[From Manx Recollections, 1894]
APART from her eyes, which troubled her very much, Mrs. Elliott was not at all well in 1874 and 1875. She was also frequently depressed. One has a hint just here and there from her letters that this was so; but in conversation and appearance she gave no sign of the load of pain and sorrow that often weighed her down. In the spring of 1874 she was especially saddened; and, on being pressed to go to Elton, wrote
"You are rejoicing in the song of nightingales in this month of May, the month of lilies and of fresh life and beauty. But to me it is darkened with the shadow of death - a season of sad memories. On the 19th of May our Willie was called away; on the 2nd of May, Philip walked down these steps for the last time; on the 2nd of May, Colonel Grier died; and on the 3rd of May our mother was stricken down in St. George's Church."
(And could she have foreseen, it was in a future month of May she too was to be called away.)
"But," continues she, "what is this whole earth but a great cemetery now while death reigns? But it will not be always so, for the empire of death has been shaken by the death and resurrection of Him who liveth and was dead. - And at His return, when He shall call to the heavens above and to the earth beneath, the earth will cast out her dead. Then they shall return from the land of the enemy."
In the autumn of 1874, Mr. Weatherell, anxious about his sister's health, crossed over to the island to see her.
His visit was a joyful surprise, and writing about it after wards she says: "How can I ever thank you enough for your recent pilgrimage of brotherly love to visit your poor weak sister? It was a blessing and refreshment at the time, bringing with it the air of a better country, even a heavenly - and it is a comfort to one's heart to think of it now."
Summer returning, she again revived, buoyed up with the expectation of having her young nieces to stay with her for a while. Alas! the visit had to be deferred, and she was sorely disappointed.
"I said to my husband at breakfast," she writes, "that it would seem a strange summer without the fair-haired girls. They remind me of the famous pun of Gregory the Great, when he saw the fair-haired Angli in Rome, that if they were Angli they ought to be Angeli. Not, however, that there is any scriptural reason to suppose that the human race will ever be transformed into the angelic. But the children of the first resurrection being thus made 'equal to the angels,' will have good cause to adore the Redeeming Love which has thus delivered them from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God."
One day about this time, when our friend was feeling very weak and unable to do much of her wonted work of visiting, &c., Karine went to see her, and she said to her
"Karine, I am going to ask you to make a journey to the Union Mills * for me. I want you to go and see a very remarkable friend of mine, a French gentleman of - I will not say a prepossessing appearance and elegant entourage, but an individual of otherwise distinguished parts; seeing he has been, according to his own version, a government official of vast importance, and is the possessor at present, though you would not think it, of a considerable fortune!"
Karine was all alive with interest. She had never heard of this person before. "Had he just come to the island?"
"No, he has been here for years. But listen and I will begin and tell you in sober language how I came to make his acquaintance.
"One day not very long ago I was passing the hotel in this street, and I saw as I thought a poor beggar man sitting on the door-steps. I accosted him with a few remarks and then offered him a penny. He thanked me with an air of extraordinary courtesy, and said he had quite sufficient of this world's goods; but he should be extremely grateful to me if I would pay him a visit, as he should like to converse with. me on some important subjects, and make certain proposals, in the decision of which I might be of some use. Accordingly I went to see him in his den over the archway on the South Quay. A more strange and dreadful place you can hardly imagine. It was one pile of dirt and confusion. Books in quantities, and to judge from their smell, mouldering in dust; grimy bits of furniture, heaps of chopped wood, and on view to the few and favoured, a bed of a construction perfectly unique, and made entirely according to the owner's prescribed and carefully drawn-out plans. It consists of what looks like an oblong box raised a little from the ground, and heated when required, he informed me, with paraffin lamps, prevented from doing mischief by a sort of shelf above made of sheet iron; and this again placed beneath the mattress, or what serves as such, viz., a heap of shavings. The space which encloses the lamps is glazed all round, and can be opened by means of sliding panes, so as to enable the interesting denizen to regulate his heating apparatus. Protruding also from this wonderful bed, he pointed out to me a shelf, which served partly as a table, and partly as a receptacle for his very toothsome provisions, their appetising and pleasant flavour, however, being open to a difference of opinion! His Norwegian cooking-boxes hie also exhibited and explained their utility. They are padded with thick material, so as to prevent the escape of heat, in the manner of a tea-cosy; and into these he pops his pan of soup, or whatever it may be, that he has previously brought to a boil over a lamp, and in process of time his meal cooks itself to perfection.
