The Threshold (Marjorie Benton Cooke, 1918)

Having grown up in a factory town in a household of factory workers, Joan strives to get into college and do something to improve the laboring class’s lot. After graduating and in need of work, an employment agency sets her up as a sort of governess for seventeen years old Dick Norton, nephew of Gregory Farwell, owner of the Farwell cotton mill. Joan is up-front about who she is and what she intends to do, but Dick clicks with her at once and Farwell takes her anyway.

It’s not that Farwell is an evil capitalist — he’s an absentee one. He has no knowledge of his mill or his employees and desires none. His superintendents can care for that. He would rather cloister himself in Farwell Hall and forget the outside world exists. Joan, who is also to be Dick’s tutor, promises not to indoctrinate him, but she hopes that when he finally opens his eyes, he’ll come to socialism on his own.

That doesn’t take very long. Dick is a bright boy and a quick learner — no one knew simply because he’d been idle all his life. If the mill is to be his when he turns 21, he reasons he should know something about it and he takes an entry-level carding job. After not many weeks he and his new pal Patsy Rafferty, who grew up in the mill, decide to organize a labor union. Scabs are brought in and the militia called to break through the strikers. Dick sees them firing on unarmed protestors, including Patsy’s young brother. Wild with rage, he burns down the mill.

As Joan warned Gregory, if he didn’t go to the mill, the mill would come to him. Dick is indicted for arson, but Gregory manages to have the charges dropped. He also allows Dick free reign in the rebuilding effort. He, Joan, and Patsy intend to make a model, co-operative mill town and begin laying the foundations for it, employing all those now out of work for its construction. It might bankrupt Dick, but he thinks it’s a risk worth taking. Gregory, who’s come to love this governess who’s upset his entire world, asks Joan to marry him. She agrees so long as he understands that she may be gone weeks or months at a time organizing the downtrodden in towns across the nation.

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The Wire Gang (Frank L. Packard, 1918)

The Wire Gang are a criminal outfit in the southwest with the gimmick of sending each other coded messages over the railroad’s telegraph lines. They keep getting beaten to the punch, however, by the Hawk, who has deciphered their code and manages to steal the money/gold/jewels before them. Though the Wire Gang would like to see him dead, the press and local police assume the Hawk must be the Wire Gang’s chief. But the Hawk is actually an undercover Secret Service agent. Oh no, I spoiled it. You know, I’ve read a number of Packard’s crime-action novels and they are pretty samey, but this one felt really by the numbers.

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The Clutch of Circumstance (Marjorie Benton Cooke, 1918)

Roberta is an American woman of German ancestry who marries Sir Ashton Trask, a member of the British War Office. Bobs doesn’t dislike Ashton, but he certainly loves her a great deal more than she does him. She’s openly flirtatious with a number of other men, one of them being Captain O’Toole. O’Toole is ostensibly in the British Army, but in secret he hopes to win his Irish homeland’s independence by collaborating with the Germans. With Roberta’s allegiance already torn between Germany, England, and America, it isn’t a difficult task for O’Toole to use her to get at Ashton’s war plans. They are, at last, discovered and arrested. Both are sentenced to death, but while O’Toole faces the firing squad, Roberta is spared that public humiliation on the condition that she kill herself. Bobs takes her punishment with remarkable calm, finding in it relief from the uncertainty of which side she should back, and in her final few days, she comes to realize how much she actually does love her husband.

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Film Folk (Rob Wagner, 1918)

I’m uncertain whether to call this book fiction or nonfiction. It’s a collection of anecdotes about filmmaking in the silent era written in narrative form from the perspective of a star, an extra, a director, a writer, and a publicist. The names and places are admittedly fictionalized, but often only just. It takes very little to connect the book’s “Jackson X. Kerriman” to the real Jack W. Kerrigan, for example. The studios as well — there are fairly transparent references to shooting jungle adventures at Selig or slapstick comedies at Keystone. I imagine the stories are punched-up, so to speak, and reimagined as though they were all coming from the same source, but that they’re ultimately based in somebody’s real experiences.

Inscription: Pasted on the inside front cover is a plate that reads “Brainerd Memorial Library, Haddam, Connecticut, No. 114, July 17, 1918”. Beneath it is carefully written “In memory of Martha E. Brainerd”.