Lights Up (Grace S. Richmond, 1927)

Joan, an artsy country girl, and Margaret, a New York socialite, are both in love with Lane, a drama critic. Margaret thought she was making good headway with him, but he withdrew from her when it became obvious just how vapid and devoid of any ambition she is. Joan’s friend has written a new play, the lead character of which suits Margaret to a T. He’s going to premiere it in a barn locally, with Lane in attendance. He insists that Margaret take the part against all her protests. She studies diligently and tries her very best, but she simply can’t do it. She suffers a nervous breakdown and Joan has to fill in for her. Lane, however, is duly impressed by her efforts and his love is rekindled. The two marry.

Inscriptions: on the front flyleaf, “‘Tartie’ — Christmas 1927”

The Days of Auld Lang Syne (Ian MacLaren, 1895)

A collection of short stories and a couple novellas or at least novelettes about Drumtochty, a small village in Scotland, and the people who inhabit it. All the ads in the back of the book are for religious literature, so I figured with would have a Christian bend, but no, not really. The stories don’t have much of point at all.

The second story is the longest and most fleshed-out. Burnbrae’s family has rented their farm in Drumtochty from Lord Kilspindie for centuries. Kilspindie is away and the new “factor” (something like a property manager), a city man from England, has a notion to forestall any factional trouble by renting only to those belonging to the Auld Kirk — the established religion. Burnbrae is a Free Kirk man — a dissenter. His lease is not renewed. When the estate is auctioned off, all the village comes together to bid generously and give Burnbrae a tidy parting gift. Meanwhile, Kilspindie returns after being told of what’s happened by the preachers of both the Auld and Free Kirks, neither of whom want to see Burnbrae expelled. The factor is overridden and Burnbrae’s lease is renewed. The villagers return the items without asking for their money back.

That’s about as churchy as it gets. The other stories mostly involve the elderly townsfolk dying and the other, equally elderly townsfolk remembering them. The stories are not in chronological order, so people die and resurrect frequently as you read.

Inscriptions: on the front flyleaf, “Melvin Sheaburne Hotchins, Eastport, 1935”. I have to say, I adore the handwriting. It’s not quite cursive and not quite print, but it’s marvelously distinctive. Later owned by Dorothea Flagg, who lived in a dumpy house on Parkview Avenue in Bangor. Perhaps it looked better in the past, but I can hardly imagine so.

Molly’s Baby, a Little Heroine of the Sea (C.A. Stephens, 1924)

This is the last book of the Old Squire series, although I don’t really agree that it belongs with the other three at all. The book is in several parts and was plainly serialized when first published as each part begins with a lengthy recap of those that came before. Only the first involves the Old Squire’s family in any meaningful way.

Grandmother Ruth’s half-brother Africa Dresser has just died. There are… issues with that branch of the family that the Old Squire would rather not get involved in, but for appearance’s sake someone has to go to the funeral. Someone is Theodora and her younger cousin, the narrator. Africa, a rather wealthy man, had three brothers who only sought him out when they needed money. He was cared for in his declining years by young Molly Totherly, and as a consequence, he had willed all his estate to her. The brothers, particularly Ethan, don’t care for this arrangement and try to strong-arm Molly into giving up the will into their keeping. Molly escapes to the Old Squire’s, Ethan continues to menace, but eventually the will reaches a lawyer and Molly inherits.

Molly grows up and marries a sea captain. On a whaling expedition in the arctic, she and her husband are killed by Eskimo raiders, but their young daughter is taken by one of the Eskimo women. Addison sets off north to find little Molly. After many months, he does locate the tribe that have taken her, and by a clever ruse, absconds with the toddler. Grandmother hopes to raise Molly herself, but nearer relatives on the west coast claim her.

Little Molly grows up, goes on a whaling expedition to the arctic, gets iced in, and threatened by hostile Eskimos. They hold off the Eskimos until spring, when the ice begins to break. The captain is incapacitated and Molly skippers the ship herself, although the compass is broken and rather than landing in San Fransisco, they land in Honolulu, where they decide to remain.

