Put on your smile and your thinking cap for a review of The Hidden Hand by E.D.E.N Southworth.
This book was originally published in two volumes, Capitola the Madcap and Capitola's Peril. Originally written in 1859, Lamplighter Publishers has picked it up, and turned it into a beautiful edition, which I have the great happiness to possess.
But instead of drooling over the cover, I'll tell you what you really want to know: the story inside.
"Sar, de Reverend Mr. Parson Goodwin say how he must see you yourse'f, personable, alone!"
"See me, you villain! Didn't you tell him I had retired?"
"Yes Marse, I tell him how you were gone to bed and asleep more'n an hour ago, and he ordered me to come wake you up, and say how it were a matter o' life and death!"
"Life and death? What have I to do with life and death? I won't stir!"
Poor "Old Hurricane" is dragged out of his comfortable bed in the middle of a thunderstorm to hear the dying confession of an old woman. The woman is a midwife, and she tells him of a mysterious birth she witnessed about twelve or thirteen years before. Blindfolded and brought to a rich house, she helped a poor imprisoned young woman give birth to twins. With a man pacing back and forth outside the door, and demanding the child at intervals, the mother implored the woman to give the man the dead boy, and to hide the live girl herself. After the adventures of several years, the dying woman finds this impossible to carry out, and begs Old Hurricane to take up where she left off.
He picks up the child, daughter of the missing woman and a murdered father, and finds on his hands a stubborn little woman of great resourcefulness, courage, and disrespect. Used to losing his temper upon the slightest occasion, he learns that his thirteen-year-old ward can uncannily turn him to repentance and wrap him around her little finger. Unfortunately, he can't wrap her around his. As he desperately tries to restrain her from falling into the hands of her evil uncle or the local highway thief, Black Donald, his new experiences threaten to bring back the darkest portions of his past: a forsaken wife living as a destitute widow, a son and rightful heir to his estate, and a nephew, the son of an estranged sister.
Marah, Old Hurricane's wife, lives in a little cottage with her son Traverse, a sweet and saintly boy that falls in love with the local doctor's daughter. Traverse and Clara become engaged a short time before the doctor's death, but upon the reading of his will, they find that Doctor Day gave his daughter into the charge of his dead wife's relative, the wicked Colonel Le Noir. Desperate for her safety and struggling to establish a practice for himself, Traverse falls into the depths of despair.
As the two separate plots threaten to come together around the curmudgeonly Old Hurricane, he endeavors to bring Capitola's wicked relative, Colonel Le Noir to justice, while avoiding repentance himself. But with Capitola on his hands, his job gets more and more difficult. This free-spirited young lady loves solitary rides and visits to the beautiful Clara Day at her uncle's estate.
Unknown to either of them, Colonel Le Noir discovers that his niece, the rightful heir to his dead brother's estate, is still alive. He partners with Black Donald to do away with her.
If you love traditional plots and conclusions a bit cliche, (which I do upon occasion) then you'll have no problem enjoying Capitola's adventures. In spite of the common themes of damsels in distress, wicked guardians, and rightful heirs, Capitola will give you some rather shocking surprises--such as challenging Colonel Le Noir's son, Craven, to a duel, or switching places with Clara Day, who's about to be forced to the altar.
Altogether, you might have to work a little to find the 'moral' of the story. Most stories of the time express their morals so clearly that you don't really have to think much about what it is. But in this one, while it's not impossible to find, you have to dig a little deeper and think a little harder. Both types are good, and both are necessary. However, I don't find it offensive when some Christian authors purposely make it a little harder so that readers are forced to dig a little.
Capitola herself is not a model of good behavior. Far from it. But those around her, including the God-fearing Marah and chivalrous Herbert Grayson, help restrain this wild beauty and show her how situations can be rightly handled. E.D.E.N Southworth, doesn't hold a 'revival meeting' at the end, making everybody perfect, but I think she's trying to show the needs of her characters. Old Hurricane has lived so long in guilt and anger that only his estranged wife's innocence and mercy can slowly soften his rough edges. Capitola had to protect herself in the streets for a good few years, so only Herbert Grayson's appealing, but patient bravery can teach her what true courage really looks like. And when you know who the characters really are, you know that their development will go greatly beyond "THE END".
I'd do a bit of critiquing on Old Hurricane. His choice of words, and that of Black Donald's gang, is a bit salty. I'm not fond of gauzy disguises for language, but for the most part, I think Southworth tries to water it down a bit. He often throws missiles at his negro manservant, Wool, and constantly gives notice to his housekeeper. His servants live in fear and trembling, between Hurricane's rage and Cap's stubbornness, which just shows another reason why he really needs Marah.
On the plus side, you'll see many scripture quotations and the fear of the Lord worked right into the text, especially with the Marah/Traverse crowd, but even in Cap upon occasion. Prayer for deliverance and trust in the Lord are common themes here, as well as a reliance upon God's hand in the face of injustice.
I first found the story in my local library system, and I am now the happy owner. If you would like to purchase this book, to which I give five stars, then please go to Amazon or Lamplighter Publishing. Or, if you happen to go to homeschool conventions, many of them have independent Lamplighter distributers that would probably carry The Hidden Hand.
Through gothic twists, evil villains, and headstrong heroes, The Hidden Hand will hold you in its vise-like grip until its stunning conclusion.