‘Bodkin on the Grampians’ (13 July, 1861)

The following is one of the many epistles 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 I gae ye a detail o’ what was said an’ dune at Crummiehillocks up to twal o’clock on Saturday nicht. I may here premise that I was nane the waur o’ my twa tumblers o’ toddy, batin’ an excrutiatin’ thirst through the nicht, that set me up twa or three times to hunt after the water stoup, an’ a dunes sair head an’ an ill-taistit tongue next mornin’. Jeames thocht that a half-a-glass afore breakfast wad brak’ the wind on oor stammacks, an’ set us a’ to richts, an’ sae he tane me into the pantry, where we had a thumblefu’ oonbekenned to Tibby or Mrs Witherspoon. Breakfast ower, there was some crack aboot gaen to the kirk, but as Jeames belanged to the Auld Leddy as by law established, an’ as I belanged to the Dissentin’ interest, it was agreed on atween Jeames an’ me, after some little argie-bargiein, that we wad spleet the difference, an’ stay at hame for ae Sabbath. Baith Jeames an’ me bein’ decent bodies, we sat i’ the parlour maist feek o’ the day an’ read oor books, an’ Tibbie and Mrs Witherspoon were similarly engaged, except when they retired for twa or three oors i’ the forenoon to mak’ some culinary experiments, an’ anither twa or three oors after dinner to mak’ an examination o’ Mrs Witherspoon’s wardrobe. I got my hands on the Pilgrim’s Progress, an’ followed Christian’s fortunes frae the time o’ his settin’ oot frae the City o’ Destruction to his bein’ caught nappin’ on the grunds o’ Doubting Castle by the Giant Despair, an’ I maun say I was greatly edifeed thereby. For Jeames, he divided his attention atween the Ready Reckoner an’ the Edinburgh Almanack; an’ sae the day slippit ower withoot producin’ ony extraordinary phenomenon.

Jeames was anxious to let us see a bit o’ the warld for ance, an’ sae he proposed to drive us next day in his spring cart roond by Fettercairn, through Drumtochty, to Auchinblae, an’ then on to Laurencekirk, in time to catch the last train for Dundee. I was delightit wi’ the arrangement, an’ sae was Tibbie, an’ sae was Mrs Witherspoon, an’ so we a’ agreed to gang thegither, settin’ aff neist morning by the skraigh o’ day. Next mornin’ was clear an’ sunny, an’ the bits o’ lavrocks an’ linties were at wark betimes singing their hymns o’ praise wi’ an’ earnestness that micht be an example to mony a droosy congregation o’ mortals. We were a’ up an’ riggit oot for oor jaunt afore sax o’clock. Mrs Witherspoon attendit to the commissariat, fillin’ a basket wi’ plenty o’ bread an’ cheese, an’ roast beef and boiled beef an’ twa chickens that had escaped demmolition at the Saturday nicht’s blaw oot, an’ Jeames, he tane care to provide himsel’ wi’ a bottle o’ the very best an’ bauldest that his cellars could afford. So we were weel prepared for whatever micht betide.

