Friday, April 26, 2013

James B. Hendryx, The Promise: A Tale of the Great Northwest (1915)

7th edition cover
This is yet another logging camp novel, set in the Canadian woods somewhere north of Winnipeg. The story is a familiar one of a young man who is toughened by the strenuous life and grows into his manhood, thereby winning the respect of others and the love of a sweetheart.

Plot. Bill Carmody is the son of a wealthy Wall Street financier who expects the young man to learn the banking business. But Bill has no enthusiasm for it. Disowned by his father, he heads west, where his plans are literally derailed in a train accident. In the wreckage, he comes to the aid of a passenger who turns out to be a lumberman, H. D. Appleton, who senses greatness in the young man and gives him a job as a logger.

Before even reaching the logging camp, he kills a savage she-wolf that has stalked him. Assigned to a crew bossed by a brutal thug, Buck Moncrossen, he miraculously survives Moncrossen’s plots by to do away with him and develops a reputation as The Man Who Would Not Die.

Hudson's Bay post, Lake Winnipeg, 1884
Injured in one of these “accidents,” he is given shelter and medical attention by an Indian woman with a “half-breed” son and daughter, Jacques and Jeanne. To the Indian woman Bill is the only good white man she has known since her husband’s death. Confirming their mutual trust, she breaks a sheath knife in two, each keeping half and promising to come to the other’s aid should the other’s half be sent to them.

In a second winter season in the woods, Bill is made foreman of his own logging crew. Appleton brings a hunting party to the camp, and the women in attendance are marooned there after an early snowfall. Among them is a sweetheart, Ethel, whom Bill left behind in New York. Believing that she is now engaged to be married to another man, he maintains a respectful distance.

When her little brother, Charlie, is lost in a blizzard, Bill goes out into the storm to retrieve him. After days pass, the two are found near the camp, fallen in the snow and freezing to death. Ethel keeps a bedside vigil until he recovers.

Illustration, Hendryx' Connie Morgan in Alaska
In time Bill and Ethel confess their love for each other and are married at the logging camp. But in the moment their vows are exchanged, Jeanne arrives with her mother’s half of the sheath knife. Bill races off with her, fulfilling his promise, and the shocked Ethel is left at the altar before the assembled guests.

Bill and Jeanne eventually reach Moncrossen’s camp, where the villain is keeping the old woman a prisoner and without food, after she prevented his attempt to take Jeanne by force. Bill beats the man into a bloody pulp and then supervises the break-up of a logjam on the river. Afterward, Bill and Ethel stand together under a starlit sky, ending the novel with an embrace and a kiss.

Character. For Ethel’s little brother, Charlie, Bill has always been an idol and sums him up in a word, “square.” Recovering from minor injuries sustained during the train wreck, Bill won’t take a loan offered to him by Appleton, and he refuses to sue the railroad for damages.  He’s sustained no damages, he says. “Getting something for nothing is not playing the game” and no different from being a pickpocket. That’s pretty square.

In the woods, he learns to overcome his sense of superiority to mere ordinary men. After condescending to those he first meets there, he quickly sheds any claim to entitlement. As he addresses them as equals, in the vernacular of the woods, he is warmly accepted as one of their own. In Appleton’s words, he is a “gentleman” who “is not afraid to get out and work with his two hands—and work hard—and who has never learned the meaning of fear.”

Illustration, Hendryx' Connie Morgan in Alaska
Romance. The “half breed” Jeanne loves Bill tenderly and wants to be his wife. He is a powerful man, feared by others, and she would gladly give herself into his protection. She tells him that he will learn to love her if he doesn’t already. Bill admits that he owes his life to her and he loves her like a sister, but marriage to her would be wrong. “Only evil would come of it,” he explains.

By comparison, Ethel’s feelings for Bill run hot and cold. From the start, she loves him but her love is conditional. He needs to clean up his act if he intends to marry her. Much later, when he is found near dead in the blizzard, she is moved to discover that he has kept a pledge to abstain from alcohol. She sobs and stays by his bedside.

Alas, when he utters the name of Jeanne in his delirium, she is filled with sudden hatred. And we are told that “centuries of supercultivation and the refinement of breeding” give way in her, as does “the artificiality of years of unconscious eugenic selection.” Gentle lady no more, she is reduced to animal rage and regret. She has lost him, she realizes—and to an Indian! And so it goes between them.

Illustration, Hendryx' Connie Morgan in Alaska
Style. Hendryx is not a great stylist, but the storytelling is competent and the action and settings well observed. In an early chapter there is a vividly described train wreck, and he is deft at describing physical conflict. The killing of the she-wolf is told in breathless, minute detail. When Bill beats Moncrossen in a bare knuckles fight, each blow and its bloody impact are vividly rendered.

Hendryx is also masterful in the creation of suspense. There is a long account of Bill’s search for the boy Charlie and his discovery as a snowstorm strands them in a cold cavern. The description of their difficult, painful trek back to camp through the blinding blizzard is told with the gradual nail-biting revelation of their escalating peril.

James B. Hendryx
Wrapping up. James B. Hendryx (1880-1963) was born in Sauk Center, Minnesota, the son of a newspaper publisher. After dropping out of university, he traveled widely in the U.S. and Canada. Adventure prone, he tried his luck on the gold fields of the Yukon. Returning to the States, he held numerous jobs for short periods of time, before settling on a career of writing. He chose to live in upper Michigan, where like Zane Grey he was an avid hunter and fisherman.

During his lifetime he produced 45 or more novels set typically in the Canadian West or Montana. An additional series of books, the Halfaday Creek stories, are set on the Alaska-Yukon border. He was also author of the Connie Morgan series of adventure novels for young readers. FictionMags Index lists well over 200 titles of novels and short stories published 1912-1953 in the pulps. Five of his stories and novels were made into films during the Silent Era, including The Promise (1917).

The Promise is currently available online at google books and Internet Archive, and for kindle and the nook. For more of Friday’s Forgotten Books, click on over to Patti Abbott’s blog.

Further reading:

Geoff Sadler, ed., Twentieth-Century Western Writers, 1991
Burke, et al., eds., American Authors and Books, 3 rd edition, 1972

Image credits:
Author's photo,
Book illustrations from Hendryx' Connie Morgan in Alaska (1916)

Coming up: Saturday music, Sanford Clark


  1. I see the hardcover edition uses the same cover as the magazine version which was serialized in ALL STORY in 1915. Very effective cover.

    There is a reprint project that plans to eventually publish all the Halfaday Creek stories. I wonder if it will ever see completion...

  2. Sounds cool to me. Every once in a while I like to slip a "Northern" into my reading pile... Hendryx was one of the best... the later novels have some great humor, too, I've noticed.

  3. I've just finished reading The Promise, based on your review. At first I thought to find the logging camp bits for research purposes, but I started at the beginning and read it every evening for the past 5 nights. And I enjoyed it. Except for Ethel, his light o'love crying so much. I don't think the author knew quite what to do with her. I don't recall reading any Hendryx as a teen. I may even read more of his books. So, thanks for that interesting review.