Tag Archives: Debbie Picture Story Library

Ashamed of Her Mum [1986]

Published: Debbie PSL #100

Reprint: Bunty PSL #418 as “Trapped!”

Artists: Norman Lee (cover); Ron Lumsden (story)

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Thirteen-year-old Meg Ferns and her widowed mother have just moved to Redport. At her new school, Meg is impressed with the looks of Arlene Ainsley and her gang and wants to be friends with them. But when she tries, she finds out they are snobs and they don’t think she’s good enough for them.

Moira Samson does offer to be friends with Meg, but Meg declines as she still wants to get in with the Ainsley gang and they wouldn’t like Moira, whose background is not good enough for them either. When Meg sees Arlene’s glamorous mother she wishes her mother were like that instead of being in a factory job and doing nothing but housework when she comes home.

In town, Meg sees a glamorous model at a shoot and learns her name is Lillian Ferns – the same surname as hers. She thinks it would be so marvellous if Lillian were her mother. The snobs come along, talking about the same model. Before she knows what she is saying, Meg brags to them that the model is her mother. The snobs fall for it – except one, Priscilla. The other snobs are all over Meg now, but Priscilla means to investigate Meg’s claims.

So the double life of deception and its complications begin for Meg. And although she does not know it (yet) she has the added handicap of one girl being on to her from the start and determined to catch her out. Priscilla starts by checking out Lillian’s address (and Meg realises that’s more than she did) and having Meg invite them over to her “mum’s” house. At the house she convinces them that “Mum’s” not in, but she sees Priscilla hanging around to see if she does enter the house and realises Priscilla is suspicious. Seeing a key in the door, Meg takes advantage to enter the house, pretend she’s coming home, and hopefully throw Priscilla off the scent.

At this point Lillian catches Meg. Meg blurts out the whole story. Realising how desperate Meg is to keep those snobs from finding out, Lillian proceeds to take full advantage. She agrees to help with the pretence – on one condition. As Lillian has no housekeeper at the moment, Meg is to become her housekeeping slave, and without one penny in payment. It also means getting up extra early, dashing twelve miles to serve breakfast and back to school, back again at four for chores, back at any time Lillian wants her, do any catering she wants, etc, etc, … otherwise, she will tell those snobs the truth. And there is a verbal earbashing whenever Meg doesn’t do the job right. Er, what was that you said about it being so marvellous if Lillian were your Mum, Meg?

Of course this is soon causing difficulties, such as Meg getting lines for being late for school. But Meg is gaining in confidence because she is getting it so good for the Arlene gang and thinks she is real friends with them now. She throws a scare into Priscilla to hopefully throw her off, but Priscilla only pretends that it worked. Moira also warns Meg to be careful about getting on the wrong side of that snobby lot, but Meg doesn’t listen.

As Lillian has given Meg her house key for the chores, Meg has full access to the house to show it off to the snobs while Lillian is out. They lap up all the luxuries it offers. Priscilla takes advantage to do some snooping. As she suspected, she finds no photographs of Meg in the house or any bedroom that looks like hers. She also helps herself to the food Lillian laid out for the party she is going to hold that night. When Lillian finds out about the food, she is absolutely furious with Meg.

At the party Meg has to do all the waitressing. Ironically, one guest, Mr Tolman, comments that she looks photogenic and should consider modelling herself. Meg also spots Priscilla spying outside and rushes to close the curtains in an awful hurry. The trouble is, Lillian pulls them in the opposite direction, which causes the whole thing to come crashing down. Lillian really blows her top at Meg because she wanted to impress Mr Tolman as he owns the advertising company she wants to work for. Meg is also worried about what Priscilla will say the following day.

Next day at school, Priscilla laughs at Meg for dressing as a waitress and “curtain calls”. Meg manages to pass off the waitressing as a punishment for the food Priscilla scoffed, and kindly stop snooping. This makes Priscilla unpopular with the other snobs and Meg thinks she is now safe from her. Meg’s an even bigger hero than ever with them now, especially with Arlene. It now looks like all that slaving for Lillian is worthwhile. However, Priscilla is not only still suspicious but also upset that Meg has pushed her out and wants revenge.

Meg has another close call when Mum waves to her across the street and the Arlene gang comment on how common she looks. They buy Meg’s cover story that she’s the cleaning lady – except Priscilla, who notices that “the char” bears a strong resemblance to Meg and begins to put two and two together.

