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New Free Read: Tony Keating’s Surprises

8 Sep

The Reverend Francis E. Clark, president of the World Christian Endeavor Union, said of Isabella Alden:

“Probably no writer of stories for young people has been so popular or had so wide an audience as Mrs. G. R. Alden, whose pen-name, Pansy, is known wherever English books are read.”

Indeed, Isabella enjoyed world-wide fame as an author. By the year 1900 she was selling over 100,000 books a year.

So it’s a little mystifying to see that in 1914, when she chose a new publishing house—M.A. Donohue & Company in Chicago—to publish Tony Keating’s Surprises, the publisher had so little knowledge of who she was, they spelled her name wrong on the book’s cover!

Luckily, that single error doesn’t detract from the pleasure of reading Isabella’s novella, Tony Keating’s Surprises. Here’s a brief description of the story:

For as long as Tony Keating could remember, people have been telling him he was bad, so it was little wonder he came to believe he was just so.

Over the years, Tony has become quite adept at living up to his reputation, by springing tricks and surprises on his parents, his sister, his teachers, and anyone else who happens to cross his path. Why, the entire town believes Tony Keating will come to no good.

Everyone, that is, except Lorena Stanfield. Being new in town, Lorena doesn’t know about Tony’s reputation as the town scamp. With her fresh perspective Lorena sees Tony’s potential for good. But will her gentle influence be enough to transform Tony’s life?

You can read Tony Keating’s Surprises for free!

Just follow this link to go to Then, choose whether you want to read the book on your computer, phone, ipad, Kindle, or other electronic device.

Or choose the “My Computer” option to print the story as a PDF document and share it with friends.

New Free Read: The Little Card

8 Apr

A new month brings a new Free Read!

Isabella’s novella The Little Card was first published in 1891 as a serial in The Pansy magazine.

Miss Teenie Burnside’s health may cause her to stay at home, but that doesn’t mean she can’t minister to others. In fact, when she uses her talents to draw and letter some little cards—each with one of the Bible’s Golden Texts—she hopes her cards will encourage others to read God’s Word. Little does Teenie know just how many people her little cards will reach, or what impact they will have on the lives of strangers in need.

Read The Little Card for free!

Choose the reading option you like best:

To read The Little Card on your computer, phone, ipad, Kindle, or other electronic device, just click here to download your preferred format from

Choose the “My Computer” option to print the story as a PDF document and share it with friends.

New Free Read: Clean Hands

12 Feb

Happy February! This month’s Free Read is “Clean Hands” by Isabella Alden.

Like many of Isabella’s stories, “Clean Hands” illustrates the great influence a simple Bible verse can have on someone’s life.

Miss Elsie Burton is looking forward to her vacation in the city. Just think! An entire week of fun, shopping, and seeing old friends. But when her pastor bids her good-bye at the train station with the gift of an odd little book of Bible verses, Elsie embarks upon a journey of self-discovery she never anticipated.

Read “Clean Hands” for free!

Choose the reading option you like best:

Read “Clean Hands” on your computer, phone, ipad, Kindle, or other electronic device. Just click here to download your preferred format from Choose the “Read on My Computer” option to print the story and share it with friends.

A New Free Read: Which Shall I Take?

8 Jan

This month’s Free Read is a short story from 1893 that illustrates the Bible verse:

It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Everyone who knows Miss Carrie Benham thinks she is a bright and sweet-natured, but in her heart, Carrie’s spirit may not be as giving as people think.

So her older brother Ford devises a plan that forces Carrie to choose between bringing pleasure to herself or pleasure to others. Which will Carrie choose?

Read it for free!

Choose the option you like best:

You can read “Which Shall I Take?” on your computer, phone, ipad, Kindle, or other electronic device. Just click here to download your preferred format from

Or you can scroll down to read the story below.

IT was New Year’s morning, and there was company coming to dinner, and Carrie Benham had a dozen or more little duties waiting for her. Nevertheless she paused, duster in hand, and considered for the hundredth time the question which must be settled this morning. She was a pretty girl, with great brown thoughtful eyes, and a fair sweet face framed in soft brown hair, which could take a glint of gold when the sun shone on it. Even in her loose morning blouse, with an old silk handkerchief knotted about her neck, ready to protect the brown hair from dust when she should begin to sweep, almost anyone would have called her pretty.

“There is so much character in Carrie’s face,” her friends said. And strangers looking at her were apt to remark that it was an unusual face for one so young. People who knew her real well knew that it was the sweetness of the soul within which shone out and attracted, rather than the brownness of her eyes, or the clearness of her skin.

Still, I really do not want you to think her remarkable in any way. I am glad to believe that there are hundreds, even thousands, of just such girls as Carrie in this great wide world. Bright, energetic, whole-hearted, sweet-natured girls, who as a rule, are unselfish and thoughtful of the comfort of others.

It was just this matter of unselfishness which was troubling Carrie this holiday morning. She had a curious question to decide, a question to which she had given some puzzled thought several times during the year. Just a year ago this morning she and her brother Ford had had a talk about the Bible verse which Carrie had recited at family worship, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

“I suppose that must be true,” Carrie had said, “because it is in the Bible; but I never could realize it. I do so like to receive gifts, and I cannot imagine myself feeling perfectly happy if I had received nothing from my friends this morning, even though I had been able to give to ever so many. I think people must have to wait until they get old and wise before they appreciate that verse.”

Quite an argument had followed, Ford trying to produce an illustration of the verse’s meaning which would satisfy her, and Carrie declaring laughingly, yet with an undertone of earnestness, that she must be more selfish than other people, because she knew if she had it to decide whether to go without herself, or let others go without, she would be sure to choose for herself.

“Suppose it were a choice between mother and yourself?” Ford asked.

“Oh! Mothers?” said Carrie, with a bright look over at the fair-faced woman who sat by the window. “Of course mothers and fathers are to have the best of everything, and any girl of common sense would be glad to give up for their sakes. But I mean among girls, for instance, equals and friends. It seems to me that the rule does not apply there, unless, of course, it is something one ought to do for the sake of a person in need; but just a mere present! I’m sure I should choose myself every time.”

Out of this talk had grown the scheme which was puzzling Carrie. Two hours afterward Ford brought her two sealed notes.

“Here are two letters,” he said, “which I would like you to keep until a year from today unopened. Next New Year’s morning you may consider which you will open first. The one you choose to accept and give first attention annuls the other; it will be of no use whatever to anybody. You will note that one is addressed to Miss Caroline Benham, and on the other is written, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ I do not mind telling you that both are New Year’s presents, from myself. I do not want you to come to any decision now, of course; but next year I would like you to choose between them. Not from a conscientious standpoint, because you do not know, and cannot know until after your decision is made, who may or may not be blessed by it. What I want you to do in a year from now is to decide on the whole, for the one which you believe will give you the greater pleasure, and see what will come of it. It is not a fair test, of course, of the verse about which we were talking, because the Lord does not generally ask us to work in the dark; but I choose to watch the outcome of this little plan of mine and see what will result.”

Carrie had exclaimed and demurred and coaxed to have just a hint of possibilities, and declared that she could never keep a letter from Ford a whole year without opening it, and declared that she knew perfectly well which she should choose; she did not mean to go without his present for the sake of anybody, unless, indeed — “Ford, it isn’t anything about father or mother, is it? Because if it is, I can decide now.”

No, Ford said, they were counted out.

It had ended by Carrie’s locking the letters up in her treasure box and forgetting them for weeks together, until some sudden overturning of the box in search of treasures would bring them to the surface; then she would study over the problem with a half-amused wonder as to which she would choose. It did not trouble her much while it was months in the future; but behold, here was the very holiday morning on which the decision must be made.

