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Let’s Go Sledding!

28 Feb

It’s the last day of February, and some parts of the U.S. are waking up to a cold winter morning. There’s snow on the ground and a nip in the air; and for many children, those conditions equate to perfect sledding weather.

Children sledding in Washington D.C. in 1915

The children in Isabella Alden’s books are fond of sledding, too, especially the boys.

In Her Mother’s Bible, Ralph Selmser looks forward to having a day of fun that includes sledding:

“Tomorrow’s Saturday, and I’m going to give Ned a ride on my sled, and I’m going to get green things and berries for Mary Jane to trim up the room for father’s birthday; and there isn’t a thing to do all day but I’ll rather do than not.”

A sledding party in Rochester, New York, 1908.

For some of Isabella’s characters, sledding wasn’t just for fun and games. Sidney (in Sidney Martin’s Christmas) uses his sled in a variety of different and practical ways.

A 1910 toboggan party

With his sled, Sidney gives a pleasant ride to a friend. He also hauls heavy items, and transports an injured boy home after he takes a tumble in the snow.

Sledding in Central Park, New York in 1900

Joseph, the young hero of A Dozen of Them, didn’t own a sled of his own, but still found a way to enjoy sledding.

He liked nothing better than to turn pony himself, and give Rettie a ride on her box sled; and so through the day everything was merry and happy.

Sledding on an icy pond in 1869

Later in the story, Joseph is astonished to learn he is the recipient of a sled of his own! His friends joyously break the news to him:

And then all the children talked at once.
“Why, you had a hand-sled!” said one.
“A perfect beauty!” exclaimed another.
“One of the boss kind!” explained a third. “And it has your name on it in red letters.”

Adults also enjoyed sliding through the snow. Toboggans, which are longer than child-sized sleds, could carry more than one passenger.

An 1885 ad for Star Toboggans

In her books Isabella didn’t mention grown-ups enjoying downhill sledding, but these images show it was a popular winter pastime for people of all ages.

The Toboggan Party by artist Henry Sandham, 1882.

In fact, sledding and tobogganing were so much fun in Isabella’s time, children, especially, didn’t always wait for perfect conditions like fresh snow and gently-sloping hills—they made do with what they had.

That’s what these children did in 1921. They took advantage of a sleety morning by sledding down the steps of the War and Navy building in Washington D.C.

You can read all the stories mentioned in this post for free! Just click on a link below to get started:

A Dozen of Them

Her Mother’s Bible

Sidney Martin’s Christmas


New Free Read: “A Test Case”

22 Feb

Isabella Alden wrote stories about children facing peer pressure long before the term “peer pressure” was coined. This month’s Free Read is a short story Isabella wrote about one young lady’s need to fit in with her friends, and what that need cost her.

“A Test Case” was first published as a short serial in The Pansy Magazine in 1890.

You can scroll down to read the story on your tablet or smart phone, or click on the cover to download the story in a PDF document.


Part 1

“Oh, Aunt Patty, Aunt Patty! How can I ever thank you in the world! I don’t know what to say, nor how to say it. Oh, mamma, mamma, do you hear what she says? I feel as though I should go wild!”

“I wouldn’t,” said Aunt Patty, making her shining needles click against one another, until you fancied you could see the sparks. “You’ll need all your wits, I can tell you, if you are going to a city to live; specially a city like Boston, where the streets tumble round on top of each other, and don’t appear to know half the time where they are going, themselves! Of all the cities I ever see for getting befuddled in, give me Boston.”

“I know it will be lovely,” declared Cora. “I don’t care how crooked the streets are, I can find my way. To think that I’m going to the great big music school, where all the grand people go! And am to learn to play on the violin! Oh, I am too happy to live! Aunt Patty, I’ll love you forever!”

Two plump arms were thrown about the old lady’s neck, and she was hugged unmercifully.

“Sho!” said Aunt Patty, trying to sit straight and look grim, though there was a softened tone to her voice even when she said Sho! “You’ll forget all about me after you’ve been in Boston a while; like enough wouldn’t know me if you should see me on the street.”

“The idea!” said Cora, not indignant, only amused. There was nothing but folly in the thought that she should not know Aunt Patty if she saw her anywhere. “I should know you a mile away!”

It was really no wonder that Cora was, as she said, “almost wild” with delight. She was extremely fond of music, and had a great deal of musical talent. Since almost babyhood she had been familiar with her Uncle Ned’s violin, and made what he called really respectable music for a “little kid.”

During the last year she had taken lessons from the best music teacher the town afforded. When she first began, it seemed to her that she needed nothing more to make her perfectly happy; but quite often during the winter had been heard to say, with a sigh, that she would give “anything in this world” if she could go into Boston for just one term of lessons. To be sure, she said it very much as she might have wished that she could take a journey to the moon. I do not know but she expected one as much as the other. Yet here she was, with the golden opportunity open before her: not one term only, but a whole year! And she was to take lessons of the most distinguished teacher that even Boston could offer! It is no wonder that Cora was surprised; in truth, she was not the only one; perhaps Aunt Patty herself was almost as much astonished as any of them.

She had a good deal of money carefully invested. No one but her lawyer and herself knew just how much; but she was very careful about spending it, and had never looked with much favor upon Cora’s violin music.

“Just a silly little tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,” she said, knitting fast as she spoke. “A good old-fashioned accordion beats it all to pieces, to my mind.”

Yet it was Aunt Patty who arranged that Cora should go into Boston, which was fifty miles away from her home, and spend the entire winter studying her beloved music.

“She needs a rest from school, you all say,” said Aunt Patty, “and you think it doesn’t hurt her to play on that thing, so I don’t see as she will ever have a better chance. I’ve arranged with my nephew that she shall board in his family. His wife is a good, capable woman who will see that she is took good care of, so there is nothing to worry about.”

No, there certainly was not—at least in Cora’s opinion. For a week she could hardly get to sleep at night, and awoke as early as she could in the morning to think over her lovely prospects, so much grander than she had ever thought could come to her.

So that was the way it happened that she spent the winter in Boston.

