Mrs. Dicker, more familiarly known as Constance MacEwen, has already earned for herself the reputation of being a clever and accomplished writer of fiction. Her latest story is one of history and mystery, of love and legerdemain, with enough of the marvellous an uncanny to satisfy the most greedy craving for the sensational.
Residing in the Isle of Wight and familiar with its characteristics and associations, the author has gathered together some of the old time legends and traditions, and interwoven them with local incidents that occurred during the closing years of the troubled reign of Charles I., and with their aid has constructed a story in which a number of persons of more than local fame are the chief actors.
Those acquainted with the island will remember the long line of chalk downs that stretches away in an easterly direction from Carisbrook to Brading, and thence to Culver Cliff, at the northern extremity of Sandown Bay. On the southern slope of these downs, overlooking the straggling village of Newchurch, on the opposite bank of the Yar, may still be seen the fragmentary remains of Knighton House, for many generations the manorial residence of the Dyllingtons.
Judith Dyllington, the only child and heir of Sir Tristram Dyllington, is the "Cavalier's Ladye," and the heroine of the story. She is left an orphan while a child, and on attaining womanhood becomes affianced to her cousin, Sir Anthony Dyllington, a soldier in the Royalist army. While walking together in the woods of Knighton the pair are spirited away by Colonel Despard, the notorious chief of the Blackgang pirates, who goes treasure-seeing and does all sorts of terrible things, and they are immured for a time in the cavernous recesses of the rock which in these days bears the name of Blackgang Chine. Here dwells a certain Pausanias, a mystic and magician, and the gorgeous splendour of the subterranean chambers in which he dwells, and where Despart stores his treasures, exceeds anything related in the "Arabian Nights" or in the more modern creations of Mr. Rider Haggard.
After a brief detention the lady is released, but her lover is carried away by Despart on his piratical expeditions overseas, and in his absence Judith betakes herself to Carisbrook, and places her wealth and her services at the disposal of King Charles, who is at the time in the custody there of Colonel Hammond. She then becomes the bearer of communications to Cromwell, and has an interview with the Lord General at his house in London.
Despard, who turns out to be a base-born son of Sir Tristram, and consequently the half-brother of Judith, is eventually captured, and while a prisoner in the Marshalsea awaiting execution effects his escape by the help of her he had so deeply wronged, but to whom he had revealed his parentage.
Contemporaneously Sir Anthony Dyllington, after experiencing many hair-breadth escapes, appears upon the scene, when, in the orthodox fashion, the story ends with a marriage, Judith Dyllington becoming the "Cavalier's Ladye."
There is a marked individuality in the book, and though there is not much of plot, the dialogue is skilfully and sometimes epigrammatically expressed and well sustained, and some of the characters are cleverly drawn. Particularly is this the case in the wily and calculating Colonel Hammond and the stern cold-blooded and imperturbable Puritan—his wife, and also in the delineation of some of the members of the Protector's family, showing that the author has clearly grasped the characteristics of the times of which she writes.
There are some anachronisms in the book which ought to be avoided in any subsequent edition. Though Mistress Dyllington's talk might have the "true Aristotolian flavour," it is doubtful if either Cavaliers or Roundheads understood the meaning of "animal magnetism" and kindred scientific phrases, and the terms "Whig" and "Tory" were not employed until many years after the death of teh "Martyr King." But apart from these slight defects the work is clever and vivacious.
(The Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 11 January 1890)
I've quoted in full the above review of A Cavalier's Ladye: a Romance of the Isle of Wight by Constance MacEwen (Mrs. A. C. Dicker) (Manchester and London, John Heywood, 1890) because the novel contains the only instance I can find of the family name Dyllington.
That there was some link between the above novel and the author Anthony Dyllington can be seen in the title of Dyllington's first book: The Green Domino: a Romance of the Isle of Wight (London, John Long, 1908; New York, J. Lane Company, 1909), which was positively reviewed by the Dundee Advertiser as "At once a clever and an entertaining novel by an author who possesses that wonderful power of arresting the attention of the reader at the first page and holding it to the close."
The Graphic (19 December 1908) was rather less complimentary, calling it "Featherweight comedy of the most feathery variety . . . Coincidences are stretched all but to breaking point; all-important wills lurk for years modestly in work-baskets, revealing themselves only at the moment of moments; charming widows, clothed always in white, love and hate with the most enchantingly convenient celerity and utterly un-itinerant musicians prove, one and all, as was only to be expected, the most perfect gentlemen."
