Title: Five get into Trouble
Summary: Curious about the big house on Owl’s Hill, the Five go into the grounds one night….only to find that the big wrought-iron gates have closed mysteriously behind them.
Everything about that summary is wrong. For one thing, they don’t go into the grounds because of some random curiosity about the house; they go LOOKING for the house for reasons. For another, more important, thing, that ellipsis should have three dots, not four, because the sentence doesn’t end during the dot part.
Anyway. I remember loving this book, and my own copy is incredibly battered and soft.
But what I DON’T remember is ever being aware of how bloody old Julian is in this. Okay, if book six was set at Easter, and they were thirteen (Anne), fourteen (George and Dick), and fifteen (Julian), and book seven is the following Easter (so…they’re the same ages?), then THIS book, which is Easter again, is another year entirely. JULIAN IS SIXTEEN? In my head Julian is never that old. Even Anne is fourteen by now. [Dove: I think the last book was summer from the comments about the moors being cold in the summer, but it wasn’t clear. But otherwise your maths lines up with mine.]
That…that isn’t how I ever thought of them, when I was young and reading these. It completely changes everything. THE FAMOUS FIVE ARE OLD ENOUGH TO BE POINT HORROR CHARACTERS.
…damn, now I want to read that. Five Find a Body. Five Accidentally Run Someone Over. Five and the Kirrin Island Phantom. Five Visit Fear Street. [Dove: *blink* Well, I think we’ve found Necro’s NaNo project!] [Necromommycon:OMG, that sounds like fun. I think I have to try this. ] [Wing: Well this sounds delightful.]
In chapter one everyone feels to me like they’re acting like caricatures of themselves. It’s as though they’ve all read the earlier books and are playing up their tropes deliberately.
Or possibly I’ve reread too many of these at this point?
But here’s our opening:
‘Really, Quentin, you are most difficult to cope with!’ said Aunt Fanny to her husband.
The four children sat at the table, eating breakfast, and looking very interested. What had Uncle Quentin done now? Julian winked at Dick, and Anne kicked George under the table. Would Uncle Quentin explode into a temper, as he sometimes did?
There’s something just a little too knowing about all of that. It’s dangerously close to being a skit about the Five instead of a Five book. And the whole chapter keeps up that tone, somehow. (Also, when I was fourteen-through-sixteen, I’d not have appreciated being lumped in as “the children.”)
The situation is that they’re all there for Easter, only Quentin has to attend a scientific conference and present a paper, and Joanna the cook is off sick for a week or two. I have to be honest, I don’t really see why this is a problem. By the time I was FOURTEEN even I was allowed to stay on my own sometimes, and Anne’s the youngest of the group here.
Also, by now they’ve been on their own lots of times. Everyone knows that Anne can cook (and Dick even reminds them, ‘Anne is quite a good little cook,’ in case they forgot or in case I’d briefly stopped being annoyed about that).
But Aunt Fanny says ‘I can’t possibly leave you children alone here, with nobody in the house,’ and then three pages later everyone’s agreeing the Five can take their bicycles and tents and go on a camping trip. WHAT. Is the house inherently dangerous for some reason?? [Dove: Also, they were aged 10-12 when they were allowed to spend a week or so on the island in book 1. Suddenly being 14-16 is too young?]
Aunt Fanny also says that Timmy is ‘as good as any grown-up at looking after you,’ which a) I don’t believe and b) is a ridiculously infantilizing way to talk to a group of fourteen-to-sixteen-year-olds. No wonder I never realized how old they’d gotten.
The next day they pack up and head off. Uncle Quentin tries to pretend to be interested by inquiring after their bikes’ brakes, which is oddly endearing. I love older uncool people who make an effort to talk to young people even if they only half understand the thing they’re talking about (which is convenient, as I expect to turn into one of those old people any second now). [Dove: Weirdly, I think Quentin gets the best characterisation out of all of them. He can be kind and uncool when he remembers he’s got a family, and when he doesn’t remember, that’s his character too. Everyone else just is. You can swap their dialogue almost without noticing – the only oddity would be Anne, who has to keep reminding people she’s worthy of page space, while the other three berate her for her skills.]
‘Good-bye, Aunt Fanny! I’m afraid we shan’t be able to write to you, as you won’t be able to get in touch with us to let us know where you get fixed up. Never mind, enjoy yourselves,’ said Julian.
That made me laugh. Okay, even when I was sixteen I wouldn’t have been allowed to go “I’m not sure where” while my parents went to “we don’t know where we’re staying yet.” Maybe aging them up doesn’t totally spoil my sense of envy at their freedom.
[Wing: I thought Easter was supposed to have terrible weather around Kirrin Cottage and yet a bike trip is the thing to do?]
They bicycle for mile after mile, which sounds exhausting, and then reach a shop:
The little shop sold lemonade, orangeade, lime juice, grape-fruit juice and ginger-beer. It was really difficult to choose which to have, It also sold ice-creams, and soon the children were sitting drinking ginger-beer and lime-juice mixed, and eating delicious ices.
- Lime juice in ginger beer sounds awful.
- If they find that a difficult amount of things to choose from, I’d love to take them to Costco. [Dove: Take ’em to Bar Burrito or Subway. Watch their brains implode at the constant barrage of questions.]
