The Island Camp

This short 1923 novel is filled with mystery, plus (for me) a few guessing games, for it is set in England, and there are several words I had to assume the meaning of based on the context of sentences.

Robin and Peter Vaughan were brothers and Scouts, their sister Jan was a Guide (think Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts), and all were awaiting a visit from their cousins Dick and Donald Lennox, who were also Scouts. It would be the first time they’d met their cousins, who’d never before seen the ancestral home called the Chase.

The Vaughn siblings were sure their cousins would want to camp out on the Island in the middle of the river that flowed past the family’s garden. The Island had a small cottage where the gardener / handyman, Mr. Brown, lived with his wife, who went by the name of Brownie. Most of the Island was left as a home for birds and other wildlife.

It was a shame Dick and Donald couldn’t see the Chase at its best, but most of the old rambling house was shut up and empty, for there had been a reverse in fortunes that had never been explained to the children. When Dad returned from the War he might be willing to talk about it, but for now the children believed a terrible family secret had killed their Grandfather, and caused the loss of most of the family money.

Jan had noticed there was a gap in the family portrait gallery, between the childhood pictures of Dad and their Aunt Agnes, but when she’d asked Mother about it her parent wouldn’t tell the reason for a missing picture. Perhaps the Lennox cousins, who’d be arriving in a few hours, knew about the family secret.

Robin, Peter and Jan rowed over to the Island and began to scout out a good camping spot, but then they heard the horn that meant they had to return home immediately. They rowed towards home, but Mother ordered them to stop before reaching the river bank. Their cousin Donald hadn’t come, for he’d gotten sick and couldn’t travel for a few days, and Dick had begun his train trip before becoming ill. He arrived covered in spots. Mother had sent for the doctor, and it was believed Dick had scarlet fever.

Since anyone who entered the Chase would be quarantined it was decided the children would camp out on the Island. Mother wouldn’t allow Jan to sleep outdoors because she’d once had pneumonia, but Brownie (Mrs. Brown) could prepare the spare room for her, and the attic could be cleared out for the boys to use on rainy nights. It would be a perfect opportunity for the boys to earn their Pioneer Badge.

A temporary shelter was built for the boys to sleep in that first night, and Jan went into the cottage to her room. She looked out the window before going to bed and saw a light in the empty portion of the Chase. Jan thought it thoughtful of Mother to light a lamp as a way for her children to know she was thinking of them.

The boys soon fell asleep outside, but Peter was awakened and called out to Robin to ask if he’d heard that odd thumping and tinging noise. Robin sleepily told him he’d been dreaming. The next day, when the children rowed over to speak with Mother from the safety of the boat, Jan thanked her for lighting the lamp. But Mother said Jan had dreamed she’d seen it, for no light had been lit in a closed up room.

Mother told them Dick had a mild sort of scarlet fever, and Donald had just had a bilious attack (fancy name for stomach ache) and would soon be traveling to visit them.

Several enjoyable days were spent outdoors, but then came a rainy day, which the children spent cleaning out the cottage attic, filled with belongings left by Mr. Hooker, the young gamekeeper who’d once lived in the cottage. Robin found an old snapshot of a young man, and though the man looked as though he could be a younger version of Dad, his smile was much different.

Robin showed the photo to Brownie and asked who it was. She began to say what good friends the man and Hooker had been, but then she stopped and declared she couldn’t tell them anything more.

Despite the new mystery the boys slept soundly that night, but in the morning Jan told of a strange banging and tinging noise. The same noise Peter had heard earlier!

The next day cousin Donald arrived to share in the camping adventure, and they began to tell him about all the mysteries. When Donald was shown the old photo he identified it as Uncle Derrick, brother to both his mother and his Vaughan cousins’ father.

The children rowed over for their daily talk with Mother, and when shown the photo she admitted it was their Uncle Derrick, and said it may have been wrong to try and keep sad news from them. Mrs. Vaughan declared it wasn’t the time or place for her to inform them now, but said Brownie was free to tell the story.

