Finally! A book that is better than its cover!
Background: “Mildred A. Wirt” is one of many pen-names for the highly prolific Mildred Wirt Benson, best known as the original “Carolyn Keene” and author of 23 Nancy Drew Mysteries. She published at least 130 children’s books during her lifetime, including many volumes in assorted girls mystery series, including The Dana Girls (as Carolyn Keene), Penny Parker (as Mildred A. Wirt) and Ruth Fielding (as Alice B. Emerson).
In the late 1940s and early 1950s she authored four separate “Scouting” themed series for publisher Cupples & Leon, covering Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Brownies and Girl Scouts.
Girl Scouting had been the subject of numerous series, dating nearly from the organization’s 1912 inception: the earliest title I can find is 1918’s A Girl Scout of the Red Rose Troop By Amy E. Blanchard.
By 1953, Benson had been ghostwriting for almost 30 years, so she probably could have written this one in her sleep. Which is not to say that it is lazily done: on the contrary, it is tightly plotted and hits the marks like pro, heavy on the action with characters pausing only occasionally to remark aloud on exactly which Girl Scout Law is being demonstrated.
The Plot: New Girl In Town and high school Freshman Judy Grant is out skiing one afternoon, when she meets a group of girls in the lodge, who introduce themselves as Fairfield’s Intermediate Girl Scout Troop, Beaver Patrol (STOP LAUGHING!) The girls have gathered with their leader, Miss Ward, to plan an upcoming camping trip to Old Candy Mountain. The other girls are impressed by Judy’s expertise on the slopes, and Judy is excited to have moved to a town large enough to have a scout troop. Most of the girls are eager to have Judy join the troop in time to accompany them on the camping trip- the exception is the Patrol Leader, snooty Beverly Chester:
“There is quite a bit to it,” Beverly warned. “Even to become a Tenderfoot Scout, one has to learn the Scout Promise, all of the laws, the slogan, the motto, the history of the organization and a lot of other useful things.”
Luckily, the other girls come to Judy’s aid, urging her to meet the requirements and join, while directing an “ooh, burn!” at Beverly:
“Two of the Scout laws always seemed especially important to me,” remarked Kathleen. She gazed pointedly at Beverly as she spoke. “One, A Girl Scout is Courteous.”
Kathleen and Judy become fast friends, and Kathleen lets her in on the fact that Beverly was elected Patrol Leader in a fit of misplaced magnanimity after the Chesters hosted the scouts for a weekend at their fancy ski lodge.
Judy works to complete her requirements to earn the Tenderfoot rank and join the Patrol on the trip to Old Candy Mountain, but is concerned after she writes her brother (away at boarding school) to excitedly tell him that they’ll being staying at the Boy Scouts’ Maple Leaf Lodge and he responds that there are rumors of MYSTERIOUS HAPPENINGS at the lodge and nearby Penguin Pass. He is maddeningly non-specific in the details, necessitating much exchange of correspondence. Judy shares her concerns with Kathleen, and together decide to not warn Miss Ward until they have more details.
After a perilous bus ride through a blizzard, the Patrol arrives in the nearby town, only to find that the Caleb Shively, the caretaker of the Boy Scout lodge, isn’t there to drive them up the mountain and cannot be reached by phone. The town’s cantankerous shopkeeper doesn’t have much use for Girl Scouts, but finally agrees to take them as far up the mountain as he can, leaving Miss Ward and the girls to break a trail through a half mile of waist-deep snow, Beverly complaining all the way.
They finally arrive at Maple Leaf Lodge, only to find it dark and deserted. They finally manage to raise Mr. Shively, who claims to have no knowledge of the troop’s having engaged the lodge for the week and points out that it is closed for the season and without provisions, so won’t they please go away? The girls are not deterred:
“This lodge is closed. Besides, it’s not open to the public.”
“We’re not the public,” Virginia Cunningham shouted back. “We’re the Girl Scouts.”
You tell ‘em, Virginia.
Miss Ward finally convinces the caretaker to let them stay the night, and early the next morning Judy is up to prepare breakfast for the girls. While Mr. Shively insisted there were no groceries on the premises, Judy is all like “Uh, what about this closet full of hams?” and soon has a three-course meal for the hungry girls.
While Miss Ward and Beverly go into town to try and straighten out their stay with the local Scoutmaster, Judy leads the other girls on a hike, coming across the trail up to the mysterious Penguin Pass. While the others want to explore, Judy remembers her brother’s report of MYSTERIOUS HAPPENINGS and instead persuades the girls to build a giant snowman, whom they name Monstro. Excellent snowman name.
Miss Ward returns with groceries and a month’s worth of mail for the lodge, as well as verification from the Boy Scouts that they are indeed supposed to be there. Mr. Shively is not pleased:
“I like being alone! All summer I have to ride herd on a bunch of Boy Scouts. Then to have a pack of girls descend on him like a blizzard out of the sky- well, it’s upsetting.”
“I appreciate your point of view,” Miss Ward replied.
Ha-ha, you’re stuck with them, you old crank!
When the girls return to the trailhead, they are shocked to see giant tracks in the snow around their snowman- has Monstro come to life??? They scarcely have time to contemplate the situation when they make a narrow escape from an avalanche! Was it started deliberately to scare them away from Penguin Pass?
Judy is convinced that there is a mystery surrounding a passenger plane that went down on Penguin Pass earlier that year; while Mr. Shively insists that all of the wreckage was cleared away, when the girls ascend on the ski lift they can clearly see the remains of the plane. Could this be the MYSTERIOUS HAPPENING that Judy’s brother referred to?
“Virginia, seeing it there interests me tremendously! As soon as we reach the top, I mean to learn more about it!”
Unfortunately, after the avalanche, Miss Ward forbade the scouts from returning to Penguin Pass, and Kathleen is worried that Judy is thinking of doing something un-Scoutingly:
“Judy,” Kathleen reminded her. “You know the Scout Law as well as I do: Rule number seven. ‘A Girl Scout Obeys Orders.’”
“In that case, there is only one thing to do,” she announced. “The orders must be changed!”
Luckily, Miss Ward is as adventurous as her charges and quickly agrees to accompany Judy and Kathleen on an expedition to investigate the crash site. Unfortunately, on the trek up the leader falls ill and has to return to the lodge, giving Judy and Kathleen permission to press on. They discover a crudely-made igloo full of canned goods, and Judy investigates the crash site, finding an interesting bejeweled cigarette case which she takes with her.
Judy and Kathleen start back down the mountain, but Kathleen takes a bad spill and sprains her ankle during the descent; worse, a storm suddenly arises!
Luckily, Miss Ward left the girls with a rucksack of supplies, and Judy hatchets up their skis and binds them together with their bootlaces to make a sledge to drag Kathleen to the safety of the igloo, where Judy builds a fire, cooks up beans and tends to her injured friend.
Pretty soon the ski patrol (all of whom look like Tab Hunter) arrive, and are like “Hey, that’s some good Scouting, right there!” before taking the girls back to the safety of the lodge.
Judy is frustrated the next morning when she discovers the cigarette case she found in the plane wreck is missing, and more concerned yet when she receives a letter from her Brother (GAWD, FINALLY!) containing a picture of his Boy Scout troop and the Mr. Shively in the picture is not the Mr. Shively they have been staying with all week!
After overhearing the fake-Mr. Shively making suspicious sounding plans to rendezvous that night at another nearby lodge, Judy and Virginia reason that there is nothing in the Girl Scout Law about due process and search his room while Miss Ward and the other girls are in town, finding the missing case. But! He returns and, despite Virginia’s best efforts, Judo-chops the case away from them and escapes.
When Miss Ward returns, she has put two and two together and figured out that fake-Shively was a prisoner being transported on the plane the crashed, a dangerous spy that the FBI is searching for. Real-Shively is located, tied up in the barn:
“Girl Scouts?” he whispered. “Knew you’d come.”
Now, that’s more like it.
Miss Ward and the girls race to the lodge to try and foil Fake-Shively’s spy rendezvous, but the spies have conveniently crashed their spy-car on the way back down the mountain. They’re relatively uninjured, and Miss Ward swears out a warrant for reckless driving in order for the local police to hold them until the FBI can get there.
To reward the Patrol for thwarting the theft of “atomic secrets” (hidden in the cigarette case, natch), the Boy Scouts give them an extra week of vacation at the lodge for free. Don’t they have to go back to school? I guess not.
A humbled Beverly steps down as Patrol leader, and nominates Judy for the position, who graciously declines and nominates Kathleen, who accepts Beverly’s “toga and leather-bound copy of the Girl Scout Handbook.”
“Judy, you certainly were given a strenuous introduction to Scouting!”
Oh, what about Monstro’s giant footprints?
“It seems Aldenstein found an old pair of shoes hanging in the bard. A pair the Boy Scouts had used in a play. So he put them on over his regular ones.”
Jeez, what kind of plays are those guys putting on that involve giant shoes?
In conclusion, Judy and the gang live the Girl Scout Law and prove that girls can Scout just as hard as boys.
Sign It Was Written in 1953 Department: “A telephone is too vital in modern living. He had a very real reason for breaking off communication, but what it was I can’t figure out.”
Seriously, There Is Nothing Funny! Department: “Oh no! I want to be a member of Beaver Patrol always.”