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.

Miss Santa Claus of the Pullman

Four-year-old Will’m was just learning about Santa Claus from his seven-year-old sister, Libby, who went to school and heard what her classmates had to say about the wonderful gift-giver. In the past the children received Christmas gifts from their father, who lived and worked far away from the little town of Junction. Grandma Neal – the lady who took care of them – sold small toys, sewing notions and doughnuts in the tiny store that used to be the home’s parlor, so Will’m knew about people buying things for Christmas. But now he understood that other children got extra gifts from Santa Claus.

Libby wanted Santa to bring her a shiny gold ring, just like the one her friend Maudie had, and Will’m wanted a ride on a Pullman car. They lived beside the railroad junction, and he loved everything about trains. Just that day Will’m had found and returned the watch fob the dining car steward had lost, and the steward was so happy he took the boy on a tour through the wonders of a kitchen and dining room inside of a railroad car. Now the boy wanted to ride on a Pullman car more than anything else he could think of, and he got his wish.

Grandma Neal had known the children’s father had married a lady who would take the place of the mother who had gone up to heaven, but she put off telling the brother and sister they’d be leaving Junction to move to a big city. She’d confided the secret to a few close friends, who’d confided the story to others, and so poor Libby found out in school she would be going to live with a stepmother, and that stepmothers were always cruel. She came home in tears to ask Grandma Neal about it, and Will’m saw his sister crying. Even though they were told their father had married a sweet lady who’d grown up in Junction, both children had their doubts about getting a stepmother for Christmas.

And Libby had another worry. They were to leave on Christmas Eve, and while Will’m was getting his gift of a ride on a Pullman car, how was Santa Claus to know where to bring the gold ring she wanted?

The children were put on the Pullman, and all was fine for awhile, but soon they both became fearful of the future, so tears were shed. Grandma Neal had packed food in a box for them, but eating in their seats wasn’t as luxurious as being served a meal at one the little dining tables.

They were traveling through a snow-covered wooded area when the engine whistle blew to signal they were about to stop. A horse-drawn sleigh was near the tracks, and holding the horses was an old gentleman with white hair and a full white beard, and he was wearing a fur coat and cap. Could it be Santa Claus? A half-grown boy ran towards the train carrying a suitcase and piles of presents, and a young lady, who’d been seated beside the bearded gentleman, sprang out of the sleigh and rushed after the boy. She wore an ankle-length fur-trimmed red coat. One arm was thrust through a row of holly wreaths, plus she was carrying a great many bundles. The boy deposited his items in a seat near the children, met the young lady at the door, and called out “Good-by, Miss Santa Claus” before leaving the car.

Will’m and Libby stared wide-eyed at the new passenger. When the conductor came around, the children heard the young lady say she would be handing out presents at the next three stops, for the gifts might get broken if delivered by the “chimney route.” Then she told an older lady she was a Freshman, and this was her first homecoming after her first term away at school.

After giving away presents at the trains stops Miss Santa Claus noticed two sad children near her, but didn’t let them knew she saw them. The long ride was making Will’m fidgety, and a squabble started, which allowed the gift-giver to overhear part of the brother and sister’s story. Miss Santa got out yarn and scissors, and asked if the children could please help her make a decorative trim for a jacket she’d knitted for a crippled child. The lady talked about helping people, and Will’m asked if she’d ever met a stepmother, for they were always wicked.

Now Miss Santa Claus knew what the problem was, and she reassured the children there were many good stepmothers. She told them a fairy tale about a princess who had to do hard, painful work to break the spell that had turned her brothers into swans, and then she said there was a way to turn a stepmother into a real mother. When they got to their new home they shouldn’t complain because things were different than their old home, and they were to help their stepmother without being asked. Each little sacrifice would be just like the hard tasks the princess had to do, and they would bring about the magic of turning their stepmother into someone they loved.

