Two Wyoming Girls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Corner House Girls

I decided to search for examples of lesser-known early series books and discovered The Corner House Girls, subtitled How They Moved to Milton What They Found and What They Did, which was written by Grace Brooks Hill, and published in 1915. The book tells the adventures of four Kenway sisters – Ruth, Aggie, Tess and Dot. The girls are between the ages of sixteen and eight years, and though I never figured out each of the girls’ ages, I did learn that Ruth is the oldest and Dot the youngest.

The book begins with four impoverished orphan girls living in an ugly tenement building, on an ugly street, in the ugliest district in Bloomingsburg. It was a good thing the long subtitle told me they’d be moving to Milton, because things were sure dire at the beginning.

Their father had been killed in the Philippines, but no information was given about why he had been there. (His girls were too young for him to have been killed during the Spanish-American War.) Mrs. Kenway had died two years before the story began, and the majority of the sisters’ income was from their father’s pension.

The only adult living with the girls was Aunt Sarah Stower, who wasn’t really their aunt, but only their mother’s uncle’s half-sister, and Aggie said “that’s a relationship that would puzzle a Philadelphia lawyer to figure out.” (Apparently the author couldn’t figure it out, for Sarah seems to have been a step-sister, and not a half-sister.) Aunt Sarah hated housework so she never did any, but she sat around all day sewing, crocheting and knitting, which was better than nothing.

One day Tess and Dot were out buying vegetables, plus the five cents worth of peppermints the family bought each week for grouchy Aunt Sarah. A trouble-making boy named Tommy Rooney tried to steal the peppermints from them, but was prevented from doing so by a well-dressed gentleman named Mr. Howbridge. The gentleman, who was a lawyer, asked the girls where the Kenway family lived, for he had come to tell them of Uncle Peter Stower’s death.

Uncle Peter had been the family’s only rich relative, and was Aunt Sarah’s step-brother (the author calls him a half-brother), but he hadn’t liked her. The Kenway sisters were the only living relatives, and were to inherit their uncle’s large Corner House in Milton, plus many rental properties he’d owned.

Mr. Howbridge had drawn up Peter Stower’s Will, but alas, Uncle Peter had been a secretive man and no one could find where the Will had been hidden. However the Probate Court agreed that the only known heirs were to receive everything, and since the Kenway sisters were all underage, Mr. Howbridge would be their guardian.

Arrangements were made for the girls to move to the big Corner House, which had three stories, plus an attic. Ruth gave away most of their furniture to poor neighbors, but Aunt Sarah kept her favorite rocking chair. The family packed up their personal possessions, and as they were preparing to leave town they met up with that trouble-making Tommy Rooney, who informed them he was planning on running away from home.

When they arrived at Uncle Peter’s mansion the sisters were awed by what they saw, but Aunt Sarah had lived there before she’d gone to stay with the Kenways, and she knew what she wanted. After her step-father had died her step-brother had made her move into a dinky room in the servants’ quarters, but now she took possession of the nicest second-floor bedroom, where she sat in her rocking chair and began crocheting. It would take a lot of work to get the old house in proper order, but Aunt Sarah had no intention of helping out.

Mr. Howbridge hired a widowed lady named Mrs. McCall to be the family’s housekeeper, and soon afterward an elderly black man, Uncle Rufus, came by asking for work. For twenty-four years he had been Uncle Peter’s servant, and though he was now supposed to be retired, he wanted to return to his former duties. Ruth wasn’t sure if Mr. Howbridge would approve, but she hired Uncle Rufus out of pity for the man.

Even though Uncle Rufus was advanced in age he was of great help to the family. Unfortunately he talked in what I’ll call Old Time Loyal Southern Servant dialog, and whenever he spoke I had to wade through misspelled words and guess at what he was saying.

The Kenway girls met lots of friendly people, but no one wanted to come and visit them because the Corner House was haunted. There was a ghost who lived in the attic, and it could be seen on stormy days. Another disturbing thing was that food kept disappearing, which couldn’t be attributed to the ghost, for ghosts don’t eat, do they? And at times the youngest girls claimed to see glimpses of a boy that looked just like Tommy Rooney, the former neighbor boy who had wanted to run away.

The Kenways had many adventures in their new hometown. They discovered Uncle Peter had been miserly in keeping his rental buildings in proper repair, so Ruth asked Mr. Howbridge for help in making improvements. The lawyer approved of her interest in the poor but hard-working tenants, and he agreed to most of what she wanted to spend.

Unfortunately the lawyer-guardian was out of town when a problem more distressing than an attic ghost showed up at the Corner House. Mrs. John Augustus Treble (who soon acquired the nickname of “Mrs. Trouble”) marched into the house with her spoiled-brat daughter, and announced that her deceased husband had been the nephew of Peter Stower, she was the true heir to the Stower fortune, and she intended to kick out the Kenway girls and Aunt Sarah.

Oh dear, the girls had not yet found Uncle Peter’s missing Will, and what if they never did? What if Mrs. Treble found the Will and destroyed it so she would inherit everything?

I won’t tell the ending of the story, but will let you know that there were at least a dozen Corner House Girls books published, so rest assured that Ruth, Tess, Aggie and Dot were able to stay at the Corner House. And even though Aunt Sarah wasn’t the most useful person when it came to housework, she did know a thing or two about where that pesky Uncle Peter liked to hide important papers.

As for the ghost in the attic, it wasn’t a real ghost, and the girls were able to persuade some of their new friends to come to the Corner House for a ghost-reveal party. The mystery of the missing food was solved, and it turns out that there was a good reason why the youngest girls thought they saw someone who looked just like that boy who’d said he was going to run away from home.

I enjoyed The Corner House Girls enough to read the second book, The Corner House Girls at School, though I don’t have any immediate plans to read more of series.

If you would like to learn more about the girls adventures The Corner House Girls can be downloaded free of charge at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/38743

The Corner House Girls at School can be downloaded at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/21034

The Scent of the Roses

Aleen Leslie’s 1963 novel wasn’t marketed as a children’s book, but the story is about a grade-school-age girl and, since I first read it as a junior high student, it was a part of my young adult years. Though The Scent of the Roses is a mystery I’ve reread it for its wonderful depiction of life a little over a hundred years ago.

