Free Read: What If I Had!

Isabella often wrote stories about what happens when someone chooses to do the right thing, even at the cost of personal sacrifice. This month’s free read is a short story that reflects that theme.

It’s New Year’s Day and Stephen Watson plans to spend it with a friend—until his employer insists Stephen work instead. Poor Stephen can barely contain his disappointment; and when he tells a stranger his troubles, he learns a valuable lesson in charity.

You can read “What If I Had!” 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

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

Change is Coming!

As Mr. Landis said in Isabella’s novel Unto the End:

“Any change is better than eternal sameness.”

In our world, technology is constantly changing, and Isabella’s website is keeping up with the times!

You’ll soon see new layouts and features so Isabella’s website can be viewed more easily on different devices.

That means the overall look of the website will change. For example, a plain white background will replace the polka-dot pattern you see now. Fonts and colors will change, too, so they’ll be more accessible for people who are visually impaired. Here’s a little preview of how things will look:

The next blog post you read on Wednesday, April 14 will be in the new format! We hope you’ll like it; and if you ever have a suggestion for changes you’d like to see, please leave a comment on any post or page.

When Pansy was a Girl: The Knitting Lesson

In 1889 Isabella wrote several articles for The Pansy magazine in which she told her readers stories about her life as a young girl. Some of the stories are comical, others poignant and sad; but the common theme among all the articles was the important life-lessons she learned as a child—lessons that influenced her well into adulthood.

Here is one of those girlhood stories Isabella shared with her magazine readers (whom she dubbed her Pansies or Blossoms):

I don’t believe many of the Pansies know how to knit—old-fashioned knitting, I mean, such as we used to see so much of when I was a girl. It seems to me now as though I could not picture a winter evening without the glow of firelight from a great, wide-mouthed chimney, and a plate of red-checked apples on the table, with often a basket of nicely-cracked hickory nuts by its side, and mother’s knitting-needles flashing in the light.

All those things seem to have gone out of fashion, along with sweet old grandmothers and many other comforts.

I think I am in sympathy with a young friend of mine who said the other day, looking with a dissatisfied face at a beautifully-dressed old lady, “I shouldn’t think she would make a satisfactory grandmother.”

“Why?” I asked, amused.

“Oh, I hardly know,” the frown still on her face. “Somehow she looks too nice; I don’t mean that, either. Grandmothers ought to look just as nice as possible, of course; but—well, her dress is all looped and trimmed, and has beads on, even, and her hair is crinkley, and done up in the latest style, and she doesn’t look sweet and old. I should never think of cuddling down in her neck and having a good cry, or telling her something very secret indeed; I should just sit up straight and be proper.”

Do you understand, my Blossoms? I do, and sympathize with the thought.

Well, when I was a girl I learned to knit. I do not think my mother would have considered my education complete without that knowledge. Moreover, I was fond of it. I think I liked nothing better than to get my long gray, or blue, or brown stocking out and sit down by mother and click my needles, and try to make them go as fast as hers. There was always a little shade of disappointment over the fact that I could never accomplish this; but there was also a sense of cheer over my mother’s words:

“Never mind, maybe tomorrow you can go even faster than I do. Who knows? You will be a day older tomorrow.”

That “tomorrow ” never came, it is true, but I was always looking out for it and trying to attain.

I could not have been quite four years old when I first learned to take up the small stitches skillfully, put my yarn “over,” and draw it cunningly through the loop. It was great fun, and, if the truth must be told, a great temptation. I liked it better than outdoor sports of any kind. While the other children were playing “roll the hoop,” or “jump the rope,” or “hide the slipper,” or any of the dozens of old-fashioned games which were such good sport and good exercise, I liked better to be what my father called “cooped up” in the big easy-chair in mother’s room, knitting.

There was one thing about it that grieved me. I could not “set” the heel, neither could I take the curious back-handed stitch required after it was “set,” and it seemed to me that no sooner did I become attached to a stocking, and grow used to the “feel” of the needles, and the shape of the triangle, when it would be pronounced long enough to “set the heel,” and my pleasure in it was gone. Also I disliked the dull colors which were much in vogue in those days for stockings and socks, and often petitioned that I might make one stocking with bars of blue, and green, and yellow alternating. My mother laughed over this, and my sisters fairly shouted. But I was sure to find a sympathizer in father, no matter how queer my schemes. He fell in readily with this one.

