‘Bodkin Escapes from his Foes.’ (15 June, 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,—Last week has been anither busy ane wi’ Tibbie an’ me. O’ a’ the ills that ever cam’ ower me this flittin’ business has been the warst by far an’ awa’. Of we could only foresee what is to happen, hoo mony things we do an’ say wad be left undone and unsaid! But, alake! we are short-sichtit mortals, an’ canna forecast the results o’ the very next stap we tak’—whether it may land us in happiness or misery. If Tibbie an’ me had kent what we ken noo, we never wad hae thocht o’ flittin’ frae oor auld hoose, where we had spent sae mony lichtsome happy days, an’ gane to that bug-infested abomination to be made the victims o’ thae hatefu’ blude-sookers. I’ve learnt frae dear-bocht experience that it’s no the brawest hoose that’s the best hoose, even as it’s no a gowd that glitters. Tibbie has gotten her stammagust o’ fine hooses an’ parlous, an’ a’ that kind o’ trumpery; an’ costly as this spring has been to me, I’ll hae time to mak’ up my leeway again afore Tibbie seek to play anither ane on the same key; sae it winna be a’ lost i’ the’ end o’ the day maybe. But withoot farther preface, I maun gie ye a scrift o’ hoo we pairtit company wi’ oor freends—the bugs.

Weel, ye see, on Monday nicht was a week, Tibbie made her bed i’ th’ sofy, as she had done on the previous nicht , drawin’ a cordon sanitaire round her roose wi’ the floor o’ brimstane as afore, but somehoo or ither, by slicht or by micht, her enemies brak through the blockade an’ bore doon on her at full sail, pitchin’ their poisoned darts intil her carcase in a manner that dings me to describe. Tibbie groaned, an’ grat, an’ faucht, an’ flayt the haill nicht through. Sometimes she wad fa’ on a doverin’ o’ sleep—for she was sair dung for want o’ rest. Puir body—but nae sooner was she quiet for five or ten minutes. Than her adversaries began wi’ their auld pranks. A’ that nicht I didna sleep an’ oor though a’ the bits o’ gloffs I got were eekit thegither; but when mornin’ cam’, I says to Tibbie, “This will never do,” quoth I; “we maun see to the end o’ this wark, an’ that without mair parley aboot it, juist. We’ll leave thae bugs to their ain meditations, an’ tak’ oor creep.” Tibbie had been o’ the same opeenion, though she said naething, an’ sae she tried to manifest her acquiescence in my remark wi’ a smile, but, wad ye believe it? her physog was sae swelled an’ thrawn, that it was physically impossible for her to cruik her chafts into the similitude o’ a laugh, though her soul’s salvation had dependit on the issue. Aucht o’clock strak, an’ quoth I to Willie Clippins, “ye’ll gang your wa’s doon, my man, an’ gie my compliments to Maister John Clinkscales, the grocery man at the fit o’ the Shuttle Raw, an’ tell him to haste ‘im up immediately, that I want to speak till ‘im.” “Ay, ay,” quoth Willie, ever ready to execute my orders, like the obedient loonie that he is; “it’s yon man wi’ the muckle wame that stands atween the door cheeks wi’ a white apron on, an’ a pair o’ spartickles on his nose?” “Juist the very man,” quoth I; “noo scoor awa like a twa-year-auld, an’, gin ye fa’, dinna tak’ time to rise again, an’ be sure ye deliver the message as ye’ve received it.” Willie gaed aff as like lichtnin’ as his muckle tae, that is scarcely a’thegither haill yet, wad permit; an’ here I maun tell ye that had brocht us sae muckle vexation. In the coorse o’ a quarter o’ an oor, Mr Clinkscales made his appearance, puffin’ an’ blawin’ like a pair o’ smiddy bellis, for John is ane o’ thae chields that seem to hae mair gut an’ ga’ i’ their composition than onything o’ a mair etherial essence. I bade the body sit doon till he recovered his breath, an’ Willie Clippins I dismissed to the ither end, shuttin’ baith the doors on us, for it disna do to let fools an’ bairns hear a’ ye have to say.