"In further conversation this astonishing individual in formed me he had been employed by the late King of Naples in transacting certain important matters of state. As regards his social proclivities - religion I am afraid he has none - he professes to be a follower of Robert Owen; and his desire is, he says, to carry out the teaching of this, as he termed him, great philanthropist. For this end he denies himself with the view of benefiting his fellow- creatures. Much of his library, he said, was composed of Owen's works and those of Jacob Holycak, another admirable type of humanity. But what he had especially in view in regard to benefiting the Isle of Man, was to erect a building after his own design as an improved substitute for the present Industrial Home. I told him I was acquainted with a young lady who frequently visited this Institution, and I should like him to have a talk with her, as she would no doubt be interested in what he had to say, and able perhaps to advise better than I should. After paying this extra ordinary visit, and reflecting on my hero, I bethought me to ask the High Bailiff if he knew anything really about him (again and again he spoke of the High Bailiff as a personal friend). Mr. Harris replied that he did indeed, and that he is actually a very rich man; also that it is pretty evident he was once employed in some lucrative, perhaps, but doubtful official capacity under the French or Italian Government."
"You astonish me !" said Karine. "What is this extraordinary being's name?"
"Baume - Monsicur Baume. And for the benefit of country air - having been rather unwell lately - he is at present located in a poor woman's cottage at the Union Mills. You will easily find it - it is just at the bottom of the hill - almost at the summit of which is the spot which commands that surpassingly lovely view you know so well, of mountain and vale, which furnished Martin * with the idea and subject of his Plains of Heaven. I must, however, give you my card, as he made me promise that I would give it you, so that he should have no doubt in receiving you that you are my bond fide friend and coadjutor!"
Karine was delighted with the mission assigned her. She was quite anxious to see this oddity. Accordingly the young lady was not long about prosecuting her visit to the Union Mills, and when there soon discovered the whereabouts of Monsieur Baume. His landlady informed her, when she asked for her lodger, that he could be seen - that he was in bed in her kitchen. Whereupon she ushered the visitor into the said apartment.
Seated up in bed was a very dirty old man; on his head a greasy battered old slouched hat, covering a considerable portion of his features, and almost touching the tip of his elongated nose; and this in its turn almost meeting his curbed and pointed chin - both features combining to form as they encountered a veritable nut-cracker nose and chin; and his half hidden, small, black, keenly-piercing eyes pre sented a first impression of extreme cunning and arch hypocrisy.
"Monsieur," said Karine, advancing towards the bed, presenting her card as directed, and speaking in French, "I hope I find you well. I have come to see you on behalf of our mutual acquaintance, Mrs. Elliott."
"Ah, Mademoiselle," said the old gentleman, eyeing the card closely, and then raising his hat with the air of a courtier, "quel plaisir inattendu! Pray be seated, and do take that seat furthest from me, where I can view the fair face that I am sure is the just accompaniment of that kind sweet voice."
Karine obeyed, and seated herself in full view of the hideous old Frenchman, where he could watch her, and where she could equally watch him.
"Now, Mademoiselle," said he, "before we begin to speak on the very important business I have in my mind, and in which I am informed you may be able to assist me in bringing it to a practical issue, I wish to tell you that I am no mendicant. You see my outward man is well cared for " - pointing to his coat and hat - "and I can assure you my inner man is also well sustained. Do you see, Mademoiselle, these jars by my side ? " - he pointed to some tall earthenware vessels on his bed and resting against the wall - " well, I will show you their contents - most whole some and palatable food, I can assure yom"
"Why, what have you in them?" asked Karine artlessly.
"If Mademoiselle will rise, I will uncover and she shall see."
Mademoiselle rose accordingly, and Monsieur lifted the brown paper which served as cover to the jars, and she looked in as she was bid, and there beheld a green and brown mixture that she did not think looked as inviting for an article of food as Monsieur would have her believe.
"It does not look very nice, Monsieur," she said; "what can it be?"
