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The Light of Scarthey: A Romance

Egerton Castle


  A Romance



  Author of "The Pride of Jennico," "Young April," etc.

  "Take whichsoever way thou wilt--the ways are all alike;But do thou only come--I bade my threshold wait thy coming.From out my window one can see the graves, and on my lifeThe graves keep watch." _Luteplayer's Song._

  New YorkFrederick A. Stokes CompanyMCM

  Copyright, 1899,by Frederick A. Stokes Company.All rights reserved.

  Fourth Edition.



  _Among the works of every writer of Fiction there are generally one ortwo that owe their being to some_ haunting _thought, long communedwith--a thought which has at last found a living shape in some storyof deed and passion._

  _I say one or two advisedly: for the span of man's active life isshort and such haunting fancies are, of their essence, solitary. As amatter of fact, indeed, the majority of a novelist's creations belongto another class, must of necessity (if he be a prolific creator) findtheir conception in more sudden impulses. The great family of the"children of his brain" must be born of inspirations ever new, and inalluring freshness go forth into the world surrounded by theatmosphere of their author's present mood, decked in the colours ofhis latest imaginings, strengthened by his latest passionalimpressions and philosophical conclusions._

  _In the latter category the lack of long intimate acquaintance betweenthe author and the friends or foes he depicts, is amply compensatedfor by the enthusiasm appertaining to new discoveries, as eachcharacter reveals itself, often in quite unforeseen manner, and theconsequences of each event shape themselves inevitably and sometimesindeed almost against his will._

  _Although dissimilar in their genesis, both kinds of stories can, inthe telling, be equally life-like and equally alluring to the reader.But what of the writer? Among his literary family is there not onenearer his heart than all the rest--his_ dream-child? _It may be thestoutest of the breed or it may be the weakling; it may be thefirst-born, it often is the Benjamin. Fathers in the flesh know thissecret tenderness. Many a child and many a book is brooded over with aspecial love even before its birth.--Loved thus, for no grace or meritof its own, this book is my dream-child._

  * * * * *

  _Here, by the way, I should like to say my word in honour of_Fiction_--"fiction" contradistinguished from what is popularly termed"serious" writing._

  _If, in a story, the characters and the events are truly convincing;if the former are appealingly human and the latter are so carefullydevised and described as never to evoke the idea of improbability,then it can make no difference in the_ intellectual pleasure _of thereader whether what he is made to realise so vividly is a record offact or of mere fancy. Facts we read of are of necessity past: what ispast, what is beyond the immediate ken of our senses, can only berealised in imagination; and the picture we are able to make of it forourselves depends altogether on the sympathetic skill of the recorder.Is not Diana Vernon, born and bred in Scott's imagination, to the fullas living now before us as Rob Roy Macgregor whose existence was soundeniably tangible to the men of his days? Do we not see, in ourmind's eye, and know as clearly the lovable "girt John Ridd" of_ LornaDoone _the romance as his contemporaries, Mr. Samuel Pepys of the hardand uncompromising_ Diary _or King James of_ English Annals?

  _Pictures, alike of the plainest facts or of the veriest imaginings,are but pictures: it matters very little therefore whether the man orthe woman we read of but never can see in the flesh has really livedor not, if what we do read raises an emotion in our hearts. To thenovelist, every character, each in his own degree, is almost asliving as a personal acquaintance; every event is as clear as apersonal experience. And if this be true of the story written_ a lagrace de la plume, _where both events and characters unfold themselveslike the buds of some unknown plant, how much more strongly is it thecase of the story that has so long been mused over that one day it hadto be told! Then the marking events of the actors' lives, theiradventures, whether of sorrow or of joy, their sayings and doings,noble or bright or mistaken, recorded in the book, are but a tithe ofthe adventures, sayings and doings with which the writer seems to befamiliar. He might write or talk about them, in praise orvindictiveness as he loves or dreads them, for many a longer day--buthe has one main theme to make clear to his hearers and must respectthe modern canons of the Story-telling Art. Among the many thingstherefore he could tell, an he would, he selects that only which willunravel a particular thread of fate in the tangle of endlessconsequences; which will render plausible the growth of passions onwhich, in a continuous life-drama, is based one particular episode._

