He had a head to contrive.—EDWARD HYDE:
History of the Rebellion, III, Book VII, section 84
Frederick Van Rensselaer Dey, son of David Peter Dey and Emma Brewster (Sayre) Dey †(pronounced Dye), was born in Watkins Glen, New York, February 10, 1861. He was educated at the Havana (N. Y.) Academy, and later was graduated from the Law School of Columbia University. For a time he practiced law and was a junior partner of William J. Gaynor (afterwards Mayor of New York and quite famous for having been photographed while being shot in the head). Dey took up story writing for amusement while convalescing from a serious illness, and later made it his life work. His first long story was written for Beadle and Adams in 1881. In 1891, Street & Smith engaged him to continue a series of novelettes, begun by John R. Coryell, relating the adventures of a detective named Nick Carter. It is said that Dey wrote between one thousand and eleven hundred "Nick Carter" stories, but besides these he wrote more serious books, some for adults, and serials. Two of his earlier books, before his dime-novel days, "The Magic Word" and "The Magic Story," written in 1899, were extremely popular and are said to have passed through twenty editions, and his "Night Wind" stories, written under the pen name "Varick Venardy,"(1) were also sold in large numbers. Dey used various other pseudonyms, but the only ones under which he wrote for Beadle were "Marmaduke Dey" and "Frederick M. Dey." Patten(2) said that "Frederick Dewey" also belonged to Dey, but since Dewey wrote for Beadle as early as 1873, and Dey was born in 1861, that is hardly possible. For other publishers he used the names "Ross Beckman,"(3) "Dirck Van Doren,"(4) and "Frederic Ormund";(5) and he was one of several writers who used the names "Bertha M. Clay,"(6) and "Marian Gilmore."(7)
Dey was twice married; first to Annie Shepard, of Providence, R. I., June 4, 1885, by whom he had two children, and second to Mrs. Hattie (Hamblin) Cahoon, April 1, 1898. The second Mrs. Dey was herself an author, writing under the name "Haryot Holt Dey." Broke, and with no market for his stories after the passing of the dime-novel era, Dey shot himself in his room in the Hotel Broztell, New York City, some time in the night of April 25-26, 1922.
Dey had a very vivid imagination. A writer in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said:(8)
Dey, like Harbaugh, had an incorrigible imagination. It made him famous as a writer, but it also had its penalties. . . . He had always indulged a penchant for playing that he was a millionaire and spent his money accordingly. He would pose as a wealthy sportsman, a rich California fruit-grower, a millionaire railroad official—any fiction that seemed to lend glamour to his momentary position was not beyond the reach of his voracious imagination. As for the expense of his posing, that didn't matter. It was worth any price to him just to be regarded for a few minutes as the romantic figure he sought to impersonate.
Dey was always purchasing estates and never completing the transactions. Once he had $200 in his pocket and it was all he had in the world. But he went over to the Erie Basin posing as a millionaire and after looking over several yachts, picked out a craft worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000, and gave the $200 as evidence of good faith to clinch the option until he could arrange the terms of the contract. The dreamer had just those few minutes of being looked upon and pointed out as the purchaser of a yacht. . . .
Before he killed himself he wrote to a friend telling him of what he intended to do. The friend got the letter and hastened to the little hotel where the "Colonel" was staying. As he had not registered under his own name, the visitor could not locate him and described him to the clerk.
"That description fits a gentleman on the seventh floor," said the clerk, "but surely he had no thought of suicide. The man is a wealthy fruit grower in California. Why, last night before he went up to his room, he offered me a position in the fruit business in California."
"That's the man I am looking for," said his friend.
And it was. The hotel clerk probably was the last human being Dey spoke to on earth; he had just posted a letter telling his friend that "everything had gone to smash and he belonged with it" and that he "couldn't stand the gaff," and then on his way up to his room, which as likely as not he couldn't pay for, he stopped to offer the clerk a job on his fruit ranch in California.
Such a tremendous imagination as this it was that lay at the root of his success as a story teller. . . .and it is very reminiscent of Captain Kearney, in Marryat's story of "Peter Simple."
REFERENCES: Besides the references given in the footnotes, see also St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 29, 1923, with portrait; Newark News, May 20, 1922; Current Opinion. March, 1917; Frederic van Rensselaer Dey, "How I Wrote a Thousand 'Nick Carter' Novels," The American Magazine, February, 1920, 19, 159-60, 163, with portrait; Dr. Frank P. O'Brien, "Nick Carter's Father," abstract of an article in the New York Press reprinted in Literary Digest, May 10, 1913, 1095-98; "The Creator of 'Nick Carter'," Literary Digest, May 20, 1922, 40-42, with portrait; Malcolm Cowley, "Nick Carter," Brentano's Book Chat, 34-37 (clipping, year unknown); Joseph Van Raelte, "Nick Carter; The Picturesque Career of the Man Who Made Him," The Century Magazine, Nov. 1927, 91-97.
