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.

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


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

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

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

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

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

 

Under a Solitary Tree: Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club – Not Scarlet But Gold


I’ve managed to keep my expenditure down in reacquiring the Lone Pine books, not having spent more than a few pounds at a time through eBay (mostly) and Amazon, but Not Scarlet But Gold has been one of two exceptions.
This is because I wanted a specific edition, or rather a specific cover, the original cover that I vividly remember from the hardback edition I borrowed from the library, to take away with me and read one mid-Sixties holiday to the Lake District, when we were still staying at Low Bleansley.
For all this time, since first we met her, Peter has worn her hair in two plaits. We’ve been warned more than once that she’s turning into a beautiful young woman. Now for this book, she has let her hair down, adopted a style more appropriate to both the Sixties and her age, and we are forewarned of this by the cover. Forget the setting, forget David in the background, this is a painting of a lovely girl, with red lips and roses in her cheeks, and the purple sweater she is wearing swells out in front of her becomingly. The cover alerts us, before even we read Saville’s foreword that tells us the Lone Piners will at last grow up, before Johann Schmidt openly expresses to Peter that he fancies her, that things have changed.
I remembered that cover, I was not unaffected by it. I had a crush on a girl at school who was blonde-haired and had rosy cheeks and who I no doubt conflated with Peter. For this book, I had to have the right cover, and if that meant paying a higher price, sobeit.
The book comes from Girls Gone By Publishing, a small house specialising in old children’s stories, long out of print, that are very expensive to purchase. The publishers aim to reproduce the most accurate first edition version, accompanied with editorial material about both book and author, which I found invaluable.
Not Scarlet But Gold represents a sea-change in the series, a point from which it alters irrevocably. Though it was published in 1962, I don’t remember reading it until a few years later, and I associate it with the mid-Sixties rather than its actual time of publication.
For nearly twenty years, the Lone Piners had been having adventures whilst remaining the same age. Indeed, as early as The Secret of Grey Walls, Saville was explaining that his readers had asked that their favourite characters should not age, and as late as Sea Witch Comes Home he was still confirming that they would remain the ages that they had settled into (subject to those mysterious fluxes from book to book: Tom suddenly becomes older than David for this fourteenth story!)
Now, Saville made it plain in his foreword that, whilst the Lone Piners were to remain their fixed ages to satisfy some of his readers, he agreed with others that they – or David and Peter at any rate – should begin to behave as young adults of the Sixties, to grow up, and most of all to recognise the obligations they had to one another.
Though there’s a villain or two, and a Treasure Hunt, and a dangerous conclusion, this is not any Lone Pine book we have read before, far from it. Such things are McGuffins, catalysts for what is the only story, which is how the Captain and the Vice-Captain finally admit to each other what has long been obvious, what they tacitly established at the end of The Neglected Mountain. But there’s a lot of teenage dissonance and awkwardness and very nearly utter disaster to go through.
Saville, as in recent books, begins his story with the villain, one Johann Schmidt, in Hamburg, who will shortly represent himself as John Smith. Johann’s father died in the War, before Johann knew him: his mother died three years earlier and he has looked after himself since in conditions of secrecy that plainly suggest he’s not all that honest. He’s very handsome, arrogant and unfeeling, and has just turned eighteen. He’s about to learn from his only remaining relative, his uncle Hans, that his father left behind a letter, before going on the wartime mission to England during which he died, to be given to Johann on his eighteenth birthday.
Though he behaves foully to his uncle, and foully later on, Saville has already implanted the seeds of Johann’s redemption. He is what he is through circumstance, a boy without a father, without a mother, who has been made to be the self-centred aggressor he is. Though on the surface, he’s black, before we even see how he acts to the Lone Piners, we understand that grey is mixed into the picture. Already, Saville is moving beyond the formula that has suited his children readers for nearly twenty years.
And this is to be a book of altered, and sometimes broken expectations. From Johan, we move to Peter. Much of the book is seen through her eyes, or those of Jenny, whose main concern for once is not Tom but rather her friend (this is a very feminine book, with none of the boys allowed any time as our eyes: even Harriet, becoming an official Lone Piner at last, becomes our focus when the exigencies of the story demand another viewpoint).
