The Tailor of Gloucester

Long ago a little old man tailored fine clothes out of silks and satins, but his own clothes were threadbare, for he was poor. On a cold day near Christmastime he cut out the cloth pieces needed for a coat and waistcoat (vest) for the Mayor of Gloucester to wear on his December 25th wedding day. He carefully cut the cloth, and said out loud that the leftover scraps were only large enough to make “waistcoats for mice.” The tailor discovered he needed an additional skein of cherry-red twisted silk for the buttonholes.

When it became dark he locked up his shop for the night so no one could get inside – except for the mice who used hidden stairways and passages to travel from building to building without ever going outside. That might seem to be a bad situation, but this is a Beatrix Potter book, and her mice are kind and clever, plus well dressed.

The old tailor walked through the snow to his rented room, where he lived with his cat, Simpkin. The cat was clever, but not very kind. The tailor was not feeling well, so he gave his last four-cent piece to Simpkin and told him to go out and spend three cents on milk, bread and sausages, and to buy a penny’s worth of cherry-red silk twist. The man sat down by the hearth and talked to himself about just how he would make the coat and waistcoat.

When he heard a slight tapping sound he got up from his chair, went over to his dresser, and lifted an upside-down teacup. Out stepped a lady mouse who curtseyed to him before running off. More tapping came from under another teacup, and when the tailor lifted it he discovered a gentleman mouse who bowed to him before leaving. It appears that Simpkin was a cat who didn’t believe in eating between meals, for when he caught mice he imprisoned them until suppertime.

The tailor went back to his fireside and talked some more on how he planned to make the mayor’s wedding clothes, plus he worried about the red twist he needed. From their hiding places the mice listened to what he said.

Simpkin returned from his shopping trip in a foul mood from being out in the snow. When he discovered his captured mice were gone he became spiteful, hid the skein of twist in the teapot, and let the poor tailor believe he hadn’t purchased it.

The tailor went to bed with a fever, and for days he tossed and turned, muttering about not having enough twist to finish the mayor’s new clothes. Simpkin began to repent of his behavior, and retrieved the skein he had hidden, but what could be done since the man wouldn’t recover in time to finish his work before Christmas?

The Tailor of Gloucester was the third of Beatrix Pottter’s small-format chidren’s books to be published, and she claimed it was her favorite. It was originally written as an illustrated story-letter, sent as a Christmas present to her former governess’ daughter, who had been ill.

If you’d like to read more about the story’s author you can go to my archive and read the February 2016 post entitled The Tale of Beatrix Potter.

If you’d like to read The Tailor of Gloucester you can download it free of charge at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/14868

From Office Boy to Reporter

Few families have gone through worse times than the Dexters experienced in the beginning of this 1907 novel. Mr. Dexter had been a farmer until coming down with consumption – now known as tuberculosis. When his crops failed he took out a mortgage on his farm, and after his death neither the widowed Mrs. Dexter nor her eldest son, fifteen-year-old Larry, could raise the money to pay back the loan, so the mortgage holder put the farm up for auction.

If that wasn’t enough troubles, one of Larry’s three siblings was twelve-year-old Lucy, a girl “afflicted with a bad disease of the spine” who, though uncomplaining, was in constant pain.

The sale of the farm, plus most of the family’s possessions, left them with four hundred dollars. Mrs. Dexter’s sister, Mrs. Ralston, lived in New York City, and had written to say they could come and stay with her, so the rural family set out for the big city. Alas, once they arrived at the tenement house where their relatives had resided the Dexters learned that Mr. Ralston had been killed in an accident a few days earlier, and his widow had moved out the day before. (The Dexters eventually learned Mrs. Ralston was visiting her deceased husband’s kinfolk.)

The family rented four rooms in the tenement house, bought some second-hand furniture, and Larry set out to find work. He asked for employment at dozens of businesses, and then was caught in a thunderstorm. Lightening struck a nearby building, setting it ablaze. Since Larry had never before seen a big city fire he stood out in the rain to watch the firemen at work.

A reporter with an umbrella was having trouble taking notes while keeping dry, so Larry volunteered to hold the umbrella for the man. The reporter’s name was Harvey Newton, and when an explosion occurred he sent Larry off to call the city editor of the Leader and tell him more reporters were needed at the fire. Larry spent his last ten cents using a pay phone, then he rushed back to help Mr. Newton. The reporter gave him a quarter, and told him to come and see him at the Leader at around five o’clock, after the last edition of the paper had gone to press.

After a few more days of job hunting Larry Dexter happened to find himself in front of a building with a New York Leader sign on it, so it went inside and inquired if there were any job openings.

As luck would have it the newspaper was in need of a copyboy. After a reporter typed out an article he yelled “copy” and a boy rushed over, took the pages to an editor, who made changes to the piece. The editor yelled “copy” and the nearest copyboy rushed the pages to a tube where they are whisked off to the composing room by means of compressed air. Larry was hired and told to report to work the next day.

Alas, Larry met a copyboy named Peter Manton, who liked to disobey rules, and do as little work as possible. He took an instant dislike to hardworking and honest Larry, and vowed to make trouble for the newcomer. Peter tried to get Larry fired but ended up being fired himself, which should have been the end of the mischief he could cause, except enemies found in boys adventures books have a bad habit of showing up later in the story.

Larry became an excellent newspaper worker, and when he learned about a European doctor coming to the United States to cure people with the same type of spinal disease his sister had he was determined to find a way to get the money for an operation.

One day he was sent to City Hall, where Mr. Newton was covering an important hearing. As soon as the reporter had a few handwritten pages ready Larry was to rush the copy back to the newspaper, and then return for more copy. That should have been an easy enough job, except that the cad, Peter Manton, was also there, working for another paper. Peter and another boy beat up Larry in an effort to steal the copy he was carrying, but it takes more than some injuries to keep a good copyboy from doing his job.

At another time workers on a line of electric cabs went on strike, and they weren’t above resorting to violence. Larry was sent to run copy for Mr. Newton, and after a couple of days the strikers knew the reporter did not approve of their attacks on the police and the strike-breakers.

When Larry was taking copy to the newspaper office three men kidnapped him and took him to a remote area, and then up to the fifth floor of an abandoned factory. Was Larry ever upset – the men had kept him from getting an important story to the paper before press time.

The men were supposed to have kidnapped Mr. Newton, but they couldn’t let Larry go until after the strike had been won. After Larry was left alone he looked out the window and saw there was a metal fire escape three windows over. It would be dangerous to walk along the outside window sills to reach the fire escape, but his job could be in jeopardy, plus his mother and siblings would worry if he stayed away for several days.

