‘Bodkin Taken for a Robber’ (16 December, 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,—Behold me at ane o’clock i’ the mornin’ postin’ oot the Perth Road in search o’ my wife. A certain wreater tells us that he wha gets a wife—I forget if he says a gude ane—gets a gude thing; an’ takin’ my ain experience as my guide I maun needs say that the remark is perfectly true; but I wad add this additional observation, that he wha gets a wife, let her be as gude as ever a woman was—an’ I’ve nae faut to find wi’ Tibbie—gets a very great deal o’ trouble, trauchle, an’ vexation alang wi’ her. He maun tramp oot mony a dub-e’e that he wad never hae required to set a fit in had it no been woin’ to the fack that he has anither to provide an’ care for besides himsel’. Noo, dinna let it be supposed—no, not for a single moment—that I’m grumblin’ because I behooved to mak’ that untimeous journey oot the Perth Road. Far frae that. On the contrary, I gaed wi’ the utmost cheerfulness an’ alacrity, for stark love an’ kindness, no to mention a strong sense o’ duty, drove me till’t, an’ whaur love an’ duty are the impulse it is truly wonderfu’ hoo fast an’ far an individooal will trot withoot feelin’ weary either in mind or body. I mention the trouble an’ trauchle belangin’ to the married estate because they are facks, an’ I canna discover the use o’ hidin’ facks simply for the purpose o’ skinnin’ up a bonnie sentimental story. It wad be tellin’ mony ane if they wad refleck on thae facks afore approachin’ the altar o’ Hymen, for if they did sae they wad hae their minds prepared to thole them withoot girnin’ and grundin’ their teeth at them, an’ consequently there wad be muckle less wark—the less the better—for these Divorce Coort billies wha fatten on the fruits o’ matrimonial misery.

As I paced alang the Perth road the only individooals I cam’ across were the policeman on the beat an’ twa billies dressed in the similitude o’ mechanics—wha had, as I had reason to jalouse, been seein’ their sweethearts. In sundry windocks there were lichts visible, an’ I inferred that the inmates—or some o’ them at least—micht peradventure be in the same plicht as Mrs Clippins. I stoppit noo an’ again, an’ derned for the approach o’ wheels, but a’ was still—naething but the wind soughin’ an’ sighin’ doon the closes an’ roond the lum-heads, together wi’ the eerie caterwaulin’ o’ a pair o’ belligerent cats, wha were doin’ their best to mak’ nicht hideous wi’ their diabolical vells. When I was aboot fornenst St Peter’s Kirk I thocht I heard something like the soond o’ a veehikle—it micht be Tibbie’s chariot or it micht not. I houpit it was, an’ held on my way wi’ renewed vigour. Gradually the soond becam’ nearer an’ nearer, an’ at last I perceived twa figures loomin’ through the darkness, an’ they were seated in a gig! “Here is Tibbie noo,” says I to myself, an’ I stood up i’ the middle i’ the road, and cried, “Halt!” The veehikle halted instanter.

“What in a’ the earth has keepit ye sae lang?” quoth I. “Ye micht hae come frae Stirlin’ let abe Perth sin’ ye set oot. I doot ye’ve been puttin’ aff your time by the way—drinkin’ for ought that I ken.”

“I doubt, sir, you’ve made a mistake,” quoth the fallow wha was drivin’ the veehikle.

“Maybe I have,” quoth I. “Is that you, Tibbie?”

“No, sir—my name isn’t Tibbie,” quoth the female, nor did I consider it necessary to question the correctitude o’ her disclaimer, for her speech bewrayed her.

“Leddies an’ gentlemen,” quoth I, “I beg—”

“Use the singular, if you please,” quoth the fallow, interruptin’ me.

“The singular!” quoth I. “What d’ye mean?”

“I mean that we are only one lady and one gentleman,” quoth the fallow.

“I’ve nae time,” quoth I, “to stand here claverin’ aboot singulars an’ plurals; I only mean to beg your pardon for the slicht mistak’ I’ve made. The fack is this—I expeck a leddy an’ a gentleman frae Perth, an’ they were to come in a gig like yours, an’ I thocht you were them.”

“No need to ask pardon for that mistake,” quoth the man, “for it is a very natural one to fall into. I think I passed your friends a little on this side of Inchture, and although they were driving rather slow, I don’t think they can be very far behind us.”

Havin’ thankit the man very kindly for the information, I proceedit on my way, an’ he on his. That he was a very frank an’ fair-spoken man is a testimony that justice requires me to record in his favour, an’ if he is only half as weel as I wish him to be he’ll never be very far wrang. Folk never tyne onything by keepin’ ceevil tongues i’ their heads.

