‘Bodkin Very Nearly Angry’ (14 December, 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,—On Wednesday afternoon Tibbie had a visit frae Mrs Davidson. Naething wrang in that; folk maun be freendly wi’ ane anither, if they dinna mean to live like a wheen cannibals withoot natural affection, an’ never passin’ a thocht aboot their neebors, except it be to contrive hoo to mak’ a meal o’ them. I like to be social mysel’, an’ I like to see everybody aroond me the same; but, losh, there’s a limit to everything under the sun, save an’ except to the click-clack o’ a woman’s tongue, especially when egged on by the click-clack o’ anither tongue o’ the same gender. The faster a body rins, the sooner he gets to the end o’ his journey—a rule that doesna haud gude wi’ speakin’, hooever—at least it doesna haud gude wi’ my Tibbie’s speakin’, for the faster her tongue wags, the langer lasts the motion thereof. It’s aye the mair haste the less speed wi’ Tibbie. Juist gi’e her a congenial subject, an’ get her fairly started wi’t, an’ ye may consider yersel’ fortunate if ye hear the end o’t within the limits o’ twa oors at the very least. Indeed, my Tibbie’s tongue comes aboot as near the perpetual motion as may be; an’ if they wad only agree to let me ha’e the reward offered for the discovery o’ that lang sought-for piece o’ mechanism, I wad thole its dinsome clatter wi’ a greater degree o’ patience an’ resignation than I can at times command.

Weel ye see Mrs Davidson made her appearance juist at the precise nick o’ time when Tibbie was to begin washin’ up her dinner dishes. I had newly finished my after-dinner pipe, and had barely mountit the board, when the ruddie comes to the door. I aye like to be civil wi’ everybody, and though Mrs Davidson acted a rather twa-faced pairt in the matter o’ the Municipal Elections an’ the Provostship, yet I made nae difference till her on that account, for if folk conduct themselves like gude Christians a’ the rest o’ their lives, we canna help though they sid resort to cheatin’, and leein’, an’ evil-speakin’, at an election time. That’s an every-day occurrence, ay, even among folk wi’ greater pretensions to honour and sanetity than Mrs Davidson ever had, an’ if we were to fling awa oor private freendships for ilka little thing in them that displeases us, we wad very soon find oorsels without a freend in the wide wide warld. Na, na, we mauna aye cast awa the cog when the coo flings. For that reason I abstained frae ony demonstration o’ ill-feelin’ towards Mrs Davidson, an’ so when I observed the snoot o’ her bannet peepin’ in atween the door cheeks, or rather the neb o’ her nose, for ladies bannets noo-a-days hae nae snoots worth speakin’ o’—I sprang doon frae the board an’ taen three staps to the stair-head for the purpose o’ shakin’ hauds wi’ her, an’ showin’ her ony ither points o’ gude breedin that micht peradventure be necessary under the circumstances.

I observed in the twinklin’ o’ an e’e that Mrs Davidson had been patronisin’ the haberdashery line o’ business, for she had a big broon paper parcel in ilka oxter, forbye a bandbox that she carried in her hand, the contents whereof, judgin’ frae the care wherewith the boxie was piloted past a’ the angularities in my lobby, seemed to be the objects o’ her especial affection and veneration. Seem’ that she was rather over-encumbered wi’ her properties, I caught hauds o’ the band-box wi’ the view o’ renderin’ ony little assistance I could gi’e, but got unco sma’ thanks for my pains. “Eh! Mr Bodkin! Mr Bodkin!” quoth she, “haud aff yer haunds,” quoth she, “or ye’ll mischieve a’ my new bannet,” quoth she, “an’ I wadna for the best thirty shillings my gudeman ever wrocht for that onything sid come ower that bannet.”

Sorra tak’ you an’ yer bannat baith, thinks I to mysel’, for ye’ll be showin’ aff a’ yer puchases to my Tibbie, an’ if I dinna hear word aboot them i’ the deafest side o’ my head afore mony oors are at an end, it will be something oot o’ the common ordinar’. So thocht I laigh in to mysel’, but here’s what I said heigh oot to Mrs Davidson, “Sorry wad I be to hurt a hair o’ yer head, Mrs Davidson,” quoth I, “let abee spoilin’ yer new bannet in ony shape or degree whatsomever, Mrs Davidson, but if ye winna let me touch yer boxie, ye surely winna object to let me relieve ye o’ yer broon paper parcels.” So the business was compromised by Tibbie takin’ ane o’ the bundles into custody, while I was entrusted wi’ the ither, an’ that’s hoo we got Mrs Davidson introduced to my kitchen. Dog on it; afore twa oors were at an end my sentiments regardn’ Mrs Davidson, her new bannet, an’ her broon paper parcels, had undergane a great an’ radicle cheenge, an’, in fact, to speak plainly, an’ withoot wishin’ ony ill to befa’ her, I could hae seen her dive head foremost doon the stair, an’ a’ her haberdashery, hair-skins, an’ rabbit-skins, an’ bandboxes at her heels.

