Herman the Fiddler
Summary: Herman, a gifted violin player, shows up and joins the club, although he is guarded in explaining what he is doing around the river bank. Not revealed until the end of the book is that his father is a US Secret Service agent. He is investigating a large number of men, identified as Bolsheviks, who have been gathering around the river bank, first meeting along Banklick Creek and later in the Boulet mansion on St. John’s Hill overlooking Seven Willows Island. Dr. Boulet had developed a fearsome weapon, described in a way that indicated it was a sort of “ray gun”, which he hoped would end all war, but which the Bolsheviks wanted to use to overthrow the US government. Dr. Boulet’s servant Norski also had a trained ape, a three-eyed freak from a circus, that he used to try to frighten Hawkins and the boys, especially from their summer camp on the island. Finally, Jeckerson and his deputies, along with US Secret Service agents, raid the Boulet mansion and arrest most of the Bolsheviks. Their leader plus Norski and ten other men escape from the mansion, but Dr. Boulet (who is opposed to their plan) uses his weapon to kill all 12 of them. Dr. Boulet then collapses and dies of causes that are not specified.
The author must have been thinking of his father and grandfather: Henry Herman, and Herman
Henry Schulkers. In a 1974 Enquirer interview, Seck says he was also inspired by his musical
son, Robert Jr.
Boys are about 14-15 years old by now.
This story of a shy little immigrant boy who played a hauntingly fine violin features adventures with the fearsome 3-eyed ape, the Fireflies gang, the Black Lion League and more. American patriotism is a strong theme in this volume. If you love good - clean fun, adventure and mystery, then you have got to read this one!
Down on the old river bank…
The club has lost a member -- Robby Hood. Bill Darby says they need at least one new member to field a ball team since Seck doesn’t play. As captain of the ball team, he wants to pick this new member. Jerry Moore disagrees, and proposes that the next boy to walk through the door be made a member. Just as Shadow Loomis seconds this proposal a strange boy appears at the door --Herman Timmig. Dark-skinned and short, he wears an old derby hat, odd clothes, and under one arm he carries his “fiddle box”. “Vot did you say?” he asks the boys in a musical voice. “What can you play”, asks Bill, “first base, pitch?” but in reply Herman opens his fiddle box and plays a beautiful song. Before he leaves he tells the boys he lives in a shanty boat on the river. Later on Lige Hobbs comes by and tells the boys there is a squatter boat north of his ferry. When the boys realize it is Herman’s they decide not to tell Judge Granberry.
Shadow tells Hawkins he is worried Herman won’t be good for the club because he is a foreigner. Hawkins disagrees. Later Herman appears again and asks if he can stay at the clubhouse. He agrees to follow the rules. He has missed his first meeting, but can only say that he had a good excuse, and he is reluctant to tell the boys anymore about himself, since his father has told him to be quiet. A phone rings in Seck’s office and Perry answers. Kendricks from the Happy Days Club in Watertown has called to warn of a “lion boat”. Lew Hunter and Herman stay to practice songs while the boys go down to the river to meet a white racing launch. It turns out that this boat is flying a white flag with a black lion on it. The boy driving it wants to join the club. The boys tell him they don’t need a new member, but when he hears Herman’s fiddle he races up to the clubhouse. After spying Herman through the window, he races back to his boat and speeds up the river, vowing to return.
Kendricks and Jerome from the Happy Days Club drive their two-seat motorcycle down to see the gang. They tell Seck that the Lion Boy has been sneaking into their club, reading their minutes, and also the minutes of the White Eagles, who won the baseball championship last year. They recognize Herman at the clubhouse, but he claims not to know them. Jerome warns Hawkins that he is lying, and when asked about the Black Lion he claims to know nothing. Herman does agree to take the boys to his houseboat, which is anchored on a lonely river inlet. He plays a song for the boys that starts out cheerfully, and then turns sad. Suddenly Herman stops and pulls the window shade closed. Only Hawkins knows Herman has just seen the Black Lion boat float past, and he realizes that Herman knows the Black Lion boy, and is scared of him.
Herman misses another meeting. While sitting on the bank fishing, Shadow suggests to Seck that they ease Herman out of the club. Lige Hobbs appears, paddling a skiff up the river. He tells the boys a big boat has docked next to Herman’s shanty. The new boat is boarded shut, but Lige saw lights moving around it the night before. When the boys check out the new boat, they find things just as Lige mentioned, so they decide to return. That night the boys skip singing practice and paddle their canoes down to the ferry in the darkness. They hear the 9:15 train cross Banklick Creek, and a few minutes later Lige finds them. They can just make out three figures in the rowboat up the river; one appears to be Herman. The three open the door to the big boat and begin to move its contents into a clearing on the shore. At first the boys suspect they are rustling hogs, but as they move in closer, Seck is relieved to see it is actually the parts for a merry-go-round. They decide to ride it the next day.
