[from Hall Caine My Story]
THE story of how I became a novelist takes me back nearly fifty years, when, as a child of five, I was living off-and-on at intervals in a little thatched cottage on the high road through one of the remoter parishes in the Isle of Man. It was the home of an uncle, who was a butcher as well as a small farmer. In his character as farmer he cultivated some thirty acres of land, much of it hilly and hungry, and some of it boggy and peaty. In his character as butcher he killed the sheep he had grazed on the mountain slopes, and made weekly journeys to Douglas, the chief town of the island, to sell his meat from a stall which stood in the market-place, under the turret of an old church.
On one of these journeys I was permitted to go with him, and, though I knew it so little at the time, I think now, that was not only my first clear impression of the Isle of Man, but also that my earliest sense of life and the world must date from that experience. A range of hills crosses the island from the north-east to the north-west, and our home lay on the north side of them, while Douglas lies on the south. My recollection is that, contrary to the usual practice of farmer-butchers, which was to go round the little range, my uncle travelled to Douglas by a pass that crossed the mountains through the valley called Sulby Glen. In order to realise what that journey meant to me, and the impression it made upon my mind, it is necessary to think of me as a child.
We were in an open cart without springs, and a corner was left for me amid the carcases of sheep and lambs, and the clusters of "plucks" and " heads," while my uncle, in the Garibaldian red shirt he generally wore, sat on the front board with his feet on the shaft. That ascent of Snaefell, and the getting to the top, and then the wilderness of waste space, with the sea on every hand, and finally the descent into the new world beyond, where the unknown town lay far away in the depths below, was a breathless adventure. I have crossed many of the great passes of Europe since then, but none of them has brought me such a thrilling sense of the vastness of the world and the mighty things of nature. And yet it was only our poor little Isle of Man seen through the eyes of a child.
I remember that it was dark when we reached Douglas, and that the bustle and stir of the principal thoroughfare, Strand Street (narrow still, but narrower then, I think, than it now is), seemed to me perilous and bewildering. The little town, with its ten thousand inhabitants, or less, was full of the teeming and tumultuous life of a vast and mighty city. We put up for the night somewhere behind the market-place, in a house frequented by other farmer-butchers from the country, and we slept in the same room with four of them. In the cottage in Ballaugh we had a room to ourselves, though it was little, and the roof lay low over it, and when you were lying in bed you could smell the sweet " scraas," the dry turf bedding, under the thatch ; but this was a vast chamber, some twelve feet by fifteen at the least, with three beds, and a sheepskin by the side of each of them.
We had brought our dog with us, a white-eyed Manx collie, and I remember that he slept on the sheepskin by the bedside, while the dogs of our room-fellows, being of a quarrelsome disposition, had to sleep outside the bedroom door. And thus, amid the gossip of the men as they talked in the darkness after going to bed, very tired, yet with a large sense of being a mighty traveller, I fell asleep. I have travelled a good deal since then, but I do not think I have ever gone to bed in Africa, or Asia, or America, or within the Arctic Circle, with so strong a sense of being a whole hemisphere away from home.
Next morning I was the last to be stirring, and by that time the booths were all up in the market- place, and there was a great cackle and cry there, and business was going like a forest fire. I could see my uncle in a linen apron, and he was putting the copper and silver of his customers into the two pockets of a bag which was stitched to the front of it, and their gold into a stocking purse which he kept in his breeches pocket. The bag became big and the stocking became fat, and I had a sense of boundless wealth which will never come again.
The great day came to an end at length, and then the booth was taken down, and our mare was brought round and harnessed to her empty cart, and we drove away in a long line of other empty carts through the gathering darkness of Saturday night-the farmer-butcher in his red shirt, and the great little traveller, very tired and sleepy, snoozing down under the covering of a moist new sheepskin --along the main westerly road of the island, the Peel Road, under the house (which seemed so vast) where I live now with my own children, up Creg Willie's Hill, at the tail of the mountain range, and thus home to the thatched cottage in Ballaugh.
This is a very simple story, but I think it records in its homely way the birth of what the public has been pleased to call the Manx novelist. The child is father to the man, and what I felt nearly fifty years ago about the Isle of Man-that it was the whole world in little, that all the interests, all the emotions, all the passions, and almost all the ex- periences of mankind lay there on that rock ih the Irish Sea-has been the motive inspiring my books. It has inspired the books which have had the island for their scene no more than those which have not, for if I have learned anything by five-and-twenty years of almost continuous travel, it is that humanity is one and the same everywhere, and that nothing I had known of our tiny Manx race was out of harmony with what I saw in races great and small at the farthest corners of the earth.