“Who would have thought it could have come so soon?” said Carrie, pausing, broom in hand, to ask herself which she should take. She had been very impressively reminded of her contract in the early morning, when family gifts were exchanged. There had been none for her from Ford; he had simply looked over at her and smiled significantly.

“Oh, dear!” she said, half-vexed over the situation, “I think it is almost too bad in Ford to give me such a problem. I want to give other people pleasure, I am sure I do. I can think of a dozen nice things that he may have given me a chance to do for the girls, and if I was sure it was one of them I believe I would go without my present; only it seems so queer not to have a present from Ford, and me going away so soon.”

You see, it had been settled at last that Carrie should enter at Hampton Institute for the spring term, in order to get well started in the routine of school before the actual hard work of the next fall. For two years Carrie had been looking forward to Hampton Institute as the place of all others where she wanted to go; but now that it was settled, and the time of going was near, she began to have a lonesome, half-home-sick feeling about it, and to wonder what it would be like to be suddenly set down among several hundred people whom she had never seen before.

“If I only knew what my present was,” she said wistfully. “It may be a lovely tinted picture of Ford, such as I have been wanting for so long; and then I almost could not give it up for anybody. Ford is so queer! Why can’t he do things like other people? I believe if I should decide for the other I would almost rather not know what was in mine; but he said I was to look at both as soon as I had decided, and make up my mind honestly about the blessedness; only I cannot change my decision after that. Oh, dear! It is certain to be something nice for one of his girls; something that I would have pleasure in giving them; but then it is a good deal to give up, I am sure.”

That phrase “one of his girls” perhaps needs explanation. You must know that Carrie’s brother Ford was the pastor of the church to which Carrie belonged, and of course all the girls in the large congregation were “his” in the sense that she meant, though there was a choice little company of her very special friends whom she felt sure he would choose from.

“It is almost certain to be Clara,” she said. “Ford knows it would be more blessed for me to give to Clara than any of the others; and she doesn’t have many gifts, and she is heart-broken now at the thought of my going away. If I were only sure it was Clara I believe I could decide. But then, it might be Helen Peck; Ford thinks a great deal of her. Well, so do I, but then—Oh, dear! Was ever a girl in such perplexity?”

Broom and dust-brush did good service for a few minutes, while Carrie knitted her brows and thought. “If there were only an ‘ought’ in it,” she said aloud presently, “it would be so easy.” And from that sentence you catch a hint of the manner of girl she was; for there are some to whom things are not easy, even when there is an “ought” in them. However, Ford had assured her that she was honestly to decide for that which she felt would give her the most pleasure.

“It isn’t really fair, as Ford said,” she told herself at last, “because I am so utterly in the dark, and because I do like gifts from Ford to keep as love tokens. But then I have ever so many, and I do like to give presents, and Ford may have planned a lovely pleasure for me. And besides, there is the verse, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ It doesn’t say ‘sometimes,’ or qualify it in any way. I just believe I will choose it.”

The duster was dropped presently, and Carrie’s brown head went down for a moment on the window-seat near which she stood. When she raised it there was a softened light in the brown eyes, and a glad ring in her voice, as she said:

“I have decided! I have so many lovely things of my own, I just long to give somebody else a pleasure. Now I am going to look; or no, wait until this room is in perfect order.”

The decision once made, it was hard to wait; but Carrie was trying to learn self-control, and held herself steadily to the task of dusting every little nook and corner, and placing every chair and book where they belonged. Then, at last, she drew from her pocket the two letters which had waited so long, laid the one addressed to herself on the window-seat with a loving little good-by pat, and broke the seal of the other.

Could she believe her eyes? It contained a check for a larger amount of money than she had supposed her brother could afford, and on the paper in which it was folded was written, in Ford’s clear hand, that it was to cover the expenses of Miss Clara Foster at the Hampton Institute for one year and one term, in order that she might have the pleasure of entering this spring with her dear friend, Carrie Benham, who delighted in giving her this New Year offering.

Carrie Benham, as she read, felt a curious sensation in her throat. She wanted to scream, to laugh, to cry. She did not know what she wanted. What, oh, what if she had chosen the other letter? Now Clara, her darling Clara, the dearest, best friend a girl ever had, could be with her every minute; and could have what she never had hoped to have—a chance for an education.

The pastor, in his study getting ready to make a five-minutes’ speech at the festival in the evening, was presently almost smothered with kisses.

“Have you opened the other letter?” he asked, when he could get breath to speak.

“No, Ford, I haven’t; I forgot all about it; there isn’t the least need for opening it. I know it is something perfectly lovely, of course, but it doesn’t matter in the least. Nothing in all the world could be so blessed as this. I was never so happy in my life.”

“Still it was in the bargain that the other should be opened and the two compared,” he said, with a fond smile for the happy-faced girl. “I must hold you to the terms. Where is the letter?”

Together they went in search of it; and Carrie opened with trembling fingers, to find another check, much smaller than the first, but yet of generous size, to be used in buying her the best bicycle that could be found in the market.

What shouts of laughter there were over this gift. A bicycle had been among Carrie’s supposed unattainable wants for two years; and behold, but two months before, on her birthday, a rich uncle who rarely thought of her had been moved—no one knew how or why—to send her by express a magnificent Victor bicycle, with all the modern improvements.

“Did you know he was going to give me one?” Carrie asked, almost breathlessly, as the thought struck her that Ford had planned with foreknowledge. But he shook his head promptly.

“Not a word about it until it came. No, this was all in good faith, and you would be without your bicycle still, according to your choice, if Uncle Ford had not mixed himself up in the matter. But I suspect, Carrie dear, that your Father in Heaven knew all about it.”

“Oh,” said Carrie, “doesn’t it seem wonderful? And oh, Ford! What if I had chosen for myself? Wouldn’t it have been dreadful?”

What do you think of Ford’s method for testing Carrie?

Which envelope do you think you would have chosen? 


A Sweet Old Story

18 Dec

With holiday preparations in full swing, it’s nice to stop every once in a while to remind ourselves of the true meaning of the season.

“A Sweet Old Story” is a short piece Isabella wrote for The Pansy magazine in 1885, telling the story of Christ’s birth in simple terms. The lovely woodcut illustrations below were part of the original magazine issue.


Title Image: A Sweet Old Story

A great many hundred years ago, away and away across the water, one beautiful starry night something happened.

Up among the hills and the rocks the sheep were taking their rest; safe from wolf or tiger because the faithful shepherds watched all night.

They were gathered in a sheltered place around the fire and they were talking. Good men, they were, who believed what God had told them in the Bible, and were watching for his promises to come to pass.

If we had been near I think we might have heard something like this:

“It is a long time that we have been waiting for the King to come.”

“Yes,” says another; “years and years! I remember how my grandmother used to gather us about her and tell us how the Lord was to send us a king to rule over us, and to make all wrong things right. She used to think he might come in her day; and she sat often listening and watching, to see if she could hear his voice.”

“How do you think it will be?” asked a third. “Do you think He will come suddenly from the sky, with bands of music, and guards of angels, and with a crown on his head, speaking in a voice of thunder to all wrong doers?”

The first shepherd shook his head. “I do not know,” he said. “I often wonder how it will be; and I read over and over again the promises of his coming. Some of them sound as though he was to be poor and alone; but how can that be when he is to rule the world? I do not understand it; but I long to see my king.”

Just then a light brighter than the sun shone all around them.

“What is that?” they said.

Could the world be on fire? No, all was quiet down in the valleys; and the earth was sleeping. The shepherds looked at one another and said not a word; but their limbs trembled so that they could hardly stand.

“Look! What is that, coming from the brightness! It must surely be an angel.”

He is speaking. “Fear not,” and his voice was like the sound of music.

