Title: Five Go to Smuggler’s Top by Enid Blyton [Wing: The top belonging to only one smuggler? That cover would argue otherwise.]
Summary: Are there still smugglers at Smuggler’s Top? [Wing: NO. There is maybe one smuggler, per that name.] The Famous Five go to stay at the large old house and discover secret hiding places and underground tunnels! Then they catch people signalling out to sea – who can these smugglers be? Can Julian, Anne, Dick, George and Timmy the dog discover the answer?
God, I love this series. See above for my issues with the title. (Also, I’ve called this place Smuggler’s Top probably 50 times. I think I caught every time, but if not, sorry about that.) And here we go.
[Dove: I worry that when you visit England, you’re going to be very disappointed by the lack of secret passages. But at least I now live in a house with a crawlspace that was described by a friend as “Yeah… you could definitely hide a body or two in there.”]
We start with the five travelling back to Kirrin Cottage at the start of the Easter holidays. They’re all excited about going back and visiting Kirrin Island and Kirrin castle; they haven’t been back since last summer, when they foiled a kidnapping! (Five Run Away Together was last summer, right?) They very kindly take turns looking out the window, though Dick is almost too excited with the adventure story he’s reading to pay attention. Anne doesn’t believe any book could possibly be half as exciting as the adventures they’ve had together; they’re all looking forward to a nice, quiet holiday this time, though.
Julian in particular says he’s been working hard at school and needs a holiday; George teases him about having gone thin, and he reassures her that Aunt Fanny will fatten him right up again. All five of them are excited to see Aunt Fanny, and they hope that Uncle Quentin will be in a good mood. He’s just finished some successful new experiments, so George thinks it is likely he will be in a good mood. Except that you both fly into tempers, George, so … maybe you’re not the best gauge here.
Aunt Fanny meets them at the train station and on the ride home in the pony-trap, the weather is very windy and cold; Aunt Fanny says that they’ve had terrible winds the past few days and the fishermen have even pulled their boats high up on the beach for fear there’s a big storm coming.
God, this place sounds GREAT.
The wind howled over the sea. Great scudding clouds raced overhead. The waves pounded on the beach and made a terrific noise. It excited Timmy, who began to bark.
I would like to live there, so long as I can head someplace warmer whenever I need to thaw. [Dove: I think you’d like England in August. It’s unbearably hot, then big old thunder storms to clear the air.]
Aunt Fanny tells them that even though Uncle Quentin is very busy, he wants to spend time with them going on walks or going out in the boat if the weather calms down. The kids are pretty dismayed about this, and George even says something to her mother, because George doesn’t know diplomacy one bit.
Uncle Quentin is quite friendly as he welcomes them all to the cottage, and they settle in all cozy and listen to the wind howl around the house while they have their tea. One of the first things Aunt Fanny does is press food on Julian, who is looking rather thin. Oh, Aunt Fanny, you are a delight.
After tea, Uncle Quentin continues to spend time with them even though the kids want him to go off to his study and leave them to play games; he has a letter from the father of Pierre Lenoir. Pierre is one of Dick’s classmates. They call him Sooty because he’s “awfully dark.”
His hair is black as soot, his eyes are bits of coal, his eyebrows are charcoal, and his name means “the black one.” Rowling took naming inspiration from this, didn’t she, what with her Werewolf McWerewolf and Doggy McDog names.
Apparently, Uncle Quentin and Mr Lenoir are interested in the same scientific matters and talk regularly; Uncle Q has invited the Lenoirs to come visit for a few days. Dick is pleased by this, but does warn Uncle Q that Sooty never does what he’s told, climbs like a monkey, and can be awful cheeky. Well this is going to be fun.
That night, George and Anne are cold in their bedroom that night, and George excited that Timmy will hop up and sleep with her at home. He’s not supposed to, but he does anyway, and she loves it. The bathroom door starts banging and all four of them think someone else will get to it, so it goes on banging until Uncle Quentin roars up the stairs for them to shut it. They find him grumpy, but I think he’s in the right, here.
The wind continues to blow long into the night, keeping them awake and shaking the house. Right around dawn, the old ash tree starts to fall, and Julian realises it’s going to crash into the house. He gets everyone out of the bedrooms just in time for the tree to crash into the upper story. It smashes in the roof and destroys the girls’ bedroom; there’s a branch in the boys’ room, but it’s not so bad. The girls, though, would have been killed had they still be in their beds. [Dove: ALL HAIL SAINT JULIAN!]
Julian’s a fucking hero, and he plays it off pretty chill when everyone else is understandably upset at the thought.
They crowd around the fire in Uncle Quentin’s study and drink hot chocolate, which sounds like a fab way to relax. He’s feeling pretty guilty over not getting the tree taken care of before this. After they’ve all calmed a little, they try to sleep on different sofas and a camp bed, but the kids worry well into the night about what’s going to happen next. [Dove: I actually really liked how upset Quentin was, he had a real moment of “I’ve been meaning to sort the tree for ages, and it nearly killed my family.” I will say that Quentin has a smidge more character than I remember him having – in all of the books, not just this one.]
In the morning, Uncle Quentin decides they’ll go off to stay with the Lenoir family (Pierre also has a sister, Marybelle, it seems), and though Aunt Fanny thinks this is a bad idea because they don’t know anything about Mr Lenoir or the family (which is a pretty good point), Uncle Q is dead set on doing this, and when he calls Mr Lenoir, Mr L is excited too, and so are his kids and wife. OH AND THEY WON’T TAKE TIMOTHY WHAT.
The Lenoirs live at Smuggler’s Top, a very old house built on top of a queer hill surrounded by marshes; the hill used to be an island and the sea used to flow across the marshes, but not for quite some time. [Dove: You’re using “queer” in the same way as Blyton. It’s adorable.]
