‘Scottish “Characters.” 2. “Gingerbread Robbie.”’ (8 December, 1888)

The following is one of a series of stories and anecdotes about local Scottish eccentrics. They remain an insight into the characters and exploits that had already passed into folk memory by the late 19th century. Here the focus is on a character from Kircaldy.

It has been remarked that in most towns and villages some one is known as the local “character.” The lang town of Kirkcaldy, in ye kingdom o’ Fife, in this respect is no exception. Within the last half-century it has known several Scottish celebrities in humble life, famous for their wit, humour, or other idiosyncrasies. From this number we select one, who was well known throughout the length and breadth of the land. Wherever the was a market, or fair, from John o’ Groats to Maidenkirk, there was he present, the leading personage to attract crowds of old and young, male and female. His nickname was “Gingerbread Robbie.” The incidents about to be recorded are real, and were seen and heard by the writer at the market or fair held in the Linktown of Kirkcaldy a few years ago. In this town the fair is held twice a year, on the third Friday of April and on the third Friday of October.

“Gingerbread Robbie” was a confectioner. He travelled about from fair to fair, and had a way all his own of disposing of his wares. He did not stand at a stall, like his brothers in trade, and supply customers who might patronise him with their custom. No. This slow process did not suit his lively, pushing temperament. He erected a sort of platform with his boxes and sold off his eatables in the auctioneering style. See Robbie, then, a stout-built, broad-chested, short-necked, smiling-faced little man, about five feet in height, standing on the top of his boxes, about to proceed to business. He takes up a large cake, and says—“Now, ye young lads and lassies, here’s something for you. This is a splendidly got up volume of Chambers’s Information for the People. Just look at it. It is beautifully bound, not in calf oh, no, but in bullock’s, blood and sawdust.” (Great roars of laughter from the vast crowd around him.) “Who says a shilling for’t? Nobody bids a shillin’! Then who says sixpence for’t, and that till’t?” (taking up a small cake of gingerbread and putting it on the top of the other.)

A young man from the country calls out, “Here, Robbie,” “I kent that lassie beside ye,” says Robbie, “would get to invest a sixpence on this concern. See how she’s laughin’. Now, gie her the whole o’t, mind that, and be sweet till her as ye gang hame the nicht, and ye’ll ne’er regret it. Gie her a bit smourik now an’ then, an’ ye an’ her will be as happy as twa doos in a dookit.” (Immense shouts of laughter from the vast multitude.)

Robbie takes up a package of sweets, and thus addresses the onlookers—“Now, friends, here’s a lairge bit o’ real loadstone. It’s attractive pooer is juist marvellous. It’s a fack. Just try it. If any young man just touches a bonnie lassie on the shouther wi’t she’s catch’d [illegible] shure’s a herrin’. Now, wha among ye a’ s[illegible] -een pence or a shillin’ for’t? I’m shure [illegible] -ear. Do ye think sae? Weel say n[illegible] a sixpence for’t, an’ a’ that tae[illegible] -n,” placin’ three or four cakes o’ [illegible] along side o’t. “Here,” cries a dandy-lookin’ chield, “here’s a saxpence, Robbie,” “Hae ye a bit lassie nae?” says Robbie. “Ay, hae I,” replies the youth, lauchin’. “I thocht that,” adds Robbie. “Then gie her that frae me,” handing him a nice piece of orange-peel cake. “Tell her that’s frae her auld sweetheart. Mind ye, she’s fond o’ the lads, so keep a sharp e’e on her. I’ve tell’t ye; for ‘deed I like her mysel’, she’s baith bonnie an’ guid.” Continue reading “‘Scottish “Characters.” 2. “Gingerbread Robbie.”’ (8 December, 1888)”

