[from W Ralph Hall Caine Isle of Man]
MR. GLADSTONE and his son proceeded by an afternoon train to Port Erin. They stayed that night at the Falcon's Nest Hotel, where a rather amusing incident occurred the following morning. The visitors ordered breakfast early, that a friend might be seen off by the steamer train.
Mr. Gladstone had not swallowed more than one cup of tea when he saw by the clock that he must hasten to the station. But he was not to be cheated out of his meal on that account. He laid aside the silver teapot in a corner of the hearth, and hurried away.
The waiter was surprised at the sudden disappearance of a guest, and his suspicions were aroused. When he saw that the silver teapot, too, had gone (though we have no pawnshops at which to dispose of stolen goods), his worst fears were confirmed. With all speed he rushed down to the proprietor's office.
Mr. Trustrum was too amused to spoil so good a joke. ` Whose loss is this?' he asked with as much severity of countenance as he could assume.
' But, bless me, how could I tell the gentlemanly-looking old chap was going to sneak a potful of hot tea ?'
Ere long Mr. Gladstone returned, and quietly sauntering to the fireplace, picked up the teapot and resumed his meal.
The waiter went back to his employer with more agreeable tidings, and Mr. Trustrum tried his best to look relieved.
That morning Mr. Gladstone walked over the mountain road from Port Erin to Peel. This route may be traversed in the very height of the season, and, for the most part, a meeting with any other vehicle, save for the farmer's cart, will be a most unusual occurrence. Yet this ` Gladstone Road' is unequalled in Man.
From the highway views of striking magnificence may be obtained of land and sea and rocky coastline. Break away from the direct route, and what a reward there is at such retreats as Fleshwick Bay!
I have already spoken of the Round Table, but it would take a whole chapter to describe the unexplored glories of the Niarbyl. This rocky headland has its own tiny fishing industry. Without the smallest notion of biology, one's interest is quickened by the examples of marine life to be observed in the miniature tarns, or ' dubs,' as we call them, found in glorious profusion on this coast on the retreat of the tide.
A story, mythical perhaps, but too good to be missed, is told of this part of the journey.
Mr. Gladstone was near the village of Dalby, when he observed a woman pitching corn from a cart to a stack. This is, as anybody who has attempted the task knows, extremely hard labour.
Mr. Gladstone stood admiring the woman's strength, and then crossed into the open field.
My good woman,' he said, ' that is exceedingly hard work, and you look well and strong: may I ask how old you are?'
"Deed! and how oul' is yerself, yer bould, imperent oul' man ?' was the reply !
Beyond Dalby we come to a sharp bend, the road making at the same time a sudden dip in bridging the mouth of the valley we call Glen Meay. At the bottom of the dip we observe on the right our most famous Manx honey-farm.
It is not everybody, however, who desires a ' calling acquaintance' with bees. We pass.
The Glen itself is one of the show-places of the island, and if time allows, the visitor will find it worth his while to pass through the turnstiles. There is, however, a free and open approach to the seashore by the narrow roadway that forms a decline near the cottages on our right hand.
A walk of a quarter of a mile, past some old thalthans-a Manx word for abandoned dwellings of which the ruins alone remain-and we come to a point where the river flows noisily over obstructing boulders and shingly bed.
Deep and dark pools, where the trout may be seen darting hither and thither, or lazily enjoying a sun bath, occur here and there. The unfenced roadway runs parallel with the stream. Above our heads the crags rise sheer, in rude majesty and magnificence.
Getting back to the main road, an easy walk of two or three miles, downhill all the way, and we are in the market-place of the small but ancient city of Peel-the city of sunset and shadow, history and romance.
Mr. Gladstone, hot and dusty, but delighted with his long trudge, found Peel in gala attire.
Bunting was floating in the breeze, and a cordial welcome awaited him from the townsfolk, at whose head was Mr. R. J. Moore, the High Bailiff; Mr. Robert Corrin ; Mr. John Joughin, M.H.K. ; Mr. Joseph Clucas ; and other prominent citizens. At the farther end of the quay he proceeded down a flight of stone steps and got into a boat, from which the whole party was nearly precipitated by the overanxious care of one admirer.
