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justice_turtle ([personal profile] justice_turtle) wrote in [community profile] readallthenewberys2013-04-08 01:16 pm

Newbery Honor: Tod of the Fens (Elinor Whitney)

This book is available online, thanks to the University of Pennsylvania's "Celebration of Women Writers" website. I don't know... anything else about it. Here we go!

* Based on the table of contents, full of somebody called Lord Arundel and a place called Castle Bolingbroke and of course the eponymous fens, plus the frontispiece wherein a scraggy medieval-looking guy is captioned "Tod of the Fens", I'm guessing this is a Merrie Englande adventure novel. There is a chapter about an "uproar in Boston", so I might be wrong, but we'll... see? *googles*

* Okay, Boston is a place in Lincolnshire, England - I wish I could figure out how to link specific places on Google Maps, but I can't, and I don't think anyone really wants to bring my combination of flailyhands "it's sort of on that side above this big lump!" and "nowhere near Lowestoft, due north of London but a ways south of Hull!" into this conversation. Google is there for everybody? ;P My point is, this story takes place in an area where I'm not at all familiar with the local geography; I'm impressed. I didn't think there were any of those left in England. (I have read so much British YA lit, usually with an atlas by my side.)

* Yeah, by the list of illustrations, a Prince Henry is involved in the story. Now taking bets on whether it's Shakespeare's Prince Hal. ;-)

* Yup. First sentence: "At the beginning of the fifteenth century, England was in a very unsettled condition." We get a basic overview of Richard II and the usurper Henry of Bolingbroke ("usurper" is the writer's term, I'm not just taking sides here), of Prince Hal's taking down the Glendower uprising in Wales, and of how the people of England are trying to fit actual lives in around all this mess.

* Our particular town is Boston, north of London, near the coast, "fast becoming a flourishing trading center". We hear its history: originally Saint Botolph's Town, which grew up around the monastery one St Botolph founded in the most desolate place he could... wait, what? Just a minute.

* Okay. This monastery is on the banks of the Lindis river. I'd heard of the monastery Lindisfarne Priory, which it turns out is a lot further north, but I never knew before that the name "Lindisfarne" comes from "farers from Lindis or Lindsey". Apparently this region where our story takes place, around a tidal basin known as The Wash in the sort of mid-east of England, was known as the Kingdom of Lindsey (from "Lindum" i.e. Lincoln) in olden days, although by 900 the area was no longer independent.

* Anyway. By the time our story opens, "St Botolph's Town" has been shortened to "Boston". It lies in this place called "Icanhoe", on the bank of the tidal river Lindis, which floods and ebbs over the four miles of fenland between Boston and the open water. The monastery was destroyed by the Danes in the ninth century, but there is a parish church of St Botolph at the time of our story, and the church steeple doubles as a lighthouse both for sailors and for people trying to travel in the area of the fens. The city is fortified; there is a road to it from the main Lincoln highway "which terminated in a big wooden bridge across the Lindis River, now called the Witham". (Oh, this looks like EXACTLY the sort of historical novel I like best. *fingers crossed* Geography! History! Research! Explaining how everything fits into what you presumably already know! I really hope this turns out a good book overall.)

* Ah, and after a nice overview of the porter's job at the gate of the town, we descend (as Dr Watson says) from the general to the particular. The gate-porter is named Simon Gough. He keeps note of everyone who comes through the gate, at the command of bridge-warden Sir Frederick Tilney who is apparently a good and honest man. We get to hear about Sir Frederick's family history, how the Tilneys have been part of the history of Boston for the last several centuries, and how Sir Frederick is "Mayor of the Staple", in charge of the export of sheepskins, wool, and English leather - Boston being one of the few towns allowed to sell these legally to foreigners. "Hence to Boston came foreign merchants to buy, and they were known to the townspeople as 'Easterlings', and were looked upon with suspicion." I note this specifically because some of the chapter titles mention "the Easterlings".

* (No, I don't remember what part of England the titular location of Northanger Abbey falls in. But now I'm wondering if "Tilney" is a surname local to a certain area, or if it's relatively common.)

* It's early April, near sunset, and Simon Gough is looking down the road to see if anyone is trying to get to the town before Simon closes the gates at sunset precisely. A man appears round the corner of the Whitefriars (Carmelite) convent, just in time to get to the town before sunset - a man dressed like a friar in flowing gown and hood, and hurrying clumsily. Simon speaks to him, remarking that he's just in time and had better hurry. The language is old-fashioned in a poetical way: "Good even, holy brother; if thou hadst been one moment later thou wouldst not have been greeted by my ruddy countenance with the sun shining upon it, but by the blank faces of Sister Oak and Brother Iron. Hasten or they will pinch thy heels."

* So the man hurries through the gate; he's dressed in a Blackfriars or Dominican habit. He greets Simon in return, by name, congratulating him on how prompt he is about his duties. Simon takes note of this, remarking that he's never seen this man in friar's garb before (Simon doesn't actually say "garb", but I'm not really trying to speak totally modern English myself here); the man doesn't stop but tells Simon to keep at his job and God will bless him. Simon watches him till he's out of sight and earshot, then muses to himself that he keeps seeing this guy's face coming in the gate and never going out. He takes up a bit of stone and scratches marks on the cobbles to count the instances: a mule-riding peasant with a bag of grain, a chapman (pedlar) who didn't want to pay the farthing's toll on his pack, a man in minstrel's garb, and now one in a friar's habit. Simon is absolutely certain these were all the same face, and that the "friar" was not very good at walking in his robes.

* At least, Simon thought he was scratching marks with a stone. When he chucks it down again, it makes a metallic noise, so he picks it back up. It turns out to be a gold coin, covered in dust!

* I can't tell what Simon means here by "If these be the blessings that will come my way [if he keeps to his duties], far be it from me to go out of that same way to pursue trouble, be it garbed like the Evil One himself." Is he going to specifically not-report his suspicions to somebody, assuming this is a bribe? It seems an awfully roundabout way to bribe a man, dropping a coin on the long shot that he'd pick it up in the dark. *puzzled*

* Anyway, Simon locks up the gate and the guardroom, and heads into town. In the marketplace a minstrel is singing, in front of the "Golden Fleece" tavern across from the parish church. The minstrel's face is in shadow, since he stands in the doorway so people in the tavern and outside can both hear him. The song starts by telling of a knight whose lady is about to wed another man; after the first verse or so, the author recounts the rest in prose. A baron went on a seven years' pilgrimage, leaving a vassal to guard his castle, lands, and wife, and the vassal planned to wed the presumably widowed lady the minute the seven years were up. Through a miracle, the baron gets back home in time to stop the treacherous vassal. We switch to verse again for a few stanzas, where the baron arrives in disguise as a pilgrim and asks for news; prose for the part where the baron goes into the wedding feast and drops his wedding ring into the lady's glass; verse for the ending part where the vassal repents immediately and tells his lord to behead him, but the lord forgives him and marries him to his daughter-the-heiress instead! O_O That's... a version I've never heard before.

[ETA: A footnote at the end of the book says that this ballad is taken from a novel by Sir Walter Scott, The Betrothed, and is attributed by him to the fifteenth century.]

* Anyway, the obvious point of the song is the last couplet: "But blessings on the warder kind that oped my castle gate, For had I come at morrow-tide, I came a day too late." Does... that sound really, really suspicious to anyone else? ;S

* Our minstrel is definitely the same man as the friar, and now we get a description: "straight nose, high cheek-bones, and bright blue eyes under shaggy eyebrows". I don't know if the lack of Stereotyped Evilness in this face means this is a good guy after all, or just that we have a much better writer than anyone else who's done an adventure story on this list so far?