‘Bodkin Trips the Light Fantastic Toe’ (5 October, 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,—Andro Sooter had resolved to hae a few o’ his brither farmers inveetit to his maiden feast, to gie them a blow-oot o’ meat an’ drink, an’ as he was particularly anxious that I sid be present on that great occasion, in order that he micht hae an opportunity o’ introducin’ me to the wide circle o’ his aristocratic acquaintance, he wadna hear o’ Tibbie an’ me gaen hame till the ploy was ower, though I maun confess I was gettin’ ooneasy aboot hoo Willie Clippins wad be managin’ matters in my absence. Hoosomdever, Tibbie and me made a fleein’ visit to Dundee on a Saturday afternoon, staid ower the Sabbath, an’gaed back to Cockmylane on the followin’ Monday, an’ I am happy to say Willie was found faithfu’ in a’ his maister’s hoose-hold—everything, baith but the hoose an’ ben the hoose, bein’ in perfect order, the tortoise aye to the fore, an’ lookin’ as fresh-like as it did that day it was cleckit. I may just mention that Tibbie an’ me gaed doon to the Corn Excheenge Hall on the Saturday nicht, an’ got oor bumps read by Fooler an’ Wells, an’ if a’s weel next week Ise gie ye a bit sketch o’ hoo we got on in presence o’ the philosophers.

There was great preparation at Cockmylane for the harvest-home. It was evidently to be a feast o’ fat things. Tibbie lent her invaluable assistance to Mrs Sooter in the culinary department, baith by strength o’ airm an’ by word o’ mooth. There were beef-steak pies, an’ stuffed chickens, an’ roast, an’ boiled, an’ ankers o’ whisky an’ oceans o’ beer. A huge, owergrown Sandy Cawmel was condemned to death on the heads o’ the business, in order that his harrigalds micht be available for belly-timber to the numerous ghaists that were expectit to be present frae a’ the region roond aboot. Andro is a handy bodie, an’ can kill a swine wi’ ony mortal man. As he required some assistance, hooever, I was drafted into the service, my duty eing to haud on by the lugs, while ane o’ the ploughman chields grippit by the hind legs. Of coorse Maister Cawmel was rather noisy in his remonstrances, an’ a the idlers within hearin’ o’m cam’ rinnin’ to see what was the cause o’ the uproar, an’ amang the rest cam’ a baker chield frae Leuchars, wha had a basketfu’ o’ cookies, buns, an’ shortbread for Mrs Sooter, that had been ordered for the approachin’ feast. So he set doon his basket, an’ beheld while Andro was stickin’ the swine. Od, I was right wae for the puir brute, but what maun be canna be helpit, an’ it’s a clear case that pigs canna be convertit into pork withoot lettin’ their wind oot. Weel, ye see grumphy, after gettin’ the length o’ the gully, was far frae bein’ in a comfortable perdicament, an’ so when we quat oor grips o’m, he bangs up to his feet an’ rins aff, bleedin’ like a very swine, as he was. Takin’ the direction o’ the baxter loon, he made an ill-advised bolt straught at the basket o’ baps an’ shortly, thrust his head richt through the bow thereof, an’ awa’ he gaed wi’t hangin’ on by the tail, an’ fechtin’ wi’ a’ his micht an’ main to recover the basket. Before he could succeed in that, hooever, the bread had been rendered quite useless either for beast or body, an’ so he had nae help for it but just to gang back the road he cam’, an’ get a fresh supply. I was sair vexed for the bit loonie, an’ yet when I beheld hoo his grumphieship whuppit up the basket an’ set aff wi’t, an’ hoo the baxter hang on by the tail, I couldna help gi’en way a wee thocht to my mirthfu’ disposition.

