Friday, March 25, 2011

Jumble Sale

Above: Lindy and Mitzy set out on their nocturnal mission to retrieve a couple of pots that were made by a temperamental local artist and sold by mistake.

Jumble Sale, published in the Collins' Girls' Annual 1963, is notable because it was Jane Shaw's last short story. Set in the sleepy village of Willow Green, near Maidstone, it stars fifteen-year-old Lindy, her friend Jill and Jill's slightly older brother David. During the summer holidays, they are bored, and wish that something exciting would happen. There has been a spate of so-called Country House Burglaries at Lockesley Castle, fifty miles away, but that's about as near as excitement gets to their village. Lindy is excited at the prospect of being a bridesmaid at her sister's wedding, but Jennifer and her fiancĂ© Tim keep putting it off due to a lack of funds, so the prospect appears to be dwindling. Lindy is also rather taken by an attractive young artist, Mark Lamont, and secretly dreams of marrying him in the distant future. But since Mark isn't proposing just yet, the teenagers agree to help out at the local jumble sale by gathering donations for and working at the White Elephant stall. Most villagers promise to give them some old relics and even Mark Lamont agrees to make a donation. On the day of the sale, David goes to the artist's house and mistakenly carries off two beautiful pots of African violets instead of a pile of junk Mark had left for him. Tim buys the pots as a gift for Jennifer and carries them off to his surgery. Mark Lamont arrives at the stall in a rage, accusing David of stealing the pots and demanding their return. When Tim refuses to give them back, David concocts a plan to break into his surgery and steal the pots. This results in a midnight excursion by the three teens and Lindy's noisy dachshund puppy, Mitzy. Arriving at the surgery, David discovers that he has grown too big to squeeze through the window, so Lindy is elected to break in instead. In the dark room, she is frightened out of her wits by Hector, a skeleton that Tim used when studying anatomy. She raises the roof with her screams and knocks down the pots, breaking them. Tim charges in to see what is going on and, lo and behold, they discover the reason why Lamont had been so angry about losing his pots, for concealed in the earth is a cache of diamonds, the fruits of a recent Country House Robbery. Lamont is clapped in jail, and the kids receive a huge reward, enabling Jennifer and Tim to tie the knot and Jill and Lindy to be bridesmaids. However, Lindy is a bit upset that she will have to wait a bit longer for Mr. Right to come along.

This story was a fine conclusion to more than two decades of contributions to the Collins' annuals. Starting in 1941 with Amanda's Spies, Jane Shaw had been a regular contributor over the years. Sometimes her stories included her most famous characters (Susan, Sara & Caroline, and Ricky, Julie & Fay), while on other occasions, she created new characters for a one-off appearance, as is the case here. Jumble Sale has all the classic Jane Shaw elements: the unlikely coincidence of her characters unmasking a crook, a quiet country setting hit by a crimewave, an adventure stemming from a pretty mundane event like a jumble sale or fair, a treasure and a handsome reward. The characterization is very good, even in the case of minor characters like Lindy's mother. All in all, an excellent story. 

Below: Lindy enters the surgery, unaware of the skeleton lurking behind her!