Then they stop for lunch, which is egg sandwiches, sardine sandwiches, the extra ginger beers they bought, and sausage meat sandwiches for Timmy. Awww, I love that George made him sandwiches. Usually they just appear to feed him by giving him bones to gnaw on, which worries me a bit.
Then they all take a nap in the sun (either this is an exceptionally mild Easter break, or England’s climate is even more different from ours than I’d realized, because if I fell asleep outdoors here during Easter chances are good it would snow on me). [Dove: It’s not implausible, to be honest. Utter coin toss on Easter weather. Sometimes it’s glorious and Twitter and Facebook are awash with humiliating sunburn pics or non-stop rain and Twitter and Facebook are awash with people moaning.] [Wing: Well, this answers my earlier comment.] When they wake up it’s three o’clock and Julian says it’s teatime, but very condescendingly explains to Anne that they’ll ‘go by their stomachs, not their watches’ so they don’t have to eat now. Gee, thanks for explaining that, Julian.
He’s also found a lake on the map, so he suggests they head for it and camp there, so they can swim before bed.
They eventually have tea, and buy food for supper and breakfast:
New rolls, anchovy paste, a big round jam-tart in a cardboard box, oranges, lime-juice, a fat lettuce and some ham sandwiches—it seemed a very nice assortment indeed.
I can’t say I’d care to have any of that for breakfast, but okay.
They reach the lake at half-past seven, swim, go for a run by the lake (because that’s what you feel like doing after BIKING ALL DAY? God), and Anne gets supper ready. Of course she does.
‘Good old Anne,’ said Dick, when at last he and the others joined her, dressed again, with their sweaters on for warmth. ‘Look, she’s got the food all ready. Proper little housewife, aren’t you, Anne? I bet if we stayed here for more than one night Anne would have made some kind of larder, and have arranged a good place to wash everything—and be looking for someplace to keep her dusters and broom!’
I mean, he’s not wrong; she’s actually done this stuff in other books. But everything about that speech makes me want to punch him in the nose. [Dove: We’re about sixty years too late, but we need to start an Anne Kirrin fan club.]
As they’re lying in their sleeping bags falling asleep George tells Julian to look at a really bright star and he lectures her that it’s actually Venus. Shut up, Julian.
I have to admit, I like Julian more in this book than in most of them so far (and yes, that worries me a little), but he’s still a condescending little prick. And once again, my reactions to favourite books from childhood tells me everything I could possibly need to know about the horrible dating choices I would make later in life. Damn.
(…you know what? Even my current, quite lovely, relationship could have been entirely predicted based on my teenaged self’s love for Dr. Watson and James Herriot. How disturbing is that?)
The next morning George lazes in her sleeping bag (she’s my soul mate) while Dick and Julian go for a swim and Anne goes to the lake to have a wash. They meet a golden-haired boy swimming in the lake, and he claims to own it and the property around it. He’s the son of Thurlow Kent, a man so rich even Julian and Dick have heard of him, and he’s named Richard.
He’s friendly enough, and insists they swim in the lake, and then introduces himself to Anne. She likes the look of his ‘laughing blue eyes’ and notes that he’s ‘sturdily made’ but not as big as either Julian or Dick, and I laughed inappropriately.
Anne tries to warn George they have company, but George refuses to believe her and is still in her sleeping bag when Richard and the other two get back. He naturally assumes George is a boy.
Richard regales them with tales of his rich father, who’s made so many enemies he has to have a bodyguard. One, fired last year, was a particularly bad-tempered brute called Rooky who used to kick the dogs around (a sure-fire method of determining the villain in a Famous Five story). Julian and Dick, meanwhile, aren’t sure they believe any of Richard’s stories; doglike beings that they are, Julian and Dick can instinctively sniff out dishonesty and weakness of character.
Richard names off his five dogs, hesitating somewhat over their names, and then when George says you’d have to be cracked to name a dog Biscuit they nearly come to blows. Julian tells Richard he ought to be ashamed of himself for trying to fight a girl, and George is so pleased at having been really truly mistaken for a boy that the argument gets brushed aside. It really isn’t fair of Julian, though. If they didn’t tell him George was a girl it’s ridiculous to be all scornful that he was going to fight one (and sexist, obviously, but that goes without saying for just about everything that happens in every chapter so far).
They decide the next place they’ll go is Middlecombe Woods, which Julian helpfully points out on the map.
Richard begs to come along so he can stay with his aunt who conveniently lives there, and they agree on the condition that his mother says he can. The Five are going to bike to Croker’s Corner and wait, and if he’s not there in ten minutes they’ll go on without him.
But Richard gets to Croker’s Corner ahead of them,
They all cycled along together. Richard would keep trying to ride three abreast, and Julian had to warn him that cyclists were not allowed to do that. ‘I don’t care!’ sang Richard, who seemed in very high spirits. ‘Who is there to stop us, anyway?’
‘I shall stop you,’ said Julian, and Richard ceased grinning at once. Julian could sound very stern when he liked. Dick winked at George, and George winked back. They had both come to the conclusion that Richard was very spoilt and liked his own way. Well, he wouldn’t get it if he came up against old Julian!
Setting aside that last sentence, which proves we really are two nations divided by a common language, I’m very torn about this bit. On the one hand, shut up, Julian, you tedious prat. But on the other I do genuinely hate being around people who pointlessly break every rule and trample over common courtesies and it is a little satisfying when someone makes them cut it out. [Dove: This is how I feel about Julian a lot. Quite often, I’d find it very satisfying that he’s squashing someone who’s being a twit, but he’s such an arse the rest of the time, I feel like kicking the pair of them. Also, it’s a bit Mary Sue that Julian quells Richard with the steely glint of his eye.]