The same incident has Meg beginning to feel ashamed of the way she is treating her mother because of this deception. For the same reason she begins to get closer to Moira. But the gang warn Meg they will no longer be friends with her if she continues with “peasants” like Moira. At this, Meg realises how wrong she had been to bother with those snobs at all.

So Meg decides to end her deception, starting with revenge on Lillian. Meg tells Lillian she’s had enough of her and then heaves a bucket of dirty scrubbing water all over her. She hears with great satisfaction that she has ruined Lillian’s new Paris outfit, and then walks out.

Next day at school, Meg finds out she ended her deception at just the right time – the game is up anyway. Priscilla snooped into the school records, found Meg’s real address and her mother’s occupation, and has now informed the others. They are ready to confront her, but Meg stands up to them. Moira sees the commotion and rouses a prefect, who tells the snobs to clear off. Meg explains how it was really her fault to start with, but what makes her really ashamed over it all was how she let her mother down. The prefect tells Meg not to worry about that; she’s learned her lesson. Moira’s offer for friendship is still open, and this time Meg accepts.

Remembering how photogenic Meg looked, Mr Tolman tracks her down and gives her a job in TV adverts. Everyone is pleased for Meg – except for certain snobs who are green with envy.

Thoughts

There have been plenty of stories where protagonists run a double life, pretending their backgrounds are grander than they really are, all because of a bunch of snobs. Inevitably the deception gets complicated and there is no way they can keep it up indefinitely. The question is what will happen when the inevitable does happen. “Pop Starr” from Bunty is one example.

It’s unusual to have one girl suspicious of the deception from the start. Usually in these types of stories someone grows suspicious over time. That or the protagonist just gets caught right out. Perhaps it was the 62-page limit, which did not allow for one of the snobs to become suspicious over time. However, it does make the story even more exciting and different, having someone onto the protagonist from the very start. And Meg is quick to realise Priscilla suspects her, which sets a very exciting premise for keeping one step ahead. Meg soon proves she can do it very aptly, and is very deft at thinking quickly to get out things if those snobs get too close and foiling Priscilla’s attempts to catch her out. Unfortunately for Meg, she cannot get Priscilla off her back entirely, especially when Priscilla gets vengeful.

This deception story has the Cinderella and blackmail themes thrown into the mix as well, which makes it even more striking and interesting than a mere string of lies, close calls and complications as the deception snowballs and the protagonist falls deeper and deeper into a sticky web of deceit. The true real-life personality of the glamorous model Lillian Ferns is there to teach Meg to appreciate what she’s got in her own mother and being rich and famous does not necessarily mean an improvement. The lesson is slow in coming, though. It takes Meg’s treatment of her mother as part of her deception to make the lesson sink in.

There are always prices the protagonist has to pay while carrying out her deception. Meg’s biggest one is becoming an unpaid slave to Lillian Ferns. Lillian Ferns comes from another popular theme in girls’ comics: a famous celebrity who is in fact a nasty piece of work in real life. “Aunt Aggie” (Tammy) and “Everyone’s Perfect Mum” (Mandy) are other examples. Not to mention using blackmail to turn the protagonist into their slave, and there are countless examples of that in girls’ comics. It is obvious that Lillian’s treatment of Meg stems from her being tight-fisted, not to mention being a bully and bad employer. She can well afford a housekeeper instead of using Meg as unpaid help, and pay Meg well for what she’s doing. But she does neither. We bet the reason Lillian doesn’t have a housekeeper is that the last one quit because Lillian was just as horrible to her. It would not be surprising if quite a few housekeepers had quit Lillian’s employment already and she’s now on a number of blacklists at employment agencies. With any luck the real-life Lillian will be found out and it won’t just be her new outfit that gets ruined. Lillian’s treatment of Meg has already ruined her chances with Mr Tolman and even got the job in Lillian’s place. Lillian will be absolutely fuming when she finds out. And the irony is, it’s all her own fault because of the way she treated Meg.

There are a few ironies too, in the way Meg develops through her deception. For example, Meg becomes accepted by the snob gang she finds her confidence growing, but in the wrong way. Her true confidence comes when she decides she’s had enough of Lillian and stands up to her. And heaving that bucket of water in Lillian’s face is absolutely priceless! We don’t often see protagonists in blackmail stories turning around and getting their own back on their blackmailers, so we just love seeing it here. Meg also develops quick wits and thinking on her feet in the way she can pull herself out of those sticky situations she get herself into.

