Notre-Dame (Victor Hugo, 1831)

A band of gypsies appear in Paris in the fifteenth century. Among them is a very beautiful young girl, Esmeralda. Claude Frollo, archdeacon of Notre Dame Cathedral, falls madly in love with her, as does his adopted son Quasimodo, a hideously deformed hunchback abandoned as a child at the cathedral. When Esmeralda falls in love with Captain Phoebus, Frollo attempts to murder him. Esmeralda is captured and tortured into confessing to the crime. On the way to the gibbet, Quasimodo grabs Esmeralda and rushes her into Notre Dame — a place of sanctuary. Frollo attempts to force himself on her. When she rejects him, he condemns her as a witch and petitions Parlement to violate the sanctuary and carry her to the gallows.

The gypsies, numbering some six thousand, array themselves in military formation and attempt to storm the cathedral and rescue Esmeralda. Quasimodo mistakes their intentions and thinks they’re coming to execute her. He prevents their gaining entrance until the King’s army arrives to crush the rebellion. Esmeralda is hanged. Quasimodo, realizing that this is Frollo’s doing, pushes the archdeacon from the tower and to his death. Quasimodo vanishes. He secretly joined Esmeralda’s body in the crypt, where he starved to death holding her.

Inscriptions: “R.C. Penney, 1912” on the front flyleaf.

The After House (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1914)

Ralph Leslie, fresh out of medical school, catches typhoid fever. He leaves the hospital sickly and broke. He takes a job as a deck hand on a yacht sailing for South America for a dose of health-restoring sea air and manual labor. The owner of the yacht, Marshall Turner, is a man who likes his drink. Mrs. Johns, one of his guests, asks Leslie to move from the crew’s quarters in the forecastle to a room in the after house with them. Turner has been arguing with Richardson, the captain of the boat, and in his drunken rage, she fears there will be trouble.

Not long afterward, Leslie finds himself locked in. When he breaks down the door, he discovers the bodies of Captain Richardson, Mr. Vail (another of the guests), and Karen Hansen (the maid), all hacked to death with an axe. With the ocean stretching out for hundreds of miles around them, the culprit must be there on the ship: either one of the crew, one of the guests, or Turner. Everyone is on edge, particularly when they begin seeing a strange, spectral figure at night flitting around the deck.

The reveal is a bit of a let down. It’s not that it’s bad, per se, but the build-up was so terrific that I suppose any ending couldn’t live up to it.

No inscriptions.

Joan of the Sword Hand (S.R. Crockett, 1898)

Joan, Duchess of Hohenstein, was arranged from birth to marry the Prince of Courtland. She secretly visits Courtland dressed as a man to inspect her fiance and finds him much to her liking, and Princess Margret thinks about as highly of “Count von Loen”, bitterly angering Muscovite Prince Wasp, who has claimed Margret as his own. On the wedding day, Joan discovers that the man she had taken for the prince was actually his younger brother. The actual Prince of Courtland is a sniveling old man, commonly called about town Louis the Craven for what the townsfolk see as selling out their Germanic freedoms for the autocratic protection of Russia. Joan flees back to Hohenstein and a Russian-backed battle ensues to capture her.

Their supplies running low, a conspiracy is hatched by the high ministers in Hohenstein. Joan is abducted and taken to a place of safety on the Baltic coast. Meanwhile, Maurice von Lynar, a Danish soldier in Joan’s army who bears a remarkable resemblance to her, puts on her dress and feigns capitulating to the invaders so that they’ll withdraw and Hohenstein can be reinforced. The false Joan is taken to Margret, who she takes for Count von Loen. They are married that day by the castle priest. Discovered, Maurice is sentenced to be torn apart by four wild horses.

Joan, trapped on Isle Rugen, finds that her hostess is Theresa von Lynar — Maurice’s mother. She also finds that Maurice is, in fact, her half-brother, her father having secretly married Theresa after his first wife’s death. At the same time, Conrad — the younger Courtland prince Joan thought she was betrothed to — shipwrecks on the island. He and Joan fall in love, though he is a priest and Joan is already married. “In name only”, Theresa says to both.

Word reaches them of what’s happened in Courtland. Joan, Theresa, Conrad, and the handful of guards they have hasten there. The people of Courtland, who find the spectacle playing out before them abhorrent and un-Christian, hail Conrad as a liberator and the true prince. The Courtland military turn and the Russians retreat from them and the well-armed mob. They rally and intend to invade Courtland with the whole of the Czar’s army and annex it into the empire. Courtland holds off the invasion as long as they can, waiting for reinforcement from Plassenburg. Theresa buys them much-needed time by suicide bombing the Russian encampment, killing both Prince Wasp and Louis.

In the end, the Russians are repelled. Conrad, released from his vows as the new reigning prince of Courtland, marries the widowed Joan. On Princess Joan’s abdication as duchess, Maurice and Margret becoming the new duke and duchess of Hohenstein.

No inscriptions.

Haps and Mishaps at the Old Farm (C.A. Stephens, 1925)

This volume actually has an ad in the back for the other books in the series. When Life was Young is the first of the Old Squire series proper.  A Busy Year is the third installment. I don’t have two or four. I would assume they record the author’s life at ages thirteen and fifteen. Haps and Mishaps is adjacent to the Old Squire books. Some of it is more of the author’s stories, but mostly it’s the author relating stories he’s heard from his friends and neighbors, or from his grandfather — stories stretching as far back as to the pioneering generation of the late 18th-early 19th century.

Inscriptions: There’s a check-out card at the back, so it’s from a library, but I don’t know which. It isn’t stamped or otherwise written anywhere.

A Busy Year at the Old Squire’s (C.A. Stephens, 1922)

A continuation of When Life was Young. The kids are two years older, making the unnamed author fourteen; Addison and Theodora eighteen; and Halstead, Ellen, and Wealthy… two years older than whatever they were. Wealthy is the youngest, I think Halstead and Ellen are the same age as the author. Otherwise, it’s simply more recollections of the author’s youth at his grandfather’s farm in Maine after the Civil War. Notable stories include meeting Hannibal Hamlin on his senatorial campaign, where he gave a speech in a disused church infested with bees that eventually drove the listeners to make a hasty retreat. It ends with Addison buying a stand of what’s thought to be ordinary maple trees but what are actually valuable curly maples. It had been a lean year without much money to spare, but Addison’s windfall will pay for both his and Theodora’s admission to college.

Inscription: Ex libris of the Mantor Library at Farmington State College. The library is still called Mantor, but the school is now the University of Maine at Farmington. On the fore-edge is written “D.F. Brown”.