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.—On presentin’ mysel’ at the Crescent ye may judge what a consternation there was when it was observed that I hadna’ brocht Tibbie wi’ me. Though it was close on the “wee short hour ayont the twal,” William was not in bed—a devotit creatur—wad sit up a’ the oors o’ the nicht to do me a good turn! In fact, the only individooals in bed were Mrs Clippins an’ the twinnies, an’ it was not to be expeckit that they wad sit up waitin’ oor hame comin’ considerin’ the pecooliar circumstances o’ the case. William had heard the cab hurl up to the mooth o’ the entry, an’ wi’ the view o’ satisfyin’ himsel’ as to the reason thereof, he threw up the parlour windock whilk overlooks the said entry, an’ thrust oot his head by way o’ makin’ a reconnaissance.
“Is that you, Tammas?” quoth he.
“A’ that’s for me, William,” quoth I. “Hoo’s Mary Ann?”
“Fairish,” quoth he. “But bide awee till I come doon an’ help ye up wi’ Mrs Bodkin’s luggage.” Doon he comes, takin’ three staps o’ the stair at ilka stride.
“Hae ye seen my nicht-cap?” quoth he.
“At Glasgow, d’ye mean? Quoth I.
“At Glasgow? Na. Here!” quoth he. “The wind blew it aff just as I was steekin’ the windock. Did ye no see’t?”
“Me! No. I saw nae nicht-cap,” quoth I. “But lat the Kilmarnock gang, lad—we’ll get anither ane for little siller—a mere auchteen penny matter—no worth makin’ a lamentation aboot. But in the midst o’ the meantime, hoo are the twinnies?”
“Brawly,” quoth he.
“An’ hae ye seen ought o’ Tibbie?” quoth I.
“What d’ye mean?” quoth he, an’ he proceedit to examine the inside o’ the cab. “Whaur is Mrs Bodkin?” was his next inquiry. Ye haena run away an’ left her, I houp!”
“Na,” quoth I “but she ran awa an’ left me.”
“Ye dinna mean to say sae?” quoth he, wi’ a look that showed he was in a state o’ very great alarm an’ bewilderment.
“Tuts,” quoth I. “Let’s inside the hoose, an’ I’ll gie ye a’ the oots an’ inns o’ hoo the thing happened.”
So I gied the cabman his hire, an’ a saxpence till himsel’, an’ tauld him not to drink it, but to tak it game to his wife an’ weans; whereupon he mountit the box, touched his hat, said “Yessir! thankeesir!” an’ drove off.
Up stairs we gaed, an’ tane possession o’ William’s parlour, whaur there was a sort o’ coort-martial held on me for a dereliction o’ connubial duty, inasmuch as I had ta’en Tibbie awa’ wi’ me an’ had failed to bring her hame again—a very suspicious circumstance to say the least o’t. The chair was occupied by William’s mither-in-law (Mrs Wagstaff), supported richt an’ left my Mrs Davidson an’ the Howdie. I was placed at the bar, an’ put through a very minute an’ searchin’ examination, while William stood bye, watchin’ the case for his ain an’ his wife’s interests. To set doon the evidence laid afore the coort wad only be to recapitulate what has already been made as clear as I could mak’ it in former epistles. I told them a’ aboot oor adventure wi’ the Venturolocust—a’ aboot oor tyning the train at Perth, a’ aboot my interviews wi’ Captain So-an’-so, Mr Nosey, an’ the head policeman, a’ aboot Tibbie’s bein’ despatched in a gig, an’ a’ aboot my travellin’ by the mail train, together wi’ a succinct accoont o’ the four sharpers an’ the respectable pairty wha had been turned oot o’ the coach through their instrumentality for a crime whereof he was as innocent as the twinnies themsels, puir lammies!
After hearin’ my plain narration o’ facks, the Coort deliberated for a short space, an’ the decision arrived at was that I had conduckit mysel’ in a manner alike creditable to my head an’ my heart. The Howdie—an elderly woman, named Betty (I’ve never been able to get at her surname, if she has ane), but as she has a rather luxuriant crap o’ hair roon’ her mou’, William has been in the habit o’ ca’in’ her Betty Beardie—gave it as her decided opinion that, while I was greatly to be commended for the forethocht I had displayed, it wad hae been still better had I accompanied Tibbie in the gig, as it was by nae means certain that the gig-driver was a man to be trusted wi’ an unprotected female under clud o’ nicht their liefu’ lanes, an’ that it wad be nae surprise to her to hear that the driver had conduckit himsel’ wi’ as little respect to the decorum as the Venturolocust had dune.
“Whaur’s the bairnies?” quoth I.
“Oh, come ben an’ see them,” quoth her howdieship “They’ll stand a look o’ ye, for, my word, they are as sturdy weans as ever I clappit an e’e on, an’ I’ve seen thoosan’s i’ my time. They do great credit to baith sides o’ the hoose,” an’ she glowered triumphantly at William, wha tane a red face till himsel’ an’ hang doon his head, he being naturally o’ a blate disposition an’ not accustomed to be complimentit for handy-wark o’ that description.
“Thank ye,” quoth I, “but I winna gae ben to disturb them at this oor o’ the nicht, Mrs Howdie—[Hoo the bodie leuch when I ca’d her Mrs Howdie]—but if the bairnies bena sleepin’ ye micht row them up into the tail o’ a petticoat, an’ bring them into the parlour an’ let me see them. I wad like very weel to gie them a kiss afore I set oot to look for Tibbie.”
“Are ye really thinkin’ o’ gaun to forgaither wi’ Mrs Bodkin?” quoth Mrs Davidson.
