Arrah Neil by G P R James Page 2 of 484
Sir John Hotham was governor at the time that the King hoisted the Royal Standard at Nottingham, and though he closed the gates against his Majesty, it was felt by both sides that his defection from the Parliament was not at all unlikely, especially if they persisted in extreme measures.
This doubtful attitude of Sir John, the strained relations between him and his son, Colonel Hotham, and the hopes and fears of the Royalist party as to the possession of Hull, are the historical elements in the plot, and give rise to an intricate series of extremely entertaining as well as exciting events.
The plot is hardly well put together; James does not trouble himself much about his "loose ends," and it looks as though the French mission, on which the King sends the Earl of Beverly and Captain Barecolt, were merely a pretext for their subsequent adventures. On the other hand, the novel contains one singular and striking success.
James often attempts low comedy and frequently fails, but in the boasting, swaggering, and resourceful Barecolt, the indomitable Royalist soldier, who "might have become almost as great a man as he fancied himself if it had not been for his swaggering, drinking, drabbing, and lying propensities," he has given us what, according to the limits of his genius, corresponds to Scott's Captain Dalgetty.
Barecolt is a character in every sense of the word, and his sayings and doings are as amusing as the strange events that befall him are exciting. The story of Arrah Neil is--a rare thing for James--a tragic one; the mystery of the plot is happily solved, yet the end is pathetic. But the pathos is by no means bitter or unmitigated, since the parallel half of the story ends satisfactorily, and due retribution falls on the offenders.
James takes up the story of the Civil War again in "The Cavalier" and "Henry Masterton," both of which deal with a more disastrous period in the career of the Royalists. Sir John Hotham and his son ultimately paid the penalty of their indecision, with their heads.