Spook

October is the perfect time for not-very-scary Halloween stories. Spook is a little black dog owned by a nasty witch named Grimalda. All nasty broom-traveling witches need an animal familiar, and since Grimalda is allergic to cats she’s stuck with poor little Spook, who is fed dried bats’ wings and is never allowed outside the miserable one-room home, with the exception of when he’s flying on the back of her broom. Spook does not like traveling by means of a broom, for he slips and slides around, and is always afraid of falling off.

On Halloween Grimalda needed to travel to a distant cave and, along with all her sister witches, receive a bag of tricks that had to be used up before midnight. The head witch didn’t approve of Grimalda having a dog for a familiar, or sneezing when in a cave full of black cats owned by other witches, so she gave her a severe warning to not mess up when it came to using up all her bag of tricks.

After mounting her broom and setting off at top speed Grimalda had a fresh bout of sneezing, which caused the broom to sway, and Spook to fall off. Down he fell, right into a tub of water, where a family of human children were bobbing for apples. He fell on the smallest human, a boy named Jamie, who’d been trying to get an apple. Jamie and Spook were both pulled to safety, and Spook wasn’t happy to see what looked to be a witch, skeleton, pirate and devil. He didn’t understand about Halloween costumes.

Jamie, dressed as a devil, was told he had to go inside to get dry, but he wouldn’t go in without Spook. His mother dried him off and put him in pajamas, robe and slippers. He told her the dog now belonged to him, but she just said they can keep him overnight, before taking him to the pound, where his real owners can find him. His older siblings got to go Trick or Treating, but Jamie was told he was too small, and needed to stay home and care for the little dog.

Jamie didn’t want to do as he was told, so when the telephone rang, and Mother went to another room to answer it, he put on his devil mask, told Spook he knew which way the others were going, and left the house, with Spook following him. Jamie did meet up with his siblings, and his disobedience wouldn’t have caused too much trouble if Grimalda hadn’t been bound and determined to get her familiar back.

Treat or Treat night is the best time for nasty witches to go amongst humans, for everyone just thinks they’re a trouble-making older child wearing a costume. Grimalda was able to snatch up Spook but Jamie ran after her, for he considered Spook his dog. He jumped on the back of Grimalda’s broom and, though the witch grabbed a shrinking cap out of her bag of tricks and tried to shrink the boy, she dropped the cap when two sentential crows flew on each side of her.

The crows had been sent by the head witch to watch over the other witches, and they decided Grimalda wasn’t behaving as she should. Grimalda had to return to the cave, and the head witch demanded she explain why she had a human with her, and why her tricks weren’t all used up. If that wasn’t enough to anger Grimalda her stubborn familiar refused to come to her, and stayed by the side of Jamie. As punishment she turned Spook into a caterpillar, but when Jamie picked him up for safekeeping he became a little dog once more.

This interested the head witch. Grimalda has a witch’s power, but Jamie seemed to possess the “magical” power of love. She proposed a contest – Grimalda would turn Spook into three different objects, and if Jamie could turn him back into a dog at least two out of three times, Jamie could keep the dog, and transportation home would be provided. But if Jamie lost, well, witches don’t tend to play nice.

Don’t worry, this not-very-scary book has a happy ending, and Spook gets to stay with the boy his loves. Boy and dog are returned to the family’s kitchen, and Jamie declares the dog’s name is Spook, and he officially belongs to him. And Spook, for the first time in his life, discovers that when a dog is happy his tail wags as if it would never stop.

Spook, written by Jane Little, was first published by Scholastic Book Services in 1965 and, according to what’s written inside of my book, I received a copy in 1967. I’ve kept this short novel for more than half-a-century because I like the characters of Spook and Jamie, and find the story an enjoyable read. The book stayed in print for at least ten years so used copies are plentiful, but tend to be pricey through online sellers. Since most readers won’t bother getting a copy of the book I provided the ending so you’ll know love is more powerful than a witch’s power – even on Halloween.

The Railway Children

In 1905 three English siblings named Roberta (a/k/a Bobbie), Peter and Phyllis lived in a well-to-do city house staffed by servants. Their father had an important government job, and often traveled for his work. Their mother spent much of her time with her children, and often wrote them poems and stories. 

One day, right after Father had returned from a trip, two men came to speak with him, and they stayed a long time. A servant told Mother she was needed by Father, so she left her children, but then came back appearing pale and unwell. The next day she said everything was fine, but Father had left on a long trip, and no one was to ask any questions. A few days later Mother told her children they would be leaving their house, and would be going to the country and live in a “ducky dear little white house.” 

A week was spent in packing and the children noticed they were taking all the ugly and useful furniture and crockery, and leaving behind their best belongings.

They moved to an old house in the country near a railway station. Mother now spent most of her time writing stories and poems, which were sent out to magazines, for she had to earn money.

The children often walked to the railway station, where they visited with a porter named Perks, who seemed to never grow tired of answering questions that began with “why”. He became a good friend to the children, and taught them much about the workings of a railway.

Soon the children learned the scheduled trains, and especially liked the one that came each day at 9:15. They would stand by the track waiting for it, and waved as it passed them. An old gentleman took notice of them, and always waved back. They were sure that he was a kind man.

One day Mother became ill, and a doctor was sent for. He wrote down a list of nutritious foods for her to eat, but she refused to spend the money, saying less expensive food was just as good. The children wished they had money for the recommended food, and Bobbie wrote a letter to the old gentleman, whom they felt would help them. They told of the special food Mother needed, and promised Father would pay him back just as soon as he returned from his long trip.

The next morning Peter was the only one waiting for the train, but instead of waving he pointed to large tacked-up sign made from a bed sheet, with a message written with stove blacking: LOOK OUT AT THE STATION. When the station was reached the old gentleman stepped off the train, and Phyliss was there to hand him the letter.

On the following day Perks came to their house to deliver a large hamper left at the station. It was filled with the requested items, along with a letter requiring them to tell their Mother the truth about the gift as soon as she recovered. They did as the letter instructed, and when Mother learned of her children’s well-meaning plea for help she told them they were to never again tell anyone of their financial problems.

Sometime later Mother needed to travel to another city. The children walked to the station to greet her when she returned, and they discovered a shabbily dressed man had gotten off an earlier train. He looked unwell, and was speaking in some foreign language. Peter knew enough French to ask if the man understood that language, but when the stranger began speaking French Peter had to admit he couldn’t understand most of the words.

Mother spoke excellent French, and when she arrived she was able to tell everyone that the man was Russian, and that he’d lost his ticket and all of his money. Since the man was quite ill she said she would take him home and see that he received proper care.