* Simon pulls out his purse to put a penny in the minstrel's hat like everyone else is doing, but instead another gold coin appears mysteriously in his hand! While the minstrel pointedly re-sings the last couple lines of his lay, yet. Okay, we definitely have some Interesting Nuance going on here, whether this mysterious master of disguise turns out to be sympathetic or not; our other adventure books have tended to treat "bright blue eyes" as good and bribery / begging / the giving of money to people who aren't earning it, basically, as incontrovertibly evil.

* I am very sad that this is the definition of Nuanced Writing to which I have been reduced by this project. O_O

* Oof, and that was just the first chapter. Chapter 2 is called "Enter Tod of the Fens", so apparently we haven't even met our title character yet. I'm at 7% of the way through this book. This is going to be a long experience, isn't it? O_O

* Which is not to say it isn't interesting. I like the book a lot, thus far; it's intriguing. It's just really hard to liveblog! ALL THE INFORMATION.

* As Chapter 2 begins, a tall man steps out of the bushes by the roadside and bids a beggar good morrow. The beggar apparently wears an eyepatch over a perfectly good eye in order to excuse his begging, but had the patch off his eye while he was alone on the road; the tall man snarkily comments on this, then demands to see the beggar's purse in order to prove its emptiness. The beggar doesn't want to, but the tall man is broad-shouldered and carries a big stick, so the beggar can't squeeze by on the narrow path, and resorts to whimpering instead. The tall man commands him to show the purse, "for I am loath to lay hands upon thy dirty rags", and shows how his right hand is scarred as if a dagger once stabbed through it. He declares this means he has wounded a man, and might do it again if he wants.

* (A quick digression: I am rather impressed by this scar. People who write knife-fights in action books quite often make use of the trick where you take your opponent's knife blade through your own hand in order to disarm him, but I've never seen a case before where that was referenced in the past tense instead of used for the first time in a climactic battle. Good job, writer.)

* Oh, I see. It's not from a knife-fight proper: the writer is telling me that the customary punishments for wounding but not killing a man were a heavy fine, a year in prison, or having one's own hand pierced by the weapon that was used. Iiiinteresting. I never heard of that before. (I'd heard of branding the hand or face with a letter, cropping the ears, that sort of thing.)

* Anyway, the beggar is forced to empty his purse, which contained a whole handful of pennies and farthings; a few fall to the ground, and the tall man orders the beggar to leave those, keep the rest, and be on his way. The beggar hides in the bushes around a bend in the road, hoping the tall man won't notice the farthing that rolled into the grass by the wayside.

* WHAT IS GOING ON HERE? By the illustrations, this "tall man" is our eponymous Tod, but what and who is he, and why is he going around bullying con-artist beggars on the open road? I am so perplexed.

* ...and after a while the beggar creeps back to the spot where the altercation took place, and finds that Tod left ALL his money on the ground exactly where it dropped. WHAT ON EARTH IS GOING ON. O_O

* So now the narrative camera follows Tod, who is whistling along the road, and laughing at intervals about what fools people like the beggar are; "How they toil and sweat and cheat and lie for a handful of dirty coins!" (I remain confused, because I'm in Actual Medieval Mindset mode here, and it sticks in my mind that "toil and sweat" should come on a very different side of morality from "steal and cheat", if one is actually a standard medieval Englishman. Work is good! Work is holy! And more importantly, money pays the bills. *dry grin*)

* Anyway, Tod muses about how the scar on his hand shows he used to be quite as foolish, "but thank God I am no more", and anyway the confrontation will make "a good tale to tell the band this even". Don't ask me who "the band" are, yet. Tod seems to be implying they're not a band of ruffians?

* Gaining a hilltop, Tod glances back, sees the beggar picking up his money, and lols at him some more. Is this whole thing going to be a moral tale about how if you're cool enough you don't need money? I wouldn't put it past the 1920s, but I'll be sorely disappointed if so.

* Tod is walking away from the town; he comes to the spot where the narrow road to Boston joins the highway, which same highway runs by the edge of Sherwood Forest off to his left. At the road/highway junction is an alehouse. A dude sitting in front of the alehouse drinking gives Tod good morrow and offers Tod a drink in exchange for an hour's amusement. Tod says, if the ale-dude will do as Tod bids, he'll have more than an hour's entertainment. Alehouse dude asks "What is thy name, and whence comest thou?", and in reply Tod makes a pun about his name, which apparently means "a bunch of wool" and he is called Tod for his long shaggy shoulder-length hair.

* Alehouse dude calls the alewife to bring Tod a mug of ale, which she does, and Tod sits down to drink with the other guy. Other guy is "a young, clean-shaven man with blue eyes deep-set under heavy eyebrows" (hm, our disguise-boy, or a different person?), and wears the livery of "some noble", though apparently without the coat-of-arms surcoat that would actually tell you WHAT noble, as Tod's next question is "In whose service art thou?"

* Alehouse dude says he's "in the service of Tedium and would leave it forthwith" - oh medieval banter, you are the best banter when well done - and Tod replies, "If thou wilt take service with me, thou wilt be serving Sir Mockery and a merry time thou wilt have, I promise", then laughs so loudly at his own joke(?) that the other dude complains of his ears. Tod stops laughing for a second, takes a giant breath, and laughs EVEN LOUDER. When he has stopped, the alehouse dude, impressed, says if Tod can laugh any louder than THAT and not burst himself, alehouse dude will join him for a fortnight and a day. Tod does.

* After a little more banter, Tod tells the man where they're going - to the fens and a band of "merry rogues". Tod bets that he will get the alehouse dude to change his bored, solemn countenance for a merry one before the day is out, or Tod will nickname him "Dismas, the penitent thief". More banter occurs, the author says we'll just call this guy Dismas from now on, and after Dismas pays for the ale, they head out down the road, discussing Prince Harry's reputation for escapades a little bit. Then Tod gestures at the fens around them and says he and his men, having "tired of the false world", live by "taking only what is no man's and enjoying what is every man's". He explains their life, how they won't ask Dismas any prying questions, and how he thinks it's much more worthwhile to live this way and not bother about gold and silver as he used to do.

* Dismas changes the subject and reminds Tod he's supposed to be teaching Dismas to laugh, not making him think. Tod asks him a riddle, which Dismas concedes is funny, but tells Tod to tell it to no one else - and that ends the chapter. This is a very perplexing, intriguing, strange book. :-)

* The way references to "the king" keep coming up in this conversation, plus a few other things, make me reeeeasonably certain Mr Dismas here is Prince Harry incognito. We'll see.

* Chapter 3 is "In the Tilney Garden". We keep jumping around to different settings, which is a very particular way of setting up a twisty plot but I'm not one to say it doesn't work. (At least, until it doesn't. I've known twisty plots that started this way and then just failed as soon as the time came to explain anything instead of hint.)

* Sir Frederick Tilney's daughter Johanna, fourteen years old, is feeding swans in her father's garden. ...wait, she's Sir Fred's most cherished possession? I know it's a turn of phrase, but -- you get two more chances, author. Fail twice more at ladies and I will be far more critical of the rest of this book. If I finish.

