Under a Solitary Tree: Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club – Rye Royal

(This is a revised version of the original essay, based on the full, First edition text and upon second thoughts.)

I’ve needed to rethink my review of this book almost as much as I had in respect of Treasure at Amorys. The misimpressions created by the decidedly precise edit of the latter had a knock-on effect on my perceptions of Rye Royal, which I incorrectly saw as a second chance to settle the future of Jon and Penny Warrender in the way that had now been extended to David and Peter and Tom and Jenny.
Saville still doesn’t go anything like as far with the Warrenders as he’s done with those of the Lone Piners who are not cousins, but he does treat them in this book as more of a couple. There are kisses, references to Jon’s friends trying to get off with ‘his’ girl, and a happy thought from the latter, when everyone is gathered, of ‘Penny for me and Peter for David’, and that being the way it should be.
This is the last Rye book, and the last substantive appearance by the Warrenders. (and also the only one in the series not to have a map), and it’s significance is primarily in getting Peter to Rye at long last.
Previously, Jon was a school year away from going up to Oxford, Penny had left school and was due to travel to India to live with her parents. Now, when Rye Royal begins, in November, Jon is at University, course unknown but obviously frightfully clever and presumably with some science bent, and Penny is still living at the Gay Dolphin and studying Domestic Science (i.e. how to be a Housewife) in Hastings.
Despite the awkward time-gap, the explanation for this change of plan is that Penny’s parents are finally ending their exile and service in India, that has lasted technically since at least 1942, and will be returning at Christmas, to go into partnership with Jon’s mother to run the Gay Dolphin. We must assume that both parents and child were able to bear the pain of separation with more of the equanimity shown down the years.
I’ve said before that Saville created something of a rod for his own back when he made the Warrenders cousins. For most of the Twentieth century, there was a general prejudice against cousins marrying, 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 as we will learn, never escaped his reluctance to allow Jon and Penny the same free reign as his other couples.
Thankfully, we have David and Peter on hand. The story begins in November, with Penny and Jon, before jumping to the week before Xmas, and at long last the Mortons have managed to get Peter to Rye.
It’s significant, and genuinely touching, that Peter’s first move, after arriving in Rye by train, is to single out Penny, and ask her to walk up to the Dolphin with her, through the town, on their own. Considering that Peter first approached Penny with vague suspicions about a) knowing David and b) being a girl, it’s a loving gesture of solidarity and trust. Peter is the stranger here, who’s heard so much about everything, but knows nothing, and she seeks out Penny to be her guide.
And Penny has no jealousy of Peter, who is being described as more beautiful by the book. Her hair is longer, she’s almost as tall as Jon (really?) and now we’re told that she really suits mini-skirts (no doubt she does).
Yet Peter is the outsider. She’s the country girl, and even such a little town as Rye, so old-fashioned and wonderful, is inimical to her. David is at her side, throughout, but there’s a telling scene later in the book when they’re in the Book Cellar, a kind of quasi-teenage club, and it’s crowded and noisy and David is being subjected to a lot of earnest discourse by two very earnest girls, and Peter cannot stand things and has to go out.
She’s followed by Judith Wilson, reappearing as now married to James, who understands that Peter is feeling overwhelmed, and is facing the fear that she can’t function properly outside of Shropshire. Judith sympathises, but reminds Peter that if her life is to be spent with David, it means spending it with him wherever he goes (this is only the late Sixties), and she must learn to accept that.
Within moments, David is there. He’s been no more enamoured of the two earnest girls than Peter has, and from being so limited a character emotionally, he is now wholly sensitive to Peter’s feelings. He is following his father into the Law, which ties him to London for now, but once he is qualified, he plans to work in Shropshire, so as not to take Peter away from her natural home: besides, he loves Shropshire almost as much as her.
But she, in return, promises that she will go with him wherever their lives take them. Peter has learned the courage to accept that she cannot confine them to just one place. This pair are in balance, and it’s a joy to see them so firmly on the same wavelength after so long a time.
I suppose I’d better reference the adventure as, if I don’t, the Twins won’t get a mention.
Saville’s plots have fallen quite a long way by now. The formula has worn thin, the actions repetitive, the assumptions outdated. After a one book break for Man with Three Fingers, he reverts to introducing the bad guys in the opening treasure, in this case Roy Royal, bookseller of Rye. Royal, whose real name in John Jones, has taken Rye’s long-standing but hitherto unmentioned nickname for his highly reputable second hand bookshop and adapted it for himself, but he is a former professional criminal and convict.
He seems, however, to have left his past life behind but, to Saville, once a criminal, always a criminal: no matter how law-abiding he may be, with his as-yet loss-making Book Cellar for the Rye teens, at which Penny Warrender helps out at weekends, all it takes is a more dangerous criminal, supposed American ‘Harry Purvis’ threatening to tell the Police his real name, and it’s back to business. Exposure won’t do him any good in the community, but if Royal has gone straight – and Saville gives us no reason to suspect he hasn’t – then what threat are the Police? But, once a criminal…
Royal also encounters the aged and rather pathetic Mrs Flowerdew, of 39 Traders Street, next door to the Gay Dolphin, selling some valueless books for £1, for which she is grateful. Royal only takes then in hope of establishing an in to examine the library of Professor Flowerdew, a reclusive, elderly and unwell historian, secretive and eccentric. Shortly after, the Professor dies, having neglected his wife for years, left her practically destitute but forbidden her to sell house or library, even though these are sufficiently valuable to establish her in comfort.
Purvis, a notorious receiver and exporter of stolen goods, has his eyes on the Professor’s treasures and blackmails Royal to get him access to these.
His first attempt, at ‘Rye Fawkes’ fails. The story leaps on to the week before Christmas. Mrs Warrender has befriended the friendless Mrs Flowerdew, mainly because he is sorry for her, but also because, if Mrs Flowerdew does decide to sell no 39, it would be ideal for an extension to the Dolphin. Partly for this purpose, and partly as a transparent ruse to get the widow some money, the Lone Piners are to stay at no 39, and help look after Mrs Flowerdew, as they did for Major Bolshaw in Treasure at Amorys.
The Twins in particular adopt Mrs Flowerdew in their inimitable manner, especially Mary, who has regularly been presented as more sensitive and perceptive than her brother. Richard, as he now prefers to be called in front of adults, has only this week decided to follow James Wilson into journalism, and is still more obsessed than his sister.
There’s no getting around it, and even Saville has to go a long way towards stating that the late Professor Flowerdew was a terrible husband, emotionally neglectful if not downright cruel. His widow has been isolated from the world, in service to him and his self-centred obsessions, and he has failed to provide for her financially whilst forbidding her straitly to provide for herself by selling the house or its possessions, her only source of money.
But the presence of young people starts to wake Mrs Flowerdew up. She is helped by the discovery of an incomplete message in very weak handwriting scrawled in the back of a book, that hints at something valuable hidden in the house, but which affects her most deeply because it begins: ‘My very dear wife’.
The girls find her like this. Of course the message trails off just before the late Professor can say where the valuable document is, and of course Mrs Flowerdew still doesn’t want to get involved, frozen as she is, but it is significant that, when she fantasises about what might be possible if she does possess something of value, her thoughts are entirely of the kindnesses she could do to others: not merely Mrs Warrender and the Lone Piners who have made such an impression upon her, but even down to people who serve her in shops, and for whom a pair of gloves might relieve chilblains!
But the villains are determined to get their hands on what she has. Royal is summoned to a meeting with Purvis and his seeming sister, in which he is accused to trying to evade his duties to them. He is imprisoned and effectively disappears from the story. Purvis and his sister get into Traders Street and, by drugging Mrs Flowerdew, carry her off.
Once more a Lone Pine book involves a kidnapping. The villains can do even less to a defiant elderly lady than they can do to children, though there’s the usual refusal to believe that Mrs Flowerdew doesn’t know everything there is to know and can’t lead them directly to the treasure. Thankfully, the episode doesn’t last long, as Wilson, David and Jon walk in through the French windows and take the lady home, though I suspect that the brevity of this section is less down to admirable concision and more to do with a combination of Armada’s insistence upon shorter books, and Saville’s failing imaginative energy, especially in relation to scenes he was finding alien.
In the end, it’s the Twins, of course, who find the treasure, an ancient document about Elizabeth I’s visit to Rye that is of great historical significance (without adding a single detail not already known). Having been reasonably sensible throughout, it’s a direct reversion to type: secretive, egotistical, boastful and demanding, and smacking more of finding the Treasure for their own satisfaction rather than Mrs Flowerdew’s benefit.
