Tag Archives: schemers

“My Darling Daughter!”

Plot

In Victorian Times, orphanage superintendents, Henry and Bertha Lucas, tricked the wealthy Mrs Fenton of Langford Square into accepting their niece, Mabel, as her long lost daughter, Letty. Later the Lucas’s found out that Mabel (as Letty), her new maid, Ruth Stevens, was Mrs Fenton’s real daughter. They urged their nice to make Ruth’s life so miserable she would give up her job.

Notes

  • Artist: Carlos Freixas

Appeared

  • “My Darling Daughter!” –  Tracy: #134 (24 April 1982) – #143 (26 June 1982)

Sweet Sue [1973]

Plot

Sue Dawson goes into her Aunt Maud’s confectionery business, which really starts booming after Sue discovers Old Mother Mabel’s Sweetmeats recipe book. Their sweet shop starts undercutting the business of the unpleasant Mr Hale, so he tries to buy the recipes. When he gets a refusal he shows he is capable of getting them by underhand means. But he has reckoned without the ghost of Old Mother Mabel, who returns from beyond the grave to help Sue and her aunt.

Notes

  • Artist: Mike White

Appeared

  • Sweet Sue Debbie: #20 (30 June 1973) – #31 (15 September 1973)

The Silver Blades [1978]

Plot

Nancy Nixon saves her skating rival, Rona Ashton, from drowning. However, when Nancy loses her memory of the rescue, Rona takes advantage by claiming she had rescued Nancy, and gets her banned from the local ice rink. At the frozen pond at Manor House, a girl named Marion promises to coach Nancy for the upcoming Silver Blades championship, but Nancy soon finds there is a real mystery about Marion. Sabotage strikes as well, and Nancy suspects Rona.

Notes

  • Artist: George Martin

Appeared

  • The Silver Blades – Debbie:  #262 (February 18 1978) – #271 (April 22 1978).

Weighty Katie [1978]

Plot

Katie Kenn is a brilliant actress but too plump for the starring role in the school’s festival entry. Lyn Grant and Connie Olson are helping her to reduce, but Gloria Smythe, who wants the same role, is trying to sabotage their efforts by putting temptation in Katie’s way.

Notes

Appeared

  • Weighty Katie – Debbie: #263 (25 February 1978) – #271 (22 April 1978)

Minnie the Meanie [1982]

We’re heading towards that time of year to be extra-generous to people while spending up large on gifts, holidays and other treats. But here’s a cautionary tale from Judy not to take either one to extremes. The consequences can be just as damaging as for the other extreme that we always hear about at Christmas – Scrooge. As the parents in this story found out, not even a pools win is a limitless amount of money for spending.

Published: Judy: #1153 (13 February 1982) to #1166 (15 May 1982)
Reprinted – Judy: #1564 (30 December 1989) to #1577 (31 March 1990)

Episodes: 14

Artist: Unknown artist – “Merry”

Writer: Unknown. Possibly the same writer as “Hard Times for Helen

Plot

Minnie Mill and her family live in a shabby house in Badger Street. Then they win £300,000 on the pools.

Unfortunately Mum and Dad let the whole new flush of money go to their heads and turn into super-spendthrifts. They go crazy on buying new things right, left and centre. They treat the money as if it will never cease to end and begin to lose the meaning of its value. For example, when Dad receives a letter saying there’s a back payment from his old company he scorns it because it seems like chickenfeed to what he has now and can’t be bothered collecting it. Minnie is horrified at his attitude, and she collects it herself because someone around here has to be sensible. They give no thought to investment or long-term planning at all, despite the offer – and warning – from the pools representative.

The worst of it is that Mum is a good-natured woman with a heart of gold, so it is an all-too-easy matter for the money to turn her generosity into over-generosity. Dad is just the same. And Minnie is quick to realise why the residents of Badger Street who previously took little notice of them are suddenly crowding around to be nice and friendly – they are out to take advantage of the money and the parents’ generosity. Dad soon has a well-earned reputation for spending and giving away huge handfuls of money as if it were nothing and people say he’ll give away his last penny.

