Pansy Reads a Mystery Story

In 1895 Isabella and her family were living in May’s Landing, New Jersey, where her husband, Reverend Gustavus Alden, had charge of the Presbyterian Church.

While her husband was busy with his responsibilities, Isabella paid an early September visit to her hometown of Gloversville, New York.

Her son Raymond (age 22 at the time) and adopted daughter Frances (age 3) accompanied her.

The residents of Gloversville welcomed Isabella back with open arms, and—as they often did—they invited her to speak at one of their assemblies. The evening of Tuesday, September 17 was decided upon, and the local newspaper promoted the event:

Newspaper Clipping: "A Popular Author in Town."
Mrs. G. R. Alden, better known to most readers by her nom de plume "Pansy," is, with her son and daughter, visiting her cousin, Mrs. E. A. Spencer, at 38 First avenue. Mrs. Alden is the author of a large number of books, chiefly for the Sunday school, which have commanded a large sale and are very popular with both old and young. It is quite natural for the people of Gloversville to take a just pride in her success, as this was her former home and it was while she was a resident here that her first stories were written. At the request of the officers of the Presbyterian Home Mission society of this city, Mrs. Alden has written a new story suitable for a public reading and will read the same for the benefit of that society in the Presbyterian church next Tuesday evening the seventeenth. It is hoped Mrs. Alden will receive a heart reception from her old friends.

The evening began with musical selections, then Isabella took the stage to “an outburst of applause.” She read one her stories, which the newspaper reported was titled “Miss Hunter.”

You may already be familiar with “Miss Hunter.” The character of Miss Priscilla Hunter was one of Isabella’s favorites, and she appeared in four of Isabella’s stories:

Miss Priscilla Hunter

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

The Man of the House

One Commonplace Day

But each of these stories and novels were published well before 1895, and the newspaper reported that Isabella read a brand new story, written specifically for the occasion, that featured a character named Miss Hunter. The newspaper account of the evening noted that the story was “interesting and kept the close attention of the audience,” but gave no additional details about the story.

Newspaper clipping: "Pansy's" Reading
The Presbyterian church was filled last evening by an audience who had gathered to listen to the reading of an original missionary story by Mrs. G. R. Alden, who writes under the nom de plume of "Pansy." The exercises opened with an organ voluntary by Mrs. Whitney, after which Miss Clara Gardner rendered a solo. Mrs. Alden's appearance followed shortly and she was greeted with an outburst of applause. The story, which was entitled "Miss Hunter," was very interesting and kept the close attention of the audience throughout. The reading was given for the benefit of the Young Ladies' Missionary Society of the Presbyterian church, and the proceeds netted were very satisfactory.

On Thursday morning, September 19, Isabella left Gloversville and headed back to her home in New Jersey.

Newspaper clipping: Mrs. G. R. Alden, "Pansy," who has been visiting Mr. and Mrs. Edgar A. Spencer, returned to her home at May's Landing, N. J., this morning. She was accompanied by her son and daughter.

She also left us with questions: What was the story she read aloud to the audience at the Presbyterian church? Is there another Pansy story about “Miss Hunter” that has yet to be found?

Until the mystery can be solved, you can read more about the fictional character of Miss Priscilla Hunter—and the stories we she appeared in—by clicking here.

You can also click here to read about Isabella’s charming hometown of Gloversville, New York, and the business her father had there.

Fantastic Cures for What Ails You

Isabella Alden was no stranger to illness. In her personal life she suffered from chronic health issues. In her novels, her characters fought a variety of ailments, from head colds and sore throats, to broken bones and crippling back injuries.

In her novel Jessie Wells Isabella wrote about a “molasses and ginger cure” to ward off cough and fever. It was suggested to Jessie by her father, a physician. (You can read more about it here.)

Vintage cartoon of a woman about 1910 carrying a baby in one arm and a large suitcase in her other hand. The suitcase is labeled "Medicine Chest. Soothing Syrup. Peppermint. Jamaica Ginger. Paregoric."

Although the molasses cure was based on an old folk medicine recipe, it was actually beneficial; the ginger helped suppress a cough and the molasses soothed the throat.

Like Dr. Wells, many physicians in those days treated patients with folk medicine cures for ailments ranging from the common cold to the universal finger wart.