She certainly did succeed wonderfully well with her music, and was selected to play at the grand concert with which the late spring term always closed. “The youngest scholar who had ever played at that concert” the girls assured her. Only the very best pupils were chosen for that occasion. There were some discomforts connected with the grand event, for some of the girls were envious, and did not hesitate to say that there were others who could play every bit as well as she, who had been overlooked; though they omitted to give any reason for such a proceeding.

Another thing which brought hours of anxiety was the fact that in Cora’s opinion, she had not a decent dress for such an important event. She wrote quires of paper to her mother about it, and received short, tender, anxious notes in reply, setting forth the utter impossibility of sparing money to get her a new dress at this time.

“Father had been unusually unfortunate, and has had unexpected expenses.”

“He always has!” said Cora to the walls of her room, for she was quite alone. “I never knew a year when father wasn’t unfortunate, and hadn’t unusual expenses!”

Then she brushed away some bitter tears, and drawing her writing desk to her, dashed off the most loving little letter that was ever written, to dear Aunt Patty, setting forth her needs and her troubles in such a pretty way that Aunt Patty, who had declared but the day before that the child’s best white dress was nice enough to wear anywhere, and that if her winter in Boston had made her vain, she would be sorry she had sent her there, tramped off down street within an hour after reading the letter, and came home in due time with the finest piece of white mull that the town could produce. Moreover, Aunt Patty—being a woman who never did things by halves—sent the muslin to Boston by the next mail; and with it a letter to that capable woman, her nephew’s wife, directing that such and such articles be bought to go with the dress, and that the dress itself be made by somebody who would know enough not to spoil a piece of goods like that; and the bill was to be sent to her.

All these directions were duly carried out, and on the evening in question the young musician certainly did justice to her pretty suit. A great many admiring eyes rested upon her, as her graceful bow drew sweet sounds from the instrument. So thought an old lady with very sharp eyes, peering out from under a queer bonnet. She gave almost constant attention to Cora—indeed her gaze was so marked that the moment the young girl was seated, while the sound of applause with which her effort was received was still sounding, Alice Westlake whispered:

“Cora, do look at that funny old woman! You ought to notice her, for she is dreadfully struck with you; hasn’t taken her eyes off from you since you went on the stage. Only look at her bonnet! Did you ever see such a queer shape? I should think they would pay her a good price for that in the museum. And she has an umbrella! Of all things in this world—a cotton umbrella at a dress concert! Isn’t she too funny for anything? How do you suppose she happened to come here?”

Cora looked, and felt at once as though it would be a comfort to have the floor open and receive her, new suit, kid slippers and all. Aunt Patty, of all persons in the world! Aunt Patty, at an evening concert in Boston!

Part 2

What Cora saw was an old woman, in the ugliest bonnet, and a queer little black shawl, which even in the gaslight showed itself to be rusty with service. What should she do? What could she do? What was she to say to this chattering girl beside her? As for owning to any knowledge of Aunt Patty, it seemed to her utterly out of the question.
What a dreadful thing to happen on this night of her great triumph! She had cried a little because mamma could not afford to come to Boston to hear her play, and had been half- ashamed to think that none of her people were to be present, when they lived so near. But not for a moment had she thought that Aunt Patty might come. In all the six years of her acquaintance with her, she had never known Aunt Patty to do such a thing.

Would she stay until the close of the concert, she wondered? Would she go to her nephew’s afterwards? Why could she not have stopped there in the first place, if she must come, and let them get a little used to her?

“Though I’m glad she didn’t,” moaned the unhappy girl, “for I never could have played in the world if I had known that that old fright was looking at me! Oh, dear! I don’t know what to do. I wonder if I could slip away the minute the concert is over, or before it is over? I might do that, if there was anybody to go with. I cannot have her asking for me and talking to me with all these girls looking on, and before Madame De Launey, too.”

Meantime Alice was giving this silly girl all the trouble she could. “What’s the matter?” she said. “Why don’t you answer me? You look as though you saw a ghost, instead of an old lady. Oh, look at her spectacles! Did you ever see such big ones? I should think they would lame her nose. I declare, she is looking right at you; I believe she is nodding! Who do you suppose she is—who thinks she knows you?”

“How should I know?” said Cora, at last, speaking crossly. “I can’t be expected to give you the history of every old woman who chances to come to the concert, can I?”

“Well, but this one acts so funny. Cora, I’m sure she is nodding. Did you ever hear the like? Bowing to people across a concert hall! Do you suppose she is crazy?”

“I presume so,” said Cora, taking refuge in lie suggestion; “she looks like it, I am sure. She fancies, I suppose, that she knows some of us over in these seats; crazy people have all sorts of notions, I know.”

“Why!” said Alice, with wide-open eyes, “I’m half afraid of her, aren’t you? It seems sort of dreadful to have a crazy woman sitting here looking at us. Oughtn’t we to tell Professor Wayland, or do something?”

“Nonsense!” said Cora, speaking very sharply. “What a little simpleton you are, Alice Westlake. Why in the world should we tell anybody? She is sitting there quiet enough.”

“Well, but she stares so, and all the time in this direction.”

“What if she does? Staring will not hurt anybody, I guess.” And then Alice’s attention was turned in another direction; during this chattering one of the pupils had been singing a song.

“Maude has lived through it,” said Alice. “How they are cheering her. I didn’t think she sang so wonderfully well, did you? Now it is recess. Let’s go over that way and get a nearer glimpse of that queer old woman. If she is crazy I should like to hear her talk. Hurry, before the way is all blocked up.”

“I’m not going,” said Cora, now fairly angry, and so distressed that she did not know what she was saying. “Do you suppose I want to go and hear a crazy old woman talk?”

But the “crazy old woman” was not waiting for her to come.

At Madame De Launey’s the “recess” was an institution; it lasted for fifteen or twenty minutes, and was indeed a sociable—a time when friends were greeted, and strangers introduced. Nothing was plainer than that Aunt Patty intended to take advantage of it to greet her niece. She made rapid strides through the crowd, and, despite Cora’s frantic efforts, pounced upon her just as she was about to dive under a broad settee.

