The Prince of Graustark (George Barr McCutcheon, 1914)

William W. Blithers is the richest man in the world. He’s accustomed to getting what he wants, and right now what he wants is to see his daughter a princess. Conveniently, the small eastern European country of Graustark is in a bad way financially and Prince Robin happens to be a bachelor. The ten million dollars spent to buy their debt is nothing to Blithers. What isn’t nothing is Maud’s opinions on the matter: she wants nothing to do with Robin and refuses even to meet him. Graustark, meanwhile, is dead set on their prince’s marriage to the princess of neighboring Dawsbergen.

Robin, traveling incognito as private citizen R. Schmidt, falls in love with a woman who travels under the equally assumed name B. Guile. His handlers know full well who Miss Guile must be and try everything in their power to separate them, but Robin has found his wife, even if it means abdicating the throne for her.

Delightful twist ending that’s not at all as expected, despite the chapter’s name.

Inscription: Signed Thurl W. Wilson on the front flyleaf. The ink wasn’t blotted, so the name’s mirrored on the endpaper as well.

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The Wolf Pack (Ridgwell Cullum, 1927)

An orphaned boy, called only by the nickname Wolf, is taken in by a cattle rustler and raised alongside his daughter in the Canadian northwest. Pideau has played his hand carefully but at last the police get on his track. The Wolf witnesses him kill two Mounties and Pideau knows it. Years later, after the two have partnered together in a bootlegging operation, Pideau sees his chance to rid himself of the danger the boy poses. The Wolf has come to love his daughter, Annette, but she has eyes only for Constable Sinclair. She’s pregnant and Sinclair has promised to marry her if she tells him where the still is. Pideau is waiting for Sinclair and shoots him dead. He sets it up so that Annette thinks the Wolf did it and that the Wolf thinks it was Annette.

Inscription: “Leo C. York, Canton, Me.” on the front endpaper.

East Lynne (Mrs. Henry Wood, 1861)

I’m condensing this as much as possible, but it’s a baroque plot, so brace yourselves:

Lady Isabel Vane’s father is an aristocrat, but one deeply in debt. He sells East Lynne, his country estate (and his only remaining property), to Archibald Carlyle, a prosperous lawyer. Given that the Vanes have nowhere else to go, they remain as Carlyle’s guest after the sale, but the lawyer isn’t imposed upon long — Isabel’s father soon dies of gout. Until then, she had no idea that they were penniless, or indeed that East Lynne no longer was theirs. She becomes the ward of her uncle, Earl Mount Severn — unhappily for her, as Lady Mount Severn hates her and treats her most cruelly. Carlyle is not ignorant of this, and seeing no other remedy, he asks Isabel to marry him.

Their marriage comes as a disappointment to Barbara Hare, who is in love with Carlyle and thought — not without good reason — that he loved her as well. The Hares are a somewhat disgraced family. Some years ago, Barbara’s brother Richard was involved in the death of George Hallijohn. Hallijohn was the father of his sometimes-girlfriend Afy. Richard disappeared and was convicted of Hallijohn’s murder in absentia. The marriage comes as a disappointment to Isabel, too. She’s in love with Lady Mount Severn’s cousin, Francis Levison, but Levison is a spendthrift dandy as broke as herself and couldn’t possibly marry her if he wanted to (and spoilers, he doesn’t want to — the man’s a rake).

Isabel is once again mistress of East Lynne — or would be if not for Cornelia, Carlyle’s domineering sister, who invites herself to live with the newlyweds. The opposite of Levison, Corny is a penny-pincher who strongly disapproves of Isabel for no other reason than that she believes her brother’s income can’t maintain a lady of such social standing (wrongly, in that Isabel in truth expects very little and is used to getting it). The Carlyle’s have two children, Archibald and Isabel junior.

Richard returns to see his mother. The visit must be in secret, as his father, Justice Hare, is convinced of his guilt and has vowed to turn him over to the police should he ever be found. Richard insists that he’s innocent and that a hitherto-unknown man, Captain Thorn, killed Hallijohn. Further, he claims that Afy — who disappeared at the same time as himself — didn’t runaway with him, as was suspected. Barbara believes her brother and begs Carlyle to take up his case, which he does.

