‘Autumn Term’, Part Five

Chapter Nine: Half-Term

It’s half-term and the Marlow sisters go home for a long weekend. Over breakfast with their parents and their brother Peter, the twins’ school reports are discussed. Surprisingly, the teachers say they’ve made a “good start”. (I should note here that we know almost nothing about the twins’ school work. We learn they’re being taught to salt their greens in domestic science, and there’s an offhand comment somewhere about Nicola being bad at history, but I want to know what, exactly, they’re studying – especially as they seemed to know almost nothing when they started school. But I guess the author figured that schoolgirl readers would be more interested in extra-curricular activities and social dramas than descriptions of maths lessons.) The report does mention the twins got suspended from Guides and this leads to important revelations.

Firstly, Karen says the headmistress blamed Miss Redmond for the hiking disaster (good). Then Ann is horrified to learn the truth about Lois Sanger’s mismanagement of the hike and the injustice of the twins’ suspension. Rowan says it’s typical of Lois, who’s a “poisonous female” who pretends to sprain her ankle before each netball match, so that if she plays badly, she has an excuse. This, it turns out, was the cause of the infamous Rowan-Lois post-match row. Lois claimed her pretend injury was due to Rowan pushing her, whereupon their coach interrogated the team, realised Lois’s injury was fake, and said Lois shouldn’t have played if she wasn’t fit, demoting her to the Seconds. Lois is such a Slytherin.

But their father says there’s nothing Ann can do now to set the record straight in the Guides because the whole thing is “dead and buried”. After five days? Seriously, it’s this mentality that leads to cover-ups of military misconduct. Let’s not ever create a fuss or challenge authority figures, even when they’ve clearly got things wrong! Then Commander Marlow pressures the twins into abandoning any hope of seeing justice done:

“They thought on the whole they would rather like to be cleared in a blaze of glory and have their badges handed back and Lois Sanger’s nose rubbed in the dust; but Father obviously thought it wasn’t worth making a fuss about…”

Luckily, Nicola’s favourite sibling Giles turns up on unexpected shore leave because his ship has collided with another British ship. Karen, Rowan and Ginty give him a ‘hilarious’ account of the twins’ thwarted school ambitions, which makes Nicola cry (‘I suppose this is how Lawrie always feels,’ she thinks) so Giles takes the twins to the cinema to cheer them up. Over a rather sickening-sounding tea (lemonade, sandwiches, ice-cream, cakes and coffee with cream), he tells them they might as well stop trying to be credits to the family and ought to try being really bad – breaking bounds to go to the circus, for instance. Oh, well done, Giles. I’m not feeling very impressed with the wisdom of British naval officers at this point.

Lawrie, still traumatised by the Court of Honour, vows to be good and quiet for the rest of her life, so Nicola says she’ll be bad all by herself. I can see absolutely no way this can go wrong…

Chapter Ten: Kitchen and Jumble

Back at school, everyone is preoccupied with the Christmas bazaar the Third Formers are holding to raise funds for the library. There’s another nice bit of psychological insight here from the author:

“Tim, who for five weeks had hoped that something would happen which would force Lawrie and Nicola to drop Guides, was affected by the queer, uncertain feeling of guilt which arises from seeing one’s secret ill-wishing with regard to other people come true; and because she felt guilty and in an odd way responsible, she was a little afraid Nicola might think she was pleased the row had happened. All this lent her manner an unfamiliar heartiness when talking to Nicola, which irritated them both.”

The Third Remove come up with lots of exciting ideas for the bazaar, but when Jean and Hazel come back from the combined Third Form prefects’ meeting, it turns out IIIA and IIIB have bagged all the best stalls. Third Remove only have two of twelve stalls, which are Kitchen and Jumble – deemed “quite good enough for Third Remove”. Uproar in Third Remove! Tim declares they shouldn’t do either – in fact, why not do something of their own? Like … put on a play! In the school theatre! Yes, the play’s the thing! All they need is staff permission. Tim rushes off to ask her Aunt Edith, who is non-committal until Tim blurts out the truth – that Third Remove is fed up because they always get the worst of everything. This seems to come as a surprise to the headmistress, even though she’s the one who banned them from playing netball. But she gives Tim permission and even agrees to talk Miss Cartwright into it. Hooray! Tim can go back to Third Remove in triumph, except … which play are they going to do?

Chapter Eleven: Tim Needs a Note-Book

The play needs to have twins in it, but Tim doesn’t want dull old Twelfth Night because everyone always does Shakespeare. She has a vague recollection of some play with young identical princes in it, so goes off to the library to look for it. (By the way, this is the first time anyone in Third Remove is seen entering the library. I think there’s a reason they’re all in the Remove.) Karen and her friend Margaret help her find what she’s searching for – Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, about a beggar boy who changes places with Edward, son of King Henry VIII. Unfortunately, it’s a novel, not a play. But why shouldn’t Tim adapt the work into a script?

“It isn’t as if I’d got to make it up. It’s mostly there. It only needs pulling together a bit. I don’t see why that should be so awfully difficult…”

Lawrie comes in and she and Tim enthusiastically discuss their (very ambitious) plans. They have six weeks to write a play, rehearse it and make all the costumes and sets. Tim starts to have doubts, but Lawrie is absolutely certain they can pull this off. It is very uncharacteristic of Lawrie to be so confident about anything, Tim points out, but I think Lawrie has finally found her passion in life. She did say after her cinema visit that she wanted to be a film star…

Next, Chapter Twelve: Tim Loses Her Temper

3 thoughts on “‘Autumn Term’, Part Five”

  1. Yes, Giles is insufferable!

    Six weeks to mount the whole production – yikes, it would have taken me that long just to read the book, let alone write the damn play.

    Hm, good luck with picking up copies second-hand… Collecting Antonia Forest is a bit of an extreme sport! I have had lucky finds, but I’ve also spent quite a lot (only two to go). If we lived in the same city I would lend them to you…

    Yes, all the books centre on the twins, except for The Thuggery Affair, which has no Nicola. But TTA is very hard to find anyway. Ginty and Peter do become more complicated and interesting, largely as a result of events in the next book (spoilers), though I must say I have never warmed to Ginty.

    1. Oh well, if I can’t find second-hand copies, I’m just not meant to read them …

      Is The Thuggery Affair the one with the unintelligible Mod language? If there’s no Nicola, extra reason not to read it! Although looking at the cover, it does seem to contain pigeons…

      1. Not just pigeons. Drug-smuggling pigeons!

        TTA is a weird book but it does have some brilliant moments. The language experiment doesn’t quite come off but it does show that Forest wasn’t afraid to stretch herself.

        Anyway, back to Autumn Term…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.