‘Bodkin in Bachelor’s Hall’ (20 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,—As I’ve had three or four weeks experience o’ bachelor’s ha’—Tibbie havin’ staid ahent me at Crummiehillocks, as ye’ll remember—I think I micht do waur than juist gi’e ye a full, a true, an’ a particular accoont o’ my exploits at hoosekeepin’. At the very ootset o’ my story I maun needs observe, that little as we menfolk do at times profess to think o’ oor guidwives, they are, nevertheless and notwithstandin’, a sort o’ necessary evils. They are unco expensive variorums to hae aboot the hoose, especially when a new gown, or a new bannet, or a new creenoline is in request, but batin’ thae sma’ drawbacks, they are, takin’ them for better, for waur, as the ministers say when they are tyin’ the marriage knot, a source o’ oonspeakable comfort an’ convenience baith by nicht an’ by day. We could weel dispense wi’ their ootheady flichts o’ vanity an’ vexation o’ speerit, but for keepin’ the hoose clean, makin’ meat, mendin’ stockin’s, washin’ an’ ironin’, an’, in my ain particular case, heatin’ the guse, they are the happiest inventions discovered by the wit an’ wisdom o’ man, sin the foundation o’ the warld. This I will say, even at the risk o’ makin’ Tibbie set ower high a value on her services, for the truth sid aye be told, even though the heavens sid fa’.

Weel, ye see, as I’ve juist been observin’, I left Tibbie at Crummiehillocks, an’ so, of coorse, it behooved me to look after hoosehold affairs durin’ her absence. Till Tibbie cam’ hame an’ showed me anither o’t, I was congratulatin’ mysel’ a’ the time that I was doin’ business on the maist economical principles. She was, as far as I can calculate, four weeks oot o’ my house, an’ durin’ that time the ase was only ance cleaned oot frae the grate, an’ the bed made twice. When the dross raise to be on a level wi’ the lower bar o’ the grate I ga’e it a shove back wi’ my fit an’ trampit it hard doon in order to make it occupy the sma’est possible amount o’ space, an’ it was only when the process o’ compression had been carried to the utmost boonds o’ possibility that I tane speech in hand wi’t, an’, wi’ the assistance o’ Willie Clippins, got it conveyed to the dust cart. As for my bed, I tane gude care when risin’ therefrom to mak’ as little hogglin’ an’ bogglin’ as possible—juist slippin’ oot by stratagem, as it were—an’ sae I creepit into the auld hole at nicht again withoot bein’ put to the disagreeable needcessity o’ makin’ the bed. Ae nicht, hooever, I had eaten some cheese to my supper, an’ it sae wrocht on my stammack through my sleep that it brocht on the nicht-mare, an’ what wi’ kickin’, an’ wrestlin’, an’ strikin’ at a muckle fiery dragon that in my disordered imagination I thocht was sittin’ on my breast-bane, it sae happened that a’ the blankets an’ sheets were completely touslt and dung heads an’ thrawarts beyond redemption. So wi’ the assistance o’ Willie Clippins I set to wark, an’, him haudin’ the duds by the ae end an’ me by the ither, we succeeded, after a considerable display o’ skill an’ patience, no oonmingled wi’ a spice o’ stupidity I fear, in restorin’ the dormitory to something like decency an’ order, but as it was a job I didna like, I registered a vow to eat nae mair cheese oontil Tibbie sid be at hand to mak’ the bed.

The meat makin’ was anither sair grievance. I’m eneuch o’ a Scotchman to like broth to my dinner. In fack, I can never think my dinner complete withoot kail o’ some kind—even if it sid be but water kail. This was a luxury I had only ance durin’ Tibbie’s absence. I made a pat-fu’ on the Sabbath-day—“the better day the better deed,” hooever, wasna in this case verified, for by some misfortunate means or ither I let them sit to the boddom o’ the pat, insaemuch that they baith tastet an’ smelt o’ the fire, an’ were far frae bein’ a palatable dish. I resolved henceforth to attempt naething higher i’ the culinary line than makin’ brose an’ maskin’ a drap tea, twa sciences that were mair level to my comprehension. In naething was Tibbie mair sairly missed than in makin’ ready my ite o’ meat; an’ when I sat doon to my dry brose, an’ lookit across to her toom seat, an’ refleckit on the mysterious ways o’ Providence, an’ hoo the time micht come when it will be toom never mair to be filled by her on earth, I felt a sense o’ loneliness creepin’ ower me that rendered me perfectly oonhappy. For a moment I wad think mysel’ livin’ in a garret in a state o’ widowhood, an’ what an ooncomfortable dowie matter that would be! But then I wad refleck that Tibbie wad be back again in the name o’ nae time, as it were, an’ sae I said the grace laigh in to mysel’, an’ proceedit to sup my brose wi’ thankfulness, an’ drink my tea wi’ a merry heart.

