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