Once away from the station Mother had a long conversation with the Russian man, and began to sob over his story. He had written beautiful books, and had angered the Czar by saying that poor people should be helped. He’d been sent to prison, though he’d committed no crime. The children were aghast that an innocent man could be imprisoned, and Mother said that such injustices sometimes happen, even in England. She told them that when war broke out Russian prisoners were released to become soldiers, and their guest had deserted the army. He was able to learn that his wife and children had been able to escape to England, and he was searching for them. The man stayed with them for many weeks as he regained his strength.

One day the children discovered a landslide had covered a portion of the railway tracks. The 11:29 train would soon be coming and they had to warn the engineer to prevent an accident. The day was chilly and Mother had made the girls wear red flannel petticoats. Off came the petticoats, and they were ripped apart. Peter used his pocket knife to cut tree branches, the red cloth was fastened to the branches and the children stood on the tracks waving distress flags. They were able to stop the train, and were hailed as heroes.

A letter was sent, telling the children they would be honored at a special ceremony at the station. Special dignitaries came to the ceremony, including the old gentleman, who was the secretary of the railroad. He presented each child a gold watch. They’d learned their lesson about telling people their problems and asking for assistance, but Bobbie felt it would be a different matter to ask for help for someone else. They told the old gentleman about the Russian writer searching for his family, and the gentleman said he would make inquiries. The man’s family was found, and their guest left to be with them.

Sometime later Peter injured his foot, and had to stay inside, off his feet. He grew restless, and wished for something new to read. Bobbie remembered Perks collected reading material left on the trains, and she went to ask if he had any magazines they could have. He gave her a stack of illustrated papers, and wrapped them up in pages from a regular newspaper. On her way home Bobbie saw an article on the wrapping paper, and learned why Father was away – and why Mother had become so upset about innocent men being wronged.

Could the old gentleman be able to help them once more?

Bobbie, Peter had Phyllis had many other adventures besides the ones I’ve told about. I enjoyed reading about the siblings, who were usually good, but would occasionally bicker or make mistakes. And I wondered about the mysterious reason for Father being gone so long, and if it might have been better for Mother to have told her children about the miscarriage of justice, instead of causing them to guess about the unknown tragedy they couldn’t ask about. But if fictional characters always made the most logical decisions many mysteries would be resolved in a few pages.

Edith Nesbit’s story was first serialized in The London Magazine in 1905, and published as a book in 1906. Since then The Railway Children has been made into movies, as well as a few radio and television series. If you’d like to read the entire novel it can be downloaded, free of charge, at: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1874

Cupid of Campion

Back in April of 2018 I wrote about Bobby in Movieland, a novel written by the man some have called the “Catholic Horatio Alger,” and now I’m reviewing a second adventure from the pen of Francis J. Finn, S.J.

Sixteen-year-old Abe Thompson, newly fired from his job as a butcher’s boy, was sitting on a boat landing considering stealing a small skiff when along came fourteen-year-old Clarence Esmond, dressed in a white sailor suit. Clarence was in search of “the bright-eyed goddess of adventure” and told Abe he’d pay him to take him a mile up the river to see Pictured Rocks.

The boys were soon in the stolen boat, rowing to their destination. Clarence told of the expensive boarding school he’d been attending, and Abe made up stories about how dangerous the river was, except for a few places safe enough to swim in, and that many boys had drowned. When they got to shore Abe pulled the boat to safety, then hid the oars and paddle. They climbed to the top of the multi-colored Pictured Rocks, and when they descended and returned to the shore Abe said it was a safe place to go swimming. But after Clarence removed his sailor suit (he had a swimming suit on underneath it) Abe declared there was an even better swimming place a short distance away. He had Clarence get into the boat – which was without oars or a paddle – then he pushed the boat into the river’s current, said his companion would be drowned if he tried to swim to shore, then he stole all the money from the pocket of the sailor suit, and ran off.

Clarence drifted downriver, thinking of how upset his parents would be if he didn’t return by noon, as promised, to the hotel where they’d been staying. He made an attempt at prayer but his parents had never given him much religious instruction, saying he could choose whether or not to be a believer when he was older. The day was hot, so he crawled under one of the boat seats to protect himself from sunburn. He remembered the “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayer and, after reciting that, he fell asleep.

While Clarence slept, wealthy Mr. Esmond went down to the boat landing in search of his son. He learned that a boy in a sailor suit had been seen going off with no-account Abe Thompson. A man with a motorboat took Esmond to Pictured Rocks, where they found the sailor suit. Mr. Esmond sent the motorboat owner off to bring a search party to drag the river. He would spare no expense to find his only child, but he feared his son had drowned.

Some time later Clarence awoke and realized the boat was no longer drifting, but was being pulled, so he got out from beneath the seat, startling a gypsy named Ben, who’d seen the boat and thought it was unoccupied. The boat was pulled to the shore, and Clarence saw a small band of gypsies watching him. While Ben went to get some old clothes for Clarence the nasty gypsy leader, Pete, asked the boy about his family, and if they were rich. Clarence soon learned Pete would beat him whenever the boy disobeyed orders, plus there were times when he was beaten for no reason at all.

Clarence was not the only captive in the gypsy camp. There was a girl named Dora, who was a devote Catholic, and who never stopped praying to be returned to her family. During Clarence’s captivity he and Dora spent most of their time together. The gypsies were always watching them, but the children were often able to speak to each other. Dora told how she’d gone alone to an early-morning Mass, and when she was walking home a dam burst, flooding the town. She’d run for safety, then tripped and fell, and would have drowned if Ben – who’d ridden to town to pay a fine to release his father, Pete, from jail – hadn’t come by and rescued her from the floodwaters. Ben, his wife Dorcas, and their three children were all kind and good, and they loved being taught about Jesus. All of the other Gypsies hated Christianity, and were angered by Dora’s constant praying, but they seemed to be afraid to hurt her.

After a few days Clarence realized it would be easier for him to escape without Dora, and that it would up to him to find help for the girl. They were traveling beside the water and there was a small island about halfway across the river. One of Ben’s younger brothers said he could beat Clarence in a swimming race to the island and back and, with Ben’s permission, the race began. Clarence was the faster swimmer, but then he seemed to begin drifting downstream to the end of the isle, and when he was near land he began flailing about and went underwater. The gypsies and Dora thought he’d drowned, but the boy was hiding within willow tree branches at the island’s edge. After the gypsies left he began floating on his back downriver, while praying as Dora had taught him.

