‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Eight

Summer holidays are nearly over, but first there’s the gymkhana. (I have never had to write that word before and I’m struck by how weird it is. What have horses got to do with gyms? According to my dictionary, ‘gymkhana’ was derived in the 19th century “from Urdu gendḵānah ‘racket court,’ from Hindi geṁd ‘ball’ + Persian ḵānah ‘house’ … altered by ‘gymnasium’ via Latin from Greek ‘exercise naked,’ from gumnos ‘naked’”. Maybe related to polo?)

Anyway, Nicola is riding Mr Buster, Patrick’s pony, in various ‘fun’ events like Potato Races and Musical Poles, which she’s only doing because she needs to win some money to pay for Sprog’s upkeep. When she arrives, there are a lot of Serious Pony People doing horsey things (“Nicola didn’t often feel shy or out of it, but she did now”). Worse, there are death glares from a girl who turns out to be Wendy Reynolds, the girl Lawrie accidentally imitated at the elocution competition and who mistakes Nicola for Lawrie. Uh oh…

Ginty turns up to watch, because the other Marlows are all busy killing wasps at Trennels. Ginty, it turns out, is what Nicola calls “a Pony Club type”, although maybe Ginty gets it from her mother (“Mummy was talking about hunting this winter”). So, Mrs Marlow must have had a fairly posh country upbringing, to have grown up hunting? Wendy Reynolds and her brother Oliver have TEN horses and win just about every event. But Wendy gets her revenge on the Marlows by barging Mr Buster, telling Nicola the apple in the obstacle race has a wasp on it, and worst of all, riding her horse at Mr Buster, causing him to hurt his leg and Nicola to fall off.

Patrick is quite rightly furious about Mr Buster (although, of course, doesn’t even check to see if Nicola’s hurt) and tells off Oliver. But then Peter and Lawrie arrive with a dramatic account of how the wasp-killing in the attics turned into Trennels nearly burning down and it was ALL ANN’S FAULT:

“…and there was Ann, holding a candle, exactly as if she wanted to start a fire and the beam smoking away like mad … Ann went completely and utterly mad and called the fire brigade! … And Daddy was livid and Ann couldn’t say anything, ’cos it was her fault …”

I must be missing something, because wasn’t it a good thing to call the fire brigade? They couldn’t be sure they’d put the fire out and it was a wooden roof. Unless they have to pay lots of money for the fire fighters? Is this meant to show that Ann subconsciously wants to destroy the family home? Or is this simply another dig at Ann’s well-meaning but useless attempts at helping?

Lawrie also learns about Wendy’s revenge and goes off to recite the poem again to Wendy. So there is some sort of justice for poor Nicola.

Rowan and Patrick then compete in a tense show-jumping event, which is extra-tense for Nicola because Rowan has promised to share her prize money if she wins. But alas, Rowan’s horse falls and Patrick wins! What will happen to poor Sprog now? Except then Oliver Reynolds comes up and offers Nicola all of his and his sister’s prize money. I think this is meant to present an ethical dilemma, but of course Nicola refuses the money, just as she refused to report Wendy’s cheating to the judges. I’m not really sure what this says about Marlow morality. It’s important never to make a fuss? Leave judgement of others to God?

Nicola miserably contemplates how to tell Patrick to let Sprog go, while Patrick gloats all the way back about his win. At home, he unkindly tells his father “the entire Gymkhana consisted of Marlows lying in heaps in the ring”, but then his father hands over a cheque to Nicola from selling The Boke of Falconerie. It’s for eighty-seven pounds! Nicola is rich and Sprog is saved! Hooray! Good has triumphed, courtesy of God or the Fates (or Antonia Forest).

And that’s the end of Falconer’s Lure. There was a lot to enjoy in it, but I do think my favourite Marlow book so far has been Autumn Term. I am really looking forward to getting back to the Kingscote girls in End of Term, which I’ve ordered from Girls Gone By.

You might also be interested in reading:

‘Falconer’s Lure’ by Antonia Forest
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Two
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Three
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Four
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Five
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Six
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Seven

‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Seven

I’m sorry for the lengthy delay in blog posting, but I’ve been caught up in a flurry of self-publishing tasks (SO MUCH TO DO). Anyway, on with the reading.