However, it was not all bad news: "Yet one's credulity is never too terribly strained; it is all quite interesting, if slight; there is a delightful duchess taken from real life, and the style is good as well as musical."
The Yorkshire Post (23 December 1908) thought the novel "witty and well-written" and that it should "secure for the author a recognised place amongst very acceptable writers of pleasant light fiction," whilst The Manchester Courier (4 December 1908) called it "An amusing book for idle moments."
The "Green Domino" is in love with his cousin, Lady Hawke, who, though she has never seen him, is prejudiced against him and will not receive him. In company with his friend Stafford, a famous author, he visits Lady Hawke's domain in the Isle of Wight disguised as a seaside entertainer. His voice appeals to the lady, and the singer arouses her curiosity, and before long the intriguers make the acquaintance of her great friend, the Duchess of Hampshire. Finally they gain a footing in the house and after that all goes well.Dyllington's next, The Unseen Thing (London, T. Werner Laurie, 1909; Boston, J. W. Luce, 1910, available at Archive.org) dropped humour in favour of psychology:
Lady Hawke is charming and her Grace of Hampshire is a Duchess of hardly more conventional type than Alice's duchess, though much more amiable. The conversation between the two men is humorous enough, but the sprightly persiflage is perhaps too long sustained. On the whole, "The Green Domino" makes very good reading.
Interest in Mr Dyllington's story is mainly psychological. Adopting a plot in one particularly striking similar to "Jane Eyre," Mr Dyllington shows how horror of "the unseen thing" had been transmitted at birth from father to son in a way which rendered the son abnormally sensitive to all physical ugliness. This son is the central figure in the story. He does not know until the story is well developed what is the nature of the "skeleton in the family cupboard;" but nevertheless, though unconsciously, its existence has by force of heredity imparted to his mind a character which affects his whole life. To look upon a maimed or deformed creature is to him agony. He cannot, in the face of physical ugliness, conceal his repugnance. He flies from the "evil thing."In Pretty Barbara (London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1910), Dyllington returned to lighter subject, a Ruritanian romance, which the Sheffield Daily Telegraph (24 February 1910) thought "Not very original, but exciting, pleasantly told, and containing no wasted words, which last is certainly commendable." Again, most reviews had positive things to say about the writing ("Eminently written and extremely well told," said The Globe; "Written with much effect," The Times agreed).
This morbid state of the mind is very skilfully depicted by Mr Dyllington, who works his story out to a healthier and saner conclusion by bringing the afflicted man eventually to realise that there is no physical ugliness so comparably vile as moral ugliness, and that it is he himself, and not the poor creature whom he has been regarding with horror, who ought to be avoided.
There is plenty of incident in the story for those who might be wearied by the psychological aspect of the tale, and, though morbid in parts and bordering on the gruesome, it is in fact a wholesome and interesting piece of work. (The Scotsman, 16 August 1909)
The setting was Kronenburg, somewhere east of Vienna, described as "the most beautiful city in the most beautiful country in the world."
Mr Anthony Dyllington's latest novel has for title "Pretty Barbara," and the interesting lady is none other than the Countess von Stein, wife of the Prime Minister of Joachim II. Her husband's ancestors had shed their blood on many a field for the Joachim's race, and yet he repays unswerving devotion by entering upon a liaison with the Count's wife. Though that involves his name being bandered about the beer halls of Kronenburg, the capital, the Count will not be turned aside in his loyalty towards his Sovereign, but he shrinks as he thinks of the time when his only son, Otto, will get to know of his mother's dishonour.Dyllington then disappeared for some years before the publication of The Stranger in the House (London, T. Werner Laurie, 1913), this time a horror story of demonic possession.
A tragedy, due to circumstances which have a singular similarity to the King's conduct, sets the capital aflame and the Socialist journals are shooting meaning arrows at the Palace. One of the editors insults Otto in a restaurant, and the spirited youngster rushes to the King's apartment and breaks his sword in his presence, refusing longer to serve such a master. The Count, driven to despair, has resolved to allow Joachim to become the victim of an Anarchist plot, of which he is apprised, but in the time of crises his loyalty reasserts itself, and he interposes his body between that of his Sovereign and the assassin's bullet.