She asked the porter to bring blankets and pillows so the children could take a nap, and then she got busy making two Christmas stockings. That required sacrificing a pretty kimono (which I assume was used as a bathroom) for material. After she quickly stitched together the stockings she asked the train boy if he had candy left for her to buy, and she got two oranges and two little candy-filled glass containers shaped like train lanterns. She’d attended a party and had received, as a memento, a child-sized ring (which was just like the one Libby’s friend Maudie wore) and that went into Libby’s stocking. The dining car steward, whose lost watch fob had been returned by Will’m, donated a paper punch used to mark dining cards, and that became a gift for Will’m.

The children were sleeping when their father and new stepmother got them off the train, and the next thing they knew was awakening in their new house and finding filled stockings. Then there was time with father and “She”, the nice lady who wasn’t their mother. Father was home on Christmas, but the next day he had to go to the office, and the children were left with just the stepmother.

Libby remembered the story Miss Santa Claus told them about making small sacrifices to turn a stepmother into a real mother, so she asked how she could be of help. Will’m usually remembered to be good, but he met a neighbor boy named Benjy, who barged in wherever he wanted to be, and stayed until his parents – who didn’t have much interest in him – sent the maid to drag him home for the night. Benjy was a bully who always insisted on getting his own way, and Will’m was fascinated by him. He got into mischief at Benjy’s urging, and when Benjy told Will’m he didn’t have to obey a stepmother, than seemed to be advice worth taking.

Libby grew to love the lady she began calling mother, and told her the story they’d learned from Miss Santa Claus. Will’m admired She – the lady who was just a stepmother – but She seemed to belong to Libby. When he was away from Benjy he realized he was at fault for She not being as close to him as to his sister.

It was nearing Will’m’s second Christmas at his new home when he began to remember the story about making sacrifices to turn She into a real mother, but he didn’t believe he would be able to change things after a bad start. Then on Christmas Eve pesky Benjy came over, insisting that Will’m disobey instructions given to him by She, and he had to choose where his true loyalties lay. That might involve getting into a fist fight, which would break a family rule, and what if She didn’t understand what little boys sometimes had to do?

This is a short book, which a grownup can read in a couple of hours. At times the plot tries a little too hard to get the moral-of-the-story across, and the stepmother seems to be a bit too patient, but the author allowed me to understand the viewpoints of young Will’m and Libby as they experienced difficulties, and I always wanted to know what happened next.

If you’d like to know the entire story Miss Santa Claus of the Pullman can be downloaded free of charge at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/41604.

A Dear Little Girl’s Thanksgiving Holidays

In this 1912 novel young Edna’s mother received a letter from the girl’s grandma, inviting the entire family to an old-fashioned Thanksgiving. It’s decided that Mother and Edna would go early in the week to help out, and Father and the older children would come a couple days later.

Edna tells one of her friends about the visit to her grandparents’ home and says “It is real country and yet it isn’t, for it is a village.” Grandpa had a farm, but across the street was a store, a church, and lots of neighbors within walking distance. The perfect arrangement for a book about a little girl who will soon have lots of adventures.

When Edna and her mother arrived at Grandpa’s farm they greeted Mother’s parents, and met Reliance, a thirteen-year-old orphaned bound girl, who was legally obligated (bound) to stay with Edna’s grandparents until she was eighteen. Grandma had gone to school with the girl’s grandmother, and it was decided to have the orphan come and help Amanda, the family’s aging cook, and train the girl to eventually take Amanda’s place.

Soon Edna’s immediate family, along with a couple dozen aunts, uncles and cousins, are together at the farm, eating a Thanksgiving meal consisting of two turkeys, a large chicken pie, an oyster pie, plus pumpkin, lemon and apple pie for dessert. (If there were any potatoes or vegetables they weren’t mentioned.) In the evening the family served themselves sandwiches and leftovers, so the servants could have a couple of hours off, seeing as it was a major holiday.

