to the contrary but his own word—and that wont go a great way in a court of justice I can tell you. Put him out—I insist on it!”

The guard, bein’ puzzled to ken what to do, clew his head, an’ lookit very uneasy, but what could he do, seein’ that he was confronted by four respectable-lookin’ men wha insisted in solemnly asseveratin’ that the respectable pairty had been smokin’ contrary to the rules. The puir man could do naething less than see that the regulations were duly complied wi’, an’ therefore he ordered the gentleman to come oot o’ the carriage.

“Well,” quoth the respectable pairty, “since you command me I’ll do it; but mark me, sir, you’ll hear more about this—and pretty smart, too. I’ll have a hundred pounds of damages off the Company—and these fellows, I’ll—I’ll have them brought up for perjury—as sure as death I will!”

The latter pairt o’ his remarks was uttered juist as he landit on the platform, an’ I observed that the gentleman was tremblin’ frae tap to tae wi’ perfect rage. His indignation was not to be wondered at—the treatment he had received wad hae defied the meekness o’ Moses himsel’.

“Gentlemen,” quoth I, “wi’ a’ due deference to your superior wisdom an’ breedin’, I maun be permitted to say that ye’ve juist done a very deevilish-like trick, an’ I wadna be in your shoon for ony amount o’ money ye like to name. I was sae utterly amazed—dumfoondered, indeed—at yer conduck that I couldna utter a syllable in the man’s behalf although it had been to save his life, but I maun mak’ a clear conscience o’t noo that I’ve recovered the use o’ my tongue.” So sayin’ I arose wi’ the view o’ puttin’ my head through the windock, an testifyin’ to the integrity an’ uprichtness o ‘the respectable individooal, but ane o’ them pu’d me back into my seat by layin’ hold o’ my coat-tail, an’ as the train was by this time on the wing it was needless to insist further, altho’ I gae them to understand that in the event o’ me bein’ summoned as a witness at the judicial upreddin’ o’ the case, whilk I did not doot wad follow, they needna expect that I wad forswear mysel’ in order to save their necks.

“Then you shan’t be summoned,” quoth the ringleader o’ the mischief, for I can scarcely describe him as my “funny freend” ony langer, considerin’ the sort o’ conduct he had been guilty o’. “But I say, wasn’t it a neatly done trick?”

“Capital!” was the general exclamation (wherein I did not join), whereupon the fallows reproduced their pipes, an’ laughed, an’ sang, an’ jokit wi’ ane anither in a style o’ the utmost hilarity an’ uproariousness.

I had expeckit to get to the end o’ my journey this week, an’ so I would, had I not put aff my time describin’ the conduck o’ my mischievous freends, but to say mair at present micht weary the reader, an’ also interfere wi’ the professional duties o’

Tammas Bodkin.

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