Annabel: A Novel For Young Folks

This is a novel that contains many mysteries and, to me, one of them is why it is called Annabel, since Will Carden is the main character. At one time the Cardens had been a prominent family in Bingham, but now Will grows and sells vegetables to help support his widowed mother and his siblings.

Will, then 15-years-old, had just delivered vegetables to the cook at the Williams home when he saw that family’s children playing outside. Gladys, the youngest, was crying over a broken doll, so Will stopped to reattach the bottom half of a jointed leg. After that Gladys’ brothers told of a kite that wouldn’t fly. Will adjusted the “brace string” and solved the problem. All of the youngsters, including 12-year-old Annabel, thought Will was a splendid friend, but then Mrs. Williams came outside and declared she wouldn’t allow her children to associate with the vegetable boy.  

Will began walking home, offended by the woman’s words. The Williams children always treated him as an equal, but he knew that the town of Bingham depended on the 300 jobs at the steel mill, where world-famous Williams Drop Forge Steel was made. The Williams lived in a fine mansion, and the Cardens lived in a cottage on the other side of town. The Cardens had a couple acres of good land, cultivated by Will and his older brother Egbert, who was deaf, and had a crippled arm. Other family members were Mrs. Carden, and 10-year-old sister Florence. Also living in the small house was Mr. Jordan, who was Mr. Williams’ secretary at the steel mill. He had once been John Carden’s best friend, and he’d been boarding with the Cardens for eight years, ever since Will’s father had died in a shipwreck.  Mr. Jordan was “greatly respected, but little liked.” He stayed in the Carden’s best room, went to work, took a walk after supper, and then shut himself in his room each night. 

When Will returned to his humble home he met up with Dr. Meigs, who saw that the lad was troubled. After telling the doctor what Mrs. Williams had said the doctor told about Will’s father. John Carden came up with the process to make Williams Drop Forge Steel, but he’d become poor working on his experiments and had to borrow money from Mr. Jordan. Mr. Carden took a second-rate ship to England to interest steel companies in his process, but the ship sank, killing everyone on board. The secret process was now owned by Mr. Jordan, who got royalties on all of the steel made by Mr. Williams’ mill. 

Will’s sister, Florence, wanted to go visit with Annabel, but he told her she should just talk with her at school, and not go to the Williams house anymore, since Mrs. Williams wouldn’t like it. After supper Mr. Jordan went for his daily walk and Will followed after him, wanting to meet up with the man and ask him about his father. Mr. Jordan walked through a grove of trees he owned, stopped by one, looked around, and then ran his hand over a section of bark about the height of his head. After that Mr. Jordan continued on with his walk. Will decided not to try and talk to the boarder, for the man’s actions made him uneasy. 

A few days later Dr. Meigs came by once again, and Will told him he planned to try and get a job at the steel mill in October, once the vegetable-growing season was through. His mother was looking tired out, and Egbert couldn’t do heavy work due to his bad arm, so Will needed to earn more money to help his family. Dr. Meigs thought the youth should continue in school, and suggested a partnership raising mushrooms inside of the Cardens’ shed, that had once sheltered horses and cows, so the dirt floor was well fertilized. The doctor would pay for the equipment needed to properly heat the building, plus all other expenses to start the business. Will and his brother would do the work, and the mushrooms could be shipped by rail to a nearby city, where the doctor’s son-in-law was a wholesale grocer. 

Will could continue in school, and Egbert could study his correspondence lessons from the deaf-mute academy. (I suppose poverty kept Egbert from actually attending the school for the deaf.) The mushroom business was started, and proved a successful venture. 

When winter came Will came home from school and told his mother he was going out to Mr. Jordan’s tree grove and gather up all the downed branches for firewood. He would take some food with him so he wouldn’t have to come home for supper. Just as he was finishing his wood gathering Will saw Mr. Jordan come by on his walk, stop in front of the same tree as before, and run his hand over a certain area of bark. Since Will wasn’t much of a detective he didn’t go over to investigate if there was anything unusual about that tree. 

On the day after Christmas Will went to the skating pond. While he was there Annabel Williams fell through the ice, and Will rescued her. Though soaking wet he carried her to the Williams home and handed the freezing girl to Mr. Williams, who was often away, but happened to be home that day. Then Will went home to change into dry clothes. Mr. Williams was told that Annabel had been saved by Will Carden, and learned that he was the son of John Carden, who had discovered the special steel making process. When Dr. Meigs came Mr. Williams found out that the Carden family was poor, which surprised him, for when Mr. Jordan came to him with the steel formula he was shown a paper signed by John Carden, stating he sold the formula for ten thousand dollars. 

That evening Mrs. Williams sent word via a servant that she was so upset over Annabel’s “careless accident” that she would be eating in her room. Mr. Williams was surprised to see how pleased his children were about not having to eat with their mother at the table. He also learned that all of his children liked Will, but their mother wouldn’t let them socialize with him because he’s a vegetable boy. 

Mr. Williams sent a letter to Will, asking that he come see him at his office. When Will came Mr. Williams  talked with him, and asked Will to go and visit Annabel, who was still recovering from her accident. Will went to see her more than once, and he discovered she wasn’t too bad looking, even if she did have red hair and freckles.

In the spring it was decided that Mrs. Williams was in poor health, so she went to Europe for a rest. (Rich people logic.) Mr. Williams changed his work schedule to spend more time in Bingham instead of at the city where he had business dealings, for he wanted his children to have a parent at home. 

The mushroom business was bringing in enough money that Will told Mr. Jordan how Mrs. Carden was working too hard, and they no longer needed him to board with them. Mr. Jordan said he’d take his meals in town, but would keep his room. He also continued to get the Cardens’ mail from the post office, which he started doing as soon as Mr. Carden left for Europe.

The Williams mill put in a bid for a large overseas steel order, but learned they were outbid by a English company called Atlas Steel, which was manufacturing an improved version of the secret Carden process. Mr. Williams wanted to investigate how someone in England came up with the same metal formula, but he felt he should keep an eye on Mr. Jordan, whom he no longer trusted. After conferring with Dr. Meigs he asked Will, who was now 18-years-old, if he’d like to go on a business trip to England. Will accepted the offer, and was told it was important that Mr. Jordan not learn where he was going. Will was given one other task. He must first go to London, meet Mrs. Williams at the Savoy hotel, and see that she gets safely on a steamer that will bring her home. 

Before telling about Will’s oversees journey I’ll skip ahead and say that Annabel and Mr. Williams took a walk to Mr. Jordan’s grove of trees, and she told her father that Will had pointed out to her a special tree where Mr. Jordan would run his hands over an area of bark. Mr. Williams, who was smart enough to carry a pocket knife with him, examined the tree and found that a section of bark formed a door over a hollow area of the tree trunk. Now, its fairly common for villains in children’s books to make foolish decisions, but would any cad be stupid enough to hide incriminating evidence in a tree that he goes and touches everyday? What was in that tree?

Meanwhile, when Will arrived in London he went to see Mrs. Williams, and she said “Dear me! Isn’t it the vegetable  boy?” But she asked him to have supper with her at a swanky restaurant. While Will and Mrs. Williams were dining a woman came over to gossip with the lady, and told her all the important people in the room. One of them was wealthy John Carden, the head of Atlas Steel. My goodness, that was the name of Will’s deceased father, and Atlas was the steel company he’d come to investigate. 

If Mr. Carden was still alive, why hadn’t he been communicating with his own family? Now I’m never able to solve the mysteries found in books, but I got suspicious about why Mr. Jordan had assigned himself the job of always getting the Cardens’ mail. 

This novel, written by Suzanne Metcalf, and published in 1906, had so many coincidences, and poor-boy-meets-the-right-person scenes that it reminded me of a Horatio Alger adventure. But Suzanne Metcalf was actually a pseudonym for L. Frank Baum, a writer famous for the Oz books, including The Wizard of Oz, the inspiration for the famous 1939 Judy Garland movie. I found this book an enjoyable read, and stayed up late to finish it, for I had to know what happened next. I never found out why Annabel got her name used for the title, though she was wiser than Will when it came to wondering what’s up with that tree Mr. Jordan kept visiting. And – spoiler alert – Will ends up finding her to be a very nice person. 

If you’d like to read Annabel it can be downloaded, free of charge, at:


A Captured Santa Claus

Christmas had always been a joyous time for everyone at Holly Hill in Virginia. Even after 1861, when Major Stafford left to fight for the Confederacy, there were a couple of Christmases with nice presents for everyone – from thirteen-year-old Bob down to “little tot” Evelyn. The youngsters thought war was interesting and exciting, what with so many soldiers marching past their home and, for a time, Mrs. Stafford had made sure her children didn’t suffer any hardships. But in 1863 the blockades had been in place for so long that all Mrs. Stafford could manage was some patched up old things for gifts. Young Evelyn told her family that the Yankees hadn’t let Santa Claus come that year.

A couple days later Major Stafford rode 70 miles to see his family, and heard all about the disappointing Christmas. Evelyn told him she would get a great big dolly next Christmas, and the next-youngest child, Charlie, said he’d be getting his own uniform and a sword from Santa. The Major promised all of his children good presents next year.

In 1864 Major Stafford was the hero in many battles, but he gained the reputation as a miser, for he saved an entire year’s salary of Confederate money, and then traded all of it in for five ten-dollar gold-pieces. Then the Major fought up North, and his men were able to seize control of a town. The storekeepers had closed their businesses, but when Major Stafford went to a clothing store and rapped on the door he was let in. The officer asked for a boy’s uniform suit, and when he was shown one made of blue cloth, he asked for a gray uniform. Alas, the storekeeper had none, but was given a ten-dollar gold piece for the blue uniform. Next the Major went to the toy shop for a toy sword and a beautiful doll, and then it was on to a jeweler’s shop for watches to give his oldest sons. All storekeepers were paid in gold. 

For the rest of the campaign Major Stafford had a carefully sealed package strapped behind his saddle. One night the brigade officers sat around a campfire, along with a captured Union officer, Colonel Denby. The Confederates demanded that Major Stafford reveal what was in his precious bundle, and so he showed his purchased sword, uniform, and doll. Even the prisoner was impressed, and said there was a grandchild at his home, for his only son had been killed in battle.

Back home at Holly Hill things were not going well. The area was overrun with Union soldiers, and the only time they saw a Confederate was when prisoners were being marched past. One of the prisoners had been captured wearing civilian clothes, and he’d been hung for being a spy. The Stafford children had a low opinion of the Yankees – especially General (formerly Colonel) Denby, who’d once been a prisoner of the Confederates. 

It was almost Christmas, and Mrs. Stafford was sure her husband would not be able to make it home with any presents. She torn apart an old uniform coat left behind, and sewed a uniform for Charlie. Her oldest son Bob began making a toy sword, and middle son Ran worked at whittling a wooden doll for little sister Evelyn. 

On Christmas Eve General Denby sat in the smoky front room of an old farmhouse writing official papers, and when he finished he read over the Christmas letter from his little granddaughter. The general wrote a letter to the child, then looked out the window and saw a man wearing civilian clothes, standing on a box and singing. He called for an orderly, told him to mail his letter, and asked who the stranger was. The officer was told he was a pedlar, no one knew where the man had come from, or where he was now. General Denby was sure the man had been a spy, and demanded he be located. When it was reported that the man in civilian clothes had been traced to a house just across the creek the General decided to take over the neighboring house and use it as his new headquarters. He hoped that would mean a home without a smoking fireplace, and he could break up whatever treason was taking place there. 

In the house across the creek Mrs. Stafford had just put the youngest children to bed, and nearly sobbed over their talk of the wonderful presents they were expecting, for she was sure her husband would not be able to make it home for Christmas. But a little later there was a knock on the door and she opened it to see Colonel (formerly Major) Stafford disguised in shabby clothing, bearing wonderful presents for everyone. Oh what a happy Christmas Major and Mrs. Stafford were planning – until Yankee soldiers surrounded their home. 

Oh dear, Confederate Colonel Stafford had just snuck through a Union encampment wearing civilian clothes, and if caught he’d be hanged as a spy. He needed a Confederate uniform, but Mrs. Stafford had cut up his old jacket to make a gift for her youngest son. Her husband hid himself, and a dozen Yankees, including General Denby, entered and declared that the house had to be searched, for they knew a spy was there. 

The General went into the room where Evelyn and Charlie were sleeping, then he examined the filled stockings tacked to the mantel. He’d seen that doll and little blue uniform before. The General told most of the soldiers to return to the encampment across the creek, leaving only a few sentinels outside to guard the house. Then he told Mrs. Stafford to tell her husband to surrender, but he didn’t have to rush to do so. 

The Yankee officer was being polite, but that still left Colonel Stafford needing a Confederate uniform. His oldest son Bob had an idea. A little earlier he’d seen some prisoners marching by, and they must be at the Yankee encampment. If he could get past the sentries outside of his house, cross the cold creek, sneak into the encampment, find the Confederate prisoners, somehow get a uniform from an officer, then sneak back home, he could save his father’s life. 

Can Bob achieve his heroic goal? Will Colonel Stafford need to spend the rest of the war as a prisoner? This short novel, copyrighted in 1891, can be read in a couple of hours. Author Thomas Nelson Page had grown up on a Virginia plantation, and his family had been wealthy before the Civil War, so his books tend to present a cozy image of plantation life. While some of the novel’s events seem a bit unlikely, nothing appears to be an impossibility. The story kept my interest, and reminded me that most individuals caught up in war are good people, wanting to help others, as long as that help won’t betray the cause they are willing to die to protect. 

If you’d like to read A Captured Santa Claus it can be obtained, free of charge, at:

Editha’s Burglar

Editha was not like other seven-year-old girls who lived in London back in 1888. She had no brothers or sisters, and she didn’t go to school, for she had a governess who came in the mornings to teach her. Her papa wrote books and edited a newspaper. Her pretty mamma liked to go out and enjoy herself, instead of staying home with her daughter. Editha spent much of her time reading, including newspapers and the big books in her papa’s library. 

It was from reading newspapers that she learned there were men called burglars who made their living by breaking into houses and stealing things. One day at breakfast Editha asked “papa dear, what do you think about burglars – as a class?” Papa thought that, as a class, burglars were a bad lot. But Editha’s governess had told her about poor children who’d had no advantages, such as French or music lessons, so the girl thought that might be the way with burglars. If only they’d had some advantages burglars could have taken up another occupation, and not have to work nights, or sometimes be out in the rain. 

Editha’s mamma got up later than the rest of her family, for she’d been to a party that had tired her out. When Editha went into Mamma’s room the chamber-maid was there telling about a neighboring house that had been robbed, and all of the silver and jewelry stolen. Mamma was distraught, and said if a burglar broke into their house the fright would probably kill her. She told her daughter that if she ever saw a burglar she must never scream or make a noise, for there was no telling what would happen if she did. Editha assured her mamma she would never let anyone hurt her, for she had no doubt that even a man breaking into their house would listen to reason. 

That very day papa came home early and said he had to go out of town on business, and would need to pack a change of clothes, for he would not return until the next day. Mamma declared she didn’t want to be left alone after the nearby burglary, for the women servants all slept on the third floor, and even if they did hear something they’d just scream. Papa joked that his daughter was interested in burglars, wouldn’t scream, and she’d do something heroic. He hadn’t yet learned that his newspaper-reading seven-year-old child took the matter of protecting her foolish mamma from burglars way more seriously than he did. 

