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