Vintage illustration of a doctor visiting a little girl sick in bed. He holds her hand and speaks kindly to her.

Isabella availed herself of some of those folk remedies in her personal life. To cure her chronic headaches she underwent a “water cure.” Physicians wrapped her body in wet blankets and allowed them to dry in place. They believed the process would draw harmful toxins from her body, thereby curing her headaches. (You can read more about it here.)

Vintage illustration of man in bed. a woman in nursing cap and apron stands beside him, combing his hair from his forehead while holding a mirror out for him to see.

There were folk remedies for every possible ailment, including dry lips, rattlesnake bites, poison ivy, measles, diphtheria and sties.  Here are a few:

The lining of a chicken gizzard is good for stomach trouble.

A drop of skunk’s oil will cure a cold.

To treat a wart, squeeze the red juice from a freshly picked beet leaf on it every day.

A drop of turpentine on the tongue every day will keep all disease away.

Vintage illustration of a doctor wrapping a bandage around a woman's arm as she rests in a chair with a pillow behind her.

The remedies were handed down from mother to daughter, from doctor to patient. Some old-time cures persisted until the Twentieth Century; generations of American children wore a piece of flannel (usually red) around their throats after drinking home-made cough syrups. In some areas of the U.S. it was a common practice well into the 1950s.  

Some folk remedies had no legitimacy, yet they worked because the patients believed they would work.

Victorian era illustration of a sick man in bed. A woman wearing nursing cap and apron stands at the foot of the bed hear a table on which is a bowl and a medicine bottle.

Other cures sounded strange, but had a scientific basis, like this one:

To cure an abscess or infected cut, apply a poultice of moldy bread and water twice each day.

In this instance, the poultice probably worked because the moldy bread essentially served as a home-grown form of penicillin.

Victorian era illustration of a seated woman holding a little girl in her lap. Before them kneels a doctor who holds a cup to the child's lips. In the background stand worried family members.

In our twenty-first century America, many of the old home-grown medicines have gone by the wayside. Luckily, the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. has a large collection of stories, letters, research essays, photos, and voice recordings about American folk medicine that helps us understand how Isabella, her family, neighbors and friends dealt with illness and injuries. You can visit the LOC’s website by clicking here.

Does your family have a story about folk medicine cures that did (or didn’t) work?

Do you have a favorite home remedy that has been handed down from generation to generation in your family?

Summer at Monteagle

Now that summer is here and the temperatures are climbing, do you ever find yourself wondering what people did before air conditioning? Isabella hints at the answer in some of her stories, when a few of her lucky fictional characters got to leave their hot, humid city homes for cooler locations, such as beaches or mountains.

Isabella knew of which she wrote. She frequently spent her summers at Chautauqua Institution in New York, where she could enjoy the lake and cool breezes; and in Florida, where she had a large family home in Winter Park, and a smaller cottage in Defuniak Springs.

Then, in the summer of 1883 Isabella traveled to Tennessee, where she was one of the first visitors to the newly-opened Monteagle Sunday-school Assembly.

The cover of an 1893 pamphlet about Monteagle. Click on the image to see the entire pamphlet.

Monteagle was situated on 100 acres of land atop a mountain in Tennessee’s Cumberland range. Its location quickly made it a favorite resort for people from all over the American south.

Antique postcard showing the view looking west from atop the Cumberland Mountains

Bishop John Heyl Vincent, one of the co-founders of the original Chautauqua Institution of New York, visited Monteagle, too. He hailed it for supplying “recreation for tired men, women and children by gathering them on the mountain top where pure air and good music and earnest lectures would rest and entertain them.”

A portion from Bishop Vincent’s interview with The Tennessean about Monteagle, published May 10, 1883.

In many ways Monteagle Assembly was very similar to its northern cousin. Like Chautauqua it initially began as a training convention for Sunday-school teachers. In its early days Monteagle was just as rustic as Isabella described the early days of the New York assembly in Four Girls at Chautauqua. Tents provided the only sleeping accommodations, the dining hall had few dishes and cutlery, and lectures and sermons were held out of doors at the whim of Mother Nature.

Even the offices of the Monteagle Chautuaqua Literary and Scientific Circle were first housed in a modest tent until a permanent building for the C.L.S.C. could be erected.

