‘Bodkin in Great Tribulation—Fearful Catastrophe’ (6 April, 1861)

The following epistle is an early appearance in ‘The People’s Journal’ of 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,—I got sic an awfu’ blowin’ up frae Tibbie for tellin’ ye a’ aboot her breakin’ the trenchers an’ me makin’ up the sang thereanent, that I was feared to wreat to ye last week lest I micht hae “spoken unadvisedly wi’ my lips,” as saith the Psalmist, but I’m determined to mak’ a toom stamack o’t this week, an’ let Tibbie whistle on her thoom.

Weel, ye see, it was joost on Monday nicht i’ th’ gloamin’ that I was sittin’ pickin’ my teeth wi’ my bodkin an’ crackin’ to Tibbie aboot the leeshins that’s been laid on the sellin’ o’ treacle-swipes, when there comes a knock to the door. Tibbie she gaed to answer the summons, an’ cam’ back wi’ a letter addressed to

“Thomas Bodkin, Esq., Clothier Dundee.”

I tane care to read the direction wi’ due emphasis, especially the Esquire pairt o’t so that Tibbie micht ken that her husband was na’ considered sma’ drink oot o’ the hoose whatever micht be thocht o’m inside thereof. “Gude have a care o’s a’, Tammas,” quoth she, “ye’re up i’ th’ buckle the nicht, lad—Esqueer nae less!” “An’ what for no?” quoth I, “Does it set me ony waur to be ca’d Esquire, think ye, than hunders wha hae raised themsel’s by their talents frae the dunghill, as it were, to stan’ amang princes? Esquire! my certie, there’s plenty o’ knights that hae far less havins i’ their heads than I hae.” Tib winna stand to be contradickit, an’ sae she glowered into my face wi’ a scowl that wad hae struck terror into the Evil One himsel’, and quoth she, “Gin a head fu’ o’ havers be a qualification for knichthood, nae doot ye sid be Sir Tammas Bodkin; but it cheats me, Tammas, gin ye ever be ocht else but a knicht o’ the thimble.” Anither word on my pairt wad hae raised an unco discoorse intil anither channel by reading the contents o’ the letter in the followin’ terms:—

“Thomas Bodkin, Esq., would confer a very great favour on Mr John Peppercorn by calling immediately at his residence, No. 1 Corncrake Terrace, for the purpose of taking his measure for five suits of superfine black clothing. T. B., Esq., is requested to furnish himself with specimens of his best cloth, as J. P. is desirous of making a selection for himself, he being very particular as to shade and quality,

“1 Corncrake Terrace,

“Monday Evening.”

“Od, Tib,” quoth I, “that’s something like an order. Mr Peppercorn maun be a real gentleman though he’s oonbekent to me, an’ I’m sure there’s few in Dundee, gentle or semple, that I dinna ken either by name or by sicht. But, hoosomdever, his siller will be as gude as ither folk’s. “An unco queer name that,” quoth Tibbie. “He maun be an Englishman surely. Peppercorn! Od, wadna a pepper an’ saut colour suit him better than a black,” quoth Tibbie, laughin’ at her ain divershun like mony ither fules, if I daur say sae. “Spoken like a wise woman as ye are, Tibbie,” quoth I, “but his will be dune, no mine, nor even yours, Tibbie. Rax me doon my dirt-flee-coloured coat, an’ my second best hat, an’ I’ll sune see wha Mr Peppercorn is.” “But whare’s Corncrake Terrace, Tammas?” quoth Tibbie, “I never heard o’ that place afore,” “Let me alane for that, gudewife, gin it be in a’ Dundee I’ll scent it oot; dinna ye fear that,” quoth I.

Weel, ye see, I arrayed myself as it behooved me to do when gaen to ca’ on a gentleman, rowed up aboot a score o’ clippans in a cloot for swatches, clappit my measurin’ tape into my oxter pouch, raught doon my siller-headed cane (a present frae my auld maister, Mansie Waugh, rest his saul), an’ oot I sallied to search for Corncrake Terrace. By this time it was wearin’ dark, an’ the lamps were castin’ but a feeble licht. Hoosomdever, I ploddit on my way rejoicin’, picturin’ in my ain mind what like a man Mr Peppercorn wad be, what I wad say to him, an’ what he would say to me, and whilin’ awa the tedium o’ the gate by whistlin, “The Deil amang the Teelyours”—a favourite sang o’ ‘mine—an’ bleatin’ time to the music wi’ my siller-headed cane. I had made up my mind that Corncrake Terrace maun be somewhere at the wast end o’ the Perth Road, for I kent there were a great mony grand new hooses oot thereawa, an fifty years’ observation had taught me that a’ thae Peppercorn bodies, wi’ bawbees, creepit aye awa’ to the wast end. Whereever I’ve been—an’ I’ve been in some o’ the principal toons in the three kingdoms—I’ve aye seen that the families wha wad like to be thocht genteel tak’ up their quarters at the wast end, that they may hae a’ the riff-raff atween the cauld east wind an’ their nobility. For that reason I set doon Corncrake Terrace weel wast the Perth Road; an’ wast the Perth Road I went, whistling like a mavis, never glowerin’ to the richt hand or to the left, no even when a pair o’ whuskified lookin’ whuppies at the mooth o’ Cowtie’s Wynd, cried, as I gaed past, “I say, young man, fat’ll ye hae for yer whistle?” I never stand to parley wi’ the social evils, so I scuddit keepin’ aye the neb o’ my nose in the direction o’ the Carse o’ Gowrie. I gaed oot as far as the toll, keepin’ an’ e’e on a’ the muckle hooses I saw, an’ readin’ the names o’ the streets, wi’ the assistance o’ the gas, but feint a Corncrake Terrace saw I. It never cam’ into my head to speer at onybody, for I didna like to show my ignorance. Hoosomdever, I was beginnin’ to get into a swither what to do, when there came up a chap an’ speered at me gin I had lost anything. “Lost onything!” quoth I. “No I canna be said to hae lost what I never had, but I wad like to find something. Where-awa’ is Corncrake Terrace, if you please, sir?”—for I’m aye mair polite than ordinar’ to folk I dinna ken, rememberin’ that some hae enterteened angels unawares. Hoosomdever, this was nae angel at ony rate, unless he were ane o’ the bottomless pit kind,—but ye’ll hear. “Corncrake Terrace,” quoth he, “my dear fellow, you are very far out of your way indeed—Corncrake Terrace! Let me see. You know the Ferry Road?” “That I do, yer honour,” quoth I. “Well, go out the Ferry Road about a quarter of a mile beyond the Roodyards burying-ground and some one will show you the place. Know anybody there?” “I’m in pursuit o’ a gentleman ca’d Barleycorn,” quoth I. “Barleycorn! Barleycorn? sure that’s the name?” quoth he. “Weel, it’s some kind o’ grain at ony rate,” quoth I. “Isn’t Peppercorn the name?” quoth he. “Aye, that’s the identical name, sir,” quoth I. “Know him well—excellent gentleman, give him my compliments,” quoth he; an’ sae he tane his road an’ I tane mine, back the road I cam, past Cowtie’s Wynd, an’ on to the Cross, where I tane the ‘bus oot as far as it gaed. Havin’ paid my tippence, I tane the gate ance mair on shanksnaigie, whistlin’ as before. Aboot five hunder yairds east o’ the Roodyards, I owertook a chield saunterin’ aboot i’ th’ road, an’ quoth I to him, “Freend, can ye tell me whereawa Corncrake Terrace is?” “Corncrake Terrace!” quoth he, “Ou aye, but it doesn’t lie in this direction, sir. It is close by the Barrack Park. I live there, and shall be happy to accompany you.” “That’s mair that marvellous, sir,” quoth I, “for its no an oor sin I was tellt by a gentleman, at the wast end o’ the Perth Road, that Corncrake Terrace was oot here-awa.” “Truth I tell ye, though,” quoth he “the gentleman must have been grossly misinformed, if he said so.” “Weel, d’ye ken a man named Pepper-box livin’ there?” “No: must have mistaken the name, sir.” “Weel, my memory’s no very retentive o’ names; but it was pepper something; maybe corn-pepper!” “Nobody of that name there, but there’s a Mr Peppercorn in No. 1.” “Aye, that’s the very man,” quoth I. “A nice fellow is Peppercorn,” quoth he, “come along with me and I’ll be your cicerone.”

