‘The Marlows and the Traitor’, Part Six

Friday Morning: Breakfast at the Lighthouse

Ginty and Peter wake up in the lighthouse berating themselves about their role in the situation they’ve found themselves in, but Nicola is characteristically cheerful. Foley will be gone now and they can go home! Except when she goes outside, there’s Foley, standing by the remains of the Talisman. He has guessed about the sugar in the engine – turns out he made up that song – and Nicola bravely confesses to what she did, then asks why he’s a traitor:

“Oh, I don’t know. Don’t you get fed up, sometimes, with all the smug dutiful people, all busily scratching their little livings, all saying the same things, all professing the same beliefs in the same words that all the generations have sucked dry before them? Ninety-nine point nine percent don’t even know what the words mean. It serves them right if someone chucks a bomb into the antheap occasionally…”

Ooh, Foley, you’re such a rebel. He sounds like a fourteen-year-old schoolboy giving a bombastic speech behind the headmaster’s back. Nicola is unimpressed, because, like the Famous Five, she believes a traitor is “quite the most beastly thing to be”. And the fact that Foley’s amused by her reaction makes it even worse.

Over breakfast, Peter quickly grasps that they’re in greater danger now that the U-boat crew will be arriving at the lighthouse on Sunday. Ginty has a panic attack about having to go into a U-boat. (Don’t worry about that, Ginty! You’ll be murdered before that happens!) Then they watch the navy fleet sail along the horizon on their scheduled exercises and the children are disgusted by Foley’s reaction:

“Foley didn’t look particularly anything–not vengeful, not conscience-stricken, just mildly interested.”

Foley goes to feed the seagulls (because he’s the sort of complex villain who’s nice to animals) and Peter desperately tries to think of a plan. If only there was a way to signal the navy fleet when the ships make their way back that night … Hang on, they’re staying in a working lighthouse!

As Peter tries to figure how he’s going to get up to the light, there’s a brief moment of hope when Robert Anquetil’s boat, the Golden Enterprise, sails past. Nicola leaps up in excitement, but Foley grabs her, yanks her arm behind her back and says he’ll blow her to pieces if anyone moves. Ginty eventually finds the courage to say:

“‘Let her go. You’re hurting her.’

Foley let go at once. He peered down at [Nicola’s] face and then said, in the sulky aggrieved voice that an older child uses to a much younger one: ‘Sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. Why on earth didn’t you say?’”

Well, Nicola didn’t say because she has a horror of looking cowardly and childish. But Foley’s volatility and immaturity is really horrifying in this scene. And this is a man who was actually employed as a teacher!

Switching to Robert’s perspective, we discover he’d been scouring the coast for a glimpse of the Talisman’s dinghy when he spotted the cloud of seagulls at the lighthouse and remembered Foley’s habit of feeding them. So Robert used the secret entrance to the lighthouse:

“He felt a sense of betrayal, that he should be using the secret channel Lewis had shown him when they were schoolboys, to fight and defeat him. But Lewis was always putting one in these predicaments…”

Finding the Talisman’s dinghy tied up behind the lighthouse, Robert is tempted to rush in, overpower Foley and rescue the children. But there was a fifty-fifty chance Foley would win in a fight and Robert, unlike Foley, is cautious and calculating:

“It was no occasion for bogus, single-handed heroics. His duty, here and now, was to return to the mainland and report his discoveries.”

But he’s not completely unmoved and as he leaves, “he wished with all his heart he could have stayed there”.

Doesn’t he have a radio in his boat? Or a shoe phone? What kind of intelligence agent is he?

Friday Afternoon: “The Children are Expendable”

Back at the police station, Robert suggests to Commander Whittier that Foley may have intended all along to hide at the lighthouse till the coast was clear, then leave the children there while he escaped. Whittier, who’s read Foley’s file, says Foley would never be so sensible, calling Foley:

“…a wild, slapdash young man, with a life-or-death temperament. Plenty of courage, but no discipline. No loyalty, either.”

He reveals that during a wartime raid, Foley decided to disobey orders, leading to the deaths of eighteen men. (Yet despite this, the Navy: a) allowed Foley to remain a navy officer, even after the war; b) gave him a job teaching naval cadets; and c) gave him free access to top-secret information, even after they suspected he was a spy. Well done, British Navy.)

Whittier has worked out the U-boat will surface near the lighthouse on Sunday night, which is when the navy will grab Foley and the U-boat crew and save the secret information. Robert wants to rescue the children first, but Whittier points out that the children may already be dead. If they are alive, Foley could warn the U-boat during the confusion of their rescue.

“You understand me, don’t you, Anquetil? There can be no question of any premature attempt to rescue the children […] the children must be regarded as expendable.”

Again, this is a CHILDREN’S BOOK. And the British authorities, the good guys, are saying it’s fine if three English children are murdered as long as the good guys get a chance to catch the bad guys, when it’s just been shown that the whole situation has arisen due to the good guys’ total incompetence! And no mention of the fact that the three children are the offspring of a naval commander.

Even Whittier seems to realise this is a bit much, because he allows Robert to take a couple of men, David and Bill, on the Golden Enterprise to keep watch on the lighthouse and says if the U-boat surfaces, “wireless us, and do what you can”. So there is a radio on the boat?

But first Robert goes to speak with Lawrie, who confirms Foley had photos of a torpedo and that the others were taken off on the Talisman. Poor Mrs Marlow, who thinks Robert is with the police drug squad, says it sounds more like spies than dope and asks whether she should try to contact her husband, now on fleet exercises. Poor Robert lies his head off and they agree it’s best not to bother Commander Marlow. (I wonder, if the children turned up dead in the middle of his fleet exercises, whether he’d interrupt his work to come back home. Probably not.) Oh, and as Mrs Marlow sits by Lawrie’s bed, she thinks:

“It seemed almost worse than the time her husband’s cruiser had been bombed and she had waited to hear if he were among the survivors.”

And she probably didn’t cry, even then!

Next, Saturday Morning: Peter Makes a Plan

4 thoughts on “‘The Marlows and the Traitor’, Part Six”

  1. If it all goes pear-shaped, you’d have to hope A Current Affair didn’t get hold of it… they’d have a field day (or whatever the AF equivalent might be).

    The children are expendable… it’s very dark now.

    Parts of this book (like some of her others, only the holiday books though) read to me as if AF had thought up her final climax first and then frantically had to build a plot to make it come about. That last chapter is basically a long list of reasons why they can’t rescue the children, none of which seem terribly convincing to me.

    1. But the thing is, in those days, the newspapers didn’t report on scandals involving the royals, the defence forces or (Conservative) politicians, and the BBC was tightly bound by regulations. So men in authority were free to mess up things, without fearing the public would get to know about it. That’s why there was so much indignation in the government when the newspapers reported the Profumo scandal – how dare the newspapers start writing about politicians having affairs! Now the Prime Minister would actually have to do something about it!

      I’m not very convinced by the can’t-rescue-the-children reasons, either. It’s a good thing the plot is exciting enough for me to (mostly) overlook the plot holes!

  2. It’s astonishing to a modern reader that the children’s father isn’t told at this point that the children are missing, presumed in serious danger of death. I imagine it would be something of a shock to finish his fleet exercises only be told – sorry, three of the children are dead.
    ‘Oh, which ones, darling?’
    ‘Damn, he was our only spare.’
    ‘Oh well, we had two of that one, didn’t we?’
    (Actually, the theme of whether Mrs Marlow thinks people should be warned in advance recurs in Cricket Term, in a less life-threatening situation. I don’t think this is spoilerish because it’s on the book’s back cover blurb after all.)

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