‘Bodkin on the Grampians’ (13 July, 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,—Last week I gae ye a detail o’ what was said an’ dune at Crummiehillocks up to twal o’clock on Saturday nicht. I may here premise that I was nane the waur o’ my twa tumblers o’ toddy, batin’ an excrutiatin’ thirst through the nicht, that set me up twa or three times to hunt after the water stoup, an’ a dunes sair head an’ an ill-taistit tongue next mornin’. Jeames thocht that a half-a-glass afore breakfast wad brak’ the wind on oor stammacks, an’ set us a’ to richts, an’ sae he tane me into the pantry, where we had a thumblefu’ oonbekenned to Tibby or Mrs Witherspoon. Breakfast ower, there was some crack aboot gaen to the kirk, but as Jeames belanged to the Auld Leddy as by law established, an’ as I belanged to the Dissentin’ interest, it was agreed on atween Jeames an’ me, after some little argie-bargiein, that we wad spleet the difference, an’ stay at hame for ae Sabbath. Baith Jeames an’ me bein’ decent bodies, we sat i’ the parlour maist feek o’ the day an’ read oor books, an’ Tibbie and Mrs Witherspoon were similarly engaged, except when they retired for twa or three oors i’ the forenoon to mak’ some culinary experiments, an’ anither twa or three oors after dinner to mak’ an examination o’ Mrs Witherspoon’s wardrobe. I got my hands on the Pilgrim’s Progress, an’ followed Christian’s fortunes frae the time o’ his settin’ oot frae the City o’ Destruction to his bein’ caught nappin’ on the grunds o’ Doubting Castle by the Giant Despair, an’ I maun say I was greatly edifeed thereby. For Jeames, he divided his attention atween the Ready Reckoner an’ the Edinburgh Almanack; an’ sae the day slippit ower withoot producin’ ony extraordinary phenomenon.

Jeames was anxious to let us see a bit o’ the warld for ance, an’ sae he proposed to drive us next day in his spring cart roond by Fettercairn, through Drumtochty, to Auchinblae, an’ then on to Laurencekirk, in time to catch the last train for Dundee. I was delightit wi’ the arrangement, an’ sae was Tibbie, an’ sae was Mrs Witherspoon, an’ so we a’ agreed to gang thegither, settin’ aff neist morning by the skraigh o’ day. Next mornin’ was clear an’ sunny, an’ the bits o’ lavrocks an’ linties were at wark betimes singing their hymns o’ praise wi’ an’ earnestness that micht be an example to mony a droosy congregation o’ mortals. We were a’ up an’ riggit oot for oor jaunt afore sax o’clock. Mrs Witherspoon attendit to the commissariat, fillin’ a basket wi’ plenty o’ bread an’ cheese, an’ roast beef and boiled beef an’ twa chickens that had escaped demmolition at the Saturday nicht’s blaw oot, an’ Jeames, he tane care to provide himsel’ wi’ a bottle o’ the very best an’ bauldest that his cellars could afford. So we were weel prepared for whatever micht betide.

Bess—that was the name o’ Jeames’s mare—having been yokit, an’ me, an’ Tibbie, an’ Mrs Witherspoon having been safely embarked, Jeames sprang up on the front, tane the reins, crackit his whip, an’ awa’ we whirlt alang the quiet green lanes keepin’ aye oor noses in the direction o’ Fettercairn. Tibbie an’ Mrs Witherspoon sat on the back seat, an’ Jeames an’ me occupied the fore-front o’ the battle, but, seein’ that Mrs Witherspoon was rather wechty, Jeames restored the equilibrium o’ the veehikle by placing the basket wi’ the provisionis in the fore pairt, an’ that had the effeck o’ makin’ a’ thing fair an’ square. On arrivin’ at Fettercairn we tarried nae langer than juist to tak’ a stap inbye to the kirk-yaird to see what was what aboot the swine-killin’ establishment an’ the foul water-hole, an’ we remarkit that sanitary measures had made some progress sin’ the reddin’ up the subjeck got i’ th’ newspapers some months syne. Awa’ we gaed birlin’ past Fasque an’ Arnbarrow, perfectly delightit wi’ the grandeur o’ the scenery that persentit itsel’ on the richt hand an’ on the left. Jeames an’ me did the grazin’ an’ agricultural department o’ the conversation, an’ Tibbie an’ Mrs Witherspoo, I could hear, were eloquent on skin-milk cheese, an’ clockin’ hens. By the time we