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,—I promised to gi’e ye a scrift o’ hoo we were fendin’ an’ farin’ at Cockmylane, an’ as I dinna like to mak’ a promise withoot performin’ it, I sall endeavour, noo that Andro Sooter s awa’ to his bed, an’ Tibbie is streekit to her stockin’, to snatch an oor or twa frae the dresscoat I mentioned in my last epistle, in order to set doon twa or three unco queer adventures o’ mine since we cam’ to reside in these pairts. In regard to that coat, I may juist observe parenthetically, that I’m generally sae tired wi’ my daily perambulations to an’ fro through this country side, viewin’ a’ the uncos I can clap an e’e on, that by the time Andro Sooter creeps awa’ to his roost, I find mysel’ in a better trim for sleepin’ than for exercisin’ my warldly callin’, sae ye may conclude, wi’ every probability, o’ bein’ perfectly correct in yer surmises that the coat has made but little progress as yet; an’, to tell the truth, I’ve only got the length o’ lookin’ at the claith, an’ thinkin’ aboot beginnin’ in doonricht earnest, maybe the day after tomorrow, or at least some nicht soon, but we’ll see as to that when the time comes. Tibbie, hooever, has dune some guid, for she has already finished ae stockin’, and has the marrow o’t doon as far as the intaks at the heel; but then, ye’ll observe, Tibbie hauds the wires gaen at ony orra time; such as when Mrs Sooter is oot milkin’ her kye, or awa’ wi’ her butter; but as for me, I’ve nae orra time to spare, for frae the peep o’ day to the dewy shades o’ even’, I’m either oot on the hairst rig alang wi’ Mr Sooter, helpin’ him to grieve the shearers, or I’m awa’ wi’ Andro’s fowlin’ piece on my shoother, like Robinson Crusoe, for twa or three oors on end, amusin’ mysel’ wi’ shootin’ corbies, peesweits, an’ colliehoods, an’ ither fowls o’ the air than dinna exactly come oonder the provisions o’ her Majesty’s game laws. I wasna four-an’-twenty hoors at Cockmylane, ere I had completely cleared the toon o’ sparrows an’ yellow-yorlins, insomuch that not ane o’ them wad daur to show neb in my presence. So, on Tuesday mornin’, I had made up my mind to extend my sportin’ tour to a wide stretch o’ muirland that lies aboot a mile or sae sooth by wast frae Cockmylane, wi’ the view o’ tryin’ my hand at the craws an’ earnbleaters that Andro informed me were plentiful thereaboot. So I taks doon the fowlin’ piece, tells Mrs Sooter that I wad be back by dinner time at the very latest, an’ awa’ I goes. For a pairt o’ the way the hie road leads precisely in the direction o’ the muir whereunto I was journeyin’, an’ as I am joggin’ alang, a big lumberin’ machine o’ a carriage comes up containin’ a gentleman, wha, I perceived, e’ed my fowlin’ piece wi’ a suspicious glance i’ the by-ga’en, but he made nae remark an’ as little dd I. Thae coontry gentlemen wad as soon meet the diel wi’ a half dizzen o’ his angels at his heels as meet an honest tailor like mysel’ wi’ a fowlin’ piece ower his shoother. So Andro Sooter told me, an’ Andro has better opportunities o’ pickin’ up information on that subject than he is disposed to be a’thegither thankfu’ for.
Weel, ye see, awa’ rolled the gentleman in the carriage, an’ as I was anxious to spare my legs till I got to the sportin’ grund, ye’ll no hinder me to slip in ahent the vehikle an’ seat mysel’ on the back settlements thereof. It was far frae bein’ a comfortable seat, as it was completely covered ower wi’ iron spikes, as a safeguard against the pranks o’ the juvenile portion o’ society, wha are ever ready to ride on a carriage if sae be they can do sae free gratis for naething. Hoosomdever, I managed to mak’ gude my quarters, though it was certainly purchasin’ easdom for my legs at the expense o’ anither portion o’ my body. I reached my destination in the name o’ naetime withoot ony mishap occurrin’, but, lo, and be, hold! when I essayed to dismount, I stuck fast! Yea, dootless, I was firmly nailed to my seat! I edged mysel’ aboot in a’ the directions o’ the compass, but oot o’ the bit I couldna get. I tried to disentangle the hinder pairts o’ my garments frae their intimate association wi’ the iron spikes, but in vain—no ae inch wad they budge, an’ the carriage drave on’ at a dashin’ pace, too, thus renderin’ it still mair difficult for me to do ought for my ain deliverance. I had but ae hand to work oot my salvation wi’, for my ither hand was wholly engrossed wi’ keepin’ hauds o’ Andro Sooter’s gun. I micht hae called oot to stop the coach, an’ I wad dootless hae gotten some assistance to dismount, but I was dubious as to the kind o’ service I wad receive frae Maister Jarvie, no to mention the great personage inside, seein’ I was travellin’ withoot a ticket as it were, havin’ nae earthly business to be where I was. It was exceedingly sinfu’ o’ me sae for to violate the rules o’ gude breedin’ as to ride withoot an invitation, that I’ll frankly admit; an’ if I sid live to the age o’ Methusalem, catch me do the like again. Here was justice pursuin’ me for my transgression, nor did the haill amount o’ my punishment consist in bein’ carried like John Gilpin, father than I had originally bargained for, though that was mortification eneuch, but there was the annoyance occasioned to certain salient points o’ my corporation by reason o’ the sharp-pointed iron spikes aforesaid—the pain whereof became, in the process o’ time, almost mair than I was able to bear. The Apostle Paul spak’ o ‘haein’ a thorn in the flesh, but, my certie, I had a score o’ them in my hide a’ at ae time. I fought bravely for my freedom like a rotten in a trap, until I saw it was nae use fechtin’ ony langer, an’ then I just resigned mysel’ to