Awa’ an’ awa’ I trodged westlins, glowerin’ wi’ a’ my een, an’ dernin’ wi’ a’ my lugs if peradventure I could see Tibbie’s chariot, or hear the rattle o’ its wheels, but until I got aboot a stanecast bewast the Cemetery there was neither sicht nor soond to indicate the near presence o’ onything o’ grosser essence than the wind. At the place juist mentioned, hooever, I thocht I heard the crack o’ a whip, an’ presently I was made sensible o’ the approach o’ a gig, by hearing the wheels thereof rispin’ amang the road metal. This could be nane else but Tibbie’s veehikle—I was sure o’ that. I had juist been informed on reliable data that its approach micht be momently expeckit, an’ so I plantit mysel’ as before richt i’ the middle o’ the road to await the result.

“Hullo!” cried the driver man, when he perceived a dark-looking object (mysel’ to wut) standin’ stock-still in the very centre o’ the roadway. “Hullo you there! getouto’thewaywillyer!” an’ he applied his whups to the beast’s lugs wi’ the wicked intent o’ garrin’ it spring forrit an’ ding me ower—utterly regairdless, as I tauld him afterwards, as to the wo he micht hae brocht on me by siccan menseless an’ maisterfu’ behaviour.

If I had not exerceesed great promptitude an’ decision, not to say daurin’ courage, in this perilous emergency, it is hard to tell what micht hae happened; very possible I would not have been to the fore to narrate the hairbreadth escape I was fortunate eneugh to mak’ on that occasion. Perceivin’ that he was meditatin’ mischief, I stappit forrit courageously, wi’ my cudgel elevated aboon my head, an’ the beast, seein’ the threatenin’ attitude I had assumed, slackened its pace, an’ wantit to slip past me by divergin’ to the side o’ the road. As it was performin’ this manoeuvre, hooever, I made a laum at the bridle, an’ had the luck to catch it, whereupon the animal began to rear on its hent legs, wi’ its forefeet i’ the air, while the driver cam’ ower my lugs wi’ his whup. Tibbie cried oot that I was a robber, an’ that she considered hersel’ as gude as murdered. All this collieshangie tane place afore I had power to utter a single word o’ explanation to allay their mistaken apprehensions.

“Tibbie!” I managed to gasp oot at last, “d’ye no ken yer ain flesh an’ blude? I’m Tammas!”

“Gae awa’ wi’ ye, man!” was her instant reply. “Ye’re naething but a thievin’ blackguard, an’ that’s what ye are!”

“No—no—no!” quoth I, utterin’ the words wi’ great emphasis an’ earnestness. “I’m yer ain Tammas—yer ain husband, Tibbie—as sure as the world, Tibbie, I’m yer ain guidman. Will ye no believe me when I tell ye the truth?”

“I winna believe,” quoth Tibbie, “an’ I canna believe. Ye’re just tryin’ to speak the way that Tammas speaks; but ye’re no Tammas, an’ ye canna be Tammas, for I left him in Perth enoo, an’ he’s to stay there a’ nicht.”

“D’ye no mind o’ the man kissin ye i’ the tunnel?” quoth I, wi’ the view o’ convincin’ her that I was really what I held mysel’ oot to be—namely, her lawfu’ husband, an’ not the highwayman she evidently imagined me to be.

“The Venturolocust!” quoth she, in a greater pavee than ever, “That’s the Venturolocust! Come ower his lugs wi’ the whup there, an’ dinna spare him, for muckle does he deserve to get his haffets weel clawn—the ill-deedie vagabond that he is, that I sid say sae!”

The man obeyed, an’ cam’ ower my puir lugs wi’ his whup in a way that a cercifu’ man would not resort to in the chasteesment o’ a brute beast. If the Society for the Prevention o’ Cruelty to Animals pass ower this case withoot takin’ notice thereof, they’re no worth their meat—that’s what I say! It was a lucky circumstance I had my comforter roond my chouks, itherwise my lugs wad hae paid fo’t mair sae than they did, but the thickooen clout was a freend in need, as it ackit like a coat o’ mail, an’ preventit the whup frae visitin’ my lugs wi’ its full bellum.

“Hooly! hooly! lad.” quoth I to the man. “If ye dinna tak’ tent I’ll hae ye indickit for manslaughter.”

“It’s the Venturolocust!” quoth Tibbie, “an’ dinna spare him.”

“The woman’s no hersel’!” quoth I. “Is it possible, after livin’ for the pace o’ weel night forty years wi’ ye, that ye dinna ken me? There maun be glamour i’ yer e’en Tibbie, or ye wad never mistak’ me for the man that kissed ye i’ the tunnel.”