The next morning at Campion College (a Catholic boarding school for high school boys) John Rieler gave into temptation and asked to be excused early from his morning class, for he desired to sneak out of the building, go down to the river and take a short swim, for it was a hot September day. After he left class he rushed down to the dock, stripped off most of his clothes, dove into the water, and discovered a boy drowning. He rescued the boy, who was blue from the chill of being in the river all night, helped him up to the college, then told him to ring the bell and ask to see the Rector. He couldn’t go in with him because he’d get into trouble for swimming without permission. Would you be surprised to learn the boy was Clarence Esmond?

Clarence was let into the school by the Brother-porter, who went to tell the Rector that a blue boy in a swimming suit wanted to see him. The Rector, Father Keenan, fed and clothed the boy and, when he learned his name, said they were dragging the river for him. Clarence replied: “They might as well stop; it’s no use.” After Clarence was sent to the infirmary to get some sleep the Rector went to his room to read the morning paper and learned of a dreadful railroad wreck. Among the list of missing persons were Mr. and Mrs. Esmond. Father Keenan got busy making phone calls, writing letters and sending telegrams. He had the river dragging project discontinued, asked the hotel owner to come and identify Clarence as being a former guest, and learned Clarence’s parents were still missing.

After Clarence awoke from his nap he told Father Keenan of his adventures with the gypsies, and when he was asked Dora’s last name he had to admit that he hadn’t thought to ask what it was. The rescued boy refused to tell how he got from the river to the door of the school, and that would have remained a mystery if John Rieler’s conscience hadn’t caused him to fess up to breaking school rules to go swimming. When Father Keenan learned of the boy’s misdeeds he punished him by telling him he would not be allowed to swim in the river from December through April. (If you’re going to break school rules it pays to save someone’s life while you’re at it.)

Later in the day Clarence was told that his parents were missing and that, until they were found, he would be a guest at Campion College. For the first few days of his stay he would be the roommate of a senior named Will Benton. Readers soon learn that Will had a sister named Dora, who’d drowned during a recent flood. Could it be that his sister hadn’t really died?

Father Keenan contacts people far and near, asking to be informed of any gypsies passing through the area. When he learns of a nearby gypsy encampment he obtains the use of a motor (a/k/a automobile) and sets out with a driver, plus Clarence, John Rieler and Will Benton in an attempt to save Dora. I won’t give details about the events leading up to the final chapter, but will say that there is a happy ending.

I enjoyed this 1916 novel. Clarence was both good and likable, as was almost everyone in the story, with the exception of nasty gypsy leader Pete, and his equally nasty wife. The story was not overly pious, and there was a lot of humor, which softened the one genuinely sad part. At the very end I learned Clarence was the Cupid of Campion College, apparently because there was a time when cupid had a second meaning that wasn’t connected to chubby cherubs shooting arrows that caused people to fall in love.

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

https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/52583

Molly the Drummer Boy

In this short novel, subtitled A Story of the Revolution, Molly’s real name is Debby Mason, a fourteen-year-old daughter of the town drunk. Her father had been ordered to leave the town of Plymouth, and he planned to travel to Boston with other men who wanted to fight for independence from Great Britain. Debby was placed in the care of a harsh woman named Mrs. Lane, who was loyal to King George III. At meeting (I’m assuming that meant a church service) it had been brought up that Debby’s deceased mother had been a lady, so Mrs. Lane felt she should try to redeem the wild girl who felt fierce loyalty to her disgraced father.

At Mrs. Lane’s home Debby was never trusted, and often whipped for misdeeds. She missed both her father and the drum he’d given her, for he had known she resented the restrictions society placed on females. To save her drum from destruction Debby had hidden it in a wooded area behind her old home, and she’d sometimes sneak out of the Lane house and, with muffled sticks, beat upon her beloved drum.

In the year Debby spent with Mrs. Lane she often thought of her mother, who’d said she’d someday tell her about the home she’d lived in before her marriage. Debby remembered promising her dying mother that she’d always take care of her father.

One day Mrs. Lane told Debby to pray and ask forgiveness for the sin of spending time with Jack Martin, a boy who was considered bad company. Debby refused, for Jack was the only child who’d remained her friend after her father began drinking too much. When Debby declared she wouldn’t stop seeing Jack she was ordered to her room. Mrs. Lane would come to see her after evening prayer, and if Debby didn’t repent she’d be beaten.

Often, when Debby visited with Jack, he’d have news of her father and his friends in the Continental army. She had been giving Jack drum lessons, for he wanted to go off as a drummer boy and join the fight for freedom.

Debby went to a hiding place in her room and took out a suit of boy’s clothes “made of rough fustian.” She had taken all the money she’d earned working for Mrs. Lane and had Jack buy the clothes for her, for at night she liked to put them on and pretend she could have the adventures granted only to boys. She removed her gown, dressed in boy’s clothes, tucked her hair under a three-cornered hat, climbed out her window, and rushed off to where Jack was waiting.

Jack told her news of the battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill, and that George Washington had been made general of the army. But the most important news was that her father had stopped drinking, and had fought in battles. Debby felt she needed to keep her promise to look after her father, so she took her drum and headed off to join the patriots.

After several days of walking Debby came upon a Continental army camp, gave her name as Robert Shirtliffe, said she wanted to enlist, and was accepted into the military. No need for background checks or medical exams when there was a war to fight. Soldiers started calling the new drummer boy Molly, for those who were too young to shave were given a girl’s name as a form of teasing.

Winter came and Molly (who was Debby Mason, pretending to be Robert) heard soldiers talking about the bravery of “old Mason” who had been protecting a bridge, along with a small number of other soldiers. Mason had been shot, but was not among those killed, or those who escaped. Molly decided to go looking for her hero-father, and one day was able to sneak past the sentry and set out to find him.

After walking awhile Molly came upon a drunken sentry with an English greatcoat over his ragged Continental uniform. It was her father, who mistook her for a British soldier named Captain Morley, and asked about the change of uniform. Then along came Morley, who looked exactly like Molly (who, you may recall, is really Debby, pretending to be Robert). Morley had captured Mason, and plied him with liquor to get him to tell what he knew about the Continental army. Morley tried to take Molly prisoner, but the two look-alike soldiers began to fight.

Morley shot Molly through the hand, then the bullet found a resting place in old Mason’s breast. Molly knelt at Mason’s side and asked Morley for a chance to be alone with the dying man, saying they were from the same town, and there was something that had to be said in private. Captain Morley said he would leave for a time if Molly could be trusted to remember he (who was actually a she) was a prisoner, and not try to escape.

With his dying breath Mason begged the young soldier to go to Plymouth, find his daughter Debby, and tell her that her mother had a twin sister. Mason died before finishing his story.

