‘Bodkin Holds his Halowe’en (16 November, 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,—I aye like to gie young folk a little encouragement, provided they behave themsels, an’ do what they are bidden. Noo, I’ve never haen ony cause to complain o’ the behaviour o’ Willie Clippins. Shortcomins he may hae—as, indeed, there’s few folk free o’ them, no forgettin’ mysel amang the lave—but this thing I will say to the credit o’ Willie, he has never been obstinately nor wilfully mureungeous in his disposition, an’ aye when I have shown him the error o’ his ways, he has listened to my coonsels an’ reproofs wi’ becomin’ reverence. In doin’ that, of coorse, he is doin’ naething but his duty, an’ strictly speakin’, folk shouldna be bribit to do their duty; but still an’ on they are nane the waur at times o’ being allooed a little indulgence to keep them souple, an’ to shew that they are no juist viewed in the licht o’ workin’ machines, that maun gang on an’ on, frae day to day an’ frae year to year, withoot rest or recreation. Mony is the saxpence, an’ untold the quantities o’ sweeties I hae gien to Willie frae first to last, y way o’ encouragin’ him in weel-doin’, an’ never have I had cause to regret the bounties bestowed on him, for I’m sure he wad gang through fire an’ water to sair either Tibbie or me, an’ that withoot either the shadow o’ a glumsh or a grumble on his mirkie bit coontenance.

In my hoosehold Hallowe’en an’ Hogmanay, no to mention the various Fair days an’ ither great occasions, ha’e aye been held sacred to the spirit o’ fun an’ gude fellowship, an’ a’ kinds o’ harmless gilravage proper to the season. I’m that muckle o’ a Conservative in a social point o’ view—though I’m an oot an’ oot Radical in political matters—that I grieve to see a spirit o’ utilitarianism abroad, breakin’ up bit by bit a’ oor time-honoured customes an’ observances, an’ leavin’ us naething in their stead but hard wark an’ short commons to cheer oor pilgrimage through this vale o’ tears. I’m nae advocate for the carnivals an’ numberless saint days an’ holidays that ha’e the sign o’ the beast on their foreheads, but I’m dead against lettin’ go oor haud o’ the few seasons o’ mirth an’ harmless jollification we reserved when we voluntarily abandoned the mummeries o’ the great whore o’ Babylon, wha even to this oor ain day yet sits enthroned in the seven-hilled city, makin’ hersel’ drunk wi’ the blude o’ the saints. I like fun mysel’, an’ I like to see a’ mankind enjoyin’ themsel’s, if sae be they keep their mirth within the boonds o’ propriety, an’ dinna let their amusements degenerate into licentiousness.

Weel, ye see, Tuesday nicht bein’ Auld Hallowe’en, I, accordin’ to custom, gae Willie the forenicht to himsel’, an’ told him mair an’ farther that he micht bring in a half-dizzen or sae o’ his acquaintances, an’ I wad provide for their entertainment an’ amusement at my ain charges. This, I think, is a far better plan than simply turnin’ young folk adrift to rin-the-rout an’ seek amusement for themsel’s, when they maybe fa’ into evil company, an’ bring grief an’ shame upon themsel’s an’ upon a’ conneckit wi’ them. I’m no gien to offer advice unless it be especially sought for; but I wad for ance depairt frae that rule, an’ admonish my fellow-tradesmen, an’ maisters an’ mistresses o’ a’ kinds, no to think the twa or three shillin’s ill-waired that are spent on makin’ their servants happy, an’ keepin’ them oot o’ mischief. I can speak frae my ain experience on this subject, an’ I can safely say I never but got the bawbees spent in that way paid back to me, plack an’ farthin’, principal an’ interest, afore the end o’ the day—so that, in that way paid back to me, plack an’ farthin’, principal an’ interest, afore the end o’ the day—so that, instead o’ bein’ a loser by my liberality, I have gained nae that little thereby, besides haein’ the sweet, the oonspeakable satisfaction o’ makin’ my fellow-creatures happy.

