CARRIE’S WAR by Nina Bawden Teacher’s Notes Contents
Background: Nina Bawden’s Life and Work
Background: American Soldiers in Britain
Background: Britain and the African slave trade
The Book and the Play
Information and Activities: History
Information and Activities: Reading / Writing / Speaking
Information and Activities: Listening / Drama
Scenes from the Play
Contact Background: Nina Bawden’s Life and Work “Carrie had often dreamed about coming back. In her dreams she was twelve years old again; short, scratched legs in red socks and scuffed, brown sandals, walking along the narrow, dirt path at the side of the railway line to where it plunged down, off the high ridge, through the Druid’s Grove. The yew trees in the Grove were dark green and so old that they had grown twisted and lumpy, like arthritic fingers. And in Carrie’s dream, the fingers reached out for her, plucking at her hair and her skirt as she ran. She was always running by the end of this dream, running away from the house, uphill towards the railway line.”
Nina Bawden, Carrie’s War, Chapter One
“No one could be too old for it… Carrie’s War is as vivid and elusive as a good dream.”
Times Educational Supplement
Childhood and evacuation
"I never decided to become a writer: I always thought I was one." – Nina Bawden
Nina Bawden was born in London in 1925; her maiden name was Nina Mabey. Her father was a marine engineer. The family were not poor, but, according to Nina, “no one’s job was secure in those days”, and so her father “had a fear of poverty that affected all of us”. Nina’s mother saw education as a way to ensure her daughter’s future and, at the age of eleven, Nina found herself under a great deal of pressure to succeed in a scholarship examination for the local grammar school:
“It wasn’t the first time in my life I had been afraid, but I believe it was the first time I had been afraid for someone else and it is a fear that haunts me still. I can put up with my own disappointments; it is other people’s that I cannot bear.”1 Nina Bawden’s memory of how responsibility can weigh on a young girl informs the character of evacuee Carrie Willow, charged with looking after her little brother Nick, in Carrie’s War.
Fortunately, Nina succeeded in gaining her scholarship to Ilford County High School. She studied there until the outbreak of World War II, when, like many other British children, she was evacuated to the country. At first, Nina was evacuated to Ipswich, but after Hitler’s invasion of the Low Countries, the school was moved to Wales. Nina and her friend Jean stayed for a week with a miner’s family in Blaengarw, South Wales, but were then moved to the larger town of Aberdare. Nina cried to leave Blaengarw, and her vivid memories of this coal mining valley town would later inspire the creation of the unnamed town which provides the setting for Carrie’s War.
University and marriage
As a girl, Nina dreamed of working on a newspaper and becoming a war correspondent. She studied at Somerville College, Oxford, alongside Margaret Roberts, later Lady Thatcher. A passionate and committed socialist, Nina was shocked when Margaret announced her intention to join the Conservative Party. Nina believed that
“She and I, with our lower middle-class backgrounds, had been lucky to get into Oxford. It would be despicable to use our good fortune simply to join the ranks of the privileged! Our duty was to make sure, when the war ended, that a new, happier, more generous society would take the place of the bad, old, selfish one.” After graduating, Nina was offered a job as a trainee reporter on the Manchester Evening News, but turned it down in order to marry Harry Bawden. She became pregnant with her son, Niki, soon afterwards. Niki suffered from schizophrenia and died in tragic circumstances as a young adult. A moving account of Niki’s life is contained in Nina’s autobiography, In My Own Time. Nina had another son, Robert, with Harry Bawden, and a daughter, Perdita, with her second husband, Austen Kark.
Writing success Nina’s first novel, Who Calls the Tune, a detective story, was published in 1953. She wrote it in secret, “telling no one what I was doing in case they should laugh at me”. The novel was a success:
“It came out to astonishingly good reviews and it seemed to me that life could hold no more happiness without bursting.” Other, critically acclaimed, adult novels followed, and it was not until 1963 that Nina wrote her first children’s novel, The Secret Passage. She chose to write it because
“I wanted to give my children something that would encourage them to feel they could make a difference to what happened in the world, show them fictional children who were people like themselves, bright and gutsy and determined, able to think, to reason, to hold a moral view.” Since The Secret Passage, Nina Bawden has alternated between writing children’s books and adult literary fiction, achieving great success in both genres.
