‘Bodkin Among His Country Cousins’ (29 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,—As Tibbie had been unco sair forfoughten wi’ flittin’ an’ bug slayin’, no to speak o’ her bein’ doon i’ the mooth aboot oor misfortunate selection o’ a hoose wherein nae respectable body wad ever think o’ sokourinin’, the thocht struck me that it micht tend baith to the health o’ her body an’ the serenity o’ her soul to gie her a jaunt for a day or twa i’ the country. That was ane o’ my reasons, an’, atour an’ aboon a’ that, I had passed my word o’ honour, when Kirsty Monypenny was ower frae Edinbro’ on her jaunt, that Tibbie sidna be hindrid, time an’ circumstances convenient, frae payin’ a visit to a cousin o’ hers—a canny, weel-to-do farmer body, i’ the Howe o’ the Mearns—wha had made us promise ower an’ ower again, when he cam’ to Stobb’s Fair, that we wad be sure to gang an’ see them, an’ stay a night or twa wi’ them, in the course o’ the followin’ summer. Bein’ a man o’ my word, I was, of coorse, anxious to redeem my promise. So Tibbie an’ me made it up thegither that we wad set oot wi’ the first train to Laurencekirk on Saturday’s mornin, comin’ back wi’ the last train on Munnanday’s nicht. In view o’ the jaunt, Tibbie keepit her hands busy makin’ an’ mendin’ her bits o’ duds, an’ she had to gang doon to the milliner’s an’ get her bonnet repaired that had been sae sair misgoogled wi’ the squibs on the Queen’s birthday nicht. I coft a hat, splinder new, at a ransom o’ seven an’ saxpence, an’ set to wark to mak’ for mysel’ a braw new coat, o’ a pepper-an’-saut pattern, in lieu o’ the dirt-flee coloured ane that was mischeeved in the Birth-nicht ploy aforesaid. By virtue o’ thae purchases an’ sundry repairs, Tibbie an’ me were providit wi’ wardrobes that wadna do dishonour to the freends we we gaen to visit, an’, gin the truth may be tell’t withoot offence, Tibbie, wi’ her bannet an’ what not, completely taen the shine oot o’ a’ the wives we met in wi’ in the coorse o’ oor journey into the northern pairts o’ the kingdom. This, ye may suppose, was marrow to Tibbie’s banes. In fack she achieved sic a triumph that the remembrance o’ a’ her toils, an’ pains, an’ mortifications, wi’ regaird to the bug mischanter, was completely swallowed up in the gush o’ pleasure that filled her heart at the thochts o’ her millinery victory ower the farmers’ wives i’ the Howe o’ the Mearns. But as I’m anticipatin’ the seam o’ the discoorse, I maun tak’ back a stitch or twa.

The next thing to be considered was, hoo the business was to be carried on durin’ my absence. Willie Clippins was as gleg as a needle at doin’ ony bit plain job, but he was scarcely qualified to sustain the mair important duties o’ measurin’ an’ cuttin’ oot, whilk are baith closely allied to the fine airts an’ mathematics. I say this withoot refleckin’, the the remotest degree, on his penetration; for it’s no in the poor o’ natur’ that a bit hafflin’ laddie can hae the sense an’ gumption, an’ scientific attainments, that properly belang to a maister in Israel, if I may use the expression. Hoosomedever I set to wark, an’ wrought up a’ the particular jobs mysel’, and cut oot twa pair o’ moleskin slacks, three waistcoats, an’ four pair o’ drawers, whilk I beased thegither, an’ markit wi’ chalk, insomuch that Willie wad hae naething else to do but haud the needle gaen gurin’ my absence. If ony body called wantin’ his inches taen, I direckit Willie to rin oot for Andrew Stitch, an auld apprentice o’ mine, noo dooin’ on his ain accoont, wha had offered to tak’ measurements for me if necessity required.

A’ thae preliminaries bein’ settled to my heart’s content, Saturday mornin’ cam’ roond, but I sanna tell ye hoo active Tibbie was in packin’ up ony little thing we micht, or micht not, require on the journey. Every body wha has a Tibbie worth her vittles will ken that withoot bein’ informed; an’ whaever disna hae a Tibbie to pack up his portmanky, sid get ane forthwith, an’ that’s no gien them ony ill advice.