As he spoke, the fear seemed all to glide away from the shepherds, and they felt a strange, sweet happiness stealing over them.

Then came the wonderful words: “There was born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour for you; he is Christ the Lord.”

O glorious news! How shall they know where to find him?

“Listen,” the angels tell them. “You will find the baby in a manger.”

What strange news was this! The King of Glory, the Saviour of the world to be found in a manger!

But before they could say a word, suddenly the air was filled with angels. They were singing this song: “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth, peace, good-will toward men.”

Illustration of the baby Jesus asleep with seven cherubs surrounding him.

The Christ Child surrounded by angels, from Raphael’s painting

The music to which these words were sung was not like any that the shepherds had ever heard before; nor did they hear anything like it again, until the angels opened the golden gates and showed them the way to the palace of their King. Only a few minutes, and the angels soared away, the beautiful light faded, the sweet voices were lost in the blue distance, and there was only the sheep asleep on the hillsides, and the stars smiling down on them.

Do you think they thought it a dream? Oh no. Listen to what they said:

“Let us go right away to find the Lord. He will be in Bethlehem; that is the city of David. The Lord has sent his angels to tell this news; we shall see our King!”

And they hurried away.

Did they find the King? Yes, they found him; a little baby in a manger, his father and mother watching over him.

Oh, I don’t know what they said when they saw that baby. I have often wondered whether they dared to touch him, to put his soft hand on their faces, and kiss his sweet pure lips. But this I know. Wherever they went, they told that the King had come, and they had seen him.

Years and years ago it happened, yet the men and women, boys and girls are talking, singing and thinking about it today. The most wonderful night the world has ever known was that in which the angels sang the song of the new-born King.

Illustration of Mary holding the infant Jesus as winged cherubs surround them.

The First Christmas.

The shepherds who first told the story have been with the King in his palace, I suppose, for as many as eighteen hundred years, but on Christmas eve in the year eighteen hundred and eighty-five, two sweet little girls are going out with their baskets full of holly leaves and buds, and in the sweet moonlight with the stars looking down on them, are to sing for their sick mother the same sweet old story which I have been telling you.

Two little girls dressed in coats and hats and carrying baskets stand outside a building. They are looking up as if singing to someone who is on an upper floor of the building.

Singing Christmas carols to mamma.

These are the words they will sing:

The angels, the angels, who sang on Christmas eve,
And waked the shepherds so long ago,
What was the song that they caroled so?

Glad tidings, glad tidings, to you, to you, we bring,
Of peace on earth, good-will to men;
And angels echoed the song again
Glad tidings, glad tidings, to you, to you we bring.

They found Him, they found Him
Beneath the Eastern Star,
And kings and shepherds kneeled down to pray
Around the manger where Jesus lay.

What treasure, what treasure, can little children bring?
And where is the blessed Redeemer now,
That round His cradle we all may bow?

No treasure, no treasure, is half so sweet to Him,
As little children who greet Him here
With loving heart and open ear;
No treasure, no treasure, is half so sweet to Him.

A Note from Jenny:

Isabella often wove her own life experiences—and those of her family—into her stories. I suspect the two little girls and their ailing mother were real people Isabella knew. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to identify who they were, but one day, I hope to discover “the story behind this story” and share it with you.

New Free Read: Thankful’s Thanksgiving

27 Nov

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving! In honor of the day, we’re sharing one of Isabella’s short stories from an 1884 issue of The Pansy magazine.

This charming story is about friendship, first impressions, and Thanksgiving blessings.

Read it for free!

You can read “Thankful’s Thanksgiving” on your computer, phone, ipad, Kindle, or other electronic device. Just click here to download your preferred format from

Or you can read the story below, and print it to share with friends.

It began in the summer. It was when they were coming home from the closing exercises of the summer school, Harold Fisher and his cousin Lelia Fisher.

Coming home from the closing entertainment.

They did not belong to the school, these two; in fact, they lived in Boston; but they were in the country for the summer, and I don’t know that there was any place which Lelia at least, enjoyed more than she did the queer little country schoolhouse, painted red, having wooden seats from which all the paint was worn, and an odd-looking thing in the middle of the room which the children called a box stove. It was a thing of beauty all summer, for it blossomed out in ferns, and vines, and bright red berries, and Lelia thought it was “just lovely,” and that nothing in Boston could compare with it.

Well, they were coming home from the closing entertainment, where both Lelia and Harold had delighted the scholars by each giving a recitation; and Harold had a treasure grasped in his fat hand which had been given by the teacher; and in Lelia’s blue silk bag was another, a lovely card for herself, and as Lelia thought of it, and of all the happy days she had spent there, and of the fact that in a few weeks she must go back to Boston and perhaps never see the nice old red schoolhouse again, her face was sad, and she drew a long sigh and wished in her heart that all schoolhouses were red, and had lovely box stoves in the middle of them, and a great old tree in front of them, and that Miss Rebecca Smith was the only teacher there was in the world, and she was always to go to her school. Poor little Lelia; the country and the schoolhouse, and Miss Smith, had stolen her heart.

Within the little red schoolhouse.

Harold was not at all sad; he had had a good time, and he expected to have many another. He did not take in the fact that he would probably never sit on the low seat beside Miss Smith in the old red schoolhouse again. The days stretched before him, full of daily coming pleasures. He troubled himself not one whit about the future.

It was just at that moment that they met Thankful Hall. Not that they knew who she was, but she looked so queer to Harold’s city eyes, that he would stop and stare at her, though Lelia tried to pull him along.

She was a neat-looking little girl, with a fair face and pleasant eyes, but her pink calico dress, made to touch the tops of her strong little shoes, and her long-sleeved apron, was so entirely unlike anything that Harold had ever seen that he could not help staring at her. The little girls who went to the red school-house were dressed enough like Boston little girls for Harold not to notice much difference; though Lelia, with older eyes, saw a great deal.

But this little girl, though neither Lelia nor Harold knew it, was dressed after the fashion of the children of fifty years ago. No wonder Harold stared; not much could be seen of the little woman’s face, for it was hidden behind a strange-looking stiff brown gingham something, which neither of the children knew was a sun-bonnet.

“What is your name?” burst forth Harold at last, making the roses grow on Lelia’s cheeks.

The little girl smiled and answered pleasantly, “I am Thankful Hall.” And she made a neat little curtsy to Lelia, who had never seen the like before.

“Thankful!” repeated puzzled Harold. “What makes you thankful? I want to know what your name is!”

“It is that—Thankful.”

“Truly?” asked Harold, his great brown eyes seeming to grow larger.

The little girl laughed.

“Why, yes,” she said; “I wouldn’t have told you so if it hadn’t been.”

“What a queer name! Does your mama call you that? What makes her? It makes me think of Thanksgiving and turkey.”

Then both the little girls laughed merrily, though Lelia blushed a great deal.

“Oh, Harold!” she said, then to Thankful: “Do excuse him; he is such a queer boy! No one ever can think what he is going to say next.”

But what Harold said next was quite as embarrassing. “What makes you wear such a queer hat, and such a funny dress? Do you have turkey, and pumpkin pies, and lots of things at your house for Thanksgiving, and do you be thankful for them?”

Lelia tried to put her hand over the small mouth; but the busy little tongue rushed through this series of questions, and Thankful did not seem to care; she only laughed.

“I’m thankful all the time, whatever we have, because that’s my name,” she said brightly; “but we don’t have turkeys at Thanksgiving, because they cost so much.”

“Don’t have turkey! Then how can you have Thanksgiving?” asked puzzled Harold. Then both little girls broke into laughter, long and merry.

There was more talk, and it ended in this way: “I like you. I want you to come to my house for Thanksgiving, and turkey, and lots of things; to my house way down in Boston. Will you?”

