Where the Lilies Bloom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miss Santa Claus of the Pullman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Dear Little Girl’s Thanksgiving Holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Dear Little Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Swift and His Motor-Cycle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Little Dusky Hero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dorothy

This 1907 novel begins when Martha Chester opened the door of her little brick house in Baltimore, saw a wicker baby-wagon with a baby in it, and screamed in surprise. There was a note attached to the baby’s coat stating “My name is Dorothy C. I have come to be your daughter,” and Martha told her cheerful postman-husband, John, that they’d received a great blessing. The childless couple loved babies, but John told Martha that someone was playing a trick on them, and she should not get her hopes up.

The reader is introduced to “Mrs. Cecil,” whose full name is Mrs. Cecil Somerset Calvert. She is a wealthy widow who spends her time minding everyone else’s business, so this story tends to get a little duller whenever she shows up. Fortunately, the chapter ends with Martha Chester finding a second note attached to Dorothy C’s dress stating that each month the couple would be mailed a ten-dollar bill to help with the baby’s expenses.

In chapter two Dorothy is twelve-years-old, and her dear foster father is having problems with his feet and legs, and will need to give up his mail carrier job. He ends up in a hospital, and is told he must go to stay in the country if he is ever to regain his health. Fortunately Martha had inherited a New York farm from her uncle, and since the taxes had been modest they’d been paid every year, though the Chesters never visited that property. Mr. and Mrs. Chester decided they’d now move to the farm, and make a living off the rocky land, which hadn’t been cultivated in years. That should be an easy-enough way to earn some money …

A strange man named John Smith speaks to Dorothy when she is outside her home. He tells her she has inherited a fortune from her birth parents, and she is to tell no one about him. The girl is excited to be able to give money to her dear foster parents in their time of need, so keeps the secret.

Money is tight, so Martha sends Dorothy to the post office to see if the envelope with the monthly ten-dollar bill has arrived. She receives the envelope, then goes to see the postmaster and asks if she can take over her father’s mail route, so the family won’t have to leave Baltimore. He tells her that little girls can’t be mail carriers, and inquires if she told anyone she was coming to ask for work. The postmaster tells her to never keep secrets from her parents, and Dorothy resolves to follow his advice.

After leaving the post office Dorothy met up with John Smith, the man who’d said he had money to give her. He informed her he was a lawyer, and if she came with him to his office they could make all arrangements about getting the inheritance. Dorothy said she didn’t have time right now, and that she was going home to tell her mother all about him, because it isn’t right to keep secrets from your parents. Mr. Smith was a fast talker, and he got bewildered Dorothy to take a different street car than she’d planned, and soon she was half-dragged into a run-down building, and up a flight of stairs to Mr. Smith’s dingy office.

The lawyer said she had to wait in the office until a witness came about the inheritance, but after Smith left Dorothy tried to leave, only to discover the door locked and all the windows nailed shut. After several hours Mr. Smith returned with sandwiches and a glass of milk, and said he’d take her home in a carriage as soon as she’d eaten. Dorothy drank the milk, but when she started down the stairs she became quite dizzy. After climbing into the carriage she fell asleep.

Alas, when Dorothy awoke she was not at home, but at a farm run by a “big course-looking woman,” who didn’t seem too pleased to be stuck with a girl to look after. There was also a boy named Jim, who’d been left with the woman after his parents died. Jim said the woman was alright if you didn’t anger her, and he promised to help Dorothy escape if the right time came.

Jim told her the woman’s son kidnapped her, and that once a young boy had been kidnapped, but returned to his parents after they’d paid a great deal of money.

Speaking of parents, after Dorothy failed to come home, the police were notified, and doctors said ailing foster-father John was not to be told any bad news. So the house was rented, John hustled towards the train for the farm, and his questions about Dorothy’s whereabouts were met with seemingly-disinterested comments from Martha. That led to harsh words between the married couple, which probably did more harm to John’s health then an honest answer would have done. Right before getting on the train John tossed a nickel to a newsboy, bought a paper, and learned Dorothy’s disappearance made the front page – something those well-meaning doctors may not have planned on.

But let’s get back to Dorothy. She came down with the measles, and after she recovered and was able to once more talk with Jim he told her the farm lady’s son was upstairs in the house, and he had an even worse case of measles. The girl was sent to sleep in a pile of hay in the barn, supposedly to get fresh air, but perhaps to keep her from knowing her kidnapper was sick within the house. Jim told her how he was teaching himself to read better, and saved everything he found that had writing on it, in hopes of learning a new word.