At length the great feast nicht cam’ roond, an’ Tibbie an’ me arrayed oorsels in oor best abuliement for the occasion. There was a great forgatherin’ o’ the neebourin’ farmers, their wives, their sons, their dochters their man-servants, and their maid-servants. While the representatives o’ the farmer’s ha’ were accommodated in the parlour, the ploughmanity o’ the district, consistin’ o’ the Jocks an’ the Jennies, frae the bothies an’ the cotter hooses, had the liberty o’ the kitchen an’ the barn-laft, that had been cleaned oot as a ball room, an’ lichted up wi’ twa dizzen o’ penny candles, stuck into turnips, an’ arranged here an’ there alang the crap wa’s. Of coorse, Tibbie an’ me were introduced to a’ the genteel company as they arrved, an’ I was told a’ their names an’ the names o’ their farms, but I’ve an’ ill memory for names, as the phrenology folk informed me, an’ therefore it’s but few o’ them I remember. Hoosomdever, they were, withoot exception, a sichtly set o’ men an’ women—a’ plump, red an’ rosy—lookin’ as if they were blessed wi’ gude stammacks, an’ plenty o’ the very best o’ fodder to fill them withal. The aulder portion o’ them were frank an’ ootspoken in their ain hammert fashion, expressin’ what they thocht wi’ great vehemence, some o’ them, speakin’ nae that little withoot troublin’ themsels wi’ muckle thocht, an’ the whole o’ them speakin’ simultaneously, insomuch that I was like to be bedundered wi’ the noise. The junior squad [?] had less to say than their seniors, bein’, if onything, a wee thocht blate, owin’ to their seein’ less o’ society than the like o’ Tibbie an’ me. Hoosomdever, when they did venture to open their mouths, stots an’ staigs formed the staple o’ the men’s conversation, as did bye, an’ calves, an’ butter, an’ cheese, that o’ the leddies. Sae lang as the crack was confined to agricultured matters, I had but unco little to say, but when it deviated into politics an’ foreign affairs I faund my superior enlichtenment in very great request an’ the utmost deference paid to my opinions, as was but richt an’ proper, considerin’ the opportunities I had in my youth o’ studyin’ polite learnin’ oonder Maister Mansie Waugh, an’ subsequently o’ addin’ to my stock o’ usefu’ knowledge by the observation an’ experience o’ a lang lifetme.

Tea bein’ ower, it was next proposed that the company sid adjourn to the ball-room, where we found the shearers an’ ploughman lougin’ [?] bauk-height to the speerit stirnin’ soonds o’ Sandy Burgess’s fiddle. Andro had heard o’ Sandy’s fame—as wha that lives atween Fife Ness an’ Torryburn hasna heard o’t—an’ he had sent for him a’ the way frae Coup-ma-Horn twa days afore the ball, in order that Andro, an’ me, an’ Mrs Sooter, an’ Tibbie, micht get a little insicht frae him into the sirt o’ dancin’ polkas, an’ strathspeys, an’ country dances, whereby we micht be able to acquit oorsels creditably in the presence o’ sic an enlichtened company as it wad behoove us to shake oor shanks afore. For twa days, therefore, we had laubered wi’ commendable zeal in the parlour floor, an’ noo I was up to the fore-stap an’ the back-stap, an’ a dance ca’d the “Deil amang the teelyours,” while Andro Sooter had gien special attentions to the “Hay-makers,” as bein’ conneckit wi’ his ain profession. Tibbie an’ Mrs Sooter had been taught a’ the oots-an’-ins a’ the foursome reel, an’ Sandy thocht that, wi’ gleg partners, to gie us the wink o’ command, ony ane o’ us wad be able to gang through the figure o’ ony dance that was likely to be proposed. Continue reading “‘Bodkin Trips the Light Fantastic Toe’ (5 October, 1861)”

‘Bodkin Shows His Mettle’ (28 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,—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)”

