[From High Bailiff Laughton's Recollections, 1911]
In my student days there was a newly-arrived householder in DouglasSir Robert H. by namea knight by rank, and an Irishman by birth and parentage. His original position might have been that of a patriotic Tipperary gentleman knighted probably for some distinguished act of disloyalty to the Queen, or possibly, for abnormal activity in cutting off the tails of cows belonging to Irish landlords, guilty of the serious offence of asking for rents long past due.
In appearance, Sir Robert was short in stature and not handsome in other respects in fact, somewhat resembling the redoubtable " Corney Delaney," who was knighted by the Duke of Richmond, when Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Moreover, Sir Robert was after the manner of his kind pompous and self-assertive.
I had sometimes the honour of being present at evening parties, where the Knight and his Lady were also guests, and we, youngsters, always anticipated with irreverent mirth the regular supper scene upon those occasions. A servant would advance to Lady H. and inform her in an undertone that " the car was at the door." (This was old Matt Quirk's well-known " one horse shays" a veritable old shandry-dan, on its last legs.) Upon receiving this announcement, her Ladyship with great dignity would call out from one end of the table where she was enthroned, to the other where her knightly, Lord and Master was dealing out pompous platitudes to an admiring circle, " The carriage is at the door, Sir Robert," to he, in equally pronounced tones, would,echo back, " Is it indeed, Lady H. ? then we " must not keep the horses waiting ;" and with imposing ceremony their highnesses would rise, and with sweeping and beneficent bows to all of us untitled, uncarriaged, Manx Commoners, would right royally take their departure.
Now, as every one knew from old Matt himself that Sir Robert had made a hard bargain, " bad luck to him," As Matt always added, that his fare was never to exceed one shilling and sixpence, except the car was kept waiting (in which case an extra sixpence was to be added), my readers will readily understand that Sir Robert could not consistently, with his economical arrangements, keep " the horses " waiting.
There was at that time in Douglas, a well-known eccentric character, half fool, half wit, Sam Vale, formerly a sort of body-servant in the employ of the late Lieut.Governor Smelt. He had been dismissed from that service on account of the following escapade: The Governor one morning was sitting at his dressing table Sam standing behind him acting as valet, when in one of his mad freaks, and not remembering the mirror in front of his master, Sam began to dance about, shaking his fists in fighting form, and making threatening faces at the Governor. This, His Excellency naturally beheld, and wheeling round, to Sam's utter amazement. demanded " what he meant?" Sam unable to give any rational explanation, took to his heels and rushed out of the room, after which, needless to say, his services were no longer required.
Sam was well-known and liked by the gentry, goodnatured, handy, ready to run an errand, buy a fish, or for for that matter, sell one at a price.
It was this latter accomplishment which got Sam into trouble.
It happened thus:
Sir Robert wanted some fish, and, as was his habit, in order to get one cheap and save the expense of a boy to carry it home, he himself went to the market, basket in hand.
Sam also happened to be there, not as a buyer, but as a seller. Sir Robert accosted him as to the price of a huge codfish, Sam replied, " Two shillings, sir."
It was a peculiarity of the worthy knight never to give the price first asked, however reasonable it might be.
It was, likewise, a habit of Sam's never to ask a price that he intended to abate, considering it beneath him so to do, and he thought that a person trying to " beat hindown" intended to insult him.
Sir Robert, following his instincts, told Sam that two shillings was too much, and offered eighteen-pence, adding that the price asked was " exorbitant."
Sam did not quite understand the full meaning of so big a word, but, assuming that it was a deflection upon his honesty, he set to work to abuse his customer in good found terms, including, I regret to have to state, a capacious curriculum of profane swearing, much to the horror and indignation of Sir Robert; more especially as " this thing was not done in a corner," but in the presence and hearing of divers and sundry loyal subjects of the Queen, who would, doubtless, spread the news of the indignity to which '' his knightship " had been subjected, at the irreverent tongue of Sam.
