Warning: Contains Spoilers!
The mist behind him billowed and curled, forming a spectral tunnel of smoke, and framed at the far end of it, prowling slowly towards him, came Nathaniel.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter is absolutely sadistic, there’s no other word for it. I cringed inwardly to read that shockingly violent encounter between Ben and Jennet and the bullies. I admit I reacted rather like Miss Wethers (‘they did what?’) and was very pleased to see the dithery postmistress up in arms on the children’s behalf.
On reread I also appreciated the quietly ominous scene between the museum curator and Nathaniel. Honestly, that beardy creepster could make skipping through a meadow seem sinister, and here the deep dark of evening and the unassuming silence of the closed museum only add to the already chilling atmosphere Nathaniel brings with him into every scene.
Finally, a moment of silence for Mr Roper. The awful tortures he endures were absolutely seared into my memory as a child (to this day I have not forgotten the stinging ants! Thanks for the nightmares, Mr Jarvis!) but this time I also noticed the explicit foreshadowing of Mr Roper’s death in the opening of the scene. Not only do we get, ‘The faint beat of the dance band was like the distant pulse of a dying man’, but also, ‘the sound of the falling ash was like an expiring sigh’. Honestly if Mr Roper’s demise were not so tragic and traumatic, these not-so-subtle indicators would almost be darkly funny.
(As a last note, did anyone else notice the word ‘skrike’, uttered by Danny as he torments Ben? Apparently it’s a regional term, the official definition being ‘to cry out, scream or yell’. I’ve never heard it spoken and would love to know if it’s a Yorkshire-only word? Can any knowledgeable Readers help me out there?)
Matt’s Thoughts: Things are starting to get brutal now on all fronts! We have one nasty encounter in the form of Danny and Co tormenting Ben and Jennet.
Which seems bad enough until the encounter at the end of the chapter between Crozier and Mr Roper, which was even harder to read.
However, despite all the miserable goings-on in the chapter, there’s so much to enjoy. First of all, I learned a new word, when Miss Wethers decides to go round to the Turner house to complain. She makes a comment about how she doesn’t care if they pack him off to a ‘borstal’. I’m rather curious – I’ve since looked the word up online to find out what it means – but is this still in common use in the UK? (If the word was ever used in Australia, it was before my time and no one says it now.)
I also got a little thrill from Tarr showing up at Miss Boston’s house. There’s something enjoyable about the whole interplay of who can see him and who can’t and how that looks. It also goes to show how tough he is, that he would venture that far into town.
Finally, Mr Roper. Of course it makes perfect sense that your family would be the guardian of a sacred object. (But it’s also fascinating, though, because unlike Miss Boston, there’s nothing particularly magical about him, is there? He’s just a quiet old gentlemen, carrying on the family tradition.) It does make me wonder also, whether there was a deeper layer to his friendship with Ben.
Even if Nathaniel hadn’t showed up and tried to take the guardian, Mr Roper had no children (unless I missed something?) and so the guardian would have had to be entrusted to someone. Did he see in Ben the potential to be the new keeper of the guardian? We’ll never know but it’s a strong likelihood.
Still, watching him hold his own against Crozier’s magic was awe-inspiring and he is a worthy addition to the great list of Worthy People Taken From This World Too Soon By Robin Jarvis’ Imagination.
As a final musical tribute to him, here are the Sea Interludes from the opera Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten: