Tag Archives: Double life

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.

The Double Life of Debbie

Plot

Debbie Hart was in trouble for not attending school so she was being supervised by Mrs Bonnington, known as Bonny, a voluntary social worker. But Bonny’s home and lifestyle were very different to Debbie’s, which led to problems, this was not helped by Bonny’s daughter, Liz,  who was out to get rid of Debbie.

Notes

Appeared

  • The Double Life of Debbie – Tracy: #72 (14 February 1981) – #83 (2 May 1981)

The Secret Skater of St. Kit’s [1987]

 

Christmas and the winter season are coming. So here is a Mandy picture story library with a winter setting and plenty of snow, skating, toboggans, skiing and snowmen (but regrettably, no Christmas).

Published: Mandy Picture Story Library #116

Artist: cover – unknown; story – Ana Rodriguez

Writer: Unknown

Plot

A heavy spell of snow has brought out the winter sports at St Catherine’s (boarding) School for Girls (St Kit’s for short) of Harbury. Among the winter sports players is Kerry Richards, a promising skater whose mother was an amateur champion. Kerry’s talent is spotted and she is advised to enter the skating contest at the Winter Garden in town.

Unfortunately, the headmistress puts the town out of bounds to all junior school after the unpleasant Hilda Stark and her gang go there without permission, which is the latest in a series of abusing town privileges. There will be no exceptions, she says, so it looks like Kerry is out of the contest. However, Kerry’s friend Maureen Tait comes up with the idea of Kerry donning a disguise and using a false name, Sonia Dalton, in order to enter the contest in secret. Under the guise of Sonia Dalton, Kerry is soon soaring high in the contest heats. But if she is discovered she will be expelled for breaking bounds.

Moreover, they have to constantly find dodges to get past Hilda as much as the school authorities in order to get to the contest and back. From the beginning Hilda suspects something is going on here, and as she is jealous of Kerry she is determined to get to the bottom of it. There are some hijinks as they strive to stay one head of her, such as Kerry skiing while disguised as a snowman. However, Hilda is too sharp and soon suspects a link between Kerry and Sonia. This mysterious skater, Sonia Dalton is also raising intrigue and suspicion from others, including the press. They comment on how secretive she seems to be, which draws even more attention to Kerry that jeopardises her secret.

By the time Kerry has made it to the semi-final, Hilda has completely discovered her secret. But she has to prove it. She lets Kerry and Maureen think she has given up the ghost while she tries to decide what to do next. On the day of the semi-final, Hilda sees Kerry sneak off to the contest. While Kerry skates so brilliantly she makes it to the finals, Hilda goes to the headmistress about it. The headmistress is unavailable, so she reports the matter to a prefect, Deacon.

Deacon sets off on skis to check the matter out, but when she tries to catch up with Kerry she has a bad accident. Kerry cannot leave her, and the school has brought out search parties for them as they have both been reported missing. Eventually an injured Deacon is brought in on a toboggan with Kerry’s help.

Kerry and Maureen have now been found out, of course. They are on tenterhooks while the school decides what to do with them. Complicating things is that the press have gotten hold of Kerry’s secret as well, and it’s made a news sensation. Fortunately the school governors take it all in good part and are quite pleased with the publicity for the school too. Going back for Deacon also counts in Kerry’s favour. So in the end they let Kerry and Maureen off the hook. But the headmistress says that Kerry better win the contest or she might reconsider.

Kerry is still wearing the disguise as she skates in the finals. Nobody says anything about her entering under false pretences (maybe they decided to overlook it considering the circumstances?). The whole school is allowed to come and cheer her on. Even Hilda applauds when Kerry wins the contest, as she has admitted defeat.

Thoughts

The enchanting winter setting and the beautiful skating rendered by Ana Rodriguez add to the charm of the picture library. The story itself follows the common format of a girl trying to compete in a contest against obstacles of some sort (cruel guardians, jealous rivals etc). In this case it is being forced to break bounds after the school issues the harsh ban on town visits, and she risks expulsion if discovered. Added to that, Kerry is up against the jealous Hilda who is responsible for that ban in the first place and is now out to destroy her with it. We are not sure if Kerry is going to get away with it, especially as she does not even realise how close Hilda is on her the whole time. Hilda is way too clever to be thrown off the scent and Kerry and Maureen’s efforts to fool her only serve to reinforce her suspicions. Hilda’s motive for destroying Kerry is that she is simply jealous of her talent. Hilda does not have any of her own and therefore can hardly a serious skating rival, which must add to her jealousy. It is to Hilda’s credit, though, that she accepts defeat gracefully: “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!”