‘Bodkin Travels Without a Ticket’ (21 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,—I promised to gi’e ye a scrift o’ hoo we were fendin’ an’ farin’ at Cockmylane, an’ as I dinna like to mak’ a promise withoot performin’ it, I sall endeavour, noo that Andro Sooter s awa’ to his bed, an’ Tibbie is streekit to her stockin’, to snatch an oor or twa frae the dresscoat I mentioned in my last epistle, in order to set doon twa or three unco queer adventures o’ mine since we cam’ to reside in these pairts. In regard to that coat, I may juist observe parenthetically, that I’m generally sae tired wi’ my daily perambulations to an’ fro through this country side, viewin’ a’ the uncos I can clap an e’e on, that by the time Andro Sooter creeps awa’ to his roost, I find mysel’ in a better trim for sleepin’ than for exercisin’ my warldly callin’, sae ye may conclude, wi’ every probability, o’ bein’ perfectly correct in yer surmises that the coat has made but little progress as yet; an’, to tell the truth, I’ve only got the length o’ lookin’ at the claith, an’ thinkin’ aboot beginnin’ in doonricht earnest, maybe the day after tomorrow, or at least some nicht soon, but we’ll see as to that when the time comes. Tibbie, hooever, has dune some guid, for she has already finished ae stockin’, and has the marrow o’t doon as far as the intaks at the heel; but then, ye’ll observe, Tibbie hauds the wires gaen at ony orra time; such as when Mrs Sooter is oot milkin’ her kye, or awa’ wi’ her butter; but as for me, I’ve nae orra time to spare, for frae the peep o’ day to the dewy shades o’ even’, I’m either oot on the hairst rig alang wi’ Mr Sooter, helpin’ him to grieve the shearers, or I’m awa’ wi’ Andro’s fowlin’ piece on my shoother, like Robinson Crusoe, for twa or three oors on end, amusin’ mysel’ wi’ shootin’ corbies, peesweits, an’ colliehoods, an’ ither fowls o’ the air than dinna exactly come oonder the provisions o’ her Majesty’s game laws. I wasna four-an’-twenty hoors at Cockmylane, ere I had completely cleared the toon o’ sparrows an’ yellow-yorlins, insomuch that not ane o’ them wad daur to show neb in my presence. So, on Tuesday mornin’, I had made up my mind to extend my sportin’ tour to a wide stretch o’ muirland that lies aboot a mile or sae sooth by wast frae Cockmylane, wi’ the view o’ tryin’ my hand at the craws an’ earnbleaters that Andro informed me were plentiful thereaboot. So I taks doon the fowlin’ piece, tells Mrs Sooter that I wad be back by dinner time at the very latest, an’ awa’ I goes. For a pairt o’ the way the hie road leads precisely in the direction o’ the muir whereunto I was journeyin’, an’ as I am joggin’ alang, a big lumberin’ machine o’ a carriage comes up containin’ a gentleman, wha, I perceived, e’ed my fowlin’ piece wi’ a suspicious glance i’ the by-ga’en, but he made nae remark an’ as little dd I. Thae coontry gentlemen wad as soon meet the diel wi’ a half dizzen o’ his angels at his heels as meet an honest tailor like mysel’ wi’ a fowlin’ piece ower his shoother. So Andro Sooter told me, an’ Andro has better opportunities o’ pickin’ up information on that subject than he is disposed to be a’thegither thankfu’ for.

