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 ga’e ye a scrift o’ hoo we were gettin’ on at Crummiehillocks, but I had to break aff i’ the thread o’ my discoorse. I’ve sittin’ doon enoo—though I’m certain sure I’ve mair need to be at the needle—to detail the hinder end o’ my story.
Weel, ye see, after discussin’ oor curds an’ cream an’ a cawker apiece, Jeames an’ me set aff to mak’ a survey o’ the farm steadin’, an’ a’ the oots an’ ins o’ the concern. First an’ foremost we made a superficial examination o’ the thrashin’ mill, an’ Jeames describit a’ hoo the corn was put in, an’ hoo it cam’ oot, hoo the fanners blew awa’ the chaff an’ the licht-corn, an’ hoo the heavy grain was preserved to be food for man an’ beast, an’ I was greatly enlichtened an’ edified by his mechanical exposition, an’ a poor o’ conversation we had boot this, that, an’ the ither thing. It sae happened, hooever, that the mill was infestit wi’ a colony o’ rottans, an’ juist i’ the middle o’ oor discoorse there pouts oot a fierce lookin’ rascal frae behind a sack, an’ dairts wi’ the velocity o’ greased lichtenin’ in below a heap o’ wechts an’ riddles, an’ graith o’ that kind, that were lyin’ in a corner o’ the barn floor. Jeames vowed vengeance against the souple scoundrel, an’ so he arms himsel’ wi’ a broom besom, an’ made his dispositions for an assault on the Malakoff [note: A reference to the siege of Sevastopol]. Wi’ the besom o’ destruction uplifit aboon his head, Jeames drew up his forces in front o’ the enemy’s stronghold, fairly blockin’ up the only practicable way o’ retreat open to the beleagured garrison. My duty was, airmed wi’ my siller-headed cane, to march bauldly in an’ storm the citadel. It taks me lang to describe the action, but the haill affair didna last ootower three quarters o’ a minute. In I marched at double quick time, an’ bravely commenced the attack by tisslin’ up the wechts and riddles wi’ the view o’ dislodgin’ the enemy. Oot he dartit like a rocket, an’ Jeames let at him wi’ a poorfu’ blenter, but missed his mark like mony ane mair. So I lent a reishel at him next, an’ also missed. The puir bewilderet mortal was at his wits’ end an’ bounded hither an’ thither, Jeames lounderin’ at him wi’ the besom, an’ me paikin’ awa’ wi’ my cane. Bein’ mair zealous than prudent, hooever, an’ mair anxious to tak’ the life o’ the rottan than to preserve my ain, I had the misfortune to thrust my head-piece within the sweep o’ Jeames’s besom, an’ sae doon he cam’ what he could draw ower the croon o’ my hat, whereby it was knockit firmly doon ower my coontenance, completely steekin’ up my daylichts, an’ deprivin’ me for the time bein’ o’ the use o’ my speaking apparawtus. Naethin’ but my chouks were veesible, as Jeames informed my afterwards. Jeames flang awa’ the besom, an’ of coorse I flang awa’ my cane. I banged up my hands to edge up my tile, an’ Jeames he flew to my assistance, thinkin’ he had brained me, but by a special interposition o’ mercyment, I wasna ae whit the waur, the hat bein’ the only party that had felt the brunt o’ the blow. But the hat wasna the warst pairt o’ the ploy, for in the hurrybustle o’ the business, the ill-faur’d tuke o’ a rottan had the impudence to rin up the very leg o’ my slacks, wi’ the view, nae doot, o’ makin’ good his quarters in that quiet climate. I banged doon my hands to arrest his progress, but he was ower souple for me, an’ sae he ran up the ae leg an’ doon the ither, an’ a’ the time I keepit dancin’ an duntin’ my feet upo’ the floor, as if I had been afflickit wi’ St Vitus’ Dance. Jeames didna ken aboot the rottan bein’ sic a near neebor, an’, my mooth bein’ shut up wi’ the hat, I couldna communicate the necessary information on the subjeck; an’ sae, when he saw me glaumin’ at my legs, he ran awa’ wi’ the erroneous impression that, in the hurrybustle o’ the moment—for the hail mischanter was the wark o’ an instant or twa—he had somehow or ither come athort my cyrpin as well as my head-piece. Jeames was muckle concerned aboot it, puir chield, an’ quoth he, “Tammas, I haena hurt ye sair, hae I?” But feint a word could I reply, except a hollow groan that micht, by a violent stretch o’ the imagination, be translatit into the monosyllabie “No!” Jeames soon jealoused what was up wi’ me, an’ sae he applied himsel’ wi’ vigour to oonship my hat, wherein he at last succeedit, muckle to my relief, an’ nae that little to his satisfaction, seein’ there was nae hole knockit in my skull, as he had half-expeckit. I thereupon lodged a complaint iw’ Jeames against the unwarrantable proceedin’s o’ his rottanship, an’ sae he soon settled wi’ him, seizin’ hauds o’ ‘m through the claith wi’ his ponderous neives that had the faculty o’ a smith’s vice, an’ crackin’ his very banes, as if they had been naething but a wheen pipe-stapples. I shook him oot o’ the leg o’ my slacks, an’ he lay i’ the floor—
“A towsie tyke, black, grim, an’ large.”
—Od, it was ugsum to think o’ haein’ sic a barbarous-lookin’ tenant, wi’ a lang tail, an’ teeth as gleg as needles, rammelin’ up an’ doon the legs o’ my breeks, an’ I canna tell hoo thankfu’ I was to be relieved o’ his society. Jeames an’ me clubbit oor skill thegither, an’ made a few repairs on the croon o’ the hat, insomuch that neither Tibbie nor Mrs Witherspoon jaloused what had happened, an’ we agreed to keep oor ain coonsels on the subjeck, for if they had got their fingers in the pie there wad hae been nae end to their claverin’ aboot it. Continue reading “‘Bodkin in Clover’ (6 July, 1861)”