When he had been on a shopping trip at the age of eight, Percy Dale had been noticed by a theatre agent wanting to cast child roles for a short performance of Hansel and Gretel to be done in the various locations of a major chain of toy stores. He was accepted into the role of Hansel, which gave him the need to learn the lines, so that the play could be performed in the Christmas holidays. He had several months, and would practice it with the cast on weekends.
"The secret to good acting," said one of the cast members, who played Hansel's father, "is to half convince yourself of the role being true. Then you almost do not need to act. In this case, you are playing a boy frightened of the witch. Tell yourself that she really is a witch, and you'll start to feel scared of her. Then it will show on your face."
In his adult life, the Sneaky Spy had applied this technique often in order to outwit his opponents with convincing acting.
As a child, in this case, he found it difficult to be afraid of Anabel Humphries, the young lady playing the witch, because she was pretty. She wore a black jumper and black skirt to complement the role. She had short black straight hair which just covered her ears. She looked even more lovely, because her lines required her to be smiling most of the time, while his required him to show fear.
When the play had been performed for its final time, he saw that all the cast were exchanging hugs backstage after the show, to say farewell. He made sure that he had a hug with Anabel, but then came the inevitable parting.
Before he could worry too much about this, he had a telephone call from Joyce Chamberlain, who wanted to interview him about the play on her television show 'Celebrity Parades.' She looked very similar to Anabel in some ways, because her hair was exactly the same length and shape. However, it was blond. While Anabel's lips had been red even before she put on her red lipstick, Joyce's were pink.
They filmed the interview, and Joyce concluded with "and the store has given our television station the rights to screen a film we made of the play at one of the stores, when it was being performed. It will be coming soon to this station."
Again he had no choice but to say farewell after the program had been completed. For some reason, it never occured to him that the feelings for these pretty ladies could have been voiced.
In fourth class, he had a crush on his music teacher Miss Tommshaw, who had short wavy dark brown hair. However, music was only for one lesson each week, and he again never voiced his feelings.
Perhaps the greatest opportunity he had was when he was in second class at Killara Preparatory School, which owned a portion of the East Killara bushland. When he was six years old he had commenced second class with the new teacher Miss Newkin, who had just moved into Sydney. She had been born and educated in America. His previous two years of schooling at Killara had been less than exciting. The first class teacher Mrs Wheeton had been too strict and unpleasant in his opinion. On the last day of the year in first class, she had lined the class up at the end of the day and made all of the children laugh, by giving each one a kiss. Percy had done his best to sneak to the end of the line and had finally refused to be kissed. However, she had jokingly made him comply, and the laughter from the others had reached its peak.
If only Miss Newkin would now find a reason to kiss him. In April, he had to spend a week of school term in hospital to have his ruptured appendix removed. When the time came for the operation, a nurse had said, "Come up and have a cuddle", and lifted him in her arms. To his horror, the next thing he felt was a hypodermic needle being injected into the rear portion of his anatomy in order to send him off to sleep.
When he awoke later, he discovered that Miss Newkin had sent him a puzzle book to help pass the time. It was full of mathematics puzzles, some of which she had worked the class through on the blackboard. She had always applied her different American education to making school lessons so much more interesting and enjoyable. Each day she would read them a chapter of a fairytale novel, which had started Percy on an addiction to the works of the English author who had written it. She later went on to read the class an American children's adventure novel in a similar series of daily instalments.
One day Miss Newkin had played the guitar and sung a song about the alphabet, using as many amusing words that commenced with the relevant letters of the alphabet in succession. Every ploy or gimic in her teaching approach made lessons entertaining and the work material easier to understand and remember. His work was the best that he had done in any year at school. Each day he looked forward to going to school, instead of dreading the boredom and confinement as he had often done in the previous two years.
On the last day of second term, by which time Percy was now seven years old, the entire school was given free time from the commencement of morning tea until the end of the day. Percy and his friends had taken to playing super heroes in the bush every lunchtime, imitating the heroes and villains on television cartoons, to chase and wrestle each other.