Doon we gaed to the station a little afore seven o’clock, an’ taen oot oor tickets— return tickets, ye’ll observe—for, like John Gilpin, although on pleasure we were bent, we were frugally inclined. Awa’ we went careerin’ alang the water’s edge like five ell o’ wind. We soon lost sicht o’ Dundee, wi’ its forest o’ masts i’ the harbour, an’ it forests o’ lang lums, sendin’ forth muckle black volumes o’ scomfishin’ reek, in defiance o’ Lord Kinnaird’s legislation against smoky chimnies. It was a delightfu’ mornin’. The sun’s rays were glisterin’ an’ dancin’ on the waves o’ the Tay, an’, as we scuddit throught the green pastures an’ fields o’ corn, we saw the mawkins hirplin’ doon the furs, an’ sittin’ up aye noo an’ again on their bottoms to hae a glower at the train, as it darit past like an evil spirit juist escaped frae pugatory, wi’ ten thoosan’ imps o’ darkness at its heels. Tibbie was perfectly delighted, an’ manifestit her supreme satisfaction wi’ the jaunt, an’ wi’ the beauty o’ the landscape, by drappin’ ower fast asleep atween Arbroath an’ Guthrie Junction. She was excusable, hooever, for she had been up a’ nicht makin’ some improvements on her crimoline. For me, I couldna think o’ sleepin’ when there were sae mony uncos to be seen on the richt hand an’ on the left. I taen great delight in pushin’ my head oot o’ the carriage window, an’ reconnoiterin’ the surroundin’ scenery as the train shot past, but paid unco dearly for my curiosity. When crossing the Northesk at Marykirk, there cam a sough o’ wind an’ whuppit aff my spleet new hat, afore ye could hae said sax. Ower the brig it gaed into the water, an’ I juist got a glisk o’t sailin’ awa doon like a beaver or an otter, on the surface o’ the water. Of coorse I got up wi’ a skirl that waukened Tibbie, an’ she was for me garrin’ the man stop the coach an’ let me oot to seek my hat, but the rest o’ the passengers had mair sense, an’ taen my view o’ the subject, to the effeck that my hat wad never be mair seen nor heard tell o’ on this side o’ eternity. Tibbie was in an unco steeriefyke aboot the losss o’ the gude hat, an’ neither allowed her een nor her tongue to sleep a’ that day; but as for me, I tane the maitter as philosphically as possible, thankfu’ that my dead didna gang alang wi’ the coverin’ thereof.

I faund my head growin’ cauld belyve, but, as I’ve often had occasion to remark in the coorse o’ my early pilgrimage, Providence is aye kind, an’ disna leave “the desolate to mourn.” At the Station, afore startin’, I had a parcel delivered to me, addressed “Tammas Bodkin, Esq., Tailor and Clothier, Dundee,” an’, on turnin’ oot the contents atween Dundee an’ Broughty, there tummels oot a magnificent white-aviced night-cap for me, an’ a pair o’ crochet tassel covers for Tibbie—a present frae oor “Arbuthnott weelwishers,” as was intimated by the accompanyin’ letter. So I slippit the nicht-cap into my coat pouch, an’ delivered ower the crochet wark to Tibbie, wi’ an inward expression o’ thanks to the young ladies wha had been sae kind an’ thochtfu’ as to provide me wi’ the means o’ defendin’ my cranium against anither attack o’ the toochache. Tibbie lookit a wee thocht jealous when she saw the crochet wark, an’ remarkit that my present was sae muckle mair valuable than hers; but puir body she needna fash her thoom, for I’ve never seen the young hizzie yet that I wad tak’ in exchange for my auld wifie. Weel, ye see, the nicht-cap cam’ to be o’ use sooner than I expeckit, for, after losin’ my hat, I juist pulled it oot o’ my pouch, an’ slippit it on my head, muckle to the merriment o’ a half-dizzen o’ young leddies in Garibaldies, daikered oot iw’ black veils an’ feathers, that were intendit to represent ostrich feathers, though the ostriches, puir brutes, had nae mair hand in them than I had. Hoosomdever, I never fashed my thoom, but let them injoy their heart’s content o’ lauchin’. It maybe saved them frae interteenin’ waur thochts, an’ it did me nae harm.

