Published: Jinty 16 June 1979 to 1 September 1979
Artist: Trini Tinturé
Translations/reprints: Girl Picture Story Library #4 as “The Dolphin Mystery”; Translated into Dutch as “De lachende dolfijn” (The laughing dolphin) in Tina 1987.
Paula and her best friend Chris are on a school archaeological scuba-diving expeditition at a submerged Roman town in the Mediterranean. Raymond Gould represents the company funding the expedition and Miss Watson is the teacher leading it. However, there is some hint of locals being opposed to the expedition because they perceive it as a threat to their lifestyle. They don’t like the local dolphins either, regarding them as pests to their lobster fishing.
At their first dive, Paula and Chris are delighted to befriend a dolphin. The dolphin starts helping the expedition, and he can somehow disappear and reappear again. They name the dolphin Dolphus and know him by a scar on his head. With Dolphus’ help they make their first find, though it’s only a piece of bicycle wheel.
However, the girls soon discover they have an enemy as well: Mrs Ormerod-Keynes, a creepy lady who lives alone in a creepy house. She owns the land the school is built on (and half the town) and wants to shut down the expedition because it is making too much noise for her liking. Miss Watson is seriously worried about this and they hope a serious archaeological find will make Mrs Ormerod-Keynes reconsider. With Dolphus’ help they find it: Roman pottery with a dolphin emblem and sketches of what could be Roman ruins. Mrs Ormerod-Keynes is not impressed with the finds, but is surprisingly impressed when Paula stands up to her. For the moment she backs off. As they leave Mrs Ormerod-Keynes’ house, Paula notices something odd about Mr Gould: he was keen to tackle Mrs Ormerod-Keynes but was not interested in the find they made or showing it to the museum curator, who thinks it looks promising.
The other girls get fed up with the expedition, leaving Chris and Paula to tackle the third dive alone. With Dolphus’ help they find a submerged Roman road, but again Mr Gould shows no interest. Instead, he shows them a new piece of equipment he has just developed to help the expedition. It can take samples from the seabed.
Their boatman was always difficult, and now he flatly refuses to let his boat be used for the expedition any further. He lets them use his dinghy, but now they’re on their own. Mr Gould’s gadget, along with Dolphus’ assistance, helps things along with putting markers down below and collecting samples. But then the current sweeps Chris away. Dolphus saves her, but they have to leave the samples behind. On the surface, Mr Gould is downright callous when he hears the girls lost their samples because they ran into trouble, calling it a whole day wasted.
The museum curator is now excited about the finds the girls are making and runs a newspaper article about it. This has the unexpected effect of enraging Mrs Ormerod-Keynes (over more disturbed peace) and the locals (over their lobster fishing). However, the article has an expert on Roman remains, Professor Potts, all excited, and he wants to take a closer look at the dish.
But the dish has mysteriously disappeared, and they can only conclude someone stole it. The girls go back to retrieve the samples, but find them gone too. They find one sample that got dropped, and then go to investigate the other boats to find any evidence about who might be behind it. They soon find evidence on one boat, but their enemy locks them in and then sails the boat out to be wrecked on the rocks. Dolphus sees them and goes for help on the shore. The locals regard Dolphus as a pest and just throw rocks at him, but Miss Watson is more perceptive and asks a fisherman to help. They rescue the girls in the nick of time. The fisherman says the boat definitely does not belong to one of them.
The girls explain what happened. Miss Watson dives to the site to check things out for herself and finds something. She won’t say who she suspects but goes to arrange a meeting with the person. The girls meet Professor Potts by themselves, who is still impressed with things even though the dish has vanished. But Miss Watson has not returned and the girls get worried. They narrow down the suspects to Mrs Ormerod-Keynes, so they head to her house to do some investigating. At a stable on her property they find a trapdoor. It leads down to an underground sea cavern.
Then Paula falls into the water and Chris can’t get her out. Dolphus turns up to keep eye on Paula, which reveals the cave connects to the open sea and how Dolphus was able to pull those disappearing tricks; the cave was a short cut. Chris goes to Mrs Ormerod-Keynes’ house for help. But when they come back, there is no sign of Paula. Mrs Ormerod-Keynes says the place is her family’s old smugglers’ cave, and now it’s brought another death on her family conscience.
Actually, Dolphus showed Paula how to get out of the cavern and back to the shore. On a cliff, Paula finds Miss Watson, who is badly injured on the ledge. Chris and Mrs Ormerod-Keynes follow and help to rescue Miss Watson.
Miss Watson explains that Mr Gould is behind everything. He was using the expedition to investigate valuable mineral deposits behind his company’s back, but hadn’t counted on the girls making a serious archaeological find. This would attract unwanted publicity, which would threaten his scheme. When Miss Watson confronted him, she refused to go halves with him, so he pushed her off the ledge. The only evidence proving his guilt is the dolphin dish he stole, which he is going to throw back into the sea. The girls, Mrs Ormerod-Keynes’ servant Smithers and a fisherman give chase. They see Mr Gould try to throw the dish into the sea, but Dolphus retrieves it. The fisherman is so impressed at this that he’ll tell the other fishermen to leave the dolphins in peace. Mr Gould is soon rounded up.
Mrs Ormerod-Keynes is very happy to join the victory celebration. The dish will go to the British Museum, who will take over the expedition. The headmistress adopts the dolphin as the school emblem.
“The Disappearing Dolphin” must have been a very popular story with readers. Probably not one of Jinty’s classics, but it has everything to make it enjoyable with any reader: adventure, intrigue, mystery, a creepy lady living in a creepy house, saboteurs, scuba-diving, the lovely Trini Tinturé artwork – always guaranteed to sell a story – and above all, an adorable dolphin. Who doesn’t love a dolphin that just has you go “awwwww”?
All right, maybe those fishermen who see dolphins as pests and even throw rocks at them – what a horrible thing to do to dolphins! We rather suspect poor Dolphus got that scar on his head from a rock thrown at him. If the fishermen learned to make friends with the dolphins as the girls did, everyone would be a whole lot more happy, for Dolphus shows that dolphins are intelligent, friendly creatures. In the end that is what happens, and we can imagine things will be a whole lot better for the fishermen as well as the dolphins.
The story moves at an effective pace: strong but no rushing, so there’s time for character and plot development. It is brilliant with creating the red herrings and the list of suspects, especially the character of Mrs Ormerod-Keynes. She’s a creepy witch type all right. One look at her sinister-looking house that stands alone on a cliff and you instantly think there’s some hidden secret in there, one she doesn’t want revealed, and it’s the real reason why she’s so opposed to the expedition. It turns out her house does hold a secret, but it relates to an entirely different mystery in the story – Dolphus’ disappearing tricks. The reason for Mrs Ormerod-Keynes and the fishermen’s opposition was what it was, and it was an adeptly handled misdirection from the clues that pointed to the real culprit – Raymond Gould. His plot was brilliant, and marooning the girls to be smashed on the rocks showed what he was capable of. His weakness was not being a good actor. He let his true attitude about the expedition filter through too much instead of maintaining a convincing act of a genuine supporter. The girls pick up on his odd behaviour but fail to realise it is a clue.
We also get a salutary lesson in patience and persistence, both of which are essential qualities in archaeology. The other girls get fed up with the expedition too readily and turn to other school activities. By contrast, Chris and Paula persist, not only in the prospect of it possibly turning tedious but in the obstacles from the locals and their mystery enemy as well. And their efforts are well rewarded, far more than if they had quit like the other girls. They certainly have what it takes to be archaeologists.