Unsurprisingly, George refuses to go with Timothy (and it wouldn’t really be a Famous Five story if she left him behind), but as the kids beg her, she’s clearly coming up with some sort of plan to sneak him along.
Sure enough, George arranges it so that Timmy is waiting for them down the road some, because George is both clever and spoiled.
[Necromommycon: Is anyone else as confused as I am about how she managed this, though? I mean, if I take one of my dogs a mile down the road and ask it to wait there, they wouldn’t just stay there. You can’t park dogs, is my point. And yet Timmy doesn’t seem to be tied on or anything here.]
They stop for lunch at an old inn and have a good time of it; the innkeeper tells them that the name of the hill is Castaway and warns them to be careful. It gets its name from an old story about how it was once joined to the mainland and haunted by bad people; a saint became angry and cast it away into the sea, where it became an island. Of course, it’s back to being a hill now, though, so maybe it’s a good place again. At least enough that there’s one good road through the marshes up to the house.
God, this setting is going to be wonderful!
The kids nap for the rest of the drive, but the driver wakes them when they reach the march. They leave Timmy in the car so he doesn’t run off into the marsh and get sucked down, and he’s not pleased at all, whining and pawing at the doors and windows. Monster Dog is the same, sweet girl.
The kids find the marshes weird, salty and cold and damp and misty. I think it sounds creepy as hell and want to live on a hill in the middle of one immediately. Adding this to my life list. [Dove: I’ve spent… *counts* seventeen years trying to convince Wing to visit England. If I’d have known all it took were a few Blyton books, I’d have done this years ago.]
The road has sparkling round buttons down the middle that reflect the headlights, and that sounds deliciously spooky, too. Apparently, Smuggler’s Top was a town once? Or still is? Which was not at all how I was picturing it, but cool. There are wrought-iron gates and a big round tower and diamond-paned windows and it is all delightful.
Sooty is Dick’s age, obviously, and his sister Marybelle is Anne’s age. Sooty calls them Beauty and the Beast because he’s all dark hair and eyes and brown skin (so of course he’s the fucking beast here we fucking go) and Marybelle is pale and delicate (so of course the white girl is the beauty).
[Dove: While I’m in no way discrediting what you’ve said, additionally, I think Blyton has an odd view of “beauty”. Soft, gentle girls, with long hair, pale skin (from being indoors and doing needlepoint and reading poetry, rather tanned from than climbing trees and trouncing smugglers) are viewed as “beautiful”, but at the same time, Blyton doesn’t hold much truck with beauty. Any girl seen as beautiful is rather pointless, she’ll fuss with her hair, and worry about getting freckled, rather than a girl with value, like George, or even Anne. And to reiterate, unlike US fiction, having a suntan is a sign of health, you’ve been outside, doing healthy things and you caught the sun. So tl;dr – I read that line as also a jab at how feeble Marybelle is going to be in the story, because beauty = weakness to Blyton.]
Sooty is friendly and welcoming until he sees Timmy, and then he tells a more-sad-than-funny joke that only really works when “lick” is used to mean both punishing someone by beating them and applying a tongue to skin. (Sooty found a stray dog once and he liked Sooty until he couldn’t sit down — “my stepfather licked me, I mean, not the dog.”) [Dove: Ah, the 40s, when hitting a minor was just a Thing People Do.]
George starts to take Timmy and leave, but Sooty pushes her into a dark passage instead, because he’s going to help them hide Timmy. George is glad he’s helping her but angry that he pushed her so roughly. Have either of the other boys roughly pushed her or Anne around? Because this is going places I don’t like.
Sooty takes them along the secret passage that leads to his bedroom. If this was a different sort of book, there would either be a vengeful ghost about now or lots of sneaking through the secret passages to hook up. Maybe both.
(These kids have found 100% more secret passages than I’ve found in my life. This makes me sad.)
Sooty has something rigged up that makes a low buzzing noise when someone opens the heavy door at the end of the passage. I love that!
Sooty’s bedroom looks out over the side of the hill straight down to the marsh below, and the others find it creepy and yet a fine sight. I love it.
Mr L doesn’t like dogs, which means he’s evil, obviously; Sooty tells the others that he has strange people over all the time, secretly, without telling anyone, and Mr L, who is Sooty’s stepdad, is secretive in other ways, too. He doesn’t think Mr L is a smuggler, though; I have a smuggler, Barling, who lives farther down the hill. He’s very rich and powerful and he won’t let anyone else play his same game; not even the police can stop him.
Block, Mr L’s man, turns up and they hide Timmy just in time. Block is deaf but always seems to know what they say somehow. Perhaps he can read lips? Or perhaps he is only pretending to be deaf. Either could be possible at this point in the series.
George points out that they would be little shits if they used his deafness to say whatever they wanted in front of him if they wouldn’t do it if he wasn’t deaf, because George is the BEST. After Block tells them to come down to see Sooty’s mom and stepdad, he leaves, and Sooty says that Block’s arrival at the house was a shock even to his mother, though he guesses Mr L must have known he was coming. [Necromommycon: SEE why I love George so much? And why it has had such a lifelong devastating effect on my romantic life? Okay maybe not that second thing. But you can see why I love her, right?]
Anne asks if his mother is his “real” mother or his stepmother, and Sooty is scornful, but not because “real” is a shitty thing to say. No, he’s scornful because you can’t have a stepmother and a stepfather, only one or the other, which isn’t true, either, but I see what you’re trying for there, Blyton. Anyway, he and Marybelle have the same birth mother, and Mr L is Marybelle’s birth father.
