Beyond the Lone Pine: The Jillies 6 – The Ambermere Treasure

All too soon it was over. Malcolm Saville began the Jillies’ series in 1948 and ended it after six books in 1953. It was one of four series about older children, based upon big adventures as opposed to the more minor events of the Nettleford, Susan Bill, Michael and Mary or Brown Family series that focused upon younger children, but unlike the Lone Piners, the Fabulous Buckinghams and the Marston Baines coterie, there was to be no adult resolution, no suggestion of a life in relationships born of the deepening friendships begun in childhood.
The Ambermere Treasure is simply the last of it. Mandy, Prue and Tim, Guy and Mark get together one last time. They conduct a commercial venture successfully but improbably, they find a missing treasure rather more predictably, and when there’s no reason to end the series, they just wink out without a light and go.
I know the word is now an egregious cliché, but there’s no closure.
I’ll come back to that but for now let me explain the set-up. Ambermere, village and manor, is a tiny Surrey village within reach of Guildford. It’s been the ancestral home of the Anstey family for centuries, but the line is failing, the family is penurious and the house and gardens are falling to a very extended rack-and-ruin. The Colonel has died heirless, his only son having been killed during the War, and the last of the family are the two spinster Misses Anstey, Lavinia and Ella, transplanted from genteel retirement in Harrogate.
Into this atmosphere of decay and fade comes Patricia, the eight year old daughter of their niece, who married an unsuitable man (excuse me whilst I sneeze the snobbery out). Pat’s father has been seriously unwell, her mother has gone with him to Switzerland for treatment and poor fearful, upset, selfish and hostile Pat has been sent to the most unsympathetic place and people she could be dumped upon, her well-meaning but utterly out-of-their-depths Great-Aunts. Who decide they have to engage some kind of nanny. It just so happens…
Things are not good for the Jillies. Money is more than unusually tight and J.D. is unwell, run-down and unable to shift a racking cough he’s had since contracting bronchitis in March. Over his objections and refusals to deprive his children of such a thing, Mandy, Prue, Tim and Dr Harvey persuade him into a holiday in Austria, staying with the Schmidts of The Sign of the Alpine Rose, to recover his health, his strength and, cleverest touch, coming from Mandy of course, his creativity.
In his absence, Mandy places an advertisement for a job, near London, preferably working with children. Which is how she comes to be taken on at Ambermere Manor, to look after Pat, with whom she takes a no-nonsense but comradely approach that wins the child over.
The thing about old baronial manors and the like, they usually have a hidden treasure, concealed for centuries, waiting for the first pack of bright twentieth century children to come along and find it. It’s practically a law, or an ancient charter. Besides, it’s in the book’s title, not to mention Saville’s dedication, to all the boys and girls who wanted him to write a story about hidden treasure.
The treasure itself was hidden in Civil War times, by Mistress Deborah, just before she was captured and imprisoned by the Roundheads, who had already killed her husband in battle. Mistress Deborah died in imprisonment, only once seeing again the baby son she sent away with his nurse, leaving only a nursery rhyme jingle to sing to her boy and all succeeding generations of Ansteys.
One for sorrow sits on the wall
When the moon shines bright or not at all
Armed with the knowledge that the Anstey family crest features a magpie, can you work that out before the end of this post?
But whilst the treasure hunt is what the kids are here for, and there’s plenty of fun with the unprepossessing rivals – the Colonel’s former servant, John Bennett and ex-maid Amy Perkins – that’s not the biggest part of the story. From the outset, the Misses Lavinia and Ella not only take to Mandy but also treat her as an adult, and a friend on their own level. And Mandy approaches these strange creatures with not just respect but love, becoming a confidante. And, this being 1953, Mandy suggests the Misses Anstey start to build the finances they need by opening the Manor to tourists.
It’s pushing the envelope of credibility further than it really ought but, with the approval and assistance of Solicitor Mr Brewster, who is as taken with Mandy’s energy, drive and sense as the ladies, the rest of the gang are gathered to the Manor to set-up the opening of the Manor as a business taking tours of tourists! One seventeen year old boy, one sixteen year old girl, two thirteen year olds and kids aged eleven and eight.
It’s fun watching everything build up and recognising that whilst Guy is the more practical and thoughtful, and incredibly experienced in what appeals to tourists visiting stately homes, Mandy is the presiding spirit, her imagination and energy and sheer drive animating the whole crazy venture, which is hardly a holiday for any of them. These two are chalk-and-cheese, and the affection between them is still expressed mainly in banter, but they are a very good team, a lot more understanding of each other’s qualities than they ever let on, and with an unspoken satisfaction on both their parts that they are doing something together.
Saville teases his audience a little bit over Mandy’s efforts at publicity, using her vivacity and hinting that they’re saving up discovery of the Ambermere Treasure for Opening Day. Of course you know they’re going to do just that, though the outcome depends on Tim’s most juvenile idea. Anxious to play ghost with a sheet over his head, he gets Prue to come down to the abandoned, overgrown Chapel in the dark. Saville’s already set up a magpie fresco, freestanding in a window from which the glass has long since disappeared.
In the moonlight, the shadow of the magpie is thrown onto the far wall, onto a loose stone behind which the Treasure – rings and gold – has been hidden these four hundred years. Did you solve it before they did?
It’s almost an embarrassment of riches, the Treasure and a grand Opening Day, fuelled by massive publicity and curiosity about the Treasure discovery, and the Day, run by six children and two old women, aided by one Policeman guarding the loot and one AA scout on traffic duty in the car park is a resounding success.
Best of all are two letters, one for Pat, who has inevitably learned a lesson and is rewarded by her father writing to say how much better he feels, and another for the Jillies from J.D., also recovering rapidly and, including a line that binds together much of what has been so brilliant about Mandy, Prue and Tim in this far too short series of books: “I beg you, my Jillies, to remember that you are guests, and remind you that your letters, to which I look forward every day, give me infinite pleasure.”
It’s what I said in writing about Redshank’s Warning, and without wishing to be disrespectful to Guy and Mark, this series is first and foremost a success because of the Jillies. We like them, we love the life they carry around with them, and one of us at least is considerably impressed with Mandy Jillions, a very advanced character in her independence and eagerness to experience. The Standings, and especially Guy, are the straight men, the counterbalance, and it’s noticeable that the one book of the series in which they don’t appear, the Jillies fail to make much of an impression because they’ve no-one to impress themselves against.
The ending is a little underwhelming because it isn’t a real ending, just a stopping. In the Seventies, knowing he was nearing the end of his career, Malcolm Saville resurrected the Buckinghams to give Juliet Buckingham and Charles Renislau a future together, and I wish he could have stretched himself to a long-overdue seventh Jillies story, with the characters all about, say, two years older: old enough for Guy Standing to have finally had the sense to sneak Mandy Jillions into a corner and give her the biggest kiss of her life (so far), and allow Prue Jillions and Mark Standing enough growth to start turning their shared interest into a genuine affection. Tim? Younger brothers in Malcolm Saville’s books are definitely excluded though Tim, with his experience of and sympathy for his sisters, will have the edge over Simon Buckingham and Richard Morton when that never-time comes.
When I was reading these books as a Sixties kids, I did not look at publication dates so I had no idea that the series all took place before I was born. Indeed, the Jillies was the first series Saville ended, though that’s not a distinction I’d like to have.
There has been one fan-fiction ‘adult’ Lone Pine story, which I have already written about, but if such things were to be repeated, I’d love to see the Jillies meet the Lone Piners. I think that would be serious fun, even if you didn’t set Mandy off against Penny Warrender…

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