We reckon that if the snobs had not found Meg out she would have told them anyway, and tell them to sod their stuck-up ways too. Which is of course what she should have done in the first place when the Arlene gang turned her down because they were so stuck up. But instead she wants to continue pursuing them despite their snobby rudeness to her. Even then she can see there is a good friend waiting in Moira, but keeps throwing it away because she is wasting time and energy trying to get in good with those snobs.

Silver linings do come out of the clouds in this story. As well as becoming more mature, confident and learning what true friends are made of, Meg also gets a glamorous job and possible future career out of it all. So life will become a lot better for Meg and her mother. And we can just see Lillian’s face when she finds out about Meg’s job.

Jill’s Jumping Jack [1985]

Published: Debbie Picture Story Library #85

Artist: David Matysiak

Plot

Jill Watson has always wanted a pony but her farmer father can’t afford one. Jill’s solution: ride a cow named Jack instead. This draws the scorn of two riders, neighbour Eunice Bowman and her snobby friend Amanda Price. They scare Jack into a gallop, which makes him jump a hedge and Jill to fall off. Realising things have gotten out of hand there, they manage to catch the bolting cow, but Jill is furious with them.

When Dad discovers Jill had an accident with Jack he is adamant that Jack has to go, and he will be sold at market. He won’t listen to Jill’s protests that it wasn’t Jack’s fault.

Jill takes Jack out for one last ride and discovers Eunice and Amanda have set up jumps on Long Meadow. She tells the cheeky things to stop trespassing and clear off her father’s property, but Eunice and Amanda say not to be so sure about that.

It’s not long before Jill finds out what they mean: Mr Bowman has found a document that enables him to challenge the Watsons’ ownership of Long Meadow at the Little Chiddington Point-to-Point Race. This arrangement was set up generations ago when the same thing caused a neighbour dispute with their ancestors. Dad consults his lawyer, but finds he’s stuck with it. It’s legal: if the Watsons lose Long Meadow at the point-to-point, they will go bankrupt and lose their home. So they have to find a horse for the point-to-point. Eunice will represent the Bowmans at the point-to-point.

Meanwhile, Jack escaped when Dad tried to take him to market and he has not been found. He did a lot of jumping over hedges while getting away. So when Jill eventually finds him, it hits her – use Jack as her mount to win the point-to-point. That way, Dad will change his mind and not get rid of Jack. In the meantime, she keeps Jack hidden in an old shed. She also checks out the point-to-point rules, in case there is a rule against non-horses. Colonel Dempster, who is organising the point-to-point, is quite surprised at Jill’s query, but can find no rule saying outright that the mount has to be a horse: “As far as I can see you can enter the family goat if you like!”

Dad, who knows nothing of what Jill is planning with Jack, has borrowed a horse, Scimitar, for the race, but is not fit enough to ride him. He has to take to his bed after trying, but won’t listen to reason. He continues to train, regardless of his condition. In the end it takes doctor’s orders to put an end to that. Scimitar is too big for Jill to use.

Meanwhile, Jill and Jack begin training in earnest, using the jumps Eunice and Amanda have so kindly set up in Long Meadow. When the two bullies tease her about it, Jack really sends them off. But then they discover where she is hiding Jack and hide her saddle. Jill is forced to ride Jack bareback and the bullies are shocked when she gets badly hurt trying to do so. They send for help anonymously and then guilt has them quietly return the saddle.

But Dad’s view of Jack has not changed and he locks him in the cowshed, ready for sale. Jill, now recovered from her fall, resumes her training with Jack regardless. Jill hauls Dad out of bed to show him what she can do with Jack – tackle the most difficult jump of the point-to-point, Foster’s Dike. Once Dad sees Jack clear the jump that so many horses have shied at, he finally relents, and gives Jack and Jill his blessing for entering the point-to-point. So Jill sends in her entry form. The Colonel is a bit surprised at Jill entering a cow, but hey, it isn’t against the rules, remember?

At first Eunice and Amanda are laughing at Jill entering Jack in the point-to-point. But when they see what serious competition Jack and Jill have become, they decide to pull a dirty trick instead. They leave Jack in Benning’s Pond overnight to make him too ill to enter the event. By the time Jill finds him he has indeed become ill from a bug he caught in the pond, and his condition worsens so much they fear for his life.