Richard is irritating but generous, and buys them all ice cream when they stop for a break. Also, they buy sensible things to eat later (‘new bread, farm-house butter, cream cheese, crisp lettuce, fat red radishes and a bunch of spring onions’), but Richard buys a chocolate cake so huge they have to cut it in half to carry it in their bike baskets. So he’s an idiot, but with kind impulses.
Richard asks to come on tour with them, saying he’ll call his mother from his aunt’s house, but Julian squashes that idea.
Anne says she hopes that when she grows up she can cook as well as the lady who runs the tea shop (where they stop for ‘well-buttered slices of bread, …apricot jam, raspberry, and strawberry, and a selection of home-made buns’).
‘If you do, Julian and I will always live with you and not dream of getting married!’ said Dick, promptly, and they all laughed.
Run, Anne. Run. [Dove: Do. I bet Martin would help you escape. I think he appreciates when you helped him escape.]
When they reach the aunt’s house Richard says goodbye and dashes abruptly up the path, and even as a child I was certain his aunt wasn’t home and he was just going to follow them.
So. The Five find Middlecombe Woods and pick a spot to camp in. Julian and George go off on their bikes to buy food; Anne is too tired to come along, and Dick has to repair a punctured tire on his bike. Richard comes crashing through the woods to where Dick and Anne are, calling out for help. Specifically he’s calling Julian for help, I guess because Julian’s the Alpha Prat.
‘They’re after me,’ he panted. ‘You must save me. I want Timmy. He’ll bite them.’
‘Who’s after you?’ asked Dick, amazed.
‘Where’s Timmy? Where’s Julian?’ cried Richard, looking round in despair.
[Wing: If I’m after Timmy to save me, I’m shouting for George and not Julian.]
Richard goes crashing off again, and Anne climbs a tree to see if she can see either him or the others, because she and Dick have no idea what the hell is happening.
But then Dick hears someone stealthily creeping towards him, and a man shows up and mistakes him for Richard. Dick tries to explain that he’s not Richard, he’s Dick, but that goes about as well as you’d expect. The man says Dick went running off when he saw Rooky, and they’ll sort him out when they get to Owl’s Dene.
Poor Anne is too terrified to come down from the tree, but she overhears the Owl’s Dene part.
In the meantime George and Julian have bought crappy food from a rude man on an ill-kept farm, and then been found by Richard, who is half-sobbing. I don’t know what half-sobbing even is, other than a signal that he’s less manly than Julian but not so unmanly as to actually cry.
Richard says his aunt was away from her house, and confesses he’d never asked his mother for permission in the first place.
This was said with a great air of bravado. Julian was disgusted.
‘I’m ashamed of you,’ he said. ‘Telling us lies like that!’
‘I didn’t know my aunt was away,’ said Richard, all his sudden cockiness gone when he heard Julian’s scornful voice.
Richard’s paid the price for lying to Julian and sneaking away from his mother, because as he came away from his aunt’s house he ran straight into Rooky, his father’s former bodyguard who’s vowed revenge for being fired. Rooky and the two men he was with chased Richard, who crashed his bike and had to run for it. The men split up, and Richard got away.
So when they hear Anne’s story, they understand what’s happened. One of the men took Dick, thinking he was Richard. The Five assume that once Rooky sees him, they’ll let Dick go, since he’s not the boy they’re looking for. I think that’s awfully optimistic. Would three thugs really release a boy they’d just kidnapped? [Dove: You forget. They have Julian.]
But anyway. Richard is afraid to go with them and also afraid to go home, and Julian’s annoyed with him.
‘Now look here—if you come with us, you can always be dropped at a house somewhere, or at a police-station—and get yourself taken home somehow,’ said Julian, exasperated. ‘You’re old enough to look after yourself. I’m fed up with you.’
I’m mildly uncomfortable being on Julian’s side, but come with us or stay the fuck here really are the only reasonable options, and it’s annoying for Richard to sort of protest at both but then hang around waiting for the others to solve this for him. Assuming he’s their age, he’s at least fourteen. Have some freaking agency. [Wing: Spoilt, whiny teenagers, I’ll tell you what.]
Anne is kinder than Julian (and also kinder than me, because I’d have left him in the woods by now), and tells him not to be a baby, and that Julian will get over being mad at him.
There’s a really weird undercurrent here that I’m not sure how to characterize, too, with Julian being stern and Richard sort of worshipping him for it.
‘Don’t be too sure about that!’ said Julian to Anne, pretending to be sterner than he really felt. ‘What Richard wants is a jolly good hiding. He’s untruthful and deceitful and an absolute baby!’
‘Give me another chance,’ almost wept poor Richard, who had never in his life been spoken to like this before. He tried to hate Julian for saying such things to him—but oddly enough he couldn’t. He only respected and admired him all the more.
The Famous Five Discover Roleplaying and Shame Kink. [Wing: Why is there not more fic for this series?]
They search the map for Owl’s Dene. It’s not there, but there is an “Owl’s Hill,” so they decide to try that.
So they set out for Owl’s Hill, and they’ve got Richard with them. He’s a poor substitute for the Dick they’re used to.
By now it’s dark, and they’re riding by moonlight. It would be lovely if only Dick weren’t off being murdered or whatever.
They try eating the eggs and bread and ham they bought from the rude farmer, but that proves impossible while riding so they stop and sit by the side of the road. There’s a fallen-down cottage nearby, and while they’re eating a ‘big stream-lined car’ comes along, driving with its headlights off.
Five Four and Richard watch as two men get out, and one changes his clothes and stuffs the ones he had been wearing down the well. George notices the numbers of the car’s license plate and Anne notices the numbers, and I am bewildered by how anyone could see one but not the other, but that’s not important right now. What’s important is that between the two of them they have a complete license plate: KMF 102, and it’s a black Bentley.
Anne suggests he might be an escaped prisoner, but Julian says it’s more likely he’s a deserter or a spy, because he didn’t see a prison on the map. Apparently the significance of a CAR which could have brought the man from FURTHER AWAY is lost on Julian. Okay, no, I’m just irritated that he dismissed Anne’s suggestion so quickly.
Anne remarks on how odd it is that four children and a dog should have just happened to be there to watch this. Is Anne aware she’s in a book series? Will she gain sentience and escape her life of in-book drudgery? [Wing: You can do it, Anne! You can do it.]
They reach Owl’s Hill, and there’s an Elizabethan mansion behind tall iron gates. They hear a car coming and hide in the bushes, only to see it’s the same black Bentley. The gates *mysteriously* open for the car, and then after the children sneak in they *mysteriously* swing shut again. Oh, and on the way in they see a brass sign confirming that this is Owl’s Dene. I think we could have followed along without that signpost, but okay. [Dove: The mysterious opening of the gates is one of those things that truly dates the book.]
Julian points out that since a high wall runs all the way around the property, they’re now trapped.
They go up to the house and try throwing stones at an upstairs window, and a face that isn’t Dick’s looks out at them. Chances of that happening were… pretty high. It’s a huge house and he could be anywhere in it, or not in it at all.
Okay, he can’t be in the kitchen, because they’ve looked in that and it just contained a bad-tempered man with a hunched back and a thin, drab, unhappy-looking woman. But Elizabethan mansion. It probably has a lot of other rooms.
Like the room with the open window that they climb in. JFC, these kids. It’s a wonder they’re all still alive (assuming Dick hasn’t already been murdered and thrown down a well, I mean).
An angry man whose voice Anne recognizes (as the guy who kidnapped Dick) rushes into the room and slams the window shut before Timmy can jump in, so now they have no one to defend them! If only Julian could bite people.
The man threatens to call the police, which Julian says they’d be glad of. Then Julian accuses him of having kidnapped Dick by mistake, and the man denies having a boy locked up in his house.
But then he offers to let them spend the night, on the flimsy excuse that he doesn’t like to turn a bunch of kids away in the dark. Julian accepts, thinking that once Rooky shows up and says Dick isn’t Richard, then the bad guys will just let them leave. Again: this is not how kidnappers generally work, especially not when you’ve seen their faces and know where their house is. [Dove: What’s even more baffling about this is that the Five have repeatedly interacted with bad guys, but still assume they can’t just explain the mix-up and wander off.]
The man has Aggie, the miserable woman from the kitchen, prepare a room by “putting down mattresses and blankets.” I’m confused by that directive. Did people usually have spare mattresses stored somewhere that they’d pull out for not-particularly-welcome guests? [Wing: I assume because they have criminals in and out so often.]
Also, I keep thinking of Aggie as a sort of Darkest Timeline Anne. Keep doing all the cooking and making beds out of “soft” sand and rushes, and this is how you’ll end up, Anne. I’m serious.
Julian helps her get the mattresses, and asks her if Dick is there, and when Rooky is going to arrive. She’s frightened that he knows so much, and warns him that Mr. Perton will have Hunchy whip them, but she also inadvertently confirms all his guesses.
But mostly Aggie is touched that he’s helping her with the mattresses. She’s clearly unused to kind behavior, and Julian works his wiles on her like she’s a farmer’s wife from the past summer.
‘Why? Don’t you like him?’ asked Julian. He put a hand on her shoulder. ‘Why are you so frightened and upset? What’s the matter? Tell me. I might be able to help you.’
‘Rooky’s bad,’ said the woman. ‘I thought he was in prison. Don’t tell me he’s out again. Don’t tell me he’s coming here.’
Julian tells the others, and Richard is (reasonably) scared of being seen by Rooky. Julian basically tells him to shut up and stop sniveling, and George blames him for Dick’s being kidnapped and Timmy being locked outside. I mean, she’s sort of right, but I really do feel sorry for Richard by this point. He’s realized the others don’t like or trust him, and his growing self-awareness hurts. [Dove: The kids are always regarded as nice children, but they’re kind of snobby and stand-offish. I know Richard’s not the greatest, but this does happen a fair bit. They do get scornful if they percieve someone as “less” than them.]
Also, Mr. Perton locks them in the room for the night, which kind of proves he was lying earlier when he protested that he didn’t go around randomly locking up boys on his property. Luckily Julian knew this was coming, and hid in a closet in the hall, so he can let himself back into the room once he’s explored the house.
I really do like Julian in this one. He’s a prat but a brave one, and reasonably clever. I mean I don’t like him as much as poor Richard seems to, but I feel less like kicking him than in most of the books so far.