The only real domestic mischanter that happened durin’ Tibbie’s absence was occasioned by a misleared rip o’ a cat that had paid sundry errands to the kitchen press whenever she fand the ooter door open an’ me busy ben the hoose at the needles. She had made aff wi’a haff-pund o’ butter, a quarter o’ a pund o’ cauld beef, an’ a bonnie little haddock that I had sent oot Willie Clippins to buy for tea, an’ sae I was determined to be upsides wi’ her leddyship for her impudence if it were within the boonds o’ possibility. I left the door agee ae day, an’ keepit the tail o’ my e’e on’ her movements. In she ventures at length, wi’ the stealthy tread o’ the thief that she was, creepin’n wi’ her lugs in her neck an’ her tail trailin’ ahent her. So I watched until I thocht she wad be fairly in the trap, armed mysel’ wi’ the ellwand, slippit doon frae the boord, gaed on my tip taes ben the hallant and clappit to the ooter door. “Noo, my leddy,” quoth I, “ye’re i’ the hands o’ the Philistines noo!” To the door she boltit through atween my legs, thinkin’ to get oot the way she cam’ in, but, aha! there was “nae road that way.” A clear case for the Richt o’ Way Association thocht baudrons, but I allooed her little space for reflection, for I let a reistle at her wi’ the ellwand that wad hae dune for her guse had it only lichtit whate I ettled it. She was ower supple for me, hooever, an’ sprang in below the bed, where she sat in defiance o’ a’ my efforts to dislodge her oontil I seized her wi’ the taings, an’ pulled her oot by the lug an’ the horn. By this time the brute was gettin’ wild an’ desperate, an’ sae, wi’ a superhuman effort, she flang hersel’ clear o’ the taings, and wi’ ae fell bound she darted through a pane o’ glass. ‘Od, thinks I, my leddy, ye’ll get a bit o’ inwithgate if ye sid get nae mair. I ran to the window an’ thrust my head through the broken lozen, an’ was just in time to see her licht—on her feet, of course—on a young leddy’s bonnet, wha happened to be passin’ doon the close at that particular nick o’ time. If ye had only heard hoo the young leddy skreighed, an’ seen hoo the can spankit awa’ alang the street, in the exuberant delight o’ havin’ escaped wi’ a hail skin, ye wad hae been baith amused an’ edifeed therewith. The ploy cost me auchteen pence for a new pane o’ glass, hooever, an’ that was neither edifyin’ nor amusin’ to me.

I wasna a week oonder what philosophers ca’ the autocratic form o’ government afore I was heartily sick o’t, an’ wishin’ for Tibbie hame again to share wi’ me the cares an’ responsibilities o’ office; but I was auld eneuch no to mention that fact in ony o’ the manifold epistles that I considered mysel’ in duty bund to send to Crummiehillocks. I aye keepit up a bauld front to Tibbie, hooever muckle I micht feel the want o’ her society, an’ hooever little satisfaction I micht hae as maister o’ the situation in baith ends o’ the hoose, an’ at baith cheeks o’ the chimla.

It was a source o’ nae that little comfort to me, when on Saturday nicht the postman opened the door, an’ flung ben a letter written by Jeames Witherspoon, at Tibbie’s dictation, whereof the following is a true copy:—

“Dear Tammas,—This comes hoppin’ that ye’re weel, an’ I was up at Puddlemadhubbie to my tea on Wednesday nicht, an’ they were a’ speerin’ for ye, an’ we had a fine pairty, an’ yon man Yettlin was there, an’ Puddlie sang the ‘Ploughman’s Coortship,’ an’ we got hame at half ane o’clock i’ the mornin’, an’ Jeames an’ me is to come hame to Dundee on Mononday, an’ Jeames is going to Stobb’s Fair for to buy a new horse, an’ you must have a cup o’ tea ready when we come, an’ see an’ hae the hoose in something like decency, an’ you are to be at the station to help up wi’ the things, an’ I’ve gotten the lend o’ Mrs Witherspoon’s basket for to haud my foul duds till I get a new ane, an’ ye maun remember no to forget to be at the last train on Mononday nicht, an’ I’m yours till death,

“Tibbie Bodkin.”

Of coorse, I was doon at the station as punctual as clock-wark, an’ had the satisfaction to see Tibbie, an’ Jeames, an’ the basket an’ a’thing come safe an’soond. Jeames wad do the thing genteel, an’ sae he ordered a cab, an’ we drave hame in grand style, garrin’ a’ the street ring an’ the windows dirl as we whirled alang like Jehu. I ordered cabby to gang roond by Mrs Davidson’s, because I wished to please Tibbie, an’ Tibbie, I kent fu’ brawly, wad like to get a glisk o’ her i’ the by-gaen, for the sake o’ showin’ oor grand turn-oot. So, when we were passin’ Mrs Davidon’s door, Tibbie put her head oot at the open window o’ the carriage, an’, by gude luck, Mrs Davidson baith saw and recognised us.

