Chapter VII: Jael in the Evening
Honestly, Peter is the absolute limit! First, he agrees to go cliff-climbing with Patrick and Nicola, even though he’s terrified of heights and knows he has panic attacks. Of course, he freezes on the cliff face, so Nicola has to go off for help and Patrick has to stay with Peter and try to calm him down and stop him falling off. I’m no fan of Patrick, but he behaves very sensibly when the crisis hits. He does call Peter a “famous clot of a lily-livered loon”, but Patrick says worse to the hawks and Nicola. The coastguard eventually rescues them and Nicola feels everything’s fine now:
“…they’d had all they needed in the way of a row from the coastguards; there was no reason to tell their parents, just for the fun of another; there they all were, safe and sound, and the fewer people who knew, the better.”
Nicola has reckoned without the local newspaper, which only a few hours later is screaming “LOCAL M.P.’S SON IN CLIFF DRAMA”! (Almost as fast as Twitter, that newspaper.) Captain Marlow hits the roof, which is not unreasonable given that the three children could have been killed. Patrick very nearly was killed on that same cliff a couple of years earlier. But Captain Marlow’s not just furious at Peter – “he blamed Nicola quite as much for not telling Patrick Peter simply wasn’t safe on heights”. How is that Nicola’s fault? Certainly she should have told her parents what had happened afterwards, but it’s understandable that she didn’t, given she’s been brought up not to complain or make any fuss or talk about traumatic experiences. The real blame, in my opinion, lies with Peter, Patrick and Captain Marlow, in that order. Peter is fourteen (I think?), certainly old enough to take responsibility for his own actions and to be able to come up with some face-saving excuse when asked to do something he’s incapable of doing. Patrick is even older and knows the dangers of that cliff. And Captain Marlow is the reason Peter is so determined to prove himself in ridiculous displays of manly courage and is so unable to admit to any weakness. Nicola, being the youngest and a girl, had no real influence on Patrick and Peter’s decisions, even if she’d wanted to tell Patrick about Peter’s fear of heights.
Anyway, Nicola goes off to meet Patrick the next morning and discovers his father had gone off “like an A-bomb”. Mr Merrick doesn’t seem to hold it against Nicola, though, and says The Boke of Falconerie is valuable, perhaps even worth five pounds, and he offers to sell it for her.
But then, a few days later, Patrick and Nicola take Jael rabbiting and Peter happens to be there, being irresponsible with his shotgun as usual, and he KILLS JAEL. That beautiful hawk, ready to be released into the wild, dead! And Peter doesn’t even apologise! He just loudly insists that he didn’t do it deliberately.
“Patrick said nothing. He did believe him, really. But he felt so hurt and sorry over Jael’s death, he wanted to make sure someone else was hurt too. And it couldn’t be Nicola, with that white, quivering look on her face.”
At least poor Jael was killed instantly, so she didn’t suffer. But I think Patrick would be well within his rights never to speak to Peter again.
Chapter VIII: Lawrie’s Sort of Day
Lawrie is just as ridiculous as Peter, but at least her ridiculousness is much less likely to be lethal. She does have some sympathy for Peter, telling Nicola he’s having a “fairly mouldy holiday”:
“Seeing Cousin Jon’s plane thing. Getting stuck on that cliff. Shooting Patrick’s hawk. I expect he minds, don’t you?”
Well, the last two of those were Peter’s fault. He’d better do something worthwhile by the end of the book, or I’ve had it with him.
Anyway, Lawrie, Nicola and Ann go to Colebridge for their festival competitions. Ann and Nicola have stage-fright, but Lawrie is her usual egomaniacal self, so much so that even placid Ann snaps at her. None of the Marlows seems to like Ann much. She’s just there in the background, being quietly helpful and kind and good, while they make fun of her. Her mother doesn’t want her to be a nurse and makes vague noises about Ann being a music teacher and Lawrie suggests being a concert pianist, but Ann says she’d hate being famous:
“I could understand it if what you wanted was to give pleasure, and–and interpret really great work. I think that would be a reason for being a concert pianist. But even then, I think being a nurse, if it’s a thing you can do, is better.”
This makes Nicola want to be sick from the sentimentality of it, but I don’t see what’s wrong with wanting to do good in the world. (Also, it turns out Ann is religious. Maybe she’ll end up a missionary. Or a nun, except I don’t think the Marlows are Catholic.)
Nicola goes off alone to her singing competition and is suddenly shaken by her song’s lyrics about death, because they remind her of Jael. Even then, with all that bottled-up grief, she tries to be sensible:
“You couldn’t, you simply couldn’t go in for a singing comp, and begin to cry in the middle of it because of the sadness of your own song; in spite of herself, Nicola gave a little shiver of laughter; because it was funny, the notion of Nicola Marlow boo-hooing loudly while everyone waited respectfully for her to go on.”
She pulls herself together, sings beautifully and would have come first if she hadn’t had to stop in the middle of her song. Well done, Nicola (although it’s okay to cry about death, even if you are a Marlow).
Then Lawrie, who hasn’t bothered to rehearse her poem, accidentally imitates her previous competitor and is disqualified by the semi-famous actress judge, who thinks Lawrie was being facetious. Lawrie runs off crying and poor identical Nicola is told off by the judge. At least this makes her father think Nicola’s been punished enough, so things are friendly again and he gives her ten bob as a reward for her singing. Which makes Lawrie cry again, although later Lawrie does have “one of her unexpected moments of looking at herself objectively, and finding the sight awfully funny”.
Then Lawrie hatches a ridiculous scheme to make things better – she will track down the actress-judge, so Lawrie can recite her poem properly and thus be discovered as an exciting new theatrical talent. Nicola, feeling “unusually helpless”, is dragged along. Unfortunately, the scheme works and Lawrie is not only driven back to Trennels (with Nicola invisible in the front seat), but invited to tea with the actress. Lawrie will be unbearable now…