In the United States the last Monday of May is commemorated as Memorial Day. It was originally known as Decoration Day to reflect a tradition of honoring war dead from the Civil War.
Among Stratemeyer’s “holiday” stories for the Newark Sunday Call was “A Longed-For Adventure: A Decoration Day Story for Young People” (29 May 1892).
The story includes a young boy, Charley Brown, who is desperately hopeful that something will happen.
He is shown to be a reader of sensational dime novels and nickel libraries. Curiously, Edward Stratemeyer had been assigned to write stories of this type by publishers he worked with such as Street & Smith and Norman L. Munro. Stratemeyer supplied the types of stories his publishers required for this genre in the 1890s.
And yet, from some of the earliest days of his writings, Stratemeyer knew that the dime novel and its close cousins were not considered wholesome reading for young readers so many of his characters, including Victor Horton, shun them as a lesson to his audience and perhaps to gain some respect from adults who didn’t like them and their potential influence.
This story was republished, with a few changes, in Stratemeyer’s story paper, Bright Days, in 1896 as “Charley’s Burglar” with the byline of “Ralph Hemington.”
Most of Edward’s stories for the Newark Sunday Call were tied to an upcoming holiday and, of course, Christmas was a popular topic. A dozen of these stories are published in our Holiday Stories for Boys, volume 1 book from our Lulu imprint, 24 Palmer Street Press.
A Longed-For Adventure.
A Decoration Day Story for Young People.
By Edward Stratemeyer.
Charley gave a yawn and Harold clasped his hands about the hitching post and swung around half way.
“It’s too slow for anything, Harold. Decoration day and not a blessed thing to do.”
“I wish I had gone up to Eagle Rock with Sam Ferrel and his crowd.”
“Humph! They won’t have any fun, just getting lunch and laying around in the sun. I wish something would happen—a fire or a runaway or—or something. I just think Newark is the slowest town in the whole world.”
Charley’s face clouded, and he kicked his toes against the post to emphasize what he had said.
“There is to be a parade of Grand Army men downtown,” ventured Harold.
“Yes, but we can’t go way down there; and, besides, it won’t amount to much, just a few old soldiers marching with flowers and faded battle flags. I want something more exciting than that for my holiday.”
“Father says it stirs him up to see the veterans marching. He said I could go down to Uncle George’s office on Broad street with him if I wished and look at them pass.”
“Well, you can go. I would rather stay home.”
“You won’t go along?”
“No. I want some excitement. Even if it’s an explosion or an earthquake, I don’t care which.”
Charley Mason and Harold Lee were chums. They were of the same age, and attended school together. Charley was all rush and enthusiasm, Harold somewhat thoughtful and slow.
It was Decoration day morning. The sun was shining brightly and a warm wind was blowing. On every side the wind was blowing. On every side the green grass and the fresh Spring flowers showed forth to add to the beauty of the day.
But Charley was not interested in the sky or what was growing around him. Lately he had, unknown to his father or his mother, taken to reading five cent library stories of a very exciting nature, and he felt impatient over the smoothness of life about him, and wanted something startling to occur, something of an heroic nature in which he might possibly play the hero.
Charley did not know that the stories he had read about Bold Ben the Buccaneer, Silver Sam, of Gobbler Gulch, and Flying Fred’s Air Cutter were pure fiction of the most improbable kind and calculated to do him more harm than good. To him these heroes were flesh and blood, and sometimes he thought he would like nothing better than to be their associates, if not for always, for a while.
“Life in Newark is enough to make one sick,” he went on to Harold. “What are you going to do this afternoon?”
“Go over to the river and see the regatta. Of course you’ll go there?”
“I suppose so, unless something better turns up. I don’t care much for boat races.”
“Oh, I do. Uncle George is a member of the Tritons, you know, and my cousin Will joined the Institutes last month. I am going to be an oarsman when I am old enough.”
“Why don’t you learn to row now?”
“Mother doesn’t like me to go out on the river unless father or some other man is along. She doesn’t think it safe.”
“Pooh! it is safe enough. I wouldn’t be tied to my mother’s apron string.”
