If Haps and Mishaps is adjacent to the Old Squire series, Stories of My Home Folks is the prequel. Only the first chapter is original content, you might say, although I don’t think any of the rest had been published before.
C.A. Stephens begins by describing when he first started writing for The Youth Companion, a Boston-based family-friendly literary magazine. He traveled extensively to write location stories and spoke to many readers to find out what resonated with them. While the adults understood the concept of fiction and enjoyed it, the kids mostly didn’t, and when they learned that the stories weren’t true, they soured on them. His editor pondered on this. Real-life stories are often mundane or only of interest to those that were there, but someone with a strong hand for writing fiction might spin a tale based on reality in a way that’s still interesting to read. Knowing Stephens’s background growing up on his grandfather’s farm in Maine, he suggested he try to write something based on that.
The remainder of the book is just that — several proof of concept short stories that would serve as the prototype for the Old Squire series that would come out decades later. The content is similar — and, indeed, some stories overlaps with those in the series proper — but a great deal less polished than the Old Squire books.
Inscription: “Cordial greetings to all my kind friends of The Youth Companion C.A. Stephens” on the front flyleaf.
An aspiring Midwestern actress finally catches a break and gets a role on Broadway. In truth, Sharlie got the part because the producers had put up quite too much with Isotta Kublay and they needed a redheaded replacement in a hurry. The star of the show is Alexis Orso, a major name in show business despite being completely and utterly helpless without his long-suffering wife Alice. Kublay seeks revenge by framing an affair between Sharlie and Alexis.
Inscriptions: stamped in numerous places that it’s from the Dexter Town Library, Dexter, Maine.
Gaybrook Harbor is divided by a bridge, with the old money types in their mansions on the Park side, and a Bohemian artist colony in their bungalows on the Garden side. They share basic services and everyone belongs to the same country club, but otherwise, there’s little interaction between them.
In one of those bungalows lives Perry and Myra Heath along with their guests Bunny Moore and Larry Inman. Larry is a distant cousin of Myra and the only heir to her considerable wealth. The two are also having an affair as everyone knows. One morning, Myra is discovered dead on the floor of the studio, her face caked in make-up (she never wore any in life), and with candles burning at her head and feet. A card reading “The work of Perry Heath” is propped up on the body. The house was locked up like a bank — nobody could enter unnoticed, but more importantly, nobody could leave, either. The culprit must be Perry, Bunny, or Larry.
I had a suspicion fairly early on in the book, when Perry Heath disappeared after the murder but couldn’t have gone far as he clandestinely meets with Bunny and Al Cunningham a few times. The occasions when Perry returned were very pointedly when Sam Anderson was out. The two were one-and-the-same and Perry was leading a double-life, depending on the animosity between the Parkers and the Gardeners to prevent the two lives from intersecting. That was my assumption and I was right. Perry knew his wife loved Larry and so he created Sam: Perry would vanish and claim to have committed suicide to clear the way for Larry, and then there would only be Sam. But at the last moment, Myra reveled she knew all along that Sam was Perry. In a blind rage, Perry accidentally killed her.
Between the author’s several diversionary misogynistic, racist, and anti-immigrant screeds, there’s a story about a lawyer who quits his practice to become a forest ranger, meets and falls in love with a woman who’s stationed at the fire look-out, then quits the rangers to become a lawyer again to defend the woman’s friend, who has been convicted of murdering the man his wife was having an affair with, but it was actually some convoluted plot by the local mining company to steal his land.
Inscription: Signed George A. Thomas in a great, sprawling hand diagonally across the entire front endpaper.
In 15th century Italy, Bellarion, an orphan, is raised isolated from the world in a monastery. Having exhausted all the learning available to him, he obtains leave to travel to a distant monastery to study Greek. Along the way, he is robbed of his papers and taken for a thief himself. In his escape, he stumbles into the palace garden and meets Princess Valeria, who harbors him from his pursuers.
From there, the plot gets complicated. Indebted to the princess, he assumes the role of knight-errant in fulfilling her aim of deposing the current regent (Marquis Theodore) and replacing him with her brother, the rightful prince. This he does in a roundabout way over the course of several years of scheming, backstabbing, political intrigue, and graphic violence. Along the way, Bellarion is adopted by Facino Cane, the renowned condottiero, and advances himself through his military prowess until, by the end, he is himself a prince.
For reasons too detailed to do justice in a few lines, Valeria comes to believe that Bellarion is a tool of the regent and so does all she can to work against him — at one point, being complicit in his almost-execution. However, Bellarion never loses sight of his mission and at last sees it through. After deposing the regent, he intends to abandon his titles and return to the monastery. Valeria, at last realizing Bellarion’s faithfulness, asks him to marry her.
Heiress overhears fiancé tell his friend he’s marrying her for her money. Breaks engagement. Fiancé discovers he actually did love her. The two elope.