The next morning, in true children’s-novel fashion, Edna awoke with a fever and head ache, and felt so miserable she couldn’t eat a breakfast of waffles and fried chicken. It was determined she would be unable to travel for at least a week, and Mother and one of her aunts stayed behind with her when the rest of the family left for home.

Edna spent the weekend inside, but by Monday the girl who was too sick to travel was allowed to dress warmly and go outside to visit with a few neighbor girls. The first thing they did was to explore a “haunted” house, closed up since two spinster sisters died several years ago. Bossy Ester Ann knew a back door was unlocked, and talked all of the girls, except for Alcinda, into going inside. Ester Ann then said they should each take one pretty item to take home as presents for their mothers. (Reliance chose something to give to Edna’s grandmother.) Those mothers then taught the girls – and the readers – that taking things from abandoned houses is stealing. (I think a better lesson would have been to not listen to bossy people.)

The next day the girls had to return the would-be gifts, and afterward met up with Alcinda, who was upset over her missing black Pomeranian, Jetty. She was sure her dog had been stolen, and told them Jetty always barked at the butcher boy, the man who drove the mill wagon, and the man who brings the laundry. It was thought that someone who got barked at would be most likely to steal a dog, so they all agreed to investigate the suspects, with Edna and Reliance going to the flour mill.

They discovered poor Jetty swimming in the cold mill pond, and Reliance rushed off to find some boards to push into the pond for the worn out dog to climb onto. I wouldn’t think to look for planks of lumber around a water-turned flour mill, but Reliance found some to push out to the dog, and Jetty was able to crawl onto the closest one and get to shore. The girls then went to the miller’s house, who said he’d just fired the man who’d drove his wagon. He speculated the man had put the dog into an empty sack, and planned to sell Jetty, but after he got fired he’d thrown the dog into the pond. Boy, some people really get upset by dogs barking at them!

During the dog rescue adventure Edna got her feet wet, and Grandma feared she’d catch cold all over again, so she put her to bed and said she couldn’t go outside the next day. But Alcinda came calling, inviting Edna and Reliance to be the guests of honor at a party given by her rescued dog. Edna pleaded with her mother, and was told she could go across the street for the party if she bundled up, and wore her rubbers. Reliance had a bigger challenge to overcome, for the party would interfere with her work, but she was finally given permission to go, if she did some of her work early.

At first Edna was going to wear her best frock to the party, but decided she shouldn’t be better dressed than the bound girl who’d done most of the dog rescuing. The girls both wore pretty dresses, went to the party and were served hot chocolate and cake, and then each received a medal for bravery – a new quarter with a hole drilled through the top so that a ribbon tied into a bow could be attached to it. Both girls declared they’d keep their medals forever.

That should be enough adventure for one Thanksgiving holiday, but the girls decided they wanted to start a service club, with Edna as an honorary member. Their club would be called The Elderflower Club, and the children would do acts of kindness for elderly neighbors, especially Nathan Keener, a poor, sickly old man, who was always in a bad mood. Edna’s mother had heard that children annoyed Nathan and called him names, so she suggested the girls politely say good morning to him when they see him on his porch, and gradually work up to having short conversations with him.

Most of the girls thought polite greetings to Nathan was a good idea, but Ester Ann, the bossy girl from the “haunted” house troubles, had what she felt was a better plan. Ester Ann chose Edna to go with her when she walked up to mean old Nathan and handed him an apple. But alas, the old man had had apples filled with red pepper left on his doorstep, his bread stolen, and salt put in his milk, so he grabbed Ester Ann by the arm and raised a thick walking stick as if to strike her. Ester Ann screamed, and some school boys came to help, ready to fight the feeble, elderly man.

Oh, what a dreadful mess. If only Edna’s older cousin Ben would happen by, on his way to escort his mother to the train station. Since his mother had told him about Nathan, he could talk about what a great baseball player the man used to be, and promise to take him to a baseball game next year. He could ask Nathan to keep his temper under control, and say he’d come back to punish any boys that continued to play tricks on the poor man. That seems about the right turn of events for a Dear Little Girl book.