He warns them that Mr L is always smiling and joking, but it isn’t real and he’s likely to fly into a temper at any moment, while his mother is a frightened mouse because she’s terrified of Mr L, but other than that, she’s wonderful. (Marybelle is still in this scene, by the way, just “too shy” to talk to them until she pipes up that she can’t wait to go off to boarding school like Sooty, though she’s worried about leaving their mother alone.)
Mr L is friendly enough, but his smile doesn’t reach his eyes and Anne thinks he looks cruel; she’s immediately fond of Mrs L, though, who is as short as she is and has the smallest hands and feet Anne has ever seen on a grown-up.
There’s an awkward exchange about the tree and staying there and how they’ll take their meals away from Mr L because he doesn’t like conversation during meals, and then Mr L flat out tells Sooty that he can’t take risks with the kids and he has to stop playing the fool. Awesome.
Sooty shows them to their rooms after Mr L blows up and sends them away, and they work out plans for taking Timmy out via the secret tunnels and doing all sorts of exploring, etc. We also learn that Sooty’s birth father was also a Lenoir, and he was dark like Sooty, like all the Lenoirs usually are, and that the fair Lenoirs, like his stepfather, who is a cousin, are no good. That’s a nice change of pace to light = bad and dark = good. I’m feeling a little better, Blyton.
They have all sorts of adventures over the next few days, even Timmy, who is puzzled and lonely when he’s left alone in the secret passage but has fun elsewhere. The secret passage that runs out toward town, the one they use to exercise Timmy in the mornings, opens into Marybelle’s room through a trapdoor and a rope ladder. George says there’s no way Timmy can use it, but, um, George, I’m pretty certain you’ve taken him up and down much, much more difficult things over the past few books. [Dove: That dog can teleport, I’m sure of it.]
Anyway, Marybelle comes to the rescue and says they’ll use a giant laundry basket to pull him up and down. It works out, though they do bump him into walls a couple times, which of course he doesn’t like.
The tunnels that run through the hill are creepy and twisty and wonderful, and Sooty gives them a bit of a tour as they walk, showing one that goes up into Barling’s house (you know, the “only real smuggler”) and some others. Eventually, they come out on the steep cliff-side that runs down to the marsh, somewhere between the hill and the town. They have to climb down a rocky path to the wall and all manage to scramble over it, including Timmy.
When they see Block in town, they have to pretend that Timmy is a stray dog bothering them. Block threatens to throw a rock at Timmy, George flies at him and threatens to tell the police, and Mr Barling turns up. (“He’s long everywhere!” Anne thinks, which made me LOLOLOLOL. Oh, Anne.)
Mr Barling knows about Uncle Quentin being a clever scientist friend of Mr L, and talks about how good and generous Mr L is to take in the children when their family was in such need, but he says these nice things in a nasty voice. The kids realise that Mr Barling doesn’t like Mr L any more than they do, but they don’t like Mr B either, so it’s all a mess.
They get back to the house just in time for dinner, and so the next few days go for them. It’s a nice peaceful holiday, even with all the sneaking around with Timmy, but then! THEN! “…then things did begin to happen and once they had begun they never stopped!”
Thank goodness for that, because once again, it is taking awhile to get to the actual story. I’m not complaining, I generally enjoy the lead up, and this setting is wonderful, but it is going very slowly and I’m eager to get to the actually smugglers. (Or smuggler, considering that apostrophe.) [Dove: Let it go, Janine.]
Chapter Nine: Who is in the Tower?
Well that sounds promising!
Sooty wakes Julian and Dick late one night and takes them to a little room tucked away in an odd wing of the house. (Who doesn’t have odd wings in their houses? I mean, really.) It’s basically storage for old trunks and boxes and other worthless things, but it has a good view of the tower; it is, in fact, the only room with a view of the tower due to the odd angle.
Someone in the tower is signalling with a flashing light in a certain rhythm. They either don’t know the rhythm or we’re not told, but Sooty is pretty certain it isn’t his father, who he heard snoring earlier. Sure enough, Mr L seems to still be snoring away in his bedroom. Dick suspects Block of doing the signalling because he “looks full of secrets.” Is that why his hair’s so big?
They check Block’s room, but he’s quietly sleeping in his bed, so quietly that though Sooty can make out the shape of him and the round patch that is his head, he can’t hear Block breathe at all. Odds on whether Block is actually in the bed at this moment?
Sooty doesn’t want to say anything to his father until they know more, so the boys decide to creep up to the tower and see if they can find out who is doing it. There’s not really anywhere to hide, though, so they’ll have to be careful.
Plus there’s not much in the tower, Sooty says, just a table, a couple chairs, and a bookcase. They only use the room on hot summer days when the breeze is strong.
Julian and Dick wait in the shadows at the bottom of the tower, because it would be hard for all three of them to run if someone came out of the room; Sooty cannot look through any crack in the door, because it’s solid and unbroken and even has something stuffed in the keyhole. He can hear a series of little clicks, though, the sound of the light they’re using to signal.
The clicking stops, there are footsteps across the stone floor, and the door opens quickly. Sooty can’t run downstairs, he can only squeeze into a niche and hope they don’t see or feel him as they pass. Though the person brushes against Sooty’s arm, they don’t notice and go on down the stairs. Sooty can’t follow, though, because he’s afraid the moon will come out from behind the clouds and make his shadow fall down the stairs where the signaller can see it. All he can do is stay put and hope that Julian and Dick don’t get caught.
Julian and Dick are smart enough not to talk until they know for sure it’s not Sooty coming down the stairs, but not smart enough for Julian to manage to get himself free of the big curtains in which they hide so that they can follow the man who was signalling.
Dick manages it, though, and follows him all the way back to Block’s room. The man leaves the door a little ajar (convenient, that), and Dick creeps up to see that the room is empty except for Block, who is still asleep in his bed (and he sighs and rolls over in his sleep, so we actually get confirmation that (a) there is a person there and (b) they are alive). The signaller? Disappeared!