Brownie told them Uncle Derrick and Hooker were the same age and had been best of friends. Derrick had asked his father to hire Hooker as gamekeeper, and he’d done a fine job. But a crime had been committed and grudge-holding Mitchell, the keeper who’d been dismissed when Hooker was hired, blamed it on Derrick and Hooker.

The two honest young men were put on trial, found guilty, and sentenced to seven years in prison. That had been fifteen years ago, and no one knew what had happened to Uncle Derrick and Hooker after they finished serving their sentences. The shock of the scandal killed their grandfather, and though he left the Chase to the Vaughan children’s father, all of the money was left to Derrick, for whenever he returned home.

Quite a shocking family story for the three Scouts and one Guide. But after that came good news. Dick was nearly over his mild case of scarlet fever, and he was about to be moved into a room in the closed off portion of the house so that the sick room could be fumigated. In fact, he was to be moved into the room where Jan had seen that mysterious light.

A few days later there was a heavy rainfall, which meant the Scouts had to spend the night up in the attic. The boys were preparing for bed when Jan knocked on the door, and told them of loud banging noises she was hearing from her room. The boys quickly dressed and rushed to Jan’s room to investigate. And then, well the mystery was solved, and the truth of what happened fifteen years ago was revealed.

The Island Camp is only 61 pages long, so it’s both a quick and entertaining read. If you’d like to know the entire story the book can be downloaded free of charge at:

Jack the Hunchback

This 1892 book begins when Farmer Pratt and his son, Tom, are on a beach in Maine to collect a cartload of seaweed for use as compost. They spot a ship’s lifeboat drifting to shore while carrying passengers – a boy with a misshaped body, plus a two-year old toddler.

The boy’s name was Jack Dudley, a cabin boy who said the ship he’d worked on had exploded. After being put in a lifeboat with Captain Littlefield’s son, Louis, the boat went adrift before Mrs. Littlefield could join them.

Farmer Pratt claimed the right to sell the boat, and planned to send the children to the local poor farm, but Jack escaped, determined to walk all the way to Captain Littlefield’s house in New York, carrying Louis throughout the journey. Farmer Pratt wouldn’t have been concerned about the runaway if the next day’s paper hadn’t told of a minor explosion on board a ship, and of a generous reward being offered by Captain Littlefield for the return of his son. The farmer wanted that reward.

Jack walked until late afternoon, then stopped at a cottage owned by a lady called Aunt Nancy, and asked if he could do chores in exchange for a night’s lodging for himself and Louis. Aunt Nancy was a sweet, but slightly eccentric, older lady who was glad to take in Jack and Louis.

She had a farm and earned a little money from a neighbor sharecropping one of her fields, and from taking in a few summer boarders. Each year, when the boarders came, Aunt Nancy hired a boy to help her, and since Jack was such a willing worker she wanted him to stay with her, but Jack said he had to keep walking to New York.

Aunt Nancy had a brother who lived in New York, and she was sure he would know about Captain Littlefield. She would write to him, and Jack and Louis would stay with her until she received a reply letter. Jack had his doubts that the brother would know about everyone within the state of New York, but he was willing to stay with the lady who was so kind to him.

Jack was a great help to Aunt Nancy. While she continually cleaned her already-clean house and prepared meals he cut fire wood for the cooking stove, took over milking old crumple-horn the cow, repaired fences and dug up ground for a vegetable garden. And each night before going to bed he went with Aunt Nancy as she searched every room to make sure there were no burglars hiding in the house. There never had been any burglars in the area, but one couldn’t be too careful.

One day Jack was repairing a fence by the road and saw Farmer Pratt drive by. Jack was able to stay out of sight, but was sure the man was still trying to send him to the poor farm. A little later Farmer Pratt came to the house and asked Aunt Nancy about the children and, since he wanted all of the reward money for himself, he told her he wanted to find the children because he felt obligated to send them to the poor farm. Aunt Nancy refrained from saying she knew anything about the boys. Though she hadn’t told a lie, the overly-pious lady felt she’d done wrong by not telling the entire truth.

