Under a Solitary Tree: Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club – Treasure at Amorys


(This is a revised version of the original essay, based on the full, First edition text, not the edited Second edition produced in 1969 for Armada, and upon second thoughts.)

I owe this book the biggest of all apologies for my original review in this place. I came to it with expectations and assumptions both pointing to the same thing, and was horribly disappointed to find the book evading this most important of points industriously. As a result, I criticised Treasure at Amorys heavily, as a feeble attempt to row back on the advancement of the Lone Pine series with Not Scarlet But Gold.
I was convinced, expected, that this book would allow Jon and Penny Warrender the same opportunity given David and Peter to finally understand and express their feelings towards one another. Instead, there was but one, early and then forsaken look into Jon’s feelings, not even communicated to his no-longer schoolgirl cousin, and then nothing.
Just a Lone Pine book of familiar dimensions, involving Treasure, villainy, and the by-now tired threats that the children be sensible and clear out.
But once I had the Girls Gone By volume, with the full, First edition text, I learned how badly I had been mistaken. I should have trusted my memories more, and I should certainly have trusted Malcolm Saville better. Every moment of affection, of emotion, of feeling – and the odd kiss or two – between Jon and Penny was ruthlessly excised from the Second edition, with an efficiency that I can’t help but feel was intentional.
And some of the suspicions I would voice in response to a later Warrender book may well have a bearing here, especially as I now know that such suspicions were accurate.
Certainly, Saville was more circumspect with this next pair, this pair-who-had-always-been-a-pair. There is nothing so definite a commitment to each other, no shared transformative experience that forces realisation on the couple.
This is so even though Saville sets up a similar catalyst for upheaval as that which faced Peter in Not Scarlet But Gold. This is Penny’s last return to Rye and the Dolphin. The routine of years is ending. Her schooldays are over and, after one last holiday, with the Mortons due, she will go to India, back to her parents. She is now a young woman, not a girl.
Even the oblivious, supercilious Jon (who has just started to realise he’s interested in girls) notices this. He’s not likely to see her again for three to four years, by when she will be engaged, or even married. Jon doesn’t like that thought: he finds it ‘disgraceful’.
That’s one big and intriguing word to choose, and not necessarily in a good way. Jon has never been the kindest to his devoted cousin, and no sooner does her train arrive and she’s not hanging out the window waving to him, he’s berating her in anger, both mentally and verbally, in a way that, in a version of the book written fifty years later, would have Penny kicking him in the cobblers for it, and everyone applauding.
But that’s as may be. The Mortons are due tomorrow, Jon’s openly telling our favourite redhead that he’d like more time alone with her, and Mrs Warrender is proposing to pack the pack of them off to stay at a house called Amorys, on the Isle of Oxney.
Let us park Jon and Penny for a while. In Not Scarlet But Gold the adventure part of the story was background: an activity for the remaining Lone Piners, a catalyst for David and Peter’s breakthrough into adulthood. In Treasure at Amorys, the situations are reversed. This is a conventional Lone Pine story, about treasure, and crooks trying to steal it: what growth the Warrenders undergo is background to that.
And how conventional it is: because this is Rye once more, and the Warrenders once more, it has to be Miss bloody Ballinger again.
Once again, Saville’s opening chapter introduces the villains. Miss Ballinger is now Mrs Emma Cartwright, widow, living in a neglected house in an undistinguished South London street, resentful at her fall. Like all such Saville figures, she has to be depicted as unattractive, so now we earn she is greedy for strawberry jam.
Actually, Ballinger/Cartwright is almost a peripheral figure, as the real focus is Les Dale, ‘fiancé’ to the hard-faced Valerie. Dale is an intelligent scholar, but he’s lazy, self-centred, long-haired and bearded and also dirty (Valerie must love that). In short, he’s exactly the kind of modern-world character Saville caricatured. However, he believes he’s found valuable Roman remains. In the form of a near-intact temple to Mithras. On the Isle of Oxney. In the grounds of Amorys.
The unlovely Les wants ‘Aunt Em’ to put up the cash to buy Amorys (the owner of which will of course sell, because what else is important but the money, why on earth would he want to live there and, most of all, Les wants him to). That she genuinely hasn’t got a secret stash only infuriates him. People like Les always get infuriated when people don’t do what suits him.
If he can’t buy Amorys, at least Les and Valerie can rent it. Oh no, wait…
Jon and Penny have gone off to Oxney for the afternoon on their bicycles. They pause for a swim in the Military Canal, where Penny promptly cuts her ankle and comes all over faint, and Jon saves her without even noticing he’s manhandling her in her swimsuit, so she arrives somewhat bedraggled at Amorys, where the owner is not a Mrs Bolshaw, but rather Major Bolshaw.

