‘Bodkin Trips the Light Fantastic Toe’ (5 October, 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,—Andro Sooter had resolved to hae a few o’ his brither farmers inveetit to his maiden feast, to gie them a blow-oot o’ meat an’ drink, an’ as he was particularly anxious that I sid be present on that great occasion, in order that he micht hae an opportunity o’ introducin’ me to the wide circle o’ his aristocratic acquaintance, he wadna hear o’ Tibbie an’ me gaen hame till the ploy was ower, though I maun confess I was gettin’ ooneasy aboot hoo Willie Clippins wad be managin’ matters in my absence. Hoosomdever, Tibbie and me made a fleein’ visit to Dundee on a Saturday afternoon, staid ower the Sabbath, an’gaed back to Cockmylane on the followin’ Monday, an’ I am happy to say Willie was found faithfu’ in a’ his maister’s hoose-hold—everything, baith but the hoose an’ ben the hoose, bein’ in perfect order, the tortoise aye to the fore, an’ lookin’ as fresh-like as it did that day it was cleckit. I may just mention that Tibbie an’ me gaed doon to the Corn Excheenge Hall on the Saturday nicht, an’ got oor bumps read by Fooler an’ Wells, an’ if a’s weel next week Ise gie ye a bit sketch o’ hoo we got on in presence o’ the philosophers.

There was great preparation at Cockmylane for the harvest-home. It was evidently to be a feast o’ fat things. Tibbie lent her invaluable assistance to Mrs Sooter in the culinary department, baith by strength o’ airm an’ by word o’ mooth. There were beef-steak pies, an’ stuffed chickens, an’ roast, an’ boiled, an’ ankers o’ whisky an’ oceans o’ beer. A huge, owergrown Sandy Cawmel was condemned to death on the heads o’ the business, in order that his harrigalds micht be available for belly-timber to the numerous ghaists that were expectit to be present frae a’ the region roond aboot. Andro is a handy bodie, an’ can kill a swine wi’ ony mortal man. As he required some assistance, hooever, I was drafted into the service, my duty eing to haud on by the lugs, while ane o’ the ploughman chields grippit by the hind legs. Of coorse Maister Cawmel was rather noisy in his remonstrances, an’ a the idlers within hearin’ o’m cam’ rinnin’ to see what was the cause o’ the uproar, an’ amang the rest cam’ a baker chield frae Leuchars, wha had a basketfu’ o’ cookies, buns, an’ shortbread for Mrs Sooter, that had been ordered for the approachin’ feast. So he set doon his basket, an’ beheld while Andro was stickin’ the swine. Od, I was right wae for the puir brute, but what maun be canna be helpit, an’ it’s a clear case that pigs canna be convertit into pork withoot lettin’ their wind oot. Weel, ye see grumphy, after gettin’ the length o’ the gully, was far frae bein’ in a comfortable perdicament, an’ so when we quat oor grips o’m, he bangs up to his feet an’ rins aff, bleedin’ like a very swine, as he was. Takin’ the direction o’ the baxter loon, he made an ill-advised bolt straught at the basket o’ baps an’ shortly, thrust his head richt through the bow thereof, an’ awa’ he gaed wi’t hangin’ on by the tail, an’ fechtin’ wi’ a’ his micht an’ main to recover the basket. Before he could succeed in that, hooever, the bread had been rendered quite useless either for beast or body, an’ so he had nae help for it but just to gang back the road he cam’, an’ get a fresh supply. I was sair vexed for the bit loonie, an’ yet when I beheld hoo his grumphieship whuppit up the basket an’ set aff wi’t, an’ hoo the baxter hang on by the tail, I couldna help gi’en way a wee thocht to my mirthfu’ disposition.