“I will if I can,” said Thankful, and then she said she must hurry, for Aunt Patience would be waiting.

They talked about Thankful all the way home, and after they reached home.

“And mama,” said Lelia, “I did not know what to do with Harold, he would ask such queer questions, but Thankful did not seem to mind it; she was real nice.”

“She is a nice child,” said motherly Mrs. Freeman, who boarded the Boston party that summer. “They have only been here a little while. She lives with her aunt, Miss Patience Hall. A nice woman as ever lived, but land, she doesn’t know any more about a child than I do about an elephant, nor half so much. She dresses that little thing queer enough to make her a laughing stock. Actually puts on her some of the clothes she used to wear herself; and she is sixty if she is a day. Why, yes, she’s poor, to be sure, but calico don’t cost mud, and the little thing ought to look enough like other people not to be a show. I just feel sorry for the time when she will begin to go to school; I’m afraid the children will tease her so. She’s an orphan, poor thing. She has lived with her grandmother until this spring, and then she came to this aunt’s to live. She seems real nice and pretty behaved. I’m sorry for her. Oh, Miss Patience is good enough, but hard; as hard as the shell of this squash,” and good Mrs. Freeman applied her axe to it, and Lelia and her mother went away laughing.

It was but three days before Thanksgiving that Mrs. Freeman took a look in the oven at her pumpkin pies, then seated herself to read a letter; a dainty square-enveloped thing with a Boston stamp.

Such letters rarely fell into Mrs. Freeman’s hands; she was curious.

“Such a singular request to make,” so the letter ran, “but, my dear friend, I know your kind motherly heart will help us if you can. The truth is, our dear little Harold has been sick for four weeks! For a few days he lay at death’s door, and we thought there was no hope whatever. You can imagine what that time was to us! He is gaining rapidly now—is able to be about the house, and is looking forward to Thanksgiving, but he has one great sorrow, his little cousin Lelia who has always been with him at Thanksgiving time, has gone abroad with her parents, and he misses her so that it makes our hearts ache for him. Yesterday, some talk about the pleasant summer that we had in your home recalled to his mind that queer little “Thankful” in whom you remember he was so interested. He exclaimed suddenly that he asked her to come to his house in Boston for Thanksgiving; and since that moment he has talked of nothing else. He even dreamed of the child last night. Now, dear Mrs. Freeman, he has been so sick, and is so lonely without his cousin, and is so determined about this thing, that I haven’t the heart not to try to gratify him. I have promised that I will write to you to see if you cannot borrow the little girl for a few days. We will take the best of care of her, and return her safely in due time, if the aunt will only kindly lend her to our little boy for Thanksgiving. He says he promised her turkey, and lots of things.”

There was more to the letter, as to how little Thankful could be sent, if the aunt would lend her, and how they would arrange for her perfect safety and comfort.

Mrs. Freeman read through to the end, then took off her spectacles and talked to the pumpkin pies. “Well, now, I never! Did anybody ever hear the like? I know they didn’t! To think of not believing in Providence! Josiah, look here! There’s that poor Miss Patience not been three weeks in her grave, and she so troubled about Thankful that she couldn’t hardly die, and here comes an invitation for her, to go to Boston; and I shouldn’t wonder a mite if they kept her a month; for that Harold is a master hand to take a notion and stick to it.”

Well, Thankful went to Boston. She was expressed there; and the carriage met her at the depot; and Harold met her at the parlor, where his nose had been flattened against the glass half the afternoon waiting for her.

How quaint, and queer, and pretty she looked! Mrs. Freeman’s heart and home had taken her in for a time, until they could look about them and see what to do; for no relatives had little Thankful left this side Heaven and Miss Patience, you will remember, had been poor; but there were a few hundred dollars in the bank that she had saved for Thankful. Mrs. Freeman had not touched the money, and had not been able to make any changes in Thankful’s dress, beyond a smart little hat like other children for her to travel to Boston in; so Thankful with her long brown hair braided neatly, and her long brown stuff dress reaching to her toes, and her speck of a white ruffle round her neck, looked for all the world as though she had stepped from one of the old-fashioned picture frames in Grandma Fisher’s room.

And the Thanksgiving dinner was eaten. Such a wonderful dinner as Thankful had never dreamed of before, and Harold asked her, with wistful face, if she were not thankful now? And she smiled and said, oh, she was; he did not know how thankful she was.

And Mrs. Fisher thought she ought to have some Thanksgiving presents, she was such a sweet little thing. So a bright dress, made exactly after the pattern of Lelia’s, was bought her, and some kid boots, because her shoes were rather heavy for the Boston house; and the days passed and the visit was not yet finished. And the time came when Harold cried whenever anybody hinted that Thankful would have to go home. And she was so sweet and quiet and helpful that Mrs. Fisher said, one day, she thought that child was well named, for everybody in the house seemed thankful to have her around.

And the days passed, and then the months; not only Thanksgiving, but Christmas, and New Year’s, and the travelers came home, and in Lelia’s trunk was found so many clothes that she had outgrown which just fitted Thankful, that the two mothers said it really would be economy to have one a little smaller in the families to wear those things out. And Lelia coaxed to have Thankful go to school with her; it was so lonesome to go alone. And the spring opened, and there was Thankful still in Boston.

The box stove.

And the summer came, and they went, all of them, back to Mrs. Freeman’s, and roamed in the woods, and went to the little red school-house, and trimmed the box stove. One morning, Mrs. Fisher said, kissing her:

“Thankful, my child, you really need a new dress to travel in, for we would almost as soon think of going home and leaving our little boy behind as you. You are our Thankful, and we are thankful for you.”



New Free Read: Sadie’s Journey

16 Oct

Some of Isabella’s stories contain obvious themes or lessons she wanted to impart to readers.

The lesson in this month’s Pansy story is much more subtle. “Sadie’s Journey” first appeared in The Pansy magazine in 1893, and probably inspired many mothers to have earnest conversations with their children about the dangers of the outside world.

An added bonus: The story included a charming wood-cut illustration of Sadie, which you’ll see below at the end of Part I.

Part I

“It is so very warm,” said Aunt Sarah, stopping in her work of buttoning Sadie’s skirt to wipe the perspiration from her face. “Cannot Sadie have just this short-sleeved apron on, instead of a dress?”

“Why, it is very short, dear,” said Sadie’s mamma. “Think how she would look if anybody but ourselves saw her.”

“Nobody will,” returned Aunt Sarah. “It is too warm for people to come out here this afternoon, and she will stay this side of the gate, won’t you, Sadie?”

Sadie promptly promised, and the little muslin slip which now did duty as an apron was fastened to hide her pretty neck from the sun, leaving her arms bare; then she set her little old sun-hat on the back of her head, and proceeded to coaxing Aunt Louise to go out with her after “f’owers.”

“Louise is Sadie’s slave,” the other aunties said, laughing, as Sadie led her off in triumph; but they every one knew that they were slaves in the same way. Aunt Louise wandered on and on, beguiled by Sadie’s wishes. Several times she proposed going back to the house to wait until the sun dropped lower, but Sadie always wanted to go “just a weenie teeny bit further.” At last Aunt Louise said, with decision in her voice, “Now, pet, I really must go back. I cannot endure this heat any longer; I’m sure I wish I were only five, if it would give me as much energy as you have. You may stay out here by yourself, and pick all the ‘f’owers’ you want, only you won’t go out of the gate, will you? Remember you are not dressed to see people.”

