‘Bodkin Discovers an Old Acquaintance’ (14 September, 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,—Ae mornn’ i’ th’ end o’ last week, I receives, amang my ither rather extensive correspondence, a letter that wasna juist a’thegither like a business letter, because it was written in a hammert hand o’ wreat, on an auld-fashioned sheet o’ letter-paper, withoot an’ envelope, and sealed wi’ a thimble; an’ so, my curiosity bein’ a wee thocht excitit, I seizes hauds o’ the epistle, first an’ foremost, breaks it open, an’ reads as follows:—

Cockmylane,

the four o’ September,

18 hundered and 61.

Auld Freend,

I have na seen or heerd tell o’ ye for more nor thirty year, and the last time I seed ye—ye’ll mind was in the year that Burke was hanged, and we were attackted by the gangrel Irishman on the hie road between Dalkeith and Musselburgh, and you thought he was the murderer Hare, and gave him such a wallop under the fifth rib, that his heels went over his head, and he landed into the middle of a whin bush; and you’ll mind how you and me parted at Mungo Mathew’s public, close by the toll bar, after we had had a half mutchkin thegither bekause it was a wet morning. After that I losed sight of you entirely, bekause I went to Ayrshire to work at the Iron-Stane, and after I wrought there for nine or ten year, I gaed out to Austreelia, and I made my fortune herding sheep to Mr Jone Wauchope, at a place thirty mile up from Melbourne, called Bloody Gully. I came home five year syne, and have took a farm, ye’ll see the name of it at the tap of this letter, and it is about six mile on this side of Cupar, and about two mile and a half on the other side of the coach-road to the water-side. I’m very comfortable, and I have a wife, and my farm is three plews lawbour, and I am very busy with the shearing just now, or I would have tried to find you out, for I’m sometimes at the market on Friday, but Mistress Sooter an’ me would be happy if Tibbie an’ you could come over and spend a week or 2 with us, and we will tak’ no denial, and you must come over to Newport with the 9 o’clock boat on Monday morning, and I will be at the water-side with a cart to drive you to Cockmylane, and I have to be at Newport at anyrate for a basketfu’ of ale, and a barrel o’ shearers’ bread. I found oot that you were in Dundee by seeing your letters and sae muckle about you in the newspaper. I must close this letter, because it is nine o’clock at night, and I am tired and sleepy, and we have to be up at five o’clock if it is a fair morning.

No more at present, but remains your auld friend,

Andrew Sooter,

tenant of Cockmylane.

Dog on it! the readin’ o’ this letter revived auld and kindly recollectons. I had nearly forgotten a’ aboot Andro Sooter, but when he mentioned my encoonter wi’ the drucken Irishman twa-an’-thirty years syne, my memory brichtened up, an’ I mind the particulars o’ that ploy, an’ a’ aboot drinkin the half-mutchkin wi’ Andro at the toll house, as weel as if they had happened only yesterday or the day afore. At that time, Andro, a young daft chield, aboot twenty years auld, was castin’ drains on a farm in the neeborhood o’ Dalkeith, an’ i’ the lang winter e’enins he was wont to come into the shop and chat awa wi’ the ‘prentices an’ journeymen, and he employed us to mak’ his stacks for him, an’ shape his corduroy cutikins, the sewin’ whereof he was wont to execute wi’ his ain hands, for he was aye a savin’ kind o’ a’ loon. Ay, ay, an’ Andro had warsled sae far up i’ the warld as to hae a farm o’ his ain. Weel, wha wad hae thocht it? For Andro was never kent to be a philosopher, but he was aye a wee thocht gruppy i’ his way, and attendit faithfully to his business, an’ after a’, it’s yer canny eydent, sayin’ kind o’ folk that grow rich, an’ no yer men o’ talent an’ genius. A’ thae thochts passed through my mind when I had read Andro’s letter, an’ sae I steps my ways ben to Tibbie, an’ reads the letter to her, an’ we had a consultation aboot oor invitation to Cockmylane, the result whereof was that we would be at Newport on Monday at the ‘oor appointit. We cam’ the mair readily to this conclusion, that we had half made up oor minds to tak lodgin’s for a week or ten days ower at Newport or doon bye at Carnoustie, at onyrate, for the sake o’ Tibbie’s health, that has been onything but in a satisfactory state sin’ we cam’ to live in this oonsavoury locality o’ the toon, amang the odours o’ fish-guts an’ the sickly aroma o’ Phelim O’Grady’s auld rags an’ rotten banes. The invitation to Cockmylane was therefore a special dispensation o’ Providence, that removed a’ financial obstacles to oor holiday jaunt an’ especially relieved me o’ the irksome duty o’ hagglin’ wi’ greedy landladies aboot room rent, an’ the price o’ gas an’ coal, an’ the perquisites due to the servent for cleanin’ oor shoon. That was what I never could put up wi’, an’ preserve my mental serenity, ever sin’ I cam’ to fend for mysel’ in this warld; an’ mony’s the time I’ve suffered mysel’ to be victmeezed rather than kick up a stoor aboot a paltry shillin’ or twa, an’ that’s dootless pairtly the reason why i’m the poor man I am at this oor an’ day.