Julian passes lots of open door, and finally comes to one that’s shut and locked, and sure enough, Dick is behind it. They catch each other up on events and agree that if, tomorrow when Rooky see Dick isn’t the boy he wanted, the men try to pass them off with some story (“we only picked him up because we thought he was hurt,” kind of thing), they’ll just go along with it and get away as fast as possible.
Then Julian explores the ground floor, and finds the machinery for opening the gates. I bet that will come in handy.
THEN Julian follows the sound of someone snoring, and finds a hidden room concealed behind a bookcase; there’s a man in there, fast asleep. Basically Julian now knows everything about everything, and they just need to escape and inform the police about it all. (He can’t leave without the others, because he’s afraid the men will hurt Dick if they discover Julian’s escaped.) [Wing: In a modern update, he’d be far more worried about them hurting Anne. I appreciate that this is not that threat.]
In the morning Aggie wakes them up for breakfast, and mentions that the door was unlocked even though the key was in it. Julian pretends he didn’t know. After she’s gone he tells the others everything he discovered last night.
At breakfast Hunchy yells at them to shut up and Julian defies him. (And yes, it’s pretty gross that he’s called “Hunchy,” but that’s literally the only name the text gives him. Ugh.)
Julian rose too. ‘I don’t take orders from you who-ever you are,’ he said, and he sounded just like a grown-up. ‘You hold your tongue—or else be civil.’
‘Oh, don’t talk to him like that, don’t,’ begged the woman, anxiously. ‘He’s got such a temper—he’ll take a stick to you!’
‘I’d take a stick to him—except I don’t hit fellows smaller than myself,’ said Julian.
Before an all-out brawl breaks out Mr. Perton arrives to instruct Aggie to prepare a decent meal because Rooky and ‘one or two others’ are coming. After he’s gone Anne offers to do the washing up, and Julian says they’ll all help. Hunchy sneers at their “smarmy ways,” but they ignore him. [Dove: This exchange really bothers me, because I worry that Aggie’s going to get hit for Julian’s rudeness – he often sasses people without considering the consequences for others. If an abuser feels their power has been undermined, they will find someone less powerful to take it out on.] [Necromommycon:Yes, you’re exactly right. The whole thing makes my stomach knot up with tension.]
(Aggie, by the way, has fed Timmy some scraps. So at least the dog is being fed, even if he’s locked outside.)
Chapter fourteen is called “Rooky is very angry,” which doesn’t bode well. The Four and Richard see the black Bentley arrive again, and Richard recognizes Rooky.
They can hear Dick being dragged downstairs, and then Rooky yelling that he’s the wrong boy. While Hunchy and Aggie are listening to the argument, Julian gets Richard to rub some soot from the stove into his hair, so that he’ll look more like the rest of them. It’s a nice try, and for a moment it works; Mr. Perton and Rooky bring Dick to the kitchen, and it briefly looks like things are going well.
‘Now look here,’ said Mr. Perton, in quite a different voice from the one he had used to them before, ‘now look here—quite frankly we made a mistake. You don’t need to know why or how—that’s none of your business. This isn’t the boy we wanted.’
‘We told you he was our brother,’ said Anne.
‘Quite,’ said Mr. Perton, politely. ‘I am sorry I disbelieved you. These things happen. Now—we want to make you all a handsome present for any inconvenience you have suffered—er—ten pounds for you to spend on ice-creams and so on. You can go whenever you like.’
What’s amazing is that he’s not just evil, but that he’s the kind of insincere, “sorry if you were inconvenienced” low-level evil that seems so modern. He sounds like the spokesperson for a shitty airline.
So Perton hands them two one-pound notes each, and they leave. Julian asks the others to give him their notes, and dashes back to sneak them to Aggie. See? I genuinely like him right now.
They all start to cycle down the drive, with Richard perched on Julian’s crossbar (I just bet). But then the gates close before they can leave!
The Bentley comes “purring” down the drive after them, which is a nice phrase, and Mr. Perton and Rooky get out. Damn: Rooky’s realized there was something familiar about one of the other boys, and now he recognizes Richard. There’s a fantastic scene where Julian defends Richard and Timmy bites a bad guy:
He shook Richard again. Julian stepped forward, white and furious.
‘Now you stop that,’ he said. ‘Let the boy go. Haven’t you done enough already—keeping my brother locked up for nothing—holding us all for the night—and now you talk about kidnapping! Haven’t you just come out of prison? Do you want to go back there?’
Rooky dropped Richard and lunged out at Julian. With a snarl Timmy flung himself between them and bit the man’s hand.
It’s weird how utterly satisfying I find that scene. Also, Julian is really truly Richard’s hero at this point (and I suppose so is Timmy), and I can’t even criticize it. The only way this scene could be any more brilliant is if the dog and the boy were one werewolf-y creature, that did both the stern talking to AND the biting. [Wing: YES PLEASE.]
I did sporfle a bit at Julian being “white and furious” though. I know Blyton just means he was pale, but it makes him sound on the brink of grabbing a tiki torch and attending a dodgy protest. [Dove: She does use that phrase a lot. People go pink, then red, then white, depending on their level of irritation to fury on the Blyton scale.]
Anyway, now they’re at a sort of a stalemate. The Five plus Richard are trapped on the grounds and can’t leave, but the men can’t do anything right now for fear of Timmy. Timmy must be a truly ferocious dog. I mean, they don’t even try to drive him away with a stick or anything.