Havin’ seen her leddyship duly enthroned i’ the big chair, I steppit my wa’s ben to my wark, leavin’ Tibbie an’ her to their ain meditations. I was richt vexed for John Davidson, pur chield, for he dootless had suffered a warld o’ tribulation for days, if no for weeks, afore his consent was gie’n’ to the purchasin’ o’ a’ thae costly fallalls. Ah, weel can I sympatheese wi’ ony mortal man whase gude-wife is ambitious o’ followin’ the fashion, an’ what man that has a wife—unless she happens to be a careless, mauchless, worthless, dirty tawpie—is a’thegither exempt frae the moil an’ the turmoil incident to the advent o’ a new bannet. Hoosomdever, I wadna object to moderate things, but no even the very best o’ wives, like my Tibbie, for instance, will be content on a’ occasions to bide within the boonds o’ moderation. Ye maun keep them doon wi’ the strong hand at times, an’ that doesna aye do either, for if they dinna get their ain will an’ the better half o’ yours, they turn as thrawn i’ the temper as cork-screws, an’ there’s nae livin’ wi’ them in ony degree o’ comfort.

There was unco little conversation atween Willie an’ me a’ that afternoon, for I was thinkin’ what wad be the upshot o’ Mrs Davdson’s visit wi’ her bannet, an’ Willie was evidently i’ the broon studies—thinkin’ aboot the charmin’ Mary Ann, dootless, at least I noticed when he threeded his needle he aye glowered musingly oot at the window for a quarter o’ a minute or sae, an’ then resumed his operations again wi’ a heavy lang-drawn sigh—no a sigh begot by a sorrowfu’ heart by ony means, but ane o’ thae half-pleasin’ half-melancholy kind o’ sighs that instinctively escape frae the bosom when the mind is wanderin’ far awa on the mountains o’ Beulah, an’ livin’ and actin’ ower again the happy scenes an’ fondly cherished transactions o’ the past. O Willie, Willie! ye are a happy man! At present love is a’ a romance to you; an’ Mary Ann—the laughin’, the blithersome, the bright-e’ed, the rosy-cheeked Mary Ann—is in your fervid imagination a thing o’ beauty that promises to be a joy for ever, but wait awee, Willie, lad, till yer locks be as hyart an’ thin as mine are, an’ till Mary Ann has cost yer maybe fifty or sixty new bannets, forbye muffs, an’ boas, an’ creenolines, an’ new goons innumerable, an’ ye’ll meybe come to oonderstand by that time that love has its realities as well as its romances. Then, O William Clippins, will thou muse ower the days that are gane, an’ heave mony a lang-drawn sigh as thou dost threed thy needle an’ pick thy teeth with thy bodkin, but they will, peradventure, he sighs for the licht o’ ither days that have faded, an’ their glories that have passed awa’. Yea, Willie, an’ ye’ll wear the breeks yersel’, will ye? an’ ye’ll no alloo yer hen to peck ye? We’ll see aboot that, Willie, lad, or rather Mary Ann will see aboot it lang afore the cheenge o’ the honeymune. She’s a’ smiles an’ what not, enoo, Willie, an’ when she speaks her voice is, like Annie Laurie’s, “low an’ sweet,” but bide ye awee till she comes to roost oonder your ain wing, an’ my word for’t

“But she’ll craw kniefly in yer crap,

When, wow! ye canna flit her

Frae hame that day.”

A’ thae reflections ye’ll observe passed through my mind that afternoon, but to nane o’ them did I gie audible utterance. I juist held the needle reekin’, thocht weel, an’ derned occasionally to hear hoo the corrieneuchin was progressin’ atween Tibbie an’ Mrs Davidson. I couldna hear exactly what was passin’, but I jealoused frae the repeated explosions o’ wonderment an’ admiration that burst frae the lips o’ my gudewife, that Mrs Davidson was lowsin’ doon her wallets an’ displayin’ her grandeur. Indeed that was the sole object o’ her visit, an’ I wad hae thocht naething o’t either if she hadna set Tibbie’s teeth a waterin’ for a curn trumpery, that my purse can ill affoord, an’ that she has as little use for as a cart has for a third wheel.

