‘Bodkin and Mrs Bodkin’ (27 April, 1861)

It was unco dark an’ mochy, an’ scarce a body could be seen on the streets except the policeman on his beat, wi’ his bit cruizie sticin’ on his wame. ‘Od, sair distressed in mind though I was I couldna help moraleezin’ on the ingenuity o’ the chield wha first suggestit the idea o’ stickin’ lamps on policemen’s bellies, for gin a’ tales be true, they’ve far mair enlichtment aboot their stammacks than aboot onything else.

The following epistle is an early appearance in ‘The People’s Journal’ 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’ve been in twa minds aboot that ootrageous epistle o’ Kirsty Monnypenny’s—whether I sid sit doon an’ confute the leein’ cutty word for word, or treat her slanders wi’ silent contempt. I’m ower weel kent in Dundee noo for her havers doin’ me ony ill—either morally or in the way o’ business—an’ I’m content to let the verses o’ that Lunnon chield stand as an answer to the ill-scrapit tongue o’ Kirsty Monnypenny. That folk’s ain kith an’ kin sid think less o’ them than the fremyit is naething to mak’ a sang aboot, for that’s been seen ever sin’ the warld began. A man that can haud up his head wi’ Burns, Gilfillan, an’ M’Cheyne, an’ that has been ca’d “the Shakespeare o’ Dundee,” can weel affoord to snap his fingers at Kirsty Monnypenny, an’ sae that’s for her the poukit-like, lingel-tailed hizzie that she is!

But that’s no exackly what I was gaen to say. Ye maun ken, or, if ye dinna ken, I’ll be oonder the necessity o’ tellin’ ye, that Tibbie has a sister marrit to a petawtie merchant in Perth—a place famed ower a’ the ceevileesed warld for its murphy merchants; an’ sae early on Thursday mornin’ last week—bein’ the Fast Day—Tibbie flang on her bonnet an’ a shawl, an’, quoth she, “Tammas, I’m awa’ to Perth to see Eppy’s folk, an’ ye’ll hae the kettle boilin gin nine o’clock the nicht, for I think we’ll be hame aboot that time gin a’ gang fair wi’ us.” “Weel, weel, Tibbie,” quoth I, “them that will to Cupar maun juist gang to Cupar, but I think ye micht hae gane a better gate as this day fa’s than awa’ stravaigin’ to Perth amang a wheen thochtless lads an’ lassies; an’ it wadna be a maitter o’ meikle astonishment to me though something sid come ower ye afore a’s dune. But dinna say that I hindered ye.” “Deed, Tammas, there’s no ane ‘ill hae that to say,” quoth she, “for I sanna be hindered by ony man o’ woman born.” sheave o’ chese, into a radicle basket, slippet auchteen pence into her huggar, an’ tane the road wi’ a curn folk as licht-witted as hersel’, no to mention the profanity o’ the thing. I saw nae mair o’ Tibbie for ae aucht an’ twenty oors at ony rate, but ye’ll hear.