I verily believe the fallow would not have left a haill bane in a’ my blessed bouk had it not been owin’ to the timely arrival o’ twa policemen, wha, in the coorse o’ their nocturnal peregrinations at the wast end o’ the Blackness Road, had heard the colliebuction, an’ cam’ rinnin’ ootbye to see what was the cause thereof. The sicht o’ their twa lampies gleamin’ through the darkness was a source o’ nae little gladness unto my bosom I can tell ye, for I was certain that matters wad soon be set to richts whenever Tibbie had the means o’ seein’ the lineaments o’ my well-kent face. She micht be deceived as to the identity o’ my voice, but when to my voice there was superadded my coontenance—my entire individuality—it wad be morally impossible for her to misken me. The policemen, havin’ a keen scent for rogues an’ vagabonds, nae sooner beheld me haudin’ on by the bridle—for I had never letten go my grip—that they collared me in the Queen’s name, an’ chairged me wi’ bein’ a footpad, intent on robbin’ honest people in the dark. I was highly incensed at bein’ ca’d sic ill-faured names, an’ bade them look into my face, an’ satisfy themsel’s as to whether it bore the impression o’ a blackguard. “Yet I canna but excuse ye,” quoth I, “for misconceivin’ my real character when even my ain guidwife there has turned against me, an’ egged up that driver billie to skreenge my chafts wi’ his whup.”

Ane o’ the policemen havin’ turned his bull’s-e’e so as to mak’ the licht fa’ full upo’ my face, Tibbie got a glisk thereof, an’ cried oot, “It’s juist Tammas! Keep me, sirs, I’m surely no mysel’! Tammas, my man, whaur—whan—hoo d’ye come to be here? But tell me first, is this really you, or is it yer ghaist?”

“A ghaist!” quoth I. “I’m flesh an’ blude as ye are yersel’, an’ that my puir carkitch kens to its dear experience. Sorra tak’ ye an’ yer whups. Could ye no believe a body?”

“Hoo could I believe you could be in Dundee,” quo’ she, “when I left ye in Perth only a few hours syne?”

“But didn’t I tell ye I cam wi’ the mail train?” quo’ I.

“Ye tell’t me nae sic thing,” quoth Tibbie, “an’ this driver man will say the same thing I’m sure, if he likes to tell the truth.”

“No, Mr Bodkin,” quoth the driver, “you didn’t say no such thing, has I hobserved.”

“Weel,” quoth I, “It was my serious intention to do sae, an’ I would have done sae if ye had gien me time, but ye wad listen to nae explanations. Ye sid aye hear baith sides o’ a question afore ye loup to unwarrantable conclusions. I’ve gude reason to be very angry at the ungratefu’ treatment I’ve received this nicht, particularly as I had taen the trouble to come a’ this gait under clud o’ nicht to do ye a gude turn—an’ this is a’ the thank I get.”

“No, no, Tammas, ye manna be angry,” quoth Tibbie, comin’ doon frae the veehikle, an’ clappin’ me kindly on the shoother, “for it was a mistak’ entirely, Tammas—an’ I’m very sorry for’t, Tammas, an’ ye maun just forgie me, Tammas, an’ say nae mair aboot it.”

“Weel,” quoth I, “we’ll let byeganes be byeganes, Tibbie, for this time, but after this dinna be sae hasty as to flee to conclusions that are not warranted by the premises.”

“No, no,” quoth she, “I’se look after the premises, Tammas, as usual—dinna fear; but hae ye been hame, or what?”

“I’ve been hame,” quoth I, “though but for a moment.”

“An’ did ye examine the premises?” quoth she, “An’ is everything juist as I left it?”

“The hoose is in the selfsame state,” quoth I, “but Mrs Clippins is not.”

“Eh, did ye tak’ time to see the twinnies, Tammas? an’ what like are they?” was the next inquiry, but I did not vouchsafe a reply, because as I pointed out to her it was neither time nor place to indulge in conversation anent domestic concernments.

I dismissed the policeman, an’ told them that as, in my opinion, they had done the State some service, they really deserved to get anither stripe added to their gude service badge, an’ anither penny a-day added to their pay. Mountin’ the gig alang wi’ Tibbie, I tane her on my knee by reason o’ the paucity o’ sittin’ room, an’ told the driver to exercise his whups as sharply ower the beast’s lugs as he had done ower mine, an’ we wad be at the Crescent in nae time. The Crescent we did reach in due coorse withoot farther evil occurent; an’ here I maun cease wreatin’ for some weeks to come, because the exigencies o’ business must not be negleckit for the sake o’ literary recreations.

Nae doot the reader will be in a peck o’ troubles to ken what Tibbie thocht o’ the twinnies, an’ hoo I cam’ on wi ‘the five pound note I received frae the sharpers, but for these items o’ information, an’ for ithers equally interestin’, the said reader maun wait the convenience o’

Tammas Bodkin.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s