At length the great feast nicht cam’ roond, an’ Tibbie an’ me arrayed oorsels in oor best abuliement for the occasion. There was a great forgatherin’ o’ the neebourin’ farmers, their wives, their sons, their dochters their man-servants, and their maid-servants. While the representatives o’ the farmer’s ha’ were accommodated in the parlour, the ploughmanity o’ the district, consistin’ o’ the Jocks an’ the Jennies, frae the bothies an’ the cotter hooses, had the liberty o’ the kitchen an’ the barn-laft, that had been cleaned oot as a ball room, an’ lichted up wi’ twa dizzen o’ penny candles, stuck into turnips, an’ arranged here an’ there alang the crap wa’s. Of coorse, Tibbie an’ me were introduced to a’ the genteel company as they arrved, an’ I was told a’ their names an’ the names o’ their farms, but I’ve an’ ill memory for names, as the phrenology folk informed me, an’ therefore it’s but few o’ them I remember. Hoosomdever, they were, withoot exception, a sichtly set o’ men an’ women—a’ plump, red an’ rosy—lookin’ as if they were blessed wi’ gude stammacks, an’ plenty o’ the very best o’ fodder to fill them withal. The aulder portion o’ them were frank an’ ootspoken in their ain hammert fashion, expressin’ what they thocht wi’ great vehemence, some o’ them, speakin’ nae that little withoot troublin’ themsels wi’ muckle thocht, an’ the whole o’ them speakin’ simultaneously, insomuch that I was like to be bedundered wi’ the noise. The junior squad [?] had less to say than their seniors, bein’, if onything, a wee thocht blate, owin’ to their seein’ less o’ society than the like o’ Tibbie an’ me. Hoosomdever, when they did venture to open their mouths, stots an’ staigs formed the staple o’ the men’s conversation, as did bye, an’ calves, an’ butter, an’ cheese, that o’ the leddies. Sae lang as the crack was confined to agricultured matters, I had but unco little to say, but when it deviated into politics an’ foreign affairs I faund my superior enlichtenment in very great request an’ the utmost deference paid to my opinions, as was but richt an’ proper, considerin’ the opportunities I had in my youth o’ studyin’ polite learnin’ oonder Maister Mansie Waugh, an’ subsequently o’ addin’ to my stock o’ usefu’ knowledge by the observation an’ experience o’ a lang lifetme.

Tea bein’ ower, it was next proposed that the company sid adjourn to the ball-room, where we found the shearers an’ ploughman lougin’ [?] bauk-height to the speerit stirnin’ soonds o’ Sandy Burgess’s fiddle. Andro had heard o’ Sandy’s fame—as wha that lives atween Fife Ness an’ Torryburn hasna heard o’t—an’ he had sent for him a’ the way frae Coup-ma-Horn twa days afore the ball, in order that Andro, an’ me, an’ Mrs Sooter, an’ Tibbie, micht get a little insicht frae him into the sirt o’ dancin’ polkas, an’ strathspeys, an’ country dances, whereby we micht be able to acquit oorsels creditably in the presence o’ sic an enlichtened company as it wad behoove us to shake oor shanks afore. For twa days, therefore, we had laubered wi’ commendable zeal in the parlour floor, an’ noo I was up to the fore-stap an’ the back-stap, an’ a dance ca’d the “Deil amang the teelyours,” while Andro Sooter had gien special attentions to the “Hay-makers,” as bein’ conneckit wi’ his ain profession. Tibbie an’ Mrs Sooter had been taught a’ the oots-an’-ins a’ the foursome reel, an’ Sandy thocht that, wi’ gleg partners, to gie us the wink o’ command, ony ane o’ us wad be able to gang through the figure o’ ony dance that was likely to be proposed.

Weel, ye see, when we made oor entree, as the big folks say they were dancin’, like King Dauvid, wi’ a’ their icht, at a gude Scotch reel—the ploughmen chields stampin wi’ their cuddy heels, an’ at ilka turn o’ the tune, snappin’ their hand, horny thoombs thegither, an’ “hoochin’” like as they had been wud. The very floor was bendin’ an’ bowin oonder the awfu’ hubbub, an’ the stoo was fleein’ like drift. Ale was gaen’ roond in tankards, an’ todily in teacups, an’ my word hoo the rustic swains were layin’ their lugs amang the comestibles an’ the comdrinkables! At the conclusion o’ the reel ilka ploughman chield taen his pairtner in his arms, gae her an awfu’ hug, as if he had been gaen’ to burk the blushin’ dame, an’ awfa’ smoorich o’ a kis, as if he had been gaen to worry her ootricht, an’ them flang himsel’ doon on a form beside her wi’ sic a fearfu’ pergaddis that naething but whinstane an’ yettlin’ could weel withstand; an’ in twa instances that cam oonder my observation, the forms gaed way, an’ a’ that sat thereon went to the floor, amid a rivin’ o’ deals an’ a skirlin’ o’ lasses that made the very roof an’ rafters dirl.