The book has a bit of a detour and tells about that rich woman, Mrs. Cecil, who had also been ill, and just learned that the Chesters’ girl was missing. Mrs. Cecil got excited over the news and rushed off to visit the law firm that handles all her business transactions. And now back to the real story.

The farm lady was spending all of her time caring for her son and Jim felt the need to work as hard as he could to keep her strawberries from rotting in the field. Dorothy didn’t approve of  working to help such a mean lady, but she too picked berries, just to show Jim she could work as hard as him.

The next day Jim went with the farm woman to Baltimore to sell her produce, and the woman bought many parcels – some wrapped in newspaper. Jim saved the paper for reading practice, and he read an advertisement offering a five hundred dollar reward for the return of Dorothy. He showed the ad to the girl, and she said that if he rescued her and then went to the law firm offering the reward he could get that money. Well, he was loyal to the lady who’d taken him in so long ago, but with five hundred dollars he could get a proper education. He’d sneak away and talk to someone who’d been in the poorhouse about coming and taking over his work, and once that was settled he would see to it that Dorothy got home.

Would the poor girl ever be able to escape that farm? I’ll let you know that the novel Dorothy was the first in a series of books, and none of the others have her the captive of a kidnapper’s mother. And since it was the beginning of a series the truth about Dorothy’s birth parents wasn’t revealed in this volume, though the book left me wondering why that rich and nosey Mrs. Cecil kept being mentioned.

If you’d like to know the entire story Dorothy can be downloaded free of charge at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/40300

Andy Gordon, or The Fortunes of a Young Janitor

This Horatio Alger novel is set in 1866, a year after the end of the Civil War. It begins when sixteen-year-old Herbert Ross arrives at school a little early so he’d have time to go over his Latin lesson, since he hadn’t bothered to study it the night before.

He entered a classroom, where janitor Andy Gordon was sweeping so vigorously that he caused a cloud of dust, which settled on Herbert’s clothing. Andy earned free tuition, plus a dollar a week, for his work. His widowed mother received a twenty dollar a month government pension because her husband had been an officer killed at Gettysburg.

Herbert, the son of the village of Hamilton’s only lawyer, grabbed Andy’s broom and hit him with it, and then Andy pushed Herbert to the floor. When the teacher, Dr. Euclid, came into the room and sided with Andy, Herbert told his father a ruffian janitor has assaulted him. That evening Mr. Ross, one of the school’s trustees, called on Dr. Euclid and demanded that Andy be fired from his janitorial job. The teacher refused to do so and said Herbert had been the one at fault.

Mr. Ross went home in a foul mood. Miser Joshua Starr came to see him, and asked him to collect money from Widow Gordon. Her husband had borrowed a hundred dollars from Mr. Starr, and had never paid it back. Now Starr wanted the money, plus interest, or else all of the Gordons’ furniture was to be sold to pay off the debt. A look of “malicious satisfaction” was on the lawyer’s face as he accepted the collection task. Losing everything would teach the young janitor not to push his son to the ground.

The next day Mr. Ross called on Mrs. Gordon and told her she needed to pay a hundred-thirty dollars immediately, but the widow declared her husband had paid off the loan the day before he left for war. He’d been given a receipt but, alas, she didn’t know where it was now. Ross gave her a week to find the receipt, and if she couldn’t do so all of her belongings would be sold.

Andy and his mother were in dire straits but, fortunately, this is a Horatio Alger novel, so there’s always a coincidence when most needed. The next day Andy stopped at the post office and was given a package addressed to his mother. Inside was his father’s wallet. There was also a letter from an army veteran, who said that as Andy’s father was dying from his wounds he’d given the man his wallet to send to Mrs. Gordon. Alas, the veteran was then wounded, and he was sent to a hospital while his personal effects were sent home. Just a few days ago the man found the misplaced wallet in an old trunk, and so mailed it off.

Inside the wallet was forty-five dollars and the receipt signed by Joshua Starr. Andy told his mother not to tell anyone about it until the day when Starr and Ross came to collect the money.

Susan and Sally Peabody, two old-maid sisters, made a Saturday call on the Gordons. Someone had just paid them five hundred dollars in cash, and since they couldn’t deposit it into the bank until Monday they wanted Andy to sleep at their house and guard the money. He said that he would.

During the conversation a desperate character named Mike Hogan was walking by the house, and decided to sneak up to a window and listen to what people might be saying. He heard about the money, and when the Peabody sisters left he followed behind them to find out where they lived.