Bess—that was the name o’ Jeames’s mare—having been yokit, an’ me, an’ Tibbie, an’ Mrs Witherspoon having been safely embarked, Jeames sprang up on the front, tane the reins, crackit his whip, an’ awa’ we whirlt alang the quiet green lanes keepin’ aye oor noses in the direction o’ Fettercairn. Tibbie an’ Mrs Witherspoon sat on the back seat, an’ Jeames an’ me occupied the fore-front o’ the battle, but, seein’ that Mrs Witherspoon was rather wechty, Jeames restored the equilibrium o’ the veehikle by placing the basket wi’ the provisionis in the fore pairt, an’ that had the effeck o’ makin’ a’ thing fair an’ square. On arrivin’ at Fettercairn we tarried nae langer than juist to tak’ a stap inbye to the kirk-yaird to see what was what aboot the swine-killin’ establishment an’ the foul water-hole, an’ we remarkit that sanitary measures had made some progress sin’ the reddin’ up the subjeck got i’ th’ newspapers some months syne. Awa’ we gaed birlin’ past Fasque an’ Arnbarrow, perfectly delightit wi’ the grandeur o’ the scenery that persentit itsel’ on the richt hand an’ on the left. Jeames an’ me did the grazin’ an’ agricultural department o’ the conversation, an’ Tibbie an’ Mrs Witherspoo, I could hear, were eloquent on skin-milk cheese, an’ clockin’ hens. By the time we got to the Clatterin’ Brigs, Jeames suggested that Bess was gettin tired an’ hungry, an’, as there was a public-hoose no far bye, on the hillside to the northward, he made a motion that we micht do waur than drive up the brae an’ gie the beast a feed o’ corn. Of coorse I seconded the motion, an’ it was carried withoot a division, Mrs Witherspoon sayin’ naething, an’ Tibbie contentin’ hersel’ wi’ merely enterin’ her dissent on the minutes. Bess was like to hae a sair pull up the brae, but Jeames an’ me dismounted, an’ we garred Tibbie an’ Mrs Witherspoon dismount also, an’ what wi’ Jeames rivin’ at the bridle, crackin’ his whup, an’ lettin’ aff something geyan like an’ aith occasionally, no to mention my ain exploits in the way o’ pushing’ at the hinder end o’ the veehikle, we succeedit wi’ an’ unco sair warsle in transportin’ the haill establishment up to Knowgreens, where we faund the landlady ready to gie us a hearty Heelan’ welcome. Customers are no that rife in that oot-o’-the-way place, an’ a cartload o’ them wasna an every-day occurrence; an’ sae Mrs Boniface was up to the oxters in wark for ance in her lifetime. Havin’ seen that Bessie’s temporal needcessities were duly meenistered unto, we gaed in to attend to oor ain interests. Jeames wad hae “Athol brose,” juist to let me an’ Tibbie pree the haste o’t, but I maun say it had ower muckle o’ the consistency o’ castor ulzie for the comfort o’o my stammack, an’ Tibbie, ye ken, she merely put it to her lips, an’ then hoastit, an’ hackit, an’ spat as if she had been poisoned. Jeames he leuch like very mad to see Tibbie in sic an’ awfu’ quandary, an’ so it cam’ to pass that he ahad the suppin’ o’ the maist feck o’ the Athol brose. By-an’-bye there cam’ in a Heelan drover, wha had been sooth at some o’ the laigh coontry markets, an’ wha was on his way north ower the Cairn-o-month. Jeames an’ him an’ me fell to oor cracks aboot the weather an’ craps an’ the state o’ the markets, an’ an unco intelligent sort o’ a chield he was, an’ had seen nae that little hard service in his day. Judgin’ frae appearances, he couldna be little short o’ the three score an’ ten, yet he was as haill an’ heary an auld cock as yye could with to clap an e’e on. Donald Fraser, for that was his name, as I discovered in the coorse o’ the conversation, had been in his early days engaged in the smugglin’ line o’ business, an’ had professionally traversed every fit o’ grund on a’ the eastern range o’ the Grampians. He was as foo o’ stories aboot gangers as an egg’s fu’ o’ meat, but I coulna help thinkin’ that he was inclined to sklent a little at times. Tak’ his word for’t he was aye victorious, an’ the gaugers invariably ootwitted, or something waur. “Ae nicht,” quoth Donald, “Tuncan M’Nab an’ her nainsel’ were prewin’ a trap tram ower pye at the Howe o’ Klen Feugh, an’ juist fan we were pizzy turnin’ ower tapoilin’ worts, four o’ ta fide kauger loons put tere faces in at ta door o’ oor pit hut, an’ ane o’ tem says— ‘My cood lads, fat pees gaen’ on hereawa?’ ‘Aye, aye, Tonald Fraser,’ quoth anither, ‘we’ve been lookin’ for you ever sin Caunelmas, because as hoo ye tid then fiolently fesist Mr M’taggart, ta Supervisor, in ta execution o’ his duty; an’ tid riotously, an’ wickedly, an’ plude-thirstily, prak his collar-pane wi’ ta wecht o’ your neive, forpye mischievin’ his powny sae oonmercifu’ tat ta puir prute never plaid plew ahent it. So ye’ll come alang wi’ us, Tonald lad, in ta King’s name, an’ ye’ll get yer craig raxed afore ta Towbooth o’ Aberdeen, an’ be thankfu’ ye win aff sae easily.’ ‘Tak’ ye tat, my cood lads,’ quoth Tuncan M’Nab, flingin’ a haill pucketfu’ o’ poilin’ water i’ ta faces o’ ta exisemen; put if ye had seen foo ta coofs ran an’ takit at tere een! Twa o’ tem never recovered tere e’esicht frae tat tay to this—an’ o’ tem was fiddlin’ through Falkirk Tryste for pawpees nae farther gane than twa years syne—an’ for the ither twa they were never mair heerd tell o’. So, shentlements, ye may pelieve me or no as ye likes, but that is ta Got’s truths I’m tellin’ ye.”

