[From High Bailiff Laughton's Recollections, 1911]
One of our former Judges Deemster Stephen was a very quaint personage. One of his peculiarities was that he could never make up his mind, finally, upon any given subject.
When at the Bar, I do not know that I ever remember him to have sat down upon the apparent termination of his speech, and so remain. Up he would start again, to add a post-script, as it were, to his previous remarks. This arose from an abnormally conscientious wish in former days as an advocate to fully discharge his duty to his client; but it was tiresome.
If he gave an opinion it was always so safeguarded by " ifs " and " buts " and general qualifications, that his consultant would retire from the conference, as I have frequently done after listening to the late Mr. Gladstone's speeches, viz., with a very confused impression of what his opinion really was.
In his frequent journeyings from Ramsey, where he lived, to Castletown, where the Courts were held, a distance of twenty-seven miles, he travelled in a hired car.
Now the Deemster was pre-eminently a just man. He would pay to the uttermost farthing everything which was due by the strict letter of the law, of which he was a worthy pillar; but anything beyond that he did not recognise. He carried out this principle in the hiring of his car; the proper legal fare he would pay without a grumble, but anything over and above that, in the way of a tip to the driver, a very usual practice, was a custom he honoured in the breach, rather than in the observance.
Doubtless he, in his turn, received few extra attentions from his Charioteer. It was the Deemster's kindly habit on the journey homewards to get out of the car at the foot of the hill at Ginger Hall, about five miles from Ramsey, to lighten the weight for the poor jaded horse. Upon one occasion, on a dreadfully wet night he, as usual, got out of the car (the door being at the back of the vehicle), but without stopping it or telling the man, who quietly proceeded up the hill, and on reaching the top, at once drove on for the remaining five miles of the journey. Arrived at his destination, he jumped off the box, rang the bell, and proceeded to open the door of the car to deliver his fare, when lo' and behold ! the car was empty! He professed astonishment and entire innocence in the matter, but upon being asked to return and pick up the poor Deemster, he excused himself, saying that his horse had travelled fifty-four miles, and was dead-beat; and moreover His Honour would not give him a penny over the exact fare, if he did so.
The poor water-logged Judge had therefore to trudge home through the rain and mud. Verily he paid dearly for the driver's " mistake"!
I recollect an amusing occurrence in his Court at Ramsey. One day a witness in a case before him stepped into the witness-box with his hat on his head which at first rather staggered His Honour's notions of seemliness. He demanded the reason of this apparent disrespect, and was informed that the man was a Jew and required to be sworn on the Old, instead of the New Testament. The Deemster accordingly ordered the Constable, Leece Clucas, to bring an Old Testament from the adjoining room. Leece at once proceeded, with great respect, to obey the Deemster's order; and, returning handed to the Jew a Book which seemed to be in a very torn and dirty condition, the back being completely off. The witness took the book in his hand, and, being evidently of a suspicious nature, he opened it, and finding it to be another New Testament, began in a very angry tone to protest against this seeming deception bemg practised upon him. The Book was handed up to the Judge, who finding that it was as the Jew alleged, commenced to lecture the Constable for his stupidity. Leece gravely replied " that he really thought that the Testament was quite old enough; at any rate, it was the ' oldest ' he could find! "
The Deemster looked steadily and sternly at him, but, not perceiving any smile upon his face, he explained to him the nature of his ludicrous " error " and the proper Testament being obtained, the Jew was sworn in due form of Law.
A good story is told of a very popular Advocate, at one time residing in Ramsey. He had lived for some years in an old-fashioned house in Waterloo-road, which, being in the town, was frequently visited by clients at untimely hours, often long after his office had been closed. Eventually he changed his residence, and the house he had vacated was taken by an elderly spinster lady of the name of Spence, who, upon provocation given, was rather sharp of tongue and language.
It happened that one evening, between nine and ten o'clock, after she had retired for the night, a countryman from the parish of Maughold, not knowing of Mr. Blank's change of abode, called at the house; and after ringing the bell several times, was at length answered, from her bedroom window, by the lady in question. The following interesting colloquy took place:
Miss S., " Well, who's there ?"
Client, " It's me."
Miss S., "Who are you?"
Client, " Don't you know me? I'm Masthar Corkill from Maughold. I've come about the will."
Miss S., " Well, and what are you wanting about it at this time of night?"
Client, " I'm wanting a word with Masthar Blank."
Miss S. (snappishly), " Well, what do you come here for; why don't you go to his house? He's not here."
Client, "Aw! woman, I was tould that it was here he was living. Where's he gone to then ?"
Miss S. (in a rage), " Drat the man; he's gone to the Devil.
Client, " Aw! dear, dear, though ! I never heard till ow that the poor gentleman was dead !"
The countryman evidently concluded that " dying " and " going to the Devil " were synonymous terms, so far as concerned the ultimate destination of " Master Blank."
This story went the round of the whole country-side and on the strength of it, one of his friends took upon himself to give him ghostly admonition, with the object of rescuing him from the perilous position in the next world, to which his rural client seemed to think he was entitled.
He argued with him, and emphasised the fact that his chances would be improved in this world, as well as in the next, if he forsook not the assembling of himself (and others) together, as the manner of some was, but regularly attended Church on the Sabbath, and also at odd services on week-days, to which Blank made meek reply that his professional duties would prevent his week-day attendances; and a constitutional aversion to long sermons hindered his regular presence on the Sabbath. His friend, notwithstanding, warmly pressed upon him the extreme importance of attention to his religious duties, summing up his arguments thus: " See what it would do for you in a worldly sense; why you might even be made a Churchwarden, and what a thing that would be for you !"
With reference to the above anecdote, I may observe, how strange it has always appeared to me, that members of the Honourable Profession, to which I am nevertheless proud to belong, have ever been associated with his Satanic Majestyl
Whatsoever we do, we are supposed to be inspired by that potent Dignatary; nay, even when the learned and patriotic counsellors from the Inns of Court formed themselves into a heroic band of warriors to defend the kingdom, at the period of the supposed threatened invasion by Napoleon, they were slanderously termed " The Devil's Own"; and their joining the ranks was ascribed to their love of a " charge."
In this connection an old story recurs to me of se, scene in Court in my youthful days. A case of alleged provoking language was investigated before the Magistrates in Douglas. The plaintiff, for whom Mr. Fleetwood acted as counsel, was in the box, being cross examined by the late Mr. G. W. Dumbell, who appeared for the defendant. " Well," enquired that learned gentleman, " what provoking language did the defendant use to you ?"
The plaintiff, " He told me to go to the Devil."
Mr. Dumbell, "Well, what did you do?"
Plaintiff, "I went straight to Mr. Fleetwood !"
Mr. Dumbell, " There, your Worships, you see my client was not calling the plaintiff' names, for the term used was intended to describe my learned friend. He was merely directing him to go to Mr. Fleetwood's office "