Minnie is also finding that kids are taking advantage of her as well and pretending to be friendly while finding ways to cheat her out of huge sums of money. Several of these tactics are really despicable. For example, one girl, Gladdie, appears to be genuine, so Minnie trusts her with £600 to pay her mother’s rent with. When she discovers the money has in fact gone into Gladdie’s bank account, she orders her to pay the money to charity – or else. Another girl, Ida, cons Minnie out of money that was supposed to go on replenishing her grandmother’s empty coal cellar. When Minnie finds out, she helps to replenish the cellar secretly. Even a girl who is far richer than Minnie cheats her out of money.

Minnie reckons she has no friends anymore; the ones she had have joined the bullies who shout “Minnie the Meanie!” at her. Only one girl, Rosie, seems to be a friend. But by now Minnie has been so badly burned she just can’t trust anyone.

Because of all this cadging and cheating, Minnie becomes afraid to display her generosity openly and with the gay abandon that the parents do. She resorts to doing it in secret, and where she sees it is going to a genuine cause, such as replenishing the grandmother’s coal supply or getting treatment for a sick dog.

Minnie also starts saving any money she can get her hands on (including Dad’s unwanted back payment) because she realises their money will run out because of their careless spending, and a reserve will be required for when this happens. This and not displaying her generosity openly give the impression that she is turning into a miser, a reputation she believes she must cultivate in order to protect her parents’ money as best she can. The people of Badger Street start to bully and jeer at her, calling her “Minnie the Meanie!” in the street. This causes misunderstandings with her parents, who think she is turning into a miser too. So they don’t listen when she tries to tell them that people are taking advantage of them. They just brush it off because they have lots of money anyway, so what’s the big deal?

At first the parents dismiss warning signs that they are spending too much. Dad laughs and says there’s still plenty left. They buy over a house next door (and make an overinflated offer for it!) so they can add it to their own and develop their residence in accordance with how they are rising up the social scale. Once the redevelopment is complete, Mum throws out the furnishings they only just bought when the money first arrived and buys whole new ones!

Ironically, the parents don’t even approve of Minnie saving money instead of spending it as they do and think it’s just more of her miserliness. This attitude gets really bizarre. For example, when they find out what Minnie did with the back payment, what angers them is that she saved the money instead of spending it! They are far less bothered about her taking the money herself.

Minnie’s saving causes other problems too. For example, she goes on a shopping spree, and then returns the gifts for money, which gets banked. Nasty Ella Stevens finds out and starts blackmailing her. To get Ella off her back, Minnie tells the folks herself. She then teaches Ella a lesson by compelling her to donate £20 to the Youth Club Roof Fund.

One day Dad comes in looking awfully worried. He does not say what is wrong, but Minnie guesses that Dad is paying more heed to warning signals that the money is running out. Indeed, he now becomes more wary about spending money. Strangely, Dad would still much rather have Minnie spending than saving, which she steps up of course. Meanwhile, Mum pays no attention and continues with heedless spending.

Dad getting worried about the spending prompts nasty gossip from the neighbours that the parents are getting as mean as Minnie. Despite Minnie’s protests not to give in to such bullying, Mum tries to stop the gossip by lavishing even more generosity on them.

One of the worst cases of this is when Mum takes the residents of Badger Street on an outing that includes a funfair and an expensive lunch. Dad joins in Minnie’s protests that they are spending far more than necessary on the trip, what with buying snacks for the residents on top of the lunch and giving them all spending money at the fair. Mum just tells him that he’s getting as bad as Minnie and he gives in to keep the peace. Minnie secretly cancels the lunch and temporarily hides Dad’s wallet so he can’t treat the residents elsewhere, hoping their reaction will make the parents see sense. Their reaction is to accuse the parents of pulling cheap tricks despite the other treats they provided, stalk off to find a cuppa without including the Mills, and they show they care more about a free lunch than Dad getting his wallet nicked. Dad is outraged and disgusted at this, while Mum does not open her eyes at all. However, Minnie has new hope that Dad is beginning to see things her way.

