Under a Different Tree entirely: Sam Young’s ‘Little Light’


A few years ago, a chance word posted on a private social forum re-awoke my love for Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club series of my childhood in East and South Manchester, and restored an enthusiasm that has seen me re-purchase the entire series (including the only one I never read before), as well as other of Saville’s books.
At the outset, I kick-started my memory by researching the Internet, though there was less information about the things I wanted to know than I expected would be available.
I was also surprised to discover that a ‘new’ Lone Pine novel, or rather a ‘Lone Pine Club’ book for adults, had been published in 2006, a book titled Little Light, written by Sam Young. Very little information was available for it, but it was self-evidently unauthorised, and I got the impression that it was very much frowned-up on, though I can’t find any such reference on-line now.
What little that seemed to be available about it was that it began with the arrival in Rye for the first time of newly-weds Jonathan and Penelope Warrender…
Whether it was good, bad or indifferent, it piqued my curiosity. However, it also appeared to be rare and fetching something like £40 a copy, and whilst I’m better able to afford items like that now, it would have to be a very important book to make me pay a sum like that.
On the other hand, an immaculate condition copy reduced to £8.75 on eBay, was practically irresistible. So what merits does a piece of ‘fan-fiction’ about a Lone Pine Club’s worth of adults have to an ardent fan of the originals?
For a relatively slim book, of just over 200 compact pages, there’s a lot to be said. Young’s stated intention was to write a Lone Pine adventure concerning adult versions of our friends in a world where they have never met before but form instant and lasting friendships as they deal with a criminal plot of more adult scope and consequences. Things are not quite that simple, however. Jon and Penny, David and Peter, Tom and Jenny: these are our cast. There is no place for the Morton Twins, nor for Harriet Sparrow, not even by way of passing reference. Indeed, there is no suggestion that the David Morton of this book has any siblings.
The villains are the ones you might expect: Les and Valerie Dale, formerly husband and wife, and Val’s (real) aunt, Emma Ballinger, and there are substantial roles for a James Wilson who is involved with the press, a Fred Vasson who is near enough the same person in a different role and an unexpected Ned Stacey. And there are minor cameos from Albert Sparrow, Henry Carter and Arlette Duchelle.
But there is no Gay Dolphin Hotel, no Seven Gates Farm or Barton Beach and whilst Ingles’ Farm is where it ought to be, the nearby Mortons live at Briarsholt, which is Witchend in all but name, and I wonder why Young didn’t or couldn’t use that name when the casting of Jon, Penny, David, Peter, Tom and Jenny collectively would be more than enough for any successful copyright suit by Malcolm Saville’s literary heir, it being another 32 years before the Lone Piners pass into the Public Domain.
As for the plot, it traverses familiar Saville ground. The object of the hunt, the ‘Little Light’, is a diamond stolen in the late Nineteenth Century, the story being turned up by the loathsome Les Dale, who enlists his shortly-to-be ex-wife Valerie in turning up a clue to its possible whereabouts at Powlden House in Rye, the first home for that newly-wed late-twenties couple, Jonathan and Penelope Warrender, who become neighbours of the avuncular Mr Vasson.

Jon and Penny are clearly Young’s favourites, dominating the first third of the book, But at a party hosted by Henry Carter to celebrate his engagement to Arlette Duchelle, Penny makes instant friends with a tall, simple, beautiful out-of-place feeling blonde with the unlikely name of Peter, and she and John invite Peter and her husband David to sleep at their home overnight. David and Peter live at Briarsholt in Shropshire, but are house-sitting David’s parents in London.
Penny is led into a trap set in London by Dale, who wants the clue to the whereabouts of the ‘Little Light’. Having taken Peter for company, the Dales capture both women and show that they’re prepared to be violent, as in actual physical violence. Penny creates a distraction that enables Peter to run, though she suffers a serious beating from Les in consequence. Peter is at risk of assault and rape by two football hooligans until they’re beaten up by an even bigger football hooligan – he’s from the East End, see – who’s also a tabloid journalist. This is James Wilson, and he helps find Penny.
Penny recovers physically from the beating but has her spirit crushed. In order to help her recuperate, the Mortons invite the Warrenders to stay at Briarsholt and meet their friends and neighbours, Tom Ingles and Jenny Harman. Technically, this pair are still engaged, they just never got round to marrying after Jenny got pregnant with their five year old daughter Daisy. Tom and Jenny live with Ned Stacey in what we are meant to infer is a menage a trois.
Meanwhile, the search for the ‘Little Light’ has also moved to Shropshire as identified by Ballinger and it turns out that the stolen diamond was buried in the roots of a pine tree above Briarsholt: yes, that one. Les’s start at digging it out is interrupted by Daisy’s arrival in her secret place where she takes it away.
As a result, Daisy is kidnapped to be exchanged for the diamond, to be brought by Penny alone. Once he’s got the diamond, the vicious Les intends to beat Penny even more severely again, this time including rape, just cos he hates her guts, except that Wilson saves her, administers a kicking and supplies the twist in the tale, before disappearing into the night because he’s fallen in (genuine) love with Mrs Warrender but she loves Jon…
So: characters, and plot. But is it any good?
Well, the synopsis, out of which I’ve left a number of details clearly dear to Young’s heart, is sufficiently Saville-esque so far as the adventure is concerned, and it does combine the two stock plots: searching for a hidden treasure and foiling a criminal gang. And we’ve already seen that this time the violence goes beyond a clumsy fist-fight. Penny is badly beaten by Dale, and half-stripped at the same time, and though she quickly dispels Jon’s fears of sexual assault, she goes through a period of post-assault trauma that relates to sexual expression (out of which she is snapped, with implausible rapidity and unconvincing completeness by Daisy singing their (and Young’s) favourite song).
And when she is threatened with worse, with the attack already started, James Wilson smashes Dale’s head in with a rock, near killing him.
But an adult story consists not merely of violence but sex. Do the Lone Piners have sex? Oh, you betcha. Young can’t resist bringing it up. Penny’s carnal enthusiasm for Jon. Peter’s prim and restrained exterior that doesn’t conceal a willingness to experiment (David has to replace a broken antique footstool, fnar, fnar). And aside from the Ingles-Harman-Stacey household set-up, it’s pretty much implied that Jenny isn’t averse to experimentation and has her eyes on David for the future (that’s if she hasn’t already), whilst Mr Morton is clearly enthused by the sight of Penny, despite the vast difference in bust-line – Penny does make it plain that she doesn’t bother with bras because she’s got nothing to go into them… Yes, Lone Piners have sex, but it’s isn’t quite the kind happy, able couples in their late twenties enjoy as of nature but something to be shoved under our noses a bit, look, see.
They also smoke, or at least Penny does from time to time, and Young can’t resist slipping in a reference at Henry’s party to suggest it isn’t only good, wholesome nicotine, as we get to hear the tail-end of Penny demonstrating to two sixteen year olds how to build a spliff.
Regular readers of this blog will be expecting me to insert a reference to Earth-2 at some point, but I think a more apposite comparison is with Christopher Priest’s The Separation, in which parallel realities cross and merge with one another.
This is because Young isn’t merely content to write a Lone Pine story featuring the elder members as adults meeting for the first time, but he cannot help salting his adventure with gestures to the original books. There are three points in Little Light where he plays with metafiction and I think that’s definitely two too many.
The first two of these – one early and clumsy, the other a decidedly unwise insertion into the climactic chapter – are of the same order. Running late for their appointment with Fred Vasson over Powlden House, Penny spots the cover of a children’s book being removed from the window of Albert Sparrow’s bookshop. Two of the characters look identical to her and Jon, as well they should be since this is The Gay Dolphin Adventure (Armada version). After some unamusing guff about her misreading the title as ‘The Gay Golfing Adventure’ (oh, hilarity!), she drags Jon off without waiting for Sparrow to confirm that they do indeed look like the characters on the cover, and they have the identical names…
Once might be a manageable in-joke though it’s a contrived one, Saville’s book having no actual bearing on the plot except a garbled comment about the author having had some correspondence with a Charles Flowerdew, but Young compounds this badly. Penny has to go alone with the ‘Little Light’ from the Devil’s Chair on the Stiperstones to what’s clearly intended to be Greystone Cottage. She’s never been there before but isn’t she lucky? There’s a group of Lone Pine fans out on the mountain, one of whom (a real-life person) recognises her, can’t believe she’s called Penny Warrender and sends her in the right direction, but not before pinning a Lone Pine badge on her…
Oh cringe, cringe, cringe. If I knew more Latin, I could play on the classic concept of deus ex machina, for this is certainly no god in this machine. This seriously tempts fate over the reality of Young’s book but any residual credibility it leaves is destroyed at the end.
Daisy’s secret place has been recognised by us all as HQ1, the Lone Pine itself. The ‘Little Light’ has been buried all this time in the tree’s roots. But as a sumptuous feast breaks up, with Ned having taken Daisy home to bed leaving only six once upon a time Lone Piners, Jenny finds something else buried in the little hole. It’s an old sardine tin, setting out the rules of the Lone Pine Club and signed in 1945 in blood by six people who have never met until this year…
Here is where the book delves most deeply into Christopher Priest territory, but not only does it fail in its own right, because the ‘real’ piece of paper would not have had the names of Jenny, Jon and Penny, and would have had Richard and Mary Morton, but by being an in-joke of this size, it overbalances the whole of Little Light, reducing it to what it is, a pale echo of Malcolm Saville’s work, a book he would not and could not have written, a book that is in the end pastiche: not real, never possibly real in the way that the original series is and will always remain.
Before leaving this book behind, I do want to mention that the ‘Little Light’ of the title derives from Daisy Harman’s favourite song, which, from the number of times its lyrics are referenced in passing before we even get to Shropshire, is ‘Summer Breeze’, and patently the Seals & Croft original. It’s a welcome choice, though I go for the 1976 cover by The Isley Brothers which was my favourite record of the year and far ahead of the original.
And whilst ultimately I come down against this book, for all the reasons I’ve given, Sam Young has still done something I couldn’t have done (albeit wouldn’t have tried) and that is to have written a Lone Pine book. If we exclude consideration of whether he should have even tried, he’s still done more than the rest of us put together (though if anyone is now about to draw my attention to a stash of Internet Lone Pine fan fiction, I’d rather you didn’t: the hint that Miss Ballinger may have had sex with Fred Vasson in this is too much for my stomach to cope with…)

Under a Solitary Tree: The Love Story of David and Peter (Part 3)


Treasure at Amorys

There’s a very good case for saying that Not Scarlet But Gold is the end of David and Peter’s story, and indeed at one point it was going to be the end of the series. But Saville had two more relationships to attend to, to bring to their proper conclusions.
Peter isn’t present for Treasure at Amorys. Her status as David’s girlfriend is accepted and her absence is felt, but as usual, Jon and Penny take the forefront.
Penny’s loyalty to Jon has been one-sided for over 90% of the time we’ve known the Warrenders, and his dismissive attitude to her has far too frequently been condescending and cruel. His every now and then decency doesn’t begin to make up for all the times he has ranted at her, anywhere that is except in Penny’s heart and mind. She has worshipped him since before they were first introduced, and it is significant that it is only now, when their long relationship is about to be ended, that Jon decides that he likes girls after all. Even then, it shows itself in a twisted manner, with Jon deciding that the prospect of Penny becoming engaged or married to someone else is ‘disgraceful’.
He’s taken her for granted for so long, only seen her as an object for his disparagement. Even when he decides he’d rather have more than one day alone with her before the Mortons arrive, he’s calling her a little fool when she cuts her ankle, swimming. But God forbid she should look at even an imaginary other man.
No, I do not have much, or indeed any sympathy for Jonathan Warrender in his path towards the happiness and the love that his cousin has wanted all along. He does not deserve her, not for a second. But he’s what she wants.
The Morton’s visit is supposed to be a last hurrah, but as always Miss Ballinger is hanging around. Penny is kidnapped and terrorised, Jon turns into a righteous fury and rescues her almost single-handed, and the pair end up kissing frantically.
But that’s as far as Saville could let himself go. He’d set up the Warrenders as cousins long before the idea of any romances between Lone Piners could ever have been considered and his beliefs couldn’t allow Jon and Penny the same outcome the other loving couples merited. Their future would forever be blurred.

Man with Three Fingers

Tom and Jenny’s story has been pretty much a background one in this long essay, because it has simply been there, established quickly and unchanging. It started offstage, between Seven White Gates, when the two meet, exchange no conversations, and we’re told that Jenny hangs rapturously on Tom’s every word, and The Secret of Grey Walls where Jenny’s commitment to Tom is already established, and Tom is her determined champion.
And that’s how it is, book in, book out, always more than just boys and girls who are friends, but never anything else. Jenny frequently suggests Tom is neglecting her, and he always phlegmatically points out that his time is not his own, and but when he can he makes time to see her. Jenny is the more overt: remember that lovely moment in The Neglected Mountain when the Twins assume that the boys and the girls will make up separate pairs, and Jenny and Peter exchange nervous glances. It’s always been those two, and it always will be.
The first overt suggestion of anything more comes in Not Scarlet But Gold. Tom turns up, deus ex machina style, to rescue Jenny from a brutish lout. To her, his miraculous appearance is all that is needed, but though he says nothing, though he’s never been responsive to her affection, Tom sees her hurt and realises that he feels for her what she has felt for him for so long.
Typically, though, he says nothing to her. That’s left to Man with Three Fingers where Tom, more than any of the others, is facing adolescent blues. It’s him rather than anyone else, because his, beside Jenny’s, is the most restrictive life, a small farm, hard work, no regular contact with friends and an Uncle who hasn’t yet begun to adjust to the idea of Tom as an adult. A slightly older friend who offers a glimpse of a wider life, Ned, disturbs Tom’s equilibrium. And the person most concerned with his equilibrium, Jenny, who is reaching the point where she can at last be explicit about what she wants, is full of fear that he will be pulled away from her.
Tom’s thoughtlessness extends not merely to Jenny but to the Mortons, and Peter, who is worried up to the last minute that David, far away from her, in the big city with thousands of girls… distractions, will have forgotten her. But David is constant: Peter is now his only concern, and the Lone Pine Club, despite having been the foundation of lifelong friendships, is a distraction from the all too brief pleasure of being with Peter.
But Jenny’s misery and anger about Tom’s defection is overlaid with fear when she learns he’s been attacked and injured. Peter’s father counsels understanding and patience, but Jenny can’t help herself and shows her anger towards him, only to be totally disarmed by a present he had bought for her. It’s only cheap beads, but it’s a sign she very much needs to receive, and it gives her the confidence to kiss Tom, for the first time. And it’s no peck, but a very prolonged and serious kiss.
That’s almost all there is. Tom is still too easily open to manipulation by his histrionic friend, but Jenny shows sense in acting as if she’s a given in his life, and she gets her reward in Shrewsbury: Tom goes off following the man who assaulted him, but before he does he tells her, she’s his girl, and kisses her.
All that’s left is melodrama, and Tom reconciles with his Uncle who’s been a father to him, and that includes telling him Jenny will one day come to Ingles as a farmer’s wife, something Alf and Betty have known for a very long time, could not be happier about, and welcome as a long overdue commitment to Ingles’ future.

Rye Royal

There was one more Warrender book and one more chance for Saville to give Jon and Penny the conclusion all his fans wanted, but once again he was unable to do so. Penny hasn’t gone to India, for which no explanation has been given, but which is no doubt related to her parents being due home, for good, at Xmas. She’s at domestic college, training for her future role as manageress at the Dolphin and he’s studying something very clever at University, and they’re treating each other as boyfriend and girlfriend.
But that’s all. Jon and Penny’s bar appears to have been crossed but Saville has nowhere he can go to take them forward and, indeed, he afterwards thought long and hard about breaking them up, but was persuaded out of it, sensibly.
This is the last halfway decent Lone Pine book, and there are some good moments in it, the finest being that Peter, at long last, has come to Rye, to see the Dolphin and share Xmas, and her first request on arriving is that her friend Penny should walk her up to the hotel, girls alone in a Rye night under stars. Despite their different natures, despite Peter’s initial suspicions about the redhead, despite the fact they have seen each other so rarely, there is an affinity between the two girls and this is a wonderful moment for both of them, so relaxed in the knowledge that they have the boyfriends they have loved for so long.
And the two pairings are relaxed and secure. There’s an early moment from Jon, reminiscent of how he’s usually treated Penny, but this is different, it is mere teasing, understood and accepted on both sides. Jon can look at David and Peter, and himself and Penny, and conclude that that is how the world should be.
For David and Peter, there is but one serious moment. In the basement coffee shop, with its crowded, stuffy, noisy scene, and David cornered by two painfully earnest college girls, arguing across, around and through him, Peter suffers what we’d now call a panic attack and has to get out. Even so small a town as Rye has proved too much for her, and she’s afraid of what it means for her and David. We’re a long way from the utterly self-confident, natural Peter, who now dismally confronts what she sees as her narrow limitations. The girls around David are invaders but they are invaders she sees as being from David’s world, natural to him, and she fears she cannot be enough for him if she can’t bear entering his world.
Judith Wilson comes to her, speaking words of wisdom. It’s wisdom of the times and it sounds compromised to us: if Peter is to marry David, she must be prepared to go wherever his job takes them. Yes, the wife must submit to what suits her husband. Nowadays we recognise it’s a truth but a limited one: the husband must also submit to what suits his wife, or rather not submit, but share and balance.
It won’t be like that for Peter, though. Saville may be socially conservative but David, dear staid, sometimes stuffy David, sees his life with Peter differently. He follows her, shrugs off the girls as the evident pain they were, understands why she has been uncomfortable and promises her that he will never take her away from the county she calls home: he will live and work there, for he loves it too. Judith’s words and David’s concern inspire Peter to rise above her crisis and promise that wherever he will be, she will be, in love and happiness.