The vet isn’t able to do much, but Dad recalls Mr Darbury knows a lot of old-fashioned animal remedies. Fortunately, Mr Darbury has experience with cows catching the same bug in that pond and makes up the remedy he used for them. Jack responds to this treatment. Mr Darbury is confident Jack will recover in time for the point-to-point, and he does.

Eunice and Amanda are surprised and dismayed at Jack and Jill turning up at the point-to-point. Jill has realised they put Jack in the pond, and she tells them it’s revenge time by beating them at the event.

At first Amanda and Eunice get the lead on Jill once the race begins. But Jack soon proves himself a better jumper than their mounts and is catching up. Amanda goes down once Jack catches up with her, much to Jill’s satisfaction. But Jill has to catch up with the others and the only way to do so is tackle Foster’s Dike, the jump that the other point-to-point riders have avoided and gone the long way around. They clear the Dike and get ahead of all the other riders except Eunice. On the final lap Jack and Jill are neck and neck with Eunice, but pull ahead and cross the finishing line first. They have saved their home.

Thoughts

The idea of a show-jumping cow is not as absurd as it might sound. There have in fact been real-life cases of riders training cows as show jumpers. Often this is because, like Jill, their parents can’t or won’t let them have horses. The writer was probably inspired by such cases. Nor was this the first girls’ story to feature a show-jumping cow; Bunty, for example, ran a serial about a show-jumping cow, “Broncho Buttercup”, in 1970.

While Broncho Buttercup was played for laughs, Jill’s Jumping Jack has a more serious mission. He is the only hope the Watsons have of saving their farm. In addition, he has to prove his worth in order to avoid being unjustly put down.

Many of the obstacles Jill and Jack face are pretty routine and have been done before, but they still work and keep up the tension well. Jealous rivals pulling dirty tricks when not heaping scorn on our protagonist. Parents out to get rid of our heroine’s beloved pet after getting angry for the wrong reason. Parent/relative being stubborn about winning for the sake of the family and having a hard time accepting that the spirit is strong, but the flesh is weak. The protagonist having to hide the pet while getting him ready for the big event because she can’t train him openly. The animal falling ill (or disappearing) so close to the event and must recover in the nick of time.

If Jack were a horse the story would be even more routine. It’s him being a cow that makes it more interesting and catches the reader’s eye. In fact, the biggest obstacle and the most novel one of all is Jack proving his show-jumping worth as a cow. Even without the other obstacles thrown at them, Jack would still face ridicule as a show-jumper because he’s a cow and everyone would be laughing at him at the point-to-point. We’re not shown any of that, though, probably because the story can only fit so many panels into its page limit. The only scorn we get to see comes from those two snobs.

The title “Jill’s Jumping Jack” is clearly a play on jumping jacks and Jack and Jill. It may be funny punning, but there is one problem with this. If Jack is a cow, cows are female, and therefore Jack should be a female and have a female name and female pronouns. On the other hand, Jack does not appear to have an udder.

The £100,000 Headache [1980]

Published: Debbie Picture Library #33

Artist: Ian Kennedy (cover); J Badesa (story)

Plot

Sandra Painter’s family are not rich; her bicycle, for example, is getting ancient. But she’s got lots of friends and happy with her lot. Then Dad tells her and her brother Billy that they’ve won £100,000 on the pools. Sandra and Billy are all set to shout it to the world when Dad stops them. He’s heard stories on how the lotto curse has ruined lives and is not going to have that happen to him. So they’re going to keep their win a secret. They are not going to get carried away with flash cars, posh houses and such. The new things and renovations they will get will be done discreetly and the story will be that they have had a bit of luck, and they’ll show that having money makes no difference at all.

But as they soon discover, it does make a difference. The neighbours and kids at school can’t help but notice things the renovations being done professionally instead of Mr Painter doing it himself, which they think is strange. And it’s showing the rest of the neighbourhood up too. The kids at school see Sandra’s got flash new clothes and bicycle and we can sense jealousy in the way they comment on it. The worst is Edna Egon, who is constantly making nasty remarks about it and Sandra.