A neighbor boy named Bill Dean, along with two of his cohorts, wanted Jack to leave, for they believed they had the right to get all of the hired-boy work in the area. Poor Jack was beaten up, and threatened with more abuse if he didn’t move on. The three bad boys were constantly causing mischief, and trying to get Jack blamed for their wrong doing, apparently never figuring out that no one would be likely to hire boys known throughout the neighborhood as troublemakers. Near the end of the book Jack came to the rescue of a trapped Bill Dean, which did not reform the surly boy, but did get him to stop tormenting our hero.

That just left the problem of Farmer Pratt. Aunt Nancy remained upset over what she felt was her grave wrongdoing in not telling the caddish farmer the truth about knowing where Jack and Louis were, so Jack felt he had to make the sacrifice of walking to the Pratt place, in order to tell the farmer Aunt Nancy was sorry, and to offer himself up to be taken to the poor farm, thus keeping young Louis safe.

The book has a happy ending – Louis was returned to his parents and Jack obtains a permanent loving home.

I chose to read this story because of it’s title, for I wanted to know how an 1890s children’s book dealt with a main character who had a physical deformity. Many of the unpleasant characters were cruel to the boy, but he held no grudges because that’s how he’d always been treated by most people. Throughout the book Jack was described as being a cripple, and not being strong enough to succeed at most jobs, but he was always shown as a willing and capable worker, and never found any task that he could not finish. With a slight rewrite the book could have been about someone who wasn’t a hunchback, and I suspect the author was just looking for a gimmick to make the story a bit different from others.

Jack and Aunt Nancy were likable characters and, though the plot didn’t always make perfect sense, the various adventures kept my interest.

If you’d like to know more about Jack the Hunchback the book can be downloaded free of charge at:

Understood Betsy

For much of her life nine-year-old Elizabeth Ann thought she was understood by her guardians, Great-Aunt Harriet and Aunt Frances. Elizabeth’s parents had died when she was a baby, and her relatives rushed to take her in, both to give her a good home and to keep her from ending up with the Putney cousins, who lived on a farm and made children do chores. At a young age Elizabeth overheard Aunt Harriet telling her low opinion of the Putney relatives.

Unmarried Aunt Frances (who was actually Elizabeth’s cousin) had never raised a child before, but she read lots of books on the subject and knew how important is was for children to be understood. She understood how frightened little girls might be of dogs, so whenever she and Elizabeth encountered one Frances assured the girl she was there to protect her from the canine. She understood that girls might have delicate stomachs and poor appetites, and be afraid of thunderstorms, and have bad dreams, so she was always there to make sure Elizabeth had someone to tell all her troubles to. And Frances understood that a girl would be uneasy around the crowds of common children playing outside of the school building, so she always walked Elizabeth to and from school, so the girl wouldn’t be bothered by all those other children.

Elizabeth was so understood that she became a puny, unhappy girl who never had to do a bit of work, and was afraid of just about everything.

Frances was concerned that Elizabeth was so thin and pale, and asked a doctor to make a house-call and prescribe the dear child a tonic. The doctor refused to recommend medicine for Elizabeth, but as he was leaving he heard Aunt Harriet cough, and that got his attention.

He insisted on examining the older lady, then said she was very sick, would have to spend months in a different climate with Frances to care for her, and Elizabeth would need to be kept away from her.

Arrangements were made for a relative in the city to give a temporary home for Elizabeth, but after Harriet and Frances had left the relative’s mother-in-law insisted there was sickness in their household and the girl could not stay with them. Elizabeth would need to be put on a train to go and live with the Putney relatives.

Not the Putneys! Aunt Harriet didn’t approve of them. Weak and nervous Elizabeth, who’d never traveled the few blocks to school on her own, had to travel to another state, to live with people she’d never met. And there was no one around to understand her, or listen to her troubles.