I hold myself, however, more fortunate than some of my fellow-novelists (though beginning life with many obvious disadvantages, and under conditions so little likely to develop the literary faculty) in being brought up as a boy in a little self-centred community, where it was possible to see the human drama very plain, because very close. We were forty or fifty thousand all told in the Isle of Man, and we were really as one big family, whereof nearly every member seemed to know something of nearly everybody else. Our isolation from the rest of the kingdom, our inevitable inter-marriage, and the unity of our material interests made our impulses, our passions, our beliefs, our supersti- tions an open book for any of us to read, and it must have been my own fault if, with so many opportunities of reading the human story in the impressionable days of childhood, I did not learn a little of it by heart.
The thatched cottage in Ballaugh was the home of my grandmother as well as my uncle, and I remember her almost entirely (for she died when I was still a child) as the source of certain superstitious beliefs which to this hour I find it impossible to shake off. She was a little Manxwoman, very old and much bent, dressed in the blue homespun of the island, and occupied with the light labours of the household while the lustier members of the family were at work in the fields. I see her in my mind's eye yet, gathering up the dry gorse that lay about the stack-yard, then feeding the fire under the " oven pot " that hung from the " sloughry," a long iron rod and hook, over the open hearth. She called me " Hommy- beg," which was Manx for " little Tommy," and I think I must have been much in her company, for I have the clearest memory of countless stories she told me of fairies and witches and witch-doctors and the evil eye.
One of her stories was of a troop of fairies who chased her home on a moonlight night when she was a girl. They were merry little fellows, wearing cocked hats and velvet jackets, and they kept prancing and dancing about her as she ran in frantic terror along the lonely road, until she came within sight of the lighted window of her mother's house on the " curragh," the marshy meadow-land, and then they suddenly disappeared. Some of them were malignant as well as mischievous, and she had seen them flitting along with lanterns the night after a storm to the door of some lone woman whose man was a fisherman away at " the herrings," and was afterwards found to be lost at sea. There were good fairies too, and one of these, whose name was Phonoderee, would come to poor people's houses at night, when everybody was asleep, and card the wool for the women and churn the milk for the girls. You had to be kind to Phonoderee, or he might become angry, and even spiteful ; so last thing at night, before going to bed, my grandmother would lay out on the kitchen table a crock of fresh water, with perhaps a bowl of new milk and a plate of " bonnag," which was barley bread. I remember to have seen her do it.
She believed in every kind of supernatural influence, the earth and the air were full of spiritual things for her, and I suppose some of her simple faith must have fixed itself on the cells of my brain, for, however stubborn the scepticism of my waking hours, in my sleep the superstitions of my childhood are with me still. I cannot remember that she could read, and yet she knew much of the Manx Bible by heart, and by the exercise of some unaccountable sense she could turn up a text at the proper page. She certainly could not write, and one of the miracles of life to her was how I, at five or six years of age, could " read writing" ; but she knew a world of things which I did not know, and have never in the same degree been able to learn. She knew when the storms were coming by a look at the sky, and she could tell the time within a few minutes by sight of the stars. She knew a bad man as she knew the clouds, by the signs of trouble in his face, and she could see a good heart through a clear countenance as she saw the stones at the bottom of the well. I think of her as she used to sit on a low, three-legged stool, feeding the fire with the crackling gorse while she told me wondrous tales of the "little men," and I tell myself now that, bewildered as she would have been to hear it, my old Manx grandmother was a poet.
It will be gathered from what I have said that my grandmother's house was a poor one ; but I can truly say that though poverty lived under that simple roof-tree it was poverty so sweet, so clean, so free from want, that in all the years since, I have never seen wealth that has seemed to me so human and so beautiful. The kitchen was our dining-room as well as our cooking- room, for the parlour was a chill place, never entered except when the parson called-a mausoleum of musty knitted things and curious pieces of old china. But in the warm and living kitchen the middle of the floor might be only of hard earth, but the flagstones around it and the big blue hearthstone in the open ingle were always washed and whitened, the plates on the dresser were always bright, and hams always hung with the whips from hooks in the whitewashed joists of the floor above.