Molly planned to keep her word and wait for Morley’s return, but she was afraid other soldiers might come along,and decided to wait while in hiding. After moving into the underbrush she fainted from the pain of her wounded hand. She awoke when two British soldiers, riding weary horses, stopped at the sight of Mason’s body, and talked of the need to spread the news that General Washington and fourteen thousand men would soon be upon them.

When Molly made her presence known she was mistaken for that look-alike Captain Morley, and said the Continental uniform helped her get behind enemy lines. Her hand was bandaged and, since she was smaller and lighter than the other soldiers, she was given one of the worn-out horses and told to tell British General Howe about Washington’s advancing troops. She mounted the best of the two horses and took off just as Captain Morley returned.

Molly made it back to her own camp and told of the coming of reinforcements, then fainted a second time. A brand new volunteer had arrived – her friend Jack Martin – who asked to tend to the wounded soldier to insure no one discovered her secret. Molly told Jack of her father’s death, and of her need to find the British soldier who looked just like her.

On Christmas Eve General Washington asked Molly to deliver a message to the Marblehead fishermen, telling them “we are ready.” Thus Molly helped to get the soldiers across the Delaware River on Christmas evening, for a surprise attack on the British the next day.

Soon after, Washington wanted to move five thousand troops during the night without the enemy knowing they had left their camp, and he asked for fifty volunteers to stay behind to keep the campfires burning, and to beat upon drums to deceive the British into thinking no one had left. It was a dangerous assignment, but Molly readily accepted the challenge, marching and drumming all night long, and being the last to leave at the break of dawn.

While trying to rejoin the Continental army Molly once again met up with look-alike Captain Morley, who tried to take her prisoner. Both soldiers shot, and both were wounded, Morley fatally. But before the British soldier died Molly learned they were cousins, for Morley’s mother was the sister of Molly’s late mother.

When wounded Molly made it back to the soldiers she served with a young surgeon saved her life, and discovered her secret. That left the dreadful question of how General Washington would react when he learned of the deceit of a female joining the army. That may not seem as though it would be the worst of her problems, but this story emphasizes the high regard every Continental soldier had for Washington, and how no one wanted to disappoint the great man.

I found this 68-page novel, first published in 1900, of interest because I know very little about the day-to-day life of a soldier during the American Revolution. Though I doubt every bit of this story is historically accurate, I did some research and learned of Deborah Sampson, who took the name of Robert Shurtliff, fought as a Continental soldier, was wounded, and treated by a surgeon who kept her secret. So the story of Debby Mason, who enlisted as Robert Shirtliffe, was no doubt inspired by history.

And I was impressed that author Harriet T. Comstock wrote as though she found no fault with a girl who wanted to behave as a boy, though in the end she reassured her readers that after Debby goes to stay with a kind and understanding lady she does learn to become a respectable young woman.

If you’d like to read Molly, the Drummer Boy the story can be downloaded free of charge at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/62589

The Missing Tin Box

Sixteen-year-old Hal Carson was on a ferry traveling from Jersey City to New York when he overheard two well-dressed men discussing nearly 80 thousand dollars in bonds in a private safe, which was kept open during business hours. He thought the conversation seemed suspicious and, when the men left the cabin to keep from being overheard, Hal considered following the men outside to the deck, but it was winter, and he had no coat.

Hal had been raised in a poor-house, and was on his way to New York City to seek employment. His worldly goods consisted of a small bundle of clothes, less than a dollar in coins, and a gold locket that had been around his neck when he’d been brought to the poor-house as a baby.

It was about eight o’clock in the evening when Hal arrived in New York. While walking down a sidewalk he saw an elderly man start to cross the street, slip on ice, and fall on his back, just as a fire engine, pulled by three “fiery horses” came racing towards the man. Hal rushed out into the street, grabbed the man by the arm, and pulled him to safety.

The man’s name was Horace Sumner, a broker on Wall Street. Upon hearing the gist of Hal’s life story, he gave the lad his business card, and asked him to come see him at ten the next morning. Hal then found a dingy establishment where he paid 25 cents for a night’s lodging.

The next morning he tramped through a foot of snow to reach the office of Sumner, Allen & Co., Brokers. He walked in the door, and saw the bookkeeper, Mr. Hardwick, one of the two men who’d been talking about bonds on the ferry. Hardwick didn’t recognize Hal, but since the lad wore shabby clothes he told him to wait outside. Just as Hal left the office Mr. Sumner showed up, and was annoyed that the office boy hadn’t cleared the sidewalk. Hal offered to clean it, and was just getting started when Ferris, the well-dressed office boy, showed up, an hour late for work. It wasn’t the first time he’d arrived late, so Ferris lost his job, and Hal was hired and given a month’s salary in advance in order to buy a coat and boots, and to pay for a place to live.

After his first day of work Hal bought winter clothes, then found a nice boarding house room. Would it surprise you to learn his new landlady was the aunt of ex-office boy Ferris? On Hal’s second day of work he met Mr. Sumner’s partner, Mr. Allen, who had been the other suspicious ferry passenger discussing bonds.

On Hal’s third day of work Mr. Sumner opened his safe and discovered 79 thousand dollars worth of railroad bonds, kept in a tin box, were missing. Such a loss would mean ruin to him. Hardwick and Allen blamed the poor-house boy, and Hal told Mr. Sumner about the conversation he overheard while on the ferry. He promised to help his employer find the stolen bonds.

If Hal didn’t have enough trouble Ferris held a grudge against him for “stealing” his former job. He complained to his aunt for allowing a poor-house boy to stay at her house, but she sided with Hal. The lady had promised her deceased sister she’d look after her nephew, but did not approve of the way he’d been behaving.

One day after work Hal followed Hardwick, and saw him meet Ferris. The next day Hal saw Hardwick steal pens and inkwells, and told Mr. Sumner about it. He believed the bookkeeper planned to make it appear as if Hal stole the items, and asked his employer not to speak to Hardwick about it, for he wanted to see what would happen. Mr. Sumner was growing fond of Hal, and he thought of his own son, who had been kidnapped as a baby, and was now presumed to be dead.

When Hal returned to the boarding house for supper he was told one of the boarders, a Mr. Saunders, had been robbed, and Ferris accused Hal of the crime. They all went up to Hal’s room and Mr. Saunders’ property, plus the brokerage office’s pens and inkwells, were found there. Things looked bad for Hal but, fortunately, the true criminals weren’t too smart, and the stolen items were wrapped in the day’s afternoon newspaper – a paper not available until after Hal had left for work. Everyone, including Ferris’ aunt, figured out who the villain was.