An artist’s rendering of the proposed C.L.S.C. office building at Monteagle Assembly.

But Monteagle did not stay rustic for long. The assembly planned to erect an amphitheatre, a hotel, a dining hall, a library, meeting halls and classrooms.

In 1883 the organizers published their ambitious plan for the property in the local newspaper. (You can click on the map to see a larger version.)

An 1883 drawing of the proposed layout for the Monteagle Sunday-School Assembly Grounds, published in The Tenneseean on May 10, 1883.

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The amphitheatre that was ultimately built was modeled after the Grand Opera House of Paris and could hold 2,000 people.

Early photograph of the Monteagle Assembly amphitheatre.

The designers also included plenty of room for charming cottages, colorful gardens, and rambling walking paths.

Photo of a gazebo set under the trees near a walking path.
A pretty gazebo at Monteagle

There’s no record to tell us how many times Isabella visited Monteagle; but we do know she enjoyed the place so much, she published a novel about it in 1886, titled simply, Monteagle.

Image of the cover of Monteagle by Isabella Alden

In her story, city girl Dilly West—whose health suffered terribly because of hot summer tenement living conditions in the city—blossomed when she had the chance to go to Monteagle.

When asked what she liked most about Monteagle Assembly, Dilly immediately credited the fresh mountain air:

“Why, I fancy everything; the trees, and the flowers, and the birds, and the lovely breeze. There wasn’t ever any breeze in the city; at least, there never came any down where we lived. It was just like an oven all the time; it makes me feel faint to think how hot it must be there this morning; and only see how the curtains blow here!”

Through Dilly’s story Isabella was able to describe the beauty of Monteagle’s location. Dilly wrote home to her father to describe her hike up to the top of Table Mountain to see the sunset:

Father, I do just wish I could tell you about it! All gold, and crimson, and purple mountains all around, and red streaks away up into the sky, and castles in the sky made of glory color, and angels hurrying around to get ready for the sun to come home; that is the way it seemed, you know.

Dilly described other experiences in her letters home, including the things she learned on nature walks, at lectures in the amphitheater, and—most importantly—during Sunday-school classes:

Dear father, something very wonderful has come to me; I decided yesterday that I would belong to the Lord Jesus Christ.

When Isabella wrote those words she knew Dilly’s fictional experience was similar to the real-life experiences many visitors had at Monteagle.

In fact, Monteagle Sunday School Assembly was so successful, it remains a thriving Chautauqua community today!

You can find out more about Monteagle, their programs and events by clicking here.

Or click here to take a look at their latest newsletter that describes the many activities, lectures, Bible studies and sermons they have to offer.

You can find out more about Isabella’s novel Monteagle by clicking here.

Have you ever visited Monteagle or a similar summer assembly? Please share your experience!

Free Read: Elizabeth’s Anniversary Week

Isabella lived during a time when young men and women followed very strict social rules. For example, a gentleman could not speak to or even correspond with a woman without her permission; and often, the young woman couldn’t give permission without first consulting with her parents.

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In her 1898 novella “Elizabeth’s Anniversary Week” Isabella illustrated how those societal rules could end up causing difficulties, misunderstandings, and a lot of heartache.

Every September the Brockton family—aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings—gather to celebrate birthdays. The time-honored tradition should bring joy to all who attend, but Mrs. Brockton can’t help but notice her cherished daughter Elizabeth is far from happy about the annual event. In fact, she’s beginning to suspect some sickness has befallen Elizabeth to cause her to be so melancholy. But Elizabeth has a secret, one she has been trying hard to conceal from everyone, especially her mother.

You can read “Elizabeth’s Anniversary Week” for free!

Choose the reading option you like best:

You can read the story on your computer, phone, tablet, Kindle, or other electronic device. Just click here to download your preferred format from BookFunnel.com.

Or you can select BookFunnel’s “My Computer” option to receive an email with a version you can read, print, and share with friends.

Pansy in Paperback

At the height of her popularity Isabella’s books were published in several languages and sold all over the world.

She had a large fan base in England, and in the 1890s a British publisher took the unusual step of publishing Isabella’s novels as pamphlets. Today, we’d call them paperback books.

Cover of Four Girls at Chautauqua. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows three young women dressed in gowns and bonnets of the 1890s on the deck of a boat. Two of the ladies are seated while the third stands facing them. In the background other people stand at the railing and look out over the water at the coastline in the distance.