There were four Dear Little Girl books published, and this was the last of the series. It kept my interest, though I admit to finding Edna, the main character, rather dull compared to some of the other characters, such as Reliance, the bound girl. But few children’s novels were written about the Thanksgiving holiday, so I felt this would be a good November story to share.

If you’d like to know the entire story A Dear Little Girl’s Thanksgiving Holidays can be downloaded free of charge at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/30007

A Dear Little Girl

Eight-year-old Edna worried when her mother told her that staying with Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Justus would be a fine opportunity, for she knew that when grownups said something would be an opportunity it rarely turned out to be a pleasant experience. But her mother’s health required her parents to spend time in Florida, and since the parents of her cousin Louis were traveling to California for health reasons, and Louis would be staying with his aunt and uncle, Edna would be good company for her cousin.

Edna packed up her favorite doll, said goodbye to her older sister and two brothers (who were staying home), and she and her papa started on the long train ride to her relative’s house in the city. She was put to bed in the top berth while her father went to the smoking car. The engine derailed, a porter told Edna she must leave the car, but she couldn’t find her papa. When the train journey continued a kind lady named Mrs. Porter watched after Edna, until she was reunited with her injured father.

They arrived late at her aunt and uncle’s house, and while her papa talked with Uncle Justus, ten-year-old cousin Louis got a candle and took Edna up to her room. Though the first three floors of the house had gaslights, the fourth floor, where Edna had a room next door to the home’s one servant, had no lighting other than candles.

Uncle Justus had a private school on the third floor, with Aunt Elizabeth teaching the boys and Miss Ashurst teaching the girls. Edna made friends with her classmates, but Aunt Elizabeth forbade visits with any of the girls after school hours. Her strict aunt was interested in many good causes, and promised to take Edna to visit children at her favorite charity – an institution with the dreadful name of The Home of the Friendless.

Aunt Elizabeth was helping to raise money for poor children by turning pasteboard and decorative papers into little boats and pitchers, which would be filled with candy and sold at a fair. (What would now be called a charity bazaar.) One day she told Edna to go downtown for ribbon, and hurry back. Edna was afraid of getting lost, but knew her aunt expected to be obeyed, so she boarded a trolley car, got off at the right stop and bought the ribbon. But then she had to cross a busy street, ran to the other side, tripped and fell into a mud puddle, and lost her return car fare.

She picked herself up and saw a dirty, ragged little girl named Maggie, who said she had no family and was living with a woman who beat and starved her. Edna said she would take Maggie to The Home of the Friendless, and the girl declared she wouldn’t go without her only friend, Moggins, a half-starved kitten who’d been injured by mean boys.

Upon arrival at the Home the girls discovered a child couldn’t be admitted until the Board of Managers voted, and cats were never allowed. Miss Barnes, one of the Home workers, took Edna and Moggins to Edna’s relatives’ house. Edna’s aunt was out, and the lady told the girl’s adventure to Uncle Justus, while Edna went up to her room. Ellen, the maid-of-all-work, came up to inform her that Uncle Justus had told Aunt Elizabeth she must not punish her niece, and that the kitten would not be banished from the home, though the aunt did insist Moggins had to stay in the kitchen.

Miss Barnes returned to the Home, and learned the matron declared the ragged girl must temporarily return to her abusive guardian. Untiring Miss Barnes took the girl to see wealthy Mrs. Ramsey, who was a patron of the Home. Mrs. Ramsey kept Maggie overnight, and provided her with new clothing. The next day a lawyer settled matters so that the girl could stay at The Home of the Friendless.

After that Aunt Elizabeth brought Edna to visit Maggie each week, and the two friends talked of how Moggins was thriving, and how Maggie, with her bad upbringing, had trouble following the Home’s rules, but she tried to be good so that neither Mrs. Ramsey nor Edna would be disappointed in her.