despair, concentrating a’ the energies o’ my soul an’ body on making the best I could o’ a bad bargain—that is, fidgin’ aboot frae ae position to anither as the demands o’ nature micht suggest. In this way the carriage sped onwards in the direction o’ Cupar; so, when we were passin’ through Darsie Muir, the bairns on the street cam’ runnin’ after us, envyin’ me, nae doot, o’ my ride, though, if they had kent a’, they had mair reason to bless their stars that they had the free use o’ their ain legs; for I’m certain sure at that blessed moment I wad hae gi’en the best croon-piece that ever was in my aucht to have had the soles o’ my feet at the grund again. After this, I sanna envy the man that rdes in a chariot, for, though he may sit on a hair cushion, an’ keeps up as fair an ootside appearance as I did on my involuntary journey to Cupar, he may yet hae his ain iron spikes o’ some kind or ither in soul or body to render his life as miserable as mine was on that luckless forenoon’s jaunt. The bairns havin’ got up wi’ a shout “hangin’ behind!” Jarvie garred his whup wallop twice or thrice ower the tap o’ the vehickle to frichten aff intruders, whereby he gae my fingers sundry cruel cuts that added considerably to the discomforts o’ my situation. Hoosomdever, I keepit my seat in spite o’ the whup, for the very gude an’ sufficient reason, that I couldna get doon. No an urchin did we pass on the road but he wad stand in an attitude o’ admiration, an’ wish himsel’ in my shoon; no a field o’ shearers did we pass but they wad rest frae their labour in order to inspect and pass their opinion on the passing equipage, an’ especially to speculate on the gentleman riding behind, who, they argued, could be naething less than the butler, or the footman, or the flunkey at the very least. Dog on it! it was ill eneuch to hae a score o’ iron spikes in my body, but to be ca’d a flunkey, that sent the iron into my very soul.
Alang the road we dashed, past Prestonhall, an’ Tailaboot, an’ Tamaston—what wad I no ha’e gien to ha’e been able to turn my tail aboot at that blessed moment!—an’ at last an’ lang we reached the East Toll where Maister Jarvie pulled up for a few seconds, in order to pay the toll dues. By this time I was getting desperate. Anither minute or twa wad land me at the Cross o’ Cupar, where I wadna fail to get Cupar justice for my pains. So I hotcheled east, an’ I hotcheled wast, an’ just as we were crossin’ the Lady Burn, I tane a lang breath, an’ sprang frae my perch into the midst o’ the road, heedless o’ the consequences, which were, indeed, something to marvel at, for I’m certain sure if I left an inch I left a square ell o’ the boddom o’ my breeks stickin’ fast to the iron spikes. Hoosomdever the carriage gaed ae airth an’ I gaed anither, an’ so we partit company—I trust never to meet again on this side o’ time. My pepper-an-saut coat bein’ unco wide in the tails, I buttoned it roond my corpus, an’ so it hid a posterior infirmities. I felt that I had obtained a great deliverance, an’, ‘sair disjaskit though I was, I resolved to celebrate my ecape frae purgatory by havin’ a peep at the uncos in the place. So I “shouldered arms,” marched down the Cart Haugh, up the Bobber Wynd, doon the Crossgate, ta’en a passin’ peep at the famous Heelan’ warrior at the battle o’ Waterloo, recently celebrated in the “Roondaboot Papers,” n arched up the Dead Wynd, doon the Moose Wynd, alang the Bonnygate, to the Cross, where I transackit business by speerin’ the price o’ the fresh herring, an’ steppin’ into a hoose o’ enterteenment, wi’ the view o’ treatin’ mysel’ to a bottle o’ ale an’ a bap. There I fand mysel’ in the company o’ a batch o’ farmers (that bein’ the market day), an’ ye’ll no hinder them to commence discussin’ the merits an’ demerits o’ “Teelyour Bodkin,” as they ca’d him. Of corse, I held to my bap wi’ my drap o’ ale, makin’ nae remark, my motto bein’, “Hear weel an’ haud fast.” Ae buirdly-lookin’ chield, wi’ an expansive paunch, an’ a pair o’ red, roond cheeks, that almost o’ertopt his wart o’ a nose, gave it as his opinion that Bodkin was sadly given to lying and that it would set him far better to mind his needle than to bring the farmers into contempt by describing how they conducted themselves at tea-parties, and how many tumblers of punch they drank at a down-sitting. Havin’ delivered himsel’ o’ this sage discoorse, Maister Paunch tossed aff his tumbler o’ brandy-an’-water, smacket his lips, an’ lookit roond the table for a reply, which was presently vouchsafed by an unsophisticated-lookin’ Agricola, frae the dreary region lyin’ to the eastward o’ the Peat Inn, who remarked that he had been informed for a fact that the chield ca’d bodkin was a stickit dominie originally, that he had beta’en himsel’ to the needle when every ither trade had failed him, an’ that a cousin’s son o’ his (Agricola’s), wha is learnin’ to be a wreater in Dundee, had got a coat made by Teelyour Bodkin that was neither weel shapit, nor was it made o’ genuine material, for the laddie hadna worn it aboon a fortnicht when it was a’ oot at the elbows. Dog on it! I was juist on the point o’ gi’en him the lee direct, but I managed to control my temper, for, after a’, listeners never hear a gude tale o’ themsels. There was a chield, hooever, that taen my side, an’ vindicated my character sae effectually that if he didna convince Maister Agricola an’ Maister Paunch, he at least put them to silence. After tossin’ aff their tumblers a’ roond, an’ discussin’ the state o’ the weather, an’ the tawtie disease, an’ the price o’ stirks, an’ the probable effect o’ the American war on the price o’ wheat, they taen their departure, an’ sae did I.