In 1972, Nina wrote an adult novel, Anna Apparent, about a wartime evacuee who suffers terrible abuse on a Welsh hill farm. After writing Anna Apparent, Nina remembered her own experiences as an evacuee in Wales, and began to write Carrie’s War:
“Sometimes I am not sure at the beginning on which side a book will fall. And sometimes, publishing a novel as a children’s book is a matter of marketing… When I started Carrie’s War I had not intended it for children; it was only slowly, as I wrote the first chapter, that I began to see the direction it was taking.” Carrie’s War was published in 1973, and, like many of Nina Bawden’s books, has never been out of print. It was adapted for television in the 1970s, and was filmed by BBC Wales in 2002. Carrie’s War won a Phoenix Award in 1993, twenty years after its original publication.
Novels Nina Bawden’s other children’s novels include The Secret Passage (1963); The Witch’s Daughter (1966); A Handful of Thieves (1967); The Runaway Summer (1969); Squib (1971); The Peppermint Pig (1973, winner, Guardian Fiction Award); The Finding (1985); Keeping Henry (1988); The Real Plato Jones (1994, shortlisted for the W H Smith Mind Boggling Books Award) and Granny the Pag (1995, shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal).
Her adult novels include A Woman of My Age (1967); Anna Apparent (1972); Afternoon of a Good Woman (1976, winner, Yorkshire Post Novel of the Year Award), The Ice House (1983); Circles of Deceit (1987, shortlisted, Booker Prize); Family Money (1991, shortlisted, Booker Prize) and A Nice Change (1997). There have been several film and television adaptations of Nina Bawden’s books. In 2004, Nina Bawden was awarded the Golden Pen for a lifetime’s contribution to literature.
Potter’s Bar and afterwards In 2002, Nina’s husband Austen Kark was killed in the train crash at Potter’s Bar. Nina herself was badly injured in the terrible accident. She published a book, Dear Austen, exploring her response to the crash and its aftermath. Taking the form of an open letter to her husband, Dear Austen is both deeply personal and strongly political; an honest account of grief and an angry demand for justice. Nina became highly involved in the fight for adequate compensation for the victims of the crash:
“I used to disapprove of the ‘compensation culture’, but experience has tempered my disapproval considerably. Making people responsible, for the cracked paving stone they should have replaced or for the bolts that should have secured points 2182A, might make them more careful.”
Nina Bawden served as a magistrate for many years, and was awarded a CBE in 1995. She currently lives in Islington, and is working on a new children’s book.
Background: Evacuation “As if Hitler had arranged this old war for their benefit, just so that Carrie and Nick could be sent away in a train with gas masks slung over their shoulders and their names on cards round their necks. Labelled like parcels – Caroline Wendy Willow and Nicholas Peter Willow – only with no address to be sent to. None of them, not even the teachers, knew where they were going.”
Nina Bawden, Carrie’s War, Chapter One
“The best account I know of how children adapted to strange surroundings in wartime”
The Times, on Carrie’s War
During the First World War, over fourteen hundred British civilians had been killed in bombing raids; first by Zeppelins, then by bomber planes. In the period between the wars, the Air Raid Precautions Committee was set up in order to examine the problems caused by air raids, and to look into the possibility of evacuating the civilian populations of British cities, in the case of future air attacks. In 1925, the Committee’s report claimed that it would be impossible to relocate the vital work carried out in major cities, and proposed to separate the population into two groups; workers and “les bouches inutiles” [useless mouths]. All those who played no part in war work were to be considered “useless mouths”. This group included elderly people, people with disabilities, pregnant women, nursing mothers and, of course, children. In the event of war, it was deemed advisable to remove these people from British cities and send them to the countryside or overseas. This plan became known first as “evasion”, and then by the familiar name by which we refer to it today - evacuation.
Preparation for Evacuation By late September 1938, with Britain on the brink of war, plans were made to evacuate two million people from London. Half a million schoolchildren were due to leave on September 30th, when the signing of the Munich Agreement seemingly averted war between Britain and Germany at the last minute [or, at any rate, achieved a postponement of hostilities]. The evacuation scheme was called off, and four thousand children who had already been evacuated, returned to their homes within days. During the year that followed, as Britain prepared for war, arrangements for the evacuation of civilians became an important part of that preparation.