Tibbie an’ Mrs Witherspoon by this time had got on their shawls, an’ sae Tibbie cam inbye, trampit on my fit, an’ winkit hard in my face, as muckle as to say, “Tammas, come yer ways, my man.” Sae we left Donald Fraser a reversionary interest in the Athol brose that Jeames Witherspoon wasna able to sup, an’ turned Bessie’s head in the direction o’ the Clatterin’ Brigs. We a’ faund oorsels muckle the better o’ the refreshments we had got at Knowgreens, an’ Bess trottit on through Drumtochty like a lamplichter. Od it was really a grand sicht to see the braes “ascend like lifty wa’s” on ilka side o’ ye, clothed here an’ there wi’ dark pines, an’ here an’ there wi’ great stretches o’ bonnie bloomin’ heather,wi’ great flocks o’ sheep grazin’ on the slopes, ilk ane o’ them seemin’ in the distance to be nae bigger than a rabbit. An’ through the glen there trottit a wee bit burnie, that we sometimes got a glisk o’ when it cam’ dancing oot frae beneath a grove o’ stately trees, an’ sometimes only heard as it wad leap ower a bit cascade in some hidden nook,

“An’ rising weet wi’ misty showers,

The Birks o’ Aberfeldy.”

Aye, that noble sang I couldna get oot o’ my head the haill day, an’ it’ll aye come back to memory asociated wi’ the sylvan beauties o’ Drumtochty. We saw the fine Castle o’ Drumtochty, occupyin’ a beautiful site on the side o’ the glen, opposite to the lofty hill o’o Strath Finella, but I paid little attention to it, for I was anxious to feast my een on the face o’ Nature, an’ as for stane an’ lime I could see them ony day by gaen to my garret window, an’ takin’ a survey o’ the wilderness o’ hooses an’ lumheads o’ “Bonnie Dundee.”

After we were weel through the Glen, Jeames proposed that we sid mak’ the grand ascent o’ Strath Finella. Tibbie objeckit that she wadna be able to climb sae far, but Jeames volunteered to carry her on his back, if sae be she was like to fall. So we turned Bess into a canny corner o’ wood, tied her to a tree, an’ tane oor provisions alang wi’ us, wi’ the view o’ haudin’ a grand pic-nic on the tap o’ the mountain. Tibbie was sair forfoughten lang afore we reached the summit, an’ ilka wee but Mrs Witherspoon an’ her sat doon on the heather, puffin’ an’ blawin’, “for want o’ breath,” as they said, but rather, as Jeames remarkit, “wi ower muckle breath.” Hoosomdever, an’ at length an’ lang, we did reach the tap;—and what a glorious sicht we did get—juist like what Moses got frae the tap o’ Mount Pisgah. To the northward naething was to be seen but mountains piled on mountains, an’ heather—a complete wilderness o’ heather! Nae soond was to heard but the hum o’ the bee, an’ the skraigh o’ the muir-fowl. After feastin’ oor e’en on the grandeur o’ the surroundin’ landscape we sat doon on the saft, velvetty heather to feast oor stammacks on Mrs Witherspoon’s chickens an’ beef an bannocks. Hielan’ air soon dispels the fumes o’ mountain dew; an’ sae the Knowgreens Athol brose was, by this time, like the ministers—agitatin’ for an augmentation o’ steepin’. To wark we went, literally tooth an’ nail, for feint a knife or fork had we, but ane got a wing, an’ anither a leg, an’ sae we made a hearty dina, an’ had a cawker or twa aboon a’, to “moistify oor leather,” as Burns says. After admiring the beauties o’ nature in that heathery solitude, an’ after a poor o’ edifyin’ discoorse a’ throwither, we had a race doon the hill Jeames wagerin’ a half-mutchkin that Tibbie wad beat Mrs Witherspoon at rinnin’. Tibbie has a speerit abune bein’ beaten at onything, an’ sae she set aff doon a steep place wi’ Mrs Witherspoon at her heels; but she hadna gane fifty yeards when a cowe o’ heather tane her fit an’ ower she gaed an’ doon she rowed. Mrs Witherspoon, oonable to arrest her steps, cam’ across Tibbie wi’ an awfu’ pergaddis, an’ doon she rowed also, an’ the twa o’ them keepit rowin’ ower an’ ower ane anither unti they baith landit in the heart o’ a whin buss. As for Jeames an’ me, we could do naething for laughin’, kennin’ that there was nae danger o’ broken banes or ony ither mischanter befallin’ the twa guidwives. Hoosomdever, we ran an’ gathered the twa puir bodies oot o’ the whin buss, for they were a wee thocht dizzy wi’ the whummellin’ ower an ower they had got in the coorse o’their descent, an’ were scarcely able to stand their lanes, though they werena ae preen the waur in ither respects.