Under the name "Marmaduke Dey" he wrote for Beadle:
Banner Weekly. Nos. 346, 549, 554, 557
Dime Library. Nos. 152, 534, 1072
Half-Dime Library. No. 841
SPECIMEN OF FREDERICK V. DEY'S STYLE
"Captain Ironnerve, the Counterfeiter Chief; or, The Gipsy Queen's Legacy." Dime Library No. 152, 2-3, 4-5.
An hour's brisk walk brought Lorna to the Sighing Pine, and after hesitating an instant, she stooped and picked up a fallen limb and drew near the place.
She had not hesitated or stopped a moment to think what might be the consequences of the signal she was about to give. She trusted blindly in the word of the old woman—trusted her with that faith which is given by continuous intercourse and habitual belief.
She knew perfectly well that something of moment would transpire, or her grandmother would not have given her the directions. The name "Baldo" kept ringing through her brain, and with a firm hand and steadily beating heart, she smote the shaggy bark twice.
She waited and no response came.
It was an enormous tree, whose high top far over-towered weaker growth around, but when Lorna struck it, it sent forth a hollow sound; but still no answer came.
Suddenly she remembered she was to strike it four times, with a pause between the third and fourth strokes, and accordingly she rapped again.
This time the reply was immediate.
A door, so well concealed that the closest inspection would have failed to discover it, flew open, and a rough, rasping voice within called out:
"What do ye want?"
Lorna sprung back in dismay when the door opened so suddenly and the harsh voice spoke to her, but recovering herself quickly, she came to the opening.
"Vega sent me," was all she said, and a little shriveled, dried-up specimen of humanity slipped through the aperture.
Lorna started back with a cry of alarm at this ungainly spectacle, but the stranger merely gave utterance to a hollw chuckle, that sounded like the rattle of skeleton's bones, and stuck out his long bony fingers.
"You're Lorna, I suppose. What does Vega want?"
"Are you Baldo?" asked Lorna, instead of replying to his question.
If he had stood erect he might have measured five feet or more, but he was so bent that he looked no more than four.
Little black, beady eyes peered from under a pair of white, shaggy eyebrows, and though the hair was missing from the top of his head, yet it grew in abundance around the sides of the scalp and fell in long, snowy, unkempt ringlets over his shoulders. His bent form rested itself upon a knotted stick, and altogether Old Baldo looked a veritable "Nick-'o-the Woods."
"Vega died this morning," said Lorna, as soon as the old man assured her of his identity, "and she told me to come to you."
"He-he-he!" chuckled Baldo. "Dead, eh? Well, we've all got to die some time. I s'pose you want me to bury her, eh? Come inside, child, an' I'll go with you soon. He, he, he! Dead." And Baldo hobbled, rather than walked, into the tree, closely followed by Lorna.
Silently, and without any fear, Lorna followed Baldo into the giant tree, whose trunk had so readily thrown open its doors to her. She did not stop to think of any danger that might be concealed there, but followed in the footsteps of the old man without so much as a thought of what might lie hidden in the tree's mysterious depths.
As soon as they had entered, Baldo closed the door with a bang, and striking a light, applied it to a candle which he took from his pocket, and proceeded to lead the way down a lengthy flight of steps, Lorna passing along close behind him without asking a question.
Reaching the foot of the steps, they followed the passage in a straight line for fully fifty feet, when it suddenly branched off, one passage leading directly to the right, and the other directly to the left. Taking the one that led to the left, they followed along this for perhaps a hundred feet more, when they were brought to a stand-still by a huge oaken door, completely covered by brass nails, which sparkled brightly in the flickering light of the candle.
Baldo paused a moment when they reached this door, and regarded his companion strangely for an instant.
"Stand back a little," he said, presently. "I want to show you the effect this door would have upon any one who tried to break it open."
Picking up a stone that lay at his feet, he cast it against the solid oak and nail-heads, when, as if by magic, the brass knobs fell aside, revealing a hollow behind each one.
"You see," said the old man, with a smile of satisfaction on his countenance, "that should any one attempt to gain admittance here unasked, their first move on reaching this door would be to break it down. The first stroke they made would cause the nail-heads to drop aside, but would reveal nothing but so many holes in their places. But the next stroke would send five hundred bullets whizzing up this passage, for each place you see there is the muzzle of a pistol barrel. They are all worked by the same spring, and the spring connects with each brass nail, so you see it would be impossible to strike the door without working the springs. The other passage is protected in the same manner."
"But why do you need this protection?" asked Lorna, whose curiosity was at last aroused.
"That you shall see presently," answered Baldo, as he touched a spring in the side of the corridor which caused the knobs to fly back to their places; and then another, at which the door swung slowly open, revealing a similar passageway beyond.
