Saturday Night: Foley’s Folly Light
Now we’re back to Peter, in the lighthouse’s lantern room, watching the girls carry out the first phase of their plan. A few days ago he’d been questioning his future at Dartmouth and taking absurd risks to try to prove himself, but now he seems more confident and thoughtful:
“All his life he was going to have to be prepared to make plans which would risk other people’s lives as well as, or even instead of, his own. And the older he got, and the more important, the more it would happen to him. Besides […] it wasn’t as if the alternatives at the moment lay between danger of their own making and eventual safety at Foley’s hands. If they waited, they were almost certain to be killed when the U-boat’s crew got hold of them. And besides–Peter blushed rather, for it sounded pretty pompous as soon as you put it into words–it was probably a thing they ought to do–to do everything they could to prevent that oilskin package falling into enemy hands. And you couldn’t fight the enemy without taking some risks.”
He goes out onto the narrow, wind-shaken walkway to watch Ginty and Nicola almost drown, then once the crisis is over, suddenly remembers his terrible, paralysing fear of heights. He finally manages to crawl inside the lantern room, berating himself all the while (“how jolly silly he must look, crawling painfully along a gallery which Nicola, for instance, would simply have run round”), but then – Foley comes in! Peter shoots out onto the gallery and tip-toes around it, keeping himself on the opposite side of Foley until Foley gives up searching the rocks below and goes back downstairs. Hooray, Peter’s fear of heights has now gone! So that’s one good thing Foley has achieved.
Peter now has a long wait till night falls and the fleet returns, so he passes the time reading the horrifying diary of Fabian de Noyes Foley, the wrecker ancestor – a book which Lewis Foley keeps in the lantern room, although, given how much he worships his ancestor, you’d think he’d store the diary in a more secure place. It’s good to see Peter showing a proper respect for other people’s books, though:
“…that book had made him feel so absolutely furious that if it hadn’t belonged to someone else, he would have dropped it over the rail to be pulped and pounded to pieces by the sea.”
It doesn’t matter if people are traitors – don’t damage their books, especially irreplaceable historical records.
At last, Nicola and Ginty arrive (Nicola is very relieved to see that Foley hadn’t shoved Peter off the top of the lighthouse that morning) and they start sending out their SOS as soon as the fleet appears. But it’s rainy and the fleet is far away and there’s no answering signal. (Typical of those adults.) So poor Peter and Nicola (Ginty is being useless again) keep signalling into the night, knowing it’s hopeless – except all at once, there’s a response! They send their message and are asked to repeat the bit about the U-boat’s arrival time and then they read the signals “message received” and “R”. (Is it Robert? Frankly, he’s the only adult I have any faith in at the moment.)
Meanwhile, Ginty is on the stairs thinking of all the dreadful things that could happen to them – getting shot, having to go in the U-boat, being carted off to Siberia – when she hears Foley running up the steps. She doesn’t even have any weapons, but she resolves to do her best:
“She never doubted he would overwhelm her in the end, whatever she did, but she might have been able to hold him off, just long enough for the others to get the message through.”
Aw, now I like Ginty again! And I like her even more when she throws her paraffin lantern in Foley’s face, causing him to lose his footing and tumble all the way down the stairs. Unfortunately, he’s still alive, just badly injured. Peter gets the package of secrets off him and Nicola locates the key to the transmitting room, although Ginty is busy feeling “more worried than a good counter-spy should over an enemy agent who has been put out of action.” She administers first-aid while Peter retrieves the revolver from the transmitting room and locks it.
Things are looking up! The only problem is, Peter suddenly realises that they don’t know who responded to their signal. What if it was the U-boat? (It’s okay, Peter. I’m sure it was Robert. Well, fairly sure.)
Sunday Morning: Ships in the Bay
Foley regains consciousness and is rather surprised to see Peter is alive. Foley is also not very happy to learn that the children have signalled to the navy, especially when Peter says he’s thrown both the secrets and the downstairs key into the sea. Foley is now doomed, but the children’s fate depends on whether the U-boat or the navy reaches the lighthouse first. And then a fog rolls in. Oh, the suspense…
Now a boat is approaching! But is it friend or foe? Nicola dashes off “with a relishing piratical look” to fetch knives for her and Ginty:
“Ginty stared at the knife in her hand without any relish at all. It was quite plain that whatever sort of fight Peter and Nicola intended to put up against the U-boat crew, Ginty meant to go quietly.”
Poor Ginty. Especially as the boat carries the U-boat crew. Ginty goes inside and puts her hands over her ears because “she simply wasn’t going to see or hear anything until they came to take her.”
But Peter and Nicola are made of sterner stuff. They watch Foley getting berated on the beach for failing to kill the children and losing the secret information – foiled by those pesky kids! – and then Peter loudly defies the enemy leader’s orders for the children to get down on the beach. The enemy leader brandishes a revolver at Nicola and worse, calls Peter a “little boy” who needs to be taught a lesson.
So Peter shoots him dead with Foley’s revolver.
Don’t mess with the Marlows!