Mr. Sumner gave Hal permission to act as a private investigator and search for the stolen railroad bonds. The broker cautioned the lad to stay out of harm’s way, but that didn’t happen, and I can’t recall just how many times Hal came close to being killed as he strove to find the bonds that would keep his employer out of financial ruin. Bricks were dropped on his head, he was threatened with a pistol, whacked on the head with a chunk of firewood, then tossed into the vat of an abandoned pickling plant.

Finally Hal was shot, and Mr. Sumner kept vigil by the lad’s bedside. He saw the golden locket that had been around Hal’s neck when he’d been taken to the poor-house as a baby. Recall that, years before, Mr. Sumner’s infant son had been kidnapped. I won’t tell the significance of the locket, but will say that the bad guys got their just punishment, and all of the good characters lived happily ever after.

Anyone who’s read some of Horatio Alger’s novels about poor boys who work hard and experience wonderful coincidences might think this 1897 novel is an Alger story. In fact, it was written by Edward Stratemeyer, under the pen name of Arthur M. Winfield – the same name he used when writing The Rover Boys’ series of books. Stratemeyer had been an admirer of Horatio Alger, and when the older novelist had become too ill to continue writing Stratemeyer was hired to finish several of Alger’s books. He went on to create dozens of book series, including the Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, The Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew.

I found this novel to be a delight. I didn’t think too hard on whether it was completely logical, but just enjoyed the adventures of a likable young man. If you’d like to read The Missing Tin Box the story can be downloaded free of charge at: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/30864

A Girl of the Plains Country

Hilda Van Brunt was five years old when her New York family set out for Texas. Her mother had spent the last of her inherited fortune to purchase a ranch, after her husband had used most of her money on “dissipation” – a polite way of saying he drank and gambled away any money he could get his hands on. Mrs. Van Brunt had been sure she could make the far-off land into a proper home, but she’d died during the railroad part of the journey, and when Hank Pearsall, manager of the Three Sorrows Ranch, traveled sixty miles to the stage station of Mesquite he was not impressed with the adults who got off the stagecoach.

Charles Van Brunt was a weak but elegantly dressed man, who seemed unused to holding his infant son, Burchie. Aunt Valeria Van Brunt wore expensive clothes and didn’t seem to be familiar with any type of work. But the little girl with dark eyes and curly hair looked around with interest, and seemed pleased with what she saw.

Mr. Pearsall settled the adults and baby into the back of a horse-drawn ambulance (readers are told that was a common vehicle for traveling in those parts) then he swung young Hilda up onto the drivers seat, and told her the two of them wouldn’t mind a bit of jouncing. Hilda immediately began confiding in the fifty-year-old manager.

She said they’d come West with a nurse who couldn’t stand such flat country, and had gone back to New York, so Papa sent for Aunt Val, who’d come to help out, even though she didn’t like children. Hilda asked Mr. Pearsall if he liked children, and was told he didn’t have any, so she said she could be his little girl as well as Papa’s. Mr. Pearsal said he’d be her Uncle Hank.

Hilda loved telling everything to Uncle Hank, and he heard all about her hero, The Boy On The Train. When Mother got sick on the train the Boy and his family helped care for her, and delayed their own travel plans to stay with the Van Brunts until after the funeral, and the coming of Aunt Val. Hilda had quite an imagination, and most of her imagined adventures had The Boy On The Train in them.

After arriving at Three Sorrows Ranch (the original owner had three daughters who met with tragedies) Hank Pearsall told Mr. Van Brunt he would soon be leaving for a new job, and tried to teach the new owner about the financial side of ranching. Hilda’s Papa made no effort to learn about profits and expenses, and asked the manager to stay on. Pearsall had no interest in working for Mr. Van Brunt, but when Hilda told Uncle Hank he was her only friend the ranch manager couldn’t bring himself to leave the girl who’d adopted him as a relative.

Uncle Hank took on the nearly impossible task of finding a way to pay the ranch hands and the Chinese cook, and to support the Van Brunts, while Charles Van Brunt took much of the cattle-selling profits for weeks-long “business trips” that involved plenty of poker games. Van Brunt sold off land, and mortgaged what remained, but Hank did the work of two men to help make ends meet. His only pleasure was his nightly talks with Hilda, who told him about her day.

Hilda loved the ranch. She loved horse riding, and learning how to grow up to be a knowledgable ranch woman. Money was found to send for a school teacher for Hilda and the few other children in the area. And there was time for playing, and making up stories that usually involved the wonderful Boy On The Train.

One spring, after years of wasting money, Charles Van Brunt attempted to mend his ways, and insisted on helping with the roundup of unbranded calves. Hilda’s inexperienced Papa had an encounter with a rogue steer, and received fatal wounds. His dying moments were spent lamenting that he was leaving his children nothing but debts. Uncle Hank promised he would care for the children and pay off the ranch mortgages.

Money was tight, ranch work was done by fewer hands than were needed, and everyone did without. Well, everyone except Aunt Val, who decided Hilda’s little brother was in poor health, and had to go to Dallas for medical treatment. And of course she had to stay in the big city to care for him. Aunt Val had always hated the ranch, so no one believed there was anything wrong with young Burchie, but Uncle Hank found the money to pay for them to stay in Dallas. Hilda was the only Van Brunt to remain on Three Sorrows.

When the girl wasn’t at school she had no one to talk to until the ranch hands came home at night. There was the Chinese cook, but he wasn’t too talkative, even when he saw things Uncle Hank wouldn’t approve of. Hilda kept herself busy, exploring the ranch and using her imagination. One day she was down in the basement, moved some empty boxes away from a wall, and found a door leading to an abandoned storm cellar no one else knew about. She crawled through a tunnel and found a room, complete with a little window hidden by some woodbine in front of the house.

She didn’t tell Uncle Hank about her find, but brought down castoff furniture and favorite belongings to make herself a private room for reading and daydreaming. Years went by, and one day, when she was fifteen, she opened the covering to her hidden room’s window and discovered a young man hiding between the house and the woodbine. It was her hero, The Boy On The Train, who was wanted for a murder he didn’t commit, and had come looking for Hilda, for he remembered where the Van Brunts’ ranch was located. Hilda hid him in the secret room. That required going through the kitchen, but the Chinese cook didn’t do much talking, especially if Hilda asked him for a favor.

Other wanted men had been hidden at the ranch, if one of the workers knew the fugitive and believed in his innocence. Hilda told The Boy On The Train, who’s name was Pearse, that she could tell Uncle Hank Pearsall about him, for he would better know how to help the young man. But her long-time hero said he knew the man, did not like him, and wouldn’t have come if he’d known who the ranch manager was.

