Chapter Four: Colebridge Market
This is my favourite sort of chapter, in which nothing very exciting happens (people do the weekly shopping and have haircuts) but we discover lots of interesting things about the characters.
Firstly, we learn the children only have one living grandparent, Mrs Marlow’s mother, who is glamorous and Parisian and gives unsatisfactory girly presents instead of the cold hard cash that the twins would prefer. Grandmother stayed in Paris all through the war, which suggests she either got trapped there (and is pretty tough to have survived the occupation) or was a Nazi collaborator. Also, Mrs Marlow has a sister called Molly. Captain Marlow’s parents were killed when he was a teenager and he spent a lot of time at Trennels.
Secondly, the Marlows have been at Trennels for a thousand years, “four hundred years before the Merricks” (ha, take that, Patrick!). Rowan also explains to Nicola that their father is going to give up his Navy career to farm at Trennels, because “it wouldn’t be proper” to have non-Marlows there (and probably because he likes the idea of strutting about being the local squire). Nicola is horrified that he’s giving up the chance to be First Sea Lord. In fact, at one stage, Giles even offered to give up the Navy instead of his father (I bet he did it fully expecting everyone to reject the idea outright, which they did). But the current farm manager is on the verge of retirement, so someone needs to take over. Also there are lots of debts – not because the farm is unprofitable, but because Jon was hopeless with money – hence the need to sell the London house. Mind you, this is the sort of ‘poverty’ in which they have a huge house, plenty of land they could let if they wanted, two vehicles, a pony and enough money to pay school fees for six children at expensive boarding schools.
Like Nicola, I’d thought Rowan would want to live in the country, but Rowan thinks the whole thing is “putrid”. Karen is happy because she gets her own bedroom, Ginty, Ann and Peter prefer the country to London, and poor Mrs Marlow is making the best of it, even though she thinks it would be more sensible to get a tenant farmer for Trennels. Nicola suggests Karen run the farm because “she’s only going to Oxford” and could just as well go to an agricultural college. Hmm, not quite the same thing, Nicola!
Rowan also says Karen would be hopeless at running anything, just as she was hopeless at being Head Girl, which is news to Nicola. It’s true that it can come as a revelation to children that their older relatives are not necessarily good at whatever they do. Mind you, what is a Head Girl meant to do? At my schools (I went to a lot of them), school captains ran assemblies and occasionally represented the school at official functions, but what happens at boarding school? Are Head Girls meant to be some sort of assistant to the headmistress or an unpaid, untrained school counsellor? Rowan thinks Karen will “end up a good conscientious Civil Servant. Or somebody’s wife. She’d make quite a good wife.” Meanwhile, Nicola thinks Rowan or Ann would be good at running Trennels, but of course, they’re still at school and “Rowan wanted to be a games mistress and Ann wanted to be a nurse.” I like that the book presents girls as having actual career ambitions, even if we know that there are limitations to what they can do (Karen, for example, would have to resign from her Civil Service job if she got married).
Then Peter says he’d like to learn to run the farm, except he acknowledges that he’s too young at the moment. Besides, when he’s eighteen he’d have to go off to do National Service. He does think he could do it after National Service. This seems a good plan to me, given that Peter hasn’t much interest in or aptitude for the Navy. Rowan points out that Giles will inherit the farm from their father, but as Giles is unlikely to “chuck the Service to farm”, then Peter could be his bailiff and Nicola his housekeeper.
Anyway, Rowan and Nicola do the shopping in Colebridge, the nearest town, where Rowan picks up a pamphlet about the upcoming district show and Nicola buys The Boke of Falconerie, 1598 for sixpence from a market stall. Maybe it will provide some ammunition for her campaign to be allowed to keep Regina at school (or end up being immensely rare and valuable, thereby saving Trennels from foreclosure). Also, Nicola accidentally gets her hair cut very short (“the way you’re all going on, anyone’d think I’d had it dyed and permed like a–a teen-ager”) and Lawrie gets upset they are no longer identical so she shears off her own hair. Lawrie is being extremely childish in this chapter, even by Lawrie-standards.
Finally, Peter has inherited a shot-gun from Jon. As this is Peter, I foresee disaster. The question is whether he will a) shoot himself in the foot, b) shoot someone else, hopefully in a non-lethal manner, or c) kill someone’s beloved pet. Run, Fluff, hide!
Next, Chapter Five: Jael is Entered and Peter Gate-crashes