got to the Clatterin’ Brigs, Jeames suggested that Bess was gettin tired an’ hungry, an’, as there was a public-hoose no far bye, on the hillside to the northward, he made a motion that we micht do waur than drive up the brae an’ gie the beast a feed o’ corn. Of coorse I seconded the motion, an’ it was carried withoot a division, Mrs Witherspoon sayin’ naething, an’ Tibbie contentin’ hersel’ wi’ merely enterin’ her dissent on the minutes. Bess was like to hae a sair pull up the brae, but Jeames an’ me dismounted, an’ we garred Tibbie an’ Mrs Witherspoon dismount also, an’ what wi’ Jeames rivin’ at the bridle, crackin’ his whup, an’ lettin’ aff something geyan like an’ aith occasionally, no to mention my ain exploits in the way o’ pushing’ at the hinder end o’ the veehikle, we succeedit wi’ an’ unco sair warsle in transportin’ the haill establishment up to Knowgreens, where we faund the landlady ready to gie us a hearty Heelan’ welcome. Customers are no that rife in that oot-o’-the-way place, an’ a cartload o’ them wasna an every-day occurrence; an’ sae Mrs Boniface was up to the oxters in wark for ance in her lifetime. Havin’ seen that Bessie’s temporal needcessities were duly meenistered unto, we gaed in to attend to oor ain interests. Jeames wad hae “Athol brose,” juist to let me an’ Tibbie pree the haste o’t, but I maun say it had ower muckle o’ the consistency o’ castor ulzie for the comfort o’o my stammack, an’ Tibbie, ye ken, she merely put it to her lips, an’ then hoastit, an’ hackit, an’ spat as if she had been poisoned. Jeames he leuch like very mad to see Tibbie in sic an’ awfu’ quandary, an’ so it cam’ to pass that he ahad the suppin’ o’ the maist feck o’ the Athol brose. By-an’-bye there cam’ in a Heelan drover, wha had been sooth at some o’ the laigh coontry markets, an’ wha was on his way north ower the Cairn-o-month. Jeames an’ him an’ me fell to oor cracks aboot the weather an’ craps an’ the state o’ the markets, an’ an unco intelligent sort o’ a chield he was, an’ had seen nae that little hard service in his day. Judgin’ frae appearances, he couldna be little short o’ the three score an’ ten, yet he was as haill an’ heary an auld cock as yye could with to clap an e’e on. Donald Fraser, for that was his name, as I discovered in the coorse o’ the conversation, had been in his early days engaged in the smugglin’ line o’ business, an’ had professionally traversed every fit o’ grund on a’ the eastern range o’ the Grampians. He was as foo o’ stories aboot gangers as an egg’s fu’ o’ meat, but I coulna help thinkin’ that he was inclined to sklent a little at times. Tak’ his word for’t he was aye victorious, an’ the gaugers invariably ootwitted, or something waur. “Ae nicht,” quoth Donald, “Tuncan M’Nab an’ her nainsel’ were prewin’ a trap tram ower pye at the Howe o’ Klen Feugh, an’ juist fan we were pizzy turnin’ ower tapoilin’ worts, four o’ ta fide kauger loons put tere faces in at ta door o’ oor pit hut, an’ ane o’ tem says— ‘My cood lads, fat pees gaen’ on hereawa?’ ‘Aye, aye, Tonald Fraser,’ quoth anither, ‘we’ve been lookin’ for you ever sin Caunelmas, because as hoo ye tid then fiolently fesist Mr M’taggart, ta Supervisor, in ta execution o’ his duty; an’ tid riotously, an’ wickedly, an’ plude-thirstily, prak his collar-pane wi’ ta wecht o’ your neive, forpye mischievin’ his powny sae oonmercifu’ tat ta puir prute never plaid plew ahent it. So ye’ll come alang wi’ us, Tonald lad, in ta King’s name, an’ ye’ll get yer craig raxed afore ta Towbooth o’ Aberdeen, an’ be thankfu’ ye win aff sae easily.’ ‘Tak’ ye tat, my cood lads,’ quoth Tuncan M’Nab, flingin’ a haill pucketfu’ o’ poilin’ water i’ ta faces o’ ta exisemen; put if ye had seen foo ta coofs ran an’ takit at tere een! Twa o’ tem never recovered tere e’esicht frae tat tay to this—an’ o’ tem was fiddlin’ through Falkirk Tryste for pawpees nae farther gane than twa years syne—an’ for the ither twa they were never mair heerd tell o’. So, shentlements, ye may pelieve me or no as ye likes, but that is ta Got’s truths I’m tellin’ ye.” Continue reading “‘Bodkin on the Grampians’ (13 July, 1861)”