The story is recollections of adult Jane Carlyle, who tells readers that when she was ten-years-old she could not recall anything that took place before she entered the Weber’s Pittsburgh home on the evening of Saint Valentine’s Day in 1908. She didn’t remember her parents, or even the murder. Her life seemed to begin when 30-year-old store owner Sophie Weber brought the girl home from a buying trip and introduced Jane to her astonished mother and adult siblings.

That evening Jane was put to bed, but then got up to use the bathroom, became lost, and found her way to a location where she could overhear the grownups talking about her. She learned Sophie had gone to New York City to purchase Easter merchandise for the department store where most of the Weber’s worked. Sophie and Jane had stayed at the same hotel, became friends, and Sophie had rushed to the room when she heard the girl screaming after witnessing the murder. The shock caused Jane to loose her memory. No relative was able to care for Jane, so Sophie wanted to adopt her in order to have a child, even if she never married.

Later on Sophie told her that her mother had died, no one knew where her father was, and she’d lost her memory after becoming ill. Because she had no recollections of her parents Jane didn’t miss them, but devoted herself to learning about her wonderful new family. The most colorful family member was Mrs. Weber, a widow with two goals in life: getting her oldest daughter, Sophie, married, and catching a ride downtown each day to visit the Nickelodeons – theaters that showed short silent movies. Pictures that moved and told a story were a modern marvel in 1908.

Soon after Jane’s arrival two of Sophie’s married siblings temporarily moved back to the family home. Sister Ermanie had informed her husband that she refused to have her baby any place other than her mother’s home, so the couple arrived as uninvited guests. A little later brother Hugo’s wife got into a snit and returned to her wealthy parent’s home. In response Hugo closed up his house and took his four children to stay with his relatives.

Whenever visitors arrived Mrs. Weber called for her youngest daughter, Elise, to make some coffee and put the homemade soup on the table.

On occasion a policeman would come by to inquire if Jane had regained her memory, and one time a man claiming to be a newspaper reporter asked one of Hugo’s daughters if the little girl staying with the family remembered anything from her past. But most of the book is about amusing stories regarding the Webers. In an effort to find a husband for Sophie Mrs. Weber places a newspaper advertisement for a male boarder, and the man chosen to rent the one remaining spare bedroom was a most amiable gentleman. His one fault was that he made his living as a house burglar.

For a time Jane adored Sophie, but one day a classmate taunted her by saying her father killed her mother. In a well-meaning effort to protect her Sophie had failed to tell Jane that she had witnessed her own mother’s murder, and that her missing father was a suspect. Later on Jane discovered that Sophie was hiding information from the police, and she suspected her guardian of being connected to the horrible crime.

Despite Jane’s mistrust of Sophie the girl continued to love staying with the Webers. Each book chapter is named after a holiday, and the girl delighted in taking part in festive occasions. Since she had no memory of past holidays each one was a new experience for her.

But then one evening, during a major celebration, Jane became overtired and over excited and kept insisting that a guest knew about something the person claimed to have no knowledge of. She was recalling an event from her past, and that meant danger, for she might soon remember who had killed her mother.

The mystery was finally resolved, but even after knowing who-done-it I enjoy rereading The Scent of the Roses to experience another visit with the Weber family. (The book title comes from a Thomas Moore verse: You may break, you may shatter the vase if you will, But the scent of the roses will hang round it still.)

While telling the story the author slips in interesting tidbits about life in 1908. I can “see” Sophie’s stylish clothes and the beautiful home furnishings. I can “hear” the low sound of the flames in the fireplaces fueled by natural gas. I join Jane as she listens to the adults around the dining room table discussing either family matters, or the all-important business of running Weber’s Dry Goods store. And I still become excited by the life-or-death struggles during the final chapters.

If you enjoy historical fiction, with a touch of “cozy” murder mystery, I highly recommend The Scent of the Roses. The novel is no longer in print, but it was popular enough for used copies to be readily available from online booksellers at a reasonable price.

Miracle on 34th Street

This story started out as a screenplay, but soon after the movie was completed author Valentine Davis turned it into a short novel, first published in 1947 and still available today.

Kris Kringle was a plump, rosy-cheeked, white-bearded gentleman who lived at the Maplewood Home for the Aged. He was beloved by all of the staff and residents, but had one eccentricity – he believed he was Santa Claus. One day in late November Maplewood’s physician, Dr. Pierce, had the sad duty of informing Kris that the Board had decided that, since the Home was only for those in good physical and mental health, a man who thought he was a mythical person would need to leave.

Dr. Pierce told Kris he could go and live at Mount Hope Sanatorium, but Kris declared the sanatorium was a “nut house.” He assured the doctor that a zookeeper was a friend of his, and would give him a home.

Kris walked to the Central Park zoo, where the shy reindeer ate carrots out of his hand. Jim, the zookeeper, always marveled at how the reindeer trusted Kris. He said his friend was welcome to stay with him.

Kris heard music playing, started on another walk and came to where the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was about to start. The man hired to play Santa was drunk and Mrs. Walker, the lady in charge of the parade, asked Kris to be a last-minute replacement.

Doris Walker was a divorced lady teaching her six-year-old daughter, Susan, to not use her imagination. Susan had never read a fairy tale, and she didn’t believe in Santa Claus. The Walkers lived in an apartment building, and one of their neighbors was a young lawyer named Fred Gayley. He was romantically attracted to Doris, but she had been hurt by her divorce and had no intention of ever dating again.

Doris was the Personnel Director of Macy’s, and Mr. Shellhammer, who was Head of the Toy Department, wanted Kris as the store’s Santa. The new hire filled out an employment form giving his name as Kris Kringle, his address as Maplewood Home, and his age as “old as my tongue and a little bit older than my teeth.” Kris was taken to the locker room to change into his Santa Claus outfit, then given a list of toys Macy’s carried, and which toys he was to push parents to buy. After Mr. Shellhammer left Kris tore up the list.

When a child asked for a toy Macy’s didn’t sell Kris told the parent which store had what was wanted. One day Mr. Shellhammer overheard Kris tell someone to go to Gimbel’s for a toy. He was horrified, but as he tried to make it back to his office he kept being stopped by grateful parents who said they would become regular Macy’s customers because of their wonderful service of directing them to other stores for the right toys. What would Mr. Macy say when he found out?