At Laurencekirk we faund Jeames Witherspoon—that was the name o’ Tibbie’s cousin—waitin’ us wi’ his spring cart to drive us to Crummiehillocks, his bit farm placie, four or five miles to the no’ard, for I had adverteesed Jeames o’ oor intendit visit come days previously, through the medium o’ a letter. Jeames was extraorddinar’ fond to see us, an’ grippit my hand as if it had been the tram o’ a cart, an’ shook it sae land and heartily that I thocht he wad hae ruggit my airm oot o’ its socket. Dog on it! That luckless pairt o’ my corporation stoundit for the maist feck o’ twa ‘oors thereafter; but I said naething, for I well kent is was a’ dune oot o’ the speerit o’ breetherly kindness. An’ as for Tibbie ye ken, Jeames actually ta’en her in his airms, an’ liftit her into the veehikle, as if she had been naething but a bunch o’ clouts, an’ to tell the truth, if it warna for the clouts na’ crinoline the women bodies wad be unco diminutive lookin’ objecks—though it doesna aye consist wi’ soond policy to say a’ ye think on that point, ony mair than on some ither subjecks I could mention. But Jeames couldna think eneuch o’ me for comin’ a’ the way frae Dundee wi’ naething on my head but my night-cap, but Tibbie wasna lang o, edifeein’ him on the business, whereat Jamie was like to spleet his very side wi’ laughin’. “But,” quoth I, “Tibbie, where’s yer basket?” “Where is’t, say ye, Tammas?” quoth Tibbie, “did ye no bring it oot o’ the coach?” “Feint ane o’ that did I, Tibbie,” quoth I, “it’s a silly horse that canna carry its ain saddle.” “The like o’ that I never heard tell o’,” quoth Tibbie, “what’s the use o’ a man if he’s no to look after the like o’ thae things?” “Deed, Tibbie, my woman, I had eneuch to do wi’ mysel’, but, to obleege ye, I’se rin back an’ get the basket.” So awa I rins; but juist as I got on the platform the whisle gae a scream, an’ awa the train gaed as if the deil had been chasin’ it, an’ Tibbie’s basket, afore ye could hae said Jack Robertson, was a mile or twa on the gate to Aberdeen. Of coorse, Tibbie was in an awfu’ carfufflement aboot her basket, as it contained a’ her sleepin’ gear, besides a grand leathern girdle, wi’ a gowd-watered clasp, as a present for Mrs Witherspoon, an’ saxpence worth o’ black-man for behoof o’ Jeames’s children. The loss o’ the girdle, hooever, as I could see when we got the length o’ Crummiehillocks, was nae great bereavement after a’, for it wad hae taen at least twa girdles o ‘the same length to have encompassed the colossal circumference o’ sonsy Mrs Witherspoon. “Od sake, Mrs Bodkin,” quoth Jeames—for he was a feelin’ heartit, obleegin’ sort o’ body in the main, though a wee thocht coorse in his manners—“dinna concern yersel’ sae dunes muckle aboot yer creel my ‘oman, for I’m weel acquaint wi’ the man that keeps the Station, an’ I’ll gar him whistle it back wi’ the telegraff—the thing will be dune in less than nae time.” So Jeames steppit into the Station, an’ the man gaed through some manoeuvers; but what gude did that do? By the time the telegraff gaed to Fordoun, the train was aff an’ awa; an’ when it reached Drumlithie, it was found that Tibbie’s basket was aff an’ awa.’ Some tarry-fingered scoondrel o’ a passenger had curnabbit the “creel,” as Jeames ca’d it, at Fordoun Station, whence he had taen his departure, dootless lickin’ his lips ower Tibbie’s saxpence worth o’ black-man. If the rievin’ rascal dinna tak’ an inward trouble through the operation o’ the gundy on his stammack, it’s no for the lack o’ Tibbies pious wishes to that effect. A’ the way to Crummiehillocks, I had to bide the bensell o’ Tibbie’s tongue—first for lettin’ my hat blaw ower the viaduct at Marykirk; an’ secondly, for lettin’ the train rin awa’ wi’ her basket; for Tibbie, be it observed, tane nae blame to hersel’ for the tynin’ o’ the latter article. A’ was laid on my shoothers. Hoosomdever, Jeames an’ me held on at oor cracks aboot the craps, an’ the weather, an’ drain-tiles, an’ the dippin’ o’ sheep for the scab, an’ the petawtie disease, and Cattle Shows, an’ feein’ markets, and hunders o’ ither subjecks, perfectly level to his comprehension, though the maist o’ them, I maun admit, were mysteries to Maister Bodkin. I tried to pick up a’ the information I could, hooever,—can-do bein’ easily carried aboot wi’ ye—an’ wha kens but I may get a bit farm placie o’ my ain some day yet—an’ sae, by the time we got the length o’ Crummiehillocks, in spite o’ the kingle-kangle o’ Tibbie’s tongue, I had learned far mair aboot farmin’ than Jeames had learned aboot shapin’ an’ sewin. We passed a wheen bonnie lookin’ farm placies on oor way, an’ saw a poor o’ deuks soomin’ on mill ponds, an’ here an’ there a bourich o’ country queans, fat, weel tanned wi’ the sun, an’ unco like their vittles, hoein’ petawtis, or spreadin’ dung for the neep seed, an’ at last an’ lang cam Crummiehillocks, a sweet, sequestered spot, wi’ a clump o’ trees on the north side, an’ fertile lookin’ fields o’ corn, turnips, an’ petawtis, on the ither three points o’ the compass. When we drave up to the front door, we faund Mrs Witherspoon, wi’ her sleeves kiltit up to her shoothers, thrang feedin’ her pootery. Od I was divertit to see hoo the bits o’ hens an’ deuks were croodin’ roond her, haudin’ up their nebs sae eagerly, an’ hoo they gobbled up this corn ilka time she flang doon a handfu’. But Jeames was onything but pleased wi’ his gudewife whan he saw her “flingin’ awa his gude corn to the fools,” as he said, for he had passed an ordinance that they were to get naething but the orrals, but Mrs Witherspoon was like my Tibbie, she had “a will o’ her ain,” an’ on a’ domestic matters was a law unto hersel’. Mrs Witherspoon was overjoyed to see us, an’ sae, after the first salutations had been gane aboot, she tane Tibbie under her wing, an’ the twa o’ them gaed awwa up stairs, where they held a Privy Cooncil aboot the loss o’ my hat an’ Tibbie’s basket. Jeames huntit up an auld hat o’ his ain, but bein’ ower big for me, it was predisposed at times to rest on the brig o’ my nose. Hooever, it saired my purpose for the time bein’, an’ made me mair decentish-lookin’ than wi’ my nicht-cap; an’ sae that was the point settled to my infinite satisfaction. Jeames had twa laddies and a bit lassockie that he introduced to me, but they were unco shy at the first, as the maist feck o’ country bairns are, though they grew mair free and familiar belyve. Mrs Witherspoon an’ Tibbie havin’ finished their confidential interview, cam’ doon stairs, an’ then Mrs Witherspoon set doon a tremendous basin o’ curds an’ cream, wherein I laid my lugs in grand style. Losh, hoo rich and reemin’ they were! There’s nae place like the country for curds an’ cream. Even Tibbie’s gude humour revived oonder the charmin’ effecks o’ the milky feast, an’ we were a’ as blithe as linties aroond the table. The curds being discussed, Jeames suggestit that we would be he better o’ a glass o’ something to qualifee them, an’ sae Mrs Witherspoon toomed ane atween them. Thus did we, after twa notable mishaps, get to the end o’ oor journey, an’ thus were initiated into the mysteries o’ the country mode o’ living. A’ oor ither haps an’ mishaps, joys an’ sorrows, durin’ this brief sojourn in the Howe o’ the Mearns, maun stand ower till next week, when ye may expeck anither lang leetany frae

Tammas Bodkin.

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