Then the fog rolls away, revealing not just the U-boat but three Navy destroyers. Well, it’s about time they showed up. In an immensely exciting scene, the men on the beach, including Foley, try to get back to the U-boat, but the Navy blows up the U-boat and Foley and capture the surviving U-boat crew. But even in the midst of the action, the author makes space for astute observations of characters’ reactions:
“‘Oh, Binks,” [Nicola] said half-sobbing. ‘Why didn’t you stop him? He’ll be killed, I know he will.’
‘He’d rather be,’ said Peter, grabbing her, ‘I should think. Get down, Nick. They’re firing.’
Nicola, however, put her head up. She was still, though she hadn’t the least idea of it, sobbing in a breathless way because Foley was dead, or about to be, but at the same time she was intensely interested in what was going on.”
Eventually the children are taken aboard one of the destroyers to tell their story to Commander Whittier and Nicola is only mildly surprised, at this stage, to find Robert Anquetil on board. Whittier tells them about Lawrie’s accident and Nicola says her father will be furious that Lawrie didn’t have her bus fare and didn’t look before she ran across the road (which is, in fact, what he says when he finds out). Then Whittier says “that sounds like Geoff Marlow.” So Whittier actually knew Commander Marlow personally and still said the Marlow children were expendable! (Heaven knows what he’d have done if it’d been a group of working-class non-navy children – probably used any surviving children as live bait for his next useless spy-catching scheme.)
Whittier also says they’re to forget everything that happened and not to speak about it again, not even amongst themselves. Well, that’s really going to help Ginty’s post-traumatic stress disorder. He also mentions that Johnnie Thorpe “knows more than he should” and that Johnnie’s also been warned to keep silent forever. Then Nicola thinks to ask Whittier who saw their signal and is gruffly told it was Robert:
“But it was quite obvious there was a grandmother and a grandfather of a row on, so she said sturdily: ‘It was jolly lucky he was there. ‘Cos we were signalling when the Fleet passed and they never saw a thing.’”
Then she stares Commander Whittier down until he agrees with her and apologises to Robert. Yay, Nicola! Then she gets to spend the rest of the voyage on the destroyer’s bridge and she doesn’t feel a bit seasick. Really, it’s Nicola who ought to be at Dartmouth.
Also, Whittier asks Peter what he said to the enemy leader, then explains that man was the Nazi equivalent of a Rear-Admiral:
“So just remember, when some haughty sub in your first ship is telling you what a low form of life you are, that you once gave a Rear-Admiral his marching orders.”
And, you know, shot and killed him. But it doesn’t even seem that there’s going to be an inquiry into that. At least Peter is happy that he still has a naval career and that his vertigo is cured.
Finally, the children meet their relieved mother and they go off to see Lawrie in hospital, where Lawrie is being Lawrie:
“Whatever had happened to the others, Lawrie didn’t think it could have been nearly as impressive as what had happened to her. Fractured bones, broken bones, concussion–Lawrie felt they would have to produce something pretty remarkable to compete with that.”
Oh, Lawrie. What a goop.
Final random thoughts:
– What happened to Ida Cross? Did they arrest her? How did a woman like that even get mixed up with Foley? Assuming she wasn’t a fervent Communist and it wasn’t her idea, did he seduce her into this plot? If so, he’s even more despicable. He gets a noble suicide and she’s left to face the consequences.
-Has Robert Anquetil now blown his cover as an intelligence agent? Won’t the locals notice if he turns up at port on a navy destroyer? Hadn’t they noticed something before this? Anyway, he ended up being my favourite adult in this book. When he broke the rules, at least he was doing it to save the children.
– I really hope David was kicked out of the navy for attacking Robert, locking him up and taking over the boat. But he probably wasn’t. I mean, the navy didn’t seem to do anything to Foley for getting eighteen men killed.
– I don’t really see the point of Johnnie Thorpe. I wondered if he’d be shown to be brave and helpful, just to show the Marlows were being superficial snobs when they ostracised him, but he remained an idiot throughout.
– I was also kind of hoping the Thorpe daughters would play a useful role, thereby proving that even young ladies who wear tight, colourful trousers can be brave and helpful, but no, they might as well not have existed in the story. I’m starting to think that Antonia Forest’s idea of a heroine is a tomboy, because any girl character who displays any stereotypical girl behaviours, like being interested in clothes, always turns out to be useless. I have nothing against tomboys (I was one myself), but it would be nice to see a bit more variety when it comes to portrayals of heroines. I’ve only read two of her books though and maybe I’ll have a pleasant surprise in later books.
THE END (for the moment)
You might also be interested in:
‘The Marlows and the Traitor’ by Antonia Forest
‘The Marlows and the Traitor’, Part Two
‘The Marlows and the Traitor’, Part Three
‘The Marlows and the Traitor’, Part Four
‘The Marlows and the Traitor’, Part Five
‘The Marlows and the Traitor’, Part Six
‘The Marlows and the Traitor’, Part Seven
‘Autumn Term’ by Antonia Forest