One day Fred Gayley took Susan to visit Santa at Macy’s but she refused to ask Kris for anything, because he was just someone her mother had hired to pretend to be someone who didn’t exist. When Doris Walker saw Susan on Santa’s lap she took Fred into her office and scolded him, saying he could not be friends with Susan if he ever again went against her ideas about raising her daughter.

Susan had stayed near Kris, and when he was able to speak Dutch to a child newly arrived from a Holland orphanage she began to wonder if Santa Claus might be real. Her mother asked Kris to tell Susan the truth, but when he insisted he really was Santa she looked at his employment card and became frightened that the store had hired a potentially dangerous person.

She fired Kris, but then got a call from Mr. Macy congratulating her on hiring such a wonderful Santa. The good will gimmick of sending people to other stores was helping his store. Doris rushed off to rehire Kris but he refused to return until he learned she would lose her job if he didn’t continue on as Santa.

Doris worried about delusional Kris so she called Albert Sawyer, Macy’s expert on psychology. Mr. Sawyer believed Kris might turn violent, and thought he should stay with Doris so she could watch over him, but she refused that suggestion. When neighbor Fred heard of the problem he asked Kris to stay with him. Now Doris was worried that Fred was double-crossing her, and trying to interfere with how she raised Susan.

One day Kris asked Susan if she had a Christmas wish. She said she wanted to live in house with a backyard that had trees and a swing, and she gave him a magazine picture of the house she wanted. Kris said he’d do his best, but admitted that not all dreams could come true.

Doris invited Fred and Kris to dinner, but she had to leave right after the meal, for she’d agreed to attend a lecture that night. After she left Kris happened to see a postcard announcing Mr. Albert Sawyer giving a lecture entitled Exploding the Myth of Santa Claus. He picked up his hat and cane and set out for the lecture.

Since he had no invitation Kris wasn’t allowed into the auditorium, but he began exploring the building and ended up behind the stage where Mr. Sawyer was talking. The stage was decorated with a set for a children’s Christmas play, and while Mr. Sawyer was talking about Santa being a myth Kris came out of an artificial fireplace, and then refused to leave the stage. Mr. Sawyer angrily confronted Kris, who raised his cane to defend himself.

The next day Mr. Sawyer told Mr. Shellhammer an exaggerated story about Kris Kringle attacking him with a cane. Doris attempted to defend Kris, but reluctantly agreed the man should be given a thorough mental health test. Mr. Shellhammer told Kris he was taking him to see the Mayor at City Hall, but when they got into a car Shellhammer told the driver to go to Bellevue. Kris asked if Doris knew about this, and was told she had arranged everything. When Kris heard that he considered himself a beaten man. If the lady he’d considered a friend would send him to a mental hospital he didn’t want to live amongst “sane” people.

Over the years Kris had become an expert at passing sanity tests, but when the doctors at Bellevue questioned him he gave foolish answers. He kept asking himself “how could she have done it?” It wasn’t until Fred, his lawyer friend, came and told him that many people needed him in their lives that Kris decided to return to the outside world.

Unfortunately Fred couldn’t get Kris released, for bad answers to the mental health questions indicated the man was unbalanced, and perhaps dangerous. Commitment papers had been sent to a judge, but Fred was able to get a sanity hearing scheduled.

Kris Kringle’s hearing had made all of the New York City newspapers, and the courtroom was packed when the judge asked Kris if he believed he was Santa Claus. He declared that he did. That wasn’t the answer Fred wanted his client to give, but he informed the court he intended to prove that Kris Kringle really was Santa Claus.

But how could such a seemingly impossible claim be proven in a court of law? And even if Kris could be released on Christmas Eve – in time for him to fulfill important duties – how could he give young Susan Walker a house for her Christmas present? It was the type of house a happily married Mr. and Mrs. Fred Gayley could afford to buy, but was it possible for sensible, practical Doris Walker to fall in love with a lawyer who was foolish enough to risk his career by trying to prove a nice old man was Santa Claus?

The story has a happy ending, and if you were fortunate enough to grow up in a home where having an imagination was not discouraged, you might find yourself wondering – could Kris really be Santa Claus?

If you’ve seen the movie the novelization has a few extra details that are fun to read about. For example – after Kris Kringle disappears on Christmas Eve the Central Park zookeeper discovers that the zoo’s reindeer are also missing. What a strange coincidence …

At only 120 pages Miracle on 34th Street doesn’t take much longer to read than the time needed to watch the movie version. I highly recommend you find a new or used copy of the novel and spend a few hours deciding if you can believe in Christmas miracles.

Marguerite Henry and the Chincoteague Ponies

When Marguerite was a young girl she had two great loves – reading and learning about animals, especially horses. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on April 13, 1902, she was stricken with rheumatic fever at the age of six, which confined her to her bedroom until she was twelve. One Christmas her parents gave her a writing desk, and that gift opened up the world of writing stories. Marguerite sold her first story when she was eleven, and continued to write throughout her life. Her last book was published when she was 94!

In 1923 she married married Sidney Henry and went to live near Wayne, Illinois. The Henrys never had children, but they had many pets, and some served as the inspiration for Marguerite’s novels.

In 1946 Marguerite Henry attended Pony Penning on Chincoteague Island, Virginia in search of an idea for a book. Each year the Volunteer Fire Department would round up wild ponies on nearby Assateague Island, have them swim across the channel to Chincoteague, parade them through town and into corrals, and then sell some of the colts at auction. Pony Penning not only raised money for the Fire Department to purchase equipment, but helped control the size of the wild pony population.

While on Chincoteague Island Marguerite met the Beebe family. Clarence (Grandpa) Beebe and his wife, Ida (Grandma), ran a pony ranch with the help of grandchildren Paul and Maureen. Ever since she’d been a sickly girl Marguerite had longed to own a horse, so she purchased a colt named Misty, and had her shipped to her Illinois home.