The boys have great fun on the new merry-go-round. Herman is the lookout for Velky and Papa John, the two men who run the ride. From his perch in the tree Herman blows a whistle and everyone scatters. Hiding on the riverbank Hawkins sees the Black Lion Boat land. The next day the ride is gone.
Briggen warns Hawkins about some mysterious lights that have appeared. Hawkins vows to investigate these ‘Firefly” lights. Shadow and Seck lay in waiting that night and they meet the leader of the Firefly Gang- Jim Kinslow, and his brother Tom the Woodcarver. Their gang has little electric lamps on their belts, and is searching for a boy Hawkins realizes is Herman.
Kinslow says he thinks that Herman raided their clubhouse, and tore a page from their minutes- just like what happened to the Happy Days Gang. Shadow is puzzled since he thinks the Black Lion gang were the ones responsible for the raids.
Herman and Velky meet Hawkins by the river. He persuades Velky to let Herman come to their meeting. After the meeting Seck takes Herman for a ride in his red canoe, and Herman insists they stop to pick violets for Velky. While on shore Jim Kinslow shows up with the rest of the Fireflies and ‘lams’ Herman, who refuses to fight back. Shadow thinks he is ‘yellow’, but no sooner have the Fireflies left than the Black Lion boat appears, and Herman is challenged to another fight. This time Velky shows up, and tells Herman it is okay to fight back. Herman quickly beats the Black Lion leader, and his gang flees.
Velky escorts Herman to the next meeting, but he can’t pay his dues, and quickly leaves afterwards. Jerry learns that Herman’s houseboat is gone, and he decides to follow Velky’s rowboat. From a distance they spy Herman and Velky building a campfire on the shore, and also see that the Fireflies are waiting in ambush for the little fiddler. Just as they pounce the Black Lion boat pulls up, and that gang jumps out. Instead of fighting Herman Kinslow punches the leader of the Black Lions, and they scatter. In the confusion Herman escapes. Hawkins approaches Jim Kinslow and learns that he hates the Black Lions more than he hates Herman. As they leave Hawkins discovers Herman has left his beloved violin behind.
Herman sneaks back to the clubhouse to search for his violin. Seck catches him and leads him to believe the fiddle is gone. When Herman cries Hawkins feels sorry for him and returns the instrument. After he leaves Hawkins finds a note Herman dropped that reads “The White Falcon Flies To-night at Ten.” He shares the message with Shadow, who adds that many strange foreign-looking men with chin whiskers are crossing Hobbs Ferry.
Perry Stokes discovers the Velky and Herman appear to be staying at an old lumber boat on Banklick creek. Shadow thinks the White Falcon may be there, so the boys meet that night and paddle down the river to Banklick- in the dark it seems to Hawkins that they must be paddling to Paducah. They stake out the shore, and at 10 PM a light appears and a whistle blows. Shadow is disappointed when no bird appears, but the whistle blows again and in the distance a boy calls out “Look, it is the flag, the flag of the White Falcon!” As the boys watch a large group of strange men with chin whiskers cheer the flag of the Falcon as it rises in the light, then they enter the lumber boat through a green door.
Herman shows up at the next meeting, and asks Hawkins to guard his fiddle. He runs off, but he returns for it an hour later. The boys meet that night for singing practice, and Doc Waters shows up too. Once again Herman bursts in, leaving his fiddle with Hawkins, and runs off. From outside there is shouting, and the boys see a hideous face through the east window. Doc chases a hunched figure through the darkness, but he can’t catch it.
Hawkins is summoned to Doc’s office for a meeting with Jeckerson, the Watertown detective. Jeckerson warns that the creature Hawkins saw is a threat to the whole country, and Doc, Jeckerson, Seck and Shadow go to the lumber boat to investigate. Jeckerson believes the men there are Bolshevists. Velky approaches in an electric motor boat, and Jeckerson thinks he is a spy. No sooner has he entered the green door of the lumber boat than the Black Lion boat appears with several men in it, including a big man and a hunchbacked man- the hunched figure they saw last night. After they enter the lumber boat Seck and the others approach but are surprised to find the boat is empty. Eventually they discover a passage through the lumber pile behind the boat and come to a great underground room. There they spy the big man confronting Papa John. He says he will be king and demands Papa John’s allegiance. Papa John reluctantly consents, but Herman plays a tune on his fiddle, and Papa John is inspired to resist. There is a scuffle and everyone escapes.