Saville’s first upheaval has already happened, two of them, before we meet Peter, on Sally, heading for Seven Gates and the Lone Pine camp. For some time, Saville has been telling us that one day soon people are going to look at Peter and realise that she is a very beautiful girl, and that day is now. Rain will force her under shelter, bring her into contact with ‘John Smith’, hiker and student, looking for a guide to the Shropshire mountains, and openly approving of the blonde girl he thinks is more than a schoolgirl.
And Peter, unsettled horribly by the news that her father has to retire, to leave Hatchholt, to go to live with his brother in Hereford, far away from these lonely hills she loves, compounded by the fact that David Morton hasn’t thanked her for the Xmas present chosen with loving care, and has arranged the holiday through Jenny Harman, asking her to retrieve the Club documents from above Witchend, Peter responds as would any teenage girl to a lean, handsome man who openly regards her as an attractive woman, not girl.
Even though she has already made it plain to us that, one day soon, she’s not going to be interested in any man other than David Morton, Peter’s hormones fizz. (So have Jenny’s, when ‘John Smith’ came into the shop). It’s all that’s needed to make the reunion with David, and by extension everybody else, even more awkward than it could have been. Both of them are simmering with how unfair the other’s been, Peter doesn’t want anything said about Hatchholt, Jenny’s upset about her friend, Harriet isn’t sure the distracted Jenny approves of her being a Lone Piner: the holiday gets off to a lousy start and it’s downhill from there.
Jenny’s completely open about things: the Club exists because of David and Peter, and they’ve obviously got to get married (at which point I wondered if she’d produce a shotgun!) and despite the awkwardness between the two girls, she enlists Harriet.
‘John’ turns up at the farm, angling for a bed for the night, obviously trying to separate Peter from her friends. Charles Sterling, worried about a sacked lout who’s been threatening his wife Trudie, throws him off, but Peter allows him to stay. In the night, the haybarn is fired, by the cheap layabout bully, Jem Clark, who becomes ‘John’s sidekick when it transpires that Jem’s mother Kate  was the last to see Johann’s father alive, and that she has the only, completely baffling clue to the Treasure’s hiding place: Not Scarlet But Gold.
This isn’t a Treasure Hunt as the Lone Piners know it, no matter how Jenny and the Twins try to make it into one. The Treasure isn’t diamonds, and its discovery won’t make life better for anyone, and the Lone Piners aren’t racing against professional crooks acting out of naked greed. Instead, it’s money, £300.00 in potentially counterfeit English banknotes, meant to be used as bribes for Wartime traitors to sabotage their country, and the person they’re racing is the one with the most apparent right to it.
And everyone’s taking stupid risks, going off alone, riling up Charles (and David and Peter) with their irresponsibility, and their refusal to obey orders, to the point that the younger ones put themselves not only in danger of real physical harm from two young thugs, but of Charles refusing to have them at Seven Gates again.
Harriet, who really should have had more chances to appear than she ultimately did, becomes something of a moral conscience. She is the one most unhappy about the course they’re on, the one most disgusted by the Treasure itself, and the one most keenly aware of the damage being done to all of them in this sticky, awkward venture.
Because though things between David and Peter slowly begin to ease, once she’s worked her way through the combination of her hormonal reaction to handsome John, her instinctive sympathy for an underdog no-one else likes, and her embarrassed refusal to allow herself to agree with everyone’s condemnation of him, until she must. And David, embarrassed by his growing sense that pride is making him behave like a fool, his estrangement from his very best friend and his fear of a rival, nevertheless refuses to be left behind, in a way that will foreshadow Peter’s refusal to be left behind.
‘John’ and Jem have established a camp in the Greystone Dingle mineworkings. Jenny leads a stupid and risky approach by the younger members that finds them. Her reward is to be sent to Shrewsbury, with Harry and the Twins, to buy maps. It’s meant to get them put of the way whilst David, with Peter as lookout, checks the mines to see if ‘John’ is still there. It is the beginning of an extraordinary sequence, perhaps the best in all the books.
But first, there are adventures in Shrewsbury. Jenny sees the upset and bullied Kate Clark, impulsively follows her, is trapped in a back street house when the weakling bully Jem comes home, and is set upon by him. Unbeknownst to her, Harriet and the Twins have followed her, coincidentally bumping into Tom Ingles en route (some very weak plotting there) and dragging him in. When Jem hurts Jenny, Tom knocks him down, realising as he does in that instant that Jenny means to him what he has always meant to her, but he’s horrified at the sloppy and dangerous things everyone’s been doing, and that David has been letting this happen.


