Saturday, 13 October 2012

Penny's Masquerade at the Boys' School: Chapter III

Penny might be a plucky gal but she is really up to her chestnut curls in it this time. Caught in the act of ransacking a boy’s study and curtly exposed as a girl masquerading as a schoolboy, she must explain herself to the entire Fifth Form... whatever will become of her?


“CORKS! A female! A girl – a real one!”

There came exclamations and chuckles from all sides as Penny stood there, feeling near to tears now.

She had hoped so much that she would clear Jimmy’s name, but now she had failed – hopelessly. And what would be the consequences for herself when uncle learnt of this masquerade at the Boys’ School?

Would it mean the end of her stay in Greenvale; the end of all her hopes at the agency with Uncle Mark?

And Jimmy – what would he think?

She became aware then that Stringer had fallen back now, a look of utter surprise on his thin face. Another boy, a boy with crisp brown hair and rugged complexion, stepped forward, taking command.

“Somebody close that door – and shut up, you asses! Do you want to bring Woody here? We’ve got to find out what this is all about.”

Penny faced him knowing that here was a boy she could trust.

“What’s your name?” he asked. “And what were you doing dressed up like that? If Stringer had been stupid enough to hit you, then you would have been in trouble. What were you doing in Stringer’s study?”

Penny squared her shoulders and, with a cold glance at Stringer, she turned again to the other boy.

“I’m Penny Dale – I’m helping matron out for a few days. I-I had to go to the detention room and –”

“Ah-hah! So Jimmy’s in it, is he?” breathed the other boy. “Yes; go on.”

“Well, I found Jimmy trying to get out of the window.” And now she kept her gaze fixed on the pale face of Stringer as she spoke. “He told me he was innocent of that silly trick of painting the statue and that someone had tricked him into getting blamed. He had a clue to the identity of that person – and he was going to search for something that would help him prove it.”

There was a mutter from the others, but the brown-haired boy nodded.

“Is that why you were here?” he asked slowly. “You were searching in here for that something?”

“Yes. Yes, I was,” Penny told him, and looked straight into Stringer’s pale eyes. “But it seems it’s hidden somewhere else.”

“Well, Stringer, I guess she means you, and I’m not surprised,” the other boy said, turning to Stringer, whose face now had assumed a dull flush. “We all know you and we all know your nasty ways. I must say I couldn’t believe it of old Jimmy himself. By the way, Penny, I’m Bob – Bob Danvers. What exactly was it that you were looking for?”

Again Penny met Stringer’s gaze and she saw that light of fear momentarily flash into his eyes.

“A pair of shoes,” she told him steadily. “A pair of shoes with pink paint on them, where the trickster had accidentally stepped into the paint he upset.”

And then she saw, with a quick feeling of disappointment, the relief that crossed Stringer’s face.

“You can search till Doomsday, you won’t find any shoes like that in here,” he told her. “Ford spun you a yarn, right enough. I bet he was trying to run away when you caught him.”

Penny saw Bob Danvers look curiously down at Stringer’s feet.

“Wait a minute; they’re not everyday shoes you’re wearing,” he said slowly. “That’s the pair of weekend shoes you bought recently –”

Involuntarily Stringer bent down and Penny saw the flush on his face deepen. At the same time his top pocket spilled its contents on to the floor – pen, pencil, rubber and – a box of matches.

“So what?” he returned. “I’m having the others repaired.”

Penny bent down, picking up the box of matches before Stringer could get his fingers on it. Curiously she looked at them, noticing the faint white dust on the box; and the faint aroma of –

“Wood smoke,” she murmured, and then slowly looked at Stringer. “I wonder – is it possible –” a sudden memory had flashed through her mind. “I believe I know where –” she began, and then trailed off as, meeting his frightened gaze, she knew he knew what she had guessed.

“Boys! I believe I’ve got it!” she cried suddenly.

Without further thought she was at the door; had wrenched it open. There was no time to be lost now. She could hear Stringer’s footsteps pounding after her, followed by the rest of the form.

She tore down the stairs, almost charging into the tall, stout figure of Doctor Woodstock at the bottom. With a hurried apology she raced on, ignoring his command to stop.

Now she was in the open and without waiting to see if she was being followed, made off in the direction of the kitchen garden.

The faint aroma of the bonfire she had smelt in matron’s room grew stronger till, rounding the corner of the gardener’s shed, she came upon it – a great pile of smouldering rubbish. Arising from the pile wafted that smell – of rubber.

Frantically she looked round for a stick; found one and, even as the whole of the Fifth came racing up, an angry Doctor Woodstock now in tow, she was raking the bonfire.

And then, with a feeling of joy, from the centre, she brought forth what she had been looking for – a pair of smouldering shoes – the tang of burning coming from the rubber soles, the whole of the sole and uppers of one shoe completely covered with bright pink paint!

She lifted the shoe up on the end of the stick, as Doctor Woodstock pushed his way through the staring throng.

“What is going on here?” he demanded. “You, boy – no, by ginger, it’s Miss Dale! What on earth do you think you are doing?”