Weel, ye see, awa’ rolled the gentleman in the carriage, an’ as I was anxious to spare my legs till I got to the sportin’ grund, ye’ll no hinder me to slip in ahent the vehikle an’ seat mysel’ on the back settlements thereof. It was far frae bein’ a comfortable seat, as it was completely covered ower wi’ iron spikes, as a safeguard against the pranks o’ the juvenile portion o’ society, wha are ever ready to ride on a carriage if sae be they can do sae free gratis for naething. Hoosomdever, I managed to mak’ gude my quarters, though it was certainly purchasin’ easdom for my legs at the expense o’ anither portion o’ my body. I reached my destination in the name o’ naetime withoot ony mishap occurrin’, but, lo, and be, hold! when I essayed to dismount, I stuck fast! Yea, dootless, I was firmly nailed to my seat! I edged mysel’ aboot in a’ the directions o’ the compass, but oot o’ the bit I couldna get. I tried to disentangle the hinder pairts o’ my garments frae their intimate association wi’ the iron spikes, but in vain—no ae inch wad they budge, an’ the carriage drave on’ at a dashin’ pace, too, thus renderin’ it still mair difficult for me to do ought for my ain deliverance. I had but ae hand to work oot my salvation wi’, for my ither hand was wholly engrossed wi’ keepin’ hauds o’ Andro Sooter’s gun. I micht hae called oot to stop the coach, an’ I wad dootless hae gotten some assistance to dismount, but I was dubious as to the kind o’ service I wad receive frae Maister Jarvie, no to mention the great personage inside, seein’ I was travellin’ withoot a ticket as it were, havin’ nae earthly business to be where I was. It was exceedingly sinfu’ o’ me sae for to violate the rules o’ gude breedin’ as to ride withoot an invitation, that I’ll frankly admit; an’ if I sid live to the age o’ Methusalem, catch me do the like again. Here was justice pursuin’ me for my transgression, nor did the haill amount o’ my punishment consist in bein’ carried like John Gilpin, father than I had originally bargained for, though that was mortification eneuch, but there was the annoyance occasioned to certain salient points o’ my corporation by reason o’ the sharp-pointed iron spikes aforesaid—the pain whereof became, in the process o’ time, almost mair than I was able to bear. The Apostle Paul spak’ o ‘haein’ a thorn in the flesh, but, my certie, I had a score o’ them in my hide a’ at ae time. I fought bravely for my freedom like a rotten in a trap, until I saw it was nae use fechtin’ ony langer, an’ then I just resigned mysel’ to despair, concentrating a’ the energies o’ my soul an’ body on making the best I could o’ a bad bargain—that is, fidgin’ aboot frae ae position to anither as the demands o’ nature micht suggest. In this way the carriage sped onwards in the direction o’ Cupar; so, when we were passin’ through Darsie Muir, the bairns on the street cam’ runnin’ after us, envyin’ me, nae doot, o’ my ride, though, if they had kent a’, they had mair reason to bless their stars that they had the free use o’ their ain legs; for I’m certain sure at that blessed moment I wad hae gi’en the best croon-piece that ever was in my aucht to have had the soles o’ my feet at the grund again. After this, I sanna envy the man that rdes in a chariot, for, though he may sit on a hair cushion, an’ keeps up as fair an ootside appearance as I did on my involuntary journey to Cupar, he may yet hae his ain iron spikes o’ some kind or ither in soul or body to render his life as miserable as mine was on that luckless forenoon’s jaunt. The bairns havin’ got up wi’ a shout “hangin’ behind!” Jarvie garred his whup wallop twice or thrice ower the tap o’ the vehickle to frichten aff intruders, whereby he gae my fingers sundry cruel cuts that added considerably to the discomforts o’ my situation. Hoosomdever, I keepit my seat in spite o’ the whup, for the very gude an’ sufficient reason, that I couldna get doon. No an urchin did we pass on the road but he wad stand in an attitude o’ admiration, an’ wish himsel’ in my shoon; no a field o’ shearers did we pass but they wad rest frae their labour in order to inspect and pass their opinion on the passing equipage, an’ especially to speculate on the gentleman riding behind, who, they argued, could be naething less than the butler, or the footman, or the flunkey at the very least. Dog on it! it was ill eneuch to hae a score o’ iron spikes in my body, but to be ca’d a flunkey, that sent the iron into my very soul. Continue reading “‘Bodkin Travels Without a Ticket’ (21 September, 1861)”

‘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)”

‘The Thane of Fife’ by Claymore (29 September, 1860)

This retelling of Macduff’s flight from Fife received second prize in a ‘People’s Journal’ short story competition in 1860.

Second Prize Tale

It was a dark and stormy night during the reign of the usurper Macbeth, that a man, who had evidently come a long journey, wended his way up the steep and rocky ascent that leads to M’Duff’s Castle, on the Firth of Forth. The snow was falling fast and thick, when, after mounting the brae, he arrived at the gate which was used as the chief entrance to the Castle. He sought admittance from the warden, who asked loudly for what purpose he had come. “I seek an interview with the Thane,” answered the stranger. Hearing this the warden at once unfastened the ponderous bolts which secured the gates in those rude times, and admitted the messenger, for such he was. Macduff, being informed of his arrival, ordered one of his retainers to bring him into his apartment.

The servitor having left, he began pacing up and down the rough floor in a disturbed state. “If such is the case, by my father’s sword,” said he to himself, “he shall feel the weight of my revenge; but no, he would not dare!” He was interrupted by the entrance of the stranger, accompanied by a party of his retainers. “Declare thy message, fellow,” exclaimed Macduff, as he fixed his piercing eye on the person before him. “Please, my lord, I was commanded by the King to deliver this document into your hands,” uttered he, and so saying, he placed a paper into the Thane’s hand. Macduff’s brow became overclouded, and he muttered between his clenched teeth, “My surmise is then true.” He withdrew to a corner to peruse the document. It was a command from Macbeth to repair to the place where the King was residing, for the purpose of assisting in the erection of a Royal Castle. After reading it, the Thane cast it into the fire, and ordered his servitors to set food before the messenger. He then directed his steps to his wife’s room, for the purpose of consulting as to what should be done. His lady was a woman of powerful intellect, and was far better educated than her rude husband. This he himself knew, and he therefore sought her opinion on the subject on hand. Opening the door he entered her apartment, and told her that he had something for her private ear. She, therefore, dismissed her attendants, and Macduff, after seating himself on a rough bench, related what had passed. On finishing his narrative, she appeared lost in thought, but recovering herself, suddenly asked what he purposed to do?