Uncle Alf lets him go back to Seven Gates, but soon follows himself, to talk with Charles. David and Peter are missing: they have gone up Greystone Dingle and into the mines. But the rain has been falling, almost as badly as in Lone Pine Five. There is a threat, a serious danger. The Twins cannot go, a threat which devastates them, not out of their usual self-importance and irritating manners, but because this is their brother David, and Peter, who they love and who is as much family to them, and they cannot bear what they will imagine if they cannot see. They are allowed tp follow.
Because David and Peter have gone into the mountain. Things are still not right with them. David wants Peter to act as look-out outside, because he is afraid for her at the hands of their two cruel enemies. Peter lets him believe she will accede just to get them to Greystone without more quarrels, but there is no way she will leave his side. Though things aren’t right, though they can’t begin to explain to each other what they need to until this is over, she has never left his side before and she won’t now: they go together.
And they go into the mountainside together, where Peter once broke her ankle saving David and Mary and he protected her without thought for himself. There are new passageways to follow, a rockfall to scramble over, after which a further fall traps them under the mountain. ‘John’ is ahead, breaking into a chamber where he believes the treasure to lie. He’s obsessed now, maddened. They’re all caught underground. There is no way out. Outside, as Charles and Alf Ingles make a careful way up the Dingle, Tom and the rest a safe distance behind, the underground water breaks through the surface again, landslip and upheaval. ‘John’ makes a crazed attack on a roof support, looking for a way out, but his knife turns and cuts his wrist. Alone in the dark, facing death, Peter’s only regret is that she was not alone with just David, as she tells him that she has loved him since that day she first saw when when she was on Sally.
And above, it all goes crazy, as the ground caves in and Peter appears above ground, calling for help because David is buried, and the terrified Twins face the horror, with Mary’s face buried in Jenny’s arms, sobbing and unable to look, and Dickie more afraid than he’s ever been and the worse for not being able to cry, until Harriet, that calm, quiet girl that I’d completely forgotten, thinking her pallid and characterless, but who is so strong and true a personality, leading him to describe what he sees to his Twin, as Charles, Alf and Tom scramble to a rescue that gets not only David out alive, but also ‘John’.
And Jenny, in the midst of this, sees the holly tree whose berries are yellow not red and solves the clue: Not Scarlet But Gold.
In the morning, she leads everyone bar the sleeping David and Peter back to Greystone to find the Treasure itself, though she’s the only one with any genuine interest in the solution: not even Johann, remade by his experience, wants it now. He will go back to Hamburg, make his peace with his Uncle, remake his life, having gained from his experience with these so-called children and especially the two who saved his life.
As for these two, the time has come for reconciliation, and more. David takes Peter for a walk in the woods, alone. Trudie has told him about Hatchholt and he is aghast. He loved the wallet she sent him, but sent his letter of thanks to Hatchholt, not her school, and was too stupid and proud to retract. And then he kisses her. And again.
Peter has already told him that she loves him. And David, who is soon to leave school, and doesn’t want to disappoint his father’s wishes that he go to Oxford, has grown up overnight. Between the danger and the genuine fear of losing Peter, he has moved on with her. Wisely, Saville doesn’t go into details between the pair. Instead, there a couple of lines that went into the head and heart of a young boy a long way from romance, and which stayed there for over fifty years: “There was nothing new in what they said to each other. Nothing new in the way they mended a quarrel and nothing new in the promises they made.”
Doubtless there were more than just two kisses, but we were left to insert the words we would have used, even those of us too young to know any such words. It was quiet, and calm, as it should be in the wake of what was so nearly tragedy, and the two young lovers had earned the right not to be watched over.
I had never read anything like that before, not in a children’s adventure series, but as has been obvious throughout, the Lone Pine books, without being in the least bit sissy or soppy, were built upon the strong relationships between the boys and girls, whose feelings so clearly ran deeper than the exhortation to be true to each other always, whatever happened.