It wad ha’e done yer heart gude had ye seen hoo Willie garred the needle dance oot an’ in through the seam o’ the pair o’ slacks whereon he was engaged, when I made the important announcement that he was to be his ain maister after the chap o’ sax o’clock. I despatched Tibbie in the afternoon wi’ her radicle on her airm, an’ a twa shillin’ piece in her pouch, to buy an assortment o’ apples, nuts, an’ ither nick-nacks; an’ Willie, after takin’ his drappie o’ tea, washed his face, arrayed himsel’ in his est apparel, an’ set oot to invite his companions to the ploy. In coorse o’ time he returned, bringin’ twa o’ his male companions, and three o’ his female ditto. Od it’s wonderfu’ to behold hoo soon the youthhood o’ the present generation begin to pair. I’m certain sure, when Tibbie an’ me were like them, we wad hae thocht black burnin’ shame to hae been seen cheekin’ up to ane aniher; but ye see this is an age o’ progress, wherein it is baith lawfu’ an’ proper for folk to think aboot gettin’ married lang, lang afore they set abot cuttin’ their wisdom teeth. There was Billy Button, a geyan spruce lookin’ bit chappie, wha will be oot wi’ his apprenticeship on the term day, an’ he had his sweetheart alang wi’ him; there was Jeames Stitch, the auldest son o’ my freend an’ former servant Maister Stitch, wha is sairin’ his time in some haberdashery establishment wast the Nethergate—an unco gabby rascal he is for his years, but by nae means an ill-disposed bit loonie for a’ that—an’ he had his sweetheart alang wi’ him; an’ there was Willie himsel’, lookin’ as brisk as a bee on a midsummer mornin’—an’ he had his sweetheart under his wing, though he winna let me say she was his sweetheart, but it’s a gude point to deny weel, an’ I canna blame him for doin’ what I wad ha’e done mysel’ when I was like him, an’ what I did oftener than ance, as Tibbie can testify, if she likes to tell the truth on that subject. My certie, Willie has nae reason to be ashamed o’ his choice, for Mary-Ann—that was a’ the name she had, sae far as I could mak’ oot frae their conversation—was as blithe an’ bonnie a bit lassockie as ye could clap an e’e upon. Wi’ her lang black glossy locks gathered up in a poke in her back-neck, lookin’ for a’ the warld like a fisherman’s sou’-wester—though, of coorse, a far mair interestin’ object—wi’ a sweet little Garibaldi perkt on the croon o’ her bit head, whereon there flaunted a “dear little duck” o’ a “feather”—no meanin’ thereby that it was a deuk’s feather—na, na, it had dootless been pluckit frae the wing o’ some far-awa’ fowl, proverbial for its splendid plumage—wi’ a braw silk cloak that Tibbie thinks wad cost nae less than five-an’-twenty shillin’s, and maybe aughteen pence mair, coontin’ the border an’ the braidin’ on the breast o’t, wi’ a skirt made o’ a material the name whereof I forget at this precise moment—but Tibbie kens a’ aboot it—an’ for the crinoline, I didna get a sicht o’ that, but judgin’ frae appearances, I wad say it couldna hae been less than four or five yards in circumference; an’, to croon a’, wi’ “her rosy cheeks an’ cherry mou’, her sparklin’ een o’ bonnie lue, her dimpled chin, her forehead fair, her neck that scarce the very swan in spotless whiteness can compare—wi’ a’ thae charms, an’ ten times mair, bedeck a fairy form, an’ there thou wilt behold sweet Mary Ann.” Its really ill dune in me to let oot secrets, but the latter pairt o’ the foregoin’ description I discovered this mornin’ under the guse, carefully drawn up in Willie’s handwreatin’ on the braid side o’ a white paper poke that has a strong smell o’ tea blades. So, after that, Willie needna deny bein’ in love wi’ Mary Ann; an’, to tell the truth, had I been in Willie’s shoon, I wad hae been in love wi’ her, or wi’ some ane unco like her, mysel’, an’ that’s no sayin’ ae thing an’ thinkin’ anither.