Indeed, Dad starts quarrelling with Mum over her overspending while she says he’s just a big meanie like Minnie. Minnie cannot reason with her either. Dad groans when the latest bank statement arrives, and Minnie can guess why.

All too soon the inevitable happens because of Mum’s overspending. But by the time she learns this, it’s too late – her latest spending spree has not only eaten up the last of the money but also run up an additional £29,500 in bills to pay! So they are now in huge debt and there are angry creditors on the doorstep.

Fortunately Minnie managed to save enough to clear the debts, and there is even a bit left over. The parents now understand why Minnie was saving so hard. So the next time the bullies call Minnie a meanie, Mum gives them a real piece of her mind and tells them what Minnie did for them. After this they apologise to Minnie, admit they were just jealous and how horrible they were. They also guess who the secret beneficiary was and now realise how wise Minnie was not to spend the money the way her parents did. Minnie gets her friends back and forgives their conduct. The other Badger Street residents rally around to help out once the word spreads (with a few gloating exceptions).

The parents have to find a new way to make ends meet. At Minnie’s suggestion, they use the two cars they have now and the remaining money to start a taxi business.

Thoughts

This story is so realistic because it draws on so many real-life stories that we hear about. People who go from rags to riches, only to end up in rags again. People who win vast fortunes – only to lose the lot within a few years because they handled the money badly, as the Mill parents did. People who come into a huge amount of money get taken advantage of by cadgers and false friends. Which is precisely the reason why some people who win the lotto prefer to stay quiet about it. Over-generous people losing huge amounts of money because they can’t stop giving – sometimes even when they can’t even afford to give – and cadgers taking advantage of them as well. People who found that huge wins turned sour for them and prove the old adage that money is not everything. All of it is revolving around in this story.

Through Minnie’s eyes, we see an exploration of greed and how it brings out the worst in people, even in people Minnie thought were her friends. Minnie always sees vultures swooping in on what the parents have to give away and cadgers dropping in to take advantage with sob stories and such. She also sees jealousy in people when they’re not grasping, such as nasty gossips. Jealousy is clearly behind all their nastiness towards Minnie as they were whispering she was turning into a miser well before she started on her so-called miserly conduct. At the party to celebrate the win they are gossiping that she is a miser just because she doesn’t look so happy; in fact it’s because she already suspects their cadging.

While the residents of Badger Street say Mrs Mill has a heart of gold, they do not reciprocate it in any way or show any gratitude for the things the Mill parents do for them. They don’t even give the Mill family a cup of flour when they ask for one or offer to help out when Dad loses his wallet. All they do is take, take, take from the Mill family now that they’re in the money, and they don’t give anything in return. They have a nerve calling Minnie a meanie when they are so mean themselves towards the Mill family and don’t show them any generosity. It’s not until the very end that they rediscover their kindness and give something back to the Mill family.

The story also comments on how a huge supply of money can get people to take things for granted. Dad laughs off the back payment because it looks nothing compared to his win. Mum throws out brand-new and expensive furnishings and thinks nothing of the expense of buying new ones. An expensive trolley goes when the vultures swoop on the old furnishings, but Mum dismisses it as no big deal (Dad is more horrified). Mum thinks little of a woman cadging off her because she’s got so much money anyway. The parents would never have thought that way in the days when they lived in shabby accommodation and Mum had to be a careful housekeeper because they did not have much money. Minnie never goes that way at all and is appalled at her parents’ attitude.

This story is no exception to girls’ serials where the protagonist has far more brains, common sense and perception than her parents. While the parents are so blithe to the cadging or shrug it off, Minnie can see right through it. Minnie gets victimised by the cadging too, but at least she rumbles the cadgers and does something about it wherever she can. Also, Minnie never catches the “buying disease” as her parents do and goes crazy on spending, so she is quick to realise where it is all going to lead. She is the only one to take active steps to prepare for that eventuality. Dad eventually heeds the warning signals about the impending doom, but he does not really do anything about it. He does worry and quarrels with his wife about overspending, but he does not actually tell the family what is going on or show them the bank statements. Nor did he put any remaining money into a reserve, as Minnie did.