That night Hogan tried to break into the Peabody’s house, but Andy wouldn’t let him. The youth went to the cook stove, which had a low fire burning in it, grabbed a tea kettle off the stove and poured scalding water on the villain. That ended the break-in attempt, but Mike Hogan now considered Andy his enemy.

The Peabody’s gave Andy fifty dollars as a reward, and asked him to travel six miles and deposit the remaining money in the bank. Andy went to a friend’s father, asked to borrow his horse and buggy for the bank trip, and received permission to do so.

One mile into the journey to the Cranston bank Andy came upon a well dressed young man “with a ready smile and a set of dazzling white teeth” who said he was also traveling to Cranston, and would pay fifty cents if Andy would let him ride with him in the buggy. Who wouldn’t help a traveler with dazzling white teeth? Andy agreed. All went well until they came to a lonely stretch of road, and the traveling companion pointed a gun at Andy’s head and demanded all his money. Andy took a fat wallet out of his pocket and tossed it onto the roadside. The man with white teeth demanded the youth stop the buggy, then he jumped out and ran towards the wallet, as Andy raced away from the scene.

The would-be thief discovered the tossed wallet was filled with nothing but brown paper, because young school janitors know how to take precautions. The man had to walk through a nearby woods to where his boss, Mike Hogan, was waiting. The two men decided to wait for Andy’s return in order to give him a terrible beating.

Andy arrived at the bank, deposited the money and told the teller about his adventures. As they were talking Perkins the Detective, a short, slender man “with hair that inclined to be red,” came into the bank and was informed about Andy’s troubles. The detective asked to ride back with Andy, then he left for a few minutes and came back dressed as a woman, for he felt the villains would not be afraid of a youth and a woman. On the return journey the buggy was stopped by the bad men, and Andy and the detective were able to capture Hogan, though the man with dazzling teeth was able to escape.

You might think it was now time for Starr and Ross to come and try to collect on the already-paid loan, but before that happened another adventure began. Mrs. Gordon received a letter containing a fifty-dollar bill and a letter from her wealthy Uncle Simon Dodge, whom she hadn’t heard from in twenty-five years. The letter told how the seventy-five-year-old man was suffering from what would now be called elder abuse.

The no-good widower of Uncle Simon’s only daughter had remarried a nasty widow with four nasty children, and everyone had moved into Simon’s home. He had not been well, and was tormented into signing over his farm to Brackett, the former son-in-law. Now Brackett’s family is trying to force him to make a will leaving them all his money. He is watched closely, but was able to sneak out a letter. If Mrs. Gordon could send his son, using the enclosed money for travel expenses, and have him accept the farm boy job that pays only fifty cents a week, then Uncle Simon would be able to carry out a plan to keep the nasty family from getting all his money.

It was decided that Andy should go under an assumed name so only Uncle Simon would know who he was. And after the troubles were over Uncle Simon would be asked to come and spend the rest of his days with his niece and her son.

Just as soon as Joshua Starr and the lawyer, Mr. Ross, came and were shown the receipt proving the debt had been paid, Andy set out to save his great-uncle from that dreadful Brackett family.

Would it seem too much of a coincidence if I told you that, soon after Andy was hired as a farm boy, Mrs. Brackett’s younger brother came for a visit, and the brother was the well-dressed man with dazzling white teeth who had tried to rob Andy on the way to the bank? (I was bracing myself for Perkins the Detective to make a return appearance, but that didn’t happen.)

Will Andy be able to save Uncle Simon from the clutches of the conniving Brackett family? If Uncle Simon comes to live with his niece, will the Gordon family become so well-off that schoolmate Herbert Ross will want to become Andy’s best friend?

I found this novel to be an entertaining read. Events aren’t likely to occur in real life, but Andy, his mother and uncle are likable characters, and with each chapter I wanted to know what happened next. If you would like to read Andy Gordon, or The Fortunes of a Young Janitor it can be read free of charge at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/52097

A. A. Milne and Christopher Robin

A. A. Milne’s stories and poems about Christopher Robin and his animal friends have given great pleasure to millions of people. It is unfortunate that the writings caused difficulties for those most connected with the tales.

Alan Alexander Milne was born in London in 1882. After graduating from Trinity College, Cambridge, he began contributing pieces to the British humor magazine, Punch, where he became an assistant editor when he was 24 years old. He married in 1913.

Though he considered himself to be a pacifist he joined the British Army in 1915 during World War I, and suffered from trench fever, caused by infected body lice. After the war Milne began writing plays and novels, and became a screenwriter for the early British film industry. His only child, a son named Christopher Robin, was born in 1920, when Milne was 38 years old.