How could there be anyone who didn’t like kind and honest Uncle Hank? And how could she keep such an important secret from the man who’d been more of a father to her than her own Papa had ever been?

Hilda did keep the fugitive’s whereabouts a secret. She brought him food, had long talks with him, and learned his adopted parents had died, and his step siblings were keeping his inheritance from him. Hilda helped Pearse escape, but felt guilt over not telling Uncle Hank about the matter. The sheriff later learned someone else had committed the murder.

After many a hard year Uncle Hank was able to pay off the Three Sorrows Ranch debt. That brought on the new problem of Hilda becoming a beautiful young woman who was half-owner of a valuable ranch. Young men were interested in her, but Hilda was still infatuated with her Boy On The Train – the man who was perfect except for not liking her beloved Uncle Hank.

The novel was published in 1924 and may not have been marketed as a children’s book, but I chose it because of Hilda’s age during the beginning chapters. I won’t give away the ending, but will say the main characters live happily ever after, once a major misunderstanding is cleared up. I enjoyed learning about Hilda, Uncle Hank, and The Boy On The Train. And though I never learned much about him, the few scenes with the Chinese cook were fun. The tension and challenges came across as believable, and I found the ending a bit melodramatic, but satisfying.

If you’d like to read A Girl of the Plains Country it can be downloaded free of charge at: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/63044.

Miss Elliot’s Girls

This is the first book I’ve ever chosen because of the publisher. When I saw that the 1886 novel Miss Elliot’s Girls, Stories of Beasts, Birds, and Butterflies was printed by the Congregational Sunday-School and Publishing Society I decided to read it to see how preachy it might be. It’s not too preachy, but the author made sure her readers learned a lot.

In the first chapter Miss Ruth Elliot, a lady who lives with her minister brother and his family, asks a boy to bring her a tobacco worm. Miss Ruth, who is crippled, enjoys obtaining caterpillars so that she can watch them turn into butterflies, and it was interesting to read about the transformation.

In chapter two Mrs. Elliot (Ruth’s sister-in-law) is disappointed over the small turnout at the sewing society. The church had promised a barrel of clothing and bed linens to the poor missionary out West, and she had hoped to include a bed quilt. Miss Ruth offered to host a Patchwork Quilt Society, consisting of her two nieces and four other girls, to make the needed quilt. They would meet in her room once a week. She would cut the fabric squares, and tell stories while the girls worked.

Most of the remaining chapters told a little about the girls and their minor disagreements (resolved with a reminder of a Bible lesson), but focused on Miss Ruth’s stories about cats, dogs and horses from her youth, as well more stories about butterflies, plus birds, and the industrious ants who live in a “model city”, with everyone working hard and helping each other.

In the tales from Miss Ruth’s childhood she told of being a healthy and active girl, and I was waiting to learn how she came to rely on a crutch, and to have days when she can barely walk at all. A couple of her stories mentioned her becoming ill, and towards the end of the book her nieces tell friends that their Papa said Aunt Ruth has an incurable disease, and that she is often in pain. The friends remark how cheerful and kind Miss Ruth is, so I suppose that part is “sneaking” preachy, giving a good example of how to behave when faced with troubles.

I was able to find out that the author, Mrs. Mary Spring Corning, had been the daughter of a Congregational minister and later married another Congregational minister, so I’m assuming  faith was important to her. During the last chapter of the novel the Patchwork Quilt Society girls finish their quilt, and wished that they could send along the stories they were told as they sewed. It was decided that Miss Ruth would write down her stories so that others could learn the lessons connected to the tales.

I can’t claim that Miss Elliot’s Girls will now become a favorite book, but I enjoyed my time with the fictional Miss Ruth, and admired her for making the most of her limitations. I don’t plan to search out more books  from the Congregational Sunday-School and Publishing Society, but I’m glad that I expanded my horizons a bit and sampled an offering from an obscure organization.

If you’d like to read Miss Elliot’s Girls it can be downloaded free of charge at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/14610

Frank Merriwell’s First Job

In past generations Gilbert Patten, using the pen name of Burt L. Standish, was one of the country’s most popular – and most prolific – writers. Each week, from April 18, 1896 to July 27, 1912, Patten wrote a 20,000 word half-dime novel about Frank Merriwell, and each week hundreds of thousands of boys spent a nickel for the latest issue of Tip Top Weekly: An Ideal Publication for Youth, a magazine containing the latest Merriwell adventure, plus a few pages of fan mail about the stories, and sometimes a column on physical fitness. Many of the Tip Top purchasers would then lend or trade the magazine to other boys, thus increasing the readership. Four times a year 13 of the stories would be combined into a Tip Top Quarterly book. 

Patten wrote 850 of the 20,000 word short novels – that’s 17 million published words about Frank Merriwell and, later on, his newly discovered younger half-brother Dick. Frank’s adventures started when he was enrolled into a boarding school named Fardale, and continued when he attended Yale. And, because Frank’s college years needed to last as long as possible, he would occasionally take long breaks to travel the world in search of whatever Patten decided would be somewhat logical for the young man to hunt for. 

Many of the stories centered on sports, for Frank Merriwell played on every team his school had. Baseball, football, rowing, track and field – if it was connected to athletics good-old Merry was the team captain, while maintaining sterling academic honors. Since I’m not interested in sports I never paid much attention to Frank Merriwell, but when I came upon a story about his first job I decided to see if the clean-living All American youth could hold my attention. He did. 

In Frank Merriwell’s First Job he was about to start a new year at Yale when he received a letter informing him that his guardian, Professor Scotch, had speculated with his fortune and lost every dollar. He immediately took a train to Bloomfield, and walked to the house left to him by his deceased uncle. 

Frank felt no anger towards his guardian, for the man had no experience in money management when he’d been appointed to look after Frank’s inheritance. He knew the professor had been swindled by Darius Conrad, a cad who’d claimed to have made a fortune on Western mining property. Frank was angry at Conrad, and let him know the day would come when he’d pay for his crimes. 

Frank tried to help Professor Scotch, who’d lost his reason over the shock and guilt of losing the money. After the professor died Frank had to sell the beloved house he’d inherited, then he paid all debts, and set out to find work. But first, just to show what a splendid person he was, Frank went to investigate a fire, and discovered the Conrad house was burning to the ground. Darius Conrad’s nasty son Dyke was trapped inside, and everyone said it would be impossible to rescue the youth. So of course Frank went inside, and returned carrying Dyke Conrad. That impressed the good folks of Bloomfield – and probably some of the folks that weren’t so good. 