Strangers at Witchend

And when the decline came, it was rapid and conclusive. David and Peter, Tom and Jenny, both pairs have passed beyond the adventures that still motivate the Twins. They want nothing more than to be together. Dickie even recognises that the Club is breaking up, as it inevitably must.
This is Harriet’s last appearance, and as if Saville is now locked into relationships as the centre of the Lone Pine Club series, this splendid, solid girl develops a massive crush on the unprepossessing Kevin Smith, so much so that when he leaves, for the most unlikely and unconvincing family reunion, Harriet’s final moments are a demeaning blur of tears.

Where’s My Girl?

The penultimate book saw a return to Dartmoor, to the same place as the long-ago Saucers over the Moor. This is Warrender territory, especially as Penny’s father has bought King’s Holt and is developing it as a high class hotel and stables. But Saville’s limitations left him unable to do anything more with Jon and Penny so, by an awkward contrivance, they’re shunted off to France and, thanks to an even more awkward contrivance, Tom and Jenny get away from Shropshire for the first and only time.
It’s a poor book. Saville brings the Lone Piners up against gun-runners, a step far too far. Jenny’s panic when Tom is injured, at Ingles, reduces her to an hysteria that is embarrassing to watch, and she takes far too long to apologise for the things she says. At least it comes as part of a scene where she and Peter are alone, and Jenny touchingly asks for confirmation that when they’re both wives, they will still be friends.
It’s a seemingly unnecessary question, but it’s of its time, or maybe slightly earlier than that. The nineteenth book may have been published in 1972, but Saville was awkward and out of sync with the era, a product of times when marriages were driven by the man, and women’s friends were not automatically welcome.
The only other aspect of the story relevant to this essay is Dan Sturt. The cub-reporter of 1954 is a multi-media newsman in 1972. He still fancies Peter something rotten, and still tries it on to get her to go off with him, alone, but that boat has long since sailed. Peter gently puts him right and David only displays a tactful jealousy. These are not children any more.

Home to Witchend

With this book, Malcolm Saville completed both the stories of his Lone Pine Club and his career as a writer of children’s fiction, begun thirty-five years earlier in Mystery at Witchend.
I don’t believe it’s a good book, but that’s not the point. It did as much as Saville could towards the endings that his audience wanted, the promise of never-ageing long forgotten. Would David ask Peter to be his wife was the drama behind the book, but the only real drama would be if he didn’t, and that was never going to happen. Saville teased a couple of scenes, one of which only older readers would have understood, but yes, at Peter’s eighteenth birthday party, he put a ring on it, and everyone cheered, in the book and outside it.
Tom and Jenny, the working pair, also made that commitment, on their own, in private, as an adjunct to David and Peter: the undemonstrative pair, who had achieved their special relationship off the page and almost never wavered from it ever since. Even more than the Club’s leading pair, theirs was only ever a matter of time.
There is, of course, no such resolution for Jon and Penny. They get a Penny-dominated chapter, including a Jon-dominated kiss, but their future is left to the readers to decide. Practically everyone will be reflecting that when Penny gets married, she won’t be changing her name.
It nearly wasn’t so. Saville toyed for a long time with giving Penny a happy ending by palming her off to an engagement to Dan Sturt, with Jon getting an unhappy ending by swearing eternal brotherhood. This was wrong on so many levels that it’s painful to even think that Saville contemplated it. Thankfully, he was persuaded otherwise, though it’s noticeable that he doesn’t completely expunge the notion: the moment Dan’s tribute is finished, he wants to know where’s Peter’s ‘red-headed friend’.
There might have been a 21st book, but the quality had dipped so far so fast that it was preferable not to have more. What more could be done with the senior Lone Piners? And how could a New Lone Pine Club of 12 year olds and under have an adventure, even if they were led by Harriet Sparrow and not the Twins? The story ends here, from a mountain to a barn, from loyalty to love, and from love to marriage and parenthood.

Under a Solitary Tree: The Love Story of David and Peter (Part 2)


Saucers over the Moor

The Neglected Mountain was a step forward that Saville was not anxious to take too far. But it’s significant that it was followed by the first non-Shropshire book to feature Peter, travelling down to the new setting of Dartmoor to join the southern half of the Lone Pine Club.
There are no especially overt signs that David and Peter’s relationship has evolved, not from Peter’s side at any event. David and Jon have, between themselves, worked out the travelling itinerary to get everyone to Dartmoor, Jon to arrange the drive from Rye and David the trains from London and Shropshire to enable Penny’s friends to be picked up en route. The three parties are to converge on Exeter’s railway stations. It just so happens that Peter’s train will get in sufficiently later than the Mortons that the Warrender party can’t wait, leaving David behind to pick up and escort Peter on his own. There’s no suggestion that he’s manipulated the travel times to create a chance to have her on her own for a while, but after The Neglected Mountain, you wouldn’t put it past him.
Peter’s glad to see him, but she’s equally excited to have made such a long journey: unlike the much-travelled Mortons, this is the first trip she’s made outside her own county. It’s significant that only now is she willing to relax her loyalty to her father. She’s unsurprised to find only David waiting (no doubt she’s known about this in advance) and she’s certainly not unhappy about it. Indeed, it’s her suggestion to prolong their journey alone by hiring bikes instead of a car.
But their bike-ride almost runs into trouble, firstly as Peter’s brakes fail her going downhill, and then when her bike is stolen by the cub-journalist, Dan Sturt, who grabs it to pursue a story and is not only completely unapologetic about it but has the nerve to blame Peter for its brakelessness!
What’s more, when he finally looks at her, he starts trying to get off with her. Not as overtly as that – Peter is still only a 16 year old schoolgirl, and dressed like it, whilst Dan’s 18 – but enough to get up David’s nose since he’s doing this in front of young Mr Morton.
It doesn’t go any further than that. Peter doesn’t snuff it out, perhaps because she’s enjoying the sight of a David clearly jealous. But she does insist on their helping Dan in a manner that, from Penny would be coquettish, and doing this in front of the boy who’s so recently made plain what she means to him is a little surprising. I know if I were David, I’d feel hurt, but then they go on to spend most of their time together.
And the little touch of Mary refusing to let Peter risk being lowered to the ground on a makeshift rope is a subtle touch of continuity to the previous story.
Nevertheless, this is a Warrender book, and whilst Peter is a welcome addition, and it’s nice for her and Penny to meet up again, ultimately the book is about its unfortunately outdated subject matter, and in Jon swinging a perfect punch to floor the birdwatcher, Mr Green, after he’s terrified and hurt Penny, it’s more an advance on their story than anyone else’s.

Wings over Witchend

Once again it’s a winter holiday, this time in the run-up to Xmas, back in Shropshire. Peter’s been asked to meet the twins, who’ve been sent off on their own, after a bout with whooping cough. Witchend is all but snowed in and Peter has to stay there overnight, and in fact it’s so bad, her father abandons Hatchholt for Seven Gates and leaves Peter with the Mortons for Xmas.
That’s an interesting move. Peter’s intense loyalty to her father doesn’t seem to be operating at quite the same strength since she’s perfectly happy to share Xmas with her other family, which of course includes David. Her enthusiasm for his arrival is vivid! And once he and the parents arrive, the pair resume being a pair with complete naturalness.
The issue is tree-rustling from the State Forest that had appeared on the Long Mynd in real life, but which came as a heck of a shock in the Lone Pine timeline. The Lone Piners, with Peter at their head as the one with the comprehensive knowledge of the countryside, offer their assistance.
It’s a little incongruous therefore that she should lose herself, and Sally, though the circumstances are forgivable: Peter is upset and hurt at what appears to be an outrageous snub from the high ranking Forester, Donald Gibbs, and rides off heedlessly, getting herself caught in white-out conditions, probably the only circumstances in which she would not recognise her whereabouts. She’s in a dangerous situation, but David comes to her rescue (with Tom, but she only has eyes for the boy who has never let her down), finding her by chance, or is it?
And when he rouses her and asks her to slip out at night with him, there is no resistance this time (although the fact that this is a case, and not a wild whim, plays its part). The pair go down the Witchend lane, but are startled by the sudden arrival of an unlit Police car. Peter slips and falls, winded, in front of the wheels, but David risks himself to haul her out of the way, forever her protector. It’s another moment to be wholly private, and to be stored in that increasingly collective memory they have.
When it comes to officially helping the foresters, the four senior Lone Piners are supposed to crowd into the observation tower, but David and Peter go off on their own to prowl the forest rides, much to the consternation of the traitor. But there is nothing more special than this. They aren’t found conducting a sneaky snowy snog or anything like that, but it’s once again the increasingly obvious preference for each other’s company.

Lone Pine London

There’s no place for Peter in the only city-set Lone Pine adventure, not even by way of being consulted over telling Harriet Sparrow about the Club and inviting her into membership. No doubt David is confident that she will back his judgement, as he backed hers over Jenny especially as it’s echoed by the Warrenders and the Twins.

The Secret of the Gorge

The eleventh Lone Pine book is not among my favourites. It takes place in Shropshire, though further than ever before from Witchend or Seven Gates, and it features a stupid and brutish foe carrying an iron bar, who’s more likely to commit serious violence than any before. It requires a rather more adult response than before, yet Saville chooses to revert David and Peter back closer to their selves of Mystery at Witchend than at any time since.
Yes, it’s now the back half of the Fifties, and there are cosmetic changes among the girls, with Jenny tying her hair back in a rock’n’roll pony-tail, and Peter, who has been determinedly retro in her hair-style since her introduction, having bound her plaits up in coils. But Peter’s behaving very childishly, almost Twin-like in her foot-stamping whenever someone expresses a mature opinion, and David is uncharacteristically thrilled by a diamond hunt, to the point where you expect him to start saying “Gee whizz!”
There had been no further overt changes to Peter and David’s relationship since The Neglected Mountain, but the pair had become eager to pair up together, and there is a constant, naturalistic undertone to all their conversations demonstrating their warmth and affection. But as any writer of series fiction will tell you, the longer the series lasts, the more the characters themselves start to dictate what they will and won’t do.
The Secret of the Gorge reads like an attempt to revert the series back to its beginnings, when the Lone Piners were only children and did not behave as anything other than children. Saville had promised his audience, and repeated that promise in every book, that the Lone Piners would not age. I believe that as a creative writer, he was coming under pressure from the Captain and the Vice-Captain to let them move forward to the next stage.
What I’m reading here is a conscious effort at resistance.
But trying to reset the characters as children is awkward in the face of the changing times and the first really vicious villain of the series. And it doesn’t work. When it comes to splitting the Club, David and Tom pair up, leaving Peter and Jenny. Yes, there’s a plot purpose to this but it’s noticeably out of character, and despite a perfunctory wistfulness about preferring their usual ‘partners’, the main objection is that the girls are being left unprotected.
And they’re confronted by the sallow, jazz-loving Sid and his stereotype girlfriend, locked into a derelict cottage whilst the unprepossessing pair wreck the Lone Pine camp, and get themselves out at the cost of a serious cut to Peter’s knee.
And as soon as David sees that, all bets are off. He goes very still, walks across to Peter and touches her arm very gently, clearly seeing nobody but her, throwing away all the emotional neutrality of the book so far, and then he challenges Sid to a fight. David intends to beat the thug who’s hurt Peter. He’s not a particularly good fighter and gets a few lumps himself, but he’s completely oblivious to that: he is wreaking revenge and even though Sid is older and bigger, he basically kicks righteous ass on him.
Peter makes no comment on this macho response. When she’s initially startled by David putting himself on guard duty that night, she’s tense enough to begin by having a go at him, but as soon as she realises he’s looking out for all of them, her affection for him overcomes everything. Her comment of “My brave Hero,” is a little ironic, but it’s more than she could yet express in public, and it is nevertheless sincere. David has made a public show of her importance to him: Peter needs more time.
Ultimately, there’s another of those occasions where Peter responds instantly to someone else’s peril, leaping into the flood when Harry Sentence is swept away, and David leaping in after her, with his eye on her safety. And in her cold, wet, exhausted state he’s ordering her about again for her own good. But the book feels out of order, as if it should come before The Neglected Mountain. Before The Secret of Grey Walls, even.

Mystery Mine

Mystery Mine is only the second book where Peter goes outside Shropshire to join in a Warrender story, and that’s not till almost halfway through the story. And whilst it’s less of a regression than The Secret of the Gorge, and she and David openly accept each other as their first, best choice for company, Saville is still holding back. Their conversations lack the nuance that ran through every line they spoke in Saucers over the Moor and Wings over Witchend, the sense that these were a couple who shared a private wavelength that gave every word an undermeaning.
But this is a different Peter from the girl we used to know. Her coiled plaits are replaced by a bun that her friends have gently mocked, and I should think so too. I know this is taking place at the turn of the Sixties, but a sixteen year old girl, one that even her father recognises is turning beautiful, wearing a bun? And though she’s coming to a country area, Peter isn’t wearing her regulations jodhpurs and blue shirt, but is going around in a skirt. It’s not that Peter is turning into a girl, but rather that she’s turning into Saville’s idea of a girl: and Saville was nearly sixty.
But, digression though it is, once again it’s Jon and Penny’s relationship that occupies most of the attention. The Warrenders have been invited to stay with the Mortons again, as long as they want, but literally the moment they arrive, David and Jon plot to go off on a long-distance hike, alone. It’s an awful slap in the face for Penny, the Lone Piner who will feel this most, and she rages at them. I know this is 1959, but it’s dispiriting that not only does no-one take her side, not even Mrs Morton, but that nobody seems to feel that she has a leg to stand on.
Penny rages. She rages at David on Peter’s behalf, though their circumstances are far from the same: David can’t get to Witchend without his parents, and Peter well knows this and takes a philosophical attitude to her chances of seeing her special friend. But Penny’s case is different and her rage at Jon is completely valid. She’s been invited to London to stay with her friends, which include the cousin she thinks the world of, and she’s not been there more than a couple of hours before he’s planning to abandon her to the mercy of the twins and Harriet.
And barely has that happened when they too are on the move, to the North Yorks Moors, leaving Penny with only the Morton parents.
It’s unforgivable behaviour from Jon, and to a lesser extent David. In isolation, their selfish expedition wouldn’t be exceptionable if arranged in advance for Jon alone, but they’ve invited Penny only to abandon her immediately. Jon remains completely oblivious to the idea that he can have done anything wrong at all.
Sensibly, Penny scoots off to Hatchholt and Peter, who takes this all without fuss because it’s what she’s used to. David’s not independently mobile, nor can he stay at tiny Hatchholt with any propriety. But he can write letters, and even though we don’t get to see what he writes again, there’s still two whole pages of it that she won’t read out to Penny (who’s openly described Peter to David’s face as his ‘girlfriend’, without contradiction).
We have to imagine what he has said, how open he has been, and whether, like a true English boy, he has been more open in print about his feelings for her than he can be to her face.
Once everyone is all together – and if Harriet were being classed as a Lone Piner instead of still an other person, this would be the largest Club complement since The Secret of Grey Walls – Jon and Penny assume prominence. Jon thinks he knows what it’s all about but won’t say anything until he’s checked in Whitby Library (this is either admirable scientific concern or an adolescent wish to not look stupid if he’s wrong, and I’m prejudiced towards the latter). Penny goes with him, not even saying anything when he comments he hasn’t seen much of her lately. They separate, agreeing to meet later, but Penny gets on the trail of the villains, leading to kidnap and a terrifying ordeal. She’s massively late for their rendezvous, and both go running around Whitby looking for each other.
But when they meet, Jon launches into the angriest and most insulting diatribe at Penny, accusing her of major stupidity, without one second of thought that, as they have enemies in the vicinity, Penny may have been in trouble. Penny shouts back at him, but whereas Jon’s words ought to signal a major breach between the pair, over their shocking vehemence, Penny recognises that his outburst is based on fear for her. And at the same time she realises that he means more to her than the pseudo-brother he has been until now. Completely undeserving though he is of that affection.
Once this scene passes, there’s more room for David and Peter. Everyone goes on a trip to Coram Street, the dead village, but Harriet sprains an ankle and has to be taken back by Peter and Mary. Peter, showing rather more naivete than we’re accustomed to from her, is decoyed out of the way whilst the two younger girls are kidnapped, and then most uncharacteristically, panics, asking herself what David would do?
This isn’t the independent, forthright, natural Peter we knew. Since The Neglected Mountain, she hasn’t appeared in a story without Saville telling us that one day soon she’ll be seen as a very beautiful young woman. The more feminine she gets, the less distinct she becomes, especially as Saville is trying to keep her relationship with David from going further forward. Who is this girl and what has she done with Peter? All she can do is run as hard as she can, to hand everything over to David to save the day. At least he is concerned primarily with her, and her distress, than the news she brings. But this is taking their relationship into awkward corners through not simply letting it grow.