As was the norm with well-to-do families a nanny was hired to care for the boy, and his parents spent limited time with him. Christopher claimed his father wasn’t good with young children, but if he had wanted to become closer to his son “Nanny was always in the way …. Where did he fit in? Nowhere special.” After Christopher began attending boarding school, and the nanny left the household, father and son spent much more time together during holidays.

In 1925 Milne bought Cotchford Farm, near Ashdown Forest, and the family spent weekends and holidays there. The rural area was the setting for Milne’s children’s stories.

In 1924 A. A. Milne published a book of poetry about his son, entitled When We Were Very Young. Two years later stories about Christopher Robin and his stuffed animal friends became a book called Winnie the Pooh. (The boy had a stuffed bear named Edward. The fictional bear was named after a Canadian black bear, Winnipeg, donated to the London Zoo. Pooh was what the toddler called a swan.) A second poetry collection, Now We Are Six, was published in 1927, and The House at Pooh Corners came out in 1928.

The children’s books became best sellers, and Milne’s publishers wanted more of them, but the author only wanted to write for adults. He was also concerned that additional books about Christopher Robin might cause problems for his son.

For years he had specialized in writing drawing-room comedy plays, but over time tastes changed and his theater work was no longer popular. He continued to write both fiction and nonfiction for the rest of his life. Sales of his later books were modest, but the Winnie the Pooh stories continued to earn him royalties. Milne was disappointed that the writings he considered more important was over-shadowed by stories about stuffed animals.

Christopher Robin Milne grew up having more affection for his nanny then for his parents. Except for when she went away for her annual two-week holiday he rarely spent more than a few hours away from Nanny. He was shy, thought himself to be a slow-learner, and stammered when nervous.

At first he was pleased about being a character in his father’s books, but when he was nine, and sent away to boarding school, some of his schoolmates bullied and mocked him over the published stories he’d inspired. He spent most of his life trying to distance himself from the boy in the stories, and did not use his middle name. He was Christopher, not Christopher Robin.

He began attending his father’s alma mater, Trinity College. When the second World War began he left school and tried to enlist in the military, but failed the medical exam. His father used his influence to get him a second military medical exam, which he passed. Christopher became a sapper (engineer) and he was posted to the Middle East and Italy. He built bridges and roads, defused German land mines, and received a head wound. During Christopher’s military service few knew he was part of a famous family, and he was judged on his own merits. After the war he returned to school, and received a degree in English literature.

After graduation Christopher had trouble finding employment. He reflected on how apparently easy it had been for his father to achieve financial success, and thought that being turned into a children’s book character had placed major obstacles in his own life. He wrote “It seemed to me almost that my father had got to where he was by climbing upon my infant shoulders…”

One of his aunts introduced Christopher to Leslie, a cousin on his mother’s side. His mother had been estranged from Leslie’s father for 30 years, and Christopher had never before met any of his uncle’s family.

Christopher and Leslie were wed in 1948 (despite his parents’ disapproval of cousins marrying), and in 1951 they opened a bookshop in the small town of Dartmouth. The shop carried all of the Winnie the Pooh books, and Christopher felt it was a good average that he only disliked four of the books he sold.

A. A. Milne died in 1956 and just a few months later Christopher’s only child was born – Clare, a daughter who had cerebral palsy. Clare was wheelchair-bound, and always needed someone to wash and dress her.

After the elder Milne’s death royalties from the Winnie the Pooh books were divided between the family, the Royal Literary Fund, Westminster School, and the Garrick Club – a gentleman’s club A. A. Milne frequented. For fifteen years Christopher refused any money from the books. He was determined to prove that he and his wife could earn all of the money they needed, and he would not accept financial assistance from his fictional namesake.

When his mother died in 1971 he inherited her share of the book royalties. He knew his disabled daughter would need care all of her life, so he used the royalty money to set up a trust fund for Clare.

Many people were writing about the Milne family, and Christopher wanted his version of his own life told, so he decided to write his memoirs. Sorting out his memories proved to be to be a form of psychoanalysis. In 1974 The Enchanted Places, the story of his childhood, was published. He stated that writing the book “combined to lift me from under the shadows of my father and of Christopher Robin, and to my surprise and pleasure I found myself standing beside them in the sunshine able to look them both in the eye.”

Christopher knew that most of the places mentioned in the Pooh books were based on actual locations at Cotchford Farm or Ashdown Forest, but there had been no spot similar to Eeyore’s Gloomy Place. And why was that donkey always expecting the worst to happen? Christopher wondered if Eeyore had been modeled after his father, for though the elder Milne had earned a great deal of money there was much unhappiness in his life. (And though Christopher never mentioned it, I’ve heard enough about PTSD to realize that a veteran will never forget time spent in trenches, covered in lice.)

