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,—Havin’ finished the waddin’ suit I spoke aboot last week, I’m noo at leisure to tell ye the result o’ my interview wi’ Tibbie an’ Mrs Davidson.
Weel ye see, as I was sayin’, when I gaed but to the kitchen at Tibbie’s command, I found her standin’ afore the lookin’ glass arrayed in Mrs Davidson’s new regimentals, an’ presentin’, I maun say, to my e’e at least, a very comely sicht. First an’ foremost, an’ to begin wi’ her upper story, there was a most lovely, an’, accordin’ to Mrs Davidson, a very costly bannet on the head o’ her, wi’ some queer fleegaries stuch atween the snoot an’ her forehead, that bore a strikin’ resemblance to a wren’s nest; but as this is no the season o’ nidification amang the feathered sangsters o’ the grove, a bird’s nest it couldna weel hae been, though what it really was clean surpasses my vocabulary to name. Most fearfully an’ wonderfully was that precious head-piece bedeckt wi’ ribands o’ a’ the hues o’ the rainbow. Tibbie remindit me o’ a ship buskit up in flamin’-coloured clouts, and juist ready to tak’ the grand plunge into her “future element.” A shawl, that I sanna attempt to describe, enveloped her person frae neck to heel, an’ aroond her neck there was twined an article that Mrs Davidson ca’d a sable boa, but that seemed to my inexperienced e’e to have been fashioned on the model o’ a hairy-worm. Add to a’ thae variorums, a muff o’ the same colour an’ quality as the boa, an’ ye’ll behold my Tibbie. I cuist my e’e ower her haill corporation frae head to fit, an’ quoth she, “Tammas, what d’ye think o’ yer gudewife the nicht?” Of coorse I wasna gaen to say afore Mrs Davidson a’ that I thocht, an’ a’ that I wad hae said, an’ a’ that I did say, ahint her back; but weel I wat, I thocht nae that little in my ain mind, an’ no the least distressin’ reflection was this, that I was in for a suit o’ the like raiment for Tibbie, as sure as I was a livin’ man an’ a dutiful husband.
“Think o’ ye, Tibbie?” quoth I. “Ou ye’re weel eneuch,” quoth I.
“Weel eneuch?” quoth Tibbie. “Is that a’ your skill, Tammas? D’ye no think Mrs Davidson’s bravity becomes me richt weel, Tammas?”
“Ou aye, I suppose they do,” quoth I, drily, an’ at the same time spittin’ on the guse to see if she was ready for liftin’.
“But that’s no what I meant, Tammas,” quoth Tibbie. “Ha’e ye naething to say aboot this lovely bannet, for instance, but juist ‘weel eneuch,’ an ‘on aye?’ D’ye no think it gars me look a dizzen o’ years younger like, Tammas?”
“Maybe it does, Tibbie,” quoth I, “but likes an ill mark, my woman; an’, besides, ye canna deceive me as to yer age noo, TIbbie, after I had the fillin’ up o’ the census paperie. D’ye mind hoo auld I set ye doon therein, Tibbie? If it werna for Mrs Davidson there I wad tell ye.”
“Hoots, toots, Tammas, min,” quoth she, “ye’re awa’ frae the subject noo a’thegither, but tel me what ye think o’ this muff, Tammas; would’nt it fit me to a very shavin’?”
“Ou aye, Tibbie,” quoth I, “an’ if I can lay me hands on a dead cat ony way, ye’se get a muff, Tibbie.”
“What d’ye think was the price o’ that bannet?” enquired Mrs Davidson.
“Canna say, Mrs Davidson,” quoth I. “Bannets are no exactly in my line o’ business, an I dinna like to venture a guess on the subject, for I’m far frae bein’ a witch at guessin’.”
“Weel, what will ye gi’e me if I tell ye?” quoth Mrs Davidson.
“My thirst for knowledge o’ that kind is no sae very intense as to induce me to pay a high fee for it,” quoth I.