Chapter X: High Diving

The Sprog is not doing well at the whole learning-to-hunt thing, so Patrick loses his temper and says they must abandon the sweet little merlin to the wild, even though he “probably wouldn’t survive the winter”. Nicola is horrified and offers to take over all his care, but Patrick refuses:

“Jael was dead, Regina had abandoned him, and The Sprog (regarded as a hawk) was useless. He didn’t want him hanging round, a reminder of better things, and, in an unhappy, dog-in-the-mangerish sort of way, he didn’t want Nicola to have him either.”

So they leave poor Sprog in a field – but he flies after Nicola and lands on her shoulder! So she is going to look after him through the rest of the holidays and then take him with her to school. Awww! I like Sprog. Even though I’m not really sure how keeping a hawk at school is going to work.

The rest of the chapter is about the family at the beach doing various sea-related activities, in their own unique Marlow ways. Nicola, for once, is merely a spectator. Lawrie forgets her swimming cap, comes spectacularly last in Beginners’ Swimming, cries about it, has to be coaxed into her diving event, performs creditably, throws a tantrum when Peter steals her wishbone at lunch, then goes off happily to her tea party with the actress-judge. As Peter astutely observes, Lawrie “might be two years younger than Nick sometimes, instead of only two hours.”

Rowan effortlessly wins her swimming and diving events. Ginty, also a good diver although she lost her last school competition, didn’t even want to come to the beach, but was forced along by the family. She decides to disappear after lunch, so she can be all special and sorrowful in solitude. She is, at least, aware that her ‘friend’ Unity is ridiculous and that it’s all posturing. I do have some sympathy for Ginty in this chapter, because if you can’t be a bit emo when you’re a fifteen-year-old girl, then when can you? Unfortunately, she hasn’t told anyone where she’s gone, which worries Karen and prompts Ann to walk all the way to Trennels and back in the heat, searching for her. Mrs Marlow is the most annoyed she’s been so far when she finds out about this, snapping: “Another time, if someone wants you to do something you don’t want to do, say so.” Except Ginty DID say so, and no one paid any attention to her! She was forced to enter the events and forced to come along! Anyway, she does end the chapter resolving to drop Unity, so that’s one good thing.

Apart from spending hours looking for Ginty, poor Ann has to put up with constant condescension from her siblings. Peter and Nicola are so blatantly rude that Rowan tells them off for being unkind, which shocks Nicola. But even then Rowan is patronising, saying “those sweetly pretty thoughts [Ann] gets are quite genuine” and “she’s a kind girl, after her fashion” and that Ann just can’t help being “sloppy”. If I were Ann, I’d leave home as soon as I possibly could. She could train as a nurse and then go off to work in Africa or somewhere else that’s far, far away from her family.

However, this chapter is mostly about Peter’s holiday finally improving. He wins his sailing race by ten lengths and his father is observed looking “surprised but very pleased” (for once). Mind you, Peter’s a Dartmouth cadet and a Marlow, so he’s had far more experience and training than any of his competitors. Nicola cheers loudly when he wins and is instantly hushed because even though Marlows are expected to win everything, one mustn’t ever celebrate that in public. Then there’s a long, tense high-diving contest between Peter and Patrick, in which Peter has to battle his fear of heights:

“He started up the ladder, thinking, as he had so often thought before, that once he’d done this, he’d find himself on the other side of fear, like jumping through a paper hoop. And then he knew he wouldn’t. There would always be more paper hoops.”

Anyway, he triumphs. But then, when Patrick goes to congratulate him, Peter snubs him! And then Patrick apologises for calling Peter a lily-livered loon and a murderer and Peter oh-so-graciously deigns to forgive Patrick! Can I just point out that Peter has NEVER apologised for putting Patrick’s life in danger on the cliffs or thanked Patrick for holding him safely in place till their rescue or said sorry for killing Jael. If anyone deserves to feel injured, it’s Patrick!

Right, that’s it, I’ve had it with Peter. He’s so awful, he makes Patrick look good.

Next, Chapter XI: The Jump-Off

‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Six

I wasn’t familiar with the song Nicola performed in the previous chapter, so I looked it up and found this beautiful version by mezzo-soprano Sophie Macrae:

It’s so sad. No wonder people kept bursting into tears when they heard it. Anyway, on with the reading.