Christopher became more at peace with memories of his father and the Pooh books, though he was still uncomfortable when customers came into the bookshop and asked to meet the real Christopher Robin. He gave away his old stuffed animals, and they ended up in the New York City Public Library. Many thought he should have held onto them, but his opinion was that while most men had had beloved toys, few kept them into adulthood.

Christopher died in 1996, and after his death his wife and daughter set up the Clare Milne Trust. Clare died in 2012, but the Trust continues, helping those with disabilities in the Devon and Cornwall areas of England. According to the Clare Milne Trust website it “focuses its grants on small effective charities with good volunteer support.”

So the legacy of Winnie the Pooh continues, not just in the stories themselves, but in the charity founded with a portion of the book royalties. I hope that both A. A. Milne and Christopher Robin would approve.

The Moving Picture Girls

Back in 1914 the first volume in a book series about the moving picture business was published. In the opening scene of The Moving Picture Girls, or First Appearances in Photo Dramas teenage sisters Ruth and Alice were thrilled that their stage actor father, Hosmer DeVere, had gotten a part in a play after a long period of unemployment.

Suddenly there were loud voices across the apartment house corridor. They heard neighbor Russ Dalwood shout that someone should stop sneaking around. There was the sound of a scuffle, and a body crashed against the DeVere’s door, which swung open. They caught a glimpse of Russ pushing a strange man towards the stairs.

Alice closed and locked their door, and wondered aloud if the departing man had been a bill collector. The DeVeres knew all about rude bill collectors. Ruth assured her that Russ earned good money at a moving picture theater, and was able to support his widowed mother and younger brother.

In a few minutes Russ knocked on their door to apologize, and he was let inside. He explained that he was working on a device to fit into moving picture projectors, to keep the film from jerking about. A villain named Simp Wolley was trying to get Russ to sell him all rights to the device, and today he’d snuck into the room where Russ worked on his invention.

When the girl’s father came home he told them of the fine play he had a part in and, though he wouldn’t be paid for the two weeks of rehearsals, soon he’d have a steady income from his theatrical engagement. But alas, that didn’t happen, for during rehearsals Mr. DeVere lost his voice due to a vocal cord infection, and a doctor told him he might lose it permanently unless he did almost no talking for many months.

Alice decided to look for a job. Once outside of the building she met neighbor Russ, and confided the family’s need for money. Russ was now working as a moving picture operator (cameraman) at the Comet Film Company, and he was sure Mr. DeVere could find work in silent films.

Alice knew her father had a low opinion of moving pictures, but agreed to go to the studio with Russ and learn more about film making. She saw numerous movies being filmed at the same time, in the same room, with the directors of each one calling out instructions on how the scenes should be performed.

She was impressed with all she saw, and when introduced to Mr. Pertell, the movie company manager, Alice liked him immediately, for he “seemed so sturdy, kind and wholesome.” The manager had heard of Hosmer DeVere, and would be pleased to hire the famous actor.

She rushed home to tell her father about the offer of movie work, but her father refused to consider such a job for, at the time, acting in films was not considered respectable. But then a man came to say they’d be evicted if the rent wasn’t paid in three days. Then the grocery boy showed up to declare they’d get no more food until they’d paid what was owed. And then Hosmer DeVere decided it wouldn’t hurt to go see that moving picture fellow.

Soon Mr. DeVere grew to like working for Comet Film Company and, since the book series was Moving Picture Girls, Ruth and Alice also began acting.

The novel briefly explains how 1914 movies were made, how the camera was cranked by hand, and that the length of scenes were gauged by how many feet of film it would take to record the action. Plus readers are introduced to the small group of people who worked for the film company.

I found the mild adventures in movie making entertaining, and then there was Simp Wolley, who almost succeeded in stealing Russ Dalwood’s invention. When the short book ended I wanted to know what happened next, so I read The Moving Picture Girls at Oak Farm, where actors and film crew spent a few weeks making a series of movies with rural settings. And in their spare time the Moving Picture Girls helped the farm family locate a large sum of money a relative had hidden before dying in a lunatic asylum.

The plots weren’t too involved, but they kept my interest, and I enjoyed reading about the DeVere family. I also enjoyed learning about a time when a man in charge of a film company could be described as being “sturdy, kind and wholesome.”

If you’d like to know more about the Moving Picture Girls their adventures can be found at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=moving+picture+girls