Mistress Wilding (Rafael Sabatini, 1910)

An historical fiction set during the Monmouth Rebellion. Anthony Wilding is a conspirator to oust the Catholic King James II for the Protestant Duke of Monmouth. He’s in love with Ruth Westmacott, though she does not care a fig for him. Her brother Richard insults him and he challenges him to a duel. Sir Rowland Blake is deep in debt and covets Ruth’s fortune. Diana, Ruth’s cousin, loves Blake and wants to see Ruth safely out of the way. She pushes her to marry Wilding in exchange for his forgiving Richard, which she does.

Monmouth arrives a year earlier than planned. He relies on the advice of Lord Grey, who is either thoroughly incompetent or secretly a saboteur. Neither Wilding nor the other conspirators have had time to sway the aristocrats with control of the militia to the cause, so they’re reduced to relying on the untrained rabble. Blake schemes to assassinate Monmouth and brags about it to Ruth — who he’s still trying to woo, despite her being married. Wilding would be caught in the same trap. To spare him as he spared Richard, she warns Wilding of the plot and he thwarts it. Enraged, Blake has Ruth arrested. Wilding outs himself to save her life and is, himself, condemned to death, but in the confusion of battle, he escapes. The rebellion is crushed. Wilding uses some documents implicating a high minister to have himself retroactively declared a spy for the King’s army in Monmouth’s camp — lifting the death sentence from his head. He and Ruth are united.

Inscriptions: Signed Bertha E. Shielock on the front flyleaf.

The Ramrodders (Holman Day, 1910)

“Duke” Thelismer Thornton is a long-serving Republican state representative from Fort Canibas. The book carefully avoids ever mentioning the state, but it’s plainly Maine. It references several real towns and prominent political figures of the past like James Blaine, and it’s about the controversial “Maine law” — i.e., prohibition of alcohol, which Maine passed several years before it became a national platform. The fictional Fort Canibas is an amalgam of several predominately French-speaking towns in northern Maine, but mostly Fort Kent. Anyway, after decades of service (and enriching himself not at a little from it), the Duke is ready to retire and want to see his grandson, Harlan, elected in his place. His choice for governor is General Waymouth. He had already been governor once, but now in his old age, has withdrawn from public life, disgusted at the farce of it all.

After some persuasion, the Duke gets Waymouth to throw in his hat and select Harlan as his personal aide. But Waymouth, it seems, is no longer willing to play the game. He won’t publicly denounce alcohol while privately collecting kickbacks from rum-runners and protection money from speakeasies. To the horror of the Duke and the rest of the Republican political machine, Waymouth intends to run an honest campaign. They can’t revoke his candidacy because he threatens to run as an independent, so even if he did lose, the Republican party would split and give the election to the Democrats.

Waymouth is elected and prohibition is enforced. And… it does not go well. It turns out that even the “ramrodders” (the prohibition lobbyists) were more enamored by the idea than they were the practice. Waymouth isn’t disappointed. He had no personal objection to the use of alcohol. He merely wanted to see that the laws as they stood were enforced, and if the people didn’t like those laws, they should get rid of them; and if the people found their representatives corrupt and profiting off the selective enforcement of the law, they should get rid of them, too.

Inscription: on the flyleaf, “Annie R. Smith, 1910, filed under Maine Politics”. Annie must have run an organized library. Lovely shape, too. I’ve got a few Holman Day books that are all pretty beat up, except this one. Well taken care of.

The Window at the White Cat (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1910)

Allan Fleming, state treasurer, goes into hiding. By all accounts, he was a thoroughly corrupt man and he had many enemies. After more than a week’s absence, his daughter Margery visits a lawyer in the hope that he’ll find him. Fleming is found at the White Cat, an exclusive political clubhouse — or rather, his body is found, with a bullet lodged in his skull. The police rule it a suicide. Margery’s fiance Wardrop was Fleming’s private secretary and he knows it was murder. Wardrop is in neck-deep in his boss’s underhanded dealings. Shortly before the shooting, he was robbed of more than a hundred thousand dollars and several incriminating documents. Meanwhile, Fleming’s elderly sister-in-law disappears without a trace. There are few clues but a number that no one seems to recognize but that seems to crop up at every turn: 1122.

Inscription: on the front endpaper, “If you wish to sew my hair, look on page 59 + 401 – Gladys Shaw”. I haven’t the faintest notion what that means. There’s nothing remarkable on page 59 and there is no page 401. I don’t get you, Gladys.