  _Of such a kind is the story of Adrian Landale._

  _The haunting thought round which the tale of the sorelytempest-tossed dreamer is gathered is one which, I think, must at onetime or other have occurred to many a man as he neared the maturity ofmiddle-life:--What form of turmoil would come into his heart if, whenstill in the strength of his age but after long years of hopelessseparation, he were again brought face to face with the woman who hadbeen the one passion of his life, the first and only love of hisyouth? And what if she were still then exactly as he had last seenher--she, untouched by years even as she had so long lived in histhoughts: he, with his soul scarred and seamed by many encountersbravely sustained in the Battle of Life?_

  _The problem thus propounded is not solvable, even in fiction, unlessit be by "fantastic" treatment. But perhaps the more so on thisaccount did it haunt me. And out of the travail of my mind around it,out of the changing shadows of restless speculation, graduallyemerged, clear and alive, the being of Adrian Landale and his twoloves._

  _Here then was a man, whose mind, moulded by nature for grace andcontemplation, was cast by fate amid all the turmoils of_ Romance _andaction. Here was one of those whose warm heart and idealisingenthusiasm must wreathe the beauty of love into all the beauties ofthe world; whose ideals are spent on one adored object; who, havinglost it, seems to have lost the very sense of love; to whom love nevercould return, save by some miracle. But fortune, that had been socruelly hard on him, one day in her blind way brings back to his doorthe miraculous restitution--and there leaves him to struggle along thenew path of his fate! It is there also that I take up the thread ofthe speculation, and watch through its vicissitudes the working of theproblem raised by such a strange circumstance._

  _The surroundings in a story of this kind are, of the nature ofthings, all those of_ Romance. _And by_ Romance, _I would point out,is not necessarily meant in tale-telling, a chain of events fraughtwith greater improbability than those of so-called real life. (Indeedwhere is now the writer who will for a moment admit, even tacitly,that his records are not of reality?) It simply betokens, aspecialisation of the wider genus_ Novel; _a narrative of strongaction and moving incident, in addition to the necessary analysis ofcharacter; a story in which the uncertain violence of the outsideworld turns the course of the actors' lives from the more obviouschannels. It connotes also, as a rule, more poignant emotions--emotionsborn of strife or peril, even of horror; it tells of the shock of armsin life, rather than of the mere diplomacy of life._

  _Above all_ Romance _depends upon picturesque and varied setting; uponthe scenery of the drama, so to speak. On the other hand it is notessentially (though this has sometimes been advanced) a narrative ofmere adventures as contrasted to the observation and dissection ofcharacter and manners
we find in the true "novel." Rather be it saidthat it is one in which the hidden soul is made patent under thetouchstone of blood-stirring incidents, of hairbreadth risks, ofrecklessness or fierceness. There are soaring passions, secrets of theinnermost heart, that can only be set free in desperatesituations--and those situations are not found in the tenor inevery-day, well-ordered life: they belong to Romance._

  _Spirit-fathers have this advantage that they can bring forth theirdream-children in what age and place they list: it is no times ofnow-a-days, no ordinary scenery, that would have suited suchadventures as befell Adrian Landale, or Captain Jack, or "MurtheringMoll the Second."_

  _Romantic enough is the scene, which, in a manner, framed the displayof a most human drama; and fraught it is, even to this day, in theeyes of any but the least imaginative, with potentialities for strangehappenings.[A] It is that great bight of Morecambe; that vast of brownand white shallows, deserted, silent, mysterious, and treacherous withits dreaded shifting sands; fringed in the inland distance by theCumbrian hills, blue and misty; bordered outwards by the Irish sea,cold and grey. And in a corner of that waste, the islet, small andgreen and secure, with its ancient Peel, ruinous even as the nobleabbey of which it was once the dependant stronghold; with its stillsturdy keep, and the beacon, whose light-keeper was once a Dreamer ofBeautiful Things._

  [Footnote A: _Those who like to associate fiction with definite placesmay be interested to know that the prototype of Scarthey is the_ Pielof Foudrey, _on the North Lancashire coast, near the edge of MorecambeBay, and that Pulwick was suggested by Furness Abbey. Barrow-in-Furnesswas then but a straggling village. A floating light, facing the mouthof the Wyre, now fulfils the duties devolving on the beacon of Scartheyat the time of this story._]