“That’s certain,” quoth I. “She’s somewhaur on the road atweesh this an’ Perth, an’ I maun see whaur she is an’ what is detainin’ her, for they’ve had time eneugh to be here by noo if they had been reasonably diligent. I houp nae accident has happened to them.”
“Losh I houp sae,” quoth William, “but gin ye gang I’ll accompany ye.”
“No ae fitstap,” quoth I. “You’ll bide at hame an’ keep the women folk company—that’s your duty. Let it be mine to look after Tibbie. I’m her sworn protector, an’ I’ll do my duty—if the lift sid fa’.”
William didna insist when he perceived that I was against his proposal. He never does sae, because he kens that in domestic matters my will is law when Tibbie’s no at hame.
Mrs Beardie havin’ brocht ben the creat’ries, I tane them up carefully into my arms ane by ane, an’ held their bits o’ faces close to the gas licht. I couldna exactly say that they were models o’ beauty. They seemed to me to be very red an’ raw-lookin’ objects, an’ I ventured to express an opinion to that effect; but Mrs Beardie observed that at their time o’ life naething else was to be looked for—that the redness and rawness wad leave them belyve—an’ that they were a pair o’ as fine weans as she had ever assistit into the warld. Of coorse it wasna for the like o’ me to gainsay a woman o’ sae muckle experience as Mrs Beardie, an’ therefore I expressed implicit faith in her avernments, kissed the weans as I had promised to do, an’ carefully replaced them in her lap. They were very tender ware, an’ glad was I to get them aff my hand.
“Mr Bodkin,” quoth William, bringin’ in-bye the bottle an’ a dram-glass, “ye maun drink to the twins afore ye gang, for Betty says it wadna be lucky if ye gaed ootour the door withoot tastin’.”
“Gie Betty a cawker first,” quoth I, “she’s greinin’ fo’t, I see, and very likely she’s needin’ something to keep the banes green.”
“Me greinin’!” quoth Better, tossin’ her mutch in the air, juist as if I had said what was not true, “I could live frae June to Januar’ an’ never see drink, let abe preein’t. Me greinin’, Mr Bodkin! na, na, I’m nane o’ yer greinin’ wives.”
“Hoosomdever,” quoth I, “ye’ll no object to taste wi’ ‘me for company’s sake. I meant nae offence, an’ whaur it’s no meant it needna be tane.”
“Oh, I’m no offendit,” quoth Betty, “no in the least, Mr Bodkin, and if it wad obleege you ony, I wad tak’ a mootfu’ for form’s sake, and jist to wish luck to the weans.”
William poured oot a thumpin’ glassfu’ o’ the very best Glenlivat, that had been specially ordered for the occasion, an’ Betty tane her moothfu’—a moothfu’, hooever, that comprised the entire contents o’ the glass, an’ she never threw her face at it either, although I’m certain sure it was as bauld as ony aquafortis that ever was brewed. As for me I merely put the glass to my lips an’ tasted the liquor, that the believers in freits and auld wives’ fables micht not go an’ say that I was inimical to the future welfare o’ the innocent bairnies. Mrs Davidson had the offer o’ a glass also, but as whisky didn’t agree wi’ her “proud independent stammack,” she got a toothfu’ o’ port wine, the very best that could be coft i’ the toon, price five an’ saxpence the bottle.
“Ye’ll better tak’ ben a toothfu’ to Mrs Clippins,” quoth I, “maybe she wad be the better o’ a sirple, as it micht superinduce sleep.”
“Eh, Mr Bodkin,” quoth Mrs Betty, “dinna mention that, for Mrs Clippins has gotten her supper already, an’ wine is no the thing to induce sleep in her weak state. The man’s no himsel’ surely.”
I saw I was wrang, as I had trespassed on Betty’s pecooliar field o’ duty, an’ therefore I forbore to mak’ ony observation in reply. Personally, I’ve never had ony business relationship wi’ individooals o’ Betty’s persuasion—that is to say, they’ve never received ony professional employment through my instrumentality—but I’ve seen eneugh o’ them afar off, as it were, to mak’ me very, very thankfu’ indeed that fortune has aye blawn them past my door. I couldna thole them i’ the hoose upon ony consideration. They got sae misleared, an’ impudent, an’ majoru’ that there is really nae doin’ wi’ them ava. William tells me that as lang as Betty Beardie was in his hoose he found it absolutely impossible to exerceese his richtfu’ authority therein. He durstna turn his fit, or speak aboove his breath for fear o’ incurrin’ her sovereign displeasure. Moreover, she was everly takin’ sair heads, an’ needin’ moothfus o’ brandy to “cure the colic, cure the colic,” as the sang says; an’ William, who is by nae menas a near-be-gawn chield, was convinced that if she had tarried muckle langer in his hoose she wad have ruined him to the very door wi’ her menseless extravagance.
“Noo,” said I to William, after they had a’ gotten their whistles wat, “I’m for aff to forgaither wi’ Tibbie. You’ll haud awa to yer bed an’ get a sleep, that you may be able to superintend matters the morn; for what wi’ waywornness, excitement, an’ ancheety, I’ve a dridder that I’ll hae mair need o’ my bed than the buird for a day, at the very least. I’ll rin up stairs an’ put on my comforter, to keep my chouks warm, an’ tak’ my cudgel i’ my hand to defend me against the powers o’ darkness, an’ I’ll juist hand oot the Perth Road way until I forgaither wi’ the gig. As I ken the gate perfectly, I canna miss’t. It maun be somewhaur atween Perth an’ Dundee.”
So I set oot on my voyage o’ discovery, but as it was fraught wi’ mair difficulties, no to say dangers, than I could weel describe at the hinder end o’ this epistle, ye maun i’ the meantime alloo anither week’s latitude to