“Juist three-an’-therty shillings, Mr Bodkin,” quoth she, “an’ no ae farthin’ less. It’s a real bargain, ye see, for the man said it was ‘very chaste,’ an’ newly arrived frae Parish.”
“Ye remind me o’ the auld proverb, Mrs Davidson,” quoth I.
“Yea, Mr Bodkin, an’ what proverb is that?”
“That a fule an’ his siller are sure partit,” quoth I.
“Aha! Mr Bodkin,” quoth she; “ye may say what ye like, but I’ve saved twa an’ saxpence on that bannet, for the man wad hae haen five-an’-therty an’ saxpence for’t, but I wadna agree to his terms. So ye see I’ve saved half a day’s wage to John Davidson by that stroke o’ business.”
“Say, rather, that ye’ve waired a haill month’s wages by this day’s wark, an’ I’ll believe ye, Mrs Davidson,” quoth I.
“But ye’ve said naething aboot the shawl, Tammas,” quoth Tibbie, “what is yer verdict thereanent? Isn’t it very handsome?”
“Very handsome! Mrs Bodkin,” quoth Mrs Davidson, “I wat it’s no that, for the man told me it was ‘superb,’ and that was the word printit on the paperie the man taen aff when he brocht it doon frae the skelf. So ye see ‘superb’ is the word.”
“An’ what was the cost o’ that, na?” quoth Tibbie, juist as if she hadna had that matter through hands afore I cam’ but.
“Juist four guineas,” quoth Mrs Davidson, puckerin’ up her chafts, an’ looking wi’ ae e’e to Tibbie an’ wi’ the ither ane to me; “an’ the man said it was sold at ‘an immense sacrifice.’”
“Dootless John Davidson will be muckle o’ the same opinion,” quoth I, wi’ a snifter that, if it wasna taen as a mark o’ my contempt, was unquestionably meant to bear that signification. Od, I was far frae bein’ in a genial frame o’ spirit at havin’ to stand listenin’ to a curn auld wives’ fables, when I had far mair need to be haudn’ the guse reekin’.
“’Oo na, Mr Bodkn,” quoth Mrs Davidson, “My gudeman is a real reasonable body, an’ I’m sure if he hadna had me to look after his gear, he wad hae been a puir thing lang ere this time o’ day.”
“My fegs, ye’re weel aff, Mrs Davidson,” burst in Tibbie, in a state o’ great indignation, “Ye’re weel aff to hae a man wi’ some sma’ degree o’ sense in his noddle, for I’m certain sure my gudeman hasna his marrow atween Maidenkirk an’ John O’Groat’s.”
“Thank ye, Tibbie,” quoth I, “for the great and unexpected compliment, for, muckle as I do esteem mysel’, I ne’er yet thocht o’ claimin’ qualities superior to a’ the rest o’ mankind inhabitin’ that pair o’ Great Britain ca’d Scotland.”
“Oh, Tammas, Tammas,” quoth Tibbie, wi’ something like a tear glistenin i’ the corner o’ her e’e, “it’s needless for the like o’ me to think o’ sittin in Room an’ fechtin’ wi’ the Pope, for I’m sure ye juist abuse me ony way ye like, but it’s a great shame, it is, an’ ye’ll rue it yet, Tammas; aye, maybe when ye canna mend it, Tammas!”
“Hoity-toity, Tibbie, my woman,” quoth I, “what’s a’ this o’t noo? I’m sure I’ve said naething worthy o’ death, hae I, Tibbie?”
“Weel, weel, Tammas; it doesna matter, ye’ll hae a’ that to accont for some day yet,” quoth Tibbie, castin’ aff Mrs Davidson’s bannet, an’ restorin’ it to the bandbox.
“Eh, ay, ‘oman,” quoth Mrs Davidson, “we never ken the worth o’ folk till we want them. I’m sure there’s Dauvid M’Scrubbie, wha lost his wife—let me see—aye, it will be a twalmonth come Candlemas—an’ he was sae near-be-gaun in his way that he wadna alloo her sufficient claes to hap her frae the winter’s cauld. The poor sackless creature—mony time was my heart wae to see her—had juist to trodge aboot like nae ither body, an’ ye ken the upshot o’t. She taen an ill cauld at the New year, an’ was under the mools by Candlemas.”