It was mid-winter, and my playmates were wild over snow, and skates, and sleds, while I, who had been very sick, and still coughed a great deal, was of necessity housed, and just because I could not play out-of-doors, longed to do so more than ever before, and found it hard to be amused over anything.

One afternoon mother produced a bright yellow ball of worsted and said, “Knit a stocking for that old giant you were reading about a while ago; he would like a yellow one, I think.”

“For the giant?” I said wonderingly. “How would I get it to him when it was done? And it would have to be very long.”

“Yes, long enough to suit you perhaps; it would be days and days before the heel would have to be set.”

“And a giant wouldn’t mind if a stitch were dropped once in a while, would he, mother?”

“Probably not,” my mother said, “though I don’t know much about the views of giants on such subjects. At least we might try him.”

The idea pleased me, for in my secret heart I thought my mother too particular altogether in that line; just one tiny stitch which could hardly be seen at all, yet out would come the needles, and mother would relentlessly unravel the whole until she came to the weak spot. It made no difference how far I had gotten, that dropped stitch was gone after, all the same.

I remember once I said nothing about it, it was such a tiny stitch, and knitted on fast until I was a whole inch away from it. Then my conscience spoke so loud that I had to take the work to mother. But surely, I thought, she will not unravel all this out for just that one stitch!

She did, though, without a moment’s consideration, and despite the big tears in my eyes.

The giant’s stocking was commenced forthwith. I worked industriously until the yellow ball was exhausted; then a bright blue one was produced, and, delighted with the effect, I knitted fast until I had quite a strip of brilliant blue on brilliant yellow. What a pleasure it was! At last I should have a stocking which was a thing of beauty.

What delight I had in that stocking! How it grew, and grew, and changed hues from day to day until it rivaled the rainbow in brilliancy. One yard, two yards, almost three yards long, and yet stitch by stitch the wonder grew. My mother’s friends and those of my grown-up sisters became interested in it, and saved for me all their remnants of worsted, or yarn, and the brighter the color the more my heart delighted in it, nor could I be persuaded to use black at all for a long time. In vain did my sister Marcia assure me that it would increase by contrast the brilliancy of the other colors. I did not believe it, until one day she stole the stocking and knitted in a few threads of black against an intense scarlet, and astonished and charmed me with the effect.

After that I put in the blacks and dull grays with a judicious hand. The original giant for whom the stocking was commenced dropped into the background before a more brilliant thought which my father advanced—the modest one of knitting a stocking long enough to go around the world. And some day I was to start, with one end of the stocking securely sewed to mother’s wrist, the other in my hand, and walk away. If there proved to be enough of it for me to go around the world, of course in time I would get back to mother; and in case she grew weary of waiting and wanted me, she had but to take hold of her end and wind it up, when of course I would be drawn to her.

“What a little idiot you must have been!” I think I can hear you say it. Did I really believe such nonsense?

Why, not really, I suppose, and yet it afforded me such pleasure as I cannot describe, to work at my long, bright stocking with those queer plans in view. At least I worked away, and the thing grew long—very long. Also, I dropped as many stitches as I pleased, and waited not to pick them up.

Years afterwards I looked at that curious piece of work. The colors were faded, the knots were unsightly, the sometimes loose and sometimes tight knitting showed my utter lack of skill, yet in all these things I had done my best.

The thing which struck me painfully was those yawning holes where the dropped stitches had been. Yes, they were actual holes. The thing had been stretched a good deal, used as a piece bag, part of it; and the dropped stitches which seemed such small affairs had stretched also, and spread themselves in unsightly holes to say, “Look at us! Your mother warned you, but you would not believe it. You said we were too small to do any harm. You, said it was not worthwhile to go back and set us right. Now see what we are!”

Oh, the dropped stitches, not only in stockings, but in characters! Poor foolish child, who thought she knew better than mother did!

It is years and years ago. I never went on my journey around the world. Instead, my mother went away—went out of this world altogether, to that other one about which we know so much and think so little; and though the other end of my stocking is not fastened to her wrist, I know there is a strong cord named Love which goes straight from her heart to mine, and it draws me gently, steadily toward home.

Did you learn to knit, crochet, or sew from your mother or grandmother? How old were you when you learned?

Do you have a favorite knitting-lesson memory?

New Free Read: The Systematic Givers

Isabella Alden never bought into the excuse, “But I’m only one person. What difference can one person make?”

Her answer to that question was always, “Plenty!”