Richard cries, and George and Julian tell him off for cowardice. There, see, I knew I wouldn’t admire Julian for long. It’s not even that I disagree with him entirely, he’s just such a self-righteous little prick in expressing it:
‘Yes you can,’ said Julian, scornfully. ‘Anybody can help being a coward. Cowardice is just thinking of your own miserable skin instead of somebody else’s. Why, even little Anne is more worried about us than she is about herself—and that makes her brave. She couldn’t be a coward if she tried.’
Shut up, Julian.
Also, isn’t “little Anne” fourteen now? Be less bloody patronizing. [Dove: Also, haven’t they repeatedly shamed Anne for not wanting adventures in the beginning of each book, or called her “scaredy-cat” when she doesn’t want to go somewhere dark? And now she’s “brave” is she? That’s not what they called it in the previous seven books.] [Wing: YES INDEED AND THAT’S THEIR EXCUSE FOR LEAVING GEORGE OUT OF THEIR ADVENTURES IN THE LAST BOOK DON’T THINK I’VE FORGOTTEN HOW MUCH I HATE YOU JULIAN AND DICK BECAUSE I HAVE NOT.]
Anyway, Richard is stirred by this speech and vows to try to be brave and “more like you.” Shut up, Richard, Julian thinks well enough of himself already.
Aggie comes out and warns them that Mr. Perton has told Hunchy to put down poisoned food for Timmy, and told her not to give the kids much to eat. But she’s firmly on their side, and tells them to stay out on the grounds (their other choice is to come inside and be locked up), and she’ll manage to sneak food out to them.
So the Five (and Richard) decide to explore the grounds. As you would. The book dwells lovingly on how the place is run, and I just realized that my periodic (and completely pointless, because I don’t have the space or the skills) desire to go off-grid and stockpile food probably started right here.
They found absolutely nothing of interest in the grounds except a couple of cows, a large number of hens, and a brood of young ducklings. Evidently even the milkman didn’t need to call at Owl’s Dene! It was quite self-contained.
‘I expect that black Bentley goes down each day to some town or other, to collect letters, and to buy meat, or fish,’ said George. ‘Otherwise Owl’s Dene could keep itself going for months on end if necessary without any contact with the outside world. I expect they’ve got stacks and stacks of tinned food!’
Hunchy brings out Timmy’s (poisoned) dinner, and they pretend to let Timmy eat it but really they bury it. And then they fake that they’re feeding the scraps to the hens and ducks, just to scare Hunchy into thinking he’ll be in trouble for poisoning the livestock. Afterwards Anne reassures the hens that they wouldn’t really hurt them, which is adorable. I talk to animals too, though, so I’m biased.
Aggie comes out to hang laundry, and she’s concealed their dinner under the clothes:
There were two big bottles of milk. There was a large meat-pie with delicious looking pastry on top, and a collection of buns, biscuits and oranges.
Even when they’re kidnapped these kids eat well.
When they’re done they rinse the dishes and silverware and repack it all neatly into the bottom of the basket again. I love how…orderly that is. It’s such a tidy workaday kidnapping experience. Like, I can’t help feeling these kids are slightly more organized while kidnapped than I am just generally.
I also can’t make out why Aggie is at Owl’s Dene. Why does she stay? What’s her connection to the place? Why doesn’t she just leave? She’s clearly miserable there and Hunchy mistreats her, and she’s delighted by every small compliment or politeness from the children (the book keeps outright saying it’s as though no one’s said a kind word to her for years), so what happened to bring her here? [Dove: I believe she’s Hunchy’s sister. And, much like Anne, she gets dragged around, because if you find a woman who can cook and clean, you need to crush her dreams so she can take care of you.]
Julian hatches a brave plan to hide in the boot of the car, wedging it open, and then when eventually it goes down to town he can slip out and alert the police. Only first they have tea, by means of Aggie sneaking it into the henhouse and Dick retrieving it:
Aggie had left about two dozen potted-meat sandwiches, a big slab of cherry cake and a bottle of milk. The children went under the bushes and Dick unloaded his pockets. ‘She even left a bone for old Tim,’ he said.
What the devil is Dick wearing that he can fit all that in his pockets? [Dove: Are you judging Dick by girl pockets? I’m led to believe that boys have pockets that you can put actual things in. Like, they’re not just stitched nooks the size of a thimble.] [Necromommycon: The one item of clothing I am most jealous of, actually, is a thing my husband owns called a Tilley vest. I could pack enough clothes and stuff for a weekend in that thing, and of course 1) it doesn’t fit me and 2) the women’s version, which I CAN get to fit me, is flimsier and has fewer pockets. Why does it work that way?? Why do women both get mocked for packing too much stuff/needing purses full of stuff, AND get stuck with the clothes that are designed not to accomodate stuff?]
They go try out Julian’s car-boot idea, only George won’t go without Timmy (in case he’s poisoned), and neither Dick or Julian will fit. Anne says timidly that she’ll do it, which Julian immediately says no to, and then Richard steps up.
‘You!’ said Dick. ‘You’d be scared stiff.’
Richard was silent for a moment. ‘Yes—I should,’ he admitted. ‘But I’m still ready to go. I’ll do my very best if you’d like me to try. After all—it’s me or nobody. You won’t let Anne go—and there’s not enough room for George and Timmy—and not enough for either you or Julian, Dick.’