Minnie is more assertive than many protagonists. So many of them, such as Helen Shaw from “Hard Times for Helen”, just suffer in silence and don’t speak out (until the end). But Minnie is not afraid to speak up. She constantly speaks parents about the cadging, even if they don’t listen. At times she even talks back at the cadgers and bullies.

And of course it’s all thanks to the protagonist that things do not turn out so badly for the parents in the end. If it had not been for Minnie, their stupidity, lack of foresight and heedless spending would have ruined them entirely and they would ended up even worse off than when they were to begin with. As it is, Minnie’s money and brains and Mum’s not-too-bad idea of buying a second car enable them to begin on a new business venture that keeps them from going right back to square one or even worse.

It’s a relief all around when the money goes, because it brought only trouble. But then, much of that was due to the parents handling the money badly and not heeding the advice of the pools representative. If the Mill parents get another chance at the pools, they will no doubt try to use the money more wisely.

The Barn [1995]

Published: Mandy Picture Story Library #226

Artist: Unknown

Writer: Unknown

We continue commemorating the Halloween season with “The Barn”, as it’s got owls and a haunted barn.

Plot

Beth Braden and her parents move to the countryside when Dad gets a job on an estate with Mr Horden. Beth is soon settling into the country life, though Horden rapidly makes it clear he is not the nicest of bosses to work for. Beth soon discovers that Horden has big plans for developing the estate. Moreover, he does not care how he goes about it, or who or what gets in the way.

Beth comes across an old barn and immediately likes it for its character and historical feel. She also finds a love heart carving that says BB loves LD, and is struck at how she shares the same initials as BB. She is dismayed to hear Horden is planning to develop the area for a luxury villa, which would look awful in that area. It would also demolish Beth’s beloved barn, which looks like it has heritage values too. Unfortunately she can’t do anything to put Dad’s job in jeopardy. Later she learns she has BB’s old room in their new cottage when she stumbles across BB’s box hidden under the floorboards. The box contains a pressed flower and a silver owl brooch.

At the village disco Beth meets a boy who has the same initials as LD – Luke Daniels. Beth learns that Luke’s father lost his job on the estate when Horden took it over, and for this reason he gets frigid with her once he hears who her father works for. But they soon come together again when they find an injured barn owl. Luke has been taught a few things in how to nurse the owl. They decide to keep her in the old barn where they can continue to nurse her. There is an owl window in the barn too, which suggests it has been used for owl watching before.

Then Beth and Luke overhear a conversation between Horden and Councillor Roberts. They realise Roberts is helping Horden to get council permission for the development plans as part of an illegal deal.

Beth’s father also tells her that Horden is trying to get permission to pull down an oak tree despite it having a protection order because it houses rare bats. Learning that buildings that house rare creatures could get them protected too, Beth realises that if they can get the barn owl to settle in the barn, they could get it protected. But it’s not just because of the owls; it’s also for BB and LD because Beth senses it means a lot to them. Beth also feels there is a presence in the barn that does not want the barn to go.

The owl begins to settle into the barn, and her mate turns up to feed her. But Horden’s application for council consent to convert the barn is now moving, so they have to come up with a way to stop it, and without Horden knowing Beth is part of it. They hit on the idea of entering a photo of the owls in a junior wildlife photo competition in the newspaper, with a note to say where the owls live, in accordance with the rules. But it will be entered under Luke’s name only to protect Beth.

There is something spooky about what happens when Luke takes the photo of the owl feeding its mate. Beth could swear she heard someone gasp as it was being taken. Luke thinks there was something odd about it too – he is not much good at photography, yet he seemed to know when to take the photo. Beth now really begins to suspect something in the barn wants it to be left intact. It’s no surprise that the photograph wins the competition.

The owls have settled into the barn so well that they have started nesting. A reporter who runs the nature column in the newspaper comes to do an article on the owls and hears about Horden’s application for planning approval. He gets the application blocked, much to Horden’s fury and Luke and Beth’s delight.