We next see Frank going into the roundhouse of the Blue Mountain Railroad and politely inquiring where he can find the foreman. A greasy, nasty bully called Old Slugs kept insulting Frank, but the youth remained polite, until the man spit tobacco juice on the job-seeker’s clean white shirt. Then Frank planted his fist between the eyes of the bully. Everyone stopped work to watch, for no one had ever won a fight with Old Slugs. But Old Slugs had never before treated Frank Merriwell with disrespect, so the clean-living former Yale student was the victor against a man who drank beer on a regular basis. (“Merry” never lectured, but the author made sure readers learned that liquor and tobacco ruin a man’s health.) 

The foreman had seen the fight, and said he’d fire Old Slugs, but Frank told him not to. He would fight a man if need be, but didn’t want him to suffer afterwards. Frank asked for work, but the only opening was being a wiper, which was the lowest, dirtiest job on the railroad. Wipers oiled every moving part on the engines, then wiped off excess oil. They also had to turn the tables, which rotated a train engine to face in the opposite direction. Plus a wiper shoveled coal ashes, along with other difficult tasks. After years of work a wiper could be promoted to fireman, and shovel coal into an engine’s boiler to keep up the proper head of steam. 

Frank was hired, though many believed he would quit after the first day. He was given the hardest jobs available, but did them without complaining, and watched and listened to all around him. At night he read books on how a locomotive runs. He found a room to rent in a poor area of town, and discovered his next-door neighbors were street musicians. Jack was 17, a guitarist with a crippled leg; Nellie was a blind 15-year-old singer. Nellie had lost her sight after a blow to the head, and the brother and sister were saving money to pay for a surgeon to heal her. Frank became the siblings’ friend and protector. 

At work most of Frank’s coworkers were starting to like the new wiper. Even Old Slugs admired him, and was now his friend. But there was a cruel engineer named Hicks who hated Frank. Hicks was an excellent engineer when sober, but that wasn’t often. It’s a good thing Frank had promised his dying mother he’d never drink alcohol, because most of the troublemakers he met were drunkards.  

The foreman began assigning Frank to wipe and inspect Hicks’ beloved Engine 33, though Hicks thought Frank a worthless newcomer. When Frank discovered a break in the center casting, after Hicks had reported the engine in perfect condition, Frank told the foreman about the danger. Hicks was given time off without pay, which is serious when a person spends most of his money on liquor, and hasn’t saved a dime for his old age. 

Remember Jack and Nellie, the musicians saving up for the eye operation? Hicks found out the orphans were his late sister’s children, and he planned to get custody of the youngsters and their money. Frank vowed to keep the cad from getting legal custody of the siblings, and that did nothing to endear Frank to the man.  

There were wipers with years of experience waiting for a job promotion, but after Frank had worked a month the foreman promoted him to fireman – and assigned him to work on Engine 33 with that nasty Hicks. I don’t want to give away too much, so I’ll just say that if an engineer should suffer from temporary insanity and try to kill his fireman with a wrench, that fireman had better be a great athlete, with experience in winning fights with men who drank too much. 

If that fireman promised to not get the engineer in trouble as long as the man agreed to never harm his niece and nephew, and if the foreman fired the engineer anyway, don’t expect the engineer to be understanding about the matter. 

The story tells of events that probably would never happen, but there was never anything that I thought was an impossibility. Frank Merriwell is both honorable and likable, and I enjoyed reading about him. The problem with Hicks ended satisfactorily, but Nellie still hadn’t had her surgery, and I was expecting Frank to have another encounter with Darius Conrad, the man who stole Frank’s inheritance, but folks had to have a reason to spend another nickel on the next issue of Tip Top Weekly

If you’d like to read Frank Merriwell’s First Job the story can be downloaded free of charge at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/64635

How the Little House Books Came to Be

Laura Ingalls Wilder did not have an easy life. Born on February 7, 1867 in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, she was the second daughter of Charles Ingalls, who had a “wandering foot” and was always wanting to move elsewhere. Her mother, Caroline, spent much of her married life wanting a permanent home. Of the five Ingalls children, only two were born in the same state. Older sister Mary was also born in Wisconsin, sister Carrie in Kansas, brother Freddie (who died in infancy) was born in Minnesota, and Grace in Iowa.

When Laura was two-years-old her family moved to the Kansas prairie and settled on land which was part of the Osage Indian reservation, and not open to homesteaders, so after two years the family returned to Wisconsin.

Three years later Laura and her family moved to Minnesota, where her father agreed to take over a homestead that came complete with a sod dug-out house built into a bank beside Plum Creek. Her Pa later built a house of store-bought lumber.

Right before the wheat crop could be harvested a plague of grasshoppers devoured every plant down to the ground. Before moving on the insects laid eggs in the soil, so there could be no crops the following year. Pa Ingalls agreed to become part owner of a hotel in Iowa, and he found someone willing to buy the farm.

The Iowa partnership was a disaster. They lived at the hotel, which was beside a saloon, and Laura was aware of drunken behavior, which included domestic violence and an accidental death. Both parents worked long hours, and Mary and Laura washed dishes and waited tables, but they didn’t earn enough money, so Pa rented a house at the edge of town and found work at a feed mill. They left the town in the middle of the night, for they were in debt and couldn’t pay what was owed.

The Ingalls returned to Minnesota and lived in Walnut Grove. Pa worked in a store, but money was tight so 12-year-old Laura was hired out to stay with local families to help with housework and child tending.

Laura’s oldest sister, Mary, took sick and became blind. Soon after Mary’s illness Pa’s sister, Laura’s Aunt Dorcia, came by. She was going to join her husband, who worked for a railroad extending rail lines westward. Pa was wanted as a bookkeeper and company store clerk, and would be paid a good salary. Ma agreed that he should go out to the Dakota territory, and she and the girls would follow when sent for.

Laura called the Ingalls’ second year in the Dakotas the Hard Winter. Record breaking cold temperatures and near-constant blizzards shut down train service, and settlers had to ration food, and burn twisted hay for heat. After that winter Pa wanted to head for Oregon, but Ma refused to move another time.

Though her parents’ traveling days had ended, Laura still have several moves ahead of her. At age 18 she married 28-year-old Almanzo Wilder, and she gave birth to daughter Rose (who would become a writer), and then an unnamed son who only lived 12 days. Many disasters came to the Wilder family, including Almanzo being stricken with rare complications of diphtheria, which left him needing a cane to walk. For a time they lived with Laura’s in-laws, then they briefly moved to Florida, in hopes that the weather would improve Almanzo’s health.

