Monday, May 9, 2011

Jack Harkaway in America

Jack Harkaway in America and Jack Harkaway out West among the Indians, by Bracebridge Hemyng, London: Hogarth House, Illustrations by James E. Taylor. Color cover illustration above by Harry Maguire.

“A tale of terror, related by an ignorant nurse, rivets the attention of an infant mind, and its details are engraven on the memory. The “bogle,” or “bogie,” with which the child is terrified into quiet by some thoughtless servant, remains a dim and unpleasant reality to shake the nerves of the philosopher.” -- Popular Romances of the West of England, or; the Drolls, Traditions, and Superstitions of Old Cornwall by Robert Hunt, F. R. S., 1865.

I thought I would give a capsule review of these two works, famous as Hemyng’s first serials for Frank Leslie, for those of you who have not had the peculiar pleasure of reading these works. Hemyng was in the midst of the serial Jack Harkaway among the Brigands, for Edwin Brett, when he ‘defected’ to Frank Leslie circa 1873.

Chapter I. of Jack Harkaway in America was titled, “The Man with The Evil Eye,” and opened in the Euston-square terminus of the London and North-Western Railway, where “Jack Harkaway, who was going to America to look for his only son, stolen by a villain, was accompanied by Harvey and Mr. Mole.” Also on board were Emily and Hilda, wives of Jack and Harvey, Monday, from the Malay Archipelago, and his wife Ada, Emily’s maid, the latter two were in a third-class carriage. There were two other occupants of the carriage, Mr. Felix S. Pry, an American, and a muscular man with a disagreeable gaze, “From his eyes flashed a peculiar fire, like an electric light.” His card reads;Mr. Miles Fenton,

The World.

Mole finds a telegraph sheet, written in cryptograph, dropped by Fenton. Mole provides the key, and deciphered it reads;

“Look after ----- If he should trace me to America, you know what to do. Death! Letters will find me at the ‘Office,’ Houston- street, New York. -- “One-Arm.”

‘“One Arm means --” began Harvey.

Jack took the word out of his mouth.

“Hunston,” he replied.’

Felix Prye becomes our heroes’ American friend. At the hotel, Fenton takes room 197, right next to Jack in 196, and there follows “A Night of Horror,” in Chapter III. Jack awakes in the middle of the night, strangely mesmerized and narrowly escapes being stabbed. When Jack fires his revolver the intruder escapes. Jack leaves Emily alone while he goes for a walk, and on returning tries to wake Emily, who does not move.

“Pulling the bedclothes down a little way, he started back in affright.

The sheets were saturated in blood.”

Luckily the knife glanced off a rib, and the wound is superficial.

Next morning things are a trifle cool between Fenton and Harkaway, Jack “trembled all over in spite of himself whenever the evil eye was upon him.”

On board the “City of Athens,” a Royal mail steamer bound via Queenstown to New York, Jack confronts Fenton in the smoking room, and draws his pistol.

“Or what, Mr. Harkaway?” asked Fenton, coolly.

“I will shoot you, as I would a dog.”

Jack is soon up to his old tricks with ventriloquism, causing a row between Mole and the purser. Fenton tries to force Jack into the sea, but ends up overboard himself, but a steamer following close behind the Athens picks him up and he is in the crowd when they reach New York. Jack is fooled by another myrmidon of Hunstons’, Sensitive Sheepe, alias Leroy. Leroy takes Jack to a bar where Fenton and Hunston meet up with them. Here Jack befriends an Apache Indian named Par-a-wau, or the Warning Devil, just out of the penitentiary; he feigns sleep while gathering information for Jack. Hunston and crew take no notice of the sleeping Indian who seems to be napping wherever they are. Hunston left Harkaways five year old son alone and is jailed for attempted murder of Jack senior. Young Jack is rescued by Kit, a New York newsboy.

‘Sitting down on a door-step he began to cry.

A boy with some journals under his arm came by, bawling out, “Illustrirte Zeitung ! Frank Leslie’s ‘Lustrated paper!”

When Kit dies (Hemyng gives a lecture on heaven, hell, and Christ here,) young Jack is taken in by a family of clowns and appears on the stage. Hunston escapes, recaptures the boy, and has Jack locked up in an insane asylum.

“Well,” said Jack gloomily, “I won’t contradict you. Listen here. I’m Jack Harkaway.”

“What! The hero of all those bully stories?”

“Fancy your delusion being that you’re Jack Harkaway! That is good. Ha! ha! ha!”

Meanwhile Monday and Warning Devil, the Apache, kill Fenton and rescue young Jack from a cave. Jack saves a fellow inmate from a beating by the giant warder, Goliah, the inmate dies but leaves Jack a diamond hidden in Texas, just in time too, as Jacks father has just died a bankrupt, thanks to Hunston’s crooked brother Alf Hunston.

“If ever you’re in that Canyon, my ghost shall rise as the clock strikes twelve at night, and stand right over the spot where I buried the diamond.”

When Jack finds Alf Hunston and Leroy they have a surprise for him;

‘He approached the wall, in which was a brass knob, and touching it suddenly with his finger, kept his eyes fixed upon the door.