“Well, Niece Cora,” she said, in a loud, clear voice, “I suppose you think you fiddled well, and I guess you did do as well as any of ’em; and looked about as prink, too, for all that I can see.”

“Prink” was a word of Aunt Patty’s very own. It was used only upon rare occasions, and meant the highest possible compliment. Under other circumstances, Cora would have been proud of having it applied to her; but at this moment her cheeks were blazing, and she had no words.

Pressing close beside her was Alice, with eyes astare and a dim idea that her friend was in danger from the assaults of a crazy woman, and that she ought to do something. She glanced about her wildly, and caught sight of Madame De Launey herself pressing up behind them. She made a dash for that lady’s elegant lace and satin robe, and said in a loud whisper, “Oh, Madame De Launey! That old woman is—”

But the Madame transfixed her with astonished, reproving eyes, and the next moment brushed past her and was beside the crazy woman.

“My dear Miss Perkins,” she said, “this is an unexpected honor, and one heartily appreciated, I assure you. Professor Wayland, allow me to introduce you to my old and honored friend, Miss Perkins; she is the aunt and patron of one of your most promising pupils. Ah, Cora, my dear! I see you are surprised with the rest of us. I thought you could not have known of your aunt’s coming, or you would have told me; but then you did not know that she and I were friends of long ago, did you?”

Cora did not know much in any direction just at that moment. The person whom of all others she would have liked to escape from was her friend Alice, whose eyes were not yet done staring in a bewildered way. What a horrid, deceitful, wicked girl she had been, actually to disown Aunt Patty and let her be considered a crazy person, because her dress was old-fashioned and queer; and here was Madame De Launey saying loud enough for dozens of grand people to hear, that she was her dear old friend, and Professor Wayland was offering his arm to her as though she had been a queen.

It was all dreadful, but I think perhaps it had its useful side. Cora, I know, had a glimpse of her own heart such as she had never expected to see, and understood her temptations better after that.

You can read more of Isabella Alden’s stories and novels for free! Click here to see more titles.



Locust Shade … and a New Free Read!

18 Jan

January’s free read is Gertrude’s Diary, a novella first published in 1885.

Isabella wrote the book in the “diary style” she often used. In the story, twelve-year-old Gertrude and her friends are given a set of Bible verses for each month of the year, along with journals in which the girls are to record their experiences as they try to live by the verses.

Isabella often incorporated her own life experiences into her stories (see last week’s post for an example) and Gertrude’s Diary is no exception. Isabella was very candid about the fact that she had a temper that often got her in trouble when she was young. It isn’t hard to imagine as you read Gertrude’s Diary that some of Gertrude’s temper-induced predicaments might be based on episodes in Isabella’s own life.

In the final chapter of the book Isabella gives a very real nod to one of her favorite places on earth when she reveals that Gertrude’s home town is called Locust Shade.

Locust Shade was a place Isabella knew well; in “real life” it was the name of the Toll family farm in Verona, New York. Isabella’s best friend Theodosia Toll Foster was raised at Locust Shade and Isabella spent many wonderful weekends and school vacations at Locust Shade with Theodosia and her family. You can read more about their friendship and Locust Shade here.

Gertrude’s Diary is available to read for free. Just click on the cover to begin reading.



Free Read: “Sunday Fractures”

24 Oct

Isabella Alden often collaborated with her sister Marcia Livingston on many books and stories. In 1880 they combined their talents to produce a collection of short stories titled Divers Women.

Divers Women offers ten different stories about ten different women who face struggles in their lives until they put their faith in God to bring them the peace and happiness they’re unable to find on their own.

Marcia’s story “Sunday Fractures” is the first story in the book, and you can read it for free! Just click here or on the book cover to begin reading now.


You can find the complete collection of Divers Women on Amazon. Just click here to order.

New Free Read: Mrs. Dunlap’s Commentary

12 Sep

Mrs. Dunlap’s Commentary

Mrs. Dunlap is a model wife, mother, and homemaker. She’s the perfect hostess when guests enter her home, and out of the goodness of her heart she has taken a poor neighbor girl under her wing. Why, Mrs. Dunlap even teaches a Sunday-school class and remembers to keep the Sabbath holy!

Given such stellar qualities, Mrs. Dunlap must surely be a model Christian; but one unusually trying Monday begins to reveal the truth of Mrs. Dunlap’s character.

Click on the book cover to begin reading.

New Free Read: What She Could

16 Aug

It’s back to school time across the country, when millions of children return to the classroom.

As a teacher herself, Isabella Alden understood the tremendous influence a teacher had over the minds and hearts of young students.

In 1893 she wrote a short story about a young teacher, her sacrifice, and the rewards she reaped, simply because she did “what she could” for her students.

Now you can read the story for free! Just click on the book cover below to begin reading.


New Free Read: Jennie’s Witness

30 Jun

Here is a short story by Isabella Alden that first appeared in The Pansy magazine on July 1, 1893. In this story, Isabella’s theme underscores the importance of reputation and doing the right thing.


Jennie’s Witness

Jennie fingered the flowers as though she loved them. She was a country girl, and used to flowers, but it seemed to her that she had never loved them so much as since she came to the city to live, and found that people had to buy them.

“And pay lots of money for them,” she wrote to the little girl friend with whom she had often gathered field daisies. “You just ought to see what lots of money folks will pay just for daisies! If we had the old south meadow lot out here on Karnick Street, we could get rich.”


There was a great deal of work to be done this morning in the greenhouse. There was to be a Fourth of July celebration the next day, and a festival, and a wedding, and Jennie did not know what else; but she knew that flowers were to be arranged for all these, and that, new girl though she was, she had been called upon to help make up bouquets. This was an honor.

Heretofore her work had been to water certain plants, and run errands, and keep the shelves and tables tidy. She felt very happy, for Mr. Greenough, when he came through the greenhouse workroom, had stopped to admire her bouquets, and told her she had shown good taste, and would be called upon again.