Tibbie made sundry objections to the jaunt, but they were a’ frae the teeth forrat, for I noticed she brichtened up at the thocht o’t, an’ set aboot makin’ her preparations as trig like an’ canty as a kittlin’. Weel did I ken what was the reason o’ her objections—Tibbie maks it a point to object to almost everything I propose, that she may be able to say, if onything gaes wrang, “Weel, Tamas, that’s juist what I tell’t ye, but ye wadna tak’ my advice, an’ ye see what’s come o’t noo; but him that will to Cupar maun juist gang to Cupar.” But I attemptit to satisfy her on this occasion that I wadna seek to gang the length o’ Cupar, for Andro had said in his letter that Cockmylane was sax miles on this side o’ Cupar. So Tibbie said nae mair, an’ I said as little.

I made the same arrangements wi’ Willie Clippins that I had found work sae weel on oor northern expedition. I set him on the gate wi’ twa pair o’ moleskin slacks, three waistcoats, four pair o’ flannel drawers, an’ an auld surtou’ coat that had come in to get half-sleeved, an’ the grease taen oot o’ the collar thereof, an’ I was certain sure that Willie wad be perfectly able to execute a’ the bits o’ jobs I had entrustit to his fidelity, diligence, and judgment, durin’ my absence; and, failin’ that, I made arrangements wi’ Maister Stitch, whereof I have formerly made mention, that he sid look in noo an’ again to see a’ the seams properly laid, an’ especially to look after the workin’ o’ the button holes, an’ the ironin’ o’ the sleeves o’ the surtou’. As for mysel’, I was resolved to mingle business wi’ recreation. I jaloused that it wad be utterly oot o’ the question for me to gang to my bed as soon as Andro Sooter, wi’ the remotest probability o’ fa’en asleep afore twal or ane o’clock an’ therefore I hapit a black dress coat that I had got an order for, wi’ the view o’ takn’ it alang wi’ me to Cockmylane, to keep me oot o’ langer atween Andro’s bed-time, an’ my usual oor o’ retirin’ to roost. Tibbie, she wadna be a step ahint me, an’ sae she provides hersel’ wi’ aboot a dizzen o’ cuts o’ fingerin’ worsted, wherewith she proposed to work stockings for her an’ me as lang as the raw material would last. A’ oor preliminary arrangements bein’ thus made entirely to oor satisfaction, an’ Monday mornin’ arrived, we were baith up betimes, gien the finishin’ stroke to various bits o’ odds an’ ends that required to be attendit to, previous to oor departure. I put Willie Clippins through his carritches for the last time, to see that he was duly sensible o’ the responsibilities o’ his situation, an’ the duties incumbent upon him, as my representative, in the event o’ onybody calln’ in my absence to get their measure ta’en. The better to quicken his apprehension, an’ stimulate his industry, I promised him a saxpence to himsel’, on condition that I should find a’ thing to my mind on my return—a promise that I shall, dootlessly, fulfil, if matters turn oot onything like passable ava, for it’s no in the pooer o’ Nature that he could manage sae weel in my absence as he would do wi’ me sittin’ at his lug, to guide him by my superior wisdom an’ erudition, the fruits o’ a life-lang experience. Havin’ got a’ oor drones in order, we bade him gude mornin’, and slippit oor wa’s doon the stair, but, afore we got to the mooth o’ the close, Tibbie mindit that she had forgotten to tell Willie to be sure an’ keep the door steekit, an’ no to let the tortoise doon to Phelim O’Grady, or it wad be convertit into bane dust afore oor back-comin’, an’ aboove an’ beyond everything no to haud ony intercoorse wi’ the O’Gradies on ony subject whatever, either gude, bad, or indifferent, but juist to pass them as he passed them not, an’ see them as he saw them not. So Tibbie gae me her basket to haud while she ran back to impress thae precepts on Willie’s mind, an’ I’m sure if he doesna behave himsel’ it’s no withoot obtainin’ due admonishment aforehand.

Naething o’ ony consequence occurred on oor voyage to Newport, save an’ except that there was a drove o’ horned nowt on board, an’ ane o’ them, an unco dour-lookin’ chap, fixed his crookit horn into the bow o’ Tibbie’s basket, whuppit it oot o’ her hand, an’ marched aff wi’t, to the great enjoyment o’ the passengers, me amang the rest, for it wad hae made a horse laugh to hae seen the brute whiskin’ aboot amang its companions wi’ a radicle basket on its head; but Tibbie was in a peck o’ troubles, an’ used her tongue wi’ great effeck, until her mind was relieved by a gentleman, wha cleekit hauds o’ the basket wi’ his stick, and delivered it to its richtfu’ owner. On arrivin’ at the ither side o’ the water, we observed Andro’s cart stanin’ up at the yett, wi’ the ale an’ the shearers’ scones in it; but amang the crood I could see nae face that I could say was like Andro Sooter’s. Hoosomdever, he saw Tibbie an’ me readin’ the ticket on his cart, an’ he came forrat, an’ glowered in my face, an’ I glowered in his face; an’ quoth he, “my auld freend, Tammas Bodkin!” an’ quoth I, “my auld freend, Andro Sooter!” Eh! hoo altered he was frae the swank ruddy cheekit chield he was thirty years syne, but as Robbie Nicoll observes—

“Time changes a’ thing, the ill-natured loon,

Be’t ever sae richtly, he’ll no let it be.”

An’ Andro remarkit as great an alteration on me. I’m as straucht i’ the back as ever, but waes me, my hair is turnin’ grey an’ my face is gettin’ sprinkled ower wi’ wrinkles that speak o’ approchin’ auld age, an’ the frailties that always come alang wi’t. But we had nae time to stand an’ moraleeze, so I introduced him to Tibbie, for he had never seen her atween the een afore. In we got into the cart, an’ Andro had ta’en care to ha’e a pokefu’ o’ strae providit for Tibbie to sit on, so we faund oorsel’s as comfortable as the day is lang. Andro an’ me sat on the forebreast o’ the cart, an’ Tibbie alangside o’ the scones an’ ale. Andro held the whup reekin’ aboot the horse’s hurdies, an’ awa’ we trottit ower the hills o’ Fife, an’ very soon we lost sicht o’ the Tay an’ the Auld Steeple, an’, last ava, o’ the Law, wi’ its bare pow enveloped n the risin’ reek o’ the myriads o’ spinnin’ mills that nestle at its southern base. In the coorse o’ oor journey, Andro edified me wi’ a short narrative o’ a’ his wanderin’s up an’ doon in the earth—a’ aboot Australia, an’ the heat o’ crossin’ the line, an’ the cauld aboot Cape Horn—a’ that he had said an’ dune frae that day when I knocked doon the Irishman on the road to Musselburgh, doon to this present day an’ generation. Of course, I was equally communicative, furnishin’ him wi’ a complete scrift o’ a’ my experiences sin’ we had last forgathered, an’ a’ aboot my coortship wi’ Tibbie, settin’ Andro a-laughin’, an’ Tibbie a-flytin’, at times, no omittin’ my late encooner wi’ Phelim O’Grady, an’ the chield wi’ the cigar, whose nose I had occasion to twist, but I soon discovered that Andro was quite as conversant wi’ a’ the mair recent events o’ my history as I was mysel’, an’ therefore I confined the thread o’ my discoorse chiefly to the land o’ his nativity. After a pleasant ride o’ an oor an’ a-half, we at last reached Cockmylane, an’ found Mrs Sooter prepared to gie us a richt warm reception. Breakfast was waitin’ us, an’ although we werna hungry, yet we were forced to eat. Od she’s a real managin’, coothie, kind-heartit body, Mrs Sooter, an’ Tibbie an’ her are as thick thegither already as if they had been acquainted a’ their days. Tibbie wasna aboon an oor o’ the hoose when she was enlichtenin’ Mrs Sooter on the science o’ bubble-an’-squeak. An’ for Andro, the langer ye ken him ye wad like him the better. But a’ oor ongaens at Cockmylane will be duly recorded in the next letter ye receive frae

Tammas Bodkin.

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