Once the boys get back together, Sooty tells them that there are no secret passages out of Block’s room because that part of the house is much newer than the rest. Also, he’s been watching for the signalling for awhile now and has worked out that whenever there is a good moon, someone signals from the tower room out to sea.
The boys go back up into the tower to look out the window. It takes them awhile to see anything, but finally, when the moon is covered by a cloud and the marsh dark, Julian notices a line of small dots of light, far enough away that they couldn’t tell if the line was moving or not. When the moon comes out again, there’s no way to see it at all.
They watch for awhile and determine that they think the line of lights is moving and is, in fact, coming closer over a secret path. Smugglers, of course!
The next day, they fill the girls in on the news. George finds it very peculiar and also isn’t well pleased that they left her and Anne out of it, but the boys promise there was no time to get them, plus they couldn’t have Timmy around for fear he would have attacked. You go on and on about how smart he is, though, surely by now you have trained him only to attack on command.
Block shows up to see if they’re done with their breakfast; Anne, not seeing him, asks what Mr Barling smuggles. When she’s kicked for it and finally notices Block, she reminds them that he can’t hear anything they say. I think that’s a pretty big assumption considering you were also told he always seems to know what’s going on. [Dove: As a child it always bugged me that they didn’t assume he could read lips, but a quick google says that lip-reading courses were only set up after the Second World War, so actually, it’s not that daft at all. Lip-reading would have been a very new concept at the time of this book, so it’s actually smart that the kids knew about it at all.]
Once he leaves, Anna lashes out at Sooty for kicking her, which, to be fair, she does when her siblings and George do it, too; I’m actually surprised more of them didn’t kick her, to be honest. Sooty tells her that he saw a funny look come across Block’s face when she asked her question, like he’d heard what she said and was surprised.
They run into Block again on their walk and this time pretend that they’ve befriend Timmy the Stray Dog. Block warns them not to bring the dog to the house or Mr L will have him killed, and George is, of course, furious, though she manages not to explode all over Block for it.
When they get back to Marybelle’s bedroom, they get ready to put Timmy in the secret passage as usual, but then he growls when they get close to the door. George knows this means there’s someone outside the room, and has the other kids pretend to play a game (a very loud game of snap, which is clever of them) while George hides Timmy in a cupboard and watches the door. The handle turns very slowly, and she knows someone intends to open the door without being heard and come in unexpectedly, but the door is, of course, locked! Once the person outside the door figures that out, they ease the handle back and then there’s a bit of a standoff, because George can’t tell if there’s anyone outside still or not.
Timmy to the rescue! She fetches him, he doesn’t growl this time, and they get him safely into the secret passage and head up to their dinner.
Just after Block has served them soup and left them to it, they hear Timmy barking in the distance, muffled and echoing from the secret passage, but clearly a dog. Sooty tells them to pretend they don’t hear anything while Block is around, and George explains that Timmy barks like that when he’s excited and pleased. He’s probably chasing a rat, because he always acts that way when he sees a rat or a rabbit.
Block brings in the next dish. He doesn’t say anything, but does seem to be watching the children closely to see if they make any expression or say anything. They talk cheerfully about how delicious the food is.
Mr L comes back instead of Block, though, irritating them as ever because he talks to them as if they are very small children. They’re polite, though, and hope he will leave quickly — but Timmy barks first.
Mr L starts, but the kids pretend they hear nothing. Mr L keeps lingering, listening and poking around stuff in the schoolroom. Julian thinks he’s come specifically to listen for the barking, because he never comes into that room otherwise. The kids continue to pretend not to hear any noise even when he asks about it, and then call it a gull and talk about how gulls can make strange noises — mewing like a cat, for example.
Mr L gets angrier and angrier and they all become a little frightened, but as he forces them to listen hard, Timmy has stopped barking and there is no more dog noise to be heard. Mr L’s anger doesn’t cool, though, and he flat out says he will have the dog poisoned when he catches it.
George, of course, nearly flies into one of her own rages at that (GET HIM, GEORGE!), but Mr L storms out too fast for it to happen and Anne keeps George quiet.
They get through their pudding without alerting Block to anything else and then retreat to Sooty’s room. They’re worried that Mr L may know how to access the secret ways behind the walls and find Timmy for himself. George decides that means it’s time for her and Timmy to go home, because she won’t risk his life. Of course she won’t! George is A++.
The kids try to talk her into staying, but she’s adamant and comes up with a plan to call home about her homesickness, which means the others can stay and help Sooty solve the mystery. She can’t get an answer back at Kirrin Cottage, though, not for three different calls.
Mrs L finds her there and tells her that she’s had an update from Fanny that it’s too loud to live at Kirrin Cottage while the workers are there so they’re going away. Mr L invited them to come to Smuggler’s Top, and they’re supposed to decide that very day whether they’ll do so. Also, Fanny said she wrote George a letter, and it should arrive any time.
Mrs L then asks them to come play a game with her after tea, the first time she’s done so. Mr L is out on important business and went to the mainland by car. He keeps her so busy she hasn’t been able to spend as much time with them as she’d like, but because he’s out, now she can. Ugh, I hope he falls into the marsh. What a controlling ass. [Necromommycon: This whole situation gives me waves of anxiety. He beats children and forbids his wife to do stuff? INTO THE MARSH WITH HIM. ]
Uncle Quentin calls in the middle of all this to say he’ll be arriving the next day but not Aunt Fanny, who is staying to help another aunt who is not doing so well. Uncle Quentin wants to talk about experiments with Mr L. Not those experiments, I’m guessing, but maybe. Find a better guy, Quentin. You’re a bit of an ass yourself, but not all bad.