An oor passed awa’, an’ I was beginnin’ to think that surely eneuch had been said baith in praise o’ Mrs Davidson’s new bannet, an’ in disparagement o’ Tibbie’s auld ane; but never was I in a greater mistak in a’ my life, for still the confabulation proceedit withoot the least appearance o’ its comin’ to a conclusion. In the coorse o’ that oor I’m certain sure Tibbie spak’ an ordinary-sized volume, an’ for Mrs Davidson, she couldna hae been aboon half a sentence ahent her. There was nae paucity o’ words wi’ either party, whatever there may hae been o’ ideas, an’ some o’ the words I could plainly hear were delivered wi’ an emphasis that only Mrs Davidson an’ Mrs Bodkin ken best hoo to employ, an’ that can only be legitimately employed when the conversation has reference to a new bannet either in esse or in posse.

The feck o’ anither oor passed awa’, an’ the shades o’ evenin’ were noo beginnin’ to descend, an’ the gloamin’ star to peep in through the window, but still Tibbie an’ Mrs Davidson hadna exhaustit their respective funds o’ information. The spate o’ words was sensibly increasin’ baith in volume an’ in velocity.

It was requisite, belyve, that I should ha’e the guse warmed, an’ of coorse that operation could only be accomplished at the kitchen fire. It behooved wither Willie or me to undertak’ that duty; but as I was in the expectation every moment that Mrs Davidson would by-a’-bye see the propriety o’ packin’ up her traps, an’ leavin’, I put it aff until I could wait nae langer, an’, therefore, quoth I to Willie, “Wad ye juist hae the gudeness to stap but to the kitchen, Willie, an’ put Mrs Davidson i’ the fire, an’ see that ye dinna mak’ her red het, mind.”

“Put Mrs Davidson i’ the fire, Maister!” quoth Willie, wi’ a glower o’ blank astonishment, “ye’re surely jokin’ noo.”

“Put Mrs Davidson i’ the fire, Maister!” quoth Wille, wi’ a glower o’ blank astonishment, “ye’re surely jokin’ noo.”

“Put the guse i’ the fire, Willie,” quoth I, “it’s the guse, I mean, though it wad be doin’ a great favour to me if, at the same time, ye could put Mrs Davidson to the door, withoot bein’ positively uncivil till her.”

Willie shook his head, an’ gaed his wa’s wi’ the guse. “Send yer maister but to speak wi’ me for a single moment,” quoth Tibbie; an’ so Willie cam’ ben, winkin’ hard wi’ his richt e’e, an’ bitin’ his under-lip, the rogue, an’ quoth he, “The mistress wants to speak wi’ ye, sir, for a single moment.” Willie put great emphasis on the last twa words.

“For a single moment does she say, Willie?” quoth I; “my certie, Willie, if she wad only gie as short measure to Mrs Davidson, I wad cun her mony, mony thanks.”

So, after takin’ time to tone doon the muscles o’ my coontenance to something like ootward placidity, but I goes to the kitchen, an’ behold there stood my Tibbie afore the lookin’-glass, arrayed in Mrs Davidson’s new bannet, new boa, an’ new muff; there lay, in a state o’ disorder borderin’ on confusion, my Tibbie’s auld bannet, auld mantle, an’ auld goon; an’ there, too, sat Mrs Davidson hersel’, wi’ her arms crossed, an’ lookin’ the very picture o’ supreme delight an’ self-glorification.

Hoosomdever, as I’ve got a waddin’ suit on hands that maun be finished the morn by mid afternoon, the upshot o’ Mrs Davidson’s visit maun be reserved till another week; but while Willie is oot for a penny worth o’ silk threed to work the button-holes wi’, I may juist as weel occupy the spare time till he comes back, by remarkin’ that it required but a sma’ amount o’ penetration on my pairt to understand that Tibbie’s garmets, havin’ been weighed i’ the balances against Mrs Davidson’s, an’ found wantin’, had in a moment tint a’ their former attractiveness, an’ that they will very soon be consigned to the limbo o’ a’ siclike unfashionable vanities—as soon, in fact, as Tibbie can, by hook or by crook, by workin’ on my fears or my affections, extract sax or aucht pounds frae the lang-sufferin’ an’ sairly-taxed huggar o’ her over-indulgent spouse,

Tamas Bodkin.

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