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