The reel bein’ finished, Andro called for the “Hay-makers,” an’ taen Tibbie for his partner, an’, as a matter of coorse, I taen Mrs Sooter for mine. As we were, by universal consent, placed at the head o’ the floor, next the fiddler, it behooved us to lead aff the dance. Havin’ screwed awa’ for a few minutes at his fiddle-strings, an’ clawed the wame o’ his instrument to coax her into the best o’ humour, Sandy struck up the tune wi’ great vigour, an’ awa’ we gaed in grand style, flingin’ oot oor legs in a’ directions, like the spaikes o’ a windmill. A’thing gaed richt wi’ us until it cam’ to be oor duty to join hands an’ whirl roond, an’ then occurred a mischanter that completely bumbased my brains, an’ made me heartly wish oor haymakin’ at the end. Whether it was Tibbie’s blame or mine, whether Andro or Mrs Sooter was the loon, or whether, indeed, the blame micht be said to attach to ony ane o’ us in particular, is a point that has never been clearly redd up to this day yet, an’ it will likely remain a historic doubt to perplex the brains o’ the future investigator, when we, wha were the chief actors therein, will be moulderin’ in the mools; but ony way, the fact itsel’ is indisputable, that when we were a’ four whirlin’ roond an’ roond on the floor, like automaton figures in a hurdy-gurdy, something taen the tae o’ my left pump (I’ve privately o’ opinion that it was Mrs Sooter’s crinoline, but I’ve never made that statement openly, nor do I intend to do sae), an’ ower I gaed i’ the floor wi’ a fearfu’ pergaddis, an’ Mrs Sooter aboon me. Of coorse Andro an’ Tibbie, bein’ in the very midst o’ their gyration, couldna arrest their motion at a moment’s warincement, an’ so ower they gaed aboon Mrs Sooter an’ me. Dog on it! my very banes were a’ cheepin’ and groanin’ oonder the superincumbent wecht o’ humanity, an’ though we a’ got to oor feet again withoot the assistance o’ the bane-doctor, yet I’ll retain a lively recollection o’ the Haymakers till my deein’ day. After sic a catastrophe, it couldna be expeckit that Tibbie and Mrs Sooter wad continue the dance ony langer, seein’ that their crinolines were camshachled in a’ the airths o’ the compass, an’, as Andro and me could do naething withoot oor partners, we cam’ to the unanimous resolution to retire frae the contest, greatly to the easedom o’ my mind. Tibbie an’ Mrs Sooter gaed their wa’s to the hoose to get their crinolines renovated, an’ while Andro was gaen roond the barn snuffin’ the candles wi’ his fingers, I slippit doon the trap to the corn-yard to get a snifter o’ the caller air, for, what wi’ the closeness o’ the atmosphere, the smell o’ the reekin’ toddy, an’ the foonder I had got on the floor, no to mention the odour o’ Sandy’s fiddle roset, I fand a kind o’ wammelin’ at my stamck that peradventure micht eventuate in a violent upthrowin’. The nicht was pick mirk—“no a star in a’ the cary.” While I was leanin’ mysel’ up forgainst a stack, an’ croonin’ ower a verse o’ “My jo! Janet” to keep up my speerits, I was rather startled frae my reverie awee to find mysel’ lockin in the tender embrace o’ a winsome young damsel, wha gae me a most ardent kiss o’ her rosy lips. Of coorse I jealoused it was a mistak’ on her pairt, but I was resolved no to undeceive her until better couldna be. “Eh, Jamie,” quoth she, “I was beginnin’ to fear ye wadna keep yer appointment, for, d’ye ken, I thocht Meg Morrison wad hae made a captive o’ ye wi’ her braw red ribbons an’ a’ the rest o’t, an’ I’m sure, Jamie, ye’ve danced aftener wi’ her the nicht than wi’ me, but it disna matter—ye’ll never thrive if ye dinna fulfil yer promise to me. An’ that Meg Morrison—I’m