Published in 1940, A06_Stowaways in the Abbey is set in June and July of 1917, about three weeks after the prior installment. Like other titles in the Retrospective group, Stowaways reveals more about the story of lay-brother Ambrose and his Lady Jehane. This installment also shows us Jack’s good sense, Joan’s wiseness, Joy’s rather selfish impetuousness, and Jen’s innate goodness of heart, uprightness, and courage. While there is a dance held in the Abbey at the end of the tale, this is one of the less dance-oriented stories.
Plot Synopsis (Contains Spoilers)
Fourteen-year old Jen Robins, visiting at Abinger Hall, wakes up with an idea that she longs to share with her friend Jacky-boy who is to come to stay on the weekend only to find that Joan and Joy Shirley are both down with measles. Jen must now go into quarantine. Mrs. Shirley suggests that telephone Jack with the news. . . .
—EJO has an inconsistent approach to telephones, perhaps because here she is writing for girls of 1940 who would have been accustomed to the idea of having a telephone in the house of one of the gentry. Telephones had been used in business for some time, even prior to the turn of the century, but it was only after World War I that they began to be seen in private houses. There are few mentions of a ‘phone (as it was written then) in installments of the Abbey Girls series that were written and published earlier. Rosamund living in a small country village in 1929 “Abbey time” must go to a public telephone booth to make an important call (and tells herself that she really ought to get a phone installed in her cottage), while Maidlin is terrified of picking up the receiver. Later, she and Jock must go to Kentisbury Castle to make an international phone call—very expensive and very short—to announce their engagement to Joy. Again, this mention in the 1940 novel of the phone at Abinger Hall that did not exist in the books published in the 1920s is one of the small details that one doesn’t really notice until reading the novels repeatedly and in order.—
. . . and Jacky answers the phone to say that the housemaid has just come down with measles and she too is in quarantine. Quarantine in the middle of the summer term, hooray! Mrs. Shirley kindly invites Jacky to stay for the two weeks of quarantine. Prior to her arrival, Jen begs Joan, who has a mild case of the measles, to let her sleep in the small bedroom in the Abbey. She takes a picnic midnight feast, dances on the Abbey garth, and suddenly comes across two children: teenage Timothy Spindle, who is a boot-boy at Sir Keith Marchwood’s London home, and his young sister Susie, who is an under-maid at the Hall. Both are orphans. Overcome by temptation from other boys to go to the movies, Timmy took two shillings that were just lying around—“‘Stealing’s stealing, even if it’s only a shilling,’ [says] Jen judicially.”—but the mean butler has accused him of taking many more things that belong to Mr. Kenneth, Sir Keith’s youngest brother, who is now in Africa. Terrified, he fled to Susie and the sanctuary of the Abbey. Susie has taken Joan’s keys without asking to let him hide there, and Jen scolds her. Timmy talks about stowing away on a ship. Jen feeds him and gives him blankets to sleep in the under-cloister.
In the morning, Jen stands under Joan’s window and tells her Timmy’s story. She entreats Joan to help protect him and give him sanctuary. Joan says that they must let Sir Keith know where Timmy is, but that she will help. Joan reminds Jen that one could only receive sanctuary at the altar, and that that is gone, destroyed in the dissolution. Jen is heartbroken, but Joan helps her to see that if they can get Timmy out of his mess, rather than just hide him, they will be acting in the Abbey spirit. At Joan’s urging, Jen writes to Sir Keith.
When Jack arrives, Jen shares her brilliant idea. Marchwood Manor is right next door and is owned by the invalid Sir Keith Marchwood, who mostly resides in London to be near his doctors. The housekeeper is sure to be out at a Women’s Institute meeting that afternoon—why don’t they go into the house and see if they can find a family portrait of the girl K.M. or M.K. on the brooch that Old Miles, the highwayman, had stolen 100 years ago (a Gentle Reader has kindly informed me that that the two letters would not be side-by-side, but twined together, so that you couldn’t necessarily see which letter came first)? Jen is convinced that K.M. stands for Kate or Kitty Marchwood. Jack tells her that if she finds the portrait, then she will have to give the locket back to the Marchwoods—she had only been allowed to keep it when no one knew to whom it belonged.
The girls begin their trespassing. Jen tells Jack that it isn’t burglary if one doesn’t take anything and that she thinks the caretaker wouldn’t call the police. The girls bust the bolt of a shutter and enter. . . .