Mr. Greenough was the young Master of all the flowers, and Jennie knew she had been greatly honored. She was at work now on the last basket of what she called “left overs,” though they were as pretty as any of the gardens. These were for Grandmamma Greenough, who had a fresh basket sent to her every morning. Jennie was ahead of time, and could afford to loiter a little and pet the blossoms. Karl was there, leaning over her shoulder and laughing at the loving way in which she talked to them.

“Anybody would think they were a lot of live babies whom you were loving,” he said.

Karl Shubert was Mr. Greenough’s nephew; he was spending the summer with Grandmama Greenough while his father went West on business. Karl liked nothing better than to take off his coat, and roll up his sleeves, and push his queer little cap on the back of his head, and call himself a workman. Karl was also from the country, and thought it very strange that people were willing to pay money for “just weeds.”

“There are flowers almost like those which grow wild in the woods back of our house,” he said. “I’ve gathered ’em lots of times, just for fun. Nobody ever thought of buying them; I guess I should have thought they were crazy if they had.”

“Folks would think here that you were crazy if you gave them away,” answered Jennie. “These are not quite like the wild ones; but I guess they are cousins.”

“I believe they are just like them. Give me a bunch of these, and I’ll send them to Mattie Bennett and ask her if they aren’t. She gathers them all the time. Give me that great big one, and the little bits of ones next to it.”

Jennie opened her blue eyes very wide, and looked gravely at him. “You are just joking?” she said, inquiringly.

“No, I’m not joking. I think it would be great fun to send Mattie a bunch of these by mail, and tell her what the dunces here in the city pay for them. She will think I am joking, for sure. I wonder I never thought of it before. Give us a bunch.’

But Jennie’s face was graver than ever. “Of course you know I can’t,” she said, quietly.

“Well I should like to know why not? Are you suddenly taken with rheumatism in your arms, or anything of that kind? What is to hinder your handing over that bunch of posies to me?”

“Why, Karl, you don’t need me to tell you that the flowers aren’t mine? I couldn’t give you the least little blossom, of course; and I know you are just trying to tease me.”

“Stuff and nonsense!” said Karl, getting into a fume. “I never heard of such a dunce. Do you pretend to say that you never take one of the silly little things for yourself?”

Jennie’s cheeks flamed a brilliant red, and her blue eyes flashed. “I don’t think that question is worth answering,” she said, with dignity. “Do you suppose I would steal a flower any sooner than I would steal anything else?”

“Oh, steal! Who is talking about stealing? What is just a few flowers? Anyhow you might give them to me. Don’t you know my grandmother will give me the whole basketful if I ask her? And every one of them belongs to my own uncle.”

“That doesn’t make a bit of difference,” said Jennie firmly. “Your grandmother has a right to give you the basketful, of course, if she wants to, and your uncle could give you the whole greenhouse; but that would have nothing to do with me. Not one little flower is mine, and if you think I will take what belongs to other people and give it away, you are mistaken. I wouldn’t do it any more than I would take one for myself.”

“Poh!” said Karl, who thought this was utter nonsense. “What a fuss you can make about nothing. Suppose I reach over and take the whole bunch and leave? How will you help yourself?”

“You won’t do that,” said Jennie confidently, and a pleasant look came into her blue eyes. “I’m not the least bit afraid of it, because that would be mean, and I know you will never be mean.”

“Poh!” said Karl again; but he couldn’t help feeling that she had the best of the argument. On the whole he was vexed with her, and went away in a huff. “Such a ridiculous idea!” he said, kicking the dust with his bare toes as he walked. “Who would have supposed she could be so stupid as to suppose my uncle would care about her giving me some flowers?”

In half an hour he had forgotten all about it. He never thought of it again until a week afterward.

His uncle opened his room door one morning and spoke hurriedly, “Karl, my boy, did you see anything of a silver dollar that I left lying on the shelf of the lower greenhouse yesterday?”

“No, sir,” said Karl, turning over in bed and looking wonderingly at his uncle’s grave face. “I wasn’t in the greenhouse yesterday. Don’t you remember I had a cold, and Grandma would not let me go there, or anywhere?”

“Is that so?” and the face of the uncle grew graver. “Then I am afraid she has taken it, and I would not have lost my faith in the girl for ten times that amount.”

“Who, uncle?”

“I’m afraid, Karl, that Jennie has slipped the dollar into her pocket. There are little circumstances connected with it which make me quite sure I left it there; and Jennie is the only new help we have, you know. I would as soon suspect myself or dishonesty as any of the others. I have turned everything upside down in the greenhouse, and made more fuss than forty dollars are worth, just to get rid of the suspicion; but I’m afraid I can’t. David suggested that you might have seen it; but if you were not out of the house yesterday, of course that won’t do. I questioned Jennie, and she says she saw nothing of it. If there were any cracks for it to slip into I should be glad; but there are not. I’m afraid I shall have to tell her she cannot be trusted.”

“Oh, my!” said Karl, and he buried his head in the pillow and laughed. “Uncle Robert, that is too funny,” he said, when he had had his laugh out. “Jennie wouldn’t take a dollar that didn’t belong to her, not if she was starving, and could eat it. Why, she wouldn’t even take a poor little flower which looks just like the wild ones that I used to gather by the bushel up home. Uncle Robert, she is just awfully honest.”

“Is that so?” asked Uncle Robert, his eyes looking less troubled. “How do you know, my boy?” and he sat down on the side of the bed and heard the story of the Fourth of July flowers, and the bunch that Karl wanted, and did not get.

“Well,” said Mr. Greenough, after he had questioned until he understood all about it, “that is pretty good proof: she is an excellent witness for herself. It was quite natural for you to think as you did, Karl, and it was splendid in her to refuse you. I don’t believe she knows anything about the dollar. What can have become of it is more than I can imagine; but I shall say nothing more to her, for the present, at least. Don’t mention it, Karl; I would not like to have her think I suspected her.”

“I guess not!” said Karl, with emphasis. “I wouldn’t tell her for a farm.”

It was nearly two weeks afterward that Jennie came across the lawn toward Mr. Greenwich with a flower pot in her hand and a puzzled look on her face.