“I have thought of disobeying the order,” replied Macduff, “and if my vassals stand by me I have little fear of the result.”

“This cannot be,” she exclaimed, “for you are now at enmity with Earl Lainge, who would, along with his dependants, surely help the King. The only thing that can be done is to despatch two of your vassals to represent you; for it is not to be thought that you would descend to serve him yourself.” Continue reading “‘The Thane of Fife’ by Claymore (29 September, 1860)”

‘A Stranger’s Glimpse of Dundee’ by A.S. (29 September, 1860)

The following is a sketch story about a steamship journey from Edinburgh to Dundee. The author, A.S., had several stories published in the ‘Journal’ around this time.

One morning in the latter end of last April, a large steamboat, crowded from stem to stern with a goodly company of men and women, young lads and lasses, belonging principally to the working-classes of Edinburgh, sailed from Leith harbour, bound on a cheap pleasure trip to a certain city in the North. The day was clear and bright, scarce a cloud obscured the sky, the sun shone brightly from above, and its reflection dazzled the eye from the rippling billows below. We were all in the best of spirits, light-hearted, social, and merry. The paddle-wheels, impelled by the powers of steam, churned the waters into milk-white foam, and urged the crowded vessel onward at a glorious rate. We were not long in passing the Bass Rock and the Isle of May on our right; Largo Law, Largo Bay, and the East Neuk of Fife, with its pleasant slopes dotted with white cottages and farm steadings, on our left. We soon doubled Fife Ness, and steered northward past St Andrews Bay, until at last we entered the Frith of Tay, and beheld, many of us for the first time, a dense cloud of smoke and a forest of tall chimneys, beneath which throbbed the hearts of the denizens of Dundee. We were but four hours on our voyage. We had two or three to wait before we started home, and we resolved to make the most of our time by scampering about the streets and seeing whatever was to be seen. We saw a large, prosperous city, full of life and activity, like a hive of busy, busy bees; full of people intent—as all Scotch folks are—on making, not honey, but that which rhymes to it and buys it, namely, money; a city full of shops that seem to drive a good trade; large factories where the inventions of Watt and Arkwright create a deafening sound, and convert the Russian flax into fine linen. We saw few idle people, either rich or poor , in Dundee; everybody seemed to have something to do, and to be doing it. There were no ridiculously dressed ladies, rustling in silks and satins, glittering with rings and jewels, such as may be seen any sunny day parading along Princess Street, Edinburgh—ladies as idle as they are useless, as proud as they are contemptible, who seem to imagine this world was made for no other purpose than to be trod under their feet, who have never done anything in their lives but eat and drink and create work for others. But then there were plenty of real ladies, neatly and tastily dressed, who did not go idle, but were out at the butcher’s, the baker’s, the grocer’s, or the linen draper’s, purchasing household necessaries, and making themselves useful and their homes happy by their frugal and industrious habits. These are the ladies we admire and honour, not those mincing votaries of fashion made up, for the most part, of millineries, sparkling jewels, and self-conceit. And then, oh ye gods are little fishes (as Robert Nicoll used to say), did we not see in that city a number of the prettiest girls that ever we saw! Bless their sweet eyes. Have we not dreamed of them every blessed night since, and do we not count ever day and hour between us and the next holiday when we may get back to see them once more! Of the male portion of Dundee folks, we have little to say. Sam Slick’s description of Scotchmen in America may be applied to them:—“Them ere fellars cut their eye-teeth afore they set foot on this country, I expect. When they get a bawbee they know what to do with it—that’s a fact;—they open their pouch and drop it in, and its got a spring like a fox-trap, it holds fast to all it gets like the grim death to a dead nigger.” Ditto with Scotchmen and their pouches everywhere. Continue reading “‘A Stranger’s Glimpse of Dundee’ by A.S. (29 September, 1860)”