Every area in Britain was divided into one of three categories: evacuation areas, reception areas and neutral areas. “Evacuation” areas, mostly towns and cities, were the most likely targets of bombing raids, and vulnerable civilians such as children were to be given the opportunity to leave. They were to be sent to “reception” areas (generally rural areas, or smaller towns) which were considered comparatively safe. Neutral areas were neither one nor the other. As war became depressingly inevitable, arrangements were made to begin the evacuation on September 1st, 1939. This time, there was no last-minute reprieve. The evacuation went ahead as planned. Two days later, Britain was at war with Germany.
Leaving the cities
It was the largest mass movement of people in British history. One and a half million people were moved from evacuation to reception areas in a few days. Some were sent under the official Government scheme, others made their own private arrangements. Some children, often known as “seavacuees”, were sent overseas for the duration of the war, either by Government scheme or by private arrangement. But the majority of children were evacuated to other parts of Britain. They were told to turn up at school with their suitcase, gas mask and enough food to last a day. They were issued with labels bearing their name and school, but were not told where they were going. A “rehearsal” was carried out on August 28th, and on September 1st, the children were finally on the move.
Most children travelled by train. Some ended up only a few miles from their home towns; others faced a long, crowded journey on a train with no toilet facilities and arrived at their destinations tired, hungry, dishevelled, dirty – and in no state to impress their prospective hosts.
Billeting and foster parents The evacuees were to stay in private houses, known as “billets”. Billeting officers had examined all the houses in their area, deciding how many evacuees each householder could be made to take. Those who took in child evacuees were known as “foster parents”, and received small sums of money from the government and / or the children’s own parents or guardians. Despite this incentive, many were understandably reluctant to open their houses to complete strangers. But, if you lived in a reception area and were considered to have enough room, taking evacuees was compulsory. Unsurprisingly, this caused a certain amount of resentment, and some evacuees faced prejudice from their hosts before they even arrived. Others, however, were keen to “do their bit” for the war effort by taking in evacuees. “CARING FOR EVACUEES IS A NATIONAL SERVICE”, read the Government posters, and many host families were keen to do their patriotic duty.
Arrival “…she had already begun to feel ill with shame at the fear that no one would choose her, the way she always felt when they picked teams at school. Supposing she was left to the last!”
Nina Bawden, Carrie’s War, chapter 2
“We must have been tired and filthy and it felt, in that church hall where we were assembled, as though we were up for auction – and as adults came along and selected children here and there, it felt to those who were left to last (I was one of them!) that no one wanted us.”
evacuee Charles Crebbin
Many children were so traumatised by the experience of their arrival in a strange town, that they resolved to return to London at the first opportunity. Humiliations abounded as the evacuees, in some cases already stigmatised as “dirty townies”, reached their reception areas. It was common for the evacuees to be made to wait in a central building such as a town hall whilst prospective hosts came to look them over, picking and choosing those they liked the look of, and discarding the rest. Many towns had been sent too many evacuees for the number of billets available, and “undesirable” children often faced the shame of being dragged from house to house by a billeting officer, begging for someone to agree to take them in.
In Carrie’s War, Albert Sandwich calls the selection process a “cattle auction”, and in her adaptation of the novel, Emma Reeves adds the words “slave market”. These two highly charged phrases come up time and time again when reading evacuees’ stories of their arrival and selection. Others include “being picked out like sweets in Woolworths” and “feeling like puppies in a pet shop”.
Back to the billet For some evacuees, worse was to come when they went home with their host families. Stories abound of children being made to strip naked in front of their hosts, or of having their heads forcibly shaved, in the efforts to combat the lice which some foster-parents believed their “townie” guests to be carrying.
But there were positive experiences of evacuation, too. In Carrie’s War, despite the peculiarities of Mr Evans, Carrie relishes her new-found independence – as did Nina Bawden. Pictures of happy city children enjoying the freedom and fresh air of country living, were used to encourage parents to send their children away from the urban areas.
