This is one of the best Elinor M Brent-Dyer (EBD) stand-alone books I’ve read, although the ending’s completely bonkers! Judy, a Canadian girl sent to an English boarding school by one of those rich and generous godfathers who seem to abound in books, gets off to a bad start when she breaks a vase belonging to one of the in-crowd. When there’s then a spate of theft and vandalism, Judy is suspected. It’s obviously going to turn out that she’s innocent, so who is the real culprit. Another girl, causing trouble? Somebody sleepwalking? A teacher or a maid with an old grudge against the school? No. It turns out that a lady living nearby has got a pet monkey, which has got out of her house at all hours, climbed up a ventilation shaft into the school (on numerous different occasions), got into classrooms and dormitories without being noticed (or, presumably, leaving any “evidence” of its presence), and smashed vases, stolen exam papers, spilt ink and run off with a copy of the Bible. Well, at least it wasn’t predictable!
The book’s set in on the Hertfordshire-Buckinghamshire border, and, unusually for EBD, real place names are used. And, despite the title, it is very much a school story rather than a Guiding story. The book was published in 1928, a year after The Princess of the Chalet School in which there are so many Guiding references that it becomes rather annoying. However, in this book, Guiding, whilst it’s an important part of the story, doesn’t intrude into areas where it’s not relevant … other than the holding of a Guide Court of Honour into the allegations against Judy and the bad feeling that they’re causing, which I didn’t really get because none of the alleged incidents took place during Guide activities. Every single girl at the school seems to be a Guide, though. Did not one person choose not to join?! EBD was clearly very into Guiding at this time in her life, and also into country dancing, which also features. She’d clearly also been reading Elsie J Oxenham’s books, as one of Judy’s friends is called Nanciebel! But, as I said, it’s a school story, not a story about Guides.
Judy is one of five children in a family from Saskatchewan, originally from Ireland. It’s interesting that EBD chose to make her heroine a Canadian, because, for all the talk about the Chalet School being multinational, all the “own book” Chalet School heroines are British. Well, Adrienne was brought up in France, but her parents were British. And, although several characters go to live in Canada, I can only think of Miss Moore, a fairly minor character, who actually comes from there. Anyway! Unfortunately, it’s done in quite a negative way, with Judy getting a lot of nasty remarks about being a wild colonial.
There’s also one of those weird EBD unfinished plots. At half-term, Judy’s brother Denis takes her out for the day. They meet Peter, the younger brother of one of Denis’s friends, and he and Judy get on well. We’re told that Judy’s made one of her firmest friends, but then he’s never mentioned again!
The book finishes with Judy preventing a disaster at a Guide event, in front of the District Commissioner, and being hailed as a heroine by everyone. That’s classic school story stuff – very clichéd, but fair enough. The monkey thing, though … what was EBD thinking of?! Still, despite the daftness of that storyline, it’s a very entertaining book, with believable characters, and it’s certainly one of EBD’s best non-Chalet/La Rochelle stories. The quality of her one-off books varies from very good to dire, and this is definitely at the “very good” end of the scale. Despite the monkey … 🙂 !