Westover of Wanalah (George Cary Eggleston, 1910)

In Virginia, in the 1850s, Boyd Westover falls in love with his neighbor, Margaret Conway. They’re engaged to be married when Boyd is caught up in scandal — he’s accused of breaking into a girls’ finishing school in Richmond. It was a case of mistaken identity and the matter is cleared up when the real culprit is apprehended, but it only marks the beginning of Boyd’s troubles.

Margaret’s father, Colonel Conway, has known Boyd all his life and couldn’t approve of him more. Of course, he knows the accusation is baseless and thinks nothing of it. Aunt Betty, however, is altogether a more conservative woman. She already disapproves of Boyd for his having the nerve to propose to Betty at his own home and not at her father’s, as convention demands. Boyd is bared from leaving the city pending trial and depends on the mails to keep in touch with his fiancee. Aunt Betty, seeing a way to sully the young man’s reputation, waylays Boyd’s letters to Margaret and ensures that Margaret’s are never sent.

The Colonel can’t understand Boyd’s silence and it puts a barrier between them after Boyd returns home, nor can Boyd understand why Margaret hasn’t replied to him, and southern notions of pride and convention forbid either from asking for an explanation. It takes the arrival of Millicent, Margaret’s friend, to break the stalemate. Millicent, a Boston native, is visiting the south for the first time. There are many things about Virginia she likes, but the poisons of pride and convention are not among them. With only a few words spoken in confidence to the interested parties, all of Aunt Betty’s scheming is undone.

Inscriptions: on the front flyleaf, “Nina G. Sanborn, Wilton, Maine, November 8th, 1912”. Directly below that, “Elaine E Holmes, Wilton, Maine, August, 1913”. Nina’s hand is neat enough, but Elaine’s is obviously very studied and practiced. I should not be surprised if she were a businesswoman.

Red Pepper Burns (Grace S. Richmond, 1910)

R.P. Burns, M.D., is a surgeon evidently of some note who drives a fast, sporty car. He adopts a boy from one of his deceased patients, he falls in love with a woman, she travels south for the winter and he breaks his arm in a car accident, then he marries the woman.

Red Pepper Burns was a weirdly disjointed little tale. It’s as if Grace Richmond wrote the book, realized it was only 150 pages, then inserted several more chapters vaguely related to the narrative to pad it out to novel length. The adopted boy, who I expected would become central to the romance plot, all but disappears straight after his introduction, and for the life of me I can’t figure what purpose the character served.

When I picked it up, I was looking for a light and charming read like Round the Corner in Gay Street. Red Pepper Burns was light enough, but it confused me more than it charmed.

The Mistress of Shenstone (Florence L. Barclay, 1910)

Lady Myra Ingleby’s husband has recently been killed in the war. He wasn’t a casualty of battle — his death was an accident. Lord Ingleby had been placing a bomb and the man at the plunger set it off before Ingleby got away. For the sake of his promising military career, the name of this other man is hushed up.

Myra takes the news rather well at first, but the stress eventually leads her to a nervous breakdown. Her doctor prescribes a vacation to someplace where she knows nobody and nobody knows her. She checks-in to a simple hotel in a small Cornish town under her maid’s name. There, she meets a “cosmopolitan cowboy” named Jim Airth. After a couple weeks, the two are engaged, but Myra puts off revealing who she really is until her stay is over and she returns to Shenstone.

It turns out that Jim Airth’s identity was somewhat assumed as well. He’s actually James, the Earl of Airth and Monteith. Jim was also at the hotel escaping from his past — he was the one who accidentally killed Lord Ingleby.

Something of a sequel to The Rosary, I understand, although I’ve never read that and can’t offer any comment on it.

The Sapphire Bracelet (Edward Salisbury Field, 1910)

A young woman is staying at a resort hotel in New Jersey with her aunt. The place is no longer fashionable and she finds it rather dull. A young man appears, and for no other reason than to amuse herself, the woman concocts the story that a sapphire bracelet had been stolen from her room and that she was glad the detective had arrived so quickly. He, for no other reason besides having immediately fallen in love with her, plays along. The woman goes home and thinks nothing more of the event until a package arrives at her door containing a sapphire bracelet. She then must find a way to return the bracelet to its actual owner, who she’s sure is the disreputable woman with dyed hair she saw at the hotel, and get back at the man who got her into this situation — a man that, try as she might to hate, she’s also beginning to fall in love with.

The Depot Master (Joseph C. Lincoln, 1910)

I’m tempted to say this is a book with characters and no plot, but that isn’t entirely true. There is a slight through-line, involving a soon to be homeless widow and her once upon a time fiance who goes to extraordinary means to win her back, but altogether, than might be eight or ten pages out of the book. The greater part is simply a look at a small Cape Cod town and the people who inhabit it, and the colorful stories they tell each other of sometimes questionable veracity.