“That’s real true, ‘oman,” chimed in Tibbie, “an’ I wonder hoo Dauvid M’Scrubbie could ever haud up his head again, aftr bein’ the means o’ his wife’s death.”
“I’m sure ye may weel say sae,” quoth Mrs Davidson.
“Ay, but ‘oman, there’s some men that can stammack onything,” quoth Tibbie.
“Eh ay, ‘oman,’ quoth I, “an’ there are some women wi’ sic awfu’ stammacks—especially for bannets an’ shawls, an’ muffs an’ boys—that there’s nae satisfyin’ o’ them.”
“Ye dinna mean onything personal I hope, Mr Bodkin,” quoth Mrs Davidson.
“If the bannet fits, Mrs Davidson, ye are welcome to wear it,” quoth I, seizin’ hauds o’ the guse, for I was anxious to mak’ aff to my ain end o’ the hoose.
“Fit me, Mr Bodkin,” quoth she, “I’se warrant it’ll fit, for I tried it on i’ the shop, an’ the man said it was very distingue—that’s some foreign word, Mr Bodkin; but I speered at the man aboot it, an’ he says it means ‘flash up,’ ‘dash my buttons,’ or something o’ that kind—so there’s nae fears o’ its bein’ a perfect fit. But bide awee, Mr Bodkin, an’ I’se try it on , an’ ye’ll see hoo it answers,” quoth Davidson, pullin’ inbye, an’ openin’ the box containin’ the precious treasure.
At that precise instant o’ time, I chanced to hae the het guse i’ my hand, hanging ower the mooth o’ the box; an’ what did I no do, but let the said guse fa’ richt aboon the disingue bannet, crushin’ it like a perfect bauchle?
“Eh, Mr Bodkin, Mr Bodkin,” quoth Mrs Davidson, “my dear, dear bannet! What will I do?—for that’s the warst thing that could hae happened to me. What can I say to John Davidson aboot that?”
“Think shame o’ yersel’, Tammas, min!” quoth Tibbie, comin’ to Mrs Davidson’s assistance, “Wha wad hae thocht ye vas sic a handless slerp as wad hae dune the like o’ that. Fy, fy, Tammas! ye are a bonny lad indeed.”
“My dear, dear, dear bannet!” blubbered oot Mrs Davidson, wherever she could see an openin’.
“Your dear, dear bannet, Mrs Davidson,” quoth I. “did ye no tell me it was a cheap, cheap bannet? Ye’ve changed ye’r tune, it seems, and what’s a’ the steer aboot, I wonder. The bannet’s no a pn the waur. The guse is in fine season, an’ I’ll juist gie it an iron a’ ower, an’ tak’ oot the runkles. What are ye bath makin’ sic a sang aboot, I wad like to ken?”
“Gang to yer ain end o’ the hoose?” quoth Tibbie, wi’ great emphasis—in injunction I was naething laith to obey.
So ben I goes, leaving Mrs Davidson an’ Tibbie to constitute themsels a committee o’ ways and means for the purpose o’ devisin’ some scheme whereby the bannet micht be restored to its original shape. It was an’ oor’s wark to them though, an’ it was nearly seven o’ clock that nicht afore a bit o’ four ‘oors crossed my craig. The hoose wasna cleaned, nor were the dinner dishes washed up until it was close on ten o’clock—an’ a’ through the visit o’ Mrs Davidson wi’ her band-box an’ her broon paper parcels.
Tibbie, as yet, has made nae farther reference to Mrs Davidson’s great bargains, but I’ve noticed her ance or twice makin a mou’ as if she wad like to begin. I’m livin’ in the daily expectation o’ haen a through-the-muir wi’ her aboot them, an’ whenever that does tak’ place, ye may look for a faithfu’ transcript there-of frae