“I’ll ’member,” said Sadie, and in a few minutes she was alone in the great lovely glen. No prettier spot within miles and miles could be found than the McMartins had chosen for their summer home. The house, a wide, old-fashioned rambling affair, although it was set on a hill, was almost hidden from view by great old trees; and before and behind it, and on either side, stretched the beautiful hills, and valleys, and trees, and flowers, and vines, and grasses, and all lovely things. People envied the McMartins this beautiful old-fashioned home. “So quiet,” they said, “and beautiful; it is like being in the depths of the country, yet they are only an hour’s ride from town.”

Left to herself, Sadie roved from flower to flower, going deeper into the glen every moment, until suddenly she turned and followed a winding path which she knew led in a round-about fashion to the lower gate. She had heard the sound of a hand-organ in the distance. The road from town was too hilly to tempt hand-organs in that direction very often, and Sadie felt that she could not afford to lose the treat. She thought of going for Aunt Louise to keep her company, but decided that she was too far from the house for that; the hand-organ might move on before she could get to it. She made all the speed she could over the winding path, and presently reached the lower gate, only to see the “music man” disappearing around the corner.

“He must be going to play for the Benhams,” said Sadie to herself. The Benhams were the McMartins’ nearest neighbors. They lived in the large house where the roads forked, about a quarter of a mile away. Sadie paused at the gate. She “’membered” her promise, but it was really going to be very hard to keep it. She peeped through the bars of the gate, and argued it out with herself.

“The reason Auntie did not want me to go outside the gate was because I wasn’t dressed to see people, but she wouldn’t mind a music man; music men never care how folks are dressed, and there isn’t a single anybody else to be seen on the road. I wouldn’t go all the way to the Benhams, ’course not! I’ll keep away back where folks can’t see me at all, and only listen to the music. That won’t be not keeping my pwomise, ’cause if peoples don’t see me they won’t care.”

Having reached this conclusion Sadie stood on tiptoe to unfasten the gate, and slipping through it walked briskly along the road toward the “music man.” He had seated himself by the side of the road to rest, and also to have a talk with a friend who appeared just then and sat down beside him. As Sadie neared the two she kept going slower, and wondering why the “music man” did not play his music. What if he should play a time just for her? Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing to have happen?

But it did not happen. The two men had started on together before Sadie reached them, and they turned down a lane before they reached the Benhams’ grounds. So much the better; she could hear the music without seeing any people, for Sadie felt sure that no neighbors lived down this lane. On and on she trudged until her little feet were tired, and until she did not know where she was. The lane had led into a meadow, which the two men had crossed, she following; then from the meadow they slipped through a break in the fence, Sadie following, and crossed a long, sunny field, then struck into a wood which was cool and inviting, but there was no music. At last they stopped to rest again, and Sadie came very close to them, then stopped with a long-drawn sigh. If she only dared to ask the man to make some music just for her.

Some movement which the little feet made just then among the rustling twigs startled the men; they turned quickly and stared at her, then at each other.

“Halloo!” said the music man. “What is all this?”

“More than I know,” said the other. “She ain’t a spirit, is she, from t’other world?” Then they laughed in a way which half-frightened Sadie; she could not have told why, for she was not easily frightened.

“Halloo!” said the man again. “Where did you come from, little Miss?” Sadie had been brought up to answer questions politely, so she explained matters as well as she could.

“Here’s a lark,” said the music man; “she must belong to that big house on the hill.” And while Sadie looked up into the sky to see the “lark” the two men put their heads close together and talked low. Presently the man who had no music said to her, “Look here, young one, do you know your way home?”

“Not quite,” said Sadie timidly; for not finding the lark, she had looked about her and discovered that she was in a strange world, and did not know which way to turn.

“I should think not,” he said. “You’re a long ways from home, an awful long ways, and a dangerous ways. There’s bears in these woods, and snakes, and I don’t know what all. You needn’t be scared, though; if you’ll keep close to me, and don’t make no noise, I’ll see that you get home safe and sound.”

* * * *

In the wide old-fashioned hall of the McMartin home Aunt Louise fanned herself and told how warm it was out of doors, and how wonderful it was that little Sadie did not seem to feel it. Presently she roused from a ten minutes’ nap to say, “I wonder if I ought not to go for Sadie? She won’t wander beyond the grounds, will she?”

“Oh, no!” answered mamma and Aunt Sarah in the same breath. “She promised she wouldn’t go outside the gates.”

“Besides, the child isn’t dressed, you know,” added Aunt Annie. “She would know better than to go on the street in that rig.”

Ten, twenty minutes passed, a half-hour, an hour. Then mamma said, “I wonder at Sadie for staying out alone all this time. She is generally too fond of company for that.”

Then up rose Aunt Louise. “I am going in search of her,” she said. “Why, it is after five o’clock; I did not think it was so late.”

Up and down the winding paths she wandered, calling “Sadie,” “Baby,” “Pet,” all the sweet names which belonged to the child, and receiving no reply. Then came mamma and joined in the search, then the other aunties, and finally Uncle Wells himself; but no Sadie was to be found.

Picking f’owers.


Part II

Young Dr. Tremayne swung himself on to the train as it halted at Riverton. The hot day was over, and the air was quite chill. The doctor shivered a little as he took his seat, and told himself that a light overcoat would not be unpleasant. Then he wondered if he would find orders at his office which would take him out for the night, and decided to get a little nap while the train was running into the city. But he didn’t get it. Instead, he sat up straight and looked at a curious couple who were but two seats in front of him.

The man was a young fellow, hardly old enough to be called a man, and perhaps too ugly and shabby-looking to deserve that name; but on the seat beside him, sitting bolt upright and looking about her with half-frightened, half-defiant eyes, was a mouse of a girl, not dressed for the chilly evening; not dressed at all as one would expect a child to be who was in such company. She had on a little white slip, and a white sun hat. Her bare arms looked cold and uncomfortable, and her entire face expressed misery if ever a child’s did. The fellow tried to draw her toward him, and the child resisted. She was crying quietly, and once when the man bent over her and tried to say something, she shook herself, and said, “Let me be.” Then Dr. Tremayne, who had meantime quietly slipped into the next seat, heard him say distinctly:

“Look a-here, little Missy, if you behave yourself and do as I tell you, you won’t come to no harm; but if you make a fuss and get me into trouble, I’ll wallop you within an inch of your life, and you’ll be sorry for it as long as you live. Do you understand that?”

Whether she understood all the words or not, she was evidently frightened. She drew farther away from him, and shuddered, and choked back her sobs.

Dr. Tremayne leaned forward and touched the fellow’s arm. “Who have you there, my man?” he asked, nodding his head toward the child.

“It’s my sister’s girl,” he said quickly. “I found her out in the country; ran away from home, you see, and I’m taking her back.”

The little girl listened intently; she turned her head around so she could see the doctor’s face, then she spoke with eager haste:

“It isn’t true; I just went out of the lower gate to hear the music man, and I didn’t know just which road to go home; and he said he would take me home, and he isn’t. I don’t live on the cars.”

The man nodded his head in response to this story. “She followed a hand-organ, you see,” he said, “and got lost. Now she thinks she knows the way home better than I do; and she doesn’t want to get there, any way, ’cause she knows she will get whipped for running away.”

“I shan’t!” said the child, in a passion of grief and rage. “My mamma doesn’t whip me, and I didn’t run away. I just went down the road where nobody need see me, because I wasn’t dressed up, and you tooked me the wrong way. If I had only kept my pwomise!” With this the little girl’s heart utterly failed her, and she cried aloud.

“Shut up!” said the man sharply. “You needn’t bellow and get all the folks looking at you, just because you have been a bad girl, and run away, Your folks will tend to you when I get you home.”

