The Able McLaughlins (Margaret Wilson, 1923)

Christie McNair is raped by her cousin Peter Keith and is left pregnant. Wully McLaughlin, her boyfriend before the war, convinces her to marry him and insists that the child is his, taking the blame on himself for the child being conceived out of wedlock. Peter disappears and is missing for a number of years, driving his mother to the brink of insanity — he was always her golden child. The McLaughlins are threatened when Peter is spotted nearby. Wully would kill him but finds him already near death in a livery stable. He would as soon leave him there, but Christie insists that would be wrong and that they must take him — alive, dying, or dead — to his mother.

No inscriptions.

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Red Horse Hill (Sidney McCall, 1909)

Maris’s husband Martin abandons her and takes their daughter, Felicia. She spends years trying to find them, but they’ve vanished. At last she’s informed that he’s dead. She has a breakdown. In the hospital, she makes the acquaintance of Dwight Alden. They are soon married. Alden is a cotton mill owner in a small southern town. The mills are notorious for their flagrant child labor abuses. One young girl is caught in the machinery and has her arm mangled. It’s Felicia — Martin, now Willis, is still alive and has sold her to the mill for liquor money. Maris takes Felicia and flees to her hometown. She and Martin were legally divorced and that’s good enough for Dwight, but Maris won’t stay in his house while Martin is still alive, which isn’t long — he’d already drank himself half to death and he wasn’t slowing down.

Inscription: signed “Florence M. Lessig” on the front flyleaf. She wrote it out in pencil first then went over it in pen.

The Vindication (Harriet T. Comstock, 1916)

Remo is a little village hidden in the hills of Quebec, but hardly one you might call idyllic. Several years ago, a party posing as a family book a room at the inn. The man soon leaves, but the woman and the young child that plainly isn’t hers stay behind. They’re regularly sent large sums of money — large, at least, in the eyes of De Lesser, the innkeeper — but then both the woman and child become deathly ill.

De Lesser took Sue from the Indian Reservation outside of town. She became his housekeeper, barkeeper, cook, maid, and general slave. She also became pregnant with his child, but he sent it back to the Reservation before she’d even seen it. The woman was being cared for by Sue and at least partly took Sue into her confidence. She was not the child’s mother, she was a hired nurse; nor had the man been the child’s father. She gives her addresses to write to and code names to use when either she or the baby dies.

De Lesser and Sue hold a brief conference before the doctor is called for. If the woman dies, then she dies, but if the baby dies, then the mysterious funds that arrive every month will stop. A substitution is made. The dying infant is left at the Reservation and Sue’s baby takes its place. The woman does not recover. Word is sent that she’s dead but that the child still lives. Funding for Lorraine continues for years upon years and she’s brought up with the vague belief that one day some rich parents will reclaim her.

Chester, the other child, didn’t die either, but comes very near to it. Dr. Manford Hill, who took the village practice, wants very much to have a family, but the conventional means of going about that don’t seem likely in Remo. He convinces Sue to allow him to adopt Chet. The boy flourishes under Man’s care, proving in his mind that blood means nothing, character is defined by environment. It isn’t very long that Man finds Sue accosting Chet for money. It seems the payments have stopped, and without them, De Lesser is going to sell Lorraine to “the half-breed Vic” recently out of prison and back on the Reservation.

Lorraine comes to live with the Hills. Meanwhile, a couple are searching the countryside. Philip Mordaunt and his wife Alice have learned the terrible secret Philip’s younger brother Martin confessed to only after his death. The Mordaunts ran a successful law firm and Martin sought to consolidate his inheritance by removing Philip and Alice’s offspring from the picture. He was the man who had left the baby and nurse at Remo, and paid for their silence for more than twenty years. The Mordaunts find their lost child, but to Lorraine’s surprise, it isn’t her. She never knew that Sue actually was her mother.

Chet agreed, after graduating college, to spend a year with the Mordaunts in the city. He will know both sides then. Philip is confident that the Mordaunt heritage will win out and that the appeals of wealth and society will turn his head. Alice is less so. The end of the year finds Chet back in Remo to go into practice with Man, and madly in love with Lorraine.

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That Mrs. Renney (Donald Henderson Clarke, 1937)

Dan is passionately, devotedly, slavishly in love with Alice, but Ike invited her to the dance first and she already accepted. Dan is so hurt he wants to show Alice what it’s like, and, well, one thing leads to another and he finds himself married to Helen, an alcoholic would-be actress. Dan’s family is comfortably well off but by no means rich. Nevertheless, Helen milks the Renneys for every penny she can get. Her affairs are notorious, but Dan’s faith is blind to a fault. Once they’re bankrupted, she plans on divorcing him.

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Dora Thorne (Charlotte M. Brame, 1877)

Ronald, heir to Earlecourt, falls in love with the lodge keeper’s daughter, Dora. His father, Lord Earle, forbids him from marrying so far beneath his station, but he does it anyway. For this, he’s expelled from the house. Ronald and Dora move to Florence, where he intends on becoming a painter. Alone, they were happy enough, but when Ronald starts appearing more in society, he’s embarrassed by Dora’s rustic manners and Dora becomes jealous of his attention to Valentine Charteris — the woman his father had picked to be his bride. It comes to a head when Ronald, so scandalized by Dora’s behavior, abandons her and his two children.

Twins Lillian and Beatrice return to England with Dora to live with her parents. Sixteen years pass. When Lord Earle dies and Ronald inherits Earlecourt, he still refuses to see Dora, but calls for his children to join him there. While they lived in obscurity, Beatrice had met and fallen in love with a merchant sailor. She promised to marry him in two years when he returned from China. All that’s tossed aside when she enters society and the Earl of Airlie begins paying court to her. A November wedding is arranged, but that’s just when the sailor is due back.

Beatrice thought as little of Hugh as she might. She hoped he’d die at sea or that he’d found somebody new. She certainly didn’t dare tell anyone else for fear that she, too, would be cast out. Hugh returns, they meet in secret, there’s a scene. Hugh didn’t exactly drown her but he certainly didn’t prevent her from drowning. Before dying himself, he writes to Ronald confessing to everything. Ronald suddenly realizes that all of this was his fault and that, between him and Dora, he was the one who acted with the least honor for abandoning his family. He and Dora reconcile.

Inscription: Signed Vesta Day on the front flyleaf. She evidently liked this style of story — I’ve also got her copy of The Road to Understanding and its plot is very similar.

A Man in the Open (Roger Pocock, 1912)

I’m not entirely certain what to call this. It isn’t an epistolary novel. Rather, it takes the form of a rough draft of a memoir written by two different people over the course of several years. The chapters are presented chronologically, but they weren’t written so. There are jumps in the narrative, and confusing parts where you’re just dropped into the middle of a scene and have to muddle out what’s going on.

Jesse begins with a description of his early childhood in Labrador, which was very harsh. As a teenager, penniless and with both his parents dead, he makes the acquaintance of a man named Durham. Durham claims to be a fabulously wealthy nobleman. He’s neither, of course, but he leads naive Jesse out west to Arizona to be a cowboy and introduces him to alcohol. He also introduces him to Polly, a prostitute who marries him as a joke, but Jesse doesn’t understand that. When she tires of his jealousy, she fakes suicide and Jesse flees north to British Columbia.

Kate is an opera singer and is married to another opera singer who’s lost his voice. They’re in Canada for a rest cure, but far from being cured, Trevor has gone quite insane. He drowns while attempting to murder her. Jesse takes her in and the two fall in love. They’re married and have a son, David (the Biblical Jesse of course being David’s father — there’s a David and Goliath allegory running through the book, too).

Enter once more Durham, now calling himself Brooke. He’s a cattle rustler looking to hide his stolen herd at Jesse’s ranch, which he thought was abandoned. Exactly how it happened is confused, but the gang is caught and extradited back to the US. Brooke alone saves himself from the noose by turning state’s evidence against his compatriots. To revenge himself, he brings Polly back from the dead to break apart Jesse’s marriage.

Brooke effectively brings ruin to the entire community and Polly spirals into alcoholism. When the community rallies and begins pushing back against them, things turn violent. A fight breaks out. Polly is badly wounded but ultimately kills Brooke. Afterward, she shoots herself.

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Notre-Dame (Victor Hugo, 1831)

A band of gypsies appear in Paris in the fifteenth century. Among them is a very beautiful young girl, Esmeralda. Claude Frollo, archdeacon of Notre Dame Cathedral, falls madly in love with her, as does his adopted son Quasimodo, a hideously deformed hunchback abandoned as a child at the cathedral. When Esmeralda falls in love with Captain Phoebus, Frollo attempts to murder him. Esmeralda is captured and tortured into confessing to the crime. On the way to the gibbet, Quasimodo grabs Esmeralda and rushes her into Notre Dame — a place of sanctuary. Frollo attempts to force himself on her. When she rejects him, he condemns her as a witch and petitions Parlement to violate the sanctuary and carry her to the gallows.

The gypsies, numbering some six thousand, array themselves in military formation and attempt to storm the cathedral and rescue Esmeralda. Quasimodo mistakes their intentions and thinks they’re coming to execute her. He prevents their gaining entrance until the King’s army arrives to crush the rebellion. Esmeralda is hanged. Quasimodo, realizing that this is Frollo’s doing, pushes the archdeacon from the tower and to his death. Quasimodo vanishes. He secretly joined Esmeralda’s body in the crypt, where he starved to death holding her.

Inscriptions: “R.C. Penney, 1912” on the front flyleaf.