“What is it, Jennie?” he asked, turning back to answer her look.

“If you please, Mr. Greenough, I did not know they ever planted money; but isn’t that a piece of money peeping up through the earth?”

Mr. Greenough looked, and dived in his hand, and drew out a silver dollar.

“It is money, without doubt,” he said, smiling. “Has that plant had fresh earth put around it lately?”

“Yes, sir; more than a week ago Dennis turned a whole tubful on the table, and filled up the plants in that long row at the left; but I didn’t think—” and then Jennie stopped.

“You didn’t think they ever mixed silver dollars with the earth, eh?” Mr. Greenough said, laughing. “It seems Dennis does sometimes; and I must say I am very glad to know it. It explains a mystery.”

Karl’s eyes twinkled, but he kept his own counsel. Jennie was right; he wouldn’t be mean.

If you enjoyed this story, feel free to share it with others by downloading a pdf copy here.

Meet Priscilla Hunter

5 Jun

In her books Isabella Alden created many endearing and memorable characters; but perhaps one of the most beloved people who appeared in her stories was Miss Priscilla Hunter.

In fact, Isabella liked Priscilla Hunter so much, she included Priscilla in four of her books:

The Man of the House
Miss Priscilla Hunter
One Commonplace Day
People Who Haven’t Time and Can’t Afford It

If you haven’t heard of Priscilla Hunter before, here’s how Mr. Durant described her in One Commonplace Day:

Miss Priscilla Hunter [is] a maiden lady who has just come here to live. If you have not heard of her before, you will do well to make her acquaintance. I think you will find her a woman after your own heart on the temperance question, as well as on some others.

And in The Man of the House, little Beth Stone said Priscilla was:

A woman; kind of old, and not so very old, either. She’s got grey hair, and she is tall and straight, and her face looks sort of nice; not pretty, and not exactly pleasant as I know of, but the kind of face one likes.

But don’t let Priscilla’s grey hair fool you. She was a woman of high energy and focused activity. It was Priscilla Hunter who almost single-handedly raised the money needed for the church in Miss Priscilla Hunter.

And when (in People Who Haven’t Time and Can’t Afford It) pretty Mrs. Leymon asked Priscilla to help bring some hope to a poverty-stricken family, Priscilla energetically replied:

Help! Of course I will. I’ll bring my scissors and snip out things for you in odd hours. Oceans of things can be done in odd hours; and I’ve got a little bundle laid away that will do to make over for somebody; and Mrs. Jackson has an attic full of trumpery that she will never use. I’ll see that a good load of it gets sent around to the room. You’ve got a good room? It’s Mr. Hoardwell’s, isn’t it! Of course he’ll let you have it; I’ll see him if you want me to; he’s a friend of mine. I’ll slip up there between daylight and dark and see about it.

Priscilla’s scissors and snips were always at work. She was a seamstress by trade; and in People Who Haven’t Time Priscilla . . .

. . . sewed all day in her attic room on clothes for boys too young or too poor to go to the regular clothing establishments. Poor was Miss Hunter; that is, people looking on called her so. But, after all, I hardly knew of a richer person than Miss Priscilla Hunter.

But if Priscilla Hunter was poor, why would characters in Isabella’s stories describe Priscilla as rich?

First, she was extremely wise. She was adept at sizing up a situation, asking the right questions, and dispensing the truest and most needed morsel of advice at just the right time.

She gave advice to children and adults, women and men, friends and strangers; and her advice was always the right advice!

She was intuitive, too. Sometimes she could figure out what someone’s worries were just by looking at them. She noticed everything; no detail was too small to escape her notice.  In “Miss Priscilla Hunter” Priscilla observed:

It is the trifling sacrifices that pinch. [A man] can do a great thing now and then that he knows people will admire, even though he has no such selfish motive in doing it; still it helps and cheers, to know that an appreciative world looks on and says: “That was well done!”

But to go without a new dress all winter—to go to church, and to society, and occasionally to a tea-party, wearing the cashmere or alpaca that has done duty as best for two years, and do it for the sake of the church, and say nothing about it, and know that people are ignorant of the reason, and feel that they are wondering whether you are aware that your dress begins to look “rusty”—that is sacrifice.

Priscilla was also generous. What little she had she shared with others, always trusting that as long as she did the Lord’s work, God would provide whatever she needed.

But the most important reason Priscilla was rich was her unshakable faith in God. She had a way of talking about God that made clear to everyone He was her best friend and constant companion:

You will find that if this life is a warfare, we have more than a Captain—we’ve a Commander-in-chief, and we have nothing to do with the fight, other than to obey orders and keep behind the shield.

Priscilla Hunter’s unwavering faith is on full display in the book The Man of the House. And though the hero of the story, Reuben Stone, is honest and trustworthy and always tries to do right, Miss Hunter shows Reuben how much better his life can be if he will make the decision to follow Jesus.

It’s no wonder Isabella Alden liked Miss Priscilla Hunter so much. And since she created Priscilla as a “maiden lady” without family or possessions to tie her down, Isabella could move Miss Hunter from place to place, and into the lives of the very people who needed someone to remind them of God’s love and friendship.

If you’d like to read about Miss Priscilla Hunter, you can read these stories for free on this website:

Miss Priscilla Hunter

People Who Haven’t Time and Can’t Afford It

Or you can click on the book covers below to read The Man of the House and One Commonplace Day:



New Free Read: Muriel’s Bright Idea

4 Apr

Throughout her adult life, Isabella wrote many short stories that were published by different Christian magazines. For your enjoyment, here is a sweet short story Isabella Alden wrote for Christian Endeavor World magazine:

My friend Muriel is the youngest daughter in a large family of busy people. They are in moderate circumstances, and the original breadwinner has been long gone; so in order to enjoy many of the comforts and a few of the luxuries of life the young people have to be wage-earners. I am sure that they enjoy life just as much as they would if such were not the case, though there are doubtless times when they would like to be less busy. Still, even this condition has its compensations.

