Under the Greenwood Tree (Thomas Hardy, 1872)

In rural Wessex, a church string ensemble is upset by a newcomer to town who’s been engaged to replace them on the organ. Fancy Day is her name, and Dick Dewy — one of the redundant musicians — falls madly in love with her. She rather likes his attention, as she does anyone’s attention; if Fancy is nothing else, she’s an incorrigible flirt. It’s an uphill climb for Dick, what with his being the son of a simple country tranter (and I had to look that up, too — it’s an archaic term for mover) and the Days having pretensions to high society. At last, Dick wins out and he and Fancy are married, and though the other villagers doubt how long it will last, the couple are happy for the moment and that counts for something.

Inscriptions: From the Livermore Falls, Maine public library. There’s quite a bit of marginalia throughout, most of which has been erased but some the librarian must have missed. It seems that somebody read it for a school book report and left their notes.

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The White Sister (F. Marion Crawford, 1909)

Angela, the daughter of a Roman prince, finds herself penniless after her father’s death. Her boyfriend would leave the army and find a higher paying job to support them so that they might marry at once, but she’ll not have anyone think Giovanni is a coward. She pressures him to accept the commission to Africa he’s been offered, promising that she’ll wait for him and they’ll marry on his return. The detail is ambushed and every man is killed. After years of hoping against hope, Angela at last accepts that Giovanni is dead. She joins the White Sisters, a group of nuns who run a hospital in Rome, and eventually takes the veil herself as a nurse-nun.

Five years later, Giovanni returns. He has been enslaved and kept closely guarded, but at last managed to escape. I think it would be fair to call him an agnostic — he’s open to the idea of gods and of an afterlife, but thinks religion is nothing more than foolish superstition. To him, there’s no reason in the world why Angela can’t honor her promise and marry him. However, pious Angela — or Sister Giovanna, as she’s now known — sees things quite differently. Her vows are irrevocable and she would not think of asking for a dispensation.

Giovanni does not take it well. He’s stationed at an ammunition dump when an anarchist’s bomb goes off. After the explosion that shatters every window in the city, Giovanni is found badly injured. His doctors are confident that his life can be saved if he’ll consent to being operated on, but he refuses. He would rather die, however long or painful his final days may be, than live without Angela. Sister Giovanna is torn — knowing that, if she holds, she surely sentences him to death, yet to relent would mean to break her vow.

Monsignor Saracinesca, though a man of God, is still a human. If Giovanni consents to the operation, he promises to use his influence with the Cardinal to get a dispensation for Angela — which, in normal circumstances, she would have to request herself.

The White Sister isn’t one of the core Saracinesca books (the only one of which I’ve read being Sant’ Ilario), but it’s part of that continuity.

Inscription: signed with the single name “Langley” at the top of the front flyleaf.

The Clutch of Circumstance (Marjorie Benton Cooke, 1918)

Roberta is an American woman of German ancestry who marries Sir Ashton Trask, a member of the British War Office. Bobs doesn’t dislike Ashton, but he certainly loves her a great deal more than she does him. She’s openly flirtatious with a number of other men, one of them being Captain O’Toole. O’Toole is ostensibly in the British Army, but in secret he hopes to win his Irish homeland’s independence by collaborating with the Germans. With Roberta’s allegiance already torn between Germany, England, and America, it isn’t a difficult task for O’Toole to use her to get at Ashton’s war plans. They are, at last, discovered and arrested. Both are sentenced to death, but while O’Toole faces the firing squad, Roberta is spared that public humiliation on the condition that she kill herself. Bobs takes her punishment with remarkable calm, finding in it relief from the uncertainty of which side she should back, and in her final few days, she comes to realize how much she actually does love her husband.

No inscriptions.

The Gun Runner (Arthur Stringer, 1909)

A telegrapher aboard a cargo ship is caught up in an attempted coup in a Central American banana republic and hijacks a train full of smuggled ammunition from the rebels to give to the fruit company’s government because he’s fallen in love with the Minister of War’s sister. If that log line summary makes the story sound exciting, it’s really not. I don’t know how, but the author managed to make this “supertale of modern mystery” one of the dullest books I’ve read in some time.

No inscriptions.