Maro Orlando Rolfe, journalist, novelist, and historian, was born January 28, 1852, in Monterey, New York, the son of Furman Rolfee and his wife, Angelina Amelia Reed. When Maro was about two years of age, his parents removed to Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, and here the future writer received his grammar and high school education. He began writing at the age of fifteen, and in 1867 published a small amateur newspaper. He wrote short sketches, poetry, and tales for Beadle and Adams' Saturday Journal in the early 1870's, and in 1872 and 1873 had four tales in Frank Starr's American Novels, the latter reprinted several times in various editions.
On the 6th of January, 1875, he was married in Lawrenceville to Alice Estelle Potter, daughter of John and Chloe Potter, early settlers of Potter County, Pennsylvania, and by her he had two sons. John F. Rolfee (1880-1937), a newspaper man of Elmira, New York, and later publisher of the Hartford (Conn.) Times, and Albert W. Rolfe (born 1884), now associated with his wife Mabel C. Rolfee in the antique business in Elmira.
For a number of years after his marriage, Rolfee continued to reside in Lawrenceville, and during this period contributed to the New York Weekly, the Toledo Blade, Yankee Blade, Cincinnati Enquirer, Albany Telegram, Hartford Conrant, Pomeroy's Democrat, and other papers, and at the same time wrote thrillers for the Nickel Library(†1), War Library, Old Cap Collier Library, and Golden Library. Not all of his work, however, was of this character, for about this time he began the publication of the county histories for which he afterwards became well known. In 1877 the first work of this kind appeared, namely "Old Tioga and Ninety Years of its Existence," published at Tioga, Pennsylvania, in 1877.
In 1885 he left Lawrenceville and went to Kansas City, Missouri, and was one of the original members of the Western Authors' and Artists' Club, founded in 1888 by C. M. Harger and Arthur Grissom. He was now contributing many stories of adventure to the eastern publications as well as to Hearth and Home and the Chicago Blade, but soon began to devote himself more to serious writing and in 1888 published a "History of Kansas City." Two years later the Journalist (Vol. XI, June 14, 1890, 10) said of him: "The wonderfully brilliant genius of this section is writing a history of Wyandotte County, Kansas. As a historian he has no peer in the west."
From Kansas City Rolfee went to Chicago in 1890, was with the Inter Ocean for a time, and later wrote serials for the Chicago Blade and other papers. Always of a roving disposition, and not satisfied to stay in one place, he did much freelance work at various places.
Rolfee now went to California and was connected with the San Francisco Herald and the Los Angeles Times. In September, 1900, he was seriously injured during the famous Galveston tornado; after a long illness he returned to Los Angeles and lived many years at San Gabriele. Originally a Methodist, he later became an enthusiastic Christian Scientist. He died at Monterey Park, Los Angeles, California, April 15, 1925, after a lingering illness of Bright's disease and diabetes.
The definitely identified pseudonyms of Maro Rolfee, as listed by his son, Albert W. Rolfee, are "M. O' Rolfee, the Irish novelist," "Oram Eflor," "Col. Oram Eflor," "Col. Oram R. Me Henry," "The Old Detective," "The Young Detective," "A Civil War Captain," "Sergeant Rolfee," and "The Novelist Detective, M. O. Rolfee." Tubbs gives "Mrs. Anna A. Robie," and it is possible that "A. W. Rolker" was also his.
REFERENCES: Letters from Albert W. Rolfee, 1942; Charles Tubbs, Bibliography of Tioga County, Pennsylvania, Wellsboro, Pa., 1904; The Journalist, New York, VIII, May 19, 1888, 5; VIII, August 18, 1888; VIII, November 3, 1888, 10; VIII, December 8, 1888, 10; IX, March 2, 1889, 10; X, June 14, 1890, 10. The obituary notice in the Los Angeles Daily Times, April 17, 1925, 16, col. 8, gave his age as 72 years; actually it was 73.
Starr's American Novels. Nos. 96, 102, 105, 113
Pocket Novels. Nos. 47, 70, 91, 132
Dime Novels. No. 604
Boy's Library (octavo). Nos. 182, 226, 239, 286
Pocket Library. No. 486
SPECIMEN OF MARO ROLFE'S STYLE
Mori, the Man-Hunter; or, The Counterfeiters of the Border, Starr's American Novels, no. 113, Chapter VII. March 18, 1873.
"I've brought you here to make some kind of an arrangement with you about what you've seen to-night," he said.
Elnathan leaned on the barrel of his old shot-gun and eyed him askance a minute or two, then he said:
"Ye want me tew keep my mouth shet about them counterfeiters, I calc'late."
"That's it," answered Taine.
There was a sharp twinkle in the down-easter's big blue eyes as he went on:
"I kin git a cool two hundred fer doin' t'other thing, ye know."
"I know; and I'll give you just as much to dear out and tell no tales."