Stories she’d heard at Pony Penning became the basis for the children’s novel Misty of Chincoteague, first published in 1947. The novel became a perennial bestseller, and was nominated for a Newbery medal. In the book Misty is born on Assateague Island, and she and her mother are purchased by Paul and Maureen at the annual auction. In real life Misty was born on the Beebe’s pony ranch.

In 1949 Sea Star, Orphan of Chincoteague was published. This novel tells of two men who want to buy Misty so they can make a movie about her, and then take her to schools and libraries around the country so that children who’ve never seen a real pony could get to meet one. At first Paul and Maureen refuse to sell Misty, but do so after they learn money is needed to send an uncle to college. Soon after the sale the Beebe grandchildren find an orphaned new-born colt who will die if not cared for.

In real life no one made a movie about Misty until 1961, but during the famous pony’s time in Illinois she was taken to different locations so children could meet her. Marguerite would write in the mornings, and then take a “carrot break” with Misty and her stable mates – a Morgan horse named Friday (who’d helped inspire the book Justin Morgan Had a Horse) and a burro named Brighty (Brighty of the Grand Canyon). But Misty was the one children wrote fan letters about, and wanted to see.

Marguerite would answer every letter send to her, and allowed groups of children to come to her home and meet Misty. Many who couldn’t come to the Henry home got to see her when the pony was taken to schools, libraries and horse shows.

In 1957 Marguerite Henry returned Misty to the Beebe pony ranch to be bred, but she didn’t stay there long. That same year 21-year-old Paul Beebe was killed in an automobile accident, and two months later Clarence (Grandpa) Beebe died. Ida (Grandma) Beebe would die in 1960, but a few years before that she gave the pony to her son Ralph. For 16 years he and his family took care of Misty and her descendants at Beebe Ranch, and they allowed visitors to come and see the ponies.

In 1962 what became known as the Ash Wednesday storm hit the Virginia coastline, flooding Chincoteague and Assateague Islands. Many wild ponies drowned, and none were sold at that year’s Pony Penning. Fundraising began to buy back some of the ponies sold in previous years, in order to replenish the Volunteer Fire Department’s Assateague herd.

Marguerite Henry decided to write another novel set at Grandpa Beebe’s pony ranch, though there were no longer any ponies living there. In 1963 Stormy, Misty’s Foal was published. The novel was written as though the events took place shortly after the adventures told in 1949’s Sea Star, Orphan of Chincoteague, though Sea Star is not mentioned. Paul and Maureen are depicted as being about the same age as they were in the earlier books. Misty has been returned to them, and is now famous after appearing in a movie made about her life. She is overdue in foaling her first colt when the Ash Wednesday storm hits. The Beebes are ordered to evacuate their home, and Misty is moved into the kitchen after her stable is flooded.

In real life Misty did shelter in a kitchen during the storm, but that happened at Ralph Beebe’s home. She was about ready to give birth, but Stormy would be her third colt, and not her first.

In the novel Misty’s movie is re-released to raise funds to replenish the Fire Department’s wild pony herd. Ironically the actual movie entitled Misty had been released two years before Stormy, Misty’s Foal was published, and so that made mention of the fictional movie more believable.

Shortly after Ralph Beebe’s death in 1973 his family stopped raising ponies. For the next few decades Misty’s descendants lived on a secession of other Chincoteague Island pony ranches. Misty died in 1972 and her most famous offspring, Stormy, died in 1993. Both were preserved by a taxidermist, and can be viewed at the Museum of Chincoteague.

Marguerite Henry remained interested in Misty’s equine family, and in 1992 Misty’s Twilight was published. This novel told of one of Misty’s descendants who became a successful show horse.

In the late 1980s a young lady named Rebecca Guisti wrote to the author about Beebe Ranch being sold off in portions by Ralph Beebe’s widow. In 1990 Marguerite and Rebecca started The Misty of Chincoteague Foundation, which was able to obtain a small portion of the Beebe Ranch for the purpose of keeping it as open space on the island that was rapidly being transformed by housing developments. On July 29, 1997 a statue of Misty was unveiled on the property.

Marguerite Henry died on November 26, 1997. After her death the foundation she helped to start was mismanaged. The Misty statue was moved to Main Street in the town of Chincoteague, and the property it once stood on was sold for development.

Interest in Misty and her descendants remains high. Other writers have published books about Misty’s family, plastic models have been produced, there are websites about the Chincoteague and Assateague ponies, and the annual Pony Penning is now an event that attracts tourists from around the world.

My interest is confined to enjoying Marguerte Henry’s first three books about the ponies: Misty of Chincoteague; Sea Star, Orphan of Chincoteague; and Stormy, Misty’s Foal. If you’d like to read these novels they are readily available.

Ruth Fielding & the Great War

During 1917 and 1918 the U.S. took part in what was then known as the Great War, but is now known as World War I. To honor the centennial of that terrible conflict I read three juvenile series novels set during the time period: Ruth Fielding In the Red Cross; Ruth Fielding At the War Front; and Ruth Fielding – Homeward Bound.

Back in 1913 the adventures of our heroine began when she was a 12-year-old orphan sent to live with her grumpy uncle, and they ended in 1934 when she was a wife, mother, motion picture writer / actress / company owner, as well as a mystery solver. The only books in the series I’ve read are the ones that take place during the Great War, and I’ll give a combined synopsis of the three plots.

When the United States goes to war friends Ruth Fielding, Jennie Stone, plus twins Helen and Tom Cameron drop out of college to help defeat the Hun a/k/a the German army. Tom enlists in the Army, the young ladies take on volunteer work, and all eventually end up in France.

At first Ruth helps at the local Red Cross chapter, where she meets Mrs. Mantle, a disagreeable lady who causes problems by saying the organization has dishonest people working for them. Ruth goes off to work at Red Cross headquarters, and so does Mrs Mantle, who is hired as the bookkeeper. Ruth suspects Mrs. Mantel and two others are stealing money, but a mysterious fire destroys all financial records, so good luck accusing anyone of wrongdoing.

Ruth goes to France to work in the Red Cross supply department, and guess who her new supervisor is? None other than trouble-making Mrs. Mantel. Ruth begins work at a French evacuation hospital, where she meets an ambulance driver named Charlie Bragg, and keeps seeing glimpses of what is thought to be a werwolf – who seems to live in the home of Countess Marchand.

