Chapter Three: “No One Ever Tells Us Anything”
The Marlows stay on at Trennels in a kind of unhappy extended holiday, with Nicola feeling they are “almost like trespassers” in Cousin Jon’s house. It seems to Nicola that they must be returning home soon, so she goes to say goodbye to Patrick, where she quickly realises that “however badly they might feel about Cousin Jon, it was much worse for Patrick.” After all, Jon had been his friend. But Patrick also has surprising news for Nicola. Trennels now belongs to her father. Trennels is entailed, Captain Marlow is the eldest surviving male in the direct line, and the estate can’t be sold.
Naturally, Captain Marlow hasn’t bothered to tell the children this. And when Nicola asks him if it’s true, he says “Certainly we shall be living here,” as though she’s meant to have absorbed this knowledge through osmosis or something. They’re not only going to be living and farming at Trennels from now on (even though none of them have farming experience), they’re selling their London house with most of the contents, and the children aren’t even going back there to help pack their belongings. And the girls will come home from school on weekends, and when Nicola isn’t delighted at this news, her father tells her she needs to be less emphatic about it, otherwise she’ll hurt her mother’s feelings. The nerve of Captain Marlow, giving lectures on tact and empathy!
One of the things that really well-written children’s books can do is take you back to long-forgotten childhood injustices and make you feel them all over again. As I was reading about Nicola and Lawrie’s reactions, I was reminded of the time my parents suddenly announced that our family would be moving to another country, in the middle of a school year, and we children were expected to be delighted by the news (which everyone else knew before us). And then we had to pack only our absolute favourite possessions, because there wasn’t much space in the cartons for childish non-essentials, but never mind, we’d be back in our old house in two years. Except of course, we never returned to live in that house or that city, and the house was sold while we were away. So Laurie’s anguish over their furniture, silly though it might seem, even to her, makes absolute sense to me now:
“There was the house, only just put together again, and all the chairs and tables, expecting them back in five weeks’ time. And now, after all the time they’d been with the family, all their faithful service, they’d never be seeing the Marlow family again. They were just going to be pushed out to auction, like old horses, to be sold to anyone who thought they could make use of them. The more she thought of it, the more alarmingly pathetic the picture became …”
Mind you, having a sobbing session under the bedclothes about old hall-stands seems quite a healthy thing to do, in a family where no one is allowed to show any emotion. Nicola herself bottles up her grief about Jon:
“… her throat swelled suddenly, as it still did when she thought about Cousin Jon unexpectedly, for all everyone insisted on being so comforting about his having died doing the thing he liked best. She blinked, and to her horror, felt something hot and wet splash past her eye-lashes, down her cheek and on to her shirt. She muttered something about having to wash before lunch and plunged down the slope at a tremendous pace, so that by the time she reached the garden all possibility of crying had been shaken out of her.”
We also discover that Trennels is six hundred acres and that when Captain Marlow was young, “I used to want the place so badly I could barely be polite to Jon.” There’s no mention of him inheriting an aristocratic title, but still, it’s a pretty impressive estate. So, the Marlows are landed gentry! Good thing Nicola’s learning falconry and getting some riding practice, I suppose. She goes out with Patrick, the horses and the dogs to watch Regina catch some ducks, which is not as bad as I thought it would be. At least the Marlows get to eat the ducks, and a falcon would hunt birds to eat anyway.
Nicola and Patrick have a picnic tea on the turf and quote Shelley at one another, in order to demonstrate how classically educated they (and the author) are. (Mind you, it was easier to do that sort of thing when the canon was so limited and everyone had to read the same books and poems and plays by the same dead white Englishmen at school.) The children also geek out about their obsessions. Patrick is a devotee of Richard III, what a surprise, and Nicola shows him her treasured wallet full of her “Nelson things”, which include “a cotton thread from one of his uniforms” and “an actual signature cut from a letter” and which she always carries with her in her waistband. Leaving aside the question of how you’d be able to tell that piece of cotton from any other random cotton thread, should she really be carrying these valuables around the countryside with her? Now I’m worried there’ll be a scene when she’s forced to abandon her wallet in order to save Patrick from falling down another cliff…
Next, Chapter Four: Colebridge Market