I won’t give details on how that adventure ended, but will say that if you’re escaping from kidnappers and a passerby thinks you’re a burglar, and threatens to turn you into the police, that’s a good way to locate a policeman in an area you’re not familiar with.

Back in 1907 the life of a newspaper copyboy was filled with excitement. One day Larry was riding on a streetcar and suspected a group of men of trying to pick the pockets of an older gentleman. They did steal the man’s gold watch, but Larry was able to catch the man in possession of that watch.

Our hero discovered the watch owner was the famous surgeon who was an expert on hip and spine diseases. If only Larry could get an opportunity to talk to him about his suffering sister. And if only he were rich enough to pay the thousands of dollars the doctor charged to perform an operation.

Larry had a great many more adventures before the end of the book. And he did get to talk with that famous surgeon, who turned out to be a very good and generous man.

From Office Boy to Reporter was written by Howard R. Garis, who wrote a preface stating he had been working in the newspaper business for 16 years, and that some of what he wrote about had actually happened. At the end of the book readers learn this was the first of a series of adventures about Larry Dexter.

I enjoyed the fast-paced novel and, though some of the happenings seemed unlikely, I never considered anything to be completely impossible. Larry and his family were likable characters, as were most of the newspaper workers.

I did a bit of research on the author to see what else he’d written, and discovered that Mr. Garis had been one busy man. He wrote numerous children’s book series, but is best known for writing more than 15,000 Uncle Wiggily stories – he churned out six a week for a nationally syndicated newspaper column that ran for decades.

I plan to read more of this author’s work, starting with a few more Larry Dexter adventures. Then I may grow bold enough to sample some stories about a rabbit named Uncle Wiggily Longears – with 15,000 to choose from that’s got to be a few that will hold my interest.

If you’d like to read From Office Boy to Reporter it can be downloaded free of charge at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=From+Office+Boy+to+Reporter

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

October is the month when many people enjoy spooky stories, so I decided to write about one of Washington Irving’s famous tales, first published in 1820.

Near Tarry Town is quiet Sleepy Hollow, filled with “local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions.” Dominant amongst the spirits the locals talk about is the figure of a headless man on horseback. He is said to be the ghost of a Hessian soldier who’s head was carried away by a cannon ball during the revolutionary war, and he now rides near the church yard, in search of what he lost.

A new schoolmaster came to Sleepy Hollow. Ichabod Crane was a tall, lanky man, who dressed in baggy, fluttering clothes. He had “hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves,” and “his whole frame loosely hung together.” Ichabod earned extra shillings as the singing master, attempting to teach people psalmody – how to sing psalms in church.

Ichabod often visited the homes of students who had either pretty sisters, or mothers who were good cooks. The schoolmaster was popular with the womenfolk, for he was a man of learning. He was often invited to sit by the fireside and listen to tales of ghosts and goblins. Ichabod owned a copy of Cotton Mather’s History of New England Witchcraft, and he would share his thoughts on the subject of witches.

He was a believer in ghosts and witches – especially when he had to walk home in the dark. After a night of ghost stories every sound and shadow meant danger to the gangling, timid man.

One of Ichabod Crane’s singing students was Katrina Van Tassal, the pretty daughter of a prosperous farmer. The schoolmaster was smitten by Katrina, and he longed to have a share of her father’s money.

Katrina had another suitor by the name of Abraham Van Brunt, who was often called Brom Bones. Brom was a big, strong handsome man who was used to besting his rivals through fighting. But Ichabod didn’t fight, and no man could use his fists on such a weakling and keep the respect of his neighbors, so Brom took to playing pranks on the schoolmaster. One evening Brom and a few friends broke into the schoolhouse and turned all of the furnishings upside down. When Ichabod saw the mess he thought it had been the work of witches.

Ichabod was invited to a merrymaking at the Van Tassal home, and he spent extra time brushing his only suit, and peering at himself in a piece of a broken looking glass. To impress the Van Tassals he borrowed a horse from the farmer he was boarding with. The animal he’d been lent was a “broken-down plough horse, that had outlived almost everything but his viciousness.”

Upon arriving at the festivities Ichabod found plenty of good food, and he was able to dance with pretty Katrina. He then joined a group that was telling ghost stories. Brom Bones stated that he had once had a horse race with the headless horseman, and he would have won, but when they got to the church bridge the headless man vanished in a flash of fire.

It was late when Ichabod left the merrymaking, and he didn’t like being out after dark. Who – or what – was that strange figure he thought he saw coming towards him? Could his over-active imagination be getting the best of him, or could a rival be playing a prank? If it was something more sinister, would it vanish in a flash of fire once he got to the church bridge? Would a vicious broken-down horse be a reliable steed for the frightened, superstitious schoolmaster?

My copy of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is 49 pages long, so it didn’t take much more than an hour to read. While Ichabod Crane doesn’t meet my hero standards I felt sympathy for the poor, foolish man, and wished him well – though it didn’t break my heart when he failed to marry a wealthy farmer’s daughter.

While Hollywood has upped the scary-level on modern versions of Sleepy Hollow and Ichabod Crane, Washington Irving’s original story is a slightly-spooky tale about superstitions and legends, with a dose of humor added for good measure. If you’d like to read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow you can download it free of charge at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/41

Toby Tyler, or Ten Weeks With a Circus

Young Toby Tyler longed to see the circus, but Uncle Daniel had only given him a penny for spending money. He bought six peanuts from the man who owned the circus food booth, and readily answered the questions proprietor Job Lord asked him.

He said Uncle Daniel wasn’t his real uncle, he was a deacon, and rapped him on the head with a hymnbook when Toby fell asleep during church service. Toby didn’t know who his real parents were, he lived with Uncle Daniel, who was always complaining that the boy didn’t do enough work to pay for all the food he ate.

Mr. Lord told about an ungrateful boy who’d been hired to help run the outside food booth, as well as sell food within the big tent. That boy got to see the circus shows every day, plus he earned a dollar a week, in addition to his room and board, but the boy up and left because he thought he’d been asked to do too much work.

Toby was indignant over any boy not realizing there could be nothing better than traveling with a circus, and he was delighted when Mr. Lord offered him a job. Uncle Daniel didn’t even seem to like him, so the church deacon should be glad to be rid of Toby Tyler.

Job Lord warned Toby not let anyone know he had a job, but to go home as usual for supper, and then sneak away that evening, when the circus would be leaving for the next town.

At suppertime Toby began to think Uncle Daniel might not be quite as stern and mean as he’d always thought him to be, and he was tempted to not run off with the circus. But he’d given his word to Mr. Lord, and it would be dishonest for a boy to say he was going to do something, and then change his mind. Despite having given his word, Toby would have stayed if Uncle Daniel had spoken just a couple of kind words to him.

That evening, when Toby returned to the circus grounds, he regretted saying he’d take the job. As he wandered around he came to the monkey cage, and noticed the oldest primate gazing at him so sadly that Toby was sure he knew the boy was going through hard times. He began telling the monkey his troubles, and received a look of sympathy. Something about the monkey’s appearance reminded him of a neighbor, so he began calling his new friend Mr. Stubbs.

Toby was assigned to ride with Old Ben, who drove the wagon that carried the monkey cage, and during the bumpy ride Ben provided the boy with an old horse blanket, and Toby fell asleep on the top of the wagon.

The next day Toby discovered why Mr. Lord’s last boy had run off from his circus job. Job Lord whipped Toby for making mistakes, or if he thought the boy was about to do something wrong. Before and after circus shows Toby worked outside at the food stand, and during shows he had to walk amongst the audience selling peanuts or watered-down lemonade. And woe to Toby if he didn’t make enough sales.

The boy was so miserable selling refreshments that some customers handed him extra money when they made a purchase, and a few people slipped him coins without buying anything. Before the end of the first week Toby began plotting an escape. He would save his money until he had enough to return to his hometown, then he’d beg Uncle Daniel to take him in once more. But what if Uncle Daniel wouldn’t let him come back home?

Toby had little free time, but a couple times a day he’d spend a few minutes by the monkey cage, telling his troubles to Mr. Stubbs. Old Ben had the idea that monkeys didn’t like people, and couldn’t understand anything they were told, but Toby just had to believe Mr. Stubbs cared for him.

One night, as Toby was sleeping on top of the monkey wagon as the circus traveled to the next town, there was such a crash and a jolt that he was tossed down to the ground. One of the wagon’s axles had broken, and the wagon tipped to one side, so that the monkey cage slid out, and the door flew open.

Most of the monkeys scurried away to hide in the nearby woods, but Mr. Stubbs rushed over to Toby and crouched down by the boy. Toby was able to sit up and tell his friend he wasn’t hurt, so the aged monkey ran after his younger companions.

Circus workers crowded around the broken wagon – some were assigned to make repairs, and others were sent out to round up the escaped monkeys. Toby went into the woods and found Mr. Stubbs screaming at the other monkeys, perhaps scolding them for running away. To Toby’s astonishment the monkeys were soon grouped together, holding paws. Mr. Stubbs reached out a paw to Toby, and the boy lead the chain of paw-holding monkeys back to the wagon.

The circus owner was shouting orders when everyone turned to gape at Toby and his returning companions. The boy was called a hero, and the owner declared he’d earned a reward. Toby asked if he could have Mr. Stubbs, and the owner gave the oldest monkey to Toby. Now the boy could take his friend home with him when they were able to escape.

From then on Toby would take Mr. Stubbs out of the cage each night, and the two would sleep together. On Sundays – the circus workers’ day off – Toby found a wooded area so Mr. Stubbs could climb and play. The boy had made a cloth bag to hold all of the coins he was saving, and one Sunday Mr. Stubbs pulled that bag out of Toby’s pocket and seemed fascinated by it. Toby went to great pains to explain how important that money was, and he was sure his friend understand.

But one night Toby awoke atop the wagon and knew something was wrong. Mr. Stubbs had stolen the money bag and was tossing each coin to the ground, one by one. Oh how Toby scolded, and asked how the monkey could have thrown away their means of escape.

Old Ben said that just proved monkeys couldn’t be trusted, and didn’t really become friends with anybody. The wagon driver had spent his life working for circuses, and told Toby it wasn’t all that bad of a life, but if the boy really wanted to leave there was nothing he could do except start again to save up money. But each day took Toby farther from home, if indeed he still had a home he could return to.

I won’t tell the ending, but will remind you that the novel’s subtitle is Ten Weeks With a Circus, so that means Toby doesn’t have to spend a lifetime as a circus boy, though – spoiler alert – he’ll experience sorrow before his adventure ends.

Toby Tyler was first serialized in Harper’s Young People in 1877, and came out as a book in 1881. The novel remained popular for several generations, and a 1960 Walt Disney movie was based on the story.

I found it an interesting look into the circus world of the late 1800s. Toby becomes friends with the Living Skeleton and the Fat Lady, who’s real names were Samuel and Lily Treat. The kind and loving couple were never referred to in a derogatory way. They and the other unusual-looking people who spent time being on exhibit considered themselves to be respectable workers, and Toby always used his best manners when in their company.

The story is considered to be the first of the “bad boy” novels, but readers soon learn that there is nothing really bad about Toby. He has adventures and learns that there’s no place as important as home. If you’d like to read Toby Tyler it is available free of charge through the Gutenberg Project:

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/7478

The Coming of the Fairies

This month’s book was not meant to be read by children, but it was written by a man with a child-like belief in the Cottingley Fairies. Arthur Conan Doyle was a well-eductated man (he had been a medical doctor) and is best known for writing Sherlock Holmes stories, which were often about unraveling mysteries involving people who were trying to trick others. But from what I read in this book, Doyle didn’t always require solid proof for what he wanted to accept as truth.

First I’ll give the background on what inspired this non-fiction book. In 1917 two cousins, nine-year-old Frances Griffiths and sixteen-year-old Elsie Wright, were both living in the English village of Cottingley. The girls would play together in Elsie’s backyard, which had a beck (stream) and a wooded area. They told their parents they saw fairies, and Else talked her father into lending her his camera to photograph their small companions. When her father developed the film negative there was young Frances surrounded by dancing fairies. A little later Elsie once again gained use of the camera, and this time the photo showed Elsie coaxing a gnome to come closer to her.

Elsie’s father thought the girls were pulling a harmless prank, but her mother had an interest in the Theosophical Society, which believed in the existence of fairies. Her mother showed the photos to a group of learned gentlemen from the Society, and most claimed them to be authentic fairy photos. Copies were sent to other believers, including Arthur Conan Doyle, who asked a friend to investigate the matter, since Doyle would be out of the country for a time.

The girls were interviewed in 1920, and though they were at first reluctant to discuss their fairy encounters, after a bit of coaxing they told some interesting stories. They were given their own cameras and told to try and take more fairy photographs. They were able to provide three more. Once Doyle returned to England he wrote a couple of articles for The Strand magazine, plus wrote a short book entitled The Coming of the Fairies.

The book explains that several photography experts verified the photo negatives had not been tampered with, but the experts refused to say whether actual fairies were photographed. That showed Conan Doyle how narrow-minded people were. Just because some photographers were able to produce trick photos, experts refused to believe it possible for two innocent children, with little camera knowledge, to take real photos of fairies.