Another person who had trouble following rules was cousin Louis, who often received reprimands. He would tell his troubles to Edna, including how he had to sneak off to see his best friend because his relatives thought the friend wasn’t good enough to play with. Edna cautioned that it was wrong to disobey elders, but Louis insisted it was no different than when Edna had first talked to Maggie. He also warned her not to be a “telltale” and reveal what he’d told her.

Edna (along with the readers) eventually learned that Louis wasn’t always truthful, and that she shouldn’t keep secrets from her aunt and uncle.

One of the older pupils in the third-floor school was Agnes Evans, who spent weekdays staying in the city, but went home over the weekend. Agnes asked Uncle Justus if Edna could spend a weekend with her in the country, and he agreed. Edna’s family lived in what she called a half-and-half country place, so she looked forward to getting out of the city for a couple of days – even though she was afraid of cows.

Edna arrived at the country house, met Dorothy, the little sister of Agnes, who would share her room with the weekend guest. She also met a neighbor named Mrs. MacDonald, a rich widow with no children. When Edna learned the widow longed for a child to keep her company she told her all about Maggie, who was in need of someone to adopt her.

Alas, the next morning both Edna and Dorothy had the measles, so Edna’s visit had to be extended for a few weeks. That was enough time for her to become attached to the entire Evans family, and to learn that nice Mrs. MacDonald had adopted Maggie, and had no objection to Moggins joining the household.

On the day Edna returned to Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Justus’ house her parents came to get her, but before that could happen Edna saw a herd of cows on the street and became so frightened that she ran up some stairs and collapsed in front of the door to the house of Mrs. Porter, the lady who’d helped Edna after the train derailment. Mrs. Porter was so glad to see her again that she insisted the girl stay for a long visit. A note explaining the visit was sent to her aunt and uncle, and the servant, Ellen, placed it on a table, where it was not seen for several hours, while everyone rushed around worrying about where Edna was.

At long last everything was sorted out, and Edna’s papa asked her how she would like to live permanently in the city, for his work was sending him there. Edna said she’d prefer to live a few miles out in the country, near where the Evans family, Mrs. MacDonald and Maggie were. Everyone thought that was a fine idea, and thus ended the first of four Dear Little Girl novels.

I found Edna a likable character (though perhaps not quite a dear little girl) and enjoyed reading her adventures. There’s a good chance I’ll write about her Thanksgiving Holiday next month, because it’s rare to find an entire book with the November holiday of Thanksgiving in the title.

If you’d like to know the entire story A Dear Little Girl can be downloaded free of charge at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/31244

Tom Swift and His Motor-Cycle

Back in 1910 a boys’ book series entitled Tom Swift began its long run. Tom was a teenager who loved to invent things, and since his father, Barton Swift, was a wealthy inventor with a couple of well-equiped machine shops near his house, Tom was able to indulge his love of new and improved machinery.

Tom Swift and His Motor-Cycle begins with Mr. Swift asking his son to ride his bicycle to Mansburg and mail a letter about Mr. Swift’s new turbine motor to the family’s Washington lawyers. The Shopton, New York post office was just a couple of miles away, but there were villains trying to steal the valuable motor, so mailing from a different location was considered a safer option.

On his way to Mansburg Tom saw a cloud of dust up the road and thought someone was driving a herd of cattle, but when the dust cloud drew closer he heard “chug-chug” and realized it was a motorcycle with its “muffler wide open.” A middle-aged man was driving at top speed, and had so little control of the vehicle that he almost crashed into Tom.

At the post office a well-dressed man with a black mustache seemed interested in what Tom was doing. Tom had lunch at a restaurant and overheard men talking about machine shops behind Swift’s house. One of them was the man from the post office.

Tom was almost home when he saw the man with the motorcycle smash into a tree right in front of the Swifts’ house. The man’s name was Wakefield Damon, and he would become a regular character in the book series, always exclaiming such things as “bless my eyelashes,” and “bless my hatband.” Mr. Damon explained that he’d bought the motorcycle because his doctor thought it would help his liver, but he hated the contraption, and would never ride it again.

