• The Good: Quaint episodic moral tale about helping those less fortunate
  • The Bad: Very dated on social issues
  • The Literary: Casual references to Shakespeare and other literary greats

Brothers Malcolm and Keith have a series of adventures in the post-Civil War South in this second book in the “Little Colonel” series. The Little Colonel herself joins them for a Valentine’s party and to play King Arthur. The brothers present themselves as little Southern aristocrats, desiring above all to live by the code of the knight, and be chivalrous and noble.

I found this used book in a Goodwill and was immediately charmed it’s handsome illustrations and the hand-written inscription, “To Lucy, From, Uncle Russell and Aunt Arra, December 25 1916”. Lucy herself is likely no longer with us on this mortal plane, much less Russell and Arra, and I wonder if the book was ever cherished by Lucy, and if the crayon marks on the first illustration were by her own hand.

The story is a rambling episodic moralistic slice of life in a wealthy Southern home. The boys meet two tramps and a bear at the train station while waiting on their aunt and cousin. And by tramps the author means hungry travelers with dirty, ragged clothes, whose toes peep through their shoes, a man and a boy. They are leading a great shaggy bear with an injured paw, trained by humans and raised in captivity. The older tramp plays to the boys’ sensitivities, and Malcolm and Keith offer them an empty cabin on their family’s property.

The older tramp stays longer than welcome, and he leaves in the middle of the night when he cannot steal back the bear Malcolm and Keith purchased from him for four dollars, sets the cabin on fire, and leaves the little tramp boy, Jonesy, to be burnt. The adults are loathe to let Malcolm and Keith hang out with the little tramp, lest his trampish ways rub off on them.

So Malcolm and Keith attend a Valentine’s party, put on a play, pretend King Arthur and the round table, as well as pretend Indian savages. It’s that last bit that starts to rub the modern sensibility. The boys paint themselves up, tear off their clothes, and act like wild beasts, contrasting their previous knightly behavior. In addition, nearly everyone who is not the boys or their immediate family uses a strong dialectic dialogue. You’ll feel uncomfortable reading any dialogue of the black slaves, the retired German professor, even the little Colonel herself, who speaks overtly southern and girly.

Recommended as a slice of life of simpler times, but beware the aging process. If you let you kids read these today, please have a conversation about class, race, sex, and animal abuse.