Chapter IX: Lost Hawk

Patrick and Nicola go chasing off after Regina the peregrine falcon, who was startled into flight by Tessa. Hours later, they track Regina down to where she’s settled on a church tower in a village the other side of the Crowlands. Patrick decides they have to stay there until sunrise, but it’s okay – they can spend the night with his cousin, the local vicar. First he goes off to phone his mother, who is in a panic because she thinks the children have disappeared because they’ve been on the cliffs again. This seems a perfectly reasonable fear to me, but Patrick is “distinctly injured” by her assumption that he’s done something thoughtless and dangerous.

Then he goes off to talk to his cousin, who turns out to be away, replaced by an unfamiliar locum vicar with “absolute hordes of strange children”, all being “dreadfully friendly”. Oh, the horror! Patrick runs away, pursued by a bemused Nicola:

“… here was Patrick still flushed with embarrassment, his hands still shaking as they held the reins. Suddenly Nicola remembered something he had said that very first morning: I can’t meet eight perfectly strange people before breakfast. And he never had been to Trennels, either. It came to Nicola that Patrick, more than anyone she had met so far, was genuinely and painfully shy.”

I would usually have deepest sympathies for a shy character, but Patrick isn’t just shy. He’s also got a massive superiority complex, is completely self-centred, and seems to have very little interest in understanding other people’s motivations or emotions. But I do think this scene demonstrates how empathetic Nicola is – that she feels for him, even though she has almost no fear of anything herself.

Nicola is also happy that she’ll get to sleep under the stars for once. Patrick sends her off to get milk from a farm (“You go. You look younger and more in need of milk.”), and they find a river to water the horses and have their own Famous-Five-style picnic supper on the grassy bank (but draw the line at whittling themselves toothbrushes out of twigs, as people do “in books”). Then they find a haystack to sleep in, which means actually burying themselves neck-deep in the hay. I like all these little details, including Bucket the dog looking “mildly surprised” when he’s told the hay is his kennel for the night. I did find myself thinking, “But … snakes! And spiders!” until I remembered this was tame English countryside, not the Australian bush, so there was unlikely to be any deadly wildlife lurking about.

Patrick and Nicola also have a philosophical chat about death. Patrick discusses what he wants to do with his life, “provided one really got one’s three-score-and-ten” and Nicola, remembering Jon, says, “I suppose one ought to do all the things one most wants to first, just in case.”

Patrick also reveals that an invisible ghost walks up and down the corridor outside his bedroom, and that one night he went out to meet it:

“ … then it – got awfully cold suddenly. I’ve always thought it must have walked through me, but it may just have been me being petrified […] But – well, I’ve never told anyone this before, because I don’t really believe it myself. But the next day I fell off Leeper’s Bluff.”

Spooky! (Except possibly he talked himself into a state of anxiety before and after the ‘ghost’ encounter, which meant his sleep was disturbed, and it made him so distracted and fatigued that he fell off the cliff the next day. Which is how you’d interpret this episode, if you were a boring rationalist like me.)

The next morning, Regina flies off and Patrick seems calm and resigned about it, to Nicola’s surprise. He admits that it was “madly stupid” to expect anyone to keep Regina at school, and that he’d only chased after her yesterday because “you know how one goes on with a thing, until you’ve simply got to stop because it isn’t there any more.” But luckily, they find her caught in an old wartime camouflage net, so they’re able to remove her bells and jesses and then off she flies, completely free, not even recognising Patrick any more.

Now there’s only sweet little Sprog left in the hawk-house. Nicola wants to keep him, but Patrick is adamant – Sprog must learn how to hunt properly and then he’ll be set free, too.

Next, Chapter X: High Diving

‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Five

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…

‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Four

Chapter Five: Jael is Entered and Peter Gate-crashes

Nicola continues to learn about hawking and Patrick continues to be obnoxious. Nicola is unhappy about watching Jael’s training, which involves showing Jael a live rabbit and then disembowelling the poor rabbit as soon as the hawk grabs it, and also letting a rabbit loose with a cross tied to it so it can’t escape down a burrow. Patrick says it’s “terrifically humane and nothing the R.S.P.C.A. could even begin to object to”. (The RSPCA in Britain in the 1940s must have been very different to the current Australian RSPCA, which had quite a lot to say recently about rabbits and other animals being used as live bait to train racing greyhounds.) Patrick also laughs wildly, “clutching his stomach as if it hurt”, when Nicola misunderstands an unfamiliar hawking term.