But, withoot mair ado, I maun proceed to describe hoo we gaed to wark wi’ the apples. First an’ foremost, we got hauds o’ the ellwand, tied a cord roond the middle thereof, an’ suspendit it frae ane o’ the joists, after the manner o’ a pair o’ weigh-bauks. On the ae end we managed to fix a lichtit candle-doup, an’ on the ither end we stuck a dainty apple. So to wark they gaed, wi’ their hands tied ahent their acks, tryin’ wha wad tak’ a bite oot o’ the braid side o’ the apple. Roond an’ roond swung the apparatus, the young folks makin’ desperate snaps at the apple as it whirl’t past them, but sometimes gettin’ the candle i’ their teeth instead, an’ then there wad burst oot an awfu’ spate o’ yellochin’, an’ lauchin’, an banterin’ o’ ane anither. Tibbie an’ me stood an’ beheld them, an’, if the truth maun be telled, we laughed as lood as ony o’ them. Od, it reminded us o’ the days o’ langsyne, when I used to stap ower bye to Lasswade on a Hallowe’en night to pay my respects to Tibbie. An’, losh, what fun we had—pun’ the stalks o’ corn, sawin’ hemp-seed, whinin’ three wechts o’ naething i’ the barn, rinnin’ thrice roond the barley-stacks, dippin’ oor left sark-sleeve i’ the burnie, stravaigin’ through the kail stocks, where we wad

“Steek oor e’en, an graip an’ wale

For muckle anes an’ straught anes.”

an’ it was aye Tibbie that fell to my lot, an’ aye me that fell to hers. Weel do I mind hoo Tibbie gaed to the kill on a pick-mirk nicht, an’ flang a blue clue into the pat, an’ began windin’ it up, an’ flang a blue clue into the pat, an’ began windin’ it up, an’ hoo I, oonbekent to her, slippit in at a cat-bole below an’ got hauds o’ the thread an’ held it back. “Wha hauds there?” quoth Tibbie, her very teeth rattlin’ in her’ head wi’ terror an’ dismay. “Tammas Bodkin,” quoth I, an’ the words echoed wi’ sic a wild, weird like soond through the empty biggin’, that they nearly frichtened Tibbie oot o’ her seven senses, for she got oot wi’ a lood skirl, an’ presently fell doon i’ the bit, but I ran an’ liftit her up in my arms, an’ kissed her, an’ it was truly marvellous hoo soon she cam’ to hersel’ again, when she felt the hard risp o’ my stubborn beard on her saft silken cheek, an’ especially when she heard my natural voice pourin’ words o’ endearment into her listfu’ ear. As consciousness returned, she got oot wi’ a merry laugh—claspit me in her arms—aye, an’ repaid my kisses a thousand-fauld oot o’ the abundance that lay enshrined on her hinny mou’.

I was waukened frae this reverie o’ auld times by a lood ootburst o’ merriment at the expense o’ Willie Clippins, wha, in ettlin’ for the apple, had unwittingly sent his physog wi’ thump forgainst the candle-doup, whereby the said doup was neatly transferred frae the ellwand to the point o’ his chin, where it stuck like a limpet on the edge o’ a rock; an’ still the doup held on to burn, playn’ the very mischief wi’ the few scattered hairs in that locality, the progress whereof I’ve viewed, for the last twelvemonths, wi’ a truly paternal interest. Willie’s hands bein’ fastened ahent his back, he was, of coorse, utterly powerless to relieve himsel’ frae the fiery imp that perched under his nose, an’, as it appeared a perfect possibilty to me that in a little while not only the standin’ corn, but also the very ground whereon it grew, wad be burnt up if something wasna done, an’ that withoot delay, I steppit forward an’ put things to richts again, greatly to Willie’s satisfaction. But had ye only seen hoo red a face Willie taen, an’ hoo Mary Ann bit her lip an’ glowered in a’ directions at ance, when I proceedit to mak’ a few consolatory observations to Willie aboot the loss o’ his bit beardie! “Never ye mind, Willie,” quoth I, “ye’ll get my razor the morn’s mornin’, an’ ye’ll gie yer chafts a bit scrape a’ ower, an’ Mary Ann will find the second crap far stronger an’ thicker than the first ane.”

Havin’ had their satisfaction o’ this kind o’ sport, it was next proposed to try the divin’ process, so Tibbie brocht inbye the washin’ tub, an’ we got it filled nearly lip-fu’ o’ water. Half-a-dizzen o’ apples were then set afloat therein, while the youngsters divestit themsels o’ their neckerchiefs an’ set to wark divin’ ower head an’ ears after the apples like deuks in a mill-dam. It was funny to see them fishin’ wi’ their teeth the liquid element below, noo makin’ a bit snap as they felt the prize scruffin’ their cheeks, an’ then makin’ an adventurous plunge to the very bottom when they thocht themsels certain sure o’ their prey. In spite o’ a’ their heroism, hooever, there were far mair blanks than prizes a-gaen, but as ane after anither cam’ up wi’ an apple in his or her teeth, pantin’, an’ blawin’, an’ gollerin’ for I want o’ breath, shouts o’ laughter an’ applause rang through the haill biggin’, an’ I’m thinkin’ Mr Phelim O’Grady wad be under the impression that we were a’ roarin’ fu’ for ance. This I’m certain o’, at least, that Tibbie an’ me have risen full fifty per cent. In Pelim’s estimation ever since—a circumstance that I canna accoont for ony ither theory than by supposin’ that he looks on us as possessin’ that fellow-feelin’ which is said to mak’ us wondrous kind, but if he does sae I can tell him he was never sairer mista’en in a’ his life.