The next consideration wi’ me was, hoo I was to get back to Cockmylane. I wad hae taen the train to Leuchars, as being the nearest station to Andro’s farm, but then I had naething wherewithal to pay for my seat, an’ as for travellin’ withoot a ticket, I had had eneuch o’ that for ae day. On leavin’ Cockmylane, I had but threepence in my aucht, an’ the haill soom had gaen for the bottle o’ ale an’ the bap, insomuch that I was as poor as job. Hoosomdever, I pluckit up speerit, resolvin’ to set a stout heart to a stey brae an’ sae awa I sets oot on shanks-naigie. By the time I got back to Cockmylane, it was ten o’clock at nicht. I found the haill toon in a steer aboot what had come ower Maister Bodkin. Tibbie was greetin’ an’ wringin’ her hands, an’ naething wad divest her mind o’ the melancholy idea that something had happened to me—that I had either shot mysel’ by mistak’, or had fa’en into the river Eden an’ been drooned. Andro an’ Mistress Sooter were little better than Tibbie. Atween four an’ aucht o’clock, Andro had dismissed the shearers, an’ sent them aff by the twa , an’ twa to search through “mosses, waters, slaps, and styles” for my mortal remains. The haill country side was in a steer nae ordinar’, for the intelligence o’ my oontimely end had spread far an’ near wi’ lichtnin’ speed. The Eden was dragged w’ graplin’ airns for the space o’ twa or three miles, an’ there was even a pairty o’ philanthropists wha, not bein’ informed that I had turned up, spent the maist feck o’ the nict wi’ lanterns doon below the Guard Brig, expectin’ every moment when they wad find my corpse cast up upon the beach. Their zeal was wasted a’ n vain, hooever, for, luckily, they never fell in wi’ the object o’ their search, though ‘m nane the less obliged to them for their kind solicitude baith for the dead an’ the livin’.
I sanna describe in what state Tibbie was when she saw me marchin’ up the dyke side, an’ my gun ootower my shoother, wi’ my brains in my head, an’ my head still on my body. I never saw her sae muckle affeckit by onything that has happened to us in the haill coorse o’ oor connubial existence. The only circumstance at all compareable wi’t was the loss o’ her weddin’ ring, which she had the misfortune to let slip doon the sink for a gude an’ all auchteen year syne. So, after she had come till hersel’ a wee, she taen speech in hand wi’ me, an’, quoth she, “I’ the face o’ God’s earth, where hae ye been a’ day, Tammas?” This was a perfectly reasonable question, an’ therefore I entered into a full detail o’ a’ my journey to Cupar an’ back again, whereat Andro Sooter and Mrs Sooter were like to split their very sides wi’ laughin’. As for Tibbie, she said, “ Didn’t I tell ye, Tammas, that he that will to Cupar maun juist gang to Cupar? but ye wadna believe me, an’ ye see what ye’ve made o’t noo.” “Ou aye, Tibbie,” quoth I, “but your observe disna haud gude in my case athegither, for ye see I didna will to gang to Cupar, but was obligated to gang, sair, sair against my will, an’ muckle to my discomfort, Tibbie.” The short an’ the lang o’t was that, after gettin’ a pick o’ supper, I slippit awa up stairs, cuist aff my slacks, an’ repaired the breaches thereof, so as to render them presentible on the morrow; for Tibbie an’ me had made up oor minds to gang oot to the hairst rig the next day, to try oor skill at the heuk, whereat we were marvellous kempers five-an’-twenty or thirty years sine, the full details whereof will be duly set doon in wreatin’ next week, by