[From Shadowland in Ellan Vannin, 1880]
[The Inn is based on the Hibernian - the landlady in the 1830's being Mrs Rachel Looney, who in the 1840's, went to Australia to be with her husband - it is likely that she was involved in the illegal dispersal of a coin hoard found in 1834. Though Rachel Looney was well known as a character I do not know if this is an accurate portrayal though the author states that it is based on recollections of those who knew her]
The Hibernia Eccentric landlady Cecil Morton meets the Parkers Mr. Parker senior's strange tale of 'second sight' A ghostly female.
I WAS tempted in September, 183-, to take a trip from Whitehaven in a fishing vessel crossing to the Isle of Man. I had often heard of it as remarkable for the salubrity of its climate, beautiful land and sea views, good fishing; and what concerned me more, as I was something of an antiquarian, that it had some very interesting Druidical remains.
We landed at Ramsey, where I decided to settle for a week or so. I got comfortable lodgings in a house near the shore. I went off each day on long excursions, sometimes with sketching materials, but more often with my rod and fishing-tackle, getting back at night usually pretty well tired.
One of these days, whilst fishing at a place called Ballaglass, I was caught in so severe a thunderstorm, followed by such deluging rain, that I had to seek shelter at an inn that, luckily for me, was just at the entrance to the glen. As the rain continued, and the now leaden-looking sky seemed to portend a storm of no ordinary violence, I made up my mind, if they could accommodate me, to remain for the night where I was. The landlady was very civil, but at once told me that, though she could provide me with a bed, the private sitting-room I had asked for was out of the question. When I further inquired about the possibilities of dinner, her voice assumed the loud key, and her face the expression of intense surprise.
'Is it dinner yer askin' for this time? Why, it's jus' four ! Lord bless the lad ! It's tea or supper yer meanin', surely?'
Well, call it whatever you like, my good woman, but give me something to eat.'
'Won't bread an' cheese an' a good glass of beer serve ye ?' she asked, glancing at me out of the corner of her keen, rather deep-set eyes.
She was an odd figure, certainly, dressed in a blue petticoat of some sort of cloth or flannel, surmounted by a man's pilot-jacket, a good deal too long in the sleeves; to obviate the inconvenience this would have caused the cuffs were turned back, displaying a pair of large muscular looking hands and wrists, quite out of proportion to her size, as she was considerably below the middle height.
'Well, won't that do for ye ?' for I did not immediately reply.
'I must make bread and cheese do if you can give me nothing else.'
'Well, I'll give ye a fresh-laid egg or two. Ye'll not starve, never fear - and mebbe ye'll have some fish in yer basket, an' them and a drop of good whisky to finish with, an' keep out the could, that'll do for ye, it's like? but it's here ye'll have to take it, there's nowhere else for ye.'
We were in the kitchen all this time ; I was standing before the fire trying to dry my steaming clothes. There was nothing to be said against it, a comfortable enough little room, except that at present some three or four countrymen, farmers apparently, were seated there, smoking vile tobacco, drinking, and having a noisy discussion as to the prices some cattle had fetched at a recent fair. I certainly would have wished more agreeable accompaniments to my meal, than the uproar and nasty odours of blended smoke and beer.
' Is there no other room I can go to?' I asked; and just as my hostess was about to reply in the negative, a gentleman, who had entered a moment or two before, and, like myself, was drying himself at the blazing hearth, turned round and said to me with a good deal of courtesy :
' If you will join my father and me in the next room we shall be very happy. I see,' glancing at my wet things, 'that, like myself, you have been caught in this heavy storm; but you seem to have been further from shelter than I, to judge from the comparative, moisture of our garments.'
I looked down at my muddy boots and damp things, and, thanking him, muttered something to the effect that I 'was not very presentable.' Here the landlady interposed
Oh, is that all that's doin' on ye ; I'll soon have ye dry an' tidy. Here, ye can do yer hair-it's all through-others - with this ready in' comb,' handing me the remnants of one from a table near. 'An' now sit down, and take off yer boots; we'll soon get them dried, and cleaned, too.'