I gaed to the kirk, heard twa gude Gospel sermons, an’ I maun say was nae little edified therewith, an’ sae the day passed ower. I was unco lanely i’ the hoose by mysel’, for I had naebody to crack wi’, an’ I thocht aftener than ance that after a’ its a silly bodie that’s no missed. Hoosomdever, I beguiled the time wi’ readin’ the “Crook in the Lot” by the author o’ the “Four-coorse o’ natur’ nine o’clock comes roond. At the chap o’ nine exactly—for I’m as punctual as clock-wark—I had the tea kettle stovin’ awa like a steam engine, but beginnin’ to grow coneasy, an’ sae was the kettle, ye may be sure, for I had a guid beengie o’ fire on, thinkin’ that Tibbie micht be cauld comin’ aff the water. Hoosomdever, I cured the kettle by ekin’ it up wi’ cauld water noo an’ then, but as for mysel’, I was on the pynebauks o’ perplexity, an’ naethin’ could minister serenity to my soul. Eleven o’clock warniced on the gowkoo-knock, wi’ a soond like the commotion in a pepper mill, that garred me a’ start, but still nae Tibbie! Twa o’clock past ower, an’ nae Tibbie! I could thole nae longer. “O Tibbie,” quoth I to mysel’, “the way o’ transgressors is hard! If ye had tane my advice! But it’s ower late noo; I maun gang doon to the shore an’ see the end o’t;” and sae I flang on my dirt flee coloured coat, tane my siller-headed cane in my hand, put a piece in my pooch, an’ set oot as hard as I could bicker, scare kennin’ whether I went, like the patrick of old. It was unco dark an’ mochy, an’ scarce a body could be seen on the streets except the policeman on his beat, wi’ his bit cruizie sticin’ on his wame. ‘Od, sair distressed in mind though I was I couldna help moraleezin’ on the ingenuity o’ the chield wha first suggestit the idea o’ stickin’ lamps on policemen’s bellies, for gin a’ tales be true, they’ve far mair enlichtment aboot their stammacks than aboot onything else. When I got doon to the harbour a great concoorse o’ folk were there assembled, maist feck o’ them lookin’ for their Tibbies, as I was lookin’ for mine. Clearin’ the way wi’ my stick, I got into the midst o’ the crood, an’, quoth I, “Has ony o’ ye heard ocht o’ my Tibbie?” “Whatna’ Tibbie?” quoth a great muckle beardy chield, wha was sookin’ awa’ at a thing intendit to personify a cigar. “Man,” quoth I, “yer edication maun hae been sadly negleckit gin ye dinna ken Tibbie Bodkin, amang a’ the Tibbie’s o’ Dundee.” The very mention o’ Bodkin brocht a host o’ sympatheezers arrond me, an’ I sune cam’ to oonderstand that it was only a half dizzen o’ the exquisite fraternity wha hae nae time to read the papers for blawin’ awa’ at cabbage blades, an’ kaimin’ their mootaches, that had never heard o’ my name an’ fame. Wi’ thae insignificant exceptions, every body in the crood kent Tammas Bodkin an’ Tibbie his wife, an’ they wad hae dune onything to minister to my comfort and consolation. “Where is Mrs Bodkin, Tammas,” inquired a lang black a-viced man, in a Heelan’ clock. “That’s what I want to ken, freend,” quoth I; “she gaed awa’ to Perth this mornin’ wi’ the Lass o’ Gowrie, but where she is noo the Lord only kens, whether she is in the land o’ the livin’ or the leal is beyond my comprehension.” “O, is that all?” quoth the black-a-viced gentleman, “in that case there can be do [sic] doubt she is food for fishes by this time, so you may console yourself with that, my good fellow.” “Ou aye, Tammas,” cried a half-dizzen o’ voices, “ye’ll be yer ain maister noo; for Tibbie’ll never wear the breeks mair; sae ye may mak a bargain wi’ Kirsty Monnypenny, or wi’ the sweet lookin’ quean at Corncrake Terrace whenever ye like.” Sae that was a’ the consolation I got, but, quoth I, “Lads, this is nae jokin’ matter, is there nae word o’ the steamer?” “No ae cheep, an’ never will be,” quoth my miserable comforters. “Then my grey hairs will gang doon in sorrow to the grave!” quoth I. “O Tibbie, Tibbie, woman, gin ye had only stayed at hame, what a difference it wad hae been this nicht baith to you an’ me, but the wilfu’ maun aye hae their way, an’ ye see what it’s come to! Left ye puir husband windowed an’ heartbroken, wi’ naebody i’ th’ wide warld to heat my guse an’ mask my drappie o’ tea, an’ keep a’thing cosh an’ clean aboot the hoose!” I slippit awa ootower frae the crowd, sat doon on a coil o’ ropes, an’ grat mysel’ blind. My memory wandered back thirty years, to the time when Tibbie was in service oot at Lasswade, a canty weelfaured quean, an’ when I was a’prentice wi’ Maister Waugh at Dalkeith, an’ hoo I was wont to trauchle a’ the way ateen the twa places ilka Friday nicht to see her, an’ hoo Rover, her maister’s muckle dog grew sae weel acquent iw’ the soond o’ my fit comin’ in the loan that he ever thocht o’ barkin’ at me, an’ hoo I wad carry a dead mouse i’ my pouch a’ the way frae Dalkeith to gie to the sagawcious brute, an’ hoo Tibbie kenned my dirl on the window, and raise and let me in, and laid on the fire, an’ had aye something gude to taste my gab, an’ a’ hoo we lingered in thehallan at partin’, juist as if we couldna get oor sairin’ o’ kissin’, an’ a’ hoo we kleekit thiegither arm in arm when we wad hae tane a quiet walk on the Sabbath nichts,—a’ thae things and coontless ither pleasant recollections o’ oor courtship an’ married life cam’ croodin’ back on my memory, mingled strangely wi’ the sad thochts o’ Tibbie’s oontimeous end, an’ my ain sorrowfu’ bereavement. 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