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

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:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/59705

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:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/41708

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:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/5347

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: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/14868

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:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=From+Office+Boy+to+Reporter

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:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/41