* Anyway, Johanna's mum, Lady Mathilda, wishes Johanna would dress fancy and confining - hair in a jeweled caul, tightly laced cote-hardie (that is an overgown, usually in bright colors), long hanging sleeves, skirt in a train. To feed the ducks? Oh well, we get the point: Lady Mathilda is all about Looking Swank, while Sir Fred lets Johanna dress in a simple maidenly outfit of loose gown - sky-blue like her eyes (no shortage of money in the family, then *snarky fiber artist is snarky about the difficulty impossibility of getting non-indigo blue dye in the fifteenth century*) - and a hair-kerchief. With... short dark hair under the kerchief? I are perplexed. Has she been ill, or is there some other reason Johanna doesn't have super-long hair like your average medieval lady, or is this just another author forcing Modern Emancipated Coding on a historical lady-character? *frowns*

* Right. Johanna feeds swans. One swan is far cleverer (and pushier) than the rest, and gets more of the bread. Johanna laughs after it outsmarts her as well as the other swans, and says she will ask "Brother Stephen" - manor chaplain, maybe? - if that swan is descended from the wise swan kept by Saint Hugh of Lincoln, a famous local bishop from the 1100s. Point to you, author; I hadn't thought about Hugh of Lincoln's swan in donkey's years! ALL THE RESEARCH, let's hope it doesn't herald a Trumpeter of Krakow situation. ;P

* Spring has come early. We have an extended description of Sir Frederick's house and garden; the house is large and fine, but like any other house in the town (for this is a town-house, inside Boston proper, not a manor house with lands), lies on a narrow cobbled lane opposite a dyers' workshop, and the street often runs with dye from the exhausted vats. No plumbing, remember. A set of wide stone stairs at the side of the house run up to the living-quarters' entrance, which is on what the author calls the "second story"; I'm assuming, this being published in America, that means the middle one of the house's three levels - what a Brit would call the "first storey", the one above the "ground floor" - rather than the top level.

* Anyway, now Johanna goes to the corner of the garden that's out of sight of the house, so her mum won't see her, and climbs the garden wall so she can look over the roofs of the shorter or lower-lying houses, down to the quay where ships from the Hanseatic League lie moored. (The author says "at anchor", but I won't quibble. *quibble quibble* XD All right: "moored" is when you tie your ship/boat up to a dock, quay, buoy, or basically anything that was already sitting there waiting for you to just tie up to it. "At anchor" is when you put out an anchor you were carrying on your vessel. There are different reasons to do each.)

* So we hear a brief overview of the Hanse, and learn that Sir Fred lives near the quay because as Mayor of the Staple he has to be down there every business day, overseeing everything and certifying the weights and measures of all the bales of wool that England exports. Johanna wishes she could be involved in seafaring and exportation, as a son of Sir Fred would be, and go to lands across the sea such as Flanders, where live the world's best weavers who buy most of the English wool.

* Today Johanna sees from the top of the wall a ship sailing up the river to anchor in midstream. It carries the cross of St George, i.e. it's an English ship, and we hear how few of those there are, with the seas being "so monopolized by the odious Easterling". (I'm going to take that as expressing either Johanna's view or the general view of the locals, not necessarily espoused by the author.)

* Johanna hears her mum calling and hurries to the door; Lady Mathilda tells her to hurry up and get dressed fancy, "as befits a young lady of thy age", because Sir Fred is bringing home a merchant and son to dinner, and it must be a pretty important guy because the messenger also wanted the key to the town coffer to bring back to Sir Fred. Lady Mathilda, we're told, is a knight's daughter from Kent, grew up on a proper manor, and takes "great pride in the management of her home and in rich and beautiful possessions". And you know, if the author judges her for that, I'm going to be angry! It's her job as wife of an Important Businessman, and if she's good at it, more power to her. :D

* Anyway, she tells Johanna to go get dressed in her rose silk gown from London with the pearl girdle, and Johanna does so. She also changes her hair-kerchief for a fine linen headdress in the butterfly-winged style of the day - the author says "heart-shaped", but I know what's meant, even though I can't find a picture of it.

* The guests are Sir Richard Branche and his son Gilbert Branche. Johanna notices Gilbert watching her as she comes down the great hall toward the settle where all three gentlemen are seated. She is presented, they bow politely to her, and we get a description of Sir Richard's long gown (like most merchants, including Sir Fred, wear), which is notably fancier than Sir Fred's.

* Oh, here we go. Gilbert is a "fine upstanding lad of sixteen, and Johanna liked at once his fresh open countenance and clear blue eyes." Love interest, y/n? The kids head to the window seat overlooking the garden, where they can talk without disturbing the grownups. They quickly become friends over a mutual love of the sea and of their fathers' business; Gilbert will be sailing to the Baltic on one of his dad's ships this very summer. Gilbert has never been in Boston before, but lives just across the Wash at King's Lynn, not too far away.

* Dinner is had, full of shop-talk among the merchants and their respective families, and after the meal Johanna and Gilbert go to wander in the garden, where Gilbert sets off on an Exposition Dump about the term "Merchant Adventurer", which is what he wants to be when he grows up. (Okay, I'm mocking; really it's only a paragraph, and he's very earnest about how important it is that England should have her own merchant marine, rather than depending on the Venetians and the Genoese.) Johanna is full enthusiastic about the matter, and wishes she could also be a Merchant Adventurer. Gilbert has a little speech, quite in keeping with his time, I think, about how "it is for such as thou that we would brave the dangers and return again", and how having her colors carried across the unknown sea is so much cooler than just into some knightly tournament - which she agrees she'd much prefer. Haha, they're moving fast, but they're so CUTE about it! I support these two having lots more conversation, be it as friends or love-interests. They agree he shall indeed carry her favor across the sea, but now they go to watch the loading and unloading of the boats from Johanna's favorite spot on the wall.

* Oops - Johanna's in her best dress and can't climb up. But she tells Gilbert how to do so, and after he is up, he helps her carefully up so she cannot hurt her gown. I really like these two together.

* Johanna mentions that she has to go visit her mum's family in Kent this summer, since she's growing old enough that she needs to meet eligible young squires and be courted, and she grumbles that while she's in Kent she'll be surrounded by news of "knights and arms and tournaments", which will be unpleasant because she dislikes war and fighting. Gilbert worries she'll forget this afternoon amidst all the courting and squiring in Kent, and she says "Mayhap..." *pause* "...but I do not think so." And then goes back to talking about the ships with him. I LIKE this girl. I like both of them. :D

* Later in the afternoon, Gilbert notices his dad's ship getting ready to leave and they go into the house to see if Sir Richard has left yet; he has, and left word for Gilbert to follow him.

* Furthermore, the Plot plottens! Sir Fred did NOT send the message asking Lady Mathilda to send the key to the town coffers by the servant; the key has gone missing and everybody is upset. Oops.

* Aaaand the random bystander whom Sir Fred asked to carry his message (not thinking it very important, as it was only "get ready to have guests for dinner") was our mystery master of disguise! Sir Fred didn't notice what he looked like, but Lady Mathilda did. I think better of the author, tentatively.

* Gilbert points out that in Lynn there are six different keys to the coffer, each kept by a different person, and it can't be opened without all six. So at least the coffer hasn't actually been robbed - but perhaps the mystery man intends to discredit Sir Fred by making him look careless and incompetent.

* Gilbert now heads home; Lady Mathilda likes him and promises he'll always be sure of a welcome when he cares to visit again. Then when Sir Fred comes home, he asks immediately what Johanna thought of Gilbert. Heehee, this is moving fast. Johanna doesn't answer straight-out, though, instead asking why her father doesn't dress as snazzily as Sir Richard.

* Sir Fred takes this as a lead-in to the fact that he and Sir Richard are ordering a ship together for a joint venture, even though by the nature of their jobs it seems like they "should be sworn enemies" - since Sir Richard's interest is in England having more home industry so he can export finished products, whereas Sir Fred as Mayor of the Staple can only tax things like raw wool and therefore should wish for England to stay a supplier to other countries' industries. But Sir Fred sees that England needs many good seafarers in order to have a strong navy, so personally he's on the side of the Merchant Adventurers.