“Do you live in town?” asked Dr. Tremayne, and a few minutes afterward he went to the rear end of the car and motioned the conductor to him. “There is something wrong up there, I fear,” he said, nodding toward the place where the man and child sat. “The fellow says she is his sister’s child, but I don’t believe it. It is hardly possible for a child with such a face to belong to a man of that stamp. The little one is evidently afraid of him; she says she went out of the gate to hear the ‘music man,’ and did not know the way back, and this man promised to take her home, and didn’t do it.”

“Is that so?” said the conductor. “There was a report of a child lost brought into the station just above Riverton. The country was in an uproar, the man said, but they seemed to think she was lost in the woods. She belonged to the people who have taken the old Singleton place. Do you know the spot?”

“Perfectly,” said Dr. Tremayne. “I believe this is the lost child, and the fellow has made off with her in the hope of securing a large reward.”

All right,” said the conductor; “pity to have him disappointed. We’ll help him to secure his reward, if that proves to be the case. Keep an eye on him, and if he undertakes to leave the train at the next station we’ll stop him; meantime I’ll send a message to Policeman Burns to be on hand when we get in town.”

Dr. Tremayne went back and seated himself behind the rough-looking man, who now began to watch him suspiciously.

“What is your name, my little girl?” he asked.

“Sadie,” said the child promptly.

“And whose little girl are you?”

“Mamma’s and papa’s, only now papa is away across the ocean, and I’m Uncle Wells’ little girl until he gets back. Oh, and I’m Aunt Sarah’s little girl, too, and Aunt Louise’s most of all, ’cause she’s the best auntie.”

“And do you live in the big city?”

“When the snow comes I do,” said Sadie; “but I live away out in the country now, where the glen is, you know, and the wiver. Don’t you know where our house is?” she asked, with a sudden pleading sound in her voice, “and couldn’t you take me home ’stead of this man, ’cause I like you best?”

The man laughed a coarse, hateful-sounding laugh. “I call that cool,” he said. “She’s the greatest young one to go on that you ever heard of; plays she’s Queen Victoria sometimes, you know, and she lives in all sorts of places, according to her notion. Here we are, young one,” he added, as the train whistled for the station. “Now you’ll know pretty soon what your mother thinks of your notions.”

“I thought you said she lived in the city?” said Dr. Tremayne. “This is Brierwood, two miles out.”

“I know, but we branch off here and wait for the accommodation that goes in at the other depot. Come on, quick! The train won’t wait for you more than a week.”

“No,” said Sadie firmly, resisting his attempts to pull her from the seat. “I don’t want to go with you; that isn’t the way home; I didn’t go on the cars to the music man’s. It is just through the woods; you don’t know the way, and you are a bad, naughty man. Won’t you take me home?”

This last sentence was spoken to Dr. Tremayne, who had risen and bent over the child, putting a protecting arm about her.

“You would better not wait for the accommodation tonight,” he said to the man, who was angrily pulling at Sadie’s dress. “It will not be along in more than an hour; you might better take an across-town omnibus than to keep a child waiting in this dress at the station. The evening is chilly.”

And at that moment the train, which had barely halted, sped on.

“There!” said the man, throwing himself back in his seat in great ill-humor. “Now we can’t get off. If I don’t make you pay for this night’s work I’ll know the reason.” This with a threatening shake of his head to Sadie; then to the doctor he said: “Seems to me you meddle with my business a good deal more than is necessary. Let the young one alone.”

“Oh, I’m keeping her warm,” said the doctor, as he wrapped his arms about her, Sadie clinging with all her strength. “The night is very chilly after such a warm day. Little people always take to me.”

“It’s precious little attention I ever pay to them,” said the man sullenly; “but I thought my sister would be howling if I didn’t bring this little plague back; and I’ve gone miles out of my way to do it.”

As the train steamed into the city depot he sprang to his feet again and reached out his arms for Sadie, who had dropped her head on Dr. Tremayne’s shoulder, and was lying perfectly still.

“Come along now,” he said, “and be quick about it.” But he felt at that moment a tap on his shoulder, and turned to meet the keen eyes of Policeman Burns, who had been for some seconds standing on the platform of the rear car, listening to the conductor’s story.

“Halloo, Jack!” he said to the man, who cowed before him. “I didn’t expect to meet you here. When did you adopt a sister? Just come with me, and I’ll give you a bed tonight.”

“Now, Doctor,” said the conductor, as they watched the ill-looking man go off with Policeman Burns, “you have a baby on your hands if she doesn’t prove to be the right one.”

“I’ll take my chances,” said the doctor, smiling, “and I thank you heartily for your help. Let me see, when is the next train for the Glen due? Shall I have time to get some sort of wrap for this little one?”

* * * *

It was Aunt Louise who was leaning over the garden fence two hours later when Dr. Tremayne came with swift strides down the road, Sadie carefully wrapped in a great woolly shawl sleeping peacefully in his arms. All the family, and all the neighbors for miles around, were scouring the country in search of the lost darling. As for Aunt Louise, she haunted the garden, though certainly there could be no hope of finding the child there; but it was there she had last been seen, and it seemed to the half-crazed auntie that if she hovered about the spot where she left the child, she would be more likely to see her again. What she said as Dr. Tremayne halted before her with his burden; how he told his story in few words; how she snatched the sleeping baby from him, almost smothering it with kisses, though Sadie clung sleepily to the doctor, and murmured: “I don’t want to;” how they sent the news far and wide, and had the doctor in the house to tell the wonderful and frightful and blessed story in detail; how they sat up until nearly morning listening, and talking, and crying, and laughing, and rejoicing, you must imagine, as there is not room to tell.

One queer question of Sadie’s you ought to hear. It was several weeks after it all happened. The family were gathered in the large, cheery parlor, and Dr. Tremayne, who had some way come to think of himself as one of the family, sat near Aunt Louise talking eagerly.

Suddenly Sadie turned from the young cousins with whom she was visiting, and ran over to her favorite auntie with her question.

“Aunt Louise, Willie says he guesses you are glad I got lost and stoled. You aren’t, are you?”

A perfect chorus of laughter greeted her, in the midst of which Sadie, wondering, begged for her answer; and Aunt Louise, hiding her blushing face with the child’s curls, said:

“I am glad you were found and brought back, darling.”

What did you think of “Sadie’s Journey”? Do you think Isabella was using the story to convey a specific lesson? Or do you think she wrote it simply to entertain children (and their mothers and aunts)?

New Free Read: Through the Woods

14 Aug

This month’s free read is “Through the Woods,” a short story that first appeared in The Pansy magazine in 1889.

When Helen and Winnie set out for an overnight visit with a beloved aunt, they anticipate a fun time and a safe journey. But it only takes one wrong turn to change their fun to fright, and one act of kindness to teach them a valuable lesson.

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IT was the gray pony that Helen wanted to take. He was such a wise horse that there was no need in thinking about the trains all the time. Besides, he could follow those bewildering windings through the woods as well as though he had laid out the roads himself, if indeed they had been laid out at all. But just as she was thinking of asking Phillip to harness for her she heard Mary’s voice saying in a tone of authority, “Stand over!” and looking from the window saw she was harnessing the gray pony to the high carriage.

“Where are you going?” she called, and Mary answered promptly that she was going to Lake Minnow to call on the Allen girls.

“Oh, dear!” said Helen, “I promised mamma to take those rose-cuttings to Aunt Hattie this afternoon, and I wanted Gray myself.”

Mary was harnessing Gray.

“Why can’t you take Brownie?” said Mary. “There’s Phillip driving into the yard with him now; he will be ready to go as soon as he has had his dinner.”

“Well,” said Helen after a minute, “I s’pose I’ll have to do that. I hate to drive Brownie because he doesn’t know the roads; and he thinks he does and keeps turning where he ought not. You have to watch him every minute.”

