A Dozen of Them – Chapters 5 and 6

In this installment of A Dozen of Them by Isabella Alden, Joseph struggles with temptation, and receives a gift that is a surprise to him … and to others!


A Dozen of Them




It was evening, and Joseph was alone in Mrs. Calland’s classroom; he had been left there in charge, to receive any messages which might come to Mrs. Calland while she was away attending to other duties. Joseph was often the one chosen for this work; as a rule, he was proud of the trust. Tonight he was restless and unhappy. A great temptation had beset him. Examination day was drawing very near; there were reasons why he was especially anxious to appear well in arithmetic. He had worked hard over his lessons, and tonight he looked hard at the little walnut secretary and felt his face flush over the thought which haunted him.

He had heard Mrs. Calland when she said with a half-relieved sigh as she folded a large paper, “There! I have selected the examination problems with as much care as possible. The scholars who can solve those will prove that they have worked faithfully during the term.” Then she had placed the paper in a small box on the third shelf of her secretary, and locked the door.


What was there strange about all that? Nothing, only a very unusual thing had happened. At this moment the secretary was not only unlocked, but the door stood half-way open. During all Joseph’s stay in the house he had never seen the door open before, unless Mrs. Calland stood close to it. Now for his temptation: that paper, he was so near to it—if he could only know just what problems were to be given out on examination day! Just to see whether any of them needed his special attention. Of course he would not copy any work; he wouldn’t be so mean as that. All he wanted was a glance at the different pages from which the selections were taken; then he would work over all those pages, and all the pages near to them on either side. What harm could there be in that? It would simply be a review, and Mrs. Calland believed in reviews! Yes; he reasoned in just this ridiculous way, sensible boy as he generally was. Don’t you know that Satan often makes fools of people?

It is sorrowful to tell, but Joseph’s fingers seemed to ache with the longing to get hold of that paper. It could be done so easily, and replaced, and no one be the wiser. People always knocked who came to that door; no one but Mrs. Calland herself would enter until he gave the invitation; and Mrs. Calland, he knew, would be engaged for at least an hour. He moved toward the secretary slowly; much as though a serpent was seated on the shelf, charming him forward.

As he moved, he re-arranged the story in his mind, making it sound better. All he wanted now was to find out whether certain pages which had been especially hard had been selected from, so that he might make himself doubly safe on those pages. He has come nearer; he is right beside the shelf! His hand is outstretched; another moment and he will have the precious paper. Wait! Look at the door! Slowly, steadily, as if moved by some unseen hand, it glides by the outstretched arm and closes. Click! The paper is safe; the door has a spring lock, and only the tiny key on Mrs. Calland’s watch chain can open it!


Joseph drew a long breath, and his heart beat so hard that it made him feel faint. How came that door to close just at that moment? Not a breath of air seemed to be stirring in the room; not a jar that Joseph could imagine, had there been to do the work. At that moment, almost as distinctly as though a voice had spoken them, Joseph seemed to hear the words:

“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.”

This was not his chosen verse; in fact, he had not chosen one. He had declared, as he read them over in his tiny book, that there wasn’t a verse there which a boy could use; and he had waited in doubtful mood what to do about his promise, and had learned none of them, so he thought; yet this verse, it seems, had clung to his memory, and came now solemnly before him.

Was it possible that God had sent an angel to close the door and so “shield” this new Joseph from his enemy? The perspiration started on the boy’s face. He felt awed, and frightened, and grateful, all in one. He struggled with the queer feeling in his throat, and almost thought he must cry. How glad he was that that door had locked itself! What insane feeling had possessed him? He felt now as though there was nothing in the world great enough to tempt him to touch that paper!

So busy had he been with his thoughts, that he had heard nothing of the opening and closing of doors in the hall, and the little bustle which announced an arrival. But at this moment he did hear steps nearing the room, and Mrs. Calland’s voice.

“We shall find him here,” she was saying. “I left him in charge. He is my boy to trust. He knows nothing about it; it is our surprise for him.” Then the door swung open, and the pleasant voice continued, “Joseph, I have brought you a birthday present.” And there, smiling, radiant, in the doorway was his sister Jean!

“Oh, oh!” he said, and then, his head on her shoulder, he burst into tears.

“Why, the poor fellow!” Mrs. Calland said. “The surprise has been too much for him.”

“My bonny boy, my bairn,” murmured Jean, fondly stroking the brown head. “Nothing bad has happened; everything is beautiful.”

They did not know what was in Joseph’s heart; but all the while he was murmuring: “Oh, what if I had! I could never have looked Jean in the face again! And I should have done it, I’m afraid I should, if —if he hadn’t shut the door.”




He had sat with his head in Jean’s lap when he chose the verse. She was passing her hand tenderly over the curly mass and telling him she had always been glad that he was named Joseph, for his good father; and that if he should grow up to be as good a man as his father, she should be perfectly happy; and then she had asked if he did not think that first verse would be a good one for him. Had not the Lord been with him in a very wonderful way during these past months? Only think of the good and pleasant things which had come to him! And now she, his one sister who loved him so much, instead of being a hundred miles away from him hard at work in a close, warm shop, was to live in this pleasant home, and do work which would be only play, compared with what she had been doing, and have a chance to study a little each day.

In his heart Joseph admitted that somehow the Lord had been very good to him; but, being a foolish boy, he did not say much about it. He chose the verse as a kind of thanksgiving verse, he told Jean with a roguish smile. It was the very first day of April, and before the day was done, something happened to Joseph.

For a brave boy, he had one rather foolish fear. He had a horror of toads; in spite of many resolves not to do so, he was almost sure to scream whenever he saw one. Of course, this was known among the schoolboys, and in planning their mischief for “April fool” two or three of those who were a little out of sorts with Joseph for not joining them in all their pranks, agreed together to send him through the mail a handsome box neatly done up in white paper, and containing the ugliest-looking toad they could find in the country. Over this scheme they giggled a good deal, and were careless in talking it up. The secret leaked out where they would least have wished it; but this they did not know at the time, and went on with their preparations.


The day and hour came; the boys and girls who had been admitted to the secret, as well as those who knew nothing about it, were gathered in the dining-room awaiting Joseph’s arrival with the evening mail. Mrs. Calland was there also, and Joseph’s sister Jean. At last the door opened, and his bright face appeared.

“I’ve got a big mail,” he said. “A letter for almost everybody, and a nice-looking package for myself; who do you suppose could have sent me something by mail?”

The question was asked of Jean, and his eyes were so bright and glad, that for a moment the three boys who knew what was in the box felt sorry and ashamed. What a pity to frighten that pleasant face, even for the sake of an April fool. But it was too late now. The package was being untied; letters waited, while the scholars gathered around, full of curiosity. A neat pasteboard box came to light.

“It is a handsome box,” said Joseph, in a happy tone.

“Take care, Joseph,” said Mrs. Calland, “it is the first of April, you know.”

“I know it,” laughed Joseph. “I half-believe that the box is full of nothing; but it is a handsome box, anyhow. I’ll keep it for pens, and things.”

Then the three boys looked at one another and wished with all their hearts that it was full of nothing. The joke they had planned did not seem half so funny as they had thought it would. They wished Mrs. Calland and the sister would go away; but they stayed, and the box was open. Soft white tissue paper covered whatever it held.

“It is done up like something precious,” said Joseph, handling it, nevertheless, in a careful manner, half-prepared for a practical joke of some sort.

At last there were exclamations of “Oh’s!” and “Ah’s!” and the treasure was in Joseph’s hand. A toad? Yes, a toad, large as life and very natural; but it was made of silver, and carried in its ugly mouth as pretty a napkin ring as was ever placed on the Fowlers’ table. What delighted excitement there was! How pleased everybody seemed to be, including three boys whose faces were as red as the roses on the mantel. It was an “awful scrape” they admitted to themselves, and yet they were glad, just as glad as they could be. It was simply splendid in that ugly toad to go and turn into silver.

“I don’t believe I’ll ever think a toad is ugly again,” said Joseph, with sparkling eyes. “How I wish I knew who gave it to me! Every word the card says is ‘April Fool,’ and I don’t know the handwriting.”

The three boys did; a fellow from the village had been hired to write the words.

“Never mind,” said Mrs. Calland; “it is from friends, that is plain, and they want you to learn to see certain phases of beauty in everything God has made. A silver toad is certainly pretty, whatever may be said of the real creature.”

Three boys with very red faces sought a private audience with Mrs. Calland that very evening. They were sure it was she who had helped them out of a scrape which they were sorry they ever went into; they were so much obliged to her!—more than they could tell; and if she would let them pay for the lovely toad, and keep their secret, they would always be grateful. They liked her “April fool” ever so much better than their own, and they would never be guilty of trying to play mean jokes, after this.

Mrs. Calland was gracious and helpful, as she always was, and the three went away saying to one another that she was “just splendid, anyhow,” and Joseph was one of the best fellows they knew, and they were glad they gave it to him! Already it really began to seem as though they had meant to give just that thing all the time.

“Jean,” said Joseph, lingering in her room waiting for the nine o’clock bell to ring, “I don’t see but the verse is a good one. Did you ever see how it fits in everywhere? Who would have thought that any of the boys cared enough for me to make me a real splendid silver present for April fool? I’m most sure it was the boys; and—it’s a queer thing to say, but maybe the Lord might have put it into their heads, because the second of April, you know, is my birthday, and he knew I hadn’t any father and mother to make me a present. Don’t you think it might have been?”

“Yes, indeed,” said Jean, “I know it might.”

You can read chapters 1 through 4 of A Dozen of Them here.

Chapters 7 and 8 will post on Tuesday, January 31. See you then!

4 thoughts on “A Dozen of Them – Chapters 5 and 6

  1. Joseph is bound to become a good little believer any minute now, isn’t he? I’m tickled that his sister has returned home to be a help to him! I enjoyed this story over lunch today and enjoyed the element of the supernatural and that Isabella makes no apologies for that! Thanks again, Jenny, for your diligence in bringing this wonderful little story to us. Cannot wait for the next installment. And BTW, I read somewhere that installment stories were so popular in the Victorian era that Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop became an international sensation–and when one particularly suspenseful chapter ended, crowds gathered along the dock to get the latest chapter from England, calling out “What happened to Nell???” (or whomever it was). I feel like that crowd with some of Isabella’s stories–I’m still wondering what happened to some of my favorite characters in Eighty-Seven! Thanks again! Bless you!

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