Published: Jinty 27 December 1975 – 10 April 1976
Artist: “B. Jackson”
Translations/reprints: None known
Published: Jinty 27 December 1975 – 10 April 1976
Artist: “B. Jackson”
Translations/reprints: Published as ‘Vrienden door dik en dun’ (Friends through thick and thin) in Tina in the Netherlands in 1988.
Sally Harris and her mother live in the New Forest. Sally has made a special bond with a deer named Star and taught Star tricks. Unfortunately, the grasping Walkers have spotted this and inform Josh Green, a circus boss who badly needs a new attraction for his ailing circus. When Green tries to buy Star off Sally, she tells him to shove off and runs away into the forest with Star. But Green isn’t giving up so easily, and now he and the Walkers are working together to capture Star.
Sally returns, hoping Green has cleared off, but finds her mother has had a bad accident. Mum is now in hospital with a damaged spine, and she will be there for a while. To avoid being taken into care and separated from Star, Sally accepts the Walkers’ offer to take her in while Mum is in hospital. She is a bit surprised at this, as the Walkers have always been so rough and unfriendly. But she soon finds out that they are not only in league with Green to get hold of Star but also working her to the bone as an unpaid slave. Miss Knight, Sally’s teacher, soon suspects something’s wrong. Sally realises this, but doesn’t confide in Miss Knight because she doesn’t want to go into a home and be cut off from Star.
The Walkers capture Star, but there’s surprise help from a strange girl, who helps Star escape. Her name’s Maya Lee, and she is a gypsy girl who is hiding from the forest to avoid a children’s home, which is prison to her. Sally soon discovers Maya has her own cosy little homemade setup in the forest. She also has the gypsy gift of communicating with animals, which gives her a rapport with the New Forest animals. They are able to warn Maya when danger’s coming. In this case, it’s two men, Ramsden and Blakeley, presumably from social welfare. They grab Sally in mistake for Maya, and they say living wild in the forest is not good for her. Maya uses her special talents to get the New Forest ponies to scare them off, and it throws a scare into the Walkers as well.
The Walkers hatch another plan to get hold of Star: lock Sally in her room, to lure Star in search of her. To make sure she has no opportunities to slip away at school, they escort her to and from school (which makes Miss Knight even more suspicious). Then Leaper, Maya’s pet squirrel, appears at the classroom window. Sally uses the squirrel to smuggle a note to Maya about what’s going on and warn her and Star to stay away. Sally also sees Blakeley and Ramsden making queries at the Walker farm about Maya. They blow the stunt Maya pulled on them out of proportion, calling her a savage who attacked them.
Then Mrs Viney from social welfare calls, and through her Sally finds out Ramsden and Blakeley are not from social welfare as she assumed. So, who are they, and what do they want with Maya? Sally listens in on them and finds out some old man is paying them to find Maya. Mrs Viney hears about these imposters and is now making serious queries with the Walkers about it. This distraction enables Sally to slip away to warn Maya.
But when Sally reaches Maya’s treehouse, she discovers Green is there too. Maya manages to scare him off with her animal friends. Maya knows about Ramsden and Blakeley, who have been trying to find her since she was young, and her parents instructed her to run like hell from them, fearing they were trying to take her away from them.
At the Walker farm, Green discovers the Walkers have failed in their latest plan with Sally, and angrily tells them he’ll get Star without their help. The Walkers talk him around, telling him about Ramsden and Blakeley being after something in the forest, which has given them a new plan. This involves their suddenly being nice to Sally, saying they are through with Green, and Sally is free to see Star. Sally isn’t fooled by their phony niceness and suspects a trap.
Meanwhile, Ramsden and Blakely have gotten Sergeant Parker and Mrs Viney involved in getting hold of Maya and putting her in care. They organise a posse, beater-style through the woods, to search for her. Mrs Viney’s son Billy tells Sally he’s a long-standing friend of Maya who has been smuggling food to her, and he warns her about the posse. Sally realises the Walkers will be part of it to catch Star. They hit on a plan to hide Maya and Star in Mrs Viney’s attic (the last place she’ll look!). Another gypsy, Old Bella, helps them. Sally also drops a hint to Miss Knight, the only other person she trusts, about Maya.
But Blakeley and Ramsden are watching outside the Viney house and suspect what’s happening. The Walkers, recalling Billy’s fondness of the New Forest, also suspect he is helping Maya and advise Mrs Viney to watch him.
When the posse is assembled next morning, Bella tells Sally the crystal ball has sent a warning for Maya. She says she saw a house like a prison and an angry old man, then Ramsden and Blakeley, who will capture Maya because of Star.
Sally bumps into Miss Knight, and this time tells her the whole story (minus where Maya and Star are hiding). But Sally and Billy find Maya and Star have vanished from the attic and realise the Walkers have taken them to their farm. Sally finds them locked in the barn and manages to free Maya. Freeing Star takes a bit more doing, but Sally succeeds with Leaper’s help. Sally then heads over to Miss Knight’s for help, but overhears a conversation that sounds like Miss Knight is going to help Green get his hands on Star.
Meanwhile, Sally discovers the posse have discovered Maya’s hideout in the forest, so no more safety for her there. She meets up with Old Bella, who advises that Maya rejoin her tribe and not go near Star, for that is how they will be captured.
Later, Miss Knight finds Star in her garden, which makes her realise Sally must have overheard. Instead of turning Star over to Green, she conceals her from him, but Green realises his quarry is around when he sees the footprints. Sally comes upon the scene and, using the strange telepathic link between her and Star, tells her to make a run for it (knocking Green over in the process). Sally now comes to a decision: she and Star are going to leave the area and live like gypsies as best they can.
Meanwhile, the Walkers and Green have discovered Star and Maya’s escape from the farm, and the raving Green says to find them in 24 hours or the deal’s off. Elsewhere, Miss Knight is demanding explanations from Blakeley and Ramsden. Surprisingly, they tell Miss Knight they just want to tell Maya she’s a heiress.
Bella informs Maya that her mother was a non-Romany who married a Romany, and gets a clearer vision of the house that Maya feared was a prison. Maya now sees it does not look like a prison. It looks more like a grand mansion. Then there’s another vision – of Star getting hurt. Soon afterwards, Star gets shot by a hunter.
Sally and Maya have to take her to a vet, Mr Wilson. Of course Mr Wilson asks questions about how it happened. Sally decides to just tell him everything. Miss Knight, Ramsden and Blakeley catch up. Miss Knight says she was trying to trap Green into an admission of guilt of illegally taking a deer from the New Forest in earshot of witnesses (Sergeant Parker secretly listening).
What happens to Green exactly is not recorded, but it is fair to assume that he and his circus are soon dealt with. The Walkers hastily leave the district once word of their treatment of Sally spreads.
The mansion in the vision is White Towers, owned by Colonel Weatherby. Colonel Weatherby explains Maya is his granddaughter, the product of a forbidden marriage and elopement between his daughter and a gypsy. He disinherited his daughter (so that was the angry old man!), but had a change of heart once he heard about the birth of his only heir, Maya. He had been searching for her discreetly and hired Ramsden and Blakeley for the job. White Towers is Maya’s inheritance. She agrees to stay there, is very happy no hunting is allowed there, and Sally and Star can come too. Sally stays at White Towers until her mother recovers. Once Mum is back, Colonel buys the Walkers’ old farm and puts Sally and her mother in charge of it, all help supplied.
It’s a nice surprise twist that the house Maya feared was a prison turned out to be her inheritance and the two men who wanted her were not the monsters they seemed to be. Nor was being captured because of Star the disaster that Old Bella thought it was. Having Old Bella misconstrue her own crystal ball gazing and get things wrong (something we will see elsewhere, such as in Jinty’s “Destiny Brown”) puts even more of a twist on the tale. Ramsden and Blakeley and the grand house turned out to be all right and helped to give Maya a happy ending. Mind you, Blakeley and Ramsden sure were giving the wrong impression. After all, they were being a bit heavy-handed in their approach, such as when they made the grab on Sally when they mistook her for Maya, or when they arranged the posse to find Maya. The buildup was they were out to put Maya into care, and their conduct has you more than convinced that they really were going to do that. If they’d taken a different approach, things could have been sorted much more quickly.
By contrast, you don’t get things wrong with the Walkers or Josh Green. One look at them ought to tell you the sort they are and to steer well clear of them. It’s a bit surprising the Walkers don’t seem have the reputation around the district they ought to have, even though we learn they are careful to stay onside with the police. What a contrast to Miss Knight, who is perceptive about things right from the start, so we know it’s her who’s going to be key in resolving the story. Put Miss Knight on the force any time!
This is a solid, rollicking story, and a plot so full of twists and turns, plenty of chasing, dodging, getting captured and escaping, and increasing layers of complexity and mystery that it leaves you a bit out of breath at times. There are also touches of both humour and intrigue with these strange connections with the forest animals who often get these pursuers in the story their just desserts and leave you laughing. We’ve also got the Cinderella elements (Sally’s abuse at the Walker farm), the shifty circus owner, and the mystery of why Blakely and Ramsden want Maya. If there’s one thing girls love in girls comics, it’s mystery. And of course, there are the animals, and animal stories are always popular. The affinity Maya and Sally have with the animals heightens the animal elements even more; readers are on the edge of their seats to see what the power does next to help save the day. What’s not for a girl to love in this story?
It is a bit of a let-down not to hear the final fate of Josh Green, and the Walkers aren’t punished as much as they should have been. They leave the district when word of their treatment of Sally gets out, but they don’t get much more than that. We’re left a bit worried about what they might get up to in their new locality. It’s also a bit surprising to hear Sally is willing to stay on at the Walkers’ old farm – even with her mother – after the way she was treated there. Surely it would have too many bad memories for her, and Sally would be happier at White Towers. Still, the final panels are filled with such happiness for the girls and their beloved animal friends at White Towers that we are more than satisfied it’s a happy ending.
2 thoughts on “Friends of the Forest (1976)”
This story was published as ‘Vrienden door dik en dun’ (Friends through thick and thin) in Tina in the Netherlands in 1988.
Thank you, Marckie.