‘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)”

‘Bodkin in Clover’ (6 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 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)”

‘Bodkin Among His Country Cousins’ (29 June, 1861)

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,—As Tibbie had been unco sair forfoughten wi’ flittin’ an’ bug slayin’, no to speak o’ her bein’ doon i’ the mooth aboot oor misfortunate selection o’ a hoose wherein nae respectable body wad ever think o’ sokourinin’, the thocht struck me that it micht tend baith to the health o’ her body an’ the serenity o’ her soul to gie her a jaunt for a day or twa i’ the country. That was ane o’ my reasons, an’, atour an’ aboon a’ that, I had passed my word o’ honour, when Kirsty Monypenny was ower frae Edinbro’ on her jaunt, that Tibbie sidna be hindrid, time an’ circumstances convenient, frae payin’ a visit to a cousin o’ hers—a canny, weel-to-do farmer body, i’ the Howe o’ the Mearns—wha had made us promise ower an’ ower again, when he cam’ to Stobb’s Fair, that we wad be sure to gang an’ see them, an’ stay a night or twa wi’ them, in the course o’ the followin’ summer. Bein’ a man o’ my word, I was, of coorse, anxious to redeem my promise. So Tibbie an’ me made it up thegither that we wad set oot wi’ the first train to Laurencekirk on Saturday’s mornin, comin’ back wi’ the last train on Munnanday’s nicht. In view o’ the jaunt, Tibbie keepit her hands busy makin’ an’ mendin’ her bits o’ duds, an’ she had to gang doon to the milliner’s an’ get her bonnet repaired that had been sae sair misgoogled wi’ the squibs on the Queen’s birthday nicht. I coft a hat, splinder new, at a ransom o’ seven an’ saxpence, an’ set to wark to mak’ for mysel’ a braw new coat, o’ a pepper-an’-saut pattern, in lieu o’ the dirt-flee coloured ane that was mischeeved in the Birth-nicht ploy aforesaid. By virtue o’ thae purchases an’ sundry repairs, Tibbie an’ me were providit wi’ wardrobes that wadna do dishonour to the freends we we gaen to visit, an’, gin the truth may be tell’t withoot offence, Tibbie, wi’ her bannet an’ what not, completely taen the shine oot o’ a’ the wives we met in wi’ in the coorse o’ oor journey into the northern pairts o’ the kingdom. This, ye may suppose, was marrow to Tibbie’s banes. In fack she achieved sic a triumph that the remembrance o’ a’ her toils, an’ pains, an’ mortifications, wi’ regaird to the bug mischanter, was completely swallowed up in the gush o’ pleasure that filled her heart at the thochts o’ her millinery victory ower the farmers’ wives i’ the Howe o’ the Mearns. But as I’m anticipatin’ the seam o’ the discoorse, I maun tak’ back a stitch or twa.

The next thing to be considered was, hoo the business was to be carried on durin’ my absence. Willie Clippins was as gleg as a needle at doin’ ony bit plain job, but he was scarcely qualified to sustain the mair important duties o’ measurin’ an’ cuttin’ oot, whilk are baith closely allied to the fine airts an’ mathematics. I say this withoot refleckin’, the the remotest degree, on his penetration; for it’s no in the poor o’ natur’ that a bit hafflin’ laddie can hae the sense an’ gumption, an’ scientific attainments, that properly belang to a maister in Israel, if I may use the expression. Hoosomedever I set to wark, an’ wrought up a’ the particular jobs mysel’, and cut oot twa pair o’ moleskin slacks, three waistcoats, an’ four pair o’ drawers, whilk I beased thegither, an’ markit wi’ chalk, insomuch that Willie wad hae naething else to do but haud the needle gaen gurin’ my absence. If ony body called wantin’ his inches taen, I direckit Willie to rin oot for Andrew Stitch, an auld apprentice o’ mine, noo dooin’ on his ain accoont, wha had offered to tak’ measurements for me if necessity required.

A’ thae preliminaries bein’ settled to my heart’s content, Saturday mornin’ cam’ roond, but I sanna tell ye hoo active Tibbie was in packin’ up ony little thing we micht, or micht not, require on the journey. Every body wha has a Tibbie worth her vittles will ken that withoot bein’ informed; an’ whaever disna hae a Tibbie to pack up his portmanky, sid get ane forthwith, an’ that’s no gien them ony ill advice. Continue reading “‘Bodkin Among His Country Cousins’ (29 June, 1861)”