I sat down to comply, my new acquaintance looking on with an amused smile.
' Then I may expect you in about half an hour ?' he asked.
I again thanked him, and accepted, while the queer old woman attending me cried after him as he was leaving the kitchen :
' He'll be at ye directly;' then turning to me, she said: 'Ye'll be from the other side of the water, I'm thinkin' ?'
I replied in the affirmative.
'From Liverpool, mebbe?'
' No,' I said; but seeing the poor old soul was full of curiosity, and feeling that I owed her some consideration for all the good offices she was performing for me, I proceeded further to tell her, ' I crossed from Whitehaven here, and I belong to London.'
'Lunnon! why, that's a terrible long way off! There was a person here last summer-he was over about the mines, an' stayin' in Ramsey; but he was in here times sittin', an' he was sayin' he come from Lunnon. It's like ye'll know him, when yer from the same place? His name was Smith.'
When I told her I had not the pleasure of Mr. Smith's acquaintance-
' Well, that's quare now, an' ye both livin' in the one town.'
At last, after a good wash in the bedroom I was to occupy for the night, and having been duly inspected by my odd landlady, who said, with an approving nod, Ye'll do,' I in turn asked a few questions as to her parlour company,' as she designated the gentlemen of whose hospitality I was about to avail myself.
She was not very warm in her commendations.
'The father's quare,' she said, touching her forehead in a significant manner; 'the other's middlin'. He goes about with th' ould man everywhere, an' they don't give much throuble, an' pay reg'lar-oh, I've no fault with them at all, at all ! It seems he was here years ago when he was a young falla, an' he stopped in this very house, an' nothin' else 'll serve him but stop here agen, he will. I've nothing agin them. Ta chengey ni host ny share na olk y ghra,* ye know. Parker their name is, an' it appears the ould man's mother was a Manx woman. Cowen her name was, but there's Cowens an' Cowens, an' which of them his mother belongs to beats me. I'm thinkin' he does not know himself. On he's quare-quare enough.'
I found Mr. Parker and his son awaiting me. The former was a dignified, intellectual-looking man, with something sad in his expression, and that far-away look in the eyes that one sees sometimes with those who have passed through sorrow. His hair was snowwhite, but he appeared hale and strong for his age, which he told me later in the evening was seventynine. The son was an unusually handsome man, of, I should have judged, forty-five or thereabouts. They introduced themselves to me as John and George Parker, coal merchants, residing a few miles out of Whitehaven, and I then handed them my card. The old gentleman started as he read it.
'Cecil Morton!' he cried, in accents expressive of the greatest surprise; 'Cecil Morton ! why, how strange-how very strange! I formed a devoted schoolboy friendship with a Cecil Morton which lasted till he died, or met his end, I should say, in a most mysterious manner, in this very Island of Man. I still think of him with all the warmth of my early affection. He was some years my junior. He would be now, if living, about seventy-four or five, I should say. Could he have been any relation of yours, I wonder?'
'He must have been my uncle, my father's halfbrother, after whom I was named. I have heard my mother say he was drowned ; that he was supposed to have fallen off some rocks into the sea. This happened when my father was still a boy. I did not remember though that the scene of the disaster was in the Isle of Man. My parents both died when I was a mere child. Of my father I have only a dim recollection.'
Then you are the son of the little brother Fred, of whom my friend used to speak with so much affection. Who can say life is prosaic without incident when such things as this occur?'
It certainly was a most extraordinary coincidence, and at once established us all on a more friendly footing than would probably have been arrived at in many days in the ordinary course of acquaintanceship.
'You have no resemblance to your uncle,' remarked Mr. Parker. 'He was of a good medium height; you are, I should think, quite six feet high, and broad in proportion, whilst he was slightly formed with pale blue eyes and fair hair, while your eyes and hair are dark. In fact, my dear boy, you are what would be considered a very handsome man, whereas your poor uncle and namesake was only passably well-looking.'