Otto has meantime broken with father and mother and marries the daughter of one of the greatest enemies of the house. The story is a thrilling one, and the plot is woven by a master hand. (Dundee Courier, 23 February 1910)
The "house" here referred to is the "house of life;" and the story is a very creepy tale of demonical possession. Viva Quarrendene is terribly injured in a motor accident on her wedding-day. A famous surgeon is called in. He thinks it useless to operate, since nothing short of a "miracle" could save her life. Her husband, Sir William Quarrendene, not believing in anything which cannot be discerned by the senses, instructs the great doctor to try every chance, and then sets his will to keep Viva alive. A terrible storm rages outside, and it seems as if all the powers of evil were suddenly let loose. All psychic persons feel these curious conditions, and Viva's old nurse implores Sir William to "let the child go." But he refuses to relax his efforts; his bride must live at any cost.The only other appearance by Dyllington I have been able to find is a brief mention in The Evening News for Plymouth on Monday, 4 December 1916, in which the editor summarised comments received after the local Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce made some comments about reducing the number of dogs in the area in the face of wartime food shortages.
In the morning the surgeon announces that a "miracle," or something like it, has been worked, and that his patient will recover, though, he adds, "There was a moment when I thought that she had passed away." She did pass, and it was "a stranger" who entered "the house" at that moment when the real tenant left. This "stranger" is altogether evil, one of those gruesome presences of which occultists darkly hint—a creature who madly desires to exercise those crude and evil passions which can only be exercised in a human body. She was one of those "Spirits, beautiful and awful, shut out from a world to which they are yet bound by a hundred strands of earthly passions and desires. Longing to return, seeking eternally for some way of approach to the life that they have lost . . . Gazing with eager eyes upon the warmth and sweetness of the world as a traveller on a winter's night will look longingly through the windows of a room in which a fire is burning and friends are sitting round teh cheerful hearth . . . Seeking, seeking always for some way to escape from the bleak outer spaces."
The author has imagination enough to follow the incarnated evil spirit under these conditions, and to picture the wreck and ruin that it causes, the shock and horror of Viva's husband and friends, the tragic death of the old nurse. "But it is not Viva really. Viva has been dead a whole year." It is the unfortunate husband, now fully convinced of the reality of much that he can neither hear, see, or touch, who succeeds in ridding the world of this terrible incubus and restoring his life and home to normal conditions. "The material things of life would never enchain him again. A window had been opened to him, and opened by a terrible had: But it had brought him light." (Otaga Daily Times, 16 April 1913)
Anthony Dyllington thinks that Sir John Brickwood's statements are so astonishing that one can only suppose some wag has been imposing upon his credulity. If Sir John knew the lady who gave her dog a shilling's worth of meat per day and would send it to the R.S.P.C.A., he would be doing a real kindness—to the dog.So who was Anthony Dyllington? There are very few clues. The name, I am convinced, was derived from the novel by Constance MacEwen, who was probably best known for her literary response to Jerome K. Jerome, Three Women in One Boat (London, F. V. White & Co., 1891). Constance Ellen MacEwen, born in Bath in 1850, was married in 1885 to Alfred Cecil Dicker (1852-1938). They had two daughters and lived in Newchurch on the Isle of Wight for some time, later moving to Winchester where Constance died in 1897.
Given the mysterious Anthony Dyllington's debut novel being set on the Isle of Wight, and the Portsmouth connection of his last known correspondence, it is interesting to speculate that the author behind the pen-name may have been one of Constance MacEwen's daughters: Joan Geraldine Alice Le Dykere Dicker, born 31 August 1886 and baptised on 6 October, or Portia Winifred Beatrice Maude Dicker, born 31 December 1889, baptized on 11 March 1890.
Census records show that Joan and Portia were living with their parents in Newhaven in 1891. Their father remarried—to Mary Anne Dunkin—on 11 February 1900, and a son, Cecil Campbell Benedict de Winton Dicker, was born about a year later; he was 3 months old when the 1901 census took place in April 1901, at which time the family were living in Winchester. Another son, Alfred Christopher Dicker, was born on 19 May 1903. (He died in Gloucestershire in 1991.)
In 1911, Portia Dicker, aged 21, was still living with her father, who was now at Lowick Rectory, Thrapston, Northamptonshire. She later lived in Devon and in Somerset, where she died in 1970.
In 1919, in Thrapston, elder sister Joan married Robert Oakeley, a clerk in Holy Orders; they later lived in Brackley, Northamtonshire, and in Wellington, Somerset, where Joan died on 31 January 1973.
Both sisters appear to have lived on private means, but it is interesting to speculate that one or the other may have been the mercurial Anthony Dyllington, whose novels ranged from light historical romance to horror.