"Ah, in this country, Mademoiselle, you are not as ingenious as we foreigners nor nearly as frugal. My mixture is composed of chopped snails which I gathered myself, and fresh green cabbage, or it was so a few weeks ago when I compounded my wholesome diet."
Poor Karine tried to look composed and politely appreciative.
"Well, Mademoiselle, you are satisfied - you have come to see me as an honoured acquaintance on equal terms, though I am of course your debtor as regards the trouble you have put yourself to, in taking so long a journey to call upon one whose only claim upon your courtesy is, that I have I believe been so fortunate as to excite in some degree the interest and regard of the good and kind Mrs. Elliott, whom I have no doubt you value as I do as a delightful and most intelligent acquaintance?"
Karine assented, and Monsieur proceeded.
"Well, Mademoiselle, I have a plan. This is a beautiful world, is it not? and this is a sweet island! I came here, I can assure you, because I believed God had a special favour to the lovely spot. Well, here I have lived quietly - though I hope with considerable profit to others as well as myself, for some twenty-five years, and here I mean to die. Before I die, however, I want to carry out a scheme I have been long maturing. It is this, to erect a beautiful building entirely covered with glass for the accommodation of the poor children who are the inmates of what is termed the Isle of Man Industrial Home."
"Do you think, Monsieur, that is a good idea to have it all covered with glass?"
"Certainly, Mademoiselle, the reason for which is, that God's blessed sunshine may penetrate the abode and fall upon the young heads, and cause the dear creatures to flourish and bloom like lovely flowers! I wish boys and girls to be together, a happy family growing up with feelings of mutual love and consideration; and then in due course my best idea would be realised - the young things would intermarry. And that is what it should be, and what would render this island, as regards the offspring of the otherwise neglected poor, a veritable paradise!"
Karine thought to herself it is best (wiser and less trouble) merely to listen to this random reasoner. At last, after a further parley, the drift of which she could barely follow, she rose, thanking Monsieur for taking her into his confidence, and saying she would communicate his benevolent purposes to those she knew interested in the Institution he proposed to benefit. At this he pricked up his ears, and was very anxious she should promise to get together a company of ladies as a committee to wait upon him from time to time, and hear and discuss with him his long-fostered and well-prepared plans of operation.
Mrs. Elliott's deputy was too wide awake to be entrapped; it was very clear to her they were dealing with a visionary, and she replied she did not think a ladies' committee would answer at all, much better that he should gain the co-operation of the High Bailiff and other such persons of experience and influence in such an enterprise. Finally contriving, amid a disconnected effusion of complinients and thanks, to make her escape, the visitor was followed to the door of the cottage by the landlady, who in a very confidential tone informed Karine that Baume was a dreadful man, and such a miser! "When my back is turned," she said, "he calls to my little boy and says, 'Johnny, get up on that chair and get me that little bit of butter you see there!' And when the disgraceful creature," she said, with a look of disgust, "hears a herring cart go round, he calls to me and asks me to go out and buy him a halfpennyworth of herrings - isn't it dreadful, miss? When he was in Douglas I am told he lived on the offal of the market, in fact he picked up what was thrown out to the dogs, or would buy up stale fish or any nastiness he could get cheap!"
Karine, highly entertained by her day's experience, returned to Douglas to report to Mrs. Elliott how she had fared with the extraordinary M. Baume.
This was not the only visit the young lady paid to the miser. She went another time, but took a friend with her. On this occasion the cottager had had her lodger removed to a small room upstairs. And up a narrow staircase to this uninviting chamber the laughing pair ascended. The object of this visit was pure amusement. Monsieur, as before, was in bed, and very unwell, he informed his visitors, and on a small table beside him was a plate containing some undis tinguishable and horrible-looking confection. Karine did not do more than venture to glance at it, and asked no question. Monsieur begged her to approach nearer that he might see her to better advantage; he had thought much of her since her visit, and felt sure she could help him in his scheme. Also he would like to see her father; he thought, as he was an old gentleman, they might both go together to Buxton for the benefit of their health. This was more than Karine and her friend could stand, and they had difficulty in controlling their sense of the ridiculous. Monsieur again began to wander over a string of notions that had been careering through his brain; but Karine, perceiving that nothing was to be arrived at, and that they had had their fun, did her best to withdraw. Her friend, meaning to be very gracious, extended her hand to Monsieur; but suddenly he, as it were, recoiled, shuddered, and said, "No, no! I long ago made it a rule never to touch the fingers of a woman!" Then, as if trying to partly undo what he said, he added: "Excepting in some very rare case. For instance, for the dear Mrs. Elliott's sake, I beg to shake hands with Mademoiselle Skottowe, if mademoiselle will permit?" Karine was only too glad to arrive at a definite point in their interview, and placing her hand in Monsieur Baume's, he just touched it, and she, as hastily as she could, bade the cavalier adieu.
