From Now On (Frank L. Packard, 1919)

An underling of a crooked bookkeeper thinks he’s set for life when he manages double-cross his employer and make off with a hundred thousand dollars in cash, but the theft only lands him five years in prison. On his release, he’s hounded by the police, who expect him to lead them to where the money is hidden; by his gangland compatriots, who expect the same; and by the mafia, who he foolishly accepted a favor from without realizing that it came at a price. In the end, after much bloodshed and death, he comes to realize that the money simply wasn’t worth it.

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The Sky Pilot (Ralph Connor, 1899)

Arthur Wellington Moore, a young and inexperienced preacher, is assigned a mission in Swan Creek, Alberta — a small cattle town in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Resistant at first, the rough and fiercely independent cowboys eventually come to respect him. Gwen, a teenager who lives in the outskirts of town, is injured in a stampede and left paralyzed. Moore — or the Pilot, as he’s affectionately called — ministers to her and helps her accept her fate. The town raises the money to build a real church, but the Pilot falls ill and dies just before it’s finished.

No inscriptions.

East Lynne (Mrs. Henry Wood, 1861)

I’m condensing this as much as possible, but it’s a baroque plot, so brace yourselves:

Lady Isabel Vane’s father is an aristocrat, but one deeply in debt. He sells East Lynne, his country estate (and his only remaining property), to Archibald Carlyle, a prosperous lawyer. Given that the Vanes have nowhere else to go, they remain as Carlyle’s guest after the sale, but the lawyer isn’t imposed upon long — Isabel’s father soon dies of gout. Until then, she had no idea that they were penniless, or indeed that East Lynne no longer was theirs. She becomes the ward of her uncle, Earl Mount Severn — unhappily for her, as Lady Mount Severn hates her and treats her most cruelly. Carlyle is not ignorant of this, and seeing no other remedy, he asks Isabel to marry him.

Their marriage comes as a disappointment to Barbara Hare, who is in love with Carlyle and thought — not without good reason — that he loved her as well. The Hares are a somewhat disgraced family. Some years ago, Barbara’s brother Richard was involved in the death of George Hallijohn. Hallijohn was the father of his sometimes-girlfriend Afy. Richard disappeared and was convicted of Hallijohn’s murder in absentia. The marriage comes as a disappointment to Isabel, too. She’s in love with Lady Mount Severn’s cousin, Francis Levison, but Levison is a spendthrift dandy as broke as herself and couldn’t possibly marry her if he wanted to (and spoilers, he doesn’t want to — the man’s a rake).

Isabel is once again mistress of East Lynne — or would be if not for Cornelia, Carlyle’s domineering sister, who invites herself to live with the newlyweds. The opposite of Levison, Corny is a penny-pincher who strongly disapproves of Isabel for no other reason than that she believes her brother’s income can’t maintain a lady of such social standing (wrongly, in that Isabel in truth expects very little and is used to getting it). The Carlyle’s have two children, Archibald and Isabel junior.

Richard returns to see his mother. The visit must be in secret, as his father, Justice Hare, is convinced of his guilt and has vowed to turn him over to the police should he ever be found. Richard insists that he’s innocent and that a hitherto-unknown man, Captain Thorn, killed Hallijohn. Further, he claims that Afy — who disappeared at the same time as himself — didn’t runaway with him, as was suspected. Barbara believes her brother and begs Carlyle to take up his case, which he does.

Isabel has fallen ill and is sent to the Continent to recover. She again meets Francis Levison, who’s there for other reasons (dodging his many, many creditors). She thought she had gotten over Levison, but no, she has not. When Carlyle comes to visit, she entreats him to take her back to England — to avoid temptation, although she doesn’t say that. Unfortunately, Levison convinces Carlyle to secretly harbor him so that he can beg his father to bail him out without risk of being arrested, so even back at East Lynne, Isabel isn’t free of him.

Barbara meets covertly with Carlyle several times to discuss Richard, although Isabel doesn’t know that and Levison plants the suggestion her husband is having an affair. Jealousy festers until Isabel hits the breaking point and agrees to run away with Levison. She repents in France, after the truth of the situation becomes obvious, but the deed has been done and Carlyle has filed for divorce.