“I am not tied, Charley Brown!” [sic]
“Yes, you are. You can’t do this and you can’t do that unless your mother says so.”
Harold Lee’s face flushed.
“I do as she wishes, and it’s what I ought to do,” he replied. “What has got into you lately, Charley? No kind of fun seems to suit you any more.”
“No milk-and-water fun, you mean. I want to have a real adventure of some kind; something that isn’t mere make-believe.”
“Well, so would I, but I am not going to do wrong to obtain it.”
“Oh, pshaw! Going out on the river alone isn’t doing wrong, Harold.”
“It is when you have been told not to.”
“I say it is.”
“Well, be a baby if you want to.”
“I am no baby, Charley Brown!” [sic]
“And I say you are. If you are going to act in this fashion I don’t want anything more to do with you.”
“Very well then,” replied Harold, quietly. “I’ll go my way and you go yours.”
He unclasped his hands from the post and started across the street where his home stood. It was a foolish little quarrel and Charley was sorry he had started it. He was more than tempted to call his chum back, but pride kept him from uttering the necessary words, for which Harold’s ears were wide open.
Charley turned on his heel, and crossing the pavement entered his own home. It was an elegantly furnished mansion and cheerful to the last degree. In a gilded cage Snip, the canary, hopped about and poured forth a whole volume of melody from his tiny throat, and in a patch of sunshine on the floor Tip, the fox terrier, lay taking it easy.
Charley, being out of humor, could think of nothing to do but to tease the dog, and this he did so effectually that ere long Tip went howling from the room into the conservatory, where Mrs. Brown sat making up some bouquets for the soldiers were to parade.
“Charley, what did you do to Tippie?”
“Did you tease him?”
“Only a little.”
“You should not do so. How often must I tell you that?”
“Oh, dear! I suppose a fellow isn’t to do anything anymore!” cried Charley, petulantly.
“You are certainly not to tease the dog. Where is Harold?”
“I—I—he is going downtown to see the parade,” stammered Charley.
“Then he couldn’t come over to play with you? I am sorry. I thought I would let you have the tennis court all to yourselves.”
“I don’t want to play with Harold any more.”
“Indeed!” exclaimed Mrs. Brown, raising her eyes in astonishment. “Why not?”
“He is too goody-good for me.”
“I always thought Harold a very nice boy, Charley. What has come between you?”
But Charley had passed into the next room, and he pretended not to hear. Unknown to his mother he slipped upstairs, and was soon interested in reading “Triple Tracks; or, Hunting the Outlaws of Jacinjo,” his latest purchase.
It was a thrilling tale of the wild West, in which cowboys and Indians figured in deeds of revenge and daring. There was also a boy hero of twelve who played the part of a detective, and in the end brought all the guilty parties to justice.
So absorbed did Charley become that he did not notice the flight of time, and he took no heed when the dinner bell rang.
Meanwhile Mr. Brown had come up home from his establishment on Market street, which was now closed for the rest of the day.
“I have good news for Charley,” he said, as he sat down. “Mr. Pell is going out in his new steam launch this afternoon and he wants to go with him. He will take us up and down the Passaic to see the races first, and then take a run down the bay, stopping off somewhere for supper. Where is the boy?”
“I do not know. Yes, the trip ought to just suit Charley,” added Mrs. Brown.
As the dinner went on and his son did not appear, Mr. Brown went in search of him. Charley did not hear his father coming, and before the boy knew it Mr. Brown stood by his side with the surreptitious novel in his hand.
“Charley, what does this mean?” demanded Mr. Brown, glancing at the title of the story and the blood-curdling illustration that accompanied it.
For once the boy could not answer, and he hung his head.
“How many times must I forbid your reading such trash?” went on Mr. Brown. “Have you not enough good books to read at home and haven’t you a card in the free library? Have you any more of these?”
Charley did not reply.
But the boy would not, and Mr. Brown made a search of the apartment. From a corner of the closet the other books mentioned were brought to light, and all were torn up and later on burned.
“So this is the way you spend your spare time!” exclaimed Mr. Brown, justly indignant. “A nice thing for a boy of your age to do. Come to dinner, and don’t let me ever hear of such doings again.”
