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