For a time a badly wounded soldier is thought to be Ruth’s friend Tom Cameron, but soon after Mrs. Mantel, her two cohorts, and one of the Countess’s servants are arrested Ruth receives a visit from an-only-slightly-wounded Tom. And so ends the first book.

The adventures continue when Charlie Bragg brings dire news. A field hospital had been bombed and the Red Cross lady in charge of supplies was killed. Someone needs to train a new worker, so Ruth volunteers to go and work within a few miles of the front line.

If that isn’t enough trouble for a young lady to deal with, Ruth learns that Tom Cameron is missing from the army, and many believe him to be a traitor. Plus that werwolf is still at large, and the animal may be carrying information to the German army.

Fortunately Ruth learns the so-called werwolf is actually Countess Marchand’s dog, who is carrying information to French spies, including the Countess’s son, Major Henri Marchand.

Ruth returns to her work at the evacuation hospital, and just as her friends Helen Cameron and Jennie Stone show up for a visit, Ruth must leave with Henri Marchand on a secret mission through No Man’s Land to save Tom Cameron. But not before Ruth has time to quickly train Helen and Jennie as temporary medical supply workers. Secret missions can’t interfere with vital Red Cross work.

If you happen to meet the right spies its not difficult to obtain numerous disguises and journey through trench tunnels to save an old friend, who has been working as an American spy. Everyone returns safely to the hospital, and they all have a nice visit with Helen and Jennie. Quite a chummy way to end the second book.

The final book begins with Jennie Stone announcing she is engaged to Henri Marchand. The evacuation hospital is bombed and Ruth Fielding receives injuries that end her Red Cross career, so she is being sent home. She’s visited by Tom Cameron, who tells her he will be taken up in an airplane by his ace-pilot friend Stillenger.

Just as Ruth is boarding a British ship she is given a letter informing her that Stillenger and an unknown army officer may have been shot down. Yikes, what a way to begin a dangerous war-time sea voyage home.

While onboard ship Ruth meets a nasty lady by the name of Irma Lentz, who does not seem to be very patriotic. What’s more Ruth overhears the lady speaking German so she tells the first officer about her, and he believes the nasty lady may be dangerous. Alas, the first officer tells the captain, who tells Irma Lentz about Ruth’s accusations. Not a good way to begin an investigation.

An explosion takes place, crewmen tell the captain the ship is about to sink, and everyone is ordered to head for the lifeboats. Ruth is tripped and knocked unconscious. She awakens to discover the lifeboats have all left and the only ones remaining on the ship are herself, the first officer, who’d been drugged, and the radio man, who’d been locked in a room. A boat load of German-loving crew members return, capture Ruth and her friends, and take over the British ship.

What can three people do against so many enemies? It would be helpful if feared-dead Tom Cameron could somehow appear on the scene and save the day, but that would be a ridiculous plot twist, so you won’t learn about that from me. I’ll just say the heroes triumph, Ruth Fielding arrives back home, and Tom Cameron – who has earned an army furlough – gets to spend some time taking his pretty neighbor for rides in his automobile.

I was hoping the books would portray a more-or-less accurate account of what a Red Cross worker might have done to help the war effort, but I got only glimpses of that as Ruth is in charge of medical supplies and volunteers in the wards writing letters for wounded soldiers. Most of the plot twists are spy-veruses-spy, with plenty of plugs for earlier books, which tell more of everyone’s back-story.

On the positive side, the adventure parts are fast-paced and rather fun to read, so it was easy to not concern myself too much over how unlikely the events were. Plus, I learned the French don’t add a second “e” to the word werwolf, and villians can be easily spotted because they tend to be so disagreeable. Though I didn’t learn as much as I wanted to about Red Cross workers I did get some some insight into early 1900s juvenile series novels.

If you’d like to read the three Ruth Fielding novels set during World War I they can be downloaded free of charge at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/36395
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/20834
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/36748

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

When I was a little girl I didn’t know this book had existed long before the Judy Garland movie came into being. Later on I learned that L Frank Baum wrote fourteen Land of Oz books, but only recently did I read the first of the series. (Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen the movie or read this novel I tell the ending, plus major plot twists.)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, first published in 1900, has sold over three million copies, but I wonder if it has many fans in Kansas, for the author portrayed it as such a dismal place it seemed odd that Dorothy was so interested in returning there. Baum and his family lived in the Dakota Territory during the drought years of 1888 through 1891, and he apparently based his main character’s home on what he’d experienced in another part of the country when there wasn’t enough rain.

Dorothy was a girl who lived with her Uncle Henry and Aunt Em on the gray Kansas prairie. The plowed fields were sun-baked and gray, the grass was dry and gray, and the one-room farm house was weather-beaten and gray. Even Dorothy’s relatives were gaunt and gray.

Uncle Henry worked from early morning until nighttime and didn’t know what joy was. Whenever Aunt Em heard Dorothy laugh it would startle her, for she’d stopped being cheerful soon after marrying and coming to live on the prairie. Dorothy had a playful little dog named Toto, and he kept the girl from becoming as gray and unhappy as everyone else.

One day Uncle Henry called out that a cyclone was coming, and while he ran to look after the stock Aunt Em ordered Dorothy into the storm cellar. But Toto became frightened and hid under a bed, and Dorothy went to rescue her dog before following her aunt to safety. Before she could get to the cellar’s trap door high winds whirled the house around and slowly began to lift it into the air.

The house rose higher and higher and began to sway back and forth. This went on for hours and Dorothy grew weary, so she went to her bed, fell asleep, and didn’t wake up until the cyclone set the house down in the middle of a beautiful green meadow.

Dorothy stood in the open doorway and saw a group of short, oddly-dressed people coming towards her. A woman – who turned out to be the Witch of the North – bowed, welcomed her to the land of the Munchkins, and thanked her for killing the Wicked Witch of the East by having her house land on top of her. And, sure enough, two feet shod in silver shoes could be seen sticking out from beneath the corner of the building.

She was told that Oz had had four witches. Two were good and two were wicked, and since Dorothy had just killed one of the bad ones there was now only one wicked witch remaining. Dorothy said she needed to return to Kansas, and was advised to travel along a yellow brick road to the City of Emeralds and then go to see the Great Wizard. The Witch of the North could not travel with her, but kissed her on the forehead, which left a mark that would give her protection. Since the deceased witch had turned to dust Dorothy was given her silver shoes, and was told they were charmed, though no one knew what the charm was.

Dorothy’s regular shoes were nearly worn out so she put on the silver ones, and then she and Toto began walking to the City of Emeralds. Along the way she met up with three companions who also decided to travel to see the Wizard and ask for his help.

First she met up with a Scarecrow who wanted brains, but whenever Dorothy and her friends found themselves in danger most of the practical suggestions came from Scarecrow, so he seemed to be doing pretty well with a head filled with straw.

The second companion was a Tin Woodman who wanted a heart. He’d had one back when he was a flesh-and-blood human, before the Wicked Witch of the East worked an enchantment on him. (The Witch had been paid two sheep and a cow to prevent the Woodman from marrying the Munchkin he loved.)

The third companion was a Cowardly Lion who wanted courage, though he tended to be brave during times of danger, even after admitting he was frightened.

After many adventures Dorothy and her companions arrived at the City of Emeralds, and after a night’s rest Dorothy received a private audience with the Great Oz, a/k/a the Wizard, who appeared to her as a giant head. When she requested to be sent back to Kansas she was told she must first go to the land of the Winkies and kill the Wicked Witch of the West. Since the girl had never willingly killed anyone she began to weep, and felt there was no hope of her returning to her family.

The Scarecrow, Tin Woodman and Cowardly Lion all received private audiences with the Wizard, who appeared to each of them in a different form. All asked for what they wanted, and all received the same answer – until the Wicked Witch of the West was killed no requests would be granted. And so the group set off on a witch hunt.

The Wicked Witch saw the group coming and tried to kill them with wolves, followed by crows, then bees, and lastly enslaved Winkies, but Dorothy’s friends were able to defeat all attackers. As a last resort the Wicked Witch decided to send out the dreaded Winged Monkeys. Anyone who owned a charmed Golden Cap could give the Winged Monkeys three commands which they had to obey, and the Witch had already used up two of her commands. This was a witch who really hated unexpected visitors.

Fortunately Winged Monkeys know you don’t mess with a girl who has the protective mark of the good Witch of the North on her forehead, so after many days of imprisonment Dorothy was able to accidently kill the last of Oz’s Wicked Witches. As she and her companions got ready to return to see the Great Wizard Dorothy found the Golden Cap in the cupboard, thought it was pretty, and decided to wear it. The cap turned out to be a good fashion accessory to take with her.

With help from the Winged Monkeys the companions safely arrived back at the City of Emeralds, but – alas – the Great Wizard turned out to be the Great Humbug, with no special powers to grant requests. How would Dorothy ever get back to Kansas? One of the locals suggested she go and see Glinda, the good Witch of the South. Should any little girl have to deal with four witches in one short book? If a cyclone carries her to Oz, then the answer is yes.

There were more adventures, more help from the Winged Monkeys, and one more encounter with a witch. A very kind and good witch who explained there is nothing like a pair of charmed silver shoes to get you and your dog back home again.

The book has a happy ending, with Dorothy’s normally-glum Aunt Em actually expressing emotion when her beloved niece returns to live in the brand new farmhouse built after the cyclone. And Dorothy exclaims that she was glad to be home again.

Since I’d seen the 1939 MGM musical I kept comparing L. Frank Baum’s original story to the Hollywood version and found the book to be of average interest. When the Wizard of Oz turned out to have no special powers I knew Dorothy would eventually get back to Kansas, and so found her last round of adventures a bit annoying. But all in all I found the book to be a quick read, for the adventures kept my interest enough to want to know what happened next.

If you’d like to read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz it can be downloaded free of charge at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/55

The Secret Garden

Mary Lennox was born in India to a beautiful lady who loved attending parties, and who ignored her only child. When Mary “was a sickly, fretful, ugly little baby she was kept out of the way, and when she became a sickly, fretful, toddling thing she was kept out of the way also.” She grew up bullying and insulting her native servants, who had to make sure she didn’t make a fuss and disturb her mother or father.

When Mary was nine years old a cholera outbreak killed her parents and some of the servants, and the survivors ran off without giving a thought to the surly child left behind. After being alone for a couple of days two army officers found her, and arrangements were made for her to be sent to an uncle in England.

Archibald Craven was the owner of Misselthwaite Manor, an estate by the edge of the moor. His home had about a hundred rooms, but most were closed off, with no one ever entering them. Mary’s uncle was a sad, rather disagreeable man who spent most of his time traveling. He had no interest in the orphan left in his care, beyond seeing that she be given food, clothing, and a bedroom and sitting room to stay in.

Mary wasn’t upset that her uncle refused to see her before he left on his latest trip, for no relative had ever paid attention to her, and no one had ever show her affection. What did upset her was learning that English servants wouldn’t let her have her own way. A stern housekeeper named Mrs. Medlock informed Mary that she had to stay within her rooms unless she chose to go outside and walk along the garden paths. She’d arrived during chilly early spring so the sickly girl, raised in a sweltering climate, did not want to go outside.

A girl named Martha was assigned to be the housemaid who brought Mary her meals and cleaned her rooms. She was not a servile servant – she didn’t bow or call her “protector of the poor” as the Indian servants had, but Mary liked listening to Martha’s Yorkshire accent, and became interested in stories about the girl’s family, especially her brother Dickon, who could tame wild animals and make any plant grow and thrive.

She told about Mary’s Uncle Archibald Craven, a hunchback who’d married a kind and beautiful lady who’d spent much of her time in a walled flower garden. About ten years earlier Mrs. Craven was killed in an accident, and Mr. Craven locked the garden door, buried the key, and ordered that no one was to ever again enter his wife’s favorite garden. Mary now had a reason to take walks outside, for she was determined to find the secret, hidden garden.

Friendly, good-hearted Martha enjoyed talking to Mary, and for a time answered all of her questions. But one rainy day Mary heard what sounded like a child crying, and when she asked Martha about it she was told it was just the wind blowing.