Sea Witch Comes Home

When all else fails, leave Peter out entirely. Leave everyone else out entirely. Include a new girl but have her be only 12, so there’s no question of David being distracted. Put things off. But the decision is going to have to be made.

Not Scarlet But Gold

Though there are other elements – Harriet’s formal induction as a Lone Piner and a missing treasure plot of sorts – this book is about one thing only. Saville signals this in a short message to his readers, replacing the regular statement promising them that the Lone Piners will never get older with one that acknowledges that though they will stay their present ages, it is time for them to act like young men and women, and accept the responsibilities of what they are to each other.
It is the artist in Saville, knowing that he can no longer freeze David Morton and Peter Sterling in place, that they need to be free to grow, and act upon their feelings towards one another. And Saville gives the pair full range to explore these.
The story begins long before the book starts. Peter, after long and loving searching, has selected a Xmas present for David, but he’s neither thanked her nor acknowledged it. Hurt, she doesn’t write again. For half the year, for it is the Summer holiday at Seven Gates that is now upon everyone, she and David haven’t been in touch.
To make matters worse, with Harriet coming up to Shropshire to officially become a Lone Piner, David has snubbed Peter by writing to Jenny to ask her, not the Vice-Captain who is nearer, to retrieve the Club Documents from the Lone Pine.
It’s the first ever rift in the Club, and the chances of fixing it are hit with a succession of bombshells on the very day the pair are to see each other again. Peter’s updated her appearance once again, this time to a simple shoulder-length style. That day Saville has warned about has arrived, she is a beautiful young woman, and she’s about to get evidence of that, but on the day she’s to ride to Seven Gates, her father breaks the news to her that they are to lose their home, the only home Peter has ever known. He has gotten too old for the Water Board to be prepared to risk him being snowed in at winter, and he will retire to Hereford, to live with Uncle Micah. Hereford, miles away from the Mynd, from the Shropshire hills, from anywhere Peter feels comfortable. Hereford, where she will not be able to keep Sally.
It’s a massive upheaval, on top of her nervousness about meeting David again, and it’s compounded when, taking shelter from a cloudburst, she meets a tall, bare-legged, handsome walker, who looks at her admiringly, and who talks to her not as a schoolgirl, but as a very attractive woman, and one with whom he’s interested in spending time.
Despite Peter having privately told herself that before much longer she’s going to have no eyes for any man except David, she’s been given a hormonal jolt on top of everything else that has turned her comfortable world on its head. She just about manages to keep her head around John and rides off, but nothing is going to go right.
She’s impossibly awkward with David, insists on telling no-one about Hatchholt and will go no further with Jenny – who is as invested in David and Peter eventually marrying as she is in herself and Tom – than to admit things are wrong.
There’s a chance that everything could be sorted out very quickly. Peter is unusually waspish at Harriet’s induction, making a remark about the oath that’s directed at David, but as the evening winds down, he asks her to come outside with him, intent on reconciling. But John appears out of the night, another man showing a proprietorial attitude towards Peter, and clearly (and insultingly) treating her as the only adult in the pack in front of all her friends. And Peter betrays her oath to the other Lone Piners, just as she has been castigating David over it, by not merely letting John stay, but overruling her cousin Charles, behind his back, and forcing the rest of the Club to accept him for her sake.
It’s an absolute mess. Why does Peter invite John to stay? It’s partly the after effect of the hormonal charge, partly her instinctive sympathy for the underdog who literally hasn’t got any other friends, but we can’t deny that she’s also motivated, consciously or unconsciously, by the fact that it will wind David up.
And you might say that she gets a little bit of unintentional comeuppance for that motive: disturbed in the night, Peter spots a fire and calls for everyone to wake and help. David, as we know, is a very sluggish sleeper and she has to shake him awake by his hair: unaware of who is meting out this rough treatment, he swings an arm and hits Peter on the side of her face. How much lower can things sink between them?
Peter’s still defiantly unrepentant about having allowed John to stay, and her attitude continues into the following day, so much so that when Charles warns her about him over his attitude to Kate Clark, Peter insists on riding out to speak to him herself. David volunteers to go with her, but she refuses. This is something she has to do for herself, but if there’s any suspicion on her part that it’s his jealousy speaking, his shocked hurt, barely concealed anger at his rejection, and his reminder that he is looking out for her as he has always done, gets sufficiently far through to her that, despite herself, she rests her hand on his hair before she rides away, acknowledging that there is something still beneath their estrangement.
And David, being David, follows anyway, on one of those bicycles that Lone Piners always ride to a place and abandon, denouncing it as torture. Well that he did, because Peter is on the edge of risk, as she is now seeing John for what he is, cold and self-concerned. All he wanted her for was the possibility of sex: David’s imperturbable insistence of looking out for her reminds him of his value.
It’s a start. They’ve passed through their nadir, and from hereon in they are obeying the subconscious impulse towards each other. There is suddenly a human element between them again, even though there are still questions that need answering.
David sends Jenny and the youngsters into Shrewsbury to get them out of the way. He wants Peter to lead them, but she knows him too well, and has read his intent. She is not going to leave his side now. They have always gone into things together, and although she knows his intention is her protection, she is not going to break that connection now. The ‘adventure’, sordid as it is, has to be cleared away so that they can then resolve their issues without distraction, and Peter is determined to achieve this.
She’s even prepared, for the first time, to lie to David. He’s going into Greystone Mine, and wants her to stand watch outside. She pretends she will do so just to get the pair there, to move them forward, and because she has had enough of the distance between them. She wants no more arguments. Peter is moving faster than David towards what they want of each other. She wants to tell him.
And inside the Mine, where once they unspokenly cemented their future together, a rockfall traps them, forces them into a situation of greater danger than they have ever experienced before, one that this time might genuinely be fatal for this young pair.
There, trapped with the now-abject John, a weary Peter slips for a moment, calling David ‘darling’. There’s no response from him, focused as he is on saving her life, and in part he’s still unprepared for that final step. David Morton is surprisingly sensitive for his age, but he’s still an undemonstrative young man, a product of the Forties and Fifties, for whom emotion is not easy to express.
But when it comes to the last moment of despair, when it looks as if this is the one they won’t come back from, Peter abandons her wish for a mutual resolution and tells David that, if this ends now it’s not too bad because she is with him, even if John is present, and that though she has for a long period not understood its meaning, she has loved him from that first meeting on the mountain.
It demands an answer, but David is prevented from responding by the roof falling in. But this opens up a way for Peter to get above ground and call on the handily-present rescue to save everyone, albeit without any words between our pair except in relief that they are alive, that things go on.
It postpones the final step until the next day, after the ‘treasure’ has been found. That’s not a cheat but rather a set-up for the last moment. The space enforced on the couple leads to a role reversion. Peter is shy, almost nervous. She’s given her feelings to David and is dependent upon his response.
This is to take her into the woods to talk, away from everyone else. He’s primed with the news that Peter has to leave Hatchholt, to which he reacts with almost as much horror as her, and the beginning of the conversation is almost accusatory as he wants to know why she’s not told him. But the days of awkwardness and distance are over. David has heard Peter’s declaration and suddenly he’s kissing her, and when she laughs that he’s never done that before, he kisses her again and calls himself a fool that he hasn’t done so earlier.
All this comes on the last page, an upheaval in how we’re supposed to regard the Lone Piners with no chance to think. Saville disposes of the initial breach, the Xmas present, briefly and slightly awkwardly, leaving David and Peter to make their commitment to one another without any explicit words. Every sentence between them thus far has been imbued with nuance and undercurrent, but henceforth their words will be clear and transparent, and Saville can gracefully withdraw and allow us to imagine them: there is, after all, nothing new to be said. From loyalty to love.

Under a Solitary Tree: The Love Story of David and Peter (Part 1)


It begins here. Everything begins here, in a nameless, narrow hollow, high on the flank of a Shropshire hill, with an excited little boy floundering into a bog and getting stuck. His big brother will rescue him, will work out how to set things straight, as soon as he comes out of his initial shock, but before he can recover his wits, he’s interrupted by a rescuer: a clear, cheerful voice sounds from above and a girl on a sure-footed hill pony picks her way down towards the three strangers, and organises the boy’s escape from the cloying bog.
David John Morton meets Peter (Petronella) Sterling and lives change, above all theirs. The Lone Pine Club will be born, a circle of lifelong friends will come together, crooks galore will be foiled and hidden treasures produced from previously mysterious hiding places. Out of sheer chance.
I’m not the first Malcolm Saville fan, and as long as his books are read I won’t be the last, to see the series as an extended romance between David and Peter. Jim MacKenzie has already written a splendid analysis, which I hope won’t too overtly influence this piece.
But as a writer interested in the process of writing, and in series fiction in which characters develop over several books, the relationship between David and Peter, and the influence their meeting has on other people, fascinates me, and how Saville develops the same over thirty-five years, against an ever-changing background, is worth examining in some detail.

Mystery at Witchend

Though in later years, Saville had to blur the circumstances of the Lone Pine Club’s founding, in Mystery at Witchend, the book itself can’t be divorced from when it was written and its Second World War background. David Morton is the first person we meet. His age isn’t established here, but we can judge him as being on the cusp of 14/15. He’s a sturdy, steady boy, almost completely serious, but then how could he be otherwise, given the circumstances? The country is at War, his father is away in the RAF, he’s being evacuated from his Hertfordshire home to a completely strange place in the country, and his father has placed on him the burden of being the ‘man’ of the family in his absence. David has the responsibility to take care of his mother and his younger siblings.
The context here is very important. A great many fathers were going away to war and every child lived with the knowledge that they might not return. Mr Morton would be safe, but not everybody had that fortune: Tom Ingles would lose all his family, Jon Warrender’s father would not come back from Normandy. Sons everywhere, no matter how young they were, dreaming of earning their father’s respect and pride, were being asked to see themselves as responsible long before they would be capable of it. David Morton not only has to look after the Twins, but, even though his mother is in real charge, has to see himself as responsible for as well as to her.
Who is David Morton before he meets Peter? With the exception, much later in the series, of his school friend Paul Channing, we never meet nor hear mention of any friends outside the Lone Pine circle. David goes to Boarding School, an all boys school. We don’t know if he ever has any local friends in Hertfordshire. We have to assume that the only girl David knows is his younger sister, Mary. Peter is the equivalent of a seismic quake in his life.
Who is Peter Sterling before she meets David? Peter is simultaneously a simpler and more complex person than David. Saville presents her as completely natural, self-confident without being arrogant, energetic and independent. She overwhelms the Mortons in her eagerness for friends, but her enthusiasm for them is so great that she wins round the Twins literally within minutes of crossing them with her insensitive response to Dickie’s embarrassment. No-one else gets round them that quickly.
But Peter is who she is because she has grown up without a mother, with an elderly but devoted father who has taught her to be what she is, and she is independent because she has never known any other way to be. It makes for some awkwardnesses with the Mortons, because Peter has simply not had to deal with other people’s wants and opinions, but she is a very rapid learner. And Mrs Morton brings her into the family within minutes of their first meeting.
Like David, we’re not given any clear indication of Peter’s age at first, just that she’s about the same age: she will settle into being six months younger than him. Like the Mortons, she goes to Boarding School, in Shrewsbury, an all girls school. Off her own ground, Peter has not made any real friends.
So what makes the meeting with the Mortons so special? Peter admits that life in the holidays is a bit dull because there is no-one about. Looking between the lines I think it’s significant that Peter is on her own ground. Given her background, I think that only here can she feel confident enough in herself to let others in.
And she, like David, has no apparent experience of boys her age. They are each other’s first friend of the opposite gender.
In the future, both will go back as far as this meeting for the root of their love. On the page, it’s just children meeting for the first time. Peter and David are of an age, the Twins are younger, but at first she draws no distinction between any of the Mortons and, if anything, favours Mary. The first thing that might be identified as a personal spark is when she and David share the sight of the Twins both asleep after lunch, in the first of Peter’s hidden hollows.
Peter has no particular thoughts about David, except that he’s ‘nice but a bit slow’, until, that is, he comes to lunch and to swim in the reservoir with her. David pays a bit too much attention to Mr Sterling’s explanation of the mechanisms, to which Peter reacts angrily, and with hurt. At first, David’s angry back, but then he controls his temper and, with a sensitivity unusual in a boy his age, wins her over by acting as if nothing’s wrong and as if the swimming is the only thing. And he challenges her to a race and loses.
Nowadays, we’d be likely to see that as condescending, but Peter recognises it as an apology, and is impressed by how decent David is to her. That’s the point from which their relationship really begins. From that point, he’s at the front of her thoughts, and she’s shyly eager for him to learn to ride, off her, so they can ride together.
David is less responsive to Peter, overtly. He’s inclined to deny that he’s been exceptionally good to her, but when someone says something that suggests she has been at fault over the Hatchholt bomber not being forestalled, he’s hot in defence of her.
The meeting on the mountain is their icon, the beginning that’s the beginning, but there is little to suggest that it is truly significant to the love they’ll develop for one another. And why should it? This is 1943, and fourteen/fifteen year olds are still firmly children, both to adults and to themselves. David and Peter have nascent romantic and sexual instincts (in the broadest sense). They have no previous experience. First love can take root, though neither of them could be aware of it, and they would certainly be too embarrassed by themselves to express this in any way.
Since I’m going into such detail, I can’t resist commenting upon the Lone Pine Club itself. It’s a classic of the time: Peter suggests the Club, she and Mary find its HQ, Dickie names it but it’s David who becomes Club Captain. It could never have been any other way: David is not just the oldest, but he’s a boy, and boys are leaders, not girls. Peter isn’t any way frustrated by this. She’s Vice-Captain, and whilst she isn’t always in agreement with David, and isn’t afraid to say so, she supports his leadership, and accepts his decisions.
And David relies on her. It’s noticeable, and I’ll point it out when it happens, that he never exercises his authority over her as Captain against her will, except when he is knowingly relying on her accepting his role, to force her to do things for her own benefit. From the beginning, David and Peter implicitly accept each other as equals. And as time goes by, the steady, sturdy, serious, responsible, unimaginative David will show himself to be incredibly sensitive to the girl on the pony who superseded his authority on their first meeting, and changed everything that would happen to him. And others.

