‘Autumn Term’, Part Four

Chapter Seven: A First Class Hike

Before we get to the hike – it turns out Lois Sanger has been demoted to the netball Seconds after the Firsts’ catastrophic loss. Even though Lawrie loftily claims the Marlows don’t gossip (‘Aren’t we noble?’ remarks Marie), the twins are deeply interested in Jean’s insider knowledge, via her older sister Pauline. Apparently Rowan is a good, steady player but Lois is inconsistently brilliant, and Rowan lost her temper at Lois after the match because Lois happened to be having an off day.

Lawrie starts to think Rowan has been rather beastly to poor Lois, and that the twins ought to make it up to Lois by being super-good at Guides. Nicola accuses Lawrie of being fickle for liking Lois while still having a crush on Margaret, the games captain. Lawrie counters that at least she likes real people, unlike Nicola who’s been “wallowing in Nelson” for years. Then Karen comes along and takes points off for talking after lights out and Lawrie remarks sadly:

‘You would think she could turn her deaf ear to the telescope sometimes, wouldn’t you?’

Oh, Lawrie. She’s a bit dim, but she has a big heart.

(Can I just make a diversion here to talk about food? For supper, the twins had “bread and butter and stewed fruit” with a glass of milk. The seniors had macaroni cheese. So far, breakfast has been porridge, bread and marmalade. They have sugary buns for morning tea and “tea and bread and butter and plain cake” for afternoon tea. On the train, they had chocolate, then afterwards Nicola was treated to Raspberryade and a peach sundae by Rowan at a teashop. I don’t know what the students are served for midday dinner, but I’m hoping it involves protein and green vegetables. It’s a wonder the girls aren’t fainting all over the place from anaemia and hyperglycaemia. At least in Enid Blyton books they get to eat hard-boiled eggs and ham rolls and potted-meat sandwiches.)

Anyway, Lawrie’s brilliant plan is that the twins will use their initiative on the hike to help Lois get her remaining First Class badge. But things go wrong from the start. Lois can’t read the map properly and they get lost. The twins, trailing behind with Marie, start playing with matches. Lawrie suggests to Lois that the twins take an illegal shortcut across a farm to the beach, so they can set up the fire for the others, saving time. Lois half-heartedly agrees, then changes her mind and sends Marie after them. Marie, terrified of animals, hides near the farm gate for a while, then rushes back to Lois to claim she shouted but the twins didn’t hear her. On the beach, they all cook lunch (for the record, fried bacon, sausages and potato, plus ‘campers dreams’ filled with jam and butter) and listen to Lois reading a story, but then DISASTER STRIKES.

Farmer Probyn turns up and accuses the Guides of setting fire to his hayrick! Nicola, who cannot tell a lie, owns up to running through the farm with Lawrie. Marie pipes up to say the twins were playing with matches and Lois pretends the twins ran off without asking her. So unfair! But perhaps the truth will come out at the Court of Honour…

Chapter Eight: A Court of Honour

This section captures the moral complexity of the situation beautifully and highlights the advantage of using third-person omniscient point of view. We get to understand the issues from the perspective of the twins, Marie, Lois, even their exasperated Captain. Everyone has made mistakes, but the individuals deal with the consequences in characteristic ways. Lawrie falls to pieces and sobs helplessly, relying on Nicola to sort things out. Nicola, expecting those in authority to be as honest and straightforward as she is, gets confused when Lois tells half-truths (“It was so nearly what had happened that her own vision of what had taken place was blurred”) and fails to explain adequately, not helped by the very intimidating atmosphere. And Marie, having had lots of practice in making up stories to explain away her failings, manages to lie very convincingly.

After some deliberation, Miss Redmond calls the twins back in to announce the verdict. Although the cause of the fire is still in the hands of the insurance company, the Guide leaders have decided the twins broke three rules: they played with matches, they disobeyed Lois by running away through the farm and they disobeyed Lois again by lighting a fire on the beach. Of course, the twins are guilty of only the first of these sins, and it could be argued that was Lois’s fault for not supervising properly. But the poor twins are suspended from Guides for a year and have to hand in their badges!

Once everyone else has gone, Miss Redmond does admonish Lois and point out all the ways Lois could have behaved more effectively as patrol leader, finishing up with “my dear Lois, you behaved as though nothing mattered but your badge test.” Except the whole Guiding experience, with all its badges and tests and certificates, is set up precisely to encourage this sort of behaviour. Anyway, if Miss Redmond understands most of what happened, which she seems to, why is she punishing the most junior patrol members so severely while allowing the most senior to escape any penalty?

Lois, by the way, actually has the nerve to ask if she passed her hiking test! Then she privately decides she’ll use her Matric exam as an excuse to give up Guides if things don’t go perfectly for her from now on.

Grrr! I’m glad we’re only halfway through the book and there’s still a chance for justice to be done.

Next, Chapter Nine: Half-Term

8 thoughts on “‘Autumn Term’, Part Four”

  1. I adore that scene where Nicola and Lawrie are talking after lights out in Morse code! Very Marlow…

    The court of honour is so painful to read; Forest captures all the awkwardness and the trapped feeling where you know things are going wrong but you can’t quite see how to put them right. Lois Sanger, with her charisma and her self-delusions, is one of the most interesting characters in YA, I think!

    Girls Gone By have the next two books in the series available now. But they aren’t school stories; Forest blithely genre-hopped from book to book. Marlows and the Traitor is a spy adventure, and Falconer’s Lure is a holidays-and-ponies book, but with falcons instead of ponies (and heavily influenced by Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar, I think). School stories resume with book 4, End of Term. I don’t know if GGB have the rights to the school stories, which is a shame.

    I cheerfully read the books at random from my school library, with some volumes missing, and didn’t manage to piece the whole sequence together until years later. It didn’t diminish my enjoyment… but having said that, being able to read the whole series from beginning to end for the first time this year was an enormous pleasure 🙂

    1. Even though I’m more interested in the school stories, I think I should read them in order if I can, especially as Books Two and Three are available at Girls Gone By. I’ll just have to keep an eye out for second-hand copies of the others. All the books are mostly about the twins, is that right? Because I don’t think I want to read a book all about Ginty or Peter…

      1. Attic Term has more about Ginty that the others, but it is a fascinating story of a popular, charming, lightweight character

        1. I have enough faith in Antonia Forest now to believe you when you say Ginty becomes more interesting later on! I guess we don’t really see much of her in Autumn Term and it’s mostly through Nicola’s eyes.

    2. GGB do have the rights to the school stories as well – though not to Autumn Term. (There was a LOT of negotiation between Clarissa of GGB, Faber and myself [I’m AF’s literary executor] before this was all sorted out.) However, it’s unlikely that GGB will reprint the school stories any time soon: they’re fairly easily available secondhand as Puffin paperbacks, and GGB probably wouldn’t sell enough to make it worthwhile.

      I have copies of all the books for sale (on behalf of other people) if you’re desperate, but obviously postage from the UK to Australia is a bit prohibitive.

      1. Thanks so much for that information, Sue – very useful to know! I will try to track down second-hand copies of the school books once I’ve read the next two GGB-published books.

  2. I seem to recall reading somewhere that Enid Blyton made a big deal about food and meals in her Famous Five/School stories books because, at the time, they still had food restrictions (and for quite some time after the war).

    Wheat, protein and dairy I think would have been pretty scarce after the war – I know in NZ we were on rations for a while after the war so that we could send protein to England. So maybe all the talk of bread and butter etc was meant to indicate that the school was a top notch place.

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