Town and country
In the late 1930s, before television and travel ironed out cultural differences, regional diversity in Britain was much more extreme than it is today. Many hosts and evacuees struggled to understand each others’ unfamiliar accents. In North Wales, some hosts spoke only Welsh, and found themselves initially unable to cope with the influx of English-speaking evacuees from Liverpool. In a climate of mutual distrust, rumours flourished. Evacuees were “dirty”, “hooligans”, slum dwellers, riddled with head lice and ringworm, persistent bedwetters. Whilst this was certainly true of some city children, these problems were not confined to urban areas alone. And whilst there were some evacuees whose standards of hygiene left a lot to be desired, conversely there were evacuees from comfortable homes who were appalled to find themselves in poor, dirty houses where they might be deprived of familiar luxuries such as indoor toilets. Evacuation caused social upheaval on an extraordinary scale. For millions of British people, it was an unprecedented chance to see how the other half lived.
The drift back For the first year of World War II, the expected devastating air raids did not happen. During this period, known as the “Phony War”, many children moved back home. Some were brought back by their parents; others ran away. A government campaign was launched to encourage parents to leave their children in the country. A famous poster showed Hitler whispering the words “Take them back!” into a mother’s ear, above the slogan “Don’t do it, Mother – leave the children where they are.”
When the bombing raids did begin, the devastating impact of the Blitz triggered a second wave of evacuations in 1940. It was now expected that Hitler would invade Britain soon, and many areas in the South were reclassified from reception areas to evacuation areas. There was a third wave in 1944, when the flying bombs began to be dropped on London. But despite all the dangers, there was always a steady trickle of children returning to urban areas to live with their families. Many people, understandably, could not bear to be parted from their children, and took the attitude that “If we die, we die together”. Others believed that the pain of parting from their children was worth it for the sake of their children’s safety. Fearing the impact of the deaths of children on the country’s morale, the British Government vigorously supported its own policy of evacuation until the end.
In 1945, plans were finally put into place for the organised return of evacuees. Although generally perceived as a joyful event, the return stirred mixed emotions. Naturally, there were ecstatic reunions, but for many the end of evacuation was tinged with sadness. Some children had been parted from their parents for the entire duration of the war. After six years, some now felt closer to their foster families. Parents and children did not always recognise each other, especially if the children had been evacuated overseas. A great many children were sad to leave their foster homes. Some refused to leave. And, of course, for those children who had lost their homes and families in the war, there could be no happy homecoming.
Background: American Soldiers in Britain
“Americans are not Englishmen who are different, but foreigners who are rather like us”
pamphlet issued by the Army Bureau of Current Affairs
The USA entered the Second World War in December 1941, after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. By January 1942, US troops had begun to arrive in Britain. They joined various other groups of Allied soldiers, including troops from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, India and other Dominion countries. By the end of 1942, there were nearly a quarter of a million US troops stationed in Britain, and the unparalleled resources of the latest arrivals made an enormous impression on the war-ravaged country.
After three years of rationing, black-out, austerity and, of course, air raids, Britain was a shadow of its former self. There was little food to spare, clothing was dowdy and endlessly recycled, petrol was unobtainable except for vital war work, and luxuries and treats of any kind were rare. All types of resources were diverted into the war effort. The arriving American soldiers were warned to
“REMEMBER THERE’S A WAR ON. Britain may look a little shop-worn and grimy to you. The British people are anxious to have you know that you are not seeing their country at its best. There’s been a war on since 1939.”
American information pamphlet, A Short Guide to Great Britain, reprinted by the Imperial War Museum.
American wages were much higher than those of British soldiers, especially in the lower ranks. A British private was paid 14 shillings a week – an American private, £3 8s 9d. The American soldiers were cocooned in camps in which the conditions, compared to those of British soldiers and civilians, were positively luxurious. They had their own newspapers and movies, and the food was plentiful and superior. Clubs were opened for American servicemen only, where troops could enjoy meals, dancing and concerts.
“She said, ‘The Americans are better off than we are, that’s why. Mr Evans can’t abide that, people being well off and throwing their money about.”
Nina Bawden, Carrie’s War, Chapter Eight
Obviously, these young men were keen to meet British women, and British women were keen to meet them:
“The Yanks were the most joyful thing that ever happened to British womanhood. They had everything – money in particular, glamour, boldness, cigarettes, chocolate, nylons, Jeeps – and genitalia… almost every working-girl aspired to ‘have a Yank’”. - Eric Westman, a British serviceman British men, however, were not so eager to welcome their American guests. To the British “Tommies”, bloodied by the hardship of war, the GIs seemed soft and degenerate. The Americans retorted to such jibes by pointing out that, once again, Britain seemed to be reliant on US help to win a war against Germany. Whilst the British worried that American informality was a sign of poor military discipline, the Americans were disgusted by the inflexible nature of the British class system (although their own society still practised race segregation).