S. W. Partridge & Co. of London advertised the books as “Partridge’s Cheap Pansy Series.” Each edition included a list of the available titles in the series:

A portion of the front matter contained in the books announcing Partridge's Cheap "Pansy" series at fourpence each. Other books in the series:
Mrs. Solomon Smith Looking On 
Links in Rebecca's Life
Chrissy's Endeavour
The King's Daughter
Ester Ried
Ester Ried Yet Speaking
Ruth Erskine's Crosses
Chautauqua Girls at Home
Three People
Wise an Otherwise
An Endless Chain

The novels measured 7-1/2” by 10-3/4”, making them slightly smaller than the 8-1/2 by 11” standard paper Americans use today. They were only 64 pages long, but thanks to their 2-column layout and small type, each novel was complete and compact enough to fit into a lady’s bag.

Page one of Four Girls at Chautauqua. The text is formatted in two columns in small type.

In fact, Partridge & Co. published them particularly for women travelers. They were sold at newsstands in railway stations throughout England and cost just four pennies.

A portion of the cover of Four Girls at Chautauqua, showing the price of the book: fourpence.

Each book featured a beautifully embellished, full-color cover that illustrated a particular scene from the story. Here’s the cover for Chautauqua Girls at Home:

Cover of Chautauqua Girls at Home. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows a young woman seated at a piano, playing and singing. Standing behind her are a young woman and two young men, each holding music books and singing.

The cover art for Ruth Erskine’s Crosses shows the moment Ruth’s father introduced her to Judge Burnham.

Cover of Ruth Erskine's Crosses. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows an older man in coat and hat introducing a young woman to an older man who is in the process of removing his hat. In the background are two other women. One is removing her coat while the other unties the cords on a large box.

What do you think of the depiction of this important scene? Is that how you pictured Judge Burnham when you first read Ruth Erskine’s Crosses?

The cover for Julia Ried shows the moment Julia went to apply for the bookkeeping job at the box factory.

Cover of Julia Ried. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows a young woman dressed in coat and bonnet and carrying a parasol. She has just entered a room and her hand is still on the doorknob. She faces an older man dressed in a suit with a watch fob and chain in the pocket of his waistcoat. The room he is in contains boxes, a table with books on top and shelves with large books or bound ledgers.

In addition to the cover, each book had anywhere from five to nine black and white illustrations. This one, in Julia Ried, depicts the moment Dr. Douglass introduced Julia to Mrs. Tyndale.

Illustration of a man in 1890s clothing introducing a young woman wearing cape and bonnet to an older woman who is wearing a fashionable gown and a cap.

Mottos were very popular in the 1890s, and this motto appeared at the end of Julia Ried:

Your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. (I Cor. II. 5.)

It very nicely sums up one of the lessons Julia learned in the story.

Often, mottoes like this one were used as inexpensive sources of artwork. Ladies cut them from the pages of books and magazines and pasted them into scrapbooks or framed them to hang on the wall.

Cover of Ester Ried Yet Speaking. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows a young girl sitting on the floor beside a vase holding two white flowers.

Ester Ried Yet Speaking also ends with a motto related to the story:

Let us not be weary in well doing. (Cal. VI. 9.)

The cover for Interrupted illustrates the moment Claire Benedict learned her father’s money was gone and the family was bankrupt.

Cover of Interrupted. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows a young woman dressed in black facing three men who are seated, each holding their hats and walking sticks. Beside the young woman is seated an older woman also dressed in black.

One of the black-and-white illustrations shows the moment Claire suggests to her students that they take on the job of cleaning up the church sanctuary:

Illustration of Claire seated as the piano, one hand on the keyboard, but she has turned slightly to face five girls who are standing nearby. Caption: "This suggestion for a moment struck them dumb."

It wasn’t uncommon for the titles of Pansy’s novels to be changed when they were published in other countries. One Commonplace Day was one such novel; in England it was renamed Wise to Win:

Cover of Wise to Win. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows a young woman and young man conversing in a parlor or living room. In the background are two women, one standing and one seated at a table near a fireplace.

These paperback books all have some wear and tear, but considering the fact that they’re over 130 years old, they are in remarkably good shape. Perhaps they’ll last another hundred years for a new generation of Pansy readers to enjoy!