Of course, Not Scarlet But Gold was not flawless, and I’ll be speaking to that in a moment. But it was the book out of all of the series that I most wanted to re-read, and it is the first of those I have re-read so far that I have wanted to read again, very quickly. It is the book that has most involved me, and whilst I haven’t yet decided what to do with the series when I’m done, I will be keeping this book, come what may.
The biggest flaw is, of course, the flow of time, and Saville himself recognises this, ruefully but helplessly, in his introduction. The Lone Pine Club was formed during the War, and their first adventure was to bring down German saboteurs. Now, their ‘adversary’ is the son of a German saboteur older than they are, and Jenny Harman, whose first adventure with the Club is resolved by the discovery of American soldiers on manoeuvres, has to ask Alf Ingles what it was like ‘then’.
However you approach it, this is a circle that cannot be squared, and to accept it, one’s Disbelief has not so much got to be Suspended as locked away, no doubt in an abandoned cottage, from which, with the resourcefulness of a Lone Piner, it will eventually break free. Or else be released by Tom Ingles happening to walk down the same street…
That really is a poor piece of writing. It happens out of necessity, and it leads to a moment that is in keeping with the book’s major preoccupation, as Tom looks at Jenny, who has been hurt by the bully, Jem Clark, and understands just how important she is to him (a moment I can recognise: years later, I had a similar realisation  when someone started crying over the phone, hundreds of miles away). But it needn’t have involved much effort to reduce the coincidence by having the pursuit pass somewhere where Tom might have been expected to be found if he were in Shrewsbury at that time.
And Jem Clark really is one of Saville’s weakest creations. He’s a cliché from motorcycle helmet to motorcycle boots, weak, lazy, stupid but paper-thin. Saville doesn’t have much time for the ‘modern’ teenager, whose instinct is towards city not country, and makes no attempt to inject any realism into these all-purpose nuisances. Which might be tolerable if it weren’t for the cliched threats, the lack of any realism, the need to talk like a cheap Hollywood hoodlum from thirty years before and the constant ‘She knows too much. She’s got to stay’.
Irritating though such things are, it’s because the rest of the book is so good, so emotional that I pick these up. They’re par for the course, cartoons for a generally unsophisticated audience, the bits that have worn least well.
I’d like to once again praise Harriet Sparrow, to whom my memories have done a great disservice. She may be the new girl, and she may feel uncertain about Jenny, but she has no doubts about herself, and doesn’t allow her inexperience to deflect her from trying to affect what is going on. Her age puts her outside the level of the seniors and the emphasis on their relationships, but she has none of the irritation factor of the Twins. And it’s heartening to see how quickly and openly everybody accepts her: if she’s with the Lone Piners, she must by definition be worthwhile.
Not Scarlet But Gold took Saville and the Lone Piners into a new phase, and one that was, in the long run, unsustainable, irrespective of Saville’s growing inability to understand the modern world. Having paired David and Peter, formally, at long last, having admitted love in replacement for friendship into the Lone Pine series, he had left himself little room for manoeuvre.
The editorial material in the GGB edition strongly suggests that Saville intended for this to be the last Lone Pine Club book, and in many ways it would have been a fitting ending to the series. He had been a professional writer for nearly twenty years. The Lone Pine Club was just one of several series he had written, four of which had already had their final books appear: a fifth had been in abeyance for eight years but would shortly be revived, and he was soon to start another, slightly older series. Perhaps it was time to bring the Lone Pine to an end? Peter herself, in the early pages here, asks, “…why the best things don’t always stay the same?”
But in one sense it would have been completely wrong to have stopped here: David and Peter may have at last declared to each other the feelings we had known about for a very long time, but there were two other couples whose long term relationships would have been left hanging if Saville had intended or been allowed to lay down his pen.
Apparently, Saville was ‘persuaded’ to continue the series. Six more books would follow, in the next sixteen years. The first two of these would resolve matters for Jon and Penny, and Tom and Jenny respectively, but there would still be four more Lone Pine books after that. Not all of these would be worth it.