No wonder his parents are pleased Nicola’s sticking around. “He hasn’t had much opportunity of making friends this last year or so,” says Mr Merrick to Nicola. “We shall always be delighted to see you, as long as you want to come.”

I don’t think it’s just Patrick’s injuries that have stopped him having friends, if he behaves at school the way he behaves at home. Even Nicola thinks he’s being “unreasonable and rather childish” when he argues with his mother, who says it’s impossible for Patrick to bring the hawks to London, so they will have to be released into the wild. She also tells Nicola that the Merricks are buying the Marlows’ London house, so I suppose at least Lawrie will be able to visit her beloved hall-stand in the future.

Patrick does show some concern when Jael claws open Nicola’s shoulder, but probably only because if the grown-ups see, they might stop Nicola from helping with the hawks. And he does give her a book about Nelson’s funeral (as an inducement not to complain about her shoulder?) and she promises to bring him The Boke of Falconerie.

Meanwhile, Peter is coaching Lawrie in swimming and diving, because Lawrie has learned nothing from Autumn Term and “her ambitions were legion” regarding winning all the school and regatta competitions – also, “these holidays, she might achieve a rather spectacular rescue if only someone would be so obliging as to put themselves in danger of drowning”.

It also turns out Peter has actually taken his loaded shotgun to the beach with him. I don’t know anything about British gun culture, but surely that’s not normal? He aims it at a passing seagull, then manages to kill a couple of rabbits on the way home. Then he decides to take the dead rabbits to Patrick for the hawks. Patrick and Nicola aren’t there, but he feeds Jael a rabbit, leaving the door wide open. What if that messes up Jael’s training schedule or allows a hawk to escape? Patrick and Peter become a bit “shy and embarrassed” when they meet, years after they last saw each other, but things improve when Patrick invites Peter for an afternoon’s hawking and suggests he bring his camera. Peter is trying to win a photography competition, the prize being a “cine-camera”. Then Patrick suggests Peter take a photo of the peregrine’s nest on the cliffs.

Peter, looking at Jael, said in a quick, enthusiastic voice, “That’s a good idea.”
Nicola looked across at Lawrie … and Lawrie lifted her shoulders to her ears and spread her hands a little, being Mademoiselle Renier being bouleversée by such stupidity. And of course she was right: if Peter wouldn’t say himself he couldn’t stand heights, no one else could say it for him.

Oh, Peter. He’s so caught up in demonstrating how brave he is, that he hasn’t realised it’s braver to admit when you can’t do something.

Chapter VI: The Day It Rained

Nicola gives Patrick The Boke of Falconerie and Jael is becoming a skilled hunter. She chases a hare off into the woods and Nicola gets spooked in there:

The sunlight, striking down between the thin tree-trunks, had a tarnished look. In the undergrowth, still sodden and strong-smelling from the night’s rain, a million insects buzzed and hovered. There was nothing else. Unless you counted the unseen presence which watched and listened and moved as you moved.

“Yes, well,” said Nicola, not aloud, above the sudden thudding of her heart. For there wasn’t anything there. It was only the thing that happened in woods…

Afterwards, Patrick is able to admit he was “absolutely panic-stricken” for a moment, but Nicola can’t do the same because “when you were thirteen and a girl, you had to be more careful.” Which is true – plus, she’s a Marlow, therefore not allowed to show any weakness.

Then there’s a nice long scene with the siblings exploring the old attic at Trennels and deciding what they’ll do at the Colebridge Festival. Peter is entering for diving, swimming and dinghy sailing; Karen is entering the food section with “One Bowl of Salad Ready to Serve”; Rowan’s doing show-jumping on her pony; Lawrie’s doing swimming, diving, high jump and elocution; Ann’s in the piano competition; and Nicola hopes to win some money for keeping her hawk by entering singing, sports and pony events. Ginty wants to maintain her pose of being “different and aloof and sensitive like Unity said” and tries to get out of entering, but gets bossed into swimming and diving by Rowan. Also, their father is umpiring the sailing, and Patrick has done one nice thing by saying Rowan can practice with his jumps, even though they’re competing against each other.

