Another Grim Running Read

Meet the young track stars of Central High.

There were seven of the girls and every one of the seven—in her way—was attractive.

That’s wonderful for them, for sure. But I was only hoping Bobby, Jess, Clara, and the other four high school athletes of this 1914 Grosset & Dunlap title would be a more reliable source for an amusing vintage comfort running-themed read than the 1922 Yank Brown novel I tried the other day.

Fat chance.

In the very first chapter, a plot dripping with as much racism as the Yank Brown story rears its ugly head. The girls are out and about on a country ramble in the British countryside at the tail end of summer vacation before the start of the school year when they spy an “odd looking” person.

She wore no hat, and her black hair streamed behind her in a wild tangle as she ran along the muddy road. She had a vivid yellow handkerchief tied loosely about her throat, and her skirt was green—a combination of colors bound to attract attention at a distance.

When the girls first saw this fugitive—for such she seemed to be—she was running from the thick covert of pine and spruce which masked the road to the west, and now she leaped upon the stone fence which bordered the upper edge of the highway as far as the spectators above could trace its course.

The stone wall was old, and broken in places. It must have offered very insecure footing; but the oddly dressed girl ran along it with the confidence of a chipmunk.

“Did you ever see anything like that?” gasped Bobby. “I’d like to have her balance.”

“And her feet!” agreed Jess, struggling to her knees the better to see the running girl.

“She’s bound to fall!” gasped Nellie.

The school friends decide that her coordination and her dark skin tone are evidence that she is a Gypsy. Another comparison of the girl to a quick-moving animal follows… as well as the realization that she’s trying to escape the pursuit of an “evil-faced” male Gypsy, who loses track of her.

The plot eventually brings the girl, Margit, to their upscale high school.

Margit seemed to have cut loose from the Gypsies altogether. When she appeared at Central High with the teacher she was dressed like any other girl coming from a well-to-do home. Her Gypsy garb had been discarded.

And she proves instrumental  in helping the track team win the field day meet and clinch the athletic league trophy–not by running but in helping locate Eve, the school long jump champ, who has been taken prisoner by the very same Gypsy who had been chasing Margit.

Or something like that. The plot had long since lost me and I was skimming. I read with much more attention this piece written a full century later than the book about the rampant continued discrimination of Gypsies and Travellers in the UK.

Bobby and her six school chums may be appealing, according to the author, but there is nothing attractive about their story, sorry.