The new dudes are making Sandra a standout in school, but it’s proving awkward and causing embarrassments. For example, the teachers keep picking out Sandra for answering questions or running unwelcome errands because they are now noticing her too much. Sandra has to lock her new bicycle whereas she didn’t need to with the old one because it was not worth stealing. Then she loses the key and has to borrow a hacksaw! She comments that such things would never have happened with her old bicycle. On top of that, it causes her to mess up the errand teach lumbered her with, and when she gets home she messes up her new clothes on the paint being used for the redecorating. Dad comments that she wouldn’t have been so careless in the old days. Sandra finds she is beginning to miss things from the old days and she preferred some of the old things to everything they have bought anew.

Dad is encountering the same problems as Sandra; he says he is not going to darts club because everyone is getting wary of him. Later on in the story Billy says it’s just the same for him: everyone is picking on him. Sandra suggests they try sharing their good fortune, but in ways without hurting people’s pride.

They start with Dad offering his friend George Clark a lift in his new car. Sandra tries treating everyone at the canteen, but they accuse her of trying to buy popularity and will pay for themselves, thank you very much. Then Dad presents two new athletics trophies to the school. But Dad forgot that athletics are Sandra’s forte and it would be conflict of interest if she wins the trophy. Moreover, people remark that the competitors will let Sandra win because her dad donated the trophy. Sandra tries deliberately losing, and let her friend Wendy (George Clark’s daughter) win, but everyone realises what she did. Wendy is furious with Sandra for what she thought was favours, as it was not an honest win for her. Meanwhile, Dad messes things up even more when he generously has the Clarks’ car taken away for repairs at his expense – without consulting them first. The Clarks are furious, not only because they are proud but also because they thought their car had been stolen. After this, Sandra finds none of her friends are speaking to her at the leisure centre.

Dad miscalculates yet again when he sees Sandra standing miserably outside a ballet shop and assumes she wants ballet lessons. So without consulting her, he gets her expensive ballet gear and lessons at the more posh part of town. In fact, Sandra hates ballet, proves completely hopeless at it at her first lesson, and the other ballet students are a snobbish lot who won’t have anything to do with her. On top of that, her new bicycle got stolen while she was having the lesson.

The whole family is finding that everything has been going wrong since they won the money. It’s spilling out into frayed nerves and constant rows, which they never had before they won the money. For example, Dad unfairly accuses Sandra of letting the money go to her head and being careless over the bike theft. He’s a fine one to talk about being careless – he was saying this instead of watching his driving, and his new car hits a gatepost! Sandra has had enough of her classmates making such nasty remarks about her turning into Miss Posh, especially Edna, and lashes out at them. Billy is in a bad temper because everyone is picking on him, and when he’s in a bad mood he does something stupid. In this case it’s flying his new motor plane in the school playing fields out of hours. Sandra knows this could lead to trouble. She realises that giving the motor plane to Billy was another of Dad’s bad moves, which was compounded by Dad being too busy to teach Billy how to use it properly. Sure enough, Billy can’t control the plane properly and it smashes into a neighbour’s greenhouse. The neighbour is furious and the school janitor says they are in big trouble for trespass and damage. Now their parents are even worse, and there will be the headmistress to face next morning.

Next day, Billy runs away because of what happened. Sandra goes in search of him. Her classmates stop making their unkind remarks when they hear Billy’s missing. Even Edna changes her attitude. They promise to help if they can. Sandra decides the places to check are Billy’s favourite haunts. She soon locates him, and when they get home they find his disappearance has helped to patch things up with the people the Painters fell out with.

Dad comes home and says he has lost the money. He made a stupid investment with it – “didn’t take proper advice” – with a dodgy firm, who have now disappeared and being hunted by the police. However, Sandra and Billy cheer and tell Dad that losing the money was the cleverest thing he ever did with it. The Painters are now pretty much back to the way they were and glad for it. Their friends are back and now everyone knows the whole story.

 

Thoughts

When Dad wins the fortune he comes across as a whole lot more sensible than the Mill parents in Judy’s Minnie the Meanie, who lost the whole fortune they won on the pools because they did everything wrong: they broadcast the news of their good fortune to everyone in town, which made them prey to vultures out to take advantage; they did not save, invest or put any of the money where it would generate further income for them; worst of all, they just wouldn’t stop spending the money, despite danger signals that it was running out because of this.

Dad has clearly learned from stories like these and he tries to do everything right. But we know from the title of the story that things are not going to work out that way. Dad’s decisions on what to do with the money prove to be ill-conceived because he is not thinking things through or checking them out properly, and everything he does with the money blows up in his face one way or other. He turns out to be as incapable of handling a vast sum of money as the Mill parents.