That night, when Sooty makes sure the coast is clear to bring Timmy into George’s room, he sees Block hiding behind the curtains at the landing window. … fail, Block. Fail.
Sooty has a plan: they’ll all go to a landing, Sooty will shout that he’s seen a robber hiding behind the curtains, they’ll jump on Block and tie him up before they “recognise” him. It’s a good lesson, they think, one that will do him no harm.
George, meanwhile, will sneak Timmy past in all the excitement.
Everything goes well until George tries to take Timmy past, but he wants to join in the fun and nips at Block’s leg until George has to slap him and drag him off to the bedroom. She’s super apologetic to him there, but also worried about how they will explain something biting Block.
She’s just joined the others when Mr L pops up demanding to know what all the noise is. Sooty acts all proud that they’ve caught a robber, and Mr L is amazed and rushes up to get their story.
Once Block starts talking (conveniently just as they ask Mr L to call the police), Mr L gets angry (yes, again) that they’ve tied up Block and demands they set him free. Block, of course, talks about being bitten by a dog, and Sooty, very seriously, asks if he possibly could have bitten Block in his excitement. When he loses his temper, he hardly knows what he does, you see; Mr L threatens to have him whipped if he thinks Sooty is going around and biting people. Sooty really plays this up until he sends Mr L into a full rage and Mr L tries to box his ears. Sooty’s too quick for him, though, and darts off to clean the taste of Block from his mouth. Mr L, disgusted, sends them all to bed after threatening to tell Uncle Quentin about how terrible they all are. [Dove: Sooty is adorable in this part.]
The next morning, Block threatens the kids, Sooty in particular, and the dog, too, when he brings their breakfast. Sooty gives it back to him, though, telling him if he’s not careful he’ll find himself tied up again and Sooty just might bite again, too. On the one hand, Sooty is an absolute delight and I love how fast he makes situations work for him. On the other hand, the running trick that the only kid who is a person of colour is the one going around and acting like an animal is pretty shit.
Then things get worse. Sooty is to stay with Julian and Dick while Uncle Quentin is there, and Block starts cleaning the room before they can get Timmy out of the secret passage. George lurks in Marybelle’s room and tries to get in and tries to get in, but when Block finally does go to see to their lunch, he locks the door! OH NO TIMMY.
George wants to go in through the entry that is in Mr L’s study, but Sooty refuses, because Mr L has set up that space to show off his experiments to Uncle Quentin. George is determined, though; she doesn’t care what happens to her, she has to get to Timmy. I don’t fucking blame her.
She sneaks off on her own, though, because she doesn’t want to get them involved nor does she want to trust the task to one of them. She’s going to do it on her own. She slips away and they don’t notice, at first, but then can’t find her anywhere when they do. Sooty checks, and Mr L is in that little space, so she can’t be there. They search and they search and they search and they can’t find her.
She is, of course, in the study. She found the door locked when she tried to go in and the window barred. When she hears Mr L coming, she hides in a big wooden chest by the door and tries to figure out a plan.
Mr L has to leave for a moment to get something he forgot, so she rushes into the study. He’s back before she can open the secret panel, though, and she has to hide behind a large sofa.
He works for about half an hour, George getting stiffer and more uncomfortable the entire time, and then goes to take a nap on the sofa. A whole entire 30 minutes was too much for you, Mr L? You hard worker you.
She tries hard to be quiet and find the right spot to get into the secret passage, but Mr L wakes up. He still thinks she’s a boy, and he calls for Sarah to get Block for him. He writes down instructions for Block to lock her into her room and give her nothing but bread and water; when George says that her father won’t be pleased with how she’s being treated, Mr L waves that off because he’ll be more upset about how his “son” is misbehaving.
Upstairs, George cries for help from the others, but they’re too late to stop him from locking her in her room. Block hits Julian when Julian tries to steal the key and sends him halfway across the landing. Goddamn.
While the others are off at a meal, George decides she’ll use the rope ladder to climb out the window and get some fresh air. (Though this wasn’t mentioned before, when it would have nicely foreshadowed this, apparently after that time someone tried to get into Marybelle’s room, they’ve been keeping the rope ladder in George and Anne’s room. Convenient. [Dove: Blyton’s method was basically NaNoWriMo. Throw the words down, don’t edit, win.]) Once it’s late enough, she’ll sneak back into the house and find a way into the study so she can get Timmy.
Block has gone to bed with a headache, but the other servants are still in the kitchen and so she has to be very careful.
George makes it to the wall and walks along it for awhile. She has to wait until she finds a bit of town she recognises so that when she climbs off the wall, she can make her way back. This is also convenient, because she’s looking into people’s windows as she goes, and in one big house, she swears she sees Block!
He’s talking to Mr Barling, the smuggler. She tells herself she shouldn’t be snooping, and I call bullshit on that. Three quarters of the things you lot learn happen through snooping, or at least that’s how it sits in my memory.
George watches for awhile, but can’t hear what Mr Barling is saying; the man she thinks is Block doesn’t turn so she can get a better look at his face, and she’s confused, because why would he be talking to Mr Barling and also isn’t he deaf? Why you no suggest secret evil twin, George? (Or, I guess in Block’s case, secret good twin, maybe.)
She comes up with no answers and eventually hops off the wall and makes her way back to Smuggler’s Top. Sooty lets her inside and they have a delicious bunch of food waiting for her that they’ve raided from the larder. While she eats, she tells them about what she saw at Mr Barling’s house. [Dove: … you can’t just say “delicious food”. TELL ME WHAT THEY ATE, WING! THIS IS BLYTON. I’M HERE FOR THE FOOD!]
Sooty runs off to check and finds that Block is in his bed; Sooty could see the shape of his body and the dark patch of his head, which is exactly the same thing he said last time. Sooty wants to know if there are two Blocks. I’m glad someone else is asking that!