Editha slept in her mamma’s room that evening, and readers learned that she had excellent hearing. Something awakened the girl at midnight, and from downstairs she heard “a sound like a stealthy filing of iron.” She knew it was a burglar filing through the bars of the shutters, and she knew she couldn’t let the man awakened her mamma. Nothing to do but to go downstairs and politely ask the man to be as quiet as he can. 

The girl got out of bed and quietly walked downstairs, and when she opened the door to the room where the burglar was working the man turned and stared at her in surprise. Editha had been taught by her governess that “politeness always wins the way” so she told him not be be frightened, for she only wanted to ask a favor of him. Could he please burgle as quietly as possible, so as not to wake her mother, or frighten the servants and cause them to scream? After she’d watched him work for a while, she also asked if he’d please not take mamma and papa’s favorite belongings, and just take the watch papa had given her, and the jewelry she had inherited, but wasn’t yet old enough to wear. She also offered him all her books, and was very grateful when he said he didn’t want them. 

Editha and the nice burglar also had a chat about education, for the man said he was educated, which surprised Editha, for he pronounced his words strangely. 

“It’s all a matter o’ taste,” interrupted the burglar. “Oxford an’ Cambridge ‘as different vocabillaries.” 

“Did you go to Oxford?” asked Editha politely.

“No,” said he, “nor yet to Cambridge.” 

You’ll be glad to know that no one screamed, and no one died of fright while Editha’s house was being burgled. Alas, her polite and caring manner didn’t immediately convert the burglar into taking up a new line of work, though it did have a good effect on him. My main concern was if Editha’s actions would convert her mamma into a being a better parent. 

This story was written by Frances Hodgson Burnett, who is best known for writing the children’s novels Little Lord Fauntleroy, A Little Princess, and The Secret Garden. In 1888 Editha’s Burglar was published in St. Nicholas magazine, and in 1890 it was published as a short book. It’s the story of a rather lonely little girl who’s been taught good manners, and always thinks well of others – be they her vain and silly mamma, or a man who never had the advantages of French and music lessons, and takes on a job that causes him to work nights, and sometimes be out in the rain. It’s a pleasant little story with a happy ending (for Editha, if not for the burglar), and I suspect I’ll reread it on a day when a pleasant story would be a good addition to a somewhat-dreary day.

If you’d like to read Editha’s Burglar it can be obtained, free of charge, at:

Little Pollie

Shy little Pollie Turner, age ten, was standing outside the Bank of England, softly saying “A penny a bunch; only a penny, sweet violets,” but the passersby were paying no heed to her. This was her first day as a flower seller for, until recently, she’d lived out in the country and her father worked to support his family. But her father died, her mother moved to London to find work, and became so ill and weak she had trouble doing the needlework that paid for food and a room. Their next-door neighbor, Mrs. Flanagan, suggested Pollie try selling flowers. 

A girl named Sally Grimes, described as “a regular London Arab”came by, asked how many bunches she’d sold, and when Pollie said two, Sally stated she needed to shout loud enough to get people’s attention, then ran towards four young men, shoved her last violet bunch in their faces, and screamed the price of one penny. The violets were sold. 

Sally then took four bunches of Pollie’s violets, quickly sold them to rather startled customers, returned to give Pollie four pennies, and said she had to go now. Soon after that a nice lady with kind eyes asked Pollie if her violets were for sale, and when told they were she paid a shilling (worth 12 pennies) for three bunches. When Pollie said she’d paid too much, that started the type of conversation that may have only taken place in old children’s novels. 

When the lady asked why she didn’t keep the shilling Pollie said that God knew what the price was, and He wouldn’t approve of her cheating someone. The lady asked more questions and learned that Pollie’s father was dead and her mother was sick. She was told Pollie’s name and where she lived, and the lady said that she’d come and see her one day. The nice lady paid her three pennies for the flowers, and told her to keep the shilling and buy something for her mother. 

Pollie decided to go home with her money, and give her last two bunches of violets to her mother and Mrs. Flanagan. She had a long walk home, to Drury Lane, and as she was turning up Drury Court she met Lizzie Stevens, a young woman who lived across the street from Pollie. Lizzie was lugging home a large bundle of sewing work she got from cheap tailors, for she had to work all day and night, but still was half-starved from poverty. When Pollie showed her the last of her posies, Lizzie got teary-eyed, and said she had such violets near her country home, before her mother died and left her destitute. Pollie quoted some scripture to her, then offered her one of the violet bunches, and invited her to come and visit with her mother someday. 

Soon she was climbing the front steps of her building, and almost tripped over Jimmy, the little crippled boy who was often sitting on the steps, since that was better than being down in the dirty cellar, with his cruel drunken mother, who spent all her money on liquor. Pollie asked Jimmy if he’d like some violets. The poor boy had never seen a flower before, and when he asked if Pollie had made them, she told him God made them. Jimmy had never heard of God, so Pollie taught him a quick catechism lesson and, after giving him a few violets, she climbed up to the third floor, where there were two rooms – one rented by the Turners, and the other one rented by Mrs. Flanagan. 

When Pollie got home Mrs. Turner had water heated, so they could have their meal of tea and bread. (That and breakfast were the only meals they had each day.) Pollie divided up the remaining violets, then went out to do some shopping. She bought some meat for her mother (fourpence a pound), some water cresses for Mrs. Flanagan and, because she knew her mother would want her to eat some of the meat if she didn’t get something for herself, she bought two little pies, one for her and one for crippled Jimmy. 

She got home a second time, and Mrs. Flanagan was visiting with her mother. Just like all the other nice people in this story their neighbor had been raised in the country. She came to London so her husband could get work. Mr. Flanagan had been killed in a work accident, and his widow had to raise their daughter Nora all on her own. The girl had been Mrs. Flanagan’s pride and joy, but after she’d grown up Nora went away, and no one knew where she was.

Pollie continued to sell violets and, though she stayed timid and shy, she found steady customers who were pleased to have a penny’s worth of flowers to brighten their day. Reckless Sally Grimes, the girl who yelled and rushed about selling flowers, became friends with her. Lizzie Stevens, the near-starving seamstress, was asked to come and sew in the Turners’ better room, so she and Pollie’s mother worked non-stop together, yet appreciated not feeling lonesome during the day. (Apparently the extra food from Pollie’s earning healed Mrs. Turner, for readers stopped being told she was sick.)

Sally suggested Pollie sell flowers in the evening as well, and her mother had no objections to that, for the extra money was needed. One evening she came home and was told by Jimmy that her mother was out helping Lizzie deliver a heavy bundle of sewing, and Mrs. Flanagan was out shopping, so he asked if Pollie could tell him more about heaven, and if Jesus could love someone dirty and ugly. She talked to Jimmy for awhile, and taught him his first prayer. 

One evening Pollie and Sally were returned home after selling flowers. Sally asked why she didn’t go out selling on Saturday night, and Pollie told her she spent the evening preparing for Sunday-school, which she loved to attend. They decided to go and sit on Waterloo Bridge, and they watched the boats go by. Just then a beautifully dressed lady came by and tried to throw herself off the bridge, but the two girls grabbed hold of her and saved her life. Pollie decided they should take the unhappy lady home to her mother, because Mrs. Turner was always helping people. 

It turns out the lady was Nora, Mrs. Flanagan’s long-lost daughter. It took a while for Nora to get over her guilt and shame, but eventually everything worked out well for her. 