We burned peat, for coal was dear in those days, and whenever I smell a turf fire now I am fifty years younger in a minute. Our tallow candles were made by my grandmother in a kind of iron dip which I have never seen since, and she baked our bread, oatcake chiefly, which was done on a girdle and kept in a sort of big tambourine on a shelf under the joists. She also span yarn from the wool of our own sheep, and it was woven by an old weaver who lived alone with his loom near by, and then it was made into clothes for the men and sometimes into petticoats for the women by the travelling tailor, who came and sat cross-legged on the kitchen table. Our food was as simple as it could be, and nothing could have been more simply served. On Sundays we usually had two or three boiled sheep's heads, hot for dinner and cold for supper, and on other days of the week we generally had potatoes and herrings. The herrings were put on separate plates about the table, but the potatoes, which were always boiled in their jackets, were piled up in one great dish in the middle, and we helped ourselves as we required. At breakfast we often ate eggs, which were plentiful, and sometimes drank tea, which cost four shillings a pound, I remember ; but we always had porridge, which being made in the oven pot and poured into a large white bowl, stood in the centre of the table, with a big spoon in it by which everybody helped himself, lifting what he wanted into his basin of fresh milk-warm and frothy for me from the morning's milking. We had no well, and therefore no pump, and consequently no pipes, but we got our water from a stream that ran down the mountain side, and kept it in a tall crock in a corner of the kitchen, brown on the outside and blue-black within, and when we wanted a drink we dipped a little blue basin into it. We all sat together at meals, the master of the house and the farm-man, the casual caller and even the passing beggar (though we never thought of calling him so)-only the grandmother, like Martha, on her feet, busy with much serving.
If I have painted this little picture of our primitive patriarchal life in a remote parish of the Isle of Man as recently as fifty years ago, it has not been merely for its own sake, but chiefly in order to say that poverty, if it is sweet and not bitter, is in my view a condition far more blessed of God than wealth, bringing human hearts closer together in mutual dependence and brotherhood.
I think that is why the poor are so good to each other, and when I remember the intimacies of my own earlier days, both in my grandmother's house and in my mother's, my rapturous joy in the possession of little things, I am almost sorry for my own children because they were born to a condition of life which I had worked so hard to make better than my own. Certain I am that for the work I had to do in reading and describing the characters of people nothing could have been so good for me as the life I lived in my youth ; and when, the other day, I was a guest in an Arab house on the edge of the Soudan desert I was at home in a moment, because we were doing and saying exactly the same as we used to say and do in the little cottage in Ballaugh.
There was an aunt in our household at Ballaugh, a strapping country girl in her twenties, not yet married, and through her I came to learn something of more substantial aspects of life. I remember that it was an accepted law of Manx courtship in those days that it should be done late at night, after the elder members of the family had put out the "dip" candles and gone to bed, leaving the dark kitchen to the girls, whose " boys," by an amiable fiction, were supposed to be unknown. I also remember that in other houses this custom had its obvious consequences, and that there was too often a " bye-child" in a country house. But our community was generally indulgent to sins of the senses, and one of the insular laws, conceived, I think, by the good Bishop Wilson, was meant to make it easy for transgressors to atone for their transgressions, both to their offspring and to themselves. If a girl who had given birth to a bastard married the father of it " within a year or two," never having compromised herself by relations with another man, her child became legitimate. I remember that there was a curious ceremony of legitimation, wherein the mother while being married in church tucked her baby under her petticoat, but whether I ever witnessed a scene like this or only heard of it I cannot recall. What certainly remains with me is a vivid sense of the spiritual righteousness of this old Manx law, and I think more than one of my books derives something from my memory of its beneficent effect.
We were a litigious lot in the Isle of Man fifty years ago, and the members of our big family were constantly quarrelling in the courts. I think our people liked the excitement of legal disputes, and I have known two brothers "put the law" on each other about a coil of rope. As a result everybody knew everything about everybody else, their quarrels, their property, and their prospects, so that the people of one parish were as the members not of one family merely but of one household, and a cow could not calve or a sow have a litter of pigs but we all knew something about it. This may have made good ground for envy and malice and all uncharitableness, but it made good ground for Christian charity and brotherly affection too, and it certainly made good ground for the student of life, if there was a " chield " among us " takin' notes."