As for Penny and Jon, their final scene is of Penny’s parents arriving unexpectedly on Xmas Eve, home for good. They are virtually unseen, behind blazing car headlights, and Penny walks towards them and into a future she both welcomes and is understandably nervous of, and she’s holding hands with Jon. It’s understatedness is typical of the book: Jon and Penny act as a couple, secure and confident in each other. Jon is nowhere sarcastic or patronising to her, and indeed frequently regrets how little time he and his redheaded cousin have solely for each other.
In the knowledge of the real Treasure at Amorys, it’s a quiet, less overt portrait of contentment between a pair who have found each other.
The very last word is from Peter, promising to go wherever David goes. Fifty years on, that’s a jarring note. Why should Peter have to give up her desires, her life, her securities, to follow David? The answer is because she’s going to marry him, and that was what was expected of wives back then. It’s easy to be doctrinaire about rights and wrongs, but let’s not forget that this is a specific couple. Peter will follow David because that’s what’s expected of her, even by herself, but David will only lead her by reference to where she will want to go. It is not a sacrifice for him, though the life of a rural Solicitor will not compare to the life and opportunities of a London Solicitor (his Dad could afford to buy Witchend in the middle of the war, remember), but David is ahead of his time in respecting the woman he loves, and sharing lives the two want, instead of expecting her to conform to his wishes.
Tom has already determined that he wants to farm Ingles, and that he wants to farm it with Jenny at his side. He’s not consulted her, but he knows very well that this is her wish too, not just out of loyalty to him, but because she has been absorbed into Ingles by parents in law who love her and who have made this a home for her to come to: Jenny will follow Tom but he will never want to go anywhere but the place she wants to follow him.
For all practical intents and purposes, this is the end of the Warrender’s story. Though perhaps it belongs to Home to Witchend, the final book of the series, where Jon and Penny’s future is seen to have been the subject of much debate, now is the time to confirm that, as I began to strongly suspect in first re-reading the series, Malcolm Saville did have grave misgivings about giving the third of his couples the promised ending of engagement and marriage, and because they were cousins.
Saville was a committed Christian and a conservatively minded man. In true Austenian fashion, the Lone Pine Club series was to end with commitments to marriage for two of its couples. Saville could not allow himself to grant the same to Penny and Jon. Indeed, in the six years it took to produce the final book, in correspondence with friends, in trial balloons floated among his Fan Club, Saville initially proposed a totally different fate for Penny. Engagement yes, but to none other than Dan Sturt, of Saucers over the Moor (who, by that time, would have reappeared in the penultimate book). Jon would have promised always to be a brother to her.
The very notion was cried down on all sides, as indeed it should have been. Leaving aside the betrayal it would have been to all the readers, there is the simple fact that there could not have been the remotest justification for it in the series. Penny’s commitment from the moment of her introduction had always been upon Jon, and Saville had already allowed too much to be built on that foundation, in both Treasure at Amorys and Rye Royal for there to have been any plausibility to such a switch. It would have been directly contradictory to the Lone Pine oath.
Nor was it plausible on Dan’s side either. Though he would return in a future book, it’s conspicuous that Penny isn’t present on that occasion, and in the only book in which the two ever meet, Dan’s interest is not in Our Favourite Redhead but Our Favourite Blonde: Dan has eyes for Peter, not Penny.
It was a terrible idea on every level, born of a desperate war between the urge for closure and Saville’s inability to get over the cousinship he’d awarded the Warrenders so very long ago, when the very idea that these children might one day grow into adults was inconceivable.
No, this is where Jonathan and Penelope Warrender depart from us, walking into the blinding headlights of a future that we have to imagine for ourselves, believing, as their story points, that it will be shared as closely as those for whom we are to be given guarantees.

2 thoughts on “Under a Solitary Tree: Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club – Rye Royal

  1. Great write-up of this story. So as the series begin to dome to an end what were clearlyintended to become couples are now moving towards marriage.

  2. Thanks, but I’m going to have to owe a decent-sized apology to this book as well as a result of acquiring a First edition text copy of ‘Treasure at Amorys’, as opposed to the poor, crippled revised edition i based my initial reviews upon. The original and complete ‘Amorys’ *is* the book that it feels like we’re missing in the review above.

    And judging the series overall, I’m impressed at how Saville so successfully sold love and commitment and such soppy stuff to an audience of boys of my age.

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