Charley marched down stairs and ate his meal in silence. He was taken back, but not humbled, and the only thing he regretted was that the solution of “Triple Tracks” was still a mystery, as his father had taken the book away while there was still a chapter and a-half to be read.
Mr. Brown told his wife of his discovery. The lady was shocked, and she joined her husband in talking to their boy.
But the lecture seemed to do no good. Something unusual had gotten into Charley, and Mr. Brown came to the conclusion that some punishment must be inflicted.
“Charley, listen to me,” he said. “This afternoon Mr. Pell is going to take out his new steam launch. He has invited us to go out with him, and your mother and I will accept. But we shall leave you behind because you have disobeyed us.”
“Leave me behind!” burst out the boy.
“Exactly. Instead of taking you with us I shall let Betty, the cook, have the time off, and you must stay in the house and watch it until we get back.”
This was disagreeable news, and Charley was on the point of retelling when the stern look on his parent’s face caused him to pause. He swallowed the last of his dinner and then shuffled out of the room, banging the door behind him.
From a seat in the hallway he heard his father and mother get ready to go away. Soon they came forth.
“Now remember what I told you,” cautioned Mr. Brown. “You are not to leave the house until we return. There are too many tramps around to leave the place unguarded. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” mumbled Charley. He was almost ready to cry with vexation.
A moment later Mr. and Mrs. Brown were gone. Out on the kitchen Betty was rattling the dishes at a furious rate. But this soon ceased, and after a brief visit to her room to fix up, the cook called to Charley to lock up and passed out.
When left alone the boy wandered up and down from one room to another, not knowing what to do with himself. He ran his fingers over the piano keys, whistled to the canary, and out of sheer willfulness picked several of his mother’s choicest flowers.
This staying in the house when you had to do was dreadfully hard work. How bright it was outside; and, yes, he could hear the shouts of some boys who were playing ball in the lot on the next block. If he could only join them!
Then Charley thought of five cents that he carried in his pocket. That amount would buy another copy of “Triple Tracks.” Why not get it? There would be no great harm in finishing the story. It would not be like buying a brand new one.
The nearest news store was four blocks away. It would only take a few minutes to go there and get back. Charley hesitated for a moment, and then, going to the basement, he opened the door, walked out, and ran up the street to make his purchase.
When he arrived at the store there were several customers before him and he had to wait quite a while before the shopkeeper asked him what was wanted. Then it was found that the only remaining copy of “Triple Tracks” had been sold the day before.
“Bur there is a pile, every one of ’em just as good,” said the newsdealer.
Charley hesitated again, but ended by resolving to purchase some other work. He looked the pack over for fully ten minutes and finally made a choice.
As he left the place he was dismayed to see by the clock that he had been away from home nearly half an hour. Supposing something had happened in the meanwhile? But no, it was not possible in so short a time.
He reached the basement door. It was slightly ajar and he started back, for he was sure he had closed it tightly before leaving.
Then he proceeded on his way upstairs, leaving the door open behind him. Suddenly he came to a pause as the sound of footsteps overhead reached his ears.
What did it mean? He listened intently. Was he mistaken? No, there were the sounds again.
His heart seemed to leap into his throat. The novel slipped from his fingers and fell to the foot of the stairs.
Some one was in the house, had come in during his absence. Was it some one who belonged there, or was it—a thief?
The last thought made Charley shiver. He was about to call out, but, somehow, the sound wouldn’t come. He advanced slowly to the upper hall.
Before leaving Mrs. Brown had closed up nearly all of the shutters, so the hallway was almost dark. Charley advanced and peered into the parlor.
No one was present, and he breathed more easily. Then he entered the dining room.
The sight that met his gaze transfixed him to the spot. A tall and rough-looking man was in front of the closet. He had pulled open all the doors and drawers, and he was not engaged in examining the silverware.
When the sneak-thief—for he was nothing less—saw the boy he uttered an exclamation.
“Who—who—what are you doing here?” gasped Charley, as soon as he could find speech.
“None of your business,” replied the man. “Who are you?”