On another rainy day Mary decided to walk down one of the long corridors and explore the content of some of the one hundred unused rooms. She ended up walking down many hallways and up a stairway, and once again heard a child crying. She tried to locate the source of the sound, but came upon Mrs. Medlock, who grabbed hold of her arm, and said that if she ever again went where she was told not go she’d be locked inside of her rooms. Mary was not used to being told she couldn’t do something, and was determined to learn the secrets of Misselthwaite Manor.

She began walking amongst the many walled vegetable and flower gardens, and discovered ivy-covered walls that seemed to have no door. Because a dog had dug a hole she found an old key, and a few days later located a door hidden under the ivy, and was able to go inside the secret garden. It was still early spring, and she didn’t know if the bare rose bushes were dead or alive, or if any flowering plants had survived years of neglect, but she longed to bring the garden back to life.

Mary was given spending money each week, so after saying she’d like to grow a garden she and Martha wrote a letter to Dickon, asking him to purchase gardening tools and some easy-to-grow flower seeds. When Dickon came to deliver the items Mary showed him the secret garden she had “stolen.” He assured her that the rose bushes were still alive, and promised to come and help her tend the garden when he wasn’t needed at home.

After that Mary spent much of her time in the secret garden, though she let others believe she was only walking about or skipping rope. Never before had she been outside working, and she’d never had a friend to talk with until her time with Dickon. The sickly disagreeable girl was becoming healthy, and she was beginning to learn how to be kind to others.

Soon after finding the garden Mary was awakened in the night by the sound of crying, and she took her bedside candle and set out to find who was so unhappy. By following the sound she came to a room, went inside and saw a frail boy crying. His name was Colin, and he was the son of Archibald Craven, which made him Mary’s cousin.

Colin and Mary were both astonished to learn another child lived in the manor house. When asked if he had to stay shut up in his room Colin said that he hated going outside or having anyone look at him because he was a cripple who would soon die. Mary inquired if she should leave and Colin said he would like to talk with her.

The boy said his father hated him because his mother died when he was born and Mary blurted out a comment about that was why the garden had been locked. Colin began asking about the locked garden, so Mary said she had heard of it. When Colin became excited and declared he would order the servants to take him there Mary was afraid she would loose her special haven, and said it would be best to keep it a wonderful secret, and that she would go out each day looking for it.

Mary enjoyed visits with Colin, but he was not as important to her as her time working in the garden with Dickon. She skipped a planned time to be with Colin, and the boy threw a tantrum that frightened the servants. But the two cousins were both spoiled tyrants, and instead of giving in to Colin’s demands she engaged him in a shouting match, which turned out to be good for him in the long run, but first brought on a health crisis.

Late at night Mary was awakened by hysterical screaming loud enough to be heard throughout the vast house, and after a time Mary was sent for when the adults – including the trained nurse – could do nothing to stop Colin’s lengthy fit. Mary went into the room with her own angry tantrum, and when the startled boy confided his secret health fears to her, a truce of trust was formed.

After the adults left the room, Mary said she was sure she would soon find the secret garden, and Colin declared he wanted to go outside with Mary and Dickon and see the garden his mother had loved.

Soon Misselthwaite Manor had a new secret. Colin was sure that time in the garden would heal him, but he didn’t want anyone to know he was getting stronger. His dream was to wait until his father returned home, when he would walk up to him and show Mr. Craven he had a strong healthy son he needn’t be ashamed of.

If you’ve never read The Secret Garden you may know the story, for there have been several movies based on the novel. I’ve seen a couple of the films, but they left out parts, or added things I hated. Hallmark Hall of Fame did a lavish production, but set the story as a flashback, and viewers learn Dickon was killed during the first World War. No, no, no! The novel was first published in 1911, and I want no “made up” deaths that take place after the events of the story.

I’ve read the novel several times, and though there are a few “magical” and / or coincidental elements (how convenient that a stray dog happened to dig up the buried key) I find everything believable when I’m caught up in the wonder of the story about two bad-tempered neglected children, a splendid wonder-gardener boy, and the health-giving benefits of hard work to bring beauty to an imprisoned flower garden.
I highly recommend The Secret Garden, which can be downloaded free of charge at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/17396

The Paddington Books

In 1958 a book was published that told of Mr. and Mrs. Brown going to London’s Paddington station to meet their daughter, who was coming home from school. At a crowded railway platform they noticed a small bear wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sitting on a battered suitcase. Around the bear’s neck hung a label that read: PLEASE LOOK AFTER THIS BEAR. THANK YOU.

They questioned the well-mannered bear and learned he was from Darkest Peru. He had been raised by his Aunt Lucy, but when she had to go to the home for retired bears she told him to emigrate to England, which he did by stowing away in a ship’s lifeboat. (It was never explained how he ended up at a combination railway and London Underground terminal.)

Mrs. Brown convinced her reluctant husband they needed to let the poor bear stay with them. The young bear informed her that no can understand his Peruvian name, so she gave him the name Paddington, after the station where he’d been found.

The family soon learned Paddington was a good-natured and polite bear who wanted to do be helpful, but Darkest Peru is much different than London, and he kept getting into situations he’d never experienced before. When Mrs. Brown went off to meet her daughter’s train her husband bought hungry Paddington a cup of tea and a bun. Alas, Mr. Brown wasn’t familiar with the ways of bears, so he chose a large cream and jam bun, which Paddington ate by standing on the tabletop and getting sticky filling all over his whiskers and fur.

When the bear arrived at his new home he was told he needed a bath, but modern plumbing is confusing when you were used to bathing by sitting in a puddle. He filled the bathtub nearly to overflowing, and after getting into the tub was afraid he’d drown, so he used his hat to bail out some of the water. Oh dear, that made a bit of a mess …

Paddington was taken to a large department store and discovered all kinds of ways to accidently get into trouble. Fortunately most people understood he wasn’t trying to misbehave. (The few who thought themselves too important to bother about the bear’s problems received a certain hard stare – learned from Aunt Lucy – that made the most hoity-toity person squirm.)

He preferred the small shops in his own neighborhood, and turned out to be a shrewd shopper when he was sent out to run errands for the Brown family. His favorite shopkeeper was Mr. Gruber, who had a second-hand store, and would sometimes acquire valuable antiques. Paddington became good friends with Mr. Gruber, and got into the habit of sharing “elevenses” with him – a cup of cocoa and a bun at eleven in the morning.