What do you think of these paperbacks?

Do you have a favorite cover?

Click here to read a previous post about mottos.

Lanterns to Light the Summer Night

Many of the characters in Isabella’s books looked forward to spring, when days got longer and temperatures warmed. They planned their days around being outdoors as much as possible, taking their meals outside and even taking long “tramps” through fields and parks.

When the sun went down, they remained outdoors, and lit their lawns and gardens with “oriental lanterns.”

Asian goods began to make their way into American homes as far back as the Civil War, but only in relatively exclusive areas, such as Boston and New York.

But in the 1880s, more common Japanese goods, such as paper parasols, fans, and lanterns became readily available in American markets.

Two young girls stand in a field of grasses, roses, and tall lillies. Each girl holds a paper lantern they are lighting. Around them hang lanterns that are already lit.
John Singer Sargent’s famous 1886 painting, “Carnation Lily, Lily Rose.”

One import firm, Vantine’s, offered a fairyland of Japanese items in their New York showroom.

A corner of the store displaying wicker chairs and tables, ceramic vases, framed Japanese prints, pagodas and colorful lanterns.
A partial display of summer home furnishings at Vantine’s New York showroom.

You could see paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling on every floor of  A.A. Vantine’s multi-story establishment. It wasn’t long before Vantine’s was shipping paper lanterns to stores all over the eastern states.

Postcard showing a variety of lanterns, lamps, and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Beneath are display cases with smaller items for sale.
Vantine’s of New York. A View of the main floor showroom from the balcony.

That’s about the time that Isabella began mentioning paper lanterns in her books.

In Making Fate (published in 1895) Marjorie Edmonds visited the Schuyler Farm and spent a lovely evening with friends:

She was out with many others on the lawn, which was brilliantly and fantastically lighted with many Chinese lanterns. It formed a place of special attraction on this lovely May evening, which was almost as warm as an evening in midsummer.

Illustration from about 1900 showing a young woman outside near several rose bushes, hanging red paper lanters on a tree. Behind is a field with a house on the horizon.

In The Browns at Mount Hermon (1908), several characters where concerned about a group of boys who planned to sneak off into the countryside to light a bonfire and spend the night gambling and smoking. Then, John Brown offered this suggestion:  

What if we could give up this evening to pure fun? Have a gathering on the Zayante lawn, which is far more attractive than the redwood grove across the way; decorate the trees and the porches and all other available places with Chinese lanterns, plan for the finest bonfire that our splendid brush heaps suggest, and serve unlimited sandwiches, cake, coffee, and anything else that could be gathered in haste, and is calculated to tempt the appetite of the average boy. Then we could send a deputation to meet the train and kidnap the crowd as our honored guests, meeting their spirit of frolic and good time at least half-way.

Old photograph of a woman about 1910 on a balcony. Overhead she has strung some string and is hanging lanterns of different shapes and colors. On the balcony railing are a bunch of roses and more lanterns to be hung.

One of Isabella’s most charming descriptions of paper lanterns was in The Hall in the Grove (1882), when Mr. Masters escorted Caroline Raynor and the Fentons to the opening assembly at Chautauqua:

On they hurried, striking at last into Simpson Avenue. Caroline came to a sudden halt, and gave an exclamation of delight. Away down the avenue as far as her eye could reach, on either side was one blaze of light; illuminated mottoes, flags, Chinese lanterns, flowers, ribbons—anything that could lend a glow of color to the bright scene had been displayed, and the whole effect was such as she will remember all her life.

Painting of three young women laying on the grass of a sloping hill. One woman holds a paper fan. Behind them two lighted paper lanters hang from the branches of a tree. Beyond, the night sky is filled with stars.
Daydreaming Under the Stars by Jacques Wagrez.

Paper lanterns became so popular, they were regularly incorporated into greeting card design like this one:

Greeting card with illustration of woman gathering pink roses from a bush while a pink paper lantern hangs from a branch of the tree behind her.

And in illustrated calendars:

Portion of an 1899 calendar showing January through March; each month is printed against a backdrop of a paper lantern. "Hours of Brightness" is printed across the top.

When you read Isabella’s books, you can tell she enjoyed the beauty of a light-filled summer night, and her descriptions of paper lanterns still have the power to warm our imaginations.