"I calc'late tew dig out o' these 'ere parts," said Gershom, with a smile. "S'ciety ain't right pleasant, yew see —brought up in civilized kentry. I didn't intend to remain in this section; but I jest happened along here tonight, and hearin' an awful racket in the old house, went in tew see what was goin' on—and that's how I come tew hear about the counterfeiters."
He did not deem it wise to inform Taine that he had secreted himself in the old pine stub, for the express purpose of listening to his conversation with Tom Gary. Tired and weary, he had laid down to sleep in a thicket not far away, and he was awakened by their voices as they neared the stub; and when they stopped he crawled stealthily toward them, keeping it between them and himself, and ensconced himself in the aperture in the side of it.
"I come to the settlement below with some emigrants that ain't goin' any further, and I wanted to git a leetle further up. Come all the way from Maine, yew see, to speckilate out here. Sold my place nigh to Bangor for a nice leetle sum, and with it, stranger, I expect to make my independent fortin'—fan me with yer boot if I don't."
Taine's eyes flashed, and his face seemed to light up while the Yankee was speaking.
"Sold your place to pretty good advantage, eh?" he said.
"Well, now," was the smart answer, as the down-easter jammed his hand down into the depths of his trowers pocket, and closed his fingers around a well-filled wallet that lay at the bottom of it, "I didn't throw it away—you may be sworn!"
"You don't appear like a man to drive a poor bargain. I believe you'll make a good speck here."
"That's my calc'lations—calc'late tew speckilate—yew've jest hit the nail on the head. If I can't drive a good bargain, there's no use o' any other feller's tryin'. Used tew peddle in the winter when farmin' was dull—bin in every house 'twixt Gershom Holler and Bethel more'n fifty times and sold more'n five million yards o' lace and—"
"A nice comfortable little home such as a man like you'd be apt to have," interrupted Taine. "Must have brought a good thousand, I should think."
"Purty nigh onto it," said Elnathan, with evident pride—"nine hundred and seventy-five; and I hain't used but seventy a-gittin' here, so I've got the rest on it all snug and safe in my breeches."
"Nine hundred and five dollars you've got in hand," said Taine, in his careless way; "that'll do to begin on. I knew a man that commenced speculating with only five hundred, and in less than three months he cleared a plump five thousand, and he'd never had a quarter of the experience in doing business that you've had either."
Elnathan's big blue eyes brightened wonderfully at the prospect that loomed up before his mental vision just then.
"Yes, nine hundred and five now; and before I leave here I'll have twelve hundred and five—can't keep that ar' secret o' yourn less'n three hundred dollars."
Taine assumed an attitude of surprise.
"Three hundred!" he repeated. "Why, man, I hadn't calculated on paying you only two—that's as much as you'd get by telling the Vigilantes."
"Couldn't think of it a minit," said Gershom, quickly, "I run the risk o' bein' snatched up as an accomplice-accessory and so forth, yew see."
Taine did not reply at first; he seemed suddenly to relapse into a contemplative mood.
"Let's think of it awhile," he said, at last, turning about and sitting down on the trunk of a fallen tree close by. "I'm tired and so are you if you've walked from the settlement today—it's a good thirty miles it it's a rod. Sit down and rest your legs, and we'll talk the matter over in a little while. I don't believe we're a-going to disagree about the trifling matter of a hundred dollars—it wouldn't make nor break either of us, I fancy."
"Kind of a skittish place," Elnathan said, as he leaned his old shot-gun against the tree-trunk, and, resting his hands beside it, peered halt-timidly over into the black depths of the ravine beyond. "Purty close to that ar' gully, but I reckon we won't fall off if we presarve our equilibrium by keepin' of our center of gravity over our base, as the schoolma'am used to say."
There were several minutes' silence, during which Taine sat apparently deeply buried in thought, and Elnathan, who had never passed a moment of perfect quiet when awake in his life, hitched about uneasily.
"I can't stand this confounded mumness!" he exclaimed, at last. "Can't we dew something tew pass away time—play kurds, or somethin'?"
Taine looked up with a start, and eyed Gershom keenly, as he commenced fumbling about in the inside pocket of his swallow-tailed coat.
"Do you indulge?" he asked.
"What's that?" asked Elnathan.
"Can you play, I mean?"
Another of those cute grins swept over the Yankee's face, and he answered instantly:
"Well, I reckon I can—a little, that is."
"Old sledge?" asked Taine.
"That's my main hold," answered Elanthan, drawing out a greasy, well-worn pack of cards and spreading them out on the tree-trunk between them. "Have a twist? Good game, ain't it—I'm a boss boy at it—beat everything in our parts."
"I don't like to be beaten," said Taine, throwing one leg over the tree-trunk and facing round toward him, "but I don't think of anything better to pass away a little time than a few games of cards—and we can make terms while we play; business and pleasure combined, you see."
The Yankee got in position with an awkward motion of one of his attenuated legs, and after shuffling the pasteboards a few seconds laid them down on their combined seat and table with a wide flourish of his enormous hand.
