‘The Marlows and the Traitor’, Part Three

Thursday Morning: Return to Mariners

In yet another example of the Marlows’ permissive parenting style, it is perfectly okay for Nicola to wander about the quay at dawn by herself and hang out with strange fishermen, including with the “local disappointment”, Robert Anquetil. Robert achieved a Double First at Oxford and had a distinguished wartime record in the Commandos, but is now happily being a fisherman instead of “bother[ing] himself with being Prime Minister or anything of that sort”. Nicola helps him clean up his boat, then over breakfast he helpfully supplies her (and us) with information about his childhood acquaintance, Lewis Foley. The Foleys are a “sad, mischancy lot” who keep to themselves and “always die at sea”. A Foley ancestor did use their lighthouse for wrecking and when the villagers came to stop him, he threw himself off the top of the lighthouse into the sea (and broke his neck, because unfortunately it was a shallow bit, but I suppose technically he died at sea). Robert explains how the lighthouse is on a tiny island surrounded by rocks, with a secret shortcut known only to the Foleys and Robert, which I’m sure will turn out to be significant. The lighthouse does work, though, because it was lit up for the Victory Celebrations at the end of the war.

Incidentally, there are a number of references to the Second World War in this book, whereas Autumn Term’s setting, in terms of era, was very vague. But I suppose if you’re going to write a book about spies and traitors, it helps if you set it firmly in a particular time and political context so that you can identify the enemy.

Robert has a number of disquieting things to say about Foley, who was “tremendously proud” of his wrecker ancestor, tried to kill anyone he fought with and seems almost to have a split personality. Robert also warns Nicola not to return to Mariners because “Lewis can be very unpleasant”. Given the title of this chapter, I assume she will ignore this warning and disaster will ensue.

Oh, Robert also teaches her a song, which I’ve made a note of because it will probably turn out to be a secret code:

Injuns on the railroad
Russians on the spree
Sugar in the petrol
And up goes she!

Which is about Russians invading Germany via the River Spree and how sugar in petrol can be used to sabotage engines. Could Robert be the Traitor? Maybe he’s lying about Foley? But Nicola likes Robert and Peter likes Foley, and Nicola has better judgement than Peter does.

Back at the hotel, Ginty thinks that being left in charge is “a quite extraordinary and frightful thing to have happened, for Ginty loathed responsibility and always looked the other way at school when there were new girls to be taken in tow or anything of that sort.” Although Ginty is “intelligent, charming to look at, good fun and excellent at games”, Karen once called her a “very light-weight sort of person” (to which Ginty responded by pretending not to hear and rushing off to play tennis). So Ginty now decides that Peter, being a boy, should bear all responsibility for the siblings. Not that she bothers to tell anyone this, least of all Peter. So far, Ginty and Lawrie are my least favourite Marlows. (Actually, I don’t much like Giles, either. Rowan and Nicola are the best.)

Nicola tells Ginty, Peter and Lawrie what she’s learned about the lighthouse and the Foley family, but to her dismay, they decide to visit Mariners. She reluctantly joins them, because if “they were going to be caught by Foley, and if there should be a frightful row, she thought she would rather be there than not”. Also, like Peter, she has a horror of being thought cowardly by the others – even though, in this situation, it would be braver to take a stand and insist they stay away from Mariners.

They hike over to Farthing Fee, visit the hidden sea and climb up to Mariners’ crow’s-nest, whereupon a fog rolls in. Peter starts to feel uneasy, but they continue exploring the house all the way down to the cellars. It is revealed Ginty has panic attacks in enclosed spaces, especially underground, because during the war, their house in London was bombed and she was trapped alone in the cellar for hours until they dug her out.

Okay, now I feel a bit of sympathy for Ginty.

(I am going to ignore all the children’s references to “Little Black Sambo” and “nigger minstrel”, used whenever they get dirty, because I have already made my thoughts on this sort of period-specific racism known. For the record, this book was first published in 1953.)

Ginty acts as a look-out upstairs while the others investigate a part of the cellar that seems to be inhabited – and turns out to be the hiding place for a box of microfilms and complicated formulae and photos of torpedos. As they’re arguing over whether the police will believe them about this evidence of spying or if they should take it straight to their father, Ginty hears footsteps coming toward them. “Weak with terror”, she joins the others, pretending that nothing’s wrong.