The boys prepare for their summer camping trip with Doc Waters. After some debate they settle on 7 Willows Island once again. Doc shows up with Herman and Velky, and he persuades them to join the trip. Velky says Herman is special and he is sworn to protect him. Doc tells Seck that Jeckerson will also join them.
At the island they meet the leader of the Black Lions, who introduces himself formally as Haley Blanken Jr., but goes by the nickname “Prince”. He warns Hawkins of a mysterious lightning on the Island. That night Hawkins and Doc see a “bluish and unholy” lightning on the clear moonlight night.
Next day Jeckerson smokes a long black cigar while listening to Seck describe the mysterious lightning. He suspects Velky and Herman, who haven’t shown up yet, are involved, and accuses them of being Bolshevik anarchists trying to scare the boys. When the two finally show up their excuse is that they had to get the boys a present, and they unpack a huge flagpole and an American flag. The boys raise the pole and salute the flag, but Jeckerson remains suspicious when the metal pole is hit by the strange lightning.
Jeckerson is convinced Velky is spying on the boys and sneaking off the Island each night to deliver his report. They approach Velky’s tent to confront him, but they realize that he is giving Herman an English lesson. Unconvinced, Jeckerson demands to see a paper Velky has hidden. The paper is not a spy message at all: it turns out to be a poem Velky has written about the river.
Rube Muller, a farm boy from Banklick Creek, shows up with his dog Pete. He tells Hawkins he has been looking for the camp at night after his farm chores are done, and tells Hawkins he has seen a mysterious creature in the darkness- a creature with 3 shining eyes, but Hawkins is skeptical. That night as Herman plays his fiddle the creature appears, and the boys chase it away. Rube vows to return for a little camping in a few days.
Jeckerson lays a trap for Velky. He tells Hawkins that Velky has left the Island again- he smoothed out the sand near the boats the night before, and in the morning he saw fresh footprints. Jeckerson confronts Velky, who maintains he is innocent. Hawkins looks closer and realizes someone else must have made the prints- a mysterious visitor.
Rube Muller returns with Pete the dog. That night Jeckerson, Doc, and some of the boys lay in wait for Herman’s mysterious visitor. Soon enough someone lands in Velky’s launch and heads for Herman’s tent. Before he reaches the tent something leaps out of the bushes and drags him away, and Pete the dog follows. Velky comes out when he hears the commotion and they all search the brush. They find Pete laying dead on the trail with a broken neck, and discover the launch has disappeared.
Velky realizes he must tell all he knows. He explains that the man in the launch is Herman’s father. He believes the creature is the mysterious 3-eyed ape, a circus freak that is under the spell of Norski the Hunchback. In Velky’s old country the pair had made a lot of money in traveling shows, but now they are sworn enemies of Herman’s father. As they prepare to hunt the ape, a fierce storm blows in, and the boys see someone swimming to shore in the flashing light. It is Herman’s father, who has managed to escape the 3-eyed ape. The storm clears and Herman plays his fiddle to lure the beast. Suddenly the monster appears, and chases Jeckerson. Hawkins follows, and is caught by the ape -- who crushes him in his powerful arms. Just before Hawkins passes out he sees Jeckerson raising a club to strike the beast. When Seck comes to he learns the creature is dead.
The gang returns to camp after they have buried the ape’s lifeless body under a pile of heavy stones. The discuss what to do with the remains. Velky warns them that superstition says the ape will come back to life. In the darkness they hear 4 notes from a pipe. They rush to the river and see a hunched figure stealing their biggest boat. They follow the boat from the shore, and in the distance they see Norski, the hunchback land the boat. He takes the heavy stones from the ape’s body, and throws them in the river. Finally her drags the body into the boat and pulls away from the shore. Mr. Timming warns the boys against giving chase, and tells the boys that Haley Blankenburg- aka Haley Blanken is one of many who are under Norski’s spell.
The boys decide to break camp. Herman fears the ape is still alive. Harold and Oliver- the twins- show up from Massachusetts and hear the story. Velky tells Hawkins that Herman must leave. That night as they leave the island to paddle home Harold says he has seen the ape. As the go up the right branch of the river they see the old lumber boat passing down the left branch, pulled by a large group of chin-whiskered men. They sing along as Herman plays “Home Sweet Home” from the deck.