However, Beth and Luke soon learn that Horden is not going to take it lying down. He poisons the two nesting owls and all that is left are their new chicks. The kids now raise the chicks themselves, and it is not long before the chicks are learning to fly.

Then BB’s diary turns up from under the floorboards. It dates from 1913 and also contains a record of owl watching, which BB used to conduct with a boyfriend called Len. Their chicks are almost ready to fly by the time Len goes into the army. The silver owl brooch was his parting gift to BB, and she says the owls would help to keep them close. Sadly, Len was KIA. The diary ends with BB reporting hearing strange noises in the barn and thinks it is a tramp. Luke and Beth then find evidence that there was a fire in the barn once. BB does not mention this in her diary, which suggests that the fire was after her time.

All of a sudden, fire strikes again in the barn, courtesy of an arsonist. The smoke nearly claims the lives of Beth and the owls, but Mr Daniels puts the fire out in time. He then explains that BB – full name Beth Baxter – perished in the other fire, which was accidentally started by the tramp. Sure enough, she used to live in the cottage and she was owl watching too.

Horden is jailed for attempted bribery of the council. So he has been forced to sell up. The new owner is a much nicer man who is happy to employ both Mr Braden and Mr Daniels. He also agrees to leave the barn and its owls as they are.

Thoughts

 This is a story you have to love for the wildlife caring, the dash of the supernatural and the hints of romance. Though there is no sign of romance between Beth and Luke and they seem little more than close friends, we will not be surprised if it goes that way at some point. That was the way it went between the two predecessors who parallel with them so much, right down to the initials. Even before we learn the full story and names of BB and LD, we get the impression that their story ended tragically. After all, how else could the haunting have started? We get the feeling the story is going to go in the direction of a haunting once Beth sees the love heart in the barn, even before the supernatural is introduced. The supernatural touches are very deftly and cleverly done. Instead of apparitions, objects moving and spectral warnings, the haunting is kept indistinct and gives little more than subtle nudges here and there to influence events in saving the owls and the barn.

Many could regard Mr Horden as just a ruthless, greedy man who stops at nothing and nobody to get what he wants. Yet he can also be seen as an allegory of the destructive forces of greed and profit at the expense of the environment and driving our fellow species into extinction (as exemplified in bowling over the rare owls and bats), and not giving a damn about it. Councillor Roberts could be regarded as even more distasteful because he’s corrupt. He’s breaking council rules and the law in order to help Horden because he stands to have his share of money out of Horden’s venture. Just how these two are caught out is not revealed, evidently because there were not enough pages to go into those details. Perhaps the arsonist was caught and made a confession.

The artwork does a brilliant job of bringing the story to life. It has a rugged, even heavy feel at times that blends in perfectly with the rural setting and depicting the owls and the barn, especially when the supernatural elements are introduced.

Selfish Susan [1991]

Published: Mandy: #1261 (16 March 1991) – #1269 (11 May 1991) (final issue)

Episodes: 9

Artist: Dudley Wynne

Writer: Unknown

Reprints: None known

Plot

Susan Smith is a selfish girl. Not surprisingly, she is not popular at school. Then Susan contracts an illness that leaves her temporarily deaf. All of a sudden, Susan enjoys a swell in popularity because the girls are sympathetic and make a big fuss over her and give her treats. The school staff also give Susan special privileges and allowances because of her deafness, and her parents spoil her too. Susan loves every minute of it, so when her hearing returns she keeps it a secret so she can continue with the gains she’s made and take advantage of everyone.

Being able to hear in secret also enables Susan to pull tricks to get extras she wants, and she does not care if it hurts someone. For example, she wants a tape recorder (easier to switch off her music quickly with when someone approaches), but not just any tape recorder. She wants the most expensive one in the catalogue. When her parents say they can’t afford it, Susan pulls at their heartstrings and sympathy until they give in and buy it for her. She has no thought whatsoever about how hard financially it must have been on them. In another episode Susan wants to go on a school trip, but all the places are filled. So she gets the girl on the list ahead of her into trouble with a teacher so the girl gets crossed off the list. The poor girl’s in tears, but all Susan cares about is being on the trip after all.