Under a Solitary Tree: Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club – Sea Witch Comes Home


(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.)

Though, sadly, there is worse to follow as the Lone Pine series winds towards an end, Sea Witch Comes Home was always my least favourite book.
There are two reasons for this, one of which is the cover. As an experiment, it consisted of a home-produced photo, by Malcolm Saville himself of Lowestoft harbour, over which the figures of two characters in the book are painted, by Terry Freeman.
One of these is Rose Channing, a twelve year old with a heart-shaped face and a pony-tail, sister of David Morton’s schoolfriend, Paul, and she is attractive enough and entirely of the age. But the other is David himself, and I’m sorry, that is no David Morton I’m prepared to recognise!
The boy being portrayed here has wavy hair and a smug, sneery, self-satisfied expression on his face. He also wears a red cravat, which amplifies the impression of a very superior creature, whose head is tilted back sufficiently to suggest he’s already looking down his nose at the plebeian people around him. I don’t want to read about him.
And once inside, the other aspect that put me off is that, for this book only, The Lone Pine Club is represented by the Mortons alone. No Peter, no Penny, no Jenny and no Harriet makes for a dull book indeed, and the Channing children are far from adequate substitutes.
Moreover, for all his qualities, and allowing that he is the ideal Lone Pine captain, David is not a lead character in any conventional sense. He’s the still, central point, the sensible fulcrum. The more outgoing characters bounce off him and he stabilises things. Such characters do not make good proactive heroes.
Sea Witch Comes Home is the last of that sequence of books taking the Lone Piners to different scenes. Here, it is East Anglia, and Walberswick. The Mortons holidayed here last year, with the Channings and their father Richard. Now, Paul pleads with David and the Twins to come down and stay again. Only this is not, really, a holiday, but for support. Richard Channing has disappeared, not for the first time, but has left no word as to where, or when he’ll return, which is unusual. All he has left is a tenner for living expenses, and whilst this was much more in 1960, it won’t last forever.
Paul – excitable, moody, self-centred – is worried. Rose, though seemingly more stable, is fanatical in her belief that her father can and does no wrong, which the reader knows is not sustainable. Channing Senior is lazy, selfish, neglectful, far more concerned with his own manly huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ pleasures than his children’s welfare, gets by on charm without application, and for several years has been a thoughtless dupe of Art Dealer and highly professional criminal Simon Donald, for whom he has performed numerous errands, for cash, without questioning what he is doing.
Which, in the current instance, is delivering stolen paintings to a South American art dealer staying in Belgium.
It’s difficult to muster much respect for the feckless Richard Channing, though Saville does cross the man over into his own Jillies series (1948 – 1953) to appropriate the much-repeated J.M.Barrie line about how ‘Daughters are the thing’.
The problem is that, in part out of English distrust of the greasy foreigner, Channing has realised what has been going on, and Donald is spreading his low-life but efficient organisation to ensure that when Sea Witch does indeed come home, Richard Channing doesn’t talk to anyone: not the Police, not his neighbours, and certainly not his children.
Indeed, Channing has the same intent in the latter respect, as he intends to extricate himself thoroughly from his thoroughly compromised situation with Paul or Rose ever knowing a thing about it.
So a large part of the book becomes a cat-and-mouse affair as the children go all over the place in search of Channing senior, usually splitting up on age grounds. Since this places the Twins with the barely-older Rose, they don’t need to show-off quite so much, and when they do it’s again to the bad guy, Simon Donald himself, but even in that context they are unbearable. I would be horrified to find that any kids of mine were so downright rude, and so insistent that their pet dog should be allowed to attack anything he chooses, just because he gets it into his head to do so.
When the Scottish terrier has a better sense of manners and propriety, it’s time to be concerned.
The plot is further complicated in that it’s subject is a near-repeat of Lone Pine London, which means that once again James Wilson of the Clarion is investigating. He’s pleased to see the Mortons again, though not enough to fill them in on the lovely Judith and whether he’s married her yet.
But Wilson makes an awkward fit for this book. Neither Paul nor Rose ever trust him to the extent the Mortons do, and the sad truth is that Wilson can’t be an unequivocal force for good because he’s out to expose a crime and Richard Channing – however innocently, or shall we say, negligently – is deeply involved. This leads to a melodramatic night-time scene when Wilson, in Channing’s study, is telephoning his thoughts to his Police contact, until Rose starts pummelling him and shouting hysterically, and Paul rips the phone out of the wall before ordering him out into the night.
All well and good, but when Wilson follows Paul to a secret meeting with his father, he gets on Channing’s good side without Saville ever showing his readers how, and I’m sorry, but that’s cheap, cheating writing.