Withoot ony farther accident happenin’, we got back to Bess an’ mountit the veehikle ance mair, an’ drove doon to Auchinblae, where we had a view o’ the Kirk-yard, wi’ the monument to George Wishart after the model o’ a barber’s pole set upricht, an’ the auld chapel o’ St Palladius, wi’ the curious sculptured stane at the door cheek. Nor did we forget to mak’ a pilgrimage to the well o’ Palladius doon at the burn-side, where we drank the identical water that the saint drank a thoosand years syne. So Jeames said, but I had my doots as to that, though I’ve nae time here to state the grounds o’ my oonbelief.

By the time we saw a’ that was worth seein’ in Auchinblae—an’ there’s really no muckle worth seein’ aboot the toon itsel’, though the scenery in the vicinity is delightfu’—it was wearin’ through the afternoon, an’ so we again set Bess to the road, haudin’ doon the glen in the direction o’ the railway. At the wood side, doon the den a bittock, Tibbie got a glisk o’ a bonnie tortoiseshell kittlin’ playin’ wi’ its tail under a spruce-fir tree, an’ bein’ in want o’ a cat, in consequence o’ Tam, oor auld beastie, having suffered martyrdom at the hands o’ some cruel rascal hailin’ frae the tap o’ the Wellgate, an’ Tibbie interteenin’ the auld superstitious notion that stown cats mak’ the best hunters, she cuist a covetous ee on the bit kittlin’, an’ whispered something into Jeames’s lug aboot it, weel kennin’ that I wad ne’er gie my consent to kidnappin’ either beast or body withoot the permission o’ the owner thereof. Jeames, hooever was an obleegin’ body, an’ nae sooner did he learn Tibbie’s sentiments on the subject, than he was aff an’ awa in full pursuit o’ the cat. Puir baudrons being soon brocht to bay, Jeames seized it, first by the tail, an’ syne by the cuff o’ the neck, an’ it was into a pocket-napkin, an’ stowed awa i’ the bottom o’ the cart in a twinklin’. Cats are like pyets an’ witches, hooever, they’re no canny customers to meddle wi’. That was my thocht on the subject, though I said naething. Awa’ we went ance mair, an’ when we cam to the place where the hie-road crosses the railway, a wee thocht to the westward o’ the Fordoun Station, Jeames taen a sudden thocht that he wad require a drink o’ water. The Athol brose, the saut beef, an’ the warm weather, aggravated, nae doot, by an undue exerceese o’ the organs o’ speech, had brocht on a parchin’ drouth, an’ sae he flang doon the reins, sprang frae the cart, an’ gaed aff in pursuit o’ a slockanin’. Juist at the maist creetical moment up comes a goods train, wi’ a half score o’ trucks containin’ horses an’ cattle, on their way—gude kens where till—but they played us a sad pliskie. As it is wi’ human bein’s, sae it is wi’ the animal creation—“When freends meet, hearts warm.” Sae, when the train flew past, ye’ll no hinder Bess, though a complausible eneuch brute for ordinar’, frae gettin’ up on her hent legs, an’ dancing something like the Lonach Fling i’ th’ midst o’ the road. Tibbie grippit the reins, an’ hung on like grim death, while Mrs Witherspoon skirled oot for Jeames to come, or we wad be a’ brained. Close by the side o’ the road there was a deep dam, wi’ naething atween us an’ it but a bit rotten palin’. Tibbie held a fast grip o’ the reins, an’ sae Bess ran back until the