The next morning Pollie headed out to Sunday-school, stopping first to speak kindly to Jimmy who, as usual, was sitting on the steps. Waiting for her on the sidewalk was Sally Grimes, in clean clothes and neatly brushed hair. She asked if she could go with her to church. The friends enjoyed their lessons, and when Mrs. Turner came to join them for the church service she’d brought Jimmy with her. He loved the service. 

Months went by, and Sally continued to go to Sunday-school with Pollie. Mrs. Turner’s sewing customers were providing her with enough work so that Lizzie was able to stop working for “slopshops” and began helping Mrs. Turner with her better-paying work. Alas, Jimmy died, but with his dying breath he said he was happy to be going to heaven. 

Winter came and went, and in the spring Sally continued to sell flowers on the streets. She was now neat and tidy, and had given up startling people with her loud ways, but she was wishing she could get a better job. And she missed working with her friend, Pollie, who was sick at home, and wasn’t getting better. The doctor came everyday, and he couldn’t cure her. What was her mother and her friends going to do to help?

If only that nice lady, the one who paid a shilling for three bunches of violets, would keep her promise to come and visit the girl. If only there was a happily-ever-after ending, in which every single poor-but-kind person who was on good terms with Pollie would be able to be find a better job…

This short novel from 1885 had plenty of Sunday-school-style lessons to teach, but it never became so sticky-sweet that I lost my appetite for wanting to know what happened next. The characters were likable, and I especially liked Sally Grimes, the rough-and-tumble good girl who made believable improvements under Pollie’s influence. The story only took a couple hours to read, and I consider my reading time well-spent.

If you’d like to read the entire story Little Pollie can be read, free of charge, at:

The Blind Brother

This 1886 story tells of the Dryden Mine, in the Susquehanna coal-fields, twenty years earlier. Two-hundred-thirty men and boys worked in the coal mine, including fourteen-year-old Tom, and his twelve-year-old blind brother Bennie. Tom was a driver-boy, who drove the filled mule-pulled coal cars out of the mine, and brought the empty cars back in. Bennie stood by a door about a mile inside of the mine, which was beside the “airway from the tier of chambers on the new north heading”. The door was a safety measure to make sure the air current “should not be turned aside” from where the miners were working. Bennie opened and closed the door when anyone had to pass through.  

Both boys brought their wages home to their widowed mother to purchase food and clothing. Every month the Taylor family were able to save a dollar or two to put towards the hundred dollars needed to take Bennie to a big-city doctor to cure his blindness. 

In the Lackawanna region coal miners were on strike, and members of the secret society, the Molly Maguires, came to the Dryden Mine to convince local miners, by threats if need be, to join the strike. One day a group of miners, including big Jack Rennie, came through the door at the end of their shift. Jack thought it odd that Bennie stood by the door without moving, and didn’t look at anyone, and when he learned the lad was blind he remained behind to talk with him, and ask about his family. He was told about Tom, and the boys’ mother, and when he learned Bennie’s father had come from Ireland, and died years earlier when top coal fell on him the tone of Jack’s voice changed. He grasped hold of Bennie shoulder and demanded to know the father’s name. He was told it was Thomas Taylor, and Jack said he’d known the man, and that he would see to it that Bennie got the money for the doctor. 

That was something to tell Tom about, but it was past time for his brother to come and walk him home. Bennie waited so long that he became frightened, and decided to try and find his own way out, by striking his cane against the coal-car rails. But after awhile he realized he was in a strange area, and believed he had gone into a side passage. Bennie began to weep, but then he heard Tom calling his name. Contrite Tom took full responsibility, saying he’d been told that his brother had gone out of the mine with their friend Sandy McCulloch, and it wasn’t until he’d gone home that he’d known he’d been misled. 

Bennie told Tom about the strange man who’d talked to him, and Tom said he must have been connected with the far-off coal strike. Tom got his brother home to their mother, and then said he had to tell Sandy McCulloch he’d found Bennie, for the man would be waiting to see if he was needed for a search. 

It was about ten at night, when Tom was returning from speaking to Sandy, that he saw a man sneaking around the buildings near the engine-room. Tom stopped by the loading-place to listen and thought he heard a noise from inside. Then a big man came from behind a building and, thinking Tom was someone called Mike, began saying that was the last job of that kind he’ll be doing, for something touched his heart that day. 

Right after the man finished speaking Tom saw a fire start under the loading-place. The man realized the youth wasn’t who he’d thought, and said if Tom told anyone what he’d seen or heard the Molly Maguires would take terrible revenge. Tom ran off, but then stopped to look back and saw a watchman come by and cry “Fire!” Though many rushed to fight the fire the building was burned to the ground. 

The local miners went on strike, so there was no work. Tom was too frightened to tell anyone about what he knew about the fire. Jack Rennie was arrested for arson, and a messenger came to the Taylor home to say Tom had to go to Wilkes Barre to the office of Lawyer Pleadwell. Tom put on his best clothes and went with the messenger, resolving to tell the truth about what he knew. 

The lawyer was in his office with a short man who had Molly Maguire connections. Pleadwell asked Tom if he’d told anyone who he’d seen at the time the fire started, and the boy wondered how the man knew he’d seen someone at the scene of the crime. Tom said he hadn’t yet told, but he planned to do so. Mr. Pleadwell said he represented Jack Rennie, and if he didn’t tell what he knew he’d be given a hundred dollars to pay for Bennie’s surgery. The thought of helping his brother caused Tom to say he wouldn’t lie, but he’d keep what he knew a secret. 

Tom’s conscience was bothering him, but he told himself he would not be in the wrong as long as he didn’t tell a lie. He was given the money and told not to spent it until after the trial. Then Mr. Pleadwell asked more questions, and Tom revealed that at the time of the fire he’d seen a man go past him that looked a lot like the man now in the lawyer’s office. He was told to come to the trial of big Jack Rennie, and say that he saw a short man leaving. That was the truth, so Tom said he could do that. 

On the train ride home Tom kept thinking that he’d taken a bribe, and how wrong that was.  

The strike continued, and the Taylors used what they’d saved to get by on. One day Tom took Bennie for a walk and started asking him “just suppose” questions. Just suppose he’d seen Jack Rennie start the fire, and suppose someone said he’d give the family money for Bennie’s operation if, when he was questioned at the trial, he didn’t tell everything he knew. His brother replied that if that was the case, and he did get his sight, he’d be too ashamed to look at Tom. 

Sandy McCulloch went to the trial with Tom. They entered the courthouse, and when Jack Rennie was brought in the man was a head taller than those guarding him. Tom, who had the hundred dollars in his pocket, was still trying to convince himself that he wouldn’t be doing anything wrong if he just didn’t lie. Sandy was also a witness, and said the reason he was still awake when the fire started was because he was waiting to see if he was needed to help Tom Taylor find his missing blind brother. Rennie was startled by that statement.

When Sandy was asked if Tom could have started the fire, he laughed and said there was no chance his friend could ever do anything wrong. Tom was called as a witness, put his hand on a Bible, and swore to tell the whole truth. He was asked about the night of the fire and told about seeing a short man pass him. He was allowed to leave the witness stand but, feeling the guilt of not telling all he knew, he went over to Lawyer Treadwell, flung the money at him, then returned to the stand and shouted in an Irish brogue “Prison me, kill me, but I’ll no’ hold back the truth longer for only mon.”

He was then told to tell all he knew and, as he testified, Jack Rennie looked at him in admiration. Rennie was found guilty, and when the sheriff tried to put handcuffs on the man they wouldn’t close around his huge wrists. Instead of having his deputy go and get a larger pair the sheriff decided the man couldn’t escape armed officers of the law.  Alas, a few Molly Maguires were nearby, so the sheriff and deputy were clubbed unconscious and Rennie ran off into the foggy night. 

When Tom got home he told his entire story to his mother and brother, and both were proud of him. It was far into December before the local strike ended, and Tom and Bennie were overjoyed to return to the mine, for their savings were gone. Tom left Bennie at the inside mine door, but at mid-day, when the brothers sat together for their meal Bennie was somber, for when all should have been silent he thought he heard the “working” of the mine. The boys were quiet until Tom heard the sound that meant the coal pillars left in place to support the tunnels were beginning to crack and crumble. 

Tom told his boss, who examined the pillars and said there was no immediate danger, but wooden props would be added tomorrow. 

But what if tomorrow wouldn’t be soon enough? What if the Taylor brothers, who were the last to leave when their shift ended, were trapped in a cave-in? What if, when searching unused chambers for a way out they discover Jack Rennie has been hiding in the mines, and that he has a couple of blankets and a little food, and there was water to drink? What if they have all that’s needed to survive for several days, as long as the air doesn’t go bad from deadly gasses? What if readers learn why Jack Rennie had a special interest in the sons of Thomas Taylor?

There are a lot of sad events in this world, but I’m especially saddened whenever I learn of an underground mine entrapment. And this story made me cry, both over the descriptions of the mine dangers, and Mrs. Taylor trying to keep up hope. But I wouldn’t be reviewing this story if Mrs. Taylor didn’t have her prayers answered, and she received the best possible gift on Christmas evening. 

At the beginning of this short book there’s a notice stating that author Homer Greene had won a fifteen hundred dollar prize for the best Youth’s Companion serialized story in 1886. I’ve never read any of the other Youth’s Companion stories published in 1886, but I can’t imagine how any of them could be better, for I found this to be a splendid tale.  

If you’d like to read The Blind Brother you can do so, free of charge, at:

Only a Farm Boy

Dan Hardy had a hard life. His schoolteacher father died a few years ago, and his mother had just died, so a miserly wealthy farmer, by the name of Mr. Savage, took him in to keep him out of the poorhouse. Mr. Savage had the lad work from dawn to dusk, and then at night Dan did housework for Mrs. Savage. His pay consisted of a few old clothes and a little food, and he was never allowed to read from the few schoolbooks he had, because in this type of story a villain can’t have any redeeming qualities. 

One day a strange man came into the barn where Dan was working and began asking questions about who ran the general store, and where the doctor lived. Dan thought the man was a door-to-door salesman, and was answering him when Mr. Savage came in a began yelling at Dan for taking a break from work. The stranger apologized for getting the lad in trouble, and paid Mr. Savage a quarter to make up for the time when Dan should have been shelling corn. 

That evening, after Dan did the supper dishes, Mrs. Savage told him he had to walk four miles to the general store for she needed yeast to bake bread. Dan started his trek to the village, and when he was close to Dr. Maxwell’s house he came upon the stranger who had asked him questions earlier. Dan spoke to him, but the man got pretty snippy with the lad. After Dan got the yeast he started for home, and when he got near the doctor’s home he thought he saw someone walking close to the house, but he had to get home, so didn’t stop to investigate. 

The next morning Mrs. Savage needed molasses so she sent Dan to the store once more, this time with the quarter the stranger gave Mr. Savage. During the walk Mr. Harrison, who was “the village blacksmith, a kindly old man, and a veteran of the Civil War,” happened by and offered Dan a ride. The blacksmith had known Dan’s mother and father, and wished that he wasn’t so poor, so he could help the youth. When they got to the village Dan saw the mysterious stranger, and pointed him out to Mr. Harrison, who said the man had paid him to weld a broken tool that was like a big tack lifter. 

Dan went into Mr. Lee’s general store for a gallon of molasses, but when he tried to pay with the quarter it was discovered that the coin was a worthless counterfeit. He was allowed to take the molasses – and the dud quarter – back to the Savages, but a good coin would need to be brought to the store. That same day a neighbor with a telephone got a call saying Mr. Savage’s sister over in Pokesville was sick and needed some medicine. It was decided that Dan would take the medicine over, but not until night, after he finished all his work. 

He was allowed to ride an old horse, but since Dan didn’t know the way, and had trouble reading signposts in the dark, he mistook the Hokeville sign for the Pokesville one, got lost, and didn’t get to the sister’s house until one o’clock in the morning. By that time the sister was over her pain and her husband refused to pay for the medicine. Dan started back, and when he was nearly home the moon came out and he saw a wagon stopped on the road. Men were removing bundles from the wagon and disappearing into the woods. It was a mystery, but Dan had to get back by daybreak, for he had a full day of work ahead of him, so he couldn’t stop to investigate. But he saw something gleaming on the road, got off the mare, and picked up a silver spoon, which he put into his pocket. 

Dan got back to the farm, cared for the horse, and slept in the hayloft for awhile until Mr. Savage came and yelled at him. Then Dr. Maxwell’s hired man came by to say he was going to get the constables because the doctor’s house had been robbed. One of the dining room windows had been pried up with a big screwdriver, or maybe a big tack lifter, and all the silver had been stolen. 

Two clueless elderly constables went looking for evidence and Dan, who still had the silver spoon in his pocket, was arrested, locked up in jail, and then was taken before the elderly justice of the peace, who considered himself a judge, and was called Squire by everyone. The Squire knew about as much about conducting trials as the constables knew about investigating crimes, so Dan was in a lot of trouble. 

He did know a little about his rights, and said he needed a lawyer. But since there weren’t any in the village he asked for the blacksmith, Mr. Harrison, to be sent for. Dan asked for him because he was his only friend, but it just so happened that Mr. Harrison had seen a lot of court-martial trials while he’d been in the army, and knew a lot more about law than the Squire did. The blacksmith questioned the witnesses, and it appeared that there wasn’t much to tie Dan to the robbery, but the Squire still decided that Dan had to stay in jail unless someone would put up a thousand dollars in bail. 

Nasty Mr. Savage wasn’t about to put up any money for Dan, but Mr. Harrison, the formerly poor blacksmith, had just learned that a distant relative died and left him property worth at least ten thousand dollars, so he was more than willing to pay the bail, and then teach Dan the trade of blacksmithing. 

A little later Mr. Lee’s general store was robbed of cigars, and while the constables were smart enough to notice that a window had been pried open it took Dan and Mr. Harrison to discover a metal object had been dropped outside of the window. It was sort of like a big tack lifter, and it was the same tool that Mr. Harrison had recently mended for the mysterious stranger.

Will this story have a happy ending? Will Dan Hardy be able to finish his schooling, and will Mr. Savage receive a good quarter for the counterfeit one the stranger gave him? 

This 1909 novel reads like a Horatio Alger story, but it was written by Frank V. Webster, an early pseudonym used by the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which produced numerous series, including Tom Swift, Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, who were probably not related to the hero of this tale.

Dan Hardy didn’t excel at solving mysteries, but he was honest and hard-working, and was the friend of a honest and hard-working Civil War veteran blacksmith, so you can’t get more respectable than that. I found this book to be a fun read. The good guys were likable, and the villains were dim-witted folks who were no match against truth, justice, and manual laborers. 

If you’d like to read Only a Farm Boy it can be downloaded, free of charge, at:

The Scout Master’s Boy Scout Novels

In the past there have been numerous Boy Scout book series, but I chose to sample novels written circa 1914 by Scout Master Robert Shaler about the adventures experienced by those who attended Pioneer Camp. I first read The Boy Scouts On Picket Duty, which had a group of scouts help capture weapons smugglers. It was an interesting read, and included a kidnapping followed by a rescue mission, but I doubted that it represented an average couple of weeks in a boy scout’s life, so I went back to the beginning of the series to see what happened when the youths were first introduced to their reading audience. 