Mary laughed, and said that was good discipline for Helen; that she was too much inclined to dream in the daytime. And then she climbed into her carriage and drove away.

Half an hour afterward Helen drove out in the phaeton. She was going to call for her dear friend Winnie Chester who was boarding at the hotel. Under the seat was her little hand bag with all needed articles for the night, because she often stayed at Aunt Hattie’s all night, and Winnie had promised the very next time she went with her to stay and enjoy the new milk from Aunt Hattie’s cow and the cream muffins she was sure to make.

It was a lovely afternoon. The ride was thoroughly enjoyed by both girls. Brownie trotted along briskly, although the roads were sandy, and made just the right turnings, as if he had heard and resented Helen’s complaint about him.

Aunt Hattie’s was reached in good time and in safety, but alas! for the plans about new milk and cream muffins. Aunt Hattie and Uncle Henry were both away from home. They had gone to town for the day. The rose-cuttings had to be consigned to Jake, and the two girls stayed only long enough for Brownie to get a drink of water; for the roads were heavy, and twilight fell early in this part of the country. They rode along in a leisurely manner, chatting pleasantly, stopping every little while for ferns and mosses. Suddenly Helen said:

“It is growing dark. The sun has set; did you know it? I never thought of such a thing, and we are not near home; where are we, anyway? I don’t remember this pond, do you?”

“I don’t remember any of them,” said Winnie. “The roads look alike to me in this country. Doesn’t Brownie know the way home?”

“Brownie is not to be depended upon,” said Helen gravely. “He thinks he knows everything, but he makes dreadful mistakes. That is the reason I wanted to take Gray. I do get so mixed up on these roads. This doesn’t look natural to me, but we will drive on a little farther and see what we come to.”

What they came to was a rough narrow path which Helen felt certain she had never seen before. She drove slowly, with a troubled face, uncertain whether it was best to go on or to turn around and try to find the way back. To add to their perplexity the short twilight had disappeared and it was unmistakably dark. No moon, and the trees so thick that the stars gave very little light. They had almost entirely ceased talking and were occupied, the one in trying to drive, the other in the vain hope of seeing something familiar.

“I can’t see at all.” she said at last. “What shall we do? I don’t know the way home.”

“Won’t your people come to find you when they see how dark it is?” asked Winnie.

“They think we are going to stay at Aunt Hattie’s,” said Helen, trying to speak bravely, but feeling her heart beat so hard that it seemed to her Winnie must hear it. Silence again for a few minutes, then Winnie exclaimed:

“There’s a dog barking. Somebody must be coming. Helen, aren’t you afraid?”

“I see a light,” said Helen, in a cheerful voice. “We are coming to a house. I am so glad.”

Was she? In a few minutes more she knew that she was sorry. A little old log cabin set down in the woods, no sign of civilization anywhere, unless that tumbled-down cabin stood for it, and half a dozen growling dogs. In the doorway stood the worst-looking woman the girls had ever seen, or rather had ever been able to imagine. Tall, gaunt, with a long thin chin, peaked nose, and strong red arms bare to the elbows. She was speaking to an uncouth man or boy around whom the dogs frolicked as though they knew him. The only relief to the picture was the sight of a very little girl who seemed not at all afraid of the dogs, and who welcomed the ragged, silly-looking man with a gurgle of laughter. At sight of the carriage the whole company, dogs included, turned and gave undivided attention.

What the girls saw.

“Lost your way, eh?” said the woman. “That’s bad such a dark night as this. I reckon the old man himself couldn’t find the road to Pine Loch tonight, and he knows most roads in this country. You’ll just have to stay all night. I reckon we can put you somewhere; you need daylight for getting home, that’s certain. You’re much as three mile out o’ your way.”

In a silence that was very near despair, the two girls stepped down from the phaeton, shrinking from the dogs in a tremble of terror, despite the woman’s loud assurance that they wouldn’t “hurt a hair of their heads.” No sooner were they inside the cabin than, but for the dogs, they would have rushed out again. Never had they dreamed of such a place for human beings to live; rough logs for walls, rough boards for floors; an open fireplace for a stove, over which a pot hung at this minute filled with a mixture so vile-smelling that the two frightened girls had almost to hold their breaths to keep from fainting. At least, that was the way it appeared to them; though really it was nothing worse than the smell of lard that was scorching. Utterly refusing to eat a mouthful of the black-looking bread that was urged upon them, and too frightened to do much besides looking at one another, they were thankful when the woman told them they looked “tuckered out” and she “reckoned they had better turn in for the night.” To this end she lighted what was really a pine torch, though the girls did not know it, and prepared to climb the staircase which was nothing but a ladder.

Meantime, the one she called her “old man” had come in and the situation had been explained to him, he nodding wisely at intervals and saying, “Just so, just so.”

Poor Helen thought he looked worse than his wife, and she followed the woman up the ladder stairs in haste to get away from the shaggy man. Oh, what would their mothers have thought if they had seen the room into which their cherished daughters were shown for the night! The bedstead was made of two boxes with slats across, and a tick filled with dried moss and leaves. There was a broken chair, and a box that served for a table. These were the only attempts at furniture. The one little window had no sash, nothing but a window shutter through whose half-open mouth the baying of those awful dogs could be distinctly heard.

“I reckon you dunno’ how to manage a torch,” said the woman, “so I won’t leave it for you, but the light will come up through the chinks in the logs enough for you to get into bed by. I reckon there’s covers enough. The nights are mighty cold nowadays.”

Not a word had the frightened girls to answer, but the moment the woman and her torch had disappeared down the ladder they flew into each other’s arms and sobbed as though their hearts would break.

“I’m afraid to go to bed,” murmured Winnie, “and I’m afraid to sit up. We can’t stay here, Helen. Let’s slip out and run away.”

“We can’t,” whispered Helen. “Those awful dogs—just hear them!” and she shook like a leaf. “Only think, Winnie, mamma supposes we are safe in bed in Aunt Hattie’s pretty room.”


“We will never be there again,” said Winnie, “nor at home either. These are robbers. I know they are by their looks. They have got us in here to steal our clothes, and my chain and your pin with a real diamond in it. They will take all we have and then they will kill us and our people will never know what became of us.”

“Oh, don’t!” said Helen in a whisper so loud that it was almost a shriek. “You are horrid and dreadful, Winnie Chester, to say such things.”

“Oh, dear! How cold I am. Let us lie down. We can’t be any worse off than we are now. We will keep all our clothes on and just lie down in each other’s arms, and we won’t sleep a wink, only just watch, and if we hear them coming we will jump up and yell with all our might; maybe somebody will hear us and come.”

The first part of this plan was at once carried into effect. Shuddering so that they could hardly stand they yet contrived to stumble over to the bed. Crawling between the covers that the woman had turned down and covering their heads, they gave themselves up to the most hearty crying they had done for years. Hark! There were sounds of persons moving about in the room below. The two girls hushed their sobs the better to hear and be ready for the screams they were resolved to give. It was not reasonable to suppose that anyone could hear them away out in the woods save the family of whom they stood in fear, still they meant to try it.

“Hush!” said Helen, in a warning whisper, though Winnie was as still as possible. The moving about had ceased and all was still for a moment. Then the gruff voice of the dreadful-looking old man could be distinctly heard through the wide cracks in the log house. This was what he said:

“Oh, Lord, here we are again at the end of another day, asking for the same things. Thou knowest we are in trouble, and that we have tried hard and made a failure of it. What we need now is help to be willing to fail. We’ve done our level best and we want to be willing to have Thee do just what ought to be done even if it does seem hard to us. Take care of us tonight and the young ones who lost their way, and give us strength to get through tomorrow, for Christ’s sake. Amen.”

