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

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

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

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

Treasure at Amorys

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

Man with Three Fingers

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

Rye Royal

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

Strangers at Witchend

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

Where’s My Girl?

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

Home to Witchend

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

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

Saucers over the Moor

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

Wings over Witchend

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

Lone Pine London

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

The Secret of the Gorge

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

Mystery Mine

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

Sea Witch Comes Home

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

Not Scarlet But Gold

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

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

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

Mystery at Witchend

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

Seven White Gates

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

The Gay Dolphin Adventure

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

The Secret of Grey Walls

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

Lone Pine Five

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

The Elusive Grasshopper

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

The Neglected Mountain

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

Under a Solitary Tree: Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club – A Reconsideration

It’s not that long ago that I finished a series of blogs about Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club books, a staple feature of my childhood and that of my generation. With a handful of exceptions, I was using later editions of the books, editions that had been heavily edited to make them ‘less middle-class’, ‘more relevant to modern children’ and, perhaps more pertinently, short enough to fit the standard length of the cheap and successful Armada paperbacks. Several books lost close upon 100 pages of content which, by most accounts, was done in a most unsympathetic manner.

After I’d finished the blog series, which came some time after writing the posts themselves, I made an impulse purchase of the Girls Gone By imprint of Mystery at Witchend. The GGB series are immaculate paperbacks that use only the First Edition text, reproductions of the original dustjackets as covers and include not only the original illustrations but those applied to later editions.

Mystery at Witchend was a revelation. There was so much more detail, more depth, and I remembered each of the illustrations immediately, from the copy my parents bought me so many years ago. It wasn’t, quite, a completely different book, but it demonstrated just how feeble was the version I’d read and blogged.

The problem with the GGB editions is that they’re expensive enough to begin with, and especially so for the earlier, out-of-print books, which are damnably costly. Nevertheless, I’ve managed to upgrade to GGB editions for nearly three-quarters of the series. These are unfailingly better books, and in so many ways the comments and criticisms I made of their shorter versions are shown to be unfair once I have access to the book as written.

Once I have the full set, I intend to revise the entire blog series, so apologies in advance to those who weren’t interested to begin with and who don’t want to go through all that a second time. I’ll be a bit more specific about the differences when each book comes under the spotlight in turn, but I do have to go on record as soon as possible over one major accusation I made towards the end of the series.

I was very critical of Treasure at Amorys for bottling out over the relationship between the Warrenders, Jon and Penny, which I remembered as having been brought to the same recognition and declaration of love as David Morton and Peter Sterling in the previous book. I remembered it as such, but the edition I read bore that out in no respect. Now I know my memories were right, and my accusations wrong, because the Armada edition I read edits out every single instance of the growing realisation in both Penny but mostly Jon of what the other means to them. Even the closing paragraph, in which Mary Morton sighs heavily over how she and her twin have got to deal with another love affair was edited out.

So I owe the memory of Malcolm Saville a more accurate tribute, once I can read the complete Girls Gone By set. Six books to go. Two, at least, look like being bloody difficult to find, so you may not have to go through this again for a while. But we’ll see.

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.


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.


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 – 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 – 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 – 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.