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Literature / The Pavilion on the Links

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"The Pavilion on the Links" is a short story written by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson. It was first published in two parts in the September/October issues of The Cornhill Magazine in 1880. A revised version was included in Stevenson's short story collection New Arabian Nights (1882).

On his deathbed, Scotsman Frank Cassilis reveals his deepest, darkest secret to his childrennote : How he met their mother (no, not that one).

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After spending nine years as a wealthy vagabond, young Cassilis decides to visit his college acquaintance R. Northmour, who resides in the eponymous pavilion on the Scottish coast. To his surprise, the reclusive Northmour hosts guests - an elderly man and a young woman. After spying on the group for some days, Cassilis reveals himself to the young woman, Clara Huddlestone, who explains that Northmour is hiding her father from a group of mysterious and deadly pursuers in exchange for her hand. Naturally, Cassilis also falls in love with her. The two men vie for Clara's hand, while the danger draws ever nearer...

Notable for having a prominent fan in Arthur Conan Doyle, who considered it "the high-water mark of [Stevenson’s] genius" and "the first short story in the world".


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Tropes used by the story:

  • The Cavalry Arrives Late: The sailors of Northmour's yacht, the Red Earl, arrive only after the Carbonari have burned down the pavilion and killed Huddlestone.
    Cassilis: "The Red Earl! [...] The Red Earl twelve hours too late!"
  • Code of Honour: The Carbonari, while determined to kill Huddlestone, offer to let Clara and the two young men go. Even after this offer is rejected, they refrain from killing anyone else after Huddlestone is dead. Northmour comments on their honourable ways, expressing the wish to join them.
  • Combat Pragmatist: With the group holed up in the Pavilion of the title and well-armed, the Carbonari don't bother to make a frontal assault, but just set fire to the building.
  • The Exile: It is Huddlestone's intention to live the remainder of his days in exile. After his criminal misdeeds are revealed, he convinces Northmour to take him to the South Pacific with the remains of his ill-gotten gains in return for Clara's hand. Their plan is to hide out in the remote pavilion until Northmour's yacht is refitted and provisioned for the long journey. It doesn't work out that way.
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  • Foregone Conclusion: Cassilis and Clara will survive the events of the story and end up in a long and loving marriage.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: A criminal banker, his innocent daughter and two young men who are only in it for the girl against freedom fighters who will gladly kill for revenge, but refrain from harming bystanders.
  • Last-Name Basis: While Northmour repeatedly adresses Cassilis as "Frank", Cassilis never uses anything but Northmours last name. In fact, we never learn more than the initial of Northmour's first name: R.
  • La Résistance: The Carbonari, who fight against the Austrian Empire for the Unification of Italy. While their methods may seem extreme, it is made clear that Huddlestone's shady deals have cost them dearly. Stevenson portrays them as sympathetic antagonists, with their own Code of Honour. The cynical Northmour even expresses the wish to join them during the siege on the pavilion as he perceives them to be in the right.
    • At the end of the story, it is revealed that Northmour did join the movement for Italian independence in later years. He dies fighting under Garibaldi for the liberation of the Tyrol.
  • Love at First Sight: Played with. Cassilis and Clara fall in love pretty quickly after their first meeting. Of course, Cassilis has just saved her life, but still... On the other hand, Cassilis notes how he has lied to Clara for the whole of their marriage about this. He told her that he fell in love with her the moment he first set eyes on her when he spied on the group's arrival. The truth is that it was too dark to even see her face.
    • Maybe understandable from a psychological standpoint. Clara has the choice between an arranged marriage to the rather unsympathetic Northmour and falling in love with a mysterious stranger who appears from seemingly out of nowhere to save her. Unsurprisingly, she chooses the latter. Cassilis, on the other hand, notes that he feels uncomfortable with Clara staying at Northmour's pavilion before even speaking to her. His love is, at least partially, fueled by his old rivalry with Northmour.
  • Love Triangle: Frank Cassilis falls in love with Clara Huddlestone, who is promised to Northmour by implicit agreement between him and her father. However, the two rivals agree to set aside their conflict as long as Clara's life is threatened by the Carbonari.
  • The Mafia: Averted. While the Carbonari are Italians who do not refrain from killing people, they are not criminals but freedom fighters. Their reputation is still terrible enough to frighten even the otherwise fearless Northmour.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: On their first meeting in the dark, Northmour immediately draws a knife and wounds Cassilis. But what really astonishes Cassilis is that the usually fearless Northmour flees to the safety of the pavilion instead of pursuing him. This encounter underlines the gravity of the mysterious threat.
  • Quicksand Sucks: Graden Floe, a piece of treacherous terrain which is said to swallow a man in "four minutes in a half". Cassilis saves Clara from walking into it. One of the Italians is not so lucky - only his hat remains as proof of his gruesome demise.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Huddlestone acts like a coward for most of the story, risking his daughter's life and fainting when faced with danger. Yet in the end, he decides to sacrifice himself for her sake, redeeming himself in Cassilis's eyes.
    Huddlestone:"Here am I! [...] Huddlestone! Kill me, and spare the others!"
  • Rescue Romance: Cassilis reveals himself to Clara when she unknowingly steers towards deadly quicksand on one of her walks, saving her life. They fall in love soon after.
  • White-Collar Crime: Sets the plot in motion. Bernard Huddlestone, father of Clara, is a banker who tries to salvage his faltering business with risky and illegal transactions. When this fails and his crimes are uncovered, he becomes a wanted man. Huddlestone flees the police with the help of Northmour. The Carbonari, however, are not that easily shaken off...
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