* Oh, I like Lady Mathilda. I really, really like her. She's genre-savvy! :D She warns Sir Fred to be careful because people who are in advance of their times get in trouble. (He says he has to do what he thinks is best, trouble or not.)

* Ohoho, and Sir Fred and Sir Richard have this very day arranged that Johanna and Gilbert shall marry when they are of age. And the writer did such a good job of making Gilbert and Johanna fast friends who will make a good pairing that I'm not even a little bit cross (given, you know, fifteenth-century customs in the matter) that her dad didn't ask Johanna first! Wow. I am impressed by this writer.

* But Lady Mathilda is still worried about the loss of the key and everything, and bursts into tears, and they go into the garden to talk of things that are not Srs Bsnss, and we end the chapter.

* Chapter 4 is called "Dismas Does Not Come", so we're back with Tod, I assume?

* Yes, Tod and his men have huts among some willows at a certain location in the fens; they're cooking fish over small fires, and we see skiffs and stilts that they use to get around the fenlands. Tod remarks that "he", presumably Dismas, can't get back here till high tide, which is in another hour. But it's full moon tonight, and Dismas promised to come. He's been with the group for a little while, as one of the men is complaining about how bad Dismas is at stilt-walking. That same man wonders who Dismas is, and Tod calls him out on that; then the group turns to bantering about which of them is the greatest fool today - I gather they're a band, not of ruffians, but of pranksters? - and someone mentions, I quote, that Dismas has "promised that given a week and a day, he would make all the townsfolk of Boston into as silly a set as" any in England. The man who mentions it has wagered that Dismas cannot fool more men in eight days than this man himself, "Tom True Tongue", can fool.

* Yeah, I'm becoming more and more sure that Dismas is the Prince. I'm not entirely clear whether this same Dismas is our mystery man of mystery, but I wouldn't be surprised.

* Tom protests that Dismas can say he's fooled more men, but may not be able to prove it; but Tod points out, what is apparently known to the whole band, that Tod himself can tell when any man is lying, and the whole group have all agreed that the man who can fool Tod of the Fens shall then be their master.

* Ah, and the eight days are up at midnight tonight. Is... *thinks* is Dismas going to count himself as having won by making the group think he would arrive when he would not? I DON'T KNOW. This is an interesting book! :D

* Yup, Dismas is the mystery man of mystery, who's been setting off in a different disguise each day and with a large bundle of other disguises in some pack or other. He's been using a trick the fenmen taught him, which only works at spring tide (some days twice a month) to leave his boat at a certain place in the river and have it drift to a spot just above the town's bridge, where it grounds and you can jump right into it off the bridge itself; the fenmen speculate he'd have been hung for a thief by now without that trick.

* We learn that Dismas has not stolen his various disguises but has tricked five men into giving him the clothes of their trade, for each of which men he has a count of one man fooled - Tod is keeping count of Tom's and Dismas's foolings for the wager.

* Hahaa, Tod says that he knows who Dismas really is but isn't telling. I believe him, too. ^_^

* And just today, Tom True Tongue was fishing by the roadside and a whole company of courtiers came by looking for Boston town, and after some banter (during which Tom fooled them into thinking they were on the wrong road for Boston), when they went away again, Tom hear them talking and laughing about Prince Hal. I'll lay you any odds I'm right.... :D

* Now the moon is up, and the fenmen play at tilting (jousting) with their skiffs instead of horses, till nearly midnight. Dismas doesn't come, and they discuss whether he'll ever come back, having lost his bet; Tom pulls out a silver badge he made Dismas give him as surety, but neither he nor any other men but Tod know whose the emblem on it is. (The emblem is three ostrich feathers encircled by a crown.) Dismas told Tom he would either return for the badge or Tom would have no trouble tracking him down with it; Tod says that Tom will have to track him down, then, since he doesn't seem to be coming. End chapter.

* Chapter 5: The Coffer Keys. It's market day, early in the morning, and Johanna is out a-marketing, with her maid Caroline to carry the basket of purchases. A large, loud-voiced lady named Dame Pinchbeck arrived at the very beginning of market day, and Johanna says that the best fun of market day is to be in earshot of this lady. Johanna bids her good day and receives in turn the tail end of a tirade against a butcher; Dame Pinchbeck is one of those customers, who seem determined to tell off every seller in the marketplace for totally ridiculous reasons. ;S

* But now a flock of sheep comes through the marketplace on their way to the "mart yard", and Dame Pinchbeck is swept up in the hurley-burley and jostled hither and yon! Her purchases are all spilled, and she beats the sheep over the back with her basket until the sheepdog manages to get them out of the marketplace to where they're going. At which point all the merchants, especially the ones she just finished yelling at, quite defensibly laugh at her. It doesn't quiet her down a whit, though.

* A group of "Easterlings" are drinking in front of the Golden Fleece tavern by the marketplace. Johanna and Caroline agree "they have not the clear, honest look of Englishmen", but then laugh again about Dame Pinchbeck and how if you believe her, English traders have no honesty either.

* And the "Easterlings" - Germans - discuss Johanna in German, remarking "Speak of the devil [Sir Frederick] and his daughter passes!" Their conversation turns momentarily to a local legend about the small whirlwind at the corner of the parish church, where it's said the Devil is trying to blow down the steeple in revenge for a defeat by Saint Botolph. (This writer does the most realistic group conversations. I am well impressed.) Then they turn back to how one of the Germans was trying to smuggle wool and Sir Frederick caught him and fined him, for which the German, Ranulf, is very cranky and vows revenge. Another German brings up Sir Frederick's merchant venture with Sir Richard, but Ranulf scoffs at the idea that the English could ever make good merchant seamen.

* Ranulf now says "What thinkest thou of this?" and speaks lowly about something we don't get to hear, presumably a plan for revenge upon Sir Frederick.

* When market closes, the bailiff and the town council meet to count the taxes they've collected from the merchants, and to put them into the town coffers. It is now that Sir Frederick announces the loss of his key, and - ta-da! - all four of the other keys have been stolen as well. Oops.

* So the councilmen tell each other how their keys were stolen, and it turns out (though they don't know it yet) that all five were stolen by our master of mystery, Dismas. They summon Simon Gough the gate-warden to see if he's noticed any of the "five men" whom they suspect are in league to rob the treasury, going in or out the gate. Simon immediately figures out what's up, but answers quite truthfully that he has not seen this company of five leave town, and "it is not separately they went". Ohoho, I do love me some tricky riddling dialogue. :D

* After leaving the council, Simon thinks to himself that he knew there was some trouble brewing, but it wouldn't do the council any good now to know that Simon had seen the man before the fact and not warned anyone. And besides, the man did give him two gold coins.

* The council spread the news of the robbery so as to have everybody in town on lookout for the five robbers, but the result is that the stories grow as stories do in the telling and everybody is just plain gossiping.

* And one of the words of gossip is, that Sir Frederick has been in league with the robbers, just because he was the first to say his key was lost, and because he has suggested that the five men (himself included) who lost their keys should each pay a share of the missing money into the treasury, to make up the town's deficit. Dame Pinchbeck - who, what do you know, is a councilman's wife and gets to have a conversation with another lady about this calamity, rather than being a one-joke horse in the market! - is taken aback to hear about this suggestion, because Sir Frederick is richer than the other councilmen, and forty marks - a fifth of the missing money - would leave her own family without their emergency fund.

* And, yup, now in the Golden Fleece some noblemen of the Crown have found Prince Hal and are asking him what he's doing dressed like a minstrel in a town where it's a proverb the townsfolk's ears are stuffed with wool. Grand reveal: our minstrel is indeed Henry Monmouth, prince of Wales, who has been AWOL for a fortnight. He scolds Lord Arundel, who has found him, for pestering him and not letting him have his fun.

* Arundel says that he and the other noblemen in his group have been sent specifically to bring Hal back, and really, they can't just leave him here... so Hal says, why, they must stay here with him to help him finish up his business in the town!

* Ah, and as best as I can figure, "Dismas" did not come to the Fens because Lord Arundel found him at the wrong time and put his plans out. -- yup, so Hal, knowing that if he returns himself to the Fens his reward for losing the wager will be the ducking-stool, tricks Arundel into going in his place by making him think he'll get another fine suit of clothes (Arundel is a popinjay) rather than ruining the set he has on.

* We're only a third of the way through, but while Arundel is running his errand, Hal leaves Boston for London, and we hear a quick summary of the stuff I've already gone over about his part in the broil so far. He's left the coffer keys in a niche at the foot of the church steeple, trusting that Saint Botolph will decide how to aid the townspeople in recovering them and figuring out that he did not in fact rob the coffer. (I am vastly impressed; I have not seen any other writer from this whole time period portray an Important Medieval Personage as having the kind of casually reliant belief in the supernatural that was realistically common in the Middle Ages. Good on you, Elinor Whitney!)

* Next chapter is "More About the Merchant Adventurers". We start with a summary of Sir Frederick's troubles: he has to equip two large ships and pay a sum of money back to the treasury, he's being unaccountably snubbed by many of the townsmen, and Ranulf is glowering at him in the streets. Lady Mathilda can't help him much, not being interested in the tribulations of the mercantile, so he tends to ask Johanna's advice about things. Today they are sitting by the pond watching the swans, and Johanna remarks that she thinks she will name their first ship (of which Sir Frederick has given her the naming and the income) the "White Swan of Boston".

* Sir Frederick isn't really listening; he speaks to himself after a pause about matters of the venture, and how he may well be moving in advance of his time but he feels that the Merchant Adventurers really do have the right idea and "will bring honor and renown to England". And sure enough, the author assures us, they will do so: they're the forerunners of the great chartered companies such as the East India Company, whose charters evolved into the charters of the English colonies in America. Ta-da! Important because US pre-history. Sorry, I mock. ;-)

* Ah, Brother Stephen is Johanna's tutor, and has taught her to read and write - this being, accurately enough, the time period when some high-class women were learning their letters the same as the men. She goes and talks to him in the monastery garden, where she is allowed; and they have a conversation which touches on the fact that she is not allowed to adventure like the men, and also on the story of St Hugh of Lincoln, and also... OH THIS WRITER. Elinor Whitney, please have written ALL THE BOOKS. How are you so good at realistic, accurate, medieval conversations that still make emotional sense to modern readers?!

...Boo hiss. She doesn't even have a Wiki page! Is this her only book? I AM ALL THE SADFACE. :P

* Oh, and she's tying in the Age of Exploration, which is just gearing up to begin, to the Crusades - which it was in truth related to, in the minds of a lot of the explorers. Gold and religion! ^_^ How, how, how does a Newbery writer from the 1920s understand the Middle Ages so well?! And, so far, without being made of any fail at all? *knocks wood*

* Chapter 8 tells of "Lord Arundel in the Fens". Hmm. I am a little worried this chapter will hit my embarrassment squick. What do you think, O Elinor Whitney? Can you avoid this pitfall along with the rest? ;-)

* Well, that's a good start. Nobody in this book so far is a ninnyhammer! Arundel, we're told, has a stout heart and is "not averse to a moderate degree of adventure". He rows the skiff upstream as Hal told him, pondering over Hal's words, for he suspects something tricky is going on, but he can't puzzle it out (as Hal intended he should not), so he stops worrying after a while and enjoys the view and the exercise.

* There is some cross-purposes talking before Tom and Tod figure out what Arundel is talking about with regard to the wager, by which time the fog has rolled in and they can't guide him to the place where Hal has left his horse, so they invite him to stay the night and eat fish with them, and they will see about "paying him the wager". Then once the rest of the group show up, after their best stilt-walker - called simply "Heron" - laughs at Arundel's clothes, Tom proposes a race between Arundel on stilts and Heron in Arundel's clothes (with the long toe-points and so forth)! Ooh, this sounds interesting.

* Aha, and if Arundel agrees to the race, Tod says they'll dismiss the dunking he's owed in Hal's place. (Tod also, you know, explains about the dunking at this point.)

* And Arundel wins the race! With cleverness! Hurray. I love how this writer is letting everybody be good at some things and also have flaws. :D GOOD WRITING, WHO'DA THUNK.

* And while they are all having supper and friendly chatter together, Tom throws Hal's silver badge into the water and says he won't try to find out who "Dismas" was, because they've had such a good time with Arundel thanks to him.

* The next chapter is "The Easterlings in Another Role". Arundel is escorted to the town where Hal left his horse for him, but Tod goes alone to the town in order to question Simon Gough and figure out what Dismas has been doing. Simon tells Tod the whole story, having secured his promise not to spread it about, and then Tod is left puzzling over why the prince would pretend to rob the coffer.

* Tod next passes by the Golden Fleece tavern, where he spots the Easterlings drinking their beer, and spots one in particular - I'm guessing Ranulf, just because of Occam's Razor - whom he chooses to avoid, muttering that he thinks he's seen that man before and hoped never to see him again.

* Then Tod goes down to the shipyard, where Sir Frederick's ships are a-building. He quizzes the builders at length, and one of them mentions he knows enough to be in the running for the shipmaster Sir Frederick is looking to hire, if he cares to be so. Tod likes this idea, and goes to meet with Sir Frederick immediately; when they part, he has been hired, but clearly there's something we aren't being told, as Sir Fred's final words to him are "And I can trust thee to return as soon as thou hast word to bring."

* That evening, Tod asks his men how many have had seafaring experience, then how many have "drunk from Stortebecker's goblet?", which leads into a bout of exposition: a band of Hansa-commissioned privateers called the "Victual Brothers", pirating officially against Denmark (but unofficially against everyone) a few years earlier, included a German nobleman-adventurer, so strong he could break iron chains, who drank from a giant goblet few could empty. He used the goblet as a sort of Procrustean test on his captives - those who could empty it might live - and his nickname, Stortebecker, meant "drink bumpers down".

* When Tod brings up the question of Stortebecker's goblet, all his men are shocked and demand if Tod sailed with or against Stortebecker. Tod says it was against, never with. He proposes that the whole team should crew Sir Frederick's new ship that's now a-building, and they all agree; two of them are experienced helmsmen, even.

* Ooh, and now Tod is going to tell us a little of his own backstory. He was a sailor on an English ship some time ago which was taken by the "Victual Brothers" ship Ranulf commanded, with the connivance of the Englishman named Beckman who captained Tod's ship. He tells us how he and the rest of the crew escaped, through no mercy of Ranulf's; now he fears Ranulf is at some other evil.

* So while the other men are telling more stories, Tod says to Tom True Tongue that they must go to Castle Bolingbroke and seek out "Dismas" in the morning. I'm not sure why, but I'm sure I'll find out. ^_^

* Once they come in sight of Castle Bolingbroke, a grim fortress, Tod says he has "not much liking for this day's business"; he is afraid. Tom says they may yet turn around and go home, but Tod says no, they will go on. When they come near the castle, Arundel and some other noblemen are just riding out at falconry. Dismas is away making war "with the Prince of Wales" (haha) on the borders of Wales itself, but Arundel says he will entertain them - and then points out to the other noblemen that Tom, who played a trick on them a while back, is there, so that the noblemen hustle Tod and Tom into the castle courtyard saying they'll have their fun with them.