But then their mother comes in, bearing news. Miss Keith says Nicola can keep a hawk at school for a term! And the Kingscote uniform is changing back to its pre-war style, which means great expense for the five sisters, which prompts Rowan to make an announcement. She will leave school and manage the farm! It’s not as though she has any great career plans, having realised she doesn’t have the artistic skills to be an architect:

“Save Daddy coming out of the Service. Save Giles having a conscience. Save me having to think what I want to do in my future life. […] What’s the point of my staying two years in the Sixth, and p’raps being finished afterwards? It’s all so I can get a reasonable job. And here is a reasonable job. So what?”

Nicola thinks this is a good idea, because Rowan is a “terrifically bossy type” who “really can run things”, but their mother is unconvinced. She says Captain Marlow won’t agree, except of course he will – this way he gets to have Trennels and his Navy career. Poor Rowan! She doesn’t sound enthusiastic about this at all. She’s sacrificing herself for her father. Even if she doesn’t know yet what she wants to do with her life, even if Peter can eventually take over the farm – surely it will limit her future options to leave school at seventeen.

The other thing that happens is that Nicola tries out her competition song, a very sad song about death, which makes Mrs Marlow rush off in tears because it reminds her of Jon. Which makes me wonder if she stayed at Trennels as a young woman and met both Jon and her future husband at the same time, and even though she ended up with Captain Marlow and eight children, maybe she really preferred Jon, who does seem to have been much nicer. (Don’t tell me, there’s fanfic about that, isn’t there?)

Next, Chapter VII: Jael in the Evening

‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Three

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

‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Two

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

‘Falconer’s Lure’ by Antonia Forest

'Falconer's Lure' by Antonia ForestI have been working very hard on my new book and felt I deserved a reward, so you know what that means – Antonia Forest read-along time! And really, with the world in its current state of chaos and despair, what better time to immerse oneself in a nice story about English children enjoying their summer holidays on a country estate. That’s pretty much all I know about Falconer’s Lure, except I’ve also read that it’s a pony book, but with falcons instead of ponies. I am totally on board for anything involving posh country estates, although I’m a bit wary about the falconry, being very much against animal cruelty, especially involving birds. Then again, most of my knowledge of falconry comes from reading T. H. White’s biography and he was notoriously bad at doing it, so maybe it’s not as awful as I think.

For those new to this series of books, they feature the Marlow family, which consists of Commander Marlow, Mrs Marlow and eight Marlow offspring: Giles, Karen, Rowan, Ann, Ginty, Peter and identical twins Nicola and Lawrie. In the first book, Autumn Term, the twins had an eventful first term at their new boarding school. In the second, The Marlows and The Traitor, Nicola, Peter and Ginty got caught up in a terrifying adventure on land and at sea after uncovering a naval spy. Whatever will they get up to on their summer holidays? With Antonia Forest, anything is possible.

Chapter One: Jael in the Morning

This is the first Marlow book that’s explicitly stated the year in which it’s set. It takes place in the summer of 1948 at Trennels Old Farm (exact location unspecified), which was requisitioned by the military during the war and recently inherited by Cousin Jon after the death of their Great Uncle Lawrence. The story begins with Nicola fetching the breakfast eggs from the farmer and glorying in the sunlit countryside, when she hears what she thinks is a distressed cat stuck in a tree. Nicola, “who had a tender feeling for all animals except anteaters”, climbs to the rescue and finds herself facing what seems to be an enraged eagle. Actually, it’s a goshawk called Jael, as Nicola is informed by its supercilious owner, Patrick Merrick, whom she recognises as a friend of her brother Peter’s from before the war. Patrick snaps orders at her, calls her a “clot” and “silly” for not knowing everything he does about falconry and is unsympathetic when Jael slices open Nicola’s ungloved thumb. What a lovely boy. I sincerely hope he’s not a future love interest for Nicola. Or any of her sisters. Or her brothers. I think even Giles deserves better.

Anyway, they rescue Jael and walk back to Patrick’s house, exchanging family news. Giles is now a Lieutenant, Karen is off to read Classics at Oxford, Rowan is going into Sixth Form and will probably be Games Captain (what, not Head Girl?), Peter is doing well at Dartmouth, Nicola’s father has been promoted to Captain, and the Marlows’ Hampstead house is finally habitable again after being bombed in the war.