Susan’s thinking resembles that of a spoiled brat. When it looks like she is not going to get her own way she thinks, “Oh, it’s not fair!” She thinks this so much it could be her tagline.

Then new girl Sonia arrives. Sonia has had the same illness, which diverts some of the big fuss over Susan away from her. Susan feels threatened by Sonia, especially where Sonia’s suggestions threaten to cramp her privileges at school, such as being excused note-taking in class and copying the notes off the girls later. However, Sonia suggests something she did when she did when she was deaf: tape-record the lessons and have her parents recite them to her later so she can lip-read from them. Susan, who never got the hang of lip-reading like Sonia and prefers to crib notes off the girls, has the tape-recorder cause such a nuisance in class that Sonia gets into trouble because of it. And so it becomes one of the dirty tricks Susan has been pulling on Sonia to make her unpopular and neutralise the threat she poses.

However, Susan’s lack of ability with lip-reading becomes the beginning of the end for her. During another lesson Sonia realises Susan can’t lip-read at all. Therefore she can’t be reading her classmates’ lips, so how come she understands them? It is then that Sonia begins to suspect the truth. But when she tackles Susan, Susan deals with her by feigning the waterworks. As planned, this turns the other girls against Sonia.

Sonia has her suspicions about Susan, though. While they are working in the school stockroom, Sonia pulls a trick to test her suspicions. Susan manages to wriggle her way out of that trick. But then there is a fire in the school and Sonia realises Susan can hear what’s going on all right. However, proving that Susan can hear is not that easy. Once they pupils evacuate from the school and get sent home because of the fire, Susan really pulls at the girls’ sympathy to forestall any attempt Sonia makes to convince them of her discovery. It works, and Susan is confident that Sonia will now give up.

But Susan is wrong. When the girls go to the park, Sonia makes one more attempt to catch Susan out, with a phoney “wet paint” warning. This time, she succeeds. Susan’s initial reaction is to arrogantly say what fools she’s made of them, how it’s been great fun, and she’s come out the winner. This just fuels the girls’ indignation at how Susan took advantage of them and they stalk off, saying they won’t have anything to do with her again. This has Susan realising she is not such a winner because there are going to be no more of the friendships, special privileges etc that she had enjoyed so much; “Oh, it’s not fair!” And she soon finds she is definitely not the winner because nobody ever trusts her again.

Thoughts

This was one of Mandy’s very last stories. It has the distinction of being the last-ever story Dudley Wynne drew for Mandy before she was cancelled. It is a somewhat cruel irony that this story was running cheek-by-jowl with a reprint of another Dudley Wynne Mandy story, “Angel”, because Angel is everything that the scheming Susan is not. It was also the last in Mandy’s long line of stories where a schemer fakes disability.

Stories where girls fake disability were a common staple in girls’ comics. Usually this was to take advantage of people as Susan did, but there have been other motives such as revenge, being blackmailed, or misguided bids to keep the family together. It was more frequent for them to fake blindness, lameness or paralysis rather than deafness, but feigned deafness has appeared elsewhere too, such as Tracy’s “Sheila the Sham”.

Deafness must have been a more difficult disability to fake, though. Imagine if there was a sudden, unbearable noise right in your ear! Faking deafness also means Susan has to miss out on some things such as not being able to laugh at a hilarious television show and the gossip she used to enjoy so much while she could hear. It also leads to difficulties such as Susan having to play her pop music in secret.