Although the Painters are sensible enough not to flaunt the money and throw it around like confetti as the Mill parents do, they soon find out they are mistaken in believing money makes no difference. The overhaul they make to their entire household makes them stand apart too much from their less-wealthy neighbours. Instead of being just one of the gang as they were before, they look too far above themselves for their friends and neighbours to take. And of course people get jealous and resentful. The Painters try to win them over with generosity and sharing their good fortune with them. But rather than people getting greedy and taking advantage, as they do in Minnie the Meanie, it all just goes wrong all the time. In the end, the best thing for the Painters to do with the money was lose it altogether, and give the old adage “money does not buy happiness” a whole new appreciation.

The Search for Kitty’s Cat [1984]

Published: Debbie Picture Story Library #71

Artist: David Matysiak

Writer: Unknown

Plot

After nearly two years of saving, Jane Bright finally buys her new bike. Then her younger sister Kitty is involved in a road accident, which causes her beloved cat Cleo to disappear. When Kitty comes home, she reacts badly to Cleo’s disappearance and begins to pine, which makes her fragile condition worsen. This makes it all the more urgent to find Cleo.

The family can’t find Cleo anywhere in the neighbourhood. Inspired by an ad about a lost pet and reward for its return, Jane puts up her own ads for Cleo. As Jane has no money for the reward and does not want to bother her parents about it, she decides to sacrifice her new bike as the reward. This creates an additional difficulty as Kitty is looking forward to riding the new bike when she recovers. Now it has looks like Cleo or the bike.

The ad brings some people over with cats, but not one is Cleo. Among them are two kids who will try an even sneakier trick to get the bike later on. Door-to-door inquiries turn up nothing. Jane finds the police search only for lost dogs, not cats, so no luck at the police station.

The family see a cat food ad with a cat that looks like Cleo, and Kitty says they must have stolen her to make the ad. Inquiries reveal the ad was made three months previously (er, doesn’t that rule out Cleo as the cat?). When Jane checks out the ad agency they scare her off with their snake, a handy method they use to get rid of unwanted guests.

They try a newspaper ad. A reporter turns it into a human issue story of Jane having saved so hard for her new bike and then willing to give it up to find Cleo. It goes out in the newspaper and on the radio to tug at people’s heartstrings.

But while searching for Cleo, Jane’s bike gets stolen. Now she has no reward at all. While the bike is missing, the two aforementioned kids try to con Jane out of the bike by giving her a cat they’ve painted up to look like Cleo. Too bad for them they forgot to let the paint dry first!

Then Jane spots a man she spoke to just before her bike was stolen. She follows him to a scrap yard and finds him with a bike that looks like hers, and he’s about to respray it. Jane calls the police, and they find not only the stolen bike but also other stolen items, including stolen pedigree cats (no Cleo, though). The man is taken into custody and Jane gets her bike back.

When Jane gets home, she discovers Cleo had been under her nose – well, in the airing cupboard – the whole time. Cleo had just gone off to have kittens. Kitty is thrilled and is now on the mend.

Thoughts

This is a solid story that a lot of us who have had to look for lost pets (including me) can relate to. The sense of urgency – that a girl’s life depends on finding the pet – has appeared elsewhere in girls’ comics and has created popular animal stories. It’s also got some dashes of humour, such as the ad agent with the snake and Jane landing in the garden pond while calling Cleo. It also has a pathos that tugs at our heart strings as we read that Jane had slogged and saved for nearly two years to buy her bicycle, yet she’s prepared to give it up because she has nothing else to reward the person who finds Cleo with. We sincerely hope that Jane won’t have to give up the bike and Cleo will just walk in the door or something.

Jane’s self-sacrifice is an emotional contrast to the unscrupulous people who turn up in the story, namely the cheating kids and the thief. Although we see many people moved by the radio broadcast nobody comes forward with real help. Eventually we learn that is because Cleo is still at home, keeping herself in a quiet place while she has her kittens. So it all turns out happily, with the added bonus of joy of the kittens.

It is a bit unbelievable that nobody realised Cleo was pregnant, although she must have been about ready to give birth when she disappeared. It might have been better plotting to just have the cat come back.

The Green Lady (1986)

the-green-lady-cover

 

Published: Debbie Picture Story Library #102

Artists: Cover – uncertain; story – Terry Aspin

Plot

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.

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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.

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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.

Thoughts

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.

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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.