Barriers Burned Away (E.P. Roe, 1872)

From the very first page, and from every subsequent page, if one thing is clear, it’s that E.P. Roe sure was keen on Jesus. That’s not an issue in and of itself, but Roe’s incessant moralizing is so stilted and distracting that it comes across as a sermon that only half-tolerates the existence of its characters or their narratives. It was not a surprise when I searched for his name and discovered that he was a preacher who wrote for a congregation that still saw the concept of novels as being vaguely suspect and needed the constant, reassuring religion injection in every single scene.

Dennis’s father moved from New England to the Midwest to become a farmer and utterly failed. To support his mother and young siblings, Dennis leaves college to get work in Chicago. Mr. Ludolph is an art dealer who takes on Dennis as a porter in his showroom. Ludolph is heir to a barony in his native Germany and has high aspirations for his daughter Christine, hoping to marry her to some European noble. Dennis falls in love with her. The social divide is one thing, but a bigger problem for Dennis is that Christine is an atheist.

Angst for 400 pages.

Cue the Great Chicago Fire. Ludolph is killed trying to save his financial papers from the showroom. Dennis rescues Christine from her mansion just as the flames reach it. They make their way to the lake, where Christine sees a displaced poor woman and becomes a Christian. She decides to marry Dennis. If I make it sound abrupt, it’s because it is. All that occurs in a few paragraphs.

It’s an incendiary screed — and I’m not talking about the fiery backdrop. The group of people that Roe actually approves of is quite exclusive and vanishingly small, and everyone else is an “infidel” that will surely burn in the afterlife as they did in this one if they don’t come to Jesus.

The Lengthened Shadow (William J. Locke, 1923)

Suzanne runs away from her wealthy uncle, who had demanded that she marry his friend Moordius, a Parisian financier. She finds her way to Timothy — a widower with one young daughter — and takes the position of governess in his house. When Uncle dies, Timothy finds himself named along with Moordius as being in joint custody of Suzanne’s fortune until her 25th birthday.

Moordius is a gambling addict. He’s already exhausted his own wealth and is quickly running through his firm’s. However, he is extremely is suave and persuasive. Neither Suzanne nor Timothy can resist his charm and both willingly play into his newest scheme — to take on Timothy as a business partner, marry Suzanne under French law (i.e., joint assets), bail himself out using her fortune, and blackmail Timothy into remaining silent with the threat of his own bankruptcy if the company should fail. Only his daughter, Valerie, knows the truth. She tries to warn them, but it’s her word against his, and he talks very well.

The Locked Book (Frank L. Packard, 1924)

Kenneth Wayne is the captain of a trading ship plying the waters of the Malayan archipelago. The ship is attacked by pirates and Wayne’s father is killed. Wayne vows revenge. His plan involves posing as a gold hunter as a ruse to search Malay villages unsuspected, but he rather overestimates his own ability and is forever being rescued by his much more skillful guide, an Indian named Gulab Singh.

Wayne becomes involved in a mystery — the discovery (and loss) of the fabled Itu Konchi-kan Kitab, or The Locked Book, a sort of treasure map left by a prolific pirate from generations past. Two men are killed for it, a Malay and a white man, and Wayne becomes the target of a manhunt on both sides. Gulab Singh helps him escape into the jungle, but they are cornered by the pirates, who believe that Wayne still has the book.

As it so happens, Gulab Singh has it, and he arranges an exchange with the pirates — the book for their lives. You see, Gulab Singh’s wife and child were also killed by the pirates and he also vowed revenge. He spent years forging The Locked Book perfectly, only it did not contain the key to lost treasures, but rather high explosives rigged to detonate on opening. Gulab Singh orchestrated almost everything and was using Wayne as a means of massing the pirates together and getting the booby-trappedĀ  book into their hands.

The Firing Line (Robert W. Chambers, 1908)

Landscaper Garrett Hamil falls in love with socialite Shelia Cardross, despite the most horrible, most terrible, blackest-of-black stain on her character: she’s adopted. She loves him too, but there’s another problemĀ — a slight indiscretion from her youth. When she first learned the devastating news that she was not her parents’ biological child, she married the first boy that presented himself, Louis Malcourt, so that she could have a legitimate name. It was never announced, never acted on, and they’ve kept it a secret for years. The man realizes it was a folly and has repeatedly told Shelia to divorce him, but she can’t bear the thought of it.

As her love for Garry grows, so does her temptation to get a divorce. To save herself, she publicly announces her first marriage and moves in with her husband — who still rather thinks it’s a bad idea. Garry takes deathly ill, and during his illness, Louis realizes how strongly Shelia still loves him. Louis quietly steps out one afternoon to a lonely place in the forest and shoots himself in the head.

Derelicts (William J. Locke, 1897)

Stephen Chisley, having lived beyond his means too long, turned to embezzlement to pay his debts. For this, he was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison. On his release, he finds that he has been abandoned by his friends and family. His nearest relation, his cousin Canon (soon to be Bishop) Everard Chisley, pays him a small sum on the condition he change his name and never attempt to contact him again. This money is exhausted quickly, as no one will give Stephen Joyce work when they learn he is a felon.

Starvation looms when Yvonne Latour discovers him. She knew him in his youth and promised his mother (deceased while he was incarcerated) that she would look after him. She’s a widow who supports herself simply but comfortably as a singer. With a little practice, Joyce might be a half-decent baritone. She gets him a job in the chorus, but it all falls apart when another choruser, Annie, discovers his secret and tells everyone.

Joyce flees to South Africa with a barroom acquaintance, both hoping to forge new lives as colonial farmers. The farming does not go well (nor does his acquaintance — he dies of fever), but the book he had been working on, The Wasters (bit meta — the plot is the same as the Derelicts), is picked up by a publisher. On the advance money, he returns to London to find Yvonne.

Yvonne, meanwhile, has married Canon Chisley. Mrs. Winstanley, who had previously exerted great control over the man, is incensed with jealously. When she discovers, accidentally, that Yvonne’s first husband is not actually dead, she at once tells the Canon. The Canon is deeply in love with Yvonne, but proprietary forces them to separate. The Canon accepts a bishopric in New Zealand and leaves Yvonne behind. Yvonne, forced to work despite her delicate health, develops diphtheria and is hospitalized. Joyce finds her quite abandoned and wanting. He writes to the Bishop, but his letter is burned without being opened. He supports her himself with his writing and from the job he’s managed to get at a second-hand bookstore. They live together as siblings, and for the first time in several years, both regain some measure of happiness.

The Bishop learns that Yvonne’s first husband has died (for real, this time) and takes the very next boat back to England. He traces her to Joyce, who tells him of her illness and what has passed since. The Bishop begs his cousin’s forgiveness and asks Yvonne to remarry him. Joyce’s world is shattered. On the street, he sees Annie again. She’s been haunted by what she did to him in the chorus. She turned to drink, lost her friends, lost her job, knew “degradation”, and is now in the workhouse. Joyce sobs himself to sleep that night. Yvonne hears from outside his bedroom door.

Yvonne goes to the Bishop and says that she can’t marry him. She stays with Joyce, content with him, even if in poverty. Joyce reads in the morning paper that Annie drowned herself.