Back at the clubhouse Harold insists that he has seen the Three-Eyed Ape. Seck is skeptical, but they agree to search 7 Willow Island. Finding no clues they split up. Hawkins hears a scream and sees Herman running down the path. When Hawkins catches him, the boy swears the Three-Eyed Ape was chasing him. Convinced that the Ape cannot have returned from the dead Hawkins speculates that there may be two apes, however improbable that seems. He remembers there is a gray patch of fur on the Ape’s shoulder.
The boys throw a farewell party for the Twins, and all their parents are there. Lew leads them in an Old Civil War song, and Hawkins recalls how Lew came to the riverbank -- cast off the steamboat with nothing but his sheet music because he didn’t have a ticket, and then taken in by the preacher. As the full moon rises over Pelham, Herman runs up to the clubhouse and tells everyone the ape is chasing him. Harold grabs a gun, and heads out to find it. He takes a shot that misses, but before the Ape escapes Hawkins sees the patch of gray fur, and realizes it is the same creature as before.
Shadow, Seck, and Perry spy the Black Lion Boat and follow it to the island. They meet the Firefly gang there, and Kinslow tells Seck about an abandoned vineyard and deserted mansion on the left branch of the river, opposite the island. They paddle down, find the Black Lion boat, and go ashore. Kinslow shows Seck an old iron door, which was part of the vineyards. They watch as three Black Lion boys leave the iron door. When they approach to investigate they are confronted by the 3-eyed ape, and flee for their lives.
Next the boys pay a visit to Lige Hobbs. He tells them of the abandoned vineyard on St. John’s Hill. The Mansion there had a special cellar, and the iron door led from the cellar to the steamboat dock. Years after the vineyard was gone, a doctor Boulay (as Hobbs calls him) lived in the mansion. Lige played chess with the doctor many times, and told the boys about the doctor’s hunchback servant. Lige says the Doctor kept claiming that he was inventing a machine to end all wars. Shadow realizes this man was really a Doctor Boulet. As they head back to the river they chase the 3- Eyed Ape into the iron door. When they try to follow him inside they meet Norski, who tells them they are mistaken about the ape.
Kinslow shows up at the next meeting and says he had followed the Black Lion boat the night before, and the boy and his dad were in it. They went to the iron door and saw many chin-whiskered men enter before Kinslow was hit by an electrical shock. Seck can’t believe the story, but follows Kinslow to St. John’s Hill to investigate. As they climb the hill they see Norski enter a small round red building. Seconds later a small door opens, and the boys are jolted by an electric ray. Norski reappears and warns them to stay away, but the boys sneak up to the mansion through the brush, and go inside. Through the door to Boulet’s lab they spy the ape sleeping on the couch. The ape doesn’t wake up when they make noise, but soon Norski appears. The lights go out for a few seconds and the boys find the ape is coming after them. Once again they flee.
An old man with a violin and suitcase shows up at the clubhouse looking for Herman. His name is Fortunatas Ligori, and he offers the boys a magic purse if they will tell him where Herman is. He claims that the purse always stays filled with gold coins. Herman was the old man’s star pupil. Shadow leads them all to Luke’s lily pond on 7 Willow Island, and the backwater is full of circus boats. Shadow takes the man to Velky’s boat, but turns down the reward.
Next day Roy Dobel claims he has heard the pipes again. Velky appears to tell the boys Herman is gone, and is desperate when he realizes Herman is not at the clubhouse. When Seck tries to reassure him that Herman will return for his violin Velky opens the battered violin case and reveals that it is empty.
Seck believes the ape has got Herman, so he takes Shadow and Perry back to the mansion. They go inside and hear voices as they climb the dark stair. They quickly hide when a man with a lantern comes down the stair. Seconds later the hall is lit up and they see Norski talking to a big man- it is Eli, King of the Black Lions. Hawkins realizes this man is Haley Blanken’s father. They discuss money, and Eli tries to tell Norski that the ape is dead. Norski scoffs at this and threatens Eli, who flees. Norski locks the door and the boys are trapped. As they try to find a way out of the house they end up in the cellar, where the ape finds them. By sheer luck they reach the iron door and escape to the river.
Seck goes to Velky and tells him about the mansion. Velky tells him the truth about the War of the Flags between the White Falcons and the Black Lions. Eli came to America after the Great War and believes he can lead a revolution to overthrow the government, becoming rich in the process. At first Papa John supported him, and Eli took his money to buy the electric ray weapon from Norski. Papa John repented once he learned the true plans, and started the White Falcons to protect the country from the Black Lions. He thinks Norski has used the 3-Eyed Ape to terrify the Black Lions who disagree with him and want to join the White Falcons. Seck realizes Norski must have Herman.