We had no Poor Law in the Isle of Man in my boyhood, and the machinery whereby alms were distributed to the old and incapable was of the simplest and most patriarchal. When age or asthma, or more frequently rheumatism, left a man unable to follow either of the twin callings of the Manxman, fishing or farming, he made up his mind, without many qualms, to " go on the houses." This was a species of pauperism which apparently hurt no man's pride, for it merely consisted in paying calls on his neighbours at certain seasons of the year, once, twice, or thrice, and being assisted in kind towards the maintenance of his own household. He was generally an old "widda man "-a widower-living alone in some little mud cottage on the curragh, but sometimes he had an old invalid wife at home, bed-ridden for years, and he came with a sack, into which his neighbours poured measures of meal, both oat-meal and barley-meal, and then gave him perhaps some pinches of tea, screwed up in paper, which he stowed away in his waistcoat pocket.
I saw many such visitors in my early days, and one of them, known as Charles, was a kind of privileged pet of everybody, being " hardly wise," and yet capable of flashes of wit and sallies of satire that were the current coin of the whole country. As far as I can remember, Charles had no fixed abode, but tramped the island from north to south, and therefore lived " on the houses " in every sense. He came as by right, and took his seat without ado in the " chollagh," the warm place in the open ingle. There was always a bed for him somewhere, if it was only a shake-down in the loft of the stable, and he went away when he was so minded. He was welcomed in a spirit of charity that had not a particle of pride in it, but he earned his board by bringing " the newses " from other places. Charles, like the travelling tailor who came at intervals to make our clothes out of our own homespun, was the perambulating reporter of the period. He claimed a reporter's right to sub-edit his intelligences, and exercised it with an effect that was sometimes startling. I see him still in my mind's eye-the wild-eyed old beggar, with a ram's horn swung about his neck, for he was a great follower of Father Mathew, and a fierce foe of the publicans, and as often as he came upon a brewery he went braying round it by the hour, in the full conviction that, like the walls of Jericho, it must some day fall.
I am afraid it must be admitted that lunacy was not rare in our little close community, for consanguinity in marriage was commoner than it is now, and I remember with a shiver and a thrill the shifts our poor people were put to as late as my own early days to provide for the insane. There was no asylum in the island then, and if a man went mad and was believed to be dangerous, he was put away in an outhouse, with a chain to his leg and straw for his bed. I must have seen many maniacs in this condition, and nothing I have since learned of insanity has left so strong a sense of its terrors. Sometimes it was the father of the family who was thus stowed away, sometimes a son, but occasionally the mother, the " big woman " of the farm, and the person least easy to spare, while the eldest girl took up the duties of the woman of the house, as well as tended and cleaned and perhaps scolded and chastised the lone one in the loft. I think of the horror of the padlocked place, of the wild cries in the middle of stormy nights, of the possible moments of sanity in the insane, of the feeling of the rest of the family that the father, son, sister, mother is with them and not of them, outside in the outhouse, while they lie warm in their beds, separated by something more cruel than death, more sundering than the grave ; and I wonder that the awful condition could have been allowed to last so long.
It lasted until Wilkie Collins visited the island when he was writing " Armadale," and I remember hearing from a former Attorney-General, Sir James Gell, that after certain letters written by Collins to the Times, the Home Office told our insular legislature that if they did not quickly make proper provision for their poor lunatics the imperial authorities would do so and charge them with the expense.
Our government in those days was an anomalous creation mingled of officialism and feudal power. We had inherited a right to rule ourselves without restraint from the English Parliament, and we did so by means of a people's chamber-the House of Keys, whereof the members elected themselves, and acted under a Governor and executive council appointed by the English crown. As a consequence the people of the soil had sometimes to be grateful if they were permitted to exist, and among my earliest memories is that of my uncle in the Garibaldian red shirt protesting to an inspector, who was calling for corvée, forced labour on the roads, that if things went much further we should not be " able to call our souls our own."