Some time went over, and Baume not recovering in health, he was moved to Douglas, and was lodging for some time in Duke St., but was finally conveyed to Castle Mona Lawn by some persons who held themselves responsible, and there placed in comfortable apartments, and provided with every care and attention. It was probably at this time that one day Mrs. Elliott received a note from the High Bailiff, with a request on behalf of M. Baume that she should again go to see him. Alluding to the visit in a letter to Mrs. Weatherell, she says
"The enclosed note came to me yesterday from the High Bailiff, and you can show it to Robert and the girls, who have seen this extraordinary M. Baume. In compliance with the note, I called this morning on M. Baume; and you can tell Robert he was shining with cleanliness, and that he looks now like a clean French nobleman; and that he is meditating a noble act of munificence, to give away nearly all his money for charitable purposes, and to live himself as a pauper on a few shillings a week. Let us hope that his good resolutions may be carried into effect. He said to me to-day, 'I am going to do something that will startle you.' Should the surprise be an agreeable one, so much the better. It is said that he possesses about sixty thousand pounds in money and property, and if this were well bestowed, it might be of great benefit to many persons."
The poor miser did not live long after this last removal, and his death revealed what he had stated to be true, and what Mrs. Elliott repeats, viz. "That he was a rich man, the possessor of property, real and personal, amounting to something like sixty or seventy thousand pounds."
This immense sum, for the disposal of which for years the owner had from time to time drawn up settlements that were never completed, owing to the English law of mort main, could not at the last moment of the testator's life be bequeathed, as he wished, for educational and charitable purposes. Consequently, he was obliged, when at last induced to make a decided settlement, to bequeath it absolutely to trustees, as their personal property, with simply the moral proviso to use it as the testator would have willed had he had on his deathbed the legal power to direct. These trustees were seven in number, and consisted of some of the chief Government officials of the island.
The Industrial Home, and it only, benefited immediately by the demise of the testator, receiving a gratuity of £3000, which handsome sum enabled the Home committee to purchase the present fine building on the height of Burnt Mill Hill.
The remainder of the Baume estate apparently, though after an elapse of nearly twenty years, is still in abeyance in the possession of the trustees, and entirely at their dis posal, either to be given or not to be given, for the purpose and use for which the original proprietor had, according to his own statement, for a long succession of years, accumulated and hoarded it.
Visitors to Douglas entering St. George's churchyard will view, on the right hand of the path leading direct to the church, the costly Aberdeen granite monument which records the burial-place and munificent benefactions of Pierre Jean Joseph Henri Baume.
Truly this pyramid rises as if in mockery of him who lies below. For, sad to tell, the deathbed of poor Baume was, as recounted to Mrs. Elliott by an eyewitness, one truly appalling. He breathed, so report alleged, his last uttering words of dreadful sound, and testifying in his departing moments that he had lived a life darkened with crime, and rendered miserable by remorse and despair. His intended benefactions were probably meant as an expiation for a life of sin, weighing like lead upon an unenlightened conscience. Truly, "What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul ?"
The poor creature, it was said, desired to see one loving Christian in his sickness unto death, and that was Mrs. Elliott. And once or more she saw him. But even Karine could not extract from her what passed between the miserable sufferer and his visitant of mercy. She would only shudder when his name was mentioned; and finally she asked that it should hot be mentioned at all.
* Martin, the celebrated painter, lived at Harold Tower, Douglas, and is buried at Kirk Braddan Cemetery.
* Village about three miles from Douglas.