Some who studied the photos commented on how the fairies and gnome appeared to be flat, as if they were just pictures, and they didn’t cast the same type of shadows as the objects around them. Doyle patiently explained away those sceptical comments. Fairies don’t have human bodies, they are members of the spirit world, and only children and a few sensitive adults are able to see them. Why would anyone expect photos of fairies to look like photos of humans?

Doyle went on to quote letters from sane, respectable adults who’d been emboldened to write about their encounters with fairies. Then he summarized hundreds of years of stories about sightings of various types of spirit creatures.

He also gave the conclusions of a spirit expert on the types of occupations the different species of fairies worked at. Most are gardeners, and tend the plants and flowers found in the wild. (Did you think those plants just grew on their own?)

Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1922 book received mixed reactions. Believers believed, but sceptics weren’t convinced that the photographs taken by the girls proved the existence of spirit beings living amongst humans.

As for cousins Elsie and Frances, they spent their adult lives trying not to get into conversations about fairies. Finally, in 1983, they admitted that they had faked the photos. Elsie had copied pictures from a children’s book, added wings, and held the cut-out images up with hat pins. After the photos had been taken they tossed the pictures into the beck to destroy the evidence. The cousins said the photos were meant to be a joke, but when experts showed up to interview them they were afraid to admit that a prank had fooled educated adults.

So that clears up the mystery of the photos – except for their fifth image. This one is a bit fuzzy, but shows what appears to be a large cocoon, with a fairy beside it. Conan Doyle and others described this as showing the fairy taking a magnetic bath. Elder cousin Elsie claims that one was also faked, but Frances insisted it was real. They had been told to take fairy photos, Elsie had no cutout pictures prepared, so they went out to the backyard, Frances saw the fairy bathing amongst the tall grasses, and took the photo.

Which either proves that you really can take photos of fairies – or else Frances enjoyed telling tall tales about short spirit creatures.

`I don’t recommend anyone reading The Coming of the Fairies, for there are dull “explaining” sections, but you may want to look at the book online in order to see the Cottingley Fairy photos, which I’m unable to attach to this blog.

If you’d like to see Arthur Conan Doyle’s book it can be obtained free of charge at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/47506

Sugar Creek Gang

During the 1920s, when Paul Hutchens, “the happy friend of Young America” was a newly ordained Baptist minister, he traveled across the country preaching revival services. But after being diagnosed with tuberculosis he needed a less strenuous occupation, so he took up writing. His first Sugar Creek Gang novel was published in 1939, and the thirty-sixth one came out in 1972.

I decided to sample one of his Christian children’s novels and discovered The Sugar Creek Gang Goes North ended with a cliff-hanger. It took four books to finish the gang’s North Woods adventure, and since each volume is only about 90 pages long I was of the opinion that Young America’s happy friend could have done a bit of editing, and written fewer-but-longer novels. But though Hutchens’ books aren’t perfect I found them to be entertaining.

The stories are narrated by Bill Collins, a red-headed farm boy who is best friends with a group of neighbor boys – several with nicknames. Poetry makes up poems and wants to be a detective, Circus is a tree-climbing acrobat, and Dragonfly is a bugged-eyed boy who’s allergic to just about everything. Other members are Big Jim (the official gang leader), and Little Jim (no relation to the leader). There is also Little Tom Till, a newly converted Christian who has a fierce drunken infidel daddy, as well as a juvenile delinquent older brother. Readers of Sugar Creek Gang books learn how dreadful it is to use bad language and drink liquor – and how upsetting it is when nice little boys have infidel fathers and mean brothers.

The books have about a short story’s worth of plot, but share lots of tid-bits of information, such as how a heated stone placed inside of a metal bucket makes a good tent heater, and how a criminal who gets his automobile stuck in sand can make a getaway by letting air out of his tires, which makes the tires wider, thus giving them better traction. (That apparently worked in 1947, but perhaps not with modern tires.)

When Bill was solving a mystery he was usually in a hurry, and would be running zippety-zip-zip dash, or lickety-sizzle. He’d get nearly to the end of his tale and state “I’ve got to step on the gas with this story,” finish up one part of the plot line, and say he’ll tell more of the story in his next book. Only three of the four books that tell the full adventure were available to me, so I need to just skim over one section.

In The Sugar Creek Gang Goes North Bill and his friends are invited to spend a couple weeks of school vacation visiting a gentleman with the nickname of Santa, who’d hosted the boys during the previous summer. Before leaving home Bill hears a radio story about a little girl who’d been kidnapped.

On the first night of the visit Bill and Poetry are sent out for firewood stacked near Santa’s boathouse and hear what sounds like a little girl crying . They conclude the sound is a loon, and its only after the two boys are zipped into their sleeping bags that they decide they should have looked inside of the building. They sneak out with their flashlights, discover the boathouse door is open, and set off on the trail of the kidnappers.

The boys find a “tangled-up-golden-haired little pretty-faced girl” tied and gagged, and Bill rushes off to the fire warden’s house and tells him to call the police. (Throughout the adventure they have to keep rushing to the fire warden’s house, since he’s the only local person with a telephone.) The kidnapped girl is rescued, the police rush to the scene, but the villains escape.

Alas, Adventures In An Indian Cemetery isn’t available though Project Gutenberg, but in that volume the gang captured the kidnappers, but the ransom money was not recovered.

In The Sugar Creek Gang Digs For Treasure the boys wonder if there are additional kidnappers still at large. A thousand dollars is offered for the recovery of the ransom money, and Bill wishes he could earn that reward.

One day Bill, Poetry, Circus, Dragonfly and Little Jim go back to the spot where the kidnapped girl was found, and Poetry finds an envelope that hadn’t been there when the police searched for clues. The envelope contained what seemed to be a blank sheet of paper, but later on a treasure map appeared on it. Some sneaky person had used invisible ink.

The boys set off on a trail marked with broken twigs and found a remote cabin that first appeared to have been long abandoned, but they found evidence someone had stayed there recently. Had it been the kidnappers’ hideout?

John Till, the mean liquor-drinking father of Little Tom Till, almost caught the boys sneaking around. They managed to escape undetected, and came upon an old icehouse where they found a portion of the missing ransom money. As they start to gather up the money along came John Till, so the boys rushed off zippety-zip-zip dash, or perhaps lickety-sizzle, I forget which.

So ends the third book, with a reminder to get the next volume in order to find out what happens about five minutes later.

In North Woods Manhunt readers get a recap about the final events of the last book, and then Circus rushed back to the icehouse, where he shut and bared the door. The bad man was captured!