Julian is doubtful about putting their trust in a boy he views as a cowardly liar, but Anne persuades him to give Richard the chance to show he’s ‘got a bit of courage.’ Again: shut up, Julian. You literally have no other choice here, since you’ve vetoed Anne going, so there’s no point speechifying for two pages about whether he should do it and going over the instructions. JFC you perpetual hall monitor. [Dove: I also read this book – and this could be me getting things wrong – as Richard is a bit fatter than the other boys, you know, because he’s not active and out solving crime during every school holiday, so when I read this bit, I was surprised that he could fit but Dick couldn’t.]
Anne hugs him and Julian thumps him on the back, and Richard climbs into the boot just before Mr. Perton arrives to take the car out.
The rest of them go into the kitchen to eat (again?), bringing Timmy with them. Hunchy threatens to get Rooky, but George says Timmy will just bite his other hand, and anyway, won’t Rooky be surprised to see Timmy alive? George, I wouldn’t taunt these people too much or one of them might shoot Timmy.
When Hunchy goes out Aggie tells them Richard’s disappearance has made the radio news. Dick tells her they expect the police to be here soon, but Aggie has no faith in that; the police have been there before, searching for someone, but found nothing.
Julian nudged Dick. He thought he knew where the police might have found him—in the little secret room behind that sliding panel.
‘Funny thing,’ said Julian. ‘I haven’t seen a telephone here. Don’t they have one?’
‘No,’ said Aggie. ‘No phone, no gas, no electricity, no water laid on, no nothing. Only just secrets and signs and comings and goings and threats and…’
It’s all very Gothic Novel. I get that the lack of amenities means no one has any reason to come to the house, but honestly, no criminal I’ve ever heard of would want to hide out there under those conditions anyway. [Wing: This book needs 100% more ghosts and creepy things howling from the trees and maybe a monstrous creature hunting through the halls … oh crap, I’ve started an outline.]
Hunchy comes back and says Rooky wants to see Richard, and they all make a great show of pretending not to have any idea where he is (which technically they don’t). So Rooky and Hunchy, and two people called Ben and Fred that we’ve never heard of before and don’t get to see now, go out to search the grounds for him.
‘Where is he, the poor boy?’ whispered Aggie.
‘I don’t know,’ said Julian, truthfully. He wasn’t going to give any secrets away to Aggie, even though she seemed really friendly to them.
That’s unexpectedly shrewd of Julian. Whatever hold Perton has over Aggie, it might make her too vulnerable to keep secrets from him.
They listen to the radio, and hear the report about Richard for themselves. George is relieved there’s no mention of the rest of them being missing, so ‘Mother won’t be worrying,’ which is an astonishingly brave and unselfish response. If I’d been kidnapped and knew that no one was even looking for me I’d be terrified, not relieved that at least it wasn’t worrying my family.
Rooky comes back in and yells at them some more, but still has no idea where Richard could be. Idiot.
Meanwhile Richard is having a horrible time, being sickened by the smell of gasoline and banging his head when the Bentley stops suddenly. Eventually Mr. Perton stops and gets out of the car, and Richard grabs his chance to escape. Except he’s been crammed in there so long it takes him a few moments to actually stretch his legs and stand up, and then Perton comes back and sees him.
Perton grabs Richard, who shucks his coat and runs for it. He manages to get himself to a police station, and obviously Mr. Perton isn’t going to follow him there. The black Bentley takes off, driving fast and dangerously through the countryside back to Owl’s Dene.
Meanwhile the cop makes Richard repeat his story, and takes down the Bentley’s license plate number. Richard begs to be allowed to go back to Owl’s Dene so he can be in at the close, but instead he gets sent home with a young constable. I feel for him. He’s saved the others; it’s not fair he’s left out of the actual rescue. [Dove: They always let Julian go. I’m not even being facetious.]
Mr. Perton makes it back to Owl’s Dene and informs Rooky that Richard was in the car. Rooky yells at him for letting the boy get away when he’d been counting on the ransom money.
‘It’s no good crying over spilt milk,’ said Perton. ‘What about Weston? Suppose the police find him. They’re looking for him all right—the papers have been full of only two things the last couple of days—Disappearance of Richard Thurlow Kent—and Escape from Prison of Solomon Weston! And we’re mixed up with both those. Do you want to be shoved back into prison again, Rooky? You’ve only just come out, you know. What are we going to do?’
‘We must think,’ said Rooky, in a panic-stricken voice. ‘Come in this room here. We must think.’
I love how Perton speaks in newspaper headlines. I also love that it sounds as if Rooky is panicked at the prospect of having to think.
Julian listens in and hears all this, plus Rooky threatening to ‘bang all those kids’ heads together’ for helping Richard escape, and specifically threatening to thrash Julian. He also overhears some other guy talking about hiding ‘the sparklers,’ which Julian knows mean they’ve got stolen diamonds. I…would never in a million years have known that. Was this common slang at the time?? [Dove: Can’t speak for then, but certainly not in the time I’ve been on the planet.] [Wing: It got my hopes up that this entire house would be blown to pieces. And then it was just diamonds. Boo.]
Someone else persuades Rooky that their best bet is to let the kids go, rather than try to lie to the police about why they’re there. So Perton starts to take them down to the gate (and says if Timmy had stayed there a day longer he’d have shot him, which is the thing I was worried about all along; it’s what the “bad guys” I’ve known would have done, without even warning you).