Saville’s other reason for placing this adventure in Suffolk, apart from its convenience for Ransome-esque solo sailings to Belgium, is that he wants to bring in the Great Storm of 1953, which broke banks all along the East Anglian shore, flooded the area and did immense damage. Saville writes comprehensively about the incident, using it to break up the criminal enterprise he has started, and he paints a detailed picture of it, including a short chapter concerned solely with the storm.
Which contains an offhand line, deliberately and effectively impersonal, that at Orford, “a boat called Sea Witch was sunk at her moorings”. A very neat bit of symbolism.
Yet this Storm serves to further muddy the waters about Channing Senior. Saville lets us know that several in Walberswick have commented adversely about his cavalier attitude to the children yet, when the Police order a full-scale evacuation, he is summoned from being ‘on the run’ to lead the village in taking the evacuation seriously, because apparently he’s the kind of chap they look up to and follow in such circumstances.
That says a lot about the underlying assumptions of Saville’s work, and those accusations that it is too middle-class for the modern world. Here you have it. Class tells when push comes to shove. Channing is lazy, selfish, a neglectful parent, a criminal dupe, but dammit, the man’s got breeding! Just the sort of chap, don’t you know, to see that these silly working-class folk, these simple peasants and fisherman, really understand the urgency of matters and get it that their homes and possessions and, if they don’t buck up under his direction, their lives are at risk. It takes the right sort. Hip, hip, hooray.
And about this high-tide and storm and disaster: let me make rather explicitly a point I’ve touched upon before in this series. To me, both as a once-child, and as an adult looking back, the best kind of adventure story is one in which the children who are the stars have real agency. By that, I don’t mean that they play an unrealistic role, facing adults on an equal basis, given undue respect and credence. Ultimately, the Police or some other similar authority must come in to handle the mop-up on a level that the central characters can’t believably operate.
But within that stricture, for the adventure to be a success, the children must play a central role in determining the outcome. Within the range of their intelligence, understanding and physical ability, it must be they who control the denouement. The Police must complete the job, but they must be merely the mopping-up, the application of force that the children don’t possess. Without the Police, the win is beyond the children’s reach, but the tipping point must be reached by the Lone Piners’ efforts, and it must be that without them the Police have nothing to mop up.
In the very limited sense that Mary observes where Simon Donald hides the last stolen painting, and leads the Police to it, that stricture is observed, but in the face of the Great Storm, the children have no agency at all. They cannot offer any help. The Twins are relegated to following Donald about, being a frightful nuisance. Rose falls into the sea, and David (taking on Peter’s role) dives in and saves her life, though Saville bottles it by making the dive a ciffhanger and letting the truly dramatic part of this scene happen offstage.
No, I cannot say that Sea Witch Come Home deserves to hold its head up amongst Malcolm Saville’s work. The superstitious will point to this being the thirteenth book of the series. More rational heads will point rather to this being the thirteenth book about the same group of children in seventeen years, and the fact that time and the absurdity of never growing eventually catches up with all series.
With Mystery Mine, I ventured to begin to try to read Malcolm Saville’s mind, with particular regard to his diminution of Peter. In this book, she is not even mentioned. Saville was a professional writer who reinvented himself several times, and who will have understood that characters eventually have to grow or die.
He had committed himself to his audience’s wish that the Lone Piners never age. But he had made a commitment to the feelings David and Peter had for one another, and allowed these to grow. I suspect that, subconsciously perhaps, Peter’s increasing feebleness was partly his conservative, Christian beliefs shaping Peter towards the classical, passive female role, and partly away of trying to slow, or control, the approaching changes that she and David were forcing upon him.
But time was against him. Peter could not be left out indefinitely. Sea Witch Comes Home is a poor book, partly because Saville was fighting against the inevitable, and realising that it was inevitable. The undoubted loyalty and the unspoken love between David Morton and Petronella Sterling had to be allowed to come to fruition. The Lone Piners had to begin to grow at last.