To his great surprise, Jack felt a peculiar motion. The chair on which he was sitting seemed to be sinking through the floor with a rapidity that was alarming.

Before he could realize his situation, his head had passed the level of the carpet.

Leroy had set in motion some ingeniously contrived machinery.

This had the effect of lowering rapidly a certain square piece cut out of the floor.

Down went Jack, till the basement was reached, and he in vain clutched at the walls to stop his unexpected descent.

All at once the downward motion was arrested, the chair tipped forward of its own accord, and threw Jack on his hands and knees.’

A detective, Davis, and a policeman burst in, but no sign of Jack;

‘The policeman fell upon Alfred Hunston, as did Davis on Leroy.

So sudden and unexpected was the attack that the latter was unable to fire again.

The pistol fell from his hand, which was broken at the wrist by a blow from the club.

It is a terrible sight to see a man clubbed by an angry policeman.

The long heavy staff, weighted with lead, flew about like a flail on the threshing-floor.

Leroy put up his arms to guard his head and protect his face, but in vain.

He roared for mercy, but received none.

Soon he was on his knees, the blood streaming down over his eyes, and blinding him.

Then he sank on the floor, his head a gory mess, and Hunston, junior, was not in a much better plight.’

Jack is rescued and, leaving everyone behind, heads west to gain back the deed to a mine in Missouri, left to him by his father and stolen by Hunston. Jack is accompanied by an American scout, Hank Smith. Monday and young Jack hide on the train and are undiscovered until it is too late. In Missouri Jack is ambushed and chained in his mine by Hunston and the sadistic Sol Pike. He escapes and young Jack was happy to see him;

‘He discharged all the barrels of his revolver, and danced about like a savage performing fetish.’

Sol Pike is hung by vigilantes;

‘Over a stout branch of a tree, a rope with a noose at one end had been slung.

“String him up!” said the leader.

“Give me time to pray!” screamed Sol Pike; “You all know me.”

“We know you for a hard, grinding villain,” replied some one, “You never was the poor man’s friend.”

Half a dozen men put the noose round the agent’s neck, half a dozen bore on the other end of the rope, and up went the murderer into the air.

His face became as black as night, as the blood surged up into his head, and there stopped. He uttered incoherent cries, and then a dull gurgle was all that issued from his lips. His limbs, however, struggled spasmodically.

“Let him down three feet or more with a run, and bring him up short!” said the leader.

This was done.

Sol Pike was lowered with a jerk till his feet came within a dozen inches of the ground. The jerk broke his neck.’

A letter arrives from Hunston. He is dying in the Black Hills and wants to repent by returning Jacks mine deed.

With Hank Smith, the half-breed guide Sublette, Varney Bonneau, and Billy Shoot-dead, Jack heads west.

‘So we bring to a close the first portion of “Jack Harkaway in America,” which we trust has fully realized the expectation formed of it by our many readers, and we promise them an exciting story, and a rare treat, at an early date in “Jack Harkaway Out West Among The Indians.”

Jack Harkaway Out West Among The Indians, by Bracebridge Hemyng, London: Hogarth House, Illustrations by James E. Taylor.

The quote from M. Wilson Disher in Boys Will Be Boys, “How on earth schoolboys could read it without vomiting.... etc., etc.” referred to scenes in Out West among the Indians, which doesn’t end until the last ghastly eyeball is popped out of the head of its victim. You have to wonder about the mental make-up of the author, who can go from youthful hi-jinks and pranks to long scenes that are so cold and dispassionate it would “shake the nerves of a philosopher.” Chapter XXIV. is entitled simply; Torture.

It’s not likely this book would ever be reprinted, not so much because of the gruesome stomach churning torture scene as the ugliest examples of bigotry that ever found its way between two covers. The western movie pretty well died in the 70’s because of all the rethinking of American history that came with books like Custer Died for Your Sins and Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee. From then on the Native-American has been rare in the movies unless depicted as a New-Age shaman like Chief Dan George.

When Hemyng first went to America, he had to satisfy his old British audience as well as cater to his new readers. In the first book, Jack Harkaway in America, Hemyng showed his confusion, all of the American characters attack royalty and the British at every opportunity, and Hemyng deflects this from Harkaway by using Mole as the offended party. While laughing at Mole is allowed, Harkaway must be protected from Yankee jingoism. By the time we get to Out West, the gloves are off; Native Americans are the enemy and not many kind words can be said. The obnoxious American characters of Hank Smith and Billy Shoot-dead don’t stop with the Indians, Varney Bonneau, of France and the British come in for their scorn as well. The only good Indian is a dead Indian, unless you can Christianize him.

I won’t give much of a synopsis of Out West, one character is of the Liver-eating Johnson type, scalping Indians and marking them with a cross carved in their foreheads, Warning Devil shows up again, saves Harkaway, and is still held in contempt by the very people he saved. There is plenty of scalping on both sides, the blood gushes in geysers and buckets, and the reader is battered relentlessly with racial slurs.

*Illustrations courtesy E. M. Sanchez-Saavedra

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