The Boy Scouts of the Signal Corps introduced me to 17-year-old Hugh Hardin of the Wolf patrol. (Other patrols were Otters, Hawks and Foxes.) Their scout master was a retired army officer, Lieutenant Denmead, plus there was a half-bred Indian guide named Joe. (Yes, I know the description of Joe is not  politically correct, but welcome to 1914.) I also met wealthy Alec, who complains a lot, and never takes responsibility for his mistakes. How did he get into the Boy Scouts? More about him later. 

The scout master proposed they form a Signal Corps. Those who mastered signaling by means of semaphore flags (16 letters per minute or better), telegraphy, and other methods of communicating, plus earned honors in various woodcraft skills, would be able to join the Signal Corps, and work with the National Guard while they were on maneuvers.   

Both Hugh and Alec were chosen, but Alec becomes jealous of the other scout, and tries to hinder his ability to successfully complete projects. For example, Hugh accidentally dropped the notebook he’d been using to jot down what he observed during hikes, which would help him write a good report about what he’d learned. Alec saw what happened, stepped on the notebook and ground it into the soft soil so it couldn’t be found. 

But Joe, the guide, observed what Alec did to Hugh’s lost item, and later on he gave the note-book to Alec, telling him he’s a good scout and knows what to do with it. Will that be enough to bring the caddish youth to his senses, or will it require Alec to slide down a rocky ledge, twist an ankle and need to be rescued by sympathetic and resourceful Hugh?

I liked the way that first volume ended, and moved on to the next available adventure – The Boy Scouts of the Geological Survey. This story begins with Ralph Kenyon, a young man who isn’t a boy scout, who traps and farms in order to support himself and his widowed mother. He’d been trying to save up enough to attend the School of Mines so that he could become a surveyor,  but his mother was losing her eyesight and would go blind without an operation. 

If that wasn’t enough trouble his neighbor, Old Man Perkins, was disputing boundary lines, and claiming he owned part of the Kenyon farm. Ralph’s father had believed his land had valuable iron deposits, plus a railroad was looking to buy some land for a branch line, so either the Kenyons or the Perkins could make lots of money from selling a right-of-way. 

With so many troubles Ralph was in dire need of some help from local scouts. Even though this story started in the spring, before Pioneer Camp had opened for the summer, there were scouts who’d finished their school year early and, instead of using their skills and energy to help out their own families, were showing up to stay near the camp, waiting for the next adventure to begin. 

Right before his mother’s surgery Ralph sprained an ankle and scouts Tom Sherwood and Arthur Camermon offered to stay at the farm and help out. They were there when the house was robbed, and were able to obtain the help of other scouts to locate the villain and assist the constable in arresting the man.

And since the scouts were going to be given a course in geology, and a lesson in surveying, it only made sense that a group of them offer their services to the railroad to work as assistant surveyors. And while they were doing that they could search for geological evidence of any iron deposits. 

I wasn’t a boy scout back in the 1910s so I can’t say for sure how often scouts helped capture criminals, went on maneuvers with the National Guard, or were invited to assist a group of railroad surveyors, but at the time there were fewer union rules or government workplace safety regulations, so I don’t suppose the plot lines were absolutely impossible…

The British Boy Scouts were founded in 1908, and the Boy Scouts of America began in 1910, so when the first of these novels were published in 1914 the scouting movement was something new for boys to read about, right up there with books about the moving-picture business and aeroplanes made out of wood and canvas (which later evolved into metal airplanes). 

These novels are a short 160 pages, and I found them an entertaining read. I don’t consider them to be masterpieces, but rather like potato chips – if there’s a lot of them available it’s hard to stop at just one. 

If you’d like to spend a few hours reading about the Boy Scouts of Pioneer Camp 18 titles are available, free of charge, at: 

Honey Sweet

Back in about 1911 an eight-year-old orphan named Anne Lewis had just boarded a European-bound steamship with her Uncle Carey Mayo. The trip had been hastily arranged, and they’d packed so quickly she’d forgotten to bring her doll, Rosy Posy. 

Anne saw Uncle Carey leave the ship to talk to an office boy on the dock, and he was given a yellow envelope. But then passengers got in front of her and she lost site of him. One of passengers was Mrs. Patterson, who was in wheelchair, and had the stateroom next door to Anne. Her son, Patrick Patterson, and her sister, Miss Drayton, had rooms near by. Mr. Patterson, who had a job that required a great deal of travel, was not with them. 

The ship began its journey but Uncle Carey never returned to Anne. The little girl went to her room and didn’t venture out to the crowded dining room, nor did she wash or prepare for bed. The next morning a stewardess named Vaughn went to check on the girl and found her crying and wanting her uncle. Vaughn asked the captain if he knew anything about the missing man, and was told that the New York City chief of police sent a cable saying he needed to talk with Carey Mayo. The Stuyvesant Trust Company had examined their books, and there were financial irregularities.

Miss Drayton asked Anne to eat with her family, and young Pat said they’d be spending a year in Europe. The ship’s captain thanked Miss Drayton for taking an interest in Anne, and said that her uncle was probably in Canada. The authorities were searching for other relatives. Miss Drayton told Anne her uncle wasn’t on ship due to business, and he may take a later ship. 

When Mrs. Patterson learned about Anne’s doll being left behind she decided to make her a cloth doll with a painted face and pretty clothes. She sacrificed some of her own clothes for material, and brushed off her sister’s concern about over working, for having a project to do made her forget about her illness. Sawdust obtained to stuff the doll had been used as packing in crates of breakable objects. When Anne received the doll she named it Mrs. Emily Patterson, but said she would call it Honey Sweet as a pet name. 

During the journey Anne noticed a poor steerage passenger in a “rough shirt and blue overalls” with a “scrubby beard.” When they landed in Liverpool Mrs. Patterson’s party drove to a fine hotel in a carriage, but they were followed by a shabby cab, with the man in blue overalls inside. After getting out of his cab he shouldered his canvas bag and disappeared down a dingy street. 

Mrs. Patterson never had a daughter and wanted to adopt Anne, but Miss Drayton worried about her having “bad blood” due to her uncle being a felon. One day Anne was walking around the city and met the man in blue overalls. He told her to go to a certain bridge in the afternoon and he’d tell her about her uncle. She was to tell no one about talking to the man, or great harm will come to her uncle. 

That seems awfully dangerous, but Anne went off alone to meet him at the bridge, and learned the man was her Uncle Carey. He was hiding from men who wanted to put him in prison, and he had to protect himself. He gave her a little package of items that had belonged to her mother, and told her to keep the package hidden. After Anne said that they were going to spend a month in France her uncle said she can tell her friends about seeing him when they got to Nantes. 

The New York City chief of police wrote Miss Drayton that Carey Mayo had taken trust fund money, speculated in cotton futures, and lost heavily during the panic. He had falsified accounts, but had been reducing the amount of missing money every month for the past year, and probably would have replaced all the money if the investigation hadn’t started. Right before the steamship left Mr. Mayo had received a telegram stating he was about to be arrested. Mayo’s cook said she knew of no other Mayo relatives except a sister who died in Virginia. The sister’s death was the reason why Anne began living with her uncle. 

The police chief suggested the girl be put into an institution for destitute children, but Mrs Patterson and Miss Drayton decided they would care for Anne. The group went to Paris so Mrs. Patterson could be examined by a great doctor. She was placed in the doctor’s private hospital in the suburbs. Anne and Pat were sent to boarding-schools, and since no one would be going to Nantes Anne could never tell anyone about talking with her uncle. 

She went to a school where Mademoiselle Durac was the principle. Anne shared a room with five other American girls, and when no one was looking she got out her hidden package, which contained three rings, a bead purse with a few coins, plus a gold locket. Alas, stern Mademoiselle found out about the package of treasures and demanded to know where they came from. Of course Anne couldn’t say, for her uncle would be in danger if she told before going to Nantes. 