Under a Solitary Tree: Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club – Mystery Mine


(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.)

Mystery Mine is the one Lone Pine Club book I have read only as an adult, and to which I only have an adult’s responses. Though the story prominently features Harriet Sparrow once again, and she is again a wonderful addition to the Club, even though she is still not yet an official member, ultimately, I found myself disappointed with the book.
The story brings back old adversaries in the form of the ‘Doctor’ and John Robens (here calling himself Charles Warner) of The Neglected Mountain, which sits awkwardly, since Saville does nothing to bridge the inconsistency between the ending of that book, which Robens breaking with his older companion and going willingly with the Police, and what is, for all intents and purposes, the identical set-up here.
This is made especially incongruous by the ending which is, essentially, a repeat of The Neglected Mountain, with Robens/Warner reaching a point where, with children in danger, he refuses to carry on, and surrenders himself to the Police, intent on turning Queen’s Evidence.
Once again, we’re in a new part of the country, in this case, the North Yorkshire Moors, above Whitby. The Warrenders are visiting the Mortons at Brownlow Square, but David and Jon want to go off on their own, hiking. Harriet’s Grandad is now revealed as a Yorkshireman with a desire to retire to his native county and own a piece of it: he has agreed to swap shops with a Mr Venton of Spaunton. They are going up for a month’s trial and he invites the Twins to accompany Harriet.
So the boys head for Spaunton, arriving in a sea-roke (i.e. a mist), that sees them pass the mine-shaft on Sparrow’s land. Implausible though it may seem to us now (and I had to look this up, in disbelief), the story was written at a time when the Government was genuinely supporting a push to identify deposits of uranium in Britain, and of course there’s a rich vein in Sparrow’s mine.
So the ‘Doctor’s scheme is for Robens/Warner to identify the sites and negotiate purchase of the land, enabling the ‘Doctor’ to profit by resale to the Government. The drawback is that Mr Sparrow isn’t interested in the money and won’t sell.
The Lone Piners have to work out what all this interest in the land is about, whilst racking their brains over where they have previously seen Robens. This is convincingly delayed as he has regrown the beard he wore at the start of The Neglected Mountain, though once Peter and Penny are brought over from Shropshire, the former recognises him on the spot.
Though Penny gets herself briefly kidnapped, as a diversion that has more significance for the relationship between the two Warrender cousins, the plot itself develops via the kidnapping of Harriet, with Mary in tow, as a clumsy and completely ineffectual means of compelling her Grandpa to sell. Once again, Robens turns on the older man when the welfare of children becomes an issue, and all’s well again once the Police turn up.
As plots go, it’s lacking in invention, and owes too much to the Lone Pine formula that by now is tying Saville’s hands. A change is coming that will transform the series, and in this book, and the ones before it and after it, I’m starting to sense Saville himself growing frustrated at the limitations put upon him by his contented audience, especially with regard to no-one getting older.
This latter point is noticeable with regard to the two pairs involved, Peter and David, Penny and Jon, but it is dealt with in completely opposite fashions. I have put the girl first in each pair, because Saville gives each of them a raw deal, especially Penny.
Penny is invited to Brownlow Square for a holiday. Within a couple of hours of her arrival, and behind her back, her cousin and her friend decide to go off on their own, and abandon her. It’s an awful piece of rudeness, and the volatile Penny is the one Lone Piner who will feel this the most.
What’s worse is that nobody, not even Mrs Morton, seems to think there is anything wrong about this. It’s regarded as perfectly natural for the boys to want to test themselves with a long-distance hike, and in isolation, it is. By all means, invite Jon on his own to do this, but don’t drag Penny to London as well and abandon her the moment she arrives.
But Saville seems to think there is nothing wrong with this behaviour, notwithstanding that it’s deliberately against the Lone Piner’s oath. Penny, after a couple of days with Mrs Morton, makes the best of it by going on to Hatchholt to stay with Peter, who has been similarly slighted. She arrives still pissed off, but within twenty-four hours, David calls to summon both of them and the girls meekly trot off to North Yorkshire, where Penny’s righteous grievance is quickly written off as her not being able to stay angry at Jon for more than a couple of days.
What’s worse is the Warrender’s solo adventure. Jon has sussed out the uranium connection but, rather childishly, is refusing to state his suspicions until he checks it out at Whitby Library. Penny goes with him for the ride, even though he’s at his most condescending, saying he hasn’t seen much of her recently.