Meanwhile, Patrick’s father has just been elected an MP, so his family has to move to London. I’m not sure why – can’t his father stay in a flat there when Parliament is sitting so his family can remain at their country estate? Patrick also reveals he attends a local day school, which he loathes, but that he hasn’t been at school at all for the last two years:

“Expelled?” [Nicola] asked instantly, for she was always hoping to meet someone to whom this enthralling thing had happened.

But it turns out Patrick was ill. I wonder what made him too sick for school for two years. Polio? TB? They were both deadly diseases in the 1940s.

Nicola is impressed with Patrick’s beautiful hunting birds (even though the poor things are TIED UP and UNABLE TO FLY). Apart from Jael, there’s Regina, an imperious peregrine falcon, and The Sprog, a sweet little jack merlin. Patrick asks if Nicola will help him look after the hawks. They really belong to Jon, but Jon’s busy being a test pilot for experimental planes at the local airfield. Naturally, Nicola says yes. Then she goes back to Trennels to breakfast, Patrick refusing to come in and say hello to the family (“I don’t think I could meet eight practically strange people on an empty stomach”). That’s okay, Patrick, they probably wouldn’t enjoy meeting you, either.

Chapter Two: Grand Stoop

Back at Trennels, Mrs Herbert, the housekeeper, is loudly unimpressed with Patrick’s “nasty great birds”, because one of the hawks killed her old cat and she has quite reasonable fears for the wellbeing of young Fluff. Nicola tends to her wounded thumb and goes in to breakfast, where much is revealed about the Marlows.

Firstly, the hawks were really Great Uncle Lawrence’s and Jon inherited them reluctantly. Jon also says the RAF used hawks to kill pigeons near airfields during the war. Really? I happen to know a bit about pigeons in WWII and there was actually an official campaign to shoot birds of prey to stop them killing carrier pigeons, which were a vital part of military communications. That was mostly on the east coast of England, though, and who knows where Trennels is. Jon throws about a lot of hawking jargon, which interests Nicola and Karen, then they get onto the subject of Patrick. Nicola reports Patrick is “nicer than he was” (he must have been appalling before) and Jon tells them Patrick was badly injured and nearly killed when he fell off a cliff while trying to steal baby hawks from a nest. No wonder Patrick’s mother doesn’t like his hawks.

It also turns out Captain Marlow knows quite a bit about hawks, too (so Jon is his cousin, not Mrs Marlow’s) but he was never allowed to go near them because he was so “rough and rude”. Ginty is horrified to hear that hawks are used to hunt not just rabbits and partridges (that is, animals that you can eat) but also larks and blackbirds for entertainment. Jon says it’s all great fun, like “watching hounds at work with a fox” and that he thinks objections to blood-sports are “a bit exaggerated”. Well, I’m with Ginty on this issue. She storms off, but Mrs Marlow explains it’s only because she’s “been worked up and weepy since Easter”, after what Jon thinks was the children “getting themselves shipwrecked and having to spend the week-end in a lighthouse”. Captain Marlow is coldly unsympathetic and says “it’s time she got over it”.

Well, actually she wasn’t just shipwrecked. She was KIDNAPPED by a SOCIOPATHIC TRAITOR and DRUGGED and forced to wade through a tunnel (even though she’s been terrified of enclosed spaces ever since she was BURIED ALIVE UNDER A BOMBED HOUSE IN THE BLITZ) and then she nearly DROWNED and was on the verge of being MURDERED BY NAZI SPIES and afterwards was FORBIDDEN TO TALK ABOUT HER EXPERIENCES so if anyone has the right to be a bit shaken, it’s Ginty.

The family think Ginty’s lack of moral fibre is due to her new school friend Unity Logan, whom I kept picturing as Unity Mitford. Unity is an intense child who goes around adoring Ginty, telling Rowan, “I’d risk more than an order mark for a friend like Ginnie. I think she’s the most beautiful thing the gods ever made.” As if that isn’t bad enough, Nicola notes that Unity writes poetry. About Beauty. And also writes long holiday letters to Ginty.

