Maggie Lee (Charlotte M. Brame, 1870s?)

The last short story appended to Dora Thorne. Graham Thornton returns to Greystone Hall, his country estate. Maggie Lee, the orphaned niece of the village shopkeeper, pines for an education, but she’s forever being pulled out of school to mind the store. Thornton offers her the use of his library, which she readily accepts. Thornton and Maggie fall in love, but when it comes time to marry, he chooses a rich socialite for his bride. Heartbroken Maggie withers and dies and Thornton blames himself. His first born he names Maggie Lee, but it turns out the child is blind! Complete with italics and exclamation mark. I don’t entirely understand the moral there, other than that these short stories are too short for their own good and need a great deal more fleshing out.

The Answered Prayer (Charlotte M. Brame, 1870s?)

Another short story appended to Dora Thorne. Two friends, one marries for love (although it turns out her husband is a drunkard) and the other for money. Both have a child that lies dying. Money mom prays for her son’s life, love mom that God’s will be done. Love mom’s child dies, but her husband is so afflicted that he gives up drinking and joins a church. Money mom’s son grows up to be a sailor, leads an unsuccessful mutiny, and is hanged.

The Secret Panel (Charlotte M. Brame, 1870s?)

There are a few short stories appended to Dora Thorne. This is a very short Gothic horror set in a German castle. The Baron Waldrec’s wife disappeared nineteen years ago. Frederic Enstein stands to inherit almost all his fortune. Sir Rudolph angles to capture it by marrying his daughter Theresa to him. Slight hitch — he’s already engaged — but Euphemia disappears too. I haven’t mentioned that the castle is haunted, but it is, by the Spirit of the Hartz Mountains. The spirit turns out to be the baron’s wife, who Rudolph attempted to drown, but was rescued by a fortune teller. Also, she was pregnant and Euphemia is her daughter. The spirit is apparently a role one takes a vow to fulfill — the fortune teller was the previous spirit, then the baron’s wife became the spirit — and one has to maintain the vow until it’s necessary to disclose yourself to save a life. Rudolph had sealed Euphemia up in a hidden panel in the hall. All this happens in 20 pages.

Dora Thorne (Charlotte M. Brame, 1877)

Ronald, heir to Earlecourt, falls in love with the lodge keeper’s daughter, Dora. His father, Lord Earle, forbids him from marrying so far beneath his station, but he does it anyway. For this, he’s expelled from the house. Ronald and Dora move to Florence, where he intends on becoming a painter. Alone, they were happy enough, but when Ronald starts appearing more in society, he’s embarrassed by Dora’s rustic manners and Dora becomes jealous of his attention to Valentine Charteris — the woman his father had picked to be his bride. It comes to a head when Ronald, so scandalized by Dora’s behavior, abandons her and his two children.

Twins Lillian and Beatrice return to England with Dora to live with her parents. Sixteen years pass. When Lord Earle dies and Ronald inherits Earlecourt, he still refuses to see Dora, but calls for his children to join him there. While they lived in obscurity, Beatrice had met and fallen in love with a merchant sailor. She promised to marry him in two years when he returned from China. All that’s tossed aside when she enters society and the Earl of Airlie begins paying court to her. A November wedding is arranged, but that’s just when the sailor is due back.

Beatrice thought as little of Hugh as she might. She hoped he’d die at sea or that he’d found somebody new. She certainly didn’t dare tell anyone else for fear that she, too, would be cast out. Hugh returns, they meet in secret, there’s a scene. Hugh didn’t exactly drown her but he certainly didn’t prevent her from drowning. Before dying himself, he writes to Ronald confessing to everything. Ronald suddenly realizes that all of this was his fault and that, between him and Dora, he was the one who acted with the least honor for abandoning his family. He and Dora reconcile.

Inscription: Signed Vesta Day on the front flyleaf. She evidently liked this style of story — I’ve also got her copy of The Road to Understanding and its plot is very similar.

A Man in the Open (Roger Pocock, 1912)

I’m not entirely certain what to call this. It isn’t an epistolary novel. Rather, it takes the form of a rough draft of a memoir written by two different people over the course of several years. The chapters are presented chronologically, but they weren’t written so. There are jumps in the narrative, and confusing parts where you’re just dropped into the middle of a scene and have to muddle out what’s going on.