In an enduring phrase which has come to sum up British resentment of their allies, American soldiers were famously described as “Overfed, overpaid, oversexed and over here”. The “oversexed” part infuriated young British men– how could they compete with the rich Americans’ ability to show girls a good time?
“Not that they needed to hear what Mr Evans had to say because they had heard it before. Girls who wore lipstick and silly clothes and went out with American soldiers were good as damned in his opinion.”
Nina Bawden, Carrie’s War, Chapter Seven
This issue became a major concern to both the British and American Governments. Fearing that too many of the “wrong sort” of woman would attempt to ensnare GIs, the authorities tried to ensure that American soldiers were introduced to “a better type of English girl”. “Nice” girls were selected by the Red Cross, the Church and the Women’s Voluntary Service, and asked to accompany American soldiers to dances and parties, or to offer them tea in their houses. As one of those “nice” girls, Nina Bawden invited American soldiers to tea in her rooms in Somerville College, and worked as a waitress in the Red Cross Club.
Like evacuation, the stationing of so many American soldiers in Britain provided a chance for very different people to get to know each other’s cultures, and caused social upheaval which would have a great impact on society after the war.
Background: Britain and the African slave trade “It was the fashion at that time for rich people to have a little black page, dressed up in silks and satins and riding on the step of their carriage. So they fetched this poor innocent away from his family, across the sea, to a strange land.”
Nina Bawden, Carrie’s War, Chapter Five
”There is no one feature of slavery to which the mind recurs with more gloomy impressions, than to its disastrous influence upon the families of the masters, physically, pecuniarily, and mentally. It seems to destroy families as by a powerful blight, large and opulent slaveholding families often vanish like a group of shadows at the third or fourth generation.”
James Pennington, a blacksmith, writer, teacher and pastor who escaped from slavery at the age of twenty
“The family went downhill in the thirties – lost their money gambling and giving grand parties and travelling abroad, Hepzibah says…”
Nina Bawden, Carrie’s War, Chapter Six
From the very beginning of the 16th century, Europeans were taking slaves from Africa and forcing them to work in their colonies abroad. An early British slave trader, John Hawkins, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I, but Elizabeth herself – like many of her subjects - was understandably appalled at the thought of people being kidnapped and enslaved. A justification for slavery was created – that it was moral to take Africans as slaves because by doing so, their masters were introducing them to civilisation and Christianity. This justification persisted for hundreds of years. Meanwhile, slavers and slave owners continued to profit at the expense of degrading other human beings.
“Slavery is not to be deprived of any political privilege. It is not to be deprived of the right of suffrage... It is not the relation of master and servant - it is not the relation of master and apprentice - it is not the relation of ruled and ruler; but it is the relation in which man is made the property of his fellow-man. It is to be bought and sold in the market: it is to be a being indeed, having all the powers of mind of a man, capable of enjoying himself in time and eternity - it is to take such a man, and make property of him. Having the physical power of a man, he may not exercise it, having an intellect, he may not use it, having a soul, he may not call it his own. The slaveholder decided for him when he should eat, when he should drink, when he should speak, and when he should be silent - what he should work at, and what he should work for, and by whom he should be punished. He had no voice whatever in his destiny. This was a slave.”
Frederick Douglass, lecturer and former slave
Most slaves were made to work in the colonies, but from the 16th century until the late 18th, there were some African slaves in Britain – although it was later decided that slavery had never been legal on British soil. In 1771, a slave, James Somerset, who had been bought in Virginia, escaped from his “owner” whilst in Britain. He was recaptured and put aboard a ship bound for Jamaica, but his abolitionist friends discovered his fate and tried to help him. A test case of habeas corpus was brought before Lord Chief Justice Mansfield, who declared that slavery was illegal under the laws of England.
“As soon as any slave sets foot in England he becomes free"
This ruling was welcomed ecstatically by abolitionists and slaves - there were between fourteen and fifteen thousand slaves in Britain at that time. However, although Mansfield’s ruling had deemed slavery illegal in Britain, British traders continued to kidnap African people and sell them elsewhere. It was not until 1807 that Parliament acted to suppress the slave trade, and outlawed the buying, selling and transporting – but, crucially, not the owning, of slaves. Slavery was finally outlawed in the British colonies in 1833, and continued in the American South until the end of the Civil War in 1865.