* They play a trick on Tom with a fountain that spurts water in one's face when one walks near to try and read the inscription on it, then say they'll take Tod into the tilting-yard and let the quintain whop him with a sandbag, after which both men's score will be paid and they'll feed them and let them go. But on the way to the tilting-yard Arundel trips over a large hare which runs down into the prison-room - which has only one outlet, so Arundel goes to fetch the hounds while the other noblemen watch, not to let the hare escape.

* But the hounds will not go into the prison-room; they're scared and whimpering, and Arundel says he believes there is something supernatural about the matter. It's not, they say, the first time they've seen the hare, and there is something uncanny about it; he asks Tod to go in the room and chase it out. Tod goes in, but there is no hare, though he felt all around the dim corners with his hands.

* Arundel seems puzzled; he says it's always when they are the merriest that this hare will come racing along and trip them up. Apparently he's quite sincere, too - the author assures us this was a common happening at Castle Bolingbroke and gave it the name of being haunted. *googles* Well, did you ever. It's a real legend. I AM IN LOVE WITH YOUR RESEARCH, Elinor Whitney; whyyyyy could you not write ALL THE BOOKS EVER? *very sadface*

* They go on to the tilting field, where Tod challenges Arundel to boat-tilting instead of the quintain sort; Arundel warns that he himself has some skill at water-tilting, so I don't know which way this will go, even though Tod is the best of his whole team at the game.

* Hahaha! Tod and Arundel are evenly matched in skill, but Arundel shouts out that "by fair means or foul" he'll dunk the fensmen, and he jumps onto the side of their boat and then quickly again into his own - a trick he's often practiced. Once Tod comes up again, though, he swims to Arundel's boat and flips it before the oarsman can get to shore, so they're even. :D

* So the nobles feed the fensmen well and let them go, but after they've left, Tod sighs that he forgot he came on business and has left it undone. Tom asks what the matter is, and after swearing him to secrecy, Tod explains that Dismas is the one who stole the keys to the town coffer, and Tod wanted to recover the keys from Dismas and let him know they've figured out he won the bet after all.

* Now this next chapter is called "Marflete and Skilton Plot Together"; I have no idea right now who Marflete and Skilton are, but I deduce we're starting another bit of Plot.

* It is the middle of May, and a great fair will soon be held on the Feast of Corpus Christi. Dame Pinchbeck goes to count the savings she has stored behind a loose brick of the fireplace, but the money is gone! Her husband comes in; she has trouble telling him what has happened because of the shock, but once he teases her a little about it, she recovers her tongue and scolds him that none of the menfolk have done anything useful since the coffer was robbed, and she certainly won't put up with the same kind of "oh well, so be it" attitude about HER money. But Goodman Pinchbeck continues to banter with her about it, and she suspects he knows something he's not saying; but he gives her three silver pieces to distract her, and goes to the workroom of his rope-making shop to see that the ropes for Sir Frederick's new ship are coming along all in order.

* But Dame Pinchbeck will keep worrying at what she does not understand, till she does understand it. She thinks while she cooks a pork-pie and while she sits down to spin... and then she hears one Alan Marflete talking outside the window, and looking out, sees him with a man named Peter Skilton, neither of whom have the best reputation for honesty. She hears them say "coffer heavy" and again "same except for locks", before they pass out of her earshot.

* The narratorial camera follows the two men to Skilton's house, where they agree to do something nefarious against Sir Frederick - we aren't told what. Then it returns to Dame Pinchbeck.

* After the noonday meal, Dame Pinchbeck goes to visit Dame Marflete, to hear what may be heard. Dame Marflete is an envious gossip, who prattles on and on about how unfair it is that the Tilneys should be rich and fancy; her friend Dame Spayne says also that she hears the Tilneys will soon be in deep trouble, because of the rumours about Sir Frederick, which she recounts. Marflete also mentions that her husband wished the town to use a different coffer, one that he himself owned; Dame Pinchbeck finds this vastly suspicious, since Marflete will not confirm or deny that it was one with a special key which has long ago "gone missing".

* And yup - at the night meeting with Skilton, Alan Marflete explains how he had made this key to unlock all five locks of his own coffer, but lost it last year in the lower mart of the marketplace, right where they have met. Marflete thinks the town coffer is still full, and proposes to swap it with his own coffer which looks the same but has different wards in the locks, so that he can take the town coffer to his own house and break it open at his leisure. Skilton proposed that instead they should sneak it right out of the town so as to bury the money at a marked spot and nobody the wiser. This is agreed upon; Skilton asks "what if the keys turn up?" and their coffer is revealed to be the wrong one, but Marflete assures him, oh no, that won't happen. Ahahaha.

* Ooh, this next chapter is called "The Mysterious Note". I wonder what it's about?

* Well, it starts with Sir Frederick taking Johanna to the shipyard. She isn't enjoying it much, because the Easterlings are staring at her and whispering, and she can't ask ALL THE QUESTIONS or run around looking at everything close up; she stays right by Sir Frederick for safety. But they see the White Swan, and notice that Ranulf's ship is still at anchor in mid-river, and then they go back home and Johanna climbs up the garden wall to look at the harbor -- and she feels something rustling in her sleeve.

* She fishes it out, and it's a note. It says she should come to the foot of St Botolph's steeple at midnight tomorrow, if she wishes to be of great help to her father, and she should tell no one. Now, I happen to remember that Hal actually put the coffer-keys in that same place, therefore it's actually possible for Johanna to help her father by going there if she should happen to find the keys; but who wrote the note? We are told it's "strangely written", suggesting either a foreigner or someone disguising his handwriting. Are Ranulf et alia planning to kidnap her to revenge themselves on Sir Frederick?

* Johanna, being the most un-idiotic young lady in possibly the whole history of adventure stories, decides she will go - but not alone; she'll take her maid Caroline with her! :D SENSIBLE GIRL.

* Sir Frederick is not doing well, and the Council wish to put some "plain questions" to him. Oh dear.

* They ask him why he has taken up with Sir Richard, who isn't from their town and who is going against the Hanseatic League, and accuse him of endangering the welfare of the town - which is to say, Alan Marflete has convinced the others of the completely ridiculous idea that if the King hears Sir Fred is anti-Hansa he'll recall the permission for the big fair meant to refill the town's coffers, and THEN where will they be, huh? ...yeah. O_O

* Then Marflete accuses Sir Frederick of plotting to steal town money for the ship-building, because everyone knows he's running out of his own money; but Sir Frederick tells him off proper, till the bailiff tells them all to sit down, shut up, and not gossip about anything that's been said here.

* Sir Frederick Tilney and Goodman Pinchbeck walk home together, and Pinchbeck assures Tilney that he trusts him even if nobody else on the council does, and everything will come right eventually just you wait. But Tilney is puzzling over Marflete's weirdness, and they agree that Gilbert Branche and Pinchbeck's clever apprentice Stephen will be set to spy on Marflete and figure out what's going on.

* Yeah, next chapter's called "The Kidnapping", so I am thinking Johanna is going to get kidnapped. Or there will be an attempt, anyway. We're two-thirds of the way through the book....

* There's a shepherd's hut outside town by the river, upstream. The shepherd stands outside it, talking to his dog; this Angus is the finest sheepdog in England, and the shepherd regrets making him "a dishonest one". Angus and his shepherd have been working for the wool-smugglers, who have shorn the long-wooled sheep the two have rounded up, and tonight they are to receive their payment and be done working for the year. Off they set, then, toward the meeting-place.