What do you think of Isabella’s descriptions?

Have you ever been to an outdoor event that was lit with candles or paper lanterns?

Dell Bronson’s Decorating Style

Many of Isabella Alden’s stories were about resourceful women who, seeing a problem, immediately set their minds to finding ways to solve it. For these ladies, no obstacle was too big or too small.

One such heroine was Dell Bronson in The King’s Daughter. After living most of her life in the lap of luxury with a loving aunt and uncle, Dell was suddenly called home to live with her father, who ran a run-down saloon and kept an equally run-down home.

Beauty-loving Dell was dismayed when she first saw the bedroom her father had set aside for her:

In one corner stood a single bedstead, on which was mounted a feather bed, suggestive of a sweltering night, and the finishing touch was a blue and green patchwork quilt put on crooked.

There was … a queer, old-fashioned, twisted-legged table, a square wooden washstand with the paint worn off, and with one leg shorter than the others, so that it tottled whenever it was touched, making a racket over the nicked washbowl and dingy pitcher; three chairs, one a dingy rocker, with a pitiful green and purple cushion on the seat. These completed the furnishing of the room, except, indeed, a faded red and green and yellow carpet, which in its best and brightest days could not have been pretty.

But Dell didn’t spend time dwelling on the shabbiness of her surroundings. Instead, she reminded herself:

“Oh, Dell Bronson, you must not forget that your Father’s house is a palace, and that you are a King’s daughter; never mind the place in which you may have to stay for a little while, just to make your preparations, you know.”

So Dell immediately began making changes in the house that would benefit (and hopefully influence) her father. But at the same time, she began to make a few changes in her own bedroom.

When The King’s Daughter was first published, ladies’ magazines regularly published do-it-yourself articles about decorating on a budget.

One magazine provided a sample layout for a bedroom, including the best position for a washbowl and pitcher, like the one in Dell’s room:

Dell might have had a fireplace in her room to provide warmth in the winter months. One magazine published this design for “an artistic fireplace,” with screen made of cardboard and covered in an embroidered fabric, which could be made for about five cents.

Another magazine suggested making a “writing cabinet” from two small bookcases:


The shaped insert on the bookcases is cut from sturdy cardboard and covered with paper. The magazine also suggests using short pieces of muslin left over from making the curtains to cover the bottom shelves where less-than-dainty items may be stored.

Another magazine reminded young ladies they should not ignore the corners of their rooms, and gave simple instructions for making of a corner closet for storing clothes and shoes:

Resourceful Dell Bronson set about making changes to her plain and somewhat shabby bedroom. Within two weeks:

The blue paper curtains had given place to full white muslin ones, the bed was spread in white, as also was the little toilet table, and many little feminine graceful touches had softened its hard corners, and given it a look of home.

By the end of the story, Dell’s decorating efforts resulted in more than just a pleasant place to live; the lovely rooms she created helped influence her father and several townspeople to make positive changes in their lives.

Have you read The King’s Daughter? You can learn more about the book here.

Do you like do-it-yourself decorating projects? Where do you get your ideas?

What’s the best DIY project you ever completed?

New Free Read: A Long Christmas

Last week’s post was about some of the ways Isabella’s encouraged readers to “remember the poor always, but especially at Christmas.” Our December free read continues that theme.

“A Long Christmas” is a short story Isabella wrote in 1891 about a group of children—all cousins in the same family—who discovered their enjoyment of Christmas lasted much longer when they focused on giving instead of getting.

“We have everything imaginable already. We need Christmas presents less than any young folks in the kingdom, I suppose.” That’s what sixteen year old Holly tells his cousins when they gather together on Christmas morning, and his cousins agree! But which child should receive the cousins’ unwanted toys and books?

Cover of "A Long Christmas" showing a man and dog outside a small cabin, with tall pine trees covered in snow and a mountain peak in the background.

You can read “A Long Christmas” for free!

Choose the reading option you like best:

You can read the story on your computer, phone, iPad, Kindle, or other electronic device. Just click here to download your preferred format from BookFunnel.com.

Or you can select BookFunnel’s “Read on My Computer” option to print the story and share it with friends.

“Real” Lace

“Look, mamma, this is the lace I want; just the right pattern,” said Eva Dunlap in Isabella’s short story, “Mrs. Dunlap’s Commentary.”