In the end it comes down to the old format of extenuating circumstances (rescuing the prefect). Plus the school would not want egg on their faces once the press get hold of the story. After all, it would look very bad for them if they did expel Kerry. We really laud the school governors for taking it in good part and looking on it all as pluck and good publicity for the school. One gets the suspicion that the governors are taking it better than the headmistress is.

Ironically, the double life and the publicity generated once it is discovered would really catapult Kerry’s career as a skater far more than if she had simply competed in the contest and won. There is nothing like a huge sensation to jump-start your career.

 

The Secret Life of Hateful Hattie [1974]

  • The Secret Life of Hateful Hattie – Mandy:  #378 (13 April 1974) – #395 (10 Aug. 1974)
  • Reprinted – Mandy: #681(2 February 1980)  – #699 (7 June 1980) [First 2 episodes, title is Hateful Hattie!]
  • Reprinted as Hateful Hattie! – Mandy:  #1060 (09 May 1987) – #1077 (05 Sep. 1987)
  • Other Appearances:
    • The Secret Life of Hateful Hattie – Mandy Annual 1976

Plot

In 1905, the girls of Birch House Orphanage are treated cruelly, except for Hattie Taylor, who gets privileges by toadying up to the staff. This particularly maddens Tilly Tucker, an outspoken girl, who leads the chant of “Hateful Hattie” at the dinner table. When they are  overheard by Matron’s second in command, Miss Winters, Tilly takes the full blame and also hits Hattie as she knows she is to be punished anyway and wants to make it worthwhile. Tilly is beaten and locked in the cellar with no food, but a hooded figure leaves her some food and ointment for her bruises. Telling the other girls about this, she nicknames her helper as the “Angel Ghost”. Nobody would suspect that their secret helper is actually Hattie. The only reason Hattie is the staff’s pet is so she can help the other girls, while the staff think she is on their side. Unfortunately because the girls don’t know this, they give “Hateful Hattie” a hard time both by name calling and physical attacks. Hattie won’t tell on them as she doesn’t want to get them in trouble, but of course they think its because she is scared of them.

Life can be difficult for Hattie, she dislikes having to pretend to be nice to the staff and endure the girls’ hateful looks, so she is glad when she is sent on an errand. She goes to the Willoughbys home, who want to arrange to visit Birch House in the hopes of finding an under-nursery maid. Away from Birch House, Hattie can be her genuine pleasant self and after meeting her, the cook recommends Hattie for the job. Having seen the house, Hattie is excited by the prospect as everyone seems happy and well looked after. But being selfless she feels she is needed at Birch House more and turns the job down. She looks for a good candidate herself, knowing the Willoughbys want a cheery girl, she considers Polly at first. She would fit in at Willoughbys but Hattie also realises she has strong spirit and has the ability to last at Birch House. Meanwhile, Florence is more sensitive so Hattie concludes she needs job more and sets out to make sure she gets it. She manage to get money from the matron, and uses it to buy Florence a brooch, then Florence looks naturally happy when Mrs Willoughby comes and succeeds in getting the job.

Hattie continues to help the girls in her role as “Angel Ghost” and also manipulating things in their favour as “Hateful Hattie”. She gets a sick girl Lizzie sent to cellar by claiming she beat her even though it was Tilly. The cellar isn’t much warmer than their dormitory and by providing her with blankets and food, it gives her time to rest and recover from her cough. She helps a girl Mary to get glasses by appealing to the Matron’s greed, telling her Mary could sew good embroidery that they could sell on. She gets Grace new boots that fit, by selling her own. Things don’t always work out, when she tries to manipulate the Matron to not send Alice to the “nightmare house” for spilling coal, she gets a slap herself. She later discovers Matron  she has toothache and is restless, which explained her particular moodiness but it means Hattie is unable to slip in and get the keys from her room. There is nothing she can do to help Alice the night she is locked in the cramped, dark, dog kennel and Alice comes back nearly catatonic. None of the Angel Ghost’s gift seem to help bring her out of this state, until she gets the idea to get her a mouse as a pet she can hide. More problems arise, when a new young girl, Victoria, arrives, Hattie not being able to stand her tears, comforts her but this means Victoria thinks she is friend, Hattie knows this will make her an enemy of others so she needs to turn Victoria against her. This proves difficult as Victoria is loyal to Hattie. The Angel Ghost pays Victoria a visit, saying it was her that made Hattie kind to her, then later Hattie herself  tells Victoria she is stupid and a liar for making up stories about the Angel Ghost, this has the desired effect of ending Victoria’s friendship.

