‘The Marlows and the Traitor’, Part Two

Wednesday Afternoon: The Hidden Sea

Back at the hotel, Mrs Marlow, usually unflappable, goes into the “most wowing kind of flap” when she hears about Peter and Nicola’s near-death experience on the cliffs. I’m relieved to hear this, because so far, the Marlow parents have seemed hands-off to the point of near neglect. But Peter thinks “how absolutely extraordinary it was that it was always the very people you thought you could depend on absolutely who were always the ones who let you down.” Hmm, what does that tell you about your judgement, Peter? But Peter is too busy feeling guilty and cross to do any self-analysis. He snaps at poor Johnnie Thorpe, then at Lawrie, although by lunchtime, he’s in a slightly better temper. Ginty and Lawrie are competing in the hotel’s ping-pong tournament, so Peter and Nicola decide to take the bus to a mysterious-sounding place called Farthing Fee. This turns out to be a boring collection of bungalows at the end of a road, but then Nicola discovers an overgrown lane marked ‘Footpath to Mariners’, which sounds more promising.

Walking along the hedge-hemmed lane towards the sea, they wonder if Lieutenant Foley has an identical twin (“If sometimes he’s all right and sometimes he’s peculiar, that would explain it”) and they feed a pony (the Marlows “always carried sugar on walks in the hope of meeting friendly horses”). After an offhand remark from Nicola, Peter attempts to catch and ride the pony, despite the pony’s firm resistance to the idea. Peter seems to have some absurd and dangerous ideas about How to Be a Proper Man, no doubt reinforced by his father, his brother and his school, but Nicola is astute and kind enough to rescue Peter on this occasion by deliberately frightening off the horse.

Then, suddenly, they come across ‘Mariners’, an old and apparently abandoned house, which they decide to explore. Now, I’m a bit confused about Nicola’s moral values, because she wouldn’t even consider taking a train without paying the fare in Autumn Term, yet has no hesitation about breaking into a stranger’s house in this book. Isn’t trespassing worse than fare-dodging? Regardless, there’s a nice description here of how different Peter and Nicola are. Nicola seems braver because she simply doesn’t think about the consequences before jumping into action (or into a deep, dark coal cellar with a busted trap-door). Peter feels obliged to act in a brave manner, but usually stops to consider what might go wrong:

“His first thought had been that he ought to jump after her. His second and more sensible one, that if Nicola had damaged herself, or if the door on the inside wouldn’t open, he would be more useful where he was. He heard Nicola begin to move about and felt relieved. At least he hadn’t got to cope with a sprained ankle or something cheerful like that miles from anywhere…”

So perhaps Peter really is braver, because he feels fear, then acts anyway? Meanwhile, Nicola has wandered off into the depths of the cellar without telling him – and then is surprised that he’s cross with her when they’re finally reunited.

Anyway, they investigate the silent, empty house, “handsome in a cold, symmetrical sort of way”, and eventually find their way to an amazing crow’s-nest on top of the roof, complete with telescope. Whereupon we discover that Peter is secretly terrified of heights. So, he has vertigo and he doesn’t like the sea and he tends to freeze in a crisis. And he’s training to be a naval officer. Oh, Peter.

But the really cool thing is that they spy a hidden sea and a strange lighthouse – which is called ‘Foley’s Folly Light’! Could Mariners be Foley’s house? Could the Foley family have been wreckers, luring ships onto the rocks with a false light?

Peter, now thoroughly rattled, gets into one of his ‘upsets’ (“When he was in an upset he got rather white and angry-looking, and as Nicola knew from experience, it wasn’t a bit of good asking him what the matter was”) and he storms off down the lane by himself. He feels

“furious with himself, as he always did when a hidden uneasiness made him kick out at whoever happened to be around. A fine officer he was going to make if he bellowed at his subordinates every time he got in a flap – if he ever was an officer.”

Antonia Forest is so good at writing child characters with complex, realistic anxieties and ambitions. Poor Peter, he’s probably under far more pressure than his sisters, regarding his future prospects. I mean, their parents didn’t even bother to send Nicola and Lawrie to school until they were twelve.

Meanwhile, Nicola has gone off to look for the hidden sea. She finds a mooring buoy with the name of a boat on it – Talisman – and sees the boat returning. For a moment she considers waiting to talk to the owner but “then suddenly, for no reason at all, she knew it was Lieutenant Foley coming from the sea” and in a panic, she runs away before he can see her. On the bus with Peter, she decides she over-reacted – but Nicola’s instincts tend to have some basis in fact, even if she isn’t conscious of it at the time, so I think she was probably right to dash off. (Mind you, I know the book is about ‘The Marlows and the Traitor’ and Nicola doesn’t.)

Finally, back at the hotel, Lawrie announces their mother has gone off to join their father, so Ginty is in charge of them till next week. Let me say that again. GINTY IS IN CHARGE OF HER THREE YOUNGER SIBLINGS FOR A WEEK. I take back what I said earlier about Mrs Marlow being a responsible parent. Also, Lawrie pretends that they all missed out on being shown over the Fleet by their father (which is one of Nicola’s greatest desires) because Nicola was late back, and Nicola believes her. But ha ha, Lawrie was just trying out one of her acting voices! Lawrie, I’m liking you less and less.

Next, Thursday Morning: Return to Mariners

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

  1. Oh Lawrie, you heel. (I still adore her though — and her particular sense of class privilege will be tested presently.)

    Peter has continuing problems with bravery — really his self-doubt about his own courage. He is always testing himself in what turn out to be ridiculously stupid ways in case he looks like a coward — poor Peter.

    I must admit, though I know it’s wrong, I’m not surprised they couldn’t resist exploring the abandoned house. Abandoned houses are the most tempting thing in the world. And it’s not like they were going to do any damage… or at least I’m sure that’s how they’d rationalise it.

    Ginty in charge. Not a good idea. But as someone else pointed out, it’s quite endearing to think that the Marlow parents are still so passionately in love that they take any opportunity to sneak off together for a bit of alone time! Then again, they do have eight children.

    1. But it’s not even an abandoned house! It’s got a sign out the front advertising that it’s for sale. All the doors and windows are locked and they actually have to break in, which isn’t the same as walking into a house with the door fallen off and no windows. Of course, if children in books always followed the rules, they wouldn’t have very exciting adventures…

      I think Mrs Marlow just needs a break from the eight children. If her husband’s on official naval exercises, I can’t imagine it’ll be a very romantic getaway for them. It does seem a bit presumptuous to expect the hotel staff to look after her four trouble-attracting young teenagers with no warning, though!

  2. I too thought it odd that the Marlows were apparently untroubled by the idea of breaking into someone else’s house. There was some discussion about this during the Trennels readthrough, and a few people said that they had done similar as children and at the time hadn’t thought it was a particularly bad thing thing to do. The Marlow moral code is fairly flexible though – lying is sometimes ok, sometimes not, for example. Definitely practitioners of situation ethics.

  3. Why, oh why, did I only see the FB link to your blog late this evening? – it’s now 11pm, I’ve read the AT blogs and now started TMATT. It’s bedtime, I can scarcely keep my eyes open, and yet I am so enjoying your rattling good commentary it’s hard to stop. I only came to AF as an adult, just like you, in fact and once I got over the fact that her books reflect much more believable characters than most other school writers, and that they are therefore more multi dimensional and not so po-faced, I have loved them! It really is her psychological insight that gives each book depth and lifts them above the ordinary. Good night, I really need to sleep!

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