[From Laughton's Reminiscences, 1916]
Adams had a very good story, which he was never weary of relating whenever he came across a new listener, and certainly the story was a very humorous one, and, as told by him, his face puckered with smiles, it was very effective. I am conscious, though, that reduced to severe print and paper, it will necessarily lose a good deal of its raciness.
A tradesman, by name Norris Clague, well known in Douglas, becoming dangerously ill, a day or two before his death, sent for Adams to write his will, and the following is an account of what took place. It must be understood that the old man had several grown-up sons, who were each looking for a good lump of their father's real property. One of these sons, James, was present at the interview.
"Well, Mr. Adams," said the old man, " I'm afraid I'm not long for this world, and I want to put my things straight before I go."
Adams, of course, tried to cheer him, and then the old man proceeded:" I leave to my son James that house and shop (we'll say) No. 200 Strand Street." Then a little discussion arose as to whether he should leave three other houses in Duke Street to James or John. There were certain reasons alleged why John should have them, and there were also reasons why they should be left to James. At length the old man decided to leave them to James, whereupon the latter exclaimed, "Ah!: Mr. Adams' you see father is sound to the last." Then the old man proceeded, " I leave my farm, Ballakinnish, in the parish of Lonan, to my son John." " Ah !" remarked James. " poor father! you can see, Mr. Adams, he's beginning to wander " And ever afterwards he used to say that " his father's mind had become confused, and was not wholly sound during the later instructions," although those given in the earlier stages were remarkable for their soundness.
Adams and I, though in the main perfectly harmonious in all our social and professional relations, yet, now and again had a temporary professional tiff. He was very angry with me in one case, in which we were opposed to each other.
A gentlemanly man, passing under the: name of Captain Stanley, arrived in the Island with his wife. He took a furnished house in Douglas, kept a carriage and pair, with liveried coachman and tiger, also a small yacht, and altogether he kept up a fair amount of style, and was generally looked upon as an acquisition to the town.
He had been here some three or four months, when, upon a certain day, I was consulted professionally by the late Captain George: Goldie, the Head of the Police Force of the Island. He informed me that he had been in communication with the Police authorities in Berlin to the effect that a gentleman had contracted debts there and in several other cities on the Continent, and had subsequently absconded without paying his creditors; that they had traced him to England, and finally to the Isle of Man. They described the appearance of this person and also his mode of living, and gave such further particulars as unquestionably pointed in the direction of Captain Stanley being the man who was wanted. Accordingly I advised Captain Goldie to keep the matter perfectly quiet, lest " Captain Stanley " should escape us; but to wire to Berlin for one of the largest creditors to come forthwith to the Island. This was done, and meanwhile the gallant " Captain " daily exhibited himself either in his yacht, or driving in his stylish landau gaily through the streets of Douglas, to the admiration of his numerous and trusting tradesmen, many of whom had been highly flattered by receiving the most liberal orders for goods.
In a day or two a Berlin hotel-keeper arrived. and Captain George brought him privately to my office. Without being seen by Captain Stanley, he identified him; and accordingly I wrote out the necessary affidavit, upon which to ground an action in Chancery, which was at once issued; and Captain George, the same evening, caused him to be arrested and conveyed to the (tool of Castle Rushen.
The next morning the whole town was in a ferment. The " Captain " was certainly the popular hero of the day, whereas I was the very contrary. It was considered very sharp practice for me to summarily arrest a gentleman of the social position of " Captain" Stanley vithout the ordinary courtesy of sending him a letter asking him for the money due, and thus giving him the opportunity of paying it, or (as I knew would be the case) of avoiding payment by absconding from the Island as he had done from other places. Messrs Adams and Sherwood were at once retained for the " Captain," and a petition was presented to the Chancellor praying for the "immediate release of the Prisoner. This petition came on for hearing before the Chancery Court, and very strong and unpleasant words were used by Adams and Sherwood with reference to the course which I had advised my client to adopt.
I had, of course, to submit to this, as circumstances connected with the claims of other foreign creditors rendered it imprudent, for the time being, to state what had been the past career of the " Captain"; but I was enabled to give to the Court a sufficient inkling of my case to induce it to dismiss the petition with costs, and to retain the Prisoner in gaol. My good, but impulsive Fiend, Adams, notwithstanding this, continued to retain unabated faith in his client, and upon the strength of the yacht, the carriage and' horses, etc., which were undoubtedly his property, he procured bail for his injured and imprisoned client, who was, much to the joy of the public, fat once released from gaol.
He resumed the habits his gay and festive life, and as he drove through the streets was still " the cynosure of neighbouring eyes." One day he elected to vary the monotony of driving by taking a sail with his wife on the water. His yacht, however, somehow would not answer her helm, or possibly the wind was contrary; at all events he got out to sea, and never was able to get back again; and from that day to this, " Captain" Stanley has never been heard of more. In due time my client obtained judgment for his debt; the horses and carriages were sold, but the proceeds fell far short of the debt; and Adams in order to save the bail, had to pay the balance himself besides which neither he nor Sherwood had received one shilling of their costs or of cash liberally paid out of pocket by them in the course of the Chancery proceedings. Now came my turn to laugh at the simple child-like faith displayed by my, generally, astute legal opponents, as well as thy the numerous tradesmen, left, alas I with very long faces, and longer bills, mourning for the dear departed !
A few weeks subsequent to this escapade I met Adams in Athol Street. Generally he was dressed in a very informal and careless manner, with a round hat and a rough loosely hanging suit of tweed; but on this occasion he was got up in gorgeous apparel; a genuine. Lincoln and Bennett, resplendent in its shine; a Bond Street black broad-cloth frock-coat, and a pair of unimpeachable grey trousers, and gloves to match. The effect was tremendous ! I fancied he must be going to a garden party at Government House at least; and on enquiring as to the cause of this display, he, humorously replied, " Well, the fact its I lost so much, both in money and reputation for legal acuteness by that d.d Captain Stanley, that in order to recover my former claim to be considered a sensible man I'm going to try and effect a mortgage on my property, and I want to look as respectable as possible ! " (This, of course, was purely a joke.)
Adams was very impulsive, with a quick Welsh temper, but with a great big generous heart, ever ready to recall a hasty word and to make allowances for those used towards him.
We had a lively passage of arms one day, in a case before one of the Courts, in which, in all honesty, I must say he really was the aggressor, although I confess that I retaliated. The next day I receded a letter from him, calling my attention to the words I had used, and saying that our friendship must cease. To this letter I made reply, calmly setting down the exact words first made use of by him, and then my words in rejoinder, and requesting him fairly to consider both sides.
I met him the day after in the street, his face rippled over with joyous smiles. " Confound it, Laughton," he said, " I'd quite forgotten the language I made use of, for it hadn't irritated me; but yours did, and so I remembered it. I'm glad you wrote; I know I'm an irritable beggar sometimes."
He was very fond of fowls, and very particular to get good strainsespecially game eggswhich he always obtained from prize-winners at the best English Shows. Sometimes he would pay from three to five guineas for a single sitting. On one occasion he had succeeded in rearing a batch of seven splendid game chickens, of which he was exceedingly proud; especially of one of them, which was pronounced to be perfect.
Will Karran, formerly a server of writs, afterwards a sort of professed game-keeper, and an out-and-out sportsman, well-known to, and appreciated by all of us, had often asked Adams for one of his game chickens, and, as he was a good fellow, and had done many good natured thing for him, he was promised one of this particular seven." Accordingly, one morning he made his "appearance at Springfield, and was taken into the poultry yard to inspect the brood. Now Will was a particularly shrewd, I might almost say " dodgy" personage, and you could not easily take him in, in a matter connected with game of any kind or description. He looked at the chickens, and keenly at the particular chicken, which I have described as " perfect." He then stuttered out, he had an impediment in his speech pointing to the chicken in question, " Tha--thathat's amaan ugugly little divcivil, anyhow ~ " and at once turned to the other six, each of which he affected to admire amazingly, and spoke of their good points with the greatest appreciation.
Adams, smoking his inevitable pipe, stood quietly by, saying not a word, but mightily amused at Will. At length the latter, jerking his thumb backwards at the pick of the lot, exclaimed, in a sort of disparaging tone, " Ah well' I thththink, after all, II'll take thththe ugly little divill"; to which Adams, his face lighted up with a humorous smile, replied, " No, Will I'll be d d if you will." This did not at least put Will out. He laughed loudly, and, winking his eye at the owner of the chicks, stammered out words to the effect that Adams was a match for him and up to his " dodges."
There was, residing in Ramsey, in the years that are no longer, a stiff, pragmatical, little man, called Hoagie Kerruish. He had been a tailor, and a very dignified little tailor he must have been, his very walk was impressive, his hair was a yellow wig, his stature five feet four, and his manner repellent. He was a Radical of a ferocious type, and having retired from business some years previously, wished to be considered a private gentleman living upon his means. Somehow he achieved a law suit, wherein it so happened that Adams represented his opponent, and very irascible the little tailor used to get whenever any person took an adverse view of the merits of his particular case.
It came to pass, prior to the trial, that a proposition for a Compromise was made to him. He so far conceded it as to agree to meet his opponent and talk matters over, provided, of course, that his own legal adviser was permitted to be present. This was readily acquiesced in, and Mr. Adams was also to be there. When the meeting took place, Adams proceeded to state the exact facts as they existed, in his usual calm and lucid manner, he set forth the law upon the subject. This was so clearly against Hughie that the latter rather rudely interrupted the narrative by remarking, " Ah! Mr. Adams, you can't get rid of your profession. Your whole talk is like that of a common lawyer! "; to which Adams, with the greatest courtesy and urbanity of manner, but with a meaning look on his face, enough to provoke a saint, let alone a tailor, replied, " Oh! Mr. Kerruish, now that is not polite of you. What would you say were I to remark that you talk like a common tailor ? " This altogether put an end to the attempt at compromise. The case went to trial, and poor Hughie lost it, and had to pay all the costs.
I must here relate another incident which Adams used to tell with infinite gusto. There was a dispute about a right of way, between a grocer named Lawrence, and my old Roman Catholic friend, Roney, also a grocer; the disputed passage running through Lawrence's shop. The contest grew fast and furious, for not only were they rival grocers and next door neighbours, but Lawrence was a staunch Protestant, whereas Roney was a Roman Catholic.
The case proceeded through all the Insular Courts, both original and appellate, but that by no means appeased the rivals, and so an appeal was entered to Her Majesty's Privy Council. The case will be interesting to English lawyers, the principal question involved being whether by Manx Law and practice, Juries were within their rights in giving a directory verdictthat is to say, not confining themselves to the simple question of right or no right, but likewise directing the terms and conditions upon which the right should be exercised. Maule who was then one of the Appellate Judges, ridiculed the very idea of such a claim; but Knight Bruce observed that he " thanked God that there was one spot of the British Dominions where justice was administered upon principles of common sense"; and, by this case, the claim upon behalf of the powers of Juries in the Isle of Man was ultimately firmly established.
Then came on the very minor question of whether the right-of-way was to be six feet wide or six and a half, or perchance even seven feet. Upon this trifflng detail the Judges of the Privy Council became irate, and at length Knight Bruce, placing his eye-glass in his right eye, as was his habit, suddenly looked up and asked "Are there any Counsel from the Isle of Man present?" In answer to this enquiry (as he used to tell the story Adams perked up, and considering that the time had now come to distinguish himself, replied, " Yes, my Lord." The learned Judge then cynically enquired, " Could you not, in the Isle of Man, find two respectable washer-women to whom this question might be referred?" Adams, at this, ignominously sat down; and counsel were simply compelled to compromise the case as the Judges were absolutely determined, as they said, to waste no more time upon such a very small matters