Isabel has fallen ill and is sent to the Continent to recover. She again meets Francis Levison, who’s there for other reasons (dodging his many, many creditors). She thought she had gotten over Levison, but no, she has not. When Carlyle comes to visit, she entreats him to take her back to England — to avoid temptation, although she doesn’t say that. Unfortunately, Levison convinces Carlyle to secretly harbor him so that he can beg his father to bail him out without risk of being arrested, so even back at East Lynne, Isabel isn’t free of him.

Barbara meets covertly with Carlyle several times to discuss Richard, although Isabel doesn’t know that and Levison plants the suggestion her husband is having an affair. Jealousy festers until Isabel hits the breaking point and agrees to run away with Levison. She repents in France, after the truth of the situation becomes obvious, but the deed has been done and Carlyle has filed for divorce.

Levison abandons Isabel after his father dies and he inherits his wealth and title. Isabel, traveling under an assumed name, is injured in a trainwreck and believes she’s going to die. She writes to her uncle telling him so. Mount Severn writes to the French authorities, who — finding no Lady Isabel listed on the survivor list — confirms to him her death. Carlyle, who would not remarry while his first wife still lived, now marries Barbara.

Isabel didn’t die but she sees no reason not to embrace the death of that disgraced lady. She is now Madame Vine, gentlewoman governess. The Carlyles just so happen to be in need of a governess for their children Archibald and Lucy-nee-Isabel, and their new children, Arthur and Anne Barbara. Madame Vine, who always wears a hat, scarf, and sunglasses even inside, accepts the position. The disguise fools everyone but Joyce, the maid (and Afy’s sister), who is too shocked to reveal the secret and worried that her employers would suspect she was in on the conspiracy.

The M.P. for West Lynne (the town in which East Lynne is situated) has just died and Carlyle is nominated to replace him and enjoys the almost universal support of the electorate. Levison, who is in debt once more, is persuaded by the opposing party to run against Carlyle. Whyever he would is anyone’s guess, as he’s reviled by all and sundry for his scandalous ruining of Lady Isabel. There’s an even greater reason why he shouldn’t show his face in West Lynne, which becomes clear when several people who should know identify him not as Sir Francis Levison but as Captain Thorn.

Levison is arrested. Cutting a long story short, Richard was telling the truth. Levison as Thorn had also been courting Afy. In the heat of an argument with her father, he shot him dead and left Richard to take the blame. Richard, always a cowardly man, fled the scene. Afy, fooled by Levison’s lie, ran away with him. Levison is convicted and Richard is cleared of all charges.

Archibald (the child, not the father) gets tuberculosis and begins wasting away. Barbara, who I don’t know if I’ve sufficiently expressed isn’t a sympathetic character, cares little for her step-children, the grief of which is also hastening Madame Vine to her grave. Barbara is away on a beach vacation when Archibald dies. Madame Vine’s health declines quickly afterward. On her deathbed, she begs to see Carlyle and reveals to him her secret identity and confesses the mistake that she made in leaving him. Carlyle forgives her.

Inscriptions: None. This book is in absolutely pristine condition. It looks as clean and vibrant as it must have done when it rolled off the presses 108 years ago. It has never seen sunlight or known a humid day.

Between pages 138 and 139 is a typed sheet from the Houston Litho Club (since 1950) containing¬† a brief biography of the author and information about when and where the club meets (the Steak Country Buffet on I-10 in Antoine). There was also an index card that’s something like a card catalogue entry that was tucked in somewhere, but I’m not sure where as it fell out when I first opened the book.

The Invader (Margaret L. Woods, 1907)

Milly is a graduate student at Oxford. After a bout of overexertion and resulting insomnia, she submits to some amateur hypnosis. It gets her to sleep all right, but when she wakes, she’s an entirely different person. Milly was a mousy and studious woman while Mildred is a vivacious flirt. The two personalities fight for control of the body, each holding it for months at a time before the other wrests it away. Neither has more than a hazy recollection of the other’s affairs, and it’s those affairs that become the sticking point. Milly’s devoted to her husband Ian and son Tony. Mildred intends on abandoning them and running away with another man.

A very silly book made all the more so by how seriously it takes itself. That isn’t to say I didn’t like it — I enjoyed every page — but it is a silly book.

No inscriptions.

Buccaneer: James Stuart Blackton and the Birth of American Movies (Donald Dewey, 2016)

I don’t as a rule mention the nonfiction books I read here, but I have before and I might as well this time.