That only took about two hundred pages, so the last part is a wholly different story about Julia Sylvester. Her good for nothing father, Rufus Sylvester, was a neighbor of the Old Squire’s, and it was all Julia could do to raise enough money on her own to prevent the farm from being foreclosed on for one more year. When Rufus remarries, his new wife blames Julia for the sorry state of the place and Julia decides to leave and find work in Boston.

Asa Mercer, of Washington Territory, is in New England on an unusual mission. After the civil war, there are many more woman in the northeast than there are men. Conversely, the northwestern frontier is ten to one men. He wants five hundred female volunteers to sail with him to Washington, where he promises they’ll find very good employment. Julia signs up to be one of “Mercer’s maidens”. Various incidents follow, but Julia arrives in Seattle, finds work as a gardener, and marries a reporter-turned-politician.

Inscriptions: on the front fly leaf: “To Molly / ‘Mom’ / from one of / ‘Molly’s Baby’ / John”.

The Mystery of the Sycamore (Carolyn Wells, 1923)

Curtis Keefe is the private secretary of Samuel Appleby, former governor of Massachusetts. Sam wants to see his son, Sam Jr., elected, but he doesn’t have enough support among the electorate to win. If he could only get Dan Wheeler to cross the aisle and throw in his support, Junior would be a shoo-in. Dan would never do that, of course. He is conscientious above all else and does not agree with Sam’s party’s platform. Sam thinks he can force Dan’s hand, though. When he was governor some fifteen years ago, he pardoned Dan for forgery (a crime Dan vehemently claims he was framed for committing) on the condition that he leave Massachusetts. Dan’s wife, meanwhile, has inherited their estate of Sycamore Ridge on condition that she reside in Massachusetts. The estate is largely in Massachusetts but partially in Connecticut. Dan stays on the south side, Sara on the north. It’s a sometimes awkward arrangement, but a working one. Sam has discovered that there was a closer heir, however, and if that heir knew, then the Wheelers would have to leave Sycamore Ridge.

Sam confronts Dan. Sam is shot dead. Dan confesses to the crime, and so does wife Sara, and daughter Maida. Maida’s fiancé, Jeff, claims to be the gunman as well. They can’t all have done it, so which one did? The police detectives determine the Wheelers are all covering for one another and so it must be one of them that’s guilty, but they can’t get any further than that. Private detective Fleming Stone is called in to solve the mystery.

Keefe was the heir, which he learned by examining the genealogical records Sam left around. He also has ambitions for the governorship, with a strategy largely gleaned from Sam’s playbook. Keefe killed him, resulting in Junior dropping out of the race. Keefe then attempted to blackmail Maida into marriage or else he would evict her parents from Sycamore Ridge.

No inscriptions.

The Black Tulip (Alexandre Dumas, 1850)

Cornelis de Witt is wrongly believed to have conspired with France in their invasion of Holland. He’s arrested, tortured, and sentenced to exile. His brother, John de Witt, comes to take him away. A mob forms outside of the prison incensed that the “villains” are getting away so lightly. They seize the de Witts, murder them, tear them apart, and cannibalize the corpses. Thus ends the historical content, now we enter the fictional material:

Cornelis gave a parcel of documents to his godson, Cornelius van Baerle. The documents contains letters from M. de Louvois, which — in the current political climate — could prove deadly to him. Before his assassination, he writes to his godson to burn the letters without reading them or even opening the parcel.

Cornelius van Baerle has no interest whatever in politics — he’s devoted himself solely to growing tulips, which he’s readily able to do, having been left an enormous fortune by his father. His neighbor, Isaac Boxtel, is also a tulip-fancier, but one of much more limited means. Boxtel’s jealousy becomes all-consuming and he neglects his own flower beds and lets his bulbs die in order to spy on Cornelius and plot his ruin. A prize of 100,000 florins is being offered to whomever successfully breeds a black tulip. Cornelius is hard at work hybridizing various species to create it. Boxtel watches intently through his telescope. Cornelius just has time to divide the black tulip bulb when the soldiers come to arrest him. Boxtel — who informed them of the likely seditious material in Cornelius’s keeping — waits until they’re gone to break in and make a search of the drying room, but Cornelius has taken the three divided bulbs with him wrapped in the only paper at hand: his godfather’s letter, which he hadn’t time to read.

Cornelius is sentenced to life in prison and the jailer’s daughter, Rosa, falls in love with him at first sight. One of the three bulbs is destroyed. The second he gives to Rosa and coaches her how to grow it. The third he also gives her, still wrapped in the letter, to hide somewhere it won’t be found. Boxtel continues to watch as the tulip sprouts and finally blooms, revealing a perfectly black flower. He breaks into Rosa’s room, where she’s growing the plant in a pot, snatches it, and rushes to Haarlem to claim the prize. Rosa arrives just hours later. Possession being nine-tenths of the law, at first Rosa’s claim is dismissed, but then she produces the third bulb and, more interesting, the paper wrapping it, which clears Cornelius of the crime he’s been imprisoned for.

Cornelius is freed and brought to Haarlem for the flower festival. On seeing him, Boxtel’s jealous fury overcomes him and he collapses dead on the pavement. Cornelius and Rosa are awarded the prize and the two marry.

Inscriptions: from the Skowhegan Free Public Library, shelf D89.8. Acquired December 7th, 1921 and last checked out February 14th, 1993.

The House of the Seven Gables (Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1851)

Clifford Pyncheon , released from prison, moves into Seven Gables, a mansion haunted since the 17th century when the land was stolen from Matthew Maule, a purported witch. Judge Pyncheon, a descendant of the man who built Seven Gables, believes that hidden somewhere in the house is a royal land grant to Waldo county in Maine and that Clifford knows where it is. That such a grant would long, long ago have been voided is no matter — it’s the Judge’s idée fixe. Before the Judge can threaten Clifford with an insanity hearing, he suddenly dies — perhaps at the unearthly hand of Matthew Maule.

Inscription: Plate pasted on tront end paper showing a woman standing on a balcony, a book in hand. Beneath it is printed “My Book”, and below that, it’s signed “Madeline E. Dyer”.

The Valley of Voices (George Marsh, 1924)

Almost the exact same book as Under Frozen Stars. Seems like George only had one story in him, but like Peter Kyne, he was determined to get some mileage out of it.

Inscription: On the flyleaf, “Arlene McCleary, Farmington, Maine”. That’s my home town, but I don’t know any McClearies. I know the Knowlton-McCleary building on Church Street.



I couldn’t get past the fact that I’ve lived in Farmington for 37 years and never encountered a McCleary before. I found Arlene in the 1925 edition of Effesseness, the yearbook published by the Farmington State Normal School (now the University of Maine at Farmington, of which I am also an alumnus):

Arlene “Mineva” McCleary, of Strong.
Strong High School, C.A. Member, Regular.

This charming young lady is our dear classmate. Arlene, who always gets 1’s and is afraid she won’t pass. She lives on a farm in Strong and we have an idea she likes there (sic), too. Try to keep her in Farmington some week-end and see. She is very studious and her favorite studies are Arithmetic and Storytelling??? Ask her about it. Arlene is a very charming girl and we are sure her pupils will like her.

The Ballad of the Hundred Days (Joseph Roth, 1935)

An historical fiction about the Hundred Days War and the final defeat and exile of Napoleon. Interwoven is the story of Angelina Pietri, a palace servant in love with the emperor. She becomes pregnant with a soldier and her son eventually becomes a solider himself who’s killed at Waterloo.

Inscription: A plate pasted on the front end paper depicting a set of scales in front of a bookcase on which is printed “Ralph M. Smith”.