Mr. Damon was helped into the house to rest, and Tom asked if he could buy the motorcycle from him. He agreed to sell it for 50 dollars, but before Tom could get the money from his room the man with the mustache was seen sneaking around the machine shops, and Tom and his father rushed out to confront him. When the “mustache man” saw Tom he remembered an important engagement and ran off.

Tom repaired and made improvements on his motorcycle in between bouts of trying to keep Mr. Swift’s turbine motor from being stolen by villains who wanted to be the ones to patent the great invention. He also found time to repair mechanical devices owned by just about every nice person he meets up with. He repaired the brake on the wagon owned by an elderly black man, and fixed the cog on a farm lady’s new-fangled butter churn.

Mr. Swift finished his turbine motor, and wanted to ship the drawings and working model to Albany, where one of his Washington lawyers would be staying for several days. Tom thought the bad guys would be expecting everything to be shipped by freight car, so he believed it would be better for him to take the items there on his motorcycle. The bad guys might think he was just out riding.

Tom made good time on his motorcycle until it began to rain, and he drove into a horse shed beside a country church to wait out the bad weather. Alas, someone snuck up on him, clubbed him on the head, and stole the papers and model.

Mr. Swift would lose ten thousand dollars if he couldn’t get his motor patented, so Tom set out on his motorcycle in search of the thieves. He came upon the elderly black man he’d helped earlier, learned the man had seen one of the outlaws, then found out the thieves were hiding out in an abandoned mansion. Tom did some scouting, and saw the men were indeed holed up in the old house.

But how could one young man on a motorcycle capture several desperate men? If only that nice Wakefield Damon would come along in a new automobile, purchased because his doctor insisted that driving it would be good for his liver. And if only Mr. Damon had several friends with him, and everyone decided capturing thieves would be a grand adventure ….

This book taught me vague instructions for repairing machinery – instructions that may be as unreliable as the doctor’s idea that driving along dirt roads could heal your liver.

I’ve read that a couple generations of boys loved this series for its almost plausible sections on mechanical know-how, and  I now suspect they also enjoyed the stories because the books are a hoot to read. Tom is a likable young man, and when he’s been beaten, and is feeling terrible about his father’s patent information being stolen from him, he knows it wouldn’t be right to continue on with his adventure without taking a few minutes to repair the butter churn owned by the farm family that took him in and literally gave him tea and sympathy.

If you would like to read Tom Swift and His Motor-Cycle it can be downloaded free of charge at:

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/4230

A Little Dusky Hero

When I saw the title of this 1902 children’s novel I wondered how a young dark-skinned hero would be represented. I was pleased with what I read.

During the Spanish-American War of 1898 Colonel Austin was in Tampa, Florida writing a letter to “the Boy and his Mother,” which was how his family was always designated. He heard someone say “Good mornin’, sah,” looked up, and saw a small black boy dressed in rags, with tear-stained cheeks.

The colonel asked the boy his name and was told George Washington McKinley Jones. (William McKinley was president during the war.) He asked where the boy’s folks were, and was told his father was in prison for life for killing a friend, and his mammy died yesterday, and had just been buried. The boy liked the Colonel’s face, and came to him because he was starving and wanted to find work. When asked what type of work he could do the boy said he was “de best shot you ebber saw.”

The boy was asked if he wanted to be a soldier boy. He said no, he wanted to be a hero. Did he know what a hero was? The lad replied in clumsy dialect (which is the only annoying part of the story): “A hero is a pusson, sah, what ain’t afraid to tackle a job too big fur other folks, an’ goes right froo wid it or dies a-doin’ it!”

Colonel Austin called to another officer and told him they had a volunteer who enlisted as a hero, and the volunteer was to be fed all that he could hold. The Colonel set out to learn if the boy was telling the truth, and locals told him the boy belonged to no one. He was honest and good-natured, and could hit a bull’s-eye whenever he’d been lent a gun to use at a shooting contest. (No one explained why the boy’s father killed a friend.)