But halfway down the driveway they hear cars approaching, so Mr. Perton shoves the kids back into the house. Rooky’s still, even with the cops right outside, hoping to thrash the kids.
Thinking that Rooky might shoot Timmy or harm the others, Julian takes them to the secret room and hides them in there with the prisoner. This doesn’t sound very well thought out, Julian. Surely the prisoner is just as apt to hurt them, and how do you know he doesn’t have a gun too?
But the poor escaped convict mostly just seems bewildered to have three kids and a dog shoved in with him into what sounds like a very small space. Timmy growls and drives him up onto the bed, and Julian warns him to stay quiet so the police won’t find him.
Julian stays outside to put the books back on the shelf so Rooky won’t find them. He manages to do that before Rooky shows up, brandishing a whip. Julian darts into the study and locks the door, and Rooky is trying to smash his way in with a chair when Julian FINALLY realizes he can hurry things alone by opening the gates for the police.
Rooky hears the mechanism of the gates opening, panics, and runs.
The police drive up and demand entry, so Julian goes out and opens the door. Mr. Perton strolls onto the scene, smoking a cigarette and pretending nothing whatsoever is going on, and it’s hilarious.
‘In here, Inspector,’ drawled Mr. Perton. ‘We were having a little conference, and heard the hammering at the door. Apparently you got in somehow. I’m afraid you’ll get into trouble for this.’
The Inspector advanced to the room where Mr. Perton stood. He glanced into it.
‘Aha—our friend Rooky, I see,’ he said, genially. ‘Only a day or two out of prison, Rooky, and you’re mixed up in trouble again. Where’s Weston?’
‘I don’t know what you mean,’ said Rooky, sullenly.
But these various steaming piles of bullshit don’t stand up for long, of course, because Julian says he can save them a lot of time because he knows where Weston and the diamonds are.
So two other policemen hold Rooky back while Julian opens up the secret room, and Dick hands out the bag of diamonds from under the bed. Ha. Then the kids and Timmy climb out, and Weston is handcuffed and brought out.
The Inspector wonders cheerfully where Weston’s prison clothes have gone, and Julian knows that, too, because of course that’s who chucked their clothes down the well that night. And because they saw the black Bentley and know the plate number, they’re able to put Perton at the scene and prove he helped the prisoner escape. (I’d have thought finding the prisoner hidden in Perton’s house would have been sufficient, but okay, sure.)
When all the various bad guys (and Aggie, whom Julian tells the Inspector to go easy on) are rounded up, Julian’s just explaining that their family don’t even know they’re missing and they have nowhere to spend the night (uh…you were camping? You could camp for the night?) when the Inspector gets a message.
Mrs. Thurlow Kent (ah yes, the good old days when married women ceased to have their own first names) has rung and asked Julian and the others to come spend the night with Richard.
So they get to have hot baths and are given clean clothes (George gets shorts, which are apparently “boys’ clothes,” because the adult Kents don’t know she’s a girl.)
Julian manages to undo all my admiration for him by being the most pompous ass that ever pompous assed:
‘I was very angry with Richard when I heard what he had done,’ said Mr. Kent, when they were all sitting at table, eating hungrily. ‘I’m ashamed of him.’
Richard looked downcast at once. He gazed beseechingly at Julian.
‘Yes—Richard made a fool of himself,’ said Julian. ‘And landed us all into trouble. He wants taking in hand, sir.’
Richard looked even more downcast. He went very red, and looked at the table-cloth.
‘But,’ said Julian, ‘he more than made up for his silliness, sir—he offered to squash himself into the boot of the car, and go and warn the police. That took some doing, believe me! I think quite a bit of Richard now!’
He leaned over and gave the boy a pat on the back.
OMG, you are only a couple of years older than him, you absolute twit. Not to mention MUCH younger than Mr. Kent, who you are now presuming to lecture on how to raise his son.
But Richard is thrilled and possibly aroused, so it all ends on a happy note, I guess.
I cannot stop worrying about Aggie. You know, for all the cosiness and lettuce, the dark undercurrents in these books are seriously dark. Every second kid the Five encounter is being beaten, and Aggie’s trapped in some sort of evil domestic servitude.
The scene with the police Inspector strolling in and being all familiar and chummy with the convicts, while Mr. Perton suavely smokes a cigarette and lies his head off, was very Georgette Heyer. I can picture it perfectly, right down to the double-breasted suits and the polished wing-tips.
I loved this one, and the pacing felt a lot less hurried. There were still the couple of blissfully peaceful vacation-time opening chapters, but basically the action started as soon as they crossed paths with Richard and steadily mounted (ahem) from there, instead of everything in the world happening in the last four chapters or something.
[Dove: I found the opposite. This one took me quite awhile to get through it felt very stop-starty to me, whereas previous books (aside from Go Off To Camp) have gone nothing, nothing, nothing-action-SMUGGLERS-CRIME-RESOLVE! I think this is probably a better structured book, but for some reason I seem to prefer the draggy-BIGFINISH approach. Maybe my kid-self preferred them.]
[Wing: I liked the pacing on this one a lot more than some of the others where it went nothing-nothing-RESOLVE. I’m sill furious at Julian (and to a lesser extent, Dick), so was not fond of him at all here. Pretty sure the last book spoiled me on him forever.]