After a trip to Vermont Elizabeth was met at the train station by Great-Uncle Henry Putney, who didn’t know that little girls were to be fussed over, and asked if they’d had any troubles on their journey. After a wagon ride they arrived at Putney Farm where she met Aunt Abigail and Cousin Ann. The ladies called her Betsy, and didn’t know a girl was to be helped with taking off her coat.

On that first night Betsy (as Elizabeth was now called) was not expected to help with chores, but the next morning she learned that after meals were eaten she would be expected to wash the dishes. The Putneys seemed surprised that she had no idea how to wash anything, but they politely explained that it would be a good time to learn how to do so. After washing her first pan of dishes she was taught how to churn butter. There was so many steps to learn when doing the chores that Aunt Harriet had thought so dreadful to impose upon children, but Betsy began to feel pride in knowing she was capable of performing useful tasks.

The Putneys had a large dog, and Betsy was terrified of dogs, but over time she discovered that at least some of them were friendly and gentle around people. And she began to understand that Frances had been teaching her to be afraid of all the things that Frances had feared.

She soon grew to care for Uncle Henry and Aunt Abigail, but Cousin Ann seemed so stern,and appeared to think of nothing except endless work, that Betsy did not like her.

Betsy was enrolled in a little one-room school where children of all ages learned together. Since she could read so well the teacher asked Betsy to help a little girl named Molly by listening to her reading lessons. Molly soon looked to Betsy as her protector, and when Molly’s mother became ill, and the girl was to be sent to stay with relatives who didn’t want her, Betsy asked Cousin Ann to request that Molly’s father let the girl stay with the Putneys. When the father gave his permission, it was the first time that Betsy wasn’t the youngest, and the weakest, person in her home.

Betsy was growing strong and healthy, and she loved living at Putney Farm. During the summer her birthday fell during the time of a local fair, and for a special treat she and Molly were allowed to attend the fair with a neighbor family. Unfortunately the neighbors met up with some friends, and vague plans were made for the two girls to return to Putney Farm with another neighbor. But there were poor communications, and Betsy and Molly ended up being abandoned, with not enough money to pay to ride home on the cars. (I’m not sure if “the cars” referred to a railroad or trolley line.)

Betsy was still just a young girl who’d been raised to be frightened of everything, so she wanted to cry and give into despair. But she had to take care of even-younger Molly, who mustn’t be allowed to know how much danger they were in. Betsy set out to earn some money within a couple of hours, and whenever her offers of work were refused she kept asking herself what Cousin Ann would do, and continued on.

I won’t tell how Betsy found the means to get home after the fair adventures, but will say that when the girls did arrive back in their neighborhood she learned that all of the Putneys, even stern Cousin Ann, had been frantic with worry, and all were proud of resourceful Betsy.

The time finally came when Great-Aunt Harriet’s health was restored, and a letter informed Betsy that Aunt Frances would be coming to take her away from Putney Farm. Betsy didn’t want to leave, but it would be rude to tell that to Frances. If only a way could be found for her to stay without distressing the relatives you’d taken such pains to raise her for so many years …

Understood Betsy was first published in 1917 and, while it has remained in print for generations, it is not widely read today. Author Dorothy Canfield supposedly wrote the tale to promote the value of Marie Montersorri’s learn-by-doing teaching methods, but it is an amusing page-turner, and doesn’t come off as being a moral-of-the-story novel.

The book can be downloaded free of charge at:

The Tailor of Gloucester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you’d like to read The Tailor of Gloucester you can download it free of charge at:

From Office Boy to Reporter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you’d like to read From Office Boy to Reporter it can be downloaded free of charge at:

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toby Tyler, or Ten Weeks With a Circus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Coming of the Fairies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you’d like to see Arthur Conan Doyle’s book it can be obtained free of charge at:

Sugar Creek Gang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harry Walton’s Adventures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bound to Rise
can be downloaded free of charge at:

Risen From the Ranks can be downloaded free of charge at: