Marcia of the Doorstep by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1999)
Welcome to another exciting episode of Coincidence Theater.
Today's example was written in 1924 but was not published until 1999 when Donald M. Grant, Publisher issued the book along with another unpublished Burroughs work, the three-act play You Lucky Girl! According to the introduction by Danton Burroughs, his grandfather submitted the work several times during his lifetime, yet it remained unpublished. Danton Burroughs gives no reason for this, although there are hints as to why.
Burroughs wanted to be more than the author of Tarzan. "But every time he attempted to write something besides Tarzan of the Apes; John Carter of Mars; David Innes of Pellucidar; or Carson of Venus; his editors complained that they wanted another Tarzan story. Sometimes the only way that he could sell something else was to promise the editors another story about the inimitable Tarzan." His first foray into romance and mystery was The Girl from Farris's, written in 1914. Five years later, he produced The Efficiency Expert and in 1921, The Girl from Hollywood. Marcia of the Doorstep was his fourth and final romantic mystery novel. Burroughs then concentrated on more books about Tarzan and on interplanetary heroes, with an occasional foray into other genres.
Marcia of the Doorstep, at 125,000 words, is the longest novel Burroughs ever wrote. It could have been much longer. The ending is rushed in an attempt to tie up as many loose ends as possible. Many of the trademark ERB effects are here: a seemingly doomed romance, a plucky heroine and a handsome and noble hero, racial stereotypes (although certainly was more of a trademark of the times and not limited to Burroughs by any means) a shipwreck, a jungle, opposing camps of good and evil, the amazing ability of characters to wander all over the place just missing one another, and coincidence after coincidence. For all his faults, Burroughs could tell a good story and here he plunges the reader into a fast-moving (albeit hackneyed) tale.
The story opens with John Hancock Chase, Jr., the son of a rich and influential former United States senator, being blackmailed by a shady lawyer who claims that Chase, already married, had a drunken one-night affair resulted in an illegitimate child, a daughter. The lawyer, Heimer, has bled young Chase dry and threatens to release the evidence if he doesn't produce another ten thousand dollars. At his wit's end, Chase commits suicide, leaving his family to wonder why. At about the same time a baby has left at the doorstep of a thespian couple. They decide to call the baby Marcia and to raise her themselves.
Fast forward sixteen years. Marcia is now a beautiful, talented, and well-admired young lady with hopes of being a professional singer. She is doted upon by her parents who have made no secret that she was a doorstep baby. She has a steady beau in the form of Dick Steele and the two hope to one day be married.
Marcia's father, Marcus Aurelius Sackett, is a talented stage actor who scoffs at trivial attempts to entertain such as musical comedies. For him, the stage is a noble profession and his talents should be used on only the highest of dramas. Unfortunately, they time are changing. Motion pictures are now the vogue, followed by stage farces and musical comedies. His latest venture, as a player in the Belasco stage company, has failed and the company has folded without paying its actors. Now, broke and unemployed, he cannot even afford to continue paying for Marcia's voice lessons. Belasco's attorney, who coincidentally happens to be Heimer, meets with Sackett and is introduced to Marcia. Upon learning that Marcia is a doorstep baby and the date she was left there, Heimer goes to Chase's father and tells him he has a granddaughter. The old man is outraged: here is the probable reason for his son's suicide. He agrees to give his granddaughter a thousand dollars a month and to give the Sacketts a lump sum of twenty thousand dollars to repay them for raising the girl, but there is a caveat -- neither the girl nor the Sacketts shall know his identity and he shall never meet with them.
Marcia, in the meantime, is friends with Patsy, a girl in her vocal class. Patsy has been asked to sing at a reception by her sister, Mrs.Homer Ashton, and is looking for someone to sing with her...and who better than Marcia. The Ashtons are thrilled with Marcia's talent, grace, personality, and manners. They are planning a trip to the Orient and asked Marcia to come with them nd be a companion to Patsy. At first, Marcia is hesitant but, after learning of her thousand dollar a month windfall, she agrees. Accompanying them will be Banks van Spiddle, a harmless but well-meaning popinjay who falls for Marcia; and meeting them in Hawaii will be Jack Chase, a young army officer. Wait. Chase? Where have we heard that name before?...Right...he's Marcia's brother! Too bad neither of them realize it.
Did I mention that some of the crew on Ashton's boat are "damned wobblies" bent on fomenting trouble and mutiny? Anyway, Jack falls for Marcia and Marcia falls for Jack but neither do anything about it because Patsy told Jack that Marcia is engaged to Banks and Marcia thinks Jack love Patsy. Phew! Then comes the sudden storm and the shipwreck and the crew with Jack and Marcia end up in one boat with the rest of the passengers in another. The boats get separated and each group believes the other is lost. After many weeks of drifting, Jack and Marcia's boat lands on a deserted island.
Then, coincidence upon coincidence, blah, blah blah. The head of the damned wobblies has designs on Marcia but Jack defends her honor. Did I mention the pirates? Back in the States, Heimer has defrauded Marcus Sackett of all his money, leaving the couple in direr straights than ever.
It would be a mistake to look at this book critically. It's many flaws are minor compared to Burroughs' story-telling.
A fun but minor part of the ERB canon.