Mrs. Patterson died, and Anne met the lady’s husband. When Mr. Patterson learned about Anne possibly stealing valuables he decided to send her to an orphanage in Virginia, the state Anne had lived in before she was taken in by her uncle. He told Mademoiselle to return the little package of items to Anne, for he didn’t want them. 

On the ship voyage to the United States Mr. Patterson, who was mourning the death of his wife, became annoyed when his son Pat preferred visiting with Anne over spending time with him. He became jealous of the girl, and justified his feelings because of the jewel mystery. They arrived at the Patterson’s home in Washington, D.C. and Pat was sent off on a boys’ camping trip without being told that Anne wouldn’t be living with him and his father. Mr. Patterson took Anne to a Richmond orphanage, where the superintendent, Miss Farlow, was kind, though strict. The Home for Girls wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t a real home. 

One Saturday Anne was at the very edge of the Home’s property, telling a story to her doll, Honey Sweet, when a boy from the neighboring house demanded to know the rest of the story. Anne insisted on him asking politely, or she wouldn’t tell it. The boy, Dunlop Marshall, was getting over a severe fever, and was used to being a brat, but he used good manners to get the story. A few days later a servant came to the Home, asking for the girl who told stories to come for a few hours, and Anne was allowed to go, but she once again insisted that Dunlop treat her politely. 

In June the Marshalls left for the country, and Dunlap declared Anne Lewis must come as well. Miss Farlow consented to the girl accompanying the family. On the train ride the scenery observed from the windows looked familiar, and when the conductor called out “Lewiston” Anne knew it was her own home station. She felt so homesick that she got off the train without being noticed, and started walking to her old home, Lewis Hall. 

Meanwhile, back to the Pattersons. Pat was finally told that Anne had been sent to an orphanage, and when he asked where, Mr. Patterson felt the boy’s tone was disrespectful, and he refused to give his son any information.  A breach grew between father and son.

Miss Drayton received and much-traveled letter from Anne’s uncle, Carey Mayo. The letter had spent months being forwarded to various European locations before arriving at her District of Columbia home. Mr. Mayo explained about the valuables he’d given his niece, and that Anne had been told not to tell her secret until reaching Nantes. He explained that he intended to pay back all that he had used without leave. Miss Drayton rushed with the letter to Mr. Patterson, then rushed with Pat to the orphan asylum. Alas, Anne was not there, and no one knew that she’d gotten off the train at Lewisville.

Now back to Anne. The house she’d been raised in was rundown, and had been bought by a poor family named Collins. When the family learned she had been taken to live at an orphan asylum Mrs. Collins declared the girl would stay with them. One day Mr. Collins went to town and saw there was a Lost Child poster at the station, so they had to make sure no one would take Anne back to that asylum. She would be referred to as their niece Polly.

Oh, did I mention the Collins’ had a boarder? A little old lady who came for a couple of weeks every summer, and kept to herself in the two rooms assigned to her? Someone who was a relative of Anne’s mother, and happened to live in Washington, D.C., where the Pattersons lived? 

Was it possible that Anne might be reunited with the Pattersons and Miss Drayton, and that Mr. Patterson may have reformed his attitude toward the little girl his deceased wife had wanted to adopt? 

Honey Sweet is so melodramatic that at times I could almost imagine sad violin music being played in the background, but it kept my interest, and I found it an enjoyable read. If you’d like to know what happens next to Anne Lewis, her various friends, and her poor Uncle Carey Mayo, the entire novel can be be read, free of charge, at:

Mary Cary (Frequently Martha)

When the story begins Mary Cary is eleven-and-a-half years old, and living at the Yorkburg Humane Female Orphan Asylum in Virginia. Since many people believe nothing ever happens in an Orphan Asylum she decided to write down her story.

She keeps getting into trouble, and being sent upstairs to the punishment-room, but since its her only time to be alone and write in her diary she doesn’t mind that. Mary doesn’t get along well with Miss Bray, the Head Chief of the Asylum who, among others faults, lies to those on the Asylum Board. Once, during a Board meeting, Mary brought in glasses of water right when one lady mentioned a family was interested in adopting Pinkie Moore, a girl who did a lot of Miss Bray’s work. Miss Bray said that Pinkie steals and lies, and isn’t fit to be adopted, though there wasn’t a bit of truth to what she told the Board members. Mary didn’t feel much remorse for causing trouble for someone like Miss Bray.

During the previous summer Mary had become so sick she spent three weeks in the hospital, and that’s where she met Miss Katherine, who was a nurse, even though she’d come from a good family, had some money, and didn’t have to work . Miss Katherine took a special interest in Mary, and after the girl returned to the Asylum Miss Katherine decided to come and be a trained nurse to the orphans, despite there being no money to pay her a wage. 

If that wasn’t enough of a blessing, after Miss Katherine spent her own money to put wallpaper, curtains, and good furniture in her room she asked Mary to share the room with her. (The room had been unused for so long “the cobwebs in it would have filled a barrel.”) The one thing the two roommates had in common was that they were both orphans, but Miss Katherine knew who her parents had been, and Mary knew nothing about her family, except that her mother died in childbirth and, when her father died three years later, she’d been brought to Yorkburg and placed in the Asylum. She thought Miss Katherine might know something about the Cary family, but the nurse wouldn’t admit to knowing anything about them. 

Mary believed that she was both Martha and Mary of the Bible. Martha was her everyday self, who does things, and doesn’t worry about figuring out what can’t be known, such as “why God lets Mothers die.”  Mary was her Sunday self “who wonders and wonders at everything and asks a million questions inside” though she only lets people know about the Martha side of her. 

Being around such a kind and good lady as Miss Katherine caused Mary to think she should be a better person, and not create any additonal trouble, and she did try. At least sometimes…

One time Miss Katherine went away to visit both her army brother and her California brother. The other orphan children came to Mary to ask her to make up something, so she decided to came up with a play where Miss Bray marries Dr. Rudd – the man the Asylum Chief was infatuated with. 

They decided to have the play on Friday night, for that’s when the assistant, Miss Jones, takes tea with her aunt, and Miss Bray goes to choir practice. (Mary didn’t have a high opinion of Miss Bray’s singing voice. She thought “Gabriel ought to engage her to wake the dead, only they’d want to die again.”) Mary would play the minister, but would be an Episcopal one, and could wear a long raincoat as vestments. They needed a pair of pants for the groom to wear. That was a problem for “nothing male lives in the Humane,” but a workman came to do some painting, and since he wore good clothes walking to and from work, and overalls when he was painting, Mary was able to steal the man’s good pants and hide them under Miss Bray’s mattress since she knew her own room would be searched when the theft was discovered. 

The play started out well, Mary did a lot of preaching, and asked the girl playing Miss Bray if she’d promise to stop wearing pink face powder after she was married. All would have been been fine if the real Miss Bray hadn’t returned too soon. So Mary, as the preacher, ended with “Let us pray!”

Miss Katherine came back, and all was well again, until she had to leave a second time because her army brother’s wife and children were sick, and needed a nurse. One day Mary was allowed to go and play with a neighbor’s children to help out their mother. She was in the nursery, which was next to the room where the mother was visiting with an out-of-state relative.

The relative started talking about Mary’s uncle, Dr. Parke Alden, who lived near her home. Mary’s mother had run off and married an actor who traveled all over the country. Of course that scandalized everyone in Yorkburg, so the good ladies of the town thought it best not to tell Mary’s respectable uncle (who was at medical school) anything about it, except to let him know his sister died. He never knew she’d died in childbirth. 