Now the Major is a sweetie. He speaks in the clipped, sentence-fragment military style that wasn’t so much a cliché when this was written. He’s a widower, who’s lived alone with his wife until she died a year ago, an insular couple who shut the world out, and he’s decided to let out rooms because he feels a need to reconnect, and he needs the money, but this is his home as it was hers and he’s never going to sell.
The man’s an eccentric but, like Jenny with Mr Wilkins in Lone Pine Five, Penny’s sympathies are instantly with him, and she commits the Lone Piners to taking the whole house for a week, just minutes ahead of Dale and his crude, blustery attempts to change Bolshaw’s mind and rent to him, with a view to selling. Dale’s not the kind the Major would take to even if he hadn’t already committed to these amazing children – and Penny’s idea is for them to look after the Major, and help him restore house and gardens.
No, she hasn’t changed that much.
And before the day ends, Penny falls asleep under heavy skies, threatening rain and, like Peter in The Secret of Grey Walls, she dreams. It’s a dream that prophecies, though it prophecies the past, and it fills Penny with terrors, as she dreams of the Romans, the legions, centurions, priests, and the interior of an underground temple: a temple to Mithras, a sun-god, a bull-killer, god of a religion for men only…
The Mortons agree, and everyone heads to Oxney. But they stop at a pub there, for a break, and it’s where Dale and Valerie (who has belted indoors at the first sight of them) are based, and Dale is as stupidly aggressive and unpleasant as any Saville baddie, getting everyone’s hackles and suspicions up, sparking the Twins into one of their performances.

And the book slides downhill. Instead of the Mithraic Temple being the framework for an emotional coming of age, it becomes the whole of the story. Dale’s after the Treasure. Grandad Charlie Crump of the Smugglers Rest knows where to look, thanks to an old letter from his dead Dad, an apprentice well-sinker who, just before a crippling accident, broke through an underground wall… Threats start to float around. The Lone Piners set themselves to find the Treasure for the Major before anyone else does. Bluster is the order of the day. Valerie keeps in hiding until she goes and dyes her hair so she won’t be recognised. The Major shoots off to London in the middle of the first (badly-interrupted) night there, leaving these near-complete stranger children in charge of defending his home…
In short, it’s a Lone Pine Club adventure, except that after Not Scarlet But Gold, after elevating both Jon and David to the hitherto distant age of seventeen, after taking Penny out of school, and even suggesting that the Twins look eleven (though they’re still ten in the foreword), that’s not good enough.
There is, of course, a kidnapping, this time of Penny, decoyed away from Amorys by the desperate pleas for help by a dyed-haired woman, claiming her baby’s fallen in the canal. Penny’s taken to the Smugglers Rest where, after spending the book keeping a very wise distance and not getting involved, Miss Ballinger has turned up for no reason.
So Penny is pressured and threatened to try to get her to tell what’s been found, to write a letter summoning everyone to the Smugglers Rest in the most specious manner possible, even to promise to get everyone to clear out in the morning (I mean, these are criminals with no sense of honour but they seem to think that if they can terrorise or beat a girl into promising to go, her sense of honour will bind her to doing exactly that: the horrifying thing, and which really does mark the gulf between then and now, is that if she did promise, even under those conditions, Penny would feel bound to obey, and Saville would regard that as proper).
But Penny remains defiant, even though she’s terrified, and the increasingly malicious Ballinger knows it. She’s determined to hold out, because she has faith, ultimate faith in Jon, that he will fetch her away from this. In this, she’s justified: despite how indifferently he’s treated her, we know Jon would defend his cousin to the death. Now, with the Mortons at his back, supplanting David’s authority as Captain, he not only frees Penny, her face bruised from a very hefty slap, but locks in Dale, Valerie and Miss Ballinger.
Let me pause for a moment here. This is one of the points where the Second Edition cuts is really pointed. Despite his feelings about Penny leaving, and how ‘disgraceful’ it would be for her to get engaged or married, Jon’s behaviour towards his cousin has barely changed.
But there’s a moment, without fanfare, when Penny, stressed by how everything is going, beginning to doubt, on the point of crying, turns to Jon, who wordlessly holds her tight and, when she turns her face up to his, kisses her. And kisses her again. It’s quiet and undemonstrative, with no sense of the momentousness of this being their first kiss. Or is it?
For, when Jon comes to Penny’s rescue at the pub, and releases her bonds, her first response is too throw her arms round his neck and kiss him “on the lips.” It’s surrounded by quick, intense moments given no pointed emphasis. Penny sees the raging Jon, who has been more to her than a brother for almost as long as she can remember. Jon unties her wrists, kisses the livid weals, calls her darling. That Saville specifies that this kiss is on the lips blurs the previous, rather more natural moment, suggesting that Jon’s kisses of an attractive young woman in his arms were rather to the cheek or forehead (in which case it was almost unnatural restraint).
And within a couple of pages he’s calling her the nicest and prettiest girl he’s ever likely to meet. But by that point, the story has reasserted itself and Saville is determined to give it its unwanted prominence.
Whilst everybody’s been down the pub, Grandpa Charlie’s been burning down the copse. It’s like The Secret of Grey Walls again, only without the complete disregard for safety, and everybody approves warmly, including the Major, arriving in the middle of the night with a friend and Roman expert.
Grandpa Charlie has undergone a Damascene conversion with no apparent motivation. From £1,000 off Les Dale to enable him to abandon the Smugglers Rest, his blowsy daughter-in-law and fat pimply grandson, Charlie drops to £500 off the Major and, just as rapidly, nothing but the extra trade this will now bring in to the pub!

And once the old well is exposed, and the digging locates the lost entrance, Penny, despite hating her dream, must relive it by descending to the temple, becoming the first woman ever to penetrate the heart of a male religion.
But that’s it, apart from a half apology from Dale, who is allowed to run as long as he and his crew runs now.
And it’s over. Even the full version of the story is incomplete next to Not Scarlet But Gold. There is no declaration between Jon and Penny, though we may presume from what we have read that an understanding exists. And in the excised-from-Second-Edition last line, Mary Morton sums up that the Twins “… have another love affair on our hands, though I s’pose we’ve had this one nearly as long as David and Peter. We shall get used to it, I s’pose.”
But will we? Penny is still going to India, she is leaving Rye and her Aunt and Jon, with nothing but a still tacit understanding between the pair that may be slightly more marked, but in which nothing has been said. Not even words that are nothing new.
In my original essay, it was not until the final book in which the Warrenders appeared, Rye Royal, which seemed equally inconclusive, that I speculated that Malcolm Saville had problems over the fact that he had made Jon and Penny into cousins. For most of the Twentieth century, there was a general prejudice against cousins getting involved with each other, as their closer genetic ties were believed to make it certain that they would produce mentally defective babies. I don’t know when science first established that there were no grounds for this belief, but Saville grew up in an era when the idea of cousins marrying was frowned upon.
And Home to Witchend confirmed that my speculations were correct. I’ll leave that discussion to that book, but it is the explanation as to why things between the two Warrenders couldn’t be treated with the same freedom Saville could grant to David and Peter.
Nor to Tom and Jenny, as we would see in the next book.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s