—Really, Elsie? B&E? This is a pretty wild plot point. Why couldn’t the girls have asked the caretaker to let them see the family portraits? Or Sir Keith? One remembers that they are only fourteen, but still this seems a rather irresponsible action from this usually upright novelist. But when meditating on this post I realized that one theme in this installment is that of theft and courage. Timmy steals the shillings, Susie takes the keys to the Abbey, the mean butler steals other items, Jen and Jack trespass and enter. Let’s see what happens next.—
. . . and go to the upstairs portrait gallery where Jack spots a tiny portrait of Kitty Marchwood wearing the locket and wearing Tudor clothing of the period of Mary, Queen of Scots (executed in 1587). But Old Miles, the highwayman, stole the locket from some traveler in the late eighteenth century. While discussing this, the girls hear a car coming to the door—it is Sir Keith! The caretaker lets him in—she’s been there all along! After waiting until the coast seems clear, the girls make a run for home, but are spotted. And now Jen shows her quality. She goes to her room at the Hall and gets the locket and purse. She and Jack march back to Marchwood Manor where Jen explains what they have done and that they only looked at the pictures and that she is there to return the locket. Sir Keith gives them the gentlest of scoldings. He tells them that the locket belonged to that first Katherine or Kitty Marchwood and was returned to the family after her death and later stolen. Kitty was born in 1585 and when she was fifteen married Peregrine Abinger, of the Hall. Peregrine is one of Joy’s ancestors and the adopted son of the lay-brother Ambrose.
When he understands the story, he tells Jen that his brothers are unmarried and out of the country and that there are no Marchwood girls. He gives her the locket for her lifetime and she writes a will saying that after her death the locket and purse should go back to the Marchwood family and, if possible, be given to a girl called Katherine Marchwood. More Easter eggs! Sir Keith says that Marchwoods tend to be dark-haired, but that his youngest brother, Kenneth, is as fair as Jen. The two will, in fact, eventually marry and produce an astonishing number of children; while most of whom are fair, one, Katherine, is dark like the other Marchwoods. So the locket does indeed stay in the family!
And now we come to some tricky and accurate dating that assumes that the reader knows her English history. In A05_Secrets of the Abbey, we deduce that Ambrose was twenty during the time of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries during the years 1536 to 1541. We also found his grave with the date 1602 and deduced that he was 86 when he died. Now we find that the first Katherine married Peregrine in 1600, and would have known Ambrose for two years before his death.
Sir Keith directs the girls to go to a small drawing-room where they discover two paintings of the Abbey church, which he says were painted 60 years after the church was destroyed: putting this at about 1600 or 1601. He tells them that Ambrose described the church to Katherine and Peregrine and that Katherine sent for an artist from London who painted them—and that Ambrose approved of them and that they therefore are accurate. Jen suggests that the pictures should go to the Abbey. Sir Keith compliments Jen on her courage and honesty—her error in breaking & entering has been atoned by her honesty in confessing and offering him the family property.
Returning to the Hall, the girls find Joy, who has had a bad case of measles, leaning out of the window looking for them. She is flushed and over-excited, but wants to have a window conversation as Joan did. Jack, a doctor’s daughter, tells Jen that it is very bad for Joy, and that they should go inside so that Joy will stop. Jack then tells the Nurse. The episode is indeed bad for Joy, and she becomes gravely ill. Mrs. Shirley collapses in the middle of the night. Jen tells Jack that she wants to be the first to tell Joan the exciting news about the paintings.
At the moment of Joy’s crisis, and unable to help, the girls go out on the hills and ask Susie to meet them in a couple of hours with the news. When they see her, she tells them that the crisis has passed, and Joy will survive. Over-excited, Jen tells Susie a little bit about the great discoveries.
When Joan is allowed to see Jen, she asks her about the paintings—Susie has spilled the beans. She had not understood how important it was to Jen for her to be the first to tell Joan. Jen wrathfully tells Susie that she will never speak to her again. Susie hides sobbing in the Abbey, where she is found by Mrs. Watson, the caretaker. Jen is adamant that she will not forgive the younger girl. Joan reminds her that Susie is also a stowaway, seeking sanctuary in the Abbey. It is a great struggle for Jen, but she finally realizes that if she doesn’t forgive Susie she can never love the Abbey or feel comfortable with herself again. She goes to see the girl, who has been crying for two days, apologizes, and realizes that Susie has the measles. Two more weeks of quarantine!