The result was a summons before their Worships Colonel Taubman, Major Pollock, and High-Bailiff Quirk, wherein Sam was charged with making use of provoking language, tending to a breach of the peace.
Sir Robert went into the box and gave a graphic account of the offence committed, whereupon the High Bailiff, to whom Sam was well-known, thus delivered himself: " Sam, what have you to say to this ? Do you hear what Sir Robert tells us ? Have you any apology to make to the gentleman ?"
Then Sam assuming a meek and frightened look pulled at a lock of his front Hair, bowing himself nearly to the ground to Sir Robert, as a mark of abject prostration and reverence, and said: " Oh ! your Worships, I always pays respects to my betters. I'm terrible sorry I said such words to such a gentleman as Sir Robert, but your Worships, I did it ignorant like I didn't know it was Sir Robert, no I didn't. I took him for a coal-heaver your Worships, yes I did indeed, and I humbly axes pardon of Sir Robert."
In consideration of this ample but to Sir Robert doubtless most unsatisfactory apology, Sam was fined the small sum of one shilling, with a warning " to be more particular in the future."
I WAS shortly to learn, by the sad experience of a fellow-student, some of the dangers and difficulties of legal examinations, preparatory to admission to the Manx Bar.
Mr Samuel Rogers generally called Sammy Rogers-came to the Island, and entered the lists of students-at-law lateish in life. He must have been somewhere about 30 or 40 what he had been, or whether he had been anything previously, we never knew. All we did know, and it sufficed us, was, that he was a short-sighted gentlemanly little man, who had a remarkably longsighted and very substantial wife. She was generally supposed to sit heavily upon her husband, but this may have been slander.
He was, in due course, articled, and in equally due course lived through his five years of supposed study and then imagined that he was ready for examination, prior to admission to the Bar. It must be observed, however, that this gentleman, during the period of his articles, had paid more attention to politics than law.
He was devoted to such popular subjects as " Liberty Equality, and Fraternity ;" and to their then exponent Dr Bowring (afterwards Sir John), in conjunction with Will Kelly; the Chandlers; the Duffs; the Torrances; the Garretts; Wm. Callister; Colonel Campbell, ad hoc omnes.
A day was fixed for his examination by Deemster Heywood, then our first judge, and the candidate appeared and underwent the crucial ordeal.
He came to my lodgings the same evening in a somewhat melancholy mood, to acquaint me with the result. I noticed as he entered that something had evidently gone wrong, but waited patiently for his revelations. The little man was nervous and put out.
Then he began as follows:
" The Deemster received me with great courtesy, and after some general remarks, from which I gathered at the interview would be short and pleasant, he asked me a few questions. The last did not seem to be a difficult tine, and I thought I had pleased the Deemster by my answer, for I observed a smile upon his Honour's face.
This was the question:
" Supposing, Mr Rogers, that you were consulted by a client, as to what you would advise him to do under the following statement of facts: Twelve months ago he had lent a sum of £500 to A. B. upon a promissory note payable upon demand, but without security. A. B. being applied to, refused to pay the sum borrowed, and stated that he intended leaving the Island next morning, to reside abroad. What steps would you advise your client to take to secure his money ?"
" I confess," said Mr Rogers, " that I felt some difficulty as to the remedy I should have suggested to my supposed client; but knowing that the Deemster was a very vain man, I thought it best to evince perfect confidence in his knowledge and administration of the law; so I replied: That I would advise my client to set forth the facts of the case in an ex-parte petition to his Honour, and bring it on at his next court (which was fixed for the following Monday week, viz., eight days after the debtor would have sailed for foreign climes), and that I should be perfectly satisfied with whatever judgment his Honour might see fit to make."
"The Deemster upon this, jumped up, shook me hurriedly by the hand, and wished me 'good morning,' and I departed under the impression that he was pleased by the exceedingly complimentary nature of my reply, and the confidence which I had expressed in his judgment." "I was herefore," continued Mr Rogers, " quite taken aback when within two hours, I received a letter from the Deemster informing me that he had recommended the Governor not to admit me to the bar, but recommend me for six calendar months, for further study."