It behoves me, at this place, to narrate a mischanter that occurred in the midst o’ the divin’ operations, whereby Tibbie’s choler was a wee thocht inflamed, but for which naebody in particular could be held blameworthy, though it happened to fa’ into the hands o’ Maister Billy Button, or rather upon the croon o’ his head, for he, being a rather interprisin’ pairty, an’ havin’ a promisin’ prospect o’ catchin’ an apple, thrust his pow doonwuth wi’ sic a thud that he fairly knocket a deal oot o’ the bottom o’ the tub. Weel, ye see, in the coorse o’ nature the water a’ gushed oot on the floor, utterly regairdless o’ Tibbie’s injunctions to the contrary. The creepie that happened to be lying on its back afore the bed began to soom, and actually made a voyage inbye to the fire side. The puir tortoise found his slumbers rudely broken in upon by the influx o’ the watery element, but, bein’ an amphibious animal, it seemed rather to enjoy a puddle in the said element. Billy, puir chield, looked unco glum, and the lasses flew for dishclouts an’ washin’ cloots in a’ directions, while Tibbie gathered the roughest o’t up wi’ a tea cup, an’ poured it into the water-bucket. But if Tibbie’s hands were bussy, dinna suppose that her tongue was tackit. “Did ever onybody hear tell o’ the like o’ that?” quoth Tibbie. “My gude washin’ tub dung a’ to spunks, an’ the floorhead in a perfect jarness. When will it be dry again, think ye, in this weather? An’ I wad hae thocht naething o’t aitherns, if I hadna warniced ye aforehand what wad happen wi’ yer nonsense!” an’ so on she gaed. Of coorse, the only warnicement I heard tell o’ was after the event, instead o’ before it; but, hoosomdever, I said naething, as I kent it was juist Tibbie’s way o’ expressin’ hersel’ when labouring under strong emotion, an’ I kent, moreover, that the toit wad soon blaw ower if she werna kaimed against the hair. An’ sae it cam’ to pass. The floor was soon set to richts, an’ Tibbie was hersel’ again in nae time. Of coorse, that mischanter put an end to oor divin’ operations.

Next I arranged three bowls in a raw afore the dresser—ane o’ them toom, ane filled wi’ clean, an’ ane wi’ foul water. Then I blindfoldit Jeames Stitch, wha tried his luck first, an’ got his hand into the toom dish. “Aha, Jeames,” quoth I, “you’re doomed to be an auld bachelor, at ony rate,” whereat his partner, puir quean, lookit the very picture o’ disappointment. Next Maister Billy Button tried his hand, an’ got the clean dish, when I pronounced that Billy was to marry a young strappin’ dame, he kenned wha. Lastly, Willie tried his luck an’ go the foul water dish, but hoo the clouds o’ grief owerspread the fair coontenance o’ the lovely Mary Ann when I told him that he wad marry—a widow! The lasses next tried their luck, when Jeames Stitch’s flame got the clean water, Billy Button’s ane the foul, an’ the charmin’ Mary Ann the toom bowl, so that they were a heads an’ thrawarts as it were. Whether the coorse o’ their true love will rin smooth until it fa’s into the troublous ocean o’ matrimony or no I canna pretend to foretell, no bein’ endowed wi’ the gift o’ prophecy, but o’ this I am pretty certain at ony rate, they’re a’ ower the lugs in love wi’ ane anither at the present moment; lang may they continue sae, lang may we a’ retain the licht o’ oor first loves burnin’ brightly in oor hearts, an’ lang may we a’ be spared to enjoy the harmless fun o’ auld Hallowe’en is the earnest cry an’ prayer o’

Tammas Bodkin.


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