How do we know? Because one of the most common themes in Isabella’s stories is the difference a single person can make in the lives of other people.

Flossy Shipley, one of the Chautauqua Girls, was a prime example.

So was Nettie Beldon in Only Ten Cents.

In today’s free read, Alice Vincent and Laura Keats, students at a seminary for young ladies, learn that small efforts can have big results.

The Systematic Givers was first published in 1887 as a short story in Isabella’s anthology, Harry’s Invention and Other Stories, and you can read it here for free!

The Systematic Givers

Slowly Alice Vincent and Laura Keats walked down the slope until they came to the rustic bridge that spanned the stream that ran through the seminary grounds; here in one of the pavilions that jutted out over the water they seated themselves for a talk.

“I know,” said Alice, taking up the thread of their conversation where it had been broken off a little way back when they met a party of girls bound for the butternut grove. These two had been urged to join the others, but they evidently preferred each other’s company, though they were not rude enough to say just that. “I know it does seem as though we might do something, but how to begin?”

“I do not know of any way but just to begin,” replied Laura.

“But who will start it?”

“Why, you for one, and I for another. Here you have been saying ever since we heard Mrs. Van Benshoten speak, that it seems as though we might do something; but saying that will never do anything. We must just do it.”

“What?” asked Alice.

“Call a meeting of the girls and organize for work.”

“The girls won’t come.”

“You and I will be there, and Minnie Crawford, and there are only three sides to a triangle, and that is all we had to begin geometry with.”

“But we shall have more than that,” replied Alice, laughing. “Annie Clark will join us and make a quadrilateral.”

“Well,” said Laura, “that will be a good beginning, and you know how we progress from polygons to circles—we may have a mission circle before we know it.”

That evening when, after tea, the students gathered for evening worship, the principal said:

“Immediately after this service, all who are interested in the forming of a mission band are requested to meet in the small room adjoining the library.”

Accordingly, instead of three or four, as the originators of the scheme had looked for, twenty-five girls filled the little room to overflowing.

Alice Vincent called the meeting to order, saying, “Miss Keats will state to us the object of this call.”

And Miss Keats stepped forward with a dignity which may have been assumed at first, but which gave place to something that was real, as she lost herself in her subject.

“We have lately heard,” she said, “some very astounding facts. Some of us knew a part of the truth before; at least we might have known it, but I dare say very few of us have been interested in knowing. But I think that in the course of the very able address to which we were privileged to listen last Sabbath, it was brought home to us very forcibly that there are millions upon millions of men and women sitting today in the darkness of heathenism. Many of them know that they are in the dark, and they are crying out to us to send them the light of the Gospel. You remember that we were told that people used to think that there were two points only to be looked at in this matter of sending the Gospel to the heathen: Were the people ready to receive it? and, Were the messengers ready to go? These two things Christians have been praying for, and now it would seem that ‘all things are ready.’ The heathen world has opened its doors to the Gospel; men and women well fitted for the work are ready and waiting to go; yet there is a halt in the work. Instead of two links there are three, and the middle one is missing. It is literally a golden link that is wanting. Now, girls, fellow students, does it not seem a burning shame that when so many are willing to take up the self-denying work—now that the very thing which the Church has been praying for has come to pass—I say, is it not a shame that the money should be wanting? I think we will all agree to that, and if so, we must own that a part of the disgrace is ours. The most of us are Christians; some part of the work belongs to us. Shall we take it up, and begin now? We have been called together to talk over the matter of organizing a mission circle; I would put it, a giving circle, for that is exactly what we propose to do, give! It is not quite time to propose a name for the organization, but when it comes to that, I want to propose, ‘The Systematic Givers.’”

Now I do not intent to give you in this sketch a lesson upon organization, so I shall not give a full report of the proceedings, or tell you how closely they followed Parliamentary usage. It is enough to tell you that “The Band of Systematic Givers” was duly organized, and properly officered. This motto was adopted:

“Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by in store as God hath prospered him.”

Each member of the band pledges herself to give one tenth of her spending money, or the money which she calls her own. Considerable discussion has arisen among the girls as to what moneys they have a right to tithe.

“What would you do about taking a tenth out of the money your father sent to you for a new dress?” asked Lily Case.

“Well,” replied Laura, “I will tell you what I did. Papa sent me thirty dollars for a dress, hat, etc., and I decided to take out a tenth, and got a new dress of a little cheaper materials, or a plainer hat. But I tell you, Lily, I never made even thirty dollars go so far as the twenty-seven did. Bess says my dress is prettier than hers that cost twenty-five dollars, and I know it will be more durable than hers.”

“With those of us who have an allowance which must cover all personal expenses there can be no question about the matter,” said Alice Vincent. “If we choose to deny ourselves of some luxuries, we have the right to do so, I suppose, but some of our fathers will say, ‘get what you need and have the bill sent home.’”

“I know,” replied Laura, “there is difficulty in some cases of knowing just what we may do; but all of us have something that we may call our very own, and that is all we are responsible for, after all. I know the girls pretty well, and with one or two exceptions, a tithe of what we spend for confectionery, creams and ices in the course of the term would buy a good many Bibles. We girls might almost support a missionary; certainly we can take a scholarship in some of the schools.”

And this is what they did: pledged themselves to support a pupil in a mission school. After several months had passed Lily Case remarked one day:

“Is it not wonderful how much we can do by following out a regular system? Why, I do not miss the money I give, and I actually give dollars where I used to give cents!”

“I am sorry you lose the blessing of self-denial,” said Laura, smiling. “You ought to give enough to miss it.”

“Oh, you need not imagine I do not feel it. Every time I take out the tenth it hurts, for I am naturally stingy. And I say to myself, ‘You old miser! You have got to deny yourself even if it does pinch.’ But after I put the money in the little gilt box, I find that I get along just as well without it to spend. And I love to hand it over to the treasurer. That is what I meant when I said I did not miss it.”

It was only a little while ago that Laura said, one evening, “Girls, I want to tell you something. I am going to India.”

And it was then and there decided that when Laura Keats goes to India “The Systematic Givers” will have a missionary of their own.

In this story, Isabella’s characters were inspired by a speech given by “Mrs. Van Benschoten,” who was a real person in Isabella’s life.

Mary Crowell Van Benschoten was an author and a leader in the Temperance Movement, but her greatest talent was in public speaking. She traveled the country, speaking in churches and at events where she inspired audiences to aid charities, fund churches, and contribute to women’s clubs and girls’ schools.

We can’t know how well Isabella knew Mary Van Benschoten, but Mary’s skill as an orator clearly made such an impression on Isabella, she felt compelled to mention her in the story as the inspiration behind the The Systematic Givers.

Announcing the Winners of the Journal Giveaway!

Thank you to everyone who entered the drawing for two Journal Prize Packages!

We’re happy to announce the winners are:


Kayla James

Kayla and sallieborrink, please leave a comment on this blog post and tell us your full name and address. We’ll send your Journal Prize Package out right away!


Pansies for Thoughts

Yesterday you read a lovely letter Isabella wrote to the students of an elementary school, thanking them for planting a tree in her honor.

Isabella’s writings—her books, stories, letters, and lessons—are filled with quote-worthy lines. Here’s an example from her novel, Tip Lewis and His Lamp:

In the story, The Reverend Mr. Holbrook asked that question of young Tip Lewis to help him realize that his resentment toward another boy was jeopardizing his own standing with God.

It was Isabella’s way of illustrating the Bible verse: “If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

That was Isabella’s genius: she had a talent for explaining the Bible in terms anyone—young or old—could understand.

One of the greatest admirers of Isabella’s talent was her niece, Grace Livingston Hill. When Grace was twenty-three years old, she was the newly published author of her first book, A Chautauqua Idyll. And she was ready for her next project.

Grace turned her attention to her Aunt Isabella’s books. She combed through them, selected inspiring quotes, and organized them into a daily devotional, with each quote accompanied by an applicable verse from the Bible.

The result of Grace’s efforts was called Pansies for Thoughts, and it became her second published book.

The original cover for Grace’s 1888 devotional, Pansies for Thoughts.

Isabella wrote a brief Preface for the book, with a prayer that . . .

The Holy Spirit would use these pages in a way to lead some souls daily higher, and higher, even into the “shining light” of the “perfect day.”

Pansies for Thoughts is a wonderful daily devotional, and you can read the book for free! Click here to download the e-book version for your Kindle, Nook, or tablet. Or you can download a PDF version to print or read on your computer.

This post is part of our Blogiversary Celebration! Leave a comment below or on Isabella’s Facebook page to be entered in a drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card! We’ll announce the winner on Friday morning, September 21!

Did She Stump the Minister?

