Hurrah for the holidays! It was the last day of summer term at St. Bingham’s Academy. The headmistress had left for Balmoral directly after morning assembly and, in her absence, pandemonium reigned. Brenda Hearty, head of the Lower Sixth, surveyed the common room with a wry grin as her classmates cleared their lockers, hunted down missing gym shoes and devoured forgotten troves of tuck.
‘Jings! Ah knew ah hadnae eaten all ma sweeties,’ exclaimed the usually dour Caledonian Robbie McRood, brandishing a Tunnock’s teacake. He ducked a tennis ball chucked by ‘Lofty’ Biggs and deftly deflected by Brian Sayneighmore with his hurling stick.
At the girls’ end of the room, Jilly Blink and Meg Ardent were tut-tutting at the tumult as they packed their trunks. ‘Gosh I’ll be glad to get out of uniform,’ declared Meg. ‘These robes are starting to pong.’
‘Rather!’ echoed Jilly. ‘First stop the dry cleaners – of course it will be just like the boys to leave it ’til the last day of the hols.’
Philip the new boy looked up from the table where he was disassembling a Meccano aeroplane. ‘Oh let’s not talk about the end of the hols,’ he squeaked. ‘Summer is going to be such fun! Don’t you think so, Brenda?’
Brenda agreed. She had come far since her first years at St. Bingham’s, when the short, shy and bookish Yorkshire lass had been the butt of jokes. Even the ragging she had endured from Sumpters, the impossibly dashing star of the school Deb. Soc., felt long ago now.
Her robes packed, she slipped away to her own special place.
It was the ground floor library, where Brenda had spent hours swotting by the silverware cabinet. Although outwardly she scorned the glittering baubles, she could not help but be impressed by the trophies on display.
One piece in particular always caught her eye. The 1689 Urn – an egg-cup sized pot almost invisible alongside its gaudier cabinet-mates. Indeed she would wager that scarcely anyone at St. Bingham’s knew of its existence. Or of the legend engraved on its tarnished silver: ‘That the Freedome of Speech and Debates or Proceedings in Parlyament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any Court or Place out of Parlyament’.
Brenda had often peered at the inscription, and wondered.
On this occasion, however, she would not have the chance. To her astonishment, she saw she was not alone: under the cabinet wielding a screwdriver was the unmistakable burly figure of Mr de Piffel, the new Latin master. Crash! Mr de Piffel’s head hit the bottom of the cabinet as he sat up with a start.
‘Cripes! Bashed the old bonce as usual,’ he exclaimed. ‘Wo-hor! Sorry to alarm you, dear girl, just looking for a 50p coin. Could have sworn it rolled under the cabinet. Oh well, non curae and all that, must toddle off! Vale!’
Mr de Piffel scurried for the door, ruffling up his already tousled blond hair as he fled into the corridor.
‘And that’s why I’m sure Mr de Piffel’s up to no good!’ Brenda was addressing a hastily convened meeting of chums behind the bicycle sheds. Everyone called them the Famous Eleven, though they were really 12.
‘Aye, he was certainly appointed in extraordinary circumstances,’ mused Robbie, ‘and there are tales of unsuitable goings-on in his last position. Not that they’d be admissible as evidence, ye ken?’
‘Definitely,’ added Taff Jones, the quick-witted lad from the valleys. ‘We would need a proper standard of proof, look you. This isn’t the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.’
‘I vote we keep a jolly close eye on him during the hols,’ said Jilly. ‘But how are we going to do that?’
‘There’s always old Corbydge the groundsman,’ ventured Pat Pledge, ‘He never goes anywhere. Though I’m not sure I’d trust him near any silver – he’d have it in hock before you could say “IMF”.’
‘I know!’ exclaimed Brenda. ‘I bet we can count on Mrs Millstone the village postmistress – the one who’s always poking her nose into other people’s business. All we need to do is to swap addresses of where we’ll all be over the summer so, if there is any skulduggery, we can get together in a flash.’
The Famous Eleven began scribbling down addresses; a list of exotic jurisdictions: Tuscany, The Hamptons, Masai Mara, Pontypridd… With diffidence, Brenda added ‘122 Gasworks Terrace’. It was evident that, if dirty deeds were afoot, she was likely to be first on the scene.
As it turned out, thanks to Brenda’s plan, the Famous Eleven were all on hand to thwart Mr de Piffel’s plot. They arrived in the nick of time to catch him loading the silverware into a sack. All gave three cheers as PC Rudd bundled the miscreant into a black Maria, ignoring his cry about ‘meddling kids’.
‘Lashings of Prosecco all round,’ Brenda cried, daringly.
Robbie was examining Mr de Piffel’s prospective loot, now restored to its proper place. ‘I cannae be sure,’ he said, ‘but this business may not be over yet. Does anyone else have a suspicion that a wee piece is missing?’
Brenda smiled. She would wait until the fuss had died down before revealing how she had secreted away the 1689 Urn just to keep it from miscreants like Mr de Piffel.
To make absolutely certain, she had resolved to have new words added to the engraving: ‘Unless deemed necessary by the Famous Eleven,’ might be suitable, she mused. ‘If you can’t look after something in your care, you have no right to keep it.’
But she had a feeling that the adventure was not over yet. Not by a long chalk.