Now, although this is not a particularly sensible thing to do, it’s understandable for someone in the middle of a panic attack and certainly in character for someone who hates facing up to unpleasant realities, so I’m not too disappointed in Ginty.

And really, what action could Ginty have taken that would have saved them, because it’s Foley and yes, he really is the Traitor. Peter actually pushes the microfilms over to him and starts to explain until Peter realises Foley is pointing a revolver at them. Foley snatches up the microfilms and herds the four Marlows off through the fog to the foreshore, where he forces them into his dinghy. At this point, he realises one of them is missing. Lawrie is gone!

Lawrie is now their only hope of rescue!

In other words, they’re doomed.

Next: Thursday Afternoon (1): Lawrie Runs for It

7 thoughts on “‘The Marlows and the Traitor’, Part Three”

  1. Okay, I’m reading along now and I’ve caught up.

    Nicola is almost annoyingly level-headed. I’m sure I’d freak out like Ginty, who does have some genuine trauma to deal with (which certainly hasn’t been properly dealt with, either). But AF judges her pretty harshly: “the silliest thing she could possibly have done” etc

    Two things are coming through to me strongly on this read-through, a) the fear that everyone (except maybe Lawrie) feels about ‘looking a fool’ and b) lots of references to superstition, luck and fate. The Foleys dying at sea, Nicola’s knife, tempting fate by imagining success etc. Interesting!

    1. Yes, I definitely feel sympathy for Ginty in this chapter. But her siblings seem fairly sympathetic, too – they don’t try to force her underground with them, they simply accept that that’s how Ginty is. There must have been so many traumatised child survivors of the Blitz who didn’t ever get the chance afterwards to talk freely about their experiences and feelings.

      Maybe it’s Lawrie’s lack of inhibitions that make her such a good actress!

      That’s so interesting what you say about superstitions – and Foley’s boat is called ‘Talisman’, too. I’m not sure what the author is trying to say about superstitions, though, because when Nicola first visits Mariners, she doesn’t have her lucky knife and everything is okay – then when she gets her lucky knife back, things go wrong! I strongly suspect that Foley will die at sea, though. Maybe the author’s saying that only those superstitions believed by lots of people over long periods of time are true. I am tempted to make an atheistic comment here, but will restrain myself…

      1. Yes, I’m not too sure what she’s getting at either. Maybe something about choice and free will? I will keep reading with that at the back of my mind.

        Oh, I do think Ginty’s siblings are sympathetic. And I think AF is too, up to a point. But in later books she has some shrewd/cruel observations about people who, consciously or unconsciously, use past trauma to rationalise present bad behaviour (or the expression of unrestrained emotion, which is bad behaviour in Forestworld), and I wonder if this is the thin end of the wedge for Ginty. I have a lot of sympathy for Ginty (though I still find her irritating).

  2. I ave always thought that Autumn Term could be set in any time as it seems to ignore the war altogether- Tim has a big bag of chocolate on the train, and has spent much of her childhood abroad which would have been impossible for most of it, and there are no mentions of rationing or the war until MATT and Falconer’s Lure.

    1. Yes, Autumn Term could have been almost any time in the twentieth century. Maybe everyone was thoroughly sick of thinking about the war in 1948, so Antonia Forest decided to ignore that topic altogether.

  3. And then the war just disappears again as the books are written further and further away from it… although the Christmas tree ornaments in Peter’s Room have ‘survived the Blitz,’ if I recall correctly!

    More thoughts: one of AF’s central concerns is that the way people think about themselves shapes how they act (eg Lois Sanger, also Lawrie in the next chapter). Perhaps the superstition thing ties into that — if people believe in the superstitions, they will act accordingly, and that makes the superstitions ‘true’. So the way Foley behaves (no spoilers!) is affected by his image of himself as the heir of doomed, romantic, anti-authoritarian ancestors.

  4. Hmm, except Nicola wholeheartedly believes in the lucky knife superstition and is relieved to have her knife back from Lawrie, yet it doesn’t help her avoid the bad situation. It might even make the situation worse because she’s more likely to take risks, knowing she’s armed, and put herself in more danger.

    And I’ve now read Chapter Five and found out Foley’s talisman has been lost! He’s doomed to die at sea! (Although if your talisman is an actual boat, that would surely increase your risk of dying at sea. He should have chosen a rabbit’s foot or something like that as his lucky charm.)

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