The listeners upstairs were very still. The nervous tremblings and sobs had ceased. Presently Winnie whispered:

“I’m not a bit afraid, are you?”

“Not a speck,” said Helen bravely “I don’t think he’s such a very bad-looking old man, do you? And this bed is real clean if it is hard. I say, Winnie, let’s go to sleep.”

And they went.

Very early in the morning the baying of the dogs and the shouting of the little girl, to say nothing of the gruff voice of the man and the shrill voice of the woman, awakened our two travelers. The first thing they did was to look at one another and laugh.

“Isn’t it funny?” said Helen. “I’m glad mamma thinks we are safe at Aunt Hattie’s. What a dreadful night they would have had if they had expected us home. Winnie, what silly creatures we were to be so scared last night. Won’t we have a story to tell when we get home?”

Elated with this, they sprang up and set about making their toilets with all speed.

“Here you be as bright as roses,” was the greeting they received from the woman downstairs. She was frying pork, and the cabin was full of a greasy, smoky smell.

“Want some breakfast, I dare say,” she added, as the girls stood in doubt as to where to go or what to do. “Well, your pony has had his and feels all ready for another tramp, an’ Dick, he’s waiting to take you to the forks of the road and put you on the right trail; I reckon you will know your way from there. Dick is my boy. He ain’t as bright as some boys. He had a fall when he was a little fellow and hurt his head. He was the cutest young one up to that time that you ever see; since that he never could learn much. But he’s good, Dick is, an’ he knows the way to the forks of the road as well as the next one, and can be depended on. Now you just set by and get your breakfast. The rest of us eat a good while ago. You were so tuckered out last night I thought I’d let you sleep. I’m sorry we ain’t no milk to offer you, but we have to sell every drop of milk we have nowdays to make out the bill we owe for doctoring. Dick was dreadful sick, you know, and ran up a large bill, and we won’t have milk to pay for it after today either.” Whereupon she drew a heavy sigh.

“Why not?” ventured Helen. “Aren’t you going to keep your cow?”

“I reckon not, Miss. Our cow’s got to go to pay another debt. That’s what the man says. You see, we had sickness for a spell and got dreadful behind. He’s waited a good spell for his money and he says it’s no kind of use waiting any longer, and he’ll have to take the cow. The critter’s worth more money than that, but then, what can poor folks do?” The sentence closed with another sigh. “It’s forty dollars we owe, and my man has scoured the woods to raise it and he can’t, so old Brindle will have to go, an’ she’s worth sixty dollars, easy.”

The girls looked at one another with almost bewildered faces and said not a word. It was the first time it had ever dawned upon their mind that forty dollars or the want of it could make so much trouble. To these children of rich fathers it seemed a very small sum indeed.

The crisp fried pork and corn bread were really not so bad eating, after all, and the girls did the meal full justice. In less than an hour afterwards they were driving briskly along the road. Brownie pricked up his ears and discovered that his driver was in haste and there was no use in trying to mope. At the forks of the road Helen dismissed her guide, assuring him that she knew every step of the way now.

What a story they had to tell. It seemed as though they would never have done describing the road and the darkness, the cabin, the dogs, the torches, the fright, and the breakfast.

“Papa,” said Winnie, “they are in such trouble just for the want of forty dollars. Only think what a little bit of money to make so much unhappiness! Papa, can’t we help them in some way? They were so good to us.”

“I should think we might,” said papa heartily. “I am sure we ought never to forget the poor man’s kindness to our little girl.”

By afternoon it was all arranged. The two fathers had met and talked and planned, and Helen and Winnie were on the road to the cabin with a carefully sealed envelope in charge. This time Job, the coachman, mounted guard and kept a careful eye to the road. There was not the slightest danger that Job would lose his way, and the girls were very willing to have his company. Kind as the people in the cabin had been they had no wish to repeat the experiment of the night before.

Great was the astonishment of the woman (and the dogs) when the little pony carriage drove into the yard, and coming out to see what was wanted she saw the faces of her two guests.

“For pity’s sake!” she said. “Ain’t you two got home yet? But that ain’t the same critter you had this morning.”

“No, ma’am,” laughed Helen; “this is Gray. Oh, yes’m, we’ve been home. We just came to bring you this from our fathers. They say it is their ‘thank you’ for being so kind to us last night.”

“This” was the envelope in which were enclosed forty dollars in shining gold.

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Free Read: Davie’s Witnesses

3 Jul

This month’s Free Read is “Davie’s Witnesses,” a story about a young boy, the 4th of July, and a difficult sacrifice.

It’s the Fourth of July and young Davie Carson wants to attend all the celebrations. He also plans to apply for a coveted job opening at the local book store. But no sooner does Davie arrive in town, than his plans begin to go terribly wrong; and Davie begins to wonder if he has missed the greatest opportunity of his young life.

You can read “Davie’s Witnesses” on your smart phone, iPad, Kindle, computer, or other electronic device.

You can also read it as an Adobe PDF document and print a copy to share with others!

Just click on the book cover to choose your preferred e-book format from and download the story for free!

Pansy’s Favorite Author: Amos R. Wells

22 May

Isabella Alden was one busy lady! In addition to writing novels and short stories, she wrote Sunday school lessons for teachers, and edited The Pansy magazine for children.

Along the way, she also wrote articles for many different Christian publications, including the monthly magazine Christian Endeavor World. Her good friend Amos R. Wells was the long-time editor of Christian Endeavor World, and through their mutual commitment to both the magazine and the Christian Endeavor movement, Isabella and Amos became good friends.

Isabella’s friend and fellow author, Amos R. Wells in 1901 at the age of 39.

Their friendship was strong enough to withstand a good bit of teasing. In 1902 Amos published a new book of poems for children, titled Rollicking Rhymes for Youngsters.

Isabella promptly obtained a copy of the book and wrote a delightful tongue-in-cheek review , which was published in American newspapers on December 18, 1902:

Dear Mr. Wells:

I owe you a grudge; you have robbed me of an entire morning, and of no end of pocket money! Yesterday, just as I was seated in my study, all conditions favorable for work, the mail brought to me a copy of your latest book, “Rollicking Rhymes for Youngsters.”

I meant only to look at the covers and the type, and wait for leisure; but I took just a peep at the first poem and indulged in a laugh over a droll picture or two, then “Carlo” caught me, and we went together, “over the fields in the sunny weather.” On the way I met the “little laddie of a very prying mind” and—you know the rest.

It is the old story; somebody tempted me, and I fell. How could I remember that the morning was going, and the typewriter waiting, and the editor scolding? I never stopped till I reached the suggestive lines, “Two full hours ago, believe me, was this glorious day begun.” Alas for me, the morning was gone!

How delightful in you to write that which the children and their elders can enjoy together, not one whit the less because, sandwiched all throughout the fun, are charming little lessons that will sink deep into young hearts, and bear fruit. How cruel in you to write a book which a million weary mothers will have to read, and re-read and read again?”

Yours sincerely,
      Isabella Macdonald Alden.

Amos Wells probably had a good laugh over Isabella’s clever “mock review” of his new book, and Isabella probably enjoyed the chance to support her friend and fellow author (and indulge in some good-natured teasing at the same time).

You can read Amos Well’s book, Rollicking Rhymes for Youngsters and see if you agree with Isabella’s review. Click here to read the e-book version on

You can also read many of Amos’ other books online. Like Isabella, he was a prolific writer and published more than 60 titles during his lifetime. And like Isabella, he had a passion for properly educating the men and women who taught Christian Sunday-school lessons; he wrote many books, pamphlets, and articles on the topic. Click here to read some of Amos’ other titles. 


Writer Jenny Berlin

Faith, romance, and a place to belong

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 and sweet, clean fiction. Bringing readers information on great stories and connecting authors with their readers.

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