“I’m trying to right a wrong,” she told him forcefully. “Look, sir – see the pink paint on the sole of this shoe? These shoes belong to the real culprit who painted your statue. He threw them on here, hoping they’d burn and never be found, that he would get away with it – while an innocent boy was unjustly suspended from the school. The real culprit’s name should be inside these shoes!”

She peered into the shoe, and there, visible though very faint was a name – printed in marking ink:

“Leslie Stringer!” she cried triumphantly. “That’s the boy who did it!”

As Penny prepared to leave the school that afternoon to return home she grinned to herself, though a little wistfully. From the direction of the tuckshop came the sounds of a bumper party to celebrate Jimmy’s freedom from the detention room.

She had not had the chance to see him herself and felt a little disappointed that she had not been able to congratulate him.

She mounted her cycle and moved off towards the gates. And there, to her surprise she found a figure waiting – a figure who stood, tall and smiling, hands behind his back, directly in her path.

She pulled up beside him, meeting his blue eyes.

“Hallo,” he greeted, and she was conscious of a sudden shyness. “I-I’ve been looking out for you. I couldn’t let you go without thanking you. If it hadn’t been for you I’d probably have been on my way home by now.”

“I’m glad I was able to – to help you, Jimmy,” Penny said softly.

There was an awkward little silence, then he smiled.

“Well, I suppose I’d better get back to the party,” he said, and then suddenly brought his hand from behind his back, and her eyes widened as she saw the big box of chocolates he was handing her. “Please take it,” he said quietly. “It – it’s just a little present – with my thanks. I-I’ll never forget.”

And while she stared at him, dumbfounded, conscious of the mistiness in her eyes, he was gone, striding back along the path towards the tuckshop.

For some moments Penny gazed after him, then, with a little warm feeling inside, she remounted and cycled out of the school gates.


  1. Aw, what a sweet story. Isn't Penny a doll?


  2. I'm wondering exactly how Jimmy got those chocolates. I do hope Penny hasn't been tricked into receiving stolen goods.

  3. Stolen? Gasp! Good thing she's going to eat the evidence... :D

    Glad you liked it, TFD. It was a close one for a minute there, wasn't it? Thank goodness those shoes were still there or Penny's adventure would have had quite a different ending.

  4. One wonders what happened to young Mr. Stringer...

  5. "She had hoped so much that she would clear Jimmy’s name, but now she had failed – hopelessly. And what would be the consequences for herself when uncle learnt of this masquerade at the Boys’ School?"

    Isn't this the burning question? The tension of the story for enthusiasts like us likely has much more to do with Penny's risk than clearing Jimmy's name. If the girl is caught, then what? Old-fashioned stories carry old-fashioned consequences?

    "Would it mean the end of her stay in Greenvale; the end of all her hopes at the agency with Uncle Mark?"

    I don't think the author is with us on this one. There's no indication in the story that anyone is living under the kind of threat we imagine. What about the boy who caused all the trouble in the first place?

    It's a fun, thought-provoking story. Each reader must have their own visions of what directions they'd have liked to see it take. If I'd written the story with the same main character in the same basic circumstances, the threat posed to her for getting in trouble would have been spanking, but I didn't see a good reason for her to receive one.


  6. I suspect, smuccatelli, that Mr Stringer was suspended in Jimmy's place, with a severe dressing-down and a good thrashing - no doubt on the stage in Assembly - as a lesson to him and a warning to any would-be mischief makers. And once home, of course, he would have to face his parents...

    Almost makes one want to paint a statue pink oneself, doesn't it? :)

  7. I think that the threat of spankings and other old-fashioned punishments is present in the story, TFD, even if it isn't overtly mentioned. The very era that the story dates from - the 1950s - means that readers would have known such things as unremarkable facets of everyday life; I think that the absence of CP in the story actually represents a form of escapism for those 1950s readers - a mirror image of the escapism we ourselves seek - that is, an escape from the reality of their school lives and from the real and ever-present possibility of CP.

    It's true that Penny wasn't really at risk of a spanking at the school, as she wasn't a pupil. But of course with a little kinky twisting and stretching of plausibility that could be rectified... mistaken identity is a frequent (and hot) occurrence in spanking fiction. And, even within the parameters of the story as it is, she may well have faced punishment should she have returned home in disgrace... the details of what that might have involved are left to the reader's imagination.

    Stringer, though, would definitely end up with a sore bottom in any version of the story. Painting the founder's statue pink? Attempting to get another pupil into trouble to escape your rightful punishment? Grounds for a beating if ever I heard them. But the author doesn't actually have to show us him getting his due; it can be taken as inevitable by implication.

    Of course, the genre of the story has a great deal to do with the absence of overt punishment. Like most 'girl's own' stories, Penny's adventure is centred on a girl whom the reader is invited to identify with, and she has to overcome the odds and get out of all her scrapes scot-free because that's what the girl reading her story wants.

  8. Very well put


  9. a rubber-soled shoe and bright pink paint...

  10. But of course! :D

    Now, if it had been bright green paint, that would've been silly.

  11. Bright green paint would hardly be inspirational - unless maybe you were spanking a leprechaun, which doesn't call for a rubber-soled shoe at all!