[From The Manxman, #1 1911]
A MANX SKETCH.
By the Rev. John Quine, M.A. (Author of " The Captain of the Parish.").
"Applause? Aw the people began laughing; and its laugh they did and no end to it; levity uncommon."
The Rev. John Quine.
At the time when the tidal wave of teetotalism burst over the island it swept from old moorings, and heaved aloft on its billowy crest many a quaint native character, to land him ultimately on the teetotal " platfurrim." Alas that there should be extant so few specimens of the ipsissima verba of their logic and their rhetoric. There were other characters also, as quaint and odd, in whose cases, notwithstanding the stress of teetotal weather, the anchors held and the cables were not parted-the Conservatives standing not upon theories or ideals but upon a fact. viz., Manx life " as they had always known it." They had on their side that immense majority the past; and if they argued at all it was to ask " why they should break with it? " They treated the teetotal crusader with good humour, and a dig of mild sarcasm:-" Go on, man! thou're doing uncommon well. Go on, man; Stand on thy head; and thou'll turn the world upside down sure enough." The point of teetotal wit or logic, such as it was, they most cunningly feigned to have missed. Of all the world in the art of simulating sincerity and simplicity, commend me to a Manxman. To fence off appeal, reproof, argument, rhetoric, wit, commend me to him again. His cleverness is illimitable. He is subtle, he is Protean, he never hesitates-least of all when he feigns it. But his master feat, his deadliest counter-stroke, is through disguise.
Notwithstanding pressure incessant as the dripping that wears the stone, and suggestions as ubiquitous as midges to " come to chappol an odd time for all, man! " Clague, the clerk, had held out against it. The special incentive to this design on the parish clerk was their absolute and unqualified conviction of his need of conversion. It was wile against wile, guile against guile; that is to say Clague took all in good part and didn't see. Nay, at last he allowed' himself to be, persuaded to go to chapel " on a week night to a 'total meeting." It was a "particular occasion." An' " English abstainer " was going to lecture from the " pulphit " ; and he was proalounced "of a very prepossessing appearance An't he?,"
Sole occupant of, the front, the veritable "penitent furrim," our great impenitent sat, bent forward, his arms resting akimbo on his knees. "Really, it's nice. of Mr. Clague to come, isn't it? " "The " abstainer"' opened- his speech by, a little flight of imagination, a sort of circuit round, to capture the interest and. sympathy by an anecdote, the truth of which he vouched for as being a personal experience of his own. It was a scene at Liverpool docks, the bit of English geography he could most safely assume as known to his Manx audience.
A West Indiaman was discharging cargo, consisting exclusively of rum. The description was realistic. He leant over the pulpit, and looked into the hold of the ship. He observed an immense puncheon emerging from the hatchway in the' clutch of vast iron claws on the chain of the windlass. With his finger he traced it ascending to the peak of the derrick, his eyes fixed, the while on the joists and rafters of the roof. It slowly revolves in mid-air. The arm of the derrick swings towards the wharf. : Suddenly right over the narrow chasm between the side of the ship and the dock wall, the clutch of those iron claws has proved too intense; the puncheon succumbs; collapses; crack, crush; a cascade of rum; an avalanche of staves, hoops, and ends splash! crash! into the dock!
The climax did the lecturer much credit. But the applause, for which he looked, alas, for one moment hung fire; and that moment was fatal.
While they had kept one eye on the " abstainer " and his puncheon of rum, they had kept the other on Clague, motionless, absorbed in the anecdote, his eyes on the abstainer's face; and now they are withholding their burst of moral -applause and rejoicing, in deference to Clague, so to speak, to give him the chance to lead off, as it were. The silence is intense. Innocent, eye-opened as a child, fascinated as it seemed by the abstainer's glaring eye, he had listened as to a plain straightforward tale of deep interest, as though the telling of such a tale must be a sufficient end in itself; and to all appearances so unutterably unsophisticated as to believe too that it was a personal experience of the " abstainer." Of course! And so in that moment when (though he knew it not, shall we say?) all hung suspended on him-spontaneously-involuntarily -in obedient reeponse to the "abstainer's " eye, he ejaculated from his deep chest:
" Aw man! Bless me, what a pity!"
" And the applause? " .
" Applause? aw the people began laughing; and its laugh they did, and no end to it." "But, weren't they teetotalers? I thought-----" "No matter for that! Rolling and laughing! And levity uncommon. In fact, there was no resisting 'it."
"And the abstainer? "
" Aw aye, he was the same." "But what was he laughing at? "
" Aw well, at Clague it's like. Anyway, that's the way it was. But he didn't do much with his 'total meeting that night. And the boys calling out 'Pungeon' at every meeting he held, till he gave it up, and left the Island. It's my belief that Clague was too many for them. He said it on purpose, it's my opinion."
" But did Clague ever acknowledge anything afterwards? "
" Clague ? Aw no! He wouldn't let on a thing like that, wouldn't Clague. ' There's people in,' he was saying, "and nothing in the world can make them laugh; and then they'll go and split their sides laughing at nothing, after all."