For more information about the history of slavery, see http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/slavery.htm For information on modern slavery and what can be done to fight it, visit www.antislavery.org. Novel Synopsis CARRIE WILLOW, a widow in her early 40s, returns to South Wales with her children. It’s an impulsive visit – the family are on the way to the seaside when Carrie suddenly decides to stop at an old mining town. She tells the children that she lived there during the war, with her brother NICK, and hasn’t been back since. Carrie takes the children to Druid’s Grove, and tells them that this place was sacred to the Druids – there’s a spring with healing powers and the remains of an iron age temple. However, the house in the grove, Druid’s Bottom, is in ruins and the town is derelict. Carrie begins to tell the children the story of how she and Nick were evacuated during the war.
The story now moves back 30 years in time. During the Second World War, Carrie and Nick are sent on the train to a mysterious destination. They’re given labels to hang around their necks with their names on, and packed lunches. Nick eats all his food and is sick as the train turns the corner by Druid’s Bottom. The many children on the train are dropped off at various stations along the route. By virtue of where their names come in the alphabet, Carrie and Nick find themselves at a small mining town, along with ALBERT SANDWICH, a slightly older, intellectual boy. The children are subjected to a “cattle auction” (Albert’s phrase) as they are chosen or otherwise by their Welsh hosts. Carrie, Nick and Albert are left almost until last. Eventually, LOU EVANS is persuaded to take Carrie and Nick, although she doesn’t want to take two children, and certainly not a boy. But Carrie convinces Miss Evans that she and Nick can share a room.
Miss Evans lives with her brother, SAMUEL ISAAC EVANS, who keeps a grocery shop. She tells Carrie and Nick to call her “Auntie Lou”, but to call her brother “Mr. Evans”. She explains that her brother is “very strong Chapel.” That first night, Carrie and Nick go to bed before Mr Evans gets home, and listen to him shouting at Auntie Lou in the dark. Nick decides that he must be a “horrible, disgusting, real-life OGRE”.
Mr Evans turns out to be a bully, who bullies not just the children, but Auntie Lou herself. One day, he catches Nick stealing biscuits and threatens to beat him with his belt. Carrie appeals in vain – Nick is only saved when he threatens to tell his teachers that he stole because he was hungry. Instead of beating Nick, Mr Evans prays for him for so long that Carrie decides she’d rather have been beaten, herself.
Carrie’s mother comes to visit, and Mr Evans puts on a friendly act in order to impress her. Carrie tries hard to reassure her mother that everything is all right. Just as their mother’s about to leave on the train, she desperately asks the children if they’re happy. Nick claims that he is, and says he loves Auntie Lou.
Mr Evans sends Carrie and Nick to collect a Christmas goose from HEPZIBAH GREEN, who is the housekeeper at Druid’s Bottom. Druid’s Bottom is a large house outside the town, owned by Mr Evans’ invalid sister, DILYS GOTOBED. Dilys married the mine owner’s son, and Mr Evans has never forgiven her. Their father worked at the local pit, and was killed by a rock fall which wouldn’t have happened, according to Mr Evans, if the owners had taken proper safety measures. Now, Mr Evans and Mrs Gotobed don’t speak, but she does give the Evans’ a goose every Christmas. Auntie Lou normally collects the goose, but this year she’s ill, so Carrie and Nick go instead. They make their way through the grove by Druid’s Bottom – a deep, dark valley by the railway tunnel. They are scared by a mysterious thing which makes a gobbling sound.
Arriving at the house, Carrie and Nick find themselves in Hepzibah’s kitchen, which is warm and safe. Their mysterious pursuer turns out to be MR JOHNNY GOTOBED, a distant cousin of Mrs Gotobed’s dead husband. Hebzibah invites Carrie and Nick to tea. They discover that Albert Sandwich has been billeted at Druid’s Bottom. He tells them that Hebzibah is a witch.
Hepzibah tells the story of the Screaming Skull, which is kept in a box in the library. Long ago, during the slave trade, the Gotobeds kept a little African boy as a page. He begged to go home, and they promised that he could, but then he became ill and died. On his death bed, he cursed the house, saying that his skull must be kept in the house, and that a dreadful disaster would happen if it is ever taken away.