sure I dinna ken what a’ body sees in her—a black, ugly-lookin’ wretch;” and so on she gaed wi’ great volubility o’ tongue, sometimes flytin’ ower Jamie for dancin’ sae often wi’ the Meg aforesaid, an’ payin’ sae mony attentions to her; sometimes greetin’ an’ sabbin’ as if her it heart wad break, an’ sometimes imprintin’ a lang series o’ kisses on the frontis-piece o’ what she taen to be the object o’ her affection. I said but little, an’ what little I did say was said in a wheishtlin way, below my breath, for, as I told her, I was feared some o’ the rest o’ the men aboot the place micht be near bye hearknin’, for they were a’ up to snuff, an’ if they kent o’ oor meetin’, they wad bother the very life oot o’ me. Of coorse I was weel aware that, had I lifted up my natural voice, the fairntickled hizzie—for it was nane but she—wad hae found oot her mistak’, an’ made her departure in double quick time. So I got a’ her leddyship’s loves an’ adventures wi’ Jamie Johnstone, wha was Andro Sooter’s second foreman, an’ a geyan ramblin’ sort o’ a chield amang the lasses, as Andro told me when I was relatin’ to him the heads an’ particulars o’ oor nocturnal interview. After carryin’ on the joke wi’ Phemy, for that was her name, as far as was consistent wi’ the strict rules o’ decorum—I bein’ a married man, ye’ll observe—I persuaded her to gang awa’ up to the laft for my bannet, for my head was gettin’ cauld, an’ she wad fin it lyin’ in a particular corner o’ the crap-wa. I engaged no to budge oot o’ the bit till she cam’ back. Awa’ she gaed up the trap, an’ I taen care to be as close at her heels as possible, no to excite her suspicion. The first sicht she got when she entered the barn laft, was Jamie Johnston i’ the floor, dancin’ like mad, wi’ the ‘dentical Meg Morrison for his partner. Od I couldna help reproachin mysel’ for carryin’ the joke sae far, when I saw hoo she glowered around her in a state o’ bewilderment, an’ hoo her face turned as blue as a blawart, when she at last realised that a’ her sighs, an’ vows, and kissin’, an’ embracin’, had been wasted on the wrang man. An’ wha could the man be? Se kent it must hae been some body aboot the toon, but she never jealoused me, for I was up an’ in the room almost as soon as hersel’, an’ she had never seen me enter. But when the next gentleman entered hoo she did hang doon her head! Ay that may hae been the very man that played her the begunk in the corn yard, an’ Miss Euphemia couldna thole to glower him in the face. By-an’-bye, she made her exit, hangin’ doon her head like a bulrush, an’ I hope Jamie will prove as faithfu’ as his “Phemy Fairntickle” is kind. I saw nae mair o’ either o’ them that nicht, for Mistress Sooter came in belyve to announce to the genteel pairt o’ the company that supper was ready, an’ so we adjourned to the dinin’-room, where we sat eatin’ an’ drinkin’, singin’ sangs an’ tellin’ stories, till the chap o’ twal o’clock, when there was a general yokin’ o’ gigs an’ carts, a general shakin’ o’ hands, an’ then a general move hamewards.

As for the lads an’ lasses, they kept up the dancin’ till four o’clock in the mornin’. Twa or three times I waukened through my sleep, an’ aye I heard the jumpin’ an’ thumpin’ gaen on withoot the least devald. The ploughmen chields only left aff when it was time for them to gang hame an’ begin their wark, an’ weary shanks there must hae been amang them lang ere Sandy’s fiddle struck the grand finale o’ “Bab at the bowster.” Next forenoon the shearers taen the road to Dundee, Phemy Fairntickle amang the lave, an’ sae did Tibbie an’

Tammas Bodkin.

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