“Other people do not know how lovely vacations are,” was the way Esther expressed it as she sat one day on the side porch, hands folded lightly in her lap, and an air of delicious idleness about her entire person. It was her week of absolute leisure, which she had earned by a season of hard work. She is a public school teacher, belonging to a section and grade where they work their teachers fourteen hours of the twenty-four.

Alice is a music teacher, and goes all day from house to house in town, and from school to school, with her music books in hand.

Ben, a young brother, is studying medicine in a doctor’s office, also in town, and serving the doctor between times to pay for his opportunities. There are two others, an older brother just started in business for himself, and a sister in a training school for nurses.

So it was that this large family scattered each morning to their duties in the city ten miles away, and gathered at night, like chickens, to the home nest, which was mothered by the dearest little woman, who gave much of her time and strength to the preparation of favorite dishes with which to greet the wage-earners as they gathered at night around the home table. It is a very happy family, but it was not about any of them that I set out to tell you. In truth, it was Muriel’s apron that I wanted to talk about; but it seemed necessary to describe the family in order to secure full appreciation of the apron.

Muriel, I should tell you, is still a high school girl, hoping to be graduated next year, though at times a little anxious lest she may not pass.

But about her apron . . . I saw it first one morning when I crossed the street to my neighbor’s side door that opens directly into the large living room, and met Muriel in the doorway, as pretty a picture as a fair-haired, bright-eyed girl of seventeen can make. She was in what she called her uniform, a short dress made of dark print, cut lower in the neck than a street dress. It had elbow sleeves, and a bit of white braid stitched on their bands and around the square neck set off the little costume charmingly.

Her apron was of strong dark green denim, wide enough to cover her dress completely. It had a bib waist held in place by shoulder straps; and the garment fastened behind with a single button, making it adjustable in a second. But its distinctive feature was a row of pockets—or rather several rows of them—extending across the front breadth; they were of varying sizes, and all bulged out as if well filled.

“What in the world . . . ?” I began, and stared at the pockets. Muriel’s merry laugh rang out.

“Haven’t you seen my pockets before?” she asked. “They astonish you, of course; everybody laughs at them. But I am proud of them; they are my own invention. You see, we are such a busy family all day long, and so tired when we get home at night, that we have a bad habit of dropping things just where they happen to land, and leaving them. By the end of the week this big living room is a sight to behold. It used to take half my morning to pick up the thousand and one things that did not belong here, and carry them to their places. You do not know how many journeys I had to make, because I was always overlooking something. So I invented this apron with a pocket in it for every member of the family, and it works like a charm.

“Look at this big one with a B on it; that is for Ben, of course, and it is always full. Ben is a great boy to leave his pencils, and his handkerchiefs, and everything else about. Last night he even discarded his necktie because it felt choky.

From Pinterest

“This pocket is Esther’s. She leaves her letters and her discarded handkerchiefs, as well as her gloves. And Kate sheds hair ribbons and hatpins wherever she goes. Just think how lovely it is to have a pocket for each, and drop things in as fast as I find them. When I am all through dusting, I have simply to travel once around the house and unpack my load. I cannot tell you how much time and trouble and temper my invention has saved me.”

“It is a bright idea,” I said, “and I mean to pass it on. There are other living rooms and busy girls. Whose is that largest pocket, marked M?

“Why, I made it for mother; but, do you know, I have found out just in this very way that mothers do not leave things lying around. It is queer, isn’t it, when they have so many cares? It seems to be natural for mothers to think about other people. So I made the M stand for ‘miscellaneous,’ and I put into that pocket articles which will not classify, and that belong to all of us. There are hosts of things for which no particular one seems to be responsible. Is it not a pity that I did not think of pockets last winter, when we all had special cares and were so dreadfully busy? It is such a simple idea you would have supposed that any person would have thought of it, but it took me two years. I just had to do it this spring, because there simply was not time to run up- and downstairs so much.”

“You have proved once more the truth of the old proverb, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention,’” I said. “And, besides, you have given me a new idea. I am going home to work it out. When it is finished, I will show it to you.” Then I went home, and made rows and rows of strong pockets to sew on a folding screen I was making for my work-room.

A Dozen of Them – The Final Chapters

14 Feb

As A Dozen of Them draws to a close, Joseph confronts a fearful situation, and confesses a secret to his sister Jean. If you missed any of the previous chapters, you can read the entire book here.


A Dozen of Them




“I want a nice still verse,” said Joseph, with his head in Jean’s lap. “Things have been in such a bustle for so long, it seems as though all the verses were hot, and had stirred up a fire somehow—no, I don’t mean that, either; they have helped put out the fire, every time, but I want something nice and still.”

Jean smiled; Joseph must be almost tired out if he wanted still things. “I’m sure you can be easily gratified,” she said. “Look at the very first verse for the month.”



“Say it to me,” said lazy Joseph, “I don’t want to stir.”

So Jean said it: “Casting all your care upon Him, for He careth for you.”

“But I haven’t any care,” he said, after a moment’s thought.

“Never mind; some care may come, before you expect it; and you may find it good to be prepared. It is a nice still verse, and unless you take the next one to it, I don’t know that you can do better.”

“What is the next?”

“It is the Golden Rule.”

“Then I don’t want it. I don’t want a bit of doing; there will be enough of that when school begins. I’ll take the still one.”

From Pinterest

From Pinterest


Exactly two days from that talk, this, which I am going to tell you, happened. Miss Emerson was visiting her sister, who was a pupil in the Fowler School, and did not go home for vacation, for the reason that a large part of her home had gone to Europe. Miss Emerson was an elocutionist, and volunteered to give a little entertainment during her visit, for the benefit of the library in the Fowler School.

On the evening in question she was in her room giving the finishing touches to her toilet, and the audience was already assembled in the large parlors waiting for her.

“Let me see,” she said, speaking to her dog Trust, I suppose, as he was the only one present beside herself, “no, I believe I won’t wear diamonds; it would not be in good taste for so small a gathering. They will think I am too much dressed as it is, I presume. I haven’t time to lock these up again. Trust, you may stay here and take care of them; remember, old fellow, you are not to let anybody touch anything of mine until I come back.” She held up her finger at Trust for emphasis, and he gave an intelligent bark in reply; then she smiled on him and swept away.