They returned to the Dakotas, and in 1894 they’d saved enough money to move to Missouri. They made a down payment on 40 acres of farmland, but there were lean years until they could buy more land, and diversify their farm income by planting an apple orchard, and raising chickens, dairy cows and goats.

From 1911 to 1924 Laura wrote a column for the Missouri Ruralist, and the Wilders were able to save for the day when they could stop working. Their daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, lived in the east and wrote for major magazines. In the late 1920s Rose convinced her parents to invest their money.

The 1929 Stock Market Crash wiped out all of the Wilders’ savings. Laura was 62, Almanzo 72, and they feared dying in poverty. But, off and on, Laura had been recording her memories of the Ingalls’ pioneering days, filling up several writing tablets with stories. Her daughter was a successful writer, could Rose find a publisher for an autobiography?

Rose took her mother’s handwritten memoir, rearranged and edited sections, then typed out a manuscript geared towards an adult audience. It was sent to numerous publishers, but no one was interested in it, though one editor suggested the first part of it might make a good children’s novel.

Laura’s life in Wisconsin was rewritten, with scenes of everyday life added to the major events recorded earlier. Harper & Brothers published the book as Little House in the Big Woods. The publisher thought a series of children’s books would be profitable, and so Laura’s life was made child-friendly, with most of the grim parts left out, though she insisted on telling of her sister’s blindness.

Steady book sales allowed Laura and Almanzo to live out their days in comfort, and Rose Wilder Lane also profited, for she wrote two best selling books, and numerous short stories, based on her mother’s memories. Almanzo was 92 when he died in 1949; Laura had just turned 90 when she died in 1957.

Today the fictionalized Ingalls stories are how many people view this country’s pioneer era. Historians consider Laura Ingalls Wilder’s novels to be worthwhile aids in helping modern generations understand the past. (Anyone who’s read a history book tries to ignore the Little House on the Prairie television series, which strayed far from Laura’s books.)

Perhaps the classic Little House novels would have never been published if the Wilders hadn’t lost all of their money in the Stock Market Crash.

Where the Lilies Bloom

Mary Call Luther was a fourteen-year-old girl born and raised in the Great Smoky Mountains. She’d been given the responsibility of being the head of her family, which lived in a small house on share-cropping land. Ima Jean was Mary Call’s five-year-old sister, Romey her ten-year-old brother, and eighteen-year old Devola was her “cloudy-headed” older sister. Devola loved Kiser Pease, the farmer who took most of the Luther’s  crops after the family had done all the work. Kiser wanted to marry Devola, but Roy Luther wouldn’t allow that. Roy Luther was the father, and should have been head of the family, but he’d taken sick, and one day he grabbed his head, collapsed to the floor, and had to be carried to his bed. 

Even if they’d had the money for a doctor, Roy Luther wouldn’t let one on the property. A doctor had killed Roy Luther’s mother by cutting into a growth on the side of her neck, and that knife-cut let the poisoned air inside of her. Mountain remedies were the only kind you could trust and, though the family did their best to heal Roy Luther, he made Mary Call promise to carry out all of his orders when he died. Don’t send for an undertaker or preacher, for they just wanted money. He’d already dug his own grave up on a mountainside, and that’s where he was to be buried. Tell no one he’d died, for outsiders would want to decide what’s best for the family. Mary Call was to keep Devola with her always, for the cloudy-headed young lady was not to be allowed to marry anyone – especially not Kiser Pease. 

It was late summer and Mary Call needed a way to earn enough money to get them through the coming winter. One night she couldn’t sleep so she looked out the window and thought she saw a vision of her deceased mother, Cosby Luther, kneeling beside some plants. Her mother had been a wildcrafter, gathering leaves and roots from certain plants, and selling them to the general store owner, who then sold them to a place that made medicines. Mary Call crept into her father’s room, opened a trunk and took out Cosby Luther’s big illustrated herb book. The family had a way to earn money. 

Her siblings were first excited about their new occupation, but they all grew rebellious when Mary Call made them get up early and work all day long, tramping over the mountains, getting scratched by underbrush and bit by insects, as they searched for foxglove, ginseng and witch hazel. 

One day Romey said he hadn’t seen any smoke from Kiser Pease’s chimney for a couple of days, and maybe their landlord was sick. Mary Call and Romey went to check on him, and found him barely conscious, with chills and a fever. Mary Call thought out a plan, and then sent Romey to fetch Ima Dean and Devola. The family sliced and heated a huge pile of onions, then they carried Kiser to his bathtub, and began covering him with a folk-medicine onion cure. When Kiser roused enough to talk Mary Call told him she would let him die if he didn’t sign a paper, giving her the Luther’s house and land. If that doesn’t seem like a court-approved way to get title to land, well, Mary Call was sure it would solve much of their troubles. 

A little while after the children saved Kiser’s life Roy Luther died, and Mary Call ordered Romey to help her bury their father in his mountainside grave. Mary Call told her siblings that no one could know about their father’s death. Both Kiser and the store owner’s wife wanted to visit with Roy Luther, and they began questioning why he was always too sick to see anyone. One day when Kiser came calling Mary Call showed him the paper he’d signed, giving away the house and land. He didn’t have much to say about it. 

School started, and Mary Call still made the family get up early to do some wildcrafting before she and Romey walked to school.  She told her brother they couldn’t be friends with the other school children because they had a secret to keep, and couldn’t risk anyone finding out about Roy Luther. 

One day the family learned Kiser had suffered a bad accident and had been taken to a hospital.  Mary Call thought that would give them a break from Kiser wanting to talk to Roy Luther, but Kiser’s sister Goldie showed up, and she had her own ideas about who owned what. Goldie ordered the Luthers out of their home, for she had another family she wanted as sharecroppers. 

The only way Mary Call could think to solve the crisis was for her to find a way to get to the hospital so she could convince Kiser to marry her, instead of her sister Devola. And if Kiser wouldn’t agree to that, she might be forced to break all of those solemn promises she’d made to her father. 

Where the Lilies Bloom was first published in 1969, and is still available through Harper Collins publishers. When I was young I bought the paperback version that came out at the time of the 1974 United Artist movie. The story is told by Mary Call, who believes all the customs and traditions she’d been taught. But she longs to learn more at school, and begins to understand that some of what her family told her might not be true. 

If you’re interested in the hard-scrabble life between Sugar Boy and Old Joshua, amid the Great Smoky Mountains, you may want to obtain a copy of Vera and Bill Cleaver’s Where the Lilies Bloom.