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,—The mornin’ succeedin’ my sportin’ jaunt to Cupar, Tibbie an’ me were up by peep o’ day makin’ preparations for the hairst rig. Armed wi’ a couple o’ splinder new scythe heuks that had never before cut girs or grain, Tibbie an’ me were equal to ony emergency that might arise; an’ by my certie, though I say’t mysel’—an’ I’m no gien to sklentin’ nor blowstin’ aboot my achievements—there wasna a shearer within the boonds o’ Cockmylane that could lay saut to oor tails; but ye’ll hear.
Andro Sooter was up reishlin’ aboot the doors by the back o’ five o’clock, makin’ an inspection o’ the face o’ the heavens, settlin’ in his ain mind whether it was to be fair weather or foul, an’ oot bye at the field o’ barley that awaited oor whittles, feelin’ if it was dry and fit for shearin’. Andro is a great weather-prophet, an’ a diligent student o’ the Jockteleear .He can tell, frae the appearance o’ the risin’ sun, whether the day will be wet or dry. If he sees midgies dancin’ i’ the sun, that’s a sign o’ something, an’ if he sees a weather-gaw i’ the east or the north, that’s anither sign; and if the simmercouts be risin’ frae the grund ae day, he’ll tell ye what will happen the next. There’s no a pyet that can chatter upo’ the hoose-head but Andro can draw an inference frae the circumstance. Maister Sooter doesna patronise the new-fangled kind o’ weather-glasses, w’i dials like watch-faces; but he has ane o’ his ain manufacture that he reposes implicit faith in, consistin’ o’ a narrow phial, filled wi’ some kind o’ clear graith, an’ suspendit frae the roof wi’ its bottom umost, an’ as the contents rise or fa’, Andro divines in accordance therewith. The result o’ Andro’s scrutiny o’ the heavens that mornin’ was that we wad certainly hae fair weather for the next four-and-twenty oors, an’ maybe up to twal o’clock next day; but for ony langer continuation o’t, he wadna gie his guarentee.
Havin’ made his preliminary observations an’ dispositions, he taen doon his nowt’s horn frae the kitchen hallan, went oot to the tap o’ the midden-head, an’ there blew a blast that micht hae weel waukened the seven sleepers, if sae be they had been within ear-shot. It remindit me o’ Jack the Giant Killer an’ the blasts that he blew whenever he was aboot to execute some o’ his murderous projects. The horn was the warnin’ to the shearers to rax doon their heuks an’ turn oot to the labours o’ the day. The tootin’ hadna lastit aboon twa minutes, when the shearers began to mak’ their appearance, the cottar wives creepin’ slowly frae their hooses, lockin’ their doors, an’ puttin’ the keys i’ their pouches, some o’ them wi’ a string o’ weans at their heels, the puir things havin’ hardly had time to rake open their e’e-holes; an’ ae reistit-lookin’ hizzie o’ a wife, in particular, wi’ a black cutty pipe in her chafts, whereat she sookit like a gelly, sendin’ forth cluds o’ reek like a locomotive engine. Feigh! feigh! I can thole to see a man blawin’ at a pipe, an’ I can tak’ a draw mysel’ wi’ ony mortal man, but it’s perfectly ugesome to see a woman at that trade. I have a sort o’ instinctive notion that the jade wha can deliberately sit doon an’ blast tobacco, wadna stick at drinkin’ whisky an’ fillin’ hersel’ fou’; an’ if a woman, sittin’ at her ain chimla cheek wi’ a pipe in her ooth is a most disgustin’ picture, it’s ten times waur when she has the daurin’ impudence to come furth tovin’ an’ reekin’ in the sicht o’ the sun. But, to return frae this disgression, I wad observe that the maist o’ Andro’s shearers were feed hands frae Dundee, wha were accommodatit wi’ very primitive lodgings in the strae barn, or i’ the laft aboon twa dizzen o’ young hizzies doon frae their roosts, an’ a pooer o’ jaw they had amang themsels aboot ae thing an’ anither, part whereof fell to the share o’ Tibbie an’ me. There was ae limmer especially, wi’ red hair an’ fairn-tickled face, that spak for hersel’, an’ I’m certain sure for anither dizzen o’ orinary haverils. Pity the puir man that gets her for a wife, for if she doesna turn oot a slattern an’ a randy, my judgment is muckle at faut. On oor way to the field, this Heelan’-lookin’ quean held her tongue ga’en aboot Tibbie an’ me, an’ she wondered what gude we could do on a hairst rig, twa puir auld fizzenless creatures, that couldna step across a gaa-fur withoot a staff to steady them, an’ she wad gie them a heat afore breakfast time if her soul bade in her body; an’ then she began to tell a’ aboot my gouk’s errand to Corn-Crake Terrace, a’ aboot my interview wi’ the weel-faured servant lass there, wha was a cousin o’ hers, an’ a’ aboot my numerous ither adventures an’ achievements, the major pairt whereof she had in her head like a horn, windin’ up her discoorse wi’ sundry objurgatory strictures as to my bein’ the cause o’ their bein’ sent the nicht afore on a bootless errand ower a’ the coontry side, when they had mair need to be in their beds. A’ this, an’ muckle mair to the same effect, I overheard—
“An’ muckle thocht oor gudeman to himsel’,
But never a word he spak, O.” Continue reading “‘Bodkin Shows His Mettle’ (28 September, 1861)”