Tea was prepared ance mair oonder Tibbie’s special superintendence, an’ we sat doon an’ had a hearty crack aboot the folk I had seen an’ the exploits we had performed durin’ my short sojourn i’ the How o’ the Mearns. After tea, Tibbie set to wark reengin’ through a’ the neuks i’ the hoose, an’ a’thing was wrang an’ naething was richt, an’ she gae me to oonderstand that, withoot her to haud a’thing in order, the hoose an’ a’thing therein wad soon gang to wrack. As I didna like to threap a lee doon her throat, an’ didna think it proper to openly avow my belief in her superior sagacity, I juist resolved to spleet the difference, an’ say naething either good, bad, or indifferent.

Neist mornin’ was Tuesday, an’ Jeames wad hae Tibbie an’ me awa’ up to the Fair Muir to see the fun, an’ help him to buy a horse. Awa’ we gaed, an’ so we had a view o’ the sweetie-stands, an’ the shougin’-boats, and the merry-go-rounds. Jeames bocht frae a Cheap-John twa grand broaches set wi’ “gems frae oor ain mountains,” as the vendor remarkit, an’ a’ at a cost o’ a shillin’ the pair. Ane o’ them he gae to Tibbie, an’ the ither he reserved for the adornment o’ Mrs Witherspoon. Jeames next got in tow wi’ a horse-jockey wi’ a tremendous red neb, an’ so we a’ four—Jeames an’ me, an’ Tibbie an’ his jockeyship—gaed into a tent an’ had a half-mutchkin o’ “knock-doon-the-carter”—real fiery liquor it was, that gaed ower yer craig, bizzin’ like a red-het cinder. Tibbie an’ me merely preed it for fashion’s sake, but wi’ Jeames an’ the jockey it was cap oot, for they were weel-seasoned casks. The bargain aboot the horse bein’ a’ settled, we sallied furth to view the fun; so Jeames made a wager wi’ Tibbie that he wad do something that she couldna do. Tibbie never likit to be beat at onything, so the wager was acceptit. “Weel,” quoth Jeames, “juist you step into that shougin’-boat;” an’ withoot mair ado Jeames mountit, an’ Tibbie followed. Awa’ it gaed “up to the ceilin’ doon to the grund,” as the auld rhyme says, an’ Jeames was hoochin’ an’ roarin’ like a twa-year-auld. But afore it had made aboon a score o’ movements, I oberved Tibbie growin’ unco whey-mou’d like. I cried to the man to stop the machine, but it was ower late. Tibbie’s stammack was fairly turned, an’ sae she emptied the contents thereof into Jeames’s lap. We got her oot o’ her ooncomfortable position an’ conveyed her ootower to a quiet dyke-side, where she micht come to hersel’; but misfortunes never come singly, an’ it sae happened that she sat doon in the immediate vicinity o’ a wasp’s bike, the proprietors whereof “cam’ oot wi’ angry fyke” an’ stung Tibbie on the hands an’ face an’ elsewhere afore she had poor to effect her retreat. Losh! I was heartbroken to see Tibbie sae forfoughen wi’ misfortunes, an’ withoot thinkin’ o’ my ain safety, I rushed in an’ rescued her frae the venomous hornets, gettin’ ae tremendous stang on the very neb o’ my ain nose that bearts the mark to this oor an’ day. There was nae mair marketin’ that day for me an’ Tibbie, an’ Jeames, unco concerned at oor mishaps, hailed a cab that was passin’ near bye, an’ sae we a’ got therein an’ drove back to Dundee, sick saired o’ Stobb’s Fair. Mrs Davidson was sent for to prescribe for Tibbie’s stung coontenance, an’ by the application o’ olive oil an’ honey, an’ docken blades, she was at last an’ lang relieved o’ pain to some extent. As for me, I applied a plaister o’ patience to my nose, havin’ but little faith to repose in doctor’s drogs, an’ far less in Mrs Davidson’s. Tibbie bein’ relieved o’ pain, an’ the sickness having left her, brichtened up, an’ quoth she to Jeames, “Aha, Mr Witherspoon, I’ve won the wager. I’ve done what ye did, an’ something ye didna do.” So Jeames leuch, and allooed that Tibbie was a real stuffie; that wad aye be happy to see baith o’ us at Crummiehillocks whenever it micht consist wi’ oor interest or inclination to pay him a visit.

Next mornin’, Jeames havin’ bocht an’ auld saddle for half-a-croon, mountit his new horse and set aff hamewards, after biddin’ a hearty gude bye to Tibbie an’

Tammas Bodkin.

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