Susan isn’t as evil or despicable as some schemers such as Bettina / Linda from “The Dark Secret of Blind Bettina” aka “The Lying Eyes of Linda Lee”. Still, Susan is not a sympathetic character, even when she is genuinely deaf, and she remains unsympathetic throughout. The parents and schoolmates all sympathise with her, but we don’t when we see how opportunistic Susan is being about the big fuss over her. The deafness has done nothing to humble Susan or help cure her of her selfish nature. Instead, it’s made her even more selfish once she realises the advantages she is gaining from it, which far outweigh the disadvantages. She has no remorse or compunction about how she takes advantage of everyone and is not at all grateful for the extra-nice things they do for her. There are no second thoughts or twinges of guilt when she hurts others just to get what she wants. There is no quitting while she’s ahead, but these schemers in girls’ comics never do. She isn’t at all remorseful either when she is finally caught out. It’s just bitterness, horror, and thinking “Oh, it’s not fair!” The final page does not say whether the ensuing ostracism and distrust once Susan is caught out did change her for the better or just reinforced her “Oh, it’s not fair!” thinking. It’s all left to our imaginations. As it is, Susan remaining totally selfish throughout the story is realistic and believable, if regrettable.

It is fitting that the one to catch Susan out is one who had the same illness, which gave her the insight to see through Susan. Sonia is also a contrast to Susan in how she dealt with her illness. While Susan used it to take advantage of people, Sonia took the opportunity to learn and grow from it, such as learning to lip-read.

Some endings to serials can be rushed and crammed at times. So it is good to see the ending built up over a three-episode story arc instead of one episode. The final episodes of “Selfish Susan” do give the impression that Mandy was finishing off the story quickly because of the merger; the penultimate episode is a six-pager and the final one a four-pager, while Mandy’s usual format was three-page episodes. Still, readers always loved extra story spreads.

Rosetta and the House of Fear

  • Rosetta and the House of Fear – Mandy: #358 (24 November 1973) – #362 (22 December 1973)
  • Artist: Guy Peeters

Plot

Fourteen year old Rosetta was brought up by gypsies and had found work as a maid at the big house, owned by invalid, Mrs Trevelyan. The house was known as ‘The Towers’ and Rosetta felt drawn to it, but also cautious as she also sensed a mystery surrounding the house and it’s occupants. Joe and Emily Briggs and their daughter Molly, were the only other staff that Mrs Trevelyan had and Rosetta suspected they were trying to swindle the woman after hearing them arguing about money.

Rosetta finding a dress laid out for her tries it on, but is distressed when Mrs Trevelyan is taken ill after seeing her in the dress that had belonged to her dead daughter. When she wants to go apologise to her, Mrs Briggs forbids her. Later when she goes to try and talk to her anyway, she sees Emily Briggs coming out of Mrs Trevelyan’s room and locking the door, she assumes this to keep her out. She wonders what she can do about this, as who would believe the word of a gipsy girl. She decides to go to nursery to think, but then wonders how she knew the room was nursery, and inside the nursery more strange occurrences as she seems to know what a doll is named too.

When Rosetta sees Mrs Briggs, slipping something into Mrs Trevelyan’s food, she decides to slip out and ask her gipsy friends for help. She is too late though as the gipsy camp has moved on and Joe Briggs catches her and brings her back to ‘The Towers’. Despite the Briggs keeping a closer eye on Rosetta, she does manage to switch out the sleeping powder that the Briggs are giving Mrs Trevelyan, with a harmless powder. More luck for Rosetta as she meets Mr Price who is buying old paintings from the house. He tells her how the house used to be a happy place but then Miss Selina, her husband and daughter drowned in an accident. The Briggs came to work for the family soon after, but Mr Trevelyan didn’t like them and then he met with a tragic accident too, killed while riding. After hearing this Rosetta wonders are the Briggs capable of murder and if the only thing stopping them killing Mrs Trevelyan too was in case the house was sold by whoever inherited it.