While Birch House is a miserable place, there is something the girls can look forward to as every summer they go hop picking in Kent. Of course Matron and Miss Winters still try to take the joy out of the trip. Firstly, Matron decides Lucy, a new girl is too small and weak to come, luckily Hattie persuades her that she could earn money by gaining the sympathies of other pickers. When they arrive in Kent, Farmer Frost, is as bad as the Birch staff. He gives them huts away from everyone else, therefore any beating won’t be heard. They are also to be locked in at night, the window is stiff and rusted and Hattie is put in charge to make sure no-one tries to open it. By purposely burning herself on stove, she gets some oil and figures Tilly will be smart enough to sneak it from her and use it on the window, so they are able to sneak out and have fun. She also makes sure they get to the summer fair, which works out better than she expected with the arrival of Lady Gilchrist (who is friends with a patron of the orphanage), who treats them to rides at the fair.

Meanwhile, Lucy has gotten the attention of another picker, Mrs Brown, who wants to give her a home. Matron refuses as she wants to keep making money off her. Hattie’s facade drops as can’t hide her hate for Matron’s greed and denying Lucy a loving home. She luckily manages to pass it off as pins and needles, as she knows, if she is to help Lucy, she must keep her temper. It’s a difficult case and she gets a scolding when she tries to push things too quickly. Slipping a note to  Lady Gilchrist’s granddaughter, Caroline inviting her to the dance on the last day of hop picking, she hopes she would be able to help. Matron is not pleased to hear she is coming to dance as she will have to let girls go too, otherwise it might raise questions. By good fortune, Lady Gilchrist comes with Caroline and after hearing the Browns story, she talks to Matron about letting them adopt Lucy, a request she can hardly refuse if she wants to stay on the right side of the gentry.

Returning to Birch House, Matron continues to show how heartless she is, in a particular cruel punishment, after slipping on some polish, that Amy, had left out while scrubbing the floor, she burns the last mementos Amy has of her family. Nothing the Angel Ghost does can get her back to her cheery herself, she even tries to rouse her spirits, as Hateful Hattie by making her angry, but that fails too. She has one other idea, as Angel Ghost she asks Alice, to give Amy her mouse to cheer her up. This idea works as planned, Amy doesn’t want to take Alice’s mouse but says she will borrow him until she feels better. By pretending to be cheerful for Amy, she will get into the habit and also start to treat Alice as a little sister, bringing comfort to them both.

A problem arises when Hateful Hattie gets some competition with the arrival of Creeping Clara. But while Hattie’s behaviour is just an act, Clara really is sly and enjoys telling tales, getting the others  punished. She also tries to get Hattie in trouble as she wants to usurp her place as staff pet. As luck would have it a visit by a patron, Lady Tarrington, provides a solution. She is a tough employer and is looking for a scullery maid, Hattie tricks Clara into fawning over her, so she is taken on for the job. Hattie gets a small reprise from Birch House, when her and Maggie are taken on as extra help for two weeks at the Fitzpatrick house. While she still has to be Hateful Hattie around Maggie, with the help of a lost kitten, she helps Maggie get a permanent job there. When she returns she helps out two sisters Ruby and Ellen, by getting Ruby to be a good influence on Ellen, so she has to control her temper.

With such poor living conditions, it’s no surprise when a number of girls develop colds. Vicky gets it the worse and she struggles to get out of bed in the morning, Hattie knows she won’t be able to slip out for medicine until that night. As punishment for dropping her bowl at breakfast, Vicky is made clear the drive of snow and sent to the cellar at night. Hattie manages to get her hot drink while she’s outside and later gets her medicine but her sickness is getting worse. When Matron and Miss Winters go to check on her, in her fever Vicky talks of the Angel Ghost. Not knowing that the Matron is ready to catch the Angel Ghost, Hattie arrives that evening to check on Vicky. The Matron and Miss Winters are shocked to find the Angel Ghost is Hattie, and not Tilly like they suspected. This makes them even more mad, for she has made fools of them. They give her a severe beating and plan to return to beat her, until her spirit is broken, then they will farm her out to hard task mistress. When Miss Winters comes back to give Hattie her second beating of the night, Hattie is ready and  she slips out with Vicky. Getting to police station, she tells her story before collapsing. They are taken to hospital and a week later a policeman along with the girls comes to visit.  Matron and Miss Winters have been arrested and Birch House has new staff. Hattie can now return to a happy house with the friendships of the girls, no longer will she need to be “Hateful Hattie”.