I do not know if it was a result of our autocratic form of government that the banks became so powerful that they were able to demand higher and higher interest, until the farmers could scarcely live, but I remember that a kind of amateur banker, the parish moneylender, was created by this condition. One such person, a " gombeen " woman, came very close to my own family, and was supposed to have been the ruin of my grandfather, who was a bit of a bohemian, God forgive him, and sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. I must have seen this lady at close quarters, for I have a vivid recollection of certain incidents of her last illness, when she " got religion " and began to have misgivings about the way she had got her gold. In the middle of a stormy night she sent for " Uncle Bill," and asked him what she ought to do that she might make her peace with God ; whereupon Uncle Bill, being practical in his religion, advised the immediate return of all the money she had made amiss.
That's impossible," she said. " Some of the people are under the sod these teens of years."
"Then give the money to their children," said Uncle Bill, and my recollection is that she made a certain show of doing so.
It was a weird enough scene at her death-bed, the withered old woman counting out her ill-got gold, and giving it back with a reluctant hand to the children whose parents she had wronged, while the " Primitive " class-leader " put up a word of prayer" or led the company in the verse of a hymn. I gave it all at full length, but with some inevitable embellishments, in one of the books I wrote years afterwards.
The religious life of the Isle of Man fifty years ago was perhaps on the whole more vocal than active. There was deep piety in many places, and the best of my memories of those days is of the sweet and simple faith which expressed itself in the homely lives of the farmers and fishermen, with their good wives and daughters, among whom I lived. I recall the little Methodist chapels dotted over every part of the island, where, not on Sundays only, but on the evenings of other days of the week a few rugged men, with their big coarse hands and their tanned and seamy faces, would pray together with the fervour of saints, in language gathered from the "old Book" that had an elevation and a distinction that is lost to modern speech. I recall, too, the camp meetings of that time, with their rugged peasant preachers, great preachers as I think they must have been, judging by the effects they produced upon their hearers, and the delirious emotion that used to pass over the people as with the rush of a mighty wind.
But in the community as a whole there was a curious mixture of sincerity and insincerity that was often grotesque and sometimes humorous. I remember that intemperance was not one of the failings to which our religious toleration denied frequent forgiveness, and I recall an occasion on which a kinsman of my own, who was equally famous for his love of " jough," a kind of Manx ale, and his zealous efforts on the " plan-beg," the little plan, having returned home from market on Saturday night at the bottom of the cart, preached on Sunday morning on the evils of backsliding.
Drink was the besetting evil of the island in my s early days, and I think I shall not wrong the truth if I say that nearly every house on the main-roads was in some sort a public-house. As a conse- quence there were high doings on the highway on market-days, and the Manxman's sense of being of one big family with all other Manxmen was not carried so far as to interfere with his right to administer a little brotherly chastisement. Town was against country in these domestic encounters of parish against parish. I can even remember that in a parish of both hill and dale, Kirk Maughold, the men of the "up-side" looked askance at the men of the " down-side," and were not sorry if Saturday night gave them an opportunity of settling their geographical differences on the road. It was all very like a ridiculous travesty of the national quarrels about which we hold Cabinet Councils in the great states of the world, and as in their case so in ours, no tame interpre- tation of the doctrine of Christianity was permitted to interpose.
I remember, too, that religion was kept in its place with us, as with greater races, whenever it threatened to interfere with economic interests, though, of course, in our tiny community the manifestations of dishonesty looked large and crude and primitive. Among my earliest memories is that of a terrible storm early in the spring, and of being awakened in the middle of the night by shrill shouts outside, where the men of our little farm were struggling to hold down the thatched roof of the house by throwing ropes over it and weighting them down with stones, while the wind carried off their voices like the screams of sea-gulls, and the boughs of an oak-tree lashed the window of the bedroom in which I found myself alone. Next morning the sun was shining, and the air was as still as a sleeping child, and then we heard of a schooner that had been wrecked on the coast a mile or two down our side lane, and of rolls of English cloth which had been washed ashore. I would not say there was any suspicion of wrecking, but there were whispers of a sort of smuggling, and of a stone tomb in the old Ballaugh church that showed signs of having been disturbed. Perhaps these surmises received a certain confirmation when on Whit Sunday the stalwart sons and smart daughters of the farmer nearest to the sea presented themselves in church in brand-new suits of a wondrous English pattern.
We were then, as we are now, a people strong in Nonconformity, for when the clergy, under the corrupting influence of the braggart court of the latest of our Lords of Man, neglected the spiritual needs of the people, Wesley came over and swept the island as with a mighty wave. But never did Church and Dissent live on easier terms together. I remember that one of my many uncles in varying degrees removed - for we were all kinsfolk - was at once a class-leader among the " Primitives " and vicar's warden as well, and I cannot recall an instance in which his two functions were found to conflict.
