Not bad for six 19th-century unknowns
“The Denver Express” by A. A. Hayes is one of the winners in the collection. Uncharacteristic of the series, it has few literary pretensions. It’s just a good, old-fashioned Western adventure—not of the cowboys and Indians type, but the railroad and cavalry type. Major Sinclair, a railroad employee, is sent to frontier Colorado to manage a station. There he runs afoul of a gang of local ruffians and gamblers. Hayes’s storytelling can be a bit confusing at times, but otherwise it’s good fun.
The best story in the book is “The Heartbreak Cameo” by Lizzie W. Champney. A jewelry expert discovers a beautiful gemstone exquisitely carved into a unique cameo. The origin story of this remarkable stone takes the reader back to a 17th-century Native American village in Illinois, where an ambitious French missionary with a lust for precious stones meets a simple-minded Indian maiden who knows where to find them. This is a great piece of historical fiction that keeps the reader guessing until the very end.
Coming in a close second is Frederic’s tale, “Brother Sebastian’s Friendship.” This story, narrated by a French monk, is set in the 1870s. Brother Sebastian is a solitary and misanthropic sort who has lived an intentionally lonely life but for one meaningful friendship. Here he relates the story of that singular friendship, which culminates in a shocking revelation. Frederic delivers a beautifully crafted tale that’s constantly engaging and suspenseful. This is one case where the surprise ending is truly a surprise.
The other three stories included in this volume are run-of-the-mill fare of the period. In C. H. White’s “The Village Convict,” a young man, after serving prison time for burning down the barn of a man who angered him, returns to his hometown and works to forge a new life in small-town society. “The Misfortunes of Bro’ Thomas Wheatley” by Lina Redwood Fairfax, is a character study of an aged black man who works as an “office-boy and messenger” for a white business firm. Labor riots in Baltimore contribute to the story. Albert Webster’s story “Miss Eunice’s Glove” concerns an unmarried young woman who decides to make a charitable visit to a local prison and ends up getting in deeper than she planned.
Overall, for those who are into 19th-century American literature, this is a pretty good collection of short fiction. The Hayes, Champney, and Frederic stories alone are worth a download. As for the other three selections, you can take ‘em or leave ‘em.
Stories in this collection
The Village Convict by C. H. White
The Denver Express by A. A. Hayes
The Misfortunes of Bro’ Thomas Wheatley by Lina Redwood Fairfax
The Heartbreak Cameo by Lizzie W. Champney
Miss Eunice’s Glove by Albert Webster
Brother Sebastian’s Friendship by Harold Frederic
If you liked this review, please follow the link below to Amazon.com and give me a “helpful” vote. Thank you.