‘Bodkin Discovers an Old Acquaintance’ (14 September, 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,—Ae mornn’ i’ th’ end o’ last week, I receives, amang my ither rather extensive correspondence, a letter that wasna juist a’thegither like a business letter, because it was written in a hammert hand o’ wreat, on an auld-fashioned sheet o’ letter-paper, withoot an’ envelope, and sealed wi’ a thimble; an’ so, my curiosity bein’ a wee thocht excitit, I seizes hauds o’ the epistle, first an’ foremost, breaks it open, an’ reads as follows:—

Cockmylane,

the four o’ September,

18 hundered and 61.

Auld Freend,

I have na seen or heerd tell o’ ye for more nor thirty year, and the last time I seed ye—ye’ll mind was in the year that Burke was hanged, and we were attackted by the gangrel Irishman on the hie road between Dalkeith and Musselburgh, and you thought he was the murderer Hare, and gave him such a wallop under the fifth rib, that his heels went over his head, and he landed into the middle of a whin bush; and you’ll mind how you and me parted at Mungo Mathew’s public, close by the toll bar, after we had had a half mutchkin thegither bekause it was a wet morning. After that I losed sight of you entirely, bekause I went to Ayrshire to work at the Iron-Stane, and after I wrought there for nine or ten year, I gaed out to Austreelia, and I made my fortune herding sheep to Mr Jone Wauchope, at a place thirty mile up from Melbourne, called Bloody Gully. I came home five year syne, and have took a farm, ye’ll see the name of it at the tap of this letter, and it is about six mile on this side of Cupar, and about two mile and a half on the other side of the coach-road to the water-side. I’m very comfortable, and I have a wife, and my farm is three plews lawbour, and I am very busy with the shearing just now, or I would have tried to find you out, for I’m sometimes at the market on Friday, but Mistress Sooter an’ me would be happy if Tibbie an’ you could come over and spend a week or 2 with us, and we will tak’ no denial, and you must come over to Newport with the 9 o’clock boat on Monday morning, and I will be at the water-side with a cart to drive you to Cockmylane, and I have to be at Newport at anyrate for a basketfu’ of ale, and a barrel o’ shearers’ bread. I found oot that you were in Dundee by seeing your letters and sae muckle about you in the newspaper. I must close this letter, because it is nine o’clock at night, and I am tired and sleepy, and we have to be up at five o’clock if it is a fair morning.

No more at present, but remains your auld friend,

Andrew Sooter,

tenant of Cockmylane.

Dog on it! the readin’ o’ this letter revived auld and kindly recollectons. I had nearly forgotten a’ aboot Andro Sooter, but when he mentioned my encoonter wi’ the drucken Irishman twa-an’-thirty years syne, my memory brichtened up, an’ I mind the particulars o’ that ploy, an’ a’ aboot drinkin the half-mutchkin wi’ Andro at the toll house, as weel as if they had happened only yesterday or the day afore. At that time, Andro, a young daft chield, aboot twenty years auld, was castin’ drains on a farm in the neeborhood o’ Dalkeith, an’ i’ the lang winter e’enins he was wont to come into the shop and chat awa wi’ the ‘prentices an’ journeymen, and he employed us to mak’ his stacks for him, an’ shape his corduroy cutikins, the sewin’ whereof he was wont to execute wi’ his ain hands, for he was aye a savin’ kind o’ a’ loon. Ay, ay, an’ Andro had warsled sae far up i’ the warld as to hae a farm o’ his ain. Weel, wha wad hae thocht it? For Andro was never kent to be a philosopher, but he was aye a wee thocht gruppy i’ his way, and attendit faithfully to his business, an’ after a’, it’s yer canny eydent, sayin’ kind o’ folk that grow rich, an’ no yer men o’ talent an’ genius. A’ thae thochts passed through my mind when I had read Andro’s letter, an’ sae I steps my ways ben to Tibbie, an’ reads the letter to her, an’ we had a consultation aboot oor invitation to Cockmylane, the result whereof was that we would be at Newport on Monday at the ‘oor appointit. We cam’ the mair readily to this conclusion, that we had half made up oor minds to tak lodgin’s for a week or ten days ower at Newport or doon bye at Carnoustie, at onyrate, for the sake o’ Tibbie’s health, that has been onything but in a satisfactory state sin’ we cam’ to live in this oonsavoury locality o’ the toon, amang the odours o’ fish-guts an’ the sickly aroma o’ Phelim O’Grady’s auld rags an’ rotten banes. The invitation to Cockmylane was therefore a special dispensation o’ Providence, that removed a’ financial obstacles to oor holiday jaunt an’ especially relieved me o’ the irksome duty o’ hagglin’ wi’ greedy landladies aboot room rent, an’ the price o’ gas an’ coal, an’ the perquisites due to the servent for cleanin’ oor shoon. That was what I never could put up wi’, an’ preserve my mental serenity, ever sin’ I cam’ to fend for mysel’ in this warld; an’ mony’s the time I’ve suffered mysel’ to be victmeezed rather than kick up a stoor aboot a paltry shillin’ or twa, an’ that’s dootless pairtly the reason why i’m the poor man I am at this oor an’ day. Continue reading “‘Bodkin Discovers an Old Acquaintance’ (14 September, 1861)”