* This is a smuggler's cave halfway between Boston and the capital town of the shire, Lincoln. While the shepherd waits for the smugglers, he hears the Easterlings including Ranulf approaching and quarreling over Ranulf's "silly plot to kidnap the girl". And if they must kidnap her, the other Easterlings want to hand her over to Redfern, which is the shepherd's name, and let him take care of her, rather than carry her away themselves.

* Angus the dog dislikes all "Easterlings", and I'm assuming this is because they are EVUL rather than because they smell funny to him from eating sauerkraut or whatever. *eyeroll* I'm starting to be distrustful of this book's awesomeness in the particular matter of not essentializing people by their races... :P At least not all the English people are Awesomeful, or I would be well cross.

* It's stated for certain here that Johanna can turn down the marriage to Gilbert when she comes of age, if she wants to. Good for Sir Frederick! She and Gilbert are talking about many things, including the stolen coffer-keys; they play a game of chess, at which Johanna helps Gilbert when he stands fair to lose to her, and eventually he leaves in the evening. At dusk, Johanna gets worried about how dark it will be by midnight - she's never been up so late. But she is brave, and she makes sure her maid has everything prepared as she ordered, and then at midnight she and Caroline leave the house.

* Aha! Johanna has found the keys by luck. But at the next moment, Ranulf's Easterlings throw cloaks over her head and Caroline's, and carry them off. They row them up the river and hand them over to Redfern, who is fairly polite and takes them to his hut where they can sleep.

* Next chapter: "The Town Coffer Takes a Ride". I assume Marflete and Skilton will succeed at their plan to steal it. But as Johanna said near the end of last chapter - whatever happens, she has the keys! :D

* Gilbert is snooping around as instructed. He has spoken to Sir Frederick about the possibility of having the coffer broken open by main force to make sure it's empty, but the bailiff (also chief of the council) is reluctant to have such a fine chest ruined and hopes the keys will still be found.

* Gilbert cannot hear anything of the meeting Marflete and Skilton have in the lower mart, but Stephen the apprentice, who was hiding on the roof above, heard more: he tells Gilbert to come with him and they will see strange happenings, and maybe be able to thwart them. So the boys run along together to Skilton's little stable and cart-shed, where they hide in a loft of hay. Stephen overheard enough of the men's plot to know that they're going to take something out of town tomorrow morning early in the cart, so if they're awake to see the cart loaded, they'll know what it is. But they sleep through the loading and only awaken when Skilton is already hitching up his horse. :P

* So they run to Stephen's small boat by the quay and hasten upriver to try and catch Skilton at the bridge out of town - or no, they don't think they can get there in time or make much of it if they do, but Stephen says he also overheard where the meeting-place by the river is, so they'll hide there.

* Caroline is scared of Angus, who comes into their hut in the morning to say hello, but Johanna makes friends with him. (He's an Old English Sheepdog, not a Border Collie, despite his name.) And then she goes outside trying to figure out how to get home, and sees the sun rising over the fens - she's never seen a sunrise either, and is astonished at its beauty. She demands of Redfern what he intends to do with them and whether he has any food for them; he gives them bread and water, then when Johanna demands flat-out to be taken back to Boston, asks what ransom her father would give. Johanna tries to convince him he'll get nothing, but Caroline - being terrified of everything that's happened (she didn't even want to come with Johanna to the tower at midnight) - blurts out that she's worth a large ransom.

Redfern begins to admire Johanna's courage, and Johanna makes a wager: if Angus will follow his master's commands even to springing at Johanna's throat (as he's trained to do to anyone Redfern points out), then Johanna will go with Redfern and be ransomed, but if Angus will not spring (which she hopes he will not because the dog too has taken an odd liking to her, usually being very grumpy and one-man-only), then Redfern must take her and Caroline back for no ransom.

* Redfern does not take the wager, guessing that he'd lose, but he does ask Johanna's full name, and figures out that Angus has recognized her as her father's daughter by her scent - and will not harm her because a year ago, Sir Frederick saved Angus's life: Angus was accused of collaborating with his master to steal sheep, but realized there was some trouble and refused to identify Redfern as his master. The council was in favor of killing the dog even if they could not find the man, but Sir Frederick spoke out and would not let Angus die for his master's misdeeds. So Redfern owes Sir Frederick, and he will return the girls home safe without a ransom.

* Johanna forgets the keys in the hut, but when she remembers, she asks Redfern to send Angus for them. They are waiting a long time for him to return, and she has time to worry that he'll drop them somewhere she can never find them, and bewails that she is "full of foolish notions".

* Haha, but when Angus returns, he has not gone for Johanna's keys at all. He went and dug up the trick key which Marflete carved from a sheep-bone, which Marflete lost in the market the very day Angus was tried for sheep-stealing, and which Angus picked up and buried till he should need it! And now he brings it back, having associated it in his mind with Sir Frederick Tilney. Johanna knows nothing of this, but says she will keep the bone key as a relic of her adventure, and will have her father send a messenger for the other keys once she reaches home.

* Next chapter: "The Uproar in Boston", which comes when the Tilneys - early risers all - figure out Johanna and Caroline have gone missing, I think.

* The chapter starts, though, with Dame Pinchbeck having figured out that her husband has invested all their savings in Sir Frederick's merchant venture without telling her. She deduces (wrongly? I'm not sure) that the bone key Marflete made, which she does not believe is really missing, was made to open the town coffer and not Marflete's own; she deduces too that Marflete and Skilton planned to steal the coffer. She is just setting out to tell Sir Frederick her suspicions when the church's big alarm-bell begins to ring.

* Everyone has assumed that the Easterlings took Johanna and Caroline with them, and as Gilbert and Stephen are also "missing" it is assumed that all four have been kidnapped. Volunteers are gathered to man a ship in pursuit, while the women and children dawdle back to the tasks they left when they assumed a fire or flood was causing the alarm.

* Thomas Marflete, a gawky boy suffering from a stutter, happens to start explaining to Dame Pinchbeck that he saw Something Suspicious last night: it was two men wheeling something heavy in a barrow through his family's back-- At this point Dame Marflete tries to hush him, but Dame Pinchbeck is now well and thoroughly interested, and continues to question him while Dame Marflete tries to hurry him home. Once he has explained that he didn't see who the men were but they were stealing a large coffer, Dame Marflete declares it must have been the Easterlings, and that's the end of the conversation.

* Dame Pinchbeck realizes she can't tell Sir Frederick who stole the coffer while he's busy trying to get his child back, so she goes to tell her husband instead. Pinchbeck says he will go speak to Marflete himself, and hastens thither forthwith.

* He finds Thomas there, and Thomas insists that now he's sure he didn't see any coffer or any barrow, but Pinchbeck asks "And who has made thee so sure?" and catches Thomas out; Thomas replies "My mother" and then tries to backpedal. Pinchbeck asks where Thomas's father is, and Thomas says he rode away early on horseback (this is true, iirc. So many plots!).

* We return to Johanna, Redfern, and the others; Redfern wants to leave the girls as soon as they come in sight of the town. Johanna promises she will let no harm come to him, but does not succeed in getting him to accompany her to the town and risk getting in trouble for owning a known sheep-stealing dog.

* But when the girls reach the gate, they get Simon Gough to spread the word that they were indeed kidnapped by the Easterlings but they're safe now, very tired, and will be going home to eat and bathe and sleep. Which they do, but before they sleep, they tell their story to Sir and Lady Tilney, and among other things Johanna shows her father the sheep-bone key, which he identifies as a key indeed. He decides the other keys must be kept dead secret till they can be recovered, and tells Johanna that as Master of the Staple he could not have protected Redfern, known as he is to help the smugglers, if Redfern had come into town, even though he's very grateful to the man personally. So it is well that he didn't come.

