Published: Debbie Picture Story Library #102
Artists: Cover – uncertain; story – Terry Aspin
Lucy Lang seems all set to spend her summer holiday at Sheringdale, her boarding school, when a letter arrives from rich Great Aunt Alicia inviting her to spend the holiday at her place, Random House. Great-Aunt is also inviting Lucy’s cousin Cheryl, whose mother (Aunt Jean) is ill in hospital.
When Lucy meets Cheryl at the railway station, Cheryl is rude and cold towards her. Lucy is also surprised to find Cheryl has dark hair instead of blonde, which she thought Cheryl had. Cheryl says she had a change of hair colour, but is soon behaving in other ways that are not so easily explained. She tells Lucy she does not care for her. Even more strangely, Cheryl says she has the perfect way to make sure Lucy stays quiet if she finds out things. And right from the start, Cheryl pulls nasty tricks on Lucy and tells lies about her to completely discredit and blacken Lucy in the eyes of Great-Aunt. One trick is telling Great-Aunt completely false story that Lucy deliberately tried to pull her under when they swim in a lake. Cheryl acts in other odd ways too: she does not recognise her mother’s Christian name; she behaves as if she is a non-swimmer and afraid of water when Aunt Jean said she was a keen swimmer; and she tells Great-Aunt that Lucy has a teacher called Miss Dean, but Lucy has never had a teacher by that name.
Eventually, Lucy tells Cheryl she has had enough of her, the fraud! The girl replies she is not Cheryl at all. Some friends of hers have kidnapped the real Cheryl, and Lucy had better stay quiet or Cheryl will suffer. When Lucy discovers the imposter is interested in the valuables of the house, she concludes that theft is the motive for the kidnapping.
The imposter tells Great-Aunt she is going to send Aunt Jean a get-well card. Guessing the imposter is planning to relay a message to her accomplices, Lucy follows her and sees her slip a message into the collar of a dog, which then goes in response to someone’s signal. Lucy tries to follow the dog but loses it, and the search makes her late back. The imposter then returns in tears and gives Great-Aunt a phony line about Lucy deliberately losing her in the woods. As a punishment, Great-Aunt locks Lucy in her room.
Lucy creeps up the drainpipe to do some investigating. In the attic, she comes across information about the family’s most valuable heirloom, a miniature called “The Green Lady”. Lucy concludes this is what the imposter is after. But as she climbs back down, the imposter takes photographs of her, and tells Lucy that she is going to use it as “evidence” that Lucy stole the heirloom.
However, the imposter’s threat gives Lucy the idea of travelling to Cheryl’s house to find evidence that the girl is an imposter. Facilitated by a newly arrived gift of a bicycle from her father, she does so. Upon arrival, Lucy sees a woman who is ostensibly going in to clean the house. But when Lucy enters the house afterwards, she finds the house is a tip.
Then Lucy finds the real Cheryl bound and gagged. As she unties Cheryl, Cheryl explains that a neighbour volunteered to help out with the housework when her mother took ill. But when the neighbour found out how rich Great-Aunt was, she hatched the scheme of sending her daughter in, posing as Cheryl, to steal the heirloom. Helping the scheme along were big brother Len and his dog Bonzo to carry messages.
The neighbour and Len then corner the girls. The girls put up a fight and scream for help. While they do so, Great-Aunt arrives with the imposter, who tells her relatives that the game is up: Great-Aunt (who got suspicious of her) caught her red-handed and extracted a full confession. The plotters give up the fight and are handed over to the police. Great-Aunt tells Cheryl that her mother has recovered enough to have visitors, and she apologises to Lucy. When Lucy and Cheryl see the miniature, they marvel at how such a tiny thing could have caused so much trouble.
When we see the tricks Cheryl is playing on Lucy, the story seems set up to be another one about a scheming cousin who tries to push out another one. Only the cover saying that a girl’s life is in danger because of a miniature painting suggests it is something bigger than that. And there are odd things about Cheryl that hint she is not just out to cause trouble for Lucy. So it is not too much of a surprise when the imposter reveals herself to Lucy, though it makes a nice change from the spiteful cousin formula. The girl isn’t pulling these tricks because she’s spiteful – it’s all part of a bigger design to commit a crime.
Once it is revealed that a plot to commit a crime is at the centre of the trouble, the story gets really tense and exciting. Lucy knows a crime is planned but doesn’t know just what the criminals are after. She can’t speak out because Great-Aunt has been tricked into thinking badly of her, and the imposter has blackmailed her into staying quiet. She’s all on her own, and she has to figure out the crime while being under a cloud and then being confined to her room. And she is desperately worried about the real Cheryl, who has been kidnapped and being held somewhere, and it sounds like her life is in serious danger. When Lucy sets off on her own, the drama intensifies as we wait anxiously to see what Lucy will find at the other end, including what dangers that might await her. And what will happen when the imposter finds Lucy has gone? She is bound to guess where Lucy is headed and why. It will certainly scare the criminals into stepping up their game or worse, and the imposter making a grab for the miniature points to that.
The criminals certainly are clever, even if their scheme depends too much on neither Great-Aunt nor Lucy not knowing Cheryl by sight. The imposter bears no resemblance to the real Cheryl and isn’t wearing a disguise, so the plotters must have put some interrogation on Cheryl in order to know they would get away with just planting a strange girl at Great-Aunt’s. The imposter does not put much effort into fooling Lucy – she goes for those nasty tricks instead to discredit her while working her way in with Great-Aunt to get close to the valuables. The tricks certainly look clever. Great-Aunt says afterwards that the girl was not that clever and it was gullibility on her part when she should have seen straight through the girl. Still, it is easy to say that in hindsight. And in the end, Great-Aunt shows perceptiveness in how she finally got suspicious of the girl: the girl refuses to go see her mother when news comes that the mother is well enough for visitors. Great-Aunt was expecting Cheryl to be eager to see her mother, so the refusal made her suspicious at last.
The artwork of the popular Terry Aspin (known for Bunty’s “Maisie Mercury” and “School’s Out!”) lends itself well to the story. However, we are a bit puzzled at the bejewelled hand making a grab for the miniature on the cover. Neither the imposter nor her mother would be wearing such expensive ladies’ jewellery, so whose hand is it? It’s probably just artistic licence for dramatic effect, and perhaps the jewels do make it more effective.