Wast the Ferry Road we cam’ crackin’ like pen-guns, for he was a real frank chield, though as Judas a rascal as ever lifted chafts; but ye’ll hear. He was a young souple vagabond, wi’ a pair o’ legs as lang conformin’ to his body as a pair o’ tangs, an’ I can tell ye he didna spair himsel’ nor me either, for he spankit up ae close an’ doon anither, pretendin’ aye to be takin’ me a nearhand cut, a phrase that plainly meant a round aboot road in his dictionar’. ‘Od my legs were amaist breakin’ in taw afore we got to the tap o’ Constitution Brae—a road never made to be travelled by folk wi’ weak constitutions; an’ then I was jaupit ower wi’ glaur frae head to heel—joost like a very fricht; for my companion had a way o’ flingin oot his lang pirn-stick shanks when he gaed, so as to send a shoor o’ dirty skite oot o’ ilka pool he cam’ to, the major pairt whereof faund its way to my slacks, and a’ fair percentage o’t up as far as the croon o’ my hat. Hoosomdever, an’ at last an’ lang, we did reach the Barrack Park, an’ then he taen me first in this direction, an’ then in that direction, until wi’ cam’ to a row o’ muckle hooses, wi’ twa or three staps up to the front door, wi’ veneshan blinds on the windows o’ them, and wi’ the kitchens doon below on the ground area. “This is Corncrake Terrace, and that is No I,” quoth my guide, “I hope ye’ll find Mr Peppercorn at home.” “I’ll soon see, freend,” quoth I, “muckle obliged t’ye for the next turn, for I’m sure o’ this ane.” I wasna joost sae polite to him as I micht hae been, for, losh I was wicked at the lang spindle-shanks o’m for fylin’ a’ my bits o’ duds. Havin’ balanced mysel’ on my staff for twa or three minutes to tak’ breath an’ collect my thochts, I claught haud o’ the brass nob o ‘the doorbell, heastit three times to see that my vocal organisation was in guid workin’ order, an’ then gae the bell a genteel pull. In the space o’ nineteen seconds or therby I hears a fit in the lobby, an’ in anither three seconds, the door opened, and my een forgethered wi’ joost as sweet lookin a bit facie as I have seen sin’

“First when Tibbie was my care.”

“My bonnie lass,” quoth I, for I kenned she wasna the mistress by the bit white mutchie stickin’ on the croon o’ her head, from aneath whose snaw-white texture peeped a profusion o’ glistenin’ gowden locks; an’, O, she smiled sae sweetly an’ sae modestly, an’ her ruby lips an’ ivory teeth lookit sae temptin’, that had it no been for Tibbie—byt I daur na say mair—”My bonnie lass,” quoth I, “is yer Maister, John Corncrake, Esq., at hame the nicht?” “No person of such a name here, sir,” quoth she, wi’ a smile sae sweet an’ blithsesome, that—’of I will trangress, I see. “No here, my dawtie!” quoth I, “Is there nae grain o’ ony kind here?” “I don’t understand you, sir,” quoth she, wi’ anither ane o’ her bewitchin’ smiles. “No oonderstand me, my bonnie bunch o’ roses,” quoth I, “I’m very sorry at that. Let me see. Aye, Barleycorn was the name. Dis John Barleycorn bide here?” “No, sir,” quoth she, wi’ anither o’ her smiles as aforesaid. “’Od, here’s the letter,” quoth I, haudin’ it up to the lobby gas. “I’ve been wrang again, my bonne wee fairy, but there can be nae mistak’ this time. Does Mr John Peppercorn live in this hoose?” “No, sir,” quoth she, wi’ anither smile. “Is this Corncrake Terrace?” said I, at last growin’ desperate. “No, sir; you are quite wrong, sir,” quoth the little elf, burstin’ oot o’ laughin’ as heigh as she could skirl. “ Sorra tak’ that for a bad job,” quoth I, “for I’ve been oot the Perth Road, oot the Ferry Road, an’ noo here am, I an’ a’ to find John Peppercorn, but feint a Peppercorn can I find within the four corners o’ Dundee.” The lassie got up wi’ anither squeel o’ a laugh, an’ quoth she, “Don’t ye know that this is Gowk’s Day?” Dod, I could hae fa’en through the door stane for very shame, to be made a fule o’ in ony circumstances, but especially afore sic a sweet-lookin’ quean. I made nae further parley, but, weary as I was, turned on the instant, an’ ran as fast as my feet could carry me, till I was fairly oot o’ sicht, an’ I can tell ye there was nae “Deil amang the Teelyours” wi’ me a’ the way hame.

I faund Tibbie in an unco steeriefyke aboot what could be deteenin’ her gudeman sae lang, but ye may be geyan sure I wasna’ in ony haste to let her into the secret. “Waes me, Tammas, where hae ye been a’ this time?” quoth she, “ye micht hae been at Farfar sin ye gaed awa’; an’ twa chields hae been here waitin’ for ye the better pairt o’ an oor, an’ you thae slacks to iron afore bedtime. Ye haena’ been in the public-hoose?” “Deil a bit o’t Tibbie, woman, nor ony ither hoose,” quoth I. “Nae ither house, Tammas! Where in a’ the earth hae ye been then? an’ yer gude claes too a’ selauried ower wi’ glaur! The like o ‘that my een never lichtit on! Where, in a’ the universe, hae ye been, min?” “Is the guse het?” quoth I. “The guse het! I wat ye the guse has been het ower an’ ower again sin ye gaed oot. An’ did ye find Corncrake Terrace?—a dirty hole it maun be, or hoo did ye get yersel’ in sic a fircht?” “Wha could be seekin’ me when I was oot, gudewie, an’ what did they want?” quoth I, for I was curious to get her aff Corncrake Terrace an’ the glaur. “Their names I dinna ken, an’ their business they didna tell, Tammas,” quoth she; “but I’m sair mistaen gin ane o’ them wasna the chield that ye sent to the door wi’ sic a pergaddus yon nicht aboot the Virgin Mary ploy. They sat ben on the board mair than half an oor an’ then decampit. But what like a man is Mr Peppercorn?” “Losh, gudewife, it’s on the chap o’ eleven o’clock an’ me sittin’ haverin’ here an’ thae breeks to iron this nicht.” So sayin’ I banged up, seized the guse, which was red-het, trotted awa’ been the hoose, clappit doon the guse on its auld horse shoe to cule, an’ cuist my coat. I had joost cotten on the board when lo an’ behold the awfullest stramash araise that ever mortal e’e witnessed or lug heard sin the blowin’ up o’ Sebastopol. In the twinklin’ o’ an e’e the guse lap aff the board an’ up through the ceilin’ wi’ a report like a sixty-aucht pounder, scatterin’ bits o’ plaister, an’ tiles, an’ window glass in a’ directions. I flew but the hoose an’ met Tibbie fleein’ ben, an’ oor heads cam’ rap thigither in the hallant wi’ sic a thump that garred my very e’en blink fire, while, to croon a’, sic a smush raise i’ th’ hoose that ye couldna see yer finger afore ye. Tibbie cried it maun be rainin’ fire an’ brimstane frae heeven, as it did in the days o’ Sodom an’ Gomorrah. “Dinna gang ben there, Tibbie,” quoth I, “nor look the very airth o’t, or wha kens but ye may be turned into a pillar o’ saut like Lot’s wife. Let us escape to the mountains, an’ dinna tarry in a’ the plains, lest we be consumed!” Tibbie made for the door, an’ I followed, an’ there we met a pliceman comin’ up the stair wi’ the identical guse in his hand that he had got on the street. “Any body’s goose flown away here” quoth the bobby “Waur than that,” quoth I, “for she has carried the roof on he back.” By this time a wheen o’ the neighbours had convened, an’ as I saw that the catastrophe was confined to my ain biggin, we ventured in again, an’ made an examination o’ the premises. The bobby bein’ a man learned in the law, tane doon oor depositions, an’ after takin’ coonsel thegither, we came to the conclusion that the mischief had been occasioned by a quantity a’ gunpoother placed in the heart o’ the horse shoe whereon I set my guse, “which had ignited the powder,” as the policeman noted doon in his book, “so causing an explosion, said combustible substance or substances having been deposited in the situation aforesaid by some person or persons unknown.” It was a thoosand chances to ane that my head didna follow the guse, an’ I’m sure I canna be sufficiently thanku’ that I’m a leevin’ man. I’ve my ain thochts as to the loon that did it. Tibbie kens his marks, an’ the policemen is on the ootlook for him, so gin he dinna be grienin’ for a voyage across the seas, I wad advie him to mak’ himsel’ scarce. My private opeenion is that the Gowk’s Errand an’ the Gunpoother Plot were baith contriven an’ execute by the same gang o’ graceless hempies, although it micht be premature to say ocht on the subject i’ th’ meantime, seein’ it is under “judicial investigation,” as the policeman observed. Thankfu’ aboon measure that I’m no this day i’ th’ land o’ forgetfulness, I am yours,

Tammas Bodkin.

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