‘Bodkin’s Fortunes and Misfortunes’ (25 May, 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.

‘The People’s Journal’ received some correspondence on 18 May which is relevant to this story:

To Correspondents.

Received, and will be delivered to the proper parties, two tremendous eggs, from Hatton Hill—one addressed to “Tammas Bodkin,” and the other to “Mrs Bodkin.” We shall hear Tammas’s sentiments on the subject next week, and Tibbie’s too, perhaps.

Maister Editor,—I was clean dumfoondered on last Saturday mornin’, when yer wee deevilie cam to my door an’ haundit in a box wi’ yer compliments. I was juist newly doon on the boord after takin’ my breakfast, an’ was blastin’ awa’ at a pipefu’ o’ tobacco, an’ Tibbie she was gaen aboot washin’ up the tea dishes after partakin’ o’ her sixth an’ last cup, when the reishle comes to the door. So I sprang frae the boord an’ answered the knock, thinkin’ it micht be some geyan parteeklar body ca’in to get the measure o’ a pair o’ slacks or sae, for Tibbie, besides ha’en her sleeves preened up to her shoother heads, hadna had time to wash her face an’ cheenge her nicht mutch, an’ of consequence was far frae bein’ a presentable object to ony pernickity individual. Weel, ye see, it turned oot, as I said afore, to be naebody but yer youngest apprentice loonie, styled in the profane phraseology o’ the printin’ office, the “deevil,” wi’ a parcel rowed up in broon paper i’ the bit oxter o’t. “An’ what’s this, my little mannie?” quoth I. “Ou,” quoth he, “it’s a bit boxie that cam wi’ the Alyth carrier to oor offish yesterday mornin’, an’ I was bidden gi’e’t to you.” “Yea, yea, my captain,” quoth I. “Tibbie, gie this chappie a piece butter an’ bread.” So the laddie got his bit piecie, an’ went on his way rejoicin’.* Tibbie an’ me set to wark, an’ the first thing we did was to look at the direction. “It’s a’ richt, Tibbie,” quoth I, “Tammas Bodkin, Esq., People’s Journal Office, Dundee;’ aye, an’ ‘With Care’ tae.’ ‘Od there maun be some valuables here, lass—maybe a set o’ Cheeny for you, Tibbie, in the room o’ the saucer ye broke the ither week. Some kind Samaritan has tane pity on ye, nae doot.” But this didna gang doon wi’ Tibbie ava’; an’ quoth she, “Haigh, I ‘sure ye, I dinna want ony o’ their pity, nor their sets o’ Cheeny either; we’re no that hard up yet, Tammas, but we’ll be able to affoord twa or three bits o’ pigs withoot comin’ on the parish for them!” An’ Tibbie was unco huffie like, puir bodie, an’ cuist up her head as heigh as a hen drinkin’ water. I juist had it on my tongue-neb to say that there was less danger o’ oor gettin’ the dishes than the wherewithal to till them wi’, but I forbore, for I didna wish to breed a rupture i’ th’ hoose; so I proceedit wi’ my preliminary precognition o’ the box. “’Carriage Paid’ tae, Tibbie,” quoth I; “’od, whaever may hae sent it, he maun be a real gentleman—that’s ae thing clear, Tibbie.” “As likely to be a lady as a gentleman, in my opinion, Tammas,” quoth Tibbie, “an’ gin ye tak’ my advice, ye’ll juist send it back to where it cam’ frae; for dinna ye read whiles oot o’ the newspapers hoo they send bairns to folk by carriers’ carts an’ railways, pakit up in baskets an’ boxes o’ that kind?” “’Od, Tibbie, yer penetration maun be something truly marvellous,” quoth I; “for wi’ a’ my wisdom—an’ I’ve nae that little o’t, as ye may weel ken by this time—that thocht never entered into my harren-pan. Hoosomdever, we’se open the box,” quoth I, “an’ gin it sid turn oot to be a bairn, we’ll aye find a bite o’ meat an’ a dud o’ claes till’t, though I’m sure it can claim nae sibness to me, Tibbie, that I’ll be bound for, at ony rate.” So I clippit the strings wi’ my shears, an’ prized up the lid; when the name o’ the celebrated Harper Twelvetrees glowered us i’ the face. Inside the lid, too, there was a grand picture o’ an astonished cat, examinin’ its ain physiognomy refleckit ffrae a boot that had been polished wi’ Twelvetrees’ blacking; besides a bourigh o’ fat an rosy-lookin’ servant lasses, together wi’ a flunkey, a’ admirin the boot, an’ apparently as muckle astonished as the cat. Tibbie was unco muckle taen wi’ the picture, an’ had it no been for my opposition, she wad hae hung it up aside Burns an’ Heelan’ Mary, an’ Robert Bruce, wha, dune up in the most flamin’ colours, adorn the wa’ on ilka side o’ the lookin’ glass, for Tibbie is a great patron o’ the fine airts. Hoosomdever, I put her aff that noshion by (accidentally, as it were), drivin’ the points o’ my shears through the main features o’ the picture, greatly, ye may be sure, to Tibbie’s displeasure. But what was i’ the box? Ay, that’s the pleasure. But what was i’ the box? Ay, that’s the queerie. “Naething but sae-dust,” quoth Tibbie. “Mair than saw-dust,” quoth I, diggin’ my fingers doon, an’ fishin’ oot a couple o’ eggs nearly as big as a pair o’ twal-inch terrestrial globes. “Losh, Tammas, goose’s eggs,” quoth Tibbie, “the like o’ that I never saw,” an’ Tibbie smiled like a boiled herrin’, for she was relieved, i’ th’ first place, to find there was nae bairn in the box, an’, in the second place, that it contained something really practical, for Tibbie sets little value on onything that disna meenister either to the back or the belly. “But let’s see,” quoth I, “here’s wreatin’ on the eggs; rin ben to the boord for my spartickles, Tibbie.” So I read the inscription on the biggest egg, whilk ran thus:—“From Hatton Hill to Mr Bodkin;” an’ on the ither ane there was, “To Mrs Bodkin.” Tibbie was as heigh as the hills. “Aha, Tammas,” quoth she, “I’ve some gude freends yet, for a’ the ill ye put into folk’s head against me.” “But, Tibbie,” quoth I, “as mine is the biggest ane, they maun think mair o’ me than they do o’ you, an’ sae ye needna craw sae crouse. But what’ll we do wi’ them, Tibbie?” quoth Tibbie. “Pity we havena a clockin’ hen, Tibbie, we micht hae garr’d her eleck them.” “Ou, gin they be goose’s eggs, Tammas, ye micht do waur than set yer ain goose wi’ them.” “Hoots, dinna haver, Tibbie,” quoth I; “but are ye sure they are geese eggs? Ye’ll better rin doon the close for Mrs Davidson, an’ tak her opeenion on the subjeck.” Noo, Mrs Davidson is Tibbie’s oracle; what I say aboot onything is generally very dootfu’ doctrine, but what Mrs Davidson says is infallible—the very words o’ inspiration. Mrs Davidson cam’, an’ after a lang palayer atween Tibbie an’ her, it was settled that the eggs were deuks’ eggs—only they were marvellously big anes. “Aye, maybe drake’s eggs,” quoth I. “O Tammas, Tammas,” quoth Tibbie, “there’s nae fules like auld fules!” The next point settled atween Tibbie and Mrs Davidson was that the latter individual was to step up at five o’clock an’ help us to eat them, for after some consultation it was carried by a majority o’ twa against ane, that Tibbie an’ me wadna be able to devour them baith at a doon-sittin’. The eatin’ o’ them was reselved on sair against my grain , for I was anxious to preserve them as trophies, just as sportsmen hang up the antlered heads o’ the deer they slay in their lobbies, but there was nae use o’ me puttin’ in a reclaimin’ note against the decision o’ Tibbie an’ Mrs Davidson, an’ sae I said naething. Hoosomdever I got them wi’ a great fecht to consent to pancakes, and so I brings my bodkin an’ bores a hole in ilka end o’ them and blew oot the contents into a twa pint basin. The shells I threadit on a string, an hung them oonder the lookin’ glass, an’ gaed awa ben the hoose to my wark. Atween four an’ five o’clock i’ the afternoon, Tibbie kilts her sleeves and starts to the manufacture o’ the pancakes. The fryin’ pan was on, the butter flotterin’ awa in grand style, and Tibbie thrang mixin’ up the batter, when I stappit ben the hoose to survey the progress that was makin’. Tibbie was pourin in the batter when I made my appearance, an’ afore ye could have said say doon comes an awfu’ avalanche o’ soot that filled the fryin’ pan completely up to the bow o’t.” “D—l tak’ that,” quoth Tibbie, “for there’s my bonny pancakes a’ to the mischief!” She banged aff the pan, an’ rakit oot the soot, but na, na, the pancakes were useless. Tibbie grat wi’ anger and vexation. As for me I said naething, only I thocht weel. Mrs Davidson, she cam’ in, an’ looked sairly disappointed. Thinks I, my leddy, there’s mony a slip atween the cup an’ the lip. I was vexed at the loss o’ the eggs in ae sense, but I wasna vexed in anither, for had it no been soopit a month or twa syne; but, as we are gaun to flit at the term, Tibbie an’ her thocht it wad hae been doonricht wastery to pay a shillin’ to the sweep oonder the circumstances. Leavin’ Mrs Davidson an’ Tibbie to condole wi’ ane anither the best way they could, I stappit awa ben the hoose to the needle, an’ keepit mysel’ cheery singin’ ane o’ Mr Waugh’s favourite sangs—

“The tailor fell through the bed, thumbles an’ a’.”

Though the eggs have been a rather oonfortunate speakilation, I am nane the less obleeged to Hatten Hill for his kindness; an’ gin he ever happen to be in Dundee, an’ need a gallows’ button sewed on, he has naething to do but speer for

Tammas Bodkin.

Postscript.—Tibbie wad gang doon to the High Street, on Wednesday nicht, like an auld fule as she is, to see the fun, an’ as I couldna think o’ lettin’ her gang withoot her natural protector alang wi’r, I flang on my coat, donned my best hat, tane my staff i’ my hand, and bade her tak’ my airm. Awa we gaed; an’ when we got to the fit o’ Reform Street, ye wad hae thocht that Beelzebub had tane possession o’ a’ the juvenility o’ Dundee. The squibs and crackers were fleein’ like peelins o’ ingans, an’ the lasses were rinnin’ an’ skirlin’ as gin they had seen the wirriekow. Juist when I was turnin’ the corner o’ Reform Street, to gang doon the airth o’ the Murraygate, a wheen unhangit rascals cam’ in ahent me, an’ what did ane o’ them hae the impudence to do, think ye, but to knock aff my hat? Was ever the like o’t heard o’ in a Christian land? An’ mair than a’ that—they kicked my oonfortunate “tile” afore them up the Overgate, an’ for oucht that I ken, they may be kickin’ at it to this very day an’ ‘oor, for feint ane o’ me ever saw hilt or hair o’t again. But that’s no the warst o’t; for a wheen mair rascals tane Tibbie’s braw new bannet in hand, an’ what wi’ their squibs, an’ ither combustibilities, they reduced it completely to tinder! Tibbie didna spare them wi’ her tongue, ye may be sure, but what did they care for that? No ae preen head, for the looder she banned, the wilder their merriment grew; an’ for the Blues, they never thocht o’ interferin’; it was fine sport, an’ Tibbie an’ me were legitimate game, it seems. Ye wad hae thocht that—after misgooglin’ my hat, that cost me sax and saxpence, an’ wasna a flaw waur o’ the wear, an’ committin’ arson on Tibbie’s bannet, that cost, I sanna say hoo muckle siller, only a week or twa syne—the mureungeous rascals wad hae been content to let us depairt in peace; but na, na, there was somethin’ mair needed to croon their ill-faur’d pranks. I had just got to the narrow o’ the Murraygate, thinkin’ I had seen the warst o’ my tribulations, when lo! and behold, a fearfu’ conflagration brak oot in the back settlements o’ my dirt-flee coloured coat. I canna compare the noise to onything but an eruption o’ Mount Vesuvius. I set aff at a wild horse pace, leavin’ Tibbie in an awfu’ quandary. But, alas! As I carried my coat alang wi’ me, I couldna escape frae the city o’ destruction. At last a tremendous explosion ta’en place, an’ my puir coat-tail was shattered into a thoosand pieces. An’ that’s the way the Dundee folk show their loyalty to their Sovereign! Od, if the Queen kent a’ she wad be an angry woman, I’m thinkin’; an’ it wadna cost me twa thochts to tell her aboot it. What or did the magistrates let Mr Calcraft awa withoot gein’ him a job? I’m sure it was na for the lack o’ vagabonds enoo i’ the toon that it wad be an act o ‘charity to gar dance on a ticht rope for their impudence. Tibbie an’ me got hame wi’ oor lives, but wi’ little mair. As for her she has been nane the waur o’ the business, except that she shook a’ nicht in her bed wi’ the fricht she got; but for me bein’ obliged to hirple hame bareheadit, wi’ put little hair to fend me frae the elements, I’ve gotten the cauld i’ my head, whilk has rendered me baith deaf an’ doitit, forbye bringin’ on an attack o’ the toothache that has cost me twa nichts’ sleep an twa days’ torture, so that’s what Tibbie an’ me have made o’ the Queen’s Birthday.


* I took good care not to eat it, though, for I saw Tibbie spreading the butter with her thumbs, and wetting them in her mouth, to make them glide easily over the surface.—P.D.

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