Through this second corridor they traversed for some distance, when reaching another door, Baldo, by means of another secret spring threw it open, and Lorna found herself in a large, square room, furnished with simple elegance, and evidently with an eye to comfort, for settees and divans were scattered here and there, while handsome rugs almost hid the floor from view.
A desk stood in one corner, and a large iron chest in another; pictures that a connoisseur might delight to gaze upon, hung from the walls, and from the center of the ceiling hung suspended a large chandelier of cut-glass, from the angles of which, varied colored lights were scintillating, giving the room, or rather cavern, a beautiful and yet a ghostly appearance.
Upon the desk, which stood open, a common student-lamp was burning, and altogether the place looked the home of luxuriance, ease and solitude.
Lorna almost gasped with surprise when Baldo led her into the beautiful apartment. It was like Fairy-land to her, who had only been accustomed to the commonest kind of living, and to tramping about all day in the woods, picking the flowers and listening to the varied and joyous songs of the many birds, whose plumage and names she was very familiar with; but to enter an old pine tree, by way of a door that she had never dreamed existed, and passing from that, through a long dark corridor into this abode of elegance, seemed to her like enchantment. She could only gaze around the place, speechless, and astonishment depicted upon every feature.
Baldo smiled, half pleased, at her surprise, and motioning her to one of the couches, he seated himself on the huge chest in the corner, and said:
"Well, my child, you appear to be somewhat astonished."
"Oh, I am indeed!" she replied, looking up into his face in wonder.
"Do you like the looks of things here?" asked the' old man.
Had Lorna been older and more experienced in the ways and mannerisms of the world, she would probably have said no; but living as she had, with no knowledge of what was transpiring around her, and coming of a race whose blood clamors for gold and luxuries it can buy, she was pleased, and clapping her hands and laughing, answered yes. Her simple nature and uneducated mind could not stop to reason as to the whys and wherefores of this mysterious retreat; she only knew that it existed, and that she was pleased.
"Would you like to live here all the time?" again asked Baldo, after a pause, in which he had been regarding her closely.
"Couldn't I go out into the woods, among the birds and flowers, at all?" she asked, tremulously.
"Certainly! you could go out all you liked."
"Then I would like to live here; oh, so much!"
"You shall, my child."
"Oh, may I indeed?" and a glad smile wreathed itself about her beautifully-formed mouth.
"Vega is dead, and you could not live all alone in that miserable hut; besides, I promised her that I would take care of you, and in order to do that, I must have you near me."
"But you must conform to two or three things which will be necessary to your welfare if you remain. I am not the only inhabitant of this place by far, although they mostly mind what I say. Still, it is one of their set rules that no petticoats be allowed in the 'Pine,' and I have brought you here at the risk of my life."
"You shall see. In this chest you will find a number of suits of clothes, and one out of the lot will be sure to fit you. I will leave you for a time, and when I return I want to find a boy instead of a girl waiting to receive me. Do you understand?"
"But my hair?"
"I will cut it."
"And my ear-rings?"
"You must remove them."
"You must make it rougher."
"My name—what of that?"
"I had not thought of that; but I will have one for you when I return," and with this, Baldo left her.
"Am I dreaming, or is this a reality?" thought Lorna, as she proceeded toward the chest, and threw back the lid.
Coats, caps, pants, boots, shoes, everything that goes to make up the dress of a man, was scattered promiscuously in the chest, and Lorna, anxious not only to get the best, but the one which would fit her the nicest, pulled them all upon the floor.
Finally selecting one of the suits, she donned it, and then viewed herself in the mirror that hung immediately in front of her.
"I rather like this," she thought. "I wonder if any one will know that I am a girl. But I must put those things back in their places, or Baldo will scold."
While folding them up, and taking more pains with the packing than the one had done who had the job before her, something in the pocket of one of the coats attracted her attention, and with the curiosity natural to her sex, she inserted her hand, and drew it out, indosing an enameled case which she quickly opened.
The face in the case was that of a young girl, in the fancy dress of a Spanish Gipsy dancing-girl, with a tambourine in her hand, and she was poised in the dancing attitude.
† Correction made as per Volume 3.
|1||Pearson, Dime Novels, 1929, 214; Nat. Cyc. Amer. Biog., V, 1937, 178.|
|2||Gilbert Patten, "Dime-Novel Days," Saturday Evening Post, CCIII, February 28, 1931, 126.|
|3||Nat. Cyc. Amer. Biog., XXVI, 1937, 178.|
|4||Literary Digest, May 10, 1913, 1097.|
|5||Ibid., loc. cit.|
|6||Nat. Cyc. Amer. Biog., XXVI, 1937, 178.|
|7||New York Times, April 27, 1922.|
|8||Sunday, July 29, 1923.|