Because the best old books need lots of melodrama, Mary also overheard that her Uncle Parke had been courting Miss Katherine, but they had had some sort of disagreement. Her uncle left town and never returned. 

Once Mary heard these revelations, and learned the name of the hospital her uncle worked at, she felt this was sometng she had to face on her own, before her dear friend returned. But if Mary is able to obtain two cents for the cost of a postage stamp, and write to her Uncle Parke, would he be interested in getting to know his niece? And if her uncle came to visit, and met up with Miss Katherine, would the pair decide that their long-ago disagreement hadn’t been all that serious after all? And what about Miss Bray? Would she ever admit to fibbing about poor Pinkie Moore, and would Dr. Rudd ever consider marrying the disagreeable lady?

I enjoyed reading this 1910 novel, written by Kate Langley Bosher. Mary Cary was a feisty, likable girl, and I was eager to find out what happens next. If you’d like to read this novel free of charge you can do so at:

Bernard Brooks’ Adventures

I am reviewing another Horatio Alger novel, which might not really be an Alger story. More about that later.

Ezekiel Snowden, an uneducated teacher with his own country school, thinks sixteen-year-old Bernard Brooks a bad lot, and he orders him to stop visiting with former student Nat Barclay. Bernard’s guardian, Cornelius McCracken, had shipped him off to the school that charged the lowest fees, and it didn’t matter if the students knew more than the teacher.

Mr. Snowden sent Bernard to the post office, and on the way he met up with Nat, who walked along with him. They came upon Snowden’s nasty son, Septimus, throwing rocks at a little boy’s kitten, and because the boy was protesting Septimus tried to tie up the boy’s hands behind his back so it would be easier to beat up the child. Bernard didn’t approve of that so he hit Septimus and used the cord to tie Septimus’ hands, and then sent him home. When Bernard returned from the post office Mr. Snowden informed him he would be flogged for the way he treated his son.

Bernard ran away, but was able to sneak back after the Snowdens were asleep and gather up a bundle of clothes before setting out to make his own way. The next morning the lad met wealthy William Penrose, who’d became ill while driving a buggy. Bernard was able to help him get to a hotel in a nearby town. He learned Penrose had an unscrupulous relative who was trying to prove the man was insane in order to steal all of his money.

With perfect bad timing Mr. Snowden, his son Septimus, Penrose’s relative, plus two quack doctors (paid to diagnose insanity) showed up at the hotel at the same time. It looked as though both Bernard and Mr. Penrose would be captured and sent to dreadful places. Fortunately hotel guest Mr. Stackpole, a law clerk turned miner, gave the villains the benefit of his legal knowledge before tossing all the troublemakers off the porch. That gave Penrose and Bernard a chance to escape. The wealthy man headed for the nearest ship to Europe, and Bernard left with Stackpole on a boat headed down the Hudson River. During the boat ride Bernard helped capture some men who’d stolen government bonds, and the youth was given a gold watch as a reward.

Bernard went to see his guardian, Mr. McCracken, and asked him if his father had left any money. He was told his father had only had a hundred fifty dollars, which was used up long ago, so Mr. McCracken had been paying all of Bernard’s expenses out of his own money. Since Bernard didn’t want to attend another school his guardian said he’d try to find him a job. Bernard stopped at a barbershop for a haircut, and happened to meet one of his father’s friends, who informed him Mr. Brooks had thousands of dollars which he’d given to Mr. McCracken to invest.

Mr. McCracken found out Bernard had met someone familiar with Mr. Brooks’ finances, and decided he needed to get the boy out of town. He told Bernard he will be the secretary to Professor Puffer, who was going to Europe. That pleased Bernard, until he met the man and his red face “seemed to indicate he was not a member of a total abstinence society.” Oh horrors, had Bernard been entrusted to a man who drank alcohol?

Professor Puffer claimed he wrote about antiquities, but said he wouldn’t be working while aboard the ship, so Bernard was free to spend most of his days walking about on the decks. He met a pleasant passenger named Nelson Sturges, as well as a sailor named Jack Staples, “a stout good-humored man of thirty” who, like Bernard, lost his parents when he was young.

One day Bernard returned to the stateroom he shared with his employer and found a scrap of paper on the floor, which turned out to be part of a torn letter written to Professor Puffer from Mr. McCracken. The partial message said that Bernard’s guardian wanted rid of the boy and Puffer was not to bring him back. (The good news was that while Bernard was continually surrounded by cads, they tended to be stupid ones who left behind helpful evidence.) The lad believed he was to be murdered, so the next time he had an opportunity to speak with Jack Staples he showed the paper to the sailor, who told him to ask the professor for an advance on his wages so that he’d have some money to help him escape when he arrived in England. That request angered Puffer, who said Bernard had yet to do anything to earn a wage.

One evening Bernard was by the deck railing looking out to sea when Professor Puffer grabbed hold of him and attempted to throw him overboard. Bernard cried out in terror and his sailor friend rushed over and saved his life. When confronted by Jack Staples the professor claimed to have been sleepwalking and had no idea what he had done. He professed his innocence and attempted to regain Bernard’s trust by giving him fifteen dollars, since the boy had recently asked for money. Bernard took the money, but refused to ever stay in the same room with his so-called employer.

After the ship arrived in Liverpool Bernard was given a small hotel room connected to the professor’s larger room. That evening Bernard pushed a bureau in front of the inside door, and late at night the door was opened and Bernard could see a light from inside Professor Puffer’s room. The next morning Bernard went down to breakfast and saw Nelson Sturges, who had been a fellow ship passenger. Sturges made the comment that he didn’t like Professor Puffer, and after Bernard confided that the man was trying to kill him Sturges said he had a room with two beds, and Bernard could stay with him if he felt his life was in danger. That evening Bernard saw that the bureau had been removed from his room, and so he took Sturges up on his offer. The next morning Bernard left for London with Mr. Sturges. In order to make it harder for Professor Puffer to find his runaway employer they first went to Sturges’ expensive hotel, and then Bernard went to a cheaper establishment.

Bernard needed to find a job, so he answered a newspaper advertisement for  a “pleasant traveling companion” for someone about to make a voyage for health reasons. Though only a lad of sixteen Bernard was chosen over all other job seekers, including Professor Puffer!

Bernard’s employment as a traveling companion to wealthy young Walter Cunningham was not without adventures, including a kidnapping and ransom crisis in Italy. The good news is that our heroes survived the danger.

When the pair returned to England Bernard received a letter from his friend Nat Barclay, a former student at Mr. Snowden’s dreadful school. Snowden’s son had told Nat that Bernard’s guardian, Mr. McCracken, had let them know that Professor Puffer told him Bernard had died in an accident. 

Bernard showed the letter to Mr. Cunningham, who felt they should go to America and see why Mr. McCracken had been so interested in having his young ward out of the way. Will they be able to right the wrongs done to Bernard? Will they have the good fortune of meeting up with just the right people at just the right time? Horatio Alger was known for his use of coincidences, but was this book really written by him? The author died in 1899, and Bernard Brooks’ Adventures has a copyright date of 1903. It is known that Alger had asked Edward Stratemeyer to complete his unfinished works, but how many partially written novels did Mr. Alger leave behind?

Stratemeyer, who would go on to create dozens of children’s book series, including The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, may have been hired to write some brand new adventures published under Alger’s name. 

I can’t say whether this was a real or an imitation Horatio Alger adventure, but I can say that I found it a fun read. Bernard was a likable character who went from trouble to more trouble while still understanding that honesty is the best policy, and believing that most people are good and trustworthy. His endless adventures seemed unlikely but were never impossible, and I was always eager to read just one more chapter to find out what happened next. If you’d like to read Bernard Brooks’ Adventures it can be read free of charge at: