“I’m going to telephone Bart Wheeler this very minute,” announced Bessie Marsh. “I’ll ask him to bring that money over here. It’s the oddest coincidence–“
Sometimes there’s nothing better that spending a lazy afternoon curled up with a Dana Girls book! For some reason I think I reread this series more frequently than Nancy Drew as a child, perhaps because there are fewer books. In any case, there are several volumes where I have a fairly good recollection of the plot. In the Shadow of the Tower, The Secret at the Hermitage, and The Riddle of the Frozen Fountain especially stand out in my mind. (And The Clue in the Ivy, but that’s my favorite so I’ve read it like eight times. Plus once in French.)
In the Shadow of the Tower tends to get a bad rap among collectors because of its hackneyed plot devices and less than politically correct portrayal of a physical deformity. Jean and Louise are out enjoying the winter air when they duck into a cave to avoid Lettie. However, a boy soon enters to read a private letter. When the girls try to make their presence known, the startled stranger lets the contents slip from heisgrasp–a letter and a thousand dollar bill. When the Danas give chase, the money is snatched by a fox who quickly disappears. They comb the whole area to no avail, and eventually return to the cave.
The boy turns out to be a disguised girl their own age, named Josy Sykes. She has run away from the Home for Crippled Children because she was accused of stealing the proceeds from a benefit. In a case of bad timing, what she did take from the safe was the aforementioned letter that had been left there for her. It was from her uncle and guardian Joseph Sykes, who believed himself to be dying, and represented the majority of his savings. The girls take the forlorn girl back to Starhurst and promise to continue the search tomorrow.
Josy’s gratitude was pathetic. “It’s a long time since I’ve worn silk stockings,” she sighed luxuriously, looking at her slender ankles. “You are too good to me.”
[Actually, if she hadn’t met the Danas, she would never have lost the money. The girls were quick to deny culpability when they realized the size of the sum, however, and instead saw themselves as Josy’s champions. Josy, of course, is too kind-hearted to mention it. That’s a lot of money, though; $17,096.36 by today’s standards.]
Unfortunately, their search remains fruitless. As it is near the holidays, they invite Josy to spend Christmas with them and their cousin Bessie at Barnwold Farm. Josy entertains everyone at dinner with her singing and distinctive whistling. Bessie mentions that her fiance Bart recently found a letter and thousand dollar bill in the woods, and telephones him to come over when she hears the girls’ side.. Upon arriving however, he says that Josy, resting on the sofa from the excitement , cannot really be the owner because the letter described a cripple. Josy runs away again (how humiliating can they make it for this poor girl?). Bessie fights with Bart for his tactlessness and tells him to leave, which he interprets as for good. Meanwhile Bart’s employer, the famous recluse painter Constance Melbourne, is greatly distressed when she hears Josy’s story. Before falling gravely ill, she begs them to find the girl again.
Unfortunately, while she is invalided, the lesser-known painter Claude Fayle steals her unsigned masterpiece, and plans to pass it off as his own at the upcoming art show in Majestic. He also poses as a famed portrait painter around Starhurst, completely fooling Mrs. Crandall. Fortunately the Danas already have plans to visit the show with recently returned Uncle Ned; a group from Starhurst will be attending as well. To tie things up even more neatly, the art show is the perfect opportunity to track down the missing Bart Wheeler. In the end, of course, justice is meted out, everyone is reunited, and all ends happily. Josy even finds a successful career as a radio star, which turns out to make perfect sense.
Jean nudged Louise. “A coincidence,” she whispered. “Just what cousin Bessie was writing about.”
- In the Shadow of the Tower is the winner so far for the number of coincidences in the plot. Seriously, does stuff like this happen in real life? it even turns out that the nurse tending to Miss Melbourne just happens to have been at the Home at the time of the theft, and vouches for Josy’s innocence.
- The book mentions that both girls are sophomores. I can’t see studious Louise staying back a grade, so either Jean skipped ahead or they are Irish twins.
- I can’t quite fathom what Josy’s whistling is supposed to sound like. It’s described as neither bird nor human, and is distinctive enough for the Danas to recognize it anywhere.
- Lettie hatches an elaborate scheme to send the girls on a wild goose chase to all the hotels in town based on fake messages from Uncle Ned; unfortunately, the plan backfires when the Danas politely decline, knowing him to be currently at sea.
- Lettie also tries to steal a fox stole by paying for a cheap one and wrapping a fur of much higher quality.
- Most of the book portrays Josy as pitiable rather than grotesque, but it still feels exploitative. Most of the descriptions contain words like poor, pathetic, or stricken. At one point her shadow on the wall frightens other girls at Starhurst; later, a near-sighted fox farmer who sees her from behind takes aim with his gun.
- While the Danas are searching for the letter they run into Mr. Tisdale from The Secret of Lone Tree Cottage, who gives them the lead about the fox farm.
- One of the big complaints about the book is how at the end when Josy wears new clothes tailored to hide her hunchback, it is hardly noticeable (compare to the incidents mentioned above). I actually find this plausible, though not necessarily because of the clothes. Josy’s attitude and outlook are so different from her earlier woebegone ways that I think the confidence she carries herself with now is responsible for the change.
I’m really torn about this book. I love all the melodrama (which is why Broken Locket is my favorite Nancy Drew), but I’m just not completely comfortable with the way the Josy storyline is handled.