George then goes back to the room via the window, so I’m not actually sure why she went to all this trouble in the first place. Was it just to go run off her energy? But she’s supposed to be too worried about Timmy to want to go far. Was it just to get herself food? She could have climbed down and right back up once she got the food from the others. It seems like a pointless thing she did simply because Blyton needed someone to go see Block-or-Block-alike talking to Mr B.
Shortly after, Block takes food to George in that room. Now wait a minute, if he’s been in bed asleep and is supposed to be sick in bed, why is he bringing her food and not one of the other servants?
She throws her water at the back of his head because she hates him so much. Very subtle there, George. Very subtle indeed. He can’t hit her because the boys are there (that didn’t stop him from hitting Julian before), but he does threaten that she’ll never get her dog back.
(I have zero doubt that Timmy will be just fine.)
The kids go down to talk to Uncle Quentin and report back to George; Uncle Q is, unsurprisingly, annoyed and cross at George for misbehaving and says that she should be locked up all of the next day, too, if she doesn’t apologise. I see that going well.
George naps for awhile and around midnight wakes up to Sooty knocking at her door. That’s the signal for her to climb back out the window and come around to the side-door so they can get into the study to get Timmy — except it is locked. Again. Of course it is. It was locked before, it is locked now, and I don’t understand why none of you thought about that!
Sooty decides the only thing for it is for him to sneak into his old room where Uncle Quentin is sleeping, make his way into the secret passage, and get Timmy out himself. I was going to ask why he didn’t just sneak into the secret passage that way and then bring Timmy out through the study, but would it have been standard to need a key to unlock the door from both sides?
George tries to stop him when she remembers about the buzzer that will wake Uncle Quentin (or, you know, her dad, but I’m so used to referring to him as Uncle Q at this point), but Sooty, of course, disconnected that as soon as he knew he’d have to give up his room. I love you, Sooty.
Sooty sends George off to Marybelle’s room to wait and slips into his old room. He won’t go to the cupboard until Uncle Q is fast asleep, but Uncle Q is super restless, tossing and turning long into the night.
When he finally grows still, Sooty heads for the cupboard, but hears a tiny creak of a door over by the window. The night is dark, but the window is a lighter gray against it and he wonders if someone is opening the window.
BUT NO. The window isn’t moving. The big window-seat that is built in under the window is lifting up instead! It seems someone unscrewed the top and hid themself inside. Sooty is both curious and frightened.
The figure goes to Uncle Q, muffles him and does something to make him unable to fight (drugs!), and then puts him into the window seat. CREEPY. Sooty shouts for him to stop and when he turns on his torch, recognises Mr Barling. Shock. Awe. Amaze.
Then someone knocks him out from behind (and puts him in the window-seat and follows after, but he doesn’t know that even as we’re told what happened).
George is the only one awake next door and she hears Sooty shout. She’s scared, but takes her torch and goes into the room next door; the room is empty no matter how much she searches, and finally sits on the window-seat confused and frightened.
(Didn’t open the cupboard to get her damn dog, though!) [Dove: I felt that George wasn’t the best dog owner in this book. Usually she’s all about Timmy, but this one, she’s like, “Yep, he can live in a secret passage/cave where he could hurt himself and I’d never know, as long as we’re TOGETHER IN THE SAME BUILDING despite the fact we’re APART MOST OF THE TIME.”]
She hears someone coming and hides under the bed just in time, because another man comes in and bends over the window-seat. He taps his fingers on the closed lid and then does something metallic and squeaking. George can’t think of what it is. She wonders if the man is Block based on this little cough he gives, but can’t see him clearly enough to tell.
Finally, he leaves and she can make her way to the boys’ room. She tells him everything that’s happened and soon enough all five children are in the empty room where Sooty and Uncle Q disappeared. STILL NO TIMOTHY THOUGH SO MUCH FOR THAT WORRY HE’S ONLY BEEN LOCKED IN A TUNNEL ALONE ALL THIS TIME.
They finally go check the secret passage, though not for Timothy but to try to see if Mr Barling took Sooty and Uncle Q out that way; the little iron handle that opens it is missing! (And finally George thinks about Timmy and how wonderful it would be to have him with her. YES I’M SURE HE’S HAVING A GREAT TIME LOCKED ALONE ALL DAY IN THE DARKNESS WITH NO WATER.)
They decide the only thing to do is wait and see what happens in the morning, so the three girls go sleep in Marybelle’s room and the boys stay in Sooty’s room.
The next morning, Sarah the maid is surprised to find the boys in Sooty’s room, and comes back with Harriet and Block. Block starts to shout at George who is, of course, not locked in that other room, but Julian sends him away after mentioning the police. Block goes to fetch Mr and Mrs Lenoir, of course, and Marybelle bursts out that Sooty is missing, too.
Julian takes over telling the story because he doesn’t want her to give away everything they know. He says simply that Uncle Q and Sooty disappeared last night, and Mr L accuses him of holding back information. Marybelle wails for him to tell the rest, and Mr L gets angry and says he’s going to get the police and maybe they’ll knock some sense into Julian.
This shocks the children, because they all believe that he’s got far too many secrets to hide, and Julian flat out says it.
Mr L is shocked and when Block returns, he motions him into the room to hear what’s happening (except for that whole deaf thing, but okay); Julian refuses to talk in front of him, though, because they don’t trust Block. This makes Mr L angrier and angrier, because after all he’s the master in his own house. Gross.
Finally Mr L gives in and sends Block away, then takes everyone else down to his study. Julian is shocked by how he’s acting and how gentle he is with Mrs L and Marybelle with their worry.
