Sharp eyed readers will note we’re now into the stories included in Night Shade Books’ fourth volume of the collection fiction of William Hope Hodgson. They are romances.
Review: “The Smugglers”, William Hope Hodgson, 1911.
In his Captain Gault stories, Hodgson has a smuggler as a hero. Faucett, a revenue officer, goes to a village on the South Devon coast to put an end to smuggling and investigate the murder of a revenue officer. (And, as a one-time tax collector myself, I appreciate that.)
The leading smugglers, Faucett suspects, are the Rosset family. However, he comes to like Squire Rosset and is not sure he is personally involved in the smuggling.
Rosset invites him to his home, and the conversation is enjoyable. There Faucett meets Ruth Rossett who he has been eyeing since seeing her in church. Her brother Tom, though, is Faucett’s prime suspect. During Faucett’s visits, the Rosett girls treat him horribly though their father chastises them.
Faucett’s is, as Hodgson’s heroes always, quite fit and able to take care of himself when set upon by three smugglers.
Eventually, Ruth warms to Faucett when he visits. The girls regularly go down to the sea to bathe, and Ruth asks the narrator to go along with her on her daily walk.
Things go well until Faucett comes on Ruth and Tom talking. Eavesdropping, he hears Tom chastising Ruth for hanging around Faucett so much. She replies he should be thankful because it’s distracting Faucett from catching the smugglers. She also vehemently denies she’s in love with the narrator. Faucett confronts the siblings and easily punches Tom out when the latter attacks him.
Later the narrator receives an anonymous note that he might want to check out the sisters’ bathing as the key to the smuggling. Using the privacy afforded their bathing, they haul casks out of the shallows and into a cave only open at low tide. There the casks are hidden, waiting to be retrieved.
Taking some men with him, Faucett confronts the half-dressed sisters and tells them to get out of the water, dress, and that they are going to learn “a man’s love is not to be used as merchandise, neither his heart as a toy”. The sisters are cuffed and led off. He tells them to expect no mercy. Ruth, unlike her sisters, is silent and doesn’t taunt the narrator.
She is the cuffed Ruth. “I snapped them on her little wrists with the strangest feelings stirring at my heart”.
As the girls are led away, Ruth says Faucett is really mad at her and asks that her sisters be freed. She will obediently go with the narrator.
He says “I loved her yet so great”, and he lets the sisters off with a warning to stay right with the law.
He goes to unlock Ruth, but she refuses until her sisters are gone and then slips out of the cuffs.
The narrator tells Ruth she’s free to go and asks why she keeps the irons on.
“Because I was your prisoner . . . I am still your prisoner,” she replies. She’ll never be free again. “I loved you without knowing,” she says and she didn’t mean what she said to Tom.
This story has been criticized by Sam Gafford in his essay “Hodgson’s Women” (which will be covered in a future post) as being morally inconsistent. The sisters were smugglers and should be punished by a supposedly incorruptible revenue agent. He also sees it as an example of Hodgson associating submission and bondage as representing true romantic love on the part of man (dominator) and woman (submitter).
The first point may be valid, but I think Hodgson is psychologically accurate about the relationship of some men and women (look at women’s romances which express this theme albeit as a romantic fantasy). Also, Ruth’s claim that she never meant what she told Tom seems true. People will, especially when it may embarrass them or dishonor them, deny their true feelings about people even when romance isn’t involved.