Though I had arrived at the dignity of twenty-five years, I could not help feeling a little awkward at the old gentleman's close scrutiny and broad compliments; and his son, seeing my embarrassment, came to the rescue, saying :
' Well, father, we will now, I think, get something to eat, and after that I dare say Mr. Morton will be glad to hear anything you can tell him about his uncle.'
Ah, well I Yes. It is even still a painful subject to me. He was murdered, and I was given warning of his fate in a most mysterious way by what is called "second sight." If only I had not allowed myself to be laughed out of regarding this warning, you might have had your uncle now, and I my friend all these years Murdered! This was decidedly ghostly and chilling ; but what can interfere with the healthy appetite of five-and-twenty years, a clear conscience, and a hardy constitution. I did ample justice to the good things provided by Mrs. Rachel Looney, as I found our hostess was named, and we all wound up with some of her home-brewed whisky. Mr. Parker junior, whose lively chat acted as a capital antidote to his father's melancholy reminiscences, I found a most agreeable man, and I should gladly have excused what I felt sure from the preface was going to be some ghastly history of my unknown uncle's fate ; in fact, I should have preferred its being buried in oblivion as far as I was concerned. However, the room was well lighted and cheery, the cigars of mine host excellent, as might also be said of Mrs. Rachel's home-brewed, so, under the ameliorating circumstances of my comfortable surroundings, I prepared for the worst. Certainly, we had in the howlings of the storm, with occasional vivid flashes of lightning, a suitable accompaniment for the weirdest of ghost stories or of second sight ; and the old man, with his deep voice and melancholy, impressive manner, gave great dramatic effect to the recital.
' You, of course, are not aware,' he began, 'that my mother was a Manx woman.'
I did not think it necessary to tell him that I was already informed on this subject, but let him proceed uninterrupted :
My father was English-a Liverpool man, captain of a merchant vessel trading to South America. I was the only child, and, by my mother's wish, was sent for education to Mr. -'s school, in Douglas -going home for my Christmas holidays; the Midsummer ones I spent with my grandmother at Maughold. I had been about two years at this school, when a new boarder, a delicate, timid boy, came from London. Some of the lads, who, I must say, were bullies, took advantage of his gentle disposition, and he would have been very badly used sometimes if I had not constituted myself his champion. There is no need now to enter into the whys and the wherefores of my having sufficient influence to befriend him, or give details of our lives during those school-days, or trace the growth and steadiness of our friendship. It is all so far back it could not possibly have any interest for you. I shall, therefore, at once come to the time when Cecil and I, men of twenty-eight and twenty-three respectively, again visited the island We put up at this very inn. I was not then blessed with too much of this world's goods. Your uncle was rich, and very careless in letting it be seen how well he was provided with money, and also in carrying rather large sums about on his person. He was something of a naturalist, and used to go rambling over the country hunting up specimens of insects, birds, and so on. I took no interest in these pursuits, and could not always accompany him, as my grandmother was very ill with what, in fact, proved to be her last illness. I used to have to spend a great part of my time attending to her, as she liked having me with her. She lodged with some kindly people at Maughold, and had no near relatives living-my mother, who was her last surviving child, had died two years before. You will say this is irrelevant, but I only go into these details to let you know why I did not always accompany my friend on his expeditions. One night I had been kept very late with my grandmother. It was getting on for midnight when I prepared to take the road from Maughold to the inn here. It was a fine October night, the moon shining brightly, so I did not mind the walk.
'Cecil will be uneasy," I thought, as I started, at my being so late, though probably he will conjecture the cause."