When Carrie and Nick get back to the Evans’ house, Carrie infuriates Nick by diplomatically not admitting quite how much they liked Hepzibah and Druid’s Bottom.
Nick and Carrie befriend Mr. Johnny, who turns out to be a lovable man with a great knowledge of farming and wildlife. However, he has a speech impediment and learning difficulties, and Mr. Evans is prejudiced against him, calling him an “idiot”. This infuriates Nick, who has become very friendly with Mr Johnny.
As time goes on, Nick and Carrie spend more time at Druid’s Bottom than they do with the Evans family. One day, whilst Albert is reading in the library and Nick is with Mr Johnny, Hepzibah takes Carrie to meet Mrs Gotobed. She’s wearing an evening dress, and explains that she’s going to wear all of her glamorous dresses again before she dies. She’s saving one special dress – grey with pink ostrich feathers – till last. She asks Carrie to give Mr Evans a message when she’s dead – to tell him that she hadn’t forgotten him, “but sometimes you owe more to strangers,” and she’s done what she thinks is right.
Carrie’s Mother sends her a dress for her birthday, but it is too small and too short. Carrie and Albert go walking in the Druid’s Grove. Albert explains that there is an old temple nearby, and the place is sacred to the old religion. Albert kisses Carrie. This makes Carrie very happy – until she’s late for her birthday tea and Mr Evans is angry. However, his attention is turned away from persecuting Carrie when Auntie Lou comes in, wearing a pretty dress and lipstick, on her way out to a dance at the American base nearby. Mr Evans shouts at Auntie Lou. Carrie says Auntie Lou must be mad to provoke Mr Evans like that. Nick points out that she did it to protect Carrie from Mr Evans’ temper.
Hepzibah tells Carrie more about the past lives of Mr Evans, Auntie Lou and Mrs Gotobed. Mr Evans used to work down the pit till his dad died, then he stopped, claiming it was no life for a dog. He scrimped and saved to buy the grocery business, and bitterly resented his sister’s luxurious life. Carrie’s sorry for Mr Evans but Nick just thinks he’s bonkers.
MAJOR CASS HARPER, an American soldier, comes to call for Auntie Lou. Carrie sends him away, explaining that Mr Evans will never let Auntie Lou go out with him. Nick is furious with Carrie. They run to find Auntie Lou, who’s scrubbing the Chapel floor. They send her to the Dog and Duck pub to find Major Harper. She gets back late, looking radiantly happy. Meanwhile, Mr Evans seems very tired. Carrie sympathises.
Mr Evans’ son FREDERICK arrives home on leave. Mr Evans sends him to Druid’s Bottom with Carrie and Nick, to help with the hay harvest (hinting that it might net him something in his Aunt Dilys’ will). Whilst helping, Frederick mocks Mr Johnny, imitating him. Mr Johnny attacks Frederick with a pitchfork. Nick and Albert break up the fight. Frederick’s been hurt, but not badly. Carrie says it serves Frederick right for his bullying. Frederick claims that Mr Johnny is a “vicious loony” who should be locked up. The confrontation ends when Mrs Gotobed, arrives outside, wearing her grey dress with the ostrich feathers. She tells Frederick off for bullying. Sucking up to his rich aunt, Frederick pretends it was all a joke. He then tells her that he doesn’t want to work in Mr Evans’ shop after the war. She says it will break his father’s heart.
Carrie is afraid when she realises that Mrs Gotobed’s wearing the dress she was saving until last. Mrs Gotobed tells Carrie that it’s a waste of time, being afraid. “Things are seldom as bad as you think they’re going to be.” She reminds Carrie of the message for Mr Evans.
Mrs Gotobed dies. Carrie’s worried that Hebzibah and Mr Johnny will now have to leave Druid’s Bottom, but Albert says that Mrs Gotobed told him she’d made a will saying that Hepzibah and Mr Johnny could stay on as long as they wanted to, after her death. The house has been left to Mr Evans, but he can’t sell it or let it whilst Hepzibah’s there. Carrie realises that this is what Mrs Gotobed’s message to Mr Evans meant. She thinks that when she tells him, he’ll be pleased to know that his sister still loved him. However, when he finds out, he’s furious, and threatens to drag Hepzibah through every court in the land.