Whilst he’s in the Library, Penny sees Robens and follows him to his lodgings, where she’s captured and bullied by the ‘Doctor’. By the time she’s released, it’s long past the time she was due to meet Jon, and the pair and tearing round Whitby looking for each other. When she finally finds him, his first response is to unleash a horribly chauvinist attack on her, berating her as an empty-headed idiot. There’s not a moment in that attack where he gives the slightest impression that there may have been a reason for her absence.
Penny, in hurt fury, retaliates by direct reference to what she has gone through. It’s tempered by the fact that, in her searching for Jon, her need for his reassurance, she has begun to perceive that she no longer sees him as a substitute-brother but as something more, and her justifiable tirade is stopped short by the realisation that Jon’s anger is born not of rage but of fear for her.
It marks a distinct turning point in the relationship of the two Warrenders, but the overall effect is that the boy gets away with everything and the girl folds up and accepts it, passively.
Peter is equally passive. She’s not as directly affected by the boy’s hiking party as she’s at Hatchholt, and David has already said it’s unlikely the Mortons senior can go to Shropshire until the summer. She’s happy at Penny’s company, and she’s also happy at two pages of a letter David has sent her that she doesn’t read to Penny, but once she gets to North Yorkshire, she’s far from the Peter we have known to date.
From her first appearance, Peter has been straightforward, forthright and active. She speaks her mind, isn’t prepared to let things slide, and turns out in jodhpurs. But in Mystery Mine, all that’s gone. She’s changed her hairstyle again, undoing the plaits and wearing it in a bun (a sixteen year old girl in the late Fifties? Seriously?) She’s wearing a cotton skirt for walking around the Moors.
And when she loses Harriet, having taken responsibility for her and Mary when Harry sprains an ankle, Peter panics. She actually tells herself to try to think what David would do, when she’s a perfectly good head on her own shoulders, and she’s in floods of tears until David takes over and she gratefully passes all responsibility to him.
Saville was a conservative author, and a committed Christian as well, so perhaps it’s not entirely surprising to see Peter becoming increasingly feminised and subordinate to David, but in the past she would at least protest a little, before giving in, sensibly.
I’m not impressed with the baddies either. There’s more of the ‘get out and forget everything’ when Penny’s been captured, and the Lone Piners are still reassuring themselves that nothing, really can be done to hurt them, which is getting a little bit too formulaic.
And I’m confused by Saville’s introduction of geologist and archaeologist Philip Sharman, who is also found trespassing in pursuit of the mine, and who displays a suspicious and secretive interest in what’s going on, including getting the Lone Piners out into wild country to visit the Roman Road.
Sharman’s set up as another potential threat, and acts equally suspiciously but more politely than Robens and Co, but in the end he’s on Mr Sparrow’s side. He’s not a Cantor-like undercover policeman though. In fact, he has no status in this save for what we might charitably call nosiness. Ultimately, he’s no more than a red herring, but before now, Saville would still have integrated his red herring into the story. Sharman is no more than a loose end, which is uncharacteristically sloppy.
As I say, though, Harriet is once again the star of proceedings, and it’s something of a mockery to find her listed among the Other Persons at the beginning and not as a Lone Piner. She doesn’t like it either, forcefully making the point that she is sharing adventures with them, obeying the Captain and Vice-Captain and she’s not yet been made an official member.
At least the Twins, who don’t act towards Harry as they do to their other seniors, take the initiative of giving her a blood-signed note at the end, confirming her as a member-designate.
Speaking of the Twins, there’s a moment where they go completely OTT with Robens, and even recognise themselves that they have gone too far, but once again they’re allowed to get away with it. Thankfully, Saville only tells us how bad it is, he doesn’t show us, and it is Robens.
But taken overall, I am not impressed by Mystery Mine, and especially not the edited Second Edition, which was so badly treated that even mention of Peter’s new hairstyle did not survive the cut. The next book was my least favourite as a kid, and hasn’t improved with age, but the frustration I perceive in Saville at not being allowed to grow his characters does not have much longer to wait before he would finally let his instincts prevail.