Good-old Fictional Days of Maine

In yet another example of my procrastination tendencies, this is a post I wanted to write about Cordelia Underwood: or the Marvelous Beginnings of  the Moosepath League.

I read it first sometime in high school I think, and when I finally remembered to check it out again, promptly didn’t read it. Not only did I not read more than the first few pages, but I had to keep renewing it until they wouldn’t let me anymore. And then on the very last day—or rather, that night, because so long as it’s in the drop before the library opens, it’s not late—I typed up some of my favorite quotes, or at least those that best represented the books and saved the draft here.  Still, that was months ago, maybe June? and I have no idea what I intended to do with them. So I will just introduce the quotes as best I can.

By the way, the story is less than Cordelia’s, and more about the Moosepath League and their first chairman, Mister Tobias Walton, who is awesome.

So Cordelia Underwood is introduced first, and she’s visiting the docks with her parents and is first rescued by Mister Walt0n, and then by a handsome guy she doesn’t know, but who comes back later. Then she and her parents receive a trunk from her late uncle in which is a paper that leaves her land in the middle of nowhere. Now, this is way back in the 1880s or something, so I don’t think they actually leave Maine, but they still make it to the boondocks. And the Underwood family invites Mr. Walton to see her property? and at any rate he has no plans to move out of state.

This is an intricately plotted novel. Read it quickly or take notes, because there is a huge cast (for novels) that get screen time, so while it is all interesting, and the storylines all intertwine, there are a lot of names. Even if they all get introduced at one point or another, like handsome guy.

Anyway, Cordelia goes at least part of the way to almost uncharted Maine with her great aunt, Delia, who is actually also a Cordelia, the one our current Cordelia was named after, and whom she even takes after in personality. I liked Aunt Delia rather more:

Aunt Delia was seventy-eight years old and drover her own carriage, even if a man was aboard, which in 1896 explained quite a lot about her—including, some said, why the husband of her youth had left her for the Gold Rush of ’49. Cordelia thought this bit of gossip unfair, and once had said so to her great-aunt, when Cordelia was no more than six or seven. “Run away?!” Aunt Delia had exclaimed. “Good heavens, child, I threw him out!” p 59

Now, Mister Walton is elected chairman of the Moosepath League before the members have even given it a name. Or for that matter, notified Mister Walton that they were electing him. I think they only met him once. But you know, he had skills with the ladies, which impressed them greatly. (As in, he shows a genuine interest in people and is capable of talking to women. If this were set today, these three would be the cast of the Big Bang show. Oh, and their names are Ephram, Eagleton, and Thump.

There and then, upon the sidewalk, the two of them stood and thought. No verbal communication passed between them, as if physical propinquity alone might foster a cure for their distracted minds. So intense was their thinking, so deep was their involvement with their problem, that passers—by paused to regard them with interest and curiosity. (Several people would mention the sight when they sat down to dinner that evening.) p 132

As an example of random repeated characters, there is Mr. Isherwood Tolly (you have to admit, this book has great names) who first tells the story about a settler and his Christmas bear. He kept get invaded by 12 giant woodsman brothers at Christmas who destroyed his house. Then he let a man with a polar bear stay over, and the giants stepped on her, and she roared and settler tells them it’s just his puppy.

So there are a lot of named characters in this book, even those with very small roles, but lest that frighten you, I would like to mention that all the focus characters are very different. You may be a little confused as to which of the many supporting cast they are talking to, but then again so are they. On such travels, they are meeting many people quickly. Anyway, Mr. Tolly has another story about two fighting giants in one port town who end up having an epic fight.  And Mr. Tolly likes to make amusing asides:

“Now, it is a verifiable actuality that any two men can talk politely and even become friends, given the chance; but put them in different uniforms, or train them in the use of different tools or philosophies or shaving soap, and you will have two men who are sure that the other lives primarily to contradict him. I did know a fellow once who insisted that reasonable men can disagree, but somebody knocked him cold with a cast-iron frying pan just then and I never did hear the remainder of his hypothesis.” p 223

Mister Walton has the best acquaintances. I believe Mr. Tolly was the Underwoods, but Mister Walton makes friends with everybody, and everybody has a story. Like Mrs. Eccles on the ferry. (Why were they on the ferry? I don’t remember, other than by reason of the madcap adventuring. Oh well, at least I remember they were on a ferry.)

“I would like my great-granddaughter to marry someone who isn’t too handsome. Her father was very good-looking and he slouched, and I was never very fond of him. He used to look at himself in the mirror, and he denied cheating at solitaire.”

“Did he cheat at solitaire, then?” wondered Mister Walton cautiously.

“Of course he did! Everyone cheats at solitaire! Denying it, though, indicates a lack of character. Do you cheat at solitaire?” p 231

I do not cheat at solitaire—Microsoft won’t let me.

This next is just a random quote, and I don’t actually remember who said it or when, but it’s one of my favorites:

“Anything is possible,” said Mr. Berkeley. “Irony is history’s favorite form of expression.” p 246

Remember the handsome guy who saved Cordelia at the dock? Who showed up again? His name is John Benning, and he becomes her beau, and follows her to the far reaches of Maine.  This is a snippet of conversation between John Benning and Dresden Scott, the guide they hire to actually find the land, it’s so far out. Can you guess her true love from these few representative sentences?

“…It’s not such a big mountain,” said John Benning tethering the horses by the porch. “There are peaks in the Rockies three times as old.”

“He [old Pamola, the thundermaker] is stooped with age,” came a new voice, rich with broad vowels, and carrying with it the hint of a burr. “In his youth he made other mountains dizzy from craning their necks to look into his face” p 257

I hope I didn’t give away too much, but reading the text John Benning is suspicious to the reader by virtue of being so handsome and suave. And then they give the rest of it away. But I won’t. Hah!—now you have to read it to find out.

And finally, a few paragraphs on the origins of the name of my favorite character barring Mister Walton (because of course they are friends and pretty close to equal in terms of awesomeness):

“Wyman–that was Sundry’s father–was arguing with his wife what the baby’s name should be, and each of them had thought of half a dozen possibilities by the time the doctor was called for. It was a surprise, of course, when two boys arrived. When Mrs. Moss and her sons were sleeping, and the doctor was in the kitchen washing up, he told Sundry’s sister—who couldn’t have been more than six or seven at the time—to go in and ask her father if they had come up with any names, so that he could write out the certificate of birth.

” ‘Have you come up with any names, Papa?’ asks the little girl.

” ‘Various and sundry,’ says Wyman. So, thinking these are her brothers’ names, she goes out and announces the fact to the doctor.

“Very carefully,” said the sheriff [Sheriff Charles Piper], ghost-writing on the table, “the doctor entered the names, though by his own account he spelt ‘Varius’ without the o because he thought it looked Latin. he had every intention of making out a real certificate ounce every had appreciated the joke, but Wyman decided he liked the names, and they stuck.”

“That’s wonderful!”exclaimed Mister Walton. “All the more so since Sundry’s name does him justice somehow.” p 149-150

This is apparently the first in a series. I know nothing of the others, and unfortunately all are out of print. Check your local libraries! (Especially in Maine, since libraries like regional authors.)

Reid, Van. Cordelia Underwood: Or the Marvelous Beginnings of the Moosepath League. Penguin Putnam: New York, New York. (1998) -Hardcover-  ISBN: 0-670-88097-3


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