Mr. Gruber taught his friend about antiques, but Paddington didn’t always listen well enough to the story he was being told. Once Mr. Gruber said that in the past a poor artist might reuse an old canvas by painting a picture over top of another one, and sometimes the hidden painting had been painted by an artist who became famous.

At the Brown’s house a painting was being stored in a canvas bag, and Paddington meant no harm when he decided to remove some of the paint in search of a hidden picture. Then he tried to cover up the damage with random strokes of bright paint, not knowing that Mr. Brown had painted the picture, and it was an entry into a local art show. It’s a good thing some judges like modern art …

Author Michael Bond’s A Bear Called Paddington sold well, and so he wrote other Paddington novels. Over time the chapter books were joined by Paddington toys, a British television series, and short picture books based on television episodes. Two recent movies have been popular.

The last new Paddington book was published in 2017, shortly before Michael Bond’s death. Not many book series have the same author producing new stories for 59 years!

If you’d like to read any of Paddington Brown’s adventures the books are still in print. And since over 30 million Paddington books have been sold it shouldn’t be hard to purchase used volumes.

I own a few of the novels, and when everyday life seems a bit overwhelming I take a short vacation by seeing what the small bear from Darkest Peru is up to at 32 Windsor Gardens, near the Portobello Road market. There are always some good-deeds-gone-awry there, but everything turns out well in the end.

Adrift In New York

When reading Horatio Alger’s Adrift In New York, or Tom and Florence Braving the World I can imagine the story being performed on stage by a Victorian-era touring company, with the actor playing the villain twirling the end of his mustache as he speaks his caddish thoughts out loud.
Here is the reader’s introduction to Curtis Waring: “He was a tall, dark-complexioned man, of perhaps thirty-five, with shifty, black eyes and thin lips, shaded by a dark mustache. It was not a face to trust.” There was nothing subtle about Alger’s character descriptions.
In the first chapter wealthy-but-ailing John Linden speaks to his niece, Florence, about the loss of his son, who was “abducted at the age of four by a revengeful servant whom I had discharged from my employment.” If the son was still alive he would be eighteen years old.
When Curtis Waring (Florence’s cousin and John Linden’s nephew) comes into the room Linden tells his relatives that he has two wills locked in a desk. One will leaves his estate to his son, and the other leaves everything to Florence and Curtis if they marry each other. Curtis is agreeable to the marriage for “so far as he was capable of loving anyone, he loved his fair young cousin.” However Florence informs the cad that she’d rather live in poverty “then become the wife of one I loathe.”
In the next chapter we learn that Tim Bolton, the former revengeful servant, had been paid by Curtis to abduct Uncle John’s son and take him out of the country, but Bolton and the boy have now returned from Australia and are running a saloon in the Bowery. Curtis hires Bolton to break into the house and steal the wills from the locked desk.
Soon after that Florence’s Uncle John informs her she has twenty-four hours to agree to marry Curtis, or else he’d send her away penniless. She then sits at a table writing her uncle a good-bye letter until sobbing herself to sleep. While she slept a young man wearing tattered clothes comes through the window and opens the locked desk. When Florence wakes up and asks the youth what he was doing, he apologizes and says he came to steal something because the man who claimed to be his father told him to, but he didn’t want to be a thief.
Florence tells the young man, whose name is Tom Dodger, that he should give up bad company and live an honest life, and informs him she will soon be homeless. Tom promises to obtain honest work, find a respectable rented room for her to stay in, and look after her as though she were his sister. Florence is sure the young house-breaker is trustworthy, and agrees to let Tom take care of her.
Tom and Florence both rent separate rooms at the run-down lodging house run by Mrs. O’Keefe, a widow who has an apple stand. Florence is able to find work as a part-time governess, teaching a wealthy girl each morning. Tom begins selling newspapers by the North River piers, and sometimes finding addition work carrying luggage for passengers getting off the boats. During the evenings Florence gives lessons to Tom, who’d only had a few years of schooling.
All goes well for a few weeks, but then villainous Curtis Waring kidnaps and drugs Tom, and has him driven to a ship which will take four to six months to travel to San Francisco. Tom’s passage has been paid for, and a satchel of clothes provided. (A few chapters later readers are informed that railroads allow travelers to cross the country in no time at all, so I’m not sure if there would be much call for ships to take on passengers during a half-a-year voyage to California. Perhaps ship staterooms were mostly occupied by rightful heirs who had to be kept out of the way for long periods of time.)
The good news is that once Tom arrives in San Francisco he obtains a well-paying job. The bad news is that Florence sends him a letter stating she had lost her teaching job and is reduced to sewing all day long for just a few cents a day.
One evening after work Tom meets a poor woman with a little boy, who are about to be evicted from their rented room. He buys the forlorn mother and child a restaurant meal, and learns the woman is Mrs. Curtis Waring. Well now, if that stubborn John Linden could learn that there is an excellent reason why he mustn’t insist that Florence marry her cousin Curtis, surely he would take Florence back into his home, so she doesn’t have to be working herself to death. But it would take many month’s salary to purchase three cross-country railroad tickets for himself and Curtis Waring’s abandoned family.
Poor Tom seems to be faced with an insurmountable problem. Fortunately his story was written by an author who never hesitated to hurry the plot along with outlandish coincidences…
Adrift in New York was first published in 1900, one year after Horatio Alger’s death, so it is possible that the book was partially written by Edward Stratemeyer, who had been chosen to complete Alger’s unfinished manuscripts. (See my October 2017 post for more on Stratemeyer.) No matter who wrote the novel there is much to keep it off my list of all-time favorite books. I suspect the author placed speed-of-writing over literary excellence, and the plot does not pass the most basic “it is reasonable to assume this might happen” test.
However the book has one important factor in it’s favor – it is an enjoyable read. I may roll my eyes and snicker over plot developments, but I keep reading because I want to know what happens next. Even during a reread, when I know what will happen, I keep reading just because I’m having a good time revisiting Florence and Tom’s troubles.
If you’d like to spend a few hours reading Adrift in New York, it can be downloaded free of charge at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/18581