No longer being drugged Mrs Trevelyan is up and about and Joe Briggs is quick to steer  her away from Rosetta. Later Mrs Trevelyan collapses again and Rosetta finds a syringe nearby. The next day, Rosetta is waiting for the injection to wear off so she can talk with Mrs Trevelyan. Molly is hanging around mocking Rosetta’s gipsy heritage, she mentions that she could be a lady if her family could solve a riddle –  “I lie beneath the sun, yet am always in darkness. Time passes over me, yet I never grow old. Where am I?” Rosetta has heard that riddle before and spends the day pondering it. Still her priority is to talk with Mrs Trevelyan so when she sees an opportunity she goes for it, only to be caught by Joe Briggs and thrown in the cellar. In the celler she finds a chest with album in it. She is drawn to a photo of Selina and her family, feeling like she knows them…

The Briggs don’t keep her locked up in the cellar, they plan to work her hard with no food and lock her in her room at night. Rosetta thinks the only way to escape is to solve the riddle. Looking out of her window at night she figures out that the riddle refers to the sundial. She manages to slip away and finds a hidden compartment in the sundial containing Mrs Trevelyan’s will. Unfortunately this was all part of the Briggs plan, to get her to find the will, so they can change it and now having done what they needed from her they plan to get rid of her for good! Luckily her gipsy family arrives in time to stop them. Magda also shows her the pinafore they found her in which has the Trevelyan family symbol on it. Rosetta is Mrs Trevelyan’s granddaughter and now that the Briggs have been exposed, she and her grandmother can start making ‘The Towers’ a happy place to live again.

Thoughts

Here we have some common story elements; scheming characters trying to get inheritance and a girl finding out she is a long lost relative (such as in ‘The Secret of Hardwick Hall’). Considering the potential for playing with and expanding on these elements, the story seems  unusually short at only 5 episodes. For the most part this does help keep the pace quick and still covers all that we need to know. It’s quickly established that the Briggs are shady characters, and becomes apparent that they are keeping Mrs Trevelyan in a state of illness. Meanwhile Rosetta finding she somehow knows things about the house, coupled with the story of the family drowning, it is obvious that she will turn out to be the grandchild. There is a nice touch with the Briggs needing Rosetta to figure out the riddle (although it doesn’t seem they were aware of her connection to the house). It shows their cunning by getting Molly to mention the riddle, then watching Rosetta to see where she goes.

So while the story keeps things interesting and fast moving, the last episode could have been expanded on more, especially as Rosetta escapes the Briggs through a deus ex machina! The gipsies show up to help, not because Rosetta got message to them or some other set up, just Magda’s crystal ball suddenly telling them they needed to return. Then she explains about finding Rosetta half drowned as a child. We don’t get to see Rosetta react to this news or even the reunion with her grandmother as the last 2 panels just cut to a few days later with Rosetta and Mrs Trevelyan waving the gipsies off. While Rosetta showed concern for the old lady throughout the story, because the Briggs tried to keep them apart, we never see a relationship build between them. The ending could have taken the time to establish the connection and end on a more emotional note.

 

Star of the Silver Pool (1983)

Plot

Invalid Alison West’s mother, a top diving coach, has disappeared in a plane crash so Alison has been sent to live with her cruel uncle and aunt and their selfish daughter, Brenda. Alison discovers a mysterious silver pool deep in a forest. There, with the aid of a mysterious voice, she starts learning to dive, and also begins to secretly use Brenda’s personal gym for the same purpose.

Despite her aunt’s decision to lock her in the cellar to prevent her from getting to the diving championships in the nearby town, Alison manages to escape with the help of a mysterious monk. A neighbour drives her to the venue, where she becomes county champion. Outside the building the monk appears again and leads her to a waiting car belonging to Mr Bundock, the family solicitor. When Alison asks where they are going he says he is to take her to the appointed place, which is an airport. The plane takes her to the very place in the Tibetan Himalayas where her mother’s plane had crashed over a year earlier. There she sees her silver pool and the face of her mother. She feels guilty about letting her mother down but her mother disagrees. When Alison turns round she sees her flesh-and-blood mother who has been cared for by the monks since the crash. A monk tells Alison that her mother had only been able to recover because her daughter had been strong too. The monk tells them that the work of the pool is over, and it is now time for them to return to their own world, time to begin their lives again.

Notes

Appeared

  • Star of the Silver Pool – Suzy: #35 (7 May 1983) – #50 (20 August 1983)

 

The Green Lady (1986)

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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.