Seven White Gates

If Mystery at Witchend was David Morton’s book, giving him the principal viewpoint, Seven White Gates is Peter’s. She is the catalyst for everything that happens, and she is the source of the events that change her family’s life and its future ever after.
We start with Peter at school for the first and only time. Though Peter is, and will in future be portrayed as a lonely girl who hasn’t realised she was lonely until the Mortons became her surrogate family, she’s clearly very popular among the other girls, and Margaret not only gets close enough for Peter to confide in her about last summer’s events, but wants her to come home for the Easter holidays.
But Margaret is too late, and never appears again. Peter’s loyalty to her father, who has directed her to Seven Gates Farm and her unknown Uncle Micah in his absence at his employers, means that she has to follow his instructions. She’ll miss him immensely. But she’ll also miss seeing the Mortons, against which Margaret cannot compete.
What contact have David and Peter had since last summer? The country is still at War, Mr Morton is still on active service, it’s implied that, apart from their school terms, David and the Twins have been at Witchend still. But Peter and David have progressed to a regular correspondence, one that’s close enough for her to talk about thoughts and feelings as well as things that have happened. And when she decides to tell Margaret about her adventures, the other girl eagerly asks if it was a romance? Peter doesn’t say it is. But she doesn’t deny it either. She’s willing to admit David is her ‘special’ friend, a way of admitting without admitting, a code.
They’ve been close enough for Peter, unselfconsciously, to link her arm with David several times, for her to accept his initiative, and for him to decide at a celebration feast that his seat is next to hers.
Peter’s coming to Seven Gates is the traditional pebble that starts an avalanche, even before she gets there. Because she is who she is, she is on the road early, eager for her journey by bike. Because of this, she is in the right place to save the runaway gypsy caravan, instinctively putting herself at risk for others. Without her being there, at that moment, the caravan crashes, and the little girl Fenella is almost certainly killed or at least severely injured. Peter’s bravery earns her the eternal friendship of Reuben and Miranda, and the promise of their help. But most importantly, it saves lives being ruined.
Her second encounter is equally important, though nothing like so dramatic. On the way into Barton Beach, tired, her tyre punctured, she meets Jenny Harman, who gives her a lift. Though Jenny is initially frustrating, and Peter not so receptive as she usually is, the girls become friends. Peter promotes her as a Lone Pine member, and her stock with David is so high that Jenny is accepted, sight unseen. And without Peter, Jenny will not meet Tom Ingles, and that relationship will never have the chance to form.
And Peter’s instinctive thought on arriving at Seven Gates, and meeting her sympathetic Aunt Carol, is to get the Mortons over there. And because she succeeds, the Twins develop an immediate sympathy for the lonely and outwardly unlovable Uncle Micah. They follow him on one of his night expeditions up Black Dingle, they trap themselves in the mines, they meet the American platoon, and most of all they meet the Lieutenant who they identify as Charles Sterling, Micah’s estranged son, and they engineer their reunion.
All because Peter Sterling met David Morton on a Shropshire hill one day. The ripples spread very wide.

The Gay Dolphin Adventure

I know it’s technically a digression but I can’t help asking, who are Jonathan and Penelope Warrender before the Lone Pine Club?
Whilst David and Peter is Saville’s long story, Jon and Penny are the next most important pair (Tom and Jenny are only very rarely outside their friends’ shadow), and in the beginning the latter is of direct relevance to Peter.
The Warrenders are a pair from start to finish. Though they’re formally cousins they are actually a surrogate brother-sister pair, though their appearances are contradictory: Jon is tall, fair, untidy, clever, Penny is short, red-headed, neat in her dress and emotional. Penny has lived with her Uncle’s family for an indefinite number of years because, in a colonial echo, her father works in India and she schools in England. That’s just about allowable in The Gay Dolphin Adventure, which is set in that narrow period between the end of the War and India’s Independence but it rapidly becomes horribly anachronistic once it becomes just a device for not splitting the pair up.
Saville never intended any romance to develop between any of the Lone Piners, and when it did rear its head, the Warrenders’ cousinship gave him serious problems that his own Conservative, Christian mindset could not enable him to solve.
The Warrenders take up half the book on their own. The War has placed them in their new setting of Rye. Jon is the other side of the coin to David: his father died at Normandy, there was no reunion for him, or Penny, who loved her Uncle. As for so many families, it provoked a crisis: though we have to assume that the expatriates are sending regular financial support, the widowed Mrs Warrender has total responsibility for the welfare, upbringing and School fees for her son. The Gay Dolphin falls into her lap as a desperate measure upon which much hard work and serious responsibility hangs, a lot of which can be alleviated if Jon and Penny can do what others have failed to do, and find the lost Treasure. Hah! That’s like a Terry Pratchett one-in-a-million chance.
Enter the Mortons, the Dolphin’s first guests. The two families meet, make friends, and the Mortons offer their near-professional assistance. Peter’s not there, but her presence is far from unfelt. The Twins rag David about his ‘girlfriend’ whom he misses, and we’re unsurprised to discover that he’s written to her about the Warrenders, suggesting them as Lone Piners. Of course, as Vice-Captain, her approval is essential, but there’s an underlying sense that David wants his friend and ally’s approval, and the trust between them is enough that, just as David approved Jenny’s admission because Peter vouched for her, Petronella trusts David’s recommendations, sight unseen.
The mention is brief, and we don’t see either letter, but it would have been very interesting for Saville to have printed these for a reason that would be more fully introduced in the next book, but which at this early stage is outside any consideration. Penny Warrender is only the second girl contemporary with whom David Morton has been involved (remember that Jenny Harman was originally presented as being a twelve-year-old, to David and Peter’s fifteen). Though Saville describes her here as ‘not-yet-pretty’, she’s still a bright, engaging, fun and involving character, as well as being volatile, impulsive and at times quite infuriating.
But David never treats Penny as anything but a friend, though his admiration for her at one point has Jon looking a bit askance at him. Jealousy? Or just shock at the idea of anyone finding Penny appealing? He needn’t worry: in fact, it’s Jon who goes on to become David’s best friend after Peter. Peter’s role in his life is unthreatened. Anyway, Penny is completely devoted to Jon, even now, and she will be even more loyal to her ‘man’ than Peter to David, or even Jenny to Tom. Penny’s loyalty comes in the face of treatment from Jon that is frequently totally shitty: adolescent at best, but often too nasty to be excused as merely thoughtlessness.
But that’s for another essay. Peter isn’t here, but her spirit is present. All we have to ask ourselves is, why are the Mortons in Rye and not Shropshire? It’s vaguely dismissed as ‘couldn’t get to Shropshire this year’ but really, why not? Was this down to any kind of immediate post-War travel restrictions?
Obviously, the Mortons are back home in Hertfordshire, but they’re retained Witchend, to be their holiday home (and I think David’s undemonstrativeness would have undergone a nuclear reversal if it had been suggested they weren’t going to be visiting Shropshire any more!). Why not use it, then? Though Peter could have been part of things if she weren’t so loyal to her father: the Morton parents invited her.
Because the parents didn’t go to Witchend, Jon and Penny Warrender are brought into the Magic Circle and, by extension, Harriet Sparrow will become a Lone Piner several books from now. Without that, Miss Ballinger wouldn’t serve several impossible to account for prison terms, nor would James Wilson get half as many exclusive stories. Because of a meeting on a hill.

The Secret of Grey Walls

The fourth Lone Pine book was the first in which Saville formally, and fatefully, promised his eager fans to keep the Lone Piners frozen in time, forever the ages at which the readers loved them. This was a perfectly reasonable commitment from a children’s writer to his audience, especially in the late Forties, but it was also a yoke about his neck, or rather about the necks of his characters, and they would force Saville to struggle with his writers’ instinct about the needs of his characters, within a decade of that much-repeated promise.
And it’s doubly ironic given that The Secret of Grey Walls sets up the Lone Piners’ third romantic pair in Tom Ingles and Jenny Harman, or should that be the other way round given that it’s Jenny’s love for Tom that drives it? And, without a word to be spoken, it’s obvious as can be that Jenny, who barely met him in Seven White Gates, loves Tom already. Saville bypasses all the beginnings, which we assume are meetings and encounters in Shropshire whilst the Mortons are in Rye, and that Tom, though not anywhere as far along and inclined to treat the thing as slightly a joke, cares for Jenny as a close friend, and has appointed himself her defender.
The Secret of Grey Walls is the only book to feature the extended Lone Pine Club in its entirety, eight Lone Piners in the same adventure. It’s a winter book, set between Xmas and New Year, initially in a break at Witchend, that Saville subverts quickly by two letters. One summons the Morton parents back to London to sign business letters, the other calls housekeeper Agnes to Clun to take over her sister’s boarding house. The only way for the holiday to continue is for the children to go to Keep View, which is big enough to not only house Tom and Jenny, but also call up Jon and Penny, to meet the other half of the club and get their formal initiation.
Except that Peter feels threatened. It’s actually due to David. He’s been surprisingly sensitive to Peter so far, but here he is talking up Penny, saying how wonderful she is. Peter’s never had a boyfriend before, she’s not even ready yet to acknowledge David as a boyfriend, and here he is meeting other females and getting all excited about them, and you might think she’s just being stereotypically jealous, but Peter, for all her innate self-confidence, is in strange waters here, and it’s unsurprising that she feels vulnerable.
Ironically, David thinks he’s being supportive. He’s impressed by Penny and his boosting her to Peter is actually meant to build her up as a friend to Peter. After his early sensitivity, it’s refreshing to see David displaying a more traditional adolescent obtuseness.
And Penny herself is brilliant. David’s obviously praised Peter to her and she’s the Lone Piner Penny most wants to meet, eager for the two to become friends.
Paradoxically, even though Penny at her most winsome can be irresistible, Peter still can’t fully relax with her because if the redhead is so appealing, she must be appealing to David.
Peter doesn’t properly accept Penny until the three girls have to go out to save the three boys. Jenny heads for Bury Fields, Alan Denton and external aid, Penny is determined to go direct in search of Jon and Peter, though her head says Jenny is right, goes with Penny, determined not to be outdone in devotion. Only then does Peter completely relax about Miss Warrender, secure in the knowledge that her new friend is wholly committed to Jon, not David.
David, on the other hand, is not really aware of Peter’s doubts. Though he is anxious that his old friends and his new friends get along together, Peter is his first concern. When she arrives, last of all, in the dark and exhausted at Clun, he is quick to order her to go inside, rest and eat, and he takes over unsaddling and brushing down Sally. He makes it an Order too, from Captain to Vice-Captain, which takes Peter slightly aback, but whatever her concerns, he is still David, and she trusts him with her beloved pony, and rather enjoys being catered to. Not that it disturbs her fears over Penny, since she flares up at him over the actual initiation of the Warrenders (especially Jon, a neat bit of displacement), which confuses David even more!
But it’s still David she turns to first, when Mr Cantor patronisingly suggests she’s making up the lorry that drove through Clun in the middle of the night.
Everything ends well, the Warrenders are fully accepted in the Club, and everyone winds up secure in their friendships. Peter and Penny have become friends, but the Warrenders will never come to Shropshire again, and will never see Tom and Jenny again until they all end up as extras in the last book.

Lone Pine Five

The fifth Lone Pine book is Jenny Harman’s book. She is its central character, she creates the adventure (and overcomes by her enthusiasm everyone else’s slight reservations: nobody can bear disappointing her) and it’s her energy that carries the story.
Jenny is one of the lucky ones. Her Dad came back from the War, though that leaves him in between his second wife and his daughter, with the latter doing her best not to cause trouble for him. Indeed, Mr Harman often seems to take his daughter’s side, though not explicitly. The most important person to her is Tom. He started as an evacuee from London, like the Mortons, but the War is a few years back and he’s still at Ingles, with Uncle Alf and Aunty Betty who have adopted Jenny as an honorary niece. Something is obviously wrong, but Saville remains silent, for rather too many books to come, on the fate of Tom’s family. By now, we all realise that it has gone wrong for Tom, wronger than for Jon Warrender.
Back in wet and rainy Shropshire, Jenny brings everyone back to Seven Gates to support Mr Wilkins, a Seven Gates where Charles is now installed as master, albeit in partnership with Uncle Micah, and then off to HQ4, the Club’s fourth headquarters in only five books.
David and Peter are not quite background characters in Lone Pine Five but not far from it. They’re fresh from Peter being in London for a fortnight, which, as a country girl, has been a mixed blessing for her, but which reinforces her close relationship with all the family. But really she’s there because she’s David’s friend. The Morton parents are clearly happy to encourage the relationship.
There’s a very comfortable, very relaxed atmosphere about them. Peter’s not quite flirting with David, but her teasing is very affectionate, and he’s relaxed. They are very much a pair now, and happy about it.
They are also inseparable, until the climax of the book. When the Twins and Percy go over the edge, into the underground pool, David takes charge, sending Peter for help. She finds it already close at hand. Though she’s lucky about that, David gives her a look of trust and a word of thanks, seeing only the girl who will never let them down.
Then, when everyone is rescued, and the ground opens and the underground river emerges, Peter reacts instantly, unthinkingly, racing down the Dingle to try and warn those in danger below. David is behind her: he doesn’t have quite the same instinctive response to the situation, but he has it for Peter, though he needs rescue by her.
But it is David who has the control of the situation to persuade Smithson that this is not a time to continue rivalry, and talk him into assisting the mopping up operation, and who pulls rank on his Vice-Captain to order her to get straight back to Seven Gates. On the surface, it’s so that she can organise things for everybody else’s benefit, but nobody believes anything other than that David is making sure Peter gets warm, dry and fed ahead of anyone. The Captain isn’t necessarily thinking of the good of the entire Club here, though his solution is the best in the circumstances.
Peter, who isn’t used to being ordered around, has to acquiesce, and gets a little pink about it. It comes over like an old-fashioned boys give orders, girls obey them, but it’s pretty clear Peter knows exactly what’s on David’s mind, and her pinkness is at the thought of how he’s put her first.
This contentment is doomed not to last. Mr Morton arrives to shut off camping in this wet, and brings a telegram from the absent Warrenders, returned from their exchange visit to Paris: they have seen Miss Ballinger again and want the Lone Piners on notice…

The Elusive Grasshopper

We’re back in Rye and it’s more or less the same formula, with the Warrenders in the first half of the book, complete with their charming continental friend, Arlette Duchelle, and the Mortons coming in halfway. The other Lone Piners stay behind, and indeed the Mortons are only really available because it’s become too wet to stay in Shropshire.
Tom and Jenny are workers, to all intents and purposes, but Peter’s excuse is loyalty to her father: she’s been in London with the Mortons, then Seven Gates and she’s not shooting off a third time when she knows how much her presence means to him.
It’s probably a good idea. David reacts no more to Arlette than he did to Penny: when she has to pair up with someone it’s with the newly-introduced James Wilson. David sticks with Jonathan, in accordance with biblical precedent. Still, it’s a good idea not to throw him into her company if Peter’s there to witness it…
But though absent in body, Peter remains a presence in The Elusive Grasshopper. For once we are allowed to read a letter from David, about their enthusiastic arrival in Rye. David’s scrupulously addressed his letter to Jon and Penny, and she just as scrupulously has avoided opening it until her cousin can join her, in the face of his obvious and offensive assumption to the contrary. Jon is once again as supercilious as he can be to Penny most of the time, only rarely showing any human decency towards her.
And David can’t bring himself to leave Peter out of his letter and his thoughts, missing her already even as he understands her loyalty to her neglected father, and Penny quietly points out that David knows how to stick up for his friends, and would never allow anyone to say a word against Peter. Who’s not even in the book…