Julian tells Mr L about the signalling, and Mr L continues to trust Block, who has never been anything but loyal; his explanation is that it must have been Mr Barling who can’t signal to the sea from his house because it’s not quite in the right spot. He knows all the secret ways into the house even better than Mr L does.
Mr L goes to tell Block about this and to ask if he’s ever had any suspicions toward Mr Barling; Julian decides not to tell Mr L anything more if he’s just going to pass the information along to Block.
They split up for breakfast and Julian thinks they should do some investigating of their own. There has to be another way out beyond the secret passage. They decide that some of them should go check Mr Barling’s house to see if Sooty and Uncle Q are being held there (and by “some” I mean the boys, because of course Julian can’t let George go with them it’s too dangerous for a girl fuck off Julian she’s tougher than you by far).
Over at Mr B’s house, the gardener says that Mr B left on holiday, all alone in his car, and he’s given the servants a holiday, too. Except for the gardener, it seems, who is still working, but cool.
While they are on this failed trip, George goes back to snoop around Sooty’s room. She’s just about to give up when she finds a small screw on the floor near the window; that leads her to the window-seat and how the top is screwed down. AHA!
She fetches a screwdriver, locks the door behind her to keep out Block, and gets to work. She’s just removed all the screws when someone comes tapping at the door; though she’s afraid it’s Mr L or Block, really it’s the other kids because Julian and Dick have returned. She shows them what she’s doing, and tells them about what she heard.
When she opens the lid, though, it’s just an empty cupboard — right up until she gets inside and stamps, and then bottom drops like a trapdoor on a hinge. BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT IT IS!
Before they can go down to explore, Mr L comes knocking at the door. They quickly close up the window-seat and let him inside. He says that Block is innocent and knew nothing of what was going on, but the kids are not convinced. Further, Block thinks that the signalling was not Mr B at all, but some plot against Mr L.
After Mr L goes to do more work while they wait for the police to call back, Julian runs to make sure Block is really in his room and sees the shape of Block’s body and the dark patch that is his head OH MY GOD WHY DO NONE OF YOU CHECK ANY CLOSER. [Necromommycon: Seriously. Why can they find secret passages every time they turn around but they’ve never heard of someone rigging up an empty bed to look occupied?]
There are niches carved into the wall in the new secret passage and the kids manage to climb down, though George misses a couple and falls a few feet. No damage, though. They walk until they find the maze of tunnels into the hill and decide they can’t go any further or they will be lost.
Then they hear the hollow sound of footsteps coming toward them and hide just in time to see two men coming. One is Block, or at least “someone the exact image of him” gee I wonder what that could be and the other Anne thinks is Mr Barling.
Instead of following the men, though, the kids go back to Sooty’s room, which is probably the smart choice but certainly not the most entertaining. Julian puts the screws back into the window-seat to make sure no one figures out that they know about the secret passage and he then runs off check on Block again, who is still in bed.
I … I know this is supposed to be all exciting and adventurous, and I know I’ve been loving these books, but I have to admit — I’m bored.
Yadda yadda yadda meal blah blah blah Mr L is ringing for Block — oh, here we go. Finally Julian actually goes up to the body in the bed and SURE ENOUGH IT IS NOT BLOCK BUT A BIG BALL PAINTED BLACK AND SOME LUMPY BOLSTER MOULDED TO LOOK LIKE A BODY. I AM SHOCKED.
(It was that or evil twin. I’d have been happy with either fifty million years ago before I was bored, but at this point I just don’t care.)
We finally pick back up with Uncle Quentin and Sooty. Mr Barling has a servant helping him after he drops Uncle Q and Sooty into the secret passage, and they drag the two off into the tunnels, where they use string to keep Block from getting lost as he follows them to bring their prisoners food.
Though Mr Barling hadn’t planned on kidnapping Sooty, he’s glad for the chance to do so because Mr L has been working against him.
They take Sooty and Uncle Q to a little round gave that has a bench with some rugs, a box for a table, and a jug of water. Sooty wakes up there, but Uncle Q will sleep on until morning. Mr Barling doesn’t have to tie Sooty up because he reminds him that Sooty will be lost if he tries to leave the cave, and Sooty knows that’s the truth. (Plus they don’t leave him a light.)
Sooty sits silent in the dark for awhile, but eventually he gets too scared and frantically tries to wake Uncle Q so he has some company. Uncle Q only partially wakes up long enough to mutter something about it being alright, but that’s enough to make Sooty feel better, and Sooty manages to get some rest himself. [Dove: I love that Sooty has to call him “Uncle Quentin” because he doesn’t know his surname, and feels it would be rude to call an adult he barely knows by their first name.]
The next morning, Uncle Quentin is super confused, but Sooty quickly brings him up to speed. Still surprising for Uncle Q, though. Mr Barling and Block show up with some food, and Sooty shouts at him for awhile and when Block answers, Sooty finally learns that Block has been pretending to be deaf this entire time.
Mr Barling wants to talk to Uncle Q first, but then Block can whip Sooty as much as he wants because he’s a rude, loud boy. Coooooooooool.
Uncle Q demands to be taken home and threatens Mr Barling with the police, but Mr B makes him a proposal: he knows why Uncle Q is at Smuggler’s Top and all about his experiments and Mr L’s experiments, and Mr B wants to buy Uncle Q’s plans.
You see, Uncle Q has figured out a way to drain the marshes, and Mr L plans to buy those plans from him and then, once the marsh is drained, sell the land for a big profit, because he already owns all of it.
This, of course, doesn’t work for Mr B, because it will shut down his smuggling business. Both Uncle Q and Sooty call Mr L a madman, because of course they do; he’s suited for another time, Sooty adds, because smuggling is dying and he’s far too proud of being one of the last smugglers.