I walked on briskly till I arrived at a place where, on my left, lay a small bay, between two bold headlands. I paused a moment, arrested by the beauty of the scene. The sea stretched far beyond, glittering in the clear rays shed by the Queen of Night, calm and peaceful as far as eye could reach, except where, here and there, it came swirling up in white spray against some jagged, dark-looking rocks that impeded its progress to the shore. As I gazed I was suddenly startled by hearing just behind me the sound of a heavy sigh, and, turning, I beheld the figure of a woman, clothed in long clinging black garments. Her face was invisible, as over it she had some covering, semi-transparent, but too thick for my eyes to penetrate in the uncertain light. I was so taken by surprise that for a moment I did nothing but stare at the strange apparition. She looked, to use a Scotch phrase, 11 so uncanny," at that hour, and in that solitary place.
"' A beautiful night," I took courage to remark, though, I must confess, in a rather quavering voice.
For all reply she turned to me for a second, and, giving a moan so heart-broken, so unearthly, I shuddered to hear, then, wringing her hands, she glided rapidly away towards the sea, and I presently saw her ascending-it could not be called climbing-a high rock that jutted far out into the water and adjoined the nearest headland.
" She is going to drown herself, poor wretched creature!' I exclaimed.
I at once dashed after her, dreading lest I should not be in time to prevent this self-murder, I scaled as rapidly as I could the slippery rocks beneath those on which she was standing, her tall, dark-robed figure showing in bold relief against the bright shimmering water, but looking more like part of the eminence on which she stood than a living human being.
"If she sees me," I thought, "she may hasten matters, and throw herself down before I can get to her."
After many falls and numberless cuts and bruises, I reached a more secure foothold. To my surprise and relief, the woman, just as I arrived here, turned, and, with the same gliding motion that she had ascended to it, came down from her elevated position, passed beneath where I stood, disappeared for a few seconds under the shadow of the rising ground, and, in less time than I can take to relate it, was far above me on the headland, and making, with extraordinary rapidity, for the precipitous cliffs leading to Maughold Head. Some strong impulse curiosity, or anxiety to prevent suicide but what feeling I cannot define, impelled me to follow and see the end of this strange adventure. On in front I could still discern the lithe figure threading her way from one steep point to another, Once or twice she paused in her dangerous progress, and looked back, as if to ascertain whether I was following, and at last, to my intense dismay, she suddenly disappeared, whilst a shriek so awful as, even after this interval of years, makes me shudder as I recall it, rang out upon the silence of the night. I rushed madly forward, and prepared to make as rapid a descent as was possible of the steep decline from which I concluded the unfortunate creature had thrown herself, when I was arrested and, as it were, held spellbound by strains of the most exquisite music, that seemed coming in softest breathings from hills, and sea, and shore, as though many different instruments were blended into harmony by the gently moving air around; and then, clear and sweet above all, sung, as it were, in childish treble, sounded the words:
"Stranger, stranger, come not near ;
Court not death ; descend not here."
I stood immovable - fear lost in astonishment and the delight of listening to such sounds ; but as they got fainter and fainter, and at last ceased, borne away on the soft breezes that had played about me, I awoke to the consciousness that I was on haunted ground; and with this consciousness came a feeling of terror, that, though I longed to fly, yet, as in some dreadful nightmare, my feet seemed rooted to the spot and I was compelled to be a horror-struck spectator of a scene to me so heartrending, so awful-'
Mr. Parker paused, seemingly overcome by merely recalling it all; and only that I was doubtful how it might be received, I would have suggested his giving up, or, at all events, postponing the narration of what was evidently so painful to him. I glanced at Parker junior, hoping he might propose a respite ; but he was absorbed apparently in the enjoyment of his cigar and his own thoughts, and either quite indifferent on the subject, or unobservant of his father's state of agitation and my boredom.
1 looked upon the whole thing-the mysterious warning, music, haunted ground, ghostly female-as the mere outcome of a diseased or over-excited brain, and decided that Mrs. Looney had good grounds for her assertion that 'th' ould man was quare !'
* The translation, which I give below, I learned
'The silent tongue is better than evil speaking.'