“A Difficult Text” is the title of this 1907 painting by John Henry Dobson. All the little details help tell the story of a minister’s visit to a member of his congregation. Do you think the minister looks a trifle perplexed?  If only we knew which Bible verse she’s pointing to!

p.s. You can click on the image to see a larger version.

A Most Remarkable Communion Service

On Tuesday, October 11, 1910 delegates to a national Christian church convention assembled in Topeka, Kansas for their annual meeting. The convention came to order on Wednesday night, October 12, and continued full-tilt until the following Monday.

The local newspapers published the convention agenda. In a busy week filled with scheduled prayer meetings, missionary society board reports, temperance education workshops, and a host of lectures, there was this agenda item:

Organizers expected a good turn-out for the Sunday communion service, which was set to begin at 3:00.

But long before the appointed hour, people began assembling at the capitol building in Topeka. They first congregated on the State House steps, until there was no more room.

The Kansas State Capitol building in 1905


Workers quickly placed some benches along the east side of the capital building. But as more and more people arrived, those benches were quickly filled.

And still the people came. Hundreds more benches were added, along with chairs and stools, and anything else the organizers could find to accommodate the growing crowd.

By the time the communion service began at 3:00, over eight thousand people had assembled on the State House grounds.

The service opened with almost everyone present joining their voices to sing the hymn “Nearer My God to Thee.”

Ministers from different churches across Kansas took a turn stepping up to the podium to offer prayers, read scripture, and bless the communion bread and wine.

Twenty church elders and forty-eight deacons assisted with the communion. The crowd was so large it took over an hour to serve the Lord’s Supper to everyone.

The Christian Herald magazine, which covered the event, wrote that there was a “reverent attitude” throughout the service that made it one of the most remarkable gatherings ever assembled on the State House grounds. The reporter wrote:

An ice driver broke bread with a great divine and a banker leaned out of his chair to hand the cup to a butcher. A Texan sat beside a Negro, and gentle society women held the babies of char-women.

The governor of Kansas, Walter Roscoe Stubbs, spoke about prohibition in Kansas, and reaffirmed his pledge to drive liquor sales and manufacturing out of the state (Kansas enacted its own law of prohibition in 1880). In his speech, Governor Stubbs promised:

“I say to you today that I don’t know of an open saloon in the State, and if any man shows me one and tells me of it and I don’t close it I’ll resign my position.”

The crowd cheered.

Walter Roscoe Stubbs, about 1920.


Another well-received speaker that day was Dr. Charles M. Sheldon, pastor of Central Congregational Church in Topeka, and author of the enormously popular Christian novel, In His Steps.

Dr. Charles Monroe Sheldon


He brought his Social Gospel message to the crowd, and exhorted everyone to work diligently toward world peace, saying:

“I hope to live to see the [day] our battleships are turned into missionary vessels and filled with missionaries to go out to all parts of the world to teach the Gospel of Christ.”

The Christian Herald published this photo of the crowd in the November 9, 1910 issue of the magazine (click on the image to see a larger version):

Photograph printed in The Christian Herald magazine, November 9, 1910.


One-hundred, seven years ago today this remarkable communion service took place on a Sunday afternoon in Kansas, on the grounds of the State Capitol building. It was an event the like of which may never be seen again.

Do you wish you could have been there? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!

An Interview with Grace Livingston Hill

In 1915 Isabella’s niece, writer Grace Livingston Hill, was profiled in The Book News Monthly magazine.

A photograph of Grace Livingston Hill, published in the 1915 Book News Monthly interview.


The magazine printed two articles, the first of which was written by Grace’s long-time friend Hilda von Markhen. Hilda described Grace’s “workshop” for writing: an ample, business-like desk at the sunshiny side of an upstairs room. On the desk was her typewriter and a few necessary reference books; behind her was a glass door which led to a small un-roofed upper porch set in the midst of trees in which played birds and squirrels.

Grace reading on her favorite porch.


In addition to describing Grace’s workspace, Hilda told the story of how Grace’s first books were published. Sprinkled throughout the article are hints of Grace’s strong Christian beliefs and the work Grace did for those in need, the Sunday school classes she taught, the children Grace “adopted,” and her commitment to The Christian Christian Endeavor society.

Grace working out-of-doors at her home in 1915.


The second article was written by Norma Bright Carson and provides some insight into Grace’s personality and the impression she made on the article’s author.

You can read both articles right now by clicking on the image below.