The second book of the adventure series sees Mrs Mannering take the four children on holiday where they of course manage to fall into an adventure. Castle of Adventure was first published in 1946.
The book starts with Lucy-Ann and Dinah at school, reading a letter from Mrs Mannering. She wants their house decorated, so has booked a cottage for the holidays. We are reminded of the girl’s looks – one red haired and freckled, the other with wavy hair and a tuft at the front, as well as their personalities – one timid and the other bold. The boys arrive at the holiday cottage a day after the girls.
Spring cottage is on the side of Castle Hill, though we’re not told where in the UK that’s to be found. In a later book it’s stated that this adventure took place in Scotland. In her letter Mrs Mannering says it is “somewhere in the hills…[in a] lonely sort of place, but packed with wild birds.” The cottage is small, but comfortable, with a thatched roof and small leaded windows. It has a stream running through the untidy and rocky back garden. The castle at the top of the hill is described as “a most imposting and rugged old castle”, with a tower at each end, thick walls and a mixture of slit windows and wide ones. Mrs Mannering explains that some of the castle is very old but most of it had been restored and rebuilt. Importantly, it’s supposedly shut-up now and the road leading to it has had a land slide.
Tassie lives with her mother in an old cottage on the hill, not too far from Spring Cottage. She’s a wild girl, very grubby, ragged and barefoot and she spends most of her time out in the hills. She’s good with animals, and knows the hill like the back of her hand though she can’t read or write – and doesn’t speak very much either. She’s an odd girl, sometimes walking with the four children, and other times following them from a distance. She also doesn’t know what a bath is!
We meet Bill again on this adventure, but not until quite late on, after we’ve met the bad guys – some rough but fairly hospitable spies.
Jack is desperate to see the eagles which are nesting in the castle’s courtyard, so with Tassie’s help the four sneak into the castle. Having found the nest, Jack decides to stay for a few nights and spots a few odd goings-on in a supposedly deserted castle.
When Mrs Mannering is called away, the four decide to all stay at the castle (somehow camping out alone is seen as safer and more sensible than staying in a cottage alone). The girls and Philip sneak into the men’s hidden room while they are out, and the men catch the girls in there. They are unaware that the boys are in the castle too (Jack is hidden near the eagles, and Philip has hidden himself as a joke), so insist the girls stay where they can be seen until they have finished their business. The boys remain in hiding until, with Tassie’s help, one of them figures out how to escape the castle. Luckily Bill has turned up by this time, and again he leads a thrilling rescue/capture mission in the midst of a storm.
Philip’s main pet in this book is Button the fox-cub, brought to him by Tassie, who is quite instrumental in the adventure. Much to Dinah’s dismay he is also training four beetles. Rounding up the menagerie is Terrance the Toad, who apparently has the most beautiful eyes. Lucy-Ann remembers a mouse that he trained to take crumbs from between his teeth, and how he “often put earwigs under Dinah’s pillow, and black-beetles in her shoes.” Jack asks about a brown rat Philip kept during the term, but to everyone’s relief he says he left it at school. He does have a baby hedgehog though, which he insists has no fleas, and Dinah recalls the hedgehog he kept the year before. Curiously in this book it’s briefly mentioned Jack has a Philip-like ability with birds and can get up close to nesting birds, even stroking them, without them reacting.
I love this whole story, as I love old building and especially castles. If I had to pick my absolute favourite parts they’d have to be the castle’s hidden room and the moment where Kiki “falls” off the castle wall, and panics the children until they remember she can fly!
Having just blogged about The Island of Adventure, I’m struck at at the similarities in the two plots. First Jack’s love of birds leads the children explore somewhere that’s supposedly uninhabited. Then some of the children are caught but one of the boys is free and can make it back to safety where he finds Bill who helps him rescue the others. Despite what sound like glaring similarities the stories’ details, locations and additional characters make them unique enough to remain thoroughly interesting and enjoyable.
Bill is rather criticised in this book for waiting around before rescuing the girls, but I’ve never really though that to be an issue when reading it. All in all it’s less than 24 hours from when Bill hears the whole story to mounting a rescue. In that time he has to head into town and arrange for his men to come back with him – they only arrive back after 1pm. He then waits a further 11 hours so they can use the cover of darkness in their mission. Considering the girls have been prisoners for a few days already, without any harm coming to them, so another 11 hours isn’t that long to wait. Bill also says he will post a man to keep an eye on the castle – presumably if further information came in suggesting the girls were in danger he would have been forced to act sooner.
There are no major family upheavals this time, but we do get some interesting insights into how the new family set-up works. The usual relationship between the girls and their brothers is quickly covered in the first few pages. Lucy-Ann is looking forward to seeing Jack as whole term is an awfully long time to be away from him while Dinah says she doesn’t mind being away from Philip, as although he’s not a bad brother she can’t stand his habit of keeping animals and insects about him. Interestingly, at this stage Lucy-Ann is still thinking of Mrs Mannering as “Dinah’s mother” and is looking forward to spending time with her in the holidays. There’s a lovely little passage describing how Lucy-Ann feels about Mrs Mannering, where she is thinking for the hundredth time how lucky Dinah was to have a mother of her own. She felt grateful to her for letting her share her… Mrs Mannering always made her feel that she loved her and wanted her. At this point Dinah still refers to Mrs Mannering as my mother rather than our mother when speaking to Lucy-Ann, and it’s explained that Jack and Lucy-Ann call her Aunt Allie. Jack also refers to Philip’s kindly mother early in the book.
Next review The Valley of Adventure