Now the Sugar Creek Gang needed to rush back to the campsite, and then have someone rush to the fire warden’s house to call the police. But along with all those fun and exciting tasks, someone needed to tell Little Tom Till that his father was probably part of the kidnapping gang.

When Tom was told about his father’s whereabouts he said he had to get to him before the police did, for he’d gotten a letter from his mother and needed to give it to his daddy. Off they went so that Little Tom could talk to his father.

When they arrived back at the icehouse the door was wide open, and the prisoner had escaped. Were there two bad men still at large?

Tom showed Bill the letter from his mother. She’d written that his father had left with the money she’d been saving to pay on the bank loan, and the bank just sent a notice that the money had to be paid immediately. She thought Mr. Till might be fishing in the North Woods, and if Tom should happen to see his daddy please let him know about the need for money. Mrs. Till also wrote that with her and Tom and the minister praying for John Till everything will work out in the end.

Since Little Tom Till was a newly-converted Christian he couldn’t help but think things might not work out well, and his father might end up in prison for a long time. The Sugar Creek Gang did what the could to help out – they prayed for John Till, and tried to find the fugitive before the police did.

I don’t want to tell exactly how the adventure ends, but will mention that someone can be a bad-tempered drunken infidel without being nasty enough to consort with kidnappers. I’ll also remind you that – hint, hint – a large reward had been offered for finding the ransom money.

I found the Sugar Creek Gang books to be entertaining, and while they were preachy and non-politically-correct at times, I found that added a written-70-years-ago flavor to the narrative. (Although, since I’ve never read any 21st-centry evangelical Christian children’s novels, I can’t be sure how the same themes are currently being addressed.)

If you’d like to read The Sugar Creek Gang Goes North, The Sugar Creek Gang Digs For Treasure, and North Woods Manhunt here’s a link to the six Paul Hutchens novels available free of charge through the Gutenberg Project:

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=Paul+Hutchens+

Harry Walton’s Adventures

This month I’m writing about two of Horatio Alger’s novels: Bound to Rise (1873), and Risen From the Ranks (1874). Both tell us about Harry Walton, the oldest son of a farmer struggling to support his family on ten acres of poor land. Bound to Rise begins when the family cow dies, and the father makes an unfortunate deal with his wealthiest neighbor, Squire Green. He purchases a $40 cow on credit, and if he can’t pay the entire amount – plus interest – in six months, the squire will not only take back the cow, but charge a ten dollar penalty.

Though fourteen-year-old Harry often misses school due to farm work he knows the importance of a good education. His teacher promised to award a book to the best student, and after the final examinations Harry is given a book on the life of Benjamin Franklin. He begins reading, and learns that Franklin had been a poor boy, but “through industry, frugality, perseverance, and a fixed determination to rise in life, he became a distinguished man in the end”.

Harry is determined to earn the money to pay for the new cow, and gains permission to leave home and seek his fortune. Though he would have preferred to take after Benjamin Franklin and work in a print shop, he was hired by a shoemaker, who trains him to peg shoes. (I’m guessing that means he attached soles to the shoes by means of pounding in pegs.)

He earned three dollars and week, plus his room and board, and made good progress on saving up for the cow payment, even after splurging on a few weeks of evening classes, in order to improve his education.

But, alas, one day he lost his wallet, and a cad by the name of Luke Harrison found it, and used part of the money to pay what he owed to a tailor. Fortunately Harry had already told the tailor about his loss, and how he had spilled some ink on one of the bills. When Luke brought in his payment the inky bill was amongst the money. Luke returned part of what Harry had lost, then he quit his job and skipped town.

Harry was sure he could still save up the needed cow payment, but then there was a glut on the shoe market, which meant no further work for a month or more. The next day Harry saw handbills advertising a show by Professor Henderson, the celebrated magician. Despite his economic woes Harry decided to pay 25 cents to see the entertainment and, boy, was that a good decision.

The professor’s assistant had left, and one glance at Harry Walton showed he was honest, so he was hired for five dollars a week, plus traveling expenses. Duties included selling tickets and setting up the equipment needed for the show. At one of the towns they stopped at Harry was asked to go to a newspaper / print shop and order a new supply of handbills. He entered the office of the Centreville Gazette, told the editor about his interest in Benjamin Franklin, and was offered a job as a printer’s apprentice starting in April, which was when the professor ended his touring for the year. Harry readily accepted.

Professor Henderson took sick and told Harry to travel to the next town to cancel his upcoming show. Harry did as he was told, but it was dark when he was returning, and he got lost. A man offered to show him the way, but instead led him down a side road, and robbed him. The thief also took Harry’s coat, and left his raggedy one as a replacement.

If you have to be robbed, make sure it’s by a stupid thief. The old coat had a wallet in the pocket which contained more than what had been stolen from Harry. The youth was able to get back home right before Squire Green came by to collect what was owed him. The cow was paid for, Harry gave his mother money to spend on his siblings and herself, and he informed his family that he planned to follow the example of his hero, Benjamin Franklin, and go to work in a print shop. And so ends Bound to Rise.

At the beginning of Risen From the Ranks Professor Henderson asks now-sixteen-year-old Harry Walton to reconsider resigning from his magician’s assistant career. (I have no idea how Harry aged two years during the six-month cow payment time span.) But the young man is determined to learn the printing trade, and had agreed to work the first month just for his room and board, and then earn two dollars a week plus room and board during the following six months.

When Harry arrived at the Centreville Gazette the editor, Mr. Anderson, provides him with a bedroom at his house. Though the room was small, and up in the attic, it was “scrupulously clean,” and you can’t get better than that.

Harry liked his new employer, plus the eldest journeyman printer, Mr. Ferguson, but didn’t like the younger journeyman, John Clapp. That sallow young man not only smoked, but he spent his evenings hanging out in a barroom with his friend, Luke Harrison – the cad who’d refused to return all of the money when he found Harry’s wallet. Those two were the book’s main bad examples and – spoiler alert – when they teamed up with a con-man who ended up conning them no one shed any tears over their misfortune.

Harry met a student by the name of Oscar Vincent, who attended the local Prescott Academy. Oscar offered to teach French to Harry, plus loan him books to read, so our hero was able to further his education. Getting an education even if a young person needs to work is the main “moral of the story” in these books.

Soon Harry had an established routine of working in the newspaper print shop by day, and then spending his nights either studying in his room, or visiting with Oscar. On occasion his coworker, Mr. Ferguson, invited him to have supper with his family. Mr. Ferguson believed in saving money, though he did subscribe to a weekly literary newspaper so that his family could have quality reading material. He offered to lend Harry some of the back issues.