From Pinterest


Five minutes afterwards she was saying in the hall, “Are they waiting? Well, I am quite ready—oh dear! I have left my fan in my room.”

“Joseph will bring it,” said Mrs. Calland who liked things to begin promptly. “Joseph, bring it to me in the parlor. Miss Emerson, will you come now?” And Joseph scampered for the fan.

It lay on the table behind the jewel case. Joseph sprang in breathless, his hand ready to grasp it, when a low growl arrested him, and the fiery eyes of Trust were upon him. He took in the situation at once; Trust was in charge, and he would not be allowed to touch the fan.



“All right,” he said good-naturedly; “I won’t, old fellow. Your mistress wants it, but you cannot be expected to understand that, and I’ll report you as doing your duty.”

Not so fast, my boy; Trust not only distrusts you too much to allow you to touch the fan, but he does not mean that you shall escape him. At the first step toward the door, he grasped Joseph’s trousers with his fierce teeth, almost grazing the skin, and held on. It was by no means a pleasant position. Joseph did not understand dogs very well, was a good deal afraid of this one, as was everybody in the house, and had been glad to think of getting away as quickly as possible from his fiery eye, and here he was a prisoner! For how long? The entertainment was not yet opened. Two hours at least before he could hope that Miss Emerson would reach her room. If her fan was not forthcoming, some other fan would be handed her, and no one would remember that he had been sent for it. What was to be done? Clearly nothing but to stand still and endure Trust’s stern gaze.



Shall you be surprised if I tell you that Joseph’s heart beat fast? He did not know how soon Trust might weary of holding on to cloth only, and conclude to try a bit of the flesh underneath it. In point of fact, Trust soon let go with his teeth; but held on with his eyes. Joseph did not dare to move a muscle, lest it might be taken for resistance, and receive punishment. Was ever a worse dilemma for a good-intentioned boy?

It seemed strange to him long afterwards, the sudden sense of courage which came with the words which memory brought him just then: “Casting all your care upon Him, for He careth for you.”

Wasn’t this care? Had he ever a worse anxiety? Did not God know all about it? Could He not protect from this danger, as well as from others?

The loud thuds which Joseph’s heart were giving, began to quiet. It was a trying place, one full of care, certainly, but he began to have a strange sense of security; a sort of assurance that Trust would do no more than guard his mistress’ property, and that he, Joseph, so long as he stood still, would escape injury. Two hours of standing perfectly still! Never mind, he could bear it; and he was beginning not to be afraid.

Which of you can tell why Jean, just a moment before this, should whisper to Mrs. Calland, daring the voluntary, “Do you know where Joseph is?”

“He is with the scholars, I suppose,” answered Mrs. Calland, a little surprised at the question. Where should Joseph be but in his place? She had already forgotten that she sent him for a fan.

What made Jean anxious? She couldn’t have told you. Joseph was never in mischief, was almost certain to be where he ought to be, yet his sister fidgeted, stretched her neck up to get a glimpse of her brother, and finally slipped quietly away to investigate. The boys did not know where he was; the girls had not seen him since supper. Oh, yes, Laura Akers saw him just before the entertainment commenced; she heard Mrs. Calland send him to Miss Emerson’s room for her fan; she was passing the hall, and heard her give the direction; he was to bring it to the parlor; she presumed he had done so, but she had not seen him come in.

Neither had Jean, and in two minutes more she knocked at Miss Emerson’s door and said, “Joseph!”



Trust looked toward the door, and gave an ominous growl.

Joseph spoke in low, quiet tones, “I’m all right, Jean. Trust is on guard and won’t let the fan go, nor me either. Don’t make a fuss; just run and ask little Fanny Emerson to come here a minute; Trust will obey her.”

This sensible idea was at once carried out. Fanny Emerson, the young sister of the elocutionist, came in haste, exclaimed over the situation, scolded Trust, and carried off both Joseph and the fan in triumph.

When the owner of the fan heard the story a few hours later, she exclaimed over it, too; looked a trifle pale; told Joseph it was well he had sense enough not to try to move, for Trust would have torn him in pieces.

“I quite forgot that I left him on guard,” she said. “I don’t know how you escaped so easily. Mercy! If he had bitten you I would never have forgiven myself.”



“I should think not,” said Jean, her, face flushing. She could not help feeling a little indignant.

But Joseph smiled.

“It is all right,” he said, “I wasn’t hurt a bit.” It was only to Jean that he added, afterwards, this bit of information:

“I was scared, Jean, most as much as I ever was in my life; but it came to me all of a sudden that it was big enough to be called a ‘care,’ and I just tried, you know, to give it to Him; and somehow, I don’t know how, He took it. It does beat all how those verses fit in!”








“But I have nothing to give,” said Joseph. He was, as usual, talking with Jean about the verse he would take for the month.

“I’ve received enough, I’ll own that; a fellow never received a nicer year in his life than I have spent here; but I haven’t a thing to give, as you know yourself.”

Jean sewed in silence for a few minutes, then said, “It seems strange to me that a bright boy like you, with strong hands and feet and a good sensible tongue and a pair of eyes of his own, should make a speech like that.”



Joseph laughed a little. “Well, I have those things, of course,” he said at last. “Everybody has; but I can’t very well give them away.”

“I don’t see why not. I’m sure of one thing: it makes very little difference what else you give, so long as you hold on to those. Why don’t you give your heart, out and out, Josey, and be done with it?”

“How do you know but I have?” said Joseph, after resting his chin on his hand and looking thoughtfully out of the window for awhile.

Jean looked at him eagerly, a bright light in her eyes. “Sometimes I think you have, Joseph, but you never said so in words.”

“A fellow doesn’t say everything he thinks; but I always meant to tell you I did it, Jean, quite a while ago; and I mean that my hands and tongue and all that, shall be His forever; but I was thinking of money and such things when I said I had nothing to give.”