Levison abandons Isabel after his father dies and he inherits his wealth and title. Isabel, traveling under an assumed name, is injured in a trainwreck and believes she’s going to die. She writes to her uncle telling him so. Mount Severn writes to the French authorities, who — finding no Lady Isabel listed on the survivor list — confirms to him her death. Carlyle, who would not remarry while his first wife still lived, now marries Barbara.

Isabel didn’t die but she sees no reason not to embrace the death of that disgraced lady. She is now Madame Vine, gentlewoman governess. The Carlyles just so happen to be in need of a governess for their children Archibald and Lucy-nee-Isabel, and their new children, Arthur and Anne Barbara. Madame Vine, who always wears a hat, scarf, and sunglasses even inside, accepts the position. The disguise fools everyone but Joyce, the maid (and Afy’s sister), who is too shocked to reveal the secret and worried that her employers would suspect she was in on the conspiracy.

The M.P. for West Lynne (the town in which East Lynne is situated) has just died and Carlyle is nominated to replace him and enjoys the almost universal support of the electorate. Levison, who is in debt once more, is persuaded by the opposing party to run against Carlyle. Whyever he would is anyone’s guess, as he’s reviled by all and sundry for his scandalous ruining of Lady Isabel. There’s an even greater reason why he shouldn’t show his face in West Lynne, which becomes clear when several people who should know identify him not as Sir Francis Levison but as Captain Thorn.

Levison is arrested. Cutting a long story short, Richard was telling the truth. Levison as Thorn had also been courting Afy. In the heat of an argument with her father, he shot him dead and left Richard to take the blame. Richard, always a cowardly man, fled the scene. Afy, fooled by Levison’s lie, ran away with him. Levison is convicted and Richard is cleared of all charges.

Archibald (the child, not the father) gets tuberculosis and begins wasting away. Barbara, who I don’t know if I’ve sufficiently expressed isn’t a sympathetic character, cares little for her step-children, the grief of which is also hastening Madame Vine to her grave. Barbara is away on a beach vacation when Archibald dies. Madame Vine’s health declines quickly afterward. On her deathbed, she begs to see Carlyle and reveals to him her secret identity and confesses the mistake that she made in leaving him. Carlyle forgives her.

Inscriptions: None. This book is in absolutely pristine condition. It looks as clean and vibrant as it must have done when it rolled off the presses 108 years ago. It has never seen sunlight or known a humid day.

Between pages 138 and 139 is a typed sheet from the Houston Litho Club (since 1950) containing  a brief biography of the author and information about when and where the club meets (the Steak Country Buffet on I-10 in Antoine). There was also an index card that’s something like a card catalogue entry that was tucked in somewhere, but I’m not sure where as it fell out when I first opened the book.

The Invader (Margaret L. Woods, 1907)

Milly is a graduate student at Oxford. After a bout of overexertion and resulting insomnia, she submits to some amateur hypnosis. It gets her to sleep all right, but when she wakes, she’s an entirely different person. Milly was a mousy and studious woman while Mildred is a vivacious flirt. The two personalities fight for control of the body, each holding it for months at a time before the other wrests it away. Neither has more than a hazy recollection of the other’s affairs, and it’s those affairs that become the sticking point. Milly’s devoted to her husband Ian and son Tony. Mildred intends on abandoning them and running away with another man.

A very silly book made all the more so by how seriously it takes itself. That isn’t to say I didn’t like it — I enjoyed every page — but it is a silly book.

No inscriptions.

The Story of a Play (W.D. Howells, 1898)

Maxwell, a newspaper reporter and an aspiring playwright, marries Louise. Louise is a wealthy woman in her own right and her family is fabulously so. Louise’s father so much as offers to buy the newspaper for Maxwell, but of course Maxwell would never accept such a gift. He’s built up a little nest egg and has decided to quit the paper and try his hand in the theatre. Louise is overjoyed — she, at least, is convinced of Maxwell’s genius. Perhaps she’s a bit too enamored. To her, Maxwell’s play is Maxwell’s alone, and she resents the intrusion of actors and directors and producers into the mix. She fails to see the collaborative nature of the theatrical business, and she fails to see that it even is a business —  a play may be a great work of art, but if fails to sell tickets, nobody is going to stage it. Add to that the irrational jealousy Louise develops over the female lead and you begin to imagine that Louise, as tireless and enthusiastic a champion for her husband’s work as she is, isn’t exactly helping.

Inscription: a plate pasted on the inside front cover reads “Limerick Public Library, no. 1254”. Open on Saturdays, 2 to 9 pm. Two cents per week late fee.

Mary-‘Gusta (Joseph C. Lincoln, 1916)

When Marcellus Hall dies, the single question on everyone’s mind is what’s to become of his seven year old stepdaughter, Mary Augusta Lathrop. Whoever takes her, it’s assumed that she’ll be well provided for — Hall was a wealthy man and he had no other heirs. It comes a shock to Shadrach Gould and Zoeth Hamilton that, in his will, Hall asked them to adopt Mary-‘Gusta. It comes as another shock that, whatever money Hall once had, it’s gone now. He died nearly a pauper.

Shad and Zoeth have lived together for some 35 years. They were once business partners with Marcellus Hall, but something happened — something unspeakable that everyone would rather as not forget — and the business went bankrupt. Now they keep a general store of their own in Cape Cod. Though far from rich, they spare no expense in raising Mary-‘Gusta and ensuring that she has every possible advantage, including sending her away to a fancy finishing school in Boston. They keep it a secret from everyone, Mary-‘Gusta too, that there is no trust fund — they’re paying for it all.

Mary-‘Gusta is a very sensible and level-headed girl. She’s not there just to find a husband, as many of the other girls are. Still, a friendship develops between her and Crawford Smith that grows into love. Crawford hopes to go to medical school at Harvard, to the chagrin of his father back in Nevada, who has an extreme prejudice against the east coast.

Mary-‘Gusta finds out accidentally that she has no money of her own. She returns home at once to find her uncles drowning in debt, their store failing for lack of operating funds, and facing the almost inevitability of losing the house. Under her stewardship, and with the help of friends and connections she made in Boston, she pulls them out of their death spiral.

Crawford, back in Nevada, asks his father’s permission to marry Mary-‘Gusta. This he won’t grant and it’s no wonder that he won’t: Edgar Farmer, alias Edwin Smith, was the fourth partner at the Hall company, who embezzled every penny they had then ran away with Zoeth Hamilton’s wife. Crawford only learns his shameful family history on his father’s deathbed. He and Mary-‘Gusta are reconciled and marry. He takes up a medical practice in Cape Cod.

Inscription: Signed Hazel Dermody on the front flyleaf. Directly beneath the signature, in the same hand, is written “Warning:- the book is minus a page, number 7+8. Of little consequence to the reader. H.D.” And she was right. It appears to be a factory error as I can see no sign of a page being torn or cut out.

The Clean Heart (A.S.M. Hutchinson, 1914)

In general overview, Philip Wriford is a very successful writer — few  authors wouldn’t envy him — but he doesn’t know what happiness is. I mean that in the most literal way.

Breaking it down further, the book is in five distinct parts, but we might summarize it in three:

The first part is the weirdest. After an failed suicide attempt, Wriford splits into two personalities. Wriford tries to flee from Figure of Wriford, but Figure of Wriford can’t be escaped. This chase eventually leads to the second part, Mr. Puddlebox.

Puddlebox is a drunken tramp who takes a liking to Wriford, who he calls his loony. Wriford is spooked, he says, and won’t be unspooked until he learns not to think so much about himself. Wriford, in his wanderings with Puddlebox, becomes reckless. Caught by a storm on the coast, Puddlebox sacrifices himself to save Wriford.

In the third part, Wriford finds himself lodging with the Bickers. He falls in love with their daughter, Essie, and wants her to go away with him, but he doesn’t want to marry her because he believes himself to be “different” and that… I don’t know, his happiness-void would sap away her happiness. Caught by another storm on another coast, Wriford’s life is again saved, only Essie doesn’t die — she’s merely paralyzed. Wriford, realizing what he’s selfishness has wrought, at last learns that happiness is caring for people other than yourself.

Inscription: signed M.E. Gerald on the front flyleaf. On the back cover is a little round sticker that reads “Tilden Stationer, Keene”. Keene, New Hampshire, I would suppose. There are several four-leaf clovers pressed between pages 60-61 and 206-207.