The Neglected Mountain

If there was ever to be any doubt where David and Peter would end up, The Neglected Mountain removes this. Once Saville had written this book, he made it impossible to retreat. From here, Not Scarlet But Gold is only a matter of time.
And there is so much in this story that feeds into and leads up to that moment of unspoken commitment. Every conversation, every word, is underscored with a nuance that is natural and unconscious.
Unusually, Saville begins with an ending, not a beginning. An unusually adventure-free Easter holiday at Seven Gates is on its last night and the Lone Piners are openly regretting their break-up, not least Jenny, who beneath her silly chatterbox surface is the most sensitive of the sextet, and the most lonely when her friends are away.
David’s in an oddly skittish mood, challenging Jenny’s superstitions about the Stiperstones and, by extension, his best friend Peter’s. It’s an early indication that he isn’t entirely his placid, steady self, and it comes before Romance enters, in the form of Charles Sterling’s engagement to Trudie Whittaker.
The girls are thrilled, the boys pleased but not much moved. David’s already conscious of not seeing Peter again for the next twelve weeks, and it’s that rather than any inspiration from Charles that leads him to waken her on hearing an aircraft with a faltering engine, and ask her to go up to the Devil’s Chair with him, on their own. It’s not Peter’s idea of fun (these are still, in their own eyes, children and David is being typically a boy in this) but she agrees, because it is David who’s asked her, asking herself tartly if he’s ever noticed she never refuses him, but persisting in asking why her, and not Tom, until David quietly tells her: he wanted some time with her on her own. She doesn’t say anything more.
The Twins are predictably disgusted at this ‘betrayal’, but Jenny, and even Tom, have a much better idea of what’s going on. Nevertheless, it’s still the last day. Jenny leaves in tears, and Peter and David demonstrate how much they’re on the same wavelength by simultaneously saying, “Twelve weeks.”
Peter’s letter that follows, describing her unsettling experience on returning to Hatchholt, is significant in two different respects. It’s noticeable how comfortable she is with sharing her private thoughts and feelings with David, before she gets on to the purpose of her letter, but also that, the more it goes on, the air of slight cattiness that creeps in, as if on an unconscious level, Peter’s being defensive about opening up to David so much, preparing herself for disappointment if he fails to take her concerns seriously.
In that, she is actually correct. Distracted by cricket, David fails to take in what’s being asked of him, that he overtly supports Peter. He writes back, at length, but we see nothing of this letter, and Peter is dismissive of it in the summer. Indeed, she’s sharper with David than she’s been since the incident at the reservoir in Mystery at Witchend, and when the Twins, predictable as ever, start going on about being left out of secrets, she’s genuinely angry with them.
But she’s really angry with David for not being reliable. Not that it stops her, when the ‘race’ to Bishop’s Castle is mooted, from wanting to go with him. The Twins naively assume the boys and the girls will pair off (have they even met Jenny?) but the nervous glance shot by the redhead at Peter is equalled by the one she gets in return.
Before anything else stupid can be said, David rather awkwardly insists that Peter will go with him, as he has Club business to discuss with the Vice-Captain. Nobody believes that excuse for a second, but Peter’s content. And after living in her favourite blue shirt and jodhpurs, she turns up in the new frock her Daddy has just bought for her: dressing like a girl, hmm.
It has David looking at her, admiringly, and thinking that one day, and soon, people are going to look at Peter and see a very beautiful girl. It’s a theme that Saville repeats, authorially, over the next half dozen books.
And it’s a nice day, a relaxed day, for all its difficulties, in the guard dog attack near the RAF station, and little Johnnie’s missing puppy in the Barton Beach woods. Saville gets in a nice line too during the former, where Peter’s animal skills avert a potentially dangerous situation. David has no false pride about her being their saviour, but Saville lets the Guard describe the frock-clad Peter as a “beautiful female spy”.
In the circumstances, it could be passed off as a joke, but it’s not when, with the Club in a crisis over the missing Macbeth, and Peter indignant over their failure to do what they should have done earlier, David finds himself looking at his friend in admiration. Admiration for her force of character, her naturalness, her strength. He loses himself in these realisations about her, so much so that he stares and she becomes embarrassed, and self-conscious with him for the first time.
It’s a distraction for them, but it’s a precursor to something much more serious. David has for once put his foot down and separated the Twins, taking Mary with him and Peter. They return to the Mine, where Robens has his makeshift laboratory and the drugged Macbeth is rescued. But Robens returns and Peter, seeking refuge, precipitates danger by leading them up a loose bank. Mary slips, and David must secure her, Peter is slipping the other way, with only David to secure her, but this brave girl has no doubts that David’s responsibility is to his sister: she lets go and falls.
And in danger, and darkness, David and Peter cross a line that neither can or will ever wish to retreat across. In a way, it’s easier for her: she loses consciousness, and when she wakens to pain, it is with David holding her, keeping her safe, pouring out his heart to her, telling her that her being alright is the only thing that matters. She’s too woozy for anything but the relief to register, that she who has risked her life will be alright because David Morton can be relied upon until the stars go out one by one.
But he has been the one who has been put through a fear no-one should have to face, and certainly not at the age of 16. Peter may be badly injured, she may be dead. He can get down to her, he can hold her in his arms for the first time, he can surely tell she’s breathing, but until she finally speaks he has to live with the terror that everything might be over just when he is beginning to get the first sense of what everything might be. Once he knows she’s alright, he can be David again, steady, reliable David who knows that he can make everything right for her again.
It’s been a crisis: a crisis too soon, really. They are still only sixteen, not ready yet even for first kisses. But the friendship between them has gone through the fire and inside, where they carefully bank it up until the time comes to grow to meet their future, they both know that they are on an undivided track.
There’s no need for histrionics, or even words, when Peter’s released from the hospital. David devotes himself to her comfort, and takes time out to tell Mr Sterling what he know she won’t have told even her father, that she risked her life for him and Mary. Sterling takes the news quietly, knowing now if he had not already realised that his daughter’s future is safe with this young man he already approves of, and that she is worthy of the pride he has in her.
The pair won’t talk of what’s happened. What it could have been is only too real to them and they would like nothing better than to forget that. But there are memories Peter will keep forever, and David understands what she means. Only Mary, the only one to see and hear, comes close to spelling it out, and her Twin is far too obtuse to understand.

Under a Solitary Tree: Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club series – an appraisal


Malcolm Saville enthralling his readers

There is an active Malcolm Saville Society, established over twenty years ago, for fans of his work in general and his Lone Pine Club series in particular. This was not the only series Saville wrote in his prolific career, though by far the longest: The Jillies and The Buckinghams ran to six books each, aimed for the same general children’s audience as the Lone Piners, whilst the Susan, Bill books were for younger readers and the somewhat later Marston Baines series for older teenagers.
But Saville is and always will be remembered for the Lone Pine Club, and for the simple but heartfelt ideals that the Club represented and by which they lived: to be true to one another, whatever happens.
Re-reading and re-re-reading the series this year has been an enjoyable experience, and in general I think that whilst the series went on too long, a number of the books stand up well even today. In the Introduction, I compared the Lone Pine books to those of the Famous Five and the Swallows and Amazons, in terms of appeal and longevity. Having re-acquainted myself with them, my overall impressions remain unchanged. Though they are the most dated in terms of dialogue and setting, the Swallows and Amazons books are still the finest, and the Famous Five the least fulfilling.
Even during his lifetime, Saville’s books were accused of being out-of-touch, and middle-class. Revisions inimical to the overall quality of the series, and poorly executed, were forced upon him. Later books became increasingly ineffectual as Saville struggled to comply with demands that he reflect the world of the Seventies, demands that were beyond his understanding in the eighth decade of his life.
But what distinguishes Saville’s work from both his contemporaries is that, from the very outset, dealing with boys and girls no more than fifteen years of age, in the middle of Wartime, he was prepared to acknowledge the inherent attraction between boys and girls, and encourage and develop this over a series of books. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Saville wrote for both male and female readers. We may assume, whether that be rightly or wrongly, that the action was the main interest of the boys and the relationships that of the girls.
Either way, Saville’s art lay in making both sides of that equation palatable to their ‘unnatural’ audience, and in making the advent of relationships natural and enjoyable for those who would normally be embarrassed by emotion.
Reviewing each book, you can’t escape from unignorable drawbacks. I don’t mean the overall implausibility of a small group of youngsters getting involved in so many adventures, nor the problems inherent in keeping that group at roughly the same age against contemporary backgrounds that span thirty-five years. This is where Suspension of Disbelief comes in, though the longevity of the series puts as much strain on the Suspension as it does on the Golden Gate Bridge.
No, I mean the repetitiveness: the adventures that, after the first two, War-bound books, never vary beyond criminal gangs, or missing treasures, the inevitable kidnapping, usually but not always of the Twins (in Seven White Gates, the only book without a villain, they get themselves trapped underground instead). Then there are the frequent natural disasters, intended to provide a melodramatic ending. The effects vary, but Saville overdoes the one where underground water forcing itself to the surface, causing landslips.
And few of Saville’s villains are particularly convincing to the adult eye. The longer the series goes on, the worse they get. They bluster, ineffectually, or they get smarmy, thinking they’re winning the kids round. In the second half of the series, a number of villains start to get more brutal, as the senior Lone Piners start to transition into adulthood, becoming fair game, as it were, but Saville’s instinctive distaste for this step shows, and he never convinces that his heart is in what he’s writing.

The Long Mynd, and one of its ‘gutters’

For the most part, Saville deals with the advancing background by ignoring it. Mystery at Witchend causes the most problems by pinning the Lone Piners to the War. It takes eleven books and fourteen years for the only mention of Tom losing his parents in an Air Raid to appear, and in Not Scarlet But Gold, it is Jenny, who did not appear in that book, who is the only one who can ask Alf Ingles what it was like in Shropshire during the War with any plausibility.
I’ve admitted to being troubled by having an entire State Forest appear between a summer adventure and a Xmas one, whilst Miss Ballinger apparently undergoing arrest, trial, imprisonment, release and establishing a very successful fashion house between Easter and a foggy London winter is impossible to accept.
This wouldn’t be so bad if Saville wasn’t insistent upon a higher degree of realism in his settings. He can invent Witchend and Seven Gates, Onnybrook and Barton Beach, even Trader’s Street and the Gay Dolphin, but in all other respects he portrays Shropshire and Rye as they are, places his readers can visit themselves, and imagine themselves into the stories.
Because the stories take on this tangibility, unlike Blyton’s generic countryside, or Ransome’s Lake being a pot-pourri of real places drawn into a fictional conglomerate, the reader is being invited to see the stories on a more realistic level. And because Saville recognised, from the outset, that his children could be and would be more than just sexless figures interested only in the thrill of the adventure, the Lone Pine Club books encourage the reader to take them more seriously, more concretely.
In re-re-reading the series with the advantage of First Edition texts, I’ve eliminated from my reviews the original references to the time-flux in the relationships between the Lone Piners. It isn’t of any significant bearing on any of the stories, and I intend to look at it separately at some point, but Saville’s inconsistency reaches its peak with Jenny, who starts off three years younger than Peter in Seven White Gates only to beat her to her eighteenth birthday by Home to Witchend.
But in keeping the children the same age throughout (roughly) up to and including Not Scarlet But Gold, Saville was obeying the wishes of his readers, who he always encouraged to write to him, and whom he always answered personally. What changes in that book is that Saville is now prepared to complete what his writing has implied for over a decade and a half, and to have David and Peter recognise how much they have always meant to each other, and after that the senior’s ages can be allowed to creep up, until they officially become eighteen year olds, and adults
The biggest accusation against the series, and the one to which Saville’s fan club reacts most aggressively, darkly muttering ‘political correctness’, is that the books are out of touch and the children too middle class. Frankly, when two-thirds of your cast go to boarding schools, I don’t think you can afford to kick against that suggestion.
I’d be more inclined to respond by pointing out that the Lone Piners between themselves treat each other absolutely equally. There’s not the tiniest suggestion that Tom or Jenny are inferior to their friends because they are working boys and girls: Tom’s duties on the farm and Jenny’s duties in the Post Office are only an issue insofar as they restrict their freedom to go wherever they choose. This confines them to the Shropshire books: their one escape, to Devon, is brought about by an awkward contrivance.
And I would also be defiant about it. The Lone Piners are products of their time. They’re not working class or street kids, nor are they worse for not being so. Times and tastes changed, and the publishers’ reactions to that were stupid and hasty. The books palpably suffered from Saville being forced out of his natural instincts.
The problem was that he lived longer than Ransome and Blyton. Blyton was a book machine, a force of nature who could roll over anything her publisher demanded whilst Ransome, though surviving to 1967, had ended his career two decades earlier: his books were established.

Devil's Chair

Considering the Lone Pine books as a complete story leads inevitably to considering the long-lasting relationship between David Morton and Petronella Sterling. Their’s is not the only relationship, but it is the primary one. The books may begin with David on the first page but the Club begins with Peter, a recognition Saville makes increasingly formal throughout the last half-dozen books.
She arrives from nowhere, the girl on the pony, the Shropshire girl, at one with the land and the birds and animals. She accepts the Mortons utterly, the self-reliant girl who has, until now, had all she ever needed, but has now found what she never knew she wanted, a family to wrap around her.
Except when she is unsettled, by the threat to her lifestyle of having to leave Shropshire, by David’s and her own adolescent awkwardnesses and the attentions of a handsome young man treating her in the way David has not yet thought to do, Peter is utterly straightforward, complete from the beginning. All she has to do is grow and the only growing she needs is age.
Though it would be easy to see her as an idealisation, Peter is completely grounded. Everyone loves her, everyone relies on her, everyone trusts her, and in turn she gives her friendship instantly and unquestioningly to everyone (once she is completely assured that Penny Warrender has no designs on her David). She is a very natural, very open woman. She is brave, even when a situation has her scared. When others are in danger, she acts instinctively and instantly, before anyone else. She trusts in David Morton absolutely, and has done from the very beginning, and except when the two of them have their utterly natural difficulties, transitioning out of childhood into adulthood, he is worthy of her trust.
For several books, starting with The Neglected Mountain, we are constantly assured that very soon people are going to look at her and see a very beautiful young woman. In Not Scarlet But Gold, she has become this, and this book is the most complex and fulfilling work of the series.
But once Peter declares her love and is answered by David, she begins to fade. Once she’s officially on the road towards engagement, marriage and motherhood, only her beauty matters. She loses her enthusiasm for justice, she allows herself to be left behind continually, and she is even lowered to the indignity of being kidnapped. It’s as if Saville can no longer see her as a rounded, forthright young woman, but only as a figurehead. She loses so much by it.
The relationship between Tom and Jenny seems to emerge out of nowhere. She doesn’t appear until Seven White Gates, where she has no scenes with Tom, and is only mentioned in passing as hanging adoringly on his every word afterwards: we don’t even see them being introduced. But by their next appearance, they’re as acknowledged a couple as David and Peter, having formed a good and reliable friendship with overtones of an early affection on both sides between books. It’s only natural, not just because they are of a similar age and have no other options to pair off with, but also they have much in common. They go to local schools (we assume Tom does have some schooling) and without the Mortons around, they have only each other for friends.
But though Tom and Jenny’s relationship is kept more low key, with Tom frequently shown as a little embarrassed by Jenny’s open enthusiasm towards him, it is still a two-way thing, and just as real as David and Peter. Tom, after the early books, does display a certain slight distance from the Club, because he is a working man, but never from Jenny. The pair go through their final tribulations during Man with Three Fingers, where Tom briefly kicks against the restrictions of his limited life, and Jenny, for all her determined love for him, acts at her most juvenile over what she perceives as threats to the future she dreams of, but once she is assured openly by Tom that she is his girl, she crosses the bridge into adult acceptance that she cannot be the only thing in his life, and that it is more than enough to be the main thing.
Jon and Penny are a completely different kettle of fish. They arrive as an established pair, cousins in fact but virtual siblings. They are very different characters, and by no means compatible in the way that the other pairs are. If they hadn’t already formed a bond, it would be very difficult to imagine the two taking to each other.
Jon, tall, fair-haired, intelligent, lives with his mother, who was widowed in the War. Penny, a year younger, with coppery curls, has lived with her Aunt, Jon’s mother, for years because her parents live and work in India. That background is apt for the time of their introduction, but once India has achieved its independence, it’s an anomalous situation that gets increasingly anachronistic, but which Saville maintains, probably because bringing Penny’s parents home would split the pair up.
Penny, who is a true redhead, volatile, effervescent, flirtatious, open, looks up to and worships her elder cousin who, in turn, looks down on her and treats her for the most part with casual contempt and mockery. Partly that’s down to sibling rivalry, but that’s not enough to excuse the way Jon treats his cousin. Penny’s affection for him, and her reliance upon him, is obvious, but it’s not reciprocated in kind by Jon, except in very rare moments. And he’s inordinately slow to see how Penny feels about him.
His callousness comes to a head in Mystery Mine, when no sooner do he and Penny arrive in London than he and David unapologetically decide to shove off alone and leave her with no-one but the Twins and Harriet for company. He never sees just how rotten he’s been.
Saville ultimately hamstrung himself by making the Warrenders cousins. He lived at a time when there was a stigma about cousins marrying, based on the incest taboo and a mistaken belief that the proximity of genetic structure among cousins was guaranteed to produce physically or mentally disabled children. The Warrenders appeared when Saville had no intention of letting his children grow up to the point where that became a realistic factor, and their familial ties made it impossible for him to be comfortable with allowing them the same freedom.
Like David and Peter before them, they have their breakthrough in Treasure at Amorys. The book is not quite as unequivocal as it could be, and I find it significant that the edited-down Second Edition ruthlessly eliminates every single instance of the pair being romantic. But that was as much as Saville could bring himself to do: Rye Royal marks time, they are excluded from Where’s My Girl? on fairly specious grounds, and their appearance in Home to Witchend is marginal, and perfunctory, distinguished only by Jon giving Penny an out and out snog, with no words said.
Saville even wanted to throw Penny into Dan Sturt’s arms, which would have been a major disaster.