“Oh, Joseph! Never mind the money. Don’t you suppose He can get it for you whenever He wants you to give any? I’m so glad!”

She looked it, out of her eyes; and she did what was not usual with her—drew his brown head close to her lips and kissed him two or three times; tender, slow kisses such as his mother might have given him.

Joseph said nothing, only winked hard, and told himself that his sister was the best sister a boy ever had, and he chose the verse she suggested for the month.

That was the reason it came to him, while he stood talking with merry little Nellie Ayers, as she sat on a bench in the workshop, her great green-eyed cat in her arms. Nellie Ayers was a character in the school; a homeless orphan to whom Mrs. Fowler was almost a mother, just because her heart was large and she could not help being. Nellie was bright, and warm-hearted, and thoughtless, and in a hundred thoughtless ways gave more trouble than all the other scholars put together. Mrs. Calland even reached the point of sometimes saying, “I really don’t believe we can keep Nellie another year unless she is changed in some way.”



Just now, Nellie was putting as much mourning into her words as her merry heart could furnish, as she explained to Joseph, “Why, I haven’t the first thing to put in the special collection for next week. I wish I had; I’m the only girl, I guess, who won’t have anything. I wish they’d let me give my shoes and stockings; I hate to wear them; but Mrs. Calland won’t allow that; I wouldn’t like her to see me this minute sitting here without them. Or I might give Muffy; she is all I have of my very own; but she wouldn’t look well in a collection-box; besides, she would be sure to say ‘Meow’ right in the midst of the prayer, maybe,” and then Nellie laughed.

It was then that Joseph thought of the verse. Surely none had received more freely than Nellie; yet what had she to give in return? This set him to studying.

“What do you want to give anything for?”

“Why, just because I do. All the girls are going to; why shouldn’t I want to? You don’t think I haven’t any heart, do you?”

“Oh, no! But I was wondering what the motive of it all was, you know.”

“The motive? Why, you ought to know; one would think you had never heard Mrs. Calland talk. Doesn’t she say a hundred times a week that we must give always for Jesus’ sake?”

“That’s just it. Is that what you want to give for?”

“Why, I suppose so, of course.”

“Then why don’t you give yourself?”


“Yes,” said Joseph steadily, though there was a flush on his face which deepened as he went on. “Out and out; settle this whole business forever. Give your hands, and your feet, and your tongue, and —well, your heart, you know, and that covers all the rest. If folks really want to give for Jesus’ sake, I say, why don’t they give the only thing He wants, instead of hunting around for something that they haven’t got, and he doesn’t want them to give?”

Said Nellie, “You are a queer boy! Why, that means— do you mean being a Christian?”

“Yes; I said so, out and out. Why not? That is giving the thing He has asked for; and He doesn’t care for all the money in the country unless we do as He wants us to.”

“Have you done it?”

“Yes, I have.” The whole face was rosy red now, but Joseph’s clear eyes looked steadily into the face of the little girl. “I belong to Him; I’ve given to Him all I’ve got; strength and voice and everything. I’m going to serve Him the best way I know how.”

He said not another word at -that time, but turned away, leaving Nellie to her kitten and her thoughts. He had not the least idea how large a harvest would grow from that little seed. It was only a few days afterwards that Nellie came to Mrs. Calland with something hid under her little work apron. “I don’t know whether it will do to put in the collection basket,” she explained, her cheeks rosy, “but I haven’t any money, you know, and I truly mean this.”

It was a carefully-shaped heart cut from pure white paper, and on it were printed these words:



“I have given them all to Him,” said Nellie, “and He will understand that if I had any money for the basket that would belong, too.”

There were tears in Mrs. Calland’s eyes when she kissed Nellie. “He will certainly understand,” she said. “Give the heart to me; it is very precious. I will put a silver dollar in the basket in its place, and keep the heart in memory of my little scholar. You have given the only offering which He cares for, Nellie.”

“That was what Joseph said,” was Nellie’s answer, and it set Mrs. Calland to questioning, to learn that the consecration of this young, and heretofore almost wasted life, was the first fruit of Joseph’s seed-sowing.

But not the last; during the fall term a new spirit seemed to pervade the school. The change in Nellie was decided and marked, and being a little girl of energy, she worked with all her heart in this new way which she had entered; awakening a new courage in Joseph’s heart; helping him to see a dozen ways of “giving” which had never occurred to him before.

Teacher and students 1918


While the golden days of October were still smiling on them, one and another, and yet another of the scholars came quietly to Mrs. Calland with the story of their new-born life, hid in Christ; and each time she traced the seed-sowing to Joseph and Nellie.

“He is helpful in every way, and our troublesome, mischievous Nellie is going to develop into a real comfort, thanks to his leading.” This was the sentence with which Mrs. Calland closed a long talk with Father and Mother Fowler.

“Well, mother,” said Farmer Fowler, “you and I think about the same, I believe; and I don’t know as we need wait any longer. Mrs. Calland will be carrying him off before our eyes, if we don’t make haste;” and he smiled on his daughter as he spoke.

“Harry would carry him off in a minute,” said Mrs. Calland, “and make a merchant of him.” Harry was Mrs. Calland’s city brother-in-law, with whom her husband had been in business during his lifetime.

“I don’t doubt it; and Joseph would make a good one; but your mother and I have about decided to make a son of him, that is, if you will have him for a brother. I was for waiting a year or two longer, but she wants it done out and out; and I don’t know but she is right.”

“I’m sure she is,” Mrs. Calland said, with radiant face. “He is just the boy to be a son to you always, and, as for me, I’ll adopt Jean; I don’t believe I could get along without her.”

But Joseph does not know a word of all this yet. He will soon be told, but I determined that you should know it first.

Thanks for reading A Dozen of Them by Isabella Alden. Later this week a complete version of the book will be added under the Free Reads tab on this site, so you can re-read the book or share it with others.

The Hall in the Grove

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Isabella Alden

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Britt Reads Fiction

Reviews and giveaways for Christian fiction. Bringing readers information on great stories and connecting authors with their readers.

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