  _And romantic the times, if by that word is implied a freer scope thancan be found in modern years for elemental passions, for fighting andloving in despite of every-day conventions; for enterprise, risks,temptations unknown in the atmosphere of humdrum peace and order. Theyare the early days of the century, days when easy and rapid means ofcommunication had not yet destroyed all the glamour of distance, whena county like Lancashire was as a far-off country, with a spirit, alanguage, customs and ideas unknown to the Metropolis; days when, ifthere were no lifeboat crews, there could still be found ratherexperienced "wreckers," and when the keeping of a beacon, to light adangerous piece of sea, was still within the province of apublic-spirited landlord. They are the days when the spread ofeducation had not even yet begun (for weal or for woe) its levellingwork; days of cruel monopolies and inane prohibitions, and ferociouspenal laws, inept in the working, baleful in the result; days ofkeel-hauling and flogging; when the "free-trader" still swung, tarredand in chains, on conspicuous points of the coast--even as thehighwayman rattled at the cross-road--for the encouragement of thebrotherhood; when it was naturally considered more logical (since hangyou must for almost any misdeed) to hang for a sheep than a lamb, andhuman life on the whole was held rather cheap in consequence. They arethe days when in Liverpool the privateers were daily fitting out orbringing in the "prizes," and when, in Lord Street Offices, distantcargoes of "living ebony" were put to auction by steady, intenselyrespectable, Church-going merchants. But especially they are the daysof war and the fortunes of war; days of pressgangs, to kidnapunwilling rulers of the waves; of hulks and prisons filled tooverflowing, even in a mere commercial port like Liverpool, withFrench prisoners of war._

  _A long course of relentless hostilities, lasting the span of afull-grown generation, had cultivated the predatory instinct of allmen with the temperament of action, and seemed to justify it.Venturesome, hot-spirited youths, with their way to make in the world(who in a former age might have been reduced to "the road") took upprivateering on a systematic scale. In such an atmosphere there couldnot fail to return a belief in the good old_ border rule, _"the simpleplan: that they should take who have the power, and they should keepwho can." And it must be remembered that an island country's border isthe enemy's coast! On that ethical understanding many privateer ownersbuilt up large fortunes, still enjoyed by descendants who in thesedays would look upon high-sea looting of non-combatants with definitehorror._

  _The years of the great French war, however, fostered a species ofnautical enterprise more venturesome even than privateering, raiding,blockade-running and all the ordinary forms of smuggling that areusual when two coast lines are at enmity. I mean that smuggling ofgold specie and bullion which incidentally was destined to affect thecourse of Sir Adrian's life so powerfully._

  * * * * *

  _As Captain Jack's last venture may, at this distance of time, appeara little improbable, it is well to state here some little-known factsconcerning the now rather incomprehensible pursuit of goldsmuggling--a romantic subject if ever there was one._

  _The existence at one time of this form of "free-trade" is all butforgotten. Indeed very little was ever heard of it in the world,except among parties directly interested, even at the time when itplayed an important part in the machinery of governments. Its riseduring the years of Napoleonic tyranny on the continent of Europe, andits continuance during the factitious calm of the First Restoration inFrance, were due to circumstances that never existed before and arelittle likely to occur again._

  _The accumulation of a fund of_ gold _coin, reserved against suddencontingency, was one of Bonaparte's imperial ideas. In a modified andmore modern form, this notion of a "war-chest," untouched andunproductive in peace-time, is still adhered to by the Germans: theyhave kept to heart many of their former conqueror's lessons, lessonsforgotten by the French themselves--and the enormous treasure of goldbags guarded at Spandau is a matter of common knowledge. Napoleon,however, in his triumphant days never, and for obvious reasons, lackedmoney. It was less an actual treasure that he required and valued sohighly for political and military purposes, than an ever ready reserveof wealth easily portable, of paramount value at all times;"concentrated," so to speak. And nothing could come nearer to thatdescription than rolls of English guineas. Indeed the vast numbers ofthese coins which fitfully appeared in circulation throughout Europejustified the many weird legends concerning the power of "BritishGold"_--l'or Anglais!