I … don’t think smuggling is dying, just changing, but okay, cool, I’ll accept this to get through the story. [Dove: The Famous Five 47: Five Thwarth The Drug Mules]
Uncle Q tears up Mr Barling’s agreement because he doesn’t “deal with madmen, nor with rogues”! Uncle Q, you’ve come over all dramatic!
When Sooty cheers, Block grabs him and raises a rope to beat him with. Mr Barling tells him to handle Sooty first and then beat up Uncle Q for awhile to make them both more biddable.
Block gets a couple blows in on Sooty, making him yell, and then “something” attacks in a way that makes Block knock over the lantern, plunging them all into darkness. Gee, I wonder if Timmy has finally shown up again.
Block shouts for help, but Timmy attacks Mr Barling when he tries to wade into the fight. Uncle Q and Sooty are amazed and afraid, because whatever could it be, a giant rat, a wild animal — are you fucking kidding me, Sooty?! YOU PUT THE GODDAMN DOG IN THE TUNNEL. [Necromommycon: Now I’m having an urge to watch The Killer Shrews again. All the giant shrews are played by large dogs–large, friendly, doglike dogs.]
Finally Sooty figures out what’s happening, and Timmy chases off the men. Uncle Q and Sooty make a huge fuss over him and feed him a bunch of food. Then Timmy takes them out of the tunnels; he refuses to go back toward the house, but has found a way out to the marshes and so takes them there.
He refuses to go any farther for a minute, and then disappears back into the tunnel. Kaaaaaay.
Uncle Q and Sooty are stuck where they are because they don’t know how to make it through the marshes without sinking.
And we skip back to the others.
Mr L is shocked to learn that Block was a spy put into the house by Mr Barling. So much for trusting him, huh? Anyway, George really wants Timmy and they finally tell Mr L about how Timmy is in the tunnels.
Mr L tells them it was foolish to hide him in the tunnels; if they’d told him, he would have had someone in the village take care of Timmy. He can’t change that he doesn’t like dogs, but he would have willingly had him taken care of if he’d known. The kids are sorry and a little ashamed and realize that though Mr L is weird and hot-tempered, he’s not as horrid as they thought.
Mr L goes to call the police again, and George, Dick, Julian, and Anne head into the secret passage to look for Timmy. He’s not in the tunnel, though, and they figure out that he went through the passage that goes into the dining room — wait a fucking minute are you fucking telling me this whole time there’s been another entrance and you lot haven’t fucking tried it?! WHAT THE FUCK.
ANYWAY, they run into the tunnel with the string and follow it, assuming that it will lead to Uncle Q and Sooty. Soon enough, they find the little cave, but no one is there, of course. They hear someone coming and quickly turn off their light so they can startle whoever is sneaking around.
It is, of course, Mr Barling, Block, and the servant. He tries to tie up the kids, starting with George, and she shrieks for Timmy, but he doesn’t come. He’s too far away to hear, because he’s with Sooty and Uncle Q at the edge of the marsh, but then he gets a bad feeling, because now we have a psychic dog?!, and he takes off to find George, who he knows is in danger.
He drives off all three men and the kids make a huge fuss over Timmy. He then leads them to Uncle Q and Sooty and everyone has a great reunion. They then waste a lot of time telling each other what’s happened, because it’s not like a bunch of kidnappers and smugglers are potentially getting away or anything.
Timmy then leads them through the marsh to safety — until he slips and falls into the mud and starts to sink. Uncle Q holds George back and the kids freak out. Conveniently, a truck with a bunch of things on it, including wooden planks, comes by and they use the wood to make a safe path. Uncle Q saves Timmy and the driver gives them a ride up to Smuggler’s Top.
There’s another reunion, more storytelling, the police show up, there’s even more storytelling, Sarah bathes Timmy and then George introduces Timmy to Mr L, who is shocked to see such good manners in a dog. So shocked that he agrees to let Timmy stay with them in the house for the rest of his trip. The police try to recruit Timmy, but George will never give him up.
Mr Barling and his men don’t turn up, and finally the police have Timmy go find them in the tunnels. He herds them like sheep back to the police. This little bit made me laugh, because if he herds like Monster Dog, he’s nipping at their heels and they’re having a terrible time of things again.
(Monster Dog is currently passed out in the cool, dark room where I’m working; we finally turned on the air conditioning today, because it hit nearly 90 degrees, and she’s delighted by it.)
Everything ends well, obviously: smugglers are stopped, police are happy, the children have had a fun adventure, Mr L has agreed to leave Smuggler’s Top because Mrs L and Marybelle are so unhappy there, Marybelle is glad to have no more adventures, but the others want lots of adventures and since adventures always come to the adventurous, there’s no doubt they’ll have many more. The end.
This book fell flat for me in ways the others didn’t. It’s really, really slow, for one thing, but the others have been slow, too, so I don’t know why I found it so annoying this time. The worst part, though, was how it felt like people made stupid choices just to have specific things happen; their characterisations were sacrificed for the plot, which didn’t work without people doing things that just flat didn’t make sense for them.
I am sad I didn’t like this one as much, and I hope I enjoy the next.
[Dove: I think what didn’t work for me was George sacrificing Tim’s wellbeing just so they could be “together”. Because they weren’t really together, they were just technically on the same property. Tim could have hurt himself, got lost, eaten something poisonous, anything could have happened while he was in the tunnels but THANK GOD THEY WERE TOGETHER, AMIRIGHT? That really chipped away at the whole story for me. I think maybe a lot of the story took place in boring locations too. While Smuggler’s Top was a cool location overall, so much of the story took place in bedrooms, that I couldn’t even wiggle past the boring bits – same with Book 2. I’m here for the food and location porn, and endless scenes in bedrooms as people figured out how to get to a dog was just dull.]