Sir Keith has taken Timmy back and fired the mean butler. Timmy is doing better and idolizes Jen—he will always remember her actions and this will keep him “straight” for the rest of his life. Sir Keith gives the paintings to Joan. When all are recovered, the Hamlet Club holds a dance in the Abbey and Sir Keith enjoys watching the dancing.
For Folk Dancers
As with many of the Retrospective titles, there are mentions of dancing, but not the extensive descriptions found in the novels published earlier. When Mrs. Shirley tells Jen that she will have to be quarantined, she says:
“. . . a fortnight’s holiday, in the summer—oh, Auntie Shirley, I know I’m bad, but would you mind if I danced a jig? I think perhaps a morris, with some very high capers, might work off my joy a little. (21)”
What “a morris” is is not defined for the reader, who would almost certainly have known anyway as folk dancing was part of the physical education program both in England and in the U.S. at the time. It is both interesting and charming that this is just taken for granted and is part of how Jen expresses herself. When Jen spends her romantic, moonlit night at the Abbey, she lays out two sticks on the garth “in the form of a cross,” slips rings of bells on her ankles, and dances the Bacca Pipes jig, followed by the handkerchief dance Old Mother Oxford, “with arms waving in circles above her head” (54) and then Jockie to the Fair. Oxenham is somewhat inconsistent about these bells—sometimes the girls wear them on their ankles, sometimes below the knee. More on this in a moment. When Jack and Jen hear that Joy will recover, Jen begins to dance:
. . . she shook off Jack’s hand and began dancing round in a wide circle, great leaps on to her left foot, her arms flung up.
“Try the other leg,’ Jack mocked. ‘You’ll wear out that foot, bumping on it like that.”
Jen ended with a few steps in front of Susie and flung-up arms again. “Wouldn’t do. That was as bit of ‘Princess Royal’ jig. You have to land on your left, but I didn’t bump. I came down frightfully gently.”’. . . . Jen repeated the dance. “That was capers. You ought to caper about when you’re too joyful for words.”
“It was capers all right,” Jack agreed. “And you did come down lightly. But then you’re always light when you dance. . . . All the same, I should have thought you could change the leg now and then. Doesn’t it make you stiff?”(191-2) Jen answers that one gets used to it.
Back to the bells: what EJO does not specify, but what is clear from this video, is that bells were gendered, so to speak; women did not wear the same bell-pads that men did. This is the “Kinora” film taken in 1912 of Maud (Little Foot Page) and Helen (Mrs. Joshua) Karpeles, the composer George Butterworth, and Cecil Sharp himself. It opens with Maud dancing the jig Princess Royal (Bampton). You can see the circle of capers all landing on the left foot, just as Jack mentions. Note her “gymmy” (gym tunic with a girdle), and that she is wearing black stockings (de rigeur with gymmies; white stockings are for when you wear your dancing frock) and a slim band of bells just below the knee. At minute 1:01 George Butterworth dances another jig, Molly Oxford (Fieldtown), and here you see the standard bell pad. At minute 2:37 Maud dances Jockie to the Fair (Headington—note the circles above the head), and at minute 3:27, all four of them dance Hey Boys, Up Go We, or The Old Dance of England. This is the Hey Boys that the Abbey Girls dance so much. Observe the light, springy steps, the forward tilt, the apparently rather rapid pace, and the moment, about halfway through, when George (white flannels) and Cecil (tweed suit) bump into each other and George cracks up. Note also the lightness of both Maud’s and George’s morris step. Neither morris nor country dance is performed like this today.
As a final set piece, Sir Keith has been to tour the Abbey when the Hamlet Club, in their brightly-colored dresses, come to view the pictures of the Abbey and to dance. Jack, in her gym tunic, greets him and tells him about the dancing. Eight of the girls, including Jen and Joan, dance Newcastle, and here we get one of EJO’s evocative descriptions.
Sir Keith watched, knitting his brows, surprised by the fascination of the sight; the blending colours weaving always in new patterns; Joan’s grey [dress] and Jen’s blue meeting and parting, and coming together again at the end. The eight well-trained dancers gave a really beautiful rendering of “Newcastle,” and the old grey walls all round made a wonderful setting for the vivid colours of the dresses. The stars, arches, and lines safely over, the dancers bobbed to their partners, then laughed and caught hands in a ring and began again, as the fiddler repeated the tune. (255)
Cricket-captain Jack doesn’t dance, but she organizes the rest of the girls into forming a ring around the eight and they all dance Sellenger’s Round, with the inner group circling one direction and the outer the other. Three cheers for Sir Keith Marchwood!