"Cut for deal?" he asked. "I want yew to have just as fair a show as I have." Taine cut a queen. Elnathan showed an ace. "Yours," said Taine.
"Yes—I always cut lucky," and Elnathan smiled. The gambler smiled too, to see his complacency. The Yankee dealt the cards, and the game began. In five minutes it was finished.
"You've beaten," said Taine, smiling again at the look of triumph on Elnathan's face, as he picked the cards up rapidly and began to shuffle them. "But it's my deal now, and I'm going to show you a trick worth two of yours. I believe I can wax you."
"Don't want to back yer opinion by a trifle in the way of the root of all evil, as the parson used to say?" said the Yankee. "It'll make it livelier and more interestin' like."
Taine looked at him, and had Elnathan been half as interested in watching his face as he was in watching the cards, he would have seen that its expression betokened keen pleasure and no little satisfaction at the turn matters were taking.
"How much dare you venture?" the gambler asked, as he stopped shuffling the cards and laid them down between them.
"Never play for less than five dollars." "You've been here before, I judge," said Taine, reaching over and giving him a commendatory tap on the shoulder, while he drew out a five-dollar bill and laid it down. "Plank your paper."
Unstrapping his old pocketbook—a large, old-fashioned sheepskin affair—the Yankee staked his money and the game went on. Elnathan won.
"You're a brick," said Taine, "Double it." Each laid down ten dollars.
"I've beaten you ag'in, I'll be sworn!" cried Elnathan. "So you have," said Taine, apparently considerably chopfallen at his non-success. "Do you want to play any more?"
"Of course I do. Double ag'in—maybe you'll git it back. Luck may turn, ye see."
"All right. Here's the stakes. Drive ahead," said Taine. "If luck don't turn before long, you'll break me clean and flat."
A few minutes passes— another game was played. "Jeewhitaker!" Elnathan almost yelled. "I've beat ag'in."
Taine did not say anything at first. He sat quite silent, watching Elnathan as a cat watches a mouse that it has caught and is playing with a little while before it gets ready to devour it. Pretty soon, with an appearance of sudden determination amounting almost to despair, he laid all the money he had on the tree-trunk.
"There!" he said with a curse. "I'm going to beat you or lose all of it."
"Right," said Elnathan, approvingly. "I like yer grit."
"You're lucky to-night," went on Taine, "or else you're cussed good at handling the paste-boards. I've made up my mind to win something or lose all. Will you play me? 'Twouldn't be fair, you see, not to give me a chance to win back what I'va lost."
"Right, I'll be sworn!" exclaimed the Yankee, giving the pack two or three brisk turns in his hands. "I mean dew dew the fair thing by yew—fair and square's my motto. Wan't to double up ag'in?"
Taine nodded and the game went on.
And they kept on playing game after game, Elnathan winning each time and doubling the stakes, till he was almost mad with his success, and Taine to all appearances insanely desperate. Elnathan watched him count his money, what he had left, and wondered if he was crazy enough to stake it and lose it.
"I'm going to try my luck once more," he said. "If we double the bet, we're even-handed to a dollar—whoever wins this time, wins all; whoever loses, loses all. If you beat me, I'm flat broke; if I beat you, you're busted."
Elnathan stared at him a minute.
"It's pesky risky," he said, musingly. "If I lose all of my capital, what'll become of my speculation?"
"And if you win, you've got almost a fortune without any speculation—don't you see?" said Taine. "You ought to be willing to run the risk if I am. Luck's all on your side. You ain't going to deny me the chance to get back what I've lost—just this last chance, when you know luck says you've got ten chances of winning to my one?"
"It wouldn't hardly be a fair shake, I'll be sworn!" said Elnathan, shuffling the cards contemplatively. Then he laid them down and put his money—every cent he had of his original nine hundred and five dollars and his winnings—beside Taine's.
The gambler smiled as he did so—that old, derisive smile of his; but Elnathan thought it was merely a grim smile of desperation; and both men commenced playing carefully and cooly the game that was to ruin one of them.
When they had finished, Elnathan Gershom's face was as pallid as that of a corpse, and Keno Taine, looking at him with his eyes full of triumph, saw him tremble, almost reel.
Taine scraped the money up quickly and put it in his pocket; then the tall form of the Yankee straightened up as though it was set on springs, and he confronted him with an angry, despairful look on his face, at which the gambler laughed.
"Luck's turned," he said, with a sneer. "How about your speculation, Mr. Gershom?"
"Yew've b'en foolin' me all along!" said Elnathan, hotly. "Yew've cheated me, and if yew don't give my money back I'll tell the Vigilantes what I know, and you'll hang with the rest."
Taine laughed again derisively. Then he darted his powerful arm forward, and with a prolonged cry of terror, the lank body of Elnathan Gershom shot over into the ravine.
† Correction made as per Volume 3.
|1||For the Nickel Library he wrote three stories under the name "Oram Eflor" and two under "W. O. R. McHenry."|