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The Pillar of Light.


The Pillar of Light.

By Louis Tracy 1905.

Now here is a classic "Boys' Own" adventure written in the true Victorian/Edwardian style when Gentlemen had stiff upper lips and Ladies knew their places.

This tale is set in a rock lighthouse in July 1874 and no prizes for guessing which lighthouse it is. It is a few miles off Penzance in Cornwall. From the gallery our hero can see the lights of the Lizard; Longships; Seven Stones; St. Agnes and with his glasses, the Bishop.

You have guessed it, and by changing only two letters to protect the innocent, it is called Gulf Rock; but for all intents and purposes it is Wolf Rock.

Forget all the technical details generously given throughout the 320 pages which will bring a tear to retired rock lighthouse keepers everywhere of the hardships, perils and monotony of every day life on the Wolf; sorry, I mean Gulf; because there are more tears to be shed.

On the day in question, our hero who holds the position of Assistant Keeper is leaning on the gallery on a clear day when he sees a becalmed wreck of a lifeboat drifting in the current and soon to pass the lighthouse by. Without fear or trepidation he strips off his clothes and swims the few hundred yards to the boat. He is attacked by a blue shark on his way but fortunately kills it; rows the boat to the lighthouse only to find the occupants dead except for a baby girl one year old.

The story then moves on 20 years to January 1894 when our hero, who has adopted the baby girl, together with his own daughter of a similar age, go the lighthouse on a day trip with the aim of the girls returning once they have said goodbye to their father. However the Principal Keeper has scalded his hands and arms in the kitchen; his assistant fallen down the stairs and broken his leg; and to our surprise, the girls remain behind to assist their father in manning the lamp whilst the boat returns the injured to Penzance.

Soon a storm approaches; becomes a hurricane, and a New York to Southampton bound passenger ocean steam liner almost rams the lighthouse, but breaks in two on the reefs due the duty of the Captain not to damage the lighthouse. With the stern half sinking the Captain allows the fore half to drift as close as he dares so that hero number two can climb the to the top of the fore mast with a rope and when, at 110 feet high and level with the lighthouse gallery, he throws it to the waiting keeper and his two daughters. Despite the continuing gale a hoist is set up and 78 of the 200 passengers are saved. The Captain, quite rightly old chap, goes down with his ship.

For the next few days as the storm continues unabated and whilst rescue boats are sheltered in Mounts Bay, the two heroes and girls feed everyone on rations designed for three; patch up wounds with the inexhaustible supply of torn up petticoats and contents of the station medicine chest; dry out all the clothes; and all take turns on manning the lights.

Just as the food runs out and the rescued ship's crew and passengers are turning ugly with a view to cause our heroes and girls some harm, hero number three, the Royal Naval Lieutenant and fiancee of the lighthouse keeper's real daughter, arrives. He is in a small boat rowed by two strong Cornish lads from the waiting Trinity House tender but the sea is too rough for him to reach the outer gun metal doors of the lighthouse. However the quick thinking lighthouse keeper abandons his gallery and runs all the way down to oil room at sea level, gathering as much colza oil for fuelling the lamps as he can carry, and returns to the gallery and empties it onto the sea. The effect of "pouring oil onto troubled water" is to calm the ocean and allow the Lieutenant to get close enough to throw a supply rope and more food and water is taken in.

Eventually the weather improves and all are saved, but wait; there is more to come. With handkerchiefs at the ready the Assistant Lighthouse keeper hero discovers that his long lost and considered dead wife, is alive and among the rescued passengers. We find out that he is not the common or garden man who we thought he was, but is a Baronet hiding in obscurity after killing his wife's lover in a duel over 20 years ago when he was an attache to the British Embassy in Paris.

The hero who climbed the mizzenmast and saved the day is the nephew of an American millionaire; and as it transpires is also the cousin of our adopted orphan; so that makes her the daughter of a millionaire.

Everyone who is in a position to get married, does so and lives happily every after.

And what becomes of our hero Assistant Lighthouse Keeper?; Well he quits the service; after all he has done his 21 years sufficient to get a pension, not that he needs the money, and goes off to his vast estates in Northumberland.

And the Lighthouse; yes, it is still there and with the knowledge gained from this book you could easily man it yourself single handedly and blindfolded; provided you could go back 130 years in time.