In anticipation of this last day, he actually brought a super hero costume to school and wore it down in the bush during free time.
By one o'clock the chasings had tired a lot of the children out. So they evolved the game into a hide and seek version of super heroes and villains. The heroes would have to find the villains. At one stage, Percy was still searching for villains, when he noticed that Miss Newkin was the teacher on duty deep down in the bush. She had gone to the furthest point where the school's territory ended and the general public's bushland began. There was no actual borderline or fence, but the school and any public bushwalkers never seemed to meet each other, because the public bushtracks were several metres further on from the border of the school's territory.
Percy saw Miss Newkin sit down and start eating her lunch. She had not seen him. He decided to see if he could sneak up and surprise her. He tucked his cape into the back of his trousers to prevent it from rustling or getting caught in the bushes, and began creeping through the bushland. When he was almost within four metres of her, he noticed that, as she finished the last bite of her sandwich and stood up, a man was walking towards her from behind, from the public bushland.
Percy watched in horror as he stole up behind her, put his hand over her mouth, stood to face her and then forced his lips over hers. She struggled to free herself, but could not resist his overpowering physique. He removed his lips and cupped her mouth with his hand again.
"Don't like that, eh darlin'? Well you've only seen the start of it. I've had my eye on you for a while now, and what I like, I take."
Percy wanted to help her, but what could he do? How could a small boy stand up to a muscular adult man?
He saw the man produce an unused handkerchief and gag her mouth tightly. Then he seized her wrist and forced her to walk through the bush with him, away from the school's land. Percy was very frightened of the man, and wanted to run back and tell the headmaster, but that would mean giving the man a chance to get away with Miss Newkin.
"I'll have to really be a super hero now," he thought, "This man is the villain, and I must rescue Miss Newkin."
He crept through the bush behind them for a long time. The man came to a path and followed it out of the bushland to the place where he had parked his car.
While still trailing the man from behind, Percy found a solid club of wood. He picked it up, feeling a brief surge of confidence in the weapon before his fear of the man returned. The car was parked with the left hand side facing the path. Percy remained in the bushes when he appoached the end of the track, and saw the man open the passenger door and push Miss Newkin onto the passenger seat.
"Now stay put!" he said.
He closed the door and walked around to the driver's side.
Miss Newkin opened the door and tried to run, but he caught her and slapped her face.
"It's now or never," thought Percy as he saw them approach the car after her attempted escape.
"Try that again, and I'll do it a lot harder. Understand?" he said.
She nodded and soon got back into the car.
Percy quietly tiptoed out of the bushes and snuck up behind the man, as the man leaned down to push the passenger door shut. Percy swung the club at the back of the man's head as hard as he could, and saw the man stagger and fall across the bonnet of the car after taking no more than two steps. He opened the car door.
"Come on, Miss Newkin. You've got to escape."
"Oh Percy, I can hardly believe it!" she said.
She stepped out of the car, took Percy's hand and ran with him, back through the bush as soon as Percy had dropped the club.
By two o'clock they reached the school's bushland. Miss Newkin cupped her hands around her mouth like a megaphone and called out:
"All children go up to the playground! The bush will be out of bounds for the rest of the day! There is a dangerous man in the bush somewhere!"
It might well have frightened them, she thought, but this was better than having them remain in the bushes, if any of them chose disobedience for the sake of mischief. She could not have risked the man kidnapping any of them.
While other children set about starting games of handball and soccer in the playground, Miss Newkin and Percy went into their usual classroom and closed the door.
"Do you think that we should call the police about that wicked man?" he asked.
"Yes I will later," she said, and burst into tears, "Oh Percy, I was so frightened. How did you find me?"
Miss Newkin sat down on the carpeted floor beside him.
"I was playing super heroes, when I saw you sit down for lunch. I was going to sneak up on you and yell out 'surprise,' but when I got close, I saw that man get you."