What left, perhaps, the strongest impression on my mind were the many proofs that the Church belonged to the people, and that there were times when they could almost go the length of turning the parson out of it. One of these was Christmas Eve, when it was the custom of the parishioners to hold a service by themselves. The service was called " Oiel Veree " (the Eve of Mary), and consisted of the singing of " carvals " (carols), some of them sacred, and often shockingly crude in their literary colouring, but most of them secular, and sometimes profane in both senses. I dare say the original aim of the Oiel Veree was to deepen the spiritual life of the people by means of the only old poetic literature the island possessed; but in my early days it was made an excuse for scenes that were often more amusing than reverential.
We all took candles to church, I remember, and held them lighted in our hands as we sat in the pews, while the carol-singers, generally two abreast, walked down the central aisle, beginning at the porch, and facing the altar, and taking a step forward at the conclusion of every verse. The carols most in favour were those that gave the raciest paraphrase of incidents in the Old Testament, and one that consisted of a running commentary on all the bad women in the Bible was especially popular. By way of punctuating the points of such productions we threw dried peas and sometimes our candles at the performers, with results that were not always an honour to the parish church. Naturally the clergy were not usually favourable to the annual service as it used to be performed, and, being powerless to abolish a time-honoured custom, they made many angry protests. I remember one such protest that came like a boomerang, when it was aimed at a half-witted carval-singer named Billy Corkill. Old Billy and I were going to Oiel Veree when he met the parson, a testy person, coming out of the church.
"Mind you behave yourselves to-night," said the parson, "and don't turn my church into a bear-garden."
" The church is the people's, I'm thinkin'," said Billy.
" The people are as impudent as goats," said the parson, whereupon Billy, without turning a hair, quietly replied-
"Aw, well, you are the shepherd, so just make sheeps of them."
Such was the life of the Isle of Man as I saw it through the eyes of a child, and I trust I have reproduced a little of it in my books, with its quaint and curious customs, its simple faith, its terse and racy speech. We were cut off from the mainland by thirty miles of sea on every side, and though a steamer sailed to Liverpool every day, it was hardly once in a lifetime that any of our country people left our shores, unless perchance they were leaving them for good. In the remoter parishes there was no postman, and when letters came for us they were put up in the windows of the post-office in the village to be seen and called for. We had one or two insular newspapers, but the farmers rarely read them, and those who did so learned little or nothing of what was going on in the world outside. There were no railways in the island then, and when we travelled to market or to the annual fairs of our four little towns it was either afoot or on the jolting cross-board of the springless cart.
Naturally there was another side to the life of the Isle of Man. There was the life of the towns - of Douglas, with its ten thousand inhabitants, and its visiting industry already begun ; of Castle- town, technically our capital, and still, I think, the seat of our government ; of Ramsey, the asylum of many half-pay officers living cheap by means of our low customs and small rents ; and of Peel, the home of the fishing trade, with its fleet of some hundreds of small " nickeys " and big boats. Then there was the life of our landed gentry, very clannish and exclusive ; of our college professors, remote and austere ; as well as the parsons, often very sweet old souls, who acted as intermediaries between us and the people above, especially the Lord Bishop, our neighbour at Bishop's Court, who was driven in a carriage with two high- stepping horses by an English coachman in livery, and was talked of with bated breath. But this was a higher side of the insular life which in those days I knew little or nothing about, and if the loss was mine in many ways I do not regret it too bitterly since it left me in close touch with the soil, with the simple lives of a simple people ; and to have been brought up in these conditions was, perhaps, for one who had my work to do in later life, to be entered in the best, if the humblest, university of the world. So Manxland is my alma mater after all, for she has taught me more than the lore of her own little island ; and when I set myself to understand humanity in any quarter of the world, whether it is among the Icelanders on the edge of the Arctic Circle, or, as now happens, among the Soudanese on the verge of the equator, I find myself going back in memory to what I learned of the human heart in the days when I lay in bed in the little thatched cottage in Ballaugh, with the sweet-smelling " scraas " so close over- head, listening for a while, before dropping off to sleep, through the floor that had no ceiling under it, to the voices of the people who were talking in Manx in the kitchen below.