  _There is every reason to believe that, in days when the nationalcurrency consisted chiefly of lumbering silver_ ecus, _the Bourbongovernment also appreciated to the full the value of a_ private _goldreserve. At any rate it was at the time of the first Restoration thatthe golden guinea of England found in France its highest premium._

  _Without going into the vexed and dreary question of single or doublestandard, it will suffice to say that during the early years of thecentury now about to close, gold coin was leaving England at a ratewhich not only appeared phenomenal but was held to be injurious to thecommunity._

  _As a matter of fact most of it was finding its way to France, whilstGreat Britain was flooded with silver. It was then made illegal toexport gold coin or bullion. The prohibition was stringently, indeedat one time, ruthlessly, enforced. In this manner the new and highlyprofitable traffic in English guineas entered the province of the"free-trader"; the difference introduced in his practice being merelyone of degree. Whereas, in the case of prohibited imports, the chieftask lay in running the illicit goods and distributing them, in thecase of guinea-smuggling its arduousness was further increased by thedanger of collecting the gold inland and clearing from home harbours._

  _Very little, as I said, has ever been heard of this singular trade,and for obvious reasons. In the first place it obtained only for acomparatively small number of years, the latter part of the Great War:the last of it belonging to the period of the_ Hundred Days. _And inthe second it was, at all times, of necessity confined to a very smallnumber of free-trading skippers. Of adventurous men, in stirring days,there were of course a multitude. But few, naturally, were the men towhose honour the custody of so much ready wealth could safely beintrusted. "That is where," as Captain Jack says sometimes in thisbook, "the 'like
s of me' come in."_

  _The exchange was enormously profitable. As much as thirty-twoshillings in silver value could, at one time, be obtained on the otherside of the water for an English guinea. But the shipper and broker,in an illegal venture where contract could not be enforced, had to bea man whose simple word was warranty--and indeed, in the case of largeconsignments, this blind trust had to be extended to almost every manof his crew. What a romance could be written upon this theme alone!_

  _In the story of Adrian Landale, however, it plays but a subsidiarypart. Brave, joyous-hearted Captain Jack and his bold venture for afortune appear only in the drama to turn its previous course tounforeseen channels; just as in most of our lives, the suddenintrusion of a new strong personality--transient though it may be, atempest or a meteor--changes their seemingly inevitable trend toaltogether new issues._

  * * * * *

  _It was urged by my English publishers that, in_ "The Light ofScarthey," _I relate two distinct love-stories and two distinct phasesof one man's life; and that it were wiser (by which word I presume wasmeant more profitable) to distribute the tale between two books, oneto be a sequel to the other. Happily I would not be persuaded to cut afully composed canvas in two for the sake of the frames. "It is thefate of sequels," as Stevenson said in his dedication of _Catriona_,"to disappoint those who have waited for them." Besides, life isessentially continuous.--It may not be inept to state a truism of thiskind in a world of novels where the climax of life, if not indeed itsvery conclusion, is held to be reached on the day of marriage! Thereis often, of course, more than one true passion of love in a man'slife; and even if the second does not really kill the memory of thefirst, their course (should they be worth the telling) may well betold separately. But if, in the story of a man's love for two women,the past and the present are so closely interwoven as were the realityand the "might-have-been" in the mind of Adrian Landale, anyseparation of the two phases, youth and maturity, would surely havestultified the whole scheme of the story._

  _I have also been taken to task by some critics for having, the taleonce opened at a given time and place, harked back to other days andother scenes: an inartistic and confusing method, I was told. I amstill of contrary opinion. There are certain stories which_ belong,_by their very essence, to certain places. All ancient buildings have,if we only knew them, their human dramas: this is the very soul of thehidden but irresistible attraction they retain for us even whendeserted and dismantled as now the Peel of Scarthey. For the sake ofharmonious proportions, and in order to give it its proper atmosphere,it was imperative that in this drama--wherever the intermediate scenesmight be placed, whether on the banks of the Vilaine, on the open sea,or in Lancaster Castle--the Prologue should be witnessed on the greenislet in the wilderness of sands, even as the Crisis and the ClosingScene of rest and tenderness._

  _E. C., 49, Sloane Gardens, London, S. W.

  October 1899._