by Dave ThomsonEmily Grant Hutchings's book titled Jap Herron opens in Missouri during an unspecified period after the Civil War. In the little river village of Happy Hollow an impoverished fisherman named Jacky Herron and his wife Mary have three children: Fanny Maud, Jasper James ("Jappie" or "Jap" for short) and Agnesia who changes her name to Mabelle after being called "Magnesia" by the villagers. When Jap is twelve years old his father takes off for the local saloon one night in the rain, falls into the river and drowns. Agnesia/Mabelle is adopted by the Mayor’s wife, Fanny Maud moves west to live with an aunt. Widow Mary Herron "married another bum and began supporting him." Jap, "red headed, freckled and lanky," runs away to Bloomtown, a modest little burg of about twenty families that’s far removed from the closest railroad. Jap becomes an apprentice printer at the Bloomtown Herald. Jap is a bit of a country bumpkin and speaks in a rude dialect which makes him stand out in town. The benign Ellis Hinton "editor, pressman and janitor" becomes Jap’s mentor. Ellis was from New England and had bought the Herald sight unseen from a man in Hartford, Connecticut; believing the paper was prosperous which it was not. The other helper in the office is William "Bill" Bowers, "stocky and good looking," son of Judge William Hiram Bowers who is the landlord of the building the Herald is housed in. The Herald is run on trade primarily, and the staff of the paper is kept fed with produce from subscribing farmers and game hunted by Jap and Bill.
Flossy Bowers, daughter of the judge and aunt to Bill comes to visit Bloomtown from the nearby town of Barton. Ellis marries Flossy though "even in her salad days she had never been the least bit ‘flossy’" and had "well turned thirty" but brought with her a dowery of $2,000. Judge Bowers endows his sister and new son-in-law with a cottage in Bloomtown and the office the Herald occupies. Jap and Bill move into the cottage with the newlyweds and Flossy becomes something of a surrogate mother for Jap. While Ellis is out of town Jap and Bill print up gaudy fliers in red ink to help elect local auctioneer Wat Harlow to the state legislature. Harlow offers to get the boys jobs as pages in the legislature but Ellis insists they stay in Bloomtown to be given schooling by Flossy. As a typesetter Jap is prone to making ignorant mistakes such as using "sundays" instead of "sundries" and "soled" for "sold" so obviously is in need of tutoring. Flossy gives Ellis a baby boy she names Jasper William after Jap and her brother. The toddler known as "J.W." is particularly fond of Jap.
In Jap’s sixteenth year a fire destroys much of Bloomtown’s old frame buildings but the town revives and the railroad moves a bit closer. Ellis announces that he has been diagnosed with consumption and must leave town to enter a sanatarium leaving his wife, son and business in the care of Jap. Ellis dies not long after he is hospitalized and Jap inherits the Herald and the editor’s chair. Bill becomes Associate Editor. Judge Bowers is elected Mayor and opens Bloomtown to saloons.
Wat Harlow enlists Jap to endorse him when he runs for the House of Representatives and Jap gets into an editorial war with Wilfred Jones of the Barton Standard. Jones uses the old flyer Jap had printed years earlier to scuttle Harlow’s chances of being elected. The obsolete flyer declared Harlow’s previous opposition to a state university while now he’s running on a platform to build schools. When Jones gloats over his strategy in the Standard, Jap responds angrily in the Herald. Jones comes to Bloomtown to confront Jap but is frightened off by the boy’s temper and the town marshal’s willingness to let Jap beat him up.
An advance man for a Kentucky rot gut whiskey mill named Bill Wamkiss poses as temperance advocate Silas Parsons and stirs up support to close most of the local saloons and replace them with drug stores which will sell his brand of liquor to people with a doctor’s prescription. Bill discovers that his father Judge Bowers is going to support this scheme and reap the profits. When Jap hears of this he prints a full disclosure of the complicity of the Mayor and the Board of Aldermen in this fraud. Mayor Bowers in a rage demands that Jap retract the accusation. Jap refuses and the Mayor clubs him with a revolver he is carrying. Bill wrestles the gun from his father and threatens to kill him with it if Jap dies. Jap revives and Flossy forces her brother to give his son and Jap a quit claim deed on the property which the Herald occupies. The Board of Aldermen resign and Jap is unanimously elected the new Mayor of Bloomtown.
Jap’s mother Mary, now a destitute alcoholic shows up in Bloomtown and accuses him of running off and leaving her to starve. Jap resolves to leave town with his mother rather than disgrace the Herald with this liability. Jap’s sweetheart Isabel Granger, the banker’s daughter takes out a marriage license to show her loyalty and dedication to him in spite of the scandal. Jap’s mother dies in her sleep and removes the stigma she had brought with her. Rosy Raymond, Bill Bowers’ sweetheart jilts him and marries Wilfred Jones of the Barton Standard. Rosy tires of Jones and decides to run off with Bill but Jap learns from Jones that the couple are expecting a baby. Jap’s now beautiful grownup sister Agnesia/Mabelle shows up in Bloomtown and becomes Bill’s new sweetheart and soon his wife.
Wat Harlow runs for Governor and
once again Jap campaigns for him in editorial battles with the Barton Standard
which is owned by the opposing candidate Bronson Jones, father of Jap’s nemesis
Wilfrid. Harlow wins the election and Jap shares his glory. Flossy’s boy J.W.
dies of the same consumption that killed his father Ellis. Flossy herself dies
not long after. Isabel’s mother Alice dies shortly after her wedding to Jap
and this event casts a pall over the new marriage. As the turgid prose says:
"Must Death forever draw its grim fingers between him and happiness?"
The book ends with Isabel giving birth to a baby boy she names Jasper William.