On Judy Bethune’s first day at a new school, she catches a burglar at half five in the morning and rescues two girls from certain death by drowning in the afternoon. A few days later, she rescues two children from a cottage buried under a collapsed cliff. As you do. She follows this up by rescuing the local squire when he’s fallen into his lily pond.
Then the train on which she and her friend are travelling breaks down; they have to get off; they head to the nearest post office to wire the friend’s parents to tell them what’s happened; and, as they’re heading back towards the railway line, they find a secret passage down which is hiding a gang of criminals, including a little old lady whom they met on the train, who is actually a smuggler in disguise. As they try to escape from the tunnel to alert the police, it caves in, and, whilst attempting to dig their way out, they find a load of extremely valuable jewellery which highwaymen stole from one of Judy’s ancestors in 1715. The smugglers tie them up, but they manage to break the cords and get away, complete with the jewellery, which is then sold to enable Judy’s uncle to give up his job and buy their ancestral home. Just the sort of thing that could happen to anyone.
Yes, all right, it sounds absolutely ridiculous – but the story dates back to the 1930s (although, confusingly, my copy, which is from the 1950s, refers to the Queen rather than the King) and even some of Enid Blyton’s books from the 1950s show the boys at the centre of all the derring-do whilst the girls stay somewhere safe. So books like this, showing girls being brave and daring and carrying out heroics, are actually a pretty big deal when put into context. Even if it is so bonkers that it reads like a spoof.
Judy is an orphan, whose guardian is an uncle who teaches classics at a girls’ school somewhere on the English coast … I think it’s meant to be Essex, because the school’s called St Oswyth’s, but it’s not actually specified. The uncle is given a dog’s life by his pupils. Judy lives on the Orkney Islands, with Mrs McKay, an old schoolfriend of her late mother’s. When Mrs McKay has to go abroad due to a family crisis, Judy takes herself off to live with her uncle, and is enrolled at the school. There, she hopes to make lots of friends, as she’s previously lived in a tiny fishing village where there were hardly any girls of her own age. And she wants to start a Guide pack, as she was a very keen Guide in the Orkneys – although, as we’ve already been told that there were hardly any teenage girls there, this doesn’t make a lot of sense – and learnt all her rescuing skills that way.
However, most of the nasty cliquey girls at the school, as well as making poor old Mr Bethune’s life a misery, aren’t keen on either Judy or the idea of Guides. But Judy’s heroics win them over, and a Guide pack is started. And they go on a jolly camp – once the local squire grants them permission to camp on his land, after Judy’s rescued him from a lily pond. Then she and her friend head off by train to spend the holidays with the friend’s parents, and all these adventures happen. OK, you get adventures in most books in this sort of genre, but I think that that was the most far-fetched series of events I’ve ever come across.
Absolutely bonkers, but very readable! It certainly wasn’t boring 🙂 .