Thoughts

Thanks to Derek for clarification on the title, the 1987 reprint was just called Hateful Hattie!. Oddly enough the 1980 reprint was also called Hateful Hattie! but only for the first two episodes, perhaps it was used to make the reveal of Hattie’s true intentions more surprising.

There are plenty of stories set around Victorian times, where the heroine would don a  disguise to help poor children,  such as The Seeker, Lady Sarah’s Secret, The Hooded Angel and Shadow of the Backstreets, but they were often in a position of privilege unlike Hattie who is in the same position as those she helps. There has also been protagonists that have acted like they are on the side of the antagonists in order to be in a better position to defeat them, which earns them animosity of those they are secretly helping, such as Callous Cassie and Detestable Della. But again Hattie has it worst, because not only does she get verbal abuse, the girls also physically abuse her, something that she has to hide from the staff as she doesn’t want them to get into trouble. Of course the girls aren’t to know that she is actually an ally, and when we meet “Creeping Clara” we see someone who is actually deserving of such treatment.

A good contrast to Hattie’s methods is Tilly. She is the leader and open protector of the girls but her upfront manner doesn’t help as it only riles the staff more. While her heart is in the right place, usually speaking out just earns herself a beating as well as the other girl.  Hattie tries to counteract this at times, like knowing when Tilly offers to do Lizzie’s work, they would get caught, Hattie plays her hateful self saying she will tell on them unless the both do their share. Hattie does also use Tilly to her advantage, knowing she is smart, she sets thing up so that Tilly can help others. For example, when she gets the oil for the window and when she pretends she doesn’t want food, she knows Tilly will share it out. When it is revealed Hattie is Angel Ghost, Tilly is the first to say they’ll be friends now and as two warmhearted girls, I suspect they become close friends.

While none of the staff at Birch House are very pleasant, it is Matron and Miss Winters that are the worst. As antagonists, they are vile with no redeeming qualities. The Matron is greedy, wanting to make sure she can get as much from the orphans as she can, she has no concern for their well being, she doesn’t care if Vicky dies and has shown even with her “favourite” Hattie, she can hit her too, just because she is in a bad mood. Miss Winters follows suit and has no objection to dishing out punishments. The punishments such as beatings, locking girls in cellar without food is bad enough, but they go even further than that. The small cramped dog kennel,  nicknamed the “nightmare house” is even worse than the cellar, and traumatizing for the girls as evidenced by how Alice is, when she returns from a night in it. Anyone who shows any bit of cheerfulness is quickly beaten down and they show how heartless and maliciousness they can be, by burning Amy’s last photos of her family. Above all they do not like to be outsmarted or made fun of and if Hattie had not escaped, she would have suffered a terrible fate. After their discovery of Hatty, the plan is to send her to a hard taskmaster, but I’m unsure if Hattie would have made it that far, as Miss Winters returned to give her a second  beating of the night, who knows if she would have survived that. It is a relief that Hattie does escape and Matron and Miss Winters get what they deserve.

 

Lady Sarah’s Secret [1979]

    • Lady Sarah’s Secret – Emma:  #61 (21 April 1979) – #69 (16 June 1979)
    • Reprinted – Judy: #1500 (8 October 1988) – #1508 (10 December 1988)
    • Reprinted (as Judy classic) – M&J: #308 (4th May 1997) – #315 (May 24 1997) [last issue has 2 installments]
    • Artist: Hugo D’Adderio

Plot

In 1840, Lady Sarah Cragston is out riding when she nearly runs down a girl. She is surprised to find out the girl has runaway from the local orphanage which her father is governor of. Sarah doesn’t listen to the girl’s claims of mistreatment, believing her to be an ungrateful wretch and takes her back to the orphanage. She does however become suspicious when the Bonneys that run the place, are keen to get rid of her. She insists on looking around and is appalled by the conditions. Later she tries to tell her father about what she saw and at first she thinks he shares her outrage but he is only upset that she went to orphanage and forbids her from going there again. Later while talking to a maid, Sarah learns that the orphanage used to be a mansion called Fell Grange, until the daughter of the house, Elizabeth Sturgesse, was tragically killed while out riding. There is a legend that Elizabeth’s spirit appeared  to help those in need  and she became known as “The Dark Lady of Haunted Hill”. Lady Sarah decides it is time for the Dark Lady to reappear and  finds old riding gear and dark wig to become the part.

Lady Sarah’s first act is to free the runaway she met earlier, who had since been beaten and locked in the cellar. She first runs into the Bonneys, Mr Bonney is terrified of the ghost but Mrs bonny shows less fear and has to be dragged inside by her husband. The girl, Ellen Rumble, is very grateful and even more so when Sarah arranges it so she can hire her as personal servant.  Ellen makes a good ally as she can tell Sarah about the inner workings of the orphanage. She helps Sarah when she does some investigative work to see where Mrs bonny gets the food for the orphanage, she obviously buys the good stuff for herself and the orphans get the cheap, poor quality stuff. Sarah buys supplies for the orphans and sets out a feast for them. Then in the guise of the Dark Lady, she warns the Bonneys to start feeding them properly.

At this point Mrs Bonney’s original confidence of ghosts not being able to harm them, seems to be waning. The Bonneys even foolishly put bars on the cellar door to keep the ghost off. Of course while that would be no use against a ghost, it does pose a problem for Sarah, as she now needs to find another way to access the orphanage. Ellen does know of one  successful runaway who said she had aunt in Crampton. Sarah manages to track her down and find out about a secret passage. Then using a potion that was given to her father by a sea captain, she is able to temporarily paralyze the Bonneys in order to stop them abusing cripples. These things further convince the Bonneys that she is a supernatural being with powers.

Next Sarah finds out that the money her father provides for a doctor, actually goes to a charlatan doctor who gives the sick children coloured water, so him and the Bonneys make a tidy profit by not giving proper medicine. Sarah and Ellen go searching for a legitimate doctor to treat a very sick girl. They find a doctor name Sturgesse and this seems like a good omen so Sarah hires him. The Bonneys are surprised by Dr. Sturgesse’s visit and by his name. Adding to their stress further is when asked who sent him, the doctor points to Sarah who is watching close by dressed as the Dark Lady.

When a letter arrives from the Bonneys to her father, saying the price of coal has increased, Sarah is suspicious of a scam. She is proved right when visiting the orphanage she hears the Bonneys plan to forge bills. While returning home, her father sees her near the orphanage and is very angry, he doesn’t want her anywhere near the orphans in case she catches something. While she says she will stay away, that night she is back again as the Dark Lady to see if she can find out what the Bonneys are doing with the money they keep. She finds Mr Bonny hosting a card game and she takes a risk haunting them. While she does startle the men, one of them knocks over a lamp and starts a fire. While they are putting out the fire, Sarah escapes, but one on of the men, Harry, hears her coughing and therefore believes there is no ghost. Harry visits Lord Cragston the next day to talk about the occurrences at the orphanage. Sarah whose throat is still irritated by the smoke can’t stop herself coughing, which leads Harry to accuse her of being the ghost. Lord Cragston doesn’t believe such things and kicks him out but he is concerned by Sarah’s coughing and sends her to an aunt to recover. This is a further worry for Sarah as this will mean the Bonneys will not believe in the ghost now, but Ellen keeps up the legend as she sneaks out and plays the Dark Lady in her stead.