Jesse begins with a description of his early childhood in Labrador, which was very harsh. As a teenager, penniless and with both his parents dead, he makes the acquaintance of a man named Durham. Durham claims to be a fabulously wealthy nobleman. He’s neither, of course, but he leads naive Jesse out west to Arizona to be a cowboy and introduces him to alcohol. He also introduces him to Polly, a prostitute who marries him as a joke, but Jesse doesn’t understand that. When she tires of his jealousy, she fakes suicide and Jesse flees north to British Columbia.

Kate is an opera singer and is married to another opera singer who’s lost his voice. They’re in Canada for a rest cure, but far from being cured, Trevor has gone quite insane. He drowns while attempting to murder her. Jesse takes her in and the two fall in love. They’re married and have a son, David (the Biblical Jesse of course being David’s father — there’s a David and Goliath allegory running through the book, too).

Enter once more Durham, now calling himself Brooke. He’s a cattle rustler looking to hide his stolen herd at Jesse’s ranch, which he thought was abandoned. Exactly how it happened is confused, but the gang is caught and extradited back to the US. Brooke alone saves himself from the noose by turning state’s evidence against his compatriots. To revenge himself, he brings Polly back from the dead to break apart Jesse’s marriage.

Brooke effectively brings ruin to the entire community and Polly spirals into alcoholism. When the community rallies and begins pushing back against them, things turn violent. A fight breaks out. Polly is badly wounded but ultimately kills Brooke. Afterward, she shoots herself.

No inscriptions.

Camp Lenape on the Long Trail (Carl Saxon, 1935)

Instead of going to Wild Rose Camp as he has previous summers, Dirk Van Horn, son of a wealthy banker, is sent to the much humbler Camp Lenape. It will do him good to mix with other kids, his father believes. The adjustment period is difficult and he makes an enemy of Brick Ryan, one of his tent mates. The Long Trail is a sixty mile canoe and hiking trip to Mount Kinnecut. Along the way, Dirk and Ryan are kidnapped by a couple of outlaws looking for ransom. In the escape, Ryan is injured and Dirk has to carry him up the mountain to find the others, and so wins acceptance into Camp Lenape.

Inscriptions: In the right margin of page 159, someone’s drawn a skull and crossbones in blue marker.

The Canary Murder Case (S.S. Van Dine, 1927)

Broadway beauty Margaret “The Canary” Odell is found throttled to death and her apartment ransacked. Her four paramours were all near by at more or less the time of the murder, but the trouble is that the apartment building was locked from the inside. Can Philo Vance solve this seemingly impossible riddle?

Well, the book asserts it to be seemingly impossible. I didn’t have any problem seeing through it at once — it’s not exactly a puzzler. Nor did I have any trouble at all identifying the culprit. The hints dropped even at the character’s introduction are by no means subtle. I’ve read children’s mysteries that are more challenging.

Inscription: “Olive B Rippere, ’29” on the front flyleaf.

Locked Doors (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1914)

Miss Adams and Mr. Patton, the nurse and detective from The Buckled Bag, are on another case. The Reeds are behaving very strangely. They live in Beauregard Square, an exclusive neighborhood in the city. They’ve recently dismissed all their servants, ripped up the carpets, pulled the furniture away from the walls, and leave every light on around the clock. Their two boys are kept locked in the nursery on the second floor and Mr. and Mrs. Reed alternate in keeping a 24 hour watch at the head of the stairs. Mr. Reed needs someone to babysit the children, but they have to be a registered nurse.

The answer:

The Reeds were living far beyond their means. The bubonic plague is sweeping a European country. Mr. Reed is a bacteriologist and has been hired to find a cure. Several plague rats were kept in his basement lab, but they’ve escaped. Their strange behavior was a precaution against the plague rats or the fleas they carry reaching the children.

No inscriptions.

The Buckled Bag (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1914)

Claire, recently engaged to be married, has been missing from the March household for five weeks. Her mother has taken to bed, sick with worry. A detective, noticing the reticence shown when discussing specific details about the situation, enlists the help of the nurse hired to care for Mrs. March. People tell things to nurses they’d never tell anyone else.

Eventually, Claire reappears with a cock and bull story about being abducted and kept locked in an attic. While the story doesn’t hold water, she includes details that are too oddly specific to be fictional. Following these clues, the nurse traces down Claire’s actual hideout and learns that Claire is a cokehead. Wanting to get clean for her marriage, she voluntarily locked herself into a room while her friend slowly stepped down her cocaine dose until she was off it entirely. The mystery was really Claire trying to shield her fiance from her past drug use.

No inscriptions.