“An Idyl of the Maine Coast” is the subtitle of this slim novella of eighty-some pages. Caleb Mathews is a fisherman on Crewaggen Island. There, he also keeps the general store and post office. He simultaneously hates the summer colony who infest the island when the weather is fine and loves to hear the young people of it as they laugh and enjoy themselves. This paradox extends to the art that hangs on his walls. The Elder is a friends of Caleb’s. He’s a preacher in New York but leads a summer service on the island. The art in question are prints of Millet works, depicting peasants farming. The Elder is surprised that an old mariner would be interested in such things, but Caleb proves himself to be a natural philosopher: Work is work, he says, whether it’s pulling up lobsters or pulling up potatoes. Work is hard, but not working is harder. Your work alone is not enough to guarantee success, as so much depends on others and to forces beyond all control. The Elder, humbled by the wisdom in Caleb’s illiterate speech, decides to write a sermon on it.
I don’t know anything about this Robert W. McLaughlin. I could find reference to another book or two he’d written, but nothing about the man himself. There are things about him, though, that make me doubt his bona fides. There are several minor issues of vocabulary, but two stuck out to me like sore thumbs:
The first is that he calls a seasonal house to which one takes a rustic or semi-rustic vacation “a cottage”. That is a camp. Now, in New Brunswick I have heard camps marketed to wealthy Torontonians termed “cottages” for their benefit while natives get by in their native camps, but I have never heard such pandering done in Maine. It is very, very common for wealthy New Yorkers to have a camp in Maine, but no matter how lavish or well-appointed the camp is, it is and always will be a camp.
I could overlook that, seeing is that it’s the out-of-stater who uses the word (or “the man from away”, if I were to use real Maine nomenclature). Caleb never calls the houses anything. I can’t overlook “lobster pot”, a term both of them use on multiple occasions. Nobody calls them that; they’re lobster traps, or simply traps. Caleb would never refer to his “pots”.
No inscriptions. A very clean, apparently first edition.
Rhoda married Perris because he had a farm and £500. Two years later and the money’s gone and they’re days from eviction. Rhoda appeals to Taffendale, a prosperous large farmer and lime quarry owner. He lends Rhoda the money to make their rent and to improve the farm with the understanding that he’s loaning it to her, not to Perris. Perris isn’t a bad worker, but he needs a heavy-handed boss or else he’ll go to rack and ruin. With Rhoda at the helm, the farm does turn around and becomes profitable. Trouble is, she and Taffendale have fallen in love. A former laborer on their farm with an axe to grind tells Perris one evening. I’m unclear what the goal was, but he winds up throttled to death at the bottom of a disused well. Not many days later, Perris liquidates all he can and vanishes.
Rumors mount in the small village. The general consensus is that Rhoda killed Perris so that she might marry Taffendale (the absence of a body notwithstanding) and the laborer as well (his body is found). It reaches the point that a warrant for Rhoda’s arrest is issued but she doesn’t reach the station before Perris himself puts in an appearance. He’d left for London with the vague idea that abandonment was the same as divorce and that Rhoda and Taffendale would have married — he was under no illusion that she loved him. Not much of a reader, he’d heard nothing of her being accused of multiple murders, but now he’s come to confess his guilt.
He refuses a trial and things seemed rather resolved when, the day before he’s about to be hanged, his sentence is commuted. He’ll be many years in prison, but he’s young yet and will get out. Taffendale knows that all is lost for him and that Rhoda will wait for Perris.
Mrs. Pitman’s boarding house is flooded out and the downstairs residents must pack into the upper rooms. Among them are Ladley and his wife Jennie Brice, an actress. The first night of the flood, Jennie vanishes and the evidence against Ladley starts to mount. Is it a publicity stunt, or is a publicity stunt a great mask for a murderer to hide behind?
Inscription: “Papa, from Lizzie” on the front flyleaf.
Mostyn is an investment banker in Atlanta — one not known for being terribly scrupulous, either in his financial or personal dealings. After an illness, he takes a vacation to a farm in the country to recover. There, he falls in love with a young school teacher, Dolly Drake, and fully intends to marry her, but on his return to the city, he’s persuaded to instead marry wealthy socialite Irene Mitchell. He doesn’t love Irene, nor does she love him — her beau is Andrew Buckton, but Buckton is much too poor in her father’s estimation. They have a child together, little Dick, but it does nothing to improve their relationship, and indeed, Dick’s mother has next to no interaction with him. Eventually, Irene abandons them and runs away with Buckton. Dick has appendicitis that is ignored too long. By the time a doctor is called, peritonitis has set in and the boy dies. Irene was already addicted to morphine. When she learns of her son’s death, she overdoses and kills herself. Mostyn returns to Dolly, who forcefully rejects him. He flees to start a new life in California.
Inscription: Stamped “L.H. Buck” on the front endpaper and flyleaf.
This is a sequel to Red Pepper Burns, which I have to say I didn’t much like, but this book was considerably better. It follows one coherent story rather than a long series of barely connected events.
Dr. John Leaver, an old friend and colleague of Dr. Red Burns, has overworked himself and experiences a burn-out he’s sure he’ll never recover from. Red knows better and helps him back on his feet. Meanwhile, Charlotte Ruston finds her way to town. She was from old money, but that money’s now long gone and she hopes to establish herself as a photographer to support her grandmother. Charlotte and John had been engaged in the past, but after his burn-out, John thought the marriage impossible, and after Charlotte’s going broke, she thought likewise. The romance rekindles, particularly after Granny’s death, and by the end, the two are wed.
Inscription: Two or three names were penciled in on the front flyfleaf, but they’ve been erased well. The name at the top of the page I’m reasonably sure is Diane Fenweld. In the center, I think there are two overlapping signatures. One of them is Gail R-something. The other, I can make out a J and what might be an L, but nothing else.