While out riding Sarah sees the parish clerk beating on a young girl while bringing her to orphanage, that night worried about this outspoken new girl Sarah sneaks into the orphanage to check on her, but Ellen has a sense of foreboding. That night the Bonneys have visitors who are concerned about the “hauntings” – the parish clerk and Mr Calver, the justice of peace. Ellen goes to warn Sarah about the arrivals, but the secret panel to the passage closes and they are forced to hide. While they do manage to slip out, Sarah accidentally leaves a riding glove behind. The Justice of Peace sees the girls riding off in the distance, he suspects there is no ghost and wants to investigate the orphanage further. Meanwhile Mr Bonney has found the riding glove and also now knows there is no ghost and that it is Lady Sarah that has been behind everything. He goes to Lord Cragston with this news, who is troubled by this, but still doesn’t believe Sarah that anything wrong with the Bonneys. He is forced to listen with the sudden arrival of Mr Calver with Mr Holmes, a government inspector of children’s work conditions. They want Sarah to testify against the Bonneys. At the inquiry Ellen also testifies but the other orphans are too scared to. One exception is Crissy, the outspoken girl, who shows the beatings on her back. Lord Cragston, apologizes for being unaware of what Bonneys were doing and promises to get suitable replacements. A few weeks later with the kindly Jacksons in charge, Sarah can put away her Dark Lady costume.

Thoughts

When we first meet Lady Sarah she is not too concerned for the orphans, going so far as to bring back the runaway to orphanage by tying a rope around her waist and calling her an “ungrateful little wretch”. It is likely that this initial attitude is influenced by her father.  He doesn’t seem to have a high opinion of the orphans seeing them as brats, of little use and potentially infectious rather than what they actually are – children. We are not told how Sarah’s mother died but it may be a factor in Lord Cragston’s fear for his daughter’s safety and that she may catch some illness from being near the orphans. He doesn’t seem to be intentionally cruel, as he does believe the orphans are being provided for and that the “good” Bonneys are training the brats to be useful to society. But his claims of ignorance of the Bonneys wrong doings, isn’t good enough when his own daughter has told him of their cruelty and he doesn’t bother to investigate further.

Like I said Sarah seems to have a similar attitude to her father, until she sees the actual living conditions of the orphans and is horrified. It is fitting then, that the first person she helps is that same runaway she brought back. In quite a contrast to their first meeting, after her rescue of Ellen, Sarah attends to her injuries, no longer feeling above those poorer than her. In return for this kindness Ellen becomes a loyal companion to Sarah. In other stories such as “The Seeker” or “The Secret Life of Hateful Hattie”, the protagonists pretend to be mean spirited in real life to keep their secret, so it makes a difference here that Sarah speaks up for the orphans even when she’s not in costume and also that she has an ally to confide in.

Using the legend of the ghost, is also an interesting angle. Through her father’s local history books, Sarah learns about deeds that  the “Dark Lady” supposedly did, which she uses to help her own cause. It would seems most people are familiar with the legend, but whether those events were real, exaggerated or perhaps someone playing at the ghost, like Sarah did, we never know for sure. It could be interesting if different people use the guise of the Dark Lady whenever she is needed. While many people fear her, Mrs Bonney initially shows her toughness, not fearing the ghost, it certainly seems to be her that’s in charge, as Mr Bonney fears his wife’s wrath as well as the ghost.

The art is gorgeous and very detailed, I particularly like the details in the clothes. Also the use of the shadows and perspective when Sarah is doing her haunting, makes her a very intimidating presence. While a lot of the panels are standard size, when given more room with wider panel D’Adderio takes advantage doing some lovely work as demonstrated in the opening panel.  It is another strong story from the short lived Emma comic and with the classic artwork and captivating story, it’s no surprise that this was reprinted in Judy and as a Judy classic in M&J.

The Double Life of Trudy Tomkins

Plot

The Radcliffe Mill Brass Band had a secret benefactor—Trudy Tomkins. their cornet player and grand-daughter of the conductor, Will Bailey. Trudy earned the money by singing, under the name of Antonia Doe,with the Spud Bashers, a local pop group. She had had to miss a band practice in order to record the group’s first disc…

double life trudy tomkins

Notes

Appeared

  • The Double Life of Trudy Tomkins – Debbie: #175 (19 June 1976) – (?)

Donna’s Double

Plot

Sophie Benson and Donna West are best friends. When Donna moves away, she loses touch with Sophie with no explanation. Then Sophie and her family move. At her new school, Sophie encounters Wendy Smith, whom she soon realises is really Donna. But Donna is acting very strangely – she is behaving in a timid, frightened manner and does not acknowledge Sophie. When Sophie tackles Donna, she admits she is Donna but begs Sophie to keep calling her Wendy. Sophie agrees, but is determined to find out what is going on.

donna'sdouble

Notes

  • Artist: Eduardo Feito

Appeared

  • Donna’s Double –  Bunty: #2168  (31 July 1999) – #2175 (18 September 1999)