Harry was so inspired by the paper that he began writing essays and sending them the editor, and after a few rejections his essay on Ambition was published under the pen name of Franklin, in honor of that famous printer he admired. Over time Harry had other small pieces published, and some were reprinted in other papers, including the Centreville Gazette.

Mr. Ferguson’s ambition was to save up enough money to purchase a small-town newspaper and become both a printer and publisher. Harry began to dream of someday becoming a newspaper editor, though he knew it would be many years before he could obtain that lofty goal. Normally it would take at least a decade to become an editor, but fortunately for Harry Walton, he was the hero of a Horatio Alger novel.

After Harry had worked in the print shop for three years, and had reached the age of nineteen, Mr. Anderson became ill and was invited to go out of state and visit his brother. Arrangements were made for Harry and Mr. Ferguson to temporarily run the Centreville Gazette on their own, for John Clapp had left without notice to pursue a get-rich-quick scheme.

Harry took on the duties of editor, and though this was in addition to his work as a printer, he put in long hours improving the quality of the newspaper’s content, and there was an increase in the number of subscribers.

Mr. Anderson received an offer to become a partner in a printing business near his brother’s home, and he planned to accept the offer if he could find someone to purchase his newspaper for two thousand dollars cash. (Alas, he couldn’t wait around to accept payments.)

The asking price was a great bargain, and Harry and Mr. Ferguson wanted to become partners in the deal, but their combined savings was not enough, and every local person who might loan them money had just invested their excess funds in other ventures.

Were the two friends doomed to turn down a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? If only a traveling magician would stop by, hoping that his former assistant would give him some free publicity in the newspaper he worked at. Professor Henderson made a good income, and might be willing to help out …

The two novels about young Harry Walton were an entertaining read, and while many of the events were unlikely to have happened in the real world, nothing was completely impossible.

Plus, it was a fascinating reminder that running a weekly rural newspaper had once been a profitable endeavor. It’s hard to believe it these days, but for most of our country’s history reading was the major way that people learned about what was happening in the world.

Bound to Rise
can be downloaded free of charge at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/5977

Risen From the Ranks can be downloaded free of charge at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/12741

Edgar Rice Burroughs Finds His Way

Many authors made childhood decisions to become writers. That wasn’t the case with Edgar Rice Burroughs, who was born in Chicago on September 1, 1875. For nearly two decades he worked at numerous occupations and found no success until trying his luck at writing stories.

In 1895 he graduated from the Michigan Military Academy (which he referred to as “a polite reform school”) and then failed the entrance exam to West Point. Undaunted, he enlisted as a private in the U. S. Cavalry and was sent to Fort Grant in Arizona Territory. He summarized his military career by saying “I chased a good many Apaches, but fortunately for me, I never caught up with any of them.”

After two years he was discharged from the Army, either because he was diagnosed with a heart problem, or because he asked his father – a Civil War veteran who’d become a major – to use his connections to get him out of the service.

He went from job to job, even after marrying his childhood sweetheart in 1900. In 1903 he went out to Idaho where two of his brothers were cattle ranchers and partners in a mining company. He was put in charge of managing a new gold mine, but the venture was not profitable. Burroughs got a job with a railroad, but soon quit. He worked as a shopkeeper, then tried to start of couple of businesses, but each one failed.

He became a wholesaler for pencil sharpeners, and hired salesmen to go out and try to sell them. The salesmen did much more trying then selling.

When Burroughs was 35 years old he had two children, with a third one on the way, and had to pawn his watch and his wife’s jewelry to buy food. At this, the lowest point in his life, he had an opportunity to read some pulp magazines – cheap periodicals, printed on wood pulp paper. It was then that he made one of his greatest decisions. After some thought he concluded: “…if people were paid for writing rot such as I read in some of those magazines … I could write stories just as rotten.”

He came up with a novel-length story that he sent to Frank Munsey, who published pulp magazines. Munsey paid $400 for Under the Moons of Mars and serialized it in several 1912 issues of The All-Story. The Burroughs family could afford to buy groceries!

Burroughs started work on a novel about a young man raised by great apes after the death of his titled English parents – who’d been marooned on a remote portion of the African coast following a ship’s mutiny. Frank Munsey paid $700 for Tarzan of the Apes, and it became the most popular serial ever published in The All-Story. Burroughs started sending the manuscript to book publishers, but it was rejected by the country’s top publishers until finally being accepted by Chicago publisher A. C. McClurg and Company. It became one of the best selling novels of 1914.

Though Edgar Rice Burroughs had done almost no research on Africa, and some of his plot twists defied logic, he had a knack for writing adventure stories, and his work was not “rot”. He wrote about things that interested him, and was fortunate in sharing the same interests as a great many people.

After putting his family through years of poverty Burroughs wanted to wring every last bit of success out of his jungle hero so he wrote a sequel to his Tarzan novel. And then another, and another. In all he wrote about two dozen Tarzan novels, and all sold well. He also wrote other books, and his novels about life on Mars were popular – but not Tarzan popular.

The first few Tarzan books told about the main character’s courtship and marriage to Jane, and their son Jack. But then the family stopped being mentioned, and Tarzan became a man who never aged. Burroughs had written that Tarzan was born back in the 1880s, but stories written in the 1930s and 40s had the man raised by apes encountering motor vehicles and other equipment that was modern when the books were written, even though the hero continued to be portrayed as a young man.

In 1919 Burroughs moved his family to California and bought 550 acres near Los Angeles. He named his property Tarzana Ranch. Soon after, people began moving into suburbs surrounding the writer’s family home, and Edgar Rice Burroughs began selling off land for building lots. In 1930 a new post office was established, and a name was needed for the community. It became Tarzana, a city that now has a population of about 35,000.

The first of several dozen Tarzan movies produced during Burroughs’ lifetime was released in 1918. In 1923 the writer set up a company entitled Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. The company still exists, and keeps track of licensing rights to everything that Burroughs wrote that is still protected under copyright laws, and has not fallen into public domain. The writer trademarked the names of the major characters from his Tarzan and science fiction novels, and so no new story, movie, or any other product can use the name of Tarzan without the permission of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.

In 1927 a community in Texas became populous enough to require a post office. Area residents submitted names for the new post office address, and the name chosen was Tarzan. That must have met the approval of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. (About 80 people currently live in Tarzan, Texas.)

During the 1930s Burroughs hired people to produce a daily Tarzan comic strip, plus a Tarzan radio show. Experts advised him that too many Tarzan ventures would cause people to grow tired of the character, but that never happened. The comic strip was syndicated to over 250 newspapers around the world, and the radio show went through three different versions from 1932 through 1936.