This is a biography of J. Stuart Blackton, one of the founders of the pioneering film studio Vitagraph. I should say, the larger part of the book is simply a history of Vitagraph — it spends as much time on Smith, Reader, and Rock as it does Blackton — but I’m not complaining. The focus does shift more to Blackton in the later part, after Warner Bros. takes over the studio and the once millionaire director descends rapidly into poverty, never losing his optimism or delusion that his fortunes are just about to turn.

The trouble with biographies of the Vitagraph founders is that Blackton and Smith were both, depending on your outlook, either tireless self-promoters or bald-faced liars. It’s difficult to untangle fact from fiction in their and their families’ personal versions of the past. This account doesn’t accept Blackton at face-value, but is less cynical than some and takes Blackton’s own words and Trimble’s memories of her father as being broadly speaking true.

Inscriptions: none, it’s brand new.

The Saint of the Speedway (Ridgwell Cullum, 1924)

Two Alaskan boys set out to Australia chasing a mythical river of gold that turns out to be real. There’s millions of dollars worth for the taking, but it’s far too big a project for them to handle themselves in their little boat. They charter a ship and Jim Cleaver, one of the Alaskans, leaves with its captain and crew and $500,000 in the hold, but on their first voyage, the ship is caught in a storm and sinks.

Back at home, Saint Claire Cleaver and her mother are left to fend for themselves, which Claire decides to do by becoming a professional gambler. She proves to be poker player without equal and regularly breaks the bank at the Speedway Casino in Beacon Glory, Alaska. Beacon Glory was a boom town back in the gold rush, but now it’s a disreputable hive of scum and villainy. Enter the Aurora Clan. The Clan, who are replete with white gowns and conical hoods, make it their mission to clean up the town. None knows the identify of their leader, known only as the Chief Light.

Enter now another mysterious individual, Cy Liskard. Liskard’s struck it rich somewhere up north and is banking his gold in Beacon Glory — a curious, red gold not at all like the sort typically found in Alaska. Hint, hint. He insults Claire at the casino and thus makes an enemy of her boyfriend, Ivor McLagan. Ivor only drops into town occasionally, being preoccupied with his oil work further up the coast. When he returns, he’s met with the singularly remarkable sight of an abandoned ship drifting toward the rocks. When it finally beaches, he examines the wreck. Not unlike the Mary Celeste, it seems to have been abandoned quickly and for no obvious reason. There’s also evidence that it’s name plate has been altered, and recently so.

You’ve in all likelihood solved the puzzle already, so we’ll skip to the end. Chief Light Ivor sees that Captain Julian Casper, alias Cy Liskard, is hanged for the murder of Jim Cleaver. The gold, or what remains of it, is returned to Jim’s partner. A massive oil deposit is discovered that will at once reverse the fortunes of Beacon Glory. Ivor and Claire marry.

(Edit:) Also, ghosts. It would be remiss of me to not mention that there are ghosts.

Inscriptions: On the front endpaper and flyleaf there are three-ish lines of curious asemic writing in navy blue wax crayon. It’s not a childish scribble, it’s quite deliberately done. On the flyleaf there are even some faint pencil markings that appear to be a rough draft.

The Story of a Play (W.D. Howells, 1898)

Maxwell, a newspaper reporter and an aspiring playwright, marries Louise. Louise is a wealthy woman in her own right and her family is fabulously so. Louise’s father so much as offers to buy the newspaper for Maxwell, but of course Maxwell would never accept such a gift. He’s built up a little nest egg and has decided to quit the paper and try his hand in the theatre. Louise is overjoyed — she, at least, is convinced of Maxwell’s genius. Perhaps she’s a bit too enamored. To her, Maxwell’s play is Maxwell’s alone, and she resents the intrusion of actors and directors and producers into the mix. She fails to see the collaborative nature of the theatrical business, and she fails to see that it even is a business —¬† a play may be a great work of art, but if fails to sell tickets, nobody is going to stage it. Add to that the irrational jealousy Louise develops over the female lead and you begin to imagine that Louise, as tireless and enthusiastic a champion for her husband’s work as she is, isn’t exactly helping.

Inscription: a plate pasted on the inside front cover reads “Limerick Public Library, no. 1254”. Open on Saturdays, 2 to 9 pm. Two cents per week late fee.