wheels o’ the cart cam’ rap forgainst the palin’. Awa it gaed wi’ a crash, an’ doon went cart an’ a’ that were therein into the gulf profound. Bess was a wise brute to be naething better than a horse, an’ hung on by the brae wi’ her fore-feet, as sober as a jusdge. I sprang ashore an’ grippit hauds o’ the bridle. Tibbie an’ Mrs Witherspoon bein’ in the back settlements o’ the cart, were up to their waists i’ the water, on the surface whereof their crinolines were floatin’ like the ootspread flowers o’ the Royal water lily that I’ve read aboot; but it clean dings me to describe hoo they were screichin’ an’ skirlin’ wi’ terror na’ vexation. Jeames, seein’ the catastrophe, hastened to oor succour; an’, wi’ a self-denial that sid be mentioned to his immortal honour, he rescued my Tibbie first an’ foremost frae the perils o’ the deep, afore he thocht o’ providin’ for the safety o’ Mrs Witherspoon. If ever mortal man deserved a medal frae the Humane Society for savin’ human life at the imminent peril o’ his ain, that man is Jeames Witherspoon, an’ I hope this narrative will attract the notice o’ the Lunnoners wha hae the distributin’ o’ the medals aforesaid. The women folk bein’ safe, we next set to wark to get the horse na’ veehikle restored to terra firma. A wheen ploughmen chields cam’ to oor assistance, an’ sae, after a gude hantle o’ ruggin’ an’ rivin’, we at length got Bess set to the gate again. At the first it seemed onything but a laughin’ matter, but a’s weel that ends weel, an’ sae we made oorsels merry a’ the way to Laurencekirk aboot oor dook i’ the dam. The only deadly loss we sustained—an’ nae great loss when a’ was dune, though Tibbie was grit-heartit aboot it—was the oontimely end o’ the kittlin. The puir brute, bein’ i’ the bottom o’ the cart, was completely submerged, an’, afore help arrived, “the vital spark had fled.” Tibbie an’ Mrs Witherspoon were a wee thocht oot o’ humour at gettin’ their bits o’ boots wat an’ their tails draigled, but Jeames an’ me made game o’ the sma’ misfortines.

Joggin’ on towards Laurencekirk, we got a glisk o’ a tain frae the north shootin’ awa sooth at the rate o’ thirty miles an oor. “Have a care o’s a’!” quoth Tibbie, “that’s no oor train is’t, Tammas?” “Deed it’s that,” quoth Jeames, “so ye’re in for anither nicht at Crummiehillocks.” “An’ my gude return tickets clean useless!” quoth Tibbie. “That’s just what I’ve been tellin’ ye a’ day, Tammas.” “Deed ye’ve been tellin’ me naething o’ the kind, Tibbie,” quoth I. “Hoots, Mrs Bodkin,” quoth Jeames, “what aboot yer return tickets ‘oman? Be thankfu’ ye wasna drowned in Powburn mill-dam like the kittlin.”

Tibbie was in a sad peck o’ troubles, but as there was nae help for’t, we just turned oor faces to Crummiehillocks ance mair. It was arranged that I sid return to Dundee wi’ the first train next mornin’, to be at the post o’ duty as it behooves every honest man to be; but that Tibbie, seein’ her return ticket was o’ nae mair use, sid stay for a few weeks wi’ Mrs Witherspoon, in order to mak’ as muckle o’ her jaunt as possible. Sae hame came I on Tuesday mornin’, an’ faund a’ thing to my mind—Willie Clippins havin’ acquitted himsel’ in every respect to the entire satisfaction o’

Tammas Bodkin.

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