Burroughs was 66 years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and he became one of the oldest war correspondents to travel to battle areas during World War II. After the war he continued to work on writing projects until dying of a heart attack on March 19, 1950, at the age of 74. He is buried in Tarzana, California.

Throughout his lifetime Burroughs appeared to be dismissive of his literary talents, claiming he never learned any of the proper rules of writing, but that may have just been a persona he presented to the world. He often remarked that he enjoyed writing, and I believe he was proud of having found his proper way in the world, after early decades of false starts.

Nowadays Tarzan books are no longer widely read, which is a shame, for I enjoyed reading several of the adventure stories when I was growing up. If you’d like to read Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original version of his famous character many of the Tarzan novels can be downloaded, free of charge at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=tarzan

Kim

Kim’s skin was tanned as dark as a native’s and while he was fluent in speaking several Indian languages, his English was imperfect. But Kim was white – a Sahib (European). His mother had been a nursemaid in a Colonel’s family, and his father had been Kimball O’Hara, a colour-sergeant in an Irish regiment before leaving the military to take a low-ranking job with the Indian railway.

Kim’s mother died of cholera, and his father took to drinking and using opium, and “died as poor whites die in India.” Before Kimball O’Hara, Sr. died he told his son he was leaving him a legacy of three pieces of paper that had great magic. His father had died when Kim was quite young, and the half-caste woman who cared for the boy didn’t understand English well, so the boy was told that once the legacy became known the Colonel and 900 devils – who worshipped the Red Bull in a green field – would come and tend to him.

India’s people had many religions, with many gods, and so Kim accepted that a Red Bull would be an important part of his future. The three “magic” papers were sewn into a leather amulet-case that the boy always wore around his neck.

Kim hated wearing the restrictive shirts and trousers worn by Sahibs, preferring loose-fitting native clothing. Though he’d received a few reading lessons, sitting in a classroom didn’t interest him. He would prowl through alleys and run across rooftops to deliver messages, or learn secrets, and he’d then report to those who gave coins to boys who didn’t mind a bit of danger.

When Kim was 13 he met an elderly Tibetan Lama on a pilgrimage to find the Holy Places of Buddhism, especially the River of the Arrow. The Lama’s chela (disciple) had died, and Kim agreed to travel with the holy man, for the journey would be a chance to take his own pilgrimage and find the Red Bull in a green field.

He soon discovered the Lama was an innocent who didn’t understand people could be dishonest, and since Kim was familiar with the seedier realities of life he became the Lama’s protector.

When a horse trader by the name of Mahbub Ali learned that Kim would be traveling through the town of Umballa he asked the boy to give an army officer a written message about the pedigree of a white stallion. Kim knew he was not being told what the true message was, but he accepted the assignment.

When he arrived in Umballa Kim found the correct location to pass on a sealed packet of papers, and then he spied and overheard an officer say that he’d received information concerning the need for 8,000 soldiers, plus heavy artillery.

Kim and the Lama traveled on India’s Grand Trunk Road, and while the Lama was focused on enlightenment, and seeking clues to where the River of the Arrow might be, Kim wanted to explore locations near the road, to learn more about parts of India he’d never seen before.

One day Kim came upon a field and saw a group of soldiers scouting out a location for their regiment to make camp. One of the soldiers had a flag depicting a Red Bull on a green background. He had come upon his father’s Irish regiment.

Kim rushed back to tell the Lama he had found his Red Bull, and then found a comfortable place for his holy man to sit and wait for his return. He snuck into the army camp in hopes of learning about the promised legacy from his father.

The regiment’s Anglican chaplain caught the boy spying, dragged Kim into his tent, and then called upon the Catholic chaplain for assistance. Kim attempted an escape, the Anglican tried to grab hold of him, and tore off the leather amulet holding the three “magic” papers. Kim frantically insisted that he must have his magic returned to him, and the chaplains cut open the amulet to see the contents.

They found a paper certifying Kimball O’Hara’s membership in a Masonic Lodge, a military document, and the boy’s birth certificate. Kim told the men he needed his papers, and that he must return to care for his holy man. He was told he couldn’t leave – he was a military orphan and the regiment would make sure that he was educated, and trained to be a soldier.

Kim was allowed bring the Lama into the camp in order to say goodbye to him, and as soon as the man learned his beloved helper was a Sahib he agreed he must be sent to a Sahib school. Kim was told the regiment would take him to his new school, but the boy said that wasn’t going to happen because they would soon be in a war involving 8,000 soldiers. (He knew a thing or two about keeping secrets, and so said nothing about delivering the message concerning “the pedigree of a white stallion.”)

All who heard the boy’s war prediction scoffed at the foolish tale – until they were ordered to change plans and take part in a military action involving thousands of soldiers. Then officials took a special interest in the white boy who looked and acted like a native.

Kim was told the very best Sahib school in India was St. Xavier’s, where he could not only learn how to read and write, but how to survey land and prepare accurate maps. There were military men who took part in what was called the Great Game by disguising themselves, learning secrets, and providing maps of remote locations. Kim had no interest in learning to be a soldier who marched all day, but the Great Game would be a life of adventure.

Kim was enrolled at St. Xavier’s, became a good student, and usually followed school rules. His only infractions were the few times when he was seen outside of the school, conversing with an old beggar. The Tibetan Lama had put his pilgrimage on hold in order to live near his young Sahib disciple.

When Kim was 16 several men who took part in the Great Game – including Mahbub Ali the horse trader – decided the young man had received enough schooling and should be sent on his first mission, but not before he was given six months to travel with the Lama. They understood that Kim would not give his full attention to his life’s work until the holy man was at peace in his search for enlightenment.

Kim was given an amulet to wear, and told that if he met someone he thought might be a part of the Great Game there were certain subjects to be mentioned, using certain speech patterns. Then he was sent off on his six month holiday.

Unfortunately, during a train ride with the Lama, Kim met up with an injured man. Kim caught sight of the man’s amulet, conversed with him on certain subjects, and learned the Great Game required that a message be delivered, and that the injured man was too weak to escape from enemies on his trail ….

Several years ago I watched an old movie entitled Kim, so I knew the novel would contain adventure, and that is the major portion of the story, but I didn’t realize how much of Kim involved the Lama’s pilgrimage, and discussions about India’s diverse religious beliefs and traditions. For the most part I found the pilgrimage conversations to be of interest, though there were a time or two when I wished the talkers had gotten to their point a little sooner. Be warned that those wanting non-stop thrills and adventures might find Kim a little slow-moving at times.