“I live here. Leave that silverware alone.”
“That’s all right. Where are your folks?”
“Gone to—” Charley broke off short. “Stop that, or I will call help.”
For the man was about to transfer some silver spoons to his coat pocket.
“Shut up!” The sneak-thief grasped the boy by the arm. “Don’t you dare to make a sound!”
He looked so fierce that for a moment Charley was paralyzed. Then he let out one long scream.
The man clapped his hand over the boy’s mouth and threw him to the floor, muttering something under his breath as he did so.
Charley tried to struggle, but he was no match for the man. He was just on the point of giving in when an interruption came.
“Hello, Charley! What’s the matter up there?” came a voice from the basement.
The call put the sneak thief to confusion.
“Pshaw! just my luck!” he exclaimed, as he jumped up. “The family come back, I suppose. I will have to get out of here!”
And slipping the spoons into his pocket he made for the door. But Charley sparng up just in time to catch him by the coat.
“Thief! thief!” he cried, his courage returning when he realized that a friend was at hand.
“Let go there!”
“I will not. Give up those spoons!” panted the boy retaining his hold.
The man aimed a blow at his head. Charley jerked back, and the movement ripped off the pocket of the coat and the spoons fell to the floor.
Once free the sneak thief did not stop to regain the spoons. He sprang to the front hallway, unlocked the door, and jumping to the pavement darted down the street as fast as his legs would carry him.
Charley did not try to follow him. He leaned against the dining-room table, gasping for breath.
In a second more Harold Lee entered the room. The look on his face showed plainly that he was thoroughly bewildered.
“What’s up?” he cried.
“Thieves!” was all Charley could respond.
“Thieves?” ejaculated his chum. “Where?”
“The man who just went out.”
“I didn’t see anyone.”
Charley pointed to the front door. Harold ran to it and looked out.
But the thief had made good use of his time and disappeared.
“Did he get anything?” asked Harold, as he returned to the dining-room.
“I don’t know. There are some of the spoons. He came pretty near carrying them away. I was never so scared in my life.”
Harold stopped short from the examination he had begun.
“I thought you wanted something to happen?” he said, dryly.
Charley did not reply. He was too upset to notice the point.
“Are there any more of them in the house?” went on Harold.
“I don’t know.”
“Suppose we make a search?”
“Better call in the neighbors,” replied Charley, hurriedly. “I don’t want to run any risk.”
So a neighbor was called in and a thorough examination took place. No one was found, and later on it was ascertained that all the silverware was safe.
“How did the fellow get in?” asked Harold, when the two were alone.
“I’ll tell you in a minute,” replied Charley. “Just as soon as I’ve burned up a five-cent novel I left down stairs.”
And when the story had been consigned to the kitchen range, and reduced to a black crisp, Charley made a full confession.
“And what brought you here just in the nick of time?” he asked when he had finished.
Harold colored slightly.
“Well, you see, I heard that you were home alone, and couldn’t go out, so I thought that maybe you would like me to come around and keep you company,” he began.
“But the boat races—”
“Yes, I would like to see them. But I didn’t want to leave you home alone, and—and—”
Charley caught his chum by the shoulder.
“Harold Lee, you’re a brick,” he exclaimed, “and after I treated you so shamefully this morning.”
“I didn’t do much—”
“Yes, you did. You are the best boy in Newark. If it hadn’t been for your good-heartedness in coming, goodness only knows what might have happened. That thief might have knocked me insensible and carried off half the house, and I would have been the sole one to blame. I will never forget what you have done for me.”
And Charley never has, nor has he forgotten the other lessons taught him on that eventful day.
Of course, when Mr. and Mrs. Brown returned the whole story had to be told to them.
Mr. Brown was indignant to learn that Charley had disobeyed him, but in view of what had occurred, and on the boy’s promise to do better in the future, he forgave him, only adding this admonition:
“But, remember, no more trashy novels.”
“Yes, father. I am done with them for good this time. I am convinced they are a humbug from beginning to end.”
And that was the end of Charley Brown’s longed-for Decoration day adventure.
—Newark Sunday Call, 29 May 1892.