At the Sign of the Jack o’ Lantern (Myrtle Reed, 1905)

Dorothy and Harlan Carr, newlyweds, have just inherited Harlan’s uncle’s estate. He can’t imagine why, as he’d never even met Ebenezer Judson before. With a place to live and nearly $400 in savings, Harlan quits his reporter job to follow his dream of becoming a novelist. It’s a massive, rambling place, with an uncountable number of beds and cribs, but it should provide a quiet place for Harlan to write his book.

Then the guests begin to arrive. Ebenezer — or, more correctly, his wife Rebecca, who died while they were still newlyweds themselves — had an unending number of relatives, however distant or fictional the connections might be. The guests began inviting themselves after Rebecca’s death, usually staying from spring to autumn, more or less pointedly asserting their claim on Ebenezer and the expectation that they’ll be remembered in his will. Ebenezer’s death has done nothing to stem the flow.

To be fair, none of them knew Ebenezer was dead. None of them are exactly grieving, either. That they weren’t explicitly mentioned in the will comes as no surprise; that wasn’t Ebenezer’s way. They expect to find their recompense hidden somewhere only they’d find. Eventually, they do find the box buried in the orchard containing $2.68, to be divided such that everyone gets more or less eight cents a piece.

After the hopefully final departure of the guests, Harlan’s book is finished, and even if it’s no good (it’s terrible — we get frequent excerpts as he writes), the Carrs are set. They learn that, in addition to the estate itself, they also take Ebenezer’s 2,000 acre farm and $10,000 in ready cash. Of his many, many relations, Ebenezer wrote, Harlan was the best one.

Inscriptions: Signed L.E. Peary in what l looks to be felt-tipped marker in an elaborate script on the flyleaf. L.E. Peary is also penciled on the end paper in a more conventional hand that I could actually read.

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