The boatmen were James Morrison and William Cashen, both of whom were destined to attain as much honourable distinction as the little city can realize. Morrison has been for many years Harbour-master. Cashen, who has sailed the stormy sea, has now a peaceful job in port, being custodian of the old Castle. The visitor may eagerly embrace an opportunity to hear him talk. Born of an imaginative race, and cast into conflict with the stern forces of Nature, there is in Cashen's speech the natural gift of poetry. His forehead towers upwards as none other save Scott's, and the likeness to the great magician does not end there, for he is the same inexhaustible mine of folk-lore and amusing quip.
Tediously long descriptions of the Cathedral and Castle were listened to by Mr. Gladstone with winning courtesy. Only when Paulin, the veteran guide, who has long since passed to his rest, incautiously submitted a faulty translation of a Latin inscription was Mr. Gladstone tempted to an interruption.
' He showed most interest, I thought,' says one of the group to whom I am indebted for various personal facts of the visit, ` in viewing the rift in the wall through which, according to tradition, Fenella of " Peveril of the Peak " was wont to pass in and out of the Castle.'
The party later met on the green of the Castle grounds, and the High Bailiff was then enabled to fire off an address of welcome which had been the product of much anxious toil in the earlier hours of that day.
No proper warning could be given to Mr. Gladstone of the presentation. Therein the conscience of the High Bailiff was touched.
'Was it right,' he queried, ` to put Mr. Gladstone in a position of such disadvantage, giving him so little time to prepare a reply?'
It was a weighty problem, and on the lips of my friend the late Mr. Robert Corrin in after-years it made a highly amusing tale to everyone in the least degree familiar with Mr. Gladstone's flow of speech.
Hot and fussy and anxious, the High Bailiff at the first hearing of Mr. Gladstone's coming made off to the home of Mr. Corrin.
Mr. Corrin was a highly respected citizen of the old fishing-village. He amassed a large fortune, chiefly in the manufacture of fishing-nets, for use in what was then a flourishing industry, and in connection with the discovery of the Kinsale fishery, of which he was a prime factor.
The High Bailiff was all for a public address. Then, thought Mr. Corrin, Mr. Gladstone might very well look after himself in finding a few words of acknowledgment.
The few sentences of which the address consisted, inscribed on a single sheet of foolscap, were the result of that conference. The High Bailiff recalled the fact that, as Clerk of the House of Keys, he had in a former year corresponded with Mr. Gladstone, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the island's fiscal relations with England. He closed with a whispered intimation that, taking him in this way unawares, such non-political words as he found handy were all that the ancient city of Peel required of him that day!
Mr. Gladstone's face was a picture of stoical gravity. He bowed slightly in acknowledgment of Mr. Moore's anxious concern; his reply was truly typical of the limitless resource of Gladstonian eloquence. He paused for no word, he hesitated for no apt illustration to give colour and point to his reasoning. There was the ease that was proper to a comparatively small audience; there was the touch of dignity that was the courteous rejoinder to the formality of his host. Mr. Gladstone spoke for half an hour, but there were no shorthand writers present, and the address is only a memory to a few now living.
Truly this was, they thought, a veritable magician if only of mere words.
From contemporary notes, I find that Mr. Gladstone declared that he had formed a very high opinion of the Manx people, and of the Constitution of the island. He complimented us on the very proper feelings of pride in which we regard our independent position as an ancient kingdom. But of exact words I have found no trace.
A moment later Mr. Gladstone was engaging Mr. Corrin in less formal conversation.
' I have noticed,' he said, 'that among the fisher-folk of your island blue eyes seem to predominate.'
Blue eyes are common in all communities of Norse ancestry,' said Mr. Corrin, by way of explanation.
Would you say blue eyes are a distinguishing trait of the Northmen ?'
Mr. Gladstone in the pursuit of knowledge was perseverance itself.
' I would rather say that they are a distinguishing trait of those who live on the sea or near the sea, almost regardless of ancestry.'
' I feel sure that is the correct interpretation,' said Mr. Gladstone.