The boy was taken in as the mascot of the Ninth Infantry, and was given the shortened name of G.W. His first assigned duties were singing and dancing to amuse the soldiers.

A little while later a box came from up North addressed to George Washington McKinley Jones, in care of Colonel Austin, but since G.W. couldn’t read, he didn’t believe it was for him until he took the box to “his Colonel,” who told him it really did have his name on it. Inside the box was a private’s uniform made to the boy’s measurements. There was also a letter from the Boy and his Mother, telling him that he could repay them for the uniform by bringing the Colonel home to them, safe and sound. G.W. knew who they were, for he often looked at their photograph displayed in the Colonel’s tent.

Once G.W. had changed into his new clothes the Colonel told him to never disgrace the uniform. Now the boy had two new solemn duties – to make sure the Colonel stayed out of harm’s way, and to never break any order given to him. Disobeying his Colonel would disgrace his soldier’s uniform.

The Tampa sun was brutally hot, and while all the soldiers shed their coats, G.W. refused to unfasten a single button, for he loved his uniform, and insisted on wearing it properly. He gave daily sharp-shooting exhibitions, and everyone said he was the best shot in the camp. He was even awarded his own small rifle as a prize. Never had the boy been so happy.

The Colonel insisted G.W. be in bed by eight-thirty, and even though he loved being with the soldiers and singing for them, he couldn’t be coaxed to stay up later than he was allowed, for he’d “enlisted” to be a hero, so he couldn’t break any rules, no matter how much he wanted to.

At last the order came for them to sail to Cuba and go to war. G.W. didn’t exactly know what a war was, but he was sure it would give him a chance to be a hero. After days of G.W. being sea sick, land was reached, and a brand new tent camp was set up.

He began to hear stories of war being dangerous, and often the Colonel looked anxious, so G.W. knew he had to stay close to him, for it was his job to make sure he would return safe and sound to the Boy and his Mother. But the Colonel ordered him to never go more than a half-mile from camp, and to never go over the hill where the Colonel spent more and more time away from the others.

Fever broke out in the camp, and G.W. became the favored nurse, carrying water, bathing aching heads, and granting every request for staying close by and singing hymns he’d learned from his mother. The soldiers seemed to forget he was just a boy being over-worked.

Then the war came close enough for G.W. to know it rumbled like thunder and flashed like lightening. His weary Colonel came back one evening to tell him arrangements had been made for him to be sent to the Boy and his Mother if anything should happen to the Colonel. But how could he ever go to them if he had betrayed his duty to make sure the Colonel remained safe?

G.W.’s mother had sometimes had visions, and one day G.W. had one as well. It was about going over the hill to find the Colonel, but that would mean disobeying orders, and disgracing his uniform. He was just a boy, grown weak from tending fever victims, and his Colonel wasn’t there to advise him. How could he decide which duty he must follow?

This is a short book, little more than a long short story. It has a bit of a “preachy” tone to it, emphasizing the importance of duty and sacrifice, but I found it compelling, and will read this more than once, for it will become a permanent part of my Bookshelf Companions. There are melodramatic parts, where the sensible part of my mind told me some scenes could not have taken place, but I wanted to know what happened next, and I cared about G.W., his Colonel, the Boy and his Mother, and all those young soldiers who started out knowing little more than G.W. did about what war really was.

I won’t say here how G.W. solved his crisis of conflicting duties during time of war, but I’ll tell you that some months later his Colonel told him of another way to be a hero. He would need to learn how to make his way in life, and the Colonel wanted him to attend military school, along with the Boy. The head master wanted him there, but many would make it hard for him, because of his dark skin. If G.W. consented to the plan it would be a chance to show how brave and honest he was.

If you’d like to know the entire story A Little Dusky Hero can be downloaded free of charge at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/31366