For those seeking an exotic tale set during the days of British colonial rule in India I recommend Rudyard Kipling’s classic novel.

Kim can be downloaded free of charge at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2226

Two Wyoming Girls

Two Wyoming Girls and Their Homestead Claim was written by Mrs. Carrie L. Marshall, and published in 1899. It is narrated by Leslie Gordon, the youngest of two sisters, and is the type of book that is enjoyable to read if you don’t think too much about whether most of the plot twists could logically occur.

The story begins when Leslie’s father, Mr. Gordon, is preparing to spend the day working in a mine, even though it has been raining for days and eldest daughter, Jessie, warns him that an old miner told her that the mines are prone to flood in wet weather. Mr. Gordon tells Jessie that old miners tend to be superstitious, and that he needs money to gain title to his homestead claim, and to fence in his field crops. Their rancher neighbor, Jacob Horton, is determined to get the Gordon family off their land, and each year the Horton cattle “accidently” trample their crops right before harvest time.

Alas, Mr. Gordon should have listened to the advice of the old miner, for the mine did flood, and he and many others were killed. Since Mrs. Gordon had died two years earlier, Leslie and Jessie needed to keep up the homestead,and care for three-year-old brother, Ralph, with only the help from elderly Joe.

Joe had been born a slave on the Gordon plantation, and his former master had assigned him the task of caring for the little boy who was to become the two Wyoming girls’ father. Even after Mr. Gordon had grown – and decades after slavery had ended – Joe refused to give up on his job of looking after the Gordon family.

Following the long tradition of storybook ex-slaves Joe spoke in nearly-impossible-to-understand dialect consisting of misspelled (and often misplaced) words. As a reader, I found that the only thing worse than trying to interpret Joe’s rambling conversations was when Joe was talking to young Ralph, who spoke in baby-talk – consisting of different misspelled words.

Unfortunately for Leslie and Jessie, they had greater concerns than figuring out confusing speech patterns. Right after their father’s death nasty Mr. Horton showed up to inform them that girls can’t hold down homesteads, but he’d be willing to pay them a little money if they packed up and left. He was told they planned to stay.

Mr. Horton came by a few days later, right when the girls’ were experiencing an emergency. Jessie had developed an awful toothache just after Joe had taken both of the horses to go and buy seed. Mr. Horton told the entire family to get into his wagon, for he’d drive them all to the far-off dentist. Leslie said she had to stay and milk the cows, but told everyone she’d go and spend the night with a widowed neighbor.

As soon as the wagon left Leslie remembered that the law stated a homestead couldn’t be left unoccupied for even a single night, so she decided to not leave home. It was a good thing she stayed.

Leslie worried about being alone, so she went to bed with her father’s rifle close by. She was awakened by a strange noise, and saw flames outside of the bedroom window. This startled her so much that, in her confusion, she grabbed up the rifle and fired through the window. A man screamed, and when she got out of bed and looked outside she saw someone running away.

The fire was quickly extinguished, and Leslie saw that a pile of pine cones and other flammable items had been piled up against the house.

The next day Mr. Horton’s kind and naive wife drove the Gordon family back home. The good news was that the dentist happened to be passing right by the Horton’s home, so they were able to get him to stop long enough to pull Jessie’s tooth, so there was no need to drive all day for a dental appointment. The bad news was that Mr. Horton had met with a odd accident.

Mrs. Horton explained that late at night her husband decided he needed to go out and salt the cattle. (I’m assuming he meant he had to set out salt blocks, and not that he had to go about with a shaker, sprinkling salt over his cattle, but when it comes to the Hortons one never knows.) While out on his salting mission he someone grabbed hold of a tree stump and cut his hand, but when he returned home he refused to let his wife look at his injury, and he bandaged his hand without any assistance.

No one except Leslie connected the significance of Mr. Horton being injured on the very night that Leslie had shot at a man outside of her window. As for poor Mrs. Horton, she was the only one in the community who hadn’t figured out that she was married to a cad.

Troubles continued for the Gordon sisters. Money was needed for fees connected to getting legal title to the homestead, but the day before Joe planned to harvest their wheat crop Mr. Horton’s cattle strayed onto their land and trampled the entire planted field.

Then just before their crop of melons ripened Joe left in the night, without a word of goodbye. The sisters picked the melons and, though she hated going about as a peddler, Leslie went around to their neighbors selling fruit. The melons were popular, but all she received in payment was a stack of I.O.U.s

The next day they picked a wagon-load of melons, and then the entire family made the long drive to a work camp. The camp cook bought all the melons, paid cash, and gave them a bonus of a half-dozen ducks and a couple of jack-rabbits he’d just shot.

It was such a long drive that it was starting to get dark before they could get home. Suddenly a pack of wolves surrounded the wagon, and the team of horses began racing in terror. Though Leslie was the better driver she handed the reins to Jessie so that she could crawl to the back of the wagon and begin shooting at the wolves. And then three-year-old Ralph decided to help. After yelling at the “bad dogs” to go away, he began tossing things at them.

Here is a helpful hint for when a pack of wolves is surrounding your wagon, which is being pulled by a team of run-away horses. Toss out all of the freshly killed game animals. Wolves would prefer to eat than to chase horse-drawn wagons.

The day was drawing near when the Gordons had to go to town and attempt to gain title to the homestead. Their father’s name was on the homestead papers, but Jessie would turn eighteen the day before they would go to apply for the land title, and that meant she’d be old enough to be the head of a household. They had proof of her age, for generations of the family had their births recorded in the back of the big family Bible. When Mr. Horton came by, taunting them with how he would be taking over their land, he was told that they could prove Jessie would soon be of legal age.

Their troubles should soon be over, but did they have enough money to pay all of the legal fees? Would they find out why Joe had gone off when they needed his help? Could any bad neighbor be cruel enough to try and steal a Bible in order to deprive a family of their home? And if Mr. Horton decided to come thieving in the middle of the night, would he be able to tell the difference between a family’s Bible and their big unabridged dictionary?

This is not a perfect book, for the author used a bit too much imagination when it came to plotting what happened next. I’ve done research on the Homestead Act, and many of the “rules” set forth in this novel are not found in the actual Act. And at times ex-slave Joe’s devotion to the descendants of the family that once owned him was cringe-worthy.

But I found the Gordon sisters to be likable, and their personalities were fully developed. At times tomboy Leslie and homemaker Jessie bickered as siblings do, though they worked together despite their differing skills and opinions. Leslie had a sense of humor, plus she was willing to admit when she made a mistake, and I consider those good traits in people I choose to admire.

If you’d like to know more about the Gordons’ adventures Two Wyoming Girls can be downloaded free of charge at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/32383