“Weel, Mr Clinkscales,” quoth I—for I had bargained wi’ Tibbie that she wasna to say ae word oonless it was to help me oot o’ a difficulty if need be, for I was apprehensive that if ance her tongue got loose, she micht wax juist a wee thocht ower eloquent on the subject, an’ say things that maybe the law micht tak hauds o’—“Weel, Mr Clinkscales,” quoth I, “ye dinna deny lettin’ me this hoose, I suppose.” “Deny letting you the house!” quoth he, “No, by no means, and I hope you don’t deny having taken it?” “Bide a bit,” quote I, “is it common, is it customary, is it lawfu’ to let a hoose that has inhabitants in it already?” “Weel, I should think not,” quoth he. “Is it common, is it customary, is it lawfu’ for a landlord to keep a wheen brute beasts, or livin’ creatur’s o’ ony kind in a hoose that he lets to a tenant?” quoth I. “Well, I don’t see as it would; nor do I see the use of asking such absurd questions.” quoth he. “Bide ye a wee, Mr Clinkscales,” quoth I, “answer me this ae question farther, an’ I sanna trouble ye for ony mair information. Wad it be richt an’ lawfu’ for a landlord to gar his tenant pay rent for a hoose, an’ the landlord a the same time keepin’ a menagerie o’ animals i’ the hoose, an’ sae deprivin’ the tenant o’ the use thereof?” “Undoubtedly not, Mr Bodkin, unquestionably not; but, my dear fellow, what have I got to do with that?” “Juist this, Mr Clinkscales, that the feint a farthin’ o’ rent yese get frae me, an’ I’ll remove my tabernacle elsewhere incontinent,” quoth I, “for giv’ I keep my judgement, I sanna hae a hoose an’ want it tae wi’ yer nasty vermin o’ bugs.” “Oh, but, Mr Bodkin,” quoth he, gaspin’ like a fish newly oot o’ the water, “we’ll—we’ll—we’ll see about that, Sir. There is such a thing as law, ye know, and I’m not a fellow as is to be done—not if I knows it—not if I knows it.” I claught up a breakfast knife frae the table, ran it alang atween the washin’ boord an’ the wa’, held it close to his face, an’ quoth I, “Ye can nose that my man, an’ see hoo ye relish the flavour o’t.” So he snuffed at it awee, an’ quoth he, “I feel nothing peculiar; you are frightened at a bugbear, Sir, a perfect bugbear.” “Bugbear here or bugbear there, Mr Clinkscales,” quoth I, “they are bugs at ony rate that I sanna bear, and that Tibbie there canna bear; juist look at Tibbie’s frontispiece, an’ ye’ll se what havoc yer tenantry are makin’ on her coontenance.” “Well, well, Mr Bodkin, if there are bugs in this house, you must have brought them with you. That’s all I’ve got to say on the subject.” “But that’s no a’ I’ve gotten to say on the subject though,” quoth Tibbie, breakin’ in on the conversation, for though I had cautioned her no to open her mou’ unless she saw me sair dung for something to say, yet the body’s blamin’ us for bringin’ the bugs to the hoose was mair than she could thole, an’ sae she tane speech in hand wi’ ‘im. “Yea, an’ ye wad hae the barefaced assurance to tell me to my very face that there was bugs aboot oor things! If I were a man, as I’m no little wad haud my hand frae gien ye something ye wadna forget for twa days, I’m thinkin’. Nasty leein’ vagabond! to come here an’ tell ony honest woman sic a story. After we’ve been brocht into this picle wi’ you an’ yer dirty vermin. ‘Of it sets ye weel, I trow, to sit there an’ hauch up sic an ‘ill-faured lee frae the bottom o’ yer stinkin’ stammack, but gin ye dinna gang furth frae this hoose in a twinklin’ o’ an e’e, I’se maybe let ye find the wecht o’ the taings across yer shoothers.” Tibbie ran on at this rate for aboot ten minutes, durin’ which time she tane care to inform Maister Clinkscales a’ aboot hoo cleanly a body her mither was, hoo trig an’ carefu’ a woman was her mither was, hoo trig an’ carefu’ a woman was her auld mistress oot bye at Lasswade, hoo greatly she abhorred dirt hersel, particularly dirty vermin, includin’ flechs, bugs, ettercaps, gollochs, an’ strippit snails; an’ therefore, hoo unlikely a thing it wad be for her to tolerate the presence o’ bugs in her house, though it was weel kent amang the better-informed circles o’ society that Mistress Clinkscales was a hogery-mogery sort o’ a body, that didna care a winnlestrae hoo muckle dirt she carried aboot wi’ her, if sae be it was happet ower wi’ a grand silk gown on the ootside. Mr Clinkscales was a’ shakin’ wi’ fear an’ anger like a tree in a windy day, particularly when Tibbie spak o’ employin’ the taings to drive hame the thunderbolts o’ her argument, but I gae the body some heartenin’ to bear up against the blast by standin’ atween him an’ a danger. He tried occasionally to edge in a word in his ain behalf, but Tibbie was ower gleg-gabbit for him, an’ keepit the field entirely to hersel’, until she had exhausted her vocabulary, an’ that’s no an easy matter when she taks speech in hand in doonricht earnest. At length an’ lang she did finish her discoorse, an’ then quoth Mr Clinkscales, “I bid you a very good mornin’, Bodkin, but remember you are in for the rent of this house.” “We’ll see better aboot that, Maister Clinkscales,” quoth I, “but I wad thank ye to gie me my Christian name, for I mak’ it a point o’ ettycat to be ca’d Maister Bodkin, an’ naebody but ill-bred folk ever daur to deny me that amount o’ respeck, especially i’ my ain hoose.” “Why, don’t I see you called Bodkin in flamin’ posters, stuck on all the dead walls of Dundee every Saturday?” quoth he. “True, true,” quoth I, “but that’s in my leeterary capacity, an’ quite accordin’ to precedent, Maister Clinkscales, for wha ever heard o’ Shakspeare an’ Burns bein’ ca’d Maister Shakspeare an’ Maister Burns, but here I’m the private citizen, an’ maun hae what properly belangs to me.” So Maister Clinkscales made aff wi’ himsel’, wi’ an unco red neb, an’ no i’ the best o’ humour wi’ mankind in general, nor wi’ Tibbie an’ me in particular.

After dinner time, the twa o’ us set oot to look aboot for anither hoose, an’ sair wark we had to get ane that wad do onything like accomodat oor effecks. Hoosomdever, after trailin’ aboot frae street to street, an’ doon lang entries, an’ up lang stairs, we did fa’ in wi’ a twa roomed hoose, like that tenanted by Miss Dolly Dobbs,—

“A parlour next the sky,”

that wad haud oor gear wi’ a sair fecht, a’ but the sofy. There was a garret aboon the kitchen, hooever, that wad haud the sofy an’ ither nick-nacks for the time bein’, an’ it was agreed atween Tibbie an’ me to tak the hoose, simply as a provisional measure, keepin’ a look oot for a mair commodious ane atween this an’ the next term. Ae thing we made certain sure o’ afore we made oor bargain wi’ the laird o’t—there wasna the least appearance o’ a bug to be seen on the premises. Tibbie tane the precaution to hae a breakfast knife in her pouch, an’ she tried every seam she could see—an’ there were nae that few seams to be seen, for the hoose was like mysel’, it had evidently passed the meridian o’ its existence, an’ was fa’in’ into the “sere an’ yellow leaf”—but no ae bug could she discover.

Next mornin’ cam’, an’ I called in the help o’ the twa porters that had wrocht sae weel when formerly in my employment, an’ we a’ set to wark what we could whinner to a fresh flittin’ match. Tibbie armed hersel’ wi’ a muckle patfu’ o’ boilin’ water an’ a scrubbin’ brush, an’ every article was thoroughly scoured afore it was let into oor new place o’ abode. Juist in the nick o’ time—I’m sure Providence has aye been kind to us—in comes a parcel, addressed as usual, to “Thomas Bodkin, Esq., Dundee,” an’ what did it contain, think ye?—Weel, just a bottlefu’u o’ Harper Twelvetrees Bug Destroyer. “But whatten a Harper will that be?” quoth Tibbie,” quoth I, “but there’s anither chield ca’d Harper’s Ferry in Amerika, that the papers are aye harpin’ aboot enoo, wha kens but they may be some far-aff relations?” But here’s a letter alang wi’ the bottie, addressed to the Editor, so I opens it, an’ begins to read as follows:—“Brechin, 13th June 1861.—Sir,—A few friends feeling deeply interested in the unfortunate case of Mr and Mrs Bodkin v. Bugs, have subscribed and forwarded, carriage paid, the enclosed bottle of Twelvetrees’ ‘Bug Destroyer,’ for the immediate relief and comfort of ‘Tibbie’ and ‘Tammas,’ which we trust you will see safely delivered into their hands. Tell Tibbie to apply it to the upper parts of their ‘stammacks,’ on the point of a feather, and if ‘all tales prove true,’ they will disappear, as if before the point o’ a magic wand.—Yours, &c., Ex-Cathedra.” “So ye see, Tibbie, there’s yer instructions,” quoth I, “ye’re to apply it wi’ a feather to their stammacks.” “Ay, ay, Tammas,” quoth Tibbie, “it’s a very edifeein’ letter, but wha is this ‘Ex-cathedral,’ I wad like to ken?” “Ou, Tibbie,” quoth I, “he is maybe ane o’ Calcraft’s kind o’ folk, for, ye ken, he is an executioner. The twa names are geyan like ane anither, at onyrate. But we hae nae time to discuss names at this present juncture, Tibbie—we maun set to wark wi’ the flittin’.” So Tibbie got the feather, accordin’ to the instructions, an’ anointit a’ the joints, an’ neuks, an’ holes, an’ bores in oor bits o’ furniture, richtly judgin’ that if there were ony vermin there awa they wad be certain sure to get a dose on some vulnerable pairt o’ their bodies; an’ if the bugs didna wear sair banes that day I’se wonder at it.

Sae ye see we’ve had an unco sair week’s wark, but we’ve got oor quarters made wonderfu’ cosy-look-in, an’ what a comfort for baith o’ us, but mair especially for Tibbie, to lie doon in her bed, an’

“Enjoy the comforts of a sleep profound,

Without the alarming sting of glutting bug,

To rouse her brawny arm to murderous deed.”

Tibbie’s face is beginning to assume its normal shape an’ colour again. For me, I’ve sae far recovered my usual health an’ speerits, that I’ve haen twa or three lilts at my favourite sang o’ “The Tailor fell through the bed thumbles an’ a;” an’ for Mr Clinkscales, he sanna finger a bawbee o’ rent, at least until the Shirra has been cau’d in to redd up the marches atween us, or my name’s no

Tammas Bodkin.

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