* Next chapter: "Tod of the Fens Steps In". Redfern, not knowing the significance of the coffer keys, collects them from the cottage with the intent of asking Skilton to give them to Sir Frederick, since he has a meeting with Skilton later today. He makes the meeting, gives the keys, collects his pay for the wool-smuggling, and leaves.

* Skilton manages after a time to fit all the right keys in their right locks; he opens the coffer, removes the moneybags he finds within, and fills the coffer up again with heavy stones, then goes to bury it. The boys see him from the river, and go to look what he's done; they find the money, but while they're putting the boulder back where Skilton laid it to cover the bags, Tod comes up behind him. The boys have never met him before, so they are afraid, but after some talking together, Tod helps them to load up the money into his skiff. Then he says they must not just come up to the town and be met by everyone at once with the moneybags, especially since the alarm-bells rang early this morning and everybody will be excited already, and ready to jump to conclusions. They must go and speak to Sir Frederick about the money, and figure out what he wants to do, and Tod will take care of the money in the meantime.

* Oho! We now see the point of that rather contrived-feeling situation with the not-really-blind beggar in the second chapter: the readers of the book have to be absolutely certain Tod isn't a thief and a knave, if we aren't to be yelling at the boys not to be UTTER IDIOTS letting a large and ruffianly-looking man out of their sight with the missing money. (Okay, Stephen knows Tod by reputation, so they're not being idiots from their POV - but we needed Tod's reputation established in our sight if we were to trust it. Cool writing! :D)

* When Marflete finds there are only rocks in the coffer, he knocks Skilton down in anger and yells at him for a "dull wit", then hustles back to the town.

* Sir Frederick, once Johanna is safe and settled at home, goes back to the warehouses, where he falls in with Gilbert and Stephen, and hears their message from Tod, and gives them news of Johanna. He decides that in order not to make all the councilmen look stupid, the secret must be kept, but how can they sneak the money back into the coffer? Finally he sends Stephen back to his apprentice-work, and sends Gilbert to meet Tod with a plan to sneak the money back into town, at least, via Stephen's rope-barrow.

* Tod thinks over how funny the whole matter is, and at last decides that Dismas should be present when the money is "found" again. He has heard that the Prince will be present at the great fair on Corpus Christi Day, so -- when Gilbert comes with the message, Tod is nowhere to be found. Gilbert returns with this news, and now Sir Frederick is very angry at Tod.

* Eventually Sir Frederick does realize the humor of the situation, and cheers up a bit. Then Dame Pinchbeck tells him in secret of how Marflete and Skilton swapped the coffers; she figures this is so they can access the money that will pour in from the great fair, via Marflete's trick key - which Sir Fred recognizes, of course, once he hears its description. He asks her not to spread the tale, and promises to have the men watched. He goes home, takes out the trick key, and goes to the Guild Hall to check it.

* Next we hear about the preparations for the great fair, and especially for the miracle play which will be performed all over town upon a stage-on-wheels; Goodman Pinchbeck is to be Abraham in "Abraham and Isaac", with Stephen the apprentice for the angel which tells Abraham not to sacrifice Isaac after all, and Thomas Marflete as Isaac. Stephen says vindictively that it would be better not to save Thomas at all. But Dame Pinchbeck persuades him to say his lines properly, so that Goodman Pinchbeck won't get muddled.

* Gilbert hasn't yet told Stephen that Tod didn't show up; he dines with the Tilneys and stays to hear Johanna's story, but as they're both tired and hyper, they quarrel over their various secrets past and present. And Johanna says Gilbert shall not take her to the fair after all, and that he should go back home for all she cares. So Gilbert goes away to talk to Stephen, and tells him the news about Tod.

* Now it is the last chapter, "Corpus Christi Day". It starts when Tod goes again to Castle Bolingbroke and persuades Hal to come to the fens and be Dismas for a little while till he must appear at the fair in his own person. There are three days until the fair - time enough to set all right, if their plan goes smoothly.

* So Tom goes to speak to Sir Frederick and explains what's really happening and that all will come right on fair day, and Sir Frederick agrees to do what they need from him, though he doesn't know Hal's involved. Prince Hal remarks that he's learned not to stir up trouble for his amusement any more, and Tod answers that he and his men will no longer be idle pranksters but will serve the Prince as sailors on a merchant ship.

* They fix up their plan to have Tom True Tongue perform as an astrologer at the fair and serve as the catalyst to reveal all; then the day of the Fair dawns and the plan actually begins.

* Prince Henry appears officially at the fair in scarlet and ermine, and speaks with Sir Frederick about the White Swan (of which Tod told him) - the author mentions that he was a great patron of the English navy, later when he became king. Then he asks about the theft of the town funds, and suggests bringing his "astrologer" friend to investigate; this is done, and Tom in a black robe with a long white false beard is handed up to the dais, his arms full of astrological and alchemical paraphernalia.

* Astrologer Tom asks that the coffer be brought forward to him, and this is done; he asks next for Marflete and Skilton, and they are pushed up onto the dais as well. Tom begins rapping and muttering about the coffer, then starts to unlock it with the bone key. Marflete panics and jumps off the dais, but is promptly put back up there by Tod of the Fens, who is standing below in case of accidents. Prince Hal leans over the coffer when it's opened and lifts out the money-bags, and once Hal starts to laugh about the situation, everyone laughs and laughs.

* Marflete and Skilton and Astrologer Tom all disappear from the dais while everyone's laughing, Tom to head back to the team's little home in the fens, Marflete and Skilton to pack up their respective households and leave town forever; Hal orders the coffer destroyed for being "bewitched", and everything settles down to go well again. :D

* Gilbert and Johanna make up their quarrel - it's an eight days' fair, they have plenty of time. And when the White Swan sails, Gilbert stands with the Tilney family to watch. He sails not long after in his father's ship; the voyage is successful; some years later, Gilbert and Johanna are happily married, and Sir Frederick officially joins the company of the Merchant Adventurers. And Henry V becomes a better king than people expected... maybe, just maybe, because he learned once how much trouble he could cause if he played tricks for the fun of it. The end. :D

* Almost the end. There's a nice little bibliography of Acknowledgments, including the note that "a real effort has been made to have the details of the story accurate as far as the period setting is concerned". WELL YOU DID GOOD, MS WHITNEY. Better than anyone I've ever seen who wasn't writing in the Middle Ages their own self, and that's saying a whole lot.

WARNING: if you don't want to be majorly spoiled for a lot of very good plot-twists and good writing, DO NOT READ THIS POST! Read the review instead, once I post it. Or read the book itself. *points to link at beginning of post* It's Merrie Englande historical fiction, Henry IV era, the best research and the best period mentality I have EVER EVER seen done. Ever. The best conversational banter, too, and some darn good plotting and pacing. It's a story that, except for the part where it's also totally comprehensible to the modern reader (as long as the modern reader has a high tolerance for "wouldst" and "thou" etc), could have been written contemporary to when it takes place - it doesn't even have the "of course supernatural is bosh" thing going on. O_O And there is NO SORT OF FAIL AT ALL, within the confines of historical realism - except all the Germans are evil, but she's writing in the 1920s, I can give her evil Hanseatic League Germans. *dry grin*

Seriously. If you have an interest in well-researched historical fiction, especially with mystery or romance or adventure involved, READ THIS BOOK.

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