“Is it real?”asked Mrs. Dunlap, bending over it with anxious eyes.

1912 illustration of a lady examining lace collars in a store as a sales clerk looks on.

“That is what I don’t know,” said the daughter, lowering her voice. “I wonder if Mrs. Stuart is a judge?”

On being appealed to, Mrs. Stuart came forward and bent over the lace with careful gaze. “It is really quite impossible to tell;” she said at last. “The imitations are so very perfect, nowadays; I have to judge by the price of the article. Do you want real?”

“Oh, yes indeed!” chorused mother and daughter, emphatically.

“Well I buy the imitation, nowadays; it is just as good, and no one can tell them apart.”

“I won’t have imitation,” said Miss Eva, with decision.

“I never buy imitation,” said her mother, with firmness. “I dislike shams of any sort. I take real things or none.”

The Stuarts, mother and daughter looked at each other, and directly they were on the street they said, “How awfully extravagant the Dunlaps are! I don’t see how Mr. Dunlap endures the drain.”

And said the mother: “I don’t see how a Christian woman can think it is right to spend so much on things; the idea that she won’t wear anything but real lace—and she can’t tell it from the imitation—that is nothing but pride. I don’t understand how Christians justify themselves in these things.” There was actually an undertone of complaisance that she, at least, was not a Christian.

Old photo of young woman in dark dress with white lace at cuffs and throat.

In Isabella’s world, when people mentioned “real lace” they meant hand-made lace. Skilled lace makers used fine threads to create delicate motifs—such as flowers, leaves, animals, urns, and even people—in their designs.

1894 Illustration of a woman making lace as she sits in a chair and refers to an instruction book open on a table beside her.

But machine-made lace was also available (and had been for over one hundred years). As Mrs. Stuart said in the excerpt above, it was difficult to tell machine-made laces from “real” hand-made laces, but a sharp eye could tell the difference.

old photo of a woman in dark clothing  At her throat is a bow with lace, secured with a small brooch.

One hint was the feel of the lace. Hand-made lace had texture; there was a rise and fall to the stitches, while machine lace felt flat when you ran your fingers across it.

The stitches were another tell; machine lace could unravel because large areas were made from one continuous thread. 

Photo of a woman wearing a shirtwaist made of lace.

Unlike Mrs. Dunlap, Mrs. Solomon Smith (in Mrs. Solomon Smith Looking On) was something of an expert when it came to lace. She had a keen eye and knew the value of a dollar. But when she attended her niece’s wedding in the big city, she went shopping in a department store for the first time, where she found herself dealing with a less-than-honest sales clerk when she tried to buy “real lace:”

[He was] showing me cotton laces of half a dozen kinds, and imitation laces, calling this machine-made stuff ‘real Valenciennes,’ and this cotton imitation ‘real Spanish lace,’ until I got out of all sort of patience with him, and says I, at last, ‘I don’t bear you no ill-will, but for your own sake, if I was you, I would get out of this habit of telling lies. Now I knew real lace of almost every kind you can think of long before you was born, and it is real lace and no other that I’m after, and if you’ve got any I’d like to see it.’

Photo of a young woman wearing a shirtwaist with lace trim on the bodice, neckline and sleeves.

In Household Puzzles, another one of Isabella’s novels, Helen Randolph’s love of fine things was well documented. Helen insisted  upon buying only the most expensive trims and “real lace” for her gowns, even if it meant her family had to go without basic necessities.

But on the eve of her wedding day Helen read a Bible verse that made her realize how wrong she had been to value earthly possessions:

“Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”

She closed the book suddenly, and laid it back in its place. If this were all there were of life—a vapor—of what use were lavender silks and real lace, after all?”

Photo of a young woman wearing a gown of lace.

In each of these passages from Isabella’s books, she used “real lace” as a way to show readers her characters’ personalities and priorities, and to illustrate Christian life lessons.

What lesson do you think Isabella intended readers to learn when she wrote the exchange between the Dunlaps and the Stuarts? On the surface, she might have wanted to illustrate the Dunlap women’s love for finery, and the Stuart women’s more practical approach to shopping.

Or maybe she wanted to show that Mrs. Dunlap took a strong stand for truth, not realizing that her behavior could be interpreted as extravagant and proud by others.

Old photo of a woman wearing a gown with a lace wrapper; she also wears a wide-brimmed hat trimmed with lace.

In the scene with Mrs. Solomon Smith, she may have wanted to show how wrong it is to judge a person based on their appearance. Or maybe she wanted to show that everyone is deserving of respect and kindness.

That’s the beauty of Isabella Alden’s novels; her stories always give readers something to think about. And the lessons her characters learn make us examine our own actions.

Is there an Isabella Alden story that made you pause and reflect on your own behavior?

Has one of her stories made you think of changes you can make in your own life?

By the way, Isabella mentioned “real lace” in these stories, too:

  • Doris Farrand’s Vocation
  • Ester Ried
  • Julia Ried
  • Household Puzzles
  • Modern Prophets
  • Only Ten Cents
  • The Hall in the Grove
  • The Pocket Measure
  • Wise and Otherwise
  • Workers Together; An Endless Chain

High Spirits and Halloween

Today we think of Halloween as a children’s holiday, but in Isabella’s lifetime, celebrations of All Hallow’s Eve focused primarily on teens and adults.

Hay rides, parties, and church socials gave single men and women a chance to mix and mingle and, perhaps, meet the special someone they would eventually marry.

Under the watchful eye of trusted chaperones guests played traditional games that centered around romance and love, fate and fortune.

That was exactly the kind of party Sarah Thompson wanted to attend in By Way of the Wilderness.

As a young school teacher Sarah dedicated her life to educating the children in her small town. Although she very much wanted to attend the Halloween party, she found herself forgotten by her neighbors:

They grew to admiring Sarah, being proud of her, boasting of her among themselves, and letting her alone. The first time they seemed actually to forget to invite her to a Halloween frolic, she cried a little. She had not been to any of the neighborhood gatherings for months, she had been so busy; but to be forgotten!

Why was the party so important to Sarah? Perhaps it was because she had fallen in love with Wayne Pierson, the story’s protagonist. The games that were played at Halloween parties in 1900 (when the book was published) might have helped her figure out if Wayne felt the same way about her.

One of the games that might have been played was a variation of bobbing for apples, where the names of the party-goers were scratched into apples before they were placed in separate tubs of water (boys’ names in one tub; girls’ in the other). The apple each guest caught—without using their hands, of course—would name his or her true love.

Sometimes they hung an apple from the ceiling or door frame, and balanced it with a lighted candle. The first person to catch the apple in their mouth (without getting singed by the flame!) would be the first to marry.

In another traditional game a young woman who wanted to know her future husband’s name had to be handy with a knife.

If she could peel an apple or orange in a single, long, winding strip and toss it over her shoulder, the peel would land on the floor in the form of the initial of the man she was to marry.

Players also used walnuts to guess the names of their spouse to be. After writing the names of the guests on walnuts, each person took turns throwing two walnuts into the fire. The walnut shell that cracked first from the heat signified the name of the person they’d marry.

When it came time to serve refreshments, party guests gathered to slice the Halloween cake, which was baked with charms in it. A guest who got a slice of cake with a coin in it could expect a life of wealth; a key meant travel; and a doll meant children. Of course, a ring found in a slice of cake always meant marriage.

Another game was “Bowls of Fate,” where three bowls were filled with colored water: red for good fortune, blue for a trip across the water, and clear for an upcoming honor. Blindfolded guests took turns dipping a hand in one of the bowls (which were rearranged after each person) to learn what their future held.

In other games, mirrors and candles served as props. One variation was for women with strong wills; they walked down the cellar steps backward, with a mouthful of salt, a candle in one hand, and a mirror in the other. If she performed the ritual correctly, the young woman should see the image of her future husband over her shoulder in the glass.

In a variation, at the stroke of midnight a young woman or man had to go to their bedroom with a candle and mirror. If they held both objects correctly and at the right angle, they would see the face of the person they’d marry.

With so many traditional games to play on Halloween, it was no wonder Sarah Thompson was disappointed to realize she would not be attending any Halloween parties.

If you’d like to know if Wayne Pierson ever returned Sarah’s love, you can read By Way of the Wilderness by clicking here. No candles or mirrors required!

Have you ever bobbed for apples or played a variation of any of these Halloween games?