Rye

Which brings me to Richard and Mary, the Twins. Everybody’s favourites, except me. I wish I could somehow contact my younger self, the boy who read these books at the age they were meant for, and ask him what he thought of them, but I have no recollection whatsoever. As an adult, however, I would cheerfully consider drowning them!
To call them rude is to ignore such words as appalling, impossible and uncontrollable. They are absolutely paranoid, egomaniacal, obsessive and unashamed liars, and they are supposed to be heroes? They are also stupidly reckless and ignorant, completely uncaring of the effect their idiot propensity to get themselves kidnapped by the bad guys, over and over and over and over again, has on the people who love them, God knows why. And they never learn a single lesson, regarding themselves as complete heroes, the only people who ever solve mysteries, and completely justified in doing whatever they want.
By the time of the final book, the Twins have been allowed to age for the first time since between Mystery at Witchend and Seven White Gates. It makes no difference. They promptly go off on their own, into a ‘secret’ valley, and come close to being affected by another water-forced landslip. This whole sequence is artificial, lacking any real connection to the story and included just to give the Twins something to do. It’s pure formula and it’s tedious in the extreme, but it also serves to expose the Twins’ essential weakness, that they are not fit for anything else. They do not grow because the remotest sign of growth debars them from their fixed roles, and there is nothing for them to grow into.
With everyone turning adult, the Twins take it into their head to create a New Lone Pine Club, one that will belong to them and will be in their image. Harriet will transfer over with them, and Kevin and Fenella, the daughter of Reuben and Miranda who at last finds her voice in this book, but the new club will include Nicholas Whiteflower, who has appeared in one book, written twenty years before, which shows the extent to which the barrel is being scraped.
Apparently, after Home to Witchend, Saville was asked to write another Lone Pine book and started to plot one out. Thankfully, it never materialised, especially if it would have featured the New Lone Pine Club, because the thought of an adventure in which the Twins are the club leaders is too horrifying to bear. Unless Harriet planned a very early coup, I could foresee nothing but disaster.
Ah, Harriet. Poor Harriet. I had no real recollection of her before re-reading the series, which is a shame, because she is an absolute delight and deserved better treatment from Saville. She only appears in four books, but despite being just twelve years old, far closer to the Twins than any of the rest of the Club, she is self-reliant, and competent. Harriet accepts her place as the new girl, but stands up for herself. Her high point is Not Scarlet But Gold, where she is the moral centre of the story taking place around David and Peter, and she is the dominant figure in Strangers at Witchend and it does her a disservice to have her so taken up with the hapless Kevin Smith, to the point where her last scene is her bursting into tears at him going away.
She is even more badly served by Home at Witchend, where she doesn’t appear until almost the very end, and then as an adjunct to Kevin, who gets dialogue where she doesn’t. A really good character, mostly wasted.
I’ve already said enough about the adventure story aspect, and the villains, but Miss Ballinger and her gang, the closest the Lone Piners come to arch enemies, deserve separate mention. They appear in five stories, to varying, mostly decreasing effect. By the time of Treasure at Amorys, Ballinger herself is almost wholly eclipsed by the idiotic and unstable Les Dale, who is a prime example of late series Saville villain, who cannot be taken at all seriously. By the time of her last appearance, in the wrap-up Home to Witchend, Miss Ballinger is a busted flush, old, near-blind (though still somehow active as an artist), and an underling to someone who we have to pretend is Slinky Grandon, even though he bears no more relationship to Grandon in word or action than Jeremy Corbyn does to Theresa May.
But whilst this is, frankly, poor, I do have to praise Saville’s his handling of Ballinger’s final scene. Alone, abandoned, her glasses stolen, she is so helpless she doesn’t even know she is speaking to David Morton, but at the last she achieves a curious kind of dignity, that hints at what else she might have been, but for her greed and callousness.

Macbeth?

Overall, the Lone Pine series stands up decently well. The books are flawed, especially later books, written when Saville was being accused of being out of touch, and too middle class, accusations that, to be fair, are largely true. Yet the series started with the right impulses behind it, and never lost sight of these, and they were ideals worth adhering to, and I am in something of a minority in my response to the Twins.
What Saville did do, and did well, was to develop the natural connections between the senior Lone Piners. Bonds were formed from an early stage, were maintained and grew, ripened, deepened, until in two cases they ended with engagements, and the confidence of lives ahead. Speaking as a pre-teen boy, in the Sixties, I can testify that selling this was no mean feat.
I acquired a set, of mis-matched paperbacks and occasional hardbacks, cheaply, mostly Second Editions. On two occasions, I had to pay extra for the superb, restored and complete GirlsGoneBy editions. These inspired me to re-collect the set through those publishers, so that I now have a set of handsome, matching editions. This year has been the year in which I returned to the Lone Pine, and for all the things that the critical adult eye sees and cannot ignore, it has been a delight.

Under a Solitary Tree: Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club – Home to Witchend


(This is a revised version of the original essay, based on second thoughts.)

There had to be a Last Book. And it had to do the proper thing by David and Peter by securing their future together into the timelessness that followed. And it had to settle Tom and Jenny. And Jon and Penny, though in the end Saville couldn’t bring himself to do it, leaving their outcome to our imaginings, which all ended up in the same place anyway.
From Mystery at Witchend to Where’s My Girl? there had never been more than two years between Lone Pine Club books, but six years passed before Home to Witchend was published, the only one in the series to appear as an Armada original. The state of publishing ruled out Children’s Hardback Fiction, though this has happily more than recovered since.
And these were not happy years for Saville, whose preferred title, ‘Where it all began’ and others were rejected, as was the notion of creating a light-hearted tale with the Twins at the centre. In this, I’m wholly in agreement, and not just because of my by-now clear antipathy towards the younger Mortons. No, it had to resolve the future of the adult Lone Piners, it had to have Witchend in the title, and it had to recall old themes and recycle old formulas. And involve absolutely everyone.
Though a couple more books remained, after Home to Witchend, Malcolm Saville wrote no more fiction. The Lone Pine Club thus were first and last, and best.
I’ve criticised the last couple of books, and though many Lone Pine fans judge this final story a perfect send-off, and I’d love to welcome it as such, I’m afraid I cannot. There is much that is wrong about Home to Witchend, almost too much to detail without making this into an all-out attack of a kind it doesn’t deserve. But though Saville was still driven by the urge to write children’s fiction, this book is a sad indication that he had gone beyond his time, that he was, by now, old-fashioned, and sufficiently aware of it to make his attempts to reflect the book’s present day ill-suited.
The story is built upon Peter’s coming of age: her eighteenth birthday is only a week away when the story begins. David is planning to make this the most brilliant day she could have. It’s all he’s thinking about, and it’s clear that Saville would prefer to have the same single-mindedness, but an Adventure is required, even though it is almost completely against the spirit of this book.
What is it be? Foil a criminal gang, or find a Treasure? The former is the least obtrusive, and if we are adopting that course, who else should it be but the series’ most inveterate villain, Miss Ballinger, even though her hereditary foes, the Warrenders, are barely in evidence.
Times have changed. Ballinger, who is now in her sixties and pretty well down on her luck, has changed her name again and is making a living of sorts drawing personalised greetings cards. Val, her once and former ‘niece’, has dumped Les Dale, and shot up from ‘twentyish’ to ‘thirtyish’. Reading between the lines of what Saville doesn’t quite say, she’s already starting to lose her looks.
The pair have been summoned to work in a relatively menial role for the former ‘Slinky’ Grandon, now calling himself Thomas Seymour. Tom is in charge, affluent, successful, self-confident. Along with the name change, he doesn’t look, act or even talk like the Grandon we’ve seen so often already and once he’s named Seymour, the name Grandon is never used again. Other than the old connection, there is no point whatsoever to this completely new figure being linked to ‘Slinky’.
The name of the game is forgery: ten pound notes. Ballinger and Val will take a remote Shropshire house as cover for the actual forging by two foreigners, Josef and Jan, and will assist in distribution. There’s a neat symmetry in the choice of house: it’s Appledore, which has gone unmentioned since Mystery at Witchend, but which is once again a pretty nest of thieves.
This particular circle cannot properly be closed, however. Home to Witchend is full of footnotes referencing old adventures, as Saville leads us down Nostalgia Lane, but David and Peter’s previous acquaintance with Appledore has to be left in the shadows: the exposure of a German spy ring cannot be allowed into the past of a girl just approaching eighteen.
Curiously enough, that’s not a serious problem. The Lone Piners’ improbable and elongated history has to be accepted for what it is: it is harder to relate Miss Ballinger and Valerie’s years in their ‘profession’ with the scant period since Penny Warrender was a schoolgirl.
Ah, the Warrenders! They come in at chapter 3, which reveals Penny to be manager-in-training at the old Dolphin, receiving a warning from the Police and the inescapable James Wilson about the passing of forged notes. Jon’s still at Sussex University, though we don’t know what he’s studying or what he plans for his future. As for their future, when Jon turns up at the station and Penny is there to meet him, he kisses her ‘as she’d never been kissed before’ but she doesn’t say anything (Penny? Just been thoroughly snogged and doesn’t say anything? Penny?)
But that is all for them. They will turn up at the end for the party, but only to make up the numbers, of no more relevance than Alan Denton. The same goes for Tom and Jenny: he, the working farmer, spends most of the book working whilst Jenny is also limited to a single chapter, most of which she spends as a chatterbox. She’s got out of Barton Beach at last, assistant in a Shrewsbury bookshop, and somehow or other she’s managed to get to be a few months older than Peter. I’m going to draw up a chart of the Lone Piner’s flexible ages!
At least Tom and Jenny get an ending. They too are engaged, though they’ve kept their commitment secret so as not to steal David and Peter’s thunder at the latter’s birthday.
It’s a shame that Saville’s conservatism and his Christian beliefs couldn’t, in the end, accept that there was neither bar, stigma nor danger to cousins marrying, and make it the triple celebration it deserved to be. It’s better though than the alternative that, for a long time, he wanted to cook up, which was to hand Penny over to Dan Sturt, amid declarations of eternal brotherhood from Jon. That wouldn’t have washed for a moment, always assuming Saville could have persuaded his audience to believe Dan’s fickle heart after his passionate lusting after Peter, but the truth was his audience would have flatly refused to accept Penny and him, and he was persuaded of this.
As for Harriet Sparrow, I am frankly disgusted at her treatment in this book. She does not appear until the very end, joining the party alongside Kevin Smith, who isn’t even a Lone Piner (yet). All Saville can say about his sturdy little girl, with the straightforward heart and her splendid solidity is that she is a lonely girl, and he can’t even give her a line of dialogue: that goes to Kevin instead.
So the book, like Sea Witch Comes Home is eventually only for the Mortons, among whom Peter is now counted in anticipation of her formal attachment to the family. And Peter does not come out of this book too well.
In a way, the last three Lone Pine books are, cumulatively, a left-handed justification of Saville’s decision to write for children, because once he allowed the senior Lone Piners to evolve into adults, he had no idea what to do with them. Peter suffers the most: once she becomes the beauty she was always destined to be, once she sets definitive foot on the road to becoming a wife, all her other characteristics, her steadfastness, her tenacity, her clearheaded directness, her determination to see justice done, have disappeared, as if they have drained out of her. Her beauty becomes the only thing we are allowed to see. She can’t even have faith in David’s dedication to her, which is about as obvious as the Long Mynd to everyone else. When he takes his only step towards the Adventure that threatens to distract from his plans for Peter’s wonderful time, she lets him go off on his own without an explanation. Is this the girl who found her way through her own confusion to insist that he would not go into Greystone Mine without her? Not for me.
David doesn’t want to get involved in the Adventure. He only wants to think of Peter, and spend his time with her. She is merely passive. Tom and Jenny are working. Jon and Penny are too far away. Harriet’s left out. The only Lone Piners who want to get involved are the Twins. They might be ‘nearly twelve’ now, they might be no longer so overtly childish as they were for so long, but nothing’s changed. They are still the same monsters of egotism, paranoia and wilful stupidity that they have been all along.
The Twins can identify Pam the Market Artist as Miss Ballinger, they can listen to James Wilson and Inspector Cantor’s warnings about the forgery gang, but they can’t do anything, they really can’t.
So, to give them something to do, Saville invents another bit of Long Mynd geography in the form of a secret valley, off the tourist track, accessible only by trespass on private ground, known only to the Twins. No sooner have they been told not to leave the Witchend Valley because the incessant rain has made the narrow valleys dangerous than they leave the Witchend Valley for their narrow valley, as smug as ever in their defiance of the bullying that they, as the only ones with any initiative, constantly suffer.
So Saville produces yet another rain-induced landslip, of even more substantial proportions, underground water forcing its way out in a great eruption. It’s an artificial danger: the Twins are already above it, or else it would simply kill them, but it leaves them stranded, it leads to tremendous publicity, Mary’s almost sure she saw a man who might have been caught in the flood, and Richard’s only thought is to keep back every piece of information he can to present it to James Wilson as an exclusive: sod any questions about the man’s safety.
David’s atavistic impulse to investigate Ballinger’s whereabouts can maybe be explained as the urge to keep his younger siblings from an even more intrusive bit of stupidity, but it’s still out of character against his concern for Peter. He finds the near-drowned man, a foreigner roped in to make the forged notes and goes off on one final expedition. It leads him to Appledore, to Ballinger, Valerie and Seymour, and it leads him to the inevitable capture. If it had to be done, surely Saville could have contrived a better outcome than David tripping himself up twice and knocking himself out?
That drags Peter in one final time, the clue provided by little Fenella, the gypsy’s daughter she saved so long ago. They too have reappeared, for a first time since The Secret of the Gorge, though sadly, reflecting the growing mood of the times, they are finding their old roaming life hard to sustain. Charles Sterling, knowing, liking and trusting them, has allowed them to install their caravan at Seven Gates, where Reuben works on the farm, and Miranda and Fenella visit the local fairs.
And the shy Fenella is herself beginning to grow up, and to indicate to the Lone Piners how much she cares about them, and it is she who comes to the rescue, asking among her contacts when requested by Dickie, and coming up at the crucial moment with Appledore. So Peter demands the Police are notified but heads off on Sally one last time, to the rescue.
Where she finds David’s car, burnt out.
You and I know that nothing’s happened, but Peter experiences the worst fear of her young life before she finds David imprisoned in the workshop, where he’s attempting to beat the door down. She releases him, like he has done for her often enough. And they find Ballinger, abandoned by her confederates, imprisoned by her near-blindness without the glasses they have stolen. There’s a curious dignity to her at the last, unaware of who she is speaking to, telling Peter that there is a prisoner who needs releasing all unaware that he is already free. Miss Ballinger accepts her fate.
This calm acceptance is somewhat marred by the fact that Ballinger had a gun in her handbag which she didn’t attempt to use. Saville could not have allowed even her to contemplate suicide, but it’s a dangling detail, the gun in the first act that didn’t go off in the third, a thread that goes nowhere.
So, the gang are wrapped up, offstage, by the Police as usual. Seymour/Grandon has taken Val with him, but their fate is a car accident on the outskirts of Manchester: Seymour is ‘gravely injured’ and Valerie is helping the Police with their enquiries, that age-old cliché.
At last, this misshapen, unwanted Adventure can be cleared offstage and Peter’s birthday – and her special present – can finally taken prominence. Everyone’s agog to find out if David’s going to ask her to marry him. It’s hardly a dramatic point: the drama would have been if he hadn’t, and we as readers who have been here for the long journey from that day on the Long Mynd two years before the end of the Second World War (don’t mention that!) are almost as invested in that outcome as is Jenny Redhead. It’s sweet, touching and very rewarding.
Saville cleverly includes two half-scenes that we adults recognise for what they are but which the youngsters, and especially those of 1978, wouldn’t necessarily understand: David asking for Mr Sterling’s permission to ask for Peter’s hand and Peter choosing the ring that David will give her at the end of all things.
The party is held at Seven Gates, half in and half out of HQ2. Everybody is there, everybody who is family in this extended circle of friends, and everybody who has played a part on the side of the Angels, save for Arlette Duchelle and the Channings, in any of these adventures, comes up to wish Peter well on her great day.
And Mr Morton announces that David is to move his training to Shropshire to be with Peter, and become a country Solicitor in due course, and when they marry, Witchend will be theirs just as Ingles will stay with the next generation of Ingles, and whilst not the least amazing thing about the Lone Pine Club series has been that Malcolm Saville has included the sometimes childish but always genuine affection and love between boys and girls without frightening off his audience, this is really the end of the Lone Pine Club. Happiness is, as always, the enemy that will have its way, and to which we own defeat with joy.
But what of the Twins, and the criminally overlooked Harriet? There’s a final gesture of defiance from Mary and Richard. Kevin will sign his name in blood, to become a new member, and Nicholas Whiteflower, and young Fenella. There will be a Lone Pine Club still, a New Lone Pine, but it won’t be our club and we will never read its adventures (and if the Twins are in charge, I really do fear for them: Harriet will have to take over, pretty sharpish).
Oddly enough, it appears that Saville was asked to write another Lone Pine book, and began to plot it, but nothing seems to have escaped as to who, what, where, and personally I’m very glad of that.
I was already twenty-two when Home to Witchend was published, too old for such things but a completist to my boots. Like Mystery Mine I’ve only ever read it with an adult’s eye, and with that eye I can only see how poorly it compares with the rest of the series. In a better world, Malcolm Saville might have written a Last Book much earlier, perhaps in the immediate aftermath of Rye Royal, and found a way to give a fair go to all his Club members.
Then he might have had more chance, perhaps even more freedom from the pressure of contrivances, and old tropes. The Adventure might have been less tired and forced: that bit younger, and less troubled, he may even have come up with something that genuinely forced itself upon David Morton as he rushed around, wishing only to focus on the woman he loves and her happiness, something that threatened to spoil the event if he did not act.
But no. The cards were dealt as they were, and many people were happier with the hands than I am. So let’s bring this to another end, by picturing in our mind the lifelong friendships of those neighbours in an imaginary valley in the flank of a real mountain, David and Petronella Morton, Tom and Jenny Ingles, not to mention their old pals and frequent guests, Jon and Penny Warrender (status undefined). By now, they’re long since old enough that their own children will have outgrown an even newer Lone Pine Club. But, knowing these people as we do, not their friendship with one another. True to each other, whatever happens,

Under a Solitary Tree: Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club – Where’s My Girl?