"Why didn't you go back to the school to get help?" she asked, "That man might have caught you too and hurt you badly."
"He was scary, but school couldn't help you if he took you away and we didn't know where. I still had my costume on. So I thought I should really be a super hero and stop the man. So I followed you in the bushes. Then I found a club and saved it up and hit him."
"Percy, you really are a super hero and a very brave one. Still I hope you never take a risk like that again," she said. Then she actually took him in her arms and hugged him tightly, saying, "You saved me!"
Percy stretched a young hand up to wipe a tear from her cheek and spoke.
"You are safe now. That man is probably still fainted."
He knew that he liked Miss Newkin, but his young mind did not actually think of the words 'I love you, Miss Newkin.' So he said nothing and continued to enjoy the hug. In a few minutes she used the telephone at her desk to call the police, who soon rang back to say that they had caught the man.
"He was lying on the bonnet of the car you described, Miss," said the constable, "right out of it, with a nasty lump on the back of his head where your young student hit him. We told him you would testify, but he wanted to make a full confession as an attempt at contrition. I don't think it will keep him out of jail though. I will be needing you later for a full statement, but I shan't need to trouble the boy."
"Yes. I'll be down early this evening then," said Miss Newkin, and soon hung up.
"Is he caught?" asked Percy.
"Yes. He was still unconscious. You really clubbed him hard. Wait until everyone else finds out what a hero you have been!"
"What's the matter."
"Please don't tell anyone. I'm just glad that you're safe."
"My mother would never let me play in the bush again, if she found out. I don't want to tell anyone."
"Alright, I won't even tell the other teachers, or the headmaster, or anyone except the police. Still ,you will always be a hero to me for coming to rescue me today."
She knelt down and kissed his cheek.
For the rest of the year he enjoyed secret subtle hints of gratitude from her. At the end of the year she gave everyone in the class a small giftwrapped storybook. Inside the cover of his he also found a fifty dollar note and a message:
a Super Hero's reward.
She had not written it in modified cursive writing, as it would be illegible to a second class child.
The following year he had a different teacher in third class, but he still tried to see Miss Newkin occasionally when she was on lunchtime playground duty. One day she gave him an envelope. He went away to read its contents:
I started seeing a nice man in the christmas holidays,
and I grew to like him. So we are now engaged to be
I told him how you saved me from that criminal in the bush.
He was so grateful that he bought you this ticket to the new
super hero movie that's on at the cinemas. So you can go
and see it now. Thank you again,
"Married?" he thought in horror, "Oh no."
He suppressed the temptation to cry, and took the ticket back and gave it to her.
"I don't really want to see the movie, but thank you."
"Why not? Percy, you've always liked super heroes. When you were in my class, and one of the boys brought costumed super hero dolls to school, you kept on asking him to let you play with them."
"Yes, but... it's hard to say what I mean," he said, and turned to walk away as the tears began to force their way out of his eyes. They were on a pathway between the end of the school's driveway and the second class room. Nobody else was in sight.
Miss Newkin stepped in front of him and put her hand on his head.
"Whatever is the matter? It seems a lot more serious than being about a movie that you don't like."
He could not look her in the eye.
He could not say anything.
"Percy, you saved me, remember, and I kept it a secret as you asked me to. Whatever's upsetting you, you can tell me, and I won't tell anyone. Maybe I can help."
His answer was almost a whisper.
"I wish I could marry you."
"I'm sorry, Miss Newkin," he choked.
"Sorry? Percy, falling in love with a teacher is nothing to be sorry about," she said, looking to see that they were still alone and kneeling down to hug him, "I think it's very sweet of you really. You won't understand all of this now, but one day you will be grown up and old enough to get married. By that time I'll be ... different. You might not love me anymore, and you'll probably love a girl your own age. I'm sure it will all work out for you in the end. Believe me, we would never have given you that movie ticket, if I had known how much this would have upset you. I didn't mean to make you cry. I'll always be fond of my young super hero friend, and one day you will have a lovely wife of your own."