The boys make plans for Halloween. Briggen shows up and tells them that the chin-whiskered men are back. Hawkins warns him to stay away from St. John’s Hill, and then decides they will all go out on Halloween dressed as chin-whiskered men. On Halloween Doc and Jeckerson come to the clubhouse, and Jeckerson gets Seck to join him in a plot to catch the Black Lion gang. They wear the chin-whisker costumes, and the disguise allows them to enter a secret meeting of the Black Lions at the Old Mansion. Mr. Timming is there too, and he and Jeckerson reveal that the Secret Service is poised to raid the meeting on their signal.
The meeting starts, and Norski tries to address the men. Velky stands up to challenge him, and unfurls the flag of the White Falcon. Norski tells the men to ignore the White Falcon, and that the Black Lions should overthrow the government on the first of the month -- then they will be rich. Norski is persuasive at first with the threat of the 3-Eyed Ape, but Herman appears with his violin, and his tune rallies the men around the White Falcon. First they raise the White Falcon flag, symbol of the defeat of the Black Lion. Then Velky and Herman replace it with the Stars and Stripes, which Velky says is all they need now that the Black Lions are defeated. The Ape appears, and everyone flees. In the wine cellar Mr. Timming faces the Ape and kills it with a mighty blow. They realize that it is actually Norski, wearing the skin of the 3-Eyed Ape.
Everyone realizes that Norski is not dead, just unconscious. A detective comes to say Eli and some of his men have escaped. The boys rush to the hall when Herman cries out. Lige Hobbs shows up and, as they talk, a tattered and weak old man appears at the top of the stair. It is Dr. Boulet, held prisoner for 20 years by Norski. They follow him to the little red house with the death-ray; he fires it down the hill, and then smashes his invention, yelling “no more wars”. The strain is too much for the old man, and he dies in Jeckerson’s arms.
Next day Velky tells Hawkins that Eli Blankenburg, Norski, and his men were killed when Boulet fired the death-ray. No one has seen Fortunatas. Young Haley Blanken shows up, and says he wants to be an American boy, not a Prince. When he learns his father is dead he vows to correct his mistakes, starting by returning the money the older man had taken from Papa John and the others to pay Norski for the death-ray. He leads the boys to a big cask in the mansion’s cellar. When he breaks open the door to the cask they find the missing money – and Fortunatas Ligori. In the excitement Haley slips away.
Judge Granberry comes to the clubhouse to thank the boys, but he also brings Mr. Annheimer, manager of the Opera House. They ask Herman to play his “Magic Melody” at a concert in the evening. He agrees, but adds that he wants to play another song as well. That night Herman looks great, no more ragged clothes. He plays the magic melody to a packed house -- to Seck it speaks a language that anyone can understand. The crowd roars its approval, and Herman begins to play “America”. Somewhere off-stage a boy with a silvery voice sings the words. The crowd is mesmerized, and Hawkins tells Annheimer that boy is Eli Blankenburg Jr.
Judge Granberry orders Blankenburg captured. Hawkins feels the boy has changed, and rebels against the Judges orders. He lets Eli escape the next day, but Jerry captures him at the Lily Pond on 7 willows Island, and the Judge decides to hold the trial on the spot. When Hawkins protests he is appointed as Eli’s lawyer. The boy says his father was a good man, but made some mistakes. Hawkins says Eli will make a great American. The Judge sentences Eli to one year… as Fortunatas’ music pupil! Annheimer appears and announces that he will manage Herman and Eli and take their patriotic act to New York. As the boys bid farewell to their friends a small plane lands to whisk them away to the big city, but Seck thinks they will meet again. Which we did.
DID YOU KNOW?
*RFS told his son John, that there was a little German boy named Herman who played the violin in his childhood neighborhood.
The 3 eyed ape was a carnival attraction that came to town when RFS was young.
*The early newspaper works were interspersed with a style of spelling and grammar that was indicative and ordinary to the young, even fascinating to them, but startling and alarming to some of the Puritanical elder educators. This was the realistic Hawkins' style -- to reproduce exactly what was uttered; however, the Superintendent of Schools, Randall J. Condon, remarked that his children were trying to talk and write like Seck! That could only mean that the kids were reading with fervor, and Seck loved that!
Finally, RFS promised Randall that since Doc Waters often looked over Seck's shoulder, that he would take more pains to advise him proper grammatical manners. Which he did.