Lawrie tries to draw attention back to herself by reminding them all she has a limp from when she was run over by a car. She is firmly squashed by her father, who says it’s boring to talk about illness. Then he humiliates Ann, who is just trying to make sure Nicola’s wounded thumb is properly bandaged. Then he tries to berate Peter for not addressing Cousin Jon with the proper formality, but fortunately Peter is already out of earshot. And Mrs Marlow hurries to placate her husband. My already low opinion of Captain Marlow has descended to uncharted depths. Maybe he and Patrick could go off and live together in some other, non-Marlow, book, so I don’t have to read about them anymore.

But I think my favourite bits of these books are the keen psychological observations. For example, here’s Peter when Nicola explains that Patrick only wants her to visit the hawks:

“Oh, all right,” said Peter carelessly. He felt such an odd mixture of feelings – hurt astonishment that Patrick should have warned him off, jealousy because Nicola was admitted to what was evidently privileged ground, and fury with himself for being either hurt or jealous – that the only thing to do was to spin round and dash after Cousin Jon, shouting “Wait for me, man! I’m coming!”

Peter goes off with Jon to the airfield while Nicola and Patrick walk to the Crowlands and try, unsuccessfully, to get The Sprog to pounce on a lure. There are some lovely descriptions of the countryside and of Jon’s plane “plunging down the sky”, the vapour trails “sketched across the blue like lines drawn by a slate pencil”. Then comes a moment when “the landscape seemed to quiver”, “as if the air went solid” and it appears someone has lit a bonfire on the horizon, although they don’t hear anything. And, because I’ve read to the end of the chapter and I know what’s coming, I’ll just add that Nicola then passes on the message that Jon will come to see the hawks soon and Patrick says, “Tomorrow, I expect. He’ll be dead to the world tonight.” Oh, no…

Anyway, Patrick and Nicola walk back to his house, having a bonding moment over their respective obsessions (medieval nobility for Patrick, the Navy for Nicola) and then tend to the hawks. But before Patrick can accompany Nicola to Trennels for supper, he’s stopped in a very awkward manner by his housekeeper. And then on the way back Nicola meets Peter, who looks and sounds very odd:

“The sun came down in slanting lines through the trees, and made a fishnet of light on the bed of the stream. It was doing that when Nicola and Peter first met. It was still doing so, five minutes later. But by then Peter had managed to tell her that Cousin Jon had been killed when the plane crashed, and that made everything look quite different.”

Oh, no! Poor Jon. Poor Peter, who had to watch his cousin being killed. And what’s going to happen to Trennels now? Jon doesn’t seem to have any children. Do the Marlows inherit Trennels or is there some other relative around?

Next, Chapter Three: “No One Ever Tells Us Anything”

You might also be interested in reading:

‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Two
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Three
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Four
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Five
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Six
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Seven
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Eight

‘The Marlows and the Traitor’, Part Eight

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

‘The Marlows and the Traitor’, Part Seven

Saturday Morning: Peter Makes a Plan

Peter’s plan is that he will hide in the lantern room at the top of the lighthouse and Ginty and Nicola will pretend he’s drowned during an escape attempt. Then that night, Peter and Nicola will signal to the passing fleet while Ginty keeps watch. Ginty is appalled by her proposed role and confesses that she failed to act the last time she was meant to be keeping watch, at Mariners. There’s a nice bit of sibling bonding as Nicola and Peter console her, saying it wouldn’t have made any difference (probably true) and Peter even says it isn’t worse than “the boat thing”. Ginty has no idea what “the boat thing” is, but suspects they still think her “a bit of a dope” (also probably true).

She has a chance to prove her courage during the first phase of the plan, when she and Nicola have to take the dinghy through the secret tunnel to get to the sea. And Ginty does it in stoic silence! Well done, Ginty. Then Nicola hops out and Ginty rows the dinghy into the wild waves, far enough out to wreck it. There’s a terrifying section when she nearly drowns trying to swim back in, but it’s also the first time I can recall Ginty showing much care for anyone else:

“She struggled on furiously, watching Nick wade slowly forward, slip, recover and come on, and was so absorbed by her fear that Nicola might stumble and be swept away that she barely noticed how close in she had come …”

Mind you, it’s possible that Ginty’s just worried about her parents’ reaction if they ever find out she let Nicola drown. (I should point out here that Nicola can barely swim and can’t row, which seems a bit odd for someone as obsessed with sailing as Nicola is. But she and Lawrie did seem to spend many of their early years being invalids.) Then Nicola, striding “confidently forward”, steps straight into the sea, but luckily Foley has turned up and hauls her out of the water. Ginty, on the verge of a panic attack, then does a very convincing job of explaining Peter has drowned. Her general uselessness does have some use here – Foley doesn’t even question her story. In fact, he finds her uncontrollable sobbing “thoroughly unnerving” and ends up banishing her from his presence.