But as it turns out, Mrs Gotobed’s will cannot be found. Mr Evans storms round to Druid’s Bottom and searches the place, but doesn’t find the will. The bank and her solicitors don’t have one either. Mr Evans gives Hepzibah a month’s notice to get out.
Mr Johnny tells Carrie that Mr Evans found an envelope in Mrs Gotobed’s room and took it. Albert thinks it’s the will, without which all Mrs Gotobed’s money goes to Mr Evans, her nearest relation – and no provision is made for Hepzibah and Mr Johnny to stay on in the house.
Carrie’s mother writes – she’s rented a house near Glasgow and wants Carrie and Nick to join her. She sends money for rail tickets, telling them to come in two weeks’ time. Nick doesn’t want to go – he and Auntie Lou have got a secret and Carrie keeps finding them giggling together. Carrie isn’t sure what she wants.
Albert tells Carrie that Hepzibah still hasn’t found anywhere for she and Mr Johnny to go. He thinks there must be some sort of law about turning people out of places they’ve lived in for years. Albert says he thought of asking a solicitor about it, but turned back. He’s angry with himself – he feels like a coward.
Nick gets excited about going home and makes up songs about “the last time” he’ll do things. Auntie Lou sings with him. Mr Evans takes them all for a last picnic, and gives them presents. Nick is given the knife he’s always wanted, and Carrie receives a ring.
During a farewell tea in Druid’s Bottom, Albert sees the ring Mr Evans gave Carrie, and realises it’s Mrs Gotobed’s garnet ring. Carrie now believes that Mr Evans stole it, and that he must have stolen the Will, too. She remembers the ancient curse and flings the skull from the window, into the old horse-pond, which is said to be bottomless. She would rather destroy the house than see Mr Evans get it.
Albert tells Carrie that Hepzibah’s found somewhere to stay. Awkwardly, they promise to be friends. Albert makes Carrie promise to write first.
Back at the Evans’ house, Carrie discovers that Auntie Lou’s run off to marry Major Cass Harper. Nick knew all about it. He says he didn’t tell Carrie as she’s always sorry for Mr Evans. Carrie says she’s not sorry now.
Carrie wakes up early in the morning, and decides to confront Mr Evans. She finds him cooking breakfast for them. He tells her he doesn’t mind that Auntie Lou’s gone – it will be one less mouth to feed for Frederick when he takes over the business. (Carrie, of course, knows that Frederick has no intention of taking over the business). Mr Evans complains that both his sisters ungratefully abandoned him. He shows Carrie an old photograph – all that Mrs Gotobed left him on her death bed. She left it in her room, in an envelope with Mr Evans’ name on – along with the ring. Carrie realises that Mr Evans hasn’t stolen the Will after all.
Carrie and Nick leave for their new life in Glasgow. As their train turns a corner on the mountain and goes past Druid’s Bottom, Carrie sees that the house is on fire. She screams. By throwing the skull out of the window, Carrie believes, she has fulfilled the curse, and killed her friends.
Thirty years later, Carrie doesn’t believe in curses any more, but she still cries whenever she thinks about Druid’s Bottom, Hepzibah, Mr Johnny and the Evans family. In the local hotel, where they’re staying, Carrie’s eldest boy hears her crying in the night. In the morning, he tells the other children not to disturb her, and takes them on a walk to Druid’s Grove.
They make their way to Druid’s Bottom – where, to their surprise, they find Hepzibah and Mr Johnny still living in the outbuildings of the ruined house. Hepzibah explains that, at the time of the fire, Mr Johnny woke them all up and they all got out safely. Not long afterwards, Mr Evans died and Auntie Lou inherited everything. She asked Mr Johnny and Hepzibah stay on as caretakers. They’ve been there ever since. Eventually, Albert Sandwich bought the house from Auntie Lou’s son, and told them that no-one could turn them out, now. Albert never married. His best friends are Hepzibah and Mr Johnny – he arranged for Mr Johnny to have speech therapy and now he can speak much more clearly than before. Albert’s due to visit at the weekend. Hepzibah makes breakfast for the children and for their mother, whom, she believes, is on her way to Druid’s Bottom. Although the eldest boy tells her Carrie’s not coming, Hepzibah insists they go out into the grove to meet her. The eldest boy feels sorry for Hepzibah – she’s not a witch, just an old woman who has guessed wrong. But the others believe that Hepzibah is right. They run out to meet their mother.