(This is a revised version of the original essay, based on second thoughts.)

Strangers at Witchend had floundered because Saville couldn’t find a way of bringing his senior characters into the adventure, and the youngsters were just to young to play alone. With Where’s My Girl?, he avoided that situation by isolating his six characters in a scenario where they had no option but to all band together. But in a further unwelcome concession to the ‘modern times’, Saville put his characters up against gun-runners, and possibly worse. These were not ideas that the Lone Pine Club could co-exist with, comfortably, and the outcome was another unhappy experience.
Where’s My Girl? is unique in bringing Tom Ingles and Jenny Harman out of Shropshire for the first and only time. It’s a return to Dartmoor, the only one of the non-Shropshire/Rye venues to enjoy a second visit, and so much of a return that the map is merely a reprint of that of Saucers over the Moor but with the Flying Saucer establishment shown as ruins.
But whilst Dartmoor might reasonably be expected to be Warrender territory, and everyone once more staying at a King’s Holt that is now owned by Penny’s father, who is developing it as high quality letting with stables, Jon and Penny are absent: gone to the continent with Penny’s parents, and meeting the delightful Arlette Duchelle, a long way offscreen.
This is a contrivance that reflects Saville’s growing unease about the relationship that had formed between the two cousins. Only by keeping Jon and Penny out of the picture could he limit development of their future.
Unfortunately, in order to bring Tom and Jenny in, Saville has to resort to a bigger and more awkward contrivance, which undermines the story from the start. The story begins in Shropshire, at Ingles, with Jenny arriving to see Tom, just in time to see him thrown from the combine harvester and hit his head upon a stone.
There are no long-term ill-effects: Tom suffers from concussion, and in a manner that Saville admits upfront is unlikely, develops temporary amnesia. It’s clearly not that serious: he recognises Jenny before he does his Aunt and Uncle, knows who she is before he recalls her name, but he could do with a proper holiday whilst he gets back to normal, and until his memory stops slipping.
The two main problems with this (apart from the contrivance) are that Saville can’t think of any realistic way of demonstrating that Tom is still suffering memory lapses, and Jenny’s reaction. It’s hysterical, of course, but it’s also hysterically childish, and it paints Jenny in a very bad light, after all we have seen her go through, and after the growing up she’s done. It’s worse than Man with Three Fingers as she goes running around shrieking at everybody else, the Ingles, Peter, that they don’t care if Tom dies, that only she cares about him.
Eventually, she does apologise for how she’s behaved, but by then the book is halfway done and it’s too late.
This Lone Pine holiday is a bit of an oddity in that they are acting as guinea-pigs: George Warrender has gone into partnership with the Longdens, Colonel and ‘Call me Marjorie’, who are developing and will run King’s Holt, and the Lone Piners are like a trial run for guests. If you’re already guessing that the Longdens are going to turn out to be wrong-uns, you won’t be wrong but what surprises is the nature of the criminal enterprise.
En route to the station in London, the Mortons are held up by a jewellery robbery, by an armed gang, who shoot a policeman (not fatally) and a bystander, almost under the Twins’ noses, an incident that scares and subdues them, and leaves David rattled too. And what nobody knows yet is that King’s Holt is one of the centres for smuggling guns into the country, for sale or hire to increasingly violent criminals.
It doesn’t fit. There’s nothing especially noticeable that suggests Saville’s heart isn’t really in it, but after such a long run, the subject is intrusive, and distasteful, and it ramps up the level of danger to a point that is too far. You can’t point a gun at a Lone Piner, not and retain the innate qualities of the series. Admittedly, Saville doesn’t go quite that far: today, they are merely in the background, but that background is right behind David and Peter, Tom and Jenny, the Twins and Macbeth.
And there is still the struggle to maintain the Lone Pine Club as a Club. In his own mind, Dickie Morton is acknowledging that openly. The Club is breaking up, he tells himself. The seniors want to be with each other – Jenny exemplifies this, asking Peter to confirm that when they’re both married, they’ll still be friends, still see each other – and even his Twin, Mary, is no longer on the exact same wavelength as him, now that they near the age of eleven.
And indeed, when they get to King’s Holt, staffed by its three Cypriots, the first thing they all do is break-up into three pairs for three expeditions: David and Peter to go riding, up to the old and now derelict secret station of Saucers over the Moor (boy, is the reference to flying saucers seriously anachronistic now), Tom and Jenny to hitch into into Plymouth and the Twins to find their own secret camp locally.
Of course, being back on Dartmoor prompts Saville to reintroduce Dan Sturt. Dan’s come a long way (his National Service seems to have stood him in good stead…). He’s a multi-platform journalist now, to adopt the modern terminology, the Dartmoor correspondent with seeming access at will to not just his local newspaper but local radio and local TV, getting stories out there just because he’s Dan Sturt. The Longdens start off by wanting him to do effectively free PR for King’s Holt, the Police clue him in as to a raid on an incoming fishing boat smuggling arms, oh, Danny boy’s hot, and he’s hot for Peter too. He doesn’t stand a chance there, but that doesn’t make his constant glowing references to ‘gorgeous’ girls any less annoying, or patronising, or borderline offensive.
But now that Peter and Jenny are woman, not girls, they can’t be seen in any other light. To Saville, they’ve crossed a line. They are no longer able to participate in adventures, they’ve lost their independence, and it’s telling that they get kidnapped, with a threat of disappearing overseas if they don’t stay passive (with the underlying inference of white slavery if they get shipped off).
Despite the throwing in of strange, off-kilter incidents, witnessed by all three pairings on day one, the fact remains that only the Twins are really interested in adventure. There’s an unpleasant moment when one well-dressed fortyish visitor to the property evidently strips Peter with his eyes, though Saville is too polite to put it so bluntly, but David is more annoyed about Dan’s clumsy attempts to get off with Peter, not that she’s having any of it.
Then, on the second day, the elders split up differently. David takes Tom for a long bracing walk on the moor, aiming to climb a 1,500′ Tor (1,500′? 1,500′? You should try the Lakes, mate, we laugh at 1,500’ers), whilst the girls go off to inspect the unusual Wistman’s Wood, seemingly because they don’t have the strength to tackle tors. This is condescending and unrealistic, given how often Peter and Jenny have been up and down the Stiperstones, but Saville needs to separate the boys from the girls, because their return to King’s Holt coincides with not merely another delivery of fish but a newsflash on Jenny’s transistor radio (which she carries everywhere) from the ubiquitous Dan about the gun-smuggling.
The next thing we know, the boys are back, the Twins are back but the girls haven’t returned yet, and Jenny’s transistor is in the girls’ room. It’s a lovely and subtle reveal, with Saville only then back-tracking in the next chapter to show how the two girls are drugged, and wake up imprisoned in a boarded up bedroom somewhere unknown, held prisoner, and threatened with disappearance at sea if they act up.
This time, Saville is forced to go against the grain of children’s adventure fiction. Even though, when Tom’s uncertain memory gives up the vital clue that enables the boys to rescue their girls, the immediate reaction to the kidnapping is to hand over all responsibility, not just to the Police (including the now-obligatory pretty WPC), but all the parents. Mr Morton (wondering if his children are fit to be let out anywhere on their own, even if that’s about sixteen books too late) sets off from London, Alf Ingles and Mr Sterling from Shropshire.
The three Cypriots, who, far from being servants will prove to be the organisers, go on the run, but are arrested later on. The Longdens are missing but, thanks to Dickie’s genuine ingenuity over a set of plans found thrown away early on, are found trapped in a locked secret vault behind the workshop, along with a veritable arsenal.
So all’s well that ends well. But there is one more thing. Messrs Ingles and Sterling have driven overnight from Shropshire, but they were not alone. Instead of Mr Harman, they have been accompanied by Mrs Harman, the awkward stepmother, the perpetual fly in the ointment, whom Jenny has said that she hates. Mrs Harman has come, in part because the girl she has never got on with may have suffered in her captivity from things that she would be easier sharing with another woman, but also because she recognises that it is long-overdue that the two should try to understand each other, should reconcile: not merely with Jenny, but with Tom, who is the other part of her life.
I’d very much like to like that ending for having its heart in the right place, and for righting a long wrong but, like Kevin Smith’s family redemption last time, I can’t fully believe in it. The problem is that, for thirty years, Mrs Harman hasn’t actually been a character, and barely even a caricature. She was a plot device when she was introduced, the shrewish stepmother unsympathetic to poor little lonely Jenny when her Dad was still in the Army, and down all the years she’s never recovered from that. She’s barely been onstage, always upstairs, or visiting friends, and represented as a jealous woman, jealous of her husband’s love for his daughter, and her stepdaughter’s love for her man.
So whilst the impulse is generous, if overlate, it runs up against the fact that we don’t know Mrs Harman at all, that she’s never been portrayed as anything other than by her awkwardness and obstructiveness and, sadly, Saville still doesn’t seem to know how too set her up as a person from whom an awkward r’approchement can stem.
Without that, it’s nothing more than a token gesture. What we’re seeing, in concentrated form here, but in general throughout this and the last couple of books, is what Dickie said: the Lone Pine Club is breaking up. The older members are turning away from the adventures of their childhood in favour of the adventures of adulthood, of dealing with each other as partners, as lifelong friends. Saville wants to remove another vestige of childhood, but whilst his impulse is good, and generous, and entirely in keeping with his fundamental belief in people being good and decent towards each other, he has never done enough to stand Mrs Harman up on her own two feet.
Though I still believe that Saville was right to allow his characters to age, to realise the true meanings of all those close friendships, and that Not Scarlet But Gold was not merely essential but also beautifully written, the later Lone Pine books merely illustrate the sad truth that the Lone Piners could never get as involved in adventures as adults as they could as children. The audience that wanted them always to stay the same were right insofar as maintaining a fun series was concerned, though they were wrong artistically: if the books could not have grown, they would have withered into stultification.
But it’s true to say that Not Scarlet But Gold killed the goose. It’s two immediate successors were necessary, to resolve the other two couples, and Rye Royal just about manages, by making its story personal, about Mrs Flowerdew. But the two books that followed show a sharp drop in quality.
Since the appearance of Mystery at Witchend, almost thirty years before, there had never been a gap of more than two years between Lone Pine Club books. Now, with only one to come, six years would elapse before it appeared.

ADDENDUM
I was lucky to get Where’s My Girl? In a newly-published edition by Girls Gone By, especially as this volume included a rarety I had only learned of a couple of years ago. In 1950, Malcolm Saville wrote the only known Lone Pine short story, The Flower-Show Hat, for a Girl Guide Annual. It was very rare, and extremely hard to find, and when finally reprinted, was limited to 500 copies available only to members of the Malcolm Saville Society. If not for GGB, I would not have been able to read it.
The story is wildly out of the timeline these books have followed. It’s set in Rye, and is a solo Penny Warrender short, taking place not long before Lone Pine Five in Shropshire.
Penny is back from school and looking for mischief in her usual manner before Jon returns, later in the day. Her Aunt, skilfully heading her off, insists she accompany her to the Flower Show that afternoon, in best frock, gloves and nylons (!). Penny, who is here described as ‘not yet pretty’ is rebellious: it’s a schoolgirl’s frock, too short (!), and she’d rather wait for Jon anyway, but no.
There’s a strange visitor at the Dolphin, a young woman, red-headed, looking a lot like Penny, and wearing an absurd hat which Penny immediately covets. The girl, Susan Brown, aged about twenty, claims to have her Uncle following, after he deals with a punctured tyre, but she looks pale and worried.
Penny later catches her in the private part of the Hotel, after which Miss Brown disappears. But she’s left her hat behind, so Penny sneaks it into the Flower Show, to wear. By then, we know the Police are after Susan, as an accomplice in the theft of a picture. So Penny gets one heck of a shock when she’s accosted at the Show by a stranger, who recognises her by her hat, and who runs her back to the Dolphin to talk to her in private.
Desperately afraid, Penny seeks the aid of Jon, now home, but this twist is that the man is not the crook, but a detective! Penny is able to locate the missing painting where it’s been stashed, but Susan Brown, who’s been an innocent dupe in all of this, comes back to the hotel to hand over the painting anyway.
Oh, and to collect her hat…

 

Under a Solitary Tree: Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club – Strangers at Witchend


(This is a revised version of the original essay, based on second thoughts.)