Back at the lighthouse, Foley goes up to the highest room, the lantern room, to see if Peter has washed up on the shore. Unfortunately, the lantern room is where Peter is hiding. Nicola, petrified, tries to stall Foley, but fails. Foley comes back down after “a long silence” and shakes his head at her. But what does that mean? She’s seen how good he is at playing chess, she knows he must be good at telling lies (“A traitor would have to be”). Is he playing with her the way a cat plays with a mouse?

“Besides, if Foley had found Peter, they would have to make another plan. At least–she would have to make another plan. There wasn’t anyone else.”

Just as it seems Nicola must have super-human reserves of resilience and fortitude, she falls asleep while she’s meant to be watching Foley and sleeps through the whole day, “like the dormouse in Alice”. (I like all the little references to the books she’s read. Even though she claimed not to be a reader in Autumn Term.)

So we still don’t know whether Peter’s safe or not. Oh, the suspense!

Saturday Afternoon: Mutiny in the ‘Golden Enterprise’

Meanwhile, Robert and his two colleagues, David and Bill, are making their slow way towards the lighthouse. Except Bill, who wasn’t feeling well when he came aboard, now has a fever and possibly appendicitis. David insists on turning back to Oldport at once. Robert wants to keep going because there’s the chance that the U-boat will turn up.

“‘But I keep telling you,’ shouted David. ‘The U-boat’s barely a possibility at the moment. If you weren’t so obsessed about those Marlow children we wouldn’t be here now. Whittier said so.’
‘Said what?’
‘That you had to be kept quiet and happy, and that out here you could have the illusion of being useful without making a nuisance of yourself…’”

Robert refuses to turn back before the turn of tide, so David smashes him on the head, locks him in the cabin and sails back to Oldport.

This, I assume, is that famous British naval discipline and obedience in action.

Conveniently for David (and the plot), Robert is knocked unconscious for three hours, exactly enough time for them to get back to Oldport, yet has no serious cognitive after-effects. David gives an insincere apology and offers to take the blame “if anything goes wrong”, but wisely goes off with Bill in the ambulance because Robert is looking dangerously calm:

“…despite his manner, [Robert] felt so savage with rage, that if he once gave it expression, he was not likely to stop at words. As he very well knew, he had a temper as murderous as Lewis Foley’s if he once let himself go.”

It’s pretty clear that we’re meant to see Robert and Foley as similar men who’ve made very different choices in life, one choosing good and the other evil. If anything, Robert is more admirable, because he chose the side of good without having been born with all of Foley’s material privileges. On the other hand, Robert seems to have had a closer and more loving family than Foley, so maybe Robert was born the luckier one?

While Robert is having dinner and contemplating David’s violent and painful death, the Thorpes’ motor boat, the Fair Wind, crashes straight into Robert’s boat and destroys her. Mr Thorpe is very apologetic and Robert is about to ask if he can borrow the Fair Wind when he suddenly suspects Mr Thorpe is connected with the U-boat. Maybe he deliberately crashed the boat to stop Robert! So Robert waits till the Thorpes have left, then steals the Fair Wind:

“… in a job like this neither praise nor blame mattered very much. The thing was to get it done. And if you broke a few rules doing it–well, if you pulled it off no one cared, and if you didn’t, nothing anyone could say would be worse than the failure itself.”

And the moral of the story is: the end justifies the means, if you’re one of the good guys.

Unfortunately, Johnnie Thorpe climbs aboard at the wrong moment, but he agrees to help when Robert pretends to be a smuggler and waves a knife at Johnnie. It turns out Mr Thorpe is actually a Customs and Excise officer. Also, Johnnie was the one who crashed into the Golden Enterprise. Also, there’s hardly any petrol left.


Next, Saturday Night: Foley’s Folly Light