As Rye Royal was the Warrenders’ last adventure, so Strangers at Witchend is Harriet Sparrow’s swansong, after only four appearances. It’s another trip to Shropshire for the young Londoner, with her special friends, the Morton Twins, and at least she gets to see Witchend itself, and the Lone Pine under which everything started.
And Strangers at Witchend is as much her book as Lone Pine Five was Jenny’s, or The Elusive Grasshopper Penny’s, until the closing chapter when things go rather horribly wrong and Harriet’s last moments are a terrible finale for the little girl who impressed me so much on re-discovering her this year.
The biggest part of the problem is the extent to which the formula has trapped Saville. There must be an adventure, and once again it’s the one about a criminal gang using out of the way places in Shropshire, and there must be the kidnapping, which on this occasion points up the overwhelming weakness of the situation he has created for himself by letting the Lone Piners grow up.
I have to credit Saville with accepting the logic of things. David and Peter have grown out of adventures, and are only interested in each other’s company. The same goes for Tom and Jenny, or it would if it weren’t for the fact that they are peripheral characters, tied to their jobs on the Farm and in the Store respectively. That leaves Harriet and the Twins for adventuring, which creates an insoluble problem, since all three are aged twelve or younger: without the senior members, it is impossible for the Lone Pine Club to face up to adults.
Events go ludicrously quickly. One moment, Jasper Sterling is gently preparing for the arrival of the Mortons, plus Harriet, at Witchend, without parents (David is driving), when his equilibrium is disturbed by the appearance of a motor-bike riding stranger, offering to buy Witchend. The stranger has untidy long black hair and a triangular scar above his right eye, all of which is enough to identify him as a criminal in a Saville book, but more importantly, he and Mr Sterling recognise each other. Several years earlier, Sterling had made a have-a-go intervention in a robbery and given evidence that helped secure the man’s conviction, which resulted in threats.
Everything that follows, follows within 48 hours.
The villain, then Henry Jones, now Sid Edwards, has set up as a radio/television repairman in Ludlow, but his real business is adulterating gold and silver to create fake jewellery, and he is running various small-time specialists, who are under his thumb, in isolated cottages etc. to carry out the work.
One of these is Charlie Smith, who is also stereotypically a Saville bad lot. He’s brought his unpleasant, blowsy, miserable and unprepossessing wife to Greystone End cottage, he’s full of hatred for her and their son Kevin, who’s been left with Charlie’s brother, in short they are in every respect the kind of people that Saville and the Lone Piners disdain.
But this is Harriet’s book when we get away from the crooks. She’s seeing where it all began for the first time, the Lone Pine itself, where she and the Twins are to sleep outside (not that she is entirely cool with this development!) And her Grandad is in Shropshire too: with the money he made from the uranium in Mystery Mine, he’s seeking to expand his antiques empire with a shop in Ludlow (a neat little device to make Harriet more available for future adventures – if only). And Sterling and Edwards see each other at this very shop, when the former agrees to show Grandpa Sparrow the town.
Whilst he’s gone, the Twins are showing Harriet all over, including Peter’s Rock, a prominent landmark that’s appearing for the first time. When the three youngsters go up there at night – the Twins deliberately rejecting Peter’s advice not to risk it in the dark because, well, you know, they’ll do any damned stupid thing just to defy sensible advice – they see a helicopter hovering over the abandoned and broken down Beacon Cottage.
Of course, they keep this to themselves. They do report that Witchend is broken into, even though the ‘burglar’ stole only food, and was evidently a child of similar age to Harriet. This is the already-mentioned Kevin Smith, who has run away to find his parents, and who Harriet finds in her sleeping bag when she goes up to the Lone Pine before breakfast the next day.
She swears the Twins to compliant secrecy over Kevin, the three of them take him over to the Stiperstones and Greystone End, Charlie looks at his son with unparently loathing and hatred (he is contemplating completely abandoning his family) and promptly locks them all in. He also steals Kevin’s glasses without which, like far too many specs-wearers in the books, he is practically blind.
The kids are taken up to Beacon Cottage, with Harriet frantically comforting the distraught Kevin all the way. The storyline then takes a distinct lurch when Charlie surreptitiously returns Kevin’s glasses, which Harriet seizes on as proof that his father really loves him after all and everything will work out fine. Of course, as soon as they’re left alone, the kids break out, with Kevin demonstrating his new-found self-confidence by crawling along a narrow ledge to reach an unlocked room, and that’s that for the kidnapping.
Meanwhile, the Police have been brought in (Inspector Cantor is mentioned but does not intrude), the gang is swept up and there’s an unusually sober response to Edwards trying to cover his tracks by burning down Beacon Cottage, as Saville lets his readers ponder the implications of whether he might have given any thought to his prisoners.
But the maturity of this part of the ending is overwhelmed by the ridiculous lengths to which Saville goes to try to enforce a happy ending for Kevin. Charlie Smith gives himself up to the Police and, in return for his evidence, it’s heavily hinted that he won’t go to prison, despite the fact he’s been participating in a serious crime for which not only the Police but the Assay Office have been pursuing him, not to mention that he was under Sid Edwards’ thumb because the latter threatened to shop Charlie for crimes the Police had not solved.
Then we’re told that Charlie is ill, that he’s refused to seek treatment, and that’s why he’s been so foul to his son and his wife, and Kevin is to go back to a changed environment, secure and beneficial, and I rather think that most adults reading this will respond with a loud raspberry.
Given Saville’s personal convictions, and his old-fashioned mores, it was probably impossible for him to write an ending that subjects a twelve year old boy to a broken home, especially not the boy that Harriet has fallen for, in her naive way. But the reversal from the previous position is too abrupt, too unsupported by Charlie’s behaviour to date that, even with the feeble excuse of this suddenly-introduced illness, it’s completely unconvincing. Long before the final paragraph, in which Harriet sees Kevin off in the car to reunite with his mother, and promptly dissolves in tears, we’re not buying this, and her genuine misery is undermined.
This ending is further damaged by the handing over of Brock to Kevin, to keep. Brock is a young dachshund, bought by Peter in chapter 1 as company for her father, and here he is, two days later, handing his daughter’s present over to an almost-complete stranger to take to Birmingham. It makes a mockery of introducing a second dog, and more and more I wonder how closely plotted Strangers at Witchend was, as there are too many things set up only for an unconvincing reversal at the end.
Overall Strangers at Witchend is an example of how difficult it is to write a Lone Pine Club book when half the members have outgrown the Club but aren’t yet up to admitting it, and the ones who still want adventures are the ones most powerless to conduct them in an age getting steadily more dangerous and violent. Saville inadvertently proves this point when he allows the now-somewhat elderly Macbeth to be brutally beaten and almost killed by Edwards: of course, he is found in time, and survives thanks to Trudie Sterling’s father the vet.
There’s one other point I do have to bring up. Peter takes David into Ludlow to show him the stables where she works, but decides she also wants to buy him a present. Given how conventional David is in his dress, she chooses a bizarrely colourful, almost psychedelic tie. What David thinks of it is not given, but he immediately takes off his plain green one and chucks it in a bin before putting his new one on.
It’s sweet and touching, and incredibly out-of-touch: seventeen year old young men in 1970, on holiday with their ultra-fit bird, in the middle of summer, did not put on ties for casual daywear…

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 friend 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 chapter, in this case Roy Royal, bookseller of Rye. Royal, whose real name is 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 she 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.

Under a Solitary Tree: Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club – Man with Three Fingers


 

16 - Man with Three Fingers

(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.)

There had been a book bringing David and Peter together, there had been a book moving Jon and Penny closer together, and it seemed obvious that there must next be a book that placed Tom Ingles’ and Jenny Harman’s relationship on a more serious footing than before. On the surface, that would seem to be very easy: Jenny had made no secret of her feelings towards Tom since as far back as The Secret of Grey Walls and so all that was needed was to ensure that Tom could make the same commitment to the excitable little redhead.
But you could have said that taking David and Peter over the threshold between friendship and love was similarly obvious and easy, yet Saville had had to put them through a confusion of feelings and failings before they could find the courage to admit to each other what they meant. Tom and Jenny must go through a similar rite-of-passage before they too could be admitted. Except that Jenny’s fixedness of purpose stood in the way of mutual misunderstandings, and the very strength of of her feelings, and the overt childishness with which she continued to express them, forced Saville to rely on an external threat that has many unfortunate implications for the story.
The crude and ungrammatical title (surely it should have been The Man…) is indicative that Man with Three Fingers is going to have substantial problems. Tom is going through some fairly unsubtle adolescent blues, and the story contains more overt violence than any previous Lone Pine Club story, which is why Saville prefaces the story with an admission that the older Lone Piners have had to age, to become seventeen, in order to be able to face what comes.
Which is a pretty crude adventure plot, about organised lorry thefts, crossed with the least convincing of all the Lone Pine Treasure Hunts, which is dubious on every level and seems only to exist to give the Twins something they can deal with.
Jenny, like Penny in the last book, has just left school, as has Peter, though the older girl has a job lined up that could have come out of her dreams, and Jenny has no ideas yet about her future, save a week’s holiday with her friend at Hatchholt.
But where the excitable, incurably romantic redhead has no difficulty with being a young adult, and is just as susceptible to a stranger with a sob-story as she’s ever been, Tom is going through concerns that may well have puzzled the regular audience, but which are only too familiar to the majority of those who are old adults.
Tom’s seventeen. He’s worked on the Farm for his Aunt and Uncle, who’ve been as good as parents to him and who think of him as their own. But he has no responsibilities, is constantly being told what to do, takes no decisions. He’s becoming an adult but is not being allowed to be one. Then the Farm is very small, and Onnybrook is small, and there’s nothing to do and no-one to see. The nearest girl is Peter, who’s completely off-limits, and Jenny’s miles away, and anyway, she’s young and looks younger. Tom wants – needs – to stretch, and has nowhere to stretch into.
Enter Ned Stacey. Though he’s presented through most of the book as weak, excitable, unreliable, a product of having no father, Ned’s not a bad guy. He’s older than Tom at twenty, and he’s made something of himself, even if it’s only as a motorcycle owner and a lorry driver. Ned and Tom have a lot in common, which Jenny sees as Ned dragging her man away from his real friends, but it’s not hard to sympathise with Tom at that awkward stage we all go through, when we’re older than most Lone Pine Club fans.
Jenny fears Tom being pulled physically away, and her fears are not without justification. Ned’s been trusted with his first overnight drive and wants Tom to accompany him at least part of the way, even though it’s a breach of the rules. It’s both a disaster and a godsend: Ned has been directed by his manager, Mr Danks, to take a strange diversion down a back lane, where the lorry is stopped and attacked, and both young men beaten.
It’s a horrible thing, more directly violent than any Lone Pine story to date, though a concomitant factor: if your characters are now to behave as adults, their risks must be adult. Tom is bruised, shaky and pale, and he’s scared Jenny to death, but can attest to Ned’s instructions and that they both fought: Danks denies Ned’s story and is clearly aiming to frame him.
The worst aspect of Tom’s escapade, in Jenny’s eyes, is that he has betrayed his friends, not just her exclusively. Instead of heading off on the lorry, Tom should have been at Witchend to greet the Mortons. When she gets him alone, after he’s brought back from the hospital, she tears into him furiously, telling him outright how important she should be to him.
But she’s disarmed, completely, when he produces from his pocket the set of green beads he had bought for her in Shrewsbury, before it all kicked off. And when she has him put them on her, she kisses him, for the first time, and it’s not just one of those kisses of thank you.
That’s not the end of it, however. Everyone’s back together, though this has thrown the intended holiday off course, but it’s not the only thing that has. David and Peter only want to disappear off together without anyone else, the Twins are remarkably subdued but come to the rescue of the unfortunate and rather selfish Mrs Pantshill, thrown from her horse on the Mynd with a possible broken ankle, and the only ones concerned with the adventure are Tom and Jenny, and she only wants to drag him away from it.
It may seem odd to long-time Lone Pine readers, but Saville is only following the logic of his characters’ maturation. The Club, as an entity, is ceasing to be of interest to them, though its spirit and the friendships it has brought about are unchanged. But it is beginning to splinter as the older members find themselves concerned with better things than tracking strangers.
That’s not to say that mystery doesn’t concern them, and it’s a typical irony that, whilst Jenny wants Tom out of the dangerous mess that the lorry-jacking represents, she’s the one most avid to join the Treasure Hunt that the stranger, Amanda Gray, a New Zealand widow, brings to the reluctant Lone Piners.
It’s all about Pontesford Hall, an old house and estate that suddenly springs up just outside Onnybrook. After years of neglect, and the death of the reclusive and eccentric Miss Pontesford, it’s been bought, and is being spruced up by Colonel and Mrs Pantshill, who have offered it’s grounds for the Village Flower Show. Funnily enough, this couple find the injured Tom and Ned after they’re attacked, and take them to hospital. And the Colonel counsels the boys to forget about their ordeal and shoot off to the seaside for a week at his expense. You’re not going to be surprised if I prematurely reveal who’s behind this highly organised lorry-jacking, are you?

Amanda Grey is a woman with a mission, or maybe a bee in her bonnet. She married Miss Pontesford’s nephew Donald, with whom the old lady had quarrelled irreversibly. Donald, a wastrel and loser, is dead, leaving Amanda with a baby and no inheritance, except the belief, unsupported by evidence, that there’s a Pontesford Treasure that she believes belongs to her.
Amanda’s an obsessive who never gains anyone’s trust except Jenny (the baby sells it to our little redhead), and is an awkward, never fully-realised character who keeps trying to involve the Lone Piners in house-breaking, and who can’t see why they might be more concerned about Tom, especially after he goes missing.
The Police are concerned about this spurt of lorry-jackings, and the Police around Shrewsbury means our old friend, Mister Cantor. Inspector Charles Cantor, to give him his full name, nicknamed ‘Mister’ by his colleagues, for no apparent reason. We remember him well from The Secret of Grey Walls, but unfortunately Saville has forgotten Cantor’s brief reappearance in The Neglected Mountain, when it was disclosed that his real name was Green.
It’s only because Tom Ingles vouches for Ned’s story that Cantor is prepared to accept it, though his methods with Ned leave the excitable young man believing that he’s being framed. Worse still, Ned’s been sacked by his employers, and is far too sick to go to Shrewsbury to remonstrate. Against Jenny’s wishes, Tom volunteers to do that for him. Nevertheless, she accompanies Tom, against his wishes, trying to make the best of the situation.
Then it all goes wrong. In a cafe, Tom remembers a significant point: that the man who attacked him had a finger missing on his hand. Jenny pales: a man with three fingers is directly behind Tom. Against her wishes, they part, she for the Police Station and Cantor, Tom to follow Three Fingers. But before they separate, Tom pulls her to him, and kisses her, and he tells her she’s his girl.
It’s not the word love, but it’s all Jenny needs. Saville has made the point clear, when Jenny first confronts Tom and finds herself unable to be cool and distant with him: ‘Just because she hadn’t had a lot of love in her life she wanted all she could get now and forever.’ Tom’s declaration answers her, it gives her the future she wants. And when it’s put into immediate peril, Jenny goes through hell.
Because things go badly wrong. Tom loses his man when he gets on a motor-cycle, but meets him again when he confronts Danks over Ned’s sacking. Losing his temper over Danks’ intransigence, Tom blurts out about the man with three fingers. Who emerges from a back room and knocks him out.
It’s a kidnapping, and it gets the usual ‘won’t dare do anything to him’ routine from everyone around Jenny, but Tom is a genuine threat, and he’s in genuine danger.
What follows does not speak well for Cantor. Jenny, is in desperate misery, impresses everybody at the station with her determination to find her lad, her refusal to walk away. The lorry HQ is visited, where Danks denies Tom has ever been. Cantor accepts the man’s word for it, and stubbornly refuses Jenny’s entreaties to even speak to other people on site. Not until it turns out that the WPC looking after Jenny has a married sister who is Danks’ secretary, is it shown that Danks was lying, by which time a half day has been wasted, Cantor made to look a fool, and the whole episode like a time-filler, just intended to extend the story and set up its conclusion.
Which takes place at Pontesford Hall, at the Flower Show. Amusingly, it’s David and Peter’s entirely selfish urge to sneak off somewhere for a quiet snog that sets the denouement into motion, when they spot the neckscarf Jenny has bought for Tom pushed into the ivy. With Jenny in tow, and the Twins employed to ensure that the Pantshills don’t come back inside, the trio sneak into the house, find and release the dazed Tom, who only has eyes for Jenny.
Fortunately the Police turn up and grab hold of Harry, the three-fingered man, before he can cause any more damage, plus Pantshill, who is the organiser of the lorry-jacking gang (I didn’t spoil any surprises for you, did I?). And as a bonus, the Twins find the gold-encrusted Chalice that is the Pontesford Treasure.
This latter aspect is an element that never works and would be better excised from the story, though if that were to be done, there would be practically nothing for the Twins to do. Though crude in many respects, the lorry-jacking story is a much better element, especially because it is the crucible through which Tom and Jenny are passed, the heat of which forging the bonds between them into something imperishable.
Jenny comes to terms with Tom’s friendship with Ned, who isn’t such a bad old stick after all, and accepts an invite to join a Lone Pine swimming party at Hatchholt, and Uncle Alf comes to terms with Tom’s need for bigger horizons. Ingles is prepared to accept that Tom may not want to follow him onto the farm, whose future may be doomed, but Tom has come through the fire with certainties about his future. He wants to farm Ingles, he wants to make a success of it, and he wants Jenny with him, as his wife. It’s all that Alf and Betty could wish, and all that Jenny could wish too, and Tom is sure enough of himself and his feelings to tell Jenny that he will want her as his wife.
As for other aspects of the book, Saville withdraws at an early stage the threat to Peter’s home that he used to such effect in Not Scarlet But Gold. The Sterlings are not to go to Hereford after all, but rather to Witchend. Jasper will become its caretaker, living in an extension, looking after the house all year round for the Mortons. Peter will share a bedroom with Mary (you were expecting…?).
Otherwise, I do have to comment again on the shifting geography of this side of the Long Mynd. I’ve already commented upon the sudden appearance of the long-established Pontesford Hall, but there’s some peculiar things going on. The Twins have discovered a hitherto unknown valley called Callow Batch, that they have dammed to create a swimming pool, but in the process seem to have eliminated Dark Hollow and, as far as the map is concerned, the State Forest and the road to it!
There’s also the fact that whereas Tom has always been small, wiry and dark, suddenly his hair has become ‘fair’, without Jenny noticing the change…
And I’m sorry to harp upon it, but Amanda Grey is an awful thing to do to a book. She’s completely unconvincing, both as a person and as a claimant for the Pontesford Treasure, and only Jenny shows any faith in her. On the other hand, Saville openly acknowledges that she has never won anyone’s trust, a moment in the dark that makes me pause to wonder if he, or his instincts as a writer, isn’t sending a message that the Lone Pine series has run its course.
All three pairs are now paired. They are growing up and away. They have all, even Jenny, left school, and love has replaced friendship as their deepest motivation. They are all still friends, but that old oath has taken them into more serious waters. Whether he knew it consciously or not, Malcolm Saville had begun the process of breaking the club up.
Perhaps the series should have ended here? We shall see the remaining books start to build a case for his having done so.